Monday, December 24, 2012

Call No Man 'Father'?

As you probably know by now, if you've followed this blog at all, I am a member of the Orthodox Church, after having been raised a Baptist.

One of the minor struggles for me in entering the Church was that we call our priests "Father". This seems to go against the direct command of Jesus in Matthew 23:9.

I'm posting now, because I just came across something in the Scripture the other day that clinched my viewpoint from "well, the Orthodox interpretation makes Scriptural sense, but it's not Scripturally obvious" to "Yep, that's the what the Scripture actually teaches." In other words, it solidified things so that I now see the Orthodox interpretation as actively Scriptural, instead of scripturally ambivalent.

But first, let me lay out the two interpretations, and why I'm empathetic to those who hold the standard Protestant interpretation.

The Protestant Interpretation

For Protestants, it's pretty simple: Jesus said don't do it; so don't.

The Orthodox Response

The Orthodox answer to the Protestant inquiry is: look deeper, and consider the entirety of Scripture. Quit "cherry-picking", and seek to understand what Jesus is actually saying, because it's not as simple as you're making it out to be.

I will not go into the details of our explanation here. That has been done elsewhere.[1]

In summary, the argument is that Jesus is commanding anyone called "father" here on earth to image forth in his own fatherly relationships not his own opinions and ideas and desires — that is, his own "fatherhood" — but rather the fatherhood of God the Father. His own "fatherhood" is not really fatherhood at all, but a lie, if it is not submitted to and patterned after the Father.[2]

The New Development (to me)

My point with this blog post is this: Until now, the Orthodox answer has, to me, made sense, and I call priests "father" without difficulty. However, I have understood that the argument, as presented, is not air-tight — from the hard-core sola scriptura perspective — in that it doesn't seem to really have any direct Scriptural support.

And I'll admit, in the English translations available, it doesn't. But that's the fault of the translations, and not of the Scripture, as we'll see.

The verse I "stumbled across" is not new to me. It is a quite familiar verse. Let's take a look at it in English:

Ephesians 3:14, 15 (KJV)
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named...

This verse is typically interpreted to mean that the entire family of the Church, or, by some, the human race, gets it's name from either the Father or Jesus (the English not being too clear on which is the antecedent of "whom"). This is typically extrapolated to refer to the name "Christian", or to the fact that all, both Jew and Gentile, are united in Christ to the One Father, something similar.[3]

These are, of course, all true, and definitely good exposition of the one shade of meaning in the word here translated "family". However, and here's the kicker, "family" is not the literal or primary meaning of the word, but a metaphorical interpretation that presumes and in fact relies upon the literal meaning. The word is the Greek "πατριὰ", or "patria", which literally translates to "fatherhood", being derived from the Greek word "πατέρ", or "pater", which is "Father".

Also, the word just before it, translated in the KJV as "the whole", is "πᾶσα", or "pasa", from the root "pas". It can mean "the whole", but more commonly means "all" or "every", as several of the other translations have it, and as the KJV itself has it elsewhere[4].

So, the verse, literally translated, and syntax adjusted for clarity, says that every fatherhood derives it's name — that is, "father" — from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, let's take a look at the link between a name and using that name, that is: calling a thing or person by that name.[6] For reference, the word Jesus uses, translated "call", is "καλέσητε", or "kalesete", from the root "kaleo".

The word Paul uses for "is named" is "ὀνομάζεται"/"onomadzetai", the verb form of the noun root "onoma", meaning, simply, "name".

Thankfully, God provides us a wonderful exegetical tool in confirming that if something is named something, that is what it is called, and vice versa, in case it wasn't already obvious. For this, let's turn to Genesis 2:19, where God brings the animals to Adam

to see what he would call [καλέσει/kalesei] them: and whatsoever Adam called [ἐκάλεσεν/ekalesen] every living creature, that was the name [ὄνομα/onoma] thereof.

The next verse is even more direct:

And Adam gave names to all [πᾶσιν/pasin] cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every [πᾶσι/pasi] beast of the field.

The Greek here translated "gave name to all" is more obvious: ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ ὀνόματα πᾶσιν. That is, "Adam called the names [of] every...". These are the exact three words used by Jesus and Paul.

So, if every fatherhood in the earth receives it name from the Father, then it follows that we call them according to their name: father.

It's obvious, when we look at the entirety of Scripture, that the basic meaning, from which all of the other metaphorical interpretations derive, is that anyone called "father" here is only worthy of the title insofar as he imitates God the Father.

Jesus is not wiping the concept of fatherhood, nor it's title, from our dictionary. Rather, He is re-connecting it to it's original prototype, it's ultimate referent. Which is exactly what we been said to start with. QED.


  1. If the link is broken, let me know, or just Google "Call no man father richard ballew"
  2. Incidentally, this is the exact explanation that some Protestant commentators give of Jesus' command not to be called "teacher", or "master" (depending on the translation), John Gill's commentary.
  3. Here is a good cross-section of these. (Scroll down to the "Parallel Commentaries" section.)
  4. The KJV has it as "every" over 200 times in 171 verses.
  5. I'm using the Greek edition of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, because we're discussing a Greek word.
  6. I'm just being thorough here. The link is "common sense". But let's be 100% and without a doubt clear that the Scripture does explicitly use things this way

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 4: The Showstopper

So, the earlier Parts (1, 2, and 3) have covered what I was taught growing up regarding the consumption of alcohol, and a few logical fallacies involved with said teaching.

Now, dear reader, feast your eyes on the mythbuster passage, the simple command that brings the whole prohibitionist edifice floating (for cards don't "crash") down around them, leaving them to play the dreaded game, "52 card pickup".

*cue fanfare & drumroll*

Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee: then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: and thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, and the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.
—Deuteronomy 14:22-27, KJV, emphasis mine

Here, we have the law of tithing, laid down by God Himself. And He commands that the children of Israel under the Law were to buy themselves and the Levites a few rounds (or shots) and have a good time before Him.

That's it! Ladies and gentlemen, if the Eternal One, Who doesn't change, sees alcoholic beverages as a good thing in certain contexts, even going so far as to mention them explicitly in a list of suggested items for consumption, and with words that cannot be construed otherwise — for He doesn't only say, "wine", which as we've seen previously could refer to non-alcoholic substances, but also "strong drink", which is unambigous — then I dare say it's OK for us.

'Nough said.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 3: Supportive passages

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I introduced the subject and gave a listing, along with rebuttals, of what I was taught in my youth from a prohibitive standpoint.

Note: I'm using the Masoretic numbering of the Psalms for this series, unless otherwise specified, since that's what the people used who were teaching me growing up.

In this post, I will cover the various Scripture passages that seem to support the acceptability of the consumption of alcohol by Christians, the arguments that were used against them, and the rebuttals of those arguments.

I will not yet, however, reveal the verse that changed it all for me, because it was not discussed at all when I was originally being taught. I'll save that for the next post.


There are several verses that seem to support the consumption of wine, but are not explicit about it, such as Ps. 104:14, 15, Judges 9:13, etc.

These were explained away as follows. The words translated "wine" in the Old (Hebrew) Testament and New (Greek) Testaments have a broad semantic range, and can refer to anything grape-related, including but definitely not limited to alcoholic wine. For example, they can refer to grapes themselves, grape juice (un-fermented), etc., in addition to alcoholic wine.

Therefore, the argument goes, since it is not necessary to read those passages as referring to alcoholic wine, we will not do so, since alcoholic wine is clearly evil — we wouldn't want the Scripture to be contradicting itself, right?!

When it is pointed out that the wine in these verses "makes glad" and "cheers" the heart, they simply deny that it is possibly talking about the effects of alcohol. They say that is referring to the fact that it tastes good, or some such.

Well, the argument is correct in it's premise (that the words can mean more than just alcohol), but are circular in their reasoning, and so non sequitur in their conclusion. i.e. "These verses don't speak of alcohol because the Scripture does not support drinking." When in fact, the verses are part of Scripture. So you're saying, "These verses don't speak of alcohol because these verses don't speak of alcohol." It's decidedly circular.

(NB: This does not automatically make their conclusion false — that would be an example of the fallacy fallacy. It just means that the argument itself is invalid for proving the conclusion; ergo, the conclusion remains unproven.

To actively falsify the conclusion, we would need to discover something in Scripture which admits no other interpretation but that God happily supports the consumption of alcohol. This we will do in the next post. But invalidating this particular argument is all this rebuttal requires.)

Special cases

While the above argument is used for the entirety of Scripture, including the passages in this section, these are specifically thorny (for them) passages, mostly because they are so strongly pro-alcohol. Therefore, they usually garner more attention, and some additional arguments for and against.

Paul's instruction to Timothy (5:23)

Historically, clean drinking water has been hard to come by. The ancients would frequently add some alcoholic wine to their water, to purify it, but not nearly enough to really taste it or to get drunk off of it. The detractors say that this is what is being commanded here: that Timothy was so zealous for the Faith, which (according to them) includes abstention from alcohol, that he was getting upset stomachs from only drinking non-purified-with-wine water, and that Paul, out of concern for his health, was telling him to tone it down a bit and watch out for his health this way.

As for a rebuttal: Well, this argument is actually fairly accurate, as far as the historical reality, and the content of the command. However, what is not accurate is the assumption that a) abstention from alcohol was Timothy's motivation (Church Tradition tells us otherwise: he was actually a frequent practitioner of water-only fasts), or b) that even if it was his motivation, it is therefore somehow a command to all Christians everywhere. So we see that this is actually just another instance of the Exemplary argument, which I covered in part 2.

Give alcohol to the sick and dying (Prov. 31:6, 7)

Here we find a command to give alcohol to the one who is sick and dying, to ease his pain. The argument given against this is that the verse is supportive only of using alcohol as a pain reliever, and that now that we have more effective pain releivers, it is not necessary. It is usually conceded at this point that alcohol is not purely evil, but this concession is swiftly footnoted along the lines that this is a special case, and not generally applicable.

In "rebuttal", I simply concede the footnote. The argument has finally moved away from "alcohol is evil" to "when is alcohol OK", and that's progress. :) (It also happens to be the exact path on which my own convictions evolved in studying this issue.)

An interesting question, though, is: What does the writer mean when she instructs to give alcohol to the one who is "of heavy heart", so he will "forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more"? Isn't this recreational, having nothing to do with pain-killing?

The typical prohibitionist response is: no, it's sarcastic. It's not supposed to be seen as a real command. To which I reply: Based on what? But I'll concede the point, for now, for the sake of argument.

The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11)

This is the big one that everyone always fights over when this topic is discussed. I'm not really going to cover the argument against, since I did that above (it's the circular one: alcohol is wrong (or, if as above they already conceded that it can be OK sometimes: "alcohol for entertainment is wrong") therefore Jesus couldn't have made alcoholic wine to keep the party going).

I will, however, point out that the passage, particularly the comment by the governor of the feast, makes absolutely no sense if this is non-alcoholic, especially in light of Luke 5:39.


So I have shown that the arguments made against the alcohol-supportive passages are specious. In addition to the proper rebuttal above, I would like to point out that the "wine doesn't really mean wine" argument is a direct violation of the "plain meaning" principle that most of those making that argument claim to hold. (This is the hermeneutical equivalent of Occam's Razor.)

I've detailed my own progression from "alcohol is evil" to "consumption of alcohol is only acceptable in certain dire circumstances, and certainly not for entertainment or gladdening of the heart".

Stay tuned, and next week I'll (finally) reveal the "gamechanger" verse, and show how it can admit of no other interpretation than that God supports the use of alcohol for entertainment purposes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 2: What I was taught

I'm going to just caveat this up front, instead of interspersing constant disclaimers throughout: I do not believe what I am teaching in this post. I am doing my best to present these teachings the way I received them, not creating any straw men.

My motivation for this is intellectual honesty. In my later posts, I will be addressing the key points (and some of the minor points) in this teaching, and I don't want to waste my time or yours with irrelevant arguments. I'm not here to win a debate by rhetorical tricks.

For sake of space, this will be in outline form, with some comments here and there.

The Arguments From Scripture

First, there are the anecdotal arguments. This includes arguments derived from stories in the Bible. The point of these was always, "See! If you drink, bad things happen, and when you don't, good things happen. Alcohol is evil." Because this is the basic argument, I will only list the passages for this type, without comment on each one; as I said in Part 1, I'll address the basic argument being used here later on.

  • Noah and his vineyard. (Gen. 9:20-27)
  • Lot and his daughters. (Gen. 19:30-38)
  • Amnon (2 Sam. 13:28, 29)
  • Job's sons and daughters. (Job 1:13, 18, 19)

This rebuttal is easy: Yes, alcohol, when overconsumed, can have bad effects. It can be turned to evil. But potential evil usage is no reason to forbid all usage. If it were, you would have to assume that all material objects are forbidden. Your feet can carry you into nefarious situations; should you therefore never walk again? Jesus said, "If your eye offends you, cut it out", right? Well yes. But He did not say, "If your eye has the potential to offend you, cut it out." Else we would all be blind.

Next, there are the exemplary arguments. This goes along the lines of, "See! People that were really close to God didn't drink. You shouldn't either, if you want to be close to God. Alcohol is evil."

  • Daniel and company (Dan. 1:5-21)
  • Nazarites (Num. 6:3)
  • Priests & Levites (Lev. 10:9
  • Kings (Prov. 31:4, 5)
  • John the Baptist (Luke 1:15)
  • Jesus on the Cross (Mark 15:23)

Another class of the exemplary arguments is a bit more stretched (if such a thing were possible). This is, for example, as in Ps. 75:8. The verse makes a metaphor of God's wrath as wine mixed with other things, and the forced drinking of that mixture is a punishment. It is assumed that because alcohol can be used as a punishment, it is therefore understood to be a bad thing.

In rebuttal to both types of exemplary argument, this is simply an error of composition/division, or perhaps of exaggeration. The fact that abstention is a tool that can be used (like fasting or other ascetic works) is no reason to command it of everybody. In fact, the fact that the Nazarites were a special class would tend to indicate the opposite: that such a tool is to be used carefully, and only by those who are called to use it.

Lastly, there are the arguments from commandment, and these all center around passages where the text seems to directly command abstention from alcohol. Since rebuttal of these is a matter of case-by-case hermeneutics, rather than listing them, I will address them in order.

Prov. 20:1

This is typically interpreted to mean that if you drink, you are deceived by wine/strong drink, and are therefore not wise. So if you want to be wise, don't drink.

But this is not the only interpretation that the passage admits. It could also be (and I think it is) referring to the alcoholic: the one who thinks that there is no danger, and no limit — that he's really not under the power of the drink. This, I believe, only applies to someone who has a problem with it, and is "in denial". It is not talking about the general consumption of alcohol in general.

Right now, this far along in the series, this is purely a matter of opinion. However, we will see later that it cannot be construed as referring to the casual consumer, else God would be at variance with Himself.

Prov. 21:17

This is applied as follows: "You want to be rich, right? Wine will make you poor. Look at the drunk beggar; do you want to be like him? Then abstain from this evil!"

However, the absurdity of this extremist interpretation is manifest: would you also forbid oil? Clearly you're reading the passage wrong. The beginning of the verse sets the stage: it's talking about "he that loveth pleasure". That is what makes a man poor, and prevents him from being rich: he spends too much on nice things!

Wine and oil are nice things, pleasures. But they are also expensive. Throughout the Bible this pair indicate riches and wealth. The poverty referred to here has little if anything to do with the deleterious effects of overconsumption/addiction.

Prov. 23:29-35

Here is the capstone of the Old Testament verses, the most direct. It is, however, merely another "exemplary" argument. See above for it's general refutation. But on this specific passage, let's simply say: it's warning against the evils of alcoholism, certainly. But not alcohol qua alcohol.

That this is true, note two characteristics: first, he describes a state of "blackout" drunkenness. No one is arguing that this is OK. It's not. But for the vast majority of humanity, one drink does not equal blackout. There are varying degrees, and there is room for moderation.

Secondly, he describes this particular case as saying, "When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again." In other words, he's talking about an alcoholic, not a regular person enjoying a drink here or there.

To them — that is, to alcoholics — as any AA meeting will tell you: Yes, the advice here is good advice. Complete abstention is the path for you. Don't even look at the stuff.

But again, this only applies to alcoholics. It is not generally applicable. It can't be, or God would be at variance with Himself, as we will see.

Is. 5:11

Even if this were talking primarily about literal wine and strong drink (hint: it's not), it would still fall to the same rebuttal as Prov. 23:2-35 — it's talking about alcoholics.

Is. 5:22, 23; 28:7

These are not talking about literal wine/strong drink. The end of each passage makes it plain that this is a metaphor for erring vision and bad judgment, which are well-known side effects of overconsumption. Once again, any consumption does not automatically equal overconsumption.

Rom. 14:21

Here Paul says that abstention for the sake of a brother's salvation is good. This does not apply as a blanket command, though, obviously, and I would venture that it only applies in the brother's presence, even, although some may disagree.

Eph. 5:18

Here Paul commands directly: "Be not drunk with wine". And his reason is, "wherein is excess". Ok, fine: getting drunk leads to doing excessive things, probably sins, and that's not good. Better to be filled with the Spirit. I get that. But notice he does not say, "Don't drink wine." There is a difference between drinking and getting drunk.

But Steve! Where's the limit? Glad you asked. Here's where your discernment comes in. Get to know your body, and how much is enough. If you're not sure, ask your church, family, or (real) friends to help you figure it out. But let your moderation be known to all men.

1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7; 2:3

Applicable only to clergy, and only to keep alcoholics from obtaining those positions; not even a prohibition against clerical consumption, let alone anything more.

1 Pet. 4:3

Once again, condemns alcoholism, not alcohol. Note the word "excess".


So here I have listed the common Scriptural arguments given against the consumption of alcohol, and my rebuttals to those arguments.

In the next Part, we will look at some of the positive uses/examples of alcohol in the Scripture, the arguments against them from the abstention crowd, and the rebuttals to those arguments.

And we won't have even gotten to the "showstopper" verse yet. :)