The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Bible Study (Page 1 of 26)

Scripture Reflections: Making a Name for Ourselves

In this loose series of Scripture Reflections, I am sharing brief thoughts spurred on by my Bible reading this year. By way of reminder, my goal for these brief posts is two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


Genesis 11.1-9 relates the fascinating story of the Tower of Babel. You are probably familiar with it: in those days, everyone spoke the same language, and people settled in a plain in the land of Shinar. There they decide to build a city with a tower that would stretch into the heavens. God does not approve of these plans, and so He confuses the language of the people so they cannot understand one another, with the end result being that the building project is suspended and the people are dispersed throughout the earth.

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

What was the big deal about people building a tower? Why did God act so decisively to frustrate their plans?

Part of God’s strong negative reaction to the Tower of Babel was certainly located in the disobedience of the people: in Genesis 9, God had instructed Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and Genesis 11 makes it clear that the people did not want to carry out that command, as 11.4 indicates that they wanted to establish a city “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” It seems that they no longer wanted to obey God’s command to disperse and instead decided to try it their own way instead.

Furthermore, in light of the sad realities that had plagued the world since the failure of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), this also seems to have been an effort on God’s part to limit the potential for human oppression and domination. Human wickedness was so bad that it prompted God to flood the earth (Genesis 6), but this “reboot” of the system didn’t actually resolve the evil taint in humanity (Genesis 8.21). What if human ingenuity, human power, and, yes, human malevolence were all concentrated in one urban center? Clearly, this would have been undesirable, and God prevents it from happening.[1]

But there was also a significant amount of pride involved in the Babel tower project, and God would have taken exception to this attitude as well. Again in Genesis 11.4, the people say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” Did you catch that? Part of the motivation to build a tower to heaven was self-glorification, as the people wanted to make a name for themselves—a permanent, lasting legacy.[2]

It occurs to me that people have been wanting to make a name for themselves ever since. Surely this is a universal impulse, but I think it is especially exaggerated in individualistic cultures. The ambition of making yourself into something impressive and praiseworthy isn’t even looked down upon in our society; you could argue that it’s a significant aspect of the American Dream: “Make a name for yourself! Accomplish something that others will admire you for! Turn yourself into something special!”

As someone who has lived his entire life in the United States, I cannot help but drink deeply from my cultural surroundings, and I would suggest that, in this particular respect, my cultural surroundings have been harmful to my Christian identity. After all, as far as I can tell, the Bible teaches that I shouldn’t worry about magnifying my name at all.

In Romans 15.20-21, Paul says something interesting:

“And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”

These verses display Paul’s keen missionary mindset, as he desired to preach to those who did not know about Jesus, but they also show something about the central task of the Christian life: our lives should be centered on the proclamation and magnification of the name of Jesus Christ. We should be all about making Him known to those who do not know Him.

The impulse that was prominent in the Tower of Babel incident remains prominent in our world today, but all of our efforts of self-glorification will lead to a similar end: meaningless babble with no lasting effects. Better then, to dedicate our lives to the spreading of Jesus, the Name above all names.

May God be praised and glorified, and may the name of Jesus be known.

As Christians, our lives should be centered on the proclamation and magnification of the name of Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet

[1] See John C. Nugent, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016): 47-48.

[2] In our last post, we talked about the tragic reality of death as a part of the human experience. One very common response to the reality of death is the obsessive striving for a sort of immortality through the building of legacy, the making of a name for ourselves. Of course, God understands our quest for immortality and promises it to those who belong to Him; but it is of a very different sort than human accomplishment and the remembrance of a legacy.

Scripture Reflections: “And He Died.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am sharing brief thoughts spurred on by my Bible reading this year. By way of reminder, my goal for these brief posts is two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


If you start at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, by Genesis 5 you’ve already witnessed many important developments. God has created everything and stamped His image on humanity (Chapters 1-2). He watches in heartbreak as man rejects that image and brings sin into the good creation (Chapter 3). In Chapter 4, sin, already a part of the world, is brought to new depths as Cain kills his brother. And we have some other indications of the further progression of sin later in the chapter with the character of Lamech.

Then, Genesis 5 recounts the generations following Adam. Usually, genealogies aren’t all that interesting to us. These particular genealogies are somewhat novel because of the length of the lifespans recorded, but other than that we don’t think too much about them. If you pay close attention, though, you may be struck by three words that occur over and over: “and he died.”

Generation after generation, we read about different men—their names, how long they lived, their children—but their stories all end in the same abrupt way: “and he died” (Genesis 5.5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27). All of this repetition has a real point: it hammers home the truth that, because of the sin in the Garden of Eden, death is now an inescapable part of the human experience. It was true for the men in Genesis 5, and it’s still true today, thousands of years later, despite all of our technological advances and our obsession with cheating and avoiding death.

And that is truly tragic news: Death is the enemy of all of us and it is a part of our existence because of the consequences of sin.

But in Genesis 5, there is a glimmer of good news as well. For one man, the story did not end with “and he died”:

“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

(Genesis 5.21-24)

It seems to me that, in Enoch, we have a foreshadowing of the Gospel: for those who have a relationship with God, death is overcome. Not in the way that it was for Enoch (I fully expect to die someday, unless Jesus returns before then), but still, in a True and Eternal sense, the power of death is nullified. It does not get the last say:

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

(1 Corinthians 15.26)

Death may be an inescapable part of the human experience, but it is also inescapable for Death itself—Death will die. Resurrection is coming. Come, Lord Jesus.

Scripture Reflections: Our Utter Dependence Upon God

In a previous post, I discussed my intentions to share some brief thoughts spurred on by my daily Bible reading this year. I have, so far, not done this as well as I had hoped, but today represents the next installment.

Genesis 2 provides a focused look at the creation of humanity, man first, and then woman taken from man’s side. Genesis 2.7 reads (this is from the Jewish Publication Society translation):

“The LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

Man becomes a living being only after God breathes into Him. We are utterly dependent upon God for our very existence. 

In some ways, this may seem so obvious that it appears to not be insightful at all. Believers would universally agree with the sentiment: of course we are dependent upon God for our existence. Scripture emphasizes this in so many different places and in so many different ways:

  • In the wilderness, the people of Israel were utterly dependent upon God’s daily provision of manna.
  • At the end of Job, God appears to Job in a whirlwind and confronts him with the limits of Job’s wisdom, and God’s unfathomable provision for, governance of, and interaction with His creation.
  • In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples not to be anxious, but to trust that their heavenly Father would provide for their needs.
  • Later, Jesus tells His disciples that apart from Him, they can do nothing.
  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches that although Christians labor in God’s vineyard (he uses himself and Apollos as examples), it is God who causes the growth.
  • In Colossians, Paul talks about Jesus as the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of all things: the fabric of existence is held together by Him.

So, again, this all seems obvious enough. But I am not sure that we consistently live in accordance to this obvious truth:

  • We assume that life is a right, and just take for granted that we will continue to wake up day after day. But life is a gift, not a right: we wake up day after day only by the merciful provision of God. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • We scramble frantically to save and plan and store for the future, and feel calm and comfort when we have set enough aside to “provide for ourselves.” It is wise to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with, but it is God who holds the future in His hands and provides for us. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • We agonize over political developments in our nation and pledge our loyalty to candidates who pledge to fix what is wrong. If the wrong person is put in charge, we fear that everything may fall apart. It is appropriate for us to seek the welfare of our communities and nation, but it is God who sits enthroned above the universe, who determines the times and seasons of earthly kingdoms, and who is actively supplanting the kingdoms of the world with His own eternal kingdom. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • We worry about injustices and evils throughout our world and work ourselves into great fervor trying to remedy what is wrong (and great despondency when the injustices and evils persist despite our efforts). Of course, love of neighbor should prompt us to alleviate suffering and promote justice in our world, but our efforts will not fix this world; God’s efforts will bring about a better one. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • (This last one is especially for church leaders.) We stress over trying to do all the right things to make our congregations as healthy as possible. What can we do to help people grow as disciples? To help them better understand Scripture and process life through a Christian worldview? To be more focused on the kingdom and less distracted by other matters? To ensure that our churches will bounce back healthy after the pandemic? It is appropriate for church leaders to be concerned about their churches and work toward their health, but it is Christ who is the head of the church and who has promised its endurance. We are utterly dependent upon Him.

We are utterly dependent upon God for our very existence. That’s it; that’s the post. The idea is simple enough. But if we believe it, internalize it, and order our lives in response to it, it changes everything.

Restorationism and the Very Flawed Church at Corinth

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a graduate school class on 1-2 Corinthians, and as part of that class, read several commentaries and lots of articles. One of my favorite reads was Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians by Ben Witherington III.

Here is one particularly insightful quotation from Witherington:

Careful attention to the historical and social matrix of the Pauline communities makes it clear that the early ekklesia [church] was far from perfect. As often as not, Paul was busy exhorting Christians to change their ways. If we believe that the Christian community of today should in some sense be biblically shaped and if we hold up the example of the Pauline communities, then we must say “go and do otherwise” at least as often as we say “go and do likewise.”

One reason we tend to commit the fallacy of idealism when we reflect on the early ekklesia is that we have assumed that the “determining factors of the historical process are ideas and nothing else, and that all developments, conflicts and influences are at bottom developments of, and conflicts and influences between, ideas.” Such a premise too often leads to the false conclusion that if we get our ideas about the faith right or if we emulate “the pattern” of the early ekklesia, then our Christian community will be what it ought to be.

But if we read Paul’s letters carefully, they reveal that right living and proper social interaction both within the Christian community and with the larger world were at least as much of a concern as right thinking, and evidently the early Christians had difficulties with all these matters.

Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth, p. xv

As many readers know already, and as I have written about before, I am a spiritual descendant of the American Restoration Movement, which is based on the premise that Christians should seek unity in God’s church by emulating the teachings of the New Testament and following the example of the early church. I believe that such an approach is fundamentally valid, but I think Witherington provides some important words of caution.

When we read about different congregations of the early church in the pages of Scripture, we come across some like the church at Corinth or some of the seven churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation that serve better as negative examples of what not to do rather than examples that we should try to follow today. So, when we say that we want to be like the church of the New Testament, we need to understand that we don’t exactly mean that, because the various New Testament congregations of which we are aware varied greatly in practice, and not all of them are worth emulating. Because of that, sometimes we might clarify our restorationist goals by saying that we want to be the church of the New Testament as conceptualized and instructed by apostolic teaching. But Witherington provides a caution here too, since having the right ideas and beliefs does not necessarily lead to right practices. And after all, what does it matter what we think if we don’t live right?

To me, none of this discredits the validity of the Restoration principle, but it does mean that we should be careful when we talk about it and as we seek to apply it. For example, rather than seeking to emulate the practices of the early church in wholesale fashion, we should examine biblical texts carefully to see where and how first century congregations were affirmed or reproved for their beliefs and practices, and choose to emulate them accordingly. Furthermore, we need to realize that faithful Christianity is about more than simply believing the right things; it also entails living in a certain way. As Witherington points out, the latter does not necessarily follow the former. At the same time, while it is true that right ideas do not guarantee right practices, it’s also true that wrong ideas make right practices nearly impossible.

While it’s true that right ideas don’t guarantee right practices, wrong ideas make right practices nearly impossible. Click To Tweet

God is concerned with both: He wants us to believe certain things, which in turn empower us to live a certain way. And from this perspective, the positive and negative examples of the early church, along with apostolic teachings preserved in the New Testament, are incredibly helpful.

Scripture Reflections: God’s “Invitations” in Genesis 1

This year as part of my daily Bible reading I am doing some journaling and notetaking, and I thought it might be a useful discipline to share some of my reflections here on The Doc File. I use the word discipline because this is a habit I would like to cultivate that I hope will be beneficial for myself and readers alike (I did something similar several years ago but fizzled out after a few posts).

So, my goal for these brief posts will be two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


One of the things I love about reading Scripture is how you can notice something in a very familiar text that you had never noticed previously. Genesis 1 is one such text: I have no idea how many hundreds of times I have read it in my life, but its depths seem to be endless, constantly offering up new discoveries. This time, as I was reading through, I was struck by the rhythmic quality of the text: over and over again, God speaks, “Let there be” (light, an expanse, the sprouting of vegetation, etc), and over and over again, we have the repeated narrative comment, “And it was so.”

It is as if God is inviting creation to take place and unanimously, automatically, creation responds to the invitation of the Creator: God speaks, and it is so.

On the sixth day, God speaks into existence the pinnacle of creation: humanity, created in God’s own image. As image-bearers, humans are given a divine vocation: to rule over creation (under God’s authority), to fill the earth, master it, till and tend the garden of Eden, and give names to the animals (Genesis 1.26, 28; 2.15, 20).

Such creatures obviously possess enormous potential for cooperation in God’s good plans, but ironically, it is in this pinnacle of creation where we see a break in the pattern of the unanimous, automatic response to God’s invitation of how things are supposed to work. As we see in Genesis 3, rather than accepting God’s invitation to rule under His authority, Adam and Eve fail to reflect the divine image and seek to establish their own autonomy and authority instead. They eat of the forbidden fruit with disastrous consequences.

This has remarkable implications. That God allows His image-bearers to ignore His invitations of co-rule shows how He honors humanity with freedom. Far from an automatic response where God reveals His will and humans unanimously and immediately respond in accordance with that will, God invites us to reflect His wisdom and authority but does not force it upon us. He does all that can be done to bring us around to His side, but He allows us to pave the path to our own destruction. He is grieved by our poor choices, but He honors us too much to prevent them.

What a marvel to be given such ability with such freedom, such potential for good or evil!

As C.S. Lewis says in Prince Caspian:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Or, in the words of George MacDonald:

“However bad I may be, I am the child of God, and therein lies my blame. Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame lies my hope.”

What humanity desperately needs is an exemplar, someone who will harness the dangerous gift of freedom, submit to the wisdom and authority of God, and in so doing, perfectly reflect the divine image.

Of course, we have such a Someone; His name is Jesus.

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