Monday, August 31, 2009

14. Between the Testaments

I want to back up one from last week, #15 The New Testament Canon,

to #14. Between the Testaments.

The first in the series is #1 Faith, Evidence, and Biblical Scholarship.
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The Old Testament certainly provided the texts in which the New Testament heard God's voice and and the foundational stories by which the early Christians understood their identity. But in many respects, it was the Jewish background in the two hundred years before Christ that provided the lenses, the interpretive keys, through which they read those Old Testament texts. In this respect, one might almost say that the "intertestamental period," or perhaps more accurately, early Judaism is more directly the background to Christianity than the Old Testament itself.

We have titled this section "Between the Testaments" because it would seem a fairly Christian, especially Protestant way of referring to the period from the late 400s when books like Ezra and perhaps Malachi were written and the arrival of Jesus around 4BC. At the same time, we have mentioned that many scholars think parts of the Old Testament were written much later than this time (e.g., those who date Daniel to the 100s BC). Similarly, the Roman Catholic Old Testament has books like Wisdom that may actually have been written in Paul's lifetime. These considerations make a term like "intertestamental" less than clear in what it refers to.

Two more accurate terms are early Judaism and Second Temple Period. Second Temple Period refers to the time between when Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in 516BC and its destruction by the Romans again in AD70. Early Judaism generally refers to this same period and refers to the formative period of Judaism before it became somewhat standarized in rabbinic Judaism. We generally speak of Israelites rather than Jews in the Old Testament. The word Jew is related to Judah, the primary tribe to survive the first destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity. We thus start to speak of the "Jews" after the return from captivity in 538BC.

The Persian period of Jewish history stretches from 539BC, when Cyrus defeated Babylon, to 332, when Alexander the Great took over Palestine. The Jewish literature from this period we have is arguably in the Writings of the Old Testament, books like Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, and the post-exilic prophets. One of the most important aspects of this period is the development of Diaspora Judaism, Jews who lived outside of Palestine and were "scattered" in the world.

By the time of Christ, more Jews were living outside Palestine than in it. At the time of the New Testament, more Jewish lived in just one section of the Egyptian city of Alexandria than lived in all of Jerusalem. The Babylonian captivity (586-538BC) resulted in major Jewish presences in Babylon and Egypt, then later in Ecbatana in Persia. At Elephantine in Egypt, there was actually an alternative Jewish temple with priests and sacrifices. Some of the oldest surviving Jewish documents are the Elephantine papyri from this Jewish mercenary community in Egypt.

In 332BC, Alexander the Great took over Palestine and it passed into Greek hands. Perhaps the chief contribution of Martin Hengel (1926-2009) to biblical scholarship was his Judaism and Hellenism (1973). In this classic work, Hengel demonstrated that it was anachronistic to draw sharp distinctions between Greek and Hebrew thought at the time of Christ. Judaism had been hellenized for over three hundred years before Jesus was born and Greek influence had affected even the most sectarian of Jewish communities. Stanley Porter is another scholar of recent times who has perhaps argued more for the prevalence of Greek in Galilee at the time of Jesus than anyone else.

Hellenistic Judaism thus refers to Greek-speaking Judaism, whether in Palestine or throughout the Mediterranean world. One of the classic treatments of such Judaism at the time of Christ was Victor Tcherikover's (1894-1958), Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1931). Also destined to be a classic is John Collins' Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora (2000), which specifically discusses Hellenistic Jewish literature of this time period.

Much of the Greek Jewish literature we have seems to come from Egypt, Alexandria in particular. We have excerpts from individuals like Ezekiel the Tragedian, Demetrius the Chronographer, and Artapanus that date from around 200BC. Ezekiel is notable for its apparent ease with Moses sitting on God's heavenly throne, while Artapanus is striking in its comfort with the idea that Moses made up the Egyptian gods for them because of their lack of understanding. The Letter of Aristeas dates from the 100s and tells the legend of how the Pentateuch was translated into Greek, the Septuagint. Although this account is not likely quite the way it happened, it does reflect the likelihood that the Pentateuch was first translated into Greek in Egypt around 250BC. Aristeas is notable for the way it considers Zeus the same as the Jewish God.

The best known Hellenistic Jew is of course Philo of Alexandria, who lived from about 20BC to AD50. His life thus coincides significantly with the life of Jesus and the formative decades of Christianity. He is perhaps best known for his allegorical, non-literal interpretations of the Pentateuch. He accepted the literal interpretations, but considered the allegorical superior.

His interpretations demonstrate significant philosophical influence, particularly that of Middle Platonism, a form of Platonism that emerged in the first century BC. He followed in what was apparently a longstanding practice of using Greek philosophy to interpret Scripture, most notably Aristobulus from around 200BC. In later life he became embroiled in the politics of Alexandria.

Around AD38, riots broke out against the Jews of the city in the aftermath of a visit by Herod Agrippa I (cf. Acts 12). After things calmed down, Philo led a delegation to the emperor Caligula to settle the question of whether the Jews were truly citizens of the city of Alexandria or not, a visit he tells of in his treatise, Embassy to Gaius. Caligula was assassinated before making a decision, but the emperor Claudius who followed him judged that the Jews were not citizens and should be content with their place in Roman society.

The Philo of Alexandria group of the Society of Biblical Literature has invested a great deal of effort both in its yearly Studia Philonica Annual, which not only includes articles on Philo, but an exhaustive bibliography on all publications on Philo. A new commentary series on the works of Philo has also ensued.

Josephus is the best known Jewish historian. Although he was from Jerusalem and an Aramaic speaker, his historical writings have all survived in Greek. He was of priestly descent and upper class. He was actually a Jewish general in the Jewish War against Rome in AD66-73, although he surrendered and later took the position that the Romans were in the right (Jewish War). He went on to live in Rome and eventually wrote his Antiquities of the Jews, a key source of information on much Jewish history. It contains, for example, some of the key background information we have on groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes (Antiquities 18; cf. also War 2). Steven Mason, more than any other scholar, has distinguished himself as the chief expert on Josephus in our time.

The real watershed in the Jewish history of this period is the Maccabean crisis. It is perhaps safe to say that the New Testament as we know it would not have existed if this crisis had not taken place. The Maccabean crisis brought to a head the most hellenizing forces in Israel in relation to more traditional forces. The result was the solidification of Jewish identity in distinction from the surrounding culture and a political empowerment it had not known for hundreds of years.

We do not have a large amount of non-biblical Jewish literature prior to the crisis of 167BC. The book of Tobit is in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testament, and probably dates to the 200s BC. It involves the popular piety of burial of the dead and shows the beginnings of an interest in demons and the naming of angels, topics absent from the older books of the Old Testament.

The earliest version of Sirach dated to around 200BC and is a Proverbs-like collection of wisdom, also in the Catholic and Orthodox Bible. It was then translated into Greek in Egypt later in the 100s. It is perhaps most striking to us in its very biased view of women and the absence of any meaningful sense of afterlife. In this way it remains still similar to the Old Testament's general lack of awareness of any meaningful life after death and perhaps was created by a segment of Jewish society that became the Sadducees less than fifty years later. Matthew 11's imagery of taking on Jesus' yoke and learning of him may be an allusion to this book (e.g., ***). Sirach 24 also is a very important personification of wisdom that sees wisdom incarnated in the Jewish Law.

Tobit and Sirach, along with Wisdom, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Judith, and Baruch, are the chief writings that are in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments, but not in most Protestant Old Testaments (the Episcopalians are an exception). Also including in the Roman Catholic canon are expansions to the book of Esther in Greek that smooth out some of the theological problems it raises and three short additions to Daniel (Susanna, Prayer of Azariah, and Bel and the Dragon). We mentioned in the section the Old Testament Canon that these books seemed to have had a kind of second or deuterocanonical status up until 1545, when the Roman Catholic Church promoted them in response to Luther's demotion of them.

Various other Eastern churches add other books to their canons. The Orthodox Church, for example, includes 1 Esdras in its canon, a mixture of Ezra, Nehemiah, and a very little else. Also added to the Orthodox canon are the very hellenistic book of 4 Maccabees as well as the brief Prayer of Manasseh. 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and a few other books are even further added to the Ethiopian canon of the Old Testament.

1 and 2 Maccabees tell various aspects of the Maccabean crisis, which took place between 167 and 164BC. In 198BC, the (Greek) Syrians to the north, the Seleucid dynasty, had finally defeated the (Greek) Egyptians to the south, the Ptolemy dynasty, and had taken power in Palestine for the first time since Alexander the Great had taken over the region. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was particularly hostile and did significant damage to the city in 175BC.

In the days that followed, he derailed the traditional line of high priests, in effect giving power to the highest bidder. The result was an extreme hellenization of Jerusalem, with even the building of a Greek gymnasium and eventually laws against circumcision and forced sacrifice to other gods. 1 Maccabees is the primary source for this crisis. In 167BC the temple was defiled and a period of guerrilla warfare ensued, with the family of Judas the "hammer," or macchabeus, emerging the victor. His prother Jonathan would take the title high priest and then later, a great nephew, Aristobulus, would take the title king.

2 Maccabees is much less focused on history and more on God's vindication of the righteous. It was possibly, though not definitely, written by a Pharisee in the first half of the first century BC, prior to the Romans taking power over Palestine in 63BC. 2 Maccabees is most notable for its strongly physical understanding of resurrection, involving intestines and all. It also seems to have a sense of vicarious suffering of the righteous for others, as seven righteous Jewish brothers hope that their suffering might bring an end to God's wrath on the Jewish people. Some, although perhaps not most, think that it gives us the first instance of Jewish belief in creation out of nothing. Hebrews 11:35 may allude to the core story of the book.

The books of Judith and Baruch may also date to the period after the Maccabean crisis. Judith is a tale about a woman who kills a foreign general by cleverness. Judith, like Esther and Susanna, is part of a striking group of Jewish writings whose heros are women. Baruch is a lament over the suffering of God's people.

The Maccabean crisis probably more than anything else gave rise to the Jewish groups we know of from the time of Christ. Although we cannot say for certain, the Sadducees were very possibly priestly "sons of Zadok" who were displaced from the priesthood first by the Syrians and then by the Maccabean or Hasmonean priests (family name). They were upper class and "conservative" in theology and practice--like most of the Old Testament they had no sense of an afterlife. Although it is often said they did not believe in angels and only used the Law as Scripture, these depictions both come from problematic interpretations of single comments in the background literature.

The Pharisees and Essenes may have both in their own ways have been the heirs of the hasidim or faithful ones from the Maccabean crisis. These are individuals whose zeal for the Jewish law during the crisis led them to choose to die rather than to fight on the Sabbath. The Pharisees would become the most influential Jewish group in the first century BC, although they only numbered about 6000. Most Jews were simply common folk, the people of the land, and did not belong to any group.

The Pharisees are known both for their strict law keeping and their belief in a future resurrection of the dead. The Maccabean crisis empowered a kind of conservatism and traditionalism that groups like the Pharisees and Essenes embodied. The image of Judas Maccabeus, who ironically himself was more of a pragmatist, would become the consummate example of Jewish zeal of "Judaismos." The various revolutionary groups around the time of the Jewish War (Zealots, Sicarii) no doubt looked to him as a model.

The most conservative group we know of within the Judaism of the period are the Essenes. They seem to have roots in an apocalyptic form of Judaism that reached back into the 200s BC but really seems to have solidified sociologically in the early 100s. The book of 1 Enoch is a compilation of five different writings that grew and expanded over some three hundred years. It seems to have become sacred literature for those who eventually found their way to become the Dead Sea community on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, a group most scholars consider to have been one kind of Essene.

The earliest books in 1 Enoch are the Book of the Watchers (chaps. 1-36) and the Astronomical Book (chaps. 72-82). The later does not clearly endorse a solar or lunar calendar over the other, but its solar version (364 days) became the calendar of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Sect. This was one significant later bone of contention between the Dead Sea sect and the Jerusalem temple, which operated on a lunar calendar (354 days).

The Book of the Watchers is intriguing for a number of reasons, not east because Jude 14-15 quote from 1 Enoch 1:9 and seems to assume Enoch was in fact the speaker of these words. It is, however, the virtually unanimous conclusion of scholarship that The Book of the Watchers dates in its current form to the beginning of the 100s BC. 1 Peter 3:20 seems to allude to the fallen angels of this story as well. While Paul locates the primary origins of earthly evil in the sin of Adam, the Book of the Watchers seems to locate it with the sin of certain angels during the time of Noah and the Flood.

For example, one part of the Book of the Watchers sees the origins of demons in the spirits of the fallen giants who were the offspring of sexual unions between angels and human women. This story is sometimes (though not always) suggested as the background of the curious statement in 1 Corinthians 11:10 that a woman should veil her head "because of the angels," remembering that Paul believed in bad angels as well as good ones. Also, if we set Daniel 12 out of consideration, 1 Enoch 22 becomes the oldest clear sense of varying rewards for the dead, probably also including a resurrection of some sort.

Two other sections of 1 Enoch date to just before and just after the Maccabean crisis. Again, if we leave Daniel out of consideration, the Apocalypse of Weeks (1 Enoch 93, 91--the chapters are strangely out of order) is the oldest known historical apocalypse, which is a revelation of soon coming events by a breakdown of history into ages leading up to the present. The prophet is usually a dead figure from the distant past, in this case Enoch. Such apocalypses are usually easy to date based on when the predictions go awry. As we saw in our discussion of critical issues in Daniel, this is why most non-evangelical scholars date the later chapters of Daniel to around 165 BC during the Maccabean crisis. The Dream Visions (chaps. 83-90) also give two historical apocalypses that are dated to the decades just after the Maccabean crisis for this reason.

It would seem that the group that went on to form the Dead Sea community was related in some way to the apocalyptic Judaism that produced the books of 1 Enoch. Around the year 150, a book called Jubilees presented an interpretive version of Genesis, sometimes placed in a category called rewritten history. Also about this time, an unknown high priest of the Jerusalem temple, which the Dead Sea Scrolls call the Teacher of Righteousness, may have been replaced by Jonathan Maccabeus when he assumed the high priesthood (the proposal of James VanderKam). This event may have marked the beginning of the group we call the Essenes.

Although the Dead Sea community probably did not settle at the Dead Sea until about 100BC, the origins of its parent groups probably goes back to the mid-100s when the Teacher of Righteousness was replaced by Jonathan. The dominant view is currently that the group that settled at Qumran on the northwest side of the Dead Sea were in fact those who stored the Dead Sea Scrolls in the nearby caves and they they were a subset of broader Essenism. Thus there were many other Essenes (Josephus says 4000) and the Dead Sea community was only a small group of them, perhaps an even stricter sect than most.

Other hypotheses have not won much support, including Norman Golb's suggestion that the scrolls were unrelated to the nearby Qumran community and were deposited by individuals fleeing Jerusalem in the Jewish War. Another suggestion is that of Lawrence Schiffman, who argued the scrolls are Sadducean in some broad sense. It is true that the scrolls show some affinities to Sadducean perspectives on some issues, but these can probably be accounted for in light of priestly influence by way of the Teacher of Righteousness.

Some broader Essene documents were actually known before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. The Covenant of Damascus (CD) had been known since before the turn of the century and was suspected to be Essene. Certainly 1 Enoch and other writings that the Dead Sea community seemed to have considered Scripture were known.

But the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) potentially presented a much deeper look into the history of this movement. A writing called Some of the Works of the Law (4QMMT) may very well reflect the advice of the Teacher of Righteousness to Jonathan Maccabeus as Jonathan (the first "Wicked Priest") was about to assume the high priesthood. After the Teacher lost this battle, a wealth of Essene literature arguably arose, ranging from a collection of hymns, the Hodayot (1QH) to plans for an end times temple in the Temple Scroll (1QT) to a description of the final end times battle in the War Scroll (1QM). These Essenes produced a number of commentaries, most notably the Habakkuk Commentary (1QHab).

These writings potentially illuminate the New Testament in a number of ways. For example, the Hymns have a sense of human sinfulness and divine predestination that are not unlike themes we find in Romans. The very phrase "works of Law" that appears so centrally in Romans and Galatians may be illuminated by the intra-Jewish argument of 4QMMT. The Habakkuk commentary interprets Habakkuk by a method now known as pesher, where words in Scripture are directly applied to contemporary situations. Although it is debated, this highly non-contexual, contemporary method of interpretation is not unlike Matthew's highly non-contextual method of interpretation.

A number of other documents, including other commentaries and worship documents were found among the eleven caves. 4QFlorilegium shows that the early Christians were not the only ones to use Psalm 2 in relation to the Messiah. 4QTestimonia confirms that other Jews collected Scriptures according to topics, giving some credance to the possibility that the early Christians might have collected Jesus' sayings, as we will see in a later section. Some (though not all) argue that 11QMelchizedek is important background to Hebrews 7's imagery of a heavenly priest from the order of Melchizedek. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShab) indicates that some Jews saw their worship as a participation in heavenly, angelic worship. Although the majority may still see the "worship of angels" in Colossians 2:18 as worshipping angels, a number now suggest it is participation in angelic worship that is there in view.

The story of the discovery of the DSS is fairly well known. Allegedly, a Bedouin shepherd found the first cave after throwing a rock into a cave and hearing a jar break. The better known scrolls from Cave 1 then came out fairly quickly, including a new Community Rule (1QS) that was very much like the Covenant of Damascus, except perhaps more sectarian. One of its key features was its prediction of two messiahs, one of a kingly sort and the other a priest. One by-product of the DSS is a recognition that the word "messiah" was somewhat ambiguous in itself. That is to say, there may not have been any absolute sense of what a person meant at the time if they referred to "the messiah."

Some of the most central scholars of the early days were Eleazar Sukenik, who was one of the earliest Jewish scholars consulted, and Roland de Vaux, who did the first major excavations at Qumran after the cave discoveries. J. T. Milik was also a major interpretive player early on. Many of their initial suggestions have been significantly refined. The 1990s in particular saw a major movement forward in Qumran studies as all the remaining fragments were made available for study. Although many cried conspiracy, the slowness of academia effectively kept the scrolls from study until by some sly work photographs were finally made of all the fragments by Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991.

Gabriele Boccaccini (Beyond the Essene Hypothesis, Eerdmans, 1998) has recently made some very plausible suggestions about the history of Essenism in relation to the Dead Sea Scrolls and some of the associated literature that was not found there. He suggests, as we have described, that the community at Qumran was an off-shoot of broader Essenism. He then suggests that broader Essenism continued to write literature that has survived but was not a part of the Qumran library. For example, although the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 91-108) is known at Qumran, it is only the first chapters. Boccaccini suggested that the later chapters date from after the Qumran founding.

One important aspect of the Dead Sea discoveries was the absense of the Parables of Enoch, chapters 38-71 of 1 Enoch. The implication is perhaps that this book did not exist at the time that the Qumran community split off from broader Essenism. This is very significant for study of the gospels, because the Parables have the closest background to the way some sayings use the phrase Son of Man. The final judgment scene of Matthew 25 is very similar to that of various scenes in the Parables. Jesus' usage of the phrase would not have been ambiguous if the Parables were widely known at the time, suggesting they date to the early or mid-first century AD.

Other apocalyptic writings of the first century before and after Christ include the form of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs we have. The Testament of Levi in this form depicts three heavens, with God in the highest heaven. The Ascension of Isaiah has similar layers of heaven, seven in all, with increasing degrees of holiness as one ascends. The Apocalypse of Abraham is significant for its sense of disembodied life after death, and the Testament of Job attests speaking in tongues among non-Christian Jews. Some of these writings are later than the New Testament.

Other writings from the century before and after Christ cannot be obviously located with a particular group. The Psalms of Solomon date to not long after the Romans took control of Palestine and chapter 17 is a principal background text to the idea of a human, political messiah whom God would eventually send to crush the Romans. The book of Wisdom is very difficult to date precisely, but it is a very important background text alluded to in Hebrews 1:3 (Wis. 7:26). It is part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments and actually shows up as a candidate for the New Testament canon in the first few centuries of Christianity. Although it is debated, it seems to affirm a resurrection. It demostrates some philosophical influence and was perhaps written in Alexandria.

Another writing that perhaps dates to the century before Christ is the Life of Adam and Eve, which is the first known Jewish writing to equate the serpent of the Garden of Eden with Satan. It thus serves as significant background to Paul's sense of the Genesis story as the point when the world went amuk. Satan is envious of the role God has given to Adam in the creation and refuses to bow down before the image of God.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Paul: The Unknown Years 1

Previous posts in this series include:

1a. Born at a Time and Place 1
1b. Part 2

2a. A Change in Life Direction
2b Post 2
2c Part 3

Today the beginning of chapter 3 of Life Reflections on the Writings of Paul.
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Paul's writings tell us little of the time between his coming to faith and when he started to write letters to churches he had founded. We do have several chapters in Acts about this period, chapters 13-18. But from a historical standpoint we should be careful. Anyone who carefully sets Luke's presentation of Jesus next to that of Matthew, Mark, and John will notice some differences in ordering and perspective. Even if these historical tensions can all be resolved, we can reasonably conclude that if these other gospels had second volumes like Acts, the same historical tensions would be there too. In short, our impressions of what happened might be different from what may seem obvious to us in Acts.

It seems reasonable to conclude that more than history telling was going on in the presentations of the gospels and Acts. These documents are arguing for something, and the manner of presentation arguably was meant more to serve those purposes than to serve some dispassionate, modern quest to present historical data as objectively as possible. [1] Nevertheless, after giving that warning, we have little choice but to rely on the Acts account if we have any desire at all to flesh out these years. We have little else to go on.

If we start with Paul's own comments, we can at least sketch a basic framework of his activities in the "lost years." He says in Galatians 1:16-17 that he did not go up to Jerusalem when God revealed Himself "in him." Instead he went to a place he calls, "Arabia." Then he returned to Damascus, and finally three years after the first revelation went up to Jerusalem for a brief period of about two weeks. He went up to see Peter (whom he calls by his Aramaic name Cephas). And he also met James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19). He says he did not see any of the other apostles.

Paul's comments here are a good illustration of what another version of Acts might look like, if we had one. We can fit most of what Paul says with the account in Acts 9. But Paul and Acts give us slightly different impressions of what happened. For example, Acts 9:19 does say that Paul spent "several days," even "many days" (9:23) with the disciples in Damascus. But if we did not have Galatians, we probably would not interpret those statements to mean three years.

The difference in impression is even greater when it comes to Paul's brief stay in Jerusalem. Galatians 1:18 says it was fifteen days and that Paul only met Peter and James. Acts says that Paul moved freely throughout Jerusalem and preached boldly (9:28). But more to the point, Acts presents Barnabas taking the initiative to introduce Paul to the apostles (9:27). In other words, the impression we get from Paul is that he had a rather brief, rather private meeting with Peter and James alone among the earliest believers. From Acts we get the impression of someone who met the entire leadership of the Jerusalem church and then only left Jerusalem because certain Greek-speaking Jews were after him (9:29-30).

Where the Arabia is that Paul mentions is open for debate. Many have thought Paul meant that he actually travelled to the Sinai peninsula where the Law was first revealed (cf. Gal. 4:25). However, the logistics of departure and return to Damascus north of Galilee really pushes us to see Arabia as the Nabatean kingdom just to the east of Damascus, whose leading city was Petra. This city is where the King Aretas IV ruled, the king whose Arab governor tried to arrest Paul outside Damascus (cf. 2 Cor. 11:32).

The difference between Paul's own account of his escape and that of Acts gives us more than a hint of Acts' approach to telling the early Christian story. Acts 9 tells us that "the Jews" of the city tried to kill him because they did not like his preaching. But Paul himself in 2 Corinthians says that it was the representative of the Arabian king Aretas that was trying to arrest Paul, presumably because of something he had done when he had visited Arabia.

We often picture Paul praying and studying during these first three years as a believer, going to seminary, as it were, to sort out the cognitive dissonance of his conversion. But it seems very likely that at some point he recognized God's call to the Gentiles and began to preach to them (cf. Gal. 1:16). Perhaps his earliest preaching was rather confrontational indeed. [2] Perhaps Paul's earliest preaching adopted whatever radical version of the gospel Stephen and the Greek speaking believers had preached, a radical message which got Stephen stoned... and perhaps left Paul treading some rough waters in his earliest days.

It is of course possible that both the Jews of Damascus and the ethnic leader of Arabs in the city were out to get him. But if we were to choose, we would clearly go with Paul's sense of who was after him, not least because Acts consistently seems to downplay opposition to Paul from secular authorities and to emphasize "the Jews" as his opponents. This is not an idle point or some fiendish desire to undermine a biblical account. What for Luke was perhaps a tacit explanation for God allowing the Romans to destroy Jerusalem--a focus in his presentation on mainstream Jewish rejection of Jesus as Christ--has sometimes in history become an excuse for anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews. If we truly want to understand how the gospel first unfolded, we must take Acts' tendencies into account in our reconstruction.

The best guesses as to when Paul might have escaped Damascus put him in the city around AD36-37. This dating would put his coming to faith around AD33-34, about three years after Jesus had risen from the dead. Sometime around AD36, Herod Antipas--the one who beheaded John the Baptist--was driven out of power in Damascus for a short time by King Aretas. It was accordingly a point when Arab power in the city was probably greater than at other times.

Both Paul and Acts tell us that Paul returned to Asia Minor for some time. Acts tells us that Tarsus was his home town and, while Paul himself does not say so, we have no reason to doubt it. He does not emerge from that area in Acts until some ten years later, when Acts tells us Barnabas took the initiative to go bring him to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). When we imagine what Paul was doing all those years, it is hard for us not to assume he was spreading the good news throughout his home territories. His tussle with Aretas in Damascus shows that his ministry did not just emerge after Barnabas went to get him. He was surely preaching all these years, a good explanation for why he never spends time in these areas during his missionary journeys.

Paul does allude to a major spiritual experience he had during those years. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, Paul speaks of "a man" who was taken up into the third heaven. He is unsure whether it was an out of the body experience or whether the man went even physically to the highest heaven. Since he goes on to tell of how God let him have a "thorn in the flesh" so that he would not boast about such revelations (12:7), it is clear he is talking about himself. Paul says this experience happened some fourteen years previous, which would put it in the early 40s, while he was in Tarsus... [3]

[1] Of course Paul's letters were also arguing for things, which is something to keep in mind as well--that they also present things from a perspective.

[2] Two books that explore these early years of Paul's Christian life are Rainer Riesner's Paul's Early Period, trans. by D. W. Scott (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); and Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer's Between Damascus and Antioch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997).

[3] Some, particularly Seyoon Kim, The Origins of Paul's Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982)*, have argued that this story is Paul's version of his conversion experience. It is of course possible that the number 14 is a somewhat approximate term. But since 2 Corinthians probably dates from the second half of the 50s, "14 years" would be about ten years off. So while the possibility is enticing, we really do not have a good basis for equating the two.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What do ya know: Obama's the Antichrist...

A friend of mine sent me this video link that makes us wonder if Obama is the antichrist. It was delightful.

Here's the argument:

1. In Luke 10:18 Jesus says he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.

2. In Hebrew, one word for lightning is baraq.

3. In Hebrew, one word for heights is bamah, a word used in Isaiah 14:12-19 of Satan.

4. The Hebrew word for "and" is O.

5. So baraq o-bamah is something like "lightning and the heavens" or "lightning from the heavens."

6. Therefore, Jesus might have been predicting in the Aramaic original of Luke 10:18, "I saw Satan as Barak Obama."

I'm going to be nice (although this post would be a lot funnier if I wasn't). But here's my response:

First, this argument seems riddled with problems, but I can't be too sarcastic, because it is not too unlike some of the ancient Jewish exegesis like we find in Philo, the rabbis, and indeed, the New Testament. I can't prove that this person isn't inspired, even though their argument seems throroughly flawed.

For one, it is a little ironic that the name Barack is actually the Semitic word that corresponds to the Hebrew, barach, which means "blessing." This isn't a stretch. It's where the word is actually from.

Secondly, it is true that the Hebrew word "and" is the letter waw attached the beginning of a word. But it is always pronounced vuh- (or wuh-) in this position (or oo when it comes before a b, m, or p). The letter only is pronounced "oh" in Hebrew when it is being used in the middle of a word as a hint that a long o goes there.

I might also add that this person is wrong to say that Aramaic is the oldest form of Hebrew. Both languages existed alongside each other as separate Semitic languages. Aramaic has the long o with waw I mentioned in the last paragraph less frequently than Hebrew does. This is because the Hebrew language did a dance called the Canaanite shift around the time of David, while Aramaic didn't.

Basically, the "O" part of the video is extremely comical. And how he gets from "and" to "from" is a great mystery. Both Aramaic and Hebrew use a preposition min- for "from." The expression "lightning from heaven" would thus, if we used baraq, most obviously be in Aramaic baraq mish-shuhmaya', which doesn't look anything like Barack Obama.

I'm having flashbacks to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Tell me any word and I'll show you how it goes back to Greek. Give me the name of any charismatic Democratic president and I'll show you how he is the antichrist. Really, everyone thus far in history who has suggested a specific name for the Antichrist has been wrong. So, basically, just don't go there. Those who do are almost certainly destined to be thought of the way I think of the now out of print book Eighty-Eight Reasons Why the Lord is Coming Back in 1988.

Isaiah 14 of course originally had nothing whatsoever to do with Satan. In context it is clearly about the human king of Babylon, although it uses poetic and hyberbolic language to describe him. Of course it is possible that Luke 10:18 was echoing Isaiah 14 understood spiritually in relation to Satan. If so, there would be some reason to think that the word "heights" was in view in Jesus' words.

Again, if bamah was used, its plural in Aramaic I think would be baman. "The heights," our local Semitist Elaine Bernius pointed out, would be bamata'. In that case, even with all these assumptions, we have Satan falling like baraq mib-bamata'. I should point out that we have no way of knowing if the Aramaic equivalents of these Hebrew words were even used in Galilee at the time, as far as I know.

Nope, doesn't really work, does it.

I don't believe you need to know Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic to hear or be a minister of God's word. But if you're not going to do the hard work to learn them, you shouldn't probably be cooking up stuff like this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sweeping Education Reform: Some Thoughts

I am not a politician or a trained child-educator, but since I have kids who are passing at several levels through the public school system and since I am an educator, I have several thoughts on how we might completely overhaul the American educational system. Here are my principles:

1. It is important to teach elementary school age kids how to read, write, and do basic math. But in the United States, we are at a breaking point societally.

Character education should be the number one business of the day. Values education. I know this really scares a lot of Christians and such curricula would need to be very public. But I believe we should all be able to agree on things like anger management, being kind to others, the need to take responsibility for others and not just yourself.

I'm not talking values clarification, that noble failure and poster child for anti-70s education reform. Values have to be indoctrinated. The notion that people somehow have natural goodness inside them to discover or even that people should be free to choose their own values simply aren't true of a 6 year old.

We are not free to murder others or steal from others or disregard the laws of the land. These are not innate values or necessary human values. They must be force fed into the brains of our children when they are at their youngest point or else they will never have these values. Natural human nature for most is selfish, period. But the greatest of America is not in selfishness but in altruism. Call this Judeo-Christian values if you want, but whatever you call it, it was our greatness.

We have enshrined selfishness as a virtue, resulting in economic and moral crises that we must now decide whether to pull ourselves out of or not. I oppose thinking of health care as a right or entitlement for this same reason. I would like it to be available to all--as a privilege of living in the United States and under its social contract.

The underlying problem here is not our schools, though, which is why I believe No Child Left Behind is mostly a failure. The problem is that the parents didn't have this training. Is it possible that even the majority of American parents are miserable failures at one of the most important jobs there is and one that requires no education or prerequisites at all? We could never do it, but I would have no problem in theory with physically making it impossible for kids to have children until they are 21, and only then after they have passed some serious training classes.

The number of crack babies and fetal alcohol babies, kids on all sorts of medications because their parents basically have messed them up--no doubt astounding. Anyone have some stats here?

2. I am mostly opposed to mainstreaming.

Our current philosophy basically takes our best and brightest and pulls them down by putting them in with all the discipline problems. Those that want to learn or might be enticed to learn endure what is instead a never ending battle to keep so and so under control whose mom sold his meds instead of giving them to him so that she could buy drugs.

I'm not talking about absolute separation. Anyone should be able to jump into any track at any time. But there's no point in dumbing down America and putting the future of a nation at risk because we want Johnnie-who's-parents-smoked-crack-when-he-was-in-the-womb to be exposed to some normal people. Again, I'm not wanting to throw Johnnie away. I want systems in place to try to redeem what little can be redeemed of his horrible life.

Again, it could never happen, but if prisons can't rehabilitate people who will eventually re-emerge, we have to somehow set up parallel universes for these people. I don't care whether they're government run or not-for-profit work programs, but we have to get a whole lot of unemployed, low capability people off the streets and off to work. I'm not at all wanting to throw them away. I want systems in place to redeem what little there is of their mindless lives.

I know this sounds horrible but I think it is an honest assessment of where a whole lot of America is right now. And both parties, in my opinion, have it wrong. The Republicans basically take a "tough luck" approach. You're a loser so you can just die. Wake up, you narcissists. You're part of the problem. But then the Democrats largely want to take care of the weight on society without doing anything to pull them out of their tail spin. That just perpetuates and reinforces the problem. Both paths are a one way ticket to America going down the toilet.

3. Dual tracks that emerge in high school

The Germans and others do this. The vast majority of our students are not going to be leaders in society. There's no point in requiring them to take some of the courses we're requiring them to take. Anyone should be able to take Calculus. But most should take Real World Math.

In short, most students should take a vocational training program in high school that involves transition to jobs from the ninth grade on. Those who are going to go on to be engineers or work for a pharmaceutical company can go on to take Chemistry and Calculus. And there should be definite rewards for taking the harder way. Again, anyone can jump tracks if they want to.

There could also be special tracks for those who are more interested in literature or the arts or in teaching. My impression is that the senior year of high school in America is basically a waste of time except for those really planning on going on with more academic pursuits. Let's do what Britain does and get people moving toward careers in high school.

OK, there's my rant for the day. Have at it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Scholarship Starters: Variations in Missional Hermeneutics

We're about half way through the first online week of an MDIV course called the Missional Church. Dr. Charles Arn is the professor of record and has really invested an incredible amount of time getting ready for this course. He's gone from never having taught an online course to becoming a Jedi master at Blackboard who runs circles around me, not to mention that he must have read every drop of missional literature, online and on book this summer, just to be all over it... and he is.

But I am the designated Bible professor for the course, which means that I will drop in a number of times to facilitate specific Bible discussions. These are really team taught courses. Bud Bence and Chris Bounds will be dropping in similarly to lead church history and theology discussions.

The discussions I'm facilitating this week have to do with Christopher Wright's book, The Mission of God. You can read my review here. And it has occurred to me that there really will be significant differences in the way one understands the Bible as the mission of God depending on what theological tradition you come from.

I am a bad person, so I have not kept up with all the excellent work Brian Russell of Asbury Florida has been doing on missional hermeneutics. I think he has a book soon coming out soon.

Anyway, I've started a new tag category. I have ideas for books and articles all the time. But I'm busy now with a seminary and I'm not like Joel Green or Ben Witherington, who have everything that's ever been published on the tip of their brain. The long and short of it is that writing articles takes time and a lot of work, and it's hard to find the time when you're busy doing other things that are more pressing.

So the new category is "scholarship starters," books and articles I could research and write if I had a special chamber I could go into where time stood still and you didn't need sleep. But since that doesn't exist and no one has asked me, I'll throw out the idea for someone else to write. I suppose I've already thrown out several of these from time to time, a call for some Wesleyan-Arminian to write an American church history book that is seriously critical of how Mark Noll treats fundamentalism, someone to write an American church history book backward, in a kind of "find your tradition" moving back in time kind of way.

Today's is for someone to point out the differences between the way a missional hermeneutic plays out for a Wesleyan-Arminian in contrast to a hard core Reformed person. Right now I seem up to my ears in Fuller books and Reformed books, because everyone in mission and evangelism these last forty years seems to have come from these places and traditions. I've dabbled in everything from Van Engen to Bobby Clinton. They are worthy of great praise and kudos!

But there are important distinctions that need to be brought out in a Wesleyan-Arminian context, even though all are welcome to chose. For example, I strongly disagree with the feel I get from Clinton that everything that happens to me is God trying to make me into something. I don't believe that everything that happens to me happens for a reason, like God is some divine micro-manager.

And here's a big difference that someone should write on. The mission of God in creation for a Wesleyan is not to create a world God will later redeem. The mission of God in creation for a Wesleyan-Arminian is to create a world of beauty where God's creatures can thrive and excel with humanity as a kind of steward. The mission to save the world is thus a back up plan, not always the plan. It was for Adam posse non peccare, possible not to sin.

The Reformed and Fuller literature tends to assume an extremely deterministic perspective. I deliberately decided not to go with Glasser, Van Engen, and Gilliland's Announcing the Kingdom, as well as Leslie Newbiggen's The Open Secret in part for this reason. There is much good in these books, but they are not Wesleyan-Arminian in approach.

There's nothing wrong with Reformed theology. But it will take some work for the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition to create a literature that will provide a genuine alternative. I fear that, as the down side to a tradition that is more heart focused, the Arminian voice has largely been absent from the table. And since these other sources are so close to our way of thinking, many of our leaders have absorbed some foreign ideas they would not have to.

So have at it, if anyone is interested...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hebrews, Star Wars, and Elementary Schools

This post started as a rant about some of the homework my 8 and 9 year old are getting. Questions trying to break down math problems into little steps or with alternative methods. I understand what they're trying to do and maybe some of it occasionally succeeds...

... but a lot of it is about as stupid as the kind of extreme phonics they teach at some schools. My children can do the math. But their mother and I often stare with puzzled looks on our faces, along with them, when they are asked to break down questions with obvious answers into minute mental steps.

Thinking just doesn't happen like that... (and anyone who thinks it helps first graders read to have them memorize all the alternative phonemes associated with two and three letter combinations is an imbecile). If my kids can't make heads or tails of this approach to math, I assure you the struggler might as well just go outside and make farting noises with their armpits and flap their arms like a chicken. It's not going to happen.

And on a completely unrelated note, here is an interesting presentation of Hebrews 1:1-4 via Star Wars, posted on YouTube (Aaron Rathburn, also posted by James McGrath and Jared Callaway):

What happened in the 90s?

I'm trying to expose my 8 and 9 year old to history and decided to move backward each week, since I doubt seriously they are really in any position to understand something like a century, let alone 2000 years ago. Do I even understand 2000 years?

Last week I talked to them about the 00s. I showed them video of 9-11 and the tsunami. Didn't really manage to convey the Great Recession but oh well.

So today's the 90's, trying to get them to understand their lifespan doubled. My first brainstorm came up with:

Clinton, Rwanda, U.S.S. Cole, the first trade center bombing, and the internet.

Then I cheated a little and added Oklahoma City, the first Gulf War, Columbine, Waco, Somalia, and Kosovo.

What to share of these?! I think the internet, Rwanda, and Oklahoma City.

Me, I taught Greek at Asbury, lived in England for three years, Germany one semester, got a doctorate, taught in Sierra Leone for two months, got married, and got a job teaching philosophy at Indiana Wesleyan University, then slipped into the New Testament.

What were you doing in the 90s?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

McGrath's Mostly Dishonest Scrap Meme

James McGrath has inaugurated a new kind of meme, the "Mostly Dishonest Scrap Meme" and tagged me. The rules he's set up are these:

"Post five things about yourself. Four are untrue. One is true. All are so outlandish, implausible or ridiculous that no one would be inclined to believe that any of them are true. And despite the pleas from your readers, you never divulge which is true and which are fabrications. You then tag five other people (four seriously and one person you are pretty sure would never participate)."

So here are mine. Those who know me best may actually have more trouble than those who don't... Heh, heh, heh.

1. I played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet in a student directed play in England while working on my doctorate.

2. I graduated from college with a double major in Chemistry and Mathematics.

3. Mr. Rodgers once came to hear me lead a Bible study on Hebrews at a United Methodist Church.

4. I once parachuted out of a plane in tights and a cape over Ichthus in seminary.

5. I am N. T. Wrong.

I tag Jared Callaway, Nijay Gupta, Allen Bevere, Ben Witherington, and NT Wrong (unless that's me, in which case I've already done it).

The New Testament Canon

It is with great delight that I skip to the New Testament. I thought the series was getting too heavy. The first of the series is:

Faith, Evidence, and Biblical Scholarship
__________
The question of how the New Testament canon developed is tied up with the question of the diversity of early Christianity and how it coalesced in the 300s and 400s as orthodoxy. Some of the earliest works in this area were quite simplistic, although they often represented key insights at the same time. Such a work was F. C. Baur's (1792-1860) Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ in 1845. In it he applied the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel to the development of New Testament thought. As a result, he dated and located various New Testament writings in accordance with whether they seemed to belong to Jewish Christianity, Pauline Christianity, or what he considered the synthesis of the two, Catholic Christianity.

Baur's work raised significant issues that are still discussed today. To what extent was early Christianity Jewish, for example? Baur also more than anyone else raised the question of how the New Testament writings fit in the flow of first and second century history (rather than just reading them as self-standing texts). Some of his observations continue to have impact on New Testament interpretation today, such as the way in which Acts tends to smooth over early conflicts between Paul and Jerusalem Christianity or the fact that the theology of the Pastoral Epistles seems to differ somewhat from Paul's earlier letters.

At the same time, Baur's method and many of his fundamental ideas were seriously flawed. For example, he imposed the dialectic of Hegel on history in a rather artificial and overly simplistic way. And some of his key decisions on documents like the letters of Ignatius or the so called Clementine literature are now universally rejected, effectively pulling the rug out from under his entire approach. These writings show that Paul was not so rejected, nor "catholic Christianity" so late as he supposed.

More than anyone else, we have J. B. Lightfoot (1828-89) to thank for setting this record straight. His careful, multi-volume work on The Apostolic Fathers (1885-89) established the authenticity of the letters of Ignatius and dated them to the beginning of the 100s, which undercut Baur's hypothesis fundamentally. "Apostolic fathers" here refers to a number of key authors and writings mostly just after the New Testament in the early second century, books like 1 Clement (90s), 2 Clement (anonymous sermon), the seven genuine letters of Ignatius, the letter of Polycarb, the Epistle of Barnabas (not by Barnabas), the Didache, and so forth.

This same tension between key insights and fundamental skew typifies a good deal of German biblical scholarship in the nineteenth and twentieth century. A scholar might make a very important observation but then construct from it a rigid system of thought that is then imposed on the rest of the data. We arguably saw this pattern in Wellhausen's interpretation of the Pentateuch, and we see it in Baur's paradigm for New Testament development. We arguably will see a similar pattern in the work of later Germans like Wilhelm Bousset (1865-1920).

One work that did not show this tendency, and that in fact was much more circumspect methodologically, was Walter Bauer's (1877-1960), Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity in 1934. His work asked the important question of whether in fact we can really speak of an "orthodoxy," a clear sense of who the true Christians were and what they believed, in the 100s. His conclusion, now widely accepted, was that we cannot really speak of a clear orthodoxy at this time. Perhaps most Christian historians today would in fact question whether we can meaningfully speak of Christian orthodoxy until the late 300s and 400s.

The thread we now think of as the true heirs of Jesus and Paul runs through individuals like Clement and Ignatius around the year 100 through Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus in the second century. Then there was Cyprian in the 200s and perhaps most importantly Athanasius in the 300s. In 325 the now official understanding of the Trinity was proposed and approved. In 367 Athanasius put forward the current list of New Testament books. But debates over the precise nature of Christ continued into the 400's, with key players like the Cappadocian fathers, Augustine, and many others. Early in the 400s Jerome's Latin translation of the Vulgate helped standardize the biblical text for the West.

It can be a little startling for a conservative Protestant first to look at this developmental process closely, for it is fairly clear that a good many assumptions we make about biblical foundations and fundamental biblical teachings were not at all obvious or foregone conclusions among Christians for some three to four hundred years after Jesus had ascended to heaven! The Trinity and the full divinity of Christ, beliefs that we rightly take for granted and assume to be solid bedrock biblically, were not at all obvious to a dozen generations of the earliest Christians. And so we rightly see a growing reemphasis on the importance of the Spirit and the Church among orthodox Protestants today. Much of the clarity we have on these subjects apparently does not come as much from the text alone as we might at first think but from Spirit-led Christian tradition.

It is thus appropriate for Christians to assert by faith that God ever so patiently and in no hurry guided these developments. And it would seem that He did so using individuals in positions of institutional leadership and utilizing macro-politics. Some current movements wish to distance themselves from the systems of bishops and then later from the politics of church councils, sometimes called by secular authorities like the emperor Constantine. And here it is important to observe that none of these influences was singularly definitive on the shape orthodoxy took.

For example, Constantine did not determine the outcome of the Council of Nicaea, nor did a political body of Christians enforce a particular list of New Testament books, a New Testament canon, on Christianity. Politics and authorities were certainly involved, but the outcome was bigger than these forces. The Arian understanding of Jesus, which saw him as the first created being, dominated the church of the 300s, despite the fact that the orthodox Athanasius had won the day at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Similarly, although Athanasius advanced the current list of authoritative New Testament books, it was never universally adopted by any political body.

Nevertheless, in order for us to remain orthodox, Christians must put at least some credence in the politics of the first few Christian centuries, even though we also affirm that the final verdict on matters like the canon and the Trinity were as much a matter of the mysterious moving of the Holy Spirit among grass roots Christians. And we should also acknowledge that the beliefs of Christians remained somewhat rough around the edges, moreso than the West and even the East might like to admit. Recent works like Philip Jenkins', The Lost History of Christianity (HarperOne, 2008), rightly point out that forms of Christianity long continued in Africa and Asia that did not exactly take the same positions on key issues as Western Christianity and, indeed, whose Old Testament canons in particular varied a little from "orthodox" Christianity.

The most significant body of early Christian literature that is not in the New Testament canon is the Gnostic literature, most of which was discovered in Egypt at Nag Hammadi in 1945. In the mid-twentieth century, it was quite common for scholars (e.g., Rudolph Bultmann) to see Gnostic thought as key to the development of early Christian thought. The so called History of Religions or in German, religionsgeschichtliche Schule, believed early Christian understandings of Christ to result directly from Gnostic influence.

Today, we still find a whole stream of New Testament scholarship that emphasizes the Gnostic stream of early Christianity, sometimes seeing it as a more direct heir to the teaching of Jesus than the New Testament gospels themselves. Scholars like John Dominic Crossan (1934-) believe documents like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter, neither of which go back to these disciples, to have just as much a claim to represent Jesus and earliest Christianity as Matthew or Mark. We will return to these ideas in our look at the gospels and the historical Jesus. However, most scholars would now rightly recognize that Gnosticism proper was not a coherent religious movement until the late first and early second century. Gnostic elements in early Christian thought thus do not have a serious claim to represent the thinking of Jesus or Paul.

The process of canonization went something like the following. First the New Testament books were written over about a fifty year period. The letters of Paul were first, written in the 50s and perhaps 60s to specific churches in specific situations. The gospels and Acts all likely reached their current form after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, although it is possible that Mark dates from the pre-70 period. The dating of the general epistles depends on one's conclusions on authorship, thus ranging from dating them primarily in the 60s to some who would date a book like 2 Peter to the early second century. Johannine literature and Revelation are often dated to the 90s in their current forms.

According to Walter Bauer, we cannot speak of any clear orthodoxy or canon in the second century. Certainly the bulk of Paul's writings seem to have had enjoyed wide acceptance among Christians, although there were Christian Jewish groups like the Ebionites who would not have used them. One of the most notable moments in the development of the canon was perhaps the first known "canon list" by the Gnostic Marcion (ca. 150). Marcion did not believe that the God of the Old Testament was the Father of Jesus Christ. He believed that the material world was evil and thus that its Creator could not be good. His version of the New Testament canon was a truncated version of Luke and a portion of Paul's letters.

Although it is debated, Hans von Campenhausen (1903-89) suggested that it may very well have been the rejection of Marcion's canon list that inspired other Christians to begin to develop a more appropriate one (The Formation of the Christian Bible, 1968). Scholars disagree whether the Muratorian Canon dates from the late 100s or a couple centuries later, but if original, it represents a very early list of books that accepts the four gospels, Acts, and Paul's writings, although not many of the general epistles. If we are to go by the harmony of the gospels created by Tatian (the Diatesseron) and by the bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus, the four gospels in our current Bible enjoyed significant agreement by the late 100s, although certainly many more Gnostic gospels were in use in Egypt at the time.

Discussion in the next two hundred years thus centered around the edges of the New Testament canon: Hebrews, Revelation, Wisdom, the Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Peter, and so forth. Authorship became important, as books like Hebrews and 2 Peter likely would not have been included if Pauline and Petrine authorship had not become accepted. Antiquity might also be thought a criterion. Hermas was too late and not connected to an apostle, dating to about AD150. How widely a book was used shows up in Eusebius' (ca. 263-339) discussion of the canon, showing that the use of a book widely by churches across the Mediterranean was a factor. It seems significant to note that the debate did not center on whether these books were inspired.

The first list we know of that agrees exactly with the list Christians currently use appears in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in AD367 (this dispels the strange but popular rumor that the canon was set at the Council of Nicaea in 325). Although no canon list has ever been adopted by a universal council of Christendom, a Western council at Carthage, North Africa, did adopt Athanasius' list in 398. Nevertheless, different Christians did continue to use varying books over the next few century.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Paul: A Change in Life Direction 3

The first two posts of this chapter were:

Post 1
Post 2

And now, the conclusion of the chapter:
________
The story of Paul's "conversion" to Christ in Acts is often used as a model for how to come to Christ, how one becomes a "Christian." [7] One recent book by Richard Peace, while focusing as much on the disciples' supposed conversion as well, presents Paul as a model of 1) gaining an insight into your true state and who Jesus truly is, 2) turning direction toward Christ, and 3) transformation. [8] No doubt many individuals, particularly those now in their second half of life, resonate with this standard model of "getting saved." One recognizes his or her need for Christ and repents of one's sins. You exercise faith in Christ, acknowledging and surrendering to him as Lord. Then the Holy Spirit transforms you and makes you a new creation.

On the other hand, these old familiar themes may not seem so familiar to younger generations today. Indeed, part of Peace's goal in his book is no doubt to open the door for those whose awareness of and turning to Christ is much, much more gradual and a process. Repentance is not a real popular theme today, not when it is properly understood as a real, substantial recognition of what is wrong in your life and the real need for a change in your life direction. Ironically, never in history have Christians so easily confessed themselves as sinners... and never in history have they been so comfortable about it! True insight into Christ and true repentance entails a passionate desire to change, and in that sense we must doubt whether the majority of Christians in America today are even converted.

The question of eternal destiny is a distinct question from conversion. Who will God let escape the most definitive judgment yet to come? Many traditions, including my own, have tended to believe that God weighs each person "according to the light they have." [9] Certainly no one can be "saved" apart from Christ. But does God sometimes save individuals through Christ even though they have never heard of him? Does God weigh us according to the insight we have? My own tradition has tended to say so.

Insight into Christ might thus not be full knowledge. Indeed, whatever we think of postmodernism, it has rightly humbled our overconfidence in what we think we know and a too glib assumption that we can see the world with a God-like clarity of understanding. It does not take much reflection to recognize how embarrassing it should be to think we basically see the world the way God does.

Many of those who grow up in fervent Christian homes also do not have as radical a turning as Paul did. There are surely people who would have escaped God's judgment at every point in their lives. When they were children, they did not know about Christ and God would have accepted them. Then the first time they recognized the Lordship of Christ, they surrendered to him as king. They have served Christ ever since. Such individuals thus have been "saved" at every point of their life and never underwent a radical turning.

As we go through Paul's letters, we will see that the key moment in becoming Christ's for Paul is neither insight nor turning, but receiving the Holy Spirit. This is God's action when He puts His seal of ownership on us (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:21-22). The lead up in insight or repentance may take various lengths of time. But the Spirit is the key ingredient to being a Christian. That is, again, not to say that God may show mercy on individuals who have not come to this point. It is only to say that Paul seems to have drawn a fairly clear line on moving from "out" to "in."

When does this event happen? For some it is a dramatic experience, as Acts depicts Paul's entrance into salvation. For others it may be a later recognition of something that happened somewhere along the way without even realizing it. Luke says that John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit even in the womb (Luke 1:15), so we are in no position to say that some children do not have the Holy Spirit even long before they have the insight to confess faith.

So the conversion of Paul in Acts may resonate with some, particularly those for whom coming to Christ involved a radical turning from one way of life to another or from one understanding to another. Others may resonate more with the way Richard Peace and others use the disciples as a model of a long process of turning to Christ. [10] And still others, particularly those from traditions that baptize their children, may resonate more with John the Baptist's experience, a man who grew up following God's leading from his earliest days.

[7] We mentioned Krister Stendahl above in note 3 and referenced his book, Paul among Jews and Gentiles, as one of the fifty books a person might read to begin to master the study of Paul. In this book, Stendahl famously questions whether it is appropriate to use the word conversion in relation to Paul's believing on Christ. Stendahl prefers to think of Paul's experience as a "calling" rather than a "conversion."

On the one hand, Stendahl was more right than wrong in terms of how people popularly think of Acts 9. Paul was not changing religions, like we would say of someone today "converting" from Judaism to Christianity. Paul did not see himself changing religions but changing his understanding of the Jewish Scriptures and how God planned to move forward with His people.

At the same time, if we can resist using the word anachronistically, Paul did radically change in his understanding of Jewish faith. He turned from one sect with a distinct understanding to a quite different sect within Judaism. In that sense, we can still use the word conversion if we are clear about what we mean.

We must also keep in mind that we are not reading Paul's personal account of his conversion to Christ in Acts. It would have been quite acceptable for the author of Acts to tell the story of Paul's conversion in a somewhat dramatized way, perhaps even with some novelistic features. If we look at how differently the gospels sometimes tell the story of Jesus from each other, it is hard not to conclude that their versions of Acts would differ just as much from Acts, if they had written them. Scrupulous historical reconstruction, if we wish to do it, must thus always take into account the perspectives and tendencies of each source rather than assuming we are reading a verbatim or documentary style presentation.

[8] Peace, Richard, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) **. For a partial review of the book by me, see here.

[9] The Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.

[10] Remembering, however, that from the standpoint of Luke-Acts, the disciples could not properly be "converted" until the Day of Pentecost, because it was only then that Christ had sent the Holy Spirit. In Luke-Acts, as well as John, Christ's death and resurrection had to precede this event (e.g., Luke 3:16; John 16:7). In that sense, the lead up of the disciples to their "conversion" in Luke-Acts was seemingly longer than Paul's, but the conversion itself is portrayed as a moment in time, just as much as his.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

To a Wesleyan thinking of becoming Presbyterian...

What I wrote was, "You have no choice but to go if you go, but of course you are free to stay if you stay."

:-)

Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi

Those in the know are now very disappointed for clicking on this link. No, I'm not going to discuss the question of whether Kuhn "plagiarized" Polanyi's ideas. By the way, I haven't looked into it, but I bet the reason Kuhn had massive influence and Polanyi is little known is because Kuhn's analysis comes in a more narrative form...

I've had writer's block on philosophy for about two months now. Chapter 8 of my philosophy text has just sat there waiting for two textboxes to get done. Argh!

So since I don't know if I will post anything else today, here is, finally, my textbox on Thomas Kuhn. I'll never go back to do a PhD in philosophy--I pity those who do. But if I had lots of extra time on my hand, I would love to explore the thought of Hilary Putnam. He sure makes me feel stupid...

And now, the textbox:

"Thomas Kuhn lived from 1922-1996 and is best known in philosophy for his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Philosophically, Kuhn stands in between the logical positivists, who believed that only things that could be observed could be considered true in any real sense, and postmodern philosophers of science like Paul Feyerabend (1924-94), who did not believe science was truly about reality at all but about sociology and groups of people interacting with each other.

The most central challenge of Kuhn’s work to the prevalent understanding of science is his sense that scientific discovery is not strictly an ever improving movement toward greater and greater understanding of reality. Rather, significant human elements are involved in the process of what we think of as scientific development. Differing scientific “paradigms” operate from categories that are “incommensurable,” meaning that they cannot really be compared with each other. Critics of this claim have suggested in contrast that some of the fundamental observations that paradigms interpret remain the same and thus that differing paradigms do allow for comparison.

Kuhn himself was quite keen to distance himself from the label of “relativist” in the aftermath of his first edition. In his second edition, for example, he suggests that a paradigm that covers more content in its scope—explains a larger pool of data—can be considered a better paradigm. He thus did not reject the basic idea of scientific progress.

Some overlap exists between the thought of Thomas Kuhn and the slightly earlier Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) such that some of Polanyi’s followers initially saw Kuhn as borrowing from Polanyi’s thought. Thus Kuhn brought Polanyi into explicit conversation with his ideas in the second edition of Structure. Polanyi argued that “tacit knowledge,” elements of our thought that are not completely conscious or easily articulated, is involved in all knowing. We thus cannot be completely objective because there are always hidden elements steering our thinking (Polanyi is associated with critical realism). Scientific development is thus not strictly an objective development, but human factors are also involved.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What they didn't learn in seminary

I was sent this link today on what various people didn't learn in seminary. I will resist bragging on a newly formed seminary I've heard of...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jamie Smith's the Bomb...

There's a Christianity Today article today on James K. A. Smith's new book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Culture Formation. We had Smith on campus two years ago while he was working on the book. He swears that he is thoroughly Reformed in theology (he teaches at Calvin College), but he was preaching to the Wesleyan-Arminian choir. Keith Drury said, "If Wesley was a hair's breadth from Calvin, this guy shows how Calvin can be a hair's breadth from Wesley!"

The book operates with several distinctives that are very natural for Wesley: heart right with God and neighbor first, then faith seeking understanding. It is Smith's taking on of the postmodern critique and the absolute necessity of faith in knowledge that brings him to this basic destination, his "radical orthodoxy." Thus he claims that education is more about formation than information. Right on target!

Several of us have avoided the word "worldview" for a while now. Not that we disagree that there is such a thing as a Christian worldview. It's just that, like Smith's book, we recognize that most of what passes for this name is full of all sorts of smuggled in cultural and sub-cultural assumptions that bear closer scrutiny. Given the current way the word is used, some of us tend to avoid it for now.

So if I complained about a CT article last week, I'll praise one this week...

P.S. Some of us got together and hammered out what we thought were the distinctives of a truly Wesleyan educational institution's values. Here's what we came up with:
___________
The spirit and content of Wesleyan values are an expression of historic Christian faith, rooted in the Bible, proclaimed by the church and lived out in the world. The following values are emphasized in the Wesleyan tradition.

Faith First—Right relationship with God is more important than having “it all figured out.” While reason, education and scholarship are important they follow and serve one’s relationship with Christ.

Personal Transformation—Christian conversion and becoming more like Christ is central to a Wesleyan way of thinking, learning, and living. We are optimistic about the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.

Global Transformation—Wesleyans believe God’s will can be done on earth and that we can change the world to be more like the Kingdom of God.

Others above Self—Wesleyans value the community beyond the individual. While individual pursuits and personal faith are vital they find their fullest expression through life in Christian community.

Generous Spirit—Wesleyans are welcoming to those who disagree. Loving hospitality should be expressed to all.

Blackboard's not so bad...

I've ranted in the past here about Blackboard. Now I'm heavy into setting up seminary courses around it. Two things have made it turn out well.

1. upgrades--less clicking... we also have the community add on now that allows people to communicate cross cohort.

2. The fact that at some point we had the brainstorm not to set it up the way they do.

For the life of me I can't figure out what the logic is in their default set up. You have to go to one button to see your assignments for the week, then another button to do your discussions for the week, then another button to submit things for the week. What nimskull came up with that!!

We have it set up with one button per week. Under that button is the assignments document for the week, the discussions for the week, and the submissions for the week. Not rocket science but a massively easier set up for everyone. Who were these Blackboard designers, strange aliens from Clickland?

Many public thanks to our Information Technology people: Mike Robinette, Mark Alexander, and especially Dave Leitzel (also to our web guru Lorne Oke). They have been sooooo helpful!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Crucial history of the 00's...

What are the key events for Americans this decade (not meaning to be exclusive, only to prioritize)?

1. 9-11 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
2. the world economic crisis, sparked by the American housing crisis

Those are the two biggies that come to mind. A lot of other things follow or associate with these. Am I missing anything major?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Explanatory Notes: Philippians 4:4-9

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again, rejoice!
This verse hearkens back to 3:1, which might as easily have started a conclusion to the letter. As we mentioned, the unexpected sidebar into Paul's Jewish credentials have led some to most of chapter 3 as an insert from another letter to the Philippians, especially since Ignatius seems to know of more than one. However, we do not seem to have an adequate basis to conclude this way, so it is best to assume that chapter 3 was part of this letter and any other letters are lost to history. Further, 4:4 would be redundant if it followed right on 3:1.

The theme of rejoicing would seem to be one of the major themes of Philippians, along with unity. As we will mention more than once as we look at the verses that follow, Paul's theme of rejoicing is all the more significant given that he is in prison possibly facing death as he writes.

4:5-6 Let your gentleness be known to all persons. Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and request with thanksgiving, let each make known your petitions to God.
Since the core ethic of the faith is love, a Christian should be gentle and harmless to others. This should be something for which they are known.

At the same time, they should have the kind of surrender to God's will that defuses anxiousness. This is a again a theme that will reappear in a few verses. Faith in God's love and proper honor to God, leave no reason for anxiousness as the Philippians make their needs known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus.
The result is peace, in the opposite category of anxiousness. One might understand a situation and accordingly be anxious about it. But trust in God yields a peace that passes all understanding. Perhaps what Paul more precisely has in mind is that the peace is beyond comprenhension, a mysterious peace. That peace should typify the Philippians' experience of life, even in hardship, like a guard protecting them.

4:8 The rest, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever are honorable, whatever just, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever of good report, if something is virtue and if something is praise--be thinking about these things.
Paul begins the end of these miscellaneous exhorations with a virtue list of sorts. As always, it is not an absolute list but a loose collection of good things. Anxiousness and hatefulness are not the kinds of things on which one should focus his or her mind, but good things.

Truth is an appropriate focus of thought, not lying or falsehoods. Things that are honorable, virtuous, and of good report are worthy of thought, not shameful or hidden vices. There the honor-shame dynamic of ancient culture shows through. There seems to be an assumption that core values are generally understood by all, only not practiced.

Justice and righteousness are things to think about, not getting ahead by cheating or taking advantage of others. The pure and the lovely, the beautiful, these line up with godly thought. A life of thought focused on such things is a life focused on virtue.

4:9 Also be practicing the things that you learned and received and heard and saw in me. And the God of peace will be with you.
In addition to these common values, things generally understood to be good even by non-Jews, there are the specific Christian instructions Paul has given the Philippians. It is tempting, although anachronistic, to distinguish verse 8 from 9 along the lines of natural revelation and special revelation. Perhaps there is some basic truth to the division.

Beyond common virtue are specifically Christian understandings of what to believe and how to live. Paul assumes that the Philippians are specifically under his authority. He does not tell them to obey Peter or Jerusalem, but his teaching and example. If they will do all these things, then they will be at peace.

The recurrence of language of peace in this section suggests that the Philippians might have cause to be anxious. Presumably they are anxious over Paul's fate. And they are presumably anxious over the health of Epaphroditus. Perhaps they are also anxious about the political fate of themselves as believers. Paul has been thrown into prison and potentially faced death because of his actions as a believer. Would they eventually face the same fate?

But God is a God of peace, a kind of peace that is surprising and incomprehensible given such circumstances.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How to Mess Up Your Life 1

Not that there will be a 2...

I saw "17 Again" last night. Cute movie. Interesting genre. I have a 16 and 17 year old step daughter.

I was thinking about the concept of messing up your life. I wonder sometimes if the norm in America is pretty much for people to mess up their lives. I think children from families who are truly invested in the church have a better shot at not doing it, although it seems decreasingly so. Growing up upper middle class can really give an advantage although, again, decreasingly so it would seem to me.

For the first, oh, say 14 years of your life, you are pretty much a slave to the messing up of your parents. It's a given you just have to deal with. And let me just say I'm pretty depressed with how I perceive most of the parents in Marion to be doing, and even more depressed to think this is probably typical U.S.A. Marion is a city of quiet desperation, as are they all (although sometimes I wonder if most know their own desperation).

From 14-20 you can mess up your own life. You can get pregnant or get someone pregnant. You can drop out of high school. You can throw away going to college or getting into some sort of a job track. Of course God can redeem any less than ideal. And some are just delaying getting into a life track. Some have the luxury to do it.

But I don't think you can really mess your life up drastically until about 22 or so. That's when a person might marry foolishly or set out on the wrong course or get into trouble with the law when it counts.

I probably won't post more. I was just thinking as I drove around Marion today...

Musings on History

Some thoughts on history.

Why do we tell history from past to present? It makes sense, of course, because that's how it happened, so we can best follow it that way.

In the process, we develop a sense of history as story. But such stories are usually more a reflection of who we think we are than of history itself. Such stories may cover significant portions of history, excerpting one little thread. The greater amount of time they cover, the more heavily they are likely constructed.

The question of God's plan through history is a special instance of history as story and requires significant faith. Differing Christian traditions have different understandings of how extensive God's direction and involvement in history is. A certain kind of Calvinist, for example, may believe that God is directing every minute thing that happens, such that nothing happens by coincidence and everything has a reason. Certainly many non-Christians have a view something like this as well.

As a particular kind of Arminian, I believe that God is much less of a micro-manager. God signs off on all that happens, but perhas isn't always involved in whether I choose strawberry or lemon ice cream (ok, maybe once in a "blue moon"). Perhaps God allows most of history to unfold according to the patterns we call cause and effect, including most human behavior, and only occasionally altering the flow of things?

At the same time, I have concluded that for Christianity to be true, it is necessary to believe that God has steadily yet patiently revealed Himself throughout history. I have to believe He has met each human being in history where they were at in their understandings. The fact that He has unfolded understandings so slowly implies He is far more interested in relationships than in understanding.

Christians must believe that there is an overarching story of salvation that is intrinsic to the flow of history, despite the fact that most of history probably does not have any flow of this sort.

Normally, it is history as immediate cause that is most real and most relevant to us at any particular moment. What are the circumstances that lead to current situations? The relevance of history diminishes drastically the further back we go. We experience points before the immediate causes of our situation through those immediate causes. And the points before those prior causes we experience only as they have passed through the prior causes into the immediate causes. Of course our interpretations of history near and far can become in themselves immediate causes, self-fulfilling prophesies of a sort.

It would be interesting indeed to write some localized history backward, an idea Keith Drury once posed. A few movies have explored this.

One final use of history, history as example, one of the most important reasons to study history. "Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it." History is the most exhaustive source of case studies in real life cause and effect. Certainly our understanding of such things is fraught with interpretation. Real life is unendingly complex and our conceptualizations of it draw on only the smallest fraction of it, implying that there is a fundamental skew to all conceptualizations of reality vis-a-vis actuality.

But nevertheless, we seem to find in history profitable example after profitable example. Those with a detailed knowledge of history have an uncanny power at their disposal.

Some thoughts...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Reform...

Ah, the title alone will make today a good visit day. :-)

I haven't taken the time to see what is being proposed. I'm an open minded guy, but I'll admit I'm very nervous about messing things up worse and especially about the national debt. I feel like it would be good to overhaul the system somehow, but am highly suspicious of politicians to be able to do it objectively.

And what's up with the townhall forums? Frankly, I'm so discouraged about the ability of the American people to have rational, civil debate where the real goal is truth rather than bully pulpiting for ideas you aren't open to changing in the light of good evidence and argument. All we do is shout at each other.

I don't usually do politics here, but I genuinely don't have a position on specific proposals, other than I do think we need change.

Anyone up for a civil discussion today?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paul: A Change in Life Direction 2

I thought I'd switch with Friday's Paul post, since I'm working on getting through Philip Jenkins' Next Christendom at the same time the Contexts of Ministry class does.

So here is a second installment of chapter 2 of my writing project, Life Reflections on Paul's Writings. The first installment of the chapter is here.
_______
... Paul at some point became a Pharisee. Perhaps his family, even though out in the Diaspora, maintained some connection with Jerusalem. Perhaps he moved to Jerusalem to reconnect with that "Hebrew of Hebrews" part of his past. He begins to study with Pharisees.

Acts 22:3 says that Paul was instructed at the feet of Gamaliel. Does Acts mean that Paul apprenticed as a Pharisee with Gamaliel? We know of two principal "schools" of Pharisee at this time, the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. Jewish tradition came to consider this Gamaliel to be the grandson of Hillel and thus a "Hillelite." [1]

Paul's own descriptions of his pre-Christian self, however, sound more like a Shammaite than a Hillelite. [2] Gamaliel's speech in Acts 5 sounds exactly like a Hillelite. He argues fatalistically. God will take care of the situation. The Sanhedrin need not take any action against the apostles, because God will sort it out.

This is not Paul's approach, to say the least. Paul seems to have served the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, in tracking down and arresting certain Christians. The apostles themselves do not seem to have been the target of Paul's persecutions. It was rather Greek speaking Jews like Stephen and Philip that seem to have been Paul's targets. It is quite possible that their understandings of Christ were more radical than those of the Aramaic speaking believers in Jerusalem. We notice that when the Hellenists were scattered in Acts 8, the apostles are able to stay put (Acts 8:1).

It has been very convenient to stereotype the Pharisees as hypocritical legalists, and quite possibly many were. This is certainly the dominant picture that we get from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 23 is a major critique of Pharisees who do not practice what they preach. Matthew tells its audience that the Jews should obey the Pharisees because of their authority as the bearers of Mosaic authority (23:2). But it criticizes them for not following their own teaching (23:3).

At the same time, we should bear in mind that the other gospels are not as harsh or dismissive, especially Luke-Acts. It has long been suggested that Matthew might present the Pharisees more starkly because they were hostile and in power at the time this gospel was written in the days after the destruction of Jerusalem. By contrast, Acts 15:5 speaks of Christian Pharisees and 23:6 calls Paul a Pharisee in the present tense. Thus Luke-Acts does not seem to view Pharisees as so diametrically opposed to believers.

We cannot be entirely sure of the origins of the Pharisees, although they clearly emerged in the mid-second century BC. Some consider them the heirs of the hasidim or faithful ones of the Maccabean revolt, individuals who chose to die rather than battle on the sabbath. Their name perhaps means something like "separated ones." Perhaps the goal was to keep the Jewish Law so well that God would restore Israel as a nation and usher in a golden age.

We thus need to make a careful distinction between someone who is very strict or detailed in their lifestyle and legalism. Legalism is when a person likes rules simply because a person likes rules, rules for their own sake. But someone might also live a strict life out of genuine devotion to God. We would be wrong to call such a person a legalist. Surely numerous Pharisees fell into this category, individuals like Nicodemus who lived a strict life out of true devotion to God.

It is hard to know what Paul's motivation was in persecuting these early believers. Did he think that by his zealous acts he was working toward the political restoration of Israel? Psychologically was he battling a stereotype someone might have made of him, a certain kind of "liberal," Greek speaking Jew that others might at some point have accused him of being? What exactly was it about the Hellenistic believers that he found so threatening in particular?

We do not know the answers. For example, did Paul himself detest believers for theological reasons but have authority to arrest for political reasons? Did some in power consider Hellenistic Christians subversive to their authority? It does not seem likely we will know the answers to these questions while we are on earth.

[1] It is the nature of tradition to make connections of this sort, to take what little is known of the past and connect it. A Clement in Philippians 4 might be connected to a Clement in Rome fifty years later, simply because in what little has survived from that time two people had the same name. We simply do not have sufficient evidence to know whether Gamaliel was truly the grandson of Hillel or not.

[2] One finds an excellent treatment of these issues in N. T. Wright's, The New Testament and the People of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress, **), **. And to give a third book of fifty to read on a path to master Paul, a great introduction is Wright's What Saint Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, **).

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