Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanks to God

A quick entry before grading...

I had a pretty good week. I was in Philadelphia for the annual Society of Biblical Literature convention. I guess about 10,000 folk including the American Academy of Religion. I gave two presentations for the newly constituted Hebrews Consultation, which was delightful.

SBL (as we call it) is always a little discouraging to me and yet it usually drives me to write something or another. For all my writing, I haven't published too much yet on the doctoral level. This crowd doesn't talk for the lower shelf. One suggestion I gave to the Hebrews steering committee aimed at holding attention met with puzzled looks in deference to a full half hour of reading where a person could develop the full flow of their thought. I suggested we break the half hour of the three presenters into three ten minute segments where the contrasting methods could be seen side by side on each particular aspect. Perhaps they were right not to do this.

In another conversation in which I mentioned the benefits of humor in the classroom, another professor suggested that humor didn't go as far on the graduate level. All of these things are probably true.

So as always, I come back thinking, what book shall I write, what proposals should I make. I already had some ideas :) But I do not currently have any hard core contracts.

On the other hand, my Philo book sold really well at the convention exhibit hall. And I had greater name recognition this year than ever. I know it doesn't mean anything really, but the politics of knowledge make you seem more important when you're sitting next to someone who teaches at Yale and who's written a classic commentary on Hebrews.

It's always possible that one year I'll come back and chuck it all. I'm certainly pretty tired.

But not this year...

Thanks to God for all His blessings this year!

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Peek at Projects to Come...

If you want to take a peek at one of my projects for Thanksgiving break, check out

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Confession Using the 10 Commandments

I was pretty happy with the following opening confessional that we're using today in the Cathedral Service.

Preparation for Worship
Opening Sentence (sitting)

Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

A Decalogue Confession (kneeling)
Officiant: God said these words: I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You will have no other gods but me.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to love you with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Officiant: You will not make for yourselves any graven image, not the likeness of anything in heaven above or in earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. You will not bow down to them nor worship them.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to keep away from idols of our making.

Officiant: You will not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to where our yes is yes and our no is no. Then we need not swear at all.

Officiant: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts that everything we do we do with faith, nothing doubting.

Officiant: Honor your father and your mother.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to thanksgiving for all that has been given to us.

Officiant: You will not murder.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to love our neighbor as ourselves and neither to think or speak that which is hate.

Officiant: You will not commit adultery.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our thoughts and actions to faithfulness to that which is our one flesh.

Officiant: You will not steal.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to be thankful for all you have given us.

Officiant: You will not bear false witness against your neighbor.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to truth and deliver us from the temptation to speak falsely to our advantage and the disadvantage of others.

Officiant: You will not covet.
All: Lord, have mercy on us. Incline our hearts to be content in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves.

Officiant: Lord, have mercy on us.
People: Christ, have mercy on us.
Officiant: Lord, have mercy on us.

Affirmation of Forgiveness
Officiant: The Almighty and merciful Lord grant you forgiveness and remission of all your sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit.
All: Amen

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bush's Approval Ratings 36%, 50% say dishonest

I thought I would finally make a quick comment on Bush's recent drop in polls.

First of all, I'm afraid I don't think much of these polls because I don't think much of the sense of the American people. I'm sure I'm one of them, but the American people seem so fickle and generally manipulable. My opinion of Bush has remained the same for ages, as you may know. I think he's been in over his head forever, misguided, not too bright, and himself manipulable by those around him (hmmm, Cheney, for example). I have not yet conceded that he's dirty or a liar. I tend to think of him more as a well intentioned incompetent.

So these polls may swing back to overwhelming popularity tomorrow, for all we know. My fleeting satisfaction is that for some mysterious reason unbeknowst to me, the masses have suddenly stopped responding to the monotonous "We're in a war against terrorism" line that Bush has used as an umbrella to connect unconnected things and to justify unrelated actions.

So Bush now has a strange befuddled look on his face. "What's wrong?" he keeps asking Laura at night. "Every other time something bad happened and I said something about us being in a war against terrorism, I went back up in the polls, even if it had nothing to do with terrorism."

Oh by the way, I never did post when Bush tried this with Katrina--it was absolutely amazing. Bush said something like, "Katrina did a lot of damage here. We Americans look at this damage and think, what a horrible thing. The terrorists would look at this damage and wish they had caused it. We are in a war against terror." Absolutely unbelievable!!!!

I actually felt a little sorry for Bush after Katrina because he couldn't blame it on terrorism--the above was his best shot to link the two. I thought to myself, "I bet the reason he didn't know what to do about Katrina was that he couldn't figure out who he should bomb in retailiation!" He's not any good at construction, only at attacking and making laws to outlaw what he thinks is wrong.

So now Bush says to Laura, "I'm saying the magic words Karl taught me, but they aren't working any more."

"Don't worry honey, go to sleep. It's too late now. The history's already been written and the Democrats will take over both houses next November and this one in three years with a vengeance. Thanks to you, in three years liberals will have as much power to do what they want as we conservatives had two years ago."

I say that as a matter of prophecy, not as a matter of wish. I'd be delighted for anyone who's both well intentioned and intelligent to be elected, Republican or Democrat. But for some reason, it seems you have to be extreme on either end of the scale to get anywhere with these parties these days. I wish I could start my own. Schenck for president (I do currently have a beard).

Friday, November 11, 2005

Fireside Romans Chats: Romans 3:21-31

These are some of the thickest and most difficult verses to interpret in the New Testament!

Paul has ended Romans 3:20 with an allusion to Psalm 143:2, which is in the psalm I just posted. If you look at the LXX translation in my last entry, God's righteousness features in it. While "David" recognizes that he does not merit God's "justification" or acquittal, he recognizes that it is in the nature of God's righteousness to rescue and have mercy on His servants. Richard Hays notes in Echoes that while the point of the Paul's quote from the psalm (in Rom. 3:20) is to highlight the fact that no one stands excused before God, the echoes of the psalm from which it comes carry overtones of God's mercy in the midst of helplessness. Neat!

So when Romans 3:21 commences with another reference to the righteousness of God, it almost certainly must refer to God's righteousness, because that is what the psalm is talking about and, as Kasemann argued, this is a phrase with a history--Jews would recognize the phrase as a reference to God's propensity both to be just and to save His people (of course I think the audience of Romans is predominantly "conservative" Gentiles). The law only brings a knowledge of sin (3:20), but it does nothing to justify us before God. If we could be perfect doers of the law (2:13), that would be a basis for justification, but no one is (3:19).

So now, apart from the Law, God's righteousness has become apparent (3:21a).
So the NIV is almost certainly wrong to translate this verse in reference to a righteousness we get from God. It is of course possible Paul has a double meaning in mind here--the mention of justification or being declared righteous in 3:20 makes this double meaning a possibility. It's not that this is bad theology, just that it doesn't seem to be what Paul had primarily in mind.

Even though the way in which this righteousness has become apparent is "apart from law," it is "witnessed by the Law and the Prophets," that is, the Scriptures. How has this righteousness been made apparent? It is the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who have faith (3:22).

Hays (Faith, "Pistis and Pauline Theology: What is at Stake?") has of course long argued that this verse is redundant if it is translated as most versions: "through faith [pistis] in Jesus Christ to all those who have faith [=pisteuo, usually translated "believe" here]." After over a decade of wrestling with this verse, I have conceded to Hays (Dunn is the principal counter to this reading). I have decided on this interpretation for three main reasons:

1. The flow between God's righteousness and Christ's faith is smoother than a flow between God's righteousness and our faith would be.

2. We find a similar train of thought in Romans 5:19: "Just as through the disobedience of one human many were confirmed as sinners, so also through the obedience of the one human many will be confirmed as righteous [dikaios, "innocent"]. Similarly, we find the glide from God's love to Christ's act in Romans 5:8: "God demonstrates His love for us because while we were still sinners, Christ died on our behalf."

3. In my opinion, the train of thought of 2 Corinthians 4:13 works best if Paul interprets Psalm 116:10 in terms of Jesus' faith that God would raise him from the dead. While this verse seems to refer to faith as trust rather than faith as obedience, and thus is slightly different from here (an issue I need to address), it demonstrates to me that Paul could think of Jesus as having faith.

So God has demonstrated His righteousness through Jesus' obedient act of faith in death (cf. Phil. 2:8).

Romans 3:23-24 thus repeats the same train of thought we have already seen in this chapter:

1. Romans 3:22b:
All have sinned and lack the glory God intended them according to Psalm 8. There is no distinction

Romans 3:9
We charged all under sin

2. Romans 3:24a
And are justified freely by His grace

Romans 3:21
Now righteousness of God is revealed

3. Romans 3:24b
through the redemption in Christ Jesus

Romans 3:22
through the faith of Jesus Christ

This redemption through Christ Jesus has occured through his sacrifice, a sacrifice offered by God: "whom God offered as an atoning sacrifice, through [Christ's?] faith, by means of his blood" (3:25).

Most scholars believe that Paul here has incorporated a traditional, creedal type statement that existed before he wrote this letter. This idea makes sense because of the obvious shift in the "his" in reference to Christ in 3:25 followed by a "his"six words later that clearly refers to God: "to demonstrate His righteousness after he passed over sins that had previously taken place in God's forbearance" (3:26). A good writer would not shift the referent of the pronoun in such a small space without clear warning.

I suspect that the original statement was "God offered him as an atoning sacrifice by means of his blood." The "through faith" statement interupts the flow of the verse and thus is more likely to come from Paul than from the "creed." In terms of whose faith is in mind, a reference to Christ's faith fits the chain of "his-es" better and the context as I've presented it. So I'll go with a reference to Christ's faith here. On the other hand, if Romans 1:16 means "from God's faith to our faith," then it is possible that Paul means that God offered Jesus "through [His] faith" (cf. 3:3). In either case, a reference to our faith in this verse seems least likely.

The sins that God had passed over previously are either the sins of Israel, the sins of the Gentiles, or both. Given the "there is no distinction" comment in 3:22, perhaps it is most likely that Paul has the sins of "all" in mind again (cf. 1:18).

It seems important to Paul to "justify" God's delay in judging the sins of the world: to demonstrate His righteousness [dikaiosune] at this present time so that he is just [dikaios] and justifier [dikaioo] of the person 'from faith of Jesus' (3:26). God is showing through Jesus that He is just--He does in fact judge sin, and Jesus as a sacrifice assuaged His wrath (some debate here, Joel Green would disagree). And he justifies the person "from the faith of Jesus."

The idea of a person "from the faith of Jesus" is much debated. Does Paul mean "a person justified from faith in Jesus" or a person justified because they have faith like Jesus. Hays would say something like "from the faithful death of Jesus." The phrase "from faith" is a formula for Paul he uses over and over again and it comes ultimately from Habakkuk 2:4: "the righteous person on the basis of faith will live." So whatever the phrase "from faith" (ek pisteos) means, its meaning runs throughout Paul's use of the phrase in Galatians and Romans.

If I have identified the train of thought thus far correctly, then a reference to the faith of Jesus would be most appropriate in terms of this particular context. Hays and others indeed consider the matter beyond question because of the parallel statement in Romans 4:16, "to the one from the faith of Abraham." Similar structure to that statement there and clearly in reference to Abraham's faith. The use of Jesus in the phrase "the faith of Jesus" rather than Christ may also push us toward seeing a reference to Jesus' faith. However, for reasons I will mention later, I wonder if Paul has a double meaning in mind here, faith in Christ and the faith of Christ.

What does it mean, then, to be justified because a person is justified "from the faith of Jesus"? Part of the equation is believing in the efficacy of the atoning death of Jesus (Rom. 3:22, 24-25). But when we read it as a reference to Jesus' faith, it is less about our believing in Jesus as it is about what Jesus did objectively. In other words, God has done it; we just need to sign on. Probably there are overtones of Paul's theology of being incorporated "in Christ." Perhaps there are overtones of trusting in God like Jesus. The phase seems highly ambiguous in itself, and we wonder if Paul left it in this way because all the different nuances are part of the equation.

The text here leaves us hanging on some of these questions. We will have to take them up as we go further. My sense is that Paul is thinking something like the following, and I think this line of thought fits with his Jewish background:

1. No one can earn justification before God (see Psalm 143:2).

2. But God is righteous. He punishes sin but He also finds ways to save His people because of His mercy.

3. The way a person appropriates this mercy is by faith or trust in God (see Romans 4, the next chapter).

4. In this present time, indeed, as the climax of history, God's way of showing mercy is through Jesus Christ, who himself as a human demonstrated faith. In other words, Jesus' death has eschatological significance and is not just one among many demonstrations of God's righteousness. Here is where Paul's fellow Jew might differ with Paul.

Once we have reached 3:27, we can relax our exegetical muscles considerably.

3:27: Where then is boasting? It has been excluded. By what rule [nomos]? The rule of works? No, but the rule of faith [nomos].

Since it is all a matter of God's righteousness and mercy, there is no room for boasting. It is all God's mercy. By the way, Paul uses the word "law" in a funny way in this verse. It's a bad joke to play on us word study people, because he seems just to be lightheartedly using the word in a tongue and cheek kind of way that might make him smile, but not us in IBS class.

3:28: For we reckon that a person is justified by faith apart from works of law.
This is the general principle. It is faith (in God) that has always led to justification. Performing the law never in itself made a person right with God. Put in this way, I think any Jew would have agreed with Paul.

3:29-30: Or is God over the Jews alone? No, He is also over the Gentiles, since God is one, who will justify the circumcision on the basis of faith and the uncircumcision through faith.

Since God is one, Paul argues (alluding to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4), He must be God of the Jews as well as the non-Jews, Paul argues. So presumably the faith that justifies the Jew must also justify the Gentiles. This statement is akin to Romans 2:14-16 and 2:26. The crucial factor is that faith in God now has a very important content: the atoning death of Jesus. Faith in God now involves faith in what God has done through Christ. The Jew is thus justified on the basis of faith even though that Jew keeps the law. The Gentile comes to God through faith even though they are not under the law.

3:31: Therefore, do we cancel law through faith? God forbid! But we establish law. It is possible to read the train of thought thus far and see no contradiction in this comment. In the line of interpretation we have made thus far, Paul's point has only been that the law does not justify anyone. He has not discarded the law for Jews in any comment he has made. He has simply argued that justification only comes through faith in God.

But taking into account only what Paul has said so far, we might still think that faith in God required law keeping for a Jew--not that such law-keeping in itself justified you before God, but that it was a part of showing genuine faith in God. It seems to me, however, in the light of other passages in Romans and elsewhere, that Paul does not believe Christians to be "under the law" in the same way they used to be, whether they be Jew or Gentile (e.g., Rom. 7:1-6 and 1 Cor. 9:19-23).

On the whole, it seems most likely to me that Paul is refering to the "righteous requirements of the law" in this comment, mentioned in 2:26 and 8:4, perhaps roughly equivalent to what Paul calls "Christ's law" in 1 Corinthians 9:21.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Canonical Version: Psalm 143 (142 LXX)

I wanted to translate this psalm from the Septuagint in conjunction with the interpretation of Romans and Galatians. I've highlighted lines of particular interest.

Psalm 142 LXX
A Psalm of David (when his son pursued him)

Lord, hear my prayer,
Hearken to my petition in your truth. [cf. Rom. 3:7]
Listen to me in your righteousness [cf. Rom. 3:21; 1:16]
And do not enter into judgment with your servant,
For nothing living will be justified before you [cf. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16]

For my enemy has sought my life [psyche];
He has brought my life [zoe] low to the ground.
He has seated me in dark places as the dead of the ages.
And my spirit has lost courage over me,
My heart has become disturbed in me.

I remembered the ancient days
And I mediated on all your works,
Meditating on the deeds of your hands.
I spread out my hands to you,
My life as parched earth to you.

Hear me quickly, Lord,
My spirit has left.
Do not turn your face from me,
Or I will be like those who go down into the pit [lakkos]
Let me hear your mercy in the morning,
For I have hoped in you.
Make known to me, Lord, the way in which I will go,
Because I have lifted my life to you.
Deliver me from my enemies, Lord,
Because I have fled to you.

Teach me to do your will, because you are my God.
Your good spirit leads me on level ground.
Because of your name, Lord, you will make me live,
In your righteousness you will lead my life out of trouble.
And in your mercy you will devastate my enemies
And you will destroy all those who are troubling my life,
Because I am your servant.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Schenck Wednesday Great Ideas Lunch

I am planning to read something of classic literature Wednesdays at lunch in the IWU cafeteria. Anyone who can join me is welcome. My goal is to get around to reading all the things I've never gotten around to reading.

For my inaugural lunch, I'm planning on reading Plato's Timaeus, his most in depth cosmological work. You can find the text at the following links:



Next Wednesday I plan to read Philostratus' Life of Apolonias of Tyana, a famous miracle worker sometimes said to bear some similar characteristics to Jesus.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Fireside Romans Chats: Romans 3:1-20

The first twenty verses of Romans 3 end the preceding section. In Romans 2 Paul has argued that circumcision does not benefit a person in relation to justification before God unless a person practice [the] Law (2:25). On the other hand, if an uncircumcised person should watch the righteous requirements of the Law, that person may just as well be considered circumcised.

But this argument raises the question of what benefit there is then to being a Jew at all (3:1). Paul addresses this question in 3:1-8). [By the way, notice how Paul's style typically presents a point and then addresses questions that arise from that point.] If justification before God is simply a matter of the "righteous requirements of the Law," whatever that might be, then what benefit is there to circumcision at all?

Well, there is the honor of being those to whom God has entrusted the oracles of God (3:2). And if some were unfaithful, that doesn't negate God's faith with Israel (3:3).

Here Paul makes an important point for him. Some have accused him of teaching that we should do evil things so that good things will come (3:8). Paul is not arguing for sin--violation of the righteous requirements of the law. God's wrath is revealed against the ungodliness of humanity (1:18). And his arguments do not make void [the] law because justification is on the basis of faith (3:31).

The beginning of 3:9 has spawned much discussion. Should it be translated, "What then? Are we better off? Not at all"? Should it be, "What then? Are we worse off? Not at all"? Should it be translated, "What then should we plead in defense?" (Dahl, Dunn, Gaston)? Dunn then seems to take "Not at all" as an interpolation that was not in the original text. There is textual variance for this verse, but there are no readings that have this option, so this suggestion seems shaky from an evidentiary perspective.

The reading that makes best sense of the flow to me is the way it is usually rendered, "What then? Are we [Jews] better off? Not all all." Dunn suggests that Greek literature doesn't translate the word "to be better off" this way. I haven't pursued the matter to know if he's right on this idea. So barring further study, I'll go with this translation generally used in most English versions.

But then from a Jewish perspective, Paul's argument could be a little strange in the rest of 3:9. If he is saying that Jews are not okay with God because of their overall (with room for some failure) faithfulness to the covenant on the basis of God's grace, then he is departing radically from previous Jewish perspective and indeed, from the Old Testament. Perhaps he is saying more generally that justification involves God's grace for anyone, whether you are a Jew or not. Jews would have agreed with this idea.

No one is off the hook just for being a Jew. Both Jew and Greek are "under sin" (3:9). "Not even one person is righteous" (3:10). The law "stops the mouth" of all, so that all are under the judgment of God (3:19). The Law simply gives all a knowledge of sin but does not provide for justification before God. On the basis of "works of law," (3:20), no flesh will be justified before God (3:20). All have sinned, and as a result, no human has the glory God intended humanity to have in the creation (3:23; cf. Psalm 8).

This passage gives rise to several questions. For example, none of the verses that Paul cites here (with the possible exception of Ecclesiastes 7:20) refer to all humans or even all Jews. It is a pastiche of quotes from Psalms 14:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; 36:1; and Isaiah 59:7-8, all of which refer to groups of wicked individuals rather than all humanity. I suspect Paul is again very generally presenting the sense that sin and wickedness is a universal phenomenon that is not just limited to non-Jews.

Another question arises in relation to what Paul means by "works of law" in Romans 3:20? He is quoting Psalm 143:2, but has added these words [by the way, anyone who has problems with dynamic equivalence translations has to give it up in the face of how drastically Paul and other NT authors rework the OT]. That question will have to wait until the next chat on Romans 3:21-31, one of the thickest and most argued over part of the New Testament.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Jimmy Carter's New Book

I'm at home in a situation not conducive to work, so I thought I would float some thoughts that don't require my brain to work too hard.

Jimmy Carter has a new book out. I can't remember what it's called, but it sounds interesting. Carter was on Larry King and (I think) Hardball, and I caught a few lines as I drifted into Netherland.

The main thought I had was that I like this man. I don't agree with everything he thinks, but I agreed with most of what he said. I don't know how effective a president he made, but I wonder if he is the most Christ-like president we've ever had. Almost everything he said, he said in relation to his faith, and questioning his honesty seems about as silly as questioning Mr. Rodger's honesty (in fact, I wonder if he really is Mr. Rodgers).

For example, I am far more sympathetic to the death penalty than Carter is, but he put it this way: "I can't see Jesus being in favor of the death penalty." In other words, he formulated his arguments by way of WWJD.

He does think formal religion and politics should be completely separate, using the old "Render to Caesar" argument. I largely but not totally agree with him on that. I don't think it's a straight separation of church and state. But he clearly believes that there is a place for morality in law. And I agree with him that the more specifically religion gets involved in the state, the more likely the situation is to go sour.

He believed that late term abortions should be outlawed and that there were many ways even with R v W to diminish abortions drastically. He mentioned how much lower abortions were proportionately under his administration than today because his administration addressed the reason 2/3 of women have abortions--the inability to support another child. I could be wrong, but I've heard that there have been far more abortions during the current Bush's tenure than there were under Clinton.

On the whole, the word "character" was what kept coming to mind. This man has character, even if you disagree with him. The second word that came to mind was "intelligence." Here is a man whose degree was in nuclear physics. Again, I may not agree with him on every subject, but somehow the current Bush seems rather small next to him in every category.

But I do want to commend the current Bush on his recent initiative to stockpile flu vaccine. He's getting some flack on the money part, but I think it's something that needs to be done. The same people who are criticizing for this particular expenditure were roasting him a couple weeks ago for not planning ahead enough on the same subject. And you can be sure that those who are criticizing him now for getting it would have absolutely fried him if he hadn't and a pandemic had arisen.

I think this expenditure is a good expenditure. The problem I find with Bush's spending habits is the money we've spent in Iraq that we shouldn't have spent. Oops to the tune of endless billions.