Sunday, July 30, 2006

Time to Back Off

I was reading a little from a blogger in Beirut I really think the Israel-Hizbollah thing is at that point I blogged about a few weeks ago--time to step back and lose a battle to win a war. I am not at all disputing that Hizbollah has manipulated Israel into killing children, civilians, and UN peacekeepers. They shoot near these targets knowing that Israel will retaliate and innocents will die. They should get the primary blame, I think.

But it doesn't matter. Israel falls into their trap and it is having the desired outcome. What used to be a conflict of Hizbollah versus Israel--with the Arabs, Palestinians, and broader Lebanese against Hizbollah--is almost if not already everyone against Israel and America by extension. Israel must back off and regroup.

Brute force simply will not work at this point. It has become counterproductive. It doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong. Reality doesn't care. God lets the evil win all the time, for whatever reason. We have to be smarter to win over evil, not necessarily stronger.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Email on Women in Ministry

I have a friend who is on staff at an independent church where the pastor is trying to convince his elders that women in ministry is not prohibited Scripturally. Here is my most recent presentation of the case:

The woman thing is hard and you can see I've flown around that airport several times, trying to stop a fundamentalizing trend in my own denomination. I guess my big picture argument goes something like this:

1) if we had to guess what God's position on this issue was, what would we guess? If women have the Spirit just like men (Acts 2), if women are sons of God just like men (Gal. 3)--we know we men aren't always more spiritual, wiser, more intelligent or more responsible than them. So if we had nothing else to go by, spiritual common sense would lead us to think, "Yeah, if God calls a woman and she has the goods, why not?" If our plane is about to crash and needs a pilot, and there's a woman who can fly planes and I can't, it would be silly (not to mention stupid) to insist I do it because I have a penis, eh?

2) There's really only one verse in the whole Bible that comes even close to sounding like it's against women taking leadership roles. Women take leadership roles in both the OT, Acts, and Paul's mission. They pray and prophecy in Paul's churches (he assumes this in 1 Cor. 11, which by the way eliminates the 1 Cor. 14 as an argument against spiritual speech by women in church). The headship passages don't work against women in ministry, because if God calls women, then a husband-head would be in defiance of his head if he refused her to fulfill God's call. Most men with wives who minister support their wives' ministry.

That leaves one passage 1 Tim. 2:12-15. This is a passage written to a church having problems with false teaching, and 2 Tim. 3:6 makes it sound like women were involved. I'll come back to this verse but that makes us think of

3) We simply do not have full information on the background to the words of the Bible so that we can know for sure what the precise connotations of all its comments are. Just a little information on so many passages might make us completely rethink many interpretations that seem really obvious on the surface. That's why applying the Bible must be a spiritual task, not a task of the letter. The Pharisees of the gospels and the Judaizers were interpreters of the letter. In contrast, Paul and the NT writers showed great spiritual freedom in their appropriation of the text.

Because we don't have full information, we must always bring the Spirit of Christ with us when we are trying to discern God's will. I've already mentioned what I think it is in #1. I think any person full of the Spirit would be puzzled at the suggestion that God would not use women in leadership simply because they don't have a penis. That sounds more Muslim than Christian, frankly.

So back to #2. 1 Tim. 2:12-15 has some bizarre arguments. First, is it really about husband wife relationships primarily? It could be translated that way, "I don't allow a wife to be an autocrat over her husband"?

Second, does the argument, "God made Adam first" pull on our brains the way it did on people 2000 years ago? Or is it an argument aimed at a particular culture.

Third, Eve was the one deceived, Adam wasn't. So women are more easily deceived than men and shouldn't be allowed to teach men. Again, women were less educated in the first century than men, but clearly this argument doesn't work today. All women aren't more easily deceived than all men. And we're only arguing here that women God calls and gifts should be allowed to obey God. Who has the boldness to tell a woman who believes God has called her to ministry that she's wrong? Boy, better make sure you're not fighting God on the basis of a deception on your own part.

Finally, Eve and the women in her will be saved through childbearing? I thought we were saved through Jesus Christ! Isn't that blasphemy? Oh, he's probably talking about the fulfillment of the curse on Eve, pain in childbearing.

In short, this passage raises far too many questions to serve as the starting point of our understanding of women in Christ. Galatians 3:28 seems a lot more like the central station from which our train drives into the countryside.

I think I know where history is going on this one. Catch the Spirit and join the "winners" on this issue. Fully support women in all roles of ministry!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Acceptance of Article by CBQ

I was excited yesterday to receive word that an article Kevin Wright and I worked on quite extensively has been accepted by the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, which in my mind is one of the top three English speaking scholarly journals in biblical studies. The current form has benefited much from earlier critiques by helpful reviewers.

I don't know that I ever blogged it, but I was quite happy in my own mind to feel some resolution to the "faith of Jesus Christ" debate. The issue centers on the fact that the phrase typically rendered "faith in Christ" in Romans 3 and Galatians 2 might also be translated as the "faithfulness of Christ." James Dunn has become the poster proponent of the traditional faith in Christ reading, while Richard Hays of Duke has led the charge for the faithfulness of Christ interpretation.

The difference is largely one of focus. Is Christian faith most properly placed in God, as Abraham's in Romans 4, while our faith is more in what God did through Christ? Is the expression "believing on Christ" better understood as "exercising faith into Christ," becoming "in Christ" by our faith in what God has done through him? Of course all this implies a trust in Christ as well, but the focus comes to be more on God (the Father).

I have largely become convinced that this interpretation is the more accurate rendition of Paul's prioritization. My article largely proceeds from 2 Corinthians 4:13, where I argue Paul takes Psalm 116:10 to be a reflection of Christ's faith as he faced his own death. Just as Christ exercised faith in the "one who could save him out of death" (Heb. 5:7), Paul also trusts in God to raise him from the dead.

With concrete evidence in hand that Paul could think of a progression of faith from the faith of Christ to our faith, I suggest a model of intepretation "from Hays to Dunn," that combines what I see as the best features of both their arguments. While I sketch what this might look like in my article, CBQ will now have the dubious pleasure of a follow up submission that will work out my "from Hays to Dunn" conception in greater detail. To the laptop, Robin...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Reflections on Israel/Hezbollah

Here are some reflections after returning from Scotland.

My wife Angie was quite irritated at the anti-Israel bent to European media, probably corresponding to similar pro-Israel American leanings (with there being exceptions on both sides). And let's make no bones about it--the rest of the world largely hates us right now and are making alliances against us (e.g., Chavez is trying to make alliances with Russia right now). There were a couple times in Scotland where I wondered if cold interactions had anything to do with me being an American.

First, I am not opposed in theory to Israel taking the opportunity of two captured soldiers to try to castrate Hezbollah. I do not consider Hezbollah a force for any good in the world and wholly favor its castration. I agree with the words, "Israel has a right to defend itself." And sometimes, the best defense is a good offense.

And I deplore the way the UN community tends to find fault only with Israel and wink at Hezbollah. If Lebanon had followed the UN resolution for the disarmament of southern Lebanon, this presumably would not be happening.

[Insert here an aside on the UN as a bit of a farse as it currently operates. I want it in NY so that we have significant power in its doings. But I think we should think of it as what it is--a place for powerful and not so powerful nations to discuss world issues and work for consensus. But we should not pretend that it stands for truth or justice or that any of its member states are ultimately anything but self-interested entities. Its claim to broker right and wrong is a farse, in my opinion, and I am sympathetic to Bush's decision not to be a part of the Hague (gray issue for me).]

But at the same time, this is all "in theory." In practice things get substantially messier. I do not know the process by which the real Israel has gone about bombing Lebanon. I do believe that Hezbollah deliberately launches missiles from civilian locations knowing that Israel will retaliate in a way that will result in innocent deaths. In this I fault Hezbollah more than Israel.

But I pity those who have little option other than to fight for Hezbollah (given where they are born) or must stay put because their husband or father fights for Hezbollah. I am not for the annihilation of everyone who lives in south Lebanon or who even in their theory opposes the existence of Israel as a state. But I accept the right of Israel to fight those who actively fight against them and, in the light of first act aggressions by Hezbollah, those who have been actively seeking to fight against them.

On the other hand, I have gone on record as believing that war favors the violent. Regardless of what some leader thinks in Jerusalem. Some individual Israeli soldier will cross the line at some point and kill someone who shouldn't be killed. I would like to believe that the killing of UN peace keepers or the bombing of Red Cross ambulances by Israel are accidents. But I cannot be sure at all that these were not acts of spite born by hate in the midst of war (I can conceive of them reaching the highest levels of Israel, although I hope not). Of course I consider all non-military bombings of Hezbollah to be immoral. And frankly all bombings by Hezbollah are stupid since they haven't got a chance.

I think I understand the bombing of gas stations where Hezbollah might get gas and of satellite antennae that Hezbollah uses. Israel has destroyed infrastructure that Hezbollah might have used, even though such infrastructure served all of Lebanon. In all out war especially you would need to eliminate the resources of your enemy even when they are shared by the innocent.

But I am not sure that this should be categorized as all out war at this point. I think it would have been far more profitable in the long term--even if not in the short term--for Israel to work together with the anti-Hezbollah parties of Lebanon rather than to act as it seemingly has against Lebanon's overall infrastructure. It is at this point that I fear (though I am open to being convinced otherwise) Israel has gone beyond what it should have either morally or prudentially.

It is my contention that truly human ethics must consider innocent humans as ends in themselves. And by innocent I mean by the Western standard of "all individuals on the basis of their actions" and as a Christian I mean "all individuals are created in the image of God." In other words, you cannot consider guilty the wife, child, or even inactive party member of Hezollah. The guilty are those who have acted or actively supported those who have so acted. Any other position is not Christian.

I hear some Americans these days considering the children and wives of the guilty to be guilty by proxy. This is unamerican thinking (all "men" are created equal... with certain inalienable rights), even if it is the natural tendency of the human animal, which is a herd animal in my view. To think this way is the way humans tend, but the Western tradition at its peak rose above it. We are not nobly human if we succumb to our animal default.

Things get a little messier I think in "all out" war, and I would not at this point classify the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in that category. I am trying to make fine distinctions here, but I believe they are very important in such complex and high stakes matters.

And I also want to go on record as saying the notion of a "war on terror" is far too imprecise in referent to push to the higher degree of all out war without considering specifics. I believe the blanket conception that gives absolute license against anyone we might place under such a non-specific heading as a "war on terror" potentially damnable and immoral in consequence.

To speak of a "war on terror" is a different mode of speaking than saying that we are in a "war with Saddam Hussein." The two must not be confused--it is sloppy and dangerous logic. We are certainly warring with terror around the world. But I reject categorically any move to literal war against specific enemies without more concrete discussion of that specific enemy. This is an atrocious leap in logic and bad thinking. It is the logic that puts a Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda in the same category--that transfers an appropriate action against the one to the other without significant consideration of the difference. Good thinking and good ethics requires more precision than this, especially when we're talking about war.

So this is my very limited appraisal of the Israeli-Hezbollah situation from where I sit--without access to Israel's war room or the streets of Lebanon. I support the appropriateness of Israel to pursue Hezbollah and bomb sites in southern Lebanon. I support Israel's agenda to disarm Hezbollah as much as possible. I am flabbergasted at the irrational, self-defeating, and yet persistent refusal of groups like Hezbollah (Hamas, anyone?) to accept that the nation of Israel is here to stay. Get over it and move on to your own benefit and that of your people even more.

Yet I think Israel is self-defeating as well and indiscriminate in its manner of attack, that it shoots itself in the foot by its lack of caution. Defeat open aggressors; convince would be aggressors not to become agressors; win over the unconvinced. The operating policy that Israel seems to follow is "Defeat open aggressors and anyone, let's say, in south Lebanon, give or take; convince would be aggressors to become aggressors when they have the chance (maybe when they grow up); and win over the unconvinced to the other side. And this is the way I believe our actions in Iraq have also played out so far, despite good intentions on Bush's part.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Smart People in Scotland

The Hebrews conference was helpful to solidify thoughts and reassure one of the lay of the land. I was especially impressed by the theologians. These people are trying to work out distinctions between God's impassibility and immutability while dancing with the biblical text. I watched the familiar clash of the principal of "theology can't contradict the text" and "theology deals with things way beyond the text." I think this is a faulty paradigm.

But John Webster did an admirable job. He's a Scot and a systematic theologian. Incredibly intelligent. One of the most profound things he said was "There is no historical Jesus, only the incarnate second person of the Trinity." Profound doesn't mean right necessarily, but it is ingenious.

Bruce McCormick is a theologian from Princeton. Again, his command of the theologies of everyone from the early fathers to the post-Reformation was incredibly impressive.

Richard Bauckham is also incredibly clever, even if I frequently disagree with him. His cleverest suggestion is that the "name Christ inherited more excellent than the angels" (Heb. 1:4) is Yahweh. He inherits it because it is the name of his father, while "Son" is not a name one inherits. I think this argument probably reads in modern definitions into these words but it is the typical genius of Bauckham.

Richard Hays did a good job of introducing what I am calling "a new perspective on Hebrews," a subject on which I have been preparing an article with my own twist. I'm quite excited, although I usually find that others aren't nearly as excited about my ideas as I am. Hays gave us a helpful way of conceptualizing this new perspective. He suggested we forget that we know anything about Christianity and read through Hebrews as if we were a Jew reading a Jewish author.

Harold Attridge impresses me by his instantaneous ability to respond to any question. Most seem to pause and contemplate for a moment when asked a challenging question. He, being from the northeast anyway, talks quickly and responds instantaneously. He was treated as the Hebrews patriarch of the conference. He was the reference.

Turning away from impressive people, Angie and I watched a large, angry march of anti-Israel demonstrators today. We just have no idea in America how angry the world is right now about all these things.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Off to Scotland

Lord willing, tomorrow at this time I will groggily be going through customs in Edinburgh with my wife Angie. I finished the footnotes on my paper last night so I am ready to go. You can see the schedule and details of the conference, Hebrews and Theology, here. I'll looking forward to some heavy thinking, maybe.

Have I learned anything writing my paper (or at least duped myself into thinking I have)? The most satisfying thing about the paper for me was the opportunity to bring together several hermeneutical concepts of interest to me: Hans Frei's exposition on the difference between pre-critical and critical biblical interpretation, Roman Jakobson's basic conception of speech-acts (addresser, message, addressee, etc...), J. L. Austin's sense of "performative" speech that not only declares but "does" as it declares. You know, blah, blah, blah...

What do I think is most insightful about my paper?

1. The distinction between using the biblical text as (pre-modern) window on the past and the text as witness to truth. I think one sentence in my paper expresses Frei far more clearly than anything he ever wrote: "In a sense, the text disappears as the interpreter outside the text becomes a part of the world within the text and the world within the text is seen as the past of the world outside the text."

By the way, this is not in my paper, but I think I have finally understood the debate on 2 Timothy 3:16 for the first time. I wonder if it really should be translated, "Every God-breathed scripture is profitable for instruction, correction, etc..." If so, the verse is not questioning whether parts of the Old Testament are really God-breathed, which is how I took the debate previously. Rather, the word "scripture" simply means "writing" and of course there were many, many writings in the ancient world. So to translate the verse as a reference to "every God-breathed writing" is not to question the inspiration of parts of the Old Testament but to identify the Old Testament writings as an inspired subset of all writings.

I haven't studied up on this debate, but these thoughts occurred to me in the process of writing my own paper.

2. I suggested in my paper that the author probably located the scriptures (and I am now very intentionally using the plural rather than the singular that is our default given book packaging) within God's overarching word and the overarching story of salvation history. Ironically, the scriptures were no doubt the mine from which that word and story was mined, but the author conceived of them as the larger entities and scriptures as a subset of God's word and the story.

This I think is a primary difference between the pre-modern paradigm that has been the Wesleyan past and the fundamentalist culture of, say, Baptist churches. While we have used the Bible as the "playing field" and "meaning mine" of our thinking, we have conceived of these words as a part of God's larger word and story. We view the Bible through the lens of the story as we understand it. Fundamentalists tie more chains on the story by way of the biblical text. I haven't fully thought this distinction through, but I think it has some validity.

3. I argued that while the author considered the voice of God and the Holy Spirit to be the same voice, the speaking of the Holy Spirit tends to be used in relation to contemporary, new covenant speaking through texts. The Holy Spirit accordingly seems more linked to non-literal interpretations of the text aimed at the present.

4. Finally, I feel like I was able to get beyond some recent paradigm problems with regard to things like typology and allegory. I tried to crash the boundary between the text as example in relation to behavior (e.g., Esau, the wilderness generation, Abraham) and the text as "shadowy example" in relation to the Levitical system (e.g., 8:5). I rediscovered the existence of a book by Frances Young which deals with the topic: Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1997).

Well so much for my world. I may be able to post from St. Andrews...


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel Bombing Lebanon

I'm always a little sad when Israel's bombing Gaza or shooting missles into the offices of the Palestinian authority or assassinating someone or another. But I don't usually get too worried about it.

I don't know how effective it all is, mind you. What are the long term consequences? I imagine the people Israel assassinates deserve to die from the standpoint of justice. I'm willing to believe that assassination can be justified (I don't have a problem with those who tried to assassinate Hitler). I just don't know what the long term consequences really are. I am sympathetic to many of Israel's responses--but very unsure how profitable they really are.

But up to this point no one in the world thus far has seemed to care enough to up the ante for Israel... until now. After twenty some years, Israel and Lebanon are at it again, as Hezbollah has kidnapped two soldiers. Israel has responded with great force, calling it an act of war. Lebanon is asking the UN to call for a truce.

Maybe nothing will come of this either. It kinda looks like Israel is taking advantage of the opportunity to bomb Hezbollah to heck. It reminds me of us invading Iraq--the circumstances at the time didn't warrant it, but we had been wanting to take out Saddam and it seemed as good a time as any. Again, I imagine most of these Hezbollah guys are not unworthy of death (I'm sure this is true of some Israelis as well, of course). But the consequences I am not sure of--will the net result of these actions be positive or negative?

The result that Israel is hoping for is that 1) Hezbollah will be significantly weakened, 2) they will think very, very seriously before kidnapping Israeli soldiers again.

The other possibilities are 1) their action will harden and recruit many others, young and middle aged, to fight the cause in the future. In one scenario their actions inadvertantly recruit more future terrorists than they kill. This is what I fear our invasion of Iraq has done--recruited thousands of militants who would not otherwise have become militants and brought fundamentalist Islam out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

2) By far the unintended consequence I fear the most is escalation into a regional or world war. Hezbollah seems to have the backing of Syria and Iran, which in turn has the support of Russia and China. Israel has us and maybe Great Britain in a pinch. Frankly, I don't see Russia or China doing much other than fund and supply with weapons. But there are plenty of Muslim and Arab recruits all over the Middle East all furious over our invasion of Iraq and eternally angry at Israel. They are a ready and endless infintry.

Would the U.S. fight for Israel? What would be the consequences? I don't know. I shudder to think of the worst case scenario.

What do you think? I am sympathetic with Israel. Maybe they are doing the right thing. I just don't know.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Psalm 40, Hebrews, and Camp Meeting

I was looking at Psalm 40 tonight in relation to Hebrews 10. Any number of "fun" observations here that send some people's understanding of the Bible into a tailspin. So Hebrews reads Psalm 40:6-8 on the lips of Christ as he enters the world. I have no problem with this whatsoever. What is interesting is 1) the author would not have put the whole psalm on the lips of Christ, since in Psalm 40:12 the original speaker of the psalm admits his iniquities and 2) the author uses a text of the Septuagint that had changed from the original Hebrew (which says "my ears you have dug out" rather than "a body you have prepared"). My hunch is that the author was quite aware that he was hearing a parabolic meaning to the text, although he probably did not know about the textual issue.

But all that aside, I was excited to find an old camp meeting song in some of the first few verses of the psalm. I've joked about making a CD of me singing all the choruses, hymns, and camp meeting tunes I know based on the psalms: "Ken Sings the Psalms." Do you know this one? I'll try it from memory so may mess up a little:

I cried to the Lord 'neath Jehovah's dread frown
And there to the Lord where my sin brought me down
I cried to the Lord from the deep miry clay
Who tenderly brought me out to golden day

He brought me out of the [deep] miry clay
He set my feet on the [solid] rock to stay
He puts a song in my [happy] soul today
A song of praise, Hallelu-jah!

Gives me goose bumps to sing it! I swear that music can be as much a means of grace as the official sacraments.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hebrews Paper Snippets

Here are some more Hebrews paper snippets as I try to blaze a trail in preparation for Scotland.
"Hebrews arguably presents us with at least seven distinct ways in which God speaks in the biblical text: 1) pre-modernly, as the character of God speaks in the biblical text, 2) by way of straightforward exempla, stories of the Scriptures that serve as examples to emulate or avoid, 3) in straightforward, ‘timeless’ truth, 4) as prophetic script (e.g., to be placed on the lips of Christ or the contemporary audience), 5) in shadowy illustration, which is closely related but distinct from 6) parabolically/allegorically, and, finally, 7) directly to the audience through God’s Holy Spirit. Several of these categories are not those of the author of Hebrews himself, and several embody fine distinctions from our contemporary hermeneutical perspective. Nevertheless, they provide a helpful rubric for us to describe and discuss Hebrews’ own use of Scripture within its own paradigm."

"Within such a pre-modern paradigm, narrative framing plays out in a reader or audience’s mind much as the scene direction of a screenplay. The narrative context is not read as text, but is experienced as action in the drama. It is for this reason that pre-modern interpreters confuse the main speaker of a biblical narrative with the author of that narrative. Moses the main speaker of the Pentateuch becomes Moses the author of the Pentateuch.

"Accordingly, narrative about God speaking is experienced as God speaking. For this reason, the author of Hebrews attributes the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 32:43 to God when in fact this text is obviously about God, not God himself speaking (Heb. 1:7). Similarly, we might add the author’s citation of Deuteronomy 32:35 in Hebrews 10:30b to the list of quotations the author attributes to God. This verse was about God, but the author likely thought of it as a word of God."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Paradigm that Blurs Author and Speaker

I realize that the later books of the Old Testament call the Pentateuch the "books of Moses." I also realize that the New Testament and other Jewish writers reference these books with Moses as the author. It is certainly traditional to consider Moses the author of the Pentateuch.

But I don't think these later ways of referencing the Pentateuch are either the original reasons why people began to talk of Moses as their author nor why so many of us have a tendency to think of them as Moses' writings.

If you think for just a second, the books themselves certainly don't look like what we would expect if Moses were their author. Genesis doesn't mention Moses once and these books nowhere say that Moses is their author even though Moses features prominently in them. You would not naturally think that the account of Moses birth, childhood, and especially his death were written by him. After all, wouldn't we want some comment about how God inspired me, Moses, to see my death before it happened and I'm writing this all down right before I go off to fulfill it? And wouldn't we expect something like "I was born in Egypt" rather than the consistent third person, "Moses did this," "Moses did that"?

In short, in themselves, these books give us every reason to think that they were not written by Moses.

We could mention several other examples of this phenomenon. Some have thought of Joshua as the author of Joshua--but again, Joshua is always told about in these words. John 21 says that the beloved disciple is the one who has borne witness to the things of the gospel and that his words are true. But would the beloved disciple himself write in this way about himself? It sounds like someone writing about this disciple rather than the disciple himself writing.

Then there is the fact that I inevitably have students who put true for the following true/false question in NT survey: "Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to us from Thessalonica on his second missionary journey." The statement is obviously false... but do you see why?

In matters like these, where some obvious observation is consistently missed by intelligent people, paradigms are at work. The first paradigmatic element I have mentioned over and over again--it is the paradigm of Scripture. The very idea of a Scripture is that the message is somehow important for us. We read Scripture to gain insight about the present, not the past.

Yet these documents were written in and to the past, not to the present. Paul did not write to us from Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians is Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, written either from Corinth or Athens. It was not written to us or anyone who has been alive for about 1900 years.

But more fascinating to me is the pre-modern paradigm that tends to blur the distinction between inside and outside the biblical text. It places itself, in a sense, inside the text with Moses. Moses in Exodus is now speaking with us there present with him, like we have jumped into the book. Even when he is talking to someone else, we are listening to the words as if they are verbatim quotes and videotape. There is no thought of someone writing about Moses in a book.

The words that frame the story in the text become part of the video, but they cease to be words. It's like a screenplay for a movie. As we watch the movie, we experience "Superman enters from the sky" in the screenplay not as words, but as part of the action. And if it is a good movie, we have joined it, we are there next to the Daily Planet watching him catch the globe that has fallen off the top.

So the pre-modern reading of Moses hears Moses and experiences the narrative setting as action in the drama, not as words. And the result is that we think of Moses as the speaker, as the author, even though it is obvious that someone else has actually written the screenplay.

It is this same dynamic that makes us think of the gospels as the earliest part of the New Testament, because we experience them as drama about Jesus, who is the earliest part of the NT story. But in fact, each gospel is a moment in the late first century church, each with its own concerns and angles. Historically, Paul's writings stand closer to Jesus in time than any of the gospels. So the earliest evidence for the Lord's Supper is not to be found in the gospels, but in 1 Corinthians 11. And the historical question of whether Jesus predicted the destruction of the Jerusalem temple must address why Paul seems completely unaware of any such prophecy.

Fundamentalism was of course the early twentieth century reaction of the startled pre-moderns of that day. Suddenly forced to see the kinds of clear observations we are mentioning here (and forced I might add by a somewhat hostile teacher), they assumed an irrational defensive posture. They rolled up into the fetal position. I hope we are now in a position to recognize that the truth of the text does not stand or fall on how straightforwardly historical it is--this was not the ancient criterion of truth in play. This is the baggage of a debate that happened a 100 years ago. The important questions are not so much about history but about what God was trying to say in the creation of these writings and, even more importantly, what God has led Christians to understand in these writings.

My two cents...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Psalm 34:20 in the TNIV

A student in the Fall of this past year was deeply troubled that our department was passing out the free TNIV's that Zondervan sent our way. You'll remember that Dobson, World Magazine, and others conducted a vigorous smear campaign against the TNIV several years ago, mostly over its use of what Zondervan called "gender accurate" translation ("brothers and sisters" for brothers, etc...).

I've mentioned some of these things before and suggested it is a matter of your personal taste rather than a right or wrong. I've recently asked how translating "brothers" in Romans 16:17 as "brothers and sisters" can be evil when Paul clearly meant the word to include the women in the list of greetings earlier in the chapter. The masculine was often used in Greek even when women were included, as an all inclusive category.

But the student in particular last Fall was upset over the TNIV's translation of Psalm 34:20: "he protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken." The student felt the TNIV was evil for making the verse sound like it wasn't about Christ. The NIV at this point reads, "he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken."

And why the fuss? Because John 19:32-36 says (NIV), "The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man... and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs... These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled, 'Not one of his bones will be broken.'"

So the perception was that the "evil" TNIV had translated away a prophecy about Christ by using "their" instead of "his." Now that I think of it, I imagine anti-TNIV-ites thought that the TNIV did this to move to inclusive gender language. That is not the underlying reason, as we will now see.

The problem here is not the TNIV... or the other translations. The problem is not Psalm 34's, and I would even say that the problem is not John's. The problem is the often perpetuated idea that the scripture fulfillments of the New Testament correspond closely to the original meanings of the OT passages they are quoting.

Have you heard the argument? It's done with a good and commendable attitude. I affirm the spirit that zealously says, "Christianity is true."

The argument goes something like this, "It is mathematically impossible that all the predictions of the OT could coincidentally all come true in the life of the same man, Jesus. Therefore, Christianity must be true."

But this argument will never work on a Jewish scholar, especially one who knows Hebrew and the Old Testament contexts. The spirit of the statement is commendable, but a little embarrassing in the light of the facts. It bugs me because it sets up some for a potential crisis over something that shouldn't be a crisis.

The New Testament authors simply were not concerned to read the OT in context the way some are today. Virtually all the prophecies of the OT are prophecies when you take the words in a particular spiritual way. But to varying degrees, the New Testament authors read the words differently from the meaning the OT author originally intended. Prophecies thus tend toward the spiritual rather than the contextual (many aren't even worded as prophecies in context, like Hosea 11:1).

In this case, John takes a verse that in the original Hebrew is about the righteous, plural, throughout and applies them to the Righteous One par excellence, Jesus. I guarantee you that no human being ever understood Psalm 34 to be about the Messiah until after the crucifixion.

34:15: "The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous." This was not originally about the Messiah or a single individual. It is zaddiqim, with a plural ending, "righteous ones," not a singular righteous one. When they cry, the LORD hears (34:17). So when the text turns to the singular "righteous one" in 34:19, it was not thinking of any one righteous person in particular, but any one of the many righteous it has been discussing. The context leading up to the verse in question is consistently plural, referring to the fact that righteous people often suffer unjustly.

It is fine to suggest that the Holy Spirit at this point led the psalmist to switch to the singular, if you like, "keeping all his bones, one from them is not broken." I'm fine with the idea that God has impregnated many passages of Scripture with a sensus plenior, a "fuller sense" than the human authors would have realized. In the original context, however, it is clear that the psalmist was still talking about the plural righteous of the previous verses.

So John (or perhaps early Christian tradition) went well beyond anything suggested by the original meaning of Psalm 34 when, instead of it speaking of the general protection God gives to the righteous in general, he took it to relate to the fact that on April 7 in the year AD30, Jesus' bones were not broken. ;-)

John was reading the verse out of context--or at least mega-beyond the context--which I think is perfectly allowed when you are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

But don't fault the TNIV for translating the OT verse appropriately. They do change a singular masculine in the Hebrew (his bones) to a generic plural. But this is a matter of preference, not right and wrong. The context is plural and surely God guards righteous women as well as men.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"And so all Israel will be saved": Alongside Rom. 11:26

Today I started teaching a summer New Testament survey. Sometimes I'm afraid I'm becoming a tape recorder. All you have to do is press the button, "OK Schenck, first day of class." Then I cue "the story behind the story."

But actually that's not true. Almost no matter how much structure I have planned (quiz, group activity, preplanned "this will be on the quiz" comments), some tangent inevitably presents itself... unless I have Bell's Palsy at the time. Those must have been about the best classes with me ever. No tangents, out early after I had covered the essentials.

Any number of semi-controversial to controversial tangents today, including one point where I sat down because "the opinions of Schenck do not necessarily represent those of Indiana Wesleyan University." The topic was whether or not the election of Israel was still in place and, in particular, what Paul might have meant by Romans 11:26: "and so all Israel will be saved."

There are several interpretations, three of which are found in Bud Bence's Romans commentary. Off the top of my head, I think the three he mentions are 1) that Israel here means true Israel, namely, Jews and Gentiles who accept Christ, 2) ethnic Israel, meaning that eventually disbelievers in Israel will accept Christ, and 3) ethnic Jewish believers.

As a slight tangent, I would not assume that biblical authors like Paul always meant "all" literally--I'm not trying to get out of anything or insinuating dishonesty, the meaning of words and phrases is in their use, and many, many "all" statements that people make are not really meant to withstand the insane questioning of some hypothetical philosophy teacher.

Ok, here's a typical unexpected tangent. I get frustrated when language is assumed to function only on a literal and declarative level. I've heard sermons where the preacher condemns the insincerity of someone who says, "How are you?" and then walks on before waiting to hear the answer. Some expressions are "performative" not declarative. And this statement often is simply meant to play a "cohesive," social function rather than a cognitive one. It can be a bit like shaking hands with words. Perhaps the most enlightening book I've read on this subject is G. B. Caird's The Language and Imagery of the Bible.

Anyway, I think Paul must be referring significantly in context to those in ethnic Israel who have not accepted Christ. The reason is that the verse right before is talking about how "a hardening has come on part of Israel until the full number of the Gentiles come in." In other words, he is talking about the part of Israel that has not "received our report." Because of election, they will be saved (11:28), because God's call is irrevocable (11:29). I see no other possible interpretation in context: Paul is prophesying that all (generally speaking--at least the part that was currently hardened) Israel will eventually stop being hardened in their heart toward Christ. He did not mean "true Israel" by Israel in this verse. After all, he would then be saying almost nothing: "all the saved will be saved."

So we have some sense of the original meaning. Now we sit alongside the text with our theology, experience, the Spirit, the church, our knowledge of history and current events. What will we do with this text?

On the one hand, Paul was not thinking about Israel 2000 years later. The Israel he had in mind stood right before him. Surely the Romans must have wondered if Paul was a false prophet after Jerusalem was destroyed (this surely applies to 2 Thessalonians as well)!

Was the Spirit really speaking about modern Israel through Paul, even though Paul didn't know it? On the one hand, it hasn't happened yet. Modern Israel has not yet accepted Christ. The last statistic I heard was that 85% of those in modern Israel aren't even practicing Jews, let alone Christians. It's actually illegal to try to proselytize. That's the ironic thing--as far as I can tell there are more Palestinian Christians than Israeli Christians. At least until the post-Iraq period (I hope it's still true), places like Bethlehem and Nazareth were both primarily Palestinian and Christian.

Nazareth is Palestinian but in Israel. Bethlehem is in the West Bank. Both have historically been more Christian than Muslim. My impression is that the Iraq war has facilitated changes toward Islam in these places.

So here's where I sit down. It seems to me that a nation like Israel does not get a "pass" of any kind just because they are Israel. I'm not presuming here that Israel is unrighteous. I'm not debating here their assasinations or retaliatory strikes or the wall. Has there been unrighteous violence toward Palestinians? I've already noted that there will always be--even when a violent act is "justified" for a greater good, violence begets violence and evil acts will take place by all sides in consequence.

On the other hand, my impression is that most Israelis would gladly give the Palestinians a state, including eastern Jerusalem as the capital, if they'd just stop blowing things up. But the US should expect the same standard of behavior from Israel as anyone else--just as the world should expect it of us. God certainly didn't let them off the hook because "this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" (Jer. 7:4). And God won't let us off either.

By the way, anyone else amused that some of the same people who saw 9-11 as God's judgment on America's sin are also some of those who staunchly argue that America is a Christian nation?

Anyway, it just seems deeply ironic that so many conservative American Christians funnel money to the Zionist cause. When I was in Israel, the orthodox Jews at the wailing wall could spot Americans like me a mile off and came a running for donations to the cause. I bet these individuals say something like "Sucker" to themselves after Americans cough up the dough for them. They probably think Christianity laughable--they certainly don't believe Jesus was the Messiah. And here these stupid American Christians are giving them money! What fools!

Meanwhile, there is a Baptist Bible college run by Palestinians in Bethlehem. Perhaps we shouldn't be sending finances to anyone. But it seems to me that if we sent them to anyone, we should send them to the Christians of the Holy Land, whether Israeli or Palestinian. But why would we send them to the fundamentalist Jews?

I do not know God's plans for ethnic Israel. I pray for its peace. I honor Jews as the people of God to whom God gave the oracles (Rom. 3:2). But politically, they are no more our friend than any ally, and we should expect of them and ourselves the same standards of action as any other nation. God may have political plans for them as a Christian nation. But it hasn't happened yet. For all we know, they might be destroyed and not become Christian for a 1000 years!

P.S. I didn't say all this this morning.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July!

I was glancing over the Declaration of Independence--it's a nice piece of work. I think I would have enjoyed talking to Thomas Jefferson, or at least listening to many of these individuals. It's funny the significance a document of this sort can have. Some men (unfortunately they were all men) get together and agree to sign a piece of paper. The consequences were massive.

As I recall, Washington was already in the middle of engagement with British troops in New York when this document was signed, so the document itself was not the direct initiation of the Revolutionary War. I suppose it was the "line in the sand" that "sealed the deal." These men would have hung for sure if they had lost.

Should they have signed it from a Christian perspective? That's not a completely straightforward question for me. For one thing, I'm no expert on the details that led up to it, although the Declaration itself has a long list of (what appears to me to be) legitimate grievances against King George. It seems to me that the colonists had many legitimate grievances against the king. Patrick Henry and others had long been making their voice and votes heard against various British practices (e.g., taxation without representation).

I might note that they had nothing like the grievances the Iraqis had against Saddam or the ones so many countries have against their leaders. In the light of twentieth and twenty-first century atrocities (e.g., genocide in Rwanda or Sudan), we must consider the grievances of the colonists pretty wimpy.

On the one hand, I don't think it would have been Christian to cross the sea and launch an attack against England on its own soil. But it seems to me you could argue (successfully?) that the colonist's actions could fall under the heading of self-defense. The colonists disobeyed and the British troops come after them. Then they defend themselves against the troops. In a full war, that defense includes offensive warfare.

From this perspective, the question of a Christian perspective asks 1) was it Christian to disobey the king in the first place, 2) was it Christian to defend oneself, one's own, and one's neighbors when the king sought to enact consequences of disobedience, and 3) was it appropriate to sign a document (or do other acts of disobedience) that you knew would eventuate in a war?

Various Christians will disagree on various points here. 1) Since I believe that social action is appropriate for a Christian, I think a Christian can engage in civil disobedience, especially when it is for the welfare of others (e.g., slavery, women, etc...) and you are willing to suffer the consequences. 2) I'm not sure if it is appropriate to defend oneself in acts of civil disobedience, but I think it is appropriate to defend others and/or to make offensive actions against systemic evil. I doubt the British empire qualifies as systemic evil here. But I am not a pacifist. I personally don't think it would have been unchristian to defend one's family and city from encroaching British troops.

3) By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed, I wonder if the train was already so far out of the station that it was time either to submit or go all the way. Again, they were not promising to attack England. They were telling England what it was fighting for. And submission at this point probably would not have been pretty.

I still don't know for sure what Jesus would have had those men do in that room. But I think I would have signed it. I think I would have been reluctant to participate in the defiance in the days leading up to July 2. But by that point, it seems to me it was time to defend the colonies in the face of what would have been hard times for all if they had lost.

What would you have done?

Right or wrong, I am selfishly glad it happened. Part of the moral complexity of the universe is that good things can come even from bad things. Children we love with all our heart can come out of sexual encounters that should never have happened. Good (or at least better) nations can rise from inappropriate wars or political decisions. I don't know with certainty if the Revolutionary War was ultimately right or wrong from a Christian perspective. But two hundred years later I gladly enjoy its great benefits.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Book Review: James Dunn's A New Perspective on Jesus

This short book presents a number of presentations that Dunn gave while he was working on his much longer tome, Jesus Remembered. The longer book is Dunn's answer to the historical Jesus question and the first in a projected series called Christianity in the Making.

In the first chapter of A New Perspective on Jesus, Dunn talks about the impact Jesus would have made on all those in the environs where he talked and did things. Here I would translate his argument as follows:

1. It seems implausible to say that the impact of Jesus would have continued post-resurrection if he had not made an impact on those around him pre-resurrection.

2. He would have made such an impact each time he spoke or did something. In an oral world where there were no blogs, electricity, or TVs, people would have gathered in the evening to tell stories. Jesus would have likely featured regularly.

3. Thus it seems inappropriate to divide sharply the "Christ of faith" after the resurrection from the "Jesus of history" before the resurrection. Jesus must have created a kind of faith in those around him while he walked the earth or else it wouldn't have continued afterward.

Item of note: One of the most interesting comments to me Dunn makes in this chapter is that we should not be surprised that the "Q" material has a Galilean character without any clear passion material. After all, if much of it came from Jesus, it would come from Galilee before the passion. This is an item worth further discussion.

In the second chapter, Dunn dives into the oral nature of ancient culture in contrast to the literary paradigm with which most of us operate. He points out that by most estimates more than 90% of those in Palestine would have been illiterate.

However, we should not assume that this means they did not know the biblical texts or that they were prone to mess stories up, as if in that kind of world things have to be written down to be remembered.

In particular, stories belong to communities and they are retold in groups of related stories. There are individuals with particular story telling gifts to whom communities turn to tell their stories. Story telling involved a certain flexibility within a certain fixity. Thus we should not be surprised that the gospels often differ on details while holding certain cores to stories relatively fixed.

No account of the gospel material is adequate that does not take oral tradition into account. This does not lead Dunn to abandon Markan priority or the idea of some sort of written "Q" source, but orality is a required component.

Item of note: One of the most interesting things Dunn suggests in this chapter is that it is hard to speak of an "original version" of oral tradition. I would add "unless that which survived post-resurrection only emerged from one oral witness." But Dunn is correct, numerous "original" oral traditions would have arisen the first night after Jesus said something, and Jesus would likely have said similar things over and over again (so also Werner Kelber).

In the third chapter, Dunn presents his ideas on the historical Jesus. In this chapter he argues that we should look for the characteristic Jesus, rather than asking whether Jesus said this particular saying or did this particular event. So we ask what kinds of sayings and events Jesus must surely have said given the impact that reverberates in our sources about him (not a completely new idea, admittedly, see A. E. Harvey's Jesus and the Constraints of History and E. P. Sanders' Jesus and Judaism for similar results from slightly different approaches).

Dunn creates such a list:

1. Basic Jewish concerns (Jesus came to Jews and would have echoed their concerns)

2. mission in Galilee (Jesus' activities must have been in Galilee)

3. preaching of the kingdom (Jesus must have talked mostly about the coming of the kingdom of God. Dunn believes he must have spoken both of it as coming and present in him.)

4. son of man/Son of Man (Jesus must both have referred to himself as the son of man and preached the return of the Son of Man)

5. Exorcist/healer (Jesus must have cast out demons and healed people)

6. Aphoristic wisdom (Jesus must have spoken a good deal of pithy wisdom, short wise sayings)

7. Amen (Jesus must have used Amen of his own words--quite authoritative)

8. John the Baptist (Jesus must have connected his ministry with that of John the Baptist in some way)

9. This generation (Jesus must have faced some rejection in the course of his earthly ministry)

The appendix is another lecture, although related to the ones he gave as the bulk of the book. It was given as the presidential address of the 2002 Society of New Testament Studies meeting in Durham, England.

It largely covers the same ground as his other lectures, but here he goes into more exegetical detail in comparing specific passages from the gospels. After rehearsing why virtually all scholars believe there is a literary relationship between the gospels (the precision of verbal agreement at points), he shows that many passages show exactly what we would expect of oral agreement.

In particular, we find what Kenneth Bailey calls "informal, controlled tradition." That is, we find differences on insignificant matters of detail (precise wording, precise scenario, like whether he was going into or out of Jericho). But we find basic agreement on something like the fact that there was the healing of a blind man. And we often find a core of a story that is almost verbatim the same from one version to the next.

Perhaps the most insightful thing to me Dunn says in this last part is that even presuming that Matthew and Luke were using Mark and Q as sources, their renditions of them would often have taken the character of "oral re-presentations." In other words, the wording and form of the story might shift in its details even though they were following a written source.

The long and the short of it is that it becomes nearly impossible to define the limits of Q for we don't know when we are getting an oral re-presentation of a written source or common oral tradition. It becomes more difficult also to speak of precise redactional intention on the part of Matthew and Luke because they may simply be following a different oral version.

A nice little read.

By the way, you can see how absurd a strict, "Chicago Statement" understanding of inerrancy is on close examination (the kind that drives you to try to harmonize details of the gospels together). "The rules" of ancient oral tradition re-presented things in the retelling. That was the name of the game. It would be seriously anachronistic to call such things "errors." To think the goal is to get as precisely historical as possible is a textbook case of cultural myopia in biblical studies.