Sunday, August 31, 2008

3 Postmodern Complications

Somewhere in the middle of this section I passed my word limit. Oh well, I'm sure some of you could easily cut out parts of what I've written. I think I'm finally ready for my conclusion after this section. Then the pruning... or I suppose rewriting... will begin.

The post-modern critique of meaning has forced at least some modifications to modernist evangelical hermeneutics. We would argue that these modifications actually cohere better with the hermeneutic of John Wesley and the nineteenth century holiness movement than they do with late twentieth century evangelical hermeneutics. For example, we have already seen the (professed) contemporary evangelical aversion to reading Scripture in any way other than with its original meaning. Richard Longenecker exemplifies this tendency in his study of the way the New Testament itself interprets the Old Testament.[i] His work and the work of evangelical scholarship in general have attempted to minimize the non-contextual orientation of New Testament exegesis.[ii]

Nevertheless, Longenecker is forced in the end to acknowledge that the biblical authors themselves come up short when evaluated by the canons of evangelical hermeneutics.[iii] Rather than let New Testament practice legitimize the pneumatic exegesis that typified groups like nineteenth century revivalists and twentieth century charismatics, he instead gives precedence to the evangelical perspective over the practice of the Bible itself. He relegates New Testament methods of exegesis to an aspect of ancient culture that does not transcend to the present! The guiding principles of evangelical hermeneutics are thus recognized to be based on principles brought to the Bible rather than derived from Scripture itself.

Ironically, Vanhoozer himself is a good illustration of the incoherency of evangelical hermeneutics as it attempts to respond to the post-modern critique of meaning. At the same time that he champions the literal meaning of Scripture, we find him deviating to a different hermeneutic, seemingly unaware, as he searches for a way from the particular meanings of individual passages to an overarching, coherent significance for Scripture as a whole.[iv] Scripture as a whole, he suggests, is a speech-act from God, which means that God has determined the meaning of Scripture as a whole. Certainly we do not fault him for this theological understanding of Scripture—it coheres well with John Wesley’s sense of the analogy of faith.

What it does not cohere with are his own claims with regard to the proper meaning of the Bible as its “literal” meaning. However the audiences of the biblical texts understood the books of the Bible, they did it from within their particular socio-cultural matrices and their accompanying symbolic universes. These diverse meanings constitute the plain (what he means by “literal”) meaning of the books of the Bible. Whatever it might mean to say that Scripture is an overarching, divine speech-act, it is de facto quite distinct from the several, “literal” meanings of the words.

On the other hand, others have taken the post-modern critique on board to the extent that they no longer seem to distinguish between the original meaning of the biblical texts and their own theological appropriation of it. Joel Green, for example, eschews the modernist hermeneutic that bids us think of the books of the Bible as “someone else’s mail.”[v] Unless we are willing to hear ourselves as the “you” of James, he writes, “we are not in a position to hear well the Letter of James as Christian Scripture."[vi] Again, these comments cohere well with the hermeneutics of both Wesley and the Christians of the ages, as well as with the nineteenth century holiness revivalists.

The issue with theological hermeneutics, as we might term Green’s approach, is that it seems to put its head in the sand and simply ignore the elephant in the room, namely, the fact that the meanings we see in the biblical text are almost certainly different from those of the original audiences. On the one hand, the twentieth century philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer rightly pointed out that we inevitably bring along the perspectives of our past, especially the traditions to which we belong, as we try to interpret texts such as the Bible.[vii] The result is that our understandings of the biblical books always blur our context with the original contexts, which inevitably remain somewhat inaccessible to us. Accordingly, Green’s hermeneutic largely gives up the chase. Indeed, it almost impugns the chase as inimical to understanding the Bible as Christian Scripture.

Again, we might easily conceptualize Wesley’s analogy of faith as the appropriate theological context within which to read the books of Scripture, the appropriate tradition within which to fuse our “horizon” with the “horizon” of the biblical texts. The diverse books of the Bible thus take on the coherent structure of faith that we bring to it and become unified Scripture. At the same time, we must recognize that although we may not be able to determine with full certainty what the original meaning of the books of the Bible was, we can say with a high degree of certainty that it must have differed in significant ways from the holistic theological perspective we bring to it by way of the analogy of faith.

We can say such things because of the principle of anachronism. Although we do not know the original meaning of the Bible definitively, we know enough about ancient symbolic universes to see that, for example, Christian understandings of the Old Testament must often differ from the understandings its original audiences would have had in the ancient near east. Similarly, unless we wish to suggest that the Christian thinkers of the second to fifth century had simply lost touch with the original meaning of the New Testament, we must conclude that their conclusions on the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ forged new ground with the biblical texts that differed to at least some degree from their original meanings. Otherwise they would not have had so much to debate.

In short, we see that the coherence of the Bible is as much a function of us as Christian readers as it is a function of the original meaning of these texts. The books themselves, as far as their original authors are concerned, largely were not written with a view to each other. The authors of the “Jewish Bible” by and large did not interact with each other to explain how, for example, comments the prophetic tradition makes about sacrifices (e.g., Jeremiah 7:22; Psalm 40:6-7) might fit with the assumptions of the Levitical tradition. It is true that New Testament authors do provide a certain perspective from which to find unity in the “Old Testament.” But the very label, Old Testament, implies a perspective that is not intrinsic to the Jewish Bible itself in its several original meanings.

Nor do the New Testament books tell us how to integrate their teachings with one another. James does not have a footnote at James 2:24—“a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”—that explains how this statement coheres with Romans 3:28—“a person is justified by faith and not by works of law.” Whether we like it or not, we are forced to take these two diverse biblical comments and construct from them a unified Scripture. We do this work of integration by assuming a unified stance in relation to the biblical text as a whole. We will presumably draw the elements of this unified stance from the materials of the Bible itself, but the stance must de facto be one assumed from the outside of the Bible looking in. We have no other choice; we can do no other.

[i] Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period.
[ii] Ben Witherington on Nazareth.
[iii] Longenecker
[iv] Meaning, First Theology
[v] Seized by Truth, 51.
[vi] ***, 55.
[vii] Truth and Method

2 Modernist Evangelical Coherence

Pre-modern interpretation might find coherence between diverse portions of the Bible in several ways. For example, Origen (ca. 185-254) believed that at times it would be “absurd and impossible” to take the biblical text literally.[i] To be sure, he believed that far more of the biblical text was meant literally than the portion “with a purely spiritual signification.” But at points where the literal meaning did not coincide with Origen’s overall understanding, he interpreted the text allegorically.[ii]

Augustine (ca. 354-430) similarly set down the rule:

"Whatever exists in the word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or sound doctrine, you may set down as figurative. Purity of life has reference to the love of God and one’s neighbor; sound doctrine to the knowledge of God and one’s neighbor."[iii]

Both Origen and Augustine thus used allegory and non-literal interpretation as tools to affirm the truthfulness of Scripture. They could interpret allegorically when the text said something that did not fit with their understanding—for Augustine especially when something did not fit with the rule of faith or the law of love. But they could also use it as a tool of coherence, to fit diverse parts of Scripture together that seemed to conflict in some way with each other.

The Protestant emphasis on the literal—or more accurately, the plain meaning of Scripture—thus removed a handy tool for affirming the truthfulness and coherence of the Bible in the face of apparent contradiction. In good evangelical fashion, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart give as one of their foundational hermeneutical principles the notion that “a text cannot mean [today] what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers.”[iv] If we apply this dictum to Genesis 1:27 (which Fee and Stuart do not), we cannot understand the “us” in the statement, “Let us make humanity in our own image,” as a reference to the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity was not hammered out until the fourth century AD and thus Genesis would hardly have had this meaning to anyone in the second millennium before Christ. Unlike Wesley, the modernist evangelical hermeneutic gives priority to the probable historical meaning of the text over a theological significance such as Wesley himself drew from it.

Kevin Vanhoozer similarly writes, “The Spirit may blow where, but not what, he wills.”[v] Such language is striking in its restrictive tone, but it is a reflection of Vanhoozer’s theological sense of the Spirit as one who bears witness to the Son, the Word (e.g., John 16:13), rather than being the word itself or the one who generates truth. For Vanhoozer, the function of the Spirit is as “the one who leads the community into the single correct interpretation: the literal sense.”[vi]

It is at this point that we might point out that the Wesleyan tradition for which this book is written has John Wesley himself more for a grandparent than as a parent, namely, the Wesleyan traditions that formed their identities in the holiness revivals of the late 1800’s: Wesleyans, Nazarenes, Free Methodists, and so forth. For those in these traditions, a “Wesleyan” hermeneutic cannot simply turn to John Wesley for precedent, but must look at the hermeneutic of its revivalist parents—even if to dismiss it. Mark Noll would call our forebears “fundamentalists,” but his use of this label skews the historical phenomenon—conspicuously in a way that exonerates his own theological sympathies of the label.[vii]

Rather than apply the term to individuals like J. Gresham Machen, who actually took the “fundamentalist” side in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy within the Presbyterian Church, he applies it to “Pentecostals, holiness revivalists, and dispensationalists.”[viii] In other words, he applies the term to those whose reaction to the challenges of modernism were emotional, experiential, and who tended to remove themselves from the discussion rather than those who reacted intellectually and actively. This is a one-sided perspective on history at best. It also obscures the nature of the fundamentalist hermeneutic as a mechanism for finding coherence in the biblical text.[ix]

We have classified Wesley’s hermeneutic as “pre-modern” because of his relative inattention to historical-cultural and literary context. Nevertheless, he was quite forthright about the “analogy of faith” as key to the coherence of his interpretations. By contrast, the holiness-Pentecostal movements of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were more “pneumatic” in their use of Scripture.[x] The Spirit might reveal directly to you what He wanted a specific passage of Scripture to mean for you.

At the same time, these movements had interpretations they held in common, such as Acts 2 as a reference to entire sanctification. Unlike Wesley, however, who looked more to the common tradition of Christianity for the coherence of Scripture, these groups found the coherence more in the theology of their particular group. They mirrored American culture in its democratic form, where everyone gets to vote and everyone’s vote counts the same.[xi] Distinctive theologies were often set from the beginning of such movements by charismatic founders whose stamps continue to this day.

Needless to say, the pre-modern hermeneutic of both Wesley and the holiness revivalists stands in significant tension with the contemporary evangelical hermeneutic we saw in Gordon Fee and Kevin Vanhoozer. Contemporary evangelicalism grew out of the fundamentalism of the early twentieth century as an attempt to read the books of the Bible in context while also affirming the coherence and truthfulness of Scripture in its historical meaning. It was, however, more sophisticated in its understanding of context and in its method of integrating diversity in the Bible than those groups that would become the fundamentalists of the late twentieth century. Many holiness groups joined the evangelical movement mid-century either unaware of the difference with the pneumatic interpretations of their past or, perhaps, to distance themselves from them.

We might thus speak of two Wesleyan hermeneutics in the late twentieth century, with many hybrids. Wesleyan scholars and academics largely absorbed the evangelical, contextual hermeneutic. For this group, we can hardly speak of a distinct Wesleyan strategy for finding the coherent meaning of Scripture, other than the fact that they looked at the biblical text with Wesleyan interests in mind. At the same time, perhaps the bulk of Wesleyans continued to interpret and integrate Scripture by defining the words and integrating them “as it seemed right in their own eyes,” eyes forged by Wesleyan sociology, using the inherent flexibility of words to make them take on meanings that could fit together and cohere with Wesleyan tradition.

[i] “On First Principles,” 18.
[ii] “On First Principles,” 19. When it comes to the law of Moses, Origen speaks of the “irrationality” and “impossibility” of observing many of the laws literally (“On First Principals,” 17).
[iii] “On Christian Doctrine,” 3.10.14.
[iv] How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 74.
[v] Is There a Meaning in This Text? 429.
[vi] Meaning, 415.
[vii] The Rise of the Evangelicals. The Scandal of the American Mind
[viii] ***
[ix] Frei.
[x] Dayton
[xi] Noll.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain Appoints Woman as VP Running Mate

After last night's speech by Obama, I didn't think there was any way he could lose the election. Regardless of how he came across to Republicans over 40 and die hard FOX News watchers, I was convinced that he would be perceived by swing voters and most of those under 40 as mirroring their hearts.

But in an ingenious move, McCain has named Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as his running mate. Absolutely ingenious! I thought he'd probably appoint Romney, which wouldn't have gained him hardly anyone except maybe some Libertarian defectors. I can see some Clinton supporters going for her.

At the same time, most Clinton supporters could only vote for Palin/McCain if they were, as one pundit put it, "post-rational." Palin has a stronger pro-life position than McCain does, and most of Clinton's most radical supporters are completely on the opposite end of the spectrum.

One way or another, I'll be happy if I have a woman to consider in the presidential election in 8 years.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama's Speech Last Night

Did anyone hear Obama's speech last night? I listened to most of it. My plan was to try to listen to it with the question, "What would a Christian evaluation of this speech be?"

For those of you who heard all or part of it, how would you answer this question? Since most of us tend to get irrational when it comes to politics, please respond logically to the question rather than simply with irrational emotion. Unfortunately, I won't be able to police the responses until late this afternoon.

The only place where I thought evangelical values were potentially in tension with his speech was in his implied position on abortion. However, I was struck by the fact that he did not trumpet his position, as Gore did or other Democratic candidates in the past. In fact, I was really impressed with the maturity of his approach given his position. It was something like, "We may not agree on abortion, but we can all agree with the goal of decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies."

This of course was not a prominent theme--a very, very small sentence in 42 minutes worth of talking. But it was the only line that I can think of that an evangelical could take serious issue with from a Christian standpoint, and even here the point of contention was implied rather than stated.

What did you think? And again, show that you have a brain and not just a gun for a mouth.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The "Pre-Modern" Coherence of Scripture

I and several others at IWU are on a deadine to write chapters for a book on a "Wesleyan hermeneutic." Since we are of diverse perspectives and there has been no organizing definition of what a Wesleyan hermeneutic is, I doubt seriously that this volume will actually answer the question very well. I suspect it will turn out to be a loose collection of somewhat disparate chapters by individuals in the Wesleyan tradition.

I could of course be way off here. Perhaps we will find unexpected covergences that we did not expect or plan.

My chapter is "Scripture is Coherent." An unintended--but not surprising--organizing principle has emerged to my chapter in its first draft. I thought I would share the first section, not least because some of you out there have far more expertise in Reformation hermeneutics than I do. Here it is.
1. "Pre-Modern" Coherence
One of the most crucial issues for Christians who consider the Bible to be God’s authoritative word—perhaps in fact the most crucial—is the matter of biblical theology. How do we get from the particular teachings of individual books and passages within the Bible to be able to say what the “Bible” as a collective whole has to say? According to one recent count, over 38,000 distinct Christian denominations exist.[i] No doubt the overwhelming majority of these are groups that consider the Bible the primary, perhaps even sole source of their beliefs and practices. While such diversity is primarily a function of social groups, it is enabled by vast ignorance of biblical context. Further, it is a direct reflection of the diversity of the Bible itself and the myriad ways in which one might integrate that diversity into a coherent whole, a biblical theology.

“Pre-modern” interpreters, for lack of a better term, are interpreters who largely without realizing it read the words of the Bible against their own use of language, against their own symbolic universes and contexts.[ii] They come to the words of the Bible with their default mechanisms of understanding and read the biblical books accordingly. Yet as recent studies in the cultural anthropology of the biblical worlds have illustrated, the mere translation of words from ancient Hebrew or Greek into contemporary English is vastly inadequate to the task of translating the ancient meanings of those words.[iii] The words of the Bible took on their meanings—as all words do—within the symbolic universes of ancient cultures, cultural networks of meaning resulting from interrelated customs, ideologies, religious expressions, and social relationships.[iv]

The meanings of words are a function of the way people are using them at any given time.[v] Words are not fixed pointers toward a pool of specific word-meanings that all times and all places hold in common. An English translation of the Bible made today will inevitably become dated over time, perhaps even within a generation, because the words will inevitably take on new uses and old ones will fall into disuse. The diversity of Christian denominations is thus an understandable function of readers from thousands of distinguishable social contexts reading the biblical words from the standpoint of their own, several symbolic universes.

To varying degrees, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, just as their Roman Catholic counterparts, were “pre-modern.” John Wesley was not equipped in his time to be able to read the words of the Bible in context to the degree that we are today. To make such a statement implies no lack of intelligence on his part—or on the part of Martin Luther, John Calvin, or other Christian thinkers of that period. It is simply to point out that their symbolic universes differed even from ours, and that we are privileged to inherit a set of glasses that they did not.[vi]

Wesley’s mechanism for organizing diverse biblical material was the “analogy of faith.” His Explanatory Notes on Romans 12:6 give a good sense of how it worked for him:

"Let us prophesy according to the analogy of faith — St. Peter expresses it, 'as the oracles of God'; according to the general tenor of them; according to that grand scheme of doctrine which is delivered therein, touching original sin, justification by faith, and present, inward salvation. There is a wonderful analogy between all these; and a close and intimate connexion between the chief heads of that faith 'which was once delivered to the saints.' Every article therefore concerning which there is any question should be determined by this rule; every doubtful scripture interpreted according to the grand truths which run through the whole."[vii]

The analogy of faith is the coherence of the several parts of Scripture with the “grand scheme of doctrine,” the “grand truths which run through the whole.” It is a reflection of “a close and intimate connexion between the chief heads of that faith ‘which was once delivered to the saints.’”

What Wesley is doing here is talking about an overarching biblical theology. The grand scheme of doctrine for him is his signature ordo salutis, the path to salvation. It includes such teachings as that “on original sin, justification by faith, and present, inward salvation.” Wesley was by no means the first to speak of a “rule of faith” as an organizing principle for the various materials of the Bible. We find this idea as early as Irenaeus in the late second century.[viii] From one perspective, it is the idea that certain core Christian beliefs provide a general rule that governs how the meaning of Scripture is understood and applied.

One of the distinguishing marks of the Reformation was Luther’s claim that Scripture itself must provide this rule, that the rule cannot derive from Christian tradition or ecclesiastical bodies.[ix] Rather “Scripture interprets Scripture” and “unclear” passages in the Bible are to be interpreted by the “clear” ones. In Luther's case, however, the clear passages turned out to be his interpretations of John and the Pauline letters, by which he clarified “unclear” passages in Matthew, James, Hebrews, and Revelation. From our current standpoint, we can provide no clear rationale from Scripture alone for this way of establishing unity within the biblical diversity. Luther was simply establishing a new rule of faith based on his own symbolic universe, which drank heavily from his own experiences and personality.[x]

Indeed, contemporary interpreters in the Calvinist tradition prefer to speak of an “analogy of scripture” rather than an “analogy of faith.” The distinction they thereby make is a coherency between meanings of the biblical books read in context rather than the coherency of biblical material with some overarching “faith,” as seems particularly obvious in Wesley's interpretation yet also in Luther's. They reflect the fact that, of all the Reformers, perhaps John Calvin was the most in tune to original context. Calvin thus provides us with a bridge to the bulk of twentieth century evangelical interpretation, which was more “modernist” in approach than “pre-modern.”

[i] Barrett, David B. and Johnson, Todd M., International Bulletin of Missionary Research (January 2008).
[ii] Hans Frei
[iii] Just two examples of this sort of work are Mary Douglas’ work on taboos and purity laws in the Old Testament (Purity and Danger) and Bruce Malina’s on the New Testament (The New Testament World). Whether we accept the specific reconstructions of scholars such as these, their basic point seems established.
[iv] Tate
[v] Wittgenstein
[vi] Calvin better than the others.
[vii] ref
[viii] ref.
[ix] ref.
[x] Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Couple Lines from Democratic Convention

A couple years ago I moved most of my political comments somewhere else, but it has seemed appropriate to mainstream them in the election season. I listened to some of the speeches at the Democratic Convention on my way home from Fort Wayne last night. I didn't hear it all, but I thought two lines were good rhetoric.

"Bush was handed a triple and he stole second."
This was on the economy. I both agree and disagree with it. I disagree in that I remember the Fall of 2000 and the economy was already tanking when Bush took office. I actually, with no expertise at all, thought his first stimulus package seemed to turn things around pretty quickly.

BUT, I blame the Iraq War for the absolute demolition of the American economy ever since. An absolute disaster on a war of choice rather than of prudence or necessity. The American dollar is atrociously devalued overseas as a result. We have empowered China and the Middle East by borrowing ludicrous amounts of money from them and in paying for oil. It has made us far more vulnerable than we were before.

Now when something important comes up in Georgia, we're too busy mopping up aisle 3 in Iraq.

"The Democrats don't deserve to win just because the Republicans deserve to lose."
I thought this was a clever comment. I'm a registered Republican but have a lot of anger toward my own party. I thought Bush needed to be fired a long time ago as a disastrous CEO of the company. I have liked McCain in the past but have cringed to see him put on his dog collar so the party can walk him wherever they want him to go. I don't recognize the man who's running for office right now.

But in the 2004 election, Kerry lost--Bush didn't win; Kerry lost. We'll see how Obama does. I predicted he would be the next president immediately after the Iowa primary. I'm still predicting that, especially with Clinton's supporters almost sure to vote for him now. One commentator described some of them as "post-rational," but I know how they'll vote in the booth.

Right now, the election is Obama's to lose, IMHO...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Observing Philippians 3:7-16 in Detail

When I went to Asbury Seminary in the 80's, the signature courses were called "English Bible" and followed a method principally laid down by Robert Traina. There I was privileged to learn the method from David Bauer, a Matthew scholar who studied under Jack Kingsbury at Union in Virginia. I wasn't able to have Traina while I was there, but frankly I think the student has surpassed the master.

On the one hand, Traina's method raised up a couple or three generations of excellent Bible teachers and pastors--whose baptism in "methodical Bible study" I think often made them superior scholars to many if not most card carrying PhD's. (However, I can't say, unfortunately, that this group has left much of a mark in publication).

On the other hand, the bulk of Asbury students I think rather left their required IBS courses (as they are now called) more puzzled at the strange magic they were required to dabble in. I heard of a new Bible professor at Asbury (with PhD in hand) several years ago who found the strange practices of Asbury IBS rather puzzling, a unique language and method seemingly used only on this one island in the sea (at least it's better than discourse analysis or structuralism!).

So I have struggled these years that I've taught exegetical method to present the great benefits of the Traina method without so much lingo or tasks that are so methodical that they come off as an end in themselves with little apparent use in actual ministry or connection to the other activities of interpretation.

What follows is an example of what I've come up with. True, without proper feedback a student is not forced to listen to the text with the rigor or "science" of Traina's method. But a good evaluator can take care of that. The benefit of seeing why you're doing what you're doing, in my opinion, outweighs the "sloppiness" for the vast majority of ministerial students.

When I did "detailed observations" for Bauer and David Thompson at Asbury, I went verse by verse, then clause by clause, then phrase by phrase, then word by word in chart form--in Greek and Hebrew! So you can see that what I'm about to show is very imprecise and "sloppy" by Asbury standards.

I should also mention that I precede this assignment with three hours worth of presentation/group practice on "what to observe" and "questions to ask" of a passage. The key skills we're working at here are 1) the ability to distinguish between what the text says and what it doesn't say and 2) the ability to distinguish between questions we want to ask the text and questions the text wants to answer.

Things to observe include 1) key words and phrases, 2) key grammatical features of individual words, 3) key features of syntax, 4) logical relationships, and 5) miscellaneous features like tone, intertextuality, figurative speech, etc... The key questions to ask include 1) questions of definition, 2) how questions, 3) why questions, and 4) questions about the implications of the original meaning. Those who know Asbury's IBS will see much I've retained here. Students of the "cult initiation" at Trinity, The Hermeneutical Spiral, will also find familiar elements.

The difference from Asbury is in what I have the students do.

1) I have them basically go verse by verse--although depending on how much meaning is packed into the passage they could go as much as two verses at once or even break down a verse into several parts. This is less methodical, but more accessible.

2) They describe the most obvious meanings of the verse, disciplining themselves not to say more than they know for sure and leaving the rest to the third part. They put in italics key observations like logical relationships. Again, this is more conversational and less foreign in format.

A person like me hopefully is further along the road in what is "obvious" and what isn't in the passage. I always felt it was somewhat artificial (and methodically pedantic) to divorce observation from interpretation as sharply as the Traina method does, in the same way that you cannot neatly divide the "world of the text" from the "world behind the text." Technically, there is no world of the text without a world behind the text. Words have no meaning without a context, and a literary context is ultimately a larger set of words still in search of a "historical" context (of which language itself is a part).

Approaching things the way I'm suggesting implies that what we are really doing in the "observation" stage is beginning interpretation with as much as we can gain from our basic knowledge of language. In other words, I'm trying to accomplish what Asbury's "observation" stage meant to accomplish, without assuming its somewhat artificial distinction between observation and interpretation. Observation is interpretive.

3) They follow up obvious observations with questions that require further investigation like word studies or looking into historical background. This is the same as Traina, but it makes sense to a person in the context of an actual passage in front of you rather than the third or fourth column in a chart.

To be sure, it only works well if there is someone there to help clarify what we're talking about here. It is very hard to train a person not to see in passages "obvious meanings" that are in reality none of the sort... including "scholars."

Anyway, here is my version of the assignment my grad class is supposed to turn in tonight. And if you are in the class and have stumbled on my blog... the Lord bids you close your browser at this point :-) In a few weeks they will answer these questions and end up with an interpretation of the passage a little fuller than the explanatory notes I have been doing.
Observing the Train of Thought of Philippians 3:7-16 in Detail

Translation: 7 But whatever was to my gain, I have considered these things loss because of the Christ. 8 But indeed I am also considering all things to be loss because of the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus, because of whom I have reckoned them loss and I consider them dung in order that I may gain Christ 9 and might be found in him, not having my own righteousness on the basis of the Law but the one through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith, 10 to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, 11 if somehow also I might attain to the resurrection of the dead.

12 Not that I have already received or I have already been perfected, but I am pursuing if I might also take hold of that for which I was also taken hold of by Christ. 13 Brothers, I am not reckoning myself to have taken hold, but one thing: forgetting the things behind and reaching out to the things ahead, 14 I am pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, as many of you as are perfect, let us think this. And if you are thinking something differently, God will also reveal this to you. 16 Only to the point we have attained, let us walk in the same.

[obviously it would be preferable to do this in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic]

Immediate Context
At 3:2, Paul began a section with instruction to "beware of the dogs" ... "look out for the mutilators." Then he suggests that "we," he and the audience, are the "circumcision." Those he calls the "circumcision" serve by the Spirit of God and boast in Christ rather than being confident "in flesh" (3:3).

He then lists a number of things that he could be confident about "in the flesh," at least at one time. He tells of his Jewish lineage and of how he at least used to describe himself--blameless as far as the righteousness in the Law, a persecutor of the church. The verses we are looking at begin right after this list.

Verse by Verse Observation
3:7 Whatever was to my advantage, these things I have considered a loss because of the Christ.
Paul sets up a contrast between things that he might have considered a benefit or an advantage at one time and how he now considers them in the light of the Christ. He puts it the Christ, which seems slightly different from simply mentioning his name.

Questions: What does the word “loss” mean? How was the previous list to Paul’s advantage? How does his current point of view contrast with his previous one? Why does he now consider such things “loss”? Is there any significance to referring to Jesus as the Christ?

3:8 But indeed I even consider all things to be loss because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, because of whom I have written off all things as loss...
Paul now generalizes the scope of what he considers loss, although there could be an element of hyperbole involved. He considers “all things” loss in the light of knowing Christ. The reason or explanation for why he now has this point of view is the contrast between knowledge of Christ and everything else. He affirms Jesus as his Lord, the cause of him writing off all other things as loss.

Questions: What is the knowledge of Christ Jesus? Is there any significance in the order “Christ Jesus”? What does it mean to consider Jesus “Lord”? How is knowledge of Christ Jesus “superior” to all other things? Why does Paul consider all other things loss? Why does Paul consider Jesus Lord? Why has Paul “written off” all other things as loss? How does his life and thought now demonstrate this perspective? Why does Paul generalize from things of advantage to him as a Jew to things of advantage to him in general?

3:9 ...and I consider [all things] dung in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness on the basis of Law but the righteousness through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith.
The tone of the contrast climaxes as Paul not only considers all things loss but in fact considers them “dung.” The purpose behind having such a perspective is to gain Christ. Perhaps then he further explains what “gaining Christ” entails in what follows.

To gain Christ apparently means having righteousness, but righteousness of a particular sort. It is a righteousness “through faith of Jesus Christ,” perhaps the cause or means of getting that righteousness. The line that follows either explains or supplements what this means. It is a righteousness “from God,” that has God as its source, and is caused or is “on the basis of faith.”

Paul contrasts this kind of righteousness or path to righteousness with “my own righteousness,” which he further describes as being “on the basis of Law.” Presumably “his own righteousness” has something to do with the list he gave earlier in the chapter.

Questions: What is “dung”? Why does Paul heighten the tone here? How does considering all things loss facilitate “gaining Christ”? What is “righteousness”? How does righteousness “on the basis of Law” contrast with “through the faith of Christ”? What is “faith of Christ”? What is “Law”? Are the phrases that follow in the verse explanatory or supplementary to the faith of Christ? What is “my own righteousness” and how does it relate to what Paul has said earlier in the chapter?

3:10-11 ... in order to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if somehow I will attain to the resurrection from the dead.
The purpose behind having this perspective or perhaps of gaining Christ and presumably of gaining this righteousness is “to know him,” which might actually be what “gaining Christ” is. Another purpose—or perhaps a different way of saying the same thing—is to be resurrected. The “fellowship of his sufferings” could be a purpose for Paul’s attitudes, or it could be something Paul wants to know as a “cause” of resurrection.

The fact that Paul goes on to say that being conformed to his death links somehow with attaining resurrection supports the idea that fellowshipping in Christ’s sufferings is in some way a “cause” of his resurrection. Paul thus sets up a comparison between his sufferings and Christ’s sufferings, and perhaps links his resurrection with Christ’s.

He speaks of his resurrection in conditional terms, as if conformity to Christ’s death by way of suffering could qualify him in some way for resurrection.

Questions: What is resurrection? What is the “fellowship of his sufferings”? What does it mean to be conformed to his death? What are the conditions of resurrection in Paul’s mind? How might suffering “cause” resurrection? Is righteousness a condition of knowing Christ or the same as knowing Christ? Is knowing Christ something distinct from knowing the power of his resurrection? Why does Paul want to know the power of resurrection or to know Christ?

3:12 Not that I have already received [this] or have already been perfected, but I am pursuing [it] if also I might take hold of that for which I was taken hold of by Christ.
Paul says he has not received something that he has just been talking about and seems to equate that something with “being perfected.” He contrasts his current state with some aspect of what he has just been discussing. But his “lack” causes him to pursue it with the purpose of “taking hold” of it. And then he reveals that the purpose behind Christ taking hold of him was so that he could take hold of “it.”

Questions: What is he referring to? What in the previous discussion has he not yet received? Knowing Christ? Righteousness? Resurrection? Why has he not yet received it? What does he mean by being perfected? Receiving one of these things? How might he receive such things or be perfected? How does he go about pursuing it? Why does he want to lay hold of it? What does it mean for Christ to lay hold of him? What is the connection between Christ laying hold of him and him laying hold of “it”?

3:13 Brothers, I do not reckon myself to have taken hold [of it], but one thing: forgetting the things behind and reaching out to the things ahead, in accordance with the goal I am pursuing for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul repeats that he has not already laid hold of whatever he is talking about. In contrast, he is reaching out to “the things head,” presumably in the future. This goal provides a focus for his way forward. The things ahead contrast with the things behind, presumably things he has mentioned earlier as potentially having been to his advantage but that he is now considering “loss” and “dung.”

The prize he mentions is perhaps the goal or closely related to the goal he has had in mind throughout. This prize is “the upward calling,” which would connect most closely to resurrection as that which he is reaching out toward and that he has not yet already received. This upward calling comes from God and it comes “in Christ Jesus.”

Questions: Is resurrection what he has not already received and what associates with being perfected? Why has he not yet taken hold of it? How will he take hold of it? What is the precise nature of the contrast between what is behind and what is ahead? Why is God rather than Christ the one calling? How is one called “in Christ”?

3:15 Therefore, let as many of us as are perfect think this way, and if you are thinking something differently, God also will reveal this to you.
The “therefore” implies that what follows is the logical consequence of what Paul has said before, and it is a general inference Paul draws from the particulars that have come before. As many as are “perfect” should have the same perspective that Paul has just set out as his own. Paul thus compares his perspective to what others who are “perfect” like him should have.

The word “perfect” is the adjective form of the verb in 3:12, but obviously contrasts with what Paul meant there. Paul also indicates that God will cause a person to know where their perspective contrasts with what it should be.

Questions: How does what Paul has said logically lead to this general conclusion? What does the word “perfect” mean here and how does it contrast with what the word meant in 3:12? In what way does Paul consider himself perfect? Why is God interested in revealing to the Philippians any area in which they are thinking differently? How will God reveal the difference? Why does Paul compare the audience with himself?

3:16 However, to the point we have reached, let us walk in the same.
Paul now brings out an element of contrast with what he has said thus far. Thus far he has highlighted what he has not yet received or attained. But he and the Philippians have reached a certain point toward that goal. As a result, he urges the Philippians not to move backward from their current point but to maintain it in their conduct.

Questions: What point have they already reached? What does it mean to “walk in the same?” What is the difference between where they are and their goal? How do the do contrast? Why should they “walk in the same”? What would be the consequences of not continuing at the point they have reached?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Editorial: Mennonites, Hutterites, and Amish

IWU had its College of Arts and Sciences faculty retreat this past weekend. Amazing how much we grow each year. I think we added over 20 faculty to this one college in the university this year and our enrollment was up I think several hundred over last year--how will we cover these classes, let alone find room in the dorms??!!

We had the retreat at Shipshewana, Amish country. We took Amish buggy rides and toured the "Menno Hof," a sweep through Mennonite/Amish history. I smirked to myself thinking (I'm not sure of course, it's just a guess) that the place was run by "liberal" Mennonites with the Amish working for them. The "liberal" lady shoveling some 150 faculty (it may be more than that) into buggies didn't seem to me to have a great relationship with the Amish buggy drivers.

Anyway, it was interesting to look at church history through Mennonite eyes. I wondered if the displays and presentations had been set up by someone from nearby Goshen College, which is Mennonite in foundation. I had a worldview moment when I asked our buggy driver if Goshen was about 30 minutes away. "About 20 miles," he replied.

Zwingli was first praised by the tour, then lamented for his affirmation of infant baptism (then I understood Jim West). I guess he called the drowning of one of the first "anabaptists" his third baptism. But one of the things that stuck out to me is how hard it would be for someone in one of these traditions ever to even consider infant baptism as a possibility. Too much blood remembered.

Another interesting feature was the emphasis on boundaries as important to keep community. "Good fences make good neighbors." Of course these groups have split and resplit like so many Protestant groups just following what the Bible says... and coming up with as many different interpretations as people reading the Bible alone...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Christian Approaches to Ethics 1

I've been stuck in editing portions of philosophy chapters I've already written--editing for me is way harder than writing a first draft. So I thought I would jump start myself for writing some "stubs" of the philosophy chapters I didn't even start in the spring.

So here's to chapter 11, "Christian Approaches to Ethics":
1. Setting Priorities
2. Absolutes and Relatives
3. The Greater Good
4. Virtue and a Happy Life
1. Setting Priorities
As we mentioned in chapter 1, ethics is the area of philosophy that has to do with how to live in the world. It is actually a branch of axiology, which more broadly asks questions about what is truly valuable. Hardly any area of philosophy is more directly applicable to "real life" than ethics, because it deals with the kinds of decisions we have to make in life both in the long and short term.

We can further specify two basic approaches to ethics that philosophers of all kinds have taken throughout the ages. The better known today is act based ethics. Act based approaches to ethics understandably focus on doing--what we should or should not do, how we should act. The other approach is more interested in being--what sort of people we should be or become. Virtue based ethics, as it is called, is more focused on things like character, motives, and true happiness than on whether specific actions are right or wrong.

[text box: ethics, axiology, act based ethics, virtue based ethics]

Obviously virtue based and act based approaches to living are not completely different from each other. To be virtuous surely means that you will act a certain way under certain circumstances. And a person's actions surely say something about a person's character or happiness. Your approach is thus a matter of emphasis rather than choosing one to the exclusion of the other.

Further, we will see in this chapter that there are actually several different kinds of act based approaches to ethics as well. For example, duty based ethics focuses specifically on actions that are intrinsically right or wrong, meaning that they are wrong in themselves whether they cause something else bad to happen or not. By contrast, utilitarianism focuses completely on the consequences of actions. The right course of action is what brings about the "greatest good for the greatest number."

Finally, egoist approaches to ethics ask "What's in it for me?" The "right" course of action is what will most benefit me. In many respects, the egoist approach would currently seem to be the default ethic of the West, whether consciously or unconsciously. As we will see in chapter 14, it is the fundamental theoretical basis of the American economic system and any capitalist society.

[text box: duty based ethics, utilitarian ethics, egoist ethics, intrinsic]

The problem with all ethical theories is the complexity of life. Life is filled with no win situations. For example, what happens when two different duties come into conflict with each other? What were those who hid Jews during World War 2 to do when Nazis searched their homes? Should they lie or surrender the Jews? What if someone is trying to harm your family and will almost certainly succeed unless you harm them? Is it okay to kill when your life is in danger or when someone else's life is in danger?

Real life necessitates that we prioritize our values so that we know what to do when our values come into conflict with each other. We have no other option. It simply is not possible to consider every right or wrong an absolute, as something we must do or not do without exception. The question of a Christian ethic thus is a question of which approaches fit better with Christian values than the others, as well as which specific values take precedent over others.

When it comes to the question of approach, Christianity has always been concerned with both who a person is and what a person does. To be sure, different Christian groups throughout history have leaned now more toward the importance of the heart or now more toward the importance of proper action. Yet only the most extreme Christian groups would deny any place either to "faith" or "works" in the Christian life.

On balance, the church of the ages and certainly the New Testament have placed a greater emphasis on who you are than on what you do. As we will see later in the chapter, both Jesus and Paul put more importance on the heart than on your concrete actions, and even those books of the New Testament that do put significant emphasis on works (e.g., Matthew and James) do so within the context of the heart. Even the Roman Catholic Church of today sees faith as the primary element in our relationship with God, despite the faith versus works debate of the Reformation.

When it comes to prioritizing Christian values, the New Testament once again gives a clear indication, one that the best minds of Christian history have reaffirmed. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied,

"Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength." And the second is like the first, "Love your neighbor as yourself." On these hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22).

This teaching in Matthew is echoed in Paul (Rom. 13; Gal. 3), James, and 1 John. It has echoed throughout Christian history as the essence of a Christian ethic (e.g., in Augustine). The "love God and neighbor" command is thus the bedrock of a Christian ethic. These twin commands are the most "absolute" of Christian duties, for no conceivable situation would create an exception where it was not appropriate to love God or one's neighbor. Similarly, these two values can never come into conflict if they are properly understood.

These two Christian absolutes thus trump all other Christian values, as we will see in the next section. Jesus himself, for example, makes an exception to the rule not to work on the Sabbath in the light of his disciples' hunger (Mark 2). When his opponents question him, he does not reinterpret the Sabbath rule, to argue that plucking grain is not working. His argument is rather that the situation calls for an exception to the rule.

With a basic sense of what the Christian priorities are, we are set to look at three of the ethical theories we have introduced in this section. The next section looks at duty based ethics from a Christian perspective--what Christian duties are absolute, which ones universal but with exceptions, which ones if any relative to culture and personal conviction. The third section of the chapter examines utilitarianism and when the ends do justify the means, if ever. The chapter ends with a look at virtue based ethics and questions of character and true happiness. We will return to egoist ethics in chapter 14.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Review: Hurtado 9, Chapter 5, Part 2

I've been procrastinating the rest of this chapter... sorry.

The remainder of chapter 5 deals with "Synoptic Renditions of Jesus" and it goes one by one through Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

Hurtado proceeds on the assumption that Mark was written first, used by Matthew and Luke, and that the text did in fact end at 16:8. I thought a couple times in this chapter of IWU's own David Smith's dissertation at Durham. I think Bauckham was his external examiner. Otherwise, I'd be suspicious that H had "caught the spirit" of Dr. Smith's dissertation.

"Several allied themes combine further to make the Markan Jesus a figure of power and transcendent significance" (283). "Jesus has shown godlike superiority over the elements" (286) as he walks on water and so forth. Or when Jesus calms the sea and pronounces on different occasions, "I am he," Joel Marcus suggests that "although Mark does not explicitly claim divinity for Jesus, 'he comes very close to doing so here' and Marcus rightly judges that 'the overwhelming impact made by our narrative is an impression of Jesus' divinity" (286).

Mark redefines what royal messiahship is. He does not reject it (289). He does not pit a "Son of Man" Christology against a Son of God one. Once again, Hurtado does not think that Son of Man was ever a confessional title (293). It was a way that Jesus referred to himself that never caused controversy. I am mostly with H here, although I do think some of the more Danielic uses of the phrase may have.

H goes through this debate again. He presents three basic positions on the issue among scholars:

1. The older perspective--it was an established title in pre-Christian Jewish tradition.

2. Not a title before Christianity but a title in the gospels.

3. It comes from an Aramaic expression that simply referred to "a man." No reference to Daniel 7:13 was implied.

H's position is:

1. The original readers of "the Son of the Man" would have recognized that it was not an ordinary Greek idiom but was similar to expressions in the Greek OT. It had a "scriptural ring" to it (304).

2. Jesus is the only one who uses it. It is his special way of referring to himself.

3. "Son of man" is not a christological title but in the gospels does take on a fixed, formulaic nature with an exclusive referent. "It functioned, thus, more in the way a name functions, to identify and distinguish a person, in this case Jesus" (305).

H thinks it would have been heard as a parallel to Son of God, the one expressing his divinity and the other his humanity. This was of course how second century Christians heard these titles apparently. I think there may be more to it in the gospels, however.

H thinks Mark 1:1 refers to the entire gospel. He sees a key to Mark's presentation in the idea of Jesus as an example for the disciples to follow and the emphasis on the disciples' failure as an encouragement to his readers.

In one of the sections here, H looks at the two birth narratives. He points to the differences between the two stories as an indication that the story had been around in different verses at least a decade before they were written (the 60s). Further, he takes Mark 6:3's reference to Mary as his mother as a hint that slurs about Jesus may have been around even earlier.

Basically, H finds it ludicrous that someone would think it honored Jesus to depict him like a pagan "god impregnates woman" story. Further, he argues that any slurs against Mary probably came from claims about Jesus' birth rather than claims about Jesus' birth coming from the slurs.

"All this means that the most likely provenance for the idea that Jesus was conceived miraculously by God's Spirit is in circles of Jewish Christians and/or mixed Gentile and Jewish Christian circles that preferred to articulate their faith in Jesus in the idioms and conceptual categories of Jewish tradition" (328).

In another section, H treats Matthew's postresurrection narrative. He notes Jesus' cosmic authority in 28:18 (331). "The promise of continued presence 'till the close of the age' demands that Jesus be regarded as having divine power" (332). He then treats Matthew's 5 discourses. Jesus' lament over Jerusalem "reflects a view of him acting in capacities that are divine" (336).

The section of most interest to me, however, is his consideration of proskynein in Matthew, "to worship." "The verb designates a reverential posture that one adopts toward a social superior ... but it can also mean the worship one gives to a god" (337).

The section on Luke is shorter than the others, since much of the material of Luke is already in Mark and Matthew. Only about a paragraph on devotion to Jesus in this section. H notes that Luke uses "Lord" more than the other gospels. And the post resurrection use of proskyneo in Luke 24:52 "is certainly intended by the author as the full reverence given to a figure of divine status/significance" (345).

I found this chapter interesting, but full of extraneous discussions given what this book is supposed to be about. I even wondered if Hurtado had written it for another setting and then modified it for this book. It is a huge chapter (88 pages or so) with little pay off with regard to the topic of the book.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Aristeas at Night

I have a dream... but because I have so many dreams... here is a tiny drop of the dream I may never finish. Below are excerpts from the Letter of Aristeas that I made the other morning. I don't feel like commenting on it. But I have put in bold things I find interesting.

The Letter of Aristeas probably dates to the first part of the 2nd century BC and was probably written, like Artapanus, in Egypt. It is the earliest version of the story of how the Pentateuch was translated into Greek, that is, the story of the Septuagint. The story would grow and grow over time. In this earliest version, however, it is only the Pentateuch that is being translated, not the whole Old Testament. And also unlike later versions, they do not all separately translate it and miraculously find that their translations are all alike. It is a team effort.

The letter is agreed to be pseudonymous, meaning that it is not a real letter from someone named Aristeas to someone named Philocrates. It is a literary device the author uses to present the story of the Septuagint's translation, an event that was celebrated by the Jews of Egypt each year. The letter is thus one of many examples of a fairly common literary practice at the time.

Here are the excerpts I thought most helpful (with some modifications and paraphrase), taken from R. J. H. Shutt's translation in the OTP vol. 2.
1 I have composed a trustworthy narrative, Philocrates, of the meeting that we had with Eleazar, high priest of the Jews, because you attach great importance to hearing a personal account of the mission, its content, and purpose. I have tried to give you a clear presentation of it by giving details of each aspect, because I realize your scholarly disposition-- 2 a supreme quality in a man who has continually tried to increase his learning and understanding... This is the way to acquire a pure disposition of mind: by attaining the noblest goals and by living by a rule that does not err when it comes to piety, the highest of all goals...

9 When Demetrius of Phalerum was appointed keeper of the king [of Egypt's] library, he undertook many different negotiations aimed at collecting, if possible, all the books in the world... 10 We were present when the question was put to him, "How many thousands of books are there [in the royal library]?" His reply was, "Over two hundred thousand, O King. I shall take urgent steps to increase in a short time the total to five hundred thousand. Information has reached me that the lawbooks of the Jews are worth translation and inclusion in your royal library."

11 "What is there to prevent you from doing this?" he said...

Demetrius replied, "Translation is needed. They use letters characteristic of the language of the Jews, just as Egyptians use the formation of their letters in accordance with their own language" ...

The king, in answer to each point, gave orders that a letter be written to the high priest of the Jews that the aforementioned project might be carried out. 12 I considered that it was an opportunity in connection with the ... release of those deported from Judea by the father of the king...

14 When therefore we came on some opportunity for their release, as we have shown before, we spoke the following words to the king 15 "... The laws have been established for all the Jews, and it is our plan not only to translate but also to interpret them. But what justification will we have for our mission when large numbers [of Jews] are in slavery in your kingdom? ...

16 These people worship God the overseer and creator of all, whom all people worship including ourselves, O King, except that we have a different name. Their name for him is Zeus and Jove...

I beg you to release those held in slavery"

17 He wasted no time, while we offered hearty prayer to God to dispose his mind to release them all. Humanity is God's creation and is changed and transformed by him. Thus with many different prayers I implored the Lord with all my heart that he might be convinced to grant my request" ...

29 To the great king, from Demetrius. Your command, O King, concerned the collection of missing volumes needed to complete the library and of items that accidentally fell short of the required condition... 30 Scrolls of the Law of the Jews ... are missing, for these are written in Hebrew characters and language. But they have been transcribed somewhat carelessly and not as they should be, according to the report of the experts, because they have not received royal patronage. 31 These must also be in your library in an accurate version, because this legislation, as could be expected from its divine nature, is very philosophical and genuine.

35 King Ptolemy to Eleazar the high priest, hearty greetings... 38 We have decided that your Law will be translated into Greek letters from what you call the Hebrew letters, in order that they too should take their place with us in our library with the other royal books...

[83-105 gives a description of the temple and city of Jerusalem, ca. 200BC]

96 It was an occasion of great amazement to use when we saw Eleazar engaged in his ministry, and all the glorious vestments, including the wearing of the garment with precious stones on it... 99 Their appearance makes one awe-struck and dumbfounded. A person would think he had come out of this world and into another one. I emphatically assert that everyone who comes near the spectacle of what I have described will experience astonishment and amazement beyond words, his very being transformed by the hallowed arrangement in every single detail.

121 Eleazar selected men of the highest merit and of excellent education due to the distinction of their parentage. They had not only mastered the Jewish literature, but had made a serious study of that of the Greeks as well. 122 ... They had a tremendous natural facility for the negotiations and questions arising from the Law, with the middle way as their commendable ideal... 126 [Eleazar] was only dispatching them for the common improvement of all the citizens. 127 The good life, he said, consisted in observing the laws...

128 It is worthwhile to mention briefly [Eleazar's] reflections in reply to questions [from the King] raised through us. It is my opinion that humanity as a whole shows a certain amount of concern for the parts of their legislation having to do with meats and drink and animals considered to be unclean. 129 For example, we inquired why--since there is only one creation--some things are considered unclean for eating and others for touching...

132 [Eleazar] began first by demonstrating that God is one, that his power is shown in everything, since every place is filled with his sovereignty. [He showed] that nothing that people do on earth secretly is hidden to him.

134 He proceeded to show that all the rest of humanity--"except ourselves," as he said--believe that there are many gods. Because people are far more powerful than the gods whom they vainly worship, they make images of stone and wood. Then they declare that these are likenesses of those ... whom they worship...

137 Those who have invented these fabrications and myths are usually ranked to be the wisest of the Greeks. 138 There is surely no need to mention the rest of the very foolish people, Egyptians and those like them, who have put their confidence in animals and most of the snakes and monsters, worship them, and sacrifice to them both while they are alive and dead.

139 In his wisdom, the legislator... being endowed by God to know universal truths, surrounded us with unbroken palisades and iron walls to prevent our mixing with any of the other peoples in any matter. We are thus kept pure in body and soul, preserved from false beliefs to worship the only God all powerful over all creation.

142 So to prevent our perversion by contact with others or mixing with bad influences, he hedged us in on all sides with strict observances connected with meat and drink and touch and hearing and sight, after the manner of the Law.

144 Do not take the contemptible view that Moses enacted this legislation because of an excessive preoccupation with mice and weasels or suchlike creatures. The fact is that everything has been solemnly set in order for unblemished investigation and amendment of life for the sake of righteousness...

150 Everything pertaining to conduct permitted us toward these creatures and toward animals has been set out symbolically. Thus the cloven hoof, that is the separation of the claws of the hoof, is a sign of setting apart each of our actions for good, 151 because the strength of the whole body in action rests on the shoulders and the legs. The symbolism conveyed by these things forces us to make a distinction in the performance of action, with righteousness as our goal...

181 The king ordered the finest apartments to be given [the translators] near the citadel and the preparations for the banquet to be made...

195 The king said to the next [guest], "What would be for you the supreme blessing for living?" The reply was, "To know that God is Lord over all, and that we do not ourselves direct our plans in the finest of actions, but God brings to completion the affairs of mortals and guides [them] with his sovereign power."

203 On the day afterward the seating and banqueting arrangements were again carried out in the same order... 210 [The king asked one of the guests,] "What is the essence of godliness?" He replied, "The realization that God is continually at work in everything and is omniscient. A human cannot hide from him an unjust deed or evil action."

[at the fifth banquet] 250 "How can one reach agreement with a woman?" [The guest] replied, "By recognizing that the female sex is bold, positively active for something it desires, easily liable to change its mind because of poor reasoning powers, and of naturally weak constitution."

[at the sixth banquet] 268 "At what thing ought one to feel pain?" To which [the guest] replied, "At the misfortunes of our friends, when we see them long drawn out and incurable. When they are dead and released from evils, reason does not indicate for them any pain. But when humans attribute to themselves even what is to their advantage, everyone suffers. The escape from evil takes place only through the power of God"

293 When [the seventy-second guest at the seventh banquet] finished speaking there was a long burst of applause accompanied by delighted cheers. When it subsided, the king took a cup and drank a toast to all the assembled company and to the speeches they had made.

295 If I have dwelt at length on these matters, Philocrates, I beg your pardon. I admired these men tremendously... 297 To tell lies concerning matters that are being chronicled is inappropriate. If I were to make a single error, it would be impious...

301 Three days afterward, Demetrius took the men with him... There he assembled them in a house that had been duly furnished near the shore... 302 They set to completing their several tasks, reaching agreement among themselves on each by comparing versions...

304 At the first hour of the day they attended the court daily, and after offering salutations to the king, retired to their own quarters. 305 Following the custom of all Jews, they washed their hands in the sea in the course of their prayers to God, 306 and then proceeded to the reading and explication of each point...

307 The outcome was such that in seventy-two days the business of translation was completed, just as if the result was achieved by some deliberate design... 311 They commanded that a curse should be laid... on anyone who would alter the version by any addition or change to any part of the written text, or any deletion either.

Quotes, Allusions and Echoes in Hebrews 2

Busy day=light post: Quotes, allusions, and echoes of the destruction of Jerusalem in Hebrews 2.

I found one possible "impact" item that is not a quote, allusion, or echo:

2:5 "the coming inhabited world of which we speak"
According to my thesis, part of the impact of the destruction of Jerusalem in Hebrews is a systematic reorientation of space heavenward. The coming inhabited world is the heavenly realm, the world of the heavenly Jerusalem and the city of the living God (12:22). Of course Paul in Galatians already shows signs of this reorientation of space. We can easily imagine, however, that the destruction of Jerusalem might lead to a radical reorientation of this sort, where the truly civilized world is in heaven rather than on earth.

It is possible that 2:13a alludes to the current state of Jerusalem. The quote, "I will have put my faith in him" comes in Isaiah 8:18 in the LXX right after "I will wait for God, who has turned away his face from the house of Jacob." The original context was the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria, and the hope of restoration. A few verses earlier in the LXX read, "the houses of Jacob are in a snare, and the dwellers of Jerusalem in a pit. Therefore many among them shall be weak and fall and be crushed."

In short, this verse would be particularly appropriate to the time just after Jerusalem's destruction. But of course we cannot know for sure if the author paid any attention to the immediate context at all.

The next quote in 2:13b comes from the next verse in Isaiah 8:19, "Behold I and the children God gave me." In Hebrews these are the brothers of Christ that he is leading to glory, for whom he partook of flesh and blood. They are presumably a sign of salvation in Isaiah in a time of distress.

If the context of Jerusalem's destruction applied, we would think of Christ leading these children from the earth to the coming world.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Defining First Century Jewish Monotheism

After years of some general hunches and vague feelings, I believe I am finally ready to formulate a positioned statement on what I think Jewish monotheism was at the time of Christ. This should appear in print with refinement and extensive footnotes in one or two places next year.

A word of preface is in order. The very term monotheism is a product of the Enlightenment and, as we will see, tends to smuggle in anachronistic notions into the discussion. Ancient Judaism was clearly a religion of "one God," but this notion must be defined on their terms, not on modern philosophical or theological terms.

First, Jewish monotheism at the time of Christ was, first and foremost, a statement of God's sovereign power. Power, more than any other thing, was the defining characteristic of a god in the ancient world. (Immortality was the other) The notion that the divine is transcendent, ontologically distinct and unknowable from human categories, is largely anachronistic for the ancient world. Only Philo seems to approach such a view. We should more think in terms of a scale of being, with gods on the top.

So for some Jews at the time of Christ, monotheism might more aptly be described as "monarchism," the idea that there is one sovereign God who is more powerful than any other god or spiritual power. God is the King who reigns supreme over all the other gods.

Artapanus perhaps represents the last outpost of first century monotheism in that he does not seem to deny the existence of other gods or to condemn the other nations from worshipping them. But he presumably would not worship them himself and his God is of course the "master of the universe."

Other Jews took a more adversarial position between the one God and these other spiritual powers. The War Scroll at Qumran looks to a final battle between the sons of darkness and the sons of light. And it uses the word gods in reference to the spiritual forces among the sons of darkness. God will of course defeat them, an aspect of God's sovereignty that Richard Bauckham aptly calls "eschatological monotheism."

God is thus unique not least because He is the most powerful, the supreme deity. One expression of this unique sovereignty is His role as creator, which Richard Bauckham aptly calls "creational monotheism." But God's unique role of creator is really an expression of his sovereignty.

Here it's important to recognize that the Jews of this time had no sense of creation out of nothing, an idea that didn't seem to emerge until the late second century AD. We should think of creation at this time more in terms of giving order to chaos and formlessness than the generation of material.

Presumably, however, God as sole creator means that He created all parent beings. Certainly he created the human parents. But he also created all the angels, some of whom rebelled, whether the watchers at the time of the Flood in the Enoch tradition or Satan with the creation of Adam in the Life of Adam and Eve. Their rebellion was subsequent to their creation.

The second key aspect of monotheism corresponded to God's supreme sovereignty, namely, his exclusive rights to human worship. Again, there were apparently those like Artapanus that did not have a problem with other nations worshipping other (inferior) gods. Meanwhile, they served the "one supreme God" and their "one God." They "had no other gods before Him." Perhaps many of the anonymous and silent Diaspora Jews scattered throughout the world had such a view.

But by far the vast majority of the Jewish literature we have from this period sees YHWH as the sole legitimate God and thus the only God that should be worshipped. Bauckham calls this "cultic monotheism" and Larry Hurtado and others put a big premium on this element in the equation.

In my opinion, however, the way Bauckham and others treat worship in this period is slightly anachronistic in the same way that thinking of God's transcendence often is. To give worship is to honor and reverence a superior power. Since God is the superior power and the legitimate power, He is obviously in a category all its own when it comes to worship.

It is also true that there is a strong tradition within Jewish apocalyptic in which angels refuse worship in deference to the one God. In the words of Hebrews, angels are "ministering spirits." They are servants. You do not worship servants.

Where the line gets blurry is when we are talking about kings of various types. An earthly king is a "son of God," a divine son, not least because a king exerts over humans a power and authority analogous to the sovereignty of God over the cosmos. Indeed, the king mediates God's sovereignty. One can thus "bow the knee" or "worship" a human king as long as this reverence is properly subordinated to the glory of God the Father.

God made Moses "like a god to Pharaoh"--he gave him Godlike power and authority. Satan is told to "worship" Adam in the garden in the Life of Adam and Eve because Adam is his superior and an image of God, while Satan is merely a servant of God. And of course Moses in Ezekiel the Tragedian is worshipped on a heavenly throne in a way analogous, but almost certainly subordinate to the worship of Moses' God. The fact that this is a dream does not obviate the basic dynamic of this uncomfortable example.

Things get even blurrier when the "royal" figure is a heavenly being. The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch is a heavenly king. He is thus worthy of "worship" as long as such worship is clearly subordinated to and a function of the glory of God. Yahoel in the Apocalypse of Abraham similarly occupies an ambiguous space between being a subject of God and participating in God's throne.

In my opinion, Bauckham is "making up the rules" when he assumes that participation in creation and God's throne were absolutely off limits as a function of monotheism. What ancient evidence is there for this other than his definitions? Certainly many if not most ancient Jews might agree with him. But on what basis can he imply that an ancient Jew who did not agree with these parameters was thereby disloyal to the idea of "one God"? As Hurtado has argued, we must let them set the parameters for what we allow under the heading of "monotheism."

We might finally mention the matter of sacrifice. It seems doubtful that--perhaps except for some Diaspora Jews on the fridge of what we call Judaism at the time--Jews offered sacrifices to other gods. As far as I can tell, even in those instances where veneration is given to "royal" subordinates of God, they are never given sacrifice.

And why would they? The purpose of sacrifice was to secure the favor of God, including the deflection of God's wrath. Since YHWH was the ultimate sovereign in question even in those instances where other "royal" figures were in play, He would clearly be the one who needed propitiated.

"Cultic monotheism" would thus seem to apply most properly, then, to the fact that no other being was the proper recipient of sacrifice. On this score, therefore, I would suggest that Hurtado is the one who "makes up the rules" as to where non-sacrificial "cultic veneration" could or could not apply to figures other than the one God.

Ancient Jewish "monotheism" was thus primarily a matter of God's superior, sovereign power and rule, a power and position captured most clearly in his role as sole creator. Accordingly, He was the only God appropriate to worship. However, kings and heavenly beings that participate in His throne might also be said worthy of a reverence or "worship" as long as it is clearly subordinated to Him. Few Jews, of course, had any notion of such a being. Those that did were by far the exception rather than the rule.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quote of the Day: by Charles de Gaulle

Quoted on NPR today by Ted Koppel: "Men have friends. Nations have interests." The context was the then President of Israel objecting to France making nice nice with its Arab enemies. "I thought we were friends," said he.

If the US truly operates on principle, for freedom and democracy--and I have serious doubts that these are much more than rhetorical flourishes when it comes down to concrete decision making--it is alone. The rest of the world operates on Realpolitick.

This is, for one, why so much of the Bush administration's rhetoric has been "blah, blah, blah" from any insightful or realistic perspective. Ideas have force at the end of a gun. And it is also why the rest of the world has basically ignored Bush since he castrated himself in Iraq.

Obama and McCain: Rick Warren's Civil Debate

I caught most of Rick Warren's "Civil Debate" Saturday night. Both liberals and conservatives mumbled about it before hand. The liberals no doubt thought Obama was selling out to be associated with an evangelical church like Warren's. The conservatives didn't like even the suggestion that Obama might have something Christian about him. I read one fundamentalist lobbyist's debrief from the night. He apologized for fearing that Warren would not give abortion and gay rights the moral centrality they deserved.

This response belies the fact that McCain was clearly the political winner of the night. "One or two issue evangelicals" who had doubts about McCain before the debate, left assured that he was their man. Meanwhile, I have no question that Obama will be roasted alive in certain conservative media machines, not least for his answer on non-discrimination in relation to U.S. faith based funding. This comment, I think, will undermine any gains Obama made by supporting faith based funding in the first place.

At the same time, Obama's attempt to "meet in the middle" will certainly alienate his own base. Many in his party will rail at his understanding of marriage proper as between a man and a woman, despite his support for civil unions.

My take away, though, was that--political positions aside--the way you respond to the two individuals themselves probably breaks at 40 years old. Those over 40 will think, "That McCain knows what he believes, unlike that Obama who ponders and talks on and on. McCain didn't have to think about his answer--he knew it and could rattle the points off boom, boom, boom before Warren could even get the questions out.

"McCain understands that you don't compromise. You defeat evil, you don't talk to it. Obama didn't know his Theology 101. He couldn't even give a clear answer to when life begins."

Those under 40, on the other hand, might think, "Man, McCain didn't even need to show up because he gave all the party line answers he knew would play in an evangelical setting. 'Oo, oo, I know the answer to that one. Can I tell you all the other things your audience expects to hear from a Republican candidate?'

"Obama sounded authentic. We were hearing what he really thinks rather than some stump speech. McCain may have been a maverick who bucked the party in the past, but that man is long gone.

"And anyone who thinks there is a simple answer to the complex issues of the world is a dangerous person, voted most likely to get us involved in some royal dukie at home and abroad. You don't solve anything by making rules. You solve things by meeting the other side half way and coming up with concrete paths to alleviate problems."

For what it's worth, I thought it was a great thing for Warren to do. I don't think he completely succeeded at what he was aiming for. But I think it was very honorable and Christian of him.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Artapanus and Jewish Monotheism

I thought I would kill a couple birds with one stone by quoting some Artapanus and reflecting briefly on what his work might imply about Jewish monotheism at the time of Christ.

First, Artapanus was an Egyptian Jew who probably dates to the late 200's BC. I find Barclay's suggestion that he was from the environs of Heliopolis very interesting, although Alexandria gets mentioned more often (128 n.5). His writings unfortunately are only known to us second and third hand. Most think that Josephus used him as a source for this portion of the Antiquites. But it is in Eusebius that we have the three surviving excerpts. Unfortunately, however, Eusebius himself is drawing from another historian, Alexander Polyhistor, drawing from Artapanus. Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Carl Holladay has suggested that Artapanus might have been "typical of a large segment of Diaspora Jews who did not find pagan traditions threatening or compromising to fidelity to their religious traditions" (193). I find this plausible, especially since I suspect Philo himself seems to have started out more friendly with such things (cf. "On the Eternity of the World," the fact that he probably had a gymnasium education and his nephew actually apostatized). I wonder if Philo only went nationalistic in the wake of polarizing political developments in his environment.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that Artapanus is likely pre-Maccabean. This is the period of history where Judaism could easily have gone either way. It could have fully Hellenized and disappeared into oblivion. Or, as did happen, some king could push a certain segment of Judaism just a little too hard with the resulting backlash of nationalism and ethnocentric revival. The rest is history, and it is hard to see Christianity having come into existence if it hadn't turned in this direction. Go Maccabees!

So what was Artapanus' understanding of God? Here are some excerpts from Eusebius' excerpts, translated by the honorable John J. Collins in vol. 2 of the OTP (with some slight modifications).
Artapanus says in his Judaica that the Jews are named "Hermiouth," which, translated into Greek, is "Jews." They were called Hebrews after Abraham. He says that the latter came to Egypt with all his household to the Egyptian king Pharethothes, and taught him astrology. [from Fragment 1]

Artapanus says in his "on the Jews" that Joseph was a descendant of Abraham and son of Jacob... This man was the first to divide the land [of Egypt] and distinguish it with boundaries... This man also discovered measurements and on account of these things he was greatly loved by the Egyptians. He married Aseneth, the daughter of a Heliopolitan priest and begot children by her.

He [Artapanus] says that these, who were called Hermiouth, founded the temple in Athos and that in Heliopolis. [from Fragment 2]

Since she [one Egyptian queen] was barren, she adopted the child of one of the Jews and named it Moses. As a grown man he was called Mousaeus by the Greeks.

This Mousaeus was the teacher of Orpheus. As a grown man he bestowed many useful benefits on humankind, for he invented boats and devices for stone construction and the Egyptian arms and the implements for drawing water and for warfare, and philosophy. Further, he divided the state into 36 nomes and appointed for each of the nomes the god to be worshipped, and for the priests the sacred letters, and that they should be cats and dogs and ibises...

He did all these things for the sake of maintaining the monarchy firm for Chenephres... On account of these things then Moses was loved by the masses, and was deemed worthy of godlike honor by the priests and called Hermes, on account of the interpretation of sacred letters...

When Moses came to the district called Hermopolis, with about a hundred thousand farmers [as his army against the Ethiopians], he pitched a camp there... Those around Moses founded a city in that place on account of the size of the army, and made the ibis sacred there because it destroys the creatures that harm people. They called it Hermopolis.

The Ethiopians, even though they were his enemies, loved Moses so much that they learned the circumcision of the genital organs from him, and not only they, but also all the priests...

The king of the Egyptians [after Chenephres' death]... summoned him [Moses] and asked for what purpose he had come. He responded that the master of the universe had ordered him to release the Jews. When the king learned this, he confined him in prison. But when night came, all the doors of the prison opened of themselves, and some of the guards died, while others were relaxed by sleep and their weapons were broken.

Moses came out and went to the royal chambers. He found the doors open and went in. There, since the guards were relaxed, he woke the king. The latter was astonished at what had happened and bade Moses say the name of the god who had sent him, mocking him.

But he bent forward and pronounced it into his ear. When the king heard it, he fell down speechless but revived when taken hold of by Moses. He wrote the name on a tablet and sealed it, but one the priests who disparaged what was written on the tablet died with a convulsion.

... Again, Moses released a frog, through his staff, and in addition to these things, locusts and lice. On this account the Egyptians dedicate the rod in every temple, and similarly [they dedicate it] to Isis, since the earth is Isis, and when it was struck with the rod, it released its marvels. [excerpt from Fragment 3]

We recognize in Artapanus "apologetic historiography," telling history in such a way as to defend your group against its detractors and despisers. The Egyptian Manetho had done the same against the Jews in the early 200s, considering them a collection of lepers.

Yet the way Artapanus goes about doing this is striking. Barclay categorizes him under the heading of "cultural convergence" or perhaps we might say cultural assimilation. He has Abraham teaching the Egyptians astrology and Joseph marries the daughter of an Egyptian priest no problem. Moses is the teacher of Orpheus in Greek religion.

Moses seemingly has no problem with helping the Egyptians worship their own gods--he even assigns them to them. Meanwhile, Moses himself is "like a god" to them. They call him Hermes. They found a temple in his honor.

The conception of God we draw from these excerpts is of God as indeed the "monarch of the universe," far superior to any of these other gods. I don't quite agree with either Barclay or Collins who stand on opposite ends of the spectrum on whether Artapanus takes the Egyptian gods seriously or not. He does not disparage or mock them, I would say (in tension with Collins). But he doesn't really invest them with full reality either (in tension with Barclay).

They seem representative to Artapanus. They depict a truth. But clearly the God whose name Moses knows is absolutely superior. Moses is godlike in the world of the Egyptians, but the monarch of the universe trumps him royally.

It looks like a kind of pluralistic henotheism. Artapanus does not exactly deny or affirm the existence of other gods, but he doesn't seem to have a problem with other people worshipping other gods. However, he only worships the sovereign God, it would seem.