Friday, September 25, 2009

Ramping up Hebrews Explanatory Notes Again!

I've now finished Explanatory Notes on Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians. I had mostly finished Hebrews some time ago, but had never got back to it. Sundays for the next few weeks I hope to finish up explanatory notes on Hebrews.

Here are the previous posts as I prepare to continue the series on Sunday...

Hebrews 1:1-4
Hebrews 1:5-14
Hebrews 2:1-4
Hebrews 2:5-9

Hebrews 2:10-18

Hebrews 3:1-6
Hebrews 3:7-19
Hebrews 4:1-13
Hebrews 4:14-5:10
Hebrews 5:11-6:8
Hebrews 6:9-20
Hebrews 7:1-10
Hebrews 7:11-28
Hebrews 8
Hebrews 9:1-14
Hebrews 9:15-28


Hebrews 13:1-8
Hebrews 13:9-16
Hebrews 13:17-25

So basically there's a bit from chapter 2, then chapters 10, 11, and 12 and we're done.

Explanatory Notes: James 2:14-26

2:14 What is the benefit, my brothers, if someone should say to have faith but should not have works? The faith is not able to save him, is it?
Works for James, as we have already seen, have to do with what we traditionally think of as "good works," helping those in need like the poor, widows, and orphans (1:27). We have seen thus far a significant concern on James' part that leaders not pander to wealthy patrons but that they instead love their neighbor who is in need, the poor in their community. In this well known section, James continues the theme of hearing and not doing that he began in chapter 1:22-27.

Those who say they have faith but no works to prove it are like those who are hearers of the word but not doers. James here makes it clear that such a person will not be saved, will not escape condemnation on the day of judgment. Faith alone, understood as a mere assent to certain beliefs, is inadequate to save.

2:15-17 If a brother or sister is naked and lacking daily food and someone of you should say to them, "Go in peace. Be warm and fed," and you do not give them the needs of the body, what is the benefit? So also faith, if it should not have works, is dead by itself.
Here we see by example what James understands by "works." Works are the kinds of things that Matthew mentions in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46): welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty. The rich person James has mentioned in 1:9-11 and 2:2-7 has the resources to help those in need but does not do so. Leaders in the community might be able to help those in need, and James' exhortation is surely directed primarily at them.

Faith without works is dead, like a body without a spirit. It is of no use. It does not do anything.

2:18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
The original Greek of this verse presents some complications. Ancient Greek largely did not use punctuation, including quotation marks, so scholars debate exactly where the quote ends and what the precise nature of the question is. By far we believe the above punctuation is most likely.

James' imaginary conversation partner simply claims to be a different person, one that has faith but who does not do works. James is a different type of person, one who does works. James somewhat mockingly, without completely denying the other person's "faith," points out the ironic that his faith shows in his works. The other person's faith, on the other hand, is dead faith.

2:19 You have faith that God is one. You are doing well. The demons also have faith and they tremble.
One disadvantage of reading the Bible in English is that you cannot see the similarities between various words. In English, the word faith and the word believe look quite different, and we might strongly distinguish them. But in Greek, these are varying meanings of the same word, the pist- root. Since we believe James is talking here about an inadequate faith rather than something that is not faith at all, we have chosen to translate accordingly.

The person James is indicting says that they have faith without works. The demons, James points out, have this level of faith. This is a mere belief that does not impact one's life. It is a mere assent with one's head without any real investment with one's heart. You believe that God is one, the affirmation of the Jewish Shema. Any mainstream Jew might affirm such a thing. The rich Jewish patron visiting your small Christian Jewish gathering would.

But this level of faith is no different than the amount of faith that the demons have, and they are still facing the judgment. And so will those within the community whose faith goes no further than mere assent to certain beliefs.

2:20 Do you want to know, O foolish person, that faith without works is ineffective?
This verse repeats the idea that faith without works is dead from 2:17 in a slightly different way. James uses a word play difficult to translate into English--faith without works (erga) is useless (arga). Those who think they are okay simply because they believe with their heads are foolish.

2:21 Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works after he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
From this point on in the chapter, we increasingly begin to sense that James is interacting with Pauline tradition in some form. We do not believe that James' thinking here actually contradicts Paul's thought, even though on some levels it may sound as if it does. Indeed, Paul and James did likely disagree on some issues as we play out the principles of their comments. Even further, they probably thought they disagreed! But nothing that has made it into the biblical text itself seems irreconcilable between the two.

James is still arguing that the faith that counts before God is a faith that issues forth in obedience and action. Paul certainly agreed with this idea as well. Here James brings up the well known story of Genesis 22 in which God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and Abraham obeys until God releases him.

2:22 You see that faith was working together with his works and faith was completed through works.
Again, this statement does not seem to contradict Paul's theology. Paul knew nothing of a faith in Jesus as Lord that did not result in the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, and so forth (Gal. 5:22-23). Ephesians 2:8, the classic "justification by grace through faith" verse, is immediately followed in 2:9 with the observation that "we were created for good works in Christ." Paul's theology may be more precise in the mechanism of justification, but the "product," what real faith looks like, is the same for both. Both faith and works are necessary to have the full package. They go together.

2:23 And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "And Abraham had faith in God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called "a friend of God."
It is this verse more than any other that makes it very difficult to argue that James is not interacting with some type of Pauline tradition. This verse in Genesis 15:6 is a key passage in Paul's arguments for justification by faith (e.g., Gal. 3:6; Rom. 4:3). James is clearly responding to a "faith only" position of some kind, although not really to Paul's actual position on these issues.

Some have thus argued that James is writing very early, perhaps even earliest of any New Testament writing. In this scenario, James has only heard rumors of Paul's teaching and so does not quite have him right. One might note that James urges Paul to remember the poor in Galatians 2:10 when they finally did have a chance to talk at length.

Alternatively, one might argue that James is late, a generalized version of the historical James' own emphases in response to a perversion of Paul's teaching that arose after his death. While it is true that Paul did at points seem to point out that all justification is a matter of grace--that no one could truly earn God's favor--most of Paul's discussion of justification centers around works of Law rather than works in general. That is to say, when Paul argued against justification by works of Law, he was primarily arguing that matters like circumcision, food laws, and sabbath observance could not make a Jew right with God in themselves. Only the faithful death of Christ could bring about true justification.

In either case, James is not addressing the real point of debate between Paul and James during the central time of their disagreement. Their real point of disagreement centered on whether Jewish Christians were justified both by the faithful and necessary death of Christ and by their faithfulness to God's covenant with Israel, which of course included keeping the Jewish particulars we mentioned above. They also disagreed apparently on what Jewish and Gentile believers needed to do to eat with each other.

But none of these issues are at all in view in this section of James, probably implying that James as it stands is either very early or that it embodies the carrying forth of James' voice to address a post-Pauline situation. In either case, there is no substantial disagreement between the theology of the two as it is found in the New Testament.

2:24 See that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
It was no doubt this verse more than any other that got Luther's goat, seeing that for him Paul was the champion of justification by faith alone. We now recognize that this was a slight misunderstanding of Paul's own teaching. Paul nowhere say that justification is by faith alone. Romans 3:28 comes closest with its very close statement that "a person is justified by faith and not by works of Law." But even though the wording is so close as to make one wonder if James 2:24 is a direct response to Romans 3:28, the two statements are quite different in sense and do not contradict.

First, as we have mentioned above, works in this section of Romans primarily has in view those aspects of the Jewish Law that distinguished Jew from Gentile--circumcision, food laws, etc. James, on the other hand, has works like helping the poor and needy. Paul believes that authentic faith results in these sorts of concerns as well. Indeed, in some ways, the empty faith James is targeting is much like the "teacher of the Law" Paul also targets in Romans 2:21-23. This person is also a hearer of the Law who is not a doer.

A second observation is that justification by faith for Paul may very well focus firstly on the faith of Jesus himself, his faithfulness to the point of death. In that sense, justification by faith for Paul is in the first instance justification by the faith that Jesus showed to the point of dying on the cross to atone for sins.

Finally, works do play a role for Paul as well in final justification before God on the Day of Judgment (e.g., Rom. 2:6-10; 2 Cor. 5:10). One cannot earn a righteous status before God (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:20), but once one has been justified from past sins, works are required of a believer in order for a person to be justified finally (e.g., Rom. 3:31). These works are brought forth in Paul's thought by the power of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Rom. 8:1-11).

Biblical theologians have worked hard to work out a consistency in Paul's thought here. The nicest option is of course to say that for Paul, works result after justification by faith so that one is not strictly justified finally by works at all but that authentic faith will have works. Nevertheless, the basic points in Paul's thinking remain. There will be some evaluation of believers' works on the Day of Judgment, with the possibility of judgment. It is apparently even possible not to get the prize of eternal life after having been earlier justified through the blood of Christ (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:10-14). Yet despite these necessities, one cannot be good enough to earn acceptance before God. Christ's faithful death is the essential prerequisite.

Paul never says that we are justified by faith alone. This is a slight modification of Paul's own view. James therefore does not in any way contradict Paul himself, although it might contradict Luther and Calvin's understanding of Paul.

2:25 And similarly was not Rahab the prostitute also justified because she welcomed the messengers and sent them out a different way?
It is not clear why James would use Rahab as an example of justification by works. Perhaps it is because Rahab was a person whose "faith" in itself might be questioned. Rahab, in that sense, might very well serve as an example of the justification of a non-Jew. She perhaps did not start out with the faith that "God is one," but she treated Israel properly. Is this a thinly veiled exhortation to Gentile believers to show kindness toward lesser fortunate Jewish believers?

2:26 For just as the body is dead without spirit, so also faith without works is dead.
And thus James ends this section with a generalization of what he has been discussing. Faith without works is not living faith. It is dead faith, like a corpse. Faith that is worth anything is faith that issues in material help for those in need.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Scholarship Starters: James 2:6

If I were a different person in a different life, I would try to publish these ideas, but alas, it takes so much work to write and article and my life is overfull.

I don't know if anyone has seriously suggested what I did in my explanatory notes Tuesday, that the situation in the first part of James 2 is a Christian Jewish subgroup of a larger synagogue and that the rich person is a wealthy Jewish patron from the larger Jewish community. The idea holds a lot of promise as it reflects new perspectives on Judaism and integrates new social scientific perspectives on the Mediterranean world. It would be a lovely contribution to scholarship on James.

If you beat me to it, which alas almost anyone could, remember me when you come into your footnotes. You can say you got the idea from Ken Schenck in private conversation, to save you the embarrassment of trying to publish something scholarly with a footnote referencing a blog :-) And of course if you'd like to have a private conversation, you know how to get hold of me...

Spinoza Quote...

Quoted in Moo's James commentary: "I have often wondered that persons who make boast of professing the Christian religion -- namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men (sic) -- should quarrel with such rancorous animosity and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues which they profess, is the readiest criteria of their faith."

Spinoza lived in the 1600s and was a Jewish philosopher.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Explanatory Notes: James 2:1-13

We now have finished going through James 2 in General Epistles class... some notes on the first part:
2:1 My brothers, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with favoritism.
If "faith" in this verse has anything like the meaning it will have later in the chapter, it probably refers to a set of beliefs relating to Jesus Christ, presumably having to do with the fact that he is the glorious Lord, the king of the Jews. This faith regarding Jesus entails significant consequences for life, one of which is not to show favoritism toward others, particularly because of their wealth or poverty. James will get to the royal law of love later in this section, a law that favoritism directly contradicts.

2:2-4 For if a gold-ringed man with splendid clothing should come into your gathering (synagoge), and a poor [person] should also enter with dirty clothes, and you should look on the one wearing the splendid clothing and should say, "You, sit here well," and to the poor [person] you should say, "You, stand there or sit at my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become enacters (kritai) of evil thoughts?
The situation James has in mind is at first glance fairly easy to picture. A group of believers are gathered and two individuals enter the gathering. A fine seat is given to a wealthy person while a poor person is made subservient even to the seater. Such a practice, while natural enough in terms of typical human favoritism toward wealthy patrons, is to be rejected by those with faith in Jesus as Lord, who follow the kingdom law of love.

However, beyond this basic understanding, questions arise. Exactly what kind of a gathering is pictured and is this rich person a part of it? James calls the meeting a "synagoge," which need not refer to a synagogue building as we think of synagogues, but could simply mean a worship meeting. Since James is writing to "the twelve tribes in the Diaspora" (1:1) and James is usually associated with Jewish Christianity, it is reasonable to see a largely Christian Jewish gathering or "synagogue" in view here, perhaps even a "cell group" that is part of a larger Jewish gathering/synagogue.

It is thus reasonable to see the rich person in question as a wealthy Jew, a patron of a larger Jewish community and somewhat of an outsider to the Christian Jews in mind. This person would be like the wealthy person of 1:10, ambiguous in relation to the "brotherhood" and more likely destined to pass away like the grass of the field.

Regardless of whether we understand James himself writing this letter, the letter as a collection of James' general teaching, or a pseudonymous conveyance of James' authority to a later context, we surely must see the situation here as one that was all to common throughout Greek-speaking Jewish Christian communities in the Mediterranean as subsets of broader Jewish communities established their own Christian identity within Judaism. It seems much more difficult to think that James has some more specific context in mind, since the letter does not present itself in that way. One way or another, James presents itself as the voice of James to the broader Greek-speaking Jewish Christian world.

2:5 Hear, my beloved brothers. Has God not chosen the poor in the world [to be] rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He promised to those who love Him?
We are reminded of the teaching of Jesus presented in Luke's Sermon on the Plain--"Blessed are you poor... woe to you rich" (Luke 6:20, 24)--and in Matthew's more spiritualized Sermon on the Mount--"Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3). Matthew, Luke, and James alike have little good to say about the rich and little hope to hold out to them. Here it is important to keep in mind that the ancient world was not a monetary economy but primarily an agrarian one with a sense of "limited good."

The idea of limited good is that there is a finite amount of goods in the world. Prosperity is thus a "zero-sum" game. There are only so many olives in the world and if one person has more then it follows naturally that someone else has less. There are only so many to go around. We can thus understand the later Arab proverb, "Every rich person is either a thief or the son of a thief."

In the world of Jesus and James, therefore, those who are wealthy in the Jewish community have almost certainly come to such wealth by depriving others of what should be theirs. One has become richer with the consequence that another has become poorer. Divine justice thus entails that the rich will be brought low and the poor will be restored.

The kingdom thus involves a reversal of fortune. "You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matt. 6:24). The kingdom is thus for those who love God, which by its very nature implies that one does not love worldly possessions.

2:6-7 But you dishonor the poor [person]. Are not the rich oppressing you and they themselves dragging you into court? Do not they themselves blaspheme the good name that has been invoked over you?
The audience seems to be located somewhere in the middle, neither displaced from its inherited place in the world to become poor or inflated beyond its inherited place to become rich. While James thus applies to all believers, it seems directed as much at the leaders and teachers of 3:1 who can make decisions, as to everyone in a gathering. James is primarily directed at those in a Jewish Christian gathering who can do the seating!

The picture of these wealthy visitors blaspheming the name of Christ (presumably) confirms that they are not truly believers. Again, the most plausible scenario is that these are wealthy patrons within broader Jewish communities who retain significant influence over Christian Jews who are a subset of the community. The possibility of dragging them into court may speak of financial obligations.

The question of Christ's name being invoked over a person would naturally apply either to a baptismal setting or the laying on of hands. The former would presumably apply to all believers, while the latter would apply more to leaders set apart. It seems impossible to know for certain which James might have in mind.

2:8-9 If indeed you complete the royal law according to the Scripture--"You will love your neighbor as yourself"--you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you are doing sin, being proven by the Law as transgressors.
It is striking that in such diverse New Testament writings as Matthew 22, Romans 13, Galatians 3, James 2, and 1 John 4, we find the recurring sense that "love of neighbor" summarizes the Christian ethic of behavior toward our fellow human on earth. This common tradition thus very likely goes back to Jesus himself.

The fact that James does not engage in the concrete particulars of the Jewish Law is sometimes used to argue for a setting after the historical James' lifetime for the letter. The argument is that discussions of the Law would surely have a more concrete Jewish flavor, especially given the picture of James in Galatians 2 and James' apparent engagement with Pauline teaching later in this chapter. Nevertheless, such an essential focus is highly appropriate for such a general, catholic letter, especially one aimed at Greek-speaking Christian Jews scattered throughout the world. The concerns of James seem not unlike those of other books like Sirach or Tobit that are not focused on the kinds of purity issues that separated Jew and Gentile. Those concerns may have dominated a particular window of time in the Jerusalem church, but probably were not major concerns for Diaspora Christian Jews at large.

James agrees that the essence of kingdom law, the "royal" law, is not that which separates Jew from Gentile but the very heart of the Law: love of one's neighbor. We have every reason to beleive that James and Paul fundamentally agreed on this point, despite any differences they might have had around the edges of the expanding church. If sin is violation of the Law, then the person who shows favoritism is a transgressor, a law-breaker, no matter how well they might follow the Law's Jewish particulars.

2:10=11 For whoever should keep the whole Law but fail in one [area] has become guilty of all [parts]. For the one who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." And if you do not commit adultery but you murder, you have become a transgressor of law.
These statements sound strangely Pauline. Underlying these statements would seem to be the idea that the entire Law is summed up in "Love your neighbor as yourself." The prohibition of adultery is a playing out of that kingdom law no less than the prohibition of murder. Those who do any one of these things is thus guilty of the entire Law for they have not loved their neighbor.

2:12-13 So be speaking and so be doing as [those] about to be judged by the law of freedom, for judgment is without mercy for those who do not show mercy. Mercy has a boast over judgment.
Once again, we might rather expect such statements to come from the mouth of Paul as from the mouth of James. The "law of freedom" is presumably the law of the kingdom of God, a law that focuses on the essentials of loving one's neighbor rather than the bondage some Jews laid on other Jews in that day. The law of freedom is the law of love and it is a law oriented around mercy rather than judgment. We are reminded again of Jesus' teaching, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7), and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18). In terms of how humans are to relate to each other on earth, mercy is always preferable to justice or condemnation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Smith's Desiring the Kingdom 1

I did a post on the Introduction of James K. A. Smith's new book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation over at my seminary blog. But here let me add this oh-so-true quote:

"Our imaginations get stuck in a rut, and it becomes difficult to get out of them to imagine things differently. When that happens, theoretical dissertations aren't effective in destabilizing these habits of imagination... To jolt the imagination, we need more affective pictures..." (28-29)

Now on p. 30 quoting a book of George Orwell's about an illustrative topic of social class:

"The real secret of class distinctions in the West" can be "summed up in four frightful words" that are often left unuttered: The lower classes smell... "no feeling of like or dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling." Almost every other kind of discrimination could be countered theoretically, with the weapons of facts, ideas, and information, "but physical repulsion cannot."

Smith's books is one of those books that expresses so well the conclusions you have already reached that you read the pages with delight.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Explanatory Notes: Philippians 2:25-3:1

OK, now I believe I have finished Philippians. You can see the entire Explanatory Notes on Philippians here. Also finished are Explanatory Notes on Galatians, and on 1 Thessalonians.
2:25-26 Now I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and coworker and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister of my need, since he was desiring you all and was distressed, because you heard that he was sick.
Epaphroditus perhaps served some ministry role in the Philippian church and was probably the one who delivered the letter of Philippians back to the assembly there. Was he one of the overseer/elders or perhaps a deacon? It seems impossible to know. Paul calls him a "coworker," probably implying that he at least assisted Paul in ministry in some way. He was in any case the one with whom the Philippians entrusted the material support they sent to Paul.

The logistics of Epaphroditus' travel are often mentioned in the attempt to decide where Paul was when he wrote the letter. News of Paul's imprisonment must first have travelled to Philippi from wherever Paul was. Then after support was collected, Epaphroditus would need to travel to Paul's place of imprisonment with it. Then time would have to pass for news of Epaphroditus' sickness to travel back to Philippi and for news of the Philippian reaction to it to travel back to Paul again still and the letter of Philippians be written.

This sequence of at least four back and forths from Philippi to Paul is often taken as support for an Ephesian location. This back and forth with Rome would take a lot longer, while it would take place naturally with Ephesus. Nevertheless, Acts mentions Paul being at Rome for about two years, so while it is easy to picture such a back and forth with Ephesus, there was enough time for it to take place with Rome as well.

The mention of Epaphroditus as a "fellow soldier" is curious. It probably has something to do with Paul being in prison and no doubt surrounded by Roman soldiers.

2:27 For he was sick nearly to death. But God showed mercy to him, and not only to him but also to me so that I might not have grief on grief.
Epaphroditus' sickness was apparently a matter of great concern to the Philippians. We certainly get the impression that he was highly loved on both sides, both by the Philippians and by Paul. Thankfully, he had recovered. Paul is already in a difficult setting. Epaphroditus' death would have been doubly hard, perhaps in part because he probably would not have become sick if he had not come to visit Paul.

2:28 Therefore, I have sent him more eagerly, so that when you have seen him you might rejoice again and I might be less grieved.
It is one thing to hear someone is doing better, but one might still not know exactly how well the person is. To what extent am I being told not to worry when in fact the person is still struggling. Epaphroditus is not only better, but well enough to travel--which says something in a world without cars, planes, or trains. And whether it is in Paul's mind or not, it might at least in theory create tensions between Paul and the church of Philippi if Epaphroditus died in part because of Paul. It might create a negative in the "who owes who" category.

2:29-30 Therefore, receive him in the Lord with all joy and consider such individuals precious, because he was near death because of the work of Christ, risking his soul in order that he might fulfill your lacking in relation to ministry toward me.
Here Paul at least makes it clear that if Epaphroditus would have died, he would not have died for Paul but for Christ. Epaphroditus was fulfilling a responsibility of the gospel. He was not doing something for Paul that Paul was desperate to have, as Paul will make clear again at the end of the letter. The service thus does not create a debt on Paul's part but was an appropriate service for Christ and one that the Philippians should have provided because of Paul's ministry to them.

3:1 The rest, my brothers, be rejoicing in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not burdensome to me, and for you it is a safe thing.
Here another major section of the letter, the second half of the letter body, seems to begin. The theme of rejoicing will be temporarily interrupted in 3:2, but Paul will then return to it again by the time he gets to 4:4. It is significant that Paul emphasizes this theme of rejoicing while he is in prison. And it is not burdensome for him to wish the Philippians well while he himself is not doing well. It is an expression of Christian love and his friendship with them. And it is safe to rejoice on earth despite the potential trouble in this world of serving Christ, because the days to come will be filled with a certain hope.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Paul: Life Beyond Death

The previous posts in this series were:

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

2a. A Change in Life Direction; 2b A Change in Life Direction 2; 2c A Change in Life Direction 3

3a. The Unknown Years 1; 3b. The Unknown Years 2; 3c. The Unknown Years 3

Acts 18 is very specific about the Roman governor at Corinth at the end of Paul's almost two years there. It was a man named Gallio. By happy archaeological fortune, we can date Gallio's governorship in Corinth to around AD51-52. All in all, it fits very well with Acts to think that Paul was in Corinth from around AD50-52.

We left Paul in the last chapter around the year AD49. Around that year Paul was in Jerusalem over the issue of whether Gentiles needed to convert fully to Judaism to be saved. [1] So the chronology of Acts here works very well with what we know from elsewhere. Paul has an argument with Barnabas over going on a second missionary journey together in AD49. Barnabas and his cousin John Mark head off for Cyprus again. Paul picks up another man named Silas and heads off toward his home region of Cilicia, where Tarsus was.

So Paul and Barnabas effectively split up the territory of the earlier journey they took together. Paul and Silas go back to the northern half. They visit cities like Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and another city in the region with the same name of Antioch like the place they launched from. Perhaps most scholars think that this is the region to which Paul would write the book of Galatians a little bit later. Many other conservative scholars think Paul had already written Galatians to this region by now. We will later fly a less popular suggestion, although the one that was the majority position throughout church history, namely, that Paul wrote Galatians to the area just north of these cities.

At Lystra, Acts 16 tells us Paul and Silas pick up a young man named Timothy. Acts also surprisingly tells us that Paul has him circumcised. We have no basis to doubt Acts about this claim, although it is curious. Paul in Galatians will argue that these Gentiles will fall from grace if they become circumcised (Gal. 5:2-4). So why would he circumcise Timothy?

If as we think Galatians came later, Paul might still have been working through his "policies" on these things at the time. Nevertheless, Acts implies Paul did so because Timothy's mother was Jewish (cf. Acts 16:1). In the case of Titus, the argument goes, Titus was fully Gentile, so Paul did not have him circumcised (cf. Gal. 2:3). This seems a very plausible explanation to us. Perhaps Paul is thinking that a circumcised Timothy might help him liaise with Jews, while an uncircumcised Timothy would simply be unused potential.

Whatever practical advantages circumcising Timothy brought Paul, his opponents apparently would later use it against him. Assuming that Paul wrote Galatians later than this point in time, some of Paul's opponents may very well have used the fact that Paul circumcised Timothy to claim that even Paul had been won over to the idea that circumcision was preferable (cf. Gal. 5:11). And so Paul reassured them that he was not still preaching circumcision.

Acts 16 tells us that Paul then went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia with Silas (Acts 16:6). Interestingly, Acts apparently does not include the region of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe in "Galatia" here, which presents a minor objection to the idea that these are the churches to which Galatians is written. We would go with what most interpreters thought throughout church history, namely, that it was at this point that Paul founded some churches in the north. This was the region that had properly been known as Galatia before the Romans consolidated north and south. So in our theory, Paul founds some churches in north Galatia, which becomes the primary audience of the letter to the Galatians. These would be churches in the vicinity of Ancyra in modern day Turkey, churches about which Acts does not give us any details.

Paul would eventually follow the Roman roads north to Troas and then would sense God calling him to jump the Bosphorus into Macedonia. The rest is history. Paul founds the church at Philippi, apparently one of his favorite churches. He will found the church at Thessalonica. Acts tells us he and Silas found a church in Berea, heading south into Greece proper. He will stop shortly in Athens, but then will move on to Corinth. At Corinth he will find his groove and stay for almost two years.

Paul's writings themselves tell us little of his time in Philippi and Thessalonica, and nothing of his time in Berea. Acts tells us he was jailed for a night in Philippi, that an earthquake hits the jail, and that he is freed to go the next day. The letter of 1 Clement, probably written at the end of the first century, mentions seven imprisonments of Paul. If this number is not symbolic, perhaps Philippi was the first or second time, although it is of course possible Paul encountered the Roman governor of Cyprus after a similar night in the brig (cf. Acts 13:7).

Paul does not stay long at all at Thessalonica. Acts gives us the impression it might have been as little as three Saturdays, but it was probably at least a little longer. Philippians 4 indicates that the church at Philippi sent him material support more than once while he was there. Also, while Acts as it usually does focuses on the Jews and their opposition to Paul, 1 Thessalonians is overwhelmingy directed at Gentiles, implying that Paul's most fruitful ministry in the city was not in the synagogue. Perhaps Paul was there a couple months, just long enough to get the plane headed down the runway, although he is forced to leave before he can see the plane take off (cf. 1 Thess. 1:17).

For whatever reason, Paul does not stay long in Athens. According to 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, Paul and Silas send Timothy back to Thessalonica from there. [2] They are worried about whether the church has successfully launched. Paul does not write 1 Thessalonians until Timothy has returned with news of the church. We cannot tell whether Paul has already moved on to Corinth by that point, but it seems reasonable, assuming Paul did not stay long in Athens.

Acts 17 gives us a brilliant speech by Paul to the Areopagus, the ruling council of the city. It is thus possible that Paul spent yet another night or two in jail there before seeing the council, perhaps making the second or third of his supposed imprisonments. The impression we get is that Paul's charge has to do with promoting a unfamiliar cult, something that concerned the Romans then as Homeland Security might today. As in Thessalonica, the city seemed to be content with telling Paul to move on...

[1] Whether you think this event was more like a private visit as in Galatians 2, a public Jerusalem Council as in Acts 15, or something in between the two.

[2] The scenario of 1 Thessalonians is in minor tension with the account in Acts. In Acts 17:15, Paul goes on to Athens from Berea alone and both Silas and Timothy stay in Berea. Then Paul continues on to Corinth still alone from Athens (18:5). But in 1 Thessalonians, Paul, Silas, and Timothy have all gone to Athens, and it is from there that Timothy alone returns to Thessalonica.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Explanatory Notes: James 1:5-27

I probably shouldn't have spent the time to do this, but here are some notes from this time through James 1 in my General Epistles class.
1:5 And if someone of you lacks wisdom, let [that one] ask from the God who gives to all generously and who does not reproach and it will be given to him.
Because this verse follows right on the heals of endurance in trial, it seems likely that the wisdom in question is wisdom when one is undergoing trial. We can certainly imagine that God offers wisdom freely in general as well, and some do think James gives disconnected proverbs such that we should not necessarily connect this verse with the one that precedes. But all in all, such a connection seems likely.

God does not rebuke a person for asking for such wisdom, but generously provides it to each who asks, that is, given the caveat that follows.

1:6-8 But let [that one] ask in faith, doubting not at all, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea being blown and tossed. For do not let that person think s/he will receive something from the Lord--a "two souled" person, unstable in all his ways.
We should not take doubting here in some modern, highly introspective sense. James is referring to a person of divided loyalties who does not entirely want God's wisdom to endure trial. This person has not fully made up his or her mind to serve the "Lord," which may possibly refer to God rather than Jesus, given that God has been the referrent in the immediately preceding verses and 1:17 will speak of God as the giver of every perfect gift.

God thus does not grant wisdom in trial to those who are not committed to enduring trial for the Lord. This is an unstable person, a person of "two souls," two minds

1:9-10 Now let the humble brother boast in his height and the rich [person] in his humiliation, because as a blade of grass [he] will disappear.
We can debate over whether the rich person pictured here is a brother or not. Certainly the parallel between the first line, where the poor or humble person is a brother might lead in this direction. However, perhaps it is significant that James does not specify what kind of rich individual this is. Perhaps, as in chapter 2, James has in mind a person associated with a believing community but about whom it can be questioned whether they are truly brothers.

James has nothing positive to say about a rich person whatsoever and looks to an eventual reversal of fortune. The lowly person today who is in troubled circumstances and trials, will find themselves eventually find themselves blessed. Meanwhile, the rich person who appears to have power and good circumstances today will find their status and comfort pass away on the day of judgment.

1:11 For the sun rises with heat and it dries the grass and its blade falls off and the beauty of its face perishes--so also the rich person will wither away in his pursuits.
The verbs in this verse are in the aorist tense, which we have long thought of as normally referring to events in the past. Stanley Porter has argued that these aorists show that aorist tense is not about past time but about undefined action. On the other hand, perhaps the influence of Aramaic is in play here.

Such statements seem to fit well a Palestinian agrarian setting and seem very fitting on the lips of a James, whether James directly writes them or they are James tradition being passed along in Greek by someone else. The statement on the rich person withering away in his pursuits reminds us of the indictment of the rich James makes at the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5. We are also reminded of the parable of Luke about the rich person who has big plans but whose life is taken before he can see them through.

1:12 Blessed is the person who endures trial, because having become approved, [that person] will receive a crown of life which [God] promised to those who love Him.
This verse reveals that the idea of perseverence during trial has never left James' mind. Here we find some of the specifics of what endurance actually leads to. 1:4 had mentioned that trials built to endurance, but it did not say what the reward of endurance was. Here we see that the reward is a crown of life, presumably eternal life. James does not say here exactly where believers will enjoy that life but it is promised to those who love God.

1:13 Let no one say when being tried, "I am being tempted by God." For God is untemptable with evil and He himself tempts no one.
James shifts at some point from talking about trials to talking about temptations, perhaps temptations in particular that are brought on through trials. The previous verse clearly is talking about trials. But the same word can also mean "temptation," and at least by the second use of the word in this verse, James has shifted to the topic of temptation.

When we are speaking in ordinary language, we shift between various meanings of a word with ease, often without even noticing we are doing it. The context usually makes it clear what meaning we have in mind. Good English translations of the Bible do the same for us. They translate the same word differently as appropriate so that we do not even realize we are dealing with the same word in Greek.

We have translated the first instance of peirazo in 1:13 as "being tried" to keep continuity with the previous verse. An audience would as yet have had no reason to think of a different sense of the word. But the second instance begins to blur into "being tempted," a sense that is clear by the end of the verse and in the verse that follows below.

James represents movement in thought from early parts of the Old Testament where God is actually said to send evil spirits on people like Saul (1 Sam. 16:14). But James holds that God does not tempt people to do evil in addition to the fact that God himself is not tempted by evil.

1:14-15 But each person is tempted, being dragged away and enticed by his/her own desire. Then desire, having conceived, bears sin, and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.
Although in other contexts one might speak of Satan tempting a person, in James temptation is discussed in terms of one's desires. One desires something that one should not have. Interestingly, James does not equate this desire with sin. Sin is what results when one pursues that desire or lets that desire take its course. Similarly, when sin has run its full course, it will lead to death. James does not specify whether spiritual or physical death is in view, so it is best to leave the nature of such death unspecified.

1:16-17 Do not err, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every complete gift is from above, descending from the Father of lights, in whom there is no variation or turning shadow.
If we are to see some continuity in the train of thought, we can connect the trials that were first mentioned in 1:2 with the rich of verse 10 and 11, with the need for wisdom on the part of the troubled and distressed (1:5) and the temptation of 1:13-14. One temptation in such circumstances, as we will see in chapter 2, is to rely on the patronage of the rich. One desires what material resources can offer and is tempted under trial.

But in what is at least a key verse for James, James makes clear who the real and ultimate Patron for the believer is. It is God, the Father, from whom every good and perfect gift truly comes. Such gifts do not come from earthly patrons or the earthly rich. Such individuals not only vary with their own whim and fancy, not only turn like the shadow on a sundial. Such individuals will soon pass away, and those who depend on their patronage will only die.

In some ways, therefore, 1:17 plays itself out in much of the rest of James.

1:18 Having been wanted, He gave birth to us through the word of truth in order that we might might be a certain first fruit of His creations.
Whether James is conscious of it or not, the use of logos or "word" imagery in this verse in the next bears significant Stoic overtones. If so, such Hellenistic imagery generally points away from James himself as the person responsible for the current wording of the book. However, such language would not disprove that James coined these particular words. It is impossible to say what currents in language made their way where and at what time. Language can come from a particular tradition without the user of that language even knowing where it came from.

In Stoic thought, there is a close connection between God's word inside of us and seed imagery. The Stoics believed that we all had word implanted in us, logos seeds. The wise person lived in accordance with that word, for the word inside us was in sync with the divine Word or Reason that governed all things.

The idea that James' audience might be the first fruits of God's creation implies some sort of theology of new creation. The audience would be part of the first generation, in effect, because the word of truth had only of late come and been implanted.

1:19-20 Look, my beloved brothers, even let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of a person does not bring about the righteousness of God.
If 1:17 serves in some ways as a general statement that plays out in the rest of James, 1:19 does as well. Many scholars would suggest that the introduction of James ends with 1:18 and that 1:19 actually begins the body of the letter. The vocative, "my beloved brothers" might thus serve as an indicator that a new section of the letter is beginning. 1:19 does not of course play out neatly in the rest of the letter, and we are reminded that many think that James has no clear literary structure.

The idea of being quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger would apply particularly to leaders of Christian gatherings, as is played out especially in chapter 3. It might also apply to the rich, although throughout James such individuals are spoken of as outsiders. The letter is thus directed more at Christian Jewish leaders and the poor.

Anger does not bring about righteousness, the righteousness that typifies God. The phrase, "the righteousness of God" sometimes in Judaism seems to have referred to the fact that God is righteous. This is the sense it primarily seems to have in writings of Paul like Romans. However, its sense here seems to be righteous acts that God expects such as helping those in need such as the poor, orphans, and widows. Anger toward others does not naturally lead to these sorts of righteous acts, a warning perhaps to leaders.

1:21 Therefore, putting off all filth and the abundance of wickedness, with humility, receive the implanted word that is able to save your lives.
In contrast to those who are quick to speak and to anger at the actions of others, James tells Christian leaders and believers in general to put off their own filth and wickedness. To let the word, the logos seed that is implanted within them, to bring forth the appropriate fruit, the righteousness of God. Heeding this word will end in salvation on the Day of Judgment and their lives will be saved.

The word we translate here as "lives" can at times be translated as "souls." However, that word has particular somewhat Platonic connotations for us that are not the prevalent way the word is used in the New Testament. It would seem more appropriate to go with the more Semitic use of the word in reference to a life.

1:22-24 Become doers of the word and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves, because if someone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, this person is like a person looking at his birth face in a mirror, for he observes himself and goes away and immediately forgets of what sort he was.
This theme of being leading to doing will strongly occupy the second half of James 2. The problem James addressed 2000 years ago is somehow strangely familiar, the person who hears God's word but who somehow manages to go forth unaffected, the teacher who is quite good at talking but does not live what they teach, the person who believes the right things but whose beliefs somehow do not make it to life. The imagery of a mirror is not entirely clear, but the overall sense seems once again to be a person who can see what they are--or at least are supposed to be--but who does not live in accordance to their birth.

1:25 But the one who looks into the complete law of freedom and who remains [in it], having become not a hearer of forgetfulness but a doer of work, this person will be blessed in his doing.
The parallel seems to be between the mirror that shows us what we should be according to the word of God and the perfect law of freedom. In other words, the law of freedom is indeed who we are in accordance with the word of God. The next chapter will speak of the "royal law of love," and it is reasonable to think this is what James has in mind here as well.

The doing that we are to do in accordance with who we are is thus love in action, which of course constitutes the righteous acts of God, whose content will become particularly apparent in 1:27.

1:26 If someone seems to be religious while not bridling his tongue but deceiving his heart, the religion of this one is foolish.
This verse returns to the theme of being slow to speak and anticipates James 3. Certainly this "proverb" is true in its own right. But if we are to read it somehow in the context, perhaps we should best take it of someone who is a leader or teacher but whose words do not match his or her actions. This person's talk does not match their walk. Their faith does not match their action.

1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to look over orphans and widows in their trouble, to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Here is James as it is best known, a letter about the gospel with feet. What is true worship of God? Religion here does not have the sense of a system of faith or belief but more what some used to mean when they talked about "getting religion." True religion takes care of those in need.

Orphans and widows would have especially fit into this category in the ancient world. There was no social security or welfare system to take care of such people, no jobs for a widow to get to support her children. Such groups were entirely dependent on the generosity of others. By contrast, the world here likely has the same connotations of wealth and those comforts an orientation around such things might afford.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Joe Wilson racist?

Former President Jimmy Carter suggested that Joe Wilson's comment during Obama's speech, "You lie!" was related to racism. Some who know Wilson, including Democrats, have suggested that it was more idiotic than racist. I mulled this over this morning in my own mind.

My first thought was that the anger of individuals like Wilson and others toward the health care reforms in the works right now is probably not generated by racism. Hilary Clinton would no doubt receive the same ire if she were the one standing there.

But then I asked myself the next question. Would Wilson have yelled out "You lie!" if it had been Clinton giving the speech... or Ted Kennedy? Here my thoughts took a different course. I don't think Wilson would have yelled it if it were Ted Kennedy as President giving the speech. In fact, I wonder seriously if anyone would have yelled such a thing if it were Hilary Clinton.

So I have concluded in my own mind not that the comment or anger itself was racially based but that it was likely a certain latent disrespect related to race that probably made the difference between thinking "You lie" and shouting it out. I think if Obama were not black, the comment would have stopped before getting to Wilson's mouth. So the comment was not racist, but the dynamic that allowed for the unprecedented disrespect probably was.

What do you think?

My Faith Development Model

For both the Missional Church and spiritual formation course this week, we looked and are looking at various faith development models, thinking about how people go about changing (in the Missional course toward changing attitudes toward mission, in the spiritual formation course about changing individually).

In the spiritual formation course, Change and Transformation, the whole class basically by partial coincidence, ended up looking at either James Fowler or M. Scott Peck. Peck's looked to me like a modification of Kierkegaard: 1) chaotic, 2) fundamentalist, 3) agnostic, and 4) mystic. Fowler's has 7 stages, the first four of which he finds fairly normal and the last 3 of which he suggested only some people reach.

Part of the assignment was to come up with one's own sense of faith development stages and I found myself coming up with more of a Venn diagram, which I will only talk through here:

1. Default: unreflective faith or non-faith
One begins with an inherited default set of beliefs and practices or non-beliefs, etc.

2. Path 1: never becoming reflective
A person might never reflect on the beliefs or non-beliefs and practices they inherited from their parents or environment their entire life.

3. Moments of reflection
For most people their default faith comes to various moments of reflection to various degrees. In these moments, they will make faith choices.

4. Path 2: from faith toward non-faith
Some people whose default is faith will move to varying degrees away from faith and faith practices.

5. Path 3: from non-faith to faith
Some people whose default is non-faith will move to varying degrees toward faith and faith practices.

6. Identity commitment
A few people, not many really in the vast scheme of things, find themselves investing their core identity to a particular set of faith or non-faith beliefs and practices.

7. Path 4: commitment to fundamentalist faith or non-faith
Some commit themselves to a rather rigid and narrow approach to faith or non-faith, usually with a very cognitive orientation. Yes, there are fundamentalist atheists.

8. Path 5: commitment to mystical faith or agnosticism
Another set of individuals commit to a more personal and existential approach to faith or non-faith. The person of faith cannot fully explicate the basis for their beliefs and practices but they are at peace with them. Similarly, the agnostic cannot deny the possibility of faith but is at peace with a doubtful uncertainty.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Explanatory Notes: Philippians 2:19-24

After my great delight at finishing Philippians last week, I went through my posts to collect them and discovered that, apparently, I never finished 2:19-3:1. So here is, again, I think, the beginning of the rest of Philippians.
2:19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy quickly to you in order that I too might be in good spirits because of knowing the things concerning you.
Timothy appeared in the first verse as one of the senders of the letter, but he has not appeared thereafter until now. Throughout the two intervening chapters Paul has spoken in the first person (e.g., 1:3). Even here, Paul tells about Timothy rather than both speaking as one voice. Paul does not always talk this way. For example, in 1 Thessalonians, "we" is consistently used.

We wonder if Paul includes Timothy in the greeting of the letter because, as we find out here, Timothy will eventually visit them. Or perhaps he served as secretary in the writing of the letter. In any case, as Paul is a representative and ambassador of Christ, Timothy will also go as Paul's representative to Philippi. Timothy will then return to Paul an give him a report of the state of the church there.

2:20-22 For I have no one of the same spirit, who genuinely will be concerned in relation to the things concerning you. For all are seeking the things of themselves, not the things of Jesus Christ, and you know his worth, that as a son serves a father, he served me in relation to the gospel.
While Paul may be a little hyperbolic here (did he not also trust Titus?), certainly 2:20 reflects Paul's trust of Timothy in God's mission to save the world. Not only does Paul trust Timothy as a "son" but he trusts the spiritual welfare of the Philippians with him. The aspect of Timothy's character that Paul most values in this regard is the fact that he is genuinely interested in others--as Paul has been urging the Philippians themselves to act toward each other.

Apparently from the very beginning, even many Christian leaders were self-seeking and using this new born movement as an opportunity for advancement of more than one kind. Paul has possibly mentioned such people already at the beginning of the letter (e.g., 1:16). Paul here assures the Philippians that Timothy is not of this sort. Timothy genuinely has the spiritual advantage of them in view.

Paul describes his relationship with Timothy as being like that of father to son. But he does not necessarily refer here to his affection. Timothy rather "serves" Paul in relation to the gospel as a son might assist a father in his work. Timothy is thus reliable and an extension of Paul's own identity.

2:23-24 Therefore, I hope to send this one as soon as I find out the things concerning me, immediately. And I have come to be persuaded in the Lord that I myself will also come quickly.
Timothy will not be carrying the letter to Philippi. That task, as we will soon see, likely fell to Epaphroditus, who himself had brought aid from the church of Philippi to Paul. Timothy would apparently leave for Philippi as soon as Paul's verdict was handed down, then Paul himself would follow.

These verses, as much as any others in the letter, point more toward Ephesus as the location from which Paul writes rather than Rome. When Paul wrote Romans, he felt as if there was no more room for him to minister in the East (e.g., Rom. 15:23). The popular suggestion that Paul was released after a first trial in Rome is strongly contradicted by Acts 20:25's implication that Paul never returned to Ephesus after going to Rome.

Is it possible that an almost four year ordeal had changed Paul's mind about going west to Spain (cf. Rom. 15:24)? Certainly. It is possible that Paul's ordeal has convinced him to return back east immediately if he is released. It is also possible that he was not released, that his intention to visit the Philippians was never fulfilled.

Yet it fits quite well to think that Paul is in Ephesus, prior to writing Romans, and that his intention is to head north around the Aegean Sea to Philippi and down to Corinth again after he is released. This is the path he takes in Acts 20, although no imprisonment is mentioned in Ephesus. He would indeed visit Philippi almost immediately on release, write 2 Corinthians, then eventually proceed south to Corinth, where he would write Romans. At that time, with Ephesus as scorched earth (remembering that in Acts 20 he goes around the city), and with the church at Corinth perhaps partially unfriendly to him (2 Corinthians 10-13), he senses that he should move west toward Spain.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Categorizing the Hermeneutical Landscape

I'm now on my third draft of an introduction to a proposal. I hope this new approach is a winner. Here's a summary. Any critique?

Primary stimuli of developments in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
1. presuppositional changes: such as non-supernaturalism and those who read the Bible as they might have read other books

2. developments in contextual understanding: a) deepened perspectives on literary context because of reading the words as one might read other books and b) deepened perspectives on historical context because of engagement not only with already known literature, but also with increased archaeological discoveries of other ancient literature and material culture.

Trajectories that emerged
1. non-engagement with these developments: those outside the West who were not exposed to such discussions, revivalists, Pentecostals, dispensationalists to some extent. They not only continued with traditional presuppositions, but continued largely unaware of how to read the biblical books in context, read the texts a-contextually as primary default.

2. accommodation to many of these developments, including non-supernaturalism: mainstream Christian institutions. Miracles are part of a mythological worldview. Jesus was an exemplary individual and model to be emulated but not divine, Bible inspired like other literature

3. rejection of these developments: engaged fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals. Clear acceptance of supernaturalism and historical context accepted in principle, but varying degrees of rejection of contextual conclusions, Bible/Babel controversy, parallels often denied or reinterpreted, primary focus on alternative explanations of data

4. acceptance of contextual readings of the Bible but with supernaturalist presuppositions: In our typology, this group accepts the consensus opinions of mainstream scholarship (which evangelical scholars often do not) but does so in the belief that the Scriptures do indeed give witness to God's saving events within history. Individuals like Oscar Cullmann come to mind.

5. rejection of the historical paradigm as the principal paradigm for understanding Scripture. In some respects, this is an informed return to the pre-modern paradigm of #1. Karl Barth perhaps is a forerunner of this approach in that he advocated the idea of the Bible "becoming" the word of God as God speaks through it. Barth was well aware of historical critical interpretations but did not find them the locus of Christian significance to the biblical texts. In the same way, theological interpretation today rejects historical context as the be all and end all of Scripture's meaning.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Paul: The Unknown Years 3

The previous posts in this series were:

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

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

3a. The Unknown Years 1
3b. The Unknown Years 2

And now, the final installment of chapter 3, the application:
Paul's ministry, even in his earliest years, provide us with so many lessons for life and the church, it is hard to know even where to begin. His turn to faith in Jesus as the Jewish messiah in itself is a warning never to write off anyone. The person who seems most hardened, whom we could hardly imagine believing, might one day majorly surprise us. It must have been hard for those early Christians to believe that Paul was truly a believer, that his supposed conversion was anything but a trick

At the same time, look at what a radical change it was! Paul not only went from pursuer to the pursued. He soon found himself with opponents among Christians themselves. He went from not going with the faith to going too far with the faith--at least that is what some Christians came to think. In the same way, watch out for new converts who have so fully turned to Christ! Somtimes they change so radically that they soon make the rest of us uncomfortable.

Of course the radical convert is not always right on everything. Did Paul have to do whatever it was he did to get himself in trouble with the Arab ethnarch in Damascus? Should Paul have accused Peter of hypocrisy at Antioch in front of the whole church (Gal. 2:14)! Maybe Barnabas' approach, likely an attempt to find middle ground and a more conciliatory way, is sometimes more prudent or even effective. But radical converts also have a way of showing us our own inconsistencies and complacency. If the goal is to be more Christ-like, we should welcome their observations and see if God is trying to speak to us through them.

Paul was a person before he was in Scripture. In his first century context, he was obviously a person of great influence, a significant figure. But any Christian might have felt free to disagree with him. They did not know the Holy Spirit would steer his writings into Scripture, while leaving the champions of their perspective strangely silent.

And different people have different personalities, and different God ordained goals. God does not want us all to take on the personality of a Paul or necessarily the tasks of a Paul. Paul seems to have been a sometimes fiery, very demanding person. From what we see in the New Testament, he was an intelligent, passionate, forthright person. Sometimes his mouth got him into trouble.

God did a special thing though him. Christianity as most of us in the West know it seems to have grown significantly out of his ministry. Certainly a vibrant church grew in the East, pockets of which are still with us today in churches like that of Ethiopia. The Coptic Church in Egypt today was not a by-product of Paul's ministry. Even the church in Rome was not founded by him, although his letter to it stands as one of the most important Christian documents of all time.

We can question whether God has in store for any of us alive today as big a task as Paul's ministry would prove to be. Paul sometimes told his churches to imitate him (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17), but he did not mean he wanted them to become full blown apostles like him. Such was not in God's design for everyone. God had a special task for Paul, just as he sometimes has for us--or at least makes out of what we already are.

Paul's relationship and disagreement with some of the Christians in the Jerusalem church is also instructive. Many people like to think of the early church as a time when everyone agreed and there were no denominations. Everyone was truly full of the Spirit and lived the ideal Christian life. Oh, if we could only go back to those days, they might say.

But in reality the early church was diverse as well, with groups that were different enough from each other that we might almost call them different denominations. Paul's authority was not always recognized by his own churches, let alone by "church headquarters" back in Jerusalem. Peter and James might very well have preferred that Gentile converts become circumcised and fully convert to Judaism. They to not "compel" Titus to be circumcised, which leads us to believe they might have preferred it (Gal. 2:3). They do not allow Jewish believer to eat with Gentile believer unless that Gentile is willing to follow certain rules of purity.

Meanwhile, other Christians in the Jerusalem church do not think Peter and James have gone far enough. They do insist on full conversion, that Gentiles must become circumcised and fully convert in order to be saved (Acts 15:5). Paul may think of them as "false brothers" (Gal. 2:4), but Acts doesn't. Acts seems comfortable to call them "believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees" in the present tense, just as Acts will later allow Paul to call himself a Pharisee in the present tense (Acts 23:6). When Paul returns to Jerusalem near the end of his ministry, less than ten years before the Jewish War began (AD66), he would come to a Jerusalem that was extremely zealous with nationalistic fervor, full of Christians of this stripe (Acts 21:20). The church of Jerusalem very likely had many members who participated militarily in that war for the full political independence of Israel. [1]

At the same time, the early church had individuals more "liberal" than Paul. At Corinth he faces believers who "have knowledge" that makes them bold to eat at the temples of other gods (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:10). These individuals seem to have had a preacher named Apollos as their hero (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4; 4:6), which means they may in part be reflecting Apollos' greater openness to such things than Paul.

In short, the early church had its disagreements, and different groups within the church did things their way without interacting much with the other parts. The believers at Jerusalem were "conservatives," and they had a hard time distinguishing their nationalistic fervor from their faith. Probably it is only American Christians who might have this temptation today, confusing patriotism and the American flag with the Christian gospel and "flag" (even though we have much less a claim than the Jewish Christians of that day might have). British and German believers would not consider their nations to have some sort of divine right, and no African or South American church would confuse itself with Israel in the Bible.

Paul was quite the "liberal" for his day, although there were "ultra-liberals" he sparred with also. Even though the Bible said that Israel was God's chosen people and laid down rules about purity and Israel's separation from the world, Paul dared to teach that the gospel was for everyone. He taught that non-Jews could be saved without fully converting to Judaism and thus fully following the only Scriptures they had.

But there were those more radical than even he was. One church may even have been proud of the fact that they had a man who was sleeping with his step-mother (1 Cor. 5:1-2). How's that for not being under the Law, Paul? At one point this church so incensed Paul that he wrote a letter so stern he regreted for a short time that he had even sent it (2 Cor. 7:8). Not surprisingly, no one preserved it, and it did not make it into the New Tesament.

What we are seeing here is that the early church was much like the church today. There were more conservative and more liberal denominations. There were traditionalists who resisted change, and there were progressives who may have gone too far. There were disagreements over doctrine and practice. We know which groups God ended up rubber stamping because their writings have ended up in the Bible. But it would not at all have been obvious at the time to a neutral observer. Indeed, probably the Jerusalem Church would have been the best guess, with the dubious Paul as some radical out there on the fringes.

In our day to day life, we don't have the benefit of looking back in hindsight. We have to make decisions today on what to believe or do. So we make those decisions as best we can. We talk to as many other believers as we can as we go along. We pray. And we do our best as groups of believers to find our way through new territory. We have the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight.

And we must have faith that God will eventually lead things where they need to go. Our efforts will not undermine God's ultimate plan, nor does God need us to get the world where He wants it. Use us He will or use us He won't. Part of faith is to realize that it does not all depend on us.

[1] It is hard to know what to do with the subtitle, Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).

America: Welcome to the Second World

A little while back my wife and I offered someone a ride home from somewhere. But they had already called a cab. About a week later, I ran into the person again, who with glee told me of her luck on the taxi ride. She had found an envelope with $400 dollars in the back of the cab. Rather than give it to the driver, whom she figured would simply pocket it himself, she took it with delight.

Maybe America has always been this way. Maybe I'm just more in contact now with this dimension of American society. Maybe it's the economic crisis. But America is feeling less and less to me like that dream-land I grew up admiring. I have perhaps skewed opinions of which countries you have to watch your wallet in. England--pretty safe. Germany--pretty safe. Switzerland--very safe. But I watch it like a hawk in Paris or Italy. Has America become a place where you have to watch your wallet because everyone pretty much is only looking out for themselves?

Then there's the absence of real debate. Forget blaming postmodernism, this is as old as the hills. Cable channels mostly are just bully pulpits. Congressmen for the first time in history yell out disrespectfully at the President. I'm tired of the popular one-sided evaluation, "the Enlightenment was bad." There's nothing wrong with aiming at objectivity or following the very beneficial rules of how to do so. There was a lot, a lot of good in the movement during which America was founded.

It's not too late, but either we are slipping into being just another nation as usual or I had been falsely looking at America through skewed glasses all those years.

It is ironic that this gnawing feeling that we are in danger of radical decline reached its critical mass to post today, on 9-11, this horrible day in our history. But also ironic is the fact that excessive nationalism is itself part of that decline away from objectivity. The two or three years immediately following 9-11 were years of excessive irrationality in America. We forgot important distinctions, like the difference between the bad people who attacked us (Al Qaeda) and a different bad person named Saddam Hussein of similar skin color of the same general religion (although as different from bin Laden as a liberal Episcopalian would be from an ultra-fundamentalist baptist) living in the same general region (Afghanistan is about as far from Iraq as east and west coast of America).

The greatness of the America I love is to put truth above nation. Christians should do this naturally because God is over all and shows no favoritism. Nationalism, then by my definition, is itself anti-American if it leads to thinking we have some intrinsic greater worth than anyone from anywhere else. The greatness of America is in its real attempt at objectivity in its assessment of truth, its openness to all people of all races and religions if they will play nice, and in its advocacy for good in the world.

9-11 is an excellent day for us to remind ourselves of these core values!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Books Received-9-10-09

I've bought more books this summer till now than I think I ever had in such a short period of time. Most of them have had to do with the Missional Church course for the seminary, a few in spiritual formation, a few in leadership (Russ Gunsalus has no shortage of laughter to see books like Good to Great, How the Mighty Fall, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, Made to Stick, etc. now sitting on my desk along with Planting Missional Churches and How to Pray.

But I've also bought not a few in New Testament. I shelved some just now that I hope don't recede into my subconsciousness:

Paul's Early Period by Rainer Riesner
Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity by Martin Hengel
The Gospel of Luke by Joel Green (yes, I know I should have had that one a decade ago)
The Origin of Paul's Gospel by Seyoon Kim
The Philosophy of History by Mark Day
Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore
Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issus in Evangelical Theology by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy.

I'll stop there. I've blurred off into other subjects. Now when will I read these??!!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Review: Sacred Pathways

This week the Change and Transformation spiritual formation class of the seminary is discussing the ideas in Gary Thomas' Sacred Pathways. What a breath of fresh air! Keith Drury was the writer of the assignment.

What Thomas does is do for spiritual formation what personality inventories do for personality. Now mind you, there are some people who take personality inventories like LaHaye's temperament types or Myers-Briggs letters too seriously. That's bad too. But it's a step above most people, who simply assume that everyone should think and act just like them.

So if we were to make an ad hoc developmental chart in understanding personality, we might have something like:

1. Those who don't know that other people think differently than they do and that their personality is not the "right" personality.

2. Those who realize there is significant diversity in people's personality, but overly fixate on their own as if it is something unchanging and perhaps even predestined by God.

3. Those who realize that personality is complex and that personality tests are simply meant to give a general description of people, general categories to help us process personality.

Anyway, I just made that up. The genius of Sacred Pathways is that it rightly recognizes that personality affects the way one interacts with God and that the spiritual formation snobs out there who insist you can only have a close relationship with God if you get up at 4am and pray for an hour are just as unaware as #1 above.

Certainly Thomas' 9 pathways are not absolute (avoiding #2 above too), but they are a helpful way to look at the most obvious pathways each of us most easily interact with God. I'm not sure exactly how he correlates them to Myers-Briggs and haven't taken the time to guess thoroughly. But here are his types:

naturalists: love God out of doors
sensates: love God with their senses
traditionalists: loving God through ritual and symbol
ascetics: loving God in solitude and simplicity
activists: loving God through confrontation
caregivers: loving God by loving others
enthusiasts: loving God with mystery and celebration
contemplatives: loving God through adoration
intellectuals: loving God with the mind

He has chapters on all of these. I suppose I'm somewhere between a traditionalist and an intellectual. What are you. You can see much of the book on Google books.

Monday, September 07, 2009

4.2 Ordination and Training

In the last section, we looked at some of the forms leadership took in the earliest churches. We suggested that most assemblies probably had a group of elders or overseers, although it would be impossible to say all churches structured themselves the same way. It seems quite possible that certain individuals took more dominant roles in some congregations. And some assemblies were likely more charismatic like the Corinthians.

Traveling apostles like Paul or Peter did not have anything like absolute authority. Paul felt free to question those who "seemed to be something" in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:6): Peter, James, and John. The fact that they were known as "pillars" (Gal. 2:9) probably indicates a core of four central leaders even in Jerusalem, with the martyred James, son of Zebedee, possibly being the fourth pillar. And certainly individuals in Paul's own churches felt free to question him, let alone any key leaders in their own communities. Hebrews admonishes its audience to obey its leaders and indicates that such individuals would eventually give an account of their leadership (13:17). The implication is of course that some did not submit.

Clement, writing perhaps in the 90s of the first century, reminds the Corinthians of the way he thought leadership had come to existence among the churches (1 Clement 44). The apostles had appointed overseers in each assembly. Then when these individuals passed, other approved individuals would receive their ministry (44.2). Clement's purpose is to tell the Corinthians that they cannot simply remove an overseer because they do not like him. This person is in an approved "succession" going back to the apostles themselves. [1]

Clement's letter to the Corinthians is where those who believe in "apostolic succession" ultimately base their understanding. Apostolic succession is the idea that all legitimate ministers today should be ordained by someone who was ordained by someone whose ordination ultimately traces back to the apostles. Of course Clement does not quite embody this idea. Clement is simply saying that the Corinthians do not have the authority to remove a person who was appointed to replace someone appointed by Paul without any legitimate reason.

Nevertheless, apostolic succession remains an important concept in relation to ordination in many churches today. We understand that it is difficult for such groups to recognize the ministers in many other denominations as completely legitimate because they do not stand in such a succession. The Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican and Episcopal Churches all value apostolic succession. Indeed, when the Anglican Church began to ordain women in the 1990s, special "flying bishops" were established to maintain a purely male apostolic succession for those in the church for whom it was important.

An interesting story in the history of Methodism is the fact that John Wesley ordained a number of individuals at the so called "Christmas Conference" of 1784. Wesley was an ordained minister but not a bishop in the Anglican Church and did not have the authority to ordain others so that they could serve communion, administer baptism, and so forth. But because he viewed it as an emergency, he ordained a handful of Methodist bishops so that communion and baptism could be administered in America. In that sense, Methodists do not strictly stand in official apostolic succession.

In many American churches, however, individuals are ordained by a local congregation. In Baptist, Congregational, and restorationist groups like the Disciples of Christ, an individual church will recognize the gifts and calling for ministry in an individual and will themselves give the person ordination. Certainly groups such as these completely reject the notion of an unbroken line of ordination going back to Christ and the original apostles.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Ordination is the idea that God calls certain individuals to play a special role of ministry, that He sets these individuals apart and "ordains" them to play a special role in the administration and propagation of His kingdom on earth. Many ordination services instruct candidates to take authority to preach the word and administer the sacraments. In some churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, the role of the ordained is so set apart that such individuals are called "priests," after the manner of the Old Testament. In other churches, ordination more signifies a "prophetic" role as special conduit for God's word to His people.

These are major differences between Christian groups on these sorts of issues, especially between Protestant and Catholic. One of the battle cries of the Reformation was the "priesthood of all believers," based in 1 Peter 2:5 and 9. The idea was that the Catholic Church was wrong to set priests in such a completely different category from "laypeople," because Christ himself was the only mediator between God and humanity (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:5). Hebrews 10:11-14 indicates that Christ offered the final sacrifice as the final priest.

So there is no question that the system of separation of priests from lay that evolved in the church went well beyond anything the New Testament pictured. The role of "ministers" in the early church had to do with authority, proclamation, and reconciliation. We know that Apollos baptized others, but was he "ordained" in any formal sense? We simply do not know. And communion at this time was a meal of remembrance, as in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. We will talk more about sacraments in a later chapter.

But even if the evidence for a special "clergy" who were authorized to baptize and "preside" at communion is scanty, we do have precedents for such leadership roles, with particular individuals set aside, in the early church. For example, the book of Acts regularly pictures a sort of event in which members of a church lay hands on other individuals who are commissioned to a particular task or role. The church at Antioch does this for Paul and Barnabas as they began their first missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3). Acts likely sees this action as in some way a catalyst for the conveyance of the Holy Spirit and thus empowerment for a special task.

We seem to find the same practice in 1 and 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy, we hear of Paul laying hands on Timothy as a catalyst for the "gift of God" (2 Tim. 1:6). While it is theoretically possible that this event was the reception of the Holy Spirit in general, most take this exchange to be a kind of "ordination" of Timothy by Paul.

1 Timothy seems to picture a similar act of ordination, although here it is a group of elders rather than Paul alone laying hands on Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14). For our purposes, we do not need to worry about resolving the tension between the two accounts but take them both as an indication of early Christian practice as it was developing in the second half of the first century. [1] 1 Timothy presents a situation where a prophet in the community prophesied that Timothy should be set aside for ministry. Then the elders/overseers of the church agreed and laid hands on Timothy, leading to a special empowerment by the Holy Spirit. The result is that Timothy taught and proclaimed God's word to God's people.

1 Timothy and Titus also include qualifications for overseers and deacons, making a clear distinction between the two roles. An overseer must only have had one wife in his entire life (1 Tim. 3:1-7). [2] He must be a person of virtue who is not an alcoholic or violent. He should have a good reputation and manage his household well. Similar qualifications apply to deacons as well (3:8-14). Interestingly, 1 Timothy refers to Timothy as a "deacon" of Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6).

So we do find some special roles to which particular individuals are called in the New Testament. We find a process of recognition of special "anointing," of special giftedness or special intent by the Holy Spirit. We find an event of recognition by church leaders whether local or on a larger scale. And we find particular individuals thus called to teach Scripture and proclaim.

We should not absolutize these instances we find in the Pastoral Epistles or in Acts. The Pastoral Epistles, regardless of how one dates them, are looking to pass on the torch of ministry to the next generation. They look at where the church is headed in the absence of apostles more than where it has been. Acts similarly almost certainly dates to the period after AD70 and is meant as much to say what the church should be like as to express the complexities of its earliest days. What we find here is thus an important and legitimate model for "ordination" but not an absolute or necessarily timeless one.

Ephesians also speaks of the foundation of the "apostles and prophets" in the past tense (Eph. 2:20), where prophets almost certainly refers to Christian prophets. [3] 4:11 then unfolds various roles of leadership in the early church, again, not necessarily giving an absolute or timeless list but giving us a sense of various roles that existed in the first century. Apostles of course refers to those who both witnessed the risen Christ and were commissioned by him to take the good news as ambassadors of reconciliation to God (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:18-20). Prophets were individuals like Agabus in Acts or those through whom people like Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy were commissioned.

Evangelists, teachers, pastors--we should not think of these as roles completely distinct from each other. For example, the roles of overseer and deacon are nowhere mentioned here and yet such individuals would certainly be some of the primary individuals who exercised the kinds of functions mentioned here. These roles rather indicate key tasks in the early church. Philip "the evangelist" no doubt did go around spreading the good news, just as Paul himself did (cf. Acts 21:8). 1 Timothy charges Timothy with maintaining the "deposit" of sound teaching that he had learned from Paul (2 Tim. 1:14).

We will look in more depth at the trajectory of priesthood in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions in the next section. For now, we merely want to observe that the idea that God can set aside--even in the New Testament--certain individuals to minister in certain ways that other members of the body of Christ do not has a firm basis in the New Testament. It is true that the New Testament does not seem to have a well developed system for how the "ordination" of such individuals takes place. In the examples we have, the basis for such ordination seems somewhat charismatic. A prophet, apostle, or group of elders senses an individual being called to minister and they lay hands on them as a catalyst for the Holy Spirit's empowerment.

The New Testament seems to allow for the kind of ordination that takes place in free churches, where individuals are "ordained" in a local church. The New Testament gives less room for those who, in effect, ordain themselves without any recognition of calling by Christian leaders or a local body of believers. At the same time, it does not absolutely rule out the possibility. It also does not rule out the possibility that the process of recognition might involve more than just a local body. 1 Clement "remembers" certain leadership roles in Paul's churches being for life.

We come back to what we have said in previous chapters. We have hints of descriptions of how leadership functioned in the early church. But such descriptions are not the same as prescriptions for such leadership and they are in the end descriptions of leadership two thousand years ago. We would not expect effective leadership to look the same in every time, place, and culture. And the New Testament world is significantly different from the modern Western world.

It seems safe to say that the trajectory of the New Testament is toward the standardization of such roles. It would be no surprise if, during the church's earliest phase, leadership tended to be more charismatic and Spirit-led. But it is also no surprise that we find more distinct roles and safeguards for the perpetuation of orthodoxy developing as the apostles begin to pass from the scene. We thus find a legitimate basis for a spectrum of "God-ordained" leadership possibilities in the New Testament.

We also find in the Pastorals a clear basis for instruction in the early church. Paul leaves to Timothy a "deposit" of sound teaching to guard (2 Tim. 1:14). In such a context, it is no surprise that 2 Timothy 3:16 emphasizes the importance of the Scriptures in teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. But it is crucial to note that 2 Timothy means the Scriptures as Paul interpreted them. This understanding of the Scriptures is the deposit, for there were many other false teachers who were arising with their own, differing understandings.

When Ephesians speaks of the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20), indeed of Jesus as the cornerstone of the household of faith, it is referring to a particular understanding of things that others did not have. Paul's letter to the Galatians is filled with arguments from Scripture, arguments that are meant to counter the interpretations of his opponents who were arguing from the very same Scripture. It is thus not enough to say that all individuals need is a Bible to arrive at sound teaching, and it is not appropriate to invoke the notion of a priesthood of all believers in relation to teaching. The New Testament appropriately legitimizes a role for instruction in the church.

So we can allow for the possibility that God might anoint prophets out of the blue, without a church around, but this is not our default expectation. And we might allow for the possibility that some individuals might understand Scripture on their own, as Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:11 somewhat hyperbolically anticipate. But most will need instruction and training, to make sure that they do not end up teaching false things, to make sure they adequately understand the deposit of sound teaching. Even Apollos needed a Priscilla and Aquila to take him aside and teach him more accurately. Such teaching can take place in the local church or in a home or it can take place in Christian colleges and seminaries.

[1] Scholars debate whether we are hearing Paul directly or indirectly in the Pastoral Epistles, with most concluding 1 and 2 Timothy were written to express Paul's voice to his churches after his death. Most evangelical scholars, on the other hand, believe that stylistic differences and such can be explained on the basis of alternate secretaries and the idea that the pastorals are a different kind of letter from Paul's earlier ones.

[2] By the time of 1 Timothy, the default expectation in Paul's churches seems to be that such overseers and deacons will be men. However, the earliest pictures we get from Paul's writings seem to suppose the involvement of women as well in the work of ministry, as we will see in the final section of this chapter. And of course we seem to find evidence of exceptional women in such roles even well beyond the first century in various places.

[3] We find the same divide among scholars in relation to Ephesians that we do the Pastorals, although perhaps more scholars seeing Ephesians as a letter Paul wrote within his lifetime than come to the same conclusion in relation to the Pastorals. In either case, Ephesians remains an important witness to leadership roles in the early church.