Saturday, October 31, 2009

"God said it; I interpreted it" T-Shirt

James McGrath mentions it, but it is originally here. It's probably not funny if you've never studied the Bible formally. If you have, it's pretty hilarious:

God said it.
I interpreted it
as best I could in light of all the filters
imposed by my upbringing and culture,

which I try to control for but you can never do a perfect job.

That doesn't exactly settle it
but it does give me enough of a platform
to base my values and decisions on.

Saturday Philo: De Agricultura 1-10

It is now the season when scholars go out to war. Well, actually, it's all very civilized, to be honest. November is the annual pilgrimage to the biblical guild's Mecca, otherwise known as SBL, the Society of Biblical Literature. Liberal, conservative, mainstream scholar, they're all there. The Evangelical Theological Society and Institute for Biblical Research, two related conservative organizations usually meet right before.

I'm giving a paper on the intersection of Acts 7 and Hebrews (surprise), but I also have a little work to do this next month or so on Philo (not giving a paper). I'd like to take Saturdays to read through Philo's De Agricultura, which is the Philo Group's commentary focus this year at SBL, and to begin reading through the new Cambridge Companion to Philo edited by Adam Kamesar of Hebrew Union. It is much like the volume I did on Philo 5 years ago, except it's written by Philo scholars :-)

So my first post today on Philo (I hope it's only the first) is to copy (mostly) the first ten "sentences" or so of De Agricultura from the Loeb. "On Husbandry" is in the most advanced of Philo's three commentary series, The Allegorical Commentary. It is an allegorical interpretation of Genesis 9:20. Even copying the Loeb will help me get into it. I may translate some.
1 "And the man Noah began to be a farmer of land, and he planted a vineyard and he was drinking wine and he was drunk in his house."

The majority of people, since they do not know the natures of things, go wrong (hamartano) also of necessity in relation to the conferring of names. For things that are well considered and subjected as it were to dissection have appropriate designations attached to them in consequence; while others having been presented in a confused state receive names that are not thoroughly accurate.
Philo thinks there is a correspondence between the name a thing should have and what it is--obviously he hadn't read de Saussure. The word "sin" here simply means they make a mistake. I hate to say it (and it means nothing), but "miss the mark" would fit the translation here.
2 Now Moses, being abundantly equipped with the knowledge that has to do with things, is in the habit of using names that are perfectly apt and expressive. We shall find the assurance just given made good in many parts of the lawgiving, not least in the section before us in which the righteous Noah is introduced as a farmer.
Notice that different people have different standards of "inerrancy" in different times and places. For Philo, the names of the Pentateuch have precisely accurate allegorical meanings.
3 Would not anyone who answers questions offhand think that farming and working on the soil were the same things, although in reality they not only are not the same things, but are ideas utterly at variance with each other and mutually repugnant?
Wait for it, the explanation cometh.
4 For a person is able, even without knowledge, to work at the care of the soil. But it is guaranteed that a farmer will not be an unprofessional but a skilled worker with this very name, which he has gained from the science of farming, the science whose title he bears.

5 In addition to this there is the further point to be considered, that the worker on the soil as a rule is a wage-earner, and as such has only one goal in view: his wages. He cares nothing at all about doing his work well. By contrast, the farmer would be willing not only to put into the undertaking much of his private property but to spend a further amount drawn from his household budget, to do the farm good and to escape blame by those who have seen it. For regardless of gain from any other source, he desires only to see the crops that he has grown yield plentifully year by year, and to take up their produce.

6. This person will be anxious to bring under cultivation the trees that were wild before, to improve by careful treatment those already under cultivation, to check by pruning those that are over-luxuriant because of excess nourishment, to given more scope to those that have been curtailed and kept back, splicing on new growths to stem or branch. When trees of good kinds throw out abundant tendrils, he will like to train them under ground in shallow trenches, and to improve...

sorry, too boring to keep copying

... The same thing happens, I might add, in the case of people, when adopted sons become congenial to those who by birth are alien to them and become firmly fitted into the family, because of their natural good qualities.

7 To return to our subject. The farmer will pull up by the roots and throw away quantitites of trees on which the shoots ... have lost their fertility... The science, then, that has to do with growths that spring out of the earth is of the kind I have described. Let us consider in its turn the farming of the soul.

8 First, then, farming has as its aim not to sow or plant anything that will not yield fruit, only things that are fit for cultivation and bearing fruit, indeed, likely to yield yearly tributes to mortals, its prince. For humanity did nature appoint to be ruler of all trees as well as of the living creatures besides themselves who are mortal.
Here we have the theology of Psalm 8 at work, which we also find in the inner logic of Paul and Hebrews. Philo of course is not much of a Psalms man. His proto-canon is the Pentateuch, and a few other OT books are somewhat deuterocanonical (e.g., Jeremiah). This is to be expected, I suspect, of someone from the Diaspora. Nothing like our current canon was in place when the Jews scattered.
9 But who else could the human in each of us be if not our mind, whose place it is to reap the benefits derived from all that has been sown or planted? But seeing that for babies, milk is food, but for grown people wheat bread, there must also be soul-nourishment, such as is milk-like for those in "childhood"--when the mind is in the stage of the preliminary stages of the encyclia (school curriculum)--as well as food suitable for adults in the shape of instructions leading the way through wisdom and self-control and all virtue. For when these are sown and planted in the mind, they will produce the most beneficial fruits, namely fair and praiseworthy conduct.
"Vintage" Philo. Notice the commonplace of milk and grown up food that we find not only in the New Testament (e.g., Paul, Hebrews), but in the secular philosophical literature of the day as well.
10 By means of this farming, whatever trees of passions or vices have sprung up and grown tall, bearing mischief-dealing fruits, are cut down and cleared away, no minute portion even being allowed to survive, as the germ of new growths of sins (harmartema) to spring up later on.
Parallels in James, 1 Peter, and Paul.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Mystery--Final Answer

Well, here's what I finally came up with:
What is the Mystery?

One of the key themes of the letter we call Ephesians is the unity of the church, particularly as it relates to Jews and non-Jews, or Gentiles. Both Jew and Gentile belong to the same body and have the same Spirit (4:4). They have the same God and Father, the same Lord, faith, and baptism (4:5-6). Ephesians highlights the social unity between Jew and Gentile more than any other book in the New Testament.

A Mystery
Ephesians also reflects how unexpected this development must have been for the early Christians. We have hints of the mysteriousness of this new phase in God’s relationship with the world in earlier letters of Paul. Romans 11 talks about the mystery in slightly different terms. In Romans 11:25 Paul is dealing with the strange situation of his day in which as many or, probably, more Gentiles had come to believe that Jesus was the Lord of the world than Jews.

How strange, Paul recognizes, that fewer among God’s own people believed in their messiah than those outside! Here is the mystery, Paul says, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25). Why it happened this way we do not know. Paul can only exclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments” (11:33).

By the time of Colossians, the mystery is discussed in more generic terms. Addressing a Gentile audience, Colossians says that the mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Glory is something Paul taught was the destiny of all believers. As Hebrews tells us more explicitly, God had created humanity to be crowned with glory and honor over the creation (Heb. 2:7). Unfortunately, all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). At present we do not yet see humanity with this glory (Heb. 2:8). So Jesus came to lead many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). This “hope of glory” in Colossians is now something that Gentiles as well as Jews can hope for because of Christ.

Ephesians finally expresses this mystery even more straightforwardly than Colossians. The mystery is plainly stated in 3:6 as being the fact “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” This is the “mystery of Christ” (3:4), a mystery that “through his blood” the Gentiles have been brought near (2:13). “In his flesh,” Christ abolished the Law, the dividing wall of hostility that had separated Gentile from Jew, and the two were now reconciled “through the cross” (2:16).

Ephesians uses language here that is different and starker than Romans. For example, Romans 3:31 emphasizes that justification by faith—being considered right with God because of our trust in what he has done for us through Christ—does not “nullify the law.” Paul uses the word law in different ways that can be confusing, but the later distinction Christians made between the “moral” parts of the Jewish Law (like the Ten Commandments) and the “Jew-specific” parts (like circumcision or not eating pork) gets at the gist of what was not nullified (the “moral” parts) and what was abolished, at least in terms of Gentiles (namely, the Jew-specific parts).

That God would do so was a mystery. The Old Testament assumes throughout that God has a special relationship with Israel and that Israel’s blessing was connected to its keeping of the particulars of the Jewish Law, God’s covenant with Israel (cf. Deut. 28). Provision is made for the “alien” in the land (e.g., Deut. 10:19), but the Old Testament as a whole assumes that those outside Israel worship other gods and are almost always God’s enemies destined for judgment. It may be said to Abraham that all nations on earth would be blessed through him (e.g., Gen. 22:18). But prior to Christ that blessing was understood to come through Israel, not directly to the Gentiles the same as to Israel!

A New Revelation
A feature of Ephesians and Colossians (as well as of Romans 16:25, which probably was not part of the original copy of Romans, but nevertheless was added to many copies of Romans very early on) is a sense that this mystery of the equal inclusion of Gentiles alongside Jews “was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5). Colossians 1:26 says that this mystery, “has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” In a similar vein, the later ending of Romans says that this mystery was “hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him” (Rom. 16:25-26).

These passages reflect how unexpected this development must have been to the earliest Christians, including Paul. Indeed, we remember that before Christ appeared directly to Paul, he thought the very idea that the messiah would die on a cross was foolish, probably fighting words! He was a Pharisee, a group that emphasized separating yourself to God by living a particularly pure life (by the standards of the Jewish Law). What an unexpected turn around for him, now to think that God would include the Gentiles apart from the Law through the reconciling blood of Christ, Gentiles who almost by definition were unclean according to the laws of Leviticus! But it was Jesus who set this trajectory by trying to redeem sinners within Israel like prostitutes and tax collectors. To see Christ’s blood potentially redeeming the whole world, even non-Jews, thus fit the spirit of Jesus’ mission while he was on earth.

The Consensus of the Saints
We have the great benefit of hindsight on these sorts of things. Paul’s writings and Acts give us hints that the full inclusion of the Gentiles was not immediately obvious to everyone in the early church. Arguments along these lines dominate Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans and we find hints in Acts 15 and 21 of how live these issues were even within a decade of Paul’s death. But Ephesians and Colossians do not blink to tell us that the apostles and prophets had come to recognize this mystery (Eph. 3:5). Prophets here does not likely refer to the Old Testament prophets but to prophets within the early church. The implication would seem to be that, whatever struggles the earliest Christians might have had in coming to accept this mystery, by the time of the apostles’ deaths and the passing of the first generation, it was agreed that God had done something very unexpected from a Jewish standpoint. Through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, all people now had equal access to God, whether Jew or Gentile.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

CT: Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together

I found this piece sad. About half an InterVarsity college fellowship left because the national InterVarsity organization was talking too friendly-like to Roman Catholics. Say what you like about whatever baggage you think the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition has, but at least it doesn't have these issues.

One of the strangest things is that N. T. Wright is somehow invoked as pushing people catholic. The man has Reformed, evangelical Anglican written all over him. And they say this because he speaks positively about works in salvation, worships in a liturgical church, and has an emphasis on social justice. The first and last are thoroughly biblical. The second is not unbiblical and has much to commend it if one participates in liturgy with intentionality.

Thankfully this article seems so very far away from my life...

What is the Mystery of Ephesians 3?

I have a small writing assignment due Friday, thought I'd take some notes here.

First, it's pretty clear that the mystery of Ephesians 3:5 is "that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus." This is the "mystery of Christ" (3:4), meaning the mystery that "through his blood" (2:13) the Gentiles have been brought near. "In his flesh" (2:15) Christ has abolished the Law, the dividing wall of hostility that separated Gentile from Jew, reconciled "through the cross" (2:16).

Colossians has a similar passage, as it does to a great deal of Ephesians. Colossians 1:27 says the mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory," where the "you" in question are the Gentiles. The mystery in Colossians is thus again that the Gentiles can have hope of glory, can have Christ in them.

The mystery in Romans 11:25 is a little different. There the mystery does indeed involve the inclusion of the Gentiles, but the mystery does not seem to be so much that the Gentiles are coming in but that Israel is experiencing a hardening until the full number of the Gentiles come. This is thus yet another point at which Ephesians and in this case Colossians as well differ somewhat from Paul's earlier letters.

The mystery in Romans 16:25 is more like Ephesians but, in my opinion, was not part of the original text of Romans.

A feature of Ephesians and Colossians, as well as the addition to Romans 16, is the sense that this mystery was "not made known ... in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets" (Eph. 3:5). Colossians 1:26 says that this mystery "has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints." The ending of Romans says that the mystery was "hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God" (Rom. 16:25-26).

What these passages reflect is how unexpected it was that the Gentiles would be brought together with the Jews into one body through Christ on more or less equal footing. In Ephesians, this equal reconciliation includes the abolishment of the Law (2:16), clearly unexpected from an Old Testament standpoint. Paul's sense of mystery in Romans 11, although slightly different from Ephesians, relates to how strange it is that the Gentiles seem more receptive to the gospel than the Jews at large. Strange, since Jesus is the Jewish messiah! It is at least possible that Ephesians' more generic mystery of the Gentiles' inclusion may also reflect somewhere in the background the strange fact that Christianity was becoming a religion for Gentiles as much as Jews.

The revelation of this new understanding was a feature of the earliest Christian apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5), of the Christian saints (Col. 1:26), and of the "prophetic writings" (Rom. 16:26). The implication would seem to be that individuals prior to the Christian era did not see the inclusion of the Gentiles in the words of the Old Testament. Rather, this was a spiritual understanding of the biblical texts understood as prophecy, one that was unknown prior to Christ.

It is interesting that this mystery is known here not just to Paul, but to the "apostles and prophets" of the Church, whom Paul earlier in chapter 2 has called the foundation of the Church. In Paul's earlier writings, we do not necessarily get the impression that the other apostles were fully comfortable with his mission to the Gentiles. But the implication of Ephesians 3 would seem to be that, whenever the foundation was understood to be laid, the apostles in general, as well as that significant company of early Christian prophets, were understood to endorce the Gentiles' inclusion.

So there are some notes...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spock was right... mostly

A reading group on campus is reading a book on How God Changes Your Brain. It's not written from a Christian perspective but has significant data from the neurosciences that Christians will either need to incorporate or respond to.

I'm just dropping in on the group today; I haven't read the whole book. But one thing that stuck out to me in the chapter I read is the fact that the authors claim that the limbic system in the center of the brain is more primitive and older from an evolutionary standpoint. It is where primal emotions like anger, aggression, and fear are seated. By contrast, the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate just below it are considered younger from an evolutionary standpoint and are the places where empathy, reason, logic, and compassion reside.

The chapter likens these two parts of the brain--the inner primal and the front outer rational--to two wolves that fight inside of us. Which one wins depends on which one you feed. This description is of course ripe with theological parallel--flesh versus Spirit, the yetzer hara or evil inclination of rabbinic Judaism, the id versus the superego of Freud.

But one of the most interesting things in the chapter (7) was the sense that the emotions of anger and fear actually inhibit good thinking. Such negative emotions can apparently even damage the anterior cingulate. So Spock and the Stoics were half right. The negative emotions of anger and fear do apparently impair our ability to reason well. But they were wrong to try to do away with all emotion. Apparently compassion and empathy can coincide with good thinking.

P.S. Note the implication for the general accuracy of Rush Limbaugh's thinking... and me when I'm on one of my rants ;-)

P.S.S. I'm not sure what "good thinking" means in terms of the frontal lobes. Time to finish reading Philosophy in the Flesh.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Biblical Theology and Pornography?

I have yet to add some OT and NT Theology resources, but this is a draft of a sample I am producing for MDIV students. As part of every seminary praxis course, students do some phase of research toward a single pastoral issue of their choice almost every week of the course. In the first seven weeks they interpret a wide spectrum of biblical passages in their original context. This sample then relates to Week 8 of each course, where they try to systematize a biblical theology.

Here is my unfinished sample:
I. Old Testament Theology

Old Testament sexual ethics seem to fall into two broad categories: prohibitions relating to social consequences and prohibitions relating to purity consequences. Both of these are decidedly external in orientation, which is to say, Old Testament sexual ethics are primarily oriented around concrete actions and concrete consequences. As such, Old Testament texts assume without question that an individual can in fact keep such prohibitions, and the consequences of such actions are relatively straightforward, often even perfunctory.

Social Consequences
The primary sexual prohibition in the Old Testament in this regard is against adultery. Various rationale are given by Old Testament scholars, including calling into question who inherits property (Goodfriend), disgrace to a man and his family (Whybray), violation of another man’s property, etc. Disgrace and dishonor to one’s self and one’s family would seem to stand at the heart of prohibitions against prostitution. The shame did not, however, seem to apply primarily to the man visiting to the prostitute but to the person doing the prostitution (Tamar, Lev. 19:29).

The idea that a man might not be able to avoid committing adultery—or any of the sexual taboos of the Pentateuch—is completely foreign to the legislation. And interesting picture into intentionality is the legislation of Deuteronomy 22:23-27. Here if a woman is betrothed to another and a man lies with her, the consequences for her depend on whether she is thought to have cried out for help. If she is thought to have cried out for help, only the man is stoned. If it is thought that she did not cry out, then only the man is put to death.

Purity Consequences
The “holiness” legislation of the Pentateuch assumes that sexual sins bring impurity because they violate the order of things. One cannot “uncover the nakedness” of a close relative by sleeping with his wife, nor can one sleep with an animal or a man with another man without violating the order of things. The impurity such actions bring is greater than other actions that bring impurity, and death is the usual punishment.

In general, matters of impurity often seem to supersede even intentionality. That is to say, not only is unintentional defilement not a legitimate excuse for sin, but impurity with its consequences take place regardless of intent. In the case of sexual defilement, however, we seem to find the same assumption that a person might avoid such sin.

Divine Implications
By and large, the Old Testament does not theologize in relation to sexual sin. In the Ten Commandments, all the commandments are part of the covenant with the LORD. Accordingly, there is a general connection between sexual prohibition and Israel’s relationship with God. But the Old Testament does not “psychologize” this relationship in terms of psychological impact on a person. Similarly, the Old Testament does not individualize these prohibitions in the sense of a “personal relationship” with God—the focus is much more on Israel’s relationship as a whole with God and whether or not one should be included within Israel. Sexual ethics are thus a “package deal,” part of the overall social and purity expectations of Israel, even though sexual sin is considered more “dangerous” and potentially defiling to Israel than some others.

The passage in Genesis 2:24 about a man leaving father and mother and becoming one flesh with his wife is never referenced again in the rest of the Old Testament. Its significance derives from the New Testament use of it rather than from its prominence in Old Testament theology per se. In Genesis it is an expression and description of how ancient society actually functioned rather than a prescription Genesis was urging on its audience. What is distinctive about the Genesis passage is the story of Adam and Eve as an etiology or “origin story” of marriage as it was practiced at the time.

II. New Testament Developments
Unlike some other areas (e.g., Sabbath observance; sacrificial law), we cannot find any instance in the New Testament where a sexual prohibition from the Old Testament is countermanded. Indeed, on the subject of divorce, the New Testament actually makes a prohibition where the Old Testament had little. Adultery remains sinful behavior from which the New Testament fully expects a person to abstain. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 baldly state that individuals such as adulterers, those who practice homosexual sex, or those who commit other forms of sexual immorality “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Since Paul is addressing Christians, he clearly implies that Christians cannot participate in such activities and be “saved” in the end.

In fact, like the Old Testament, Paul seems to consider the significance and consequences of sexual sin among Christians greater than other sins, simply given the way he responds to them. He may address issues like disunity and in-fighting more often than sexual sins, but he does not generally urge expulsion from the community in such cases. Yet when a man was sleeping with his step-mother in 1 Corinthians 5, he insists that the individual in question be handed over to Satan (5:5). Visiting a prostitute similarly defiles the body of Christ by joining Christ to the kingdom of Satan (1 Cor. 6:15-20).

Our study has shown consistently that Paul did not expect sinful behavior to typify the life of a believer. This notion is largely built off of a misinterpretation of Romans 7 ripped from its overall context in Romans 6-8. Nor in Philippians 3 does Paul forget is sinful failures from the past but what from a human perspective would be human accomplishments. James 3:2 recognizes the fact that we will always make mistakes, even mistakes that wrong others, and 1 John 1:8 and Romans 3:23 make it clear that no human is without sin in general. But the consistent testimony of the New Testament is that intentional, concrete sin can be avoided, indeed that God enables individuals to escape such temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).

The main development in the New Testament on this topic has to do with the movement toward interiority. The Old Testament legislation on sexual ethics is almost entirely, perhaps entirely directed toward concrete action. The Jesus tradition, particularly that of Matthew 5, moves the issue decidedly toward interior intent, in addition to the remaining concrete prohibitions. To be sure, Matthew 5 does not seem to be talking about passing thoughts but, more likely, internal acts of will, decisive intent such that, given an opportunity without consequence, one would commit the act. The fundamental principles involved would seem to be that 1) action is a function of heart and 2) the ultimate orientation of the heart must be toward love of one’s neighbor and, indeed, one’s enemy.

Another key expansion of at least some of the New Testament is the growing consideration of the woman. In the Old Testament, adultery is an offense against a man, not a woman. A man who visits a prostitute was not understood to commit adultery. An exception appears in Malachi 2:13-15, where the LORD laments that Israelite men were abandoning the wife of their youth, although even here a concern for marrying foreign wives may stand in the background (cf. Mal. 2:11, 15).

Jesus’ teaching on divorce seems to follow in the tradition of Malachi and seems to give such a strong prohibition of divorce that takes the woman into consideration. Matthew 5 treats divorce immediately after adultery and introduces the subject in a way that may imply it is an extension of the discussion of adultery. If so, divorce becomes a kind of legalized way of committing adultery.

III. The Trajectory of the Kingdom
In general, the two Jesus principles we mentioned above tend to radicalize the issue of sexual ethics. On the one hand, the fundamental ethic to “love neighbor and enemy as self” sets sexual ethics on a radical trajectory of consideration toward others. Then the principle that virtue is a matter of the heart first also radically changes the ethical equation.

With regard to pornography, we are dealing with concrete acts. One takes external action to surf the web or seek out pornographic materials. We will need to consider questions of addiction later in our study to be sure, but we are left with no question but that a person in normal human terms can choose to get rid of such materials or set safeguards in place such that any act toward pornography is avoidable. We find no biblical support for any sense that a person of a normal human state of mind cannot help but view something like pornography.

The question of loving one’s neighbor primarily puts pornography into violation of one’s spouse if married. The question of the heart raises an equally serious issue, can one’s heart be disposed lovingly toward the opposite sex while viewing pornography? Does the use of pornography in some way involve the cheapening of the opposite sex as an object of desire? These are questions for further study.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Explanatory Notes: Hebrews 10:19-39

10:19-21 Having therefore, brothers, boldness for entrance of the Holies by the blood of Jesus, which he opened for us [as] a new and living way through the veil, that is, his flesh and [having] a great priest over the house of God,
The "therefore" of this verse transitions from a rather long argument about Christ's high priesthood and the atoning effectiveness of his death to the practical implications. Depending on whether one sees the argument beginning at 3:1 or 4:14, we have six or seven chapters dedicated to the subject. 10:19-25 thus both give the immediate take away from that argument while introducing the exhortations of 10:19-12:29.

10:19-25 is directly parallel to 4:14-16, although it is not an inclusio because 10:19-25 does not end the section 10:19-25 begins. The heart of the parallel is between 4:14 and 10:23--"let us hold fast the confession"--as well as between 4:16 and 10:22--"let us approach." The effect of 10:19-21 is to give the reasons to do so. The participles are causal and we might translate them as "since we have" confidence in Jesus' blood and "since we have" a great priest, we should hold fast our confession.

Entrance to the Holies, the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies, is of course the metaphor the author has been using of Christ's ascension to heaven. Now he applies it to the audience. They can now enter into the Most Holy Place as well. While previously only the high priest could do so once a year, they now have access to God's presence, the highest heaven and God's throne room, through the blood of Jesus. The author seems to be thinking of present spiritual access, through Christ who intercedes at God's right hand (4:15-16).

Scholars have long debated whether the veil in 10:20 is Christ's flesh or something else. Grammatically, the most natural way to take the statement is that Christ's flesh is like a veil through which we pass into God's presence. Others have found this imagery inappropriate, thinking it pictures Christ's flesh as something that hides or veils and thus having a negative sense of physicality. They opt for his flesh being the "new and living way." Perhaps in the author's mind there would not be a great difference between the two and, in any case, grammatically and following the author's use of "that is" elsewhere, we should go with Christ's flesh as the veil.

While in 3:2 the house of God is the household of God, here it primarily refers to the heavenly sanctuary of God, the "house of God." Perhaps a double entendre is also meant in reference to God's people.

10:22 ... let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, [our] hearts having been sprinkled from an evil conscience and [our] body having been washed with pure water.
"Let us approach" here parallels "let us approach" in 4:16. There it is approach to the throne of grace to find grace, presumably for atonement. Here it is also approach to the "Most Holy Place" of the previous verse with confidence in the atonement we have already appropriated.

The faith in question in this verse is presumably our faith, our faith in the promises of God, our faith in the atoning value of the death of Jesus. The dual imagery of inner and outer cleansing is intriguing. The washing of our bodies with water is presumably an allusion to water baptism. The sprinkling of our conscience is a mixed metaphor but no doubt refers to the cleansing of our sins and our consequence awareness of this fact. The perfect tense implies that these are completed acts whose consequences continue with the audience into their present.

The inner/outer washing of the verse reminds us somewhat of Acts, where baptism in water is associated with baptism with the Spirit. The latter Acts 15:9 equates with purifying hearts through faith. Presumably the common imagery of baptism implies a connection between the two cleansings in the minds of the early Christians.

10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of hope without wavering, for the One who has promised is faithful.
Here again is a verbatim parallel with 4:14: "let us hold fast the confession." As we mentioned earlier, it is not entirely clear whether the author has a specific confession like "Jesus is the Son of God" in mind or whether he means the basic principles of Christian faith in general. The mention of our confession as a confession of hope at least implies that the author has in mind everything associated with faith in Jesus as Son of God. The confession of hope is a confession of faith that Christ will return again to set the world straight.

The mention of wavering gets again at the doubts of the audience. In the context of confessing hope, the particular doubt in view would seem to relate to the future expectations of the faith. The mention of God's faithfulness to His promises hearkens back to 6:13-20, where the author reminded the audience that God cannot lie (6:18). As the remainder of chapter 10 will make clear, they are doubting that in fact Jesus will return in victory and thus probably that he is in fact the messiah, the Son of God. In our reading, they are not Jews in danger of turning back to mainstream Judaism. They are Gentile converts to Christian Judaism in danger of turning back to paganism in the wake of the temple's destruction.

10:24-25 And let us consider one another for encouragement of love and good works, not leaving behind the assembling of ourselves, as is customary for certain ones, but encouraging [it] and by so much more as you see the Day nearing.
The implication seems to be that the churches, the assemblies, the gatherings (synagogues) of this audience, assuming it is a single group, have begun to suffer in the light of current events. The author has appealed to argument, but here he appeals to the audience to urge each other on. They are to show love to each other, and good works, to encourage each other to continue on in faith. The Day in question is almost certainly the Day of the Lord, the day of Christ's return in judgment.

10:26-27 For if we are willingly sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, a sacrifice for sins is no longer left, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire about to eat those who are opposed.
The author now returns to the theme of apostasy that he touched on in 6:4-8 and that he will allude to again in 12:15-17. For the author, God's grace in relation to sin only extends so far before it is "used up," in effect. The nature of Christ's atonement is to cover sins that are past, not sins that are committed into the future, that is, not "sins with a high hand" committed in full knowledge of the truth.

We thus should not think that the author is speaking of unintentional wrongs or even of sins that are atypical and for which one might quickly repent in sincerity and seek speedy forgiveness. The author is thinking specifically of abandoning faith in Christ, of turning back from the affirmation that he is messiah, in effect relegating him to a crucified failure at best and a deserving criminal at worst. Presumably any repeated path of defiance to God would receive the same condemnation from the author.

We think that the phrase, "the knowledge of the truth" relates directly to imagery elsewhere of "having been enlightened" (6:4) or, by contrast, "sins committed in ignorance" (9:7). It is imagery that would relate best to Gentiles who had come to believe in the Jewish God, in the basics of 6:1-2. Without the sacrifice of Jesus to atone for one's sins, nothing is left but the expectation of judgment along with the rest of the world on the Day of the Lord. The opposition are perhaps the enemies mentioned in 10:13.

10:28 When someone has rejected the Law of Moses, that person dies without mercy on the basis of two or three witnesses.
Here is yet another "lesser to greater" argument (qal wahomer, a minore ad minorem, or a fortiori). Verse 28 sets up the lesser situation. Here we do not have the often heard sense that God goes lighter on people under the new covenant than He did under the old. Rather, the author suggests that if the consequences of disobedience were severe under Moses, imagine what they will be like under Christ. Under Moses, a person died without mercy, as long as two or three witnesses might corroborate guilt.

10:29 By how much of a worse punishment do you think will be worthy the one who tramples the Son of God and the blood of the covenant, having considered it profane, by which this one was sanctified, and having insulted the Spirit of grace?
And thus the second have of the author's a fortiori argument. The author's point is not that God is not gracious. Indeed, it is God's grace that secured atonement and redemption in the first place. The problem is the insulting of God's grace.

In keeping with the norms of ancient patronage, grace was undeserved favor from a "have" to a "have not." But such grace, even though it was informal, came with informal expectations as well. It would have made no sense to an ancient audience that you could insult the patron and yet enjoy the continued patronage of the giver. So also, the person who "despises" God by trampling the free offer of grace in this way not only will not receive continued grace but is destined for the wrath of God.

The honor shame imagery of this verse is extensive. The person who disregards faith in Christ "tramples" the Son of God, God's royal representative. They "trample" the blood of the covenant. It was this blood that "sanctified" them, that made them holy and pure, that made them belong to God and become the property of the Divine. Instead, they have treated it as common, as profane, as the kind of blood indeed that would make a person unclean.

10:30 For we know the One who spoke, "Vengeance is for Me; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge His people."
The author punctuates the threat with Scripture. The quotes are from Deuteronomy 32:35 and 36 in the Song of Moses. The author has already quoted this Song in 1:6, so we can infer that the larger Song might have had significance for him, perhaps in relation to the final judgment. The Song of Moses laments the faithlessness of Israel, anticipates its distress in the face of its enemies, then looks to its restoration. The author, however, latches only on the judgment of God's people, thus changing the meaning of the second quote from the Lord's vindication to His judgment.

The quotes thus carry with them overtones of the judgment of those in God's people who do not remain faithful and we are reminded of the author's use of the imagery of the wilderness generation in Psalm 93 back in Hebrews 3. If we are right about the setting of Hebrews in wake of the temple's destruction, these verses might also carry with them a sense that the current distress of Israel is a punishment for its failure to believe on Jesus as messiah. The author thus implicitly warns the audience that they may face a similar fate if they do not continue in faith.

10:31 It is fearful to fall into the hands of the living God.
This memorable verse evokes all the incidents in biblical history, as well as perhaps in the contemporary history of the day, in which God judged either His people or their enemies. Further example would hardly be necessary. If the audience were Gentile, the mention of the living God would evoke the contrast of the gods of the nations, not least the gods of the Romans. Departure from the Jewish God was to return back to following the dead idols of the nations, yet another feature of the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:17).

10:32 But be in rememberance of the days formerly, during which, after you were enlightened, you endured much struggle of sufferings...
The author already alluded to an earlier time of trouble for the audience in 6:10. If the audience is in Rome, as is the majority suggestion, two principal possibilities exist. The first is the expulsion of certain Jews from Rome by Claudius around the year AD49. The second is the persecution of Nero after the fire of Rome around AD64. The image of becoming enlightened again points strongly to a Gentile audience, since the distinction between Christian and Jew seems hardly strong enough at this time to justify such a drastic reinterpretation of a mainstream Jew.

10:33 ... now on one hand being exposed to public disgrace both with abuses and troubles, now on the other having become partners with those living thus.
The rhetoric here seems to distinguish the audience from certain others undergoing a more dramatic crisis than they. If the audience is Gentile, we can imagine Gentiles who were not expelled from Rome suffering disgrace by association with Jews who were expelled. Similarly, at the time of Nero's persecution we can imagine an assembly of converts who witnessed others in the broader Christian community suffer death.

10:34 For you both suffered with the prisoners and you received with joy the seizing of your possessions, knowing that you have a better and remaining possession.
One version of the Claudian hypothesis sees a Jewish audience losing their property because of exile from Rome. On the Neronian hypothesis, we can see many believers being fined while others were eventually put to death. The statement in 12:4 that the audience has not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood would seem irrelevant in this debate. The author speaks of the current crisis, not any previous one. As a matter of fact, the most likely understanding of 13:7 is that the former leaders, at least of the broader Christian community, were in fact martyred.

The mention of a better possession looks forward to the asides of 11:13-16, where the author speaks of a heavenly homeland in store for the audience, a better country. They have on earth no lasting city, such as Jerusalem (13:14). Similarly, any earthly possessions they might have in Rome are of no lasting consequence, and should they have to lose them again, it is no matter.

10:35-36 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward, for you have need of endurance so that, after doing the will of God, you might receive the promise.
"Therefore" indicates the logical conclusion of what has preceded. They have endured suffering in the past; they can endure suffering now. Just as they did not lose faith during the earlier time of suffering, so they should not do so now. If the previous trial was under Claudius, the stakes have escalated with the anticipation of scores of martyrs. If the previous trial was under Nero, the stakes have escalated with the very destruction of Jerusalem and God's temple, with the very possibility of atonement called into question. Once more the author invokes God's promise, the promise of vindication, the promise of the return of the messiah.

10:37-38 For yet "a little while, the one who comes will come and will not delay, but my righteous one by faith will live," and "if [a person] should turn back, my soul is not pleased with him."
The first verse is the strongest possible allusion to the delay of Christ's return as part of that which is causing doubt (although cf. 9:28). If as seems likely the earliest Christians expected Christ to return sooner rather than later, we can anticipate that the period immediately following the deaths of apostles like Paul, James, and Peter might have accentuated a sense that Christ must surely return very soon indeed.

Perhaps the Jewish War would have contributed to the sense that the final hour was being played out, the beginning of the judgment with the household of God (cf. 1 Pet. 4:17). Then when the destruction of Jerusalem came and went and the captives were paraded through town, finally to be crucified, it surely created a climate of doubt among some.

Hebrews' use of Habbakuk 2:4 is different from Paul's. Paul understands the verse in relation to the person who is justified on the basis of faith, of trust in the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead (e.g., Rom. 4:24). For Hebrews, faith here has the principal sense of faithfulness and endurance. The one who is righteous to God is the person who does not turn back but keeps going, remains faithful.

10:39 But we are not of turning back to destruction but of faith to the saving of soul.
The final verse of the chapter confirms that faith in this context is the opposite of turning back or shrinking back. Turning back leads to destruction. Faith, on the other hand, implies that one's "soul" will be saved, rescued from God's wrath and judgment. Whether the author is thinkng of the soul as a detachable part of a person is not clear. However, since the author elsewhere uses spirit in this way (12:23), it is perhaps just as likely that soul here means "life." We are of those who remain faithful and their lives are saved.

For Philo, the soul was the part of a person that joined body and spirit together. There was the animal part of the soul, which was connected strongly to the body and gave it life. Then there was the spirit, which was the soul's soul. If the author of Hebrews had some conception of this sort, then we can better understand 4:12's comment about the difficulty of separating soul and spirit.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

9.2 The Rise of the Individual (philosophy)

Been trying to get this one out for a good while. The draft of the first section of this chapter, "What is a Human Being?" is here.
9.2 The Rise of the Individual
The default human sense of identity would thus seem to be group-oriented. That is to say, humans by nature tend to identify themselves more in terms of the groups to which they belong than by some identity they as individuals self-determine. We stereotype ourselves by gender, by race, by nation, by social status, by family reputation, by region, and so forth. Throughout history, such forces have by far exercised greater influence on how we understand ourselves than the relatively recent sense that we as individuals decide who we want to be.

Humans are "herd animals" by nature, or what the philosopher Aristotle called "a political animal." [1] We are social creatures. Societies like the Ik people, where individuals completely abandon any sense of common value--even toward their own children--are by far the exception rather than the rule. [2] The democracies of ancient Athens and of modern times have also been more unique in history than the norm, and arguably they have only been as successful as their members have agreed on profitable common values and laws. [3]

Because of the way he formulated his thinking in terms of the individual, St. Augustine (AD354-430) has sometimes been called the "first modern man." [4] He had no concept of democracy or radical individualism, to be sure. But his interpretations of Paul's writings in the New Testament did subtly shift the focus of God's relationship with humanity from a relationship with His people, corporately, to a relationship with each of us as individuals. Protestants in general have a tendency to read the writings of Paul in the New Testament and think they are about how to "get saved," meaning how I as an individual can "go to heaven." While this trajectory largely was not picked up after Augustine till the Reformation in the 1500s, it has no doubt played a very significant role in the individualism of modern Western history.

For example, when we read Romans 3:23--"all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God"--we as Western individualists naturally think "every individual has sinned." Probably Paul would have agreed with this claim too. But it is fairly clear from the context of Romans 3 that the "all" Paul had in mind was the groups into which he initially divided the world, namely, Jews and Gentiles. When he says all have sinned, he means to say that Jews have sinned as well as Gentiles--all have sinned, meaning both Jews and Gentiles, "all."

It is a subtle shift, but one with significant implications nonetheless. It subtly changes the question Paul is dealing with. Paul is addressing this question: "Can Gentiles escape God's judgment even though they are not Jews." To be sure, Paul is also dealing with the question of how anyone can be in right standing with God. But the "anyone" he was thinking about is not a human being as a free standing individual (Augustine), an "autonomous," self-directed individual. Paul is thinking about a human being as a Jew or Gentile.

Again, when Paul speaks of "works of Law" not being able to make a person right with God, we do find an element of no human individual being able to earn God's favor in their own power (e.g., Rom. 9:32). But surely the "works of Law" he most immediately has in mind are those aspects of the Jewish Law, especially those Jews might boast about when comparing themselves to Gentiles (e.g., Rom. 2:25). In other words, when Paul talks about the Law in his writings, he is not primarily thinking about some abstract moral law that all human individuals should know. He is not talking about some universal conscience that is built into each individual head. He is surely talking about the Law of the Jewish people, as found in books like Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.

At point after point, we can see Augustine subtly changing Paul into an individualist. Paul's thought had everything to do with the idea that Gentiles could be saved as well as Jews. Augustine shifts the issue to the salvation of individuals. Romans 9 originally focused on God planning ahead of time to save Gentiles as well as Jews. Augustine turns Romans 9 into God picking out specific individuals to be saved and others to be condemned. Paul speaks of Sin as a cosmic power over the world. Augustine turns it into a sinful nature inside each human individual.

These subtle shifts do not always contradict what Paul was saying. Indeed, in some respects they may represent a more timeless and universal way of thinking about Christian theology than Paul's own thinking. But they nonetheless do reorient Paul's words around us as human individuals rather than as groups and thus potentially change how we understand ourselves as human beings.

The Protestant Reformation picked up these seeds in Augustine's thought. Martin Luther (1483-1546) found himself focusing on individual justification by faith as the center of Paul's thought, when ironically this idea only really is focal in two of Paul's letters. By contrast, the notion of Christians as a collective whole being incorporated "in Christ," dying with Christ, rising with him, arguably appears far more often in his writings. The sense of us as the corporate body of Christ gives way to the primacy of us as individual Christian believers.

The earlier sense that Christians read the Bible in the light of common Christian tradition eventually gives way to the idea that every individual can read the Bible and determine its meaning, with the resultant fragmentation of Christianity into tens of thousands of little denominations. We become a priesthood of (individual) believers rather than a holy priesthood, a spiritual household (1 Pet. 2:5). As the idea of corporate identity continues to disappear, infant baptism comes to be rejected in many circles. No longer can the Philippian jailer have his whole household baptized (cf. Acts 16:34). Now only an individual Christian who has reached some hypothetical "age of accountability" can get baptized or be saved.

We can characterize most of the thinking of the Renaissance and the Reformation as individualist. As we move toward the Enlightenment of the seventeen hundreds, the common ground between the leading figures increasingly becomes not religion but Reason. It is assumed that each individual has access to this universal truth. While each individual now is on an individual quest, at least the assumption remains that everyone is in pursuit of a common Truth and the rules for its pursuit are a matter of common agreement.

René Descartes (1596-1650) is usually called the "father of modern philosophy" for the way he especially turned the focus of philosophy from the world "out there" to each one of us as individuals looking at the world. He asked the question, what can I as an individual be certain about. Or to put it another way, what can I not doubt. As we saw in a previous chapter, he finally concluded that the only thing I cannot doubt is my own existence, I (as an individual) think; therefore, (at least) I (as an individual) am. [5]

The effect of this line of thinking was to push the focus of philosophy inward, toward ourselves as individual knowers rather than on the "outside world" as an object of knowledge. We will discuss in the next section Descartes' new way of looking at the soul. It was also highly individual in focus and thus has contributed to our Western sense of individualism ever since. Romanticism in the 1700s and 1800s actuated individualism even further. The ideal was a highly idiosyncratic artist, misunderstood and misrepresented, a genius set apart from everyone else.

Modern psychology was largely built on the assumption of autonomous individuals. For example, it is interesting to compare the approach to identity of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) with that of ancient biographers. For ancient biographers, you could categorize people into certain stock types. You have heroic men; you have traitors; you have virtuous women; and so forth. If a person is destined for greatness, then you expect to find that they were exceptional as a child as well, perhaps that they were born under remarkable circumstances. People do not change or develop from one type to another.

By contrast, Freud looked to formative events in your childhood in order to explain what you turned out to be. We joke about lying on a couch telling a psychotherapist about your mother, but we have thoroughly bought into this understanding of individuals. The often predictive power of one's childhood has demonstrated itself time and time again.

Many theorists of development have appeared on the scene since. Erik Erickson (1902-94) plotted out an eight stage sequence of individual life development starting with a need for basic trust and hopefully progressing to a peaceful death. Jean Piaget (1896-1980) plotted out the same for the development of the ability to think, cognitive development. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-87) applied the developmental principle to moral development and James W. Fowler (1940-) has applied it to faith development.

All these theorists suppose that individuals undergo similar steps of development, and in that sense they suppose that their theories are somewhat universal. [6] But in practice, they have a tendency to turn us inward, to foster a sense of introspection. We tend to use these theories to identify ourselves as individuals and to distiguish ourselves from others. Personality tests and, in Christian circles, "spiritual gift tests," have a tendency to push us toward looking at ourselves as individuals with particular strengths and weaknesses.

Finding a balance between corporate and individual identity is not usually something we can go out and invent. We all live in particular cultural contexts with their own senses of such things and rarely does a person have the freedom to alter a society. There are great strengths to a Western sense of individual freedom and responsibility, but if we are herd animals biologically, we will also need to group together as well to find fulfillment. As Christians this is especially true, as we will discuss in the last section of the chapter.

[1] Politics ***

[2] The Mountain People. The accuracy of this famous study has recently been called into question. In my opinion, however, we are increasingly seeing a similar attitude among the more desperate in America. A typical case would be a crystal methodone adict whose problem leads them to sacrifice the needs of his or her children in order to feed the addiction.

[3] E.g., by the existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), The Great Philosophers: Plato and Augustine **. In much of what follows I am presenting the seminal ideas of Krister Stendahl, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," ***.

[4] This observation has immense implications when it comes to modern foreign policy. Extreme caution must be taken when the West attempts to "better" other countries by forcing democratic systems on them. By default, such democracies largely reduce to "one vote, one social group." In reality, the situation is not much different in Western democracies, except that the social groups may be more difficult to identify.

[5] See chap. *

[6] One does wonder, however, whether some of these developmental theories are somewhat Western in character rather than universal.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Life Beyond Death 4

Previous posts include:

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

The previous posts for the current chapter are Life Beyond Death 1; Life Beyond Death 2; and Life Beyond Death 3.

[Some scholars have also suggested that Paul's thought underwent development between 1 and 2 Corinthians on the question of when resurrection takes place. [2] Whereas in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul clearly thinks of us receiving our resurrection body at the time of Christ's return, 2 Corinthians 5 says that if the "earthly tent we live in is destroyed," if we die, then we have "an eternal house in heaven," our resurrection body. It would be easy to read this statement to indicate that we go to heaven when we die and get a spiritual body immediately at death. We want to please Christ whether here in the body or in heaven when we die (2 Cor. 5:9). And one might argue accordingly that our appearence before the judgment seat of Christ in the next verse (2 Cor. 5:10) is what happens immediately at death.]

Although this is a possible interpretation of Paul, most scholars have not opted for it. It is possible to interpret Philippians and Romans with this slightly different understanding of the timing of resurrection (i.e., that it takes place at death). But it does not seem the most natural reading of, say, Philippians 3:11. These two letters were written either about the same time or a little later than 2 Corinthians. On the other hand, 2 Timothy 2:18 warns of those who say the resurrection has already happened. Could it be a warning against the kind of teaching we are talking about?


Looking at these sorts of questions in detail can be a little startling. For example, popular thinking usually stops with "you die and then either go to heaven or hell." Some so equate the idea of the immortality of the soul with bedrock Christian faith that they might even react with anger to hear what resurrection was really about in the Bible. [1] Meanwhile, the notion that we will reunite with our bodies is not attractive to many today, just as it wasn't to some in Paul's own day. The idea of resurrection was foolishness to some Greeks--why would I want this "prison house of the soul" back again. And the idea that the resurrection is an event still on the horizon can disrupt some comfortable sense of dying and then immediately going to our "final resting place."

Scholarly debates over the meaning of various passages can also be confusing, even disturbing. You mean those who know the most about these issues find room in the evidence for disagreement? Did Paul's thought develop in some ways over time? It implies a rethinking of the Bible as a single, static book whose "chapters" all say the same thing. It pushes us to read the Bible more as a library of books than a single one. Now we have to get a sense of the biblical trajectory rather than assume Genesis teaches exactly the same things as Revelation.

For example, on this particular issue, the Old Testament as a whole has little to say about the afterlife at all (e.g., Ps. 30:9; Eccl. 9:4-6). The only passage in the Old Testament that everyone agrees points to a meaningful, personal, conscious life after death is Daniel 12:2-3. The New Testament thus seems to take us further along on a trajectory of revelation than the Old Testament on this issue.

Many of the beliefs we have on issues like the afterlife seem obvious to us in Scripture. But the reason is not always because it really is clear but rather because of a certain common sense we have inherited from the Christian traditions of which we are a part. Some of these traditions are rather recent, like the idiosyncratic beliefs of churches that only came into existence in the last century or so. By contrast, the best "common sense" readings are those that the Christian Tradition (big T) arrived at by hashing out these sorts of ambiguities throughout the ages. Presumably God's Holy Spirit has had something to do with such common Christian faith, such Spiritual common sense.

On the afterlife, Christians have affirmed since the beginning, "I believe in... the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting" (the Apostle's Creed). We have affirmed this resurrection as something that is yet to come (except for Christ, the first fruits of the dead; 1 Cor. 15:20) and that will involve continuity with our human bodies as possible, although transformed into something that cannot decay. Christians throughout the centuries have affirmed that our souls will continue to exist and be conscious in between our deaths and our resurrections.

Christian tradition throughout the centuries has generally looked to a similarly transformed creation, a new earth. Paul is not entirely clear where he thinks we will spend eternity, but he does clearly speak of the redemption of the creation along with the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:19-23). It is perhaps more likely than not that he saw us living out eternity on a new earth with new bodies not made of the old flesh and blood (1 Cor. 15:50). Many Christians think of us spending eternity in heaven, and there are some New Testament passages that can be read this way (e.g., John 14:3; Heb. 12:26-27; 1 Pet. 1:4; 2 Pet. 3:10). But perhaps throughout the centuries, more Christians have believed we would spend eternity on a new earth (e.g., Rev. 21:2). God will clarify all these ambiguities when He ushers in His kingdom.

[1] Although he possibly makes things a little more tidy than they really were, an excellent introduction to this entire topic is N. T. Wright's, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chris Bounds: The Topics of Theology

This week Wesley Seminary students have been running their chosen pastoral issue of the semester through the lens of theology. To help, Chris Bounds has recorded a short vidcast overviewing the general topics of theology. You can watch the 27 minute vidcast here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Explanatory Notes: Jude 14-16

I know I'm getting way ahead of myself in the General Epistles, but we are in 1 Enoch in Intertestamental Literature, so I thought I would go ahead and blog on Jude 14-16.
14-15 And the seventh from Adam, Enoch, also prophesied about these, saying, "Behold, the Lord has come with his ten thousand holy ones to effect judgment against all and to convict every soul in relation to all their works of ungodliness which they commit in godlessness and in relation to all the terrible things that ungodly sinners speak against him."

Up to this point Jude's interaction with apocalyptic and Enochic traditions has been very general. But now Jude explicitly quotes the pre-Christian Jewish book 1 Enoch (1.9). 1 Enoch is a library of five distinct units, the first of which is called the "Book of the Watchers" (chaps. 1-36), in which this quote appears. Although the Book of the Watchers probably itself is made up of parts written at different times, something close to its final form probably dates to around 200BC.

We have no evidence to suggest that Jude is quoting some independent tradition that 1 Enoch also quotes. Nothing from any part of 1 Enoch is known in the Old Testament and the Book of the Watchers was apparently composed originally in Aramaic. Even this particular part of the Book of the Watchers was probably added as a kind of introduction as the various materials of these chapters were collected and put together.

The presence of the Enochic books among the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with their similar apocalyptic outlook, may suggest that they were particularly valued by the Essenes, perhaps even that the Essenes considered them Scripture. Jude does not give us enough evidence to know whether he considered 1 Enoch to be Scripture, although he does seem to take the attribution of the quote to Enoch literally. Here is a warning that the way the New Testament authors referenced the Old Testament and other Jewish writings may simply reflect the way people at the time referenced such books and understood authorship, the point being not the attribution but the content of what is referenced.

One wonders whether there might have been some significant intersection between the Essenes and the earliest Christians. John the Baptist seems to bear at least a superficial resemblance to them. The Essenes may also have been the most apocalyptic of the known Jewish groups--and thus more similar to the earliest Christians than either the Pharisees or the Sadducees. The heavy intersection of Jude with possibly Essene literature--including the possible allusion to the Testament of Moses in Jude 9, also makes us wonder. At the same time, Jesus' emphasis on inclusion and reclamation of sinners probably would not have sat well with most Essenes.

Although it is unclear in Jude 9 whether the Lord God or the Lord Jesus Christ is in view, Jude 17, 21, and 25 all clearly refer to Jesus as Lord. We should probably therefore understand the Lord of this verse as the Lord Jesus Christ, who will come in judgment with ten thousands of angels. This fits with what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 where Jesus descends with the voice of the archangel, probably to commence the judgment of men (1 Cor. 6:2) and angels (6:3).

16 These are grumblers, complainers, going according to their own desires, and their mouth speaks boastful things, showing favoritism for the benefit [to themselves].
The material that Jude shares in common with 2 Peter 2 now continues (2 Pet. 2:18). If we continue with the assumption that 2 Peter is drawing on Jude, it is fascinating that 2 Peter has omitted the references to 1 Enoch. As we saw with the omission of the Testament of Moses material, some have suggested that 2 Peter is already demonstrating a movement toward a New Testament canon--one that does not include the Enochic literature.

The list is, as the earlier lists, more generic than specific. Jude is railing against individuals within the Christian community who do not belong there, and these are thus characteristics that should not apply to Christians. They should not be grumblers and complainers. They should follow God's will rather than satisfying their own desires. They should not boast but trust in God's grace, power, and glory. They should not show favoritism--especially not for their own benefit since Christians are to put others above their own interests.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

5 Elements of Conversion (Joel Green on 1 Peter)

I have so many possible things to post today my head is spinning. Here is a quick and dirty one, about all I can justify this morning:

Working through Green's 1 Peter commentary with a class. Here are five elements of conversion he mentions in his treatment of 1:22-2:3 (1 Peter [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007], 50-51):

1. In antiquity, it might refer both to event and to process and connote either transition from one religion to another or moving deeper into one's own religion.

2. Conversion entails autobiographical reconstruction--reformulation of who you think you are.

3. Conversion is a profoundly social act with immediate and far reaching social consequences.

4. Conversion involves incorporation into a new community with its distinguishing practices.

5. Conversion involves the adoption of a new symbolic universe, the valid one, a new way of looking at the world. Green elsewhere uses language of the conversion of the imagination (the title of a collection by Richard Hays, reminds us of Charles Taylor's social imaginary, taken over by James Smith in Desiring the Kingdom). Green defines the imagination in this context as, "a basic image-schematic capacity for ordering our experience" (26).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Seminary Job Opening (Christian Ministry)

The new Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University invites applications for two full-time faculty positions in Christian Ministry to commence July 1, 2010. The successful candidate will have scholarly competence in an application focused discipline such as Christian proclamation, worship, corporate spiritual formation, pastoral care, church leadership, or Christian mission, and preference will be given to candidates who have significant ministry and teaching experience. Professors will work in a community where core courses are both designed and taught collaboratively and will teach in both online and onsite formats. They must belong to a church in the Wesleyan tradition and be firmly committed to Wesleyan beliefs and values. Evaluation of applications will begin November 15 and will continue until the positions are filled. Rank and salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. Women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply. Applicants must apply online on the Graduate Ministries page and have three references sent to Christian Ministries Search, Dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, 4201 S. Washington St., Marion, IN, 46953 or emailed to the Dean. For further information, email Dr. Ken Schenck at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Explanatory Notes: Hebrews 10:1-18

Missed last Sunday but the ox is still moving...
10:1 For the Law, having a shadow of good things to come—not [having] the image itself of the things—is never able to perfect those who approach with the same sacrifices that they offer continually year by year,
It seems significant that the author of Hebrews does not say that the Law is a shadow of good things to come. Rather, it has, contains shadows of those good things. The phrase "good things to come" reminds us of 9:11, where Christ is said to be a high priest of "good things that have arrived." Perhaps the author is thinking that the Law involves a shadow of Christ's sacrifice.

Again, the shadow is not in a one to one relationship with the reality. All the disparate sacrifices of the Levitical system find their singular reality in Christ's atonement. They were a shadow of Christ, not an exact image of Christ. This language is not used precisely, in the way someone like Philo would use it, but its general sense is clear enough.

10:1-2 give us a good sense of what Hebrews means when it speaks of the perfection of humans. 10:1 says that Levitical sacrifices were not able to perfect the one offering them. 10:2 implies that if they had been perfected, they would have been cleansed. Clearly "perfection" in relation to humans involves the cleansing of sins for the author. Indeed, perhaps the perfection of a person in Hebrews is exactly for such a person's sins to be cleansed.

10:2-3 Since would they not have stopped offering [them] because they no longer had a consciousness of sins, the worshippers once having been cleansed, but in these [sacrifices] is a yearly remembrance of sins.
This is a contrary to fact argument. If Levitical sacrifices truly took away sins, they would be offered once and that would be it. But they have continued to be offered, so they must not be able to take away sins. Instead, the yearly Day of Atonement ritual is an indication that the sacrifices of the Old Testament had no power to cleanse sins.

We also get a good sense of what the word conscience means for the author of Hebrews. It is parallel in these two verses to "remembrance." It thus translates best, particularly in 10:2, with the word consciousness rather than "conscience." It would seem to be that faculty of the mind that is aware of one's wrongdoing or lack thereof.

10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
This statement is very interesting given the author's earlier claim in 9:22 that without the shedding of blood there is scarcely any remission of sins. Here we learn that the shedding of blood actually did nothing for the remission of sins. It perhaps hints that we should be very careful in our interpretation of 9:22.

We would argue that the author of Hebrews, in the end, has little real investment in the importance of blood sacrifice at all. The person who reads Hebrews in terms of the all importance of blood sacrifice has in fact missed the overall thrust of the sermon, which is to argue that blood sacrifices are not necessary and in fact never did accomplish their putative function. The author starts with blood sacrifice as a given in order to argue it away.

10:5-7 Therefore, [Jesus] says, coming into the world, "You did not want sacrifice and offering, but a body you prepared for me, whole burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased with."

Then I said, "Behold I have come, in the chapter of the book it has been written concerning me, to do your will, O God."
Surely the author does not mean to say that Jesus literally uttered these precise words when descending from heaven. Indeed, the author assumes the voice of Jesus when he inserts into the quote, "Then I said." Instead, the author found in Psalm 40 an expression of the key purpose for Christ's life on earth--the offering of his body as the final sacrifice.

It is understandable that we hear overtones of the incarnation in this statement, a reference to the pre-existent Christ coming into the world. But since Hebrews is speaking figuratively, as we indicated in the previous paragraph, we cannot at all be certain that the author meant Jesus' entrance into the world literally here either. One's hunch either way is completely dependent on conclusions elsewhere about how early Christians came to affirm Jesus' pre-existence and how widespread that belief was.

The version of Psalm 40 that the author quotes is yet another clear indication that he is operating from the Greek translation of the Psalms rather than the Hebrew. The Hebrew of Psalm 40 reads something like, "my ears you have dug out." The author thus can only make his point from this particular Greek translation. What probably happened was that the Hebrew was miscopied at some point, perhaps because krt (you dig out) was misread as knt (you prepare). Then the Greek translation followed suit.

10:8-9 Above, [after] saying, “Sacrifice and offerings” and “Whole burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not want nor were you pleased with” (which they offer according to the Law), then he has said, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second,
Verses 8 and 9 provide the author's christological interpretation of Psalm 40. From Psalm 40, Hebrews draws a contrast between the sacrifices of the former days and God's will in preparing a body for Jesus. God takes away the first covenant and its Law, in order to establish a new covenant. We remember chapter 7 and its sense of the previous Law established on the basis of the Levitical priesthood (7:11). There the author indicated that the arrival of a new, Melchizedekian high priest points to a change of Law (7:15-19)

10:10 … in whose will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The will of God, which removes the Levitical system and its Law, establishes the sacrifice of Christ as the reality toward which all Old Testament sacrifices were pointing. This "offering" of the body of Jesus Christ sanctifies, cleanses the sins of the people of God, of those who partake of Jesus Christ. The power and effectiveness of this sacrifice is "once for all." No sacrifices literally atoned for anything before it, and no other sacrifice is necessary after it. It is the only effective sacrifice of all time and it is all effective.

10:11-12 And every priest has stood [in office] daily ministering and offering the same sacrifices often, which are never able to take away sins. And this one, after he offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat on the right hand of God…
Again, the author contrasts the differing nature of the two types of sacrifice. The early priests sacrifice daily--far beyond even the once a year sacrifice of the high priest on the Day of Atonement--but their sacrifices are never able to take away sins. Those sacrifices were only foreshadowings, sketchy examples and pointers toward what was to come.

Meanwhile, Christ's one time, effectual sacrifice is done, accomplished forever. His seating or "session" at God's right hand signals the accomplishment of the salvific deed, that for which he entered into the world, for which a body was prepared for him. The mention of God's right hand evokes Psalm 110:1 once again, the passage that has repeatedly popped up since 1:3.

What a rich tapestry of early Christian theology is woven here! We have the fundamental data of Christ's death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. Christ's death must have been understood very early on as an atoning sacrifice, perhaps conceptualized in similar terms to the Maccabean martyrs of 2 Maccabees 7 and 4 Maccabees. The death of this righteous individual would bring the wrath of God toward Israel to an end. However, it would perhaps be decades before it would be understood to have the scope that Hebrews understands.

As we have mentioned before, Hebrews takes the idea that Christ's death was a sacrifice and metaphorically expands it by way of Psalm 110:4 to be Christ as priest offering himself as a sacrifice, a king-priest after the order of Melchizedek. Indeed, Hebrews extends the metaphor even further. He is like the high priest on the Day of Atonement, a once a year offering just as his is once for all time.

What sanctuary might he offer this sacrifice in? Why heaven itself, already understood in Jewish tradition as the "real" temple of which the earthly one was only a copy of sorts. As the highest order of priest in the truest sanctuary of all, Christ comes to offer the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

10:13 … the rest waiting until his enemies might be placed as a footstool for his feet.
Then there was the resurrection, very possibly unanticipated by Jesus' followers. Psalm 110:1 was "ground zero" of early Christian tradition on the resurrection, at least as it has come to us. It was perhaps the primary text through which the earliest Christians came to understand Jesus as Lord, the primary text through which the early Christians came to understand why the messiah rose but had not finished the task of liberating Israel and becoming its earthly king.

Psalm 110:1 gives the reason Christ did not immediately serve as Lord. God has seated him at His right hand "until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" (Ps. 110:1). Paul understood this enemy to be death. It is not completely clear what enemies Hebrews has in mind, although the chapter later speaks of judgment that will devour God's enemies (Heb. 10:27). It is thus possible that Christ is awaiting the time appointed for the judgment.

10:14 For with one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
This verse aptly summarizes the entire point of the author's argment about Christ as high priest, an argument that was first mentioned in 2:17-18, was initiated in 3:1, but did not gain steam until 4:14. The one, sacrificial death of Jesus has enabled the cleansing of sins, the "perfection" of all those who are going to be purified, be "sanctified." The act is done. All that is left is the appropriation of that death.

10:15-17 And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for afterwards he has said, "This covenant that I will make with them, after those days, says the Lord, giving my laws on their hearts, and on their mind I will inscribe them, and their sins and their laws I will never remember again."
The author now returns to Jeremiah 31, which he quoted extensively in chapter 8. These final verses thus mark an inclusio that binds together the literary unit from 8:1 to 10:18. This shortened recap of the longer quote in chapter 8 perhaps helps us see what was most important to the author there.

The author focuses on the new covenant as a doing away with the symbolic, Levitically based Law and the replacement of it with a law written on the heart. Their sins will be forgiven, for real, in Christ. It is possible to see a connection here between Paul's sense in Romans 2:15 of Gentiles demonstrating the law written on their hearts and Hebrews use of Jeremiah 31. Paul's focus is ethical--the Spirit in the heart enables one to keep the essence of the Law. Hebrews perhaps assumes this but takes it to a soteriological conclusion.

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sins.
Here is the soteriological conclusion. If God has written His law on our hearts and we keep the law by the Spirit within us, then there will not be the kind of continued sinning that requires an offering for sins. That Hebrews is thinking in this way can be argued for from Hebrews 10:26 below, where a warning is given not to "use up" Christ's sacrifice by continued sinning. The context there is more fully apostasy, probably. Nevertheless, when the law is written on one's heart, there should not be the need for forgiveness for further high handed sins.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Paul: Life Beyond Death 3

Previous posts include:

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

The previous posts for the current chapter are Life Beyond Death 1 and Life Beyond Death 2.
... So we might picture a scenario where Paul has preached that God has raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus has died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, an act of faithfulness that has made it possible for anyone to be reconciled to the one true God, whether Jew or Gentile. God has enthroned Jesus at His right hand not only as the Jewish king (anointed one, messiah, Christ) but indeed as Lord over all the world. Very soon, Jesus would return from heaven to take his rightful place as king over the world.

The good news Paul preached was thus that the Thessalonians could escape the coming judgment if they were baptized in the name of Jesus. Baptism would appropriate the cross of Jesus and they would be saved from God's coming wrath (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:9, 10). Then, perhaps, someone who had accepted the good news died. Thinking this scenario through is potentially very eye opening to the difference between how obvious these things are to us and how much the earliest Christians were just figuring out!

So someone is distressed. How sad. Uncle Demetrius was so excited to be part of the kingdom of God when Christ returned. But now he's died and won't be able to see Jesus.

And so Paul fills them in on the nature of resurrection. Don't worry. Uncle Demetrius is not lost. There will be a resurrection at the time of Jesus' return. Indeed, the dead corpses will rise first, even before we who are alive and remain. A couple points of interest here. First, the word for the dead seemed to have exactly this sense--a dead body, a corpse. Paul does not seem to be talking about some immortality of the soul. He is talking about corpses coming back to life.

Second, he includes himself and his audience when he speaks of "we who remain." In his letters he never says outright, "I expect to be alive when Jesus returns." But his earliest letters seem especially to give off this vibe, as do other New Testament letters (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:29; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17). Christians take from this wording a sense that we must always live in expectation that Christ could come back very soon. We are to live in "imminent expectation" of Christ's return.

Paul and the Thessalonians knew some of the details Paul does not mention. For example, Paul says we will be "caught up ... in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:17), the verse that stands behind the idea of a "rapture." Paul concludes, "so we will be with the Lord forever." What Paul does not say, though, is where that forever will be. Many scholars believe that we are meeting Christ in the air like you go out to meet a king or important person coming to town. You then go back into town with them. So passages like 1 Corinthians 6:2 indicate that Christians will participate in the judgment of the world. It thus seems quite possible that we are meeting Christ only to come back down for the judgment.

Paul also only speaks of the dead "in Christ" being raised (1 Thess. 4:16). Interestingly, the New Testament never says anywhere that all the dead will rise immediately at the point of Christ's initial return. Indeed, Revelation puts the famous millennial reign of Christ in between a first resurrection of Christian martyrs (Rev. 20:4-5). Paul of course never clearly speaks of a second resurrection where all the rest of the dead, both righteous and wicked, will rise.

This is an interesting observation. As Christians we believe in a general resurrection, when all the dead will rise, some to eternal life and some to an eternal judgment of some sort. But we have not really taken this idea from Paul's writings. Paul never mentions hell, although 2 Timothy 4:1 does mention that Christ will judge the dead, and Philippians 2:10 includes those "under the earth," the dead presumably, among all who will bow before Christ. We get that idea from elsewhere.

Paul never talks about when "every knee should bow... and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:10-11). Certainly the living will when Christ returns to earth. But of the dead, Paul only says that the dead "in Christ" will rise. Perhaps Christian understanding in relation to a general resurrection was still in progress at this time. Christians only affirm that the words that made it to the Bible be right, not necessarily everything going on in Paul's head as he wrote.

If at this point Paul only knew about the resurrection of those "in Christ," it would explain the Thessalonians' disappointment. It might also explain why some Christians were apparently baptizing for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29). They would be trying to do the equivalent of what a man named Judas Maccabeus does in a well known Jewish story of the time. In 2 Maccabees 12:43-45, Judas pays for sacrifices to be made for certain fallen soldiers so that they can be part of the resurrection. [1] In the same way, some early Christians may have thought that they could make sure their loved ones were included in the resurrection--maybe individuals who had never even heard of Jesus--by being baptized for them.

Another issue that Paul is largely silent on is what happens even to Christians in between their deaths and the resurrection. In 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to the dead as those who "sleep" (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:13; 1 Cor. 15:18). Accordingly, some have wondered if Paul had no sense of conscious afterlife in his earliest writings. Whether or not this is the case, by the time he writes Philippians, he thinks of death as going to "be with Christ" (Phil. 1:23). Slightly more ambiguous, but similar is 2 Corinthians 5:6, where Paul seems to imply that being away from the body is to be with the Lord. Whatever Paul started out thinking, his clearest statement in Philippians implies that we are with Christ in between our deaths and future resurrection.

Some scholars have also suggested that Paul's thought underwent development between 1 and 2 Corinthians on the question of when resurrection takes place. [2] Whereas in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul clearly thinks of us receiving our resurrection body at the time of Christ's return, 2 Corinthians 5 says that if the "earthly tent we live in is destroyed," if we die, then we have "an eternal house in heaven," our resurrection body. It would be easy to read this statement to indicate that we go to heaven when we die and get a spiritual body immediately at death. We want to please Christ whether here in the body or in heaven when we die (2 Cor. 5:9). And one might argue accordingly that our appearence before the judgment seat of Christ in the next verse (2 Cor. 5:10) is what happens immediately at death.

Although this is a possible interpretation of Paul... [next week]

[1] Interestingly, 2 Maccabees--possibly a Pharisaic document--may not picture a general resurrection, only a resurrection of martyred and unpunished wicked.

[2] F. F. Bruce, for example, that great British evangelical of the twentieth century, accepted such a change, Paul, 309-13.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Explanatory Notes: 1 Peter 1:1

Alas, more than once I intended to do at least a little more in James, but the exam has come and gone and 1 Peter is nigh. So James goes into the queue of unfinished notes to be finished another day. Here is 1 Peter 1:1
1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to chosen aliens of the Diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
The Peter in question is certainly Simon Peter, the disciple. We do of course encounter the same questions of authorship with 1 Peter that we do the other General Epistles. How likely is it that a Galilean fisherman would write this well in Greek? The thought at some points, such as even the designation of Peter as "an apostle of Jesus Christ," seems very much like Paul's letters. Indeed, the mention of Silas in 5:12 is a little surprising, since Silas was Paul's coworker rather than Peter's.

Even more striking is the thinly veiled reference to Rome as "Babylon" in 5:13. We know of other Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem who connected Rome with Babylon. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, its temple, and took its intelligensia captive. In AD70 Rome destroyed Jerusalem, its temple, and took its intelligensia back to Rome where they were crucified. It is thus no suprise that Revelation and the Sibylline Oracles use Babylon as a code word for Rome.

But according to tradition, Peter died at the hands of Nero, who committed suicide in AD68. If Jews did not call Rome "Babylon" until after the destruction of Jerusalem, then either Peter did not write 1 Peter as we have it or, as some suggest, it might have literally been written from Babylon. It is of course possible that Jews saw the writing on the wall well before Rome actually destroyed Jerusalem. The Jewish War began in AD66, two years before Nero died. If we think of Peter as the literal author, perhaps we should date 1 Peter to the years AD66-68.

The statement that Peter wrote this letter in some way "through Silas" has brought its own debates (5:12). Are we perhaps to think of Silas as the one who delivered this letter to its varied destinations throughout Asia Minor? Or perhaps Silas helped translate or even formulate Peter's basic thoughts in Greek for him. If Silas in some way was a co-writer in a more significant way than usual, that would explain some of the apparent similarities to Paul's thought. Finally, if 1 Peter was pseudonymous--written under the authority of Peter's name after his death to convey his voice to a later context--then one might suggest that perhaps it was Silas himself who composed the letter in toto.

Peter identifies the audience as "chosen aliens of the Diaspora." Since the audience likely consisted primarily of Gentiles (cf. 2:10), the reference to the Diaspora would seem to be slightly figurative, except insofar as the audience does seem spread out over the rather large region of Asia Minor: Pontus at the top on the Black Sea, Galatia up and down the middle, Cappadocia to the east of Galatia and north of Paul's native Cilicia, Asia on the western end, and Bithynia to the northwest. Paul ministered at one point or another in many of these regions, except we have no record of him in Pontus or Bithynia.

The idea that the audience is "chosen" or "elect" is a theme that appears throughout 1 Peter. It is probably important not to read later understandings of election into such statements. In the mystery of God, only a small percentage of the Mediterranean world believed in Jesus as messiah at the time, and it was natural for this minority to recognize themselves as a special group out of everyone in the world. Such references implied that they stood in a special relationship with God. They probably did not imply that God had decided not to save those who did not believe or that those who currently believed were destined to be saved no matter what. It was "phenomenological" language, language that described how things appeared, language that recognized the special status of believers within the broader, unbelieving world without the later sense of a rigid underlying cause and effect on God's part.

The reference to the audience as "aliens," "strangers," "foreigners," has also given rise to a good deal of speculation. For example, some think that the audience were literally exiles for whom Asia Minor was not their native homeland. Such studies are very edifying in their modern application, and they accurately describe the social situation of a certain group within the ancient world.

However, we find this suggestion highly implausible when it comes to the original audience of 1 Peter, not least because Peter speaks of the audience of aliens in the context of abstaining from fleshly desires (2:11). Such language puts such imagery into a spiritual context (cf. Heb. 11:13-16). Although the NIV adds the words "in the world" to this verse (they're not there in Greek), the addition would seem to capture well the most likely sense. The audience are "aliens" in the world because they belong to a different kingdom, a spiritual rather than a fleshly one.