Monday, November 30, 2009

Reading (11-30-09): Dunn's Beginning

Finished chapter 28 on Dating Paul. First half of chapter here. Dunn's dating is fairly conventional and very close to mine, although interestingly I allow for a little more creativity in Acts' presentation than he does at points. He dates Galatians to Paul's stay at Corinth and the (undisputed) Prison Epistles to Rome. I place Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon at Ephesus. As always I am open to the evidence.

I always find "the majority of scholars think" statements interesting. Here are some in this chapter:
1. Majority think Jesus crucified in AD30.
2. Perhaps majority date Philippians to an Ephesian imprisonment.
3. Most do not think Paul released after imprisonment at Rome at the end of Acts.

I'm currently with these "majorities," although probably the majority of evangelical scholars disagree with #2 and 3.

One of the most helpful elements of this chapter is his relaying of Jewett's estimations of distances and walking time between places (p. 513). He also has some interesting material on the kinds of places Paul might have stayed along the way.

Tomorrow, d.v., back to Green.

Theological identity of new seminary...

It may be this afternoon before I post another Paul installment. In the meantime, here is a statement from the Dean of our new seminary on who we are theologically.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I'm Reading (11-29-30)

Only had a half hour to give to reading tonight and gave it to begin chapter 28 of James Dunn's Beginning from Jerusalem, "Dates, Destinations and Distances." I managed 11 pages on Pauline chronology. Standard fare, although well articulated as everything Dunn writes is.

This line in a footnote caught my eye: "As Murphy-O'Connor observes, the fourteen years [of Gal. 2:1 before Paul's second trip to Jerusalem] could not include the three years [Paul mentions in Gal. 1 between conversion and first trip to Jerusalem], since the clear implication is of fourteen years without contact with Jerusalem..."

If so, the early date for Galatians would pretty much die, the pre-Jerusalem council dating, and the majority position of evangelical biblical scholars.

I'll hope to finish the chapter tomorrow.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What I'm Reading (11-28-09)

Today I rotated to Joel Green's Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible. It's research for the philosophy chapter I'm on. Today I read/skimmed chapter 1, "The Bible, the Natural Sciences, and the Human Person." Green's knowledge of literature on everything is exhaustive and irritating.

Notable quotes:
  • Bultmann--"Man does not have a soma. Man is a soma."
  • Robert Jewett--"Paul never uses psyche in the strictest sense of 'soul.'"
  • Green--"For Barth, natural science had little relevance for theology, for science comprises a competing ideology... In the history of the interaction of faith and science, however, Barth's is a minority position" (22).

Green rightly points out a number of challenges this issue presents. He gives some helpful definitions of the spectrum from reductive physicalism to radical dualism, with middle positions like holistic dualism and various other forms of middle ground monism. My goal is not to do full reviews with these, however.

Oh me, Oh Translations

I was writing on Paul this morning and came to a place where I wanted to quote 1 Corinthians. I had planned to use the TNIV going forward in my popular writing. But now I hear Zondervan is phasing it out. They're going to revise the NIV with Doug Moo in charge.

So now the TNIV is a bad choice for both the philosophy book and the Paul books and Bible studies I'm under contract to write--a bad choice for promoting in our new seminary or in our undergraduate program. I'm not going to use the outdated NIV or wait till 2011 to finish these books. Frankly I haven't felt that Zondervan is very Wesleyan-Arminian friendly anyway. Why reward them by supporting their translations?

What version to use? There is the ESV, which I suspect is the best literal translation overall currently on the market. But I eschew the politics of its origins. It was created in reaction to the pro-women in ministry trajectory of Christianity. Although thankfully I don't think these political dynamics have harmed the translation I find myself hating to associate myself or Wesleyan institutions with it given what it represents sociologically. Perhaps I will eventually give in but I am still holding off stubbornly, not wanting to support these forces in evangelicalism.

There is the NLT, which is great for preaching, but is a dynamic translation and so not suitable for detailed study of individual passages. Its strength is overall communication, not being able to hear the details of the original meaning.

So I find myself this morning using the NRSV in the quote. It is the choice of mainstream biblical scholarship anyway and bests the ESV in literalness if you understand its dynamic translation of "brothers" with "brothers and sisters" and such. I am not opposed to that dynamic translation for the purposes of communication and it was, after all, part of the TNIV too. Its just that the male-orientation of the original texts was, whether I like it or not, an aspect of the original text, just as those who do not use inclusive language today implicitly function in a male-oriented way.

We have to accept the fact that the original context of the Bible was sexist in its orientation. We can't be as Christians in our context, not and be faithful to the core message of Christ. But when we are studying the original meaning of the Bible, we simply have to deal with the fact that we are reading male-oriented texts, as all the texts of the day were. This is one area, interestingly, where Western society as a whole--even the fallen world at large--has thankfully moved closer to the kingdom than the New Testament itself, since its books were truth incarnated within the thought patterns of its day.

God took where they were, met them there, and pointed them in the direction of the kingdom. Pity those like the Grudems and Pipers of the evangelical world who mistake the wineskins for the wine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What I'm Reading (11-27-09)

As part of my goal to read at least 30 minutes a day in relation to my writing, I started Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin's book Questioning Q today. I am such a ridiculously slow reader and easily distracted by children and multitudes of other things. After over an hour I had only read the Foreward by N. T. Wright and the 12 page Introduction by Perrin, "Reasons for Questioning Q."

In any case, I have updated my reading list on the side and will be adding a couple other books in the days ahead. Because I have a short span of attention, I hope to rotate around these books, finishing a chapter in one and then rotating to the next.

I had not known (silly me) that either Wright or Perrin would favor such positions, although to be honest, Wright did not exactly take a position in his Foreward. He rather told his own surprise over the years that the Q hypothesis had not been questioned more often. For those who aren't aware of this issue, the majority position among gospel scholars has long been that Mark was the first gospel and that Matthew and Luke both independently used a sayings source commonly called "Q" (from the German Quelle) to explain the similar material they have in common.

I have generally accepted the majority position on the issue, although in the name of truth I insist on being open to other hypotheses as the evidence is marshalled. I am quite open to the possibility that Luke knew Matthew, for example. On the other hand, I will approach this material wondering whether that possibility in itself eliminates justification for a sayings source. We'll see. In my critical issues series, the Synoptic Problem is next up, so this is my research for that section. Yes, Goodacre is right, I am a "lazy believer" in Q.

Perrin recounts the story of how the Q hypothesis developed. I'll save that story for my own summary to come. One key point is his sense that David Strauss' mid-1800s claims that the gospels were full of "myth" begged for an account like that of H. J. Holtzmann that arrived at some sort of Jesus bedrock--in his case an earlier version of Mark and a collection of Jesus' sayings.

Hopefully more to come. I hate to say it but with 10 more chapters, this may take me a while.

Oh me, oh life...

Friday Paul: 5a. Disunity at Corinth

I have two writing goals for December: 1) finish my first Paul book, 2) nearly finish the philosophy book. I will probably alternate primarily between these two projects over the course of the next month, with the usual smattering of Explanatory Notes and perhaps some book review material as I come back from SBL determined to try to read at least 30 minutes a day. As usual, my goals usually outstrip my capacity.

Previous drafts of chapter material on the Paul book 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
4a. Life Beyond Death; 4b. Life Beyond Death; 4c. Life Beyond Death; 4d Life Beyond Death

Today we begin Chapter 5: "Disunity at Corinth."
Paul spent almost two years ministering at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 16:15 Paul mentions that the household of Stephanus was the first fruits of Achaia (southern Greece), meaning that his family was probably the first of those in Corinth to believe Jesus was the Christ. The names mentioned in 1 Corinthians are Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:17). We hear smatterings of other names associated with Corinth. [1] For example, 1 Corinthians 1:1 mentions a co-author, Sosthenes, whose name is conspicuously the same as a synagogue leader in Corinth who gets beaten in Acts 18:17.

The conflict mentioned in Acts 18 may very well have played itself out in many parts of the Mediterranean world. Christianity was not yet a distinct religion but only one of many branches of Judaism at the time: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Christ-followers. [2] The first two were largely confined to Jerusalem, although the Essenes may have spread out some. We have good reason to think that Christ followers sometimes came into conflict with more mainstream Jews in various synagogues around the Mediterranean. For example, this kind of conflict in a Greek-speaking synagogue in Jerusalem seems to have resulted in Stephen getting stoned (Acts 6:9).

Two of Paul's most prominent co-workers, Priscilla and Aquila, were expelled from Rome along with all the Christian Jews of the city because of conflicts between Christ-followers and mainstream Jews in the synagogues of the city. [3] Most would date this conflict to around AD49, which places Paul's work in Corinth around the years AD50-52. This fits with the mention of the Roman proconsul Gallio in Acts 18. We know from an inscription that he was proconsul from AD51-52, giving us the most certain date we have in dating Paul's life and missionary work. Priscilla and Aquila had recently come to the city when Paul first arrived there.

Perhaps this same conflict unfolded at Corinth with this Sosthenes as synagogue leader at the time. Not everyone in the synagogue would have believed that Jesus was the Christ. We hear of others who had. Acts mentions that the person who was synagogue leader when Paul arrived in the city had also believed, Crispus (Acts 18:8). Paul mentions him in 1 Corinthians 1:14 as someone he baptized there, along with someone else named Gaius. Some wonder if the Gentile Titius Justus who is mentioned in Acts 18:7 might have been the same person that Paul calls Gaius. [4]

We hear of two further names in Romans 16:23, which Paul likely wrote from Corinth on a later visit. Erastus is called the city's "administrator," possibly the city treasurer or perhaps director of public works. We actually have among the ruins of Corinth a sidewalk with an inscription in it that says it was paid for by one Erastus, the city's "aedile," a position that generally fits how Paul describes him. Along with Gaius and Erastus, Romans 16:23 also sends the greetings of someone named Quartus. If we add the household of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), which may of course include some of the people we have already mentioned, we have no less than nine names of local Corinthians who were associated with the church at Corinth.

[insert photo of Erastus inscription]

These nine names belong to no less than three households, and quite possibly more. We know of the household of Stephanus, of Chloe, and presumably of Gaius. Paul refers to the church at Corinth in the singular in the greeting of 1 Corinthians 1:1. From this fact we should probably infer that the church at Corinth could meet in a single house, regardless of whether they sometimes broke up into even smaller house churches. Since Paul in Romans 16:23 says that the whole church enjoyed the hospitality of Gaius, it seems quite possible that he was somewhat wealthy and could fit the entire church of 40-50 people in his house for worship.

In 1 Corinthians 1:26, Paul says that "not many" of the Corinthians were influential or of noble birth. But individuals like Gaius and Erastus were likely the few Paul implies were. Erastus would need to be a Roman citizen of some means to serve in public office and fund service projects. If Gaius was Titius Justus, he would presumably be a Roman citizen also. This sort of social status created in itself temptations and pressures that most of the believers, who did not have such status, would not have to face. We will return to the social divisions at Corinth in a moment.

At some point after Paul's run-in with the Roman proconsul Gallio, he departed from Corinth. Acts tells us he briefly visited Ephesus before sailing to Jerusalem, traveling back to Antioch in the north of Palestine, and then revisiting the churches he had founded throughout Asia Minor (Acts 18:23). Paul has left little trace of this verse in any of his letters. [5] But eventually, perhaps in AD53 or 54, he finds himself back in Ephesus, which he sets up as his "base camp" for ministry over the next three years or so.

By the time he arrives, Priscilla and Aquila have been ministering there for perhaps a year. They have already had one very significant convert to faith in Christ, an eloquent Jew from Alexandria named Apollos. This incident may provide us with not a little insight into some of the details of the early church. For one, Acts does not say that Aquila and Priscilla invited him to their home and explained Christ to them but that Priscilla and Aquila did. In other words, it implies that the wife took the lead in Apollos' conversion. Priscilla is mentioned in Acts and Paul first more often than not, quite possibly implying that she tended to take the lead between the two (e.g., Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3). [6]

Another item of interest is that Acts says Apollos was instructed in the Way of the Lord but did not know about Jesus, only John the Baptist. What makes this comment very interesting is that the Essenes at Qumran on the Dead Sea saw themselves as "preparing the way of the Lord," using the same passage from Isaiah 40 to describe themselves as the gospels use to describe John the Baptist. [7] There are enough similarities between some of the early Christians and these Essenes that we wonder if there was some overlap at first between the two groups. [8]

Acts tells us that Paul also has an encounter with such followers of John the Baptist's teaching when he comes to Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). The book of Acts makes it very clear that John's baptism was not yet Christian baptism. Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus and lays hands on them so that they receive the Holy Spirit as an element of the equation that John's baptism did not provide. Here we probably find hints of an important need in the early church to distinguish Christ followers from mere followers of John the Baptist.

John baptized with water, but Jesus with the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 1:8). The Holy Spirit in Acts thus indicates that a person is truly "in," truly going to be saved from the coming judgment. We can build a case for a tension at Ephesus between the followers of Jesus and the followers of John the Baptist by adding to these hints from Acts the hints of the Gospel of John. According to tradition, the Gospel of John originated at Ephesus. Its portrayal of John the Baptist is fascinating in that it consistently downplays his significance. For example, the Gospel of John never actually mentions that Jesus submitted to baptism by John. Unlike Matthew 11:14, John the Baptist himself denies that he is Elijah in John 1:21. Only in John do we hear of John the Baptist's followers leaving him to follow Jesus while John is still alive and baptizing (John 1:37). All these hints probably add up to a group of followers of John the Baptist's teaching at Ephesus who had not, however, come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

[1] When it comes to this sort of analysis of the names and social status of individuals at Corinth, we should mention the pioneering work of Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, 2nd ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2003), which rightly takes its place in the fifty books or so that one might read to master Paul's writings. It has recently been reassessed by After the First Urban Christians: The Social-Scientific Study of Pauline Christianity Twenty-Five Years Later (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009). Another updated classic book in this area is Gerd Theissen's, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), edited by John Schuetz.

[2] We always struggle to know what to call these early believers. I will sometimes call them Christians, but this term often allows us to smuggle in our sense of a Christian as a religion separate from Judaism. Acts sometimes calls them "followers of the Way," but this term may very well have applied to Essenes as well, such as Apollos and the non-Christian followers of John the Baptist that Paul finds at Ephesus in Acts 18-19. We have opted for the non-biblical phrase "Christ-followers," by which we mean individuals who believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, who were baptized in his name, and who were presumed to have received the Holy Spirit.

[3] We hear about this conflict in the Roman historian Suetonius (*). He says the arguments were over Chrestus, a misspelling of Christus, but most scholars conclude it probably is referring to Jesus Christ. It is not clear whether all the Jews of the city were expelled or only Christian Jews like Priscilla and Aquila.

[4] Roman citizens had three names: a praenomen, a nomen, and a cognomen. For example, if Paul's grandfather received citizenship from Julius Caesar, he would have received his praenomen and nomen from him. Paul's full name would thus be Gaius Julius Saulus or Gaius Julius Paulus. In this case, Erastus' full name might be Gaius Titius Justus.

[5] Perhaps in Galatians 4:13 he uses a word for "first time" that may imply he had visited Galatia more than once by the time he wrote this letter.

[6] A fact all the more significant in the overwhelmingly male oriented ancient world.

[7] In the document called the Community Rule.

[8] Just to mention a few, there is this common sense of following the Way of the Lord, the fact that the Essenes tended to share their possessions with one another as in Acts 2:44, a number of messianic Scriptures the Dead Sea Scrolls hold in common with the New Testament, the fact that writings like 1 and 2 Peter and Jude seem to reference 1 Enoch, which seems to have been Scripture to the Essenes, the fact that John the Baptist seems to have been celibate, common indictment of the temple and spiritualization of their own communities as temple communities, a common apocalyptic outlook in terms of angels, demons, and a coming conflict depicted in terms of Rome. There were also significant differences, not least Jesus' inclusion of sinners and apparent disregard for sabbath and purity matters. In these regards, Paul seems more in continuity with Jesus than Jesus' own brother, James, who later became leader of the Jerusalem church.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving (including those outside the US ;-). There's always something to be thankful for. There's always something to be thankful for about our own lives and even if our own life hits a gloomy stint, there are the lives of others that we can always be thankful for. And for those who believe in God and Christ, we can be thankful for a God who loves the world and works all things for good.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Most people have no idea what smart really is...

I attended the Philo Group this morning... most people have no idea how smart a human being can be (and, interestingly, are usually equally unaware of how correspondingly dumb they thus make God out to be). I regularly have people tell me they think I'm smart (interestingly again, I never get that from the people I actually live with ;-) ... but I'm not in any danger of actually believing it. Once a year I come to SBL and get to listen to some people who are really smart.

What a privilege!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

If you want to change Bible teaching at IWU...

... all you need is a well placed bomb during dinner here in New Orleans. All but Wilbur Williams are here: Brian and Elaine Bernius (OT), Steve Lennox (OT), Dave Smith (NT), Bart Bruehler (NT), and me (???).

A browse through the book hall brings the usual feelings:

1) fun to see many faces of old friends--a new phenomenon is meeting old friends you've never met before from the blogosphere,

2) fun to ride the elevator with Gordan Fee or sit at a table next to Kevin Vanhoozer (who in my case you don't announce yourself because of various things you've said on a blog),

3) fun to meet budding scholars and students, some of whom think you know something because you've written a book (you, of course, all the while know better),

4) you feel sad for these budding scholars, knowing that even the best are going to have trouble finding a job and that the guild of biblical studies itself is probably on the decline (cf. Sheffield, Gloustershire, etc...),

5) you look at the book hall and see that Witherington or Tom Wright has published 4 new books this year beyond the ones you already knew about... you figure you'd better get writing,

6) you see a bunch of books that make you think Christian academic publishing is mostly much ado about nothing--I disparage of writing anything else, others think, I could write better than this, why am I not publishing...

7) you feel privileged to get to come to places like this every year, see old friends, grab the most stimulating ideas on many topics before they get published, every once and a while your children get a great experience of some great place... and you're glad your son is in his own world like you are and doesn't even notice the smut all over the place on Bourbon Street (your daughter, on the other hand, who is observant like her mother notices it instantly).

This is Ken Schenck, reporting on the ground in New Orleans...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Off to SBL

I'm going to bed in a few minutes while my wife and step-daughters head out to the midnight showing of New Moon. When they get back, we'll pile into our Armada and head for New Orleans and my yearly pilgrimage to the Society of Biblical Literature convention. I'm quite honored to have a small part in one of the Philo sessions. I'll attend the Hebrews Group. There are a couple nice dinners, breakfasts, and coffees with old friends from home and abroad. The books are always probably the biggest highlight.

I am giving a paper in the Book of Acts section. I'm quite excited about the idea and will probably try to publish it. I offer the final section in its current form:

3. The Post-70 Context
In a very real sense, we do not need Hebrews to take our interpretation of Stephen’s speech to the next level. The dating of Acts is generally accepted as subsequent to AD70 and the temple’s destruction, so we can fairly assume that Stephen’s speech would have cued in its audience the memory of that event. Similarly, it would have been difficult for a post-70 audience not to hear in Stephen’s indictments of Israel an accusatory explanation for why God had let the modern Babylon—Rome—enslave God’s people again. The rejection of Moses in the speech would have easily translated into broader Israel’s rejection of Jesus, the prophet like Moses. Indeed, the author has deliberately changed the Septuagintal text of Amos 5:25-27 from “Damascus” to “Babylon,” not only to invoke the image of the Babylonian captivity as a consequence of Israel’s disobedience, but perhaps also because the Jews had begun to use “Babylon” as a code name for Rome after Rome destroyed Jerusalem, just as the Babylonians had earlier done.

Although these observations can stand on their own, it is a particular reading of Hebrews that has led us personally to recognize these dynamics. The idea that Hebrews might date to the aftermath of the temple’s destruction is of course heavily debated. Nevertheless, some recent treatments have pondered how Hebrews might read if its rhetoric were taken not as a polemic against participation in the Levitical cultus but as a kind of consolation in the absence of one. The sermon locates itself in second generation Christianity (e.g., Heb. 2:3) and seems to imply that the founding leaders of its community were martyred for their faith (cf. 13:7). Although we cannot know for certain, Rome is the favorite suggested destination for those who hazard a guess, based on 13:24. The only martyrdoms of local Christian leaders we know of in Rome took place in the 60s, particularly after Nero blamed Christians for the fire of Rome in AD64.

If we look to some time thereafter, when a believing community in Rome might have faced discouraging times, not long after Jerusalem’s destruction or perhaps later during Domitian’s reign are what comes to mind. It is at this point that we begin to pay special attention to statements in Hebrews like, “We have here no remaining city” (13:14) and “they are seeking a homeland” (11:14). It must have been devastating for Christians to see the conquered Jews paraded through the streets of Rome and then put to death after the destruction of Jerusalem. After all, Christianity was still Judaism to its believers. What would these believers now do for atonement without a temple? The author admonishes them to have confidence that full atonement—in fact the only atonement that had ever been truly effective—is found in Christ’s sacrifice. They can have boldness to enter into the true sanctuary in heaven for atonement by means of the blood of Christ (e.g., 10:19).

Whenever one dates Hebrews, most would place it prior to Acts. If it was written not long after the destruction of Jerusalem, the two might date within a decade of each other. Given this apparent proximity in time and content, it becomes much more plausible that the author of Acts has portrayed Stephen somewhat like the author of Hebrews, one of his contemporaries, than that the author of Hebrews independently stood in a particular, continuous theological tradition going back to the historical Stephen, who lived perhaps forty years before. What does such a scenario look like in terms of the interpretation of Acts 7, and does it seem to clarify the subtext of Stephen’s sermon or cloud its most likely meaning?

First, when Acts is read in a post-AD70 context, Stephen’s sermon seems less unique and discordant with some other features of Acts than at first might suggest itself. The author, for example, clearly would locate himself and his audience within “the times of the Gentiles,” a period during which Jerusalem was destined to be “trampled on” (Luke 21:24). In this light, the climactic ending of Acts in Rome takes on an explanatory dimension. God turns to the Gentiles for the time being because the Jews have rejected the gospel (e.g., Acts 28:25-28). Paul’s statement here is reminiscent of Stephen’s indictment in 7:51-53. The recurring rebellion of the sons of Israel in Acts 7 comes to mirror the later rejection of Jesus and to explain implicitly why, once again, God had allowed yet another Babylon to destroy Jerusalem. These indictments, however, are not anti-Semitic. They are after the fact explanations of what had already happened to Israel, just as we would argue Hebrews is more a consolation in the absence of a temple than a polemic against one.

In this context, Stephen’s implicit indictment of the Jewish leaders’ over-valuing of the temple in Acts 7 becomes far more an after the fact explanation for the temple’s destruction than a condemnation of the temple per se while it was standing. We thus find no contradiction between the generally positive view of the temple we find elsewhere in Acts. Indeed, we find no clear indication that the author of Acts thought the Jerusalem temple was gone forever. What we find is an explicit condemnation of those who betrayed and murdered Jesus, the prophet like Moses (e.g., 7:52). Those who accuse Stephen are thus false witnesses because Stephen is not speaking against the temple itself, but against those who, perhaps like the revolutionaries of the Jewish War, could not distinguish between the temple in Jerusalem and God’s ultimate dwelling place in heaven.

At the same time, we do seem to find tensions between the theology of the author of Acts and that of the author of Hebrews. The basic thrust of Hebrews is that no Levitical blood sacrifice has ever truly atoned for any sin (e.g., Heb. 10:5). The blood of Jesus, offered by way of an eternal spirit, is the only truly effective sacrifice for all eternity (e.g., 9:14; 10:14). Acts, by contrast, pictures apparently regular participation in the Jerusalem temple, likely including sacrifices, even by Paul himself (cf. Acts 21:24-26), while apparently downplaying the tradition of Christ’s death as a sacrifice or ransom (e.g., compare Mark 10:45 with Luke 22:27). Similarly, it is not difficult to imagine that the historical Stephen actually was remembered as indicting the temple administration in some way, as Jesus apparently did, even if it is unlikely Stephen had nearly as fully developed a “replacement theology” for the temple as the author of Hebrews eventually developed.

We would argue that this overall conception of Acts 7 provides the fullest and richest understanding of its meaning both in its historical and literary contexts. Historically, we have the oral tradition of Stephen's martyrdom, likely associated with certain indictments he had made of the temple leaders and perhaps the fact that they put Jesus to death. Historically, we also have the time in which Acts was written a decade or so after Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. Further, we have the perspective of the author of Hebrews, a rough contemporary of the author of Acts. Although the emphases and thinking of the author of Hebrews differed slightly from the perspective the author of Acts took in his history, the author of Acts saw in him a relevant model on which to base his portrait of Stephen.

Literarily, then, the author of Acts went about presenting Stephen in these chapters. Having planned Luke with Acts in mind, he omitted in Luke 22:66-71 the story of the false accusations against Jesus in Mark 14:57-59 and saved them instead in relation to Stephen. Then in keeping with good ancient historiography, he fashioned Stephen's martyrdom speech both with a view to Stephen's memory but most importantly with a view to imply an explanation for the current state of Israel with both city and temple destroyed. Acts 7 is thus no general run through the story of Israel but a presentation of key vignettes meant to reflect its current situation. And we suspect very strongly that the author of Hebrews, or someone quite like him, helped the author of Acts to present Stephen in a way that would speak directly to his Christian audience some fifty years later.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Doctor's Office is Useless

Most times, you wait forever for an appointment. Then you wait an hour in the waiting room. Then they at best tell you no more than you already knew. Or maybe they prescribe Amoxicillin for your child--which has long since become useless. Your insurance gets charged, you give your twenty dollar co-pay, you get your Amoxicillin knowing it won't do anything, you pay your five dollar co-pay.

This is really just a stalling game, to weed out the really sick from the wimps and paranoid parents. Doctors probably know, they probably talk about it. Sickness is normal human stuff. Giving medicine actually makes these little vermin stronger. You need to let the sickness just take its course for the good of humanity.

So really a second visit is the first real visit. Only then do doctors start to take you seriously.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament

For previous posts in this series, see here. In this post, I want to boil down and organize what I think are the biggest take-aways from the Dead Sea Scrolls as background to the New Testament. Certainly many have done this sort of thing before, but that's never stopped me before.
Jesus and John the Baptist
1. The Community Rule is striking in its use of Isaiah 40:3--"Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord" (e.g., 1QS 8). It then refers to its membership as individuals who have chosen the Way (e.g., 1QS 9; CD 2). The similarity to the way John the Baptist is introduced in the gospels, along with the fact that Acts indicates early Christians saw themselves as followers of the Way is very striking indeed. Apollos, for example, is said to understand the Way of the Lord when Priscilla and Aquila come on him (Acts 18:25), yet only to know the teaching of John the Baptist!

It is very hard for me to read these observations and not conclude that John the Baptist was an Essene and that Essenism stands as the principal background for Jesus' ministry. Luke presents him as someone of priestly descent, which fits the Essenes. He does not seem to be married (although frankly we don't know for sure) and his life as a Nazirite fits as well.

That is not to say, of course, that Jesus was an Essene, quite the contrary. He apparently assented to the call to repentance that was a signature of John the Baptist's message, but his practice of inclusion showed a disregard for boundaries and purity rules that would not only have been massively unacceptable to the Essenes. The gospels depict it as unacceptable to the less "conservative" Pharisees.

2. Messianic expectation is not a regular feature of the books commonly called the Apocrypha. It is, however, noticeable in the scrolls. It may first appear in the Animal Apocalypse around 160BC in terms of literature that has survived. We also find it in the Psalms of Solomon around 50BC. The messiah will be king of the restored Israel. We do not find any good indication that this messiah was thought to be a heavenly figure in the scrolls. His arrival is accompanied in 11QMelch by the archangel Melchizedek who will judge angels and men.

We do know of a few revolutionaries who tried to revolt against Rome. There was Judas the Galilean in AD6. There was Theudas in the early 40s. We know of an anonymous Egyptian from Acts. Simon bar Kochba was thought the messiah in the later 135 revolt. It is hard to know, therefore, how widespread messianic belief was.

3. Dead Sea Scrolls like 4QFlorilegium look to several messianic texts that also appear in the New Testament: Psalm 2; 2 Samuel 7:14; Amos 9:11. It is impossible to know if Jesus used these sorts of texts in reference to messianic expectation during his earthly ministry. But they certainly found their way eventually into the self-understanding of the early church.

4. 11QMelch speaks of Melchizedek bringing good news to captives from Isaiah 61, just as Luke 4 has Jesus say as he commences his ministry. It also quotes Isaiah 52:7 from which arguably come the word "gospel" and the phrase "kingdom of God." It is quite possible that Jesus evoked the image of God's coming salvation using commonly known imagery (drawn from Essene circles?).

5. Language of a new covenant was clearly in play among the Essenes and the Dead Sea Community. It is difficult to know for sure to what extent Jeremiah 31 might have served as a backdrop for Jesus' earthly ministry, but clearly at some point the earliest Christians understood Jesus' death to be the real inauguration of one.

6. The War Scroll looks to a final battle between good and evil, just as Jesus may also have anticipated in the way he framed his mission on earth. The idea that the Dead Sea community was the final generation such as we find in the Habakkuk commentary also seems to have become the understanding of the earliest Christians.

7. Hell fire as a place not only for the Devil and his angels but for the wicked of Israel seems to stand in the background of Jesus' ministry or at the very least early Christian understanding and such imagery is found also to some extent among the scrolls.

Earliest Christians
8. communal living, holding possessions in common
The Community Rule also records a process of a person's property becoming absorbed into the community. Acts 2 also speaks of the early Jerusalem Christian community holding their possessions in common. This would fit a community with strong Essene sympathies. The incident with Ananias and Sapphira reminds us of the penalties for lying about property that pertained to the Qumran community.

9. The literature of 1 Enoch arguably stands in the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls and may in fact have served as Scripture for the Essenes. In this connection, it is noteworthy that Jude 14-15 quote 1 Enoch 1. Similarly, the story of evil angels having sex with human women seems presumed by Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4; and 1 Peter 3:19-20. By contrast, Paul the ex-Pharisee does not engage any of this Enochic literature. We could argue, however, that some significant Jerusalem Christians did and may even have considered 1 Enoch to be Scripture.

10. Paul goes to Damascus to arrest some Christian Jews. This is peculiar because Damascus was not under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin. There must surely have been a significant Christian element there of some kind. Similarly, Damascus plays an important at least putative role for the Essenes. The Covenant of Damascus remembers Damascus in one way or another as the place where the fundamental Essene covenant was first made.

11. New Testament interpretation in general fit with the hermeneutics of the day. For example, some of Matthew's interpretations are reminiscent of the pesher commentaries at Qumran in the way they lift segments of words from the Old Testament from their original contexts and apply them to incidents in the life of Jesus.

12. The DSS repeatedly invoke the Holy Spirit as God's presence in the community. Romans 1:3 may repeat an early Christian "creed" of sort using the phrase, "Spirit of holiness," which of course is attested at Qumran.

Paul's Letters
13. 4QMMT remains excellent background to Paul's use of the phrase "works of law." This phrase apparently evoked images of the kinds of debates Jews had over boundary issues and how to keep the purity issues of the Law. The strongly ethnic overtones of the phrase are clear enough in Galatians, where circumcision is primarily at issue.

If much of the early Jerusalem church was Essene, then we can see Paul's use of Qumran categories in part as effective rhetoric. Paul becomes an ex-Pharisee believer arguing with ex-Essene believers or even still Essene believers. The use of the phrase "doers of the Law" (versus mere "hearers of the Law") in Romans 2 and indeed in James becomes intriguing because Paul possibly throws an Essene mantra back in his opponents face.

14. Paul's language of election and his evocation of mystery to explain God's predestination of the Gentiles ironically finds strong precedent in the Qumran hymns and War Scroll. It is ironic because Paul turns language that had been used in relation to a very separatist, conservative Jewish community and applies it to the inclusion of the Gentiles!

15. Although the DSS are not the only background for the phrase the righteousness of God, they support the strong evidence from the Psalms and Isaiah that Paul's use of this phrase primarily referred to God's righteousness, His propensity to save and show mercy on His people. See the Community Rule and the Hymns.

16. The Qumran hymns, while ironically having a strong expectation of moral perfection, also have a strong sense of human depravity. No one can be righteous in their own strength. Justification is by God's grace. Although some will no doubt quibble that the emphasis on holiness cancels out the insight about human depravity, the New Testament also expects a life above sin.

In that sense the Qumran hymns well dispense with the older view of Judaism as a religion of works righteousness. The NT like the scrolls have a pattern of keeping the Law in response to God's grace and works as an element in the equation of final acceptance while strongly affirming human unworthiness. Paul's evocation of such themes are not so much in disagreement over them but he uses them to lead his opponents to different implications for them.

17. Paul's use of flesh as that part of a human that is susceptible to sin, as well as the sense that humans have a guilty inclination are attested at Qumran. Such ideas probably fit better with an Essene background than with Paul's own Pharisaic background perhaps.

18. Paul's sense of the glory of Adam may be invoked in the scrolls. It is this glory that Paul believed we lacked because of our sin and it was hope of this glory that we aspired to through Christ.

19. Paul's early use of the phrase sons of light in 1 Thessalonians is possibly an artifact of early Christian language he has retained which, again, fits very well against an Essene background for many early Christians.

20. Paul's references to meetings of early believers as "churches," "assemblies," fits very well with Essene origins for earliest Christianity.

21. The one artifact in 2 Corinthians where the word Belial is used of Satan reminds us of the name primarily used of him among the scrolls.

22. The Songs of the Sabbath sacrifice may very well provide us with important background to understand an incipient mystical Judaism that Colossians addresses where certain Jews saw their worship as a participation in the worship of angels. The use of tongues in worship may intersect here at some point as well.

23. The idea that God's throne room was a heavenly Holy of Holies in a heavenly temple is certainly attested at Qumran.

24. The importance of santification of the community understood as purification is certainly attested at Qumran.

25. The Qumran sense of Melchizedek as a heavenly archangel may stand somewhere in the background of Hebrews 7, although if so, probably more in terms of the author using some associations on the part of the audience rather than his own. Hebrews does not equate Jesus with Melchizedek.

26. Once again, the idea of a final battle between Israel and the world, with the primary bad guy or image of the primary bad guy based on Rome, stands as an essential part of Revelation and is strongly evoked by the War Scroll.

Friday, November 13, 2009

New Testament Intersections 8: Final DSS

Previous posts in this series include:

Most Apocrypha and Alexandrian Literature
Enochic Literature and 4QMMT
Covenant of Damascus
Community Rule
Qumran Hymns
Pesher Commentaries
Songs of Sabbath, 4QTest, 4QFlor, Son of God frag, etc...

And now the remaining Dead Sea Scrolls I am covering.

General Elements
1. Generally known for equating Melchizedek with Michael the archangel, although nothing in the text actually says this. It does seem to make a distinction between the messiah and Melchizedek, otherwise we might suppose that "mlchzdk" should be interpreted as "king of righteousness" in relation to the messiah.

2. Melchizedek is called ELOHIM and EL, "god," which is the basis for seeing him as an archangel here. He brings judgment on Belial and other spirits (=angels) who rebelled, which supports the angelic theory.

3. Atonement seems associated in some way with Melchizedek, which again supports an association with Genesis 15. At the same time, we should remember that more than one scroll sees the messiah as a priest-messiah.

New Testament Intersections
1. Paul seems to understand Christ to lead the (good) angels in judgment of the world and (fallen) angels (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:2-3; 1 Thess. 4:16), which fits with the role of Melchizedek.

2. A couple NT texts are used here. Isaiah 61, used of Jesus in Luke 4, is used of Melchizedek. The programmatic verse of Jesus ministry, Isaiah 52:7 "how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the gospel, our God reigns [kingdom of God]" is evoked in relation to the messiah and Melchizedek, assuming the two are different.

3. There has been much speculation about a possible connection between 11QMelch and Hebrews 7. It may very well be that such Melchizedek traditions stand somewhere broadly in the background of Hebrews argument. However, Hebrews 7 does not equate Jesus with Melchizedek and virtually all of its argument can be explained as a "what is not in the Torah does not exist" argument (non in thora non in mundo).

The Book of War (4Q285)
I only mention this set of fragments because some have claimed that it foretells a murdered messiah. This, however, does not seem to be the case and is based upon extensively hypothetical reconstructions.

Messianic Rule (1QSa)
1. Gives the community's picture of the messianic community in the age to come. Pictures a single priest-messiah (2).

2. the assembly, again (2)

3. again, importance of purity "because the angels of holiness are with their congregation" (2)... remember Fitzmeyer's interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 again (that I don't agree with)

War Scroll (1QM)
This is an extensive picture of the final eschatological battle. The matter of formation and weaponry bespeaks the Romans as the Kittim and chief enemy.

New Testament Intersections
1. Belial again (1...)

2. sons of light again (1), sons of darkness (3)

3. assembly again (2...)

4. mysteries again (3, 14)

5. sinful flesh* (4) Most of the references to flesh elsewhere have had more to do with weakness than sinfulness

6. righteousness of God again (4)

7. right hand of God (cf. Ps. 110:1; 4)

8. elect of God again (4, 12)

9. twelve tribes of Israel (5), reminder that Jesus chose 12 disciples

10. wrath of God (6)

11. importance of perfection of body, no nakedness, because angels with them in battle (cf. Fitzmeyer on 1 Cor. 11)

12. ranks of angels like 1 Enoch (9)

13. God's lovingkindness not in accordance with our works (11).

14. the messiah, with reference to Numbers 24 (11)

15. the sanctified (11)

16. Belial created for the Pit (13), sounds like predestination, sounds like "created for the Devil and his angels" in Matthew, eternal blaze for sinners (14)

17. poor in spirit (14)

18. In general, the final battle of the War Scroll reminds us of the final battle pictured in the final chapters of Revelation, including the fact that the final opponent is Rome or pictured in terms of Rome.

Copper Scroll (3Q15)
Of no real relevance to the New Testament but very interesting. Post-dates Qumran (ca. AD100), claims to tell where a mess of gold, silver, and massive wealth in general is stashed around Jerusalem. Some think it's all made up. Some think the wealth of the Essenes or of the temple. But no one has found any of it!

New Testament Intersections 7: Miscellaneous DSS

Previous posts in this series include:

Most Apocrypha and Alexandrian Literature
Enochic Literature and 4QMMT
Covenant of Damascus
Community Rule
Qumran Hymns
Pesher Commentaries

Maybe second to last post in run through the Dead sea Scrolls. I hope on Monday to summarize what I think the rather impressive take-away from this run through the Dead Sea Scrolls might be.

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShab)
1. About heavenly worship but is coordinated with the offering of earthly sacrifices

2. Heavenly temple, including Holy of Holies

3. ministers of God’s presence make expiations (cf. TLevi 3)

4. called “elohim”—”gods” (e.g., 4Q403)

5. anticipates Merkabah mysticism (esp. 4Q405)

New Testament Intersections
1. Colossians 2:18— "worship of angels” might mean not worshipping angels but mystical participation with the angels in their worship

2. Hebrews 1—It has been suggested that behind Hebrews repeated contrasts of Christ with angels might be an over-preoccupation of the audience with angels.

3. Hebrews 9-10-- the idea that God dwells in the Most Holy Place of heaven

4. mysteries again (4Q403)

Words of the Heavenly Lights (4Q504)
You sent your Holy Spirit on us (5)

Messianic expectation using Deut. 18 and Num. 24)

1. Collection of texts generally connected to the Messiah, including 2 Samuel 7:14, Amos 9:11, and Psalm 2.

2. These three texts are all used in the New Testament (Acts and Hebrews) in relation to Jesus.

3. Might (although perhaps not) support collections of sayings such as Q is alleged to be and the Gospel of Thomas was. More accurately a set of related verses with pesher interpretation.

4. "works of the Law" related to the functioning of the sanctuary.

5. Belial, sons of light cont...

Son of God fragment (4Q246)
Predicts a “Son of God,” a “Son of the Most High” like Luke 1:32, 35

A Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521)
1. May not be sectarian

2. Speaks of reviving and raising the dead

3. Quotes Isaiah 61:1 as Luke 4

Pseudo-Ezekiel (4Q385)
1. not obviously sectarian

2. literal resurrection?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Testament Intersections 6: Pesher Commentaries

Previous posts in this series include:

Most Apocrypha and Alexandrian Literature
Enochic Literature and 4QMMT
Covenant of Damascus
Community Rule
Qumran Hymns

The next installment of our run through intertestamental literature for its possible intersections with the New Testament leads us to the Habakkuk, Nahum, and Psalms commentaries at Qumran. Their principle intersection with the NT is their method of interpretation.

They are of immense value, however, in relation to the history of the Qumran community and the Essenes in general. They generally date to the first century BC and so were copied at Qumran. I locate them as sectarian documents of the Qumran community, therefore, and perhaps less documents of broader Essenism. The sense of Hab. and Nahum that the Kittim (Romans) have broad judgment on the wicked, without hardening into the view against them found in the War Scroll, speaks of a date somewhere around 60-50BC.

Habakkuk Commentary (4QHab)
Historical Data
1. Wicked Priest/Liar versus TR again (1, 2, 8, 9, 10); Wicked Priest (Jonathan Maccabeus) pursued the TR to the house of his exile on Day of Atonement (11); WP defiled temple (12)

2. TR called a priest (2)

3. Kittim=Romans (2), sacrifice to their standards (6)

4. Absalom=Pharisees? (5)

New Testament Intersections
1. Pesher method of interpretation quotes an OT Scripture and then applies it directly to the Qumran sect and its history is much like the way Matthew interprets OT Scripture in relation to the life of Jesus (e.g., Matt. 2:15), although Matthew does not format his interpretation in commentary form.

2. new covenant again (perhaps equated with Covenant of Damascus; 2)

3. Essenes as the elect (5)

4. Idea that they were in the final generation (7); judgment coming (13)

5. circumcise foreskin of heart (11)

Nahum Commentary (4Q169)
Historical Data
It mentions Demetrius III (1) and thus implies that the "seekers of smooth things" were the Pharisees who sided with Demetrius against the Hasmonean king-priest Alexander Janneus (103-76BC) around 88BC. Janneus, the "furious young lion" then crucified 800 Pharisees.

We also learn that "Ephraim" is symbolic for the Pharisees as well (2), as is "House of Separation" (4). "Manasseh" could refer to the Sadducees.

New Testament Intersections
same pesher method of interpretation

Psalms Commentary (4Q171)
Historical Data
1. Liar/Wicked Priest (Jonathan; 1, 2); tried to kill TR because he sent him a "law" (4; in ref. to 4QMMT?)

2. wicked of Ephraim and Manasseh (Pharisees and maybe Sadducees; 2)

3. TR a priest (2, 3)

New Testament Intersections
1. same pesher interpretive method

2. Belial again (2)

3. poor will inherit the world; cf. Matt. 5; Luke (3)

New Testament Intersections 5: Qumran Hymns

Previous posts in this series include:

Most Apocrypha and Alexandrian Literature
Enochic Literature and 4QMMT
Covenant of Damascus
Community Rule

Qumran Hymns
Some may come from the Teacher of Righteousness himself. Geza Vermes points to a comment in Philo's Contemplative Life that indicates hymns were sung after the exposition of Scripture. I am in my mind placing the core hymns between the founding of the Essenes around 150BC and the founding of Qumran around 100BC. For the numbering of the hymns, Vermes' number is first, followed by the older).

New Testament parallels
1. glory of Adam again (1/23)

2. the righteousness of God as God's righteousness again, cf. Rom. 1:17 (2/24; 4/21; 5/22; 12/7 TR; 15/11 TR; 21/17; 22/18)

3. the depravity of humanity, righteousness by grace alone cf. Rom. 3-4 (3/25*; 5/22; 12/7 TR; 16/12; 17/13; 18/14*; 23/19)

4. God's word does not return empty, cf. logos in NT (3/25)

5. Holy Spirit again (4/21; 5/22; 15/11 TR; 18/14; 23/19)

6. demand for subsequent moral perfection (4/21; 6/1)

7. the congregation, assembly (5/22; 12/7)

8. radical predestination (5/22*; 19/15); foreknowledge (6/1* TR)

9. Belial again (7/2; 10/5; 12/7)

10. Messiah as marvelous mighty counselor (9/4); 14/10? 18/14?

11. Law written on heart (12/7 TR)

12. mysteries again (12/7; 18/14; 21/17; 23/19)

13. possible references to resurrection (14/10 TR; 21/17*); imprisonment of dead spirits (18/14; 20/16); everlasting abode illumined with perfect light (24/25)

Historical data
1. possible reference to Pharisees as seekers of smooth things (6/1 TR; 8/3; 12/7 TR)

2. others seeking after Teacher of Righteousness (TR)'s life (7/2 TR); banishing him from the land (12/7 TR)

3. plant imagery (14/10 TR; 18/14)

Monday, November 09, 2009

New Testament Intersections 4: Community Rule

In three previous posts I have attempted to catalog intersections between Intertestamental literature and the New Testament, as well as some basics.

They are:
Most Apocrypha and Alexandrian Literature
Enochic Literature and 4QMMT
Covenant of Damascus

Here are some basics relating to the Community Rule (1QS) of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Only known from Qumran:

Entry process
1. Examination (done yearly; 1QS 5)
2. One year trial (no communal meal)
3. Examination; property turned over
4. Additional year trial (no communal drink)
5. Examination; property absorbed

  • Guardian (1QS 6)
  • Council of Community (12 men and three priests; 1QS 7); at least one priest for 10 elders (1QS 6)
  • Interpreter of the Law (1QS 6, 8)
Possible NT Intersections
1. Sons of light and sons of darkness (cf. 1 Thess. 5:5; e.g., 1QS 1)

2. Belial cont (1QS 1).

3. Emphasis on perfect living (1QS 1); holiness in an ethical sense (e.g., 1QS 5)

4. Everlasting fire (1QS 2, 4; cf. Matt. 5, 13, 25)

5. Spirit of holiness (1QS 3, 4; cf. Rom. 1:3); Holy Spirit (1QS 8)

6. Sanctification, cleansing of sin by way of baptism (1QS 3)

7. God’s predestination of all things (1QS 3; cf. Rom. 9)

8. Two spirits, vice list proceeding from spirit of falsehood (1QS 4; cf. Gal. 5:9-21); evil inclination cont. (1QS 5)

9. Glory of Adam again (1QS 4)

10. Communal meal and drink (1QS 6; cf. Lord’s supper)

11. Communal holding of property (1QS 6; cf. Acts 2); lying in regard to property very serious (cf. Acts 5)

12. Council a “precious corner stone” (1QS 8; cf. 1 Peter 2:6)

13. Community in wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” (1QS 8, 9; cf. John the Baptist)

14. The Way again (1QS 9)

15. Now dual messiahs, one of Judah (king) and one of Aaron (priest); also a Prophet mentioned (1QS 9)

16. Mysteries again (1QS 9)

17. Category of salvation (1QS 10)

18. Category of justification (1QS 3, 11)

19. Righteousness of God as God’s mercy to justify (1QS 11; cf. Rom. 1:17)

20. Flesh as metaphor for humanness/sinfulness (1QS 11)

New Testament Intersections 2: Covenant of Damascus

In an earlier post I went through the "Enochic" literature up to 4QMMT, a document that possibly stands at the very moment of the birth of the Essenes as a distinct sect.

Next I want to look at the Covenant of Damascus, both for clues to the history of the period and for possible intersections with early Christianity. I have not yet thought of significant parallels between the Temple Scroll and the New Testament, other than a general sense that the current temple in Jerusalem was not legitimate as it stood.

Covenant of Damascus
History of Movement (all in I.)
1. A plant sprang up 390 years after the Babylonian captivity--corresponds to the founding of the Hasidim? in the early 100s BC, as also mentioned in the Apocalypse of Weeks (ca. 170BC).

2. Wander for twenty years (ca. 170-150BC)--period of Hasidim involvement in Maccabean crisis

3. Teacher of Righteousness gives leadership to movement about 150BC, presumably when the Scoffer (Jonathan Maccabeus) assumed the role of high priest. The seekers of smooth things are probably the Pharisees, other Hasidim who sided with Jonathan over the Teacher (cf. CD VII).

4. Perhaps flees to Damascus with many Hasidim, where this covenant is formed. Not sure if we should take Damascus literally.

New Testament Intersections
1. The expectation that one would walk "in perfection"? (CD II), although it is hard to find any NT writings that use the word "perfection" in relation to holiness or ethical behavior in general

2. Mention of following "the way" in association with Damascus (CD II; Mark 1:3; Acts 9:2)--very interesting!

3. Talk of a "guilty inclination" (CD II; cf. James 1:14)

4. Mention of Holy Spirit (CD II)

5. Mystery of God's forgiveness (CD III; Rom. 11; Eph. 4)

6. glory of Adam (CD III; Rom. 3:23; Heb. 2:10)

7. elect within Israel (CD IV; Rom. 9)

8. Use of the word "Belial" for Satan (CD IV; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:15)

9. Mention of the tradition of Jannes and Jambres (CD V; cf. 2 Tim. 3:8)

10. Expectation of a king messiah (e.g., CD VII) who is also a priest messiah (e.g., CD B II)

11. A new covenant (e.g., CD VIII; 1 Cor. 11:25)

12. “angels of holiness in their midst” (CD XV); some say relevance to head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 (Fitzmeyer), although I don't see it

13. Jesus counters the saying “You shall keep your vow” (Matt. 5) with you should not swear. This saying is mentioned as binding in CD XVI, making one wonder if Jesus and James are reacting to some overemphasis on vows?

14. The collective group is called the “assembly” (e.g., XII), which is ekklesia (church) in Greek.

Very interesting. Very difficult to know the weight of any one parallel. How widespread, for example, was using Belial for Satan? But the more "blips" on the parallel screen, the more likely we should see early Christianity at least partially growing out of Essene soil.

Berlin Wall... 20 years on

What a great day! It is amazing to look back and remember the thirty year or so stretch when East and West Germany were so separated. It is a stark testimony to the failure of twentieth century communism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The basic principles I take from this failed experiment are two-fold: 1) competition is key to human thriving and excellence and 2) the goal of making everything free is a phantom one. What you do with these two principles of course will have to face the complexities of reality. For example, it does not translate into unbridled capitalism, which arguably has its own set of failures, not least the economic crisis of these last year or the social plight of countless little people during the Industrial Revolution. Adam Smith meant for capitalism to empower the little person, not to create a new economic aristocracy.

We need objectivity seeking geniuses with strong human values to translate these principles into political reality. By "strong human values" I mean individuals who do not dismiss those who, when left to their own devices, will fail (everyone from the mentally challenged to some people who live near me). They are part of the social contract. By "objectivity seeking" I mean non-partisans, which would not include those economists for whom unbridled capitalism has become a religion to itself.

So I am not competent to judge whether the current "public option" under discussion is sound or not. I do suspect America should have one to cover everyone--as long as it does not sabotage true competition in the mainstream marketplace, and I realize that is a big "if" in the current discussion. And I am not opposed to, for lack of a better term, "welfare," as long as its primary goal is the empowerment or, frankly, placement of those who for whatever reason lack the ability or impetus to support themselves. Where to start on that one, I don't know.

I saw a well intentioned Christian video recently about how great it would be if everything were free. I don't even know if that principle will apply in the kingdom of God! For whatever reason, the vast majority of human beings do not seem to do anything noteworthy by their own impetus. Work and competition are who we are. It is hard to imagine anyone from eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union producing a video like that.

Communism simply does not work given human nature--at least most of our human natures.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Some New Testament Intersections 1

I was fascinated to see Geza Vermes, who is Jewish, use the language of the "intertestamental" period in his revised Dead Sea Scrolls Translated. Early Judaism would seem to be the more accepted term in neutral scholarship. But fascinatingly, he seems to be speaking of the years 160ish BC to AD70 or so, presumably because he considers Daniel to have been finished in the late 160s BC.

Thought I would gather some notes on important parallels between the next phase of my intertestamental class and the New Testament:

Book of the Watchers (ca. 200BC)
  • Jude 14-15 of course quote 1 Enoch 1.
  • Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4; and 1 Peter 3:19-20 all seem to refer to the story of angels having sex with human women in 1 Enoch 6 and following, based on Genesis 6.
  • first recorded journey apocalypse, which relates to revelation
  • 1 Enoch 22 is perhaps the earliest differentiation of the dead in the underworld in Jewish literature.
Astronomical Book (ca. 200BC)
  • no significant parallels
Aramaic Levi (ca. 200BC)
  • perhaps earliest example of "testament" genre, begins to raise (along with 1 Enoch) the issue of pseudonymity, how it was understood in terms of genres of literature
  • only in the most general way stands in the anti-current temple and need for legitimate priest tradition
Apocalypse of Weeks (ca. 170BC)
  • excepting Daniel from discussion, oldest historical apocalypse
  • only in the most general way stands in the "new age around the corner" tradition
Dream Visions (ca. 160BC)
  • first real anticipation of a messianic figure around the corner in intertestamental literature
  • continues sense of coming regathering of Israel from exile (or could be interpreted to mean general resurrection, but I go with the former)
Jubilees (ca. 150BC)
  • "rewritten Scripture," illustrates the acceptability of recasting biblical stories sometimes in quite remarkable ways (e.g., Mastema rather than God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac)
  • 23:20 mentions returning Israel to "the way," meaning the way of righteousness (23:21).
  • possible eternal existence of righteous spirits, but no resurrection (23:31)
4QMMT (ca. 150BC--"Some of the Works of the Law")
  • Possibly sent from the founder of the Essenes, the Teacher of Righteousness, to Jonathan Maccabeus as he received the title of high priest in 152BC, possibly witnesses the origins of the name "Essene" as "doers" of the Law as one subset of the Hasidim coalesces around a disenfranchised priest descended from Zadok
  • Provides important background to the phrase, "works of Law" in Galatians and Romans, where it relates directly to intra-Jewish squabbles over the particulars of keeping the Law, especially as the Law related to matters of purity, calendar, and so forth

more to come...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Impact of Background Literature

I am teaching a course on "Intertestamental Literature" this semester. I do not believe you need to be able to read the New Testament in its historical context to read it as Christian Scripture and God's living word to believers today. But it seems impossible to understand what these books actually meant without some sense of this background.

Any curriculum that truly aims for its students to understand the Bible in context should significantly engage this material. It provides such depth of understanding, reveals our inconsistencies! It holds a mirror up to ourselves and exposes the extensiveness to which our varied Christian traditions control our interpretations. It is no surprise that John Piper discouraged engagement with this material in his debates with Tom Wright--it reveals the fact that Piper's Calvinist theology derives more from Reformation theology than from what the New Testament actually meant.

I'll leave it at that. Like I said, one can certainly use the Scriptures Christianly, as God's living word to believers today, without being able to read it in historical context. As long as one does this in a mature community of faith, you should not go wrong. The common Christian understanding of these texts is a stable and enduring understanding. But this reading, which we might call theological interpretation, does not change the actual meaning these texts had originally, which was largely a function of their ancient contexts. A Christian hermeneutic that cannot account for both is either not fully Christian (over-emphasis on the original meaning) or shallow (over-emphasis on the Christian understanding).


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Future of Ministerial Vocation: Greg Jones

We were delighted to have Greg Jones, Dean of Duke Divinity School, and Dorothy Bass of Valparaiso on campus tonight to talk about the future of ministerial vocation. Russ Gunsalus, Acting Chief Operating Officer of our new seminary, gave an excellent response alongside Dr. Bass.

My take-away from Dr. Jones was:
1. Ministry is a calling, but not about personal therapy.
2. Ministry is a profession, but not a way to earn money.
3. Ministry is an office, not a chance for power.

There was much monkey imagery tonight. Dr. Jones about monkeys who learned not to reach for bananas, even long after they could. Dr. Bass' response suggested that we might be monkeys who help other monkeys come to piles of bananas. And Russ Gunsalus warned the students to be careful what monkeys they hang around and to break open the cage and go out and take the bananas to other monkeys.

I had another book idea tonight (happens regularly, usually with no issuance).

"Faith in a Mystery: Christian Faith in the 21st Century"
Chapter 1: Faith is a Disposition (including how we process experiences)
Chapter 2: Faith in the Word (dealing with faith in Christ, processing questions about the Bible)
Chapter 3: Faith in Creation (dealing with how we process questions about science, time, space)
Chapter 4: Faith in History (dealing with problem of evil, minority of Christian faith)
Chapter 5: Faith in Destiny (dealing with processing questions about soul, afterlife, psychology)
Chapter 6: Faith in Action (the positive impact of people of faith in the world)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday Explanatory Notes: Hebrews 11:1-7

11:1-2 Now faith is the substance of things that are being hoped, proof of things that are not being seen, for in this, the elders were witnessed.
This is a description of one kind of faith rather than a definition, and it comes in the context of the previous verses. The author has been urging that the audience not shrink back, but press on and attain, that the audience be faithful and endure on. The audience hopes for Christ's return. The audience hopes for the whole world to be set straight.

These are not things they have today, but faith that they will happen in the future gives substance to them today. They do not see these things today, but faith that they will happen gives evidence or proof of them today. The faith to which the author refers here thus relates to the future. Faith affords endurance today because of what is believed in relation to tomorrow.

The "elders" surely refers to all the "heroes of faith," the example list that follows. These "Old Testament saints" were all witnessed to have faith. The author thus wishes to encourage the audience to continue in faith, to endure, like the myriad individuals that follow. They will see that they are in good company.

11:3 By faith we understand the aeons to have been knit together by the [spoken] word of God, with the implication that what is being seen has not come to be out of things that are [currently] visible.
The first example of faith differs from those that follow in that it does not mention some Old Testament individual but rather invokes the creation in Genesis 1 itself. We have only translated aion as "aeon" to point out that the word is somewhat unusual. "Worlds" is the common translation. We have not used it here so that we do not think of planets, solar systems, or galaxies. Aeons in Hebrews might refer to the layers of sky that Jesus passed through on route to the highest heaven (e.g., 4:14; 7:26), the created skies as opposed to the eternal sky or heaven, in addition to the earth below.

The word of God here is not logos but hrema, so we should be cautious of bringing John 1 or Christ into view here. Given the author's proximity to some Alexandrian imagery, it is interesting to say the least that he avoids logos here. God rather than Jesus is the creator here.

It is not at all clear that this verse pictures ex nihilo creation. It simply says that the materials that God used to "knit" the world together, like mending a net, are not materials that are currently visible. He thus did not make the world out of earth, air, fire, and water.

The point is that God is quite adept at making things that are not currently apparent. Thus they can be confident that the things on which they have set their hopes will materialize, even though they do not currenly see them. If the audience believed that God created the visible world out of a pre-existing chaos, as was the common belief of the day, then the illustration would be all the more poignant. Although things do not look orderly or manageable today--things look formless and void--God is quite good at creating order out of chaos.

11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a greater sacrifice than Cain, through which he was witnessed to be righteous, God Himself witnessing by way of the gifts, and through it, he still is speaking, although he died.
If the invocation of creation implied that the audience should have faith and endure, mention of Abel's faith reinforces the audience's faith in Christ's atonement. The verse is too allusive for us to know the answers to the questions we have about the nature of each sacrifice. The author merely builds on the fact that Abel's sacrifice was better than Cain's and was accepted. Similarly, the audience should have faith in the greater, more perfect, and indeed effective sacrifice of Jesus over and against the Levitical sacrifices. This is the path to justification, to be deemed "righteous," faith in the faithful death of Jesus Christ.

As a part of Scripture, Abel continues to speak of faith through the biblical text. He is a witness to faith that the audience should listen to. And if any Christians had been martyred prior to the time of writing, they were also still speaking to the audience, even though they might have died. Literal faith in life after death may also be implied as well.

11:5-6 By faith Enoch was taken so that [he] did not see death, and "he was not found because God took him." For before his taking, it has been witnessed [that he] "pleased God." But without faith it is impossible to please [Him], for it is necessary for the one who is approaching God to believe that He is and [that He] becomes a rewarder to those who seek Him.
The nature of Enoch's faith is not set out. Perhaps the image invokes the possibility that the audience might not have to face death in persecution. If Abel died because of his faithfulness, Enoch did not because of his. The chapter both reinforces faith to the point of death, while also giving hope that a person might not see death if they continue in faith.

In either case, faith is necessary for justification, for "pleasing God." In particular, Hebrews mentions the conviction that God exists, meaning the God of Israel, and faith in the things hoped for, namely, that God is going to come through on His promises. If the audience does not continue in faith in things currently not seen, they do not have faith that God "rewards those who seek Him." In that case they should not expect to receive the promise.

11:7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet being seen, he contructed a ship for the salvation of his household because he had a godly fear, through which he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness according to faith.
Thus far we have seen overtones of faith to endure in the midst of persecution (creation from chaos, Enoch) and faith in Christ's sacrifice (Abel). Noah adds another example to the first category. Noah did not see the salvation God had promised for a long time before it materialized. He nevertheless endured in faith. He constructed an ark of salvation for his household. He demonstrated reverent fear, as Jesus did in 5:7 and was resurrected in consequence.

The audience can also be a witness to the condemnation of the world that disobeys and resists God. Their faith makes them an heir of justification. They will be declared righteous, like Abel, on the Day of Judgment if they continue in faith despite the torrent that looks to beat against them in the days ahead.