Friday, February 26, 2010

God in the Old Testament

I got this question from a friend yesterday that went something like this: "I was asked today how I could reconcile the picture of God in the Old Testament with God in the New Testament. The question was along the lines of why God is vindictive and punishing in the Old Testament and yes forgiving and loving in the New Testament."

Certainly God is forgiving and loving in the Old Testament too (e.g., the story of Jonah, God sparing Israel) and God judges with punishment in the New Testament (e.g., Ananias and Sapphira; final judgment). But I don't think we can completely deflect this observation. In Joshua and Numbers, God has Israel in effect try to commit genocide down to children and even animals. In Ezra God commands Israelite men to divorce their non-Israelite wives and children. There are puzzling things in the OT from a Christian standpoint.

There are also things like the stoning of a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Saturday). Remember that strange story at the beginning of Exodus where God tries to kill Moses until Zipporah quickly circumcises his son? Moses intercedes for Israel like you would someone almost out of control trying to beat someone else up. God is sorry he created humanity just before the Flood--not possible if God is omniscient. God sits in council with the gods of the other nations in Psalm 82, having assigned them to those nations in the first place in Deuteronomy 32--sounds like Zeus in the Lightning Thief.

A point of growth here, in my opinion, is to realize that every word of the Bible is "incarnated" revelation. God reveals himself in the categories of those to whom He reveals himself. And why not? This makes perfect sense if He wants to be understood! If God revealed himself in my categories, then no one would have really understood Him in the Bible until now, when people started looking at the world through contemporary categories.

Strangely, that's how we often treat the Bible. When we say, "God revealed the Bible as timeless, absolute truth for all time," we are really saying, "God revealed the Bible in my categories, which are the same as the categories of everyone else who has ever lived." However, this is not true. The paradigms of other times and places have differed wildly from my Western categories. The person who wants the Bible to give revelation that is unparticular to the times of its original audiences is certainly unaware of how differently those of other times and places have understood the world. Myopically, we make our time the time finally when the Bible can be understood properly, which of course is wrong and rather inadvertently self-centered.

Some will remember those denominations who used to make a distinction between infallibility and inerrancy by saying that infallible meant the Bible was without error in matters of faith and doctrine, but not necessarily science or history. This was naive, for the nature of thought and language--as I have just been saying--is for all of it to be incarnated, to take on the flesh of its time. It is thus misguided to try to consider the biblical revelation transcendent, removed from human categories, in some areas and time-conditioned in others, even in those areas related to God himself.

The necessary corollary is that even the picture of God in the Old and New Testaments is time-conditioned in the sense that it relates directly to the categories of their day. Frankly, this becomes true of the "revelations" we find in the Nicene Creed as well, meaning that theology must forever be represented in new categories, realizing that my current categories are not absolute either.

It is no surprise to me, therefore, that the Old Testament is by and large more henotheistic than purely monotheistic, meaning that God is treated as the only legitimate God to worship, though not as the only God. God also cannot change His mind if He is omniscient, meaning that I find open theism naive. I will say also that I am equally perplexed by Wesleyan-Arminians who vigorously oppose it. You you have to be conservative to be an open theist because it takes the OT picture of God very literally--more literally in fact than its opponents. It also is not process theology, as some confuse it. I understand why Calvinists would oppose it, because it emphasizes free will to the exclusion of God's determinism. But why Wesleyan-Arminians have gotten up in arms about it seems likely because of ignorance on their part.

In the end, the biblical images of God must be integrated with each other and organized from a theological fulchrum point outside the text just as all other biblical teaching. A friend of mine has as his fundamental hermeneutic "What does this text tell me about God?" This is a wonderful lens for appropriating Scripture. And we must, as with all biblical teaching, also recognize that no one biblical passage has autonomy on the answer. It is what the Bible as a whole has to tell us about God, processed through the rule of faith as encapsulated in the consensus of Christian faith, that is determinative--not the localized, time-conditioned picture of God presented by an individual passage.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Perfect Arminianism...

Actually, I can strategize a little for Calvinists reading Hebrews. What you have to do is take a "phenomenological" approach. You have to say that not all Hebrews thinks as being "in" are really in. They only appear to be "in" from the author of Hebrews' perspective.

But the language and argument of Hebrews reflects an unambiguously Arminian perspective on the part of the author, "perfectly" expressed in the perfect tense in Hebrews 3:14: "We have become and remain partakers of the Christ if indeed we hold fast the beginning of substance firm until the end."

There is no wiggle room here on what the author is thinking, although again, if I were a Calvinist I would suggest that he is expressing this truth in his own paradigm, not fully understanding how predestination works. But I am not a Calvinist, so I can take what he says at face value.

To partake is not to dabble, any more than Jesus only dabbles with flesh and blood in 2:14. It is to become or assume what you are talking about. Jesus fully became human. These individuals have fully become "Christians."

The perfect tense implies something that was completed in the past. They partook of the Christ and it was done, like someone who gets married, and you are married. It is the remaining married or the remaining partakers that is in question in the verse. The perfect tense implies not only that you were married, a completed act, but that you have remained married ever since. So this verse says that they became a partaker of the Christ and so remained ever since, if indeed they hold fast.

What this verse clearly states, as does the image of the wilderness generation it talks about, is that one's continuance as a partaker of the Christ is contingent on holding fast, on going all the way to Canaan. Those who disbelieved in process, they did not make it, did not persevere to the end.

The perfect tense here is thus "perfect Arminianism," as is the entirety of the book of Hebrews.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Finished Body, Soul, and Human Life

We finished Green's Body, Soul, and Human Life in the Monday reading group. Our summary of the book was something like the following: "We can pretty much explain everything the soul used to explain by way of the brain, and the biblical evidence doesn't preclude a monistic perspective."

We did wonder why Green didn't use the worldview argument more, which is what I would use. The Bible presents humanity in the terms of its original audiences and as such it is more important to preserve the points of such passages rather than the particular ancient paradigms in which those points were conveyed.

Green has helped my understanding of 1 Peter develop. I used to hear 1 Peter 3:18 in terms of Jesus' human body and spirit. But I see clearly now that he was put to death in his flesh and that the enlivening in Spirit commenced after his death. Green even identifies spirit here with the stuff of heaven. I still think there is a good chance that 1 Peter might see the human person in dualistic terms, with the spirit inside us being made of the stuff of heaven, but 3:18 isn't talking about it.

P.S. I've started a Lenten series on the seminary Dean's blog.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Freelance Scholars?

The Wesleyan Church and Indiana Wesleyan University have found a way to tame my blog... they made me Dean of a seminary :-) You might have noticed not only that my blog posts are fewer but that they are probably less hard hitting. I am still writing, but my brain is stretched pretty thin.

I don't regret it. The seminary we've founded will minister to an awful lot of people who otherwise would not have gone to seminary. I believe we will raise the level of competency and depth among ministers not only of my own denomination, but of a host of denominations that do not require seminary. And we are piloting possible paths for the future of ministerial education. It's a good thing.

I did have an idea, not for me, not for now. You all may know that we are in a bit of a conundrum when it comes to musicians and writers. The internet has made so much available for free that, at some point, there will be no motivation for musicians to write songs or for writers to write. For example, the IWU book store rents my New Testament Survey to students. That means I get nothing from the 100s of on campus students who use my book.

Why blog then? Why read books and put my summaries out here for free? Why share my thoughts, especially the ones that reflect competencies I have that most of my readers would not (like my ability to read Greek and Hebrew)?

I think we bloggers do it because we love ideas and we like talking. An awful lot of us would teach for free as long as our living expenses are covered.

Well, here's the idea. What if some bloggers went freelance? For a dollar every 10 pages we'll summarize x book for you. For 300 words of blog explanation, we'll describe "game theory" for you or "Schroedinger's equation." A certain amount to post it publically; maybe double to send it to you privately.

We know of freelance writers for public institutions. What about freelance scholars for the public in general? You want to know something? We'll study it for you and report back.

Not me, not now... but an idea.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bible and Spiritual Gifts Tests

Paul's writings have three well-known passages in which he lists a number of spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:4-8 (NRSV):
"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses."

Romans 12:4-8:
"As in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness."

Ephesians 4:11-13:
"The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ."

These lists have made their way into spiritual gifts tests, where a person answers some questions, and then the test tells you which of the gifts above might be yours. A fundamental premise of the tests is the idea of 1 Corinthians 12:4--"to each" is given a manifestation of the Spirit. The idea is thus that everyone has at least one of these gifts, and the test is designed to tell you which one.

The popularity of these tests shows that Christians have found them beneficial or at least pleasurable. No doubt part of their popularity lies in the same fascination we might have with personality tests in general, the delight we experience to know and hear about ourselves. And how much more meaningful to hear about ourselves from God than from a psychologist! Like Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, spiritual gift tests feed a sense that God has given us a clear cut destiny, purpose, and meaning in this world.

There is a great deal that is positive about this spiritual gift phenomenon. For example, we all do have a place in the body of Christ, as 1 Corinthians 12 clearly indicates. Some of us may seem to be "weaker" parts (12:22) or be thought "less honorable" (12:23), but God gives extra honor to these "inferior" members to make up for it (12:24). God loves us all equally, even though some gifts are more central and prominent than others.

At the same time, we might keep a number of considerations in mind as we think about spiritual gifts and spiritual gift tests. For one, the three lists are not the same. For example, Paul only mentions the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians, as he addresses a church where tongues stands at the heart of disorderly worship (1 Cor. 14). Exhortation and compassion are only in Romans. In short, none of these lists are absolute lists.

Spiritual gift tests thus do several questionable things with these lists. Primarily, they do not recognize the contextual and situational nature of these lists. For example, we have no reason to think, either in 1 Corinthians or Romans, that Paul thought he was providing an exhaustive or timeless list of spiritual gifts. Further, we have no clear basis on which to treat each gift as fully distinguishable from the others. Is healing completely distinguishable from performing miracles? How much does pastoring, teaching, or ministering overlap?

So it would seem that spiritual gift tests sometimes mistake the scope of these passages. It treats the lists as exhaustive, when we have no reason to think Paul intended them that way. Another thing to keep in mind is that Paul was addressing ancient audiences, not modern ones. We would fairly quickly recognize that those who live in the United States will tend to think of themselves as individuals differently than a person from China, Africa, or Afghanistan. How much more, then, would those who lived two thousand years ago!

We are so familiar with the words of Scripture that it is difficult for us to hear their foreignness. Our parents and traditions have naturalized them, reshaped their meaning to fit with who we are and our conceptions of the world. We feel like we are reading about people who were just like us, not realizing that a person from Africa or a two-thirds world country is much more likely to hear the original connotations of the biblical books than we are.

It may very well be, therefore, that we should use knowledge of our own time and culture to create gift lists for our own context. Are there really apostles today? Certainly there are not any who fit either the definition of Acts 1:21-22 or Paul's own implicit sense in 1 Corinthians 9:1. We may very well have prophets among us today, but none who are foundational to the church in the manner of Ephesians 2:20.

So the lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians are probably much more general and impressionistic than timeless or exhaustive. They are a snapshot of some of the spiritual gifts that were in play in the first century. But it is probably a bit skewed to make them into a fixed list of distinct gifts that you can test yourself for. The apostle Paul would likely find our tests not a little peculiar, and our tendency to universalize and absolutize these lists are symptomatic of our more general lack of awareness of the distance between us and the original meaning of these texts.

9.4 A Soul in a Body, Part 3

This is the third part of a second in a chapter called "What is a Human Being?" This section is called A Soul in a Body and the previous parts of the section are

Part 1
Part 2

And now the section continues...
...Nevertheless, a number of New Testament authors do seem to use either “soul” or more often “spirit” in relation to a part inside us that is separable from our bodies. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 Paul is unsure whether he has had an “out of the body” experience or not. Paul so strongly assumes that we will have a resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 that it is probably hard for him to imagine life without a body. [1] But he seems at least open to the possibility in 2 Corinthians 12. Philippians 1:23 also seems to imply continued existence at death in heaven in some way, prior to the resurrection (cf. Phil. 3:11). Revelation 6:9 speaks of the “souls” under the altar of heaven. These are individuals who were martyred, perhaps beheaded, while they were alive (Rev. 20:4). They apparently receive resurrection bodies and return to the living at the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6).

Because the Bible gives us varied pictures of human psychology and of the afterlife, we probably should not consider any of these pictures absolute. Clearly the New Testament teaches that believers will continue to exist in eternity, and several passages even point to continued existence immediately at death. The Gospel of Luke, for example, has its Parable of the Rich Man, who awakes in torment after death. His brothers are still alive, so he has not awakened after the resurrection. [2] He has not risen from the dead like Jesus, for Abraham denies him that possibility (Luke 16:31). He is thus conscious in an “intermediate state” between death and resurrection. But the rich man does not apparently have a resurrection body—a body that Luke pictures having flesh and bones (cf. Luke 24:39). We should probably infer the same state for Jesus and the thief on the cross between their deaths and resurrection (cf. Luke 23:43).

But it is not clear to what extent these are pictures, put in the categories of the ancients so that the original audiences of these texts could understand them. The books of the Bible give us differing images of human make-up and the particulars of the afterlife. These things relate to another world, another dimension, another universe. And just as Christians have not generally speculated what God is made of in His substance, what “Spirit” really is, probably we should sit loosely to our language of soul and spirit as pictures and metaphors of something that we probably could not literally understand while we are this side of death...

[1] Some (but not most) scholars even suggest that Paul underwent a development on his thinking on this subject. They suggest that Paul started in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 with a strong sense that we sleep until a point at the end of history where we are re-embodiment as part of the resurrection. Then they suggest that he switched to see us being re-embodied immediately at death in 2 Corinthians 5. Perhaps the most famous exponent of this interpretation was F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free

[2] I have often heard the ingenious suggestion that eternity is outside the time of our current universe and thus that the rich man could have been raised at the resurrection and still be “now” in relation to human time. He would thus be raised much later in regard to human time, but resurrected already in relation to otherworldly time. This suggestion is ingenious, but hardly something that the author of Luke would have been thinking.

9.5 A Soul in a Body, Part 2

The first part of this section of the chapter is here. I would love to finish this chapter finally this weekend. We'll see. I'm doing this section in bits to hold my interest...

Part 2: A Soul in a Body
At the time of Christ, most people in the world did not believe in much of a meaningful, personal afterlife for individuals. If the abbreviation R.I.P is somewhat well known today (“Rest in peace”), a common Roman epitaph translates as “I was not. I was. I am not. I care not.” When we read the ancient Greek epics of Homer and the Latin Aeneid, we primarily find an underworld where shadows wander mindlessly, lacking the flesh and blood necessary for them to have much of a meaningful or thoughtful existence. This is presumably the same sense of the afterlife we find in the Old Testament when we read statements like, “But when people die, they lose all strength. They breathe their last, and then where are they? … people lie down and do not rise again. Until the heavens are no more, they will not wake up nor be roused from their sleep… They never know if their sons grow up in honor or sink to insignificance” (Job 14:10, 12, 21).

Nevertheless, even in Homer’s Iliad we find hints of a place among the dead for very special people, the Elysian Fields. The idea that the dead might return to the living in some way seems to have begun to emerge in the 500s BC. One of the oldest known Greek philosophers to think something of this sort was Pythagoras (ca. 520BC), who is best known for the Pythagorean Theorem in geometry. He believed in some form of reincarnation. A famous anecdote in Xenophanes says of him that “once when he passed a dog being mistreated, Pythagoras pitied the animal and told the person, ‘Stop! Don’t beat him! He is the soul of a friend I recognized immediately when I heard his voice.’”

Plato also held to the transmigration of the soul, a little over a century later. For Plato there are a fixed number of souls in existence, and they make their ways into various human bodies. While Plato did not think the body was evil, he thought of it as a “prison house” or tomb of the soul, from which the soul was freed at death. At death we drink from the river of forgetfulness (Lethe) and eventually our souls return to enter different bodies of various animals.

However, for most Greek thinkers, the soul was not completely distinguishable from the more animal part of a person, particularly whatever life force keeps us alive. For example, Democritus (ca.460-ca.370BC) taught that a person’s soul was made up of “soul atoms” that disintegrated with the body at death. He believed in a soul, but he did not believe in an afterlife! The soul was simply that which gave your body life, and it dissolved at death like the rest of you. It was material that blended back into the elements of the world just like your skin or hair does after death.

Democritus highlights a very important realization—just because the Bible or some other ancient source uses the word soul does not mean it is talking about exactly the same thing we are today. Indeed, the Old Testament in particular does not use its word for soul (nephesh) in the sense we do. “Soul” in Hebrew never refers to a detachable part of us. It refers to a living being in its entirety, both body and breath of life within it. So Adam becomes a “living soul” when God breathes into the dust (Gen. 2:7).

So Genesis uses the same word of the “living souls” in the water in Genesis 1:20. And even though the Old Testament speaks of the breath (ruach) inside living things, it never thinks of this spirit as the container of our personhood. It is simply the breath of life within us, and animals have the same breath we do (cf. Eccl. 3:19). In general, the Old Testament has little sense of a meaningful, personal afterlife. Indeed, Daniel 12:2-3 is the only passage in the Old Testament about which we would find general agreement among scholars that it actually refers to a meaningful life after death.

The New Testament also can use the word soul in this way. 1 Peter 3:20 uses the Greek word for soul (psyche) when it speaks of “eight souls in all” being saved on the ark. Translations usually translate the word as “eight people” or “eight persons” so we do not get confused. Jesus uses this word in Matthew 16:25 when he says that whoever “loses his soul will find it.” English translations rightly translate the verse as “loses his life.”

We cannot at all assume, therefore, that the word soul in our English translations of the New Testament always has the same thing in mind as we do when we use the word soul. And when New Testament authors did use the word similarly to the way we do (e.g., Matt. 10:28), they may not have had as much invested in the language as we do. I can talk of “being on cloud 9” without literally believing clouds are numbered.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hebrews in Bullets

I told my students I might find myself unable not to go ahead and boil the first four chapters of Hebrews into bullets, especially since the first test is Tuesday.

Schenck thoughts on Hebrews 1-4:

Introduction (1:1-4)
  • contrast between former age and current age in verses 1-2.
  • contrast between the many and the one
  • "in these last days" an allusion to Jeremiah and the age of the new covenant
  • Son at beginning and end of creation in 1:2 (but is language of agency in creation literal or figurative for Christ as God's wisdom?)
  • "reflection of glory," "image of substance" probable allusion to Wisdom 7:26
  • timing of becoming greater than angels in 1:4 is time of Christ's exaltation to God's right hand (had been lower than them--2:9)
Christ versus Angels (1:5-14)
  • Inherited name of 1:4 probably Son, because that's what Hebrews goes on to discuss, a royal title, "Son of God"
  • Timing of Jesus most literally receiving the name, "Son," is at the time of exaltation, at the point of enthronement
  • 1:6 probably refers to the exaltation as well, not Jesus' birth or parousia
  • 1:7 is in a contrasting relationship with 1:8-12. The main points are 1) that angels' role is transitory; Jesus' is permanent and 2) angels are servants; Christ is king ("God")
  • Angels were old age/old covenant ministers (1:14)
Take Heed (2:1-4)
  • Exhortations in Hebrews are the logical consequences of the exposition, so these verses are a logical inference from 1:5-14).
  • Point here: You better watch out! Those who disobeyed the word spoken through angels (Law) got it; those who neglect Christ's word--watch out!
  • Lesser to greater argument (qal wahomer)--throughout Hebrews
  • Law spoken through angels (compare Acts 7 and Galatians)
  • Author puts himself as a second tier Christian in 2:3--heard from those who heard Jesus. This verse alone makes it very unlikely that Paul wrote Hebrews (style and thought would also be different from Paul)
  • Audience experienced charismatic events at founding (2:4)
Humanity's Problem/Jesus' Solution (2:5-18)
  • First thought at 2:5 is that the author is talking about Christ rather than angels as the one who will rule in the coming world.
  • But 2:6-8 then talks about humanity. Sounds like humanity was supposed to rule the world. Schenck thinks something like the thinking of Rom. 3:23 stands in the background here--humanity was intended for glory, but we do not see humanity with glory because all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God.
  • No evidence the author thinks of "Son of Man" as a Christological title in 2:6.
  • Hebrews has a tendency to distance the biblical text from its human authors. "Someone, somewhere" has said (2:6). It's not that Hebrews doesn't know. It's that it emphasizes God and the Holy Spirit (and Christ) as the inspired speakers of Scripture.
  • Jesus mentioned for the first time by name at 2:9. The word order builds to his name, first recapitulating the human situation (made lower than the angels for a little while)
  • Jesus tastes death for all to lead many sons to glory, as the original intent was (2:9-10)
  • 2:10 distinguishes God as agent of creation from Jesus, supporting the idea that 1:3 is figurative when it speaks of Jesus as agent of creation.
  • Perfection in relation to Jesus has to do with completeness in relation to his salvific task (2:10).
  • Rest of the chapter emphasizes the solidarity of Christ with humanity--he is just like us (except without sin).
  • Devil as the one holding the power of death; death as the obstacle to glory.
  • 2:17-18 may be key verses of the sermon. First time high priest is mentioned.
Christ versus Moses (3:1-6)
  • May begin the argument proper of the letter (3:1-10:18). Consideration of Jesus as high priest begins, although it is frequently interrupted by exhortation. The thread, however, goes 3:1-6; 4:14-5:10; 7:1-10:18.
  • Comparison of Jesus' faithfulness to Moses' faithfulness to our need for faithfulness the key theme of chapter 3, along with the implied contrast between how much worse it will be if we neglect Jesus than it was for those who did not heed Moses.
  • House used in two ways in this section, of a household and of a house building.
  • God as creator again distinguished from Jesus, again supporting the idea that 1:3 is figurative when it calls Jesus the agent of creation.
  • Moses is a servant; Christ is a Son.
  • We only remain part of Christ's household if we hold fast in faith. This is one of two signature ideas in Hebrews--it is essential to hold fast to the end in order to be saved.
The Wilderness Generation (3:7-19)
  • Switch back to exhortation--holds attention; what follows is an implication of the contrast of Christ with Moses in 3:1-6. If what follows happened to those who disregarded Moses, then what will happen to those who disregard Christ?
  • NT generally does not stick close to the original meanings of OT passages. One must not therefore bring any more of the OT context into one's interpretation than is demanded by the context of the NT passage (at least when aiming at the original meaning of the NT passage).
  • The point of the comparison is well captured by the perfect tense of 3:14--"We have become (and remain) partakers of the Christ if indeed we hold fast." The ongoing state of being a partaker is contingent on holding fast. The wilderness generation did not hold fast and so didn't enter Canaan. Their corpses fell in the desert because of their disbelief.
Entering Rest (4:1-11)
  • So there remains a "rest" for the people of God just as Canaan was initially a possibility for the wilderness generation. The parallel demands that we take this rest ultimately in relation to final salvation.
  • The author wants the audience to contrast with the wilderness generation. They did not enter; they can if they remain faithful. They did not have faith.
  • The catchword method of midrash used--Psalm 40 speaks of entering God's rest. Genesis 2 speaks of God resting. The two passages are brought together by the catchword (gezerah shewa). Obviously this is taking these texts out of context, but it's not a problem for ancient Jewish exegesis.
  • Although the ultimate rest is at final salvation, we also, in another sense, enter God's rest every day, "Today." Every today we must make a decision for faith and endurance or we will fall like the wilderness generation. The rest is thus both present and future.
The Sword of the Word (4:12-13)
  • The word is neither Christ nor the Bible here. It is God's will in action, in accordance with much Jewish background literature. Possible allusion to Wisdom 18 where God's word leaps from heaven with a sword to judge the Egyptians' firstborn.
  • The focus in these verses remains on God's judgment to those who do not remain faithful. God sees everything and will judge those who do not hold fast in faith.
  • The mention of soul and spirit may speak a tripartite division of the human person for the author of Hebrews--very rare in the New Testament. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is probably the only other place with that conception (so Christians shouldn't consider it a "biblical" view of a person--it is just one picture, incarnated in just one ancient psychology).

National Health Care Conversations

This morning I was privileged to sit through the first "National Conversations" forum put together by Indiana Wesleyan University and co-sponsored by the Sagamore Institute, Christianity Today, and WFYI in Indianapolis. Here is the website, where you can watch the "civil conversation" today on health care.

It was very enjoyable. Knowledgeable people on multiple sides of the issue. Former Mayor Bart Peterson was the only one I had known of previously. There were advocates for removing state boundaries on buying insurance, advocates for reducing the way doctors are paid, advocates for innovation in rewarding wellness, advocates for a long term solution and not just a short term fix...

I really liked Peterson and am sorry he won't run to replace Evan Bayh. He basically said that both extremes are unconvincable and that we should be working with the moderates on both sides of the isle toward solutions.

I did have a typical dream, for which I would like to give credit for the inspiration to my nephew Alan Garcia. One of the complaints by the Dean of the IU Med School is that doctor's accumulate a debt of about $150,000 in school. Yikes! What about a med school that made you a nurse first and then a doctor? You would work as a nurse and get paid well for it while then going on to be a doctor.

I also had other brainstorms. Teaching hospitals associated with universities where this scheme was implemented, with salaries rather than pay according to how many tests you perform or patients you see.

One of the most interesting bits of data from the day was the fact that Americans pay more than any other nation for our health care and get significantly less health care for it. In other words, the amount of money we currently pay for health care would be enough to insure everyone in America if we had a health care system like any other developed nation in the world (Canada, Germany, Britain, France, etc...). Also, I forget the statistic, but some outrageous number of tests we have done here (30%?) are unnecessary.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NT Wright's Biblical Theology

I want to commend Kyle Fever for this piece on N. T. Wright's biblical theology, pointed out to us by Nijay Gupta. I want to commend Kyle because he has pieced this summary together from disparate comments by Wright here and there.

I have often found Wright, like Barth, in need of someone else to summarize him. They have their own language games where the words aren't always used the way I or the rest of us use words. Sometimes I feel like Wright explains himself over and over again, frustrated that we are not understanding. But he is using his own definitions for words with the light from his star bent by planets we cannot see with our visible eye--and perhaps that he cannot himself see.

In any case, Wright's biblical theology is beautiful and, in my opinion, a good Calvinist Anglican perspective. I hypothesize that he cannot completely see the influence of his own theological tradition on the way he practices the historical-critical method and filters intertestamental literature. I have no problem with him doing what he does, although I do it more from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective. My problem is that he thinks his categories are actually intrinsic to the texts themselves, rather than theological organizations of the biblical texts, imposed as they all are through the lenses of a particular theological tradition.

Ash Wednesday

Most of you will know that today is Ash Wednesday, the day we begin the 40 days of Lent leading up to Passion Week and then the celebration of Easter. It is traditionally a period for us to look inside, to reassess our relationship with God, to educate ourselves about the faith (e.g., confirmation in preparation for baptism), etc.

I don't have time to do something special these next forty days, but I will be thinking about the gospels. Perhaps I will make some posts to that end.

Leadership Roles in NT Church

Second semester seminary students did a mini-word study on one of the following Greek terms. The following is my thumbnail. And, no, Jeff, you can't turn this in for the onsite class :-)

1. apostle (apostolos)

It seems to me that the word is used in at least three senses in the New Testament: a) of the Twelve--these are the apostles, b) a slightly broader group that included individuals like Paul and Barnabas or the husband-wife pair Andronicus and Junia in Romans 16--these could not have been in the Twelve according to Acts 1 because they had not been with Jesus since the baptism of John, c) a more basic sense of an apostle as one who is sent for some purpose.

2. prophet (prophetes)

Most of the NT references to prophets refer to OT prophets. One of the most interesting categories though is NT prophets. When Ephesians speaks of the church being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, I believe it was thinking of NT prophets, not OT prophets. We can debate how much, but you could at least argue that a great deal of Christian self-understanding was generated by NT prophets. Prophecy usually involved bringing revelation about the present or near future, it would seem.

3. elder (presbyteros)

An elder is basically an "old guy." There are several special groups of "old guys" the NT mentions. The Jewish council the Sanhedrin was made up of old guys. The "tradition of the elders" was tradition on how to keep the Law passed down by old guys. And it would seem that at least many local assemblies were run by old guys, elders.

4. overseer (episkopos)

I personally suspect that "overseers" were pretty much the same group as elders. Philippians addresses the church at Philippi with its overseers and deacons. This is probably one church in the whole city, and with multiple overseers. So I'm not sure that we really have the idea of a senior pastor here--although I wonder if there were key individuals who took special leadership as well.

5. deacon (diakonos)

The word diakonos seems to have the possibility both to refer to a particular role and to ministry in general. In Philippians I just mentioned, the deacons seemed to play a fixed role in the church. It thus seems likely that Phoebe has this role at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). On the other hand, 1 Timothy 4:6 refers to Timothy as a "diakonos of Christ Jesus," but this is not in relation to a specific church. It thus seems likely that "servant" or "minister" here has a more general sense of one who serves the church.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Finishing Body, Soul, and Human Life

The infamous Monday reading group at IWU is now on the last chapter of Joel Green's Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible, so I will soon be able after many months to move on in the "Books I'm Reading" list on the right below. :-)

I would say in general that our group is very open to Green's form of non-reductive monism, although we have generated a number of questions, and some have doubted. Since the spirit of Green is known to hover over the waters of the blogosphere from time to time, I thought I might pose some of the "between the lines" questions we have and see if the spirit of Joel might rise from the LA area, interestingly the entrance to Hades in The Lightning Thief. :-)

What, for example, does the Incarnation mean from a Christian monistic perspective? For those just joining, I would define a Christian monist as someone who believes that humans cannot exist without some form of embodiment. Language of the soul and spirit would thus at best be a metaphorical way of referring to something that literally will always involve a body of some sort, whether our current ones or our coming resurrection bodies.

So what is the point of divine continuity of Jesus with the pre-existent second person of the Trinity? I will say that I've only read part of the last chapter and it is possible Green addresses this question in the parts of that chapter I'll read for next week. I suspect he would invoke mystery, although I would be interested to know.

The same goes for the Holy Spirit--what does the NT mean when it speaks of the Holy Spirit? In the words of one person in our group, "What in the Dickens does the NT then mean when it speaks of the Holy Spirit?" If I were to hypothesize, I suppose I would suggest that the entire question of what God's substance might be outside this universe is a question of mystery that we cannot answer.

There's more of the same, what state was Jesus in during Holy Saturday?

One thing I've noticed about Lukan scholarship on conversion, whether it be Green in chapter 4 or Richard Peace's book or Gaventa's or apparently Nave or Mendez-Moratalla is an apparent intentional or unintentional omission of the Holy Spirit in conversion. In my reading of the narrative world of Acts, the Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of conversion. Repentance does not equal conversion in Acts. Baptism doesn't. Change of life doesn't. It is the event of the Holy Spirit's baptism, filling, receiving that a person becomes "in" in Acts.

My guess is that Green omits this intentionally, that he believes that a "series of transformations are compressed into a single moment, 'conversion'" (137). I take this to be a kind of "de-metaphorization" of Acts' narrative presentation on his part, that in his understanding, Acts has creatively portrayed what is in reality a process as an event.

Do you think I'm right?

There are all sorts of other thoughts we've had. What if we could do brain scans prior and after to conversion. Green seems to lean toward process, but could we not in theory witness a significantly altered brain structure as a result of an instantaneous change. Indeed, would we not think of the Holy Spirit introducing quantum level changes in all the right places to create human change and "free will" of a sort. Could we not consider the Holy Spirit's actions to be a metaphorical representation of quantum level changes?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Zeal vs. Knowledge

What is that strange phenomenon where those with the most zeal often seem to lack "knowledge," while those with the most "knowledge" often seem to lack zeal? Popular American Christian lore has of course romanticized the person with zeal who defies those with "knowledge." The idea is that this person intuits with the Spirit things the person with "knowledge" cannot. Correspondingly, the person with "knowledge" is villianized as an unspiritual person.

Surely it doesn't have to work this way. In the words of Jack Handy, "Sometimes I think the experts actually are experts." Mark Noll called it the "scandal of the evangelical mind," the sanctioning of ignorance in the name of truth. It hardly makes sense to think that knowledge and learning is in an inverse relationship with spirituality. Wouldn't this line of thought ultimately imply that the truth is contrary to spirituality? Wouldn't this imply, in the end, that Christianity isn't actually true? On the contrary, doesn't the first paragraph above sound an awful lot like a coping mechanism for ignorance, a way to justify not having to think or learn anything?

My own ignorance has no doubt been apparent to those with more knowledge than I from time to time. Was it when I was most zealous? Surely it doesn't always work the other way either, where zeal means a person's wrong!

So what got me thinking about this was a recent sermon I heard with a zealous speaker who has done way more for the kingdom of God than I have. But there was this typical tone too. "People ask me what my eschatology is... Look it up. Matthew 24--when the gospel is preached to all the nations Jesus will come back."

I fully accept the Christian mission to take the good news of Christ to everyone. But I would like to pose a few questions. I've created a new category I'm calling "Deepening Faith." The purpose of this category is to try to join zeal with knowledge. I want to pose questions, because it may very well be that I also lack knowledge. But just maybe over time we can all grow together, those with knowledge in zeal and those with zeal in knowledge.

The acquisition of knowledge can involve reversals, and perhaps this in part feeds the "those with knowledge don't know what we feel" sense. One bit of knowledge seems to lead in a new direction. But a slightly more advanced set of knowledge points back in the way of the one without the first bit of knowledge. And so it can be. The acquisition of knowledge can involve reversals.

So here are the questions. Colossians 1:23 says that the gospel has been preached to every creature under heaven. That was way back in the first century. In other words, Colossians seems to say Matthew 24:14 was already fulfilled 2000 years ago.

After all, what was "every nation" back then (Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10)? Would not anyone in the first century hearing such words have thought of the Mediterranean world? In short, we can understand how Colossians could consider the gospel already proclaimed to every creature. The gospel had reached the "limits of the west" by the time of Paul, as 1 Clement says, probably in the 90s.

The idea that Christ would return when we finally brought the gospel to the deepest unreached tribe has never made sense to me. Hardly any of the "tribes" around today were here at the time of Christ. Those who were have long since died, unreached, if that were really what Matthew meant. Countless tribes have come into existence and passed out of existence unreached since the time of this verse.

It seems to me that our choice is either to consider these verses fulfilled in the first century, as Colossians 1:23 seems to say, or it would be a failed prediction. So let's continue to take the good news of Christ to the nations! But maybe eschatology is a little more complex than the simplistic answers of some zealous folk.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Hebrews now in Paperback!

The expensive 95 dollar hardback of Cosmology and Eschatology in Hebrews: The Settings of the Sacrifice, is now available in paperback for $35! Don't everyone rush out at once to buy it!

New perspectives on Judaism

I thought I would take down some notes on the change that took place in the late twentieth century on our understanding of Judaism at the time of Christ in relation to early Christianity. These changes brought on three movements in New Testament studies: 1) the new perspective on Paul, 2) the third quest for the historical Jesus, and 3) the partings of the ways discussion.

More than any other figure, E. P. Sanders catalyzed these movements with his 1977 Paul and Palestinian Judaism. In Jesus studies, his Jesus and Judaism was less momentous, but still significant. Prior to him, we might point to rumblings like W. D. Davies' Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. But Krister Stendahl's "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" ranks up there for me as the real tour de force, my starting point.

Again, following my stream of consciousness to get these notes out, some basic shifts are:

New Perspective on Judaism
1. Judaism in general believed that acceptance before God was a matter of God's grace. No one could earn favor with God. All have sinned.

2. Jews kept the Law in response to God's grace, not to earn it. Keeping the Law was about "staying in" not "getting in."

New Perspective on Paul
1. Paul did not see himself as changing religions when he believed on Christ. Paul is not his Christian name but a name he probably had his entire life.

2. Paul did not consider himself a miserable failure at keeping the Law before he believed on Christ.

3. Even after believing, works remained a major part of Paul's equation, so much so that works might nullify one's salvation.

Third Quest for the Historical Jesus
1. Emphasis on the fact that Jesus was a Jew. Jesus' message likely fit within the spectrum of options current within Palestinian Judaism at the time. Jesus' message fits well within apocalyptic Judaism, as does John the Baptist's.

2. Jesus is not likely to have sparred much with Pharisees in Galilee, since they were overwhelmingly located in Jerusalem (Sanders).

3. The picture of Pharisees in Matthew in itself is not the entire picture. The portrait in the other gospels is more positive, especially in Luke-Acts. Pharisees were not all legalists, and Matthew's portrayal may have as much to do with conflicts at the time of his writing (ca. AD75-80) as with conflicts at the time of Jesus himself.

Partings of the Ways
1. Christianity was a form of Judaism in the first century, not a distinct religion. Gentile converts would have seen themselves converting to a form of Judaism. There was no official Roman policy relating to Christians in the first century. The question of whether Christianity was a "religio licita," a legal religion, was not a major factor in the first century.

2. The one of the Eighteenth Benedictions relating to heretics was not in play in the first century. There was no Jewish policy on expelling Christians from synagogues.

3. The early Christians did not see their worship of Jesus as a violation of monotheism, although different scholars explain this phenomenon in different ways.

4. The contribution I hope to make to this discussion is the claim that most Christians also stood within the main options for attitudes toward the temple while it stood.

What have I missed? I may edit this list as things occur to me...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

N. T. Wright for Everyone

The 19th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference this year (in April) will be featuring N. T. Wright and is titled: "Jesus, Paul, and the People of God." In preparation for the conference, Nijay Gupta and others are writing some basic introductions to Wright's thinking.

Here is the first:

Small Group Models based on personality

Skimmed through Reg Johnson's Your Personality and the Spiritual Life. I found it of some value, although it didn't totally hit the spot for me. Johnson orients the book around the Myers-Briggs personality types, which I have found very helpful as a help to analyze interpersonal relationships. My understanding is very amateurish, but even a basic sense of differences in personality can improve interrelationships by vast amounts (marital, church, business...).

The most helpful part of the book to me was on pages 150-51. Here Johnson suggests how a person might modify small discipleship groups to fit particular personalities:

"Sensing" types
(individuals who are primarily oriented around the concrete and details rather than the abstract or big picture; nurse types, engineer types, etc...)
  • He suggests a "covenant-discipleship" small group that focuses on accountability and concrete goals and accomplishments
"Thinking" types
(individuals who are primarily oriented around the logical course of action rather than how people are going to react or experience; accountants, administrators, executive pastors)
  • He suggests a Bible study oriented around Bible study skills, background, content, comprehension, etc.
"Feeling" types
(individuals who are primarily oriented around the feelings of others rather than the logical course of action; counselors, encouragers)
  • He suggests a "Prayer and Share" group where the members share their experiences and bring their lives and those of others to God.
"Intuitive" types
(individuals who are primarily oriented around the big picture and the theoretical rather than the concrete or the details)
  • He suggests a "Great Christian Books" group, reading through classics. I must confess that as a person whose only really imbalanced characteristic in Myers Briggs is the N that this type of small group holds no interest to me.

Lamarck wasn't so stupid after all...

Actually, I don't think anyone in the know ever thought Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was stupid. I used to make fun of him, but no one has ever thought I am particularly in the know when it came to biology and theories of evolution.

Lamarck argued that giraffes might have evolved long necks by trying to reach up to eat leaves from tall trees. Lamarck's suggestion was that a mommy giraffe might have a baby giraffe with a longer neck because it had tried so hard to eat leaves from tall trees. Of course Darwin himself had no mechanism to explain his proposed evolutionary changes either. It was years later when the notion of mutation was introduced to explain fundamental genetic changes (neo-Darwinism).

[And let me also make it clear that this post relates to micro-evolution rather than macro-evolution. Evangelicals don't have problems with the idea, for example, that all the different varieties of dog might have come from a proto-dog. The question is how far back such processes can go--to a proto-cat-dog? a proto-mammal? And of course the question of human ancestry stands as the most divisive and potentially troubling question theologically.]

But genetics currently has apparently tweaked its understanding here--a fascinating instance to me of how theories that seem to be eliminated on one level can then come back in a different form on the next level of sophistication. [insert tribute to Thomas Kuhn]

Apparently there are genes that can "methylate" (a term I learned from Burt Webb) in more than one way, even over the course of our lives. What this means is that some characteristics of who we are can change because of our behavior. Motion can bring emotion. If we act loving toward others, we may very well get the feelings of love toward that person (I'm mixing a bunch of stuff together here, I suspect). I can be a person who does not typically do certain things but, over time, change into a person who does them. I'm sure I'm not quite explaining this quite right or as clearly as possible.

Behavior is not simply a matter of one gene, in the same way that a memory is probably not stored in a particular neuron. Nevertheless, however behavioral traits relate to core genetics, our environment can modify our predispositions by causing our genetic potential to "methylate" in various ways. In the case of male sperm, the way a male's genes are methylated at the time that sperm is created, will point our children in particular genetic directions and toward certain potential tendencies I have.

(Females, on the other hand, have all their eggs from before the time of their birth, so their specific behavior at the time of conception is irrelevant, leading Drury to some interesting thoughts on virgin births).

So women's eggs have certain behavioral predispositions from the genetic situation of their father and mother at the time of her conception, and men's sperm have certain behavioral predispositions from that male at the point when that sperm originated. In short, more than genetic potential is inherited. And because any mutation will proceed from what is methylated at the time of conception, male behavioral tendencies at the time sperm is created can, in fact, affect the behavioral tendencies our children inherit.

So Lamarck was not so stupid as I thought :-)

This sets my uninformed mind down many a strange trajectory. For example, most people seem to have a clear direction of sexual expression from their earliest sexual memories. The majority of individuals, without ever thinking about it, are attracted to the opposite sex. A minority of individuals, by contrast, are attracted to the same sex, also without ever having thought about it.

But are there individuals who are, for whatever reason, are in a middle zone where a particular set of circumstances might lead them in one or the other direction? If methylation can work this way (and I really have no idea what I am talking about), it would explain individuals like Anne Heche, who seem to go through phases of both orientations. It would also imply that there is a certain minority with bisexual potential who, by whatever experiences, might go one or the other direction... and/or back.

These are uninformed musings, following out certain lines of thought. I am not arguing for anything. But imagine how much there is that most of us do not know... and how confidently we must spout ignorance all the time.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Women in ministry in the 1800s

I was asked today for some Wesleyan quotes on women in leadership and ministry. Thought I'd share my homework:
1. From “Statement on Social Issues,” adopted by the 1996 General Conference (also printed in Why Wesleyans Favor Women in Ministry below, p. 9):

“[W]e condemn any practice of exclusive male-only leadership on boards or committees in the church, excluding women from these positions by either public policy or unofficial behind-the-scenes agreed-upon policy, for we believe that when it comes to God’s gifts, graces and callings, there is neither male nor female.”

2. From the website and the Center for Women in Ministry based at Southern Wesleyan University. From Lee M. Haines, “Women in Ministry: A Biblical, Historical Perspective”:

“There is no way to ignore this pervasive picture of women as sharing in the leadership and ministry of the church. John Wesley used some women as class leaders and, apparently, one or two as preachers. Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, preached the ordination sermon of the first woman ordained in America (1853), using the Galatians 3:28 text. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, fully supported women’s right to preach and lead. His wife, Catherine, shared fully in his ministry and his daughter, Evangeline, was later one of the top leaders of the Salvation Army. B. T. Roberts, founder of the Free Methodist Church, wrote one of the best books on the subject, fully supporting the right of women to be ordained and to serve in the ministry. Martin Wells Knapp and Seth C. Rees, cofounders of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, were both married to preachers, and both strongly supported the right of women to preach. At one point, fifty percent of the ministers in the Pilgrim Holiness Church were women…

“The Wesleyan Church, on the basis of the total content of Scripture, believes that a woman is fully equal to man in terms of her right (as directed by the Holy Spirit and authorized by the Church) to teach, preach, lead, or govern (including supervisory roles and board memberships), lead worship, or serve in any other office of ministry of the Church.”

3. In Ken Schenck (2004). Why Wesleyans Favor Women in Ministry. Indianapolis, IN: The Wesleyan Church, Department of Education and the Ministry. There is both “A Position Statement on Women in the Ministry in The Wesleyan Church by The Task Force on Women in the Ministry under the authority of the General Board of The Wesleyan Church (2003-4) and the title piece by Ken Schenck (2004):

From the Task Force: “The Wesleyan Church wishes to reaffirm its long-standing commitment to full opportunity for women to be ordained to the ministry and to serve in any and all ministerial and leadership capacities… the Church and its precedent bodies have experienced the benefits of such a commitment for over 140 years” (3).

From the Task Force: “The Wesleyan Church affirms that woman is fully equal to man in terms of her responsibility, as directed by the Holy Spirit and authorized by the Church, to preach, teach, lead, govern or serve in any office or ministry of the Church” (10).

4. Seth C. Rees, founder of The Pilgrim Holiness Church, (1897). The Ideal Pentecostal Church.

“Nothing but jealousy, prejudice, bigotry, and a stingy love for bossing in men have prevented woman's public recognition by the church. No church that is acquainted with the Holy Ghost will object to the public ministry of women. We know scores of women who can preach the Gospel with a clearness, a power, and an efficiency seldom equaled by men. Sisters, let the Holy Ghost fill, call and anoint you to preach the glorious Gospel of our Lord.”

5. Luther Lee, founder of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, from his sermon at the first ordination of a woman in America in Seneca Falls, NY, September 15, 1853, “Women’s Right to Preach the Gospel”:

“The declaration concerning males and females [of Galatians 3:28], is just as full and unqualified as it is concerning Jews and Gentiles, and if it does not place males and females upon an equality, it may be argued with equal force that it does not put Jews and Gentiles on an equal footing.”

6. B. T. Roberts, founder of Free Methodist Church (1891). Ordaining Women: Biblical and Historical Insights. Rochester, NY: Earnest Christian Publishing House:

“The church has no right to forbid the free exercise of abilities to do good which God has given. To do so is usurpation and tyranny.

“Men had better busy themselves in building up the temple of God, instead of employing their time in pushing from the scaffold their sisters, who are both able and willing to work with them side by side.

"All restrictions to positions in the church based on race have been abolished; it is time then that those based on sex were also abolished”
(p. 103).

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Vulcans are not mean...

I watched Star Trek, the most recent movie in the franchise, again yesterday. I did enjoy it very much. I did get the same sense again that I did the first time--contemporary culture has a tendency to equate objectivity with being mean.

The portrayal of the Vulcan council is off, and I'm not surprised that whoever wrote this version had Vulcan destroyed. Spock comes off as mean half the time and he is portrayed by the bad guy from Heroes.

To be sure, this Spock will be more interesting than Data. Maybe that was partly a conscious choice. But objectivity is not mean and the Stoics did not argue for apathy. The truth is neither mean nor kind. It just is.

The stereotype of thinkers in most pop media and pop culture is exactly that a stereotype. A truly objective person realizes that humans are emotional creatures, feeling things. A truly objective person would realize that emotions have to be taken into account and would deal with others accordingly. The stereotypical thinker who doesn't take feelings into account is one notch less a thinker than the one who knows feelings must be taken into account.

Structure of Matthew 5

The original "key verses" of the Sermon on the Mount, on which the entire sermon hangs but especially chapter 5, are 5:17-20:

"Do not think I have come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to destroy them but fulfill them... unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

The rest of chapter 5 plays this general statement out in its particulars. "You have heard... but I say to you." In other words, Jesus fufills the Law and the Prophets by giving the full story on things they have heard. Chapter 6 plays out what the sermon might mean by a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Meanwhile, the Beatitutes and loose exhortations to be salt and light set the stage, set the feel for the sermon as a whole, introducing the emotional tone of the sermon, although not so much the ideological stage.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Quote from Adam Kamesar

Interesting quote from Adam Kamesar's chapter on "Biblical Interpretation in Philo." Here is dealing with that fairly unique characteristic of Philo, namely, that he accepted both literal and allegorical interpretations:

"As Augustine would put it later, one must recognize as figurative 'any passage in divine Scripture which cannot refer, in its literal sense, to ethical rectitude or to doctrinal truth' (Christian Doctrine 3.10.14). Philo does not make this criterion as explicit as Augustine does, but he seems to implicitly follow it... He also indicates... that if one follows the allegorical method, one will never find anything 'low or unworthy of the greatness' of the Scriptures. The assumptions that underlie these directives are well expressed in 2 Timothy 3:16, a passage which no doubt reflects Judeo-Hellenistic thinking: 'All Scripture is inspired by God and is beneficial (ophelimos) for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.' It is the notions expressed in this verse that explain the need to interpret allegorically passages that are acceptable in their literal sense" (80-81 in The Cambridge Companion to Philo).

In other words, some passages may need to be interpreted beyond the literal meaning in order for them to have instructive import.

Josephus on women?

Trying to finish Josephus' Against Apion today, about a week late (so this will constitute my notice from my Year with Josephus blog). One quote seemed worthy of singling out here and not only on the other blog, although on closer examination, it is probably a gloss or interpolation, something added to Josephus and not from the original text itself.

I had thought this was interesting background to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which I also consider an interpolation into 1 Corinthians. But as it turns out, it seems more likely that some Christian interpolated this quote into Josephus perhaps based on 1 Corinthians 14!

"The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed; for the authority has been given by God to the man."

Quote from Alan Segal

From Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, p.179. Segal is a genius, and the usual idiosyncratic professor. I once heard him read an SBL paper from his lap top, no doubt finished on the plane (if indeed it was finished :-). He is hilarious and generally on the list for a party of any significance at a scholarly convention. Jewish scholar of all things Jewish, including the New Testament, professor at Columbia in New York.
"Though many think that dualism and monotheism are opposing phenomena, dualism actually seems to be a consequence of some difficulties with monotheism. From the perspective of ethics, monotheism is in opposition to polytheism, not to dualism. Once there is one god, he or she must be the author of all evil as well as good. Indeed, one might argue that dualism is not a stage on the way to monotheism so much as a stage beyond it, a strategic retreat from monotheism governed by the recognition that monotheism makes the explanation of evil problematic. In these dualisms, good will eventually conquer evil."

This passage appears in his treatment of Zoroastrianism.

A Poem--The Age of the Scholar

I have not written poetry for years. But wrote this one this morning.
The Age of the Scholar
The Age of the Scholar nears its end,
Though it ended long ago
And continues unabated.

Of leisure it is born,
Though necessity it drives
And reality it creates.

Our wealth is near an end,
Though rarely was she rich
And he not so concerned.

The stars are still as bright,
Though not as often seen
And just as visible.

The Age of the Scholar nears its end,
For life has its demands
And the nobler truths rarely sought.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

What is the Quadrilateral to...


I am excited to say that we have two Anglicans in our MA program (hello if you're reading :-) The significance of Christian tradition has come up a few times in the biblical interpretation course and eventually, I was asked exactly what the Wesleyan Quadrilateral meant to Wesleyans. For good or ill, here is my general, but slightly expanded response.

Most Wesleyans in our small churches (about half our membership) are basically fundamentalist or pre-modern in their use of the Bible--little sense of any role for tradition (although it's always there whether we realize it or not). Most Wesleyans in our larger churches (the other half) are broadly evangelical, again with little sense of any role in their conscious thinking for Christian tradition, although we do have some emergent churches who are into the ancient-future trend that does highly value tradition.

I would also divide seminary trained Wesleyan ministers and leaders into two broad types. What I call Calvino-Wesleyans are again broadly evangelical or fundamentalist who might be interested in key Protestant figures as interpreters of Scripture but who are still overwhelmingly focused on the literal meaning of the text as the be all and end all of the truth process.

I'm not sure what I would call the other group but I have in mind here Wesleyan leaders that either because of our revivalist stream sit more loosely to the literal meaning of the text or who have come to see tradition as a major factor in any Christian appropriation of the biblical text (and thus who sit more loosely to the literal meaning of the text). So the experience of the Spirit and the tradition of the Church can play a much larger role in the truth process.

Perhaps all that amounts to say that there is a spectrum of Wesleyan use of Scripture ranging from fundamentalist to evangelical to emergent to pneumatic to mildly postmodern. And all of them affirm that the Bible is without error--the church never having identified a hermeneutic by which the divine meaning of the text is properly to be identified.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Equipping Middle Class Christians...

... to minister to the impoverished.

When I used to teach philosophy, it was sometimes a challenge to help students see that the "impoverished," for lack of a better word, are often not equipped or able to take the steps necessary to empower themselves. It is not enough to say, "Why don't you get a job?" even assuming a person would be in a position to take one if it were available. The "impoverished" often would not know where to start to become empowered.

But it occurred to me today that I am the same way as far as equipping the impoverished. I want to see those in need helped. I want them to be able to support themselves and contribute to society. I want to see people lifted out of cycles of despair. I don't know where I would start to contribute to society myself in this way.

So I am impoverished in my own way, caught in a cycle of unhelpfulness.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Lectures on 1 Corinthians 14 and Women in Ministry

Here are three segments on 1 Corinthians 14 in relation to women in ministry from my Spring 2009 lectures at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Part 1: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 can't be about women speaking spiritually in worship, if they are original.

Part 2: These verses probably aren't original.

Part 3: The kingdom trajectory