Monday, January 30, 2012

Addiction 7

continued from yesterday
What did Jesus' exorcist ministry mean? For one thing, it certainly fit well with his overall mission to "proclaim freedom for the prisoners... to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18). It fit with Jesus' mission to include all of Israel in the coming kingdom, not merely the privileged and "normal" of society. The good news was not just for their equivalent of the employed, middle class today.

As we saw in the previous chapter, Jesus did not come for the "healthy."  His primary audience was those who were not currently included. Certainly those possessed by demons were an extreme example of people who were completely outside. They so just how far the good news could go.

When we look at applying these values today, we in the Western world do not often run into the demon possessed. For some, it is because we do not have the eyes to see them.  For some, Satan has convinced us that it just doesn't happen any more. Yet even the Roman Catholic Church continues to have exorcists on hand.  While every possible medical diagnosis is explored before turning in this direction, there is a recognition of a point where such explanations are exhausted.

But there are others on the edges of society to whom we are to bring God's love. The mentally ill and those whose minds are deteriorating in their older years come to mind. Society has always found it easy to forget such people and even has put such individuals to death in the past. Jesus' care for those possessed shows us that he would not only have noticed these sorts of people, but he would have focused on them more than the "normal" person with a comfortable life.

There are also all sorts of addictions to which we humans are prone. Drugs, alcohol, smoking quickly come to mind. Our enslavement can be more subtle but just as destructive. Addiction to possessions and material things has probably destroyed just as many homes and families as drinking has, with individuals getting themselves into levels of debt that eventually destroy them. A whole generation of young boys is sabotaging itself in gaming, unable to leave the screen in front of them, and in the process throwing out the very education and livelihood necessary to live. Right now, the continued existence of sex trafficking has powerfully been brought to our attention.

Attention to how Jesus approached demon possession is instructive of how we might approach addiction and enslavement today. Jesus did not preach against demon-possession, as if the individual possessed had a choice not to be possessed. In the same way, it would be foolish for us to preach to an alcoholic that he or she needs to stop drinking. They can't. It is not in their power. It's foolish to preach against addiction. Instead, we should work for their deliverance.

The person who is addicted, like many people in a cycle of poverty, does not have the power in him or herself to change. I have heard stories from the 1800's and 1900's of people instantaneously freed from their addictions, stories of these "demons" instantaneously cast out. For whatever reason, it doesn't seem to happen so much that way any more. People seem healed much more these days by a process. I personally don't know why things might have changed, although I have heard some say it is because we no longer expect instantaneous deliverance.

The key points, though, seem to be these.  First, those enslaved to demons of various sorts cannot help themselves. If they are going to be delivered, it will take someone coming alongside them from the outside. Secondly, Jesus cares about them and wants to see them delivered, and we can be his agents of deliverance. Thirdly, the process of deliverance can differ from time to time and place to place, but we should be committed to it.

There are people with expertise in such things. We should not overestimate ourselves or our own abilities. God can work through anyone, but it would be senseless to let some messiah complex keep us from referring those in dire need to those with special knowledge and training. Human enslavement is pervasive and dire. Some have a special gift to minister to those who, more often than not, seem to return over and over to their chains. Yet we must always remember that Jesus died for them as well...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Exorcisms 6

... continued from here
Another activity that Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us about Jesus doing is casting out demons, exorcism.  Not only did they bring Jesus the sick, but the demon possessed as well (e.g., Mark 1:32).  Interestingly, this is one aspect of Jesus' earthly ministry that John tells us nothing about, but it permeates the synoptic gospels.

Situations in the gospels where people are possessed by spirits are different from those where they are healed of sickness. In almost every case, the evil spirits speak and they are beings distinct from the person whose body they inhabit.  Jesus heals many people where no connection is made to an evil spirit, and most of the times where a demon is mentioned there is no clear physical sickness involved.

There are only a couple instances where we might wonder if something was described as demon possession that we might describe differently today.  For example, on one occasion Jesus heals a man who was mute (Matt. 9:32-33).  The demon does not speak. In another well known instance, a boy has symptoms that would make us think of epilepsy (Mark 9:17-20).  The boy has seizures and foams at the mouth.  Again, the demon does not speak.

The important point is that Jesus healed them more than their precise diagnosis.  Were there instances where the people Jesus healed were schizophrenic rather than truly demon possessed?  The reason I ask this question is because we know that there are people today who speak in voices who are mentally ill rather than demon possessed.  At the same time, Christians in the two-thirds world continue to report numerous incidents of demon possession where people act in ways that seem well beyond normal schizophrenia.

We do not have to pick one or the other.  We can believe both in schizophrenia and in demon possession.  But we must be very careful. Very few if any individuals reading this blog are qualified to make this sort of diagnosis.  Throughout history, numerous individuals have been put to death who were mentally ill rather than possessed.

We should exhaust every possible medical avenue before we conclude someone is possessed. We do not need to know exactly what is wrong with a person to pray for them, even to lay hands on them.  God knows the precise diagnosis, and it is the Spirit who does the healing or performs the exorcism. This issue should not be something that causes you to have doubts, nor should we ever hesitate to pray for someone no matter what their problem...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Moon colonies

I only intend to post on politics this year when it's clear I'm not going to offend anyone...

Let me just say how it warms my heart in so many ways to hear Newt Gingrich talk about a colony on the moon.  First, I'd love to have a colony on the moon.  Second, what a hilarious thing to say in a Republican presidential debate!

My heart was strangely warmed... ;-)

Reflections on his daughter's death

Our hearts go out to Ben Witherington and his family, who unexpectedly lost their daughter earlier in the month.  His reflections are very valuable, especially for pastors.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Friday, January 27, 2012

Science Friday: Evolution of Adam

Normally I want to post more pure science or culture on Friday, but since I haven't come to anything really interesting to me in the biography I'm reading about James Clerk Maxwell, I thought I would post about the introduction to the new book by Peter Enns I'm also reading, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins.

This is going to be a hard book to read, not because Enns himself is caustic or confrontational.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I have been impressed with how sensitive and "exploratory" a tone he has adopted in this book.  His evangelical background as an OT scholar comes through clearly, not as someone who has been burned (Westminster Theological Seminary effectively pushed him out, even if he did the resigning), not as someone bitter because they feel stupid from the past (very, very common).  The tone is thoroughly respectful and truth seeking. It doesn't have the condescending tone Giberson and even Collins sometimes seem to have.

His audience is Christian, especially evangelicals, and especially American evangelicals.  Yet he is also addressing those who believe evolution must be taken seriously.  Respect of Scripture is a primary value, although he clarifies that "the most faithful, Christian reading of sacred Scripture is one that recognizes Scripture as a product of the times in which it was written and/or the events took place--not merely so, but unalterably so" (xi).

I will not debate this claim, although I think there may be more to Christian hermeneutics than the original meaning.  Nevertheless, I agree it does no honor to the Bible to pretend that it meant something different than it did (even if I think there is room for self-consciously different readings).

In any case, the reason the book will be a hard read is because of his conclusion: "If evolution is correct, one can no longer accept, in any true sense of the word "historical," the instantaneous and special creation of humanity described in Genesis, specifically 1:26-31 and 2:7,22" (xiv).  In particular, he does not believe we should speculate about Adam in ways foreign to the original meaning of Genesis.  For example, he will not let us say that Adam and Eve were the first two homo sapiens in which God put a soul because that is certainly not anything Genesis itself was thinking.

Enns does not believe, rightly I think, that Genesis is, in the end, the real point of conflict between evolution and the Bible.  Paul is.  He sees four options:

1. Accept evolution and reject Christianity (he will say no to this).
2. Accept Paul's view of Adam as binding and reject evolution (he will say no to this as well).
3. Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point in the evolutionary process (he thinks this doesn't respect Genesis enough in terms of its original meaning).
4. Rethink Genesis and Paul (clearly the option he believes has the most integrity).

So the book begins.

Healing People 5

... continued from here.
Another important aspect of Jesus' miracles is their purpose.  Sure, Jesus' miracles reflected the power of God and God's approval of his mission. They showed his authority and power. But Jesus arguably did not primarily perform miracles to show off. Jesus performed miracles to help people.

In fact, Mark implies that many of Jesus' miracles happened after people brought those in need to Jesus.  In other words, Jesus healed many in response to others who came to him with needs.  A man with leprosy comes to Jesus (Mark 1:40). Some men dig open a roof to bring a paralyzed man to Jesus (Mark 2:4).

In one familiar story, Jesus is in a crowd and a woman manages to touch him and is healed of a bleeding problem (Mark 5:27-29).  This story highlights another important element in Jesus' healing ministry. Healing usually was closely connected to the faith of the person healed.  In this instance, Jesus doesn't even know who has just been healed.  He just knows that someone has touched him (Mark 5:30).

Similarly, Jesus is not able to do many miracles in his home village of Nazareth because the people there do not have faith (Mark 6:5). This incident again highlights the fact that Jesus played by the human rules and healed in the way someone might heal today through the Spirit's power. In such instances, Jesus was more the catalyst for healing, the mediator in a transaction between the faith of the individual healed and the power of God to heal.

It seems hard today for Christians to find a balance on topics like healing. We as humans seem prone to extremes on every side. So there are some Christians and traditions that tend to deny the miraculous altogether. Even if Jesus did them, that was something just for their day. Others go to the other extreme and say that if you had enough faith, you would always be healed.

It is both dangerous and wrongheaded to think that you will always be healed if you have enough faith. God does not always heal. God did not remove Paul's thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10), perhaps eye problems of some sort. Paul leaves Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). The idea that healing is only a matter of faith has almost certainly kept individuals from seeking medical attention that might have otherwise saved their lives.  It in effect tells God how he can heal and how he cannot.

It seems to me that we should stay somewhere in the middle.  Miracles happen, however you want to define them. Perhaps God sometimes heals us through medicine.  Perhaps God sometimes intervenes directly in our physical situations. We can be thankful either way, and we can be hopeful either way. Faith does make a difference. It is not closed minded to believe that miracles can happen, quite the opposite.

Wine Making in Ancient Israel

Jim Davila of St. Andrews, Scotland, noticed this article in the Jerusalem Post today on wine and wine making in ancient Israel:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Psalm 3 Translation

Psalm 1
Psalm 2
Now Psalm 3
[A psalm attributed to David when he fled from the face of Absalom his son]
1 LORD, how are my troubles multiplying,
     the multitudes of those rising against me!
2 Multitudes are saying of my person,
     "There will be no help for him with God."

3 But you, YHWH, [are] a shield for me,
     my glory, and one who lifts up my head.
4 [With] my voice to YHWH I called,
     and he answered me from the hill of his holiness.

5 I myself lay down and slept.
     I awoke because YHWH helped me.
6 I will not fear the multitudes of people 
     who surround and set themselves against me.
7 Arise, YHWH,
     save me, O God,
 for you strike all my enemies on the cheek,
     the teeth of the wicked you shatter.
8 To YHWH is the salvation,
     over your people, your blessing.
Not much to say about this psalm.  The title was certainly not original, since David would not attribute a psalm to David.  It is rather a context against which later readers read the psalm. We can read it that way, but we might also fruitfully read the psalm on its own terms.

No one knows what Selah meant, other than the fact that it was probably some sort of musical or reading instruction.  I originally rendered it as "Pause," but have decided instead simply to put "Music."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Biblical Relationships and Ancient Culture

Here's a 26 minute vidcast I created for our online Congregational Relationships class at Wesley.

Jesus' Humanity 4

continued again...
... Similarly, we should not think that Jesus was able to live without sin because he was God, while we cannot because we are mortal.  Hiding behind this view is partly a wrong view of sin and partly a wrong view of Jesus.  The wrong view of sin is the one that views sin in terms of absolute perfection against an absolute standard, as if God is a legalistic accountant of some kind.

Did Jesus ever accidentally "wrong" someone by forgetting to meet them at sunrise to fish on the Sea of Galilee?  Did he make them wait?  Obviously we don't know.  But if he did, this is probably not what Hebrews had in mind when it said Jesus was without sin (Heb. 4:15). Paul does at some points at least seem to invoke an absolute standard in order to do away with it (e.g., Gal. 3:10), but this is not the primary standard of sin in Scripture--or within Judaism at the time.

The normal sense of sin was that of intentionally wronging God or another, intentional wrongdoing. This is surely the sense of sin that is primary in Scripture, and it is arguably this sense of sin that Paul had in mind when he said that Jesus "had no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21). Arguably Jesus was a model for us in this sense of sin--that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can also follow Jesus' example. As 1 John 3:9 puts it: "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in them." This is not an expectation of absolute perfection. It is about being able to follow through with a heart that intends to do the right thing.

Can we do miracles today? The perspective of Scripture and Christian history gives a "yes" answer. From a Christian perspective, we live in the same part of history that Jesus inaugurated. Jesus may not appear to people in the same way today as he did the apostles. In that sense we can question whether there are any apostles today of the sort we find in the New Testament.  But the Spirit has arguably continued to work miracles throughout history, and Christians believe we have that same Spirit today.

A person can both over- and under-emphasize such things.  A person can miss opportunities because of a lack of faith, and a person can get preoccupied with "signs and wonders." Jesus flatly refused to do signs on demands.  "No sign will be given," he flatly says at one point (Mark 8:12). Similarly, those who refuse obvious medical treatment arguably reject an offer of healing God has brought through a knowledge of his own creation.

The key is to recognize that Jesus' humanity was not only a true humanity, but a perfect indication of what humanity can be and was supposed to be. We should not read the story of Jesus as something beyond the reach of the rest of us through the power of the Spirit.  And we should not idealize him in a way that takes him beyond the realm of true humanity...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Miracles Today? 3

... continued from yesterday.
There were others both in the Jewish and Roman world who were thought to perform miracles. This is a significant thing to know if we are to see Jesus as they saw Jesus. No one would have assumed that Jesus was God or a god simply because he performed miracles. Judaism had its own stories of individuals past and present who could do wonders. Not only were there the prophets of the past in the Bible, but such people popped up from time to time in Israel as well.

One such individual was Honi "the circle drawer," who lived some time before the Romans took over Israel in 63BC. [1] He was famous for drawing a circle during a time of drought and standing in it to pray for rain. Although he was going to stay in it until God answered prayer, it rained almost immediately. Hanina ben Dosa was also known for his ability to work miracles, and he came from Galilee in the period perhaps just after Jesus. Like Jesus, he is known for healing from a distance and having authority over evil spirits causing sickness.

And it is significant that more than one New Testament book frames Jesus' miracles in terms of the power of the Holy Spirit working through him.  Jesus was "a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him"(Acts 2:22).  Something arguably happens to Jesus both after the Spirit descends on him at the river Jordan and after his temptation in the desert--he returns to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14).  Even after he dies on the cross, both Acts and Paul word the event of Jesus' resurrection in terms of God's power: "God raised him from the dead" (e.g., Acts 2:24).

There is probably a subtle message for us here, namely, that Jesus did not merely show us God's power while he was on earth.  Jesus arguably modeled what any believer can be or do by the power of the Holy Spirit, from his power to do miracles to his power not to sin.  We are forced to go a little beyond what the biblical text says to take a position on such questions, but we can make some reasonable suggestions nonetheless.

So Christians believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully God.  We do not believe he was half man and half God.  And from a historical perspective, Christians clearly understood his humanness long before they worked out the details of his divinity.  Up until the year 400, many Christians still believed that  Jesus was the first creation God made rather than him being fully God.

So it is no stretch to suggest that, while we believe Jesus was fully God from eternity past, he played it by the human rules while he was on earth.  In other words, he lived in such a way as to show us what humanity could be.  It should not be odd to suggest that, through the Spirit, we can do miracles today like the ones Jesus did then.  In fact, Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:12 that they will do even greater miracles than he did.  He himself will empower them.

Similarly, we should not think that Jesus was able to live without sin because he was God, while we cannot because we are mortal.  Hiding behind this view is partly a wrong view of sin and partly a wrong view of Jesus...

[1] I first learned about Honi from a book on Jesus written from a Jewish perspective, Geza Vermes' Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (London: SCM, 1983), 69-72.  See also his material on Hanina ben Dosa, pp. 72-78.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jim Luttrull on Justice, Recidivism

Heard Jim Luttrell, Grant County Prosecutor, talk today at IWU about the question of what the primary element should be in determining the punishment for a crime.  It was a wonderful dip into the complexity of such issues.  In ethics we cover the four key factors in making moral determinations: 1) the act itself, 2) the consequences of the act, 3) motive, and 4) character.  All of them surfaced at some point in his presentation.

But the main issue he was addressing is the question of justice oriented punishment versus punishment based on likely recidivism, likely repeat offense.  There is a significant trend in many judicial circles to see the reform of the criminal as the primary factor in sentencing.  Jim clearly senses this is a mistake, although I don't think his presentation aimed to be a straightforward argument.

But I strongly resonate with his sense that the starting point for sentencing should be justice.  I also agree with him that "mitigating circumstances" should focus on motive and intent in conjunction with criminal acts, not on likely recidivism.  But these are clearly very complex issues that involve multiple variables, all of which have their place. 

Luttrell would agree.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is a Miracle 2

continued from yesterday
... Most of Jesus' miracles had to do with people.  In itself, this is a key insight. Sure, he walked on water (Mark 6:47-50; Matt. 14:25-33; John 6:16-21).  He calmed storms (Mark 4:35-40; Matt. 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25). He multiplied bread and fish (Mark 6:30-44; Matt. 14:13-21; John 6:1-13). Such events tell us that Jesus had power over what we think of as "nature."

And perhaps it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that the distinction between "natural" and "supernatural" is a fairly recent one.  It has only been since the rise of science in the 1600's that Western culture came to draw a sharp distinction between events that follow the "laws of nature" and events we might call miracles or the supernatural. Even just 500 years ago, Martin Luther--the one who started Protestantism--still thought of storms as God expressing his anger rather than the result of high and low pressure systems meeting, the exchange of electricity from one polarity to another, and so forth.

We have come to define a miracle as a divine intervention into the natural sequence of events that would have happened in the normal flow of causes and effects following the rules of science. In Jesus' day, they thought spiritual forces were constantly causing things. They did not think in terms of nature following rules like a machine. When the sailors on Jonah's boat encountered the storm, they figured someone on board had ticked off his god.

Today we would give thanks to God not only for the inexplicable but for what seems explicable as well. Sometimes doctors do surgery and it works.  Sometimes we take medicine and it works. Sometimes we undergo chemotherapy, and it works. In such situations, is usually impossible for us to know where the hands of science and any direct intervention of God begin and end, but we are thankful nonetheless. God created the science.

Some Christians have a sense that God directs the minutest details of how such things turn out. I personally think that we must keep God distinct in our minds from his creation.  Otherwise, we will have to explain how a God who says he is love causes so many bad things to happen. It is much easier to think that God allows many bad things to happen but that he has given his creation rules and largely allowed it to continue on its own path of cause and effect. God sees, God knows, God allows.  Sometimes God intervenes. But he is not directly responsible for all the pain, evil, and suffering that happen in the world.

So our sense that Jesus could do things that do not follow the laws of nature is a fairly modern way of looking at them. For them, he was able to do the kinds of wonders that God, angels, demons, and Satan did. Jesus' enemies claimed that he took some of his powers from Satan (e.g., Mark 3:22). Others clearly thought he received his powers from God (e.g., John 3:2).

There were others both in the Jewish and Roman world who were thought to perform miracles...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jesus and Miracles 1

Returning to writing on Jesus.  I'm thinking this might be chapter 3.
Herod Antipas, son of the notorious Herod the Great, threw John the Baptist into prison, no doubt recognizing the political danger his movement represented. From the location John baptized to the very notion of what a messiah is, John's preaching shouted revolution. It said, God is about to conquer the land and place his king in control. Repent of your sins and wash yourselves, because judgment is coming on those who are not ready for a restored and purified kingdom.

If we forget Luke 1 for a minute, we would read Luke 7 and Matthew 11 easily enough. John the Baptist is in prison and hears about what Jesus is doing. He sends some of his followers to Jesus to ask if Jesus is the coming messiah or if they should continue to look for someone else. The complication comes if John already knows Jesus, either because he is his relative or because of the Spirit at Jesus' baptism. [1]

What is more important is Jesus' response to John's followers. What are the signs that Jesus is the messiah, the coming king?  He is healing the blind and the lame. Lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised, and he is preaching good news to the poor (Matt. 11:5; Luke 7:22).

Miracles were clearly a key element of Jesus' brief ministry in Galilee. This memory is so strong in all the traces Jesus has left on history that even historians who don't believe in miracles generally accept that Jesus at least seemed to perform them--a lot of them. Mark 1:32-34 summarizes Jesus' activities like this: "That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was."

Jesus apparently did most of his miracles in the far north, north of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew 11 tells us that "Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.'"(Matt. 11:20-21). These are very interesting comments, since none of the gospels really tell us about any of these miracles. It's also interesting that miracles don't necessarily convince others, even though you would think they would.


Most of Jesus' miracles had to do with people...

[1] Thus the speculation of some that John was helping his own followers discover who Jesus was and of others that Jesus wasn't doing the things John expected the messiah to do.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Science Friday: Maxwell

I have been reading from a biography of James Clerk Maxwell. He was by most accounts the most important scientist of the 1800's, whose work with electricity and magnetism more than anyone else opened the door for the radio, television, cell phones, etc.  The book I'm reading is The Man Who Changed Everything.

Unfortunately, today I have little to say but that I am giving notice that I'm reading the book.  I'm up to about the point where he goes to college.  He's about 16 and has had a paper presented for him (he wasn't considered old enough to read it himself) on making ellipse shapes in new ways by tying the strings around the foci differently.

The author, Basil Mahon's style gnaws at me a little because it reminds me of a certain style that is too flattering. In ancient biography, for example, there was a sense that if a person became great, there must have been great signs of this destiny in childhood. Mahon just feels like he's grasping at greatness in childhood sometimes, maybe even glossing over weaknesses.

We all know Maxwell turned out to be brilliant and a nice guy. That doesn't mean he had to be perfect or great as a child. He sounds like a fairly normal, upper class Scottish kid of the time to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Oldest fragment of Romans?

John Byron over at The Biblical World has drawn our attention to a CNN clip with Steve Green of Hobby Lobby presenting some of the manuscripts of his collection including a fragment of Romans that Scott Carroll dates to the mid-second century.  That would be about 50 years earlier than the Chester Beatty papyrus p46 (ca. AD200) and would thus be the oldest fragment of Romans to date (about the size of the oldest NT manuscript of all, p52 of John, which dates to about AD125).

IWU's Jerry Pattengale is heavily involved in the administration of the Green Collection as well, and Green is the principal donor for Wesley Seminary's upcoming new building.

Faith in Jesus/Faith of Jesus

Dave Larsen asked me on Twitter where I stood on the "faith in Jesus"/"faith of Jesus" debate but realized 140 characters might not do it. Frankly, there's no silver bullet so several books wouldn't do it.  Here's the skinny on my thoughts.

1. First, most probably don't even know what we're talking about. In a number of key places in Paul, the literal expression Paul uses is "faith of Jesus Christ," even though most translations thus far have translated it "faith in Jesus Christ."  Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:16, 20 are a couple for starters.

2. I believe that in most of Paul's discussion in Rom. 4 and Gal. 3, as well as verses like Rom. 3:28, Paul has human faith in view. These are not places where he uses the expression "faith of Jesus" but speaks of faith in general as the mechanism of justification. However, such faith is primarily directed toward God, not Jesus (e.g., Rom. 4:17).

I disagree with Wright that faith is a "badge" of membership in God's people for Paul. I wrestled with this for a good long while. What is Wright saying? He's so smart and deep.  As has happened with many such things I have struggled with, I finally decided the problem was not that I was stupid but that Wright (in this case) is just wrong. He's a Reformed Anglican and Paul isn't. Faith is a mechanism of justification for Paul, despite later debates about monergism, synergism, etc.

I might add, however, that I agree with Wright on many other things.

3. Romans 5:19 and Luke Timothy Johnson gnawed at me for a good long while. The language is almost exactly parallel to Romans 3:22.  Obedience of one man is similar to what the faith of Jesus would mean.  Many will be made righteous is pretty much the same as to be justified (same exact word). Strangely, 2 Corinthians 4:13 pushed me over the edge and I have an article in CBQ about it. The train of thought makes most sense if Paul there speaks of our faith imitating the faith of Jesus.

4. So my hunch is that the "faithfulness of Jesus" was a tradition of the earliest church coming out of Jerusalem. Paul seems to use the phrase, "through the faith of Jesus Christ" in a formulaic way, as if he is presenting tradition. And my sense of the development of early Christian soteriology, the topic I started writing on during my sabbatical, sees this phrase as corresponding directly to the earliest understandings of Jesus' death--the death of a righteous person that satisfies God's wrath toward Israel and thus catalyzes Israel's redemption from enslavement.  As Philippians 2 puts it, "obedience to the death," the "faithfulness of Jesus Christ" that is an atoning sacrifice. On that half I agree with Hays.

5. But I agree with Dunn that Paul quickly moves to our faith... in God though more than in Christ. Paul does have a place for faith in Christ in his theology (e.g., Rom. 9:33) but it is subsidiary to faith in God. I've argued that he may exploit the ambiguity of the phrase "faith of Christ" to move from what traditionally referred to Jesus' faithfulness to his emphasis on the necessity of our faith.

As I put it in the article, Paul moves "from Hays to Dunn," "from faith to faith." This is a very complex argument and unprovable, but it makes sense of all the data in an elegant way, in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Psalm 2 translation

My translation of Psalm 2 is now finished (see Psalm 1):

1 Why are nations in an uproar
and peoples contemplating pointlessness?
2 Kings of the land seat themselves
and princes are conferring together
against YHWH and against his anointed.
3 "Let us break apart their bonds
and let us throw from us their ropes."
4 The one who sits in the skies will laugh,
the master will make fun of them.
5 Then he will speak to them with his nose [i.e., in his anger]
and with his burning he will make them terrified.
6 "But I myself have anointed my king upon Zion, hill of my holiness.
7 Let me pronounce a decree,"
says YHWH to me.
"My Son [are] you.
I today have given birth to you.
8 Ask from me, and let me give the nations as your inheritance,
and as your possession, the ends of the earth.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron,
like a vessel of a potter, you will shatter them."
10 But now, kings, be wise;
receive correction, you judges of the earth.
11 Serve YHWH with fear
and shake with trembling
12 Kiss the Son so he will not huff his nose [i.e., be angry]
and you perish from the way,
For his fury burns quickly.
Blessed are all who flee to him.
This of course was originally a psalm in honor of the king of Judah and thus must date to the period of the monarchy (pre-586BC). Some think it is an enthronement psalm, a psalm sung when a king of Judah was anointed as king.  Thus "I today have given birth to you."

The NT of course then applies the verse with a secondary meaning to Christ's enthronement to God's right hand when he is exalted after the resurrection. The NT of course does not show interest in the whole psalm but only in the part it relates to Jesus (2:7-8). We cannot prove or disprove whether they also related the "breaking with a rod" parts to Jesus' second coming, although it is possible.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why we need theology...

I'm writing a piece for some Sunday School literature titled, "Why we need theology?"  Here's what I'm thinking.

1. Theology gives us a starting point.
A college freshmen once came to me, completely enamored with the excitement of the new thoughts filling his head. He was seeing new ways to look at issues that had never occurred to him. In his enthusiasm, he exclaimed that he wanted to start all over from scratch in what he believed. He was going to throw everything out the window and make no assumptions about anything.

I suggested that this was not only a bad idea. It was impossible. Understanding the world is a circle that starts with certain assumptions and then goes to pondering things in dialog with the world. We find out some of our assumptions are inconsistent. We find some of them may not match up. We revise them. Then we do it all over again.

Christians have always believed that at least some key truths are a matter of revelation rather than discovery. We may vary in what the precise formula is.  Some have thought truth is so much a matter of God revealing himself to us in the Bible that we could never discover half the truth if we tried to go find it in the world itself. Others have thought we can discover most Christian truth just by good thinking on the evidence out there in the world.

Whatever the precise formula, Christian theology gives the believer a place to begin when it comes to the question of what is right and what is true. Some elements of theology are more negotiable than others, but it would be foolish to try to start from scratch when God has been helping humanity find its way from the very beginning. Christians believe that he especially started helping us find our way through ancient Israel and then definitively helped us find our way through Christ and the church that followed. Human understanding is never infallible, but it would be foolish to try to start our quest for truth from scratch. For Christians, Christian theology is by far the best place to start.

2. Theology helps us know what is important.
We have a lot of things we believe and a lot of ways we do things in the world. For example, I personally believe that the front of my house looked better with the pine trees my wife cut down than it does without them. I also believe that it is wrong to murder innocent people you happen to meet on the sidewalk. These two beliefs are not of the same importance at all. The second belief is quite important. The first is rather insignificant.

We have to prioritize our beliefs and practices in this way because they inevitably come into conflict with each other. Despite some popular rhetoric, right and wrong cannot simply be a matter of absolutes because situations arise in which we have to choose between our principles, when we have to make exceptions. "Should I obey God or human authority in this situation?" Both are Christian values, but when they come into conflict, we have to obey God and disobey human authority.

Christian theology is what helps me set these priorities. Which is more important, what I think or how I live? Which Christian beliefs are the absolute core and which ones are a matter of personal conviction? When should I make an exception to a rule or practice and when must I stand firm to the death? We all would answer these questions with our actions in certain situations. We all would have a "theology" when the moment of decision came. The question is whether it would be a good theology.

3. Theology helps us appropriate the Bible.
This is an extremely important point because so many think that they simply read the Bible and do what it says. It is exactly this misunderstanding that stands behind the tens of thousands of different Christian groups who think they are all just believing and doing what the Bible says. It is, in short, a self-deception that is innocent enough in most cases but that can lead to catastrophe in others.

For example, it is not really troublesome that Seventh Day Adventists do not eat pork. Now of course it might be rather annoying to someone who absolutely loves pork, but no great harm is done in general. Underlying this practice is a Seventh Day Adventist theology that does not read the Old Testament prohibitions on pork in the light of New Testament comments on God declaring all foods clean. This is a theological decision between comments in the Bible that say different things. Leviticus says not to eat pork. Mark 7:19 and other passages seem to abolish the Old Testament food laws. Our theology is what helps us arbitrate between such passages.

Most Christians find the issue of pork rather straightforward, but there are countless other issues where we do not agree. Can women be senior pastors? One segment of the church says no and points to certain passages. Another segment says yes and points to other passages. Another segment says it is not just about passages but about the difference between our time and the time God was addressing at the time of the Bible.

On many issues, we disagree on what individual passages meant as well as on how to map individual passages to each other. The Bible ultimately cannot make some of these decisions for us. James does not tell us how to fit its comments with Paul. Paul may have told the Thessalonians all about the man of lawlessness when he was there (2 Thess. 2:5), but he did not write it down and the rest of Bible does not fill in the blank.

The Bible gives us the starting material for our beliefs and practices, but whether we admit it to ourselves or not, it is far more our theology that organizes the biblical material and appropriates it in our lives. Individuals who do not realize this fact are prone to float adrift on whatever tide happens to catch them. This is how cults form and gain followers. If we are not conscious of the theology at work in our use of the Bible, then we are inevitably driven and tossed about by whatever wind catches our sail. We think we are following the Bible when we are just as likely riding the wave of some subculture.

4. Theology clarifies the boundaries of Christian faith and action.
Whether we are fully conscious of the ambiguities of the biblical text, our theology is always with us, setting the boundaries of our thinking and action, steering us in the right (or wrong) direction. The early Christians spoke of something they called the "rule of faith," the most fundamental Christian principles drawn from the Bible boiled down as guidelines. It is a basic theology and we all function with one.

The most important of these sorts of guidelines are the core beliefs and practices that the Holy Spirit has unfolded and clarified in the church these last two thousand years, the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). They are in the creeds of historic Christianity and generally held in common by Christians across denominations and traditions, Catholic or Protestant.  "I believe in God the Father Almighty..." The core Christian ethic is the "law of love," the absolute principle of loving your neighbor as yourself.

Beyond these basics our theology also determines to a high degree which passages of Scripture we will find "clear" and which ones we will find "unclear." We read a verse about bashing Babylonian babies and immediately sense that this is not something I should do (Ps. 137:9). Of course there are countless other issues in life today that the Bible does not directly address. Who should I vote for in the next election? What should I think about stem cell research or a contraceptive that stops a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the uterine wall?

On many such issues we act or think inconsistently with our theology, which either means that our theology is wrong or our thoughts and actions on that particular theology is wrong. Our lives are full of such contradictions and they are often harmless, but they can also be very dangerous. I may say I love my neighbor and yet act or vote in ways that contradicts what I say my theology is. In this particular case my theology is absolute, and I am bound to make my life conform to it. When good theology is doing what it is supposed to do, it will help me live a life that is truly pleasing to God.

5. Truth is beautiful in itself.
Theology has a bad reputation among some. To some, theology is mostly irrelevant nonsense, "How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?" Hopefully, what we have said so far makes it clear that theology at its best is not only relevant, it is essential. We can debate the stereotype some theologians have of being fascinated by aspects of theology that are not as obviously relevant, but we cannot do away with theology. It is there whether we realize it or not.

At the same time, truth is beautiful for its own sake. The most significant truths may be the ones that have the most impact and relevance, but truth for its own sake is beautiful because it is a reflection of God's mind. We do not all have to love truth for its own sake, but it is perfectly legitimate for those who love it.

The relevance of such truths may not always seem immediately relevant, but they often become relevant over time.  Ongoing reflection about truth can form patterns of thinking that help us mature. We may eventually find ourselves with the right intuitions because we have meditated on truth over time. Truth gets into our bones even when it is not fully in our conscious minds. This is some of the best theology we can have.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Confessions on MLK Day

OK, I'm not going to confess.  I started to confess the way I used to feel about MLK day, growing up as a standard issue American fundamentalist.  It sounded so bad that I couldn't do it.  Suffice it to say, for those in the image of my former self, there will be only snide remarks and grumbling around many a "Christian" dinner table and house.

I believe that there is a disconnect between the way many of these individuals would treat any individual African-American and the way they "feel" about a day like today culturally and politically.

I offer just two thoughts.

1. Today is not just about one individual, MLK.  It's about years and years of injustice to African Americans.  Can anyone seriously deny it?  Does anyone really want to argue that slavery was just? Does anyone really want to argue that making blacks drink from a different water fountain or sit in the back of the bus was right?

We grumbled during the civil rights era. Those protesters weren't law abiding citizens, after all.  And we were wrong, plain and simple. I remain convinced after making the comment many times that a lot of our quest to elect people who will put "good judges" on the Supreme Court is not really about what we say it is (abortion) but residual resentment for being forced to integrate in the 60's by judges.

It's worth a day to remember the sins of the past, isn't it?  I certainly think so.  It's not that we shouldn't move on with even handed lives today.  It's not that it would be healthy to feel like anyone owes anyone anything (that doesn't help us move forward).  It's about remembering so that no one repeats or perpetuates the past.  It's about continuing to address the inequalities that still exist in all sorts of areas and defying them as we move forward.

2. I believe Jesus would fully participate in today. There are all sorts of issues that many of us grumble about that we collect under the heading "political correctness." Despite the fact that "we all know" political correctness is bad, I frankly have a hard time seeing much wrong with its level headed version.  That's basically being sensitive to those who are disadvantaged or tend to be excluded in our culture.  Just because some might overdo it doesn't negate the general principle.

And the general principle has Jesus written all over it. Jesus was not an "anti-liberal" conservative prophet. Wow, who can really understand Jesus at all and think of him that way?! Jesus was about including those who weren't included and about not letting rules trump people.

There was one very significant Easter morning in college when I read through Galatians and realized Ken the fundamentalist was not on the Paul side of things... and he wasn't on the Jesus side of things either. It would be funny if it weren't so serious that so many of us Christians are so completely convinced of so many intuitions that are quite different from Jesus' own values.

Jesus would work for equal status and opportunity for everyone. Those who overdo it are thus closer to Jesus than those who resist because... frankly I can't think of a good "because" even to suggest.  Some misguided sense of justice?

If you are tempted to make fun of today, ask yourself if Jesus would do it.  Then go somewhere and talk to him about it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Science/Culture Friday: Munich in Fall 2011

NPR has a show every Friday called science Friday.  I thought I might start something similar, but a little broader than just science. For example, I've started reading a book called, The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century.  But today I thought I would give some final reflections on the city of Munich as I experienced it in the Fall of 2011.

Any number of words and adjectives might immediately come to mind: Bavarian, artistic, historical, beer, catholic, cultured, scientific, expensive, bursting with people and foreigners, uncrowded for a big city.  But the peril of such words and phrases is always close at hand. A place has a past--things happened there, people wandered through there--but it is not inevitable that the past determine the future, at least not as far as conceptions are concerned.

And designations like this are often at best majority reports.  At worst they are individual impressions or the perceptions of those with the power to communicate their points of view.  There were Germans here who despised Hitler in the 40's, Germans who went to Dachau.  University students who were beheaded.  They just weren't the ones calling the shots at the time... literally.

So Munich is in Bavaria, and Bavaria is typically conservative.  But Munich is full of foreigners like myself as well.  Sometimes I have wondered how many actual Bavarians have handed me those precious baguettes, Schokocroissants, and Kirchtaschen.  It's not unfriendly for a big city.  I've experienced both friendly and unfriendly.  I've both had someone switch into Bavarian dialect to give me a hard time, and I've had a hard time getting away from an enthusiastic Elvis fan on a tram.

I loved the Pinakotheken, the art museums.  Munich is full of art from the Greeks to Cy Twombly, but I met a very educated German fellow here who has never visited them. The buildings are marvelous; the churches are everywhere, and they are all magnificent.  I am glad for the penchant the Bavarians of the past had to build them.  They are beautiful... and unused, and no doubt a less than helpful use of money the many centuries during which Bavaria was in horrible debt.

Munich is a great place to live if you have a good job, like big cities, and have the leisure to enjoy soccer ("football"), art, opera, history, ballet, theater, and like to reflect on culture and the meaning of life.  It's a good place to put a scientific research company.  It's a nice place to visit if you like Oktoberfest and Fasching.  It has great public transportation, great suburbs, and plenty of reasonably priced restaurants to fill your stomach with every form of pig intestine imaginable.

It is a place like no other place I've visited on earth.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hell in the Bible (10)

continued from yesterday
It is well above my--or your--pay grade to determine what God does with hell.  What we might do is clarify a little what the Bible seems to say and what it doesn't likely say about it. First, as far as the Bible is concerned, hell is a distinctly New Testament idea.  The vast majority of the Old Testament is either silent about the afterlife or explicitly denies any meaningful existence after death.

Job 7:9-10 captures the Old Testament understanding well: "one who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more." I used to think that Job's wife was horrible when she was urging Job to curse God and die.  To me, she was wishing him to go into hell forever.  But she actually was urging him to put himself out of his misery.  In her way of thinking, after he cursed God, God would kill him and then he would no longer be in pain.

"Sheol" in the Old Testament is thus not a place of eternal torment.  It is merely the place where all the dead go when they die.  It is a place of generally mindless, shadowy existence. Psalm 6 prays, "save me because of your unfailing love. Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?"(Ps. 6:4-5). Ecclesiastes of course puts it in its starkest terms, "The dead know nothing... never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun" (Eccl. 9:5-6).

Death in the Old Testament can thus be a punishment for sins in life, but it was not understood at that time as a gateway to eternal punishment.  When Achan and his family are stoned in Joshua, that is the end of the matter as far as Joshua is concerned.  The Israelites did not think they were sending Achan's family to hell. Their death took care of the sin.

The only real exception is Daniel 12:2-3, the only passage in the Old Testament that everyone agrees clearly teaches resurrection. [1] In Daniel, some (not all) are resurrected for reward and some (not all) are resurrected for "everlasting contempt." Daniel does not tell us what everlasting contempt is. I hold many individuals from the past in everlasting contempt as a category of shame.

As with so many key Christian concepts, the crucial background to the New Testament came in the two to three hundred years immediately preceding Christ. It is during this time that an understanding of hell developed in Jewish apocalyptic literature (1 Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls).  And it is this literature rather than the Old Testament that is the primary background for the kind of imagery of Gehenna that we find in the New Testament.

We have already seen some of the imagery of hell in the gospels. The gospels clearly teach that there will be a judgment of the wicked dead at the judgment.  However, given some of the questions people are asking about hell right now, it might be useful to revisit them with the question of "how long" they say hell will last. And here we only find the one statement in Matthew 25:46 about eternal punishment.

What is eternal punishment? We probably rightly take it to mean a punishment that goes on in real time forever. Others might try to interpret it differently. For example, annihilation is a final punishment that continues forever.  It is a kind of eternal punishment. I doubt that is what Matthew 25 means, but I can see someone trying to interpret the statement in that way.

The other passages are more ambiguous when it comes to duration. The other references to Gehenna in Matthew and Luke talk about being thrown into hell but don't mention how long the torment lasts. Mark 9:43 and 45 speak of the fire of Gehenna never being quenched. Does this mean that the torment of an individual never ends? It probably does.

The word "Hades," on the other hand, is the Greek equivalent of Sheol and refers to the place of the dead in general without specific reference to reward or punishment. The fact that Capernaum will be brought down to Hades could only mean that it will be destroyed in the judgment (Matt. 11:23).  However, despite the generality of the word, the overall context of Matthew probably implies everlasting punishment.

Paul never mentions hell in any of his writings. Revelation of course speaks of the lake of fire, into which the beast and those who worshiped him are thrown alive (19:20).  Similarly, all the dead rise and are judged, with the wicked thrown into the lake of fire, along with death itself.  It is specifically stated that Satan and the beasts of Revelation are then tormented day and night forever (Rev. 20:10). The best assumption is that this is also true of the other wicked, although Revelation does not explicitly say so.

Therefore, after looking at the Bible on hell, we find at least two instances where the punishment seems to be never-ending (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 20:10). Over the centuries, this understanding of hell has crystallized and solidified in Christian teaching. Indeed, the place hell holds in our thinking may come as much from medieval Christianity as from the role it plays in the Bible itself. In the end, you and I cannot decide what hell is, so our best bet is to avoid it at all costs and to share the good news of Christ to as many others as possible in hope that they will avoid it as well.

[1] Other passages are debated, of course, like Isaiah 26 and Ezekiel 37.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Christians and hell (9)

Continued from yesterday
A serious question, however, is what "eternal punishment" is.  Does Matthew want us to see the wicked suffering forever and ever?  Certainly this is the understanding of hell that most of us have grown up hearing.  Hell is a place where those who do not believe in Jesus suffer forever.

This is a very sensitive topic, and we should make a couple things very clear from the very beginning.  First, there is a right or wrong answer, and it is not a matter of a vote.  Like the question of whether God literally exists as a being who thinks, acts, and exists completely independent of us, the answer has nothing to do with us.  Either God literally exists or he doesn't.  In the same way, hell is either a place of never ending torment or it isn't. Whether I like it or not has nothing to do with it.

The second point is that the questions so many seem to be asking right now about hell are not simply some problem with our culture or lack of spirituality.  They are real and difficult questions. Hell as we traditionally think of it is a place of infinite punishment.  But even the sins of Hitler, Stalin, or the worse serial killer of all time at least seem finite. How could hell be just if God gives an endless punishment for finite crimes?

Some Christians have coherently answered that even one sin against God is an infinite sin and thus that even one violation of God's law is worthy of eternal hell.  Yet this is an idea that comes from someone reading between the lines.  The Bible doesn't actually say this.

It's even harder for us to put ourselves in God's place and imagine sending someone to never ending torment.  How long would any of us let our worse enemy suffer in a fire, and what state of mind would it take for us to prolong it? If someone murdered my daughter, how long would I let them suffer in a fire before I mercifully told the executioner to put them out of their misery? An hour? What attitude would it take me to let that murderer go on suffering in a fire for a day or a week? It's hard for me to imagine how much hate I would have to have to let my enemy burn for a year.

Of course God is not a man.  We at least must think of hell more in terms of justice than of vengeance. But again, in human terms, how cold and unfeeling would I have to be to let someone burn in torment for a whole month, even as a punishment for horrible crimes?  We like to think that God is sad for people to go to hell--"I'm not sending you there.  You're sending yourself, and I'm sad to see you go." But is God not God? Is he a slave to some abstract concept of justice?  Does he not have the authority to pardon someone after a thousand years of torment, after a million or a billion years of torment?

What we are saying is that these are not just the questions of an unbeliever.  They are the kinds of questions a believer might ask precisely because they believe God is "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (Jonah 4:2). We cannot wish hell away. We cannot get together and vote it into non-existence. But it is at the very least understandable if we find some tension between our belief that "mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13) and the traditional interpretation of eternal punishment.

It is well above my--or your--pay grade to determine what God does with hell.  What we might do is clarify a little what the Bible seems to say and what it doesn't likely say about it...

Christian Teaching Today...

Very interesting piece by Jenell Williams Paris in Christianity Today in response to Mark Noll's book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.  It really gives a good sense of the thousand different ways a Christian professor is pulled at a Christian college.

The body of Christ imagery is as always so simple and yet very helpful.  Even among professors you will find different gifts. Some are gifted to lead the way in thought. Some are gifted to lead the way in service and application. Some are good at organizing the very place of learning. Some are good mentoring students. Some can do several of these things well.

A robust institution wants a little of everything and, even in the spread of universities, we also have the possibility of differing emphases.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jesus and Hell (8)

continued from here.
The traditions of Jesus as we have them thus do not focus on hell, but clearly indicate that he believed it existed and that many would end up there.  Of course we might debate the potential difference between what Jesus said historically and the way the gospel writers present him, but in this particular case such debates will likely end up in speculation rather than clear certainty.  The comments on hell in the Jesus tradition go deep.

For example, there are the statements we mentioned earlier in the chapter about those among the living who will be thrown directly into Gehenna from the earth (Mark 9:47; Matt. 10:28).  These two statements fit some of the criteria that the most skeptical historians have used to try to distinguish between things Jesus said and things they do not think he said.  Here, these two sayings come from what most experts would consider two different layers of Jesus tradition, two separate sources of material.  Mark is one source.  Then Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:4 represent some other, different source. [1]

Matthew and Luke have other material about hell in common.  The queen of the south and the Ninevites who repented will rise from the dead at the judgment and condemn Jesus' generation for not repenting and believing (Matt. 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32).  Things will go better for ancient Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom in the judgment than for Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, which largely did not accept Jesus (Matt. 11:20-24; Luke 10:13-14).  They all will rise for the final verdict.  Interestingly, there seem to be levels of punishment.

Matthew in particular repeats numerous times the imagery of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" for the condemned, often taking place after being cast out into "outer darkness" (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).  In one place, we hear that this is an eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46; cf. 18:8), that the wicked are going to a place that was originally prepared for the Devil and his angels (25:41). The other gospels do not mention that hell is a place where the wicked go forever...

[1] This other source is sometimes called "Q," which is short for the German word for source, "Quelle."  However, it is not important for us here that Q be a real document.  Clearly Matthew got this saying from some source other than Mark, because the saying is not in Mark.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Monday Review: Resurrection in the Testaments

I have started off the year reading James Charlesworth's (editor), Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine.  I'm playing with the idea of designating Mondays for a post on something I'm reading, and I'll try to move between categories.

The first chapter is by Charlesworth himself, of Princeton Seminary.  I almost said formerly because he is perhaps the last vestige of a past, historically oriented biblical studies program there.  From what I hear, don't go there any more if you're interested in this sort of stuff.  It's all theological interpretation now with a rapidly diminishing number of doctoral students in biblical studies.

Charlesworth's chapter gives a helpful catalog of how resurrection language in Jewish literature can mean a lot of things, ranging from national restoration to recovery from embarrassment. The second chapter is by C. D. Elledge (who also has a book analyzing Josephus on the subject). I found it the most concise and clear overview of the topic I've ever seen.

But my intention today is not to be helpful ;-)  I wanted to jot down some notes for my own research.  In chapter 4, Elledge overviews passages in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs that show belief in resurrection.  Here are some strings for my fingers:

  • Because the book has obvious Christian interpolations and yet a soundly Jewish base, it surely represents Christian Judaism of the late first or early second century.  The documents likely started as pre-Christian Jewish documents, perhaps Essene in provenance, but they were preserved and expanded by Christian Jews even after the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • This plays into my hunch that a good deal of early Christian Judaism flowed directly from an Essene background, including John the Baptist.  I'd love one day before I die to write up a hypothesis.
  • The fact that Testament of Benjamin is one of the most clearly edited by Christians and yet looks to a restored temple (Benj 9.2) corroborates my theory elsewhere that Christians did not see a contradiction between the temple system and belief that Christ's death had decisive atoning significance for Israel.  Similarly, it shows that the political restoration of Israel was important in some early Christian belief after Jerusalem's destruction.
  • As far as the afterlife, the Testament of Judah 25.4 has no resurrection for the wicked (who suffer in Gehenna in Zebulon 10.1-4).  While it does not preclude a total resurrection of the righteous, it focuses on resurrection for those who died in sorrow, poverty, hungry, and for the Lord.
  • Judah 25.1 is very interesting because it mentions the resurrection of the patriarchs, as in the gospels (e.g., Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28 ). The resurrected sons of Jacob rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, which is interestingly what the twelve disciples do in Matt. 19:28.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Munich's Brandhorst Museum

Went with Angie today to the Brandhorst Museum while Tom and Sophie went bowling with the church.  Few know that Angie really likes art and has always "delighted" the children with a slew of art museums in our travels.  I think if she could do anything she liked would get an advanced degree in art history and try to teach somewhere.

It's a museum of modern art featuring individuals like Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, and Cy Twonbly.  I don't usually enjoy this sort of art, unless someone can explain something about it to me that is clever.  To be honest, a good deal of the museum confirmed the stereotype to me--even the audio guide explanation of some of them sounded completely goofy.  I wouldn't hang anything from Cy Twonbly in my house unless you paid me (then I would--actually, Angie was reminding we do have one of the better Twombly's already in our home from when Stacy painted her own room).

However, there were some pieces I considered quite clever and stimulating, especially with explanation.  I liked this Warhol, for example:

It's meant (so the audio guide said) to show the faded reality of the communist dream of the hammer and sickle, and the sickle handle in the bottom left has the kind of stamp you would see in a US tool store.

I liked this piece by Sigmar Polke:

It's called Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité, the cry of the French Revolution.  You can see what that turned out to mean in France.  Polke insisted that it only be bought by a French museum, but no French museum would take it. ;-)

There were a couple other things I thought were clever.  I thought clever the idea of a piece of art being a showcase with stuff in it--the showcase being part of the art rather than art being in a meaningless museum showcase. But what Joseph Beuys put in the showcase completely made the piece uninteresting.

A couple of Cy Twombly's stuff could have been clever, if he hadn't completely trivialized the spark.  I thought the idea of a piece of art being a classroom chalkboard had great potential... if it didn't have his meaningless scribble on it.  I kept thinking of the scene from White Chicks where all the paint falls on the stage and splashes the audience and one of the artists in the audience thinks it is so bold, so revolutionary.

Finally, the museum currently has a couple of exhibits by Isaac Julien.  This is video art.  The second exhibit, One Thousand Waves, had 9 screens of video going on.  They juxtaposed themes ancient and modern but what I thought was fascinating was the way the screens created a panorama.

I thought of my own friend Dan Steller and how a whole new kind of movie could be shown where you had different screens going with different parts of each scene.  Some could be background (like the background Chinese forest in Julien) or with features of the scene (like the temple on some of the screens in Julien's, taken from different distances). Some could involve the center stage, but other screens could involve side conversations or even a narrator looking on (like the goddess of safety looking on in Julien).

So there were some things in the museum that, after being explained, I thought were quite clever, at least to me.  As for the rest...

Jesus and Gehenna (7)

... continued series on Jesus and judgment.
So Jesus preached that judgment was coming for those living on the earth, including the wicked within Israel.  My hunch is that Jesus did not emphasize this judgment in his teaching, even though it was always there in the background.  It makes sense that it may have featured more prominently in Jesus' final days on earth than it did in the bulk of his ministry. In this last section, I want to discuss another element in Jesus' equation of judgment, namely, resurrection and hell.

Again, Jesus probably didn't speak very much on either topic.  For example, we don't have too many statements by Jesus in the gospels about the resurrection. There is his well known debate with some Sadducees in Mark 12:18-27.  The Sadducees were "conservative" when it came to the subject and sided with the silence of the bulk of the Old Testament. They rejected the fairly new idea of resurrection and its sometimes revolutionary implications. [1]

Jesus disagreed. The gospels remember him teaching that there would be a resurrection involving Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28).  Certainly he also speaks of his own resurrection at points in the gospels.  Interestingly, this is surprisingly little from Jesus on a subject that is a core item of our faith. But of course the resurrection had not begun yet at that point.  Jesus was the beginning of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20), and so the resurrection has now started.

The gospels have more to say about hell, especially Matthew. We saw a couple passages earlier in the chapter where Jesus talked about those who die in the judgment being cast, body and soul, into Gehenna (e.g., Matt. 10:28; Mark 9:47). It is tempting for some to see Jesus only referring to the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem. [2] It is where they burned trash so that its fire never went out and its worms always he something to fee on (Mark 9:48).

The word ge-hinnom in Aramaic originally meant "Valley of Hinnom"--this is where the word "Gehenna" originally came from. At first, some time before Jesus came to earth, the word perhaps was used of the place where the bodies of those who died in the final conflict between good and evil would be burned. However, words usually do not stand still in their meanings, and this word went on to refer to a place of eternal torment for the wicked beneath the surface of the earth...

[1] The only place in the Old Testament that all agree refers to resurrection is Daniel 12:2-3, although there are other possibilities (e.g., Isa. 26:19).  Other passages explicitly deny a meaningful afterlife (e.g., Job 3:16-19; 7:9-10; 14:14, 21; Ps. 6:4-5; 30:9; 88:3-6; and Eccl. 3:19; 9:4-5). The idea of resurrection probably did not really gain force within Judaism until the 100's BC.  There it was perhaps first associated with those who die a martyr's death out of faithfulness to the Law (e.g., 2 Maccabees 7).  It meant that those who stand up to foreign powers out of devotion to God will come back and see the judgment of their adversaries.  Cf. J. H. Charlesworth, ed. Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2006).

[2] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (San Francisco: HarperOne), 67-68.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Psalm 1 translation

I am much better at Greek than Hebrew, but I've kept my resolution to translate a verse of the Psalms a day this year.  I'm tweeting the verses but I finished Psalm 1 today and thought I would collect them here. This isn't anything like a finished translation, but it gives a little sense of the Hebrew.
1 Oh the delights of the man
who does not walk by the counsel of wicked people,
and in the way of sinners does not stand
and in the seat of mockers does not sit.

2 Rather, in the Law of the LORD [is] his pleasure,
and on his Law he will reflect daily and nightly.

3 And he will be like a tree being planted by the rivers of waters,
which will give its fruit in its time,
and its leaf will not wither,
and everything he does will be successful.

4 Not so [are] the wicked.
Rather [they are] like chaff
that the wind will drive away.

5Therefore, wicked people will not prevail in [their] sentencing
or sinners with the jury of the righteous.

6 For the LORD knows the way of righteous people,
but the way of wicked ones will perish.
This was perhaps a psalm written as a "cover letter" for the whole Psalm collection or perhaps at least "Book 1" of the Psalms (1-41). The Law is of course the Pentateuch. All in all, these factors suggest a rather late date in the post-exilic period, I suspect.

Remember Epiphany!

Today is Epiphany, often celebrated as the day when the wise men came to Jesus in Bethlehem...

(Although the impression we get from Matthew is that Jesus would be much older that 13 days when they come. Herod kills the babies under 2 years of age based on when the star appeared and giving enough time for travel from the east and for Herod to conclude they weren't coming back to him. That sounds more like Jesus being at least a year old to me.)

January 6, along with December 25, was an early date of celebrating Jesus birth.  This piece suggests that the way some early Christians (before Constantine, mind you) tried to calculate Jesus' birth date was based on:
  • When he might have died, with April 6 and March 25 being two dates we early find attested
  • The sense that Jesus was conceived on the same day that he died, giving a birth date nine months later of January 6 and December 25 respectively
If this is right, we cannot give Constantine the blame for the date of Christmas.  The twelve days in between December 25 and January 6 then became the twelve days of Christmas.

We don't know what date Jesus was born, but meaning is not just a matter of origin. A tradition is only as meaningful to us as, well, it is to us.  Christians have taken today as a day to think about the wise men for long over a thousand years. It's actually a bank holiday here in Germany.

There's nothing wrong with reading Matthew 2 today!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Christians and Israel today (6)

... continued from Tuesday.
... How should we as Christians today appropriate this teaching?  For one thing, the temple and Jerusalem were in fact destroyed within a generation.  Contrary to Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and a host of prophecy teachers, the gospels were not talking about some temple that is yet to be rebuilt. [1] Although parts of these "end times" sermons have not yet happened, the bulk of them have.

This is a very important point.  As far as political Israel is concerned, this teaching is almost completely a matter of the past.  Generally speaking, we should not use the material in the gospels in our thinking about the politics of the Middle East. People calling themselves Christians have of course in the past had both inappropriately negative and positive views on Jews and Israel.  For much of Christian history, people calling themselves Christians used material in the gospels as an excuse to hate and even persecute Jews.  It seems beyond question that these sorts of forces within Christianity are important background to the Holocaust.

But Jesus could not be anti-semitic because he was a Jew himself--for that matter his humanity remains a Jew for all eternity. [2]  We have seen in previous chapters that Jesus’ earthly ministry had as one of its top priorities the restoration of the lost sheep of Israel, not the abandonment of Israel.  He surely directed his action in the temple toward the leadership of Israel, especially its priestly establishment, not Israel itself as a nation.  His critique was a prophetic critique from the inside, not a final condemnation from the outside. [3]

It is not controversial to think that the four gospels as we have them all date from the time after Jerusalem was destroyed.  Words that sound quite combative in foresight do not sound the same in hindsight.  It is thus quite possible that some of the words that sound most anti-Jew were originally more explanations of Jerusalem's destruction looking back.  “His blood is on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25) reads best as a foreshadowing of what happened forty years later when Jerusalem was destroyed. It certainly did not give a green light for all history to kill any Jews you find because of some racial guilt.

By the same token, other Christians today show an inordinate amount of favoritism for the political nation of Israel.  I think it is appropriate for us to honor Jews today because "Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah (Rom. 9:4-5). However, we cannot confuse political Israel today with the Israel about which Paul said, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Israel's state of belief today is no different than it was at the time of Paul.

My point is that while it is appropriate for Christians to give a certain kind of honor to Jews, both Jews as individuals and as a nation are to be treated with the same expectations and obligations of any other person or nation.  We and they must love their neighbor as themselves, including the Muslim Arab world.  Israel as a nation must be expected to live in the world with justice the same as the Palestinians and all other peoples.  Injustice does not get a pass because of your race.  It is ironic to realize that, at least until recent times, there were far more Christians among Palestinians than among the Israelis, yet so many American fundamentalist churches effectively hate the one and blindly support the other.

For historic Christians, of course the greatest point of application in the "end times" passages in the gospels is the continued expectation that Christ will again return to earth.  It is a faith that we not only have to wait until the next world to see justice done but that, in God's good time, Christ will return and hit the reset button on humanity as well.  Since prophecy usually only becomes clear in hindsight, we will have to wait to see what all that entails in relation to Israel at that point.

[1] Tim LaHaye, Left Behind series; Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth.

[2] See Terence Donaldson, Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament: Decision Points and Divergent Interpretations (Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2010) for a survey of interpretive issues.

[3] Cf. Luke 13:31-35.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Traveling Europe Cheaply with Family

In the last four months my wife, myself, and two of our kids have managed to visit Berlin, Florence, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague pretty much on a shoestring budget.  We haven't bought a lot of souvenirs to be sure, but we have the pictures and memories.  Much of the time, we were on a $100-200 budget a day for 4 people.  Here's our formula.

1. First you have to get there.  The plane tickets will be the biggest expense.  Most will know Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Air Gorilla, Priceline, etc.

2. Eurail is of course ideal for long trips (e.g., to Italy from Munich or from Paris to Stuttgart).  Depending on which kind of ticket you get, they are good for several days in the countries you select within a 2 month window.  They must be purchased in the States before you go.  You do get to travel first class.

Reservations for specific seats are separate and important for the high speed trains (not necessary for the locals).  In Italy, they'll fine you if you haven't made a reservation at a train station, even though you have a ticket.  In other places you just have to find an seat that isn't reserved.  It can cost almost 10 Euros a person sometimes for a reservation, but it saves the hassle of trying to find an open seat--especially one where your family can sit together.  There are overnight trains for long hauls but don't do it unless you can reserve a sleeping compartment--trust me.

3. We found buses to be very nice when going into eastern Europe.  We took buses from Vienna to Budapest and from Munich to Prague.  Eurolines is dependable and has nice buses.  We noticed a Eurolines going from Budapest down to Athens and were jealous.  You can often make round trips for less than 50 Euros a person on these sorts of bus lines.

4. Twice we rented a car.  It can be fairly inexpensive (e.g., 50 some Euros) but you must have a credit card and they will usually block three times the rental amount until the car gets back safely and they get it through the system (which can take some time).  As in the States, they may or may not take a debit card.

Also, they often won't let you go to eastern Europe with one.  The cheapest will be manual transmission.  Diesel ones are of course cheap on gas (you can spend a 100 Euros easily on normal even in a day). I used Orbitz both times.  The insurance may be worth it.

5. Know the local deals.  The Bayern ticket in Munich can be purchased for less than 30 Euros and will take up to 5 people anywhere in Bavaria and even to Salzburg--6 if two of them are children.  In Budapest you can get a two day family ticket for something like 12 Euros (I forget how many Florints).

6. Google maps is awesome.  We walked straight from the international bus station to our hostel in Prague following the clear path Google maps worked out for us before we left home.  You will almost certainly want a map of any city, though, once you get there.  Many hostels give them out for free.

7. For a lot of Americans, the amount of walking the Europeans are used to can be a big adjustment.  If you're not prepared to walk a lot and take public transportation, forget about doing it cheaply.  There are usually tickets to be bought in the big cities that will allow you to hop on and off any subway, tram, or bus for the day (or several days).  Most Americans aren't used to subway and tram charts, but once you get the hang of them they're pretty much the same everywhere in Europe.

Beware of pick pockets, especially in Rome.  The subway there is horrible and squashes everyone like a sardine.  Keep your wallet in a front pocket or somewhere inaccessible.  Don't be loud Americans.  Don't expect everyone to do it your kind of normal.  Just knowing please and thank you in whatever language will get you miles in better attitudes and service.

By now most know that the best way to get money in a foreign country is at an ATM.  Most of the conversion stands are a cheat.  If the rate is reasonable (check Google before you go), they'll slap on a commission.  If they don't have a commission, the rate may be bad.

Make sure your bank lets you take money from a debit card overseas (not all do) and warn them you're traveling in advance (or they may block it and try to call you at home, which would be unfortunate if you're half way around the world).  Also be aware that banks often only let you take out a certain amount of cash each day electronically (e.g., $200).  That can be a nice budget... or it can cause serious problems if, as is often the case, no one seems to take credit cards.

1. Housing is a major expenditure if you stay at a normal Western style hotel.  Orbitz and those sorts of sites again will find you good deals.  Certainly Rick Steve's and the travel books can give suggestions too.

2. With four of us, however, we ended up doing several hostels (Florence, Budapest, Vienna, Prague).  There are sites like  But just doing a google search "Hostels Prague" and you'll find the roads most traveled.  Make sure the hostel will take older people.  Usually they want paid in cash up front.  But if you have four people, you can usually book a whole room for your family (rather than sharing one).  It's en suite.

We had great experiences at the hostels we stayed at in Florence, Vienna, and Prague.  The one in Budapest seemed a little dodgy, but we survived intact.  They can be noisy.  Most of the time the en suite ones have a private bathroom but not always.  The breakfast also may not be overwhelming, but you can often get some sort of breakfast included.

We stayed in Prague for about 65 Euros as a family.  I think it was something like 45 Euros in Budapest.  Vienna and Florence were higher but still well less than 100 a night for four people, I believe.

It's horrible to say but you can always count on McDonalds for a predictably priced meal... and language is usually not a problem.  In any language, a family of four can eat at McDonalds for about 25 Euros.

Italian is fairly predictable in price too.  A "pizza margarita" or cheese pizza for one or two will cost 6 or 7 Euros.  Spaghetti bolognese, napoli, or carbonara will usually be less than 10.  Watch how much the drinks cost, even water.  50 Euros for a family of 4 is not surprising.

You'll want to try some local food.  Beware the restaurants in the middle of things.  The restaurant on the town square will cost you.  Find the restaurant on the side alley or a good half a kilometer from the city center.  A hostel may very well have advertisements up.  We ate at the "Iron Curtain" in Prague following a flier in the hostel at 6 Euros a person (600 Crowns for four of us).

Another big expense are any museums or entrance fees. Plan on it.  There are usually lots of things to see wherever you're going... and almost all of them will want their pound of flesh.

Some advice hot off of Prague and the secret to my family's own shoestring tourism.

Jan Hus, Prague, and Random Thoughts

One of the last things on my hubby to-do list was to take my wife to Prague before we left Germany (the others included Rome and Budapest).  So we've made a quick 5 hour trip here from Munich.

So here's the Jan Hus part.  He was burned at the stake in the early 1400's for translating the Bible into Czech and arguing for a number of reforms.  100 years later, maybe he like Luther would have survived.  Then again, perhaps not.  The Catholic Hapsburgs put the brakes on the Hussites here in the early 1620's.

The Hussites, I believe, remain a catholic church but one that is not connected with the Roman Catholic Church.

Now for random thoughts I've had today:

  • The lines we humans draw around land are funny.  The trees know no lines.  A walk in the forest knows of no "countries," yet suddenly the languages change and the letters on the signs.
  • As with Hungary, it is fascinating and sad to think that this region was pretty much the same as Germany or Austria up until the days of the Soviet Union.  I saw a house built in the 1700s' in the pre-Napolean Holy Roman Empire days and it pretty much looked like a German house. In fact the architecture reminds me a lot of Bavaria.  The Soviets pretty much killed its economic and technological development.
  • The Moravians were from even east of here.  Again, this wasn't a "backward" part of the world until the ignoramic communists took over.
  • Czech seems further along with post-communist development than Hungary to me.  Nevertheless, I see the faces of people and marvel that I live such a good life as an American.  There are Americans in need to be sure, but it boggles the mind to think of how different your life is through no merit of your own--just where you were born.
  • Glad this place wasn't bombed to heck in WW2.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Judgment of Israel (5)

... continued from last year. ;-)
Some have suggested that Jesus' action in the temple meant to enact its coming destruction symbolically. [1]  No doubt at least looking back many Christians understood it this way.  The Synoptic gospels remember Jesus predicting the temple's destruction.  Whether it was entirely clear to them at the time is another question.

The key passage here is Jesus' "end times" sermon in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21.  These gospels all present Jesus' teaching on coming judgment in the context of the Jerusalem temple and a prediction that its stones will all be torn down (e.g., Mark 13:2). Jesus begins to tell of a coming distress and then of the coming of the Son of Man.

The first part of the sermon is about a distress that is coming on Israel.  Given the way Mark introduces this teaching, we know that it involves the destruction of the temple.  In fact, Luke 21:20 paraphrases Jesus' teaching to make it clear that the destruction of Jerusalem is the desecration Jesus is predicting.  The way Mark puts it is much more ambiguous: "when you see 'the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong" (Mark 13:14).

So there may be some element of hindsight in the way the gospels present Jesus' teaching here. The sermon itself does not actually mention the temple's destruction--only its desecration is implied. [2]  The Jerusalem Christians in Acts worship in the temple without much of a sense of its impending doom, and Paul's enigmatic teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2 only speaks of a man of lawlessness setting himself up in the temple as god (2:4).

The second part of the sermon concerns the coming of the Son of Man and presumably the final judgment (e.g., Mark 13:24-31).  We know now--as the early Christians came to know--that there is a significant gap of time between the first and the second part of the sermon.  The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70, but we still wait for Christ's return. Luke in particular seems to bring out this distinction in the way he paraphrases the teaching.  He speaks of a "times of the Gentiles" that intervenes (Luke 21:24).

How should we as Christians today appropriate this teaching? ...

[1] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism...

[2] So John Kloppenborg, "Evocatio Deorum and ***) JBL.