Sunday, June 30, 2013

Grudem 13: Attributes of Purpose 1 (Will)

It's been about a month since I finally finished blogging on Wayne Grudem's chapter 12 on God's "mental" and "moral" attributes.  You can see all of my blogging on Grudem up to this point on this webpage and I've published my edited review of his material on God's word in both print and Kindle form.  I hope to do the same for his material on the other sections of the book and then the whole thing together.

So to continue this five year mission...
D. Attributes of Purpose
14 Will
Grudem discusses God's will in five pages, with three headings.  His first heading is "God's will in general." He runs through a number of Scriptures that speak of God's will as the "final authority or most ultimate reason for everything that happens" (211). He sees God's will as a continual activity. All the events in our lives are subject to God's will. It can also be God's will for us to suffer.

The second section makes distinctions between different kinds of will in God. The first is a distinction between God's "necessary" will and God's "free" will. For Grudem, "God's necessary will includes everything he must will according to his own nature" (213).  "God cannot choose to be different than he is or to cease to exist."

By contrast, for Grudem "God's free will includes all things that God decided to will but had no necessity to will according to his nature" (213).  God did not have to create the universe.  God did not have to redeem the universe. For Grudem, these were totally free decisions on God's part.

The other set of distinctions Grudem makes in this section are between God's "secret" will and God's "revealed" will. God's revealed will "is sometimes also called God's will of precept or will of command" (213). This is God's will "concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do."

By contrast, God's secret will refers to "his hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen" (213). We find these things out after they happen. They are not revealed ahead of time.

For Grudem, God's secret will includes the fact that God has chosen to hide the gospel from some people, the fact that God has only has mercy on those he chooses (Rom. 9:18). These are things we had best not pry into (215). "There is danger" in ascribing evil events to the will of God, even though to Grudem this is a biblical understanding. Despite how this understanding of God's secret will sounds, "we must never understand it to imply that we are freed from responsibility for evil, or that God is ever to be blamed for sin" (216).

1. Directive versus Permissive will
As a Calvinist, the big distinction in Grudem's sense of God's will is between God's secret and revealed will.  He implies that God's "secret will" is difficult to reconcile with his revealed will.

For Arminians such as myself, a better distinction is between God's directive will and God's permissive will.  Because Grudem ultimately believes that God's secret will determines everything that happens, he does not allow for any action to be willed apart from God's specific direction. That is to say, all will for Grudem is God's directive will.

However, as an Arminian, I believe that God has afforded his creation the freedom to disobey his will. When a human being does evil, it must be that God allows it because God is the ultimate authority over everything that happens in the world. But this is not God's directive will, as it is for Grudem. Grudem must warn his readers not to blame God for sin or free themselves from responsibility for sin. The Arminian does not need to worry because we believe such actions are not a matter of God's secret direction.

We will see something similar when we get to Grudem's discussion of God's providence (chap. 16). I do not believe that God directly causes all the suffering in the world. Rather, God has afforded both to humans a freedom of will that often leads to suffering. Similarly, God allows natural laws to play out in ways that can result in catastrophes. Why he does so is somewhat of a mystery for Arminians, just as God's secret will is for Calvinists.

But the Calvinist implicitly gives God full responsibility for such things, while the Arminian distances such events from God. The Arminian considers these things a matter of God's "permissive" will, things he allows for some greater reason. They remain part of God's direct intention for the Calvinist.

2. God's free will
It is deeply ironic that the Calvinist tradition, so bent on the sovereignty of God, is tremendously concerned to make it clear that there are certain things God is not free to do. This perhaps betrays that theologians like Grudem are really more concerned to maintain a certain sense of the order of the world than they truly are to ascribe true sovereignty to God. Nevertheless, the position that says God does not act at variance with his character is fully orthodox.

I would prefer to say, however, that God does not choose to act at variance with his revealed character. That is to say, we only know God as he has revealed himself in this universe.  We have no point of reference to say what God literally is like outside of it.  It is true that God does not act at variance with his revealed character as a God of love. But it seems best to me to say that God freely acts in this way, not that God himself is somehow a slave to some (inherited?) nature.

God is whom he has chosen to be in this universe. In this way God is free both in relation to what Grudem calls God's free will and in relation to what Grudem calls God's necessary will.

3. God's "secret knowledge"
I have already mentioned above that the Calvinist sense of God's "secret will" is based on a "deterministic" view of everything that happens in the world.  How is it that in revelation God considers us morally responsible for our choices yet in other Scriptures seems to claim responsibility for hardening some people's hearts? How can God not tempt people with evil (Jas. 1:13) and yet send an evil spirit into Saul (1 Sam. 16:14)?  How can God want everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) and yet most not be saved (Matt. 7:14)?

The Calvinist answer is God's "secret will" and his "hidden decrees," notions that Grudem will play out more fully in his chapter 16.  God portrays himself one way on the surface but another in hiding. Congress passes one law into legislation but the President makes secret notes of legal disagreement on the side and then secretly violates those laws. It is thus no surprise that Grudem wants to place verses like 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, which say that God prefers everyone to be saved, into God's revealed will... so he can violate them in his secret will.

A more coherent approach is the Arminian distinction between God's directive and permissive will. God prefers all people to be saved but allows people to choose differently. There is still nuancing that needs to be done--the Bible has both language of predestination and free will. The interpreter's choice is which set should be taken more poetically and which set more literally.

The Arminian must also see God has having "secret knowledge" that leads him not to intervene.  He sees a bigger picture than we do.  But at least in this perspective, God's will remains constant in character.  He doesn't take away with his secret hand what he gives with his revealed hand. He simply acts on knowledge we cannot fully see or understand.

Romans 7:25b

I wrote this footnote today:

"From a standpoint of clarity, it is unfortunate that Paul took the time in 7:25b to summarize the situation he has been describing in 7:7-24—the person wanting to keep the Law but not having the Spirit to be able to do so: 'I myself then with my mind serve the Law of God but with the flesh the law of sin.' Again, Paul makes it abundantly clear in both the lead up and follow up to this section that slavery to sin should not be the current situation of a person in Christ. Romans 8:8 further indicates that those who are in the flesh are not able to please God. It is unfortunate that readers of Paul, not least Luther, have so identified with the situation he presents in 7:7-24 that they often cannot see that it is exactly this state that Paul believes is untenable for a person in Christ."

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sunday Theology: The Final Revelation

Here is my perhaps weekly series on theology in video form.  This continues my posts on revelation.

This one is on the "final revelation," which as you might guess is Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Joys of Scholarly Venting

What joy finally to get to express my scholarly frustrations of these many years.  I enjoyed a few remarks on D. A. Carson last week.  Today it's Mark Seifrid's turn in a footnote.  I'm really going to enjoy writing this book on Hebrews!
"Mark Seifrid argues that Paul must be speaking of himself autobiographically because his “I” in Romans 7 emerges from a “we” in which he included himself (Justification by Faith: The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme [SNT 68; Leiden: Brill, 1992], 148). This argument seems somewhat circular. Individuals like Stendahl do not believe that Paul included himself psychologically in the “we” of verses like 7:5 but theologically. Obviously Paul must include himself because he is a human being, but this fact does not mean that he resonated experientially and psychologically with that inclusion. That an “I” representing humanity theologically would emerge from a theological “we” is completely coherent."

Science Friday: Einstein's Special Relativity 1

One of the things on my bucket list is to understand an equation in quantum physics called Schrödinger's equation before I die.  For anyone who thinks Wikipedia is for lightweights, tell me what you think of this page.

Off and on for years I have tried to find an entry point, but I usually don't even get through the starting point of quantum physics, Max Planck in 1900.  Schrödinger proposed his equation in 1925. I would love to grasp those 25 years in physics, let alone get beyond them. Dare I share one of my novel starts (I've started dozens)--a quantum physicist who has an accident in which his brain damage leads him to struggle to relearn some of what he formerly knew so well, only to achieve the barest of success.

I found a delightful book recently by Alan Lightman called, The Discoveries. Not that I have made much progress in it either. But he has some of the most groundbreaking scientific essays of the twentieth century in it, and he gives nice introductory essays.

I feel almost ready to write one "chapter" in those groundbreaking first 25 years.  In 1905, Einstein published four groundbreaking papers, including one that introduced his idea of special relativity. I thought perhaps I could summarize that paper slowly here.
"On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," Albert Einstein, 1905.

Einstein starts by noticing that the famous theories of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79) lead to some inconsistencies. Maxwell was a Scottish physicist who seemed to establish that light was a wave and at least established that electricity and magnetism were manifestations of the same basic phenomenon. His "electromagnetic theory" was the greatest achievement in physics since Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and paved the way for the developments of twentieth century physics (not to mention the radio, television, and cell phones).

The first paragraph of Einstein's essay points out some of the problems Maxwell's theory had left. For example, science at that time had two different explanations for the current created in a wire around a magnet, depending on whether you moved the magnet through the wire or the wire over the magnet. If you moved the magnet through the wire, science said that the magnet generated an electric field around it that caused current in the wire. But if you moved the wire over the magnet, science did not say there was an electric field over the magnet. Instead, it said that an electromagnetic force was created in the wire. The current generated, however, was exactly the same.

[Note: I do not really grasp the relevance of this particular example at this point]

In the second paragraph of the introduction, Einstein sees a solution to these sorts of anomalies in the reconciling of two principles that were already accepted but that seemed contradictory.

First, there was the "principle of relativity" that had been established three hundred years earlier by Galileo.  Physical laws operate the same in any "inertial frame of reference," that is, in any collection of items moving together at a constant velocity. The recent laws of electromagnetism set down by Maxwell were no exception: "the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good." (72).

The second postulate on which Einstein will base his theory is the "theory of light constancy."  "Light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity c which is independent of the state of motion  of the emitting body" (72). In other words, light will move at 300,000,000 meters per second whether it shines from a spaceship moving 100,000 meters per second or from someone with a flashlight in your back yard. Einstein himself was not the first to suggest this constancy.

Einstein was keen to resolve the apparent contradiction between these two postulates. How is it that light does not move faster off a moving truck than it does from someone standing on the side of the road? They are two different inertial frames of reference and so, relative to each other, the velocity of the truck should add on to the velocity of light relative the ground.

Maxwell's equations worked for "stationary bodies." That is to say, they worked within the framework of a single inertial frame of reference. Einstein's goal in this essay is to present a "simple and consistent theory" that will work for bodies moving in relation to each other, to present a theory relating to the "electrodynamics of moving bodies."

As a side benefit, he aims to show that the notion of a "luminiferous ether" is superfluous. Since Maxwell had seemed to show that light was a wave, the question had arisen as to what sort of a medium the wave moved through.  Water waves moved through water.  What did light waves move through?  At the time, physicists assumed there must surely be some sort of invisible medium through which light moved, something they called the "ether."

But experiments had failed to show any ether (e.g., the Michelson-Morley experiments). The ether gave a sense of absolute space--there would be something at rest at every point of the universe. Einstein's theory ends up negating the notion of "absolute stationary space" or absolute rest in space.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Jesus Books are out!

The Kindle editions have been ready for over a week but I've been waiting for my two Jesus books to hit Amazon before mentioning them here.

They're out!

The first covers the basics, the core elements of Jesus' earthly mission, including his passion and resurrection.

The second focuses more on the gospel portraits and their unique themes, with the final chapter talking about the way Christology reached its final form in the early centuries of the church.

The Promise of the Spirit 1

Now beginning chapter 2 of life reflections on Acts...
To understand Acts 2 and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have to go back to the very beginning of Luke-Acts in Luke 3. John the Baptist is baptizing people at the Jordan River. The people are wondering if he might be the Messiah. He assures them that he is not.

"I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:17).

This verse is the background for the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  It may take us a little doing, but we have to remember that the Gospel of John was not sitting between Luke and Acts when Luke's audience first heard Luke-Acts.  These two books were one work, one continuous story. What that means is that if you stick material from John into the flow of Luke-Acts, you're changing the story from how it was originally meant to be read.

Why am I telling you this?  Because it is very common in some circles to insert a moment in John 20:22 into Acts' story line. In John 20:22, Jesus breathes on his disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Some Christians thus like to see Acts 2 as an additional event involving the Holy Spirit.

But not for Acts.  The moment in John 20 is not part of the story of Luke-Acts.  For Luke-Acts, the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of John's prediction in Luke 3. For Acts 2, the Spirit has not come yet in the way that John anticipated before the Day of Pentecost. [1]

The event on the Day of Pentecost thus represents a kind of full instatement of Jesus as Messiah.  John the Baptist says that the Messiah will bring a new baptism, a baptism in Spirit. That prediction is enacted in Acts 2.  It goes in force. Jesus is now fully operating as the king--at least as he plans to operate in this age until his return. The Day of Pentecost is, in a sense, the birth of the church and the church age. The benefit of Christ's death and resurrection for the world are now fully in play.

The Day of Pentecost was one of three feasts in the Old Testament when, in theory, every Jewish male was to go to Jerusalem and present himself before the Lord (cf. Deut. 16:10, 16). It was also called the "Feast of Weeks" because it was 7 weeks or 50 days after Passover. It was also called the "Feast of First Fruits" because it celebrated the beginning of the wheat harvest.

The symbolism is clear.  The Day of Pentecost represents the first harvest of Jesus followers now that the age of the Spirit has come. It is hard to know if Jews at the time associated the Feast of Pentecost with the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, but later Jewish tradition did, and some Jewish writers of the time saw fire as part of the giving of the Jewish Law. [2] Is it possible that Luke wanted us to see Pentecost as the enactment of the new covenant (Luke 22:20)?

John the Baptist had predicted that Jesus' baptism would involve fire.  The function of fire in this context is to cleanse and purify (Luke 3:17). Yes, this cleansing probably does involve a sifting of people.  But Acts 15:9 also tells us that the coming of the Spirit purifies the disciples' own hearts, as well as the hearts of all those who receive the Spirit.

What is happening in the time before this inaugural event of the church? First they are waiting.  Jesus has told them to wait for this promise of the Father, the promise that John the Baptist also foretold (1:4).  Will we have to wait for the Spirit ourselves today?

Quite possibly. We live in such an instantaneous world.  We can text message someone from the other side of the world. We have our phones in our pockets and purses continually. We are not used to waiting.

The disciples only had to wait 10 days, but the coming of the Holy Spirit when we are waiting may not come that quickly for us.  While it is hard for us, part of Christian maturity is the patience to wait on God.  Sometimes he may come quickly. At other times we may wait years. With God a day is like a thousand years (Ps. 90:4), and we should be prepared for the possibility that some answers may not even come within our lifetime.

The disciples also prayed while they were waiting (1:14). The ten days of waiting were spent in prayer. There are probably times when you should move from praying to acting in faith, but this time was not one of them. Jesus had given them clear instructions.  The next event was the unique event of Pentecost, the unrepeatable first time inauguration of the age of the Spirit. It came next.

So prayer was the clear order of business while they waited. Pentecost is not the only time in Acts when the Holy Spirit comes in the middle of praying. The Spirit will come in the middle of preaching too.  In both instances, those who were filled with the Spirit were open and longing for God. They had an earnestness about their waiting. So should we always be...

[1] As an aside, this instance is a good example of how the difference between the original shape of the biblical books and the current shape of the Bible can create new meanings that were not part of the original meaning. John does not have a second volume that gives the history of the early church. But John 20:22 may very well be John's version of Acts 2.

[2] Philo in his essay, "On the Decalogue," paints a scene in which the breath of God would bring words which took the form of flames and the people heard the flames in their native language (Dec. 9-13).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Nazarenes and "Detailed Inerrancy"

The Nazarenes voted today to keep their Statement of Faith the same in a couple regards.  First, they voted to keep the current wording that describes the Bible as "inerrantly revealing the will of God."  Then they declined adding the word "meritorious" to their wording on atonement. You can see the report of their Scripture study commission here.

I personally think it is best not to adjust the faith statements of a denomination unless you've really, really thought it through.  Some Nazarenes wanted to adjust the statement on inerrancy to a more thoroughgoing wording along the lines of the 1970s debates.  The committee concluded that the fundamentalist sense of inerrancy, which they termed "detailed inerrancy," was not Wesleyan but Calvinist in origin, that Wesleyan theological giants like H. Orton Wiley didn't jump on that bandwagon (the classic Wesleyan systematic theology author), and that it would create a massive split in the denomination (with most of its leaders in every area having to leave).  And, after all, you can still believe in the fundamentalist version with the current wording.

Keith Drury had this to say in his Facebook blow by blow: "This report on Scripture would probably be embraced by virtually all Bible scholars in The Wesleyan Church... I suspect neither denomination is going to change their statements on scripture--though in practice both denominations have about the same functional position. The report lays down the gauntlet arguing that 'detailed inerrancy' is a Calvinist fetish and not truly Wesleyan."

I've argued here before that the Wesleyan Church operates with a broad rather than restrictive understanding of inerrancy.  God has not erred in any truth he has revealed in Scripture. The real task is to work together to determine exactly what he has said and is saying.

On the other issue, the Nazarene church opted not to single out penal substitution as a more central or important perspective on atonement than any other.  Again, the pressure is coming from Calvino-fundamentalist influences on the Church of the Nazarene.

Very interesting...

Nazarenes and Globalism

The Nazarene Church is having its four year general assembly.  To be frank, I don't envy a lot of the decisions they're making.  It's a sign of how big they are.  It's a sign of where they are in their life cycle.

Yesterday they rejected adding a statement against process theology.  Hmm, that one has never come up at Wesleyan General Conference. I suppose the argument against making a statement was along the lines of, "You can't kick every barking dog."  I think they made a choice not to be that kind of church--you know, the one that defines itself by always saying what it's against.

One of the more interesting decisions was not to divide up the world into separate but equal conferences, like we Wesleyans have.  Years ago, in the name of Wesleyans overseas being equal partners in faith, the WC created the possibility of other regions of the world becoming general conferences in a Wesleyan World Fellowship.  So far, we have the Philippines, the Carribean, and the Pacific has moved into a partial status.

What no one anticipated at that time (who knows, maybe KDrury did :-) was that the "next Christendom" would quickly shift to the third world.  We have seen in Anglicanism, for example, that the third world has become a powerful ballast to the American church, leading to fracture in the Episcopal church. While the North American church still has most of the money, the power has significantly shifted.

The Nazarene Church, by contrast, still has only one general assembly internationally.  Further, North America has a much more significant representation on its general board, although it looks like a man from Guatemala will be elected as a General Superintendent today.  The assembly yesterday rejected restructuring.

I don't envy them. There is a real clash of cultures within the church.  Knowing some of what lies ahead, I probably will post more later in the week...

P.S. The Southern Baptists actually had a very good conference this summer with some decisions I really like.  I might mention here sometime...

Theophilus and Acts

... continued from yesterday.
Before we leave Acts 1, we should take a quick look at Theophilus, the individual to whom both Luke and Acts are addressed (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). It is possible, of course, that the name is purely symbolic.  The name means "lover of God" and so both books could simply be addressed to all those who love God.

However, I wonder if Theophilus is actually the patron who supported Luke while he wrote these two books. If you look at some of the other literary works from the time, they were commissioned by various wealthy individuals.  For example, Virgil, who wrote the famous Aeneid, was commissioned by more than one patron to write his books. A typical event would involve the patron throwing a lavish dinner for friends and inviting the writer not only to eat but to read the latest bit of his writing.

Now Luke-Acts has some of the strongest warnings about wealth, so it would be intriguing if in fact Theophilus commissioned Luke to write these two books.  Together, they constitute a kind of history of the origins of "the Way" (cf. Acts 9:2), which seems to be what some of the earliest Christian Jews called themselves. [1] As we work through Acts, I'll suggest that Acts in particular has some of the characteristics of what we might call "apologetic history," which is when a group's story is told in such a way as to defend its reputation against some of its outside opponents.

We of course do not know for sure that the author's name was Luke.  Neither the Gospel of Luke or the book of Acts mention who their author was.  However, we don't know of any other name ever being suggested but Luke.  There are a number of passages where the story changes from the third person (he did this, they did that) to the first person (we went here, we went there). It starts at a place called Troas (Acts 16:10), disappears for several years at a place called Philippi (Acts 16:17), then reappears at Philippi again (Acts 20:5) and continues until the end of Acts.

So it is reasonable to assume that the author of Luke-Acts was a sometimes traveling companion of Paul. Since Acts ends at Rome and since the early Christians thought Colossians was written then in Rome, just before Paul died, it is only natural that the tradition would pick someone in the closing greetings of Colossians as the likely author of Luke-Acts.  Luke, the doctor's name is there.  Whether this is good detective work on our part or whether we are simply repeating the research the early church did when it was trying to figure out who wrote Luke-Acts, we do not know.

We can be more certain about when Luke-Acts was written.  You sometimes hear people say that Acts must have been written very early, about AD62, because that is where Acts ends.  "Surely Luke would have told us," so the argument goes, "what happened when Paul appeared before Nero, if he had known."  Some even go on to suggest that Luke-Acts might have been written as a kind of "amicus brief" to try to influence Nero's decision.

A key blind spot in this argument is that Acts was not written to tell us anything, at least not in the mind of its author. [2]  It was written to an audience that presumably already knew the outcome of Paul's trial. Indeed, Acts gives us the strongest of hints as to what happened.  Paul tells the Ephesians in Acts 20:25 that none of them will ever see him again (cf. 20:38). The final chapters of Acts are full of foreshadowing and foreboding.  "Pity," the ruler Agrippa so much as says after Paul tells him his story, "he could have been set free if he hadn't appealed to stand trial before Caesar" (26:32).

The most natural way to read Acts is to conclude that Paul died after he appeared before Nero, which is generally how Christians took Acts until the twentieth century. Luke did not need to tell Theophilus this fact because he and his audience already knew. Not only would Luke have had to cut out other material to tell about that trial--Acts is about as much as could fit on a large ancient scroll.  But it would have ended the story on a downer. When you consider that one of Luke's hidden agendas may have been to show that Christians are not troublemakers, how much more effective to end with someone like Agrippa in effect pronouncing Paul's innocence!

In the end, there are nearly definitive reasons to believe that Luke-Acts was written after Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70.  The first has to do with the likelihood that Luke used Mark as a primary source, a position that the vast majority of experts on the gospels have held for well over a hundred years. The reason is the great similarity in wording and arrangement between the two. [3]

A subtle hint of this fact is in the way Luke 21:20 paraphrases Mark 13:14, which predicts that an "abomination that causes desolation" would be set up somewhere it shouldn't be.  It is an allusion to Daniel 11:31, where the temple in Jerusalem is defiled by a foreign army.  In Mark, the prediction is worded very vaguely, and most readers probably would have thought it was talking about the temple being defiled.

But Luke paraphrases the prediction much more specifically and concretely.  He is giving us something like "The Message" version.  Instead of the temple, he writes about Jerusalem being surrounded by armies and the city being defiled. He is virtually painting us a picture of what happened in AD70 when the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem. Again, the most natural conclusion is that Luke is paraphrasing the prophecy with all the benefit of hindsight.  Such a dating fits perfectly with the fact that Luke used Mark, which itself we very easily might date to the late 60s or early 70s. [4]

Luke-Acts is God's word for us no matter what our leanings on these sorts of issues. But that does not mean, of course, that these issues are not significant. They affect the meanings and connotations we see in the words. Nevertheless, since we do not have complete certainty, we have to hang loose to them to some extent. It is a reminder that the Spirit is ultimately in control of what he does in us through Scripture, and we must leave a little room for surprise and mystery.

[1] While Matthew, Mark, and John seem to fit more into the category of biography.  Luke-Acts seem to be more along the lines of a history.

[2] God of course had bigger plans.

[3] For more details, see my Jesus: Portraits from the Gospels (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013), ***.

[4] Again, see my Portraits, ***.  Mark's aside to his audience in this same passage, "Let the reader understand" (13:14), may have been a hint that the events we was narrating were happening as he was writing (or that they had happened recently).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Back on for kicking the Romans out?

... continued from Friday.
... Before Jesus ascends to heaven in Acts 1, the disciples ask a curious question. "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel."  This is a fascinating question because it gives us a real look into the disciples' heads and what they were thinking Jesus had come to do. [1]

For example, it reveals something we would know from studying the Jewish literature of the time as well.  The Jews were looking for the Messiah to be a political figure who would restore the nation of Israel to political independence. They were not expecting God to become human and take over the whole world, let alone the whole universe.  They were expecting a human individual to become Israel's king again and free it from Roman domination.  Notice that they don't say anything about Jesus taking over the world--only returning Israel to its political independence.

In this light, Jesus' answer is even more striking.  He doesn't say, "Good grief, don't you get it, even after the resurrection?"  His answer is rather, "Not yet."  He says, "It is not for you to know the times or dates" (Acts 1:7).  The implication is that there will indeed be a time when Israel will once more have its political kingdom restored to it.

These sorts of hints help us reconstruct both what the earliest disciples were initially thinking as well as Luke's theology of the end times. As we can see from the gospels, the disciples were not expecting Jesus to die on the cross.  That's not what messiahs did.  The messiah would be God's anointed king, through whom God would free Israel from the Romans and restore its political independence.  The disciples would not have expected the Messiah to die--that would actually be an indication that someone wasn't really the Messiah.

So Peter was probably ready to fight to the death for Jesus the Messiah. But he wasn't prepared for Jesus to surrender willingly to the Romans.  And he didn't expect Jesus to get crucified.  He expected God to kick the Romans out and for Jesus to become the earthly king.

We can see Peter's misunderstanding in a nutshell in his well-known conversation over who he thinks Jesus is in Mark 8:27-38.  Peter gets the fact that Jesus is the Christ (which is Greek for Messiah). But he doesn't get the idea that Jesus will die.  The two contradicted each other in his mind and expectations.

So the disciples probably didn't expect Jesus to die.  And then after he died they probably didn't expect him to rise again. Their question in Acts 1 amount to, "So, are we back on for the earthly kingdom?"

Jesus' answer is "not yet."  What they did not anticipate was what is sometimes called the "church age," the age we are in right now.  Luke calls it the "times of the Gentiles" in Luke 21:24).  We will return to talk about what Luke possibly thought about this current age in the last chapter of this book.

Jesus then goes on to tell his disciples what does come next.  It is, if you would, the great prediction, the prediction that they will do what Jesus commands them to do in the Great Commission of Matthew 28.  "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

This prediction is a blueprint for the book of Acts.  In Acts 2, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.  They receive the power of the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist foresaw way back before Jesus was even baptized (Luke 3:16). The rest of the book plays out the rest of the prediction.  Acts 2-7 give us the disciples being witnesses of the resurrection in Jerusalem.  Acts 8-12 give the disciples and others being witnesses in Judea and Samaria.  Acts 13-28 give us primarily Paul going to the ends of the earth.

Then Jesus ascends to the sky, and the angels predict that he will return again in the same way some day.  Where did Jesus go?  He presumably went to the heaven where God the Father is. [2]  It is interesting to imagine that the disciples probably thought of God's heaven as straight up through layers of sky (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2).  They did not know that the earth was a globe or that our solar system was just one of thousands in one of countless galaxies.

And if God made the world out of nothing, than the heaven where his essence is must not even be in this universe.  Is this not another great example of God stooping to our weakness?  Jesus ascends according to the view of the cosmos the disciples have.  Then once he is clear of the clouds, he goes to the real heaven...

[1] The fact that this is Luke's portrayal of the disciples, if anything, makes the question even more striking.  As the Gospel of John probably hints, the church increasingly spiritualized Jesus' mission ("My kingdom is not of this world" - John 18:36).  Yet Luke makes no effort to hide this question nor does he indicate in any way that it was misguided.

[2] Here we are talking about things we could not possibly understand.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Ascension 1

... continued from yesterday
Jesus appears to his followers for forty days after his resurrection before he ascends to heaven.  Many churches today celebrate this period in their worship calendars.  Some even set aside the Sunday after the forty days as "Ascension Sunday."

We shouldn't think that Jesus was with them continuously for this forty day period.  Paul gives us a more detailed sense of this time in 1 Corinthians 15.  Jesus would appear now to one person, now to another.  By Paul's reckoning, Jesus appeared first to Peter, then to the other ten remaining apostles (1 Cor. 15:5). [1]

Paul also mentions an appearance to over five hundred people at one time (15:6). Was that the day of the ascension?  Was that the Great Commission appearance in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-17)?  Many people assume that Matthew's Great Commission appearance is the same appearance where Jesus ascends, but this is not the case.  Matthew's Great Commission is in Galilee, while Acts' ascension is in Jerusalem.

Some of the appearances to apostles like James, the Lord's brother, may also have taken place during the forty days before the ascension.  Or they may have taken place afterwards, like the appearance to Paul. Although it may make us a little uncomfortable, we simply do not have enough information to nail down the precise details for sure.

Then you have the possibility that Luke has used some creativity in the way he has presented the story.  For example, if you look at the ending of Luke, you could easily think that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven on the same day! Jesus meets the two men on the road to Emmaus "that same day" (Luke 24:13).  They returned "at once" to Jerusalem (24:33). And while they discuss these things with the disciples, Jesus appears to the disciples for the first time, as in Matthew and John, seemingly on the evening of his resurrection (24:36).

If all we had were Luke, we would not see forty days inserted between Luke 24:49 and 24:50. In Luke, it sounds like Jesus explained things to them for a while, led them out toward Bethany, and then ascended to the skies.  It reminds us that while we would prefer the narratives of the Bible to fit together neatly, it is not always that easy. For example, Luke gives us no hint in his resurrection stories that Jesus appeared to the disciples in Galilee.  Meanwhile, the two oldest gospels, Mark and Matthew, seem to indicate that the most central appearances were in Galilee.

Acts is the second volume of Luke, while we do not have second volumes for Matthew, Mark, or John. It is sobering from a historical perspective to realize that, if the other gospel writers had written second volumes, they would likely differ from each other as much as Luke differs from the other gospels. If we were to discover a second volume to Mark, it would no doubt change a number of easy assumptions we now have.

The four gospels certainly already affect our assumptions this way.  Having Matthew changes our assumptions about Mark, and having John changes our assumptions about all the rest. In the end, we have to get comfortable with some degree of uncertainty about how things happened exactly...

[1] Did the tradition simply omit the appearance to Mary Magdalene in John 20:11-18?  Was it not known?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Scripture as Sacrament (theology series)

In lieu of my Sunday theology posts, I've thought about doing some of my own kind of MOO (minus the C in course).  Eventually, I hope to have the equivalent of several "courses" on my tutorial blog, including a systematic theology one.  Maybe on Sundays to continue with theology...

D. A. Carson and "Variegated Nomism"

Working on a book I'm writing for Fortress called, A New Perspective on Hebrews.  This morning I wrote the following in relation to D. A. Carson's two volume project, Justification and Variegated Nomism:
No doubt there is some validity to this element of Carson’s critique. We cannot assume that the attitude of each Jewish individual and group toward the Law was uniform or consistent.  Indeed, we cannot assume that Paul’s own rhetoric toward the Jewish Law can be easily systematized into a neat theology. [1] At the same time, Carson and those like him clearly have their own theological axes to grind. His base camp is set in a particular Christian theology whose evaluative lens may or may not be appropriate for Paul, let alone for Jewish literature. For example, his understanding of what constitutes “merit theology” is arguably more a matter of the Protestant Reformer John Calvin than Paul himself. [2]

[1] The plethora of books and positions on Paul and the Law argues quite strongly to the contrary. For one failed attempt of a diverse group of scholars to come to such a consensus, see Paul and the Mosaic Law.

[2] In particular, Carson’s theology leads him to consider anything but “monergism” as a theology of “works righteousness” and “merit theology.” Monergism is the idea that human will plays no part in an individual’s righteousness before God. What if, however, Paul’s own theology proves to be “synergistic” in Carson's terms, involving a necessity of works to be finally justified (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:10) and a cooperation of human will with divine will? In that case, not only Second Temple Jewish literature proves to espouse a merit theology, but the New Testament itself. In that case, Carson’s bold project not only proves to have a lackluster result—the essays constitute only minor rather than major critiques of Sanders’ work. In that case, the project itself proves to be fundamentally unsuccessful.

The Apostles 4

... continued from Tuesday
So we come back to the question of who the twelfth apostle should have been.  Some Christians believe that the early church got it wrong when they picked Matthias.  They take this story in Acts 1 as a description of what happened but not a prescription for what should have happened.  They think Paul should have been Judas' replacement.

Obviously the temptation here comes from our love of Paul and the fact that we have thirteen books in the New Testament with his name on them. Meanwhile, we have never heard of Matthias before this point in Acts and we never hear from him again. But we should be cautious. Acts gives us no reason to think that the criteria the early church used was wrong in replacing Judas, that is, picking someone who had been with Jesus since John's baptism.

As we'll see later in the chapter, the purpose of Acts was not merely to tell us what happened.  Acts is told with a theology and a point of view.  In the thinking of Acts, Paul is not as prominent as we tend to think he is in our circles today.  In Acts, Paul is certainly an apostle (e.g., 14:4, 14), along with his missionary partner Barnabas.  But he is not one of the apostles.  He is not one of the Twelve.

So if we want Paul to be the true twelfth apostle, we have to disagree with the thinking of Acts.  You could of course argue that God has hinted at this idea by putting thirteen of Paul's letters in the New Testament while none from Matthias.  In fact we only have two from Peter and one from James. You could argue that by putting Paul's letters in the New Testament, God has shown us who truly won Paul's debates with Jerusalem in the early church.  At the time, Paul may have seemed to be on the edges, someone on the periphery of Christianity. But we see him today as he was--at the center of what God was doing.

Paul himself has a broader understanding of what an apostle is.  We've already quoted him in 1 Corinthians 9:1 where he implicitly defines an apostle as someone who has witnessed Jesus' resurrection. When he recounts the resurrection appearances of Jesus to various people in 1 Corinthians 15, he starts his list with the Twelve but then proceeds to mention James (the Lord's brother) and "all the apostles" (15:7). He includes himself among this latter group of apostles.

So for Paul, the apostles were a group of individuals to whom Jesus appeared after he rose from the dead and whom Jesus sent (commissioned) to go out as witnesses of the resurrection.  He includes Jesus' own brother James in this category.  He included Barnabas in this category (cf. 1 Cor. 9:6).  Presumably he included the husband-wife pair Andronicus and Junia in this category, whom he mentions in Romans 16:7. It doesn't even seem controversial to him that a woman could be a prominent apostle.

Paul considers himself to be the last of this sort of apostle.  We do find some in the church today who are given the title apostle by others.  It is a great honor and recognizes in someone high gifts of charisma and anointed leadership of the highest caliber. The idea probably also draws from passages like 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul says that God has placed apostles in the church.

But Paul was not writing 1 Corinthians to us today. He was writing people who lived in Corinth two thousand years ago, back when there still were some of these apostles around, including himself. Both by the criteria of Paul and of Acts, there are no longer any apostles of this sort living.  Paul was the last (1 Cor. 15:8).

That is not to say that there could not be individuals who are sent to witness to the living Christ on an entirely different level than your average missionary.  Billy Graham comes to mind. And God certainly does raise up individuals from time to time whose spiritual authority is so astounding that it rivals that of whole denominations and church structures.  But no matter how great, such individuals will never be an apostle of the sort Peter and Paul were.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hebrew Connecting Words (conjunctions and prepositions)

Just added the video below to my videos on YouTube on Old Testament Hebrew.

This video covers the most important conjunctions and prepositions in Old Testament.  "And," "in," "to," "like," etc...


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Modeling after the New Testament Church? 3

... continued from Saturday
This entire line of questioning brings up a very important question. To what extent are the biblical narratives description and to what extent are they prescription?  Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, in their well known book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, suggest that stories in the Bible do not tell us how to act unless we can show somehow that their authors intended us to take them that way. [1]  For them, our default sense should be that the biblical stories are simply telling us what happened, not that we should act the same way.

On the one hand, you can see the common sense of what Fee and Stuart are saying.  If the purpose of Luke-Acts is simply to tell us how things happened, then the story does not make any claims about whether things should have happened that way or not.  Just because Judas betrayed Jesus doesn't mean that we should.

This is a very important point because there is a kind of false but very common intuition in the church today that our goal should be to do everything the way the New Testament church did.  If they had deacons then we should have deacons.  If they ran churches by a board of elders then we should.  If they didn't eat with Christians who were doing immoral things then we shouldn't.

The problems with this approach go well beyond the fact that description is not prescription. There is of course the point Fee and Stuart are making.  Just because the stories of the New Testament describe the church acting a certain way doesn't in itself mean that we are being instructed to act that way. They cast lots to chose the highest leadership of that moment.  Should we do that at our top church conferences--identify two or three final candidates and then roll the dice?  They sold all their extra possessions and redistributed the resources to those in need?  Should we do that as well today?

Maybe we should.  As we'll see at the end of this chapter, there are often are good reasons to think that biblical story tellers meant for us to imitate certain characters and actions in the story and avoid others.  Nevertheless, Fee and Stuart's basic point seems valid.  We have to be discerning in which parts of the story are models and which parts are simply the story.

However, there is a more significant reason why we should not just blindly imitate the New Testament church when it comes to the how they did things.  Even though the Bible is for us, it was not originally written to us.  The way the early church structured its leadership, as well as the way they did many other things, had to do with certain underlying goals and principles. But the specifics of how they accomplished those goals and principles had everything to do with the historical and cultural context in which they were playing them out.

Anyone who has spent any time in another culture knows that while the underlying principles are the same, the "how" to accomplish them often differs widely.  In that sense, doing today exactly what they did in the early church may not get to the goal at all. Does men greeting one another with a kiss in church today accomplish the same goal as it did in the early church? Does subordinating wives to husbands have the same connotation today as it had in the early church?

In the end, it is foolish to think that we should structure churches or manage our money with the same specifics as the early church or ancient Israel did.  Unless we live in the third world, most of us live in a dramatically different cultural context than they did. Doing the specifics of what they did doesn't accomplish the same purpose as what they did if those specifics do not do the same thing today. We might actually end up working at cross-purposes to the biblical purposes!

A great example of this principle is the Jewish practice of not eating meat and cheese at the same meal. They take this practice from Exodus 23:19, which says not to cook a young goat in its mother's milk. We do not know for sure why the Law prohibits this. Perhaps it had something to do with the Canaanite religion that surrounded ancient Israel. What is certain is that it had nothing to do with eating meat and cheese on the same plate.

So Jews continue to do something today that almost certainly has nothing to do with the purpose of the practice in the Bible. When Christians try to apply aspects of the Bible today that had everything to do with their ancient context, they end up looking just as foolish, perhaps even immoral at times. Those who used the Bible to argue against abolishing slavery in the early 1800s were of this sort, as we can see clearly today in hindsight.  Today, those who insist a husband must be the head of the wife may very well being doing the same.

You are welcome to meet in house churches if you want or only use the kinds of instruments that existed in the first century.  Women can cover their heads with a veil.  But these actions don't have the same meaning today that they had back then.  Such practices come off as awkward at best and work at cross-purposes to the gospel at worse...

[1] How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 118-19.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Apostles 2

... continued from two months ago
The Apostles
The story of Acts begins with Jesus' ascension.  Jesus has risen from the dead. He has appeared to his "apostles" for forty days and spoken about the kingdom of God. Then he gives them some final words before ascending to heaven.

There are many interesting things about these verses at the beginning of Acts (Acts 1:3-11). One of the first is that the disciples are called "apostles."  To be sure, Luke calls the twelve disciples "apostles" several times in the Gospel of Luke.  In that sense, it is not a new title for them in Luke-Acts, the name we give this two volume series of books in the New Testament.  Jesus sends his disciples out even before his death and resurrection (e.g., Luke 9:10), so we can call them apostles even in Luke.

But there is also a sense in which we can say they do not fully become apostles until after Jesus' death and resurrection. An apostle is someone who is sent out as a messenger to represent some greater authority.  In Acts, the apostles are especially witnesses to the fact that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead (e.g., Acts 1:8; 3:15). Paul confirms this understanding of an apostle when he says, "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1).

So we might say that the disciples--followers and apprentices of Jesus--technically only become "the apostles" after they witness Jesus' resurrection and are commissioned by him to go and proclaim that message throughout the world.  In most of Acts, the apostles are twelve specific people, eleven of whom were key followers of Jesus while he was ministering in Galilee.  There were Peter, James, John, and Andrew--perhaps apostles the earliest Christians considered to be pillars (cf. Gal. 2:9). [1] Then there were Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot.  If these are pairings by twos (cf. Luke 10:1), then Judas son of James was left without a mission partner. [2]

Judas of course betrays Jesus and the twelfth spot becomes vacant.  One thing that takes place in the first chapter of Acts is Judas' replacement.  They "cast lots" to decided between two candidates. While we do not know exactly what a "lot" was, the practice was something like drawing straws or rolling dice. While we would consider this sort of practice to be leaving things to chance, there was often a sense that God was directing the outcome (e.g., Prov. 16:33).

Someone named Matthias is chosen (Acts 1:26).  You sometimes hear the suggestion that the replacement apostle should have really been the apostle Paul. After all, did not God apparently use him to spread the gospel more than any of the first eleven?  Are there not thirteen books in the New Testament with his name on them?

Paul was sent by Jesus to witness the resurrection, but he did not fit the job description for a replacement of the Twelve, at least not the one that Peter gives in Acts 1:21-22.  Judas' replacement needed to be someone who had followed Jesus from the baptism of John to the time of the ascension.  Paul probably did not know Jesus until three years after he ascended to heaven.

This entire line of questioning brings up a very important question.  To what extent are the biblical narratives description and to what extent are they prescription? ...

[1] Paul calls James, the brother of Jesus, a pillar in Acts 12:2.  Perhaps he replaced James, the brother of John, after Herod Agrippa I put him to death (Acts 12:2).

[2] The lists differ slightly from gospel to gospel.  Christian tradition has often dealt with this issue by saying, for example, that Thaddeus (Matt. 10:3) was the same as Judas son of James here. It is also possible, however, that the edges of Jesus' central circle were a little fuzzy.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Turkey Day 10: The Trip Home

Turkey in 10 Days
1. General Remarks
2. What to Bring
3. Day 1: Traveling There
4. Day 2: Troy
5. Day 3: Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna 
6. Day 4: Ephesus and Laodicea
7. Day 5: Colossae and Perga
8. Day 6: Galatia: Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra
9. Day 7: Derbe and Tarsus
10. Day 8: Cappadocia and Nicaea
11. Day 9: Chalcedon and Constantinople (Istanbul)

12 Day 10: The Trip Home
We woke on Saturday morning to a lovely breakfast on the top of our hotel overlooking Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. We had no problems getting our car out of overnight parking (17 lira, I believe) or finding the airport.

One thing I haven't mentioned is what good care the Turks seem to take with keeping their cars clean.  On the way to Istanbul we found a couple places at rest parks where teenagers washed cars.  Going up country we had also come across large hoses pouring water, dangling from roofs for cars to pass under for free.

We cleaned out the car next to the medieval city wall and drove in the rest of the way to the airport.  We had no problems with checking in, no problems with security.  We had some final tea while Ross and Dave brainstormed entrepreneurial ideas like there was no tomorrow.  Reminded me of the old days at IWU before we became premier. :-)

Uneventful plane ride--a few big bumps because some heavy storms had just been through the midwest.  Keith and I drove home from the airport, since Ross and Dave had been the drivers in Turkey.  Plane arrived in Chicago around 5pm its time.  We were home by 10:30 our time.

I will be eternally grateful to Ross for pressuring Keith to go and of Keith for pressuring me to go and to Dave for taking the time away from family to go.  Somehow it doesn't seem right for a person to teach Bible and not have visited the actual places they teach about.  Infinite thanks to Wilbur Williams for taking me to Israel and Greece on earlier occasions.  My only other visit to Turkey was a three hour shore leave at Ephesus from a cruise ship that was part of his Greece tour.

My biggest take away then was the sheer immensity of ancient cities, a point that Ephesus makes emphatically.  My biggest take away this time should have been obvious--Turkey is far more significant to Christianity than had ever really sunk in before.
  • If Matthew was written in then Syrian Antioch, that's in Turkey today.  
  • "Luke" joins up with Paul at Troas, which is in Turkey.  Is that where he was from?
  • John was possibly written or at least finished in Ephesus, which is in Turkey.  Revelation was written from Patmos, which is off the coast of Turkey.
  • Acts tells of Paul's first missionary journey, which was mostly in Turkey.  Paul wrote Galatians to these churches, which are in Turkey.
  • During Paul's third missionary journey, he spent almost three years at Ephesus, which is in Turkey.  He wrote 1 Corinthians from there.  I personally wonder if Paul wrote Philippians from there. He wrote 2 Corinthians on a journey out of Turkey, with Romans quickly following.  Colossians and Philemon were written to Turkey. 
  • Ephesians is named for Ephesus, which is in Turkey.  1 Timothy addresses Timothy at Ephesus. 2 Timothy indicates that Paul is somewhere in the vicinity of Troas, which in Turkey.
  • 1 Peter is written to places all over Turkey--Asia, Bithynia, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia.
  • All of the seven ecumenical councils took place in Turkey.
That pretty much beats out Rome, Greece, and Israel as being most significant for the New Testament.

As far as sites, Pergamum and Laodicea were big surprises.  I had almost no expectations, only to find some pretty significant findings.  A lot of cloudy things became clear, things I vaguely knew or almost knew, like how rich Romans heated their houses.  I actually bought a book on Engineering in the Ancient World when I got back (I don't recommend it--I had to look up about 5 technical terms on the first two pages--not a good way to entice a reader).

Turkey also went from being a "foreign" question mark to being a possible friend. We'll have to see how the struggle between secularism and fundamentalism goes but I found a great many Turks to be very friendly.  I've gone from thinking there's no point in me learning Turkish to thinking it might actually prove to be useful.

I'm seriously thinking about organizing a tour in May of 2015.  Right now Dave and I are thinking students, but others have suggested I do something a little more along the lines of a Wilbur Williams.  We'll see...

Turkey Day 9: Istanbul was Constantinople...

Turkey in 10 Days
1. General Remarks
2. What to Bring
3. Day 1: Traveling There
4. Day 2: Troy
5. Day 3: Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna 
6. Day 4: Ephesus and Laodicea
7. Day 5: Colossae and Perga
8. Day 6: Galatia: Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra
9. Day 7: Derbe and Tarsus
10. Day 8: Cappadocia and Nicaea

11. Day 9: Chalcedon and Constantinople (Istanbul)
When I told my daughter and step-daughter that I was flying into Istanbul, they independently started singing, "Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople."  I had no idea what they were singing.  I guess it's a 1953 song that was in Mona Lisa Smile.  I'm still dumbfounded that a couple lines from a ditty could generate so much enthusiasm while "The Hittites ruled this whole region for over a 1000 years gets nothing." :-)

I was tasked to find something to bring home that said, "Istanbul, Constantinople" on it.  The shop keeper looked at me with a puzzled look.  "Istanbul is Constantinople."

"But do you have something that says both Istanbul and Constantinople on it."

"No, Constantinople is no longer.  It is only Istanbul.  Here is Constantinople."

"Thank you.  Never mind."

Is Jesus half human?  Was he so divine that his humanity doesn't matter?  Does he have a split personality--divine on weekends but human during the week?  The Council of Chalcedon settled that debate in AD451. Just across the Bosphorus from Istanbul is Kadiköy (40-59-27.36N, 29-01-01.50E), where the council took place.

Looking toward Chalcedon from Istanbul

Of course it's not Constantinople any more.  "Even old New York was once New Amsterdam."  And it was Byzantium in between.  Constantine actually shifted the HQ of Rome here in the 300s and "Rome" lingered here long after Italy itself was no longer under Roman control.

With a visit to Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia; 41-00-30.10N, 28-58-48.39), we finished our tour of the seven ecumenical councils, the first four of which made the full transition from the New Testament church to Christianity as we now know it.

Aya Sofya

Here's the list:
1. Council of Nicaea (325) - decided on the Trinity
2. Council of Constantinople (381) - finalized details in the Nicene Creed
3. Council of Ephesus (431) - did Jesus have a split personality
4. Council of Chalcedon (451) - Jesus was one person with two natures

5. Council of Constantinople (553) - condemned certain authors
6. Council of Constantinople (680) - condemned the idea that Jesus only had one will
7. Council of Nicaea (787) - It's okay to have pictures of Jesus and others.

We left Iznik (Nicaea) after breakfast and drove 150 around the north side of the lake until we hit 575 going north through Orhangazi.  You can take this road all the way around the bay to save money on a ferry, but you'll add an hour or more to your time.  The traffic on 0-4 coming into Istanbul can be horrific.

We had two ferry options and took the second.  It was something like 50 lira.  In retrospect, since the traffic was so bad, we probably would have taken the first ferry option as 575 turned east coming north.  It would have been a longer ferry, but we would have cut off more travel on the north side.

You can't miss Istanbul, and the signs for Aya Sofya should be clear.  We passed a water cannon tank at a stadium on our way to Sofya.  We didn't know it at the time, but they were gearing up for one of the early riots over the park the conservative government wants to turn into a mall.  The riots have only increased since we left.

Aya Sofya is now a museum, and while it is full of Muslim art...

Aya Sofya Islamic caligraphy
Aya Sofya caligraphic chandelier

... they are also now restoring some of the underlying Christian mosaics.

Aya Sofya - Jesus, Mary, John

Directly across from Aya Sofya is the exquisite Blue Mosque:

Blue Mosque

It's insides are also exquisite:

Inside Dome of Blue Mosque

Next to the Blue Mosque are some plunderings of other ancient sites:

Serpent column celebrating the Greeks' victory over the Persians in 479BC
Obelisk of Thutmose III (1500s BC) brought here in AD390

Ross also went into the Grand Palace.  We missed the Grand Bazaar where the latest James Bond was partially filmed.

Finding parking and a hotel were first on the agenda once we got close to Aya Sofya. Ross found us a very nice one.

Istanbul Hotel Bali
It had exquisite views from the top, where breakfast was served the next morning.  It was a little more expensive than our usual fare, and there are no doubt much less expensive hotels down the hill behind Aya Sofya.  But you couldn't have beat the view.

We ended the night with our first and last Turkish pizza at this exquisite place, tucked in an alley off the  main road running up and down by the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya.

exquisite Turkish Pizza

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Turkey Day 8: Cappadocia and Nicaea

Turkey in 10 Days
1. General Remarks
2. What to Bring
3. Day 1: Traveling There
4. Day 2: Troy
5. Day 3: Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna 
6. Day 4: Ephesus and Laodicea
7. Day 5: Colossae and Perga
8. Day 6: Galatia: Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra
9. Day 7: Derbe and Tarsus

10. Day 8: Cappadocia and Nicaea
Thursday was mostly a travel day.  Having gone as far east in Turkey as we would go, we would spend most of Thursday on a bee-line toward Istanbul that went straight through the capital of Ankara.  It was also the closest we would come to ground zero of ancient Hittite country (Hattusa, now Boğazkale).  The Hittites were at their peak around the time of Abraham (see Genesis 23).

Cappadocia is mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1 as one of its destinations, including several other places we had already visited (Asia, Galatia).  But for Christians, probably the most significant aspect of the region is the fact that the Cappadocian fathers were centered here: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa his brother, and Gregory of Nazianzus.

Cappadocian cave houses

Everyone assumes that we get the Trinity from the Bible, but I don't think Christians realize how much of what we believe about Jesus was a matter of serious debate in the 300s.  Both sides claimed to have Scripture on their side and there were a number of decades where the Trinity as we know it wasn't winning.

The Cappadocians went philosophical because biblical debates had reached a stalemate. The Cappadocians were the ones that worked out the "one substance, three persons" that would become part of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. (By engaging philosophy and the Greek liberal arts, they also helped Christianity become a premier religion :-)

After breakfast on Thursday, we made our way to Göreme, which is super-easy to find from Nevshehir.  Just east of town is where Christians carved monasteries and churches out of the relatively soft rock that once upon a time had been formed by lava.  Earlier volcano activity had left "fairy chimneys" all over the place.  This is the general area where Star Wars filmed Tatooine.


Here, not only in times of persecution but for centuries, Christians had monasteries and churches inside the fairy chimneys.  It's 15 lira to get into the "open air museum."

Cappadocian monastery

The 11th century art in the churches in these "chimneys" was exquisite, especially in the "Dark Church."    This cave church is an extra 8 lira but definitely worth it--the best part of the entire site for me.  For the record, I didn't take this photo:

Dark Church at Cappadocia

We had pretty much finished walking around the main site before the bulk of the tour buses arrived. We didn't go to  the "Buckle Church," about 50 meters down the hill (the ticket to the open air museum gets you in there also).  We heard it was fabulous.

To get back toward Istanbul, we decided first to take 300 west to Aksaray (about 70 kilometers) in order to get on the larger highway 750.  If you've paid attention to the road numbers, both of these are familiar.  300 goes all the way to Izmir near Ephesus.  750 goes south down to Tarsus.

But our goal was to take 750 north through Ankara, which soon joins up with the superhighway 0-4.  0-4 goes all the way to Istanbul, but our sights were set on Nicaea.  It's about 540 kilometers from Aksaray to the environs of a town called Sakarya.  It's near this city, only about 150 kilometers shy of Istanbul itself, that you finally turn south on 650.  Take that about 50 kilometers until you can turn west onto 150 around Mekece.  That will take you to Iznik, which is modern day Nicaea.

After that much travel, it's nice to settle into a hotel.  There is a string of hotels along Lake Iznik.  You can get to the lake easily simply by following the ruins of the medieval city wall, which you will hit eventually if you just keep driving through town from any direction.  650 itself actually goes straight to the lake.

Lake Iznik at Nicaea

Ross was now an expert at negotiating hotel rates, and we could have had our pick of a half dozen.  He got one of the best down to 120 lira a room.  Its proprietor was also a pro--a worthy adversary.

A central road led from the lake to the main road through Iznik, a road that runs roughly parallel to the lake shore.  We decided to walk there for a change.  We found the mosque created out of the church that housed the seventh ecumenical council of 787, where Christians decided it was okay to use icons, images and art of saints.

Nicaean church now mosque

It doesn't seem like we know exactly where the Council of Nicaea was originally held, where the Trinity was first decided (325).  But I wouldn't be surprised if a later church was built on a significant earlier site.

Some more lovely baklava and we walked back to our hotel. In the morning we would return to Istanbul.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Turkey Day 7: Derbe and Tarsus

Turkey in 10 Days
1. General Remarks
2. What to Bring
3. Day 1: Traveling There
4. Day 2: Troy
5. Day 3: Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna 
6. Day 4: Ephesus and Laodicea
7. Day 5: Colossae and Perga
8. Day 6: Galatia: Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra

9. Day 7: Derbe and Tarsus
Wednesday morning came.  The 4am call to prayer was striking to me, seemed very minor chord-ish.  I thought I'd take a picture of the breakfast spread:

Standard Turkish hotel breakfast
Here's our standard fare:

Breakfast plate

So after breakfast, we left the Bayrakci Hotel to find Derbe.  Karaman isn't too big.  From where we were, it was a quick left turn and a couple blocks back to 350 headed east.

After years of Derbe being unmarked and books saying its location was uncertain, it was super easy to find.  About 10 kilometers east of Karaman there are signs pointing north (left turn).  Actually there are a couple ways to do it.  We caught a sign facing the other direction and felt ourselves clever to find it that way. But I suspect there was another sign facing our direction just a little further that would have been more of a straight shot (that's how we came back out).

Basically, you're looking for the village of Suduraği.  It's north of it.  The tel is about 3 kilometers north of Ekinözü (latitude N37° 20.741; longitude E033° 21.709).  All in all it's about 95 kilometers southeast of the Lystra tel.

Derbe tel

There is the odd stone here and there.  Keith and Ross didn't go up to the top because we got into some serious stickers at Lystra and they didn't want a repeat.  In fact, with a bit of flair, Memesh had thrown his socks into the fire over which the tea water was boiling at Lystra, to the consternation of his wife.

Ross' shoes after Lystra
Here's looking down at Keith and Ross from the top of the mound.

Derbe looking down
Derbe peeking through

It's hard to imagine but this entire area, now farm as far as the eye can see, was once perhaps a square kilometer of marble and stone city.

After Derbe we were back to 350 headed east.  It's about 250 kilometers to Tarsus so it was largely a day of driving just to say we had been to Paul's birthplace.  If we had wanted, we could have gone from there another 200 kilometers to where Syrian Antioch was at the time of Paul.  It is actually in Turkey today, not modern Syria. We forewent that trip mostly because of the violence in nearby Syria, but it would have been 4 extra hours of driving too to see very little.  I hope to get there one day.

It probably wouldn't be worth taking a tour bus of people to Tarsus just to say you went.  In fact, if a group wasn't interested in the whirling dervishes of Konya, you could stop a Paul tour at the site at Pisidian Antioch in Yalvach.  From Yalvach on it increasingly becomes a lot of driving with little pay off unless you like mounds in the middle of the countryside.

Cappadocia, where our Wednesday ended, would be of interest to a lot of people.  It would be on the "Disneyland" version of the tour.  But as you'll see tomorrow, getting there left us with a whole day that was pretty much just driving to get back to Istanbul.

To get to Tarsus from Derbe, continue heading east on 350 till you get to Ereğli and join 330.  Continue east until you hit 750 south.  Now you have a choice.  Is it enough just to see the Taurus Mountains in the distance?

Taurus Mountains

By the way, you will find yourself on a marvelous new highway that has replaced the earlier road.  I'm not sure if it actually goes through the Cilician Gates Paul would have gone through.

Cilician Gates (not seen)

I think you'll have to get off the highway onto the older 750 to go through Gulek to go through them.  I think I spotted them off to the right of the highway going south, but wasn't fast enough with the cell phone to snap a picture.

So we went on down to Tarsus.  If I had been by myself I would have tried to see some of the old city, but on Day 7 we were happy just to see what was what was left of the Cyndus River of Paul's day.

Cyndus River

We followed Adana Road to a modern mall (with the security needed against anti-secularists in Turkey) and had a very nice lunch.

If we had wanted to see ruins and the old city, we would have taken the highway south a smidge farther till it hit 400 going west (right direction).  The ruins, including Cleopatra's Gate (which probably has nothing to do with Cleopatra), are on the southwest side of town, I think just south of where 400 comes into town.

Tarsus ruins (not seen)

To Cappadocia
So a Doner Kebab and a trip to the restroom involving a hallway of body twisting mirrors, we were back heading north toward Cappadocia on 750.  I'll save the pictures of Cappadocia for tomorrow.  It was 240 kilometers north to Aksaray, then 300 east another 75 kilometers to Nevshehir.

Our hotel was in a great location.

Hotel Nisa in Cappadocia

There was an inner room with a double bed and an outer room of glass with bunk beds and a nice place to sit, read, and look out on the world.  There was a wonderful baklava shop with a very friendly owner just one street behind.  We got there in good time and were able to relax for the evening, even go for a walkabout.