Monday, May 31, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
My point here is in not so much the proper dating of Thomas, but the reasons why Popkes and I tend to minimize the possibility of Thomas being a repository of the historical Jesus’ words – all in answer to Judy Redman’s question about my criticism of DeConick’s reconstruction of the Jesus tradition. Popkes’s entrée into the discussion is to point out that the un-Jewish and even anti-Jewish nature of Thomas makes it a priori unlikely that its sayings go back to Jesus or a very Jewish early Christianity. For Popkes, it isn’t just the well-known anti-Jewish logia in Thomas, it’s the individualizing tendency which permeates the collection and overwrites (on a redactional level) Jewish piety as a whole. He has a strong point here.
This is in some ways analogous to the point I want to make about Jesus’ immediate followers and the high likelihood of their commitment to correlating Jesus’ words and deeds. I take on board Redman’s point that Jesus’ likely gave the same stump speech multiple times. That Jesus had much of the Sermon on the Mount on file is quite possible – fair enough. But a good bit of the sayings materials in the canonical gospels is not presented as merely free-standing sermonic material. A good bit is presented as being issued in the context of historical situations.
Now DeConick seems to argue – like the first form critics of a hundred years ago -- that as a rule Jesus’ earliest followers were quite willing to sit loose to the historical context of Jesus’ sayings. However, given the current state of Jesus scholarship, this is a problematic stance. If the historical Jesus is to be understood in a Jewish context (which now just about every Jesus scholar writing today says we must do), then we have at least grounds for presuming that Jesus was not a sage espousing abstract, universally-valid truths but a Jewish-style prophet who issued his teachings in response to a particular context and with reference to specific addressees (the disciples, the priesthood, the crowds, etc.). He also presumably expected his closest followers to understand the relevance of context to his utterances. Such a prophet, I would offer, would also normally expect to have his words interpreted within his historically-specific context. That Jesus’ followers were eager (in their re-presentation of Jesus) to abstract Jesus’ words from his deeds means either that the Third Quest is simply wrong or that the disciples fundamentally betrayed their master. Neither of these paths seems very helpful.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
At the time when the Gospels were being written and first used, the Church was well aware of a distinction between the "the Jesus of history" and "the Christ of faith" to use the modern cliches; and that, in so far as the Gospels were used in Christian worship at all (and we shall have to ask how far, after all, that was the case), they filled a place broadly comparable to the narrative parts of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Synagogue, as the historical background against which the interpretative writings might be read (165).
Remain in some sense distinguishable from theological deductions, form the preaching of the way of salvation, and from adoration. It is only one ingredient in worship; and its very nature demands that, so far as possible, it be kept in this distinguishable condition and not overlaid by interpretation.
It is the task of the church to read these narratives of Jesus historically so as not to fall into the same pit.And--another point--its purpose accordingly was not only or even chiefly to be sued for worship. Still more, it was to equip Christians with a knowledge of their origins, for use in evangelism and apologetic. The real core of worship was the experience of the risen Christ within the Christian church through the participation in the Spirit [this sounds like Bonhoeffer -- forgive me I'm reading Joel Lawrence's book]. But [heres the important bit] Christians knew well that if they lost sight of the story behind that experience their worship would be like a house built on sand; and that if they preached salvation without the story of how it came they would be powerless as evangelists; and that if they could not explain how they came to stand where they did, they would be failing to give a reason for their hope.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
1. What is your take on the provenance and purpose of Ephesians?
a. provenance: although “to the Ephesians” is not found in some ancient manuscripts, I argue that the apostle Paul is the author and is writing to believers who lived in Ephesus and the towns orbiting Ephesus. Relative to the overall size of the commentary, I spend a fair bit of time reviewing the authorship arguments so that the reader might draw their own informed conclusion.
b. Paul’s purpose in writing Ephesians (while imprisoned in Rome) is not as easily discerned as, say, his reasons for writing to the Corinthians or the Thessalonians. However, his burden to challenge the Ephesians to act on their new life in Christ, as well as his concern that the churches embrace fully the unity that is theirs in Christ, rings from its pages.
Ephesians’ message is two-fold: it presents God’s mysterious, marvelous plan of reconciling all people to himself through the Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it elaborates on how such a plan should be and can be experienced in the Church.
The short answer is: very carefully J. Actually I spend quite a bit of time in the commentary establishing Paul’s comments in context, looking at the assumptions of the honor/shame culture and its beliefs of social and gender hierarchy. I suggest that the gospel message weakens the foundations of this hierarchy. For example, I highlight the revolutionary move made by Paul (and also Peter in 1 Peter 2) in addressing slaves directly – this was not done in Greco-Roman writings. Moreover, Paul challenges slave owners with the knowledge that God shows no favoritism, and thus will not look upon them more highly because they have a more exalted social status. So while Paul does not suggest directly the abolition of slavery, he describes the responsibilities of the owner in such a way that if lived out fully in the gospel, would cause the demise of the institution of slavery.
In Paul’s day, wives were viewed as inferior to their husbands, and thus they should properly submit to them. Submission implied an inferior social status. I should note parenthetically that everyone, man or woman was to submit to another person, for example their patron, or a government representative. Thus a male slave or a freedman submitted to his female owner or patroness. So in and of itself, submission was something everyone did at some level; the key was to make sure that you were submitting properly to the proper person.
Thus Paul’s injunction for wives to submit to their husbands was par for the course; what is astounding is Paul’s suggestion that husbands love their wives. We do not see this expressed prescriptively in Greco-Roman or Jewish literature, although we do see endearing epitaphs written by husbands about their deceased wives. Even more, I suggest (following G. Dawes, 1998) that Paul hints at reciprocity when he states that a husband should see his wife as his own body. Is the reverse also true, that a wife should see her husband’s body as her own? If so, then mutuality in marriage seems to be the direction Paul is heading. A further pointer in this direction is Paul’s insistence on “the two become one flesh.” The mystery of the oneness of Christ and his church is seen here, but Paul also insists in 2:14 that in Christ the Jew and Gentile also become one. The gospel breaks down the dividing walls of social hierarchy and division; the two entities remain distinct, but united as social equals in Christ.
Often the western Christian leans towards individualism – Ephesians stresses our corporate identity in Christ. Coupled with this is a robust portrayal of the power that the unified Body of Christ presents to the world (as well as to the spiritual powers and principalities). Paul emphasizes that God in His wisdom has established a new people empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Additionally, Ephesians pulls together what often has been pushed apart, namely one’s salvation and subsequent life of faith and good deeds. Paul stresses God’s grace is calling believers, not for the sake of their souls alone, but because He has work for them to do in living the gospel light in a dark world. Paul connects theology and ethics, for the goal of theology is an upright life overflowing with wisdom and charity.
This is like asking which of my children do I like the best – unfair question! I enjoy the exuberance of Paul’s language, the beauty with which he described God’s love in redeeming believers through Christ. I like the soaring vision of what believers can rightfully claim as their birthright in Christ, and the possibility laid out of great joy and godly freedom in Christ, walking in the Spirit.
Peter T O’Brien’s commentary in the Pillar NT series (Eerdmans, 1999) as well as Harold Hoehner’s commentary (Baker Academic, 2002) were quite useful.
Two works were very helpful in sorting through authorship issues: Terry Wilder’s work on pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity (University Press of America, 2004) and Kent Clarke’s essay “The Problem of Pseudonymity in Biblical Literature and Its Implications for Canon Formation (The Canon Debate, edited by Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, 2002)
Useful for understanding Paul’s imprisonment were Richard J. Cassidy’s Paul in Chains (Crossroads, 2001), Brian Rapske’s The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody (Eerdmans, 1994) and Craig Wansink’s Chained in Christ (Sheffield Academic, 1996).
I am currently working on a Philippians commentary for a new Zondervan series, Regula Fidei. And I will be co-authoring with one of my colleagues at Wheaton College a book on Christian women in the second through sixth centuries.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Truth be told, Joel Lawrence is one of my best friends. He and his wife Myndi have been significant partners with Karla and I for a decade now. Joel and I both graduated from Dallas Seminary [although we only became acquainted at the very end of our ThM years] and we both worked on an MPhil and PhD at Cambridge at the very same time [2001-2005/6]. Joel and I once lived in a single room together for two months will attending a Goehte Institute course in Prien am Chimsee in southeastern Germany. So I can hardly be seen as an objective reader of his new book on Bonhoeffer. Nevertheless, I can promise that the book is a result of an intensive study over the last ten years beginning in his Masters work in Cambridge. Joel did his thesis on Bonhoeffer. I can remember many times discussing Bonhoeffer over a beer and a pipe in some pub in Cambridge.
There is a resurgence of late in interest in Bonhoeffer. One can point, for example, to the very recent biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy published by Eric Metazas. Joel's book on Bonhoeffer provides a useful introduction to his thought. The book is both accessible and brief. But its brevity and accessibility should not be confused for elementary or unsophisticated; Joel's work is a serious engagement with the challenges of interpreting Bonhoeffer. Because Bonhoeffer remains in many ways an enigma given that both this life and theological work were cut short by his death at the hands of the Nazis, his theological outlook can be difficult to ascertain. What's more, as Joel puts it,
Because of the nature of his theology and the fact that he died young before he had the opportunity to answer the questions he raised, one can make Bonhoeffer say just about anything one wants (9).Joel attempts to assist an interested reader of Bonhoeffer in sorting out his thought by rooting in his historical and theological context and by integrating the various strands of Bonhoeffer's thought. Joel identifies three fundamental themes of Bonhoeffer's work: Christ, the Church and the world. Joel uses these to assist the reader in keeping the "big picture" as they work with a particular portion of Bonhoeffer's writings. Working from back to front historically, Joel shows in the chapters of his book that the questions Bonhoeffer raised in his letters from prison were the outgrowth of his earlier seeds of thought. Joel is adamant that one must read Bonhoeffer's work comprehensively always taking into account the corpus of his ideas. He cautions readers of Bonhoeffer to appreciate the unfinished nature of Bonhoeffer's thought espeically in his prision letters. He admonishes readers to avoid ripping sound bites out of his writings to prop up one's particular pet theological idea. Joel says, "There can be no 'cheap' readinds of Bonhoeffer, only 'costly' readings" (112).
Joel concludes the book with a chapter on the continued significance of Bonhoeffer for the 21st century suggesting that Bonhoeffer has a prophetic voice to us through the themes of Christian worldiness, the suffering of God and religionless Christianity.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
What do you think is one (or two) book(s) every university student should read?