Monday, February 27, 2006

A Preview of What's Next

Coming off my sabbatical, I am now back to being buried teaching Johannine Literature, Exegesis of Romans and NT Theology and doing the usual seminary stuff. Some of you have asked as to what is coming next on the publishing front, and I guess this will be my most productive year, in terms of books. Here's the scoop.

In late April Smyth and Helwys (yes the Baptist Press in Georgia) will be publishing my Gospel of Matthew commentary. It is a hardback multi-media commentary with a CD Rom included and many paintings, charts, and drawings. It is about 600 pages or so and I am trying something different. I have read the whole Gospel through the lens of Jewish Wisdom literature because I am convinced this is what the Evangelist wanted us to do. It leads to some interesting insights. For example, have you noticed how the title Son of David shows up much more in Matthew and in connection with healings? Why-- especially since David was not a healer and there was no strong tradition in early Judaism about a healer messiah? The answer is that early Jews believed that healing took place through having wisdom from God as great as Solomon. There were even traditions about Solomon being taught how to cure demon possession. Thus when Jesus is called Son of David, it at least in part refers to his having the wisdom of cures, like Solomon.

In May I will be preaching in the National Cathedral and Eerdmans will be releasing a volume of my sermons to coincide with the occasion (May 21). The volume is entitled Incandescence. Light Shed through the Word and includes 25 of my sermons as well as an introduction by Ellsworth Kalas and spiritual formation exercises based on the sermons.

Next fall, in time for the SBL in D.C. in late November, there will be three books released. The first will be my book on Christian origins for Harper-Collins called "What Have they done with Jesus?" It is in part a critique of revisionist historians like Pagels, Crossan, Borg, Ehrman and the like, but done in a positive way. I have chosen to focus on the inner circle of Jesus, both women and men and show how all the NT books can ultimately traced back to this inner circle-- Mary, Peter, James, the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene and Joanna/Junia, Jude, Paul, or to one of their co-workers or fellow evangelists/missionaries. What I demonstrate is that the theory that high Christology is late is false, that the idea that there were many different Christianities at odds with each other in the first century is false, that Gnostic Christianity already existed in the first century is false... but I am giving too much away. This book is supposed to be out in October.

In late November Eerdmans will publish my socio-rhetorical commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in which among other things, I argue for the Pauline character of 2 Thessalonians, and examine closely the anti-Imperial rhetoric used in these documents. There is a very full exposition on 1 Thessalonians 4-5, which shows among other things that there is no 'rapture' theology there, if by 'rapture' one means being caught up into heaven before or during the millenium.

Also in late November InterVarsity will release a 600 page volume entitled Letters and Homilies Vol. One--- this will be part of a three volume series with one volume per year for the next three. Vol. One is the Pastoral Epistles and the Johannine Epistles; Vol Two is Hebrews and James; Vol. 3 is 1 and 2 Peter and Jude. Each of these are socio-rhetorical commentaries. This will bring to completion my commentary projects covering all the books of the NT. There are several others still in the works, such as one with A.J. Levine on Luke for Cambridge, and one on Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon for Eerdmans. Dat's all folks.

Thereafter I have to do a huge 2 volume NT Theology for Inter Varsity...

If there is any gas in the tank, this rapidly aging English lit major hopes to publish some archaeological thrillers--- yes I mean novels.

Das ist Alles,


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Literal Renderings of Texts of Contention-- 1 Tim. 2.8-15

1 Tim. 2.8-15

"I wish then men to pray in all places, lifting up holy hands without anger and argument, and likewise women in tasteful dress with modesty and sobriety adorning themselves not with plaited hair with gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but what is fitting for women professing to worship God with good works. A woman should learn in quietness in all submission, but to teach I am not permitting women nor to domineer over men, but rather to be in quietness. For Adam was formed first, only then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being truly deceived fell into transgression. But she may be saved through (the) Childbearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with sobriety/modesty."

Few texts have been more bitterly debated in the recent Christian culture wars over the roles of women in the church than 1 Tim. 2.8-15. This being the case I think all would agree that a less interpretitive and more literal rendering might help settle some questions at least. Of course in the translation of any much debated text very careful attention must be paid to the immediate literary context. Nowhere is that more obviously the case with these verses, which some have even called a text of terror.

What I would stress at the outset is that Paul is correcting problems in worship--- correcting both men and women as is perfectly clear from vs. 8 where he tells the men to not dispute or get angry but rather to start praying. He then corrects women in several particulars. I would stress then that the correction of an abuse of a privilege is not the same as the ruling out of a proper use of a privilege, in this case the privilege of speaking in worship or even teaching. Paul is not laying down first principles here, he is correcting an existing problem, and presumably wherever and whenever he found a similar problem he would do so again, whoever it might involve.

Three things are key here: 1) the verb 'authentein' in vs. 12 occurs only once in the NT-- just here. The verb is a strong one, and in my commentary which comes out in the fall I give instances of where it can be used to mean 'to domineer' 'to usurp authority over', but it also has the sense of 'to exercise authority over' as well. What determines the translation is of course the context--- is the context one where a problematic use of power or authority is at issue? If the answer is yes, then the translation is normally 'to usurp authority over' or 'to domineer'. It refers to an illegitimate use of power or authority. The importance of this fact is clear. Paul is not talking about occasions or instances where it is perfectly proper for women to teach or exercise authority over men, something he will mention elsewhere, for example in Rom. 16. The issue here in Ephesus is that there are some women who are seeking to teach or take authority over men, without first being quiet and learning about their faith. This is inappropriate of course. 2) nothing is said here about women being subordinate to men. What vs. 11 speaks about is learning quietly and so being in submission to the teaching and what is being required of the listener. One can say much the same about 1 Cor. 14.33b-36. Nothing is said there about women submitting to men. Scholars have often pondered what in the world Paul is referring to in 1 Cor. 14.34 when he says women are to be silent as even the Law says'. Where exactly does the OT law say that? The answer is nowhere. But what is said in various places is that everyone in worship should be silent in the presence of those who are speaking the Word of God, which is clearly the context in this Corinthians passage--- "let all mortal flesh keep silence. The Lord is in his holy temple and will speak". This is actually a sort of exhortation that was common in all kinds of ancient worship, including the pagan worship many Corinthians had been previously part of. For example, the priest would cry out 'silence' (tacit) as the sacrifice was about to be offered and the blood would be poured out and prayers would go up. In short, 1 Tim. 2 is talking about silence and submission in the presence of authoritative teaching and teachers. One can understand why high status Gentile women in Ephesus might think they could immediately teach in their new chosen religion: 1) women were frequently priestesses and prophetesses in the religion they had come from; 2) if one already had an education, including some education in public speaking (rhetoric) one assumed that one was equipped to go ahead and speak or even teach, especially teach those less literate and of lesser social status. Notice that Paul has restricted what these women are to wear in worship. Clearly enough, he is correcting high status women who actually had fine clothes and jewels to wear, and could come to worship with high coiffed hair. It is these sorts of women he has in mind in 1 Tim. 2; 3) the verb here is 'I am not (now) permitting'. As Philip Payne has shown, there is not a single instance of the use of this verb in Greek literature where this form means " I am permanently banning women from teaching etc.' This is a verb which implies a ban for a specific period of time until the problem is remedied or the proper conditions are met for women having learned enough to be able to teach. Paul could have said "I will never permit women to teach..." but he did not, and for a good reason. He is correcting a problem; 4) the use of the example from Genesis presupposes that Timothy knows his Bible. In particular he knows the following--- that in the original creation story, only Adam is alive when the instruction is given not to eat of the tree. Early Jewish teachers then assumed that this meant Adam had taught Eve about the ban, but clearly enough he had not instructed her well enough, since she goes on to say to the snake that they were not even to touch the fruit. It is interesting that the verb deceived here is used elsewhere in Paul to once again refer to this story (see 2 Cor. 11.3). What does 'deceived' mean here? It is not a comment about the woman's nature or naivete, but rather about her lack of adequate teaching. A person not properly instructed is much more easily deceived. Such was the case with Eve, and so, Paul implies in 1 Tim. 2 such is the case with these high status women who are new converts, but who think they can immediately instruct others including men; 5) the verb 'saved' in vs. 15 probably should not be rendered 'kept safe' as Paul uses another Greek term for that elsewhere. 'Sodso' is the normal term for 'saved' in a spiritual sense So then is Paul now an advocate of 'justification by grace through baby making' for women? Certainly not. One has to pay careful attention to my next point. 6) The phrase in question says 'the childbearing' referring to a particular one, and there is the odd toggling in the Greek between the singular childbearing and the 'they' who are saved through this. Last I checked multiple women cannot give birth to a single child. This means Paul is referring to a particular childbearing-- namely the birth of Jesus through Mary. Mary is seen as Eve in reverse. Just as Eve disobeyed and the fall ensued, Mary consented to God's plan and salvation came through her into our world. The curse on us all, including the curse on women was reversed in Mary. I would add that we must remember that the original curse involved these words--- 'your desire will be for your husband and he will Lord it over you'. To love and to cherish has been twisted into to desire and to dominate. In other words, both lust and the domineering of men over women are a result of the fall, which Jesus, coming through Mary came to reverse!

You will notice that all of this interpretation comes after the fact. You might never deduce some of this simply from reading the mere words in the passage above. Unless the text is studied in its historical literary, rhetorical, religious etc. contexts we are bound to distort its meaning and misuse it. A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.

The only proper hedge against misuse of such controversial texts like this is careful detailed study of the text in its immediate context, in the context of the Pastorals (noting for example how elsewhere in these documents Paul talks about older women who are mature Christians doing some teaching), in the context of Paul's letters in general, and in the context of Ephesus and the social world to which these words were written.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Sample of More Literal Translations

Here below are some sample more literal translations of key verses in Romans. What makes them more literal is that issues like whether a phrase involves an objective or subjective genitive (such as the phrase 'the faith/faihtfulness of Christ') is left as a decision for the reader and student of the text. It is not decided by the translator in advance. Furthermore, by offering two possibilities of highly debated translation decisions the reader is once more alerted to the fact that they need to check the commentaries as either translation is possible.

Romans 1.16-17: For I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God for salvation of all those believing-- to Jews first, and to Greeks; for the righteousness of God has been revealed in it from faith/the Faithful One to faith, just as it is written 'But the righteous from faith/faithfulness shall live'

Romans 3.22-26: But the righteousness of God through the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ, to all those believing, for there is not a differentiation/ distinction, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being righteous freely of his grace through the liberation which is in Christ Jesus whom God intended/set forth publicly as a means of propitiation through [his] faithfulness, in his blood as a proof/indication of his righteousness through the overlooking of previously commited sins, in the tolerance of God for a proof of his righteousness in the present time, unto his being righteous and making righteous those from the faith/faithfulness of Jesus.

Romans 8.28-29: But we know that for those loving God everything works together for good, to those being called according to choice/purpose because those he knew beforehand he also destined before hand for sharing of the form of the likeness of his Son, unto his being first born of many brothers.

It is my theory that the more convoluted the Greek and the more dense the theological or ethical concepts, and this certainly charactertizes these examples to one degree or another (especially Romans 3.22ff) the more cautious and conservative and literal one needs to be with the text. I have left run on sentences as run on sentences to indicate the flow of continuous thought. I do adjust the word order in places to better suit English word order so as to be at least intelligible.

I would like to hear from any of you who are interested as to whether these verses
actually are intelligible and make sense to you. Would a more literal translation be helpful or more confusing?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Going to the dogs at "Eight Below"

Jerry Shepherd is a 'dogman' at the Antarctica outpost of the National Science Federation. The year is 1993 and winter is coming on as it is late January, and of course the seasons are the reverse of what they are in the northern hemisphere. Jerry has eight wonderful huskies and malamutes specifically trained for 'mushing' all over Antartica, for rescue missions and the like. They are remarkable, resilient animals and of course the real stars of this movie are these dogs. Though "March of the Penguins" has the same setting and ethos of the cold forbidding, dangerous Antarctica, this movie has human stars as well, but as various of the reviews at "" have pointed out, the animals are more human and show more emotion than the humans for the most part. Compared to these dogs, even those penguins look like stuffed shirts.

The movie is just short of two hours in length, and is PG, which I am sure Disney was relieved to hear, because clearly this is a family film that one would want to take even small children to. The heart and pathos of the story is caused by the fact that due to a winter storm, the dogs had to be left at the NSF post while all the humans escapted to New Zealand and beyond for the winter. How and whether the dogs would survive for over six months on their own until Jerry and friends could return provides us with the meat of the story. The producer was wise enough to remember that cute or courageous animals always upstage humans, and so one should give the bulk of the story to the animals.

As one watches these dogs manifest time and again many qualities one could wish humans normally manifested (courage, loyalty, affection bordering on unconditional love, comradery, sacrifice for others, and an uncanny knack for survival), one realizes quite clearly why so many people love animals more than they love people! It also leads one to ponder whether we might not think of considering such animals as role models ahead of most humans. It also reminds us that while God created human beings to rule (rather than ruin) the world, it does not follow from this fact that we have nothing to learn from the lower orders of creatures. There is perhaps also a subtle message in this film about how we need to treat such animals with the respect they deserve as fellow creatures of God. Fortunately Jerry Shepherd gets the point, and it is his dogged determination and doglike loyalty to his dogs that proves to be the redeeming feature of this film. This one is for everyone, and is the first real feel-good film of 2006.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What to Give Mom on Valentine's

Mama's Bible

Four brothers left home for college, and they became successful doctors and lawyers and prospered.

Some years later, they chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who lived far away in another city.

The first said, "I had a big house built for Mama."

The second said, "I had a hundred thousand dollar theater built in the house."

The third said, "I had my Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her."

The fourth said, "You know how Mama loved reading the Bible and you know she can't read anymore because she can't see very well. I met this preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire bible. It took twenty preachers 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $100,000 a year for twenty years to the church, but it was worth it. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it."

The other brothers were impressed.

After the holidays Mama sent out her Thank You notes. She wrote:

"Milton, the house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway."

"Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay home, I have my groceries delivered, so I never use the Mercedes. The thought was good. Thanks."

"Michael, you gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound, it could hold 50 people, but all of my friends are dead, I've lost my hearing and I'm nearly blind. I'll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same."

"Dearest Melvin, you were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious. Thank you."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Goodnight and Good Luck"--- a Timely Film

There are rumblings in Congress these days about the Patriot Act and whether it perhaps has gone too far and needs to be scaled back. In this current milieu in which fear-based decision making seems to continue to dominate the American political landscape, there is hardly a more timely movie one could see than "Goodnight and Good Luck".

Filmed in gorgeous and crystal clear black and white and running only an hour and a half, it is a compelling and thought-provoking film-- yes even for insulated and isolated Christians.

The official synopsis of the movie is as follows:

"Directed by George Clooney, this film details the conflict between newscaster Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s, one that had Murrow defying corporate sponsorship as he and his news team reported on the tactics of McCarthy's Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy accused Murrow of being a communist and a huge public feud erupted. The McCarthy/Murrow feud is considered a huge leap forward for objective journalism."

For those of us who lived during the 50s, the fear of the atomic bomb, and more particularly of communism and its access to the bomb was rampant. McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, sent a chill throughout the nation with his repeated, and often undocumented or unverified accusations that this person or that person was 'UnAmerican' or even a 'Communist'. Many lives and careers were ruined, and many were slandered beyond recovery. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press were seen as lesser goods that must be compromised for the sake of 'security'.

Americans who know the history of the 50s will realize that a good deal of the rhetoric we have heard from Washington in the past six years bears a startling resemblance to many of the things that McCarthy said or insinuated, only now the Boogie Men are terrorists, Al Quaeda, because of whom we are now called upon to accept certain compromises in regard to wire-taps, and give up a bit of our privacy and freedom in the process.

But if we do that, has not Al Quaeda already won much of the battle? If we give way to compromising our fundamental Constitutional rights, have we not implicitly admitted that we are very afraid of this small band of hateful persons and we are prepared to over-react to make ourselves feel more secure, spending billions in the process? The goal of terror is of course chiefly to strike fear in the hearts of the enemy, and hope they will colossally over-react. I will leave to the judgment of more astute and expert examiners of our history to decide whether we have been doing so.

But clearly "Goodnight and Good Luck" shows us directly what happens when paranoia, and innuendo without fact check, and the like does to a democracy if allowed to run rampant. In any case, David Straithairn as Edward R. Murrow has been nominated and fully deserves the best Oscar for actor of the year. The performance is masterful, and it is set in a lively, fast paced tale which chronicles the period from fall of 1953 to the demise of both McCarthy and Murrow's show in 1958.

It was Santayana who said "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it". It would appear that our amnesia at this point in history is rather clear. But perhaps we are just having a senior moment-- after all the 50s are not that long ago. Perhaps its just a short term memory loss thing. Perhaps this movie can serve as a small wake-up call. I pray it will be so.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

God and Gambling-- the Latest Scourge

It may not be on the medieval list of the seven deadly sins, but we should have realized that since Jesus and the NT has plenty to say about and against 'the love of money', gambling was likely to surface at some point as one of the major besetting sins of a culture with too much discretionary income. That culture would be western culture, supposedly based on a free market economy, though it might be better called a venture capital and barricuda investor economy. What that sort of approach to economics is really good at is turning our country into a debtor nation.
The rich get richer, and those least able to afford it, the poor and working class, turn to scratch off tickets trying to win the lottery so they can 'get ahead' in life.

But what is wrong with a little betting at the office pool or buying a lottery ticket? What is wrong with going to a casino and having a little fun? After all-- it is 'our' money isn't it? Well in truth there are a whole cluster of problems with gambling from a Biblical point of view of which I only have time to list a few.

Firstly let us deal with the basic Biblical notion that "a workman is worthy of his hire". This principle found in the OT and reiterated in the NT by both Jesus and Paul and others stresses not only that work is good, but that proper compensation for the work is appropriate, indeed a moral requirement of a just society. The principle behind gambling not only severs the connection between work and proper remuneration, but in fact encourages a flagrant disregard for such a work ethic.

The idea behind gambling is of course that I invest only a little of my time and capital in hopes of a return that is out of all proportion to the investment, indeed could in no way be justified as a 'fair or just return' for the investment. Put in colloquial terms it is an attempt to gain a lot, by investing or doing very little. In short, it is a form of cheating which demeans honest hard work. It is always and everywhere a form of cheating, even when it is done out of desperation in order to try and survive.

One of the more moving films of the past year which I watched again last night is Cinderella Man. There is a gripping scene where Jimmy Braddock, despite how shamed he felt and how much of a failure as a bread-winner he felt, got in the governmental assistance line to get funds to keep his family from starving. This scene however is revisted with a happier ending when Jimmy goes back to the assistance office, and gives back, with interest, all he had been given. He understood the principle of work, and the importance of seeing loans as loans that must be paid back.

The second problem with gambling is that according to the Bible, a Christian person is not supposed to charge, nor receive benefit from ridiculous and egregious or exorbitant interest rates. But in fact gambling operates on the principle of in effect charging people in general way more than they can afford to pay, in order that a few people can be inordinately 'rewarded' for their investment, and I do mean a tiny minority of people.

I have not seen the latest figures, but if you view gambling as a form of investing, then it is clear that over 90% of all the participants are getting ripped off on a regular basis. For a Christian to participate in such a system is to violate what God's Word says when it stresses that at most there should be a modest interest rate used and that in any case loaning money or borrowing money should be done on the basis of a fair return and the eventual ability to repay (read Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers again). Forgivness of debts should be at the discretion of the loaner, not be an expectation of the borrower.

But these problems are minor compared to the major one that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof". Every Christian should know that 'their' money is in fact not something they 'own'. They are actually only stewards of God's money and God's resources. In a world full of worthy causes, to gamble with the money you make is in fact to take food out of the mouths of the poor, and indeed may well be to take food out of the mouths of your own family! It is inexcusably self-centered behavior, too often grounded not in desperation, but in a desire to 'get something for next to nothing' which is neither an honorable nor a Christian affection, desire or longing. It is incompatible with the Christian character as described under the heading of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5. That acquistive desire, or desire for securing one's own future by hook or crook is incompatible with a self-sacrificial temperament. It is clearly not what Jesus would do or want us to do.

There is furthermore of course the pragmatic issue that gambling is habit-forming even with people who have some degree of self-discipline. It can very easily, and very quickly become an addiction, especially if one, early on has the 'thrill' of actually getting an inordinate reward for a tiny investment. Suddenly one's brain sees red and thinks--- "you can get something for nothing, and if you can, you ought to." Americans are suckers for all kinds of get rich quick schemes, it's just that gambling is an endemic form of it.

Even worse is when the church itself promotes one or another form of gambling (e.g. Wednesday night bingo) in order to pay its own bills. The Bible is perfectly clear that since everything belongs to God Christians should be giving sacrificially to the cause of Christ, which in many cases will mean well beyond a tithe. Jesus calls his followers to heed the example of the widow who gave all her monetary assets to the Temple treasury. This was far more than tithing. If we were coming even close to doing that, there would be no need for bingo to pay the bills. In fact however, America is one of the least tithing 'Christian' countries on earth. It's absolutely disgraceful.

And beneath and below the surface of all of this there is the deep amnesia that God, after all, has all the resources in the world and beyond in his hands. There is absolutely no reason or justifable cause for Christians to compromise their ethics to get 'ahead' in life, as if they could not turn to God and the body of Christ and get assistance. God's bank never runs short and if we ask according to the will of God (praying for things that are necessities such as are listed in the Lord's prayer, not unnecessary luxuries which we are not encouraged to ask for)God will indeed do more than we expect. Gambling is an act of despair by those who either never trusted God or have given up doing so.

One of the things that has most depressed me of late is seeing my beloved home state, North Carolina, after having fought the good fight against a state lottery for so long, finally capitulate to this sinful enterprise, expedited by political trickery. I was not surprised by the recent allegations about a major gambling ring run by an NHL coach no less. Sports and betting have become kissing cousins in our lifetime where as before the gambling industry was more like the black sheep of the family that nonetheless sports acknowledge as part of the family. But I had hoped for better out of the N.C. State legislature. It is simply one more sign that Christian values are losing their grip on American public life and we shall all be the poorer for it.

My grandfather was a remarkable man who never had more than a junior high education. He was a deacon in the Baptist church, and a fireman and fire chief, and he gave a good deal of his time to public service--- among other things counting votes, giving his time freely and for nothing. During the depression when he was making next to nothing, he continued to give to his church, and indeed to those less fortunate even when he was making about $10-12 every week or so. He would be ashamed of North Carolina just now and its decision about gambling. He understood the value of hard work, and he understood the big difference between freely giving something away-- time, talent, money, and the attempt to snatch something by some immoral means from some industry based on the sin of greed.

Gambling at the the end of the day, cheapens the soul of the gambler, can ruin his family, and supports a blood-sucking industry that in fact cannot claim to do any great good for American society, for it induces and seduces us to forget God and give up on honest work. James was right--- "the love of money is a root of all imaginable sorts of evil". May our society wake up and stop this self-infliced wounding of the human spirit.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Litmus Test of Genuine Christian Experience

C.H. Dodd was one of the truly great NT scholars in the U.K. before, during and after WWII. His commentary on the Johannine Epistles is a classic, and continues to offer fresh insight into the text and its relevance for evaluating Christian life today. Here is a quote from that commentary that itself deserves both hearing and heeding:

"In this passage [I John 2.1-6] our author is not only rebutting dangerous tendencies in the Church of his time, but discussing a problem of perennial importance, that of the validity of religious experience. We may have the feeling of awareness of God, of union with Him, but how shall we know that such experience corresponds to reality? It is clear that no amount of clearness or strength in the experience itself can guarantee its validity, any more than the extreme vividness of a dream leads us to suppose that it is anything but a dream. If, however, we accept the revelation of God in Christ, then we must believe that any experience of God which is valid has an ethical quality defined by what we know of Christ. It will require with it a renewed fidelity to His teaching and example. The writer does not mean that only those who perfectly obey Christ and follow His example can be said to have the experience of God. That would be to affirm the sinlessness of Christians in a sense which he has repudiated [see 1 Jn. 1]. But unless the experience includes a setting of the affections and will in the direction of the moral principles of the Gospel, it is no true experience of God, in any Christian sense."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

2 Tim. 3.16-- On the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

Most Christians who have done any Bible verse memorization will know that for whatever reason the '3.16's seem to be special, John. 3.16 being the most famous. But for the patristic Fathers the '3.16' that seems to have been most put to use was 2 Tim. 3.16. What follows here is an excerpt from my commentary on the Pastorals and the Johannine Epistles, which is due out next November. I figured it could prompt some good discussion on an important topic.

Vs. 16 is surely the most famous of the verses of 2 Timothy, cited over one hundred times in the patristic literature. There are however various ways it could be translated and each causes a variable in its meaning. It could read, for instance, ‘Every graphÄ“ (i.e. Scripture) is God-breathed and profitable/useful….’ so that/with the result that the person of God is ready, equipped for good works.’ Usually when pas is used with a noun without the definite article it means ‘every’ rather than ‘all’. Thus the meaning seems likely to be ‘every Scripture’ or perhaps ‘every passage of Scripture’. Paul does use graphÄ“ in the singular to refer to the whole of Scripture in Rom. 11.2 but there we have the definite article (cf. also Gal. 3.22). Of course this means that ‘all Scripture’ is included but the emphasis would be on each one being God-breathed. Paul does not envision any Scripture that is not God-breathed. It would also be possible to read the verse to mean ‘Every inspired Scripture is useful….’ but against this view is that it is more natural to take the two qualifying adjectives as relating to the noun in the same way as in 1 Tim. 4.4.
A further issue is what to make of the adjective theopneustos. Its literal meaning is ‘God-breathed’ and it is indeed a term used in pagan literature, for example in reference to the Sibylline oracles (cf. Sib. Oracles 5.308, 406; Plutarch, Or. at Delphi 7; Pseudo-Phocylides, 121), and in the papyri (SIG 95; CMRDM 2.A8). We may compare for example an aretology to Isis written in Macedonia which reads at one point “this encomium is written not only by the hand of a man, but also by the mind of a god” (line 14). Greek words with the –tos ending tend to be passive rather than active, so we should not take this to mean ‘every Scripture is inspiring’ but rather ‘every Scripture is inspired’. What is meant is that God speaks through these words. God breathed life and meaning and truth into them all (see similarly Num. 24.2; Hos. 9.7 cf. Josephus, Apion 1.37-39; Philo, Moses 2.292; Spec. Leg. 1.65; 4.49; 2 Pet. 1.21). Note that we are not given an explanation of how that works. This word by itself does not explicate a theory of inspiration or its nature. Does the Spirit lift the mind of the writer to see, understand, and write, or is it a matter of mechanical dictation? These questions are not answered here. What is suggested is that whatever the process, the product is God’s Word, telling God’s truth. The emphasis here is actually on what it is good or profitable for—as a source of teaching about God and human beings and their ways, as a means of refuting false arguments or errors and offering positive ‘proofs’ and rebuking sin , and as a means of offering constructive wisdom and teaching on how to live a life pleasing to God. It will be seen then that the OT is largely viewed here as a source for ethical instruction and exhortation, which is not surprising given the emphasis in this letter. There is no emphasis here on it being a sourcebook for Christian theology, which would come more from the Christian kerygma and Christian tradition. We may also want to consult other places where Paul speaks about the nature of the OT Scriptures such as Rom. 15.3-4 or 1 Cor. 10.11 which confirms that Paul thinks that what we call the OT is very suitable for Christian instruction, especially for training in righteousness and other ethical matters.

I must say that I find Luke Johnson’s reflections here puzzling in an otherwise first rate commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy. He attempts to argue (see 1 and 2 Timothy, pp. 422-23) that the authority of the Bible doesn’t rest on its inspiration but on its canonicity. This is surely not what Paul thinks and is not what is meant by this text, as even the OT canon was not yet closed when these letters were written. Surely Paul believes these words have authority because they are God’s words spoken in human words and through human beings, but reflecting God’s character and so are truthful and trustworthy.

If one studies the ancient concept of inspiration, whether in relationship to Biblical or other prophets it is perfectly clear that it was believed that the prophetic words, inspired by God, had authority because of the source and the character of the one inspiring the prophet to speak. Indeed sometimes it was even believed that the deity in question took over the human being and simply spoke through them. The Holy Writings were not seen as merely revelatory of God’s Word, they were seen as synonymous with God’s Word, such that God said what the Scriptures said. Whatever one’s feelings about the fundamentalist/modernist discussion about the Bible and its authority, they should not be allowed to skew what one says about what is being asserted here and about ancient views of inspiration. Johnson goes on to add that the Bible does not function as an exclusive deposit of revelation but as an essential and normative resource for discerning and measuring the divine self-disclosure. This is nearer the mark. But the discussion has been skewed by suggesting that canonization conveys authority on the text rather than canonization being the process of recognizing authority and truth in the text. On prophetic inspiration see Witherington, Jesus the Seer and the Progress of Prophecy (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996). Finally, Johnson is right that the focus here is on the practical function of Scripture rather than on expounding a theory of inspiration. What should not be slighted or dismissed however is that a very high view of Scripture is assumed here, and it is assumed that the audience simply agrees with this view, such that it need not be argued for. See e.g. Collins, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, pp. 263-64 for more adequate reflections and P. Achtemeier, Inspiration and Authority (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999) and see now N.T. Wright's The Last Word (Harper-Collins 2005).

Friday, February 03, 2006

Some folks will Swallow Anything!

Occasionally something comes across my desk which is so far out, that I figure it belongs in apocalyptic literature--- or on blogs. So all I can say is, the link is below that is labeled swallowing.wmv. Copy it into your browser, and then explain to me--- how that man from Glasgow did that!

Here is a more accessible

ALSO TRY THIS ONE----Watch the video and you be the judge: stevie_starr.wmv.

AND Google Stevie Starr and click on his Jay Leno Tonight Show performance.

Attach0.html (< 0.01 MB), swallowing.wmv (4.56 MB)