Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Book of Common Prayer and Bible Literacy

I recently stumbled across a 450-year-old "Through the Bible in a Year" reading plan in the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer
"The Psalter shall be read through once every Month, as it is there appointed, both for Morning and Evening Prayer. ... The Old Testament is appointed for the first Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, so as the most part thereof will be read every year once, as in the Kalendar is appointed. The New Testament is appointed for the second Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, and shall be read over orderly every year thrice, besides the Epistles and Gospels; except the Apocalyps, out of which there are only certain proper Lessons appointed upon divers Feasts."  (pp. 23-24)

The list of daily lectionary readings in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was taken over more-or-less unchanged from the first 1549 edition. The plan omits the book of Revelation, the subject of controversy in post-Reformation England, and parts of the Old Testament, but makes up for it by reading through the Psalter once every 30-day month and the rest of the New Testament three times in the year. The result is a schedule that is more rigorous than most contemporary Bible reading plans, and, I suspect, significantly more than is expected of churchgoers in most evangelical churches today.

How widely this plan was adopted is another question. For most people in 17th-century England, church consisted of the morning and evening prayer services--Matins and Evensong--but only on Sundays. Most people would not have owned a copy of the prayer book, and most churches did not offer daily services. John Spur notes that "the rector of Clayworth in Nottinghamshire thought himself conspicuously pious when he resolved to read prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent."*

Nevertheless, the plan had an impact. To take one famous example, the community established by Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding "read the regular daily offices of the Book of Common Prayer, including the recital every day of the complete Psalter."** According to Hannibal Hamlin's fine Oxford Handbook article on "Reading the Bible in Tudor England," "apparently many did follow the Prayer Book's 'order howe the Psalter is appointed to be read'" each month. If the BCP's annual reading plan for the whole Bible did not catch on as widely, that may have been because there were other more popular alternatives: "Daily reading of the rest of the Bible was a common practice, but readers could either decide on their own reading plan or follow one of the many available in print."***

Indeed, the BCP's daily lectionary is in many respects characteristic of the dedication to lay Bible reading that both contributed to and resulted from the Protestant Reformation. As a result, as Hamlin puts it, "the Bible permeated almost every nook and cranny of sixteenth-century culture."***

Perhaps there is something to be learned here by Protestant churches today who lay claim to the heritage of the Reformation. Why not take a lead from a 16th-century church willing to instruct its members to read through the Bible every year? I submit that the practice of Bible reading says more about the authority of Scripture than any doctrinal statement.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Some News

Last month we received word that Tenyia has been awarded a full scholarship to do a PhD in history at the University of Cambridge. Briercrest has agreed to my request for a temporary leave of absence* so we can move to England as a family for a couple years. This is a dream come true for both of us, and we are thrilled and grateful for the opportunity!

Thankfully, our daughter is excited about the adventure as well. Even before we found out we were going, she had made a shortlist of castles to visit. (Any guesses about what Pontefract, Berkeley and the Tower of London have in common?) Also on our travel itinerary, thanks to S., is a visit to the Isle of Man to look for Manx cats.

My main responsibility during our time away will be to step up my house-husband game so that Tenyia can concentrate on her writing, but I also plan to rent a desk in the Biblical Studies library at Tyndale House, where we will be staying. So while Tenyia works on her thesis and S. is in primary school, I hope to make progress on some writing projects of my own.


*Although my leave of absence begins in August, I will be back in Caronport in October to teach a one-week modular course on the book of Romans.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fish out of Water: A Parable for the End of Hebrew

Source
Imagine a fish swimming in a sea of Hebrew. The sea is rough, it takes a lot of hard swimming to get to the other side, and the fish can’t wait to get there. Finally, there is land in sight. The fish leaves the deep water, races through the shallows, and with a flying leap lands on a nice sandy beach. The fish lies there, gills flapping contentedly. In a short while, the fish is dead. Don’t be that fish. Stay in the water.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Announcing the 2018 Israel Study Tour


I am happy to announce that Briercrest College and Seminary is planning a study tour to Israel in the spring of 2018. The 13-day trip will be hosted by my colleague, Dr. Wes Olmstead, and led in Israel by Yoni Gerrish, the director of JCF Biblical Study Tours. We know from past experience on our 2009 and 2011 study tours that Yoni is an outstanding guide.


The tour will begin in the south of Israel with stops in Beersheba and Eilat on the Red Sea, as well as several hikes, including one through the Zin Canyon pictured on your left. The group will then progress north along the Dead Sea, and then across to the Mediterranean Sea, before settling in for several nights at a Kibbutz Hotel on the Sea of Galilee, as a base for day trips around the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. (For those who like swimming, this means you will have the chance to swim in the Red Sea, Dead Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee.) After touring Israel from south to north, the final four days will be based out of Jerusalem.

For more information, including a more detailed itinerary, see the tour website: http://briercrest.ca/israeltour/.

If you are in the Caronport area, please plan to attend our information meeting this Wednesday, April 5, at 6:30 p.m. in Room 144.




The trip will be a fantastic experience, and I was very much looking forward to going along. Something else has come up for our family, however, about which I may say more in due course. (Update: More here)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ten-Year Blog Anniversary

Ten years ago today I published the first entry on גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב. I initially conceived of it as a commonplace book, and took pride in the fact that the blog with an obscure Hebrew name went entirely unnoticed by the wider world.

In time my initial blog description gave way to the quote from Robert Frost that still appears in the sidebar:
But yield who will to their separation, / My object in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation / As my two eyes make one in sight. / Only where love and need are one, / And the work is play for mortal stakes, / Is the deed ever really done / For Heaven and the future's sakes.
At its best, what I post here represents the meeting of my avocation and vocation--with an emphasis on the former. I do like readers, of course, but have neither the time nor the energy to cultivate a particular audience. Nor is the blog an extension of my day job. What gets said in this writing space appears when I have something to say on any number of mostly Biblical-Studies-related topics, and when saying it either fits in with an active writing project or feels like a break from my day-to-day routine.

At some point early on I articulated to myself a principle of self-censorship that I admit I have not always followed successfully: Say positive things.

And somewhere along the line I decided to prioritize embodied life over virtual reality, a decision I don't regret. A glance at my blog archive indicates when this change occurred: During its first four years, the blog averaged over 100 posts / year. In 2011, that number dropped to 65. Between 2012-2016 the average was in the low 30's.

10 years, 697 posts, and 300,000+ hits later, there is no shortage of topics I would like to blog and write about. At the beginning of the year, I pinned this advice by Jay Parini on my office bulletin board:
  • Don’t stop. You have to write a lot to get better at writing.
  • Write every day. If you must, get up early. An hour each day is enough. Write, revise, and write some more. And don’t hesitate to use those weird little gaps in the day. I often have huge luck with a spare 20 minutes.
  • Don’t fuss. Don’t think you have to be at your desk in a quiet place.
  • If you stick to your writing, it will stick to you. 
I look at it occasionally and smile. Unless the hours I spend crafting notes for a new course this semester count as "writing," Parini's counsel goes wholly unheeded--except on Friday mornings, when you can find t. and me at an undisclosed location in Moose Jaw, laptops open, sipping coffee, and picking away at our respective writing projects.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why study 1 Corinthians

As I mentioned back in October, I will be teaching a 300-level course on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians this semester. In the syllabus, I make a case for studying the letter this way:

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a valuable resource for readers who wish to recover evidence for day-to-day church life in the mid-first-century CE, but the relative abundance of historical data in 1 Corinthians also poses a challenge. Of all Paul’s letters, 1 Corinthians may strike modern readers as the most firmly embedded in an alien historical setting. Reading 1 Corinthians well as a historical document demands more than tracing Paul’s argument; readers must also learn about the archaeology of ancient Corinth, the social and religious beliefs and practices of first-century Jews, Greeks and Romans, and the conventions of ancient rhetoric.

The challenge of reconstructing the letter’s context is matched by the demands of its contents. Paul’s instructions are sometimes challenging because they seem obviously and uncomfortably relevant. They address issues—like church unity, sexual morality and the practice of spiritual gifts—with which the twenty-first-century church continues to struggle. Sometimes they are challenging because the topics, such as head coverings and food sacrificed to idols, seem foreign to contemporary concerns and cultural norms; sometimes they seem equally familiar and foreign at the same time.

Readers who seek to read 1 Corinthians faithfully as Christian Scripture must be alert to the ways in which their own horizons of experience and their own preferences shape and constrain their interpretations. They must also face the hermeneutical challenge of applying what Paul says to their own twenty-first-century contexts. These challenges make 1 Corinthians a fascinating and rewarding subject of study.

In this class we will draw on all the interpretive resources at our disposal to read 1 Corinthians carefully in its historical context, and to consider its implications for contemporary readers.

By the end of this course, students will be able to articulate an understanding of the letter’s purpose, summarize its content, trace its flow of thought, and explain how Paul responds theologically to practical questions. They will be familiar with a range of options in the interpretation of key texts and be able to illustrate how knowledge of the socio-historical context of the letter affects its interpretation. They will also be able to describe hermeneutical challenges posed by the text, and be better prepared to engage it seriously as Christian Scripture.

A copy of the full syllabus is available online here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Bruce Longenecker's Lost Letters of Pergamum

Bruce Longenecker made my job a little easier last semester, by writing a great little book that students enjoy reading. I assigned the second edition of Longenecker's Lost Letters of Pergamum (Baker Academic, 2016) as a textbook for "Introduction to the New Testament," and students loved it.

Perhaps Baker Academic will consider adding these student blurbs to the back of the third edition:
"Extremely interesting!"

"Loved this book, eye-opening, never read Luke the same."
"Really enjoying The Lost Letters of Pergamum book so far!" 

A few students apparently neglected to read the preface, which explains that the letters are fictional:
"The Lost Letters I found pretty cool how I'm able to read letters from a very old historical event."
"I am really enjoying Longenecker's book because it includes actual letters of Luke, Antipas, Calpurnius. It gives a glimpse at life in the New Testament times and is extremely interesting." 

But how often do you find a textbook that prompts this sort of student response?
"Longenecker is by far my favourite thing I've read this whole semester. I was interested from page one. It's the best." 

Based on student feedback I decided to switch out the other two very short introductions I had assigned, but Lost Letters is a keeper - It succeeds in conveying a lot of information about the first-century Roman world, it paints a compelling and attractive picture of early Christian community practices, and--did I mention?--students enjoy reading it.