Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Israel Tour 2011

I am happy to report that Briercrest College professors Dr. Don Taylor and Dr. Cal Macfarlane will be hosting a study tour of Israel in May 2011. The tour will be open to current Briercrest College and Seminary students as well as alumni.

For more information, see the tour website:

For more information on what the tour will be like, see my as yet unfinished blog series on the first Briercrest Israel tour last spring. (I'm sure I'll be disappointed not to be going along come 2011, but for now I'm happy to let others organize the trip, and I'm excited for those who will get to go!)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

C.F.D. Moule on Greed (Col 3:5)

“If πλεονεξία meant ‘acquisitiveness’ in any form—simply the opposite of the desire to give—it would be possible to link it with the fact that the essence of idolatry (whether in a gross or a refined form) is the desire to get, the desire to use God for man’s ends, in contrast to true worship, which is man’s desire to yield himself to God’s service."

Moule eventually concludes that the meaning "is simply the less subtle one that the πλεονέκτης worships Gain as his god,” but his own more subtle observation is still worth pondering.

Quotations from C.F.D. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon (Cambridge: 1962), 116-117.

Monday, March 29, 2010

C.F.D. Moule on Incorporation in Christ

"Christianity is such that its 'theology and ethics' are, by their very nature, inseparable; for it is neither a merely intellectual statement of philosophy nor merely a system of rules for conduct: it is incorporation in Christ, which means faith and practice in one--pattern and power together; mind, will, and emotions working in co-operation" (113).

"Thus, Christian conduct is the result, not simply of the effort to be good, but of incorporation into the Body of Christ" (114).

"St Paul's meaning is evidently something like what Christ dramatically expressed by 'Take up your cross and follow me' (Mark viii. 34, etc.): that is, to follow Jesus means complete devotion, even to the extent of regarding oneself--one's own private desires and ambitions--as 'sentenced to death', or as in fact 'dead'. Yet there is a difference; for whereas Jesus, during his ministry and before his death and resurrection, could only summon disciples ot the effort to 'follow' in obedience, St Paul, called by the risen, heavenly Christ, has found, by incorporation in him, the transforming strength to achieve such devotion. The injunction νεκρώσατε--kill self-centredness--becomes progressively a possibility for those who are united by Baptism with the Body of Christ" (114-115).

Quotations from C.F.D. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon (Cambridge: 1962) on Colossians 3:5-17.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Tenth Commandment for Academics

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's time; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's productivity.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

First Thoughts on Brant Pitre's Jesus, The Tribulation, and the End of the Exile

Has anyone remarked how the texts Brant Pitre compiles to demonstrate a widespread expectation of future tribulation in Second Temple Judaism all (or almost all) describe present crises from the perspective of the authors of those texts? In this case, there is no evidence for belief in future "messianic woes", just evidence that apocalyptic Jews in crisis expected divine intervention.

Alas, the back cover blurbs and, to a lesser degree, book reviews are so gushingly positive that I'll probably still have to give Pitre's 500+ page tome a more careful review.

Bibliography: Pitre, Brant. Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Hermeneutics of the Golden Rule

In class a couple weeks ago I said something about being "loving" historians. We were talking about the Pharisees, whose rather one-sided portrayal in the Gospels leads many Christians to view them as uniformly bad: They are the hypocrites who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They are the legalists. Preoccupied with the letter of the law, they lost touch with its spirit. Committed to piety and establishing their own righteousness they went home condemned by God. And so on.

If we want to approach the Pharisees historically, as real people, we have to acknowledge that they would not have regarded themselves as hypocrites. "Loving" history will seek to recover a view of the Pharisees that made sense to them. I suggested that the Pharisees, like most Second Temple Jews, would have regarded the Torah as God's gift, and their obedience as a response to God's gracious covenant with them. Along with most other Jews, they would have agreed that “the yoke of the commandments, and the yoke of the kingdom of heaven were not burdens but opportunities for the service of God” (Shaye Cohen, From The Maccabees To The Mishnah [Louisville: WJK, 2005], 70). 

But then, spurred on by this post, I got to thinking: Since love covers over a multitude of sins, what about the distortions that "love" brings? According to Albert Schweitzer, the greatest studies of the historical Jesus "are written with hate." While love believes all things, hate suspects all things, and it is suspicion that is the historian's stock-in-trade. Is it possible or good to write a "loving" history of Stalin or Hitler?  Does a hermeneutics of love preclude value judgements? Must we affirm with E.P. Sanders that, at the end of the day, first century Jews--high priests and Pharisees included--were really nice liberal protestants in disguise? (I exaggerate for effect.)

No, for at its best the practice of history is a game of the imagination in which scholars try to construct models that make the best sense of all the available data. Whether motivated by love or hate, our hypotheses can be brought up short by the evidence. One might object that neither "love" nor "hate" is relevant to the study of history since it doesn't matter how we feel, it matters only that we are fair. I agree.

But I am defining love as the golden rule: Especially in the case of religious traditions other than our own, we should depict the object of our study in terms with which its adherents would agree, just as we would like others to present our own views as we would defend them ourselves.

Monday, March 15, 2010

C.F.D. Moule on Colossians 2:6

I'm quite sure this is profound, but I'm not quite sure what it means:
"The virtual identification of the tradition of the facts about Christ with the believer's experience of the living Christ himself is here strikingly illustrated: 'As, therefore, you received as tradition [the account of] Jesus as Christ and Lord, conduct your lives as incorporated in him.' The Christian Gospel is essentially an historical account of what happened in the past; yet also essentially, it means incorporation now in the still living Person of whom it tells--the contemporary Christ. Thus, in a sense, the living Christ is the tradition of himself." - C.F.D. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon (Cambridge: 1962), 89.
 Perhaps this is related: "Jesus and me broke up." HT: Ben Myers.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why you should not study Greek

This page, explaining why Grace Baptist College does not teach Greek, reads like a spoof, but is apparently quite serious. Grace Baptist College is the “School for Thinking Fundamentalists,” built on "the absolute conviction that the King James Bible is God’s perfect, preserved Word for the English speaking world." Its founders "believe Greek study has been and will continue to be the downfall of Protestant Fundamentalism."

True enough.


Friday, March 12, 2010

The God of Vengeance in Luke's Gospel

David Ker suggests that the appropriate response to the vengeance of the Old Testament is to "Skip it!" As is the case with his earlier post (The Bible is not the Gospel), I resonate strongly with David's larger concerns: "The Gospel is more important than the Bible....The Gospel absorbs vengeance and defuses it, strips it of retaliation (its only weapon) and instead brings peace." Well said.

I agree that "revenge is not in our mandate," but--and here's the rub--Jesus didn't claim that vengeance (or, better, judgement) is no longer God's mandate. David points out that Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 selectively in Luke 4:18-19, stopping with the "year of the Lord's favor," and conveniently omitting the next line about the "day of vengeance of our God." Whatever the reason for this omission, it is not because
"under the new covenant that God was making with all the peoples of the world, vengeance was set aside, or you could say transferred to Christ who bore all the vengeance of God’s wrath on the cross in our place."

Jesus distinguished between the day of salvation and the day of vengeance, but I think the day of vengeance does show up later in Jesus' predictions of divine judgement. Consider, for example, Luke 10:13-15:
13 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.

Or Luke 11:31-32:
31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

Or Luke 12:56-59:
56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57 "And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny."
According to Miroslav Volf, "the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance." I agree, which means I disagree with David, and I'm concerned about a resurgent Marcionism in popular North American Christianity that distinguishes between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. But I can't help feeling like the pedant I am, nit-picking about details (albeit important ones) so far removed from the practical realities David is dealing with in Mozambique.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Twenty Years of Biblical Scholarship

My collection of John Meier's four-volume series on Jesus A Marginal Jew  is now complete. Volume 4: Law and Love came out in 2009, nineteen years after Volume I: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, which was published in 1991, the year I entered college.

It occurred to me that reading through all four volumes of Meier's opus would be a nice way to mark my 20th year in Biblical Studies, but I hesitate for 3 reasons:

  1. It just won't happen. The text and endnotes of Meier's four volumes add up to a whopping 2792 pages, and he is not finished: I understand that volume 5 (on parables) is underway; volume 6 will apparently tackle Jesus' death. Much as I'd like to--and Meier is a fine writer--I don't have time this year to read that much in this area.
  2. At this stage, my research interests have more to do with the historical Jews than with the historical Jesus. Meier's extensive treatment of Jesus' Companions and Competitors in volume 3 and of Law and Love in volume 4 justify my purchasing the volumes, but for now I'll have to content myself with a periodic perusal.

3. Reading primary sources is more valuable than reading secondary sources. I wish, for example, that I had time to follow along with the students in this semester's Senior Humanities Seminar whose reading list includes Homer's Odyssey, Cicero, On the Good Life, Plato's Republic and Gorgias, as well as selections from Augustine, Lucretius, Seneca, Sophocles, and Isocrates.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Who invented terrorism?

A Sri Lankan / Australian friend I met last spring in Jerusalem commented that the Tamil Tigers invented terrorism. Not so, I replied, and showed him a picture I had taken by the King David Hotel earlier that day:
(Todd Bolen has a picture of the damaged building.)

The reality, of course, is more complex as one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and, according to this wikipedia article, the origins of terrorism lie much farther in the past.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Talk about Suffering

My mom was hospitalized two months ago today. She is now in a "long term care" ward of a different hospital, receiving chemo-therapy and waiting for a spot in a nursing home. The chemo-therapy is part of the treatment for the cause of her seizures--not cancer, as the doctors suspected at first, but Primary Cerebral Angiitis, Beta Amyloid Associated (more information here and here). The latest word from the doctors is that the combination of steroid- and chemo-therapy has stabilized her condition so that it is no longer immediately life threatening, but they did not catch the disease in time to prevent irreversible brain damage.

It so happened that I was scheduled to speak in chapel in January, a couple weeks after the seizures. I had already decided to talk about suffering (drawing on this blog post); Mom's situation made the topic rather more personal. This is from my conclusion:
As I think about my Mom’s situation I wonder for those of us who have surrendered our lives, if there is any suffering that is not included in the privilege of suffering for Christ. Back in Philippians Paul talks about “being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith” (2:17). I wonder if Christian suffering in sickness—cancer even—can be a drink offering poured out on the sacrifice and service of faith. If, as creation groans waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, our groaning in suffering can be a form of Spirit-inspired prayer, through which we cry, “Abba, Father, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Did I miss anything important?

Students who have missed a class sometimes inquire, "Did I miss anything important?" They mean no harm, but the question baffles me. "Of course," I can't help responding, "everything we do in class is important."

Why would I waste an hour of your time to talk about something that I don't think is isn't important?

Update: James McGrath points to this great poem by Tom Wayman: "Did I Miss Anything?"