Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ambition is the mother of all heresies

John Calvin on Acts 20:30:
Therefore, ambition is the mother of all heresies. For the sincerity of the word of God doth then flourish when the pastors join hand in hand to bring disciples unto Christ, because this alone is the sound state of the Church, that he be heard alone; wherefore, both the doctrine of salvation must needs be perverted, and also the safety of the flock must needs go to nought, where men be desirous of mastership. And as this place teacheth that almost all corruptions of doctrine flow from the pride of men, so we learn again out of the same that it cannot otherwise be, but that ambitious men will turn away from right purity, and corrupt the word of God. For seeing that the pure and sincere handling of the Scripture tendeth to this end, that Christ alone may have the preeminence, and that men can challenge nothing to themselves, but they shall take so much from the glory of Christ, it followeth that those are corrupters of sound doctrine who are addicted to themselves, and study to advance their own glory, which doth only darken Christ. - John Calvin, Commentary on Acts, vol. 2 at CCEL.
HT: C.K. Barrett

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Publish and Perish: Of Making Many Books

A few years ago, I asserted that the blooming Biblical Studies publishing industry--with its multiplied commentary series--is a sign of cancer rather than health. No doubt my view has some connection to the fact that I have not yet published any books of my own. If I were a Ben Witherington III with a commentary on every NT book to my name, I would presumably have a higher opinion of the industry.

As time goes on, I grow more comfortable with differences in gifting and ability. Some folks have a way with words, seem naturally to be prolific, and to write things worth reading. How many average composers does it take to make a Tchaikovsky, about whose 1812 Overture he wrote ". . . I have written two works very quickly . . . . The overture will be very loud and noisy, but probably has no artistic merit, as I wrote it without either warmth or love"?

Biblical scholarship is not--or should not be--a competition. So more power to the Wrights' and the Goldingay's. Nevertheless, instead of a Chesterton, I would rather take as my ideal the late great C.F.D. Moule, who published his first book at 40. And I like this description of Canon John Sweet: "He was equally clear that there were too many books in the world; and accordingly he himself wrote sparingly, and only when he had something to say."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The forgiveness of sins in Luke-Acts

When I issued my "lament for unanswered questions" last month, I had just read Jeremiah 31:34--"for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more"--and was reminded that for several years now I've wanted to think about what it would have meant for Jesus to forgive sins in a first century context. The question is somewhat embarrassing since forgiveness is so prominent in the Gospels, and because I used to think forgiveness of sins was the main thing about being a Christian. It doesn't help that most of my first year students assume that the meaning of passages like Luke 5:20 and 7:48 is obviously to show that Jesus is God. (Why couldn't the Pharisees understand?) To be sure, Luke's Christology is high indeed, and the passages emphasize the son of man's authority to forgive sins; Jesus acts on God's behalf.

My question, though, is not with Christology, but with why Jesus would forgive sins in the first place when there was a functioning cult center in Jerusalem that operated a system of atonement that had been established by God. Why forgive sins when this is what the Temple was for?

(1) E.P. Sanders, who has probably done more than anyone else to raise the question, concluded that the historical Jesus offered forgiveness without requiring repentance from the sinners he gathered around him. Unfortunately, Sanders does not help us with Luke's understanding of forgiveness because Luke is careful to emphasize that Jesus called sinners "to repentance" (5:32).

(2) John Howard Yoder connected the forgiveness of sins to Jesus' quotation from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:18, and argued from allusions in Isaiah 61 to the year of Jubilee (Lev 25) that Jesus meant to inaugurate God's Jubilee. Announcing forgiveness is the Jubilee 'release' in action. See this post for more details on Jubilee imagery in the OT.

(3) N.T. Wright argues that Jesus believed the Temple's system of atonement was broken, and that forgiveness in Jesus' ministry means what it did in Jeremiah: return from exile. It's an interesting suggestion with a great deal of explanatory power when it comes to the New Testament, but--as I've suggested elsewhere--the idea that most Jews believed they were in exile is problematic.

Although I have been working around the question for a little while, I have not yet taken the time to work carefully through the theme of forgiveness in Luke-Acts, and I'm still puzzled. If you can point me to the answer, please do so!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The difference three years make

The birthday girl (as of yesterday):

The birthday cake:
...and some things never change:
(For the sake of comparison, consider last year's photo.)

Why Christian schools don't need to worry about plagiarism

...or not:
"I work at an online company that generates tens of thousands of dollars a month by creating original essays based on specific instructions provided by cheating students. I've worked there full time since 2004. On any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.
"I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked." - "Ed Dante", academic ghostwrier
Read the whole sad story here.

HT: Cheese-Wearing Theology

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Prophecy after the Prophets: Draft Schedule and Reading List

The syllabus for my BLST415 / BT829 Prophecy after the Prophets course is officially due a month from Monday, so this draft list is probably pretty close to final, but there is still time to make changes. Does the reading seem too heavy? Are there other, better readings that I should include? What am I missing? I welcome any and all feedback:

Part I: Biblical Prophecy and its Aftermath

Introduction // Old Testament Prophecy: An Overview (14 Jan)
Secondary Reading (27 pages): Petersen, David L. “Prophet, Prophecy.” Pages 622-648 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 4. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, ed. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009. 
Primary Reading: 1 Kings 17-2 Kings 10; Jeremiah 1-4; Ezek 1-3; Amos

What Happened to Biblical Prophecy? Part I (21 Jan)
Secondary Reading (23 pages):
Wellhausen, Julius. “Chapter X: The Oral and the Written Torah.” Pages 392-410 in Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel. Edinburgh: A&C Black, 1885. Repr. New York: Meridian, 1957. Online:
Cross, Frank Moore. “A Note on the Study of Apocalyptic Origins.” Pages 343-6 in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973. 
Primary Reading: Isaiah 24-27; Daniel 7-12; Zechariah; 1 Enoch 1-16

What Happened to Biblical Prophecy? Part II (28 Jan)
Secondary Reading (58 pages): 
Greenspahn, Frederick E. “Why Prophecy Ceased.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108.1 (1989): 37-49. 
Sommer, Benjamin D. “Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation.” Journal of Biblical Literature 115.1 (1996): 31-47. 
Grabbe, Lester L. “Thus Spake the Prophet Josephus . . . : The Jewish Historian on Prophets and Prophecy.” Pages 240-7 in Prophets, Prophecy, and Prophetic Texts in Second Temple Judaism. Michael H. Floyd and Robert D. Haak, eds. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 427. New York: T&T Clark, 2006. 
Miller, David M. “Josephus and the προφηταί: Exploring the Non-Use of a Label.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, Vancouver, BC, 3 June 2008.

Part II: Perceptions of Prophecy and Inspired Experience in Early Judaism

Perspectives on the Past and the Present (4 Feb)
Secondary Reading (52 pages): 
Barton, John. Pages 96-140 (Chapter 3 “Prophets and their Message”) and 266-273 (Conclusion) in Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile. Repr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 
Brooke, George J. “Prophecy.” Pages 694-700 in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. L. Schiffman and J. VanderKam, eds. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 2000. 
Primary Reading: Excerpts from Josephus, Philo and Ben Sira

Reading the “Prophets” (11 Feb)
Secondary Reading (66 pages): 
Barton, John. “Chapter 4: Modes of Reading the Prophets.” Pages 141-153 in Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile. Repr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 
Wendel, Susan. “Chapter One: Early Jewish Exegetes and Community Identity.” Pages 27-79 in “To Hear and Perceive: Scriptural Interpretation and Community Self-Definition in Luke-Acts and the Writings of Justin Martyr.” Ph.D., McMaster University, 2009. 
Primary Reading: Habakkuk; 1QpHab

Eschatological Prophets (18 Feb)
Secondary Reading (77 pages): 
Allison, Dale C. Pages 73-84 in The New Moses: A Matthean Typology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993. 
Faierstein, Morris M. “Why Do the Scribes Say That Elijah Must Come First.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100 (1981): 75-86. 
Allison, Dale C. “Elijah Must Come First.” Journal of Biblical Literature 103 (1984): 256-258. 
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “More about Elijah Coming First.” Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985): 295-296. 
Barnett, P. W. “The Jewish sign prophets--A.D. 40-70--their intentions and origin.” New Testament Studies 27 (1981): 679-697. 
Horsley, Richard A. “‘Like One of the Prophets of Old’ : Two Types of Popular Prophets at the Time of Jesus.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47 (1985): 435-463. 
Primary Reading: Deut 13, 18, 34; Malachi 3-4; DSS and Josephus excerpts

Part III: Prophecy and Early Christianity

Prophecy and the Historical Jesus (25 Feb)
Secondary Reading: (59 pages)
Jeremias, Joachim. “The Return of the Quenched Spirit.” Pages 76-85 in New Testament Theology: Part One: The Proclamation of Jesus. London: SCM Press, 1971. 
Wright, N.T. “Chapter 6: The Praxis of a Prophet.” Pages 147-195 in Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996. 
Primary Reading: Luke 1-2

Prophecy and Luke-Acts Part I: Christology (4 Mar)
Secondary Reading: (48 pages)
Robinson, John A. T. “Elijah, John and Jesus: An Essay in Detection.” New Testament Studies 4 (1958): 263-281. 
Croatto, J. Severino. “Jesus, Prophet Like Elijah, and Prophet-Teacher like Moses in Luke-Acts.” Journal of Biblical Literature 124.3 (2005): 451-465. 
Kingsbury, Jack Dean. “Jesus as the ‘Prophetic Messiah’ in Luke’s Gospel.” Page 29-42 in The Future of Christology: Essays in Honor of Leander E. Keck. A. J. Malherbe and W. A. Meeks, eds. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1993. 
Primary Reading: Luke 1-4; 7; 9; 13:22-35; 16:16; 20:6; 22:63-71; 24; Acts 3:11-26; 7

Prophecy and Luke-Acts Part II: Christian Prophecy // Research Workshop (18 Mar)
Secondary Reading: (67 pages)
Aune, David E. “Chapter 8: The Character of Early Christian Prophecy.” Pages 189-231 in Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.
Ellis, E. Earle. “The Role of the Christian Prophet in Acts.” Page 55-67 in Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce on his 60th Birthday. W. Ward Gasque and Ralph P. Martin, eds. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970. Online:
Stronstad, Roger. “The Prophethood of All Believers: A Synthesis.” Pages 114-124 in The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology. Journal of Pentecostal Studies Supplement. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. 
Primary Reading: Acts 2:1-47; 11:27-30; 13:1-12; 15:1-41; 19:1-21; 21:1-16

Prophecy and Luke-Acts Part III & Prophecy in the Greco-Roman World (25 Mar)
Secondary Reading: (74 pages)
Moessner, David P. “‘The Christ Must Suffer’: New Light on the Jesus - Peter, Stephen, Paul Parallels in Luke-Acts.” Novum Testamentum 28.3 (1986): 220-256. (ATLAS)
Forbes, Christopher. “Chapter 11: Prophecy and Oracles in the Hellenistic World.” Pages 279-315 in Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment. WUNT 2/75. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1995. Repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997. 
Primary Reading: To be determined.

Paul and Prophecy Part I (1 Apr)
Secondary Reading: (52 pages)
Grudem, Wayne A. “Appendix 5: Why Christians Can Still Prophesy.” Pages 313-328 in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Rev. ed. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 2000. 
Gillespie, Thomas W. “Chapter 4: Prophecy and Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1-40).” Pages 129-164. The First Theologians: A Study in Early Christian Prophecy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. 
Primary Reading: 1 Cor 11-14; 1 Thess 5

Paul and Prophecy Part II (8 Apr)
Secondary Reading: (55 pages)
Turner, Max. “Chapter 12: Prophecy in the New Testament.” Pages 185-220 in The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts in the New Testament Church and Today. Rev. ed. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998
Moberly, R. W. L. “Chapter 7: Prophecy and Discernment Today?” Pages 221-239 in Prophecy and Discernment. Cambridge studies in Christian doctrine 14. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 
Primary Reading: 1 Cor 11-14; 1 Thess 5

Revelation and Beyond (12 Apr)
Primary Reading: Didache 9-16; Hermas, Mandate 11; Justin Dialogue 82.1-2; Tertullian, On the Soul 9.4; Eusebius, Ecclesiatical History 5.14-19

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

C.S. Lewis on the Learned Life

This selection from "Learning in War-Time" is my last post from Lewis's wonderful collection of essays, C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949). Hopefully, it will whet your appetite to read the whole (short) thing:
"By leading that [learned] life to the glory of God I do not, of course, mean any attempt to make our intellectual inquiries work out to edifying conclusions. That would be, as Bacon says, to offer to the author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie. I mean the pursuit of knowledge and beauty, in a sense, for their own sake, but in a sense which does not exclude their being for God's sake. An appetite for these things exists in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty, as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so. Humility, no less than the appetite, encourages us to concentrate simply on the knowledge or the beauty, not too much concerning ourselves with their ultimate relevance to the vision of God. That relevance may not be intended for us but for our betters--for men who come after and find the spiritual significance of what we dug out in blind and humble obedience to our vocation." (49)
"The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. Of course it will be so only so long as we keep the impulse pure and disinterested. . . . [W]e may come to love knowledge--our knowing--more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us. Every success in the scholar's life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived." (50)
"There are always plenty of rivals to our work....If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come." (52)

Monday, November 8, 2010

The chief art of the teacher is to conceal himself

Isaac Gross at The Ground Beneath Your Feet posted this quotation by John Stott on preaching the other day. I've been wondering how it might relate to teaching:
“The main objective of preaching is to expound Scripture so faithfully and relevantly that Jesus Christ is perceived in all his adequacy to meet human need. The true preacher is a witness; he is incessantly testifying to Christ. But without humility he neither can nor wants to do so. James Denney knew this, and had these words framed in the vestry of his Scottish church, ‘No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.’ Something very similar was spoken by John Watson, the ‘Ian Maclaren’ who wrote the best-selling novel Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush, ‘the chief effect of every sermon should be to unveil Christ, and the chief art of the preacher to conceal himself.’” - John W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 325.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My advice for improving airport security

I was not surprised to hear that a disguised man made it onto an Air Canada flight from China without showing a photo ID. I had the same experience flying out of Toronto on Air Canada last month: Although my boarding pass was checked twice, no one in airport security or Air Canada checked my photo ID. (For the record, I wasn't wearing a mask.)

My simple advice for improving airport security: check photo ID.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scooping the story or plying a craft

The pit of anxiety when I'm writing (or thinking about the writing I'm not doing) signals something amiss. At times it is the worry that someone else will get there before I do, leaving nothing left to say for all my effort. More often it is the background chatter of imagined voices assigning praise or blame, or telling me I have finally arrived.

Perhaps the chatter is inevitable. One writes for an audience, after all, and recognizing the natural desire for approval is surely better than the self-deception that insists, "I didn't build it for me."

Still, the best one can do is ignore the "deadly poison of self-admiration" (or, for that matter, self-blame), for it is the siren cry of what Lewis calls the "Inner Ring" where vocation is reduced to a tool to be manipulated for personal advancement. It is much better to ply your craft for its own sake:
"The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. this group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ringer can ever have it." - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 65.