Friday, March 31, 2006

Making the Bible Come Alive: Scripture and the Liturgy (Part 1)

Making the Bible Come Alive: Scripture and the Liturgy (Part 1)
by Michael Barber © 2006

You’ve heard it said a million times, Christians need to read the bible. But let’s face it, the bible is a pretty intimidating book. Where does one start? Furthermore, it is full of all kinds of things that seem quite foreign to us: bloody sacrifices, confusing laws, cryptic symbols—how are we supposed to make sense of it all?

With their non-Catholic friends often able to quote chapter and verse, many Catholics often feel that they simply do not know the bible. At a recent conference I heard a Catholic speaker tell the audience: "If you have a Bible turn to John 6. If you don't have a bible, look on with your Protestant neighbor." This comment meant in jest just serves to underscore the sad reputation Catholics have for neglecting Scripture study.

Of course, the Church has always insisted on the sacred role of Scripture in the life of Catholics. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Church ‘forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scripture” (CCC 133 citing Dei Verbum 25). Going on, the same paragraph quotes Saint Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

But once again, how does Catholic Scripture study really take place. How do we make heads or tails out of the bible? Furthermore, how does the Bible “come alive” for us?

On the Road Again
In Luke 24, we read the account of the first Christian Bible study. It was the first Easter Sunday. Two disciples were on the road out of Jerusalem on the way to a village called Emmaus. It was a seven mile journey. As they walked they talked about the tragic way Jesus’ life had come to an end.

As they went along, a stranger walked along with them—it was Jesus, but they didn’t recognize him. “While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” In fact, there are other accounts of appearances of the resurrected Jesus, in which those who knew him didn’t recognize him (Jn 20:14; 21:4).

Back from the Dead
Let me just interject a side note. The failure of the disciples to recognize Jesus may seem like an accidental detail, but in actuality I think it is quite profound. Since Jesus’ day, many have claimed that the disciples of Jesus simply made up the story of his resurrection (cf. Matt 28:13-15). Yet, the claim that they failed to recognize him make it hard to believe that the story was simply invented. After all, if you wanted to convince someone that you saw someone brought back from the dead you would never say, "He didn’t even look like the same person." That would lead people to question whether or not you really had the experience. They might think it was just a case of mistaken identity. But the disciples recounted this detail because they really did see Jesus and they really did fail to recognize him. Okay, end side note. Let’s get back to the story.

Jesus Takes the Bible on the Road
The disciples were clearly devastated by Jesus’ death. It seemed that all their hopes had been dashed in one foul swoop. Jesus then tells them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Jesus opened up the Scriptures to the disciples and conducted the first Christian Bible study with them there along that dusty road. Imagine having Jesus as your bible study leader! How privileged were these two disciples!

Notice also that Luke tells us which Scriptures Jesus turned to, “Moses and all the prophets.” This was probably a shorthand expression for the entire Scripture. Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible. The other books seem to have been understood as prophetic; Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel—were understood as the prophets. David was also apparently understood as a prophet. There are also later prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc. By telling us Jesus took the disciples through the books of Moses and the Prophets, Luke is indicating that Jesus went through all of the scriptures with these disciples.

Open Your Eyes
What is truly amazing is that despite this incredible bible study, despite Jesus’ best theological reflection and preaching, the disciples’ eyes were still closed. When they finally arrived in the town they still failed to recognize the Lord. Luke tells us that Jesus acted as if he was going on further along the road, but the disciples urged him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (Luke 24:29).

Having gone inside Jesus’ identity was finally made known to them. How?
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:30-31).

Here Jesus repeats what he did in the Upper Room on the night before he was handed over. On that evening, Luke tells us that Jesus, “took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you’” (Luke 22:19). The word for “given thanks” in Greek is the Greek word from which we get the word “Eucharist.” At Emmaus Jesus likewise takes bread, breaks it and gives it to the disciples—Jesus is celebrating the first post-Easter Eucharist. In fact, the phrase “breaking bread” seems to have been an early Christian term for the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7).

Even though the disciples had Jesus himself with them, explaining how Scripture was fulfilled in himself, his presence was hidden from them. It was in the Eucharistic celebration that the disciples finally discovered Jesus’ presence. He was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread.

Scripture is meant to prepare us for the Eucharistic celebration. As we will see, the Liturgy is the proper context for Scripture. There is an inseparable bond between the Scripture and the Mass. Through the reading of Scripture we are prepared, like those early disciples, to discover Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

Luke 24 and the Liturgy
In fact, in reading Luke 24 we see the outlines of the liturgy itself. First, Jesus opens up the Word to the disciples. He explains to them how all Scripture is fulfilled in Himself.

This corresponds to the first part of the ancient Christian worship celebration—the Liturgy of the Word. There Scripture is opened and read. The Church is careful to read first from the Old Testament (First Reading and Responsorial Psalm) and then from the New Testament (Second Reading and Gospel) to show how all Scripture is fulfilled in Christ. We will talk about this more later. Furthermore, as Jesus explained Scripture to the disciples, the priest gives a homily, interpreting Scripture and showing us how to apply it to our lives.

After preparing the disciples to recognize him through reading Scripture, Jesus celebrates the Eucharistic meal with them. This corresponds to the second part of the ancient Christian celebration—the Liturgy of the Eucharist. There we, like the disciples, discover that Christ’s real presence, though hidden, is in our midst.

The Proper Place and Time
I think many people simply assume that the bible fell out of heaven one day with all its books intact. Of course, that’s not what happened. Genesis was written long before the book of Wisdom—even longer before the book of Matthew. Matthew wrote separately from Paul, who wrote independently of John. So how and why were all these books collected together?

Keep in mind, before the printing press, books were extremely rare and expensive. Hardly anyone had his or her own personal bible. The bible wasn’t put together because Jesus needed books to sign after the Sermon on the Mount. His disciples were not running a publishing house out of Galilee. "Personal bibles" is a relatively new concept. The early Christians couldn’t take a bible home, close their bedroom door and do personal meditations on the Word. So where was the bible meant to read? Why were its books assembled?

The bible was assembled to resolve a major problem in the early Church—the early Christians didn’t know which books they could read in the liturgy, that is, at Mass. Different churches were often reading from different books. If you went to Mass in Antioch, for example, you might hear the Apocalypse of Peter read (cf. Muratorian Fragment, a. d. 200). However, if you went over to Corinth, you might be told that it was forbidden to read that book. There they might be reading different books. True, many of the books were universally accepted. St. Paul’s letters were read by virtually everyone. Nonetheless, there was quite a bit of confusion over a number of other ones: e.g., the book of Revelation was denied by many. At the same time, many were using the letter of Clement in the liturgy (cf. the Apostolic Constitutions, a. d. 390).

This was a major issue. Christians needed to know what they could read in their liturgy. Finally, to resolve the question, bishops assembled and councils were convened in the fourth century. Ultimately, the list was sent off to the pope and the other bishops for ratification. The point here is this: the determination of the canon was primarily a liturgical decision.

“The Bible” is the collection of books that can be read in Christian worship. Thus, Catholics can’t read the writings of the saints at Mass. Nor can they read papal encyclicals. Only the Scripture can be read.

The Bible therefore was put together for the liturgy. The liturgy is the proper context for the Bible.

The problem today is that many don’t recognize the Bible’s proper context. They read the Bible as if it had nothing to do with the liturgy. As we will see, by doing this, people run into all kinds of problems.

(To be continued...)

Listen to My Radio Show - On Today!

Listen to my Radio Show today (Friday) at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific.

You can listen on-line or try to find it on your local radio station.

You can also listen on Sirius Satellite Radio or on shortwave radio.

New Feature: "Online Articles"

I have now added to the sidebar a section called "Online Articles on Biblical and Theological Issues" (left side, scroll down). This section will make it easier for viewers to find some of the essays I have written and posted on this site.

Taking God at His Word is a look at the Catholic understanding of Scripture.

Loose Canons: The Development of the Old Testament deals with the issues of the development of the Old Testament canon, with particular focus on the question of the deuterocanonical books (or apocrypha).

Making Time For Worship: Understanding the Liturgical Seasons deals with the significance of the liturgical calendar in the Old Testament, its use in the New Testament and (coming soon!) the development of the liturgical calendar in the early church.

Future essays are coming, which will deal with everything from Moral Theology to the criteria of authenticity.

As always, this site will be updated on a virtual daily basis.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Protestant Scholar Asks: Is the Reformation Over?

Yesterday I posted on the extraordinary ways Catholics and Protestants are coming together. Now there's this...

Renowned Protestant scholar Scot McKnight asks, "Is the Reformation over?" He even mentions the founder of the Saint Paul Center, saying, "if the 15th Century Roman Catholics had been like Scott [Hahn] there would never had been a Reformation." He describes the need for a purple theology generation, in which Catholics and Protestants open themselves up to listening to one another like never before.

Here's more of what he said:

"There is always one sola many have forgotten: Is there a time for the post-Reformation folks to admit that they forgot the sola ecclesiam (the church alone)?

My friend, Scott Hahn, a well-known former evangelical and now leading Catholic voice at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, and I were once discussing matters not unlike this one when I said to him that if the 15th Century Roman Catholics had been like Scott there would never had been a Reformation. He chuckled. I’ve been on the same page of faith, etc., with some other Roman Catholics over the years, like my former students Tom Scheck and David Palm and Vaughn Treco — and I could name some more.

Post-Reformation Protestant evangelicals don’t quite have the relationship to the Easterns as they do the Catholics, mostly I guess because of their not being quite so numerous in our neck of the woods, but time and time again I’ve come into contact with Orthodox ideas and I say to myself that those Cappadocian fathers carved out the orthodoxy that we all believe.

And now with Alan Jacobs saying what he said in First Things I wonder...

Here’s what I wonder: Is it not the case that most of us really do anchor our faith in the orthodox statements of faith (Nicea, etc)? Is it not the rise of trinitarian theology at the end of the 20th Century that has provoked so many invigorating perspectives on theology? And do we not have so much to learn from one another?"

Read his entire post here.

Benedict Working On Trip To China

John Paul II made some historic visits -- Israel, Poland, etc. Now Benedict has revealed plans for a historic visit of his own: a papal visit to China.

Here's the story from the AP:


Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation from Hong Kong he will visit China in what would be an extraordinary papal visit to the communist nation, but he said the trip's timing depends on "God's wish," media reports said Tuesday.

One of the Vatican's goals is to restart official relations with China, which forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Holy See in 1951 after the officially atheist Communists took power. People can worship only in government-controlled churches.

Pope John Paul II, the most-traveled pontiff in history, was unable to visit China during his 26-year papacy. Pope Paul VI made a three-hour stopover in Hong Kong in 1970 when it was a British colony.

No pope has ever visited mainland China.

The Hong Kong delegation was in Rome for ceremonies installing 15 new cardinals, including Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen.

Zen, an outspoken champion of religious freedom in China, said he believed the pope would visit Hong Kong first if he made a China trip.

"Hong Kong is part of China and perhaps he should come here as a first step," Hong Kong's South China Morning Post quoted Zen as saying.

The delegation included Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, who told the pope Monday, "Please come to China to bring us love and democracy," Lai's Apple Daily newspaper reported in a front-page story. The pope responded, "I will come," the newspaper reported.

But he said the timing depends on "God's wish," the Ming Pao Daily reported, quoting Hong Kong Catholic Diocese vicar the Rev. Dominic Chan.

(Also click here and here for more.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

First Catholic Lecturer at Oxford Since the Reformation

Catholics and Protestants are collaborating in truly unprecedented ways. While the important doctrinal differences should not be ignored, we are finding more common ground than ever before.

Take for example the latest news story: Catholic theologian, Aidan Nichols (see picture to the right), has been appointed to give a series of lectures on Catholic theology at Oxford. This is the first time that a Catholic has been invited for a lectureship there since the Reformation!
Nichols is a Domican theologian who has written extensively on many topics, with a particular focus on the liturgy.

This story comes on the heels of the discussion concerning the firing of a Wheaton professor -- Joshua Hochschild -- who converted to Catholicism. For those who don't know, Wheaton is a Protestant school. Of course, I am not upset about this at all -- Protestant schools have every right to preserve their tradition. In fact, I wish more Catholic Universities would be concerned with preserving their Catholic identity. Does anyone even know that Georgetown or University of San Diego are Catholic schools? Nonetheless, this episode has once again opened up the discussion concerning the relationship between Catholics and Protestants.

For an especially interesting perspective check out the article written by Alan Jacobs, another professor at Wheaton, which ran in First Things and is now up over at Scot McKnight's website. Also be sure to check out some of the comments!

As a person who has spent the bulk of his educational career as a Catholic studying at Protestant schools I can testify to the invigorating effect such collaboration has had on my own understanding of Catholicism. I have had the pleasure of working under men who are both brilliant scholars and wonderful examples of faith: Colin Brown, John Goldingay, Alan Padgett, Steve Wilkins, David Scholer, to name just a few. It has been my great privilege to work with scholars who see their academic work as an extension of their spiritual life - who see prayer and study as inextricably united. I am forever grateful for the influence these men have had on my life and on my thought. The long hours I spent talking with Padgett about MacIntyre's response to the postmodern situation had a lasting impact on my work. Colin Brown is a scholar's scholar who has a bibliographic knowledge that is truly staggering. I'll never forget the day he quoted from the Second Vatican Council's decree on Scripture - in Latin. "Am I really at a Protestant school?," I wondered.

I could go on and on.

The two most fruitful areas of Ecumenical dialogue seem to me to be Scripture and Liturgy. Would that Catholics burned with the same zeal for Scripture study non-Catholics have. After all, the Church has an extremely high view of Scripture -- as Ratzinger once said, "dogma is nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture."

At the same time, I think the Catholic focus on the importance of liturgy has a lot to offer to non-Catholics. Particularly ignored is the liturgical dimension of Scripture itself. For a great Catholic treatment on that I HIGHLY recommend Scott Hahn's latest: Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word (2005).

Let us pray with ever increasing hope that Christ's prayer will be realized: "that they may be one" (John 17:11).

(For an amazing collection of scholarly articles written on Scripture study written by Catholics, Protestants and non-Christian scholars, check out the Saint Paul Center's on-line Resource Library.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Linked with the Saint Paul Center!!!

Starting today the Saint Paul Center is linking to this blog from its main page. I am so grateful for this honor. As I've said many times on this site, nothing excites me as much as the work of the Saint Paul Center.

The Saint Paul Center is a non-profit organization founded by Scott Hahn. Here's the description of the Center's goal from the official website:

The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology is a non-profit research and educational institute that promotes life-transforming Scripture study in the Catholic tradition. The Center serves clergy and laity, students and scholars, with research and study tools — from books and publications to
multimedia and on-line programming.

Our goal is to be a teacher of teachers. We want to raise up a new generation of priests who are fluent in the Bible and lay people who are biblically literate. For us, this means more than helping people to know their way around the Bible. It means equipping them to enter into the heart of the living Word of God and to be transformed and renewed by this encounter.

We read the Bible from the heart of the Church, in light of the
Church’s Liturgy and living Tradition. In this way, we hope to help people experience the heart-to-heart encounter that Jesus’ disciples experienced on that first Easter night, when they knew Him in the breaking of the bread: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us...while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (see Luke 24:13-37 )

The Center produces materials for people studying the bible at all levels -- beginner, intermediate and advanced. One of my favorite projects is the new academic journal, Letter and Spirit. The inaugural issue contains articles from Robert Wilkens, Scott Hahn, and many others. The article by Brant Pitre alone is worth the price of the journal - "The 'Ransom for Many,' the New Exodus, and the End of the Exile: Redemption as the Restoration of All Israel (Mark 10:35-45)."

The Center is also producing mutli-media parish bible study programs. Each bible study comes with visual aids, a presenter's guide and student notes. A fully animated and beatifully illustrated Power Point program is the default visual aid - though other options are available.

I should also mention the on-line courses which are totally free and available at the website. Courses are available for students at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. You can begin them at any time (there is no quarter/semester system).

I encourage you to explore the site, which is a veritable wealth of resources: I've only just begun to describe what the Center is up to these days.

Revelation & Ezekiel

One of the reasons the Apocalypse is so confusing to people is that it assumes that its readers know a good bit of the Old Testament. One book that Revelation especially draws from is Ezekiel. David Chilton lays out the following parallels:

1. The Throne-Vision (Rev. 4 / Ezek. 1)
2. The Book (Rev. 5 / Ezek. 2-3)
3. The Flour Plagues (Rev. 6:1-8 / Ezek. 5)
4. The Slain under the Altar (Rev. 6:9-11 / Ezek. 6)
5. The Wrath of God (Rev. 6:12-17 / Ezek. 7)
6. The Seal on the Saint’s Foreheads (Rev. 7 / Ezek. 9)
7. The Coals from the Altar (Rev. 8 / Ezek. 10)
8. No More Delay (Rev. 10:1-7 / Ezek. 12)
9. The Eating of the Book (Rev. 10:8-11 / Ezek. 2)
10. The Measuring of the Temple (Rev. 11:1-2 / Ezek. 40-43)
11. Jerusalem and Sodom (Rev. 11:8 / Ezek. 16)
12. The Cup of Wrath (Rev. 14 / Ezek. 23)
13. The Vine of the Land (Rev. 14:18-20 / Ezek. 15)
14. The Great Harlot (Rev. 17-18 / Ezek. 16, 23)
15. The Lament over the City (Rev. 18 / Ezek. 27)
16. The Scavengers’ Feast (Rev. 19 / Ezek. 39)
17. The First Resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6 / Ezek. 37)
18. The Battle with Gog and Magog (Rev. 20:7-9 / Ezek 38-39)
19. The New Jerusalem (Rev. 21 / Ezek. 40-48)
20. The River of Life (Rev. 22 / Ezek. 47)[1]

Not only does the Apocalypse share many of the images found in Ezekiel, the sequence of these images itself is quite similar in both books.
[1] David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 21.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Benedict on the Dynamism of Faith

In a question and answer session with clergy, Pope Benedict was asked about a question about faith. The person asking the question seemed pretty nervous and didn't formulate his question well. This Pope, however, rarely has that problem. Here's what he had to say:


"If I have understood it correctly, but I am not sure if I have, it was: "How do we acquire a living faith, a truly Catholic faith, a faith that is practical, lively and effective?"

Faith, ultimately, is a gift. Consequently, the first condition is to let ourselves be given something, not to be self-sufficient or do everything by ourselves -- because we cannot -- but to open ourselves in the awareness that the Lord truly gives.

It seems to me that this gesture of openness is also the first gesture of prayer: being open to the Lord's presence and to his gift. This is also the first step in receiving something that we do not have, that we cannot have with the intention of acquiring it all on our own.

We must make this gesture of openness, of prayer -- give me faith, Lord! -- with our whole being. We must enter into this willingness to accept the gift and let ourselves, our thoughts, our affections and our will, be completely immersed in this gift.

Here, I think it is very important to stress one essential point: No one believes purely on his own. We always believe in and with the Church. The Creed is always a shared act, it means letting ourselves be incorporated into a communion of progress, life, words and thought.

We do not "have" faith, in the sense that it is primarily God who gives it to us. Nor do we "have" it either, in the sense that it must not be invented by us. We must let ourselves fall, so to speak, into the communion of faith, of the Church. Believing is in itself a Catholic act. It is participation in this great certainty, which is present in the Church as a living subject.

Only in this way can we also understand sacred Scripture in the diversity of an interpretation that develops for thousands of years. It is a Scripture because it is an element, an expression of the unique subject -- the People of God -- which on its pilgrimage is always the same subject. Of course, it is a subject that does not speak of itself, but is created by God -- the classical expression is "inspired" -- a subject that receives, then translates and communicates this word. This synergy is very important.

We know that the Koran, according to the Islamic faith, is a word given verbally by God without human mediation. The Prophet is not involved. He only wrote it down and passed it on. It is the pure Word of God.

Whereas for us, God enters into communion with us, he allows us to cooperate, he creates this subject and in this subject his word grows and develops. This human part is essential and also gives us the possibility of seeing how the individual words really become God's Word only in the unity of Scripture as a whole in the living subject of the People of God.

Therefore, the first element is the gift of God; the second is the sharing in faith of the pilgrim people, the communication in the holy Church, which for her part receives the Word of God which is the Body of Christ, brought to life by the living Word, the divine Logos.

Day after day, we must deepen our communion with the holy Church and thus, with the Word of God. They are not two opposite things, so that I can say: I am pro-Church or I am pro-God's Word. Only when we are united in the Church, do we belong to the Church, do we become members of the Church, do we live by the Word of God which is the life-giving force of the Church. And those who live by the Word of God can only live it because it is alive and vital in the living Church."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Myth of Secular Objectivity

Alan Bandy has been conducting a series of interviews with well known biblical scholars on his increasingly popular website. In the most recent interview, Andreas Köstenberger says, “I think it is ironic that the people you call ‘secular’ biblical scholars look askance at ‘faith-driven’ scholars and accuse them of bias. In my view, it is the other way around…” Köstenberger here sounds a theme that runs throughout the various interviews, namely, that scholars who criticize work done from the perspective of faith as unbiased are oftentimes no less objective themselves.

Craig Evans writes:

“[S]ecular scholars are themselves often guided by personal beliefs and agenda that interfere with critical thinking, just as surely as in the case of Christians (or Jews, or Muslims, etc.). Some of the silliest ‘left-wing fundamentalism’ that I have ever encountered comes from former fundamentalists, who have given up faith and now have an ax to grind. In their minds skepticism becomes criticism. But skepticism is often no more critical or informed than naive conservatism."
(I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Evans in Philadelphia last year. He emphasized this same point in our conversation.)

Mark Goodacre also writes:

“I think that there is sometimes a missionary zeal about that kind of secular perspective that runs the risk of becoming unscholarly. I tend to think of that as an equal danger to an uncritical conservative perspective and it illustrates the importance of the scholarly task as a communal task, a democratic discipline, in which -- to repeat -- the key things are publicly available evidence and publicly coherent arguments.”
What is noteworthy to me is that it seems that the only scholar who didn’t talk about the role personal bias plays in his scholarship was James Crossley, who identifies himself as a “secular” scholar.

Dr. Crossley has vigorously defended himself over at his blog. I feel I should offer an apology here. Certainly Dr. Crossley is clear that secular scholarship is not without its own biases, which I think I implied in my comments. Although he doesn't talk about the role his own specific biases play in his work, he is very clear that faith plays an important role in scholarship and that "secular" scholarship has its own issues to confront. Clearly he does not equate secular scholarship with pure objectivity. Dr. Crossley stated:

Personal faith has an important role to play in scholarship as does just about any perspective... I often find that a desire to show the historicity of this or that gospel passage can prove particularly useful and an important counter to the more ‘radical’ views.

I don’t think a secular approach is inherently superior to any other approach but like evangelical perspectives it offers new ways of looking at the history and the texts. It too would offer new questions which would (hopefully) have to be answered. My own particular hope is that more and more secular types could provoke differing ways of looking at history such as a more causal based explanation for the emergence of Christianity rather than explanations grounded in description or history of ideas."

Read Dr. Crossley's full explanation of his views here.

I hope Dr. Crossley will accept my apology and recognize that I in no way mean him any ill-will. I certainly was not implying that he is one of those scholars with an ax to grind that Evans talks about. I deeply regret making the comments I made above. I am extremely grateful that he has contributed to Bandy's website and greatly appreciate his work and his willingness to collaborate with scholars with a faith perspective. I especially look forward to reading the book he is about to publish with Michael Bird.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Making Time For Worship: Understanding Liturgical Seasons (Part 6)

(Be sure to read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.)

by Michael Barber © 2006

Because it’s been a while since I discussed the feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkoth), let me refresh your memory. The feast coincided with the harvest of grapes and olives. As with the feast of Pentecost, another harvest time festival, the ingathering of the first fruits became a symbol for the hope of the future “ingathering” of Israel.

The feast was also associated with the temple. This is probably due to two reasons. First, the feast occurred in the seven month, the same time Solomon had dedicated the temple (cf. 2 Kgs 8:2; 2 Chr 7). Second, the feast was closely associated with the Day of Atonement—a feast that was especially focused on temple rituals—which took place only five days prior to it.

The book of Zechariah seems to bring together these elements. There we read about the ingathering of God’s eschatological people in the holy city of Jerusalem. This future ingathering is described as taking place during Sukkoth (Zech 14:16-21).The feast’s signature image, the “booths,” served two purposes. Harvesters in the fields used the booths for protection from the elements. Yet, the booths also had a religious significance, functioning as a reminder of Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness.Rabbinic tradition preserves reports of the specific rituals carried out during the feast. One ritual involved the Levites taking water from the pool of Siloam, carrying it into the temple and pouring it out as a libation to the Lord. It seems as though this ritual may have been understood as a reminder of the water which flowed from the rock Israel drank from in the wilderness. The water was also associated with the temple. In fact, Ezekiel described a renewed temple, which itself would be the source of flowing water (cf. Ezek 47:1-12).

Another ritual involved the lighting of candles in the temple. This rite signified the people’s celebration and renewed commitment to remembering the presence of the Lord in the temple. The burning flames served as a reminder of the glory-cloud of the Lord.

"He Tabernacled Among Us"
From the outset, the fourth Gospel reveals Jesus’ role as the true tabernacle and temple of the Lord. In John 1, Jesus is described as the Word who “dwelt among us” (1:14). In Greek, the verb can literally be translated as “he tabernacled.” As God “tabernacled” with Israel, so in Jesus God is “tabernacling” among his people again. In fact, the word was used not only in association with God dwelling in the tabernacle, but also in connection with the Lord’s “dwelling” in the temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:13). In the next chapter, Jesus is described not only as the tabernacle of the Lord, but also as the true temple of the Lord (John 2:13-22).

Since Jesus was the true temple, it is no surprise to find him present in Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2ff.). In John 7:37-39 we read,

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive…”
Jesus seems to be drawing on new temple imagery—as Ezekiel saw waters flowing from the new temple, so the Spirit will flow from him, the true temple. The imagery here seems to be linked with what we find in John 19 where we read about Jesus giving forth his Spirit in death and water (and blood) flowing out of his heart from his pierced side.

In John 8, we have another possible reference to an image associated with Sukkoth. There Jesus describes himself as “the light of the world” (8:12). Given the larger context of the feast of Tabernalces, Jesus may be alluding here to the ritual of lighting the candelabra in the temple.

Interestingly, the next chapter takes place at the pool of Siloam—the place where the water ritual began. There Jesus heals a man who had been cast out of the earthly temple. But he is restored in Christ, the true temple. The old temple has been surpassed; the eschatological temple has arrived. In all of this we are meant to see that the focal point of the restoration of Israel is not a physical location—it’s the person of Christ.[1]

To be continued...

[1] For more on the temple themes in John see P. W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 163-75; James McCaffrey, The House with Many Rooms: The Temple Theme of Jn. 14,2-3. Analecta Biblica 114. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1988.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dead Sea Scroll Discovery: New Fragment Found!

Once again, the Dead Sea area has yielded a significant discovery. After all this time and all the searching you'd think the well would have dried up. Not so. Israel Today is reporting that two fragments made of animal skins containing the text of Levitucs 23:38-39 and 23:34-44 were placed in the hands of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The text was written in ancient Hebrew and dates to the period of the Bar-Kochba revolt of the second century A.D. Like many of the scrolls found, the story of the discovery itself is fascinating.

About a year ago, Professor Chanan Eshel, an archaeologist at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, was summoned to an abandoned police station near the Dead Sea for a clandestine meeting with a Bedouin Arab. After explaining that he’d been offered $20,000 on the black market, the man asked Eshel to evaluate the fragments. It would be hard to describe the emotions that surged through the professor’s heart as he examined the skins. “I was jealous that he had found them instead of me,” said Eshel, who has worked in the Judean Desert for nearly 20 years. “I was also very excited, though I didn’t believe I would ever see them again.” Months later, after learning that the fragments had not left the country, Eshel bought them with $3,000 provided by Bar Ilan. The skins were turned over to the IAA, which is now testing them for authenticity. They are the 15th find in this area and date to the Second Revolt against the Romans under Bar-Kochba.

Such a find makes it hard to imagine that there aren't still undiscovered fragments out there.

Which got me thinking of other documents people are hoping to find:

- I know a lot of people who are holding out for that discovery of "Q".

- Dominic Crossan would really like to see that copy of the Secret Gospel of Mark

- Raymond Brown would have liked to have seen a copy of John's Gospel signed by a committee

- B. H. Streeter could have used a finding of "M"

- A number of scholars would like to see a copy of Hebrews signed "by Priscilla"

- J. Massyngberde Ford held out for a copy of the Apocalypse signed "by John the Baptist"

- Bart Ehrman is hoping they NEVER find an earlier copy of John with John 8

- John Allegro would have appreciated finding a fragment entitled 4QTimLeary

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required?

From Thomas' Introduction in the Summa Theologica:

Whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required?
Objection 1. It seems that, besides philosophical science, we have no need of any further knowledge. For man should not seek to know what is above reason: "Seek not the things that are too high for thee" (Sirach 3:22). But whatever is not above reason is fully treated of in philosophical science. Therefore any other knowledge besides philosophical science is superfluous.
Objection 2. Further, knowledge can be concerned only with being, for nothing can be known, save what is true; and all that is, is true. But everything that is, is treated of in philosophical science--even God Himself; so that there is a part of philosophy called theology, or the divine science, as Aristotle has proved (Metaph. vi). Therefore, besides philosophical science, there is no need of any further knowledge.
On the contrary, It is written (2 Timothy 3:16): "All Scripture, inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice." Now Scripture, inspired of God, is no part of philosophical science, which has been built up by human reason. Therefore it is useful that besides philosophical science, there should be other knowledge, i.e. inspired of God.
I answer that, It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: "The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee" (Isaiah 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.
Reply to Objection 1. Although those things which are beyond man's knowledge may not be sought for by man through his reason, nevertheless, once they are revealed by God, they must be accepted by faith. Hence the sacred text continues, "For many things are shown to thee above the understanding of man" (Sirach 3:25). And in this, the sacred science consists.
Reply to Objection 2. Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself. Hence there is no reason why those things which may be learned from philosophical science, so far as they can be known by natural reason, may not also be taught us by another science so far as they fall within revelation. Hence theology included in sacred doctrine differs in kind from that theology which is part of philosophy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Pope Benedict: Healing Wounds to Christian Unity

Anyone following Pope Benedict's papacy has heard about his attempts to heal the split with the schismatic traditionalist group, Society of Pius X. That split took place in the 20th century. But Benedict is now reaching out to reconcile with a much older schismatic group.

In the fourth century, a certain group of Christians broke away from the Catholic Church after the Council of Chalcedon declared Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. This split was the origin of the Oriental Orthodoxy. The theological differences were resolved under the papacy of John Paul II - now Benedict wants to bring them back into full communion. Vatican Watcher has more on the story.

Making Time For Worship: Understanding Liturgical Seasons (Part 5): The Day of Atonement

Michael Barber © 2006

(Be sure to read Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.)
When one thinks of the New Testament and the feast of the Day of Atonement, one immediately thinks of Hebrews. As is well known, the book draws heavily on Day of Atonement imagery. However, to properly understand how Christ's self-offering fulfills the Old Testament cult, it is first incumbent upon us to discuss the function and purpose of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Therefore, this essay will first consider the role and meaning of the sacrificial code given to Israel. The second half of this essay will deal with the presentation in Hebrews of Christ’s role as heavenly high priest.

Why Sacrifice Animals?
Why did God command Israel to offer cattle, sheep and goats as sacrificial animals? The answer lies in the inner logic of the narrative of Exodus—namely, that those were the animals the Egyptians worshipped. The story of the Exodus is not simply about political liberation, it is the story of God’s attempt to rescue his people from spiritual slavery to the gods of Egypt.

It is important to keep in mind that the initial request Moses and Aaron were to make of Pharaoh did not involve permanent liberation: “The God of the Hebrews has met with us and now, we pray you, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Exod 3:18). When Pharaoh later asks why Israel cannot simply make their sacrifice to the Lord in the land of Egypt Moses explains:

“It would not be right to do so; for we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God offerings abominable to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians, before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exod 8:26).
In other words, Israel was to offer to the Lord the very animals the Egyptians worshipped.

Israel had to reject the gods of Egypt and turn to the Lord.[1] A canonical reading of the story reveals that the sin of the golden calf was a return to the practice of idolatry; this was not the first time the Israelites worshipped the gods of the Egyptians. This seems clear from the narrative of Exodus 32 itself, which describes Aaron’s knowledge of the practice of forging graven images (cf. 32:2-5).[2] In fact, Ezekiel 20:8 reveals that Israel had attached themselves to these gods during their time of bondage in Egypt. Thus the book of Exodus describes the Lord God bringing judgment on not only Pharaoh, but specifically the gods of Egypt. In Exodus 12 we read, “I will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment” (Ex. 12:12). The plagues sent in Exodus are likewise understood by scholars as judgments upon the Egyptian deities (the Nile turning to blood as a judgment on the god of the Nile, etc.). When God ratifies his covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, therefore, it is no surprise what Israel is called to sacrifice: the gods of the Egyptians (Exod 24:5).

When Israel worshipped the golden calf in Exodus 32 it became clear that while Moses could lead Israel out of Egypt, it would be a much more difficult project to take the “Egypt” out of Israel. Israel had returned to the gods of Egypt, under Aaron’s leadership: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exod 32:4). This sin results in a dramatic changes in Israel’s cult.

First and perhaps most obvious is the institution of the Levitical priesthood. Prior to the golden calf, Israel was called to be a nation of priests (Exod 19:6). It seems that before Levitical system, the first born sons served as ministers in Israel. However, after Exodus 32 that privilege was given solely to the Levites. [3] Second, as Thomas Aquinas (and many other ancient Jewish and later Christian writers) points out, regular animal sacrifice is mandated for the first time only after Israel worships the calf in Exodus 32.[4] The sacrifices were given to Israel to remind them of their sin and to prevent them from returning to pagan worship. This is especially seen in the rites prescribed for the Day of Atonement.

Just as Aaron had led the people in the worship of the calf, on the Day of Atonement, Aaron and, later, his descendent the high priest, would lead Israel in repentance. On that day Aaron (or the high priest) would go into the holiest place in the sanctuary—the Holy of Holies, separated by a veil—having undergone preparations and having offered two sacrifices, a bull and a goat. The bull sacrifice is made for himself: “And Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house” (Lev 16:11). In this Aaron made atonement for his involvement in the sin of the calf. In addition, he was to carry in coals of incense from the altar.

After Aaron made atonement for himself, he was then ready to make the second offering, which was for the people (cf. Lev 16:15-16). He was also to confess the sins of the people over a second goat, who would be sent out into the wilderness (Lev 16:20-22). Having completed his work, he was to undergo a ritual bathing, leaving his priestly garments in the Holy Place (Lev 16:23-24).

The reason for the sacrificial system, therefore, was related to the sin(s) of idolatry. Israel worshipped cattle, sheep and goats; Israel would sacrifice cattle, sheep and goats. Aaron led Israel in idolatry; Aaron will thus be responsible for leading Israel in repentance—acknowledging his own sin first and then making atonement for the people.

Sacrifice and Covenant Oath Swearing
In the ancient world, a major part of covenant oath swearing was self-maledictory cursing. In placing oneself under a covenant, one often acted out the curses attached to it. Moshe Weinfield writes:

“Thus for example, in the oath of the Hittite soldiers wax is melted to illustrate the melting of an infringer of the treaty. . . barley is ground while threats are made that this is how the treaty-breaker’s bones are to be ground… a blind and a deaf man are brought and threats are made that this will be the fate
of the infringer, and so on.”[5]

Other kinds of ritual acts might also accompany the oath, such as placing the hand under the partner’s thigh, mixing blood, and dipping weapons in blood.[6]

Sacrifice was understood within this self-maledictory context. In the animal sacrifice, the covenant makers say in essence: “If I fail to uphold this covenant let me die like this animal.” [7] This sheds greater light on the covenant ratification ceremony in Exodus 24, where Moses takes the blood of the sacrifice and throws it on the people. After the people promise to be obedient, they “wear” the blood of the sacrifice (Exod 24:7-8) as a sign of self-cursing. In effect, “wearing the blood” signifies that people are proclaiming: “if we break this covenant let us die like these animals.”

When Israel breaks the covenant by worshipping the golden calf, they trigger the covenant curse of death: “And the Lord said to Moses… ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them…’” (Exod 32:9-10).[8] In this case, what ultimately saves Israel is Moses’ reminder of God’s previous covenant oath to Abraham:

“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, they servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendents, and they shall inherit it forever” (Exod 32:13).
The previous oath of Yahweh preserved Israel from destruction; yet things would not go back to normal. Israel would no longer be a nation of priests. A death was required, and as Hebrews explains, that death-curse was borne by Christ.

Christ as Heavenly High Priest in Hebrews
The book of Hebrews is a densely packed theological argument. Here we cannot go into deep detail. We will simply offer a brief overview. Our focus here will be to emphasize Christ’s role as high priest and as atoning sacrifice.[9]

In chapter one, the author of Hebrews describes the enthronement of Christ the firstborn Son of God as Priest King. The chapter begins with the proclamation that Christ has “made purification for sins” having, “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3). This seems like a reference to Psalm 110. In fact, the chapter concludes with a citation from Psalm 110, “Sit at my right hand” (Psalm 110:2). Significantly, Psalm 110 goes on to describe the Davidic king as a “priest like Melchizedek” (1:4)—a theme that dominates the rest of the book.

In chapters two through six, we read that it was necessary that Jesus partook in human nature, so that he might be “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17). Hebrews 4:14-16, states:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize without our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The term “draw near” was the term used in Leviticus and in other places in the OT for Israel’s liturgical act of approaching the Lord in the sanctuary (Lev 9:5, 7; Deut 4:11, etc.). Here Christ, the heavenly high priests, leads believers into the true holy of holies.

Chapter six closes by emphasizing Jesus’ role as a priest like Melchizedek,

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (6:19-20).
The psalm which was hinted at in chapter one is now fleshed out in greater detail.

Chapter seven describes the superiority of Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood to that of the Levites’. As mentioned earlier, Psalm 110 referred to the Davidide as a “priest like Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). In the second temple period, this psalm was read as a description not simply of past Davidic kings but as a description of a coming eschatological messianic figure (cf. 11QMel). The author of Hebrews argues that since Psalm 110 describes another priesthood—not the Levitical priest—the Levitical priesthood was transitory.

“If perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron” (Heb 7:11)
In other words, since the psalm—written long after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood—mentions another priesthood, it is clear that the Levitical system was only penultimate. It would eventually be surpassed. This has finally taken place in Christ.

The author goes on to describe the way Christ has brought about forgiveness of sins, fulfilling the promise of Jeremiah: “The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… I will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:8, 12). Of course, this passage is also used by Christ at the Last Super: “This is cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20; cf. 1 Cor 10:25).

The ultimate sacrifice was made by the Lord Jesus. He has entered into the true sanctuary, the heavenly sanctuary—of which the earthly was only a copy, a “shadow” (Heb 8:5). The earthly Levitical sacrifices were unable to take away sins—they were only a shadow of what was to come (Heb 10:1-4). The Levitical sacrifices were unable to “perfect the conscience of the worshipper” (Heb 9:9-10). Christ has borne the curse of death triggered by the sin of Israel (Heb 9:15-22). Whereas the Levitical sacrifices had to be made over and over again and the Day of Atonement rites had to be repeated annually, Christ is sacrificed once and for all:

“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:11-12; cf. also 9:28).
It is noteworthy here that the author cites once again from Psalm 110: “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool” (Ps 110:1).

Christ’s offering fulfills what the Day of Atonement foreshadowed:

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, ad since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:19-22).
Notice here how Christians are described as having been purified with a ritual washing—an image drawn from the high priest’s preparation for service on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev 16:4). This seems to be a reference to baptism.[10]

Eucharistic Offering
The book of Hebrews associates the Christian practice of meeting together (presumably for worship) with the "sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:26). Here the liturgical celebration is linked with Christ's sacrificial offering. In fact, though the Eucharist is not explicitly mentioned, there are some possible traces of Eucharistic motifs.[11]

For one thing, though the author of Hebrews depicts Christ as acting as the high priest on the Day of Atonement, his priesthood is consistently said to be not a Levitical priesthood but, rather, Melchizedekian. Significantly, Melchizedek’s sacrifice was not an animal but “bread and wine” (Gen 14:19)—the Eucharistic elements. Likewise, the final reconciliation wrought by Christ is described in terms of Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy, which the early Church associated with Christ’s institution of the Eucharist (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 10:25).

Finally, at the end of the book we read: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat” (Heb 13:10). This seems to be an allusion to the Eucharistic celebration. Furthermore, the author then goes on to describe a “sacrifice of praise,” which seems to be an allusion to the todah offering. This offering also was associated with the sacrifice of bread and the drinking of wine.[12] But we will discuss the todah in a future essay…
(Read Part 6.)
[1] This is more difficult than it sounds. The worship of these gods (and other pagan deities) apparently involved sexual immorality (cf. Exod 32:6, 25; Num 25:2, 6-9). A liturgical trade up for the cult of Yahweh meant the renunciation of this kind of sexual practice—a habit hard to break.
[2] In 32:2-5 Aaron takes charge of the situation, commanding the people to give their jewelry for the god-building project, fashioning the molten image himself with a “graving tool” and erecting an altar to it (Exod 32:5). He even proclaims, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” However, later, Aaron downplays his role, explaining to Moses how the golden calf appeared almost miraculously: “I threw [the jewelry] into the fire and there came out this calf” (Exod 32:24).
[3] Specifically, it seems that the first born sons of Israel were identified with the role of priests. The Levites seem to replace them. See for example, Numbers 3:44-45. See Jacob Milgron, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (New York: The Jewish Publication Society), 17-18: “Thus the Bible may be preserving a memory of the first-born bearing sacred status; his replacement by the Levites may reflect the establishment of a professional, inherited priestly class” (p. 18).
[4] ST IIa, 102, 3. For further analysis see, Steven Benin, The Footprints of God. New York: New York University Press, 1993.
[5] Moshe Weinfeld, “The Loyalty Oath in the Ancient Near East.” UF 8 (1976): 379-414.
[6] Earnest Crawley, Oath, Curse, and Blessing (London: Watts & Co., 1934), 58-59.
[7] Kalluveettil shows how the Hebrew word berît is used to describe a marriage. Paul Kalluveettil, Declaration and Covenant (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1982) 14.
[8] Another clear example of this kind of covenant failure is Ezekiel 17:12-19, which describes the way the king of Babylon triggered the covenant curse of death.
[9] The presentation here is heavily influenced by Scott Hahn’s analysis in Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1995; also see “A Broken Covenant and the Curse of Death,” CBQ 66 (2004): 416-436.
[10] The language here is quite similar to that of 1 Peter 3:21, which links baptism with purifying the conscience of the believer.
[11] Indeed, many have argued that the subtlety of the author’s treatment may reflect the arcane disciplina. For a full treatment of Eucharistic themes see Darrell J. Pursiful, The Cultic Motif in the Spirituality in the Book of Hebrews. Lewiston, NY: Mellen Biblical Press, 1993. Also see Hahn, Kinship by Covenant, 622-30.
[12] See James Swetnam, “The Crux at Hebrews 5, 7-8,” Biblica 81 (2000): 354-61.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Jesus and Messianic Credentials of His Day

One of the most obvious parallels between Messianism in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the presentation of Jesus in Gospels is the common usage of Isaiah 61. 4Q521 describes what the Messiah will accomplish:

“[…For the he]avens and the earth shall listen to His Messiah [and all w]hich is in them shall not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones… He will honor the pious upon the th[ro]ne of his eternal Kingdom, release the captives,
open the eyes of the blind, lifting up those who are op[pressed]… And for [ev]er I shall hold fast [to] the [ho]peful and pious […] shall not be delayed […] and the Lord shall do glorious things which have not been done, just as He said. For He shall heal the critcally wounded, He shall raise the dead, He shall bring good news to the poor, He shall […], He shall lead the [ho]ly ones, and the hungry He shall enrich.”[1]
(The expression “healing the critically wounded,” appears to be a reference to resurrection from the dead.) This passage has obvious parallels with Matt 11:4-6 (cf. Luke 4:18-19):

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another? And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them…”
Jesus appears to be describing the commonly accepted credentials of the Messiah. Interestingly, one of the few items not mentioned by Jesus in Matthew is the release of prisoners, something the imprisoned John would probably have been eager to hear.

[1] Cited from James VanderKam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002), 333.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Gospel of Judas Iscariot?

I know everyone out there is getting all involved with critiquing The Davinci Code. But there’s something else that’s coming down the pike you ought to know about. National Geographic is about to publish The Gospel of Judas Iscariot—an ancient manuscript of this book just resurfaced in Egypt. They are going to be doing wall-to-wall coverage on this; publishing a book, promoting it in their magazine and even filming a documentary about it. Is it written by Jesus’ betrayer? Does it disprove the accounts of Jesus found in the four canonical Gospels? The headlines are already popping up: Gospel of Judas Has Church Leaders worried. Church leaders are said to be worried because, it is alleged, the book is going to somehow destroy Christianity.

Now, this is really timely isn’t it? Isn’t it an amazing coincidence that this book is going to be published just as The Davinci Code movie hits the big screen? An amazing coincidence, right? Of course, this is no coincidence—this is about business. The Davinci Code "reveals" that the biblical gospels are actually distortions of the original teaching of Jesus. His true message is contained in other books not found in the bible – books like the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Philip. Here we have yet another. Clearly this release is trying to ride the wave of The Davinci Code.

Now some of my non-academic readers may be unfamiliar with the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. These books may sound new to you but they are really not new at all. They go back to the second and third century (at the earliest)—which, of course, means that they were absolutely not written by Thomas, Philip, or, in the most recent case, Judas. They were a product of a group condemned as heretics called “Gnostics.” "Gnostic" comes from the word for “knowledge.” The idea was that they had the secret knowledge about the world. What did they claim to know? Gnostics believed that the physical world was evil—only the spirit is good. They believed, in fact, that the world was not created by the God of the New Testament—it was created by a lower god, an evil god. Since matter and the flesh are evil, Jesus did not truly become a man. He could not do such a thing; that would be beneath him. According to one incarnation (pardon the pun) of this heresy, the Son of God only appeared to die on the cross. The heresy took different forms—but that’s the gist of it. These gospels were written to support this idea of who Jesus was.

By the way, if you read The Davinci Code, you’ll actually find that Dan Brown, the author, doesn’t really understand what Gnosticism was all about. Brown makes it sound like Gnosticism was concerned with denying the deity of Jesus—it wasn’t; if anything, the Gnostics stressed the “spirituality” of Jesus to the neglect of his humanity. But that’s just another example of why that book has no historical credibility whatsoever.

Anyway, like I said, the Gospel of Judas is one of these Gnostic gospels. The great early Church writer, Saint Irenaeus, mentions it in one of his writings. He writes in Against Heresis 1.31.1: “[Judas] alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They [the heretic] produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”

This gospel was rejected so vehemently, it quickly disappeared—copies of it were not made. That explains why people got all excited a couple of decades ago when an ancient copy of the book resurfaced in Egypt. Actually, it resurfaced and then was stolen from its rightful owners. In fact, that’s the dirty little secret behind this whole story. Before any scholars could look at it, the ancient manuscript was sold unlawfully. As far as I know, National Geographic—who is publishing this book—has made no protest to this charge. They apparently are fully aware that it was stolen from Egypt.

In addition, the document has only been viewed by a handful of people. It seems that only scholars who agree with the motives of those publishing it have had a chance to look at it.

Clearly, there are a lot of problems here.

So, aside from the extremist authors who will appear on television to support the Gospel of Judas—most respected scholars are simply dismissing its relevance to the discussion of the historical Jesus. In fact, USA Today and other newspapers have already run stories that this gospel is being rejected by many biblical experts. Here’s a story from ABC NEWS:

“An expert on ancient Egyptian texts is predicting that the ‘Gospel of Judas’ a manuscript from early Christian times that's nearing release amid widespread interest from scholars will be a dud in terms of learning anything new about Judas.

James M. Robinson, America's leading expert on such ancient religious texts from Egypt, predicts in a new book that the text won't offer any insights into the disciple who betrayed Jesus. His reason: While it's old, it's not old enough.

‘Does it go back to Judas? No,’ Robinson told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The text, in Egypt's Coptic language, dates from the third or fourth century and is a copy of an earlier document.

That’s really the issue. Those, like Dan Brown, who have tried to say that the Gnostic gospels preserve the real message of Jesus, which was corrupted by the biblical books, have got a real problem—it seems as though the biblical books came before the Gnostic books—in most cases, long before them.

The other day, I saw this program on the History Channel that made it sound like Constantine threw these so-called “lost books”—e.g., the Gospel of Thomas—out of the bible in the 4th century. Well, that’s ridiculous—it’s outrageous. Whoever says that is just playing fast and loose with the historical data. The acceptance of the four gospels emerged extremely early on. For example, the Muratorian Fragment, the earliest list of biblical books, which dates to the late second century, speaks of the four gospels. This is also true in Irenaeus’ writings.

Let’s discuss some of the problems with these books. First of all, it is very likely that these books derive their sayings from the biblical sources (or “Q”).[1] Tuckett has made a very convincing case in this matter. For example, the Gospel of Thomas 16 reads:

“Many people think that I have come to throw peace upon the world; and they do not know that I have come to throw division upon the earth, fire sword, war. For there shall be five in a house, three against two and two against three, the father against the son and the son against the father, and they shall stand as solitaries.”
This appears to be a redaction of Luke 12:51, which many scholars view as a redaction of Matt 10:34f. Tuckett lays out a number of other examples.[2]

John Meier also looks at Gospel of Thomas 78, where we have the saying, “Why have you [plural] come out into the countryside? To see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a person dressed in fine apparel [like your] governors and members of court, who wear fine apparel and cannot recognize the truth.” Meier writes,
“In my view this saying is a prime example of why the saying tradition in the Gospel of Thomas often, if not always, seems secondary vis-à-vis the canonical Gospels. The direct historical reference to John the Baptist preaching in the desert is given up in favor of a vague polemic against the rich and powerful of this world, who lack the true knowledge enjoyed by the Gnostic. Likewise, lost is the neat, taut three-step rhetorical structure of question and conterquestion. The fact that a concrete saying about John the Baptist has been recycled to inculcate Gnostic teaching is obvious from the last verse: ‘…and cannot recognize the truth?’”[3]
Thomas also includes verses that are extremely unlikely to have been words of Jesus. In 53, Jesus addresses the issue of circumcision and states that had circumcision been intended by God, males would have been born already circumcised. Here we have a saying attributed to Jesus that would have settled the debate about circumcision in the early church. The earliest Christians were divided over whether or not it was necessary to be circumcised to be a Christian. Some insisted that it was necessary. Paul argued that it was not. If Jesus had really said this it is hard to imagine someone would not have remembered.

Another thing we should point out is that, unlike all of the NT books, the Gnostic gospels hardly ever quote from the OT. In this, the Gnostic Gospels’ later origins are betrayed. It is hard to read these books as products of the second temple Jewish worldview. They fit much better into a later historical context.

Finally, the funniest thing about the way the Gnostic Gospels are presented is that they are often promoted as being pro-feminine. Their advocates say these books were only thrown out because they conflicted with the misogynistic perspective of the authoritative Church. This, of course, is one of the claims of The Davinci Code. But is the Gospel of Thomas pro-feminine: I think not. Listen to the last verse of the gospel (114):

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
Love those pro-feminine gospels.

[1] Mark Goodacre has launched a staunch attack on “Q” that is really worth considering.
[2] Christopher Tuckett, “Thomas and the Synoptics,” Novum Testamentum 30 (1988):132-157.
[3] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 3:205-206 n 115. Also, see James Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 162 n 105. For still more critique, see N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1992), 432-43.

Gerald Wilson's Contribution

Last year we were all deeply saddened by the death of Psalms scholar Gerald Wilson. Wilson unlocked many doors for psalms study and had a major impact on my own study of the book. In fact, having read Wilson I dedicated a major paper to the psalter, which eventually was published as my first book, Singing In The Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God's Kingdom. Below is a short summary of an overview of the structure of the psalms, largely inspired by his work.


Gerald Wilson, a student of Brevard Childs, has made a major contribution to Psalms studies by looking at the canonical shape of the Psalter itself. He discerns a theological shape behind the five book structure of the Psalter. The five books are arranged differently. Books I-III are organized around Davidic royal psalms, which function as “seams.”[1] Books IV-V seem to be organized differently, revolving around psalms of hllwyh-hwdw.[2] Wilson shows how the first three books are concluded with Davidic psalms. Each of these psalms concludes with a benediction including a double amen.

Furthermore, these psalms seem to involve a subtle movement. Wilson traces the rise and fall the of the Davidic kingdom in these seam psalms. Indeed, the first book is entirely composed of Davidic psalms.[3] Despite having no explicit royal themes, Psalm 41 is clearly a Davidic psalm functioning as the conclusion of Book I, containing the double amen doxology.[4] Book II ends with Psalm 72, which has the superscription, “A psalm of Solomon.” The psalm’s interesting post-script, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended,” leads one to conclude that the psalm is meant to be read as a song sung by David “for” Solomon.[5] The psalm is a celebration of the worldwide dominion of the Davidic kingdom and also ends with a benediction concluding with a double “Amen,” as Psalm 41 did.[6] Finally, Psalm 89, concludes Book III. Though the psalmist is not David, the theme of the psalm is clearly the Davidic dynasty. Following the pattern of Psalm 41 and Psalm 72, Psalm 89 ends a double amen benediction.

As David was central in Book I, the shape of Books II-III likewise point to a focus on the Davidic king. Though the books contain psalms ascribed to the priestly sons of Korah and Asaph, a second Davidic collection (51-72) is placed at the center of the arrangement. This organization revolves around David:
Korah 42-49
Asaph 50
David 51-72
Asaph 73-83
Korah 84-87[7]
Thus Books II-III exhibit a clear shaping around the person of David.[8]

Within the shape of the Psalter there is a subtle movement from lament to praise. Furthermore, we might detect a sketch of Israel’s history in the arrangement of the seam psalms. Book I seems to conclude with David’s death.[9] Books II-III seem to recount the rise of the kingdom under Solomon (Psalm 72) and the eventual defeat of the Davidic king, leading to the exile. Psalm 89 seems to describe the failure of God’s promises to David.

Wilson goes on to describe the Mosaic imagery and the regal images of God found in Book IV as a response to the crisis is exile: God is king and always has been—even long before the Monarchy was established.[10] In addition, the Exodus themes of Book IV can be interpreted as reflecting the hope for a New Exodus, in which God will once again deliver his people from foreign oppression.[11] Thus, after the the exile is described in Psalm 89, the psalter then turns to the hope of restoration. In fact, Book IV concludes with a summary of salvation history, from creation up to the restoration (Ps 104-106). Finally, the dominance of praise and rejoicing in Book V may be understood in relation to the fulfillment of restoration hopes. Indeed, the first psalm of book five seems to underscore restoration themes.[12]
[1] Gerald Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms At The ‘Seams’ of the Hebrew Psalter,” JSOT 35 (1986): 87-88.
[2] Gerald Wilson, “Evidence of Editorial Divisions In The Hebrew Psalter,” Vetus Testamentum 3 (1984), 349-352.
[3] All of the superscriptions in Book I attribute the Psalms to David. In the LXX every single Psalm has a Davidic superscription. However, in the MT Psalms 10 and 33 have no heading at all. It should be noted that in the LXX, Psalm 10 (in the MT), is part of the previous Psalm, while the LXX version of MT 33 is ascribed to David. Wilson argues that a Psalm with no superscription is meant to indicate its link with the Psalm prior to it. Wilson, “Editorial Divisions,” 338: “In the first three books of the Psalter there are only four psalms which are completely ‘untitled’ (x, xxxiiii, xliii and lxxi). For each of these there is strong manuscript tradition for combination with the immediately preceding psalm. . .”
[4] See Wilson, "Royal Psalms," 87.
[5] Robert Cole, The Shape and Message of Book III (Psalms 73-89) (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 182: “Psalm 72 is the culmination of David’s prayers, according to the final verse (20) of its doxology. . . thereby interpreting the superscription as ‘for’, not ‘by’ Solomon.”
[6] Psalm 72:18-19: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name for ever; may his glory fill the whole earth! Amen and Amen!”
[7] In the MT the psalmist is not identified in Psalms 66-67, and Psalm 86 is attributed to David. In the LXX only Psalm 66 (LXX 65) and Psalm 86 (LXX 85) are attributed to David. In this it may also seem that the final Korah collection is structured around a Davidic Psalm:
84-87 = Korah
85 = David
86-88 = Korah
[8] Many scholars only recognize 42-83 as a single unit, describing it as the Elohistic Psalter, since these Psalms refer to God as “Elohim.” However, this chiastic structure shows that the collection extends through the second Korah collection. David C. Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter (Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 1997), 71.
[9] Psalms 38-41 seem to describe David nearing the end of his life, e.g.: “There is no soundness in my flesh because of thy indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. . . My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me” (38:6, 10); “Behold, thou has made my days a few handbreadths, and what is the measure of my days; and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight/ Surely every man stands as a mere breath. . . For I am thy passing guest, a sojourner like all my father” (39:5, 12); “My enemies say of me in malice: ‘When will he die, and his name perish?’. . . They say, ‘A deadly thing has fastened upon him; he will not rise again from where he lies’” (41:5, 8). [10] Wilson, "Royal Psalms," 215.
[11] Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter, 243: “I would suggest that Psalm 89 can be read as representing the stricken king and Book IV (90-106) as representing the ensuing exile.”
[12] Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter, 184-185.

Friday, March 17, 2006

David as the New Moses

I have always enjoyed reading Peter Leithart. His book From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003) is full of interesting insights. I highly recommend it.

Here is a selection which I especially enjoyed (from pages 25-27):


"David, the New Moses

Consistent with [the Chronicler’s] overall liturgical interest, Chronicles presents David as a new Moses, who, with the great prophet, co-founded the worship of Israel.[1] The simple fact that Chronicles devotes so much space to David’s preparations for the temple is enough to bring out parallels with Moses, since much of the revelation given to Moses concerned the tabernacle, its furnishings and its worship (Exod. 25—31, 35—40; Leviticus; Num. 3—9). Like Moses, David assigned duties to the priests and Levites. Like Moses, David received a ‘pattern’ for the house of Yahweh (Exod. 25:9, 40; 26:30; 1 Chr. 28:19). Like Moses, David ensured that the plundered riches of Yahweh’s enemies were devoted to the service of His house.

The Chronicler also appeals to the commands and ordinances of David as authoritative instruction for Israel’s worship.[2] This is not to say that Chronicles subverts the liturgical authority of Moses, as the repetition of the phrase ‘as Moses commanded’ indicates, the Mosaic ceremonial laws remained authoritative for Israel throughout that period of he monarchy (1 Chr. 6:49; 15:15; 2 Chr. 8:12-13; 23:18; 24:6, 9; 35:6). Alongside these references to Moses, however, the Chronicler also refers with some frequency to the liturgical authority of David. In 2 Chronicles 8:13-14, David’s ‘ordinance’ concerning the ‘divisions of priests for their service, and the Levites for their duties’ is set alongside ‘the commandment of Moses’ concerning the festival calendar of Israel.[3] Similarly, 2 Chronicles 23:18 records that ‘Jehoiada placed the offices of the house of the Lord under the authority of the Levitical priests, whom David had assigned over the house of Yahweh, to offer the ascension of offerings of Yahweh, as it is written in the law of Moses.’

When Josiah celebrated the Passover, he instructed the Levites to ‘prepare yourselves by your fathers’ households in your divisions, according to the writing of David king of Israel and according to the writing of his son Solomon’ (2 Chr. 35:4). The Levitical musicians at Josiah’s Passover ‘were also at their stations according to the command of David, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun the king’s seer’ (2 Chr. 35:15).

If David was a new Moses, Solomon was a new Joshua, whose temple-building is implicitly compared to the conquest.[4] David’s frequent encouragement to Solomon to ‘be strong and courageous’ (1 Chr. 22:13; 28:10, 20), echoes Moses’ instructions to Joshua, his successor (see Josh. 1:7, 9, 18; Deut 31:6-7).[5] As Joshua was to cling to the word of the Lord delivered through Moses (Josh. 1:7-8), so Solomon was to walk in the way of the Lord’s commandments ‘as your father David walked’ (1 Kgs. 3:14; 9:4).

The notion that David is a new Moses, founding a new ‘cult,’ helps to explain some of the peculiarities of the tabernacle of David. After the exodus, Moses pitched a tent outside the camp (Exod. 33:7-11) and later organized the building of the tabernacle and turned its care over to the priests. Similarly, after David’s exodus from Philistia, he erected a tent on Zion and then organized the building of a temple, which was eventually turned over to the care of priests. And, just as Moses had direct access to Yahweh in the tent of meeting, so David had direct access to Yahweh in the tent on Zion (see chapter 3 below). The parallels between David and Moses are not exact, but in each case, the sanctuary was established in two stages, a sequence repeated in the post-exilic period, for the altar was restored some twenty years before the temple was completed (Ezra 3:1-6; 4:24; 6:13-18). As we shall see, this sequence of sanctuaries came to ultimate fruition in the new covenant.”

[1] See especially De Vries, “Moses and David as Cult Founders.”
[2] Ibid. Also John W. Kleinig, The Lord’s Song: The Basis, Function, and Significance of Choral Music in Chronicles (JSOT Supplement #156; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 28-29.
[3] Significantly, David is given the Mosaic title ‘man of God’ in 2 Chronicles 8:14.
[4] See Wright, “The Founding Father,” 57.
[5] The reasons for David’s exhortations are not clear: What threat did Solomon face that demanded courage? In part, this exhortation highlights the fact that the temple was the conclusion and final act of the conquest. But the exhortations are most directly relevant to the original post-exilic readers of Chronicles, for, unlike Solomon, they rebuilt the temple under threat from the surrounding nations.