Sunday, April 30, 2006

Philosophical Issues and Methodology in Jesus Research (Part 2)

Picture on left of is of Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768)

(Be sure to read Part 1)

1.2. Methodical Doubt and Early Historical-Critical Approaches
The Nominalist insistence on the unintelligibility of faith paved the way for Luther’s position that faith was a matter of certainty of assertions. However, coinciding with the rise of the Reformation was a renewed interest in Greek skepticism, which traced itself back to Pyrrho (circa. 360-270 B.C.E.). Pyrrho is known through the writings of Diogenes Laertius and Sextus Empricus, who wrote during the second century C.E.[1] At first, skepticism was used by Catholic apologists against the Reformers, however Protestants soon found it useful in their own attack on the notion of the infallibility of the Magisterium.[2] In the view of these skeptics reason and experience were unreliable.[3] Colin Brown explains that for the “new” Pyrrhonists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the consequence of this skepticism left religion with only two options: “utter skepticism or fideism.”[4]

Skepticism was instrumental in shaping Descartes’ method. Descartes wanted to take on the Pyrrhonists on their own terms, attempting to show that there is something that cannot be doubted, namely, one’s own existence.[5] The Rationalist movement which followed him tried to demonstrate that reality could be understood as a “rational” whole. The attempt was therefore made at giving science and religion a common basis in reason.[6] It wasn’t long, however, before faith was simply devalued altogether as “unreasonable.”

Baruch Spinoza played a pivotal role, pioneering a kind of hermeneutic of “doubt.” Spinoza asserted that whereas philosophy pursues knowledge, “religion has obedience for its sole object.”[7] In this Spinoza gave priority to philosophy and deprived religion of truth claims.[8] As a result, Scripture should not be accepted as true on the basis of faith alone—theological prejudices must be discarded.[9] Furthermore, interpretation must be carried out in freedom from ecclesiastical authority.[10]

Moreover, Spinoza believed that when one encounters supernatural elements in the text of the Bible—miraculous events, divine revelations, etc.—one should approach them in terms of the historical meaning they had in their original cultural context, not as matters of “truth.”[11] The point of the story of Moses at the burning bush, therefore, is not whether or not God appeared as a fire but that Moses believed that God had.[12] In addition to this Spinoza believed that one should look for natural explanations to explain miracles.[13]

Spinoza thus laid out three rules for Scripture study. First, Scripture study must pay attention to the use of different languages and figures of speech used by the biblical writers. Second, the contents of each book should be arranged and laid out, with special attention to passages which are ambiguous, obscure or contradictory. Wherever passages conflict with reason they must be understood as metaphors. Finally, the historical contexts of the books must be considered.[14]

For Spinoza, the principle aim of Scripture study was not arriving at theological truth but rather its primary goal was historical knowledge.[15] Joel Weinsheimer writes, “There is in fact only one kind of interpretation for Spinoza, and that is historical.”[16] Spinoza explained that the study of Scripture “does not widely differ from the method of interpreting nature—in fact, it is almost the same.”[17] Its truth can only be determined through strict scrutiny.[18]

This type of "critical" approach to Scripture was picked up by the English Deists of the seventeenth century. The man recognized as the father of Deism is Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648). Herbert argued that religion must be studied historically and judged by what he saw as five common notions present in all religions.[19] Many of these thinkers wrote accounts of the life of Jesus, in which they denied traditional Christian doctrines such as the Hypostatic Union and the Trinity.[20] Attempts were made to strip Jesus of his uniqueness. In this vein, Charles Blount (1645-93) published a book on the life of Appollonius, a man who lived about the same time of Jesus and who was also reported to have been a holy man who worked miracles.[21] We should also here mention the work of Anthony Collins (1676-1729) who argued that many of the Old Testament prophecies traditionally viewed being fulfilled in Christ, had actually been fulfilled in historical events which took place within the lifetime of the prophets.[22]

The most influential advocates of this type of early “historical-criticism” was undoubtedly Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768). During his lifetime Reimarus had struggled with reconciling the doctrines of Christian faith with reason.[23] After he died, parts of his now famous Apology were published as various essays by Gotthold Lessing. The work is one of the most influential works in the history of Jesus research.

Reimarus argued that Jesus was not intent on founding a new religion. Jesus’ message was thoroughly Jewish; in his preaching he called for a return to Jewish piety and, later, he predicted the coming of a political kingdom.[24] After his death, Jesus’ disciples made up the story that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them. Reimarus’ thus set forth two of the principle tasks that has henceforth become hallmarks of scholarly treatments of Jesus: understanding Jesus’ preaching within the Judaism of his day and distinguishing the teaching of Jesus from that of the early Church.[25] Reimarus’ work, of course, gained prominence later on through Albert Schweitzer’s work.

In their day, Spinoza, the Deists and Reimarus were fighting an uphill battle. Reimarus kept his reconstruction of Jesus a secret—even from his own wife.[26] He writes,

“A time will come for a division between two groups: believers in revelation, and the despised advocates of reason. . . . This writing is and remains a true apology and defense against imposing a faith on us. Preserve it as a secret treasure. . . . until it pleases God to give rational religion a path toward open, healthy freedom, then draw you to responsibility for it.”[27]
However, by the time of Immanuel Kant and the beginning of the Enlightenment project which held that all judgments must be subjected to critical reason, traditional Christian faith began to lose its influence over the intellectual and cultural elite. The rise in prominence of the natural sciences (especially the publication of Darwin’s, The Origin of the Species) and the French Revolution were also important factors in this regard.

Part 3 continued here...
[1] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers (Loeb Classical Library; trans. R. D. Hicks, M.A.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1925; repr., 1950); 2:475-519; Sextus Empricus (4 vols.; Loeb Classical Library; trans. R. G. Bury; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938; repr., 1955).
[2] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 161.
[3] Sextus writes that the skeptics use their skepticism, “only of things inaccessible to the senses and investigated by the way of dogma.” Cited in Edwyn Bevan, Stoics and Sceptics (Clarendon Press, 1913; repri., New York: Barnes and Noble, 1959), 127.
[4] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 168-9.
[5] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 184: “He was accepting the premises of the Pyrrhonian skeptics who had already done this and was answering them with their own weapon.”
[6] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 174.
[7] Benedict Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza (vol. 1; trans. by R. H. M. Elwes; New York: Dover Publications, 1951), 9.
[8] Joel C. Weinsheimer, Eighteenth-Century Hermeneutics: Philosophy of Interpretation in England from Locke to Burke (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 48.
[9] Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza, 99.
[10] Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza, 10.
[11] Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza, 99.
[12] Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza, 102. Weinsheimer, Eighteenth-Century Hermeneutics, 63.
[13] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 189.
[14] Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza, 101-103.
[15] Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Käsemann (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1995), 42:“The accent is on historical understanding; religious claims are studiously avoided.” Also see
[16] Weinsheimer, Eighteenth-Century Hermeneutics, 58.
[17] Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza, 99.
[18] Spinoza, The Chief Works of Spinoza, 9.
[19] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 203.
[20] See Colin Brown, Jesus in European Protestant Thought, 1778-1860 (Studies in Historical Theology 1; Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1985), 29-33.
[21] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 203-4.
[22] Brown, Jesus in European Thought, 38-39.
[23] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 60.
[24] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 60.
[25] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 62. In addition, Reimarus identified the problem of the “delay” of the Lord within early Christian thought.
[26] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 56.
[27] Cited in Carl Moenckeberg, Hermann Samuel Reimarus und Johann Christian Edelmann (Hamburg: Gustav Eduard Notle, 1867), 123.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Philosophical Issues and Methodology in Jesus Research (Part 1)

One of the most famous criticisms leveled at projects in christology has been George Tyrrell’s famous claim that scholars have only succeeded projecting their own presuppositions upon Jesus—as if staring at their own reflection at the bottom of a well.[1] It is a sad fact that from some of the earliest times Christian theology has been influenced by certain anti-semitic attitudes.[2] Such bias was most strikingly transparent at the height of the Third Reich, when, in an effort to completely disassociate Jesus from his Jewishness, it was even suggested that Jesus was actually the illegitimate child of a Roman soldier, Panthera.[3] In light of this it is striking that so many Jesus scholars neglect methodological issues. Addressing the philosophical and hermeneutical issues involved with New Testament research (and more specifically, the study of the Gospels) should be a principle concern of such research.

In this essay we will look at some of the philosophical trends that have shaped biblical studies. First, we will examine the philosophical roots of historical-critical methods and examine the context from which they emerged. Next, we will consider the criteria of authenticity (as described by John P. Meier) to see what philosophical presuppositions are prevalent in Jesus scholarship. Finally, we will examine the Critical-Realist approach set forth by Ben Meyer and N. T. Wright and see how Wright applies this philosophy to historical Jesus studies.

1.1. Nominalism and the Separation of Theology and Philosophy
From very early on, Christian writers asserted that there was an essential harmony between faith and reason, theology and philosophy. Justin Martyr described Christianity as “the only sure and profitable philosophy.”[4] Likewise, Clement of Alexandria referred to the Gospel as “the true philosophy.”[5] Explaining his conversion, Augustine wrote:
“I thought it more modest and not in the least misleading to be told by the Church to believe what could not be demonstrated—whether that was because a demonstration existed but could not be understood by all or whether the matter was not one open to rational proof—rather than from the Manichees to have a rash promise of knowledge with mockery of mere belief, and then afterward to be ordered to believe many fabulous and absurd myths impossible to prove true.”[6]

Anselm famously summed up the approach of this approach in terms of “faith seeking understanding.”[7] This view continued through the thirteenth century and reached its pinnacle in Aquinas.
An important theme of this tradition, therefore, was the intelligibility of God’s existence and the moral law. One of its most important characteristics was “scholastic realism,” which asserted that universals such as “nature” and “goodness” refer to realities that truly exist, at least in some way, outside of the mind.[8] Through careful philosophical examination of these universals God’s existence could be demonstrated as reasonable.[9]

In addition, God’s moral law was understood in connection with God’s design for human nature. Following Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas defines the “good” as that which is “desirable.”[10] That which humans ultimately desire is “perfection.”[11] Perfection is only found in the attainment of humanity’s ultimate telos—God. Humans, therefore, are naturally inclined to choose “the good,” that is, God and those actions that will lead a person to him. This is what is called “Natural Law.” Moral conflict arises when one must make a choice between fulfilling some immediate desire and a higher good, which may not be immediately enjoyed.[12]

A major break with this tradition came with the writings of William of Ockham and the Nominalist tradition that followed him. Ockham radically redefined the implications of God’s omnipotence and his potentia absoluta (absolute power). While previous scholastic thinkers had affirmed God’s potentia absoluta, it was believed that he had bound himself to a potentia ordinata (“ordered power”)—God chose to bind himself to an order he had established for the creation.[13] Ockham argued that this amounted to a watered down view of omnipotence. For Ockham, divine omnipotence means that God is bound by no order, design or standard. Because God is bound by no standard of justice, morality is entirely arbitrary. God would be (and is) free to declare theft, murder and adultery as meritorious acts.[14] Similarly, being constrained by no standard of justice, God could damn a righteous person to hell.[15]

Moreover, Ockham denied the existence of universals, insisting that they are only names (nomina) with empty meaning:[16]

“[I]n a particular substance there is nothing substantial except the particular form, the particular matter, or the composite of the two. And, therefore, no one ought to think that in Socrates there is a humanity or a human nature which is distinct from Socrates…The only thing in Socrates which can be construed as substantial is this particular matter, this particular form, or the composite of the two.”[17]
Universals, therefore, are simply concepts entirely created by the human mind to discuss individual realities.[18] Moreover, for Ockham the very idea of the existence of universals infringes upon God’s absolute freedom.[19] The attack on universals was continued through the work of the “Nominalists” of the fourteenth century.[20]

This rejection of universals pulled the carpet out from under arguments for the existence of God and Natural Law. Ockham wrote, for example, “it can not be demonstratively proved that there is only one God.”[21] In short, in Ockham’s work a wedge was driven between faith and reason. Whereas in the previous tradition appeals to the Greek philosophers were made in an effort to underscore an essential unity between faith and reason, Ockham sought to distance Theology from Philosophy.[22] Michael Gillespie writes, “Nominalism sought to tear the rationalistic veil from the face of God.”[23]

Nominalism had gained tremendous influence by the time of the Reformation. Luther read Thomas Aquinas and the other scholastics through the lens of writers such as Gabriel Biel.[24] Moreover, whereas Ockham had driven a wedge between faith and reason, Luther separated them further. Luther describes reason as “the Devil’s whore.”[25] Applying his distrust of reason to Scripture, Luther acknowledged that it contained contradictions but argued against resolving them. Resolution would only come in the light of future glory.[26]

(Part 2, "Methodological Doubt and Early Historical-Critical Approaches," continued here)
[1] George Tyrrell, Christianity at the Cross-Roads (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1963), 49.
[2] For a comprehensive study see, John G. Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes Toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press,1985). Also see William Farmer, ed., Anti-Judaism and the Gospels (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 1999.
[3] See Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1977), 534-537.
[4] Dialogue with Trypho, 8, 1.
[5] Stromata, I, 18, 90, 1.
[6] Confessions, VI, 5, 7.
[7] Proslogium, Preface, 1.
[8] Michael Gillespie, Nihilism Before Neitzsche (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 12. Gillespie’s assertion that for Abelard universals were “merely” names, having no extra-mental existence is incorrect. Abelard writes, “[T]hey do serve to name things that actually exist and therefore are not the subjects of purely empty thoughts.” Abelard argued that universals are abstracted from particular realities by the mind to describe similarities which they share. While it is the mind that abstracts the universals, they are not simply arbitrarily derived but, rather, are rooted in the particulars which exist outside of it. Peter Abelard. On Universals (Philosophical Classics Volume II: Medieval Philosophy; eds., Baird, Forrest E. and Kaufmann, Walter; Fourth Edition; Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ. 2003), 187-188.
[9] Summa Theologica I a q 2
[10] Nicomachean Ethics, lect. 1.
[11] Summa Theologica, I q 5 a 1.
[12] Servais Pinckaers, Sources Of Christian Ethics (trans. Mary Thomas Noble; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press of America,1995), 395-97.
[13] Aquinas, for example, argued that God’s potentia could not be separated from his justice and wisdom. Summa Theologica, I q 25 a 5 ad 1.
[14] Opera Theologica, V.
[15] Sent. q 3, Q
[16] Gillespie, Nihilism Before Nietzsche, 16-8; William of Ockham, On Universals (Philosophical Classics Volume II: Medieval Philosophy; eds., Baird, Forrest E. and Kaufmann, Walter; Fourth Edition; Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ. 2003), 472-6.
[17] William of Ockham. On Universals, 475-6.
[18] Ockham, On Universals, 472.
[19] I Sent. d 2 q 6.
[20] Enoch Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre, 5th ed., (5th ed.; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), 197-8.
[21] Boehner, Philotheus, Philosophical Writings: William of Ockham (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1964), 161.
[22] Gillespie, Nihilism, 16: “[Ockham sought] a liberation of theology from the yoke of pagan philosophy.”
[23] Gillespie, Nihilism, 24. Also see Stumpf, Enoch, Socrates to Sartre, 199: “[Ockham] set the stage for an empirical and scientific way of thinking about the facts of experience. His nominalism had the effect of separating science from metaphysics. . . [T]he combined force of Ockham’s nominalism and Scotus’ voluntarism did much to dismantle the medieval synthesis by separating philosophy and theology, faith and reason.”
[24] David Steinmetz, Luther in Context (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 56-58; Denis R. Janz, Luther and Late Medieval Thomism (Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press), 99; Colin Brown, Christianity and Western Thought: A History of Philosophers, Ideas and Movements (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 150.
[25] Cited in Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 148 citing Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959 1963), 51:371-80.
[26] Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, 149.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Literally Bouncing Off Walls - And Onto The Radio

The last few months have been extremely stressful for me. Part of the Ph.D. program involves completing comprehensive exams. I've been preparing for them for several months now, working intensively in the last two months especially.

The test dates finally arrived. Over the last two weeks I've been taking them - I took the last one Monday.

Today I got word - I passed.

Thanks be to God! Let life resume.

Because I've been busy with comps I have taken two weeks off from the radio show - but tomorrow I return to the air waves.

For those of you who may not known, my radio show, Reasons for Faith Live, airs every Friday at 2pm East Coast Time (or 11am Pacific).

You can listen on-line or you can look to see if it's on a local radio station.

The show can also be heard on Sirius satellite radio or on shortwave radio.

Hope to hear from some of you - the call in number is 1-888-526-2151.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What Exactly Is The Holy Grail?

That's the question Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey set out to answer in their new book, The Grail Code. Tired of all the pseudo-scholarship concerning the Grail? Check this book out.

Now I never recommend books I haven't yet read, but this is an exception. These two authors are extremely talented and insightful. I eagerly look forward to reading this book. Mike Aquilina's books are always both informative, well-researched works and applicable to one's spiritual life. And I've always wanted to do more study of the Grail legends - now even more so as the Davinci Code casts its shadow.

If you want to learn more check out the holy grail of blogs - what are you waiting for, you know you've always been curious about the Grail.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Why Did God Ask for Animal Sacrifice?

Ever wonder why God asked the Israelites to sacrifice animals like cattle, sheep and goats? It’s not because God loves the smell of burning meat.

Moses explains to Pharaoh why the Israelites must be allowed to go out to the desert to offer their sacrifices to the Lord; their sacrifices would be “abominable” to the Egyptians (Ex. 8:25-27). In other words, Israel was to sacrifice to the Lord the very animals the Egyptians worshipped as gods.

In fact, we know that worshipping these gods was a major temptation for the Israelites. The Israelites end up worshipping a golden calf in Exodus 32.

God wanted Israel to renounce the gods of Egypt and worship Him as the one true God. No longer would Israel serve other gods – God wanted them to serve Him.

When Pharaoh refused to let the people go, God responded by sending 10 famous plagues on Egypt. The plagues symbolize judgment on the gods of Egypt.
● In turning the Nile to blood, God symbolizes his victory over Egyptians gods like Hapi, who governed the Nile (cf. Exodus 7:14-25).
● With the plague of the frogs, the frog goddess Heket is mocked (Ex. 8:1-15).
● The bull gods Apis and Hathor are judged in the destruction of the cattle (Ex. 9:1-7).
● With the plague of darkness, the sun god Re is defeated (Ex. 10:21-23).

But even after nine plagues Pharaoh refuses to let God’s firstborn son, Israel, go. Because of this God threatens the firstborn of the Egyptians, as He promised Moses he would. The Lord tells Moses that he will send his angel of death to slay the firstborn sons in Egypt and the firstborn male offspring of all livestock (Ex. 11:4-9).

Yet, God gives Israel a way to save their firstborn sons - the Passover (Ex. 12:1-27).

By slaying these animals God symbolically slaughters the gods of Egypt. The Lord explains, “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). This is the event that finally breaks Pharaoh (Ex. 12:30-31). Moses leads God’s people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the desert.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Noah and the New Creation

During the Easter vigil we read from the story of Noah. Why? Because God's covenant with Noah is a symbol of the new creation, which is accomplished in the resurrection.

We often speak of the covenant with Noah but actually the covenant with Noah is a “renewal” of the creation covenant. The word used for “establishing” the covenant with Noah actually means “renewal” (Gen. 9:9). In fact, the story of the flood evokes creation imagery; Noah is portrayed as a new Adam. Through him, God is about to bring forth a kind of new creation.
-- Out of the waters, a new creation emerges (Genesis 1:2; 7:11)
-- The flood begins after “seven” days, evoking the seven days of creation (Gen. 2:2; 7:10)
-- As the Lord rested on the seventh day, the ark comes to a rest in the “seventh” month (Gen. 2:2-3; 8:4)
-- Like Adam, Noah is told to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 2:28; 9:1)
-- Also, like Adam, Noah is given dominion over the creatures of the earth (Gen. 2:28; 9:2)

Moreover, the author of Genesis describes Noah falling from grace in terms reminiscent of the original sin. As Adam was ashamed of his nakedness in the garden after he had eaten the forbidden fruit, Noah ends up in a vineyard, naked and ashamed because he had drunk of the fruit of the vine (Gen. 9:20-27).

For a more detailed study of Genesis, check out the free on-line course "Covenant Love: An Introduction to the Biblical Worldview", available from the Saint Paul Center's on-line instruction program.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Liberal Scholarship On Jesus As Dead and Buried As The Jesus It Preaches

I just read an amazing article by Craig Evans, which recently appeared in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus [4 (2006): 35-54]. It has been republished on Mark Goodacre's website.

The article, “Assessing Progress in the Third Quest of the Historical Jesus," is probably the best overview of Jesus scholarship I have read (and I read a lot of them!). Evans shows that the Gospel portraits of Jesus make good historical sense - the radical reconstructions of Crossan, Mack and others simply do not hold up. In fact, the more scholarship progresses, the more they are left in the dust with the thoroughly discredited portraits of other attempts of the past.

The Davinci Code book and movie will undoubtedly make a lot of money. Sensationalist authors like Crossan will continue to make Television appearances on hyped up television specials. Ridiculous claims will be made about findings like Gospel of Judas Iscariot. But in the end, let's be clear: honest scholarship reveals the historical reliability of the Gospels. Though it may make people more money to say otherwise, the evidence to support their claims is simply not there - and more and more scholars recognize that.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Resurrection and Ascension as Royal Enthronement

Luke describes Jesus' baptism as his royal anointing. Jesus is declared to be God’s son in language evoking Psalm 2,[1] a royal enthronement psalm.[2] It is also interesting to note that Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, who was probably a Levite, since Luke tells us that he was son of a priest (cf. Luke 1:5). In this, we are reminded of the anointing of Solomon, who was also anointed by a Levite (1 Kgs 1:39). Moreover, from what follows, it seems clear that Davidic imagery provides the backdrop to Luke's narrative. Immediately following his baptism, Luke tells us that Jesus was thirty years old when he began his ministry—the same age David was when he began to reign as king (2 Sam 5:4). He then traces Jesus’ genealogy back through David (Luke 3:23).

David Ravens points out that Luke’s unique telling of Jesus’ ministry in Samaria (Luke 9:52; 17:11), seems to emphasize Jesus’ role as the Davidic restorer of the united kingdom.
“[Luke’s] understanding of the restored Israel is rooted in the idea of one nation under a Davidic king, modeled on the nation before its division into the two kingdoms.”[3]
Furthermore, the program of the missionary enterprise of the Church described by Jesus in Acts 1:8, “Jerusalem . . . Judea and Samaria . . . the end of earth,” describes the territories of the original Davidic Empire in the reverse order in which they successively were lost.

Luke describes the Resurrection and Ascension as Jesus’ divine royal enthronement. In his sermon at Pentecost Peter uses the Psalms to show how the Resurrection and Ascension represent the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. Citing Psalm 16:8-11 he explains that the Lord has fulfilled David’s prayer for preservation from death not in himself, for he died, but in Jesus who is raised from the dead (Acts 2:24-31). He then draws on Psalm 110:1 to show how the Lord establishes Jesus as King at his right hand in his Ascension (Acts 2:32-36); through the Ascension Jesus is enthroned at the right hand of God.[4] Though Jesus was “anointed” as king in his baptism, it was only in his Resurrection and Ascension that he was elevated and installed as king. Strauss explains, “An analogy may be drawn here to David, who was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel long before he was enthroned as king.”[5]
[1] “The wording of Ps. 2.1-2 in this passage is one of the few cases of an exact agreement between the lxx and Luke-Acts.” Darrell L. Bock, Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern: Lucan Old Testament Christology (JSOT Supplement Series 12; Sheffield, JSOT Press, 1987), 203.
[2] Craig C. Broyles, Psalms (in New International Biblical Commentary; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999).
[3] David Ravens, Luke and Restoration of Israel (JSNTSS 119. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 105.
[4] Mark Strauss, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and its Fulfillment in Luke
JSNTSS 110: Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 140-45.
[5] Strauss, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts, 145.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today I was literally bouncing off the walls as the name of the new pope was announced: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger has long been one of my favorite theologians. Not everyday does your favorite theologian become Supreme Pontiff -- bring on the encyclicals!

If you are not already aware of his work I recommend three books: Called to Communion, a short little book on the nature of the Church; The Spirit of the Liturgy, a biblical theological approach to the significance of liturgy; and Introduction to Christianity, his classic overview of Christian theology.

Two of the major themes of his work has been the need to do biblical theology and the importance of the Eucharistic celebration.

Another theme he has sounded again and again is the dangers of relativism. When asked a few years ago about the biggest problems facing the Church's mission to evangelize, he said the following:
I would say that today relativism predominates. It seems that whoever is not a relativist is someone who is intolerant. To think that one can understand the essential truth is already seen as something intolerant. However, in reality this exclusion of truth is a type of very grave intolerance and reduces essential things of human life to subjectivism. In this way, in essential things we no longer have a common view. Each one can and should decide as he can. So we lose the ethical foundations of our common life. Christ is totally different from all the founders of other religions, and he cannot be reduced to a Buddha, a Socrates or a Confucius. He is really the bridge between heaven and earth, the light of truth who has appeared to us.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Jesus Betrayed & Sold Again For A Price

Father Cantalamessa delivered a wonderful sermon on Good Friday in the presence of Pope Benedict. Here's an excerpt where he spoke of the Gospel of Judas controversy:

There is much talk about Judas' betrayal, without realizing that it is being repeated. Christ is being sold again, no longer to the leaders of the Sanhedrin for thirty denarii, but to editors and booksellers for billions of denarii. No one will succeed in halting this speculative wave, which instead will flare up with the imminent release of a certain film, but being concerned for years with the history of Ancient Christianity, I feel the duty to call attention to a huge misunderstanding which is at the bottom of all this pseudo-historical literature.

The apocryphal gospels on which they lean are texts that have always been known, in whole or in part, but with which not even the most critical and hostile historians of Christianity ever thought, before today, that history could be made. It would be as if within two centuries an attempt were made to reconstruct a present-day history based on novels written in our age.

The huge misunderstanding is the fact that they use these writings to make them say exactly the opposite of what they intended. They are part of the gnostic literature of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The gnostic vision -- a mixture of Platonic dualism and Eastern doctrines, cloaked in biblical ideas -- holds that the material world is an illusion, the work of the God of the Old Testament, who is an evil god, or at least inferior; Christ did not die on the cross, because he never assumed, except in appearance, a human body, the latter being unworthy of God (Docetism).

If, according to The Gospel of Judas, of which there has been much talk in recent days, Jesus himself orders the apostle to betray him, it is because, by dying, the divine spirit which was in him would finally be able to liberate itself from involvement of the flesh and re-ascend to heaven. Marriage oriented to births is to be avoided; woman will be saved only if the "feminine principle" (thelus) personified by her, is transformed into the masculine principle, that is, if she ceases to be woman.

The funny thing is that today there are those who believe they see in these writings the exaltation of the feminine principle, of sexuality, of the full and uninhibited enjoyment of this material world, contrary to the official Church which would always have frustrated all this! The same mistake is noted in regard to the doctrine of reincarnation. Present in the Eastern religions as a punishment due to previous faults and as something to which one longs to put an end with all one's might, it is accepted in the West as a wonderful possibility to live and enjoy this world indefinitely.

These are issues that would not merit being addressed in this place and on this day, but we cannot allow the silence of believers to be mistaken for embarrassment and that the good faith (or foolishness?) of millions of people be crassly manipulated by the media, without raising a cry of protest, not only in the name of the faith, but also of common sense and healthy reason. It is the moment, I believe, to hear again the admonishment of Dante Alighieri:

'Christians, be serious in taking action: Do not be like a feather to every wind, Nor think that every water cleanses you. You have the New and the Old Testament And the Shepherd of the Church to guide you; Let this be all you need for your salvation … Be men, do not be senseless sheep.'

Read the rest here.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The New Adam

Through his passion, death and resurrection Jesus bears the curses triggered by Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation.

Because of their sin, God warns Adam and Eve that
-- childbirth will be painful (Gen. 3:10).
-- relationships will be marred by sin (Gen. 3:10)
-- work will be toil; it will not always be fruitful but bring forth
-- thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:18)
-- labor will be carried out with difficulty, in sweat (Gen. 3:19)
-- physical death is inevitable (3:19)
-- they are banished from his presence in the garden (Gen 3:24)

Jesus bears the curses redemptively as the New Adam.
-- Jesus goes into a garden (Mt. 26:36-46) and sweats drops of blood (Lk. 22:44).
-- Jesus is given a crown of thorns (Mt. 27:29) and is stripped naked (Mt. 27:31).
-- Jesus goes to the cross, called the Tree of Life in the early church (cf. Acts 5:30).
-- Falling into the sleep of death, his Bride, the Church, is formed from his side (Jn. 19:26-35).
-- Jesus appears in His resurrected body, announcing the new creation to a “woman” in a garden (Jn. 20:11-18).

Friday, April 14, 2006

He Descended Into Hell

Thomas Aquinas on the Descent into Hell (Summa Theologica III 52, 1).


It is said in the Creed: "He descended into hell": and the Apostle says (Ephesians 4:9): "Now that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?" And a gloss adds: "that is--into hell."

I answer that, It was fitting for Christ to descend into hell. First of all, because He came to bear our penalty in order to free us from penalty, according to Is. 53:4: "Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows." But through sin man had incurred not only the death of the body, but also descent into hell.

Consequently since it was fitting for Christ to die in order to deliver us from death, so it was fitting for Him to descend into hell in order to deliver us also from going down into hell. Hence it is written (Hosea 13:14): "O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite."

Secondly, because it was fitting when the devil was overthrown by the Passion that Christ should deliver the captives detained in hell, according to Zach. 9:11: "Thou also by the blood of Thy Testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit." And it is written (Colossians 2:15: "Despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently."

Thirdly, that as He showed forth His power on earth by living and dying, so also He might manifest it in hell, by visiting it and enlightening it. Accordingly it is written (Psalm 23:7): "Lift up your gates, O ye princes," which the gloss thus interprets: "that is--Ye princes of hell, take away your power, whereby hitherto you held men fast in hell"; and so "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow," not only "of them that are in heaven," but likewise "of them that are in hell," as is said in Phil. 2:10.

Good Friday meditation

In the Gospels we read about Pilate’s decision to give the crowd a choice: Jesus or Barabbas.
Of course, the Gospels reveal Jesus as the Son of God. What many people don’t know is that Barabbas’ name likely means the same thing: bar (son of), abbas (~ “abba,” father). Some ancient versions of Matthew 27 even identify him as Jesus Barabbas, although whether this is a reliable reading is debated. What I want to do here is draw out the profound contrast between these two figures and the implications a post-70 audience would have seen in the decision.

All four Gospels tell us that the Romans had a prisoner in custody at the time of Jesus’ condemnation named Barabbas. In Matthew 27:16 we learn that Barabbas was “a notorious (episēmos) prisoner.”[1] What was he notorious for? John describes him with a Greek word lēstēs (John 18:40), which had a broad range of meaning. It could be translated ‘robber,’ ‘bandit,’ or ‘murderer.’ Another possibility, however, is ‘revolutionary.’ Mark and Luke report that he was involved in some sort of riot or insurrection in which he had committed murder (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19).

It is not clear what this riot entailed—there is no explicit mention of Barabbas killing Roman soldiers. Yet, given the fact that he is held by the Romans, this might be implied. In fact, in a post-70 milieu it is almost impossible to imagine that it could have been read otherwise.

Moreover, it seems at least possible that the narrative of the choice of the two prisoners in John’s Gospel is described against the backdrop of the Jewish revolt. Indeed, ‘revolutionaries’ were in large part responsible for the eventual destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Reading the Gospel in a post-70 context, it is almost impossible to imagine that readers would not have made the connection between the ‘revolutionary’ Barabbas and the zealot movement that ended up resulting in the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem.

In fact, John’s Gospel cues us into Jerusalem’s fate in chapter 12. The chief priests complain about Jesus’ ministry, saying, “If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation” (12:48). The implication is clear: if people believe Jesus is the messiah, the true Davidic king of Israel, the Romans will see that as a political threat and attack us.

These expectations about Jesus’ kingship appear later in John 18. Pilate’s main concern about Jesus is his possible royal identity: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might no be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not of this world” (John 18:36).

The zealots thought that they would usher in the eschatological reign of God through force - through a violent revolt. Jesus believed he was ushering in the eschatological age through his death (see Brant Pitre's new book on that; also go here for more discussion).

There is a contrast here in chapter 18 that would have been especially stark in a post-70 reading of this story. On one hand, Jesus poses no threat of revolution. His followers are not about to launch a violent revolt to save him—his kingdom is not of this world.[2] On the other, Barabbas is a violent man—a man somehow connected with a riot or rebellion.

The choice is between a murderer, a man involved in some sort of insurrection—a “son of Abba”—and Jesus, a man who poses no violent threat, who is the true Son of God. Here’s the choice the people are presented with: a revolutionary-type hope or the hope Jesus brings for a kingdom not of this world. A false son of God who comes in violence—who takes matters into his own hands—or the true Son, who offers his life to save his people.

The people make their decision—“Barabbas!” The die was cast. Jerusalem’s fate, in a sense, was secured.

Of course, underlying the whole story is a theological point: Jesus dies so a sinner can go free.

We too have a choice—do we put our faith in political action in this world or in the true King of Kings who gives us an example of suffering for the world’s reconciliation. The cross does seem to be a scandal. As Miroslav Volf writes, the cross seems to stabilize the power of the evil in the world; it appears that it has won. Yet, it is precisely in the scandal that we have hope—the hope of the resurrection.

As Paul writes,

“For the word of cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.’

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

[1] Interestingly Josephus describes John Gischala, a leader of a band of militant bandits, with the same word (War 2.21.1 #585).
[2] Jesus’ description of the kingdom as not “of” this world should not be read to mean that Jesus somehow denied the possibility that the kingdom is somehow “in” the world. After all, Jesus tells the disciples that though they are “in” the world, they are not of it (cf. John 15:19). Similarly the kingdom seems to be somehow present “in” the world, though not “of” it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Holy Thursday

Since it is Holy Thursday, I thought I'd post something on the connection between the Eucharist and the Passover. In evoking Jeremiah's new covenant prophecy - "the blood of the new covenant" (cf. Jer 31:31) - Jesus establishes the Eucharist as the new passover meal.

Passover not only functioned as a memorial of a past event, the Exodus, it pointed to the promise of a future restoration from exile, the New Exodus. As God once delivered Israel in the past, so he would deliver them again.

Since the first Exodus was effected through the passover meal, it is not surprising that restoration hopes were often linked with the pasch. In fact, Isaiah describes a great meal in connection with the New Exodus, in which the people of God celebrate their deliverance (much like Israel celebrated their deliverance from Egypt in the passover): “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow of wine on the lees well refined… He will swallow up death for ever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Is. 27:6-8).

For a lot more on the Passover background of the Eucharist see here.

The Wright View: A Review of N. T.Wright's View of the End of Exile (Part 1)

by Michael Barber © 2006

The “restoration” of Israel has long been recognized as part of second Temple Jewish expectations and therefore important to historical Jesus studies.[1] However, the work of N. T. Wright has brought “restoration eschatology” to the center of the discussion. In this review I will examine Wright’s proposal that Jesus’ message was steeped in these “restoration” hopes. I shall then offer some critical reflections on Wright’s view.

Getting the Story Straight
Wright wants to place Jesus’ message within a first century Jewish context. He argues that Jesus’ teaching regarding the “kingdom of God” was part of a larger Jewish matrix that would have been immediately familiar to first century Jews. The “kingdom” was an important part of a larger story of which Israel saw itself a part. At the climax of the story God would become King and establish his reign, restoring Israel from exile and including the Gentiles.

Nonetheless, the story itself was often subject to various re-tellings – the story was re-appropriated in different contexts. Josephus believed the story was fulfilled when God raised up Vespasian as ruler over the world. The Essenes believed God’s reign would be established when the Gentiles were defeated at the hands of the remnant of Israel. According to Wright, it was Jesus' unique telling of the story, which subverted its message, which resulted in the controversy that led to his crucifixion.

Recent studies that have looked at Jesus within his Jewish context seem to betray either one of two tendencies. The first sees Jesus as a typical first century Palestinian Jew who appears incapable of having any conflict with his contemporaries. It is virtually impossible to see how the Jesus that emerges from this picture could in any way be responsible for the subsequent Christian movement – let alone for founding a new religion. The second tendency paints a picture of a Cynic, proto-gnostic Jesus who looks more like a Greek philosopher than a Palestinian Jew (e,g., Mack). Wright believes the truth is more complicated. Jesus’ message was rooted in well-known second Temple Jewish expectations. Yet, Jesus had retold the story, reinterpreting the basic symbols of the narrative.

Jewish Eschatology: The Last Things Aren’t Really Last
When we speak of “eschatology” we generally think of “the end of the world.” However,

…there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space-time universe… They believed the present world order would come to an end – the world order in which pagans held power, and Jews, the covenant people of the creator god, did not.[2]

The Schweitzerian understanding of Jesus’ message as an attempt to bring about the end of creation is therefore thoroughly anachronistic. The Jews (and Jesus) were not expecting the end of the world, but the end of the present world order. God was about to become king. Furthermore, his coming reign meant judgment on those who opposed him and his people.

Through its liturgical life Israel expressed this hope of the restoration (204).[3] Despite the different ways the story was told, four basic elements of the narrative remained constant (cf. 204-206).

1. God had chosen to dwell in the temple built by Solomon. There the Yahweh was celebrated as God of the entire earth. From there he would hear his people’s prayers and come to their aid.

2. Temple and kingship were intrinsically united. Solomon had built the first temple. The “temple-builder was the true king, and vice-versa.”

3. The temple was the center of the universe, the place where heaven and earth were united.

4. The destruction of the temple at the hands of the Babylonians had political and theological implications. God had apparently cast aside the Davidic monarchy. Heaven and earth were divided making worship impossible.

5. The restoration of Israel entailed the hope for the return of the Lord to Zion, the defeat of evil, the rebuilding of the Temple and the re-establishment of the reign of the Davidic king.

Although there were various forms of this story and, therefore, a good deal of diversity in expectations, the restoration belonged to the space time universe.

This scheme seems to best explain Jesus’ message. One the one hand, it makes sense of the “urgency and imminence” of Jesus’ teaching. At the same time, this view accounts for Jesus’ use of apocalyptic symbols. Jesus used apocalyptic imagery – cataclysmic events (the sun and moon being darkened, etc) - the same way Isaiah and other Israelites before him used them: to describe events within the space-time universe. This imagery was typically used to describe God’s judgment of the wicked world order and the manifestation of his kingdom.[4]

To be continued...
[1] Cf. B. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: S.C.M. Press, 1979), 118, 125; cf. E. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 61ff.
[2] Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 333; cf. Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, Press, 1996), 207: “In particular, we must stress that those among Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries who were looking for a great event to happen in the immediate future were not expecting the end of the space-time universe.”
[3] For example, Wright explains that the Sabbath at the end of the week was a symbol of the coming “rest” of the restoration. Likewise, the Passover, which celebrated the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in a foreign land served as a template for the hope of a “new exodus.”
[4] Cf. Isaiah 13:9-11.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Nancey Murphy's Postmodernism

In her insightful book Anglo-American Postmodernity, Fuller professor Nancey Murphy argues that a major shift in thought has occured in the past fifty years - a break away from methodological principles enshrined in modern philosophy to holistic and fractal theories. She calls this shift "postmodernism." To demonstrate this she examines the way this shift is evident in the major areas of philosophical thought.

In epistemology this shift is characterized by the rejection of foundationalism in favor of the holism of Kuhn and Quine. In philosophy of language she sees a shift from theories of meaning based on reference and representation to a focus on the social uses of language, found especially in the works of Austin and speech act theorists. In ethics she describes the rejection of modern ‘generic’ individualism in favor of MacIntyre’s more complex theory of the priority of the social. These philosophical shifts correspond to certain trends in scientific theory, specifically the rejection of modern atomism-reductionism in all its forms.

Murphy is aware that there are exceptions to this broad characterization of modernism. However, notwithstanding certain weakness (one of the most obvious being her almost "foundationalist" suggestion for a postmodern philosophy of religion) I believe her analysis is quite insightful.

One element which is especially helpful is her description of the movement from bottom-up explanations in the modern period to top-down analyses which characterize postmodern approaches. A major catalyst for this shift was the work of Quine, who argued that there is no sharp distinctions between basic (foundational) beliefs and nonbasic beliefs. Data are not just given—they are made by means of their interpretation in light of ‘ideals and natural order’ or theoretical assumptions. In short, for raw data (if there is such a thing) to be counted scientifically requires an interpetation which itself is constituted by theory.

For serious students of philosophy I highly recommend Murphy's book.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Big News To Come From Vatican?

Last week the Pope met with top Vatican officials about pressing issues in the Church. One of the major items on the agenda of the meeting appears to have been liturgical concerns. What was said? What will be done? No one knows.

Vatican officials have their lips sealed. Keep in mind, Vatican officials are almost never this tight-lipped. This is unusual.

Holy Thursday -- the day the Church celebrates the institution of the Eucharist -- would be an ideal time to make some kind of announcement about the liturgy. In fact, JPII had a tradition of writing a letter to the priests of the world every Holy Thursday. This letter typically involved some teaching on the Eucharist.

Pope Benedict has apparently dropped that tradition.

Does he have something else in store for Holy Thursday? It seems so.

The suspense is killing me.

Click here for more.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Passion as Eschatological Fulfillment

Tomorrow we celebrate Passion Sunday. Mark's narrative (which we read in the liturgy tomorrow) links the account of Jesus' eschatological discourse in chapter 13 with the passion narrative in chapters 14-15.

Jesus’ prediction that the disciples will be handed over to Jewish and Roman authorities (13:9-13) parallels what happens to himself: he is handed over to Jewish and Roman authorities (14:10-11. 18, 21, 41-42; 15:1, 10, 15).

The promise that the disciples will be betrayed by family members (13:12-13) foreshadows the way he is betrayed by one of his own disciples (14:10, 20, 43).

In Mark 13, Jesus says that people will see “the son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory (13:26). In Mark 14, Jesus tells the high priest that he will see “the son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:62).

Jesus tells the apostles that no one knows when the “hour” of judgment will come (13:32). Later, in chapter fourteen, Jesus tells the disciples that the “hour” is at hand (14:41).

In the apocalyptic discourse, the disciples are told to “watch” (13:5, 23, 33, 35, 37). Likewise, in the garden, Jesus tells the disciples to “watch” (13:34, 37-38).

During his eschatological sermon, Jesus warns the disciples: “Watch, therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come: in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, or in the morning” (13:35). Mark links important events of the passion narrative with the evening (14:17, 15:42); night (14:30); the cockcrow (14:30, 68, 72); morning (15:1, 25).

Jesus warns the disciples, “Do not let the master find you sleeping” (13:36). Later, Jesus finds the disciples sleeping in the garden (14:40).[1]

[1] Adapted from Colin Brown, “The Interpretation of Mark 13: Jesus' Oracle Concerning the Destruction of the Temple and its Implications Following the Rejection of Jesus” (Handout, 2002), who lays out in a side-side chart the comparisons made by R. H. Lightfoot, The Gospel Message of St. Mark (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), 48-59; Dale Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come, 36-38; John T. Carrol and Joel B. Green, The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson 1995), 36-7.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Real Story "Behind" Judas' Betrayal of Jesus

Since the news outlets are focusing on the release of the Gospel of Judas, I thought it appropriate to post the following...

If you really want to know the story "behind" Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Jesus, you need to know the Old Testament.

In 2 Samuel 15 we read about the "betrayal" of David by Ahithophel.

2 Sam 15: 23 And all the country wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness...

30 But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered; and all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. 31 And it was told David, "Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom." And
David said, "O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness."

Later, we learn of Ahithophel's fate; he hanged himself (2 Sam 17:23).

Sound familiar?

Jesus, the Son of David, is betrayed by a member of his inner circle. While his betrayer is out planning his demise, he, like David, goes to the Mount of Olives (Matt 27:30), crossing the Kidron valley (John 18:1). As David prayed that the Lord would confound Ahithophel's plans, Jesus similarly prays for deliverance (Matt 26:29-34). In the end, Jesus' betrayer's fate is the same as that of David's betrayer's: he "hangs" himself (Matt 27:5). We might also note that the women weep for Jesus as the people wept for David (Luke 23:27).

We need to always remember the importance of reading the New Testament in light of the Old Testament. For more on this, see the extensive collection of articles on methodology available on-line through the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology's website.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel of Judas Revisited

Not too long ago I did a post on the publication of The Gospel of Judas. Well, it's finally out. This weekend you'll be seeing quite a bit about it in the news and on television.

In order to make that post more accessible I've added it to the sidebar section "Online Articles on Biblical and Theological issues".

Here's the link.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Psalm Kind of Introduction (Psalm 1-2)

Psalms 1-2 clearly form an introductory unit to the book of Psalms, which sets the tone for the whole Psalter.[1] That the two psalms were understood as forming an introduction is confirmed by the fact that the LXX (Septuagint) Psalter includes superscriptions for every psalm except these two.[2] Furthermore, the link between the two psalms is evident from the inclusio formed by the blessing at the beginning of Psalm 1 and at the end of Psalm 2. Psalm 1:1 begins, “Blessed is the man”, while Psalm 2 ends, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him”(2:11). This observation was made in rabbinic tradition.[3]

Along with the blessing inclusio, there are other parallels as well. In Psalm 1:6 we read that “the way of the wicked will perish”, while in Psalm 2:11, we find that those who do not fear the Lord will “perish in the way”. Likewise, in Psalm 1:1 the blessed man “sits not in the seat of scoffers”, whereas in Psalm 2:4, the Lord “sits” in heaven and laughs, scoffing at the wicked, so to speak. Finally, in Psalm 1:2 the blessed man “meditates” on the law of God, while in Psalm 2:1 the same word used for “meditate”, the Greek word in the LXX and the Hebrew word in the MT, is used for those who “plot” in vain.[4]

The first psalm contains many motifs also found in the sapiential literature: the contrast of the righteous and the wicked is a common theme found throughout the wisdom tradition; the Edenic imagery; the inevitable judgment of the wicked; the idea that the blessed man walks not in the “counsel” of the wicked. Psalm 2, like Psalm 1, also evokes wisdom themes, portraying David as a “wise” man. As the wisdom literature teaches, David places the “fear of the Lord” over the fear of impending death from his enemies, trusting that the Lord is capable of delivering him.[5] Sheppard explains:
“The profane nations and rulers in Ps 2 are identified with those who walk the way of sinners and the wicked in Ps 1. Opposite these, one finds the divine king depicted in the language of Nathan’s oracle as one who, by contrastive implication, walks in the way of the righteous. Consequently, David is represented in Ps 2 both as the author of the Psalms and also as one who qualifies under the injunction of Ps 1 to interpret the Torah as a guide to righteousness.”[6]
As the implied author of the psalm, David is portrayed as the teacher of wisdom: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise, be warned O rulers of the earth” (2:10).

In fact, the book of Proverbs begins with many of the same themes the that open up the Psalter:
—the contrast of the two ways (Ps 1:1; 2:11; Prov 1:15)
—the wicked as scoffers (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:22)
—description of the “righteous” (Ps 1:5; Prov 1:3)
—the motif of ‘walking’ (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:15)
—accepting right “counsel” (Ps 1:1; 2:2; Prov 1:25, 30)
—the use of “torah” (Ps 1:2; Prov 1:8—mother’s “teaching”)
—“fruit” (Ps 1:3; Prov 1:31)
—the fear and knowledge of the Lord (Ps 1:6; 2:10, 11; Prov 1:7, 22, 29)
—laughing, mocking, and derision (Ps 2:4; Prov 1:26)[7]

The first two psalms also introduce motifs that are especially dominant in Book I. The contrast between the wise and the foolish, the righteous and the wicked, etc., is found in almost every psalm of the first book of the Psalter (Ps 1-41), with David identifying himself as the former in conflict with the latter, anticipating his enemies’ final destruction.[8] In fact, nearly half of all the references to the “wicked” found in the Psalter are found in Book I.

Book I, then, is predominately a prayer of David (all of the superscriptions ascribe the psalms to David). Virtually all of the psalms in this collection have to deal with David’s struggle with his enemies and his trust in God through life-threatening ordeals.[9] Psalms 1 and 2, therefore, set the stage. There David is portrayed as the wise man who meditates on God’s law (Psalm 1:1-2) and who is rescued by the Lord because he trusts in Him (Psalm 2:4-9), fearing Him rather than those who seek his life (Psalm 2:10-11).

[1] Patrick Miller, “The Beginning of the Psalter,” in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter (ed., J. C. McCann; Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 1993): 85: “[The connections between Psalms 1-2] indicate, at least on the editing level, that Psalms 1-2 were to be read together as an entrée into the Psalter.”
[2] David Howard, The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 58: “Most introductions and commentaries . . . note that while the Masoretic text (MT) of the Psalter carries superscriptions for only 116 psalms, the Septuagint (LXX) carries superscriptions for all but Psalms 1 and 2, lending credence to this idea.”
[3] See Gerald Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), 205.
[4] For these three connections see Scott Harris, “Proverbs 1:8-19, 20-23 As ‘Introduction,’” Revue Biblique 107-2 (2000): 211-212.
[5] See Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise. . . serve the Lord with fear.” Proverbs 9:11 states: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.”
[6] Gerald Sheppard, Wisdom as a Hermeneutical Construct (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 142.
[7] See Harris, “Proverbs 1:8-19, 20-23 as ‘Introduction,’” 215-218.
[8] This kind of contrast is present in Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41. Also see Patrick Miller, “The Beginning of the Psalter,” in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 85.
[9] The only Psalms in Book I which do not bear this connection are Psalms 8, 15, 19, 24, 29.

Meet Kim

I don't really know how I could do a blog for any extended period of time and not talk about my wonderful girlfriend, Kimberly Gilmore. Since this is the place where I talk about what I love, I've got to talk about her. You can't begin to know me until you know - at least a little - about Kimberly Gilmore.

Kim and I met at Fuller. We joke about the fact that two Catholics had to go to a Protestant theological seminary to meet. I love to tell others that I am dating the most beautiful Catholic seminarian I have ever met. You should see people's faces. She is currently working on her M.A. in theolgy at Fuller.

Kim is truly amazing. Wonderful, beautiful, charitable, intelligent, humorous, adventurous - words fail. She's the best.

Kim, I love you!

Ice of Faith

A study done out of the University of Florida is claiming that there is a natural explanation for the "miracle" of Jesus' walking on the water. Apparently, under rare conditions, the Sea of Galilee freezes over in certain spots. These conditions, they claim, were present at the time of Jesus.

I don't know what takes more faith, to believe that Jesus walked on water or to assume that Jesus, a first century Jew, had the necessary meteorological abilities to determine the exact time these rare conditions would be present, to send the disciples out in a boat at that exact time, and to find a way out to a patch of ice.

Furthermore, if this represents the "real" story behind the Gospel account, we would also have to believe that a floating chunk of ice just happened to pass by the boat Peter was in at the exact moment he stepped out to join Jesus.

Finally, we would have to believe that the chunk Jesus was on some how converged with the boat allowing him to board the ship.

I think this new explanation requires too much faith.

(Tip of the hat to Curt Jester and Mark Shea.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Eschatological Significance of the Sacraments

I am currently working on a doctoral dissertation project which will look at the way the New Testament describes the realization of Jewish eschatological hopes through sacraments and liturgy. One key book in this area is David Aune's, The Cultic Setting of Realized Eschatology in Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 1972). Here's an excerpt (regrettably, without his many footnotes):

In early Christianity, the rite of Baptism was universally regarded as the indispensable means of incorporating the individual believer into the Christian community. Since the locus of the present experience of eschatological salvation was the Spirit-endowed community, Baptism rendered the individual participation in the salvific benefits of the age to come a present possibility. Baptism was therefore the ritual means of re-presenting the salvific events of the past, and anticipating the future consummation of salvation in the present experience of the believer. The celebration of the Lord's Supper formed the central act of the worshipping community, and was regarded not only as the affirmation of the reality of the historical events upon which the church was founded, but also as the anticipation of the eschatological completion of the history of salvation. The intimate connection between eschatology and the Eucharist is underscored by the early Christian use of the Aramaic forumla marana tha (Didache 10:6; 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev 22:20) in a Eucharistic setting. The Eucharistic liturgy contained in the Didache reveals that the cultic assembly for observance of the Lord's Supper was regarded as an anticipation of the final assembly of the church: "As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom" (Didache 9:4, cf. 10:5). Therefore the unity of those who participate in the Eucharist anticipates the final eschatological unity which will be fully and permanently realized at the Parousia.

"Behold your mother" (John 19:27)

I have mentioned Scot McKnight's article, Is The Reformation Over? McKnight is describing, what he calls, the purple theology generation. A purple theology means that Catholics and Protestants put aside their biases and try to listen carefully to what the other side is saying. In so doing we might better understand one another and find much more common ground. We don't ask questions with the assumption that we already know the answers. Rather than insisting that we know what the other side believes we allow one another to formulate their own positions.

A couple of days ago I read a comment posted there by a J. R. Dollins, who expressed his concern over the Catholic's "citizenship in the Kingdom of God." His comments revolved around Catholic Marian beliefs - specifically, "Mary-worship." I think this is where that need for a purple theology comes into play. What non-Catholics need to know is that the Church strongly condemns Mary-worship. Although we still may disagree on the role of Mary, I think it's important to really understand what Catholics believe about her. I thought I'd post my response here. .
Dear Mr. Dollins,

Your concern for the “citizenship” of Catholics in the kingdom saddened me. Let me say a few things about the Catholic understanding of Mary. Obviously, this is not a book length treatment. But I hope the following will provide some helpful clarification and perspective. I’ve broken up my comments into seven points.

First of all, Mary is not divine, a goddess—she is a human being. Offering her the worship due only to God is indeed a grave sin. And yes, I wish Catholics—especially in Latin American communities—would be more clear on this.

Second, you may associate the presence of Marian statues with Mary-worship. Statues are especially problematic for Protestants, since Protestants read the 10 Commandments as forbidding all graven images. Catholics, of course, have a different interpretation: it is a sin to make a statue and then to worship it.

You may not agree with it, but at least allow yourself to understand this view and see how it comes from an honest reading of Scripture. This interpretation flows from a canonical reading of the Decalogue. Not long after giving Moses the Decalogue, God goes on to give Moses instructions for building two statues of angels to place on the ark of the covenant (Exod 25:18). Note, the holiest object in Israel had statues on it! Later, in Numbers, God even commands Moses to make a statue of a serpent (Num 21:8-9).

Statues are used to remind us of the saints—they are like older brothers and sisters who have gone before us as examples of faith. Moreover, we believe that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). We believe that the saints are not dead—in a sense, inasmuch as they are in heaven, they are more alive than we are! (Much more could be said, e.g., the incarnational dimension of faith and the role the physical senses play in belief, but this will have to suffice).

Third, the Catholic belief of the communion of the saints is also problematic for Protestants. Catholics, of course, insist that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5; cf. Heb. 9:15, 12:24 ). Yet the sole mediatorship of Christ does not mean that Christians should not pray for one another. Scripture encourages us to summon the leaders of the community to pray for us in time of need: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…” (Jas 5:14). Other examples of Christians praying for one another could also be cited (Rom. 15:30–32, Eph. 6:18–20, Col. 4:3, 1 Thess. 5:25, 2 Thess. 3:1).

Catholics believe that the saints are a cloud of witnesses that not only surround us with indifferentism but with fraternal concern for us. We believe that death is not able to prevent them from praying for us. In the Apocalypse, the twenty-four elders—a symbol of Christians in heaven, likely an image of the martyrs—hold “golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5:8). In fact, throughout the Apocalypse, there is a profound connection between the worship of the saints in heaven and the events on earth. For example, in Revelation 19 the saints are aware that the wicked city has been destroyed and rejoice because of it. Moreover, as the entire book unfolds we read that the liturgy of heaven affects and propels the events on earth.

Fourth, this understanding may seem like a contradiction of Scripture’s clear teaching against necromancy: “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord’; and because of these abominable practices of the Lord is driving them out before you” (Deut 18:10-12).

I have often heard the Catholic practice of asking for the intercession of the saints condemned as a violation of this prohibition. Keep in mind that this is an injunction against sorcery, séances, and conjuring up the dead through necromancy. The Church doesn’t encourage that! It simply recognizes that the saints are alive, that they are somehow aware of our present condition, and that they can pray for us.

Or does God condemn us for thinking that our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have gone to be with him, continue to keep us in their prayers?

Has death overcome our communion with them in Christ? I don’t think so.

Reading James and Revelation canonically, I think it’s not a stretch to say that just as our “elders” on earth pray for us with powerful effects so too our elders in heaven intercede on our behalf.

Fifth, Scripture seems to teach us that Jesus wanted believers to see his mother as their mother. This, of course, stems from a reading of John 19 where Jesus tells the beloved disciple—who is understood as a model for all believers—“Behold, your mother” (John 19:27). Catholics have very strong heartfelt love for this woman who we believe is given to us to be our mother as well. The importance of Mary in Catholic tradition stems from a desire to honor one of Jesus’ dying requests.

Sixth, Mary was so united to Christ, Simeon tells her, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 1:35-36). Another passage along those lines appears in Colossians 1:24, where Paul states, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” Our suffering, when united with Christ’s, seems to have a redemptive role to play. As his mother, who remained by him until the bitter end, Mary is a model for all of us believers who offer their sufferings in union with Christ’s (cf. Rom 8:17).

Finally, seventh, Mary proclaims: “henceforth, all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). That’s the whole point—to recognize the powerful thing God was able to accomplish in Mary. Of course, in whatever way Mary’s role is appreciated, the glory is all God’s. Honoring Mary does not detract from the glory due to God. Mary is only holy because she is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28).

If, in the end, we give Mary too much credit, it’s only because we give Christ too much credit.

On the last day, I’d rather tell God, “I’m sorry—I guess I over exaggerated the power of your grace,” than, “I’m sorry God—I really didn’t think your grace was that transformative.”

Ultimately, these questions stem from a deeper issue. How do we interpret Scripture? The Reformed view seems to me to be a precursor to the Enlightenment’s vision of what Roger Lundin calls the “orphaned individual.” There is no decisive (extra-biblical) authority. There is no tradition. Interpretation is principally a private work accomplished by the individual. As Lundin, Gillespie and others have shown, this was Nominalism applied to theology.

Yet without the authority of something other than the Bible, how does one know which books belong in the Bible in the first place? How do we know which books are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit? No biblical book gives us the list. (And even if one did, how would we know that it itself was inspired?) It seems therefore that the Bible’s authority is not sufficient—there’s a need for something more than Scripture in order to know what belongs in Scripture.

Catholics believe Scripture must be read in light of the same tradition and authority through which it came to us in the first place.

Much more could be said. I just want to communicate to you that the Catholic view may not be as naïve or simplistic as you might think. Yes there are a lot of people calling themselves Catholic who misrepresent what Catholics believe. But there are also a lot of people out there who call themselves Protestants who give the Protestant tradition a bad name as well.

I know you won’t agree with everything we believe. But recognize that we’re not all dunderheads. Yes—thank you very much—we know the bible speaks of “brothers of Jesus” and we know Jesus said “Call no man father” (etc., etc., etc.). But there are many Catholics who have seriously wrestled with the Protestant critique and come to an honest disagreement here. The theological issues run deep—much deeper than a post on a blog! It cracks me up to see that somehow it seems we’re all trying to do that here!

I encourage you to read Scott Hahn’s book, “Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word”, which is a more scholarly reflection on the role of Scripture and liturgy. He’s no slouch and yet somehow he became Catholic! I also highly recommend Ignace de la Potterie’s book, “Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant”.

May God continue to bless your ministry and may your love for Christ and Scripture continue to inspire others as it has inspired me.

In Christ,
Michael Barber