Monday, July 31, 2006

Apocalypse Now

I want to thank everyone who prayed for my interview on Fox News Channel. I know those prayers made a big difference.

I also want to thank Justin for posting the video of the interview. Thanks so much! The segment has also been posted on Heartland's website (see the clip "Biblical Prediction")--though I doubt it will be up for long (thus my gratitude to Justin).

I've been swamped by email asking me for my views on the Apocalypse. Here's a brief Q & A session I did that might help. Obviously, all the questions can't be answered here. Look for a coming series of posts on the topic... Of course, you can also order my book. I also highly recommend Scott Hahn's classic book, The Lamb's Supper. In large part, my book simply expands in commentary form on the insights of this book. If you haven't read it, you really need to order it.

Is Jesus coming soon? Is this Middle East crisis the fulfillment of the book of Revelation?
Throughout history, every generation of Christians has seen connections between the events of their day and the Apocalypse. But to really understand the book you have to read it in its proper context. The key to understanding the book is seeing not simply how it relates to our day, but also how it relates to the times in which it was first written and the context in which it is meant to be read.

How is the Book of Revelation meant to be read?
We need to recognize that the book isn’t meant to be read as a news report. It is not so much the work of a journalist, detailing the events of the last days in a purely objective blow by blow account. Its meaning is deeper than that. It is more the work of a mystic than that of a journalist. It shows us the deeper spiritual meaning behind history.

Can you give an example of this?
Sure. It reveals that all history is moving to a goal—God has a plan. The suffering of the present age will pass away.

We also see how the prayers of God’s people affect the course of history. As the angels and the people of God come together in worship—opening a book, blowing trumpets (which back then were instruments used in worship), singing songs, etc.—events on earth are affected.

What’s the lesson here? The power of prayer.

Are you saying that the book does not have to do with specific events in history?
No. Actually the book was originally written to explain the spiritual significance of a specific event that took place in the first century--the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Throughout the book, the reader learns about a “great city” (cf. Rev. 11:8; 17:18)—which is ultimately destroyed. In Revelation 11, we read that this city is associated with the temple. We also read that it is “where their Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8). That’s clearly a description of Jerusalem.

The book ends by telling us about a new Jerusalem. Why? Well, because the old one has just passed away. Much more could be said here--there is some debate among scholars, and I hate leaving the topic without saying more. Suffice it to say, the book is in large part dealing with this event. (Look for posts in the coming week on this).

But isn’t Revelation about the end of the world? Are you saying that it is not about the Second Coming of Jesus?
No, not at all. The theme of the whole book is Jesus’ coming. But we have to read the book as it was meant to be read.

You see, the destruction of the temple is of huge importance—you could say, cosmic importance. For ancient Israel, the temple wasn’t simply a building where you worshipped—the temple was nothing less than a representation of the world. It was seen as the world in miniature. Why? Because the world itself was seen as one mega-temple—we worship God in this world; the world is sacred.

The two concepts are two sides of the same coin: the world is a temple, the temple is a miniature world. In fact, the various parts of the temple were understood as symbols of the various parts of creation. For example, there was a bronze laver, a huge pool of water—ancient writers saw that as signifying the seas. (For more see here).

So what does the destruction of the temple mean?—the end of the world. It points forward to that event. In fact, in the Gospels, whenever Jesus speaks about the destruction of the temple, he goes on to describe the end of the world (cf. Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). The two events were linked for him. Likewise, they are connected in the Apocalypse.

But furthermore, and I think most important, the book teaches us something else. It shows us that Jesus is coming—truly coming—to the Church in worship. In Revelation 3, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus comes to us and "eats" with us—what is that? It is a reference to the church’s worship. It is through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, that Christ is truly coming to us.

That’s what the author of the Apocalypse is trying to show us. The worship of the Old Covenant has passed away—the temple has passed away. But in the worship of the New Covenant we enter into Christ’s presence and worship him with the angels and saints.

So you think worship is an important key to unlocking the meaning of the book?
Absolutely. The book's proper setting is the worship of the church. At the very beginning of the book, there is a blessing on a reader and on the congregation (cf. Rev 1:3). This shows us that it is clearly meant to be read in church, in worship.

Why is the book so confusing? Is it really possible to understand this book?
There are two things we need to keep in mind. First, the book needs to be read within the larger context of the Bible. It comes at the end of the Bible for a reason—it assumes you’ve read the rest of it. If you turned on the movie Psycho and simply caught the last part of the movie, you’d wonder why you were watching a man dressed up like an old lady. You’d be lost because you didn’t know the whole story.

The Bible is also a story—the Book of Revelation comes last because it represents the final chapter. If you don’t read what comes before it, you’ll be lost. The author assumes that his readers know books like Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah. If you don’t know those books you are going to be totally lost. That’s why the book is so confusing to people—they turn to the back of the book and expect to understand what’s going on without knowing the books the author expects his readers will know. And by the way, he expects his readers to have not only read those books--he expects that they know them like the back of their hand.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the book was written for liturgy. It wasn’t meant to be read by individual people in the privacy of their bedrooms. It was written to read as part of the church’s worship. Most people totally miss the importance of liturgy (public worship) in the book. But really, that’s the key to unlocking the book. The key isn't deciphering "666," or the "thousand year reign"--though most people make these images the be all and end all of the book. In fact, these images only occur once ("666"=Rev 13; "thousand year reign"=Rev 20)! What does appear throughout--on every single page--is worship. That's the context and that's the key.

How would you sum up the message of the book of Revelation?
The message is “hope.” Read the last chapter and you’ll see who finally wins—God and his people. The powers of evil are defeated forever.

The message is also that the Lord is with his people. A lot of people simply see the book of Revelation as describing Jesus’ coming at the end of time. It’s true; he is coming at the end of time. But the book also shows us that the Lord is present here and now with his people. Again, look at Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” From the earliest times, Christians have seen this as a reference to the fact that the Lord comes to the Church in their worship—in the practice of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.

The point is, the Lord is coming soon—as soon as we gather for worship. There we are taken into his presence. As we come before his throne we offer prayers--and those prayers are earth-shaking in their effects.

Friday, July 28, 2006

As Seen On TV

I will be appearing on the Fox News Channel on Saturday. I will be discussing the Apocalypse on Heartland (8pm Eastern; rebroadcasted at 1am Eastern). Of course, I will be discussing material that I cover in my new book, Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today. Please help me spread the word!

Also, please keep it in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Away @ the IABS Conference

I know I haven't blogged at all this week... I apologize. I am currently in Steubenville for the Institute of Applied Biblical Studies Conference. I've been here for several days already.

So many amazing scholars are gathered for this event--it's hard to articulate how exciting it is to be here. Basically, the speaker line up consists of Fellows of the Saint Paul Center. The theme of the conference is "The Unshakeable Kingdom" (cf. Hebrews 12). I'll have more to say about this later.

Blogging will resume on Saturday. Talk to you all then!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Pope's Next Book

That's right... I've heard this before, but it now seems to be official. Here's what Reuters is reporting:

Pope Benedict is writing a book on Jesus that will become the second major theological work of his pontificate, a Vatican source said on Tuesday.

The book, expected to be completed by the end of the summer, focuses on Jesus, the human race and Christianity's relationship with other faiths.

The work, which Benedict started before becoming pope in April 2005, comes at a time when he seeks to restore a strong sense of faith among Catholics in the face of growing secularism and competition form other religions, including Islam.

Benedict, a leading Catholic theologian and prolific author, aimed to include reflections from his experience as pope in the book written in the form of a "theological narrative," the Rome-based la Repubblica newspaper said.
Recently, I saw this picture of the Pope on vacation, writing something. I thought, "That looks like a book project." I can hardly wait. Here's the whole story.

PHOTO: Reuters/L'Osservatore

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Is The Reformation Over? (Revisited)

Scot McKnight is discussing Is The Reformation Over? by Mary A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. The topic has come up on his site before (be sure to read this). The book details the historic ways Catholics and Protestants have come together in recent decades to find common ground. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea how tense things had been between us--even up until the 1970's. For example, in 1945, a Presbyterian preacher named Carl McIntyre said:

"As we enter the post-world war, without any doubt the greatest enemy of freedom and liberty that the world has to face today is the Roman Catholic system. Yes, we have Communism in Russia and all that is involved there, but if one had to choose between the two. . . one would be much better off in a communistic society than in a Roman Catholic Fascist set-up. . . . America has to face the Roman Catholic terror: The sooner the Christian people of America wake up to the danger the safer will be our land." (cited by Noll and Nystrom, 38).

Wow! Contrast that with the state of affairs today. One illustration--Noll and Nystrom state that "in early 2004 a survey of American evangelicals revealed a higher favorability rating for John Paul II (59 percent) than for either Jerry Falwell (44 percent) or Pat Robertson (54 percent)" [28; see footnote for source]. Of course, that's only one example of the remarkable change in tone.

Another example would be that Catholics like me can study at Protestant schools without feeling ostricized. I've even written for the Fuller school paper about being Catholic!

I don't agree with everything Noll and Nystrom say. Certainly, their desire to emphasize common ground between Catholics and Protestants is to be applauded. But little mention is made of, for example, Dominus Iesus--a document that must be seriously factored into the discussion.

Nonetheless, what we are seeing in terms of honesty in dialogue and cooperation between Christians of different traditions is truly unparalleled. My good friend, Brant Pitre, a Catholic scholar, just had his book published by Baker Academic--what a blessing to be working with a non-Catholic publishing house! In fact, Pitre builds on the work of non-Catholic scholars like Dale Allison and N. T. Wright. At the same time, Wright, arguably the most influential Evangelical scholar, has expressed his deep gratitude to the late Catholic scholar Ben Meyer for guiding much of his own thought and work. [If you're a fan of Wright's work on Jesus and you haven't read Meyer's book The Aims of Jesus (1979), you don't know what you're missing! It is, bar none, the most overlooked and underappreciated book on Jesus. Meyer was talking about "restoration eschatology" long before Sanders' Jesus and Judaism (1985). But I digress...]

No one has inspired me more in this regard than my mentor, Scott Hahn. Who would ever have thought that Scott Hahn would be invited to speak at Baylor University on Pope Benedict's critique of biblical scholarship?! Or that a Catholic scholar would be writing books with leading Protestant scholars like Craig Bartholomew, Joel B. Green, and Anthony C. Thiselton?!

There is truly something historic and unprecedented about a book being published by two distinguished Protestant thinkers with the title, Is the Reformation Over? May God continue to bless the discussion...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 4)

4. On-going Exile?
Wright’s work has sparked enormous debate about the presence of such restoration hopes in the first century, and the degree to which Jesus’ ministry should be read against them.[1] Maurice Casey has disputed Wright’s claim that Jews in the first century believed they were living in exile. In a review of Jesus and the Victory of God, Casey writes:

“The next serious problem is almost a leitmotiv of the whole book: the notion that Jews believed that they were in exile. At the time of Jesus, many Jews lived in Israel. Some lived permanently in Jerusalem. Jews came to Jerusalem from all over Israel and the diaspora for the major feasts… We would need stunningly strong arguments to convince us that these Jews really believed they were in exile.”[2]

Casey goes on to call “all” Wright’s arguments for an ongoing exile “quite spurious.”[3] Specifically, he disputes the claim that Jesus’ forgiveness of sins should be understood in connection with return from exile. He argues that return from exile does not necessarily follow from forgiveness of sins—there are many cases in which a people or an individual repent without such associations.[4]

An important reply to Casey has come from Craig Evans. Evans, I believe, demonstrates convincingly that Jews did not believe the return from Babylon constituted the end of exile. Evans cites Ezra 9:8-9:

“But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant, and to give us a secure hold within this holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are bondmen; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem”[5]
Evans also cites Nehemiah 9:36: “Here we are, slaves to this day—slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors…”

2 Maccabees likewise implies that restoration from exile had not yet happened. In speaking of the location of the ark of the covenant it is said, “The place shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy” (2 Macc 2:7). Later, the author states: “We have hope in God that he will soon have mercy on us and will gather us from everywhere under heaven into his holy place” (2 Macc 2:18).

That first century Jews believed the exile was ongoing also seems apparent from messianic movements recorded by Josephus. The account of Theudas and the Egyptian Jew indicates that they used new Exodus themes in their message:
• working wonders (terata) and “signs” (sÄ“mia) (cf. LXX Exod 7:3, 9;11:9-10; Deut 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 11:3; 13:3; 26:8l 28:46; 29:2; 34:11)
• evoking Moses’ prediction of a coming prophet who would be like him (cf. Deut 18:15-22)
• persuading the people to “take up their possessions and to follow him to the Jordan River” (cf. Antiquities of the Jews 20.5.1)
• the command to part the waters
• the promise that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall (i.e., like Jericho).[6]

From the symbolism of their messages it seems clear that these men “promised a new conquest of the land.”[7] What seems clear from movements such as these is that Jews of the Second Temple period clearly believed the exile had not yet ended.[8]

Moreover, Evans points to certain passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls which indicate the belief in an ongoing exile and the hope of a future restoration. 1QM 1:3 looks forward to a future cosmic battle, “when the exiles of the Sons of Light return from the wilderness of the peoples to camp in the wilderness of Jerusalem.” Likewise 4Q504 2:7-17 implores the Lord to bring an end to the exile:
“May your anger and fury at all [their] sin[s] turn back from your people Israel…Remember the wonders that you performed while the nations look on—surely we have been called by your name. [These things were done] that we might [repe]nt with all our heart and all our soul, to plant your law in our hearts [that we turn not from it, straying] either to the right or to the left. Surely you will heal us from such madness, blindness and confusion. . . . [Behold,] we were sold [as the price] of our [in]iquity, yet despite our rebellion you have called us. [. . .] Deliver us from sinning against you, [. . .] give us to understand the seasons [of your compassion].”

In addition, we should mention 4Q504: “You have not abandoned us among the nations; rather, you have shown covenant mercies to your people Israel in all [the] lands to which you have exiled them.” The Targumic literature also indicates a hope for a future restoration of the exiles.[9]

Continue to Part 5...

[1] Clive Marsh, “Theological History? N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God,” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 69 (1998):77-94; Maurice Casey, “Where Wright is Wrong: A Critical Review of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God,” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 69 (1998): 95-103. Wright responds in “Theology, History and Jesus: A Response to Maurice Casey and Clive Marsh,” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 69: 105-12; F. G. Downing, “Exile in Formative Judaism,” in Making Sense in (and of) the First Christian Century (JSNTS 200; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000); Craig Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (ed. Casey C. Newman; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999): 78; James Dunn, Jesus Remembered, (vol. 1 in Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 473-77; I. H. Jones, “Disputed Questions in Biblical Studies: 4. Exile and Eschatology” in Expository Times 112 (2000-1) 401-5.
[2] Casey, “Where Wright Went Wrong,” 99.
[3] Casey, “Where Wright Went Wrong,” 99.
[4] Casey, “Where Wright Went Wrong,” 100. Indeed, Wright has been accused of “over reading” exilic themes. See Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 470-77. Klyne R. Snodgrass, “Reading and Overreading the Parables in Jesus and the Victory of God,” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God: 65, 69-76.
[5] Cited with emphasis from Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel,” 85.
[6] See Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel,” 80-81.
[7] Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel,” 82.
[8] Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel,” 82.
[9] Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile,” 89.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 3)

3. N. T. Wright and the Ongoing Exile
N. T. Wright has argued that Jesus’ preaching must be set against the backdrop of these “restoration” hopes. While the residents of the southern Kingdom of Judah (Judeans, “Jews”) did return in about 538 B.C., Wright argues that exile experience did not end. He believes that Jews equated Roman occupation with exile—as long as they were still under foreign oppression they were, so to speak, “in exile.” [Wright, New Testament and the People, 268-9]

Wright argues that Jesus' teaching needs to be understood against this backdrop. He points out that the phrase “Kingdom of God” was specifically connected with this hope in first-century Jewish thought. Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom should be seen as reflecting restoration eschatology (i.e., the hope that God would vindicate Israel from exile, deliver them from the oppression of their enemies, cleanse the land, and rule over the whole world as King through them).

According to Wright, Jesus interpreted the hope of restoration “theologically.” Through his ministry, Jesus believed the Lord was present, defeating the powers of evil—understood not primarily as political powers, but, rather, as spiritual forces. Through his exorcisms and healings, Jesus brought about true liberation. Since, as we saw earlier, restoration was linked to repentance, Jesus believed that through his call to repentance, Israel was being cleansed and restored to God. Jesus was thus making a radical move, rejecting a national-political vision. For Wright, it was this non-political interpretation of the Israel's hope that led to his rejection and death.

Moreover, Wright shows how “restoration” was often linked with resurrection in Old Testament and Jewish thought. He mentions a number of passages.

Daniel 12:2-3: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

Isaiah 26:19: “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”

Hosea 6:1: “Come, let us return to YHWH: for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

Also, see the above prophecy from Ezekiel 37 [cf. Part 1 of this Essay]. Jesus' resurrection was thus understood in terms of the restoration of Israel. Wright does not mention it, but it is interesting to note that the actual word “diaspora” was used most commonly in reference to the decomposition of a body after death [See James Scott, “Exile and the Self-Understanding of Diaspora Jews,” in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Conceptions (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 178-179.].

Continue to Part 4...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Jesus' Priesthood in the Gospels

From the treasure troves of the Saint Paul Center's on-line article collection, here's an essay by Crispin Fletcher-Louis. Fletcher-Louis argues that there was a priestly consciousness in Jesus' self-understanding. In particular he highlights the cultic background of the "Son of Man" tradition--something scholars have often overlooked.

In fact, because of Protestant bias, Fletcher argues that priesthood has been altogether neglected. He writes,

"Jesus' priestly character has been ignored, first and foremost, because the priesthood has itself been ignored in modern biblical studies. In the Old Testament the priesthood--its ordination, clothing, sacrificial and other responsibilities--is described with considerable detail; in the Pentateuch (Exodus-Numbers), in the works of the Chronicler and various other tets (e.g., Ezekiel, Zechariah 3-6, Malachi, Joel). But Old Testament scholarship has traditionally marginalized these portions of the canon. They have been judged a lamentable decline in Israelite religion from the pure faith of the prophets and the Deuteronomist into a post-exilic obsession with cultic order and institutional religiousity. J. Wellhausen's brazen derision of the Priestly material in the Pentateuch is now well-known as a parade example of the commitments and values of the (liberal) Protestantism that has dominated biblical scholarship for the majority of the modern period. Disinterest in, for example, the description of Aaron's garments in Exodus 28 and the minutiae of Tabernacle measurements and upholstery in Exodus (25-31, 35-40), reflects for this scholarly 'tradition' a deeply felt antipathy to anything that smacks of a high church spirituality. And that antipathy has, until the post-modern resurgence of interest in metaphor, story, drama and sacrament, been validated by the modern secular opposition to mystery, symbol, allegory and ritual (a.k.a. 'magic')."

Going on, Fletcher-Louis mentions Jesus' use of Psalm 110, which, in the second Temple period, was understood as describing a royal-priestly messianic figure. However, the most insightful part of the article is his analysis of Jesus' self-description as the "Son of Man." Among other things, he demonstrates how the eschatological "Son of Man"--in particular the "Son of Man" in Daniel 7--was linked to priestly traditions. For example, Daniel 7 describes the Son of Man coming in the clouds. He links this to Leviticus 16, where the priest enters the holy of holies "in a cloud" of incense (cf. 16:13).

Furthermore, Fletcher-Louis relates the way the high priest had the dual role of both representing God to the people, and the people to God. Here we have a corollary to what we find in Daniel's Son of Man figure as well, who was likewise understood as bearing the image of the divine and representing God's people (e.g., receiving the kingdom of God).

In order to support his priestly reading of Daniel 7, he turns to other Jewish texts such as the book of Enoch, which clearly describes the "Son of Man" in priestly terms. Moreover, he mentions that Revelation 1 seems to make the natural connection between Jesus' identity as the Son of Man and his priesthood (e.g., Jesus wears priestly garments).

Another key insight found in this article pertains to the account of the healing of the woman with a flow of blood (Luke 8:43-48). There we read about Jesus' "contagious holiness." The woman reaches out and touches Jesus' garment--but instead of making Jesus unclean, power flows from Jesus and cures her. Fletcher-Louis shows that there is no precedent for this--i.e., no example of someone being cured by touching the garment of a healer. He argues that this story is best understood in connection with the "contagious holiness" of the priest. In the Old Testament, it is the priest's garments which are capable of communicating holiness. He looks at passages such as Ezekiel 44:19,
"And when [the priests] go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering, and lay them in the holy chambers; and they shall put on other garments lest they communicate holiness to the people with their garments."
The article is truly amazing. Be sure to read the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 2)

2. The New Exodus
The dominant image used by the prophets to describe the hope for the restoration from exile is the Exodus. Just as the Lord had delivered his people from their bondage in Egypt, so too in the future the Lord would gather his people from all the lands to which they had been scattered. This is the dominant theme of Isaiah 40-55. Rikki Watts explains: “Although other canonical writings appeal to the Exodus tradition, here it is elevated to its most prominent status as a hermenuetic, and according to some commentators, shapes the heart of 40-55.” Examples of Exodus typology in passages that refer to the New Exodus include wilderness imagery, the theme of “the way,” sea imagery, and references to a "new song" to the Lord" (i.e., akin to the song sung after the parting of the Red Sea). These themes are especially brought out in Book IV of the Psalter.

Yet, the New Exodus would be greater than the first because, whereas in the first Exodus, Israel came out of the nation of Egypt and journeyed to the promised land, the New Exodus would bring about the conversion of the nations who would come with Israel to Zion. The prophet Micah states:
“Many nations shall come, and say,
‘Come, let us climb the mount of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
that we may walk in his paths.’
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”[1]

Isaiah, likewise states:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and to restore the preserved of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”[2]

The idea here is that in seeing the Lord restore his people the nations will be convinced that he is the true God and turn to him.[3]

Continue to Part 3...
[1] Micah 4:2.
[2] Isaiah 49:6.
[3] This is especially clear in Ezekiel 36:23-24: “I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it. Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you. For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land.”

An Early 20th Century Scholar Who Took On Q

Mark Goodacre has a post up on his site on the Q scepticism of E. W. Lummis, an early twentieth century biblical scholar. Here's an excerpt Goodacre gives us from an article Lummis wrote in 1925...

"My grudge against 'Q' is this, that it inaugurated a vicious fashion in New Testament scholarship. Instead of obeying the tenor of facts that lay before them, scholars have taken to calling up imaginary documents out of the unknown. There is not the slightest scrap of evidence for 'Q,' or for 'Corrected Mark,' or for Dr Stanton's 'other documents' which served as sources both for Matthew and for Luke, or for such special selective assimilation as he posits in the ancestral manuscripts of the New Testament. Such facile fabrications, invented to evade the clear suggestion of the actual texts as we have them, are a sin against learning. Nor can I understand the grounds of the obstinate refusal of divines to admit—in face of overwhelming evidence—that Luke was acquainted with Matthew."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 1)

The task of this brief essay is to examine “Exile Theology” as it relates to Jesus studies. At first glance, this may seem like a simple matter. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Old Testament studies knows the profound impact the exile had on Israel’s history, expectations, etc.[1] In fact, views regarding the importance and influence on the theology and expectations of Jews in the first century run the gamut—some believe restoration from exile was the central hope of Second Temple Judaism (e.g., N. T. Wright), while others dispute the entire notion that the Jews of Jesus’ day thought they were in exile (e.g., Maurice Casey). Here we will examine some of the issues involved.

1. Exile and Restoration in the Torah and Prophets[2]
The hope for restoration is clearly expressed in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 27, Moses lays out for Israel the way they shall renew the covenant with the Lord.[3] The first fourteen verses of Deuteronomy 28 provide a description of the blessings that are attached to obedience—health, prosperity and victory over their enemies (28:1-14). The remaining fifty-three verses describe the curses Israel’s disobedience will trigger—climaxing in Israel's being sent off into exile, a scattering which appears irreversible.

Moses goes on to say that Israel will inevitably disobey and be scattered to distant lands. However, their suffering will lead to repentance:

When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you.  Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back.
Exile, therefore, would not be the end of the story—restoration would follow once Israel repented.

According to the rest of the Old Testament, the exile came as promised. In the 8th century b.c. the northern tribes (the house of “Israel” or “Ephraim”) were led off into captivity by the Assyrians. This deportation is described by Amos: “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land” (Amos 7:11, cf. 7:17). Later, in the 6th century b.c., those from Judah (the southern tribes) were led off into the Babylonian captivity.

Yet, despite the apparent cataclysmic destruction, the prophets described a future restoration. It would be impossible to enumerate all of the prophecies here. Here are just a few.

Is. 11:11-13, 16: On that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations, and will assemble
the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, the hostility of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not be hostile towards Ephraim... there shall be a highway from Assyria for the remnant that is left of his people, as there was for Israel, when they came up from the land of Egypt.

Jer. 10:3: For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.

Ezek 37:11-14: Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’ The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, take a stick and write on it, “For Judah, and the Israelites associated with it”; then take another stick and write on it, “For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with it”; and join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand.  And when your people say to you, “Will you not show us what you mean by these?”  say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am about to take the stick of Joseph (which is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with it; and I will put the stick of Judah upon it, and make them one stick, in order that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes,  then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land.  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

Hos. 11:10-11: I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst and I will not come in wrath. They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

In connection with this restoration theme, the biblical literature frequently makes use of Exodus imagery. We will deal with the New Exodus next time...

Continue to Part 2...

[1] See, for example, the work of David Smith-Christopher. The Religion of the Landless: The Social Context of the Babylonian Exile (Bloomington: Meyer-Stone Books, 1989) who emphasizes the social and psychological impact of the exile on Israel.
[2] This section will only offer a brief overview of the topic. Much more, of course, could be said. For a fuller discussion, see Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; Edited by J. H. Scott;. Leiden: Brill, 2001).
[3] This was accomplished through self-maledictory oath swearing. See, for example, Mosh Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1-11 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 50; Meredith Kline, “Dynastic Covenant” in Westminster Theological Journal 23 (1960): 1-15.
[4] Examples of Exodus imagery used include wilderness imagery, the theme of “the way,” sea imagery, and references to singing a "new song" to the Lord.”

Friday, July 07, 2006

Giving Of Ourselves

One of my very favorite Catholic bloggers is Steve Bogners. His posts on his site Catholicism, Holiness and Spirituality are thought provoking and challenging. His most recent entry really got me thinking.

He posts on last Sunday's reading, taken from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. Paul writes,

"Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. This does not mean that to give relief to others you ought to make things difficult for yourselves: it is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need. That is how we strike a balance: as scripture says: The man who gathered much had none too much, the man who gathered little did not go short."
Of course, my theologically trained mind immediately zooms in on Paul's description of Jesus: "he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty." Is this an early reference to the divinity and pre-existence of Jesus? Well, that's for another day.

While I was off in the clouds contemplating the meaning of the first verse, Steve was actually paying attention to the rest of the reading, which discusses giving to the poor.

He reports what his pastor said during the homily: "It is not that you ought to relieve other people's needs and leave yourself in a hardship; but there should be a fair balance."

He then reflects on this.

What is a fair balance? How do we determine a fair balance? Fairness, I think, looks different depending on one's perspective. Suppose I've worked hard to get a good education, and then used it to get a good job, working hard to advance my position and my earnings so that I'll have money to buy a nice house, send the kids to a private school, and take nice vacations. From the perspective of a person who grew up in the inner city or in parts of rural America, with no father and poor public schooling, without a sense of direction or achievement who struggles to make ends meet, how much charity on my part is 'a fair balance'?
I highly encourage you to read the whole thing. His conclusion is especially poignant.

One of the dangers, in my opinion, of living in a capitalistic society is believing that we deserve what we earn and have a right to keep it all to ourselves. Everything we earn is due to God's grace, and I think that Jesus doesn't want us to be selfish with the products of God's grace. I suppose that as we get closer to actually living the Gospel, the question of what exactly
determines 'a fair balance' simply fades away.
In the comment-box, someone mentions a 1979 homily given by John Paul II. He said, "You must never be content to leave [the poor] just the crumbs from the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like a guest at your family table" [Homily at Yankee Standium, 1979; cited from U.S.A.: The Message of Justice, Peace and Love (Boston: The Daughters of St. Paul, 1979), 81].

In connection with this theme, I want to mention another passage.

One of the most challenging stories in all of the Gospels, I believe, is that story of the rich young man. I come back to it over and over again. My favorite version of the story is found in Mark 10:17-22.

The rich man--or the "ruler" in Mark--runs up to Jesus and asks him what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments: "You know the commandments: `Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother'" (Mark 10:19)

The man's response is amazing. "Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth" (Mark 10:20). He tells Jesus that he's kept all of the commandments--from his youth no less!

Can any of us say that?! That we've never lied, or shown dishonor to our parents, etc.?--that seems impossible!

But here's the remarkable thing--Jesus, who knows all, doesn't contradict him. He doesn't challenge him on his assertion. He doesn't say, "Come now, you know better than that." Instead, Jesus lets the assertion stand. Mark tells us, "Jesus looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' (Mark 10:21).

The man could have dropped everything and followed Jesus. He could have been the thirteenth apostle! What an invitation! But, instead, he went away "sad"--he loved his money more than Jesus. His name has been lost to history and all we remember him for is his, "No."

Keeping the commandments are not enough. What matters is love--loving Jesus more than anything else. Jesus challenged the man to give up his wealth, because it was something he loved more than our Lord.
I think that's the question we always need to ask ourselves. It's not whether we should have money--it's whether we love our money more than Jesus. Do we love our success, our new plasma television, our status, our favorite television show, our friends--whatever--more than Jesus?

When we give to the poor we need to ask ourselves, are really giving of ourselves or just whatever is extra? Are we really give God ourselves, or the left-overs?

That seems to be the issue to me.

Jesus gives us this challenge because he looks on us and loves us. He knows selfishness only leads to sadness. To keep one's life, one must give it away--to God, and to others. That's what Christ does--he gives His life for us: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

About Blogging

Mark Goodacre is challenging other bloggers to answer Francis Ward's questions about blogging. I see Loren Rossen has taken part. Here are my answers... For those of you new to the site, this may be especially helpful.

1. How long have you been blogging?
I started almost six months ago. I began February 21, 2006.

2. What got you started?
Three things made me want to start a blog. First, I realized I needed to have a place of my own on the web—a place where people could easily find me. Secondly, I saw a need for a Catholic blog devoted to theology and biblical scholarship. There are many informative Catholic blogs, but very few regularly keep in touch with the scholarly community--many are simply devoted to apologetics. Non-Catholic scholars such as Scot McKnight, Mark Goodacre, Michael Bird, Peter Leithart, as well as many others have contributed a great deal to the academy and to the faithful through blogging. I wanted to add a Catholic voice to the discussion. My aim is to contribute to the scholarly community and to the spiritual lives of ordinary believers who never plan on earning advanced degrees. Third, I thought that I could add helpful information to Catholic news stories. For example, when the Pope appointed the last group of new Cardinals it seemed very few knew who Fr. Albert Vanhoye was. I did. I thought I could provide helpful background to such stories.

3. Do you have a history of diary/journal/log writing beforehand?
No. This is an entirely new venture for me.

4. How in your own mind do you negotiate the boundary between private and public? E.g. are there things that you would not put on your blog that you would put in a journal?
My blog focuses on biblical-theological issues and, sometimes, Catholic news stories. I try to keep other issues off the site. For example, I love the Dodgers and The White Stripes, yet they don't merit a place on my blog.

5. How do you decide? What criteria do you use for inclusion/exclusion?
I refrain from negativity. My goal is to build bridges. I can’t stand for negativity or combativeness. I want to engage in honest discussions. I believe most disagreements stem from misunderstandings. We need to be sensitive to that fact and be careful not to allow ourselves to confirm stereotypes and false impressions.

6. How much time, on average, do you spend blogging each day or week?
My general rule is to try to spend about 30-45 minutes a day working on the blog. Some days I don’t get to it at all. Other days I spend more time on it.

7. How many other people do you actively engage with – e.g. are part of your blog community?
I stay on top of a number of blogs—Catholic and non-Catholic. In fact, ecumenical discussion is a large part of what I do. As someone who is both a professor at John Paul the Great Catholic University and a Catholic Ph.D. candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary, that probably doesn’t come as a surprise. I frequently interact with people from different perspectives. I read non-Catholic biblical and theological sites on a daily basis and frequently interact with such blogs. At the same time, I read Catholic sites regularly as well. I really try to stay in touch with both the world of blogging scholarship (which is mostly non-Catholic) and the Catholic blogosphere (which mostly deals with Catholic news items).

8. Who is your readership – literally; as far as you know?
I have tried very hard to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. I want a truly “catholic” site. I think, in this regard, Singing In The Reign is a unique blog. I get mentioned on sites that describe themselves as “conservative” as well as sites that label themselves “progressive.” I want to de-politicize our discussions as much as possible.

Moreover, not only is SITR frequently mentioned on popular-level blogs such as Amy Wellborn’s, it also gets mentioned on academic blogs, such as I try to keep a good balance of posts that would appeal to lay people in the pews with posts that interest academic readers. Scholars stop by as well as ordinary Joe-six-pack Christians. I hear from lay people as well as clergy. Many of my readers are Catholic, but many others are not. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from who ask me, “Why would a Catholic study at Fuller?” I love answering that question.

Ecumenism is a big part of my goal for this site. I want to engage in discussion with the world of blogging biblical studies—which, at present, is dominated by non-Catholics. I want to show what contributions a Catholic perspective can make to the discussion. I think open and honest dialogue in the scholarly world is one of the most exciting avenues of ecumenism. Scott Hahn and Scot McKnight are two scholars who have really been at the forefront of this discussion.

I want to appeal to as many people as possible. I am a Pope-Benedict-loving, Catholic academic—but I believe I can learn things from people from almost any perspective—Catholic, Protestant, laity, clergy, ordinary believer or academic. In fact, what else would it mean to be “catholic”?

9. and metaphorically? Do you imagine someone to whom you write/with whom you engage?
I always assume I am speaking to people from different perspectives than my own. In this, it is my goal to remain both respectful and informative. My goal is to build bridges—not walls.

10. What counts as successful blogging?
These are a few of the things that signal that I am achieving my goals for this site. When something I say helps clarify an aspect of Catholic thought. When someone tells me that a post made them eager to participate in the liturgical life of the Church. When someone thanks me for recommending a book that they had not heard of before. When a popular-level site picks up a post dealing with an academic issue. When a post helps someone with their prayer life. When a post gets mentioned by a blogger I respect—especially when it gets picked up by a biblical scholar I regularly read. When the site is mentioned by a non-Catholic blogger. When the site helps introduce someone to John Paul the Great Catholic University, the Saint Paul Center, the Catholic Resource Center or any other organization I am proud to work with. When I can manage a post concerning an academic issue and find a way to make it fun to read. (I’ll let me readers determine if I’ve been able to do that). When this site gets mentioned by Pope Benedict in an encyclical—hey it could happen! Not.

11. What does blogging offer as a method of theological reflection?
What potential do you see for blogging as a method of theological reflection?
Blogging is great because it allows for interaction. I know a lot of people are concerned that if they post their ideas they may get stolen. To me, that’s being overly cautious. Moreover, it’s silly. We need to be interacting with one another so that we can refine and polish our ideas. Constructive criticism—made with charity—will only help us in our attempt at doing theology and exegesis.

13. Do you know of examples of theological education programmes where students are required to keep a learning journal and blog as a form of journal?
No, but now that you mention it I might think of working it into my courses at JP Catholic.

14. Blogging and gender: do you think gender makes any difference to any of the above questions?
Yes—I’ll just leave it at that. Men and women are different.

Thank you...

I want to take a moment to thank all those who have mentioned this blog lately. Singing In The Reign has now been added to, an extremely well respected site, edited by biblical scholars Brandon Wason and Jim West. It is read by many in academic circles--in fact, it's a "must read" if you are interested in biblical studies.

I am also grateful to all those who covered the story about Fr. Peter Irving. This site covers not only biblical and theological issues, but it also occassionally comments on Catholic news stories. With so much going on "at the top"--i.e., the Roman Curia--I felt that we all need to remember in our prayers those who are in the trenches, pouring their lives out in ministry. That's what that story was all about. Thanks in a special way to Amy and Jeff who really helped get the word out. In addition, let me thank Catholic bloggers, Musings of a Catholic Bookstore, Cvstus Fidei, Adjutorium Nostrum, Te Deum Laudamus; te Dominum confitemur, and The Digital Hairshirt. In a special way, I also want to express my appreciation to non-Catholic site Toward Jerusalem for picking up the story.

I hope you will all continue to drop by this site.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vanhoozer on the Ethics of Communication

As I'm working on my dissertation, I'm re-reading a number of books. Yesterday, I worked through Dale Allison's The End of the Ages. Today I'm working through Kevin Vanhoozer's wonderful book First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002).

Here's Vanhoozer on the ethics of communicative action:

"What Wittgenstein and others have shown us is that words do not do one thing only--say represent the world--but that we can do many things with words. Speaking and writing may therefore be deemed to be forms of what I shall call communicative action. Furthermore, if using language is a form of action, we would do well to think about the ethical implications of doing things with words. Both speakers/authors and listeners/readers have communicative responsibilities. Communicative agents have a responsibility to make good on their claims. Yet recipients or observers of communicative actions are responsible for doing justice to the words of others. In an age that has celebrated the birth and the creativity of the reader, it is not hard to see how authors figure among the marginalized voices of our times. Doing justice to an author--arguably the most marginalized other in postmodernity!--means recognizing what the author has said and done in a text, rather than foisting one's own opinions and ideas onto the text. I take this to be an implication of both the Golden Rule and the ninth commandment: 'Thou shalt not bear fase witness'"(First Theology, 34).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Allison on Eschatological Suffering

I've been re-reading Dale Allison's book, The End of the Ages Has Come: An Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress: 1985). This book is full of insights.

One thing Allison points out is the similarity between Mark 13:5-13 and John 15:18-16:11. Mark 13 is describing eschatological suffering; John 15-16 is discussing the future of the Church. Allison argues that John uses eschatological language to describe the Church's future. This is how he lays out the parallels:
Mark 13:13: "You will be hated by all for my name's sake"
John 15:19: "I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you"

Mark 13:9: "They will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake"
John 15:20-21: "They will persecute you... on my account"

Mark 13:11: "Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit"
John 15:26-27; 16:7: Jesus will send the Spirit of truth and he will witness concerning Jesus

Mark 13:9-10: The persecution of Christians is a testimony (martyrion) and the gospel must first be preached to all the peoples
John 15:27: "You also are [my] witnesses (maptyreite)"

Mark 13:5, 23: "Take heed that no one leads you astray... I have told you all things beforehand"
John 16:1: "I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away"

Mark 13:9: "You will be beaten in synagogues"
John 16:2: "They will put you out of the synagogues"

Mark 13:12: "Brother will hand brother to death, and father son, and children will rise against parents and kill them" (trans. by Allison)
John 16:2: "Whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God"