Saturday, December 31, 2011

What is the “Name” of God?: The Readings for the Octave of Christmas

Years ago, while I was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, some very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses paid a visit to my home and tried to persuade me that I was missing out on God’s best in my life, because I was not praying to God by the correct name: Jehovah.

I disagreed with them, and still do, because of the truths that emerge from the Scriptures read at Mass for this weekend.

This Sunday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, as well as the Octave Day of Christmas. We notice that the Readings chosen for Mass are not explicitly Marian, but tend to follow the theme of the Octave, with the Gospel Reading giving the account of the circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth.

Thus, a dominant motif throughout the Readings is the name of God.

Friday, December 30, 2011

TSP 13: Mary, the Mother of God--Theotokos and Queen Mother

Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos). What is the history of this feast? How does our understanding of Mary relate to our understanding of Christ?

In the first half of the show we cover the Nestorian heresy and the Council of Ephesus. We then move on to talk about something that often gets overlooked: the role of the Queen Mother in the ancient Near East and then in the Old Testament (giberah). In particular, we look at royal maternity in the Davidic kingdom. We then turn to see how this forms a possible backdrop for understanding Mary's role in the New Testament--i.e., the Mother of the Son of David.

Below you'll find an outline of some of the items discussed plus more:

Podcast: The Feast of Mary the Mother of God: Theotokos and Queen Mother

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sacred Page Podcast is Now Fully Functioning on iTunes

We announced last week that The Sacred Page podcast was coming to iTunes. It is now fully available there. Just do a search for "Sacred Page" or "Michael Barber" and you'll easily find it! You can also just go to this link.

Again, we'd really appreciate positive reviews. Please help us maintain a positive rating by going over to the site and posting there. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom and you'll see where you can register a comment and give the podcast the rating.

On that score, I'd like to take a moment to offer heartfelt personal  thanks to "David" and "frjmt" for lending us a hand by posting in the review section on iTunes. We really appreciated the kind comments about the show. God bless you!

One last thing: please don't forget to tell your friends about our show. Some ideas:
  • Email your friends a link to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes
  • Post about The Sacred Page Podcast on Facebook
  • Rent an airplane with a banner that reads, "Listen to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes"
  • Go to a filming of a TV show like Good Morning America and stand behind the reporter on camera wearing a "Listen to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes!" t-shirt. 
  • Hire the Goodyear blimp and run an ad for The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes on it
In short, we are grateful for any help we can get publicizing the show. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why are there no Parables in the Fourth Gospel?

A reader of this blog from Papillion, Nebraska, asked the following via email:
Dear. Dr. Barber,
I was going over a list of parables when I notice that there are none in John. (I'm not a scholar!). I then read your article on the authorship of John. Do you think that the lack of parables says anything about the authorship? Do you know why there are no parables in John? I tried to do a search on it and couldn't find anything.
This is a good question.

Ultimately, I have to say: I'm not sure. However, I do have some assorted thoughts on the matter that might combine together to equal some sort of answer. This is sort of "half-baked", but let me just offer a couple of ideas.

John 21: Later Addition or Epilogue?

Is John 21--the chapter where, arguably, we learn the most about the "beloved disciple"--a later addition to the book or was it originally part of the Gospel?

It is widely acknowledged that John 20 stands as an appropriate ending to the book. It presents us with, what Beasely-Murray calls, a "total picture of the Easter story": the empty tomb, the witness of Mary Magdalene, the confirmation of the empty tomb by two disciples, an appearance of Jesus to Mary and other disciples, the reception of the Spirit and Jesus' commissioning of the apostles.

Moreover, the chapter ends with an epilogue, which seems to bring the book to a close: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).

Beasely-Murray thus concludes: "Had he planned to record the appearance(s) to Peter and his colleagues narrated in chap. 21 he would have composed chap. 20 differently" [George R. Beasely-Murray, John (2nd ed.; WBC 36; Columbia: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 395].

Looking at chapter 21, many scholars argue that it was written by another hand. One of the reasons for this is that it seems as though chapter 21 does not follow neatly from chapter 20. In addition to the fact that John 20:30-31 seems to tie up the Gospel narrative in such a way as to conclude the Gospel, some have argued that John 21 also seems detached from what has come before it.

Is this so? Let us examine this more closely.

Did John Write the Fourth Gospel?

Since today is the feast of St. John the Apostle, I thought I'd look at a question many will be talking about: Is the Fourth Gospel written by John?

I've written on this before, but I thought I'd revisit this again in two posts today. Indeed, I've been revisiting this material lately. I am currently preparing for a graduate level course on the Gospel of John at JP Catholic, which I will be co-teaching with Dr. Scott Hahn at JP Catholic.

Patristic Sources

Once again, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the weight of the earliest testimony regarding the question of authorship.

Clearly the unanimous testimony of the early Church was that John the Apostle wrote the book. Two of the clearest references are found in Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment.

“Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”--Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3. 3. 4 (~180 A.D.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen's Christ-like Holiness

Happy Feast of St. Stephen! Since Stephen is one of my favorite saints I couldn't let the day go by without posting something in his honor. In fact, we named our second son after him: Matthew Stephen. This is from my earlier series of posts (Part 1Part 2, Part 3) on the book of Acts. (The picture to the right was taken at the traditional site of Stephen's tomb).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Now on iTunes: The Sacred Page Podcast!

Today we get to make a huge announcement. 

After reviewing our podcast, "The Sacred Page with Michael Barber," the largest music store in the world, Apple's iTunes store, has agreed to carry our show. Apple is still configuring all the settings and it is not yet available through the search engine--give it a couple of days. 

Until then, you can download the show from iTunes here. 

Please, please consider writing a positive review so that we can get a positive rating--we would greatly appreciate it. And please also share this podcast with others! 

What We’ve All Been Waiting For: Reflections on the Readings for Christmas

Over the next twenty-four hours there are four Masses celebrated by the Church: the Vigil of Christmas, Midnight Mass, Mass at Dawn, and Christmas Day Mass. The Readings for all four are so beautiful, it is like one continual spiritual feast, a veritable gorging on Scripture.

The texts for this Feast Day include some of the most pivotal in all of Scripture, and there is no end to the comments that could be made on each. Books have been written on John 1:1-18 (the Gospel for Christmas Day) alone, so here I am just going to be very brief and selective.

We start off with appetizers at the Vigil Mass, the Readings for which are here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

TSP 12: Leroy Huizenga on Jesus as the New Isaac in Matthew' Gospel

This podcast I was joined by a very special guest: New Testament scholar Leroy Huizenga. Huizenga is Professor of Scripture at the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he also serves as the Director of the Christian Leadership Center (more on that below).

I was so excited about having Huizenga on the show because I believe his work is very important. I think his doctoral dissertation, The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew (Leiden: Brill, 2009), is a ground breaking study. Here then he talks a bit about Jesus' role  as the New Isaac in Matthew.

Of course, given that we are about to celebrate Christmas, we pay special attention to the infancy narrative. Leroy has some fascinating ideas about Sarah-typology in Matthew's portrait of Mary.
In addition, we talk a bit about the historical value of infancy narratives, Jesus' baptism, his arrest and passion, and. . . well, you'll just have to listen.

Visit the Christian Leadership Center's website here (they have a number of good articles up in time for Christimas). He is also an editor (with Richard Hays and Stefan Alkier) of Reading the Bible Intertextually (Baylor Press, 2009). 

As always, I hope you enjoy our podcast! Please leave us your comments in the box below!

Podcast: Leroy Huizenga on Jesus the New Isaac in Matthew's Gospel 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Job Opening at JP Catholic

Want to live in San Diego? Want to be a part of a dynamic Catholic community? See the job opening below:
Vice President - Accreditation, Assessment, Planning, and Research 
JP Catholic University invites applications for the position of Vice President for Accreditation, Assessment, Planning, and Research. Reporting to the Provost, the Vice President (VP) leads and manages the University's: (1) Accreditation efforts and serves as the Accreditation Liaison Officer to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC); (2) Institutional Research, which supports the University's mission and strategic initiatives, including the systematic collection and evaluation of longitudinal data to support planning and institutional accreditation; and (3) strategic academic planning and budgeting processes. 
The VP responsibilities will include. . . 
For more on the qualifications needed and the full job description go here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Podcast: Steve Ray on Archaeology, Bethlehem and Nazareth

In this episode we continue our series of podcasts on the Gospel reports of Jesus' birth. This time I was honored to be joined by my good friend, Catholic author and apologist Steve Ray. Among other things Ray has produced numerous television shows on the Holy Land (now available on DVD). He also takes large groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land each year.

Today we talk a little bit about Nazareth and Bethlehem. What are these places like? Does it snow in Bethlehem? What can we see about the traditional sites honored as Jesus' birthplace, Mary's house, etc.? Why have them become honored as pilgrimage sites?

I hope you enjoy our podcast! (As always, please leave us your comments in the box below!)

To learn more about Steve's work, please be sure to visit his site,

Podcast: Steve Ray on Archaeology, Bethlehem and Nazareth

For more on the theory that Christian "prophets" were the origin of some of the material in the Gospel tradition and other elements of this podcast--with specific references to academic works on the topics--go to earlier posts on here and here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beautiful NEW Catholic Scripture Study International Bible

For all you fans out there of the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition--the translation employed in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church--there's a new edition of the RSVCE that's been recently published that is worthy of your attention (and your purchase!).

I'm speaking of the new Catholic Scripture Study International Bible, published by St. Benedict Press, out of Charlotte, North Carolina.  This new edition of the RSVCE (1966 translation) is a fantastic addition to the world of Catholic Bibles. Some of the following features of the CSS Bible make it stand out from among other modern English versions:

1. Beautiful Layout, Binding, and Artwork
The first striking feature of the new CSS RSV is that it is beautiful outside and in. Black leather binding on the outside, the interior is filled with beautiful religious art and iconography. For whatever reasons, this kind of beauty is something that has been lost in many editions of the Bible published in the last few decades. Anyone familiar with the beautiful cover art that often accompanies books from St Benedict press won't be surprised by the quality of this new Bible. Particularly nice are the icons of various biblical figures and scenes that occur throughout the main text.

2. Wonderful Type, Section Headings, and Paper
In my book (no pun intended), what matters above all for ease of reading is font, font, font! The CSS RSV contains a nice medium-large sized font (I don't know the exact numbering) that is not too big and not too small, but just right. Being a vociferous opponent of glossy paper, the classic white is easy to read and great on the eyes, and get's two thumbs up in my opinion. (However, it is worth noting that that the paper is also a little thin, which makes the Bible smaller and lighter than it would otherwise be, but you can see through it somewhat, which may be a down-side for some readers.)

For those of you who like section headings in the main text of Scripture, the main text of the CSS Bible is filled with bold-faced section headings that give you a clue to the contexts of what you're reading.

3. Both a Reader's Bible and a Study Bible (of Sorts)
One of the unique features of this Bible is the way it spans the gap between a study Bible with footnotes (like the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, of worthy renown), and a simple reader's Bible, without any helps. The CSS RSV is a little bit of both:

On the one hand, the CSS Bible is technically not a study Bible, insofar as the main text is unencumbered by footnotes (though the standard explanatory endnotes that accompany the RSV can be found at the end of both testament).On the other hand, the CSS Bible is filled with dozens and dozens of "Faith Fact" Inserts, which provide short reference essays for many of the most common topics Catholic readers of Scripture will want to know about, such as:

From Sabbath to Sunday
Biblical Origins of the Mass
Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist
Biblical Basis of Purgatory
The Church and Evolution
The Millennium and the Rapture
Sola Scriptura
Four Senses of Scripture
Canon of Scripture
Biblical Basis of Confession, etc. etc.

There's also a long list of "Catholic Apologetics Bible Verses" at the beginning that does a good job of covering all the major target topics and texts, as well as a "Topical Index" at the back that does a great job of answering the common question: "What does the Bible say about X?" from Abortion to Zeal...

In my experience, these kinds of topics, explained from the perspective of Sacred Scripture and tradition, are often where many Catholic readers of Scripture like to begin. These inserts and helps make this a particularly good Bible for beginners.  They can also be really helpful references to have right there in your Bible both for Bible study groups and for those occasions where you might want to have key passages in Scripture ready-at-hand for discussions about the biblical basis of certain Catholic teachings are controverted issues.

4. Calendar of Scripture Readings until the Year 2040
In my opinion, every Catholic Bible should have a calendar of Scripture readings so that you can read along with the Lectionary of Sunday and daily Masses. The CSS Bible has just such a calendar, going up to the year 2040. If you're my age, that should hold you till you die; if you're a bit younger, you might need to buy a new edition 30 yrs down the road. But in any case, if, for example, you enjoy doing lectio divina in your own Bible but along with the Lectionary, the CSS Bible is perfect.

5. Words of Christ in Red
Last, but not least, call me sentimental and old-fashioned, but the first real Bible I ever owned was an NAB with the words of Christ in red, and then, as now, I love it. (I realize that having a Ph.D. should have dispelled me of such affections, but I can't seem to shake 'em).  I don't know of any other RSV editions that have this quasi-liturgical feature (think of the red and black ink in Missals), but the new CSS Bible does, so if this something you like, it's another attractive feature that adds to the beauty of this edition.

A Great Christmas or Lenten Gift

In short, if you're looking for a great Christmas gift for family members and want to get a Bible that is so inviting someone might actually read it and learn from it, then the CSS RSV is a great idea. In particular, I'd recommend it for beginning readers of Scripture, older Catholics who might need a typeface that's big enough to be read easily, new Catholics going through RCIA or RCIC and who want to learn more about the biblical basics of their faith, or anyone who may be tired of the bad font and bad layouts that plague some editions of the Bible from the 1970s and 1980s. Readers enjoy!

Podcast: Are the Gospel Stories About Jesus' Birth Historical?

I've been swamped over the last few weeks finishing up the quarter and so I've been behind in posting the latest podcasts of The Sacred Page program. Now I'm going to get you all caught up.

Over the last couple weeks we've been focusing on the readings for Christmas, i.e., the "infancy narratives" of Christ. We've been looking at their historical value and meaning.

This show--the first in a series--explores some of the broad issues, although a lot more will be discussed in upcoming podcasts. Here, among other things, we look at the reason many scholars have been skeptical about the Gospels' historical worth. In particular, we look at the impact of Bultmann and other earlier "form-critical" scholars who viewed the Gospels in terms of "folklore". We then look at more recent discoveries that call their approach to the Gospels into question. We also explore the claim that the Gospel stories about Jesus' birth were invented to parallel myths about pagan gods.

I'd love to get your comments! Sound off in the box below!

Podcast: Are the Gospel Stories About Jesus' Birth Historical? 

For more on the theory that Christian "prophets" were the origin of some of the material in the Gospel tradition and other elements of this podcast--with specific references to academic works on the topics--go to earlier posts on here and here.

The Once and Future King: The Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

T.H. White wrote a fantasy novel about King Arthur in the 1950s called “The Once and Future King,” which my English class was assigned to read in 8th grade. The title comes from the legendary Latin inscription on Arthur’s tomb, Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus: “Here lies Arthur, king at one time, and king to be.”

For the ancient Israelites, David was their “Arthur”: a king of fame and renown, to whom God had made great promises, and whose return they expected.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My New Book Now on Amazon

My popular book on Scripture is now posted on Amazon.  Actual publication is a few weeks or months off.  The book is a condensation of the approach I take to the Bible in my undergraduate survey courses on Old and New Testament.

Ave Maria Press, on the campus of Notre Dame, is publishing the book.

Click on the image to see the Amazon listing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Webinar Tonight on the Blessed Mother

Michael and I will be talking live tonight, starting at 7:00PM EST, as part of a Fullness of Truth Advent Special on the Blessed Mother.  Here's the link to sign up for the event.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Courtship Continues: Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent

It may seem counterintuitive, but Advent has a courtship aspect to it.

Waiting for Christmas is like waiting for one’s wedding. A wedding unites two persons “as one flesh.” At Christmas, the LORD, bridegroom of Israel (Isaiah 54:4-8), unites his divine nature with our human nature, and the two become “one flesh,” as it were, in the incarnation.

Advent is like a courtship that anticipates the Christmas nuptials.

Subtle nuptial themes run in the background of this Sunday’s readings.

The First Reading, taken from Isaiah 61, divides into two parts (61:1-2 and 61:10-11). In the first part (Isa 61:1-2), Isaiah’s mysterious “servant of the Lord” is speaking in the first person. The identity of this “servant” was obscure in antiquity, as we can see from Acts 8:34, but Jesus clearly identifies himself as the “servant” in Luke 4:18-21, quoting the very verses from our First Reading.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Sodom and Gomorrah Excavated

By far the most interesting session at the recent Society of Biblical Literature Congress in San Francisco was one I wandered into by chance.  I am always curious about what is going on in biblical archeology, so one afternoon I decided to skip the dozen or so sessions dedicated to Bakhtinian Decontextualization of Identity Construction in Persian Yehud (I had to tear myself away) and go hear about the excavations at a certain site called "Tall-el-Hammam."  I had no idea what I was in for.  After about five minutes into the session, I realized that the archeological team assigned to this dig was convinced that they had found the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.  After another half-hour, it seemed they had most of the participants convinced as well.  The sites fit the geographical and temporal context into which Sodom and Gomorrah are placed in the biblical texts.  The cities at the site were suddenly and completely wiped out in the Late Bronze Age, which makes a reasonably good fit with the biblical accounts of Abraham and Lot.  The entire presentation was very convincing, but never once did they deal with the "elephant in the room": what caused the sites to be suddenly abandoned?  As soon as the session was over, I was the first to raise my hand.  "Did you find any arrow heads?  Signs of invasion?  What happened to them?"  The lead archeologist paused for a moment.  "I didn't want to go there," he said.  Another pause. "I'm preparing material for publication."  Pause.  "All I want to say 'on camera' is, they appear to have been wiped out in a 'heat event'."

A "heat event"!?  What?!

"If you want to know more, I'll talk after the session off the record."

I wish I could divulge what he said to a small group of us clustered around the podium after the session was over, but it would break confidence.  We'll have to wait for the official peer-reviewed publications.

Here's a link the dig's main website.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

"Comfort Ye" Sunday: Musical Exegesis

This weekend I was too busy with the Science and Faith Conference at Franciscan University (more on that later) to blog on the readings, but here's a clip of George Frideric Handel's superb "musical exegesis" of today's First Reading.  It's a Dutch recording, in honor of Al Plantinga visiting Franciscan University (just joking):

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Developments in Dead Sea Scrolls Research

Here's a link to a popular article about research on textiles recovered from Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It seems the Qumranites dressed exclusively in white linen, just like Josephus' descriptions of the Essenes.

The article exaggerates, in my opinion, the amount of debate about the identity of the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The majority of scholars have been convinced that they were Essenes almost since their initial discovery, although there have always been a few dissenting voices that have gotten more press coverage than their theories necessarily merit.

The idea of the Qumran site having been a fortress is not new: however, it was not built with defensive fortifications, and there is little in the area that the vicinity that the Romans would have been interested in defending (for example, see this article).

There are many lines of evidence that converge to identify the Qumran community as an Essene settlement.  This latest contribution of data from textile studies is a welcome confirmation of what most Qumran scholars have already believed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The True Temple in Mark: Podcast and Post on Mark 13 (Sunday's Gospel)

This Sunday Advent begins. Here is our podcast on the Sunday readings (see below).

Podcast: First Sunday of Advent 2011

My friend, New Testament scholar, Leroy Huizenga has some great reflections here. He points out that Jesus' coming in Mark 13 is linked with the destruction of the temple.

Here I thought I'd highlight another aspect of the chapter. It seems clear Mark describes the destruction of the temple and the end of the cosmos with language also evocative of Jesus' passion narrative.

That Mark sees a connection between the two events--Jesus' death and the destruction of the temple--is clear from the account of the tearing of the temple veil at the moment of Jesus’ death. As Donald Juel writes, “The result of Jesus’ death is the end of the Jewish temple, foreshadowed in the tearing of the veil.”[1]

The Apocalyptic Discourse and the Passion Narrative

The Gospel reading this Sunday comes from Mark 13. Scholars have noted numerous connections between the apocalyptic discourse, which, as Leroy shows, relates to the destruction of the temple and the passion narrative.

"Semper Paratus!": The Readings for the First Sunday of Advent

The last month of the liturgical year was spent reflecting on the Last Things, culminating in the Feast of Christ the King last week, when we pondered the Final Judgment, the separation of the “sheep” and the “goats.”

There is actually a fairly smooth transition from the end of the liturgical year to its beginning, because the first week of Advent is spent meditating not on the First Coming of Christ, but on his Second. By next week, the perspective will shift, and the liturgy will anticipate the coming celebration of the incarnation.

In any event, although it is a new liturgical year this week, the end-times focus of previous weeks continues:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Podcast: The "Thanksgiving Sacrifice", the Last Supper & the Eucharist

Here is our special Thanksgiving podcast! In this episode we explore the idea of the thank offering in the Old Testament, known as the todah, and its connection to the Eucharist.

Enjoy! And please remember to leave us your comments! 

Podcast: The "Thanksgiving Sacrifice", the Last Supper and the Eucharist

New Findings at the Jerusalem Temple Wall

A new archaeological discovery is confirming the report of the first century Jewish historian Josephus regarding the building of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here's the AP report:
Newly found coins underneath Jerusalem's Western Wall could change the accepted belief about the construction of one of the world's most sacred sites two millennia ago, Israeli archaeologists said Wednesday.

It was long thought that the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary was built in its entirety by Herod, a Jewish ruler who died in 4 B.C. The compound replaced and expanded a much older Jewish temple complex on the same site.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Faithfulness in the Small Matters: The Readings for the 33d Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. Josemaría Escrivà, the founder of the personal prelature Opus Dei, has often been called the “saint of the ordinary” for the emphasis he placed on achieving holiness in every-day living.

In fact, one of his most famous sermons was entitled “The Richness of Ordinary Life.”

St. Josemaría once said he could tell a great deal about a man’s interior life by looking at his closet. Good order in one’s soul is often reflected by good order in one’s lifestyle. A man who is sloppy or inattentive in the care of his personal effects will often likewise be careless in his life of prayer.

The Readings for this Lord’s Day focus on the theme of fidelity to the seemingly small matters that God places in our care.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Successor of Peter and Biblical Interpretation

The Chair of Peter in the Basilica of St. John Lateran
Some months ago on this blog, we had a discussion about the role of the Papacy in the Church and specifically with respect to the interpretation of Scripture. 

I keep coming back to the Pope's homily upon assuming the Chair of Peter in St. John Lateran (7 May 2005).

(St. John Lateran is, of course, the Cathedral of Rome--not St. Peter's in the Vatican.  St. John Lateran is the official church of the Bishop of Rome, and thus considered the mother church of Christianity.  This church has it's own feast day, which we celebrated yesterday.  When a new pope assumes the Chair of Peter in St. John Lateran, it marks the beginning of his tenure as Bishop of the Diocese of Rome.)

In this homily, the Pope pointedly addresses the issue of Scriptural interpretation, and his own role in it.

I quote here the most relevant paragraphs for reflection:

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Shock CDC Study: Most Teenagers NOT Having Sex

"Whether you like it or not, teens are going to have sex."

This is the message broadcasted in our society. We are told that we must get over our hang-ups and simply come to grips with the fact that most teenagers are having sex.

This attitude justifies all sorts of lurid media portrayals of teens. Don't like it? Well, sorry, but you're just out of touch. You're naive. You're ignorant. You're just "too conservative".

Of course, the prevalence of pre-marital sex, we are told, necessitates graphic sex education courses in high school. Just recently parents were in a fury in New York over the new program approved for the city's high schools that--at least to many people--seemed especially inappropriate. The New York Post reported on the details. Among other things. . .
* Kids ages 11 and 12 sort “risk cards” to rate the safety of various activities, including “intercourse using a condom and an oil-based lubricant,’’ mutual masturbation, French kissing, oral sex and anal sex.
* Teens are referred to resources such as Columbia University’s Web site Go Ask Alice, which explores topics like “doggie-style” and other positions, “sadomasochistic sex play,” phone sex, oral sex with braces, fetishes, porn stars, vibrators and bestiality.
Is it really the public high school's job to help kids learn about bestiality?

We are told: "Yes". Why? Because most kids are having sex, they are far more experienced than you think, and you are just silly to believe otherwise.

Or so goes the narrative.

The results of a major recent study carried out by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which shatter such portrayals, are being quietly passed over.

What does it show? David Lapp sums up the most interesting data from the massive report:
From 1988 to 2006-2010, the percentage of never-married males aged 15-19 who have ever had sexual intercourse dropped from 60 percent to 42 percent.

For never-married females aged 15-19, it dropped from 51 percent to 43 percent.

From 2006-2010, of teenagers whose mother has some college or higher, 37 percent of males and 40 percent of females have ever had sexual intercourse.

Of teenagers who live with both biological or adoptive parents, 35 percent of males and 35 percent of females have ever had sexual intercourse.

The latest CDC data remind me of a 2010 study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. It found that 87 percent of teenagers agree that “it is important for teens to be given a strong message that they should not have sex until they are at least out of high school.” Yes, you read that right: that’s teens who are saying that their cultural elders need to give them a strong message about waiting to have sex.
Out of touch? Too conservative?

And who was it again that was out of touch?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Great Time at the Shrine

Shrine Director Leif Arvidson with Drs. Hahn & Bergsma
Dr. Hahn and I had the pleasure of visiting and speaking at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this weekend.  A crowd of 400 came out to make the Marian pilgrimage, and hear talks on Confession and Eucharist, and receive those very sacraments.  The Shrine, built by the people of the Diocese of La Crosse under the leadership of now-Cardinal Raymond Burke, is a hidden treasure of Catholicism in the Midwest.  Extraordinarily beautiful, the shrine church and its grounds were designed with the help of Duncan Stroik, the expert in ecclesiastical architecture from the Architecture School of the University of Notre Dame. (He's also godfather of several Bergsma children, but that's another story!) If you ever find yourself in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the Shrine is well worth a day's visit!

Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with Monastery of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, overlooking La Crosse, Wisconsin

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Podcast 8: John Bergsma on the Dead Sea Scrolls

This week we explore the Dead Sea Scrolls with John Bergsma, looking specifically at why Catholics should find them interesting.

You can find Dr. Bergsma's audio series on the Scrolls here. There is an excerpt from the series as well as a .pdf of the outline.

Please be sure to leave your comments on the show below!

Podcast: "John Bergsma on the Dead Sea Scrolls" [right click to download]

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Parable of the Ten Virgins (with John Bergsma) (Sunday's Gospel)

This Sunday the Gospel reading is taken from Matthew once again and relates Jesus' parable of the Ten Virgins. We were honored to have John Bergsma with us on this episode of the podcast. Here are our thoughts. I hope you enjoy it! Please leave your comments on the podcast.

Podcast: "Jesus' Shocking Words About the Pharisees in Matthew 23")(31st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A) [right click to download]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Virtuous Leadership: The Readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

A few weeks ago at Franciscan, we had Alexandre Havard on campus to speak about virtuous leadership.  His fine talk is on You Tube here. 

Havard will be followed in about a week by Andreas Widmer, who will again speak about virtuous leadership, based on his experiences as a Swiss Guard during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II.  

These speakers on leadership came to my mind this week as I pondered the Sunday Readings, because virtuous leadership for the people of God is the unifying theme of these Scriptures.

Jesus' Most Ignored Teaching: "Do Whatever They Tell You" (Matt 23:2-3) (Podcast on the Sunday Readings)

Matthew 23 (the lectionary reading from the Gospel this Sunday) contains Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees. However, it also contains one of the most overlooked passages in Scripture. Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus says, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you. . ." (Matt 23:2-3). Of course, Jesus goes on to complain that the Pharisees are hypocrites.

The part that is overlooked however is that Jesus recognizes a binding teaching authoritative office without attributing to it sinlessness.

Notably, Jesus' description of Peter's role in Matthew 16 echoes his description of the Pharisees. For more, listen to the podcast on the Sunday readings below.

Here are my thoughts on it all.

Podcast: "Jesus' Shocking Words About the Pharisees in Matthew 23")(31st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A) [right click to download]

During the podcast I mentioned some of the parallels between Jesus' teaching and the rabbis. Here is some more on that.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth

The videos of the presentations at the Franciscan liturgical conference, "The Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth," are now posted here.  Bishop Seratelli, Dr. Hahn, Denis McNamara, Adam Bartlett, and John Bergsma presented.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My paper at this year's Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Francisco

Just a reminder to anyone attending SBL this year who might be interested. . . I'll be presenting on Jesus' teaching on the Law in Matthew. Here's my abstract. I've also put the scheduling information below with information from the program about the other papers being presented. I'm honored to be a part of this section--it looks great.
Jesus’ Teaching on the Law, Deuteronomic Concessions and Eschatological Righteousness: A Re-examination of the Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage in Matthew 5:31–32
In the Sermon on the Mount we find Matthew’s most explicit account of Jesus’ teaching about his relationship to the Law. However, as is well known, Matthew’s report of Jesus’ teaching is particularly difficult to follow. In 5:17, Jesus insists that he has not come to “abolish” the Torah. Yet the teachings that immediately follow this, the so-called “antitheses” (5:21–48), appear to do just that, i.e., they appear to nullify the Law. While some of the antitheses may be understood in terms of an intensification of the demands of the Torah (e.g., lust as adultery in 5:27–30), others are harder to explain along those lines. One particularly notable example is Jesus’ equation of divorce and remarriage with adultery (5:31–32). The Law in fact allows for divorce and remarriage (cf. Deut 24:1–4). It is difficult then to see Jesus’ teaching on this matter as merely an intensification of the Law’s requirements; Jesus is here explicitly prohibiting something the Torah clearly permits! Is there any way to explain this apparent problem? This paper proposes a solution. As many Old Testament scholars now recognize (e.g., Goldingay), Deuteronomy appears to have been understood as a kind of “lower law”, making concessions that are absent in the previous covenant legislation (e.g., profane slaughter, cf. Deut 12:15–25 with Lev 17:1–4). In fact, recently some have demonstrated that it is likely Ezekiel had precisely these types of concessions in view when he declared that God gave Israel “laws that were not good” (Ezek 20:25; Hahn, Bergsma). Is Matthew’s Jesus aware that certain laws were seen as concessions to sinfulness? Did he therefore expect to reinstitute the stricter standards of holiness they abrogated? Here we may find an important key that helps to better explicate Jesus’ view of Torah-righteousness in Matthew 5.
This paper builds upon work I did in a section of my dissertation that analyzed Jesus' view of the cult in the Sermon on the Mount.

Here's how this section appears in the program. It is scheduled for Sunday evening:


4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Lombard - Renaissance Parc 55Theme: Matthew and Torah
Daniel Gurtner, Bethel University (Minnesota), Presiding
Thomas R. Blanton, IV, Luther College
Saved by Obedience: Matthew 1:21 and Jesus’ Teaching on the Torah (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Michael Patrick Barber, John Paul the Great Catholic University
Jesus’ Teaching on the Law in Matthew 5 and the Concept of Deuteronomic Concessions: An Examination of the Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage in Matthew 5:31–32 (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jaehyung Cho, Sallims Christian Church
The Social Function of Sabbath Law in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 11:28-12:10 and 24:20) (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Brian C. Dennert, Loyola University of Chicago
Matthew and the Torah: What About the Priesthood? (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Eugene Eung-Chun Park, San Francisco Theological Seminary
Meaning of dikaiosyne in the Torah Hermeneutics in the Gospel of Matthew (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

Did Jesus Think He Was Divine? A Revolutionary New Study

The Library of New Testament Studies just released an important new title by Sigurd Grindheim, God's Equal: What Can We Know About Jesus' Self-Understanding? (London: T & T Clark, 2011).

The Continuum website describes this book with this tag line: "An examination of Jesus' claims in the Gospels to be God's equal with reference to the historical Jesus."

Of course, orthodox Christianity recognizes Jesus as one of the three divine persons of the Trinity. Many scholars, however, have been skeptical about whether or not the "historical" Jesus understood himself as divine. Indeed, in a much neglected (yet important!) essay, John A.T. Robinson described the question of Jesus' divine self-consciousness as "the last tabu". ( Twelve More New Testament Essays [London: SCM, 1984], 155-70).

Suffice it to say, the scholarly community looks with extreme skepticism on any claim that Jesus taught that he was in fact divine. Even academics who do profess a belief in the Trinity are typically hesitant about attributing to Jesus any kind of divine "Christology".

Enter Grindheim.

This book is extraordinarily bold. It makes the case that--contrary what many scholars have thought--the evidence in fact does suggest that Jesus saw himself as "God's equal". Instead of appealing to John's Gospel--which many exclude from historical discussions about Jesus--he goes right to the Synoptic Gospels. In short, Grindheim, using the very tools of historical-criticism many have used to discredit the idea of Jesus' divinity, makes the opposite case.

(Of course, it should be noted that this book also has important implications for John. If the historical Jesus did in fact see himself as divine, claims that John's portrait of the divinity of Jesus are implausible should also be re-examined. But that's another monograph, I suspect.)

That the book appears in the Continuum catalogue as part of the Library of New Testament Studies is, frankly, shocking. This is an extremely prestigious monograph series. It is however edited by Mark Goodacre, a scholar who is not afraid to question scholarly orthodoxy. While there is no indication that Goodacre agrees with Grindheim, I'm thrilled to see LNTS release a book that is as bold as this one. That is scholarship: a willingness to consider all the arguments. Let's have that kind of conversation!

I think the release of this book in such a respectable series is huge. It reveals an openness in scholarship to listen to unpopular ideas. I also think it could be a water-shed moment. This is the first tightly argued, historical-critical case for Jesus' divine self-consciousness in a hundred years.

I haven't finished it yet, but so far, I have found Grindheim's argument, on the whole, impressive. I'm eager to hear what others have to say.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Conference on Science and Faith

Al Plantinga, Emeritus Prof. of Phil., Notre Dame
It's a little tangential to Biblical Studies (although not as much as one might think), but I think it's worth mentioning that there's a fabulous Conference on Science and Faith coming up in just over a month (Dec. 2-3), right here at Franciscan University. All the specifics are here.

We have some of the brightest coming to address this subject from a Christian perspective, including Alvin Plantinga, Michael Behe, William Carroll OP, Stephen Barr, Ed Feser, Jay Richards, Ben Wiker, with members of our own faculty responding. It's well, well worth the registration fee to see these men all in the same room dialoguing about some of the most important questions of the human condition!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Podcast: "The Greatest Commandment" (Thoughts on Sunday's Readings)

This Sunday the Gospel reading from Matthew recounts how, after having silenced those who sought to entrap him in his own words, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment.

Here are my thoughts on his answer.

Podcast: "The Greatest Commandment")(30th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A) [right click to download]

During the podcast I mentioned some of the parallels between Jesus' teaching and the rabbis. Here is some more on that.

Rabbi Aqiba: “This is the encompassing principle of the Law” (Sipra Lev. §200 [on Lev 19:15–20])

Rabbi Hillel: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Law” (b. Šabb. 31a)

The idea of loving God and neighbor as related concepts:
-- T. Iss. 5:2: “love the Lord and your neighbor"
--T. Iss. 7:6: “I loved the Lord and humanity with the whole heart"
--T. Dan 5:3: “Love the Lord with all your life and one another with a true heart”
--Philo, Spec. Laws 2.63: But among the vast number of particular truths and principles [are] two main heads: one of duty to God. . . one of duty to humans”[1]

Please leave your thoughts or comments on the podcast in the comment box. We'd appreciate your feedback!

[1] For further discussion of rabbinic and Jewish parallels see Craig Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20 (WBC 34B; Dallas: Nelson, 2002), 265.

Podcast 7: Bible Study & Evangelization in the 21st Century

Episode 7 of The Sacred Page Podcast focused on Biblical Study and Evangelization in the digital age. In this episode I spoke with Andrew Jones, who is with Logos Bible Software. Our guests were Andrew Jones and Kevin Meziere.

Anddrew Jones is the new Catholic product manager at Logos Bible Software. He has helped to launch an amazing new package available from Logos called "The Catholic Scholar's Library". (I'll be reviewing it soon!) However, he is not simply all about amazing cutting-edge technology. Jones is also finishing up a Ph.D. in Church History. In this episode, Jones brings together both knowledge sets as we discuss tools used for Bible study over the ages (e.g., memorization techniques). Among other things, he explains how new Bible software relates recaptures tools such as the "gloss" used in the medieval period. This is really a fascinating conversation.

Kevin Meziere comes on in the second half of the show to discuss the internet tools in Catholic education and evangelization. Kevin is a technological wizard. Among other things, he has launched a new website, The site is a sort of Netflix--a website that hosts HD quality, streaming Catholic video content. In addition, Kevin has brought John Paul the Great Catholic University into the 21st century by creating an incredibly compelling model for eLearning. In short, when it comes to the Catholic Church and internet technology, no one is more of an expert than Kevin Meziere.

Podcast 7: "Bible Study & Evangelization in the 21st Century) [right click to download]

Leave your thoughts or comments on the podcast in the comment box--we love getting your feedback!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Too funny: Depicting David's victory over Goliath

See 1 Samuel 18:27 if you don't know what David did to "the other 100 Philistines".

H/T Pater Eddie Dwyer's Facebook page.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth

This weekend I had the joy of participating in the "Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth" conference sponsored by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Franciscan University's Office of Chapel Ministry.  The link to the conference webpage is here.  We were privileged to have Bishop Serratelli of the Diocese of Patterson, New Jersey, giving the initial keynote on Saturday morning.  Bishop Serratelli is one of only eleven bishops on the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the commission that oversees the translations of the Mass and other liturgical rites for all English-speaking Catholics worldwide.  Bishop Serratelli spoke about the process that lead to the New Translation of the Mass, which goes into effect this Advent.  The New Translation is more literal, dignified, poetic, and biblical than the texts that English-speaking Catholics have been using for the last forty years.  For those curious about the inner workings of the translation process, the podcast of Bishop Serratelli's talk should prove intriguing.

I spoke after Bishop Serratelli on the theme of the confluence of nuptiality and liturgy in Scripture and the Mass.  My talk outline is below the break.

We also had the pleasure of an address by Dennis McNamara, one of the nation's foremost authorities on Catholic church architecture; Mr. Adam Bartlett, and expert on liturgical music; and batting clean-up, Dr. Scott Hahn addressing the mystical relationship between the earthly and the heavenly liturgy ("A Heavenly Banquet for Earthly Beggars").

Podcasts of the talks will be available shortly, and I'll post links when they are up.

I'm afraid I'm not able to do my usual commentary on the readings this weekend since I was occupied with the conference.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Podcast: "Render to Caesar" (Thoughts on the Sunday's Readings)

This Sunday we read about how the Pharisees tried to discredit Jesus by asking him about paying taxes to Caesar.

How did Jesus avoid the trap and turn the tables on his opponents? What lessons might we learn from the exchange?

I discuss it all in this podcast.

Leave your thoughts or comments on the podcast in the comment box.

Podcast: "Render to Caesar (Thoughts on the Sunday's Readings)(29th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A) [right click to download]

Leave your thoughts or comments on the podcast in the comment box.

Podcast 6: Rob Corzine & Derry Connolly

On this week's episode of the The Sacred Page Podcast I speak with Rob Corzine and Derry Connolly.

Rob Corzine is the Vice President of Programs and Development at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He shares his remarkable conversion story to the Catholic Church from a Fundamentalist Baptist background. He also discusses the parish Bible study materials put together by the St. Paul Center. For more on their work, go here for more on parish Bible studies.

Dr. Derry Connolly is the President of John Paul the Great Catholic University. He discusses how he uses the book of Tobit to teach business students.

TSP Podcast 6: Rob Corzine and Derry Connolly [right click to download]

Once again, I'd love to get your comments on the podcast in the comment box!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project

If you haven't check it out yet, the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls project from the Israeli Shrine of the Book museum is worth checking out.  It features high-quality, easily-accessed digital images of the actual scrolls.  So far they have only a handful of the most prominent scrolls available in this format.  One hopes that this will be an ongoing effort that will eventually include all scrolls with any significant textual content.

My initial impressions of the descriptive and introductory materials they posted with the scroll images are very good.  The project seems to have been pursued in a moderate, generous manner, offering the scrolls to everyone as part of world culture.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

How Do We Dress for this Wedding Banquet? The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The standard of dress at Mass has declined in recent years.  People show up looking like their ready for the beach or a football game.  Some pastors are calling attention to this problem.  I agree--I’m all for encouraging modesty and taste in the way we physically dress for worship

But our external dress is not the main point of this Sunday’s Readings.

What is the real "dress" of the Christian who approaches the Eucharistic Banquet?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

New Podcast: Curtis Mitch, ed. of Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and Dominic Iocco on Film

On the latest podcast I spoke with Curtis Mitch and Dominic Iocco.

1. Curtis Mitch is the co-editor of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. Mitch is also the co-author (with Edward Sri) of a new commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (see the picture of the two of them on the right; Curtis is on the left). Mitch talks about his reversion to Catholicism and Scripture study.

2. Dominic Iocco is the producer of a new film, Red Line. He is also Academic Provost at John Paul the Great Catholic University, a school which helps train students in film-making with the goal of impacting culture for Christ.

TSP Podcast 5: Curtis Mitch and Dominic Iocco [right click to download]

I'd love to get your comments on the podcast in the comment box!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Become a subscriber of the Blog and the Podcast (It's Free!)

You can now easily subscribe to The Sacred Page Blog and Podcast by clicking on the links below. The links will remain in the top corner on the left as well.

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Are We a Fruitful Vineyard? Readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The past several Sundays we have been reading from the vineyard parables of Jesus in Matthew, and this Sunday we reach a climactic point in the hostility between the leaders of the people (chief priests and elders) and Jesus.

The Readings for this Lord’s Day are skillfully chosen to complement the Gospel reading.  Most commentators agree that the vine parables of the Old Testament found in Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80 are the textual background for Jesus’ own vineyard parable in Matt 21:33-43.