Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bible in a Year: Matthew and OT Connections

In 2017 and into Lent 2018, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

I haven't worked on these posts since November because of other responsibilities. How fun to resume! I should wrap up these posts on Ash Wednesday or thereabouts.

Although I left off with Luke, I want to circle back to Matthew again. I found a fascinating book at the fall Society of Biblical Literature convention, David L. Turner’s Israel’s Last Prophet: Jesus and the Jewish Leaders in Matthew 23 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015).

Let me first circle back to the Old Testament... The Tanakh ends with books that, in the Christian Old Testament, are positioned earlier: Ezra-Nehemiah, which provides history of the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which recapitulate Israelite history and emphasizes the Jewish worship and temple. In this way, the Tanakh opens to the future of Jewish life and worship. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi and the prophecy of Elijah’s arrival prior to the Messiah. And so, moving from Old to New, we proceed immediately to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which connects Jesus to Hebrew history.

Back in my post about 1 Chronicles (April 19, 2017), I noted (from the Harper Bible Commentary) that Genesis through 2 Kings can be called the primary history of the Jewish Bible, telling the long story from Creation to the fall of Judah. But Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther form an important secondary history, carrying the biblical story from Creation into the early post-exilic era when the Jews were allowed to return to the land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple during the Persian era. As the Harper Bible Commentary puts it, “The OT presents us, then, with two alternative tellings of the history of the Israelite people. Their difference in outlook does not necessarily make either of them unreliable; it only reinforces the fact that the telling of any story or any history must be selective and must reflect the intentions of some person or group” (p. 80).

The Primary History does not end on a hopeful note, with the people defeated and exiled, and Jerusalem destroyed. The Secondary History, coming from the post-exilic time and written for Jews struggling with a new era, is more hopeful. The Chronicler emphasizes King David and focuses upon both the monarchy and the Temple, so that “[t]he history of the monarchy… seems to be primarily a history of the establishment and maintenance of the worship of God,” a concern that carries over into Ezra and Nehemiah as the people rebuild the temple and Jerusalem (HBC, p. 79). Although Esther is set in Persia rather than the land, that book affirms the providential continuation of the Jewish people in foreign lands (p. 79). Even the genealogies are implicitly hopeful, demonstrating the continuity of God’s people from ancient times. It makes sense, then, that these books conclude the Jewish canon, effectively pointing to Jews toward their remarkable future.

Because two of the Gospels begin with genealogies that take us back to Adam and Abraham, we can think of the New Testament as a third great telling of Israelite history (or fourth, if you want to consider the Prophets as a different kind of retelling of God's relationship with the people). The New Testament does not literally narrate Israel’s history, but those books refer so often to the Scriptures—by one count, nearly 1400 Old Testament quotations, references, or allusions—that we have a another summary of the history, this one in reference to Jesus.

*****

Why, then, does the New Testament seem to be so anti-Jewish, and why have so many Christians over the centuries been anti-Jewish or antisemitic?

The short answer is: Christians should not be, and the fact that we have been is a tragedy and a shame upon our religion. The longer answer is that the New Testament reflects a time Christianity was a primarily Jewish phenomena, with Jews struggling and discussing with other Jews how Jesus-belief should affect the faith of Judaism and, indeed, what defines being Jewish. When critical or nasty things were said about Jews in the New Testament, it was among fellow Jews—-the way some of my St Louis Cardinals friends talk about the Chicago Cubs and their fans. There is rivalry but no notion that the Cubs are playing some other, bogus game besides baseball.

But after the New Testament period, Christianity was a predominantly Gentile religion, and what seemed to be the anti-Jewishness of the New Testament became actual anti-Jewishness: “those” people (not only a different religious group but now a different ethnic group besides my own) should believe in Jesus and they don’t, so I condemn them, as my holy scriptures apparently do.

There is nothing wrong with realizing how circumstances change after biblical times and with understanding the biblical authors' intentions. Those are aspects of good and responsible interpretation of the scriptures. In this case, we must realize that the supersessionist theology that many of us Gentile Christians have adopted is NOT the theology of New Testament, which is written predominantly by Jews about what they are considering a new Judaism that fulfills their post-exilic Jewish hope in an unexpected way: through the crucified and resurrected Messiah Jesus. That is, there is no rejection in the New Testament of Judaism as such—but to appreciate this fact requires study and openheartedness. (I’ll write more about this in a few weeks.)

My classmate Julie Galambush has written a wonderful book, The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament's Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book (HarperOne, 2006), which I’ll continue to quote as I study the New Testament in these posts. And---to finally return to my original point, LOL---I've been studying David L. Turner’s book, Israel’s Last Prophet: Jesus and the Jewish Leaders in Matthew 23 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015). Turner expounds on one of the most notoriously anti-Jewish-sounding chapters in the New Testament and puts it in context of first century Jewish belief.

Many Christians are accustomed to saying, “Oh, Jesus was more than a prophet, he was God’s Son.” But this seems to me another way of overlooking Jesus’ Jewish and scriptural heritage. As I write in my Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament book (p. 50), Jesus was often understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11; Mark 6:15; 8:28; Luke 7:16; John 4:19; 6:14; Acts 2:30), possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28; Luke 1:76-77; 4:18-20; 22:64), and elicited people’s excitement as a prophet, even the great prophet foretold by Moses (Deut. 18:15-18; see John 4:19; 6:14; 7:40-41). The people of Jesus' time weren't just hoping for a messiah, they were also looking to a new prophet like Moses.

All along in these posts, I’ve been interested in finding continuities between the Old and New Testaments. Part of the perceived hostility toward Jews and Judaism in the New Testament comes from an aspect of continuity between the two testaments: the theology of the Deuteronomistic History (the hypothetical ur-text of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings) is very much part of the New Testament thought-world. Turner cites the scholar O. H. Steck (Israel und das gewaltsame Geschick der Propheten, 1967) who describes the characteristic Deuteronomistic structure:

“1. Israel’s history is portrayed as one of habitual disobedience.
2. God patiently sent Israel prophet after prophet to urge them to repent.
3. Israel rejected these prophets, often killing them.
4. Thus God punished Israel through the Assyrians and Babylonians.
5. But God promises restoration to exiled Israel and judgment on Israel’s enemies if Israel will repent” (Turner, p. 5).

Turner points out that Neh. 9:26-30 reflects this structure, and that the theme is often found in the Tanakh and other Jewish writings of the late Second Temple period (pp. 5-6). As Second Temple-era documents, too, the New Testament stresses #3 more than #2, and #1 less so yet (p. 9). These themes very much reflect the Jewishness of the New Testament, and in this case Matthew particularly (often called the most Jewish of the Gospels). As I discussed in my Matthew post in November, the community to which Matthew wrote considered itself a persecuted group within the Judaism of its time. Consequently, the background of the Gospel’s “anti-Jewish” passages is not anti-Judaism as such, let alone antisemitism, but a deeply Deuteronomistic outlook about the rejected quality of Israel’s prophets (p. 9). Thus, in Matthew 23, Jesus scolds the Jewish leaders in the way that Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets confronted leaders of their times—but not to reject them as Jews.

Turner writes: “No one can doubt that the language of Matthew 23 is several, and that it castigates certain first-century Jewish religious leaders in terms that make people with modern sensibilities extremely uncomfortable. And no one can deny that during the intervening centuries many Christians have used this language as a confirmation of anti-Semites attitudes and, worst yet, inquisitions, pogroms, and even the Shoah. But to the extent that Matthew 23 has been involved in these horrors, it has been misunderstood. Christian misunderstanding of Matthew 23 is born out of the arrogance against which Paul warned in Rom. 11;18-21. Such arrogance ignores the Jewishness of Jesus’ woe oracles and his concerns about hypocrisy and the rejection of the prophets. Jesus’ denunciation of the religious leaders in Matthew 23 is in keeping with both the spirit of th prophets and the rhetoric of the times. This denunciation should not be minimized by denying its essential historicity, but neither should it be extrapolated to apply to the Jewish people as a whole, either then or not” (pp. 379-380).

Turner goes on to note that the chapter serves as an excellent “Christian character check” (p. 380). The qualities that Jesus condemns in the Pharisees et al. are qualities of Christians, too, and throughout the Gospel Jesus warns his own followers to be on guard about these sins (p. 380). Turner sees this character check not only as a matter of Christian growth but also as a starting point of Jewish-Christian friendship and relationship (pp. 380ff). Turner’s book is a excellent study of these and other points of interpretation.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Conceptual Continuities

As I often do when I visit my hometown, Vandalia, I drive out to Four Mile Prairie, a place traversed by Illinois route 185. 

My maternal grandmother lived north of the east end of the prairie. The family cemetery where she is buried (and also about twenty other direct ancestors, and other relatives) is also near the prairie. So this is a place frequently visited and traversed during my childhood---and ever since.  

During the summer of 1974, when I was 17 and driving the seen-better-days ’63 Chevy that had been Dad’s stepfather’s, I was completing two genealogy projects: a family history of the Mom’s family, and also a record of all the tombstone inscriptions in the family cemetery.

One morning, driving down IL 185, pressing the clutch and accelerator with bare feet, I had an emotional experience of belonging, a sureness that I would always feel a deep connection to this place: my hometown Vandalia and the surrounding Fayette County. My experience, like a quiet sense of certainty, was right about this location, just east of the turn-off to the cemetery


Just down the road eastbound, I came to the end of the prairie, where the Brownstown Road turns north. The header photo of this blog is a different view of this location.


During the ensuing years, my home area has been (to use Frank Zappa’s phrase) a conceptual continuity for me. All the history teaching and writing that I’ve done connect to the summers I did local genealogy projects. And all the Bible-related and religious work that I’ve done (including most of my twenty books) relate back to my grandma, who not only inspired me to do genealogy but also got me interested in the Bible and spirituality in a very preliminary way that bloomed a year or two after her death. 

This past fall, I made a typical, leisurely drive out to Four Mile and enjoyed being there. I took the country roads out to another familiar place: the location of the one-room school where my mother attended prior to high school. The school has fallen down now, but I thought that the road leading up to it made a pretty picture. 


Is there something in your life that links most or all of your interests and activities in some way? 


Landscape: Lindström

Arvid Mauritz Lindström (1849-1923), "Evening, Sunset in Winter Landscape Colors". From Twitter, History of Painting @AHistoryofPaint, Dec. 27, 2017.







Thursday, December 28, 2017

Supporting Causes and Charities

I'm thinking about charities and other organizations that provide some kind of ministry or service or advocacy. This year I've wanted to step up a little better and increase my own awareness of such groups. If you’re interested even in a small end-of-the-year contribution, or if you're interested in getting behind a particular group, there are lots to investigate!

Groups that address hunger, refugee crises, and other crises include UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (unhcr.org), good old UNICEF (unicef.org; I trick-or-treated for them as a kid!), Church World Service (cwsglobal.org) and the related CROP hunger walks (crophungerwalk.org), American Jewish World Service (ajws.org). There are emergency relief organizations; the United Methodist Committee on Relief (umcor.org), is always a favorite, but other denominations have similar ministries.

What others are important to you? What am I You can check out such organizations not only through the websites but also through Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org/), which examines and clarifies things like financial expenditures, transparency, etc.

Then there are groups like Magdalene St Louis a community for women who’ve survived situations of sexual violence and addition (magdalenestl.org); the Trevor Project (thetrevorproject.org) that provides services to LGBTQ youth; and groups in different communities like food banks and homeless shelters to persons in need. There is a list of groups that address racial justice and the empowering of black communities: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/28-organizations-that-are-empowering-black-communities_us_58a730fde4b045cd34c13d9a

There are also groups like our local Diversity Awareness Partnership (dapstl.org) that works for and educates about diversity and inclusive communities, and also our local Interfaith Partnership (interfaithstl.org), that encourages interfaith understanding and mutuality. Many communities have similar kinds of organizations.

Lately I’ve been interested in learning more about organizations that address human rights and hate group activity, through advocacy of policy as well as education and other ways. There are several such groups, with different approaches and goals, like the Human Rights Foundation (hrc.org), Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org), Anti-Defamation League (adl.org), the ACLU (aclu.org), United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (ushmm.org), and others. Locally, I really appreciate the work of the Jewish Community Relations Council and all their great work to promote interfaith cooperation and fight antisemitism (jcrcstl.org)

Same deal: organizations like these can be investigated at Charity Navigator.

Obviously there are LOTS of areas in which a person can be socially involved, even in a small way, in addition to service in one’s own religious congregation and/or denomination.

I haven’t even gotten into alumni/a giving to one's university or college---we give to Webster U and Eden Seminary, for instance, and also to our colleges and my div school---and also environmental groups, pet rescue services, and others. PLUS, arts and music organizations, PBS and NPR...

I'm probably forgetting or unintentionally omitting some important groups. What am I leaving out?

But my point is: there are lots of ways to choose from, even to make a small positive difference in the world!



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Landscape: Waldmüller

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller  (1793-1865), "Praterlandschaft" (1830). From Twitter, "History of Painting" @AHistoryofPaint, Dec 12, 2017.



Landscape: Kondratenko

Gavriil "Pavlovič" Pavlovich Kondratenko (1854-1924), "Winter" (1883). From Twitter, "History of Painting" @AHistoryofPaint Dec. 9, 2017.




Monday, December 25, 2017

The Birthday of Life

"Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

"No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no person free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he received the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

"In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God's wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown humankind.

"And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God's goodness, what joy should it not bring to lowly hearts?

"Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh... Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom."

(From a sermon by Pope Leo the Great, quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, I, Advent Season and Christmas Season, pp. 404-405. I made the language inclusive in three places. From 2014)


Sears Christmas Catalog

When I was ten in 1967, I got the notion that I wanted to save that year's Sears Christmas catalog "for posterity." I was a nerdy kid, interested in science but more interested in history than I realized. Partly aided by the fact that my parents rarely threw anything away, I managed to keep the catalog all these years, although I hadn't seen it lately. It reappeared this past summer when I sorted boxes in our basement storage room.

How interesting to look at the prices of things: board games were around $3, construction toys 8 to 10 dollars, talking dolls about $10, men's suits about $30, an 18-inch TV about $120. I found this site which features several representative pages. That year, the catalog was Dennis the Menace themed. After I placed this picture of the catalog on Facebook, a classmate commented she had fallen in love with a big toy collie in that same catalog and had begged her parents for it. I found it on page 582 and shared the picture with my friend.

I leafed through the pages and smiled at the different clothing styles, especially the 60s women's dresses. I wondered whether I'd recognize any of the toys I might have gotten for Christmas that year, and I'm guessing I got the chemistry set and the microscope. From this site, I see that 1967 was the last year the catalog was called the Christmas Book; in 1968 it officially became The Wish Book, as it had been informally called for years. Enterprising preservationists have scanned several vintage catalogs for their site http://www.wishbookweb.com.

For as long as they were produced, the big semi-annual catalogs from Sears, Penney's, Montgomery Ward, and other stores were enjoyable for many of us. But the Christmas catalogs were especially thrilling for generations of kids. Although A Christmas Story's Ralphie didn't reference the Wish Book, his joyful declaration about Christmas expresses humorously the feeling many of us had when the catalog came: "We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice." What a wonderful, shared cultural experience of searching the pages of toys, games, and other treasures in advance of Santa's arrival!

(from 2015) 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Wise Men and Shepherds Together

Our family set up our two creches for the season. It’s always nice to see them again after an eleven month absence!

If you’re familiar with the biblical Christmas stories, you know that Matthew and Luke have contrasting accounts. Matthew 1:8 through chapter 2 gives us the angelic announcement to Joseph, the visitation of the wise men, the escape to Egypt, the massacre of the innocents, and the return from Egypt. These stories provide a parallel of Jesus’ birth and that of Moses. Matthew has nothing about an inn and a manger, and Jesus’ family goes to Nazareth to escape Herod’s wrath, rather than the family journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of a census.

Luke 1:5 through 2:40 interweaves John the Baptist’s birth with Jesus’ and provides us with accounts of John’s parents, the angelic visitation to Mary, the journey to Bethlehem because of the census, the inn with no vacancy and the manger, the angels and shepherds, and Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in accordance to Jewish mitzvot.

You may know that a second century Syrian man named Tatian took the Gospels and wove them together into a harmony called the Diatessaron. According to Howard Clark Kee (Jesus in History: An Approach to the Study of the Gospels, second edition, HBJ 1977, 280ff), the work was known only in fragments or in Armenian translation until the twentieth century when a complete Syriac version was discovered. One fifth century bishop destroyed copies that he could find, replacing them with the canonical gospels. We don’t know why Tatian compiled his Diatessaron, but it harmonized the gospel accounts of Jesus while, of course, neglecting the integrity of each gospel author.

Here is an online translation of the Diatessaron: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diatessaron.html

I think about all this because, of course, we tend to conflate the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth in our imaginations, and in our creches. The three wise men figurines stand among the shepherd figurines and the little manger and baby Jesus (plus a few animals). And why not? We understand the differences between the two gospel accounts and we picture the stories together.



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My CPAP

This past summer, I had a routine colonoscopy. Afterward, the anesthesiologist asked if I had sleep apnea, because of the way I breathed under general anesthesia. I told him I hadn't been diagnosed with that condition. So I found a sleep specialist, discovered I had SEVERE sleep apnea, dealt with what insurance would and wouldn't pay for, and now beside the bed I've this continuous positive airway pressure ventilator, aka CPAP.  


I remembered a post on "sleep" that I wrote a few years ago. When my family and I visited a museum in Ireland--in Waterford, I think---we passed an exhibit of historical bedroom furnishings. The description included a quotation from poet Isaac de Benserade: “In bed we laugh, in bed we cry; And, born in bed, in bed we die. The near approach a bed may show Of human bliss to human woe."

Talk about Christian discipleship usually focuses on things to do, attitudes to develop, ways we fall short of Christ-like love, and so on. But a very large portion of our lives (and a large range of our emotions) revolve around the privacy and vulnerability of the bedroom.

There, we sleep for a third or a fourth of our 24 hour days. Add another hour or two hours a day (or thereabouts) getting ourselves ready for the day or ending the day. Typically, people have sex in the bedroom. When we're sick, we're in bed even more. And at the beginning and ending of our lives (as de Benserade puts it) in bed is where many of us will be. My mother was not ambulatory at the end of her life and spent most of her final years in bed if she wasn’t in her wheelchair.

When I was in school, I studied on my bed, with my books spread over the covers. That was the way I did my first committed Bible study, working on my college courses in Bible content, New Testament Greek, and other classes. I still study that way sometimes.

God, who is never absent from any portion of our lives, is our caregiver and sustainer as we lay, sick or asleep, or sexual, or reading a book, or (in my recent situation) ceasing to breathe several times an hour during the night. Many of us carry our problems into bed and we lay sleepless worrying about things. Psalm 6 expresses this kind of sorrow and distress:


I am weary with my moaning;

every night I flood my bed with tears;

I drench my couch with my weeping (Ps. 6:6)

God sustains us whether we are distressed or whether we are sick:

The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;  

in their illness you heal all their infirmities (Ps. 41:3)

Sleep is even a divine gift:

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives sleep to his beloved (Ps. 127:2)

Psalm 63:6 is another good verse:


....when I think of you on my bed,  

and meditate on you in the watches of the night…

Joyce Rupp speaks of the moments before she drifts off to sleep and the moments between waking and rising. She considers these as wonderful prayer times when she can fall asleep mentally communicating with God in trust and peace, and then when she wakes up, God is in her first conscious thoughts and she can give her day to God. Our daily discipleship is sustained by prayers offered in our PJs to the Lord.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mary's Advent Visit with Elizabeth

from United Methodist Memes on Facebook
Here are Advent thoughts that I've shared before. In our lesson today from Luke's Gospel (Luke 1:26-56), Gabriel visits Mary and announces that she would be mother of "the Son of the Most High" (vss. 26-38). The text continues that "In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (vss. 39-40).

To paraphrase that On the Town song "New York New York," Nazareth is up and Judea is down--quite a way down, over eighty miles. One wonders if Mary traveled with a caravan or by herself. A map that I found online shows a possible route from Nazareth over to the River Jordan, then down the river banks to the Jericho area, then over to Jerusalem which is just north of the Judean hill country.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (vss. 41-45).

Several things we can gain from this story, including the lovely words of the Ave Maria, Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” When I wrote about this passage elsewhere on this blog, I wrote about Elizabeth's gift of the Spirit. In those days before the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered only certain people to prophesy, and when Elizabeth heard Mary coming, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 41). By the Spirit’s power, Elizabeth preached the Gospel of Jesus before his birth! She recognized Mary as Jesus’ blessed mother. She interpreted her own physical discomfort as God’s sign.

In other words, Elizabeth was a prophet, in a long line of Hebrew prophets which, most believed, had ended centuries before. One wonders: if the Spirit came to a person who previously had been perceived as disfavored by God (as childlessness was then believed to be), doesn’t the Spirit now comes to all kinds of persons, whether favored or disfavored in society? What might the Spirit be up to in our present, distressing world that might startle us and give us hope?

Our lesson also includes the famous Magnificat, set to music by so many composers, when Mary herself preached the Good News.

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever."

Our pastor preached on this passage today, and she noted how many echoes we find between the Magnificat, and Jesus' teaching when he visited the synagogue in Luke 4.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Landscape: Guzhavin

Mikhail Markelovich Guzhavin (1888=1931), "Wild Flowers in a Field" (1927).  From Twitter: History of Painting‏ @AHistoryofPaint Dec 1


First Sunday of Advent

On the Christian calendars, today is the first Sunday of the Advent season, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and also the first day of the liturgical year. Advent, in turn is the Western Christian season of waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus and anticipation of his future return.

Traditionally viewed, Advent is a time of longing for Christ. We symbolically anticipate his birth but look toward his second coming. Then at Christmastide, we celebrate and honor his birth as well as the revelation of his divinity (Epiphany, or Theophany in the eastern churches).

But in actuality, we expend our celebratory energies during Advent, culminating in the multiple Christmas Eve services. Afterward, many of us begin to take down and box up our holiday decorations, and many pastors (at least in my own circles) take well-deserved time-off during some portion of Christmastide. Right in the middle of Christmastide are New Years Eve/Day, a pair of secular holidays mixing festivities with resolutions for self-improvement.

Rather than feeling guilty about the way we observe Christ's birth, I wonder if we should simply recognize that our holidays have evolved to this point. Advent and Christmas are, already, a complex assortment of traditions: Christian, non-Christian religious, and secular/economic. The Christian liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent with the anticipation of a big, festive season, and then we can move into our new year with a fresh sense of Christ, even if we're a little tired  and let-down for a while.

This prayer from St. Anselm’s Proslogion reflects the "seeking" quality of the Advent season.

"Insignificant [person], escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.

"Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.

"Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here where shall I look for you in your absence? Yet if you are everywhere, why do I not see you when you are present? But surely you dwell in ‘light inaccessible.’ And where is light inaccessible? How shall I approach light inaccessible? Or who will lead me and bring me into it that I may see you there? And the, by what signs and under what forms shall I seek you? I have never seen you, Lord my God; I do not know your face.

"Lord most high, what shall this exile do, so far from you? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and cast so far from your face? He yearns to see you, and your face is too far form him. He desires to approach you, and your dwelling in unapproachable. He longs to find you, and does not know your dwelling place. He strives to look for you, and does not know your face.

"Lord, you are my God and you are my Lord, and I have never seen you. You have made me and remade me, and you have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet done that for which I was made.

"Lord, how long will it be? How long, Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face away from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself back to us?

"Look upon us, Lord, and hear us and enlighten us, show us your very self. Restore yourself to us that it may go well with us whose life is so evil without you. Take pity on our efforts and our striving toward you, for we have no strength apart from you.

"Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you."

From The Liturgy of the Hours: I, Advent Season, Christmas Season (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1975), 184-185.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ghost Signs: Vandalia, Illinois



Bible in a Year: Returning in 2018

This calendar year, I’ve been reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Lord willing, this project will continue a little past the calendar year, into Lent 2018. I've been interested in discovering ways that the New Testament continues and connects to the Old Testament (which was the subject of my Lenten devotional published a couple years ago)--and in discovering points of rapprochement between Christianity and Judaism. But to help me with those goals, I purchased eight or nine wonderful books at the recent Society of Biblical Literature meeting, and now I need a few weeks to study them properly. Rather than rush things just to fit the project into 2017, I'll be back with these notes at the end of December or the first of January.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bible in a Year: Luke

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I’ve been studying Luke. Luke is likely the only Gentile author among the New Testament writers. He wrote this book and Acts to someone named Theophilus (“lover of God”) in order to provide an account of Jesus’ life  and of the early church. But is Theophilus a particular person, or anyone who loves God?

As I wrote a few posts ago, a favorite book from my college religion courses was Gospel Parallels, which lays out the Synoptic Gospels—Mathew, Mark, and Luke—in order to show textual similarities and differences. Over 90% of Mark’s gospel is also found in Matthew and Luke, and the latter two gospels have material in common that is not found in Mark: the so-called “Q” material (likely meaning “Quelle,” the German word for “source”). Matthew and Luke also have material unique to their own gospels, implying other sources that they used. Unfortunately, we do not know what sources Luke used for the first fifteen chapters of Acts (that is, up to the point where Luke himself subtly and personally joins the story).

(Here is a site, based on another book, that provides the parallels of texts among the three Synoptics: http://www.bible-researcher.com/parallels.html)

While Matthew gives us the Wise Men and Herod’s murderous rage and the flight to Egypt, Luke gives us “the rest” of the Christmas story: the stories of John the Baptist and his family, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the journey to Bethlehem and the manger, the shepherds, the angels.  We also have Jesus’ circumcision, his presentation at the Temple, and the praise of Simeon and Anna. The only canonical story from Jesus’ growing-up years is found in Luke: the accidental abandonment at the Temple. Thankfully we have a positive story of the Jewish teachers at the Temple: not only did they enjoy his company but they also must have fed him and tucked him into bed at night for three days. Luke genealogy is different from Matthew’s.

There are several passages—-some of them quite beloved—that are unique to Luke’s gospel: Jesus’ first rejection at Nazareth, the stories of Mary and Martha, Zacchaeus, the widow’s son, the Walk to Emmaus, the brief story of the widow and her small contribution, the saying about the narrow door, and also the parables of the rich fool, the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the friend at midnight, the Pharisee and the tax collector in contrasting prayer, and others. Little wonder that Luke is a favorite among the gospels for many people, including myself. While in Dublin several years ago, I purchased a pewter goblet featuring Luke's symbol, the ox.

Here is a good outline of Luke’s gospel: http://www.crivoice.org/books/luke.html In his book The Writings of the New Testament, Luke Johnson points out that Luke together with Acts occupied about a fourth of the entire New Testament in terms of chapters—though the writing style is not verbose and is a high quality Greek.

Analogous to 1 Chronicles, Luke-Acts actually begins with Adam (in the genealogy of Jesus) and through the abbreviation of genealogy gives us a vision from the beginning of biblical history to Luke’s own time, when the apostle Paul was still alive and preaching. The narrative itself covers about sixty years.

Luke’s gospel lacks the darkness and irony of Mark and also the xenophobia of Matthew (Johnson, p. 202). The Romans and other Gentiles are not portrayed so negatively, and neither are Jews (although the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes are, as usual, criticized by Jesus). Luke’s gospel seems to depict Christians as no political threat to Rome, and to depict Jesus’ life, teachings, suffering, and death as part of Israel’s history and consistent with the Hebrew scriptures (Johnson, pp. 202-203). But Luke-Acts also offer to Jewish contemporaries a chance to follow Jesus, and when many do not, Gentiles acceptably become part of the new community.

In her book The Reluctant Parting, Julie Galambush points out that Luke’s theology of the fulfillment of scripture (and Matthew’s, too) has given Gentile Christians assurance of being part of God’s promises to Israel—and, in fact, the authentic kind of Judaism, to the exclusion of the broader community of Jews. Again, we are dealing with Christianity not as a major religion that looks disdainfully at its parent religion, but as a tiny sect that considers itself still Jewish and compares itself to other Jews. In her interest in showing how early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism went their separate ways, Galambush notes Luke’s gospel has been a popular source of religious validation for Gentile Christians, as well as for messianic Jewish movements (which, she points out, are not considered religiously Jewish by the larger Jewish community) (pp. 90-91).

One characteristic of Luke’s gospel is his concern for the poor (see, for instance, 6:3-4, 6:20-25, 16:22, 18:22, 21:1-3). In my study book, What’s in the Bible about Life Together? (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), I reflected on Luke 6:20-25:

“If you feel disdain for poor people, avoid Luke’s Gospel. one of Luke’s themes is the blessedness of the poor, to just ‘the poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3). The gospel is good news preached to the poor (Luke 1:52-53; 4:1-19)… God has special love for the por. When the kingdom of God comes, the poor will be redeemed, given pride and joy. The hungry will have food; the sorrowful will find happiness.

“What about the rich? According to Jesus, the tables will turn on them in the Kingdom if wealth is at the center of their lives and concern or the poor is lacking… A lack of money is a terrible source of heartache and worry… It’s tough to hang on to God’s promises when you’re choosing between paying for your medicine and buying food or when you made a financial decision that seemed sensible but now is failing. An abundance of money is a source of heartache, too, because in times of prosperity, we still worry… (p. 39). Luke gives those of us who are financially better-off to consider our uses of money and the devotions of our hearts.

(I'll return to these informal studies in a few weeks, after I delve into several books of Bible scholarship that I purchased this week at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting.)   



Monday, November 6, 2017

Bible in a Year: Mark

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I’m studying Mark. Back in the fall of 1981, I was a grad assistant for a lecture course on Mark at Albertus Magnus College, a women’s college at the time. The margins of my old Bible are filled with interesting insights that the professor offered during that course.

I had not thought of Mark, for instance, as a rather “dark” gospel. The story is framed by two declarations of Jesus as the (or a) Son of God, the first verse, and … the regretful declaration of the centurion who watched Jesus die (15:39). If you knew nothing about Jesus, you might ask, What kind of “good news” (1:1) is this?

Furthermore, Jesus’ identity is a matter of some mystery. Very early in the account, the powers that be want to destroy him (3:6), and his own friends and family consistently fail to understand him. Those who are on the “outside” (the demon-possessed, other Gentiles like that Roman soldier) do understand him. Some would like to proclaim Jesus, but he tells them to stay quiet (3:12), reflecting a theme of what scholars have called “the Messianic secret” in Mark (1:25, 34, 44, 3:12, 5:19, 43, 7:36, 8:30, 9:9, 16:7). Nearly from the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus creates misunderstanding and confusion.

At the end, Jesus’ own followers let him down. “And they all forsook him, and fled,” reads 15:50. (During that 1981 class, I wrote in the margin, “Now they understand!” That is, they realized that following Jesus would indeed involve suffering and possibly death, and at this stage they fled such a prospect.) Like the other gospels, Jesus’ women friends and relatives are most loyal to him (15:40). But the gospel ends with them, too, running away in fear (16:8). The somewhat abrupt beginning of Mark is framed with an abrupt ending.

Of course, we know now that the risen Jesus did appear to his followers and friends, male and female, and they gained new faith and courage. But if you just read Mark “cold” for the first time, you might scratch your head at the gospel’s sadness and irony. In her book The Reluctant Parting, Julie Galambush suggests that Mark's community may have been in a crisis situation during the dark times of the revolt against Rome in 67-73 CE.

As I wrote a few posts ago, a favorite book from my college religion courses was Gospel Parallels, which lays out the Synoptic Gospels—Mathew, Mark, and Luke—in order to show textual similarities and differences. Over 90% of Mark’s gospel is also found in Matthew and Luke, and the latter two gospels have material in common that is not found in Mark: the so-called “Q” material (likely meaning “Quelle,” the German word for “source”). Matthew and Luke also have material unique to their own gospels, implying other sources that they used.

A basic outline of Mark:

The beginning of Jesus’ story, John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and the wilderness temptation (1:1-13). There are no “Christmas stories” here.

Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (1:14-9:50)
Jesus’ miracles of healing
His teaching about the Sabbath, fasting, his true kindred
His parables (chapter 5)
Other miracles like the thousands fed, the walk upon the sea, the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter, and others
The Transfiguration, and Jesus’ teachings about his death and resurrection

Jesus and his group journey to Jerusalem (10:1-52)

Jesus’ final week (11:1-16:8)
The Palm Sunday entry
The cursed fig tree
The temple incident
Disputes with Sadducees and Pharisees
The Apocalyptic Discourse
The Last Supper and Gethsemane
Jesus’ arrest, trial, execution, death, and resurrection

A later addition to Mark’s gospel, including extra teaching to the disciples by the risen Jesus (16:9-20)

In his Writings of the New Testament, Luke T. Johnson points out that we don’t really know Mark’s identity's community, and the reasons why he wrote (p. 148). While we an figure out that Mark was the major source for Matthew and Luke, we don’t know Mark’s sources (p. 149). My old Harper’s Study Bible suggests the traditional idea that Peter the disciple who informed Mark, and that Mark may have been the young man strangely referred to in 14:50-51.

Johnson (I keep wanting to call him “Luke,” because that’s what all of us students of his call him) notes that Mark has an triadic “architectonic principle”: things appear in threes, like the three seed parables (4:3-32), three sets of public opinion (6:14-15, 8:27-28), three predictions of Jesus’ suffering (8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34), and of course Peter’s three details (14:66-72) (p. 151).

Johnson discusses several aspects of Mark’s structure (pp. 151-153). But one very key turning point is the declaration of Jesus’ identity by Peter (8:27-30), followed by the Transfiguration (9:1-7). At this point in the story, the assurance that Jesus is the Son of God connects with the opening verse, the centurion’s realization, and also Jesus’ own declaration in 14:62 (pp. 152-153).

The original ending of Mark seems to be 16:8, attested to by the earliest manuscripts. The longer ending of 16:9-20 does give us a famous verse about snake-handling.

I like Johnson’s ideas about Mark’s gospel: “Mark’s readers would naturally, as we still do, identify themselves with the disciples. Mark therefore uses that relationship to teach his readers. The message is mainly one of warning against smugness and self-assurance. He seems to be saying ‘If you think you are an insider, you may not be; if you think you understand the mystery of the kingdom and even control it, watch out; it remains alive and fearful beyond your comprehension. If you think discipleship consists in power because of the presence of God, beware; you are called to follow the one who suffered and died. Your discipleship is defined by his messiahship, in terms of obedience and service’” (p. 158).

A wonderful, always timely warning and reminder.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Bible in a Year: Matthew

Caravaggio, "The Calling of Saint Matthew"
This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This weekend I'm studying Matthew. As I wrote a few posts ago, a favorite book from my college religion courses was Burton Throckmorton's Gospel Parallels, which lays out the Synoptic Gospels—Mathew, Mark, and Luke—in order to show textual similarities and differences. Over 90% of Mark’s gospel is also found in Matthew and Luke, and the latter two gospels have material in common that is not found in Mark: the so-called “Q” material (likely meaning “Quelle,” the German word for “source”). Matthew and Luke also have material unique to their own gospels, implying other sources that they used.

(Here is a site, based on another book, that provides the parallels of texts among the three Synoptics: http://www.bible-researcher.com/parallels.html)

If you’re reading the Old Testament through to the New, Matthew’s gospel provides a segue by starting with a genealogy back to Abraham, reminding us of the genealogies of Genesis and 1 Chronicles, as well as the census material in the Torah. Matthew’s genealogy does omit some generations, but also likes Jesus to the tribe of Judah through the families of David, the Davidic kings of the southern kingdom through the deportation to Babylon and the post-exilic period.

Matthew gives us half of what I think of as the “total” Christmas story: the Magi from the east, Herod’s murderous rage and Joseph and Mary’s escape with their son to Egypt, reminding us of the birth narrative of Moses. The linkage of Jesus with the Emmanuel prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) announces God's presence among the people in Jesus, which continues across the gospel (18:20, 25:34-45, 28:20).

We’ve no accounts of Jesus’ childhood or young adulthood until he presents himself for baptism to John the Baptist, connected to Second Isaiah’s exilic declarations of hope and promise (Isa. 40:3). As with many heroes in religion and mythology, Jesus undergoes a time of testing before he begins the main journey of his life (chapter 4). Jesus dwelled in Capernaum, a mix of Jewish and Gentile heritage as reflected in Isaiah’s words (4:15-16). Gathering disciples and crowds, he taught on the side of the mountain (Chaps. 5-7), and continued to teach while also performing miracles of care and healing (chaps. 8-9). Needless to say, the mountain setting of Jesus' sermon, along with Jesus' teachings of Torah and faithfulness, give us a very Moses-like image.

Matthew arranges Jesus’ teachings in five discourses (chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), and uniquely gives us teachings such as the wicked slave (18:21-35), the landowner (20:1-18), the ten virgins (25:1-13), the talents (25:14-30), and the narrative of the last judgment (25:1-46). Although Mark contains no birth narratives, Matthew otherwise retains Mark’s basic geographical framework (the Galilean ministry, chapters 4-18; the journey to Jerusalem, 19-20; and the week in Jerusalem, 21-28:15). Jesus' teachings are filled with Jewish themes of lovingkindness, mercy, prayer, faithfulness to God, God's radical faithfulness to his people, the idea of having a minyan (quorum) for prayer, and others. In announcing the kingdom of heaven, Jesus signals a coming fulfillment of God's promises, as do people's identification of him as the prophet promised by Moses and/or the Son of David. Jesus himself prefers the name Son of Man (ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου) that reminds us of Daniel's apocalyptic passages. But Jesus also links these themes to his own person, sometimes cryptically.

Here are ways that Matthew frames the material:

10: The meanings of servanthood and discipleship

11-12: Implications of Jesus’ own servanthood

13: Parables of the kingdom

14-17: Jesus’ own signs of the kingdom, e.g., the miraculous feedings, Peter’s confession, the Transfiguration, and others. 

18: Teachings on humility and the community (ekklesia)

19-23: Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem and the controversies (his anger at the Temple moneychangers, his anger at the Pharisees, his anger at the fig tree, parables of his approaching death

24-25: The Olivet Discourse on sufferings of the end of the age, and the coming of the Son of man.

26-27: The trial and execution of the Son of man. 

28: Jesus’ resurrection and Great Commission.

In his Writings of the New Testament, Luke T. Johnson considers Matthew as instruction for a community trying to distinguish itself from the Pharisaic tradition in the Judaism of that time. Jesus becomes not only the authoritative interpreter of Torah but also the fulfillment and personification of Torah (pp. 183-190). This is not a rejection of Torah, however (p. 185) but a call to understand Torah via Jesus. Helpfully, Johnson calls the Sermon on the Mount “a sketch, not a system” for interpreting Torah (p. 188). Being a disciple (student) of Jesus will require ongoing study, prayer, and service.

Helpfully, too, Johnson compares the personification of Jesus as Torah to something already done in Scripture: the personification of Torah as Sophia (Wisdom) in Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon, not to mention the Mishnah’s Haggadic traditions (p. 189).

In Matthew, Jesus addresses his mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). It seems the most Jewish Gospel but also the most angry in terms of the Jewish leadership. We get Jesus’ bitter diatribe in Matthew 23, but we also get strong connections of Jesus with the Jewish scriptures and traditions. Jesus by no means repudiates the Torah, but interprets it by his own authority. At the same time, Jesus provides hope for Gentiles, too (12:18, 15:28, 24:14, etc.), and among the gospels only Matthew uses the word “church” (ekklēsia).Yet (likely reflecting tensions within Matthew’s community) the Gospel is also a little hostile toward Gentiles, for Jesus frequently criticizes or makes light of the practices of non-Jews (Johnson, p. 191).

Matthew’s desire to distinguish his community of Jesus-following Jews from the Jewish leadership of his (rather than Jesus’) time, had far-reaching results. In her book The Reluctant Parting, Julie Galambush discusses the bitterness of Jesus’ and Matthew’s language toward Pharisees and other leaders (e.g., pp. 72-77). For instance, the seven “woes” of chapter 23 “is disturbing in its rancor and has long provided fodder to those seeking proof that Jews are legalistic, hypocritical, and self-serving” (p. 73). But this and other bitter passages reflect heightened tensions between Jesus’ followers an the Pharisees in Matthew’s period, not Jesus’. But the prophecy of the temple’s demise—an event that had taken place within the reader’s memory—serve to underscore Jesus’ credibility in the debate” (p. 74).

Tragically, Matthew’s gospel has provided generations of Christians with material to become anti-Jewish or antisemitic— as well as to feel self-righteous and persecuted whenever someone disagrees with them. Galambush continues, “Read through the lens of Christianity’s triumph over the entire Western world, Matthew’s predictions [of persecution of Jesus-followers by Jews] appear grandiose and self-serving. Anything Christians suffer is proof of their righteousness and a produce to eternal exaltation over everything and everyone else. Such a reading... ignores the reality of Matthew’s original social and historical setting” (p. 74). So we must not accept Matthew’s portrayal of the Pharisees as “self-serving religious bullies” but understand, instead, that Matthew was a leader who trying to maintain the community in an embattled time when its future was very unclear (p. 74). (Think of the way you think about the rival sports team of you own favorite team.) During the last third of the first century, Pharisees themselves were struggling, too, hoping to save an embattled and persecuted Judaism.

While keeping in mind Matthew's reasons for his more bitter passages (and repenting if we have our own prejudices toward Jews), we also turn to this gospel for rich teaching. Luke Johnson (who also discusses Matthew’s characterization of Jews) notes that Matthew contains more homiletical material than Mark: Matthew is “broadly catechetical” for his community because it contains instructions for the community about piety, church discipline, and instructions for missionaries (p. 176).

Matthew also connects to Judaism in positive ways, as I noted above: for instance, he makes over seventy references to the Scriptures, fewer than Mark. Like the other gospel writers, he recognizes that the suffering and death of the Messiah was not an expected outcome---and yet it was, if one mines the rich Scriptures about Jewish suffering and hope and understands therein predictions and patterns of Jesus' own experience.  (See my list here.)

Another, more subtle connection to the scriptural heritage (and another reason not to be anti-Jewish), is the way the gospel describes human failure in the face of God's wonderful works, just as the Old Testament does. This is something we'll see throughout the New Testament. Remember how the Israelites failed again and again as they traveled through Wilderness? If the Pharisees and others didn't "get" Jesus, Jesus' own followers failed to "get" him, too, missing the point of his teachings, disappointing him in his darkest hour---and, of course, Judas sold him out and Peter denied him. (Peter doesn't get rehabilitated in this Gospel, although it's surely assumed.) Mark's gospel is even darker in this regard. The Bible is very truthful about God's nature and human nature alike.

I'm thinking about Jesus’ parting words: "Go and make disciples [students] of all nations." How do you be Jesus' follower and student? Telling people about Jesus is one way, of course, but also by acting in the ways of humility, mercy, and service that Matthew's very Jewish Jesus teaches throughout the gospel. Circling back to Matt. 25:31-46, we know Jesus is already among those who are in need, whoever and wherever they may be. To tell people about Jesus, is also to be where Jesus already is.



Monday, October 30, 2017

Bible in a Year: Judaism and Christianity on the Afterlife

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

As you study the Tanakh/Old Testament, you realize there's not much about the afterlife, whereas the subject becomes more prominent in the New Testament. I was going to delve into the differences between Judaism and Christianity on the afterlife, but I found three online articles instead. Although the promise of eternal life is precious, I also appreciate the emphasis in Judaism on doing good here and now.

Within the next week, I'll start taking notes about the Gospels.

http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm

http://www.pyracantha.com/Z/zjc3.html

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/



Bible in a Year: Forms of Christ in the Old Testament

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

The following is a blog post from a few years ago, that delves into more connections between the Old and New Testaments.

One of my seminary professors was R. Lansing Hicks (1922-2008), whose obituary can be found at : http://www.yale.edu/opa/arc-ybc/v36.n16/story21.html He was my prof in spring semester 1980, after I had Brevard S. Childs for a class. Over the years I appreciated more and more Prof Hicks' lectures on the Christian use of the Old Testament. A few years ago, I emailed him stating this. I forgot about my note until Hicks’ son-in-law emailed me, stating that Hicks had been ill during his last year and hadn’t read his emails, but the son-in-law had found my note and communicated it to Hicks shortly before his death.

The moral of this story is, IF YOU WANT TO EXPRESS GRATITUDE TO SOMEONE FOR SOME KINDNESS OR HELPFULNESS, DON’T DELAY, DO IT NOW. This was the third or fourth time in my life that I sent a thank-you note to someone who died not long thereafter.

The moral of the rest of this post is: if you want to deepen your faith, finding connections and insights in the Bible is an excellent way.  A few months ago I found a short book by Hicks: Forms of Christ in the Old Testament: The Problem of the Christological Unity of the Bible, the William C. Winslow Memorial Lectures of 1968 at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. Several years ago I read Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy, and at about the same time, something at our church reminded me how little many of us know or appreciate the Old Testament and how it relates to the New. Consequently I’ve been interested in renewing my own Bible reading, and in helping people discover themes and passages that unify the testaments.

I wrote the original post for Trinity Sunday, an appropriate time to think about the identity of God among the scriptures. Again: these are simply my notes from an interesting book: find a copy on interlibrary loan for more insights! At the beginning of the book, Hicks quotes Gerhard von Rad’s question: “how far can Christ be a help to the exegete in understanding the Old Testament, and how far can the Old Testament be a help to him [or her] in understanding Christ?” (p. 6) Hicks offers a form-content approach which, by the end, also give us a stronger appreciation of the Old Testament and provides ideas for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

First, we look at form, specifically the forms of words, actions, and a coalescence of both. (p. 9).

Forms of words. There are “words of suffering” (Job 16:18-17:2, 23; Ps. 22:1-2, 6-8, 14-18; 69:4-21; 116; Isaiah 53:3-9; Lamentations 3:1-24; and cf. Zechariah 12:10f), in which Christians perceived the form of Christ’s suffering (Matt. 8:17; Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:24f). There are words of forgiveness (Isaiah 40:2; 51:5f; Jer. 31:34; Hosea 14:4-7; Micah 7:19f; Zech. 13:1), in which Christians perceive the form of Christ’s pardon (Mark 2:5; Romans 10;5-13). There are words of salvation (Isa. 43:14-; 61:1-4; Jer. 23:5f; 31:2f; Ez.34:11-16; Zech. 8:13; cf. Ps. 20:30f), and words of life (Deut. 30:15-20; Isa. 25:6-8 [cf. Matt. 27:51; heb. 6:19; 10:20]; 26:19; Isa. 55:3; Amos 5:14); in which Christians perceive Christ’s power, too (Luke 20:37f; John 10:10; 11:25f; Heb. 11:17-19) (pp. 9-10).

Forms of action. There are forms of intercession: Abraham’s prayers for Sodom (Gen. 18:20-33), Moses’ prayers for the Israelites (Ex. 32:11-14, 31f), and the Servant’s actions (Isa. 42:2; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:13), in which Christian’s perceive the form of Christ’s self-oblation and intersession. There are forms of sacrifice, especially the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-18), certainly a text readable as a very Christological text. There are also forms of God’s self-limitation: God’s covenant with Noah never to flood the earth again (Gen. 9:8-17); God’s covenant agreements with Israel (Ex. 34:10-28); God’s selection of a place where God can be met (Ex. 25:8f, 17-22; Deut. 12:10-14; 1 Kings 5:3-5; 8:20f, 29; Ps. 132:14; Ez. 37:26f). In all of these examples of divine self-limitation, Christians perceive the divine self-emptying in Christ (John 1:14; Phil. 2:6f; Col. 1:19f.) (pp. 10-11).

Coalescence of words and actions. Hicks cites Ex. 3:7f as a good combination of God’s verbal promises and God’s saving activity (pp. 11-12) We also look at content. It’s not always the case that the Old Testament provides the form and the New Testament the content. There are reciprocal movements between the testaments:

1. It is Christ’s nature to expose sin, and thus, whenever the Old Testament exposes sin (e.g., Micah 3:8, or the law as understood by Paul in Rom. 7:7-12), “it shares in the work of Christ. “

2. It is Christ’s nature to forgive sins, and thus the Old Testament “knows Christ” where there is forgiveness of sins (Lev. 16:29f; Micah 7:18-20; Isaiah 55:6).

3. Similarly Christ’s suffering for sin, and the Old Testament knows this kind of suffering (Ex. 32:31-32; Jer. 20:7-18; 37-38; Isa. 53:4-6).

4. And also Christ’s redemption from sin (Isa. 40:1-4; 53;12; Ps. 22:30-31; 130:7-8).

5. We also see the Old Testament providing the content of redemption, as in Hosea 3:1-3, in which we see the form of Christ’ s work (pp. 11-14).

Forms of intention. In the Old Testament, we see God’s intention of salvation: Cain (Gen. 4:15ff, Noah (5:29; 8:21f), Abraham (12:1-3, 15:7-21; 17:1-8), as well as the Exodus and Sinai covenant, and God’s many promises like Isa. 1:16ff and 43:4. The divine intention of salvation of course continues into the New Testament as a mutual binding of the two testaments. “And where salvation is offered, there is Christ.” (pp. 15-16). Intention cannot be separated from certain other forms, such as the offering of the innocent for the salvation of the guilty (p. 16).

Forms of Coordinates. Hicks gives the example of Isaiah 45:21f, where “a just God” and “a saving God” are not contrasted but yoked as co-ordinates: God is both just and saving. God’s justice and righteousness, in fact, are showed in Isaiah’s several depictions of the Lord as comforter, vindicator, healer, preserver, and sanctifier (pp. 17-18).

Other examples of coordinate terms are Moses’ writings and Christ’s words (John 5:46f), “the way, truth and life” of John 14:6, the “Son of God” and “life” in 1 John 5:15; and the perfection and gifts of the law in Ps. 19:7-9. All these are coordinates which are also perceived in Christ (Matt. 11:28, John 1:4-9; 8:12; 11:25f) (pp. 19-20).

In an interesting second half of the book, Hicks makes several points. One is that “When reading the Old Testament, early Christians recognized in its words and acts forms of the divine salvation and knowing that there is one salvation, not two, confidentially believed them to be forms of Christ.”As the New Testament affirms the life given through Christ (Romans 10:9, John 14:6), so the Old Testament affirms the living giving power of God (Deut. 30:15; 32:39, Amos 5:6). “[T]he Jew of the Old Testament… was saved no less lovingly or fully than those Jews who encountered Jesus ‘in the days of his flesh’ or we today who profess the Christian faith. In these Old Testament affirms we meet ‘soteriological content.’ The form of each passage quoted differs from the others just as each differs from the form in which Paul makes his declaration [in Romans 10:9]. But the content is the same, and so is the intention—the gift of life abundant; and that life, wherever or whenever offered, is life with Christ and in Christ” (pp. 26-27).

Another point: “Recent editions of Nestle’s Greek New Testament offer an index of Old Testament verses either cited or alluded to in the New Testament which runs to more than 1400 items. Not only the number of citations but their scope also is noteworthy: the list contains all the books of the canonical Old Testament with the exception of four–Ruth, Ezra, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. This is not to imply that the New Testament authors saw Christ in virtually every book of the Old Testament; but these impressive statistics for the frequency and range of Old Testament quotations do indicate beyond reasonable doubt that early Christian writers found material of specific value to them as Christians in every section of the Old Testament…” (pp. 30-31).

These are not “proof texts” and not all are what we would call “Old Testament prophecies”: for instance, Zechariah 9:9 is not a prophecy or a proof-text when used in Matthew 21:4f. But this is part of a drama in Zechariah, in which Matthew found a form for elucidating Christ. Likewise using in Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, and 13:7b, Matthew could “delineate the form of divine action in Christ’s passion and show its intention” (pp. 33-34, quote on p. 34). Similarly Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1, which is not a promise but a form of the divine action (pp. 35-36). And also: Matthew’s use of Jeremiah in Matt. 2:17f, a word of sorrow which connects us with the divine words of salvation and restoration in Jeremiah 31 (pp. 32-33).

Hicks sees this form-content approach as helpful in Jewish-Christian conversation. We can better understand the variety and intentions of God’s works in both testaments, and we can affirm the uniqueness of Christ without denigrating God’s other works as somehow lesser, or simply preliminary to Christ. Hicks quotes James Sanders: “The Christian will not, even privately, ask why the Jew does not accept Christ as Messiah, and the Jew will not, even privately, ask why the Christian does not accept the Old Testament as Jewish. Each will respect the historic claim on the Bible the other represents….” Hicks adds that the purpose of conversation “is not merely to encourage Jews to converse with us for their own profit but to bring us Christians to ‘the point of such a full and genuine encounter that we are lead into the depth of the Christian Presence amid Judaism’” (p. 38). [Here, Hicks quotes P. Schneider's The Dialogue of Christians and Jews, who continues: "Is it not possible that we have been blind to the further depths in which Jesus is made manifest in the travails and triumph of the Jewish people and faith throughout the ages? This is a dimension of the Lord Christ that Christians have yet to discover" (p. 177, in note 50 of Hicks, p. 45).]

Another way to put it is by N. T. Wright in his article “Paul’s Social Gospel: In Full Accord” (Christian Century, March 8, 2011, 25-28), where he writes, “There’s a swath of Western thought which…has said in effect that since the first plan has gone wrong, God has decided to do something quite different, to send his own Son to die for sinners, so we can forget about all that Isreael stuff….That is to misread Romans and to misunderstand Paul at his very heart. Instead, Paul declares in Romans 3:21 that God’s covenant faithfulness has now been revealed through the faithfulness of the Messiah for the benefit of all those who are faithful. He, the Messiah, is ‘Israel in person’” (p. 29).

Altogether, Professor Hicks, writes, “Herein the identification of Old Testament forms can contribute significantly to our understanding of the scope of Christ’s work through space and time. It widens the perspective through which we are helped to view the totality of Christ’s work. Does this not open further doors of understanding today? … Should not we extend this same affirmation to all works of redemption and deliverance? If so, we face the future of ecumenical discussion of with both confidence and anticipation and we turn eagerly toward dialogue with ‘secular [person]‘ in our ‘post-Christian’ age” (p. 39).


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bible in a Year: New Testament Summary

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Here's a summary of the New Testament, that I wrote a few years ago. Like many Christians, I tended to turn first to the New Testament as I began serious Bible studies. Leafing now through my old Bible that I've used since I was twenty, I find all my jottings from college and seminary when I studied the Bible (on my bed rather than at a desk), with commentaries to study, too. I can scarcely convey my excitement I felt when I discovered that the gospels contained evidence of early oral traditions, possible antecedent written sources, and intentional compositional ordering of material about Jesus.  I poured over the book Gospel Parallels, which lays out the Synoptic Gospels—Mathew, Mark, and Luke—in order to show textual similarities and differences.(1)

I learned that over 90% of Mark’s gospel is also found in Matthew and Luke, and that the latter two gospels have material in common that is not found in Mark: the so-called “Q” material. Matthew and Luke also have material unique to their own gospels, implying other sources that they used. I hadn’t doubted Jesus’ historical existence, but I was fascinated by the shaping of the material, the use of sources of Jesus’ words and deeds to put forward theological convictions. That the Gospels were not straightforward biographies, factual in all chronology and detail, didn’t matter to me in the least.(2)

Gospels and Acts 

In Matthew, Jesus addresses his mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). It seems the most Jewish Gospel but also the most angry in terms of the Jewish leadership. We get Jesus’ bitter diatribe in Matthew 23, but we also get strong connections of Jesus with the Jewish scriptures and traditions. Jesus by no means repudiates the Torah, but interprets it by his own authority. At the same time, Jesus provides hope for Gentiles, too (12:18, 15:28, 24:14, etc.), and among the gospels only Matthew uses the word “church” (ekklēsia). Matthew retains Mark’s basic geographical framework (the Galilean ministry, chapters 4-18; the journey to Jerusalem, 19-20; and the week in Jerusalem, 21-28:15), but unlike Mark, Matthew includes a birth narrative (including the stories of the Wise Men, the flight into Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocents).  The gospel presents Jesus’ teachings in five discourses (chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), and uniquely gives us teachings such as the wicked slave (18:21-35), the landowner (20:1-18), the ten virgins (25:1-13), the talents (25:14-30), and the narrative of the last judgment (25:1-46).

Mark opens with, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Hasty, simply written, the gospel contains a key verse, 10:45: “the Son of man …came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Who is this Jesus, though?  As the gospel proceeds, Jesus’ friends don’t seem to “get” him. He confuses those closest to him. One of the saddest verses is 14:50, And they all forsook him, and fled. Meanwhile, the people on the “outside” identify Jesus right away: the demons, outcasts, and Gentiles. The first post-crucifixion person to “preach” Jesus is a Roman soldier who participated in his execution (15:39). And yet, for all its darker qualities, the gospel seems written to those already Christian for their guidance and comfort, as I’ve jotted in the margin. Mark’s gospel omits birth stories, devoting chapters 1 through 13 to Jesus’ ministry (chapters 1-9 in Galilee, chapter 10 on the way to Jerusalem, and 12-13 in Jerusalem), and then chapters 14 through 16 for Jesus’ passion.

Luke, the only Gentile author in the New Testament, wrote two accounts, both addressed to person named “Theophilus,” which means “God-lover.” (That was Mozart’s middle name: “Amadeus” is the Latin translation.) In the gospel, Jesus addresses his concerns for the poor and disadvantaged; Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:18-19) doesn’t spiritualize the blind, oppressed, and imprisoned, but he proclaims liberty and release to them. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20)—not “poor in spirit” which you and I might be able to claim. Unique to Luke’s gospel are the story of the good Samaritan (10:25-27), the story of Mary and Martha (10:38-42), the parables of the lost coin and the prodigal son (15:8-32), the story of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), not to mention the stories at the Gospel’s beginning: the birth of John the Baptist, the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the song of Simeon, the shepherds in the field, the story of young Jesus in the Temple.

How is John related to the other gospels? Is it a different historical tradition or does it assume the traditions of Mark?  This is a debated subject; the basic outline and facts of Jesus’ life are there, but the stories are different: the water into wine, the Samaritan woman, the raising of Lazarus. John focuses on seven “sign” miracles, five of which are not found in the other Gospels. John’s is a “high” view of Jesus, a view that helps us understand him theologically. We don’t find parables and pericopes here, but rather long reflections and dialogues. While Jesus’ Synoptic parables do not deal directly with Jesus’ identity, John’s gospel contains numerous “I am” sayings. While the other gospels announce the Kingdom of God, in John, Jesus’ announces the Spirit that will guide Jesus’ followers.

Acts provides stories of the first (approximately) thirty-five years of the early church.  Peter dominates the first portion of Acts, Paul the second half. Luke frames the stories of Acts with affirmations about God’s kingdom (1:3, 28:1); Jesus had preached the kingdom, and after his ascension, the life-power of Jesus is given to people through the Holy Spirit, and so for Luke, the kingdom of God exists wherever people accept that ever-available life-power(3). Thus the disciples are instructed not to fret about the signs and portents of Jesus’ second coming, they have what they need for the present time, the Spirit promised in Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21).

In spite of its connection to Luke, I tended to think of Acts as a stand-alone historical account between the gospels and the epistles. But eventually I realized that Acts is as important as the gospels because the book provides the way that we know Jesus today. We’ll never know Jesus in the flesh—and judging from Jesus’ own words, we shouldn’t even long to have known him in the flesh (John 16:5-15). Now, Jesus is now fully present to us through the Holy Spirit.(4) Jesus’ story continues, if not in a scriptural way, in the innumerable book-length stories of us, his disciples (cf. John 21:25).

An explorer of these books will notice the way different gospels accounts are shaped, and how placement of stories and teachings elucidate meaning (4).  She’ll learn about God’s love from the many “pictures” of God (Mt. 18:10-14, 35, 19:13-15, Luke 7:36-50, 15:3-32, and others). She’ll try to regain a sense of childlike openness and wonder (perhaps lost in adulthood), which Jesus says is essential for understanding him (Mark 10:13-16). She’ll understand that those who are good, upright, Ten Commandments-following people are often the ones who can’t or won’t follow Jesus, and the sinners and strugglers may get into the kingdom first (Matt. 21:31-32, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 15:11-32).

The explorer should try not to isolate Jesus as a teacher and healer from Jesus as risen Lord upon whom she can call for help and guidance. Jesus’ teachings had characteristics of healing and vice versa. When Jesus taught, he aimed not just at ethical standards but also at the healing of our hearts. When Jesus healed people, he not only showed a concern for people’s physical needs but also wanted to teach people about God’s hope and salvation (Matt. 12:15-21).(5)

Letters

The Bible has many different kinds of literary genres.(6) In the two testaments you find history, poetry, legal codes, prophecy, songs, letters, sermons, gospels, and even one book of erotic poetry. Ideally, we should understand the different genres as we read, and genres overlap within books. Ezra contains autobiography, letters, and history; several of the prophets contain oracles and narratives. The gospels and Acts are history, but they’re also preaching. Hebrews is a sermon with an epistolary conclusion (though no epistolary greeting). Of course, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy form a long history and contain accounts of individual incidents, but the books also encompass legal codes and cultic (worship) instructions, while ancient Christian catechesis and liturgy, as in the Didache, are later than the canon.

We find very few letters in the Old Testament, but letters form the largest body material in the New Testament. The canon includes letters of James, John, Peter, Jude, the author of Hebrews, and Paul.  Paul’s several letters are arranged in order of length, although 1 and 2 Thessalonians were probably the earliest letters, and Philippians and 1 and 2 Timothy seem valedictory.  All these letters were written to individuals or churches in order to address particular issues, to deal with needs and problems, to convey information and greetings, and to communicate feelings. Although not intentionally written in an epigrammatic way, we can lift epigrams, slogans, and promises from the letters for our own needs, for within these letters are treasures of biblical proclamation and pearls of wisdom. If I were to give someone a single Bible book to convey the Gospel, I’d tell them to read Romans or Ephesians. Galatians is also excellent for communicating the Gospel, although it was written in frustration and anger; if you’ve a good commentary to help you, Galatians might help renew your faith.

The letters have different purposes and viewpoints. Like the Gospels, they’ve changing facets in which God’s light beautifies, changes, and illuminates. Reading in turn through my various marginal notes and scribbling:

Romans is Paul’s self-introduction to a church he wished to visit soon. He argues that God accounts us righteous by faith rather than works of the law. The righteousness of God is revealed in God’s justification of sinners through the atonement of Christ.

1 and 2 Corinthians is largely Paul’s words of teaching, advice, and reprimand to a congregation swayed by impressive teachers, confident in their own wisdom, and yet lacking in love and spiritual maturity.

Galatians is Paul’s frustrated letter to a Gentile church. Paul points out that the Galatians already evidence of God’s power and acceptance in their lives through the gifts of the Spirit. They must not add anything on to God’s work, including traditional Jewish rites like circumcision.

Ephesians and Colossians are similar letters, written (if Paul did write them) while he was imprisoned. He shows the sufficiency of Christ and God’s free salvation. In Christ we are built up as a church; Christ has removed barriers between God and us.

Philippians, another “prison letter,” is a joyful letter, warm and affirming for a congregation Paul clearly feels gratitude.

1 and 2 Thessalonians concern the second coming of Christ and the need to be watchful, though the first letter is warm and the second letter, though also warm, contains more admonishment.

1 and 2 Timothy concern the qualities of church leaders and provides advice and encouragement to Paul’s young colleague.  Titus also deals with church leaders and the need to deal with false teaching.

Philemon concerns a runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul has helped convert, and so Paul writes Onesimus’ master about the matter, hinting strongly that Onesimus should be freed.

Hebrews is an epistolary sermon by an unknown author to an unknown group of people. The title, which is a latter addition, is based on the fair assumption that the original audience consisted of converts from Judaism, who, more than a Gentile group, would have grasped all the many references to the Hebrew scriptures and traditions. Although its supersessionism demands contemporary reinterpretation, the sermon is beautiful, intricate, and argues the sufficiency of Christ compared with the angels, the prophets, and the temple.

James stresses the validity of one’s faith through the good works of one’s personal growth and one’s relationships with others. The book only mentions Jesus twice and is similar in style to Old Testament wisdom literature.

1 and 2 Peter concern the steadfastness of one’s faith in times of persecution and also in regard to false teachers.

1, 2, and 3 John all provide glimpses into the lives of the early church. 1 John, especially, teaches the need to demonstrate one’s faith through love.

Tiny little Jude, which quotes a non-canonical writing (1 Enoch 1:9), is closely related textually to 2 Peter and is concerned false teachers and apostasy.

After these brief epistles, we come to the final book, Revelation, which concerns the final times. It’s actually a letter, too (1:4), to seven Asian churches.  John must be a different man than the apostle, for the book’s style is dissimilar from the gospel and the letters, and this author does not identify himself as an apostle. The book chronicles the many signs of the end times and is written in symbolic language that harkens back to Old Testament prophecies.

The letters, like the gospels, aren’t just “about” Jesus but also witness to his living reality. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16. This verse used to bother me; aren’t Jesus’ life and teachings important? They are, but Jesus’ life and teachings can’t be disconnected with his death and resurrection, and his earthly life cannot be disconnected with the eternal life that he now shares with us, And so it is not inappropriate that much of the New Testament deals not with specifics about Jesus’ life and teachings (the letters scarcely quote Jesus’ teachings explicitly) but the grand fact of his salvation and gifts of the Spirit. Now, as readers of this material, we too receive the first-century preaching of the Gospel of Jesus, and our lives, too, become guided and maintained by the Spirit.

*****

We should also be humbled by the way the Bible witnesses to the imperfection of human efforts, including (perhaps especially) religious efforts, and God's compassion for us. The Israelites, in their centuries of life with God, provide example after example of doubt, complaint, loss of faith, idolatry, wrongdoing, and judgment. A knee-jerk Christian reaction might be, “Oh, those faithless Hebrews.” But look closely at the New Testament. Those scriptures reflect a much shorter time period than the Old Testament (fewer than a hundred years, depending on the conjectural dating of some of the epistles, compared to 1600 years between Abraham and Nehemiah), and so we don’t see the same kind of patterns of sin-judgment-repentance in the New compared to the Old. But in the New Testament, the early Christian congregations also struggled with problems: divergence from sound teachings (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the threat of apostasy (Heb, 6:1-8), factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17), unchastity (1 Cor. 6:12-20, 1 Thess. 4:1-8), incest (1 Cor. 5:1-5), lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-7), disrespect of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:17-22), and others. All seven of the churches of Revelation received a scold or a warning or both. Thank God for God's steadfast love and loving kindness!

*****

Notes:

1. Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr., ed., Gospel Parallels: A Synopsis of the First Three Gospels (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1973).

When we study the Gospels, it’s difficult not to mentally harmonize the material. For instance, we think of the “seven last words of Jesus,” but no single Gospel contains all seven; we mentally conflate the material.  In fact, a second century Christian named Tatian harmonized the content of the four gospels into a continuous life, called the Diatessaron, which we now know through variant versions of ancient copies. Howard Clark Kee, Jesus in History: An Approach to the Study of the Gospels (second edition, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), 281-292.

2 I still have some of my favorite seminary paperbacks like Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper & Row, 1960); The Crucified Messiah and Other Essays(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), Studies in Paul (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1977) and Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1976), all by Nils Alstrup Dahl; and Klee, op. cit. Also Richard A. Buridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1994);  Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), and Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

3 Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993), 643.

4 William H. Shepherd, who has published several good books about preaching (CSS Publishing Co.) has also written the book The Narrative Function of the Holy Spirit as a Character in Luke-Acts (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1994).

5  I make this point in my book, What’s in the Bible About Jesus? for the series What’s in the Bible, and Why Should I Care? (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 43.

6 An introduction to the Bible’s types of writings is Margaret Nutting Ralph, And God Said What? An Introduction to Biblical Literary Forms (New York: Paulist Press, 1986, 2003).