Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Holy Saturday Reading

"From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

"Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

"He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: 'My Lord be with you all.' Christ answered him: 'And with your spirit.' He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: 'Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.'

"I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

"For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

"See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

"I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

"Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity."

From The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, Lenten Season and Easter Season (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1976), 496-498.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Good Friday Reading

"From the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop

'If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. Sacrifice a lamb without blemish, commanded Moses, and sprinkle its blood on your doors. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

"If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

"There flowed from his side water and blood. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

"Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life."

From The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, Lenten Season and Easter Season (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1976), 474-475.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Maundy Thursday Reading

“From an Easter homily by Saint Melito of Sardis, bishop

“There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover: that mystery is Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

“For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth in that humanity in the Virgin’s womb, and was born a man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen [humanity] upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt [our] destroyer, death, a fatal blow.

“He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, as he had ransomed Israel from the land of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. He sealed our souls with his own Spirit, and the members of our body with his own blood.

“He is the One who covered death with shame and case the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. he is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. he is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own for ever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.

“It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.

“It is he who was made [human] of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay. He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised [us] from the depths of the tomb.”

From The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, Lenten Season and Easter Season (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1976), 458-459.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March for Our Lives STL

In spite of a gloomy and misty day where you couldn't see the top of the Arch, St. Louisans turned out in large numbers for today's "March for Our Lives STL" event in front of Union Station. The Post-Dispatch estimated the crowd at about 10,000. Several marches are happening today around the country in solitary with victims of gun violence and demands for action from Congress.

Some of my photos: 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Bible in a Year: Reading the Old Testament

As a Christian who participates in interfaith groups with esteemed Jewish colleagues, I think this is a wonderful quotation (copied under fair use principles), by Walter Brueggeman, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 734-735.

“Theological interpretation… is conducted by real people who are concretely located in the historical process… preoccupied with an ancient text in a particular circumstance….

If we are to interpret the Old Testament in our circumstance, it is clear that Jewish faith and actual Jewish community must be on the horizon of Christians. More specifically Old Testament theology as a Christian enterprise most be done in light (or darkness!) of the Holocaust and the unthinkable brutality wrought against the Jewish community in a society with Christian roots… Christian interpretation of the Old Testament and its characteristic supersessionism and a long distance removed from the Holocaust. Yet the thinking behind and around supersessionism, of which Christian Old Testament theology has been one aspect, is indeed linked to the Holocaust. Therefore Christian Old Testament theology… must make important and generous adjustment sin our convention and uncritical exclusivist claims on the Old Testament…. If Christian appropriation of the Old Testament toward Jesus is an act of claiming the elusive tradition toward a Jesus-Circumstance, we can recognize that other imaginative appropriations of this elusive tradition are equally legitimate and appropriate. We have yet to decide how christological exclusivenesss is to be articulated so that it is not an ideological ground for the dismissal of a co-community of interpretation. Thus our most passionate affirmation of jesus as the ’clue’ to all reality must allow for other ‘clues’ found herein by other serious communities of interpretation. And of course this applies to none other so directly as it does to Judaism.

"Thus Christians are able to say of the Old Testament, ‘It is ours,’ but also say, ‘It is not ours alone.’ This means to recognize that Jewish imaginative construals of the Old Testament text are, in Christian purview, a legitimate theological activity. More than that, Jewish imaginative construal of the text is a legitimate theological activity to which Christians must pay attention. … I do not imagine that attention to this primate alternative construal of the text will lead to an abrupt overthrow of distinctive Christian claims. But I also do not imagine that such attention would leave Christian claims untouched, certainly not untouched in their fearful, destructive  aspects, but also not untouched in good-fain exclusively, rooted in a text that remains as elusive as its Subject that relentlessly resists closure."

Landscape: Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 12 Oct 1858), "Inside Akiba Shrine, Ukeji" (1857). Brooklyn Museum. From Twitter, @AHistoryofPaint , March 21, 2018 Copied under fair use principles.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Happy Birthday, Captain Kirk!

Today (March 22) is William Shatner's birthday--he's 87 and still entertaining us on various TV shows!

It's also the future birthday of Captain Kirk. In grade school when the original series was on, I had a little catalog of Star Trek products and an address to write the network to urge them to continue the series, that (incredibly, in hindsight) struggled in the ratings.

Here's a fun website about Riverside, Iowa, where Kirk's birthplace is commemorated:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wonderful Einstein Quotation

In the Holocaust Museum in D.C.: 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Blue Highways Journey

A FB friend posted about this just now: William Least Heat Moon began his journey 40 years ago today (March 20, 1978), resulting in his 1982 book "Blue Highways." My recent edition has an afterward, where the author describes the difficult process of writing the manuscript and the many rejections from publishers: an encouraging story for struggling writers!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Landscapes: William Fraser Garden

William Fraser Garden (1856-1921), "The Manor House by the River Ouse at Hemingford Grey", 1895. From twitter, @AHistoryofPaint March 17, 2018.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Dublin Coffee Shop

Ever drive yourself crazy trying to remember a name of a person or a place? We enjoyed this coffeehouse when we visited Dublin in both '11 and '13, but I couldn't remember the name or address.

Finally I found this photo and figured it out from background places and Google: the Fixx Coffee House on Dawson Street near Trinity College and St Stephen's Green. A horse and wagon went by that afternoon!

I had forgotten the name again, until it appeared on the "On this Day" feature of Facebook. So I'm posting the photo here, in case I forget again!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Landscape: John Steuart Curry

John Steuart Curry, "Wisconsin Landscape" (1938-39). From: Copied under fair use principles.

Landscape: Andreas Achenbach

Andreas Achenbach, "Landscape at Twilight," 1849. From Twitter, @TheVisualArt , March 7, 2018.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Landscapes: N. C. Wyeth

N. C. Wyeth, "Beethoven And Nature", 1919. From Twitter, @TheVisualArt, March 4, 2018.  

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bible in a Year: Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon

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 of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Since I've already covered the General Epistles and Revelation, this is the final post in this series! "The Bible in a Year" in fourteen months, LOL. How fun and interesting it has been to study the Bible again from beginning to end. Before too long, I'll copy these posts to my WordPress blog.

1 Thessalonians may be Paul’s earliest letter. As the introduction of my old Harper Study Bible indicates, the letter seems to fit into Paul’s second missionary tour, during a time when he stayed in Corinth (49-51 CE; Acts chapter 17). Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia.

Paul loves these people and the letter is filled with words of love and thanksgiving. He thinks about his work with them, and about Timothy’s news from them (chapters 2 and 3). He urges the church to refrain from unchastity (4:9-11), and to work at their own affairs in a way as to earn respect.

One major purpose of the letter is to give them assurance about the coming of Christ. For one thing, they shouldn’t be idle as they await Christ. Also, just because some people among them have died, doesn’t mean that Christ has failed. Salvation is certain, and although Christ will come suddenly, we can still have confidence in his grace. The famous idea of a “rapture” of the church is found in 4:15-18.

Also famous is 5:16-17: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing (or “constantly”), give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

2 Thessalonians is another statement of encouragement to the people; although the letter is a little less warm than the first, Paul wants to make sure the people endure in their faith amid hardship. He writes in more length about the day of the Lord (2:1-17) and also encourages the people not to stop working just because Christ may soon return.

3:10 is one of those “clobber verses” that folks quote in a scolding way: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”—-or, in a contemporary context, people who don’t work are just lazy and therefore shouldn’t have social safety nets. It’s a cold way to perceive the poor, and contrary to the MANY verses of the Bible where we’re enjoined to take the side of the poor.

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are called “The Pastoral Epistles” because of their practical teachings. Among New Testament scholars, the epistles are considered pseudonymous because of differences in style and vocabulary from other Pauline letters, because they don't fit easily not the Acts narrative, and because the concerns of the letters and descriptions of church structure seem to come from a later time period.

In the first letter, Paul warns about unsound doctrine at the Ephesian church—-and the dubious character of those who teach such doctrines. Public prayer should be for all (2:1-7). Women should be modest and stay silent as they learn (2:8-15). He discusses the offices of bishop and deacon (chapter 3), and again encourages Timothy to be on guard against false doctrine and to continue in faithful living (chapter 4). Among other practical admonitions are the need to honor and help widows; to let certain men of integrity to be elders; to ensure that slaves honor their masters; and that wealthy people not be haughty (chapters 5-6).

Some famous verses:

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life (1:15-16).

while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (4:8)

for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it (6:7)

for the love of money is a root of all evils (6:10, RSV)

2 Timothy is a similar exhortation for the young disciple to keep his faith strong, to avoid people who are gossipy and foolish in their conversation, to be firm but gentle in addressing unsound doctrine, and to preach true teachings. Although apostasy and hard times are coming, the strong will hold to Christ and do well.

Some famous verses:

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline (1:6-7).

holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power (3:5-6; I remember the old KJV wording: having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (3:16). Remember that the author is probably referring to the Old Testament!

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (4:7)

Titus was serving on the island of Crete. In the letter, Paul covers very similar ground as the other Pastorals, discussing with Titus the topics of church organization, false teaching, immoral living, gentle rebuke, and exhortation.

An undoubtedly genuine letter of Paul's, the brief epistle Philemon concerns the slave Onesimus, who had fled his master Philemon in Rome but had converted to Jesus Faith through Paul. The letter is actually to Philemon’s wife Apphia as well, and to a minister name Archippus. Paul wants Philemon to accept Onesimus back, hinting that Philemon should free him from slavery. Paul remarks that Onesimus was more “useful” (the meaning of his name in Greek) as a brother of Christ than of a slave. Paul also adds that he’d love to have Onesimus as his colleague in ministry, if Philemon would allow it.

Slavery of the Ancient Near East and the Greek and Roman empires was different from American race-based slavery. But to recognize that Scripture accepts an institution that we now consider immoral, alerts us again to the need to interpret scripture for our own time---not to toss out slogans like "Every word of the Bible is true" or "You can't pick and choose", but to wrestle with and pray about Scripture's meaning, using our intelligence, experience, common sense, and tradition to increase our understanding--and to enjoy the Bible!

In the post that I wrote a year ago (March 1, 2017), I quote from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible (New York: William Morrow, 1997). Commenting on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, he writes, “To study Judaism is a moral imperative, because to be good one has to know what one’s duties are and what goodness entails… and this requires study” (p. 489). What a wonderful goal for us Christians, too!

Before Lent is over, I'll find some good quotations about the relationship of the Old and New Testaments.

Bible in a Year: Philippians and Colossians

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 of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

I'm studying Philippians and Colossians. After this one, I've only one more post in this series.

Philippians is one of the “Prison Epistles” along with Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon, because of the way Paul identifies his situation. Unlike Colossians and Ephesians, there is no question about Paul’s authorship. In his Theology of the New Testament, the great New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann called Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon the "undoubtedly genuine letters of Paul" (vol 1, p. 190). Paul’s ministry in Philippi is narrated in Acts 16:12-40, and it was a church dear to his heart. My old Bible’s introduction indicates that “joy” and “rejoice” are used fourteen times in the comparatively short leter, and it is full of gratitude and love, starting with the opening prayer and thanksgiving (1:3-11).

Paul is glad that, although he is imprisoned, the Gospel has spread among the guards. He senses that his life may be nearing an end, but he is torn between wanting to be with Christ or (if it is up to him) living longer so that he could continue to minister to people as dear as the Phiippians. He sings Christ’s praises (2:1-11), and reminds them to conduct themselves in a good manner.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (2:12-13).

Although very proud of his Jewish heritage, nothing is as great to him as gaining Christ (3:8-16). Again--he is is not dismissing Judaism, only affirming that even his identity and heritage, the most important things to him, cannot be held onto if he thereby loses Christ:

More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead (3:8-11).

Once I had a student proudly ask me in class, "Dr. Stroble, did you know that 'shit' is in the Bible?" Fortunately I'm hard to rattle, and I did know the answer! The word "rubbish" above is a strong word that means, if not "shit", something to discard as garbage. He uses this forceful language to contrast all our dearest things in comparison to the worth of Jesus Christ.

He continues in this beloved passage:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you (3:12-14).

Other beloved passages include 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And 4:8-9:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

A long-time Baptist minister in my hometown, Dr. Archie Brown, had a column in our local paper, which he always concluded, THINK ON THESE THINGS.

4:10-13 is another wonderful passage:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Although it may not be one of Paul's final letters, Philippians has a very valedictory tone.

Colossians, which is in Asia Minor, is another of the four prison epistles. He writes to counter some kind of Gnosticism that did not have a “high” enough view of Christ. As my old Study Bible introduction has it: “Formulated in a Jewish framework [this Gnosticism] deprived Jesus Christ of his unique status as the Son of God and Savior, and reduced him to only one, albeit in an exalted place, of a series of created divine beings emanating in a graduated scale from the Godhead.” He also wrote to counter the Gnostic rites and ascetic practices that went along with this philosophy.

Thus Colossians is very concerned with a high theology of Christ and his place only in the Godhead but also in the Cosmos.

 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (1:15-20).

Thus Christ is sufficient for these Gentile believers who needn’t convert to Judaism, embrace an unsound doctrine, or practice rites and festivals characteristic of the "mystery religions" of the time. But what a passage on which to meditate: not only in light of Old Testament passages about the cosmos (Gen. 1, Psalm 19, 104, Job 38-41, and others) but possibly about religion and science as well. (I say this as a VERY pro-science person.)

Other notable verses:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (2:6-7).

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory (3:1-4).

"Your life is hidden with Christ in God" is one of my favorite Bible verses. How wonderful to think of being safeguarded in Christ--of knowing that Christ's love protects us. It is a wonderful complement to Romans 8:38-39.

Here is another Colossians passage:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (3:12-17).

He also urges a model of the Christian family: wives should be subject to husbands, husbands should love their wives, children should obey their parents, fathers should not provoke their children, slaves should be obedient as well, and slave owners should treat their slaves fairly (3:18-4:1).

The Greco-Roman hierarchical family structure of the time is not the family structure of our own time--and not only because of slavery. My wife is a university president, and if I started to insist that she be subject to my instructions, she'd rightly laugh at me. People will say things like "Every word of the Bible is true" without stopping to think about the passages that reflect the culture of the writers.  Recognizing this, and interpreting the Bible for our own time, are not only necessary, but exciting and enjoyable!


In chapter 8 of his book Comparing Judaism and Christianity, E. P. Sanders notes that many scholars have called Colossians pseudonymous; but most of the non-Pauline elements are in the first two chapters, and the whole letter does show literary dependence of the letter upon Paul's genuine letters.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Landscape: Monet

Claude Monet, "Snow Effect at Falaise" (1886) From Twitter, @ArtPicsChannel, March 1, 2018.

Bible in a Year: Galatians and Ephesians

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 of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Shameless plug: I wrote a short study book on Galatians for Abingdon Press, published in 2000 and still in print. What a fascinating epistle!

Galatia was a section of central Asia Minor. As I remember from researching that book, the Celts in Ireland and the Gauls in France were part of the same ancient peoples who settled different regions--but in this case, a group went all the way to what's now Turkey. The predominantly Gentile congregation had received the Holy Spirit, a wonderful sign of God's salvation and blessing! But now they believed they had to bolster their faith with Jewish practices like circumcision. Paul writes this sharp and sometimes sarcastic letter, reminding them that God has already favored them, and so they were really showing a lack of faith by adding Jewish rites—-just to make sure God was pleased enough, so to speak.

Paul even dispenses with the conventional words of thanksgiving at the beginning of the letter, right away to accuse the Galatians of “deserting” Christ. Again—Paul SOUNDS like he is hating on Judaism, but he is not. Rather, the Galatians are starting to believe that they must adopt circumcision for the men as an aspect of their faith in Jesus, and that's why Paul is so upset.

He reminds them that he is a Jewish teacher to the Gentiles, accepted by the church as such. He even scolded Peter for avoiding Gentiles in some circumstances. This is so important because it strikes at the heart of Christ’s gifts and, indeed, at the example of father Abraham.

Galatians is a more sharply-word complement to Romans, where Paul also discusses Abrahamic faith and Christian freedom. As the non-Hebrew Abraham was declared righteous by God, over 400 years before the Mosaic law, so God is blessing non-Hebrews (like the Galatians!) through Abraham’s descendant Jesus. Thus Paul argues: while Jews have the Mosaic law, Gentiles are gathered by God into a new though related covenant fellowship. It serves no purpose for Gentile Christians to practice Judaism, because that’s not the nature of Christ’s covenant.

Paul becomes quite sarcastic and rather crude. We might think of Ezekiel (especially his chapters 16 and 23) as an Old Testament example of an attempt to shock. Paul writes that the teachers of circumcision (those who are visiting the Galatian congregation in Paul’s absence) are (in effect, if not literally) just showing off their circumcision to prove how spiritual they are, and Paul wises they’d just go ahead and castrate themselves if they’re so  keen on genital surgery!

Jews follow the Mosaic Law, but what do Gentile Christians follow? Interestingly, Paul doesn’t specify Jesus’ teachings but teaches that the Holy Spirit provides gifts of love, patience, kindness, self-control, and others that guide morally and ethically, as well as being transformative (Gal. 5:16-25). We might think of Matthew's gospel as a complement to Paul, where Jesus' own Sermon on the Mount teaches his own approach to Torah.

A favorite verse:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (2:19b-20).

The King James has a wonderful cadence: "nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me".

Galatians 3:28, about the oneness of people in Christ, is surely my favorite verse of this letter. In one of my seminary classes a few years ago, we kept spontaneously coming back to this verse as a theme and agreed that, today, "gay and straight, white and black" would be part of the inclusive vision.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The oneness of people in Christ is also a theme of Ephesians. What a beautiful letter, perhaps my favorite New Testament book. The letter may have been written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, and yet the polished style of the Greek (compared to the restless and sometimes tangential way other letters are written) and the comparative absence of personal points have caused scholars to think that the letter is is pseudonymous, perhaps a summary of Paul's teachings written by one of his students as a tribute. On the other hand, the author does display some of Paul’s writing style, for instance, the way he breaks off at 3:1 to make a long point about God’s grace, and then resumes at 4:1. Even if it is written by a disciple of Paul, it is lovely. 

The letter begins with a long affirmation of the wonders of Christ (1:3-14 is a single sentence in the Greek). A prayer for the congregation is followed by an encouragement for the building up of the church. Because of Christ’s elimination of barriers and divisions (chapter 2), the church witnesses to Christ in all his reconciling wonder. 

The unity to the church is reflected in the way that the aspects of the church work together, and the way the church people support and “equip” on another in their gifts (4:11-16)

Paul urges the church to uphold moral standards, to be imitators of God and walk in love, and put alway not only the “serious” sins but the everyday foolishness as well (4:17-5:20). 

He urges certain relationships within the family, drawing an analogy between the family members and Christ and the church (5:21-6:10). 

Another well-known passage is 6:10-17, where he makes metaphors of pieces of military armor to the gifts and Gospel of God. 

Some favorite passages:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast (2:8-9)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God (2:19-22).

THERE is a very key connection to the Old Testament: a new kind of Temple theology wherein the Spirit of God dwells in the "holy place" of believers. 

 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen (3:20-21). I have considered asking my survivors to place all or part of this verse on my tombstone. God's ability to accomplish"abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" is a truth to which I can witness in my and my family's lives!  

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (4:5-6)

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love (4:11-16). "Equipping the saints" has certainly been a theme of many church-ministry studies over the past several years. 

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (4:26) I've told this verse to myself many times! I tend to nurse hurts and slights, which is not a good trait!


At the conclusion of chapter 6 of his book, Comparing Judaism and Christianity, E. P. Sanders writes (p. 195), "...[A]t the very point where Paul seems to break so decisively with everything for which Judaism stands, when he states that God gave the law to condemn and enslave, and that one must die with Christ to escape, he was being very Jewish. He was facing the problem caused by monotheism and providence: the theology that whoever happens is the result of the will of the only God. Why Paul picked on the law, instead of the circumstances of history, is another question. If we pursued it, we would see that even this choice shows that he stayed within the framework of Jewish problems and solutions. Since he thought that the climatic revelation of God came in Jesus, he naturally had to ask about the status of the principal prior revelation, the giving of the law. His eye, that is, was fixed on Heilsgeschichte rather than on ordinary Geschichte, on the history of salvation rather than on political, military, social, and individual circumstances. But in charging God with the present evil state, and in looking to death as the way out, he was as good a Jew as he could be, once one grants that the recent revelation to him gave him a new lens, through which he viewed all else."

Bible in a Year: 1 and 2 Corinthians

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 of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

I'm studying 1 and 2 Corinthians. I’ve sometimes wondered what Christianity would be like if Paul had been more like a serene, Buddhist teacher, calm in his approach. He is quite emotional in some of his letters, 2 Corinthians and Galatians being two examples. Like Paul, I wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes, so I can't criticize him for that---plus, he didn't know he was writing letters that would become sacred scripture!

But the God of the Old Testament is no aloof deity or spiritual principle; God is deeply involved with his people and with the well-being of creation.

Corinth was a metropolitan center, and the Corinthian church had a tendency to factionalism. They were impressed with people of importance and with “showy” displays of faith. Now THERE are two qualities that we still find in many congregations! Paul has to deal with them through visits, reports, and his letters.

In 1 Corinthians Paul exhorts them to be unified not divided: all Christian workers have an important function in the church, and Christian wisdom is a gift from God rather than a human quality for which people may boast. (“Boasting” is a theme in these letters.) He tries to teach them that the apostles strive to be humble coworkers, whose ministry is judged by God alone. Being taught or baptized by any particular minister makes no special difference.

Paul scolds them for tolerating incest in the congregation (there was a man who was sleeping with his stepmother); for going to court instead of settling grievances as a congregation; for using their Christian freedom as an opening to visit prostitutes (5-6).

His teaching about marriage is famously unenthusiastic about the institution: he'd just as soon everyone stay single as he is, but "it is better to be married than to be aflame with passion." His advice on marriage and celibacy is based on his conviction that the times are short and Christ will soon return, so being focused on Christ is better for those times (chap. 7).

Continuing his teaching about Christian freedom, he cautions them about eating food that had been offered to idols—-a common practice in Greece of the time the availability of meat in the markets that had been butchered at the temples. He argues that, since the idols are nothing and so the meat is alright to eat, but church folk should be careful; no one should become a “stumbling block” to a person whose (immature) faith is upset by such things (8-10). Similarly, the veiling of women in church.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 deals with the Lord’s Supper. Some of the church had been crowding out the poor people and making the ceremony into a kind of party. I wish Paul had expressed himself a little differently when he writes “any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself”—-I’ve known a few people who were thereby afraid to take communion because they felt unworthy!

1 Corinthians 12 famously concerns the use of spiritual gifts and the importance of unity in diversity. Even more famously, 1 Corinthians teaches that love is more important than anything else: if you’re good at doctrine, using spiritual gifts, and understanding, it’s all noise and emptiness if you don’t love. Chapter 14 deals specifically with the gift of glossalalia—certainly a gift that still divides congregations.

Chapter 15 are lovely thoughts about the Resurrection: its necessity, its mysterious logic, its assurance, and its bodily rather than disembodied quality. A song in Handel’s “Messiah” always comes to mind when I read this passage.

Chapter 16 concludes with a reminder about Paul’s itinerary and his project of collecting money to support the church in Jerusalem.

Some favorite passages that I've long had highlighted in my old Bible:

 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
   and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1:18-25)

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord' (1:18-31)

 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building (3:6-9)

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God (3:21-23). Paul Tillich preached a wonderful sermon, "All is Yours!" found in one of his sermon collections (I forget which one.)

Chapters 12 and 13 and 15 are filled with wonderful words, as well, but I shouldn't quote whole or nearly whole chapters. :-)

Paul's Corinthian correspondence invites textual questions. He refers to an early letter (see 1 Cor. 5:9) but this has not survived, though my old Harper Study Bible intro indicates that 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 may be a portion of that letter. Because of the change in tone between 2 Cor. 1-9 and 10-13, scholars have also speculated that 10-13 is all or part of the “stern letter” that Paul refers to in 2 Cor. 2:3, 7:8, et al.

My Harper Bible Commentary (pp. 1191-1192) takes this view about the Corinthian correspondence: The letter referred to in 1 Cor. 5:9-11, in which Paul counsels them about immorality, is a lost "Letter A," written about 51 or 52. Then as Paul sent Timothy to them to help them, he also sent "Letter B", which is 1 Corinthians. Paul also sent a "tearful letter," which he refers to in 2 Cor. 2:4, after Paul had visited the church and it was not a good experience. This is a "Letter C," the "tearful letter." Some commentators (according to that same source, p. 1191) identify 2 Cor. 10-13 as the "tearful letter," and 2 Cor. 1-9 was written as a reconciliation. Others (including the HBC author), believe that 2 Cor. 1-9 is "Letter D" that followed the "tearful letter", and then 2 Cor. 10-13 is "Letter E" that responded to Titus' report of persons in the Corinthian church that undermined Paul's authority.

2 Corinthians is a long defense of Paul's ministry, too. He explains the circumstances for Paul’s change of itinerary and discussing the several aspects of his ministry (chapters 1-7). He returns to the subject of the Jerusalem church, urging them to contribute out of love rather than shame.

Paul’s tone grows more sharp in 10-13 when he turns to the subject of teachers who had been swaying the Corinthians and turning them against Paul. He gets really upset as he talks about all the ways he has sought to be faithful—-including his struggles with the unnamed “thrown in the flesh” (an illness, or something else that caused him pain) through which God has worked.

At the end of the letter, he repeats to them all the blessings of God to him and to them and urges them to support him and one another.

2 Corinthians may be easy to summarize as it is focused on Paul's self-defense in the face of criticism and opposition, there are some wonderful passages that are old favorites:

Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (3:5-6)

 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day (4:16)

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (5:16-21)

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death (7:10)

 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (9:6-7)

On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (12:5-10)