Archive for July, 2009

Rick Steeves and I in the Footsteps of Paul

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Not together, unfortunately.

I will be leading my fifth trip to Greece and Turkey, “The Cities of Paul and John,” February 11-21, 2010. It’s a great trip, and I am always eager to share my experiences (and Illume, the company I work with/for) with others. I am also usually able to take students from other institutions with me.

What about Rick Steeves?

Rick Steeves is a wonderful travel writer and travel documentary producer. He is also an active Lutheran. The following 40-minute video features Steeves following in Paul’s footsteps. Though not an academic resource, it includes commentary by biblical scholars, including Craig Koester, whose own web sites of his travels (here [Paul] and here [Revelation]) have great photos.

Source: ELCA Book of Faith web site.

My Pet Peeve: Missing Commas after Appositives

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I don’t know how theological this post looks, but if Martin Luther was right (“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen”), it’s actually quite theological.

A growing number of writers and/or editors, even those producing academic works, apparently do not know that a comma is necessary both before and after an appositive—a phrase that explains the preceding word or phrase (in bold below):

Correct: John, a professional theologian, has no idea what he is talking about. (BTW, I have no particular “John” in mind.)

Incorrect: John, a professional theologian has no idea what he is talking about. (I have no particular “John” in mind.

I am seeing this error now in virtually everything I read. What’s going on?

(This grammatical error has replaced the comma splice as my pet peeve. The comma splice is the misuse of a comma to connect two independent clauses that ought to be separated by a period or semi-colon, connected by a conjunction, or converted into one independent and one dependent clause.)

Favorite N.T. Wright Quotes

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

I stumbled upon this list of Tom Wright quotes and a prayer recently from two years ago by Raffi Shahinian over at Parables of a Prodigal World.

“Heaven is important, but its not the end of the world.”

“The Biblical vision is not so much concerned with life after death but about life after life after death.”

“Wherever St. Paul went, there was a riot. Wherever I go, they serve tea.”

“The word ‘gospel,’ in Paul’s world, meant the accession of Caesar. And when Tiberius or Nero came to power, the imperial heralds did not go around saying, ‘There is this new experience you might like to try on for size, namely, you might like to give allegiance to Caesar if that suits you and if that’s where you are right now in your own personal journey.’ No, they said, ‘Tiberius is emperor! Get down on your knees!’”

“God is not very concerned with the method by which rulers come to power; He is passionately and compassionately concerned with what they do once they attain power.”

(In response to those who tell him, “I don’t believe in God”) “Really? Which god is it that you don’t believe in?”
“My proposal is not that we understand what the word ‘god’ means and manage somehow to fit Jesus into that. Instead, I suggest that we think historically about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy, vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross–and that we take our courage in both hands and allow our meaning for the word ‘god’ to be recentered around that point.”

“Jesus did not ‘know he was God’ in the same way one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His ‘knowledge’ was of a more risky, but perhaps more significant, sort: like knowing one is loved. One cannot ‘prove’ it except by living it.”

(About being bald) “When you get to be my age, you only have so many hormones left, and if you want to use yours to grow hair on the top of your head, that’s fine.”

“Almighty Father, maker of Heaven and Earth, set up your Kingdom in our midst. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us sinners. Holy Spirit, Breath of the Living God, renew us and all the world.”

It might be fun to add to this list. My all-time favorite is:

If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.

Do you have favorite N.T. Wright lines? (I certainly have others, but I don’t have time to fish them out at the moment.)

Daniel Kirk Wrestling with Theological Interpretation

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Over at Sibboleth, Fuller’s Daniel Kirk is wrapping up (I think) a series on theological interpretation that has run most of July and is quite a good introduction to the issues. Daniel is juggling a number of issues—all prompted in this series by his review of Steve Fowl’s forthcoming book on the subject. It’s worth spending some time with the various posts. Today’s post, written after considering the debate about historical criticism within the theological interpretation of Scripture, is entitled “What if we’re all right?”

Israel, Palestine, and Water

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Anyone who has been to “the Holy Land” or even been in a drought knows how important water is. Biblical images of life-giving streams take on richer theological and practical significance upon reflection on such experiences.

My friend and colleague Carole Burnett recently returned from another trip to Israel and Palestine. Today she has an eloquentt letter in the Washington Post responding to Monday’s op-ed piece by Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, arguing that growth within Israel’s already-existing settlements should not be seen as problematic.

Carole claims that Israelis are diverting water that rightfully belongs to Palestinians, that Israelis are polluting Palestinian land, and that many Palestinians are not getting the safe water they need (and, I should add, that is a basic human right).

She concludes the letter as follows:

So let us hear no more about the alleged necessity of allowing the settler population to expand. Even if Israel begins to abide by its agreement to halt its confiscation of Palestinian land, its ever-encroaching appropriation of Palestinian resources must also be stopped if there is to be any hope for a viable Palestinian state and, thus, for the two-state solution that Mr. Olmert professes to support.

Crux probat omnia (The cross probes everything)

Monday, July 20th, 2009

The Latin verb probare means to test, examine, evaluate, probe, prove, approve. Luther wrote, “crux probat omnia,” usually translated “the cross tests everything” or “the cross puts everything to the test.” I like to use the cognate verb “probe,” as in “scrutinize.”

On this blog and elsewhere, especially over at Daniel Kirk’s Sibboleth, people have been wondering how the so-called violence of God in Judges and elsewhere, including Revelation, squares with the kenotic, cruciform, restorative love and justice of God revealed in Christ, especially in his cross.

At root, this is at least as much a hermeneutical issue as it is a theo-logical (doctrine of God) one. That is, what will determine our reading of such difficult texts? The answer, it seems to me, is crux probat omnia.

Though we have no right to dispense with certain parts of the canon, we do have the right (and the obligation, as Christians) to read such texts through, and in light of, the cross. The cross does not delete them, but the cross provides the lens through which we consider them, the framework within which we understand them. That is, if we believe in the incarnation and if we believe Paul’s claim that the cross is the definitive theophany, the self-revelation of divine love, wisdom,power, justice, etc. (1 Cor 1-2, etc.)

In reference to Revelation, this problem of problematic images seems particularly acute. But some interesting things happen, especially an ordering of the images. That is, not all apocalyptic images in Revelation are created equal. As Christian readers of this ( I believe) Christian text, we have to order our images Christianly or, better, align our ordering of them with the ordering of the book of Revelation itself. That is to say, images of God as liberator, warrior, judge, etc. have all been re-imaged and reconstituted by the coming, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The slaughtered Lamb is the central and centering image of the book, and through it we see God’s liberation, warfaring, and judgment quite differently, to put it mildly, than we would without it. Similar controlling images appear elsewhere in the NT.

In Revelation, this means that the conquering Jesus is a warrior who sheds his own blood, not that of others. He conquers with words, not literal swords. And his disciples are expected to follow suit on both counts.

Thus as Christians we affirm God as liberator, warrior, and judge, but only as those images are scrutinized by the cross. That is because we believe with Paul that the cross is in fact the ultimate theophany and, with the early church, that crux est mundi medicina: the cross is the medicine of the world—and of the church. Which is why the church’s mission and its cruciform existence—or its misguided belligerent crusading—always go hand in hand.

Paul and Violence?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

In my new book on Paul, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, I have a chapter arguing against the idea that Paul had a violent personality and for Paul as peacemaker and practitioner of nonviolence—which, I argue, is rooted in Paul’s gospel and especially in the resurrection.

A sympathetic and astute reader of the book, Brad, posed some very interesting and important questions.

One particular question keeps coming to mind and I was wondering if you would mind giving me your thoughts on it. You do a really nice job of showing in a succinct and compelling way how the kenotic view of God (and its non-violent implications) does not necessarily conflict with eschatological wrath/judgment, but I am left wondering what exactly Paul might have thought about the images of God as “Divine Warrior” in the OT, especially as this image is used for the sanctioning of nationalistic war (e.g. Joshua and Judges). How do you think Paul would have related these two images of God, kenotic and Warrior? A somewhat related point is that, while Paul does seem to leave the Phinehas understanding of zeal aside in favor of the model of Abraham, Genesis seems to think that a climactic expression of Abraham’s faith was in his willingness to sacrifice his own son (the “Akedah”). Paul apparently is comfortable appropriating the Akedah as a prototype of Christ’s obedience, but how do you think he would have thought about this act of violence as an expression of faith?

[More specifically,] I’m wondering is what Paul would have thought when, so to speak, he picked up Judges and read it: given its Scriptural status I don’t think Paul would have thought that God as Warrior who authorized and even demanded nationalistic military engagement was “not the same” as the God of Jesus Christ (as, e.g. Marcion) or that God had previously acted contrary to his character. So the question I’m thinking through is how would Paul have put together his view of God as fundamentally kenotic with the prior revelations of God as a (nationalistic, militaristic) Warrior who leads his people in battle. Or to put it another way, if God now approaches his enemies in restorative love, it seems that Paul also would have been compelled to acknowledge that in previous times and perhaps also in the future at the eschaton, God had acted on the principle of retributive justice (so sapiential literature, the Deuteronomistic History, etc.) and through the mode of military conquest.

Some of my response to these questions follows:

1. It is clear that Paul (and perhaps also the Pauline tradition, if Ephesians is not by Paul) can occasionally use various forms of military language and images for both God’s and (especially) believers’ life and activity. This language comes from the Scriptures, other Jewish literature, and Roman military life, etc. (Nijay Gupta, finishing a PhD in NT at Durham University in England and now teaching at Ashland Seminary is beginning a study of the last of these three, and that should be interesting.) This Pauline language is fully denationalized and is “theologized,” specifically “apocalypticized”: it is used to describe the conflict between God and/or believers on the one hand, and evil powers, Satan, false gospels and ideologies, etc., on the other. In some sense, believers participate in the divine apocalyptic battle, as in other Jewish literature. But this battle is in no sense actual military combat or physical violence. Nor is this battle a form of “soft violence,” that is, non-lethal coercion. The battle is waged with such weapons as proclamation, prayer, persuastion, and suffering. The use of military imagery may be a bit off-putting to us who are sensitive to its abuse, but it in no way justifies the use of violence. In fact, God is the kenotic warrior! God’s means of initiating and waging the apocayptic battle is to send into the world weapons of righteousness that embody the divine character: the Son, the Spirit, the church.

2. Paul’s rejection of violence is firmly rooted in his gospel, so the question of the Akedah/Abraham’s sacrifice, to which Paul alludes in Romans 8, is also significant. The key to this problem is how Paul views Christ’s death (itself a form of violence, with or without the analogy to the Akedah). For Paul, Christ’s death is both the donation of the Son by the Father and the donation of the Son by the Son himself—a self-donation. It expresses both the love of the Father and the love of the Son. Because of this close and inseparable connection between Father and Son, the Father’s giving of the Son is ultimately an act of self-giving. The Father gives the Beloved, Son, the One who shares in the very divine status of God. Although, of course, Paul does not state this interaction in specifically Trinitarian terms, he does indicate the deep self-involvement of the Father in the giving of the Son by the use of the reflexive pronoun iin Rom 8:3 and the parallel adjective idiou in Rom 8:32—God’s own son. To put it in theological language that Miroslav Volf and others have used, Paul sees the atonement fundamentally as a two-party “transaction,” not a “three-party” transaction. That is, God in/through Christ (one party) lovingly reconciles the world (second party) through Christ’s incarnation and death, rather than God (one party) sending and punishing Christ (second party) in Christ’s death so that the world/believers (third party) do not have to die.

3. I struggle theologically with the freedom of God/constrained by his own character of love. But I am very leary of the hint of divine change (e.g. from OT to NT) or the perception of divine change (e.g. “progressive revelation”). Paul would absolutely say that the “God of the OT” is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is not Marcion. So, how might Paul read those bloody narratives? I think he would read them, and did read them (as seen in his “apocalypticizing” or “spiritualizing” [I hate that term] of the divine warrior tradition), allegorically, as did Origen, though Origen did so with a different allegorical strategy. I am not trying to say that Paul and Origen were thoroughgoing hermeneutical brothers, only that violence drew them both to some form of allegorical interpretation.

4. On the practical side, it seems to me that Rom 13:1-7 does not sanction believers’ participation in anything that contradicts the explicit exhortations in the context (all of Rom 12 and 13). That passage is a very Jewish nod to established authority, but the sword it approves is not the sword of the soldier. My point is primarily that, given all the interpretations of Rom 13 out there, no interpretation can be valid that allows Christians to violate the explicit command, for instance, to love enemies. So even if one concludes that 13:1-7 says God installs governments to carry out violence when necessary, Rom 12 and Rom 13:8ff prohibit believers from doing so. Which means either one goes the path of Luther (bifurcating the individual into two roles) or one becomes Anabaptist theologically if not ecclesially). Facing this heremeneutical and existential dilemma, I choose the latter, or perhaps it chooses me.

Biblical Manuscript Fully Online

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

As of Monday, one of the best and oldest Greek biblical manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus, is fully online, about a year after the first portions were made available. Here‘s one of many articles (HT Libby), and here‘s the site link.

Anyone who has never seen a biblical manuscript in person—and anyone who has—will be fascinated by the images of this 4th-century text, and by what one can do at the site.

God’s Mission: Righting or Writing the World?

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

A few months back I gave a major public lecture on Paul called “Justification and Justice: Paul, the Mission of the Church, and the Salvation of the World.” In the lecture I picked up on NT Wright’s theme of God’s “putting the world to rights.” Deciding to avoid the British idiom, I said (perhaps several times) that according to Paul God is “righting” the world, as in righting a capsized ship or setting right that which is out of alignment.

A journalist heard my talk of God’s “righting the world” as God’s “writing the world”—and was apparently quite taken by the idea. (OK, I confess: Yes, I am a closet process theologian. Just kidding. :-) ) In fact, it turned her on to Paul once again, and she wrote about that at length.

This little episode raises all kinds of interesting questions about hermeneutics, etc., but most importantly it raises the question, “Did the journalist have an unintentional brilliant insight into Paul and into God?” Is that what the missio Dei is in some sense? Writing the world? What might that mean?

Martin Hengel has Died

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

The great German NT scholar Martin Hengel has died at the age of 82. He passed away last week, as many of the NT blogs have announced.

Hengel’s works on crucifixion, the Son of God, the zealots, and Judaism and Hellenism are all standards in the field, and for many of us his work was highly influential. Hengel, especially the early Hengel, was a rigorous historian who also perceived (and acknowledged) the theological realities to which his historical work pointed. His book on crucifixion, for instance, is foundational to understanding my own work on Cruciformity.

With Hengel’s passing, there is again one less NT scholar who has really mastered the ancient world. I put him in the same category of scholar as my own mentor at Princeton, Bruce Metzger, who died in 2007 at the age of 93.

PS At Borders this weekend I saw multiple copies of The Oxford Companion to the Bible (which Bruce Metzger edited with Michael D. Coogan in 1993), under the new title of The Oxford Guide to the Bible, for $9.99, a great price for a fine companion book, a dictionary-type work. (The old title is still $62 at Amazon, though used copies are cheap.) Pick one up for yourself or your library.