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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Read the Bible

I am studying Ignatian spirituality for Advent, and that's about finding God in all things.   Learning how to approach scripture has helped me to find God and welcome him  into my thoughts.    I have taken a   course on how to read the Bible,  have read Fr. Dan Harrington's wonderful little book on the subject, and I have studied the Vatican II document,  Dei Verbum.   You have to understand the literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical senses of scripture.    Here Adam Hincks, S.J. gives an exciting example of how it's done:

Consider the passage of Israel through the Red Sea. The literal sense is that God rescued the Jewish people from slavery. The allegorical sense foreshadows baptism in Christ as God’s rescue of his people from the slavery of sin. The moral senses are many, but one might be the need to trust in God’s providence in difficult situations. The anagogical sense is that God is leading us from this present world of slavery to an eternal homeland.
The Exodus is a classic example of how the senses of Scripture are at play, but they can be sought throughout the Bible and used as a tool for seeing God’s presence in a particular passage.

http://www.ibosj.ca/2013/12/christ-with-us-in-scriptures.html  (online post Dec. 6, 2013).

Friday, November 29, 2013

Jesus Praying

The last recorded saying of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."   Luke 23:46 (RSV).   He was in close fellowship with God at the moment of his death, just as he had been all of the the days of his earthly life,   as described here by Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Charles R. Erdman

All the intervening days of his life and ministry were filled with ceaseless prayer. On at least seven other occasions it is stated that he was praying: at his baptism, ch. 3:21; after healing the leper, ch. 5:16; before choosing his disciples, ch. 6:12; before Peter's great confession, ch. 9:18; at his transfiguration, ch. 9:29; before teaching his disciples to pray, ch. 11:1; in the first agonies of crucifixion, ch. 23:34. So, too, he taught his disciples to pray with importunity, ch. 11:5-10, with perseverance, ch. 18:1-7, and with penitence, ch. 18:9-14.
Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Luke, An Exposition at 11 (Philadelphia  Westminster Press 1936).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fr. Ray Brown - Jesus Facing Death

In the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus struggle with his impending death.  He prayed, "Take this cup from me."  Fr. Ray Brown makes this beautiful comment:
Even in recent times the picture of a Jesus distressed and greatly troubled, asking to be delivered, has been contrasted with a Socrates calmly accepting death as a deliverance from this world of shadowy realities and as an entree to a better world. All of this fails to consider the basic outlook on death inherited from the OT. In the theology of Genesis, human beings were created to enjoy God’s presence in this life and not to die. Death was an evil imposed on Adam and Eve, and ultimately in Israelite thought it came to be seen as a realm of alienation from God. The NT, even after Christ’s victory, speaks of death as the last enemy to be overcome (1 Cor 15:26). For Jesus, the struggle with death is part of the great trial or temptation of the last times; and he is faithful to Judaism when he tells his disciples to pray not to enter into this temptation (Mark 14:38). Their great danger is that the trial comes at a moment when they do not expect and are not watching (13:34-37), and so Jesus warns them to watch.   
Raymond Brown, Christ in the Gospels of the Liturgical Year:  Raymond E. Brown, SS (1928-1998) (Liturgical Press expanded edition 2008).   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

More on Aselgeia

Yesterday's post was a study of the Greek word aselgeia.  Here are some helpful  notes on the NT use of that word:    http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=48505&forum=45   
The lifestyle of aselgeia is a rejection of God's way of living,   but what makes it worse is that those who engage in it believe that this evil is good and that good is evil.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Professor Hobson's Word Study - Mark 7:22

I am in a small group Bible study and we just finished studying Mark chapter 7.   Today I am thinking of Jesus' words on the evil which comes from the heart.     In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus says this:

[20] And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man.
[21] For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,
[22] coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
[23] All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man." 

Mark 7:20-23 (RSV). 

In verse 22, we see the word "licentiousness," the Greek ἀσέλγεια (transliteration: 
aselgeia).   As pointed out here, this word appears in nine other places in the NT.  Professor G. Thomas Hobson of St. Louis' Concordia Seminary   argues here that ἀσέλγεια in Mark 7:22 may have been Jesus' one and only allusion  to homosexual sin.  Hobson cites William Barclay: 

William Barclay considers ἀσέλγεια to be possibly the “ugliest word” in the list of NT sins. He capsulizes the word’s meaning as “utter shame­lessness”. It is variously translated as “licentiousness”, “wantonness”, and “lasciviousness”. It’s a word that Jesus (translated through the tradition that Mark presents) could easily turn to as a synonym for homosexual ac­tivity and other similarly shocking behavior forbidden by the Jewish law.  

Filología Neotestamentaria   (Vol 21   2008)   at 65,    online at http://www.bsw.org/Filologia-Neotestamentaria/Vol-21-2008/-7936-963-941-955-947-949-953-945-In-Mark-7-22/523/

There is no space here to review Hobson's  defense of his position, that ἀσέλγεια refers to shockingly evil deeds including wrongful sexual behavior.  My presupposition is that Jesus did say the substance of  what has come down to us in Mark 7:20-23.  I will have to study Hobson's article further to consider whether Jesus among other things may have had homosexual acts in mind when he listed these sins.      Hobson concludes:

Jesus says that both πορνεία and ἀσέλγεια come from the heart, along with murder, theft, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness (Mark 7,21-3). As the debate about sexuality continues in today’s society, Jesus’ word about shameless disregard for boundaries in the area of sexual behavior deserves further consideration in this debate.

Hobson at 74.   

Yes, followers of Jesus must show  tolerance and love for those who are bogged down by the kinds of evil listed here in Mark 7.   And we search our  hearts to see it clearly in our own lives, so that we turn  from the ways of the world to follow God's ways.    It's clear to me from the ten places that ἀσέλγεια appears in the NT that  ἀσέλγεια includes wrongful sexual conduct.   Shocking personal behavior which includes  shameless violation of  sexual norms, does make the "sin list" of Jesus in Mark chapter 7.  The striving for tolerance in the culture has put into question traditional understanding of  sexual  immorality.   But the word of Jesus here is a sharp rebuke  to believers  who might surmise  that some forms of  sexual evil ought to come off the list.     

The mobile version of this post corrupts the Greek text references above.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Faithful Witness to Death - Richard Bauckham

This is the third post on The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham. Revelation teaches that the elect people of God bear witness to the truth, and that means that they must be prepared to die:

It will be useful to sum up the first two stages of Christ's work of establishing God's rule. In the first stage, by his faithful witness to death as the Passover Lamb of the new exodus, he won the comprehensive victory over all evil. The immediate result was the creation of a people, drawn from all the nations, who are already God's kingdom in the midst of opposition in this rebellious world. But this elect people is called to a role in the achievement of God's universal kingdom which is revealed by the opening of the sealed scroll and which it is the central purpose of John's prophecy to communicate to the churches. The people called from all nations are to participate in Christ's victory by bearing witness, as he did, as far as death, in a great conflict ....

Bauckham, Richard. 1993. The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Cambridge [England]; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.    


Previous posts on this subject:

God is Sovereign -  http://oculatafide.blogspot.com/2013/09/book-of-revelation-god-is-sovereign.html

Throne Room in Heaven - http://oculatafide.blogspot.com/2013/09/richard-bauckham-in-his-book-theology

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Frank Sheed - To Know Christ Jesus I

Last year marked the 50 year anniversary of the publication of Frank Sheed's great book, To Know Christ Jesus (1962, 1980 Sheed and Ward, 1992 Ignatius Press). Thousands of books on the words and deeds of Jesus have been written before and since Sheed's book. Why read Sheed? I read his books because I enjoy his refreshing words and phrases which help the reader picture the Gospel events which he describes. He is a terrific writer. I also appreciate Sheed's energy and zeal for the faith. In To Know Christ Jesus he presents the life of Jesus with joy and gratitude. For the "general reader" like me who seeks to internalize the teaching of the Gospels, reading Sheed's book is exercise which improves spiritual vision. I am reading this book for that purpose, now for the second time, and this time the experience has been enriched because I am studying slowly after having taken seriously Sheed's opening comments (pages 12-13 discussed in this post) about what he expects from readers. 

We students of the Gospels hope that our study of the life of Jesus will provide a glimpse of him, who is truth and life for us. Yes, I know, to see Jesus, go to the Gospel texts directly. But Bible study is not something to be done alone. It helps to study together, with other members of the body of Christ, and that's why we have group discussions. Another way to "study together" is to listen to the insights of other Bible writers, and some writers present themselves with such warmth and clarity that while I read them I can imagine that the writer is sitting with me. That's how it is with Frank Sheed (1897-1981). 

Here is a one-sentence example of Sheed's easy and inviting style: "Now that we are settling down to study that [Galilean] ministry, it would be good to look at a map of Palestine, find Capernaum, and make for ourselves a first mental sketch of the stage of such great happenings." To Know Christ Jesus, p. 154. 

In addition to this approachable style, I enjoy Sheed's imaginative skills. To make the Bible come alive writers put their imaginations to work. See the book by Shane Berg, Donald H. Juel and Matthew L. Skinner Shaping the Scriptural Imagination: Truth, Meaning and Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baylor University Press 2012) (collection of essays on Juel's thought and his interest in helping readers develop theological imagination through reading the Bible). 

Sheed uses his imaginative skills to take the reader with Jesus to the roads, hills, homes and synagogues, and to the Temple, of the Holy Land. Here is an example, from Sheed's description of the transfiguration: 

Present when he told them were Peter and James and John, whom he had chosen to have with him when he raised Jairus' dead daughter to life, and whom he would choose to have nearest to him in Gethsemane. We tend to think of them as principals at the Transfiguration, almost as though the whole incident had been staged for their sake. Strengthened and comforted by it they certainly were; but they were not principals. Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah: the three apostles were asleep part of the time and contributed nothing. Only one of them said anything at all: Peter said that it was a good thing they were there—they could make three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah; but he himself tells us, through Mark (9:5), that he was too frightened to know what he was saying. ...
As Peter finished his proposal to build three shelters, a luminous cloud overshadowed them, wrapping them round so that once again they were afraid. A Voice came out of the cloud saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him." The last three words, establishing our Lord's authority as teacher, were new. All the rest had been said by the same Voice at Jesus' baptism in Jordan.
Peter, James, and John had been afraid—afraid when they saw Jesus and Moses and Elijah all white and luminous, afraid when the cloud wrapped them round, afraid when the Voice sounded from the cloud. With a touch of his hand and the words "Arise and fear not", he recalled them to the world they were used to. 
To Know Christ Jesus, p. 234-235.

Space for this post does not allow me to discuss this beautiful description. The point to make here is that before Sheed's creative and imaginative presentation of the Gospels can have a significant impact, the reader has some work to do. For example, in the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration, what is the theological significance of Moses and Elijah? And what is the religious meaning of the "three shelters" which Peter mentions? Without an understanding of the history of Israel and the Jewish faith of Jesus - which takes time and effort to learn - you can't deal with these two questions, and in general you will find that Sheed's lively descriptions throughout the book won't mean much to you over the long haul.

Over the last year I have spent a lot of time going in and out of To Know Christ Jesus. My first reading of the book 15 years ago had me thinking, "That was nice, but there is nothing new here. I have read the Gospels since childhood, and this book is a nice summary of them. Let's move on to the next book, preferably with more theology." The book did not really grab me years ago, as it has this time around, because back then I had no interest in doing the extra work which Sheed expects the reader to do. He expects the reader to work hard to understand the words and deeds of Jesus in their spiritual and cultural context. Only then can Sheed's own refreshing teaching on the life of Jesus deeply affect the reader.

Understanding the context means at least three things to Sheed: 1) That as you read the portion of the Gospels which he describes you need to study other related parts, "so that you can relate things said in different Gospels or in different parts of the same Gospel," and that effort "will require what is rare in modern readers, a total concentration of the mind." Page 12 (emphasis added). 2) That you learn the “general history” of that time, which means the history of Israel and the lands around it (especially Egypt and Syria), and the history of Greece and Rome. Page 13. 3) And most importantly, that you understand the “religious atmosphere” which calls for study of the Old Testament (p.13), and today scholars echoing that thought would say that you must understand "second temple Judaism” which was the religious faith of Jesus, his followers, and also was the faith of his religious opponents. 

I realize that study of the history and culture affecting the life and times of Jesus is a basic component of any college level NT course. But most of us don't have time to enroll in a course. Sheed writes for all interested laypersons, and he is asking all of us to get up to speed with an understanding of the historical and religious context of the life and times of Jesus. 

As I make a kind of halting progress studying the Old Testament and reading books on the history and culture of Israel, I am learning the vastness of the related literature. No matter how hard I study I will only scratch the surface of what a person can learn. But at least I can come to the Gospels now with images in my mind of this "religious atmosphere" (p. 13) which were missing the last time that I read Sheed. Derek Leman, Lois Tverberg and Taylor Marshall are excellent teachers for a layperson's study of the Jewish Jesus, and have been helpful to me. Also, the Carmelites provide solid background of this kind in their discussions of the lectionary Gospel readings.

A version of this post appeared here July 22, 2012.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jesus in the Storm

    "And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling."   Mark 4:37 (RSV). 
    "καὶ γίνεται λαῖλαψ μεγάλη ἀνέμου, καὶ τὰ κύματα ἐπέβαλλεν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, ὥστε ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τὸ πλοῖον."  Mark 4:37 (SBL Greek New Testament 2010).
Mark chapter 4 is the account of Jesus in the storm.   In the boat asleep on a cushion,  Jesus wakes up and calms the sea.  By showing power over nature, Jesus gives a sign that he is the Messiah.   Here I like the Greek, to show the drama of the scene and the power of the Lord.  Greek has loaded words which convey meanings in the original which lose some of their punch in translation.  A good example is  Mark  4:37  which in the RSV  reads in part,  "a great storm of wind arose."  The adjective "great" (μεγάλη translit. megale) means "violent."   M.R. Vincent says that  "storm"  (λαῖλαψ translit.  lailaps) means "furious storm" and is close to the word "hurricane."  If Vincent is right, it was a violent and furious storm.

For a text analysis of the entire sentence go to Bible Hub.  It's well worth it. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Anawim II

In the last post the  anawim  came up with reference to Pope Benedict's book, Jesus of Nazareth Vol.1. The  meaning of this word develops with the history of God's people.   The anawim were the oppressed in exile, and then they  show up in post-exilic psalms. These 'poor ones' become part of  some of the most important teachings of Jesus, which we see in Matt 5: 3 ff.    Here is Fr. Stanley's definition of anawim:

anawim (Hebrew), "afflicted poor, designated in O.T. the large class of people reduced to indigence under the monarchy of the oppression of the wealthy.  In post-exilic psalms the term acquires a religious sense, becoming synonymous with pious; in the beatitudes (Mt) it signifies those conscious of their need of God

David M. Stanley, S.J., A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises (1967), 336 (glossary of terms). 

Here is the  'long answer' from Fr. Raymond Brown, and it is fascinating:

"The word Anawim represents a plural from the Hebrew anaw which, along with its cognate ani is a word for 'poor, humble, afflicted.'

"Although this title ["Anawim"] meaning the 'Poor Ones' may have originally designated the physically poor (and frequently still included them), it came to refer more widely to those who could not trust in their own strength but had to rely in utter confidence upon God: the lowly, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the widows and the orphans. The opposite of the Anawim were not simply the rich, but the proud and self-sufficient who showed no need of God or His help.

"There is considerable scholarly debate about the pre-exilic origins of the Anawim, and about the extent to which they constituted a class or community and not merely an attitude of mind. But a good case can be made for the contention that in post-exilic times the Anawim regarded themselves as the ultimate narrowing down of th
e remnant of Israel. The concept that God was not going to save His whole people but only a remnant was redefined many times. When the Northern Kingdom (Israel) was destroyed in 722, the Southern Kingdom (Judah) regarded itself as that remnant. When part of the Southern Kingdom was taken into captivity to Babylon (598 and 587), with part of the people left behind in Palestine, both exiles and Palestinians tended to regard themselves as the remnant.

"Eventually, under the catalyst of defeat and persecution, the remnant was redefined, not in historical or tribal terms, but in terms of piety and way of life. The parallelism in Psalm 149:4 equates the people of God with the Anawim: "The Lord takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the Poor Ones with victory." (see also Isaiah 49:13; 66:2). Very often, woven together with this piety of dependence on God was a "Temple piety". The mixture is explained by the fact that the appeal for God's deliverance of His Anawim was made in the psalms, and thus in a cultic setting. The "Poor Ones" showed their trust in God by being faithful to the times of prayer and sacrifice...

"The existence of a Jewish Christian Anawim is not purely hypothetical. In Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37 Luke describes with nostalgia... the Jewish Christian community at Jerusalem. These people sold their possessions and gave their wealth for distribution to the needy; thus they certainly qualify to be deemed "Poor Ones". Their poverty was leavened by piety, including "Temple piety" for they devoted themselves to prayer and attendance at the Temple...

"In his discussion of the Epistle of James, Dibelius has shown the presence of a dominant Anawim mentality in a strongly Jewish writing composed in Greek quite late in the century. He argues that the traditional attitude of the Poor Ones, seen in Jerusalem Christianity early in the century, continued in the non-Pauline churches of Diaspora Judaism later in the century."

-Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 350-351, 354-355, as quoted by Steve Kimes at 
Thank you, Steve Kimes, for bringing Fr. Brown's  beautiful teaching on this subject to our attention.   


A version of this post appeared here June 24, 2012

The Anawim I

Matt. 6:24-34  is a section of the Sermon on the Mount.  You cannot serve God and mammon, Jesus says. After that comes a "Therefore" which is always a powerful word.  "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry ...." Jesus reveals two huge gospel themes in this passage.  1) Avoid the love of money, which is driving force that becomes  a slavemaster who takes you away from God.   2)  Ignore this teaching of Jesus,  and  you are going to be worrying.  You will be miserable.   You are going to have anxiety.  This is the emotion which we call fear, an ongoing dread that something is going to go wrong.    He says, "Seek first the kingdom of God  and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."   Don't forget this connection between "two masters" and worrying.  Have the right master, and you will have peace.

For an example to follow, go back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount,  to Matt 5: 3-5, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and those who are meek, the so called anawim.   Who are the anawim whom Jesus called blessed?  They are the poor who trusted in God.  http://faithmag.com/faithmag/column2.asp?ArticleID=524      How do the anawim serve as an example to us in dealing with this "no two masters" issue?   Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth  Vol 1  ("J.O.N. I")  writes about the these humble poor, who are prominent in the history of Israel.   Most of God's people in exile in Babylon and coming out of exile were poor.  Israel recognizes that its poverty is what brings it close to God.  J.O.N. I  at page 75.  

Second, for more insight into the anawim, look at the Psalms.    Here from Steve Kimes and the Anawim Christian Community out of Portland, Oregon  are six  passages  from the Psalms which describe  the hopes and aspirations  of God's humble  poor.    htttp://www.nowheretolayhishead.org/anawimscriptures.html     

Third,   Pope Benedict cites  Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds of Bethlehem, and the Twelve whom Jesus called as examples of these poor who were looking to God for deliverance.   Matthew's gospel starts with these beautiful believers.  J.O.N. I at page 75.

The anawim whom we see in these examples from the Bible know that they have nothing to give to God. They are the poor in spirit who cry out to God for his mercy and help.  For the message of Jesus to get through to a person, he must be broken in this way.  God is my only hope.  And he will help me.  
Back to this passage of Matt 6:24-34 for one more point made by Jesus.  Jesus calls God "your heavenly Father" who takes care of the birds in the sky.   He says,  "Are you not more important than they?"   As we  struggle to shake off the demands of mammon,  it helps to  look to God as a heavenly Father who,  if  He cares for the birds of the air,  surely will take care of us. Meditate on the beautiful examples of the humble  poor from the history of Israel, and whom we see praying  in the Psalms,  and also picture the humble  people from  the opening chapters of Matt.who are  Mary and Joseph,  Simeon and Anna, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the shepherds of Bethlehem.    Here is a clear  theme from  this Matt. 6 passage: God is very  close, a Father to his children. These children are the poor in spirit who come to Him with nothing but their empty hands.  And He alone (and not mammon) is the master. But Jesus reminds us in Matt 6 that He is an unusual kind of master in that culture where the masters had slaves.   Yes, he is our master, but he is also our Father.                          
All of this still leaves at least one question unanswered for me.  How much potential spiritual capital  comes from being poor?  Those of us who are not poor have a duty to do justice, and fight poverty, which is a grinding and miserable thing, and we see from Luke chapter 6 that oppression of the poor by the rich bothered Jesus greatly.   Notwithstanding that, the Pope beautifully offers us the anawim, who couple their poverty with piety,  as a model for us to follow.   J.O.N. I at page 75.  Jesus reached out to theanawim, and I picture the blind and the lepers in particular.  There is this connection between poverty and blessings from God, but there is some mystery to it.    The anawim is a thick area of study, where  amateurs like myself can quickly get in over our heads.  Pope Benedict certainly has a handle on this, and the same can be said for  Fr. Stanley and Fr. Brown, whose writings will come up in the next post.    I don't have an answer to the question which I pose here,  but one thing from the gospels is for sure.  Being rich is spiritually hazardous.


A version of this post first appeared here June 23, 2012

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gerhard von Rad - Anamnesis

Israel's poetry was "the one possible form for expressing special basic insights."  Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology Vol. 1(New York, Harper & Row Trans. 1962), at page 109.  The poetry made Israel's history present: "It was not just there along with prose as something one might elect to use - a more elevated form of discourse as it were then - but poetry alone enabled a people to express experiences met with in the course of their history in such a way as to make the past become absolutely present." Von Rad at page 109.  This reminds me of the theological idea of "anamnesis" which was the subject of a previous post dealing with remembering - making present - which we see in the celebration of Jewish feasts and in the Eucharist.

There is a powerful lesson here.  Our modern minds have great difficulty making the past present because we live by what von Rad calls "the law of historical exclusiveness." Page 110.  "We have to further consider that in their presentation of religious material the peoples of antiquity were not aware of the law of historical exclusiveness, according to which a certain event or a certain experience can be attached only to a single definite point in history.  In particular, events bearing a saving character retained for all posterity, and in that posterity's eyes, a contemporaneousness which it is hard for us to appreciate."
Von Rad at 110.

The poetic stories of Israel address those "who credit Jahweh with great acts of history."  Von Rad at page 109.   The OT is not a systematically ordered "world of the faith."  Von Rad at 111.  The OT testimonies are not about the faith, but about Jahweh.  "Never, in these testimonies about history, did Israel point to her own faith, but to Jahweh."   Page. 111. And here you find the kind of  beautiful sentences which make von Rad even in translation from the German a joy to read:

Faith undoubtedly finds very clear expression in [the testimonies]; but as a subject it lies concealed, and can often only be grasped by means of a variety of inferences which are often psychological and on that account problematical.   In a word, the faith is not the subject of Israel's confessional utterances, but only its vehicle, its mouthpiece.
Von Rad at page 111.

For the believer this is serious business.  The believer makes the stories of Israel present.  God's call of Abraham, his deliverance of the people from Egypt, and  his revelation of the covenant on Mount Sinai are testimonies for today. The testimonies point not to God's people but to God himself.


This was originally posted Dec 29, 2012. 

Book of Revelation - God is Sovereign

This is the second post on Richard Bauckham's book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Bauckham points out that the throne on which God sits is mentioned frequently in Revelation. The throne is "one of the central symbols of the whole book. It indicates how decisive for the theological perspective of Revelation is faith in God's sovereignty over all things."
We also see the sovereignty of God in God's name.  God is the One who is and who was and who is to come, and Baucksham states that we see this designation used five times in Revelation.    This is important because  "[h]aving seen God's sovereignty in heaven, he can then see how it must come to be acknowledged on earth." In chapter 5 of Revelation John introduces "the Lamb, Jesus Christ, as the one who is to bring God's rule into effect on earth ...."

Quotes are from Bauckham, Richard. 1993. The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Cambridge [England]; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Throne Room in Heaven - Richard Bauckham

Richard Bauckham in his book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, says this: 

John's work belongs to the apocalyptic tradition of visionary disclosure, in which a seer is taken in vision to God's throne-room in heaven to learn the secrets of the divine purpose (cf., e.g., i Enoch 14-16; 46; 6o:1-6; 71; 2 Enoch 20-i; Ap. Abr. g-18). John (and thereby his readers with him) is taken up into heaven in order to see the world from the heavenly perspective. He is given a glimpse behind the scenes of history so that he can see what is really going on in the events of his time and place.

The throne is the heavenly temple.  What does John see  from there?  That's where the messages to the churches enter the picture:

The whole book of Revelation is a circular letter addressed to seven specific churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea (I:I I; cf. I:4; 22:16). They are probably named in the order in which they would be visited by a messenger starting from Patmos. ...
Thus the call to conquer, addressed to the Christians in each of the seven churches in chapters 2-3, is a call to engage in the eschatological battle ....

In future posts I will discuss the message given to each church.


Quotes in green text are from Bauckham, Richard. 1993. The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Cambridge [England]; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lighten Up - G.K. Chesterton

Spiritual knowledge may come  from doctrine, biblical history, and discursive teaching.   But we can also learn and grow from contemplating simple images from nature and  from religious art,   and today thanks to G.K. Chesterton I'm seeing how the saints and the angels, and even the birds,  help to teach the idea that people should "take themselves lightly."   I am making my way through Orthodoxy by Chesterton, and I love this from the book:

Modern investigators of miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of “levitation.” They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. This has been always the instinct of Christendom, and especially the instinct of Christian art

By contrast, the aristocracy, the rich and powerful, take themselves seriously.  Chesterton says that aristocracy is "a slide of men into a sort of natural pomposity or praise of the powerful, which is the most easy and powerful affair in the world."    Seriousness "is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do."  Seriousness is heavy, like kings with their gold and their robes: 

Remember how the most earnest medieval art was full of light and fluttering draperies, of quick and capering feet. It was the one thing that the modern Pre-raphaelites could not imitate in the real Pre-raphaelites. Burne-Jones could never recover the deep levity of the Middle Ages. In the old Christian pictures the sky over every figure is like a blue or gold parachute. Every figure seems ready to fly up and float about in the heavens. The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation.

People who are rich in the things of this world will not be able to take those things with them when they die.  This "natural slide" of the culture into praise of the powerful makes no sense.  God is not impressed by the pomposity of the rich.   That is the message of the prophets who brought God's message of justice to the powerful.  And that's also the great message which we are hearing these days from Pope Francis.  Those pompous rich who think that their riches make them more important  than others are carrying a heavy load that is sinking them downwards.  

What about the image of the bird?  Chesterton contrasts the bird  with the stone:  "A bird is active, because a bird is soft.  A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard.  The stone must by its nature go downwards, because the hardness is weakness."    And all of this bring to mind the Sermon on the Mount: 

"Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"  Matt 6:26 (RSV). 

Quotes above from Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton  (London, William Clowes & Sons Limited, 1908) are in green text.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Newbigin - Gospel of John

Bishop James Edward Lesslie Newbigin (8 December 1909 – 30 January 1998)  was a Church of Scotland missionary.   Newbigin's book, The Light Has Come,  teaches the Gospel of John chapter by chapter, but in it Newbigin also teaches you how to think.   He changed my way of thinking by illustrating from the stories of Jesus' opponents that  people have presuppositions which are tough to change.   Only God can change a person. Nobody comes to Jesus unless the heavenly Father draws him.  But conversely, anyone who comes to Jesus 'he will in no wise cast out.'  Jn. 6:37  That is, the gospel is for everyone.   Newbigin compares the worldview of those 'who loved darkness rather than light' to the worldview of the followers of Jesus, the light of the world.   Newbigin respects G John as the  inspired word of God, but he is not a fundamentalist.  One of the sources which he relies upon for his insights is the late Fr. Raymond Brown (1928-1998), who for years was a top Johannine scholar.  Two large subjects that I plan to study further after reading this great book:  1) Jesus and the temple and  2) the  'Lamb of God'  which we see at the beginning and at the end of G John. 

Kingdom Ideas of Jesus - David Flusser

David Flusser explains a difference between the kingdom ideas of Jesus as compared to rabbinic thought of the time: 

For Jesus the messianic period no longer lay as a hope in the future. It had already begun with John the Baptist, and Jesus was now the Messiah. It is also possible to understand how Jesus modified the structure of the concept of the kingdom of heaven. In the understanding of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven became more dynamic than in rabbinical thinking. Since according to Jesus the kingdom was identical with the messianic period, it was no longer, as in rabbinic thought, an eternal suprahistorical entity. It became a dynamic force which broke through into the world at an identifiable point in history. The kingdom of heaven began to break through with John, and Jesus—the Messiah—was in the center of the movement. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).

The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius, by David Flusser and R. Steven Notley. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007, at page 96 (footnote omitted).   With Jesus "at the center of the movement"  the kingdom has a dynamic presence in this world.

Friday, August 23, 2013

National Repentance - David Flusser

In Jesus' time people had an opinion that calamity and illness were punishments for particular sins of  certain individuals.    Jesus took issue with that and declared that sin is a problem for everyone.   "[T] hose eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No!  But unless you repent you will all likewise perish."   Luke 13:4-5  (RSV).    David Flusser quotes Luke 13:4-5 and says this about Jesus' call for national repentance:

Later on, being in Jerusalem he saw the imminent catastrophe as almost inevitable (Luke 19:40-44). The future destruction of Jerusalem could have been avoided, if it had chosen the way of peace and repentance.

The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius. By David Flusser and R. Steven Notley. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007, at page 75.   If the people had repented, how would they have changed the way they lived their lives?   That will be the subject of future posts.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Commentary on Mark - Larry Hurtado

Check this out from Phil Long's excellent Reading Acts blog:  "Logos Bible Software is giving away a copy of Larry Hurtado’s commentary on Mark in Understanding the Bible series from Baker."   


You can get the details from reading Phil's post.   Hurtado is a first rate scripture scholar who knows how to communicate to larger audiences.

Looking at this commentary on Mark I would say that with this book from the 80′s LH was the same then as he is now, quick, direct and to the point.   You may not agree with everything he says, but the writing is always interesting and helpful.  You get more from one page of this book than from what you may find in whole chapters of other dry and tedious commentaries on the  Gospels. 

I met Larry in 1975 (when I was new to the Bible!) after a presentation he gave on campus in Madison, Wisconsin.  After his talk Larry  took time to talk to me, answer my questions about Jesus, and told me to read a thick George Ladd book, which got me started reading books beyond the devotional.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Poetry vs Logic - G.K. Chesterton

The last post touched on the hazards of systematizing scriptural truth.   Calvinist predestination theories get criticized by some when this subject comes up.    Catholics need to be careful here.   We have in our tradition the beloved  St. Augustine who was comfortable with predestination ideas.   And while I am not a predestinationist I have read portions of  Calvin's Institutes, and I have always enjoyed his writing on the sovereignty of God, which is full of joy and gratitude.   G.K. Chesterton's experiences with Calvinists were not so positive.  Consider this famous quote from chapter 2 (titled "The Maniac") of Chesterton's book, Orthodoxy,  commenting on the English Calvinist poet, William Cowper:  

“And he [Cowper] was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination.  Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health.  He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse.  He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin.    ... The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits."

Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, at 26-27  (London, William Clowes & Sons Limited, 1908)

Hazards of Systematic Theology - Peter Leithart

Systematic theology can degenerate into lifeless philosophical abstractions, and that's not what we see in the scriptures.  Peter Leithart says this  in one of his posts on Jonathan Edwards' writing on atonement theory: 

Rudisill’s Lutheran skepticism about Calvinism comes through here, and I suspect he’s not fair to Edwards. But what he identifies is a real problem, namely, the abstraction of atonement theory so that it becomes an unreal contrivance to work out dilemmas in the logic of God’s nature. 
That unreality is, perhaps, a function of the effort to construct an atonement theory in the first place, which is inevitably a systematizing abstraction from the concrete events and narrative accounts provided in the gospels. Even Paul’s statements about the atonement are framed as episodes in a story (“Christ loved me and gave Himself for me”; “born of a woman, born under the law…”; “He condemned sin in the flesh”). In place of a theory, the New Testament offers a history of atoning events. The further we move from the story, the more unreal our theories become. Our “theories” should be elaborations of the story rather than efforts to get beyond it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Love of God - Knowledge of God - Frank Sheed

Why study the Bible?  Frank Sheed provides these insights:

I have said that my concern is with the intellect rather than with the will: this not because the intellect matters more in religion than the will, but because it does matter and tends to be neglected, and the neglect is bad. I realize that salvation depends directly upon the will. We are saved or damned according to what we love. If we love God, we shall ultimately get God: we shall be saved. If we love self in preference to God then we shall get self apart from God:  we shall be damned.  But though in our relation to God the intellect does not matter as much as the will, (and indeed depends for its health upon the will) it does matter, and as I have said, it is too much neglected - to the great misfortune of the will, for we can never attain a maximum love of God with only a minimum knowledge of God. 

THEOLOGY AND SANITY - by F. J.  Sheed - Sheed & Ward London & New York 1947   110-111 (italics added). 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jewish-Catholic Relations - Cardinal Lustiger

French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007),  Archbishop of Paris from 1981 to 2005,    whose mother died at Auschwitz never understood or accepted the disastrous  "parting of ways" which took place between Christians and Jews.  Lustiger is the subject of a previous post.   He is famous for saying, "I was born Jewish, and so I will remain."    

Lustiger was born in Paris, named Aaron Lustiger,  the son  of Polish Jewish immigrants.  He converted to Catholicism at age 13 and was baptized.  He was ordained a priest in 1954.  He always said that he remained a Jew after his conversion, as described in this New York Times obituary article.  

Here is what jarred me from the New York Times story on Lustiger:
Cardinal Lustiger appeared to have undergone a spiritual crisis in the late 1970s, when he considered leaving France for Israel. “I had started to learn Hebrew, by myself, with cassettes,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1981. “Does that seem absurd, making your aliyah?” he said, referring to a Jew’s return to Israel. “I thought then that I had finished what I had to do here, that I was at a crossroads.”
Then, in a surprise appointment, he was made bishop of Orléans, the city where he had been baptized. There, he called attention to the plight of immigrant workers in the region.

The event which stopped Cardinal Lustiger from making aliyah was his appointment as a bishop?  I have heard a talk on Lustiger which was presented by a rabbi, who described this turn of events as a sad story of a man who had betrayed his Jewish faith, and who later regretted that betrayal and was about to redeem himself  and move to Israel.  Lustiger was on the verge of returning to Judaism, is the idea, and the only thing that prevented it was this clerical promotion.  I have to study these facts further, but I don't see the Lustiger story that way. And I don't see Lustiger's move in the direction of Judaism as a move away from Jesus.      Lustiger understood that he was blessed to be born as one of God's chosen people, and during this spiritual crisis when he thought of making aliyah,  he may have been closer to the Lord than at any time of his life.    When I visited Israel I spoke to a Jewish  believer in Jesus who had made aliyah, and who was very happy living in Israel.  She respected her fellow Jews and did not go around trying to make them Christians.

Cardinal Lustiger was a voice against those who in our time continue to see a conflict between Jesus and Judaism.  He saw himself as a Jewish believer in Jesus, like the Jews who were the first disciples. Some in the Jewish community were able to come to terms with Lustiger.  They recognized that Lustiger was a strong supporter of the state of Israel.   See this article from this Haaretz obituary: 
Lustiger worked with the World Jewish Congress, to form  the Yahad In Unum association, which promotes Jewish-Catholic cooperation and social relief programs. 

One of the best examples of Lustiger's support for Jews was his role in the famous dispute over a convent that had been installed near Auschwitz:

He had earlier been involved in the dispute over a convent of Carmelite nuns that had been installed in 1984 near the Auschwitz concentration camp. Many in the Polish church believed that a convent at Auschwitz was justified because Poles had died there. But many Jewish leaders were outraged, saying that 9 of every 10 camp inmates had been Jews.
Roman Catholic prelates, including Cardinal Lustiger, and representatives of Jewish organizations worked out an agreement to move the convent, but the plan was thrown into doubt in 1989 when Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Poland ruled out a move. Cardinal Lustiger pressed John Paul to intervene, and in 1993 the pope ordered the Carmelites to move, resolving the crisis.


The  funeral for Cardinal Lustiger began at Notre Dame Cathedral  with the chanting of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jewish Community in Iraq

This is a Bible blog, but sometimes I have to jump ahead to modern times.  Our is a historical religion.  Jews wrote much of our Bible  in Iraq (Babylon).   Here is the story of the Jewish community in Iraq in modern times, from the great Professor Schiffman:   http://lawrenceschiffman.com/iraq-and-the-jewish-people-zionism-under-the-british-mandate/