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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).

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.