Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Paul’s Gospel

Recently I was reading John Dickson’s book, Promoting the Gospel, which has an appendix on the content of the gospel. Dickson makes the following summary statement:
The gospel message is the grand news about how God’s coming kingdom has been glimpsed and opened up to the world in the birth, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of God’s son, the Messiah, who will one day return to overthrow evil and consummate the kingdom for eternity.
I very much appreciate the eschatological element within this summary, as it is often overlooked, or neglected. Colossians implies an eschatological aspect of the gospel (Col. 1:5, 23). In fact, Luke’s narration of Paul’s presentation to the Athenians (Acts 17:22-31) suggests an eschatological item in the announcement. Thus, we should be weary of appeal’s to Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Tim. 2:8 and others as the summary content of Paul’s declaration. There may have been other elements present, which for various reasons, have not been included in the summaries often quoted. Joel Willitts has recently noted this concerning 1 Cor 15:1-8 (See also the comments).
Paul nowhere gives us a full description of the gospel that he proclaimed. If Luke’s description in Acts is of any help to us, then we must admit that contextual factors shaped what elements of the gospel Paul highlighted and focussed on, or perhaps even left out! Now of course, central elements of Paul’s “great news of victory” would definitely include the resurrection, but there may be other elements either emphasised or neglected depending on the audience to whom Paul was speaking.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Colossians 1:9-12a

Colossians 1:9-12a
Because of this, since the day we heard, we have not stopped praying for you and requesting that you may be filled with the knowledge of YHWH’s will by means of the Spirit’s wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,

a) bearing fruit in every good work and

b) growing in the knowledge of YHWH,

c) being empowered with all the strength that comes from His glorious power, so that you are prepared to endure everything with patience,

d) joyfully giving thanks to the Father...
This seems an apt way to understand the various parts of this complex sentence which forms a single sentence from vs. 3-14. SHA! Although, we should quickly admit that this structure is by no means certain.
I think Paul is highlighting four specific areas that the Colossians can focus on in seeking to live worthy of the Lord (Jesus), fully pleasing to Him. As Sumney notes:

While this is a comprehensive goal, it is also vague, so the writer proceeds to fill his idea with content. He specifies four elements of the life he is commending or four modes in which it is manifested: bearing fruit in good works, growing in knowledge of God, being empowered by God, and giving thanks.

Sumney, Colossians, pg. 48

Other than 3:16, this is arguably one of the more difficult passages to structurally understand. The exegesis is straightforward, but first breaking it up into its structural units is a difficult task... What's interesting to note here is that this all starts and finishes with the work of God. It is Paul praying for the Colossians that they would know God's will, via the Spirit's wisdom and understanding that compels them to live a life worthy of the Lord. And it is bearing the Lord's fruit, which I take to mean his tasks and vocation, growing in knowledge of Him, being empowered by Him (by the Spirit?), while Joyfully giving thanks to Him that this is accomplished. It is the work of God from start to consumation. Something those involved with the vineyard should always remember...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ethos Resource

Ethos is a fantastic resource that allows you access to certain theses from UK universities. Make sure you check it out. I typed in the name of every epistle in the NT and there are stacks already ready to download. And the one's that interested me, that aren't yet available, I've ordered, so in 10 days, I'll be SUPER HAPPY!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Prayer in Colossians 4

In my devotions this morning, I came to Colossians 4, where Paul addresses general issues, but also requests prayer. As someone who regularly moves in contexts where the gospel is on trial, and I'm the one trying to defend it, I found this invitation to prayer, particularly moving. Currently, I'm also enjoying David Crump's book: Knocking on Heaven's Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. It is one of the best books on prayer I've ever read, plus it is filled with exegetical insights, deep theological reflection, and much pastoral wisdom.
Today I'm off to JHB (or Jozi, as it is affectionately termed). There I will preach the gospel to many young people gathered from all around this great city. So, if you're the praying type, pray that God not only opens a door, but helps the preacher be faithful to the apostolic message, explaining it clearly - as he should!
4:2-4 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, 4 so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.
Paul’s faithfulness to his calling (both to preach and to pray) was, in part, a consequence of the devoted intercessions offered by brothers and sisters in Christ. He was held up, buoyed toward heaven, by the supportive petitions of numerous communities dotted throughout the Mediterranean. To this degree, Paul’s urgency was a partial fruit of the communal intensity shared among his many disciples and prayer partners, wedded undoubtedly with a deep sense of mutual responsibility.[1]
The advancement of apostolic mission requires and invites prayer from the people of God. It is a necessary feature of Paul’s mission that he asks for those who are faithful to continually pray for him and those with him as they seek to minister to fellow believers, announce the gospel of King Jesus, and establish faithful communities of followers devoted to the King and the kingdom.
So pray!
David Crump, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer, (Baker, 2006) pg. 245

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bearing Fruit in Colossians and Intertextual Echoes

So I'm reading D. J. Moo's commentary on Colossians, and it's very good. But then I get to this quote on verse 6:

The language bearing fruit and growing is reminiscent of the Genesis creation story, where God commands human beings to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28; see also 1:22). After the flood the mandate is reiterated (Gen. 8:17; 9:1, 7), and the same language is later used in God’s promises to Abraham and the patriarchs that he would “increase” their number and “multiply” their seed (e.g., Gen. 17:20; 28:3; 35:11). The nation Israel attains this blessing in Egypt (Gen. 48:4; Exod. 1:7) but then, or course, suffers judgement and dispersal. So the formula appears again in God’s promises to regather his people after the exile (Jer. 3:16; 23:3). Paul may, then, be deliberately echoing a biblical-theological motif according to which God’s original mandate to humans finds preliminary fulfilment in the nation Israel but ultimate fulfilment in the worldwide transformation of people into the image of God by means of their incorporation into Christ, the “image of God.”

Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, pg. 88

When I wrote my exegesis of this verse, I didn't come close to anything like this, which begs my perennial question related to so-called intertextual issues. How do we know this was in the mind of Paul, and not just in the mind of D.J. Moo? I mean, it sounds great, but with what confidence can we suggest this was Paul's intention? Or is it just a guess?

Monday, March 09, 2009

NIGTC on Non-Canonical Works

It is rumoured that David Aune is writing a commentary on the Letters of Ignatius, and the Shepherd of Hermas, for a two-volume supplement on non-canonical works in the NIGTC series (as well as a book on early Christian Worship - which I'm really looking forward to). Does anyone know what other works they'll cover in this series? I'm trying to find some good material, or even a good commentary on 1 Clement - not as easy as I thought it would be.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Colossian Hymn – a radical proposal?

Ok, so I’ve been thinking outrageous thoughts today, and this one is about as outrageous as it’s going to get, possibly because it has some verisimilitude.

What if the first part of the Colossian Hymn started at vs. 12-14, and was addressed to the Father? With the second part of the Hymn addressed to Jesus? Here’s my tentative translation:

Giving thanks joyfully to the Father:
Who has enabled you to share in the inheritance
of the saints in the light.
Who has rescued us from the tyranny of darkness
and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,


Who has redeemed us,
and pardoned our transgressions.

Who is the image of the invisible God,
Firstborn over all creation,
Because in him were created all
Things in the heavens and on the earth,
The seen and the unseen
Whether they be thrones or dominions
Or powers or principalities
Everything created through him was also created for Him
And he is before everything and everything coheres in him.
And he is the head of the body, the church.

Who is the beginning
The Firstborn from the dead
In order that he might take pre-eminence in all things
Because in him is pleased to dwell the fullness of GOD
And through him is reconciled everything for him,
Making peace through the blood of his cross
Whether things on earth or in the heavens
Now, I have not consulted any commentaries yet, and I have done no research, but this does strike me as at least possible… Back to the books to find out where I may have gone astray in my thinking…

Thursday, March 05, 2009

House Churches in the 2nd Century

Ben Witherington, in his response to Frank Viola's book: Reimagining Church notes the following:

we have clear archaeological evidence now in regard to houses being altered into church buildings already in the second century in the house of Peter in Capernaum (indeed, this may have transpired beginning in the first century), and we have further evidence of church structures in Jordan, and in Rome, some in the catacombs from before the third century A.D.

Is this accurate? I sure it is, but I've never heard of this before. If so, does anyone know where we may find out more about this?