Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leadership in Earliest Christianity

Matthew Montonini posts on Philippians 1:1-2. This is a fascinating text for several reasons, one being the mention of overseers and deacons. Scholars suggest various positions along the continuum of whether this refers to an official position or just a function. Because many have adopted an evolutionary model of leadership in the early Christian community, Philippians throws some what of a curve ball, because it is written far to early for there to have been an established office of leadership - or so it is supposed. A key issue in this discussion is what we do with Luke's description.
For example, Luke tells us in Acts 14:21-23 that after they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22 There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
Is this Luke projecting backwards, or noting what actually happened? For various reasons, including 1 Thessa 5, this is an adequate summary of Paul's modus operandi regarding the appointment of leaders. I also concur with Charles Barrett, Acts 1-14, pg. 687 who notes that “This was, no doubt, a kind of ordination, in that it gave some Christians a special kind of responsibility and service; cf. 6:6; 13:1-3; 20:17, 28.” Which brings us back to our text in Philippians 1. Does this refer to a position or function? And more importantly, can we separate these two ideas in the 1st century? The dictum, you are what you do, raises several questions at this point. O’Brien, Philippians, pg. 48, comments that:
It has been suggested that these titles are to be understood in a functional rather than an official sense, that is, describing an activity rather than an office (cf. Rom 12:8; Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12). Here, however, he has in view particular members of the congregation who are specifically described and known by these two titles; otherwise the additions seem to be meaningless.
Dunn, Beginning From Jerusalem, pg. 1017-1018 cautiously notes that:
we learn that there were two groups of office-bearers, or probably more accurately, two leadership roles which had already emerged in Philippi – ‘overseers (episkopoi) and deacons (diakonoi)’ (1:1). It will hardly be coincidental that these become the titles for regular offices or roles in the churches of the next generation. Whether the structures of church organisation which we see in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 were already emerging in Philippi, it is not possible to determine now. Certainly some leadership and administrative functions must be attributed to the episkopoi and diakonoi of Philippi. But how well defined or (alternatively) amorphous or embryonic these functions were some twelve years after the church began, and to what extent the use of these titles indicates a drawing on religious or secular precedents, we cannot tell.
This group was known in the capacity that they served for Paul takes it for granted that the Philippians will know who he is talking about when he greets this group(s). Paul did appoint leaders in newly founded/established communities of faith, and whatever specific functions or tasks these elders and deacons (or elders who serve, depending on how you translate it) they were distinct enough for Paul to offer them specific greetings, because they served specific/special functions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Congregational Evangelism

My friend Mark Keown has recently published Congregational Evangelism in Philippians: The Centrality of an Appeal for Gospel Proclamation to the Fabric of Philippians (Paternoster Biblical Monographs). Here, Mark is responding to the claim that Paul understood the proactive missionary task as the vocation of a few gifted people (apostles and evangelists, but perhaps others). Although Mark has focussed specifically on Philippians in his response, I believe that Colossians has something to say about this matter.
This is clear in studying Colossians 4:2-6. Houlden, followed by Dunn, suggests that mission was the task of the apostle, while the church was meant to pray.[1] I find this an awkward suggestion given that Paul, in this specific pericope, has been speaking of the mission in vss. 2-4, and the speaks directly to the issue of congregational mission (whether corporate or individual) in vss. 5-6.
While we must concur that Paul sees the congregation's prayers as intrinsically linked to his mission, we must not therefore assume or deduce that it is only apostles and their co-workers who are required to engage in the mission of God. Even Dunn, pg. 261 notes that "the evangelistic overtones and opportunities implied in 4:5-6 (in ordinary conversations) should not be ignored."
In fact, the logic of the verse is compelling: a) Conduct yourseves wisely before outsiders, b) make the most of the time you have, c) let your speech be gracious, d) seasoned with salt (Matt 5:13-16), e) ready to answer anyone who asks. This seems to be a list of instructions building on the previous elements noted. a) Conduct sets the context and either validates or invalidates what they will proclaim. b) Take the opportunities that arise in your daily lives. c) Proclamation should be done in welcoming a charitable manner so as to not offend or insult others, but the gospel should be shared, d) and when the gospel is shared, people will have questions, e) which means followers should be ready to respond!
I'm not quite sure in what other context these statements would gain coherence.
[1] Houlden, Paul’s Letters from Prison, pg. 215-216 and Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, pg. 261. This is also the position adopted by John Dickson, Mission-Commitment in Ancient Judaism and in the Pauline Communities: The Shape, Extent and Background of Early Christian Mission (Mohr Siebeck, 2003). Incidently, Chapter 3 Heralds and partners of Dickson's book, which deals with this topic, is available online, just follow the link to a PDF.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Michael Gorman

Gorman has proved helpful and useful in his offerings to students of Paul. His book, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters , has been a breath of fresh air in studying Paul's letters, and I've made use of it often in my research - it's a fantastic book.
Extending Gorman's first offering, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, we now have the latest: Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology. Gorman has helpfully provided a summary on his blog, Cross Talk. Make sure you ponder these offerings, and check out his blog for regular NT topics.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Off to New Zealand

So, Susan and I are off to New Zealand, hence the little activity on the blog recently. We've decided to move there so that I can begin to explore further options of studying, see my family, get involved in a Church plant, and have some fun. This blog will probably resume activity in May. With our arrival in NZ, I have several friends to catch up with, a supervisor to hound, and book-shops to peruse.

Incidently, this is my blogs 4 year birthday, so happy happy to me! I'll make sure I bye myself a book to celebrate this achievement!

Ciao... s. D.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Sarcastic Cry - Mark 15:39

Mark Goodacre has served us well with the reminder that Mark 15:39 need not necessarily be taken literally, but rather as another sarcastic taunt!

Is this a confession of faith, a meaningful statement or the final taunt of a mocker who stood by while Jesus was executed? Scholars seem to suggest at least one of these three.
Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, pg. 510
Evans supposes that the centurion sees the power of Jesus death and the torn temple veil and this leads to his confession. It is further conjectured that this leads the centurion to switch allegiance from Caesar to Christ. Although it is admitted that this is not an ‘orthodox’ Christian confession, it is proposed that the centurion is impressed enough with the available details to ascribe “to Jesus what he earlier ascribed to Caesar.”

The two lines of evidence that Evans employs to justify this verdict are seen to be unreasonable. Firstly, it is unlikely that the centurion could see the torn temple veil. The distance, the crowds, his focus on the immediate situation make it highly improbable that this is the case. Secondly, what is there to suggest that the centurion would make this connection? Mark may have made the connection, but it is dubious to suggest that we know that the centurion would or did make this connection. Thirdly, there was nothing impressive about Jesus’ death. It was an utter shame and disgrace. There is nothing about the pathetic death of Jesus that commends itself as impressive. This was just another wannabe Jewish rebel who died at the hands of a ruthless imperial lord.

France, The Gospel of Mark, pg. 658-660
This argument begins by noting the geographical implausibility of the centurion seeing the tearing of the veil. Even at the narrative level, France notes, this is impossible and Mark does not say that the centurion saw the curtain tear.

France marshals the circumstantial evidence to suggest what could possibly have impressed him so deeply so as to make this confession. It is noted that “his manner of death has proved the truth about what he has been in life.” It is then suggested that what matters is that Mark’s readers see this as the triumphant declaration of who Jesus is.

Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, pg. 479-81
Appealing to theological motifs, Edwards proposes that “the fact that the passion and death of Jesus on the cross evoke the confession of the centurion indicates that he, by divine revelation, has been granted the mystery of faith in Jesus as the Son of God.” However, it seems unnecessary to impose a theological rationale at this stage of exegesis. Before jumping to theology, one must carefully consider the historical factors at work. Edwards himself notes Martin Hengel’s conclusion which notes that “a crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim, and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish.”[1] Is there any evidence in Mark to suggest that this is a divine revelation? Does Mark’s narrative lead us to this conclusion?

Witherington, The Gospel of Mark, pg. 400
Witherington adopts the understanding that the confession is akin to the Hellenistic model of son of god. It is at least conceded that the alternative that I shall propose is ‘possible’ with a reference to a proponent of this view footnoted.

Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, pg. 378-9
“… while it is true that the centurion, if he uttered these words, could only have meant by them a divine man or demi-god, yet for Mark they are a proclamation of the truth about Jesus… Whether Mark thinks that the centurion is aware of the true significance of his words is not clear. Perhaps Mark regards them as an unconscious acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity, like the taunts of those who mocked the dying Jesus, unaware of the true meaning of their words (15:18, 26, 29f., 31f.), and the incredulous questions of the high priest and Pilate (14:6; 15:2). The truth is thus spoken by Jesus’ judges and by his executioner. Nevertheless, the centurion stands at this point as the representative of those who acknowledge Jesus as God’s son.

Another Proposal
However, if the centurion did offer such a statement, and it was remembered by the women who, after hearing this statement left the scene, what could the centurion have meant?
  • Mk 15:18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
  • Mk 15:26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
  • Mk 15:29-30 “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
  • Mk 15:31-32 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.”
  • Mk 15:36 “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
  • Mk 15:39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Given the context of mockery and disgrace it remains more likely that the confession is the final of a series of mocks by a host of different voices. Firstly, nearly all of the disciples have abandoned him. The titulus is an imperial mock, the scribes and priests offer various taunts, and finally the one who crucified Jesus offers the final nail in the coffin by sarcastically praising Jesus with the title reserved for Caesar. The so-called confession is about as meaningful as the titulus or declaration that Jesus is the saviour by the priests.
Is it historically plausible, and exegetically viable to suggest that the centurion’s confession is somehow meaningful and an accurate representation of his allegiance? It seems unlikely, thus we follow Goodacre, Fenton and Juel who see this is a sarcastic remark akin to the other mocks that Jesus has received.[2]
[1] Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, pg. 10 [2] See Goodacre for the Fenton reference, and Juel, Messianic Exegesis, pg. 28, 146.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Last Supper Singing

What Did Jesus Sing at the Last Supper? This is the question Brant Pitre raises, and it's one I got side-tracked with a few weeks ago. In my quick distraction from Colossians, I found this beautiful quote by Jeremias which tells an interesting story...

We know the prayers with which Jesus concluded the Last Supper. They are all prayers of thanksgiving. They praise him who delivered Israel from the Egyptians, before whose presence the earth trembles (Ps. 114). They praise him as the one living God, in whom the people of God put their trust; and who blesses those who fear him, and who will be blessed evermore (Ps. 115). They promise to the merciful redeemer, who has delivered the living from death, sacrifices of thanksgiving and the payment of vows in the presence of all his people (Ps. 116). They call upon the heathen to join in praise (Ps. 117). And they conclude with a prayer expressing the thanksgiving and jubilation of the festal congregation: ‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever’ (Ps. 118:1). ‘Out of my distress has the Lord heard me’ (v. 5). Now the songs of jubilation resound: ‘I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord’ (v. 17). ‘The rejected stone has become the chief cornerstone through God’s marvellous doing’ (vv. 22f.). ‘Blessed be in the name of the Lord he who comes’ (v. 26). To thee will I give thanks: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; yea, his steadfast love endures for ever (v. 29). These were the words in which Jesus prayed.

Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, pg. 256

Enjoy celebrating the victory of God tomorrow morning!