Thursday, December 01, 2011

Cardinal Virtues in the Undisputed Paul

I'm currently reading James W. Thompson, Moral Formation according to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011).  It's a fantastic book, so far, but there is one small mistake that Thompson makes, that I'd like to correct here.  Thompson claims that, "unlike the undisputed Pauline letters, the Pastoral Epistles employ the language of the cardinal virtues" (205).  This is incorrect.  Paul does employ the cardinal virtues of phronesis (Rom 12:3; 1 Cor 13:11), sophrosyne (2 Cor 5:13; Rom 12:3) and dikaiosyne in the undisputed letters.  Just because the noun isn't used, doesn't mean that the concept is absent.  We may also add that Paul employs synonyms for andrea in 2 Cor 5:6; 10:1 and 1 Thess. 2:2. 

I also wonder about Thompson's insistence that Paul accommodates ideas from Hellenistic Judaism, and not directly from the Graeco-Roman world.  Perhaps I've overstated this feeling I get, but he appears overly concerned to locate Paul's ethics within the tradition of Hellenistic Judaism and not in the Graeco-Roman world.  I'm not sure why this is a problem, as Paul reframes his understanding of all virtues and vices through the story of Christ and the gospel.  Virtues and vices are not neutral for Paul but have to be understood with reference to the story of God and his climactic activity in and through Christ.  But perhaps I'm overstating my feeling thus far...  Time will tell...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Justice and Peace

Matt Hosier provides a thoughtful post on War and Peace, offering this penetrating question: *Does the pacifist emphasis on peace, love and reconciliation lead to a neglecting of the equally biblical emphasis upon justice? *

I'm quite sure that the NT vision of Justice is not justice by any means, and there is such a thing as passive resistance (ala Ghandi and Jesus). In fact, in Matt 5:39 Jesus specifically instructs disciples not to engage in violent resistance by using a technical term ἀντιστῆναι. Josephus uses the word with the sense of “violent struggle” 15 out of 17 times. Thus, what Jesus is saying here is that disciples are not to follow the way of violent resistance [like many Jews of the period. cf. Shammaite Pharisees and other messianic movements who started several revolutions] but rather, to follow his path of creative non-violent resistance. Thus, as Richard Hays notes, *Only when the church renounces the way of violence will people see what the Gospel means, because then they will see the way of Jesus re-enacted in the church.*

The book of Revelation provides the strongest support for this position. Rather than taking up arms and engaging in violence, they overcome the beast by peaceful protest in worshipping the Lamb, and laying down their lives. The eschatological vision of Revelation is that God's future will bring vindication and ultimate justice. So the question becomes not *is there not something rather perverse in the tolerance of a tyranny compared to which resistance may be a lesser evil?* But rather, do we trust God? Do we trust God enough to lay down our lives in peaceful protest, knowing that God's future will bring justice and vengeance for the oppressed? The NT commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Communion - According to Paul - A Spiritual Encounter

Francis Watson in his excellent essay, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper,” makes the following opening comment which I thought was helpful.

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the lord Jesus, on the night on which he was handed over, took bread. . .” (1 Cor. 11:23). By repeating a tradition the Corinthians already know, Paul seeks to reawaken their sense of awe in the presence of holy mysteries: the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper, through which they participate in the Lord's own body and blood, imbued with the supernatural power of his risen life.[1] To eat this bread and to drink this wine as if they were ordinary bread and wine, heedlessly and without preparation, is to risk converting their life-giving power into a poison that causes weakness, illness, or death.[2] The abused bread and wine can become the agents of the Lord's judgment – a judgment that intends final salvation rather than condemnation but which one would still wish to avoid.[3] Some at Corinth are already guilty of an abuse of this kind, ungraciously going ahead with the meal without waiting for the whole congregation to be assembled.[4] By the time the latecomers arrive, the food and drink have all been consumed so that they are left hungry and humiliated. Perhaps those responsible will plead that the hour was late and that they too were hungry? In that case, they should have taken something to sustain them before they left home. Only when the whole congregation is gathered together can the Lord's Supper truly be celebrated. This apparently trivial discourtesy to fellow Christians is symptomatic of a more serious error, the failure to reckon with the invisible presence of the Lord himself in the sharing of bread and cup. The Last Supper tradition is fully integrated into the exhortations and warnings of 1 Cor. 11:17-34, since this tradition underlies Paul's point about the lifegiving yet potentially threatening holiness of its re-enactment as the Lord’s Supper.[5]


[1] The Eucharistic bread and wine are “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:3-4), in the sense that they enable participation in “the blood of Christ” and “the body of Christ” (10:16; cf. 11:27) – that is, in the heaven existence of the crucified and risen Lord who is “lifegiving Spirit” (15:45).

[2] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-30

[3] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:31-32.

[4] “So, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33). Going ahead with the meal without waiting for latecomers would be a specific instance of the unworthy consumption of the bread and the wine against which the preceding verses warn (vv. 27-32).

[5] Francis Watson, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper” in Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways into an Old Debate. ed. Todd D. Still. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 103-105.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Story of Ephesians

After the opening greetings, Ephesians 1:3-14 celebrates the initiative and action of God in planning, coming, rescuing, and restoring people. God’s plan is to ultimately restore the entire world back to harmony with God (1:10). One of the main victories of God is bringing people to a place of trust and allegiance in Him (1:13). The goal of God’s restoring work is that “we might live for the praise of His glory” (1:12). But the ability to live for the praise of His glory, comes from the fact that we are “in Christ” (1:11, 13), and marked with the empowering presence of the Spirit (1:14).

Paul then prays that the Spirit would give them both revelation and wisdom (1:15-19). Revelation of what God has done and is doing, and wisdom so that they may live and act appropriately in light of what God has done and will do. Moving from there, Paul highlights the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus over all other powers (1:20-23), demonstrating his defeat over death and the ruler of darkness (‘the devil,’ see 4:27 & 6:11) by outlining the victories of Christ which are displayed in the rescue of the audience (2:1-10), and in the uniting of Jews and Gentiles into one new humanity (2:11-22). All these activities of God are the outworking of his kindness, mercy and grace (2:4, 7), in pursuit of a reconciled, restored and renewed world (1:10).

In 3:1-12 we have the story of Paul’s own efforts to advance the reconciling cause of God in Christ and the Spirit with a focus on the Gentile mission. Paul highlights in 3:10 that it is through the Church, the renewed humanity reconciled to God and each other, that God declares and shows forth his victorious reconciling efforts to the principalities and powers. In other words, the Church is the concrete display of God’s ages-old plan coming into full-effect through Jesus, and is the very centre of God’s plan in how he will bring “all things” together. Paul goes on to pray again that they might have a revelation of this (3:18), as this demonstrates the loving kindness of God at work in the world (3:19) to help and to heal, as well as bring hope to the desperate state of the world. This is crowned with a celebration of the capabilities of God’s limitless power, focussed in the Church (3:20-21).

It is from this story of God’s work and the audience being “in Christ” and having access to the Spirit’s power, that we are now encouraged to live worthy of the calling we have received (4:1). It is as if Paul was saying, “Become what you are.” Or better yet, “Work out what God has worked in you.” It is because of their new identity as those adopted into God’s family (1:5), as those who are “in Christ,” as those who are God’s inheritance (1:18), with God’s Spirit marking their lives (1:13), that Paul now outlines an ethical vision. But we should note, that this is not about ‘right and wrong’ but rather about living worthy of the calling we have received as God’s people, “created to be who we are in Christ” (2:10), the vocation to be the children of God amidst a broken and often destructive world.

The first element in Paul’s focus on living worthy of the calling is unity in the body of Christ as representative of the unity in the trinity of Father, Jesus and Spirit. Ephesians 4:1-6 emphasises the essential oneness of the church. But this is not uniformity, but rather a unity of purpose and togetherness in what God is doing to build his Church and reconcile his world. The writer has already shown that previous divisions in the community have been overcome (2:11-22), and that the church is now one (re)new(ed) humanity (1:15), thus they are exhorted to “make every effort to maintain” that which God has done among them (4:3). They are to partner together in God’s reconciling efforts to bring back together, in hope and healing, the broken and fragmented world they inhabit.

The second element is that of gifting which is for the benefit of the body, the maturity of God’s people, and the realisation of our Christ-focussed lives. In 4:7-16 this is seen in that different people have different gifting, but all are to serve the community and household of God (in unity, not uniformity), in helping each other to mature and partner together in God’s mission. Each person has a different gifting and function within the community, but all are to partner together in building the community and helping in God’s ongoing work of redemption. There is a unity of purpose in the diversity of gifting, and this is so that each may play their part in helping one another and the church in God’s unfolding mission.

It is only then that the third element, the instruction to “no longer live as Gentiles” in 4:17-5:14, can make sense. It is because of their commitment to unity, and the diverse gifting of people as the renewed humanity of God that Paul calls them to live a different kind of life. Here we see Paul offering various characteristics of the new community in Christ. This is not to be seen as a new law or catalogue of do’s and don’ts. Rather, here we have both a positive description of what the church will be, and a negative description of what the church shall not be. The portrait here is of the kind of life the community should aspire to, and the kind of actions the community should avoid.

All of this sets the audience up for the instructions to be wise, filled with the Spirit and mutually submitting to one another (5:15-21), which is then directly connected to the household codes of 5:22-6:9. It is only in the context of being wise, being continually filled with the Spirit, and submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord, that the household codes can make sense. 5:15-21 provide the context and heading for all the instructions in the household code. Living together requires mutual submission to one another, and primarily the Lord. Thus it requires a constant engagement with His Spirit which marks out the Church as the people of God, and it requires constant wisdom from above, hence Paul’s prayer in 1:17 and 3:16-21.

The final instruction to the community is to embody the way of God by standing firm in the battle they find themselves. 6:10-20 should not be isolated from what has gone before, nor relegated to some esoteric spiritual battle, but should be seen as a helpful summary of how to implement and integrate the theological vision of life into the often mundane realities of life. This vision is built on the foundation of what he has said in 1:3-3:21 and the vision of life cast in 4:1-6:9. This is how we are to live in Christ, amidst a hostile world, empowered by the Spirit in giving thanks and praise to a God who is worthy of our attention, our affection, and our allegiance. And this God is worthy, because he has initiated a response that comes from his loving kindness, mercy and grace, that stems from His commitment to humanity as their Creator.

Recommended Reading: Timothy G. Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.

Sean du Toit, 24th March, 2011.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Intertextuality - Understanding Types of Audiences

Christopher Stanley in his work, Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul, suggests that the only references “that Paul’s first-century audience definitely would have recognized are those that are marked as such within the text” (e.g., as with “an explicit quotation formula”). Stanley thus cautions “against the presumption that Paul’s first-century audience recognized and appreciated his many unmarked references to the biblical text.”  I say cautions, as there may be legitimate appeals to intertextuality where formal quotation formulae are absent.  Stanley's helpful contribution comes to us in his analysis of types of audiences. 

Types of Audiences
(a) The informed audience – ‘a person who knows the original context of every one of Paul's quotations and is willing to engage in critical dialogue with Paul about his handling of the biblical text.’

(b) The competent audience – the ‘hypothetical person who knows just enough of the Jewish Scriptures to grasp the point of Paul's quotations in their current rhetorical context.’

(c) The minimal audience – ‘...people in this category were aware of the high degree of respect given to the Scriptures in Christian circles. As a result, they would have been inclined to take seriously any argument that claimed to be grounded in the biblical text. But their ability to follow the argument of a passage laced with quotations would have been limited.’

Richard Hays has suggested that, “The implied readers of these letters appear to be primarily Gentile Christians with an extensive knowledge of the LXX and an urgent interest in interpretation.” Is this a valid assumption? Does this work for all the letters of Paul or the New Testament, or just some of the letters?  The question remains, what type of audience will be able to recognise, recall, connect, assess and trust Paul’s intertextual reading? 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Intertextuality - Author vs. Audience

In my previous post I noted Hays key foundation in claiming an intertextual echo. 
The concept of allusion depends both on the notion of authorial intention and on the assumption that the reader will share with the author the requisite “portable library” to recognize the source of the allusion…
For an intertextual echo to be affective and effective, the audience must be able to the following successive mental steps: they must be able to recognise, recall, connect, assess and trust  an intertextual reading.  Without these successive steps, the echo/allusion is missed, and the communicative intent of the author is potentially mistaken.  Like Virgil's phrase, Audentes Fortuna iuvat, misunderstanding the context and the communicative intent could lead to serious misrepresentation and misunderstanding. 
Fortune favors the bold is one of those phrases that are quoted so frequently that they bear none of the weight of their original contexts. The appeal of its underlying message — luck is not something that merely happens to people, but rather the other way around — ignores the fact that it was originally written, by the Roman poet Virgil, as the battle cry of a fool whose boldness shortly leads to his death.
One strategy around this herculean boulder of what the audience would have understood or picked up on, is to pass the audience and focus solely on the author. Thus Stanley Porter,

Although investigation of an audience-oriented approach has merit in establishing the shared assumptions and biblical knowledge of the audience (in fact, much more could and should be done in this area), it is questionable whether it provides the proper basis for establishing the author’s use of the Old Testament. If one is interested in establishing a given author’s use of the Old Testament, it would appear imperative to orient one’s discussion to the language of the author, rather than supposed, reconstructed “knowledge” of the audience.
Why would an author go to so much trouble to allude to a text, knowing the audience would probably not pick up on the allusion or echo?  Thus, in response to this it must be noted that rhetors in the ancient world would be aware of the audience to whom they were speaking, and would speak accordingly.  Thus to ignore the problem of the audience's ability to recognise, recall, connect, assess and trust an intertextual reading, could seriously undermine the integrity of the proposed intertextual echo.  And it would not pass Hays' criteria noted before.   What we need is a better model for understanding the audiences to whom NT authors wrote.  And thankfully, such a model exists and provides us with helpful insights and a way of carefully assessing the validity of such claimed echoes. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Intertextuality - Hays Criteria and Assumption

Richard B. Hays in his celebrated work, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, offers seven criteria for determining an “echo” or an “allusion” to Scripture.
  1. Availability: Was the proposed source of the allusion/echo available to the author and/or original hearers?
  2. Volume: What is the degree of explicit repetition of words or syntactical patterns?
  3. Recurrence: How often does Paul elsewhere cite or allude to the same scriptural passage?
  4. Thematic Coherence: How well does the alleged echo fit into the line of argument that Paul is developing?
  5. Historical Plausibility: Could Paul have intended the alleged meaning effect?
  6. History of Interpretation: Have other readers, both critical and pre-critical, heard the same echoes?
  7. Satisfaction: Does the proposed reading make sense?
Intertextuality is built on several key assumptions, which Hays outlines below.   
Prominent among these conventions are the convictions that a proposed interpretation must be justified with reference to evidence provided both by the text’s rhetorical structure and by what can be known through critical investigation about the author and the original readers. Any interpretation must respect these constraints in order to be persuasive in my reading community. Claims about intertextual meaning are strongest where it can credibly be demonstrated that they occur within the literary structure of the text and that they can plausibly be ascribed to the intention of the author and the competence of the original readers.
The concept of allusion depends both on the notion of authorial intention and on the assumption that the reader will share with the author the requisite “portable library” to recognize the source of the allusion…
This last quote is the achilles heel in many claims to intertextuality, as many of the audiences to whom New Testament authors wrote, simply did not have that "portable library" to recognise, recall, connect, assess and trust Paul’s intertextual reading.  And without this ability, claims to intertextuality are severely weakened and often undermined. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Intertextuality - What Constitutes an Echo or Allusion?

Providing some methodological clarity and specificity to the topic of intertextuality in biblical studies, is the careful work of Christopher Beecham, which I draw from in this post.  By specifying and clarifying his criteria, something many engaged in intertextuality have failed to do, Beecham brings guidance to an at times unclear conversation. 

Items that are Essential to Identifying Something as an Allusion.

1. First, an allusion is an intentional, conscious attempt by an author to point a reader back to a prior text.

2. The second item that is essential to allusion is that an allusion has “in each instance, a single identifiable source.”

3. Third, an allusion must adequately stand out in order to be perceived by the audience. This presupposes that the author and reader share a common language and tradition. For an allusion to be successful, the prior text must be “. . . part of the portable library shared by the author and his ideal audience.” If the work is unfamiliar to the reader, the allusion will race past the ear like an arrow that missed its target.

4. The final item essential to allusion is that an author employing it expects that the audience will remember the original sense of the previous text and link the appropriate components that the new context requires in order to be most fully understood.

Items that are essential for identifying an Echo

1. First, unlike allusion, an echo may be either a conscious or unconscious act. Echoes are faint enough that often it is impossible to gauge whether its appearance in the text was consciously or unconsciously performed by the author.

2. Every echo derives from one specific text, event, tradition, person, or thing (whether animate or inanimate, concrete or abstract). If the echo is a textual or literary echo, it stems from a text that the author has read (or heard) at some point in the past.

3. Third, unlike allusion, by echo the author does not intend to point the audience to the precursor. Intention implies a conscious activity, and echo is often but not always a conscious act. Echo is a linking of texts accomplished without the aim to render a communication for public consumption… Echoes surface in a text largely because the author’s mind is saturated with the source text.

4. Unlike allusion, an echo is not dependent upon the original sense of the precursor to be understood. The meaning in the new context is not tied to the previous context; that is, the audience does not need to “recognize, remember, realize, and connect” the two texts to grasp the author’s intended public communication in the new context. The original context may or may not have been taken into consideration.

The strongest, most explicit mode of reference is quotation. The citation of the former reference is verbatim or nearly so, and is long enough to be recognized as such. An allusion, while still overt by definition, is less explicit, being more “fragmentary or periphrastic.”
Quotations may be further divided up into two categories: formal and informal. A formal quotation is a quotation that is accompanied by a quotation formula, which serves as a clear marker to the reader that what follows (or immediately precedes) is a citation from a previous source… An informal quotation, on the other hand, is a quotation that lacks a quotation formula. An informal quotation is just as much a quotation as a formal one; it merely wants for an explicit introductory marker.

This is from Christopher A. Beetham. Echoes of Scripture in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians. Biblical Interpretation Series 96. (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 16-20.

Intertextuality - What is it?

Recently I was giving a paper on Philippians, and made the claim that Philippians never quotes the Hebrew Bible. I thought this was a standard position given the claim of Moisés Silva, who notes that “Paul’s letter to the Philippians is totally lacking in direct OT quotations, and even its allusions to the OT are subtle enough that they can easily be missed.” [See Moisés Silva, “Philippians” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament eds. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 835.] However, someone pointed out that Philippians 1:19 could be a quotation from Job 13:16 LXX, which states: τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν. Before exploring this, we must first clarify the key idea of intertextuality.

When two texts are juxtaposed, as occurs when an OT text is quoted in the Pauline epistles, an intertextual space is defined that forms a new interpretive context. Concepts from each text mutually play upon and amplify one another within this intertextual space. [K. H. Jobes, “Jerusalem, Our Mother: Metalepsis and Intertextuality in Galatians 4:21-31” Westminster Theological Journal 55 (1993) 299-320, here 305.]
When a literary echo links the text in which it occurs to an earlier text, the figurative effect of the echo can lie in the unstated or suppressed (transumed) points of resonance between the two texts… Allusive echo functions to suggest to the reader that text B should be understood in light of a broad interplay with text A, encompassing aspects of A beyond those explicitly echoed… Metalepsis places the reader within a field of whispered or unstated correspondences. [Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 20.]

These two quotes set the stage for what it is we are looking for, when we engage in the work of intertextuality. But this raises many methodological questions about what constitutes a quotation, allusion and even an echo.

In the next post, we’ll explore the work of Christopher A. Beetham. Echoes of Scripture in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians. Biblical Interpretation Series 96. (Leiden: Brill, 2008), who has offered a helpful analysis of what constitutes an echo, allusion and quotation. And does Philippians 1:19 constitute a verbatim quotation of Job 13:16 LXX?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gehenna - What rubbish

What do J. I. Packer, Rob Bell, and Edward Fudge have in common about Hell? They're wrong! Gehenna was NOT a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. [I must confess that I too at one stage believed this myth.]

The simple fact is that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that this is true in the first century. There is no archeological or literary support for this claim. So where did the idea come from? It appears to have come from a Rabbinic commentary on Psalm 27:13, written in 1200 CE!
See further:
  • Peter Head, “The Duration of Divine Judgment in the New Testament” in The reader must understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology. eds. K.E. Brower and M.W. Elliott; (Leicester: Apollos, 1997), 221-227.
  • G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 376n.92.
  • Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1922-56), 4:2:1030.
  • Lloyd R. Bailey, “Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archeologist 49 (1986): 187-191.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Historical Jesus - Just the Facts

Historians, of many ideological and philosophical persuasions, hold to the following almost certain facts concerning the historical Jesus.

  • Jesus came from Nazareth
  • He began his public life as a disciple of John
  • He was a teacher and healer/exorcist
  • He had a group of followers, with twelve being of central importance
  • There was a focussed mission on Israel
  • Jesus preached the coming of the “kingdom of God”
  • He clashed with the Jerusalem authorities concerning the temple
  • He was crucified as a Messianic pretender by the Romans on the authority of Pontius Pilate
  • Jesus’ followers believed they encountered him after his death
  • Jesus’ followers formed a movement, awaiting his return, winning new adherents.

Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of God was arriving in and through his own ministry. He saw himself as a prophet announcing God’s word to Israel. His proclamation of the Kingdom was demonstrated and advocated in teaching and symbolic praxis. Jesus’ perspective and understanding of the Kingdom was significantly different to what his contemporaries, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, were expecting and performing. Jesus’ call to Israel was specifically to repent of their nationalistic ambitions and embrace his new vision of being Israel with him as their new King. Jesus saw sin/satan as Israel’s real enemy, not Rome. In and around himself, Jesus was re-gathering a reconstituted Israel. Healings and exorcisms were a sign of God’s in-breaking reign. For those who would not heed his call and command, Jesus prophesied judgement and destruction within a generation, of nation, city and temple. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Overview of Revelation - Fee

As a Christian prophet, John also sees this conflict in the larger context of the holy war the ultimate cosmic conflict between God (and his Christ) and Satan (see 12:1-9)in which God wins eternal salvation for his people. The people's present role is to "triumph over [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony not lov[ing] their lives so much as to shrink from death" (12:11). As God has already defeated the dragon through the death and resurrection of Christ (the Messiah is caught up to heaven, 12:5), so he will judge the state for her crimes against his people.

The book plays out these themes in a variety of ways. The earlier parts (chs. 1 -6) set the stage for the unfolding drama, starting with a vision of the Risen Christ, who holds the keys to everything that follows (1:12-20), while letters to selective churches represent their varied strengths and weaknesses (chs. 2-3). These are followed by a vision of the Reigning Creator God and the Redeeming Lamb (chs. 4-5), to whom alone belong all wisdom, glory, and power and before whom all heaven and earth will bow. As John weeps because no one can be found to break the seals of the scroll (which is full of God's justice and righteous judgments), he is told that the "Lion of the tribe of Judah see Gen 49:9-10), the "Root of David" (Isa 11:1-2, 10). has "triumphed," but the only lion John sees is God's slain Lamb (echoing the Exodus Passover [and Isa 53:7]), who has redeemed people from all the nations.

Such a Conqueror can set the drama in motion by breaking the seals (Rev 6), which offer a kind of "overture" (striking ail the themes) for what follows [conquest, war, famine, death [first 4 seals] - followed by many martyrdoms [seal 5], to which God responds with judgment [seal 6]). It is especially important to note that, apart from his role in the final battle (19:11 -21), the only way Christ appears from here on in the narrative is as the slain Lamb; this is how his followers are expected to triumph as well (12:11).

The two interlude visions (ch. 7) - of those whom God has "sealed" from his coming judgements, but pictured in battle formation for their role in the holy war, and eventually redeemed - are then followed by the opening of the seventh seal, which unfolds as the vision of the seven trumpets (chs. 8-9). These "judgments" echo the plagues of Egypt, and like those plagues, announce temporal (and partial) judgments against their present-day Pharaoh. But as with the Egyptian Pharaoh, the plagues do not lead to repentance (9:20-21). The interlude visions between the sixth and seventh trumpets (10:1 -11:14) call on the church to prophesy and bear witness to Christ, even in the face of death, while also pronouncing the certain doom of the empire, and ending with a foretaste of the final glorious reign of God and of the Lamb (11:15-19).

The remaining visions (chs. 12-22) offer explanations for and apocalyptic descriptions of the final doom of the empire. Chapters 12-14 thus give the theological and historical reasons for both the suffering and the judgment. The doom of Rome itself is portrayed in the vision of the seven bowls (chs. 15-16), which echo the trumpet plagues but now without opportunity to repent.

The whole then concludes as the (original) "tale of two cities," represented by two women (the prostitute [Rome] and the bride of the Lamb), in which the city that represents enmity against God and his people is judged (chs. 17-18). This is set against the backdrop of God s final salvation and judgment (chs. 19-20) and of the final glory of the bride as the city of God, the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven (chs. 21-22).

Extracted from G. D. Fee, How To Read the Bible Book by Book

Friday, September 16, 2011

Revelation - Authorship

We know that someone named John (1:1, 4, 9) wrote the Revelation. The author is in exile, but we do not know whether this is self-imposed or due to some kind of official decree. The reason for his exile is clear, it is because of the Lord.  However, it should be noted that the present location of the author, i.e., at the time of writing, is unknown.  Rev 1:9 suggests that John had his vision on the island of Patmos, but it does not suggest that John is still there, nor does it suggest that John wrote Revelation while he was there. 

Thus, John may have taken much time to pray, meditate and think through his visionary experiences and how best to communicate those to the communities that he served.  Thus we should be careful in allowing presuppositions and assumptions to guide our understanding of how this text was put together and when and how it was written. 

Some scholars have suggested that some sections of Revelation may have been written and used much earlier, and thus within Revelation there are both early and later materials.  Although, I must admit to a certain scepticism regarding our ability to discern various layers of tradition and then date them.  Such proposals and conclusions seem more to be driven by circular reasoning. 

Rev. 22:6-7 suggest that he was a prophet, perhaps part of a prophetic group. Presumably he was well known to the audience as he does not explain to them who he is. He writes to the Churches with some authority, which may suggest an ongoing relationship with them.
John must normally have been active as a prophet in the churches to which he writes. The seven messages to the churches reveal detailed knowledge of each local situation, and 2:21 presumably refers to an earlier prophetic oracle of his, addressed to the prophetess he calls Jezebel at Thyatira. John was no stranger to these churches but had exercised a prophetic ministry in them and knew them well. (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation)
The amount of specific information that the writer has not only about these specific churches, but also about the specific areas within which these churches are found suggests an intimate knowledge of these areas. 

Traditionally the author is seen as the apostle, the son of Zebedee (Matt 10:2). Justin Martyr, calls him “John the Apostle.” 
There was a certain man with us whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believe in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.
While, Irenaeus merely notes that “John wrote the apocalypse at the end of the reign of Domitian,” which suggests a dating of around 95CE. Many, if not most, scholars suggest that a dating to the reign of Domitian, is accurate. Eusebius suggests that John went to Patmos during the reign of Domitian, and then later returned to Asia minor to continue his work.

John does not appear to be a pseudepigraphic writing, that is, a writing written under the name of someone else in whose authority one wished to write or communicate.  John makes no special claims about himself, and very little is communicated about the situation within which he wrote.  The writer is simply described as a slave of God, and a brother to those whom he writes. 

Scholars have suggested that the author of this work has a distinctively Jewish background, given the numerous allusions and echoes to the Hebrew scriptures and various Jewish traditions.  In fact, the genre of apocalypse appears to be most at home within a Jewish worldview. 

Outline of Revelation - Bauckham

Prologue (1:1-8)

Title and Beatitude (1:1-3)
Epistolary Opening (1:4—5a)
Doxology (1:5b-6)
A Scriptural Testimony (1:7)
A Prophetic Oracle (1:8)

Inaugural Vision of Jesus Christ among the Churches and his Messages to the Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)
John's Vision and Commission (1:9—20)
The Message to Ephesus (2:1—7)
The Message to Smyrna (2:8-11)
The Message to Pergamum (2:12-17)
The Message to Thyatira (2:18—29)
The Message to Sardis (3:1—6)
The Message to Philadelphia (3:7-13)
The Message to Laodicea (3:14-22)

Inaugural Vision of Heaven (4:1-5:14)
God on the Throne (4:1—11)
The Lamb on the Throne (5:1-14)

The Seven Seals (6:1-8:5)
The First Four Seals (6:1-8)
The Fifth Seal (6:9-11)
The Sixth Seal (6:12-17)
Interlude: The Sealing of the Elect (7:1-17)
The Seventh Seal (8:1-5)

The Seven Trumpets (8:6—11:19)
The First Four Trumpets (8:6-12)
The Fifth Trumpet (8:13-9:11)
The Sixth Trumpet (9:12—21)
Interlude: (a) The Scroll Given to John (10:1—n)
Interlude: (b) The Content of the Scroll (11:1-13)
The Seventh Trumpet (11:14-19)

The Story of God's People in Conflict with Evil (12:1—15:4)
The Woman, the Dragon and the Child (12:1—6)
Michael and the Dragon (12:7-12)
The Dragon and the Woman (12:13-17)
The Monster from the Sea (12:18—13:10)
The Monster from the Land (13:11—18)
The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5)
Three Angelic Messages and a Voice from Heaven (14:6-13)
The Harvest of the Earth and the Vintage of the Earth (14:14-20)
The Song of the Conquerors (15:1-4)

The Seven Bowls (15:5-16:21)

Introduction (15:5—16:1)
The First Five Bowls (16:2—11)
The Sixth Bowl (16:12-16)
The Seventh Bowl (16:17-21)

Babylon the Harlot (17:1-19:10)
The Harlot: (a) The Vision (17:1—6a)
The Harlot: (b) The Interpretation (17:6b-18)
The Fall of Babylon: (a) The Voice of an Angel (18:1-3)
The Fall of Babylon: (b) A Voice from Heaven (18:4-20)
The Fall of Babylon: (c) The Voice of Another Angel (18:21-4)
The Fall of Babylon: (d) Voices from Heaven (19:1-8)
John and the Angel (19:9—10)

Transition from Babylon to the New Jerusalem (19:11-21:8)
The Rider from Heaven and his Victory (19:11-21)
The Millennium (20:1-10)
The Judgment of the Dead (20:11-15)
The New Heaven and the New Earth (21:1—4)
God Speaks (21:5-8)

The New Jerusalem the Bride (21:9—22:9)
General View of the City (21:9—14)
The Walls and the Gates of the City (21:15-21)
The Glory of God in the Temple-City (21:22-7)
The Throne of God in the City (22:1—5)
John and the Angel (22:6—9)

Epilogue (22:10—21)
The Angel's Instructions (22:10-11)
A Prophetic Oracle (22:12-13)
Beatitude (22:14-15)
A Scriptural Testimony (22:16)
Invitation to Come to the Water of Life (22:17)
Warning to Preserve the Book's Integrity (22:18—19)
A Prophetic Oracle and Response (22:20)

This is taken from Richard Bauckham's commentary on Revelation in the Oxford Bible Commentary.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Unity amidst Diversity - a tragic irony

Philip Melanchthon, one of the great theological minds of the Reformation, described Romans as “an outline and compendium of all Christian doctrine”, and its interpretation has often been driven by theological interests and debates. Indeed, until recently Romans has been read primarily as an essay in propositional theology, and interpreters have often lost sight of the concrete and specific set of circumstances and interests that called this letter into existence. Attempting to abstract the timeless theology of Romans, Christians have repeatedly broken off fellowship with other Christians over the interpretation of minute aspects of this letter, for example, the question of predestination versus free will, the degree of human depravity, the nature of “saving” faith and so forth. A tragic irony emerges when we consider that in Romans, Paul provides his fullest treatment of the way God has brought together people of diverse heritage and practice into the one body of the church, and he also gives several chapters of practical advice for preserving unity in the midst of this diversity.

David deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 598.  Italics mine. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Example of Recurrent Attestation

Dale Allison has argued for a criterion of recurrent attestation.  These are themes, ideas, and elements that occur across a wide variety of materials and give a certain impression of the historical Jesus.  Allison gives the following as an example:
  • The temptation narrative, in which Jesus bests the devil (Mark 1:12-13; Matt 4:1-11 par. Luke 4:1-13)
  • Stories of successful exorcism (Mark 1:21-28; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-27; Matt 12:22-23 par. Luke 11:14; Matt 9:32-34; cf. the passing notices of successful exorcisms in Mark 1:32, 34, 39; 3:22; Matt 8:16; Luke 13:32)
  • Jesus’ authorization of disciples to cast out demons (Mark 3:15; 6:7; cf. 6:13; Matt 7:22; Luke 10:19-20)
  • The saying about Satan being divided (Mark 3:23-27; Matt 12:25-27 par. Luke 11:17-19)
  • The parable of binding the strong man (Mark 3:27; Matt 12:29 par. Luke 11:21-22; Gos. Thom. 35)
  • The story of someone other than a disciple casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38-41)
  • The declaration that Jesus casts out demons by the finger/Spirit of God (Matt 12:28 par. Luke 11:20)
  • The report of Jesus' vision of Satan falling like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18)
  • The announcement that the ruler of the world has been driven out (John 12:31; 16:11; cf. 14:30)
 According to Allison, “one infers from all this material not only that Jesus was an exorcist but also that he and others saw his ministry in its entirety as a victorious combat with Satan. This holds, whatever one makes of the individual units, at least some of which may be difficult to think of as historical. What counts is not the isolated units but the pattern they weave, or the larger images they form.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

Coming out of Retirement - Recurrent Attestation

So I'm coming out of retirement, I hope. And the first thing I'd like to do is note something I explored some time ago [2005] about what Dale Allison has recently called "recurrent attestation." I'll explore this more in an upcoming blog...

Stephen Patterson, in his book The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning offers an interesting idea, borrowed from R. W. Funk, about typifications. Patterson in explaining the problem caused by judging which events or deeds of Jesus are in fact historical, writes:
The best provisional solution to this problem is to say simply that the deeds of Jesus present us with the creative memory of the church. In the Jesus Seminar, it was seldom that we could assert, even tenuously, the historical accuracy of any particular event or occasion as it is depicted in the gospels, or in fact, that such and such an event occurred at all. But we did notice that certain types of events are depicted with great frequency in the Jesus traditions, and across a variety of sources and forms. Things like healings and exorcisms, cavorting with the unclean and the shamed, conflict with his family - such things began to emerge as "typical" of Jesus in the widespread memory of the early church. Such typifications became the basis for a general description of the sort of things Jesus probably did, even though the historicity of any single story in the gospels was always hard to demonstrate.          Patterson, The God of Jesus, 57.
While I abhor many of the absurd presuppositions that the Jesus Seminar approach the gospels with when doing historical enquiry, this method seems to make much sense. We know for sure that the gospels don't record every single detail of the life of Jesus. Whatever we think of the historical value of John's gospel, his statement that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book [or any other I might add] appears a priori valid. It seems axiomatic that the gospels are a sampled survey of all the things about Jesus and they are not in an exact diary collection of facts and data.

Could the deeds of Jesus be likened to the position of Darrell Bock who has argued that the sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospels are the "voice" of Jesus, and not the exact literal word for word dictation that many assume? Could we have echoes of the typical deeds of Jesus recorded in the gospels? Patterson notes that "the limits of ancient history are considerable, indeed."

Could this approach fit better with a critical realist epistemology, where certainty on any exact event [with a few notable exceptions such as the temple action, cross & resurrection, and perhaps a few others?] is unknown but the gist and typical features of Jesus' actions in healing, exorcism, interaction with Gentiles and Jews are known? The plausibility of this being the case seems almost certain given what we know about the limits and strengths of oral tradition as well. Maybe the memory of two separate encounters got blurred into one event [would that explain gospel differences better than or as well as editorial emphases?]

Wright notes that there is nothing to suggest that the sermon on the Mount and the sermon on the Plain are the same event. Jesus probably regularly gave a set piece of didactic speeches - Luke and Matt record summaries of them - in different locations because that was typical of Jesus teachings in various locations.

Thoughts? Comments? Criticisms? Are there any published critiques or advocates of this view? In my mind, which is now reeling over the possibilities, this could alter our conception of the criteria of authenticity and exegesis.