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Archive for the ‘Biblical Theology’ Category

A couple years ago, I attended my very first meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans. As I was meandering through the hallways in search of interesting sessions, my attention was drawn by a colorful poster placed upon a board which was in use for the poster sessions. It took about .002 nanoseconds to figure out that some whack-job had hijacked the poster session board. I meant to blog on it then, but I forgot
about it until some particularly ridiculous bit of dilettantish behavior mentioned on Scotteriology reminded me of it. Anyway, I bring to your attention ladies and gentlemen: Prismatic Theology. What is Prismatic Theology you might ask, and the answer is about what you’d expect. From the about page:

[W]hile my husband and I drove from Tulsa, OK to Eureka Springs, AR the unexpected happened! It was a beautiful Fall day and the foliage in the Ozark Mountains was particularly brilliant …yellow, orange, red, purple and green leaves dotted the hillsides! But something other than the colorful leaves caught my attention. An image appeared between the windshield of our car and my mind’s eye. The vision that I saw was an organizational structure for ministry. It was in the shape of a square and it looked like a fishing net which had the colors of the rainbow woven into its structure.

The vision came to me from beyond myself and I have no rational explanation for it. The only thing that I can say for certain is that the vision came with a complete understanding of how ‘The Net’ was to function. Moreover the new knowledge was instantaneous and could not be un-learned…During the next four years,1996 – 2000, I experienced a continuous supernatural influx of instruction. At times the intensity of the teaching and the amount of information was beyond what I thought I could handle. I begged for a respite but no rest came until Oct, 2000. By the end of the four year period of time however I had an awareness of three tools for ministry here on earth: A Clock, a Key, and a Net![emphasis original].

Ok, so she had a vision, but what on earth does prismatic theology even mean? From what I can tell, she seems to have haphazardly applied her vision to a variety of random things in the Bible. For example: The creation story in Genesis 1 should not be understood as linear, but rather as circular…because color wheels are round…or something. Unexplained prophetic vision? Color wheels to the rescue! Her application of the color wheel often breaks down into incoherent rambling:

It is unlikely that the wheel was successfully used in ancient times as a means of measuring time relative to the 24-hour measurement. However through the gift of hindsight, a synchronization of ‘bible-time’ and ‘earth-time’ becomes possible. The entire wheel accounts for the counter-clock-wise passage of 8,400 years of which 6,000+ years have elapsed and 2,100+ remain.

What? At least there are plenty of nifty colorful pictures. If you think the climax of absurdity has been reached, get ready to be blown away. She has presented this crap at SBL!

When my research was complete, I joined the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in order to present my research. I wanted the scholarly community to listen to the information and either tell me that I was crazy; laugh me off of the planet; or help me understand why the insights couldn’t possibly be accurate. But no one laughed. And after several years of presenting academic papers I’m still on the planet. A few scholars commented on the ‘unconventional nature of the wisdom’ saying, “I’ve never thought about this” or “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  But no one told me that the conclusions I offer cannot possibly be accurate.

I’m all about sunshine and kindness, but for the love of Pete why didn’t anyone say, “Yes madam, you are indeed crazy.” The fact that no one did so is allowing her to trade on the name of the SBL. Her website lists her “academic papers presented within the Society of Biblical Literature” including three regional meetings and a national meeting. I’m no fan of censorship, but who is letting this woman into their sessions? Do her abstracts sound distinctly less crazy or something?

Carol, if you are reading this, I have no desire to hurt your feelings, but what you are doing is not scholarship. It does not belong at SBL, and you shouldn’t be hawking DVDs about it on the internet. If you are really interested in Biblical Studies, I suggest that you seek training from an accredited institution of higher learning or contact someone who has had such training and ask for a list of books to read.

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I’ve been aware of John Hagee’s particular brand of insanity for quite some time. Back in the day, I’d watch his preaching on one of the 15 Christian satellite stations that DirecTV had at the time. I was never really in tune with him, but I found his preaching style to be entertaining. It quickly became apparent that he had some bizarre views, even to my much more conservative past self. It’s been several years since I’ve kept up with Hagee, and, aside from the stuff that came up during McCain’s campaign, he hasn’t crossed my mind in years. Recently, however, I read Gary Burge’s interesting book Jesus and the Land, and in it he discusses the lengths to which Hagee has gone to defend Israel. Frankly, I was astonished that even Hagee would go so far.

[P]erhaps the most strident spokesperson for this view [Christian zionism] today is John Hagee, pastor of San Antonio’s large Cornerstone Church. His most revealing books are Jerusalem Countdown (2005, rev. 2007) and In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State (2007), both providing specific political application to a Zionist reading of the Bible. Today In Defense of Israel can be found for sale in Wal-Mart stores across America and is sold throughout Europe. His defense of Israel has now become so extreme that he preaches that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah (he will become the Messiah at his Second Coming). This means that Judaism never rejected “the Messiah” because they could not reject something that was never offered. (Burge, p. 123)

I have no words. I am disturbed that such a man is pastor to a claimed 19,000 people. Μαρανα θα!

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Those of you who have browsed the what we’re reading tab above have seen that I’ve been reading a book by James Aageson called Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church. The book is interesting largely because of its unusual approach. Aageson seeks to locate the Pastoral Epistles within the trajectory of Pauline theology as it develops after the death of Paul. His approach is based on comparing theological patterns in different texts and noting their similarities and differences. He does this to map the emergence of what he terms “Paul the Personage” from “Paul the Person”.

In terms of the construction of Paul’s image in the early church, Anthony Blasi’s argument about charisma [emphasis original] is important. He argues that charisma is bigger than an individual and the person who has charisma is not only a “person” but a “personage.” The term “person,” according to Blasi, refers to a historical individual, whereas the term “personage” refers to an individual’s public and charismatic persona constructed in the minds of other people. For a person to maintain charisma and continue to be a personage, his or her charisma must be constructed anew for each generation. (pg. 8)

Aageson’s book takes a long look at the texts and authors that come after Paul to see how Paul is understood and reconstructed in these texts. He begins with the Pastoral Epistles, and he sketches out the theological motifs which seem to dominate each individual letter of the PE (for example: suffering in 2 Timothy). He doesn’t start with the assumption that these texts are pseudepigraphal, but rather he prefers to locate their place in this Pauline trajectory by exploring two lines of inquiry.

First, Aageson examines the relationship of the three PE to each other. He does this by comparing the theological pictures he outlined in the previous chapter letter to letter. I was particularly pleased that Aageson highlights the way 2 Timothy is significantly different in theological approach and exhortation from 1 Timothy and Titus. The parallels between 1 Timothy and Titus are quite apparent: household codes, instructions about leaders, concern with external appearances for the sake of evangelism. On this basis, Aageson suggests that 2 Timothy has a different author than 1 Timothy and Titus.

Second, and this is where the book is really interesting, Aageson chooses the  undisputed Pauline text most similar to  each Pastoral Epistle to compare the theological patterns within. He compares 2 Timothy to Philippians based on the parallels in style noted by Stowers, 1 Timothy to 1 Corinthians based on similar observations from Luke Johnson, and Titus and Galatians based on their address of Judaism. I won’t go into detail about his conclusions, but he ultimately concludes that the PE are not written by Paul. Given his previous conclusion that 2 Timothy was written by a different author from 1 Timothy and Titus, Aageson then argues that 2 Timothy represents an earlier appropriation of Paul than 1 Timothy and Titus. By highlighting the differences between 2 Timothy and the undisputed Paulines and then between 2 Timothy and the rest of the PE, Aageson begins to outline a trajectory of Pauline appropriation.

Aageson continues to trace this trajectory through the earliest Christian documents. I could say quite a bit about this part of the book especially, but for brevity I’ll just relate what texts he chooses to examine. Aageson starts by making comparisons between images of Paul in the PE and the Book of Acts. Following this, he compares the theology of the PE with the Deutero-Pauline epistles. Having exhausted his canonical comparisons, Aageson embarks on a series of comparisons with Early Church Fathers. Starting with the Apostolic Fathers Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement, then proceeding with a who’s who of early Christian thinkers, he covers the likes of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. He highlights the way “Paul receded into history” in the Apostolic Fathers and how his writings slowly and steadily moved from authoritative apostolic witness in the second century to divine writ in the third and fourth.

Last, but certainly not least, is the fascinating discussion of the Acts of Paul and Thecla and their relationship to the PE. For those not familiar, the Acts of Paul and Thecla tell the story of a young woman who hears Paul preach and as a result puts off marriage to go about the work of evangelism. Thecla is the earliest text to exhibit the trend which develops in the early church of viewing chaste women as the equals or near-equals of men. It takes a somewhat negative view of marriage which has lead to differing theories about its relationship to the PE. Some scholars argue that the PE and the Acts of Paul and Thecla represent two schools of post-Pauline thought who both seek to appropriate Paul against the other. Other scholars see the Acts of Paul and Thecla as dependent on 2 Timothy (a position advocated by Richard Bauckham). The whole discussion is a positively fascinating look at the development of the personage of Paul in post-apostolic communities.

All in the all, I don’t know if I can really buy into the conclusions of Aageson, mostly because they are predicated on a certain understanding of the PE. I’m still on the fence about authorship, so the force of Aageson’s arguments are ultimately greatly reduced. Even so, the book makes a fantastic introduction to the way Paul and his letters have been viewed throughout history. It is a bit like a reception-historical study but focused on a person rather than a specific text. Aageson can be wordy and dry at times, but the uniqueness of the subject matter and approach more than make up for it. Read it, and you most likely won’t regret it.

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I saw a link to David Lamb’s blog on Zwinglius Redivivus. David is the author of the exciting new book from IVP God Behaving Badly. David is a professor at Biblical Seminary, but last summer he came to Fuller as a guest lecturer and taught a class on Genesis. I had the privilege of being a student in that class. If the book is half as engaging and exciting as Dr. Lamb’s lectures, then it should be fantastic. (It is already on the Bailey family wish list.) I’m adding his blog to the roll and you should add his blog to your RSS feed.

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This quarter I am taking a class on the Pastoral Epistles with David Downs. He assigned as a point/counterpoint assignment two articles on the issue of women in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, one of them is by I. Howard Marshall and the other is by Andreas Kostenberger. I was shocked and dismayed to read in Kostenberger’s discussion of the egalitarian interpretation the following:

“And in their rebellion against the Creator, men and women suppress the truth in unrighteousness and pervert God-ordained patterns of relating between genders, leveling distinctions and preferring sameness over complementarity—was that not Paul’s verdict writing to the Roman church in the midst of the excesses of the Roman Empire? Indeed, more than biblical exegesis is at work here. The present issue entails an entire culture’s stance toward its Creator.” Andreas Kostenberger “The Crux of the Matter: Paul’s Pastoral Pronouncements Regarding Women’s Roles in 1 Timothy 2:9-15” in Studies on John and Gender, 253-254.

Kostenberger is discussing the motivations behind the egalitarian approach, and he essentially argues that love of this age, and consequently sin, are the root of any questioning of the complementarian interpretation. How on earth is that appropriate in an academic article? Labeling your opponents as sinners captivated by the evil age is an exercise in polemic, and Kostenberger should be ashamed. Am I overreacting? What do you think?

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Part 1

Even so, the question of continuity naturally arises. What of the Jewish people and God’s promises to them? Or to be more precise, how can God’s promises be true in light of the fact that the Jews refused to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ and the Gentiles who had no right relationship with God are now experiencing the grace of YHWH (Hays 221)? By Hays’ reckoning, Paul’s powerful trust in the faithfulness of God via the faithfulness of Jesus Christ leads him to search the Scriptures for signs that this was God’s plan all along. So says Hays, “God’s oracles and promises are interpreted anew, in ways that no one could have foreseen, in light of the experience of grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus” (Hays 221).

Again when we turn to the text found in 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, we see something akin to what Hays has presented. What is arguably the foundational narrative of the Jewish faith, the exodus, is presented in a radically different way. Paul engages in a program of sacramental re-imagination, couching the story in terms of baptism and communion, drawing together the Jewish narrative and the Christian narrative (if I can be forgiven for using such terms) and weaving them together in such a way as to declare that they are the same story. In verse 7 and in 11, speaking of the disobedient Israelites he declares that “these things happened as an example.” Scripture is for the improvement of the people of God which somehow now includes the Gentiles. It would be a mistake to think that these categories of nation and church simply collapse. There can be little doubt that the uniqueness of Israel remains even as it is juxtaposed with a strange continuity between Jew and Gentile.

Perhaps the answer lies in verse 4, wherein it says, “For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (NET).The faithful figure of Jesus Christ provides the elusive point of radical continuity. Jesus Christ fulfills for Paul both the dramatic role of Jewish messiah as Second Temple Jews might expect (Wright 43) and that of the one Lord about whom the good news has been proclaimed (Wright 69). Jesus traverses the gap between the ardently hoped for deliverer of a broken covenant community and the true Lord of the world who surpasses the might of Caesar and his empire. The cross dramatically speaks into these different contexts, and through participation in the death and resurrection of the one who bore it, all are made cruciform whether Jew or Greek.

 

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( Hays references refer to Richard B. Hays,“Salvation by Trust: Reading the Bible Faithfully,”Christian Century 114 (1997): 218-23. and Wright to N.T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective; This post originated in the classroom as a theological reflection)

As any cursory survey of the literature on Paul and Pauline theology shows, the way we understand the person Paul, both the historical and literary figure, and the theology we derive from his body of work is shrouded in fierce debate. The mere fact that the church’s theology is built on our understanding of Pauline theology virtually guarantees that every discussion, every conference, and every reading of Paul will be mired in controversy. Yet, in the midst of discussion about what Paul means by justification or whether he fairly portrays the Jews (once we decide what exactly that portrayal even entails), we must remember that Pauline theology is ultimately theology and therefore intimately concerned with the person and character of God. If we can reasonably presume that Paul, a self-styled Hebrew of Hebrews, is built of solid Jewish stock, then it naturally follows that a covenant-oriented monotheism is at the center of his theology. We may also presume the Law and the Prophets have taught him about this creator-God who chose Israel to be a light to the nations (Wright 83, 87).

What then is such a figure to make of the Damascus road Christophany, wherein the expression of his zeal for his God is shown to be counter to his heart’s love? Some would reckon this experience as a crisis of faith, a forced reexamination of the nature of his faith, but such thinking perhaps arises from our preference for prejudicial language like conversion. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, having mostly cast such language aside, that what Paul suffered in his Christophany was no crisis of faith, but instead a crisis of hermeneutics. In his article “Salvation by trust?” Hays proposes that Paul dealt with the seeming contradiction in his Christ experience by falling back on a timeless principle embodied in the Hebrew Scriptures: trust in YHWH (Hays 219). Paul formulates his articulation of this principle around an exploration of the relationship of the people of God to their divine benefactor. Hays tracks this line of thought through Romans beginning with Paul’s address of the unfaithfulness of the Israelites, and Paul’s eventual juxtaposition of Abraham as a figure of faith against these unfaithful Israelites. Paul sees in this a validation of God and his action in the world: So what if some of God’s people fall away, can their unfaith make void God’s faithfulness? By comparison, the figure of Abraham is confronted with what might seem to many others undeniable proof that God would not keep his promise. Yet, his faith persevered and the old, spent bodies were made fecund. The triumph of trust in the faithfulness of God is clear to Paul.

Paul, when confronted with this astonishing turn of events, is forced to view them not as a contradiction of that which came before, but as a supernatural event of continuity. The answer to the question that most certainly arises from centuries of Jewish abuse at the hands of the powers is found in this unexpected Messiah. Jesus is the demonstration of the one God’s faithfulness which was the subject of such longing. Jesus’ death, as the demonstration of God’s love and provision, becomes for all the path to relationship with God. Just as Abraham trusted in the faithfulness of YHWH, all must now trust in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (Hays 220). The law provided no justification, but God allows us to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ in such a way that we are justified by the experience. Paul applies this trust in the plan of God to his reinterpretation of the scriptures.

When we test Hays’ hypothesis against Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, we see that Hays’ description fits the text rather well. Paul, in addressing the issue of the consumption of meat sacrificed to idols, frames his response around a central theological issue: the character of God. Paul asks, “What is an idol anyway?” It is nothing of substance nor could it be for there is only one God. Paul then appeals to the scriptures to make his point relying on Deuteronomy as he often does (according to Wright, because of its strong monotheism, 90). Paul reframes the Shema, glossing the LXX version with extended descriptions of God the Father and Jesus (Wright 94) which exhibit a parallelism between Father and Son. The Father is the one “from whom are all things and for whom we live”, and Jesus is the one “through whom are all things and through whom we live” (NET). The Father is the source of our life and the object of our devotion, but Jesus is the expression or means. The firmly monotheistic grounding of the passage exhibits Paul’s continued trust in the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, Paul understands the expression of God’s faithfulness through the work of Jesus.

 

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