Friday, 29 January 2010

Biblical Scholarship and the State of Israel

Julia O'Brien, teacher at Lancaster Theological Seminary, has posted a short article on The Bible and Interpretation entitled "Biblical Scholarship and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Here are some of my thoughts as I try to process this issue, formulated in response to her key conclusions (O'Brien in Bold):

Combating anti-Judaism is necessary, important, and will continue to be part of my mission as a teacher. And yet, this trip has further convinced me that it is also my mission as a theological educator to challenge an uncritical identification of biblical Israel with the policies of the modern Israeli state.

How does she wish to do that? No one claims that modern Israel is simply Ancient Israel transposed into the present. Most people I know of say that the Jews stand in some kind of continuity with Israelites: biological, religious, and now geographical. But that's not the same thing as identifying Biblical and modern Israel. Working out the nature of the continuity is a complex issue that includes Biblical interpretation but also goes beyond it, drawing on the broader theological categories.

>The current situation is the product of empires and post-colonial responses to empire, not simply a divinely-decreed continuation of the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac.

This is a false dichotomy that doesn't exist in the Bible either. Wasn't Cyrus God's anointed?

>Just as my teaching underscores the difference between ancient and modern constructions of gender, sexuality, and economic justice, it also needs to establish a critical distance between past and present in terms of just distribution of land.

Creating "critical distance" , as I stated above, will make the work more irrelevant than relevant. In addition to that, simply highlighting a diversity of witness within the Bible doesn't solve the question of how these witnesses are to be brought into relation to each other nor how they are to function within the broader Jewish religious discourse. Judaism has developed its own categories for doing this, categories grounded in various theological convictions, and these can't be ignored by supposed ideologically neutral scholarship.

>And just as I point out the diversity of voices within the biblical text itself on matters of ritual, the purposes of partnership, and the will of God, I also need to draw greater attention to its diverse perspectives on the importance of land and of community homogeneity.

I should add that I'm not saying that this kind of work is not valuable or potentially enriching for debate about the issue. I'm doing this kind of thing myself! I just don't think that "Biblical scholarship," in its modern non-confessional guise, is sufficient for the task.

One final question: how diverse is the issue of the land in the Bible? It seems as central to OT theology as the covenant, torah, and the divine name.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Syntax of 2 Ki 23:3?

This post belongs in the category "pernickety Hebrew grammar questions."

In 2 Ki 23:3 we have a verb (כָּרַת, in green) and a string of three infinitive constructs with ל (in red below):

וַיִּכְרֹ֥ת אֶֽת־הַבְּרִ֣ית׀ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֗ה לָלֶ֜כֶת אַחַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ וְלִשְׁמֹ֨ר מִצְוֹתָ֜יו ... בְּכָל־לֵ֣ב
...לְהָקִ֗ים אֶת־דִּבְרֵי֙ הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֔את

Most of the translations I'm aware of translate each infinitive construct as expressing the purpose of the making of the covenant. Thus, the ESV reads:

"and [he] made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments ... with all his heart ... , to perform the words of this covenant."

A distinction, however, is made between the last infinitive ("to perform") and the previous two by the insertion of a comma. The NIV goes its own way by translating it as "thus confirming." The NRSV translates the second infinitive as a gerund "keeping," again introducing a distinction for the last infinitive.

When I first read this sentence, I thought that all three infinitives equally expressed the purpose of the forming of the covenant. However, the Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker analysis tags the first two infinitives as "object complements" (i.e. they "complete" the object of the verb "covenant") whereas the final infinitive is set apart as expressing the "aim" of the verb. To me, this would mean that walking after the Lord and keeping his commandments represent the content of the covenant whereas performing the the words represents goal of the covenant. It would also mean that "the words of the covenant" does not refer to words in addition to the commandments, witnesses etc., but is rather a summary of such things (which is typically Deuteronomistic, by the way).

If that is right, it would seem that the NIV's translation, unique as it is, is better than the others (though I would translate "thus performing" rather than "thus confirming"). The Elberfelder also makes the distinction by inserting the word "um": "und schloß den Bund ... dem HERRN nachzufolgen und seine Gebote ... zu bewahren ... , um die Worte dieses Bundes zu erfüllen."

Two questions:

1) how would you translate it?
2) how is לְהָקִ֗ים set apart from the other infinitives? Is it just the semantics of the clause, or are there syntactic indications (e.g. there is no waw beforehand)?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Alexamenos worships God

... the early church had the temerity to point to this event—the crucifixion of their leader—as the mighty act of God. What utter foolishness![1] Little wonder that the church was mocked by its opponents. A drawing scratched on a wall (graffito) from the early Roman Empire shows the body of a man with the head of an ass nailed to a cross, and a man worshipping it. Scrawled below is the mocking caption, “Alexamenos worships god.” Apparently some slave or child was poking fun at someone with this early cartoon. How stupid, how absurd, to worship a crucified god! The claim that Jesus’ death was a mighty act of God must have seemed utter foolishness anywhere within the first-century Roman world.[2]
[1] “In a world which longed for personal salvation, and which was full of gods and lords claiming to meet that need, how utterly absurd and indeed revolting to claim that a Jew from a notoriously troublesome province of the Empire who has been condemned as a blasphemer and executed as a traitor was the Saviour of the world! How on earth could anyone believe that”? (Lesslie Newbigin, “Context and Conversion,” International Review of Mission 68 (1978): 301)

[2]Bartholomew, C. G., & Goheen, M. W. (2004). The drama of Scripture: Finding our place in the biblical story (161). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Update: The following fascinating quote was posted in the comments:

This image is quite arresting and made me think of an ancient Roman misconception regarding the ‘image’ (or rather lack thereof) of God in the Jerusalem Temple. Tacitus, among others, jibed that the Jews worshiped the head of a donkey in their temple. I was not aware that this was extended to a lampooned crucified Jesus as well. F.F. Bruce described the occurrence of both in a 1984 article, of which I quote the following:

F.F. Bruce, “Tacitus on Jewish History” - Journal of Semitic Studies 29(1984)1: 33-44
The quote is from p. 38:

The belief that the image of an ass, or at least of an ass's
head, was venerated in the inner shrine is attested elsewhere.
Apion of Alexandria {ca. A.D. 30) asserted that the Jews kept a
gold ass's head in their sanctuary: it was discovered there, he
said, when Antiochus Epiphanes plundered the temple {Contra
Apionem, 2.80). Another writer, Mnaseas, tells how an
Idumaean named Zabidus stole the gold head from the sanctuary
by a trick {Contra Apionem, 2.112-14). According to Diodorus
{History, 34, fragment), what Antiochus discovered was the
statue of a bearded man (presumably Moses) mounted on an
ass. These tales were at least less sinister than another retailed
by Apion, how Antiochus discovered in the temple a Greek,
who was being fattened for a cannibalistic rite which the Jews
celebrated annually {Contra Apionem, 2.89-96).
As for the ass-god legend, it was in due course transferred
from the Jews to the Christians, as we know from Tertullian -
"for in fact, with other people, you have imagined that our god
is an ass's head" {Apology, 16.1) - and also from the well-known
Palatine graffito of a crucified man with an ass's head, with the
Greek caption: "Alexamenos worships his god".

Monday, 25 January 2010

What did Jesus leave behind?

In response to my post Why is Jesus taking so long? the following query was made:
One question I have is what exactly Jesus came to accomplish---what did he establish that did not exist before?
I gave the first part of an answer in my post If the Messiah came, why do death and evil remain? It has something to with cosmology and the Holy Spirit. Bartholomew and Goheen, whose book The Drama of Scripture has provided the basis of these posts, give a further clarification to this answer, this time in terms of the church, "the people of God."
The church’s new life is based on what God has done in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Christ’s death, God has defeated the powers that rule “this present age”—sin, evil, and death. In Christ’s resurrection the “age to come” has begun, with its promise of life, love, and peace (Romans 6:1–11). The church’s new life is also empowered by the Spirit, which lives within the community of believers and constantly brings new life to it (Romans 8; Galatians 5). This, says Paul, is the new life of the Christian, begun by Christ’s work on the cross, lived out in the Father’s kingdom, and shaped by the Spirit’s power.
At the heart of this new life is a new relationship to God, which Paul describes in terms of righteousness, reconciliation, and adoption. First, since God is the righteous Lawgiver and Judge, we who follow rebellious Adam are estranged from him by our sin; we too are guilty. But Paul proclaims the good news that (for those who have faith in Jesus) our “guilty” verdict has been overturned. There is a new verdict: we have already been declared righteous—on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21–31; Galatians 2:15–16; 3:6–14).As far as the Christian is concerned, God’s final judgment has already taken place! With our guilt removed, we stand in a right relationship to God.
Second, since we were once estranged from God by our sinful rebellion, we need to be reconciled to him. Reconciliation, long thought to become available only at the end of time with the coming of God’s kingdom, is a gift freely offered even now (2 Corinthians 5:18–19; Colossians 1:20).Reconciliation removes the sin that has put God’s world p 193 at enmity with him and leads to peace. This means the restoration of the shalom and harmony of God’s original created order for the whole world and especially for humankind (Romans 5:1). Third, we who are born into the sinful race of Adam are restored to God by receiving his gift of adoption (Galatians 4:4–5; Ephesians 1:4). The same Spirit that lived in Jesus is poured into our own lives and enables us to call God “Abba, Father,” as Jesus did (Romans 8:14–15).
This is the church: a people who live in a new world with a new identity and a new relationship to God. Thus, Paul commands the church to live more and more the new life of God’s kingdom, to “take off” the old self (as if it were soiled clothing) and to put on the new (Ephesians 4:22–24; Colossians 3:9–10). In other words, they are to bid farewell to the way of life that was shaped by their experience of “this present age” and to embrace a new way of life as part of “the age to come.” And with this new life comes a call to a new kind of obedience to God’s law in every part of life, an obedience rooted in love.
Bartholomew, C. G., & Goheen, M. W. (2004). The drama of Scripture: Finding our place in the biblical story (192–193). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

If the Messiah came, why do evil and death remain?

That's a question Paul was forced to asked, being steeped in the Rabbinic theology of his day. Here is his answer, according to Bartholomew and Goheen (see also my two other posts: Disappointment with Jesus (I) and Why is Jesus taking so long? (II).):
But if the old has passed away [the 'olam hazeh in the crucifixion] and the new has come [the 'olam haba', in the resurrection], why do evil and death remain in the world? Paul’s letters are charged with the same tension between the “already” and “not yet” aspects of the kingdom of God that we have seen in Jesus’ own teachings, but with some differences in emphasis. For Paul, the kingdom is here already in that Jesus’ death brings an end to the old and his resurrectioinaugurates the new. The Spirit is described as a deposit (or down payment) on the coming kingdom (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). A deposit is not merely an IOU or promise for the future; instead, it is a real payment given now as a guarantee that in the future the rest will be paid. The Spirit is also pictured as firstfruits, the first part of the harvest, ready to be enjoyed now, and tangible evidence that the remainder of the harvest will also come (Romans 8:23).
The kingdom has not yet arrived for us in its fullness. We remain in a world that has not yet been fully delivered from the influence of evil, demonic power (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are still surrounded by the darkness of sin and rebellion against God (Ephesians 2:2–3), even while we anticipate the full revelation of God’s kingdom in which those things shall be no more. Thus, in Paul’s thought there is no clearly marked threshold between “the present age” and “the age to come.” We live in the “in-between” time, in which the two ages overlap. Paul goes on to explain that these two ages are allowed to coexist within God’s plan so that the church’s work of mission—the gathering of the nations to the God of Israel—can be accomplished before the final revelation of the kingdom. In fact, God gives this in-between time to the church as its own, to fulfill its calling as his witness to the coming of the kingdom.[*]
[*]Bartholomew, C. G., & Goheen, M. W. (2004). The drama of Scripture: Finding our place in the biblical story (190). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic [footnotes have been removed]

Friday, 22 January 2010

Why is Jesus taking so long? (II)

In my last post I made the potentially impious statement that I was "disappointed" with Jesus. The cause of my disappointment had to do with the expectations that my acquaintance with the Old Testament had raised for me. Wasn't the coming Messiah supposed bring about a world of universal shalom, both between humans and within creation? Just like Israel in exile (or in fact in most of its history), I want my own fig tree!

Luckily, it looks as if this disjunction between promise and fulfilment is found within the New Testament itself, as witnessed to by the reactions of John the Baptist and Jesus' own disciples (see my post). But why is there a disjunction in the first place? Here are Bartholomew and Goheen's interpretations of Jesus' parables of the kingdom:
Mark 4 and Matthew 13 offer an important selection of these stories. They are introduced with Mark’s phrase “The kingdom of God is like …” and Matthew’s “The kingdom of heaven is like …” (meaning the same; Matthew, writing to Jews reticent about using the name Yahweh, refers to God indirectly by naming the place from which he rules). In this series of parables, we learn the secret of the kingdom.
1. The kingdom does not come all at once. Though the Jews have expected the kingdom to arrive in fullness immediately, or at least very soon after the Messiah appears, this does not happen. Sometimes as Jesus talks about the kingdom, he speaks of it as if it is present already; at other times he suggests that it is coming in the future. Many of his parables help to explain this seeming contradiction. The parable of the sower and weeds teaches that in the present the kingdom comes by the “sowing” of the gospel. In the future the weeds will be separated from the wheat (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast suggest that though the kingdom at present is small and seems insignificant, it will in the future be glorious and impossible to ignore (13:31–33; Mark 4:30–32). The parable of the net teaches that in the present all sorts of fish are gathered in to the kingdom, but in the future there will be a great separation (Matthew 13:47–50).
Thus, the kingdom Jesus describes is both present and future: already begun here, not yet here in fullness. But this is not a contradiction, and Jesus is not mistaken. How then can something as important as God’s kingdom have these two apparently opposite qualities? How does it stand in tension between “already” and “not yet”?
In the parables Jesus offers his bewildered followers a resolution of this “already-not yet” quality of the kingdom. With the coming of the kingdom, the Jews expect the present evil age to pass away quickly. The parable of the weeds teaches them that the power of evil continues alongside the new healing power that has come into the world in Jesus. The age to come overlaps with the old age; the powers of both are present.
2. In the present, the kingdom does not come with irresistible power. The Jews have expected that when God’s kingdom arrives, no enemy would be able to resist it. They remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in which a rock not cut by human hands (representing the kingdom of God) strikes a great statue (representing the world kingdoms of Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece, and in later interpretation Rome) and shatters it (Daniel 2). Daniel says: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed.… It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (2:44). Surely God will sweep his enemies away. Who can stand against the power of God?
But Jesus says: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed” (Mark 4:3). And what a different picture emerges in the parable of the sower (4:1–20; Matthew 13:1–23). The Messiah does not come as a military conqueror but as a humble farmer. The kingdom does not arrive in irresistible power and force but by the message of the kingdom. The seed falls on the footpath, in rocky places, and among thorns—producing no fruit. In other words, listeners can reject the call of the kingdom and may well seem to be none the worse for it. Certainly no great rock hurtles from the sky to destroy those who refuse Jesus. The kingdom is hidden in a humble form and makes its way in the world in apparent weakness. In his ministry Jesus announces the message of the kingdom—the gospel—through his words, demonstrates it by his deeds, and embodies it in his life. The gospel is a seed, given to produce the fruit of the kingdom in the soil of receptive and believing hearts. Later Paul speaks of the gospel as the “power of God” (Romans 1:16), yet that power does not trample down or root out all resistance by force. The parable of the weeds gives us a picture of how this works (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.” The wheat and weeds appear together. When the servants want to root out the weeds, the farmer forbids this, explaining that at the harvest he will separate the good plants from the weeds. Some people receive the word, and God’s power brings about the fruit of the kingdom, but others reject that message—and seem to suffer no harm.
3. The final judgment of the kingdom is reserved for the future. Jesus’ hearers expect God’s judgment to fall swiftly on the ungodly. The prophets spoke of a day when God would bring his kingdom in by judging his enemies in his wrath (Isaiah 63:1–6). Redemption and wrath are two sides of one reality: God saves his creation by judging the enemies that have ruined it (61:2; 63:4). But the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43) shows the Jews that the judgment they expect does not fall immediately. The workers in the field want to root out weeds p 148 immediately (13:28), but the owner instructs his servants to allow both wheat and weeds to grow together. At the end of the age the judgment will indeed fall; until then the powers of God’s kingdom and of evil must continue together.
Many other parables similarly illustrate a judgment postponed: good fish will be sorted from bad (13:47–50) and sheep from goats (25:31–46). The master who has entrusted money to his servants will return to settle accounts (25:14–30). Five maidens keep oil for their lamps and are ready for the return of the bridegroom (25:1–13). Two men invest their master’s money wisely and are commended for it; another who merely buries his money is condemned as a “wicked, lazy servant” and thrown into outer darkness (25:14–30). Jesus’ true followers are those whose lives imitate his: they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, offer drink to the thirsty, and visit the prisoner. These faithful ones are invited into the kingdom of the Father. But another group whose lives show nothing of Jesus’ own life are sent away at last to eternal punishment (25:31–46). When Jesus speaks of the final coming of the kingdom in his parables, he stresses readiness and faithfulness in the present. One is to respond to the message of the kingdom and live a life centered in Jesus until the last day.
4. The full revelation of the kingdom is postponed, to allow many to enter it during the present age. Since the coming of the kingdom has already begun in Jesus, why does God not complete his work? Why does he delay the final judgment? Why hide his kingdom’s glory and power? When we find an answer to these questions, we can begin to understand our own place and calling in the biblical story, between Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom and its final revelation. One of Luke’s parables offers such an answer (Luke 14:15–24). A banquet is being made ready: the table is set and laden with food and drink. But there the host pauses; the guests must wait yet a little while. The enjoyment of the banquet is suspended—but the host has a very good reason for the delay. It is so that the lost can also be brought in to share at the banquet table. All—and especially the poor, the lost, the forgotten ones—are invited and welcomed to share in the banquet that is God’s kingdom. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). When the Pharisees mutter that Jesus is welcoming all the wrong people, he tells them three parables: of a lost sheep (Luke 15:3–7), a lost coin (15:8–10), and a lost son (15:11–32). When the lost son (who has for a time wandered from his home and family) repents and turns back, the Father welcomes him with joy and favor.
Jesus tells many parables—at least forty—and we have looked at only a sampling. Yet in these few, the main themes of Jesus’ teaching are p 149 evident: the parables reveal what the kingdom is really like, in contrast to the misunderstandings of Jesus’ hearers.[*]
Though I can't confess to have understood everything about God's eschatological purposes (neither could Paul, cf. Rom 11:33-35), I do find it comforting to know that this structure of delayed fulfilment of promise, strengthened by proleptic foretastes in the meantime, reflects both Biblical reality (Abraham gets just a grave in the promised land; only Jacob's bones arrive there; Moses dies on the boarder, yet only after foretelling that Israel will forfeit everything anyway and have to go through exile before they can get it back again) and existential reality (read the Psalms; live a life of faith: God will do something, but when, how long, and how much?).
[*]Bartholomew, C. G., & Goheen, M. W. (2004). The drama of Scripture: Finding our place in the biblical story (146–149). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Disappointment with Jesus (I)

Around about six years ago I decided to read the New Testament as little as possible, focussing all my attention and energy on the Old. The aim was (and is!) to be able to see the witness of the New in all its particularity and difference. Christians tend to work in the other direction: we are thoroughly acquainted with the New and thus complain when the Old Testament doesn't seem to fit the paradigm. "Is the God of the Old Testament really Jesus' father?" Doing things the other way round raises a different question: "Is Jesus really the Son of the God of Israel?"

I've found the experience very instructive. For one thing, reading nothing but the Old has made me thirst for the New, not so much because the Old is inadequate but because it is so Israel-centered and I'm not a Jew. God has got some great things in store for his people, but who am I - a Gentile - to but in on the relationship?

Turning to the New, however, doesn't solve things quite so simply. One thing that haunts me is me is a constant feeling of disappointment. Here we have Jesus coming to fulfil God's promises to Israel, indeed the LORD himself has come to Zion, and yet ... where's the great harvest? I don't see the renewal of creation and the human heart that got Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses - and yes, myself - so excited. Christmas is a particularly odd time for me. Here we have traditional readings (e.g. Isa 9:2–7; 62:1–5; 62:11–12; 52:7–10; Micah 5:2–5a) , praising the final coming of the King of Israel, but where is he now (up in Heaven waiting to come back again)?

C. Bartholomew and M. Goheen address this in their helpful book The Drama of Scripture: Finding our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). Today I'll post their comments on the disappointment that Jesus caused (and perhaps still ought to cause ...), tomorrow I'll post their answer to this.
Jesus announces the arrival of the kingdom of God, demonstrates it in his actions, and gathers a kingdom community. However, this kingdom does not look at all like what the Jews expected. Jesus himself does not look like the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy as popularly understood. The world itself does not seem much changed by what this prophet from Galilee is doing and saying. Jewish expectations seem doomed to disappointment yet again. For anyone in first-century Israel who takes the claims of Jesus seriously, perplexity and bewilderment reign.
We glimpse this confusion in John the Baptizer when he is in Herod’s jail. John has preached that the kingdom of God is near, the final judgment about to fall. The ax is already in the hand of the Messiah, John says, and he is about to chop down any tree that does not produce good fruit (Luke 3:9). John fully expects this prophetic message to be fulfilled. He explicitly identifies Jesus as the one sent by God to set these things in motion (John 1:29–34). Then Jesus announces the arrival of the kingdom—and apparently nothing major happens. John expects the Messiah to bring down the wicked rulers of the earth and to release their righteous prisoners (Isaiah 40:23; 61:1). Yet John himself remains rotting in prison while Herod continues his unjust rule and immoral lifestyle. Pagan Roman soldiers infest the holy streets of Jerusalem. Idolatrous Rome rules the world with impunity; oppression, injustice, and unrighteousness reign. Have not the prophets promised that the kingdom of God will come with justice, peace, and the knowledge of God? John wonders if he misunderstood everything. He calls his disciples and sends them to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:19). Jesus answers by pointing to his miracles and his message of good news for the poor as signs that God’s redeeming power is present. Then he sends John’s disciples back with a promise: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23). No doubt John holds on to his belief that Jesus is the Messiah. But until Salome30 has his head cut off for her mother’s sake, John is probably p 146 still confused about the kingdom and about his own role in announcing its coming (Matthew 14:1–12; Mark 6:16–29).
It is just this kind of confusion that Jesus addresses in the parables. His disciples struggle to understand how the promises of the prophets are being fulfilled in Jesus. It certainly doesn’t look like what they expect. Throughout the Gospels it is clear that the disciples just “don’t get it.” Jesus’ parables are told to explain the “secret” of this kingdom that has appeared among them in such an utterly unexpected way (Matthew 13:11). The parables help those who receive Jesus’ word in faith to understand the nature of the kingdom as it appears in Jesus. At the same time the parables veil the truth from those who refuse to believe (13:12–17; cf. Isaiah 6:9–10; Acts 28:26–27).
Mark 4 and Matthew 13 offer an important selection of these stories. They are introduced with Mark’s phrase “The kingdom of God is like …” and Matthew’s “The kingdom of heaven is like …” (meaning the same; Matthew, writing to Jews reticent about using the name Yahweh, refers to God indirectly by naming the place from which he rules). In this series of parables, we learn the secret of the kingdom (pp. 145-146).
Tomorrow I look at his parables as a response to this odd situation.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Spurgeon on Biblical hermeneutics

The following is taken from Spurgeon's daily devotional, Morning and Evening:

“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.”
— Luke 24:45
He whom we viewed last evening as opening Scripture, we here perceive opening the understanding. In the first work he has many fellow-labourers, but in the second he stands alone; many can bring the Scriptures to the mind, but the Lord alone can prepare the mind to receive the Scriptures. Our Lord Jesus differs from all other teachers; they reach the ear, but he instructs the heart; they deal with the outward letter, but he imparts an inward taste for the truth, by which we perceive its savour and spirit. The most unlearned of men become ripe scholars in the school of grace when the Lord Jesus by his Holy Spirit unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to them, and grants the divine anointing by which they are enabled to behold the invisible. Happy are we if we have had our understandings cleared and strengthened by the Master! How many men of profound learning are ignorant of eternal things! They know the killing letter of revelation, but its killing spirit they cannot discern; they have a veil upon their hearts which the eyes of carnal reason cannot penetrate. Such was our case a little time ago; we who now see were once utterly blind; truth was to us as beauty in the dark, a thing unnoticed and neglected. Had it not been for the love of Jesus we should have remained to this moment in utter ignorance, for without his gracious opening of our understanding, we could no more have attained to spiritual knowledge than an infant can climb the Pyramids, or an ostrich fly up to the stars. Jesus’ College is the only one in which God’s truth can be really learned; other schools may teach us what is to be believed, but Christ’s alone can show us how to believe it. Let us sit at the feet of Jesus, and by earnest prayer call in his blessed aid that our dull wits may grow brighter, and our feeble understandings may receive heavenly things.[*]
Can anyone identify with this? I think I can, as I tried to articulate here (in response to a statement by James Kugel). For another interesting and important statement on theological hermeneutics, check out the one by Thomas à Kempis.

[*] Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

What does Barth mean by the "faktische Verheißung der Existenz Jesu"?

I'm interested in both translation possibilities and a conceptual clarification. The phrase comes from Barth's KD III §41 p. 68 (I don't own an English translation). Here's the quote:
Das Haupt der Gemeinde ... kann ja das alttestamentliche Zeugnis an sich und als solches noch nicht bezeichnen und mit Namen nennen. Es muß sich begnügen, seine Existenz faktisch zu verheißen und mit dieser Verheißung zum Gehorsam und zur Hoffnung aufzurufen.
Faktisch can mean different things: "factual," "actual," "objective," "literal," "virtual," "effective," "de facto," "in practice." It seems here that Barth is talking about the reality of Jesus Christ as something that transcends the particular and partial presentations of him as we find them in the various strands of the New Testament. He's bigger than the New Testament and can be witnessed to adequately enough by the Old Testament too (if only in a different "idiom"). As such, Barth could be talking about the Old Testament's witness to the reality of Jesus as such. The problem is that here the word faktisch is an adverb modifying the verb (he doesn't say "faktische Existenz"). It would seem that he is talking about a quality of promise, rather than a quality of existence. The promise itself is "faktisch." Or maybe I'm just being too pernickety. Perhaps translating with a kind of adverbial phrase could make faktisch apply to Existenz after all. One possibility would be: "It must be content with promising his existence in terms of its substance [rather then literally identifying Him]."

Incidentally, it would seem that this (apparently) "Barthian" emphasis on the adequacy of the Old Testament as a direct witness of Jesus is not shared by all Christian theologians. In his "Translator's Introduction" to the work of another Barthian, Heiko Miskotte (When the Gods are Silent), J. W. Doberstein makes the following criticism:
It is not a primary function of a translator to criticize a book which he has translated. I cannot conceal the fact, however, that I do not share one of its basic points of view, namely, its completely Barthian orientation. Though the author is certainly right in insisting that the Testaments must not be isolated from each other, he, following Barth, sees no real redemptive progress from the Old to the New Testament, but rather tends to regard them as two concentric circles which revolve around an identical centre. There would seem to be no qualitative difference between the Testaments, only a difference in manner of presentation. This results in the typically Barthian confusion of Law and Gospel. (1967, p. x)
I have to say, this is one of the things I really like about Barth (and it is picked up with vigour by Brevard Childs; cf. his Biblical Theology; cf. also Seitz, Word Without End). Could someone explain what Doberstein means by Barth's "confusion of Law and Gospel"?

Update: Howard of Sans Contexte has kindly supplied the following quote by Barth in the comments:
"...There are still far too many things which I cannot understand in the counter-thesis, advanced with varying degrees of sharpness and consistency by these authors, that the Gospel and the Law differ and are even antithetical in significance and function.
I do not understand (1) with what biblical or inherent right, on the basis of what conception of God, His work and His revelation, and above all in the light of what Christology, they can speak, not of one intrinsically true and clear Word of God, but of two Words in which He speaks alternately and in different ways to man according to some unknown rule."

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Quote of the day: Christian materialism

Israel in the land is meant to be a taste of what God intends for the whole of his creation.
Once more we are reminded of God’s concern for the whole of life as he has made it. Brueggemann rightly states: “This concern for a material, physical promise gives credibility to Christianity as a religion of materialism. When Christianity went spiritual and denied its proper focus on land it rightly earned the strictures of Marxism.”[*] [**]
[*] Brueggemann, Land, 191.
[**]Bartholomew, C. G., & Goheen, M. W. (2004). The drama of Scripture: Finding our place in the biblical story (83). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Tabernacle and New Creation

A great quote:

"Exodus concludes with God’s coming to his tabernacle to dwell there (40:34–38). God’s occasional appearances to Israel have now yielded to his permanent presence in their midst. And the tabernacle moves with them wherever they go; God journeys with his people. But the tabernacle suggests much more than this: it is an emblem of the full restoration of God’s presence within the whole of his creation, just as he originally intended:
At this small, lonely place in the midst of the chaos of the wilderness, a new creation comes into being. In the midst of disorder there is order. The tabernacle is the world order as God intended writ small in Israel. The priests of the sanctuary going about their appointed courses is like everything in creation performing its liturgical service—the sun, the trees, human beings. The people of Israel carefully encamped around the tabernacle in their midst constitutes the beginnings of God’s bringing creation back to what it was originally intended to be. The tabernacle is a realization of God’s created order in history; both reflect the glory of God in their midst.
Moreover, this microcosm of creation is the beginning of a macrocosmic effort on God’s part. In and through this people, God is on the move to a new creation for all. God’s presence in the tabernacle is a statement about God’s intended presence in the entire world. The glory manifest there is to stream out into the larger world. The shining of Moses’ face in the wake of the experience of the divine glory … is to become characteristic of Israel as a whole, a radiating out into the larger world of those glorious effects of God’s dwelling among Israel. As a kingdom of priests, … they have a role of mediating this glory to the entire cosmos." [*] [**]
[*]Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1991), 271-272.

[**]Bartholomew, C. G., & Goheen, M. W. (2004). The drama of Scripture: Finding our place in the biblical story (72). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.