Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If Jesus was Jewish, It Follows That . . . .

Back where I normally teach, there's an evangelist who preaches on the green as students walk by to and fro from class. His preaching is the usual revivalist mixture of solid Biblical truths, conservative talk-radio politics, theatrical gestures, heretical End Times teachings , and American small town mores. My impression is that most (but not all) Christian students on campus find him sort of embarrassing, and most (but not all) of the non-Christian students find him sort of entertaining. As I pass by, I often hear their cat-calls, among which I remember are the following:

"Jesus was Jewish! He was a Jew, not a Christian!"

Another is:

"Jesus never said anything about homosexuality!"

These are also common "refutations" of Christianity in the campus newspaper. You have probably heard both of these points before.

As I was reading Mark recently, however, I realized that these two statements cannot both be true. If Jesus was (and is) in fact Jewish, then He said something about homosexuality. Only if He was not Jewish, could we say that He didn't say anything about homosexuality.

In Mark 7, we read:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

This passage occurs right after a discussion of the Law and the Jewish traditions. Jesus clearly has on His mind the question of the interpretation of the Law. First (in the part not cited) he criticizes the Pharisees for adding to the law, while denying the fourth/fifth commandment ("Honor your father and mother"). Then he adds in private (because this is dynamite to the Jewish community of which He was indeed a member), that while the Mosaic food laws are in some sense relative and non-binding, other laws speak against what comes out of the heart are binding and always will be. Among them is the law against "sexual immorality/fornication" (porneia).

Now what does He mean by porneia? Given the truth that Jesus was/is indeed a Jew and speaking in the context of assessing the Mosaic Law, there is only one possible answer to that question. He meant by it all those practices defined as sexual immorality in Leviticus 18 and 20 -- which include homosexuality, along with various forms of incest and bestiality. If Jesus was a Jew (but only in that case), then His words cannot be interpreted except as including homosexuality within "sexual immorality" -- that "sexual immorality" falls within all the other listed sins that come out of the heart is patently obvious. Unlike violating the food laws, these sins are ones that Jesus declares still defile a person.

So if Jesus is Jewish, then he did speak about homosexuality.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Jocks vs. Nerds -- Or Why Theology Geeks Feel Out of Place in Church

I try to avoid the "evils of revivalist Christianity" (aka American evangelicalism) rant that is such a staple of the Augsburg Evangelical discourse. I have personally spent hardly any time in that world, and so have neither the legitimate need nor the legitimate authority to speak much about it (unlike doctrinal Calvinism). And I think one of the good things about denominationalism, is that it gives you an excuse to restrict your watch-dog instincts to those you are actually responsible for. However this denunciation (by a revivalist Christian, and so from inside experience the only sort worth listening to) contained something that confirmed a point I had made a while ago, so I couldn't resist. (HT: BHT)

Back in the early 80's, I was an elder in a small church in North Hollywood, California. At a certain point, our pastor moved on and we had to start the process of finding his replacement. As we began the search, the district supervisor of the denomination met with us and confided to me an important principle to help us in the choice of a new pastor. At first, I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. In his opinion, after many years of guiding evangelical churches in southern California, he had determined that there was an important trait necessary to assure a man's success in the pastorate.

All things being equal, he needed to be a jock.

That's right, a jock. Being a jock (okay, a former jock was acceptable) would give him the ability to relate more effectively to his church members. And the more prestigious a jock he had been...well, you get the picture. Now the district supervisor was a good and godly man. There was nothing cynical about him. He was honestly giving me the wisdom of many years during which he had dealt with scores of churches and hundreds of pastors. And he had been a pastor himself. He knew his target audience.

Granted, southern California is unique. But in almost every area of culture, it has proven to be a bellwether for the whole nation. Several decades later, we might add a new element to the guidance of the district supervisor. Today, besides being a jock, it would be helpful if a prospective pastor had some experience as a rock musician. . . . .

In most of our congregations rock and roll "worship" . . . . can go on for 45 minutes or even longer on a Sunday Morning. But, God help the pastor who preaches more than half an hour. Twenty minutes is the optimal length. . . . . And no matter how good he is, he should never talk past noon. Why? Because it will encroach on two other vastly important Sunday evangelical activities - getting to restaurants for lunch and home for the games on TV. (Do you see the nexus between the jock pastor and preaching?)

No wonder intellectually-oriented Christians feel out of place in revivalist churches! The people who tormented us in grade school are now going to be weighing our souls in church!

What was the point I had made? Oh yes, that temperamentally modern "conservative" vs. "liberal" (in the usual American senses) is a close analogue of the old knights vs. clerks ("clerk" here means the medieval clergy as a whole). Which is another way of saying the Goths and the Romans, or the jocks and the nerds. This puts conservative religion in an odd place, because the modern revivalist pastor has to be a "knight" (mustachioed Goth, jock) in a job that still has many of the connotations of a clerk (clean-shaven Roman if not bearded Greek philosopher, nerd).

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Friday, March 16, 2007

"Infanticide -- A Major Factor in Mammalian Sociology"

I love books on animals. For my birthday last month, I got the beautiful and extraordinarily informative encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Mammals, edited by David W. Macdonald. It's an edition with an orangutan on the front -- since a new three volume edition had come out, this older edition was going cheap at Borders. (It's the 2001 edition, ISBN 0-681-45659-0)

One of the hard things to miss, because the book has lots of special sections on it, is the importance of sociobiology as a factor in the evolution of mammals. And a real highlight of contemporary sociolobiological research is the role of what we might call "criminality" in mammal societies. For example, a one page spread on infanticide in mammals in general and a smaller sidebar on infanticide in primates (including us) emphasizes the fascinating role infanticide played in human evolution, possibly being the reason for pair bonding and so on.

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (rhymes with "birdie") brought about a revolution in the field with the publication of her book, The Langurs of Abu: Female and Male Strategies of Reproduction, in 1977. She showed how infanticide among langurs can be understood as part of a sociobiological strategy of maximizing reproduction and how female promiscuity can be understood as a response to that. (If male langurs don't know who the father is, they are more likely to tolerate or protect an infant on the chance that it might be his.)

The sheer prevalence of "criminal" behavior among the mammals is rather striking. 13% of all gorilla babies are killed by adult male gorillas. About 50% of all male black rhinos die at the horns of another black rhino. In Borneo, about 90% of all copulations among orangutans are non-consensual (what we would call rape among humans).

Now of course I put "criminal" in quotations here, because animals are not moral beings in the same way people are. But the sheer similarity of animal behavior with the criminal behaviors among H. sapiens is striking. Especially if one believes, as any biologist seeking to unify what we know about the behavior of living creatures (and that includes us) must, that this is our past.

Here are some interesting selections from the Encyclopedia of Mammals:

Fatal clashes among rhinos
Males of all species [of rhinos] are given to vicious fights that inflict gaping wounds. Both African species jab at one another with upward thrusts of their front horns. Black rhinos have the highest incidence among mammals of fatal intraspecies fighting: almost 50 percent of males and 33 percent of females die from wounds [inflicted by other black rhinos]. Why they are quite so bellicose is not known . . . Asian rhino species attack by jabbing open-mouthed with their lower incisor tusks, or, in the case of the Sumatran rhino, with the lower canines (p. 480).

Fatal clashes among hippos
About 10 percent of males are territorial; true to their amphibious nature, they defend not a patch of land but a few hundred meters of river or lake shore. They will tolerate other males in their territory provided they behave submissively, but will expect exclusive mating rights over all the females within it. If a bachelor male does not obey the rules and instead challenges the sovereignty of the territory holder, serious fights can break out. These are often bloody affairs that may result in the death of one of the contestants; most of the damage is done by the animals' razor-sharp lower canines, which may reach a length of 50 cm (20 in). (p. 492).

Infanticide among mammals
Among the subtleties of mammalian sociology is the importance of infanticide -- the killing of young by conspecifics
[animals of the same species]. Infanticide has been recorded in over 100 species from at least five orders [of the twenty or so in the class Mammalia] and 18 families. Nor is this habit confined to one sex -- infanticide by females is known for 25 species from three orders: lagomorphs, carnivores, and rodents. [And of course from primates as well, as exemplified by Homo sapiens, us.] However, the potential motives may differ between the sexes -- generally males may be seeking to eat the babies or incease their mating opportunities, whereas females may be after foraging or nesting sites.

Possible benefits of infanticide include: a) securing food (male and female chimpanzees eat their victims);

b) eliminating competitors (among common marmosets [a small New World monkey] subordinate non-reproductive female helpers increase the weaning success of infants born to dominants; infanticide by the dominant female provides her with a bereaved helper and removes rivals to her own offspring);

c) stealing resources (infanticidal female rabbits and Belding's ground squirrels seldom eat their victims but do occupy their burrows);

d) sexual selection -- infanticide is adaptive for the infanticidal male that destroy's a rival's offspring and causes the bereaved mother to stop lactating and come into estrus sooner (e.g. chimpanzees, lions, grizzly bears, and lemmings). Perpetrators reduce the risk of killing their own offspring by being able to recognize their odor, or by sparing offspring of females with which they have mated, or females in places where they have mated (in White-footed mice infanticide is generally by newly-arrived males, since resident males are inhibited from killing pups for the 35-40 days after mating, exactly the time needed for their progeny to mature and disperse);

e) parental manipulation, where parents regulate the sex ratio of a litter; and

f) minimizing the risk of accidentally adopting non-kin and so wasting effort (perhaps applicable to pinnipeds [seal lions, walruses, and seals] which commonly kill pups separated from their mothers) (p. xxiv).

Infanticide among primates
Infanticide has since been document in many primates, among them several lemur species, howler monkeys, leaf monkeys, the guenon monkey group, and savanna baboons, as well as among mountain gorillas and common chimpanzees. Infanticide is usually, although not always, carried out by males, and happens most often when new males move into a group. On a day-to-day basis, infanticide is rare and not easily witnessed -- only about 60 episodes have been well described to date -- but its apparent rarity should not obscure its significance. In primates such as red howler monkeys, mountain gorillas, and chacma baboons, infanticide is a major source of infant mortality, accounting for 25-38 percent of infant deaths. In other words, about 13 percent of the infants born in mountain gorilla and red howler monkey groups are killed by males. (p. 392).

Infanticide not only has fascinating origins; its repercussions are also far-reaching. One compelling possibility is that the cohesive social bonds that exist between males and females evolved as a deterrent to infanticide. Around the time a chacma baboon gives birth, she typically seeks out a particular adult male within the group and establishes a "friendship" with him. She sticks close by the chosen male, following him around incessantly, grooming him much more than he grooms her, and allowing him alone to touch and handle her baby. Why do nursing mothers associate with a male in this way? The answer, in chacma baboons at least, may be to gain protection from infanticide, for a female's male friend is more likely to actively defend her offspring than other group males. (p. 393).

Fratricide/sororicide among spotted hyenas
Spotted hyenas are unusual amongst carnivores in that cubs are born with their eyes open and their teeth erupted. Litter mates, which are normally twins, engage in high levels of aggression within minutes of birth, which quickly leads to the establishment of a dominance hierarchy between siblings, allowing the dominant cub to control access to maternal milk. Sometimes this aggression will lead to the death of the smaller cub. This appears most likely to happen when resources are in short supply and probably insufficient to sustain two cubs (p. 144).

Aggressive war and raiding among chimpanzees
Male chimpanzees also cooperate with each other in aggression between communities, which takes two forms. When parties from neighboring communities meet during the course of normal activities, they usually display excitedly and may charge at and chase each other . . . Sometimes males patrol the boundaries of their ranges and even make incursions into those of neighbors. Patrollers are conspicuously silent and wary and are looking for neighbors. If they hear or meet some, their response depends largely on relative numbers: they quietly leave, or even flee, if outnumbered . . . but they attack when they greatly outnumber their opponents. Attacks are severe and can be fatal; males are known to have killed adult and adolescent males, infants, and even nonfertile adult females.

Lethal aggression by male coalitions is unusual in mammals; among primates it occurs only in chimpanzees and humans. (p. 411)

Hunting [of other species for meat], male bonding, cooperative intergroup raiding, and the making and using of tools are all traits that chimpanzees share with humans and that might also have characterized our last common ancestor. If so, we need to explain why male bonding and intergroup raiding are absent in bonobos [the so-called lesser chimpanzee of the Congo]. (p. 412).

Rape among orangutans
Subadult males try to associate with potentially receptive females whenever the opportunity arises, but a female that is ready to conceive seeks out the local dominant adult male, which generally succeeds in preventing most subadult males from mating with her. The nonpreferred males, adult or subadult, therefore tend to force matings when they encounter a lone female, often viciously biting the fiercely resisting female to restrain her.

Female-initiated courtships with the dominant adult male last a few days in Borneo, but may last weeks in Borneo. Probably related to this is the fact that over half of Sumatran matings are cooperative, whereas some 90 percent of those in Borneo are forced. (p. 423).

For the benefit of any non-human mammals who might read this, now and in the future, I of course concede that this is of course only part of the story. Cooperation, devotion, and care are common in social mammals.

In the sphere of mating, for example, some mammals show quite different behaviors, forming monogamous pairs, such as the South American titi monkey (xxii), or the mara, a big rodent of South America that lives in strict monogamous pairs that come together to raise their young in communal creches (pp. 676-677). Most wolf and wild dog packs are centered on a alpha male and female pair that alone mate. Even stranger are the colonies of naked mole rats where only one "queen" breeds, and in which the "workers" care for her young (p. 693).

But note that there is no tendency toward "nicer" social behavior as intelligence increases, in fact, to the extent that social behavior involves group activity the interweaving of "naughty" and "nice" seems to grow increasingly tight and extreme.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Shocking Bull's Eye

(More in occasional snippets from Ouyang Xiu's history of the chaotic tenth century in China in Richard L. Davis's fine translation). Click here for the previous entry). The painting shows a siege from the Japanese invasion of Korea; more here).

Ouyang Xiu's broad argument in his Historical Records of the Five Dynasties, is that disorder in the family and disorder in the state go together. Once begun at the close of the great Tang dynasty by (avoidable) rebellions and disorders, the disorders in family and state reinforced each other until the human condition becomes virtually animalic. Thus the Five Dynasties period between the Tang and the Song (Ouyang Xiu's own dynasty) was a serious cautionary tales. One of the clearest examples and expositions is as follows:

It was AD 937. Ruling North China was Emperor Gaozu of the Jinn dynasty, a general of Shatuo Turkish origin, who had come to power in the wake of an invasion of the Heartland by the Kitans to the north east. One of the regional commanders, Fan Yanguang, rebelled. He appointed a man named Li Yanxun to command the fortress of Weizhou. In response, the emperor sent Yang Guangyuan to siege the city:

Named chief director of [rebel] infantry by Fan Yanguang 范延光, Li Yanxun 李彥珣 was entrusted with the city's defense. Yang Guangyuan, the emperor's commissioner of bandit suppression, knew Yanxun to be a native to the [nearby] city of Xingzhou and that Yanxun's mother was still there. Guangyuan sent a messenger to Xingzhou to retrieve her and bring her in sight of the walls of Weizhou to show Yanxun, hoping to sway him. Yanxun shot and killed her upon with his arrow. Once the chief rebel Yanguang emerged to surrender, the Emperor Gaozu of the Jinn dynasty named Yanxun prefect of Fangzhou. Senior officials insisted that he deserved execution for killing his mother, yet Emperor Gaozu argued that an amnesty order had been issued [to all the rebels in exchange for their surrender] and his credibility could not be compromised. Yanxun was later executed for bribery.

We Woefully Lament: Human nature requires prudence with the familiar. Therefore the Prophet/Lawgiver*, a man steeped in benevolence and righteousness, exudes devotion without sloth and moderation without compulsion in the teaching of others. He aspires to acquaint the people gradually with virtues for purposes of converting them, familiarity over the long haul fostering good habits. The common people lack knowledge: accustomed to witnessing good, they accept goodness; accustomed to seeing vice, they accept vice.

The chaos of the Five Dynasties has remote origins. Since the decline of the Tang [which had finally falled thirty years before this] and attendant wars and famine, fathers could not nourish sons and sons could not care for parents. At the onset, it was by mere misfortune that flesh-and-blood kin failed to protect each other, causing rites and rightousness to dissipate by the day, the charity of parents and the compassion of children to wane. After prolonged familiarity with these conditions, an all-pervading breakdown set in, as fathers and sons engaged in villainous acts of mutual destruction.

For the Five Dynasties era, the catastrophe and killings defy description. Human nature makes the love for parents a universal instinct and unfilial conduct a universal abomination. But when Yanxun stretched his bow to shoot an arrow into his mother and Emperor Gaozu acquitted him with a pardon, beyond symbolizing Yanxun's inability to appreciate his actions as abominable, it further shows Gaozu's condoning a deed not deemed perverse. This can scarcely happen except under the weight of bad habits over a long time. In the Analects, Confucius says, "In constitution we are close, in habits far apart." When carried to an extreme, men's hearts do not differ from animals and beasts. Is it not harrowing? Based on the abominable conduct of Yanxun, who acted wilfully with no sense of perversity, or an emperor such as Chu, who severed bonds with his own father, the failure to recognize wrong characterized an entire age (Historical Records of the Five Dynasties, pp. 417-18; Chinese text in 新五代史,卷 51, pp. 580-81).

*Davis's translation here has "Sage" for shengren 聖人. I think "sage" has quite the wrong connotations. The sheng is not just a man who hears and knows the will of Heaven, but one who then announces it to humanity effectively as the right way of life. This can be conceived of in either a more charismatic or a more rationalistic way, but the idea of effectively leading men to follow the instructions and intentions of Heaven and Earth (the understanding of which again can range from virtually God to impersonal nature) is an essential part of the concept. Hence I prefer Prophet or Lawgiver. The term sheng is applied sometimes by Chinese Christians to Jesus and regularly by Chinese Muslims to Muhammad, who is called zhisheng 至聖, the perfected sheng. The greatest of such prophets are the pre-historic kings, and of course Confucius and his successors. At least in theory, however, every emperor is also supposed to be a sage/prophet/lawgiver.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Gospel According to Lazarus

Ben Witherington (Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary) has posted the text of a fascinating lecture he gave at the Society of Biblical Literature last November entitled "The Historical Figure of the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel."

In it he proposes the following scenario for the Gospel of John: it was based on the recollections and teaching of the "Beloved Disciple" who was the Lazarus whom Jesus raised in John 11. Lazarus and Mary and Martha (he argues) were the children of Simon the Leper (of Mark 14:3), and Lazarus himself may have also been leprous. The family was wealthy, probably a scion of a priestly family, and in any case known to the priests, despite the affliction of disease which made all three of the children unmarriageable.

Lazarus was a Judaean, not a Galileean, and is the reason for the fourth gospel's focus on Judaea, and the many other differences between the two. In the Upper Room discourses, Jesus reclined on the breast of "the Beloved Disciple" Lazarus, because Lazarus, as a Judaean, was actually the host, the main guest sat beside the host. Lazarus did not record the Gethsemane scene because he wasn't there, only Peter, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, were. Although all the Galileean disciples fled during the crucifixion, Lazarus did not -- he was not scared of death any more! -- and so Jesus gave Mary into her care.

Naturally enough, the story arose in Christian circles that the Beloved Disciple Lazarus would not "fall asleep" a second time, that Jesus would come again before Lazarus suffered death a second time. When Lazarus died first, there was consternation. To address the Christian community and put the focus back on Jesus as the resurrection and the life John the Elder (not the son of Zebedee) then took Lazarus's recollections of Jesus's life and edited them as the Fourth Gospel. (Witherington believes his editorial role was minimal and that the voice of the Fourth Gospel is substantially that of Lazarus. He also contends that the "elder" of 2-3 John is Lazarus.)

Read the full post, and also the comments thread where many objections are raised by readers and addressed by Professor Witherington. It also turns out that the theory is not new, but is being advanced by him in a more thorough form than usual.

This theory will of course undergo rigorous sifting but it seems intriguing and very likely to be true as far as I can see as a mere Bible reader in translation.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Jesus Before the Crucifixion and the Apostles after Pentecost: How Their Teachings Relate

Since the topic of the Gospels and Epistles came up below, I thought I'd see what the New Testament itself says about the issue. In fact I couldn't find anything using exactly those categories. What I could find a lot of, is commands, and references to the issue of the post-resurrection, post-Pentecost apostolic preaching relates to the pre-crucifixion teaching of the Lord. You could say it's a major theme, but I haven't seen much discussion of it. Since the Epistles are of course post-resurrection apostolic teaching and the Gospels transmit in retrospective form Jesus's pre-crucifixion teaching this is analogous to the distinction of Gospels and Epistles. Yet it's not exactly the same because, of course, the apostles actually wrote the gospels. In other words a skeptic could see it as circular: the apostles taking about in the voice of Jesus the teaching they will give in their own voice later. As every sensitive Bible reader notices, however, the Gospels do have a different voice from that of the Epistles, one in which Acts seems to be intermediate. (Just to take an example from the previous post, "Law and the Prophets" is common in the Gospels, sometimes found in Acts, and rare in the Epistles.)

Here is the teaching I've been able to glean

I. You Can't Hear the Lord without Hearing the Apostles.

The authority of the apostles is as the authority of Christ himself. After sending out the sevety-two, Jesus says (Luke 10):

The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.

The same idea is expressed by Him at greater length in Matthew 10:

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward.

II. The Pre-Crucifixion Teaching is Vivid and Intriguing but Cryptic, the Post-Pentecost Teaching Is Plain and Exhaustive:

This theme is emphasized in all three synoptics, whenever Jesus begins speaking in parables. After telling them the parable of the sower, the apostles ask (Mark 4, repeated in Luke 8 and Matthew 13):

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

"they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven."

And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. . . .

He explains the parable of the sower, the lamp under a basket, the growing seed, and the mustard seed, and then concludes again:

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

From Jesus's advice and warnings to the apostles we read this passage, where Jesus takes what is elsewhere a purely apocalyptic saying and uses it to contrast the pre-crucifixion and the post-resurrection teaching (Matthew 10):

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

In Luke 12, we see Jesus giving this saying a purely apocalyptic sense: what Jesus and the apostles say in secret will be revealed on the Last Day to justify God's judgments.

That the post-Pentecost teaching will be more thorough and exhaustive than that during Jesus's life emerges in Jesus's upper room discourse recorded in John's gospel (John 16):

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

What are these things that the Holy Spirit will declare to the apostles? For starters, I would expect it to be the sermons of Acts and the texts of the Epistles and the Apocalypse.

III. The Pre-Crucifixion Teaching Was Discrete on Certain Topics, but the Post-Resurrection Teaching Avoids No Sensitive Topic.

Sometimes the apostles were directly commanded not to speak until after the resurrection. This occurred after Peter's confession (Mark 8; cf. Matthew 16, Luke 9):

And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And after the transfiguration (Mark 9; cf. Matthew 17):

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

IV. The Full Implications of the Pre-Crucifixion Teachings Were Not Understood by the Apostles Until After the Resurrection.

There are a number of passages in which the apostles are said to have only understood what Jesus said after His resurrection. For example, it is implied that the apostles only understood after the resurrection in the telling of the first miracle of the loaves and the walking on water (Mark 6; cf. the leaven of the Pharisees section in Mark 8 and Matthew 16):

When they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

That they did not understand is repeated right after the Transfiguration (Mark 8; cf. Luke 9)

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

This is mentioned many times in the gospel of John, as in the cleansing of the temple (John 2):

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

For example, the triumphal entry (John 12):

And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey's colt!"

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

Even on Easter morning (John 20)

Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

Hermeneutically, this is a somewhat tricky category. We read the teachings of Jesus as recorded by men who tell us that at the time they didn't understand them, but now they do. So in their re-telling are they doing it from the first, "didn't understand" perspective, or from the post-resurrection "now I understand!" perspective? Certainly as I said, you can see the substantial difference in tone between the words of Jesus and of the Epistles as evidence that the apostles were quite successful in maintaining the integrity of the pre-crucifixion teachings.

In the following passage from Mark 7, we can see all three levels at work: a parabolic saying not understood by the crowd, a teaching for the apostles which must prudently be left silent for the time being, and a the clear-cut understanding of it which is undoubtedly post-resurrection:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

At first we have a parable. Jesus explains it to the apostles. Yet the topic of the parables is the cancellation of the law of Moses, which led to Stephen's martyrdom in Acts. Did the apostles understand even then? The final comment has the air of a commentary, inserted by the post-resurrection evangelist, which is why the translators put it in parentheses.

V. The Post-Pentecost Teaching Explicitly Shows How the Old Testament Is Fulfilled in the New:

Finally, as several of the previous examples showed, a good deal of the the post-resurrection understanding was realizing how the Hebrew scriptures was fulfilled in the life of Jesus and the church. According to Luke, this was the main topic of Jesus's post-Resurrection discourses (Luke 24):

And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. . . .

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" . . . .

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

It might seem tantalizing that none of these words were written down. How tragic to have lost these teachings! But were they lost? Leaving them unmentioned, Luke sets up in the reader a desire to understand these words. And what follows? The sermons recorded in Acts which are full of explanations of how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the new. And what is not in those was presumably taught by the apostles, directly or indirectly, in the Epistles. As I remember hearing in a Bible study, one Biblical commentator has said that Paul's Epistle to the Romans can be read as an essay on interpreting the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament. There is no reason to believe that the much, or indeed anything, of these teachings were lost.

The peculiar thing about all this is that Jesus's teachings are honored as being the best teaching despite being explicitly described as cryptic to the point of misleading, occasionally silent on crucial issues, hard to understand, and lacking Old Testament verification. They weren't intended to remain so; indeed the Gospels once written mix both the pre-crucifixion text and the post-Pentecost understanding. But they still retain something of their cryptic, gnomic, discrete, and self-authenticating character compared to the Epistles. I don't think there is any other conclusion that can be drawn but that these things are to be honored; that cryptic, gnomic, discrete, and self-authenticating teaching that causes the hearers to wonder more than they (at first) understand is the mark of a truly divine teaching. Of course this is what the Gospels themselves say (Mark 1:22; note how John 8:28 unpacks the significance of this):

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bondage of the Will and the Luther-Erasmus Debate

Bondage of the Will is exhibit A in the arguments of the Reformed that Luther is really on "their" side, that we Lutherans canonize him with our lips, but in reality anathemize the doctrine he taught.

In fact, the situation is this: Luther did go further in double predestination than the Concordianists later did, but he also vehemently diasgreed with the idea of the Perseverance of the Saints, calling its proponents deluded enthusiasts. His whole theology was built, more importantly, on universal atonement.

For explication of these points relating to Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will and his debate with Erasmus, I have a number of posts:

First of all, a straight forward comparison of the Reformed vs. (Augsburg) Evangelical teaching on predestination here:

Lutheranism Between Calvinism and Arminianism

Second of all, a screed against Erasmus's position in the debate:

My Take on Erasmus

Now let's get into Luther's response in particular.

The main issue for Luther, I contend, is not the philosophical one of abstract free will, but rather that of theodicy, or the justification of God's justice:

A Florilegium on Luther's Theodicy

Here's the key quote: "Free will is taught, he contends, in the end because no other teaching seems to man's intellect to acquit God of the charge of being unjust. But to make free will the reason why some are saved and some aren't, he argues, makes God no longer God. So what theodicy does he present? That of leaving God God, but insisting that He is also the Son of Man."

I present this issue again in the writings of two other Judeo-Christian writers generally not seen as being relevant, but both of whom think and plead in ways remarkably parallel to Martin Luther and both of whom find "free will" to be utterly inadequate as a theodicy:

The Theodicy of Bondage of the Will in Novel Form


"How Do I Get a Gracious God?" in the Intertestamental Era

My reading of the issues is very different from the usual one in Catholic circles which sees Luther's problem as basically personal, and in the end morbid. More here:

Why the Pontificator and I Don't Agree What the Issue Is

Essential point: "As indicated in his title, Fr. Kimel thinks the crux of the issue is 'who is responsible for Luther's anfechtung [temptations to curse God and die]'? This is another outgrowth of his seeing such anfechtungen as a species of spiritual illness. Perhaps it is relevant to some other debate over Luther's anfechtung, but I don't think it is relevant to my reading of it. Why? Because I don't blame . . . "temptation"-inducing thoughts . . . on the late medieval Catholicism, on Judaism, on double predestination or any other culturally/theologically contingent phenomenon. I blame them on the facts of life that anyone can see around them. One can eliminate such thoughts only by eliminating injustice, unbelief, and immorality in the world, or else by abandoning belief in a just and good Creator who orders all things and is holy and condemns sin. . . . I don't believe free will solves the issue at all. Uriel's comfort is no comfort to those who mourn."

Next there is a sharpening of the polemical point with the Calvinists:

Luther Did Not Believe in Limited Atonement

Here's the key quote:

"Luther based his whole theology on the will of God Incarnate being for the salvation of all Adam's children. And since he also indignantly rejected Perserverance of the Saints, and clearly thought the means of grace of God Incarnate resistible by unrepentant sinners, Luther was at best a 2.5 point Calvinist, which is not much of a Calvinist at all."

And on the perseverance of the saints:

The Perseverance of the Saints: We're Right, They're Wrong

Key graf: "Luther regarded David in his year after murdering Uriah as having lost the faith, while just as clearly the Westminster divines thought the opposite. Rarely do we have such a nice and clear-cut distinction."

But isn't Luther's position different from that of the Concordianists? Well, yes, it is, something which Hermann Sasse already pointed out. See here:

TULIP and God's Universal Salvific Will -- Again

I let Dr. Sasse have the last word:

We would say, in reply to Calvin, that it is not our task to reconcile these Scripture passages in such a way as to resolve the contradiction between the God of wrath and the God of mercy, between the Judge and the Savior of the world, into a logical and consistent idea of God. We must rather acknowledge that the reality of God has two sides. We dare not gloss over the words of judgment and wrath, nor may we take the greatness and the glory away from the words of grace and mercy.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Flat Bibles?

Quite a while ago, Bill Tighe pointed me to a very dense article on the question of the Old Testament canon in the period from around 100 BC to AD 100 (it's in a festschrift - always a sign meaning "rough going ahead"). The article, written by a Methodist (if I remember Tighe rightly), concludes, as best as I can tell, that while the old arguments for a Jewish council of Jabneh/Javneh/Jamnia around AD 90 that codified the Hebrew Bible may not be entirely valid, still that the final canonization of the Hebrew Bible took place in AD 75-135.*

The significance of this for inter-confessional debate is , of course, that the Protestant Old Testament is thus shown to be something that the early Christian church as a whole would not have recognized; rather the Christians slightly later than the Jews eventually defined their own Old Testament canon, which included the Apocrypha.

But there are three bigger points implicit in the literature as reviewed by Sundberg:

1) In the Jewish world of 100 BC to AD 75 (and that includes Christianity), the Law (i.e. the Five Books of Moses) and Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel-Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Twelve Minor Prophets) were the real Bible, and of what would later be classified as the Writings/Hagiographa/Ketuvim (Ruth, 1 Chronicles-Song of Songs, Daniel, Lamentations) only the Psalms had the same status.

The codification of the Hebrew Bible and its authority happened in three steps:

i) The Law of Moses was rediscovered and made the normative center of Jewish life in the years from Hezekiah to Ezra and Nehemiah (c. 625-430 BC) (i.e. from 2 Kings 22 to Nehemiah 13).

ii) By the fourth century, the scrolls of the prophets had become fixed in two sections, the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel-1 Kings) and the latter prophets (Isaiah to Malachi, minus Lamentations and Daniel).

iii) The Writings only came to be treated as Scripture in the Hellenistic era.

The authority followed the same threefold division as well: the Law of Moses was the real preexistent word. The Prophets were a commentary on and an exhortation to return to the Law of Moses. The Writings were a yet less authoritative set of diverse texts extending and commenting on the Law and the Prophets. The supreme authority of Moses is implicit throughout.

You can see this in the New Testament, where often Moses or "the Law" stands for the whole Hebrew Bible as a text. Also numerous are the references to the "Law and the Prophets" (9 references) or "Moses and the Prophets" (6 references) as covering the alpha to omega of the Hebrew Scriptures. Only once do we see in Luke 24:44 the "Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms." The Psalms alone, of the Writings, were clearly of equal authority and importance to the prophets.

Thus asking whether both Esther and Judith or just Esther alone were equal in authority and importance to Isaiah or Genesis is a misleading question: to Peter or Paul, neither would have had exactly that status. It is because the Writings were relatively peripheral that exactly which of them was scripture was allowed to remain uncertain long after the Law and the Prophets had been defined.

2) No list of canonical books can be derived from the New Testament or ascertained for the apostolic era that matches either the Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant Bibles. If we restrict ourselves to explicit descriptions it is radically smaller than the Protestant Old Testament (the Law/Moses and the Prophets, which phrase(s) occurs by name thirteen times in New Testament, or the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms in Luke 24:44) but if we include everything about which is cited as authoritative, it is larger than the Catholic or Orthodox Bibles including such texts as the Assumption of Moses, the books of Enoch, and so on.

3) The formation of the Christian Old Testament out of the Jewish Bible involved not just questions of deciding which "Writings" were to be added to the Law and Prophets and which not, but a reorganization that followed a new hermeneutical principle.

Gone was the three-fold division. This has already started in the Epistles, where "Law and Prophets" as a phrase for the Old Testament is notably less common than in the Gospels or Acts. The old heremeneutical principle started off with the idea that the Law was primary, the Prophets (former and latter) secondary, and the Writings tertiary. If we continued in this line, the New Testament would be quaternary. But only Jesus is the complete revelation of God. Thus purpose of the Old Testament is no longer to be a commentary to the Law of Moses, but to be a history book and a prophecy of the Christ to come.

This is emphasized by a topical-chronological reorganization of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is organized no longer into the Law and Prophets, plus miscellaneous writings, but in a fourfold fashion: the Law (of Moses, which is read by Christians mostly as a history), Histories (including the former Prophets, plus some narrative writings), Poetry (those writings that are in poetry and not associated with the names of prophets), and the Prophets (the old Prophets plus Lamentations and Daniel).** The histories were organized chronologically according to topic and the poetry books according to the traditional authorship (Moses for Job, David for the Psalms, Solomon for Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes).

But unlike in the Hebrew Bible as canonized by the Pharisees, none of these sections are labelled. This reflects the major hermeneutical change: the Old Testament is, whether the Apocrypha is included or not, a flat Bible. Moses is not the supreme authority: the Prophet who is to come has already replaced him. Now all the previous books serve merely to testify to Him, and none is made more authoritative than any other. Indeed if frequency and importance of citation were the test, Isaiah and the Psalms might seem to be the core of our Christian Old Testament.

At the same time, if the text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is supposed to be what Christians and Jews can agree on, then we need to consider Paul in Romans 3:2 where he speaks of the oracles of God as having been given to the Jews. Unfortunately, already in the second century, early Christian fathers are citing verses of the "Old Testament" which were actually forged by Christians, as are whole chapters of texts in the Apocrypha like 4 Esdras. If one of the roles of the Old Testament is to testify that Christians have not made up their Messianic teaching, then agreement on the text with those who believe they have is important.

Curiously though, the structure of the Hebrew Bible is repeated in our New Testament: the Gospels are the new Torah, the center of the revelation. Acts is like Joshua-2 Kings, the further history of the community established by the new Prophet. In form, the Epistles seem like the Writings, and Revelation like the Prophets, but in presence they are reversed -- for most practical purposes, you could sum up the New Testament as the Gospels and Epistles, just as the Hebrew Bible was summed up as the Law and the Prophets.

The Old Testament is for a Christian, irredeemably "flat." It doesn't have after Jesus the same compact text with explicatory commentary structure that it once had. It is all a single story prophesying the Messiah.

The question is can we get some way to read the New Testaments that honors the church's sense of the four Gospels being the root text and the Epistles being development of that, without then denigrating the authority of the latter? I think it is done as a matter of practice, but the theories we have of Bible-reading haven't caught up with our practice.

*Sundberg is writing in the higher-critical tradition that likes to dice and slice the Biblical books. At times his criteria are quite curious, such as when he argues that Jerusalem allowing a subordinate temple at Elephantine in Egypt shows that Deuteronomy was not yet canonical. By the same reasoning, we could say that the Sermon on the Mount is not yet canonical in the Christian church because Christian advice columnists tell us how to invest our money for future profits.

**This curiously similar to the traditional East Asian bibliographic division of classics, histories, thinkers (=prophets), and belles lettres (=poetry/wisdom).

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Not the Kind of Facts We Expected


Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Really Fine Blog

Those who haven't should really check out Jim at "Lutheran Guest."



Thursday, March 01, 2007

Two Really Good Posts About Growing Up Lutheran

I don't really have much to add to them, but these two posts, which I suppose most people in the "Confessional Lutheran blogosphere" all read long ago, tell important, melancholy, but happy-ending stories about growing up Lutheran. Both also are have great reflections on their experience too. Highly recommended.

Rebellious Pastor's wife's essay

Sean's essay

Let me just also say how bad and guilty I feel every time I go up to the altar rail with my children and my daughter (7th grade) is refused communion. That's right, refused communion. Why? Is she a heretic, a disbeliever in the Real Presence? No, she's 13 year old. If there are any pastors reading this, consider this, from George Herbert:

The time of every ones first receiving is not so much by yeers, as by understanding: particularly, the rule may be this: When any one can distinguish the Sacramentall from common bread, knowing the Institution, and the difference, hee ought to receive, of what age soever. Children and youths are usually deferred too long, under pretence of devotion to the Sacrament, but it is for want of Instruction; their understandings being ripe enough for ill things, and why not then for better? But Parents, and Masters should make hast in this, as to a great purchase for their children, and servants; which while they deferr, both sides suffer; the one in wanting many excitings of grace; the other, in being worse served and obeyed.

Well, being a Christian means forgiveness. So maybe it's good the church gives her something to forgive in later years.

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