Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Week Sixteen: How were heresies and canon formation connected in the early church?

            In his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus points out the fact that there were a variety of false teachings, or heresies, circulating in the early church (353). The presence of these false teachings was connected to canon formation because in light of this reality, the church needed to make a definitive statement about truth. Van Voorst describes the canon as “the sacred and authoritative texts,” while noting that the process of canonization also meant rejecting other texts (552). Ultimately, canon formation was the process of the church defining truth in contrast to lies or heresies. By deeming certain texts “sacred and authoritative,” the church also made a statement about the rest of the texts that were not included in the canon. While the goal was certainly to establish the truth, the presence of heresies in the church also necessitated the identification of false teachings; canon formation accomplished both tasks. This was a helpful process of distinction, but it did not lead to complete clarity. Some texts, although not canonized, were still formative in the life of the early church; in this case, the canon was able to function as a way of measuring the truth. For example, if a text was not canonized but resonated with canonized texts, it was likely sound teaching. One example of a non-canonical but authoritative teaching in the early church is the Didache, which was formational in the practice of the early church (561). On the whole, the canon served as a measuring stick for truth— whether or not books were in the canon, it functioned as a filter through which truth could be tested.
            This year, I have interacted with non-canonical texts inside and outside the classroom and they have greatly challenged my understanding of the canon. In Wisdom Literature, studying Ben Sira and Wisdom of Solomon pushed me to think about truth and why these books are not canonized in my tradition; studying these texts alongside Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet felt natural, yet somehow these books did not make it into the canon in my tradition. However, thinking about how the canon functions as a measure of truth has been helpful; because these books are similar to canonized books, they are also worthy of our attention. This has certainly been my experience— while the canon encompasses deep truth, truth is not limited to this collection of texts.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Week Fifteen: Why does your professor think Revelation was written to instill Christians with a sense of hope? Do you think this makes sense?

            Revelation is a book of hope (Brenneman 4/15/11). This is a fascinating claim about a book that is often used for the purpose of fear, which is the exact opposite of hope. Growing up, my church typically avoided Revelation, and when I was introduced to it outside the context of my local church, it was introduced in a futuristic and fear-based manner (Van Voorst 539). Introduction to Biblical Worldview was my first introduction to the concept of Revelation as a positive vision of worship rather than a fearful vision of violence; however, studying it more this semester has helped me better understand and articulate its positive and hopeful message. Rooted in the historical context of Roman persecution around 95 CE (Van Voorst 529), Revelation exhorts Christians to hold fast and praise God in community, which is the “appropriate response of believers” and their ultimate source of strength (Brenneman 4/18/11).          
             In addition to encouraging Christians to praise God, Revelation also proclaims the message of hope that even if the world seems chaotic, God is trustworthy and in control (Brenneman 4/15/11). In Revelation 5, the Lamb who was slain (5.6) emerges as the primary metaphor of Revelation— this Lamb is Jesus, the one who was killed at the hands of the Roman Empire, yet lives and reigns (Brenneman 4/18/11). At a time when the Roman Empire claimed control of the world, Revelation proclaimed this message of hope to believers: “Rome may say they are in control, but Jesus, the slaughtered Lamb, is alive and rules over all the kings of the earth (1.5).” This is a message of hope for all people, but it is especially relevant for the seven churches to whom Revelation is written; these churches were facing persecution at the hands of the same empire that killed— and has been overcome by— Jesus, the slaughtered but living and reigning Lamb (Brenneman 4/15/11).            
           This interpretation not only makes sense, it is also a tremendous message of hope for readers of Revelation today. While many people have only encountered these words as the prediction of a coming day of violent judgment, the message of hope in Revelation subverts this rhetoric of fear. Violence is not coming, violence has been overcome— the empire of violence and fear has slaughtered the Lamb, but the Lamb has risen and lives and reigns over all the universe! We need not fear the empire, because we worship the Lamb who is the only victorious and all-powerful ruler! We live in the reality of the New Jerusalem, a reality shaped by true victory, freedom, and hope in Christ, the faithful martyr (1.5) who died but lives, who stood firm in the face of the empire and calls us to do the same (Brenneman 4/18/11).

Monday, April 11, 2011

Week Fourteen: What are three ways to interpret Revelation and what makes the most sense to you?

            Van Voorst suggests three ways to interpret Revelation: first, there is the historical approach, which acknowledges the historical context of Revelation in the first century CE. Because the audience in the first century would have been familiar with the apocalyptic imagery, the historical approach assumes that the author of Revelation used this imagery to interpret current events in that context (Van Voorst 538). The second approach to interpreting Revelation is the “future predictive” approach, which acknowledges that the apocalyptic imagery had meaning for current events in the first century CE but claims that the main purpose is to predict future events (Van Voorst 539). Finally, the third approach is what Van Voorst calls the “timeless” approach, which interprets Revelation as having “a vitality that transcends any particular situation, time, or place” (539).
            Of these three interpretive approaches to Revelation, both the historical approach and the timeless approach make sense to me. I am suspicious of the future predictive approach, as I have experienced this approach being used for purposes of fear and judgment. I appreciate the historical approach and its respect for the historical context in which Revelation was written; as a biblical studies major, the historical approach is most in line with biblical scholarship as I know it, which Van Voorst acknowledges (538). However, as much as I appreciate this accountability to the historical context of Revelation, I also find the timeless approach refreshing. This concept of Revelation having a dynamic vitality and wisdom to be shared in any and every context is exciting; however, I tend to approach the text in a manner that seeks out this timeless vitality by using the tools of the historical approach. So, my personal interpretation is probably one that combines the historical and timeless approaches, respecting and exploring the original context for the purpose of finding and applying timeless truth.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Week Thirteen: These letters are attributed to powerful leaders in the Jewish church. What is apostolic authority and why was it important?

            James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude are all traditionally attributed to significant leaders in the early church. James is attributed to James, the brother of Jesus (Van Voorst 483), Jude is attributed to Judge, the brother of James of Jerusalem (Van Voorst 500), and 1 & 2 Peter are traditionally attributed to Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples (Van Voorst 493, 504). While these attributions are traditional and not held by the majority of scholars today (Van Voorst 483-504), the importance of these names and people being associated with these books would have been critical in the early church because of the emphasis on apostolic authority. Apostolic authority was the practice in the early church of giving authority and leadership to those who were disciples of Jesus or had been taught directly by disciples of Jesus. Essentially, authority and leadership was passed down directly from Jesus himself, and the early church viewed this as the single most important criteria for leadership (Brenneman 4/4/11). Thus, James, Jude, and Peter, having connections to Jesus, had this apostolic authority and were recognized as leaders in the early church. Even though these letters are likely pseudonymous, connecting these people and their authority with these letters gave a sense of legitimacy to the instructions they contained. The names of James, Jude, and Peter served as a connecting point between the message of the letter and Christ himself.
           While apostolic authority is not a term used in our culture today, we still relate in similar ways. Perhaps instead of talking about apostolic authority we could talk about the practices of social networking or “name-dropping,” mechanisms in our culture that enable us to establish ourselves as legitimate and authoritative based on the connections we have. Ultimately, the concept of apostolic authority is based on relationships and connections. The early church sought out leaders who were directly connected to Christ. Today, our various connections lead directly to opportunities as well. While this is not exactly the same as apostolic authority, the concept seems similar. Who we know changes who we are and where we will go— the same was true for those in the early church.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Week Twelve: Is it important to profess that all writings in the New Testament were, in fact, written by those to whom they are ascribed?

            Personally, I do not think it is important to profess that the writings of the New Testament were written by those to whom they are ascribed. This issue is especially relevant in discussing the Pauline corpus, with scholars debating Pauline authorship of many of the letters (Van Voorst 417). With a strong majority of scholars denying Pauline authorship of Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus (Van Voorst 417), readers of these books are left to decide between the knowledge of modern biblical scholarship and the words on the page of the biblical text. While this is an important decision, I do not think it is a decision between faithfulness and unfaithfulness to the message and intention of the text; rather, the choice to profess the findings of biblical scholarship, that Paul himself likely did not write all of the letters in the Pauline corpus, is a choice to respect both the words on the page as well as modern knowledge. This is the case because biblical scholarship doubts Pauline authorship precisely because of the words on the pages of these letters. For example, one of the reasons why scholars believe that Colossians was not written by Paul is because the language used in the letter portrays followers of Christ as already raised with Christ, standing in contrast to the traditional Pauline concept of believers being in the process of being saved, as illustrated in the undisputed Pauline letter to the Romans (Brenneman 3/30/11). Thus, while it may seem like scholars are going against the words on the pages of these letters that ascribe them to Paul, by pointing out the likelihood of pseudonymity, they are actually being faithful to the words and message of the letter as a whole.
            It seems to me that the issue of truth stands at the core of this question. I imagine that many of the difficulties people have with accepting the fact that Paul did not write all of the letters ascribed to him are related to beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible. I can certainly understand concerns that if one sentence of the Bible is not true, how can the rest of its message be trusted? However, these concerns are related to a very literal reading of Scripture, and in that case, there are much larger issues than Pauline authorship (i.e. the historical accuracy of the exodus and conquest). Even the history books of the Bible are theological and cannot be read as historical or scientific facts. The Pauline corpus is no different; as readers, we must understand the original context and original intent of the author, whether or not that author was Paul. Further, we must understand the practice of pseudonymity in the ancient Near East; when we read pseudonymous Pauline letters, we must keep in mind that the author of the letter meant to honor Paul with the words. Thus, acknowledging that Pauline authorship of the disputed letters is not a literal truth is not dishonoring the truth of the text, but honoring the truth as well as the author’s intentions.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Week Ten: Why does Paul emphasize freedom in the letter to the Galatians?

            In the letter to the Galatians, Paul emphasizes freedom in order to illustrate the way in which Christ sets us free from sin and death (Van Voorst 321). One of Paul’s main themes is that Christ saves us from “the domination of sin,” which is a reality of the flesh— something all humans experience (321). This theme echoes loud and clear in Galatians with Paul’s emphasis on freedom; Paul boldly says that “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5.1 NRSV). While this may sound redundant at first, closer examination of this verse brings yields a vision of Christ’s saving, freeing action and its result of freedom. This freedom is not simply a reality yet to come, it is also a reality in which believers can live in the present (Brenneman 3/14/11). Ultimately, this freedom is about freedom from sin and death in Christ, for the sake of living in freedom, in Christ, in the here and now. This concept of freedom has many facets for Paul; first, it is an action— Christ’s action. Second, it is a reality which is the result of Christ’s action, a reality in which believers are invited to live. Third, freedom is active rather than passive— Paul exhorts the Galatians to use their freedom for the purpose of love: “for you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5.13-14). Using freedom in this manner, for the purpose of loving one another, leads to the final facet of freedom in Galatians— community. Freedom in Christ, made possible by the action of Christ and used for the purpose of love, builds up the body of Christ and creates community. Freedom is, in a sense, a cycle— freedom is both action and reality, interdependent and always taking place. Christ continues to free us from sin and death so that we might live in the reality of freedom, acting in love and building up the body of Christ. Freedom is always in Christ and by Christ, and true freedom acts in love for the purpose of building up the community.
            In the context of the Galatian church, freedom in Christ was especially important in contrast to the law, which the Galatians were trusting in rather than Christ. Paul asks them, “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (Gal 3.2b-3) Here, Paul compares the law with the flesh, calling the Galatians to leave behind the law and live in Christ, since Christ is the true freedom and salvation from sin and death. I think this discourse about living in freedom in Christ rather than by the letter of the law could be applied to many of the contemporary conflicts in the church, specifically conflicts about strict traditions. Just as the Galatians have been set free from the law for the purpose of freedom and love— so, too, can living in Christ for the purpose of love help us move past arguments about strict church traditions, such as worship styles. The cycle of  freedom in Galatians offers a good framework to think about whether our practices are in line with the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection— does freedom abound? Is this freedom reflective of the reality of Christ’s resurrection? Is love our goal? Is community being built up? If we can genuinely look at our faith practices and answer “yes” to these questions, we are on the right track to living in the kind of freedom Paul is describing in Galatians 5— true freedom in and by and for Christ.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Week Eight: What sort of impression do you get of Paul from these passages?

            I have to be honest in saying that I have been raised and influenced by people whose impressions of Paul are very negative. So, before engaging these passages in the context of this class, my impressions of Paul were also negative ones. However, I have appreciated the opportunity to intentionally examine Paul’s writings and be open to new impressions. One of the negative impressions of Paul that I have always had is that he was an extremely arrogant man. As I read the passages this week, I was struck especially by the passages in which Paul shares about his life experiences. Specifically, I would like to focus on Philppians 3.4-11 and 2 Corinthians 11.21b-30. In these passages, Paul addresses the high status that he has given up for the sake of Christ. In 2 Corinthians, he says, “But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I” (2 Cor 1.21b-22). He also details the challenges of his ministry and the suffering he has endured, such as being shipwrecked (2 Cor 1.25). In this passage, it is possible to get the impression of an arrogant Paul— he is sure to emphasize that whatever it is that his opponents are bragging about, he can match or surpass. However, by emphasizing his challenges and boasting “of thing things that show [his] weakness” (2 Cor 1.30), this passage also gives me an impression that Paul is intentional about being humble in Christ.
            Philippians 3.4-11 shares a similar pattern; Paul begins by saying, “if anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3.4-6). Paul is certainly not shy here, which resonates with my original impression of Paul as arrogant. However, he follows these statements up with his powerful declaration that “for Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3.8). With this statement, Paul counteracts his seemingly boastful statements in vv. 4-6. In a way, Paul’s statements about his Jewish status enable him to be more humble, since he makes it obvious that he has given up a great deal for the sake of Christ. On the whole, these two passages have given me a more balanced impression of Paul not necessarily as an arrogant man, but a man who has chosen the route of humility in Christ even though his life has given him great reason for pride.

Extra Credit (Week Seven): What convinced the Jerusalem leadership that Gentiles should be baptized? What was the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15.19-20, 29)? Is this still relevant for today?

           When Peter is questioned about the baptism of the Gentiles, he convinces the Jerusalem leadership by sharing his experience of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles (Acts 11.12-18). Just as the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish Christians at Pentecost, God gave the Gentiles the same gift of the Spirit. Peter says to the Jerusalem leadership, “if God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (11.17). By sharing the story of the gift of the Spirit being given to the Gentiles, Peter convinces the Jerusalem leadership that since God is the one who baptizes (11.16), if God has baptized the Gentiles in the Holy Spirit, then God has also called the church leadership to allow Gentiles to be baptized into the body of Christ, the church.
            As a result of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church, the Jerusalem Council issues a letter to the Gentile Christians informing them of the expectations of the church. The letter tells them to “to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood” (15.20). This letter represented the Jerusalem Council’s decision about “how closely this rapidly growing movement would remain related to Judaism” (Van Voorst 292). The expectations and requirements outlined in this letter illustrate that the church leadership would not require Gentile Christian converts to become Jewish, but they would require them to respect Jewish tradition and uphold a few select essentials (Van Voorst 292).
            Even though the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is a foreign concept to the contemporary church, these experiences and decisions of the early church in Acts are relevant in thinking about any divisions in the body of Christ. Because the Gentiles were marginalized and unwelcome in the early church, this story can be applied to the story of any group of people who is marginalized and unwelcome in our churches today. The contemporary church should be open to hearing this story in Acts, a story of the outsiders becoming insiders, of the marginalized being welcomed into the center, of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit transcending even the deepest human divides. And as today’s church hears this story, the story of the Gentiles just might transform the church’s understanding of the excluded and marginalized members of the church and of society. Ultimately, Acts serves as a reminder that God is the one who gives the gift of the Spirit, who chooses and calls God’s people; the church’s role is like that of Peter in this story—simply submitting to the movement of the Spirit and humbly proclaiming, “who are we that we could hinder God?” (11.17).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Week Seven: How does the outpouring of the Holy Spirit change the followers of Jesus? Why do you think one of the responses of the believers was to share their economic resources? Is this still relevant for today?

             In Acts, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the glue that brings together the early church community in their mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. When I think of Pentecost, I think of the word “unity.” In many ways, unity describes what happened in the community as a result of the Spirit’s coming (Van Voorst 287). First, I do not think it was coincidental that “when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2.1, emphasis mine). It is no mistake that the Holy Spirit comes in this moment, with believers of all backgrounds “together in one place.” It is in this one place that this diverse group of individuals truly becomes one body, one church, with one shared experience in the Spirit. And this Spirit gives each of them the ability to speak in tongues, in other languages (Acts 2.4), which we find out enables each of them to hear one another proclaiming the good news in their native tongue (Acts 2.6). Through this experience, they are given the gift of the Spirit, which transcends even the linguistic and cultural differences among them, thus creating a mysterious and beautiful unity.
            This Pentecost experience, resulting in the bond of the Holy Spirit, is what I think lead the early church to share their economic resources. Acts speaks of the early church community having “all things in common” (Acts 2.44), selling their possessions, and giving to all those in need (Acts 2.45). These actions were the natural outgrowth of the radical unity and equality brought about by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Just as the Spirit fell on each and every member of the community (including women), resources were shared equally within the community. This sharing of economic resources was a tangible way of expressing and living out the gift of unity in the Spirit. I think this concept is still very relevant today; in fact, I would point to this way of life in community as one of the main lessons today’s church should take from the Bible. New monastic communities have been a powerful witness to the relevance of economic sharing, inviting the church to imagine the possibilities of living in true community. The church in Acts, as well as new monastic communities, challenge us to live into a vision of community that goes far beyond coffee hour on Sunday morning, a vision of community in which our very lives are intertwined and interdependent.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Week Six: What simlilarity, if any, do you see between “the word” in John 1 and “wisdom” in Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon?

In the beginning was the Word” (John 1.1a NRSV).
“The LORD created me at the beginning of his work” (Prov 8.22).

            In order to explore the similarities between the Word (Logos) and Wisdom (Sophia), it is important to start at the beginning, where were both present with the Creator God. The Gospel of John proclaims that in the beginning, the Word was, and was with God (John 1.1). In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is created “before the beginning of the earth” (Prov 8.23), indicating that Wisdom, like the Word, was present in the beginning. Further, “all things came into being through [the Word]” (John 1.3), much like Wisdom is portrayed as a co-creator (Brenneman 2/16/11), a “master worker” beside God (Prov 8.30). Both Wisdom and Word are God’s partners in creation, not only present alongside the Creator but helping to craft the cosmos (Prov 8.30). Also, the Word’s role as “the life…the light of all people (John 1.4, emphasis mine) echoes Wisdom’s proclamation that at the beginning of creation, she was “rejoicing in [God’s] inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Prov 8.31). The image of Word/Wisdom as light in John 1.4 also reflects Wisdom of Solomon’s proclamation that Wisdom “is a reflection of the eternal light” (Wis 7.26). John 1, Proverbs 8, and Wisdom of Solomon 7 all present Wisdom/Word as present with God from the beginning of time, creating alongside God (Prov 8.30), and proclaiming God’s life and light (John 1.4) to all humanity, in whom Wisdom/Word takes great joy (Prov 8.31).
            Because Proverbs 8 is among my favorite chapters in the wisdom corpus, I especially enjoyed making the connection between Sophia in Proverbs 8 and Logos in John 1. The similarities between the passages are striking, and it is exciting for me to use my knowledge of wisdom literature as a framework for thinking about who Jesus is. Just as Wisdom cries out to all people, calling them to the way of life (Prov 8.35), Jesus becomes the Word made flesh (John 1.14), life and light shining in the darkness (John 1.4-5). Through the incarnation, God becomes flesh for the same reason that we turn our thoughts into words— so that the message might be understood by all people (Augustine 13-14). And as we come face to face with the Word made flesh, we receive “grace upon grace” (John 1.16), the gift of God’s light and life permeating our world.

Augustine, On Christian Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Week Five: Why is the fulfillment of prophecy such a major theme in the Gospel of Matthew?

            Of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew is the most Jewish in nature (Van Voorst 185). Thus, it makes sense that fulfillment of prophecy would be a main theme of the Gospel of Matthew. While Matthew portrays Jesus as “both the Jewish Messiah and the world’s Savior” (Van Voorst 185), in order for Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy had to occur. In chapter one, Matthew cites the words of the prophet Isaiah, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and hear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matt 1.22-23). In this passage, Matthew’s Gospel is not the only thing that begins with prophecy— so, too, does Jesus’ life. And both the Gospel and Jesus’ life continue this pattern; Matthew goes on to make four more “fulfillment quotations” about “Jesus’ conception, birth, and rescue” (Van Voorst 187). These instances of fulfillment of prophecy serve as the basis for Matthew’s argument that Jesus is indeed the Messiah for whom the Jews have been waiting.
            Fulfillment of prophecy continues as a theme in Jesus’ life and teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 (Van Voorst 188). Here, Jesus proclaims, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5.17).  Then, Jesus goes on to provide a reinterpretation of many Torah teachings, known as the antitheses (Van Voorst 188). Jesus uses the formula, “you have heard it said X, but I say to you Y” (Van Voorst 188) to both acknowledge and reinterpret the Torah. In these teachings, Jesus not only proclaims that he has come as a fulfillment of prophecy, he also establishes himself as the new, best, perfect interpreter of Torah (Brenneman 2/7/11). All of these aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings point to Matthew’s Jewish focus, as a Gospel written for an audience of mostly Jewish Christians (Van Voorst 198). Also, presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and perfect interpreter of Torah could have helped win potential Jewish converts to Christianity by presenting Jesus’ story in appealing and relevant Jewish terms.
            I have always loved the Gospel of Matthew, and I think its focus on the fulfillment of prophecy is a contributing factor. As someone who has always been drawn to the writings of the prophets, it makes sense that I would also be drawn to the Gospel that intentionally connects the prophets to Christ! Before this class, I did not realize that this was a unique theme of the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, before this class, I did not even realize that there was so much diversity between the four Gospels. So far, I have really enjoyed learning about the characteristics of each Gospel; seeing the differences between them has enabled me to appreciate them all the more!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Week Four: Why do you think the Gospel of Mark emphasizes secrecy when characters declare Jesus to be the Messiah?

            The Gospel of Mark’s emphasis on secrecy has many possible explanations. Wilhelm Wrede, a German scholar, argued in the early 20th century that the messianic secret “was an attempt to explain how the Jesus whom the early Christians worshipped as Son of God and Messiah had not been recognized as such during his lifetime” (Van Voorst 167). For Wrede, Jesus’ command of secrecy served as an explanation for the widespread lack of misunderstanding of who he was as the Messiah, even among his disciples. Wrede asserts that the messianic secret was something created by people to explain aspects of Jesus’ ministry, but many other scholars argue that the theme of secrecy may actually trace back to Jesus himself (Van Voorst 167). These scholars argue that the messianic secret may reflect “Jesus’ historical rejection of some messianic aspirations of his own time” (Van Voorst 167). Because the messianic expectations of many of Jesus’ followers were far from the actual messianic identity of Jesus, it makes sense that Jesus would have rejected the title of Messiah. For example, in Mark 8.29-30, Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus “sternly [orders]” that the disciples tell no one that he is the Messiah. This dialogue is put into context in the following verses, with Jesus explaining his suffering role as Messiah (8.31) and Peter rebuking him (8.32). Mark 8 contrasts Peter’s understanding with his misunderstanding, and this serves as a possible explanation for the theme of secrecy. Since Peter does not truly understand what he is proclaiming when he calls Jesus “Messiah,” Jesus commands that he not make the proclamation at all.
            The theme of messianic secrecy has always confused me, so I enjoyed exploring different scholars’ explanations for these seemingly strange dialogues between Jesus and those who proclaim him as the Messiah. After reading the different explanations, I think the messianic secret was likely Jesus pushing back against false messianic expectations. Since Jesus knew that many of his followers had political, nationalistic, even militaristic expectations of what the Messiah would be, it makes sense to me that he would push back against the title of Messiah. By commanding secrecy, Jesus was not saying that he was not the Messiah; rather, he was saying that he was not the kind of Messiah that people were expecting.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week Three: What did Jews expect from a Messiah?

              After discussing messianic expectations in both Biblical Worldview and New Testament, it seems that there were about as many messianic expectations as there were Jews. Just as people have vastly different expectations of leaders today, Jews expected many different things from a Messiah. Ultimately, Jesus disappointed many people when he did not live up to their messianic expectations (Brenneman 1/26/11). Many Jews expected the Messiah to be a political leader, specifically a king in the line of David. Jeremiah prophesies about this Davidic king, proclaiming that God will “cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 33.15 NRSV). Jews hoping for a political Messiah also hoped for a king who would help them regain control of the Promised Land. Ever since the Babylonian exile, the Jewish people had been living under Hellenistic rule, and not being in control of the land they had been promised by God led many to feel like God had forgotten the covenant (Brenneman 1/28/11). Thus, many Jews hoped that the Messiah would be a political ruler— a Davidic king— and that he would make things right politically, once again regaining Jewish control of the land.
            Many Jews also expected the Messiah to be a religious leader. Many Jews believed that the temple system was incredibly corrupt and hoped that the Messiah would serve as a temple reformer (Brenneman 1/28/11). Hebrews’ use of the title “high priest” to describe the ministry of Jesus is a good example of the religious expectations that some Jews had for the Messiah (Heb 5.5). Jesus’ ministry did have many religious facets; he certainly spent time in the temple (Luke 2.49, Matt 26.55) and confronted the corrupt power within it (John 2.14-16). Jesus also engaged in dialogue with the religious leaders of his day (Mark 12.13-34), often speaking out them (Matt 16.6). But ultimately, Jesus did not claim the role of high priest in the temple, and instead of reforming temple-based Judaism, Jesus’ ministry began a movement that transcended (and still transcends) the walls of the temple. Thus, for many Jews hoping for a temple reformer as the Messiah, Jesus turned out to be a great disappointment. Perhaps this explains why at the end of Jesus’ ministry, it is the religious authorities who arrest him (Luke 22.54) and begin his trial (Luke 22.66-71).
            Exploring the different political, religious, social, and economic expectations (Brenneman 10/26/11) people had for the Messiah has given me a better understanding of my own expectations of Jesus as the Messiah. Early in my faith journey, I had the messianic expectation of Jesus as a warrior, much like the imagery in Revelation (Rev 19.11-21). Due to the influence of a particular ministry that emphasized spiritual (and other) warfare, I expected Jesus to be a brave warrior, defeating the powers of evil with force and violence. However, thankfully, my messianic expectations have shifted greatly. Today, my understanding of Jesus as Messiah is shaped by the enemy love embodied in Christ’s life and teachings. This life of enemy love ultimately ends with Christ being led to his death like a silent, nonresistant lamb is led to the slaughter (Is 53. 7). My messianic expectations have shifted completely, from the expectation of Jesus overcoming evil with violence to Jesus overcoming evil with nonviolence and enemy love. This dramatic shift has been the result of one thing: encountering Jesus, the Messiah, especially in the words called gospel, which have indeed been good news for me! Ultimately, to believe in Jesus as the Messiah is to meet Jesus on his own terms— not our own— and to let go of our expectations and follow his unexpected lead.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week Two: How should Christians think about Jewish scriptures and traditions? Are they equivalent to the New Testament?

As a Christian who is fascinated by Judaism, I think about this question often. While I am not comfortable making any definitive statements about how all Christians should think about Jewish scriptures and traditions, I am excited to think more about the way I have come to understand them. Personally, I have found great meaning in the Hebrew Bible as well as learning more about Jewish traditions. Having the opportunity last semester to study the Hebrew Bible in two classes allowed me to explore the meaning of the Jewish scriptures in the Christian context. Looking back on that experience, I agree wholeheartedly with Van Voorst that “the birth of Christianity cannot be understood without an understanding of Judaism, nor can the New Testament be understood without a basic knowledge of the Hebrew Bible” (51). Because the New Testament is a continuation of God’s work in the Hebrew Bible (Van Voorst 4), as a Christian, I consider the Hebrew Bible to be equivalent to the New Testament. However, I must clarify that while I view the Hebrew Bible as equally authoritative to the New Testament, as a Christian I read the Hebrew Bible through the lens of the New Testament. Specifically, I read the entire Bible through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings. I view the Hebrew Bible primarily as a narrative history of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people, continued in Christ in the New Testament. I consider myself part of that ongoing community and ongoing covenant. Thus, the Jewish scriptures for me are equivalent to the New Testament in the same way as history is equivalent to current events— both are equally important, but read and applied differently and in light of one another.
Things get a bit more confusing for me when I begin to think about Jewish traditions. In the Christian tradition we do not celebrate the Jewish feasts and festivals such as Yom Kippur (Van Voorst 77), even though God commands God’s people to celebrate these festivals in the Hebrew Bible (Lev. 16.1-34). I have never understood why we as Christians do not celebrate these Jewish holidays, since Jesus himself celebrated them. However, in other ways, Jewish traditions have profoundly shaped Christian practice. One such example is the “basic structure of the [worship] services,” which has “varied little through the centuries to the present time” (Van Voorst 79). As I read Van Voorst’s outline of a typical Jewish service, I was struck by the similarities to the Christian services with which I am familiar. So, although some Jewish traditions are no longer practiced by Christians, many others impact the Christian church to this day.
In many ways, the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is a complicated one. Sharing the same history, reading the same scriptures, and worshiping the same God are three reasons (of many!) why Jewish scriptures and traditions are important to me in my Christian faith.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week One: Why would some people call the New Testament the Christian or the Second Testament? Which do you prefer?

        Some people refer to the New Testament as the Christian or Second Testament because they believe it is a more accurate description of the truth contained in its pages. These new titles for the New Testament have surfaced recently; they depict the separation of the New Testament from the Hebrew Bible, which is a new concept brought about by the modern Christian notion of separation between Judaism and Christianity (Van Voorst 8). The title Christian Testament emphasizes the life and ministry of Christ, which is positive, but it is also “misleading because [it suggests] that the Jewish Bible is not a part of the Christian scriptures” (Van Voorst 8). Second Testament also runs the risk of these misconceptions, and it also seems to me that it would carry an inferior or negative connotation of not being “first.” Both Christian and Second Testament also fall short of the traditional title New Testament, as “they suggest that…early Christianity can be understood apart from Judaism” (Van Voorst 8). This is an unfair assumption in light of the context in which the New Testament texts were written; in the time of early Christianity, the life and ministry of Jesus was understood as “a continuation and fulfillment” of God’s relationship with God’s people as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible (Van Voorst 4). In fact, the title New Testament was meant to depict God’s “fresh, definitive” action in the life of Christ (Van Voorst 4). Jesus himself described his life and ministry in relation to the Hebrew Bible, saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5.17 NRSV). Christ came not to establish a new set of Scripture, but to be the living, breathing representation (and reinterpretation) of the existing Scripture—the Old Testament. Thus, to describe the New Testament in a way that separates it from Old Testament is to separate Christ from his context.
        Personally, I have a strong preference for the traditional title New Testament. I understand how even this title could be misinterpreted, especially in relation to the Old Testament. However, given the choices of New, Christian, or Second Testament, only New Testament conveys the sense of excitement that God was, is, and will continue to be acting in new ways through Christ.