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.