Sunday, February 24, 2008

N.T. Wright on Easter

I have been casually perusing N.T. Wright's latest book, Surprised By Hope and I particularly enjoy his thoughts on the celebration of Christmas vis-à-vis Easter.

The first notable quote:

...Christmas itself has now far outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year--a move that completely reverses the New Testament's emphasis. We sometimes try, in hymns, prayers, and sermons, to build a whole theology on Christmas, but it can't in fact sustain such a thing. We then keep Lent, Holy Week, and Good Friday so thoroughly that we have hardly any energy left for Easter except for the first night and day. Easter, however, should be the center. Take that away and there is, almost literally, nothing left (23).

The second:

Take away the stories of Jesus's birth, and you lose only two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection, and you lose the entire New Testament and most of the second-century fathers as well (43).

I agree with Wright and am anxious to see what he says later in the book. I do wonder how much of this has to do with consumerism in general. Christmas is clearly the biggest holiday within the church but also outside it as well. Easter has never caught on as much as a consumer holiday. The last point does not however, justify Easter playing second fiddle to Christmas. If the resurrection is the center of Christian existence, should not Easter at the very least take its respective place next to Christmas?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The 'Son of Man' in Ezekiel with Reference to Jesus

I have been reading Klyne Snodgrass' wonderful new book, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (BTW- If you have not bought it yet, you need to!) I have always found Klyne to be thought provoking and as usual he doesn't disappoint.

Regarding the last statement one comment in his book needs special mention. In a section where he is regarding OT examples of parables as the main background to those parables of Jesus (38-42), Snodgrass mentions that more parabolic forms exist in Ezekiel than anywhere else in the OT (40). After listing numerous examples, Snodgrass comments:

New Testament scholarship--probably rightly--draws no connection between Ezekiel's being addressed as Son of Man and Jesus' use of Son of Man (which is derived from Daniel 7:13), but one has to wonder about Ezekiel 20:49 [21:5]: "They say of me, 'Is he not a speaker of parables?'" (42)

A couple of items come to mind when I read this statement. First, I like Klyne have always shared the opinion that Jesus' favorite self-referent the "Son of Man" does indeed originate from Daniel 7:13. However, I also am intrigued about the possibilities of the last statement. I guess one would have to start by finding where Jesus explicitly or implicity uses "Son of Man" self-references in connection with the telling of parables, and closely connected to this, where Ezekiel uses "Son of Man" in connection with statements about the parables.

In a quick, cursory overview, I decided to see where the terms "Son of Man" and "parable" occur in both Ezekiel and the Synoptics. Regarding the former, YHWH commands Ezekiel (a.k.a. "Son of Man") to speak a parable in (12:22ff; 17:2; 24:2ff ) and Jesus refers to the "Son of Man" in connection with "parable" at (Mt 13:37; Lk 18:8; 19:10ff; 21:27ff). I probably missed quite a bit here, but more could definitely be done with enacted parables (such as Jesus' cleansing of the temple (Mt 21:12 and pars.) and the several enacted parabolic acts in Ezekiel.

So I pose the question: "Is this a fruitful line of investigation?"

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Case of Bad Exegesis: Case Study of 3 John 2

I mentioned in a previous post about my experience in a church that heavily promoted the infamous "health and wealth" gospel. Well, one of the favorite passages that was brought up to justify this so-called gospel was 3 John 2.

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. (NAS)

This passage, ripped out of its context, puts the authoritative stamp on the health and wealth gospel. The pastor would say something like, "You see, it is God's desire for every believer to be prosperous and healthy." On a practical level, this statement became problematic when someone in our congregation would be diagnosed with cancer, lose their home to foreclosure, or lose their job due to company wide layoffs. Usually these unfortunate incidents were attributed to the devil attacking these believers faith. After all 3 John 2 does say that God wants all believers to be prosperous and in good health. Or does it?

I remember towards the end of my time at this particular church, after I'd recently begun seminary, realizing that this reading was erroneous at best. It does not even require a close reading to point out the obvious, all one has to do is consult 3 John 1:

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

It turns out that the elder (John) is addressing a believer named Gaius. One does not have to be a world-class exegete to understand or notice this. Unfortunately, readings like this are allowed to hold sway so long as the believer or church member does not read their Bible. That is what the televangelists depend upon. This is one of the reasons that there needs to be exegetically trained and theologically astute pastors in the pulpit.

Knowing the history of ancient letter writing also adds a dimension to one's understanding. Lately, I have been reading Hans-Joseph Klauck's Ancient Letters and the New Testament where he astutely mentions that the elder's use of the "health wish" was part and parcel of typical epistolary topoi in ancient Greco-Roman letters. Klauck states:

Only the reader unfamiliar with this formula from the stock of epistolary topoi would fall prey to the mistake some interpeters make when they conclude from the health wish that Gaius was or recently been sick, or that he destroyed his health in a quarrel with Diotrephes. (32)

While Klauck may underestimate the sincerity of this health wish, chalking it up solely to epistolary convention (see Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: Volume I: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2006],587-588), the point remains the same, namely, this is not a blanket statement about how God wishes us all to be prosperous and in good health!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

In my judgment, the real dividing line between a genuine letter and a pseudepigraphon is whether the material comes from the mind of a particular person, not whether it fully reflects that person's grammar and syntax and vocabulary. To this I would add that a genuine letter comes not only from the mind, but also from the hand, of the author, or is inscribed upon the author's request or behalf. This seems to have been well within the scope of ancient views on what counted as authorship...(italics original)

Ben Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: Volume I: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2006), 26.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Baker Academic Excerpts on Forthcoming Books

Baker Academic is offering sneak peaks at two significant, forthcoming volumes among others.
David Turner's Matthew commentary has a 19 page excerpt available, while Tom Schreiner's much anticipated New Testament Theology has a 46 page excerpt.

Kudos to publishing companies who continue to give the public opportunities to get a flavor for the work before purchasing. It seems that many on the publishing side are taking the route that Hendrickson Publishers has become famous for, providing customers with substantial excerpts in order to whet the appetite.