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Showing posts from October, 2009

Philemon 1-7

1-2: Paul begins his letter opening in what seems like his typical manner. Normally, though, he starts out by calling himself 'an apostle' or 'a slave.' In this case his deviation is significant. He calls himself a 'prisoner of Christ Jesus.' Paul is highlighting that he is in prison for the sake of the gospel. His relationship with Christ has caused him to make great sacrifices including being imprisoned. Calling himself a 'prisoner of Christ Jesus' would remind Philemon of the great sacrifice Paul and urge him to follow in his footsteps and make a sacrifice (as we will see later, this sacrifice is freeing Onesimus).

The next interesting thing to notice is that while Philemon was the primary recipient and the matters to be dealt with seem to pertain only to him and his family, it was secondarily addressed not only to the the rest of his family (Apphia was probably his wife and Archippus was likely his son) but to the church as a whole. This approach by …

Book Review: Are You the One Who is to Come?: Part 2

I wanted to spend a little bit more time discussing the sixth chapter of Are You the One Who is to Come? a bit more. Bird starts the chapter by discussing the possibility that he may be wrong. What if Jesus didn't claim to be the Messiah? What if he didn't intend to give people the impression that he was the Messiah? Bird answers this by saying that, faith would not be particularly impaired or revised if Jesus had not claimed to be the Messiah and the early church had attached this title to him as merely one way of explaining his significance. The early church did, after all, attach certain roles and functions to Jesus, such as "Righteous One," "Prince," and "Firstborn" –that Jesus did not claim for himself. I for one feel no compulsion to project those rolls and titles into the ministry of the historical Jesus so as to somehow validate them, and I am not particularly bothered by the fact that they are purely post-Easter formulations of the e…

Book Review: Are You the One Who is to Come?

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of book reviews on new books in theology or biblical studies (no more than 12 months old). I hope to provide one review per month. There won't be much strategy in picking books. It'll be whatever book catches my eye in the new book section of the Trinity library.

This month's book is Are You the One Who is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question by Michael Bird. For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Bird, he is a young and very talented scholar teaching at Highland Theological College in Scotland. He is also, quite hilarious.

His new book attempts to answer whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah or if his Messiaship was invented by the early church. The vast majority of critical scholarship would answer the latter. Jesus clearest claim to being the Messiah is Mark 14:62-64, which is a passage that many scholars believe to be of doubtful authenticity. Apart from this scene in Mark, there is a paucity of cle…

In Canonical Context Explained

As you may have noticed, I have recently written a couple of posts which have a title ending in 'in Canonical Context.' This is a series that I intend to run in perpetuity on this blog, and I consider it to be the most important series that I will do. I spoke with one of my friends today, and he seemed unclear on what my goals with this series are, so I figure it would be worth while to explain what you can expect from me in these posts.

Everyone comes to the text with a theological grid through which they read the text. This obviously (and rightly) affects the way we understand the text. In an ideal world, though, it does not stop there. The text should then inform our theological grid. Our preconceived notions about what the Bible says should be modified to incorporate the new data this text is providing us with. Unfortunately, in my experience, I have found that too few people allow the text to change their perspectives. If a text doesn't completely comport, it gets mini…

How Jude Dealt with Division, in Canonical Context

For our last post on Jude (next up, Philemon) we will look at the issue of division within the church. It's very clear in Jude 19 that the community is being divided by the false teachers. Unfortunately, while Jude gives us a lot of information on the nature of the false teachers, we don't know much about the nature of the divisions that were occurring. At first glance, its also somewhat frustrating that he doesn't give any direction on what to do with the false teachers.

There could be a couple of reasons for that. Jude could be in a situation like that of Paul's in 2 Corinthians where his authority was so strongly challenged that he could not come on too strong, because the false teachers were too powerful. I think, though, that Jude wants to be careful to avoid pitting genuine believers against each other.

But Jude does contain language that seems to denigrate a specific group. He calls them 'certain people' and especially 'these people.' While he call…

Jude Commentary Reviews

In my recent study of Jude I selected five commentaries to use to aid my study. I'll briefly rate and review each of them here.

It was a tough call, but Peter David's commentary on Jude was my personal favorite. This was the first time I've extensively used one of his commentaries, and in many ways it reminded me of Peter T. O'Brein's Ephesians commentary in the same series, which is very high praise coming from me. He substantiated his claims without weighing the reader down with extensive detail. I never felt like I lost the larger point while examining the finer details, which is a complaint I sometimes have with detailed commentaries. Davids blends different approaches well. It was clear that he had an in depth understanding of the text and of Mediterranean culture. I previously highlighted his comments on the doxology. They added depth to my understanding of the doxology by showing how it functioned in an honor-shame society. I also appreciated how he preserved…

Jude on Judgment, in Canonical Context

The first thing that I think we need to look at in Jude is divine and human judgment. Divine judgment is a major theme of this short letter, and it also raises interesting questions related to human judgment.

The first thing that jumps out at us is that God judges sinners, and Jude brings up several examples. As we know from the Old Testament and 1 Enoch, Balaam, Cain, Korah, the wilderness generation, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the fallen angels are all judged by God. God will judge sinners, and not only does he judge all of these sinners, but when you read their stories in the OT (or 1 Enoch) they all receive at least some judgment here and now, prior to the final judgment.

While with some of the examples the judgment is blatantly obvious (e.g., Korah or Sodom and Gomorrah), for some you must know their story to see how God's judgments works out. If we did not know the story of Exodus-Numbers we might have thought of wilderness generation as a random nomadic people and would not have…

Jude 20-25

This is the last of our studies on Jude, but stick around, there will be a few more posts this week on the theology of Jude and on Jude commentaries.

Finally in Jude 20-23, Jude tells his readers how to contend for the faith. As we will find out, though, it does not take the exact shape that we might expect.

Vs. 20: The first and most important thing Jude exhorts his readers to do is to build themselves up in the holy faith. This is not a command given to the members of the church as individuals, but to them corporately. They are to build up the corporate body of Christ, which is God's temple (c.f., 2 Cor. 6:16). Being in a strong community of faith lessens the allurement of false teaching and sinful lifestyles. Secondly, Jude implores them to pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude probably does not mean speaking in tongues). As a church they are to develop a life constantly in communion with the Spirit through prayer. This intimacy with the Spirit will guard them from error.

Vs. 21: In verse…

Adding to God's Glory

24To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. - Jude 24-25 (TNIV).

In his doxology, Jude gives to God, among other things, glory. What does he mean precisely? What does it mean to give glory to God? Peter Davids provides a compelling answer in his commentary on Jude.

...while God can be said to have a certain amount of "glory" objectively..., glory is also something that human beings (and other beings) can give to him. That is, one meaning of glory is "reputation" or "honor." Honor was a very important theme in ancient Mediterranean societies. One could act honorably and in that sense have great honor, but other human beings might not recognize it. In the sense of reputation honor is given to others by the honorable person (or in this…

Barriers to Accepting Evolution

Bruce Waltke, professor at RTS in Orlando recently surveyed more than 250 seminary professors at evangelical seminaries to find out what they thought were the biggest barriers to accepting theistic evolution were. You can read the whole report here. Interestingly, out of the eleven barriers he suggests, the most commonly cited barrier to theistic evolution was that 'a straightforward reading of Genesis 1-2 does not harmonize with evolution.' 44% agreed with that statement. Unfortunately Waltke did not ask about issues related to a historical Adam.

What was even more interesting to me was that 46% of evangelical theologians surveyed felt that there were no barriers to accepting theistic evolution. Thus, it seems that we may be moving towards a detente between science and faith, which I think is a good thing. What do you think?

Jude 5-19

In this section, Jude identifies, through a litany of examples, who the false teachers are, what their sins are, and the judgment that they will receive. Jude's aim is to get his audience to see the danger that these teachers present and to prepare them for his suggested course of action in the next section. I know that the post is long, but this is an exceedingly difficult section of Scripture for us living in the 21st century.

Vs. 5: Jude's audience already knows all that they need to know to handle the problem of the false teachers. However, like us, they need a reminder and exhortation from Jude. While the first half of verse 5 is gentle, the second half is a strong warning not to turn away from God. The OT incident behind the warning is probably that of Numbers 14 where the Israelites want to return to Egypt. God responds by saying to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous s…

The Relation of Inspiration and Canonicity

Jude presents us with a 'problem.' He explicitly sites 1 Enoch in Jude 14 plus he has numerous allusions to traditions about the Old Testament that are not found explicitly in the Old Testament. What weight should we afford these texts and traditions? As I argued in the previous post on OT quotes in the NT, if a tradition is used that is an element of the Jewish worldview of the author and isn't an explicitly Christian worldview (e.g., how Jude sees Cain as the archetype of a false teacher leading others into sin), then we're not bound to investing those Jewish traditions with Scriptural authority. The text of Jude still has full Scriptural authority and its point is fully valid, we are not required to understand, e.g., Cain as the archetype of a false teacher leading others into sin. We simply need to see Jude's point. Jude is using an example that would be familiar to his audience, nothing more, nothing less.

This type of approach doesn't solve all of our pro…

The Biggest Traitor of Them All

ESPN recently published their list of the greatest traitors in all of sports. These are guys who left their teams to go to their arch rival. While I might quibble a little with the inclusion of TO on the list (many Eagles fans including my self wanted him gone and were glad to see him go to Dallas and cause trouble there), I think there was one EGREGIOUS error.

How was Roger Clemens not on the list?

The man went from sucking while in Boston to dominant in division rival Toronto. If that wasn't enough, he then when to the hated Yankees and went on to win two world series rings with them. I ask, is he not the king of the traitors? He certainly must be in the top 10.

An Introduction to Jude

Date: There has been a lot of debate over when Jude was written. Some have argued for a date between the late first century and the end of the second century. Some conversely argue for a date as early as the 50s AD. A late date is usually suggested for the following reasons:

It is suggested by some that Jude is combating Gnosticism, which was a second century heresy that denied the humanity of Christ. I think that suggestion is incorrect. There is no clue in the letter that the infiltrators misunderstood Jesus nature as both God and man. One would expect that if they were advancing a teaching that gravely erroneous that Jude would directly address that in his letter. The antinomianism that Jude addresses, while being characteristic of gnostic 'Christianity,' was a problem long before Gnosticism arrived on the scene.

In Jude 3, Jude writes to urge them, 'to contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us' (TNIV). In verse 17 they are told to, 'rem…

Jude 1-4

Vs. 1: Who was Jude? Jude and his brother James were brothers of Jesus (Mt. 13:55 - Jude and Judas are the same name). Why then does Jude identify himself as brother of James and servant of Jesus rather than brother of Jesus? Jude calling himself a servant (or slave in some translations) isn’t an expression of low status, i.e., Jude isn’t saying, “I’m just a lowly servant of Christ.” Servants of powerful figures had great status and authority in the ancient world because of their connections to the one they served. What Jude is saying is that he gets his status and authority because he is Jesus servant. He could have claimed that status and authority on account of his blood relationship to Jesus, but in Jude’s mind what really mattered was that Christ had chosen him to be his servant. That was the source of his authority.

Jude then calls those receiving the letter called, loved in God the Father, and kept in Jesus Christ. God called them into relationship with him. In that relationship…

Commentary Review: Jonah in Minor Prophets I

The New International Biblical Commentary (NIBC) is among the better series of brief commentaries on the market. It typically employs well known scholars and is targeted towards lay people and pastors. If her section on Jonah is indicative of the entire volume, Achtemeier has given us a strong volume on the first six of the minor prophets. I found her writing to be clear, compact, and powerful. I found her commentary a great supplement to exegetical works, as her theological insight was keen. I especially enjoyed her comments on Jonah's prayer in Jonah 2:2-9.

This commentary will help you see the forest for the trees. Her explanations are grounded in what she sees as the major theological themes of Jonah, God's free grace and his love. While she focuses mainly on theology, there is some exegetical help, but it is limited.

Overall I greatly enjoyed this commentary. Even when I didn't agree with the exact conclusions she came to, she helped me wrestle with the theology of Jona…