Saturday, October 31, 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 Paul strongly critiques the individualism often found in western churches. The way Philemon acted in his private life was the concern of the entire community, and it was their roll to keep him accountable to do that which would bring maximum glory to God.

3: Paul opens with his usual blessing of grace and peace. He hopes that his letter mediates grace and peace to its recipients, and that they would then actively live it out.

4-7: 4-6 form what is called the 'introductory thanksgiving,' which was a standard part of Paul's letters. This one in Philemon breaks down into four parts.
  1. Paul expresses thanks for Philemon (vs. 4)
  2. Paul reports that he constantly prays for him (vs. 4)
  3. He explains why he gives thanks for Philemon, mentioning his faith and love (vs. 5)
  4. He tells Philemon the content of his prayer for him (vs. 6)
Another structural issue to notice is that we have a chiasm (a text of form ABBA) in vs. 5-7 of love (5a), faith (5b), faith (6), and love (7). With vs. 6, 7 being expansions on 5a, b. It also signals faith and love as matters of prominence to pay attention to through the rest of the letter.

4: Paul begins by saying that he is thankful for Philemon. It's a consistent thankfulness that he expresses with a high degree of regularity when he prays.

5: For most English readers, the TNIV (or NIV, NLT, NRSV) renders this verse the clearest, 'because I hear about your love for all his people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.' [1]
Paul thanks God for Philemon because he has heard reports of the vibrancy of his faith and the great love which he had towards his fellow Christians. It's this love for his people that Paul is going to be banking on in the rest of the letter when he makes his appeal.

6: Now Paul gives the content of his prayer for Philemon. This verse is notoriously difficult to translate. The best translation I have seen is the paraphrase that NT Wright gives, 'I am praying that the mutual participation which is proper to the Christian faith you hold may have its full effect in your realization of every good thing that God wants to accomplish in us to lead us into the fullness of Christian fellowship, that is, of Christ' (pp. 177-8). [2]

The foundation of this verse is the faith. Paul was praying that Philemon's strong faith which resulted in love expressed through the strong fellowship that was present in Philemon's house church would have positive results, namely that God would transform him in his thinking and living which would enable him and his community to attain full maturity in their relationships with God and each other. This prayer is significant given what Paul's going to ask Philemon to do, implicitly, later on in the letter. This letter is practice in living out the implications of our faith in community.

7: Here Paul begins his transition between the thanksgiving and the body of the letter. Paul is refreshed by hearing about the strength of Philemon's love towards his fellow Christians. To be able to host a church in his house and own slaves Philemon must have been a man of considerable means. It's noteworthy then, that he doesn't seem to have been above serving his community, and this probably doesn't refer to a single occurrence, but a lifestyle of humble service in love.

Paul describes Philemon in glowing terms, but that doesn't mean that he's done growing. We will find out in the body of the letter, the manner in which Paul intended to push this man of God to grow even more in his areas of strength.

[1] Literal translations like the ESV preserve the word order of vs. 5 more faithfully than the TNIV does, however, we have a case of chiasm here (see e.g., Moo pp. 387-8, O'Brien pp. 278-9), which most English readers are not adept at identifying and may result in misinterpretation.

[2] Paul does not have evangelism in mind in this verse (the ESV, NIV, and NRSV's phrase 'sharing of your faith' while literal, is potentially misleading).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

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 early church’s faith in Jesus. So I would not be bothered at all if the historical Jesus never claimed to be Messiah (p. 161-2).
I think that this is an excellent point by Bird that helps put the entire work into focus. We believe Scripture to be the word of God, thus it speaks authoritatively to us in the way we interpret Jesus. Whether or not Jesus claimed to be the Messiah or tried to act in a Messianic fashion, the Bible presents him that way, and thus we believe that he is, for the word of God is true either way in its assessment. And its the recognition of Jesus as Messiah that matters, for
Calling Jesus "the Messiah" does more than identify him as another anointed figure like a prophet, priest, or a king; rather, he is the definitive revelation of God's eschatalogical deliverance. He is the anointed figure from which none other follows and the Savior that none can exceed (p. 162).
It is this to which we must say amen. It is this reality that really matters and calls us to humbly bow down in worship of Jesus the Messiah.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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 clear, irrefutable evidence from the lips of Jesus in the Gospel accounts where he asserts his Messianic status. Episodes with clear Messianic overtones often also are not assumed authentic by many but are routinely ascribed to the invention of the early church.

These obstacles are not insurmountable for Bird, though, as he provides a methodical and compelling argument that Jesus intentionally acted and spoke as if he was the Messiah. Bird starts by surveying the OT, and see how Messianism develops through the OT cannon. He then turns to the literature of 2nd Temple Judaism and evaluates its Messianic expectations. It was interesting to learn that there was no single Jewish view of the Messiah (nor did all Jews expect a Messiah!).

The third chapter was the most important in my opinion. Here he rebutted the five avenues scholars take to deny that Jesus had Messianic intention. They are:
  1. Jesus Messiahship was inferred from the resurrection.
  2. Passages claiming that Jesus wanted his Messianic identity kept as a secret were added by the early church because they felt they needed an explanation for the lack of clear claims of Messianic status by Jesus. The answer was simple, Jesus kept it a secret.
  3. Jesus didn't claim Messiahship, his followers inferred it from his ministry. Jesus actually rejected Messianic status.
  4. Jesus Messiahship was an inference the early church made from the sign hung above him on the cross calling Jesus 'The King of the Jews.'
  5. Messianic references stem from the church's reflection on the OT not actual events in the life of Jesus.
Bird goes through each of these and (in my opinion) refutes each of them. A main point here and throughout the entire book is that Jesus must have believed and talked in a way that implied his Messianic status, or else his followers never would have inferred that someone crucified as an insurrectionist could be the Messiah, even if he rose from the dead.

In the fourth chapter, Bird lays out the positive case, 'that Jesus was performatively messianic as opposed to being messianic in the titular sense' (p. 70). He does this by surveying materials in the gospels, especially focusing on the way Jesus used the OT (especially 'son of man' from Daniel 7).

In the chapter five, Bird goes on to explain how Jesus actions in his final days leading up to the trial in Jerusalem were deliberately Messianic. This was, in my opinion, the weakest part of the book. A few of his arguments were not convincing, especially his claim that the cleansing of the temple was a kingly act of judgment. I do credit Bird, though, since he usually points out where he thinks his argument is a little weak.

The final chapter was delightful. Bird answers the question, 'so what?' Why does it matter if Jesus claimed to be the Messiah? Bird's claims are highly provocative and I think worth pursuing in a separate post later this week.

Overall Bird's book is an excellent book. It is insightful and fresh. I greatly enjoyed that this was a book written within the Evangelical tradition that did not read like a work of Evangelical apologetics. All who are interested in serious study of the historical Jesus would benefit from this book.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

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 minimized, or even worse, explained away. This causes our reading of Scripture to be flat and limp in comparison to the robustness that we could have.

The purpose of this series of posts is to try to see how the passage or book under examination rounds out our understanding of different issues, particularly highlighting the text's unique perspectives and/or emphases. Sometimes this will involve taking a specific section of Scripture and what I see as common inadequate interpretive moves that are performed either on that text, or on another text dealing with similar themes and showing how this specific passage challenges those views. My goal is to construct well balanced theology (and that sometimes requires some destruction along the way).

Thus the goal of this series is to help us in our quest to have our theology informed by Scripture. As our knowledge of the Bible grows, our theology should grow too which will result in our growth as children of God.

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 calls the faithful group, 'friends' and 'those who are loved in God.' Jude certainly does not think highly of the false teachers and the way that they live, and he does draw clear lines between those in God's favor and those outside of it. However, he never pits the two groups against one another. He defines each group on the basis of their relationship with God. The other issue is that it seems as if the false teachers had led some astray. Jude holds out hope for their rescue (Jude 22-23). If Jude gives a judgment of 'kick out the false teachers from among you', then he runs the risk of some ,who may have been on the fence and leaning towards following the false teachers, following them out the door, probably to their own destruction.

Jude's heart of love and compassion for the wavering shines through strongly in this letter. I think it helps provide us with balance. I think we're too quick sometimes to rush in and act like Paul in Galatians 1. This does not mean that we should be tolerant towards sin or false teaching, Jude condemned the false teachers sin in the strongest terms possible. There also is some danger in not acting swiftly when serious problems arise and sometimes it is right to immediately squash false teachers. What Jude provides us, is an instance where that was not done. Paul, in Galatians 1, and Jude, here, had the same goal. They were most concerned with the salvation of the members of the church and with the church's unity. When challenges to authority arise, the course of action adopted needs to be the one that will result in the combination of maximal unity and maximal preservation of the saints. Sometimes that's acting swiftly and kicking offending parties out of the church, but that's not always the right approach. Being too quick to judge can result in alienating the weaker members of the body, and that isn't a good thing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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 the tension that is present in the text between keeping oneself in the love of God and being kept by God. He doesn't settle for easy answers. I highly recommend this commentary, especially for pastors it should be the first one off the shelf. 5 stars out of 5.

If Davids is choice 1A, Bauckham is choice 1B. Bauckham's commentary is undoubtedly the best commentary for academic work on Jude. In particular, his excursus on Jude's usage of the Testament of Moses was a masterpiece of scholarship, and I found his reconstruction of the general contents of the lost ending of the Testament of Moses to be very convincing. His notes on textual variants were also very helpful (there are a couple of very difficult readings in Jude). The whole commentary was a model of detail and thoroughness. My only complaint is that I wish he had written a little more for the 'Explanation' section of the commentary. 5 stars out of 5.

The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary series is a bit different than most others. The first section of the commentary is a typical mid level commentary, I would say somewhere between what you would find in the Pillar series and in the Interpretation series. What makes this commentary series unique is the collection of theological essays after the regular commentary which discuss theological themes, in this case of Jude, first discussing Jude in its own right, then in the context of the wider cannon, and finally it applies the theology of Jude to our contemporary context. I would describe the regular portion of the commentary as workmanlike. It's solid. A couple of times she did raise my eyebrows with thought provoking interpretations, but the value of the commentary doesn't lie in that section. I found the essays to be much more helpful and interesting. She thought hard about some of the difficult issues raised in the letter. I especially enjoyed Reese's efforts on the 'Us and Them,' 'Responses to Division in the Cannon,' and 'The Theology of Jude in Contemporary Contexts.' 4 stars out of 5.

If it weren't for Bauckham's excellent commentary, Green's would be the commentary of choice for a detailed treatment of Jude. Green's primary strength lies in incorporating insight from the social sciences into a traditional commentary, making Neyrey, in my opinion, superfluous for all but those who are very interested in social science approaches to Jude. This is part of the biggest advantage that Green has over Bauckham, which makes Green worth owning in addition to Bauckham, since it's much more recent. Bauckham's commentary is phenomenal, but published in 1983. Green's commentary is not quite as good in my opinion (but still very good), but published in 2008. A lot of research has been done in the mean time, especially in sociology, and Green's commentary definitely benefits from it. 4 stars out of 5.

The final commentary that I used was Neyrey's. This is a very narrow commentary. If you are very interested in understanding Jude within the wider culture of the Greco-Roman world, then this is the commentary for you. Otherwise, it is at best a supplement to other, more traditional commentaries. There were a couple of occasions where the additional insight was helpful, primarily in the letter introduction and doxology, but they weren't bountiful. I also think he may have pushed his sociological and rhetorical analysis a little far at times. I felt Green's tempered approach to be better. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

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 known that their extended sojourn in the wilderness that ended in the death of the entire generation was God's punishment. Thus, from the perspective of the outsider, God's judgment on someone may not always be obvious. Conversely, when we look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, many of the people probably had no clue what was happening to them as the God's wrath (literally) rained down on them. Thus, the people being judged by God may not even realize that God is judging them.

I would like to propose that the overall thrust of Scripture, including Jude and the OT examples he cites, suggest that God does judge sinners here and now on the earth. We may not always realize when others are punished, and they themselves may not realize it, but God's wrath towards sin and sinners continues to operate here and now, on this side of the second coming. Jude seems to imply that the coming of the cross does not usher in a new era when God only pours out love and mercy and never shows wrath.

What about human judgment? Clearly some judgment is allowed, because Jude does denounce the false teachers and their ways. However, we must note that in every OT case cited, God was the one who meted out punishment. The story of Cain is worthy of attention. Cain was worried that not only would he face the punishment of God, but that humans would mete out justice on him too by killing him. What does God do? He allays his fears and guarantees that no one will harm him. Carrying out punishment, in this story, belongs to God alone.

Like in the story of Cain that Jude cites, it's noteworthy that Jude does not direct the church to mete out any punishment on the false teachers and those who follow them. The emphasis is on restoration. It helps balance out a somewhat unbalanced reading of church discipline texts of some. Church discipline texts like Matthew 18:15-20 are not, 'the steps to excommunicate someone.' Rather, they are steps to hopefully restore someone to fellowship, with excommunication being a last resort, and even that being done with the hope that they will return repentant. Jude is all about mercy toward those who are straying, specifically a mercy that does not condone sin, but confronts it hoping to see repentance.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

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 1, Jude calls them, '...those...kept by Jesus Christ.' Here he tells them to keep themselves in the love of God. Thus, the ethical command is grounded in the indicative statement. We are kept by Christ, and that is what enables us and motivates us to keep ourselves in the love of God. The second half of this verse provides hope. While the false teachers and those who follow them will face certain judgment, salvation awaits those who keep themselves in the love of God.

Vs. 22-23: These verses outline the general approach that the church was to have towards those who had followed, or were tempted to follow the false teachers. We are agents through whom God works out salvation. Salvation is a process, and included in that process is persevering in the faith. We are to help those who waver so that they may avoid having shipwrecked faith. While we pursue them, we must be very careful, for the sin and/or errant teaching that seduced them, may very easily ensnare us. While we must have love for wandering saints, we must have passionate hatred for anything sinful.

So what does it mean to contend for the faith? It means that we need vibrant, loving community grounded in the word of God and filled with the Holy Spirit that hates sin, but pursues wandering sheep.

Vs. 24-25: Jude closes with a doxology that grounds the church in the person and work of Jesus and applies it in a way relevant to their situation. The most important thing the church needed to hear was that God was able to help them persevere. They were seeing friends in the church being drawn away from the faith. Thus, they needed to be reminded that God can and will keep them from falling away because of the work of Christ on the cross, and for that work of salvation he is to be praised. For through it his glory, majesty, power, and authority are displayed. Our roll is to respond through what we say and do with a hearty, Amen!

Briefly we should note what Jude doesn't say. He never says to disassociate with erring Christians. Too often we read texts about church discipline and we think of them as the path you need to take to kick someone out of the church. That really should be a last resort, an extreme measure. The response Jude suggests is one filled with love and hope that they will return to God.

Friday, October 16, 2009

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 case deity), ideally on the basis of genuine qualities seen in people or genuine deeds done by them. Thus human beings and others are often said to give glory to God... It is a mixing up of these to meanings of glory that leads some commentators to say that human beings cannot give anything to God. In fact, they can give him the one thing that he cannot produce for him - free recognition of who he is. They can ascribe to him the honor (i.e., "glory") of which he is indeed worthy. - (Davids p. 113-4)

At the end of the doxology, we the readers respond with an 'Amen.' That affirmation should not end when our Bibles close, rather it should be carried out in every facet of our lives; through words as we ascribe glory to God and through deeds which hopefully compel others to see how glorious our Lord and Savior is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

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 signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they" (Num. 14:11-12 TNIV). Later on in this story God determines that none of the adults present that day will ever enter the promised land.

Vs. 6: The text behind the incident in vs. 6 is Genesis 6:2, 'the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose' (NIV). This verse generated a lot of speculation on who the 'sons of God' were. During the period of the early church almost all Jews and Christians believed that the 'sons of God' were angels who were driven by lust for human women and defiled themselves by having sexual relations with them. A non-canonical text from the second century B.C., 1 Enoch, goes into great length about the identity and fate of these 'sons of God.' It concludes that they were bound in chains, waiting for the final judgment.

Jude's point in using this well known example (in the first century) was to show that judgment will fall on those who sin sexually. Perhaps, too, although this is not certain, it's emphasizing judgment on those who abuse their authority for sexual gain.

Vs. 7: Jude's third and final example is in many ways similar to the second. The story of the sin and judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah can be found in Gen. 18-19. It is interesting too that the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the angels (the inverse of vs. 6). These two examples combine to show that there was something decidedly unnatural about the sexual relations that the false teachers were having. The main point, though, in using Sodom and Gomorrah as an example is to stress the impending judgment that would fall.

Vs. 8: Jude now makes the connection we have been making all along, the false teachers fall under the same condemnation as do the extreme sinners mentioned in the prior three examples. The first two claims against the false teachers are clear, they committed serious sexual sin and rejected God's moral authority in doing so. The last is not as clear immediately, but understanding it helps make vs. 8 clearer as a whole.

In Jewish and early Christian tradition, the Law was mediated to Moses via angels (see e.g, Gal. 3:19). Thus what the false teachers were probably, on some grounds, slandering angels, and considering them evil, and thus impugning the Law, because it was mediated via angels. This, then, in their opinion, gave them complete sexual freedom. All of this they probably based on prophetic dreams that they claimed to have received.

Vs. 9-10: Another OT story that provoked a lot of reflection among Jews and Christians in the centuries around the first century was the story of the burial of Moses. According to Deuteronomy 34:5-6, Moses was buried in an unknown location in Moab by an unspecified 'he'. The most natural way to take that he, is to assume that 'he' refers to God. Thus tradition developed surrounding God's burial of Moses. Unfortunately the ending of the work that Jude culls his example from (The Testament of Moses) is lost, but Jude and a few other works preserve enough of the ending to help us understand the story. The story goes as follows: Moses died and Michael the archangel went to get his body to take it and bury it. At that moment the devil arrived on the scene and said that Moses did not deserve an honorable burial because he had murdered an Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-12). Michael the archangel then called upon God to rebuke the devil for his slander. The devil fled and Michael buried Moses.

What's Jude's point? The false teachers were slandering God's angels which was something that they should not do since the angels were their superiors. They were rejecting moral authority. Contrast them with Michael, who wouldn't even rebuke the devil, even though he could, he cried out for God to do the rebuking, since God alone is judge.

Jude's statement in vs. 10 is ironic. They claimed to have a higher spirituality and an ability to throw off the "shackles" of the Law and its mediators, the angels, while in reality, they were ignorant animals.

Vs. 11: Now, Jude pronounces judgment on the false teachers. By comparing them to Cain, Jude is not accusing them of murder. At that time, Cain was seen as the model of the extraordinary sinner, and also, importantly, as one who led others into sin. Thus the false teachers were dangerous and leading others into sin.

Balaam was the paradigm of the prophet for hire. We can read the story of how he was hired to curse the Israelites (but couldn't) in Num. 22-24 and in an interpretation of the events in Deut. 23:4-5. Jude was accusing the false teachers of being out for profit. Also, importantly, we read of how Balaam ensnared the Israelites into sexual sin in Num. 31:15-16.

Korah was an example of one who rebelled against authority. We can read the story of his rebellion against Moses and Aaron as the one through God's will was mediated to the people in Num. 16. God destroyed him and his followers in an earthquake.

The sum of these three examples is to show that the false teachers were greedy, rebellious - probably against apostolic authority, and leading others astray, especially into sexual sin. Their end, and the end of their followers would be destruction, just as it was for Korah and his followers.

Vs. 12-13: The ESV handles the translation of this verse best, the false teachers are 'hidden reefs at your love feasts...' The false teachers posed a subtle but very dangerous threat; following them resulted in sure destruction. Love feasts were the common meal that was shared in the church in the first century, of which celebrating the Lord's Supper was a part. This common meal was seen as highly significant. It was a primary means of experiencing Christian community and expressing the unity of believers.

Shepherds were supposed to look after and feed the sheep. They were only looking out for themselves. This may be another allusion to the fact that the false teachers were seeking financial gains or seeking to advance their social status.

The false teachers next are described using four metaphors. They were clouds without rain, meaning they look like they should deliver rain, but don't (c.f., Prov. 25:14). The point is similar to the next metaphor, they should be fruitful at harvest time, but aren't (compare to Jesus warning about false teachers in Mt. 7:15-20). They are driven by the wind, by outside influences rather than the Spirit residing in them. In the end they will be uprooted, or judged because they do not bear the good fruit that they should. Next they are compared to a stormy sea (c.f., Is. 57:20), which essentially is a denunciation of their wickedness and disorderliness.

The final comparison is slightly more difficult. Ancient Jews and Christians believed that the stars were controlled by angels. Interestingly, the fallen angels of 1 Enoch that we discussed in vs. 6 were described similarly. The emphasis here again is on the certainty of their judgment. There also is a warning present here. Stars were used for navigation in the ancient world. If a star wandered it would lead any who followed it off course.

Vs. 14-16: The quote in vs. 14-15 is 1 Enoch 1:9 and is a text foretelling final blessing for the righteous and judgment for the wicked. Jude applies this text to the false teachers; they are wicked (again it's interesting that in 1 Encoh 1:5, the fallen angels of Jude 6 - called Watchers in 1 Enoch - are mentioned specifically as those fearing the coming judgment) and their end is certain. God will judge them. Jude 16 plainly lays out what their sins were.

The general tone is clear. The false teachers and those who follow them will face certain judgment and destruction by God.

Vs. 17-19: Here, repeating the idea from the start of vs. 5, Jude is simply reminding them of what they knew would happen. They were warned by the apostles who founded the church that false teachers would come into the church who would not submit to God's authority and would be sinful. The problem was that these false teachers were gaining a following and dividing the church, thus Jude had to address the situation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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 problems fully, though. Jude cites 1 Enoch in a manner showing that he believes it to be inspired and authoritative. What do we make of that? 1 Enoch is not in our Bibles. Some, in the early church, argued for the inclusion of 1 Enoch in the cannon because of Jude's citation of it. Conversely, some argued that Jude should not be in the cannon because it cites 1 Enoch. God did see to it that Jude was included in the cannon and thus I believe we are bound to seeing 1 Enoch as inspired. That does not mean, though, that 1 Enoch should be canonical. Many things that are inspired are not canonical. I certainly believe the Apsotle's Creed is inspired, as I believe Amazing Grace is (the Chris Tomlin rendition too!). As being inspired by God, it does carry a certain amount of weight and authority. However, it does not mean that it is authoritative to the same degree that Scripture is.

Monday, October 5, 2009

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.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

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, 'remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold' (TNIV). Some have suggested that these two verses give the impression that Jude was written in a period after the death of the apostles where standardization of church teaching has occurred. All these verses imply, though, is that there is no apostolic presence any longer in the locale of the recipients. They received the contents of the gospel from the apostolic founders of their church, and they are to hold fast to their teaching.

As we have seen, a late date is not required by the internal evidence of the letter. My view on authorship below commits me to a date in the 50s or 60s.

Authorship: It was clearly written by a Jew. Old Testament allusions are translations from Hebrew (they do not follow the wording and even sometimes the meaning of the LXX). The internal witness of the book is that it was written by Jude brother of James. While there were several Judes (Judases) mentioned in the NT, only one is mentioned as a brother of James, that is Jude, brother of Jesus. James was also a common name at the time, but only one James was well known enough to go by, simply, James. That was James brother of Jesus, leader of the Jerusalem church. Both of these factors lead to an identification of Jude as Jude brother of Jesus.

Some have suggested, though, that Jude was a pseudonym for some later author, either writing in Jude's honor/memory, or piggybacking on his authority. Usually this approach is used when the contents of the letter could not have been written during the time frame when the author lived. However, as we saw above, nothing in the letter would have been inapplicable to the 50s or 60s when Jude lived. Also, Jude was too obscure of a figure to be a likely choice of pseudonym.

Audience: Who was Jude written to? Clearly it was written to a Jewish audience. It's not reasonable to assume that a Gentile audience would be able to identify the multiple allusions to Jewish intertestamental literature (1 Enoch and The Assumption of Moses). Some have suggested Syria, but I find that unlikely since Jude was not accepted as canonical by the Syrian church. Palestine has also been suggested, but one would expect substantial apostolic activity in Palestine when Jude was written. Also, Aramaic would have been the likely language used for a letter from Jews to Jews. A third suggestion is Egypt. Not only did Egypt have a large Jewish Christian population, but the book was accepted as canonical very early there. Also, apocalyptic literature like 1 Enoch was widely read by their Jewish and Jewish Christian communities. This makes Egypt the most plausible destination of the letter in my opinion.

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 they experience the depths of God’s love for them, and because of the work of Jesus on the cross they can trust that God will never let them go.

Vs. 2: Jude here wishes them an abundance of mercy, peace, and love. They have received these things through their relationship with God, and Jude expresses his hope that they continue to abundantly receive. Jude’s goal in the first two verses is to strongly ground them in the fact that they are secure in their relationship with God.

Vs. 3: Jude was planning to write a letter of a more general form, but that didn’t happen. He received word of the situation and it was so serious that he had to break off his plans and write this letter.

He exhorts his readers to contend for their faith. Apparently it was being challenged by someone. In the following verses he spells out what that challenge was. He does not, though, explicitly tell his readers, yet, how to contend for their faith. At this point they simply know that they must do it.

Vs. 4: A common problem in the early church was a misunderstanding of the doctrine of grace (actually this has been a problem at every point of church history, including the present). These infiltrators believed that because they had received grace from God that it did not matter how they lived, for Christ’s blood atoned for all of their sins. Perhaps they were saying something along the lines of Romans 6:1b, ‘…Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?’ (TNIV). Both Paul and Jude vehemently reject that notion. Jude claims that these people are ungodly and the lifestyle that they live is tantamount to rejecting Christ. They’re not willing to be Jesus’ servants. They won’t accept him as the Lord. Grace does not give you free reign to live as you wish. Grace gives you the desire and ability to live as God wishes. Their lifestyle and rejection of Christ brings them under God’s judgment.

There are two groups, the beloved and the others. The beloved receive God’s love and mercy and peace and are kept by him. The others, because of their ungodliness, don’t, even though they think they do. This section sets a strong tone at the start of the letter. Our lives must be lived in conformity to the grace we have received. While we’re not perfect, immorality and ungodliness cannot characterize us.

Friday, October 2, 2009

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 Jonah which makes the book a resounding success. I give it 5 stars out of 5.