Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Personal Distinctions in the Godhead

Recently in a correspondence with a very sincere lady who is struggling between the non-Trinitarian versus Trinitarian views of Scripture, she asked me to comment on Jn. 1:1-3 and Jn. 17:5. These two passages are problematic for non-Trinitarian Pentecostals, and in her question she pointed out that in older English translations, the pronoun “he” is translated as “it” in Jn. 1:1-3. Such a translation, at least from the non-Trinitarian point-of-view, might suggest that the logos was not personal. Further, she suggested that in later English versions (KJV and after), the use of the word “he” instead of “it” was imposed on the text, implying that this was an inappropriate rendering. In the Jn. 17:5 passage, non-Trinitarian Pentecostals tend to take the words “glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (KJV) to mean something along the lines of “glorify thou me as thine own self…”, thus, once again, removing from the passage any personal distinction between the Father and the Son. Should you be interested in reading over my shoulder, so to speak, here is what I said to her.

...let me briefly address the passages you cited, beginning with the prologue to John's Gospel. You are correct: some of the early English translations of John's Gospel translated the Greek personal pronoun autou and the Greek demonstrative pronoun houtos as "it" in Jn. 1:2-3 (this was true in the Tyndale Version, the Great Bible and the Bishop's Bible), though John Wycliffe, who was earlier than all three, translated the pronoun as "him", not "it".  I doubt that the rendering "it" should be taken to mean that the logos was impersonal, however. Whether it is to be translated as "him"/"he" or "it" is merely a translator's choice. The personal pronouns can be translated either way, and both are grammatically correct. The deeper issue is one of grammatical agreement and contextual meaning. When one uses a word like logos, grammatical agreement might lead one to use the word "it" as a pronoun, since typically we don't think of a "word" as personal. However--and this is quite important--the larger context of the passage indicates that the logos WAS personal. The logos was the one through whom God created the world (Greek dia with the genitive case, which means "through the agency of"). The logos was the light that shined in the darkness but was not understood. The logos was the light that illumines every human person born in the world. This logos, in his incarnation, was "in" the world that he himself had made, but the world did not recognize him. The logos "became" flesh and tented among us, and here, the verb ginomai (= became) is especially important, for it cannot be swept aside as some sort of "dwelling" Christology (which is typical in non-Trinitarian thought) but must be taken as a true incarnation. By the time all three of these early versions cited above (Tyndale, Bishops, Great Bible) reach Jn. 1:10, without exception they all begin to use the pronouns "he" and "him", based on that same Greek pronoun autou. Hence, I don't think one should make too much of the translation "it" as though it favors a non-Trinitarian doctrine. It doesn't. Further, the charge that the idea of pre-existence was "imposed" on the text by later versions, such as the KJV and following, cannot be sustained. The actual Greek text, which twice says the logos was "with" God (Greek proposition pros with the accusative case), directly describes pre-existence and cannot mean anything else.

The language of Jn. 17:5 is described as "the glory that was before the world began". This, if you'll pardon me saying so, is an unfortunate way of phrasing it (and the way non-Trinitarian folks would like to phrase it as they attempt to escape what the passage plainly says). What the text plainly says in Greek is this: " glorify me with yourself with the glory which I had with you before the world [came] to be." Twice the text uses the preposition para, once in a genitive construction as para seautou (= alongside yourself) and the other in a dative construction as para soi (= by the side of you). This passage is crystal clear in describing Jesus' pre-existence, and grammatically it cannot be taken any other way! The prepositional constructions "alongside yourself" and "by the side of you" are death knells to the modalistic teaching. Non-Trinitarians want to say something like "Father...glorify me as yourself (instead of alongside yourself)", but the preposition para simply cannot be taken in this way. Such an interpretation is not possible in the Greek NT.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Remember the Pit (Sort Of)

I remember sermons from my youth that quoted Isaiah 51:1 and charged me to remember "the pit from whence I was dug"—the sinful depths I had inhabited before God's provision of salvation.

But there is only one problem here. Isaiah 51—part of the larger complex of Isaiah 40-55 sometimes called "Second Isaiah"—is not a call to remembrance of one's prior sinful state OR a statement of judgment OR anything negative at all.

Rather Isaiah 51 is an incredibly hopeful passage. It declares that God's salvation is certain and near. The sins of the past are just that—"past"—and all of God's previous promises are still in effect. Isaiah 51 addresses exiled Israel at the very end of the Babylonian "captivity." Yahweh, through the prophet, promises that restoration of the nation is on the immediate horizon.

Five times in this chapter, the voice of Yahweh calls for exiled Israel's attention: "Listen to me!" (v. 1), "Listen to me!" (v. 4), "Hear me!" (v. 7), "Awake, awake!" (v. 9), and again "Awake, awake!" (v. 17). In each instance, Yahweh promises reversal—Israel's oppressors will fall and Israel will regain its rightful place in the land of Palestine and once again enjoy God's providence rather than his judgment. "The cup that made you stagger," Yahweh promises, "You will never drink from again." Rather "I will put it into the hands of your tormentors" and they will fall down drunk in the streets and Israel will walk over their fallen bodies.

The reference to the "pit from whence you were dug" in Isaiah 51:1 does not point to the depth of Israel's moral failure, but rather to the very foundation of Israel's existence—the promises of God to the patriarchs. Look at the larger context of this passage from a modern translation.

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
    and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
    and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
    and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
    and I blessed him and made him many."
The Lord will surely comfort Zion
    and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
    her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
                                             (Isaiah 51:1-3 NIV)

The "rock from which you were cut" is Abraham. The "quarry from which you were hewn" is Sarah. Yahweh is calling exiled Israel to remember its roots in the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants.

"I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you."
                                             (Genesis 12:2-3 NIV)

The exile has NOT negated the covenant promises that God made to the fathers. Rather—after a brief moment of judgment resulting from Israel's covenant unfaithfulness—God will completely fulfill his ancient promises, restoring the lost homeland and once again extending his providence.

Isaiah 51:1 is a promise to those of Israel who endure the exile: they will soon witness God's liberation and their return to the homeland. Yahweh calls the exiles to have the same faith as their ancestors—the childless Abraham and Sarah—who did not give up on God's promises because of their hopeless situation, but believed God in spite of their current circumstances.

Isaiah 51 tells us that difficult—even impossible—circumstances do NOT nullify the promises of God. Rather than despair, we should hold fast to the promises of God to our fathers and show the same faith they did—the faith that will ultimately witness the salvation of God.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

David, Jerusalem, and Biblical Minimalism

In light of the recent post on archaeology and the book of Joshua, I thought I would expand the discussion a bit to focus on the period that I find to be most central in the minimalist-maximalist debate about archaeology and biblical history: the tenth century BCE, the time of the United Kingdom, the reigns of David and Solomon.

First, look at this definition of minimalism and maximalism:

The labels "maximalism" and "minimalism" were coined in the debate about the historical reliability of the Bible. For more than a century, archaeologists have been digging in the Near East, and inevitably, they found contradictions between the archaeological record and the story told in the Bible. This is neither unique nor problematic. Information about Antiquity is always fragmentary, and the scholars studying ancient Rome, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Persia, or Babylonia often have to cope with contradictory evidence. For example, Julius Caesar claims to have subjected the Belgians, but this has so far not been confirmed archaeologically. Although contradictory evidence can be frustrating, it is preferable to having only one source: in that case, we can not establish whether it is correct or not; if the evidence is inconsistent, we can at least evaluate its quality.

When we are dealing with the history of the Jews, there is, after the sixth or fifth century BCE, no real contradiction between the main written source (the Bible) and the archaeological record. No one denies that the Jews returned from their Babylonian Captivity: archaeologists have identified the new villages, although it is not entirely clear when the return took place exactly. Moving backward, the discrepancy increases: in the age of the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel), the Biblical account is sometimes at odds with the results of archaeology, and if we look at the events before, say, king David, the fragmentary nature of our evidence is even more striking.

"Minimalism" and "maximalism" are two principles to cope with this situation. Maximalist scholars assume that the Biblical story is more or less correct, unless archaeologists prove that it is not; minimalists assume that the Biblical story must be read as fiction, unless it can be confirmed archaeologically. "Minimalism" and "maximalism" are, therefore, methods, approaches, or theoretical concepts. (
The minimalists are often associated with the University of Copenhagen (in particular, Thomas Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche) although many others like John van Seters, Keith Whitelam, and Philip Davies contribute to this view.

The maximalists are often dubbed "neo-Albrightians" (followers of the famous biblical archaeologist, William Foxwell Albright). The Biblical Archaeological Review represents this view and is the most consistent opponent of the new minimalism, along with archaeologists and writers like William Dever, Iain Provan, and Kenneth Kitchen.

I strongly recommend the following online article that introduces the minimalist-maximalist debate and the main issues at its center.

Three Debates about Bible and Archaeology (Ziony Zevit)

The following online articles might also prove helpful.

Did David and Solomon Exist? (Eric H. Cline)

The Debate over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant (Amihai Mazar)

The United Monarchy Under David and Solomon

Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David

Has King David's Palace in Jerusalem Been Found? (Israel Finkelstein)

Finally, see these online articles for a broader perspective on the entire debate.

The collected "Essays on Minimalism from Bible and Interpretation" from The Bible and Interpretation web site, featuring articles from many of the major players in the current debate.

 A (Very, Very) Short History of Minimalism: From The Chronicler to the Present (Jim West) which offers a refreshing breath of common sense and historical perspective to the minimalist debate.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Joshua Fit de Battle - PART 2

          In the initial post on this subject, I described archaeology as first the defender and then the attacker on the Book of Joshua. It must be admitted that the contemporary challenges to the historicity of the Bible via the Book of Joshua are formidable. In some ways, they are more formidable than the older challenges to the historicity of the patriarchs in Genesis. While Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as real people have been dismissed by skeptics for a long time (not to mention virtually all the other characters in the Book of Genesis that are earlier than the patriarchs), the fact that the patriarchs lay so far back in antiquity was, in a sense, a safeguard. No one expected to find any material evidence of individuals as far back as nearly four millennia ago, so they were largely exempted from speculation based on such things. To be sure, the new literary theories about the Pentateuch tended to dismiss the patriarchs as fictional, but literary theories are easier to ignore than artifacts, and for the most part, conservative Christians, apart from a few notable exceptions, have done just that with the literary theories—largely ignored them. However, there is a concreteness about the archaeological investigations of Canaanite city-states mentioned in Joshua that raises the bar. Conservative Christians very well may choose to ignore this area too, but it certainly will be more difficult.

          There is, however, a way forward short of blissful ignorance. Admittedly, Christians who follow this path will be a minority in the larger academic community, but they often have survived as the minority in any number of adverse circumstances throughout their history. If such Christians believe anything at all, they believe in the sovereignty of God in all things! They must mentally prepare themselves, of course, for regular put-downs from the intellectual elite, but this is not new either. What they must NOT do is abandon the field. To a large degree they did abandon the field in the old modernist-fundamentalist debate after the Scopes “monkey trial” in the early 20th century. Their refusal to engage in dialogue with the reigning opinions of an increasingly secular culture left them marginalized and with no platform from which to speak. Isolationism was anything but helpful. Ironically, they might do well to take a chapter from their ancient Christian brothers and sisters in the Medieval World, who vigorously interacted with the likes of Aristotle, Plato and others.

The way forward must include solid scholarship at high levels, for this is where the heart of the dialogue will continue. It must also include an irenic spirit, for very little will be accomplished by a shouting match—even a scholarly shouting match. Thankfully, some high level scholars committed to biblical fidelity are deeply engaged in this discussion (for instance, Alan Millard and Kenneth Kitchen, to cite just two), and though they may be swimming against the current, they still are swimming! Here, it would seem, is the forward path.

          It should also be clearly understood that the issues concerning the Book of Joshua and the historicity of the Old Testament are part of a larger picture. That larger picture affects not only the history of the Bible, it affects the history of nearly everything! History in general is being rewritten by deconstructionist literary theorists and political activists with their own special axes to grind: New Left ideologies, radical feminists, Two-Thirds World liberation theologians, social reconstructionists, multiculturalists, New Age pop-psychologists and a host of other special interest groups are offering their versions of the past. Postmodernism, with its negative evaluation of any claims toward historical objectivity, is the handmaiden of this trend. Hence, while the historicity of the Bible is deeply important to many Christians, they should at least realize that the de-historicizing of the past is a broad cultural movement affecting everything from recent history to ancient history. It remains to be seen whether this will be a passing fancy or an enduring challenge with which to grapple. 

Kenneth Kitchen (University of Liverpool) trenchantly observes that in the biblical story the campaigns of Joshua were primarily disabling forays, not territorial conquests with Hebrew occupation as is popularly conceived. To be sure, Jericho and Ai were burned (6:24; 8:28), as was Hazor (11:13), but there is no biblical indication that this fate happened to any other Canaanite cities, though many Canaanite kings were killed in conflicts. Furthermore, after these conflicts the Israelites did NOT occupy the various cities but returned to the base camp at Gilgal (Jos. 10:15, 43; 14:6). To be sure, there was some localized occupation in central Canaan (Jos. 14:6-15; 15:13-19; 17:14-18; 18:1-2). Still, the first clear indication in the biblical text of a movement toward full occupation is not until Joshua 18:4ff. Hence, the fairly common interpretation of a sweeping conquest with nearly immediate occupation of the whole land is not what the Book of Joshua actually describes. Therefore, to expect archaeology to demonstrate such an action is misplaced. Christians, therefore, must be careful about their handling of such texts. In too many case, they have set themselves up for failure because their own hermeneutic has been deficient. Good historical method and sound principles of interpretation work hand-in-hand, and if Christian thinkers will be judicious in the use of both, they will find the way forward not nearly as gloomy as is sometimes assumed. In the end, it is always well to remember that while error is usually in a hurry, truth has time on its side. Archaeology is an ongoing discipline. Not too long ago, some scholars, particularly the Scandinavians, were dismissing David and his dynasty as a convenient fiction, no more historical than, say, King Arthur and the round table. Then Avraham Biran discovered the now-famous inscription at Tel Dan that directly mentions the "house of David". Christians can afford to wait while leaving some questions unanswered. But at all costs, they must not abandon the field! 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Joshua Fit de Battle - PART 1

The Book of Joshua has become a modern battleground. Until the past century or so, most who read the Book of Joshua, whether Christian or Jew, were confined to the biblical text itself, which narrated the entry of the Israelites into Canaan. More recently, the historical validity of the conquest narratives has come under severe doubt. A recent treatment, if anything, is typical when a commentator in a major series writes, “It is possible, but unlikely, that this story was recorded as it happened in history.” Not a few scholars would strike out the possibility of biblical historicity altogether.

Further, there is a political component that looms large vis-à-vis the modern nation-state of Israel, surrounded as it is by Palestinian and Arabic communities. Israel’s “entitlement” to its ancient lands is considered to be an illusion altogether if the historicity of the exodus, conquest and early monarchy is eliminated. Some consider the recent celebration of “Jerusalem 3000” (recalling the Israelite control of Jerusalem gained in the time of David) to have been a farce. At the same time, archaeology in the Holy Land is being co-opted to serve a nationalist agenda, whether extreme forms of Zionism on the one hand or Muslim fundamentalism on the other.

Finally, and perhaps most important, there is a deep theological fracture if the events in the Book of Joshua never happened. The Bible as God’s Word—a Word that tells the truth about things—is at stake. To be sure, some would have it that historicity in the biblical narratives is unnecessary to the theological enterprise, but instinctively most people are smart enough to realize that if the stories were simply manufactured in order to bolster a fragile national self-image, then the calling and covenant for God’s ancient people is equally at risk, not to mention the calling and covenant for God’s New Testament people.

The Archaeological Issue

          The explosion of archaeological data in the past century has affected the Book of Joshua in significant ways. Part of the problem was the development of an overdependence upon archaeology itself. In the first half of the 20th century, archaeology came to be perceived as the savior of the Bible in the midst of the literary skeptics. A number of astounding archaeological discoveries seemed to “prove” the Bible’s historicity, and in particular, the Book of Joshua. The discovery of the Amarna Letters (correspondence between the Egyptian Pharaoh and various city-states in Canaan) testified to a series of conflicts between Canaanite cities and the Hapiru, a group of semi-nomadic invaders who were threatening Canaanite hegemony. The Hapiru sounded a lot like the Israelites, and some even posited that the name Hapiru was linguistically related to the word “Hebrew”. John Garstang excavated Jericho and announced he had discovered a collapsed double wall dating to ca. 1400 BC—the presumed time of Joshua’s advance. Later, Yigael Yadin excavated Hazor in northern Canaan, revealing that it had been destroyed by fire in the Late Bronze Age, just as the Book of Joshua stated (cf. 11:11). These were heady discoveries in the early 20th century, and many if not most people began to look upon archaeology as the debunker of the biblical nay-sayers and cynics. The downside of this optimism was the reinforcement of a perception that there was some sort of straightforward relationship between archaeology and the Bible, and when later archaeologists began to question and retract some of these sensational discoveries, the credibility of the Bible itself suffered. By the beginning of the 21st century, a nearly 180 degree reversal had occurred. Whereas archaeology once was an important means by which to demonstrate the reliability of the Bible, it now had become a means to debunk the Bible when archaeological finds seemed at odds with the biblical record. The attendant corollary has been great shifts from faith to loss of faith. In a recent telling article, two widely recognized scholars, Bart Ehrman and William Dever, discuss their loss of faith through their scholarship. Both were reared within Christian fundamentalism with a high view of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, and both credit their loss of faith directly to their perceived loss of historicity in the Bible.

          Archaeologists, even those who strongly uphold the historical reliability of the Bible, are now much more careful in delineating the role of archaeology. Alfred Hoerth, Director of Archaeology at Wheaton College, carefully defines archaeology’s relationship to the Bible as illumination in terms of culture and historical setting and a knowledge of ancient people, places, things and events, but he is quite clear that archaeology should NOT be assumed to confirm, authenticate or prove the Bible and that “confidence and hope should not be built on any external proof—not even archaeology.”

          Should, therefore, archaeology have any role at all in interpreting the Bible? Certainly, but its role must be seen as corollary, not primary. Archaeology, like most scientific disciplines, is an ongoing task. New discoveries lead to new theories along with reversals of previous opinions. While archaeology can provide insight into the world of the ancients, it cannot tell us the central meaning of biblical texts. The texts themselves must do this. At the same time, the relationship between archaeology and biblical historicity will be ongoing, and there appears to be no end in view for the debate between minimalists and maximalists.

          So where do we go from here? Must a modern Christian sacrifice intellectual integrity in order to believe in the historical trustworthiness of the ancient text? This will be the subject of the next post.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Christological Use of the Old Testament - Part 3

Before proceeding, let's revisit our central question: To what extent did the earliest Christians "use" the Hebrew scriptures in their telling of the story of Jesus? Did these Christ followers have genuine memories of the actual words and events of the life of Jesus that they, in turn, recast and embellished by referring to parallel words and stories from the Hebrew scriptures? Or did the early Christians know little of the actual words and actions of Jesus, so they turned to the familiar stories of the Hebrew scriptures to help "create" the stories—or at least, the details of the stories—they told about Jesus? Are the gospel stories genuine remembrances that the Christians framed, structured, and expounded in the language of the Hebrew scriptures? Or are they simply fictions built around scriptural precedents?

The scholars associated with the Jesus Seminar affirmed the latter position: early Christians knew little beyond the "brute facts" of Jesus' life and "filled in the details" with creative reflections and appropriations from the familiar and authoritative stories of the Old Testament. The gospel writers took the "raw materials" of earlier biblical texts and drew details from them, stringing together sometimes wildly divergent ideas and words, to "construct" stories about Jesus. This creative process not only filled the gaps missing in the memories of the early Christians about the details of the biography of Jesus, it also imbued the telling of his story with the authority "inherited" from its close parallel with the authoritative texts of the past.

John Dominic Crossan and the late Marcus Borg explained this phenomenon—dubbed "prophecy historicized"—in their The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem (2006).

The Jewish Bible was the sacred scripture of early Christians, and many of them knew it well, whether from hearing it orally or being able to read it. Thus, as they told the story of Jesus, they used language from the Jewish Bible to do so.

This practice produced what we call "prophecy historicized." A passage from the past (in this case, from the Jewish Bible) is "historicized" when it is used in the narration of a subsequent story (the gospels and the New Testament). "Historicizing" here does not make something historical or historically factual. It simply means using an older passage in a newer story in an attempt to connect that newer story to the earlier tradition and lend credibility to it. . . . It is sometimes difficult to discern whether "prophecy historicized" is being used to comment about something that actually happened or whether it is being used to generate a narrative or a detail within a narrative.

The overall conclusion of the Jesus Seminar is even more bluntly stated: the details of Jesus' final week were "the fabrication of Christian storytellers." (The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (1996)

[You can find more detailed discussion of "prophecy historicized" in Crossan's The Birth of Christianity (1993) and Who Killed Jesus? (1996).]

Crossan—and other representatives of the Jesus Seminar—argue that the only real alternative to their view of "prophecy historicized" is a naive literalism that holds that the many Old Testament passages applied to Jesus by the Christian storytellers actually and intentionally point beyond their contemporary settings to a literal fulfillment in first-century CE Palestine in the life and words of Jesus of Nazareth. Such interpretation is obvious wrong and wrong-headed—here they are correct about this type interpretation—and they conclude that since their opponents are so obviously wrong, the opposite position must be right.

This is a classic "straw man" argument if there ever was one!


Actually there is a third, "more nuanced" alternative to a naïve literalism and "prophecy historicized." Mark Goodacre of Duke University describes a middle position—that he calls "tradition scripturalized"—that better explains the continuum of memory, tradition, and scriptural reflection that lays behind the construction of the gospel stories.

The multiple echoes of Biblical themes and the varied allusions to Scriptural precedent are plausibly explained on the hypothesis that from the beginning there was an intimate interaction between event, memory, tradition and Scriptural reflection. Events generated Scriptural reflection, which in turn influenced the way the events were remembered and retold. And the process of casting the narrative in this language might be described, to utilise a somewhat cumbersome but nevertheless illuminating term from Hebrew Bible scholarship, scripturalization. . . . What I suggest is happening here is that the events themselves were generating scriptural reflection from the earliest times as the first Christians attempted to come to terms with these extraordinary events, and that the scriptures then, in turn, influenced the formation of the tradition. It was an interactive process in which history, scripture, memory and tradition were mutually influencing one another as the narrative was being born. (When Prophecy Becomes Passion: The Death of Jesus and the Birth of the Gospels)

Goodacre argues that early Christians took a genuine memory of events they witnessed and passed these stories to others in the form of tradition. As part of this tradition-building, the early Christians reflected on the Jesus stories in light of their well-versed scriptural knowledge. They drew all sorts of parallels and found all sorts of allusions. Some were fulfilled predictions—passages in the Hebrew scriptures that genuinely looked ahead to a messianic age. Others were simply parallels between the events of the life of Jesus and those of his Hebrew predecessors. The early Christians especially found in the words of the Psalms—the songbook of the second temple, widely known and widely loved—strong language to express the depths of Jesus' motives, emotions, and suffering.

With "tradition scripturalized," the gospel stories become interactions between genuine memories of the historical Jesus and reflections on authoritative scripture. Again and again, the gospel writers cast the story of Jesus by drawing parallels with the Old Testament: Jesus is the new David, Jesus is the new Moses, Jesus is the new Jonah.

The "scripturalization of tradition" best fits the evidence that we find of the christological use of the Hebrew scriptures by the New Testament writers. The intermingling of genuine memory and scriptural reflection provides a clear understanding of how the gospel writers quoted, alluded to, "cherry-picked', and even twisted and re-interpreted familiar scriptural texts to accomplish their christological ends. The Old Testament references did not create the Jesus stories, but they greatly influenced the forms and ways in which these stories were remembered and transmitted through time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Christological Use of the Old Testament - Part 2

In the first post on the christological use of the Old Testament, we pointed out that the early Christians reflected on Old Testament texts and used many of these stories and sayings as a framework for telling the story of Jesus.

Remember that some of the Old Testament references used by the early Christians were clearly anticipatory in nature, predicting future events. But others were not anticipatory at all, but rather were simply descriptions and/or reflections on contemporary events or even remembrances of past events.


Let's look at some very specific examples of the christological use of the Old Testament in New Testament texts found in the Gospel of Matthew's infancy narrative (Matthew 1 and 2).

This passage contains five direct appeals to the Hebrew scriptures as sources for interpreting the life of Jesus, each using language like "so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled."

Virgin Birth - A child is born named Immanuel (God with us) (Matthew 1:22-23)
Quotation from Isaiah 7:14

Birth in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6)
Quotation from Micah 5:2

Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
Quotation from Hosea 11:1

Slaughter of the Innocents - Rachel weeping for her children (Matthew 2:16-18)
Quotation from Jeremiah 31:15

Return to Nazareth - He shall be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:19-23)
Quotation unknown

Note that Matthew argues that each of these events in the life of the Christ child specifically fulfills the quoted scripture. This language seems to imply that the original text anticipated the later event.

In addition to the five scriptural quotations, it is equally important to recognize a number of clear parallels/allusions to Old Testament characters that are not stated as quotations.

The birth in Bethlehem parallels the life of David.

The flight into Egypt parallels the story of Jacob and his sons.

The slaughter of the innocents  parallels the fate of the Egyptian male children at the birth of Moses.

Everywhere in the infancy stories of Matthew, we witness the tendency to frame the telling of the story of Jesus using Old Testament stories and prophecies.


Now let's take a closer look at the five Old Testament quotations Matthew presents as "fulfilled" in the story of Jesus.

One of these references ("He shall be called a Nazarene.") cannot be found in the Old Testament.

Only one is anticipatory/predictive in nature. Micah 5:2 predicts that the messiah will be born in Bethlehem.  There is no real surprise here. The messiah is presented as a descendant of David. It is logical that he would be born in David's birthplace.

The other three quotations all refer to contemporary events in the original writer's life or (in one case) in a past event that defined the life of the community of Israel. None of these three passages were ever understood as predictive by their Jewish audiences or later interpreters. None were understood as messianic references. Let's look at each of these specifically.

" A child is born named Immanuel (God with us)" - a quotation of Isaiah 7:14.

Isaiah 7 is part of larger complex of scriptures that preach impending doom for the southern kingdom of Judah and northern kingdom of Israel before the expanding Assyrian empire. This passage offers no hope for deliverance, no possibility of escape, and certainly no promise of a messianic liberator. Isaiah contrasts Israel's misplaced confidence in God's sure salvation and the bitter reality of the Assyrian conquest. The reference to the name "Immanuel" is part of this clear irony in the contrast of expectation and reality. Isaiah prophesies that a woman of child-bearing years—an anonymous woman—will give birth and name her child a most hopeful name—"Immanuel" (God is with us)—reflecting the widely-held affirmation of God's certain protection in the face of the encroaching armies. The irony is that "God is NOT with Israel" despite her expectations. This is the whole point of this passage: Israel is victimized by a false trust in God's providence and will soon be victimized by the cruel armies of Assyria. All events in Isaiah 7 occur in the 720's BCE in Palestine. In their original context, none of these verses anticipate future events.

"Out of Egypt have I called my son" - a quotation of Hosea 11:1.

"Out of Egypt have I called my son" is a clear reference to the exodus of Jacob's descendants from their time of bondage in Egypt. Hosea is offering hope to northern Israel that God's deliverance will follow a time of oppression by foreign rulers. The bulk of Hosea's prophecy is a word of judgment from God: the wealth and ease of 8th century BCE Israel will give way to God's impending doom. Again and again, the prophetic oracles find fault with Israel's moral and religious life and promise sure and swift judgment from God. But at the end of the book, the prophet changes his tone and offers a word of consolation: just like God delivered Israel from Egypt, He will again deliver Israel AFTER the coming time of judgment. For "two days" Hosea predicts that Israel will be crushed before God's judging arm, but on the "third day" God will show mercy to Israel and restore the nation. The coming judgment will not last forever. The image the prophet conjures for this restoration is a particularly powerful one: a "new exodus" will create a "new Israel." Clearly, Hosea is commenting on events of his day (c. 750 BCE) by making reference to the earlier exodus from Egypt (c. 1200 BCE). Again, this passage does not anticipate future events beyond its immediate context.

"Rachel weeping for her children" - a quotation of Jeremiah 31:15.

In the most vivid terms, the prophet Jeremiah details the horrors of the Babylonian invasions of Palestine which he witnessed with his own eyes (590s and 580s BCE). The best and brightest of society are humiliated before the conquerors and dragged away with hooks and chains. Even the children are killed. The greatest horror of all is that this is taking place in Bethlehem-Ramah, the home place of the great king David. The prophet recalls the earlier image of the childless Rachel crying out to her husband to "Give me children or I die." In this passage, Rachel (and all the Jewish mothers with her) weeps again, but this time for the children of Bethlehem destroyed by the Babylonian armies. The Davidic monarchy—held to be inviolate and indestructible by the prophet's contemporaries—is helpless to protect even its home city. So complete is the judgment of God, and so without hope are the people of the land. As in the other passages, there is nothing in this text that looks beyond the immediate experience of God's judgment on 6th century Judah.


The last three Old Testament references in Matthew's infancy narratives speak loudly of the early Christians' willingness to draw parallels between the life of Jesus and the stories of the Hebrew scriptures and to "re-cast" the telling of the Jesus story to more closely reflect the earlier events.

Here we see authoritative stories—held in the common cultural inheritance of the earliest Christians—that are applied far beyond their historical context and immediate intention to "flesh out" and legitimate the story of Jesus. The early Christians did not shy away from a Christological reading of Old Testament texts—even when these texts were clearly not anticipatory of future events.

In the next and final post of this series, we will turn our attention to the issues of the historical questions raised by these interpretive methods and, in turn, to the reliability of the gospel portrayal of the historical Jesus.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Baptism and the Shorter Formula

In a recent Facebook posting, the Reverend David Bernard, who replaced me at JCM many years ago and now is the General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, says the following:

It is clear that the apostles invoked the name of Jesus when baptizing converts. Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16 ("calling" or "invoking"). See also 1 Cor 1:13; 6:11; Rom 6;3-4; Gal 3:27. The Greek wording leaves no doubt. For full discussion, see my small book "In the Name of Jesus."

I thought I should comment on some aspects of these texts that David Bernard doesn't address, unless he does so in his book which I've not read. The fact is that in ALL these cases, the reference to the name of Jesus concerned either Jews, quasi-Jews or God-fearers. In Acts 2 it concerned diaspora Jews. In Acts 8 it concerned Samaritans, who while only partly Jewish, certainly accepted the Jewish view of God. In Acts 10, it was a God-fearer, a Gentile who already had attached himself and his family to the synagogue and presumably the Jewish understanding of God. In Acts 19, it was a group of people who already had accepted John's baptism, and therefore, it is to be presumed that they also had accepted the Jewish understanding of God. In Acts 22, it was Paul himself, who was certainly a Jew.

This point is extremely pertinent with regard to the 1st century when the earliest Jewish Christians were only preaching the message about Jesus to other Jews (Ac. 11:19). Jews and all those who accepted their religious framework already believed in God, the Father, the Creator of the universe who spoke to Abraham, gave the Torah to Moses and inspired the prophets. They already believed in the Holy Spirit, that mysterious presence of God who is everywhere present in the Hebrew Scriptures. What they necessarily needed to accept was the messiahship of Jesus. This was the crucial point of faith for them—that Jesus was the Messiah sent from God! Hence, for them to be baptized in connection with the name of Jesus entirely makes sense, since this was the pivotal point of their new faith that made them distinctively Christian. The use of the name Jesus was not a magic formula. Rather, it was an acknowledgement that they now had a new center of faith, and that center was Jesus the Messiah. For Jews and all those who had accepted the Jewish view of God, this was a HUGE issue, an issue big enough to distinguish them from all other Jews, proselytes and God-fearers. Interestingly, when conversions of non-Jews are described in the Book of Acts, in NONE of them is used this language of "in the name of Jesus" with respect to baptism. It simply is not there--not for Lydia (Ac. 16:15), not for the Philippian jailor and his family (Ac. 16:33) and not for the Corinthians (Ac. 18:8).

Matthew's Gospel, on the other hand, focuses on the movement of the message of Jesus from the Jews alone to the wider scope of the non-Jews. Early on, Jesus clearly voiced a restriction regarding ministry beyond the circle of Jewry during his earthly life (Mt. 10:5-6; 15:22-24). However, by the end of Matthew’s gospel, this restriction was lifted, and the preaching of the gospel was extended in the Great Commission to the nations (Mt. 28:19).

For non-Jews, the issue of faith was much broader than simply acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. It also included the whole Jewish view of God, the one and only God who was Creator and sustainer of the universe, who by his Spirit had inspired the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence, it makes sense that Matthew offers the longer baptismal wording of "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19). This language was only appropriate for those who prior to their coming to Christian faith had worshiped the pantheon of gods and goddesses in the Greco-Roman world. This longer wording reflects a larger change in viewpoint. These non-Jewish converts needed to embrace the view of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian message, as St. Paul puts it:

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

It is not surprising, then, to find that in post-apostolic literature one finds in the Didache (around the end of the 1st century and roughly contemporaneous with the writings of John) a clear instruction for baptism: Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Didache 7.1.3). The Didache reflects this broader scope of the gospel to the non-Jewish nations of the world.

Another point or two may be appropriate, since Bernard wishes to cite the Greek text. The language of “invoking” (the 1st aorist middle voice participle of epikaleo) does not appear in Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48 or 19:5 as might seem to be implied in Bernard’s statement. These passages about Jewish baptism simply say that baptism was performed "on (epi) the name of Jesus Christ" or "into (eis) the name of the Lord Jesus" or "in (en) the name of Jesus Christ". Three different prepositions are used, which suggests that the real point was not precision of wording, but a general acknowledgement that Jesus was Messiah and Lord. The ONLY place where the language of invocation is used in the Book of Acts with respect to baptism is in 22:16, and as the middle voice participle in the Greek text makes crystal clear, the one who uttered this invocation was not the one baptizing Paul, but Paul himself as he was being baptized! It was Paul who was calling on the name of the Lord, not Ananias! Would David Bernard or those of his persuasion be comfortable if only the candidate for baptism said anything at the time of baptism, not the preacher performing the baptism? Yet this is exactly the case for Paul, and the Greek text will admit no other possibility.

Hence, Bernard's statement that the apostles "invoked the name of Jesus when baptizing converts" and that "the Greek wording leaves no doubt" is either a misunderstanding of the Greek text or disingenuous. The funny thing about "facts" is that they keep getting in the way, and in this case, they are definitely in the way of Bernard's statement that "the Greek wording leaves no doubt". The Greek wording leaves a great deal of doubt!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Christological Use of the Old Testament - Part 1

Very early among first-century Christians—both as a major part of their evangelism and as a defense against Jewish critics—there arose the belief that something fundamentally new was happening in human history. This "experience of the new" perhaps had its earliest expression in the words of Jesus himself.

The primitive Christians taught that this new thing was happening because of the life, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

This new thing was from God.

This new thing signaled the end of the age. With Jesus, the final resurrection of men had begun and the Kingdom of God was already dawning in the present.

And finally, the early Christians were completely convinced that this new thing had not come out of nowhere. Rather everything about this new thing had occurred "according to the scriptures."

To the Christians at Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,  through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (I Corinthians 15:1-8 NRSV)

Here we see the nexus of memory and tradition in earliest Christianity. Memory was directly proclaimed by those who had been eyewitnesses to these events.  Tradition was the encapsulation and interpretation of these memories, passed down first in oral form and then later in writing, and received by those who had not witnessed these events directly due to geographic distance or the passing of time. Here also is the strong conviction that every thing that has occurred is "in accordance with the scriptures."

The newness and the power of the Jesus event overwhelmed the early Christians who struggled to express it among themselves, much less share it with others. Luckily, the earliest Christians enjoyed the common vocabulary—thought world, metaphors, symbols—of an authoritative scripture.

It is not at all surprising that the earliest Christians looked to the Hebrew scriptures for the tools needed to express the new thing that God was doing through Jesus and the end of the age inaugurated by these events. The New Testament is filled with direct quotes, clear allusions, and faint echoes of the familiar texts and stories of the Jewish scriptures. Particularly useful to the early Christians in telling the Christian story were the writings of the Psalms, the prophecies of Isaiah, and the Torah of Deuteronomy.

It seems that the early Christians appealed to the Hebrew scriptures in two very different ways.

First, they used the older texts apologetically, answering the charges of novelty and foreignness raised by their contemporary Jewish sectarians detractors. The anticipatory passages of the Old Testament—particularly the widely recognized prophecies of the coming of a future messiah, a God-anointed political leader that will liberate the nation of Israel from its foreign overlords—were seen as "pre-visions" of Jesus and the end of the age.

But a second, less recognized (although extremely obvious) use of the Hebrew scriptures occurred among the early Christians. They also used the well-known stories and texts of the Old Testament to structure their memories of Jesus—to provide a framework for their story-telling. They often told the Jesus story by drawing parallels between his life and words and those of great figures from the Hebrew past. His words were remembered as echoes of his predecessors'. The early Christians "filled-out" their telling of the Jesus story by drawing parallels—sometimes with clear and compelling quotes and references, but at other times in less clear, more tenuous ways, even as a lingering vestige or fading recollection of earlier words and accounts that were nevertheless used by these early Christians—to make sense of and communicate the story of Jesus and the drastic change brought through his life and words.

Most often, this secondary use of Old Testament texts to frame the story of Jesus drew from passages that had no anticipatory quality. Very often these stories were simple narratives that did not look beyond the events themselves in their original contexts, but which were still applied to the telling of the Jesus story by the earliest Christians. Moses went up into a mountain and from there proclaimed the laws of God. Likewise, Jesus in Matthew 5-7 goes up into a mountain and proclaims the new law of God. The writers of the various Psalms would lament their current fates in no way anticipating future events, but the early Christians would find parallels in the life of Jesus and tell his story in the language of these earlier songs. Again and again, the Christian writers told the story of Jesus' passion with quotations from the Psalms that in no way anticipated future events (casting lots for Jesus' clothing, his thirst, no breaking of his bones ).

In summary, the early Christians took the shockingly new events that fell upon them in the death and resurrection of Jesus and interpreted them using the primary cultural tools available to them—the Hebrew scriptures. Much of the Gospels' story of Jesus and well as the rest of the New Testament exposition clearly shows this "re-telling" of the Jesus story through the lens of detailed reflection on the Hebrew scriptures. This christological use of the Old Testament scriptures is foreign—and admittedly, a bit strange—to our modern principles of literary interpretation.

But all of this leaves us with a difficult question: How much did the Hebrew scriptures actually structure the telling of the story of Jesus? Did the earliest Christians have genuine memories of the historical Jesus that they embellished with Old Testament parallels? Or did the Old Testament stories actually give rise to the Jesus story as mere "historical fictions" created out of the scriptural precedent?

The Jesus Seminar concluded the latter—that the Gospel writers had few, if any, real memories of the story of Jesus and that most of the Gospel stories that we now know arose as fictions built from the details of Old Testament texts. This challenge to the historical value of the Gospel accounts will be the topic of the next post.

Early Christian Worship

     When Christ returned to the Father after his passion, he left no mandate for a church order. Rather, he promised to send the Holy Spirit who would direct the disciples and remind them of all he had taught them (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13-15). Hence, leadership in the early Christian communities evolved by a process guided by God. Tracing this development is a matter of piecing together small hints and incidental mentions that are scattered throughout the New Testament.

     While Jesus left no mandate for church order, the disciples of Jesus were not without patterns of religious leadership from their Jewish background. Such leadership was to be found in four primary areas, the temple, the Sanhedrin, the synagogue and the less formally structured special interest groups and community settings. The temple was regulated by the priesthood. The office of high priest theoretically was supposed to be inherited (Nu. 25:10-13), but during the Hellenistic period, and later, during the Roman period, this office was often achieved by simony or political favor so that dissident Jewish groups considered the high priesthood to be corrupt. In addition to the high priest and the large numbers of ordinary priests there were “chief priests,” either the permanent staff of priestly officials in Jerusalem or the aggregate of former high priests and their family members.

     The Sanhedrin was the supreme religious, political and legal council in Jerusalem. Its roots went back to the post-exilic period when Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the governor, ruled the community along with a council of priestly nobility (Ezr. 3:8; Hg. 1:1; Zec. 3-4; Ne. 2:16; 5:7). Seventy in number, the council was presided over by the high priest, making the total number seventy-one. Most of its members were priests, though it also included scribes (copyists of Scripture) and elders (powerful laypersons and dignitaries).

     The synagogue was the place of prayer and assembly for local Jewish communities. It was the center of community life, both religious and social, and it served as a school, a place of worship, a site for general assembly, and a venue for community discipline. Wherever there were a minimum of ten Jewish males, a synagogue could be started, and within the synagogue, any Jewish male could read Scripture, translate, preach or lead prayers. Women were restricted, however. They were allowed to attend the synagogue service, but lattice barriers or galleries were constructed to segregate the women from the men. They, along with children and slaves, were forbidden to teach or to publicly read the Torah. During the service, they could only listen. Leadership in the synagogue consisted of a ruler or head of the assembly, who presided over services and designated those to perform the functions of the liturgy. Scholars called rabbis (= teachers) were often associated with synagogues, though they also functioned independently as they drew on the ancient traditions and modified or reshaped them for contemporary relevance.

     Besides the more familiar religious structures of temple, Sanhedrin and synagogue, local Jewish communities had various forms of authority that belonged to the assembly of men of the city. Older males served as a council of leaders called “the elders,” a kind of local Sanhedrin with general oversight for community affairs. Also, there were special interest groups, like the Qumran community or the various zealot groups, with their own indigenous leaders. At Qumran, for instance, there was a supreme council and an overseer who examined candidates for membership, directed the treasury and divided the labor. Members were examined annually and assigned a rank in accord with their spiritual progress.

     It is not apparent that the disciples of Jesus followed completely any one of these preexisting structures. The temple hierarchy had limited application to church life, since the Christians looked back to the older ideal that the entire community was a priesthood (He. 10:19-22; 1 Pe. 2:9; cf. Ex. 19:6). The function of high priestly service, at least in a sacerdotal way, had been performed once and for all by Christ Jesus (He. 9:23-26; 10:11-14, 18; 1 Ti. 2:5-6). The Sanhedrin, likewise, had little to offer as a model for Christian church government.

     The synagogue, however, was more fruitful for leadership paradigms, and there were both similarities and dissimilarities to the Christian churches. Titles like “elder” and descriptions like “synagogue” were used by the Christians (Ja. 2:2). The general pattern of Christian worship, with Scripture reading, prayers and a homily, was generally similar to the Jewish synagogue liturgy. When Paul and Barnabas took a gift from Antioch, Syria to the Jerusalem church and presented it to the “elders” (Ac. 11:30), there seems little doubt that the title functioned for the Christians more or less like it did in the broader Jewish communities. Later, Paul and Barnabas would appoint “elders” in all the new Christian congregations in Asia Minor (Ac. 14:23).

     There were some marked differences, however, especially for slaves and women, who were welcomed as full members of the Christian assemblies and allowed to publicly participate (1 Co. 11:5) and engage in theological dialogue (Ac. 18:26). The distinction of carrying a church letter, which generally included reading the letter publicly and explaining its contents, was a high honor indeed that Paul conferred upon Phoebe (Ro. 16:1-2). Quartus and Tertius, both probably slaves, are reckoned with the Christian brothers as fully as Erastus, the Director of Public Works in Corinth, and Tertius served as Paul’s amanuensis (Ro. 16:22-23b). Paul had no hesitation in recommending the slave Onesimus as a full brother in Christ (Philmn 15-16). Thus, it is to be expected that the early Christians drew some of their ideas about leadership from familiar patterns in the Jewish community. At the same time, because they were a new community bound to the teachings and ethics of Jesus, they were free to reshape these traditions to conform to Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Jesus' Use of Scripture

One of the most obvious features of Jesus’ teaching and preaching was his regular appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures. While the fixing of the Hebrew canon was an historical process, by the time of Jesus there seemed to have been a generally accepted consensus about the three major sections, the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. Jesus regularly used introductory formulae for citing Scripture, such as, “It is written” (Mt. 4:4, 6-7, 10; 21:13; 26:24, 31; Mk. 7:6; 9:12; 11:17; 14:27, etc.) and “Scripture says” (Mk. 12:10; Lk. 4:21; Jn. 7:38, 42, etc.). Such formulae imply an appeal to authority that Jesus certainly did not accord to the oral tradition.

Oral tradition, especially by the Pharisees, was believed to hold the same authority as the written Torah. To them, the Torah was a living tradition, not a static collection, and capable of fresh interpretations for each succeeding age. The collection of rabbinical running commentaries on the Torah, the Torah expansions (the so-called “fence” around the Torah consisting of cautionary rules as corollaries to Torah laws), the Halakah (regulations about civil and religious law), and the Haggadah (those things that were not points of law), made up the oral Torah, which stood alongside the written Torah. Both were believed to be of equal antiquity, handed down by God to Moses at Sinai and transmitted faithfully through the generations.

Yet, though Jesus was deeply reverent toward the written Scriptures and in fact interpreted the spirit of those Scriptures at levels higher than anyone had ever before known, he was decidedly negative about the oral Torah. He chose to ignore breaches of oral law (Mk. 7:1-13//Lk. 11:37-41//Mt. 15:1-11). Kosher laws were not the final defining factor for purity (Mk. 7:17-23). Sabbatical laws were not sacrosanct (Mk. 2:23-28//Lk. 6:1-5//Mt. 12:1-8; Mk. 3:1-6//Lk. 6:6-11//Mt. 12:9-14; Lk. 13:10-16; 14:1-4). Hence, while Jesus felt free to dispense with rulings from the oral Torah, he held the written Scriptures in the highest possible esteem, even to the point of declaring that the Scriptures could not be broken (Jn. 10:35) and the law would not fail until all was fulfilled (Mt. 5:18). Jesus' rejection of the oral Torah reached a climax in his discourse in Matthew 23, where he charged that such regulations "tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders". It was in this discourse that Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides and hypocrites, the descendants of those who murdered the prophets but whitewashed their tombs at the same time.

Christian groups, if they are not careful, can also create their own sort of oral Torah. Many of us grew up with such regulations that stood alongside Scripture even though they were not a part of Scripture. I suspect that Christ would say to those who create these modern versions the same thing he said to those who created the ancient ones, "Woe to you, blind guides!" At the same time, in an era where Christians can also become very casual about what the Scripture actually does say, I think he would challenge modern believers to be as rigorous as necessary to live in harmony with the spirit of the ancient written Word of God. "You have heard that it was said...but I say to you..." (Mt. 5). As a contemporary Christian, I find that issues which once loomed large in my eyes now have given way to much deeper and more important concerns, such as, loving my neighbor as myself. Mark Twain, who was no theologian by anyone's standards, nor a Christian either for that matter, nonetheless said it well: "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand."