Love Your Neighbor by Wearing a Mask

Jesus commanded us to do what the Mosaic Law says to do: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) . He even told his disciples to “:Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27).

In the midst of our current pandemic, there seem to be many, including professing Christians who refuse to wear a mask. Whether they doubt they will get (which is not what a face mask is for), or its oppressive government intrusion, or some other reason, these people are doing the opposite. I work at a Southern Baptist Seminary. When Californians were told that they should wear masks but it wasn’t’ a state mandate, I inquired about those who weren’t wearing masks in the seminary building. I was told that many people have differing views on the need for a mask.

We are to love God with all our minds. Those who expect God to protect them in a church service without masks are refusing to use the tool God gave us to protect ourselves in this case: our brains. It is time for some science fact. Before you decide that you are anti-science, let me remind you that you would not have a car, a smart phone, or the Internet without science. Fact 1: masks do not protect you from others. That’s not the purpose of wearing a mask and studies have shown that a mask is only about 10% effective in keeping the virus someone else breathes out from getting into your lungs. Fact 2: You can carry and even be ill with the COVID-19 virus and not even know it. Fact 3: The point of wearing a mask is not to protect the wearer but to protect others. Fact 4: Millions of dollars are being spent by thousands of people who are working to create a vaccine against COVID-`19. They can see the virus under a microscope. If you deny its existence, you have to ignore a massive quantity of empirical data, just ask the people on ventilators, if they manage to survive. Fact 5: COVID-19 is spread in droplets when you exhale. These droplets can travel up to six feet, father if you sneeze or cough. That means that if you are carrying the virus, whether you get sick or not, if you are not wearing a mask, which isn’t a 100% guarantee, you are endangering others. People are dying daily from COVID-19. Don’t add to that number.

You might not care about losing two or more weeks in the near future because you contracted the Corona Virus (another fine Chinese export) but you have a choice. Will you obey Jesus and do your best to protect your neighbor from you? Or, will you disobey him by refusing to wear a face mask. There isn’t another position. Whether you believe that the virus was created and released in China or that Amazon caused it, is irrelevant to its existence. If you go out somewhere that you might encounter other people besides those who live with you, and don’t wear a mask, then you are disobeying Jesus’ unambiguous command. No, he said nothing about wearing a face mask but this is an obvious application of his command. Look at Romans 13. There, Paul offers a few examples of what it means to love your neighbor. If someone steals or commits adultery, that person is not loving their neighbor, for example. Love of neighbor takes lots of forms.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount to do to others what you would have them do to you. Do you want someone else to give you a potentially fatal disease because they didn’t want to wear a mask? I’m sure you wouldn’t. Therefore, don’t do that to anyone else. If you come into contact with someone who suffers from asthma, their respiratory system is already compromised. COVID-19 goes to your lungs and multiplies there. If I pass COVID-19 to someone who is asthmatic, I may have signed their death warrant.

Love your neighbor by wearing a mask.

New NICNT commentary on Ephesians: will be great

Here is an interview with Lynn Cohick, the author of a commentary on Ephesians to replace that by F. F. Bruce. I appreciate everything that Bruce wrote but it long over due for updating.

Good interview. I am sure this will be an excellent commentary. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2020/07/lynn-cohick-on-ephesians/
 I got to know Lynn a little while part of the board of the Institute for Biblical Research. I have noting but respect for her as a person and  scholar.
I’ve expressed the view here that 1 Timothy 2:9-15 does not mean a that no women can teach the Bible. Jesus sent a woman to tell the cowardly eleven that Jesus rose from the dead. Priscilla taught Apollos. Phoebe, who delivered the letter to the Romans, probably played the regular role of letter carriers and explained anything that needed clarification to the Christians in Rome. Fixating on one verse as though none of the other data existed is fallacious reasons and very bad biblical interpretation. There does not need to be a verse that says, “Women can teach the Bible,” given that the New Testament repeatedly makes this clear. There are lots of things Christians believe and do without having a verse for it. I work as the reference librarian for a nearby Southern Baptist seminary. From all that I have heard, I thihnk it is reasonable to expect all the SBC New Testament scholars to reject this commentary because Lynn is a woman. Their loss. That’s what happens when you are a victim of your own bad biblical interpretation.

What Would Ancient Audiences Expect of the Gospels? Christobiography 2

I know it has been a while and that this might appeal primarily to those engaged in academic biblical studies. However, I think that Keener has done in this book is important. He hits on multiple controversial areas. When I began my Ph.D. work, I had a course on ways of approaching the New Testament. The prof had us buy her book, which argued that the Gospel of Mark was fiction. As I’ve written about before, and Keener sets out to demonstrate in serious detail both why that is false and how ancient audiences would have evaluated the Gospels. It does not matter what some scholar thinks today about what Mark’s Gospel represents. It matters a lot how well ancient audiences would have viewed it. Many modern biblical scholars bild their views on top of the Enlightenment, which dramatically colors the way that they view the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. If you watch a program on, say, the History Channel and some scholar offers some way-out, previously not offered view of what the four Gospels represent, it flows from that Enlightenment stream that made a sharp divide between “fact” and “faith.” That’s not valid but that will have to wait for another day,. I hope to move more quickly in the next few months.

Craig Kenner—Christobiogrpahy 2

This post considers chapters 2-5, Chapter 2 is, ”Not a Novel Proposal.” The main issue here is to establish what kind of biography the Gospels are. Some have argued that the gospels are a special kind of biography. Keener considers the question, What would ancient audiences think the gospels were? Most would have considered them biographies or history, even if they were unique examples of Bioi (Greek for “Lives,” their term for biographies). Are the gospels novels? Biography and novels share the fact that they are narratives. As others have pointed out, and I posted about previously, there is no other way recount history than a narrative. Therefore, the fact that biographies or histories are narratives does not prove that they are unreliable.  Furthermore, some biographies share stylistic features with Greco-Roman novels but that does not make them novels. Ancient biographies, like ancient novels, were written for the wealthy elite with leisure time. The gospels do not appear to be written for the elite.

 

Ancient novels usually focused upon romance between a man and a  woman. Keener argues that the Gospels are not like ancient novels. He stresses, however, that writing history does require the narratization of historical facts. Some see this as fictionalization because the historian’s framework is a creation of the historian or biographer. However, this latter term is prejudicial and carries the wrong sense. Creating a narrative structure does not require that any historical facts are invented. It simply acknowledges that as Hayden White has shown, this is the only way to tell a story. In response to the argument then that the gospel writers had definite perspectives that influenced their narratization, Keener argues that no one can write history from a neutral, objective perspective. Therefore, such a criticism of the gospel indicates more about the critic’s lack of self-awareness than a failure on the part of the gospel writers.

 

I’m going to skip chapters 3-4, which focus on showing that the gospels are biographies,  and move to something that will be meaningful to all the readers. In chapter 5, Keener asks the question, What would an ancient audience expect to find in a biography? Readers of the four canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, have noticed differences in the structure and contents of each gospel. Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to have different orders of events and for the same event, describe different aspects of them. As Keener notes, those like Bart Ehrman who see these differences as contradictions are applying a modern standard to ancient texts that ancient writers and audiences do not share. Ancient biographies were sometimes arranged chronologically and sometimes they were arranged topically. If one reads Mark 2-3 in one sitting, it can be seen that the contents are “conflict stories.” While these events might not have all happened in the specific chronological order that Mark has them, they are topically related. Ancient audiences were familiar with biographies that emphasized topics rather than chronology. Luke seems to be more interested in chronology than Mark. Keener observes that these sorts of differences do not by themselves mean that there are no discrepancies between the gospels but many of the alleged contradictions are a function of failing to understand how ancient biographers and historians wrote. While it was certainly possible for a biographer to invent material, in the early Empire, which includes the first century A.D., biographers sought to present actual events and statements by the people they described. The notion that they would simply create fictional accounts to prove a point is not evident in the available evidence. Furthermore, while biographers and historians certainly had access to many stories about people, they relied most upon the testimony of those with living memories of the individuals. A modern analogy might be someone writing a biography of someone in the 20th century, like Neil Armstrong. A good biographer would seek information from those who actually knew Armstrong and put much less stock in stories from people who were born too late to have known him. Armstrong died in 2012. Anecdotes form someone born in 2013 about him would be less trustworthy than from someone who knew him, such as another Apollo astronaut.

 

Another important feature of ancient Bioi covered by Keener is the contents of ancient biographies. These were usually anecdotes about events, speeches, sayings, and other short narratives. These often including statements by the subject of the biographies surrounded by the context of the statement, such as an event related to it. This is what we find in the gospels as well. When boys were educated, the first level of instruction included memorizing anecdotes about well-known people. In the second level, students would memorize well-known sayings of individuals. This had the technical name of chreia. You might see that in some book on the gospels, which is why I have used it. This is the same sort of thing seen in the gospels. When an ancient audience looked at a gospel or other biography, this is what they expected to see.

 

 

Must Women Be Silent??? 1 Cor 14:34-35 Reconsidered

Must Women Be Silent?

Last November, John Macarthur at the Truth matters conference used 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 or 14:40 to defend his view that women may not preach or teach in the church. These controversial verses state, “Let wives/women in the churches be silent. For it is not allowed to them to speak but just as also the Law says. And if they want to learn something, in the home let them ask their husbands/men. For it is shameful for them to speak in the church.”

There are numerous problems with these two verses. They have nothing to do with the context and they interrupt the flow of Paul’s argument. Reading 14:33 and then 14:36 stays on the same topic. The Corinthian believes need to use their spiritual gifts in a way that brings peace, not confusion. They must not act arrogant about this as though they were the first to hear from God or to speak God’s words.

Vv. 34-35 also stand in flat contradiction to 1 Corinthians 11:5, which talks about women needing to cover their heads or tie up their long hair (Paul’s language is ambiguous here) while praying (publicly) or prophesying in a place at which they can be seen, then apparently women don’t need to remain silent. Various attempts have been made to resolve this contradiction but when an interpreter has to grasp for straws to make his case, it’s probably because there isn’t a good case for what is being asserted. This is true here. There is no good reason to think that women in house churches would not have prayed or prophesied in public. To think or argue otherwise is to perform eisegesis. I’ve explained that word before. Basically, it means coming to the Bible with a predetermined view of what a verse means. Reading women out of active, vocal participation in a church gathering is nothing but that. When I see that going on, I dismiss whatever the writer is saying.

The word in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 says that gunaikes, the plural of gune are to remain silent. The word gune can mean “woman” or “wife/” V. 35 says that the women must be silent should ask their husbands at home about things they might have heard but did not understand. That requires that “the wives” are to be silent. This means that single women are free to speak, prophesy, and pray in public when no one else is speaking. Why would married women be required to be silent while single women do not need to be silent?

The last part of v. 34 says, “even as the Law says.” Paul’s customary use of “The Law” with a definite article, is for the Law of Moses, which Jews saw as the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch. I challenge anyone to find in Genesis-Deuteronomy such a command. In addition, Paul does not usually assert something is true because the Scriptures say it. It is not proof this is a problem but Paul’s custom was to cite a biblical text to prove something.

Many justify what Paul says in vv. 34-35 by arguing that men and women sat in church services in synagogue style: men on one side of an aisle and women on the other That’s a nice try but in the first century, churches met in houses, usually houses of the rich, as those would be larger than others. Beyond that, we know almost nothing about early churches. It’s unlikely that a Gentile would create a synagogue-type space in his or her living room. This solution to what is going on behind the text fails for lack of evidence. One can come up with lots of ideas about the background of a biblical passage if lack of evidence is not a problem. We do not know that synagogue-style seating was employed. We do not know what women are to ask their husbands about at home or why wives would need to know more about something that they heard in a church service. These are all reasons to have problems with this text. However, there’s a clincher.

These two verses appear in every Greek New Testament manuscript (MS).However, they appear at two different places. They appear in some manuscripts as vv. 34-35. In others, these come after v. 40. That version suggests that the scribe copying the text might have these verses as not belong where they were at 34-35.  This movement of these two verses suggests here, as at other places in the New Testament, that these two verses are not original: Paul did not write them and instead, some scribe inserted them at some point. This can be seen in the manuscript tradition for Romans 8:1. It reads, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in the Messiah Jesus.” (Christ meant Messiah to Jews, including Paul). Later in time, there are manuscripts (MSS) that had the words from Romans 8;4, “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” written in the margin next to Romans 8:1. Later MSS, like those used by the KJV translators, have these words moved from the margin into v. 1: “There is therefore now no condemnation  to those in the Messiah Jesus who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” So, words that were not original could be moved into the margin of a MS and then into a verse where they don’t belong. However, a close parallel is the passage in John 7:53-8:11, the story of the woman taken in adultery (so where’s the man?). Early MSS do not contain this story. Later MSS add the story numbering it as John 7:53-8:11. However, not all MSS that add this passage put it there. Some put it at the end of Luke’s Gospel and elsewhere. This variety of locations argues strongly against this story being written into John’s Gospel originally but added later. Many scholars, including me, think that it is a true story but John didn’t put it into his original gospel.

 

Even as the different places this story was inserted suggest strongly that it was not original, the different locations of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 argues strongly that it likewise is not original. Since it was not originally in 1 Corinthians, we can safely ignore it as a scribal insertion from a later time.

 

However, what if I’m wrong there. Then how do we understand this passage as coming from Paul? As the first several paragraph show, this passage has a lot of problems for interpreters. It cannot mean simply what it says. Paul would be contradicting himself. One possibility is that, as Paul does other place in 1 Corinthians, e.g., 1 Cor 8:1, Paul is quoting something the Corinthian believers are saying in order to show why it is wrong. This is plausible. Scholars generally acknowledge that there are places in 1 Corinthians where Paul quotes something the Corinthian believers are saying. Or, like case of 1 Romans 8:1, it began its life as a marginal note that was later incorporated into the text of 1 Corinthians. By the way, this does not affect my trust in the reliability of the New Testament. There are a small number of passages that are likely insertion but that does not make the whole rest of the New Testament unreliable, contra Bart Ehrman.

 

However these sentences got into 1 Corinthians 14, there is so much difficulty with interpreting these verses correctly that no regular church practice should be based upon them.

 

Finally, let’s consider the practical effects of simply applying this to women in the church as Macarthur does. It’s important to remember that there were no church buildings when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around A. D. 53. Paul absolutely cannot mean a church building. Believers gathered in the early hours of Sunday morning to worship, be taught, and pray in peoples’ homes. Later they met in the catacombs but not when Paul wrote. This means that Paul must mean that women must be silent where the church is gathered. The church is the people, not the church building or the church service. As Marva Dawn says, “You cannot go to church. You are the church.”

 

If Paul then means where believers gather on Sunday mornings for worship, this would include the whole house that they are gathered in. So, if we take that fact seriously, the following is required. Women may not greet people verbally. They cannot speak in a children’s Sunday school classroom, as that is part of where the believers are gathered on Sunday morning. They cannot announce a women’s retreat or other activity. If women are in the nursery, hey may not talk to the babies or each other. They must not sing or pray in any way during a church service. What those who are married would be asking their husbands at home about is unclear. However, more women than men became Christians and it is the women who have probably gotten more teaching than the men. They might well know more about the faith than their husbands did.

 

So, if John Macarthur or any other pastor wants to use these verses as a weapon against women preaching, he is a hypocrite if women are allowed to speak in any way, shape , or form where the believers are gathered on a Sunday morning. Within the larger Evangelical world and even more among Pentecostals and Charismatics, women often do speak, and teach, and preach. Are they all really good at it? Not in my opinion but I have heard some really bad preaching and teaching from men. Gender and preaching talent are not related. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either women can speak in church gatherings or they cannot but it is invalid to make distinctions based upon the part of a church building a woman is in.

 

Yes, women can and should be speaking, singing, and prophesying in church services and church locations (where the church members are, not where the sanctuary is during a church service). Yes, John Macarthur, truth does matter but in this case, you don’t have it. You don’t use obscure texts, that have big ambiguities and problems to impose such a legalistic practice on all Christians.

Mary, Valiant Warrior and Psalmist

When you see pictures of Mary, the mother of Jesus, on Christmas cards, all you see is a mother with her baby. When you hear about her often sounds like she is the passive vehicle to deliver Jesus into the world. That’s not how Scripture speaks of  her.

We read about Gabriel’s message to Mary in Luke 1:26-38. You may have read of the angel of the Lord calling Gideon in Judges 6 to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Midianites. You know, the guy who unwisely tested God with a fleece (don’t try that at home; it shows doubt, not faith)? Well, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “”The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 NIV). Then the angel proceeds to commission Gideon to lead Israel in a battle against the Midianites. Like Moses before him (see Exodus 3-4), Gideon basically says, “Who me? I’m a nobody. Surely, you’ve got the wrong person for this.” Gabriel speaks to Mary with almost the same wording in Greek that we find in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. My doctoral dissertation focuses on the use of Scripture in Luke-Acts and this is an important passage in my book. I spent over a year slowing working through Luke 1 in Greek and I hope that some of what I learned may be helpful to others too. Luke’s text echoes many passages in Israel’s Scriptures, aka the Old Testament. An intertextual echo, the main focus of my work, is a statement in the New Testament that, while not a quotation, is clearly from one or more biblical texts. When we find one of those, it is very helpful to look at the original context in Scripture because that can often help in understanding how a New Testament writer is using the original text. I belong to the group of scholars who reject the idea that the New Testament writers ripped verses from Scripture out of context to make some point. That original context matters, as my look at Luke 1 suggests. Even as Gideon was commissioned for a purpose, Mary was commissioned. It’s true that Gideon started off as just one more Israelite, no one you’d ever heard of. That’s true of Mary as well. She lived in Nazareth, which is like living in Nowheresville in the Midwest U.S. She was probably twelve or thirteen years old, had never been on the cover of People Magazine, hadn’t gone to seminary, and didn’t even have a Facebook account. Girls were betrothed at a very early age to help ensure that they were still virgins on their wedding night. Women were of a much lower social status than men in her culture. Furthermore, the wording we read in Luke’s Gospel is very similar to the words God spoke when he called Jeremiah to be a prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV). Jeremiah objects that he is too young to do this but God says that, “, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:7 NIV). I know the words don’t look very similar but they do in Greek, the language Luke wrote in and the language of the Bible translation he used. Mary was not a passive incubator. She was commissioned by God for a very important task.

After this, Mary goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. When Mary enters Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and says, “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42). This is not the first time that this sentence has been used. It occurs in Judges 5 as well. According to Judges 4, Israel’s enemies, Jabin the king of Canaan, and his army, were oppressing Israel. God called up Deborah to deliver Israel. She leads Israel’s army to victory. The general of Jabin’s army was Sisera. He ran away when his army was defeated. He came to the tent of a woman named Ja’el to hide. This man was the enemy of Ja’el and her people, the Israelites. After giving Sisera some warm milk (with no refrigerators, milk was always warm to some degree), he lies down and she covers him with a blanket. While he was sleeping, Ja’el picked up a tent peg and a hammer, and drove the tent peg through Sisera’s skull. God had given the commander of the army that oppressed Israel into Ja’el’s hand. She therefore made a huge contribution to delivering Israel from its oppressors. After this, Deborah sings a song that celebrates Ja’el’s action, “Most blessed of women is Jael” (Judges 5:24 NASB).

Mary was commissioned by God for an important task and through her came the deliverer, not only of Israel, but of us all. Mary was not just a container for a baby.

After Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, Mary sang the Magnificat. This song is based heavily on the Psalms and is implicitly prophetic. Mary doubtless heard and prayed the Psalms in the Nazareth synagogue. The Holy Spirit inspired Mary to compose this marvelous psalm. Mary is not only a valiant, called and commit and commissioned servant of God but also was inspired by the voice of the Holy Spirit to compose a marvelous song.

I only know as an observer how hard it is to be pregnant and give birth. That’s got to be hard enough but Mary doubtless suffered the rest of her life for this mission. It looks like Gabriel commissions Mary and she then takes off to go see Elizabeth. I’ve long wondered who went with her. I’m sure she did not travel alone. Therre would be harsh conditions for travel, the need to take supplies, and have a guide to get there, to say nothing of bandits along the way. She was commissioned but that did not make her a Jewish Xena, able to take care of herself. However she traveled over eighty miles, she got there. While there, it is likely that this young girl began to look pregnant. Imagine the conversation that must have gone on when Mary got home to Nazareth. “Mary, what did you do? How could you? You are betrothed and the penalty for sexual intercourse with another man during betrothal is death by stoning.” Mary likely replied that an angel appeared to her and told her that this impossible thing was going to happen without intercourse. Sometimes, I read scholars who talk about how ignorant ancient people, like Jews in Galilee, were. That’s just arrogance. They all knew what it took to make a baby. It’s us, who don’t live with farm animals that don’t’ know this at a young age. How might Mary’s mother have responded? “Yeah, right, and I have this bridge for sale. Was this angel named Joseph???” We know that Mary has done nothing wrong—God chose someone humble and ready to obey God in faith, but with no power in society. That has to have been a “hard sell” to those around her. Mary lived in a village. It would not take long for the whole village to know that Mary, betrothed to Joseph, was pregnant. Doubtless, no matter what Mary said, people probably sneered at her and gossiped about her. The people in Nazareth probably never let up on Mary. She had to live with this shame, though innocent, her whole life. It reminds me of some of the prophets who got called to ministries no one would want. God called Isaiah to be a prophet. He was to go to his people and preach to them but God told him ahead of time that they would not believe him. Mary was not given an easy task nor a short one. She was called by God for something that would directly affect her for years.

If we look at Luke 1:5-25, we see Luke showing a stark contrast between someone with relatively high status who ought to know Scripture well and someone of low status who had not been trained like a priest would be. Zechariah was an aged priest. He got to serve in the temple at least once in his life. He would have been looked on by others as someone with important work to do  and be honored in the eyes of others. However, when an angel appears to him, Zechariah doubts the angel’s words. What Gabriel has promised is impossible. Of course, if Zechariah remembered Abraham and Sarah, he might have done better. By contrast, Mary, who is told of something even more impossible, expresses faith and humility as the servant of the Lord. Thus, it is this young girl who stands out as the one with faith while Zechariah is disciplined for his rejection of the angel’s words.

Furthermore, Mary is the first person in Luke’s Gospel to experience what she sings about. She is lowly and definitely on the poor side economically. Yet, she has been exalted by God. We don’t know the names of most of the people of Galilee who had power or wealth but we know about this twelve-year-old girl who played an important role in God’s plan to save the world. Others in Luke and Acts will likewise be exalted from their low status, like shepherds, fishermen, and Mary of Magdala. Luke shows us over and over again that God can do a lot with someone ready to respond to him in faith.

 

 

What Makes Contemplative Prayer a “False doctrine”?

You may be aware of the social media attack on Beth Moore by John Macarthur and his Reformed allies. I want to address this topic in a couple of posts. In reading about it, I was stunned to see that Moore was condemned for teaching contemplative prayer because contemplative prayer is a false doctrine. It is characterized as mystical, opposed to faith and the Bible, and a “flight of fancy.” So that you know I’m not making this up, here’s a link to an example: https://bereanresearch.org/contemplative-prayer/

 

This will be a bit longer than I wanted but I think these things need to be said. There is so much wrong with this claim about contemplative prayer that I don’t know where to start but here are some points to consider:

  1. Contemplative prayer is in fact biblically based. In Hebrews 10:19-22, we are invited, since Jesus has cleansed us from our sins with his blood, to come into God’s presence, into the Holy Place of the tabernacle and draw near to God:
  2. ” 19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,  21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB).

 

As a song by Paul Clark put it,

“Come into His presence.

His blood shed for you is the evidence

that he wants us to come and have fellowship with him.”

 

Maybe it is just me, but I read the opening words of Psalm 42 as more than an intellectual active prayer:

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.  2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1 NASB).

 

It is not hard to find biblical texts that point us toward entering God’s presence. When Jesus dies on the cross, the veil in the Temple is torn in two from top to bottom, which indicates that the way into the holy of holies has been opened to all believers. Before that, only the high priest could enter the holy of holies and that only one day a year, the day of atonement. God does not want only an intellectual relationship with humans. He wants a personal one. That is why we are called to love him (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).  I’m not sure what is “mystical” about seeking God’s presence, but apparently God himself has called us and invited us into his presence. That’s amazing and the fact that some don’t want to see that is a personal connection is not my fault. It is theirs.

 

  1. There are multiple biblical texts that urge us to be silent before God.

Psalm 4:4 NASB Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.

Psalm 46:10 NIV Be still, and know that I am God;

Ecclesiastes 3:7 NET A time to rip, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.

Habakkuk 2:20 NET  But the LORD is in his majestic palace. The whole earth is speechless in his presence!

Ecclesiastes 5:2 NET Do not be rash with your mouth or hasty in your heart to bring up a matter before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth! Therefore, let your words be few.

 

These should be sufficient to show that being quiet before God or silent before God is an appropriate attitude. It only makes sense that if we speak to God, we should expect to hear from God. Indeed, much of the Bible is God speaking to us, not us to him. I would have thought that making silence part of prayer would be a no-brainer.

 

  1. The article I pointed to claims that that contemplative prayer uses a mantra and calls upon people to not use their brains. That is false. I read the book, Catching Fire, Becoming Flame, at the advice of my spiritual director. and it describes using some word or phrase to help one stay focused on God. I cannot speak for anyone else but I know that when I try to be quiet before God, my brain is busier than Grand Central Station. I use the phrase, “Your presence,” to help me re-focus upon God because I have lost it in thinking about something else. That is not a mantra. On the contrary, God’s presence is what I am seeking. I love my wife. I enjoy being with her, even if it is while doing something ordinary, like grocery shopping. We once took something to the city dump and we joked that we’d rather do that together. I don’t need to talk to enjoy her presence. We can simply walk hand-in-hand. I long to be in God’s presence and give him the opportunity to speak instead of a laundry list of things I want, like he was a galactic Santa Claus. I want God far more than I want something from God. Now, back to the issue of a mantra. Anyone who understands Eastern meditation and what a mantra is, knows that a mantra is nonsense, gibberish. It has no meaning. It is not done with real words. The intention in eastern meditation is to suppress yourself and empty your mind. That is not the goal of contemplative prayer. I have never read anything on prayer that says to repeat gibberish or nonsense syllables. Try right now, being silent and thinking about God. You might use a stopwatch to see how long it takes for your mind to go off to think about what’s for dinner or what’s next in your agenda or a conversation you had yesterday during which you wish had something different. Apparently, some people have developed spiritual muscles to be quiet before God for lengthy periods of time but I am not one of them. So, I use a meaningful phrase to help me re-focus.

 

  1. That some in the history of the church have spoken about on more mystical union with God then Scripture seems to speak to but that doesn’t mean that seeking to experience a sense of God’s presence is false doctrine.

 

  1. The article I gave the URL for says that contemplative prayer is a practice from about the fourth or fifth century from early church fathers and therefore, it was not done by the apostles. I would like to point out that the apostles did not use pews or padded chairs. They did not use podiums. They did not use organs, pianos, or electric guitars. They did not have baptismals, especially not those that used hot water to help warm the cold water. They did not meet in church buildings or use sound systems. Theologically speaking, they never even used the word, “Trinity.” So, if you dismiss something because the apostle did not have it or use it, you can’t even use the Bible. They didn’t have them. At most, Jews of that period and early Christians would have had a bucket of scrolls. Luke 4 tells us that Jesus was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He was not given a copy of the King James version open to the book of Isaiah. You want to be like the apostles, you’re not allowed to use a modern Bible but must use scrolls. The apostles did not have air-conditioning. They did not have electric lighting. They did not have many many things that we have. For those who want to be very formal and think that men should wear ties in a church service, Jesus didn’t have a tie; no one used ties in his day. They all wore tunics and outer robes, more like a Jedi than a model on the cover of GQ Magazine. What they did have were books of the Bible in Hebrew and in Greek. If we want to be like the apostles, then next Sunday morning, any reading of the Bible should be in Greek. The first Christians uniformly used the Septuagint, a Jewish translation of the Scriptures of Israel into Greek. I wonder if any of the white males who mocked Beth Moore ever even took a course on Greek.

 

Ever had the experience of talking to someone who just went on and on and never gave you a chance to say anything? Don’t you find that irritating? Do you suppose that God has nothing to say to you personally?

 

  1. The complaint that contemplative prayer goes beyond the Bible is a pathetic assertion (it is not an argument). I bet all those folks like John MacArthur think they heard God’s call. That’s not okay because it goes beyond the Bible. Lots of things, hymns, worship choruses, sermons, etc. all go beyond what the Bible says. That does not make the act of singing or preaching false doctrine. The only way to call contemplative prayer false doctrine is to fail to understand it, apparently not want to be quiet before God, which is irreverent, and caricature contemplative prayer instead. The author of that webpage associates contemplative prayer or the seeking of a mystical experience of God with charismatics. I am a scholar. I use my brain all the time when I’m looking at Scripture, making decisions about theological matters, or deciding what kind of coffee I want to order. However, I want my relationship with God to be more than just my mental capabilities. I want to experience his presence. I want to know him, not just know about him. That hardly shows that I have rejected the Bible or faith. Instead, it means that I have embraced more fully what I think God calls us to than those who ridicule contemplative prayer. We are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. That is more than an intellectual faith. I’m not denying the importance of reason or understanding what we are to believe about Jesus. Nor am I rejecting petitionary prayer. Jesus taught his followers to do it. Also, I can explain, not only believe, core orthodox doctrines, like the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc. However, in my experience, there’s more that God wants to offer to us in addition, not instead of, these things.

 

 

Craig Keener-Christobiography 1

As promised, here is my first post on Craig Keener’s new book. Full disclosure: I know Craig and we both have interest in Acts and Greco-Roman literary genres. I was glad to accept his offer to send me a free copy. In this post, I will talk about the first chapter of the book but also some additional information that I think is important to consider if you’ve never delved into this area at all. I’d really appreciate some interaction. I hope you can tell that I’m not going to attack anyone who disagrees. I’d rather have a conversation or at least a message to tell me what you would like me to write about.

I wish more scholars were as careful as Craig Keener. In a month, I’ll be attending the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego. I’m bound to hear multiple papers that are some scholar shooting from the hip: undemonstrated and debatable a priori beliefs, inadequate argumentation, etc. In fact, in the biblical scholarship that I have read over the years, if jumping to conclusions were an Olympic sport, there are some biblical scholars who would get gold medals. I will digress for a moment and say that the Institute for Biblical Research, which always meets the same weekend at the same place, generally demonstrates much more care, and complaints about Evangelical scholarship are proved wrong every year. End of Digression. It just bothers me how Jivegeschichte is pumped out in the name of biblical studies.

In chapter 1, Keener provides the context for the book. He wrote a work several years ago he the quest for the historical Jesus. For readers who have not waded into that swamp, beginning in the late 18th century A.D., scholars, based upon the presuppositions of the Enlightenment—no supernatural—threw off any sense of sacred or special status to the Bible. They came to the canonical Gospels and began analyzing them to see what they could reliably take to be historically correct information about Jesus, his words, and his actions. Some sought to remove the supernatural from the gospels. For example, Jesus did not walk on water but was walking on a sandbar or was near the shore and the disciples mistook this for walking on the water. It was suggested that instead of miraculously providing bread to 5000 in the wilderness (which for Matthew and John, at least, portrays Jesus as a new Moses or greater than Moses), what actually happened is that when the little boy offered to share his food, everyone else got out their own, which they had apparently been hiding I guess. This quest has gone through multiple stages. The most recent stage, rejecting the earlier anti-Jewish perspective of many German scholars, has sought to recover Jesus as a first-century Jew and make sense of what the gospels tell us about him in a Jewish context. The, of course, there was the ridiculous Jesus Seminar, created by Robert Funk specifically to discount any purported information about Jesus in the canonical gospels. The result was inevitable: a Jesus who would not even show up on anyone’s radar but somehow got arrested and executed the Roman government anyway.

In my previous post about this topic, I talked about the choices for the genre of the gospels. Understanding the genre of something is very important because without it, l one can watch television sci-fi shows and take them to be portraying history. Among the main choices, while some still cling to the idea of the gospels as ancient novels, they fit much better into the category of biography as the Greco-Roman world understood that or as historiography. A key difference between these two is that an ancient Bios or “Life”  focused on only one person. Keener sees the gospels as Greco-Roman biographies, which focus on the person of Jesus. The question then becomes, What should an historian expect from an ancient biography in terms of reliable, historical information?

Keener says the following about the genre and historical value of the gospels: “At the risk of ruining suspense, this study’s conclusion will favor the median approach for public scholarship:  as a matter of probability, we should expect a significant historical core in the average reports in first-century Gospels except where evidence specifically points in a different direction. That is, neither the expectation of verbatim material nor a presupposed skepticism toward the historical core of the bulk of the material is warranted. This conclusion is consistent with what a majority of historical critics conclude based on other lines of research.”

Readers who are not aware of Craig’s other works might want to consult his two-volume work on miracles before thinking that this statement means Keener rejects the miracles in the gospels. He does not. However, his book is written with scholars in mind and if he came out and wrote in chapter 1 that everything the Gospels say about Jesus is true, much of his potential, expected/hoped for audience would close the book at that point, consider it too religiously biased, and stop reading. This is simply how one approaches such mattes in a scholarly context. For more on the quest for the historical Jesus, reads might want to consult Keener’s earlier book, The Historical Jesus in the Gospels. Be aware, however, that while I highly recommend both that book and this book, they could be used successfully for bicep curls. 😊

According to Keener, research has shown that “ancient biographers depended heavily on prior information in composing biographies,” a characteristic we would not expect in, for example, ancient novels (p. 15). I find myself mentally going “Yes” as I read these pages. I have not done anything close to what Keener has done in this book but I have researched this topic myself, both primary and secondary sources on Bioi and historiography. I cannot count the number nights in graduate school I was up at 1 AM translating Josephus, Lucian, or Thucydides from Greek. It was hard-earned knowledge!

 

Keener says that he is not going to analyze specific gospel traditions but mentions the important point in passing that any who want to study the gospels in-depth need a synopsis, a book that puts Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in four columns in order to show how each reports the same incident. I recall when I first read the gospels that by the time I was in Luke, I was thinking, “I know I just read that in another gospel.” I encourage students to not blend such parallel accounts together but to let each gospel writer have his own unique presentation preached or taught on as it is. Keener states that ancient biographies written within living memory of the subject, such as the gospels, can especially offer valuable historical information and tend to offer more detailed accounts.

Digression: We tend to think of historians as using texts to learn about the past. In the Greco-Roman world, not least the first century, it was considered far more valuable to get information from a living person who had witnessed or participated in the event(s) being narrated. Texts were of secondary value.

 

Keener states that with any particular account in the gospels, when there is neither evidence to corroborate the event nor show that it did not happen, we should take the approach of a more positive than negative assessment of the narrative. Keener says this more carefully than I have paraphrased it.

 

One issue with writing ancient biographies is that less information would be available after the biographee’s death and of those who had living memories of the individual. On the other hand, those written while the biographee was alive were sometimes suspected of bias and writing to avoid harm if the bographee was a person with power, such as an emperor. Biographies written in living memory but after the death of the biographee would not be as subject to these drawbacks. Therefore, the gospels, written within living memory of Jesus but after his death, as biographies, contain a good deal of information about Jesus and given accounts that cannot be corroborated or disproved, are most likely to contain valuable historical information.

Keener discusses historical narrative briefly and points out something very important. Much biblical scholarship, beginning in the 19th century, relied upon a Positivist understanding of history. A leading figure in this movement was von Ranke, who said that history should be reported exactly as it happened. I’ll spare you the original German. The reality, as pointed out by Postmodernist thinkers, is that this cannot be done. No one can write about the past without having a particular perspective on it.  Not only that, but we don’t posses enough information to narrate every single thing that happened in any event. For example, most have heard of Napoleon’s defeat at the battle of Waterloo. What did he have for breakfast that day? Might it have affected his decisions? One scholar has suggested that Napoleon suffered from digestive system issues and perhaps these affected the battle. Besides that, someone interested in European battlefield cookery might want to know the full menu for that battle. Alas, we don’t have that menu nor any idea of what Napoleon’s breakfast entailed. Why? Writers of history, even if they know a lot, do not record it.  Pick any famous person you want. Do you really want to know every single tiny detail of that person’s life or even of one day? She got up. She ate breakfast. She brushed her teeth… Boring!!

History, as Keener points out, is a selective narrative. The writer chooses events deemed significant, puts them into a narrative context, and shapes them to fit well into his or her historical account. The alternative is a chronicle that simply lists event after event after event with no context or regard for significance. All historical accounts are selectively chosen and shaped accounts. This applies not only to the gospels but to all historical accounts ancient and modern. There is no escape. Resistance is futile. Keener also records a humorous event with his wife while he was working on this book. You’ll have to read the first chapter to find it.

The last part of the chapter describes Keener’s method and what he is not writing on. As Craig has written elsewhere, even when he says what he is not covering, critics still complain that he left that topic out. I think that is pretty convincing to show that many critics are, as I’ve mentioned before, reviewing his books without actually reading them. I consider that immoral. I won’t review a book unless I’ve read at least most of it, usually all of it. Keener states that he is not going to focus on particular episodes in the gospels nor debate the issue of the historical Jesus. He is concerned with the genre of the gospels as Bioi and the implications of this for how we should read them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Did What? No Way!!!

This is a bit academic but it is written in response primarily in response to false doctriine given out by well-meaning Christians.

There’s a notion out there that everything happens because God in some way causes it to happen. It takes Aristotle’s ideas about causation and makes them even stronger. Here are some examples. I heard a story last week about a twelve-year-old boy whose mother died. At the funeral, he asked why his mother had to die. The pastor asked him if he loved his mother. The boy said, ”yes.” The pastor said, ”God took your mum because you loved her more than you love God.” I wish I had been there to condemn the pastor for false doctrine. I don’t know that God. That’s certainly not the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. Similarly, there’s the all-too-common “God took your child because he needed another angel in the choir in heaven.” To borrow from that great statesman, Jabba the Hutt, “Bantha fodder.” These are lame, if not irreverent attempts, to get past the reality that we simply cannot explain all suffering.

 

Often, I hear Christians say, “Everything happens for a reason,” as thought that makes tragedy somehow okay. I agree with this statement. People get run over by cars because the driver was not doing what he should have been doing: paying attention to driving instead of sending a text message. Planes crash because the aircraft was not built to carry such a large weight (the reason for Keith Green’s death, not divine sovereignty). Plumbing breaks because sooner or later it rusts through or suddenly gets water pressure that is too high, among other things. I trip because I didn’t clear the parking block adequately. None of these are caused by God. Indeed, it is ludicrous to claim that everything happens for a reason. It suggests that God had a reason for which socks I put on this morning, what I put in my lunch bag this morning, my father’s death two months before our wedding, etc. These do have reasons behind them but I do not have real reason to believe that God caused them or wanted them. There is not a single verse not in context a set of verses that can be put together to show that God is the ultimate cause of everything nor even the direct cause of everything. Even as God created humans with free will (I don’t accept that free will is an illusion because all of our free choices were predestined. The Bible over and over again calls upon people to choose.

 

Moses calls upon the Israelites to choose life: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Once all the people who came out of Egypt in the Exodus have died, God uses Joshua to bring Israel into Canaan. Near the end of his life, Joshua calls upon the people of Israel, “f it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Elijah called upon the northern ten tribes to choose.  If Ba’al is god, choose him but if Yahweh is God, choose him (1 Kings 18:21). Were Moses, Joshua, and Elijah lying to the people because God had already decided long ago what each and every person would do? There’s no reason to think that.

 

God does indeed choose. He chose where the tabernacle would be in the land of Canaan once it became Israel’s land (Deuteronomy 31:11). He chose Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other true prophets. He chose Paul and Peter and James and John. Jesus said that if anyone would come after him, i.e., be his disciples, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24). It is also worth noting that God, though sovereign over all, does not always get what he wants or wills. Read that again. God wants something but does not get it. Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Not all have come to a saving knowledge of God even when they have heard the gospel. If God forced his will upon people, everyone would repent and turn to Jesus but they don’t. That tells us something profound about God. He does not want robots. Certainly, God invites us to come but does not force us. For the record, I don’t know how God decided who to predestine for salvation but I believe that God can see all of time at once. So, he knows how anyone person will respond to his invitation. I will side with those who assert total depravity by which I mean that no one, without God already working in them to fill that God-shaped hole everyone has in their hearts, would do so. That we are wired to want God is God’s doing, not our own. Think about this. If God so loved every human being that ever has or ever will live that he sent his one and only son in order that all humanity would not perish, it would make little sense to set about predestining little kids to get run over by cars, new dads to die of heart attacks or pancreatic cancer, et.

 

I think there’s a basic Reformed error going on here. God is omnipotent. He can do anything essentially. God is also sovereign, which is understood in the non-biblical sense that because God has in principle rule over everything, he decrees or predestines everything. That’s not in Scripture. Are you a parent? If so, do you micro-manage every single moment of every single day of your child’s life? I imagine not. In fact, as children get older, in theory they should learn and gain wisdom and increasingly manage their own lives well. They don’t always but that’s beside the point. Do you supervise employees or students? If so, do you micro-manage every moment that they are within your sphere or control? You don’t? Well then, you must not have authority over them. Obviously, that’s fallacious reasoning.

 

Why is our understanding of God’s sovereignty different? Conflating omnipotence and an odd view of sovereignty gets us a God who is the ultimate cause of everything from excellent to trivial to horrible. I do not see a biblical justification for that. James tells us plainly that God does not tempt anyone to do evil nor is he tempted by evil. In Reformed theology, however, beginning with Calvin, God predestines people to commit specific sins and then judges them for their sinful acts. Isaiah condemns those who call good evil and evil good. James 1:13-15 would seem to contradict such an idea but it is the only consistent, logical position if you turn all events into things caused ultimately by God. Well, I can tell you that I’m not about to worship a being who predestines rape, sexual trafficking, murder, child abuse, slavery, and more. That sounds like Zeus, not Yahweh, the maker of heaven and earth.

 

So, you can have your cake and it too. Either God predestines everything, births to rapes, or he allows innumerable things happen in the natural course of things. God is not the ultimate cause of evil, even if you try to redefine torture and murder as not bad from God’s perspective.

 

Here’s the reality. I cannot tell that young boy a theological reason for his mother dying. I can probably find a medical one but I have no reason from Scripture to believe that God caused, foreordained, or wanted that event. Scripture tells me that God/the Holy Spirit (depending upon who the subject of the verb is supposed to be) works good in all things, not that he causes all things. I understand the desperate desire to figure out a reason for why something bad happened. There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t wonder about why, though very well-qualified, I never got a full-time teaching position. That makes me feel like a total failure at life and not very smart either or I would have figured out right away that it was not God who told me to “teach the Word” but my own subconscious mind. I don’t now why God allowed me, in spite of many prayers for clarification, to believe something false about his will for me and most of the rest of my life is marked by efforts to accomplish what I sort of thought God wanted me to do. I cannot explain this. I do often wonder if my experience is punishment for something but I reject that because through Jesus, I’m forgiven for my past. Therefore, I don’t think that’s they answer but I don’t know what is. I’m not going to invent some hokey idea to explain it, however. My best guess is bigotry against a person with a disability by search committees. In one case, I have total proof for that. Still, I don’t know why exactly I spent much of my life as an unfulfilled computer programmer wanting to teach New Testament instead. That does not mean I am going to claim, without evidence, that God predestined me for this debacle. Should I accuse God of wrong simply because he is able to have kept me from finding a full-time position? No. Some day, I hope to find out the real facts. However, as John Walton has said, we should not expect a booth in heaven that you can walk up to and get the explanation for why something did or did not happen in your life. There are lots of reasons. Genes. Weather. Tectonic shift. Disease. War. Human sin. The truth that the Devil hates you and has a horrible plan for your life. Martin Luther suggested that the reason for many bad things in life is Anfectungen. This is German for the idea that Satan brings many bad things into our lives to make us doubt God’s love or even God’s existence. He is pretty good at this too. Satan’s approach works rather well too. So, yes, everything happens for a reason. It might be God’s action, it might be natural consequences, it might be a human choice. Don’t blame God for things that are far beneath his holiness.

Pirates, Sex and the Nature of the Gospels

This post is the preface to a set of posts about Craig Keener’s great new book, Chrisobiography, which I will talk about in small sections for a while interspersed with other topics. There are two reasons for the latter: first, my schedule does not allow a lot pf time for reading things I don’t have to read. The other reason is that, unlike some who post reviews of books almost as soon as they are published, I actually want the read the whole book and that will take me a while. When I read a lengthy review of my published, revised dissertation, I accept that I made a mistake about the town in which Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Luke 4. However, it was clear to me that besides pointing that out, the reviewer could not have read my book very well and in fact, out of a seven-page review, four pages were given over to the reviewer offering his own view. That’s not a book review.

 

It is important when reading any text, including the Gospels, to know what sort of literature they are because knowing the genre of a text creates expectations. You may be familiar with the movie, “Galaxy Quest,” in which an alien race mistakes television episodes for, “historical documents.” This race also has no such thing as actors and therefore does not understand someone playing a part he or she does not actually live out, apparently. So, they totally misinterpret the show completely.

 

Similarly, identifying the genre, the type of literature, some narrative is. This has to be done in order to understand the narrative properly. Before I go further, there are two points that should be observed. First, many scholars have argued that the gospels are “sui generis.” That means that there is nothing of the same time; they are unique. That’s not possible for the second reason. If you come upon a document and cannot figure out what it is, it becomes very difficult to understand it properly. For many centuries, the nature of Genesis 1 has been debated. Knowing what it is would go a long way toward being so read and hear it the way the original audience did. You had better know the difference between, say, a fairy tale and an IRS 1040 book. If you treat the fairy tale as fact, you’re missing something. If you read the IRS booklet as a fairy tale, you might end up in jail.  If we don’t know what kind of thing a narrative is, we don’t know how to interpret it. Someone who knows nothing about the Cold War and is fairly young, might watch the movie, “The Hunt for Red October” and wonder where the Red October is now. They have mistaken fiction for history. The gospels have to fit into some genre in order for readers to know what they are and what to expect of them. Also, it’s important to get past the word “narrative.” While the Positivists of the 19th and early 20th century asserted that you can describe historical events exactly as they happened, it’s recognized that today history, whether the story of Jesus or the story of Winston Churchill cannot be told without using a narrative and narratives, by their nature, are stories that are written based upon the author’s selection of material and shaping of that material for a particular purpose. All history is a narrative, period. All historical accounts are selective and shaped narratives. The Gospels are not somehow odd because they don’t fit the mythical ideal of Logical Positivism. Part of that selection and shaping process is based upon what an author perceives and is willing to accept as possible. There are precisely zero observers who can describe an event from a purely objective basis. That has never happened and never will. All interpretations of the gospels, then, are done by scholars based upon their own subjective criteria. Whew! That was a lot but it is important. Now to the more exciting part.

 

If one looks at the sorts of literature available in the first century A.D., when the canonical gospels were written, there are three basic options for what something is.

Fiction

Bios (biography)

Historiography

 

Where are the pirates and the sex? They appear in stories that are pretty clearly fictional stories. For example, the story by Chariton is based upon a misunderstanding and contains pirates and sex. Most ancient fiction has pirates, sex, shipwrecks, monsters, etc. I had a class in grad school with Mary Ann Tolbert, who argued in her book, which we all had to buy, that Mark is a “novel.” That won’t work. The expected elements of fiction were not present. No pirates—where’s Jack Sparrow?, sex, shipwrecks, gods and goddesses behaving badly, They are often broad comedy, like the “Three Stooges.” The second thing is that modern novels are nothing like Mark or ancient fiction. In the novels I’ve listened to lately, there is a lot communicate by a look or the way someone finishes a shot of powerful alcohol, or groans at a statement someone else makes, etc. Ancient fiction does not do those sorts of things  To borrow from an old expression, if it does not walk like a duck or talk like a duck or look like a duck, it’s probably not a duck. Mark’s Gospel is nothing like ancient or modern fiction, no matter how many scholars say it is They have not read enough ancient literature and therefore are simply making assertions that they cannot back up. There might be some small resemblances. Some Greco-Roman fiction described ships being lost at sea or of shipwrecks. That does not mean that such things did not happen. Ancient historical works describe shipwrecks. That does not make those works fictional. The canonical gospels are not like ancient fiction. That is a mistake in genre and therefore, makes it impossible for those who hold this view to understand the gospels correctly. Chariton’s fictional work, Callirhoe, is subtitled a “Love story in Syracus.” Apuleius’ fictional work The Golden Ass, in which a fickle goddess turns the protagonists into an ass, a.k.a., donkey, was not understood by its first audiences as an historical tale. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have no subtitles to tell us that they are novels. Luke does not feature fickle gods and goddesses messing with people. That’s for Homer, not the gospel writers.  We should declare defective and toss out the view that the gospels are fiction. They are simply too different in what they contain, a sober account of a wise teacher at least, and stories with miffed goddesses, pirates, or sexual escapades.

 

I started Craig Keener’s book yesterday and because I consider these issues important and interesting in their own right. It’s not as fun as watching “Rogue One,” but I still find it interesting.

 

 

Part 3 of “I’ve got Jesus. Who needs doctrine?” Seriously???

I had a student who said that doctrine is dumb. You just need to get to know this Jesus guy. This is a monumentally naive statement. Which Jesus? The Jesus of Athanasius in the fourth century? The Jesus of the 21st century mega-churches, for which Jesus is often primarily the cure for your emotional ills, when you need that. The Jesus of the Mormons? The Jesus of early 20th century New Testament scholars, especially in Germany? The Jesus of Billy Graham? I would take the first of these (Athanasius) and the last (Billy Graham). I don’t take the Jesus/God is a cosmic therapist and a divine vending machine, and otherwise, not that important. Not the Mormon Jesus who is only one of many gods. Every good Mormon male, if they do all that they are supposed to do, will become gods later and be given their own planet and celestial wives to use to populate it. There have been false Jesuses and false messiahs for over 2000 years but none of those can save you. Whether you have thought about what you think about Jesus in a self-critical way, or studied what others say about Jesus, Jesus is not like Silly Putty or Playdough that you make into whatever image you want—a action taken even by conservative and Evangelical Christians. You have to believe something about Jesus, whether you like it or not. What you believe about him is your “doctrine.” The same is true of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Who is God? What is God like? If you come to God the Father in prayer, that means you believe or at least hope something is true about God. That might be the false view that God, as revealed in the Bible, has nothing better to do than wait for someone to have fun and then pound them with a gigantic club. Or, it might be that God made humans for himself that they might know him and his love for them and that they might love and seek him. Both of those are doctrines. Whether you agree with the Reformed that after the New Testament was finished, the Holy Spirit took a vacation in the Bahamas and no longer gives half of the spiritual gifts listed by Paul and Peter, or as the Pentecostals believe, that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through believers and does whatever he sovereignly wants to do, including enabling believers to prophesy, speak in tongues, etc., Christians believe something about him. What you believe about the Holy Spirit is doctrine, even though it may be your personal doctrine.

 

What does doctrine do for you? It gives you a tool to discern between the real Jesus and the many false Jesuses. Doctrine enables you to judge between the one true God and the idols made by humans. A great place to begin really studying doctrine is to read Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Tertullian, and more. I’d start with them. They are all a product of their culture but at least they don’t have 20 centuries of “creativity” on top of that to wade through. If that sounds like history and you don’t like studying history, bear in mind that, unlike Buddhism or Hinduism or many other religions, the Christian faith makes claims that are rooted in history. Without that history and what it reveals about God, we have nothing. Stanley and anyone else who thinks we should keep the biblical text totally out of evangelism are wrong. There’s no telling what sort of Jesus you’ll get that way.

 

Some believe that Jesus’ death was a tragedy but a great moral example but nothing more. Some believe that Jesus’ death enables humans who trust in Jesus to be forgiven and reconciled with God. 1 Peter 2 uses Jesus’ death as a moral example but makes clear it accomplished more. It matters what you believe about Jesus’ death, not solely that you accept his resurrection. Don’t get me wrong. Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. We can have hope. We can know God and experience his presence and the love he has for all. However, you have to believe in the right Jesus and the right God.

 

Andy Stanley and others can say or believe whatever they feel. The fact that they feel it does  not make it true any more than having a feeling that gravity does not apply to me and jumping off the top of a 10-story building. You know what that result would be. This is my last post on this subject for now.