I was thrilled to receive this commentary in the new Teach the Text series in the mail today from Baker Publishing Group. I like the way in which this series aims to listen to the texts in a way that is attuned to their relevance for the people of God… that’s the way the texts were intended to be heard! I look forward to digging into this one by Preben Vang… the introductory words are awesome:
The early Christian community was called forth by the proclamation of the risen Christ. The story of Christ came before the texts. Actually, not only did the story of how God established a new covenant in Christ become the interpretative key to Old Testament texts, but most significantly, it brought theological focus to what we now call Gospels and letters. Biblical texts exist to amplify the significance of the Christ story… (p1)
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I’m most of the way through Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. I have some positive and negative reactions. The first that I’ll post about relates to multiple testimonies or traditions relating to an alleged historical event.
Just over a week ago it was my son’s birthday, and one of the presents he received was a set of headphones. Two days later my wife Bec heard a commotion from two of the kids and discovered them with the headphones, now broken. She was upset with them, and asked each of them to separately write an account of: 1) what had happened; 2) what they had learned; 3) who they needed to say sorry to. They dutifully wrote their accounts, and gave them to us to read. Bec’s immediate comment after reading was, ‘These don’t fit together – perhaps someone’s lying.’ Indeed, in child 1′s account, it appeared that the headphones had broken in the context of a game; in child 2′s account, it appeared that the headphones had broken due to being snatched during a squabble. Who was right? Who was lying?
Well, we brought them in for cross-examination. And upon questioning we realised that neither of the kids had been lying. They had both told the story from their own vantage point, mentioning the things that had been most significant to them. It was indeed a game, and part of it had involved a misunderstanding, during which the headphone cable had been snatched and taken in opposite directions. Both kids affirmed that the other’s account was true, even if different to their own.
You can see the relevance: I am very hesitant to draw too many conclusions or build sophisticated reconstructions based on divergences in the wording of accounts. Ehrman argues that because Paul makes no mention of Joseph of Arimathea, he was unaware of the Synoptic empty tomb tradition, and his mention of Jesus’ burial in 1 Cor 15:3-5 derives from an independent tradition. I have heard Gerd Lüdemann make the same claim. But I find this highly speculative. The reason that Paul mentions Cephas but not Joseph in this creedal passage is surely because Cephas was an apostolic witness, whereas Joseph was an incidental character. To conclude that Paul’s tomb tradition is at odds with the synoptic tomb tradition just seems to me to be pushing way beyond what is reasonable.
UPDATE: Apparently I’ve already thought about this topic (from a different angle), here.
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I was chatting to a Hindu man today (above is a pic of some offerings inside a Hindu temple here in Singapore). I asked him what he thought of Jesus, and he said, “Jesus is like the opposite of Charles Darwin.” I was intrigued, and asked him to explain. “Well,” he explained, “Darwin was on about survival of the fittest. Jesus was the opposite of that.”
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Just came across this free book in a Buddhist temple here in Singapore… Intriguing!
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I’m in Singapore with a group from college… This is across the road from the house where I’m staying – very different to suburban Australia!
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I’ve been working on 1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath) this week, and I’ve noticed the way in which Goliath is repeatedly referred to as ‘the Philistine.’
Perhaps this feature of this story marks it as open to typological reading: After this feature is repeated numerous times, the hearer senses that we are encountering ‘types’ or ‘categories’ here; not just individuals: ‘the Philistine’ and ‘the shepherd.’ This is further heightened as we find that the narrator shows both opponents making appeal to their gods at the near-climactic moment: this is, in fact, not just a battle between David and the Philistine, but between the LORD and the Philistine gods.
It seems then that this Former Prophet opens itself to typological significance. Such a reading of the text is not just foisted on a completely unsuspecting text by later pre-critical Christian interests. Francis Watson makes a good point – cited in Hamilton, ‘The Typology of David’s Rise to Power,’ SBJT 16.2 (2012): 4-25; 4:
What is proposed is not an anachronistic return to pre-critical exegesis but a radicalization of the modern theological and exegetical concern to identify ever more precisely those characteristics that are peculiar to the biblical texts.
I would suggest that typological pregnancy is indeed a characteristic of biblical texts. Goliath, in Scripture, was never just Goliath. He was symbolic of a category – a category that might grow and evolve as the Scriptures themselves develop.
Chrysostom is not to be scoffed at then, as he reaches a peculiarly Christian reading of the chapter, with the stone in the shepherd-bag typifying Christ himself:
Therefore, let us take in our hands that stone, I mean the cornerstone, the spiritual rock. If Paul could think in these terms of the rock in the desert, no one will in any way feel resentment against me if I understand David’s stone in the same sense. (ACCS, p. 274)
The stone was always pregnant with possibility; and Chrysostom now suggests that Christian readers can perceive it to have been pregnant with Christ.
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I’m still working my way through NT Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and I have realised that in some ways, reading Wright is like reading Plato: he assumes that you are with him in the argument that he’s building; and if you find yourself unconvinced by a premise, there’s not much you can do but leave it to one side and continue with him in his argument. And then the problem is that you become hazy about when and where you were unconvinced, and you get swept up in the excitement of the argument with just a vague consciousness that there were some premises that troubled you.
So anyway, mainly for the benefit of my own memory, I’m registering a question at this point – which may prove to be answered further along in the book, or may prove to be one of those elements that goes on to be assumed without further argument. Here’s the question: why does Wright consider the key issues of first century Judaism to be monotheism, election, and eschatology? Why those three? What about, for example, land, temple, and Torah? Aren’t those three just as fundamental?
Anyway, we’ll see how things progress, but I didn’t want to forget that question…
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