Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

July 27th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

So this is going around again…

This piece, written by Luke Timothy Johnson, is going around in the (so called) centrist United Methodist Circles. It was first put out in 2007. Mt. Johnson is a New Testament scholar of some note as well as a former Roman Catholic Priest. Because this is going around again, I think it appropriate to make some brief reflections on what he wrote a decade ago, what it has to do with United Methodist theology, and to point out some fundamental flaw in his reasoning. I bring it up only because it is being offered as evidence that many faith traditions are wrestling with scripture regarding these questions. This piece does not wrestle with scripture however, it replaces scripture as God’s revelation to us with human experience as God’s revelation to us. That is not wrestling with scripture, it is replacing it. If this serves as a justification for various Methodist groups, and it is being presented as just that, then they have only affirmed what many of us have said. Scripture as the authority by which all the truths of faith are measured has been replaced by personal experiences as the measure of truth.  Worth noting is that his opinions are also not in line with Roman Catholic teaching on the matter, so he is speaking from his own understanding and not the understanding of the Roman Catholic church. I encourage you to read the piece linked above in it’s entirety. I will use the style of quoting relevant sections and commenting on them below the quote.
“Is the present crisis in Christian denominations over homosexuality really about sex? I don’t think so.”
Here is the first problem with his piece, and it is the very first line. He begins with the presupposition that this is not about sexual morality, but about something else entirely. This of course only serves to change the conversation away from sexual ethics and into an entirely different realm.
“The church could devote its energies to resisting the widespread commodification of sex in our culture, the manipulation of sexual attraction in order to sell products. It could fight the exploitation of women and children caught in a vast web of international prostitution and pornography. It could correct the perceptions that enabled pedophilia to be practiced and protected among clergy. It could name the many ways that straight males enable such distorted and diseased forms of sexuality.”
Now he has created a false dichotomy saying that if the church is concerned about “A” it is therefor not doing anything about “B”. This is simply not true in the least. The church has taught about a wide variety of subjects over it’s history, often at the same time. If your pastor were to give a sermon about the necessity of feeding the poor, would you automatically assume that he did not care about providing them clothes or shelter? Of course not because we recognize that people, just like the church, can have a variety of concerns.  It also puts the church on the defensive for continuing in the same understanding of sexual ethics over the history of Christianity on the matter, not to mention the same understanding of our Jewish forerunners as well. It gives the perception that somehow the church has just now started to care and nothing could be further from the truth. There are centuries of consistent teachings on sexual morality that can be referenced.
“And accepting covenanted love between persons of the same sex represents the same downward spiral with regard to Scripture, since the Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love (glossing over the relationship of Jonathan and David, see 1 Samuel 18–2 Samuel 1).”
So yes, David and Johnathan loved each other. I will go so far as to say that there was a covenant involved in their love. I love other men also, and share covenants with them. This is not the issue. Here he is trying to go down the path that if two men love each other and have chosen to make a covenant with each other, it must be a homosexual relationship. This is not only false and a dangerous reading into scripture, if we follow that example into the New Testament, we see a deeply close and conventional relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Should we then believe that Jesus was a homosexual as well based upon the same evidence (really, the lack of evidence)? Don’t laugh, many have. The idea that David and Johnathan were somehow romantically involved was popularized by John Bozwell whose primary academic purpose was to show that homosexuality has always existed and been accepted in history going so far as to claim that there were homosexual weddings of Catholic monks. He is one of the forerunners of “queer (so called) theology”. His ideas are distinctly modern, have been panned by his academic peers as inaccurate, based upon assumption and confirmation bias, and are not largely respected in the academic or theological communities. Others have caught on to the claim and tried to provide their own evidences from scripture, but all such evidence requires you to read more into the story than is present in the text, and to assume that you know the motivation of two men who lived thousands of years ago.
“Of course, Christianity as actually practiced has never lived in precise accord with the Scriptures. War stands in tension with Jesus’ command of nonviolence, while divorce, even under another name (annulment), defies Jesus’ clear prohibition.”
Except by Jesus of course, who wasn’t a Christian, but a Jew. That is another rant entirely. Just War is a commonly accepted understanding of violence between nations and when it is acceptable and when it is not. It is certainly a part of Catholic theology. Jesus did not forbid divorce, but He did put some restrictions upon it. There is some pretty heavy theology about the keys to the kingdom passed to the Apostles involving divorce as well links between idolatry and adultery, but let’s be clear about this. This is not new in the least and the theology surrounding marriage and divorce in the Catholic tradition is robust. It is also robust in the Orthodox tradition and even in the Wesleyan tradition, but it is rather hard to find in the UMC. The point here about divorce however is that Jesus did not forbid it, he restricted it. A priest should know such things.
“And which Christians have ever observed the exhortation in Leviticus to stone psychics and put adulterers to death? But make this point to those opposed to same-sex unions, and you’re liable to find it turned back against you.”
The only book of the Bible less understood than Leviticus has got to be The Revelation to Saint John. The Catholic tradition, as well as pretty much every Christian tradition, recognizes that just as we are not obligated to follow the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law, we are still very much bound by the moral aspects of it. Frankly, not understanding that is a poor understanding of the image of God we are all created in and poor creation theology. A priest should know better. It’s not turning it back against anyone to say this, it is affirming what the church catholic has taught since it’s founding.
“For them, the authority of Scripture and tradition resides in a set of commands, and loyalty is a matter of obedience. If the church has always taught that same-sex relations are wrong, and the Bible consistently forbids it, then the question is closed.”
It is not loyalty to be obedient to the commands in scripture, it is the love of God. All through out the scriptures, love of God and of Christ is tied to obedience. This is inescapable in even casual readings of scripture. But yes, if the tradition of the church has always said it and the scriptures clearly forbid it, then the question is indeed closed as it has already been answered over and over again through the centuries. That is the whole point of the faith once and for all delivered after all.
“It is not difficult to understand these positions; indeed, they were probably held by many of us at some point until our lives and the lives of those we love made us begin to question them. So we can—and should—understand the mix of fear and anger that fuels the passionate defense of such positions. “
Here is where we get to the seriously dangerous stuff, as well as some of the scripted assumptions that are proven wrong over and over again yet still persist. We all thought it was wrong until it was someone that we love. To translate, when someone that we love is not following the scriptures, we should just change them.
As an aside, I am not angry, nor am I afraid. Not of, or at, this topic at the very least. I am pretty tired of hearing that I am.
“I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.”
Did you catch that? The higher authority that the former priest appeals to is the weight of our own experiences. He has set personal experience as an authority higher than the Bible. This should not come as a surprise to many of us who have been saying this is the case for some time, but it is surprising to have someone actually admit it.
By he way, what is rejected as sin is not the attraction, but rather the actions taken regarding the attraction. This is the same for all of us, and extends beyond sexual desire as well. We all have desires. Some are in line with the will of God and some are not. What we do with that desire is the issue. He of course rejects that and makes untruthful claims about what most of those with a traditional sexual ethic actually believe. He also exhibits (again) a very poor understanding of the image of God we are created in as well as how it has become marred and is in need of restoration.
Stick with me here. I do not think that God is a monster. For example, I do not think that a child born with serious cognitive disabilities is God’s ultimate plan, it is a result of sin entering into the world and the world falling and being in need of restoration. I do not think that children born with crippling genetic disorders is God’s ultimate plan. I do not think that children who die within days of birth for any number of health concerns is God’s ultimate plan. If it were, God becomes a hideous monster who actively desires the death of the most innocent and defenseless among us. Are we prepared to think this way of God? I ask because that is what is required if the condition we are born in is the determining factor of what God’s plan entails. How we are born really has no bearing on the topic at hand. What we do with the life we are born into is, and always has been, the issue. We, and indeed the entire world, is in desperate need of God’s promised restoration. Nothing in this world is God’s ultimate end point. The end point is the new heaven and earth when we all get to hang out the way it was intended from the beginning. In short, none of us are born as God originally had intended, but yes, all of us have been lovingly created, marred as we are, to reflect the glory of God.
This has already drug on to long. The piece goes on to talk about slavery, which has nothing to do with anything, as well as the Gentiles being allowed into the faith claiming making some terrible claims about that as well. It’s nothing new, just the repackaged old arguments that require a nearly complete re-imagining of the meaning of scripture from start to finish to justify it.
The end of ll of this is simple. There are two competing views of Christianity at play here. One view says that experience informs what scripture means, and the other says that scripture helps us to better understand the experiences that we have. Both can not be correct. One says that the fallen and marred experiences of humanity define God, and the other says that God, and our identity through Christ He has provided, defines us. In case you are not catching on, one is idolatry of the highest order setting man up to define God and the other is faithful obedience as an expression of love for The Creator. A lot happens to the faiths that are present in scripture that are based in idolatry, and none of it is positive. The question is the same today as it has been through out history and even asked in scripture. Choose you this day whom you will serve. The first competing views answers that question in a way that serves man. The second competing view answers as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. So choose you this day…and choose wisely.
March 30th, 2018 by John Fletcher

When you come to the Communion Table, make sure you’ve left Egypt

In God’s covenant with Israel in the Torah, he provided the people with liberation, societal structure, laws and a calendar, all for the ordering of their new lives of freedom. In this calendar, God designated three major feasts: Passover, Weeks and Booths. While all three have instructions for celebration, Passover (פֶּסַח) receives the largest and most detailed treatment.  Passover’s importance appears immediately God’s arrangement of their new calendar around it, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you,”[6] and the language designating its repeated observance, “you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.[7] Unlike the other two feasts, God included a prohibition against anyone outside of the covenant community celebrating it, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it. . . A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it.”[8] These items provide sacramental status to Passover.[9] “These sacramental signs served as covenantal markers to define the people of God, remind them of their relationship to him and each other, and focus them on their duty to live as a peculiar people among the nations.” [10]

Appreciating Passover as sacrament helps us understand the instructions for its celebration. As a means of grace given by God for the communication of his love, Passover connects the people to God via the tangible. As a sacrament, the instructions for its observance would be known theologically as Words of Institution. These Words explain the meaning of the rite, the way God acts in it for the people, and instructions for repeated observance. For Passover, Exodus 12:12-17 contains these words. Furthermore, because Jesus forever united Passover to his passion, death and resurrection in the Eucharist, a proper understanding of the later Eucharistic Words of Institution[11] begins not in the Gospels, but in Exodus 12. As Pitre writes, “If we are going to be able to see Jesus’ actions through ancient Jewish eyes, we first need to study the meaning of the Passover itself, both in Jewish Scripture and in Jewish tradition.”[12]

Exodus 12:12-17 is the center of the longer discussion of Passover. What Exodus 12 describes is Israel’s memorialization of their redemption by God, with specific attention God’s actions in the tenth plague, the slaying of the firstborn. Also, it provides the foundational commands for its continued ritualistic memorial.  The received text of Exodus 12 provides the context for understanding the feast.

Thus, with this background in mind, we move toward the specific group of verses for study.  I’ve provided them with my new translations.

Verse 12

For on that night, I will pass through (from one side to the other) the land of Egypt, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human and animal, and on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.

This verse contains the one of Passover’s key themes for study: judgment. Here, the writer links the killing of the firstborn to God executing judgment, specifically judgment on Egypt’s gods. Pictured here, as the climax in this battle to redeem Israel from Egypt, is the idea that God asserts his supremacy. While the ultimate outcome is Israel’s freedom, the objective seems the vindication of God himself. In this assertion, God states his divine name, as if his own character is the reason for this enterprise. God now reveals himself to the world through his action of deliverance. Through the plagues, God brings judgment on Egypt’s pantheon of gods, and specifically on Pharaoh, who is god on earth, punishing him for his brutality of God’s people.

Verse 13

And the blood on the houses where you are will be a sign for you. For I will see the blood, and I will pass by (spare) you, and there will not be any plague to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This verse details the purpose and meaning of the blood which God instructed the Hebrews to put on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. The blood will be a sign. This word, usually translated “sign,” carries multiple meanings: “mark,” “token” or “signal” in the secular sense, and “miracle,” “omen” or “reminder” in the religious. In this verse, all the meanings may mingle, especially because it is paired with the application of blood and sacrifice.  Nahum Sarna uses sacramental language as he comments, “the blood was simply to function as an outward, visible sign . . . an identity symbol; the entrance to the house with such a symbol is now a portal of freedom.”[22] The blood (and the sacrificial lamb) served as the mechanism by which God would spare or pass by the house. Because of the blood on the door, the plague of death will not come to the house.

Verse 14

Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to The Lord for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute.

With verse 14, the context shifts from the first Passover to instructions for the nation to observe a yearly festival devoted to the remembrance of God’s actions on their behalf that day. Passover is a feast of remembrance. Sarna writes, “The Hebrew stem of z-k-r connotes much more than the recall of things past. It means, rather, to be mindful, to pay heed, signifying a sharp focusing of attention upon someone or something. It embraces concern and involvement as is active not passive, so that it eventuates into action.”[26] Here, God’s instructions for future observance have a particular participatory feel. The celebrant becomes not only a part of the later festival, but somehow also invested in the action the festival memorializes. The traditional text of the Haggadah of Passover describes it well, “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt.” Thus, each person through history has a connection to every generation before and after, i.e., “for your generations.”

Verse 15

Seven days, you will eat only matzoth (unleavened bread). On the first day, you will remove leaven from your houses; indeed, you shall exclude from Israel anyone eating khametz (leavening) from the first day until the seventh day.

Here begins the detailed information about the use of unleavened bread in the observance of the festivals. While the bread appears in the detailed observance of the first Passover (vs. 8), the commands for the perpetual observance contain specific prohibitions against eating anything leavened for the length of the holiday. Coupled with verse 17, “observe and keep the matzoth” these strict rules about leaven add an authoritative atmosphere to celebration. What is it about using unleavened bread that requires such regulation? Khametz carries a meaning of fermentation and leavening. Sarna explains the significance:

Because the prohibition on leaven has wider application than that of the Passover, it is likely that the process of fermentation was associated with decomposition and putrefaction, and so it became emblematic of corruption. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to associate such a symbol with a sacrificial ritual whose function was to effect conciliation between man and God and to raise man to a higher level of spirituality.[33] In other words, leavening implies sin. To remove leavening from the house during the feast could be understood as a command to holiness, a practical reminder of the later commands in the Levitical Laws.[34]

Verse 16

The first day shall be a holy assembly, and the seventh day shall be a holy assembly. You will do no work on those days. Indeed, you will only make that (food) which everyone will eat (for that day).

What does it mean to be an Israelite? Those who mark themselves according to the covenant claim that status. In the previous argument that Passover carried sacramental status, we noted that a sacrament defines and separates a group that observes it. This verse connects these words in Exodus 12 with specific language in Leviticus 23:4-7. There, the writer focuses on the distinction of Israel from the rest of the world: holiness. This word appears eleven times in chapter 23 and 69 times in the entire book, the most in any book of the Hebrew Scriptures: sanctification matters. To make this sanctification a reality, God commands no work be done except that which is necessary to eat. Only Sabbath and Yom Kippur have more stringent laws about work. For a culture enslaved for over 400 years, the idea of days of rest is very foreign. God forges something dramatically new in the life of a people newly liberated.

Verse 17

Thus, you will observe and keep the matzoth; for indeed, in that very day, I brought your multitudes forth from the land of Egypt, and you will guard the very day permanently, forever.

This final verse forms a neat closure to the discussion, providing the full rationale for the observance of the festivals. The key word in this verse, the verb, translated here as “observe and keep,” has a very active meaning. Strong’s defines it “to hedge about (as with thorns)”[36] Similar uses appear all over the Torah regarding keeping of all the ordinances, and regulations of the Mosaic Law. God is insistent that Israel keep this festival to remember it.

So what?  Why does this matter to Christians and their observance of the Lord’s Supper.  We’re not Jews after all.  Not so fast.  There are three themes for study: perpetual remembrance, sacrifice and judgment.

“Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it . . . for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute . . . you will guard the very day permanently, forever.” Verses 14 & 17 indicate that the Israelites should keep Passover in perpetuity to remember the miraculous redemption from Egypt. God wants to guarantee that Israel forever understands the remarkable way he redeemed them.  Jesus and the disciples participated in this event at the Last Supper. Jesus took the full measure of meaning found in the Exodus, connected it to his passion, and spoke these words, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”[38]  Here appears, the fusion of Passover language with the words of institution for the Eucharist. Christ commands the disciples to forever connect the memorial of the redemption of Exodus with the memorial of the redemption of Calvary. To “observe and keep the matzoth,” now reaches fullest expression in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Paul’s language in Corinthians completes the full range of meaning when he comments, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”[39]

God’s interest in connecting the perpetual memorial of the Exodus with the perpetual memorial of the Passion necessitates celebrating the Eucharist properly fusing both. It seems that Christians, gentile or Jew, should also celebrate Passover, in a fashion that memorializes the Exodus in the context of its fulfillment in Christ. In fact, the earliest Christians understood the feast this way. “The celebration of [Easter] began life as the Christian version of the Passover, observed on the same day as its Jewish antecedent and focused upon Christ as the paschal lamb who had been sacrificed for the sins of the world . . . set within the context of the whole of the Christ-event, from his birth to his expected second coming.”[40]

Passover is about sacrifice.  The lamb, sacrificed, eaten with blood smeared becomes the vehicle through which the Israelites receive redemption. Through the ritual, God wants his people to tangibly unite themselves to his actions on their behalf.  This gives wider meaning to Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 5, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival,”[42] as well as his words in chapter 10, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”[43]  Passover is a festival about redemption through sacrifice and blood.  The Eucharist’s enactment should focus on Christ’s atonement through blood in light of God’s miraculous rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt.

Passover is also celebration, a joyous festival! While solemnity certainly has its place (Ex. 12:16), God has redeemed with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Celebration of the Eucharist should not be overloaded with heavy penitential attitudes, but instead be a joyous occasion because God has overthrown and judged the evil of the world in Christ. God’s character means that he cares about oppression, evil and false gods: “on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.” Passover displays in vivid clarity that God will be supreme. Christ displays this as vividly as the Exodus, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[45]  This is the classic Christus Victor view of Jesus’ atonement.

Therefore, to celebrate the Eucharist in light of the Passover, imbues it with a sense that Christ has conquered all the evil and false gods (Jn. 12:31).  Furthermore, the Eucharist must envision eschatological hope, so that when the Passover yearns for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Eucharist answers with, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”[47]  In this way Exodus 12:17, “on this day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt,”[48] becomes the fulfillment, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”[49]

Exodus 12:12-17 provides not only a vision of God’s work to redeem Israel, but a foundation for how Christians should see the ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ. For Christians to “unite themselves to God’s redemptive history, and consequently to the nation of Israel,”[50] they should understand the roots of the sacrament given to them, and how to celebrate it in a way that honors the fullness of redemption in the Jewish Messiah given as the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.[51]  The words of institution of the Passover provide the basis necessary to celebrate the richness of the Eucharist.  To understand the character of God in the redemption of Christ, one should begin with the character of God in the redemption of the Exodus.

 

 

 

END NOTES

[1] Num. 9:1-14

[2] Deut. 16:1-8

[3] Josh. 5:10-12

[4] 2 Kgs. 23:21-27/2 Chr. 35, Passover was restored under Josiah, where the chronicler wrote, “None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (ESV). In 2 Chr. 30 Hezekiah celebrated Passover as a two week festival to emphasize its importance in Israel.

[5] Ezra 6:19-22

[6] Exod. 12:2, NASB

[7] Exod. 12:14 & 17, NASB, emphasis added.

[8] Exod. 12:43 & 45, NASB.

[9] For a detailed treatment of how Old Covenant ceremony constitutes Old Covenant sacrament, see Matthew Sichel, “Sacraments Reimagined: Fulfillment, Continuity and the New Israel,” Evangelical Journal 34, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 1-17.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] Generally understood as Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 11:17-34, but echoing instructions from Jesus in the synoptic Gospels.

[12] Brant James Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (New York: Doubleday, 2011), 50.

[13] See, for example, Eckart Otto, “Pasah,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 12:9-19.

[14] Ibid., 9-10.

[15] Hendrik L. Bosman, “Pesah,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 3:643.

[16] John E. Hartley, “massa,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 2:1067-1068.

[17] Donald E. Gowan, Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 134.

[18] Exod. 5:2, CJB.

[19] Richard Schultz, “spt,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:219.

[20] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus =: [shemot], The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 56

[21] Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: the Origins of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken, 1996), 97.

[22] Ibid., 96.

[23] Bosman, 642; Otto, 2-7.

[24] Cf. uses outside of the context of Passover, Isa. 31:5, 2 Sam. 4:4, 1 Kgs. 18:21, 26.

[25] Otto, 5-6.

[26] Sarna, Exodus, 13.

[27] All quotations from the Haggadah come from the English translation in Joseph Loewy and Joseph Guens, Service for the First Nights of Passover (Vienna: Jos. Schlesinger, 1927), 28.

[28] Leslie C. Allen, “zkr,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 1:1102.

[29] Otto, 21.

[30] Loewy, 3 & 27.

[31] Isa. 1:17, CJB, emphasis added.

[32] Ps. 71:4, CJB, emphasis added.

[33] Sarna, Exploring, 90, again notice the sacramental language Sarna uses here.

[34] See Lev. 17-26.

[35] Sarna, Exploring, 81.

[36] James Strong, ed., The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), s.v. “8104. shamar.”

[37] Sichel, 15.

[38] Lk. 22:19 & 1 Cor. 11:25, NASB, emphasis added.

[39] I Cor. 10:16 & 11:26, NIV, emphasis added.

[40] Paul F. Bradshaw, “Easter in Christian Tradition,” in Two Liturgical Traditions, ed. Paul F. Bradshaw, vol. 5, Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 1.

[41] Otto, 18.

[42] 1 Cor. 7b-8a, NIV.

[43] 1 Cor. 11:25, NIV.

[44] Loewy, 29.

[45] Col. 2:15, NIV.

[46] Jn. 12:31, NIV.

[47] Rev. 21:2, NIV.

[48] Exod. 12:17b, JPS.

[49] Rev. 21:3, ESV.

[50] Ibid., 15, see also Rom. 10 and Paul’s discussion of grafting.

[51] Cf. John 1:29 & 1 Cor. 5:7

September 8th, 2017 by Craig Falvo

What’s Up With The Narrative Lectionary?

In my wonderings around the interweb last night, I stumbled across the Narrative Lectionary. My curiosity was peaked and so I started to research this new Lectionary. Up until last night, I had never heard of the Narrative Lectionary (NL) before and was surprised to learn it was put together in 2010 by Luther Seminary, an ELCA Seminary. This surprised me because I’m a Lutheran of the ELCA variety. The NL is being put forth as an alternative lectionary to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).

In all honesty, if I knew about this back in 2010 or even 2014, I would have been all over it. I was very much into Shane Claiborne, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber and the like. But as I’ve gotten older and have become more mature as a Christian, I’ve changed. And taking a year off of church has really put some things into perspective (This is a long story and best told at another time).

I’m going to be up front. I love the RCL. The RCL does have its issues; but, the RCL is used in churches all over the world, across denomination. I can go into a Roman Catholic Church, a Moravian Church, an Episcopal Church, or any number of churches that use the RCL and hear (more or less) the same texts. In my opinion, the widespread usage of the RCL speaks to the unity of the church.

So, why did the creators of the Narrative Lectionary feel that is was necessary?

Though the Revised Common Lectionary has united the church in its reading of scripture and has given much-needed structure, it doesn’t present scripture — especially the Old Testament — in a way that helps people to become fluent in the first language of faith. The Narrative Lectionary is an attempt to take nine months to do just that.

So how do they go about doing this? It’s probably easier to compare the RCL to the NL. Below is a list of reading for the next three weeks in the Church year.

 

  Week  Revised Common Lectionary  Narrative Lectionary
Ascension of The Lord Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47 or 93, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57 or Mark 12:26-27a
 Pentecost Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, (25-27) Acts 2:1-4, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, or Mark 1:4-8
 Trinity Sunday Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15 Start of Summer Sermon Series

I’ve emphasized the “or” in the NL reading because the Gospel isn’t always the primary text.

When the primary text is not from a Gospel, there is an accompanying Gospel text suggested. So during the fall when the primary readings are taken from the Old Testament, and in the spring when primary readings come from the Epistles, a Gospel reading is provided in the schedule. When the primary reading is from the Gospel, the accompanying reading is taken from the Psalms.

To be fair, the text chosen to preach from in the RCL may not necessarily be the Gospel, but the Gospel is alway there. In fact, where there is an “or” in the RCL, it’s between non-Gospel texts. But this does bring to light my first concern, the NL does not appear to be focused on the Gospel. The entire Bible is the story of Salvation history, that culminates in the Gospel and continues to today. This site does an excellent job of summing up the lectionary and how the readings are centered around the Gospel.

I’ve already alluded to my second concern, that the NL doesn’t foster unity. Like I said, the nice thing about worshipping in a church that uses the RCL is knowing that I am united in my brothers and sisters in Christ through the reading as well as the Eucharist. I am hearing the same texts that they are. The same can’t be said for the NL.

One might also make the claim that the NL is attempting to turn the sermon into something that it’s not meant to be: a Bible study. Why proclaim the mystery of scripture through four texts when an intensive look can be done at one? Now I’m being facetious here. But yes, I think that the NL does, to some degree, water down the mystery of the faith by limiting the pastor to one to two texts each week.

My final concern is that, on first look, the NL tends to emphasize and validate the shrinking attention span that seems to be afflicting the church today. I have no problem sitting through four readings. But throughout the years, starting with my internship during seminary, the four became two. And now, we dropped into the one to two range. In essence, we are catering to the lowest common denominator and boring the rest of us. We are dumbing down worship instead lifting up the lowest common denominator in their journey of faith. We are stifling the growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of challenging them to grow beyond their current understanding of Scripture.

I have to say, as a Lutheran, I’m disappointed that some at Luther Seminary even felt the need for the NL. I do not think the church needs a new lectionary. I also think more discernment is needed concerning the NL. Maybe I’m missing something or misinterpreted something I’ve read.

August 17th, 2017 by Joel Watts

what if we moved the Pauline Corpus?

The imminent New Testament scholar, Anglican, and good guy Dr Michael Bird posted something on Facebook that caught my eye. He noted that the Athanasian Canon (Festal letter 39) has a different ordered for the New Testament than we have now.

Continuing, I must without hesitation mention the scriptures of the New Testament; they are the following: the four Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after them the Acts of the Apostles and the seven so-called catholic epistles of the apostles — namely, one of James, two of Peter, then three of John and after these one of Jude. In addition there are fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul written in the following order: the first to the Romans, then two to the Corinthians and then after these the one to the Galatians, following it the one to the Ephesians, thereafter the one to the Philippians and the one to the Colossians and two to the Thessalonians and the epistle to the Hebrews and then immediately two to Timothy , one to Titus and lastly the one to Philemon. Yet further the Revelation of John

Maybe that is nothing — and certainly those who would dispense with St. Paul out of some 19th century liberal ignorance/bias to ignorance would love such an order — but I wonder what difference it would make in reading the New Testament.

Does the Canonical Order mean anything? Rather, is the order an influencer of theology? I would argue that the canonical order of the Gospels (generally the same across the canon lists) does slight Mark in favor of the perceived first Gospel, Matthew.

As I have argued before, mainly in a blog post and with a beer in hand at an SBL dinner, the canonical books are organically canonical. Meaning, once you lay down just a few books, the others neatly fall in line. The Gospels are similar and thus exclude those works not similar. Thomas, while being close enough to the Synoptics to merit consideration of an heterodox Christian author, just doesn’t come close. But, once you have Mark and Luke, you have St. Paul, and with St. Paul you have St Peter, and with Mark and Luke you get John, and with John you get Hebrews. And so on.

But, what about the order? Would the order make a difference in how we read the New Testament?

August 8th, 2017 by Joel Watts

Book Announcement: @UtsDoc’s “Scripture and the Life of God”

I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of this before. This will go into the theological canon of Next Methodism next to works by William Abraham and Kevin Watson.

Entering into the life of God is like walking into the ocean. The further you go, the more immersed you become. You become more aware of its overwhelming power, its vastness and mystery. The difference is that if you walk too deeply into the ocean you will die, but walking deeply into the life of God brings life. Our desires, our character, the way in which we regard ourselves and other people–all of these change. And this newness of life does not end when our physical bodies die, but extends into eternity. The life of God never ends, and you and I are being drawn into that divine life.

In Scripture and the Life of God, David Watson takes us on a journey through what it means to enter into the life of God through texts that God has inspired and made authoritative for the teaching of theChurch. Many of us read the Bible during private devotion time, and this is a very helpful practice, but there are also many other ways to walk down the pathway of Scripture into the divine life. Prayer, meditation, music, corporate worship, and other practices facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit through Scripture in drawing us into the divine life.

There is not one right way to engage the Bible. We should use all the means at our disposal to weave the teachings of Scripture into our lives. The Church has, through the centuries, passed down to us myriad ways in which we can engage Scripture. By availing ourselves of these practices, we can facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, and enter more fully into the life of God.

%d bloggers like this: