Review: Christopher Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah

bryan resurrection of the messiah

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With a special thanks to John C. Poirier for this review:

Christopher Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), reviewed by John C. Poirier.

Christopher Bryan’s The Resurrection of the Messiah is structured in three parts, not counting the extensive (= eight) “additional notes”. The first part (“The Setting”) presents background historical information pertaining to the doctrine of the resurrection – less thoroughly, of course, than some recent studies – but in proper proportion to the rest of the book. The second part (“Witnesses”) discusses the resurrection passages in the New Testament, devoting a separate chapter to Paul and to each of the gospels. This section borrows the format of a running commentary, and reads in a way very similar to some of the less detailed, narrativally focused commentaries (Harper’s, etc.). The effect of having five chapters deal with separate writings in this way is interesting – it’s almost as though someone took parts of five commentaries and put them together. This undoubtedly was an easier way for Bryan to deal with the topic, but it also presents the discussion in a way that serves well for future reference. The third part of the book (“Questioning the Witnesses”) provides a synthesis and theological commentary on the second part. The “Additional Notes” engage topics that might have been discussed in parts one and three.

The Resurrection of the Messiah has as one of its objects a measured response to various scholarly attempts to dismiss the resurrection, or to re-theologize it in potentially docetic ways. In the face of these challenges, Bryan does a good job of keeping the reader’s construal of the New Testament’s claims tied to the apostles’ presentation of the gospel. He could have said more along these lines – that is, he could have engaged a few more challenges on this front – but what he does he does well. One of the enjoyable aspects of this book is that its author knows when he has dealt sufficiently with a given point.

Although the book engages other scholars, it seems to be aimed at a somewhat beginning level of academic reader. It seldom breaks new ground. It does, however, present its arguments well, in a modest tone, and with a good sense of the reader’s needs. One could, of course, imagine a more rigorous engagement of many of this book’s points, but that seems not to be this book’s purpose. The style of the commentary section within this book establishes its limited range of engagement with the facts of historical context, philology, etc. The author’s goal, it seems, is never to let incidental details get in the way of a simple argument. The book’s theological burden, I believe, justifies this approach.

This is a good book for anyone considering the place of Jesus’ resurrection in NT theology.

 

Mark 9.42-48 – Sexual Discipline and Child Molesters, of which there is no hope

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In a recent class, I heard someone say that the bible doesn’t speak to sexual ethics. I was, well, stunned. How utterly stupid. But, I digress. One of the many helpful insights which I found in the NOAB NRSV are snippets of information such as this:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mar 9:42-50 NRS)

According to rabbinical language, Christ is speaking to sexual discipline. You can find more of the explanation here. (Actually, at that link, there are a lot of good thoughts about sexual discipline, but I don’t feel like exploring them at the moment)

Of particular note is v42 which speaks to children. The NOAB notes that rabbinical literature has the same language and it is speaking of sexual abuse of children.

I notice something here. Of the other sexual sins (read the link), there is a remedy, but of child molesters, Christ condemns them to the justice of the waters of chaos which ceases to exist in the New Creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. (Rev 21:1 NLT)

(Although I admit that I may in fact be confusing authors and their cosmology, regardless…)

Christ doesn’t give them a remedy, unlike he does other sexual sins.

So does love actually win? For everyone?

 

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New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha – Theological Neutral Notes

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On Monday, I began this series by taking a broad overview of the features found in this bible. I followed it up by a look at the introductions to the sections and the individual books. Today, I want to look at some of the notes.

It is not the traditional study bible, such as the NLT Study Bible, but it is one geared to a more academic, non-theological, audience in which the scholarly study of Scripture is deemed important. As with any bible which carries with it additions to the Text, my first check is into the biases of the authors. To gauge that, I generally turn to what I consider two of the most doctrinal verses for Christians in the Old Testament, Genesis 1.26 and Isaiah 7.14. Now does the NOAB stack up? In my opinion, it does so very well.

Genesis 1.26:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

The note in the NOAB reads,

The plural us, our (3.22;11.7) probably refers to the divine beings who compose God’s heavenly court (1 Kings 22.19; Job 1.6).

And while the rest of the note doesn’t quite pertain to the doctrinal notion, it is interesting nevertheless,

Image, likeness is often interpreted to be a spiritual likeness between God and humanity. Another view is that this text builds on ancient concepts of the king physically resembling the god and thus bearing a bodily stamp of his authority to rule. here this idea is democratized, as all of humanity appears godlike…..

Powerful stuff, right? Right.

The notion that God is speaking to His heavenly court is not anti-Christian by any means, but instead calls us to be academically honest. While theological students will use this verse to point to the later developed Trinity, it would be academically dishonest to do so. Here’s the kicker, and I don’t have this on hand at the moment, but the NLT Study bible pretty much says the same thing at this verse, as well as the next one. The fact is, that far too often, we cannot separate academic understanding and theological understanding, believing that the theological use of the Text somehow removes the original context from Scripture and allows us to somehow know it. That is reading into the Text. On the other hand, to theological develop these texts shouldn’t be discouraged either because then we run into the problems of removing Scripture from our Tradition(s).

Isaiah 7.14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Again, the academic stances of the NOAB comes through to match the lack of theological translation biasness which the NRSV employed. In part, the note reads,

The young woman is not identified; she may be either the wife of Isaiah (cf 8.3) or of King Ahaz. Although 7.14 is cited in Mt 1.23 as a proof text for the virgin birth of Jesus, based on the LXX translation of “parthenos”{ (virgin), the Heb word “almah” simply means young woman, not virgin.

Ironically, the note at Matthew 1.23 reads,

The first of Matthew’s fulfillment citations (Isa 7.14), showing how Jesus’ life conforms to prophecies of the Hebrew Bible.

Will all the notes be so unbiased? Not sure, but from what I have read, they seem to be. Does that mean that they are somehow right? No, but it does mean that the editors of the NOAB have tried to remove theological understandings from their notes giving academic students of the bible a theologically-neutral understanding of the text.

New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha – Section and Book Introductions

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Yesterday, I started my focus on the New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, kindly provided to me by Oxford University Press. Oxford is also the publisher of the New English Translation of the Septuagint, a personal favorite.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with reading the Scripture in sections, don’t be taken back when you see that the NOAB neatly divides the text into these sections. The first one we encounter is the Pentateuch, which as we know, are the five books of Moses. This introduction is brief, dealing with historical criticism, generally, such as the source theory.Written by Marc Z. Brettler, it provides an easy introduction into modern academic theories. Of course, from the start, he will not find friends among more traditional readers. Nothing the unanimity of the tradition which heralds Moses as the author of these books, he gives an academic rebuttal. He notes the lack of a ‘complete coherence of plot among them’, the failure to introduce the central character, Moses, until deep within the complete work, goes on to lay waste to other unifying themes commonly espoused by the more conservative readers. Of course, if this was a rebuttal to his work, I might suggest that the central character is not Moses, but YWHW; that the coherence of plot is not one simple string, but several, namely the rising and falling and limiting of one humanity to one tribe in order for God to have some semblance of activity with His creation; and that if nothing else, since it is five different books, with accepted redactions within, no single identification of unity will actually work. I also might chide him for his Western viewpoint that works must have a central, unifying, plot device, if this was a rebuttal to his introduction, which of course, it is not. Overall, his introduction well formed and presents a clearer understanding of the Pentateuch as a whole  than one might expect.

Coming to the first book of the Bible, we are greeted with an Instruction written by David M. Carr. It, like the other introductions discuss the usual – Name, Canonical Status, Authorship and devotes some space to Structure and Contents as well as, which by far is among the most important aspects of the introductions, Interpretative History. From Genesis to Revelation, different books have been taken to mean different things by different people in different times. Seemingly, the point is made no more clearer than by the Genesis and Revelation in which the introductions pay homage, respectively, to the various interpretative methods for the books, even the Deuterocanon. It is a little disjointing, however, especially while reading the Old Testament books, seeing non-Christian interpretations brought into the discussion. While it is easy for me to accept Jewish interpretations – these are their books – I find it difficult to recognize Islam’s use as valid; although, we must note that other religions besides Judaism and Christian have used these books and help them in high esteem.

The Introduction to the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (original title) goes the distance in drawing Protestant users to the fact that these books exist and are actually used by other Christians. My main concern here is that the subsection regarding the use in the New Testament provides erroneous material, namely that the New Testament writers do not have “frequent quotation(s) of the thirty nine-books in the Hebrew Bible”. Several books of the Jewish canon do not make an appearance into the writings of the New Testament, such as Judges-Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezra-Nehemlah, and Chronicles. Much to my chagrin, Wisdom and Sirach are regulated to ‘literary echoes’ which misplaces their importance to the wind, instead of providing an understanding of Wisdom for John and Paul. Finally, in noting the further influence of these books, they fail to mention the wide use of Baruch, Wisdom and Sirach in the early Christological debates.

Over all, the section introductions as well as the book introductions serve to further the academic notice and interest into the study of these books, even if at times they do not provide the entire answer.

For some pictures of the NOAB, see this post.

New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha – Features Overview

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Nearly every class so far in seminary has required this particular bible. In addition, the Oxford Annotated Bible has had a tradition of use in seminaries and other higher institutions of theological learning in which a more academic approach (i.e., less doctrinal, unbiased) is needed in the study of Scripture. This is my first use of the Annotated Bible series, although it is the fourth edition, but I have found it more than helpful whether in seminary class or in the pew. While the text is the NRSV, and not the NLT which is my preference, the translation is still sufficiently close to the rigidness expected by literalists without being overly wooden as the NASB often is. Further, the NRSV is the ecumenical standard, which also explains why this edition included the (so-called, and in my opinion, falsely called) Apocrypha (hereafter the Deuterocanon). (For those readers who desire not to have one with the Deuterocanon, you can purchase one of those as well). For this series, I wanted to highlight features of the edition which I believe are useful for the reader (or maybe, more appropriately, user), whether academic or lay. Indeed, while the additional features carry are generally entrenched in the much feared higher biblical criticism, even a conservative user should be able to find something of use among them, even if it is merely something to preach against.

It is edited by Michael D. Coogan, a well-known biblical scholar who has behind him a long list of varied voices serving as contributors. With such contributors as Amy-Jill Levine, David A. de Silva, and Richard A. Horsley, there is a variety of opinion and viewpoint for each book. What is enjoyable is that the various viewpoints are not sedated through editing, leaving the reader interacting with voices different from their own, and indeed, different from one book to the next. Is this important? In an academic setting, one must be willing to hear different voices on the same issues, and not just those with whom the student is familiar with. By including not just moderates to liberals, but conservatives, Christians and Jews and the such, the NOAB provides a foothold into the world of academic biblical studies in a time when more often, a singular voice is superimposed upon the student.

As I noted, this particular version includes the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon but not just the Western lists. We also see included the books of 1st through 4th Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, and 3rd and 4th Maccabees. Unlike the New English Translation of the Septuagint which is itself dependent upon the NRSV’s translation, it does not include the Psalms of Solomon. Note, no canonical list actually includes the Psalms of Solomon, but given that it is included in some ancient manuscripts and is a personal favorite of mine, a future edition of the NOAB might do well to include it, at the very least, in the appendix. To this end, regarding the canons, the editor includes an essay detailing the canons, their inception, lists, and uses from Judaism to the West as well as the East. It is not a simply essay, either, but includes various arguments over canonization, history, and intrusion into canonical interpretation. This essay is one among many which deals with the various criticisms, such as textual, as well as methods of interpretation.  Further, as usual, there is the glossary, index and concordance need to navigate the text as well as the NOAB.