writing things down…

Archive for May, 2007

RBL 30 May 2007

Highlights from the most recent additions to Review in Biblical Literature:

Fiona C. Black, ed.
The Recycled Bible: Autobiography, Culture, and the Space Between
Reviewed by Diane M. Sharon

D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo
An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd edition
Reviewed by John Paul Heil

Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch
Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul
Reviewed by Valérie Nicolet Anderson

Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald, with Janet H. Tulloch
A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity
Reviewed by Jorunn Økland

F. Scott Spencer
Dancing Girls, Loose Ladies, and Women of the Cloth: The Women in Jesus’ Life
Reviewed by Patrick E. Spencer

R. S. Sugirtharajah, ed.
Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, 3rd edition
Reviewed by Gerald O. West

L. L. Welborn and Kathy L. Gaca, eds.
Early Patristic Readings of Romans
Reviewed by Peter Tomson

Two Things That Scare Me

1) People who claim to have heard a word from God to build a political machine.
2) People who claim to have developed a method for studying the Bible to find out what it actually says. This can come from the right and the left.

What scares me most about these positions is that I do in fact believe God can and does speak and I do believe the Bible actually does say something. I cannot dismiss the notions. Here’s where I get pragmatic and communitarian. I can more easily dismiss particular claims if 1) there is a lack of community discernment, and 2) the fruits are anything other than Christ-like. Questions about what community and what constitutes Christ-likeness surely arise. I’d rather be struggling with these questions than following blindly someone who claims singly to have heard a word from God, or one who claims to have found the methodological key to hear what the Bible actually says.

In matters of God’s word and scripture, if it seems too easy, it probably is.

AKMA Essay

AKMA has kindly put on his blog a short essay entitled “The history and theory of Theological interpretations of the New Testament”. As always with AKMA, it is a good read.

10 Quick Takes on Ephesians 5:21/22-33

A couple of days ago I began a post about the controversial section of Ephesians regarding the submission of wives to husbands. I was working on the post during breaks at work and somehow nothing was saved. So, now a few days later I want to try to recall some of the things I had written earlier. The original was written the day after we had discussed the passage in the Ephesians class. It was much fresher on my mind then than it is now.

  1. The first question is where to place v. 21. Is it the closing sentence of the preceding paragraph (vv. 15-20) or the opening sentence for the paragraph in question (vv. 22-33)? Those who see it as a summarizing end to the preceding verses notice the hypotassomenoi as the last of a string of participles modifying the imperative to “be filled with the spirit” in v. 18. Against this it must be noted how anti-climactic this sentences would be following the much more climactic v. 20, “Giving thanks always for everything in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to (our) God and Father.” Also, we must consider the lack of a verb in v. 22. Though the external evidence for the lack of a verb is not terribly strong (p46 and Vaticanus are the only major MSS) when compared to other readings, it is weighty enough. Typically the shorter reading is to be preferred. I think this holds true for this case. The variant readings essentially come to two alternates: a) the inclusion of the 2nd person imperative, hypotassesthe, or b) the inclusion of the 3rd person imperative hypotassesthosan. It seems more likely to me that the original would have lacked a verb and scribes, looking to make the text read more smoothly, inserted imperatives. The fact that we have MSS with both 2nd and 3rd person imperatives in various locations in the sentence only supports the idea that scribes were doing their best to create an easier reading sentence. If we accept the lack of a verb, we must then see a closer connection to vv. 21 & 22, almost an inseparable connection, grammatically speaking. The anti-climactic tone of v. 21 and the need for it to stay connected to v. 22 lead me to conclude that the pericope’s opening line is “Submitting to one another with reverence for Christ, wives [submit] to your husbands as to the Lord…” We must read the whole section in light of the exhortation to submit to one another.
  2. The opening words of v. 21 and the words to husbands in vv. 25, 28 & 33 would be the bits that would have been most jarring to the Ephesians. It is not saying much to exhort wives to submit to their husbands. Similarly, stating that the husband is the “head” of the wife is nothing new. The Ephesians would surely have heard something like this before. Similar household codes had been around for several centuries. To tell husbands to love wives, however, would have been a bit more counter-cultural. It’s surprising then that the history of Christian teaching on this passage (and indeed all of the Household Codes in Ephesians [5:21-6:9]) focuses more on the part that would not have been all that startling to the Ephesians.
  3. On the subject of modern interpretations, I have always been perplexed by something. Wives are told to submit to husbands. That’s in the text. No way around it. Husbands are told to love wives. Fine. Rarely any problem for we modern folks on this. Here’s the thing though: I imagine most people would agree that wives ought to love their husbands as well. Right? We understand the ideal marriage as one where both partners love each other. But, the Ephesians text only calls on the husband to love. We easily understand a reciprocation of this love from the wife’s end. Why do we not also just as easily understand a reciprocation of the submission from the husband’s end? Indeed, v. 21 is quite explicit about it. Yet I would imagine if we were to ask a “traditionalist” to describe a good marriage, he (purposefully exclusive language!) would say something about love between the husband and wife and the submission of the wife to the husband. Why no submission between the husband and wife? I’m perplexed.
  4. OK, I’m going to speed up a bit. From here on out (actual) quick takes.

  5. As is typical to Ephesians, the author says something that sets him off on a related tangent. In this case, the exhortation to love wives as Christ loves the church sets him off on a digression about Christ’s love for the church. We ought not draw direct analogs. Husbands do not sanctify wives just because Christ sanctifies the church (vv. 26-27).
  6. Ephesians has been keen to note the way Christ has rid the church of dividing walls. Should we expect any less here? At the very least the hierarchy has been flattened considerably.
  7. The kephale question (“authority” or “source”?) will likely never be answered conclusively no matter how hard one argues.
  8. As we might expect from Ephesians, the author seems more interested to speak about the church/Christ relationship than the wife/husband relationship. We should be more concerned about that as well.
  9. When the author does speak to the husband/wife relationship the husband gets more space devoted to him. Indeed, the author does not even take the time to state the imperative to the wife (vv. 22 & 24); setting the wife straight is just not that big of a concern.
  10. This whole discussion is a hermeneutical issue. What of the Christians’ sacred text is timeless truth? How do we decide? I would argue from the text itself that wives submitting to husbands is not on its own a timeless command. It is not the focus of the passage. It would not have been that startling to the Ephesians. It ought to be understood as reciprocally as we understand the command to love. And, we ought to understand all of it under the heading of hypotassomenoi allelois.
  11. My wife told me to write all of this! 🙂

[Update: This nonsense is the kind of stuff that results from poor readings of texts like Ephesians 5:21-33.]

[Another update:  Check out the conversation in the comments thread on Tyler’s blog.  It all got started with Tyler kindly giving me a shout out.]

RBL 23 May 2007

There are others who give notice to the NT-related reviews in the newest edition of the Review of Biblical Literature.  Below I note those that I am interested in.  This is after all my web log, so I thought I’d log something for my own future reference.  You might be interested as well.  I hope you are.

Thomas J. Kraus and Tobias Nicklas, eds.
New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World
Reviewed by Christopher Tuckett

Stanley E. Porter, ed.
Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament
Reviewed by Michael Labahn
Reviewed by Gert J. Steyn

John Sandys-Wunsch
What Have They Done to the Bible? A History of Modern Biblical Interpretation
Reviewed by Jan van der Watt

Stanley H. Skreslet
Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission
Reviewed by Dirk G. van der Merwe

Willard M. Swartley
Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics
Reviewed by Joel Stephen Williams

John Van Seters
The Edited Bible: The Curious History of the “Editor” in Biblical Criticism
Reviewed by Eckart Otto

My New Favorite Bible Verse

Ephesians 5:32a

τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο μέγα ἐστίν

“This mystery is great!”

Missional Hermeneutic: Ephesians 5:3-14?

[Part two of a two part series. Maybe I’ll add more later. For now it’s two parts.]

A missional reading makes a big difference in how one might read the latter part of 5:3-14. Paul has turned his attention from reminding the community of its identity in the first three chapters to the way in which this identity extends into intra-communal (4:1-5:2) relations that maintain the mysterious unity. 5:3 moves from the sorts of things that directly affect community and unity (e.g., anger, falsehood, bitterness, slander, etc.) to the sorts of things in which one might participate in the wider society (sexual immorality, obscenity, coarse joking, greediness, etc.). It is true one could argue that all of these actions are ones a community member could exhibit in wider society, but the language of “one another” in 4:29-32 and the example of self-sacrifice in 5:1-2 seem to indicate a focus on the internal relations of the Ephesian Christian community and the way they learned Christ (4:20). 5:3ff. speaks more to other persons (cf. “such a person is an idolator” in 5:5) or the actions of “them” (cf. 5:7). Just as Paul wanted the Ephesians to make every effort to keep the unity, he also wants them to show a good public face. Sexual immorality and greediness are not what their Gentile non-Christian neighbors ought to see from them. In fact, in reminding them that they were once a part of this darkness (5:10), Paul tells the Ephesians they ought to expose these impure, unfruitful acts (5:11).

Now, here’s the question, “Is Paul exhorting the Ephesians to expose ‘the fruitless deeds of darkness’ among the community or within society?” More broadly, is this a maintenance or a missional issue? The answer to these questions bear on how vv. 13-14 are read.

And all of the things being exposed are being made known by the light, for each thing being made known is light. Therefore it says,
“Get up, sleeper,
and rise up from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

If the whole section of 8-14 is an exhortation toward action in wider society, namely that the Ephesian Christians as “children of light” (8) should not only avoid participating in fruitless works but should expose these works done presumably by the “sons of disobedience” (6), then vv. 13-14 is Paul’s way of rehearsing the movement from darkness to light and the role of the Christian community in that. That is, part of “walking as children of light”, bearing the “fruit of light”, and learning “what is pleasing to the Lord” should be exposing “the unfruitful works of darkness”. Things will be made known by the light and indeed Christ will shine on darkness. The responsibility of turning darkness into light is not the Ephesians’. Their responsibility, so it seems, is to expose dark deeds so that Christ may transform the doers of these deeds.

There is certainly an element of warning to the Ephesians (7), but I am not convinced that caution and maintenance is all that is being communicated here. It feels a bit innocuous for this pericope to be just a call to avoid dark deeds and expose those deeds within the community. This is especially true for me in light of two things:
1) The sons of disobedience seem to be in view as Paul refers to dark deeds. Their deeds, not the deeds of community members, are the ones the children of light ought to avoid and even expose.
2) The audience has just been reminded of their own transformation from dark to light and their status as children of light (8). It seems likely that Paul is pointing to their role in transforming others in the same way.

Thus, I note a handful of conclusions:
1) Ephesians 5:3-14 (esp. 11-14) is directed outward (missional?).
2) Exposing dark, unfruitful deeds is a part of being children of light. This comes about in the course of “walking” (8) and “learning” (10).
3) The children of light are not responsible for the transformation of dark to light. Things are made known “by the light” (13), which we can conclude is Christ (14).
4) Walking, learning, avoiding, exposing and all other activities of this “new person” (2:15), this “dwelling place for God” (2:22), have as their purpose to “make known the manifold wisdom of God” (3:10).

I could be wrong. Any thoughts?

Missional Hermeneutic: Ephesians?

[Part one of a series that will be at least two parts long]

Darrell Guder recently visited Fuller’s campus to deliver the annual Payton Lectures. In his first of two public lectures Guder made the distinction between a maintenance-oriented church and a missional-oriented church.

Guder maintained that during the long period of time when the Church represented a dominant power structure in the Western world, Christians gradually shifted their understanding of the Church from being an outwardly oriented gathering that launched mission to being an inwardly oriented gathering that maintained believers. … The mission of the Church, Guder said, is “not saving souls and collecting them into communities, but the formation of new witnessing communities.”

This notion of missional vs. maintenance got me to thinking about the epistle to the Ephesians, specifically 5:3-14. On the whole I think Ephesians is a highly missional epistle. In many ways it is an identity-shaping letter for its largely Gentile recipients. Paul (I’m using this as shorthand for the epistle’s author, whether it be the actual Paul or not) takes great pains to remind his readers about who they are. They are a blessed people (1:3-14), who have been raised with Christ (2:1-10), who are a part of a new body that is neither Jewish (2:11-22) nor Gentile (4:17-24). Paul longs for them to understand the mystery of this new “formation” (to borrow a Guder term). Lying beneath this formation is an implicit and sometimes explicit (see 2:10) missional identity. Paul, to my mind, is not writing this letter to say to the Ephesians (another shorthand term, see kata ta biblia for more on this), “Hey guys, you are a new body, act like it!” His is not a maintenance only letter. There is a reason for his reminding the Ephesians of their blessings, of their identity, of their learning Christ (4:20). There is good reason for Paul to exhort the community to make every effort to keep the unity (4:3) and to take care how it walks (5:15). There is certainly a bit of “Because you are God’s dwelling place” (2:22) rationale for this exhortation, but it seems to be more than that. There seems to be a missional element to the whole letter. The Ephesian community, as all missional communities, is the “fullness” of Christ “who fills everything in every way” (1:22). They, and we, have the same “incomparably great power” that God “exerted when God raised Christ from the dead and seated Christ at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (1:20). Indeed they, and we, have been raised and seated with Christ in order to make known God’s incomparably great riches (2:6-7), to do good works (2:10), to do immeasurably more than anything we ask or imagine (3:20).

With that in mind, we must read all of the paraenetic material in the second half of the epistle.

Mother’s Day

truthdig reminds us of the anti-war orgins of Mother’s Day.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe responded to the horrors of the Civil War by issuing her “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” calling on women around the world to rise up and oppose war in all its forms.

Mother’s Day Proclamation (1870)
by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then … women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace …
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God —
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

I wish I were more slacktive

Fred Clark writes like I wish I did. His blog, slacktivist, is one of the most insightful and well-written I’ve come across. I’ve recognized this for some time. I’m publicly acknowledging it today. I am particularly fond of things like I read today:

Most people who insist that the story of Noah is “literally” true don’t go to such great lengths to illustrate their belief, but it’s still startling how many people have gotten drowned in the details of this story. They travel to Mt. Ararat in search of the ark, or they obsess over details of hydrology and storage space. Just as lost at sea are these poor folks’ mirror opposites — those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is “literally” false. (I’m forced to place the word literally in quotation marks here because it is the word they insist on using, although what they mean by it is far from clear.)

Both sorts of literalists approach these stories with the same incomprehension as that of people who don’t understand jokes. “What kind of bar?” they ask. You try to ignore them, to get on to the punch line, to the point, but they keep interrupting. “A duck? I don’t think you’d be allowed in the bar if you were carrying a duck.”

Such people are particularly infuriating when you’re trying to tell a really good joke. They’re even more infuriating when you’re trying to tell a really important story.