February 28, 2009

New Blog on James' Epistle

A lot of new blogs are listed tonight at the latest Top 50 Biblioblogs list. One is called So Much For Straw, by Baylor Grad Student Patrick Woods. (On behalf of my wife, "Awwww, Sic 'Em Bears!") Patrick shares some very interesting information about new (?) research on James' Epistle by someone named Margaret Mitchell - I'm guessing not the one whose house sits in midtown Atlanta. This post and this other one are actually fascinating. Personally, I like where she seems to be taking it, and I'll probably read her stuff soon. I'll also be keeping an eye on Patrick's new blog. This biblioblog-o-sphere seems to be expanding rapidly. And so many are right here in Texas. ;)

Vocabulary in Galatians - The Summary

The List appears below this post, with an explanation of the stats. Here is my summary.

Paul’s vocabulary in Galatians is full of conflict. Eighty negatives and 106 personal references make for a very defensive tone. There are 62 legal terms, counting 32 uses of the word “law”. Another 65 terms (at least) had specific Jewish connotation for the Greeks Paul was writing to. No wonder there are at least 13 terms expressing strong disagreement and another 62 terms indicating attempts to prove or persuade. In fact, truth itself seems hotly disputed. Terms regarding deception appear 13 times, while truth appears only 7. Evidently the Galatians were struggling with fear/doubt (4), which helps explain why Paul put such an emphasis on promises (19) and faith (27).

Folks I’ve known say Galatians is about “Freedom”, which gets 11 references, but words indicating some degree of control appear far more – 32 times. That’s also where a lot of the argumentative tone and negative language comes in. And it may not be an accident that hierarchy is visible 22 times as well. Sometimes, if you didn’t know better, you could get the idea that Paul seems to hold the same disdain for “apostleship” as he does for slavery.

People also say Galatians is about Grace (7) although other spiritual blessings appear more often – 29 times. Still, giving and receiving appear 17 times, and the idea of inheritance gets 7 specific inclusions. By the way, God is usually the one giving, and the Galatians are usually the ones receiving. Incidentally, there are 7 terms of accounting and 28 specific numeric references. The accounting terms intersect very well with the legal ones. You would almost think somebody was (or had just recently been) on trial!

Speaking of proof once again, references to thinking or knowledge appear 18 times and communication naturally shows up a lot (49). Literacy gets 13 mentions and seeing or hearing picks up 15. Whatever Paul was trying to communicate (49), the novelty of writing (as a ministry strategy) was on his mind, as revealed by his pen.

It should of course go without saying the Galatians themselves were very important to Paul. The word “you” appears 90 times. I did not count how many are singular, but most must be plural. (Two times, “you” means Peter.) Unlike distributive plurals, these plurals have a plural context as well. Paul’s letter was sent to a group, not a collection of individuals. Familial terms appear 45 times. First person plurals also occur 45 times.

For comparison in terms of volume, the biggest category in the letter is references to the Godhead. God, Jesus or “the Spirit” get mentioned a total of 111 times. Paul’s referring to himself comes in second place because, obviously, a lot of the controversy Paul was responding to actually centered on rumors about Paul himself. The third biggest category is references of Jewish connotation (about 95, if we include “the law”).

Aside from all the drama of the present evil age, Paul really was focused on the grace and peace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Cross was mentioned 8 times, with mercy/redemption another 3 times. Glory/revelation (8), life (24) and safety/protection (9) were all key ideas. (We already mentioned faith and spiritual blessings.) Thank God resurrection got mentioned once, right at the start.

Specific sins (20), selfishness (10), destruction (11) and depravity (15) also come up, mostly in a couple of pockets along the way. Overall, Paul was concerned with building up instead of tearing down. He only criticized those he considered destroyers.

Constructive language appears in 22 words. Failure (5) was a tragedy to be acknowledged but overcome by willpower (56) and actual effort (26). However, excellence (4) was generally discounted and desire (27) was usually a negative thing. Paul taught active living not based on personal gusto. Mostly, the physical nature (41) was to be dealt with by humanity (19) through grace in the spirit (both above) despite many troubles (14).

In every passage, time (65) and place (57) are two constant topics in the linguistic background. Paul was always moving or thinking about going somewhere.

Meanwhile, the 423 pronouns almost outnumber the action verbs (279) and being verbs (174) all by themselves. I won’t count the personal nouns, but there are plenty. Not to be too philosophical, people were not human doings to Paul. (Most of the verbs connected with Galatians are passive or linking verbs, except for the negative behaviors, but to be honest, this does not necessarily enhance my view of Paul’s view of “laymen”.)

In all of this, true to his reputation, the apostle of grace seems most concerned with establishing people firmly in Jesus Christ by faith than with anything else. Still, the letter is filled with conflict and arguments because Paul had just seen the limits of Jerusalem’s “grace” to the Gentiles. “Skip the knife. Just eat like we do.” On returning from the Council, Paul heard the troublemakers who went to Antioch had also caused more trouble in Galatia. What was he supposed to do?

A 154-word letter that basically said, “Okay, fine, don’t get circumcised.” was not going to help. But that doesn’t mean the Galatian Epistle ignored the Jerusalem letter completely. "Fornication” and “idolatry” both got no-no'd exactly once each – it was only the food restrictions that Paul (justifiably) felt free to ignore. To that I say, hey, two out of three ain't so bad!

In conclusion, I believe God had more than enough grace for Paul's strategy and so should we, too... even though the saints in Jerusalem at that time may not have agreed.

Vocabulary in Galatians - the List

Please note: for what follows, I used the NKJV, which I had handy as a full text file. Obviously, the list would be more authoritative in Greek. Obviously any such “Idea-dle” is subjective. An asterisk means the word was doubly categorized. Also, I’ve already caught a few mistakes, because I didn’t double check every word, but I’m done spending time on it. So Sorry!

Despite those disclaimers, this list should still be worth something -- mainly in that major themes are hard to hide! ((If it was in Greek and I had twelve partners, I’d try to make it perfect for posting!)) Anyone who wants to improve it has my full permission – not to mention grateful appreciation!

Categories of Ideas in Paul’s Letter to Galatians (with specific word counts)

The Godhead – 111 (Christ 41, god 31, jesus 17, lord 6, ‘the spirit’ 16)

First Person References – 106 (I 70, me 24, my 11, myself 1)

Terms of heavy Jewish Connotation – 95 (Abraham 9, amen 2, angel 3, baptized 1, circumcision 13, covenant 3, creation 1, *law 32, hagar 2, leaven 2, Judaism 2, Judea 1, Jerusalem 5, Jews 6, Isaac 1, Israel 1, scripture 3, miracles 1, traditions 1, lump 1, heaven 1, kingdom 1, separated 2, symbolic 1)

Negatives – 80 (cannot 1, neither 6, no 14, none 1, nor 8, not 47, nothing 3)

Time – 65 (present 1, then 3, age 1, always 1, days 2, everlasting 1, forever 1, former 1, formerly 1, hour 1, immediately 1, later 1, long 1 longer 4, months 1, new 1, now 16, past 1, season 2, soon 1, still 2, till 1 time 3, when 11, while 2, years 4)

Legal Terms – 62 (*adoption 1, annul 2, court 1, found 1, judgement 1, just 3, justified 7, justify 1, law 32, mediate 1, mediator 2, righteousness 4, testify 1, transgression 2, trespass 1, trial 1, witness 1)

Proof/Persuasion – 62 (certain 1, certainly 2, clearly 1, confirmed 2, evident 2, examine 1, if 22, indeed 4, persuade 1, persuasion 1, right 1, showing 1, shows 1, spy 1, then 12, therefore 8, yes 1)

Here & There – 57 ( beyond 2, bring 2, brought 1, came 5, carried 1, cast 1, come 6, comes 1, continue 2, deliver 1, forth 3, go 2, led 1, present 2, ran 1, remained 1, rest 1, returned 1, run 2, seek 2, sent 2, stand 1, there 6, wait 1, walk 3, went 5, withdrew 1)

Willpower – 56 (committed 1, did 6, do 19, does 9, doing 1, might 12, will 8)

Communication – 49 (called 3, calls 1, communicated 1, confer 1, crying 1, gospel 12, letters 1, preach 4, preached 3, preaches 2, said 2, say 7, saying 1, shout 1, speak 1, taught 2, teaches 1, tell 3, told 1, tone 1)

Family Terms – 45 (*adoption 1, abba 1, brethren 11, brother 1, child 1, children 6, father 5, fathers 1, household 1, husband 1, mother 2, son 9, sons 5)

Plural First Person References – 45 (our 7, ourselves 1, us 12, we 25)

Nature/Body – 41 (body 1, eat 1, flesh 17, fruit 1, hand 3, infirmity 1, inured 1, nature 2, physical 1, reap 4, seed 4, seeds 1, sows 3, tree 1)

Proper Nouns – 36 (Antioch 1, Arabia 2, Barnabas 3, Cephas 1, Cilicia 1, Damascus 1, Galatia 1, Galatians 1, Gentiles 9, James 3, John 1, Paul 2, Peter 5, Mount Sinai 2, Syria 1, Titus 2)

Spiritual Blessings – 36 (blessed 2, blessing 2, enjoyed 1, gentleness 2, good 7, goodness 1, grace 7, hope 1, joy 1, kindness 1, longsuffering 1, love 4, loved 1, peace 3, rejoice 1, rejoicing 1)

Control – 32 (bewitched 1, bondage 6, compel 2, compelled 1, confined 1, control 1, entangled 1, exclude 1, favoritism 1, forbid 1, hindered 1, let 9, obey 1, obeying 1, overtaken 1, rule 1, yield 1, yoke 1)

Faith – 31 (afraid 1, believe 1, believed 2, believing 1, beware 1, confidence 1, doubts 1, faith 21, faithfulness 1, fearing 1)

Life & Death -28 (birth 2, bear 1, barren 1, blood 1, born 5, dead 1, died 2, grow 1, life 3, live 9, lives 1, womb 1)

Numbers – 28 (one 20, two 2, three 1, four 1, fourteen 1, fifteen 1, thirty 1, hundred 1)

Desire – 27 (ambitions 1, desire 6, eager 2, envy 2, like 1, passions 2, pleasing 3, purpose 1, urge 1, want 3, wish 2, zealous 3, zealously 1)

Work/Effort – 26 (attempt 1, avails 2, bear 2, burdens 1, conduct 1, labor 1, labored 1, load 1, means 1, tried 2, try 1, work 1, worked 2, working 1, works 8)

Construction – 22 (begun 1, build 1, change 1, effect 1, effectively 2, formed 1, made 3, made perfect 1, make 5, opportunity 1, portrayed 1, put 1, restore 1, share 1)

Hierarchy – 22 (apostle 1, apostles 2, apostleship 1, appointed 2, bondwoman 5, first 1, master 1, minister 1, servant 1, serve 2, served 1, slave 3, submission 1)

Inward Parts – 21 (“the spirit” 16, heart 1, hearts 1, spirit 2, spiritual 1)

Sins & Evils – 20 (adultery 1, drunkenness 1, evil 1, fornication 1, hatred 1, idolatry 1, jealousies 1, licentiousness 1, lust 1, lusts 1, mocked 1, murders 1, revelries 1, sin 2, sinners 2, sins 1, sorcery 1, wrath 1)

Humanity – 19 (female 1, male 1, man 9, man’s 1, men 6, woman 1)

Promises – 19 (*covenant 3, foreseeing 1, fulfill 2, fulfilled 1, fullness 1, promise 9, promises 2)

Mind/Knowledge – 18 (*taught 2, *teaches 1, considering 1, foolish 2, know 3, knowing 1, known 3, learn 1, mind 1, remember 1, thinks 1, unknown 1)

Giving & Receiving – 17 (gave 4, given 5, gives 1, receive 3, received 3, supplies 1)

Depravity – 15 (accursed 2, blamed 1, corruption 1, curse 3, cursed 2, desolate 1, despise 1, fallen 1, opportunity 1, pervert 1, tempted 1)

Senses – 15 (eyes 2, hear 1, heard 1, hearing 3, observe 1, perceived 1, saw 3, see 2, sight 1)

Troubles/Pain – 14 (marks 1, persecuted 3, persecution 2, suffer 2, suffered 1, travail 1, trouble 3, troubles 1)

Deception/Falseness – 13 (deceived 1, deceives 1, false 1, heresies 1, hypocrisy 1, hypocrite 1, lie 1, played 1, secretly 1, seemed 3, stealth 1)

Disagreement – 13 (contentions 1, contrary 2, differ 1, difference 1, different 1, dissensions 1, enemy 1, estranged 1, offense 1, outbursts 1, provoking 1, reject 1)

Literacy – 13 (*letters 1, book 1, tutor 2, word 2, write 1, written 6)

Destruction – 11 (bite 1, break 1, castrate 1, consumed 1, destroy 2, destroyed 1, devour 1, plucked 1, set (aside) 1, took 1)

Freedom – 11 (free 4, freewoman 3, liberty 4)

The Cross – 11 (cross 3, crucified 4, hangs 1, mercy 1, redeem 1, redeemed 1)

Terms with heavy Gentile Connotation – 10 (gods 1, greek 2, nation 1, nations 2, uncircumcised 1, uncircumcision 2, uncleanness 1)

Selfishness – 10 (conceited 1, personal 1, self 1, selfish 1, use 1, vain 5)

Customs – 9 (‘the like’ 1, elements 2, manner 2, practice 1, world 3)

Protection – 9 (guard 1, guardians 1, keep 2, kept 2, privately 1, stewards 1, withstood 1)

Glory – 8 (glorified 1, glory 3, reveal 1, revealed 1, revelation 2)

Accounting Terms – 7 (accounted 1, added 2, adds 1, debtor 1, due 1, profit 1)

Inheritance – 7 (*adoption 1, heir 3, heris 1, inherit 1, inheritance 1)

Truth – 6 (truly 1, truth 5)

Church – 5 (church 1, churches 2, fellowship 1, neighbor 1)

Failure – 5 (lose, turn, turning, weak, weary)

Excellence – 4 (advanced, exceedingly, pillars reputation)

Poverty – 2 (beggarly, poor)

Resurrection – 1 (raised)

Paul's Big Visit to Jerusalem - 2

In my last post, I showed why chronology and logistics make it impossible to equate Galatians 2 with Acts 11. That means Galatians 2 must refer to Acts 15 (the Big Visit of the title). Therefore, Paul’s first Epistle was written shortly after the Council of Jerusalem - probably right after Paul's break up with Barnabas. That's where this gets really interesting...

The challenging part, imho, is to realize how much conflict James & Paul continued to have with each other for years after the council. Reading all of Galatians in that context can be very eyebrow raising indeed! So, in my next two posts, I'm going to look at the vocabulary of Galatians.

Yes, I'm shifting from chronology and logistics into linguistics - please bear with me... and forgive me for doing it in English - someone else can redo it someday in Greek. Redo what, you ask? I'm applying an old trick from junior high reading strategies. Instead of "Wordle", I've made an "Idea-dle". The categorized, itemized (imperfect) list will be followed by a summary piece.

Stay tuned...

February 26, 2009

Paul's Big Visit to Jerusalem - 1

To my reading, everything about Paul's letter to Galatia suggests it was written after the Council of Jerusalem. It baffles me that many conservatives hold the opposite view. I hope some of them will read the rest of this post.

Galatians 2:1-10 cannot refer to Acts 11:30 for two reasons – chronology and logistics. Paul and Barnabas cannot travel over 350 miles from Antioch to Jerusalem in the middle of a famine with several wagons full of grain in a caravan conspicuously large enough to feed the entire church in Jerusalem for over a year. Aside from the trouble, not to mention the risk, the expense of oxen, carts and handlers for transit would have been much more appropriately spent on additional grain. More importantly, Antioch knew when the famine was coming. If we accept Agabus’ prediction as historical, the church in Antioch had plenty of time – not only to save up the money required, but to take that money to Jerusalem in advance. Bringing money to Jerusalem instead of grain would require that it arrive well in advance of the famine, so that the church could begin stockpiling grain gradually, without drawing too much attention.

A plain reading of Acts 11-12 suggests Paul and Barnabas’ delivery occurred in early 44 AD, before the first harvest, giving the church plenty of time to begin buying up grain. Since Galatians 2:1 refers to a visit that occurred “after an interval of 14 years”, the conversion of Paul would have to take place in 27 AD (or 30 if one includes the three years in Arabia as part of an overall 14 year span). To my knowledge, no one has suggested Paul was converted so early, and I suspect no one ever will. Indeed, Paul’s conversion fits best in 34 AD, which leads some to posit an inclusive 14 year span culminating in a massive delivery of physical grain during the first or second year of the famine itself (47 AD). Of course, this postulation also requires an otherwise pointless (and otherwise baseless) reconfiguration of the chronology around Acts 11:30 and 12:25, as if those two verses alone happened three years later than everything else mentioned in between.

In my opinion, the discombobulated chronology is as impossible as the logistics of delivering relief ‘in kind’. The only way Antioch was able to feed Jerusalem is if the money got there in advance. As a conservative, I take on faith that Agabus did indeed prophesy the famine in advance. What I do not know, is why many of my fellow conservatives seem so loathe to consider Paul writing Galatians after the time of Acts 15. I suggest Christian scholars consider embracing the fact that James & Paul continued to have conflict after the Council of Jerusalem. It should be far easier to adapt theological interpretations of that disagreement to preserve the integrity of scripture than to bend time, space and physics so that we can all imagine James & Paul learned to play nice. (And if that is not the problem, please tell me what is.)

Incidentally, if this view causes the historicity of Acts even partly to stand or fall on the acceptance or rejection (notice I do not say ‘probability’) of Agabus’ forecasting ability – then so be it. IMHO, New Testament scholarship ought to be more that way anyway.

February 25, 2009

James' Epistle, c.AD 52 (part 3)

One flawed but common argument for putting James’ Epistle before the Council of Jerusalem (in 50 AD) has been that James did not seem to address the Gentile believers anywhere in that letter. More careful scholars amend this somewhat, because obviously James had been aware of the gentile church in Antioch for quite some time previously. The more precise argument therefore claims that James should have mentioned the Council itself. Should. So they say. Nuanced this way, the argument still basically says that if James had written after 50 AD, we’d expect to see him addressing Gentiles directly, or at least topically. It may not be so simple.

To be blunt, I think any form of this argument is clearly illogical. At the very least we should object that James had every right at any point in time to simply choose to write only for Jews. There is certainly nothing about the Council’s decision in and of itself that required James to address Christian Gentiles or the Council event, and no word has been sent down from Heaven or breathed into Scripture to suggest God Himself would have required more eccumenical literature. But there are better reasons to rethink the Epistle’s traditional date than the mere absence of such mandates. In fact, circumstances at the time suggest it was far more likely, after the Council had ended, that James would naturally avoid bringing the subject back up again.

If James was writing shortly after the Council, he’d have no special reason to address what had already been sufficiently covered. All that we know of James suggests he’d have no additions or modifications to make on the verdict, especially since his voice was the strongest one during the Council. If James and the Elders of the church in Jerusalem believed their decision was being conveyed with authority, there was simply no need to repeat it. Their letter on the matter was more than simple and straightforward – it was expressed comprehensively. From the position of James and Jersualem, according to Acts, there was nothing more that needed to be said on the subject. It might be referred to offhand, but why should it be?

In addition to that, there were good reasons not to say anything. Aside from avoiding redundancy, there was no reason to remind everyone of what essentially seems to have been a begrudging compromise – at least, according to what the behavior of many would later reveal. Circumcision was the only major requirement Gentiles had actually been spared, and there was no need for clarification on that issue. More broadly, re-raising such a controversial subject without offering additional concessions would have been extremely poor diplomacy by anyone from Jerusalem.

It is clear, of course, that Jerusalem had no further concessions to make. But even if the would-be “mother church” had been mysteriously moved to subtract from their expectations for the Gentiles, such information would more appropriately have come in a separate letter specifically designated for that purpose. Any follow-up correspondence would most likely have come addressed from James and the Elders, at least, but certainly not from James only. Granted, James had a lot of authority over the church, but not nearly that much.

So with no new information to include, and no proper license to meddle in regional politics all by himself, James' silence would appropriately reflect that the new status quo was to be silently honored. After the settlement, no one had any polite cause to speak (much less write) an unneeded reminder that Gentiles could still keep their foreskins. Besides, the principal fact of that matter did not greatly please anyone, anyway. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that any letter written from James after the Council was over would have been most wise to avoid remarking in any way on the unique and contentiously enumerated “burdens” of the believing Gentiles.

Obviously, this view is the opposite of the traditional argument. It should also be pointed out that the absence of any direct reference to Gentiles does not necessarily mean they were absent from James’ thoughts entirely, while he was writing. Nothing rules out the possibility that James fully intended for Gentile believers (at least some of them) to read his Epistle as well. At the very least, there were surely god fearers in Jewish-Christian communities. And, to be bold, one gets the distinct impression from James’ whole life that he largely expected all Gentile believers to live as if they were Jews in most many ways.

In the end, the original observation that James did not mention the Gentiles may prove to be true be for certain only in terms of direct reference. That gives us much more to consider...

(Note: for my thoughts about the obvious conflict between James and Paul - in their lives, if not strictly in their writings - see Parts One and Two in this series.)

February 23, 2009

What is "Scriptural" in Ecclesiology?

It seems to me, debating whether certain scriptures are "descriptive" or "prescriptive" is really just a fancy way of saying "we don't want to do church like the early christians did." So, okay. That's totally fine and I don't believe God ever said we had to. But isn't it basically begging the question to put all that formal structure around the whole thing? Why not just fess up and come clean about the fact that dismissing whatever we deem "descriptive" usually boils down to pure preference? I mean, really, doesn't it?

I have always believed we are all free to follow whatever liturgy we like AND I'll say again that I have yet to lay eyes on any expression of Christ's body on Earth that was founded and gathers in perfect harmony with the most prevalent New Testament patterns. That said, we should also naturally want to be as much like the early christians as possible. Shouldn't we? With all my heart, I say yes. But you know, whatever. ;)

Whatever we do, be it unto the Lord, but defending aspects of what is or isn't "prescribed" usually amounts to proof texting our own ways of doing things. Since Lent starts Wednesday, let's all give that up forever. Who's with me?

February 22, 2009

James' Epistle, c.AD 52 (part 2)

The History of James & Paul is far more compelling to me than whatever theologians want to say about their writings. I stand with conservative christian beliefs as a rule, but I have no current religious affiliation or particular theological training. I'm into history and chronology, so what bothers me is the idea that some peoples' need to view certain verses a certain way seems to hinder overall interest and efforts at reconstructing one reasonable and cohesive event sequence for the NT as a whole.

The traditional dating of James' Epistle is a typical case in point. I don't care how theologians reconcile the writings of James and Paul. The men themselves (and some of their followers) remained sharply opposed in many ways, for thirty years if not more. To act as if James' Epistle would not or could not have been written after the council in 50 (or after Galatians) is biased historiography indeed. Moreover, such bias is unnecessary. As best I can tell, conservative theology in this case doesn't actually require any particular historical sequence in order to defend the scriptures or preserve the faith on the relevant issues at hand. Therefore, christians should be only more eager to seek out a more objective view of the facts.

The idea that James and Paul actively wrote statements attempting to correct one another in writing should not hinder our faith in either man or their writings OR the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Not in the slightest. To illustrate: I recently had several e-mails with a really good friend where we kept misunderstanding each other. Our contradictions were superficial, which is to say, non-existent, but it took some time for us to build a common voice in the conversation. Before that realization came, we believed ourselves to be in disagreement and kept trying to correct one another's key points on the topic. Till the end, we were each mistaken about the other's accuracy. But throughout the conversation, we were both speaking truth. That's basically how it seems to have gone for James and Paul.

Today, many normal believers admit some confusion when the writings of James & Paul naturally sound so conflicting. Likewise, many first century christians also seem to have had trouble understanding at the time. Romans was written partly because Gentiles and Jews alike kept misinterpreting, misapplying and/or misrepresenting Paul's message. Similar conflicts seem to have ended Paul's welcome in Asia - and the Epistle of James was absolutely in Asia before that time came. (I personally believe 1st John was an attempt to reconcile the confused factions by refocusing the debate squarely onto the Lord, using new terms. But that's a whole other series!) Even if these authors did at some point officially reconcile their different points of view, those differences remained strong enough to help divide whole regions of churches. Therefore, it seems most logical by far to suppose those differences took James & Paul more than a brief span of time to clear up, simply between themselves.

In fact, it has long (and wisely) been suggested by conservative scholarship that James himself actually did misunderstand Paul's teaching on "justification" - at least for a time after first having heard it - and that James (2) best fits into some period before James and Paul were able to sit down and reconcile such semantics man to man. I do agree this was very likely the case. However, it is far too much to assert that any semantic unity was necessarily achieved by the year 50 AD, if it happened at all. (Future posts in this series will revisit this point in detail.)

For now, it is reasonable enough to believe that James and Paul simply failed to understand one another perfectly and most likely did in fact attempt to correct one another in their writings, but this view does not require us to believe either man spoke in error at all. Any faith-based reading merely has to believe they were "talking past one another", and evidently God himself used the apparent conflict to get both points of view into print! (That is, assuming the composition of scripture was no accidental affair, during the divine manipulation of first century history.)

In all this, my starting point is simply to suggest that our theological judgment should follow historical study instead of begging it. It is not necessary to put James' Epistle before 50 AD for either theological or apologetic reasons. From here, we proceed.

To be continued...

February 21, 2009

James' Epistle, c.AD 52 (part 1)

Sometimes, feeling scattered pays off in unexpected ways. Todd Bolen re-sparked my interest today in something I'd long wanted to post about. So thanks, Todd - even though this has little to do with your post itself. :)

The standard, traditional, conservative dating on James' Epistle typically concludes that it *must* have been written before c.50 AD (before the Council of Jerusalem), because the letter says nothing about Gentile believers. As if it should. The other main reason is because James (ch.2) discusses "justification by works". As if he couldn't have said that after 50, whatever he meant by that word.

Personally, I think those arguments rank as some of the worst logic I've ever seen in NT chronology. Aside from being theologically motivated, the view requires an incomplete assessment of NT events. Aside from that, it's apologetic overkill. I'm told theologians have at least three ways to reconcile James (2) with Paul's writings no matter when it was written. Why, then, insist on the early dating?

Yes, there was diversity among the early New Testament churches. No, that doesn't have to mean scripture contradicts itself here. The important question - at least to me - is whether theological, religious concerns have subverted potential efforts toward a more precise chronological reconstruction. As far as I can tell - although it may be merely due to another accident of history by this point - it seems they absolutely have.

I don't know who first tried to homogenize James and Paul, but we shouldn't be worried about the actual, non-homogenized facts hindering our faith-based view of the 'whole milk'. Au contraire. Let the cream rise to the top. Just don't throw out the rest of the bottle.

Facts, dates and figuring will begin with the next post in this series...

February 20, 2009

Christian Youth Workers

Jesus didn’t do any service projects in Nazareth. He didn’t evangelize, either. He wasn’t teaching or preaching. He wasn’t doing any of the things many expect to see serious minded young Christians engaging themselves in, these days. It’s not that those things were wrong, or somehow beneath him (or us). But apparently, they weren't necessary, either.

When his time came, Jesus did mighty works. But they didn't happen all the time. Healings and teachings and miracles, preaching and feeding and outreach, prayer and retreating and resting, even discipleship - all the Lord did, He did on his own internal clock. By the natural outpouring of his own devotion to his Father. By the intersection of God's spirit within him with whatever providence or circumstance happened to bring his way at any particular time.

Jesus Christ was about his father's business at age 12, in Jerusalem. That lasted three days. But I believe the next 22 years - when Jesus did "nothing" in Nazareth - were also his Father's business. I wish more folks leading the christian youth of america were telling them this is an option. Aspects of time - growing, seasons, development, patience, and years upon years of literally waiting on God - these do not easily leap from the margins of most study bibles.

When we fail to see time in the scriptures, we uproot events from reality. It all seems to happen at once, so why shouldn't it be that way, now? Maybe the elders of mainstream christendom are just glad to see kids kept busy, staying out of trouble, serving the Lord with such vigor. And maybe they're blind to the burnout it causes. I don't know. But this I do know...

We need a stronger sense of time and place when reading the New Testament.

February 11, 2009

Common Sense on Prophecy

God doesn't "see the future". He calls his shots. Then he hits them. (But only when he feels like shooting.) At least, that's how I see it. There is no future. There is only the physical realm, the spiritual realm, and the now.

God's also really good at predicting trends, because he sees 100% of all existing data in streaming real time awareness, including human nature and individual character. Aside from that, if God predicted something that even threatened to begin to go a bit off course, he could put it right back on again through any number of direct interventions. Hello? (Duh.) He's GOD.

When Gabriel spoke to Daniel, Persia had already taken Babylon, Macedonia needed another 150 years to build an effective mastery over its vast resources, and social-darwinism had been working on the robust migrants to Italy's peninsula for over two centuries. The inevitable political evolution and expansion must have been - to God's vantage point - largely as predictable as the strategic geography and gene pools involved. Plus, he could nudge it.

What we see in history as hindsight, I believe God simply foresaw in megatrends. So he knowingly looked around and said I can finish my plan in 490 years. Then Gabriel told Daniel some things to look for. And then God made sure it did happen.

Whatever predictions He's made, fulfilling them must be an active process. But guys who act like certain future events are already set in stone don't make any sense. It seems to me that God actually does play dice with the universe, except that he often "cheats".

Full disclosure: I've never studied Calvinism and Armenism (sp?) except the night I wrote my college paper on Paradise Lost. Personally, I've always preferred Hamlet's certain providence. "If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all." So maybe all I'm doing here is proving how ignorant I am of theology and prophecy. Or maybe that's precisely the reason I'm really writing this post! ;)

As I was reminded yesterday, subjective interpretation of prophecy can be one cause of bad religious chronology.

February 9, 2009

Occam's 69 Weeks

Of course they're actually "Daniel's 69 Weeks" but I'm also referring to "Occam's Razor" which says the simplest *possible* explanation is to be preferred. Since I just read an extremely complicated (not to mention anti-faith) attempt to explain Daniel, I realized I hadn't blogged my own very simple suggestion yet. No time like the present.

Point 1 - Let Daniel 9:25 refer to the complete rebuilding of all Jerusalem, not just the Temple. This places the "decree" in 445/4 BC, not 539/8 BC, on which, see point 2. (Also see notes below. Liberals may attack this point first but I claim it as my premise and simply ask - if we accept this as given, what proceeds logically from here?)

Point 2 - Instead of doing arcane mathematical gymnastics, as some have done, count inclusively. The first "week" does not begin on the moment the decree was given. The first week is already on the calendar! It's the week during which Artaxerxes (in 445/4) gave Nehemiah permission to rebuild the wall. Those seven years ran from Autumn 450 to Autumn 443 (by Zuckerman's reckoning).

Point 3 - Proceed directly and sequentially from this first "week" to the 69th. That seven year period begins in Autumn 27 AD and runs until Autumn 34 AD. (Note the Math: 450 + 34 = 484 yrs = (69 * 7) +1, where the plus one disapears when restricting the count from Autumn to Autumn, giving the accurate total of 483.) Significantly, this week encapsulates the entire ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

Point 4 - Just as the decree of Artaxerxes did not begin a strict countdown of 483 chronological years, the crucifixion of Jesus (April, 33 AD) does not have to come at the 69th week's precise end (which, in any year, would be in Autumn, not Spring).

Point 5 - Anyone taking Wacholder's years (as opposed to Zuckerman's) should not find any trouble in working with the above points, but - while I'm on the subject - let me say I personally find it much more significant, theologically, that Christ laid up his propitiation for all time in the Year of Preparation, before the Year of Rest (and likely the Jubilee, too.)

Notes: I'm not an O.T. or ANE guy, and I'm doing this strictly for the NT application - so much of my Persian history research (and all of 'my' Hebrew interpretation of Daniel 9:25) is borrowed from Harold Hoehner's generally excellent and thoroughly researched Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Chapter 6). However, one of the few criticisms I hold of this fine, classically trained scholar is that he calculated the numbers according to "prophetic months". Therefore Point 2, above, is my own added twist. Mathematics, like historical theories, is best when done simply.

Incidentally, I did actually tuck all this into a summary piece I did in 2006, which I'll now excerpt here. Pay attention, old friends - Jesus shows up at the end! :)
In 539 BC, the year that Daniel met Gabriel, the Kingdom of Persia conquered Babylon. It was also the year Daniel saw a vision of the rebuilding and the future re-destruction of Jerusalem.

In 538 BC - the following year, Cyrus, King of Persia, let many Jews go back to Jerusalem. Cyrus let Zerubbabel and the Jews rebuilt their temple, but not the walls.

In 480 BC - Xerxes, King of Persia, killed 300 lots of Spartans at Thermopylae, but lost the war against Greece. Back home in Persia, three years later, he married a Jewish wife, named Esther. She comforted him, after his loss.

In 458 BC - Artaxerxes, King of Persia, let a Jewish man named Ezra lead a new group of exiles back to Jerusalem. Ezra read the law, and the people decided to follow it. That autumn, they dedicated the next twelve months (and every 7th year after) as a Resting-Year to the Lord.(It just so happens that, about this time, a Greek named Pericles was leading Athens into their famous "Golden Age".)

In 445 BC - Artaxerxes decided to let Ezra and Nehemiah rebuild their whole city, and even the walls of Jerusalem. He gave this decree mid-way through one of Israel's 7-year cycles.(That cycle - when the walls were rebuilt - was the first cycle out of 69 cycles that Gabriel told Daniel about. The 64th cycle is when Jesus gets born. The 69th cycle is when Jesus does his work.)

February 3, 2009

Church Bias and Biblical Studies

So far, most protestants keep on defending what they do as scriptural. Catholics and charismatics know that's not necessary. Long before Luther, and ever since then, the best way to justify authority is by appealing to church tradition and/or divine revelation. Fighting over Bible verses is the least stable by far! However, since appealing to scripture IS the protestant tradition, I predict those appeals will focus more and more on extracting *principles* of scripture. The truth is spreading too quickly - New Testament churches were far different than most today.

At age 21, my primary motive for studying NT events in chronological order was to observe (and yes, to support) a more primitive ecclesiology. I still feel that's valid, but I've also been on record for several years that we are not bound to follow "what the Bible says". For one thing, that's insulting to God. For another, some of the strongest patterns we can observe consistently in New Testament church life still aren't remotely uniform. Even in century one, it seems, the Lord didn't "follow the Bible".

Christians reading the scriptures ought to see the primitive church as it was, and then prayerfully decide how to follow the Lord into church life today. Personally, I've never met anyone who does church exactly like any of the NT churches did. So that's not the point. On the other hand, most christians never even get to see such a clean view of the first century. The view most promoted is usually the one church authorities believe best supports their own way of things.

In 2009, it seems like faith-based Biblical Studies ought to have, by now, reconstructed one cohesive "things most likely happened this way" view of the New Testament's total historical context. Instead, what we have is pockets of support for various denominational traditions. Thus, in a way, christians have hijacked the bible far worse than the most anti-faith skeptical scholar could ever hope to. Being mutually respectful of one another's traditions doesn't serve truth in scholarship, either. (We might accept tradition in practice, but it shouldn't have first place over scholarship.)

Although it frustrates me that faith based research in the Academy still has to battle against too many premises of the Enlightenment, I feel far more comfortable planning a trip to an SBL conference than I do walking onto any Seminary campus. At least, so far...
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