March 30, 2010

Early Churches, Early Synagogues

For too many, still, "church" and "synagogue" are merely code words for a weekly ritual in a specialized building. Thus, the argument is sometimes put forth that (A) the earliest christians kept most or all of their Jewish customs, (B) that included synagogue gatherings, and (C) therefore, the early church was every bit as "structured", "ritualized" and "formal" as the Institutional Church's typical Sunday gatherings.

Ta-da. Present system justified! There's just one little problem. Early synagogues may not have been quite like what these IC defenders were assuming they were.

Did early churches look anything like early synagogues? Well, in some respects, to some degree or another, yes. Of course. But what are we asking about - communities or programmed assembly meetings? And in either case, which aspects were similar? How so? And how much diversity was there?

Most importantly, whether we're researching the lives of communities or the liturgies of their holy gatherings, we can't really compare ancient churches to synagogues without backing up all the research and asking the foremost necessary question: What were early synagogues actually like?

That's somewhat of an open question at the moment, but for an excellent primer, you can start with two of Alan Knox's recent blogposts:
Role of the synagogue in the first century C.E.

Why should we study the first century synagogue?
My two cents also appears below Alan's earlier post about synagogue leadership. That topic needs much more discussion, but not at this very moment. Anyway, all of Alan's posts are well researched, challenging and informative, so head on over!

Update (4/5/10) - Alan's at it again: Points of comparison between the early synagogue and early church.

March 28, 2010

Back at Home

from Baton Rouge, where my baby brother got married this weekend. Very proud. Very happy. They make a wonderful couple. It was great to be home, and now it's great to be home.

Regular blogging should resume by mid-week at the latest...

March 24, 2010

The Rabbis of Nazareth

Many have noted similarities between James' Epistle & the Sermon on the Mount, and I've heard it suggested that James may have worked partly from the same oral tradition that informed Matthew's SOTM. On that model, I'd presume, Jesus' actual preaching would be the source of both streams of 'Jesus tradition'. Well, to no one's surprise, I'd like to suggest taking that one step further.

If James & Jesus were actually brothers, who grew up in Nazareth and sat in the same Synagogue together for decades, might there have been some particular Rabbi(s?) who taught memorably during their time there? If so - and if we accept Matthew's SOTM as a faithful account of things Jesus actually taught - then it might it be possible that James' Epistle didn't borrow from Jesus' teaching, but that both built upon the same hometown source, namely, teaching from Nazareth's Synagogue.

It would be intriguing to work back from both sources to try and suppose what was being taught in Nazareth. With this model, it would also be interesting to compare both texts to Rabbinic Literature and see which stream stayed closest to the original, and which was more transformational. But my bias and hunch are revealing themselves now. I'd expect to find Jesus' treatment of that material to be more transformational, and to find James' version to be more faithful to his own upbringing. But again, that's my own bias & hunch.

There's an interesting moment in John's Gospel when Jesus' brothers take an air of superiority because they're on their way down to Jerusalem and he seems unconcerned with the festival. That suggests to me that James & Jude (et al) had established a personal religiosity (that's not a negative term) quite apart from their brother's existence, and that they'd done so long before Jesus went out to begin his public ministry. That's just another reflection that might partly bear on this hypothesis.

These questions may or may not be worth asking, but I'm guessing they're new, and for three reasons: (1) It requires us to think of James as Jesus' actual brother. (2) It requires textually-focused scholars to delve into historical reconstruction. (3) It requires someone who holds a high view of the SOTM's authenticity AND who also takes James' Epistle as more Jewish than Christian. These are the kinds of reasons why I do what I do. There's an unfulfilled niche here, I know there is! ;-)

In all seriousness, if anyone knows that this has been done this before, please let me know. And if anyone else wants to jump on this topic, please do so with no hesitation. This is one issue I will never try tackling in depth. It's way too far beyond me on the textual issues.

In historical terms, however, I'll say this much with confidence. We should take it as fact that James & Jesus did share Synagogue space for a number of decades, and that Jesus' take-home from each meeting would have been quite unique from what anyone else was perceiving, and that must have included his brothers. That difference in perception *must* have played into their respective future careers somehow, and it's possible that at least some of the similarities between James' Epistle and Matthew's SOTM are due to this common heritage.

Both James and Jesus grew up at the Nazareth Synagogue, and whatever Rabbinic teaching they got, they both heard it all.

If anyone wants to spin this another way, my ears are open...

March 22, 2010

Peter and Cornelius - 1

After reading Acts, it's clear that Peter's vision at Joppa meant quite a lot. In the middle of Acts 10, however, it's less clear whether Peter himself had immediately grasped all that his vision in Joppa was intended to mean. Verse 28 presents one clear statement of contrast between Peter's old and new thinking, but the same cannot be said of verses 34-35. In both cases, Peter speaks to Cornelius. Here's the ESV:
10:28 - You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.

10:34,35 - Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
The first statement is difficult to interpret precisely but it does at least show the replacement of one view with another. We'll need to look more at that later. For starters, the second statement is what needs our attention. Although verses 34-35 do NOT explicitly claim to be part of Peter's new revelation, they have most often been taken that way, even to the point that some translations unjustly alter 34a, as shown below. Note my emphasis of the key differences:
mGNT: ἐπ’ ἀληθείας καταλαμβάνομαι ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν προσωπολήμπτης ὁ θεός...
ESV: Truly I understand that God shows no partiality...
Young's: Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons...
NKJV: In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality...
NASB: I most certainly understand {now} that God is not one to show partiality...
NIV: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism...
NLT: I see very clearly that God doesn't show partiality...
The first three English renderings stick closely to the Greek, but the last three do not. At least the NASB brackets (NASB95 italicizes) its own editorial "now". The interpretative NIV also adds "now" at the beginning (and does something else odd which we might look at later, with "how true it is"). Lastly, the paraphrased NLT seems innocent enough at first glance, but the word "see" must have been chosen partly because it evokes Peter's earlier "vision". Thus, NASB, NIV & NLT are working hard to support an enlightened reading of v.35. But of course, this merely happens to be the leading interpretation for much if not all of traditional Christendom. That interpretation, itself, is what I'm aiming to challenge.

The first time I re-read verses 34-35 after researching the ancient world (several years ago), I saw something not very radical, but surprisingly normal. Read it again: "God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

At face value, that sounds just like standard policy on God-fearers at Synagogues everywhere.

In this series, I intend to show that this statement reflects knowledge Peter had long before his grand vision at Joppa. It reflects knowledge that Jews throughout the Diaspora would have already agreed with. It shows Peter still doesn't grasp all that Joppa entailed, until probably 10:44. Finally, all this together may show us a more precise picture of Peter's earlier position on Gentiles, Proselytes, Hellenists and who was or was not clean enough to be touched by the Holy Spirit.

To be continued...

March 21, 2010

Nazareth 23

Imagine Jesus IN Nazareth one Saturday afternoon, after their Synagogue meeting. Perhaps he's walking uphill near the cliffs. Perhaps he's looking down on some sheep in their pens, while he's reflecting on Psalm 23.

All that much we may have to imagine, but this much we do not. Whether he was six, seventeen, or twenty-nine years old, there must have been some Saturday(s) in Nazareth when they read and/or recited from Psalm 23. And Jesus absolutely must have reflected upon those words, both during and afterwards. And whether it came later that Sabbath, or some morning or evening time during the following week, Jesus - I'm almost certain of this - must have directed that Psalm towards His Father.

At some age, He directed everything to his Father. What better than Psalm 23?

He could have done this so simply. It might have gone something like this:

Father, You are my Shepherd. I've never wanted for anything, thanks to You, and I don't want for anything else, but for You. You make me lie down and rest with a full belly and a content heart, like a sheep in green pastures. You lead me peacefully during my day, to refresh myself in You, as if drinking from water. Father, You are my Soul. And Your righteousness is what You call me to walk in. Your leading is right, and You direct my paths all the day. This is for Your name's sake. Father, no matter what happens, I know that You walk with me. I have no fear of evil befalling me. Your discipline and lovingkindness are comforts to me. I am sure you would feed and take care of me even if I was somehow surrounded by enemies. You would lift up my head. You would fill up my cup. Father, you are the best thing I know, and your mercy to me is amazing. Your goodness and love is so present I know it will be here forever, with me. As long as I dwell with you, Father, and you dwell here with me, we Tabernacle together. And we will do so forever.

And ever...


March 19, 2010

What does an Archbishop do [say] in a Crisis?

As little as possible. As much as necessary. Apparently. Now, I do think there's much scriptural wisdom in that. But then again, what's politically needed isn't always what's spiritually needed. And so it goes. And so it goes.

This post comes due to Doug Chaplin's ongoing series about the doctrinal foundations of the Anglican Communion, written during the crisis of the 1500's, known as The Forty-Two Thirty-Nine Articles. Political Doctrine isn't my usual cup a' tea 44-oz coke, but Doug caught my attention with these two posts about Thomas Cranmer's writings on "Church". So I paid closer attention.

Today's post at Doug's blog had more to say about Cranmer's personal context, and although I had to read it twice (and refresh my English History a bit) to catch on, the post also contained a couple of absolute gems that jumped out right away:
The church has authority to proclaim the good news, to go to every nation, to baptize and teach, to heal and reconcile, and to share the life of the Spirit. That active authority to carry out the mission of God precedes organizational authority, the settling of controversies, and the adjudication of what makes for right worship, all of which are fundamentally subservient to the church’s nature as a sacrament of the kingdom of God, a visible sign of the mission of God, and an embodiment of the gospel.
Yes, right belief should help someone live the kind of life to which God calls us. But no-one is saved by right doctrine, but by the God right doctrine should help us encounter.
Absolutely wonderful.

Doug goes on to conclude:
the lack of cohesiveness between these articles on the church, and the lack of rigour in setting out an all too brief reaction against particular controversies of the day, is a serious problem. The failure to address it in less polemical times than either Cranmer’s or ours is part of the backdrop of present Anglican difficulties.
Not to sound unsympathetic, but it's true that a failure to plan is indeed a plan to fail. It's also nothing but tragic to consider how that little maxim intersects with the answer to my post's title, at top. Finally, at the risk of over-axiomizing: 'The larger any organization becomes, the more self-serving it necessarily becomes.' In the foundational writings of Cranmer, if I've caught on correctly, national (political) priorities seemed to dominate local (spiritual) ones.

But so it goes. So it goes.

March 18, 2010

Can we question Peter? Please?

Paul questioned Peter in Antioch. I've questioned Peter in Corinth. Everyone questions Peter in the Gospels. But very few Christian observers seem willing to strongly question Peter in Acts. Commonly, at least, it's like there's this bubble around Peter's behavior that baptizes all his activities in Acts. That trend has long reminded me of a Rich Mullins line, about Jacob & Laban:
Well it's right there in the Bible
So it must not be a sin
But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick
Okay, so maybe we all wonder about Ananias & Sapphira, but quite honestly they're far beyond the very least of my concerns. Whatever that was, it seems to have been a isolated incident. Personally, I'm much more concerned about things that appear to form patterns.

I'm wondering about Peter's actions with the Seven, and in Samaria, and in Caesarea.

I'm wondering why Peter didn't seem prepared at all for what God was about to instigate, through Stephen.

I'm wondering what that means about events leading up to Stephen's death.

And I'm wondering if we're missing some important details about our own heritage by constantly giving Apostles the benefit of the doubt.

Let's be square. Peter wasn't a bad guy. He had a good heart, and he did a lot for the Kingdom. But Peter made such a mess in Antioch that even Barnabas was led astray. Peter most likely did go to Corinth and he might have caused even more problems there than Apollos did! And this shouldn't be surprising, since we all know how much Peter struggled when following Jesus around.

We know all this. So why does Peter get such a free pass for the early church in Jerusalem? How come we see him as perfect for a few chapters in Acts?

No disrespect towards the historical Peter, or to anyone's traditions, but I really don't think his record deserves such an overly favorable treatment, and I'm going to start sharing my reasons for saying so... beginning tomorrow.

March 17, 2010

Reading, with Gratitude

This week: James Dunn and A.-J. Levine. Respectively, Beginning from Jerusalem and The Misunderstood Jew. Specifically, I've been picking through Dunn very selectively, and I alternate between reading A-J straight through, re-reading, skipping ahead, and skipping all around.

Both authors have already been, and will continue to be, informing and sharpening my thinking in my writing this month about Acts 1-11. But the hoi polloi needs to know that the main stream of observations and thoughts which led to these posts came to me years ago. I also want to acknowledge, with gratitude, what these scholars have given me.

Things I've wondered if I was looney about, I feel much more confident about. Likewise, things I've assumed nobody said before, not even Dunn's massive survey has come across. But they're challenging me in places, as well. Without question. And wonderfully.

Now, to write...

The Pi Joke, explained

I told a joke the other day.
A physicist, mathematician & engineer were all asked for the definition of Pi. The Physicist answered, "Pi is approximately 3.14159265, to eight decimal places." The Mathematician turned up her nose and said, "Pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to it's own diameter." The Engineer said, "Eh, it's about three.
Not to kill the humor, but there's a very serious point worth underscoring in this.

Scientists have to qualify and speak with precision. Theorists always strive to speak in absolute terms. But the most practical and helpful of geniuses are the ones who know when it's okay to estimate, and that what's generally workable is far different - and far better - than anything that looks perfect on paper.

Of course, I do hope the joke is still funny. Not sad.

Science, Theory and Practical Working - there's a time for all three.

March 16, 2010

Stephen's Real Bias

The speech in Acts 7 is not anti-Jewish. It's anti-institutional.

The words Luke claims for Stephen are pro-Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, pro-Joseph, and pro-Moses. Aaron gets blamed for the gold calf, and the people of Israel are blasted for their historic idolatry, but Joshua and David are clearly on God's side of things. In other words, Stephen was no more anti-Jewish than the Hebrew Bible itself!

It's when Stephen gets to Solomon that things change abruptly. Suddenly, the contrast is evident. It's not Judaic roots, tradition or laws that get blasted here. It's the Temple itself that gets equated with idolatry. (I caught Dunn pointing this out recently - compare 7:41 & 7:48, "made with hands".)

Luke's agenda in Acts 7 is to show that God works outside Israel. The God of the Patriarchs was not bound to Mount Zion. It's been said that we might not have noticed this theme of Stephen's speech without Luke's surrounding agenda - but I think that's because "we" western Christians (and Jews) have been overwhelmingly steeped in our heavily institutionalized faith traditions.

But let me be personally clear. People know my views about this. Institutions are relative. We can institute something today and then change it next week, month or year. But Institutionalism is an attitude that says, "Let's establish a system to safeguard our ways for all time." God showed Moses his House as a Tent. Solomon made it a stone box that stood in one spot for a millennium. That is quite a large difference.

In my humble opinion, Stephen's (and Luke's) bias was not against Judaism, but against human-controlled religion, and against those who put boundaries on Christ-centered spirituality. Like, for example, literally putting God in a Box.

This should also make us wonder how Stephen really felt about Peter and Solomon's Porch... but that may be going a bit too far for today. I don't want to get stoned! ;-)

March 15, 2010

Chronology of Acts 1-9

Last November, I posted on Chronology of the Gospels (28 to 33 AD) and also on Pauline Chronology (34 to 64 AD). What I did not point out (and nobody asked) at the time, is that this gives us less than a year for the events of Acts 1-9. Here's how that works out, as best as we can probably say:

Paul's Damascus experience must have been some weeks before Passover of 34 AD, and the Church's explosion at Pentecost took place on Sunday May 24 in 33 AD. (The Sadducees always held Pentecost on a Sunday, and if the lunar observers were accurate that year, the Pharisees' preferred date would have also fallen on Sunday, that year.) Together, that gives us about eight months into which we must squeeze about nine chapters of Acts.

Next, we consider logistics. After Stephen gets stoned, we need (1) time for believers to scatter as far as Damascus, (2) time for the Damascene Jews to get good and seriously bothered by those relocated Christians, (3) time for those Damascene Jews to complain to Jerusalem, or at least for word to come back to Jerusalem, (4) time for the Sanhedrin to discuss things and make the not-light decision to authorize (in writing!) an unsanctioned extradition across regional boundary lines, and (5) time for Paul to actually embark on the journey and get to somewhere north of Galilee.

Item (4) could have been very quick, despite the risk involved, and item (5) would have been just a few days. The first three items, however, could have easily taken two or three months. Given that range, the Chanukah festival seems like the most logical time for the news from Damascus to come to the Sanhedrin's ears. In 33 AD, that's the 2nd week of December. Back up one or two months from that, and we can suppose the latest possible scattering might belong in October/November.

This is the most we can say from strict chronological data & estimating.


Although I firmly believe that strictly theological or prophetic interpretations should not be relied upon in determining chronology - in this case, we may have a unique opportunity.

If Stephen was stoned on the Day of Atonement (as I have just suggested) then the subsequent events would stand clearly as (one) typological fulfillment of the scapegoat (the scattered church, sent into the wilderness, bearing the guilt of the Jerusalemites on their heads) and the Sukkot (God putting up temporary dwellings for himself, in various places, spiritual houses made up of believers, meaning God's Tabernacle with Man (and Testimony on Earth) had become mobile again). If we can accept that as a clear parallel to the other typological fulfillment(s) of the year 33 AD (the lambs and sheaf at Passover; the loaf and 'firstfruits' at Pentecost), then we might confirm a strong suspicion, at least, that the scattering occurred in late September.

In 33 AD, Yom Kippur fell on (or near) September 23rd. That would make Yom Kippur the 123rd day of the early church, counting Pentecost Sunday as day 1. Four months is a very short period of time into which we must squeeze Acts 2-6, but the events of those chapters offer no resistance at all to this apparently necessary task. There is minimal activity, maximum hostility, and the animosity against Stephen makes all the more sense in this context.

Put Acts 7 at the end of one long, hot summer during which Christianity began, swelled and surged on the [true] *rumors* that Jesus, whom the Sanhedrin got Pilate to crucify, was actually alive. Imagine the political gambit of Gamaliel failing to maintain it's effectiveness for more than a few weeks. Imagine the Council growing more and more furious as reports of healings, miraculous prison escapes, people dropping dead, and the apostles' continued trips - daily - into Solomon's Porch.

In such a case, Stephen and the scattered believers really were a scapegoat. Somewhere, deep down, Annas & Caiaphas must have been working to stifle a creeping suspicion that they had actually been fighting against God. That they'd truly connived a way of murdering God's Messiah. But admitting that conclusion for certain would involve too much guilt. They had to appease themselves of that guilt. That had to put it on someone else's head.

In this context, the crescendo of Stephen's speech was merely a trigger. The Sanhedrin's leaders were about ready to blow anyway. They just couldn't take it anymore.

One last detail - if the Ethiopian Eunuch was traveling home after coming up for the High Holy Days, then Philip may have evangelized Samaria immediately after the scattering, and departed from there within less than two weeks. The autumn festivals were the most popular in those days, and they are the most likely occasion for the Eunuch's trip. That he would have stayed at Jerusalem also means this trip should have taken place in this year, 33 AD, when Christianity was the number one story around town. Thus, the most likely occasion for the Eunuch's departure is not just evidence for Philip's timeline. This also adds weight to the conclusion that Stephen was stoned on the day of the Fast.

And now - because people keep asking - why does any of this matter?

There are many potential, and potentially very significant, applications of all this. For today, I'll merely ask questions: How might accepting this incredibly brief timeline affect our interpretation of Acts 1-6? Of God's relative pleasure with the Petrine leadership of that phase in the church? Of ecclesiology that prefers giving more weight to early Jerusalem that it does to a more Pauline model? Of the perennially sensational predictions that Jesus must be coming back each September/October? Such questions must remain open for now.

As for me, I love this Story not because of what implications I find therein, but because I find it to be convincing, delightful, consistent with all the known facts, dramatic, challenging, and - most of all - incredibly glorifying of God's Purpose. I love this part of the NT Story for that reason, above all else.

For the record - this post comprises the linchpin of my own contribution in New Testament Chronology. It was the last piece of the puzzle I worked out, in 2005/2006. It is the last piece I have waited until now to blog about. Most of whatever I have left to blog about will aim to deepen, challenge, support, enhance, question, revisit, and work through again - more rigorously each year, I hope - all these conclusions I've posted about previously.

As always, I greatly covet your feedback in all of these areas.

Thanks for reading. This is still NOT EVEN CLOSE to the end...

March 14, 2010

In honor of Pi Day (3.14)

An oldie but a goodie: A physicist, mathematician & engineer were all asked for the definition of Pi. The Physicist answered, "Pi is approximately 3.14159265, to eight decimal places." The Mathematician turned up her nose and said, "Pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to it's own diameter." The Engineer said, "Eh, it's about three."

March 13, 2010

Situating Stephen's Speech at Yom Kippur

Let's cut straight to the chase, and defend the likelihood of this scenario at some other time. For now, just Imagine with me. Suppose Stephen was stoned on the Jewish Day of Atonement. If so, here's a rough sketch of how the events of Acts 6-7 would have naturally played themselves out:

Day One: Yom Kippur

Early AM: ceremony at the Temple in which one goat is slain and another goat (the 'scapegoat') is cast into the wilderness; Jews in attendance disperse afterwards but it is still a Sabbath until sundown; many Jerusalemites fill up the various Synagogues for a special day of prayer and teaching.

Mid-day: many Jews not at the morning assembly still make their way to the Synagogues in town; Stephen arrives at the Hellenists' meeting and hears them discussing topics appropriate to the High Holy Days, including all themes relating to the Feast of Booths, now only 4.5 days away;

Later: Stephen is especially prone for an argument today because of the irony he sees in the present occasion. Having just assembled for Temple rituals, these Greek speaking converts to Judaism now discuss the past times when God's house was a Tent. Having bound themselves to the city of Mount Zion, these foreigners now discuss how God led the Patriarchs across the Earth and met with them in many lands, before Joshua's time, and how God's home could move, until David & Solomon ended that for Him. But Stephen doesn't understand why everyone seems to think Solomon did such a great thing!

Among his other unique views, Stephen happens to see a strong similarity between Solomon's (now Herod's) Temple and pagan idolatrous temples - both are things made with human hands, things which steal the focus that ought to be on God. Stephen knows what it's like to live full of the Spirit, and he can't keep to himself what a contrast he sees between Moses' and Solomon's visions.

Late afternoon or evening: Dragged before the Sanhedrin, Stephen pours out his soul and gets stoned for it. That very day - even though it was Sabbath - the Sanhedrin spearheads a persecution against Jesus-believers. By sundown, Christians are already being forcibly exiled from the city. Hundreds if not thousands of believers are on the road out of town, walking through the night to find safety and shelter.

The Bride of Christ has just been sent 'out of the camp'.

Sent to wander away, into the wilderness.

Sent away to appease the guilt of the people who contrived Jesus' death.

Sent away into exile forever... hopefully not to be seen ever again.

The Church has just become the new scapegoat.

Days Two, Three and Four: Preparing for Sukkot

The morning after Atonement is the first time when many Jews go outside to start building their Sukkahs. These Booths are the physical centerpiece of the week long festival, temporary dwellings in which to eat, but not-to-sleep (except for the most devout), and in which to reflect upon a central theme of the Tabernacles season - of how God in old times led his People to, through and out of the wilderness.

That morning, and all through the day, people in and around Jerusalem were setting up their Sukkahs. Like modern christmas trees begin to go up after Thanksgiving, some Sukkahs go up on Tishri 11th, some on the 12th, and some at the last minute, on the 13th. But all over Jerusalem, for three days, Sukkahs are being put up.

Likewise, during those same three days, God was assembling Sukkahs for himself.

On the morning after Stephen's death - in nearby towns like Bethany and Bethlehem - handfuls of scattered believers were finding one another. Many of them were making plans to keep traveling on, but others determined to stay in that place, binding themselves together. Thus, they not only gathered, they determined to stay.

And the Lord built in that place a spiritual house for himself, out of his holy ones.

Late that day - perhaps as far away as Jericho or Emmaus - similar scenes played themselves out. And the next day, it had spread farther - perhaps to Galilee. For three days, exiles from the church in Jerusalem found one another and gathered together. Again and again, far and wide, across Israel, the scattered fruits of God's harvest were ingathered for His use and purpose.

A glorious harvest had come, having been incubated and multiplied for so long from the one Seed who fell into the Earth. For three days, after Stephen was stoned, the scapegoated christians reassembled themselves, all over Israel. And the Lord put up his Sukkahs in each place.

By the way, I don't care if the church in Capernaum lasted for two, twenty or two hundred years - that spiritual house of God's was still TEMPORARY. It was made out of human beings with spirits. If they died, or if their spirits died, then God's house would cease to exist there. And nothing "of human hands" would yet stand in that place to contradict His reality, of that very matter.

And THAT is what happened just after Stephen got stoned.

But there is still more.

Days Four through Ten: The Festival of Sukkot

In three days, beginning from Jerusalem, any healthy person can have walked beyond Judea. With more time, most people traveling by foot would have time to get farther. By the time of the Booths, then, some - of the Greeks, Foreigners and Diaspora Jews who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - some believers had walked on beyond Gaza, Jordan and Galilee. If anyone had a horse, they could have been in Antioch with just twelve days of travel.

The time of Sukkot saw the spread of God's new work beyond Israel!

And still... there is more.

Roughly one thousand years before Stephen was stoned, God allowed Solomon to build and dedicate a Stone Cell, on the Earth. God's words to Solomon (1 Kings 6:11-13, which do not appear in the Septuagint) called for movement. Twice, God said walk, then he mentioned the Tabernacle. But then God consented to descend into Solomon's box.

Prior to that, God's house on Earth had been known as the Tabernacle of Testimony. And God's Ark of the Covenant - which traveled around on the shoulders of priests - it had been known as the Ark of the Testimony. And the Temple of Solomon, so still for so many centuries, is never in scripture referred to as the means of His Testimony. But to all the world for one entire millenium, despite God's own prior wishes, that one spot on Mount Zion WAS His Testimony on Earth. It's what Gentiles knew about Him. And IT WAS NO DIFFERENT FROM ZIGGURATS!

But Now. Now, that Stephen was stoned. Now that the Church had been sent out to wander the Earth, like a scapegoat. Now that the Lord had begun building for himself Many Houses... Houses that were not made by human hands... Houses that could follow his Spirit like the Israelites followed a cloud and a pillar of fire... Houses that could Walk like he told them... could Go, if he told them... could Be, as He led them...


On the Earth.

God's House could Move Again.

Praise the Lord!

Saints, I've just one little detail to add, and then lots more to post as time keeps rolling on. But please realize that IF Stephen was stoned on the Day of Atonement, even if nobody - not even Paul - saw the significance of these things quite so clearly as I've just laid them out. (And yes, I realize how that sounds, but it's entirely possible this very scenario happened without anyone seeing the imagery as starkly as this, at that time.) Even still. IF Stephen's speech was made on that Day, with so much of significance buried in that speech itself AND in all the surrounding events... don't you think Paul would have remembered the general outline of that speech? And many parts of it, perhaps, also word-for-word?

But hopefully, friends, if you've read this far, you realize that arguing for what Paul remembered and defending what Luke wrote in Acts isn't really my motive in saying these things here today. But I've simply been longing to share these things here for about four years. That's not very long to stay silent. But I just told the Lord I couldn't keep it inside anymore. So, by His Grace, today it was time.

I hope this will prove to be much more than a blog post.

Enjoy the Lord. Let Him Move. Let Him Live!

And let's train one another to be better followers.

NOT the end...

March 12, 2010


The post that was here is now on the move...
It was last seen heading this direction.
Run after it, quick!

March 11, 2010

Luke Liked Most Jews

Springboarding from my post on Racism & Geography, back into the New Testament:

The Ioudaioi who come off well in Luke-Acts tend to be non-Judean and non-authoritarian. The Ioudaioi who come off poorly in Luke-Acts tend to be Judean and/or controlling authority figures. This is especially interesting given the traditional understanding of the writer as a gentile from Syria, and that his only known trip to Judea was during Paul's arrest and imprisonment.

In that light, I might not argue real hard with someone suggesting that Luke's writing reflects a prejudice against Judean Jews, and if that person suggested Luke's strongest prejudice was against Judean-Jewish authority figures, I'd completely agree. What I cannot understand is why intelligent scholars would suggest that the author of Luke-Acts was generally, let alone universally, anti-Semitic. He simply wasn't.

Let's be event-centered and person-centered about this. Let's not interpret a man's attitude based mainly on weighty passages in that man's literature. Let's examine the facts evidenced by the text. Here are some Jews Luke liked:
(Question marks can mean we're not sure Luke liked them, or we're not sure they were Jewish. In order of appearance:) Zechariah?, Elizabeth, Aaron?, Mary, David, Abraham, John, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, Simeon, Anna, religious teachers (in the Temple), Nazarenes (who favored Him), Isaiah, John's baptized crowds, penitent tax collectors & soldiers, (skip the genealogy), Adam?, Galileans (who praise Him), the poor/captive/blind/oppressed, Elijah, the widow-of-Zarephath, Capernaumites, Simon-Peter, Peter's mother-in-law, townspeople?, James, John, Moses?, Levi/Matthew, sinners, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James bar Alphaeus, Simon-the-Zealot, Judas bar James, the poor/hungry/weeping/hated/excluded/mocked/cursed, Capernaum leaders, the widow-of-Nain, an immoral woman, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Jairus, his wife and daughter, a hemorrhaging woman, Moses!, a desperate father, 72 other disciples, an expert in the law, Martha, Mary, a mute, Jonah?, Solomon?, Abel?, Zechariah?, faithful servants, a crippled woman, Isaac, Jacob, fictitious characters in parables (some-not-others), Noah?, Lot?, children, a beggar near Jericho, Zacchaeus, Bethany's Passover Pilgrims, crowds in the Temple, a poor widow, Simon of Cyrene, one crucified criminal?, Joseph of Arimathea, Cleopas, Jesus' brothers, 120 believers, Joseph Justus, Matthias, godly Jews from many nations, Joel, three thousand believers, a lame beggar, all Jewish ancestors?, Samuel, thousands more believers, Barnabas, Levi?, Gamaliel, (Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas - all converts), Joshua (vs. the gentiles!), Saul/Paul, Ananias, Aeneas, Tabitha, Simon, Jews in Caesarea (who respected Cornelius), Agabus?, John Mark, his mother Mary, Rhoda?, Benjamin?, Jesse, believing Jews in Antioch-Pisidia, believing Jews in Iconium, Jewish believers in Phoenicia and Samaria (who rejoiced about Gentiles being converted), the Jerusalem church (that welcomed Paul & Barnabas), James, Judas Barsabbas, Silas, Timothy, after his mother, women outside Philippi?, Lydia?, Jewish believers in Thessalonica, Jason?, Jewish believers in Berea, Aquila of Pontus, Priscilla?, Crispus and all his household, other Jewish believers in Corinth, Apollos, Jewish believers in Ephesus (and all over Asia), Alexander?, Jewish believers in Troas?, Jewish-christian elders at Miletus?, Jewish believers at Tyre and Ptolemais?, Philip's daughters?, Agabus?, Mnason?, many thousands of Jews (spoken for by James), four bald vow takers?, Drusilla?, Agrippa (II)?, Bernice?, some believers in Puteoli?, some brothers and sisters in Rome?, & Rome's Jewish leaders.
Did I miss anybody? ;-)

That's quite a list, and it's probably very close to 100% Jewish. Granted, you get the occasional surprise, like the tenth leper who came back from the pool and turned out to be a Samaritan. But overall, there are A LOT of Jewish people whom Luke's writing definitely seems to favor. Critically speaking, I take it as part of the cultural context that any 1st or 2nd century audience would have assumed this much - that most of the people Luke wrote about should have been Jewish. So unless Luke-Acts was written centuries after the Temple was destroyed, and delivered to people who didn't know Palestine had been Jewish, this humble list above really should be enough to secure this point. And if Luke ever seems at all anti-Semitic, elsewhere, then - at the absolute minimum - he's not being very consistent about it.

In my strong opinion - despite all the ways in which Luke-Acts (not to mention the rest of the New Testament) has been abused over the centuries, heinously misapplied to support violent anti-Jewishness, it is nevertheless true that no scholar should feel justified in saying Luke himself was even generally disparaging of Jews. He wasn't. He was only disparaging of some Jews. In fact, it was mainly the Jews who in Luke's experience tended to be from Judea and/or held positions of great authority. Technically, that's not Luke being prejudiced. That's Luke being past-descriptive, partly based on particulars of his own geographic and personal experiences. But either way, as the list shows, Luke liked most Jews.

Critically, again, all of this means I don't buy the supposition that certain fact-claims in Luke-Acts were contrived by a writer with anti-Semitic agendas. If someone thinks Luke was making those kinds of things up on his own, they're going to have to give me a better excuse than racism for saying so.

Until then, I'm going to go on believing that some jews Luke met actually were horrible, despicable, cruel and occasionally violent. Obviously such behaviors are never isolated to people of just one ethnicity, and it would be incredibly stupid and absurd to suggest such a thought. Likewise, such persons of any ethnicity ought to be harshly rebuked and criticized, and it would be incredibly unfair to our own hopes for justice if we let such behaviors go uncriticized.

In sum, I don't blame Luke for disliking those whom he disliked, because I don't believe for one second that Luke's feelings were based on bigotry or anti-Semitism. Therefore, I won't doubt Luke when he accuses some people of doing heinous things, at times.

Such as during events reported by Acts 6 & 7, for instance...

March 10, 2010

How Children Enter the Kingdom

At least once in his public ministry, somewhere, Jesus said to some people: "Unless you turn around and become like little children, you won't enter the kingdom of heaven."

When Jesus himself was a little child, he did enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He sat at the Nazareth Synagogue - and while I couldn't tell you if anyone else was learning anything - Jesus learned of his Father. One of the first things Jesus learned there, as a child, was the Shema.

Brian Fulthorp has a great post about that tonight. [Update: Link fixed!] I'd better warn some of you, Brian uses the "o" word. I prefer not to use that word out loud, as often as humanly possible. But I do believe that what Brian says happens to be true. And it's very important. So go check it out.

Verb Challenge: Conditional Statements in 1 John 1:5-10

I was trying to make a quick point about LOGIC by referencing a well-known scripture, in English, but then I got caught up in the moment - at which Charles challenged me on the GRAMMAR, in Greek. Bless him. So I spent some time on it, and I'm convinced... that it's a bit beyond me.

Unfortunately, what I found was extremely intriguing. So I'll make this an A.P.B.


Here's what little I noticed. Of the five conditional statements, one per verse, vv. 6,8 & 10 are within indirect statements where the main verb ("say") is an aorist subjunctive. With 'ean', that seems textbook so far. But the IF clause in vv. 6 & 8 is present indicative, while in v.10 it's perfect. And each THEN clause keeps changing its verb tense (v.6 pres ind, v.8 pres subj, v.10 imp ind).

In between, vv. 7 & 9 are directly conditional, with 2 IF and 1 THEN verbs in the present subjunctive for "we", but the 2nd THEN verb is a present indicative for "He".

When I line all that up in John's linguistic sequence, I can tell there's a definite pattern at work, somehow, in this grammar. But what is it?

v.6 "If we say" (at a moment?) "that we have" (indefinitely?) "and yet walk" (potentially?) ... "then we lie" (indefinitely?).

v.7 "If we walk" (present & abidingly?) "then we have" (present & abidingly?)

v.8 "If we say" (at a moment?) "that we have" (indefinitely?) ... "we deceive" (present & abidingly?)

v.9 "If we confess" (abidingly?) "then He is" (immediately?)

v.10 "if we say" (at a moment?) "that we've not sinned" (in the past, as in, *ever*?) "then we are making" (constantly from then on?)


For the record, I'm confident my spirit and God's spirit can work past the confusion just fine. But if there's something else here that would help out my mind, I'd dearly love to know that also. So any help here would be great.

Racism and Geography

I once knew a woman from Houston who said, "I wasn't prejudiced before I moved to Atlanta, but these black people around here are something else!" It was an ugly, insensitive comment, exponentially overgeneralized, and she didn't realize she'd said far more about herself (and the paths she had trod) than she'd said about Houston or "Atlanta".

Not far from downtown Atlanta (proper), I spent three years in grad school at night with other school teachers, all intelligent, working professionals at Clark Atlanta U - an HBCU where, humorously, I was offered a UNCF scholarship, which I declined. The perspectives on culture and race that my black colleagues shared in that environment were far more open, informed and well-nuanced than any discussions on race I'd ever had previously. And that tells you something about me. Nevertheless, it was a privilege and honor to graduate there in Education. It certainly was one.

I had forgotten my Houston friend's comment by then, so I can only wonder what my CAU friends would have said about her comment. But I'm sure it would have been interesting. Unlike many who argue about 'black and white', they took the care to discuss shades of grey. But now I'm the one oversimplifying. Ah, well. Short post.

There is always room for some generalization in describing our own past experiences. The sin of prejudice happens when we pre-judge people we've not met because something about them reminds us of others we've known - and yet not known. The sin of racism is when someone thusly prejudges an entire ethnicity. In other words, racism is overgeneralizing broadly misapplied.

Of course racism should always be condemned when it crops up, but generalizations aren't always racism. Ask any Kenyan if they're just like Ugandans. Call a Guatemalan a "Mexican". Tell Canadians they may as well be Americans. You'll find out. When self-referential generalities are held reverentially, they're often called "heritage". The application & attitude is what matters.

Generally, then, groups of people often do differ distinctly from region to region. On today's shrinking planet, ironically, my "prejudiced" friend and I could mingle in two different worlds just a few miles apart. But in the (much larger) ancient world, ethnic geography was, primitively, a bit more consistent. And don't forget, the perceptions of one person who travels across regions may say more about that person and their interactions (or their lack thereof) with a regional ethnic group, than it says about anything really.

All of this leads into a point I need to make about Luke and "the Ioudaioi".

But that's for next time...

Working past IFs

FYI: Whenever I say things like, "IF Jesus rose from the dead...", please understand that's just a logical idiom. It's a way to consider an argument AND what it depends on. It's also a way to be open and fair with various conversation partners. It's also a way to keep ourselves on our toes... imho.

For comparison, try 1st John. IF those "If"s are true of some ones, THEN those ones can just strike out the IF parts, and focus on the THEN parts. IF they want to. It just takes a bit of working past, before you can get to [that side of] the point.

1st John 1:5b-10, as read by a good christian as read by a Christian:
"God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we sayWe have fellowship with him. while we We do not walk in darkness. We lie and do not practice the truth. But if we We walk in the light, as he is in the light, and therefore we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we We have no sin. We do not deceive ourselves, and because the truth is not in us. If we We confess our sins, and he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we We say we have notsinned. We make him a liar, and our Truth, because his word is not in in us."
The Elder John had some annoying compositional habits, but I guess for some reason, at the time, he felt those IFs were necessary. Sometimes they are.

Here's that passage rewritten. Same truth? Yes. Enjoy.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. We have fellowship with him. We do not walk in darkness. We practice the truth. We walk in the light, as he is in the light, and therefore we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. We have sin. We do not deceive ourselves, because the truth is in us. We confess our sins, and he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We say we have sinned. We make him our Truth, because his word is in us.
Now it reads naturally. Not like a logic puzzle. But for some reason, John gave us the logic puzzle. Curious. By the way, did you catch that "we" after my "therefore"? "WE" have fellowship. That's a very Big "WE". (Cf. 1:1-3.) It's may also be (partly) the same "we" as the next sentence. We have this thing that WE have to deal with, this "sin". Who has sin? We do. Thus, WE do. But look, here's what WE are going to do. (By the way, that may be a corporate confession... but let's not get into that here.)

Get the point? It's often well worth it to work past a few "IF"s. Transforming logic into a Story takes time. So keep at it, with me. And stay tuned...

March 9, 2010

NE Texas Bibliobloggers

At least 27 Bibliobloggers from the 'Top 50 362' list are currently blogging from Northeast Texas and might possibly be in attendance at the Southwestern Regional Biblical/Religious Scholarpalooza this weekend (the SWCRS). Rod, Lou, David, Coleman, Mike, Tim and John (excuse me, and Brian!) are presenting papers. (program guide). That's quite impressive. Have a look see at their blogs, join us if you dare at the DFW Airport Marriott (map), and let me know if I missed anybody.

Bill Heroman

NT/History Blog


Brian Small

Polumeros kai Polutropos


Celucien L. Joseph

Christ, My Righteousness


Charles Savelle

Bible X


Ched Spellman

Says Simpleton


Dan Wallace

Contra Mundane


(and also)

Parchment & Pen


Darrell Bock

Bock’s Blog


David P. Melvin

Byt Dwd / בית דוד


David Ritsema

New Testament Studies Blog


Eric B. Sowell

Archaic Christianity


Coleman Baker

Coleman Baker


J. K. Gayle

WOMBman’s Bible, The


(and also)

Aristotle’s Feminist Subject


James M. Kennedy

Seek and Read


Jason Gardner

Eis Doxan


John Anderson

Hesed we ‘emet


Matt Evans

Broadcast Depth


Matthew Larson

Matthew D. Larsen's NT Studies Blog


Michael Burer

Thinking Professor, The


Mike Fox

Fox’s Wanderings


Mike Whitenton

Ecce Homo


Nathan J. Barnes

Nathan J. Barnes


Nevada (?)



Patrick Woods

So Much For Straw


Rob G. Reid

Jesus and Empire: A Postcolonial Perspective


Robert C. Kashow

Tolle Lege!


Rodney A. Thomas

Political Jesus


Tim Ricchuiti

If I Were a Bell I’d Ring


Todd Bolen

Bible Places


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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton