Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Family Picture!

Front row: Anna, 5 (soon to be adopted); Caleb, 6; Andrew, 5.
Middle row: Ian, 8; Barbara, 27 (or at least she still looks like it); Gary, 41; Harley, 6 (soon to be adopted).
Back row: Nathan, 13; Daniel, 9; Josiah, 14.

We took these pictures recently for our annual Christmas picture. As usual, my wife bought me a new coffee mug with the picture wrapped around it. I always like handing the mug to the baristas at Starbucks and getting their reaction: "Is this your family? How beautiful!"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Herod Remembered

Herod wanted to be remembered for something else.

He wanted to be remembered as the man of influence - friend of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Augustus. He wanted to be remembered as a political prodigy: governor of Galilee by age 25, Roman governor of Coele-Syria, tetrarch of Judea. He wanted to be remembered as "King of the Jews" - a title bestowed on him by a vote of the Roman Senate, despite the fact that he was neither royal nor Jewish. He wanted to be remembered as a successful commander: he defeated the brigand Ezekias in his youth, and he commanded a Roman legion to reclaim Israel from the Parthian empire.

Herod wanted to be remembered for his public works. He had a thousand Levites trained as stone masons to totally refurbish the Temple. He built aqueducts, baths, fortifications, hippodromes, theatres, amphitheatres and gymnasiums, not only in Israel but in other nations. He built a shrine to Augustus and allowed a statue of himself to be erected in another temple - not something that endeared him to his Jewish subjects. He built the port and city of Caesarea Maritima, still an amazing feat.

Herod wanted to be remembered for his generosity towards his subjects. He twice reduced taxes, once by one-third and once by one-fourth. During a famine, Herod sold the silver in his palace to provide food for his people.

Herod wanted to be remembered for his protection of Jews throughout the Roman Empire. Because of Herod's influence with Augustus, Jews throughout the Empire gained official protection: they could not be compelled to appear in court on the Sabbath; they were exempt from having to participate in Roman religious rituals; and shipments carrying their annual head-tax to the Temple were protected by Roman law and Roman might.

But Herod is remembered for none of these things by most people. Instead, Herod is remembered only for how he responded to the baby Messiah. His brutality in killing the baby boys of Bethlehem was unfortunately entirely consistent with his character. Although Herod killed many, those who could make a more legitimate claim to kingship than Herod were his special targets. He killed most of the remnants of the previous royal dynasty, the Hasmoneans, including his own wife and sons. It is not surprising that Herod would also try to kill the offspring of an even older dynasty, the Son of David.

By the way, don't get your Herods confused. Herod the Great was king of Israel (40-4 BC), and is famous for trying to kill the baby Jesus (Matt 2:16). Herod Antipas, his son, was tetrarch of Galilee (4 BC - AD 39), and is famous for executing John the Baptist (Matt 14:3-12) and interrogating Jesus (Luke 23:6-12). Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, ruled over Israel (AD 37-44), and is famous for executing James the son of Zebedee and being eaten by worms (Acts 12). Four other family member show up in the NT: Archelaus, ethnarch of Judea, son of Herod the Great (4 BC-AD6, Matt 2:22); Herodias, granddaughter of Herod the Great and wife of Herod Philip and Herod Antipas (Matt 14:1-12); Herodias' daugher; and Herod Agrippa II, tetrarch of Iturea (Acts 25:13-26:32).

The picture: a coin minted under Herod the Great.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Shroud Discovery in Jerusalem

Archeologists have found the remains of a leper from the early first century and his burial shroud in Jerusalem (see also this video at Ben Witherington's blog). In first-century Jerusalem, bodies were normally interred in a family tomb wrapped in a shroud; then, a year later, the bones were placed in a small ossuary (or bone box) and reinterred in the tomb. This means that shrouds were unlikely to remain in the tomb. But this man was never placed in an ossuary; archeologists speculate that the family decided not to reenter the tomb because of the man's leprosy.

There are several interesting details about the find. DNA tests showed that the man had both Hansen's disease and tuberculosis. When the Bible uses the word "leprosy," is is using the generic term for a wide range of skin diseases, and does not necessarily refer to Hansen's disease - but this man had Hansen's disease.

The leper's shroud was in two pieces - one for the head, and one for the body. This matches the burial practice for both Lazarus (John 11:44) and Jesus (John 20:5-6). This gives another reason to doubt the genuineness of the Shroud of Turin (the supposed burial cloth of Jesus), since it was a single cloth, not separate head and body cloths.

The leper's shroud was a simple weave of wool and linen. Although some scholars are pointing out that this is another difference from the Shroud of Turin, my first thought was wondering why they used an unkosher cloth. Mixing any two kinds of cloth was forbidden in the Torah (Lev 19:19), and a linen-wool weave was specifically forbidden (Deut 22:11).

The picture: a diagram of the "Shroud Tomb" showing where the remains and shroud were found.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Augustine on Greek

Last in my series of quotes about learning Greek:

"But why did I so much hate the Greek, which I studied as a boy? I do not yet fully know. . . ." "Difficulty, in truth, the difficulty of a foreign tongue, dashed, as it were, with gall all the sweetness of Grecian fable. For not one word of it did I understand, and to make me understand I was urged vehemently with cruel threats and punishments..."

-Augustine, Confessions, 1.12.19-1.14.23

The picture: title page of Erasmus' Lucubrationes, 1516; Augustine is at middle right.

The Real St. Nicholas

It's hard being a professor's kid. When my kids ask me if Santa Claus is real, I answer, "Of course. Here's his picture." And I show them this picture of the actual St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra (AD 280-346), historical basis of the Santa Claus legend (take off the "ni" from his name and you can see how we got "Claus").

The photo is a reconstruction from Nicholas' skull, made by a forensic anthropologist. Nicholas was briefly disinterred in the 50s, and high-quality photographs of his remains were eventually used to create a 3-D image of his face. Nicholas was Greek, so his complexion is a little more olive than the rosiness of modern Santa Claus.

Nicholas had a broken nose, which may be related to accounts that he was imprisoned and tortured during Diocletian's persecution of Christians in AD 303. Like most other bishops of his time, he was present at the Nicene Council.

There are all sorts of interesting stories about St. Nicholas: he gave dowries to poor girls to save them from prostitution; he appealed on behalf of unjustly condemned men; and my personal favorite: he slapped the heretic Arius in the face at the Nicene Council.

Of course, you should probably take all of this with at least a little grain of salt, since legends tend to accumulate around saints and their remains - but I think I like Nicholas of Myra better than the fat man at the North Pole!

As good old St. Nick would say, Kala Christougenna!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Myths

Here is a list of my favorite Christmas myths - traditional parts of the Christmas story that we assume to be true, but they are not found in our two accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke.

Mary rode on a donkey and Joseph walked to Bethlehem? No donkey mentioned in the Bible. Maybe they had one, maybe not. The reason that a donkey and ox are always depicted in manger scenes goes back to the middle ages, when the two animals were placed in the scene as symbols of Isaiah 1:3.

Mary gave birth the night that they arrived? "While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth" (Luke 2:6). Sounds like they arrived some time before. They were smart enough not to make a 9-month-pregnant woman travel!

Joseph delivered the baby? Almost impossible in their culture. Joseph is from Bethlehem (Luke 2:3-4), so he has plenty of extended family. His female relatives likely served as midwives.

No room in the inn? This myth is understandable, since our Bibles say "inn" (Luke 2:7). However, the Greek word is kataluma, which more likely means "guest room" (Luke 22:11, Mark 14:14). Jews in general did not stay in inns, and it is unlikely that Bethlehem had an inn. Since Joseph had family in Bethlehem, Luke probably meant that there was no space in their guest room. Perhaps the family did not give Joseph and Mary their best reception, since Mary got pregnant before they got married?

Jesus was born in a stable? No stable is mentioned in the Bible. "She laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7). Peasant homes sometimes had feeding troughs dug into the dirt. Some animals were kept in the house for safety. They probably kicked out the animals and used the manger for the baby because it was convenient and warm. Perhaps this was a "sign" to the shepherds because it showed that the Messiah was born as a peasant, rather than in the Herodium, Herod's nearby palace that overshadowed Bethlehem. (By the way, Herod's tomb was discovered in the Herodium just a few years ago).

Swaddling clothes are for dead bodies, symbolizing the coming death of Christ? No, the Greek word sparganao (Luke 2:7) merely means to wrap in cloths, and is not used elsewhere to refer to the cloths for dead bodies.

The Star of Bethlehem was some astronomical phenomenon? The star described in Matthew 2 does thing that real stars don't do - like change positions and hover over a particular house. Stars were regarded by ancients as supernatural, and that seems to be what Matthew is saying about this particular star.

Three kings from Persia came to visit? Matthew doesn't give a number. And they were magoi, astrologers and advisors to kings, not kings themselves. They may have been from Persia. In Greek "the east" is the same word as Anatolia, so it is possible that they are wise men from Anatolia rather than from Persia - but that's not certain (see Ben Witherington's blog on this).

The wise men came that night? We don't know exactly when they arrived, but it was some time between one month and two years after his birth (Matthew 2:16). The magoi came to a house, not a stable (Matthew 2:11). It must have been at least a month later, because Joseph was still poor when Jesus and Mary were presented at the Temple (after 33 days, Lev 12:1-3). They offered two turtle-doves instead of a lamb, which was only allowed in the case of poverty (Lev 12:6-8). If the wise men had already come, then Mary and Joseph would not have been poor.
Medieval and renaissance art often portrayed the shepherds and wise men at the stable, but that is because artists of the time would put all the related events in one scene with no concern for chronology. Nativity scenes sometimes included the annunciation, although that happened nine months earlier.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh symbolize... ? Various versions of this Christmas myth circulate - that they symbolize kingship, deity and death, or prophet, priest and king. But all three were appropriate gifts for a king, and were very expensive.

Herod killed hundreds of babies? Population estimates of Bethlehem make it likely that Herod's soldiers killed a dozen or so baby boys. Those who doubt that Herod was evil enough to do this should read Josephus' account of Herod's last years. In his attempts to preserve his throne, Herod killed court members, wives and sons. Caesar Augustus famously said about Herod that it was better to be his pig (hus) than his son (huios). On his death bed, Herod ordered the execution of every tribal patriarch in his realm to make sure that all would mourn at his funeral (fortunately, this command was not carried out).

Jesus was born on December 25, AD 1? The exact date of Jesus' birth is unknown, but was not December 25. The first time his birthday was mentioned was in the late second century, and it was given as November 18, but that's not certain either. Jesus must have been born before March of 4 BC, because that's when Herod the Great died. 5 BC seems likely, although maybe it was as early as 7 BC.

The picture: The Vigil of the Shepherds, by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1459.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Greek Wordle for the Gospel of John

Here's another Wordle for the Gospel of John, this time based on the Greek text. It's a little less useful than an English Wordle, because the various cases of nouns and tenses of verbs all show up as separate words. Still looks cool!

This wordle was constructed at wordle.net.

I also have wordles of the Gospel of John in English here and here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In the Beginning Was the Wordle...

Another Gospel of John Wordle from wordle.net.

In Wordle, the size of a word represents how often it occurs. Other details (font, color, layout) are randomly organized by the Wordle program.

To make this Wordle, I dumped the full text of John (in the NASB) into the Wordle website. To make sure that words like "see" and "saw" were not listed separately, I did a "find and replace" to put the most common verbs in John in the present tense.

What I like about this Wordle is that it displays what is important in the Gospel of John. Look at the prominent people: Jesus, Father, disciple, world, Jews, man. Look at the main actions: come, believe, know, see, give, go.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I am Not Elijah, Intro

The following is the introduction to a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

I am not Elijah: The Use and Non-use of Elijah/Elisha Material in the Gospel of John[1]

Gary T. Manning Jr., Ph.D.
Pacific Rim Christian College, Honolulu

From the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, it is clear that John has a different perspective on John the Baptist than the Synoptic Gospels do. John certainly does not disparage John the Baptist; he is, as the evangelist says, “a man sent from God” who came “to testify… so that all might believe through him” (John 1:6-7). But John is not interested in portraying JTB as Elijah. It is not only that John the Baptist refuses the title of Elijah (John 1:20, 25); but John also omits other synoptic details that link Elijah to John the Baptist: his Elijah-like clothing (Mark 1:6 and parallels/2 Kings 1:8) and Jesus’ identification of John the Baptist as Elijah (Mark 9:12-13 and parallels). The Gospel of John also omits mentioning two other references to Elijah found in the Synoptics: Elijah’s appearance to Jesus at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:4-5 and parallels); and the observers’ belief that Jesus was calling to Elijah on the cross (Mark 15:35-36 and parallels). Of course, John omits many synoptic sayings and details, so we need to be cautious about speculating about single omissions. However, the fact that John omits all of the explicit references to Elijah found in the Synoptics suggests that the omissions are intentional.

John also goes out of his way to apply Elijah/Elisha imagery to Jesus. On six occasions in John, miracles, or sayings associated with miracles, seem to be designed to draw attention back to similar stories in the Elijah/Elisha cycle (1 Kings 17-2 Kings 13). Some of these allusions are quite strong and recognizable, while others are weaker and open to challenge. When viewed together, these allusions suggest that John wanted his readers to compare Jesus to Elijah and Elisha,[2] and perhaps thought that the role of Elijah applied more to Jesus than to John the Baptist.[3]

Allusions are slippery things, and so attention to method is essential. The last twenty years have seen an abundance of studies on allusions to the Old Testament in the New Testament, producing some consensus about methods for identifying and analyzing allusions. There is wide agreement that the presence and strength of an allusion can be established based on factors such as the number of words and phrases in common; the similar narrative use of such words and phrases; resonance or congruence between the context of the earlier text and the context of the alluding text; the presence of repeated quotations or allusions to the same text or nearby texts; and similarities in the structure of the two contexts. There is also consensus that the meaning of an allusion should be evaluated on the basis of such factors as the role of the allusion in its new context, ways in which the alluding author modifies the source material, the implied interpretation of the source material, and ways in which other authors from the same period made use of the same material.[4] All of these methods have informed the study of the following allusions, but space does not permit a thorough evaluation of each method for each proposed allusion.

[1] Marianne Meye Thompson first brought my attention to John’s theme of Jesus as Elijah, while I was a student in her Johannine Christology seminar at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1999.
[2] Why does John use allusions to both Elijah and Elisha? It is natural for readers to connect Elijah and Elisha, since they have similar types of ministries, and since Elisha received the “double portion” of Elisha’s spirit (2 Kgs 2:9-14). Their ministries were also compared in Sirach 48, and Elisha was described as “filled with his [Elijah’s] spirit” (ἐνεπλήσθη πνεύματος αὐτοῦ, Sir 48:12).
[3] J. Louis Martyn first presented the idea that John, or one of his sources, presented Jesus as Elijah. J. Louis Martyn, “We Have Found Elijah,” pages 181-219 in Jews, Greeks and Christians: Religious Cultures in Late Antiquity: Essays in Honor of William David Davies, ed. Robert Hammerton-Kelly and Robin Scroggs. Leiden: Brill, 1976.
[4] This paragraph is adapted from G. Manning, “Shepherd, Vine and Bones: The Use of Ezekiel in the Gospel of John,” in After Ezekiel: Essays on the Reception of a Difficult Prophet (ed. Paul Joyce and Andrew Mein; LHBOTS; London: T&T Clark, 2010). For a more thorough exploration of these methods, see G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), xxiii-xxviii; G. Manning, Echoes of a Prophet: The Use of Ezekiel in the Gospel of John and in Literature of the Second Temple Period (JSNTS 270; London: T&T Clark, 2004), 7-19.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I am Not Elijah, Part 1 (John 4:29, 2 Kings 6:12-13)

The following is part 1 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

1. “Come and See”

2 Kings 6:12-13 (LXX)[1] One of his servants said, “No, my lord the king. Elisha, the prophet in Israel, reports to the king of Israel all the words that you say in your bedroom. [The king of Aram] said, “Go, see (Δεῦτε ἴδετε) where this man is, and I will send and take him.” And they announced to him, saying, “Behold, in Dothan.”

John 4:29
“Come, see (Δεῦτε ἴδετε) a man who told me all that I had done; surely he is not the Christ, is he?”

The first proposed allusion is admittedly weaker than most of the following parallels. However, the phrase “come and see” is somewhat distinctive; Δεῦτε ἴδετε occurs in only two other places in the LXX (Ps 45:9 [46:8], 65:5 [66:5]), and neither of them otherwise parallels John 4:29. The phrase is not entirely distinctive in the NT, however. Δεῦτε ἴδετε is used in Matt 28:6, and the similar ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε is used in John 11:34 (see also John 1:39); neither seem to be allusions to 2 Kgs 6:12-13. Although this allusion is weaker than some others, it still is worth considering. The presence of other solid allusions to Elijah/Elisha material in John confirms the possibility that John may use more subtle allusions to the same material. Most importantly, there is some resonance between these two passages. The king of Aram is seeking Elisha because his prophetic knowledge threatens the outcome of his war with Israel. Likewise, the Samaritan woman uses the phrase to point to Jesus’ prophetic knowledge of secret things. Jesus’ knowledge of her multiple marriages was enough for her to suggest that he was a prophet, and perhaps even the Christ (John 4:19, 29).

If the saying of the Samaritan woman is an allusion to 2 Kgs 6:12-13, then John 1:46 may also: “Philip said to him, “Come and see” (ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε).” While ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε looks different from Δεῦτε ἴδετε, the main change is from plural to singular. The switch to ἔρχου is then necessary since there is no singular form of Δεῦτε. Both phrases are legitimate translations of the Hebrew phrase in 2 Kgs 6:13, לכוּ וּראו (see Jdg 13:18, 18:19). Philip invited Nathanael to meet Jesus, who could reveal secrets. While we don’t know what Nathanael’s secret was, Jesus’ knowledge was surprising enough that Nathanael confessed Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel. If John 1:46 is an allusion to 2 Kgs 6:12-13, then there is some resonance between the two accounts: Elisha prays for spiritual sight for his servant, and he sees a vision of fiery horses and chariots (2 Kings 6:17-18); Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see a vision of the heavenly ladder (John 1:51).

Of course, there are significant differences between the accounts in John and in 2 Kings 6. Nathanael and the Samaritan woman are both positive examples who quickly trust Jesus based partially on his prophetic knowledge, while the king of Aram is trying to capture or kill Elisha because of his prophetic knowledge.

We might understand subtle allusions like this better if we think of ways that biblically literate people make allusions today. Recently, while I was speaking at a Christian conference, another speaker scheduled at the same time encouraged people to leave his session and come to mine. I later emailed him and thanked him for his self-denying promotion of my teaching. He quickly sent back the reply, “You must increase while I must decrease.” Anyone familiar with the story of John the Baptist quickly recognizes what my friend was doing with the allusion: he was humbly (but humorously) claiming that my teaching was more important than his. He was probably also alluding to the fact that John the Baptist encouraged his disciples to leave him and follow Jesus. But of course it is not a perfect allusion. My friend was not (I hope!) claiming that I was the Messiah, or that he would be beheaded at a party. There are any number of facts about John the Baptist and Jesus that he was not applying to our situation.

Some subtle allusions in the NT may be like this.[2] They use phrases that were well-known enough to biblically literate Jews and Christians to make them recall an OT passage. The allusions are intended to make just a few connections between the OT and NT situations. But the allusions do not imply every connection that is possible to make between the OT and NT situations.

[1] The NA27 list of allusions suggests both 1 Kings 6:13 and10:16, but 10:16 otherwise has very little in common with John 1.
[2] Brown pointed out another such sly allusion: the use of θύω (normally used for sacrifices) to refer to the hirelings’ killing of sheep in John 10:10 is “a sly reference to the priestly authorities.” R. Brown, John, 1: 386

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 2 (John 2:3-4, 2 Kings 3:9-22)

The following is part 2 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

2. “What to you and me?” (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, ti emoi kai soi)

2 Kings 3:9-22 (LXX)
The king of Israel and the king of Judah and the king of Edom went… and there was no water (οὐκ ἦν ὕδωρ) for the army or for the cattle… So the king of Israel and the king of Judah and the king of Edom went down to [Elisha]. Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What do I have to do with you? (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί)…

John 2:3-4 And Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. And when the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine (οἶνον οὐκ ἔχουσιν ).” Jesus said to her, “What do I have to do with you? (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί)

It is common for commentaries on John to refer to 2 Kings 3:22 (along with Jdg 11:18, 2 Chr 35:21, 1 Kgs 17:18, and Hos 14:8) as an example of the idiom Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί in John 2:4. However, John 2:4 has never been seen as an allusion to 2 Kgs 3:22 until recently. Mickey Klink’s recent article ably demonstrated that Jesus’ miracle in John 2 is told in a manner designed to recall Elisha’s water miracle.[1]

Although the exact verbal parallel extends only to the phrase Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, there is significant resonance between the two passages. In 2 Kings 3, water for the army runs out, the king asks Elisha for help, and the man of God responds with Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί. Despite his initial reluctance, Elisha helps. He gives some rather strange commands; once the commands are obeyed, the water miraculously arrives, filling the trenches. In John 2, wine for the wedding runs out, Mary asks Jesus for help, and Jesus responds with Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί. Despite his initial reluctance, Jesus helps. He gives some rather strange commands; once the commands are obeyed, the water miraculously turns to wine, filling the water jars.[2]

If this is a genuine allusion, as seems possible, then it clears up the mystery of why Jesus at first appears to refuse, then helps anyway. The conversation between Jesus and his mother is designed to point to Jesus’ similarity to Elisha. His initial refusal does not really make sense in John’s story, but it does make sense in its original context in 2 Kings 3. This is the nature of many quotations and allusions to the OT: when they are removed from their original context and placed in the NT, slight irregularities are introduced. In some cases, minor grammatical irregularities occur, as when the tense of verbs do not match the new context or the pronouns are not quite appropriate for the new context. In other cases, the meaning of the original text goes through small distortions as it is placed in a new context.

[1] Edward Klink III, “What Concern is that to You and to Me? John 2:1-11and the Elisha Narratives,” Neotestamentica 39.2 (2005) 213 -287. Klink pointed out that Raymond Brown had twice hinted at the connection between this passage and the Elisha story. Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (AB, 29-29A; 2 vols; Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966, 1970), 1:110; Brown, “Jesus and Elisha,” Per 12 (1971) 85-104.
[2] Another, more coincidental connection between the passages can be found in 2 Kings 3:22. The Moabites see the water in the trenches “red like blood” (אדמים כדם); both terms are sometimes used to describe wine (Gen 49:11, Isa 63:2).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 3 (John 4:7, 1 Kings 17:10-14)

The following is part 3 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

3. “Give me a Drink”

1 Kings 17:10 (LXX)[Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath, to the city gate, and behold, a widow was there gathering firewood, and Elijah called after her and said to her, “Please give (Λαβὲ δή μοι / קחי־נא) me a little water (ὕδωρ) in a jar and I will drink (πίομαι).”
14 “… the flour jar will not run out, and the oil jug will not run short until the day the Lord gives rain upon the earth”

John 4:7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water (ὕδωρ). Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink (δός μοι πεῖν).”
14 “whoever drinks from the water I will give him will never thirst; but the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water…”

John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Sychar is probably not a pure allusion to a single OT passage. As others have pointed out, a meeting between a man and a woman at a well is an archetypal image suggesting courtship and marriage (Gen 24, Exod 2). However, in the case of both Elijah and Jesus, the scene describes the beginning of a relationship between a prophet and an outsider woman.

There are a few direct verbal similarities between the two passages. Both include the obvious words ὕδωρ and πίνω. In the LXX, Elijah’s request Λαβὲ δή μοι … ὕδωρ (“please take me … water”) is a fairly wooden translation of קחי־נא, and does not represent the normal use of λαμβάνω. John’s phrase δός μοι πεῖν is a more normal way of requesting water in first-century Greek.

It is the similarities between the whole accounts that are the most striking. God clearly appoints the meeting between Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-9). As most commentaries on John point out, the phrase “Jesus had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4) indicates Jesus’ divine appointment with the Samaritan woman. Both the widow of Zarephath and the woman of Sychar are outsiders; the one, a Sidonian widow; the other, a Samaritan sinner. In both cases, the woman gives sustenance to the man of God, and the man of God gives far greater sustenance to the woman. Elijah promises the Sidonian woman that “the vessel of flour will not give out, and the jar of oil will not run short, until the day the Lord sends rain upon the land” (1 Kings 17:10). Jesus promises the Samaritan woman that “whoever drinks from the water that I will give to him will never be thirsty, but the water that I give him will become a spring of water in him leaping up to eternal life” (John 4:14).[1] The allusion seems even more likely to be intentional when we realize that the following scene in John alludes to the following scene in 1 Kings (John 4:46-54/1 Kings 17:17-24).

Although both conversations begin over water, they turn towards God. The Sidonian woman swears “as Yahweh your god lives…”, and Elijah pronounces to her, “Thus says Yahweh, God of Israel…” After Elijah raises her son, the woman affirms her belief: “Now I have known (ἔγνωκα) that you are a man of God and the word of Yahweh is truly in your mouth” (1 Kings 17:24). The Samaritan woman affirms her faith as well: “Lord, I see that you are a prophet” (John 4:19); and “he isn’t the Christ, is he?” (John 4:20). Both stories are, in essence, conversion accounts. The Sidonian woman affirms her belief in Yahweh and Elijah as his messenger; the Samaritan woman affirms her belief in the salvation that comes from the Jews and in Jesus as the messenger of that salvation. In OT terms, both women are invited to join in the blessings of the covenant. In this sense, all five similar stories of a meeting at a well – Rebecca, Hagar, Zipporah, the Sidonian woman, and the Samaritan woman – show the inclusion of an outsider woman in the covenant people.

[1] Although Jesus does not ask the woman for food, the disciples get food from Sychar, and food is a prominent theme in the story (John 4:8, 31-34).

I Am Not Elijah, Part 4 (John 4:50, 1 Kings 17:21-24)

The following is part 4 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

4. “Your Son Lives”

1 Kings 17:21-24 (LXX)
[Elijah prayed,] “Oh Lord my God, please let the life of this child return to him.” It happened as [he had prayed], and the child cried out. [Elijah] led him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother, and said, “See, your son lives” (ζῇ ὁ υἱός σου). The woman said to Elijah, “Behold, I have known (ἔγνωκα) that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord is true (ἀληθινόν) in your mouth.”

John 4:50 Jesus said to him, “Go, your son lives. (ὁ υἱός σου ζῇ)” The man believed the word that Jesus said to him and began going.
… ὁ παῖς αὐτοῦ ζῇ (4:51)
… ὁ υἱός σου ζῇ (4:53)

In John, repetition and final sayings are often keys to the meaning of stories. “Your son lives” is Jesus’ final saying in this pericope, and it is recorded three times. Jesus’ saying reminds us of John’s theme of Jesus as the source of life, found in almost every pericope in John. As with the rest of the “signs” in John, the healing of the nobleman’s son is designed primarily to reveal something about Jesus’ identity.

“Your son lives” also seems designed to draw the readers’ attention to Elijah’s famous healing of the widow’s son at Zarephath. The phrase is distinctive; it is not found elsewhere in the NT or LXX. It also functions as an allusion in that the phrase causes the reader to notice other connections between the two miracle accounts. In both cases, the miracle results in the parent’s belief that the healer is genuinely from God and speaks for God. The nobleman believed when he heard Jesus (4:50), and then he believed when he heard news of his son’s healing (4:53). The widow’s response to the healing affirms her belief in Elijah in terms that could be comfortably applied to Jesus in the gospel of John. The use of the perfect ἔγνωκα to intensify or solemnize a statement of belief is well-known in John (6:69, 11:27; cf. 1:34, 1:41, 1:45, 4:42). Elijah, like Jesus, is a “man of God” who speaks the word of God. John may have even been drawn to this passage because of his interest in “truth” (ἀληθινόν).[1] Although many books in the LXX use ἀληθινόν, in the NT, it is primarily a Johannine term, and usually applies to Jesus or his message (23 of its 28 occurrences in the NT are in John, 1 John, or Revelation). John’s theology of signs is very similar to the theology of Elisha’s miracle: both produce faith in God’s representative and his message.

If John 4:7 contains an allusion to 1 Kings 17:10 (argued above), then John 4 contains two successive allusions to two successive passages in the Elijah narrative. In intertextual studies, repeated allusions to the same text or nearby texts is one of the criteria for verifying the genuineness and strength of an allusion. The second allusion confirms the suspicion in the reader that the first allusion was intentional. Combined, the allusions suggest that John wanted to show a Jesus who was like Elijah.

John is not the only NT author to allude to Elijah’s raising of the widow’s son. Luke’s account of the raising of the widow’s son at Nain contains the allusive phrase “and he gave him to his mother” (καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὸν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ, Luke 7:15/1 Kings 17:23).[2] Luke’s allusion is stronger than John’s, since it has more details in common (the raising of a dead widow’s son by touch rather than the healing of a nobleman’s son at a distance). This suggests that John’s appropriation of Elijah imagery for Jesus is not unique to John.

[1] Similarly, John’s ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινὴ (John 15:1) is an allusion to Jeremiah’s ἄμπελον… ἀληθινήν (Jer 2:21).
[2] A similar allusion can be found in Acts 20:7-10/2 Kings 4:32-37. Paul raised Eutychus from the dead by laying down on top of him, as Elisha did to raise the son of the Shunammite woman.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 5 (John 6:9-13, 2 Kings 4:42-44)

The following is part 5 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

5. “What are these for so many?”

2 Kings 4:42-44 (LXX)
A man came from Baal-shalisha[1] and brought twenty barley loaves (ἄρτους κριθίνους) and dried fruit cakes from his first-fruits to the man of God. [Elisha] said, “Give to the people and have them eat.” His servant said, “What, shall I give this before a hundred men?” (Τί δῶ τοῦτο ἐνώπιον ἑκατὸν ἀνδρῶν) [Elisha] said, “Give it to the people and have them eat, for thus says the Lord: ‘They will eat and there will be some left over (καταλείψουσιν).’” And they ate and there was some left over according to the word of the Lord.
John 6:9-13
“There is a little boy here who has five barley loaves (ἄρτους κριθίνους) and two fish; but what are these for so many?” (ταῦτα τί ἐστιν εἰς τοσούτους). Jesus said, “Make the people sit down for the meal...” Then they sat down for the meal, the men about 5000 (ἄνδρες... ὡς πεντακισχίλιοι ) in number… When they were filled, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather the leftover pieces…” (τὰ περισσεύσαντα κλάσματα). Then they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with pieces from the five barley loaves that were left over from what had been eaten.

Elisha’s miracle is often noted as an important background text to Jesus’ feeding miracle in all four gospels.[2] However, John includes two unique phrases that connect his story even more firmly back to Elisha’s. John alone tells us that Jesus’ disciple commented on how little the food is by saying “What is this for…?”, just like Elisha’s servant (Τί τοῦτο / ταῦτα τί ). Second, John alone tells us that these are barley loaves (ἄρτους κριθίνους), like Elisha’s. Other details strengthen the allusion: in both accounts the man of God gives a command to feed the people; both accounts mention the amount of males (ἄνδρες) fed; and both emphasize that there was food left over. Although the two passages use different words for “left over,” both καταλείπω and περισσεύω (or cognates) are used to translate the Hebrew ytr (2 Ki 25:11, 1 Sam 30:9). John often updates septuagintal language in his quotes and allusions; καταλείπω no longer had the meaning of “left over” by the first century; other NT passages describing leftovers use περισσεύω or πλήρωμα.

John likely has two reasons for mentioning the barley loaves. First, it will remind his readers of Elisha’s miracle. Second, barley loaves connect both accounts to Passover. The barley harvest began at Passover,[3] and the offering to the prophets at Gilgal was likely a Passover offering. John wants us to know that the feeding miracle occurred near Passover (6:4), since the Bread of Life discourse plays on Passover themes.

It is interesting to note that both stories include the same types of characters who say the same sort of things. A generous outsider[4] brings a small but generous gift of food; the man of God unreasonably suggests to his servant that he should feed a large crowd with it; the servant questions whether the food will be adequate. Both stories have a similar goal: to reveal the power of the miracle worker. Both reveal the miracle worker as one moved by the needs of those around him.[5]

[1] LXX has Beth-sarisa.
[2] T.R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, 55; Burge, John, 193; Brown, John 1:110.
[3] ISBE 3:676, s.v. “Passover” by M.R. Wilson.
[4] T.R. Hobbs sees generosity as one of the key themes of the three miracle stories in 2 Kings 4. T.R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, 49.
[5] The Elisha stories in ch. 4 have “… generally no point beyond demonstrating the miraculous power and authority of Elisha.” Gray, 466, quoted in T.R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, WBC, p. 45.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 6 (John 9:6-15, 2 Kings 5:10-15)

The following is part 6 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

6. “Go, Wash”
2 Kings 5:10, 14-15 (LXX) Elisha sent (ἀπέστειλεν) a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash (Πορευθεὶς λοῦσαι) seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 14 Naaman went down and washed himself (ἐβαπτίσατο) in the Jordan seven times according to the word of Elisha, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a small child, and he was cleansed… [Naaman] said “Behold, surely I have known (ἔγνωκα) that there is no god in all the earth except in Israel.”
John 9:6-15
[Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud from the spittle and anointed the mud on his eyes said to him, “Go, wash (ὕπαγε νίψαι) in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated ‘Sent’ (ἀπεσταλμένος). Then he went away and washed himself (ἐνίψατο), and came back seeing… 12 “Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, “Go to the pool of Siloam and wash;” so I went and washed and then I saw.” 15 “He put mud on my eyes and I washed and now I see.”

The healing of the blind man in John 9 is another of John’s signs that is designed to display the identity of Jesus. Jesus is displayed as the light of the world, not only in the opening dialogue (9:4-5), but throughout the blind man’s trial and defense of Jesus. The healing itself also recalls the water motif found throughout John. The pool of Siloam was the well-known source of water for the water ritual at the Feast of Tabernacles, a ritual which provided the setting for Jesus’ water proclamation (John 7:37-39). John recounts the healing three times, although some of the details (anointing with mud, Jesus’ instructions, going to Siloam, washing, and seeing) are recounted as few as twice or as many as five times. Clearly the washing is crucial to the story.
Jesus’ command is translated the same as Elisha’s command, but represent different words in Greek. However, the words used in John’s narrative are close enough semantically that an allusion is still possible. When John quotes or alludes to the OT, he sometimes updates the language of the LXX to more contemporary Greek, or at times he may be using his own translation of the Hebrew text. Elisha orders Naaman to go (Πορευθεὶς), while Jesus instructs the blind man to go (ὕπαγε). While πορεύομαι is used in a variety of ways in the NT, it is commonly used to describe travelling some distance, such as to another town (John 4:50, 7:35, 11:11). ὑπάγω focuses on the act of departing, and can be used for either short or long distances (John 4:16, 7:3). ὑπάγω was almost non-existent in septuagintal Greek, but relatively common in NT Greek; quite likely it sounded better in this context. John’s use of νίπτω instead of λούω for wash is also quite normal. Both the LXX and the NT use λούω or βαπτίζω for bathing the full body and νίπτω for washing part of the body, such as the hands, feet or head (see especially John 13:10). The LXX consistently translates רָחַץ with νίπτω or λούω depending on whether part of the body or the whole body is washed. So, although John replaced both words with synonyms, it is still quite possible that this is an intentional allusion.

John’s use of the phrase draws attention to other details that resonate between the two accounts. It is not entirely clear why John tells us that Siloam can be translated “sent;” some have suggested a connection to Jesus as the “sent one.” It is also possible that this detail allows John to make a further connection back to the story of Naaman, which prominently features the sending of messengers and scrolls. The account in 2 Kings includes seven occurrences of ἀποστέλλω /ἐξαποστέλλω, translating שָׁלַח.

Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, was a man of God who sometimes used unusual methods in his miracles. The two passages also share a similar theology of healing. After Naaman is healed, he makes a confession of faith in the one God, using the perfect tense (ἔγνωκα) to solemnly affirm his knowledge of God. Likewise, the blind man affirms his belief that Jesus must be a prophet (9:17), an innocent man (9:25, 31), a man from God (9:33), and finally Son of Man and Lord (9:35-38). Elisha’s miracle is like Jesus’ sign: they are works of power that bring people to faith. In both stories, the signs result in glory to God and the prophet. Elisha summons Naaman so that he would “know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). After the miracle, Naaman acknowledges Yahweh as God of the world, and even brings Israelite dirt back to Aram to build a shrine to Yahweh (2 Kings 5:17). Jesus reveals that the blind man is blind “so that the works of God might be revealed in him” (John 9:3), and the Pharisees ironically adjure the blind man to “give glory to God” (9:24), which is of course what the blind man is doing.

It is possible that this passage in 2 Kings is part of the multifaceted background to John the Baptist’s baptisms in the Jordan. The Synoptic Gospels normally portray JTB as a new Elijah, so it is possible that the ritual washings in the Jordan are intended to recall Elisha’s ritual washing of Naaman, the Gentile convert.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Conclusion

The following is the conclusion of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

1) John’s pattern of omitting references to Elijah found in the Synoptic Gospels, and adding allusions to Elijah/Elisha material in miracle accounts and miracle sayings, suggests that John wants to apply the role of Elijah to Jesus. John’s six allusions to Elijah/Elisha material are all designed to make Jesus look like Elijah. John omits other synoptic references to Elijah (Mark 9:4-5, 15:35-36) because they would distract from his identification of Jesus with Elijah.

2) John is correcting misconceptions about John the Baptist. This does not mean that John is correcting the synoptic accounts, but correcting beliefs about John the Baptist current in late first-century Ephesus. Discipleship to John the Baptist continued after his death (Acts 19:1-7) and possibly on into the second century. To counter beliefs like this, John may have wanted to focus on John the Baptist’s role in pointing to Jesus, and to de-emphasize any sort of exaltation of John the Baptist. This is why John not only downplays John the Baptist’s role as Elijah, but omits all of JTB’s teaching except his testimony to Jesus. The reason that JTB denies the titles “Christ,” “Elijah” and “the prophet” may be because all three belong to Jesus in John.

3) Popular beliefs about Elijah in the first century may have influenced John to connect Elijah more with Jesus than with John the Baptist. In Sirach 48, Elijah will “calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury” and “restore the tribes of Jacob” (48:10); Elisha was “filled with the spirit” of Elijah (48:12); Elisha “did wonders in his life, and in his death his deeds were marvelous” (48:14); and despite the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, the people did not repent (48:15; cp. John 12:37). Each of these ideas could more appropriately be transferred to Jesus than to John the Baptist.

4) John is able to identify Jesus with Elijah because “Elijah” is an eschatological symbol with some flexibility.[1] Malachi 4:5 does not specifically say that Elijah must come before the Messiah; it says that Elijah must come before the “great and terrible day of Yahweh.” The flexibility of the Elijah symbol is revealed in the use of Elijah imagery in the two witnesses of Revelation 11, another eschatological symbol. Other eschatological symbols have the same flexibility: for example, antichrist language is applied to Antiochus IV (Dan 9:27, 11:31), Titus (Mark 13:14), false teachers (1 John 2:18-22), and the beast (Revelation 12-13).

5) It is possible that John found several qualities about Elijah more appropriate to apply to Jesus than to John the Baptist. In John, only Jesus ascends to heaven (John 3:13, 1:18, 6:46); thus, John may have found it appropriate to compare Elijah to Jesus, not to John the Baptist. As Elijah gave a double portion of his spirit to Elisha (2 Kgs 2:9, 15), Jesus gives the Spirit “without measure” to his disciples (John 1:33, 3:34; 7:37-39, 20:22).

[1] A more common explanation is that John the Baptist was denying his literal equivalence with Elijah (Gospel of John), but agreeing that he had the role of Elijah (Synoptic Gospels). According to Brown (John, 1:48), this explanation can be found in the church fathers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Merry Christmas - November 18

Happy belated real Christmas! Jesus may have been born on November 18 - see here for more details.

Evangelical Theological Society

I am again in nerdvana - nerdvana for lovers of biblical studies, that is. This year, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Society of Biblical Literature, are holding their conventions in New Orleans. Today I listened to a few lectures, tweaked my paper (which I will present Friday, and maybe post here as well), and tried to stay awake after my all-night flight from Honolulu.

One lecture today was from Mark Strauss, who talked about the purpose of Luke-Acts. I attended this session because I will be teaching an Acts class in the spring. Mark summarized the views that have been presented on the purposes of Luke-Acts - a defense of Paul before Roman officials, an evangelistic booklet to convert god-fearers (Gentiles who were interested in Judaism), and several others. Mark suggested that the purpose that best covered all the evidence in Luke is that the purpose of Luke-Acts is to legitimize the church and defend it. Maybe I'll post his reasons later - right now my brain is too jet-lagged to type it out in any coherent manner.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gospel of John Wordle

Wordle: Gospel of John

You can click on the picture to go to the website and get it full-size. I printed one out as a poster for my office.

You make a wordle by dumping some text into wordle.net. The size of each word is directly proportional to how many times the word occurs in the text. I made the John wordle by dumpint the entire text of the Gospel of John into wordle, and setting it to show the top 150 words. Reminds you of what the book is really about!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Writing deadlines!

I probably will not post much for the next three weeks. I have two deadlines. On Nov 15, I am submitting a chapter on "The Use of Ezekiel in John" for a forthcoming book entitled After Ezekiel: Essays on the Reception of a Difficult Prophet, edited by Paul Joyce and Andrew Mein. That chapter will be an abbreviation of my dissertation and monograph.

Then I am presenting a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society in New Orleans on Nov 20. The paper is "I am not Elijah: The Use and Non-use of Elijah/Elisha Material in the Gospel of John."

So I will be trying to grab every spare minute to finish these two papers. As we all know, when deadlines loom, suddenly everything else becomes more fascinating - answering email, blogging, even minesweeper :)... What I really need right now is a computer that has no access to internet, email, computer games, or anything else except Word and Logos!

(Hey - that's a play on words! involving the word "word"! Was it intentional or not? Sorry - ignore the babblings of someone immersed in deciding whether various allusions to the OT in the NT are real or not)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jesus the Aleph-Tav? (Genesis 1:1, Revelation 21:6)

A few people asked me about the nature of the errors in this video (mentioned in my last post and also viewable as a youtube video). The content of the video can also be found (more or less) in posts here and here. The basic thrust of this bizarre claim: Jesus is the logos (John 1:1), which must mean written word; Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (Rev 21:6), which is a translation from Hebrew of Jesus the Aleph and Tav; the Hebrew word et (את, aleph tav) is an untranslatable word found in Genesis 1:1; therefore Jesus' claim that he is the logos and the Alpha and Omega is actually a claim that his name is את and is written in Genesis 1:1.

Here is a sampling of the linguistic errors in the video:

1) Logos (λόγος) and rhema (ῥῆμα) no longer have the distinct meanings of "word as idea" and "spoken word" - they are mostly synonymous by the time of the NT (see BDAG or another reputable Greek dictionary).

2) The speaker claims that logos must mean "written word" - simply not true. Using BDAG or finding the occurrences of logos in the NT and LXX is a quick way to disprove this mistake.

3) Jesus likely spoke all three languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek), although there is some debate on this (see Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, s.v. "Languages of Palestine" by M.O. Wise).

4) There is no evidence that Revelation is "spoken in Hebrew and written in Greek." If you are very familiar with both languages, you can recognize Greek that has been translated from Hebrew, as in the LXX or in the quotations of the OT in the NT. Those marks of "translation Greek" are not found in most of Revelation, except in the quotes and allusions to the OT.

5) The worst error: the Hebrew word et (את, aleph tav) is not at all "mysterious" or "untranslatable;" in fact, I remember learning its meaning during the second week of introductory Hebrew. It is a very common word used to identify the direct object (as well as a few other less common functions). English identifies the direct object by the noun's position in the sentence; languages like Greek, Latin and German identify the direct object by changing the ending of the noun; and Hebrew marks the direct object with the word את.
6) אֵת works roughly like our word "to" in the sense that it is very common (11,000 occurrences in the OT) and serves more of a grammatical function than a meaning function. If אֵת refers to the Messiah, then there are thousands of meaningless statements in the OT, like Gen 2:6 "a mist used to rise from the ground to water אֵת the whole surface of the ground" or Gen 10:8 "Cush fathered אֵת Nimrod..."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bad Interpretation and Erasmus

For a wonderful example of the nonsense that one can spout if one knows only a little bit of Greek and Hebrew, take a look at this video at Boulders 2 Bits. It's a bit long, but painfully and unintentionally funny. By the way, the author of Boulders 2 Bits is not promoting the views in the video!

It reminded me of a story that Erasmus told about some linguistic analysis that he heard that was almost as creative and tortured. You'll make the most sense of Erasmus' story if you know just a little bit of Latin.

"I met... another, some eighty years of age, and such a divine that you'd have sworn Scotus himself was revived in him. He... with wonderful subtlety demonstrate[d] that there lay hidden in [the letters found in the name of Jesus] whatever could be said of him; for that it was only declined with three cases, he said, it was a manifest token of the Divine Trinity; and then, that the first ended in S, the second in M, the third in U... those three letters declaring to us that he was the beginning, middle, and end (summum, medium, et ultimum) of all. Nay, the mystery was yet more abstruse; for he... split the word Jesus into two equal parts [and] left the middle letter by itself, and then told us that that letter in Hebrew was schin or sin, and that sin in the Scotch tongue, as he remembered, signified as much as sin; from whence he gathered that it was Jesus that took away the sins of the world. At which new exposition the audience were so wonderfully intent and struck with admiration, especially the theologians… ”

-Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, 1515 (and the picture is from that work)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

Miscellaneous leftover quotes from Erasmus on learning Greek:

“And, my dear Batt, I am very anxious that you should know Greek…”
-Letter to Jacob Batt, September 1500

“We can use Greek words when we wish our meaning not to be understood by all and sundry.”

“… I am paying scant regard to my very health as I help my friends; I compose for some, read to some, correct for others, and meanwhile read, compile, emend, and compose on my own account, and practise my Greek which in any case is very difficult.”
-Letter to Jacob Batt, 1500

In Epistle 23 (I am unsure of the date), Erasmus signed his name on a letter in Greek rather than Latin - a practice just about every Greek student does at some point.

The picture: Title page of the Complutensian Polyglot, 1522. Erasmus' printer heard that the Polyglot was about to go to press, and so Erasmus rushed to finish his first edition of the Greek New Testament. As a result, Erasmus' first edition is one of the few print Bibles riddled with typographical errors.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Most Popular Post: Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman

My blog normally gets twenty to thirty hits per day. But in the last week, I have received more and more hits, until today, there are over 150 hits (according to Google Analytics).

It turns out that almost all the new hits are basically the same profile: someone googles "Nicodemus vs. the Samaritan woman" or some variation, and for some reason Google lists my post on that topic in first place.

So here's my question: are there always a hundred people per day googling about comparisons between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, and Google just recently noticed my blog post on that topic? Or is there some reason that hundreds of people suddenly became interested in this comparison? Maybe the passage came up in some church's lectionary cycle? A new documentary on Jesus that talked about Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Romans 7 - Christian or Pre-Christian?

Today in my undergraduate class on Paul's letters, we talked about the "I" in Romans 7:13-25. Those of you who have done some study in Romans will know that throughout Christian history, there have been several opinions about what Paul meant. The two main options are 1) Paul is referring to his own experience as a Christian, and therefore the general Christian experience; or 2) Paul is referring to the experience of a pre-Christian Jew trying to obey the Law.

Here are some of the reasons that I gave in favor of option 2:

1) This passage is an answer to the question "Did that which was good [the Law], then, become death to me?" Paul is not interested here in discussing the current Christian struggle with sin. He is interested in explaining how the OT Law was used by sin to bring death to pre-Christians (this is related to "the law of sin and death").

2) Paul knows that Christians struggle with sin. But he discusses this in Romans 8:10-14 - and he has a very different take on the struggle there.

3) Every phrase that describes the "me" of Rom 7:13-25 is used to describe non-Christians or pre-Christian Jews elsewhere in Romans; further, each of those phrases contradicts what Paul says about Christians in Romans.

7:14 "I am fleshly, sold into bondage to sin." Compare to 7:5, "we were in the flesh;" 6:18 "we were freed from sin;" 6:20 "we were slaves to sin;" 8:9 "you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit."

7:16 "I agree with the Law, that the Law is good." (often used to assert that Paul is talking about Christians.) Compare to 2:17 "If you call yourself a Jew and rely on the Law...;" 7:4 "You died to the Law."

7:19 "I practice the very evil I do not want." Compare to 6:14 "Sin will have no mastery over you."

7:23 "a different law... making me a prisoner of the law of sin." Compare to 6:22 "but now, freed from sin and enslaved to God;" 8:2 "For in Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death."

Finally, I argued that Paul's theology in general does not support the interpretation that 7:13-25 refers to the Christian struggle with sin. Paul's normal approach to the Christian struggle is this: because of our union with Christ, we are saints; we have transferred from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from Adam to Christ, from Law to grace, from Law to Spirit. The way to deal with ongoing sin is to recognize that sin is inconsistent with our new identity in Christ, and to act in accordance with that new identity. We are dead to sin, so we should act dead to sin.

If option 1 is correct, Paul is presenting the Christian struggle in a way that he never presents it anywhere else in his letters: he is saying that we are still sinners by nature, we are still slaves to sin, we are still trying to keep the Law, and we are still under the law of sin and death.

This is the opposite of what Paul says in the next chapter: we are not in the flesh, we are in the Spirit, we are under no obligation to the flesh, and we can put the deeds of the body to death by the power of the Spirit.

That, my friends, is good news.

The picture: The Apostle Paul, in Entschuoldigung by Matthias Flacius Illyricus, 1549.

Eutychus Allusion in Jane Eyre

I enjoyed this allusion to the story of Eutychus in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. (The story of Eutychus is found in Acts 20:7-12; see this post for more information.)

"The Sunday evening was spent in repeating, by heart, the Church Catechism, and the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of St. Matthew; and in listening to a long sermon, read by Miss Miller, whose irrepressible yawns attested her weariness. A frequent interlude of these performances was the enactment of the part of Eutychus by some half dozen little girls; who overpowered with sleep, would fall down, if not out of the third loft, yet off the fourth form, and be taken up half dead. The remedy was, to thrust them forward into the center of the school-room, and oblige them to stand there till the sermon was finished. Sometimes their feet failed them, and they sank together in a heap; they were then propped up with the monitors’ high stools."

By the way, it is interesting to note that readers of Jane Eyre in the nineteenth century would not have been at all surprised that the girls could recite the catechism, as well as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

The picture: movie poster for the Masterpiece Theater adaptation of the novel, which my wife and I enjoyed.

Baptism Pictures

Nathan, our second son, was also baptized in October. Baptizing him is Pastor Mike Kai, Pastor Mark Peterman, and me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

“I knew in my time... a Grecian, a Latinist... who... perplexed and tormented himself for above twenty years in the study of grammar, fully reckoning himself a prince if he might but live so long till he could certainly determine how the eight parts of speech were to be distinguished, which none of the Greeks or Latins had yet fully cleared: as if it were a matter to be decided by the sword if a man made an adverb of a conjunction. And for this cause is it that we have as many grammars as grammarians; nay more, forasmuch as my friend Aldus has given us above five, not passing by any kind of grammar, how barbarously or tediously soever compiled, which he has not turned over and examined; envying every man's attempts in this kind, rather to be pitied than happy, as persons that are ever tormenting themselves; adding, changing, putting in, blotting out, revising, reprinting, showing it to friends, and nine years in correcting, yet never fully satisfied; at so great a rate do they purchase this vain reward, to wit, praise, and that too of a very few, with so many watchings, so much sweat, so much vexation and loss of sleep, the most precious of all things. Add to this the waste of health, spoil of complexion, weakness of eyes or rather blindness, poverty, envy, abstinence from pleasure, over-hasty old age, untimely death, and the like; so highly does this wise man value the approbation of one or two blear-eyed fellows.”

-Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, 1515.

The picture: Folly Mounting the Pulpit, by Hans Holbein the Younger, in In Praise of Folly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rowley on Biblical Languages

"One who made it his life's work to interpret French literature, but who could only read it in an English translation, would not be taken seriously; yet it is remarkable how many ministers of religion week by week expound a literature that they are unable to read save in translation!"

- H. H. Rowley, Expository Times, LXXIV, 12, September, 1963, p. 383

Thanks to Anumma, who drew my attention to this quote on the Pyromaniacs website.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wesley on Greek

“Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?”

— John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in Works X:491.

When students finish taking Greek from me, I always appeal to their budget: if you stop reading Greek and using it for exegesis, you just wasted $2500 (the cost at our school for 12 credits of Greek/exegesis) and countless hours in class and studying. Don't lose your investment!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Baptism Pictures

Josiah, our oldest son, was also baptized in October. Baptizing him is Pastor Mike Kai, Pastor Mark Peterman, and me.

Baptism Pictures

In October, four of our boys were baptized.

Here's Caleb (age 6), who was very excited about getting baptized. Pastor Mike Kai, Pastor Mark Peterman and I did the baptism.

We may need to baptize this foot again some day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Haleakala Slide Show

Here's a slide show of our Haleakala trip. Thanks to Rich, who put all our pictures together and made the slide show. There's some background music to the slide show, so turn on your volume if you want. You can also look at all the pictures on Flickr.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Picture from Haleakala

We just got back yesterday from our three-day back-packing trip through Haleakala National Park.

Here's the first photo - all packed up and ready to start the hike. We are at about 10,000 feet at the Summit parking lot, about to go down the Sliding Sands trail into the crater. In the background are several observatories. Left to right: Me, Nathan, Josiah, Daniel (the Mannings), Bryan, Bradley, Rich (the Fewells). Rich and I did this hike together with our friend Aaron Johnson 23 years ago.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Haleakala Trip

This weekend is a backpacking trip! All of us (me, my three oldest boys, my friend Rich, and his two boys) will be flying to Maui this weekend to backpack through Haleakala National Park for three days. Whenever cell phone reception is good, Rich will be posting photos and audioblogs directly from the crater to his blog - be sure to go there to see the pictures, starting on Saturday, Oct 11.

Martin Luther on Greek

"Insofar as we love the gospel, to that same extent, let us study the ancient tongues. And let us notice that without the knowledge of languages we can scarcely preserve the gospel. Languages are the sheath which hides the sword of the Spirit, they are the chest in which this jewel is enclosed, the goblet holding this draught. Where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the scriptures will be searched, and the faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds.

-Martin Luther

The picture: Portrait of Martin Luther, Cranach the Elder, 1535.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

Erasmus, commenting on the efforts of theologians to interfere with his publication of an edition of Jerome:

“Certain… distinguished theologians… adjured the printer by all that is holy not to allow any admixture of Greek or Hebrew; these two languages, they said, are fraught with peril and there is no good to be got out of them; they were designed solely to satisfy idle curiosity.”

-Erasmus, Letter to Maarten van Dorp, 1515.

The picture: Erasmus, by Quentin Matsys, 1517.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

“…still I must scrape together from each and every source a small sum of money to clothe myself and to buy the complete works of Jerome… and a Plato, and to get together some Greek books, and also to pay for the services of a Greek tutor. My mind is burning with indescribable eagerness… to acquire a certain limited competence in the use of Greek, and thereby go on to devote myself entirely to sacred literature…”

-Erasmus, letter to Jacob Batt, December 11, 1499

The picture: Erasmus' self portrait, in his commentary on the works of Jerome, 1516.

Friday, October 2, 2009

ben Sirach on Translation

"You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite our diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this work, but even the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books differ not a little as originally expressed."

-Sirach Preface

This could well be the plea of all Greek and Hebrew students for mercy from their profs as they grade translations on tests.

Scot McKnight on the "The Evangelical Flip"

Take a look at Scot McKnight's new post on the Evangelical Flip. Here's a representative quote:

"So let me say this: (too many) evangelical leaders have become too enamored with management skills and techniques and have neglected the nitty-gritty of soaking themselves in the great texts of the Old and the New Testament."

What do you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

“[Theologians] are dogged everywhere by the nemesis that waits for those who despise Greek; here too they are subject to delusions, half asleep, blear-eyed, blundering, producing more monstrosities.”

-Erasmus, Letter to Maarten van Dorp, 1515.

The picture: Folly, marginal drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger, in Erasmus' In Praise of Folly, edition of 1515. Although Erasmus did not join the Reformers, this work satirized (among other things) abuses of the Catholic church. Its popularity may have even contributed to the Reformation.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Relevant Teaching

I was doing some reading in John Walton's NIVAC Genesis commentary today (prepping for an adult Sunday school series that I will be teaching at a friend's church), and I came across this quote by Howard Hendricks:

"It is not too difficult to be biblical if you don't care about being relevant; it is not too difficult to be relevant if you don't care about being biblical. But if you want to be both biblical and relevant in your teaching, it is a very difficult task indeed."

Many traditional churches struggle with the first problem; many progressive churches struggle with the second problem. Most of my students teach and preach in a ministry environment where relevance is highly valued and reinforced. Teachers who get "too biblical" in their teaching are sometimes prodded by their ministry peers to get more relevant - and the implication is that they need to spend less time explaining Scripture.

The average person walking into church does not know how important it is to understand ideas like the Kingdom of God, union with Christ, or justification - three of the most important ideas in the New Testament. Relevant churches often respond by not teaching about these ideas. Traditional churches may teach on these topics, but often fail to help people realize their implications.

What do you think? Is this a problem in the church today? What are some things that you do to try to keep your teaching both relevant and biblical?

Erasmus on Greek

"I can see what utter madness it is even to put a finger on that part of theology which is specially concerned with the mysteries of the faith unless one is furnished with the equipment of Greek as well, since the translators of Scripture, in their scrupulous manner of construing the text, offer such literal versions of Greek idioms that no one ignorant of that language could grasp even the primary, or, as our own theologians call it, literal, meaning."

-Erasmus, Epistle 149

The picture: Title page of Erasmus' Ecclesiastae (on preaching), 1535.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

Erasmus' response to Jacob Latomus' De tribus linguis (Whether a knowledge of the three languages is necessary for a theologian).

“I have never said that anyone with linguistic skills will right away understand the mysteries of sacred literature, I said that it is a great help in arriving at an understanding of Scripture; and I have said that this can be achieved through many means, and not only through the help of linguistics. But just as the philologist does not instantly attain an understanding of the innermost mysteries, so – all other things being even – the man who is ignorant of languages is rather far away from understanding them.”

-Erasmus, LB IX 82A-B

The picture: Medallion of Erasmus, Quentin Matsys, 1519