Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Podcast

I spoke recently on the topic of how to interpret the Bible at New Hope's Doing Church As a Team Conference. You can access the podcast under "Eutychus' Podcasts" at right.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Prolog of John (John 1:1-18)

Star Wars famously began with those blue words crawling up the screen, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a great adventure took place... It is a time of civil war." That opening narration provided the necessary background to the action of the next 90 minutes.

The Prolog of John does something similar for the gospel of John. The first eighteen verses provide the necessary conceptual background to the action and teaching that takes place over the next twenty chapters. In fact, each title or quality that is applied to Jesus in the Prolog is acted out in the following narrative. Here are some of the connections:

In the beginning: Jesus describes his pre-existence in ch. 8 and 17.
The Word was with God: Jesus is regularly described as one who came from God and brings revelation to us. See especially the Bread of Life in ch. 6.
The Word was God: Jesus alludes to his divine qualities and roles throughout the gospel. Thomas ends the gospel by calling him "My Lord and my God."
In him was life: Almost every scene in John refers to his ability to give true life. Nicodemus must be born again, the Samaritan woman must receive the living water, the good shepherd gives abundant life to the sheep, the vine supplies life to the branches.
The Light shone in the darkness: one of Jesus' titles for himself in ch. 8, 9, and 12.
The darkness did not understand / overcome it: Greek katelaben can mean either "understand" or "overcome," and here, both are implied. This play on words is acted out in almost every scene in John. People constantly misunderstand Jesus ("He can't enter into his mother's womb and be born a second time, can he?"); the worst of them try to kill him, but ultimately cannot.
He came to his own, and his own did not receive him: Same as above, but John continues the wordplay: his own did not parelabon him (same root as katelaben, different prefix).
But as many as received him, he gave the authority...: John completes the wordplay: as many as elabon him (same root, no prefix). Although many reject Jesus in John, a few accept him and become his disciples.
to those who believe in his name: "Believe" is one of the most important characteristics of Jesus-followers in John. The word is used 98 times in John - and only 34 times total in the Synoptic Gospels.
the Word became flesh: While John gives the most divine picture of Jesus, he also gives the most human picture of Jesus. Jesus gets hungry, thirsty, weeps, and gets angry in John.
and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory: This makes the reader think of the Tabernacle, the earthly dwelling place of God. "Dwelt" is eskenosen, the verb form of skene, the Tabernacle that was filled with God's glory. Jesus describes himself as the Temple in John 2, and his connection with God's glory is repeated, especially in Jn 12-17.

The picture: Creation, a stained glass at Christ Church in Pompton, NJ.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Radio Interviews

Last week, I recorded two radio interviews with Keli'i Akina, host of YFC for Parents. They will be aired on KGU 760AM on Tuesday, January 20th and Tuesday, January 27th at 6:00pm. They will be re-aired on Saturday, January 24th and Saturday, January 31st at 5:00pm. They will also be available as podcasts (see the right margin of this blog for podcasts).

On both shows, Keli'i and I discussed a passage of Scripture and talked about how to interpret. During the first interview, we talked about John 21 and the common misconceptions among Christians about the Greek words agape and phileo. In the second interview, we looked at the call of Abraham in Genesis 12.

I will be speaking at some of the services at my home church, Hope Chapel West Oahu, on February 14-15. DJ Garces will do the other services. We will be speaking from the book of Exodus. I will also podcast that sermon.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Judge Not? (Matthew 7:1-6)

Question: "I was discussing sexual immorality with another Christian... and she said that I was not supposed to judge others! I was shocked since I believe God wants us to be holy as He is holy... Doesn't the Bible tell us that we can judge? Don't we all judge others anyway (esp. by their appearance)?"

Judging is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible. Many simply quote Matt 7:1, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged" and assume that is everything the Bible has to say about the topic of making moral evaluations. But they forget that this saying of Jesus was only the beginning of a paragraph (Matt 7:1-6) about making judgments and correcting others. Jesus taught that it is hypocritical to correct a friend's minor flaw while tolerating our own major flaws: "First take the log out of your own eye, then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." His point is that it would be hypocritical (for example) to correct my friend's failure to tithe while tolerating my own financial dishonesty and lack of generosity towards those in need. And we should not forget that Jesus often judged - he regularly corrected both his opponents and his disciples.

Paul gives balanced advice for making judgments and correcting others in Galatians 6:1-5. "If someone is caught in some sin, you who are Spiritual should correct such a person in a spirit of humility..." Correction requires first making a moral evaluation of behavior based on the teachings of Scripture. The point of judging should only be to help others, not to make ourselves look good. Judging is wrong (and annoys us the most) when it is done in a prideful manner, or is done in a way to hurt people rather than help them.

Scripture regularly advises us to evaluate the character and actions of others. Take a look at 1 Thess 5:14, 2 Thess 3:14-15, James 5:19-20, Matt 18:15-20, Luke 17:3-4, 1 Cor 5:9-13, 1 Cor 6:1-6. In each of these, Christians are required to judge other Christians for the purpose of restoration. We cannot become more like Christ unless we are willing to humbly judge each other's behavior and "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 10:24).

The picture: Christ the Judge, Michelangelo Buonarotti, 1537-41 (Sistine Chapel).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Questioning John

When our semester begins next week, I will be teaching a class on the Gospel of John. One of the things I do in many of my Bible content classes is help students to ask better questions of the text. Very often, the reason we get little out of the text is that we are asking the wrong questions. For example, we may come to the text with a question like "How can I deal with my discontent?" or "What should I do to improve my marriage?" But if the passage we are looking at is not intended to answer such a question, we will likely learn very little.

In the gospel of John, here are a few of the questions that I ask as I read a scene:
  • How does this scene demonstrate what we learned about Jesus in the Prolog of John? In other words, how does this scene draw our attention to the beginning of the book? Jesus as the incarnate Word, the source of light and life, the one opposed and misunderstood by his own, but accepted by a few; the one who reveals God; the source of grace and truth.
  • How does this scene foreshadow Jesus' "glorification" - his death, resurrection and ascension? In other words, how does this scene draw our attention to the end of the book?
  • How is Jesus revealed as the source of life? (related to the first question, but a dominant theme in many scenes)
  • Do the closing sayings reveal something? In some cases, scenes end with a saying that helps understand the meaning of the scene.
  • Are there any symbolic elements? Perhaps more than the other three gospels, John likes to use symbolism in his narratives. For example, John connects the Feeding of the Five Thousand with the Bread of Life discourse.
I'll be elaborating on these more in the next few months as I blog through the gospel of John.
The picture: St. John, by an unknown French illuminator, 1425.