"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oliver on Peter at the home of Simon the Tanner

Isaac Oliver has a great piece in the recent New Testament Studies on the ritual purity question concerning Peter staying in the home of Simon the Tanner in Acts 9:43. "Simon Peter Meets Simon the Tanner: The Ritual Insignificance of Tanning in Ancient Jerusalem," NTS 59 (2013): 50-60. Oliver shows the overwhelming way in which New Testament scholars have explained Peter's staying with Simon the Tanner as a nascent disregard for ritual purity even before Peter's vision in Acts 10 of the sheet with unclean animals. This is a comment I admit to having made in my courses on a number of occasions, but as Oliver points out, this is what the guild has taught us.

The strength of the article is the way in which Oliver delves into the rabbinic sources on tanning and how the rabbis dislike of the occupation has been interpreted as a dislike based on ritual impurity. Oliver shows that their dislike is often due to the messiness and smelliness of the business and not due to ritual impurity. He argues that the average Jewish tanner would have been able to complete their work regularly without contracting ritual impurity. In addition, those tanners located near water sources were likely to be even more ritually pure due to their ability to easily purify themselves if need be. Note Simon's location in Joppa on the sea.

In conclusion, Oliver states that the author of Acts is not concerned with ritual impurity in the mention of Simon the Tanner, but this inclusion may have been intended to highlight the "socio-economic status of some members of the Jesus movement."

This is an article worth reading and an important corrective on generations of NT scholarship and teaching.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gundry on Christ and Scripture

Just a couple quotes from Robert H. Gundry's essay "Hermeneutic Liberty, Theological Diversity, and Historical Occasionalism in the Biblical Canon" in his book The Old is Better: New Testament Essays in Support of Traditional Interpretations (pp. 1-17).

"...the Christ of the NT insists on questioning us before answering us. Here as elsewhere in the Bible the text interprets us before we interpret it" (15).

"...it is not enough to know what the Scriptures teach; we also need to discern what is appropriate and inappropriate to be said from them in any given situation" (16).

Monday, January 21, 2013

NT Wright on Mind, Body, Spirit and the Intermediate State

The following quote is N.T. Wright's paper ‘Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All
Reflectionson Paul’s Anthropology in his Complex Contexts’ given at the Society of Christian Philosophers: Regional Meeting, Fordham University in March 2011. 

In his paper, Wright discusses the body/soul dualism as it is often addressed within philosophical circles. Coming from his understanding of Paul and other NT writings, he argues that as human beings we are made up of a unified mind, body, soul, and spirit. These aspects cannot be separated, but we are fully and wholly one. The resurrection is thus the remaking of the whole person and not just the body. This quote is part of the heart of his argument of which there is much to ponder.

"...we do not need what has been called ‘dualism’ to help us over the awkward gap between bodily death and bodily resurrection. Yes, of course, we have to postulate that God looks after those who have died in the Messiah. They are ‘with the Messiah, which is far better’. But to say this we don’t need to invoke, and the New Testament doesn’t invoke, the concept of the ’soul’, thereby offering, like the Wisdom of Solomon, a hostage to platonic, and ultimately anti-creational, fortune. What we need is what we have in scripture, even though it’s been bracketed out of discussions of the mind/body problem: the concept of a creator God, sustaining all life, including the life of those who have died. Part of death, after all, is the dissolution of the human being, the ultimate valley of humiliation, the renouncing of all possibility. Not only must death not be proud, as John Donne declared, but those who die cannot be proud, cannot hold on to any part of themselves and say ‘but this is still me’. All is given up. That is part of what death is. To insist that we ‘possess’ an ‘immortal part’ (call it ‘soul’ or whatever) which cannot be touched by death might look suspiciously like the ontological equivalent of works-righteousness in its old-fashioned sense: something we possess which enables us to establish a claim on God, in this case a claim to ‘survive’. But the God who in Jesus the Messiah has gone through death and defeated it has declared that ‘those who sleep through Jesus’ are ‘with the Messiah’, and he with them. This ‘with’ness remains an act, an activity, of sheer grace, not of divine recognition of some part of the human being which can, as it were, hold its own despite death. At and beyond death the believer is totally dependent on God’s sustaining grace, and the NT’s remarkable reticence in speculating beyond this is perhaps to be imitated. The New Testament speaks of this state as a time of ‘rest’, prior to the time of ‘reigning’ in God’s new world. ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,’ says John the Divine. Amen, says the Spirit (Revelation 14.13)."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Importance of Learning the Biblical Languages

Here's a brief video on the importance of learning the biblical languages with interviews by Peter Williams and others connected with Tyndale House Library in Cambridge.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Whereness" in George MacDonald's Lilith

George MacDonald's, Lilith is a great piece of fantasy literature, and after reading the book, it is easy to see how MacDonald inspire Tolkien and especially Lewis. Toward the beginning of the book there is a great exchange between the Raven and the protagonist. The Raven who is also a man (the Man) leads the protagonist into another world. They pass through a mirror in the attic garret of an large, old house out into "the open heath" (in classic MacDonald style).

The protagonist then asks:
"Oblige me by telling me where I am."
And the response of the raven:
"That is impossible. You know nothing about whereness. The only way to come to know where you are is to begin to make yourself at home." (George MacDonald, Lilith. Merchant Books, 1895. Reprint 2009. Page 12.)

Nothing about whereness...a striking comment and a challenge to learn about home.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review of Driver on Brevard Childs

My colleague Daniel Driver's book Brevard Childs, Biblical Theologian: For the Church's One Bible was reviewed in RBL last week. The reviewer made some great comments.

Here is the conclusion: "This is a thick book, probably not one would read for sheer enjoyment. Driver has succeeded, however, in presenting a complex process of conceptual development and growth in the mind of an outstanding scholar and thinker to the reader in the form of a story. This must be the most definitive and authoritative source on Brevard Springs Childs. As time progresses, the academic world will be better equipped  to value the contribution of Childs. It is fortunate that we have this book, which was written almost entirely when Childs was still alive."