Friday, September 12, 2014

A Book for Every Pastor's Shelf

There are many resources that I regularly recommend to my students. Among them is Craig Keener's Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament (IVP). Providing a chapter by chapter commentary of the New Testament, Craig helps readers to quickly discover what historical, cultural and religious factors may be at work in the text.

The first edition of this important resource was published in 1995. Yesterday I received a copy of the Second Edition, with many thanks to Craig for sending it to me. This is an excellent resource that should be on every pastor's shelf. And it's affordable; less than $30.00. Since the first edition lasted twenty years, your investment should last you for much of your ministry career.

Here's the blurb! Now, if you don't own already own it, click here to buy!
This revised edition of the standard reference work in its field has been expanded throughout to now provide even more up-to-date information by Craig Keener, one of the leading New Testament scholars on Jewish, Greek and Roman culture. To understand and apply the Bible well, you need two crucial sources of information. One is the Bible itself. The other is an understanding of the cultural background of the passage you're reading. Only with the background can you grasp the author's original concerns and purposes. This unique commentary provides, in verse-by-verse format, the crucial cultural background you need for responsible--and richer--Bible study. It includes a glossary of cultural terms and important historical figures, maps and charts, up-to-date bibliographies, and introductory essays about cultural background information for each book of the New Testament. Based on decades of in-depth study, this accessible and bestselling commentary is valuable for pastors in sermon preparation, for Sunday-school and other church teachers as they build lessons, for missionaries concerned not to import their own cultural biases into the Bible, for college and seminary students in classroom assignments, and for everyday Bible readers seeking to deepen and enhance their study of Scripture.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My "Aha" Moment and Those Who Don't Get It

I remember playing with fire once when I was a kid. 

Ok, I did it more than once when I was a kid.

But I remember one time when it almost got out of control. One day after the fourth of July a friend and I collected a pile of unexploded firecrackers. The fuses had burned off but the firecrackers had failed to explode. After trying a variety of methods to ignite them we decided to build a fire, throw them in and wait for the bang. When that failed to happen we decided to throw in the six or seven Bic lighters we had collected from around my friend’s house. That’s when the real pyrotechnics began.

Although the fireworks never ignited, the lighters did! Suddenly the lighters became fiery, molten plastic projectiles that were catapulted out of the fire into the surrounding woods. In a matter of moments we were confronted with a half dozen small fires that were in danger of burning out of control. The woods were too far from the house, so the garden hose wouldn't reach. We were forced to stamp out each individual fire before it spread too far. Whew!

In some ways I feel like I am in a similar situation over a blog post I wrote in June for Pete Enns.  I suppose I was playing with fire again.

The post was an attempt to explain my faith perspective as a biblical scholar who encountered the complexity of the Bible, but still maintains a strong faith in God. But instead what has happened is that some have taken a small, yet significant portion of that post, and like those molten plastic projectiles from my youth, have begun a number of small fires. Since I can’t possibly stamp them all out, I will try to communicate here what I originally said and some further thoughts about the portion that others have used to start these fires.

In the original post, I describe an “aha” moment when I realized that the Bible was different than I had understood it and that I was going to need to change if I was going to accept the Bible on its own terms. I talked about how I noticed that in Mark 2:23-27 Jesus uses, as a defense, a story about David eating the bread reserved only for the priests and giving some of it to his men. I noted how Jesus’ use of this story is at variance with what is described in 1 Samuel 21 where, in my opinion, David is clearly alone and, even more curious, Jesus mentions the wrong priest. 1 Sam 21 says that the name of the priest was Ahimelek, but Jesus says it was Abiathar.

In my post I related how I noticed the discrepancy while sitting in a Bible College class and that I pointed out to my teacher that “Jesus got it wrong” and that “Mark has the wrong priest.” I was relating what was quite a disturbing moment for young student of the Bible. I then continued on in the rest of the post to explain my understanding of Scripture and how I approach it.

While I received much positive feedback from those who could identify with my “aha” moment, there have been some that have turned my post into an argument over inerrancy (a word I never used) and have zeroed in on my story about Mark 2:23-27. And those responses have become nothing more than a game of shooting fish in a barrel.

The one response that has gone viral is from Craig Blomberg on Michael Kruger’s blog “Canon Fodder.” Let me start by stating that I am not picking a fight with him. I am honored that Blomberg responded to my post. I have followed Craig’s work for years and cut my teeth on parables using his book.

In his response Blomberg provides an alternative approach to interpreting Mark 2:23-27 based on a translation of the Greek preposition “epi” and how synagogues read through the entire Law every year (you can read the full explanation here). Blomberg is critical of me for not saying more about the passage and wonders why I didn’t give any other possible explanations (see my own explanation in the comment section below).

Blomberg’s question about why I didn’t give any other possible explanations is what bothers me about those responding to my post. They have missed the point of the series. The point was not to have an exegetical sparing match, but to talk about those moments when we were thunderstruck. But more importantly, at least for me, it was to talk about where I am at today.

Certainly I could have talked about other interpretations of Mark 2:26, but the purpose of the post was to talk about my personal faith as a bible scholar who wrestles with the Bible. Indeed, the majority of the post was about why I still believe in spite of some of the difficulties I have encountered.

More importantly, for me, to talk about the nature of scripture involves more than whether or not it contains “error.”  My comments about the story in Mark 2 don’t represent the sum of my approach to scripture. It’s that moment when I began to realize I would need to change how I read and interpret it. I hope that those he read our “aha” moment posts don’t conclude that an anecdote is the sum total of all we think about scripture.

But let’s take a moment and address the “real” issue everyone seems to find with my “aha” moment. It’s that I suggested that Jesus got the name of the priest wrong. Those who take issue with my statement seem to imply that I am suggesting that Jesus was therefore a fallible human being. Perhaps they equate making a mistake with sin. I am not sure, but I suspect that is the case.

It’s these kinds of assumptions that I think go right the heart of our understanding Jesus’ humanity. What does it mean to say that Jesus, was human? That he was God incarnate in human flesh? Does this mean that Jesus never got confused and called one of the disciples by a different name? Or that he forgot where he laid something? Did Jesus ever get so tired from travelling and teaching that miscommunicated something? Did he ever make a mistake when measuring a stone or a board? Did he ever hit his thumb with a hammer?

I am not sure, but I suspect that for some the idea of Jesus making a mistake like those named above equates him with sinful humanity. Again, I am not sure, but I think that is what they are thinking. I do not, however, understand Jesus to be someone who, as a human, was incapable of making mistakes. Making a mistake doesn’t make him sinful, it makes him human.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if Jesus “got it wrong” or not. I wasn’t there and my only access to the story is through what Mark tells me. My statement to my Bible College teacher was the realization of a young man who saw something new and, at the time, quite shocking.

But I do think that the way the story is related in Mark 2 is at variance with what is presented in 1 Samuel 21. And that is where the major difference lies between me and some others. I am able to accept a Bible that doesn’t act the way I wish it did. I can accept a Bible that doesn’t always lineup with history or even itself. And when I encounter a difficulty like Mark 2:26 my impulse is not to conclude that it’s wrong. But I also don’t feel the need to explain it to fit my modern understanding of history. Sometimes I find a very reasonable explanation and other times I realize there isn’t one. At least not one that “fixes” the Bible to fit into the paradigm I have constructed.

 At the end of the day, I still consider the Bible the word of God. And it’s the mystery and the paradox of the Bible that consistently draws me into it rather than drives me away.

I realize that there will be some who won’t accept this explanation. And a short blog post could become another fiery projectile in the blogosphere. But for those who are responding to the “aha” moments on Pete Enns’ blog I would ask that they consider the purpose of the posts rather than using them as a chance to shoot fish in the inerrancy barrel. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's your opinion of the Bible's historical accuracy?

What people think about the Bible varies.

Some would say that it contains accurate history. Others disagree and suggest that while it contains history, it shouldn't all be taken literally. And then some think nothing in the Bible is historically accurate.

A recent Gallup poll of more than a thousand American adults offered three different attitudes toward the Bible’s historical accuracy, as follows; after the question we give the percentage of people who agreed with the particular viewpoint (totaling 96 percent; 4 percent had no opinion):

What is your opinion? Biblical Archaeology Review is running on an online poll you can participate in.  Click here to cast your vote

Do take the poll, but perhaps leave a comment below whether you fit in category 1, 2, or 3.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ISIS and the Christians: Be Cautious

Over the weekend I saw a number of posts on Facebook which claimed that Christian children in Iraq are being beheaded by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I even saw one post claim that children were being buried alive. The potential evil and tragedy of the situation attracted my attention and made me wonder to what further level is humanity able to still sink.

But I also know that in our digital age nothing spreads rumors and misinformation quicker than the internet and especially social media. So I scoured the various news sites. I performed Google searches and I looked for some acknowledgement of the tragedy when President Obama announced the US would be dropping aid to the Yazidis religious minority in Iraq.

But I found no information about Christian children being beheaded. Consequently, I watched with the hope that it was not true.

And it seems now that my instincts may have been correct. I read a report on the Gospel Coalition which investigated the claims and has determined the following:

While it is possible that children are being beheaded by ISIS in Iraq, there is currently no credible evidence to support that claim. We should pray this report turn out to be just rumor and that whatever other crimes are being committed, that God is sparing the children of Iraq from “systematic beheading.”
As Christians, we have a duty to champion the truth. We should avoid spreading unsubstantiated claims and inflaming dread and panic by playing on people’s natural disgust of harm to children. ISIS is an organization that has committed heinous acts of violence and violated the human rights of many of our fellow believers. But we must not partake in the spreading of lies, even if it is against our enemies.

You can read the whole article here.

The situation in Iraq is terrible. But we should also be careful that we don’t do anything that might inflame it. All of the people of Iraq should be in our thoughts and prayers. But we can best help them by spreading truthful information about the situation rather than unsubstantiated reports.

It’s easy to believe things about evil people, those we might consider to be our enemies. But we must also remember not to treat our enemies in such a way that make them out to be guilty of more evil than they already are. It becomes very hard to love and redeem one’s enemies when we are actively spreading misinformation about them that makes them look worse than they already are.

I close with a quote from C.S. Lewis that was on the Gospel Coalition site. I think it applies to situations like this one.

"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred." - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hoard of Coins from Jewish Rebellion Discovered in Jerusalem.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week Jews around the world commemorated the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE. This holiday is known as Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av), which is the day on the Jewish calendar the traditionally marks the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s temple.

Also this week, an announcement was made that a stash of ancient coins dating from the rebellion that led up to the temple's destruction, was discovered in Jerusalem.

This is an unusual find in some way. Here's a bit of what the archaeologists have to say. 

The coins are all of identical size and age, and possibly from the same mint. Their value has yet to be determined, but they are likely quarter or one-eighth shekel bits, Betzer said. They are all marked with the words “For the redemption of Zion” and “Year four,” indicating they were made during the fourth year of the revolt against the Roman Empire, or between spring 69 and spring 70 CE. They are decorated with the Biblical four species — palm, myrtle, citron and willow — and a vessel that may symbolize those used in the temple. The coins are still encrusted in nearly 2,000-year-old dirt and oxidation, and await cleaning and study by IAA specialists.
 “What this teaches this is that the person who held onto this trove received it all in one batch,” he said while exhibiting the brilliant greenish coins at the IAA’s Har Hotzvim laboratories in Jerusalem. “He received them from the rebel leadership; he may have been part of the rebel leadership.” Perhaps, he speculated, they were funds destined for the purchase of arms or provisions for the Jewish fighters against the Roman legions.“These coins were minted a few months before the destruction of the temple [in Jerusalem],” he said. “It was one of the last efforts by the rebels to prevail.” Ultimately, however, they failed, and on the Ninth of Av, 70 CE, the Romans crushed the rebellion by destroying the temple in Jerusalem and slaughtering the city’s inhabitants. 

You can read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Introducing the Forever Bible: Because everyone needs a Bible that floats!

There's an old saying among church ladies that goes something like this "A Bible that is falling apart belongs to someone who is not." The saying, apparently a quote from Charles Spurgeon, is used as a way to suggest that if one reads the Bible your life will be perfect. But I suspect there are many daily Bible readers who might testify to the opposite.

Nonetheless, a "falling apart Bible" is a problem. I once had a Bible for only a year before the leather binding began separating. And my Greek New Testament, which I have used regularly for twenty years, has been been glued together several times. So it is true that if you use/read your Bible it will eventually begin to show wear. And at some point you will either buy a new one or decide to tape it back together and hold on to it like an old, dear friend.

But now one enterprising company has a solution for our "falling apart Bibles." Forever publishing has announced an indestructible Bible. Here is what they have to say:
“Using Space Age nanotechnology, we are able to print the Bible on an advanced paper that doesn't use any trees, is 24X stronger than regular paper, and is completely waterproof, dirt-proof, tear-proof, and otherwise life-proof,” the company boasts. “The Forever Bible even floats in water, while keeping your notes and highlighted passages pristine.”

I'm not sure that the world really needs such a Bible and must admit that this really does antagonize the recovering cynic in me. However, watch the below video clip and let me know what you think. Perhaps I am off base and you will be ordering one of these for Christmas.

You will be forgiven if you have flashbacks of old Ronco commercials as you watch the below video. If you can't watch it all the way to end then I highly recommend that you go to minute 3:57 in the video where a gentleman compares the forever Bible to Jesus.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Solomon's Temple Rebuilt! In Brazil with a Helipad?

Usually one would expect such a headline to announce that a replica of Solomon's temple had been built somewhere in the United States. 

This is the kind of thing that normally happens in the Mecca of cheap entertainment; A place like Las Vegas or Orlando's Holy Land Experience.

But this is in Brazil, host of the recent World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. So on the one hand, I was relieved that the USA must have reached it's quota of bizarre religious sites for the year and allowed another country to have the spot light for a while.

But as I read the article about the temple I was surprised by the details, including the installment of a helipad. Here's part of the article

A vast replica of Solomon's Temple opened this week in Sao Paulo, with the capacity to seat 10,000 followers of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
The temple, which engulfs an entire city block and cost about £176 million to build, has polarised opinion, particularly among the Jewish community from which it borrows much of its most eye-catching symbolism.
The temple was built using stone from Israel and contains a number of conspicuous menorahs and an altar imitating the Ark of the Covenant.
Bishop Edir Macedo, who founded the Universal Church 35 years ago and masterminded the new temple, has a flowing beard and wears a yarmulke. A helicopter landing pad on the 11-storey complex will allow Mr Macedo to drop in for sermons.
Alongside the temple is a garden of olive trees similar to the garden of Gethsemane, and the flag of Israel flies nearby, next to those of the Universal Church, Brazil and the United States, among dozens of other countries.

I suppose having stone from Israel helps to make the temple "feel" more authentic. I'm not so sure about the helipad, however. At first I thought this was part of some type of rapture practice. Perhaps people hang-on and experience what it's like to be taken up. But then I see it's so that the pastor can drop-by for a sermon. Wow, not even Jesus had a helicopter! I mean, he had to walk everywhere when he wanted to give a sermon. Imagine the all of the places he could have preached the Sermon on the Mount if he only had a helicopter? And don't get me started about Paul's missionary journeys! 

Well, if there is a silver-lining to the story it's that this is one of the few times people can't shake their heads and say "only in America."