Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The 2011 version of the NIV has been out for barely two months, but it is making big gains.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Earlier this month I posted a piece on why I did not think Christians need to defend Christmas. Today, Allan Bevere, My colleague at Ashland Seminary, has a post recounting about the days when attacks on Christmas came not from the secular but the religious. Here is some of what he has to say.
"Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism," according to "Shocked by the Bible" (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008). "Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681."All Christmas activities, including dancing, seasonal plays, games, singing carols, cheerful celebration - and especially drinking - were banned by the Puritan-dominated Parliament of England in 1644, with the Puritans of New England following suit. Christmas was outlawed in Boston, and the Plymouth colony made celebrating Christmas a criminal offense, according to "Once Upon a Gospel" (Twenty-Third Publications, 2008).Christmas trees and decorations were considered to be unholy pagan rituals, and the Puritans also banned traditional Christmas foods such as mince pies and pudding. Puritan laws required that stores and businesses remain open all day on Christmas, and town criers walked through the streets on Christmas Eve calling out "No Christmas, no Christmas!"
In short, both Jewish and Christian traditions treat him as Herod the Terrible. The historian, however, is fully aware, despite Herod's grave shortcomings, of his unparalleled political and cultural accomplishments. In particular, his long friendship with Augustus was highly beneficial to the inhabitants of Judea and the Jewish religion. Moreover, while Herod enjoyed the enviable status of a "client king, friend of the Roman people", none of his descendants, if the short reign of Agrippa I (41-44 CE) is discarded, was sufficiently esteemed by Augustus and his successors to receive the title "king of the Jews". All in all, in view of these unquestionable achievements Herod deserves to be known as the one and only Herod the Great.
Monday, December 27, 2010
I've mentioned before that Ashland Theological Seminary will be hosting a series of events celebrating the King James Bible. We will also have a museum with over 40 different items on display. We will be exhibiting such items as a fragment of the Dead
Sea Scrolls (200 BCE), Greek Exodus fragments (300 CE), a Torah Scroll (1492) and a number of Bibles some over 500 years old.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Friday, December 24, 2010
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
- 18Here is wisdom: Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.
Commentary: Of all the verses in Revelation, Rev. 13:18 has easily received the most attention. There have been many interpretations regarding the number 666. It may simply signify incompleteness and chaos by virtue of the fact it falls short of the perfect 777.
However, gematria, the ancient practice of assigning letters numerical value, was common in John’s day. Going the other way (numbers to letters) involves a little more guess work after 2000 years. Having said this, the Greek to Hebrew to number translation of Nero can produce 666. Also, the word Beast itself also produces 666. It seems John is showing as explicitly as he is able that 666 is the Beast is Nero is 666, etc. Nero is also a likely candidate due to his rampant persecution of christians. Furthermore, he would have been extremely well known to John's audience, so that even after concealing his identity in the number, the beast would have clearly stood as a symbol of Nero.
Additionally significant is the fact that 666 is the eighth sequential doubly triangular number; that is, it is the eighth number which is the sum of successive numbers beginning with 1 whose last number in the series (in this case 36) is also triangular. Some have argued that this could be the meaning of the symbolism of the beast having seven head, with Nero being the eighth and the beast himself. This may be pushing the symbolism too far.
There is actually some contention that the number is not, in fact, 666, but is instead 616. This can be found in some early manuscripts of the book. These are certainly in the minority, although they are not totally without merit. This comes from using the Latin form of Nero's name, translating it to hebrew, and then assigning a number value to the letters. This is the same process discussed above which translates the letters of Nero's name to 666.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.
Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. Christian authors of the time do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth: The church father Ambrose (c. 339–397), for example, described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.
It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea. They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly.
More recent studies have shown that many of the holiday’s modern trappings do reflect pagan customs borrowed much later, as Christianity expanded into northern and western Europe. The Christmas tree, for example, has been linked with late medieval druidic practices. This has only encouraged modern audiences to assume that the date, too, must be pagan.
There are problems with this popular theory, however, as many scholars recognize. Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavily from pagan traditions of such an obvious character.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
- An opening prayer
- A reading from Ephesians
- The lesson for the section
- A set of discussion questions
- An exercise to help reinforce the lesson and the experience
- A historical/theological reflection
- A closing prayer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
A British researcher has published a startling new theory that the remains of untold ancient settlements from a 100,000-year stretch of human history were submerged by the rapidly rising waters of the Persian Gulf around 6,000 BC — the result, in all likelihood, of a catastrophic, planetwide flood triggered in Canada.
There's a consensus among scientists that the collapse of a kilometres-high glacial dam at the end of the last ice age caused a massive outflow of meltwater into the Arctic or North Atlantic Ocean near Hudson Bay, generating a sharp rise in sea levels around the world and profoundly altering the Earth's climate.
Some scientists have even speculated that ancient myths about great floods — culminating in the biblical story of Noah's Ark — were inspired by the worldwide deluge.
But the new theory, advanced in the latest issue of the journal Current Anthropology by University of Birmingham archeologist Jeffrey Rose, offers the clearest picture yet of what may have been lost at the Middle East nexus of human civilization when Canada's super-sized Lake Agassiz — a remnant of which is today's Lake Winnipeg — suddenly burst its banks 8,000 years ago.
The resulting rise of the Indian Ocean flooded a Great Britain-sized expanse of the Arabian Peninsula that had previously been above water and was almost certainly inhabited by ancient peoples for as long as 100 millennia, Rose stated.
The rising water created the present-day Persian Gulf and drowned shorelines around the peninsula, along the northeast coast of Africa and elsewhere around the world.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
An intact, sealed, jar has been discovered at Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves.
A multinational team of scientists have been analyzing the jar and their findings are set to be published in the journal Archaeometry. If you have a subscription (or access to a library with one) you can already see the article on the publication’s website.
“The finding of an intact and sealed storage jar is an extremely rare event,” the researchers write. The discovery “provides a unique possibility to analyse its last contents.”
Altogether nine scientists are credited in the paper. Kaare Lund Rasmussen, of the University of Southern Denmark, is listed at the lead author.
The jar itself was excavated in 2004. It was found about 50 meters south of Qumran in an uninhabited area that may have been used for agriculture. Animal bones and pottery shards were unearthed nearby. The group that found it was led by Randall Price of Liberty University and Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Pictures of the jar are published in the journal article. The rights to them appear to be held by the excavation group and a request to have them republished on this website was not granted as of press time.
“The intact jar, named Jar-35, was sealed with an overturned bowl fastened as a lid,” Rasmussen’s team writes. “When the lid was lifted and a camera lowered into the interior, a deposit up to 3 cm thick was discovered lining the bottom and the sides.”
The fact that Randall Price is involved makes me suspect it is all hype.
Friday, December 10, 2010
First, the New Testament places the central emphasis on the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Every book of the New Testament refers to Christ's resurrection. One of the central christological claims of the early Christians was "He is risen!" not "He is born!" Of the four Gospels, two-- Matthew and Luke-- have birth narratives, and in Galatians Paul only briefly mentions that Jesus was "born of woman" (4:4). I am certainly not suggesting that the birth of Jesus is unimportant. I am simply pointing out that it does have the central emphasis given to it in the way the New Testament writers focus on Jesus' cross and resurrection.
Second, incarnation is exceedingly significant, but it's significance is highlighted by Jesus' death and resurrection. Without Easter, incarnation makes no sense. Indeed, I submit that without resurrection, the claim of incarnation is irrelevant at best and more likely absurd in its worst form. The classic text on incarnation-- Philippians 2:5-11-- places cross and resurrection as the focal point and climax of incarnation. It is true that Paul mentions the Son being born in human likeness, but the "emptying" of Christ finds its importance in his humbling on the cross and the exaltation of resurrection.
Third, the church did not begin celebrating the birth of Christ until the fourth century A.D., some three hundred years after Jesus, and it took an additional 400 years after that for the feast day to be commonly observed in Europe. Easter, on the other hand, was already being celebrated as a specific annual feast day by the middle of the second century A.D. We also know that very early the Christians were gathering to worship on Sunday, The Lord's Day, not because it was the Sabbath (in Judaism the Sabbath is on Saturday), but because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is apparent, then, that the earliest Christians viewed the centrality of Jesus' resurrection in a way that they did not also understand his birth.
Revolutionary new media company DV8 Media has released "The Life Of Jesus", an epic, comprehensive mobile phone application dedicated to the life of the Christian savior. Containing cutting edge original video and audio productions, engaging interactive games, Christian-themed communication tools, and the full text of the New Testament, searchable and book-markable, The Life Of Jesus is designed to bring a new generation of Christians and the Christian community together to reinforce Jesus' philosophy in a hip, sleek and technologically advanced production.
DV8 will enable always-on access to the tech-savvy spiritually minded.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I have gone back in forth in my mind about this topic over the years. But the recent debut of billboard wars between atheists and Christians leads me to say something about this.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Complain all you like about your own nutty family. You have nothing on the Ptolemies, the dynasty that produced Cleopatra VII, the last queen of Egypt. That clan made a habit of stabbing, poisoning, and dismembering each other. Mothers sent troops against daughters. Fathers hacked sons to pieces. It was rare to find one who didn’t liquidate a relative or two, Cleopatra included. Which makes it all the more improbable that the woman who has come down to us as seductress and sex symbol in fact made an artful career of motherhood—and of single motherhood at that.
When Cleopatra was 21 she met Julius Caesar, twice her age and the master of the Roman world. Just over nine months later she gave birth to his son. There were a few awkwardnesses. For a start, each of the new parents was married to someone else. Caesar’s wife was in Rome, and Cleopatra was at the time nominally joined in marriage to her 13-year-old brother.
Nothing better suited her political program than the birth of Caesarion, or “little Caesar.” Like the queens who preceded her, Cleopatra associated herself with Isis, the goddess of marriage, love affairs, pregnancies. Caesarion did more than assure her fertile, family-friendly credentials: With him on her lap, Cleopatra could rule as king. Her subjects were willing to submit to a female pharaoh so long as a male figured somewhere in the picture. She ordered his likeness carved on temples, at massive scale; if anything, images mattered more in a pre-literate age than they do in a televised one. Caesarion assured Egypt’s dynastic future. And with him Cleopatra cemented an alliance with Rome. In all ways, he was the ideal partner. He resembled his father. He was Roman. He was divine in both countries. And, as a 3-year-old, he was unlikely to meddle in any way with his mother’s agenda.
Several years after Caesar’s murder, Cleopatra sailed into Mark Antony’s life, in gilded barge with soaring purple sails. The most distinguished military commander of the day, Antony appeared the likeliest candidate to assume control of the Roman east. The two spent the early winter together. Afterward he married, for political reasons, in Rome. In Egypt 29-year-old Cleopatra gave birth to his twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and later presented Antony with another son. His wife, meanwhile, produced daughter after daughter.
Cleopatra paraded her children out to special effect in royal pageants; here already was the campaign-trail baby, the Palin or Pelosi brood. She also saw to it that the children were well educated, in part by a distinguished, hard-driving tutor. In his care, they devoted themselves to rhetoric, philosophy, and history, which would not be good to them. In 31 B.C., Octavian soundly defeated Antony and Cleopatra in battle. Cleopatra’s options were death or transport to Rome as a prisoner. She chose the former. Caesarion was hunted down and murdered soon thereafter. Her surviving three children sailed to Rome, to be raised by the sister of her sworn enemy, who also happened to be Antony’s ex-wife.
As a teenager, Cleopatra Selene married an African king. She continued her mother’s legacy, posing as Isis and naming her son Ptolemy. Cleopatra’s only known grandson, he would be murdered by a Roman emperor. All traces of her children dissolved on that bloody spot. Less sexually bold than strategically fertile, she had used her brood to great political advantage. The irony was, of course, that had events followed their normal dynastic course, had Rome not intervened, Cleopatra would ultimately have been deposed—exiled, poisoned, hacked to pieces—by one of those four precious children.
Also in the news this week is the question of Cleopatra's race. Over on the Oxford University Press Blog Duane Roller discusses whether Cleopatra was a black African or Macedonian Greek. He is responding to those who have suggested that the famous Egyptian queen was black. Ultimately he concludes that Cleopatra's race is insignificant and what is important is that she was a powerful queen. But he does suggest that the possibility of her being a black African is slim. It is an interesting read.
Monday, December 6, 2010
It is not exaggerating to say that evangelicalism is facing a crisis about the relationship of Jesus to Paul, and that many today are choosing sides. I meet many young, thinking evangelicals whose "first language" is Jesus and the kingdom. Yet despite the trend, perhaps in reaction to it, many look to Paul and justification by faith as their first language. Those addicted to kingdom language struggle to make Paul fit, while those addicted to Paul's theological terms struggle to make Jesus fit. I know the experience because I, too, struggled to make the Pauline message fit the kingdom vision, and that was after struggling to make Jesus fit into the Pauline message.
Evangelicals have offered two ways to resolve this dilemma—that is, to bring Paul and Jesus into a more perfect harmony. What stands out is that each approach imagines that it is articulating the gospel itself. One approach is to master Jesus' gospel, the kingdom vision, and show how Paul fits. The other approach is to master Paul's gospel, his theology of justification, and show how Jesus fits. Each approach requires some bending of corners and squeezing of sides but, with extra effort and some special explanations, each thinks it can show the unity of the messages of Jesus and Paul and that the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of justification are one and the same.
Take the Jesus approach. The kingdom of God, if one follows George Ladd's line of thinking (often called "inaugurated eschatology"), is defined as the "dynamic reign of God." It is grounded in texts like Matthew 12:28, where Jesus says that if he casts out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has (presently) come upon them. Or Mark 1:15: the time has been fulfilled, the kingdom of God has drawn near (so near that its presence is now being felt)—therefore repent and believe. It is not hard to fit "justification by faith" into the mold of the dynamic, personal, redemptive presence of God in the work of Jesus Christ. With some careful nuancing, the witness of Romans to justification and the witness of Ephesians to a cosmic redemption in Christ can be drawn into the ambit of the kingdom.
But a few problems always emerge. They have always given me an uneasy conscience about this kind of harmonizing. First, Paul doesn't talk about the kingdom enough to make me think his theology is really kingdom-shaped. His letters include fewer than 15 references to the kingdom. Fitting Paul into a kingdom mold is more by hook than it is by the book. Furthermore, Paul thinks more in terms of soteriology, justification, and ecclesiology than he does kingdom. So, if we are to be fair to Paul, we have to let Paul be Paul.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
*Update, Mark Goodacre has commented elsewhere that this translation also appears in the 2005 TNIV. I had not noticed that before. But then again I am not an NIV reader. James McGrath offers an interesting floor plan of the Bethlehem house as described by Luke. He also provides a link to a couple of articles by Kenneth Bailey entitled "The Manger and the Inn" and "The Story of Jesus' Birth". Both are worth your time.*