Friday, August 27, 2010

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

This may seem like an odd question to those who are grounded in the weekly experience of worship. But for New Testament scholars it is an important one. When and how soon did the early followers of Jesus begin to worship him? The question is particularly pertinent when considered within the context of the New Testament era. Christianity began, by and large, as a Jewish movement . The Jewish people were tenacious in their adherence to monotheism, as evidenced by their recital of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 at least twice a day. So the embrace of Jesus as "God," as a being deserving of "worship" would not have been an easy leap for many. There was no trinitarian concept and the major theological debates of the first-century were working themselves out over the years. Thus it is not clear how soon early followers of Jesus fully developed their understanding of the person of Jesus as divine.

New Testament scholars have spilled a lot of ink on this topic. Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham and J.D.G. Dunn are just some of the voices that have weighed-in. While Hurtado and Bauckham tend to argue that Jesus was an object of worship early on in church history, Dunn is more tentative often arguing for what is sometimes called an "early low Christology" in the New Testament. Recently, Dunn has made another contribution: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus, which was released in the USA in July by Westminster John Knox Press. Dunn looks at the evidence and presents his own conclusions while in conversation with the works of Hurtado, Bauckham and others.

I have not yet had a chance to read the book, but Larry Hurtado has just posted his review of the book published in the Journal of Theological Studies. Hurtado provides an overview of each chapter with some critical interaction. I plan to order my copy from Amazon today.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The American Patriot Bible Tops Amazon Lists. Is this a good thing?

Am I the only one who find this disturbing? I know that the American Patriot Bible (APB) is not new. I followed the controversy last year when it was first published. But the news today that it reached the top 100 slot in Amazon's book list and #1 in the Bibles and Sacred Texts list reminded me of it.

I had opportunity to look at the APB once in a bookstore. Its hard to describe how it made me feel. I am Christian and a biblical scholar so the Bible is important to me. I am also an American who is not only thankful for my country but proud of it. But combining the two between a book cover does not sit well with me.

I can't remember what all I saw as I flipped through the APB. But one image in the APB that has stayed with me is that of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, which the editors placed at the opening to the four Gospels. What does Iwo Jima have to do with Jesus? I am not sure how to even connect the two.

I realize that the Bible has had a lot of influence in American history. Our founding documents, some of our laws, the cornerstones of our government buildings, and the speeches given by our leaders have often reflected the Bible's influence on our society. Some of it, however, has also been very negative. A couple years back I wrote a chapter on how the Bible was used to keep African-Americans enslaved in this country. I can't remember if this part of the Bible's influence in American history was represented in the APB, but I doubt it.

I suppose my biggest objection is that the APB takes the final step towards "Americanizing" the Bible. Too often Americans read the Bible with little to any concept that it was NOT written with us in mind. We read the Bible as if the writers or even God was speaking about or to America (I realize that last sentence will open the proverbial can of worms). I do think that the Bible can speak to modern people all over the world, not just Americans. But we cannot (or at lest should not) read it in such a way that we exclude other peoples, that is, the rest of God's creation.

Americans have been interpreting their own history into the Bible for centuries. Some of the earliest New England settlers were quite good at it. But my fear is that once we have completely Americanized the Bible we neuter its ability to speak to us prophetically. I don't mean that it will tell us the future. Rather, if we really do value the Bible as we say, then Americanizing makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to use it be critical of ourselves. In the end the Bible will no longer be "God's word to us" but "God's word about us."

I am interested to hear what others have to say. Am I off base here? Am I missing something?

The Life of Women in Ancient Bethsaida

We have looked at the issue of women and the Bible quite a bit the last few weeks. Yesterday I finished a series on women in the life of Paul and we have discussed gender inclusive language in Bible translations.

With all of this in mind, Elizabeth McNamara's essay "Digging up Women" fits quite nicely into our mix. MacNamara has been digging at the ancient site of Bethsaida for 17 years. In this short essay she describes the material culture that they uncovered and what it tells us about life for a woman in a biblical times. Its an informative read!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

National Geographic recently aired a program Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls. The program was hosted by archaeologist and fellow blogger Robert Cargill. I missed the show but thankfully David Stark over at New Testament Interpretation posted them today. So here is the show in five parts. I am curious what Cargill has to say. There has been a lot of debate over whether or not the scrolls authors were Essenes and whether the scrolls were written at Qumran or elsewhere.

Women in the Life of the Apostle Paul: 3

Last week we met the married couple Prica and Aquila who ministered together as husband and wife.

This week we meet another husband and wife team this time named Andronicus and Junia (16:7). This couple was apparently related to Paul and had either been in prison with him or at least shared the same distinction of having been imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Paul also declares that they had been converted to Christ before he was.

Of particular interest to us is that Paul describes them as “prominent among the apostles.” This short phrase has led to quite a debate. Some, assuming that a woman could not be an apostle, have suggested that this is not a husband and wife team but two brothers and that Junia should be read as Junias. This is difficult to sustain, however, because there is no evidence for this name ever being given to a male (it is consistently a woman’s name) and the earliest evidence from church history demonstrates that these two people were understood to be husband and wife, not brothers. While these two were certainly not apostles in the same way as the twelve, they are called apostles and probably fit into the group Paul describes in 1 Cor 15:7 of those who saw the risen Christ. Thus, it is significant that Paul, a person who struggled to get some to recognize his own claim to being an apostle, would recognize that among the “foundation apostles” was a woman and a wife.

The rest of the greeting list contains a number of men and women. At first glance the list does not seem to lend itself to anything significant. But I would like to point out some interesting aspects of this passage as I continue to unpack it.

There are four women here that Paul describes in a similar manner. In 16:6 we meet Mary and in 16:12 we meet Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis. Each of these women is singled out by Paul by the way he describes them. Mary is said to have “worked very hard among you.” Tryphaena and Tryphosa are probably two sisters who have “worked in the Lord.” And finally the “beloved Persis” is said to have “worked very hard in the Lord.” Unlike Phoebe, none of these women are given a title that describes some type of leadership function. But the language of “labor” or “working” that Paul uses here is significant. It is the same language that he uses to describe his own ministry and when he wants to give special commendation to other ministers (1 Cor 16:16; 1 Thess 5:12). It suggests voluntary labor taken at one’s own initiative. It implies sensitivity to the needs of the church with a willingness and energy to meet the needs of the people. Paul’s brief, but incisive description of these women demonstrates that women played a very significant role in the emerging church. Indeed, Persis’ work was so well-known that Paul was able to refer to her by her nickname, “Persis the beloved.”

The last woman of interest to us here is found in 16:13. Paul sends greetings to Rufus’ mother. Paul notes that this unnamed woman had been a mother to him as well. This seems to be a relationship of a surrogate mother to Paul. The fact that Paul himself has not yet visited Rome clues us in that he had met her and experienced her mothering care elsewhere. Thus, she seems to have been, like Phoebe, one who traveled and therefore was unusual in that respect to her gender. What exactly she provided for Paul is unclear, but they apparently had a very special relationship.

All in all this last group of women demonstrates that women played a prominent role in the ministry of the early church. One was even known as an apostle, and an important one at that. In fact, in this list Paul sends greetings to 25 people. 17 are men and eight are women. But only 5 out of the 17 men are listed in a way that describes a specific contribution to the church while 7 out of the 8 woman are highlighted according to their contribution to the ministry, and Prisca who is listed before her husband.

These statistics indicate that women have a rich heritage of contribution to ministry in the church. It includes a deacon that carries the letter to the Romans, a lady who was an apostle and a group of others whose service was well known to the church. It also means that women have a great responsibility to uphold this tradition.

I would encourage my female readers to be like these women of old and undertake to work for the Lord and church at your own initiative. Develop sensitivity to the needs of the church and a willingness and energy to meet the needs of the people. Men we need to acknowledge that women had a much larger role in the early church then we sometimes realize. Although there are no Gospels or Epistles named after a woman, it is clear, lurking beneath the text, that women played an important role in promoting the gospel. Example like the above need to be considered when we think about other verses in the New Testament that seem to restrict the role of women. And even if those verses do clearly restrict women, we need to ask how they compare with the kind of information we have in Romans 16 and other places. I think the early church struggled with this just as we do. We need to work hard to interpret passages within the wider witness of scripture.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Bible Horse Whisperer?

I found this on Google News.

Horse whisperer Ted Nowland will be at the 89th annual Crawford County Fair to break a horse using principles found in the New Testament.

Nowland, from Beggs, Okla., will not see the animal before the demonstration begins. He usually starts by reading scripture, letting the horse come to him, and then watching for signs, such as an audible sigh and a cocked back leg, to know he’s on the right track.

I am really curious what New Testament principles he will use to break this horse. The article is tantalizingly lacking in details.

Who is the Beloved Disciple in John's Gospel?

This is a question that I address every time I teach a class on Gospels. Many have assumed that he is John the brother of James. But the fact is, the Gospel never tells us who he is. He is anonymous. A lot of ink has been spilled over this topic. Some think that the Beloved Disciple was a real person while others argue that he is a literary device.

Mark Goodacre has posted a 12 minute podcast giving an overview of the question. While Goodacre does not contend that John wrote the Gospel, he does suggest that the author of John crafted the Gospel so that readers will identify the Beloved Disciple with John the son of Zebedee.

Goodacre teaches New Testament at Duke University. If you are not familiar with his NT Podcasts, I highly recommend them. I have used many of them as part of my online Gospels class. They can be used quite easily in a number of different settings. They are usually no longer than 10 minutes and provide a competent overview of the topic.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wiki Scholarship

Among the joys and trials of being a biblical scholar is the expectation that I will produce. Paper that is. The requirements associated with tenure and gaining recognition in the field means that you will publish. And not just anywhere. It is often the expectation that a certain percentage of your work will be peer reviewed. This means that you send an article to a journal which then sends out blind copies to two or three "anonymous" readers who give you thumbs up or down (I use quotes for "anonymous" because more then once I was able to figure out who the reader was by reading their comments on my work).

In general, it is a good practice that makes sure that only the best and tested articles are published. But it is not infallible. Most people know or have heard of someone whose work was rejected based more on politics than the quality of their scholarship.

An article in the New York Times today reports about a different approach. Rather than follow the above approach, any paper submitted to the journal is automatically put online for everyone to see. The article is then commented on by a core group of readers who leave signed comments. The author is given a chance to respond and in one instance there was 350 comments generated by 41 people. The author then revised the article which was given the final approval/disapproval by the editors.

This strikes me as an innovative way of doing scholarship that allows room for scholars to learn from one another. I like it because it retains the basic controls that help to ensure that only the best work is published. But it also gives scholars the chance to interact and improve their work. It creates a real community of learning rather than perpetuating the narrow exclusivity that sometimes is a hallmark of many a discipline.

On the other hand, this is a real act of throwing yourself to the lions. I remember the first time I gave a paper at a conference and the fear I had as I watched some of the older lions watching my every step. Having a paper posted for public evaluation could prove to be either very helpful or very embarrassing. Yet, having to sign your name as a reader might help to bring more honesty and less politics to the process.

The world is changing quickly and scholarship has to find a way to maintain the rigor of peer review while allowing technology to change the way we disseminate our discoveries. Anybody with an internet connection can post their ideas or opinions with sometimes frightening results. Scholarship has the responsibility to of making sure that quality information is available to the guild and wider public. I hope a biblical studies journal will incorporate such an approach in the near future.

Jesus - the "Human One"?

Last Friday I posted on the gender inclusive language of Genesis 2 in the soon to be released Common English Bible. I noted that while I support the use of gender inclusive language in Bible translations, I wonder if we can take it too far. I am hesitant about the choice to translate the Hebrew term “Adam” as “human” when the Hebrew pronouns clearly indicate that we are talking about a male here and there is not yet a female option available in the creation story. I think the translation of “Adam” as “humanity” in Gen 1:26 works well, but not in Genesis 2.

This week I want to examine how the phrase “son of man” is translated in the CEB New Testament. But first a couple of disclaimers.

First, I am a contributing translator to CEB and applaud it. Any criticism or critique I offer is not intended to disparage the efforts of anyone working with CEB. I am simply raising questions about translation strategy.

Second, this post is not about the son of man. That is a topic that has consumed the energy of scholars for well over a century. My purpose here is not to weigh in on or arbitrate between any particular hypotheses. I simply want to consider how the CEB translates the phrase and ask whether this is helpful.

In an over generalization of the topic we can say a few things about the phrase.

Few New Testament scholars doubt that Jesus used this phrase to describe himself. In fact, there is not one instance in any of the four Gospels where Jesus is called “son of man” by someone else. It always appears on the lips of Jesus.

Quite often this phrase is Jesus’ way of saying “a man/person like me.” It was an Aramaic idiom for referring to one’s self. (eg. Mark 2:10).

The phrase could sometimes refer to a heavenly type being. This is based on an interpretation of Daniel 7:13 that developed in Second Temple period Judaism and is found such literature as 1 Enoch 46.1-3 and 4 Ezra 13.1-3.

At times in the Gospels, the phrase “son of man” reflects this Second Temple interpretation of Daniel 7:13. One of example is the apocalyptic statements of Jesus in Marks 13:24-27 (cf. 16:62).

With this broad overview we can see that there are (at least) two different ways to interpret the phrase: (1) Jesus as the “human” son of man (2) Jesus as “the heavenly” son of man. Careful consideration of the problem would suggest that we not elevate one over the other. Context will sometimes help us to determine which is correct, while at other times we might need to hold them together in tension.

This is what the CEB does with the phrase. They translate the “Son of Man” as the “Human One”. Thus Mark 13:24-27 now reads:

“In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the ends of the earth to the end of heaven.

Perhaps I am too conditioned by years of hearing “Son of Man” that the “Human One” has the same effect on me as nails on a chalkboard. I wrote to the editors and they directed me to a blog post where they explain the reason for this translation. Much of their choice was driven by the confusion of many readers over what the phrase means. Many think that to call Jesus the “Son of Man” is the same as calling him divine (i.e. “Son of God).

Here is what the editors have to say:

We tested this translation with hundreds of readers. Several found the change jarring. One leader responded, "For me, at an emotional level it feels contrived. Unlike onomatopoeia it feels empty and sterile; it is not a phrase that draws me into wanting to discover or explore or experience the meaning (and Person) that it represents. At a cognitive level it seems to cut off any sense of divinity to Jesus. I realize the Christology of Jesus is a challenging idea, but to call him the Human One seems to deny the possibility that he is the Son of God and God the Son."

The response of this reader mirrors what we heard in reading groups. We asked, "What do you think "son of man" means for Jesus? Many responded that "Jesus is divine." This confusion is similar to stating, "At a cognitive level [Human One] seems to cut off any sense of divinity to Jesus." The feedback is very clear evidence that many English speaking Christians confuse the meaning of two literal titles that are applied to their knowledge of Jesus: "son of man" is confused with the meaning of "son of God." Indeed, at a cognitive level many of us have a view of Jesus that is so transcendent that the incarnation is temporary, perhaps only while Jesus was a baby. In reading Matthew we see that the phrase "Son of God" or rather "God's Son" (as a title) is used frequently in the CEB translation. The CEB also refers to God as Father, accurately. So we have no agenda in the New Testament translation to deny the fully human and fully divine nature of Jesus, then and now. There is a preference in the CEB for clear English. Human One will become less of a surprise over time, but admittedly it is surprising to encounter it the first time if you memorized the KJV version. The act of reading a new translation makes you think about assumptions.

I understand the choice. Part of my job in every class I teach is to undo misunderstanding that has been passed on from generation to generation. But I am not sure that translating “Son of Man” as “the Human One” solves the problem.

If the goal of the CEB is make the Bible more readable and accessible I wonder we they did not simply translate the Aramaic idiom away. What I mean is, when Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man,” translate it as “I” or “me”. Thus Mark 2:10 would read “But so you will know that ‘I’ have authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then, when the term appears in a technical sense related to the interpretation of Daniel 7:13, the phrase could retain its Second Temple interpretation of a divine being and translate it “Son of Man.”

What do you think? Is this a helpful translation? How would you translate it?