Saturday, May 7, 2011

Chance to Win Logos Bible Software and $1000 towards Seminary!

Logos is giving away a copy of their Scholar's Library software and$1000 for seminary. Entires are being accepted until Tuesday, May 10th. Go here for details on how you can enter.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Book Giveaway!

Yes blog fans it is another exciting day in blogdom. I am giving away yet another free book simply for the asking. In fact, I will be giving away many books for most of the rest of this year. So stayed tuned for Fridays and your chance to win.

Today’s offer is Documents and Images for the Study of Paul co-edited by Neil Elliot and Mark Reasoner (Fortress, 2011).

Here is the description –

Documents and Images for the Study of Paul gathers representative texts illustrating Jewish practices, Greco-Roman moral exhortation, biblical interpretation, Roman ideology, apocalyptic vision, epistolary conventions, and more to illustrate the complex cultural environment in which Paul carried out his apostolic work and the manifold ways in which his legacy was reshaped in early Christianity. Brief, insightful introductions orient the reader to the significance of these sources for contemporary interpretations of Paul's life and thought. Photographs illustrate the visual environment of the Greco-Roman world; a map, a timeline, and an index of scripture passages make the sourcebook the perfect companion text in courses on Paul and his letters. A companion website offers ancillary materials.

So please enter your name below and I will announce the winner sometime on Sunday, May 8th.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

J. R. Daniel Kirk: Theological Interpretation of the Bible

There has been, in some corners of biblical studies, a strong reaction to the theological interpretation of scripture. Rather than read the Bible as a theological book, some would rather read it only as a history of Judaism and Christianity and nothing more. There is a resistance to interpreting the Bible in ways that can be applied to our modern setting.

I remember one review of my first book in which the reviewer accused me of doing "biblical theology." Some of you will know what he meant and the way he meant it. On the one hand I reacted because he was accusing me of not being aware of modern methods and understandings of biblical studies. On the other hand, I found it hard to interact with him because what he was really saying was that what I had done was theological interpretation and therefore not a valid approach.

J. R. Daniel Kirk is assistant professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. Today on his blog Storied Theology, he "confesses" that he is a theological interpreter of the Bible. He does a good job at explaining why this is a valid approach and how one can be aware of and sensitive to critical issues and still do theological interpretation. At one point he has this to say:

The theology I am for is a theology that takes the Bible seriously–and that Bible as we know it is, in part, the Bible as critical scholarship has opened our eyes to it. And what it means for me to be a Christian is to continue to build theology for the church trusting that this Bible we actually have is, in fact, the Bible that God wants us to have.

It is a nice piece and I encourage you to read it. I think his description would fit my own approach in many ways.

Update on the Jesus Nails

I thought that this story would just go away after Easter, but it’s not. I guess it has yet to air, but the sooner it is on and gone the better.

Since announcing that he has located the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion, which were discovered in Caiaphas’s tomb, Simcha Jacobovici has been on the defensive from biblical scholars. I have expressed my own doubts here.

As the time approaches for his pseudo-docu-fraud to air, Jacobovici is trying to defend his claims so that the show is not a total flop. Experts are lining up to debunk him and he keeps making more and more ridiculous claims.

Haarettz has an interview with Joe Zias, the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority who says that these are NOT the nails found in Caiaphas’s tomb and that the reason no one knows where the nails are is because they are a common item found in tombs and therefore are not cataloged. But Zias does know the nails that Jacobovici is using for the television show. Zias claims that the nails come from a dig 30 years ago and that they sat in his laboratory for 15 years. Moreover, the nails, which are only eight centimeters long (about 3 inches), are too short to have affixed a man to a cross.

Jacobivici, of course, is having none of this. Here is a quote.

"If you lose your lottery ticket and you hear that I found it and won a million dollars, you will do anything to believe that the ticket was not yours," responds Jacobovici. "There is no logic in his story. On the one hand they say that this is a common find, on the other they remember it well."

"The bottom line is that they lost [the nails] and I found them," says Jacobovici.

But it is even stranger. The article also contains the following claims.

The journalist notes that finding nails in a burial cave is exceptionally rare, and even more so in ossuaries. Nails used in crucifixions also had a special spiritual significance, he says.

This is just outright nonsense. It is NOT rare to find nails in a tomb or near an ossuary since nails were often used to scratch the name of the deceased on the ossuary. Once finished with the nail, the inscriber would simply drop it on the floor. As Zias notes, it is not unusual to find nails in a tomb to the point that they are usually not cataloged. As far as the “spiritual significance” of nails used in a crucifixion, I cannot comment since I am sure that he is making it up and that any significance to such nails was created by later Christians selling “original nails from the cross” during the medieval period.

I will say this about Jacobovici, had he lived 600 years ago, he would have become very rich selling his “artifacts” to the faithful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

8 more things NOT found in the Bible

Last week’s post Urban Legends about the Bible generated a lot of attention. So I thought I would list some other things commonly thought to be in the Bible.

Three Wise Men visit Jesus

This is the easiest and probably more well-known one. We are not told how many wise men there were or their names. The number three is associated with the gifts listed: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Saint Paul was knocked off his horse on the Damascus road

Nope, it doesn’t say that. It’s not there. I regularly offer my students a $1,000 if they can show me where it says he was riding a horse. Artwork will sometimes depict Paul on a horse, but the Bible does not.

Spare the rod and spoil the child

Not there either. You can find a few verses in proverbs that encourages parents to use the rod on their children, but none that suggest sparing it will spoil the child (cf. Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15).

God helps them who help themselves.

Not only is this not in the Bible it’s bad theology. It has been around a long time, however. One of its earliest known expressions is from the Aesopian fable, Hercules and the Wagoneer where it is quoted as “The gods help those who help themselves.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Not in the Bible nor does it make sense. While the Bible (esp. Leviticus) has a lot to say about cleanliness and hygiene, it is not intended to make one closer to God but instead to indicate that the Israelites were separated from everyone else for God.

The Seven Deadly Sins

While these certainly sins that Scripture condemns, they are not found in in any such grouping. The seven sins originated in the writings of medieval theologies and have been remarked upon by such personages as Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Geoffery Chaucer, and John Milton. The closest, similar type of grouping is found in Proverbs 6:16-19. However, the “sins” are not the same and while God hates them it is not clear that they are deadly.

The Apple in the Garden of Eden

There was fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2, 3), but we do not know what kind of fruit it was. The apple grew out of Christian tradition and may have been a result of artists trying to depict The Fall. It might also have come from the Latin word for evil ("malum" = evil / "malus" = apple).

God helps those who help themselves

This very common phrase comes from Algernon Sydney, who wrote it in an article titled Discourses Concerning Government. It was then popularized by Ben Franklin in 1757 in Poor Richard's Almanac.

Moderation in all things

This idea behind this phrase originates from Aristotle's ethics and the direct quote comes from Rome, several hundred years before Christ. Two different Romans are generally given credit - one named Terence and the other Petronius.

What others can you think of?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Survey reveals many Americans don't know why the KJV is important.

I inherited a number of tools from my father. Some were given to me as a child when he would clean out his toolboxes. I would get the tools he didn't need or want, the ones that still worked, but could not be used in the professional setting in which he worked. I ended up with quite an assortment of mismatched wrenches, worn screwdrivers, and dull chisels. I still have some of them to this day and still use them. In fact, I still have the Milwaukee Sawzall that he bought to go into business in 1969. It is almost as old as me, but still works for the few times I need such a tool.

There was one tool that I had for a while and I had no idea what it was for. It was short with a hook on the end. While ignorant of its purpose, I found a good use for it. I discovered that it was excellent for removing the springs on drum brakes. I also remember the day my father discovered the way I was using it. I told him I had discovered a "special tool" for removing and replacing the springs. I called it "special tool 36294" or something like that. He asked to see it and when I showed it to him he chuckled and slowly shook his head. He then informed me that "special tool 36294" was in fact an ice skate lace tightener (see image above).

It seems that, for some, the King James Bible in their house is also a bit like "special tool 36294." They have one, but they are not sure why it is important. The American Bible society recently conducted a survey in which they discovered that while 57% of respondents own a King James Bible, 70% had no idea why it was important and 39% thought that it was the first English translation of the Bible. Below are some of the other results. I will admit that I don't know whether to laugh or cry over the first one.

  • Seventeen percent of those surveyed believe the King James Bible was first released shortly after the time of Christ.
  • Younger Americans (age 18 to 26), often categorized as considerably less religious than older Americans (age 65 and older), are equally likely to be unsure of why the King James Bible was significant (34 percent vs. 33 percent respectively).
  • Non-Christians or those with no faith are approximately twice as likely to know when the King James Bible was published (32 percent), than are non-practicing Christians (17 percent).
  • Approximately half (45 percent) of all Bible readers use the King James Bible; far fewer say they read the New International Version (10 percent).
  • Approximately six out of 10 adults who own a Bible own a King James Bible (57 percent) whereas only one out of eight Bible owners have a New International Version (12 percent).

I suppose it is good to know that people own and/or use some version of the Bible, including the King James version. But I hope that, like my discovery of the true significance of "special tool 36294,"that they too will come to learn and appreciate why the KJB is important. Especially during this year of 400th anniversary celebrations.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Did Jesus go to hell?

Where was Jesus between Friday and Sunday? This is the question that lays behind the title of today's post. Over the years questions about what happened to those who died prior to Jesus' resurrection has prompted suggestions that Jesus went to hell between Good Friday and Easter, fought Satan and rescued those being held in bondage there.

This idea was eventually enshrined in a line of the apostles creed. The problem, however, is what does the line in the creed mean? For instance, the traditional English version reads: "he descended to hell." Modern English versions, however, now read: He descended to the dead. Modern versions understand the creed to mean Jesus descended into the grave, not hell.

The problem is not any easier to sort out by referring to versions of the creed in Greek or Latin. The Greek version has "he descended unto katotata (lower regions)" while the Latin has he descended into inferna (hell)." While the Latin seems to point to hell, the "lower regions" Greek could simply mean "earth" as in contrast to "heaven." You can compare the Greek, Latin and English versions here.

The Bible is of even less help since there are no clear statements that Jesus went to hell between Good Friday and Easter.

Some will appeal to 1 Peter 3:19-20 where Jesus said to have preached to the imprisoned spirits who disobeyed during the time of Noah. This is interpreted by some as a description of Jesus' time in hell preaching to those who had disobeyed prior to the time of Chirst. But others see it as a reference to the fallen sons of God/Angels in Genesis 6, not a three day tour of hell.

Others will point to Ephesians 4:7-10 which in with a quote of Psalm 68:18 talks about Jesus taking captivity captive and that his Ascension was preceded by his descending to the lower regions. Some interpreters see this as a clear statement about Jesus going to hell and rescuing the captives. But again, it is also possible to read it as Jesus descending to earth and then ascending to heaven.

We could point out more passages that are sometimes used, but the above are the two main passages. The Bible is not clear about any descent into hell. Nonetheless, the belief in a descent to hell has had a long and prosperous history. In a recent article J. Warren Smith and Ben Witherington each explain the long history.

One big concern for the early church — and Christians to this day — is what happened to the Old Testament patriarchs and others who never knew of Christ.

A whole mythology arose about Jesus rescuing people from the netherworld after the crucifixion. The Gospel of Nicodemus, which dates to the third century and did not make the Bible cut, offers a narrative of Jesus retrieving Adam and other Old Testament figures from Satan’s clutches.

Smith describes such imagery to his students as “Christ’s commando raid on hell.” In addition, it was a popular subject for medieval artists.

“What is going on here is Christian reflection on the doctrine of salvation only in Christ, and then trying to figure out where does that leave people who a) haven’t heard about Christ or b) who lived before Christ,” Witherington said.

You can read the rest of the article here. I think you will discover that the belief in a descent to hell has more support in medieval theology and popular imagination than in biblical texts. It is driven by perceived gaps in the text and a desire to answer questions that are never answered in the Bible. It seems the authors of the Bible were more concerned with directing attention towards the resurrection and not some cosmic fistfight between Satan and Jesus. To me, at least, Jesus was dead between Friday and Sunday until he was raised by God.