Monthly Archives: February 2012

Greek Wednesday: εἴ γε in Paul

I’m working on a paper, so today’s Greek Wednesday will be short. The paper is on the Adam tradition in 2 Cor 5:1-10, and I ran across this interesting quote while I was researching:

In Pauline usage, εἴ γε introduces a statement that makes explicit an assumption that lay behind some preceding assertion (Rom 5:6, if the true reading; Gal 3:4; Col 1:23; Eph 3:2; 4:21) and may thus also guard against a possible misinterpretation (Gal 3:4; Col 1:23).

Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2005), 384.

Here are Harris’s examples, because you’re busy people and don’t have time to go looking them up yourselves (English is the NRSV; I omit Rom 5:6, because the reading is dubious):

Galatians 3:3-4:
3 οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε, ἐναρξάμενοι πνεύματι νῦν σαρκὶ ἐπιτελεῖσθε;  4 τοσαῦτα ἐπάθετε εἰκῇ; εἴ γε καὶ εἰκῇ.
3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?  4 Did you experience so much for nothing? — if it really was for nothing.

Colossians 1:21-23:
21 Καὶ ὑμᾶς ποτε ὄντας ἀπηλλοτριωμένους καὶ ἐχθροὺς τῇ διανοίᾳ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς πονηροῖς,  22 νυνὶ δὲ ἀποκατήλλαξεν ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ διὰ τοῦ θανάτου παραστῆσαι ὑμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους καὶ ἀνεγκλήτους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ,  23 εἴ γε ἐπιμένετε τῇ πίστει τεθεμελιωμένοι καὶ ἑδραῖοι καὶ μὴ μετακινούμενοι ἀπὸ τῆς ἐλπίδος τοῦ εὐαγγελίου οὗ ἠκούσατε, τοῦ κηρυχθέντος ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν, οὗ ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ Παῦλος διάκονος.
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,  22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him —  23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Ephesians 3:1-3:
1 Τούτου χάριν ἐγὼ Παῦλος ὁ δέσμιος τοῦ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ] ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν τῶν ἐθνῶν  2  εἴ γε ἠκούσατε τὴν οἰκονομίαν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς δοθείσης μοι εἰς ὑμᾶς,  3 [ὅτι] κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν ἐγνωρίσθη μοι τὸ μυστήριον, καθὼς προέγραψα ἐν ὀλίγῳ,
1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—  2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you,  3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words,

Ephesians 4:20-24:
20 ὑμεῖς δὲ οὐχ οὕτως ἐμάθετε τὸν Χριστόν,  21 εἴ γε αὐτὸν ἠκούσατε καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ ἐδιδάχθητε, καθώς ἐστιν ἀλήθεια ἐν τῷ Ἰησοῦ,  22 ἀποθέσθαι ὑμᾶς κατὰ τὴν προτέραν ἀναστροφὴν τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον τὸν φθειρόμενον κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τῆς ἀπάτης,  23 ἀνανεοῦσθαι δὲ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν  24 καὶ ἐνδύσασθαι τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον τὸν κατὰ θεὸν κτισθέντα ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ ὁσιότητι τῆς ἀληθείας.
20 That is not the way you learned Christ!  21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.  22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

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“Two Sterile Camps” of Christianity

As I was reading on the bus this morning, I happened to come across this quote that illustrates the chasm fixed between conservative and liberal Christians. It’s one-sided, I’ll admit, and it’s long, but it’s useful nonetheless, and dovetails nicely with my earlier post this morning:

Christianity has in our time increasingly divided itself into these two sterile camps, neither of which gives hope of having the ability to revive this ancient faith system. The fundamentalists will appeal to the need for emotional security by trafficking in religious certainty. The system they create will survive momentarily — it might even flourish for a time — but it will not endure. Delusions can be immensely satisfying. For short periods of time people seem to enjoy turning off their brains and listening to those who assure them that all is well.

The anger, however, that is present in this premodern religious revival reveals its own vulnerability. Anger cannot dispel doubt. Suggested enemies — liberals, secular humanists, false prophets, whatever the nomenclature — cannot finally be blamed for the unbelievability of nonsensical words. Fundamentalism is both an expression of and an assisting cause in the terminal sickness that hangs over religious life today. When the depth of that sickness becomes obvious, it will leave in its wake disillusionment, despair, and pain. No seeds of renewal are contained in a literalism that is itself afraid of truth.

The other sterile camp confronting institutionalized religion today is an empty postmodern secularity that has infected both the mainline churches and the society at large. It expresses itself in the shallow life dedicated to the search for material pleasure conducted within a vast spiritual vacuum. It is revealed in the lives of those for whom God has died and fate is the final arbiter of meaning. Frequently this attitude is not so much articulated as it is lived. It is a response even of those who, because of the habits of a lifetime, still relate to religious institutions at nominal levels, even though they find no real sustenance there. Membership in such an institution does not finally affect their life, and ultimately it is so tangential to their being that they will not pass on to their children a living religious heritage. No seeds of renewal will be found for the church in those who either consciously or unconsciously take up citizenship in the secular city.

The church that does not face this dilemma seriously either does not understand the problem or does not know how to address it. Such a church drifts aimlessly, replacing faith with fellowship, avoiding the tough issues of life, standing for less and less for fear another part of its family will be offended and depart, knowing full well that the church’s drawing power is declining day by day. There is no future for Christianity unless the essence of Christian truth can be extracted from the phenomenalistic framework of the ancient past.

From John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, 133-134. Emphasis added.

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The Evolution Wars

I’ve been watching the evolution wars on a couple of biblioblogs recently (specifically, Exploring Our Matrix and Unsettled Christianity). I appreciate the work Dr. McGrath and Joel (respectively) are doing on the subject. However, I can’t help but think that a sustained, direct war on biblical literalism will, in reality, accomplish little actual change. Likewise, the war on liberal theology waged by the conservative side of Christianity (e.g. Al Mohler, Norman Geisler, et al.) will not effect much change, either. In my opinion, here’s why:

1) The two positions differ from each other in first principles.

On the one hand, Christian liberalism is devoted to follow evidence wherever it leads. If the evidence seems to show, for instance, that life arose on Earth through a process that lasted for millions and millions of years, the good liberal has an obligation to follow this evidence to its logical conclusions, even if that means he/she must re-think what it means for God to have created the world.

In the same way, Christian conservatism is devoted to follow the Bible wherever it leads. If the Bible seems to teach, for instance, that God created everything ex nihilo over the course of six 24-hour days, the good conservative has an obligation to follow this teaching to its logical conclusions, even if it means he/she must re-think the nature of science.

2) Both sides say harsh things about the other, but usually only to their supporters (“preaching to the choir”).

It has long been recognized that humility and charity are two mark of true Christian character (see, for instance, C. J. Mahaney’s excellent little book Humility: True Greatness). However, for some reason, both sides in this debate act with very little charity or humility toward the other. Rather than treating each other like fellow Christians — remember, we’re all trying to follow the faith the best way we know how — both sides treat the other like willful distorters of the truth. Such an attitude had its place in the past, but now is anachronistic. For instance, Tertullian wrote, concerning heretics, that “obstinacy must be conquered, not coaxed” (Scorpiace 2). Such a tactic, though, is ineffective in the end, which brings me to my third point:

3) Harsh and direct fighting only serve to make the other side more convinced of their own superiority.

Think back to the last time you had an argument face-to-face with someone. As the argument went on, which was more tempting: to calmly and rationally examine your own position and see how the other side might inform your position in ways you hadn’t seen, or to entrench yourself deeper and argue even harder for what you already thought? If I were a gambling man, I’d bet that it would be the latter more than the former. When you perceive an attack, whether explicit or implicit, on a system of thought that you cherish, the natural response is to attack right back, not to examine yourself or your way of thinking. Which leads to the conclusion that:

4) If you want to persuade someone to your side, you have to be willing to admit where you’re wrong.

Conservatives: do you want to reclaim a historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3? Then be willing to admit that your position has a hard time explaining scientific data cogently. Liberals: do you want to see evolution accepted as fact by all Christians? Then be willing to admit that to do so entails a radical re-thinking of Christian theology, with which not everyone is comfortable. Both sides: do you want to see an end to this debate? Then be willing to admit that your side does not hold a monopoly on truth; be willing to learn from the other.

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In the Mail: Unprotected Texts

I’ve read the first bit of this book at various bookstores, and after waiting for a couple weeks because I entered the wrong shipping address when I ordered it, I came home this evening to find it perched happily on my doorstep, fresh from Amazon:

Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, by Jennifer Wright Knust

Here’s the blurb:

Think You Know What the Bible Really Says About Sex? Think Again.

Is premarital sex a sin? When, and in what contexts, is sexual desire appropriate? With whom can I legitimately have sex? Are same-sex relations permissible? With fresh scholarship and unflagging compassion, Jennifer Wright Knust addresses the questions that dominate today’s debates over sex and the Bible. At a time when the words “the Bible says” are too often wielded for social and political gain, it’s time to consider what scripture actually does—or does not—say about monogamy, homosexuality, gender roles, and sex.

It’s been a good book so far, and I’ve heard the rest of it is good (thanks for the recommendation, Dr. Cargill), so I look forward to finishing it soon.

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The Intermediate State in the New Testament: Paul and Deutero-Paul

Paul

Paul’s letters are the earliest Christian documents we have; he wrote during the church’s most formative years, when it still expected the Parousia to come at any moment, and we see in his letters that his thought about the afterlife progressed and matured as, contrary to his expectation, the first generation of Christians began to die. This watershed realization, that the Parousia would likely not happen before the first Christians—especially Paul himself—died, drove Paul to think more deeply about what exactly would transpire after someone dies.

Early in Paul’s career, his pareschatology is quite general: the dead in Christ are simply “asleep” until the Parousia, at which point they are “raised” or “awakened”—that is, resurrected—and God brings them with him down to the earth.[1] In fact, Paul makes no direct mention of the intermediate state during this period; instead, we are left to infer an intermediate state through the gap in time between the believers’ deaths and the Parousia, which Paul, at this point, still expected to see in his lifetime.[2]

Later in his career, Paul has a change of thought. He has realized that he will likely die before the eschaton, so he thinks through the nature of the intermediate state more fully. In discussing his own fate after death, he teaches that, after death, the person appears before Christ to be judged, “so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). He expresses anxiety that he will be “found naked” and hopes instead that he will be “further clothed” with immortality (2 Cor 5:3-4).[3] Ultimately, though, Paul is assured that he will be “with Christ” after death, because God has guaranteed it through the Holy Spirit and Christ has made Paul his own (2 Cor 5:5; Phil 1:21-23; 3:12). At this point in his career, Paul also clearly believes in an underworld where the dead await the Parousia; he cites a hymn or confession that teaches a three-story universe (heaven, earth, and underworld) and modifies a passage from Deuteronomy to discuss Jesus descending to the underworld (Phil 2:5-11; Rom 10:6-7).[4]

Several themes are not specific to either his earlier or later periods. One such theme is that death is God’s enemy, which Jesus defeated through his resurrection (1 Cor 15:26, 54-55).[5] Even when Paul talks about death as God’s punishment for sin, he always counters that notion with the good news that Jesus has conquered death.[6] Throughout his career, Paul maintained that death does not separate the believer from Christ—that Christ, because he has conquered death, gives believers the power not to avoid death, but to go through death and survive it (Rom 7:24; 8:10, 13, 33-39; 1 Thess 5:9-10).[7] Moreover, Christ, as the “the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Cor 15:20), is a signal that the rest of the dead would soon “ripen,” so to speak, and rise from the dead, as well. [8]

Deutero-Paul

The value of the deutero-Pauline letters for this topic is that they provide clear evidence of Paul’s doctrine, as received by early Pauline Christianity. In these letters—specifically, Ephesians—the Pauline community believed that Jesus descended into the underworld after his death, which, along with Philippians 2:5-11 and Romans 10:6-7, is evidence that Paul taught the existence of an underworld where souls spend the intermediate state (Eph 4:9). This community also believed that the resurrection had already begun, in a spiritual sense, picking up on Paul’s discussion of the “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15 (Eph 2:4-7).[9] Thus, the deutero-Pauline letters serve as further proof that Paul taught an intermediate state.

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The Intermediate State in the New Testament: Jewish Setting

Before exploring the NT itself, it is fitting to situate the writings within their Second-Temple Jewish context. While the Hebrew Bible is largely silent on the topic of a future resurrection (and, thus, an intermediate state), during the Second-Temple period, the resurrection became, more or less, the standard Jewish teaching, and along with it came speculation on the nature of the intermediate state.[1]

For example, 1 Enoch clearly teaches that the souls of the righteous are kept in peace and the souls of the wicked are kept in torment until the eschatological judgment (1 En. 1:8; 22:1-4; 102:4-5; 104:1-4; 108:11-15.). Likewise, in 2 Maccabees, the dead face a two-stage afterlife (an intermediate state, then the eschaton). In Wisdom of Solomon, the righteous (that is, the martyrs) are safe in God’s hands after they die, as they await their vindication at the eschaton (Wis. 3:1-10). In Ps.-Philo, like in 2 Maccabees, the dead face a two-stage post-mortem process; first, they enjoy a temporary, blissful rest, asleep in heaven with the fathers, then they are resurrected to live in the new heaven and new earth (LAB 3:10; 19:12-13; 23:13; 25:7; 28:10; 51:5). For Josephus, the righteous dead are currently in a blissful state, awaiting the resurrection (War 3.374). Thus, it is clear that the mainstream Jewish teaching was that, after death, the soul is kept in an intermediate state until the resurrection at the end of time; moreover, in light of the prevalence of this teaching, we should assume, unless proven otherwise, that the NT authors followed the general contours of this teaching.

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1. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 129.

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Moral Instruction in Didache 3

Inspired by yesterday’s post about γίνομαι with a predicate substantive, here’s a passage with quite a bit of that construction, and with quite a bit of interesting moral instruction:

My child, flee from everything evil — even  flee from everything similar to evil. Do not prove to be quick to anger (since anger is the path that leads to murder), or jealous, or contentious, or hot-tempered, because each and every one of these things gives birth to murder.

My child, do not prove to be lustful (since lust is the path that leads to illicit sex), or foul-mouthed, or someone who lets their eyes roam, because each and every one of these things gives birth to adultery.

My child, do not prove to be a fortune-teller (since it is the path that leads to idolatry), or use charms and incantations to get what you want, or practice astrology, or use magic to try and purify people — or even wish to see such things — because each and every one of these things gives birth to idolatry.

My child, do not prove to be a liar (since untruthfulness is the path that leads to theft), or fond of money, or conceited, because each and every one of these things gives birth to theft.

My child, do not prove to be a grumbler (since it is the path that leads to blasphemy), or be arrogant and stubborn, or evil-minded, because each and every one of these things gives birth to blasphemy.

But be humble, since the meek will inherit the earth. Become patient, and compassionate, and innocent, and quiet, and good, and continually in awe of the things that you heard.

Do not exalt yourself, and do not admit arrogance into your soul. Do not let your soul be united with the arrogant; rather, associate with the righteous and the lowly. Receive the things that happen to you as if they were good things, since you know that nothing happens apart from God.

(A note about this translation: this is from a translation of the Didache that I did a year or so ago. I use italics to represent emphasis in the Greek that is normally lost in English translation; Greek emphasizes words and phrases through changing word order, while in English, we have to change the formatting of the text to achieve the same effect.)

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