Monthly Archives: March 2012

A “New Testament Confession” (Median vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 3)

This post continues my discussion of Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity (parts 1, 2). Last time, I proposed “Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen” as the only creed that should be required in order to prove true Christianity. Here, I provide a list of the major confessional material in the New Testament (drawn from Richard N. Longenecker, New Wine into Fresh Wineskins). I also distill this material and synthesize it into a single confession. On Monday, I’ll compare this NT-based confession with my proposal and see what changes need to be made where, and why.

Here’s the raw NT material:

“Who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:3b-4)

“[We] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:24-26)

“Who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)

“That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3b-5)

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19)

“Who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Gal 1:4-5)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'” (Gal 3:13)

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Gal 3:26)

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28)

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal 4:4-5)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

“We believe that Jesus died and rose again.” (1 Thess 4:14a)

“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb 1:3)

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8-9)

Other NT confessional material includes calling Jesus “Christ” (Mk 8:29b, par.; John 1:15–27, 41; 7:41; 9:22; 11:27; 20:31; Acts 9:22; 17:3; 1 Jn 2:22; 5:1), calling him “Son of God” (Mk 15:39; 16:16; Jn 1:34, 49; 11:27; 20:31; Acts 9:20; 1 Jn 4:15; 5:5), and calling him “Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; 2 Cor 4:5; Phil 2:11; Col 2:6).

In this collection, it is far to say, we have some of the confessional material that the NT authors granted imprimatur. (If only we had more! Our lives would be much easier then.) Let us begin by distilling all of Paul’s confessions into one single confession:

Jesus Christ, the Lord,
Born to a woman, under the Law, in the line of David,
Died to redeem us from sin and Law,
Was raised and declared Son of God,
Appeared to Cephas and the Twelve,
Secured justification for us,
Made us God’s children,
Unifies the Church.

(Note that this Pauline confession also includes the single-word confessions from the Gospels et al. — that is, “Christ,” “Lord,” and “Son of God.” Also note that, in Paul’s confessions, Jesus is not “Son of God” until his resurrection.)

Now, let’s distill Colossians and Hebrews and add it to Paul:

Jesus Christ, the Lord,
The invisible God made visible,
The reflection of God’s glory.

He was born to a woman, under the Law, in the line of David,
Submitted himself to God,
Learned obedience through suffering,
Was made perfect and became our source of salvation.

He died to redeem us from sin and Law,
Was raised and declared Son of God,
Appeared to Cephas and the Twelve,
Ascended to sit at God’s right hand.

He created and sustains all things,
Secured justification for us,
Made us God’s children,
Unifies the Church, over which he is head.

With this, I think, we have something we could reasonably call a “New Testament confession.” On Monday, I’ll compare this confession with my proposal, “Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen,” and see what changes need to be made to which confession, and why.

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Belated Greek Wednesday: Didache 9: Is Jesus God’s “Child” or His “Servant”?

Here’s the Eucharist liturgy from the Didache, an early Jewish-Christian text, composed somewhere in Syria or Palestine, between 60-110 CE. It was highly regarded early on, and was considered Scripture by many early Christian groups. (As a sidebar, I’m of the opinion that it was composed relatively early, maybe 60-80 CE, in Palestine.)

Περὶ δὲ τῆς εὐχαριστίας, οὕτω εὐχαριστήσατε.

Πρῶτον περὶ τοῦ ποτηρίου· Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, πάτερ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ τῆς ἁγίας ἀμπέλου Δαυὶδ τοῦ παιδός σου, ἧς ἐγνώρισας ἡμῖν διὰ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ παιδός σου· σοὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

Περὶ δὲ τοῦ κλάσματος· Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, πάτερ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ τῆς ζωῆς καὶ γνώσεως, ἧς ἐγνώρισας ἡμῖν διὰ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ παιδός σου· σοὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

Ὥσπερ ἦν τοῦτο τὸ κλάσμα διεσκορπισμένον ἐπάνω τῶν ὀρέων καὶ συναχθὲν ἐγένετο ἕν, οὕτω συναχθήτω σου ἡ ἐκκλησία ἀπὸ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς εἰς τὴν σὴν βασιλείαν· ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα καὶ ἡ δύναμις διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

——————————

Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks like this.

First, concerning the cup:

“We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy grapevine of your pais David, which you made known to us through your pais Jesus. May you be glorified forever.”

And concerning the piece of bread:

“We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through your pais Jesus. May you be glorified forever. Just as this broken bread was scattered on the mountainsides, but was gathered together and made one loaf, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For the glory and the power are yours through Jesus Christ forever.”

The problem in this text rests on two points: 1) Pais can mean both “child” and “servant” [why? they come from similar roots that merged into one form]; 2) The author uses pais to describe both David and Jesus. In the LXX, whenever David is explicitly described as God’s pais, it always translates the Hebrew ebed (“servant,” “slave”); in the NT, David is servant-pais twice (Lk 1:69; Acts 4:25), but never a child-pais. In the NT, Jesus is a child-pais once (Lk 2:43) and a servant-pais five times (Mt 12:18; Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30). So, the biblical evidence weighs heavily in favor of reading pais here in Didache 9 as “servant.”

At two other places in the Didache (7:3; 16:4)  Jesus is called God’s huiosa term that unambiguously means “son”; of course, he is called God’s huios all throughout the NT, he is called David’s huios three times in the NT (Mt 1:1; Mk 10:47; Lk 18:38), and he is called Joseph’s huios twice (Jn 1:45; 6:42). However, David is nowhere in the LXX or the NT called God’s huios. In other words, for the authors of the Bible, David’s paternity is strictly human, while for the NT authors, Jesus has both human and divine paternity.

So, the nitty-gritty aside: how should we translate pais in Didache 9? Should David’s role as God’s pais take precedence, meaning that both David and Jesus are called “servant” here (a meaning that seems strange, to say the least, in a Eucharistic liturgy)? Or should Jesus’ sonship take precedence, giving David the strange and somewhat awkward title of child-pais? Or, even less likely, is the author making a pun here, between David as servant-pais and Jesus as child-pais?

Personally, I think the best interpretation is to read pais here as “servant.” Thus, the emphasis in the Didache‘s Eucharist liturgy is primarily on God the Father, with the role of Jesus the Son placed decidedly in the background. This emphasis is profoundly different than that of Paul’s Eucharist liturgy (1 Cor 11:23-32), which focuses solely on Jesus. I’d hesitate to make a full-blown Christology from this one section of the Didache, but I certainly find it telling that, in the celebration of Jesus’ death, Jesus is put in the background and is called God’s servant, not God’s son. In fact, in this prayer before the meal that celebrates Jesus’ death, Jesus’ death is not even mentioned! In his death, then, Jesus is only carrying out God’s commands, and has no choice of his own. Very interesting stuff!

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Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 2

Note: This post continues the discussion I started yesterday on Median Christianity and Mediocre Christianity.

What does someone need to believe in order to be a true Christian? Moreover, what does someone need to be able to confess in order to be considered a true Christian? That’s the question Werner Harenberg is asking here:

Does what Gerhard Ebeling writes about every confession still apply to the Apostles’ Creed: It has “a separatist function. It draws the line between true and false doctrine. A uniting confession in the sense of one that refrained from drawing any distinctions from false doctrine would be a contradiction in terms. For a confession always presupposes a casus confessionis. It is the pronouncement of a decision.” And if this no longer applies to the Apostles’ Creed, how otherwise will the “line between true and false doctrine” be drawn?

In the Apostles’ Creed there is much which many can no longer believe or will no longer believe. Modern theologians teach that a man must not, or perhaps only ought not, believe it. Why not another confession of faith which every believer can speak without qualification? Professor [Ernst] Barnikol has asked this question and has wanted to know whether “the congregations and the servants of the Word today must not have the evangelical courage to do it.” He received no answer.

A church is not credible in which literally everything is, and remains, questionable. But a church is credible in which one may, to be sure, ask everything, but in which one cannot answer everything.

Luther once wrote: “It is not we who preserve the proclamation of the Church; it was not our forefathers; it will not be our descendants. But it was, is still, and will be him who says ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age.'” “It is not we,” Hans Grass also consoles the reader at the end of his book on the resurrection, “who preserve the church in the storms of the time and in the often still more dangerous times of calm when everything seems to go so well and smoothly, when Christianity has become again a self-evident presupposition of the middle-class and when we are in danger of becoming sluggish in the faith and of falling asleep. But is he who preserves the church.”

He = Jesus.

Which Jesus?

(From Werner Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (trans. James H. Burtness; London: Macmillan, 1970), 191-192.)

I’m with Ernst Barnikol. The Church Catholic needs a confession that every believer, regardless of tradition, can affirm. And we need the courage to do away with anything that pretends to be essential to faith but should actually hold no pride of place. I’ll develop my thoughts on this later (hopefully tomorrow or Saturday), but for now, I’d like to propose this as the only confession necessary to prove Christian faith:

“Christ, the Lord, is risen.”

Anything more, and the confession would alienate true believers who happen to be modernist/postmodernist in the way they think. Anything less — though I fear it may already be too much “less” for some — and it would alienate true believers who happen to be traditionalist in the way they think.

What do you think? Is this confession, simple as it is, enough to prove that someone is a Christian? Does it say enough to be a good confession of Median Christianity while avoiding the pitfall of Mediocre Christianity?

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Academic Coach Taylor (from Friday Night Lights)

http://academiccoachtaylor.tumblr.com

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Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity

Can we avoid the dilemma Werner Harenberg describes here?

Is it then true, as Hans-Dieter Bastian of Bonn writes in a brochure recommended by several Church leaders, that “many pastors” at the Kirchentag in Köln in 1965 would have demonstrated a “total unawareness of the language of modern Biblical science”? And “the protestant church Christian (in the widest sense) is estranged from the Bible even, and precisely, if he (still) allows himself to be preached at (!) each Sunday”?

If all of that is not true, then why do none of these pastors rise up and rebel, these pastors who are here scolded for being ignorant of a discipline, their own discipline, pastors of whom it is said that the more they preach, the more they alienate the “Church Christians” from the Bible? But if all of that is true, then how great must be the “wailing wall” to which the Christians must go?

Many console themselves by saying that at the present time two extreme directions — the completely conservative and the completely modern — are prominent and that the truth is to be sought and found in the middle along with the majority of Protestant Christians. But must that first not be demonstrated? Is it true for the majority of professors of theology? And how could one find the correct mixture in the middle and still avoid mediocrity?

“The church has no right to appeal to Jesus, to Luther, or to Calvin, if it values faith less than statistics” (Rudolf Augstein 94). This if-sentence is aimed at the Protestant church. Is there anyone who hesitates to express a truth, or even a truth of faith, because he fears the departure and the (statistically measurable) forfeiture of biblical literalists, or the loss of prestige by the departure of the modern theologians? One ought not to answer that question too quickly.

Werner Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (trans. James H. Burtness; London: Macmillan, 1970), 190-191.

Wow.

I tend to lean towards accepting anyone who claims to be a Christian (mostly as a reaction against how I used to deny that most people who claimed to be Christians actually were Christians). But Harenberg here throws up a serious challenge to my inclusive view of Christianity: trying to make an inclusive, moderate definition of Christianity may actually turn out to miss the mark completely. An inclusive Christianity will turn into a mediocre Christianity, afraid of standing for what is true, for fear of alienating people.

Of course, the easy reaction to Harenberg’s objection would simply be to hole oneself up within one’s own doctrinal community and declare one’s community to be the only true group of Christians left on Earth. That’s the stuff of fundamentalism and militant apocalyptic cults; it’s obviously going too far.

What do you think? How should we strike a balance between limp-wristed mediocrity and militant separatism? How can we strike that balance? In what ways can we establish a median Christianity without straying into mediocre Christianity?

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Fascinating Article on Latin Imperfect Subjunctive

Jay H. Jasonoff, “The Origin of the Italic Imperfect Subjunctive,” Historische Sprachforschung / Historical Linguistics 104 (1991): 84-105.

If you’re into the history of languages or morphological development, this article is a great resource. It’s quite dense, and is thus a slow read, but it’s well worth the effort to unpack it. Some highlights:

Italic languages originally had two ways of placing the action of a verb in the future. One was based on the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) subjunctive, which was formed with a vowel between the verb’s stem and the personal ending (like the Greek subjunctive λύῃς, which came from λύ + ε + εις) and the other was based on the PIE present desiderative, which was formed with an between the verb’s stem and personal ending (like the Greek future tense, λύσω). Ultimately, the PIE subjunctive form won out and became the primary way of forming the future tense in Italic languages.

Similarly, Italic languages expressed the pastness of an action in two ways. One came from the PIE perfect tense, which reduplicates the first syllable in a verb (Greek λέλυκα; seen in Latin perfect forms like tetigi). The other came from the PIE aorist, which adds an s between the verb’s stem and personal endings (Greek ἔλυσα; reflected in Latin perfect forms like dixi). Ultimately, the old PIE perfect and aorist were combined into a single verb form, the perfect, which explains why in Latin, the perfect tense carries both a perfective/resultative sense (“I have run three miles”) and an aoristic/undefined sense (“I ran three miles”).

When Italic lost the subjunctive form, which went to form the future tense, the only non-indicative mood it had left was the optative. The optative form, then, was co-opted for duty as the subjunctive. Ultimately, though, because the old optative became the subjunctive mood, Italic needed to fill in the gap left by the optative. Thus, it kept the non-past subjunctive (that is, the present and the perfect subjunctive forms) as true subjunctives (one degree separated from reality; “I would go running if it weren’t raining”), and it made the past subjunctives (the imperfect and the pluperfect subjunctives) into wanna-be optatives (two degrees separated from reality; “I might have gone running if it weren’t raining”).

Or, for those who are more visually-minded, here’s the same information, but as a picture:

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“Thinking deeply does not make baby Jesus cry.”

Some of us are more apt to explore our faith than think of ways of preserving it. Our intellectual exploration is unavoidably wrapped up in our own spiritual growth. The two work together. Intellect challenges faith but they are not at odds. They need each other.

Sometimes thinking clearly and deeply changes what you believe, and that does not make baby Jesus cry. Neither does it cue the seventh trumpet of judgment or kick over the seventh bowl of God’s wrath in the Book of Revelation.

Thinking too Hard Will Change What You Believe (And That’s a Good Thing) / Peter Enns

This is a great post from the man who’s probably best known for being an Evangelical and an evolutionist. It’s also reassuring to those of us who want to live a fully-explored faith, rather than a faith that is accepted blindly and uncritically.

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