Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 9 Day 3 - Numbers 8-12

Our reading challenge for the day is Numbers 8-12. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Numbers 8 - See how the priests and Levites are taken care of. They are consecrated to the Lord and are to be cared for, including having a promise that they will reach an age when they will be able to rest from the very heavy labor they are to do.

Numbers 9 - The Passover is of critical importance. The only reason to miss the celebration is due to uncleanness, and there is an alternate date given for that. Compare this to how casual we often are about our attendance at divine service to receive the gifts of God!

Numbers 10 - God appoints a signal system of trumpets then has the people set out in order as he has prescribed. His directives are important to his people.

Numbers 11 - God has Moses appoint elders to share his burden. He knows that the people’s complaints will only increase, as they are sinful by nature. God has provided all the people need and yet they complain so he gives them the meat they are complaining about missing - so much that they will not be able to deal with it. Woe to us when God turns us over to our own desires!

Numbers 12 - As we see God deal with Aaron and Miriam we realize that there are many different types of ministry that our Lord may give us. All are important, but not all are the same. Can we rejoice in the state the Lord has placed us in?


“Philippians” Carson & Moo pp. 498-515

After a brief survey of the contents of Philippians, Carson & Moo discuss the authorship of the book. Except for the passage in chapter 2 verses 5-11 the letter is almost uniformly ascribed to Paul. The remaining seven verses appear to be an insertion, possibly by Paul, of a text existing at the time of composition, possibly an early hymn. p. 500 “In an earlier day this was often taken as a solemn doctrinal pronouncement of the apostle and made the basis for kenotic theories of the incarnation. In more recent times close attention has been given to its form, and it is now widely agreed that we should see it both as poetry and as liturgy - in short, as a hymn.”

The book was written while Paul was a prisoner, traditionally assumed to be in Rome. Carson and Moo discuss other possibilities but still tend to consider Rome as the location of composition, probably about 61-62. The letter is occasional in nature. Paul writes to reassure the Philippians of the well-being of Epaphroditus. He also wishes to acknowledge the gift they had sent him and to thank them for their prayers. Paul also commends Timothy to the Philippians.

The letter, which has no significant textual questions, was adopted into the canon quite early without dispute. In recent study scholars have investigated the unity of the letter, looking for unifying features. There have also been attempts to identify Paul’s opponents and the kind of opposition he faced.

Philippians shows us a great deal about bringing encouragement to others in their faith and action. We can know that God works in his communities as they are knit together in Christ.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 9 Day 2 - Numbers 3-7

Our reading challenge for the day is Numbers 3-7. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Numbers 3 - With the death of two of Aaron’s four sons, the priesthood is quite diminished. It was never large to begin with. God is able to use that which is weak to accomplish his purposes of forgiveness and restoration. But see how he raises up the rest of the tribe of Levi to a valuable work of assisting the priesthood. It is not only the pastor who is engaged in ministry.

Numbers 4 - Caring for God’s appointed place of worship is the kind of duty for manly men. We need more real men who are man enough to step forward and care for our places of worship, making sure that all is done decently and in order.

Numbers 5-6 - Notice how very concrete God’s means of grace are! Sacrifices really do something. When we pray that the Lord will show sin or innocence we expect a result. And all that we do is pointed at reconciliation of broken trust. See also the blessing which is so often used at the end of a divine service. This is the blessing upon the people of Israel when they are going to go out to take the promised land.

Numbers 7 - The tribes of Israel bring their offerings for the consecration of the tabernacle. God speaks to Moses as a sign that the offerings are acceptable in his sight. See how everything has been done according to God’s institution. We also receive God’s blessing in the way he has commanded it, coming before him in Word and Sacrament. We can have confidence that our Lord will bless his people.


“Ephesians” Carson & Moo pp. 479-497

Carson and Moo introduce this chapter with a basic outline of Ephesians. They then discuss authorship. Traditionally Paul has been considered the author but that is disputed in recent scholarship. Support for Pauline authorship then evidence that detracts from this view is presented on pp. 480-486. In support is the claim of the letter itself s well as the personal notes. In early circulation the letter was accepted as authentic. It is full of Pauline features. The similarity of Ephesians and Colossians is used both to argue for and against authenticity. If a later author claimed Pauline authority to Ephesus, since Paul was not clearly honored in a great way in Ephesus (based on Revelation 2.1, compare 2 Peter 3.15) it would seem odd. Themes in Ephesians are very Pauline. The letter also states that Paul was a prisoner, which was a common situation in Paul’s later life. To detract from Pauline authorship, scholars claim that the theology of Ephesians is not sufficiently Pauline. It includes words not typically used by Paul. The style is different from some of Paul’s other letters, particularly in the very long sentences. Ephesians discusses ministry structure in a way which some say Paul did not see it in his other writing. Carson and Moo consider that Ephesians is genuinely Pauline and that it was written at approximately the same time as Colossians to address similar situations.

If the letter was written during Paul’s Roman imprisonment, which seems likely, it was written in the very late fifties or early sixties. The destination of the letter is more difficult, as “in Ephesus” is absent from the letter in some prominent manuscripts. It seems a little less personal than we might expect from the apostle who evangelized the Ephesians. Yet it is quite plausible that Paul would have written the letter to Ephesus with an expectation that it would circulate more broadly.

What is the purpose of the letter? It seems to have a great deal of miscellaneous instruction. We can’t identify a specific situation that would have led to its composition. Yet the predominant themes are purity and unity of hte faith.

Aside from the missing “in Ephesus” in 1.1 there are no significant variations in the manuscrpt evidence. The letter was accepted into the canon quite early.

In recent study many scholars have discussed authorship and the different themes of the text. We find the book of Ephesians very helpful in its view that salvation and life are due to divine action, beginning with Christ’s saving work, continuing with the Christian’s growth in knowledge of the grace of our Lord, and emphasizing life in conformity to God’s work in salvation. Throughout we see God as supremely gracious, bringing salvation to unworthy sinners.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 9 Day 1 - John 19-21, Numbers 1-2

Our reading challenge for the day is John 19-21 and Numbers 1-2. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

John 19 - See how Jesus does not defend himself as we would. He allows people to abuse him though he is gently plain with Pilate about his identity. This is humility. Also see how the pagan soldiers fulfill prophecies of the Christ. Compare Psalm 22.

John 20 - Jesus is found missing from the tomb and begins to show himself to his disciples. What are his highest priorities in his interactions with these people who are terrified of their future?

John 21 - Jesus restores his disciples, re-orienting them to his priorities for them. How often we stray from his priority and need him to direct us again.

Numbers 1 - The book of Numbers gains its name from the counts taken of Israel. But there’s much more than statistical information here. See how God is providing food and water in the wilderness for a large nation - over a half million men eligible for war, plus women, children, and the aged, as well as all their livestock. This is no small feat! See that the Levites are exempted from military duty as they are engaged in making worship accessible to all the people.

Numbers 2 - In their encampment the tribe of Levi with the tabernacle is surrounded by all the other tribes. God’s presence is to be central in the nation of Israel.

The Causes of Error in the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament

“The Causes of Error in the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament” Metzger & Ehrman pp. 250-271

In this chapter Metzger and Ehrman detail a variety of ways in which manuscripts can be altered as they are copied. The chapter is divided into two sections, unintentional and intentional changes, each with a number of sub-points, illustrated with examples found in biblical manuscripts. I’ll summarize each in order.

1) Errors Arising from Faulty Eyesight
Without corrective eyewear it is very easy to mistake some letter combinations for some others. For instance, gamma followed by iota can easily be read as a pi. Many abbreviated forms of words can look like other words as well.
2) Errors Arising from Faulty Hearing
It is quite easy for even a careful listener to make a mistake in transcription by writing a homophone. Of course, not only homophones arise here, but we also can find instances of scribal errors which arose from a scribe conflating multiple words into one because the audible combinations of sounds were very similar.

3) Errors of the Mind
This type of error certainly accounts for many of the variant readings in which synonyms or very similar sounding words may be used in a text. For instance, the substitution of an adverb for an adjective is not uncommon, use of a different prepositions which bear similar force, and the like are common errors. These often can arise when a scribe is attempting to remember a phrase or even a sentence while writing it. Occasionally we also see cases of scribes bringing in statements from elsewhere in Scripture, presumably because the passages are similar.

4) Errors of Judgment
In these errors, a scribe brings a marginal note or other item into the text. In most instances this surely happens because of inattention to detail. Metzger and Ehrman detail this issue in an egregious form in Codex 109, in which two columns of Luke’s genealogy of Jesus are conflated, making Phares the source of the entire human race and God the son of Aram. This is cited as an egregious example. Most examples are of considerably less importance.

1) Changes Involving Spelling and Grammar
Some of the Greek style found in the New Testament does not reflect the most sophisticated grammatical usage. There are instances where it appears that scribes have attempted to correct some of the grammatical oddities, particularly in Revelation.

2) Harmonistic Corruptions
It is not uncommon to find instances of the wording of an account in one gospel being altered to match that of another gospel more closely or for the wording of a quotation of an Old Testament passage being adjusted to match that of the Septuagint. Occasionally quotations will also be expanded to provide what the scribe considered to be adequate context.

3) Addition of Natural Complements and Similar Adjuncts
The classic example of this phenomenon is conjoining “scribes” and “Pharisees.” It is easy to see instances where some manuscripts say “Jesus” while others say “Jesus Christ” or “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

4) Clearing up Historical and Geographical Difficulties
There are several instances in the New Testament when a quotation is made and is attributed to a different prophet than the one where it is found. A common variant reading is the correction of the attribution or a name being removed so that it is attributed to “the prophet.” Another example of this type of error is adjusting the location of an item or the time when an event took place to be more precise than the original author was.

5) Conflation of Readings
This is similar to #3 above, but takes different readings and actually combines them. For instance, when one account says people are “praising” God and another says they are “glorifying” God, this error would result in a text that says they are “praising and glorifying” God.

6) Alterations Made Because of Doctrinal Considerations
There is evidence that sometimes scribes would omit certain details from a passage of Scripture or would add details in order to protect certain doctrines. For instance, occasionally Joseph and Mary are referred to as Jesus’ parents. This would not be a desirable statement from the point of view which needs to defend Jesus’ divine parentage. One reading of Luke 23:32 could indicate that Jesus was led away with “two other criminals,” implying that he was a criminal. The word “other” was omitted relatively frequently.

7) Addition of Miscellaneous Details
Some texts add statements identifying individuals in more detail. Other details may be added to the text as well, such as an explanation of an action which otherwise would seem slightly oblique. The threefold sanctus in Revelation 4:8 is sometimes multiplied to advance the idea of God’s holiness.

Metzger and Ehrman close the chapter by observing that despite the many ways scribes can make errors in their copies of the text, the New Testament text shows a great deal of care in the history of transmission.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sermon for 2/26/12 It's a Big Bad World Out There John 3:10-21

Sermon “It’s a Big Bad World Out There” John 3:10-21

Our Lord, grant that we may look to you and follow you, the beloved one of the Father, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

It’s a big bad world out there, isn’t it? In our readings today we saw time and again that we face challenges, and they are big challenges. We run around doing our own thing, trying to work out the way we will live in the here and now, and we do it all only to realize that we were looking the wrong way. We try to trust our heart. We try to interpret our circumstances. We try to live each day like it’s a gift of God, but we find something goes wrong. Our heart deceived us. Our circumstances led us down a wrong path. Our days are a gift from God but we find we don’t know how to appreciate or use that gift. We thought we’d have a nice tiptoe through the tulips but we didn’t count on finding all those stinging nettle plants there, reaching out and biting us. We trust in luck, but then we have to confess that if it weren’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all. Life is pretty rough. There are surely dragons in the land, and we aren’t ready, not ready at all.

Do you realize, though, that we aren’t the first generation to see this? Do you realize that it is not at all a new situation? Think back with me for a moment through our readings. Abraham received a great promise. He would be the father of many nations. There was just one problem. He had no children. And as time went on and on, he still had no children. Finally, when he was a hundred years old and his wife was ninety God gave him the promise again. Of course it sounded ridiculous. Nobody that old has children. But a year later they had their child, Isaac, the child of promise. So finally there’s a child. Now maybe there’s a chance that Abraham could be the father of many nations. But in our reading from Genesis today we saw Abraham receive God’s command to sacrifice his son. This is the one chance to see the blessing of God. This is the child of promise. But here God is telling Abraham to kill his child, his only child, the one whom he loves, the one who would be the heir of Abraham’s promise. What does Abraham do? He believes God. And God, rich in mercy and grace, provides a substitute, a ram who will take Isaac’s place.

What did we see in James? We saw that God’s promise is not what tempts us. We saw that we are tempted when we try to pursue our own evil desires. We are tempted when we trust our heart. We are tempted when we try to interpret our circumstances. We are tempted when we leave God’s loving promises out of the picture and run off about our own business. We are tempted when we try to make God’s promises come true rather than letting God be God. And what happens when we fall to that temptation? We enter into sin, following our father Adam, taking righteousness into our own hands, denying the grace of God. We are cursed, we are condemned, and we are able to do that all by ourselves. Then, just the way we would predict, trusting our heart, following the path our circumstances have laid out for us, we get ourselves more and more entangled in sin, leading to despair. We end up without hope in this world. Who is going to deliver us? Who will help us? We look to Jesus, who was blessed by God and who went immediately into the wilderness. And we who have been blessed by God run off into the wilderness where we are lost without a map, without companionship, without provisions, without a way to escape.

In the end there’s just one way out of this deadly situation. And that way out is through Jesus, who, blessed by the Father, endured temptation in the wilderness, then returned from the wilderness. But how are we going to receive the help we need from Jesus? Better not try to trust our hearts. That’s what got us here in the first place. So we go the route that Nicodemus did. If you were following along on our Bible reading challenge you came to John chapter 3 this week. Let’s look to verses 10-21 of that text to find how Jesus guides Nicodemus out of the wilderness. Read along with me if you’d like. Again, we’re in John chapter 3, starting at verse 10.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

What did Jesus just say about himself? He compared himself to the bronze serpent in the desert. I believe that comes up soon in our Bible reading challenge. The people of Israel were grumbling. They weren’t trusting God. They wanted to take matters into their own hands. God sent venomous snakes which would kill the Israelites. But as the people were realizing their failure, God also had Moses lift up a bronze copy of the snake on a pole. If the people would look at it in faith they would not be killed by the snakes. There’s our key. Just as Abraham looked to God in faith and trust, just as the Israelites looked to God in faith and trust, so we look to Jesus, the Son of Man, trusting that through him we receive eternal life. This isn’t trusting our heart. It isn’t following our circumstances. It isn’t doing what may seem the wisest thing in the eyes of our world. But it is precisely what Jesus says to do. We look in faith to the one who came from heaven, knowing that he is the one who gives eternal life.

This, after all, is why Jesus came in the first place. His intention was to give eternal life, to take our life which was falling apart, and give us his permanent version of life in exchange. He didn’t come to condemn us. He didn’t come to destroy us. He didn’t come to shut us out in the dark. He came to give us true, abundant life. He came to rescue us from the wilderness of our sin and shame. He came to bring us out of darkness into his light. And he did it by being raised up on a pole, just as the bronze serpent was. Jesus rescues us by his very death on our behalf. Jesus rescues us from sin by becoming sin for us. Jesus rescues us by being subject to the shame and condemnation that we by rights should have received. Jesus rescues us by replacing us in death, then being raised again to life, showing that he is the firstborn from the dead.

What do we find when we trust our hearts? We find out that it’s a big bad world out there. What do we find when we look to Jesus? We find that Christ has been crucified for sinners and that he richly and freely gives us his forgiveness, life, and salvation. Let us look to him today. May today be the day when we are delivered from our bondage in the wilderness. May today be the day of salvation. May today be the day when we see that the Son of Man was raised up in our place. May this be the day when we walk in the light again, knowing that he has delivered us from sin and death into his wonderful light.

So now may Jesus Christ, the light of the world, shine upon us, letting us see him clearly. Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Springtime Maladies Revisited

I'm afraid this blog is just going to have to go unmanned for a few more days. Remember God's Word, which never takes a day off!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 8 Day 2 Leviticus 26-27, John 1-3

Our reading challenge for the day is Leviticus 26-27 and John 1-3. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Leviticus has an odd ending. After chapter 26 where God proclaims his blessing upon obedience and his curse upon disobedience, there is chapter 27 which seems rather like a price and valuation list for different offerings. The book then ends rather abruptly. In reflection on Leviticus we see over and over again that enabling people to come and worship God is at the heart and center of the text. God seeks people to worship him. He makes a way for us to approach his throne.

John 1 - John presents Jesus very boldly as the eternal Son of God who has come to his own people as the one who would take away their sins. As he is beginning his work he himself gathers disciples, counter to common practice where disciples seek out a teacher.

John 2 - John is all about Jesus being greater than nature, as well as Jesus being the one who provides purification. Notice the link at the wedding - the wine is created in jars used for purification. Jesus will later present wine as his blood which purifies us from sin.

John 3 - This theme of purification comes up again, as Jesus not only helps Nicodemus see that he needs cleansing from God as a rebirth, not of his own works or obedience but like a child being born. John continues to link baptism, purification, the Holy Spirit, and faith in Jesus together in his gospel.

The way that John ties in all his different elements always impresses me. Trying to comment on what he says is a little like trying to describe a great painting to a person who has always been blind.

1 and 2 Corinthians

"1 and 2 Corinthians" Carson & Moo pp. 415-455

Both 1 and 2 Corinthians address questions which have been raised and need answers. Unlike Romans, for instance, they seem to arise from very specific questions which have been asked and may be quoted.

After the salutation and thanksgiving in 1 Corinthians, Paul compares the wisdom of the world to the wisdom of God, observing that God's wisdom seems foolish to the world but that the wisdom of the world is inferior in every way to God's wisdom, displayed in Christ crucified for sinners. In chapter 5-6 Paul discusses conflict about sexual and legal matters within the church. He then goes on to discuss topics apparently raised by the Corinthians: marriage in chapter 7, food sacrificed to idols in chapter 8, and the issue of the authority of Paul as an apostle in chapter 10. Chapters 11-14 are devoted to order in corporate worship, chapter 15 to the resurrection, then chapter 16 with miscellaneous details about a collection for relief in Jerusalem and greetings.

After the salutation and thanksgiving in 2 Corinthians Paul discusses his travel plans, emphasizing his continued commitment to come to Corinth. There have been conflicts which have led Paul to avoid visiting the Corinthians in person for a while. Paul continues in chapters 3-6 talking about the nature of ministry and its relationship to the old covenant and the new. In chapters 7-9 Paul talks about the collection for relief of suffering Christians, emphasizing that contributions are to be rooted in the love of Christ, not in the demands of the law. In the final chapters Paul discusses the apparent weakness of the apostles in terms of the worldly wisdom which the Corinthians have adopted.

Pauline authorship is almost universally ascribed to 1 and 2 Corinthians, but some scholars have suggested that 2 Corinthians was originally several different letters. Paul had visited Corinth during his second missionary journey in Acts 18. After he had left Corinth, almost certainly while he was in Ephesus, Paul heard about the troubles at Corinth and responded with 1 Corinthians. It seems he then waited for some time, though not terribly long, before writing his second letter.

Carson and Moo spend a good deal of time discussing the various theories of arrangement of the elements of 2 Corinthians. There are several fairly persuasive theories but all are lacking any manuscript evidence.

The Corinthian letters were considered canonical from an early date, being cited as early as the last decade of the first century.

Monday, February 20, 2012


"Romans" Carson & Moo pp. 391-414

p. 391 "Romans is the longest and most theologically significant of the letters of Paul, 'the very purest gospel' (Luther). The letter takes the form of a theological treatise framed by an epistolary opening and closing. The opening contains the usual prescript and thanksgiving and is concluded with a transitional statement of the theme of the letter: the gospel as the revelation of God's righteousness, a righteousness that can be experienced only by faith."

On pp. 391-392 Carson and Moo outline the body of the book in four parts: "The gospel as the righteousness of God by faith (1:18-4:25). . . The gospel as the power of God for salvation (5:1-8:39) . . . The gospel and Israel (9:1-11:36) . . . The gospel and the transformation of life (12:1-15:13)."

Romans claims Pauline authorship, a claim which is not seriously disputed. Dating is a bit more complicated. Paul discusses the fact that he is going to Jerusalem and that he wishes to go to Rome on his way to Spain. Carson and Moo consider that the most likely place of authorship was Corinth, from where Paul may well have gone toward Jerusalem about 57.

The situation of the church at Rome is also possibly problematic. Carson and Moo do not think that Peter is likely to have founded a church in Rome prior to the time Paul would have written Romans. They also do not think it likely that Paul would make a visit such as he describes in Romans 1:8-15 to a church founded by another apostle. Rather, they suggest that the church in Rome was founded by Jews who had been present in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

Carson and Moo discuss the text of Romans on pp. 398-401. There are some suggestions of interpolations and redactions, mostly spurred on by the doxology found in 16:25-27, which "is omitted in some manuscripts and appears at different places in others" (p. 399). Carson and Moo consider that the text has always had all sixteen chapters and that it is simply slightly uncharacteristic of Paul's letters, but not necessarily inauthentic.

As to the genre of Romans, it is more like a treatise of doctrine than a personal or typical epistolary letter. The purpose is clearly to lay out doctrines in detail. Numerous possible purposes for composition have been put forward. There are few statements about the purpose of the letter, though it is clear that Paul is intending to introduce his plan to visit. We may find it more fruitful to look at multiple reasons for writing, based on the different types of information contained in the letter.

The theme of Romans has likewise shifted in scholarly opinion. Interestingly enough, Carson and Moo trace the locus of the theme moving from near the beginning, with the Reformational focus on justification by faith, to the union of Christ and the Church in chapters 6-8, to salvation history in 9-11, and to exhortations to unity in 14-15. Currently all four positions are alive.

In summary, the book seems to have undergone lively and varied scholarly discussion. It is a lively and varied book which lends itself well to such research and commentary.

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 8 Day 1 Leviticus 21-25

Our reading challenge for the day is Leviticus 21-25. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Leviticus 21-22 - The priesthood is to maintain a particularly holy life in all their doings, including in the marriages they make. See that those priests who are ill or deformed in some way are exempt from service as priests but are cared for anyway. Just as priests are to be specially holy in their presentation to the Lord, so are offerings.

Leviticus 23 - God appoints feasts for Israel, both the weekly Sabbath and the other feasts which are annual. On all of these feasts the people of Israel rejoice in the Lord who has provided for them, bringing him back a portion of what he has given them.

Leviticus 24 - Ever look up how big an ephah is? The footnote I found said the loaves of bread for the table in the tabernacle were made with about 22 liters of flour each. That's about forty cups, unless my sense of baking is way off. Twelve of those enormous loaves of bread each week were provided for the priests on active duty. When God's people all contribute they are able to take very good care of those who serve them in ministry.

Leviticus 25 - I wonder what we would face in today's world if, trusting the Lord, we were to take a year in seven off from our occupations, and if we all did it at the same time. God is demonstrating to Israel that he cares for them in every way. It's hard enough for many of us to take one day in seven off, not to mention one year in seven. Ah, to trust God more.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sermon “Looking for Transfiguration? See Jesus”

Sermon “Looking for Transfiguration? See Jesus” audio link
May the grace of the Lord be with us all, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, Sunday of the Transfiguration, the last Sunday before the penitential season of Lent, we look to Jesus as the one who was presented to his apostles as the Holy One of Israel. We see that Jesus, already the pure and spotless Lamb of God, is shown to be that one, abundant in radiance.

When confronted by God's radiance, how do we react? Do we, like Peter, start to articulate our building plan, preparing to make some sort of tabernacles to celebrate God's holiness? Do we fall down in fear and reverence? Or do we possibly avert our eyes and try to escape from our Lord's presence?

I can picture the responses that some people in our community might have had to the sign posted outside this week. I know they read it, because I hear about it from unexpected people at unexpected times. People from the community comment on our sign, though they rarely tell me specifics. So what would they make of that sign, this sermon title? “Looking for Transfiguration? See Jesus.”

I know and you know that some people would deliberately avoid a sermon like that. It sure seems like a chance for the pastor to beat us about the head telling us how to change our lives so we can be like Jesus. We often can go to church and be told how to transfigure ourselves, or at least be told that we need to transfigure ourselves. That's about the time that the crushing weight of God's Law falls on us. Do this! Do that! If you want to live like a “real” Christian you'll prove yourself holy, all the way, all the time, and then you will have some hope that maybe the Lord will accept you. Have you ever been beaten up in that way? I'm sorry if you have. I've endured it also, for a good many years. And sad to say I've probably dished up a number of servings of that kind of preaching and teaching. I might have done it recently.

Here's a case in point. Last week, when talking about letting children come to Jesus, I realized that I neglected to say some things. And that neglect may have proven a discouragement to some people. I hope it didn't. But I fear it may have done so. In saying that the death of a person stops that person from having more opportunities to come to Jesus in faith, I spoke the truth. When we die, we no longer have opportunity to hear the Gospel and respond with a life of faith. That's the fact. But does that mean that everyone who doesn't make it to birth is condemned? Not at all. Though we are conceived as sinful beings, the Holy Spirit works through the Word on people who haven't even been born yet. Remember that everywhere the mother goes, the baby also goes. And through the hearing of the Word of God even an unborn child can have faith planted in his heart. There's no reason to doubt that, no reason at all. What fruit of righteousness do we see? We might not have the opportunity to see the fruit. The child who dies before being born has no opportunity to bear fruit of the Spirit, to love his neighbor, to help those in need. But neither did the thief on the cross when he was repentant and
trusted Jesus. Remember, we are saved by grace through faith, and that is not of ourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, so nobody can boast. And sometimes God grants that faith to a person who will not live to express his faith in any way. But it is saving faith nonetheless. This does not mean that we treat unborn humans in any casual way. But it does mean that we are often unaware of the work which the Holy Spirit is doing in people's lives. Let God be God!

So we don't beat people up, telling them how to be righteous in hopes that they will earn their wings. It simply isn't going to happen. God commands that we should be holy, but he also gives us the way to be holy, and that is not through our own works. And that is the other feature of today's service which I think might just be sadly unattractive to some people in our community. Really, the Bible says that we are to look to God for change? But how many of the people you work with think they are doing pretty well regardless? Change? From God? Really? Why, if anything, they may well think that God should change his attitude and decide to like us, because we're pretty good folks, after all. All this religiosity about sin, shame, repentance, forgiveness, our culture wants to leave it behind. Just get on with our lives and do what's right. We all know how to be good people, don't we? Well, let me ask if we act upon that. The same person who tells me people are good by nature will confess to locking up his possessions because there are people all around him who will steal them. The same person who tells me people are good and helpful wouldn't be caught dead asking for directions in some parts of some cities. The same people who say they are honest in all their dealings are willing to pay people in cash that will be unreported for tax purposes, or may prefer to receive payment in cash which they will not report on their taxes, thus violating federal laws. And I'll just say two other words, then let it go. “Speed limit.”

All right, so we need transfiguration. If we are to be faithful and lawful people, we realize we have failed. Yet the change that we need is not something we can cause ourselves. We can make attempts at it. Yet we realize that deep in our hearts we are by nature lawbreakers. We need a change, and we need it from outside ourselves. Jesus, then, is the one who is presented to us as the one who is perfect, radiant in righteousness, having complete communion with God the Father. This is all well and good. But how does Jesus' transfiguration have anything to do with us?

Enter the Bible Reading Challenge. What did we read this week? We read most of the book of Leviticus, where God's redeeming grace shines through bright an clear. Now I realize that some people despair of God's grace when they read Leviticus. But I'd ask if they have ever seen chapter 16 well in its context. For in this chapter we meet the “scapegoat” - the perfect young goat upon whom all the sins of Israel are confessed, then which is sent out into the wilderness where he certainly becomes lunch for some very hungry wild animals. What is the result? This animal bears the sin of the people and then goes outside of the camp to perish as a result of the sin which has been imputed to him.

Jesus is now presented as our scapegoat. He, the perfect Lamb of God, presented to us in glory at the mount of transfiguration, is the one to whom all the sin of all mankind is imputed. He, Jesus, is the one who suffers and dies a shameful death, outside of the city, outside of the camp, in an unclean place, bearing your sin and my sin. Jesus, the transfigured one, changes himself to receive all our sin and shame. And because he receives it we no longer bear it. We no longer need to walk around weighed down by the guilt of our sin. We no longer need to bear the oppression of our past. We are not condemned, for Jesus has been condemned for us.

Do we want transfiguration? Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation, the one who bears our sin, the one who overcomes it all by his death, burial, and resurrection. Is this a message which is foreign to our culture? Yes it is, but it is the truth, it is the message we need. Jesus is the one who has delivered us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 7 Day 5 Leviticus 16-20

Our reading challenge for the day is Leviticus 16-20. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

In Leviticus 16 we see the concept of the "scapegoat." Here God reveals to his people the idea of a substitute for their sin - one upon whom all the sins of Israel would be imputed through confession. By God's decree that recipient of the sins of the people would be sent from the camp to certain death.

The chapters following this day of atonement detail ways in which Israel is to be different from the surrounding nations. Do we, those called to be Christians, realize that since our sins have been imputed to God the Son, and his righteousness has been imputed to us, go ahead and live a life which is distinct from the people around us? Do we actively pursue righteousness in thanksgiving to Christ who gave himself for us? Not like we should, so we are thankful that day after day we can come to our Lord confessing our sin and receiving his forgiveness.

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 7 Day 4 Leviticus 11-15

Our reading challenge for the day is Leviticus 11-15. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Today's readings are all about the distinction between unclean and clean. The directives God issues run from what Israel could eat to what they wore, how they would live, and how they would conduct themselves when disease was suspected or when bodily fluids were discharged. We might find some wise medical ideas here but I wonder if we find something more serious - that the people of Israel were consecrated in a way so as to be different from the people around them and to symbolize purity in all they did.

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 7 Day 3 Leviticus 6-10

Our reading challenge for the day is Leviticus 6-10. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Leviticus 6-7 The whole idea of offerings is one which I think we misunderstand. See how the concern in the Scripture is that we have separated ourselves from fellowship with God and man by our sin and that we need to pursue reconciliation. Just paying back what we have taken or somehow damaged is not adequate. We restore more and we also need the offering which will bring forgiveness before God.

Leviticus 8-10 See how those consecrated for service to God receive their ministry according to the Lord's appointment. Aaron and his sons are prepared for service in a particular way, through God's command and as recipients of God's promises. The authority to minister before God and provide forgiveness of sins for the people is something which they do not take upon themselves but which is given to them. When Aaron's sons disobey God and are consumed it is clear that they are undone because of taking God's authority into their own hands. Yet Aaron is to continue ministering according to the Lord's appointment, even in his grief, because that is how the people receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 7 Day 2 Leviticus 1-5

Our reading challenge for the day is Leviticus 1-5. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Leviticus 1 – When people bring burnt offerings to the Lord, regardless of how expensive or inexpensive the animal is, the process is very similar. The animal is killed before the Lord, the blood is applied to the altar, the edible parts are burned on the altar and the inedible parts are disposed of. The animal is to be an unblemished one, which the Lord will receive as a pleasing offering.

Leviticus 2 – Grain offerings are presented before the Lord. Most of the offering is to sustain the priests, but some of it is burned. The bread is always unleavened, symbolizing an absence of sin, and it is always seasoned with salt, (2:13 ESV) “the salt of the covenant with your God.”

Leviticus 3 – If someone brings a peace offering, it is an animal. The animal is killed and the fat is offered on the altar. God takes the fat and leaves the rest for the worshipers.

Leviticus 4-5 – An offering for sin is made much like the peace offering except it appears the animal is not retained for later use but is discarded and destroyed. The offerings for guilt and sin differ according to the penitent’s ability to make an offering, from a bull to a handful of flour.

In all these offerings we see that the priest is coming before the altar with the person who is bringing the offering. The priest makes intercession for the worshiper and the offering is received. God has provided a means of forgiveness and restoration for his people.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Springtime Maladies

For the past several years, about this time of year, I've gone through a more serious challenge with migraine headaches than I do in other times of the year. We're not completely sure why. It may have something to do with sleep patterns, allergens, stress levels of this time of year (a tough time for both teachers and pastors), or any number of other issues. The typical pattern is that I'll end up with a very crippling headache every two or three days. Those who suffer from migraines will recognize that the day after a migraine is a difficult day as well, as the experience leaves us feeling very drained and tired. I'm one of those migraine sufferers who essentially loses my short-term memories when a headache hits, so the day after is filled with opportunities to review and remember what I was supposed to know.

The pattern seems to be upon me. One of the tools I have to fight back against these cycles of headaches is sleep, what seems like an excessive amount of sleep. So it's time for me to streamline myself at least for a few days. I'll try to get my Bible reading challenge posts written and posted, as I intend to keep reading the Scripture. However I'm going to forego the pleasure of writing out a detailed summary of academic book chapters I read for a little while.

Readership has been up of late. I'd ask my readers to please pray for me and for the people to whom I minister both in the local church and at school. My desire is to do all that is necessary but also to take the time to recover well. Check back now and then. When you see the chapter reviews of books arriving again you will know that the migraine cycle is broken!

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 7 Day 1 Luke 21-24

Our reading challenge for the day is Luke 21-24. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Luke 21 - All our earthy possessions, even very valuable earthly possessions such as a temple, will pass away with the coming of Christ in his glory. These earthly things, though they are important, are temporary.

Luke 22 - The events of Jesus' death are set in progress quite clearly as Jesus shows himself to be the Passover sacrificed for his people. We can see Jesus' statements here being fulfilled. I question why so many are so quick to deny Jesus' the ability to speak clearly and literally about the nature of communion as he institutes it. Either God is supernatural or he is not. We confess he can do what he wishes.

Luke 22-23 - Jesus is betrayed and arrested. He does not try to evade any of the charges brought against him, though they are false and contradictory. Despite the nature of the evidence brought, Jesus is condemned. See how people weep for him and are sorry for him but he says rather they should be sorry for themselves. The biblical account of the death of Jesus is much less graphic than anything we see in movies or television programs these days. Yet the events are clear and straightforward. It seems Luke is more interested in showing that Jesus died to redeem his people from death than in showing how terrible the death on a cross is.

Luke 24 - The account of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus is very brief. We learn in Acts that Jesus was appearing to people for forty days before he ascended to heaven. Yet we have only brief accounts in Luke, all on the day of the resurrection. See how Jesus' appearance to his people is unexpected. We may not believe that he will accomplish his purposes, but when he does so he still graciously receives us.

Modern Methods of Textual Criticism

"Modern Methods of Textual Criticism" Metzger & Ehrman pp. 205-249

Classical textual criticism has two important processes, recension and emendation. p. 205 "Recension is the selection, after examination of all available material, of the most trustworthy evidence on which to base a text. Emendation is the attempt to eliminate the errors that are found even in the best manuscripts." Through history scholars have attempted various ways of dealing with the biblical texts. Yet one of the most important developments in biblical criticism has been to determine families of texts. We find that the source document used to make other copies may bring us back toward authoritative early reading. p. 207 "The basic principle that underlies the process of constructing a stemma, or family tree, of manuscripts is that, apart from accident, identity of reading implies identity of origin." Metzger and Ehrman discuss the implications of tracing families of texts, pointing out that one text may have resulted in a large number of copies, but the large number of copies does not necessarily imply the original source document is to be preferred over another source document which may have had relatively few copies made.

In more modern times there have been reactions against the classical methods. One scholar who rejected the methodology of genealogical studies of manuscripts was Joseph Bedier, who (p. 210) "became distrustful of the genealogical method, (1) because in practice it has almost always resulted in the construction of a tree with two branches of witnesses . . . and (2) because one can often argue well for several different stemmata of classification of manuscripts." Metzger and Ehrman suggest in response to Bedier's second criticism that manuscripts remain living entities, as they are copied and recopied, corrected, and commented upon. This means that they are often open to variations. In response to Bedier's first criticism, on p. 211 Metzger and Ehrman observe that "a much more innocent explanation lies behind the circumstance that almost all stemmata result in two branches than the imputation of deliberate suppression or distortion of evidence. From the standpoint of mathematics, as Maas observed, 'We must remind ourselves that of the twenty-two types of stemma possible where three witnesses exist, only one has three branches.'"

Classical scholarship held as an axiom that the shorter reading was generally the original one. Albert C. Clark challenged this view in 1914 when a study of Cicero persuaded him that (p. 212) "accidental omission was a much more common fault than deliberate interpolation by scribes." He suggested that the longer reading might be more reliable, thus suggesting that the Western text rejected by Westcott and Hort was better than the Neutral text they embraced. Later Clark tended to abandon his theory and proposed that Luke had prepared two different editions of Acts. The methodology remains open to debate.

Burnett Hillman Streeter tended to use classical methodology in a positive manner, publishing works in the early 20th century. p. 215 "Building on Westcott and Hort's classic work, Streeter refined their methodology in light of the acquisition of new manuscript evidence since 1881 . . . Streeter emphasized the importance of isolating the forms of text that were current at the great centers of ancient Christianity." Streeter thought he was able to identify three different forms of text and he postulated a fourth text which has passed into the others in mixture with their texts. He suggested that readings after the fifth century could safely be ignored unless they differed from the Byzantine text. Generally Streeters methodology and conclusions have fallen out of favor.

p. 218 "The end of the twentieth century saw a resurgence of interest in the Byzantine text type among those who believe that the original text is best preserved in the vast majority of witnesses produced in the Middle Ages." Metzger and Ehrman spend some time discussing the conclusions and arguments of those who favor the Textus Receptus as the most reliable biblical text.

p. 222-223 "Several scholars have directed primary attention to the individual variants themselves in an effort to find which will account best for the rise of the others. This process has been given various names. Sometimes it has been referred to as 'rational criticism.' . . . in its application the textual critic pays less attention to questions of date and families of manuscripts than to internal or contextual considerations." Eclecticism can be taken to greater or lesser levels. Different scholars consider different texts as more or less worthy of inclusion in their eclectic editions.

Conjectural emendation has also existed. pp. 226-227 "If the only reading, or each of several variant readings, that the documents supply is impossible or incomprehensible, the editor's only remaining resource is to conjecture what the original reading must have been . . . Before a conjecture can be regarded as even probable, it must satisfy the two primary tests that are customarily applied in evaluating variant readings in manuscripts: (1) it must be intrinsically suitable and (2) it must account for the corrupt reading or readings in the transmitted text." One of the difficulties seen in this method has been the tendency to propose a reading which cannot be documented where there are other readings which can make sense.

Recent scholarship has also streamlined studies somewhat. Some scholars determine relationships among manuscripts then consult only the most important witnesses in a group, considering that they will determine the reading of the entire family. In their collations these scholars will frequently also look at the percentage of diversion from one another to identify whether the texts seem to be substantially in agreement with one another.

Some scholars have used profiling, using tendencies within a family of texts to identify the subgroups they fit. Some have identified some likely test passages which they think can point them accurately toward places where the families will diverge, thus allowing them to look at just a few passages in the manuscripts. Others will use sophisticated statistical profiling to see the extent to which texts diverge from one another.

This profiling tendency leads Metzger and Ehrman to discuss use of computer technology in biblical criticism. I found this portion of the chapter sadly lacking, as the authors discuss methods of compiling and analyzing variants in texts, as well as displaying images of manuscripts as ideas which will hopefully emerge onto the scene sometime in the future. I looked again at the copyright date of this edition of the book, as most of the methods which they said showed promise for the future were known to me as being theoretically possible as early as the mid 1980s. However, the copyright date in the book is 2004. Apparently biblical scholarship had, as of that time, remained behind the curve of technology. Maybe it will catch up at some point, making robust study tools available to scholars all around the world.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sermon “Let the Children Come to Me“ Luke 18:15-17

Sermon “Let the Children Come to Me“ Luke 18:15-17 audio link

Lord, grant that we may be eager to hear your word and to believe you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today we are having a celebration of life. Often a life Sunday is scheduled to coincide with the 1973 Supreme Court decision which effectively allowed for legal abortion. This year we ended up missing that date and having this date instead. Yet there's a sense, and it's an important sense, in which it is always life Sunday for the Christian.

If we are able, let us rise for the reading of another passage of the Gospel, this found in Luke's Gospel, the 18th chapter, beginning at verse 15.

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to You, oh Christ.
Please be seated.

This passage, familiar as part of the reading this week in our Bible reading challenge, and probably familiar to everyone who has ever been in a Sunday school class for more than a year, says more than we often realize it does. I'd like to point out three of the many lessons we can learn as we look to these verses today. First, Jesus invites little children to himself. Second, the kingdom of God is just the right place for children. Finally, we come to our Lord as children.

Jesus invites little children to himself. The word Luke uses for “little children” is the Greek word which would indicate either an unborn baby or a newly born baby. It is probably used better for someone who is still in the womb than it is for someone who has been born, and will stop being used within about a year after birth. It's the term for a very small child. These are people whom Jesus loves. They are people who are created in the image of God. They are entirely people. And Jesus invites them to himself. He invites them to hear of his saving love. He invites them to receive his blessing. He considers them important. In the words of Lutheran theologian and popular author Theodore Geisel, “A person's a person, no matter how small.”

Yet our culture at large has rejected that idea, and has been rejecting this value of human life now for more than forty years. We've seen it in the movement to kill living human beings who have not yet been born. We have seen it in many other developed countries, and in attitudes increasingly common in this country aimed at older people. We like to use the politically friendly terms such as “euthanasia” and “assisted suicide” while people who are elderly, infirm, or deemed unproductive by our society are put to death or encouraged to put themselves to death. At the beginning and end of life we look less and less at human life as a blessing from God and more and more as something to be endured, at least for a while, in hopes that someone useful and productive can emerge.

What happens when we reject the idea that human life is a gift from God? You may have noticed that we broke with some tradition and have changed the paraments to red. I thought about changing them to white, since we often think of the beauty and purity of those created in God's image. But we use red as the color for martyrdom, for those who have died. Since 1973 in this country alone we have had approximately 54 million “safe, legal” abortions. But those abortions are not safe, not safe at all. Not only does one of every two humans involved in an act of abortion die, we also see increased rates of depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and suicide among women who have had abortions. It's not safe at all. And more importantly, it deprives human children from any opportunity to come to Jesus for forgiveness of the sin in which they were conceived. It separates those children eternally from the loving and forgiving work of Christ on the cross. If all have sinned, that includes all those people we haven't met yet. That includes my granddaughter, whose picture is on my office door, whom we hope to meet sometime in June. She needs the forgiveness of Jesus who died for her as well.

People involved in this culture of death have told me, and they may have told you as well, “If you don't like abortion, don't have one.” But the Bible tells us to care for those who cannot help themselves. We are to protect the helpless. We are not just anti abortion, but we are pro life. So our desire is to defend life.

That desire to defend life, though, becomes more complicated when we start looking at medical research. There's a wide-ranging debate in this country right now about stem cell research, a promising field of research which has been finding cures for previously incurable illnesses. What does not show up so clearly in our news media is that the stem cell research industry is separated into two branches. One branch, which refers to adult stem cells, finds ways of taking cells from an ill patient, for instance, blood cells, which that patient can make more of. They have found out how to persuade the cells to adapt themselves into other, healthy bodily tissues which can be used to treat or even replace unhealthy tissues. This branch of research has worked remarkably well and has saved many many lives.

The other branch of stem cell research doesn't like to tell us how they go about their research. It's called embryonic stem cell research. They take fertilized eggs, possibly “left-overs” from other medical treatments, and clone the embryos, the humans at the very earliest stage of their lives. These cloned embryos are used for research to see if they can generate bodily tissues which can be implanted into sick people and overcome their illnesses, much like the adult stem cell tissues do. There are a couple of drawbacks, though. The first is not so important to me, but it might be to others. No cure for any known disease has ever been found through this method. It has had a zero percent success rate so far, while adult stem cell research has had a fairly good success rate. Yet the low success rate doesn't bother me so much. Inventors are very often finding out that what they tried didn't work. Edison found hundreds of ways not to make a light bulb. It's all right to try and fail. But what is the cost in embryonic stem cell research? To do an experiment the researchers start a human life and then destroy it. Each time we experiment, somebody dies. Does it matter that this is somebody for whom there were no parents on the scene, who was never “intended” to be living in our world? “A person's a person no matter how small.” “Let the little children come to Me.”

The picture becomes even more muddled, though. Do you want to avoid supporting the abortion industry and embryonic stem cell research? Fine. But what do we do to encourage those people who are looking for cures for diseases? Groups which are dedicated to fighting diseases such as cancer often strongly support embryonic stem cell research, which always results in the death of human embryos. Recently, for instance, the Susan G. Komen for the cure foundation withdrew support for Planned Parenthood, apparently partly in response to pro-life groups which have pointed out a link between women receiving abortions and development of breast cancer, partly because they wished to avoid ties with organizations which were under criminal investigation or organizations which simply pass donations through to other cancer-diagnosis and treatment providers. The Komen foundation then reversed their decision when they were bombarded by criticism from government officials and liberal-leaning groups. This is a prominent group, doing a good deal for a cause that is important to millions of people. Yet we have to question what else they may be supporting. And we get to question all sorts of organizations. For instance, the American Cancer Society, sponsor of the Relay for Life, is supportive of embryonic stem cell research and also provides links to and support for abortion providers. Yet those abortion providers have virtually no involvement in cancer prevention. They are committed to ending human lives. We want to encourage researchers who are trying to find a cure for a deadly disease. But we don't want to be encouraging the killing of those little children. Jesus says they should be allowed to come to him. How do we do this? I wish I could answer it for you. Yet I can't and I realize it's time for me to step down off my soapbox without mentioning genocide or anything that would have me imprisoned if we were in a church in some countries.

Two more points, then, quickly, this time. What did I say at first? First, Jesus invites little children to himself. Second, the kingdom of God is just the right place for children. Finally, we come to our Lord as children.

So the kingdom of God is just the right place for children. As people who need to receive the blessing and forgiveness of Jesus, this is where our children need to be. One prominent Christian philosopher pointed out in my presence once that children are sinners like the rest of us. They are simply cute sinners. When we think about it, we all are condemned. Regardless of age, we have not loved God with all our hearts. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. And in some ways small children are worse about this than adults. They are less conscious of their neighbors and the needs those neighbors have. Yet where sin abounds, grace abounds more. God's merciful presence in Word and Sacrament is exactly what people of every age, including small children, need. We don't simply treat the family as a holding tank for children who will have to decide later whether they will believe on Christ or not. we treat the family as a place where the work of the ministry goes on, where the Word of God is read and treasured, where we pray for one another, and where we nurture one another in the love of Christ. That is why I am encouraged to see families with children coming to church. Parents and children alike need the grace of God. That is why I'm encouraged when young fathers and old fathers look to our Lord to teach them how to live as the heads of their families, leading them in all righteousness. That's why I'm encouraged when young mothers and old mothers look to the Lord to teach them how to live as godly women, nurturing their families, supporting their husbands in leadership. That's why I'm encouraged when children look to our Lord for grace to grow in him and to mature in the context of their families.

Did I leave someone out, though? I did, and that's someone we need to value. How about the person who has no family? How about the person who has been tossed aside, the one who is abandoned, the one who is weak and hurt? How about the unwed mother who has been abandoned by her boyfriend? How about the father who has his children but the children's mother is not around? How about the orphans and widows of this world? We may be anti-abortion, but how pro-life are we? Are we ready to receive some of these people, no, not some of them, all of these people, as those people whom the Lord would have come to him? Or do we treat them as outsiders and hope they go away soon? “Let the little children come to me.” Jesus also wants the not-so-little children to come to him.

That brings me to the last point. First, Jesus invites little children to himself. Second, the kingdom of God is just the right place for children. Finally, we come to our Lord as children.

How do we approach our God? Like children, we realize that we can't bring anything he needs. We can't do anything that will earn his favor. We can't bring our righteousness because we don't have any of that. All we bring is the fact that our Lord has called us to himself, that he has given himself for us and for our salvation. All we bring is the fact that we are weak and helpless and that he is strong, merciful, and calls us to himself. How did these babies come to Jesus? They were little bitty babies. They didn't walk, they didn't even crawl. They were brought to Jesus. And someone has brought each one of us to Jesus as well. The Holy Spirit has used others to bring us to Jesus.

When we look at our culture, the people all around us, the people who are not valued enough, the people who don't value other people enough, those people are really not that different from us. We all need to be brought to Jesus. We all need his care. We all need his forgiveness. The question is whether we who have been brought to Jesus are ready to receive his kingdom, and whether we who have received his kingdom are ready to be his instruments to bring others to him. Will we defend life? Will we protect and nurture those people, bringing them up in the nurture of the Gospel? Will we guard the elderly and people who seem otherwise not very useful from harm, knowing that they are dear to our Lord? Will we welcome our friends and neighbors, as well as our enemies and strangers, with open arms, to a life of repentance, faith, and the love of Christ?

Jesus calls us to himself as little children. He lays his hand of blessing on us. Let us receive all his blessing, in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Teacher-Student Conundrums

I love being a teacher. I really do. I've done it for a living since 1995 and have found it a very fulfilling life. And before that time I really enjoyed being a student. Now as I am employed as a pastor and as a teacher and am spending time, money, and no small amount of effort trying to learn to be a student again, it's serving to open my eyes.

Case in point. If you've been following this blog you will have noticed that I'm posting summaries of chapters in books I read for seminary and for other purposes. One of my assignments for a seminary course is to write a critical review of one of those books that I've been summarizing. It seems like it should be a pretty easy task. But I'm now running into trouble with length requirements. After I pulled the material for Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke and dropped it into a word processing document with double-spacing I found I had thirty-odd pages of material. Some pages, of course, were odder than others. Now to reduce that to five pages of summary and five pages of commentary, consistent with what the professor has requested - that's more of a challenge to me than reading the book and writing the posts.

It's a good challenge, learning to present material in the way that the teacher requests it. Not that the teacher is necessarily requiring the best possible manner of presentation or that there are particular advantages of that over anything else you could do. It's just good to learn to comply with the requirements placed upon us. Who knows when we might need to do other tasks in accordance with the expectations others give us? It isn't that uncommon.

So as I take a couple of days off from writing chapter reviews, I'm busy learning to trim material, hopefully the best material to be trimmed, in order to present a nice concise package to a professor.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 6 Day 5 Luke 16-20

Our reading challenge for the day is Luke 16-20. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

From chapter 16 through most of chapter 19, Luke simply turns up the heat on what we observed yesterday. Not only are we to trust in God to deliver his people, but we are to realize that we deserve nothing of the kind. All the situations in which God redeems his people in these parables are patently situations in which the people did nothing worthy of redemption. It is out of God's pure mercy and pleasure that he rescues us from sin.

Near the end of chapter 19 we have Jesus entering into Jerusalem. Though he shows himself to be the king and master of all, yet he is challenged and rejected by his opponents. What will happen to them? The parables he tells make it quite clear that in the last day God will condemn those who have rejected him. Yet in the mean time he is shown to be the Lord who weeps over the people who reject him. May we have grace to treat our enemies in the same way today, allowing God to be the final judge.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 6 Day 4 Luke 11-15

Our reading challenge for the day is Luke 11-15. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

There is one message that arises again and again in Luke 11-15. As Jesus makes many parabolic statements and does many parabolic actions, see that they all point toward depending on him, trusting that our Lord and Savior cares for us and will rescue us no matter our situation. This is not a normal response for fallen humanity, as we would rather trust ourselves and our own abilities and plans. Yet wherever we look to the Lord in faith we see he is the one who delivers his people.

Here's a challenge. Take three passages from today's reading and try to read them through the lens I described above. See if that agrees with the way you have heard those passages taught before. See if it seems to fit with the rest of Scripture.

When Were the Gospels Written?

"When Were the Gospels Written?" Wenham pp. 223-244

p. 223 "On the face of it the synoptic apocalypse makes a date before 70 probable for all three gospels - there is no suggestion of Jesus' momentous prophecy having been fulfilled." Wenham also cites 2 Corinthians 8:18 to identify a date for Luke's gospel. p. 223 "The 'brother whose fame in the gospel is throughout the churches; is evidently Luke, and his fame derives from his gospel-book. (This usage of εὐαγγέλιον was to be expected any time after Mark 1:1 had been written.) It makes 55 the latest possible date for Luke."

p. 223 "mark is to be dated c. 45, after Peter's first visit to Rome in 42-44."

p. 223 "Matthew is to be dated before the dispersal of the apostles in 42. Irenaeus is often misinterpreted in favour of a date after Paul had reached Rome.'

As regards the dating before or after 70, Wenham observes that there is a good deal of eschatological discussion in the synoptic gospels, pointing to a great destruction. But while this is predicted, there is a difference between predictions and statements of current situations. p. 224 "The eschatological discourse foretells the shocking disaster which forty years later was to engulf the Jewish people, yet not one of them tells us that Jesus' prophecy was fulfilled."

Finding an appropriate date for Acts, since we want to put Luke before it, is important in dating. Wenham observes that the final events of Acts require a date at least as late as 62. But with the positive attitude shown in Acts about the Roman government it is hard to feature a date after 70. Scholars tend to be moving toward earlier dates for Acts, pushing it as early as 62. p. 229 "The decisive reason for rejecting 62 for the dating of Acts has been the dating of Luke (and lying behind that the dating of Mark).

So when do we date Luke? It does not seem to be the case that Luke is the first part of an organic whole. But the books are clearly by the same author and seem to have been created in the sequence of Luke followed by Acts. p. 230 "An attractive way of dating Luke, if it must be dated no later than 62, is to place it during the time of Paul's imprisonment in Caesarea: 57-59. This is related in a we-passage which records the arrival of Paul and Luke in Jerusalem: 'When we had come to Jerusalem' (21:17), and their departure from Caesarea: 'we put to sea' (27:2). During this long stay in Palestine, Luke would have had ample opportunity for interviewing scores of witnesses and building up an accurate body of information to put in his gospel. It is perfectly possible that Luke did this, but there is evidence to suggest that we should look for an even earlier date."

The suggestion then of 2 Corinthians 8:18 is that Luke may well have been famous for having written a gospel account. The account could well have been written during the period of 49-57, when Luke does not appear to have been in the story of Acts. 2 Corinthians was written about 56, thus allowing a good period of time for Luke to have written a gospel account. p. 231 "There are noteworthy references in the great early fathers, Origen, Eusebius, Ephraem, Chrysostom, Jerome, identifying the brother 'whose praise in the gospel had spread through all the churches' with Luke." There is also some manuscript evidence that 2 Corinthians (p. 231) "was written from Philippi διά Titus and Luke. If in fact this reference is to Luke and the "gospel" is a reference to a written account, we have a date prior to 56 for the publication of the gospel.

The question remains whether or not it is appropriate to refer to "gospel" as "a written account of what Jesus did" at this time period. While the word simply means "good news" Mark 1;1 could certainly be taken to look like the title of a book, whether Mark intended it that way or not. So it is certainly possible that after the publication of Mark, subsequent authors who wrote an account of Jesus' life might be referred to as people who wrote a "gospel."

p. 237 "So then, this piece of external evidence, if we have assessed it correctly, would give us our first firm gospel date: the gospel of Luke was written before 56, the approximate date of 2 Corinthians." Wenham suggests that to become famous it would have taken at least a year's time, given the pace of travel within the Roman empire.

In chapters 6 and 7 Wenham concluded that Peter and Mark were probably in Rome from 42 to 44. As to the dating of Mark's gospel, (p. 238) "any date between 44 and the writing of Luke in the early 50s is...possible."

p. 239 "There is a suggestion [in Eusebius] that the writing of the gospel preceded the departure of Matthew from Palestine. As we have seen (pp. 160-62) there was a widespread belief that the apostles were dispersed from Jerusalem twelve years after the crucifixion." Wenham suggests, though, that Eusebius points toward an early date in the 30s or 40s for Matthew, but that Irenaeus considered the date to be in the 60s. He analyzes the data and observes that Eusebius actually seems to put Matthew in the year 41. This would be consistent with the idea of Matthew writing the gospel down before leaving Jerusalem about twelve years after the resurrection.

Wenham makes his conclusions on pp. 243-244, which I quote extensively.

"The argument of Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke, which has eight major stages, has been cumulative:
1.) Verbal synoptic likenesses and differences are best explained by independent use of the primitive form of oral instruction.
2.) Genre and order are best explained by a literary relationship.
3.) In particular, Luke knew Mark's gospel.
4.) Dates should be reckoned by working back from Acts, the natural date of which is 62.
5.) Luke's gospel was apparently well known in the mid-50s.
6.) According to tradition Mark's gospel gives Peter's teaching in Rome.
7.) Peter's first visit to Rome was probably 42-44 and Mark's gospel was probably written about 45.
8.) The universal tradition of the early church puts Matthew first, which means a date around 40."

Wenham states that his theory "confirms the general soundness of early tradition, showing the external evidence and the internal evidence to be in remarkably close agreement. It gives us two gospels containing the teaching of apostles and a third by one who had followed everything closely for a long time. These were written at dates when many were alive who could confirm or contradict what was written. This means that the Christian is fully justified in accepting anything that is written in these books until it is proved beyond reasonable doubt to be in error. It confirms the right of the Christian church to maintain its traditional stance with regard to the foundation documents of the faith without impairing its integrity - and for that we should be thankful indeed."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 6 Day 3 Luke 6-10

Our reading challenge for the day is Luke 6-10. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Luke 6 - Jesus shows himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. The following sermon on the level place is very much akin to Matthew's Sermon on the Mount found in chapters 5-7 of that gospel.

Luke 7-8 Jesus shows himself to be the one who saves and heals the outcasts from society. He cares about those who are lowly in society. This is perplexing to most of us, as he is the one who is worthy of all acclaim but does not seek it.

Luke 9-10 Jesus continues healing and showing himself to be the mighty God. His disciples seem to start believing on him in more specific terms, even before the transfiguration. See how his mission is first to send out twelve, then seventy-two. The breadth of his sending of his messengers continues to widen.

Jesus-Tradition Oral and Written

"Jesus-Tradition Oral and Written" Wenham pp. 217-222

In this penultimate chapter Wenham asks the very important question of why the gospels are not referred to throughout the New Testament if, in fact, they were written early. There are remarkably few specific citations of the gospels in the remainder of the New Testament and even in the immediate subapostolic period. p. 219 "The thinness of appeal to the Jesus-tradition is not confined to the literature written at a time when the existence of the gospels is debatable, but it continues into the period of the apostolic fathers."

Wenham summarizes the arguments of Thompson on pp. 219-220. "1.) Language which echose the gospels is commonest in paraenesis. But in paraenesis, where argument ceases and exhortation begins, Paul has no need to cite sources. 2.) The occasional nature of the epistles means that their purpose is not to present the ABCs of Christian tradition for neophytes, but to give particular answers to particular problems. 3.) Paul's own chief experience of Christ was on the Damascus road, and his supreme concern continues to be with Christ as he is, rather than as he was. 4.) The cross outshone all other examples of love and humility, and the resurrection outshone all other examples of power. The whole Jesus-tradition was necessary to make the gospel claim intelligible, but in paraenesis all was secondary to its great climax. 5.) Chrsitianity was builto n Judaism and this remained a source for much of what Paul taught. So it is that he had no occasion to tell his readers what Jesus habitually spoke in parables, that he healed the sick and ministered in Galilee, that he was baptised, tempted and transfigured."

We go on to see five more reasons which may have prevented the norm in the Church from being the written gospels in the early period. First, those who had heard messages from the apostles would be more likely to depend on what those apostles said rather than what they wrote. Second, while Jewish education emphasized memorization of scriptures, the Gentile converts had more of an oral culture so would have been more familiar with sayings than writings. Third, scrolls are difficult to manage and refer to. Until the common use of the codex it would be more natural to quote and paraphrase from well known events. Fourth, it was some time before churches developed a habit of reading specifically a gospel and an epistle. The epistles were read but the gospel was stated in the preaching. Finally, canonicity would have developed slowly out of apostolic authority. The apostlic teaching was seen as the authority, but the writing was not necessarily considered as the whole body of the apostolic doctrine.

p. 222 "These factors account for the paucity of references to the gospels as manuals of instruction and show that in practice reliance was placed for a long time on oral instruction rather than on written texts."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 6 Day 2 Luke 1-5

Our reading challenge for the day is Luke 1-5. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Luke 1-2 Notice that this carefully researched report Luke gives us is all about miraculous events - births of two children to mothers who could not have children but who conceived in response to an angelic message. The events surrounding both the birth of Jesus and of John the Baptizer are truly extraordinary. Yet when someone today talks about careful research, miraculous events don't tend to come up in the discussion. Maybe we can recapture the idea that simply because it is miraculous does not mean it is not true.

Luke 3 See how forcefully John calls people to believe Jesus. He is clear that Jesus is the one to watch, not John. The genealogy, as is proper for a gospel written to a possibly Gentile audience, traces Jesus as the son of God, not merely the son of Abraham. He is the one promised from the very start.

Luke 4-5 Jesus engages in ministry by healing, preaching, and calling disciples. Notice that, unlike most situations, Jesus selects his disciples. They do not select him. He is the one who will teach them what they need to know, who will show them what they need to see, and who will empower them for the work of the ministry.

How Were the Gospels Written?

"How Were the Gospels Written?" Wenham, pp. 198-216

A question central to Wenham's book is the manner of the composition of the gospels. Recent scholarship has taken a view of literary dependence which assumes a different manner of composition than is typical among authors, that is, a lifting of words and phrases from other texts in order to create a new text. Wenham suggests that this is highly unlikely. p. 198 "It is unlikely that one evangelist worked directly on the scroll of another. Ancient historians relied on their memories and the briefest of notes."

As opposed to this literary dependence, Wenham suggests an extensive oral background. The Roman culture of the time, as well as the Jewish culture, emphasized learning oral traditions, speeches, sayings, and the like. While people did clearly take notes on what they heard, the educational process generally emphasized speaking and writing from spoken sources, not writing and copying written sources.

On pp. 201-202 Wenham suggests that Matthew's gospel was written first, taking from Matthew's recollection and notes that he may well have taken over the years. He may well have written a version in Aramaic or in Greek. This gospel would have likely been based on the instruction in the life and work of Jesus which was given to people who came to Jerusalem wishing to hear from the apostles about the Christ.

Wenham discusses the writing of Marks gospel on pp. 202-207. He is clear that there are more variables to be considered in Mark's gospel. It may well have been structured based on Matthew's gospel. Tradition says the content is dependent on Peter's teaching. It is quite possible that Peter would have used a copy of Matthew's gospel in his preaching and teaching, as a prompt or an organizational aid. This would explain some of the parallelisms between Matthew and Mark. Mark also, of course, may have been quite familiar with Matthew's gospel. Yet because of the amount of concentration and work required to make an actual copy of a scroll, particularly with the customs of the time (no writing desk, for example), it is unlikely that Mark would have copied passages from Matthew. Rather, Mark would have approached the work with an intention of providing another view of Jesus' life and work, informed by Matthew and by the preaching of Peter, but not strictly dependent on Matthew's writing for quotations.

We turn our attention to Luke's gospel from pages 208-213. According to Luke's prologue there were already written sources. Yet Luke seems to have other sources of information as well, sources he trusts a good deal. Luke presents himself as someone who is experienced in the gospel and in teaching, as well as someone who has done thorough research. The length of Luke's gospel suggests that he planned it to fit within one standard scroll. This can explain his selectivity in usage of material which appears in Matthew and Mark. Matthew already gave a comprehensive account, so would have been used here and there as needed. Mark, being much shorter, may have served Luke as an outline. Based on notes pulled from those sources and his own notes, Luke could have worked out his overall plan, then cut it in order to fit on a scroll. It would seem natural for him to keep the material which was not included in the existing gospels so as to present his on view of Jesus' life.

Wenham wraps up this chapter with some notes about the genealogies of Jesus. It may well be that the genealogy in Luke is that of Mary, while in Matthew we have the genealogy of Joseph. It may be that one of the genealogies is one of birth and the other is one indicating the legal inheritance of the royal power of David. Whatever the differences we seem to have two different traditions for the genealogy. There is no definitive explanation.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I guess I've got my priorities in an odd place . . .

I guess I've got my priorities in an odd place. Yesterday, when an enormous number of Americans were engaging in one of the biggest holidays of the year, festivities surrounding the Super Bowl, I took the family out for pizza after church, a slightly belated birthday celebration for my now fifteen year old daughter. Our family along with my daughter's guest went home and played a rousing game of Settlers of Catan, then pretty much went our own ways to give all us introverts some time to recharge. Later on, a couple of episodes of Dr. Who, some homemade soup, and some finger foods. Way better, in my opinion, than watching a bunch of people chasing an oblong ball or even than watching the quirky ways people try to market their products on the most expensive television time of the year.

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 6 Day 1 Exodus 37-40

Our reading challenge for the day is Exodus 37-40. I'll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

We read about the final construction of some of the furnishings of the tabernacle and of the tabernacle itself, as well as the priestly garments. While we could talk about all the symbolism in the various features of the furnishings and garments, and that could be fruitful, what strikes me is what happens afterward. Aaron and his sons are washed, dressed, and anointed. See that they don't prepare themselves, just as they did not choose themselves. How does our Lord prepare people for ministry? He is the one who chooses us, calls us, and provides people in our lives who train us and set us aside for God's service. There's some symbolism to the pastor being dressed in special liturgical garments, and having someone put the robe, stole, and other garments upon him. We don't always do this, but it would be full of symbolic meaning if we did. Enabling God's people to receive the grace of God through word and sacrament is not something we take upon ourselves. It is something placed upon us.

See God's response to the faithful work of the servants of Israel. He so fills the tabernacle with his glory that even Moses, who has approached him on the mountain, cannot enter the tabernacle. God's presence is with his people wherever they need to go.

Exodus is done. Next stop? Luke's Gospel!


"Galatians" Carson & Moo pp. 456-478

Carson and Moo observe that Paul's letter to the Galatians shows a great deal of urgency. When we confront people who are entrapped in sin and are harming themselves, it is a very important matter, in reality a matter of life and death.

p. 457 "Paul contrasts life in the Spirit with that in the flesh, which leads to instruction about right living. Paul takes up the pen himself to close with an impassioned reminder that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters - but God's new creation does."

This letter has a very long history of being recognized as a work of the apostle Paul. Internal evidence and historical tradition are consistent.

An address to "Galatia" is problematic. The region of Galatia is essentially divided into two portions. The northern portion, a mountainous and remote area, was settled by Gauls in the third century B.C. The southern portion, a coastal region, had a multi-ethnic community during the Roman period. We know that Paul had journeyed through the southern regions, stopping at multiple cities. However, his welcome in that area was not uniformly positive. Paul's letter to the Galatians seems to indicate a very positive experience with the people. However, Paul had been ill at the time when he apparently met the Galatians. This would tend to suggest that he would not have gone to the difficult and remote mountainous area. We are left uncertain about what portion of Galatia Paul is addressing.

pp. 461-462 "If one adopts the North Galatian theory, then because Paul could not have spent enough time ministering in the north to plant churches until about halfway through his recorded missionary service, the date of Galatians, which of course must have been written after the planting of the church, must be a little later - about the same time as Paul's letter to Rome. If the South Galatian theory is adopted, an early date is possible." Carson and Moo suggest a number of considerations which support an early date, including his lack of mention of the decree of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, which addressed many of the issues Paul addresses in Galatians. Others suggest an affinity with the Corinthian letters and lean toward a later composition. pp. 464-465 "That the letter precedes the Jerusalem Council seems indicated by the fact that Paul makes no mention of its verdict. Even if he did not make it his main argument, it is hard to see why he should omit all mention of such a significant support to his argument against accepting the whole Jewish Torah."

p. 465 "From Acts 13-14 we learn that Paul and Barnabas evangelized the southern part of the province of Galatia by going first to the synagogues, where they preached to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. but in each city Jews stirred up opposition, and the preachers turned to the Gentiles and made converts from among them."

p. 465 "But after Paul and Barnabas left the scene, apparently some Jewish Christians came into the area and taught that those who embrace the Christian salvation must submit to Jewish Law, the Torah."

p. 466 "In recent years some have argued that all or at least most of the laws that these interlopers were pressing on the Galatians were the legislative pieces that established "boundary markers" - the practices that differentiated Jews from other people . . . Certainly Paul is constantly at pains to unite Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Nevertheless, this "new perspective" on Paul is too narrow."

Carson and Moo suggest a number of situations that apparently provoked the composition. There were apparently false teachers who had come from the Jewish Christian camp. They sometimes see libertinism, spurring people to indulge in sin. There were criticisms of Paul mentioned. And the gospel of grace was compromised by the teaching which had arisen in Galatia.

There are a number of minor variants in the text of Galatians but nothing which causes difficulties. Among the variants are the name used for Peter and whether in chapter 1 verse 6 the words "of Christ" should come after the word "grace." These are not serious problems.

Galatians was adopted very early and consistently as canonical. There are hints of it in late first century and early second century authors.

There is an ongoing debate about the identity of the people Paul was opposing. There is also a great deal of study on the rhetorical features of Galatians. Rather a lot of the most recent discussion focuses on the work of E.P. Sanders who suggested that the Jews never thought they could be saved by keeping the law. His work surfaces as a presupposition of many in Pauline studies today.

This book sets out the truth of justification by faith in Christ and by no other means. This concept is of critical importance to all Christians. There is also a strong emphasis on Christian freedom. We are justified by grace through faith and we are set free to walk in the Spirit.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Origins of Textual Criticism as a Scholarly Discipline

The Origins of Textual Criticism as a Scholarly Discipline" Metzger & Ehrman pp. 197-204

Where did the whole idea of textual criticism come from? Is this practice of deciding what the original reading of a document might be a very recent practice? Does it apply only to biblical studies or is it carried on in other genres of literature as well?

Metzger and Ehrman point to the origins of textual criticism in the Classical period and more so in the Hellenistic period when ancient Greeks starting in the 5th century B.C. would analyze different manuscripts of Homer and try to sift out variant readings and portions which seemed not to be original to the thext.

p. 198 "It is less widely appreciated - indeed, the qustion has seldom been raised - how far the methods of textual criticism current at Alexandria were adopted by scholars in the Church and applied to the text of the New Testament." Metzger and Ehrman go on to summarize some of the early patristic efforts to confirm the earliest text of the New Testament.

p. 199 "It appears that a learned leather merchant named Theodotus, lately come from Byzantium to Rome, had been stung by certain criticisms that Galen, the famous Greek physician, had leveled against the philosophical naivete of many Christians. In an attempt to introduce improvements in the methodology of scriptural interpreation, Theodotus and his followers seem to have undertaken a critical recension of the biblical text." Eusebius quotes a segment from a pamphlet published against those people. p. 199 "According to this author, the Theodotians deserved to be condemned on three scores: (1) they were engrossed in the study of logic, mathematics, and empirical science . . . (2) rejecting allegorizing, they practiced strict grammatical exegesis; and (3) they applied textual criticism to the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament." We really know virtually nothing more about this early movement, except that the people involved in it (p. 199) "were excommunicated as heretics by the authoritarian bishop of Rome, Pope Victor 1 (served as pope c. A.D. 187-198)."

p. 200 "Origen of Alexandria and Caesarea began a text-critical study of the entire Old Testament in Hebrew and in several Greek transations. His resulting Hexapla, which must have required many years of the most painstaking labor, was a monumental tool that many patristic scholars consulted in the famed library of Pamphilus at Caesarea, until its destruction in the seventh century during the Islamic conquest of the Near East."

These efforts at textual criticism, and the comments of Metzger and Ehrman about the excommunication of the Theodotians, along with a realization that Origen was also later considered a heretic, do not tell us a great deal about either the theology of the patristic period or about the fruitfulness of the textual studies. There is no real reason to believe that people have been excommunicated based on a desire to study the Scripture more effectively. There is also no real reason to believe that their actual textual work was particularly ground-breaking. An interesting insight, brought out on pp. 200-201 is that Origen documented some variant readings but then endorsed the positive aspects of the various readings, emphasizing their spiritual usefulness and insight, rather than talking about which one was a more likely original reading or giving reasons to prefer one over another. This is akin to people who will evaluate modern translations or paraphrases of the Bible based on whether they like the expressiveness or theological slant of one or another, rather than based on which is a more fair and accurate representation of the Scripture which God has given to his people.

p. 201 "Judged according to modern standards, St. Jerome (c. 347-420) was a more sagacious textual critic than Origen, well aware of the varieties of error that arise in the transcription of manuscripts." Jerome talks about the various ways a scribe could make a copying error or could choose to correct what he considered a poor reading of a passage.

p. 202 "Although primarily a theologian, St. Augustine (354-430) showed on occasion a keen critical judgment in textual problems." He suggests considering majority readings, but also seems aware that there are some instances when a majority reading may exist because of many copies being made from a corrupted text. Therefore he also recommends the practice of looking to manuscripts held in places of great learning and research when there are passages which are in doubt.

p. 203 "During the Middle Ages, when knowledge of Greek was at a low ebb, text-critical efforts were now and then directed toward the purification of Jerome's Vulgate text." Medieval authors will sometimes make comments suggesting the Greek which would presumably lie behind Jerome's translation.

p. 203 "At the time of the Renaissance and with the spread of the knowledge of ancient Greek, scholars began to correct the Latin Vulgate by the original Greek." The work of Erasmus and Beza, as well as the editors of the Geneva Bible, shows not only interest in the Vulgate text but also in comparison of Greek manuscripts.

p. 204 "The first scholar to make any use of all three classes of evidence for the text of the New Testament - that is, Greek manuscripts, the early versions, and quotations from the fathers - was probably Francis Lucas of Bruges (grugensis) in his Notationes in sacra Biblia, quibus variantia . . . discutiuntur (Antwerp, 1580). Toward the close of the seventeenth century, the scientific foundations of New Testament criticism were laid in four monumental publications of richard Simon 91638-1712), a French Catholic scholar far ahead of his day in biblical research." Simon chose to view the Bible specifically as a piece of literature, applying the same interpretive methods to it as would be applied to other pieces of literature.