Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Homework for March 3 - Write your own creed

What do you believe? Write your own creed. Be as detailed or sweeping as you wish to be. Consider this a snapshot of what you believe now. This is not a test of orthodoxy, but a gauge of your spiritual life. You might even put it in an envelope and look at it a year from now.

We will share our creeds next week, and feel free to share yours here on this blog.

Jesus, Paul and the Dream of God

• Last week we finished the Old Testament

• This week, we begin New Testament (the image at right is a fragment of an early manuscript from the New Testament)

• We begin not at the gospels, but at the first documents written: the letters

• Backtrack: The Gospels are organized first because they are the most important; but doesn’t mean they were written first.

• The letters were written first: Paul; Peter; John letters, which coincide with three New Testament theologies that parallel in the gospels.

• We look tonight at the letters because it is important to see the filters through which that the gospels are written – Jesus is standing on a far horizon and we see him through a lens.

o That lens is NT, and the first lens is theology of the NT writers, and that theology is explicitly spelled out in the letters, or epistles (Greek for letters).

• What we’ve talked about previously matters a great deal – the OT will be interpreted in new ways and used to bolster the arguments of Christians that they have found the true path to God:

Paul/Early Church

To talk about this section of the Bible, need to grasp history of the early church:

• The church we inherit is Paul’s church because James/Peter wiped out; so we start with Paul.

• More than one-fourth of the NT writings are attributed to Paul;

• 13 letters attributed to Paul, but modern scholars consider some written by followers or later (could call the “Paul” School)

Letters authentically by Paul:

• Romans
• 1 Corinthians
• 2 Corinthians
• Galatians
• Philippians
• 1 Thessalonians
• Philemon


• Paul wrote these letters not as learned essays on theology, but to lend practical advice on real problems faced by the church.

• He always presented his advice in theological language, that is, he gave a midrash in support of his position.

• He might be shocked that some of these letters are considered “scripture.”

So who is Paul? Why should we care about this guy?

Acts of the Apostles 21:39; 22:3 – Paul was born in Tarsus, an important city of Cilcia. Born possible 10 AD

• Roman citizen with certain rights, particularly right of appeal to imperial courts.

• Hellenistic Jew of the Diaspora (not all Jews went home); he is comfortable with Roman culture. Cosmopolitan

• By trade, a tent maker and leatherworker – he could attach himself to a caravan and move about the Empire. He is also proud that his trade pays his way where he goes; the “church” never pays him.

• Educated in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3); the style of his letters make clear that he is well trained in the methods of rabbinical midrash. He is basically a rabbi.

• He was proud of his ancestoral religion; he was proud to be a Pharisatic Jew; he makes clear in his letters that he never gives that up or the rituals that go with it.

• Paul is a persecutor of Jesus’s followers; they are suspicious of him. He considers Jesus’s crucifixion to be a scandal.• Conversion: Near Damascus, has a conversion experience. Acts 9

o Note: His conversion is not turning to a new deity, but seeing the God of his ancestors in a new light.

• Pharisees tend to be seen as strict adherents of the law – but it is important for us to see them as reformers who relocate the focus of Jewish worship from the temple to the local synogogue and home.

• It is but a short leap from their to Paul, and his preaching that Christ Jesus is in the temple of our hearts by the Spirit. Jesus is Wisdom

LOOKUP: 1 Cor 2:9-13

What do you hear Paul saying?

He uses Old Testament as a “prooftext,” that is, he used the Old Testament as a piece of evidence to make his point:

Notice: 1 Cor 2: 9 is a quotation from Isaiah 64:4

• Curiously, Paul does not give his own account of his “Road to Damacus” experience in his letters; it is recounted in Acts three times. In Galatians, Paul says two elements led him to Christ: a special revelation of God’s son to him, and a commission from Christ to preach to the Gentiles.• Paul stresses in Corinthians he had seen the Lord (1 Cor 9:1) and the risen Christ had appeared to him (1 Cor 15:8) as “one untimely born.” He never encountered the living Jesus.

• Missionary activity: Goes to Peter/James – they are suspicious. Send him out to build churches, and require of him an offering from those churches to prove his (and their) sincerity.

• His career is lengthy – at least 14 years – and he traveled widely in the Roman world, empowering men and women.

• Westward missions: Paul moves to Corinth, cross-roads city; diverse; wrote 1 Thes – 50 AD – considered earliest Christian document.

• Meets Aquila and Pricilla, important in building church.

• Widows use homes for churches.

• Moves to Ephesus – word reaches him about Apollos activities in Corinth; Paul goes to Corinth, apparently makes things worse.

• 1 & 2 Cor may be fragments of three to seven letters; the originals don’t exist; but are recorded together; space saving.

• Conflict over Apollos' methods.

• Apollos is ecstatic, charismatic; sloganeering and party politics; Apollos is a great preacher, and Paul admits, better than he. But Paul tells them he has seen the secret to knowledge – the hidden wisdom – that all that is necessary for salvation is the mystery of Christ.

Conference of Jerusalem:

• The issue is whether to require circumcision of all non-Jewish Christians. That is, do you have to be Jewish first to be a Christian? So far, Christianity is a sect of Judiasm – and Paul is bringing in new people reflecting the diversity of the Roman empire. The first group wants to keep it the way it has always been. Peter has been a little shaky on this: Acts 10:28-29;

• Acts, written by a follower of Paul well after the fact, presents a harmonious relationship. But Paul’s letters suggest otherwise.

• Paul agrees to gather an offering for the poor of Jerusalem to prove his sincerity; Acts reports he undergoes Jewish purification rituals;

• The issue seemed to be settled in favor of Paul’s position: James declares for Paul’s position

• After the conference, Paul returns to Antioch. Things aren’t really quite as settled as it sounded.

• Someone from James gets to Peter, and he refuses to eat with non-Jews at Antioch; the church Paul started in Galatia begins to follow that practice of segregating Jewish from non-Jewish Christians at table. Word gets back to Paul, and he is furious. Even Barnabas falls into this. Paul writes to Galatians to tell them of the absurdity of this:

LOOK UP: Gal 2:11-14

• Importance – the breakthrough here – is that we are saved not by outward rituals and good works, but by faith.

• Acts declares there is a new authority over the church, and it is not a human: Acts 13;1-3 – the Spirit. Even Peter declares he is “only a mortal.” (Acts 10:26)

• Imprisoned in Ephesus, he writes to the Philippians; he also writes to Philemon, asking for release of slave Onesimus.

• Eventually freed, goes to Macedonia; meets up with Titus, gets good news about Corinth agreeing with him; he writes an apology to Corinth.

• Paul returns to Jerusalem with the offering he promised to prove his worth to Peter and James. He writes a letter to Christians in Rome – how they got there, no one knows, but not a church that he directly founded. Letter to the Romans is basically a grant proposal to fund a missionary trip to Spain.

• Paul arrested in Jerusalem; demands to be tried as a Roman citizen in Rome. He is taken by ship, long journey, shipwrecked. The letters of Paul stop. Paul disappears.

Pastoral letters:

• 1, 2 Timothy, Titus – some believe are authentic Paul, others say not; Greek style is different; the letters reflect a later organization (bishops, presbyter, deacons) and ethos (women shall be silent) that are not in the authentic Paul letters and are, frankly, hallmarks of the early church post-Paul and Peter.

• Those letters could have been dictated, some argue, to an assistant. Common practice in Roman world – tell the general content and they write it.

• Whence Paul? Did he get to Rome? Tradition says he was martyred in Rome, but no evidence of that. Clement of Alexandria says he got to Spain. By the way, Onesimus of the letter fame became Bishop of Alexandria. Roman tradition has it that Paul was martyred in Rome in 62 AD. Perhaps, or that could be self-serving to bolster the credentials of Rome as the center of the church.

Paul’s Theology:

Not a systematic presentation of Christian doctrine but a working out of beliefs under battle conditions in the face of concrete practical problems.

o Where do we fit in Judiasm?
o Who is a Christian?
o Who can we eat with?
o Who is in charge in our local church?
o What does worshipping God look like?
o What are our rituals?
o Should we speak in tongues?o How do we hold all these diverse people together in one (new) religion?

This way of doing religion has never been tried before: this is a religion based on faith and not normative behavior (rules) or ethnic allegiance. If anything, it cuts across all manner of cultural norms and behaviors.

o Paul has norms – he is human – but he is principally about interpreting the God the Hebrew Scriptures in a new way.o He interprets Abraham in a new way, for example: the covenant we heard about in the OT for the Jewish people now extends to all people.

IMPORTANT: to see that Paul is treating Abraham as an allegory, that is, a symbolic story.

o Allegory is typical of the early church. Augustine brings allegory to its highest level by interpreting the rather simple story of Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden as the foundation to a complicated doctrine of original sin.o Paul has ritual – he holds himself to Jewish rites as a personal spirituality – and he commends Christians to remember Christ in the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s supper becomes an ongoing rite through the words of Paul (it is Paul’s words we use in our Eucharist).

The important thing with Paul:

o He has encountered the Christ of the Holy Spirit, and it is that Christ who lives among us and leads this new church.

o Paul makes the reasoned argument of a well-educated rabbi – but beneath that is a profound mysticism. The Spirit is everywhere and our purpose in life is to encounter and be guided by that Spirit. See Ps 139

The Law

o Jewish law is important – it is not cast off – but is seen in a new light: it encourages people to seek a new and growing relationship with God. Without that at the core, the law is only empty ritual.

o God’s righteousness – God’s Law – is now embodied in Christ. The response people should have is faith and it is faith that leads them to salvation.

o New interpretation: Recent scholars detect a more subtle argument and translation from the Greek – that it is the faithfulness OF Christ in people that saves – the emphasis is on the action of Christ, not the actions of people:

Frank J. Matera, professor of New Testament
The Catholic University of America
Writing in Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology (Presbyterian):

Summarizes Gal 1:4; 2:20 thusly:

“No one is justified or acquitted before God by the works of the Mosaic law, not even those works that outwardly identify one as a member of Israel (circumcision, dietary prescriptions, or observance of religious days). Rather, God acquits (saves) people on the basis of the faithfulness of the Son who loved us and gave himself for us. This is the reason that even Jewish believers believe in Christ. There is no need, therefore, to adopt a Jewish way of life.”

Other theologies:

Now that you’ve settled into Paul, it is only fair to warn you that Paul’s is not the only theology in the NT. Like the OT, there is diversity. The reason, again, we are discussing this tonight is so that you will read the gospels – the life of Jesus – in light of the discussion about what the Jesus event means and how we are to live by it.

New Testament theologies

In the New Testament, there are (at least) three theologies at work, and in conversation with each other:

Peter & James:

Be good Jews; Faith without good works is a dead faith. Do the right thing ethically; Deep sense of how suffering brings us to a closer relationship with Christ. Organizationally rigid.
• Letters: James (probably written by James), 1 Peter (probably not written by Peter)
• Gospels: Matthew, Mark


Mystical, spiritual experience; phrased in Greek philosophical language; tradition doesn’t matter; highly developed Christology; no other authority but Logos/Christ acknowledged. End-times apocalypse flavor. Ritual: baptism, tongues, joy. Much eucharistic language, deep mystical meanings suggested, but curiously, no account of the Last Supper. Possible association with Apollos. Institutionally not very organized (maybe even anti-organization).
• Letters: 1, 2 John. Not sure about 3 John or the very strange Jude
• Gospel: John


Faith alone saves us. No need to be Jewish. Christ dwells in each of us and we in him; all of us are given gifts by the Spirit to use bringing the Reign of God to Earth. Practical solutions to practical problems; downplay of apocalypse – we will be here for many years. Highly organized but flexible for local circumstances.
• Letters: by Paul or associated with Pauline followers: Romans; 1, 2 Corinthians; Galatians, Ephesians, Philipians; 1,2 Timothy, Titus, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians; Philemon, Hebrews, 2 Peter.
• Gospels: Luke/Acts of the Apostles

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

God's Faithfulness to God's People: Exploring the Hebrew Scriptures

The Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, is divided roughly into three kinds of books:

* Histories
* Prophetic proclamations
* Wisdom advice

Let’s admit upfront Old Testament is difficult for modern readers to access, and hard to take, with a God often portrayed as wrathful, vengeful, and a book full of rules – minute rules about everything from what to eat, how to cook it, how to slaughter animals, how to dress, how oxen should cross the road.

Christians generally ignore the Old Testament whether they admit it or not. Only Hasidic Jews even try to follow all these laws, and to the rest of our world it is essentially an archaic curiosity at best.

So is there anything we can get out of it?

Do we ignore the rules we don’t like and enforce the rules we do? That seems to be the approach of many fundamentalist Christians.

We could also say that the Old Testament is so bound to the culture of an ancient world gone by that it means nothing to us now.

Another way of viewing the Old Testament is through the perspective of the Protestant Reformation – to see the Hebrew book as a stern set of laws that are completely repealed by Jesus.

* That is a very attractive way to look at the OT, and gets us out of having to follow all those rules
* But Paul would not have agreed with that, either.

Paul stated the purpose of Scriptures: to give us hope (Romans 15:4).

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another…”

By that Paul meant that Scriptures – and the Hebrew Scriptures were the only Scriptures there were for him – there is no New Testament – were given to us to help us connect with God by leading a holy life. And that should give us hope for a better life and world to come. Paul was not trying to write a second set of rules but explain the purpose of the first set.

So look for the principles behind the Scripture:

For us to understand why the Old Testament is a document of HOPE we need to understand how it was developed; if we can read it even a little through the eyes of those who heard God’s Spirit and wrote it down, we might understand why it has HOPE.

That HOPE test may also give us a way in to seeing how the Old Testament can speak to us as a holy book rather than as an outmoded, culturally-laden rule book.

Old Testament Development:

* The OT is not a single integrated document with a single literary style. It doesn’t claim to be. Contains histories, hymns, proverbs, an allegorical novel or two, and sometimes scolding accounts from people deemed prophets.

* It has wisdom and arguments about wisdom and arguments about the nature of God.

* Although most references to God are in male-dominate language, God is also female, particularly in the wisdom literature: Sophia is the Hebrew word for wisdom, and denotes a female embodiment of God.

* Hebrew Scriptures developed for 2,000 years or more.

* Think of it as a library of Israelite holy literature.

* We also know the Hebrew Scriptures were heavily edited – you will see in some scholarly books references to the “priestly source” or “P” and the Elohim source or “E” for a particular way of referring to God. You’ll also hear about “D” or the “deuteronomist,” shorthand for a group of editors and their cast on much of the scriptures. Don’t get too confused by all that. Understand the Old Testament as a rich accumulation of books.

* What we get scholars believe is about 10% of the Hebrew literature. Much was left out and long since disappeared. The Old Testament itself refers to its many sources:

The important point is God didn’t write the Bible – and there is no claim by the Scriptures that God did.

Principles for understanding the Old Testament context:

* The Scripturess came together during the exile of the Jews in Babylon; Need to keep that history in mind as a backdrop: North was invaded in 722 BC – Israel as a united kingdom ceases to exist; people flee south; Jerusalem Temple destroyed, exile 586 BC.

People in exile have some issues:

How did we get here? Will this mess end?
* Much of OT is a lament – asking God to stop being angry with us. For example, Psalm 85: 4-6:

“Restore us then, O God our Savior; let your anger depart from us
Will you be displeased with us forever? Will you prolong your anger from age to age?
Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you?”

* Identity – who are we? What makes us different – more holy – than our captors? What connects us to God in ways others aren’t? How do we maintain our religion?

* James Sanders: “Her very survival was predicated on nothing more substantial than a memory, a story carried with her to prison.”

* How do we worship? The Temple is destroyed, and we are in exile?
* How do we keep this from happening again?
* The way we live, our rules for being holy will keep us whole.
* How do we explain the evil that has befallen us?
* Why does God put up with evil? The scholarly word for that isTheodicy.
* So what is most important to our identity? Torah – the story of creation and exile of our ancestors and their deliverance and the rules that keep them connected to God. Those stories and rules give us HOPE.
* First five books are TORAH, which is an abbreviation in Hebrew
* At the core, our idea of One God creator of all – not all these Gods of the sea and rain that the Babylonians have.

It’s all about Abraham

For the Jews and early Christians, the story of paramount importance is Abraham and his covenant with God. The later exile in Egypt and Moses’s deliverance echoes the Abraham story. The stories of wandering, exile and God taking care of people no matter what befalls them is at the core of the Hebrew religion. That is the Covenant:

The story of Abraham (Abram) and his family: They journey from their homeland into the unknown; it appears first in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and is repeated again in many forms. The story has numerous twists and turns, subplots, intrigue, sex and violence, cowardice (by Abraham), faith by Sarah, and a close call for Abraham’s son, Isaac.

The name “Abram” means “exalted father,” and God eventually renames him “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” Indeed, Abraham is the common ancestor for three living religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The story serves to explain many ancient Hebrew rituals (animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc.) and the identity of various non-Hebrew peoples. Scholars disagree on the origin of the Abraham saga, and whether it is one story or a collection of stories. There is general agreement the story dates from about 2000 BC.

At the heart of the story is Abraham’s journey, and God’s promise to protect him and his offspring against all odds. The Abraham story is a central theme in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Abraham and the New Testament:

God’s promise to Abraham echoes even in the story of Christ’s birth. When Mary learns she is to be the mother of Jesus, she proclaims: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendents forever.” (Luke 1:54-55)

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the apostle Paul argues for the legitimacy of the new Christian religion by claiming the followers of Jesus are authentic heirs to Abraham and his covenant (Romans 4:13-25). Paul saw in Abraham’s story the same journey of adversity that Christians were then encountering – and the same promise of God’s saving Grace. Christians throughout the centuries have viewed the life of faith as a journey of discovery, and look to Abraham and his family as the first to walk along that path.

Back to the Old Testament and Abraham

That basic story of exile and God’s promise is told and retold throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Much of the OT sounds highly nationalistic – the conquest of alien peoples, the unification of Israel and Judah (north and south) into a unified kingdom, and its demise.

Beneath all that nationalistic stuff: Contract that God will take care of his chosen people if they will follow his law. The Bible is the story of how all that goes through thick and thin. God will keep faith with us – God has favored us and will take care of us: Redemption.

Encapsulated in the Shema: Deut 6:4-9

When Jesus is asked by lawyers trying to trip him up what is the greatest commandment, he recites this, the Shema (See below).

How do we get right with God?

Keep Torah

Worship turns to homes; Deuteronomy pervades the Old Testament – how to keep law and live a holy life. Living in the law should be joyful, not onerous. It is the same concept as sacrament. Underlying it is that God created everything and everything is holy.

“Law” is meant as more than rules, but living by the revelation of God to God’s people. God will speak to his people if only they listen. Hear the revelation and live accordingly. God will take care of us somehow – have HOPE – that is the ultimate meaning of God’s redemption.

Homework assignment for February 24: Jesus and the Reign of God

Really Ambitious:

Read all four gospels (in this order): Mark, Matthew, Luke, John

• Take your time, drink deeply, have fun.
• How does the Old Testament flavor what you read?
• What do you notice that is different in each gospel?
• What is the same?
• What happens to the disciples?
o How does their faith change?
• How does the role of Jesus change from the beginning to the end of each gospel?
o How does the perception of Jesus change?
• What role does the Spirit play?

Less Ambitious:

Read the Gospel of Mark (it is the shortest)

• What do you notice about the plot? What seems to be missing that is in the story of Jesus as you know it?
• How does the Old Testament flavor what you read?
• What happens to the disciples?
o How does their faith change?
• How does the role of Jesus change from beginning to end?
o How does the perception of Jesus change among his followers?
• What role does the Spirit play?

Moderately easy:

Read Luke 22:1 through 24:53 (The Passion and Easter story)

• What happens to Jesus?
• What happens to the disciples?
o How does their faith change?
• How does the role of Jesus change?
o How does the perception of Jesus change among his followers?
• What role does the Spirit play?

Easy as Pie:

Read: Mark 1:1-15 (Baptism of Jesus)

• This will take you less than two minutes to read – Honest! – so read it over carefully several times.
• What do you notice about the crowd? John the Baptiser? Jesus?
• What does God mean by calling Jesus “the beloved”? What does that mean to us?

Laws of the Hebrew Scriptures

A few examples… and there are many more:

Child rearing: take to the city gates an unruly child, who is rebellious and stubborn toward his or her parents, and stone said child to death. (Deut 21:18-21).

If you capture a woman in warfare, you may rape her if you shave her head, paint her nails and let her stay in your house for a month so she may mourn her parents, whom you presumably have killed (Deut 21:10).

Homosexual men (women are never mentioned) should be put to death (Lev 20:13) as an “abomination.”

When a man has sexual relations with another man’s female slave the rapist must pay one ram as a “guilt offering” for use of the slave (Lev 19:20-21).

Witchcraft is forbidden (Lev 19:26) along with tattoos (Lev 19:27). No wizards, either (Lev. 19: 31).

Haircuts which round off the hair on your temple is forbidden, nor are you allowed to trim your beard (Lev. 19: 27).

In the morning, you are required to get up and out of bed before anyone older than you in the household, and no talking back to old people, either (Lev. 19:32).

The Shema

Deuteronomy 6: 4-8

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”