Category Archives: Methodology

Professor April DeConick On Studying The Transgressors

OK, I freely admit that football season here in the states has slowed down my progress on 1 Timothy.

In one sense, this is good. It takes time to think through the project and come up with more questions to ask and more options to consider.

As an aside, I happened to listen to a video today and just had to post up the quote because it seems to apply to the 1 Timothy study quite well!

Starting at about 8:29  in the video, Professor DeConick states that she likes to study “the transgressors”…those “on the edges” and states that one of her professors told her,
“If you want to understand the really early traditions look at the people on the edges about a hundred years later because as the tradition norms, as it becomes more normal and less radical, those radical people in the beginning are pushed toward the outside and so are their ideas.”
Further, she asks, “Why did they become outsiders? Because at some point they were insiders.”
Very good questions to ask in an examination of a letter that appears to have been a power play to create just such an insider/outsider division.
A little something to tease the mind and consider as we look at the early church, who was in, who was out, etc…
You can peruse her most excellent site direct at:  AprilDeConick.com
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The Pastoral Epistles – My Approach

I love that scene…take it for what it is, just a quick illustration of how simple making a choice can be without truly knowing the implications of that choice.

A word of caution, if you will, before I/we depart on this journey through what are commonly known as The Pastoral Epistles.

I am taking a critical path. One that will begin with the premise that the Apostle Paul did not write 1 & 2 Timothy or Titus. The texts I cite for the most part have already traveled this path in one manner or another. Likely, as I progress I will build upon my posts regarding methodology, approach and hermeneutic. But for now, this short advanced warning will do.

This is a bit of an experiment for me, since I have only been taught the standard Evangelical take on the matter: that Paul wrote these letters in one way or another and as such they are infallible, inerrant and authoritative for the church past, present and future. Yet, over the years, I have increasingly struggled with this point of view and have seen other ways of interpreting these texts. Since then, I have come to realize that I don’t need to win any arguments or prove anything to anyone.

Indeed, one of the most memorable moments of my time in seminary was when a professor introduced the word “plausible.” It didn’t mean as much to me then as it does now. For what I didn’t comprehend at the time was the incredibly deep and vast gray space he was opening up to us as students. Such a gray fog can be haunting to first year seminarians seeking the truth. Yet, I have come to rest in that space, realizing that we are so very far removed from the first Christians and their culture that connecting with them through the scriptures often takes time and effort.

Therefore, as we read, study, contemplate and live out our faith we would do well to embrace the plausible among the things we hold dear. Consider them, push their limits, milk them for all they are worth.

So, enough sermonizing. I appreciate that not everyone who landed on this page will enjoy this critical study, so for those who are looking for the more standard Evangelical and conservative fare, I can heartily recommend the following books:

1 & 2 Timothy, Titus – Gordon Fee

The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT) – Phil Towner

Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles  – Bill Mounce

For those, like me, who are curious and want to see “how deep the rabbit hole goes,” well, let’s begin!

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Mark – What does this mean???

…just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’

Exodus 23:20

“See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you.

Malachi 3:1

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (NLT)

Isaiah 40:3

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God! (NLT)

“All four Gospels include a quotation of Isaiah 40:3 (Mk. 1:3; Mt. 3:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) but only Mark combine this with words taken from Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1”[1]

The importance of the composite quote:

  1. It is located at the beginning of the Gospel, even before John and Jesus have been introduced.
  2. This is the only editorial quotation from Mark – all the other quotations (about 20) appear on the lips of Jesus or other characters in the story.
  3. The composite quotation of Ex. 23:20/Mal. 3:1 [cf. Mt. 11:10 and Lk. 7:27] is included before the citation of Is. 40:3, even though it clashes with the introductory formula (‘As it is written in the prophet Isaiah’)[2]

There have been two main ways of interpreting this…

“we need an ideology that can explain how Mark can both appropriate Isaiah’s promise of exodus (itself a development of the original exodus tradition), while offering, in Marcus’s words, a ‘radical, cross-centred adaptation of it’ (1992: 36). In terms of this debate, what we need is a more sophisticated biblical theology that can encompass discontinuity as well as continuity, and a more sophisticated literary theory that can combine insights from narrative criticism with insights from intertextuality (taking ‘texts’ in its broadest sense).”[3]

France, quoting Myers states the following:

“by omitting that part of Mal. 3:1 which envisages the Lord appearing in the temple and linking the passage instead to the wilderness location, Mark is already signalling the dismissal of the institutional life of Israel which will be a recurrent theme of his gospel.”[4]

There is more to unpack here, but what seems clear to me is the following:

  1. This being the only editorial quotation is highly relevant to the author’s purpose.
  2. The author did not feel compelled to use literal quotes, but instead took no small amount of liberty in combining texts to prepare his readers for the story.
  3. The quote is both a nod in the direction of the past prophetic tradition as well as a nod to a clear and present change in the thinking and life of the reader/hearer.

I’ll have more on this later.

Meanwhile, let me know what you think!


[1] Steve Moyise, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Steve Moyise, “How Deep is the Wilderness in Mark 1:1-13,” 2005, 86, http://74.125.155.132/search?q=cache:RyfmYOYFfK8J:www.chiuni.ac.uk/theology/documents/TheWildernessQuotation.doc+mark+1:2-3&cd=23&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a.

[4] R. T France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), 63.

 

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Pastoral Epistles – A Short Bibliography

46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscrip...

46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the Epistles written by Paul in the new testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are several of the sources I am working through and will cite:

Colloquium Oecumenicum Paulinum, and Karl P Donfried.  “1 Timothy Reconsidered.”  Peeters, 2008.

  • Well balanced, recent scholarship, excellent chapters from Margaret M. Mitchell and Luke Timothy Johnson,  Karl Donfried’s comments are both commanding and centering.

Guthrie, Donald.  “The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul.”  Website.  BiblicalStudies.org.uk, n.d..

  • Older article available as a PDF, good introduction to the issue, holds to a Pauline writing of the letters.

Hylen, Susan.  “The Paradox of Women in the Early Church: 1 Timothy and the Acts of Paul and Thecla.”  Website.  as.vanderbilt.edu, April 2012. (JBL?)

  • Seeks to break current/basic mindset regarding the roles of women in the early church, pursuasively contends that 1 Timothy and the Acts of Paul and Thecla do not portray opposite perspecives with regard to the portrayal of women.

James, M. R.  The Acts of Paul and Thecla.  Website.  earlychristianwritings.com, Trans. 1924.

  • Believed to be a second century document written by a Christian bishop who was later removed from his position for having written it, Tertullian’s comments about it promote the possibility that it was popular oral tradition among the early churches.

Knight, George William.  The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text.  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992.

  • One of the first in the NIGNT series, surprisingly conservative, more surprisingly lacks insight at pivotal points, holds to Pauline authorship.

MacDonald, Dennis Ronald.  The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon.  1st ed. Philadelphia: Westminister, 1983.

  • The book that got me thinking, compares & contrasts The Acts of Paul and Thecla to the Pastorals, holds to a purposeful second century pseudonymous authorship as a corrective to Christian asceticism.

MacDonald, Margaret Y.   The Pauline Churches: A Socio-Historical Study of Institutionalization in the Pauline and Deutrero-Pauline Writings.   Cambridge University Press, 2004.

  • Out the gate states the Pastorals are deutero-Pauline, looks at the issue sociologically with a view to the institutionalization of the church.

Miller, James D.  The Pastoral Letters as Composite Documents.  Cambridge University Press, 1997.

  • The second book that got me thinking ( I am currently on my second read), sees the Pastorals as composite documents much like The Gospel of Thomas was believed to be collected and distributed as a whole most likely in the late first or early second century.

Misselbrook, Peter.  Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus.  Website.  Misselbrook’s Musings, 2002.

  • From his notes on the Greek New Testament and downloadable as a PDF, an excellent resource to read as a commentary as you read the Greek, typically quotes conservative scholarship, portrays a Pauline authorship in his notes.

Rumney, Gavin.  “Issues Surrounding the Authorship and Dating of The Pastoral Epistles”  Blog.  Otagosh, May 6, 2008.

  • Another good introduction available as a PDF from a fellow New Zealand blogger.
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Interpreting Scripture – The Pastoral Epistles As A Test Case

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an earlier post, I challenged Moises Silva where he was basically stating that his theology should inform his interpretation of a given text.

Building on that, I have found that interpreting the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) prove to be an excellent test case.

Scholars seem strongly divided into two main groups here, and it revolves around if Paul wrote these letters or not.  Now, as I will show later, there are actually dozens if not hundreds of possibilities and suggestions when it comes to how and when these letters were written. But let’s put that aside for the moment.  The two very general interpretive camps, as I see it, come down to the inspiration and authority of scripture.

Those who hold strongly to inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration have a very difficult time accepting that anyone other than Paul himself wrote these letters.  Some may go as far as to say that he used an amenuensis (basically, someone we might understand to be a secretary) assist with the writing, but that the words are Paul’s as he was inspired by God to write them.

Those who are not as interested in inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration are seemingly quite ready and able to see other options, writers and possiblities for the production of these letters.

So, right out the gate, Silva’s model reveals it’s product – the text says what you believe it should say.  If the interpreter is an Evangelical, they read it as coming from Paul.  If the interpreter is not theologically predisposed, they read it as quite possibly coming from sources other than Paul.

Now this is where it gets interesting.

There are all sorts of theological issues embedded in these letters.  Probably the top three in contention these days are the issue of the role of women in ministry, the qualifications for ministry and the formation of scripture.

I would like to address these issues in future posts as I work through these three short letters because, for the most part, these issues can be interpreted in very different ways depending upon how the letters are approached.

Those that know me, will recall that I came from some pretty conservative theological roots.  None of my training for ministry, formal or informal, ever attempted to teach anyone but Paul the Apostle as the author to these letters.  After all, that is what the text itself says, right?

Right???

Any thoughts on this before I dive in?

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Silva On Interpreting Scripture – A Critique

Cover of "Interpreting Galatians: Explora...

Cover via Amazon

I recently re-read an old text I read years ago entitled, Explorations In Exegetical Method: Galatians As A Test Case by Moisés Silva – Grand Rapids, Baker, 1996.  It is now available as Interpreting Galatians: Explorations In Exegetical Method. (As best I can tell, the pages I am about to work from are still in the current edition.)

The one thing I really admire and enjoy about Silva’s work is his candid approach and his ability to mellow out the rough edges often produced in academia, in this case, specifically regarding exegesis.  He has an intriguing ability to “pull back the curtain and reveal the Wizard” while still valuing the process of academic study of the Bible.

However, one set of comments struck me as particularly unsatisfactory.

In the Epilogue: Reader and Relevance, Silva is outlining the relationship of exegesis and systematic theology and makes the following claim:

…my systematic theology should actually inform my exegesis…my theological system should tell me how to exegete..[this is] indeed the only real option.  (207)

Here I think he has gotten the cart before the horse.  In fact, compare what he wrote to the definition of the word eisegesis:

– an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text.

One’s theology is based upon interpretation (good or bad) of the necessary events, communication and texts.  As such, a theologian (and that covers anyone from novice to professional who intends to utilize or put into practice what they read in the scriptures) formulates and systematizes his or her ideas based upon their understanding of what they have seen, what they have been told and what they have read.  Additionally, one’s culture, experiences and proclivities  further dictate the conclusions made.  All of this allows them to form their belief system, their theology, for better or for worse.

Silva gives three reasons in defense of his statement above (pgs. 208-210):

1.  Systematic theology is the attempt to reformulate the teaching of Scripture in ways that are meaningful and understandable to us in our present context…the very process of organizing the biblical data – to say nothing of the use of a different language in a different cultural setting – brings to bear the theologian’s own context.

2. Our evangelical view of the unity of Scripture demands that we see the whole Bible as the context of any one part…the whole of Scripture as having come from one Author, therefore, to that extent a systematic understanding of the Bible contributes to the exegesis of individual passages.

3. Everyone does it anyway.  Whether we mean to or not, and whether we like it or not, all of us read the text as interpreted by our own theological presuppositions.

As I have already stated, my biggest problem with Silva’s first statement is that he has placed the cart before the horse.  If we consciously bring our theological grid to the table, we will force what we read through that grid.  A classic example of this is the debate around Romans 1:16-17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (NASB)

The typical historic protestant interpretation of this takes faith as that of the individual, and consequently, the rest of the letter is interpreted with a view to “the human predicament” as Stendahl rightly observes in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles.  So, just as Silva describes it, everyone keeps following that same trail of viewing Romans as dealing with the grand theological and protestant scheme of the fall of man and God’s answer to that theological problem.  Have you heard of The Romans Road?  This is a classic example, but I digress.

In comparison, here is my translation of Romans 1:16-17:

For I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God, saving everyone who believes – “both the Jew first and the Greek.”  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed though faithfulness to the faithful, as it has been written, “The righteous One by faith will live.”

I offer this simply as an example of a different view, and there are many others.  Here, I am considering that Paul did not intend to write “The Romans Road” but instead, to quote Stendahl, “Paul is seeking clarification, understanding and support.”  (Final Account, pg. 13)

All this to say that I believe that while it is true that we all “bring our theological baggage to the table” to paraphrase Silva, it is important to not simply accept this and run with it, but to expand our horizons by asking quite simply what this meant to the original audience.  In doing so, we set aside our predisposed theology as much as possible in order to gain insight and understanding that we have not previously or already taken hold of or appropriated.

Silva’s second statement is a perfect illustration of his first.  He brings his “evangelical  view of the unity of Scripture” to the table quite forcefully , as he states that this theological grid “demands” the unity of Scripture, that it came from “one Author” – God.

While I understand that God inspired scripture, I don’t know that this demands that we force all of the authors experiences written over hundreds and hundreds of years and all of the different literary genres into one pre-determined mold.  Doing so simply makes more of a statement about our enlightenment heritage than it gives credence to the original setting and storyline of the texts in the Bible.  In short, Silva, and many evangelicals, have swung too far to the right on this interpretive pendulum and are seeking to grasp a comfort that is literarily and historically unattainable.

We can hold lightly to the fact that all of scripture reveals God’s desire to relate to us without having to use this theme as a rigid guide to interpreting scripture.  In doing so, we are able to see more objectively what these texts say and how they relate o us today.

Silva’s third point is classic!  The first thing I thought was that old saying we probably all heard as kids,

If Jimmy jumped off of a cliff would you?

Simply stating that everyone does it is lame – pure and simple.  So, just because everyone does it we can too? I don’t see how this lemming mentality makes for a strong case.  In fact, it basically allows for a status quo interpretation.  Well, what if the popular interpretation is lacking?  What if it is completely wrong?

Yes, we all bring our “theologies” to the table.  So what!  Learn to set them aside and think more objectively.  See what others have to say, yes, even those who you disagree with.  Then return to the table, compare it to your own system and make good adjustments based on good interpretive principles.

In short, don’t be afraid to think outside the box because that is exactly what most of the writers of scripture were in fact doing – challenging their current beliefs and ideologies.

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Toward A Functional Ecclesiology (Part 2 of 2) […or Professional Ministry – FAIL!]

Anglican priest or deacon in choir dress

Today, Alan Hirsch posted a quick quote from Richard Hays on FB:

Our habit of thinking of ministry as a ‘profession’ is likely to produce serious distortions in our conception of the church and our role within it ~ Richard B. Hays, 1 Cor.3:18-23

While this is crystal clear to me, I know many Christians simply do not see the distortion (see Part 1).  This just goes to show how deeply ingrained we are in our contemporary Western culture and how utterly out of touch we are with the culture of the early church.

There is a popular phrase that states “form follows function” meaning:

If an object has to perform a certain function, its design must support that function to the fullest extent possible. – Digital Web Magazine

In fact, the context in which this was taught was in a class on church planting.  And this makes perfect sense, the form follows the function; the design supports how the church works.  So, if we have professional ministers, the church structure, from the organizational chart all the way to the actual performance of ministry, in all practicality must serve the professional minster.

Yet, the “fail” is seen in the fact that upon reading the New Testament there simply were no professional ministers or hierarchy, and the design, the form, was quite different from what we have today.

This, then begs the question: If we notice this difference, how do we go about changing it?  How do we get back to the original intent?  How do we essentially allow for purposeful change that will benefit the church and in turn benefit society?  How do we return to a functional ecclesiology?

The answer begins with embracing and encouraging a ministry supported by the New Testament in which all are ministers and all have received gifts and empowerment by the Holy Spirit to serve as Christ here and now every day of the week at any given place on the planet…and maybe beyond!

Take a look at these passages: Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4.

The church is the body, all having a part to play.  There are no professional ministers.

Now, there are indeed leaders, often called elders, but nowhere do we see these individuals taking over for the body.  Their function is to encourage service – not to take it and to protect the body – not to control it.

Take a look at 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for more on this.  Again, no professional here either.

So, in short, both the church and her leaders need to be willing to reevaluate the current system to see how functional or dysfunctional it really has become.

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How Do YOU Interpret The Bible? (Part 1 of 4)

KJV Bible

I have come to realize that I have been taught how to read the Bible in several different and interesting ways in my lifetime.

In Junior High, my Lutheran school taught me to interpret the Bible according to Luther’s Small Catechism.

A local Calvary Chapel seemed to want to take the Bible literally, unless of course we were speaking about the book of Daniel or Revelation and end times prophecy, which seemed to be interpretation by current events. Later I would find that this could loosely be defined as Dispensationalism.

In college, I was taught a very specific technique: the Historical-Grammatical method.  Here the focus was on the historical background, culture, literary genre, grammar, syntax, and discourse analysis.

In seminary, I continued to develop my historical-grammatical skills, though in many ways I found myself pushing its limits and venturing out into seemingly uncharted territory.  It was here that I began to see that my tried and true hermeneutic didn’t seem to be the all-in-one tool that it was billed to be.

Since then, I have come to realize that there are many ways in which people interpret scripture.  Of course, not all of them can be right.  Just look at all the varied results!  Yet, I believe we must strive to do our best to understand what the Bible meant to the original audience and only then to discover what that means for us today.

In the very near future, I will outline where I am today with regard to interpreting the Bible and expand on the methods by way of investigating some current and popular debates surrounding Christians today.

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The Art of Slow Reading

I have always been a slow reader.  Speed reading has never appealed to me, and having to rush through several books as a class requirement has always left me with a feeling of having missed something.

As such, when I saw the article The Art of Slow Reading, I was immediately drawn to it.

I have come to realize over the years that reading slowly is not necessarily a handicap.  My personality as an introvert plays a part in how I read and process information, and it is best done slowly, in conversation with time to reflect, ask questions and reflect some more.

One of the best things about reading outside of a class schedule is the ability to read so as to absorb a book and the author’s creativity.  I am about 8 months into my most current book and am relishing every page!

So, I encourage you to read the article and then recapture the art of slow reading!

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Cursory Glance at Transitional Markers – Rom. 1:18

Over at Storied Theology blog, in his recent review of The Deliverance of God by Doug Campbell, Dr. Kirk stated the following:

Campbell suggests that the strong denunciations that begin in Romans 1:18ff. are not Paul’s own position, but the view of “a teacher” whom he is opposing. I just have a couple of thoughts on this, issues that need to be addressed before Campbell’s reading will be largely persuasive:

a. Campbell does not give a strong explanation of the γάρ (“for”) that begins a new “voice” in the letter. This is problematic not only because the connector seems to conjunct 1:17 and 1:18 but also because elsewhere in Romans the contrasting voice in a diatribe is clearly marked by rhetorical questions and the like.

And my initial response:

For me, the unanswered question regarding γάρ in 1:18 is could it be a verbal transitional marker for the reader as opposed to the typical grammatical function.

We know that γάρ is “one of the most common particles in the NT” and its “use in the NT conforms to the classical” (BDF 452), but is it plausible to see it as a transition to speech-in-character? Was such a thing done with γάρ – similar to speech transitions in Mark using ὅτι?

Or…

Campbell via Stowers states that the transition was typically both unwritten and nonverbal. With that in mind, is it not plausible to interpret the γάρ as an emphatic agreement and addendum to Paul’s intro regarding the gospel in 1:16-17? As though the Teacher was there, saying, “YES, and let me add…”

As this is a major transition according to Campbell, I will have more on this later…just wanted to share this to hopefully gain additional insight.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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