(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Do not lead us into temptation: a mistranslation according to the Pope

The Catholic Church is unhappy with the line “lead us not into temptation” (mē eisenenkēs hēmas eis peirasmon) in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13; Lk. 11:4). The problem is that it appears to attribute responsibility for a person falling into temptation to God. Pope Francis has said: “It’s not a good translation…. I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately.” If anyone leads us into temptation, he suggests, it is Satan. So an alternative translation is being considered, something along the lines of “Do not let us enter into temptation”.

Beyond the violence of God: a narrative-historical perspective

What I rather grandly call the narrative-historical method works on the assumption that the Bible is essentially a story told by a people about its historical experience and should be read from that perspective. The historical existence of this people was not merely religious or spiritual; it was political, it was shaped by political events. The Bible tells the story of the troubled and troublesome presence of this people in the midst of powerful and at times hostile nations over a long period of time. For this reason I argue that the central and guiding theological argument is not the one about incarnation and redemption but the one about kingdom, which culminates in the expectation that the God of Israel would eventually come to rule over the nations of the ancient world—in practice over the nations controlled by Rome. The New Testament story about Jesus tells us how this goal would be achieved.

The “historical” Jesus is anything but gentle, meek and mild

With all due respect to those who think that Jesus was a kindly, loving, unworldly pacifist who rose above the Old Testament logic of sin and violence, I think that this is a serious misreading of the Gospels. The “historical” Jesus—by which I mean the Jesus who makes sense in the context of first century Israel—was not less than an apocalyptic prophet sent by YHWH to Israel to call the Jews to repentance in light of coming catastrophic divine judgment in the form of war and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He was more than that, but he was not less than that.

I need to keep this brief, so I will focus on the climax to the series of “woes” that Jesus pronounces against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.

Is “kingdom” in the New Testament the same as “kingdom” in the Old Testament?

I suggested in a recent post that the biblical “kingdom” paradigm was put in place when the people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king because they needed someone 1) to judge them and 2) to lead them out against their enemies (1 Sam. 8:20). Theologically, therefore, “kingdom” is YHWH dealing with 1) the internal integrity and 2) the external security of his people throughout history, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

This claim has been questioned on the grounds that the incident constituted, in fact, the repudiation of God as king: “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). The Old Testament paradigm was a mistake from the start, so we cannot think of kingdom in the New Testament as a continuation of kingdom in the Old Testament. In his comment Peter argues that Jesus introduced something completely new. “The one was a kingdom of empire and violence, the other of servanthood and love.”

Phyllis Bird on the authority of historical testimony

Earlier in the week I was in Billingham on Teesside where I gave a talk on narrative-historical theology to the super Galilee Network and friends. In a typically overloaded (when will I learn?) introduction I used this image—one which I have used before on this blog—to make the point that what we are dealing with essentially is the story of the historical community of God’s people:

I said that the community is best thought of as a “priestly people” called to serve the interests of the creator God in the world under changing internal and external conditions, riding the roller coaster of history (cf. Exod. 19:5-6; Is. 61:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:4-6). What scripture gives us is the story that this community told about itself—how it interpreted its experiences—in a formative period.

Digging for deeper meanings that don’t exist

Jerel Kratt has been making a vigorous case against my suggestion that Isaiah 60-66 describes an enhanced but essentially historical future for Israel that was not fulfilled, either in the decades after the return from exile or in the events narrated in the New Testament.

He thinks that Isaiah was not talking about a new Jerusalem on earth but a new Jerusalem in heaven. I don’t see anything in the text to support that contention.

Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: the eschatology of Isaiah 60-66

In “21 reasons why the coming of the kingdom of God was not the end of the world” I stated that “There is no new creation in the Old Testament…, only kingdom.” There are, however, two explicit references to new creation in the Old Testament, both in the third part of Isaiah: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth”, and “as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me” (Is. 65:17; 66:22). Have I got it wrong, then?

21 reasons why the coming of the kingdom of God was not the end of the world

I recently took part in a recorded conversation with Matt Hartke for Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? programme on Premier Christian Radio. It will be broadcast and made available on podcast some time in the next few weeks, I believe.

Matt has been on a long journey of faith and theology. You can read his story on his Fifth Act Theology blog. He set out from the bondage of a rigid futurist eschatology a while back, and after a sojourn in sunny Caird-Wright-land, which he documents very well on his blog, he has now ended up in bleak agnostic exile. That’s disappointing because I’m inclined to think that the historical method of Caird and Wright, or something like it, is the best hope that the church has for maintaining the relevance of the Jesus-story after Christendom.

Signs in the heavens and distress on earth

In Matthew and Mark Jesus speaks of events in the heavens prior to the revelation of the Son of Man: the darkening of sun and moon, the falling of the stars, the shaking of the powers of heaven (Matt. 24:29; Mk. 13:24-25). In response to Dale Allison’s argument that Jesus expected a literal remaking of the natural order to come at the climax of Israel’s history, I made the point that actually Jesus has nothing to say about events on earth. Cosmic-scale events are confined to the heavens.

Dale Allison on Jesus and the end of the world (or not)

Shortly before his arrest in Jerusalem, as Mark tells the story, Jesus made a prediction: after a period of severe tribulation the sun and moon would be darkened, the stars would fall from heaven, the powers of heaven would be shaken, people would see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”, and the Son of Man would send out his angels to “gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mk. 13:24-27).

The “tribulation” is a reference to the sequence of events described in Mark 13:3-23, which can reasonably be understood as a prediction of war against Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus is telling his disciples what they should expect and how they should behave as the crisis unfolds, culminating in a warning about false Christs and false prophets.

But at verse 24 the language shifts gear; we enter a vividly apocalyptic mode of discourse, and the question arises whether we have moved beyond the stuff of ordinary history. It sounds as though Jesus is now talking about disruption on a cosmic scale.


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