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

Larry Hurtado’s (non-apocalyptic) Destroyer of the gods

If we are going to read the New Testament as historical narrative, we have to have some sense of historical context. The church, on the whole, is not interested in historical context. The Bible is mostly treated as a self-contained, self-sufficient sacred text. In a recent comment Travis Finley wrote: “My hermeneutic ultimately depends upon a primacy of the uniformity of scripture; that is, the reader ought to be able to interpret the meaning of the text from the primary text itself, rather than extra-biblical.”

That perhaps suggests a high view of scripture, but it is also going to be, more often than not, a protectionist strategy. We are afraid that if we make scripture transparent to its literary-historical environment, our cherished interpretations of it—whether traditional or idiosyncratic—will be put at risk.

“Jesus is Lord” before (and after) Trinitarian orthodoxy

I have no problem with Trinitarian orthodoxy as the product of a post-biblical, post-Jewish, post-apocalyptic rethinking of the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit, in the context of the construction of a new worldview for the Greek-Roman oikoumenē. I think that was probably, like Christendom itself, a natural and necessary development.

A narrative-historical approach, however, pushes back against the worldview-defining dominance of Trinitarian orthodoxy at two points.

Talking Jesus: how does the Trinity fit in?

Neil asks in connection with my post Talking Jesus: problems with the modern evangelistic paradigm: “how do you view the Trinity given your statement about the uniqueness of Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ and everyone else’s encounter with either the pre-risen Christ or the Holy Spirit post-resurrection?” I had complained that in the “Talking Jesus” report on evangelism in England the understanding of Jesus that dominates the New Testament is entirely disregarded. I will try and explain roughly how I think the Trinity fits into this argument.

The Lost World of Genesis One is lost on me

I have finally got round to reading John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, and I have to say, I don’t see it.

Walton’s central contention is that what we have in Genesis 1 is an account not of the creation of the material cosmos but of the inauguration of the world as a temple for the creator God. He does not deny that the world is God’s material creation as a matter of theology, only that this is not the message that the author of the passage was trying to get across. In the context of the debate about origins there is an immediate benefit: we no longer need to map the chronology of Genesis 1 against scientific accounts of the formation of the universe and the emergence of life:

In summary, we have suggested that the seven days are not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into existence, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple…. (91)

Born of a woman

Why does Paul say in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus was “born from a woman” (genomenon ek gunaikos)? I argued in “Christmas according to St Paul” that the “sending” of Jesus was much more like the sending of the son to the vineyard in the parable of the wicked tenants than the sending of Wisdom into the world. In other words, I don’t think Paul is talking about the incarnation. The sending happened when the time was fulfilled and Jesus began to proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom of God to Israel (cf. Mk. 1:15).

I noted that “born of a woman or of women” was an idiomatic expression for being human, and in particular for being weak, vulnerable and flawed. But there is perhaps more that can be said.

A conversation with Emi about salvation and mission

Emi is a seventeen year old high school student in the Seattle area. She has posted a couple of lengthy comments on this site in which she expresses the struggle she is going through trying to reconcile the narrative-historical reading of the New Testament, which she understands and summarises remarkably well, with certain deeply held convictions about salvation.

I wrote a piece on the biblical argument about salvation in response to her first comment. Here I’ve tried to answer her second set of questions, which have to do more with the motivation for mission—and indeed for being Christian at all. Hopefully it adds something new to the conversation and I am not just repeating myself.

There is only one biblical way to transform society, and it’s not social activism

In his talk on Daniel 4 this week Barney made passing reference to the “biblical mandate to bring justice by changing the structures of society”. I forget exactly the point he was making, but it would have had something to do with Daniel’s words to Nebuchadnezzar after interpreting the dream about the tree that is cut back to the stump:

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity. (Dan. 4:27)

The talk was excellent and stimulated good conversation. But I’m not sure about that throw-away comment. Is there really such a “biblical mandate”? Is it clearly taught in scripture that a central task of the church is to go and bring justice by changing the structures of society?

Celibacy, marriage, and the end of the age

Something that struck me reading Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church was the general agreement that Paul’s views about marriage change between 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

In the earlier passage he expresses a strong preference for celibacy but at the same time gives a “shockingly egalitarian” (DeFranza) account of marriage. By the time we get to Ephesians Paul—or a well-meaning pseudepigraphist—appears to have lost interest in the celibacy option and promotes a strongly patriarchal view of marriage as a “mystery” pointing to the relationship between Christ and the church.

Timothy and Mavra, a young married couple, martyred in 286 AD

Homosexuality, marriage, and why I don’t think Paul teaches mutual submission

There’s an interesting exchange between the contributors to Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church (ed. Preston Sprinkle) over how close the modern ideal of Christian marriage conforms to the biblical pattern of marriage. The underlying question is whether we have a closed and fixed or an open and evolving idea of “Christian” marriage. If the latter, then there is some scope, as Megan DeFranza argues, for extending “marriage” to include comparable same-sex commitments.

DeFranza thinks that we have already changed marriage by shifting over time from a patriarchal biblical model to an egalitarian model. So where’s the harm in changing again to accommodate gay marriage?

‘It is only very recently,’ she says, ‘that Christians have been shifting their interpretation of Eph 5 so that the call to “mutual submission” in verse 21… is read to support egalitarian human marriage, while the ancient vision of patriarchal marriage remains an analogy for Christ and the church” (101 n. 66).


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