Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My 5 Books

In a recent post, there was a link to C. Orthodoxy for a summary of bibliobloggers who responded with the 5 books that had most influenced their reading of the Bible. Here is my list as promised. Today, I'll give you the list, but in a later series of posts, I want to provide a brief comment about each book/author selected. So here goes (with no attempt to rank order):
  1. The Gospel According to Paul by A. M. Hunter
  2. A Theology of the New Testament by George Eldon Ladd
  3. Unity and Diversity in the New Testament by James D. G. Dunn
  4. A Marginal Jew by John P. Meier and The Historical Figure of Jesus by E. P. Sanders
  5. The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg
OK, so there are six, but I have a good reason. And I'm sure I can come up with it before long.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Alien Presbyterians

Recently, a close family member began searching for a new church home. This proved to be quite a challenge because the various churches visited were so different from his faith tradition. After visiting the Presbyterian Church, the frustrated searcher exclaimed: "THEY ALL LOOKED LIKE ALIENS!"

This is a reminder of how churches often appear to outsiders, even those outsiders who are Christians but belong to a different denomination. Those of us who want to embrace hospitality and welcome the stranger would do well to objectively think about how our church may appear to those who visit.

For those searching, it is also a reminder of the challenge of finding a new church home, especially if consideration is being given to a church that is not part of our faith heritage. If you are in this category, here are a few guidelines to help in your search.
  1. It is going to be different so matter what. Embrace the difference and don't be turned off when you experience a different liturgy or worship style.
  2. Decide what's really important to you; what is non-negotiable. If you expect an egalitarian worship experience, don't waste time with a denomination that does not allow women to play an active role in public worship.
  3. Write down you list of "must meet" criteria. Use it to evaluate each church you visit.
  4. Recognize up front, however, that no church is perfect.
  5. Consider what level of involvement/commitment you are prepared to make beyond just attending worship on Sunday morning. If you want to get your "hands dirty," a smaller congregation may offer more opportunities for ministry than a larger church.
  6. Get clear on worship style. Where does this fall in your priorities.
  7. If you are serious about a particular church, make sure you meet with the senior minister. Prepare a list of questions for her (or him); make sure you understand what the specific membership requirements are for this church.
Finally, if you have anxiety about leaving your present church home, explore dual membership. Many churches recognize people, for a variety of reasons, may need to retain membership in their current faith tradition (family pressure, financial commitment, etc.). So ask about the church's attitude toward dual membership.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Five Books - Multiplied

Recently, Ken Brown at the C. Orthodoxy blog issued a challenge to bibliobloggers:

Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible.

Unlike many challenges, this one struck a chord, and a significant number of bloggers responded. And their choices can be found here.

This is a terrific opportunity to meet new bibliobloggers and add several book titles to your "wish list." I think you'll also find interesting the comments the bloggers made about their selected books. There was passion and a sense of gratitude for their encounter with each work.

I'll start thinking now about my Top 5. Why don't you do the same, and we'll compare our lists in a future post.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sitz im Leben

No, this is not a post on form criticism. It's just a quick notice of a relatively new biblioblog that you might enjoy visiting. Brandon Wason is an experienced blogger and in the fall will begin a Ph.D in New Testament at Emory University. Check out his Sitz im Leben by clicking here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Resource on 1 Corinthians

Several of our recent posts were focused on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. If you're interested in learning more about Paul and the Corinthian community, here is a great resource for continued learning. Sponsored by the United Methodist Women in Ministry, this site (see site map) has a number of links that will enhance your knowledge of Roman houses, Christian house churches, and the conflicts that existed at Corinth. This is an excellent resource; take a few minutes and check out what's available there.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Shlemiel, Shlimazl, . . .

Let's get Laverne and Shirley to help us think about about how to interpret a biblical passage.

First, what is a shlemiel? Here's how Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish would answer:
A foolish person; a simpleton. Also: a social misfit, congenitally maladjusted.

How about the shlimazl? Again Rosten. A chronically unlucky person; someone for whom nothing seems to go right or turn out well; a 'born loser.'

Here's the distinction from Mr. Rosten: A shlemiel is a man who is always spilling hot soup--down the neck of a shlimazl.

Finally, how do you define "hasenpfeffer." Answer: It's a traditional German stew made of marinated rabbit.

Now how are the words being used by Laverne and Shirley? They are reciting a Yiddish/American hopscotch chant.

So what does this have to do with interpreting the bible? Well this is a round-about way of saying that we've got to know the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words behind our English translations. And we've got to understand the cultural context into which they were spoken. If we don't we're acting like a shlemiel, maybe even a shlimazl.

So get out your bibles and start studying. And enjoy your hasenpfeffer too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Trying to Silence Women

In 1 Corinthians 12 - 14, Paul gives an extend discussion of spiritual gifts and how they should be utilized in the church. Then at 14:34-35 come these words:

"Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinated, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."

What are we to make of this instruction. Some conservative Christian groups take these words in an uncritical fashion and combine them with a social view that sees women as subordinate to men and fashion the two into a theology that discriminates against women. But what do scholars, both evangelical and progressive, think about this text.

Most scholars do not take these words to mean that women can not participate in leadership roles of teaching, preaching, praying, etc. in the church. First, in the previous chapter of Corinthians, Paul recognizes and approves of women who pray and prophecy in the gathered Christian assembly. Second, Paul has a lengthy list of women who act as co-ministers with him in his missionary efforts. To suggest that Paul did not allow women to speak in the churches he founded does not cohere with the evidence of his own letters and Acts. Consequently, there are three options that scholars commonly put forward to explain the text:

1. These words were not part of the letter to the Corinthians and should be considered a gloss, that is they are the work of a later scribe who commented on the text and those comments were later copied into the text. These two verses appear in different locations in some manuscript traditions. Evangelical scholar Gordon Fee argues persuasively for this option.

2. These words are not those of Paul but those of some of the Corinthians who did not want women to take a leadership role in the church. Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer opts for this solution.

3. The prohibition is directed at the wives of prophets who should not question (take part in the evaluation of) prophecy when it was their husbands who prophesied, for that would be shameful due to the customs of the day. British scholar James Dunn offers this suggestion. Note the charge to weigh what prophets say in a public worship gathering in 14:29.

These suggestions provide a needed corrective to an unthinking "it says what it means, and it means what it says" approach to dealing with difficult biblical passages. To base discriminatory and hurtful practices on the basis of such a simplistic reading of a very difficult passage, is at best foolish.

Paul: A Novel

If I were to teach a course on Paul, besides one or two scholarly texts, I would assign Walter Wangerin Jr.'s Paul: a Novel. Sometimes its hard to appreciate Paul, the human being, while trying to explain his sometimes dense theology or trace the movements of his missionary journeys. But in Wangerin's novel, the apostle and the many characters we read about in his letters and Acts come alive in this fine read.

Here's a few words from the opening prologue set in Corinth as Prisca encounters Paul for the first time.

"THERE WAS A VOICE in the morning. There came a Voice through the wet air, like a long flag lifted on the wind: Eucharistoumen, it was saying, and to theo pantote peri panton humon . . .

There was this single Voice which, though it came up from the city, dwelt here, in the ear, like the needle end of a distant thread, saying: Mneian poioumenoi epi ton proseuchon hemon . . .

That Voice - the bare sound of it even before the words made sense to me-pricked my hearing and drew me out of the house and down to the city."

What Prisca is hearing is Paul in the market place dictating to Timothy the words that will become part of the first letter to the Thessalonians. She goes on to describe the one from whom the Voice emanates:

"Here was no one of any bodily advantage. Here was a small man sitting cross-legged on the stone floor of the colonnade, leatherwork spread around him, his tools and materials close to hand, is head a monument for hugeness now bowed over his fingers as if too heavy for his stalk of a neck, and patched of blood marking two parts on the crown of it. His fingers were flying"

If you're up to a few novels this summer, let me suggest you put this one on your list.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sugar Stacks

For those of us trying to watch our waistline and monitor sugar intake, here is a site called Sugar Stacks that visually helps us understand how much sugar we're consuming with some of our favorite snacks and beverages. Click here to visit.

The Triclinium

The traditional dining area in a Graeco-Roman home centered on the triclinium, a three-sided raised platform where diners reclined on their left elbow while eating. This photo is from Herculaneum. For more photos from this site, click here.

At banquets, guests were placed according to their social rank, descending to the right. According to Dennis Smith in a 2004 article for Biblical Review entitled Dinner with Jesus and Paul, says that according to Greek tradition women did not recline at dinner. However, as Roman custom began to dominate, women began to attend banquets and to recline as did the men.

If Christian worship followed the custom of religious meals/banquets, diners would have reclined at the meal. However, 1 Corinthians 14:30 seems to indicate a sitting posture at worship. Were all sitting or only some?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lord's Supper, Individual Supper

One of Paul's most stinging criticisms of the Corinthians is how they celebrated the Eucharist. For the apostle, the church had turned the Lord's supper (kuriakon deipnon) into their own supper (idion deipnon). The exegetical question is "How"?

Two answers come to the top of list and revolve around the word "prolambanein," translated " to go ahead with" in the NRSV. Here the translator is making a decision for us, taking this Greek verb in a temporal sense. This leads to the first interpretive answer which suggests the Lord's supper was being abused by some members, probably the wealthy, eating in advance of late arrivals, slaves and freed men, thus causing a shortage of food for those not able to come early.

If the verb is not taken in a temporal sense, then its meaning would to be "to eat," "to consume," "to devour." In this understanding, the focus is on eating but with a different emphasis. In Greco-Roman culture where status was paramount, diners were seated according to social status and often provided more and better portions of the meal. Consequently interpretive answer two sees the problem centered on showing partiality and favoritism to certain church members because of their social standing.

Dennis Smith, author of From Symposium to the Eucharist, says this about religious meals in antiquity: "In all such religious meals, there is a close tie between the ideology of the meal and the religious values to be expressed." One can see why Paul's frustration is so evident. He had espoused a message that all are part of the body of Christ and that there is no longer a distinction between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. The very essence of the gospel was compromised by how the Eucharist was being observed at Corinth.

There is one common theme in the two interpretive choices just reviewed. Both assume social realities that damage the church, the body of Christ. Favoritism, discrimination, and uncritical acceptance of social convention can damage relationships and put the church at risk.

So what are the practical implication of Paul's critique. One things seems certain. Church communities must be more aware of their traditions, especially in regard to the Lord's supper. Gender discrimination at the table as to who can pray and who can serve stands condemned and, in Paul's words "shows contempt for the church of God."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Love Comes To Town

Sure there's Augustine's Confessions and a host of other stories of repentance, but I think I'll go with Bono and B.B. Now here's a sermon.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Doug Chaplin is a parish priest in Worchestershire in the UK and an articulate and experienced blogger. Visit him at his new blog, Clayboy. While there, read his post on April DeConick's series, Creating Jesus.

Mark on Matthew

Mark Goodacre from Duke University has started a series of short (5 min) pod-casts on the New Testament. Here is the first on Matthew 1:1-17. Check out his NT Blog periodically for other broadcasts and his comments on a variety of New Testament subjects.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Saved by Child Bearing

Bill Mounce gives his thoughts on the difficult 2 Timothy 2:15. How are women saved through child bearing? Bill provides helpful insights, but the meaning is still far from clear.

There is much we don't know about the culture and setting of the New Testament documents? But sometimes it is the more difficult passages that in some quarters of the church are read and pronounced on as if there was complete certainty as to their meaning.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Background to the Lord's Supper

The earliest evidence for celebration of the Lord's Supper comes from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. It is clear that the Eucharist celebration takes place in the context of a meal.

The meal was likely celebrated in the dining room of a private home. Disciples of Christ Minister and New Testament scholar Dennis Smith believes that the Christian meal followed the pattern of the Greek/Roman banquet. Such a meal had two courses:
1. the deipnon - the meal itself
2. the symposium - an extended wine drinking session accompanied by entertainment

One of the many problems at Corinth was centered around this gathering. Hear Paul's rebuke to the Corinthian community: "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's Supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk" (1 Corinthians 11:21)

For a look at more details around the banquet, see Smith's book From Symposium to Eucharist. You can preview the section on Corinth at Google books.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Honk If You Love Jesus

In case you missed it, here's a clip from today's Sunday Morning on CBS that features a Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) congregation in Neptune, Florida. Pastor Larry Deich may be on to something. Make sure you catch his concluding response to the question "Would God approve?"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More on Roman Wives

Here is a link to a brief online article by Dr. Bruce Winter (see previous post) that sketches out his research that attempts to decode the dress codes of 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2.

Also, here is a link with photos of the Herulaneum Women that illustrate the dress of the married woman and the unmarried woman in Roman culture. A married woman could be instantly identified through the veil.

Roman Wives, Roman Widows

I'd like to do two things with this post. First, you can access the full text of over 7 million books at Google books--free. If you've never visited, on your Google search widow, click on the option "More." Then choose "Books" from the drop down menu. Type in your book or author and see what comes up.

Now for the second "to do." Tomorrow our adult education class will tackle 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, a notoriously difficult section on men, women, authority, veiling, unveiling, etc. An important book by Bruce Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, looks at Roman culture and the rise of the "new woman" and offers up numerous insights into what may have been transpiring at Corinth when Paul wrote his letter.

Check it out out. Go to Google Books, search for Roman Wives, Roman Widows, and read Winter's chapter on 1 Corinthians 11. As he says, "you were what you wore in Roman law." Let me know what you discover.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Classes Would You Offer?

If you were making a recommendation to those who plan and implement adult education at your church, what courses would you suggest? And if you do not have a church home, what courses would make you want to visit and learn?

I'm much concerned about biblical literacy and tend to focus on textual studies and how to read/interpret the literature of the bible? I'd be interested in your choices, both as an individual and what you think your church corporately needs.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Inductive Bible Study - Acts 2

Here is a second set of questions for an inductive bible study, personal or group, on the second chapter of Acts. With Pentecost just completed, this is a good time for a close reading of the biblical text that provides Luke's account of the establishment of the church.

1. Who made up the individuals who were all together in one place on the day of Pentecost? (v. 1)

2. Based on context, how does Luke understand speaking in tongues? (v. 4-6)

3. Besides where they’re from, what descriptors are given of those who witness the speaking in tongues? (v. 5-11)

4. What explanation is given by some of the crowd as to what they have witnessed? What response is given to these individuals? Who gives the response? (v. 12-16)

5. How does Luke edit the prophet Joel as to the timing of the prophecy? Compare verse 17 to Joel 2:28.

6. What are the key elements of the Joel prophecy? (v. 17-21)

7. What Old Testament character does Peter quote to demonstrate that it was God’s plan that Jesus would be killed but not abandoned to the grave? (v. 22-28)

8. What are the consequences of God raising Jesus to life? (v. 32-33)

9. What is the key point of Peter’s sermon? (v. 36)

10. How does Luke describe the response of the crowd to Peter’s sermon? What does Peter say in return to the crowd? (v. 37-38)

11. What are the four characteristics of the early Christian’s communal life? What was the atmosphere like during these early days? (v. 42-43)

12. What can we learn about the early Jerusalem church in the concluding verses? (v. 44-47)