Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Notes on Galatians 4:12-20

More notes prepared for the Cornerstone sermon-prep study group:

In Galatians 4:12-20, Paul draws on a common Graeco-Roman discussion topic of true versus false friendship, showing that he and the Galatians had had a true friendship – he is the Galatians’ true friend (and, even greater, true family), whereas Paul’s opponents are false friends.  He appeals to them on the basis of that true and intimate relationship to be transformed into the true family of God they were meant to be, with no divisions or exclusions between Jew and Gentile. 

In verse 12, Paul echoes the common Greek idea that true friendship involved, in some sense, equality, unanimity, and likeness – becoming or being like the friend, sharing in their (mis)fortune.  As in I Corinthians 9, Paul became like a Christian Gentile in order to minister to them so they as Gentiles could also become Christians.  Hence they too should be free in Christ to be Gentiles as followers of Christ.  Paul shows that there are no hard feelings and that they have had a true friendship – true friends do no true harm to one another.  Instead, they did the opposite – despite all the reasons not to, they accepted him.  In verses 13 and 14, Paul notes that they passed the test of true friendship at the very beginning of their relationship, where it would have been a temptation to disregard Paul as cursed or wicked because of his illness.  Instead, Paul, as a representative of Jesus Christ, as an apostle proclaiming Jesus’ message, was received as a messenger of God and like Jesus Christ himself. 

While the relationship they had had involved blessing, in verse 15 we have Paul questioning the continued presence of such blessing.  Has so much changed?  Formerly they would have done anything for him – true friendship involves a willingness to undergo extreme sacrifice.  In verse 16, he wonders if the change is because he is speaking the truth to them, yet that should show that he is a true friend rather than a flatterer (a common Graeco-Roman contrast is between the true friend who is frank and truthful and the flatterer who is not).  Rather than an enemy, as the opponents may have made him out to be (since he would be seen as keeping them from becoming “real” Christians by becoming Jews), his truth-speaking marks him out as the complete opposite.

Verses 17 and 18 draw somewhat on the Jewish notion of zeal, which was often applied towards the Law and the covenant between God and Israel.  Unfortunately, in Paul’s time this often ended up being twisted into a hatred of Gentiles and could be turned into violence (the Zealots).  The opponents’ misguided zeal drove them to use the Law to force the Gentiles to become Jews lest they be excluded, and thus the opponents miss the true zeal which is for the God who welcomes the Gentiles into his family on an equal footing with the Jews.  By threatening exclusion, the Gentiles are forced to depend on the opponents for their spiritual status, following their guidance and what they say in order to be proper Jews, putting the opponents on a pedestal for revealing to them the things of the Law that Paul had supposedly left out or kept from them.  True friends, true family, however, do not maintain their relationships based on personal gain.  They have zeal, but it is for good things, not bad.  True friendship is reliable – in this case, it involves a zeal which always seeks good.  And this is precisely the zeal with which Paul meets the Galatians, a zeal which involves bringing the Galatians to meet the God who would have them as a part of his one family.

In verse 19, Paul shows how deep their relationship really goes – Paul is family, he is like their mother still laboring painfully to give birth to them.  He cares for them, wanting Christ to be formed in/among them.  The community is to be Christ-shaped, with Christ as true head, they as his true body, combined together as one family in him.  Yet the opponents are trying to prevent this formation by introducing divisions and exclusions within the community in the form of the works of the Law.  In verse 20, Paul thus reiterates his true friendship, his true parenthood of them, when he expresses his care for them, wishing to be present with them physically and not merely through the letter – they have seemingly cast aside their good relationship with Paul which involved truth and belonging and accepted instead accepted a bad relationship with the opponents which involved falsity and exclusion.  Paul is bewildered that they would opt for the latter over the former.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teaching About the Bible, Not Just Its Content

I've been thinking about writing more about apologetics, maybe book length.  One major topic, though, I'm thinking of working on is that of the Bible itself.  I'd like to see more education in churches about the Bible.  Not just what's in the Bible but its nature, origins and prehistory, ancient context, etc.  That is, we should have more that is not just about the content of the Bible but the Bible itself.  There are many, many myths and misconstruals floating around about the Bible among more moderate to conservate Christians, Evangelicals, and also Fundamentalists.  And I don't mean "secular" or "liberal" myths either - I mean myths perpetuated largely by traditional, orthodox-leaning Christians.  (To give a couple examples: the idea that every command in the Bible is a timeless moral imperative and the Bible is basically a life handbook; the idea that there cannot be any reasonable doubt about the exact text or meaning of a passage; the idea that absolutely everything ought to be taken as completely literally and describing exact historical, scientific reality and conforming to, say, modern scientific-writing genre conventions, etc.)

The trouble is that many take these myths to be integral to the Christian view of the Bible and to the faith as a whole and when these bubbles get popped, their world comes crashing down and they must either remake their views of the Bible or reject the faith entirely.  I have personally known several people who left the faith because of these myths when they could not handle their dismantlement.  And these were very intelligent people; they were simply dealing with the destruction of what they had believed and likely taught to believe for most of their time as Christians.

Now, most good Evangelical biblical scholars will reject most of these myths, and often explicitly, but that just doesn't often make its way down into the church pews.  Instead, most people's first brush with thinking about the Bible itself outside of these myths and outside well-worn cliches comes in the form of, say, the "facts" presented in the Da Vinci Code or some disturbing bit of modern biblical scholarship.  It's all very sad and, in my mind, completely unnecessary - there are people out there who are having serious doubts about the Bible and hence their faith precisely because of what we aren't (and, sadly, sometimes what we are) teaching them.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bibliography 1st Half 2013

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers January-June 2013. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are new - i.e., not on the previous lists. (Childrens' books also not included!) Starred books are ones I consider particularly outstanding, interesting, important, or otherwise likable.

Bartlett, John, ed., Archaeology & Biblical Interpretation
*Best, Ernest, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. BNTC.
Block, Daniel, Judges, Ruth. NAC.
Brueggemann, Walter, Deuteronomy. Abingdon.
Brueggemann, Walter, Divine Presence and Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua
Brueggemann, Walter, First and Second Samuel. Interpretation.
Butler, Trent, Joshua. WBC.
Craigie, Peter C., The Problem of War in the Old Testament
*Dalrymple, Rob, Eschatology: Why it Matters
Davids, Peter, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC.
Douglas, Mary, In the Wilderness: The Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers
Earl, Douglas, The Joshua Delusion?: Rethinking Genocide in the Bible (with a Response by Christopher J.H. Wright)
*Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Letter of James. AB.
Levine, Baruch, Numbers, 2 vols. AB.
Malherbe, Abraham, The Letters to the Thessalonians. AB.
Mazar, Ahimai, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 10,000-586 B.C.E.
McCarter, P. Kyle, I Samuel. AB.
*McKnight, Scott, The Letter of James. NICNT.
Milgrom, Jacob, Numbers. JPS.
*Moreland, J.P., Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation
Moo, Douglas, The Letter of James. PNTC. 
New Interpreter's Bible, Volume II (Numbers-1&2 Samuel)
Noth, Martin, The Deuteronomistic History
Polzin, Robert, Moses and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomistic History, Part One: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges.
Polzin, Robert, Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, Part Two: 1 Samuel
Stern, Ephraim, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, Volume II: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods (732-332 B.C.E.)
Tigay, Jeffrey, Deuteronomy. JPS.
*Wenham, Gordon, Leviticus. NICOT.
Wanamaker, Charles, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC.
*Wright, Christopher J.H., The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative
*Wright, Christopher J.H., Deuteronomy. NIBC.
*Wright, Christopher J.H., Old Testament Ethics for the People of God
Younger, K. Lawson, Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing