Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Greatest Common Denominator of Scripture

Someone asked yesterday if I had written anything on a "big picture" view of scripture replacing the "atomization" which has been so common. The wording of the question indicated that they had read the piece Jeremy Summers and I wrote for the Missio Alliance blog. It also relates to something I wrote last week on how modern inerrancy in the 1800s shifted the center of biblical theology from the big picture to the details of individual passages, chiefly to oppose abolitionism. Individual verses on slaves obeying their masters came to trump the big principle that in Christ there is no slave.

I took the comment as a blog challenge. What would a hermeneutic look like today that tried to recapture the "inerrancy" of the pre-modern era? It's a difficult question because you can't undo historical consciousness. To the extent that someone understands reading in context, you can't undo it. This is in fact what current ETS inerrancy is--a partial understanding of context that can't be undone. It just gets more complex, as a D. A. Carson or Kevin Vanhoozer demonstrate.

For the record, my hermeneutic was born of this dilemma. I have found it impossible to deny inductive Bible study method as an evidentiary method. I don't see how anyone who truly understands it could. The only "successful" counter is presuppositional and thus turns to blind faith. Regardless of the evidence, we just won't follow the evidence. This is a recipe for eventual atheism--or at least eventual atheism for your children and students.

So since before I cranked out Who Decides What the Bible Means one week in the summer of 2005 (my first self-published book), I have argued for a two level hermeneutic, one of which involved the original meaning of the Bible and the other of which read the Bible in terms of common Christian understanding. The second is more or less the pre-modern way in which the fathers, Luther, Wesley read Scripture, before the modern inerrancy of Hodge and Warfield.

All of that is preface. My two level approach has not found general appeal, even though I think it is the only legitimate way to do what evangelicals want to do with Scripture. It is 1) both honest with history yet 2) allows us to read the text as the fathers read the text. What I am going to present below does not necessarily contradict what I've just written above, but it might be more palatable.

The Post
The problem with modern inerrancy is that it tends toward "the most difficult common denominator." I don't want to say "lowest common denominator" because every piece of the text is Scripture. But if you think of what a lowest common denominator is, you will get the picture.

Modern inerrancy functions such that, even if the vast majority of biblical texts seem to point in one way, a single difficult text can dislodge that trajectory. Before the modern, historical era, these "problem verses" were simply reinterpreted to mean something else. In modern evangelicalism, trump verses tend to undermine the big picture of Scripture.

I have the great benefit of being born an old soul into a old family in a hidden corner of the church. One of my grandfathers was born in 1883 and my mother grew up on Bible college/camp meeting grounds. My first hermeneutic was more or less the revivalist hermeneutic of the late 1800s/early 1900s.

I early recognized that I could not simply take a verse for what it seemed to say. Individual verses had to fit with what the rest of the Bible said. I distinctly and clearly remember thinking that as I read through my King James Bible. The meaning of an individual verse must be interpreted in the light of the whole.

Of course this is not the neo-evangelical or modernist way. An individual verse must be interpreted on its own terms. This is of course completely true from a historical perspective. It just isn't true from the way the pre-modern Christians of the centuries have read the Bible.

So what might a return to the "inerrancy" of the centuries look like?  It would be able to "set aside" problem verses until we know what to do with them. It would, in the words of the Reformers, be able to interpret the unclear verses in the light of the clear ones.

For example, we know that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). We know that one indication of the age of the Spirit is that sons and daughters will prophesy (Acts 2:17). We know that women did play spiritual roles and lead in the early church (Priscilla, Phoebe, the prophetess daughters of Philip, the prophesying women of 1 Cor. 11). Spiritual common sense says, especially in the Western world, that to prohibit women from ministry doesn't make any sense. The only argument you can make against it is that God just doesn't want it.

Now enters the modern inerrancy of Charles Hodge. Sorry, there is one verse in 1 Timothy that you cannot ignore, just like you cannot ignore the individual verses on slavery. Thus the majority of evangelicals are swayed. They flow to the most difficult common denominator. They take the most problematic Scriptures and make them central.

The problems here are massive. You may end up taking the most "that time" elements of the Bible and make them center stage. So instead of focusing on Jesus' love command, you may end up focusing on the annihilation of the Canaanites. You may end up using the Bible to promote things that are actually contrary to God's will because you have placed the center in the most difficult common denominator!

If we return to the sense of Scripture's truthfulness before the Princeton Calvinists, we look rather to the "greatest common denominator" of Scripture.  What is the central teaching of the Bible on this topic? If there are other passages that seem to pull in another direction, you set them aside as unclear. After all, we don't know all the history to interpret the original meaning of the Bible fully and certainly anyway.

Chalk it up to contextual uncertainty. Reinterpret it like a good premodern or just put an "unclear" tape on it. Invoke the notion of progressive revelation or situational particularity. However your tradition deals with unclear verses, do that. But don't let the problematic trump the central principles of Scripture.

This is something like what I have in mind when I speak of a big picture approach to the Bible driving the interpretation of the details, rather than an atomism. It is an approach that looks to the greatest common denominator and thus returns as best we can in the modern era to the hermeneutic of the fathers, Calvin, and Wesley.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Freedoms aren't absolute.

If there's one thing my holiness upbringing emphatically grilled into my head as a child, it's that it isn't about me. I grew up on a stable diet of "dying to self," which primarily meant that I was to surrender my will entirely to God. There was to be no part of me that resisted God's will or that pulled against God.

Of course that's easier said than done, and it's not what I have in mind today. This goal of selflessness spilled over into the way we are to treat each other.  We are to live "in honor, preferring one another," as my father used to say. You put others above yourself. This plays itself out down to the dinner table. Go ahead, you take the last piece of pie.

I remember a big aha moment in college when reading Romans 14--it's not about my rights. It's about what's best for everyone and the kingdom. It may be my right to do something, but that doesn't mean the right thing to do is to take advantage of my rights. Rather, let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus--who was God and not only became human for us, became a slave for us, but died for us a horrible death (Phil. 2).

I'm still not to what I had in mind for this post. The above is just about how Christians are supposed to behave in this world. There are legitimate situations, but let it be rare that you hear a Christian say, "I've got my rights." In fact, Paul advises the Corinthians that sometimes it's better to lose than to stand up for what is rightfully yours (1 Cor. 6:7).

With this background, you can imagine that it grates on my nerves to hear Americans talking about any number of rights they have, on both sides. I hate hearing "health care is a universal right" just as much as I hate hearing, "It's my right to take a gun anywhere I want." It's not that I don't believe it is important for us to speak up for the rights of Americans... and I do think Christians will do it that way--standing up not so much for their own individual rights but for the rights of others. My problem goes to another aha moment I had once upon a time.

None of the rights of the Constitution are absolute. That is to say, there are exceptions to almost all of our rights as Americans. To hear some Americans speak, there are no limits to my individual rights as an American. (And, yes, the current American climate has become dangerously egoist--my rights rather than our collective rights)  Because the rights of individuals sometimes pull against each other, rights have to be prioritized.

For example, my freedom to religion is not absolute. If I am a Jehovah's Witness who doesn't believe my child should have a blood transfusion, tough cookies if the life of my child is in danger. If my religion says I should kill abortion doctors or murder Christians, sorry Charlie. If my religion calls for ritual virgin sacrifices, I'm out of luck. The freedom of religion isn't absolute. There are exceptions.

My freedom of speech is not absolute. It's a fine line, but if my speech is urging people to violence beyond a certain point, I will be legally forced to shut up. No one is free to incite violence against the government or to speak toward the murder of government officials. At some point, a line is crossed and my rights end.

The same applies to other freedoms in the Bill of Rights. After due process, the government can take away my property to build a highway. A murderer does not have the right to carry a gun. Capital punishment, when legal, can deprive a person of his or her life. Our freedoms as Americans are not absolute. They are extensive, but they are not absolute. I personally think we need to be reminded of this fact.

And it makes sense because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. This is the primary principle of people living together. The greatness of the American experiment was the Bill of Rights, which set down certain boundaries for how far this overarching utilitarianism could go. We set up a framework that located individual freedom within the boundaries of a peaceful society.

The precise limits of those boundaries are constantly changing. I can understand a child having to wear a seat belt. I'm less comfortable with an adult being forced to wear one. I understand keeping public places free from smoke and with drinking limits for driving. I'm less comfortable when laws try to force me as an individual to eat healthily.

But it's a give and take. There aren't clear lines. You can't just say, "It's my right." We're in this thing together, not just as individuals.

It's worth reminding ourselves of the Preamble to the Constitution. We the people have established a more perfect union to establish justice, to ensure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense, and to promote the general welfare. And, yes, we established a Constitution to ensure the blessings of liberty too--primarily our corporate freedom but also our individual freedom.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah

The last time was 1888, the next time will be 81,056 that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will be on the same day. I doubt seriously that there will be a United States by then.

Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was desecrated in 167BC by the Syrians. There is nothing intrinsically unchristian about it, although sometimes Christians think there is. In our world, we think of Hanukkah as a competing holiday with Christmas. But Jesus goes to this festival in John 10:22. If you think of how the book of Esther has the feast of Purim to celebrate God delivering the Jews of Persia from Haman, Hanukkah similarly celebrates God's victory over the Syrians.

You can read about the event in 1 Maccabees. Another reason why Protestants in particular might have a residual negative feeling toward Hanukkah is the fact that this book (along with 2 Maccabees), is in the Roman Catholic (and Orthodox) Bible. But just because we don't consider these books Scripture doesn't mean that God didn't deliver the Jews. Historically speaking, it is overwhelmingly likely that there is a core historicity to the story.

The Maccabean crisis is what Daniel 11 was originally about. The crisis played such a formative role on Judaism that it's likely Christianity would look drastically different if it hadn't had happened. Pharisees, Essenes, and Sadducees all arguably were formed as groups in this period. The period provided the lens through which Jews at the time of Christ arguably read the Old Testament.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Scandal of Wesleyan Memory

Jeremy Summers and I have a brief post over on the Missio Alliance site giving a few areas where Wesleyan association with broader evangelicalism has at times threatened to undermine some of our core identity features as Wesleyans. This is part of a series including other traditions, like the Mennonites, the Brethren, etc--groups who are on the margins of evangelism. "Mainline" evangelicals struggle to accept us and we have a tendency to blur our traditions with elements from them.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not all scholars are created equal...

All the same impressions as usual of SBL:
  • Some scholars are incredibly educated incompetents. What I mean is that they know an awful lot of data but can't seem to put it all together. They know all the different plays and are brilliant at describing them, but they can't seem to cross the finish line. I heard a couple papers I would put in this category. 
  • Some scholars are incredibly bright, but their presuppositions sometimes prevent it from showing. Sometimes I feel like I can outrun some of these, even though they are way smarter than I am, just because I can smell a cop out and want to be honest with the evidence.
  • There are some scholars who are just world class masters. Most people have no idea what one of these looks like. I heard a paper by Greg Sterling today. What a master. Heard another by Jimmy Dunn--what clarity and lucidity.
If you've read me for long, you know my thinking here. God has never been limited to the original meanings in his speaking through Scripture. He certainly didn't make the NT authors stick to it. In the meantime, we can understand enough of the original meaning for life and salvation. 

But to get the nuances will often require expert knowledge of the biblical languages and the historical background. In some cases even those who know the most won't have enough information to be sure. This is the reason why it is more important for us to focus on the big picture of Scripture than on the details of individuals verses.

For example, our theology of women in ministry should not hang on the interpretation of individual verses like 1 Timothy 2:12 but should flow from the big principles of Scripture. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jim West, Chris Tilling, and Christian Brady

It is a strange feature of our current age that you can feel like you know people, maybe even are close friends with people you have never met. So I ran into the dubious trilogy above today in the book room: Jim West, Chris Tilling, and Christian Brady. I suppose the most surprising thing was to find out that Jim West actually seems rather normal in person.

But then again, I probably do to...

How Hebrews and Philo connected Scriptures

My thanks to the Intertextuality and the New Testament unit at SBL for letting me present a paper yesterday. My goal was to catalog some of the similarities between the way Hebrews and Philo connected Scriptures together. Here was my outline:

1. Similar Quote Splicing
In addition to the fact that both functioned out of the Greek rather than Hebrew Bible, they both share some specific word splices. For example, Hebrews 13:5 combines Joshua 1:5, Deuteronomy 31:8 and arguably Genesis 28:15 in the same exact way as Philo. They are the only two in all extant literature of the time. This must surely be more than coincidence, although we lack enough evidence to say what the lines of dependence were.

2. Use of Secondary Texts
Philo used secondary texts to explicate primary ones. Hebrews also does so perhaps more than most have noticed. The obvious example is how Hebrews uses Genesis 2:2 to clarify Psalm 95. But I also argued that Hebrews uses Genesis 14 to explicate Psalm 110:4 and various passages on the wilderness tabernacle to clarify Jeremiah 31.

3. Use of Exempla
Hebrews 11 is the most famous example list, a collection of biblical characters strung together to reinforce a certain theme. There are closer examples than Philo but Philo does this as well. Almost all my Philonic examples for this paper were taken from Allegorical Interpretation book 3. Strikingly, this little swath of Philo had numerous superficial parallels.

In the case of exempla, Philo's characters all come from Genesis and a little in Exodus, like the majority of Hebrews' examples. They overlap a little--Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Jacob. Philo spends significant time on Melchizedek and Bezalel, the artificer who made the tabernacle. However, Philo uses allegory to string them together.

4. Use of Gezera Shawa
Both Hebrews and Philo use catchwords to link from a primary passage to a secondary one. So the Philonic example I used was based on the word "cursing." Hebrews does this too. The author connects from Psalm 95 to Genesis 2 on the concept of God resting. The disobedience will not enter into "God's rest." So what is God's rest? Well, "God rested" on the seventh day. So someone who enters God's rest stops working in some way.

5. Use of Allegory
Philo of course is replete with allegorical connections. Hebrews is more grounded to a literal reading of the text (remembering that by "literal," we do not mean the original meaning but a surface reading that does not think it is taking the words in a figural way. The original meaning was culturally embedded in a way the paradigm of the biblical interpreters did not understand--or most contemporary biblical interpreters, including many scholars).

But Hebrews does allegory too, and uses allegory in its Scriptural connections. So Psalm 110:4 is a primary text that tells us that the Messiah will be a "priest after the order of Melchizedek." What is such a priest? This leads the author to the secondary text of Genesis 14.

The author's interpretation of Genesis 14 involves allegorical interpretation. What is a priest like Melchizedek? Using almost exactly the same etymological argument as Philo, it is a "king of peace" and a "king of righteousness." In the Genesis text, Melchizedek has no father, mother, priestly genealogy, time of taking or leaving office. Therefore, allegorically, this must be what a priest after the order of Melchizedek is like. Ironically, the historical Melchizedek himself didn't qualify! The author is not arguing about the historical Melch. but the allegorical one!

P.S. I have published many of these individual interpretations elsewhere if you are writing something and would like a reference to cite.

I also discussed the allegory of the tabernacle in Hebrews 9, which the author mixes with his understanding of Jeremiah 31 to give us a two part tabernacle that corresponds to the two covenants.

6. Connecting Shadows
The "shadows" from the old covenant do not match to Christ in a one-to-one way. Comparisons were made between Hebrews, Colossians 2:17, and Philo on the literal interpretation being a shadow of the deeper meaning of the Scriptural text. As usual, I dissed the prevalent translation of hypodeigma in Hebrews 8:5 as "copy."

For the paper's purpose, the key element here is that Hebrews connects all the sacrificial types of the Jewish Bible and amalgamates them into one shadow over and against the one sacrifice of Christ.

7. Final Thoughts
I made a little fun of the category of typology in the paper, a category invented by Protestant scholars so that books like Hebrews could be said to do something different from allegory--and thus medieval Catholic exegesis. But there is allegory in the NT, plain and simple. Hebrews is far more "grounded" to the literal than Philo, but it still does allegory.

Once again, I am struck by the number of superficial parallels. They are very superficial, but they are significant. It would be like reading a book you really disagreed with, but then taking half of the elements and redoing them. Or it would be like someone who grew up in Alexandria, heard Philo speak in the Great Synagogue, or perhaps was forced to go through Questions and Answers on Genesis as a child, but then went on to believe something different. But some of the forms stuck...

Basically, Apollos wrote Hebrews. :-)

Friday, November 22, 2013

A History of Inerrancy

A few quick thoughts on how I think the Bible's truthfulness has been conceived over time and has changed throughout church history.

Phase 1: Pre-Reformation
From the New Testament authors to the Reformation, there was an assumption that the Bible was the very words of God and that it was obviously truthful in everything it said. However, there was no restriction that would limit that truthfulness to the literal. If a passage seemed problematic from a literal standpoint, it could be interpreted allegorically.

Basically, the meaning of the Bible was tethered to the "rule of faith" rather than to history. Passages perceived to be difficult in relation to orthodoxy or their sense of the world were interpreted in a different way. We see this still in the church today in the pew, as church members who were not trained to read the Bible in context search for interpretations that fit with what they have already been taught to believe.

Phase 2: Reformation
The Reformation untethered the meaning of the Bible from orthodox tradition and forbid figural interpretation. Sola scriptura in effect retethered the meaning of the Bible to history rather than to the rule of faith. The moment this change of meaning orientation happened, Protestant liberalism and higher criticism immediately became one likely eventuality.

The orientation of meaning shifted from being a premodern mirror of common Christian understanding to an individual quest to "get back" to what it meant. The operating mode became one of pealing back, which would lead eventually to the quest for the historical Jesus and the pealing away of historical layers in the gospels.

It would take a few centuries for this to take its course. Luther, Calvin, Wesley continued to some extent to read the Bible in a premodern way, as a big picture mirror of their own theologies. They continued to read a single theology into the biblical texts taken as a whole. And of course they believed the Bible (meaning their own theologies which they saw in the Bible) was completely truthful.

Phase 3: The Princeton Calvinists
The modern doctrine of inerrancy was arguably born of Charles Hodges' support of slavery. (By the way, few people know that the Southern Baptist Church itself was also formed in defense of slavery.) Hodge's doctrine of inerrancy pushed the locus of meaning down to the verse level rather than the overall, big picture theological level as before. So since individual verses in Colossians, 1 Peter, etc. told slaves to obey their masters, Hodge argued that the abolitionist movement was going against the details of the Bible. Meanwhile, abolitionists such as my Wesleyan forebears argued from the big principles of Scripture.

We see this same hermeneutic in play today with the question of women in ministry. Rather than an overall theology informing the whole meaning of the Bible as before, individual, "inerrant" trump verses are brought to play in debates. This was a shift in the way the Bible's truthfulness is approached.

In the late 1800s, B. B. Warfield continued to push Hodge's approach to Scripture at Princeton. He argued literal interpretation of the Bible against my holiness, revivalist ancestors. It was during his time that historical criticism and evolution were coming into play, and he made some early responses. He did not completely rule out evolution (it's hard for us to "feel" that there was ever a time when emotions weren't as polarized as ours are now).  Warfield also accepted a kind of dual authorship of the biblical texts, with the personalities of the authors being involved.

My key take-away here is that modern inerrancy originated in direct opposition to the values of the Wesleyan tradition of which I am a part.

Phase 4: Fundamentalist Inerrancy
The form that inerrancy took in the mid-twentieth century was a defensive mechanism against developments in science and biblical studies. It set down assumptions that created a wall against these perceived threats. No matter what science says, you can't believe in evolution. No matter what Bible scholars say, you have to believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is the codification of these fences. The CSBI assumes an evidentiary, modernist approach but only within certain boundaries.  If the evidence seems to be pointing in a direction that crosses one of the boundary lines, the evidence must be reinterpreted. This is analogous to the way the patristic fathers reinterpreted biblical texts but now it is the historical and scientific evidence that is reinterpreted rather than the meaning of the biblical text.

Phase 5: Evangelical Inerrancy Today
As the new book, Five Views of Inerrancy, reflects, evangelical scholars today have resorted to more complex understandings of inerrancy in an attempt to be faithful to the biblical texts themselves. Kevin Vanhoozer reflects the complications of genre (the Bible does much more than affirm propositional truths). Michael Bird points to the cultural-embeddedness of the whole American debate and pushes us in some ways back toward the ways the truthfulness of the Bible was understood before Hodge. John Franke reminds us of the "plurivocity" of the biblical texts.

Some thoughts after walking through the book...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Inerrancy Review (Final)

I have been reviewing Zondervan's new Five Views of Inerrancy. I wasn't sure what I would think of the book but it has been very helpful. I have not been able to give as thorough a review (or read) as I would prefer but I'm sure Zondervan would like you to buy the book. :-)

The two previous posts were:
I only have time today to give a taste of the last two contributors: John Franke and Peter Enns.

John Franke
Franke is deep and nuanced, like Vanhoozer. His perspective, if I understand him, is quite fascinating, maybe even profound. Because we are finite and God is infinite, "God 'adjusts' and 'descends' to the limited capacities of human beings and 'lisps' to us, as adults do to infants, in order to be made known" (267).

God "pragmatically points us in the right direction without the necessity of being photographically precise or drawn exactly to scale" (268). "Inerrancy affirms that narratives, propositions, and assertions--in fact, all the genres of Scripture--are true but still relative to their context. Inerrancy should not be used to suggest, then, that the words of Scripture transcend their situatedness as a form of decontextualized, absolutist theological language" (270).

Let me see if I have understood him. The Bible reflects God on his mission to save humanity through Christ. The goal is Christ leading to the goal of humanity and the creation's restoration. Along the way, the infinite God has lisped to humanity in its varied contexts. These moments point the way forward. They point to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

They do not point precisely because of their situatedness. As a result, "Scripture itself authorizes multiple perspectives... circumscribed by the... canon" (276). "Scripture is inerrant in its witness to the plurality of perspectives that are indispensable to the practice of missional Christian community" (276).

Let me see if I can apply what I think he's saying (someone please correct me if I'm wrong). He's saying it's okay for some of us to believe in women in ministry and for some of us not to, because different situations in the canon at different times have called forth both directions. But I think he would also say that the missional trajectory of Christ and the kingdom make the egalitarian position superior to the other. I could have misunderstood him.

Pete Enns
Enns believes "that the term inerrancy has run its course and that evangelicals need to adopt other language with which to talk about the Bible" (115). If Mohler sees CSBI inerrancy as a matter of presupposition, no matter what the evidence seems to say, Enns largely favors an evidentiary approach.

One strength of Enns' chapter, I think, is his sense that the Bible reflects incarnated revelation. God speaks truth "through the idioms, attitudes, assumptions, and general worldviews of the ancient authors" (87). This seems obvious to me, because God wants to be understood. When you want to be understood, you speak the language of those with whom you want to communicate. "Scripture is a collection of a variety of writings that necessarily and unashamedly reflects the worlds in which those writings were produced" (115).

Interestingly, Enns does have a suggestion for how he could continue to affirm inerrancy. He suggests a "descriptive" rather than "prescriptive" approach. "A descriptive model of inerrancy would try to take its cues from biblical behavior and so draw inferences about what qualities to expect of Scripture" (114).  Rather than tell Scripture what it could say, you would listen for God in what seemed to be said.  Then, "no matter what is encountered, the reader is in the presence of the wisdom and mystery of our God."

Happy reading, if you get the book when it comes out on December 10!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inerrancy Book Review (Part 2)

Yesterday, I largely looked at the critiques of Al Mohler's understanding of inerrancy in Zondervan's new Five Views of Inerrancy.  I had three major take-aways:
  • Christians throughout the centuries have always affirmed the complete truthfulness of Scripture. When the Bible speaks, God speaks.
  • However, the way in which Christians have affirmed the truthfulness of Scripture throughout the centuries is not exactly the same as the way the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) affirms it.  Most of the authors in this book affirm inerrancy without equating it exactly with CSBI.
  • The CSBI is a product of twentieth century American evangelical culture. It has cultural features.
I wish I had time to delve into the intricacies of each author's thought in this book, as well as the responses of each author. Alas!  I will go ahead and stretch out the review one more day, so that I can at least give a little more brain space to Kevin Vanhoozer and Mike Bird today. So my hope is to finish up tomorrow with Enns and Franke.

Kevin Vanhoozer
Vanhoozer is a class act. Like Franke, I don't think he goes far enough with the polyvalence of the biblical text. But V's version of inerrancy is brilliant in relation to the original meaning of the biblical text.

His fundamental insight seems completely indisputable: God did not just speak in the Bible to convey information. He spoke to communicate in several different ways (215). He is worth quoting: "God's Word can be relied upon to accomplish the purpose for which it has been sent, and when this purpose is making affirmations, it does so inerrantly" (223, italics his).

For V, infallibility is the broader category into which inerrancy fits. Inerrancy relates to those instances when God's purpose in the biblical text is to affirm cognitive truths. But God has many other purposes--commands, promises, perhaps even to give us an opportunity to lament or vent. Other words are more suitable to those purposes. Commands are authoritative. Promises are infallible. Laments are cathartic. Assertions are inerrant.

Vanhoozer here is appropriating the insights of speech-act theory. V advocates a "well-versed" approach to Scripture that "acknowledges that what is said is not always an affirmation" (220). Again, this seems beyond dispute. To limit, as C. F. H. Henry did, the basic function of language more or less to the cognitive and to making propositional assertions (214-15) seems almost an incomprehensible position today. Henry may have had a Spock-like personality, but he is clearly the exception among us mortals rather than the rule.

V quotes with approval David Dockery's 1986 definition, which presumably stands behind the wording of inerrancy that Asbury Seminary seminary uses: "The Bible, in the original autographs, properly interpreted, will be found to be truthful and faithful in all that it affirms concerning all areas of life, faith, and practice" (207).

Dockery and Vanhoozer are making a crucial distinction here.  Not everything "mentioned" in the Bible is the point, what was being affirmed. Let me provide my own example. The point of Paul saying he was taken up into the third heaven was not to make a statement about the structure of the universe. Frankly, the point was not even to say that Paul was taken into the presence of God. What the passage was affirming was that no one has the right to boast before God, and though Paul could boast more than his opponents, even he was nothing next to God.

To me, this is a far more defensible version of inerrancy than Mohler's. I'll leave V there. He has some other valid clarifications to make. For example, to take the Bible literally is not the same as literalism. To read the Bible literally, to V, is to read it in terms of what the author was actually doing with the text, which might not actually be literal.

Michael Bird
I think one of the biggest purposes Bird had in mind in his chapter was to put American cultural myopia in its place. His basic point is that global Christianity has been doing just fine with its own affirmations of the Bible's truthfulness and doesn't need to import America's baggage to become more informed and holy.

He spends a couple pages going through a host of affirmations about the Bible used in global Christianity.  None of them use the word inerrant. Even the Westminster Confession, the cornerstone of Reformed faith, affirms the "infallible truth and divine authority" of Scripture (161). The Lausanne Conference comes closest, "without error in all that it affirms" (162). Most, he says, use words like "infallible" and "authoritative."

He does not consider "infallible" a retreat from confidence in the Bible's truthfulness any more than Vanhoozer does. Rather, it takes "a view to the purpose for which God has revealed himself" (163). For Bird, that focus of revelation primarily has to do with Christ and God the Father. "The Bible was intended to impart knowledge of God as Creator and Redeemer, and under that premise, the Bible is completely true in all that it says" (163).

The actual word, "inerrancy" is a relative latecomer on the theological scene. J. I. Packer suggests it was not regularly used in this connection until the 1800s (162-63). Bird can live with it, although he agrees with Donald Bloesch that it is not the preferable word (172). He doesn't see a material difference between it and infallibility (163).

He clearly considers it rife with Americanism and takes a few opportunities to mock us for peculiarities we don't know we have. "Only American evangelicals use Scripture to argue against gun control, against environmental care, and against universal healthcare" (156).

He notes that we have transported our myopia here and there around the world with our enculturated missionaries: "I have met some peculiar Christians from Africa and Europe with oddly American beliefs about taxation, end-times theology, the King James Bible, and prescribed styles of worship" (145 n.2). He excludes these transplants from his description of the global church.

He has no interest in our debates over inerrancy. He sees it used primarily as a weapon in American circles, "a way of forcing conformity to certain biblical interpretations, and to weed out dissenters in denominational politics" (157). "Inerrancy is primarily a weapon of religious politics to define who is in and who is out."

In the end, like John Stott, he is not so much interested in formulas of subscription as in practical submission (165). "How we live under the Bible is the ultimate test of what we believe about God and the Bible."  By the way, elsewhere in the book, Vanhoozer notes that Stott, a British evangelical, was uncomfortable with the word inerrancy because it seemed to reduce the Bible to a set of propositions (200 n.2).

I hope to finish up tomorrow with Enns and Franke.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Five Views of Inerrancy (Book Review Part 1)

Zondervan was kind enough to give me an advanced copy of the new, Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy.  This is the first of two posts in review.

1. About ten years ago, before 9-11 had sunk in, I saw things exactly as Robbert Webber observed in The Younger Evangelicals:

Traditional evangelicals had fought to the death over inerrancy in the 70s. The boomer, pragmatic evangelicals, had largely not been interested in the subject because they were focused on church growth. Webber wrote of the "younger evangelicals" at the turn of the millennium, whom he believed were not interested in fighting over propositions but in focusing on the person of Jesus Christ and in making a concrete difference in people's lives in the world.

Since 9-11 we have seen a conservative backlash in America. The youngrestless, and Reformed are on the rise, typified by the Gospel Coalition. It is no surprise that the debates of the 70s are resurfacing. Indeed, for good or ill, the Christian generation that was just coming to consciousness after 9-11 and during the Iraq War may eventually spit Webber's younger evangelicals out of their mouth.

Ironically, this Fall is also the 30th anniversary of the year Norm Geisler effectively pushed Robert Gundry out of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) over this issue, even though Gundry affirmed inerrancy. Gundry had written a fine commentary on Matthew but one that did not fit with Geisler's sense of inerrancy. The debate was not over the evidence. Geisler never contested the details of Gundry's interpretation! He simply believed an evangelical couldn't believe that there was Jewish midrash in the New Testament, a priori.

2. Of the authors in this book, I suspect only Al Mohler thinks that was the right decision. In general, Gundry's ouster is usually referenced as a blight on ETS and the low point of its history. Mohler is of course one of the ringleaders of the neo-Reformed movement. He is also the only one of the authors in this book who thinks the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) is anything like a sufficient definition of inerrancy.

This is an important point. Three of the evangelical writers in this book, all benchmark evangelicals who believe in inerrancy, do not think the CSBI is the best standard by which to define it. A fourth author, Peter Enns, thinks the word "inerrancy" must be so qualified that it is ultimately counterproductive to reading the books of the Bible on their own terms. The take-away from these five authors is thus important because it means no one can assume that inerrancy = CSBI.

Four of the five authors believe that CSBI is a reflection of twentieth century American cultural categories. For example, Mike Bird, who strongly affirms inerrancy, is a stalwart evangelical. But he is also an Australian who taught for a time in Scotland. As an outsider to American culture, he finds the Americanism of Mohler's position all too obvious. This brings up a very important point.

Mohler's perspective may seem like common sense to many of us because we are American Christians. That is to say, the cultural dimensions of Mohler's approach are seen most easily from the standpoint of evangelicals outside North America.

3. Mohler's perspective on inerrancy requires us 1) to see his version of inerrancy as the only legitimate position for a Christian (believe it or effectively distrust God), 2) to see his interpretation of Genesis 1 as the only possible interpretation for a true Christian, 3) to read the stories of the Bible with the same general parameters with which we read historical texts today, and 4) to allow only for readings of authorial references in the New Testament that take them as part of the revealed point.

All four of the other authors in this book consider one or more of these presuppositions to be potentially problematic. All of the critiques of Mohler are quite strongly made, and here are a few of them.

Kevin Vanhoozer teaches at Trinity and has taught at Wheaton. He is an evangelical's evangelical. His critique of Mohler, however, sounds much like what we will hear from the others. "The Chicago statement is not quite the same proposition that the early church affirmed" (72). It reflects a development of understanding.

A second critique of Vanhoozer is that Mohler runs the risk of confusing his interpretation of the Bible for the Bible itself. The CSBI actually relates to a particular interpretation of the text and is thus open to dispute and scrutiny.

Mike Bird is an Australian evangelical. By the way, all the writers in this book are also Calvinists, reflecting the origins of modern inerrantism. (It is worth noting that the forebears of this modern form of inerrancy used a different hermeneutic than my church's abolitionist forebears, and they used their hermeneutic to argue anti-abolitionism from Scripture, just as Mohler uses a similar hermeneutic today to argue against women in ministry).

Bird agrees strongly with Vanhoozer that the inerrancy before the CSBI, ETS, and even the Princeton Calvinists of the 1800s was different from modern inerrantism, even if analogous. It is thus only a half-truth for Mohler to say that "inerrancy was the affirmation and theological reflex of the church until the most recent centuries" (56).

Bird has a problem with Mohler's "line in the sand," when Calvin and the Westminster Confession do not use the words "without error" any more than Fuller's doctrinal statement. "As a global evangelical, I could not find the enthusiasm to denounce as dangerous to the evangelical faith a person whose doctrine of Scripture is at its essence the same as my own."  The options are not as black and white as Mohler makes them out to be.

The unanimity with which all the other evangelical voices in this book critique Mohler is striking. Franke also notes that the sort of inerrancy affirmed throughout church history "was not that of the historical-grammatical interpretation, a literal reading of the Bible, and the CSBI" (77). This is part of the cultural myopia of Mohler. Throughout history, the truthfulness of Scripture often involved non-literal interpretations, which Mohler eschews.

For example, Clement of Alexandria considered the truthfulness of Scripture to come in part through allegorical meaning. (I have also pointed out that 2 Timothy 3:16 included non-literal understandings of the OT.) Franke's closing words in his critique mirror those of the others: "Might it be that the CSBI is more reflective of a particular set of North American hermeneutical and theological assumptions than is appropriate in light of the biblical narrative?" (81).

Enns is the only one in this book who has stopped using the word inerrancy, although he used to. His main critiques of Mohler have to do with his tone and the a priori nature of his assumptions. Mohler simply assumes that a true Christian will have the same views as he does. All evidence must be shoved into that mould, no matter what.  It is, according to Enns, a "strategy designed to insulate Mohler and his views from criticism" (60).

Enns has a couple other critiques of Mohler. One is that God revealed himself in the cultural categories of the biblical audiences. Thus the truth of the Bible was culturally embedded. Accordingly, there is a greater degree of progressive revelation in the pages of the Bible than Mohler would allow.

4. So what is good in Mohler's position?  Christians throughout the centuries have affirmed the complete truthfulness of Scripture.  When the Bible speaks, God speaks!  The debate is thus over how God has spoken that truth in Scripture.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Acts and Judaism

Acts gives us some interesting windows into the Judaism of the day. Take Gamaliel, for example. He was one of the most famous Pharisees at the time, and Acts says that Paul studied at his feet (Acts 22:3). There were two general schools of Pharisees: the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. According to one tradition, Gamaliel was the grandson of the famous Hillel.

Hillel had a more fatalistic philosophy, similar to what we hear Gamaliel saying in Acts 5. If it is God’s will, God will do it. If it is not God’s will, we cannot fight against it. Shammai was more interested in helping God out. If it is to be, it is up to me. Ironically, Paul behaved more like someone from the School of Shammai than the School of Hillel.

Whatever teachers Paul had, he had actively tried to force God’s will by arresting Christians. He probably targeted Greek-speaking believers. He had several arrested and brought back to Jerusalem (22:4). Paul was present at Stephen’s stoning, but we should be careful about thinking Paul had a lot of Christians killed. The Romans put people to death, and Paul never tells us in his own writings that he brought about the deaths of early Christians. Paul was a “go-fer” for the Sanhedrin. He was not empowered to put people to death.

Because Paul says he cast his vote for the death of Christians (25:10), some have suggested that Paul himself might have been on the Sanhedrin. If he was, he would presumably have been married. As you might expect, this line of thought has led to further speculation. Did his wife die? Did she leave him when he became a Christian? Are there any hints in 1 Corinthians 7? Was he actually more Jesus’ age than a younger man?

Since Paul was sent out to arrest people, it is probably safer to think of him as someone who worked for the Sanhedrin rather than someone who was on the Sanhedrin. The vote he cast was thus a metaphorical one. When the Sanhedrin voted against early Christians, Paul was right there with them, on their side, “casting his vote” too. Again, we do not actually have a lot of evidence that the Sanhedrin put many Christians to death. For example, when the high priest Ananus had James stoned, he waited until there was no Roman governor in town.

Acts 23 also gives us an interesting window on the Sadducees, with whom Jesus also had a brief encounter in Luke 20:27-38. They tended to be aristocratic, priestly families. Many, although perhaps not all high priests came from this class (cf. Acts 5:17)... [for the rest, see this post]

P.S. Here's how a line from that post filled out: "It might be worthwhile to stop here and notice how easy it is to read our own situation into the Bible. So many think of the Sadducees as liberals because the liberals of our day do not believe in the supernatural.

"But this is completely wrong. The Sadducees strongly believed in the supernatural. In fact, their position on the afterlife was more “conservative” in relation to the Old Testament than the Pharisees’ position, which drew heavily on developments in Jewish belief in the time between the two testaments. The Sadducees were also more conservative in that they may have focused more on the Law and less on the other writings of the Old Testament."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Times of the Gentiles (Acts)

I'm now over 50,000 words and ready to seal up my Acts book. This is from the last chapter.
It makes a significant difference to the way we understand Luke’s indictment of the Jews if he wrote Acts after Jerusalem and its temple was destroyed. It is no secret that many individuals in history, calling themselves Christians, have justified persecuting the Jews in the name of God and the Bible. Even today, many Christians think that the ending of Acts signaled the end of Israel as God’s people.

On the other hand, if Acts was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, it takes on a quite different connotation. Now, Luke’s readers can see clearly in hindsight why God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed. They had turned away from his plan. He brought the Messiah into the world and they rejected the good news. So God turned to the Gentiles for a season.

Luke 21:24 gives us a peak into what Luke was thinking. Luke 21 gives us Jesus’ prediction that the Jerusalem temple was going to be destroyed, something that happened in AD70. In Matthew and Mark, we have the prediction in its raw form—Jesus warns his followers to flee to the mountains when they see the “abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong” (Mark 13:14).

Arguably, Luke paraphrases this prediction with all the benefit of hindsight: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near” (Luke 21:20). Luke makes it clear to his audience what Jesus’ more ambiguously worded prediction meant. [1]

One element of Luke’s clarification is striking. The Jews of Jerusalem will be taken as prisoners to all the nations (21:24). Then “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Here we have the key to Luke’s thinking. We live in the times of the Gentiles. God was going to turn away from the Jews for a season.

But there is an “until” in Luke’s inspired understanding. It is not a permanent turning away. Luke’s thinking here is presumably similar to Paul’s in Romans 11. For a season, God has cut out the natural branches of his tree, unbelieving Israel. “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25).

Many translations then botch the next verse, in my opinion, because Paul is contrasting the “part” that is now hardened with what will take place around the time of Jesus’ return. “So all Israel will be saved” (11:26, NASB). Paul says that God’s “call is irrevocable” (11:29), so God will not abandon the Jews forever. Those he has currently surrendered to disobedience will eventually receive mercy (11:31-32).

It is very important to keep this overall perspective in mind when we read about the Jews in Acts. Otherwise, we will get the sense that Acts is telling us how to behave toward Jews today, when in fact Acts is explaining why certain events happened to Jews in the past.

[1] We should not be troubled at all that Luke would paraphrase Mark’s words. This sort of editing was completely acceptable in Luke’s day. God originally inspired Luke-Acts to speak to them in their categories, not to conform to our expectations today.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Paul's Legal Defence (Acts)

... So Paul faces perhaps the worst mob yet, not least because they actually get their hands on him this time. The Romans swoop in and have to carry Paul off to save him. Notice how this casts the Romans on Paul’s side, with unbelieving Jews being the aggressor as always.

In all Paul’s interactions with the Romans, he is treated as an equal. Luke skillfully gives us the sense that the Romans all respect Paul and recognize his virtue and innocence. He has normal conversations with the Roman commander in which it is clear that Paul is not the revolutionary he thought he was (21:37-39). Paul is in fact a Roman citizen by birth, of greater status than the centurion in charge, who had to pay for his citizenship (22:26-28).

Again, the unbelieving Jews are irrationally out to get Paul. Some zealous Jews take a vow that they will not eat or drink until Paul is dead. They are going to ambush him in transit. Paul’s nephew in Jerusalem finds out and at Paul’s request informs the Roman authorities. The Romans prove to be models of virtue and order as they take Paul out of Jerusalem under the cover of night and bring him up the coast to Roman headquarters at Caesarea. Presumably, the zealots end up dying.

Paul’s legal position is clear and consistent: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar” (25:8). The Romans agree. Throughout these chapters in Acts, the Romans vouch for Paul’s innocence. The Roman commander, Claudius Lysias, writes a letter to the Roman governor in which he makes it clear that Paul is innocent (23:29). The conflict, he implies, was a theological debate between Jews--nothing of interest to Rome. The implicit message here is that it is unfortunate Paul ended up going before Nero, because everyone in the lead up to his appearance knew he was innocent.

Paul does not give the Roman governor Felix a bribe (24:26). This fact both points to Paul’s virtue and also explains in part why Felix never releases him over the course of two years. Paul cleverly appeals to Caesar rather than risk ambush on the way to Jerusalem. Luke skillfully helps us see that Paul’s trial before Nero was the result of a series of unfortunate events and that his martyrdom there was a mistake (if Paul died at the end of Acts).

Throughout, Paul shows his Roman questioners the utmost of respect. He does insult the high priest for being a hypocrite, but when he realizes it is the high priest, he apologizes (23:5). Acts compliments Felix for his knowledge of the Way (24:22). Paul is so convincing that Felix actually gets nervous about what Paul is saying to him and his wife (24:25). Similarly, Paul will almost convince Herod Agrippa II to become a Christian just a little while later (26:28).

The next Roman governor Festus tells Agrippa exactly what Paul himself and the rest of Acts has shown. Paul’s troubles come from a debate among Jews about the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is what divides the Sanhedrin in Acts 23. Festus tells Agrippa that the complaint of the Jews has to do with matters of their religion, not anything substantive as far as Rome was concerned (25:18-19).

But Festus forces Paul’s hand and Paul appeals to Caesar. In the end, Agrippa gives us the main point to take away: “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment… This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (26:31-32).

What lessons can we learn for our world today? 1 Peter 2:12 puts it well, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” The Christian message is subversive, especially for those who live in a context where rulers demand absolute submission. Rulers of that sort do not treat well those who do not conform.

1 Peter 2 goes on to say that it is one thing to get in trouble if you actually are a wrongdoer. You deserve punishment then. Christians had better not be that sort of people. It may sound strange to us, but Peter says that if you are going to get in trouble, get into trouble for things you didn't do. Don't give anyone a legitimate reason to persecute you (in which case it's not really persecution). If you suffer well when you suffer wrongly, you will be a powerful witness to your oppressors and those who are watching.

In my opinion, Acts also gives us a model of appeasing our oppressors to some extent. Luke knew that, in reality, Roman governors were no models of virtue. A different version of Acts no doubt could have been written that lambasted the Romans for their persecution of believers. Luke chooses instead to create good will with any Roman who might read Acts. He chooses not to create persecution where there doesn't need to be any.

In many respects, it seems doubtful that any Roman official would have taken the time to read Luke-Acts. But if so, Luke gave them a model of how to be a good ruler. There is of course a point where we have to take a stand and oppose those in power over us. But most of the time, we should submit to those in authority, even when we think they are on the wrong path.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Importance of Reputation (Acts)

... Then we get to Jerusalem. It is a sign of Paul’s bad reputation that he gets in trouble for doing something he didn’t do, but for something that to the zealous of Jerusalem thought sounded like something he would do. He is accused of bringing a non-Jew into the temple (21:29). To be honest, it is actually something we can imagine Paul doing, given his theology. But the incident shows how you can get in trouble as much or more because of your reputation than for who you actually are or what you actually do.

On one level, having a good reputation does seem a somewhat superficial matter. What does it matter what other people think of you? Isn’t the most important thing that you actually are a person of virtue, whether other people think well of you or not?

So why is it that Proverbs 22:1 says that, “A good name is more desirable than great riches”? First, Proverbs presumes that the good name is deserved. Proverbs is not talking about an inaccurate reputation but a good reputation that flows from actually being a virtuous person.

Yet there are consequences to having a bad reputation even when it is undeserved. As we see with Paul, people will fill in the blanks by assuming the worst of us if we have a bad reputation to them. By the same token, people will fill in the blanks with good thoughts if we have a good reputation with them. There is unfortunately a lot of truth in the saying that, “Perception is reality,” because people will act toward us according to what they think about us, not necessarily because of who we really are or what our true motives are.

We cannot control what others think of us, and our priority should be on actually being people of virtue—rather than being hypocrites who only look virtuous. Nevertheless, the Bible also shows some concern for how we look to others, not least because we are witnesses to Christ. How we look is not the most important thing, but it is not insignificant either.

There is also a warning to us as those who do the looking too. It is human nature to jump to conclusions. It is human nature to assume all the worst of our enemies and assume the best of our friends. We tend to believe every tawdry email or sound bite about the president or politician we don’t like. Yet we are just as quick to cry foul at the negative injustices the other channel promotes about our candidates and favorites.

Those with the heart of Christ will love their enemy and not be so quick to believe every negative word about an opponent. It will make itself be fair-minded. It will get the story straight from the horse’s mouth rather than believing every rumor. It will be more interested in the truth than the scintillating...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Paul's Bad Reputation (Acts)

Christians aren’t troublemakers. I believe that is one of the points that Luke wanted to get across to Theophilus and anyone else who might read his two volume history of Jesus and the earliest Christians. Why did it matter? It mattered because Christians had the reputation of being troublemakers in the Roman Empire.

When Rome burned, around the year AD64, the people of Rome blamed Nero for it. Believe it or not, Roman historians today do not actually think Nero had anything to do with the fire. He was not in town when it happened, and he certainly did not play the fiddle during the burning. But because Nero benefited from the fire—he was able to build all sorts of fun, selfish things where the houses had been—the rumor began to circulate that he had ordered the fire.

So Nero decided to find a scapegoat, to find some other group on which to blame the fire. Perhaps he remembered that Paul guy, the one who had appeared before him a couple years previous. What group did he belong to again? Christians?

So Nero blamed Christians for the fire of Rome, the Roman historian Tacitus tells us.1 He was very creative in the ways he killed them. Tacitus tells us that Nero was so obviously indulging his own cruelty that the Romans felt sorry for the Christians, even though people thought they deserved punishment for their abominations. So Acts in part was presumably written to redress the bad reputation that Christians had.

The apostle Paul himself almost certainly had the reputation of being a troublemaker, not just among Romans but among Jews and many Christians too. We see this fact clearly in Acts 21 when Paul gets to Jerusalem. "You see, brother," James tells Paul, the multitudes of Jewish believers in Jerusalem, "have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs" (21:21).

At the time, this was a bad reputation indeed. Jerusalem had become a place of zeal for the law, not only in general, but even among Christian Jews (21:20). The year is perhaps AD58. A decade later, Jerusalem would be at war with Rome. Judea was becoming a tinderbox of revolutionary activity, and Paul was on the wrong side of zeal. A group called the Zealots would soon rise, if they had not risen already.

James, Jesus’ brother, seems to be in charge of the church in Jerusalem. He himself would die at the instigation of the high priest around the year 62 in between Roman procurators (after Festus). The high priest seems to have had him stoned. Did the high priest see James as stirring up revolution? After all, one of the disciples was even remembered as Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15).

Christian Jews in Jerusalem apparently were quite insistent that Jewish Christians needed to keep the Jewish Law in all its respects, despite concessions to Gentiles. The rumor is that Paul is teaching Jews to ignore the Law.  If we look at Galatians 2, that’s true--at least as far as table fellowship and purity rules. Paul is teaching Jews not to follow Jerusalem’s understanding of purity laws if it interferes with Christian fellowship and unity between Jew and Gentile believer.

Either James knows this and is nudging Paul toward keeping the Law or he is trying to smooth things over between Jerusalem and Paul.  "We want Jerusalem to know you keep the Law, Paul.  Right, Paul? You do keep the Law, right?"  Again, one of Luke's goals in writing Acts is probably to help Paul's reputation. Acts consistently shows the law-keeping and authority-submitting side of Paul.

Part of keeping the Law was participating in temple sacrifices.  Perhaps Paul takes the money from the offering for Jerusalem and uses it to pay for the sacrifices of some devout Jews in Jerusalem who have taken a vow. This might seem a little puzzling to us today. Really?  Christians were still offering sacrifices? Didn’t Jesus’ death take care of that?

We have to remember how much more we know than many Christians did at this time. In my opinion, the book of Hebrews had not been written yet. Many Christian Jews at the time probably believed that Jesus’ death had atoned for the sins of Israel at that time. It probably hadn’t dawned on many of them that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world for all time.

The Jews in Jerusalem probably made a connection between keeping the Law and the messiah coming--or for Christian Jews at the time, Jesus returning. Like Paul before his conversion, they believed God would reward Israel and give them back their land if they were devout enough in their law-keeping. Paul, meanwhile, was moving in the opposite direction. He had come to the conclusion that keeping the Law wasn't what God was looking for at all. God was looking for faith in Jesus.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Death of Jerome Murphy-O'Connor

The world of biblical studies is mourning today the passing of Jerome Murphy-O'Connor. He was an inspiring Roman Catholic scholar who taught at the École Biblique in Jerusalem.

He was to me a model of faith-filled scholarship, someone who didn't set artificial boundaries for the pursuit of biblical truth but who conducted research with a heart full of faith. If you want to read a biography of the apostle Paul by someone of this sort, try his Paul: His Story.

He wrote all sorts of books for scholars and laypeople alike to take along on trips to biblical sites, books on Corinth, Ephesus, and the Holy Land in general.

I consider his sort a dying breed. Britain was once fertile soil for scholars like him--the Bruces, Barretts, Dunns, and Wrights.  But in recent times, schools like Durham and St. Andrews were often fed on demand from the States, from those who neither wanted to study with the faithless nor the narrow minded.

Now it's all parrots everywhere, methinks.

"Almost-Followers" of Jesus at Ephesus

Still filling in gaps in my Acts book... less than 4000 words from the target!
Acts tells us about several very interesting events during Paul’s stay at Ephesus. The first is an encounter he has with some more followers of John the Baptist, like Apollos had been. They have been baptized in the manner of John the Baptist. They are expecting the Messiah to come.

But they have not believed specifically on Jesus. Most importantly, they have not received the Holy Spirit. So Paul has them baptized in the name of Jesus. They receive the Holy Spirit. They even speak in tongues, as on the Day of Pentecost and like the first Gentiles who become believers.

Luke probably was making a point to his audience and to a group that must have continued to exist at least till the end of the first century. The Gospel of John traditionally comes from Ephesus as well, perhaps in the 90s. When we look at the way it talks about John the Baptist, it seems to distance him from Jesus.

The Gospel of John does not tell about Jesus getting baptized by the Baptist. It tells of Jesus’ disciples baptizing concurrently with him, and John immediately sends his followers to Jesus once he arrives on the scene. John the Baptist even denies being Elijah in John 1:21, something Jesus says he is in Matthew 11:14.

Why would the Gospel of John downplay John the Baptist in this way? Could it be that it was trying to make it clear to the followers of the Baptist at Ephesus that Jesus was the only way? Was the Gospel of John implying that it was not enough to follow the Baptist’s message or have the baptism of John the Baptist? You needed to follow Jesus and be baptized in Jesus’ name. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

These followers of John the Baptist were thus "almost-followers" of Jesus. They understood a good deal about the good news, but they had not sealed the deal. Some of them even had a fervor about what they knew. But they did not quite know enough.

There may be some in the church today who are also “almost-followers.” They may know a lot about Christianity. They may even have a zeal about what they know. But they are lacking the crucial element, the power of Jesus within them. Do they have the love of God poured out in their hearts? Do they have a form of godliness but not the power of a Spirit-led life?

We also hear about another group of “not-quite followers” at Ephesus. This is a group of Jewish exorcists. They go around casting out demons...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Paul, Athens, Evidence, Presuppositions

... Paul doesn’t seem to make much headway at Athens. Some have used this fact to try to argue against education. The gospel, so the scenario goes, doesn’t play very well around the “educated.” Some pit education against a deep faith. “Don’t go to seminary or you’ll lose your faith.” “Don’t go to a secular university or a Christian liberal arts college—you’ll lose your faith.”

There is something deeply troubling about this kind of argument. Is true Christian faith really this vulnerable to thinking? Wouldn’t the most natural implication of that line of argument be that Christianity isn’t true, and that you have to be ignorant to have faith? Surely Christianity is in trouble if learning inevitably makes you lose faith!

There are probably educational institutions that are only interested in listening to new ideas, as Luke describes Athens (Acts 17:21). Perhaps they are more interested in unraveling your ideas than in building up an understanding of the world that works and is helpful. We can hope most Christian universities are places where the exploration of truth is done in the context of faith—faith seeking understanding. Hopefully, ideas are built up and not only subjected to scrutiny.

At the same time, the law of averages suggests that all of us inevitably grow up believing in a mixture of true and false things. At least some of what we start out centering our faith on must surely be in need of correction, just given the law of averages. Education, when it is done well, allows us to look at what we believe with a critical eye. It should allow us better to distinguish between what is solid and what is flimsy.

True faith is not afraid of questioning, because it has a confidence that what it believes will hold up against the evidence. And if we believe that God is a God of truth, then we must believe that God generally stands on the side of the most likely conclusion. There are potential pitfalls here. Sometimes the evidence is misleading. Sometimes we do not have enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion. It is completely appropriate to suspend judgment in some circumstances, especially on the issues of most importance or when we do not feel equipped to make a judgment.

There are those who would say that truth is not a matter of evidence at all, but that we must simply stand on certain assumptions—“presuppositions”—that we will not change no matter what amount of evidence may come against them. Again, this approach makes sense to a point, but what if our assumptions are wrong? Even our assumptions about the Bible are filled with traditions we have inherited from other people. I’ve never heard of any recent theologian to whom God appeared in person to tell them which presuppositions were unassailable. Rather, these theologians have inherited these presuppositions from other theologians, including presuppositions about the Bible.

There must surely be a point, then, when the evidence seems to mount to such an extent that we must re-examine even our presuppositions. Otherwise, we run the risk of mistaking human traditions for God’s truth. We should never examine our presuppositions carelessly or rebelliously, but cautiously and collectively alongside God’s people. We work out our understanding with faith, fear, and trembling (Phil. 2:12). We start with faith and seek additional understanding. God is a God of truth, so the truth cannot unravel our faith if our faith is legitimate...

The Philippian Jailer (Acts 16)

Paul gets thrown into jail at Philippi. He heals a girl who can tell the future, meaning that her slave-owners can’t make money off of her any more. They get very angry. There is a mob in the marketplace, which is probably where Paul had a booth to sell tents. He probably shared the gospel while he engaged in his business. So it is no surprise to see public trouble break out in the marketplace.

They beat Paul and Silas and throw them into jail. Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:25 that he had already been beaten 3 times with rods by the time he wrote 2 Corinthians. Presumably Philippi was one of these times. Roman citizens, of course, were not supposed to be beaten without charges and a trial. Once the magistrates find that they have unlawfully beaten Roman citizens (Silas is also a citizen), they get very nervous.

This event marks a kind of transition between Paul and his Roman citizenship. Perhaps he was embarrassed about it when he was a Pharisee in Jerusalem. On the island of Cyprus, he embraced his Roman name or nickname, "Paul." From now on, he will begin to use his Roman citizenship to get out of beatings. Why get beat when he doesn't have to?

Paul is a model of calmness throughout the incident. He does not hold a grudge against those who have wrongly beaten him. He later does insist they come and escort him out of the jail, showing that he has the moral high ground. In the meantime, he and the others sing hymns in jail well into the night. An earthquake makes it possible for Paul and others to escape. But he maintains order. The jailer almost kills himself so that he would not be killed by his superiors as a penalty. He thinks all the prisoners will have escaped. So Paul saves the jailer’s life by keeping everyone in place.

After Paul has saved the jailer’s life, the jailer asks what he needs to do to be saved. The jailer means, "What can I do to keep you from escaping?" Paul's answer is somewhat humorous, switching the topic to eternal salvation. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (16:31). Paul adds that the jailer's whole household will be saved as a result, another indication of the group orientation of that culture. Paul apparently sees the father here making a decision for his whole family.

The man and his family are baptized on the spot, in the middle of the night. The man seems to live in the jail with his family.  This story says something about how flexible the mode of baptizing must have been for the early Christians. A river might have been ideal, but it is hard to imagine there being enough water in the prison for anything but pouring as a mode in this instance. The jailer washes their wounds in the jail and Paul washes away his sins there too.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Leadership insights from Galatians 2

I know I've written repeatedly on this passage and Acts 15, but I went through Galatians 2 with a class in Indy this morning again. Here were my main leadership observations:

1. Paul and Barnabas take Titus, an uncircumcised person, with them to Jerusalem when they are inquiring about whether Gentiles need to be circumcised to be saved.  Brilliant!  It's much easier to give easy, dismissive answers about a group that is far off somewhere than when they are right in front of you and you can see the real consequences of your ideas.

2. P and B go privately before the issue goes very live and very public.  Brilliant!  Groups can get in a frenzy. It's much easier to get something passed if you've already got the stakeholders on your side ahead of time.

3. Jerusalem wants something--"ok, just remember the poor."  One thing a seasoned bureaucrat learns is that most committees feel like they need to change something. So the cynical might even put something obvious to fix in a proposal. That way the annoying person (you know who it is) gets to feel powerful and the proposal can move on.

4. James, Peter, and John probably still thought it was optimal for Titus to get circumcised, but they don't force him. Later on, James sends people up to Antioch to make sure the "give an inch, they'll take a mile" principle isn't in play, the slippery slope. James wants to make sure that, even though Gentiles can be saved, the Jews are still following the rules.

This is smart strategy on his part, although he turns out to be wrong on the issue...

5. ... which leads us to the realization that hindsight is 20/20.  It would not have been clear at all who was right at the time.  It's only because Paul's side of the story ended up in Scripture that we know he was in the right. At the time, most people probably thought he was wrong.

6. Even though Paul was in the right, he may not have gone about it the right way. He confronts Peter in front of everyone, calls him a hypocrite.  Probably bad form. Barnabas' approach may have been better--submit now, move for change in the long term (one step back, two steps forward).

7. God uses the rift. Paul probably loses the argument (he would have told us if he had won). He and Barnabas agree to disagree and Paul ends up going to Greece. Win-win.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Wesley's definition of "evangelical"

I chanced upon a place in one of John Wesley's sermons where he used the word "evangelical." I've been curious about how the word was used prior to the twentieth century. I've generally found that those who argue for continuity of a concept throughout history (e.g., Al Mohler's sense of inerrancy throughout history) generally have a rather superficial understanding of how meaning works.

Just because someone uses the same or a similar word in a different time and place doesn't at all mean that they used the word in the same way. Meaning is always culturally embedded. The "denotation" of certain words may even seem the same, but the "connotations" may be quite different.

Thus is my contention that to be "evangelical" in the twentieth century is not the same thing as calling something "evangelical" in another time and place. The most obvious example here is the fact that "evangelisch" in German simply means Protestant and has little to do with being evangelical in the US today.

In any case, Wesley uses the word "evangelical" three times in his sermon, "The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption."  He is sketching out stages in a person's spiritual development. He sees three: 1) the natural state, 2) the legal state, and 3) the evangelical state (IV.1).

The progression goes something like the following. The natural state is not really aware of its sinfulness. This person sins willfully but doesn't really care. The person in the legal state comes under fear and an awareness of bondage to sin. He or she wants to stop sinning but cannot (Rom. 7). Finally, in the evangelical state one may still struggle against sin but this person is able not to sin.

Since Wesley likens the second state to being under law, the evangelical state is being under grace and being a child of God. He calls it at one point a "state of love" (IV.2).

So I infer that what Wesley means by evangelical here is something like "under the good news" or "under the gospel." The good news for him in this instance is that a person has been freed from the law and empowered by the Spirit to love and not sin.

I'm sure others could shed more light on what he meant. I did a quick search on the NNU Wesley site and found one other sermon in which Wesley used the adjective ("Spirit Bears Witness"). I noticed also that Arminius used the term in the 1600s. My first thought was that perhaps it was associated with Luther's idea of justification by faith as the essence of the good news?

There is much that could be studied here and no doubt it's been done. I am just not ready to trust what's been done. In any case, Wesley doesn't use the word "evangelical" anything close to the way we do today.

P.S. We can't fault Wesley for being a child of his age. For us today, he is a poor model of how to do exegesis. But that doesn't mean that his theology is wrong. We read Wesley for his theology, not for how to do inductive Bible study.  There is a picture of truth in this sermon, even if it is not absolute or exactly what Paul was thinking.

Christian Ethics

I was with a class last night and we tried to disentangle what seems to me to be some obvious confusion out there about Christian ethics.

1. First, Christian ethics is, at its heart, a virtue based ethic.  That is to say, its most fundamental concern is a person's character, motives, and intentions.
  • The acts that flow from one's character are a secondary order of business.
  • This is not just the nature of Christian ethics but this is the most mature ethic, period.
  • This is Jesus' ethic ("out of the heart come") and Paul's ethic ("a person is justified by faith").
  • This is the most mature understanding of sin ("willful transgression" versus "missing the mark").
2. Absolutes (in ethics) are duties to which there are no exceptions.
  • There are Christian ethical absolutes, but an ethical orientation around absolutes is an act-based ethical orientation rather than a virtue-based orientation. It is a less mature ethical orientation than one oriented around a person's character.
3. The two fundamental Christian absolutes are 1) love God and 2) love neighbor/enemy.
  • As absolutes, there are no exceptions. There is no circumstance where hatred of neighbor is justified. Love of God never contradicts love of neighbor/enemy.
  • The Bible cannot be used as an excuse to hate any person, period. Jesus is the highest authority on this issue (Matt. 22), and the New Testament unanimously agrees (Paul, James, John).
  • Although it is humanly difficult to parse, you can "hate" a sin while loving a person who sins.
  • To say something is a "wrong" or a "sin" is not intrinsically unloving toward someone who does it. 
  • The "judging" that is wrong is when one jumps to conclusions about another person's intentions.
  • Loving someone has to do with the way you act toward them--it is not the same as liking them. It is not a feeling.
  • Loving others does not mean always giving them their way. Justice can be formative and thus loving. Incarceration can be loving toward the society it protects.
4. In "act-based" mode, the default ethical mode of Christian ethics is universal right and wrong, with exceptions.
  • No one is absolutist on every issue. A conviction, for example, is an issue on which you believe God requires something of you that he does not require of others. That is the definition of something that is ethically relative. Convictions, by definition, are an example of ethical relativism.
  • There are clear issues where the Bible makes exceptions to ethical principles. So Romans 13 says to obey your rulers. Yet Acts 5 shows Peter making an exception to this principle--when the rulers come into direct conflict with God's command. By definition, therefore, the command to obey your rulers is not an absolute command but a universal command that has exceptions.
  • This is the ethical mode in which Jesus and Paul operated (if you look at them from an act-based standpoint). Jesus makes an exception to the Sabbath rule when he talks about plucking grain or getting your ox out of a ditch. 
  • On most ethical decisions, therefore, the default mode is not absolutist without exceptions but based on universal principles that are ranked and applied with a view to circumstances. 
  • But again, a virtue-based approach is morally superior to this sort of legal-oriented, act-based moral way of thinking (think biblical Pharisees and Judaizers).
5. You therefore cannot dismiss a position by labeling it "relativist" or "not absolutist."
  • The right position in some instances will be relative or will make exceptions. It is the easy way to think you can sort out ethics by labeling, but it is obviously flawed thinking and morally immature.
  • Sorting out exceptions and determining the right course of action under different circumstances is just plain hard work. 
  • "Black and white" thinking is not biblical thinking, and it is morally immature thinking. Children, as part of their moral development, go through a stage of black and white thinking, but part of reaching adulthood is understanding the need to take context into account when making moral judgments. Why did the child do what it did is more important ethically than what the child did. 
6. Mature moral thinking integrates most of the major ethical approaches:
  • It will be oriented primarily around a person's character--why he or she does what he or she does.
  • It will involve a sense of basic moral duties (love, don't murder, don't steal, don't lie) but it will organize these values into a hierarchy. Exceptions to lower values are made when a higher value is in play.
  • It will look to the greatest good for the greatest number ("consider others before yourself").
  • When all the other moral filters are passed, it will act for its own pleasure.
7. A lot of popular Christian rhetoric and theology today tends to stilt the moral growth of the church.  It perpetuates a biblical and moral immaturity, keeping the church in moral adolescence.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Humble yourselves (James 4)

I've been enjoying a Bible study at College Wesleyan Church walking through the book of James. We read through James 4 last night. What wonderful truths in this chapter!  Here were just some of the reminders:
  • The battles and conflicts we have with each other are often battles between the sinful desires in me and the sinful desires in you.
  • If we pray, "if the Lord wills," then God will answer every one of our prayers.
  • Friendship with the world is not about whether you are in the world or not. It's about loving the world, where the world is selfish desire, a love of possessions, inappropriate objects of desire, etc...
  • Humbling ourselves should be easy in the presence of God. What better way to get an accurate picture of ourselves than to put ourselves in the presence of God regularly? Prayer as a path to humility by focusing on an accurate sense of the one to whom we are praying!
  • The paragraph about saying, "If the Lord wills" we will do such and such is a great discipline. What if we recognized in every act of our will and decision we make that the true course really depends on God's will?
  • The comments on judging remind us of the Sermon on the Mount, as other parts of James do. We can't see the inner motives of people and we often don't know the whole situation. The discipline of suspending judgment is the path of Christ.

Ideal Conflict Resolution (Acts 15)

More ligaments in the Acts book...
Acts 15 gives us an inspired picture of how conflict would ideally take place. Because we are fallen creatures subject to sin, God lets us make things much more complicated than it would need to be. But Acts gives us a picture of how conflict might be resolved.

First, conflict is not bad in itself. There are no doubt some Christians who think that all conflict points to a spiritual problem of some sort. This is not the case. Sometimes good causes compete for the same resources. Sometimes two individuals both are asserting appropriate values that need to be prioritized. Sometimes in our limited understanding, we have to struggle together to find the truth.

People, values, and trajectories inevitably come into conflict and, at that point, Christians have to wrestle together to find the best way forward. There are at least three phases to the resolution of conflict in Acts 15. First, after the conflict comes to a head, everyone comes together, and everyone is heard.

It is of course possible to head conflict off at the pass—that would perhaps be ideal in many instances. And as hard as it is to say it, there probably is a time not to bring everyone to the table, especially if some of those involved are completely inflexible. But in a perfect world, everyone would come together and get a chance to share their perspective on the facts of the conflict and what they think is the best way forward.

The second phase is when the proper authority makes a decision. Of course, people do not always agree on who the appropriate authority or decision-making body is. One of the benefits of organized churches and denominations is that they often have laid out clear lines of authority so people can know when a matter is officially settled. These channels of authority are best laid out in “peace time,” so that they are already agreed in the moment of conflict itself.

Finally, there was a phase of submission. Historically, of course, we have reason to think that the disagreements of Acts 15 continued. Sometimes conflict merely goes underground, and the war becomes guerrilla warfare, with back-stabbing and all. But Acts 15 gives us the inspired, ideal picture, where all the parties involved submit to the decision made by James and the elders, the proper authorities.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Some Acts 14 Nuggets

There are several nuggets in the last part of Acts 14. For example, 14:17 mentions God’s kindness to all humanity, something John Calvin called God’s “common grace.” God “has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Many Christians will no doubt identify with Acts 14:22: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Thankfully, we will not all face the level of persecution that Paul did. Nevertheless, it is not always easy to make it through this world making the choices God wants us to make. The wrong decisions are often easy decisions in the moment, although not in the long run. Paul’s words here in Acts are a reminder to keep going every time we face another obstacle.

Finally, a side comment in Acts 14:23 gives us confirmation of how much of the earliest church might have been structured. Paul and Barnabas appoint “elders” in every city. Acts seems to be telling us that the church or churches in a city were led by a group of older and wiser individuals. Acts gives us no mention of a single, head leader in each city or even in each house church. From Titus 1:5-7, we see that the word elder and overseer (episkopos, later translated as “bishop”) referred to the same role in the churches of a city.

This leading of the churches in a city by a council of elders follows the Sanhedrin model in Jerusalem. Perhaps also like the Sanhedrin, there were leaders of these groups of elders, although they are not mentioned here. Perhaps as a tip to Paul’s theology, Acts mentions that these elders had placed their faith in the Lord.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Churches at Rome

If you only read Acts 28, you might get the impression that Christian faith was fairly new to Rome at the time Paul arrived there. But in reality, Christians had been in Rome for a long time before Paul finally set foot in the city around AD62. The emperor Claudius had already kicked all the Christian Jews out of the city in AD49. Apparently, the controversy within the synagogues of the city had become so divisive that it even drew the emperor's attention.[1] Priscilla and Aquila left Rome at that time (Acts 18:2).

We do not know exactly when Jewish believers in Jesus first came to Rome. Perhaps it was some of those present in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. Still, it is hard to imagine the issue not coming to a head sooner if many Christian Jews had been in Rome for that long. By AD49, Christianity had apparently grown strong enough for all-out war to break out in the synagogues.

Christian tradition has long held that the church at Rome was founded by Peter, especially Roman Catholic and Orthodox tradition. But this suggestion seems unlikely. Peter probably did not come to Rome until after Paul had visited there. Acts gives us no reason to think that Peter had ever been to Rome before Paul, nor does the book of Romans give us any hints along these lines.[2]

On the other hand, it is possible that the churches at Rome had the flavor of Peter’s Christianity.[3] Is Rome the city to which the sermon called Hebrews was written? Is this the audience that was tempted to rely on the sacrificial system rather than on the death of Christ?

If so, Hebrews mentions a previous time of persecution. They had earlier endured a time of great conflict and suffering (Heb. 10:32). Some had been arrested (10:34). Some had lost their property. Perhaps some of their leaders had been martyred (13:7).

Some think that crisis might have taken place during Claudius’ persecution of Christian Jews.[4] But this crisis sounds more like what happened around AD64 when Nero blamed Christians for the fire that burned much of Rome. That event was a couple years after the time Paul first reached Rome. Indeed, perhaps Nero’s encounter with Paul gave him the idea of blaming Christians for the fire of Rome.

After Claudius kicked the Christian Jews out of Rome in AD49, the Christian community left would have been overwhelmingly Gentile for a time. By the time Paul wrote Romans, not quite 10 years later in the late 50s, some Christian Jews presumably had returned to Rome. Romans gives us hints that the church at Rome at that time was still primarily Gentile (cf. Rom. 1:6; 11:13; 15:13). [5]

It is quite likely that we should think about the churches, plural, at Rome. They met in house churches that could scarcely hold more than 40 or 50 people in a very large one, and Rome probably did not have as many churches even this large because of tenement housing. It is thus quite possible that the church of Rome was more segmented than in some other places...

[1] The Roman historian Suetonius, writing in the early second century, mentions this expulsion in Claudius 25.4.

[2] Peter likely wrote 1 Peter from Rome. 1 Peter says it was written from Babylon (5:13), which probably means Rome (cf. Rev. 18:2). It is only natural that Jews would refer to Rome as Babylon after Rome destroyed Jerusalem in AD70 the way Babylon had. It is possible that they referred to Rome even before then, especially in the late 60s after the Jewish War had started. This would be necessary for Peter to be its author, since tradition has it he died at the hands of Nero. See my forthcoming volume, The Church Moving Forward for discussions of 1 Peter and Revelation.

[3] This is the hypothesis of Raymond Brown and John Meier in Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1983).

[4] E.g., William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 (Waco: Word, 1991).

[5] Although it is common to hear that Hebrews was written to Jews, this is usually based upon certain stereotypes that don't hold up under closer examination. Hebrews 5:11-6:4 fits a group of Gentile converts to Christianity much better than it fits Jewish converts. The date of Hebrews is disputed, but if it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, it could indicate that Christianity at Rome remained primarily Gentile later in the century as well.