by Michael J. Kruger
The Christian “canon” refers to that set of books, complete and bounded, that we accept as scripture. Modern Bible scholars often examine the development of the canon from an extrinsic model, noting that the canon was formed over the course of several centuries as the church fathers selected their favorites. Many argue that Irenaeus, in the late second century, was the first to feel the need for an authoritative canon. But what if the selection of accepted writings was more intrinsic … that is, guided from within, rather than from without? What if the New Testament writers themselves understood that they were writing Scripture, and their work was quickly recognized and adopted as such, perhaps with God’s guidance?
Kruger doesn’t deny the extrinsic claims, that the canon was fluid and argued over for centuries. He simply highlights the evidence that our New Testament writers were knowingly writing Scripture, and our earliest Scripture readers knew it. This Kruger does by critically examining five tenets of the extrinsic model to see if they really do hold water. The five tenets he questions, in five chapters, are:
1. We must make a sharp distinction between Scripture and canon.
2. There was nothing in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon.
3. Early Christians were averse to written documents.
4. The New Testament authors were unaware of their own authority.
5. The New Testament books were first regarded as Scripture at the end of the second century.
Kruger hits his stride at about chapter three, and it gets stronger from there. So if you find the book winding up a little slowly, I promise it’ll be slinging fast balls by the end. Kruger’s research is convincing and well-argued, with generous footnotes. At the very least, this book will make you a believer in the passion and conviction of the New Testament writers, even as they sought to remain anonymous, letting the gospel message speak for itself on its own authority.
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.
//If you want to stay on Paul’s good side, stay away from food that was offered to pagan deities. This was a common practice in antiquity; meat would be offered as a sacrifice to the gods, and then retrieved and eaten. If you read my book about Revelation you are familiar with this practice. In fact, Revelation explicitly condemns one church for doing this:
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. –Revelation 2:14
So strongly does Paul condemn this practice that he says anyone who eats sacrificial food is eating at a table with demons.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
//I hesitate to open today’s discussion, as it seems almost disrespectful. Nevertheless, there are some who take this line of thought seriously, so I’ll lay it out there and see what you think.
The author of Hebrews, in these two verses, compares Jesus to a determined runner who stays faithful until the end, despising the shame. So determined is he to finish that he casts aside every weight.
Readers in Jesus’ day would have been quite familiar with the races to which Hebrews alludes. In the Greek games, runners ran completely naked … they cast aside every weight.
Does the author allude to the shameful crucifixion of Jesus? We know that Romans crucified their victims naked so as to add as much shame as possible.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
//James is a curious book. Perhaps it’s best known for encouraging works over faith. Thought by some to have been written by the brother of Jesus, it reflects no personal knowledge of Jesus, and indeed, contains very little Christian content. But for verses 1:2 and 2:1, it may as well be a Jewish document.
So where did it really come from? Sometime when you’re up for an interesting study, compare these verses in James to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (thought to have been collated from the hypothetical Q document). This comparison stems from P. J. Hartin’s James and the Q Sayings of Jesus, 1991.
James 1:2, Matthew 5:11-12
James 1:4, Matthew 5:48
James 1:5, Matthew 7:7
James 1:17, Matthew 7:11
James 1:22, Matthew 7:24
James 1:23, Matthew 7:26
James 2:5, Matthew 5:3-5
James 2:10, Matthew 5:18-19
James 2:11, Matthew 5:21-22
James 2:13, Matthew 5:7
James 3:12, Matthew 7:16-18
James 3:18, Matthew 5:9
James 4:2-3, Matthew 7:7-8
James 4:4, Matthew 6:24
James 4:8, Matthew 5:8
James 4:9, Matthew 5:4
James 4:11, Matthew 7:1-2
James 5:2, Matthew 6:19-21
James 5:6, Matthew 7:1
James 5:10, Matthew 5:11-12
James 5:12, Matthew 5:34-37
by Frederick W. Schmidt
Can a downer be a positive reading experience?
This is a book that needs to be read, even though it’s not enjoyable. It’s about how to relate positively to those who are going through hard times. How to be a friend in love. It’s written from a Christian perspective by an Episcopal priest, but it does not pretend that faith solves all the hard problems.
Schmidt’s younger brother Dave was struck with cancer, and endured seven years of the disease before succumbing to death. Sometimes life just sucks. Hoping for a handy guidebook about what to do in such situations, maybe a collection of pick-me-up promises like “God won’t give you more than you can endure” or at least a can’t-fail casserole recipe to bake for a suffering friend, I read all the way through to the end before I finally accepted that I was not going to be given any Biblical solutions for coping or helping another cope. This is just down-to-earth advice on how to validate and share the pain of another. As Schmidt would say, ditch the stained-glass language and learn to walk wounded.
And yes, it WAS a frustrating read for me, most of the way. If I’m going to endure a downer of a book, can’t it just teach me to dispense a little Hallmark wisdom and send me on my way?
Perhaps the best advice I gleaned from the first nine chapters (by reading between the lines) is this: When times get tough, go befriend a couple of recovering alcoholics. They understand struggle and neither coddle you nor make light of your pain.
Schmidt’s message finally sank in as I neared the end of the book, with these three strange words: Availability is incarnational. It’s really not as cryptic a message as it sounds. After stressing that Jesus’ interface with humanity was in the flesh–incarnational–and after stressing that sincere love is sharing a genuine presence, making oneself available, the advice finally hit home. There’s lots of other advice in the book, of course, this just happens to be the message that finally penetrated for me. The simple secret of dealing with another’s grief, for both your own benefit and that of your friend, is this: Availability is incarnational.Got an opinion? 0 comments
Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
//This is an odd verse. John, writing in the tenth decade of the first century, should be well aware that such a claim was made of others besides Jesus. Eighteenth century philosopher David Hume reminds us that “One of the best attested miracles in all profane history, is that which Tacitus reports of Vespasian, who cured a blind man in Alexandria, by means of his spittle” (precisely the way Jesus healed a blind man). Vespasian was the emperor of Rome a decade or two before John wrote his Gospel.
So why is John making a point of saying nobody has ever heard of a miracle like this? Is he purposefully discrediting Vespasian? I doubt it. He’s merely making a point, elevating the healing of Jesus to the level of a messianic sign.
You see, there are no stories in the Old Testament about healing a blind man. Therefore, in early Judaism, a saying cropped up that when a blind person did miraculously receive sight, one would know the Messiah had come. John is claiming that role for Jesus; not Vespasian or any other.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
//Christians generally understand what it means to be born again of the Spirit, but what does it mean in today’s verse to be born of water? You might guess it refers to baptism, but you would be wrong.
One must remember that in those days, babies were born at home, not hidden away in a hospital. Everyone witnessed a baby’s birth, everyone could see the mother’s water break. Thus, water became a metaphor for the amniotic fluid in the womb, and the “breaking of waters” referred to the pre-birth loss of fluid.
Water was also a metaphor for semen, and thus for the processes that lead to birth. For example, when we are told in Proverbs 5:14 to Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well, we should take instruction that a husband should confine himself to his own wife.
Jesus, in today’s verse, is merely repeating the Semitic saying that “flesh is born of flesh, spirit of spirit.” A person must be twice-born; first into natural life and then into spiritual life.
Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.
//In verse 2:1 of this letter, Paul describes a visit to Corinth that is not mentioned in the book of Acts. The visit appears to be a disaster; opposition in Corinth has come to a head.
Many scholars think that the second letter to the Corinthians is actually two letters. They surmise that two letters have been combined into one epistle for our Bible, and that they are out of order. 2 Corinthians 10-13 is a fragment of a different letter, the so-called “severe letter.”
The order of letters to Corinth in this theory becomes:
1. Paul’s first letter is described in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, of which we have no copy.
2. 1 Corinthians is then written in AD 54-55 from Ephesus to address issues which had arisen since he left there.
3. 2 Corinthians 10-13 is a forceful, stinging letter that perhaps follows on the heel of the frustrating visit described in 2 Corinthians 2:1.
4. After hearing some good news from Titus, Paul writes 1 Corinthians 1-9 with some relief. Not all is roses yet, but things are improving, and Paul makes another visit shortly after penning this letter.
by Robert D. Cornwall
I’m a fan of Robert Cornwall’s writing. It’s hard to overrate brevity, common sense, and simple honesty. Last year, one of his books made my Top Ten for 2012: See Faith in the Public Square.
In this book, Cornwall tackles the sticky subject of evolution. He writes as a theologian, not a scientist, but as one who recognizes his limited expertise and therefore respects and appreciates the contribution of scientists. Cornwall believes evolution is true not only because our greatest minds have offered convincing explanations, but because they have made great strides in medicine by building atop this biological knowledge. Cornwall believes the war between science and religion harms both sides, and that truth can best be approached by leaving the experts on each side to do their jobs without interference.
Cornwall is not alone in this opinion. A few years back, Dr. Michael Zimmerman penned a letter encouraging the compatibility of religion and science, and this letter has now garnered over 10,000 clergy signatures. “Evolution Sunday” was born, marking the closest Sunday to the birthday of Charles Darwin (February 12th), and at last count nearly 600 churches celebrated this day by using their worship service to address the issue, declaring that evolutionary science and faith are compatible.
Worshiping with Charles Darwin is a series of non-technical sermons and essays to that end. Many of the points and themes repeat in multiple sermons/essays, so there’s a bit of redundancy, yet I believe this book fills an important niche, with the theologian side of the war respectfully reaching out to make peace.
Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
//It’s fun sometimes to trace back the origin of words. Take this word “barbarian.” It means a savage, or uncivilized person, right?
In Paul’s time, Greeks did indeed look down their noses at non-Greeks (well, except for Romans, who were at the top of the pecking order.) In fact, the world seemed to them divided into two categories: Greeks and non-Greeks, or “barbarians.” The Greeks thought themselves well-educated with a polished rhetoric, and coined this word barbarian to describe the uncultured speech of others, according to how it sounded to Greek ears–”bar … bar … bar”.
In today’s verse, Paul is critiquing those who speak in tongues (meaning an unknown tongue), saying they should instead make every effort to be understood … rather than sounding like a barbarian.