Dr. Platypus

How the Romans Helped Invent Judaism

Next week, I’ll once again explain to my New Testament students that all of first-century Judaism was thoroughly Hellenized, even among those who despised Greco-Roman culture. This article by Burton L. Visotzky at The Bible and Interpretation outlines some of what I’ll be talking about.

To summarize thus far: vocabulary, institutions, hermeneutics and exegesis, rhetoric, law, philosophy, art, and architecture were all adapted from the broader Greco-Roman world in the service of reshaping Judaism to become a viable religious force following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE.

How Big Is Your Gospel?

I like the way John Frye explains how a lot of Christians reduce the gospel to much less than it actually is:

What if I said to you that the story of the movie The Sound of Music was about guitars? Would you disagree? What if I said the story of the movie Ben Hur is about chariot wheels? What if I said the story about the movie Titanic is about the north Atlantic ocean? You would think I was a little (or maybe hugely) short-sighted about these magnificent films. Why reduce the story of the von Trapp family to the topic of guitars? Are there, in fact, guitars in The Sound of Music? Is not the scene with Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) entering the room with a guitar singing a major turning point in the story? What about those Ben Hur chariot wheels? Aren’t those very wheels the source of incredible tension in the (1959 film) chariot race scene? Where did the Titanic sink? I rest my case. But I know you’re not convinced. Why? Because each of “my” views is a horrible reduction of those tremendous, expansive stories.

How you feel about my reductions of great stories is, I think, how Jesus and Paul would react to the contemporary reductions of the New Testament Gospel….

Do read the whole thing over at JesusCreed.

December 2016 Biblical Studies Carnival

…hosted by Jennifer Guo at her eponymous blog.

(Sorry I’ve been late in posting this. Real life and all.)

Think on These Things

Weekend Fisher’s post from last night was a refreshing palate cleanser for my soul:

Finally, brothers, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there is anything of virtue/excellence, and if there is any worthy of praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

When I read this, I have often been shamefully dismissive of it. There is a cynical part of my mind which sees it as wishful thinking, or a sort of determined naivety. The more open-minded voice inside me recognizes and acknowledges the value — and then wants credit merely for speaking up against the cynicism, without actually doing what we are here encouraged to do.

She then goes on to reflect on some of these things in her life on which she is led to think. Below is my list, following her example:

  • What is true? Gravity.
  • What is honorable? Conversations held in confidence.
  • What is just? Saying “please” and “thank you” to folks in the service industries.
  • What is pure? A choir of children singing “Silent Night.”
  • What is lovely? An athlete who’s in the zone.
  • What has a good reputation? Hard work.
  • Is there anything of virtue? Mothers and fathers who sacrifice so their children can have a better life.
  • Is there anything praiseworthy? People who use their gifts in humility.

Pace Yourself

I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did: by overfilling our schedules, spending too much money, bingeing on TV Christmas specials, and eating way too many sweet treats.

Of course, a fair bit of the time, the result was that I didn’t actually prepare for Christmas at all. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the lights, the tinsel, the carols, and all the rest; I loved them—and I still do! The problem is that much of the outward trappings of Christmas don’t always draw us into the depths of its holy mystery. In fact, if we’re not careful, they can even shield us from that mystery.

That’s why I have come to appreciate the discipline of Advent. Advent taps the brakes on our culture’s frenetic Christmas “preparations.” Sometimes, it slams on those brakes with both feet. At it’s most basic, Advent insistently whispers, “Pace yourself; it’s not Christmas yet.”

And when I come more slowly into Christmas, I can better appreciate what that season really means, and how my life should be different because of that meaning.

John the Baptist is a patron saint of Advent waiting and preparation. His ministry in the wilderness got people ready for Jesus to show up. He announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven and called people to repent—just as Jesus did.

And what better way to prepare for Christmas than to get serious about what Jesus said to do?

(This blog post first appeared in an ever so slightly different form at Coracle.)

October 2016 Biblical Studies Carnival

Posted today at Bob McDonald’s Dust blog.

A Great Question Deserves a Thoughtful Answer

Both are in evidence over at the Jesus Blog, where Rafael Rodríguez has shared some correspondence he’s recently had with one of his students. The student writes,

I have a question that has been on my mind. It might be somewhat obvious, but nonetheless it has intrigued me. What would Paul say to a Jew who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and wanted to stop adhering to the Law? At first I think this would be fine due to salvation through Jesus is open to all, but what about the disruption it would have possibly caused in said Jew’s family, who may or may not believe in Jesus? I immediately think of Romans 14:13-23, but Paul is writing that to the Gentiles. Does the same principle apply to the Jew who has already been living out a Law abiding lifestyle?

I think Rafael’s answer is worth thoughtful consideration.

Chalice Icon

Archives