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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.)

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.

Jewish Christianity?

Scot McKnight summarizes James D. G. Dunn’s concise, albeit heartbreaking, explanation of why the term “Jewish Christianity” is redundant—and why many Christians have forgotten that fact:

There is something of an oddity about the title ‘Jewish Christianity’. For in a very important sense, that is what Christianity is — at least in its beginnings, and integrally in its character. In an important sense, often lost to view, the adjective ‘Jewish’ is quite unnecessary, since Christianity, with a Jewish Messiah as its central figure, and its holy scripture predominantly written by Jews, can hardly be anything other than ‘Jewish’ in a crucially defining sense. The oddity, rather, at least arguably, is that Christianity so quickly lost sight of its Jewish roots and character, that ‘Jewish Christianity’ became just one form of Christianity, almost a primitive form to be lost increasingly to view as Christianity became more international and less definitively Jewish in character. The increasing loss of distinctively Jewish identity is one of the most striking features of the first two centuries of Christianity. The growth of a contradictory adversus Iudaeos tradition which came to dominate Christianity more or less up to the present day has a self-contradictory character. To reckon seriously with this fact is still one of the great challenges facing twenty-first-century Christians, when the memory of the Holocaust is still unspeakably raw.

1 Timothy and Ephesiaca

Ben Witherington is beginning a multi-part review of Gary Hoag’s Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus. Along the way, he makes an impassioned case for Neutestamentlers to dig deeper into the classics:

Here I want to talk about the value of reading NT documents in light of both Greco-Roman and Jewish sources, not just one or the other. The problem of course is that most NT scholars were not, and are not students of the classics first, which makes me a rarity. I did Latin and Greek classics in junior high, high school, and college, and this helped me immensely to be prepared to be a good student of the NT, which after all, is all in Greek, and more often than not addresses people who do not live in Palestine but for whom the Greco-Roman world is their reality. So, when someone finds a Greek document that nobody previously had compared to the NT, and does the hard work of comparing it to a relevant relatively contemporary NT book— this is a good thing.

I look forward to what Ben has to say about what Gary has to say about what Xenophon might tell us about 1 Timothy.

The Jewishness of Jesus

New book sighting courtesy of Scot McKnight:

I endorsed Rabbi Evan Moffic’s book as a good example of civil discourse and dialogue. I hope that we can engage in public discussions about Jesus.

Today Rabbi Evan Moffic releases a new book about the Jewishness of Jesus. Rabbi Moffic is a well-known congregational rabbi outside of Chicago whose first book answered the question What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover. This second book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about Jewishness of Jesus: A New Look at History’s Most Influential Rabbi grapples with the bigger and more controversial questions: What do Christians need to know about Judaism, and what do Jews need to know about the Jewish Jesus? This book will challenge and enrich you. Here’s an intriguing excerpt from it.

Sanders, Paul, and the New Perspective: The Circle is Now Complete

Scot McKnight brings glad tidings to all who are interested in the so-called “new perspective on Paul”:

In 1977 E.P. Sanders wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism and unleashed what, in the expression originally of N.T. Wright and then more forcefully J.D.G. Dunn, is called “the new perspective.” Sanders, however, put far more pressure on how we understand Judaism than how we understand either Jesus (he did wrote Jesus and Judaism) or Paul (only a small book on Paul, and a long section in P&PJ)….

What we needed from Sanders was something more than the last sections of P&PJ and more than we got in his little book on Paul in the Past Masters series. I’m happy to announce we have that book nowTo use the words of my father in law, it’s a “ming” (his term for something big and heavy). It’s got to be connected to the Ming dynasty but I don’t find this meaning in urban dictionaries. Anyway, E.P. Sanders now has a book called Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought (Fortress, 2015).