What does the King have to do with an election?

The minor election cycle (i.e. the two-yearly) is barely over and the major one (four-yearly) has started ramping up so that we have something to think about for the next two years. Just after the election I happened to be driving across the city with news radio on to alert me to traffic problems to avoid. It was interesting to hear both Republican and Democrats speaking about their plans to “get something done” in the next Congress, as well as to learn that those Democrats and Republicans were elected with the lowest percentage voter turnout since the early 1940’s. Each side was talking about its priorities and, not surprisingly, there was no mention of themes that had been big during the election especially when addressing religious groups: abortion and/or reproductive rights, marriage, whether defense of or equality of, moral issues of any type. 

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Is There a Better Word than “Lord”?

Recently, I gave the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  My topic was “Paul’s KYRIOS Christology.”  Kyrios is a Greek word most often translated “Lord” in English Bible translations.  Paul uses the word about 200 times in his letters to refer to his Lord, Jesus Christ.  On a few occasions he used the word in reference to God, the Father. The word can be used of people as well who possess some sort of recognized, superior status, a king, a master of slave, for example. logo_kyrios

One night after the lecture during the Q&A time, someone asked a good question. It had to do with the English word “lord” or “Lord” as a translation of Kyrios.  The fellow knew about The Voice translation and he appreciated that we had tried to find new words and associations which communicate well to a modern audience.  We translated words like Christos as “the Anointed” rather than “Christ.”  We translated apostolos as “emissary” rather than “apostle.” So he asked, is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios?

The word “Lord” was used first to translate kyrios and other biblical words for English-speaking audiences in the middle ages when the upper classes were referred to as “my lord” or “my lady” by those who occupied lower status.  Given the sensibilities of the modern world, the fellow wondered whether there was a better word.  Though those titles are still used in some societies, they are rare in many countries including the United States.  They have lost currency in many places. The use of “Lord” is restricted to religious language most often referring to God, Christ or, in some cases, the Holy Spirit.  For some “Lord” functions as a name or title for God.

Well, I had no answer. No one had ever asked me that question before so I had never thought about it.  I’m embarrassed to admit I had no response given the fact that we rethought so many of the other key religiously-laden words. I’m still puzzling over it.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios in modern English? It would have to have the right meaning and sets of associations. It would need to convey the idea that the person holding the title had supreme authority and power.   Since it is most often used in the New Testament as a title for Jesus linking him with the One, True God, it must be an appropriate honorific (fancy word for “title”) for the Liberating King. I’m hard pressed to come up with anything. If we put our heads together, I bet we can think of something.  Then again, maybe not?!

Mark Lanier: Christianity on Trial TOMORROW (Nov 6)

You’ll definitely want to mark your calendars because our good friend Mark Lanier will be giving the A.O. Collins Lecture for this fall. He will address his recently published book Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith.

This free lecture will take place on November 6 at Belin Chapel here on HBU’s campus (in the Morris Cultural Arts Center).

His lecture will begin at 7:00 pm and there will be snacks and a book signing afterwards.

We hope to see you there!

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Paul’s Conversion and Name Change: Separating Fact from Fiction

It’s an oft-told story in Sunday School classes and pulpits: when Saul was converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, God changed his name to Paul. Just one little problem: it’s not true!

st-paul-conversionTo begin with, it’s probably inaccurate to say that Saul was “converted.” Typically when we use conversion language, we are referring to changing from one religion to another, e.g. from Christianity to Islam. This is certainly not what happened to Saul. When Saul met Jesus on the way to Damascus, Christianity was not a distinct religion from Judaism (don’t get me started on the enormous problem of whether ‘religion’ was even on the first-century conceptual radar!). Jesus and all his earliest followers were Jewish. Early Christians were considered to be members of a Jewish sect (“the Way,” according to Acts), not a new religion.

It may surprise you to realize that Paul continues until his death to identify himself as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:5). He follows the Jewish law (Acts 21:17–26), makes sacrifices, engages in purification rituals in the Temple (Acts 24:17–18), and observes the Jewish festivals (Acts 18:21; 20:16)—even after he has become a follower of Jesus.

I don’t mean, of course, in any way to undermine the radical change that occurred when Saul met Jesus. His life was certainly turned around, as he amply attests in his letters. A more helpful way to understand Paul’s experience, though, may be as a prophetic call. Many of the Old Testament prophets, like Saul, were “Shanghaied,” so to speak, into proclaiming God’s message. For example, Jeremiah found that he had to speak God’s word, since it was like a fire in his bones (Jer 20:9). Moreover, like Paul, many of the OT prophets experienced a vision of God’s glory or presence when they were called. Think of Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah in the temple, or Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot-throne.

Now, what about the name change? This is simply mythical, a part of Sunday School lore. If we read Acts, we find that Luke calls the apostle ‘Saul’ long after his encounter with Jesus (all the way up to Acts 13:9). It’s not until he has begun his first missionary journey that the apostle is first identified as ‘Paul’ (Acts 13:9). And here there is no indication that he has changed his name. Luke’s statement “Saul, i.e. Paul” (Σαῦλος δέ, ὁ καὶ Παῦλος) suggests that ‘Paul’ may simply be another one of Saul’s names. Paul is a good Roman name, which is probably why Paul began favoring it when he began his travels throughout the Roman world. On the other hand, Saul was a Hebrew name (think of King Saul in the OT), which would have emphasized Paul’s foreignness. Also, ‘Saul’ in Greek (σαῦλος) probably had negative connotations, as it described someone who strutted or swaggered, perhaps in an effeminate way, i.e. prancing. It simply would not do for Paul to begin his preaching to Greek and Roman audiences by introducing himself as “Prancer!”

If you’re interested in separating Sunday School myth from Scriptural fact, you might considering enrolling in one of our degree programs at HBU. We offer numerous courses in the Bible, with an emphasis on understanding the Bible in its first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts.

Forget Not All His Benefits

When we read, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2), many of us are quick to say that we are in no danger of forgetting our Lord’s blessings. Similarly, we read about how ungrateful the Israelites were to God in their wilderness wanderings and we simply cannot picture ourselves being such ingrates. It is instructive to note that the Hebrew word gemul, that is translated “benefits” in the King James Version, can also be translated “dealings” or “recompenses.” There are actually many ways in which one can forget about God’s blessings, dealings, or recompenses, and it is sobering to realize that almost every one of us is guilty of one or more of them. Here are some to ponder on.

You can forget God’s blessings:

1. When you refuse to remember any of His blessings
2. When you choose to forget all His blessings
3. When you fail to remember His blessings (by omission, just not getting around to it)
4. When you do not remember enough of His blessings
5. When you are pre-occupied with many things [in a way similar to what our Lord scolded Martha for (see Luke 10:41-42)]
6. When you focus on your circumstances, instead of focusing on the God who is bigger than, and who controls, your circumstances
7. When you focus on your job, instead of focusing on the God who gave you that job in the first place
8. When you focus on your achievement, instead of focusing on the God without whom you would have no achievement
9. When you focus on what you have not achieved, instead of focusing on the God whom you need to enable you to achieve those things
10. When you focus on what others have achieved, instead of focusing on the God who has your master plan to prosper you, not to harm you
11. When you keep on living for the next miracle, instead of thanking God for what He has already done for you (the Israelites perfected that in the wilderness!)
12. When you remember God’s blessings but refuse to be thankful
13. When you remember God’s blessings but fail to be thankful
14. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only a little
15. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only sometimes
16. When you feel that the Lord ought to have done more for you (forgetting that God does not owe you or me anything, for we are the ones who owe Him what we cannot repay)
17. When you do not realize that God recompenses you for your faithfulness.
The way to guard against stumbling in any of these and other ways is to practice what the palmist says in Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the Lord at ALL times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (emphases added).

Going to Church: How the Only Politics That Finally Matter Happen At Church

I begin with remembering two conversations about going to church.  First, my parents believed in going to church.  They called it “big church” when they inquired if I was going to skip the congregation- wide meeting after a youth meeting.  Their conviction was driven home without argument or rationale; it seemed intuitive or instinctual.

Secondly, several years ago my friend, Pastor John, ask me to spend an evening with students who were back from university for Christmas break.  The assembly was typical or representative: some had lived freely and God fell off their radar (a practical rather than a theoretical atheism), some felt bullied by a skeptic professor, and some had been assigned to read Nietzsche in honors class.  The students were encouraged by registering some worries and took some hope in learning these issues had history and were part of a bigger conversation.  They seemed pleased I had also assigned readings in Nietzsche and even took his side in several issues.  As the evening concluded my final theme was about going to church.

I explained Christianity was not merely a set of ideas to be affirmed but centered on relationship and trust.  Faith is nonnegotiably participatory; it envisions practices in concrete reality and community.  I told them to pick a church quickly and connect; they did not need a cool pastor but a concrete pastor who had lived out faith with family and folk.  Pastor John may have initially wondered… I brought a college professor to talk to my smart college students and this is the big finish – “you guys should go to church?”  Soon though, he appeared mystified by the greater wisdom concerning church.  I was simply closing with the most central survival tip of the evening, but John latched on to the idea and has recently asked me to share it with the entire church.  What follows is one idea in an effort to put into words the conviction of my parents – we need to go to church. Continue reading

Teaching the Didache (The Teaching of ‘the Twelve’)

Not long ago I taught a brief series at Christ the King Lutheran Church on the Didache, an early Christian manual on ethics, practices, leadership and eschatology.  Most scholars date it to the end of the first or beginning of the second century AD. A Greek manuscript of it—dating to about 1073 AD—was  discovered by accident in a library in Constantinople by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873 (Have you noticed how some of the best stuff is discovered by accident?  The Dead Sea Scrolls.  The Nag Hammadi library.  Chocolate mixed with peanut butter.)  The Didache was published about a decade later.  Some early church leaders wanted to include it the New Testament but Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.25.1-7) reckons it among the spurious documents.

Christ the King Lutheran Church

There are four essential questions which this early Christian document addresses:

  1. How are we/ Christians to live?
  2. What are our essential practices?
  3. Who is to lead us?
  4. How will all of this end?

The Didache begins with the doctrine of the two ways, a Jewish way of instruction which goes back to Deuteronomy 30.  There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death.  The way of life (according to Deuteronomy) is to know what God says and observe it.  Obedience leads to life, blessing and prosperity.  Disobedience leads to destruction, “curse,” and adversity.  Jesus adopts the same teaching in his parable of the wise and foolish men who built their houses on the rock and sand, respectively.  Didache adopts this Jewish theme and makes it part of its instruction—probably to baptismal candidates.  In fact, there is very little “Christian” about the Didache‘s first six chapters.  It is not until you get to baptism and Eucharist that the true Christian identity of the document emerges.  Some people see it as Jewish ethical instruction slightly Christianized.  That is a fair characterization at least in the first six chapters.

I like this little Christian document for many reasons.  First, as a historian of early Christianity it is primary evidence for how Christ-followers are organizing their common life: what they believe, how they behave, how they conduct their gatherings, and how they deal with traveling and resident leaders.  Second, the Greek of the Didache is easy enough that a second year Greek student can usually translate it with a dictionary in hand.  There are a lot of unique words, especially among the lists of virtues and vices.  Third, and this is related to the first, the Didache and other books of the Apostolic Fathers are some of the first commentators on the New Testament.  They speak the Greek language.  They share a common cultural situation with the later apostles and second to third generation of believers.  So how they read the NT is probably closer than we who read it in a post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, post-colonial, post- Holocaust world.  In other words, the fathers have much to teach us if we will just spend some time with them.

There are plenty of versions available, free-online.  A classic translation was done by Kirsopp Lake in the Loeb Classical Series.  He translated it in the early 1910s so it sounds at times like the King James Bible.  The version I use now is a translation of all the Apostolic Fathers by Michael Holmes published by the Society of Biblical Literature.  Over time I hope to come back and comment further on this early Christian document.  In the meantime, why not take some time, look it up and read it.  It is brief.  You can probably read through Didache in 15-20 minutes.   Lake Apostolic Fathers

Thanks to Bob Moore (pastor), Karin Liebster (co-pastor) and Matthias Henze (professor at Rice University) for the opportunity to teach through the text.  I look forward to going back and teaching another of the Apostolic Fathers or coming to teach the Didache at a church near you!

Mark Lanier: Christianity on Trial (Nov 6)

You’ll definitely want to mark your calendars because our good friend Mark Lanier will be giving the A.O. Collins Lecture for this fall. He will address his recently published book Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith.

This free lecture will take place on November 6 at Belin Chapel here on HBU’s campus (in the Morris Cultural Arts Center).

His lecture will begin at 7:00 pm and there will be snacks and a book signing afterwards.

We hope to see you there!

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A Conversation with Ron Blue

Ron BlueWe here at the School of Christian Thought would like to make you aware of an upcoming luncheon with an important Christian business man. The HBU School of Business and the Center for Christianity in Business is hosting a  CCB Networking Luncheon for all Business Professionals with Ron Blue:

A Conversation with Ron Blue

Wednesday, September 24, 2014: Noon – 2:00 p.m.

(RSVP by September 17, 2014)

Featuring

Ron Blue
Founding Director,
Kingdom Advisors

with

Joseph C. Sleeth, Jr.
Partner, Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP.
(Moderator)

About the Speaker

Ron Blue is the Founding Director of Kingdom Advisors, a ministry that empowers Christian financial advisors who seek to integrate a biblical worldview into their advice and counsel. In 1979, he founded Ronald Blue & Company, the largest Christian financial planning firm in the country.  He has authored eighteen books, including Master Your Money, The Complete Guide to Faith Based Family Finances, and Surviving Financial Meltdown. Ron holds a BS and an MBA from Indiana University.  Ron is married to Judy and they have five grown children and thirteen grandchildren. They reside in Atlanta, GA.

They Come in Pairs (No, this is not about Noah’s Ark)

I’ve been inspired recently by posts from Dr. Creig Marlowe on the site www.hearthevoice.com and some comments I heard recently by N. T. Wright.  There is some new thinking here for me, but as Ecclesiastes reminds us: “there is nothing new under the sun.”

It has to do with a series of binaries in Genesis 1.   Here is a list:

1.1       heavens and earth

1.4       light and darkness

1.5       evening and morning

1.9-10  seas and dry land

1.14     sun and moon

1.27     male and female

Now there may be other binaries here in Genesis 1, but these are the ones I want to focus on.  “Formless and void” (tohu wavohu) comes to mind as a distinct possibility.

creation Adam and Eve

These binaries form complementary pairs which are not only created by God but participate with God in the next steps of creation.  In a way they become co-creators with God because they provide the raw materials for the coming days of creation.  There is a logic to the days of creation which you have probably already noticed.  Days 1-3 provide the raw materials and realms into which the creatures of days 4-6 live (I use the term “creature” here not so much as a living thing but a thing which is created):

Realm                                      Inhabitants

Day 1   light                                  Day 4   sun, moon, and stars

Day 2   sky and waters             Day 5   birds and fish

Day 3   dry land Day                Day 6   land creatures and humanity

This structure is intentional at several levels but it does show order coming from chaos, countering the formless and void state described in Genesis 1.2.

Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction.  “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys.  “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear.  In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word “the universe.”  “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then everything.  That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing, the heavens above, the earth below . . . ”

Here again is our list of binaries with a suggestion of how to see the hendiadys.

1.1       heavens and earth = the universe

1.4       light and darkness = the progression of time

1.5       evening and morning = a day

1.9-10  seas and dry land = the earth

1.14     sun and moon = signs and seasons (again, the progression of time)

1.27     male and female = humanity

In each case God, as it were, turns to the created thing to invite it to work with him in the ongoing task of creation.  So, for example, God says to the earth to bring forth vegetation, plants and seeds (1:11-12). He says to the waters/seas and the skies: bring forth fish and birds (1.20-23). Then God says to the land: bring forth land creatures of every kind (1.24-25).  When God says, “let us make humanity . . . ” people have wondered about the “us.”  Is God speaking to and for the Trinity?  Not necessarily.  That certainly is one way Christians have read the text.  Given everything that has gone on so far in Genesis 1, however, I think God is speaking to the created order itself.  The “us” would include God, the sun, moon, stars, waters, seas, dry land, and other land creatures.  Human beings are made up of the same elements as the stars, the earth, and all the critters.  Now, I’m not arguing that we should have a scientific reading of Genesis; what I am suggesting is that there is an internal logic to the creation story of Genesis 1: God creates something and then uses that creation to create the next thing. In this way all things are dependent and related. Genesis 2 reinforces this when it says that God sculpted Adam/humanity from the earth/dust and breathed in him the breath of life (2.7-9).  So Adam is made up of previously created elements along with the divine breath.

The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention.  Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God.  But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei.  Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God.  It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to  assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process.  Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:

The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.

In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.  In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation.  God no longer creates ex nihilo.  He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.

Want to read more from this author?  Want to know whether Jesus had a violent streak or whether he sacrificed in the temple?  Want to know more about the Jesus’s wife fragment? Go to his website: www.davidbcapes.com

 

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