Thursday, 27 November 2008

Luke 14:25-35

So far my sermon outline for this passage is:

Following Jesus means:

i. Loving Jesus before all others (vv25-26)

ii. Carrying our cross (vv 27)

iii. Careful Consideration (vv28-33)

iv. Something about salt (!) (vv 34-35)

Any ideas about point 4? I remember doing a course on preaching where we were taught that the verse that you don’t understand how it fits into the passage is often the key to the whole passage. That’s why I am quite keen to get this one right…


One of the interesting (!) features of the German language is the ‘overloaded adjective construction’. In English we might say: The man, who was walking his recently purchased Boxer dog, stumbled across two men burgling his neighbour’s house.
German might put it like his: The walking his recently purchased Boxer dog man stumbled across two men burgling his neighbour’s house.

Now, if that’s not interesting I don’t know what is…

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Where is Jesus now?

I have been working on two German theologians - Albert Schweitzer and Ernst Käsemann. Although, I would not recommend their writings for a young Christian (at all!), they do have lots of profound insights into Paul in particular. Interestingly, they have polar opposite views on one question - the current location of Jesus:

Käsemann: ‘Paul knows no invisible Christ whom one can localize only in heaven’

Schweitzer: ‘For Paul, as for all the believers of his generation, Christ is in Heaven, with God, and nowhere else’

Who do you think gets it right?!

Machen on Education

“Modern pedagogy has emancipated us, whether we be in the pulpit or in the professor’s chair or in the pew, from anything so irksome as earnest labour in the acquisition of knowledge.”

Machen on God’s Care

Out in the dressing station, when the shells were falling close around, I somehow gained the conviction that I was in God’s care and He would not try me beyond my strength; that courage would keep pace with danger, or rather that danger (for I confess it turned out rather that way) would keep within the limits of courage. In short, I understand the eighth chapter of Romans better.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Machen on War II

Nichols (162-163): Machen was also moved by the ruin of the countryside, “a scene of desolation so abominable.” He adds, “I have seen burnt and ruined forests before. But the effects of shellfire are different. There was something indescribably sinister about the scene of ruin.” He had more of the countryside to see than he wanted to as they fought their way through France and into Belgium. A month or so before the end of the war, he wrote that his “shoes gave out completely under the stress” of the marching, adding, “Of course my feet were wet all the time.” He recalls what happened next: But finally I “salvaged” a dry pair of socks. Do you understand that word “salvage”? It is a great word in the army. When you see anything good lying around and appropriate When you see anything good lying around and appropriate it that is not “stealing”; it is merely salvaging. . . .You may laugh, and think I am irreverent, but I can say in all seriousness that one of the most fervent prayers that I ever offered in my life was the prayer of thanksgiving that I prayed that night in my dug-out when I pulled on those warm socks.

Rugby League World Cup

Now that the favourites have been knocked out, this competition is wide open...

Hays on Mark III - The implications

If Mark is presenting Jesus as the God of Israel then the implications are immense. Because Jesus - who is revealed in Mark as the Christ - is crucified. In other words we are seeing an identification of the Crucified Messiah and the God of Israel. Our God is the God of the Cross. No wonder Paul said that the Cross was a stumbling block to his fellow Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). And can we do anything other than marvel at and lay down our lives in worship of this God who went to the cross for us?

Monday, 10 November 2008

Machen on acts of humanity during the War

Machen served as a YMCA volunteer during the first world war. A lot of his time was taken up with serving tea and hot chocolate to the soldiers:

One German fellow said when I gave him the chocolate that it was “wie bei der Mutter.” It would have taken a harder heart than mine to keep from being touched by that. By the way, along with the hatred and bitterness incidental to war, there are some examples of the other thing which like the fair lilies in swampy ground are all the more beautiful because of the contrast with the unlikely soil in which they grow. Thus at one of the dressing stations near the front, I saw an American wounded soldier deliberately take off his overcoat and give it to a wounded German who was suffering a lot worse than he. When one reflects what that little act meant—the long cold hours of rain and damp along the way to the rear and the interminable waits— it becomes clear that magnanimity has not altogether perished from the earth.

Hays on Mark II

Why does Mark not make it obvious that he is referring to Jesus deity? Why do it through oblique allusions to the OT? Hays gives a number of reasons.

Firstly, the truth that Jesus is being identified as Jesus’ God is simply too radical to proclaim directly. It was simply too shocking a truth for a 1st Century Jew to say that a man could be indentified by God. So, Mark projects his story of Jesus onto the background of the story of Israel and as he does so ‘remarkable patterns emerge’ that show Jesus’ true identity.

Secondly, this elusive technique fits with Mark’s view of Jesus’ agenda. The secret of the kingdom of God is 4:12 is not given to everyone - only to those who have ears to ear. Mark’s use of the OT to reveal Jesus’ identity is only available to those who go beyond a superficial reading of the text. Mark uses his OT allusions like Jesus used the parables - to keep people out as much as to bring them in.

Thirdly, Mark 4:21-25 give us the hermeneutical key to what Mark is doing. Most English versions render v21 something like this (ESV): Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? However, there are couple of interesting things in the Greek - it is not ‘a’ lamp, but ‘the’ lamp and it isn’t brought - rather it ‘comes’. Hays argues that Jesus is the lamp - and he has come to be revealed. The language in vv24-25 about paying attention to how you hear and about the measure given to you, argues Hays, and this is possibly where he strains things a bit, refer to how you read the OT. If you read the OT with a ‘generous measure’ with respect to Jesus you will see him as he really is - the God of Israel.

What Mark was doing has parallels in other Jewish writings - especially Apocalyptic. So, for example, the book of Revelation uses lots of OT symbolism to argue its point - symbolism that if you miss it can lead to nonsensical interpretations (e.g. one writer arguing that the locusts of Revelaton 9:7 referred to US Cobra attack helicopters).
Whether or not you buy all the details of Hays’ argument, I think he is convincing in showing that Mark is presenting Jesus as the God of Israel.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Hays on Mark's Gospel

In examining Mark’s Gospel, Hays points to a number of ways that Mark uses Scripture to ‘narrate the identity of Jesus’. Here are a few examples:

-Who is the Lord of 1:2-3? In the context of Isaiah 40:3,9 it is no-one but God himself.

-Who can forgive sins (2:7)? According to Exodus 34:6-7 and Isaiah 43:35 no-one but God himself.

-Who can make the wind and sea obey him (4:35-41)? According to Ps 107:23-32 only God himself.

-Who is the shepherd of Israel (6:34)? According to Ezekiel 43:11-5 it is God himself.

-Who comes looking for figs (11:12-14)? According to Jeremiah 8:13 only God himself.

The most interesting one is the account of Jesus walking on water in 6:45-52. Often an attempt is made to see this as somehow referring to Moses leading the people across the Red Sea. However, a clearer OT background is surely Job 9:4-11 which speaks in v8 as God being the one who ‘treads on the waves of the sea’. Who can walk on water? Only God. The end of verse 48 often generates a bit of discussion. Why does Mark add the detail that Jesus was about to pass by them? Well, in verse 11 of Job 9, Job says of God ‘When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.’ In the Greek translation of this verse, the correspondence to Mark 6:48 is very close. In other words, in alluding to Job 9 Mark is simultaneously emphasising Jesus’ deity and the disciples’ inability to grasp his identity.

All this raises the obvious question - why was Mark not explicit in all of this? After all, Peter’s recognition of Jesus as Christ in 8:29 seems to be central to Mark’s Gospel. Does he really have another agenda to communicate the deity of Christ?

Hays in Durham

Every Monday night in the Theology Department we have seminars from different speakers. This week we had one of the leading NT theologians in the world at the moment - Richard Hays. He gave us a lecture on part of a chapter of a book he is writing on the use of Scripture by the Gospels. This particular lecture was entitled: Jesus as the Embodiment of the God of Israel?
I have to say that it was one of the most stimulating theological lectures I have ever heard! (Perhaps that says more about me than the lecture!).
Hays argued that, similar to Paul, Mark alludes to the OT and in fact his Gospel is saturated with the OT. Often Mark is seen as presenting the human side of Jesus - in contrast to say John who wants to stress his deity. However, Hays argued that when you see the many allusions to the OT, you can’t help but see that Mark has a remarkably high Christology - and sees that Jesus is God.

More to follow...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Machen on Anti-Intellectualism

‘All true faith involves an intellectual element; all faith involves knowledge and issues in knowledge.’

Machen on Preaching

‘Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin’. As such, the church ‘is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task - she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance’.

Hays on Paul and the OT 2

One of the questions we ended with in the last post was how we can tell if Paul was alluding to an OT passage. Recognising that absolute certainty is impossible, and that discerning echoes of the OT is 'less a matter of method than sensibility', Hays lists seven tests that may help identify echoes of the OT in Paul (the NT in general).

1. Availability. Was the proposed source or echo available to the author and/or original readers? The answer to this one will inevitability be yes - given that Paul and his readers shared a very high view of (what is now known as) the OT.

2. Volume. The volume of an echo is determined primarily by the degree of explicit repetition of words or syntactical patterns, but other factors may also be relevant: how distinctive or prominent is the precursor text within Scripture, and how much rhetorical stress does the echo receive in Paul's discourse?

3. Recurrence. How often does Paul elsewhere cite or allude to the same scriptural passage?

4. Thematic Coherence. How well does the alleged echo fit into the line of argument that Paul is developing?

5. Historical Plausibility. Could Paul have intended the alleged meaning effect? Could his readers have understood it?

6. History of Interpretation. Have other readers, both critical and pre-critical, heard the same echoes?

7. Satisfaction. With or without clear confirmation from the other criteria listed here, does the proposed reading make sense? Does it illuminate the surrounding discourse? Does it produce for the reader a satisfying account of the effect of the intertextual relation?

The second question I raised in the last post about how much exegetical weight we should give to the allusion or echo if we think it is there is more difficult. Perhaps - though not directly related - the next post will give some answers.

Spurgeon on God's Providence

A great Spurgeon quote noted by Jean Williams at the Sola Panel

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sear leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.

(Charles Spurgeon, ‘God's Providence’, sermon on Ezekiel 1:15-19.)

Machen on History and Doctrine

On 1 Cor 15:3: ‘Christ died’ - that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’ - that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

Machen on Delight

‘My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking.’

Richard Hays on Paul on the OT

Richard Hays has written a very significant book on Paul’s use of Scripture. In it he argus that Paul will often allude to the OT without formally quoting it.
CH Dodd proposed something similar when he spoke of how when a NT writer does make a formal quotation of the OT they often had the total context of the OT passage in view. However, Hays goes further and argues that we cannot adequately understand Paul ‘unless we seek to situate his discourse appropriately with what Hollander calls the “cave of resonant signification” that enveloped him: Scripture’. That is unless you read Paul as someone who was saturated in the OT, you will never understand him.
To take a couple of examples, when Paul says in Romans 2:6 that God will ‘render to every man according to his works’ he does not (despite the punctuation of most English versions) actually signal that he is quoting from the OT, but his words are lifted exactly from Ps 61:13 or Proverbs 24:12. That is an easy example as he is referring to a whole phrase.
Sometimes, however, he will allude to an OT passage with just a word or part of a phrase.
To take an example. In Phil. 1:19 Paul says:
for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance

Very few commentators pick up on the fact that the last part of the statement is an almost verbatim quotation of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) of Job 13:16. This raises two very important questions:

i. How do we know if Paul is actually alluding deliberately to an OT passage?

ii. If he is alluding to it, how much exegetical weight should we give this fact?