september 2008

greek influence
Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
What do you think about Greek influence on the writing of the Christian scriptures. I am certain that the answer to this question has traction about what we think of the Word of God, revelation, truth, and how we should live. What do you think about Paul saying in 1 Corinthians, about his marriage advice, that he hasn’t been compelled by God, but that he has the spirit of God guiding his remarks? What does God think about writing that is not specifically aimed at his glory, writing that is on some account, true?

Posted in Philosophy, Theology | 7 Comments »

class discussion 2
Friday, September 19th, 2008
Thursday’s class discussion in Ancient Philosophy about the authority of the scripture and other texts, the voice of Paul in the new testament writings, and the “development” of Paul’s writing was one of the most vigorous and useful in my memory of teaching at Evangel. The one thing I hated more than any other is that it got started just a few minutes before class ended.

This tells me two things. One, discussions about interpretation are of interest because students and teachers want to get to the bottom of things, find the truth, and act on it; two, that after thousands of years of writing and reading texts, we still don’t have it sorted out satisfactorily.

As a teacher I am thankful to have so many lively minds operating in class, with not just opinions to force, but also with lines of reasoning which show evidence of having thought through the issues. We didn’t decide much in class, except to suggest that though it may not be possible to get it completely right, it becomes possible to be fairly clear when something is wrong, and to understand the reasons it is.

I think we were struggling over interpretation of Paul’s letters when we finished. Someone suggested that Paul shows development of his theology in the NT books he writes. This raised the specter that Paul’s earlier writing had theological flaws. While I take it that no one’s theology is universally correct, that none of it is correct out of context, and that Paul wasn’t writing a theology formal, I don’t think Paul’s NT writing shows development of his theological thinking. However, to say that Paul did not develop and refine a theology as he grew in Christ leaves us with the absurd notion that nothing in his experience with God or people affected his theology.

Beside that point, to suggest that Paul’s writing is consistent or that it is entirely coherent is overstating the requirement for counting his writings inspired and authoritative. I know this may seem troubling, but if it is troubling, why have we been unable to agree entirely on the interpretation of his writings and just stop there. Well, we do agree to a very large extent, but something else is going on. Culture, nature, and language change the field of discussion perpetually so that we are unable to statically define the import of the text. We neither think the things our predecessors did, nor do we think the way they did, so the work of interpretation is an endless one.

But, what should I do then? Well, there is little dispute about the majority of things in scripture amongst ourselves. What is at dispute comes into dispute when we believe we need scientific proofs or a general ideology that unifies all the disparate statements of scripture. The systematizers have done us both a great deal of good and harm at the same time. We need to dodge the systematic bullet and keep our judgment in the Holy Spirit, not counting our rational achievement as being more than a temporary edifice, however true it is, however necessary it becomes for our lives.

Posted in Philosophy | 8 Comments »

Ryan J. Says:
September 19th, 2008 at 2:15 pm
First, I must start out by saying I love that you are incorporating your blog in your teaching, It is a great venue to dialogue about what we are dealing with in class.

As far as the discussion goes, without understanding where everyone else in the class is coming from it is tough to combat their ideas. There are a lot of issues involved here, more than just the issue with Pauls writings, this is all dependent on how we see scripture (is it inerrrant or is it just authoritative, I understand this is another can of worms). However, to address the issue of Pauls theological development, we first have to understand that in no way were his books meant to be a theological handbook. Now, with that said we can pull “principles of theology” out of his writings. Furthermore, to say that his Theology does not develop is in opposition to scriptural evidence in my eyes, specifically his eschatology. Even more specifically Romans 9-11 compared to 2nd Thessalonians 2. There are many other examples let me know if you want more information I have a great article, but for time reasons I will not go into them all.

Furthermore, I have no issue in saying that Pauls Theology was developing, while he was a great Jew he was new to Christianity. The God of the OT, while the same as the God of the NT, operates diametrically different after the death of Christ.

I think it is also relevant to say that I do not think Paul necessarily knew his writings would have a lasting effect 2000 years into the future. It is for this reason we must really think about how we look at them. We must look at them for what they are: letters to specific churches/ people about specific issues. To turn his writings into a theology book is like taking the gospels and turning them into theology books. While their is Theological truth in them they were not meant to be theology books.

I am looking forward to continuing dialogue on this issue. As for now I have no more time.

Peace be will you all!

Lisa Says:
September 19th, 2008 at 4:14 pm
To start with, I do find it interesting the varied opinions on Paul that are evident in this school, including someone who told me that all of his writings should be removed from the Bible. Although, I don’t think anyone in this class would have gone that far, it is still a point of debate as to what Paul does mean throughout his writings.

It says a lot about Paul that two thousand years later we are still discussing, reading and debating what he meant. As Ryan has stated, I truly do not think Paul believed that his letters would have gone much farther than the small Christian community that was growing at that time. Even then, I doubt that he believed that Corinthians would have been sent throughout the community, in that the issues that were being dealt with was particular to that region. Also, it seems that the early Christians truly believed that Christ’s imminent return, was imminent. In other words, that Jesus would return within their lifetimes, if not directly afterwards.

The truth is, that Paul was placed into a position of authority rather quickly after his conversion into Christianity. He knew Jesus as Messiah, but what that means for those who follow Christ is one that is still being dealt with. I believe he was growing in his faith, just as we do. In reading his letters, we see growth, in understanding and his place within the world. In his letter to the Philippians he shows a maturity that is not evident in his other writings. A willingness that allows the good news of Jesus to be taught, no matter the motive behind it. A faith that recognized that no matter his situation, that Jesus had not left him but that he can be content in his relationship with Christ.

I don’t think we can say that Paul was writing “theology,” he was dealing with situations and questions that were being presented to him and he was using the tools that were available to him, including the OT scriptures, the Septuagint, philosophy and inter-testamental writings. With prayer and and the skills that he would have learned in his pharisaic training, he answered these questions and dealt with the situations that were brought to him.

If anything that Paul can be contributed with defining doctrine within the church more than than the theology of Christianity. There are a lot of Paul’s writings that can be interpreted in various ways, being that we are not able to travel back and sit beside him as he’s writing, I don’t think we can truly understand what he was struggling with in dealing with that time. That being said, his writings are all profitable for theology, including Philemon.

Zachary Guiliano Says:
September 20th, 2008 at 11:18 am
Greetings to everyone.

I hesitate sometimes to be involved in online discussions, because I believe they are even more prone to misunderstanding than those which are face to face. Questions of tone and intent are even more difficult to answer. With that being said, I will attempt not to misunderstand anyone’s remarks or believe that they are being malicious. I ask for the same grace in regard to my own statements. I will begin by summing up and responding to the basic situation we had in class on Thursday as well as I can, and then I’ll follow up by responding to posts.

Let me try and set out the field as best as I can. We began the discussion of Paul’s letters and the development of his thought because we were addressing the issue of Calvinism. There was an assertion made that the reason why Calvinists and Arminians have problems with their theology is that they appeal to Paul, whose theology developed over a period of time. Since we ought not to read the Christian Scriptures flatly (I wholeheartedly agree here), we should account for the development and contradiction which we clearly see in Paul (not convinced here). I responded by saying that I would not accept such an assertion without an example of development and contradiction in Paul. None was given. The discussion went on: some asserted that Paul did not write his letters intending them to be incorporated as Christian Scriptures. I responded by saying that that was an oversimplification, as Paul claimed apostolic authority for his writings, telling his congregations that they must do what he tells them to do and believe what he tells them to believe. Others responded by saying that Paul may have claimed apostolic authority, yet did not expect his incidental letters to be universalized for all churches at all times. About there, class ended.

There are a number of issues with which we are dealing. At the very least, we need an understanding of Paul’s self-understanding and authority as an apostle, what he intended as he wrote, whether there is any development in Paul’s writings, and how early Christians viewed and received his letters.

If we are going to understand the sort of authority which we ought to give to Paul’s letters, we must understand what Paul believed about his authority. According to Paul’s witness in the book of Galatians, he understood his authority and his message to rest entirely on his direct commission from God and the revelation he received from Jesus Christ (1:1, 11-12, 15-19). Presumably, his time spent in Arabia (possibly at Mt Sinai if we link 1:17 and 4:25) and the three years he spent before conferring with Peter and James would be part of the time he spent developing what Jesus as Messiah meant for his zeal for the traditions of his elders (from 1:14). His authority, as we see in chapter 2, did not depend upon its agreement with the other apostles’ teaching, yet we also find he claims his message and their message are in agreement in substance, if not always in accidents (as we see from 2:11-14). So, if we accept Paul’s claims as truth, we must accept his authority as nearly absolute.

Paul’s intentions in writing are both extremely easy and incredibly difficult to nail down. Essentially all of Paul’s letters have internal evidence linking them to specific instances and questions which he is attempting to answer.
So we ought to expect some of his directives to refer to situations which carry no currency in the 21st century. At the same time, Paul believed that he was Christ’s personal emissary to the Gentiles (1:16, 2:7-8), and the good news had been entrusted to him. Inasmuch as Paul is proclaiming that good news and developing its meaning in his letters, we must expect there to be some applicable material which we can utilize for faith and practice.

Also, asserting that we cannot interpret Paul’s letters as Scripture because he did not believe he was writing Scripture may sound good in our heads and on paper. Yet it will create some serious problems for us. We are now required to invoke some previous standard as to what the Scriptures were at the time the author was writing, so we can know what it is they are not doing. We will also have to give a good deal of interpretive influence to the another item. If we have somehow redefined whether something is authoritative based upon whether it was provoked by the contemporary situation of the author and whether they were addressing specific issues, we will have to redefine all of the Christian Scriptures. There probably isn’t a single one of the books of the Bible which wasn’t in some way provoked by a contemporary situation. If we restrict its meaning only to that time, we have to discount the entire Bible. I don’t believe anyone is making this statement, but I would like to point out where this ideas seem to be leading. Now, if we want to assert that we have to attempt to understand ancient writings within their situation and culture before we can attempt to see their significance today, I see no problem here. I’d like to develop this idea further, but I’ll move on for issues of space.

As to development and contradictions in Paul’s letters, I have to say that I have found none. I don’t doubt that Paul spent time incorporating new, earth-shattering believes into his previous theology. One doesn’t go from persecuting the followers of a false Messiah to proclaiming the same Messiah as universal Lord of the earth without undergoing a major paradigm shift. Yet if we consider the earliest of Paul’s letters (generally reckoned as Galatians and the two letters to the Thessalonians) and with later letters, we find a remarkable consistency in message. Do we see details in later letters that did not appear in earlier ones? Certainly. That is the character of incidental writing. Yet we do not find Paul saying in Galatians that the Gentiles are not under law and in Romans that they are. I do not believe we find shifts in eschatology either, for that matter. He consistently operates in the idiom of Jewish apocalyptic: final judgment will come, some will be gathered to God and operate in a redeemed and transformed environment, others will be cast out. Here I think we only find more or less detail and discussion of different aspects.

While we may argue how Paul meant to write and what he did write and what he mean by what he wrote, we cannot argue that early Christians, at least by the time of 2 Peter, considered his writings to be Scripture. They considered them difficult to understand, and they did not always know how to apply them, but they were authoritative and binding nonetheless. I think the entire fact that we are discussing Paul’s authority implies a number of things: we are part of a believing community which attempts to live out the faith delivered to the saints by the holy prophets and apostles of God. The very fact that we ask the question firmly places us under the continuing authority of the prophets and apostles. If we accept that the community received the letters as Scripture, and we are part of that community, we should at least admit that we will have to break with our own community when we question whether the letters are authoritative or not. Discussing how they are authoritative is a different order of question.

Response to Professor Olena: I agree with you that Paul wasn’t writing out a systematic theology and that his thought is less than clear at times. I’m not sure if we can say that he is inconsistent; I simply have yet to be convinced of that. I particularly agree that the task of interpetation will never end, and that we will always find new significance and that our answers to questions will likely have to differ at times with the ancients and with other branches of the Church throughout time and space.

Response to Ryan: I understand that you believe Paul develops and changes his mind on certain topics, particularly on eschatology. Yet I have yet to find any of these developments and have read Romans 9-11 and 2 Thessalonians 2 about five times today and I’m not sure what you are seeing that I’m not. So I would ask that you spell that one out for me, simply because I may have some blinders on that you do not. In all sincerity, I ask that you would discuss that more. Also, while Paul may have not considered every directive he had to be universally binding for 2000 years or more, I don’t doubt that he considered the good news binding forever. I would like to see us struggle with that issue and see how it changes the shape of this discussion. Finally, I’m afraid that asking for Paul’s theology and that of the Gospels not to be turned into a theology book is somewhat futile. It’s essentially like asking us to stop doing the task of Christian theology and interpretation of the Scriptures. He was writing theologically if not writing a ‘theology book’, whatever that may be, as were the rest of the contributors to the NT, and it will always be the task of Christian theology to understand what that means for us.

Response to Lisa: I understand where you are going with the early Christian belief in the parousia, and I don’t want anyone to think I haven’t considered that as an issue for our current belief, since Jesus still hasn’t returned (unless I missed it on the news this morning). Yet it is mostly the issue of Paul’s leadership that I have to question. It doesn’t appear that he was made a Christian leader quickly. While reconciling the data from Acts and from Paul’s own letters is a difficult one, it seems clear that he took several years to get away from everything before he was put into a position of authority. This is not to say that he didn’t do some Christain proclamation during that time, just that he wasn’t leading a community. We have to remember that Barnabas had to fetch him from Tarsus to Antioch before Paul started teaching a Christian community, and was there for some time before going out on the large missionary journeys. So if we appeal to this time frame to explain inconsistencies, I think we have a lot more explanation to do. Also, I think that the argument that Paul wasn’t writing ‘theology’ falls flat. We’re having to define theology in an extremely narrow way in order to say that. Essentially, we’re all writing theology in these posts. It may not be systematic, but it doesn’t make it non-theological. Such a line of thinking seems to be privileging the mode Christian thought from Aquinas to today, rather than the prophets, apostles, and their early Church interpreters.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend. I’m sure we’ll discuss more. Grace in Christ.

j’bug Says:
September 20th, 2008 at 1:08 pm
In response to Zack’s comment. I did imply that Paul’s writing is inconsistent. But the requirement for consistency in a systematic way is a modern development, from, as you say Aquinas. I am not saying that Paul is inconsistent, but rather, I don’t think this is his major concern. He does not tie an Aristotelian bow at the completion of each argument. I take it that most charges of inconsistency that have textual evidence is a problem of interpretation/translation, and usage. It is a problem of ideology not internal coherence. I wish to deflect the concern with consistency toward the movement of the text in our lives, toward the practice of Christianity. As Jesus said, “If you do these things, you will know whether they are from God or not.”

For Ryan: The inconsistency problem between the Calvinists and Arminians as placed on a grid of biblical interpretation would make it seem as if there were inconsistency in Paul’s writings. But both positions are ideological reactions to their cultures and the text itself. Neither view plays out well in our age. We know more and differently than they do. There are deterministic features and natural liberties implied in scripture and science.

My point in raising this specter is that ancient texts, including the scriptures require interpretation and that the intentions of the writers, though not entirely obscured are nonetheless for us extrapolations of the text itself. We have no relation with these people, though we have relations with God and with our contemporaries.

Thanks again folks.

Tyler Bream Says:
September 22nd, 2008 at 4:15 pm
To begin: Zach, you are obviously a brilliant thinker. I truly respect you and enjoy debating with you, you obviously know what you are talking about and can support your conclusions. My frequent and (apparently) vocal disagreement with you does not come out of any disrespect I want you to know that right away.
Several points.
1. Paul never set out to write a comprehensive theology. In effect while Paul was on the mission field Paul essentially had to make it up. Paul?s theological statements (as we have them in his epistles) came as a result of the problems and issues he was facing.

2. Paul had no documents for help in developing his theology. I understand Paul studied with Peter and James, however, to the best of our knowledge they had not “formal” rabbinic training. They had spent years with Jesus and learned from him but Paul was the only disciple we know who had the extensive rabbinic training in use in the ancient Jewish world.
3. Paul’s eschatology clearly develops from the beginning of his ministry to the end. At the beginning his his ministry Paul preached under an imminent return of Christ
1. Paul believed that he was going to be alive to see the return of Christ. The argument can be made that this was a generic ?we? and that Paul was simply including himself in the host of Christians I ask then anyone of a differing opinion to give me a specific example to the contrary that is in itself not debatable.
A. 1 Thess. 4:15: or this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
B. 1 Cor. 15:51-52 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
2. Near the end of Paul?s ministry he now seems to realize that he will not live to see the second coming.
A. 2 Cor 5:1-5 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
B. Phil 1:20-23 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and (I)be with Christ, for that is very much better.
His Life experiences seem to have informed his theology. Some sort of development? I think so.

Zach: Just because Paul claimed apostolic authority does not mean he wrote to all people for all generations. If he had any idea that his letters were going to last into the ages would he not have attempted to write a little less specifically about theological matters? Or possibly not addressed so many specific people in his letters? To your point about early Christians accepting Paul?s letters as Scripture, second peter is usually dated after Paul would have died, so we have no idea if anything Paul wrote was every given the weight we give it while he was still living. Given the gradual process anything in the NT was canonized at, the Pauline view of scripture would have taken many years to develop into any sort of a notable belief.

Blessings all, Zach, I look forward to your disagreement.

j’bug Says:
September 23rd, 2008 at 8:23 am
Tyler, Paul certainly had no NT documents at his disposal, however, until the gospels emerge and the other writings, there are no NT documents for anyone. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a shared compendium of documents pertaining to the scripture.

I like your reflection on the development issue. It reminded me of the development of the AG and the wider Pentecostal revival around the turn of the twentieth century concerning the Second Coming. We don’t talk or think much in those terms today. I’m not sure this marks a development in theology, but rather an acceptance of the need for patient labor. The Quakers had a similar transition in emphasis in the eighteenth century concerning the second coming. Then again, depending on what is included in the term “Theology” it may signal a development.

One thing that has changed our way of thinking about God is science. I think that Paul’s contact with the Gentiles had a similar effect. However, that effect is embedded in all his work and may not tell us of internal changes.

It is interesting to observe the movement in Paul’s thinking, but I’m not sure this development marks a theological change more than a circumstantial one. I welcome your comments. Thanks.

Zachary Guiliano Says:
September 24th, 2008 at 10:59 pm
For what are, perhaps, obvious reasons, I will be responding mostly to Tyler in this post. I apologize for not checking the blog sooner (i.e. before 10:15pm tonight), otherwise I would have been able to help further the discussion in a more timely manner. For the most part, the following points are a response to and should correspond with your own numbering. However, they may take the form of agreement or disagreement (or both).

1. I never argued that Paul presents us with a comprehensive theology. Furthermore, I attempted to point out in my previous post that this does not mean he is failing to write theology and that requiring theological writing to be systematic in such a narrow sense in order to ‘make the grade’ would privilege the past 800 years of Christian thought over the previous 1200. Yes, the nature of Paul’s writing means that he is not setting out to give us the Pauline take on every subject under the sun. Yet it also means that when we read the subjects which he does cover, we ought to assume that he is giving what he considers a full or at least adequate take on the topic at hand.
Also, while I think that you might be able to argue that some of Paul’s theological statements came directly from his interaction with issues he faced in the church, the majority of his deeper convictions did not. For example, did his precise convictions regarding Gentiles and Torah develop during interactions with churches? Certainly. But the only reason he would even be considering such an issue was because he believed that God had set him apart to proclaim Jesus among the nations. Even in this case, we have to ask whether he developed the answer to the question before or after setting out to proclaim the good news. And we are likely to conclude that we cannot know the answer to that question.

2. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where your point is aiming, so if my response has nothing to do with what you were trying to get across, just ignore it. Yes, Paul didn’t have ‘Christian’ documents to help him as the NT docs were not even close to their first drafting. Yet this concept discounts the importance of oral tradition in passing down information in the early church. I think, once again, this type of argument ends up privileging one item over another; in this case, the written word over the spoken word. He wouldn’t have needed documents to develop theology if he was developing theology with, say, Barnabas, who was close to the Twelve, who were close to Jesus.

3. I think your case for development is somewhat overstated. As you acknowledge, a number of these we’s are entirely generic. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that any one of us could make these statements today. Yet this does not imply that we are certain Jesus will return before our deaths. It just means we include ourselves in the possibility of remaining until that time.

A. 1 Thess. 4:15: You can challenge me on this, but in Greek, it is an emphatic ‘we’ defined literally as ‘the remaining around living ones.’ Not ‘we, that is, everyone in this room who will, of course, be certainly remaining until the coming of the Lord.’ But, let’s take your argument to its natural conclusion. If this is a confident we, definitely including Paul, are you going to assert that he believes every person in his audience will remain until that time as well? Since the Lord is returning so soon? Since he is addressing the issue of people in the congregation who are dying, and it is the Thessalonians who thought that Jesus ought to have returned by now, not necessarily Paul, I think that this passage isn’t much help for your case.

B. 1 Cor. 15:51-52

Paul’s point here has little to do with the imminence of Jesus’ coming. Rather he is addressing the idea of resurrection and transformed embodiment. He points out that it is not the case that some will be around when Jesus returns and stay the same. Instead, all, the dead and the living at that time, will be transformed into something new, something glorious and immortal. To repeat what I said on the previous passage as well, your case otherwise has to be that Paul’s language implies Paul believes his entire audience will remain to the parousia. If he believed this, it seems to me he would not have to address the topic of those who live and those who die.

2. You say, “Near the end of Paul’s ministry he now seems to realize that he will not live to see the second coming.”
A. 2 Cor 5:1-5
Quick point here. 2 Corinthians was on no one’s account written near the end of Paul’s ministry. Also, if this is an example of Paul’s shifting ideas as his theology develops you fail to account for Romans, which is generally held to be written later than 2 Corinthians. In Romans, Paul is still able to say that ‘our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.’ (Rom. 13:11-12) This seems to express as robust a hope in imminence as any other passage, though it is after Paul purportedly gave up on such things. Maybe his theology fits on more of an expanding and collapsing model, than a steady-state or big bang model?
This passage also seems to be Paul expressing his hope in a resurrection body. He is not expressing the time in which he will receive it, nor is he declaring that he will have it by going to heaven in a few days. He does describe its origin and nature, though. One is earthly, one is heavenly. In describing it as ‘in the heavens,’ he is not describing the place of reception, but the place of building. Wright puts it this way: if I say that I have some drinks in the refrigerator for my guest, I do not suggest that he must climb inside to enjoy them. I simply describe their locale, or origin. In describing it as ‘unseen,’ he contrasts it with present experience. Nor does he wish to be a naked spirit, rather he desires more clothing, a better body.

B. Phil 1:20-23

If you argue that later sufferings in his life are what made him change his mind, then you ignore the witness of Acts that he started experiencing persecution nearly to death long before he had founded enough churches to write letters to, let alone the letters we possess. If you want to say that Acts is unhistorical, feel free. It’s a popular position to take. Yet Paul’s life and apostleship were characterized by sharing in the sufferings of the Messiah, so you have to believe that Paul proclaimed an extremely imminent return yet at some point he just got really tired and beat up and decided he’d been wrong about all that junk about an imminent return. I just don’t buy it. I think it’s the explanation of an older, more liberal generation of biblical scholars who wanted to prove Paul’s inconsistency more than let the text speak. I’m not identifying you with that group, I’m just pointing out that a lot of standard works we have to read at Evangel and most of those books Evangel’s rather small theological collection take that position. I think that if we look at Paul’s statements, we can recognize the consistency rather easily. I don’t think he had a clue when Jesus would return. I think he had an idea of some things that would have to happen first, but I think he was as uncertain as the rest of us, yet could include the hope that he would remain until that day.

I’ll repeat what was tacked on accidentally to that previous post. I think you break away from an approach that would sensitively deal with the letters. While you say that Paul is not giving a comprehensive treatment of topics in his letters, you are interpreting these passages as if they are everything Paul had to say on the topic at a given time, and then positing development.

I don’t doubt that Paul’s life experiences informed his theology. After all, seeing the risen Christ was a life experience (a theological one?). I’m just not sure that I agree with your particular statements here.

I never said that Paul imagined he was writing to everyone for all generations. I did say that he would clearly think the message of the good news had lasting significance, though. Otherwise he could not believe that his preaching the ultimate mystery of God’s plan would lead to glory for Christ into the ages of ages (I’m borrowing the language of Ephesian there, if you want to count that as one of the disputed Paulines, go ahead). Once again, I’ll repeat a statement from an earlier post. Some things in Paul clearly carry no currency in 21st century America. We really have no issue with women being immodest by not wearing veils. Yet is immodesty not a problem in our sex-driven culture? We have no problem with eating food sacrificed to idols, never an issue here. Yet we obtain a lot of our food through practices which are inhumane to animals, inconsiderate of harm to the earth, and result in others going hungry. Might Paul have something to say today about Fair Trade or Co-ops or producing our own food so we don’t compromise with the world by oppressing people? I think so. I think you’re dealing in generalizations when you say that he wrote too specifically about issues. I’ll concede that it makes the work of interpretation more difficult, but not impossible.

I realize that 2nd Peter would likely have been written after Paul’s death. My argument does not hinge on Paul being alive for the early church to have considered his writing Scripture. My point is what the church eventually considered them. As to the other question, it is clear the certain Pauline churches did accept Paul’s authority. I don’t think we ought to look at the authority problems in Corinth as paradigmatic for all Pauline mission churches. I understand I also may be operating out of a greater acceptance of the decisions of the later church on some issues, but I don’t think that has compromised my argument.

Blessings all. On to the topic of Greek influence!

dream of a black hole
Monday, September 8th, 2008
Last night I witnessed the creation of a black hole near a hotel by the sea I was staying at. It was a bit of matter that was compressed into a black hole with a diameter of a few millimeters. It fell into the earth, collecting matter as it went to the core of the earth. Of course there is really nowhere to run from something like that, but I ran away from some local effects, such as terrible winds and waves, rain and the slow destruction of the hotel. I went farther and farther away finding people left behind. (Of course the scientific team that made this mistake was already evacuated from the earth.) Let me just say that it was bad, and I was still running when the dream was over.

Posted in My Muse | No Comments »

in response to a student
Monday, September 8th, 2008
A student I respect for the work she does said this about the old or young earth controversy in the Church.

“Personally, this is one of my contentions on Creation, God did it, ok. So it’s not the young vs. old that gets me, because there is evidence. It is the theories that can come out of it that bother me. I don’t believe God made a couple of mistakes and then got it right with us. I also think we can hold too much to science, that can be proved wrong. This coming from a science type geek.

I don’t take offense, I just don’t think it’s my place to argue either way, since I’m sticking to scripture and am willing to listen.”

My response:

I am sticking to scripture vigorously. I don’t think Genesis tells us how God did the creation thing, or that Genesis gives us a timeline, or that the Bible should be consulted for scientific information.

Yes, science gets it wrong sometimes, but in this case it has been moving toward a better explanation for over 200 years (and many christians have been on the cutting edge of this scientific enterprise) and has fairly zeroed in on a very plausible dating scheme. Absolutely correct? probably not, but the issue lands within a few hundred million years of the current mark, not billions of years allowing for the “scientific” creationist’s view.

I failed to mention, that even though, for an insider to Christianity it is of no consequence whether we think the earth is young or old, it certainly matters to an outsider.

If we care one shred what happens to the people outside the Church, if there is even one shred of evangelistic blood in our veins, we will consider more deeply what we think on this issue. The skeptic does not commit because she doesn’t want to make a mistake, but seeing within evangelical christianity this adherence to something worse than mythology certifies her opinion against Christianity. Why would she want to get saved if they cannot even get this simple thing right.

It is as if Christianity is still accepting the Genesis cosmology (with concentric spheres around a flat earth) instead of a heliocentric one with the vast universe our telescopes give us. Would you believe anybody telling you about salvation who believed such an obviously false view? No, of course you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t either. In fact, when the young earthers make claims about christianity, I totally ignore them, their way of life, their supposed claim to scriptural knowledge, etc. If they want to live in a box, fine. I would rather open my eyes and stand up in this complex world and let the truth emerge wherever it will. Is it possible that the young earthers may be correct about something? Yes. But I will take their word only conditional on further corroboration of their evidence from sources untainted by their cosmology. Is it possible that one of them speak the word of God to me? Certainly, but then I have the spirit to bear witness of that on the spot. But, then I would take the word of an atheist as well if God through the spirit confirmed it to me.

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