#Marginalia Weekly Round-Up #5 [3/24-30/14]


Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.

Genesis

History, Theology, & Wrestling with God | Genesis 32.24-32

When morning came, it was Leah | Genesis 33.10

How Christians can read Old Testament horror  | Genesis 34.25-31

Exodus

God’s Sovereignty, Moses’ Will | Exodus 3.4

Our infinitely compassionate (and delegating) God | Exodus 3.7-8

The Proof that God’s Right? When He Is.  | Exodus 3.11-12

Who God is When We’ve Forgotten Who He is | Exodus 3.13-15

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Where on Earth is Jesus’ Bethlehem? | Luke 2.1-5

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In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2.1-5

Recent archaeological evidence suggests that this Bethlehem is not the traditional site, but “Bethlehem of the Galilee” (which would make sense). The traditional site is 150km from Jerusalem, whereas this other, newer proposed site is only 7km. A lot easier for Mary. Although some dispute this, pointing out that Justin Martyr in the 2nd-century identified the traditional site as the correct site. Who knows?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

What the heck is Preaching, even?


peter-preaching-statueFor my preaching class, we’ve been trying to get at what this weird thing called “preaching” really is. It’s not a lecture, it’s a not a conversation, it’s not a debate. So what is it? Here are some of my random thinking on this. But I’d love to hear yours.

As much as I want something far more profound and original, I have not been able to find anything simpler and clearer than Alan of Lille‘s definition: “Preaching is an open and public instruction in faith and behavior, whose purpose is the forming of men [sic].”

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Buechner: Fiction as Self-Revelation [QUOTE]

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If writers write not just with paper and ink or a word processor but with their own life’s blood, then I think something like [our own words being just as much to us as from us] is perhaps always the case. A book you write out of the depths of who you are, like a dream you dream out of those same depths, is entirely your own creation. All the words your characters speak are words that you alone have put into their mouths, just as every situation they become involved in is one that you alone have concocted for them. But it seems to me nonetheless that a book you write, like a dream you dream, can have more healing and truth and wisdom in it at least for yourself than you feel in any way responsible for.

–Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Let’s just finish Esther already (On Purim & History) | Esther 9 & 10


Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur—that is “the lot”—to crush and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that the wicked plot that he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.
Esther 9.24-28

Historically, I wonder: Is this it? Is this the reason for this story? As I said before, it genuinely doesn’t look like this story is historical, so it must have served some other purpose in the community. I wonder if the Jews were coming back from exile and had this random festival named after the plural of “lots”, and so they needed to write a story about how it came about. But if so, how do you go from the word “lots” to all of this story? Quite the stretch. So…what’s the historical core? This one’s tough.

King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. All the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.

Esther 10

So… Mordechai is the hero here? I guess it could make sense, but he plays such a bit part in the story. He’s consequential, sure; he’s just not around that much, is all. This seems more like the mythologizing of a popular leader in the Jewish diaspora.

And lastly, one last “Christian” reading of this story. If we can analogize this a little, Mordechai “intercedes” for God’s people, for their good and for their descendants. And they’re enemies (like death and sin for us) are comprehensively and almost over-the-top-ly destroyed. And God is faithful to accomplish all of this, even when he seems absent. With this book, that’s the best I can do. I genuinely don’t like this story.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Matthew & Judas’ Repentance?! | Matthew 27.20-23

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When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.
Matthew 27.3-5

I can’t figure out what Matthew’s characterization of Judas is. He did all the things that a true disciple would in light of his sin. He repents, confesses, and tries to make right. Maybe this is meant to contrast Judas and Peter, perhaps? Both reject Jesus, both face conviction for their actions. Judas, though, runs away from God in shame, but Peter runs to Jesus. Conspicuously, though, there’s no “restoration” passage for Peter here like there is in John.

And yet, this word “repent” is still used here! I should check this another time, unless anyone out there knows: is that term “repent” ever used in a negative sense in the book of Matthew? What is repentance to Matthew?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

A Random Romans Miscellany | vignettes from Romans 2


There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
Romans 2.9-11

Okay, this is a little funny, right? “God shows no partiality…to the Jews first, and then to the Gentile”. Haha.

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
Romans 2.12

Regarding the New Perspective on Paul. See, here: “The law” is an ethnic marker, not a bunch of stuff to do. (Otherwise, how might someone be “apart from the law”?)

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Romans 2.14-16

What the Hell? (Literally.) This definitely seems to talk about an almost salvific dimension to some people’s natural consciences, as if they’re consciences will ultimately judge them. I don’t know how you can pull anything differently from a plain reading of this.

Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Romans 2.25-26

Sorry to stop and point this out every time see something like this, but again, here’s another thing in line with some of the basic ideas of the New Perspective on Paul. But here: Circumcision (ethnic markers, not legalism) = Law

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Random Thoughts on Preaching: The Trinity


pulpit-church-hdr-bible

First: Our worship is a participation, mediated by the Spirit, in Christ’s Communion with the Father.

In this Trinitarian picture of worship, where does preaching fit in? Well, there is an eternal “conversation” happening among all the members of the Trinity. The divine words of Creation are presented as an “overflow” of this divine conversation. So to me, preaching is a Spirit-”infused” (and humanly articulated) mediation of the words between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Because the Spirit enables our union with Jesus, and because Jesus is joined to the Father, we find ourselves mystically and intimately in union with the whole Trinitarian God Himself. And so, preaching is–in a sense and at its best–an articulation and “listening in” on this eternal “trialogue” within the Godhead.

The world having been created through and for the Son means that the Father’s words to the Son are now his words to and for us. And this Word that is spoken to the Son by the Father is the Gospel. When it is offered to humans, this eternal, mysterious articulation of the Gospel in the Godhead is always mediated and contextualized in order to be received and perceived by the hearer. This is why the Bible is the way it is.
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When & How to Criticize Other People’s Pastors | 1 Corinthians 4.2-5

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Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
1 Corinthians 4.2-5

What does this mean? At least right now, my instinct is to take it like this: outside of clear sin issues, we should not divide and judge other Church leaders (nor effusively favor them). If you can’t find clear sin issues in their lives, churches, or teaching, then don’t demean their doctrine, style, gifting, or missional emphases. In the same way, though, even if there are no clear sin issues going on, don’t exalt them because of their doctrine, style, gifting, or Missional emphasis.

If a church doesn’t fit for you, fine. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. But don’t bad-mouth, criticize, gossip, complain, or be overly-sensitive and judgmental at them. To both conservatives and liberals, neither of us should criticize other members of the family, no matter how kooky they are–not even for what we feel is “bad” teaching. “Sinful” teaching, however is another issue. Clear historical heresy, teaching that abuses and harms the dignity of humanity, and things like prosperity preaching are examples of things that should be judged harshly and criticized.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

History, Theology, & Wrestling with God | Genesis 32.24-32

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Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
Genesis 32:24-32

Some Historical thoughts: Where the heck did this story come from?  It’s certainly looks like a later insertion into the story (it has no connection whatsoever to the surrounding verses and is never mentioned again in the OT), but where did it come from? That last verse implies it may be simply to explain the dietary habits of Israelites that arose in some other way. But really, why appeal to such an odd, powerful, and incredibly profound story for such a simple message.

Some Theological thoughts: Holy crap, what a concentrated text of such meaning. Jacob “wrestles” with God, and it’s in the midst of his greatest stress and travail. It testifies to us how our greatest struggles in life are often wrestlings with God himself. We get a new name, we bear life-long scars, and it affects our ancestors for years to come. But we are blessed, and we know God all the more deeply. May we wrestle with God.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

I’m terrified of becoming a Pastor


paul-art-wingThis seminary semester, I’m taking classes on both Preaching and the Emotional/Spiritual/Psychological Identity of Pastors. So yeah, get used to seeing more posts like this on the blog. This week, in my “Pastor class” we did readings and had a lecture on “vocational hazards” and discerning one’s “call” to ministry. We were asked about what challenges and encourages us most about this possibility of being “called” to serve the Church in pastoring. Here were my thoughts. 

The biggest fear going into this course–and reinforced in the lecture–is the whole question of whether it is my “False Self” that is called, rather than my True Self. I have spent much of my life following Spurgeon’s (I think) advice that if you feel called to ministry at all, try to do everything else in your life you possibly could do. If you still end up in ministry, then congratulations, you were called.

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For the times you want to be strong, but aren’t | 1 Corinthians 1.27-31


But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1.27-31

Oh how encouraging this is in those moments that I feel most inadequate intellectually and spiritually.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Paul: Diverse Theology, Singular Mission | 1 Corinthians 1.10-11

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Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
1 Corinthians 1.10-11

Notice here that Paul does not say they need to be one in doctrine or theology. Rather, he says mind and purpose. They should have the same goals for the church. They should have the same sense of mission. They should all be moving in the same direction.

They should also be of one mind. This can mean lots of things, but the sense that I get is that it’s closely related to the purpose. They are singularly focused on what is essential and have proper weight and proper priority given to the proper things. Looking at the different allegiances that Paul goes on to criticize within the Church, there does seem to be a lot of doctrinal and theological diversity in this church. Paul, in a sense, seems overjoyed about this. He has a problem, rather, with their disjointed sense of purpose and mission. So, doctrinal diversity is good. Loss of mission is bad.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

#Marginalia Weekly Round-Up #4 [3/17-23/14]


Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.

Genesis

Responding to the Covenant | Genesis 17:10

God & Sarah: one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible | Genesis 21.1

The Echoes of History &  Abraham| Genesis 24.22-23

And the story moves from Abraham to Isaac… | selections from Genesis 26

God’s Camp is Our Camp | Genesis 32:1

Wrestling with God: History & Theology | Genesis 32.24-32

Responding to the Covenant | Genesis 35.9-13

Exodus

Moses the Levite? | Exodus 2:12

Moses the Shepherd | Exodus 3.1

A quick note on why everything you think about angels might be wrong | Exodus 3.2

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Luke on the New Perspective on Paul | Acts 15:1,8-11

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Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”…
Acts 28.23-31

This is a great summary of the argument for the New Perspective on Paul. The key is the line about Moses. It’s not about works righteousness, but ethnic identity.

And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Acts 15:8-11

Another quick NPP note. Notice here that Peter is not contrasting salvation by yoke versus salvation by grace, but that grace will also save them just as the Jews believed it saved them.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.