Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 4:42 PM
The wounded and healed head of the beast (Revelation 13:1-3) represents, according to Oecumenius (Greek Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), 58-9), “the death-bearing wound that the devil received on one of its heads . . . because of the reverent worship of Israel.” Yet this wound was not a death-wound because of Israel’s “subsequent idolatry.”
The worship of the beast by all people also refers, Oecumenius thinks, to ancient history, not to the history of the church. All whose names were not written in the book of life worship the beast, but some names are written: “there were a few persons from both the Gentiles and from Israel who kept themselves pure from this cult, such as Job and his four friends, and Melchizedek, and from Israel the holy prophets and they who gave a pious witness in the Old Testament.”
This is consistent with the backward-looking emphasis of his entire commentary. He takes, for instance, the allegory of Revelation 12 as a straightforward recap of the birth story of Jesus. The woman is Mary, the wilderness is Egypt, and the scene of the woman in flight is just a vivid retelling of Matthew 2.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:59 AM
What ought we say about the gospel and Hellenism? Many things, but this seems like a fruitful line of inquiry:
The gospel is the fulfillment of Israel’s hope. The gospel therefore is known only by its similarity to and difference from the history and faith of the Jews.
The gospel then enters the Greco-Roman world, and it is good news to the Greeks too. And in that setting it is known only by its similarity to and difference from the history and faith of the Greeks.
In this respect, antiquity, Jewish and Gentile, including but not confined to Hellenism, is integral to the meaning of the gospel.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 7:31 AM
Psalm 78 is a wisdom Psalm about Ephraim turning into his brother, Manasseh.
Ephraim’s failure to come to Jephthah’s aid (Judges 12:1-6) initiates the Psalm’s review of Israel’s stubbornness and rebellion (Psalm 78:8-10). Ephraim refused to take up arms (v. 9), a sign that Ephraim had forgotten the Exodus (v. 11). The exodus should have inspired Ephraim to fight. After a long series of rebellions, Yahweh rejects Ephraim (v. 67) and instead chooses a king from the tribe of Judah (vv. 68-71). Within the Psalm, the review of the events of the exodus and wilderness wandering is framed by references to Ephraim’s forgetfulness, Ephraim’s tendency to become Manasseh, whose name means forgetfulness (cf. Genesis 41:51).
The Psalm also assumes that Ephraim should have remembered and taken courage from events that had happened hundreds of years before. In short, the Psalm assumes a generational continuity. The condemnation of Ephraim makes no sense unless Ephraim is the same people that had been saved long before in the exodus. The wisdom of this maskil is that what God did in the past for ancestors, He can and will do again for His people who trust in Him.
The church has the same sort of inter-generational continuity: Promises given to past generations apply to present generations. Victories won in the fourth century should inspire faithfulness in the 21st, because the church is one and catholic in time as in space.
And the sign of this inter-generationality is baptism.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 5:37 AM
I have a meditation on the “little apocalypse” of Isaiah 24 at the Trinity House web site today.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 9:37 PM
In his commentary on Revelation (in Greek Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), Oecumenius interprets the millennium as the period between Christ’s incarnation and His ascension. During “the time of the incarnation of the Lord, the devil was bound and was not able to resist the marks of the Savior’s deity” (87). He is probably the only commentator ever to offer such an interpretation.
On the other hand, the “little while” during which Satan is released is “the time between the incarnation of the Lord and the consummation of the present age.”
So a big number represents three years, and the phrase “a little while” stands for thousands? Oecumenius has what you call an uphill battle to make that one convincing.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 9:22 PM
In Love and Responsibility, John Paul II pointed to the impossible possibility of betrothed love. On the one hand, “no person can be transferred or ceded to another. In the natural order, it is oriented towards self-perfection, towards the attainment of an ever greater fullness of existence – which is, of course, always the existence of some concrete ‘I.’”
On the other hand, love is inherently self-gift, and thus it involves “making one’s inalienable and non-transferable ‘I’ someone else’s property.”
The “double paradox” of betrothed love is first that “it is possible to step outside one’s own ‘I’ in this way” and, more profoundly, that “the ‘I’ far from being destroyed or impaired as a result is enlarged and enriched.”
The “world of persons” has its own laws.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 2:35 PM
Gregory Beale notes in The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God that the verb used in Genesis 2:15 for “put” is not the expected sim, but the rather rarer yanach, which bears some relation to the verb nacham, which describes the rest which Noah brought to the world (Genesis 5:29).
It’s a truism that Noah is a new Adam, but it also seems that Adam was the first Noah. Adam, the first man, is at rest from the outset. He begins in rest, only to lose it, so that it could be recovered by Noah, the new Adam.
Sunday, May 12, 2013, 6:34 PM
Mark Mazetti’s The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth explains that Obama’s expansion of drone war is linked with his opposition to black sites and Bushian enhanced interrogation. The TNR reviewer writes:
“To John Rizzo, the carryover general counsel at the CIA, the new administration chose targeted killing because that was ‘all that was left’ once it eliminated the interrogation option. Mazzetti puts the point in political terms. The’political conditions were set for an escalation of the secret wars,’ he maintains, because interrogation and detention were so controversial, and because no prominent Democrat had opposed drone strikes and the Republicans wouldn’t oppose Obama ‘for fighting too aggressive a campaign against terrorists.’ And so Barack Obama greatly expanded the secret war that George W. Bush began.”
Sunday, May 12, 2013, 6:22 PM
In a review of several recent works on Hegel, Robert Pippin suggests that “the greatest Hegelian promise is a way of understanding what have seemed intractable dualisms and antinomies in modern thought and in modern life, while still doing justice to the claims of both sides of the dualism: claims we find difficult to reject and impossible to reconcile. Much of Hegel’s idealism, and his emphasis on his ‘logic,’ could be summarized as the claim that we seem stuck with such dualisms because of the way we think about them. If we could figure out how to think them through properly, the tension in the dualisms could be alleviated and a ‘reconciled’ position would be possible. Second, Hegel promises to help us think about a feature of modern self-understanding that seems impossible to reject, but also seems to lead to unacceptable implications: our awareness that we are profoundly historical beings.” In a broader sense, he aimed to reconcile the tension “between nature on the one hand, and humanmindedness in thought and action on the other (what he called Geist: spirit).”
He also points to the links between Hegel’s theory of action and his teleological understanding of meaning and being: “Hegel has an ‘expressivist’ theory of action: one wherein motivations and intentions are understood as expressed in, or realized by, bodily movements, rather than being the causes of those movements. This means that for Hegel, the content of the action and the proper determination of intention are only accessible interpretively after the fact.”
Sunday, May 12, 2013, 5:54 PM
In his TNR review of Jonathan Sperber’s widely reviewed Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, Peter Gordon includes some illuminating contemporary portraits, and self-portraits, of Marx’s life and thought.
After first reading Hegel, he wrote this ecstatic account to his father: “A curtain had fallen. . . . [I] ran like mad in the garden on the filthy water of the Spree … ran to Berlin and wanted to embrace every day laborer standing on street corners.”
His father responded by describing his son’s hopeless devotion to useless theorizing: Karl had given himself to “disorderliness, dull floating around in all areas of knowledge, dull meditation in front of a darkling oil lamp; running wild in the scholars’ night-gown and with uncombed hair. . . . And here, in this workshop of senseless and purposeless learnedness, this is where the crop will ripen, that will nourish you and your beloved, the harvest will be gathered that will serve to fulfill your sacred obligations?”
A Prussian spy wrote in 1852 about the Marx’s living condition: “As father and husband, Marx, in spite of his wild and restless character, is the gentlest and mildest of men. Marx lives in one of the worst, therefore one of the cheapest, quarters of London. He occupies two rooms…. In the middle of the salon there is a large old-fashioned table covered with an oilcloth, and on it there lie manuscripts, books and newspapers, as well as the children’s toys, the rags and tatters of his wife’s sewing basket, several cups with broken rims, knives, forks, lamps, an inkpot, tumblers, Dutch clay pipes, tobacco ash—in a word, everything topsy-turvy, and all on the same table…. Here is a chair with only three legs, on another chair the children are playing at cooking—this chair happens to have four legs. This is the one which is offered to the visitor but the children’s cooking has not been wiped away; and if you sit down, you risk a pair of trousers.”
Sunday, May 12, 2013, 5:30 PM
I offer a critique of anti-supercessionism at the Trinity House site.
Friday, May 10, 2013, 4:04 AM
The story of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus is recounted several times in Acts: First when the event happens (ch. 9), and then twice retold by Paul, once before Jews and once before Agrippa and Festus (chs. 22, 26).
In the final retelling, Paul quotes Jesus’ words: “I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you” (26:16). What do these categories of witness refer to? “What you have seen” refers specifically to the appearance of Jesus near Damascus, which constitutes proof that Jesus was risen from the dead.
But in addition to this dramatic appearance, Jesus promises to appear to Paul in the future. When did that happen? Verse 17 explains: “delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you.” Every escape from Jewish or Gentile enemies was another appearance of Jesus, and became another saving event to which Paul was a witness.
Paul then had to suffer persecution in order to have something to preach about. He had to be afflicted so he could be a “minister and a witness” to Jesus’ repeated advents, so he could testify that God had fulfilled the promise to the fathers that we, being delivered from fear of our enemies, might serve him without fear. Like David, if he were not attacked, he wouldn’t have anything to sing about.
Friday, May 10, 2013, 3:37 AM
I argue that cultural conservatives can’t address the crisis in the family without being willing to pose uncomfortable questions about our economic, political, and technological way of life at firstthings.com this morning.
Thursday, May 9, 2013, 5:44 PM
Apringius (Latin Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), 43) follows a common tradition in interpreting the scroll in Revelation 5 as the Old Testament, once sealed and concealed and now revealed by the Lamb. On this interpretation, the seals of the book represent moments in the life of Jesus: ”The seven seals are these: First, incarnation; second, birth; third, passion; fourth, death; fifth, resurrection; sixth, glory; seventh, kingdom. These seals, therefore, are Christ.”
As William Weinrich explains in his translator’s introduction, this interpretation reflected rites in the Mozarabic liturgy: “Upon recital of the Nicene Creed the priest took the largest host which is consecrated and broke it into two pieces. From one piece he further broke the host into five pieces and from the other part into four, arranging them on the paten in the form of a cross.” Each piece corresponded to a moment in the life of Jesus,and the rite was intended “to teach the faithful concerning the mystery of the Faith in which they participated when partaking of the Supper of the Risen Christ” (xxxi).
Thursday, May 9, 2013, 5:37 PM
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Apringius Latin Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), 25-6) offers a fascinating numerological interpretation of Jesus’ declaration that He is Alpha and Omega. The numerical value of Omega is 800, and so is the Greek word peristera, “dove.” Alpha adds a 1 to this, and thus Jesus’ self-description indicates “the deity of the Holy Spirit [dove] in the unity of the Trinity.”
The shape of the Greek Omega and the Latin “o” also bear theological weight: “In Greek, the Omega is written with three curved marks that lie along the bottom and in part are raised. In the Latin, the letter is closed in the roundness of a circle. Now, both in this enclosure of the circle and in that raising of what lies at the bottom, that divinity is declared that contains and protects all things.”
Their position in the alphabet is also significant: Omega comes at the end of the Greek alphabet, “O” in the middle of the Latin, and these together indicate that Jesus, identified with Alpha and Omega, is “himself the beginning and the end and the middle of wisdom.”
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