Saturday, May 18, 2013, 10:05 AM
According to Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 1.8.1), reading the Bible is like discerning a face among the fragments of a mosaic. Heretics read the Bible using sources other than Scripture and so the portrait they assemble is of a dog or fox. The orthodox arrive at a different arrangement:
The heretics’ “manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma.”
Friday, May 17, 2013, 1:51 PM
One of Paul’s arguments for the resurrection is baptism for the dead: “What will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). Paul is referring to Numbers 19, where those who are defiled by contact with dead bodies. They are sprinkled with a concoction of water and ashes to raise them from their ceremonial death. Paul sees an analogy between that rite and Christian baptism that cleanses from dead works.
If this is Paul’s argument, then it provides some insight to persistent debates concerning the mode of baptism. The rite of Numbers 19 involves sprinkling (vv. 13, 18, 20), and if Numbers 19 is a figure of Christian baptism, then we may be able to draw the inference that Christian baptism for the dead should also be in the mode of sprinkling.
Friday, May 17, 2013, 1:16 PM
Writing in The Nation, Melanie Mock summarizes the findings of Kathryn Joyce’s The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. Mock writes: “Many secular adoption agencies have been implicated in corruption in the last decade and more. Joyce focuses on those evangelical adoption ministries that have used coercion, aggressive marketing, outright lies and other forms of malfeasance to promote what they believe to be a biblical agenda of caring for widows and orphans. Many adopted children, Joyce reports, have one living parent, or other family who want to care for them; other birth families may have put them in orphanages not because they are orphans but because their families couldn’t afford to keep them at home. Her book’s essential argument is troubling, as well it should be: because the evangelical mythology of adoption posits that the happiest possible outcome for parentless children, both physically and metaphysically, is placing them in loving Christian homes, the seedier sides of adoption remain neatly hidden. In other words, because the motives for adoption are apparently good, some evangelicals demand that we overlook the ways marginalized women in developing countries are deprived of their children, for Christ’s sake.”
She continues: “some evangelicals, swept up in the adoption ministry movement, are less willing to hear: that living in a comfortable Christian home, with all the accoutrements of Western wealth and privilege, may not be the best outcome for vulnerable children. . . . Christians committed to justice and equity need to remember we are not entitled to other people’s children, no matter how poor or powerless those people might be; and many times the best possible place for a child to grow up is with his birth family, in his birth culture, even if that family—and culture—is poorer and less developed than ours.”
Friday, May 17, 2013, 6:28 AM
N.T. Wright regularly points out how Paul inserts Jesus into the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:6. “There is but one God, the Father,” he begins, and as a Jew there he would have ended. Instead, he adds, “and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Hear, O Israel, the God is one, and the Lord is one, and this one God and Lord is the Father and Jesus.
The verse also offers a neat bit of Trinitarian metaphysics. The Father is the origin of all things, the Creator (“from [ek] whom are all things”). Jesus too has a relation to all things, a relation of origination. But the relation of Jesus to the creation is not strictly origin (ek) but agency (“by [dia] whom are all things”). This not only describes God’s complex, double relation to creation (origin and agent) but also describes the Father’s relation to Jesus. Jesus is the Father’s agent in the formation of all things.
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 11:10 PM
In an essay challenging the widespread notion that Tyconius was a millennialist, Paula Fredriksen notes the connections between eschatology and politics in the early church:
“Diving the signs of the End in a period of Imperial persecution gave many of the early commentaries a decidedly political aspect. Irenaeus, for example. identifies the fourth beast of Daniel 7 and the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 with the ‘imperium quod nunc regnat’; the name of the second beast, encoded in the numbers 666, is LATIUS. For Tertullian and for Victorinus of Pettau, Rome was the apocalyptic Babylon; the Emperor, the Wicked One, the Mystery of Iniquity foretold in II Thess. 2, 7.”
Constantine changed all that: “In the post-Constantinian apocalyptic commentaries, we see an abrupt volte-face, an attempt to ease both the millenarianism and the political criticism of the older tradition.” Only among Donatists maintained the older mentality: “The Emperor, an ally of the traditor clergy, and the Empire, were still the enemy,” and the Donatists were still the true church, the church of the martyrs.
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 4:19 PM
According to Pamela Bright (The Book of Rules of Tyconius: Its Purpose and Inner Logic), the late fourth century was the “Age of Exiles” in the Western church. The Council of Milan (355), convene to deal with the question of Athanasius’s orthodoxy, ended with the exile of the Nicene party, including Hilary of Poitiers, Dionysius of Milan, Eusebius of Vercelli, and Luciver of Cagliari. The Arian George of Cappadocia took the see of Alexandria, and Athanasius was sent off for his third exile. It was the first real wrestling that the Western church had had with Arian theology.
The Western exiles went East, and they made the most of their exile: “Hilary and Eusebius plunged into the study of the Eastern writers. Eusebius translated the Commentary on the Psalms of Eusebius of Caesarea, while Hilary read the works of Origen [which he probably already knew to some degree], studies Arianism at close quarters, and produced his great work On the Trinity.” As a result of the exile and the “cross-fertilization of Greek and Latin thought,” Western intellectual life was “transformed.” By the 370s, Ambrose was in Milan, and “Jerome and Rufinus were embarking on their first works of Latin translations of the Greek Fathers.”
Not least it was transformed in hermeneutics. Bright’s intention in sketching this history is to find sources for the hermeneutical system of Tyconius. Hilary was the first Latin writer to write a commentary on a gospel, and Tyconius was the first to write a commentary in Africa (on the Apocalypse). The “spiritualizing” tendencies found in Ambrose and Tyconius, she suggests, are in part the product of this influence from Eastern Christianity. And that suggests the possibility that the Age of Exiles shaped Western theology in decisive ways: From the exiles through Ambrose and Tyconius to Augustine.
Not unlike the way some later Genevan exiles from Britain later remade English and Scottish Christianity.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 4:50 PM
Oecumenius (Greek Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), 75) turns to more recent history to interpret the seven mountains-heads-kings of the beast of Revelation 17. The seven kings are not in order; rather they refer to the seven persecuting emperors of Rome: Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Severus, Decius, Valerian, and finally Diocletian. Five have fallen, and one is, namely Valerian. The one who will rule for a short time is Diocletian who “instigated his persecution in the final two years and then forfeited imperial power.”
The hero of the sequence is Constantine: John “identifies this ‘other’ as Diocletian after whom the government seated in Rome ceased and was transferred to the city named for pious Constantine when Constantine moved the seat of government there.” As Andrew of Caesarea says of Oecumenius’ interpretation, he takes the kings and the harlot as representations of “old Rome” that ended with Diocletian and became a new Rome with Constantine and Constantinople.
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
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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.”
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