liebsterDan Gullotta nominated me for a Liebster Award. I thank him kindly for this honor, and I am thrilled there is someone out there reading this blog who is not a Brazilian spammer trying to get me to buy Uggs. I am also happy to be on a list with Jim West that is not on a Post Office wall. Since these awards are the blogging equivalent of a chain letter, I better pass it on lest I be plagued with more plagues than usual.

“The Rules” according to the Wording Well, in order to accept the nomination you must follow these following guidelines:

  • Post the award on your blog.
  • Thank the blogger who presented this award and link back to his/her blog.
  • Write 5 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5 bloggers (they should have less than 300 followers).
  • Answer 5 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 5 questions.

Questions from Dan:

  1. If you were trapped on an island for the rest of your life and only had one book to read and only one movie to watch, what would they be? I suppose I ought to take a book on Tropical Medicine and Castaway….How am I watching this movie if I am on a deserted Island?
  2. What do you think is the biggest issue facing the world today and why? Apathy, people care more about what famous people are wearing than crimes against humanity committed every day.
  3. If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why? I’d like to have coffee with Bob Dylan, after midnight in New Orleans.
  4. If you change something in your past, what would you alter? I should have started my PhD sooner.
  5. For pleasure only, what language would you love to be able to speak perfectly? Korean or Vietnmese, so I could know what they are saying about me.

I am also supposed to “write 5 random facts about yourself.”

  1. I had a letter published in Omni Magazine when I was 16 years old asking for a Philip K. Dick story.
  2. I met Phil Keaggy on an airplane once.
  3. I am often mistaken for V. Phillips Long. Often.
  4. I think Ron Swanson is an acceptable role-model.
  5. I plan my vacations around used book store locations.

Nominate 5 bloggers (they should have less than 300 followers).

  1. Mike Skinner at Cataclysmic
  2. Jennifer Guo at Jennifer Guo
  3. Vincent at Talmidimblogging
  4. Jeff Carter at That JeffCarter Was Here
  5. Claude Mariottini, at Dr. Claude Mariottini

Answer 5 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 5 questions.

  1. You can only listen to one CD/record for the rest of your life – what is it?
  2. What book most shaped the way you think today? (Bonus points for not saying Atlas Shrugged)
  3. What movie are you most embarrassed about liking?
  4. You get to meet with the Pope alone for five minutes – what do you say to him?
  5. Which Simpsons character is your favorite?

So there it is. Go read these blogs, they are all very good. Thanks, Dan!

Why does Jesus weep in John 11:35?  The crowd assumes that it is because his friend Lazarus died, it is an emotional reaction to death.  But most commentaries point out that the vocabulary used to describe Jesus’ emotions go beyond sorrow.  In fact, the verbs in verse 33 have the connotation of indignation and anger.

Barrett says that the view that Jesus was angry “beyond question” (John, 399). Beasley-Murray argues that the verb ἐμβριμάομαι  should be read as“became angry in spirit” (John, Second Edition, 192-3).  That Jesus is moved “in his spirit” is an indication that this is a deeply internal emotional reaction.

The second verb in John 11:33 is ταράσσω, a verb associated with deep turmoil and In the next chapter, Jesus will use the same word to describe his spirit prior to the passion events (John 12:27), in Matthew 14:26 it is used to describe the terror felt by the disciples when they saw Jesus walking on the water; Luke 24:38 has a similar use, describing the terror of the disciples when they encountered the resurrected Jesus.  In both cases, there may be a feeling of dread since a sinful person is encountering a divine being.

Whatever the combination of these terms means, it cannot be said that Jesus was shaken by the death of Lazarus (he has already predicted it) and we cannot say that he is expressing emotions similar to Mary and Martha, who are mourning for the dead.  Jesus knows that he will raise Lazarus from the dead, so his tears cannot be sorrow with respect to Lazarus’ death.

A slight variation of this view is Keener, who thought that Jesus was angry at the mourners’ unbelief (John, 846). Raymond Brown suggested that Jesus was angry at Satan and the domain of death itself, or possibly Jesus is angry “at death” in general (John, 203).

When Jesus does cry, it is not the same as Mary and Martha, or the other mourners.  They are “wailing” (κλαίω), while Jesus “weeps” (δακρύω).  The word is rare in the LXX, appearing only a few times (for example, Job 3:24, Job’s tears).  I am not sure that there is enough evidence to say that Jesus’ tears were more or less sorrowful based on vocabulary.  I suspect John simply varied the terms in order to avoid repetition.

Perhaps a better way of looking at Jesus’ frustrated emotional response here is to see it in the light of Mary and Martha’s lack of understanding in his clear statement that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and their apparent unbelief in his status as the giver of Life.   He has just told Mary and Martha that he is the resurrection and the life.  Rather than some distant eschatological resurrection, Jesus is about to demonstrate that power over life and death, but none of the disciples seem to understand this!

The power of the coming age is present in Jesus’ ministry.  But even Jesus’ closest disciples do not fully understand who he is until after the resurrection.

Jesus prays a “prayer of thanksgiving” before commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb. This prayer has been discussed with respect to the possibility of historicity – is it the type of prayer that Jesus might have prayed in this context?  Some scholars dispense with the historicity of the prayer as an addition by the writer of the Gospel.  For example, R. H. Fuller, (Interpreting the Miracles) wrote that:

To the modern reader this prayer is irritating, if not offensive. The whole thing looks like a put-up show, anything but genuine prayer. Jesus knows he need not pray, but apparently stages a prayer to impress the bystanders.

Rather than an “irritating prayer”, this is actually a Prayer of Thanksgiving as prayed by Jews commonly in the context of first century Palestine. Following J. M. Robinson, Bingham Hunter has demonstrated that there are formal parallels to a Jewish thanksgiving prayer. As a Jewish Hodayoth, the prayer is intended to be heard by the audience for which it is prayed. The cited article lists many examples (including in the Pauline and Qumran literature) indicating that this sort of prayer was not only common enough in the first century, but expected in a religious context such as the one Jesus finds himself in John 11.

Because of its form the prayer seems to be genetically related to and a part of a tradition of piety exemplified by the Jewish personal thanksgiving psalm. Thanksgivings of this sort are characteristically prayers that both God and spectators are meant to hear.

With respect to the scholars that find offense in the prayer, Hunter points that the offense is entirely modern. Read in the context of the first-century, the prayer is exactly the sort of thanksgiving prayer we might have expected.

Bibliography:  R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963); W. Bingham Hunter, “Contextual And Genre Implications For The  Historicity Of John 11:41b-42” JETS 28:1 (March 1985) 53-70.

John 10 begins with the closest thing to a parable we find in the Gospel of John. While parables are common in the other three Gospels, John does not record a single parable. In this passage, Jesus uses an extended metaphor drawn from the common experience of tending sheep. If the audience had not tended sheep themselves, they knew that these things were true from their experience.

Good_ShepherdJesus chose this metaphor intentionally since the image of a shepherd is used in the Old Testament frequently for the leaders of the nation. The are bad shepherds who are not leading the people “beside still waters” (Psa 23) The people are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). In contrast, Jesus leads the people into the wilderness and provides food for them (the feeding of the 5000), seeking out the lost sheep wherever they are (Luke 15:3-7) and ultimately laying Jesus will lay down his life down on behalf of his flock.

What is more, this image of a true shepherd is a messianic image found in the Old Testament. Moses led sheep for 40 years in the wilderness before God called him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, and the ideal King of Israel was David, who was first a shepherd before his was a king. Psalm 23 has messianic overtones (“The Lord is my shepherd”), but Ezekiel 37:24-28 is the most clear use of a shepherd metaphor for the coming Messiah, the true son of David and ideal shepherd who replaces the bad leaders who have led the people into danger but do nothing to save them.

The image of a God as a shepherd is found frequently in the Old Testament. God is described as a shepherd for his people (Gen 48:15, 49:24, Ps 23:1, 28:9, 77:20, 78:52, 80:1, Isa 40:11, Jer 31:10) and the people of Israel are regularly refer to as the sheep of God’s pasture (Ps 74:1, 78:52, 79:13, 95:7, 100:3, Ezek 34:31). It is possible that Jesus had Ezekiel 34 in mind, but the fact that the image of an ultimately good shepherd who will lead God’s people back to the land appears in Isaiah 40 and Jeremiah 31 as well. These are passages Jesus uses frequently in his teaching and would have been well-known to the listeners in the Temple.

By claiming to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus in intentionally declaring that he is the Messiah and therefore God’s son. But he will go beyond the expectation that the Messiah will be the ideal king, a new Moses and new David. Just as both those men could be called “a son of God,” Jesus also claims to be the ideal Son of God because he is in fact God.

There is a great deal of material which makes this claim even more clear – is this an accurate reading of the words of Jesus?  Is he claiming to be the eschatological shepherd?

Hamilton, James M. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. NSBT 32; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 272 pp. Pb; $20. Link to IVP

James Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, is well-qualified to write a biblical theology of Daniel. His commentary on Revelation was published in the Preaching the Word commentary series. Hamilton contributed a short introduction to Biblical Theology (What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns, Crossway, 2014). The New Studies in Biblical Theology series has contributed many studies on both the Old and New Testament seeking to study particular elements of Biblical Theology from a canonical or theological perspective. Perhaps what is unique about this volume is the focus is primarily on the book of Daniel. There are a number of elements of Hamilton’s book attempt to trace broader themes of Biblical theology. For example Hamilton seeks to read the typologies from the book of Daniel through the Second Temple Period and the New Testament, especially the book of Revelation.

With the Clouds of Heaven - James M HamiltonChapter 1 discusses methodological issues necessary for understanding Biblical Theology within the Canon in Scripture. Hamilton is clear he is an Evangelical who holds to a very high view of scripture including inerrancy. This will result in some rather traditional views concerning the book of Daniel. Chapter 2 places Daniel in the overall structure of salvation history in the Old Testament. Hamilton argues Daniel’s main contribution to salvation history concerns the latter days when “the little horn makes great boasts” in persecutes God’s people in the end times.

In Chapter 3 Hamilton suggests a literary structure for the book of Daniel. Outlining the book of Daniel is notoriously difficult: should the change on language from Hebrew to Aramaic be used as a structural clue? Perhaps the content is more important, narrative versus apocalyptic. Hamilton argues the book of Daniel is framed with the beginning of the exile (ch. 1) and the return from exile (ch. 10-12). The four kingdoms vision in Daniel 2 is paralleled by four kingdoms visions in chapters 7-9. In the center of the structure are two chapters on humbling the proud kings, first Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4) and Belshazzar (ch. 5). This analysis is intriguing especially since the two humbling passages are central to the theological interests of Daniel. I am not convinced the “four kingdoms” vision ought to include chapters 7-9, however. It is better, in my view, to structure the book using Aramaic portions of the book, with the two visions of four kings (chs. 2 and 7). In chapters 3 and 6 the four young men demonstrate strength in persecution. The two chapters on humbling kings are still central in this scheme.

Chapter 4 examines the four kingdoms in Daniel 2 and 7, as well as the Ram and Goat vision in Daniel 8. Hamilton also includes the rather difficult vision of the kings of the north and south in Daniel 10-12 in this section. Hamilton follows a traditional scheme in which the first kingdom is Babylon followed by Medo-Persia, Greece and a final unnamed kingdom. This final kingdom has characteristics corresponding to Rome in many ways, although he falls short in claiming the fourth kingdom is actually Rome. As the book progresses, Hamilton argues the last kingdom is typological for the final evil empire of the last days.

Chapter 5 discusses the 70 weeks prophecy, suggesting the 70 weeks is symbolic of a tenfold Jubilee and corresponds to the long exile of Israel. The first 69 weeks conclude with the cutting off of the Messiah, the crucifixion of Jesus for Hamilton. After discussion various suggestions for exact end of the 69 weeks, he concludes the number is a general time period rather like the 70 years of exile. Both numbers are approximately the time of the exile and one should not expect them to be precisely exact.

HamiltonChapter 6 surveys all the heavenly beings in the book of Daniel and offers a rather Christological interpretation of the Son of Man in Daniel 7. The son of man is distinct from all of the other angelic beings in the book. Hamilton argues he is both a human king in the line of David but also a preexistent heavenly being and member of God’s heavenly Court.

Chapter 7-9 traces the history of interpretation of Daniel through the Second Temple Period literature, the New Testament, and finally the book of Revelation. Beginning with Tobit, Hamilton argues the author of Tobit understood Daniel typologically as a model of a faithful Jewish person living in the Exile. At Qumran, however the book of Daniel was interpreted eschatologically, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. First Maccabees, on the other hand, thinks of Daniel as a historical figure who models faithfulness in persecution. 1 Enoch describes a “son of man” as the Davidic King, a deliverer, and an agent of God’s judgment. This view is supported also by 4 Ezra, at the end of the first century. Hamilton therefore finds a diverse use of Daniel in the Second Temple Period, not exclusively eschatological. I thought there ought to be a section on the Story of Ahikar since this legend is not unlike Daniel in that he becomes a government official in the Assyrian empire.

Turning to the New Testament, Hamilton examines a handful of quotations of Daniel and Matthew 13. Here he sees a reversal of human wickedness sitting things right. In Daniel Nebuchadnezzar commanded people to commit idolatry, in the Gospels Jesus commands true worship. Those who refuse to worship God will be gathered and “thrown into the fiery furnace” (Matt 13:42, 50). I am ultimately not convinced by Hamilton’s description of how Daniel is used in Matthew’s parables of the kingdom. However, I am also not sure why Matthew uses language from the fiery furnace in the way that he does. This particular text needs further study.

Hamilton spends most of the section examining how Matt 24 and Mark 13 used Daniel. In fact he says that the Olivet Discourse is a kind of “commentary on Daniel” and is therefore a window into how Jesus understood Daniel as referring to the end of the age. Like Daniel, there will be Great Tribulation such as not been seen since the beginning of time (Dan 12). There will be deceptive false christs and false prophets and ultimately a gathering of the elect from the four corners of the world. Here. Hamilton very clearly rejects pre-tribulation rapture, stating that “there is no indication Jesus will rapture out his followers prior to the tribulation” (188). Faithful followers of Christ will, like Daniel, endure to the end.

Finally in the Gospels, Hamilton sees an allusion to Daniel 6:17 in the sealed two (Matt 27:66). When Daniel is sealed in the Lion’s den he is as good as dead, yet in the morning he is found to be alive. Daniel therefore constitutes a “type of Christ” who was also is sealed in a tomb and discovered three days later to be alive. Hamilton gives a number of other parallels between Daniel 6 in Matt 27. For example, in Daniel, Darius the king attempts to release Daniel, in Matthew Pilate tries to release Jesus.

Hamilton also includes 2 Thess 2:4 (Jude 16) as an allusion to Daniel. Paul uses the language of rebellion and abomination, perhaps drawn from Daniel’s “abomination that causes desolation.” There are a number of thematic fulfillments Daniel’s view of salvation history , including the appearing of the Lord Jesus at “just the right time” and his is reign as an everlasting dominion which will never end.

It is obvious the book of Daniel is highly influential on the book of Revelation, therefore Hamilton devotes a chapter to Revelation’s view of Daniel. Since the literature on this topic is vast, Hamilton limits himself to places where John reuses Daniel’s language (102). Many of his examples are very close lexically, although at times I wonder if there is direct dependence since the phrases are generic. For example the phrase “God of heaven” is used in Daniel and Revelation, but the phrase is common enough that is cannot be used to prove dependence.

There are other places however where Hamilton makes some excellent connections. For example in Revelation chapter to the city of Smyrna faces a 10 day time of testing the same amount of time Daniel and his friends were tested (Dan 1). Another apocalyptic motif is a heavenly being who reveals so much information that the seer is overwhelmed and collapses. The heavenly being then revives and strengthens the recipient of the vision. The “man clothed in linen” in Dan 10 is likely the background for John’s description of Christ in Rev 1.

Hamilton makes great deal out of the parallels between his understanding of the overall structure of Daniel and Revelation. In both cases he finds a chiastic structure and in both cases the books center on the coming kingdom of God. However, the structure of Daniel is not as settled as Hamilton claims, and the parallels he suggests between the two books are not always clear. To be fair, he does refer to these as “broad correspondences” (207), but they are far too broad for my taste. More useful to me is Hamilton’s collection of examples John citing Daniel’s prophecy as fulfilled. For example, the “one coming on the clouds of heaven” in Dan 7 is fulfilled in Revelation in Jesus. There are a number of typological fulfillments as well.

Hamilton offers a number of examples in which John clarifies Daniel’s visions. He argues the way John interprets Daniel’s Seventieth week will give us insight into the original meaning of Daniel’s vision (212). This assumes that John’s interpretation of Daniel is in fact inspired and inerrant. It is possible, for example, John is re-interpreting Daniel in order make the Seventieth week fit a new and different context. Why did the kingdom not arrive after the messiah was cut off? If John is writing fifty or sixty years after the crucifixion, he may be trying to answer the problem of the non-return of the Messiah. This re-interpretation may be different than Daniel’s original intention and equally inspired and inerrant, but not helpful for understanding the original prophecy. I think Hamilton is right, but I am less confident that the New Testament ought to guide exegesis of the Old. With respect to the fourth kingdom from Daniel, I agree this kingdom is in some ways Rome, but also typological of the final kingdom prior to the eschatological age.

Finally Hamilton suggests that Daniel creates some typical logical patterns for biblical theology (ch. 9). He describes a “promised shaped paradigm” beginning with Abraham which he traces through the Psalms. This typology helps to understand the relationship between Joseph and Daniel, but for Hamilton, there are other similar typologies: Jehoiachin, Esther and Nehemiah all live out their lives in the Exile, like Daniel. This chapter probably should have limited itself parallels between Joseph and Daniel has types of Christ since there are clear examples and parallels. Hamilton in fact lists a page and a half of parallels between Joseph and Daniel many of which can be seen as types of Christ. I have always found typology something of a dark heart so I find I am less than impressed with typologies with Esther, Mordecai, and Nehemiah and other things he describes as a “broad pattern.” But the Joseph Daniel Jesus typology seems to be clear.

Conclusion. I found Hamilton’s book to be challenging and stimulating. It is good to seen conservative Evangelical scholars working in Daniel and Apocalyptic literature and defending their views well. Those who date Daniel to the Maccabean period or take the fourth kingdom as Greece will still find value in much of this book. I appreciate the fact Hamilton attempts to fit Daniel into an overall biblical theology, even if I am resistant to some of his use of typology. His material on Daniel’s interpretation in the Second Temple Period is excellent, although the topic is worthy of a monograph. I find many of his arguments persuasive. However, it is always difficult to put too much weight on the structure of the book like Daniel or Revelation as he does in the later chapters of this book.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

While walking in Jerusalem, the disciples see a man born blind and ask Jesus why the man was born blind (verse 1-2). Judaism sometimes connected sin and illness.  The reason for this is a strong belief that God judges sin with illness.  The three friends in the book of Job is the classic example of the belief that extreme illness and suffering is the result of sin. For example, when Miriam rebelled against Moses, she was struck with leprosy.  The same is true for Uzziah, a king who violated the law.  When Hezekiah became ill he took it as a sign of divine disfavor.

BlindManIn addition to suffering for your own sins, there are a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible that indicate some sins will be punished for several generations.  Idolatry, for example, carried a punishment for three more generations.  Frequently kings were not directly punished for their rebellion, but their sons or grandsons are killed, ending their line.

Another possibility for a man born blind is that he sinned in the womb.  For most of us, the idea of a pre-natal sin is difficult to understand.   The rabbinic Genesis Rabbah suggests that Esau was “hated” and Jacob “loved” because he had committed sin in the womb.

“R. Bekehja said in the name of R. Levi: “When she [Rebecca] walked past synagogues and houses of instruction, Jacob struggled to get out, in accordance with Jer 1:5: ‘Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I knew you.’ And when she passed idol temples Esau ran and struggled to get out, in accordance with Ps 58:4, ‘The godless go astray from the womb’” (Gen. Rab. 63; Text cited is from Beasley-Murray, John, Second Edition, 154)

Jesus denies a “universal principle” that sin and sickness are connected.  There may be cases, (Miriam, Paul’s comments to the Corinthians about their abuse of the Lord’s supper), but not all sickness can be connected to a specific sin. Generally, alcohol abuse often leads to a natural physical consequence; this natural result hardly a judgment of God!

Jesus rejects the normal explanations for the blindness of the man.  He was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in him (verse 3-5). The blind were considered unclean and were always excluded from Temple worship.  Since they are blind, they cannot know when they might contact some unclean thing, therefore they could never be allowed to go up to the Temple to worship.

Jesus indicates that he will not always be in the world.  Since he is the light of the world, it is the time to do the work of God.  Jesus has already declared he is the light of the world (cf. 8:12).  In this case, the light will illuminate the darkness of the blind man.

 

Bessenecker Scott A. Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian-Industrial Complex. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 176 pp. Pb; $16.99.   Link to IVP

In Overturning Tables, Scott Bessenecker offers bold suggestions for new ministry models applicable to both traditional missions as well as western church ministry. The problem is what he calls the Christian Industrial Complex, where the Gospel has become the product and the unsaved the consumer. Strategies for reaching the lost are barely distinguishable from methods for selling products to consumers. As Bessenecker says, “one can barely distinguish a conference design for Protestant pastors, church leaders or mission agency executives from a commercial convention for those dealing with data management, telecommunications or selling shower curtain rings” (23). He argues the American mission movement has become enslaved to a corporate attitude, with an emphasis on privatization and individualism. He believes this corporate addiction is a rejection of the values of the Kingdom of God. While his immediate interest is “world missions,” his observations can be applied to local churches, especially as they grow larger and adopt corporate management systems to cope with millions of dollars in infrastructure.

Overturning TablesThe first several chapters of this book are a brief history of missions. Bessenecker argues the roots of the Protestant missionary movement are intimately connected with the rise of capitalism. Some of the early missionaries were viewed by their Missions boards in the same way a business might look at opening a new market. This Christian Industrial Complex guided decisions about where to open new fields and how the gospel would be presented in these new fields.

In contrast to this capitalist oriented missions movement the author describes early Christian missionaries he served in fields living alongside the poor. George Leile, for example, went to Jamaica and found several churches in the late 1700s. He was more or less uneducated and untrained, but was an effective preacher, responsible for converting over 500 slaves to Christianity. Based on this and other examples throughout the book, Bessenecker argues this model of doing missions is more scriptural then the capitalistic corporate model used in most missions. He sees unintended results from the rise of capitalism and the Protestant work ethic as a result of the Reformation. He tries hard to guard against the charge of anti-capitalism, although I am not sure he is successful. There are indeed real problems with applying western capitalistic methods for doing missions in majority world countries.

In order to remedy the situation, Bessenecker suggests re-examining the structure of mission boards, avoiding corporate organizational models. He also suggests the model found in Acts is far more biblical and ought to be adapted for modern Missions projects. For example, there are many missionaries who live in communities alongside those they are trying to reach. Often this is a missionary from another majority world country reaching into places a Westerner could not.

A serious problem for Western missionaries is the perception of wealth as missionaries move into the majority world. Compared to most of the world, the West is fantastically rich and the potential of getting money Western missions organizations is tempting. But money is not always the answer when establishing missions, Bessenecker argues, since the prosperity gospel has caused a host of serious problems in places like Nigeria. Bessenecker calls this a “syncretic, American expression of God’s kingdom on earth.” It is a fact it costs a great deal of money to put a missionary on the field so many missions organizations must function like corporations in order to deal with the very real problems of money. Instead he suggests the West ought to support majority world missionaries who are going to other majority world fields. He gives several examples of this in his fourth chapter. Is it really possible to do “missions without money”?  Once again he sounds anti-capitalist by describing redistribution of wealth and turning over the purse-strings to the excluded elements of the church.

Prosperity GospelIn chapter 5 the other challenges a common view that the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is primarily about a private exchange, sold through persuasion, making churches distributors something like stores marketing of the product. This Western, capitalist view clouds the Gospel. He bemoans the church leader pastor as a CEO as if they were presiding over a corporation. “Mission cannot be practice package as a product. He cannot be reduced to a privatized exchange. It is not a ‘mission of individual prosperity; but of communal shalom” (110). He finds the language of Christian organizations distracting from mission. Well there’s nothing inherently evil about terms CEO employee brand or market, they really destroy our efforts to preach the gospel. I would suggest this is similar to Joseph Hellermen’s When the Church was a Family (Westminster, 2009). When we use corporate language to describe relationships within the church, we run the risk of polluting the Gospel with Western corporate goals (growth and wealth). These are necessarily bad, but they were not the goals of Jesus in his ministry nor Paul in his foundational church planting.

Bessenecker is very attracted to groups like the old order Mennonites or Quakers who do ministry “like a family.” In chapter 5 he describes what it would look like for ministries to move from individualism to collectivism. Again, most western capitalist Christians cringe at the word “collectivism.” Unlike the West, most of the world value some form of collectivism highly valuing families and communities as a way of existing.  This sort of model of mission work will lead to both plurality and diversity in leadership. The Western corporate model values the “Type-A” leader: a person who is aggressive, no-nonsense, decision-maker, someone who values direct confrontation. That sort of a leader is required in a major corporation. But according Bessenecker, the “Type-A” leader is detrimental to a mission in a culture which values family. A better model is a leader who seeks consensus and community diversity.

In chapter 6 the author uses the book of Acts as a model for how to do ministry today. He examines the appointment of deacons in chapter 6 as a way of empowering the margins of the early church. In my view, Bessenecker overstates his case by using the deacons as a model for cultural diversity. The difference between Hellenists and Hebraists in Acts 6 is not as great as he makes it out to be. In addition I find his comments on Antioch Christianity troublesome. He says “Christianity sheds its Jewish wineskin and become something unrecognizable as Judaism” (146). That does not seem to me to be what is In Antioch at all, as the book of Galatians makes clear. I really don’t think “the sketchy Gentile church in Antioch” is a proper description for what is happening in Acts 11. Bessenecker is however correct that the margins of the church need to be recognized and treated with respect. He is also correct that in order to reach people in majority world countries the West needs to empower the majority world countries in order to reach their own people.

Chapter 7 briefly deals with the problem of independent churches on the mission field in endowing local churches may be a way of breaking dependence on the west. In fact in chapter 8 the author describes this is moving from “growth to flourishing” churches. A serious problem with this however is using western criteria for growth to measure growth and maturity world contexts. A growing church looks different in Southern California than it might in Central Africa. He concludes the chapter by arguing the Western church needs to break from their “addiction to growth (177). In order to do this, Western churches ought to focus primarily on their own spiritual growth and recognize there are times of “spiritual dormancy” in a ministry. These downtimes are not negative at all but can be used to enhance growth in the future.

Conclusion. This is a challenging book since it does offer a model of doing missions that is clearly different than the popular Western model based on capitalism. Most American mega-churches exist because they have copied a corporate model of “moving product” rather than preaching the Gospel of the Grace of God for all people. Bessenecker is to be applauded for this challenge to the church. If you are involved in ministry, either missions or local church work, this book is an essential, challenging read.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

In John 8:12 Jesus makes the remarkable statement that he is the “Light of the World.”   As readers of John’s Gospel, we have know this fact since the prologue, but now Jesus declares to crowds gathered to celebrate the Feast of Dedication that he is the True Light.

MenorahJesus makes this statement at the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, a festival celebrating the re-dedication of the Temple after the Maccabean Revolt in 165 B.C.  After Antiochus desecrated the Temple, the Jews fought a war to re-capture Jerusalem.  When the Temple was secured, the altar was replaced so that sacrifices could begin again.  There was not enough oil consecrated to light the menorah in the Temple, so they used what they had and it lasted for the whole eight days it took to consecrate more oil.  This miracle is therefore recalled during the feast by the lighting of lamps in homes and in the Temple.

Josephus described the feast as the “festival of lights” although some scholars doubt this description as accurate.  The story of the miraculous light is not found in 1 Macc, so the origin of the “light” aspect of Hanukkah is not clear (ABD, “Dedication, Feast of,” 2:124).  Since this saying takes place in the public courts, Jesus may very well be contrasting himself with the lights of the festival.  As people are celebrating the liberation from their oppressors by the lighting of the menorah in the Temple, Jesus stands up and declares that he is the true light of the world!

By declaring that he is the Light of the World, Jesus is alluding to several texts from the Hebrew Bible as well as practices in the Temple.   There are a number of texts which describe God as light (Ps 27:1, 36:9) or the Law as light (Ps 119:105, Prov 6:23).  I think it is likely that Jesus’ allusion is to the light of the Torah in this saying.  The Torah is God’s word, and it is by God’s word that the the world came into being.  This resonates with the prologue ion John 1 as well, since the Word was with God in the beginning and through the Word all things have been created.  For a Jewish teacher to declare that they are the “light of the world” is to claim something which goes beyond what might be expected, he is claiming to be God.

Since Jesus says that everyone who follows this light has life, it is possible this is also an allusion to Israel in the Wilderness.  This was obvious in chapter 6 when Jesus provided food in the wilderness, in this case the light is the pillar of fire which led Israel when they traveled in the wilderness.

In either case, that Jesus is the light of the world is a major theme in John’s gospel.  Those who follow Jesus walk in the light, those who reject Jesus walk in the darkness. Light exposes what is hidden in the darkness.  Light is always associated with truth, lies with darkness.  By the end of this chapter Jesus makes it clear that to reject him is to willingly choose to remain in the darkness, those who follow Jesus are walking in the light.

The saying of Jesus, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is an commonly quoted text encouraging grace and forgiveness, even a kind of inclusiveness in the church.  But the authenticity of the story in 7:53-8:11 is disputed. It is hard to separate the potential “preachability” of this text from the rather academic textual questions.  It is important to realize at the outset that Jesus was in fact accepting of sinners and forgave sinners, including well-known adulterous women.  But does this text reflect an authentic episode from the life of Jesus?

This story is often dismissed as non-canonical based on its very poor manuscript evidence.   There are no major Greek manuscripts prior to the 8th century that include the story except Codex Bezae, possible the most free of all the uncials. It is known in the Old Latin versions, indicating that the story was known in the western church.  There are many ninth century Byzantine texts that include the story, but often with an indication by the scribe that the story was doubtful.   It is missing in all major Greek manuscripts and in all eastern versions and eastern fathers, as well as the earliest lectionaries.

Internal evidence is not much better.  The location of the story shifts from John 7:53 to the end of John, to after Luke 21:38 (The Farrar group) or Luke 24:53 (a corrector of  ms 1333)   Like most commentators, Burge thinks that the story fits awkwardly in the flow of John’s gospel, possibly explaining the wide variety of placements within the New Testament. The twelve verses of the story have the highest rate of major text variants in the New Testament (Burge, 144).

Even with this overwhelming evidence against authenticity, there are several scholars willing to accept the story as authentic, but that it remained outside the canon until the fourth century. Burge offers several reasons that might have lead to the suppression of the story as an authentic Jesus story:  The ethics of early Christianity took very seriously the demand for perfection (as expressed in Ephesians 4:17-24, for example, cf. The Didache).  Sexual sin was even more severely disciplined  in the early church.  This is most likely a reaction to the particular sexual excess of the Roman world.  Burge cites the text of the Acts of Paul, an apocryphal book written well into the Christian era, as an example of how strong attitudes were concerning sexual immorality.

The problem for the study of the canon is this: If it is authentic and if it was somehow detached from John or was a separately circulating oral tradition that managed to be written at some point and slowly accepted by the church as authentic, what to we do with it? Protestantism has always understood the books themselves to be “self authenticating.” Biblical books are inspired and the church recognizes them as such.  If the overwhelming textual evidence indicates that the story is an insertion, then it cannot be canonical even if it is authentic.  For this reason many commentaries (even from evangelicals with a commitment to inerrancy) do not include the text in their discussion of the canonical Gospel of John.

N. T. Wright suggests that the story became associated with the beginning of John 8 to explain the harsh critique of the Judeans later in chapter 8.  The woman is used by these teachers and scribes to try and trap Jesus into either dismissing a clear teaching of the Law and forgiving adultery or contradicting his usual practice of forgiveness.  Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1, 112).  This is as good a reason as any for the association of the story with John, although there is little evidence for the suggestion.

I think that the story is consistent with the description of Jesus in Gospels, but especially in John’s gospel.  Jesus talked with the woman at the well in John 4.  Even though she was in an adulterous relationship he offered her “living water” and forgiveness.  There is nothing this story which strikes me as out of character for Jesus and the story does explain a shift in John’s gospel toward an intentionally hostile conflict between Jesus and the Judeans.

Bibliography:  Gary M.  Burge,“A Specific Problem In The New Testament Text And Canon: The Woman Caught In Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)” JETS 27 (1984): 141-148.

When his brothers encourage him to go up to Jerusalem, Jesus initially refuses their request because “his time has not yet come.”  However, he does eventually go to Jerusalem in secret.   His apparent refusal leads to some textual variation, since it is clear that Jesus says one thing and does another.  One way to explain this is that Jesus said that he would not go now, but he would go later, separate from the family.

SuccothD. A. Carson, for example, tries to explain that when Jesus says “my time has not yet come,” he means that his time for leaving for the Feast has not yet come.  Carson thinks that the next line (you can go anytime but I cannot) means that Jesus is simply thinking about when he was leaving for the Feast.  This is possible, since the point of the rest of the chapter is to argue that Jesus does not act unless the Father directs him.  Perhaps this simply means that the  Father directed Jesus to leave a few days later than his brothers.

It is also likely this is another example of Jesus initially refusing a request but eventually granting the request.  In John 2, Jesus appears to refuse Mary’s request to “do something” about the wine.   Just as Mary’s request was on an earthly level and Jesus’ answer was on the higher, messianic level, so too here with his brothers.  They are thinking solely of Jesus’ status as a religious leader (“Go to Jerusalem where those sorts of people hang out”), Jesus is thinking about his real mission to die on the cross at the next Passover.   (Nicodemus and the woman at the well also mix up the earthly and the spiritual, except in those cases Jesus says something spiritual and they take it as earthly.)

The timing of Jesus’ death is to be at the Passover, not the Feast of Tabernacles.  If he appears there at the beginning of the Feast, there may be a unintentional “triumphal entry.”  His actions would therefore be seen as messianic and probably develop into a riot!

Jesus “time” is therefore the time of the crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification.

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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