The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Apr 19, 2011

Three New Articles Especially Worth Reading: Mark Matthews on 2 Peter, Armin Baum on Pseudepigrapha, and John Rhoads on Source Criticism of Josephus

From time to time I hope to alert readers to particularly interesting articles that have recently come out in the mainstream evangelical journals (though I'll probably focus on the NT; sorry!). For interested readers, the Bibliotheca Sacra journal devotes an entire section to "article reviews" (just like book reviews), while the Bird/Willits website also occasionally discusses recent articles. If anybody knows of any other sources that keep up-to-date on recent articles, please let me know in the comments section. Thanks!

I love articles that challange the consensus! In light of that, here are three recent articles that the New Testament student should definitely read: first, in the recent Bulletin for Biblical Research 21 (April 2011), Mark D. Matthews from Durham University writes on "The Genre of 2 Peter: a Comparision with Jewish and Early Christian Testaments" (pp. 51-64). Matthews does not provide a direct defense of Petrinre authorship per se (for that, see Michael Kruger's excellent article in JETS 47 (December 1999) , but what he does is to (respectfully) provide a thorough counter to Richard Bauckham's widely accepted thesis that 2 Peter should be viewed as "testament" literature that would not have been written by Peter himself. To counter Bauckham, Matthews surveys the key characteristics of testament literature (something that has rarely been done) and points out how 2 Peter differs significantly from that genre. Matthrews writes, "Certain key features persist throughout all of the formal testaments and many of the farewell speeches that are absent in 2 Peter . . . more importantly, however, is the author’s communication in the first person. The most consistent feature that is attested in all of the farewell speeches, and formal testaments is the use of the third-person narrative framework. Given the fact that first-person accounts attributed to Paul and Peter were rejected by the early church, it seems unreasonable to assume that (1) this would be an effective medium of expression if one wanted to attribute this teaching to Peter after his death or (2) that the recipients would have viewed it as a fictive, pseudepigraphal testament" (63). Matthews concludes, "as an epistle written in the first person, we can surmise that 2 Peter would have been received as either a genuine letter or a forgery" (64).
      In the same issue of BBR, Armin D. Baum (from the FTH in Giessen) challanges the argument that pseudepigraphal apocalyptic literature would not have been viewed as "deceptive" when claiming to be from a prophet that did not, in fact, write it. Baum's thesis can be summed up as follows: "The admittedly plausible assumption that at least some apocalyptic texts originated from genuine ecstatic experiences does not, however, offer any reason to suppose that thier literary attributions were not measured against the generally accepted ancient standards" (p. 91). Baum concludes by stating what should be an obvious fact that has nevertheless (in my opinion) been ignored in light of theoretical reconstructions of the ANE mind by many critical scholars: "[if an 'early Jewish apocalyptist'] published his book orthonymously under his own name, he did not intend to deceive anybody. But if he ascribed it to one of the biblical prophets, he thereby sought to misinform his audience about the actual historical origin of his apocalyptic texts" (92).
      Next, we have John H. Rhoads' article "Josephus Misdated the Census of Quirinius," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54 (March 2011): 65-87 [don't you just love it when an author pretty much gives you his thesis in the title? Kudos to Dr. Rhoads for directness]. This whole issue of JETS is, of course, a treasure-trove because you have the articles by T. Schreiner, F. Thielman, and N. T. Wright, essentially the written manifestation of their debate [*cough* excuse me, "dialogue"] from last November's ETS meeting in Atlanta. In addition, Dr. Köstenberger has written an excellent editorial on the pros and cons of social media in the church and acadamia (quote of the month! Dr. Köstenberger regarding Facebook: "Does anybody really care that I had pancakes for breakfast?" [2]). 

       Rhoads' article is definitely worth reading, however, not only because he directly questions why Josephus should necessarily be considered an accurate source regarding the Census of Quirinius that Luke mentions in Luke 2:1-2, but also because he uses source criticism to do so! Rhoads both (1) argues why he believes Josephus was mistaken and (2) provides a rationale as to why Josephus would have dated the census when he did. The irony, of course, is that here we have a scholar utilizing source criticism (a discipline that is frequently used to disparage Scripture's claims of authenticity) to indirectly argue for Luke's credentials as a historian. If Rhoads' thesis stands, then some of the extreme critical scholars are being essentially "hoisted by their own petard."
      All three of the above articles have two things in common (besides the obvious features of being well-written and well-researched): they all find a unique argument to contribute (i.e. they are not just rehashing the debate), and they all demonstrate a good grasp of Second Temple literature. Indeed, I think it's becoming obvious that any serious student of the New Testament must famliarize himself or herself with second temple literature, and I am very grateful that my own degree at SEBTS now requires the class (and thanks to Dr. Köstenberger for teaching it)

Apr 14, 2011

Ethics, WMDs, and the Ultimate Basis of Morality: A Discussion of L. E. Modesitt Jr.'s novel The Ethos Effect

Note: this post has been modified from the original posting since I unfairly equated L. E. Modesitt's viewpoints with those of the protagonists in The Ethos Effect. I apologize to Mr. Modesitt and to the readers of the original post. My critique, then, should be viewed as interacting with the views and actions of the characters in The Ethos Effect rather than those of Mr. Modesitt himself.

This week’s post consists of a Christian interaction and critique of a piece of literature. I believe a Christian may enjoy culture to the extent that it represents the character of God; when it does not, it is the Christian’s duty to critique it from a biblical perspective. For those completely bored by science fiction but still interested in the ethical discussion, please skip to the discussion proper (marked with bold font)

         Credit where credit is due: although I do not cite him in this essay, much of my own thinking on this topic was stimulated from having read Mark D. Leiderbach, “The Gospel and War,” Faith and Mission vol. 22 (Fall 2004)

       I’ll have to confess that I’m something of a science fiction nut, and greatly value a quiet weekend evening curled up on a the couch with a wholesome book that tells a great story. While, granted, I’m sure there are more profitable ways to spend my time, one of the benefits of reading sci-fi is that every writer has a philosophical worldview (some more apparent than others), and the best sci-fi writers will challenge you to think about your own worldview and its practical application via ethics and morality (whether you agree with them or not).
         Within the sci-fi genre, writers generally reflect a variety of views on religion, some neutral, some criticial to various degrees (e.g. Isaac Asimov to Jack McDevitt), occasionally sympathetic (e.g. Timothy Zhan), while others seem to write from a religious worldview (e.g. C. S. Lewis, Dianne Thonley, and Orson Scott Card, who has an LDS background). L. E. Modesitt, Jr., seems to belong in the second group in that the themes reflected in his books are somewhat critical of organized religions, especially those of the more radical variety
         Yet Modesitt is not content to simply engage in “religion-bashing,” as is the case with some authors. Rather, his protagonists genuinely grapple with complex social and philosophical concepts while developing the narrative. The Ethos Effect is a well-written book and forces the reader to struggle through the issues along with the main protagonist.
      In The Ethos Effect (New York: Tor, 2003), the protagonist, Van C. Albert, a soldier by trade, struggles with ethics and morality all throughout the book. After foiling an assassination attempt yet being subsequently retired by his superiors, he joins a private organization (the “Echo-Tech Coalition”) that is secretly manipulating the human race. Three quarters of the way through the book, Albert watches in horror as his mentor-of-sorts, Trystan, uses alien technology to complete destroy an entire sun, wiping out the homeworld of the “Revenants,” an extremely aggressive and murderous religious society that was, in the minds of the Coalition, hindering the progress of the human race.
         The ethical struggle Albert goes through is evidenced a little later in an discussion between him and the alien Farhkan:
         F: "That culture [the Revenant society] is predicated on the existence of a deity. Rules of conduct are ascribed to that deity. Those rules preclude free choice. No deity can preclude free choice. The society developed under the ascription of those rules is fatally flawed . . . rues that are  imposed in the name of a deity are always flawed. They are flawed because they are inflexible. The universe changes. Even the laws of the universe are not inflexible" (453).
         At the end of the book, Albert mimics his mentor’s actions and decimates another entire solar system, this time the seat of power of a secular state that was acting in the same aggressive manner as the Revenants. When confronted about his actions by a subordinate, the following exchange ensues (p. 535): “How can killing seven hundred million people ever be right?” [Albert]: “How about when it prevents killing millions more? Especially millions of innocents?”
         At one point, a fictional source cited at the beginning of the chapter states,
         "There is indeed an ethical absolute for any situation in which an individual may find himself (or herself), but each of those absolutes exists only for that individual and that time and situation. This individual ‘absolutism’ is not the same thing as cultural relativism, because cultures can be, and often have been, totally unethical and immoral, even by their own professed standards" (348).
         This same “source” also argues that "in practice, what is necessary for a society is a secular legal structure that affirms basic ethical principles” while allowing  nevertheless allowing anyone accused of  wrongdoing to argue that their actions were, under the circumstance, “as moral as   the situation allowed” (349).
         Yet the protagonists do not clearly lay down the foundational basis for “basic ethical principles,” let alone a means of determining when exactly one’s actions may justifiably go against those principles
The case in point is the use of weapons of mass destruction and/or the total obliteration of a particular culture. The characters Albert and Trystan seem to believe that one can completely wipe out a particular society (be it religious or secular), if such action was done for the benefit of the human race as a whole. Christians, of course, may initially think themselves to be on shaky ground in the debate, since God in the Old Testament did indeed command his people to wipe out various cultures.
Yet herein lies the issue. Albert, the protagonist in The Ethos Effect, holds up the welfare of the human race as the standard. In other words, his is a truely humanistic outlook. Actions may be justified if done for the stability and/or betterment of humanity as a whole. For Albert, then, the morality of the annihilation of a planet depends on the goal that is hoped to be attained by such an action.
Now let’s bring the matter a little bit closer to home: is it morally acceptable to [deliberately] bomb civilians in war, or to annihilate an entire city à la Hiroshima or Nagasaki? For many, the answer would be “yes” if such an action would bring to close a brutal war against an evil (however “evil” is defined) enemy. Many Christians (including myself in the past) have thought along the same lines. Since the use of atomic bombs in World War II brought about the end of the war and most likely saved lives in the long run (a reasonable suggestion, in light of the bloodshed an invasion of Japan would have brought), then the bombs were justifiable.
Yet I’d like to propose an alternative way of thinking, based on a few key (in my opinion, Biblical) principles. [Digression] I am not discussing here the matter of warfare in general; I would tentatively suggest that serving in the military may be acceptable for Christians in light of the fact that Christians were not forbidden from serving in the military in the New Testament (see especially Luke 3:14; Acts 10). I would also suggest that a Christian man has a duty to protect his family and the weak from violence, but that’s a discussion for a different time. Yet even so, Christians at all times have an obligation to demonstrate the nature of Christ by being merciful to their enemies, always speaking the truth, etc. Some so-called military activities, then, are clearly off-limits, though I do not necessarily believe shooting a gun is one of them. I will suggest, however, that the idea of “just-war theory” is ultimately irrelevant to the Christian life; a Christian may fight in a so-called “just-war” and still behave in an un-Christ-like manner by torturing his enemies, delighting in their destruction, cursing, lying, etc. [end of digression]
         First of all, Christian ethics are God-centered rather than man-centered. In other words, my first question in any activity is not “how will this benefit humanity” or even “how many lives will this save” but rather “what would God have me to do?” I must stress at this point that to a certain degree God’s desire for his people may differ at different times. There is a difference between pre-exile Israel and Christians of this dispensation. The former often acted as God’s executioners during the conquest, while we, the latter, are commanded to pursue peace with all men (Hebrews 12:14).
         Secondly, Christian ethics presume upon the sovereignty of God in this regard: it is not up to us to determine the outcome of wars or the future of the human race. That lies solely in the hands of God. Thus, my responsibility is not necessarily to determine what will save the most lives in the long run. That is ultimately in the hands of God. My responsibility is to do right in the here and now (especially towards my neighbor) and trust that ultimately God holds sovereign control over both the minutia (who lives and dies) and the larger parts of history (war, etc.)
         Indeed, in light of this, it is ultimately arrogant to suggest that the end justifies the means, for that assumes that my “means” is what determines the “end,” when in reality only God determines the end.
         Thirdly, in light of points 1 and 2, above, I would suggest that my responsibility to God trumps any future consequences of my action or my inaction. In other words, if dropping an atomic bomb would seem to contradict a Christian ethic, than I have a responsibility to refrain from doing so no matter what the cost later on. For the Christian, the means is just as important as the end. Since the end is the glory of God, the means must reflect the end at all times. If the means deviates at any time from obeying God’s Word, then I cannot possibly attain the end of glorifying God.
         As far as WMDs are concerned, my argument depends on the following progression of thought: 1. killing an innocent person is murder; 2. the term ‘innocent’ includes civilians during wartime [at a minimum those not actively involved with the war effort, which certainly would include at least some people in any given city or town]; 3. Thus killing civilians in wartime is murder; 4. Thus WMDs dropped on civilian targets constitutes murder.”
Edmund Burke may certainly be correct by declaring that inactivity on our part may result in the “triumph of evil” (indeed, this seems to be a major theme of Ethos Effect). Nevertheless, if my activity to prevent an evil is, in of itself, by God’s definition, an evil activity, then my inactivity (or a different activity) would be more in keeping with God’s glory than my activity. Of course, this must be balanced by the fact that my inactivity in of itself may be evil. The resident of Nazi Germany who knew that his or her Jewish neighbors were in danger yet did nothing to help them is guilty of sin (Proverbs 24:11-12). Such a person is under a holy obligation to help innocent victims escape, yet the means of helping them escape must, as with everything else in our lives, be determined by asking “what does God's Word command?”
To conclude, then: what about the protagonist, Commander Van C. Albert? Did he do well to wipe out an entire planet? If there is no god, there what he did was “right” to the extent that we can determine what’s “right” from a purely humanistic foundation. Yet if there is a God, specifically the biblical God, Albert did wrong in that he presumed to act in the place of God by taking innocent lives.

Apr 5, 2011

Some links and brief thoughts on patriotism in the church

     Although generally I intend to follow the sidebar entitled “forthcoming blog posts,” nevertheless once in a while somebody will post something on their blog that gets the hamsters in my head spinning on their wheels and forces me to write. Recently my academic advisor posted two fascinating links on his own blog that I would like to share with you (http://www.daveblackonline.com/blog.htm Thursday March 31st, 4:05 PM).
The first link is http://arbevere.blogspot.com/2011/03/we-must-reject-christendom.html Allan R. Bevere has written a forthcoming book that I am immensely interested in, entitled The Politics of Witness (Areopagus Critical Christian Issues; Energion, forthcoming). He offers this provocative quote on his website: “Functionally, by the church's political engagements and by aligning themselves with the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, Christians in actuality display the unacknowledged belief that it is the nations that are indeed running the show.”
         Secondly, I am excited to read, on Nathan Akin’s blog (http://www.baptisttwentyone.com/?p=5285), a “Letter from a Minister about Patriotism in Corporate Worship” by music minister Carl Stam. Stam makes three key points on why his church will de-emphasize political celebration within the worship service on Memorial Day and July 4th. I heartily concur with him, and would like to quote something Stam states in his first point: “It is just too easy to confuse what it means to follow Christ with what it means to be a loyal U.S. citizen. Especially when hard-hitting emotional presentations are made with flags and uniforms and pledges, it is too easy to get mixed up about where our allegiance should be. However, we ARE quick to pray for our country and for our leaders and we are quick to thank God for the freedom of worship that we enjoy.”
         Let me expand on that in light of my own theological "paradigm shift" over the past 6 years. In John 18:36, in response to Pilate, Jesus clearly states, “my kingdom is not of this world” (ESV). In Peter 2:9, it is the church, rather than any nation-state, that in this dispensation is given the title “a holy nation.” In light of that, Christians must be extremely careful about mixing in the glorification of any nation-state in with the glorification God when it comes to corporate worship.
         Let me take this a step further. In light of 1 Peter 2:9, I believe it is a misnomer to label any nation-state a “Christian nation”; in fact, by very definition, I believe there will be no “Christian nation” (other than the church, see 1 Pet 2:9) until Jesus Christ himself sits on the throne of David and rules the world from Jerusalem during the Millennium.
         Clearly God has blessed the US, but He has blessed all other nations as well, and ultimately we are forced to confess with Isaiah that “all the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.” (Isa 40:17, ESV).
         One quick word to my fellow dispensationalists (with apologies to any Reformed or historic pre-mil reading this post; please bear with me as I deal with an “internal” matter). If indeed (as I firmly believe), God has done a unique work in this dispensation by founding the church at Pentecost, and if the church is to be distinct from both Israel and all other social-political entities, and if indeed Christ will reign someday in the future on the throne of David from a literal Jerusalem, then should not we dispensationalists be the first to recognize the danger of mixing nationalistic patriotism with corporate worship? Yet unfortunately the opposite has been true; we dispensationalists have, for all practical purposes, elevated the US to the position of both Israel and the church in God’s plan, despite the lack of Biblical support for any such position. We do so by glorifying the US in songs in church (though I have absolutely no problem with patriotic music outside the church, and can sing along in good conscience), pledging “allegiance” to the US flag (which, in my opinion, demonstrates that we truly do not understand the meaning of “allegiance”), and treating the constitution as if it were Scripture and the founding fathers as if they were inspired Apostles (e.g. I once heard Proverbs 22:28 applied from the pulpit to the US constitution). If anything, we dispensationalists need to be the first to recognize the dangers of such practices and to emphasize that among national entities, only Israel can claim such a massive role in God’s plan (though Scripture indicates that God will bless other nations as well, e.g. Isaiah 19:25; indeed, check out the entire context of this chapter).
         One more point: to those that are concerned that such a position means that I or others are somehow opening the door to the liberal, left-wing political agenda, let me quote Douglas Harink from his thought-provoking Brazos commentary on 1 Peter. While critiquing the journal First Things’ tendency to “often display in its pages a hope and vision for Christian America,” where “virtually all of the scriptural attributes of the mission of Israel and the church in the world, and God’s particular providence through them, are appropriated to the American nation,” Harink argues, “to be critical of that vision is not to be, as [Stephen H.] Webb suggests, ‘leftist’ or ‘liberal’; it is simply to assert a catholic theological vision of the people of God that accords with the teaching of scripture about the purpose of Israel and the church. Indeed, the leftist, liberal agenda gets its own vision and champion of Christian American in the journal Sojourners and in Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics . . . Wallis no less than Webb appropriates the attributes and mission of Israel and the church to the American nation and calls the church to serve it” (Harink, 1&2 Peter [Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2009], 59 fn50). A middle-ground is needed that recognizes that both “left” and “right” politics are ultimately irrelevant to the Kingdom of God. Some issues, such as abortion, do indeed hold spiritual significance and should command our attention, but the Christian’s response is first and foremost to be that of a “do-gooder” (1 Peter 2:11-12) rather than a political revolutionary.
         So much for “brief thoughts!” I do hope to write more on this topic in the future. For now, I urge the reader to check out the above posts and to read Douglas Harink’s commentary on 1 Peter, especially on 1 Peter 1 and 2. While I don’t agree with all of what Harink writes, I am grateful that he is dealing with issues that most commentaries on 1 Peter do not.