Tuesday, May 31, 2011

C.F.D. Moule on New Testament Eschatology and Football

"New Testament eschatology at its deepest level concentrates upon entering into, implementing, loyally expressing that which is already given, which is Christ: it does not say, 'How long will it be before the whistle blows for the end of the game?' but, 'Where ought I to be now, to receive the next pass?' In other words, the fact that the kick-off has taken place, that the game is on, and that we have a Captain who can lead us to victory, is all that matters." - C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (3rd ed.; Harper & Row, 1982), 148.

(Football = soccer, of course.)

Monday, May 30, 2011

A child's experience of transcendence

It was actually more like a parent's experience of transcendence and a child's experience of either trust or foolhardiness--I'm not sure which. She always wanted to go deeper:
"Wave, come here! My feet are dirty. Wash me!
. . . Don't pick me up Daddy!" 
She loved the surging waves, the pull of the undertow against her legs. Terrified, I was never more than inches away.

...We'll save the water safety lesson for our next trip to the beach.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Luke's Conception of Prophets

(This post is part two in a series on Christian prophecy; part one is here.)

In my 2004 Ph.D. dissertation, I offered the following definition of "prophet" based solely on the evidence from Luke-Acts:
"Prophets" may be defined as those who by virtue of their nearness to God are enabled by the Holy Spirit to have insight into matters hidden from other humans, and (sometimes) to perform deeds beyond the ability of ordinary mortals; prophets are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to address divinely-commissioned messages to other humans or to proclaim words of praise to God.
  • My definition was self-consciously descriptive. I argued that the evidence does not permit a strict definition which isolates what is unique about the entity being defined—partly because Luke did not provide as many details about prophets as we would like and partly because there are few (if any) characteristics attributed uniquely to prophets. Nevertheless, I concluded that it is still possible to arrive at a descriptive definition of "prophet" which distinguishes between central and peripheral characteristics of prophets by analyzing the frequency in which characteristics appear and the degree to which they are tied to an individual's prophetic role.
  • In retrospect . . .
  • I'm surprised by the lack of reference in the definition to a worship context for prophetic activity since it appears so frequently in L-A and throughout the NT.
  • I would no longer include miracles in the definition, even though Luke obviously thought it was not unusual for prophets to perform them.
  • I wish I had thought more about how Luke might have defined prophecy and not simply what it meant to be a prophet. He seems to take for granted what it was, which makes our task frustratingly difficult.
  • You'll notice that I make no distinction between OT and NT prophets from Luke's perspective. That's because I concluded there is none.
Since I have no immediate plans to publish this section, I've made a longer excerpt available here, for those inclined to read more.

Feedback, of course, is welcome!

Next up: Did Luke believe all Christians are prophets?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

C.F.D. Moule on "the vital and decisive distinctiveness of Christian exegesis"

G.K. Beale's apologetic attempt to distinguish Jesus' approach to Scripture from that of the "wild and crazy" Essenes is worth comparing to C.F.D. Moule's more nuanced analysis:
"While it is undeniable that Christians applied the same arbitrary and artificial devices [as ancient Jews] and, again and again, used scripture in a merely 'vehicular' manner, the incentive for their choice of passages and their interpretations of them was the discovery that, in a historical and 'three-dimensional' way, Jesus actually implemented and achieved in his person, and represented the culmination of, that relation between God and man which is the basic theme of scripture. This genuinely historical and 'three-dimensional' approach to scripture--the lines of divine-human relations converging on Jesus--which has only become deliberate and conscious in 'modern' thought, is, nevertheless, implicit in ancient Christianity . . . . The 'vehicular' uses of scripture, common to both non-Christian and Christian exegesis, thus became in Christian exegesis only a symptom of something much profounder and deeper--something that the modern historian, whose approach is 'three-dimensional' not 'two-dimensional'*, can recognize as valid and supremely significant and quite distinctive." - C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (3rd ed.; Harper & Row, 1982), 87-88. 
*By contrast, in much typical Jewish interpretation, "it is broadly true no attention is paid to the original meaning or to historical perspective. The whole is treated in [a] . . . flat, two-dimensional way" (80).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

C.F.D. Moule on Evangelism and Worship

"[T]he Church lives by evangelism as fire by burning, and a non-evangelizing Church is dead or dying" (8)

"[W]orship, for a truly religious person, is the be all and end all of work; and . . . if worship and work are distinguished, that is only because of the frailty of human nature which cannot do more than one thing at a time. The necessary alternation between lifting up holy hands in prayer and swinging an axe in strong, dedicated hands for the glory of God is the human makeshift for that single, simultaneous, divine life in which work is worship and worship is the highest possible activity" (42-43).

Both quotations are from C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (Black's New Testament Commentaries) (3rd ed.; Harper & Row, 1982)--not the sort of book from which you would typically expect to find practical statements about church life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Zotero Citation Style for Currents in Biblical Research

A new citation style for Zotero (and Mendeley) users who wish to have their bibliographies and author-date references automatically formatted according to the Currents in Biblical Research style sheet may be found here (scroll down to cbr). The style is based on the Chicago (Author-Date) style created by Julian Onions, and benefited greatly from feedback on this forum. (You will need to be running Zotero 2.1 for the style to work. For installation questions consider this page or search the Zotero support forums.)

This, my latest bout with productivity software, may well have taken more time than it would have to format all the citations in my next article by hand, but hopefully it will benefit other Zotero users who write for the journal, and I learned a lot about CSL (Citation Style Language) in the process. Now to write the article...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hoskyns & Davey on historical criticism as a necessity for Christian faith

"[T]he Christian religion is not merely open to historical investigation, but demands it, and its piety depends upon it. Inadequate or false reconstruction of the history of Jesus of Nazareth cuts at the heart of Christianity. The critical and historical study of the New Testament is therefore the prime activity of the church." - The Riddle of the New Testament (3rd ed.; London: Faber & Faber, 1947), 10.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Defining Prophecy

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts on Christian prophecy. I’ll try to keep the posts to a more-or-less manageable size.

One of the challenges (or frustrations) in studying prophecy is the difficulty in defining precisely what it is. Well did Erich Fascher call the label “prophet” a “frame word without concrete content” [German: “προφήτης allein ist ein 'Rahmenwort' ohne konkreten Inhalt”] (Fascher 1927, 51).  I'll make some observations below, but first take a quick look at these attempts at definition:
The prophet as the individual par excellence:  “It belongs to the notion of prophecy, of true revelation, that Jehovah, overlooking all the media of ordinances and institutions, communicates Himself to the individual, the called one, in whom that mysterious and irreducible rapport in which the deity stands with man clothes itself with energy.” (Wellhausen 1885, 398) 
The prophet as intermediary:  “It is appropriate to think about prophets as intermediaries, typically representing the deity to the world of humans and in ways related to but different from priests and technical diviners.” (Petersen 2009, 625) 
The prophet as [covenant] preacher:
  • Jesus’ “habitual praxis marked him out as a prophet, in the sense of one announcing to Israel an urgent message from the covenant god.” (Wright 1996, 185)
  • “[T]he biblical prophet is an interpreter of the present rather than an announcer of the future.” (Croatto 2005, 459)
  • Christian prophets were “the first theologians.” (Gillespie 1994)
The prophet as healer: “We will not enter Luke’s world without grasping the fact that healing and revealing were twin aspects of a single prophetic vocation” (Minear 1976, 75). 
The prophet as persecuted mediator: Prophets are persecuted “messengers and mediators of Yahweh’s salvation.” (Moessner 1986, 225) 
Prophecy as direct revelation:
  • Prophets are “individuals claiming to speak for God” (Greenspahn 1989, 37). Prophecy is “direct revelation” (37).
  • Prophecy was understood as “God . . . speaking directly to certain individuals” (Sommer 1996, 32). 
Prophecy as spontaneous, impelled and/or “immediately inspired”:
  • “A Christian prophet is a Christian who functions within the Church, occasionally or regularly, as a divinely called and divinely inspired speaker who receives intelligible and authoritative revelations or messages which he is impelled to deliver publicly, in oral or written form, to Christian individuals and/or the Christian community.” (Hill 1979, 8-9)
  • “The early Christian prophet was an immediately inspired spokesman for the risen Jesus, who received intelligible messages that he or she felt impelled to deliver to the Christian community or, as a representative of the community, to the general public.” (Boring 1991, 38; cf.  Boring 1982, 16)
  • Prophecy may be defined as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.” (Grudem 2000, 313; cf. 210)
  • “According to Luke and Paul, Christian prophecy was the reception and immediately subsequent public declaration of spontaneous [i.e. unsolicited], (usually) verbal revelation, conceived of as revealed truth [i.e. not regarded as a product of the speaker’s own reasoning processes] and offered to the community on the authority of God/Christ/the Holy Spirit.” (Forbes 1995, 236; cf. 229)
Prophecy as intelligible:
  • “[I]ntelligible messages from God in human language through inspired human mediums.” (Aune 1991, 103)
  • “[P]rophecy was a type of oracular speech: that is, it was an intelligible verbal message believed to originate with God, and to be communicated through an inspired human intermediary.” (Turner 2005, 184) 
Or simply… “human speech on behalf of God” (Moberly 2006, 1)

(1) I included Wellhausen’s 19th century definition because it so clearly illustrates how much definitions can be shaped by context. Notice, for example, Wellhausen’s very modern valorization of the individual.
(2) Some definitions are based on content (Croatto, Wright), others on the experience of inspiration (e.g., Forbes).
(3) Definitions articulate what is essential and what is distinctive. Differences in definition often point to disagreement over larger issues:

  • What activities count as characteristic activities of prophets? Speech, obviously, but what about miracles? (See Minear’s definition and the biblical prophets Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and Jesus.)
  • Calling prophecy “direct revelation” (Greenspahn, Sommer) presumably distinguishes it from divination. According to Sommer, it also excludes charismatic interpretation of Scripture and supernatural insight; Sommer regards dreams as a lesser form of prophecy. …It is fair to ask whether these are ancient or modern scholarly distinctions.
  • The criterion of intelligibility excludes glossolalia on the basis 1 Cor 14:1-5, but does not account for Acts 2 (where I would argue ‘tongues’ is included as prophecy) or, apparently, 1 Sam 10:9-13, 19:19-24. 
  • The claim that prophecy is, by definition, spontaneous attempts to distinguish prophecy and teaching. It also tends to assume that divine action in prophecy is independent from the human action of the prophet.

(4) Variety is to be expected. Early Jewish and Christian understandings of the term, “prophet,” could be filled out  in a variety of legitimate ways because there are different OT models to choose from.

Aune, David E. 1991. Repr. from 1983. Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Boring, M. Eugene. 1982. Sayings of the Risen Jesus: Christian Prophecy in the Synoptic Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Boring, M. Eugene. 1991. The Continuing Voice of Jesus. Louisville, Ky. Westminster/John Knox Press.
Croatto, J. Severino. 2005. “Jesus, Prophet like Elijah, and Prophet-Teacher like Moses in Luke-Acts.” Journal of Biblical Literature 124 (3): 451-465.
Fascher, Erich. 1927. ΠΡΟΦΗΤΗΣ: Eine sprach- und religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung. Gießen: Alfred Töpelmann.
Forbes, Christopher. 1995. Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment. WUNT 2/75. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
Gillespie, Thomas W. 1994. The First Theologians: A Study in Early Christian Prophecy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Greenspahn, Frederick E. 1989. “Why Prophecy Ceased.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1): 37-49.
Grudem, Wayne A. 2000. Rev. from 1988. The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Rev. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Hill, David. 1979. New Testament Prophecy. Atlanta: John Knox Press.
Minear, Paul S. 1976. To Heal And To Reveal: The Prophetic Vocation according to Luke. New York: Seabury Press.
Moberly, R. W. L. 2006. Prophecy and Discernment. Cambridge studies in Christian doctrine 14. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Moessner, David P. 1986. “‘The Christ Must Suffer’: New Light on the Jesus - Peter, Stephen, Paul Parallels in Luke-Acts.” Novum Testamentum 28 (3): 220-256.
Petersen, David L. 2009. “Prophet, Prophecy.” Pages 622-648 in New Interpreterʼs Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld. Nashville: Abingdon.
Sommer, Benjamin D. 1996. “Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation.” Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1): 31-47.
Turner, Max. 2005. Rev. from 1996. The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts in the New Testament Church and Today. Peabody,  MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Wellhausen, Julius. 1885. Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel. Ed. Allan Enzies. Repr. 1983. Gloucester, Mass. Peter Smith.
Wright, Nicholas Thomas. 1996. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress.