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New Testament

Faith of Christ in Paul’s Writings

In Paul’s undisputed writings, various phrases referring to faith of Jesus Christ appear seven times.[1]   While a literal translation for these phrases (pistis + genitive) using the words "faith of" is found in the King James Version, English translations common since the Protestant Reformation tend to translate these passages using the phrase "faith in" (Bassler 28).  For many, rallied by Luther’s doctrine of sola fide, there is little difference between "faith of Christ" and "faith in Christ."  But for a growing body of scholars the question of whether "faith of Christ" can justifiably be translated as "Christ’s faith" (a subjective genitive) has become a heated debate (Bassler 27).  For several reasons it appears that rendering these passages as referring to Christ’s own faith may be an acceptable interpretation. [Instructor’s Comment:  weak claim, which is ok]

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Of Olive Trees and Unnatural Acts

In Romans 11:16b-24 Paul presents a word picture in which the branches of a cultivated olive tree have been broken off and a wild olive branch has been engrafted into the cultivated root.  The resulting image of a whole tree consisting of differentiated parts is particularly useful in the Roman church context where tensions have arisen between Christians of different ethnic identities.  But hidden within the metaphor is the repetition of two key phrases (according to nature/contrary to nature) that harken back to the argument put forth by Paul’s rhetorical spokesperson in Romans 1:18-32 and to the response that begins in chapter two.  The olive tree metaphor contributes to a larger rhetorical argument in which Paul deconstructs[1] [Instructor’s Comment:  ambitious] an earlier polemic presented in chapter one by describing accepted acts of both human and divine agency that are "contrary to nature."

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How Paul’s Autobiography Functions in his Letter to the Galatians

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul makes the case that salvation comes to Gentiles through faith in Christ alone (Ehrman 348).  From the letter we are able to deduce that other missionaries, claiming that observance of Torah as summed up in the rite of circumcision (Osiek 424), have arrived in Galatia, introducing new criteria for salvation.  Based on what Paul says in the letter, it appears that these missionaries may also charge that Paul has tampered with the gospel received from Jesus’ own followers.  [Instructor’s Comment:  Bingo – strong insight]  In response to these claims, Paul includes within the epistle a large passage of autobiographical information (Galatians 1:11-2:21), which can be broken down into several episodes, each of which is designed to lend support to Paul’s gospel of salvation through faith alone.

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The Dreams and Visions in The Acts of the Apostles

The book of Acts tells us that on the day of Pentecost, following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven, the Holy Spirit came and filled the apostles and they began to speak in other languages (Acts 2:4).  In his subsequent explanation of this strange event, Luke has Peter quote from the Old Testament prophet Joel, explaining that in the last days, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all people with attendant signs that include prophecy, dreams and visions (Acts 2:17). 

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Jesus as Apocalyptic Prophet

In his work The New Testament: a historical introduction to the early Christian writings, Bart Ehrman describes Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet.  But what does this mean?  In our popular culture, we think of prophets as people who foretell future events.  But the oracular element of the Jewish prophetic tradition is only one piece of the whole.

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The Significance of Jesus’ Death as Interpreted by Luke and John

It is common within our churches during Bible study and around Easter to harmonize the gospel narratives, creating a synthesis that incorporates sometimes conflicting details into a single account.  However, if we view the gospels separately, each according to its own merit, very different interpretations emerge regarding the significance of Jesus’ death.  For example, by examining only the metaphors used within Luke and John, two distinct images appear, each with its own significance.  While both accounts proclaim the good news of salvation, the agency involved is quite different.

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Barabbas and the Messiah as Heard by Matthew’s Church (Matthew 27:11-23)

Modern biblical scholars are in general agreement that Matthew’s gospel was written for an audience of early Jesus followers who were primarily of Jewish origin.  Thomas G. Long proposes that Matthew’s audience was struggling with questions of identity as newly formed Jesus people. Wondering whether they should abandon their Jewish faith and heritage, Matthew’s Gospel presented them with a Jesus who is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Long 2).  With his audience in mind, Matthew constructed his gospel from original Markan and Q source materials and added his own unique content including about 40 quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures (Davies and Allison I.29).  Many of his innovations, while meaningful to his original audience, were lost on later Gentile Christians and, sadly, often remain hidden to the majority of Christians even today.  Among these passages is the scene in which Jesus is tried before Pilate, Barabbas is released and the people demand the crucifixion of Jesus with the notorious cry, "His blood be on us and on our children!" This haunting scene has been used for centuries to justify anti-Semitic violence perpetrated by Christians.  But how might Matthew’s Jewish church have heard this passage?  [Instructor’s comment: well phrased]

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Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark

W. Paul Jones reminds us that though there are those in every generation who try to figure out who Jesus "truly" was, their findings end up saying far more about them as searchers than about the subject of their inquiry (53).  Our experiences not only provide the lens through which we perceive Jesus, but also inform the contours of the very questions that we ask.  The same can be said for the authors of Mark and Matthew and the faith communities for which they wrote.

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