Please Don’t Prune Me!

Christ the True Vine (Greek Icon 16th C.)

Christ the True Vine (16th C. Greek Icon)

I heard a good message today from John 15:1-11:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. (CEB)

Essentially it was preached as I have preached this text myself: we must allow God to prune us that we might be more fruitful. However, I was struck today by the following thought: What if this is NOT about personal piety, but about communal life?

Here’s what I mean: Such texts seem readily enough at hand to describe the biblical notion of God purifying for Himself a people. He indeed is sanctifying us through and through as individual members of His Church. However, this text seems more intent on the notion of cleansing the community of all unfruitful members. This community that is God’s vineyard finds itself rooted in Jesus as “the True Vine”. All who will not abide in him are cut off and will be cast out.

Instead of this text being about how our God sanctifies individuals, it appears instead to be about how God creates His community, His people as a people. Israel of the flesh would be excised if they would not obey the commands of God and His Son. That is their abiding: to trust in Jesus as Messiah and as Lord. Any claims to belonging to that community apart from remaining in Jesus would lead to death and removal.

Further the community of those who abide in Jesus will have joy fulfilled and receive what they ask in his name. He will be the center of all existence for this community. Their very being is established in him and this because God will cut off all that is not to be found in Jesus.

While I still think there are notions of personal piety entailed (“You are already trimmed”), I think this still has community intent given those who had left Jesus in John 6 over his words about eating flesh and drinking his blood and then later by Judas at the supper in John 13. They had been pruned. Who would remain?

What do you think? Is this a faithful reading of the text? Has our personal pietistic reading hampered our ability to hear this text for its congregational (community) intent and force?

Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit

David Plays the Harp for Saul by RembrandtI just submitted my proposal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies 2016 meeting in San Dimas, California (most excellent, dudes!) which is broadly themed “Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit”.

I am hoping my proposal gets accepted as in most previous years. I’ve titled my paper (which will end up as a part of my PhD thesis) “When Prophets Play the Lyre: Saul and the Strings of the Spirit”.

Here is my summary that I submitted (which is always fun to write when NONE of the paper has been written yet :-) ):

A recurring notion in 1 Samuel (chapters 10, 16, 18-19) appears to highlight the relation of King Saul to the Spirit, prophesying and the playing of the lyre. Saul initially receives the Spirit of the LORD and begins to prophesy as predicted by Samuel once Saul hears the music of the prophets at Gibeah. Later, the Spirit of the LORD departs from Saul and comes upon David. With the departure of the Spirit of the LORD a “troubling spirit of God” comes upon Saul causing sudden violent outbreaks. The only relief from the troubling spirit is the music of Spirit-endowed David on the lyre. Further, the “prophets prophesying” appears to function musically throughout this literary unit including with the overcoming of Saul twice to “prophesy” when encountering a group of prophets prophesying (in the first instance explicitly with music and suggestive in the second). A literary and theological interpretation of the relevant texts is offered for discerning the role of the Spirit in the instrumentation of the prophets in 1 Samuel with several proposed implications for Pentecostal practice.

How NOT to Interpret Daniel

John the BaptistOn Sunday I held services at the nursing homes in Ellendale and spoke on Daniel chapter 6 giving the summary of the book of Daniel which is among my favorite books of the Old Testament and I hope at some point to write a commentary on it, but that needs to wait a good decade. Daniel is just one of those books that holds my fascination.

All that aside, I received a notification from Faithgateway that there was a free offer for The Daniel Jumpstart Guide. I was horrified (once again). Here was yet another false interpretation and application of this sadly manipulated and abused book. It is a prequel diet plan to lose weight and get healthy…based on (a distortion of) the text of Daniel. This plan includes more than other plans (says the video ad). It includes what no other plan includes which will make it more successful (says the video ad): focus, friends and faith, plus fitness and food. Its alliterative so it must be right (that or a preacher developed it). Another sad money making scheme using Scripture inappropriately and marketing to Christians. :-(

With that said, I still think my John the Baptist diet plan could go viral. And when I follow it with the John the B clothing line…lookout world!

Why Israel’s Neighbors Can’t Win

ObadiahTeaching the book of Obadiah this morning, I was reflecting on the issue of Israel and her neighbors: Jordan, The Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. According to this little book written (likely) sometime in the sixth century B.C. (though some have argued for as early as the 9th century)  “Edom” and Gilead (which is within the boundaries of Jordan; vv.18, 19), the “Philistine plains” (part of the modern Gaza strip; v.19), and “Phoenician” and “Zarephath” (in modern Lebanon) are all to be destroyed and occupied by Israel.

The normal narrative I hear in my circles argues that it is Israel’s neighbors who have set themselves to see Israel utterly destroyed and thus should not be reasoned with (or so the story goes within certain camps). It is typically further argued that these neighbors are simply always fighting and are the culprits of the angst against Israel and thus no agreement should be made with them.

This narrative fails to account for the religious text of Obadiah which declares the destruction and dispossession of Israel’s neighbors at their hands. How would that potentially affect Israel being a legitimate negotiation partner? How should Israel’s neighbors consider a people who hold as sacred a text which is primary to the institution of this people being a people and which calls for their destruction?

These were questions which arose in my mind as we reflected on this text. What are your thoughts? How have you perceived trying to work with a people whose religious text seems to call for your destruction? Can their be concessions?

___________________

As a footnote, I understand the modern nation-state of Israel does not typically regard such texts as authoritative, though some certainly do. It nevertheless remains that this text belongs to Israel as a people.

Joel and The Revelation: Sounding the Trumpet

ApollyonI have been teaching The Minor Prophets this semester and as we covered Joel I was struck by the use of Joel which John makes in the Revelation (particularly chapter 9) of the book of Joel. Here are some connections I noticed in my brief study (followed by a few random reflections):

  1. The sounding of trumpets (Joel 2.1; Rev.9.1, 13)
  2. An army of locusts (Joel 1.4; Rev.9.3)
  3. An innumerable army (Joel 1.6) and an army of 10,000 times 10,000 times 2 (Rev.9.16)
  4. “teeth like/of a lion” (Joel 1.6; Rev.9.7)
  5. Contrast between the utter destruction of plant life by the locusts (Joel 1.4-12) while the “locusts” in the Revelation are not allowed to do any harm to plant life (Rev.9.4)
  6. The locusts appear “like war horses” (Joel 2.4) or “like horses prepared for battle” (Rev.9.7)
  7. The armies of locusts each sound “like chariots” (Joel 2.5; Rev.9.9)
  8. Destruction by fire goes ahead and behind (Joel 2.3; Rev.9.18-19)
  9. Columns of smoke are directly connected to each (Joel 2.30; Rev.9.2-3)

In each, repentance should be the response. In Joel hope resounds by the end, but in the Revelation the people persist in their many idolatries (even as hope will be had by the overcomers by the end of that book).

Another preliminary thought concerning each: Joel 1 and 2 are often believed to be speaking about an “army” of locusts (1) and the armies of Babylon (2) though such a clear distinction cannot be made and likely (in my thinking) should not. If asked which is represented in chapter two I would answer, “Yes”. Both the “locusts” and the “Babylonians” seem intended. In regard to Revelation 9, it appears that perhaps the same issue is at stake where there is some distinction between each of these groups: the army of “locusts” and the demonic cavalry where the former only harms humans (but doesn’t kill) and the latter destroys everything and everyone before them up to a third of humankind. However, we have two armies represented that in some sense are reiterative of the movement between Joel 1 and 2 concerning the locusts and cavalry.

Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition

Rick Wadholm Jr.:

Stories from CanaanI had not realized there was an update to the already helpful “Stories from Canaan” by Michael Coogan. This update includes the work of Mark Smith (who has been writing THE critical commentary on the Baal Cycle for well over a decade and has compiled the most exhaustive bibliography on Ugaritic studies available). While I quite enjoyed the first edition, I would guess this update (which includes several new texts) offers an updated introduction and continues the tradition of an easily readable translation of these texts which provide a significant entree into the cultural-religious context which ancient Israel found herself.

Originally posted on Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth:

Coogan, Michael D. and Mark S. Smith, eds. Stories from Ancient Canaan. 2nd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2012. Pp. x + 180. Paper. $25.00.

Context is king. It’s a simple yet profound statement. A word has any number of possible meanings and any given one is determined by the words that surround it (at least at the written level; the meaning of a spoken word can be discerned by paying attention to body language, tone, inflection, etc.). But context refers to more than mere words and the words that surround them; it has reference to situations and circumstances that form the setting for any given event. One of the biggest hindrances to the interpretation of texts, especially ancient texts, is the lack of context. There are just some things that the original readers/hearers of an ancient text would have taken for granted that modern readers have to work…

View original 534 more words

Elisha and the Double Portion Spirit

ElishaFor those interested in the topic, I have just uploaded the paper I presented at the 2014 SBL/AAR annual meeting in San Diego, CA as a special session of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. The title is “Elisha and the Double Portion Spirit: Sign of the True Son of the Prophet (2 Kgs 2-9, 13)”. It is a small portion of my exegetical work I am doing for my PhD on “A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets”.

Here is the summary:

While it is assumed among scholarship that the “double portion” which Elisha requests of Elijah refers to the portion of the eldest son (following Deuteronomistic law), it is proposed in this paper that this is theologically significant to demonstrate Elisha as the true son of Elijah as prophet of Yahweh in contrast to the other “sons of the prophets” in the Former Prophets. This motif is followed in the stories of Elisha as he fulfills the prophetic call earlier given to Elijah as Horeb, knows and does what the “sons of the prophets” cannot do themselves, and functions as a new Elijah in the paneling accounts and images. The role of Spirit endowment as verification of elder sonship is followed as a theological trajectory of the Former Prophets.

Bonhoeffer on God in the Gaps

Bonhoeffer on Gaps

This quote speaks (in part) to Bonhoeffer’s notion of the world “come of age” and a “religionless Christianity” that has only spoken to God where human knowledge is at its limits. Such cannot be the case. He wrestled with the notion of a positive Christology over and against a simply negative Christology in his lectures while at Finkenwald. In this later development of his thought, he seems yet further arguing for the need to positively construct our theology based on what is known (eg, revealed).

This becomes all the more significant in a world that presses the boundaries of our knowledge yet further and seems to find less need of providing any “theological” explanation for existence and experience (a world which Bonhoeffer found himself wrestling with). Theology cannot be a “stop-gap” to fill the holes of our knowledge. Theology must be located as such in the very concrete (objective and yet subjective) person and work of God in Christ Jesus.

Lexham Bible Dictionary Articles Published

logo_logos_5At last some of my articles are published. I have had several book chapters “in publication” for several years now, along with several journal articles. Today I opened my Logos software and did a quick search and found that my two articles for the Lexham Bible Dictionary were finally published (one on “Ono” and the other “Hadad-Rimmon”). Hooray!

Thus is the life of publishing…hurry and write…then wait…and wait…

If you have not downloaded the free version of Logos, you should. It comes with a free book every month that they will add to you library along with the Lexham Bible Dictionary which is a MASSIVE scholarly endeavor meant to challenge the likes of the Anchor Bible Dictionary (and yet be completely free).

And perhaps someone will actually read my utterly obscure article contributions. :-)

The Number of the Beast and Wild Claims

A friend recently posted a video that makes claims concerning the “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:18 (it can be viewed HERE) . I found the following graphic posted on Facebook of Walid’s claims about the symbols/words written in “Sinaiticus” (a Greek codex with many sections dating from the fourth century). Walid claims that the bottom line is actually depicted properly by the top line with crossed swords (an Islamic symbol) and the Arabic word/s meaning “In the name of Allah”

Supposed symbols in the text

Walid mentions (and draws) the top lines characters which do NOT appear in any Greek manuscript. As it turns out Codex Sinaiticus (which he specifically says to go check out) does not have even an abbreviated form of the number, but has the fully written form for each number. As it turns out all one needs to do is go online and verify with the manuscript (which is freely accessible to anyone with internet access). See the image HERE.

It is found in the third column [lines 21-22]: εξακοϲιαι εξηκοτα εξ

Anyone can see that his claims have no factuality when looking at the manuscript itself (even if one did not know Greek they could still note that these symbols are nowhere present in the text). Further, if one were to check the Nestle-Aland text of the Greek New Testament they will find that with the many variants preserved in the manuscript traditions (and reported in the text-critical note of the NA text) not one contains any such markings representing numbers. In other words, his entire claim is false and easily proven so.

Yet, such drivel will continue to be received by many in the West who simply WANT Muslims to be the tools of the Antichrist and somehow the Beast/s of the Revelation. Perhaps it is our concern not to be found ourselves numbered a part of that beastly system which opposes Jesus rightful rule over all? Perhaps what we do not really understand and yet fear (rightfully or wrongfully) always seems readily at hand to explain the beasts of our apocalyptic nightmares? Perhaps we seek “hidden knowledge” that “verifies” our fears because if our fears were proven unfounded we might have to consider how we ourselves may be surrendering to all that rejects Jesus the king of all?

To those who overcome…

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