Epistles of Thomas

December 9, 2009

Does exegesis matter?

Filed under: Jesus,New Testament — Thomas @ 15:56
Tags: , ,

I was reading a devotional book on Jesus when I came across an interesting assertion. It is by Tony Jones, 12 Days with Jesus. Shawnee Mission: Sonlife Ministries, 2005. Sonlife has now merged and become Youthfront but their mission to reach out to high school students has not changed. They are still selling this booklet so I presume it is regularly given out to students. I really wonder what students are being taught when it comes to handling the word of God. Here is what Jones has to say with regard to Jesus casting out Legion from the Gerasene demoniac (Lk 8:26-39):

“But honestly, I don’t think the issue here is whether ‘Legion’ was demon-possessed or mentally ill, or some combination of both. The more important point, it seems to me, is where we find Jesus in this part of the story. I think Luke has something to tell us here” (35). Jones then has students circle all the times “fear” is mentioned in this account. Then he states “In Jesus’ and Luke’s day, people like ‘Legion’ were found chained up in cemeteries, Today, they’re more likely to be in a mental hospital or living under a bridge. I’ll admit, when I come across people like that, I’m often afraid of them. They’re [sic] words and actions seem unpredictable to me – I don’t quite know what to do next. But Jesus not only isn’t afraid of ‘Legion,’ he performs an act of healing and freedom” (36). In his conclusion to this section where he makes a call for action Jones asks that students “take some time to pray and journal about people or events in your life that seem a little unpredictable to you, and ask God how your relationship with Jesus can bring some unexpected freedom and healing to those situations and relationships” (37).

The main point of Jones’ devotional seems to be that we shouldn’t fear “crazy” people but should reach out to them with freedom and healing. This is a very nice lesson but was that really Luke’s point in including this story? Exegesis is the process of taking the original meaning out of the text and explaining it to others. Eisegesis is when you take a nice christianese lesson and place it onto the text. Aside from the obvious difference between demon possession, which Luke clearly meant to portray, and insanity and the fact that Legion was not the man’s name but the name of his possessor, Jones has failed to read this story in context. There are many stories about Jesus that focus on him reaching out to undesirables but this isn’t Luke’s focus here. Read Jesus’ final command to the man: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you” (8:39). The full implications of what has been done for him are laid out in Luke 11 when Jesus explains that once a strongman has been overpowered his plunder is taken away. Jesus has defeated Satan and his plunder (possessed men or women; Lk 13:16) are freed. Luke’s point is that the power of God Almighty has come among them and Jesus wields that power to overcome Satan and free his captives.

This passage is about bringing freedom to captives, but not in the sense that Jones portrays it. He has failed to exegete Luke’s point and therefore focuses on overcoming fear. The people were afraid. They were afraid of power, whether Satan’s or God’s. We are called to take up the power of God in Christ and use it to continue to do the work of the Kingdom, freeing those captive to Satan. May the result of our work earn the commendation of resulting in people returning home to: “tell how much God has done for you.”

March 20, 2009

Give it All to Him review

Filed under: Jesus,Review — Thomas @ 15:39
Tags: ,

Give it All to HimToday’s review is of a short book by popular preacher and author Max Lucado. You can find it in the BAC library under 242.0 LUC.

Max Lucado, Give it All to Him: A Story of New Beginnings. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. 58 pp. 0849944783, 9780849944789. BV4921.3.L83.

This book revolves around a parable of people carrying garbage bags containing the consequences of their sins around with them at all times. Jesus offers to take their garbage if they meet him on Friday at the dump. This reminded me of Walter Wangerin’s Ragman (0060526149) in which Jesus offers new rags for old. Wangerin is a much better story teller but the point is the same.

Lucado falls into an all too common preaching trap. That is, he uses an old story and tells it like it is ongoing. In this case he refers to the case of the Pelicano, a ship that collected Philadelphia’s trash during a 1986 strike. Lucado has her still plying the seas in 2004 (p.5). In searching for more information I came across many other preachers who later used this illustration and still have her plying the seas. Lucado references Jerry Schwartz, “Where Does One Stash That Trash Ash?” San Antonio Express News, 3 September 2000, sec. 29A so presumably he is not the one to blame. However, a quick search turned up this Times article which says that the Pelicano had dumped her cargo by October of 1988. This seems a lot more realistic that her sailing the ocean for 18+ years. This may seem rather quibbling so I will now turn to a theological point.

Lucado is also author of He Chose the Nails so it is not surprising that he focuses on that aspect of Jesus’ life in this book as well. In wanting to theologically emphasise Jesus’ decision to allow himself to be crucified Lucado states: “[Jesus] knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails…Had the soldier hesitated, Jesus himself would have swung the mallet…as a Saviour he knew what it meant…So Jesus himself swung the hammer” (p.41).

This preaches well and I’m sure it impacted people but it is not the voice with which the Gospel writers speak. They talk of his desire to follow God’s will rather than his own; John records him announcing “it is finished.” Mark uses passive verbs throughout this section in his account and is joined by Matthew in portraying him as forsaken. Luke gives him some control and John goes furthest showing that he is completing his mission. None potray the lamb who takes away the sin of the world as grabbing the knife from his captors in his eagerness to die so that we might have life.

I think I’ve said enough about such a short book. Read it for yourself and tell me what you think!

February 17, 2009

Were the Jews Expecting a Messiah? – George W.E. Nickelsburg

Filed under: Jesus,Old Testament — Thomas @ 10:25
Tags: ,

Professor George W.E. Nickelsburg is coming to TWU in March to speak on Were the Jews Expecting a Messiah?

Date: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Northwest Auditorium

I think this would be a good lecture for our Sunday school class as this was the topic of our second lesson. Nickelsburg is an expert on intertestamental and first century Judaism. If you want to carpool let me know.

HT Scotteriology

January 12, 2009

Did Jesus speak Greek?

Filed under: Greek,Jesus,New Testament,Translation — Thomas @ 23:25

We know that Jesus spoke Aramaic because the gospel writers quote some of the Aramaic phrases he used and translate them for their Greek readers (e.g. Mk 5:41). It has also been suggested by some that Jesus spoke Greek but there is no consensus concerning his fluency. In Mark for Everyone by Tom Wright which I recently reviewed Wright makes the startling statement: “It is virtually certain that, though Jesus and his followers would be able to speak and understand Greek, their normal everyday language would be Aramaic” (63). I say this is surprising because no one had previously suggested to me that some Galilean fishermen would be able to speak Greek. I could conceive of a tax collector speaking Greek but a fisherman? I had always been led to believe they were uneducated country bumpkins.

Although Google will provide a lot of results for the question “Did Jesus Speak Greek” there does not seem to be a lot of scholarly work done on the subject. Michael Wise in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels from IVP is not nearly as emphatic as Wright, stating “The question whether [Jesus] also knew Hebrew and Greek can only be answered on theoretical grounds” (442). I have come across two articles by Stanley Porter that assert Jesus could not only speak Greek but was fluent enough to teach in that language. Obviously this has implications for interpreting the gospel accounts of his public ministry. They would not just be second hand translations of his teaching but could be the actual words he spoke.

Stanley E. Porter, “Did Jesus Ever Teach in Greek?” Tyndale Bulletin. 44:2 (1993): 199-235.
“…it is virtually certain that he used Greek at various times in his itinerant ministry” (235).

Stanley E. Porter, “Jesus and the Use of Greek: A Response to Maurice Casey.” Bulletin for Biblical Research. 10:1 (2000): 71-87.

As may be deduced from the title of the above article not everyone agrees with Porter’s conclusion, namely:

P. Maurice Casey, “In Which Language Did Jesus Teach?” Expository Times. 108:11 (1997) 326-28.

Casey argues for the use of Aramaic by Jesus in his teaching. No one is willing to argue that Jesus would not have known some Greek but the question is whether he was fluent enough to teach in that language. The consensus seems to be that it is likely that he spoke to some people in Greek because it is less likely that they knew Aramaic than that he would not have known Greek. In other words it is an argument based on probabilities and silence. Aren’t those the best kind? 🙂

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