951753

This Site Is No Longer Active

Check out RESTITUTIO.org for new blog entries and podcasts. Feel free to browse through our content here, but we are no longer adding new posts.


On Reading Scripture

  

Reading any literary piece is both a science and an art. It requires discipline, as well as creativity. Many of the principles here are applicable to any literature. That goes for holy texts as well. Here we’re looking at the Christian Scriptures. You could easily use this for other religious texts (though for ahistorical works like Buddhism the historical method is far less important). When reading a contemporary novel you won’t recognize that you’re doing these methods – but you really are. On a side note these methods are also exactly why fantasy (Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings) and sci-fi (Battlestar Galactica) is such a ready medium for displaying moral and ethical dilemmas and dramas that challenge us in our life. In short, the method is threefold; history, worldview, and exegesis.

History

When reading texts about ancient religions in history we need an appropriate historical method. We have to recognize what we are reading was not written with our expectations in mind (When talking about fantasy and sci-fi, as above, our expectations are in mind). We have to start with history. We have to understand (as best we can) the social, cultural, political and religious climates we are dealing with. We do this by reading both insider, and outsider information: that is material written by people about themselves, and material written by others about the people we are studying. Both sides are incredibly valuable, especially when you consider the worldviews of both peoples (presuming they are different, and we’re not talking about a purely sectarian thing). History involves the study of both individuals and people groups. It involves the study of their motivations and goals. This is not to say we are talking about psychology at all. It is a plain thing for a person to reveal their goal and motivation by their actions. Not to mention we have to apply that at the level of a whole (or part of a) cultural people. What is Israels’ motivation? What is Rome’s? To what end? All this requires both disciples, to be understandable in their worldview, and creativity, to be imaginative enough when our authors don’t write out all the steps taken for us. To presume that the writers’ purpose was to lay out, for us, all their logic and steps like a math problem is just that, a presumption. We need to eliminate these common expectations of ours.

Worldview

There is famous CS Lewis quote (you might have seen it on Vineyard church advertisements:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

This is the epitome of a definition for ‘worldview’. Worldview is assumed. It is the very context of how you look at the world. You look at the world “through” worldview. Worldview is affected by so many different things – even generations within the same country. To imagine that any biblical character has the same worldview as you is, to be kind, absurd. In the many ways I am like my father, I don’t even have the same worldview as him, and he raised me. There are four elements that make up worldview:

  • Praxis (your practice)
  • Symbols (icons)
  • Stories
  • Questions

These questions are further broken down:

  • Who are we?
  • Where are we?
  • What is wrong?
  • What is the solution?

The answers to these questions are informed, debated, and reformed by the previous praxis, symbols, and stories. Those are the raw materials of answering these questions. What we witness in the New Testament is the ‘debate’. We see Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all using their natural resources; the symbols of the present day, (e.g. a coin with Caesar on it), the biblical stories they have known and reflected on (e.g. the Exodus and entering into rest from Hebrews, Jesus as Moses in the gospels), and their own praxis (e.g. the Last Supper as a Passover meal, transformed with new meaning) to answer these worldview questions. And the answers, based on their life experience with Jesus, and the resurrected Jesus, and the community are very different than any other Jewish sect.There are so many other peculiarities of worldview, and other specific questions related to the stories and history of Israel that have cropped up in Jewish writings. This is why the Dead Sea Scrolls were such an important find. It gave us so much more information about how the Jewish people of the Second Temple period used their stories, symbols, and practice, to come up with different – but all Jewish – ways to answer these questions.

Exegesis

When reading any literature we have to realize what genre we are reading. Within the Christian cannon there are several genres; mythological narrative, historical narrative, poetry and song, prophetic narrative, and apocalyptic narrative. The entire Bible is not historical narrative, and we cannot do justice to its writers and inspirer to read it all the same way. Furthermore, the questions that are being answered by the writers are the questions based on the worldview. Since your worldview is different – your questions will not be directly found in the text. The Scriptures do not directly address the immediate questions of 21st century Western people. It could not possible do so directly. The more and more we submit ourselves to the Christian worldview the New Testament puts forth (that is, to put down our cross of our own worldview) the more and more we will see answers to the right questions, as we make those questions our own.

Using these three elements

To use these three elements appropriately is the goal of study. To not lean on any one, at the loss of another is hard to do. A comprehensive reading of the text in question needs to maximize for these things:

  • Fitting all the data
  • Simplicity of thought
  • Sheds light on other areas

If you can’t fit all the data into your approach and method, then a mistake has been made. If all the data fits, but there is no possible way my conclusions could have been reached by the historical figures (data beyond their knowledge, or language beyond their knowlege) in the way I’ve outlined, then a mistake has been made. If the results of the method do not shed light on any other unilluminated areas, then something has been missed. The best way to accomplish this goal is by starting large and vague.Take the period of Second Temple Judaism up until Christianity. Examine their worldview and writings. Examine their various answers to the questions. Mark out fixed, but sufficiently vague, points. Take the history in the same manner. Mark out fixed, but sufficiently vague points about kings, client-rulers, their misdeeds, wars, and revolutions. Mark areas before and after the time period you’re studying. Don’t mark your time period! Put down verifiable data that must be started from, and must be met on the end. A good example that must be explained by any Christian origins study is this remarkable statement made:

Eighty and six years have I now served Christ, and he has never done me the least wrong: How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? Polycarp 186AD at his martyrdom

Whatever your reconstruction of Jesus and early Christianity, you must explain this fixed point with it, loyalty to Jesus over Caesar in the face of death, and specifically in that manner – King and Savior. That is just one point, there are many others.

Arguments that fail to show any knowledge of the above are lacking when we begin to talk about anything historical or theological in relation to the Scriptures. There is plenty of freedom in devotional writing. But when it comes to theology and history there are certain bars that must be met. Failure to meet them means the idea is dismissed. That is just how the study works. I hope that we can continue to strive to meet the rigors of the study.

Some of the Things We’ve Encountered

I want to address some of the comments and perspectives we’ve encountered thus far. There has been a lot of argument over ‘definition’. As far as the New Testament is concerned, there is only one perspective that definition can, and must, be approached from – Second Temple Judaism (STJ). If one cannot show why a specific definition is outlined by STJ it should be abandoned, since that is the entire context of the NT. That includes definition of ‘resurrection’. If you posit that the NT made a clear break from any definition you must show precisely where that break was. You must show the STJ definition and approach, and then the corresponding Christian definition and why those are divergent.

Beyond that, the case of “smuggling in” other explanations for miracles (either by hand-waving them away, or giving overly scientific explanations) are entirely unwarranted. The ancient people were certainly capable of describing science. They wrote astrological tables, and constructed great feats of engineering like the Hanging Gardens and the Pyramids. Science did not escape them. To “wave away” miracles through techniques that utterly alter what the writers have written (through inspiration no less) is to do a grave injustice to the work.

I pray that we can have a fruitful discussion on this topic as these very loose boundaries have been defined.

32 Responses to “On Reading Scripture”

  1. on 21 Apr 2009 at 6:18 amSean

    Great stuff, JohnO. I would add that STJ is primary but not the whole picture. For example, with Paul’s epistles we need to include the Greco-Roman matrix in order to “get” how Paul’s readers (especially the non-Jewish ones) would hear him.

    Perhaps the exercise goes like this. (1) Start with STJ. (2) Add in John the Baptist. (3) Cut Jesus loose and see how he confirms, challenges, and brings new things to bear. (4) Add in the crucifixion-resurrection-ascension-outpouring of the holy spirit set of events. (5) Bring in the Gentiles. (6) Now see how the NT epistles brilliantly make sense of it all

    I think the key here is to start by calibrating ourselves to the starting point of the NT, which is clearly STJ under Roman occupation. If we start there a lot of their assumptions come to the fore and suddenly Jesus’ actions become a lot clearer.

    For example, if we believe that the name of the game is to go to heaven at death, then we are going to assume that Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven is essentially an invitation to flit off to heaven. But, if we use the STJ matrix (which of course includes as one of its key ingredients the OT) then we realize that the name of the game is for God of heaven to restore the world and bring about a lasting kingdom of justice and peace in the land of Israel. I think the starting point is a big deal.

    Furthermore, we should also note that STJ is not some one dimensional thing. In fact, many people would says Second Temple Judaisms because there was not just one way of looking at things. You’ve got the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Essenes, the fourth philosophy, and then, of course, JohnB and Jesus who don’t really fit neatly in any of these categories.

    just some thoughts

  2. on 21 Apr 2009 at 7:36 amJohnO

    Yes, thank you for reminding me to include the Roman world as well (can’t remember it all, or write it all in one sitting, there are whole books about this topic). When studying the Gospels the primary influence is STJ since they are Jewish writers talking about a Jewish story (Luke is the only non-Jew). When reading the epistles you need both STJ and the Roman world, since Paul is using the raw materials of Judaism (and even sometimes Greek philosophy) to speak to a Roman/pagan world. All of these things create markers that need to be navigated and met.

  3. on 21 Apr 2009 at 11:09 amrobert

    There is several things to take into consideration when determining the mind set of STJ.
    the first thing is the influence that the people of Judea and Jerusalem had incountered during the captivity in Babylonia and the occupation of the ruling classes.
    the second is the influence of man’s interpretation of the Torah which was the Talmund and Mishnah.
    this is very important to understand how far away the people of Judea had moved from the written word in the time of Jesus.
    They had now become worshipers of Moses instead of the Word of God.
    Sound fimilar, Just replace Moses With Jesus.

    there is so much history through out time that is relevent to the the influence of our religion

  4. on 21 Apr 2009 at 11:51 amJohnO

    Robert,

    Regarding the Talmud and Mishnah, these documents were composed well after the time of Jesus (135 and after). Only some of the ideas can be traced backward from the Talmud and Mishnah back into STJ – and that is a careful process (see EP Sanders, and Daube on the subject). Assuming that all of it has a counterpart or was thought of in STJ is incorrect. STJ is explicitly not the same as Talmudic Judaism, since Talmudic Judaism only came about because of the destruction of the Temple.

    The exile to Babylon falls directly into ‘stories’ about Israel and her God. Just like the exodus out of Egypt did.

  5. on 21 Apr 2009 at 12:02 pmrobert

    The Talmund dates back to the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the nation of Judea. it just was not written till after

    and Israel was never exiled to Babylonia , Judea and Jerusalem was which was not Israel.

    Jesus’s trial was conducted by Sanhedrin which was from the Talmund

  6. on 21 Apr 2009 at 12:17 pmJohnO

    The Talmund dates back to the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the nation of Judea. it just was not written till after

    Since we’re actually talking about historical method on this post, would you care to cite any archeological data, or researcher who subscribes to that idea? I know of no one who holds that position. Your next comment actually tells us a lot about a ‘story’ that you already are beholden to in your exegesis. This story is precisely not from STJ:

    and Israel was never exiled to Babylonia , Judea and Jerusalem was which was not Israel.

    ‘Israel’ is often used, especially within the prophetic literature to talk about the whole nation. You are imposing a distinction that was formed hundreds of years later on to the documents that has no place in being there.

  7. on 21 Apr 2009 at 12:34 pmrobert

    Its called the Word of God. it is very clear that Israel fell to the Assyrian’s and were taken captive and dispersed to the ends of the earth.
    now historians place this at 722BC plus it is written in Assyrian history.
    There will be no nation of Israel till Jesus returns to rule it.
    you think that these were just stories, than that would make the bible the greatest peice of fiction ever wrote

  8. on 21 Apr 2009 at 12:44 pmWolfgang

    Hi,

    when reading the gospels, it certainly seems like there was quite a difference between the OT Scripture interpretations and understanding of the Jewish leadership (reflecting STJ ?) and that of Jesus … which would indicate that it would not really be too good an idea to take STJ as basis for wanting to read and understand the Scriptures correctly.

    Are you perhaps excluding those “tradition of man” understandings, as held and proposed by the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day, from what you call “STJ”?

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  9. on 21 Apr 2009 at 1:04 pmSean

    Robert,

    The word “story” as used in this context does not imply fiction. It is the sacred history which lived among the people (especially during the festivals). There was also fictional literature which affected them, which we call the psuedepigrapha or inter-testamental writings, though some of these stories were also historical (especially Maccabees, etc.). But, I don’t think they were as worried about the distinction as we are today. See Johnny’s posts, called Story or Gospel as Story

    Wolfgang,

    Hi,

    When we say Second Temple Judaism (STJ), we could just as easily say “the standard types of beliefs, practices, and stories that the Jewish people lived out in the time of Jesus” (but that would be too wordy). Furthermore, as I stated in my comment (which I don’t blame you for not reading since it was too long anyhow) we are to calibrate our understandings based on the Judaisms of the 1st century and then allow Jesus to be Jesus and challenge the norms of his day. The idea is not to force Jesus to conform to the Judaism of his day, but to see him in that lens and so understand how radical he really was (in some areas) and how typical he was in others. In the case of the “traditions of men” that Jesus rightly challenged, you have put your finger onto something that Jesus exposed as wrong: don’t use tradition as an excuse to disobey God or miss the heart of the Law. However, for too many, Jesus’ condemnation of certain traditions has been understood to mean that all tradition is bad, which is certainly to take his words out of context.

  10. on 21 Apr 2009 at 1:21 pmWolfgang

    Hi Sean,

    we are to calibrate our understandings based on the Judaisms of the 1st century and then allow Jesus to be Jesus and challenge the norms of his day. The idea is not to force Jesus to conform to the Judaism of his day, but to see him in that lens and so understand how radical he really was (in some areas) and how typical he was in others.

    my concern is about us reading the scriptures (is this not what the topic is about?).

    I am not talking about forcing Jesus to conform to Judaism, I am talking about rather taking Jesus instead of his enemies’ Judaism as the basis for reading the Scriptures. I would think that by reading the Scriptures as the Judaizers in Jesus’ time did, one will arrive at the same false understanding of the Scriptures as they had … whereas by reading the Scriptures in light of Jesus’ understanding and that provided by the apostles in their writings one may arrive at the correct understanding of the Scriptures.

    I would say that we must read the Scriptures in light of the languages used, in light of the historical setting in which they were written, in light of certain cultural matters which have bearing on the language used (figures of speech, mannerisms, etc.), in light of who wrote and who was addressed, etc …. rather than reading them as if they were modern day novels written yesterday and addressed to us wherever we may live now.

    However, that is quite different from using ST Judaism and its traditions and doctrines as basis for reading the Scriptures.

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  11. on 21 Apr 2009 at 1:28 pmrobert

    http://www.wordsight.org/btl/000_btl-fp.htm

    in 975BC the kingdom was divided into 2 seperate nations.
    in 721BC the nation of Israel(10 northern tribes) ceased to exist
    in 586BC the nation of Judea ( 2 tribes only)ceased to exist.
    while both nations can be called children of Israel.
    the nations are seperate.
    since 721BC there has been no king of Israel
    Since 586BC there hasnt been a true king which wasnt put there by ruling class of occupying nation.
    just puppet kings

  12. on 21 Apr 2009 at 1:58 pmJohnO

    Wolfgang,

    I am not talking about forcing Jesus to conform to Judaism, I am talking about rather taking Jesus instead of his enemies’ Judaism as the basis for reading the Scriptures. I would think that by reading the Scriptures as the Judaizers in Jesus’ time did, one will arrive at the same false understanding of the Scriptures as they had … whereas by reading the Scriptures in light of Jesus’ understanding and that provided by the apostles in their writings one may arrive at the correct understanding of the Scriptures.

    I think I see what you are getting at. I think it comes down to understanding the worldview questions. Who are we? Both Jesus and his various opponents agreed “We are Israel, God’s elect people”. Though Jesus would challenge who precisely is in covenant with God (hence the new Exodus imagery used by Jesus and John in baptism that I’ve posted on previously). Where are we? Jesus, John, and many Pharisees would (likely) say that they are back in Israel, but still in exile metaphorically (with no proper King as robert pointed out). The Saduccees absolutely opposed that idea, we are back in God’s promised land as he wants us – everything is perfect as it were. The Saduccees were the ones in power, no wonder everything is perfect. The part that gets very interesting are the next two questions “What is wrong?” and “What is the solution?”. These are where the responses of Jesus, John, various rabbis, the Sadduccees, and various sectarian literatures found in the Dead Sea Scrolls all contribute so much to our understanding.

    To put a long story short, Jesus agreed with certain Pharisees about certain problems and certain solutions. He also disagreed in areas. He agreed, and again disagreed with various sectarian literatures. He disagreed with the Sadduccees mostly it seems. All of these inter-Judaism arguments can be plotted out through the various uses and reuses of Israel’s story, symbol, and praxis by each of the writers.

  13. on 21 Apr 2009 at 2:25 pmSean

    Robert,

    Since 586BC there hasnt been a true king which wasnt put there by ruling class of occupying nation.
    just puppet kings

    You are correct that Israel was conquered before Judah. JohnO was not challenging you on that. However, you are incorrect that there was not a true king after that time. Once the people won their independence after the Maccabean revolution, the Hasmoneans ruled Judah (an area as large as Solomon at its peak) through high-priest/kings up until Pompey annexed Jerusalem in 63 bc. See my video on this here.

  14. on 21 Apr 2009 at 2:50 pmrobert

    was that king out of davidic line
    i will correct myself to say no true king that has the promise of God attached to it.
    In my studies i have dealt with this.
    still a king only in name.

  15. on 21 Apr 2009 at 3:09 pmJohnO

    For all those out there who might wonder why this King business is important let me try and explain it. A fair bit of the political/religious actions by the Pharisees (and others) were aimed directly against their kings who they felt were basically “imposters”. They opposed the client-rulers of Rome (e.g. Herod) with the “No King but God” mantra. This is both a religious claim and a political claim that helps us understand what the people are doing, and what the king is doing. The kings, throughout the history are trying to appease/please the people that he might actually be considered God’s King (the revolutionary Messiah-claimants are doing the exact same thing in their own way). Meanwhile the kings have to do Rome’s bidding or they will be removed from their rule. They are between a rock and a hard place. It doesn’t help them that more than a few have some screws loose with wild ambition (Herod killing his brother so he could be king, etc). This impacts the gospels as well. In John you have the crowds saying “We have no King but Caesar” at Jesus’ crucifixion. John is saying that the crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate dismissal of the rule of God as the true King in a very powerful and poignant way.

  16. on 21 Apr 2009 at 4:48 pmrobert

    that was a very good video
    lots of great research.
    i have read all the books of the Apocrypha and they have shed alot of light


    Sean

    i just read your article promise to the throne
    and i have to agree that while it can mean both only the way you looked at makes a real differnce.

    ty

  17. on 21 Apr 2009 at 5:14 pmby: robert

    that was a very good video
    lots of great research.
    i have read all the books of the Apocrypha and they have shed alot of light
    Ooops, should have said great post! Waiting for the next one!

  18. on 21 Apr 2009 at 8:47 pmWolfgang

    John O.,

    I think it comes down to understanding the worldview questions. Who are we? Both Jesus and his various opponents agreed “We are Israel, God’s elect people”.

    is this correct? It seems to me that Jesus and his opponents had quite a different understanding of who God’s elect people were … as a matter of fact, he plainly told Judaism folks who claimed to be “of Israel” and therefore to be “God’s people” that they were dead wrong with their STJ idea. Furthermore, are “we” today even within that framework of “Israel” as it was understood in STJ terms? Is “Israel” defined by STJ or by what the OT Scriptures from even before the times of the ST define?

    Where are we? Jesus, John, and many Pharisees would (likely) say that they are back in Israel, but still in exile metaphorically (with no proper King as robert pointed out). The Saduccees absolutely opposed that idea, we are back in God’s promised land as he wants us – everything is perfect as it were. The Saduccees were the ones in power, no wonder everything is perfect.

    To me, this sounds more like what a 20th or 21st century scholar thinks about what STJ folks thought. where do we read anything of Jesus, John and many Pharisees considering themselves as “in Israel, but still in exile metaphorically (with no proper King)” in Scripture? I would say that Jesus most definitely KNEW that “the proper king” was present, and he acknowledged it before Pilate! The problem is that STJ understanding of “the proper king” (the son of David) as a political ruler who would liberate the earthly nation of Israel was wrong and a main cause why those folks did NOT recognize their king and consequently “this evil generation” met their prophesied doom.
    This point provides an excellent example why STJ should NOT be the basis for understanding the Scriptures, but rather a correct understanding of the OT Scriptures from even before the ST period as seen in Jesus’ understanding and teaching ought to be the basis for an accurate reading and understanding of the Scriptures.

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  19. on 21 Apr 2009 at 9:19 pmWolfgang

    Hi Sean,

    However, for too many, Jesus’ condemnation of certain traditions has been understood to mean that all tradition is bad, which is certainly to take his words out of context.

    I agree, not all tradition is bad … there is even mention of some good tradition by Paul in one of his epistles.

    Still, I would not suggest to take ST Judaism as basis for properly understanding the Scriptrues, simply because STJ to various degrees was already a departure from what the OT Scriptures do teach …. as the records of Jesus’ teachings in the gospels indicate.

    Jesus did NOT understand the OT Scriptures on the basis of STJ (or he would have had the same misunderstandings and wrong interpretations as the Judaism folks of his day); instead, he understood the OT Scriptures in light of what was written, in light of the overall scope and immediate or remote context in which something was written, in light of the use of language both literal and figurative, etc … and since he had a correct understanding of what was written, his application of the truths revealed in the Scriptures was also correct (on contrast to the Judaism folks, whose understanding was flawed and whose application therefore was off in many places as well)

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  20. on 22 Apr 2009 at 7:33 amJohnO

    Wolfgang,

    You seem to be conflating what we’ve formerly been taught about the OT and Judaism, which is quite frankly a big myth (i.e. doesn’t really exist) with what we’re calling STJ.

    It seems to me that Jesus and his opponents had quite a different understanding of who God’s elect people were … as a matter of fact, he plainly told Judaism folks who claimed to be “of Israel” and therefore to be “God’s people” that they were dead wrong with their STJ idea

    God’s elect people are the people of Israel – as a whole. Our highly individualized idea about who is “in” vs “out” should not be projected backwards into history. Jesus and John challenged people to return to covenant (that is what baptism and crossing the Jordan was all about).

    To read more about Exile and baptism please look at this

    I would say that Jesus most definitely KNEW that “the proper king” was present, and he acknowledged it before Pilate! The problem is that STJ understanding of “the proper king” (the son of David) as a political ruler who would liberate the earthly nation of Israel was wrong and a main cause why those folks did NOT recognize their king and consequently “this evil generation” met their prophesied doom.

    This is why I think you’re conflating what we’ve previously been taught with what we’re trying to say. First, not everyone in STJ thought that a Messiah was coming. Second, not everyone (based on the Messiah-claimants and their followers) thought the Messiah had to be descended from David. Third, not everyone thought the Messiah was going to fight his way to victory (Qumran didn’t, as well as Jesus). So to paint a picture of “everyone vs Jesus” as you have is just incorrect.

    This point provides an excellent example why STJ should NOT be the basis for understanding the Scriptures

    Again I think you’re missing the point. STJ is the starting block. There are lots of different opinions in there. If is the foundation and culture in which Jesus was raised. If the Jesus you proclaim does not fit in his time and culture – you’ve got the wrong Jesus. So if STJ is not your foundation and starting block I don’t know what could possibly be. Your, or my, own thoughts? That seems much further removed from anything Jesus would have grown up learning. As it is said: “A text without a context is a pretext for anything”. Jesus’ context is unequivocally Second Temple Judaism!

    because STJ to various degrees was already a departure from what the OT Scriptures do teach

    “What the OT Scriptures teach” according to who? To you? To me? To Moses? To Paul? To Jesus? Every person in that list thought something different than another. STJ is a platform – as I’ve been trying to explain – from which people began to think. We have to get away from thinking that Jesus was expected. He plainly was not. Why was he not? Because he was new and fresh. No one in STJ expected that. Despite their best honest and earnest efforts to understand what God was doing in his Story with and through Israel. We really need to stop thinking of the Jews as “woefully wrong and misguided, dishonest, perhaps even liars”. There is a vast discontinuity with Jesus and the OT. The job of the disciples was to understand the Scriptures in reflection with the power of God in Jesus that they just lived with and witnessed. It was not that Jesus was explicitly predicted as a figure to do and say exactly what he did. Jesus’ whole mission and character was defined by what he saw as the “problem” and the “solution” based on how OT texts were understood in STJ. He came up with his own fresh problem and solution and launched it into the world with the power of God.

  21. on 22 Apr 2009 at 8:14 amSean

    Wolfgang,

    Still, I would not suggest to take ST Judaism as basis for properly understanding the Scriptrues, simply because STJ to various degrees was already a departure from what the OT Scriptures do teach …. as the records of Jesus’ teachings in the gospels indicate.

    STJ is the thought world of the time of Jesus. It is not one dimensional as I have repeatedly stated. There were different beliefs about the Messiah and different interpretations about the Torah. The biggest single feature of the way Jews thought was obviously the OT. So, STJ does not replace the OT. I think you are just not understanding what we are saying and I don’t know how to make it clear. I will try. What we are saying is this: to better understand Jesus and avoid the typical 21st century Western assumptions that plague modern understandings of Jesus, we need to become aware of the various assumptions, beliefs, practices, stories, etc. of the people to whom Jesus spoke. This is not to replace the OT as the primary grid. It confirms that the OT is first priority. But, then it adds in intertestemental history, the psuedopigrapha, the cultural/political/religious institutions of the day, the political scene, and so on. I don’t really think you and I disagree on this.

  22. on 22 Apr 2009 at 8:49 pmJohnE

    First off, the author of this essay is starting with an obvious handicap: he denies the veracity of a large part of a Jewish NT writing – John 18 (and who knows how many others). Instead he favors a different version of the historical events, one he found in a 20 centuries later writing, authored by Jane-Doe-or-whatever-her-name-is.

    But let’s just ignore that, and focus on the fact that as others have already pointed out, STJ is not a monolith, but a composite picture, sometimes displaying contradictory ideas – for example denial and affirmation of resurrection, an immortal and a dying Messiah, etc. So the statement that:

    I want to address some of the comments and perspectives we’ve encountered thus far. There has been a lot of argument over ‘definition’. As far as the New Testament is concerned, there is only one perspective that definition can, and must, be approached from – Second Temple Judaism (STJ)

    makes no real sense. There’s no ONE perspective in STJ, there are many, sometimes even contradictory.

    Second, a fact that is often neglected is that Christian STJ (CSTJ) has brought forth many aspects that add to, clarify, correct and adjust the non-Christian STJ – and I have already showed many examples. The NT writings are filled with them. Some aspects are unheard of in non-Christian STJ, and some are plainly declared as revealed “secrets” by CSTJ, unknown to non-CSTJ. Venturing to claim otherwise is to claim STJ had already a complete and accurate picture of reality even before the coming of Jesus and Christianity. Which is, to put it mildly, absurd.

    Third, this discussion seems to be very oriented on what humans believed was real and true. If something allegedly is not in sync with this human STJ, it cannot be true. Let’s not forget that God is the ultimate originator of the ideas STJ has been built on. Rejection of a particular straightforward sense found in 1 Co 15 on allegedly lacking an STJ pedigree makes therefore no sense. God is not limited by STJ. In fact many teachings of Jesus, which God commanded him to convey to Israel, came in flagrant conflict with some versions of STJ.

    That includes definition of ‘resurrection’. If you posit that the NT made a clear break from any definition you must show precisely where that break was.

    You need to make this “a clear break”, but it’s not a break at all. It is something added on top of already revealed truths. Non-CSTJ does not have a monopoly over religious ideas. God has that monopoly, and He doesn’t tread carefully as not to disturb too much the non-CSTJ sages. Where did the addition happen? Right after Jesus’ resurrection, it being the archetype.

    “What the OT Scriptures teach” according to who? […] To Moses? To Paul? To Jesus?

    Yes to all.

  23. on 22 Apr 2009 at 9:17 pmWolfgang

    Hi Sean,

    to better understand Jesus and avoid the typical 21st century Western assumptions that plague modern understandings of Jesus, we need to become aware of the various assumptions, beliefs, practices, stories, etc. of the people to whom Jesus spoke.

    I would agree with this so far …. but I would then add that one should be careful to note that what a 21st century theologian or historian may claim to have been the ideas of 1st century people to whom Jesus was speaking is not not necessarily correct.
    Furthermore, I would point out that one must also carefully evaluate whether or not those assumptions, beliefs, practices, stoiries, etc. which are reflected or referenced either directly or indirectly in the Scriptures were in harmony with OT Scriptures or not …

    Some of what I have read here along these lines where contributors have based their understanding on STJ has — as it seems to me — fallen in the category of accepting such Judaism thought as right on with the Scriptures when in reality such Judaism ideas reflected thought and teaching contrary to the OT Scriptures. By the way, some folks do exactly that in support of the trinity doctrine … they take certain statements made by Jesus’ enemies as if those were the truth, when in reality those Judaism folks were stating a wrong idea which was not in accordance with the truth.

    Another example, Judaism had certain ideas of the Messiah being a political liberator of the earthly nation of Israel …. they even held on to this understanding to their death at Massada because they falsely hoped for “the true Messiah” to show up on the scene to free them from the Romans, when in reality the true Messiah (who did not fit their picture at all) had already been present among them and was executing the judgment predicted on them as “this evil generation” who had refused to accept him. Thus, I would think it is detrimental to think that those STJ ideas of the Messiah are correct, seeing that the Scriptures and certain historical sources (such as Josephus’ work on the Jewish revolt and war) make it clear, that they were mistaken in their understanding of the Messiah.

    You are correct that we do not disagree in general about the fact that a knowledge of history, cultural matters, language peculiarities, etc. are helpful to understanding the Scriptures (I have stated so already twice in comments above). Yet, as I mentioned here, there seems to be a slight difference in how much value we give to STJ (which to me is like a particular ideological theological system, and as such only a part of the cultural, religious, political background of the times of Jesus); from my current understanding of the gospels and NT writings, it appears as if ST Judaism (as seen in the doctrines and practices of the various Jewish groups of Jesus’ day, such as Pharisees and Saduccees) was right on with the OT Scriptures in rather few places and almost diametrically opposed to the OT Scriptures on major issues (as Jesus’ confrontations with them clearly shows)

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  24. on 22 Apr 2009 at 11:00 pmrobert

    have any of you ever read the talmud or Kabbalah to understand that judaism was polluted at the time of Jesus. this is what Jesus was trying to tell us.
    the Kabbalah will scare your pants off and is the ruling class amongst rabbi’s today and Israel’s government.

    These persecutions against the Talmud ended usually in favor of the Sadducees until the time of Simon ben Shetah, and the above mentioned Janai, Hyrcanus I. (Johanan the High Priest). Then the Pharisees triumphed over their foes, and the oral law was the absorbing subject of the Sanhedrin, under the leadership of Joshuah b. Prachia, Simon b. Shetah and Jehudah b. Tabai. The Talmud was then studied in all colleges of Palestine, Egypt and wherever Jews lived. Owing to the enmity of the Samaritans and the opposition of the Sadducees, many laws and regulations were added to the Talmud of the Pharisees. From that time the Pharisees began to restrict their interpretations so as to make them agree with the deep though literal meaning of the texts, employing therein much sophistry. They counted all the letters of the Torah, and if they found a word or letter not absolutely necessary to the understanding of the text, they said it was placed there only to add to or subtract from the meaning. But at that period the Mishna was not a separate and distinct thing from the Talmud, though many ancient Mishnas already existed in writing, but without a separate title. The Pharisees studied the ancient Mishnayoth, added (see App. No. 4) to them, and explained the biblical texts. All this was entitled Oral Law, or, shortly, “Talmud.”

  25. on 23 Apr 2009 at 11:26 pmJohnO

    JohnE,

    First off, the author of this essay is starting with an obvious handicap: he denies the veracity of a large part of a Jewish NT writing

    Thanks for the ad hominem, I’ve done no such thing. If you want to make claims back them up.

    I’m sorry I’m not being as clear as I could be, I’m still learning. But your statement tells me that you’re not looking to figure anything out at all, but that you’ve got it all solved. I’m glad you have, maybe this is not a productive place for you then.

    So the statement that:

    I want to address some of the comments and perspectives we’ve encountered thus far. There has been a lot of argument over ‘definition’. As far as the New Testament is concerned, there is only one perspective that definition can, and must, be approached from – Second Temple Judaism (STJ)

    makes no real sense.

    It makes perfect sense to understand the NT in it’s context – which is STJ. It would make no sense to understand the NT in the context of say, pagan philosophy (like the gnostics), ancient roman popular figures like cynics, or the dark ages, or the reformation, or the various -isms of western liberal theology (like social reformers), or modernist cultural imperialism, or even the post-modern and post-colonial places some of us are finding ourselves in. No, the best way to understand the New Testament is according to it’s own context, which is Second Temple Judaism. If that is not its context, please tell me which culture, time period, and ideas birthed Christianity.

    There is no Christian Second Temple Judaism. Christianity is firmly a part of Second Temple Judaism. It grew while the temple stood as a sect within Judaism. That is a pretty plain definition. All your words merely show the pluriformity we’ve already agreed upon.

    In fact many teachings of Jesus, which God commanded him to convey to Israel, came in flagrant conflict with some versions of STJ.

    I AGREE wholeheartedly. He certainly did.

    I have to honestly say I have no idea what you’re trying to say when you talk about my comment of resurrection. Reading the Jewish STJ literature on resurrection, the prophets of the OT and their inclusion within that literature – and then comparing and contrasting with the other ancient ideas (Greek and, Roman) about life/death – there is no question whatsoever that resurrection, as Jews and Jesus used it, unequivocally meant return to bodily life. That is the definition of the word. Yes, further on in the greek fathers, and today, people change the ‘definition’ of ‘resurrection’ to mean many many things. But when you are talking about the usage of the word ‘resurrection’ in a Jewish context, spoken by a Jew, to a Jew – you can’t smuggle any of those meanings in.

    Wolfgang,

    which are reflected or referenced either directly or indirectly in the Scriptures were in harmony with OT Scriptures or not

    Every Jew in the period of STJ felt that they were in harmony with the OT. Just like every Christian today feels that they are in harmony with the NT (no matter what you or I might think). And we, in our time, are free and clear to do whatever we want there. But we in our time are not allowed to delineate the norms for STJ. That is what they tried to do through all their debate and literature.

    fallen in the category of accepting such Judaism thought as right on with the Scriptures when in reality such Judaism ideas reflected thought and teaching contrary to the OT Scriptures.

    Incorrect. We’re using the Jewish thought world of STJ to illuminate our understanding of precisely what the NT writers are agreeing and disagreeing with! They are using rhetoric, references, concepts either against or agreeing with their opponents that are often making their own claims. Or as it were, the Christians were the opponents making their own claims – subverting some/many norms of STJ by telling the gospel stories of Jesus, and of course the great Gospel story.

    The concepts and ideas of STJ are the markers, the very currency, the symbolic language with which the NT is written. If I’m in Germany using American dollars I might get some smirks, they surely know I’m a tourist – they might not accept it (our dollar isn’t great right now 🙂 ). Point being, I’m out of place. If we’re not using the right currency we’re out of place. I could make the same analogy about language. I bet before this massive globalization an American speaking English in Germany wouldn’t get very far at all. They’d be lucky to find dinner and a hotel. We’re trying to put out the markers, the signposts, the natural language and concepts with with the NT was thought about and written by the very people who wrote it. If we’re not in touch with those ideas, we’re wandering around with the wrong money and wrong language and we’ll have a terrible experience.

  26. on 24 Apr 2009 at 8:09 amWolfgang

    John O.,

    it seems that you are just going a step too far with your approach of making “second temple judaism” your basis and markers for understanding the Scriptures correctly ….

    In short (and as I have stated before), in order to understand the Scriptures correctly (or any piece of writing from any time) one must understand it in light of the time it was written, the language that was used, the culture and customs and manners of the time which may be referenced, the audience which was originally addressed, any figures of speech that were used for emphasis …

    Thus, I would agree that STJ is like “a subset” of the above mentioned points which would be applicable to use for STJ writings … but I would not agree that STJ is the marker for writings which are not STJ writings!

    Now then, are the NT writings of the apostles “Judaism” writings? I’d say, no (for one, because they were not written by Judaizers nor written to promote STJ)! Are the Scriptures of the Old Testament to be regarded as STJ writings? I would say, no (for one, they already existed even before second temple was built)!

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  27. on 24 Apr 2009 at 8:37 amJohnO

    Wolfgang,

    You bring up a good point. However, the Christian NT is undoubtedly within the literature of STJ. It is written by Jews, with the Jewish worldview questions, and the Jewish worldview answers. They use the Jewish symbols, and the Jewish practice. They use the OT, as does other STJ literature, to find the answers to their questions in their time (of symbol, praxis, problem, and solution). “Judaizers” is rhetoric used by Christian writers. It signals the defining line of a sect (which there were many in ancient Judaism)Everyone (including Rome) saw the group of Jews loyal to Jesus as Jews. What other possible criteria could there be?

    The issue of “marker” also might be misunderstood. A street sign, or city designation, is a marker. It means I’ve reached a location that everyone agrees upon is called a certain thing. In New York City you’ve got uptown, downtown, upper west side, harlem, alphabet city, chinatown, financial district, little italy, greenwich village, and so on. STJ does not say “to get to your destination, take a left when you reach harlem”. It says “this is harlem, this is what harlem represents, and here are what people are saying about harlem. Which way are you going to turn?”. And “which way are you going to turn” is based on your worldview definition of the problem, and consequently, the solution.

  28. on 24 Apr 2009 at 2:36 pmWolfgang

    John O.,

    However, the Christian NT is undoubtedly within the literature of STJ. It is written by Jews, with the Jewish worldview questions, and the Jewish worldview answers.

    while the NT writers lived in a time and in places where STJ was prevalent, while they used the language of their day and time, made reference to the manners and customs (including such of a religious nature) of their day and time, they were not judaistic writers and did not write as Judaistic writers … unless you want to stick them in the same category as the authors of Jewish literature of the day.

    Everyone (including Rome) saw the group of Jews loyal to Jesus as Jews. What other possible criteria could there be?

    And were Rome and the Jews correct in their assumption of seeing the disciples of Jesus as Jews? Did they even view all followers of Christ as Jews, in particular those who were not of a Jewish but of a Gentile background?

    Instead of reading and going by a 21st century scholar who is proposing such theories as STJ being the basis for understanding the Scriptures, I would advise to be watchful and circumspect while reading, and to consider a modern day fellow’s writings in light of what the Scriptures themselves do tell, instead of reading the Scriptures in light of what the modern day fellow writes

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  29. on 24 Apr 2009 at 2:59 pmJohnO

    It is all critical reading – and you keep pointing out what 21st century people write, when all we’re talking about is what STJ wrote. So I don’t know where that keeps coming from. If you’ve got a problem with the conclusions you can’t say “I don’t like the method”, you have to find fault with the method (which no one has done so far), or show where specifically in the execution the method has been abandoned.

  30. on 24 Apr 2009 at 3:07 pmSean

    Getting back to the original post for a moment…under Worldview you wrote Questions.

    Who are we?
    Where are we?
    What is wrong?
    What is the solution?

    I think some more worldview type questions would be:
    -What is the good life?
    -What is our/my purpose?
    -How do we deal with death?

  31. on 24 Apr 2009 at 7:56 pmJohnE

    First off, the author of this essay is starting with an obvious handicap: he denies the veracity of a large part of a Jewish NT writing

    Thanks for the ad hominem,

    Don’t flatter yourself, 🙂 no ad hominem here. It was a simple and accurate observation about what your position is. You preach how the Scripture should be read, and at the same time you deny the veracity of a large part of a Jewish NT writing – John 18. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but you are a prime example of how the Scripture should NOT be read.

    I’ve done no such thing. If you want to make claims back them up.

    I don’t believe you could be this forgetful. Does this little discussion ring a bell? http://kingdomready.org/blog/2008/12/15/jesus-of-nazareth-king-of-the-jews/

    But your statement tells me that you’re not looking to figure anything out at all, but that you’ve got it all solved.

    Oh, so somebody not agreeing with you is a sign that he “got it all solved”? Not being willing to accept your point of view means unwillingness to change one’s mind? Interesting conclusion, you must think very highly of yourself.

    I’m glad you have, maybe this is not a productive place for you then.

    Is this a veiled hint of me going away? Wouldn’t be surprised. After all, you’re the one who stopped me writing on that thread the other day. Not even that surprised me, considering that regarding the same thread, you wrote long before your censorship act that you wish we (me and others) would stop arguing – “I wish everyone over here arguing about it would stop” – http://theoradical.net/2009/01/30/on-resurrection/

    So the statement that:

    I want to address some of the comments and perspectives we’ve encountered thus far. There has been a lot of argument over ‘definition’. As far as the New Testament is concerned, there is only one perspective that definition can, and must, be approached from – Second Temple Judaism (STJ)

    makes no real sense.

    It makes perfect sense to understand the NT in it’s context – which is STJ.

    Please don’t lose the context and make this about something else. We were talking about “definition”, and you said “there is only one perspective that definition can, and must, be approached from – Second Temple Judaism (STJ)”. Why don’t you just address my counter argument, which said “There’s no ONE perspective in STJ, there are many, sometimes even contradictory”?

    there is no question whatsoever that resurrection, as Jews and Jesus used it, unequivocally meant return to bodily life.

    Agreed. And you think I’m saying something else? So many have already paraded this straw man of “bodiless resurrection” that it already sounds like a broken record. Where we differ is the kind of this body.

    But when you are talking about the usage of the word ‘resurrection’ in a Jewish context, spoken by a Jew, to a Jew – you can’t smuggle any of those meanings in.

    So now I’m a smuggler 😀 Interesting choice of words. Anyway, no smuggling is being done. All I’m doing is quoting Christian Jewish writers, taking their words as straightforward as possible.

    No, the best way to understand the New Testament is according to it’s own context, which is Second Temple Judaism.

    Wholly agreed.

    There is no Christian Second Temple Judaism. Christianity is firmly a part of Second Temple Judaism.

    See? There is Christian Second Temple Judaism.

    In fact many teachings of Jesus, which God commanded him to convey to Israel, came in flagrant conflict with some versions of STJ.

    I AGREE wholeheartedly. He certainly did.

    Ok, so you agree there’s a plurality of STJ versions, and that Jesus’ teachings came in contradiction with that. Good, cause the point I’ve been hearing so many times here is that a flesh-less resurrection goes contrary to non-Christian versions of STJ, therefore it can’t be true. So.

  32. on 24 Apr 2009 at 9:34 pmJohnO

    I think “good life” is a very modern question. It’s only been applicable to people well past an industrial revolution where one can even wonder what a “good life” even entails beyond survival. The same goes for “our purpose” I would think (though perhaps less so).

    Death is certainly the “problem”, and overcoming seen as the “solution”.

  

Leave a Reply