Friday, September 12, 2014

A Book for Every Pastor's Shelf

There are many resources that I regularly recommend to my students. Among them is Craig Keener's Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament (IVP). Providing a chapter by chapter commentary of the New Testament, Craig helps readers to quickly discover what historical, cultural and religious factors may be at work in the text.

The first edition of this important resource was published in 1995. Yesterday I received a copy of the Second Edition, with many thanks to Craig for sending it to me. This is an excellent resource that should be on every pastor's shelf. And it's affordable; less than $30.00. Since the first edition lasted twenty years, your investment should last you for much of your ministry career.

Here's the blurb! Now, if you don't own already own it, click here to buy!
This revised edition of the standard reference work in its field has been expanded throughout to now provide even more up-to-date information by Craig Keener, one of the leading New Testament scholars on Jewish, Greek and Roman culture. To understand and apply the Bible well, you need two crucial sources of information. One is the Bible itself. The other is an understanding of the cultural background of the passage you're reading. Only with the background can you grasp the author's original concerns and purposes. This unique commentary provides, in verse-by-verse format, the crucial cultural background you need for responsible--and richer--Bible study. It includes a glossary of cultural terms and important historical figures, maps and charts, up-to-date bibliographies, and introductory essays about cultural background information for each book of the New Testament. Based on decades of in-depth study, this accessible and bestselling commentary is valuable for pastors in sermon preparation, for Sunday-school and other church teachers as they build lessons, for missionaries concerned not to import their own cultural biases into the Bible, for college and seminary students in classroom assignments, and for everyday Bible readers seeking to deepen and enhance their study of Scripture.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My "Aha" Moment and Those Who Don't Get It

I remember playing with fire once when I was a kid. 

Ok, I did it more than once when I was a kid.

But I remember one time when it almost got out of control. One day after the fourth of July a friend and I collected a pile of unexploded firecrackers. The fuses had burned off but the firecrackers had failed to explode. After trying a variety of methods to ignite them we decided to build a fire, throw them in and wait for the bang. When that failed to happen we decided to throw in the six or seven Bic lighters we had collected from around my friend’s house. That’s when the real pyrotechnics began.

Although the fireworks never ignited, the lighters did! Suddenly the lighters became fiery, molten plastic projectiles that were catapulted out of the fire into the surrounding woods. In a matter of moments we were confronted with a half dozen small fires that were in danger of burning out of control. The woods were too far from the house, so the garden hose wouldn't reach. We were forced to stamp out each individual fire before it spread too far. Whew!

In some ways I feel like I am in a similar situation over a blog post I wrote in June for Pete Enns.  I suppose I was playing with fire again.

The post was an attempt to explain my faith perspective as a biblical scholar who encountered the complexity of the Bible, but still maintains a strong faith in God. But instead what has happened is that some have taken a small, yet significant portion of that post, and like those molten plastic projectiles from my youth, have begun a number of small fires. Since I can’t possibly stamp them all out, I will try to communicate here what I originally said and some further thoughts about the portion that others have used to start these fires.

In the original post, I describe an “aha” moment when I realized that the Bible was different than I had understood it and that I was going to need to change if I was going to accept the Bible on its own terms. I talked about how I noticed that in Mark 2:23-27 Jesus uses, as a defense, a story about David eating the bread reserved only for the priests and giving some of it to his men. I noted how Jesus’ use of this story is at variance with what is described in 1 Samuel 21 where, in my opinion, David is clearly alone and, even more curious, Jesus mentions the wrong priest. 1 Sam 21 says that the name of the priest was Ahimelek, but Jesus says it was Abiathar.

In my post I related how I noticed the discrepancy while sitting in a Bible College class and that I pointed out to my teacher that “Jesus got it wrong” and that “Mark has the wrong priest.” I was relating what was quite a disturbing moment for young student of the Bible. I then continued on in the rest of the post to explain my understanding of Scripture and how I approach it.

While I received much positive feedback from those who could identify with my “aha” moment, there have been some that have turned my post into an argument over inerrancy (a word I never used) and have zeroed in on my story about Mark 2:23-27. And those responses have become nothing more than a game of shooting fish in a barrel.

The one response that has gone viral is from Craig Blomberg on Michael Kruger’s blog “Canon Fodder.” Let me start by stating that I am not picking a fight with him. I am honored that Blomberg responded to my post. I have followed Craig’s work for years and cut my teeth on parables using his book.

In his response Blomberg provides an alternative approach to interpreting Mark 2:23-27 based on a translation of the Greek preposition “epi” and how synagogues read through the entire Law every year (you can read the full explanation here). Blomberg is critical of me for not saying more about the passage and wonders why I didn’t give any other possible explanations (see my own explanation in the comment section below).

Blomberg’s question about why I didn’t give any other possible explanations is what bothers me about those responding to my post. They have missed the point of the series. The point was not to have an exegetical sparing match, but to talk about those moments when we were thunderstruck. But more importantly, at least for me, it was to talk about where I am at today.

Certainly I could have talked about other interpretations of Mark 2:26, but the purpose of the post was to talk about my personal faith as a bible scholar who wrestles with the Bible. Indeed, the majority of the post was about why I still believe in spite of some of the difficulties I have encountered.

More importantly, for me, to talk about the nature of scripture involves more than whether or not it contains “error.”  My comments about the story in Mark 2 don’t represent the sum of my approach to scripture. It’s that moment when I began to realize I would need to change how I read and interpret it. I hope that those he read our “aha” moment posts don’t conclude that an anecdote is the sum total of all we think about scripture.

But let’s take a moment and address the “real” issue everyone seems to find with my “aha” moment. It’s that I suggested that Jesus got the name of the priest wrong. Those who take issue with my statement seem to imply that I am suggesting that Jesus was therefore a fallible human being. Perhaps they equate making a mistake with sin. I am not sure, but I suspect that is the case.

It’s these kinds of assumptions that I think go right the heart of our understanding Jesus’ humanity. What does it mean to say that Jesus, was human? That he was God incarnate in human flesh? Does this mean that Jesus never got confused and called one of the disciples by a different name? Or that he forgot where he laid something? Did Jesus ever get so tired from travelling and teaching that miscommunicated something? Did he ever make a mistake when measuring a stone or a board? Did he ever hit his thumb with a hammer?

I am not sure, but I suspect that for some the idea of Jesus making a mistake like those named above equates him with sinful humanity. Again, I am not sure, but I think that is what they are thinking. I do not, however, understand Jesus to be someone who, as a human, was incapable of making mistakes. Making a mistake doesn’t make him sinful, it makes him human.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if Jesus “got it wrong” or not. I wasn’t there and my only access to the story is through what Mark tells me. My statement to my Bible College teacher was the realization of a young man who saw something new and, at the time, quite shocking.

But I do think that the way the story is related in Mark 2 is at variance with what is presented in 1 Samuel 21. And that is where the major difference lies between me and some others. I am able to accept a Bible that doesn’t act the way I wish it did. I can accept a Bible that doesn’t always lineup with history or even itself. And when I encounter a difficulty like Mark 2:26 my impulse is not to conclude that it’s wrong. But I also don’t feel the need to explain it to fit my modern understanding of history. Sometimes I find a very reasonable explanation and other times I realize there isn’t one. At least not one that “fixes” the Bible to fit into the paradigm I have constructed.

 At the end of the day, I still consider the Bible the word of God. And it’s the mystery and the paradox of the Bible that consistently draws me into it rather than drives me away.

I realize that there will be some who won’t accept this explanation. And a short blog post could become another fiery projectile in the blogosphere. But for those who are responding to the “aha” moments on Pete Enns’ blog I would ask that they consider the purpose of the posts rather than using them as a chance to shoot fish in the inerrancy barrel.