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When we hear stories about Jesus preached and taught, the telling of the story is usually centered around the historical event with an emphasis on the theological significance of that event. I can think of no major theological issue in teaching on “Jesus’s baptism,” “Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000,” or “Jesus’s crucifixion” as historical happenings, nor can I imagine any major problem in drawing from different Gospel accounts to paint a more accurate picture of “what actually happened.” Might I suggest, however, that we may be losing something when we do isolate these events from their context?

We have four Gospels, not one. While four (or fewer) accounts of the same events help corroborate a story, we were not given four gospels merely because we needed the veracity of each testimony confirmed by several witnesses. Each Gospel brings a nuance to Jesus’s life and mission that is unique. Four Gospels prevent us from flattening Jesus into what we think he should be even though it is popular today to do just that. By isolating the event from text and/or supplementing the account with details from another Gospel we override the nuance author was bringing to the text – almost like we are letting one voice speak over the top of another.

Perhaps we can illustrate this best by talking about how each of the Synoptics (sorry John!), which share a lot of the same language and stories about Jesus, talk about the healing of the paralytic.

Mark: Yahweh’s Kingdom Unstoppable (Mark 2:1-12)

Mark’s version is probably the most well-known. Mark presents Jesus as Yahweh finally coming to restore his people and establish his kingdom on earth. What that looks like is totally different from Jewish expectations at that time. Jesus begins his mission by teaching, calling disciples, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Except for all the healings and exorcisms, nothing “out of the ordinary” happens until he heals a leper by touching him. Jesus risks becoming ritually unclean in order to cleanse the leper, but the leper’s uncleaness doesn’t sully Jesus. Jesus’s cleaness overcomes the leper’s uncleaness and heals him. At that point, Yahweh’s coming kingdom takes on more dimension. Neither demons nor sickness nor perpetual uncleaness are outside the bounds of Jesus’s mission of restoration. The healing of the paralytic comes next. Mark sets the scene by emphasizing how full the house was more than the other Gospels. The fullness of the house serves to show the depth of the five friends’ faith. They believe Jesus and stop at nothing to get their friend to him. Mark’s placement of the story is strategic as well since he uses the story to add another dimension to the type of kingdom Jesus is bringing to earth. Jesus heals the man by forgiving his sins. Jesus’s actions raises an important question: How does this man think he can do what only God can do? To the scribes, Jesus is denying God’s oneness. Jesus, however, affirms his ability to forgive sins by  healing the man. One commentator calls this “hard evidence” of Jesus’s ability to forgive. From Mark’s perspective, this story demonstrates that forgiveness is not just a heavenly thing: “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sin.” Forgiveness – as has the kingdom – has come to earth.

Matthew: Jesus’s Authority Demonstrated (Matt 9:1-8)

Matthew takes the same story, compresses it, and places it in a series of stories about Jesus’s authority. First, Jesus and his disciples are traveling in a boat when a storm comes. The disciples, afraid for their lives, summon Jesus to ask for help and declare that they are about to die. Jesus rebukes the disciples. Then he rebukes the storm. The storm is pacified, and the disciples are left wondering at the type of man that Jesus is: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Answer: the type of man who you should put your faith in. Next, Jesus goes to the country of the Gadarenes where he encounters two demon-possessed men (by the way, Mark and Luke place this story some time after the healing of the paralytic). These demons convince Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs. After Jesus  permits their request, the pigs rush out of their pen, fall into the water, and drown. Due to Jesus’s actions, the men are calm and sane – all is right. Not even the most powerful of demons can stop Jesus. The people of the town, however, beg Jesus and his disciples to leave the region.  Are these people responding appropriately to Jesus? Finally, we come to our story. As mentioned before, it’s a compressed version of what we see in Mark and Luke. There’s no mention of the crowds or even the house. The friends bring the paralytic to Jesus, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. The scribes question Jesus, Jesus responds to scribes and demonstrates his authority over sin and sickness by healing the man. The people respond with great wonder that God would give such authority to men. By arranging the stories the way he does, Matthew shows that Jesus has supreme authority over everything on earth. What kind of response is appropriate when we face a man with that kind of authority? We must put our faith in him and be disciples.

Luke: The Kingdom and Great Role Reversal (5:17-26)

Luke’s story looks very similar to Mark’s telling with a few exceptions. In the beginning, Luke prepares the reader for the coming conflict between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees:  “He was teaching one day, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting (they had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem). The power of the Lord was with him to heal.” Jesus and the religious leaders were about to clash over a healing.  We also know that the Lord was with Jesus, that is to say, what is about to happen to the paralytic falls in the purview of Jesus’s mission: to set captives free (4:17-21).  Jesus’s interaction with the paralytic demonstrates the orientation of Jesus’s ministry toward the lowly and marginalized, and forgiveness is a vital part of that ministry. While the Pharisees express outrage at Jesus’s actions, Jesus addresses the need in front of him. Jesus restores the man in front of him completely. He silences his opposition not with the power of a sword but the power of a healing. Jesus did not come to make war with the Romans or slaughter his human opposition. He came to restore his people spirit and body.

Summary

In all three gospels, the story of the paralytic gives dimension to Jesus’s ministry. In all three, Jesus confirms his authority and, arguably, his divinity. Yet, the three gospels use the story differently in their own presentations of who Jesus is. If we isolate the story or supplement the details from another gospel, we risk distorting that presentation. The story is a part of a tapestry. We can appreciate the design by itself, but let us not try to remove design from the fabric it’s woven into. Instead, let’s take a step back and appreciate how the design contributes to the beauty of the whole piece.

In Mark 2, Mark describes how a group of friends bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus by removing part of the roof on the house where Jesus was teaching. They were expecting Jesus to heal their friend. He did, but to the great irritation of the religious leaders Jesus’s version of healing included forgiving the man’s sins as well. In this passage, we come face-to-face with a question that still puzzles us today: “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk?'” For Jesus, the healing of the paralyzed man is an inside out process, and his physical healing demonstrates the reality of his spiritual healing.

Today, we might say this: “Which is easier: ‘to let someone go despite wrongdoing’ (read “forgiveness” here) or ‘to make them pay?'” In our society, the latter receives the most attention. Movies like Kill Bill, where a woman seeks revenge on her former employers for taking the life of her unborn child and sending to her a hospital in a coma, portray a messy, yet to some degree rewarding view of revenge. At the end of the Kill Bill movies, she locks herself in a hotel bathroom while she laughs hysterically for the joy/relief of accomplishing her revenge mission. Katniss Everdeen, the main protagonist of the book series The Hunger Games, votes in favor of instituting a final Hunger Games, turning the Capital’s (the antagonists) main method of subjugation against them, in order to demonstrate the brutality of the Capital and exact retribution from them. Cultural depictions of revenge often acknowledge its inherent messiness, yet revenge is often glorified as a better alternative than forgiveness. After all, what’s more satisfying than successfully exacting retribution and putting the offender in their place?

Forgiveness, however, does not receive its fair shake. Keira Knightley illustrates this point well when she says: “It’s absolutely extraordinary. If only I wasn’t an atheist, I could get away with anything. You’d just ask for forgiveness and then you’d be forgiven.” It’s too costly for the one wronged and too cheap for the one forgiven. Forgiveness demands no change of course for the forgiven and gives no justice to the ones who have been wronged. Forgiveness offers no satisfaction – at least in the eyes of modern people.

Jesus holds a different view: His forgiveness is a powerful healer. Aside from Mark 2, where forgiveness and healing are presented as part-and-parcel to Jesus’s ministry, take a look at how Luke 4:17-21 talks about Jesus’s ministry:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses the language of Isaiah to describe his own ministry. Isaiah is using the language of Jubilee where debt forgiveness receives a central focus. The prisoner is no longer a prisoner because he is free. The blind is no longer blind because he can see. The debtor is no longer a debtor because he is forgiven. Forgiveness is truly a powerful thing if it can accomplish that!

So we come around once again to Mark 2. Jesus healed the man from the inside out. Forgiveness does not come cheaply for Jesus, but he gives it freely to those who need it and ask for it in faith. For those who receive his forgiveness, their outlook on the world is different. They are no longer rebellious outcasts but faithful children. No longer are they to perpetuate injustice; they are to be beacons of justice. They are to be lovers of God and of people. They are not perfect, but they seek to live lives that forgiveness frees them to live. Forgiveness does not allow us to live how we want without consequences. No, forgiveness frees us to live the way were made to live without condemnation.

A few months ago, my pastor and I decided to read and discuss a couple of NT Wright books. He chose “How God Became King.” I read “Simply Jesus.” NT Wright is certainly a controversial name in many evangelical circles, and the subtitle of Simply Jesus (A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters) does little to quell the uneasiness about his writings. When he finished reading his Wright book, my pastor said that he believed that Wright was a Christian – something he wasn’t sure about based on what he’s heard about Wright. He also found Wright’s writing powerful and insightful.

We could say the same thing about Simply Jesus. Powerfully written, insightful, useful. The main differences between the book I read and the book my pastor read is that He God Became King focuses on the messages of the four gospels while Simply Jesus reads sort of like a short biography. Simply Jesus aims at telling Jesus’s story while highlighting the significance of Jesus’s life on earth. Wright tells that story in such a way that it pierces through Modern thinking of history: “I think, to be clear: writing about Jesus has never been, for me, a matter of simply ‘neutral’ historical study (actually, there is no such thing, whatever the topic…).” He defies the Bultmanian (I think that’s a word?) division between the Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith. Wright makes no attempt to keep the two divided. His work is not merely academic, however. He writes for the person who wants to know the answer to the question: “Could you tell me about Jesus?” The question has no simple answer, but he tries to answer it as simple as possible.

He divides the book into three parts. The first part lays out what he calls “the key questions.” These questions relate to Jesus’s historical setting. We can’t think about history in a Modern, Enlightenment way (which even in the church tends to be deistic in nature). We must understand how Jewish people in the 1st century thought about God and his role in history, and we must understand what the role of the Roman government had in Israel at that time. We must do it in a way that is not biased against supernatural happenings. The second part is the meat of the book. This part attempts to answer: “What is Jesus doing?” Everything that Jesus does falls under the rubric of “God’s Kingdom Coming on Earth.” Jesus opposes the cosmic powers by casting out demons. Jesus fulfills biblical expectations of the Messiah by healing and forgiving sins – setting people free from all kinds of bondage. He defies improper thinking about the Messiah. They thought about the Messiah would inaugurate physical kingdom that would defeat the Romans. Jesus’s mission is concerned with much more than that. Jesus defeats the powers opposing his kingdom (political and cosmic, and sin and death) ultimately at the cross, that is, at his death. Evil is invited to do its worst and expends itself completely. Jesus conquers sin and diseases and opposing points of view with words and not swords. Jesus conquers death and the cosmic forces through humility and suffering and not with an army.  In the third part, Wright describes how Jesus is raised from the dead in victory and now rules the world through his people who are now tasked with carrying out the same mission to the world in the same way that Jesus did.

I think Wright’s work is valuable in that he corrects “Christian escapism.” Christians do not need bunkers. Christ is reigning victoriously, and we need to live as if that were true. The old phrase “Kingdom Living” applies here. How does my life right now reflect the fact that Jesus is ruling this world, and that evil is already (although not yet) defeated? We preach that Jesus is Lord and restoring all things in himself. We are ministers of reconciliation – loving God and neighbor in ways that were impossible without Jesus.

The biggest thing I wish he emphasized more was that living Kingdom lives means living holy lives. Thus we follow Jesus’s lead in obeying God. On the cross, Jesus deals with our first and biggest problem. Jesus graciously bore our sin on the cross. This fact makes the gospel so good and makes the ministry of reconciliation possible.

Consider reading Simply Jesus. I’m curious as to what you might have to say!

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been kicking around ideas for putting what I’ve studied and taught in Sunday School and at Southeastern into text. While I don’t think that what I’ll say is a “new” or “fresh” perspective on an issue, I hope that what I write provides a way for people who don’t have the time or resources to go to seminary to share in the benefits from my learning. My education would only really be a waste if I kept it to myself.

Here are a couple of the projects I’m thinking about right now:

Amos Today: How Amos’s words calls today’s church to action. I’ve been studying Amos in my Septuagint class.  In his message to Israel he describes the depth of Israel’s sin and coming judgment of God on his people. We are met by a holy God who cares about what his people do. His words are tough yet gracious since they since he reminds of the importance of how we live in his world. Even the “mundane” matters to God!

What the Psalms say about… A few months ago I team taught a 13 week series on various types of Psalms. Instead of dividing the psalms by their genre, we asked how the psalms address different situations in our lives, how they guide our worship, how they structure our prayers, and how they shape our understanding of God and faith.

In addition to these topics, I’ve been struggling with what the content should look like. I would like for this book to be useful in small groups.

How detailed should the book be? How much attention should the book pay attention to academic matters?

On the flip side, how devotional should the book be? How can both the “academic” and “devotional” elements be blended together?

If this book’s target audience is small groups, what kind of material would be beneficial for small groups?

The biggest question I have to answer is how much do I let questions we ask today shape the material?  The biblical text often (and ought too!) reshape the kinds of questions we ask and I need to pay special attention to that.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m hopeful that by God’s grace I can produce something that is useful to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of my assignments in my only class this spring semester is to present on Amos 2. The presentation covered everything  from  evaluating important textual issues to developing sermon/teaching outlines. It was fascinating to try to get into the mind of the Greek translator as he struggled to translate the Hebrew text accurately and present a version that his readers could understand. The presentation went excellently, and I just want to tip my hat to those who made this long process of research go smoothy.

First, my partner, Matt Christian, was a great cog in the machine that made this process go well. Our conversations about the little things (we spent an hour at least on one word during our first meeting) and the big things (we opened the library every Monday) was extremely valuable.

Second but not really second, My good friend, Jacob Cerone, always provided solid guidance and good recommendations for resources to consult for my research. This project would not have gone nearly as well without him. His friendship continues to be invaluable.

Thirdly, I’d like to provide an abbreviated annotated bibliography on a few works I found most helpful for this project.

Glenny, Edward. Finding Meaning in the Text: Translation Technique and Theology in the Septuagint of Amos.

If there is any book that I found helpful in getting my mind around what’s going on in the LXX of Amos, it was this one. He provides a detailed discussion on translation theory as well as a detailed overview of the changes the translator made and why he may have made them. This resource is excellent, and I think is helpful even if your research in the LXX is not focussed on the book of Amos.

Dines, Jennifer. “Stylistic Invention and Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of the Twelve.” Et sapienter et eloquenter: Studies on Rhetorical and Stylistic Features of the Septuagint.

I found anything that I read with Jennifer Dines’s name on it was gold. Her discussion here as well as her dissertation on the book of Amos were insightful. In this article, she lists rhetorical features that she finds in the Greek text but not in the Hebrew. She also gives her reasons why she thinks the translator may have added those rhetorical features. This short article was excellent and thought-provoking

Paul, Shalom. Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos.

Shalom Paul’s contribution to the Hermeneia Commentary series is a good one. His attention to the details of the Hebrew text (and the Greek!) really helped me think through many of the finer issues of translating, evaluating textual differences, understanding the meaning of words and difficult constructions, and comprehending the passage as a whole. Once again, I recommend this work for any serious study of the book of Amos.

Rudolph, Wilhelm. Joel-Amos-Obadja-Jona. Kommentar zum Alten Testament XIII/2.

This volume is dated, yet I still found his notes on textual issues informative and helpful. The details are amazing, and he helped me form an understanding of what was going on with the differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text.

Lastly, I just want to say that this project was one of most challenging that I’ve ever done. I’ve learned more about God’s Word in Amos than I’ve learned before (and I’m only at the beginning  of the book!). I’m looking forward to further discussions on what Amos has to say to us today.

Recently, my professor had everyone in my Ezekiel class read this helpful article describing parameters for identifying a) an inner-biblical allusion and b) the direction of dependence of that inner-biblical allusion. The scholarly community has demonstrated quite a bit of interest in the particular field of inner-biblical allusion. From my understanding, their interest extends beyond the OT into the Second Temple literature and the NT as well. Leonard’s criteria seems to apply to the OT best from my reading of his article (I would love anyone’s thoughts on how one would identify inner-biblical allusion in the NT).

He gives 8 guidelines:

1. Shared language is the single most important factor in establishing a textual connection. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If one text is going to allude to another, the texts need to possess the same (or similar) lexemes in order to indicate that allusion.

2. Shared language is more important than non-shared language. If the texts do not share significant terms or phrases but not all of the same terms or phrases, the terms or phrases that are not shared do not  have much impact on the possibility of an inner-biblical allusion.

3. Shared language that is rare or distinctive suggests a stronger connection than does language that is widely used. Again, fairly self-explanatory. The rarer the terms or phrases, the higher the probability of an allusion.

4. Shared phrases suggest a stronger connection than do individual shared terms. Establishing an allusion based on a couple of shared terms can be tenuous.

5. The accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase. The more shared language, the better.

6. Shared language in similar contexts suggests a stronger connection than does shared language alone. The probability of that one text is alluding to another increases if the two contexts are talking about the same thing using the same language.

7. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared ideology to establish a connection. With #6 in mind, that being said, authors bring their own ideas and purposes to the text. Therefore, the language from text A alluded to in text B may serve another purpose in text B than it did in text A.

8. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared form to establish a connection. E.g. A psalm can allude to a narrative in the Pentateuch.

After laying out all these guidelines, Leonard stresses that just like Textual Criticism, establishing an inner-biblical allusion is as much an art as it is a science. Thus, no magic method exists to determine a connection.

He provides 6 criteria for establishing which text is dependent on the other:

1. Does one text claim to draw on another?

2. Are there elements in the texts that help fix their dates?

3. Is one text capable of producing the other?

4 .Does one text assume the other?

5. Does one text show a general pattern of dependence on other texts?

6. Are there rhetorical patterns in the texts that suggest that one text has used the other in an exegetically significant way?

I still have a few questions:

1. While shared language is the most important criteria, I think that exegetical purpose would come in close second. If one cannot come up with a reason for an allusion, how can one call it an allusion? I taught Psalms 1 and 2 at my church. While most scholarly articles I read seem to think that Psalms 1 and 2 share a strong connection, two of the criteria were the use of the word for meditate (הגה – a fairly rare word) and the inclusio about the blessed man. I still think that connection is tenuous at best.

2. How much do our presuppositions about how the canon was shaped determine what can and cannot be dependent on the other? Is Ezekiel, a pre-destruction of the temple prophet, dependent upon the P source (a supposedly 6th century document) or vice-versa? With the plurality and complexity of source models that exist in the scholarly world today, the area of inner-biblical allusion just adds more complexity.  Personally, I think a more conservative model makes better sense of the evidence. It also seems to me (I speak ignorantly) the conservative model greatly simplifies the task of establishing inner-biblical allusions too.

All of this is very exciting. I do look forward to reading more about this topic. I hope clarity comes in the research! I welcome any thoughts about this subject in both the OT and the NT!

Ezekiel 2 contains the speech of God’s calling Ezekiel to become a prophet. As I was translating through Ezekiel 2:1, I came across a very surprising form of verb.. The whole verse reads:

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלָ֑י בֶּן־אָדָם֙ עֲמֹ֣ד עַל־רַגְלֶ֔יךָ וַאֲדַבֵּ֖ר אֹתָֽךְ

And [the voice] said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak with you”

How, I asked, is a verb that appears to be a wayyiqtol (וַאֲדַבֵּ֖ר) translated with volative force? I understand that if the verse read

And [the voice] said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet.” And I spoke with you.

the verse would not have made much sense at all, but, at first glance, the form of the verb seemed to necessitate that translation. On top of that problem, BHS does not specify any variant readings for the verse. Obviously, my “first glance” was the problem.

First, the word is not a wayyiqtol. Wayyiqtols take the ּ וַ (waw + patach + doubling of the next letter). The word has וַאֲדַבֵּ֖ר the waw + patach, but with compensatory lengthening, we would expect a waw + qamets (long “a” vowel) instead. What is actually happening is a waw + shewa is prefixing the word. The shewa cannot stand next to the compound shewa, so the shewa becomes whatever vowel makes up the compound shewa. In this case, that vowel is a patach. The form is not a wayyiqtol at all; it’s a weyiqtol.

While this observation clears up most of my confusion, I still wanted to know why the form (according to Accordance and all the the translations I checked) is a cohortative rather than a 1cs yiqtol form. The cohortative usually takes a final ה, but that ה is lacking from the form in the text. Why should it be translated as a cohortative at all?  The answer lies in the previous verb. The word עֲמֹ֣ד is an imperative. When a weyiqtol follows a cohortative, the weyiqtol takes on volative force. Van Pelt (17.6.2) provides a great example from Jeremiah 11:6:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֵלַ֔י קְרָ֨א אֶת־כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֤ים הָאֵ֙לֶּה֙ בְּעָרֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וּבְחֻצ֥וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר שִׁמְע֗וּ אֶת־דִּבְרֵי֙ הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֔את וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אוֹתָֽם

And Yahweh said to me, “Call out all these words in the cities of Judah and outside Jerusalem saying, ‘Hear (imperative) the words of this covenant and obey (weyiqtol) them.'”

Lesson learned: One vowel makes a huge a difference.

 

 

 

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