Last Call for Biblical Studies Carnival Links for November 2015

Jim West Blogging

Jim West Blogging

The November BiblioBlog Carnival will be hosted by Jim West at Zwinglius Redivivus. Jim was busy at SBL/AAR snapping pics and taking names. Jim is not the kind of person to let a scrapbook opportunity pass him by!

So if you are recovered from your tryptophan stupor (or football hangover), send a few links Jim’s way, he might just appreciate it. You can direct message him on twitter, @drjewest or leave a comment on his blog.

I have the next three carnivals lined up: December 2015 (Due Jan 1) will be hosted by Jennifer Guo (@jenniferguo); January 2016 (Due Feb 1) is Tim Bulkeley at Sansblogue; February 2016 (Due March 1) is Jacob Prahlow (@prahlowjacob) and Pursuing Veritas. I need a volunteer for March (Due April 1) and April (due May 1) host, Brian Renshaw will host in May (due June 1). After June, the rest of year is still open if you want to reserve a month. Contact me via twitter direct message (@plong42) or email (plong42 @ gmail.com).

Book Review: Walter Kaiser, Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament

Kaiser, Walter. Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 176 pp. Pb; $16.99.   Link to Kregel

First-time readers of the Old Testament are often shocked by the grittiness of some of the stories, especially those in which God commands actions which seem ungodly. The most obvious example of this is the command to destroy Jericho and kill every man, woman and child in the city. This “holy war” is difficult for Christians to understand since Jesus blessed the peacemakers and Paul command his readers to not seek revenge on one’s enemies. The “Angry God” passages in the Old Testament are especially problematic use of similar language in modern fundamentalist Islam. Is a difference between the language of Deuteronomy 7 and 20 and the rhetoric of ISIS when they call for jihad against the west? How are we to handle these difficult texts?

Tough QuestionsWalter Kaiser offers some suggestions for this kind of question in his Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament. Kaiser wrote Towards an Old Testament Ethic (Zondervan, 1991) and contributed to Hard Sayings of the Bible (IVP, 1996). This new book is an update and expansion on these earlier works.

The two chapters of the book concern the problem of God’s wrath and the command to destroy the Canaanites. Kaiser points out the Old Testament describes God as both gracious and wrathful. These two sets of attributes are not contradictory: God is neither a god of love nor a god of hate. The Old Testament describes God as “slow to anger” and not as a capricious, vicious, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser (alluding to Richard Dawkins’s famous description). Kaiser says one of the greatest comforting facts about God is that he really does care about creation and his people. Because of his great love and compassion, his equally great wrath is sometimes necessary (p. 24).

He covers several other apparent contradictory teachings in the Old Testament. For example, God seems to permit polygamy while commanding monogamy?  While it was never God’s intention, polygamy does appear in the Old Testament. It is not endorsed or encouraged, and the New Testament makes monogamy quite clear. A second potential contradiction reflects a New Testament reading of the Old, “Is God a God of Grace or a God of Law?” Here Kaiser describes the principles of the law as good and the God-centered ethic of the Old Testament as a model for “personal holiness” (p. 85-6). Although he references both Dispensational and Covenant theology, I find his description dated (citing Ryrie, The Grace of God [1963] and Scofield) rather than more recent dispensationalists Kaiser knows very well having responded to papers collected in a progressive dispensational text.

One issue covered in the book is the extent of God’s knowledge. There some things in the Old Testament which make it appear as if God does not know the future. Here he is interacting with Open Theism, the idea God does not know the future because it has not happened yet. Kaiser affirms God’s omniscience by examining the typical evidence offered by Open Theists. Occasionally God expresses his knowledge using “perhaps” and occasionally he does not follow through on prophetically announced judgments because people repent (Jonah, for example). Kaiser argues these conditional prophecies do not “count against” God’s knowledge since the possibility of repentance was embedded in the prophecy in the first place.

Another very difficult issue for the modern reader is whether God elevates or devalues women. This particular chapter appeared in the Priscilla Paper (2005). He deals with two key verses in Genesis (2:18, 3:16) and shows these statements are far from devaluing for women if properly understood. He also points out the Old Testament allowed woman to serve in the Tabernacle and Temple (Exod 38:8, 1 Sam 2:22, although to be fair the women in 1 Sam 2:22 are not models of holiness!) From this basis he reads 1 Tim 2:8-15 as an affirmation that woman can lead in public prayers after they have been taught. For Kaiser, Paul’s “let a woman learn” was the real cultural bombshell in the Jewish or Roman world of the first century (p. 147).

Conclusion. This is a very readable introduction to difficult questions about the Old Testament and is aimed at a popular audience. Although there are few footnotes, there is a bibliography which will provide the interested reader with further resources on the major topics of the book. I do not find anything groundbreaking or new in the book. Kaiser’s goal seems to be to provide an update of his earlier (more academic) work in a popular format.

These short chapters are thoughtful, evangelical responses to very difficult questions Christian readers have when they read the Old Testament. Since each chapter ends with a few discussion questions this book would make a good resource for a ten-week Bible study or Sunday School Class. In fact, I would highly recommend this book for a serious Old Testament Bible study in conservative and evangelical churches.

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Caring for the Elderly (1 Timothy 5:3-16)

Paul devotes a great deal of space to the care of widows in 1 Timothy, likely because this was a problem for Timothy in Ephesus.  The Hebrew Bible has a remarkable interest in the protection of widows (Exod 22:22; Deut 10:18; Ps 146:9; Deut 24:17-21). Based on the commands in the Law, Jews in the Second Temple Period took care of widows who had no protector. But what was the status of widows in the Greco-Roman World? When a woman married in the Greek world, she brought a dowry to the marriage. That dowry was managed by her husband; if he died then the dowry would be managed by her son. Winter cites W. K. Lacey, “the law was explicit; the person who had charge of her dowry had the obligation to maintain her” (117).

WidowThe situation in Roman culture was similar. In A.D. 9, Augustus created legislation which required a widow would re-marry if she were under 50. “‘There can be little doubt, that young widows, even if they had children, were expected to remarry,’ for remarriage provided a secure option for the younger widow” (Winter, 85).

For older widows, both Greek and Roman laws provided for widows. Winter comments that from a legal perspective, “a woman was never as thoroughly protected as she was in her old age” (86). As in most cultures, the law would not have protected every woman and many women may have found themselves widowed at a young age and without a protector. This would be especially true of the poor who perhaps did not have much of a dowry in the first place. Unlike contemporary culture, women in the Roman world had status and “social identity” through their family; first through their father, then later through their husband (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 334. ). To be single, widowed or divorced was not a normal status for a Roman woman.

Paul’s concern in this section is care for widows who are genuinely in need. Be begins in verse three with a general principle, honor widows. While the noun τιμάω does have the general meaning of honor, “set a price on,” etc., given the context Paul uses the word to refer to financial support of widows by the community of believers. Verses 5-8 are directed at families with widows. Paul is very clear that children and grandchildren have an obligation to care for their own elderly parents. This is essentially the point of the fifth commandment, to honor ones own father and mother. The verb is the same is used in both the commandment and this text, the allusion seems clear.

The context in 1 Tim 5 clearly refers to financial support for widows who have no other means of support (family, etc.) “Honor” here has the connotation of financial support, both here and in verse 17, where it refers to honoring the elder who teaches.

Why are there so many widows in the church that Paul needed to devote such a long section to their care? One factor is that most women in the first century married much older men. Evidence for this comes from Roman census records from Egypt, where 87% of marriages were to older men, from one to thirty years older. The early church reached out to the poor and slaves. It is entirely likely that this meant that a sizable minority in each church were un-supported widows. There may have been an attraction to Christianity because the church offered to help support a poor widow in ways that Roman society was not able or willing.

Paul uses the phrase “let a widow be enrolled,” implying that the church ought to keep track of women who were in need. The verb καταλέγω is used for enrolling someone a member of a group, like a soldier joining the army or a “membership list” for a religious organization (POxy 416, 4, for example).

Since the opponents in Ephesus rejected marriage, it is at least possible that they rejected other family obligations. Perhaps they used Paul’s own teaching about a “new creation” in Christ Jesus to argue that they had no obligation to other family members. If a person became a Christian, they might say, their old life is buried with Christ and they are under no obligation to care for widows in their own family, especially if they were unbelieving (Padgett, 21).

Paul wants the churches in Ephesus to care for widows who are in genuine need primarily because the church is a family.  His Jewish worldview would see it as shameful for a family to not “honor their mother” by refusing to help a widow in need.  This sort of  care for those who cannot care for themselves was something the church must do if they are going to be the people of God.

This is a very specific issue that will be increasingly important as the American church ages – how should the church respond an aging population? What is the responsibility of the family of God to care for the elderly?

Bibliography: W.K. Lacey, The Family in Classical Greece (London, Thames and Hudson 1968). Bruce. W. Winter, “Providentia For The Widows Of 1 Timothy 5:3-16,” Tyndale Bulletin 39 (1988), 82-99; J.M. Bassler, “The Widows’ Tale: A Fresh Look at 1 Tim. 5:3–16,” JBL 103 (1984): 23-41; A. Padgett, “Wealthy Women at Ephesus: 1 Timothy 2:815 in Social Context,” Interpretation 41 (1987): 21.

Eat, Drink, and Be Married! (1 Timothy 4:3-5)

In my previous post on 1 Timothy, I stated that you cannot really guess who these opponents are based on Paul’s four statements in 1 Tim 4:1-2.  He does give us more to go on in verses 3-4.  At the very least, we can say that the opponents in Ephesus are teaching some kind of ascetic practice that rejects (at least) two things that are good things created by God to be enjoyed.  Since both are embedded in the creation story, it is possible that the opponents rejected the creation story or thought that the created world was somehow corrupt.  This is the sort of thing that will eventually develop into Gnosticism, but I do not think that the opponents were Gnostic.

They abstain from some foods. Paul gives little detail here, but we know that what food one ate (or did not eat) was an important topic in the first century. There are many examples of both Jewish and Christian groups which abstained from foods either because of the Law or because that food was sacrificed to idols. The opponents are not simply abstaining from certain foods themselves, but they are teaching others that they also must abstain, perhaps in order to achieve a higher level of spiritual enlightenment.

They forbid marriage. While Paul does see value in celibacy for some in God’s service, he is quite clear in 1 Cor 7 that marriage is good, designed by God and something that ought to be celebrated. It is not clear what the opponents are forbidding, in the following section of the letter Paul advises that younger widows remarry, so it is at least possible that the prohibition is on remarriage after the death of a spouse.

Both food and sexual relationships are difficult topics in the first (and twenty-first) century. It is possible that these opponents are part of what will develop eventually into Gnosticism.

Paul’s argument is that God created both food and marriage and they are therefore good and cannot be rejected. Paul grounds his teaching in the Jewish view that God created food in the Garden to be enjoyed. In the case of food, Gen 9:3 declares that all food is permitted. The Gentile is not under the law (which forbids some foods), so to reject some foods in order to be “more spiritual” is not biblical. It is possible that there are some foods that ought to be rejected on health reasons, but modern ideas of vegetarian or vegan diet are far from what Paul has in mind here. The opponents seem to equate abstaining from some foods as a sign of spirituality.

eat-drink-and-be-married

Likewise, marriage is embedded in the created order and is to be celebrated as something good created by God. There are other elements of this “creation mandate” which may have been rejected, such as the value of work, but these are the two which Paul must prove “good” to Timothy (and the congregations) from scripture.

Both food and marriage are celebrated in the Hebrew Bible.  Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 is an example of this: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.”  This means that you ought to eat, drink, and be merry!  There is nothing in the Wisdom literature which says that God’s people of any age ought to reject good things created by God.

This may be a hint at the theology of the opponents. It is possible that they think that material, created things are corrupted by sin. In the Greco-Roman world food and sexual excess were commonly associated. If one is going to be spiritual, one cannot go to the banquets and indulge in gluttony and fornication. In order to guard against these things, the opponents reject enjoyment of food and sex altogether!

For Paul, both food and marriage ought to be enjoyed when they are received with “thanksgiving and prayer.”  He stands on the rich tradition of the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible and states that Christians ought to enjoy the good gifts that God has given.

Who are Paul’s Opponents in Ephesus? (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

The opponents in Ephesus are like the people predicted to come in the “later days.” Jesus also described false messiahs and prophets who would come claiming to be messengers from God. First and Second John both describe teachers with wrong views about Jesus as “antichrist.”

William TapleyThe idea that the “last days” have arrived in common in the New Testament, the earliest church believed that Jesus could return at any moment. In this they were correct. In 2 Thess 2 Paul teaches that in the last days there will be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth. In the last days, this falling away will be so intense that people will choose to believe the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel.  Did Paul actually believe that he was living in the last days?  I think that he did, but every generation of the church have had at least some people who thought they were in the last days!

But this text cannot be directly applied to any particular modern false  teaching in order to declare that we are “in the end times.” Certainly Jesus can come back at any moment, and there are plenty of people teaching all sorts of things in the name of Jesus that are simply not in line with the truth. But that is the condition of all of church history!

Paul describes the opponents in Ephesus as sub-Christian. They have Christian like ideas, but when examined in the light of the truth they are in fact not Christian at all.  Paul is not dealing with a group of people who have a honest difference  of opinion on a theological issue.  His opponents in Ephesus have rejected key elements of the gospel which separate them from the truth.

They have abandoned their faith. The verb Paul uses here (ἀφίστημι) is the same as 2 Thess 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deut 7:4 it is used for turning away from God to worship other gods. These opponents have rejected the core truth of the Gospel (1 Tim 3:16) and can no longer be described as within the faith.

They follow “deceitful spirits” and hold to the “teachings of demons.” This seems like a strong polemic, the sort of thing that we would not say about an opponent today. But there are a number of Pauline texts that describe real spiritual warfare. In 1 Tim 3:6-7, for example, Paul warns that a leader in the church ought not be a recent convert, since it is possible for him to become prideful and fall into the devil’s snare.

They are hypocritical liars. Combining hypocritical and liar indicates that their teaching appears to be well-intended, but it is in fact false. This indicates that the opponents are not simply fooled into teaching something that is false, they are choosing to maintain a lie for some reason (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 291).

Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. There are two ways to read this line. First the phrase may refer to someone who has told a lie so many times that they believe it, that there conscience no longer functions as it ought. They are numb to the truth, etc. Second, it is possible that this refers to being branded. The verb (καυστηριάζω) can mean sear, but it can also refer to branding someone with a hot iron. “The imagery suggests crime published with a branding mark on the perpetrator” (BDAG). In either case, their conscience has been destroyed by the “doctrine of demons” that they no longer know if they are teaching the truth or not.

I am not sure it is possible to identify the opponents from these four items alone. What is certain is that there are people in Paul’s churches in Ephesus who have defected from the Gospel in such a way that the are not Christians at all.  Timothy is warned about these people and told to appoint elders who cling tenaciously to the gospel and are truly godly.

The Noble Task of Eldering (1 Timothy 3:1)

First Timothy 3 and 1 Titus 1 are well-known passages because the describe the qualifications for church leadership. We usually fret the most over the line about “one wife” and perhaps that the leader must have well-behaved children, but there is far more here than those two more controversial points.

TimothyLike the previous section, Paul’s main concern is that the church be organized and led in a way which gives it a good reputation with outsiders. This is also true in business: good reputations are hard to build, they take time. On the other hand, it does not take much at all to destroy a good reputation and develop a bad one.

If you have ever read a restaurant review online, you know that one bad experience can lead to a terrible review and potential lost business. One cranky customer who has bad food or poor service can leave a review (anonymously) online, and scare dozens of people away. The same is true for church.  A family could visit on a Sunday when things were not quite right in the nursery, the musicians were out of tune and didn’t really know the songs, and the pastor finished his sermon on the way to church. This family leaves “unimpressed” and never comes back, but they tell their friends that they tried “that church” and it wasn’t very good.

But Paul is not talking about “church shoppers” in this text, since that sort of thing did not exist in the first century. There are people in the congregation who are leaders in a local house church who have a bad reputation with the community. Maybe they have some shady business practices, or they are quick to bring lawsuits, or maybe they are known to attend the banquets at pagan temples and fully participate in debauchery. If the leader has a bad reputation outside the church, then they bring that dishonor with them when the “desire to be an overseer.” To remedy this situation, Paul tells Timothy (and by extension, the churches) to appoint people to the office of Elder and Deacon who are qualified spiritually and morally for the task.

First Timothy 3:1 is another “trustworthy saying.” In this case it is not a theological statement, but that the person who aspires to be a leader in the church “desires a noble task.” Desiring to be a leader of a local house church is not a bad thing at all, it is a noble task, or a “good work” (v. 1).

It is possible that this line betrays a problem in Paul’s churches in Ephesus. It appears that people were not wanting to serve as leaders in the church. There are several possible reasons for this. First, perhaps the false teachers had created a situation where good people were not inclined to challenge them, the did not desire to become involved in leadership because it meant challenging these false teachers. A second possibility is that the role of overseer or elder was not considered to be a job people wanted to do – it was not considered a “noble task.” It is also possible that people who were capable and qualified did not see themselves as up to the task of leading the church, perhaps for a combination of the previous two points.

One serious problem reading this passage is that we hear words like elder and deacon and immediately think of our modern “office” of elder and deacon. This is not necessarily going to help understand Paul’s view of church leadership. If at all possible, it is best for us to bracket out modern church practice for a few minutes and try to read Paul in the context of first century Ephesus.

Learn in Quiet and Submission? (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

1 Timothy 2:11-15 is perhaps the most troubling in the New Testament in terms of what Paul commands for his churches and his reasons for those commands. The command is for women “to learn in quiet and submission” (v. 11). As with Paul’s commands about modest dress, the most common way to explain these verses is to say that Paul is dealing with a particular problem with overbearing women teachers in Ephesus, and that the situation is unique. He is not intending to declare that women should be absolutely silent in church!  It is best to read this passage in the context of the quiet life Paul described in the first part of this chapter and as an extension of the other disruptions to the quiet life in the preceding paragraph.

Duct TapePaul does say that women should learn, but they ought to do so with the same sort of dignified grace that he encouraged in the first seven verses of the passage. What are these women doing that is not “quiet”? This is left unstated, but it is possible that the instructions on dress and teaching which follow are the hint that some women are “taking charge” in a way which would offend Greeks and Romans.

This verse does not indicate to whom they ought to submit. It is often read as if Paul says that they ought to submit to their husbands (like Eph 5:22) or to the (male) pastor of the church. But that is not actually stated, so it is at least possible that this submission is to the word of God itself.

More difficult, Paul states that he does not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (v. 12). This is consistent with 1 Cor 14:34, and is also consistent with Jewish synagogue practice as far as we know in the first century. In addition, there is no evidence of women assuming the role of a teacher in a philosophical school or public venue.

Women did teach, but in private instruction (of children, for example). Priscilla is an example of a woman who taught Apollos in Acts 18:26. Towner suspects that Paul’s freedom in Christ gave woman and slaves far more freedom in the church meeting than they would have had in a public meeting (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 218.).

The problem in Ephesus is wealthy women in the church who were under the influence of the opponents, who used their prominence (wealth) to promote a teaching that Paul has already rejected because it is incompatible with the Gospel.

The key word in the verse is “have authority over” (αὐθεντέω). The verb has the sense of “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” (BDAG), and the Jerusalem Bible has “tell a man what to do.” Much ink has been spilt trying to sort out what this word means in this context. (For example, G. W. Knight, “αὐθεντέω in Reference to Women in 1 Tim. 2,12,” NTS 30 (1984) 143-57.) The noun (αὐθέντης) is usually translated master, and BDAG speculates that the word is the source of the Turkish effendi.

The verb has the connotation of domineering, going a bit beyond the teaching of a lesson from the Scriptures. In the context of a problem with “wealthy women already behaving badly,” many scholars understand this term as prohibiting these women from assuming control of the church in order to promote their particular brand of false teaching. If the problem had been “wealthy men behaving badly,” Paul would have likely said the same sort of thing to them.  (Imagine, for example, what Paul might say to Fred Phelps!)

The background in Ephesus is therefore important since it appears that some wealthy women are taking the Pauline idea of equality in Christ to insist that they be considered teachers and elders in the church and pushing their particular problematic version of the Christian faith.