Waiting Together for God   2 comments

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART VI

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James 5:1-20

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The apocalyptic element held the theological imaginations and the psyches of many in the early Church.

That element continues to grasp many psyches and theological imaginations.  I confess, however, that the apocalyptic element grasps neither my psyche nor my theological imagination.  I am a detail-oriented student of the Bible and religious history.  I know too much to believe some doctrines.  I know that the end of the world, according to some canonical Hebrew prophets, was supposed to end centuries prior to the advent of Jesus.  I know that the Second Coming of Jesus, according to certain books of the New Testament, was supposed to happen nearly 2000 years ago.  I know that, according to many people over nearly 2000 years, until the recent past, the Second Coming of Christ was supposed to have have happened already.  The list of alleged Antichrists, the vast majority of them deceased by now, is long.  I leave all details of eschatology to God and place no stock in any human predictions thereof.

Nevertheless, the author of the Epistle of James believed that he lived during the End Times.  How long were the End Times supposed to last?

The function of the apocalyptic element that is of moral usefulness is the confrontation of evil and other forms of injustice.  In so doing, one confronts that which one should confront and tells the enablers there that they fell short of God’s standard.  That is part of what we read in James 5.  Divine judgment of the oppressors is inseparable from divine deliverance of the oppressed.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the meantime (however long that will be), members of Christian faith community must model mutuality.  The swearing mentioned in 5:12, in the context of oppression, expressed bitterness and impatience.  Yet, in the meantime, patience is essential.  People ought to pray for themselves and each other.  And members of Christian faith community ought to bring each other to repentance and restoration.

The necessity of writing this advice in James 5 indicates spiritual failings in some early congregations.

A perhaps-apocryphal story fits this post thematically.

St. John the Evangelist, elderly and frail, visited a house church.  The members, excited, gathered.  Men carried the apostle in on a chair and set him down in front of the congregation.  St. John said:

My children, love one another.

Then the apostle motioned to his helpers, who carried him out.  One member of the congregation chased after St. John and asked the equivalent of

That’s it?

St. John replied:

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

If more members of the original audience of the Epistle of James had loved one another, that text would be much shorter or would not exist.

Sadly, loving one another remains challenging for many Christians.

In 2000 or so, Dr. Donald S. Armentrout (1939-2013), a Lutheran minister, spoke at a Lay Ministries Conference in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.  I was present.  Armentrout, at one point, said that if the Epistle of James was one’s favorite book of the Bible, one was

easily pleased.

Contrary to that typically-Lutheran evaluation, I count James as one of my favorite books of the Bible.  This epistle lives where the spiritual rubber meets the road.  Due to the failings of human nature, the Epistle of James remains relevant.  Circumstances change, but timeless principles remain fixed.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Epistle of James.  I invite you to remain by my side as I set my course for the First Epistle of Peter.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNA ELLISON BUTLER ALEXANDER, AFRICAN-AMERICAN DEACONESS IN GEORGIA, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF HENRY HART MILMAN, ANGLICAN DEAN, TRANSLATOR, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUVENAL OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN ALASKA, AND FIRST ORTHODOX MARTYR IN THE AMERICAS, 1796

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER THE ALEUT, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN SAN FRANCISCO, 1815

THE FEAST OF SAINT SILOUAN OF MOUNT ATHOS, EASTERN ORTHODOX MONK AND POET

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Building Up the Common Good, Part III   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART V

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James 4:1-17

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The Epistle of James, logically, is building argument.  The first chapter establishes the foundation.  Then each subsequent chapter builds on all that preceded it.  4:1 flows directly from 3:18, sensibly.  Peace is absent in 4:1.

The ideal of faith community in the Epistle of James is mutuality under God.  After all, the Church, then a small minority, had to stick together.  Obviously, the ideal was not the reality often enough that the author had to write what he did.  The “you” was plural; James was an epistle addressed to congregations, not a person.

Life is short.  Each of us is as a mist that is here today and gone tomorrow (4:14).  One may know that this intellectually yet not viscerally.  Death teaches one visceral truth.  I know this from experience.

Making long-term plans is a good idea; one may have a long term.  Or one may not.  Either way, one may our love for God and our brother and sister human beings define us as groups and individuals.  Society is people.  Members of a society influence it, just as it shapes them.  May that shape be love.  May that influence be love.  May we–as individuals and groups–care more about being loving than being right.  The quest for vindication is the trail of much destructive activity.

I cannot be at peace with God or anyone else unless I am at peace with myself.  I cannot love God or anyone else unless I love myself.  I can give only what I have.  Likewise, a faith community can give only what it has.  A faith community has only what it receives.

The words of James 4 hit home in another way.  Many nation-states lack internal unity in 2021.  Mutual recriminations abound.  Confronting that which one should confront is necessary and wise; not to do so is to violate 4:17.  Then there is sniping, much of it contrary to objective reality.  When ego defense enters the picture, prying an admission of error from the mistaken party may be impossible.  So, even in the face of evidence, people double down on their false assertions.  Peace is absent.

As much as I loved my grandmother (who died in August 2019) and my girlfriend (who died in October 2019), I am glad they did not live to see the COVID-19 pandemic.  It may have been too much for them to endure.  It feels like too much for me to endure some days.  I mourn the dead.  I mourn those who have fallen ill needlessly yet survived.  I mourn those who have died needlessly.  I mourn those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.  I mourn the loss of the sense of being able to trust the members of my community.

The Reverend Will Campbell (1924-2013) said:

We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

I mourn that I find focusing on the first part of that statement easier than focusing on the second part thereof.

I have much company.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCISCO DE PAULA VICTOR, BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CHURCHILL JULIUS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHRISTCHURCH, AND PRIMATE AND ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILIE TAVERNIER GARNELIN, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOZEF STANEK, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1944

THE FEAST OF JUDITH LOMAX, EPISCOPAL MYSTIC AND POET

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This is post #2600 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Posted September 23, 2021 by neatnik2009 in James 3, James 4

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Words Matter IV   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART IV

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James 3:1-18

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Harlan Ellison, my favorite curmudgeon, argues against the proposition that each person is entitled to his or her opinion.  He said:

No, you are entitled to your informed opinion.

Opinions not rooted in objective reality are unworthy of respect.

The first part of James 3 exists in the context of the second part of James 3.  Therefore, the section about controlling the tongue is really about jealousy and infighting, originally.  Internal struggles in the Church are as as old as the Church, sadly.

According to mythology, YHWH spoke creation into being.  Therefore, whenever one speaks, writes,  leaves a message on a social media outlet, or repeats or shares what someone else has said or written,  one creates something.  I am conscious of the power of my weblogs, which do not attract mass audiences.  Nevertheless, I know that some people are reading.  I attempt to make a positive contribution.  I see that some of my posts have influenced prayers at commencement ceremonies.  This makes me feel good.

Words matter.  They have power.  They can build up or tear down.  For good reasons, not all speech has constitutional protection in the United States of America.  Unprotected speech includes libel, slander, and incitement to violence.  When I read about bullying, I recall James 3.  We are all responsible to and for each other as we stand before God.  May we take care of each other.

Timeless principles are…timeless, for lack of a better word.  We mere mortals always apply them within circumstances; we always have circumstances.  Circumstances change and technology develops, but timeless principles remain.  In the age of COVID-19, spreading misinformation and damn lies about the virus, vaccines, masks, and horse deworming medicine is deadly.  When the definition of objective reality is a controversial matter, public health becomes politicized immediately.  And people die needlessly as the pandemic continues longer than necessary and damages economies.  Peace is difficult to find.

A grandson of a parishioner at my much died recently.  The grandson died of COVID-19, which he contracted from his father, who had refused to get vaccinated.

Misinformation, obliviousness, and damn lies claim lives sometimes.  Make your speech count for the good, O reader.  And take care of your relatives, friends, and neighbors.  By doing so, you will take care of yourself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILANDER CHASE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF OHIO, AND OF ILLINOIS; AND PRESIDING BISHOP

THE FEAST OF C. H. DODD, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHARLOTTE ELLIOTT, JULIA ANNE ELLIOTT, AND EMILY ELLIOTT, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF JUSTUS FALCKNER, LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF STEPHEN G. CARY, U.S. QUAKER HUMANITARIAN AND ANTIWAR ACTIVIST

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Posted September 22, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 1, Genesis 2, James 3

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Deeds and Creeds VII   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART III

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James 2:1-26

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Do not rob the poor because they are poor,

nor crush the needy at the gate;

For the LORD will defend their cause,

and will plunder those who plunder them.

–Proverbs 22:22-23, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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If I were inclined toward theft, I would steal from the wealthy, not the poor, for the same reason Willie Sutton (1901-1980) robbed banks:

That’s where the money is.

Robbing the poor is counter-productive.  Yet many tax codes do just that; they fall more heavily on the poor than on the wealthy, in percentage of income.  The poor cannot game the system, but the wealthy can.

James 2:1-18 reminds me of Proverbs 22:22-23, which I hear read before James 2:1-18 every Proper 18, Year B, in The Episcopal Church.  Both passages speak of proper and improper attitudes toward the poor.

Do not curry favor with the rich, we read.  James 2:1-13 refers to its context.  One may envision a rich man–a Roman nobleman–clad in a toga and wearing a gold ring.  Only a member of that class had the sight to dress in that way.  Such a man was also seeking political office.  To curry favor with such a man was to seek the benefits he could bestow.

Yet members of the wealthy class also dragged Christians into courts of law.  If the rich man in question was on the bad side of Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96), the Christian congregation allied with that wealthy man suffered imperial wrath, too.

Recall James 1:27, O reader:  Care for the widows and orphans, and keep oneself uncontaminated from the world.

God has decreed the poor the most valuable people (1 Corinthians 1:27).  Jesus taught that the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).  The Gospels teach that the first will be last, the last will be first, and those serve are the greatest.  God disregards and contradicts human social hierarchies.

The audience of the Epistle of James consisted of Jewish Christians, marginalized within their Jewish tradition.  They knew about the Law of Moses and its ethical demand to take care of the less fortunate.  Apparently, some members of that audience had not acted in accordance with those common commandments.

St. Paul the Apostle addressed Gentiles.  The author of the Epistle of James addressed Jews.  St. Paul understood faith and works to be a package deal, hence justification by faith.  The author of the Epistle of James used “faith” narrowly, to refer to intellectual assent.  Therefore, he wrote of justification by works.  These two authors arrived at the same point after departing from different origins.  They both affirmed the importance of faithful actions.

We read of two scriptural examples–the near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) and the hospitality of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-23).  I stand by my criticism of Abraham in Genesis 22.  I refer you, O reader, to follow the germane tags, if you are inclined to do so.

None of that detracts from the summary of the faith-works case in the Epistle of James:

So just as the body without a spirit is dead, so faith is dead without deeds.

–2:26, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

That theme continues, in another context, in the next chapter.

The allure of status is strong; even Christians are not necessarily immune to its appeal.  The ultimate status that really matters, though, is heir of God.  No earthly political power has any say over that status.  Another germane status is bearer of the image of God.  All people hold that status inherently.  If we really believe that, we will treat each other accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Good Religion and Bad Religion, Part II   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART II

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James 1:1-27

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This is pure religion, and undefiled before our God and Father, to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and ever to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

–James 1:27, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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That verse concludes the first chapter and sets up the second chapter.  Textual context is crucial.  I will work my way through the first chapter.

  1. Verse 1 names the author as “James,” presumably St. James of Jerusalem (d. 62 C.E.).  This is a pseudonymonous ascription, a common practice in Biblical times.
  2. There is wordplay in the original Greek text in verses 1 and 2.  Verse 1 reads, in part, “Greetings,” literally, “Be joyful,” or “Rejoice.”  Verse 2 reads, in part, “Regard it as a complete joy.”
  3. Verse 1 identifies the audience as Jewish diaspora Christians.
  4. Rejoicing in “various trials” (verses 2-12) requires grace, which suffices.
  5. The theme of attitudes toward wealth and status debuts in verse 9.  It recurs later in the first chapter and the book.
  6. During trials, remain anchored in God (verse 6) for stability.
  7. God does not tempt us (verses 13-18).  Times of trial, therefore, are not temptations God has sent.
  8. Unrighteous anger (as opposed to righteous anger) is dangerous to oneself and others.  It also belies true religion.  The Law of Love works against unrighteous anger.  Grace liberates us to be our best possible selves in God (verses 19-25).
  9. The use of speech and writing manifests both positive and negative tendencies.  Taming one’s words, whether spoken or written, is essential (verse 26).  Ergo, true religion is to care for the vulnerable and to reject secular standards of success and status, grounded in power and wealth.

More about language and the control of it will ensue in a subsequent chapter.

Impious deeds must not belie pious words.  In Jewish terms, God is like what one has done and does.  Likewise, we mere mortals are like what we have done to the extent that we continue to commit those deeds.

I, as a student of history, understand that I cannot always determine the motivation of a group or an individual.  I can, however, point to what a group or an individual did, said, did not say, and did not do.  That information frequently leads to a moral evaluation, and renders the lack of information about motivation irrelevant.

Political-social context is crucial.  Commentaries inform me that the Epistle of James targeted religious prophets of doom–political agitators who imagined they could hasten God’s righteous judgment.  One may understand why such people were perilous when the Church was young and small, albeit growing.  One may grasp that such agitators attracted unwelcome imperial attention.  The Epistle of James favors constructive, counter-cultural morality (as in the Beatitudes), not agitation that threatened to bring the imperium down upon the Church.

I, as a student of history, know that religious communities who have practiced James 1:27 have frequently incurred the wrath of governments and the scorn of societies, however.  I think immediately of the Quakers, the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites, for example.  Governments often react badly when they go to war, and when pacifistic dissenters refuse to cooperate.

James 1:27 also cautions against becoming enmeshed in unholy intrigues.  This theme unfolds in subsequent chapters, too.

How do you, O reader, think of “the world”?  Do you identify it as Satan’s domain?  Or do you think of it as your neighborhood, for which you are partially responsible?  God–in both the Old and New Testaments–mandates that the people of God transform the world, not give up on it and seek to flee from it.  The people of God have divine marching orders to be a light to the nations and to function as salt.  Confronting evil is part of that mandate.  Telling the truth is essential.  Consult the record of the prophets and Jesus, O reader.

Offering a positive alternative is also crucial.

Mutuality informed the Law of Moses, the examples of the Hebrew prophets, the lived and uttered teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the culturally-specific writings of the New Testament.  These sages knew what many moderns never learned or have forgotten–that whatever one does to others, one does to oneself.  They grasped that human beings are responsible to and for each other, under God.  These sages understood the importance of orthopraxy, grounded in an inseparable from orthodoxy.

Reading these ancient texts in historical, cultural, and political contexts tells us what they originally meant.  Then we can properly apply these texts to our contemporary situations.

I write these words during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I witness the economic disparities the pandemic has made worse.  I see needless suffering.  I notice that many people have fallen though the cracks in the social safety net.  I witness cynical, opportunistic, fearful, and selfish people refusing to do what is necessary and proper to take care of each other, especially those too young to get vaccinated.  I also notice much shameful behavior (such as I have described in this paragraph) coming from self-identified Christians.

Lord Jesus, save me from your followers!

Timeless principles may seem vague.  This is why the Bible includes many culturally-specific examples of them.  In that spirit, I offer a new, updated version of James 1:27, just for these times:

Pure, undefiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father, during this pandemic, is this:  getting vaccinated when eligible (unless one has a legitimate medical reason not to do so), wearing masks, practicing social distancing, coming to the help of the elderly, the young, and those with compromised immune systems.  It is living in accordance with the Golden Rule and the Lukan Beatitudes.

How is that for a sound and a radical standard?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH KENNY, AUSTRALIAN NURSE AND MEDICAL PIONEER

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 1871

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE THERESE OF SAINT JOSEPH, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF THE DIVINE HEART OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF NELSON TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN BISHOP

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Introduction to the General Epistles   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART I

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This post opens a new series, one about the General (or Catholic or Universal) Epistles.  This category dates to circa 325 C.E., from the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea.

MY GERMANE OPERATIONAL BIASES AND ASSUMPTIONS

Know, O reader, that my academic background is in history.  I think historically, regardless of the topic du jour.  The past tenses constitute my usual temporal perspective.  Some people tell me that I ought not to think this way when considering the Bible or a television series that ceased production years or decades ago.  These individuals are wrong.  I defy them.

Some people tell me that the historical backgrounds of Biblical books do not matter or are of minimal importance.  The messages for today is what matters, they say.  The messages for today do matter; I agree with that much.  Yet the definition of those messages depend greatly on the historical contexts from which these texts emerged.  With regard to the General Epistles, whether one assumes relatively early or relatively late composition affects the interpretation.

I operate from the assumptions that (a) James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude are pseudonymous, and (b) they date to relatively late periods.  These two assumptions relate to each other.  The first assumption leads to the second.  In terms of logic, if x, then y.  Simultaneously, internal evidence supports the second assumption, which leads backward, to the first.

CONTEXTS

The General Epistles, composed between 70 and 140 C.E., came from particular societal and political contexts.  The Roman Empire was strong.  Religious persecutions of Christianity were mostly sporadic and regional.  Christianity was a young, marginalized, sect (of Judaism, through 135 C.E.) unable to influence society and the imperial order.  Christian doctrine was in an early phase of development.  Even the definition of the Christian canon of scripture was in flux.

I, reading, pondering, and writing in late 2021, benefit from centuries of theological development, ecumenical councils, and the definition of the New Testament.  I, as an Episcopalian, use scripture, tradition, and reason.  I interpret any one of these three factors through the lenses of the other two.  I, as a student of the past, acknowledge that scripture emerged from tradition.

The importance of theological orthodoxy was a major concern in the background of the General Epistles.  That made sense; ecclesiastical unity, threatened by heresy, was a major concern for the young, small, and growing sect.  Yet, as time passed and the Church’s fortunes improved, the definition of orthodoxy changed.  Some of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (notably Origen) were orthodox, by the standards of their time.  After 325 C.E., however, some of these men (notably Origen) became heretics postmortem and ex post facto.

Orthopraxy was another concern in the General Epistles.  Orthopraxy related to orthodoxy.  The lack of orthopraxy led to needless schisms and the exploitation of the poor, for example.  As time passed and the Church became dominant in parts of the world, the Church fell short on the standard of orthopraxy, as defined by the Golden Rule.  As Alfred Loisy (1857-1940), an excommunicated modernist Roman Catholic theologian, lamented:

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God and what came was the Church.

Lest anyone misunderstand me, I affirm that theological orthodoxy exists.  God defines it.  We mere mortals and our theologies are all partially heretical.  We cannot help that.  Salvation is a matter of grace, not passing a canonical examination.  Also, the Golden Rule is the finest standard according to which to measure orthopraxy.  Orthopraxy is a matter of faithful response, which grace demands.  Grace is free, not cheap.

BRIEF INTRODUCTIONS FOR EACH OF THE GENERAL EPISTLES

The Epistle of James dates to 70-110 C.E.  The analysis of Father Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) suggests that composition in the 80s or 90s was probable.  The “epistle,” actually a homily, used the genre of diatribe to address Jewish Christians who lived outside of Palestine.  James is perhaps the ultimate “shape up and fly right” Christian text.  James may also correct misconceptions regarding Pauline theology.

The First Epistle of Peter, composed in Rome between 70 and 90 C.E., is a text originally for churches in northern Asia Minor.  The majority scholarly opinion holds that First Peter is a unified text.  A minority scholarly opinion holds that 1:3-4:11 and 4:12-5:11 are distinct documents.

The Epistle of Jude, composed between 90 and 100 C.E., may have have come from Palestine.  Jude was also a source for Second Peter, mainly the second chapter thereof.

The Second Epistle of Peter is the last book of the New Testament composed.  Second Peter, probably composed between 120 and 140 C.E., addresses a general audience in eastern Asia Minor.  The second chapter expands on Jude.

The First Epistle of John is not an epistle.  No, it is a homily or a tract.  First John, composed circa 100 C.E., belongs to the Johannine tradition.  Anyone who has belonged to a congregation that has suffered a schism may relate to the context of First John.

The author of the Second and Third Epistles of John (both from circa 100 C.E.) may have written First John.  Or not.  “The Elder” (the author of Second and Third John) speaks down the corridors of time in the contexts of ecclesiastical schisms and personality conflicts.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

I invite you, O reader, to remain with me as I embark on a journey through the Epistle of James first.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 20:  THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF GERARD MOULTRIE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARENCE ALPHONSUS WALWORTH, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER; CO-FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE (THE PAULIST FATHERS)

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE RODAT, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF VILLEFRANCHE

THE FEAST OF WALTER CHALMERS SMITH, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM DALRYMPLE MACLAGAN, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Righteous Triumphant   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART III

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Malachi 3:13-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Malachi 3:13-4:6 (Anglican and Protestant)

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Malachi 3:19-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox) = Malachi 4:1-6 (Anglican and Protestant).

The final section of the Book of Malachi speaks of the beginning of a new era–the long-anticipated, fully-realized Kingdom of God.  In this context, divine judgment and mercy remain balanced (3:18f).  Apocalyptic writings in the Bible balance divine judgment and mercy–judgment on the wicked and mercy on the faithful.

In Christian Bibles, the Book of Malachi concludes on a threat of partial destruction.  Divine action–grace–prevents the threat from being of complete destruction.  Jewish Bibles, however, reprint the penultimate verse (3:23) after 3:24.  Hence, in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), the Book of Malachi concludes with:

Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD.

In Jewish Bibles, therefore, the Book of Malachi ends on a positive note.

Christian tradition, of course, associates St. John the Baptist with Elijah.

Another point I would be remiss not to mention is that 3:22/4:4 (depending on versification) asserts the superiority of the Torah to the Hebrew prophetic tradition.

The Book of Malachi–and this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, with some exceptions–concludes on a note of grace, mixed with judgment.  Divine self-restraint in matters of judgment is an example of grace.  YHWH, according to the Book of Malachi, is far removed from being God of hellfire-and-damnation theology.  YHWH provides laws, practices patience, calls on people and peoples to repent, and exercises self-restraint in judgment.  YHWH condemns nobody; people and peoples condemn themselves.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Hebrew prophetic books as long as you have done so.  I wish you shalom as I consider what my next project should be.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART II

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Malachi 1:2-3:12

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As I wrote in Reading Malachi, Part I, the dating of the Book of Malachi is vague–perhaps prior to 445 B.C.E., when the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah began (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9)–or perhaps not.   Clear, however, are the sense of spiritual crisis and the religious decline in the Book of Malachi.

Consider 1:2-5, O reader.  We read divine assurance of love for the people.  We may assume safely that the population (much of it, anyway) needed this assurance.  The proof of divine love for Jews in Judea in Malachi 1:2-5 is their continued existence in their ancestral homeland.  The contrast with their ancient foe and cousin people, the Edomites, is stark.

I have read and blogged about divine judgment on the people of Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Obadiah; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

The designated portion of the Book of Malachi continues with the condemnations of priests and the population.  We read of priests offering defiled food as sacrifices.  We read that God objected strongly to such disrespect, and preferred no ritual sacrifices to the offerings of blemished animals.  (See Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:22).  We read that God was really angry:

And now, O priests, this charge is for you:  Unless you obey and unless you lay it to heart, and do dishonor to My name–said the LORD of blessings into curses.  (Indeed, I have turned them into curses, because you do not lay it to heart.)  I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

–Malachi 2:1-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Furthermore, we read that (much of) the population of Israel has failed to keep the covenant, too.  We read that God objected to Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry foreign women.  One may recall that this was also an issue in Ezra 10.  As prior to the Babylonian Exile, idolatry is in play.  Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:31 permit divorce, but Malachi 2:16 begins:

For I detest divorce….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Context is crucial; statements never arise in a vaccum.

Malachi 3:5 specifies offenses:

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me:  Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause] of the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faithless members of the Chosen People remain “children of Jacob,” we read.  And God (as in Zechariah 1:3) expects them to express remorse for their sins and to repent:

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–Malachi 3:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The text continues by explaining another way (other than not committing the previously listed sins) the people could return to God:  to support the Levites (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-31; Nehemiah 13:10-13).  The text challenges the people to respond faithfully and generously to the extravagant and generosity of God.

Malachi 3:11 mentions locusts in the present tense.  This clue does not reveal as much as one may guess.  Does Malachi 3:11 date the Book of Malachi approximately contemporary with the Book of Joel, whenever that was?  The case for this is tenuous and circumstantial.  One may recall that swarms of locusts were a frequent threat in the region.  Malachi 3:11 may tell us one reason many people were not paying their tithes, though.

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 exists within a context, of course.  Taking it out of context distorts its meaning.  Recall Malachi 2:17, O reader.  We read there that people have been wearying God by saying:

“All who do evil are good in the sight of the LORD, and in them He delights,” or else, “Where is the God of justice?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 rebuts that wearying statements and that wearying question.

Trusting in God liberates.  It liberates populations and individuals.  It liberates them to become their best possible selves in God, who is extravagantly generous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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The Superscription of the Book of Malachi   1 comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART I

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Malachi 1:1

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The stated prophet in Malachi 1:1 is simply “Malachi,” without the traditional “son of ” formula following the persona name.  “Malachi” means “My messenger.”  This may be a name, a description, or both.  In fact, we know close to nothing about the prophet.

The Book of Malachi does not provide many details that place it in time.  It comes from after the Babylonian Exile.  1:8 and 1:2-5 place the book during the Persian period (539-332 B.C.E.).  The Book of Malachi refers to concerns raised in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and First Esdras–Malachi 1:6-14 and Nehemiah 10:32-39; 13:31 pertain to provision for sacrifices.  The tithe is the topic in Malachi 3:8-12 and Nehemiah 13:10-14.  Acceptable marriage partners are the topic in Malachi 3:5 and Nehemiah 5:1-13.  But did Malachi come before Ezra and Nehemiah, who started their reforms in 445 B.C.E.?  (See Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9.)

The historical relationship s of Joel, Second Zechariah, and Malachi to each other are not clear.  The Book of Malachi, in its original form, may plausibly date to the 470s, prior to Second Zechariah.  Or the Book of Malachi may plausibly postdate Second Zechariah.

The Book of Malachi has fifty-five verses.  Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles divide those verses into three chapters.  Yet Anglican and Protestant Bibles divide these verses into four chapters.

Considering how short the Book of Malachi is, it fares well on the three major Christian lectionaries.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) assigns 3:14 for the Presentation of the Lord, Years A, B, and C, as well as for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C.  The RCL also assigns 4:1-2a on Proper 28, Year C.  The Roman Catholic lectionary for Sundays and major feast days assigns 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10 for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.  The same lectionary assigns 3:19-20a for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  The corresponding lectionary for weekday Masses assigns 3:1-4, 23-24 on December 23, Years 1 and 2.  The same lectionary assigns 3:13-20b for Thursday in Week 27 of Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Shall we begin, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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Jerusalem a Center of Worship for All   Leave a comment

Above:  YHWH

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ZECHARIAH, PART III

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Zechariah 12:1-14:21

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Zechariah 12:1-14:21 consists of oracles that use the confusing, prophetic language of metaphor to describe how the reality of the present day of Second Zechariah will give way to the new, divine order.  The texts speak of warfare and plagues.  The texts also demonstrate familiarity with other Biblical books.  For example, Zechariah 13:1 and 14:8 allude to Ezekiel 47:1-12.  God’s decision to raise up a foolish ruler who does not care about the people then to judge that ruler (13:7-9) raises questions about divine decision-making.

There is a Davidic Messiah in Second Zechariah.  One may recall that there is no Messiah, Davidic or otherwise, in Third Isaiah.

As elsewhere in Hebrew prophetic books, God is a warrior in Zechariah 14.  At the end, God wins, of course.  Gentiles are subordinate to Jesus (as in Ezekiel 44).  Yet, contrary to Ezekiel 44 and consistent with Third Isaiah, faithful Gentiles have a role in the divine cultus.

Without getting lost in the proverbial weeds, two major points stand out in my mind:

  1. YHWH is the king in Zechariah 14.  N. T. Wright picks up on this in Jesus and the Victory of God (1996).
  2. Zechariah 14 rewrites Zechariah 8.  At the end of Zechariah 8, nations, having heard of God, make their way to Jerusalem on their own initiative.  At the end of Zechariah 14, though, survivors of the last war must come to Jerusalem, where they become devotees of God.  They serve YHWH, the regnant king on the earth.  YHWH is the king of everything at the end of Second Zechariah.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Second Zechariah.  The only stop left on my trek through Hebrew prophetic books is Malachi.  I invite you to complete the journey with me.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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