Archive for the ‘2 Esdras/4 Ezra’ Category

Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Restoration and Revelation   Leave a comment

Above:  The Healing of Tobit, by Bernardo Strozzi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART IX

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Tobit 11:7-12:22

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Tobit had the money he needed.  He also had a new daughter-in-law (Sarah) and the restoration of his eyesight.  He did not expect these blessings.  Tobit, being pious, praised God at the top of his voice.  He, prepared to die, had new, better life.  Even Ahikar (1:21-22; 2:10) joined the celebration (11:18).

Tobias, assuming that his guide was a mere mortal, paid “Azarias” handsomely and attributed the success of the journey to him.  “Azarias,” really the archangel Raphael, gave all the credit to God then revealed his identity and departed.  I guess the dog did, too.  If the canine was also an angel in disguise, why not?

Anyway, the last mention of the dog occurs in 11:4.  The dog may indeed be a remnant from folklore.  The author of the Book of Tobit seems to have had little interest in the canine.

According to Judeo-Christian angelology, there are seven archangels (Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 20:1-8).  We have the names of all of them:

  1. Raphael (Tobit 3:16-17/18, depending on versification; Tobit 5-4-8:3); Tobit 9:1-6; Tobit 11:1-12:22; 1 Enoch 20:3);
  2. Gabriel (Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21; 1 Enoch 20:7; Luke 1:19, 26);
  3. Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21; Daniel 12:1; 1 Enoch 20:5; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7);
  4. Uriel (2 Esdras 4:1; 2 Esdras 5:20; 2 Esdras 10:28);
  5. Raguel (1 Enoch 20:4);
  6. Saraqael (1 Enoch 20:6); and
  7. Suruel (1 Enoch 20:2).

A Greek fragment of 1 Enoch adds another name:  Remiel, perhaps an alternative name for Uriel, and definitely not an alternative name for any of the other six archangels.

In the story, Raphael insisted that he was merely performing God’s bidding, so God deserved all the praise and glory.  The angel, who could not exist apart from God, was an agent of God.

May we also be agents of God, by grace.  And may we glorify God, not ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARUTHAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MAYPHERKAT AND MISSIONARY TO PERSIA

THE FEAST OF AMILIE JULIANE, COUNTESS OF SCHWARZBURG-RUDOLSTADT, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL TAIT, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY TO THE FAR EAST

THE FEAST OF SOPHIE KOULOMZIN, RUSSIAN-AMERICAN CHRISTIAN EDUCATOR

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This is post #2400 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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The Vision of the Four Beasts   Leave a comment

Above:  The Vision of the Four Beasts

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART VII

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Daniel 7:1-28

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The section of apocalyptic visions (Chapters 7-12) in the Book of Daniel begins here.

I remind you, O reader, what I have written in previous posts.  The last Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian monarch was Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 B.C.E.).  His son, Crown Prince Belshazzar, served as viceroy and regent (553-543 B.C.E.) while Nabonidus was on the Arabian peninsula for a decade.  Belshazzar was never a king.

Daniel 7 has much in common with Chapter 2.  Two competing lists of the four kingdoms mentioned in the two chapters exist.  One list is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Median Empire of “Darius the Mede;”
  3. the Persian Empire; and
  4. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great.”

According to this list, the blasphemous horn is the notorious King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.).  This identification makes sense to me, for it provides a clue regarding the period of composition.

The competing list is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Persian Empire;
  3. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great;” and
  4. the Roman Empire.

According to this list, the blasphemous horn is the antichrist.

The vision concludes with the descent of 

one like a human being,

or, literally,

one like a son of man.

This was originally a reference to St. Michael the Archangel.

Son of man

has more than one meaning in the Hebrew Bible.  Usually, it means a human being, as in Ezekiel 2:1 and Job 25:6.  The term also means angel, as in Daniel 8:17, a reference to St. Gabriel the Archangel.  The term clearly refers to a heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13.  Christian tradition identifies the heavenly figure as Jesus. 

Son of Man,

in relation to Jesus, is an apocalyptic label in the New Testament.  This association of the label with a future messianic figure also exists in 1 Enoch 46:1 and 48:10, as well as in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 13.

The establishment of the Kingdom of God in its fullness on Earth at the end of the visions of Daniel 2 and 7 expresses hope for a just world.  This is the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew.  (See Jonathan Pennington.)  This is the dream that remains unfulfilled thousands of years later.

I have read what many Biblical scholars have written about the Kingdom of God.  I can, for example, quote C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) on Realized Eschatology at the drop of a hat.  As logical as I find his case in The Founder of Christianity (1970) to be, I conclude that it feels like cold comfort on certain days.  On those days, I agree and sympathize with Alfred Loisy, an excommunicated Roman Catholic theologian who complained,

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

As Bishop N. T. Wright wrote in Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), the response of many of the faithful to the Kingdom of God not arriving at the expected times has been to continue to hope for it.  Hope persists.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY, PRINCESS OF HUNGARY, AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND PIANO BUILDER; AND HIS SON, JACOB CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN PIANO BUILDER

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Four Banquets   2 comments

St. Edward's, Lawrenceville

Above:  St. Edward’s Episcopal Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia, October 19, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Psalm 111

Mark 6:35-44

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He has provided food for his worshippers;

he remembers his covenant for ever.

–Psalm 111:5, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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This is a post about four banquets:  the divine coronation feast in Isaiah 25:6-10a, the sordid feast of Herod Antipas in Mark 6:14-29, the Feeding of the 5000 (Plus) in Mark 6:30-44, and the Holy Eucharist.

The reading from Isaiah 25 speaks of a time immediately after Yahweh has defeated pride, evil, and sorrow, and established the Kingdom of God, in its fullness, on the Earth.  This is a time in our future.  All people are welcome at Yahweh’s coronation feast, to take place on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.  All is well, except for those whom God has vanquished, namely the Moabites (25:10).

Our next two banquets, which stand is stark contrast to each other, come from Mark 6.  The first is a sordid event, with Herod Antipas lusting after the seductive Salome (whose name and image come to us via archaeology, not the Bible) and making a hasty promise which leads to the execution of St. John the Baptist.  The Herodian family tree was complicated, for both Herodias and her daughter, Salome, were granddaughters of Herod the Great via different women.  Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great via a third woman, married Herodias, who had been the wife of a half-brother of Herod Antipas.  Thus Salome was the step-daughter and a cousin of Herod Antipas.

I will not attempt to explain the Feeding the 5000 (Plus) rationally, for doing that constitutes seeking an answer to the wrong question.  (And I am more of a rationalist than a mystic.)  Neither will I try to explain Jesus walking on water (next in Mark 6) logically, for the same reason.  No, I am interested in answering the question which compelled one of my spiritual mentors whenever he studied any passage of scripture:

What is really going on here?

The Markan account of the Feeding of the 5000 men (no word about the number of women and children) uses imagery from elsewhere in the Bible.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd feeding the flock.  His feeding of the multitude exceeds Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44) and Elijah’s miracle of the refilling jug of oil (1 Kings 17:8-16).  The messianic banquet, an echo of Isaiah 25:6-10a, recurs in the wilderness motif in subsequent pseudipigraphal works, such as in 2 Baruch 29:4 and 4 Ezra 6:52.  Two main ideas stand out in my mind:

  1. Jesus is greater than Elijah and Elisha (see Mark 6:15, in which some people thought that Jesus was Elijah), and
  2. Nothing we bring to Jesus is inadequate in his capable hands.  There will be leftovers after he has finished working with it.  We are insufficient by ourselves yet more than sufficient in Christ.  That is what grace can effect.

The eucharistic imagery in Mark 6 points to the fourth banquet, which I, as an Episcopalian, celebrate at least once weekly.  The Holy Eucharist has constituted the core of my spiritual life since childhood.  One reason I left the United Methodism of my youth was to have the opportunities to partake of the sacrament more often.  In the Holy Eucharist I meet Jesus in the forms of bread and wine and swear loyalty to him again.  No, I am not worthy on my merit (such as it is) to do this, but I rely on his merits to make me worthy to do so.  The first step to becoming worthy is acknowledging one’s unworthiness.

The contrast between human systems built on the foundation of violence, exploitation, and oppression on one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other hand is clear.  Injustice and artificial scarcity characterize the former, but justice and abundance for all distinguish the latter.  We can experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, which is partially present already, but we await the fullness of the Kingdom.  Until then we can, at least, leave the world better off than we found it.  No effort toward this goal is too little in Christ’s capable hands.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-12-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Reaping What One Sows I   1 comment

Slum DC 1937

Above:  A Slum in Washington, D.C., November 1937

Photographer = John Vachon

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF33-T01-001048-M3

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The Collect:

God of heaven and earth,

before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time

you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us to all truth by your Spirit,

that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed

and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 6:22-27

Psalm 20

Mark 4:21-25

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Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.

They will collapse and fall down,

but we will arise and stand upright.

–Psalm 20:7-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The rich rule the poor,

And the borrower is a slave to the lender.

He who sows injustice shall reap misfortune;

His rod of wrath shall fail.

The generous man is blessed,

For he gives of his bread to the poor.

–Proverbs 22:7-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.  That statement applies today; it has done so since antiquity.  This is not a matter as simple as hard work leading to prosperity and sloth leading to poverty, for some of the hardest workers have been and are poor.  No, certain rich people have developed and maintained systems which perpetuate income inequality and favor some people yet not most.

In the Kingdom of God, however, spiritual principles work differently than much of human economics:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

–Galatians 6:7-10, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Present conduct determines the future.  A positive relationship with God is a wonderful thing, but sitting on it, as if one has a “Jesus and me” relationship, is negative.  Sharing one’s faith is the only way to gain more, but hoarding it will lead to losing it.  In other words, the more one gives away spiritually, the more one will receive.

A related text comes from 2 Esdras 7:21-25:

For the Lord strictly commanded those who come into the world, when they come, what they should do to live, and what they should do to avoid punishment.  Nevertheless they were not obedient and spoke against him:

they devised for themselves vain thoughts,

and proposed to themselves wicked frauds;

they even declared that the Most High does not exist,

and they ignored his ways.

They scorned his law,

and denied his covenants;

they have been unfaithful to his statutes,

and have not performed his works.

That is the reason, Ezra, that empty things are for the empty, and full things are for the full.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The atheism mentioned in the passage is practical atheism, that which acknowledges the existence of God while rejecting the ideas that God has an active and effective role in the world and that God’s commandments should have any influence on one’s life.  It is, quite simply, Deism.  Atheism, in the sense that one hears of it frequently in modern Western societies, was rare in antiquity.  That which Reza Aslan calls anti-theism, or hostility to theism (not just the rejection of it), was even more rare.  Thus, when we consider Psalm 14, the most accurate rendering of the opening lines is not that fools say “there is no God” (the standard English translation), but that fools say, “God does not care,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders the passage.

For more verses about the consequences of disobedience, consult Matthew 13:12 and Luke 8:18.

The Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), a familiar text and an element of many liturgies, precedes an important verse:

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

–Numbers 6:27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Receiving blessings from God obligates one to function as a vehicle for others to receive blessings from God.  Grace is free (for us), but never cheap.  In the context of Numbers 6, there is also a mandate to obey the Law of Moses, which contains an ethic of recognizing one’s complete dependence on God, one’s dependence upon other human beings, one’s responsibility to and for others, and the absence of the right to exploit anyone.

Thus the conclusion of this post echoes the beginning thereof.  We have a mandate to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Obeying that commandment can prove to be difficult and will lead us to change some of our assumptions and related behaviors, but that is part of the call of God upon our lives.  We ought to respond positively, out of love for God and our neighbors, but the principle that our present conduct will determine our future hangs over us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/devotion-for-wednesday-after-trinity-sunday-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Rereading the Bible Again As If For the First Time   5 comments

Above:  The Reading of the Gospel, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Griffin, Georgia, May 6, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

(https://picasaweb.google.com/114749828757741527421/BishopWhitmoreSVisitToStGeorgeSGriffen#5739530750820847474)

I grew up with the Bible; my father is a United Methodist minister.  Methodists, of course, are not Sola Scriptura people, at least not officially, nor should they be.  Methodists are Quadrilateral people, with the four elements being Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  Scripture is primary in this formula, which they got from us, their parent tradition, Anglicanism.  The Methodists transformed the Anglican Three-Legged Stool into the Quadrilateral by splitting off experience from reason.

As I have implied, Sola Scriptura is rubbish.  It does not hold water historically, and therefore fails theologically.  Much of the Bible began as oral tradition before entering its written phase of existence.  And the parts which were in writing from the beginning had their roots in tradition.  So Scripture flowed from tradition.  And religious figures defined cannons for Judaism and varieties of Christianity.  The Bible for the earliest Christians was the Hebrew Scriptures.  The earliest (eventually canonical) written Gospel was Mark, composed no earlier than 67 CE.  Paul died before any written Gospel existed.  If the Scriptura does not yet exist or if its definition is not a settled matter, how can Sola Scriptura work?

Speaking of which, there are Christian canons.

  1. Protestant Bibles have 66 books.
  2. Roman Catholic Bibles have 73 books.
  3. Orthodox Bibles, depending on the variety of Orthodoxy, have 76, 78, or 80 books.

I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible.  God help me, I have endured the pure confusion which is 2 Esdras, the Maccabees-devoid 3 Maccabees, and the combination of philosophy and over-the-top hagiographies replete with descriptions of torture which is 4 Maccabees.  And I have concluded that the Council of Trent was correct on at least one matter:  the Bible properly has 73 books.

I travel through that material to arrive at this destination:  Although I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible, I have been rediscovering the Biblical texts while preparing blog devotionals based on lectionaries.  Subtleties which once evaded me have become apparent.  Connections between texts have become obvious to me.  I would not have thought to have paired certain parts of the Old and New Testaments, but I am glad that a lectionary committee did.

Once my Bible study techniques were rather poor, sometimes non-existent.  More than once I devised a plan and got off to a promising start.  Then everything fizzled.  Yet, with these lectionaries and the discipline of blogging, I have found a winning strategy for rereading the Bible again as if for the first time.  I want to read what is next, so I do.

My advice to you, O reader, is to try this approach for yourself, with or without blogging.  There are options.  The Revised Common Lectionary is mostly for Sundays.  It has become the standard for many denominations across the planet.  Thus many ecumenical study materials are based on it.  And the new Sunday lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church is nearly identical to it.  The lectionary texts and many study materials linked to them are available online.

Or maybe you prefer Lutheran options.  The Lutheran Service Book (2006) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/evangelical-lutheran-worship-2006-and-lutheran-service-book-2006-services/), of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, contains a one-year daily lectionary, complete with an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and the choice of a morning psalm or two evening psalms.  Readings tend to be continuous.  This, in my experience so far, has proven to be an excellent Bible reading plan.  Finding the connections between the Old and New Testament readings has been a great spiritual exercise.  Reading Job and John together, for example, led to some interesting insights.  Meanwhile, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/evangelical-lutheran-worship-2006-and-lutheran-service-book-2006-services/), of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one finds a three-year daily lectionary built around the Revised Common Lectionary.  On a Thursday the readings built up to the Sunday lessons.  Then they flow from them through Wednesday.  This is the lectionary I have scheduled myself to follow next, for church year 2013-2014.

For Episcopal Church options one can turn to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010).  The Prayer Book contains the Daily Office, a plan for daily readings (Old Testament, New Testament, and morning and evening psalms) over two years.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), incidentally, incorporated the Daily Office with only minor modifications (as far as I can tell, in the choice of psalms per day) into its fifth Book of Common Worship (1993) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/book-of-common-worship-1993/).  The Episcopal Church has replaced its 1979 Sunday lectionary with the Revised Common Lectionary, so more recent printing runs of the Prayer Book have placed the RCL where the 1979 Lectionary used to be and added the 1979 Lectionary as an appendix.  Over at Holy Women, Holy Men, one can find a set of daily lectionaries to string together through the entire church year to read in lieu of the Daily Office.  And there is a six-week topical lectionary for Monday-Saturday.

Or perhaps one prefers what my brethren in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) offer.  Chalice Hymnal (1995) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/chalice-hymnal-1995-worship-resources/) includes a three-year daily lectionary.  For each week there is a designated psalm or portion thereof.  One reads this in conjunction with one of a series of continuous lessons from a rotation of books of the Bible and with a hymn keyed to the lesson.

Maybe you, O reader, prefer an old Scottish Presbyterian lectionary.  If so, look no further than the 1946 U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-1946/), the third in a line which began in 1906.  This lectionary, mostly for Sundays, offers a psalm and a reading from the Old Testament, an epistle, and a Gospel per day.

In other words, by writing about these options I am offering possibilities in methods of reading and studying the Bible intelligently and methodically.  Above all, O reader, I encourage you to read the Bible intelligently and methodically.  This exercise ought not to be about gathering ammunition for winning arguments.  And prooftexting ought never to be on the table.  This exercise ought not to be about “being right;” it ought to be about being righteous.  And you will certainly discover, as I have, the truth of a sage statement by Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain:

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANDREW FOURNET AND ELIZABETH BICHIER, COFOUNDERS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE CROSS; AND SAINT MICHAEL GARICOITS, FOUNDER OF THE PRIEST OF THE SACRED HEART OF BETHARRAM

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN NEPOMUCENE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF SUDAN

THE FEAST OF TE WERA HAURAKI, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Some Related Posts:

Lamp of Our Feet:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/lamp-of-our-feet/

Before a Bible Study:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/before-a-bible-study/

A Prayer for Opening a Bible Study:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/a-prayer-for-opening-a-bible-study/

Come, Blessed Spirit! Source of Light:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/come-blessed-spirit-source-of-light/

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The Faithfulness of God, Part I   1 comment

Above: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin (1854)

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 19:15-29 (An American Translation):

When dawn appeared, the angels urged Lot on saying,

Bestir yourself; take away your wife, and the two daughters that are at hand, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.

When he hesitated, the men, because of the LORD’s pity on him, seized his hand and those of his wife and his two daughters, and bringing them out, they left him outside the city.  After they had brought them outside, they said,

Fly for your life; do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the valley; fly to the hills, lest you be swept away.

Lot said to them,

O no sirs!  Your servant has indeed found favor with you, and great is the kindness that you have done me in saving my life, but I cannot possibly fly to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I perish.  Here is the town near enough to fly to, and quite small; pray, let me fly there (is it not small?) to save my life.

The LORD said to him,

See, I grant you this request as well, in that I will not overthrow the town of which you speak.  Hurry and fly there; for I can do nothing until you reach there.

Thus the name of the town came to be called Zoar [small].

Just as the sun rose over the earth and Lot entered Zoar, the LORD rained sulphur and fire from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah, devastating those cities and all the valley, with all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation on the land.  And Lot’s wife looked back, and had become a pillar of salt.

Lot’s Wife Pillar, Mount Sodom, Israel

Next morning when Abraham went early to the place where he had stood before the LORD, he gazed toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the region of the valley, and he saw smoke from the land rising like smoke from a kiln.

Thus it was that God remembered Abraham when he destroyed the cities of the valley, by sending Lot away from the catastrophe when he devastated the cities where Lot lived.

Psalm 26 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give judgment for me, O LORD,

for I have lived with integrity;

I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me;

examine my heart and my mind.

3 For your love is before my eyes;

I have walked faithfully before you.

I have not sat with the worthless,

nor do I consort with the deceitful.

5 I have hated the company of evildoers;

I will not sit down with the wicked.

6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD,

that I may go in procession round your altar,

Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving

and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

8 LORD, I love the house in which you dwell

and the place where your glory abides.

Do not sweep me away with sinners,

nor my life with those who thirst for blood,

10 Whose hands are full of evil plots,

and their right hand full of bribes.

11 As for me, I will live with integrity;

redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.

12 My foot stands on level ground;

in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.

Matthew 8:23-27 (An American Translation):

And he [Jesus] got into the boat, and his disciples with him.  And suddenly a terrific storm came up on the sea, so that the waves broke over the boat, but he remained asleep.  And they woke him, saying,

Save us, sir!  We are lost!

And he said to them,

Why are you afraid?  You have so little faith!

Then he got up and reproved the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men were amazed and said,

What kind of man is this?  For the very winds and sea obey him!

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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One of the challenges of following a lectionary can be identifying the common theme present in two or more readings from different parts of the Bible.  After consulting commentaries and pondering all that I have read in the readings and the commentaries, I have found the common thread:  Faithfulness to God is the path to life.  This faithfulness needs only to be present.  However, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is spiritual death.  The wages of sin can also be physical death, and the punishment flows from the sin itself.  In other words, we reap what we sow.  God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.

Let us examine the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah carefully.  In Genesis 19:1-14, two angels arrive at Sodom, where Lot rescues them from would-be gang rapists.  The angels tell Lot that God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah very shortly because, as Professor Richard Elliott Friedman translates verse 13,  they have “grown big before YHWH’s face.”

I pause at this point to ponder the importance of growing “big before YHWH’s face.”  Later in Chapter 19, YHWH permits Lot and his family to flee to Zoar, which is small, for safety.  (Two angels appear early in Chapter 19, and by chapter’s end, YHWH is there, too.  When did God show up, after disappearing between the end of Chapter 18 and the beginning of Chapter 19?  Following the bouncing ball can be challenging.)  Anyhow, I posit that growing “big before YHWH’s face” indicates spiritual arrogance, a lack of faithfulness.

There is an interesting feature in the Hebrew text of verse 15.  The word for punishment, as in “…or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city,” means sin as well.  Sin and punishment are the same thing; consequences flow from actions, so we reap what we sow.

Lot is sufficiently hospitable to rescue the angels, strangers in Sodom, and, as Genesis 19:29 indicates, God saves Lot and family out of faithfulness to Abraham.  Indeed, Lot is a disturbing character, one who offers his two virgin daughters to the would-be gang rapists gathered outside his house (verse 8).  Fortunately for the daughters, the men are not interested.

But Lot is kind to the strangers, if not his own daughters, and the angelic guests offer him and his family a safe way out–if only they follow instructions.  Nobody must look back.  I suppose that curiosity about what is happening would inspire one to look back; we are a species of people who stare at the aftermath of car wrecks.

Biblical writers over many generations used Sodom and Gomorrah to demonstrate various points.  These include:

  • Repent, or be destroyed.
  • Sexual immorality (in all its forms) is wrong.  The first explicit link between homosexual acts and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah comes in Jude 7, however.
  • Any town that refuses to heed visitors bearing the word of God will face condemnation.
  • The failure to extend hospitality to strangers will lead to condemnation.
  • The neglect of the poor will lead to condemnation and destruction.

The word “Sodom” appears in the New Revised Standard Version 51 times.  For those of you who wish to follow up, here they are:

  • Genesis 10:19
  • Genesis 13:10, 12, and 13
  • Genesis 14:2, 8, 10-12, 17, 21, 22, and 26
  • Genesis 18:16, 20, and 26
  • Genesis 19:1, 4, 24, and 28
  • Deuteronomy 29:23
  • Deuteronomy 32:32
  • Isaiah 1:9 and 10
  • Isaiah 3:9
  • Isaiah 13:19
  • Jeremiah 23:14
  • Jeremiah 49:18
  • Jeremiah 50:40
  • Lamentations 4:6
  • Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 49, 53, 55, and 56
  • Amos 4:11
  • Zephaniah 2:9
  • 3 Maccabees 2:5
  • 2 Esdras 2:8
  • 2 Esdras 7:106
  • Matthew 10:15
  • Matthew 11:23 and 24
  • Luke 10:12
  • Luke 17:29
  • Romans 9:29
  • 2 Peter 2:6
  • Jude 7
  • Revelation 11:8

The reading from Matthew tells the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  In all fairness to the Apostles, I would have been afraid, too.  I note also that Jesus said they had little faith, not no faith.  This is a difficult text, one with more possible interpretations than I dreamed possible before reading commentaries.  However, remaining consistent with my methodology of following a common thread between or among lectionary readings, I latch onto the “little faith” comment.  At least the Apostles had some faith.  Are we not like this much, if not most, of the time?  We have some faith and we know that we need more.  We believe, yet we need God to forgive us for our unbelief.  But a little faith is better than none, and from little faith much more can spring.  As the Book of Psalms says, God knows that we are “but dust.”

Reciprocity matters in a healthy relationship with God.  We will get much wrong, for we are fallible.  But, by grace, we can walk in the paths of righteousness more often than not.  We might save not only ourselves, but friends and family members, too.  But are we trying?  That is the first question.  Fortunately, God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.  And let us remember what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about faithfulness:  God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Certainly, how we treat others can be an outward sign of faithfulness.  If we love God with our essence and respect ourselves, following the Golden Rule will result in frequent acts of kindness.  To follow up on a previous devotion in this series, Jesus said that “you shall know them by their fruits.”  I add to this thought the entire Letter of James.

May we be faithful to God for the glory of God and out of awe of God and gratitude for all the wonderful deeds God has done.  And why not?  God is faithful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/week-of-proper-8-tuesday-year-1/

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