Archive for the ‘Raymond E. Brown’ Tag

Introduction to the Apocalypse of John   Leave a comment

Above:  Revelation Title (French)

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from a copy of the Louis Segond revised translation (1910) of the Bible

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READING REVELATION, PART I

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Revelation 1:1-20

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Rev[elation] is widely popular for the wrong reasons, for a great number of people read it as a guide to how the world will end, assuming that the author was given by Christ detailed knowledge of the future he communicated in coded symbols.

Father Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), 773

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…Revelation does not speak about our time, it does speak to it.

–M. Eugene Boring, Revelation (1989), 62

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THE APOCALYPTIC GENRE

Reading a book within its genre matters.

Consider the apocalypse in Daniel 7-12, for example, O reader.  The author wrote in the first century B.C.E.  He mostly wrote history as prophecy.  But when the author started writing about the future (relative to him), he got details wrong.  This was par for the course, given the genre.

Apocalyptic literature, written in images and symbols, is politically subversive of tyranny.  The genre offers hope during difficult times, encourages the faithful to remain faithful, and contrasts the world order with the divine order.  Apocalyptic literature uses the future as away to address the present.

I lay my theological cards on the table at the beginning of this project, O reader.

  1. I am a left-of-center Episcopalian.
  2. I am a student of history.
  3. I am an intellectual.
  4. I know the historical record of failed predictions of Christ’s Second Coming and failed identifications of the Antichrist.
  5. I tell you, O reader, that the rapture is a fiction from the mind of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).
  6. I know that Darby’s Dispensationalism, popularized further in C. I. Scofield‘s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” remains a widespread interpretive system.
  7. I affirm that Christ will eventually return, but only once.  The rapture requires two Second Comings.
  8. I have no interest in prophecy conferences, but care deeply about loving like Jesus daily.

Apocalyptic literature has much to say about our present.  This content remains politically subversive.  That is fine.  I approve of subverting injustice, tyranny, slavery, economic exploitation, and needless violence.  They are antithetical to the Kingdom of God.

Apocalyptic literature is also optimistic.  In the darkness, the genre proclaims hope that God and good will triumph in the end.  Apocalyptic literature, therefore, stiffens the spines of discouraged, faithful people.  Good news of the deliverance of oppressed people doubles as judgment of the oppressors.  The genre invites us to ask ourselves:

Whose side am I on?

In summary, apocalyptic literature immediately moves past preaching and gets to meddling.

THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN AND RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY

Certain passages of the Old and New Testaments, in their contexts, support submission to earthly authority.  The Apocalypse of John has none of that.  Revelation tells us that the Roman Empire was evil, antithetical to the Kingdom of God.  This is the message that made the text treasonous long ago and still inspires many people to resist tyranny.  One may read, for example, of Christian opponents of Apartheid (in South Africa) drawing inspiration from the Apocalypse of John, even as the national government prosecuted and persecuted them.  Today, in dictatorships, certain Christians are reading Revelation as they emerge in their struggles for justice.

REVELATION IN THE BIBLE AND LECTIONARIES

Revelation is a liturgical hot potato.  The major lectionaries include little of it.  The Eastern Orthodox lectionary excludes the Apocalypse of John.  The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) explains:

While seen as canonical and inspired by God, the Revelation is the only New Testament book not publicly read in the services of the Orthodox Church.  This is partly because the book was only gradually accepted as canonical in many parts of Christendom.  In addition, in the second and third centuries Revelation was widely twisted and sensationally misinterpreted, and the erroneous teachings brought troublesome confusion to Christians–a trend that continues to this day.

Genesis and Revelation constitute fitting bookends of the Christian Bible.  Genesis opens with mythology–the creation of an earthly paradise, followed by the end of that paradise–to be precise (Genesis 1-3).  Revelation concludes with a vision of God, having finally defeated evil once and for all, restoring that earthly paradise and establishing the fully-realized Kingdom of God (Revelation 21-22).

THE ORIGIN OF THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN

Revelation came from 92 to 96 C.E., at the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian.  Emperor-worship and the worship of the goddess Roma (Rome personified) were parts of conventional Roman patriotism and civic life.  The Christian refusal to participate in these cults made Christians seem unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst.  Persecution was generally sporadic and regional at the time, but it was a constant threat.  “John of Patmos” (whoever he was) wrote to seven churches in commercial cities in western Asia Minor.

The elaborate symbolism–including numerology–in apocalyptic literature prevented the uninitiated–in this case, Roman censors–from understanding the texts.

SYMBOLISM AND MEANING IN REVELATION 1

The only instance in which to interpret any number in the Apocalypse of John literally pertains to the seven churches in western Asia Minor.

Revelation 1 plunges us into the symbolic aspect of apocalyptic literature immediately.  Stars (at the end of the chapter) represent angels and lamp-stands represent churches.  Earlier in the chapter, Jesus has white hair, indicating holiness.  His eyes, like a burning flame, pierce to the heart of all things.  Christ’s “feet like burnished bronze” are stable and steadfast.  His voice, “like the sound of the ocean,” is the convergence of the truth of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus holds the Church–then a vulnerable group of house congregations–in his hand.  From Christ’s mouth emerges a two-edged sword (speech).  His face shines like the sun.  Christ is victorious, resurrected, ascended, and priestly.

The Roman Empire may have seemed to have had all the power and glory.  It did not.  The Roman Empire had executed Jesus.  Yet he had risen; his tomb was empty.  The power of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to the power of God in Christ.

That was treasonous, for, according to Roman coinage, the emperor was the “Son of God.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE EDWARD LYNCH COTTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CALCUTTA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH ALBERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND POET

THE FEAST OF HERBERT G. MAY, U.S. BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN ERNEST BODE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TYNDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND MARTYR, 1536; AND MILES COVERDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF EXETER

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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 Vibes of Translations: A Case Study Invoking John 1:14a   Leave a comment

Above:  The Hebrew Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Image in the Public Domain

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A Biblical translation has its vibe.

Years ago, at the Episcopal Center at The University of Georgia, I was participating in a Bible study one night.  The passage was the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  The study method was the African Bible study, by which the group heard the same passage read aloud three times, each time in a different version, and asked a different question each time.  After Carrie read from The Living Bible (New Testament, 1969), all of us present sang,

I’d like to teach the world to sing

in perfect harmony.

I’d like to buy the world a Coke

and keep it company.

The Living Bible is of its time.  That is the most polite evaluation I can offer of it.  My opinion of The Living Bible is so low as to be subterranean.  If I were to represent my opinion of that version numerically, I would use a negative number on a scale.  But I would still rate The Living Bible higher than The Message.

To my main point now….

The Prologue (1:1-18) of the Gospel of John is one of the most profound sections in the Bible.  That Prologue is theologically rich, like the rest of that Gospel.  And John 1:1-18 is one of the portions of scripture I read when evaluating a translation.  If a translation botches the Prologue to the Gospel of John, I read no more in that version.  Literary quality and theological subtlety are standards I apply to that evaluation.

The Revised Standard Version (New Testament, 1946; plus Old Testament, 1952; Second Edition, 1971) provides the standard English translation of John 1:14a:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth….

Two translation choices stand out in my mind.  First, “dwelt” is literal from the Greek, according to commentaries I have read.  Second, the Greek text reads, literally, “in,” not “among.”

Other versions offer similar readings.  For example, The Revised English Bible (1989) tells us:

So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us,….

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) reads:

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us,….

And The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) tells us:

The Word became flesh,

he lived among us,….

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) hit the proverbial nail on the head in her Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924):

And the Word became flesh and tented with us…

William Barclay (1907-1978) also translated John 1:14a well:

So the word of God became a person, and took up his abode in our being….

Barclay picked up on the literal meaning of a particular Greek word meaning “in,” not “among.”  He also tied John 1:14a to the theme of indwelling that runs throughout the Fourth Gospel.  Jesus dwelt in YHWH, YHWH dwelt in Jesus, and followers of Jesus dwelt in him, and, therefore, in YHWH.

The reference to dwelling or tenting is to the tent of the Tabernacle, as in Exodus 25:8d.  Literally, in John 1:14, the Logos of God pitched a tent.   The Greek verb meaning “to tent” resembles the Hebrew root for “to dwell” and the Hebrew word from which the noun shekinah (divine presence) derives.

The meaning pertains to Realized Eschatology in the Johannine Gospel:  God was fully present among human beings in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Father Raymond E. Brown‘s extensive and extremely detailed and verbose commentary (1966) on the Gospel of John makes the connection between John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3:

“Behold the dwelling of God is with men….”

Revised Standard Version

According to Father Brown:

Thus, in dwelling among men, the Word anticipates the divine presence which according to Revelation will be visible to men in the last days.

The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (1966), 33

However extremely few merits Eugene Peterson’s The Message (2002) may have, literary grace is not one of them.  Consider this rendering of John 1:14a, O reader:

The Word became flesh and blood

and moved into the neighborhood.

Now I return to the question of the vibe of a translation.  “…Moved into the neighborhood,” in my North American context, carries a certain connotation.  I hear that phrasing and think of a scenario in which a prosperous, professional Latino or African-American family has moved into a conservative White suburb, and the White bigots have started fretting about the possibility of declining property values.  Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a leads my mind far away from what is really happening in that verse in the Fourth Gospel.  The unfortunate wording in The Message makes me think of White upper-class bigots bemoaning,

“There goes the neighborhood!”

Furthermore, Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a functions as another example of my main criticism of that version:  It commits the sin of being kitschy.  No Biblical translation should be kitschy.

I have decided to read Helen Barrett Montgomery’s Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924).  She had the Word pitching a tent, consistent with the meaning of the Greek text.  I like the vibe of her translation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HANS SCHOLL, SOPHIE SCHOLL, AND CHRISTOPH PROBST, ANTI-NAZI MARTYRS AT MUNICH, GERMANY, 1943

THE FEAST OF BERNHARDT SEVERIN INGEMANN, DANISH LUTHERAN AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HOPPER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF CORTONA, PENITENT AND FOUNDRESS OF THE POOR ONES

THE FEAST OF SAINT PRAETEXTATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ROUEN

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Jesus and Empires   Leave a comment

Above:  Annunciation to the Shepherds, by Anonymous

Image in the Public Domain

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For Christmas Day, First Service, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Glory be to thee, O God in the highest, who by the birth of thy beloved Son

has made him to be for us both Word and Sacrament:

grant that we may hear thy Word, receive thy grace,

and be made one with him born for our salvation;

even Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 40:25-31

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-14

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Luke 2 presents the honest, objective reviewer of history and the Gospel of Luke with a text full of factual holes yet profound truth and timeless meaning.  We cannot possibly line up all the historical details–the census and all those officeholders–at the same period in the past.

There never was a census of the whole Empire under Augustus (but a number of local censuses, and the census of Judea (not of Galilee) under Quirinius, the governor of Syria, took place in AD 6, probably at least ten years too late for the birth of Jesus.

–Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 1997), 233

The text of Luke 2:1-14, although factually inaccurate, is theologically true.

As Brown pointed out, the author of the Gospel of Luke, by linking the birth of Jesus to an imperial decree, introduced a divine plan that reached its culmination in Acts 28, when St. Paul the Apostle proclaimed the Gospel in Rome.  The song of the angels was for Jesus, not Augustus.  It constituted an imperial proclamation of a sort, too.

Code:  Jesus is more important than Augustus and his successors even were.

In Isaiah 40:27 exiles lament:

“My way is hid from the LORD,

my cause is ignored by God.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

It is an understandable way of thinking.  It is also one of the following verses refute.

One meaning of the Incarnation is that God does not ignore we human beings.  In contrast, God loves us enough to become one of us, alive among us, and save us.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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A Light to the Nations V   Leave a comment

Above:  The Adoration of the Magi, by Albrecht Durer

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-40191

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FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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We ask, Lord, that you mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you,

and that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do,

and may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 85

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Isaiah 60:1-3, 6b

Psalm 24

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

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Isaiah 60 and Psalm 24 state that God is the King, a ruler superior to human rulers who shed the blood of the innocent, commit injustice shamelessly, and do not care about integrity.  God is not fully the King of the Earth yet, we read, but that will change.  God is certainly superior to the unstable and evil Herod the Great, a client ruler within the Roman Empire and a man fearful of a young boy.

Interestingly, Father Raymond E. Brown, author of The Birth of the Messiah (1977 and 1993) and An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), both magisterial works of Biblical scholarship, was dubious of the story in Matthew 2 (considering the account in Luke 2, despite its factual errors, more plausible) yet affirmed the Virgin Birth.  For a long time many scholars–even conservative ones–have struggled to reconcile the very different stories in Matthew 2 and Luke 2.  Nevertheless, would not visiting Magi have been more likely than a virginal conception and subsequent birth?

Regardless of the objective reality regarding that matter, the kingship of God remains.  Most of God’s subjects are Gentiles, whom He does not exclude from the potential for salvation.  This is an old theme in the Bible, given the faithful Gentiles who appear in the pages of the Hebrew Bible.  The narrative makes room for the civilly disobedient midwives Shiphrah and Puah (probably ethnically Egyptian) in Exodus 1, for Rahab the prostitute of Jericho and her family in Joshua 2 and 6, and Ruth in Ruth 1-4, for example.  The four chapters of Jonah, a work of fiction and a Jewish protest against post-Babylonian Exilic exclusionary attitudes among Jews, remain relevant in many settings.  We read of some Gentile Godfearers in John 12:20-36.  Faithful Gentiles, we read in epistles of St. Paul the Apostle as well as those texts others wrote in his name, join the Jews in the ranks of the Chosen People.  Are not the Chosen People–Jews and Gentiles–supposed to be a light to the nations, that is, Gentiles?

The message of God is for all people.  Not all will accept it, however; that is their decision.  The offer is on the table one way or another, however.  It is a generous offer and a gift.  The grace is free yet not cheap, for it makes demands of all its recipients.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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The Scandal of Grace I: Christmas   1 comment

Above:  Angels Announcing Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds, by Govert Flinck

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR CHRISTMAS DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ.

Grant that we may joyfully receive him as our Redeemer,

so we may with sure confidence behold him when comes to be our judge,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 76

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Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (Protestant)/Isaiah 9:1, 5-6 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 5

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-20

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The setting of Luke 2 is troublesome within itself.  There was no such imperial census, we know from historical records, but there was a regional census in Judea (not in the Galilee) in 6 and 7 C.E., written records tell us.  Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament, states that Luke’s account gets historical details wrong.  Brown also argues that Luke-Acts speaks of a divine plan set inside the Roman Empire.  The text of Luke-Acts contextualizes the birth of Jesus in the reign of the Emperor Augustus (Luke 2) and concludes with the arrival of St. Paul the Apostle in Rome (Acts 28).  Brown writes of the song of the angels to the shepherds.  That song, he insists, is similar to an imperial proclamation in an empire that labeled Augustus the savior of the world.  The point is plain:  Christ is greater than Augustus.

In Psalm 5 the beleaguered author (allegedly David) seeks divine deliverance from his enemies.  He, referring to the Temple, writes,

But I can enter your house

because of your great love.

–Verse 8a, The New American Bible

In Christ we have the Temple in the flesh.  This is the Temple that became flesh out of great love.

The reading from Isaiah 9 is a description of the ideal Davidic king.  One probably thinks most intensely about the ideal ruler when one’s ruler falls far short of the ideal and does not try to live up to that ideal.  Otherwise one might extol the virtues of one’s ruler instead.  In this case the ideal Davidic king, according to the standard, traditional English-language translations is, as The New Revised Standard Version (1989) states:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

–Verse 6c

Perhaps the familiar language obscures the meaning of the Hebrew text.  Consider then, O reader, the translation from TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985):

The Mighty God is planning grace;

The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.

–Verse 5c

This version cuts to the chase nicely; God is planning grace.  We find another example of that grace in Galatians 3 and 4.  At the end of Galatians 3 we read in a glorious and duly famous passage that, through Jesus, Gentile believers join the ranks of Jews as “sons of God,” a term that indicates being the Chosen People, as in Deuteronomy 14:1-2.  With grace, such as that which makes people “sons of God,” also comes responsibility to shed the light of God brightly.  That is fair.  Grace is free yet certainly not cheap, for it requires much of its recipients.  That is fair.

Traditional categories, such as Jews, Greeks, slaves, free people, males, and females do not divide “sons of God,” all of whom are heirs of God.  That is wonderful news!  Why, then, do so many of us maintain, magnify, and create categories for the purpose of defining ourselves as the in-crowd and other “sons of God” as outsiders?  All who do so demonstrate that they prefer psychological comfort to the scandal of grace.

Grace is scandalous.  By means of it we receive more than we deserve; so do people we dislike strongly.  We, like the author of Psalm 5, want better than we deserve yet desire the worst for our foes.  By means of grace a defenseless newborn boy is greater than Augustus Caesar.  Much is possible via grace.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Compassion and the Sabbath, Part III   1 comment

Above:   Christ Healing, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 12:1-15

Psalm 53

Acts 12:6-19

Luke 14:2-6

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The standard English-language translation of the opening line of Psalms 14 and 53 is that a fool thinks that there is no God.   However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) has the benighted man thinking that God does not care.   This gets to the point of practical atheism, not the modern, widespread reality of theoretical atheism, rare in the ancient Middle East.  Indeed, God cares jealously in the Bible.  God objects strenuously whenever someone challenges Moses.  God also sends an angel to break St. Simon Peter out of prison.

The portion from Luke 14 exists within a larger narrative context–the eschatological banquet, symbolic of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is at a banquet at the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath.   In the reading assigned for today our Lord and Savior heals a man afflicted with dropsy, or severe retention of fluid.  The fact that he does this on the Sabbath becomes controversial immediately.  Jesus rebuts that even they rescue a child or an ox from a well on the Sabbath.  They cannot argue against him.

Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament (1997), wrote the following:

Actually at Qumran there was a prohibition of pulling a newborn animal our of a pit on the Sabbath (CD 11:13-14).

–Page 248

Every day is a proper day to act out of compassion, according to Jesus, although not the community at Qumran.

In the great eschatological banquet the blind, the lame, the poor, and the crippled are welcome–even preferred guests.   One ought to invite them because it is the right thing to do.  One should commit good deeds out of compassion and piety, not the desire for reciprocal treatment.  Grace is not transactional.

The temptation to relate to God in transactional terms is a powerful one.  It is, among other things, a form of works-based righteousness, a major theological error.  Keeping the Covenant, at its best, is a matter of faithful response to God.  (“If you love me, keep my commandments.”–John 14:15)  However useful having a list of instructions can be, that list can easily become for one a checklist to manipulate, until one violates major tenets while honoring minor facets.  In the Jewish tradition one finds longstanding recognition of a summary of the Law of Moses:  Love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.

So healing a man on the Sabbath should not be controversial, should it?  (John 7:22-24)

But what about Sabbath laws?  There is a death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), except when there is not (Leviticus 12:3).  If the eighth day of a boy’s life falls on the Sabbath, the circumcision of the child must, according to the Law of Moses, occur on the Sabbath.  But do not dare to collect sticks on the Sabbath!   Removing part of a male on the Sabbath is permissible, so why not making someone whole?

Every day is a good day to act compassionately, according to Jesus.  God cares about the needs of people each day.  So should we.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/devotion-for-proper-9-ackerman/

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The Sovereignty of God V   1 comment

Above:   Paying the Tax with a Coin from the Fish

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 27:1-10, 18-19, 26-33, 38-40

Psalm 12

Acts 4:23-31

Matthew 17:24-27

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O LORD, watch over us

and save us from this generation for ever.

The wicked prowl on every side,

and that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.

–Psalm 12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One of the primary challenges understanding the Bible is the fact that we moderns come from different cultural and intellectual backgrounds than the ancients did.  The Biblical texts leave much unwritten because members of the original audiences did not require the explanation of every germane assumption.  Consider, O reader, blessings and curses.  By curses I refer not to profane and coarse language, but to the opposite of blessings.  One assumption in the Hebrew Bible is that spoken blessings and curses have power.  Oral blessings and curses are motifs in the Old Testament.  In this case the second son steals the blessing (due to the first son) by fooling an aging and blind father.  The stolen blessing, however, still has power.  Furthermore, God works through the blessing and the act of stealing it.

The theme of the sovereignty of God continues in the readings.  The promises of God are sure in Psalm 12, even though people exalt vileness.  In Acts 4 religious persecution becomes an opportunity certain early Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the faith boldly.

The Gospel reading requires much explanation.  A standard exegesis is that the tax in question was the Temple tax.  However, Father Raymond E. Brown questions this conclusion in his magisterial An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).  He proposes that, since Matthew 17:24-27 does not identify the tax as the Temple tax, it might have been a different tax–perhaps the census tax mentioned in Matthew 22:15-22.  Or, if one assumes that the tax in Matthew 17:24-27 was the Temple tax, one might surmise that post-70 C.E. realities inform the telling of the story.  With the destruction of the Temple and the continuation of the Temple tax, the purpose of said tax had shifted to support the temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount.

The real issue is the sovereignty of God.  The Roman destruction of the Temple could not overcome the sovereignty of God.  Imperial power might extend even to fish, but God could place the coin to pay the tax inside a fish.  For the sake of avoiding public scandal Jesus pays the tax with money God has provided, but God is still more powerful than the Roman Empire.

We who follow God should acknowledge divine sovereignty.  Our relations to the state might be strained.  I acknowledge the moral legitimacy of political revolution sometimes, especially when the system oppresses those who seek to change it peaceably.  In all circumstances, we ought to, in the words of Jesus,

Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar–and God what belongs to God.

–Matthew 22:21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

God, who is sovereign over empires and republics, wants us.  That is fair.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/devotion-for-proper-5-ackerman/

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Our Common Life   2 comments

Above:   Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise, by Marc Chagall

Use of Image Permissible According to Fair Use

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24

Isaiah 4:2-6

Acts 15:22-35

John 3:22-30

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The reading from Genesis 3 always prompts me to ask what is wrong with being able to discern between good and evil.  I tend to argue with the story.  I also recognize an opposite vision in Isaiah 4:  the return from exile.

The Bible opens with God creating the world and people messing it up.  The sacred anthology concludes with God restoring the world.  Genesis and Revelation are the best possible bookends for the Bible, which contains stories about the relationship between God and mere mortals.  We should learn, among other lessons, to obey certain ethical teachings, to rely on God completely, to love each other as we love ourselves, and to emphasize God, not ourselves.  We, as Christians, must say with St. John the Evangelist,

He must increase

while I must decrease.

–Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (1966), page 150

When we seek to glorify ourselves, we set out on a fool’s errand.  Yet the world praises such men and women.  Often these individuals build themselves up at the expense of others, according to the ethic of the old economic theory of mercantilism, according to which there is a finite supply of wealth, hence more for one means less for others.  In contrast we consider Jesus, who humbled and sacrificed himself.  He was a failure, according to worldly standards of success.  Yet we know him to have been successful, do we not?  So much for worldly standards!

May we increase in love for God and each other and in our understanding of our complete reliance on God and our interdependence.  As The Book of Common Prayer (1979) reminds us:

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live:  Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Page 134

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES LEWIS MILLIGAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCULF OF NANTEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-after-the-epiphany-ackerman/

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Divine Consolation   1 comment

Anna at the Presentation of Jesus--Giotto

Above:  Anna at the Presentation of Jesus, by Giotto

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Beautiful God, you gather your people into your realm,

and you promise us food from your tree of life.

Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit

we may love one another and the world you have made,

through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 34

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 34:20-33

Psalm 93

Luke 2:25-38

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The LORD is King;

he has put on splendid apparel;

the LORD has put on his apparel

and girded himself with strength.

He has made the whole world so sure

that it cannot be moved;

Ever since the world began, your throne has been established;

you are from everlasting.

The waters have lifted up, O LORD,

the waters have lifted up their voice;

the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea,

mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure,

and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,

for ever and for evermore.

–Psalm 93, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Humility before God, whose testimonies are sure, is a virtue.  In the main two readings for this day we encounter five people who were humble before God:

  • King Josiah of Judah (reigned 640-609 B.C.E.), who instigated religious reforms consistent with the Book of Deuteronomy,
  • Saints Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, who raised Jesus in an observant Jewish home, and
  • Saints Simeon and Anna the Prophetess, who testified regarding the infant Jesus.

As Father Raymond E. Brown pointed out in The Birth of the Messiah (Updated Edition, 1993), the law and the prophets framed birth and infancy of Jesus.  The Lukan language alluded to Isaiah 40:1 and 66:12-13, with their references to the consolation (paraklesis in Greek and parakalein in Hebrew, sounding like paraclete) of Israel.  Sts. Joseph and Mary obeyed legal customs.  Two prophets attested to our Lord and Savior’s bona fides, but only one prophet affirmed St. John the Baptist in Luke 1:67-79.  St. Anna the Prophetess looked for the redemption of Jerusalem, echoing Isaiah 52:9 (The Revised English Bible, 1989):

Break forth together into shouts of joy,

you ruins of Jerusalem;

for the LORD has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The author of the Gospel of Luke understood the life of Jesus as fitting neatly into a much longer narrative of consolation and redemption.  His subtle word choices helped to establish connections with subsequent texts, such as John 14:15f, in which Jesus promised that God the Father would send another Paraclete–Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate–the Holy Spirit, simply put.

Consolation is among the most frequent reasons many people seek God.  This makes sense to me.  The quest for comfort recurs throughout the Bible, especially in the Book of Psalms, because of the ubiquity of distress.  Turning to God might not end one’s distress, but it does provide one with a means of coping with it.  If we love God, we will obey divine commandments.  This might lead to suffering (John 15:18-27), but at least the Holy Spirit will be present with us during our ordeals.  There is much consolation in that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF CHARLES JUDSON CHILD, JR., EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF LESLIE WEATHERHEAD, BRITISH METHODIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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