Sunday, December 23, 2018

What happened to the Body of Jesus?

Like everything else in religion the answer depends on who you ask.

The canonical gospels are unanimous that after his death the body of Jesus was buried in a tomb (Mark 15:42-47; Matt 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42). Mark says that later the tomb was found to be empty and the body gone. A young man sitting in the tomb said Jesus had risen and the disciples would find him in Galilee (16:5-7). Matthew says the tomb was empty and the body gone. An angel told those who came to the tomb that Jesus had risen and the disciples could find him in Galilee (28:5-7). Matthew adds that the women met Jesus on the way and took hold of his feet (28:9), so the “body” was in a state that could be grasped physically. John says that the tomb was empty (20:1-9). Jesus was present on four occasions afterward (20:11-18, 19-23, 26-29; 21:1-23). His “body” appears to have been capable of being touched physically, as John describes the encounters (20:24-27). Luke says that the tomb was empty (24:3). Two men by the tomb reminded the women that he had said he would rise (24:6-8, 24-23). Jesus was present on two occasions after the tomb had been found empty (24:13-31, 33-49); he was described as being physically present on those occasions (24:39-43). Matthew, Mark, and John raise the question: So what ultimately happened to Jesus’ body? These gospels never say. In Luke’s second volume (Acts), however, there is a hint that the body may not have been simply physical, for Jesus ascends to heaven (Acts 1:9-11), something that a physical body could not do (1 Cor 15:50).

There is, however, a suggestion in the Gospel of Matthew that the body could have been stolen (Matt 27:62-66), and a hint in John that his body might have been taken away and disposed of by the authorities (John 20:13).

            Paul simply rules out that the risen body of Jesus was physical when he says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God for the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15:50). Hence, Jesus’ perishable physical body was placed in the tomb, but raised an imperishable spiritual body (1 Cor 15:42-57), as all believers likewise will “be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52).

            John Dominick Crossan has a different take on the body of Jesus. Here are two brief quotations from his book:

With regard to the body of Jesus, by Easter Sunday morning those who cared did not know where it was, and those who knew did not care. Why should even the soldiers themselves remember the death and disposal of a nobody? (p. 158).

Roman crucifixion was state terrorism; that its function was to deter resistance or revolt, especially among the lower classes; and that the body was usually left on the cross to be consumed eventually by the wild beasts. No wonder we have found only one body from all those thousands crucified around Jerusalem in that single century. Remember those dogs. And if you seek the heart of darkness, follow the dogs (p. 127).

In other words, his body, if not eaten by wild beasts, simply decomposed.

This is similar to what Albert Schweitzer wrote:

In the knowledge that he is the coming Son of Man [Jesus] lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign (pp. 370-71).

In the Catholic tradition today the elements of the Mass (bread and wine) metamorphose into the “body of Christ” and Jesus is risen into the Mass; bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ.

            The eminent New Testament scholar and German Lutheran had this to say about the body of Jesus: Jesus has risen into the preaching of the church:

Christ meets us in the preaching as one crucified and risen. He meets us in the word of preaching and nowhere else. The faith of Easter is just this—faith in the word of preaching (p. 41).

Were you to ask me to answer the question, as a twenty-first century human being I might say: Today Jesus exists in time and space as a body of literature, art, music, church buildings, and religious communities. With that statement I find myself in good company: The early Christian apostle, Paul, thought of a gathering (ecclesia) of Jesus’ followers as the “body” of Christ (1 Cor 12:27).

How do you answer the question: what happened to Jesus’ body?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Bultmann, Rudolf, “New Testament and Mythology,” pp. 1-44 in Kerygma and Myth (edited by Hans Werner Bartsch; New York: Harper and Row, 1953/1961).

Crossan, Dominick, Jesus. A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper, 1994).

Schweitzer, Albert, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (New York: Macmillan, 1968 [German original 1906]).

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Of Principles and Law Codes

Here is what I regard as the solution to the problem I stumbled across in my last blog. You will recall that I was perplexed as to why Paul would say that he was “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21 RSV), when he clearly argues in Rom 10:4 that “Christ was the end of the law” (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant). In his belief humankind was now under divine Grace (Rom 6:14-15), and people are justified (declared righteous) before God through faith in Christ (Rom 3:24-28).

            The difficulty that I raised occurs because scholars/translators read the Greek word nomos (generally translated “law”) in a quite narrow way, as if it were referring to a “legal code.” Actually the word is nuanced (i.e., having a range of significations). Bauer-Danker explains that the basic signification of the term nomos is “a procedure or practice that has taken hold, [hence] a custom, rule, principle, norm.” Danker who revised Bauer’s lexicon1 says that Bauer understood nomos in Rom 7:21“as ‘principle,’ that is: an unwritten rightness of things.” Paul uses the word nomos in cases where he probably would have preferred another word or perhaps he intended a play on the word nomos “to heighten the predicament of those who do not rely on the Gospel of liberation from legal constraint: the Apostle speaks of a principle that obligates one to observe a code of conduct that any sensible person would recognize as sound and valid.” The other two significations listed for nomos are: “constitutional or statutory legal system, law” and “a collection of holy writings precious to God’s people, sacred ordinance.”

Understanding nomos as “the unwritten rightness of things” would almost demand the translation of “[spiritual] principle” for the word. In the passages over which I stumbled a translation of nomos as “principle” clarifies the apostle’s statement, whereas translating nomos as “law” obfuscates what the apostle is aiming to say. In short, according to Paul there is no “law of Christ.” Nevertheless, the “Christian” walk still requires certain behaviors (Gal 5:13-14).

Here are my suggested translations for Paul’s statements:

Rom 7:21: “So I do find it a [spiritual] principle that when I want to do right…”
Gal 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the [spiritual] principle of Christ.”
1 Cor 9:21: “…not being without law toward God but within the [spiritual] principle of Christ.”
Rom 8:2: “For the [spiritual] principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.”

In virtually all translations of the above verses in modern English nomos is translated as “law.” There are a few exceptions:

*Romans 7:21 is translated principle in Phillips, NEB, and NAB; rule in Weymouth; fact of life in LB, NLT, and Authentic Letters.

*Galatians 6:2 is translated power in LB and NLT.

*Romans 8:2 is translated principle in Knox; rule in Authentic Letters; Lord’s command in LB and NLT; life-giving power in Williams.

Paul had this to say about the relationship of law and faith:

Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:23-26 RSV).

Translators do Paul a disservice when they render nomos in the verses above by the English word “law”; in these verses he is clearly referring to a spiritual principle.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1F. W. Danker and W. Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago), 677.

Phillips: J. B. Phillips, New Testament in Modern English.
NEB: New English Bible.
NAB: New American Bible.
Weymouth: R. F. Weymouth, the New Testament in Modern Speech.
LB: Living Bible.
NLT: New Living Translation.
Authentic Letters: Art Dewey, et al., The Authentic Letters of Paul.
Williams: C. B. Williams, The New Testament. A Private Translation
Knox: R. A. Knox, The New Testament. A New Translation

Friday, November 23, 2018

Did Jesus institute a Law?

In Baptist Bible study one Sunday Morning we stumbled across an unusual expression in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2 RSV). It is an unusual statement because Paul was of the opinion that “Christ is the end of the law”; under Christ people are justified by faith according to Paul (Rom 10:4). Did Jesus institute a law? Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that he had not come to abolish the law [the Mosaic covenant], but rather to fulfill it (Matt 5:17-18). Can that statement be read as suggesting a “Christian” law of some sort remaindered from the Mosaic Code?

According to the Baptist student quarterly, the “law of Christ” is found in a saying of Jesus in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another." The writer said: “This law of love is the rule believers are to follow.” I raised my hand to suggest that John 13:34 could not be the “law” to which Paul referred. The saying has no parallels elsewhere and the Gospel of John was written at the end of the first century, while Paul lived in the middle first century. In any case Paul knew very little about the details of Jesus’ life, apart from a very few sayings and events that had already become liturgical by his day.

Paul claimed to be “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21), which Gordon Fee describes as an informal “Christian ethical imperative.” Nevertheless, (Fee adds) that does not mean followers of Jesus now have a new law to obey. According to Fee the expression “law of Christ” is roughly equivalent to the kind of informal ethical instructions Paul gave in Romans 12 and Gal 5-6.1 Yet the use of the word “law” to describe an informal list of ethical behaviors does seem strange for a Paul who insisted that faith had replaced the law.

James also uses the word “law,” referring to the “royal law” (Jas 2:8), which he does not explain, except to say “If you really fulfill the royal law, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (RSV; Lev 19:18; Matt 22:39; Rom 12:8-10). In other words whatever the royal law is, the doing of it will include the loving of your neighbor. Or does James intend that the reader understand that the “royal law” is to be equated with Lev19:18? The royal law can be equated with the “perfect law,” that is to say, “the law of liberty” (Jas 1:22), under which people will be judged (Jas 2:12). The law of liberty is contrasted to the Mosaic covenant, which is a formal code (Jas 2:8-12). James is doubtless referring to this “law of liberty” when he calls for one to be a “doer of the law” (Jas 1:25). Are Paul and James referring to some kind of formal legal code in early Christianity?  That is likely not the case. In spite of the fact that Paul and James use the word “law” to describe certain prescribed Christian behaviors, there does not appear to be any such formal “law” preserved in the earliest canonical Christian texts. We modern readers are therefore left to ponder the unfortunate choice of legalistic language used by Paul and James.

One of the “Apostolic Fathers,” the Didache (dated 70-150), however, begins with a formal statement of acceptable Christian behavior called “The Way of Life.” The behaviors, while specific, are not described as a “code” or “law,” however. The following is a brief summary of the first two sections of the Way of Life in the Didache.

You shall:

Love God; love your neighbor as yourself; what you don’t want done to you, don’t do to another; bless those who curse you; pray for your enemies; fast for those who persecute you; love those who hate you; abstain from bodily and carnal lusts; if struck on the right cheek, turn the other; if pressed to go one mile, go two; if anyone takes your coat, give him your shirt; do not refuse what anyone will take from you; give to everyone who asks from you; let your alms sweat in your hand, until you know who you are giving them to.

You shall not:

Commit murder; commit adultery; commit fornication; use magic; use philtres [i.e., potions]; procure abortions; commit infanticide; covet your neighbor’s goods; commit perjury; bear false witness; speak evil; bear malice; be double-minded; be double-tongued; be covetous; commit extortion; be hypocritical; be malignant; be proud; make evil plans against a neighbor; hate anyone.

            The Way of Life in Didache (among the earliest parts of the Didache) suggests there is an element of legalism in early Christianity: here are certain acts that Christians do and others that they do not. The list finds a ready fit with the language of Paul and James. James was very outspoken that “faith by itself, if it have not works, is dead” (Jas 2:17), and what do you suppose Paul was thinking when he said that he was “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21). There are some modern Christian groups for whom this information would not be a surprise, but rest assured it does not play well among Baptists.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 430.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Marginal Relevance of the Bible

The full title of my new book forthcoming from the publisher Wipf and Stock in their premier Cascade Series is: Unmasking Biblical Faiths. The Marginal Relevance of the Bible for Contemporary Religious Faith. Everything is completed except the indices, which I am now finishing.

Here is a description of the book from the back cover:

This book “aims to address many of the challenges to traditional Christian faith in the modern world. Since the eighteenth century Age of Enlightenment, human Reason, formerly tethered by the constraints of organized religion, has been set free to explore the universe relatively unchallenged. The influence of the Bible, on the other hand, weakened due to the successes of modern historical criticism, is found to be inadequate for the task of enabling the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), in that it cannot adequately respond to the many questions about religious faith and the world that human reasoning raises for modern human beings. In a series of short but tightly reasoned essays, Charles Hedrick explores the confrontation between traditional Christian faith and aggressive human reason, a conflict that is facilitated by Western secular education.”

I was brought to write this book upon my retirement, purposing in the closing years of my life to analyze critically my own personal religious beliefs and my place in the world. The essays are brief but collectively they form a cumulative argument that the Bible is only marginally relevant for developing a religious faith for the contemporary world. The book represents the results of ten years of critical reflection on subjects related to religion, ethics, the Bible, the nature of the world, and human values. Candidly I was disappointed that many of the fundamental ideas of my own personal religious faith did not stand up to rational scrutiny.

Here is a list of the table of contents:

1. The Nature of the Universe
2. Reason and Faith
3. On Being Human in the Contemporary World
4. The Bible
5. The Nature of God
6. Jesus of Nazareth
7. Traditional Christian Beliefs
8. On Being Christian in the Modern World

The book does not offer many definitive answers to the perplexing questions raised by an impartial study of religion, for religion is primarily opinion based. What I can promise, however, is that the book will take you on a rationally sound journey into selected details of religious faith in the twenty-first century.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Monday, October 22, 2018

HALLOWEEN: Do the Dead Walk?

At the end of October we celebrate (?) one of the strangest folk observances of our annual calendar. Coming on October 31, as it does, the custom has become associated with All Saints Day in the Catholic traditions. All Saints Day, in the West falling on November 1, is a church celebration in honor of all the saints who have passed on; it is followed on November 2 by All Souls Day, a day of solemn prayer for all the dead. These holy days in honor of the dead effectively render October 31 as All Hallows Eve—from which we get the name “Halloween.”

            The roots of Halloween have been associated with a number of ancient traditions: the ancient Roman celebration of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds; the Roman festival of the dead, called Parentalia; and most closely with the Celtic festival of Samhain. The major focus of Halloween, as we know it, seems to have evolved out of the superstitious and dark side of the human soul—so costumes largely feature such mythical creatures as monsters, vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, walking skeletons, witches, and devils. Today we relegate such supernatural creatures to the realm of fantasy, myth, fairy tale, and fiction—at least most of us do. In the bright light of day it is easy to be a rational human being, but in a dark empty room in the late evening when the hair on the back of your neck stands up at a sudden sensation of an unseen nearby presence, we may have second thoughts. In the distant past, however, before critical thinking became widespread through public education, such creatures were regarded as real entities that could actually do harm, and people relied on certain protections against them—prayer being one. And today not everyone, even in America, possesses the liberating knowledge that these creatures are merely fictional characters, figments of our dark side.

            The Bible is surely one reason that people are still uneasy about such mythical creatures, since it reinforces human superstition at many points. For example, the gospel writer we call Matthew apparently believed that dead people could come out of their graves and go on a walk about (Matthew 27:51-54). It is a strange story (appearing only in Matthew) but Matthew tells it graphically like an actual historical occurrence (as opposed to a symbolic or legendary story). Except for one phrase in 27:53, “after his raising,” Matthew describes the incident as if it were happening simultaneously with the death of Jesus (27:50, 54). The phrase in Matthew 27:53, however, effectively throws the event forward some three days or so (in Matthew’s chronology) to a time following the raising of Jesus (Matthew 28). The effect of this chronological leap forward is that it associates the report with the Christian myth of the “harrowing of hell” or the “descent into Hades,” when Jesus at his death descends into Hades to free those dead saints who have been in Hades awaiting release. Vestiges of the myth are found in the New Testament (Eph 4:8-9; 1 Pet 3:18-19), but it is fully developed in the post New Testament period. The phrase in Matthew 27:53 may be due to a later editing of Matthew’s gospel, since the incident as a whole seems clearly to go with the death of Jesus and not with his resurrection. So what do we say about Matthew’s sense of history as reflected in this story?

            It appears to originate in a superstition that dead people can rise and walk. A description similar to Matthew’s story is found in Ezekiel’s description of the people of Israel in the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:12-14). The Lord says: “I will open your graves…and place you in your own land.” Matthew’s description of “tombs opening in an earthquake” (compare Matthew 28:1-2) and “bodies of dead saints being raised” (compare Matthew 28:9), and “the saints coming out of the tombs and walking about in the holy city” is a very graphic account. Not even Paul, however, would describe the raising of Jesus as Matthew describes the raising of the saints. (Paul insists that Jesus rose with a “spiritual body,” not a physical body; see 1 Corinthians 15:42-57.) Matthew’s report could be an early Christian legend (a non-historical traditional story told for the purpose of encouraging faith). And that is exactly what Matthew’s report did for the centurion and the soldiers (Matthew 27:54); the “event” confirmed for them (and for Matthew) the identity of Jesus as “son of God.” But dead bodies actually coming out of their tombs and walking about Jerusalem around 3 pm in the afternoon (Matthew 27:46) seriously strains credulity for a post-Enlightenment thinker. In order to think of the incident as “history” a 21st century reader will have to “suspend disbelief,” something we do with all ghost stories—in a sense we simply ignore the incredulous aspects of the report. We know that the dead cannot come out of their tombs and wander about the city, no matter how serious the earthquake—or do we know that?

            Has Matthew given us a kind of ghost story suitable only for telling around the campfire on a dark night, or is it an actual historical occurrence that confirms the identity of Jesus, or is it a legend that only the true believer can appreciate? As a post-Enlightenment thinker, my money would be on the ghost story.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Works Consulted
Nicholas Rogers, Halloween. From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Richard Bauckham “Descent to the Underworld,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; ed. David Noel Freedman, et al.; New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2.156-59.

This essay first appeared as a blog on Wry Thoughts about Religion on October 16, 2011, and was subsequently published in The Fourth R 25.1 (Jan-Feb, 2012), 25-26.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Magic and the New Testament

Are there those among us who are so learned in the dark supernatural forces that they have the power to put people under magic spells? Paul seemed to think so. Obviously agitated, he wrote to the Jesus gatherings in the region of Galatia: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you…?” (Gal 3:1); or as other translations have it: Who put a spell on you?”

            Belief in magic spells and charms to counter magic spells are an acknowledged part of the ancient near east in general, the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and the Greco-Roman world. Magic is also mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 8:9-13; 13:4-12), and even Jesus was accused of working his miracles by magic (Mark 3:22; Matt 9:34; Matt 12:24; Luke 11:15). In Rev 18:23 the City of Rome (Babylon) was accused of deceiving all nations by magic (enchantment using sorcery), and sorcerers casting spells through potions (Rev 9:21) are among those thrown into “the lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Rev 21:8) and among those not being permitted to enter the Holy City, New Jerusalem (Rev 22:15).

More to the point, Paul warns the Galatians against the practice of sorcery (enchantment using magic), as though it were an actual threat to them (Gal 5:20). Sorcery is linked with other sinful acts to avoid such as fornication, jealousy, drunkenness among other things (Gal 5:19-21). Such activities as these can disqualify one for the “kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).

            Did Paul seriously think that someone had cast a magic spell on the Galatians? That is to ask, did Paul believe in magic, a common view of antiquity? If so, Paul probably did believe that the Galatians were actually “bewitched.” It is certainly possible, for Paul had a number of strange ideas that clash with a modern scientific worldview, such as believing that one can “spirit travel” over great distances and that holiness and unholiness were physically contagious.1 In late antiquity people believed many such things out of place in the modern world.

            Of course it is always possible that Paul was only speaking metaphorically, and was not claiming that magic is an actual force in the world. Perhaps Paul only meant that the Galatians had fallen under the influence of a teacher with a charismatic personality, or that they had allowed themselves to be “brainwashed” by a competitor of Paul (as he suggests in Gal 1:6-9), or that some fast talking “religious con man” had simply misled them.

            The truth of the matter is that Paul was a child of his own day and shared many ideas belonging to a pre-critical worldview. These survivals from our pre-critical past, which one finds in Paul’s writings, serve as vivid reminders that the Bible does not belong to our age. Here is a quotation from the introduction to my new book just now coming off the press:

The Bible is a selective collection of ancient texts whose ideas are, in part, simply out of place with what is known about how things work in the physical universe. Readers of the Bible should be cautious in accepting without challenge what it says.2

In short, arcane magic is a chthonic force in the world only if you believe it to be so, and it appears that Paul did believe in the dark forces of the world (1 Cor 15:24; cf. Eph 6:12). Believing a thing to be so wills it into reality for the believer—even though it is not real.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Hedrick, “Putting Paul in his Place,” The Fourth R 31/1 (2018) 5-8.
2Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths. The Marginal Relevance of the Bible for Contemporary Religious Faith (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2018), 12.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Gender Equality in early Jesus Gatherings

Not a great deal of specific information is known about gender relationships in the earliest Jesus gatherings,1 during the period following the death of Jesus (around 30CE+/-) until about 50 CE. The little that is known comes at the end of that period primarily from the letters of one man (Paul) and what he inadvertently reveals in his letters about these social gatherings. One would assume that in part the earliest gatherings would generally reflect the culture of the cities in which the gatherings took place. In part that appears generally to be true,2 but the New Testament reflects a mixed record when it comes to gender relationships. Among the writers of New Testament texts one finds attitudes reflective of a hostile misogyny, while in others one encounters attitudes suggesting a liberal, gender equality.

            Let's begin with the lower road. The lowest point in the New Testament with respect to gender equality is reached by a later disciple of Paul. The passage in which this is found is First Timothy 2:8-15 (RSV). Some of the more recent translations may deliberately soften the harshness of the text.3 1 Tim 2:11-12 (RSV): "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent." This disciple of Paul (many scholars call him the "pastor" because of his interest in church governance issues) justifies his statement by referring to Scripture: 1 Tim 2:13-15 (RSV): "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor [see Genesis 2:15-23; 3:1-7]. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with modesty." In other words, women are subordinate to males in all respects. Even their personal salvation requires that they bear children, yet they will be saved but only if they continue in faith and holiness with modesty (compare 1 Tim 2:8-10). First Timothy 2:8-15 deserves the charge of being misogynistic (hatred of women)!

            The highest point in gender relationships in the Bible is achieved in the letters of Paul; nevertheless Paul is not without his blind spots. Galatians 3:28 (RSV) signals the high water mark in gender relationships: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In other words all ethnic, social, and gender distinctions are obliterated in the gatherings of Jesus followers—for "you are all one in Christ Jesus." Hence neither gender has a claim to priority in the ekklesia, for Paul believed God selected leaders through the Spirit (1 Cor12:4-11, 28). Paul uses one part of this slogan in his argument in Romans 10:12 and two parts of the slogan in 1 Cor 12:13. A sense of gender equality corresponding to Gal 3:28 emerges in First Corinthians chapter seven. To cite two: both partners in the marriage relationship have equal conjugal rights (1 Cor 7:1-5); and the wife has the right to separate from her husband (1 Cor 10-11), but apparently not the right to divorce him. Paul's view is that in view of the immediate ending of the world (1 Cor 7:29) everyone should stay in the state they were currently in when they became followers of Christ (1 Cor 7:20), but Paul was realistic and quite willing to break his own rules (1 Cor 7:20-24).

            Perhaps it was this willingness to adjust his values in view of the situation that led him to argue for the subordination of women to men in 1 Cor 11:2-16, thus violating the idea of gender equality he stated in Gal 3:28. And he violates it again in 1 Cor 14:33b-35.

            Paul's equivocation was not necessarily shared by other Jesus gatherings, however. In a letter written to the gathering at Rome Paul takes note of and commends a number of women who had achieved outstanding success in leadership roles in the Jesus gatherings. He commends to the gathering at Rome "our sister Phoebe" who was a deacon in the gathering at Cenchrea,4 and asks that she be received by the gathering as "befits the saints." Paul commends her for her work in helping himself as well as others.5

He asks that they greet Prisca and Aquila, a husband and wife team leading with the wife's name first. They were "fellow workers" of Paul and had risked their necks for Paul's life. He notes that all the gentile gatherings gave thanks for the ministry of this husband and wife team. He calls upon the Roman community to send his greetings to the gathering in their house—Prisca apparently had a major leadership role in the gathering (1 Cor 16:3-5).6

He asks the Jesus gathering at Rome to greet Mary for him for she had worked hard among the followers of Jesus at Rome—personally, I doubt that she just baked cookies.

He mentions a certain Junia (a feminine name); she was a kinswoman of Paul as well as having served prison time along with him. But the most notable thing about her and Andronicus was that they both were "outstanding among the apostles"—apparently they were both "apostles" (Rom 16:7).7 A woman apostle! Think of that.

            He asks to be remembered to two particular women, whom he refers to as those "workers in the Lord," Tryphanea and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12).

            That is essentially the gender situation among the earliest followers of Jesus. The sad truth is that the Bible as a whole does not encourage gender equality, but that does not appear to have been completely true of all the early Jesus gatherings. Unfortunately, however, women today should not expect to be treated with equality in the church if they are members of conservative religious institutions, which have chosen the lower way in gender equality.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Translating ekklesia as "church" is anachronistic. The word church is derived from late Greek kyriakon (of the Lord) and is short for kyriakon dōma (house of the Lord); it describes a modern organization. The Scottish kirk is still in use. These assemblies should be thought of as loose social gatherings of like minded people.
2See Hedrick, Wisdom of Jesus, 42-43 (household codes).
3See the note to 1 Tim 2:15 in the New Living Translation, for example.
4The name Phoebe is feminine while the word deacon is masculine, suggesting that Phoebe was not a deaconess, but worked among the male deacons.
5Note that one of the spirit-endowed positions that "God appointed" in the gatherings was that of "helper," 1 Cor 14:28.
6This husband-wife team is mentioned several other times in the New Testament: Acts 18:2, 18, 26; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19.
7See Eldon Epp, Junia the First Woman Apostle (Augsburg/Fortress, 2005).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Can All Bible Translations be Trusted?

Perhaps; it depends on what goes on in the translation process before the translation is published. Let's take one example.

One Sunday morning in Baptist Bible study our study group encountered a problem with the translation of 2nd Samuel 22:27. When the instructor read the passage in the NIV translation, it was:

To the pure you [i.e., the LORD] show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

I objected that my translation, in the RSV, read differently:

With the pure thou dost show thyself pure and with the crooked thou dost show thyself perverse.

Surely there is some mistake here! Shrewd and perverse are about as far apart in content as words can be. There are several dictionary meanings of shrewd, but the one we generally think of is the following: shrewd is "marked by clever discerning awareness and hard-headed acumen." Perverse carries the idea of the following: "obstinate in opposing what is right, reasonable, or accepted." So why are the two translations so different and opposed to one another?

In the Hebrew text of the passage the first italicized word in the translations of 1 Sam 22:27 above is 'qsh and the root of the second italicized word is thought to be a corrupted verbal form of ptl. What actually appears in the Hebrew text for this second word, however, is described by the Hebrew Lexicon1 as an impossible Hebrew verbal form, and the lexicon adopts the parallel reading in Psalm 18:27 to replace the corrupted verbal form in 1 Sam 22:27, whose root is ptl.2

For the first word crooked (an adjective) the Hebrew lexicon provides a translation of "twisted or perverted." Oddly the Kittel edition of the Hebrew Bible leaves the corrupted form of the second word (a verb) in the text rather than emending it, and in a footnote gives the supposed correct reading (a form of ptl) taken from Psalm 18:27.3 The Hebrew Lexicon translates ptl as "to twist" and offers this translation for 2nd Sam 22:27: "with the twisted thou dost deal tortuously." Proverbs 8:8 uses both words: "All the words of my mouth [says the LORD] are righteous; there is nothing twisted (ptl ) or crooked ('qsh) in them."

The earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, translates the verse this way: "and with the crooked you are perverse" (strebloũ/ streblōthēsē).

Here are a few of some other modern translations to demonstrate how differently the two words have been translated into English:

Translation                          1st word 'qsh            2nd word ptl
New American Bible:          1. crooked         2. you are astute
An American Translation:  1. crooked         2. you act craftily
Moffatt:                                  1. treacherous  2. you prove treacherous
New World Translation:     1. crooked        2. you act silly
New English Bible:              1. perverse       2. you show self tortuous
KJV:                                        1. froward       2. you show self unsavory
Douay:                                   1. perverse      2. you will be perverted
Masoretic Text:                     1. crooked       2. you show self subtle
Living Bible:4                        1. evil               2. you destroy the evil
New Living Translation:5   1. wicked        2. you show self hostile
American Standard:            1. perverse      2. you show self froward
Today's English Version:   1. wicked         2. you are hostile

            The problem of corrupted verbal forms in biblical texts is one of those niggling difficulties in the Bible of which most people are unaware. It is an annoying little thread that if pulled at persistently enough, along with the Bible's many other loose threads, tends to unravel any personal authority that the Bible may have once held. The particular little thread of 2nd Sam 22:27 is one of those things that may reasonably be described as one of the aspects of the Bible's "infrastructure."6 Infrastructure issues deal with such things as the ancient languages in which the biblical texts were originally written, the theory and practice of translation, early fragmentary papyrus and vellum manuscripts on which biblical texts were first written, scribal practices and proclivities of a particular scribal hand, the linguistic instability of ancient texts in transmission, textual criticism issues surrounding the identification of the earliest reliable form of a text and how that text might relate to the original author's copy. It is little wonder that most readers are not familiar with such issues, since they require specialized knowledge. The resolution of infrastructure problems is one of the things that must be resolved before Bible translations are published. The personal cost of being able to work competently with infrastructure issues is high indeed, in terms of numbers of years of study required and experience.

Translators of the Bible are only human. The quality of their product is defined and/or limited by their years of training, technical knowledge, and practiced skill. Throughout the process, however, the translation is subtly influenced by the intensity of a translator's personal religious allegiances and the objectivity with which they work. Can we trust Bible translators? Perhaps; but if you do you should always verify—that is, if you cannot read Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, always read the biblical text in several different translations. That practice may cast light on the reliability of your preferred translation.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon (reprint with corrections, 1968), 786, 836.
2Second Samuel 22:2-51 is also preserved in Psalm 18.
3R. Kittel, Biblia Hebraica, 495.
4The Living Bible is not a translation but a paraphrase that was made from the American Standard Version of 1901 by Kenneth N. Taylor, an American publisher and author.
5This translation began as a revision of the Living Bible but became instead another translation from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
6That is to say "the underlying foundation or basic framework" of the Bible.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Meier's Third Crucial Blunder*

Meier rejects the critical history of the parables tradition written by J. Jeremias in 1947.1 Jeremias demonstrated that “the primitive church related the parables to its own concrete situation and by doing so produced a shift of emphasis” in the parables.2 Thus the church reshaped the character of the parables by allegorizing them3 even to the extent of introducing allegorical features into the narratives to insure ecclesial interpretations.4 The critical distinction between parable and allegory was established in 1888 by A. Jülicher in his two volume work Die Gleichnisreden Jesu.5 N. Perrin summarized the distinction that Jülicher established between parable and allegory in this way: “parable means what it says, using pictures to express its meaning. Allegory, on the other hand…does not mean what it says, but hides its meaning in symbol.”6 Since these two pivotal studies on the parables (Jülicher and Jeremias) critical scholarship has regarded the allegorical flourishes in the parables like barnacles on a clam—the clam is not defined by the barnacle, rather the barnacle by the clam. In short Jeremias found that “most of the allegorical traits in the present form of the parables are not original.”7

Meier defines parables as “comparisons…that have been ‘stretched out’ into short stories with at least an implicit beginning, middle, and end—in other words, a mini-narrative with at least an implicit plot line.”8 But since allegorical narrative is used in ancient Israelite texts and in the synoptic parables “one must come to each Synoptic parable with an open mind rather than a rigid grid” (p. 87) as to the presence of allegory in the parables.9

            Nevertheless Meier regards the narrative parables as “riddle speech” when compared to Jesus’ “legal teachings” (p.4, 34). The parables require a context. Without a context the parables are open to multiple meanings (p. 32-33). He works out his understanding of the historical context of the parables in the career of Jesus in his first three volumes, summarized for the reader in the volume on parables (p. 3). This “historical context” is heavily indebted to the synoptic reconstructions of the career of Jesus. Hence a reliable interpretation of a parable of Jesus requires that it be analyzed in “its redactional context in a Gospel and its historical context in the ministry of Jesus” (p. 5) in order for an exegete to have any hope of recovering the “intention” of Jesus.10 Both requirements, therefore, ensure the continuing influence of allegorical analysis in the interpretation of the parables of Jesus.

At the end of his chapter on allegory (pp. 85-87) it becomes clear that allegorical motifs in the parables will be regarded as legitimate parts of the parables’ tradition, and such is the case with his discussion of the four parables he finds to be authentic (pp. 230-362). Interpreting the parables allegorically, however, is a denial of the inherent nature of the parables as realistic fictitious narratives about everyday life in Palestinian peasant villages.11 Meier’s view is that while some of the parables might be realistic, not all are (pp. 42-43). The basic realism of the parables, however, challenges Meier’s allegorical method of parables’ interpretation. On the other hand, acknowledging their realism disfranchises allegory thus freeing the parables to come into their own as ancient texts un-encumbered by early Christian theology and rhetoric.12

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

*Meier uses the word “blunder” to describe a position with which he disagrees (40).
1This is the date of the first German edition of Jeremias, Parables of Jesus (first English translation, 1954); see N. Perrin, Rediscovering the Teachings of Jesus, (1967), 258. Perrin was a student of Jeremias.
2Parables of Jesus (revised edition, 1963), 48.
3Ibid., 66.
4Ibid., 68-69.
5Jülicher’s two volume work has never been translated.
6Perrin, Rediscovering, 257.
7Jeremias, Parables, 89.
8Meier, Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, 37.
9Ibid., 87. See his brief discussion of allegory pages 82-88.
10Meier’s goal in interpreting the parables is the following: “our quest concerns what the historical Jesus intended when he decided to use parables in general and to speak this or that parable in particular,” p. 33. From my perspective, however, one never really knows what people intend; one only knows what they tell us they intended.
11Meier specifically rejects the idea that parables are inherently realistic fictions that draw upon everyday life in Palestinian villages (42-43).
12Hedrick, Many Things in Parables, 36-44.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Meier on Parables: His Second Blunder*

New Testament Scholarship is divided on the question of the relationship of the Gospel of Thomas to the synoptic tradition.1 Meier, however, says that “it is more likely than not” that Thomas is dependent on the synoptic tradition in some form (46). This way of stating the relationship seems to suggest that while he (Meier) is personally convinced that Thomas is dependent on the Synoptic Gospels, he recognizes that good arguments have been made for Thomas’ independence of the synoptic tradition. He bases his judgment on an investigation of fifteen sayings in Thomas that, he argues, reveal direct literary dependence or indirect dependence “through literary dependence or secondary orality, through Gospel harmonies, catechetical summaries, or mere memorization, however faulty.”2 The sayings he studied in his view reflect similar conflating, meshing, and harmonizing tendencies found in certain Patristic works of the second century. Thus he argues that the burden of proof shifts to anyone who claims the independence of Thomas from the Synoptic Gospels (47). Meier argues that “the default assumption should be dependence [on the synoptic tradition in some form] unless the opposite can be proved in a particular case” (47). In pages 89-188 Meier seeks to demonstrate that the parables and the sayings in Thomas “evince knowledge of and influence from the Synoptics.”3

Default dependence on the synoptic tradition in some form is not the issue, for it is clear that Thomas is in part similar to the Synoptic Gospels and at the same time quite different from the synoptics. The issue is specifically how does Thomas come by the similarity. Meier argues for both direct and indirect dependence by which he seeks to eliminate oral tradition as a possible source of Thomas. At bottom, however, to prove that Thomas is dependent on the Synoptic Gospels one must show that Thomas preserves instances of distinctive editorial activity from all three of the Synoptic Gospel authors.

            Three of the sayings that Meier analyzes are preserved in the Greek fragments of Thomas, which theoretically are earlier than the Coptic version.4 Here briefly as an example of his argument as to why he thinks these three sayings reflect dependence on the Synoptic Gospels. Meier asserts that saying 5 is a “fairly strong case” for dependence (96). Saying 5 is a two-stitch saying in Thomas as it is also in Luke 8:17. But each shares only part of Thomas’ second stitch and Luke’s first stitch; otherwise the sayings are different. What they share in Thomas, however, is mostly in lacunae. Of the 36 letters in Thomas shared with Luke 19 are restored using Luke 8:17 as a model. In fact, Thomas shares only three un-restored Greek words with Luke in a Lucan saying of 18 Greek words and a Thomas saying of 27 Greek words. Hence the argument for dependence is based on the certainty of restorations that are patterned on Luke. One should always bear in mind, as Meier himself notes in the case of his third example: any restoration of such a highly fragmentary text “must labor under some degree of uncertainty” (154, note 33).

            Meier’s second example of Lucan influence on Thomas is found in the Greek fragments of saying 31. Saying 31 is a two-stitch saying whose first stitch is similar to a single stitch saying in Luke 4:24. Meier’s principal observation is that Thomas and Luke use the Greek word dektos (acceptable) rather than atimos (without honor) as it appears in Matthew and Mark. Meier says, but does not argue, that Thomas’ tendency to mesh sayings may be reflected in the fact that Thomas’ second stitch appears in Luke 4:23 immediately preceding 4:24. Lucan influence on the Greek of Thomas saying 31 boils down to the shared use by Thomas and Luke of the Greek word dektos, and the theory that Thomas may have drawn his second stitch from Luke 4:24.

In the third example (Thomas 39 = Matt 10:16b) Meier finds what he claims is a clear case of material drawn from Matthew’s special source (M) since it is not in Mark, but he opines that it “seems more probable that either Matthew 10:16b as a whole or at least its precise Greek wording stems from Matthew’s redactional hand” (101). Although the Coptic text is well preserved, and uses two of the Greek words he names, Meier argues from the highly fragmentary Greek of Thomas 39. The Greek fragment of Thomas (as restored) and Matthew share a similar Greek vocabulary: phronimos (shrewd), ophis (snake), akeairos (simple), although only [a]keairos is extant in the Greek, the rest are in lacunae but restored by the editors of the text. He concludes that because Matthew is earlier than Thomas, saying 39 as represented in the restored Greek fragment (and naturally in Coptic Thomas) “shows dependence on Matthew’s Gospel” (101). His argument that Matt 10:16b is Matthean redaction rather than M traditional material hinges on the fact that it is singularly attested and hence could not be independent special material otherwise available to Matthew and Thomas. On the other hand, if it were M traditional material, then Thomas could have come by the saying independently of Matthew.

In this brief sampling the arguments appear to be based on Meier’s assumption that Thomas has conflated, meshed, and/or harmonized sayings from the Synoptic Gospels. But if one were to assume that Thomas might be based on oral tradition, at least in part, then Meier’s assumed “conflations, meshing, and harmonizing” of the Synoptic Gospels take on the character of independently received oral tradition that reflect Thomas’ own editorial revisions and/or rewriting in a similar way that Matthew and Luke treat Mark (for example, Mark 8:11-12; Matt 12:38-42; Luke 11:29-32).

Oddly Meier does not think he has proven that Thomas is dependent on the Synoptic Gospels. He states: “After examining [the fifteen sayings from Thomas] we have decided that every case we have probed shows dependence on one or more of the synoptics.”5 And on this basis he concludes “the default assumption should be dependence unless the opposite can be demonstrated in a particular case.”6

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

*Blunder: A word used by Meier to describe those with whom he disagrees; Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, 40.

1Hedrick, “An Anecdotal Argument for the Independence of the Gospel of Thomas from the Synoptic Gospels,” pp. 113-14 in Bethge, et al. eds., For the Parables Children, Perfect Instruction (Brill, 2002).

2Meier, Probing., 46-47. This is actually an assumption on his part; see page 95: “the influence of the Synoptics could have been exercised by means of a Gospel harmony or catechetical…” (the italics are mine.) So far as I know we have no early exemplars of gospel harmonies or catechetical summaries to test this hypothesis, or that they even existed early enough for Thomas to have made use of them.

3Meier, Probing, 90. For an argument that Thomas preserves synoptic-like material independent of Thomas, see Hedrick, “An Anecdotal Argument,” 113-26.

4Attridge, “Greek Fragments” in Layton, Nag Hammadi Codex II, 2:96-128.

5He says decided rather than proven. The italics are mine. See Meier, Probing, 146.

6Ibid., 147.