23 August 2013

SEASONS: 2 books on biblical womanhood in Hebrew scripture

I belong to a book club of sorts. SEASONS is a group of women meeting most months to discuss a book over a continental breakfast. We usually gather at Southwest Central Church of Christ which is the church that many of us attend. We read theology and fiction. Our summer selections have been two books that we grouped together as dealing with Hebrew scripture and rituals in every day:

Rachel Held Evans: A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Thomas Nelson, 2012. Available as a Kindle book.
 SEASONS also read Evans's Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. Evans is a clever, well-read, witty author. She has a particular interest in confronting injustice and, particularly, the injustices of sexism. She is both firm and funny but she's sometimes a bit "snarky." One minute I want to throw her book across the room but the next I'm highlighting a perfectly turned phrase:  "...be careful of challenging another woman's choices, for you never know when she may be sitting at the feet of God." p. 37 "...for all its glory and grandeur, the Bible contains a darkness... sometimes taking the Bible seriously means confronting the parts we don't like or understand..." p. 62 , 66 "The divine resides in all of us, but it is our choice to magnify it or diminish it, to ignore it, or to surrender to its lead." p. 73 "...most of the Bible's instructions regarding modesty find their context in warnings about materialism, not sexuality..." p. 128 "Women should not have to pry equality from the grip of Christian men. It should be surrendered willingly, with the humility and love of Jesus, or else we miss the once radical teaching that slaves and masters, parents and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, healthy and sick, should 'submit to one another' Ephesians 5:21" p. 219 "We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?" p. 296
Rachel Held Evans is not afraid to ask the most controversial questions and I often read her blog. The most current one is on Responding to Homophobia in the Christian Community.

I missed the SEASONS in both June and July so I'm eager for a time to visit with my friends and to share our gleanings from
Lauren F. Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline. I very much enjoyed reading this book. Winner beautifully expresses many things that I think. She has an interesting history as a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity in her late twenties. Two of her books Girl Meets God and Faith Interrupted tell part of her story. Her perspective melds well with my own since I am a lover of Hebrew scripture. I am a seeker of "rhythms and routines" that draw "the sacred down into the everyday."."Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity....Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought no to waver.... the repeating of the practice is the best way to ensure that a doubter's faith returns." Introduction. Chapter 5 p. 53 of her book is titled "tefillah prayer" and is the best short lesson on prayer that I have ever read which is saying a lot since my personal collection devotes three linear feet of shelf space to the subject. "Jewish prayer is essentially book prayer, liturgical prayer. Jews say the same set prayers, at the same fixed hours, over and over, every day. There is, to be sure, room for spontaneous prayer... but those spontaneous prayers are to liturgy what grace notes are to the musical score: They decorate, but never drown out, the central theme."   "words that praise God even on the mornings when I wonder if God exists at all."  Winner's sections on Sabbath, on grief, and on hospitality are instructive and life-giving. "Judaism connects physical acts to spiritual practice without somehow suggesting that the spirit is superior to the body."  p. 69 I plan to get to know this author much better. http://laurenwinner.net/

We're probably going to select our next books and I'll be seconding the nomination for a novel:
John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. 

22 August 2013

Three books and a close reading from the fourth gospel...

The Open Door Class at Southwest Central Church of Christ continues its study of John’s gospel based on a book:
Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1984.

Sunday was the third time I have taught this term. I was privileged to do the Prologue and had a short notice substitution for the healing of the nobleman's son. (John 4:45-54) This preparation is my first time to have had access to Ellis’s book and some accused me of agreeing to teach just so I could have the book for a week. There is a smidgen of truth in that accusation.
When a librarian gets her mitts on a book, she approaches it a bit differently than the average bear. She reads all the publication info, and the cataloging in process info, and reads (or at least glances at) all the para-textual materials in the front and back of the book. She reads the entire table of contents and the introduction and may even scan the index and bibliography before turning to the section that she’s referencing and using in her lesson preparation. During this process, I learned something interesting:
Dr. Ellis dedicates his book to John Gerhard, S.J. and in the preface notes:
“It is based on Gerhard’s discovery, and in all that pertains to the architectonic structure of the Gospel it is totally indebted to him.”
            Gerhard,John J.: The Miraculous Parallelisms of John.   Orlando Truth Inc. 2006 (probably a reprint edition)
This link offers more information about the author and the publication of his book and notes 
a 1993 publication date. Obviously, Dr. Ellis had read Gerhard's work as early as 1984. The study of parallelism in the gospel of John and the publication of  this book is the culmination of his life’s work. Gerhard’s work was undertaken in support of the objections of Pope Benedict XVI (while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger) to historical-critical exegesis and his rejection of Rudolf’s Bultmann’s The Gospel of John: A Commentary, written in 1941 translated into English in 1971 as the standard reference for Johannine scholarship.
In January when the Open Door class began this study, copies of Ellis’s book were rare and expensive but this week I found and ordered reasonably priced ($25-$35) copies of both books. Anyone who is teaching or has a more than devotional interest in reading the gospel of John should have access to either Ellis's or Gerhard's books. The above titles link to Amazon.
Following are my study notes for a section of the Farewell Discourse of Jesus as told by John, the beloved apostle:
The Farewell Discourse (John 13:1 – 17:26) is section 18 of Gerhard/Ellis’s outline and corresponds to section 4:  Jesus’ "discourse at night" to Nicodemus upon eternal life, discipleship, water, and Spirit  Ellis  p. 14
Ellis asserts that The Farewell Discourse offers “instructions on the nature of discipleship and the use of authority in the church."  p. 209
{Once again, I ask this questions: Why have the churches of Christ chosen to use Acts and the Pauline epistles (almost exclusively) as our ecclesial model(s) rather than the writings of John?}
The synoptic gospels also address these topics of discipleship and authority:
                                    Mark 8:31 – 10:52
                                    Matthew 5-7; 10; 18:23-25
                                    Luke 9:51 – 19:44
 Ellis offers three ways to read this section of Johannine text:
  1. as an example of the genre of farewell discourse by a dying rabbi. “Little children” v. 13:33 is the form of address for such a discourse as is the questions and answer structure,
  2. as a treatise on the gap created by Jesus’ departure and the unexpected delay of his return and its effect on John’s original readers in the late first century community undergoing persecution, i.e. Bultmann's historical-critical exegesis,  and
  3. as a text that is structured by the rules of parallelism.
Our primary approach to the gospel in this study has been the third with a bit of historical-critical since our regular teacher is Caleb McDaniel, a historian.
The structure of the Farewell Discourse
(John 13:1 – 17:26)
A         13:1-32                      
                    hour, love, mission of disciples, glorification
B         13:33 – 14:31
                     Jesus going away, Paraclete, ask in my name, peace
C          15:1-25    
                     the true vine
B’         15:26 – 16:33     
                      Jesus going away, Paraclete, ask in my name, peace
A’         17:1-26          
                      hour, glorification, mission of the disciples, love
                                                                                                                        Ellis p. 210 ff.
We looked at section A with some A’ last week.
Today we examine section B, John 13:33 – 14:31 with a nod to B’ which are also structured using the typical parallelism of this gospel with the key ideas of 
Jesus going away, Paraclete, ask in my name, peace and the parallel structure:
a          13:33 – 14:4  
                  Jesus going away, love command, dwelling
b         14:5-14                     life, I AM in the father,
                                              ask in my name
c          14:15-17                                Jesus will ask,
b’        14:18-20                  life, I AM in my father,
                                               ask in my name
a’         14:21 – 3:1  
                   love command, dwelling, Jesus going away
Jesus as “Replacement” for Jewish Law and life
 A number of our Open Door class members, including Bobbie, Andrea, and I are a bit unhappy with that word “replacement” and prefer to use "amplification, clarification, fulfillment" of the Hebrew scripture. Ellis comments that he does not see a continuation of the replacement theme in the Final Discourse. However, I note the continuation of this theme (by whatever name) in at least three instances:
  1.  a new commandment,
  2. a new covenant based a new understanding of Torah, and
  3. a new sort of prayer.
The new commandment in this final discourse is love to the end or love one another as I have loved and is found in the following scriptures:  13:1-2, 13:15, 13:34, 15:12, 15:13, and 17:23
 This section concludes with Jesus' going out to meet "the Prince of this world," (14:31)out into the night, to a cross and later a new life of resurrection. Discipleship requires love to the end. How easy to talk of love; how hard to live it!
 Jesus’ new commandment “replaces” the old commandment found in Leviticus 19:18: and elsewhere in Hebrew scripture:
You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
The 19th chapter of Leviticus is to some degree a restatement of the Law in that these verses recall the second half of the Ten Commandments. The key ideas in this Leviticus passage include peace offerings, harvest and vineyards, care of the poor, fruit, truth telling. These key ideas are also key ideas of the Final Discourse, especially the section which we will study next week:  C          I Am the Vine
When Jesus offers his new commandment of love, he also announces the fulfillment of  Jeremiah 31:31 ff.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant… I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts… they will know me…”
Bobbie pointed out that at its very heart the new covenant is one of peace.
Ellis agrees:
            Peace “embraces light, truth, joy, and eternal life”  Ellis p. 224
The Covenant of Peace is described in Ezekiel 37:26 in these words:  
"I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be a perpetual covenant. I will establish them, increase their numbers, and place my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them forever and then the nations will know I am with them. I will be their God and they will become my people."
The new covenant offers a realized eschatology. Ellis notes: The  “Christian who possess this gift [peace] already possesses eternal life even during this life.”

Finally when Jesus asserts in 14:6: “I AM the way, I AM the truth, and I AM the life,” his use of these three Torah words calls out the fulfillment of all Torah in the person of Jesus. (add Hebrew)
Ellis offers an alternate translation: “I AM the true way of life...”  which echoes 14:6b No one comes but by me and 10:9 the door of the sheepfold.  His translation will also support my claim that Jesus’ I AM fulfills and stands in the place of Torah, e.g. Psalm 1 & 2.
A New Kind of Prayer: “Ask in my name”  John 14:13-14
 Jesus makes similar statements about prayer in the synoptic gospels and elsewhere in the gospel of John:
            Matthew 7:7-8; 18:19; 21:22
            Mark 11:24
            Luke 11:9
           John 15:7, 16 and John 16:23-24
 Traditional Hebrew prayer begins:  ‘Baruch atai Adonai…”  Blessed be our God. It is offered to the Creator/Ruler of the Universe.
Jesus’ prayers, which he instructs his disciples to emulate, begin: “Our Father…”  “My Father…”  “Father…” It is a far more intimate relationship.
Such prayer is made possible by the unity of Jesus and the Father and by the unity of Jesus and his disciples. In his commentary on v. 14:10b, Ellis says “the unity of Jesus and the Father is a unity in words and in works.”  See also 10:37-38
The unity of Jesus and the Father as having the same nature is not emphasized in this text but is implied. Other verses from John address this unity:  1:1; 5:16-18; 8:58, 10:30-38; 20:28-30
 14:19 LIFE  “because I live”   John 3:14-15;  6:39-50, 51-58; 11:23-26
14:20  “In that day you will know I AM in my father..." which is repeated in
14:10 – 11 but adds "you in me"
Ellis asserts that 17:21-24  affirms that resurrection life is union with the father.
{An aside: 14:11 “Believe me… for the sake of the works themselves.” is a troubling point since earlier in John's gospel Jesus criticized the Jews who wanted “signs.” Ellis maintains that these works reveal (as do the signs that Jews demanded but did not understand) the unity of the Father and Jesus which the disciples “know” and “believe.” The “signs” in the earlier chapters pointed in the same direction but the response of the Jews was rejection and persecution of Jesus. Again, Ellis asserts that these signs and works (and particularly the washing feet in the opening section of the Final Discourse and the “love to the end” which is the cross) are the mutual work of both God and Jesus.}

Jesus teaches that, in unity with him, the disciples will have a part in the continued working of God and Jesus and that they will in fact do even greater works. These greater works will bear much fruit. This section resonates with that new covenant of peace which allows the nations to know God.
14:12 Greater Works   17:6-8, 18-23
15:5 Much fruit
The class noted that in this section of Jesus offers a commissioning as powerful as The Great Commission of the synoptic gospels.
the central point of the Chiastic structure of this section of the Final Discourse.
c          14:15-17 the sending of the Paraclete
Jesus’ sending of the Paraclete seals the new covenant, enables the disciples to obey the new commandment, and creates unity which fulfills the commission. Some words should never be translated. My favorite example is of course from the Psalms:  "checed" often translated  "the steadfast love of the Lord."  "Paraclete" is another such word and it appears only in Johannine Literature, here in this passage and in I John.
It is not the same word used by other New Testament writers for the Holy Spirit which derives from "pneuma" meaning breath, wind, spirit.  John does not use the phrase “Holy Spirit” although he does use “Spirit of Truth.” "Pneuma" has to do with breath and life; it may be that it is a human thing that comes from God. "Paraclete" means “come along side” and in extra-biblical sources (the only ones available to us since this word is unique to John) is primarily used in legal courtroom settings. I heard a sermon once where “defense attorney” was offered as a translation of Paraclete.
{It might be interesting to compare "Paraclete" with "helpmeet" from Genesis. That Hebrew word, used to describe "the woman," is used most commonly for God who is "the helpmeet" of Israel. At its root the word has the idea of "standing beside" as in twin towers that support a structure and as in two warriers who stand back to back in battle.}
Here is a link offering more detail about the use of Spirit and Paraclete in Johannine Literature.
Ellis and I agree that the best means of teasing out the meaning of the word is looking at what these verses say about the Paraclete.
The meaning of  Paraclete/advocate/comforter/consoler/counselor as defined by what the Paraclete does in John  14:1-17, 26;  5:26-27; and 16:11-14:
  • Comes only when Jesus goes away
  • Remains with and teaches the disciples
  • Advocates/speaks for the disciples in times of trial
  • Witnesses to Jesus and continues His
  • Is “another” like Jesus which makes Jesus a "Paraclete"
  • Comes as Jesus will come
  • Is known by the disciples
  • Opposes the world as Jesus opposes the world
The Paraclete “is everything Jesus is and by his coming will fill the gap caused by Jesus’ departure…”  Ellis p. 222                                 



John: 7 Signs and 7 I AM statements

I was interrupted in writing this post and never got back to it. I don't think it includes all my study notes. If I find them, I may revise.
I post it now only because it's part of a series.

It's a holiday weekend and with so many people out of town, I will once again be teaching the Open Door Class at Southwest Central Church of Christ. We've been studying the gospel of John making use of a book by Peter Ellis, The Genius of John, A Compositional-Critical Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, 1984.

We'll be discussing John 4:46-54, the second sign: Jesus heals the nobleman's son.
In Dr. Ellis' chiasmic scheme, the corresponding text is John 9:1 - 10:21: Jesus heals the man born blind.

As we have been learning the fourth gospel is a highly structured, non-chronological book. It may be divided into two major sections: The Book of Signs (1:19 - 12:50) and The Book of Glory. The gospel presents 7 Signs, 7 "I AM" statements, 7 discourses, and 7 misunderstood symbols.
There are 7 Signs (each corresponding to an "I AM" Statement. A sign is a bit different from a miracle in that it's purpose is to reveal, to make manifest Jesus' glory/deity and it results in belief. All commentaries agree on 6 signs but there is debate about the 7th:
    1. turns water into wine at Cana                 I AM the true vine
    2. heals the nobleman's son  in Cana          I AM the way, the truth, the life
    3. heals paralytic at pool of  Bethesda        I AM the door to the sheepfold
    4. feeds the 5,000                                           I AM the bread of life
    5. heals the man, blind since birth              I AM the light of the world
    6. raises Lazarus in Bethany                       I AM the Resurrection and the Life
Some commentaries name walking on the water as the 7th sign; others say that the 7th sign is Jesus' own Resurrection which would  correspond with I AM the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Ignoring these textual debates, it is safe to say that chapters 2-4 are marked as a unit by the Inclusio of "signs" and the location in Cana of Galilee. The section marks the responses to Jesus in Cana of Galilee, in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and again in Cana and Capernaum in Galilee.  Key concepts are signs, seeing, and believing.
  • John 1 The Baptist's testimony, trans-Jordan, water, purification, Spirit, Pharisees
  • John 1:35 "come and see" "follow me"
  • John 2 the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, water, purification, wine, "the last is better than the first," the first sign to "manifest his glory," disciples believe
  • John 2:13 Jerusalem, Temple, What sign? authority, believed, testimony not needed
  • John 3 Discourse with Nicodemus, water, Spirit, Jesus testifies to himself, came from God, 3:19 echoes prologue.
  • John 3:22 Judea, baptizing, water, purification, the Baptist testified, "comes from heaven"
  • John 4 leaves Judea (because the Pharisees see baptizing more than the Baptist), to Samaria, discourse with woman at the well, living water, spirit & truth, woman says "come and see," believed and asked to stay
  • John 4:46 back in Cana, a Royal Officer asks Jesus to "come and heal," Jesus will not go with him but he speaks life for the child.  Jesus physical presence is not required for the miracle; his spoken word is sufficient. That identifies him as the creating Logos. The officer and his household believe. 
As Nicodemus represents the Pharisees, the teachers of Israel in Jerusalem and as the Samaritan woman represents all those erring worshippers scorned by the Jews, the Royal Officer or nobleman from Capernaum represents "the house of Herod," secular Israel. All these people "come" to Jesus. The Samaritan woman and her city believe. The nobleman and his household believe. At this point in the story Nicodemus does not and beginning in Chapter 5, the Pharisees and leaders of Israel in Jerusalem will begin an attack the culminates in the Crucifixion.