Monthly Archives: January 2007

Jesus and Deuteronomy

When Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness in Luke 4, he quote scripture to the Father of Lies. Fascinatingly, he quotes Deuteronomy every single time. Jesus references Deut 8:3, 6:13, 6:16. The Devil quotes Ps 91:11-12. To me, it illustrates the centrality of Deuteronomy for first century Judaism, but it also shows that Jesus and the early apostles shared this mentality. Deuteronomy was to them the linch-pin of the Old Testament. For us, I think it is easy to overlook the importance of Deuteronomy. There’s a lot of controversy in the biblical academy about the origin of Deuteronomy, especially regarding the date of its writing. Regardless of what position you adopt on the dating issue, it is widely known that Deuteronomy was the central text for Jews after the Exile. The ate, drank and breathed Deuteronomy. We Christians often overlook this key book. But Jesus’ very own words point us back to it. May Deuteronomy be more widely studied and learned (and maybe even quoted to the Devil)!

Ultimate Greek Cheat Sheet #2: Verbs

The long-awaited, much anticipated, critically acclaimed Ultimate Greek Cheat Sheet #2 is here! Now you can have all the verb endings for ancient Greek on one page. I hope you enjoy this resource. I will add it as a permanent link in the sidebar. It is copyrighted, so do not distribute it without my permission. I hope it will prove to be an invaluable resource for you all in your study of Greek. Conjugate away!

Prayer: Objective and Subjective

I was thinking about prayer as a Catholic and how we (at least we Americans) have a tendency to objectify prayer. What I mean by that is that we have a tendency to reduce prayer to a set of objective activities or realities. We reduce prayer to a prayer-book or a rosary or a set of prayers or even to the Mass. Prayer becomes a ritual to be endured because it is good. We focus on the objective contexts for prayer, the tools we use for prayer, the churches we pray in, etc. rather than focusing on the One to whom we are praying.

So I am suggesting that we focus more on the subjective qualities of prayer. Here’s what I mean: every objective context for prayer, whether it be Mass attendance, a rosary, a Bible study, a prayer book–whatever, is merely a means to an end. The end of course is unity with God, a deep loving union with Jesus. The subjective qualities of prayer are simple, but easy to overlook. They include our emotional and physical dispositions. That is, if I come to prayer extremely sleepy, I’m probably not going to benefit much spiritually. If I come to prayer straight from a heated argument, I probably won’t be able to focus and receive the grace offered to me in the prayer context.

Catholics used to talk a lot about “recollection,” the calming of the mind and body in preparation for prayer. I think it is time for us to return to the idea of recollection and emphasize the subjective appropriation of the objective graces offered to us in prayer. It is not enough to recite prayers vocally and attend Mass in the minimal sense of being physically present. We must be attentive to God’s word. We must bring our whole selves with us and present ourselves before God. It is not too complicated, but it is hard to wrap words around the concept without seeming to devalue the objective realities. It is more important for a Christian to subjectively receive and appropriate the graces offered in just a few prayer-contexts than to flood himself with prayer-contexts which he can’t appropriate.

Our American Catholic tendency is to fill time with prayer-events, rather than to focus on the one prayer-event at hand and sincerely open our hearts to receive what God has for us in that particular event. Yet if we fail to open ourselves to the grace offered in any one particular event, just going to more events will not help us. Prayer is a necessarily subjective experience because it is the stuff of a relationship. Prayer in that sense, is analagous to the conversations spouses have with one another. If they fail to sincerely express themselves and to sincerely listen to one another in those conversations their relationship will fail. As Christians, we must embrace our relationship with our our Heavenly Spouse and bring our whole selves to Him in prayer–sincerely listening to Him and honestly expressing ourselves to Him.

Acts 8:37

I never knew this before, but there is a verse of Acts that has been excised from the text by most scholars. The verse gives Philip’s response to the Ethiopian eunuch’s request for baptism. It reads:

“Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.'” Acts 8:37 ESV

The verse is apparently only attested by the Erasmus manuscript of 1527 and a handful of Old Latin texts. The Erasmus text actually reads a little differently:

“Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may be saved.’ And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.'”

The KJV is one of the only English versions that use the verse. Most English Bibles include the verse in a footnote. If you google “Acts 8:37,” look out! There are a whole bunch of KJV-only websites that claim any Bible without Acts 8:37 is counterfeit. Hence the important question arises: Is Acts 8:37 part of the canon according to the Church?

The verse appears in the original Vulgate, but now the Church omits the verse in the Nova Vulgata, which is the new and improved Vulgate published under Pope John Paul II in the 1980’s. The official text approved by the Holy See does not contain the verse. The weird thing is that the Catechism references the verse in paragraph 454.

Pius XII sets the tone for Catholic teaching on textual criticism regarding questions like this. He teaches that we are to accept the best in textual criticism in this paragraph 17 from Divino Afflante Spiritu:
“The great importance which should be attached to this kind of criticism was aptly pointed out by Augustine, when, among the precepts to be recommended to the student of the Sacred Books, he put in the first place the care to possess a corrected text. “The correction of the codices” – so says this most distinguished Doctor of the Church – “should first of all engage the attention of those who wish to know the Divine Scripture so that the uncollected may give place to the corrected.”[23] In the present day indeed this art, which is called textual criticism and which is used with great and praiseworthy results in the editions of profane writings, is also quite rightly employed in the case of the Sacred Books, because of that very reverence which is due to the Divine Oracles. For its very purpose is to insure that the sacred text be restored, as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions, from the interchange and repetition of words and from all other kinds of mistakes, which are wont to make their way gradually into writings handed down through many centuries.”

So, it seems that Acts 8:37 is on the outside looking in. As far as I know the Church has not definitively pronounced on the issue and I don’t think she ever will because the verse is not that important. But it is interesting that the canon is a little fuzzy around the edges. First, we accepted it in the Vulgate, now we have put it out of the canon in the Nova Vulgata and yet it still gets quoted in the Catechism. There’s a very interesting discussion of the manuscript support for the verse at this Baptist site. So I think the verse is still in question, but probably is not canonical. Weird, huh?

Who Wrote What?

Many Bible scholars and commentators spend endless amounts of energy trying to figure out who wrote what parts of the Bible. They argue about whether Paul wrote all of the Pauline epistles, whether John wrote John, whether Matthew wrote Matthew, etc. Sometimes it seems like they’re chasing after questions that cannot be answered.

So my question arises: Is it really important to know who wrote what? I mean, the Bible is the Bible. We’re supposed to read it, believe it and obey it. So why bother about who wrote what?

The Vatican II fathers state their position on the Bible’s inspiration with these words: “In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.” (Dei Verbum 11) They subsequently lay out their position on how important it is to know who wrote what. The bishops teach that Bible scholars are to figure out what the “sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.” (12) They go on to say that we should look for literary forms including “prophecy, poetry or some other type of speech.” (12) Also, we should be attentive to “customary and characteristic styles of perceiving, speaking, and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the customs men normally followed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.” (12)

Ok, so the Council fathers don’t say we should know exactly who wrote what all the time. But they do emphasize the importance of knowing the historical context in which the writer lived. Bible scholars should be familiar with the customs and traditions of the cultures of the sacred authors. This becomes a BIG issue. For example, some scholars think Moses himself wrote the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) c. 1200 BC. But other scholars think these books were pieced together from older materials, edited many times and finally came to their full form during the Exile, c. 500-600 BC. That’s a difference of 600 years! How are we supposed to discover the customs, traditions and characteristic writing styles of the author(s) of the Pentateuch when scholars can’t even put together which millenium it was written in?

So, from my perspective, it is important to know who wrote what and when he wrote it. But that’s only important for the sake of discovering what the text means. Regardless of who wrote what parts of the Bible, it’s still the Bible. And it is meant to be heard, read, believed and obeyed. It is good to know who wrote it only so we can more fully believe it and obey it. But even if we have no idea who wrote it, when it was written or where it was written–we are still called to obey it and dedicate our whole lives to living out its message.

This is where a lot of Bible scholars fall off the cart. They think they’ve figured out that so-and-so didn’t write such-and-such and their immediate conclusion is then, “Wow. Now that piece of the Bible doesn’t have as much authority.” But this is a logical error. The Bible’s authority is not bestowed by the human author, but the Divine Author. God’s authorship is the one that really counts. When we do research and reach conclusions about the historical circumstances surrounding the Bible, that’s great. But when we let our research change our morals, that’s a tragedy. The Bible is a gift from God, but it is not to be abused by our study of it. Studying the Bible ought to lead us to deeper prayer, more profound faith and a fuller Christian life.

Outline of 1 Peter

Here’s my outline I just pieced together of 1 Peter:
1:1-2 – Epistolary Opening
1:3-7 – Narratio #1
1:8-9 – Exordium
1:10-12 – Narratio #2
1:13-4:19 – Probatio
________1:13-21 – Be holy as I am holy.
________1:22-25 – Love one another because of the Word.
________2:1-12 – Living Stones, Be holy
________2:13-17 – Christian conduct in Pagan Society
________2:18-25 – Instructions to Servants
________3:1-6 – Instructions to Wives
________3:7 – Instructions to Husbands
________3:8-12 – Instructions to all
________3:13-22 – Suffer for doing good
________4:1-11 – Don’t live for the flesh anymore
________4:12-19 – How to suffer persecution
5:1-10 – Exhortatio
________5:1-4 – To presbyters
________5:5 – To the youth
________5:6-10 – To all
5:11 – Benediction
5:12-14 – Epistolary Close

Is Babylon in Revelation a Symbol for Jerusalem?

There is an enigmatic reference in Revelation 11:8 (sometimes I think ALL of Revelation is enigmatic!) to “the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” (ESV) If everything was easy, we would identify this place as Jerusalem because that’s where Jesus was crucified. But, of course, Revelation is a little more complicated than that. You see, “the great city” is referred to elsewhere (17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21). Assuming that “great city” means the same thing everytime it is mentioned, it is identified with the whore of Babylon (17:18), great wealth (18:16,19) and Jerusalem (11:8).

Most scholars assert a strong identification between they symbolic Babylon and the Roman Empire. Yet a few scholars, including Scott Hahn and Edward Sri, identify Babylon with Jerusalem. I will be studying this today, so I’ll develop the theme in later posts. Developing…