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Christian Life v. Theology

Catholics like studying. I guess it’s just part of what we do. We like to sit in classrooms, take notes and have study groups. A typical parish bulletin will advertise the weekly Bible Study or a 4-part series on an encyclical or a Catechism group or a Catholic social teaching book group. For us, “learning about The Faith” often means “learning theology.” We don’t usually see a difference between the two. But I think this is a problem.

Christian Life and Theology are two different things. In theology we learn about God, about the Church, about the Bible. But when we study Christian Life we learn how to be a Christian, how to pray, how to act rightly in different situations, how to live for God. The study of Christian Life should take precedence over the study of theology in the life of the average Catholic. We should be spending our time and mental energy learning how to love God and live for Him, not simply learning about Him. There’s a big difference.

Update 3/28/08: I just read an essay by Canon Drinkwater, a 20th Century English catechist, about how to teach the faith. He argues that the faith should be taught as something to be done not just something to be learned about. He says that if someone sees his faith as something to do then it becomes inherently more interesting and relevant. I think that’s a profound insight. Christianity must be done, practiced, lived out not just read about, learned or studied.

Who is “he” in Matt 3:16?

When Jesus gets baptized in Matt 3:16, we get this snippet: “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (ESV).

First, a couple textual notes. The phrase “to him” does not appear in all manuscripts, not that it really matters except, I’d like to know who the “him” is. Presumably it is the same as the “he” in “he saw.” Also, the English pronoun “he” is embedded in the Greek verb since Greek does not need pronouns to express the number and person of the subject.

So is the “he” Jesus or John the Baptist? On my first reading I thought it was Jesus, but then I read John 1:32 where it says: “And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” (ESV)

So, the “he” in Matt 3:16 is John the Baptist, not Jesus. John is the one who sees the dove come to rest on Jesus, not Jesus himself.

I think it would be helpful if English Bible editions added a footnote clarifying the antecedent of “he” in Matt 3:16. It would make the whole thing less confusing for all of us.

The Loss of Context

Reading the Bible always challenges our ability to read in context, think in context and make the right connections. You have to remember when the book you’re reading was written (which is always a matter of debate), who it was written to, what the political context was, what the theological context is, how it relates to other books of the Bible and on, and on. You get my meaning.

But reading the Bible on a computer is an exponentially more difficult task in terms of reading within context. When you only get 15 lines of text displayed on the screen, no other pages to leaf through, a search box that displays truncated versions of the verses you’ve found through your query–it’s really dang hard to keep your head in the context of what you’re reading. Weirdly enough, it may be a bit closer to how the ancients read–at least how the ancients who could read read. They read the Bible on scraps of parchment and papyrus. They did not even have a well-defined canon of Bible books until well into the Christian era. But since the invention of the printing press we’ve all been walking around with nicely bound single volume editions of the Bible thinking we’re so cool. But it was not always so neat and tidy. Reading the Bible online or in a Bible software program is jarring for someone who grew up reading the dusty volume off the shelf. It is a new experience in the life of the Church.

So I think it’s important to remember to always read in context, even when you are doing a word-search in a Bible software program. And remember that when you are reading the Bible in a “window” or a “pane” on your flat-screen LCD, in some mysterious way you are closer to the ancients than the guy reading the Bible in a nice leather-bound volume. Well, sort of.

What is apocalyptic literature anyway?

Scholars like to toss around big words to sound smart. Bible scholars’ favorite big words are things like “eschatological,” “intertextuality,” and “apocalyptic literature.” I’ve read a lot of things that talk about apocalyptic literature, but few that sit down and try to really define it. But today I was lucky and I found two different definitions of “apocalyptic literature” in two different places. I thought I’d pass them along to you.

1. Apocalyptic literature is defined as “symbolic, visionary, prophetic literature, usually composed during oppressive conditions and being chiefly eschatological in theological content.” (NIV Study Bible – 2002)

2. “Apocalypse” is a genre of revolutionary literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” (John J. Collins quoted in New Interpreters Bible, vol. VII, p.22)

I’m not sure whether I agree with the idea of genre-definition in general (having a post-modern streak in me) let alone with the above definitions. I’m not quite sure I even understand Collins’ definition. (I’m still having a hard time figuring out how a transcendent reality can envisage something.) But here are the definitions for your enjoyment and perusal.

The Largest Crosses and Crucifixes in the World

tall_cross-706735Americans like building big things and obtaining world records. Somehow this tendency has come into the mind of many cross-builders across the world and especially the US. I think it’s fascinating, so I’ve compiled a list of the tallest crosses and crucifixes in the world. Surprisingly, the absolute tallest cross in the world is in Spain! Out of all the ones on the list, I have only seen the Cross in the Woods in Indian River, MI and The Great Cross in St. Augustine, FL. Apparently, the city of Nazareth (yeah, the one in Israel where Jesus grew up) is planning a 60 meter cross (196 ft). If I missed any that should be on the list, please comment on this post and I’ll add them.

Tallest Crosses in the World
1.) 500 ft. Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain (granite)
2.) 208 ft. The Great Cross, St. Augustine, FL (steel)
3.) 198 ft. Effingham, IL (steel)
4.) 190 ft. Groom, TX (steel)
5.) 111 ft. Bald Knob Cross, Alto Pass, IL (concrete)
6.) 98 ft. Cleveland Community Church, OH (steel)
7.) 90 ft. Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross, Wickliffe, KY (steel?)

Tallest Crucifixes in the World
1.) 60 ft. Bardstown, KY (steel) — Very ugly!
2.) 55 ft. Cross in the Woods, Indian River, MI (wood cross, bronze corpus)

Bibliography of Commentaries on Baruch

I’m about to start working on Baruch and I had one heck of a time finding any resources. It’s a deuterocanonical book named after Jeremiah’s disciple, Baruch. You can find it in any Catholic Bible but not in a Protestant Bible. It’s also really short, only 5 chapters. So these two factors have combined to prevent much publication on the book. As far as I can see, there isn’t a single full-length commentary on Baruch anywhere. But I dug up the resources I could find that had a chapter or section on Baruch. Emmanuel Tov’s book appears to be a Greek-Hebrew edition of Baruch, not a commentary. Baruch was originally written in Hebrew, so most think, but only the Greek is extant. I suppose translating it back into Hebrew could be a useful exercise. So I’ve gathered a resource list of everything I could find on Baruch in English. Some of these pieces are very short. I bet if you read some of them, they will lead you to other books as well. If you find anything worth reading on Baruch that’s not on my list, please comment on this post and I’ll add it to the list!

Update: This bibliography gets complicated because Baruch 6 is often commented on as a separate work, The Letter of Jeremiah. Both Saldarini and Harrington comment on it in the same volume as their Baruch comments. Also, I added a section that lists the re-constructed Hebrew translations of Baruch by themselves. There are three: Kneucker, Tov and Burke. Kneucker translates 1:1-5:9 (Warning!–This is a guess. I haven’t been able to get my hands on this volume), Tov translates 1:1-3:8 and Burke translates 3:9-5:9. I have seen both Tov and Burke. Burke’s introductory comments and analysis are very helpful.

Bibliography of Commentaries on Baruch

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Burke, David G. Poetry of Baruch: A Reconstruction and Analysis of the Original Hebrew Text of Baruch 3:9-5:9. Chico, CA: Scholars, 1982.

Crowley, Edward J. The Books of Lamentations, Baruch, Sophonia, Nahum and Habacuc: With Commentary. New York: Paulist Press, 1962.

Dancy, John, Wesley J. Fuerst, R.J. Hammer. The Shorter Books of the Apocrypha. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Ellis, Peter F. Jeremiah, Baruch. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986.

Farmer, William R. The International Bible Commentary. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998.

Harrington, Daniel J. in Harper’s Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

Kodell, Jerome. Lamentations, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Obadiah, Joel, Second Zechariah, Baruch. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1982.

Moore, Carey. Daniel, Esther and Jeremiah: The Additions. Anchor Bible, vol. 44. New York: Doubleday, 1977.

Navarre Bible, v.6. Princeton, NJ: Scepter, 2005.

Saldarini, Anthony J. New Interpreter’s Bible, v.6. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

Stuhlmueller, Carroll. The Books of Jeremiah and Baruch. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1971.

Tov, Emmanuel. The Book of Baruch. Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1975.

—Special: Reconstructed Hebrew Translations of Greek Baruch—
Burke, David G. Poetry of Baruch: A Reconstruction and Analysis of the Original Hebrew Text of Baruch 3:9-5:9. Chico, CA: Scholars, 1982.

Kneucker, J.J. Das Buch Baruch. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1879.

Tov, Emmanuel. The Book of Baruch. Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1975.

—Online Resources on Baruch—
Baruch – Introduction” in Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859.

Book of Baruch” in Catholic Encyclopedia. 1907.

Book of Baruch” on

Book of Baruch” on, Believe network.

Gigot, Francis. Special Introduction to the Study of the Old Testament, Part II. New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1906.

Wikipedia. Book of Baruch.

Cover with Pitch

There’s a Hebrew word (kaphar) in Ezek 16:63 which the ESV translates as “atone.” The word can also be translated as “cover over, pacify, propitiate.” (BDB) I found it very interesting that the same word is used in Gen 6:14 when the Lord commands Noah to cover the ark with pitch. Strangely enough, the same root is used for the word which means “pitch.” Unfortunately, Gen 6:14 is the only occurrence of the word. But the image of God covering over sins with pitch is a powerful one, not that Gen or Ezek actually says that. The Ezek passage is referring to a future time when God will kaphar Judah’s sins. I suppose it also has theological implications, but I don’t want to take this too far. The point is that we can compare Ezek 16:63’s use of kaphar with Gen 6:14 and come up with the image of God covering our sins with pitch. Cool.

(Check out the picture of the guy with pitch in Trinidad.)


So I came across a word in James 5:9 (stenazo, “complain, groan”) and I was intrigued, so I looked it up in BDAG. BDAG lists a few meanings: sigh, groan because of an undesirable circumstance. Then it cites Mk 7:34 where Jesus sighs before healing a deaf man. BDAG says this meaning is “in connection w. a healing, prob. as an expr. of power ready to act Mk 7:34.” What?!

Since when does Jesus groan “as an expression of power ready to act”? BDAG, to its credit, does cite a couple older grammars, that I don’t have ready access to in my personal library. But I think the word goes a lot deeper in the NT than an isolated instance of Jesus doing some pre-healing groans.

Check out Romans 8:26 where the Spirit intercedes for us with unutterable groanings (stenagmos, a noun form of stenazo). Then look at Heb 13:17 where we ought to help our leaders do their jobs without groaning (stenazo). Now compare that to Jesus praying with loud cries in Heb 5:7 (krauges ischuras) and being heard because of his reverence.

I think the groaning he does in Mk 7:34 is more like the loud cries of Heb 5:7 than a preparatory grunt before healing.

How to Read the Bible

The Bible must be read differently than any other book. Most non-fiction books we read with an attitude of total skepticism. We want the author to prove his point to us and if we are not convinced of his position by the end, we leave the book behind looking for better books with which we can agree.

But we should not read the Bible with an attitude of skepticism. Rather, we must read it with an attitude of humble submission. Since it really is God’s word to man, we are not free to disagree and leave it behind. Instead when we confront something in the Bible that we don’t like or don’t understand or can’t accept, we must pray and ask God for the grace to understand and accept it. But even before we receive that grace, we must submit our minds and hearts to the Bible, trusting that God’s Word is better than our own.

This paradigm shift in the way we read is not easy, but it is necessary. We will never understand the Bible if we do not submit to it. We will never learn from it if we do not love it.

New Links: Bible on the Web

I added a few new links to the side-bar. Check out “Online Bible Translations” for a wonderful list of links to almost every online Bible website. It’s a super helpful quick glance at every web Bible out there. Then take a look at the “Better Bibles Blog.” This is a young blog with a great future. It gives you a place to post poor translations in whatever version you happen to be reading. If you find an error or a badly translated verse, just post it there. Hopefully future English Bible translators can use this website as a resource. Finally, go to “iTanakh.” This site is amazing. It has grouped together gazillions of Bible resources, articles, fonts, versions, software, etc. It goes on and on. I don’t agree with everything posted there (obviously), but it is an invaluable resource of information.