Monday, November 28, 2011

Hebrews 1:1 (Brief Remarks)

Greek text (Hebrews 1:1): πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις.

The passage has been rendered: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets" (KJV). The nominal phrase ὁ θεὸς is the grammatical subject. The alliterative construction πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως is "a familiar literary figure" whose matter-of-fact sense could be understood as "in many parts and in many ways" (F. F. Bruce, Hebrews, 44). Bruce also opts for the translation, "at various days and in many ways" which preserves the alliteration found in the original text. The fivefold use of the phoneme π principally accentuates the rhetorical nature of Hebrews 1:1. The overall effect of the construction found in the opening verse of the Epistle is to emphasize how ὁ θεὸς speaks to the forefathers of Israel: it is by means of or through the prophets (ἐν τοῖς προφήταις).

See Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1993), 91.

Friday, November 11, 2011

More on the Logical/Moral Consequences of Atheism

While introducing Dostoevsky's classic work Brothers Karamazov, Charles Guignon reasons that "if God does not exist [as Ivan Karamazov believes], then the picture of the universe formulated by mechanistic materialism must be true. But, in this case, given the point of view of modern science (what Ivan calls 'Euclidean reason'), the universe consists of nothing but meaningless material objects in causal interaction, effects follows cause according to the laws of physics, people are determined to do what they do, no one is guilty of anything, and so there are no such things as right or wrong, good or bad. Or, more precisely, the ideals of justice, goodness, benevolence, dignity, and so on turn out to be purely human inventions, the results of projecting our needs and wishes onto brute, meaningless matter, and so they are illusions lacking any basis in the order of things" (Dostoevsky: The Grand Inquisitor with Related Chapters from The Brothers Karamazov, page xxx).

Monday, November 07, 2011

Tertullian's Attitude Toward the Shepherd of Hermas

It seems that Tertullian (after he became a Montanist) did not like the work known as the Shepherd of Hermas because of his stance on repentance and adultery. Tertullian neither regarded the Shepherd as Scripture nor as law (LEX). He wrote:

"It [the Shepherd of Hermas] is a story, not a law" (De Orat XVI, 2). This comment shows that Tertullian did not view the Shepherd in the same light that he viewed Scripture, and his view of this work appears to have been correct in certain respects. (See Jean Danielou 3:153.)

I say, in certain respects, since the Shepherd is not a part of inspired Scripture and never was--yet Tertullian apparently had an unbalanced view of godly repentance. Moreover, I am not so sure he was right to believe that the Shepherd condones adultery. See Mandate 4 of the Shepherd.

Tertullian also writes in De Pudicitia X,12:

"These (pleas) you (will urge) to me, most benignant
interpreter of God. But I would yield my ground to
you, if the scripture of 'the Shepherd,' which is the
only one which favours adulterers, had deserved to
find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been
habitually judged by every council of Churches (even
of your own) among apocryphal and false (writings);
itself adulterous, and hence a patroness of its
comrades; from which in other respects, too, you
derive initiation; to which, perchance, that Shepherd
will play the patron whom you depict upon your
(sacramental) chalice, (depict, I say, as) himself
withal a prostitutor of the Christian sacrament, (and
hence) worthily both the idol of drunkenness, and the
brize of adultery by which the chalice will quickly be
followed, (a chalice) from which you sip nothing more
readily than (the flavour of) the 'ewe' of (your)
second repentance!"

What makes this text so intriguing is that Tertullian writes about the "Divine canon" which implies that he already knew about some type of canon generally
accepted by most Christians in his day. Additionally, he indicates that "every council of Churches" decided not to view the Shepherd as canonical. While Danielou suggests that Tertullian's language is a wee bit strong, since not every church council (or early church) thought the Shepherd was false, they did not usually view it as Scripture either. Tertullian's words may indicate that claims about the biblical canon being formed in the forth century or later are a little exaggerated, to say the least. One also needs to distinguish between the word "canon" referring to a list of authoritative books and that same term which references the inspired books themselves.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Margaret Davies and the EGW EIMI Sayings in John's Gospel

Dear blog readers,

I would like to draw your attention to a scholarly work produced by Margaret Davies entitled Rhetoric and Reference in the Fourth Gospel (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992) which contains a discussion INTER ALIA concerning the Johannine EGW EIMI sayings. The section I have in mind runs from pp. 82-87. In these pages, Davies shows how the Wisdom writings have probably influenced the EGW EIMI pronouncements in John's Gospel, and she thinks the Johannine sayings should be read in the light of such texts as Prov. 8:12-21 and Sirach 24:3-31. The book also critiques R.E. Brown's treatment of the sayings and concludes that EGW EIMI (in Jn 8:58 and elsewhere in John) serves as a marker of self-identification. Davies' study assumes this position for a few reasons that I will briefly delineate.

(1) Davies argues that EGW EIMI in Jn. 13:19 identifies Jesus as the Messiah since it evidently refers back to Jn. 13:14 and 18, and I might add Jn. 13:13 where we read: "You address me, 'Teacher,' and, 'Lord,' and you speak rightly, for I am such."


"I am not talking about all of you; I know the one I have chosen. But it is in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 'He that used to feed on my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'" (Jn. 13:18)

The context of Jn 13:19 thus suggests that Jesus is identifying himself as Lord, Teacher, and Messiah--the one who was foretold in Ps. 41:9 among other places in the Tanakh.

(2) Davies thinks that Jn 8:58 refers back to Jn 8:12
and that Jesus is ultimately identifying himself as
the light of the world, that is, the promised seed of
Abraham by means of whom all nations of the earth will
be blessed (Gn 12:3; 22:18). However she notes that
other scholars (Lindars 1972) think that Jn 8:58
actually points back to 1:5, which deals with the
light that apparently was shining prior to Abraham, the
father of all those having faith. But at this point, Davies asks:

"Is Jesus' remark, 'Before Abraham was, I am he' a
reminder that he is the eternal LOGOS?" (Davies 86).
She thinks that this reading of Jn 8:58 "is neither an
obvious nor a necessary reading." (86). The scholar
accordingly rejects the Jn 8:58/1:5 connexion since if John
wanted to highlight a thematic nexus
between the two texts, he would have used the
imperfect tense of the verb 'to be' at Jn 8:58 and not
the present. Since John does employ the present in
8:58, however, "The use of the present tense, 'I am',
connects with its use in Jn 8:12" (86).


Davies contends that Jesus (in Jn 8:58) is
answering a question about time, but does so by
identifying himself as the seed of Abraham (the light
of the world). She writes: "We should conclude,
therefore, that the Johannine Jesus' use of the 'I am'
form draws on Wisdom declarations from its Scripture,
and does not assert Jesus' divinity" (Davies 87).