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calendar December 7, 2015

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Mark 6-8 and the Beauty and Utility of Scripture as Literature

            Parallel Structure of Mark 6:31-8:30

(from W. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark [NICNT; Eerdmans, 1974], 269)

6:31-44                       Feeding the Multitude                                8:1-9

6:45-56                       Crossing of the Sea and Landing               8:10

7:1-23                          Conflict with the Pharisees                        8:11-13

7:24-30                       Conversation about Bread                          8:14-21

7:31-36                        Healing                                                          8:22-26

7:37                              Confession of Faith in the Messiah           8:27-30


           Two Stories in Parallel in Mark 8:22-30

8:22                                         the setting                                         8:27

8:23-24                                   “partial sight”                                   8:27-28

8:25                                         “sight”                                                8:29

8:26                                         “Don’t tell anybody!”                        8:30

As a kicker, Mark concludes the next section (8:31 through the end of chapter 10) with yet another healing of a blind man who understands that Jesus is the Son of David (“partial sight”?), then launches readers into the great final week of drama in Jerusalem as Jesus shows the world the sort of King he is (“sight”?).

Here are a few reasons why I enjoy this sort of material:

Reading with the literary grain produces so much more appreciation for Scripture and so much more pleasure than some of the alternatives. I remember rolling my eyes at sterile academic treatments of these passages: the arid terrain of “messianic secret” theories that (mercifully) seem to have run their course in the past two decades; or the idea that Mark inherited these stories from dubious sources and naively repeated two versions of the same event. Conservative approaches to texts can have their pitfalls, too; raise your hand if you’ve participated in the well-meaning (but ultimately puzzling and often boring) activity of viewing Mark merely as a window onto real historical events and not an authoritative portrait that interprets those events.

Secondly, Mark also encourages multiple dives into the text and reading the earlier parts of the text in light of the later parts. It won’t do simply to read it through once or twice; you have to learn to follow the threads backwards and forwards.

Mark engages our imagination for application, giving readers a melodic theme on which they can improvise their own message as the ancient Word jumps the gap and engages modern readers. And an imaginative presentation is very likely, I think, to produce an imaginative response.

But while Mark inspires our imagination and improvisation, he also controls them. He instructs our interpretation by assuming his rightful role of authorial director. Students often have difficulty figuring out how to preach biblical narrative. No such problem here, as Mark does the hard work of drawing connections for you. Your outline for Sunday is practically written out for you. (Not really, but hyperbole is biblical.)

calendar June 15, 2015

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Kevin Vanhoozer on the importance of the upcoming CPT Conference

Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer, one of the plenary speakers of the upcoming November conference on the identity and possibilities of the pastor theologian, believes this is a critical time to gather. According to Vanhoozer, “There is a crisis about the identity of the pastor.” In this video, the first of six we’ll be releasing over the week, Vanhoozer describes the unique authority of the pastor and helps viewers understand the significance of this conference.

“There is a critical threshold of people now wanting to have this discussion. We’re on the cusp of an exciting new movement asking the question: whatever happened to theology in the church?”


calendar February 26, 2015

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Important, but Not the End of the World


Last Sunday, I preached on Mark 13, which I take as referring throughout to the destruction of the Temple. In an attempt (partially successful!) to avoid the sermon descending into a lecture, I used our Sunday school class after the service for my “footnotes”. Here’s the handout.

It’s Important, but It’s Not the End of the World: Understanding Jesus’ Prophecy in Mark 13

1. Principles

1.1 The Clarity of Scripture does not mean the clarity of every passage of Scripture

“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.8)

“just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you…There are some things in them [his letters] that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:15-16)

1.2 The Importance of Doctrine

Christ’s return in glory as judge is a foundational Christian belief: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles Creed)

Even if Mark 13 doesn’t teach the second coming of Christ, and the last judgment other passages do (e.g., John 5:27-29; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Romans 2:5-16; 1 Cor 11:26; 15:23-28; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13; Rev 20:11-15)

1.3 The danger of imposing your own framework, or the filters of later Christian tradition on Scripture (Scripture Interprets Scripture)

“The key [to vv.24-27] lies in our willingness and ability to hear the prophetic imagery as it would have been heard by those in Jesus’ day who were at home in OT prophetic language, rather than as it is ‘naturally’ heard by Christian readers” today (R. T. France, Mark, 531)

A non-biblical example: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.” (Shakespeare, Richard III, Act 1, scene 1)

A biblical example: “the heart”

1.4 Take the details of Scripture seriously, but read in a way that is historically sensitive, alert to poetry and metaphor (where appropriate), and not overly-literalistic

E.g., imagine this “prophecy”: “There is going to be a war to end all wars, and your country will need you. In that day, you must fight them on the beaches and fight them on the landing grounds, and you must never, never, never surrender.”

What is the prophecy teaching?

Would the prophecy be untrue if it turned out that the coming war didn’t literally end all war? Or if no one ever actually fought on a beach during the conflict?

2. The Structure of Mark 13

A. Introduction (vv. 1-4)

A 1. Prediction: not one stone left on another (v. 2)

A 2. Private Question: WHEN? (and what sign)? (v. 4)

B. NOT YET (5-13)

B 1. Imposters, earthquakes and famines are only the beginning, not signs of the end: so don’t be led astray (5-8)

B 2. Christ’s people will suffer and the gospel go to the nations: so be ready and persevere to the end (9-13)

C. BUT WHEN: The beginning of the end (vv. 14-23)

Abomination of Desolation and Great Tribulation will be terrible, so get ready to flee

D. The old world will end and the Son of Man will come WITHIN THIS GENERATION (24-31)

D1. But IN THOSE DAYS [i.e., the same time period] AFTER that tribulation (24-25)…

         …AND THEN (26): Son of Man coming on the clouds

                 …AND THEN (27) messengers gather the elect throughout the world

D 2. This will all happen WITHIN THIS GENERATION (28-31)

E. BUT only the Father knows EXACTLY WHEN: So stay awake (32-37)

3. The Key Question (v. 4):

The Temple will completely destroyed (v. 2)

WHEN will these things be? (and what will be the sign?) (v. 4)

The Answer: Within this generation (v. 30); but no-one except the Father knows exactly when (v. 32-37)

4. Key Details in the Light of the Old Testament Background

4.1. Prophecies of the Historical Destruction of Cities/Nations (Babylon, Egypt)

A Woman in the anguish of Labour (v. 8)

Instruction to Flee (v. 14)

Sun, moon, stars darkened, falling from heaven (vv. 24-25)

Heaven and earth passing away (v. 31)

4.1.1 Isaiah 13-14

13 The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

2 On a bare hill raise a signal;

    cry aloud to them;

wave the hand for them to enter

    the gates of the nobles.

3 I myself have commanded my consecrated ones,

    and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger,

    my proudly exulting ones.

4 The sound of a tumult is on the mountains

    as of a great multitude!

The sound of an uproar of kingdoms,

    of nations gathering together!

The Lord of hosts is mustering

    a host for battle.

8 They will be dismayed:

    pangs and agony will seize them;

    they will be in anguish like a woman in labour.

They will look aghast at one another;

    their faces will be aflame.

9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,

    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,

to make the land a desolation

    and to destroy its sinners from it.

10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations

    will not give their light;

the sun will be dark at its rising,

    and the moon will not shed its light.

11 I will punish the world for its evil,

    and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,

    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,

    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,

at the wrath of the Lord of hosts

    in the day of his fierce anger.

14 And like a hunted gazelle,

    or like sheep with none to gather them,

each will turn to his own people,

    and each will flee to his own land.

17 Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,

    who have no regard for silver

    and do not delight in gold.

18 Their bows will slaughter the young men;

    they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;

    their eyes will not pity children.

19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,

    the splendour and pomp of the Chaldeans,

will be like Sodom and Gomorrah

    when God overthrew them.

14:4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

“How the oppressor has ceased,

    the insolent fury ceased!

12 “How you are fallen from heaven,

    O Day Star, son of Dawn!

How you are cut down to the ground,

    you who laid the nations low!

13 You said in your heart,

    ‘I will ascend to heaven;

above the stars of God

    I will set my throne on high;

I will sit on the mount of assembly

    in the far reaches of the north;

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;

    I will make myself like the Most High.’

15 But you are brought down to Sheol,

    to the far reaches of the pit.

16 Those who see you will stare at you

    and ponder over you:

‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,

    who shook kingdoms,

17 who made the world like a desert

    and overthrew its cities,

    who did not let his prisoners go home?’

18 All the kings of the nations lie in glory,

    each in his own tomb;[c]

19 but you are cast out, away from your grave,

    like a loathed branch,

clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword,

    who go down to the stones of the pit,

    like a dead body trampled underfoot.

4.1.2 Jeremiah 50-51

50:1 The word that the Lord spoke concerning Babylon, concerning the land of the Chaldeans, by Jeremiah the prophet:

2 “Declare among the nations and proclaim,

    set up a banner and proclaim,

    conceal it not, and say:

‘Babylon is taken,

    Bel is put to shame,

    Merodach is dismayed.

Her images are put to shame,

    her idols are dismayed.’

3 “For out of the north a nation has come up against her, which shall make her land a desolation, and none shall dwell in it; both man and beast shall flee away.

8 “Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as male goats before the flock. 9 For behold, I am stirring up and bringing against Babylon a gathering of great nations, from the north country. And they shall array themselves against her. From there she shall be taken. Their arrows are like a skilled warrior who does not return empty-handed. 10 Chaldea shall be plundered; all who plunder her shall be sated, declares the Lord.

41 “Behold, a people comes from the north;

    a mighty nation and many kings

    are stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.

42 They lay hold of bow and spear;

    they are cruel and have no mercy.

The sound of them is like the roaring of the sea;

    they ride on horses,

arrayed as a man for battle

    against you, O daughter of Babylon!

43 “The king of Babylon heard the report of them,

    and his hands fell helpless;

anguish seized him,

    pain as of a woman in labour.

51:6 “Flee from the midst of Babylon;

    let every one save his life!

Be not cut off in her punishment,

    for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance,

    the repayment he is rendering her.

4.1.3 Ezekiel 32:1-12

32:1 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,

    but you are like a dragon in the seas;

you burst forth in your rivers,

    trouble the waters with your feet,

    and foul their rivers.

3 Thus says the Lord God:

    I will throw my net over you

    with a host of many peoples,

    and they will haul you up in my dragnet.

4 And I will cast you on the ground;

    on the open field I will fling you,

and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you,

    and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.

5 I will strew your flesh upon the mountains

    and fill the valleys with your carcass.

6 I will drench the land even to the mountains

    with your flowing blood,

    and the ravines will be full of you.

7 When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens

    and make their stars dark;

I will cover the sun with a cloud,

    and the moon shall not give its light.

8 All the bright lights of heaven

    will I make dark over you,

    and put darkness on your land,

declares the Lord God.

9 “I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries that you have not known. 10 I will make many peoples appalled at you, and the hair of their kings shall bristle with horror because of you, when I brandish my sword before them. They shall tremble every moment, every one for his own life, on the day of your downfall.

11 “For thus says the Lord God: The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you. 12 I will cause your multitude to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most ruthless of nations.

“They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt,

    and all its multitude shall perish.

4.1.4 Conclusion

In the language of biblical prophecy, these phrases refer to historical judgments on particular cities or nations by military conquest.

4.2 The Son of Man Coming on the Clouds

Daniel 7

7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. 2 Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

9 “As I looked,

thrones were placed,

    and the Ancient of Days took his seat;

his clothing was white as snow,

    and the hair of his head like pure wool;

his throne was fiery flames;

    its wheels were burning fire.

10 A stream of fire issued

    and came out from before him;

a thousand thousands served him,

    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;

the court sat in judgement,

    and the books were opened.

11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

    there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

    and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion

    and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

    should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

    which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

    that shall not be destroyed.

15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16 I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17 ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever, for ever and ever.’

Where is the Son of Man travelling to on the clouds?

What happens when he gets there?

So, in Dan 7, what is the significance of him coming on the clouds?

You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds

“what is seen is heavenly authority…the heavenly enthronement is expected to have ‘visible’ consequences, which in each case are expected to appear within the living generation…the destruction of the temple…and the gathering of the international people of God. These are the negative and positive sides of the transfer of authority from the temple to the Son of Man” (France, Mark, 535).

4.3 The Abomination of Desolation (v. 14)

“When you see the Abomination of desolation” (Mk 13:14) // “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20)

“Let the reader understand”—i.e., this is going to take a bit of puzzling over.

Abomination / Detested thing: Idols and Idol worship

Desolation: The devastation of a land caused by military conquest

4.3.1 Daniel 9:26-27 (cf. also 11:31; 12:11)

26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:26-27)


An Anointed One is cut off (cf. Jesus’ death)

A prince will come and destroy the city and temple


an end to sacrifice and offering

4.3.2 Abominations and Desolation in Ezekiel

Ezekiel 6

6:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face towards the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, 3 and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. 5 And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6 Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined,[a] your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out. 7 And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

8 “Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, 9 then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. 10 And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”

11 Thus says the Lord God: “Clap your hands and stamp your foot and say, Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, for they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. 12 He who is far off shall die of pestilence, and he who is near shall fall by the sword, and he who is left and is preserved shall die of famine. Thus I will spend my fury upon them. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when their slain lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak, wherever they offered pleasing aroma to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land desolate and waste, in all their dwelling places, from the wilderness to Riblah.[b] Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

Ezekiel 8-11:

Many abominations in the Temple. Therefore, because of their abominations God will bring their deeds on their heads, and God’s glory leaves the Temple and rests on the Mountain east of the city (Ezekiel 11:21-23—the Mount of Olives—cf. Mark 13:1-3)

Ezekiel 24:1-2—Jerusalem besieged by armies (cf. Luke 21:20)

24:1 In the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, write down the name of this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.

Ezekiel 33—Jerusalem falls: the land is a desolation because of abominations in the temple

33: 21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” …

25 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land? 26 You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbour’s wife; shall you then possess the land? 27 Say this to them, Thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed.

4.3.3 Conclusion: The Abomination of Desolation is idolatry in the temple that means the desolation of the land is certain: so run away to the hills!

5. Historical Evidence: Events Leading up to and during the Fall of Jerusalem in AD70

5.1 Principle: There’s no need to read biblical prophecies with the newspaper in your other hand

5.2 False Messiahs (v. 6, 21-22)

Josephus Antiquities (20) records quite a number before AD66, e.g., Theudas, the sons of Judas of Galilee, the Egyptian, various unnamed ‘imposters’, and others between 66 and 70, e.g., Menahem, Son of Judas of Galilee, Simon Bar-Giora.

5.3 Wars and Famines (vv. 7-8)

Wars in Parthia (AD 36), between Herod Antipas and Aretas king of Nabataea (36-37), and civil wars divided the empire after Nero’s death (AD 68)

Earthquakes are recorded in Palestine, in Jerusalem (AD 67), in Philippi (cf. Acts 16:26), in Asia Minor (AD 61) and in Pompeii (AD 62).

The was a major famine in the reign of the emperor Claudius (c. AD 46; cf. Acts 11:28).

5.4 The gospel preached to all nations (i.e., to the gentiles, not just Jews)

“the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing (Colossians 1:6 )

“the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven (Colossians 1:23)

“But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:18)

5.5 The Greatest Tribulation (v.19)

For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. (v. 19)

cf. Josephus, Jewish War, 5.424-83, 512-18, 567-72; 6.193-213.

“ The description of the crisis in vv. 17-20, as a time of unprecedented suffering and one which no-one could hope to survive without divine intervention, does not outrun the detailed and lurid description of the siege in Josephus” (France, Mark, 521)

“The first destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was very terrible, as it is in a most affecting manner described by the prophet Jeremiah, in his Lamentations; but that was nothing to the dreadful misery and wrath which they suffered in this destruction.” (Jonathan Edwards, History of the Work of Redemption, p. 590)

Suffering of Christians under Nero (AD 64-68)

Suffering of Jerusalem (AD 68-70)

Why so bad, and why within a generation?

“Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Matt 23:34-36)

“[Pilate] took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves. And all the people answered, ’His blood be on us and on our children.’” (Matt 27:24-25)

5.6 What was the Abomination of Desolation?

Roman soldiers sacrificing to their standards in the temple courts as the sanctuary burned? (Josephus, Jewish War, 6.316)

Or John of Gischala and the Zealots taking the temple, setting up a mock high priest, then being slaughtered, defiling the temple with their blood? (Josephus, War 4.196-207)

5.7 Conclusion: The historical evidence points to the fulfilment of Mark 13 in the period leading up to the fall of Jerusalem AD70

6. The Testimony of Two: John Owen and Jonathan Edwards on AD70

4.5.1 John Owen on the shaking and removal of the earth and heavens (Heb 12:27f):

It is therefore the heavens of Mosaical worship, and the Judaical church-state that were shaken at the coming of Christ, and so shaken, as shortly after to be removed and taken away, for the introduction of the more heavenly worship of the gospel and the immovable evangelical church-state. This was the greatest commotion and alteration that God ever made in the heavens and earth of the church, and which was to be made once only. (John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, vol. 7, p. 366)

4.5.2 Jonathan Edwards on the destruction of the Temple in AD70:

But the generality of them, refusing to receive conviction, God soon destroyed with such terrible circumstances, as the destruction of no country or city since the foundation of the world can parallel; agreeable to what Christ foretold, Matt. xxiv. 21. “For then shall be tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” The first destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was very terrible, as it is in a most affecting manner described by the prophet Jeremiah, in his Lamentations; but that was nothing to the dreadful misery and wrath which they suffered in this destruction. God, as Christ foretold, brought on them all the righteous blood that had been shed from the foundation of the world. Thus the enemies of Christ are made his footstool after his ascension, agreeable to God’s promise in Psalm cx. and he rules them with a rod of iron. The briars and thorns set themselves against him in battle: but he went through them; he burned them together.

This destruction of Jerusalem was in all respects agreeable to what Christ had foretold of it, Matt. xxiv [=Mark 13], as appears by the account which Josephus gives of it, who was then present, who had a share in the calamity, and who wrote the history of their destruction. Many circumstances resembled the destruction of the wicked at the day of judgment; by his account, it was accompanied with many fearful sights in the heavens, and with a separation of the righteous from the wicked. Their city and temple were burnt, and razed to the ground; and the ground on which the city stood was ploughed, so that one stone was not left upon another, Matt. xxiv. 2.

The people had ceased for the most part to be an independent government after the Babylonish captivity; but the sceptre entirely departed from Judah on the death of Archelaus, when Judea was made a Roman province. After this, they were cast off from being the people of God; but now their very city and land are utterly destroyed, and they carried away from it; and so have continued in their dispersions through the world for now above sixteen hundred years.

Thus there was a final end put to the Old-Testament world: all was finished with a kind of day of judgment, in which the people of God were saved, and his enemies terribly destroyed.—Thus does he who was so lately mocked, despised, and spit upon by these Jews, and whose followers they so malignantly persecuted, appear gloriously exalted over his enemies. (“A History of the Work of Redemption,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards vol 1, pp. 532-619, at 590.).

calendar February 7, 2014

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Percentages of Clerical Theologians, Non-Clerical Theologians, and Monastic Theologians: AD90-1500

For those wanting an executive summary of the preceding four posts, see the chart below. As is evident from the posts, we have divided our survey into five major epochs: the Apostolic Fathers to Constantine (AD 90-300), Constantine to the monasteries (AD 300-600), the monasteries to the universities (AD 600-1200), the universities to the Reformation (AD 1200-1500), and the Reformation to the post-Reformation period (AD 1500-1700). (We’re still working on the data for this last epoch).

The data for the first three epochs are drawn from Migne’s Patrologia Curses Completus — a massive nineteenth-century collection of the Latin and Greek texts from the fathers and doctors of the church, as well as other Christian writers.[1] This collection consists of nearly four hundred volumes (217 in Latin, 166 in Greek), and is the largest collection of ancient extant texts in print. Collectively, Migne’s series spans the history of the church from the days of the apostolic fathers until the twelfth-century (though the Greek series carries a few authors up into the fifteenth-century).  For our survey we have noted the authors within Migne, and have done our best to identify each as a clerical theologian, a non-clerical theologian, or a monastic theologian. Not every text in the Patrologia Cursuses Completus is a theological text, nor are all the texts within it written by theologians per se. And of course, there were ancient Christian authors not represented in Migne’s collection. Yet given the scope of Migne’s collection, the series—taken as a whole—is our best resources for assessing how the church distributed her intellectual wealth during the first twelve centuries.

Unfortunatley, Migne’s collection leave us with a gap between the advent of the universities and the beginning of the Reformation—AD1200-1500. Databases such as Migne are not available for this time, and so our assessment here must be more provisional. To offer at least a preliminary analysis for this period we have consulted a number of Medieval surveys and textbooks highlighting key theologians and thinkers. Our main texts for establishing our list for this period are G. R. Evans, Fifty Key Medieval Thinkers (New York: Routledge, 2002) and her The Medieval Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Medieval Period, (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001); also Rik van Nieuwenhove, An Introduction to Medieval Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), and Walter Ruegg, ed., A History of the University in Europe, Vol 1. (Cambridge University Press, 1993). Again, we have classified the authors in this area as clerical, non-clerical, or monastic.

Throughout our survey, we have classified a theologian as clerical only if he actually produced theological work as a cleric (e.g., Thomas Aquinas was ordained a priest, but his career was that of university professor; consequently, he is identified in our survey as a non-clerical theologian). There is, no doubt, a certain measure of subjectivity to our classifications. Many of the authors in our survey transitioned throughout their careers between various professions. And many of the authors are too little known to classify at all. But taken as a whole, the data reveals the unmistakable import of the pastor-theologian in the first 1500 years of the church’s history.

Probably the most important observation to make from this data is that the rise of the university in the 12th century, while not without effect, did not mark the end of the clerical theologian.

Percentages of Clerical Theologians, Non-Clerical Theologian, and Monastic Theologians: AD90-1500



[1] The Patrologia Cursus Completus, published from1841-66, is no longer in print, though a few research libraries (Yale, Harvard, Penn State) have put their collections online via scanned copies. See for the Greek collection, and for the Latin collection. Subseqent gains in textual criticism and historical scholarship have resulted in more accurate texts of the relevant Latin and Greek authors in Migne’s collection (see for example the collection Sources Chrétiennes, founded in 1942 in Lyon by the Jesuits Jean Daniélou, Claude Mondésert, and Henri de Lubac). However, Migne’s collection is the most accessible and comprehensive, and remains the standard for citation and reference. In so far as our aim is not an examination of the text themselves, but rather establishing a canon of Christian writers, Migne’s collection remains the best choice for the first twelve centuries of church history.

calendar February 4, 2014

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Clerical Theologians from Constantine to the Monasteries (AD300-600)

Rough draft section from chapter two of our Pastor Theologian: Recovering a Forgotten Paradigm. Thoughts are welcome…

The fourth and fifth centuries reflect a definite movement toward clerical theologians. Certainly this was in no small part to Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313, and the subsequent Christianization of the Roman state, both of which significantly raised the cultural clout of the Church and her bishops. Theologians looking for a patron could not do better than the Church. By the end of the fifth-century, the church had sufficiently institutionalized (and the empire sufficiently Christianized) to make ecclesial service a preferred vocational home for Christian intellectuals.

These centuries represent some of the richest and most shaping centuries of Christian theological reflection. Unresolved issues regarding Christology and the nature of the Godhead were given shape and settled at the councils of Nicaea (325ad) and Chalcedon (451ad). Notably, these creedal producing controversies were led (and contested) almost entirely by clerical theologians (e.g., Athanasius vs. Arius). Churchmen such as Athanasius (c. 297-373)—first a deacon, and ultimately bishop—did much to clarify the church’s message regarding the deity of Christ, this contra the teaching of Arius, himself a presbyter in Alexandria. Beyond the Christological controversies, Bishops such as Hippolytus continued the fight against Gnosticism, and Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, produced the church’s first work of history—still a primary source for contemporary scholars.  More could be said of the erudite Ambrose, bishop of Milan; the learned Jerome of the Latin Vulgate; the golden-tongued John Chrysostom; or the stern Cyril of Alexandria. But towering above all other theologians during this time was the great North African bishop, Augustine of Hippo (354-430).

Augustine’s literary output was staggering. His two most famous works, The City of God—a lengthy defense of Christianity in the face of pagan critics—and his Confessions—a first of its kind auto biography detailing his life and conversion (with his views on time, memory, and dreams, thrown in) are just a small sampling of his larger corpus. All told, his works contain five million words.[1] It is not hyperbole to state that he wrote more than many pastors will read in a lifetime. Apart from the sheer volume of his work, his theological range was extraordinary. His writings demonstrate a profound grasp of Scripture, and he was as conversant in pagan philosophy, pagan religion, and heretical Christian teaching, as he was in Christian theology. His soteriological synthesis on grace and freewill, his sacramentology, his articulations of the Trinity—and above all his capacity for introspection—still shape contemporary Christian theology.

While the work of clerical theologians outpaced that of non-clerical theologians by more than three to one, the writings of a few non-clerical theologians have come down to us, most notably that of  Boethius (c. 474-525). Boethius was a late Roman aristocrat, philosopher, and politician, and an orthodox Catholic. Working in the neo-Platonic tradition, Boethius spent the majority of his life in quiet study and recreation, supported by his own resources, up until the time of his arrest and execution (likely for political reasons). Boethius deployed Aristotelian logic to address issues in Christian theology, and his use of Aristotle paved the way for subsequent medieval theologians to ground their work own work in Aristotle.[2]  Boethius’ swan song, The Consolation of Philosophy, written in prison while awaiting execution, remains a source of scholarly interest today.

Beyond the clerical and non-clerical theologians, the early days of the monastic movement were just beginning to take shape during this period. John Cassian (c. 360-432) is an example of one of the first monastic-theologians. Cassian founded some of the earliest monasteries in southern Gallia and wrote a number of treatises on the monastic life and Christian theology. His theological expertise and reputation was sufficient that during the Nestorian controversy, his friend Pope Leo I asked Cassian to write a refutation of Nestorios.[3]

But throughout this time, the dominance of the clerical theologian—both in numbers and influence—can be clearly seen in the extant literature. The theological legacy of pastors and bishops such as Augustine, Jerome, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Cyril, Leo the Great, Ambrose, Hillary of Poitiers, Basil, Greggory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, etc., far and away outstrips the achievements of the fledgling monasteries or the non-clerical theologians. Of the known authors in Migne’s collection during this period, thirty-eight were clerical theologians, eleven were monastic theologians, and the remaining six were non-clerical.

Even with the rise of the monasteries—which marks our next epoch—the dominance of the clerical-theologian vis a vis the non-clerical theologian continues unabated.

[1] John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006). XXX

[2] Jeffrey Hause, “Boethius,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, ed., Michael Gagarin, (Oxford University Press, 2010).

[3] David Hugh Farmer, “Cassian,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, (Oxford University Press, 2011).

calendar January 8, 2014

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Journey of the Magi

One of our Epiphany traditions at Church of the Resurrection is to read T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” at our first Parish Council meeting of the year. So, although it’s a couple of days late, I decided to record the poem and offer a few reflections on it.

From 1927, Eliot’s publishers, Faber and Faber, published a series of poems by contemporary poets each Christmas as a kind of Christmas card. “The Journey of the Magi” (1927) is the first of Eliot’s contributions to the series (followed by “A Song for Simeon” in 1928, “Animula” in 1929, and “Marina” in 1930). Eliot wrote it in the year he finally became a British subject and  was confirmed in the Church of England.

The poem is a meditative monologue, spoken in the voice of one of the Magi as he looks back on their journey from the perspective of long years later.

It begins with a quotation from an Epiphany sermon by Lancelot Andrewes, the great seventeenth century Anglican scholar-bishop: “A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in sostitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.'” Eliot adapts Andrewes’s words slightly, and his second line break immediately introduces some ambiguity:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey.

As we pause over the line break, we’re forced to ask, Is it the worst time of the year, full stop? Or only for a journey? What will be the effect of this journey on the whole of the speaker’s life? This ambiguity tees up the ambiguous, ironic tenor of the entire poem.

The first section reflects Eliot’s description of “The Waste Land”: “a piece of rhythmical grumbling,” as the speaker complains of the difficulty of the winter journey, and the regrets of the summer life and pleasures they left behind: “The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces / And the silken girls bringing sherbert.” In contrast to this luxury, he piles up the distresses of the journey:

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices


…the voices [whose voices? Others? Or their own?] singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

This all changes in the second stanza. We descend from the sharp weather and snow of the journey, to a temperate, verdant valley “Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation.” They leave behind the hostile cities and dirty villages for a running stream with a water mill, and a tavern surrounding by a vine. Perhaps not the grand beauty of the kingdoms they have left behind, but clean, fresh, homely. The death-like journey has given way to life.

And yet, amidst the life, for anyone familiar with the Gospels, there is the ominous, brooding image of Calvary: “three trees on the low sky.” And, at the heart of the stanza—in many ways the heart of the poem—these three crystal clear, but dense and evocative lines:

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

The lines are redolent with biblical echoes: the lintel of the first passover; conflated moments from Jesus’ passion—Judas’s silver, hands dicing; the empty wine-skins of the old dispensation; and a life that can be summarized by bored feet kicking against them. Rather than blood on the lintel, there is a vine. But, once we reach the next line, this symbol of fruitful life, becomes another image of death: a eucharistic symbol of the vine’s fruit, the blood of Christ, shed as soldiers dice.

Finding no information at the tavern, the Magi continue, until, finally, “not a moment too soon,” they find the place. And yet, this place of supposed epiphany, of the revelation of God’s Light to the gentiles, is merely “satisfactory.”

In the third and final stanza, a long time later, the ageing magus looks back from his present. Hard as it was, he would take the journey again.

          but set down
This, set down

Eliot uses enjambment and repetition to draw us to the central question, the central ambiguity of the poem:

           were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?

It’s hard to tell. Because, although normally birth and death are so very different, this Birth  was “Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.” And it presages a long life of a living death, in which the sensual and erotic delights of the old Kingdoms become tasteless and bland; in which a life of ease and comfort, so different from the journey, becomes a place where they are “no longer at ease…in the old dispensation / With an alien people” and “their [alien?] gods.”

This Birth, then, the sight of which is merely “satisfactory,” has become a death, which turns other, richer satisfactions cold as a corpse. The life he once looked back on with longing, on his long, hard, cold journey has become a long, hard, cold journey itself.

And so, unsurprisingly, the poem concludes with bitter resignation: “I should be glad of another death.”  Yet even this is shrouded in ambiguity. Perhaps the magus means his own death—his final release from the alien world in which he is home, yet no longer at home. But, given the imagery of the central section of the poem, we cannot help but hear a reference, intended or not, to another Death, among three trees on the low sky.

This Birth and Death, this epiphany of the unnamed child who never appears in the poem and yet dominates it from its periphery, has led to the death of those that found him. With the Apostle, they have been crucified in the death of the Son of God, who loved them and gave himself for them (Gal 2:20), to deliver them from the present evil age (1:4). And so, having seen Him, they can no longer be at home, because, with Him they have been crucified to the world, and the world to them (6:14).

It is a bleak ending. And yet, perhaps the rich ambiguity of the poem suggests one last irony. The verdant imagery of the middle stanza hints at a more optimistic outcome: the temperate valley; the smell of vegetation; the running stream and water mill; above all, Christ, the True Vine, fructifying around the lintel of his cross. The old wineskins replaced by the New Wine of thanksgiving and joy; death transformed to Life; the possibility of tasting a Love which, in the words of one of Eliot’s masters, “my God feels as blood; but I as wine.”



calendar December 6, 2013

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Worship in Infinite Jest

Among theological types, David Foster Wallace is well-known for a surprising worship-themed valedictory lecture at Kenyon College. The same theme and emphases are found in his novel Infinite Jest, a book loaded with themes from DFW’s repertoire: suicide, depression, drug use, neologisms, life in an over-entertained culture. I found the fiction more powerful than the lecture, despite the salubrious and (intentionally) ludicrous literary setting, one that the esteemed literary critic Harold Bloom called “just awful.”

The setting is the near-future, where we find (as one character puts it) “A U.S. of modern A. where the State is not a team or a code, but a sort of sloppy intersection of desires and fears, where the only public consensus a boy must surrender to is the acknowledged primacy of straight-line pursuing this flat and short-sighted idea of personal happiness.” The world abounds with comical characters and grotesque caricatures, detailed suicides and murder, drug use, and an incessant quest for entertainment that seems to plague both DFW and the world he created. The North American part of that world is called O.N.A.N., which stands for the docile, soulless Organization of North American Nations; but Onan (and especially the derivative onanism) of course has another implication perfect for DFW’s world that is somehow at once quiet comic observation and loud critical judgement.

In the passage in question, a Quebecois separatist wheelchair assassin named Remy who is turning double-triple agent, or perhaps only appearing to do so, is lecturing his opposite number. (If the character sounds too bizarre too take seriously, DFW elsewhere observes that in intense in-patient alcoholic and narcotic rehab one learns that “Other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid.”)

Our attachments are our temple, what we worship, no? What we give ourselves to, what we invest with faith. . . . Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. . . . You are, completely and only, what you would die for without . . . thinking twice. . . . This is not the choice of the most supreme importance? Who teaches your U.S.A. children how to choose their temple? What to love enough not to think [twice]?

The very American response:

This isn’t just a little naïve, Remy? You sit down with your accountant’s ledger and soberly decide what to love? Always? . . . What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? . . . What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?

Remy retorts:

Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such a case you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self’s sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself. . . . In a case such as this you become the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage. Not tragic. No songs. You believe you would die twice for another but in truth would die only for your alone self, its sentiment.

calendar November 27, 2013

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Irenaeus on Working for Immortality

Irenaeus, along with the Church Fathers generally, isn’t afraid to talk about laboring and working for immortality. In Against Heresies, he writes,

“On this account, too, did the Lord assert that the kingdom of heaven was the portion of “the violent;” and He says, “The violent take it by force;” that is, those who by strength and earnest striving axe on the watch to snatch it away on the moment. On this account also Paul the Apostle says to the Corinthians, “Know ye not, that they who run in a racecourse, do all indeed run, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. Every one also who engages in the contest is temperate in all things: now these men [do it] that they may obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. But I so run, not as uncertainty; I fight, not as One beating the air; but I make my body livid, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when preaching to others, I may myself be rendered a castaway.” This able wrestler, therefore, exhorts us to the struggle for immortality, that we may be crowned, and may deem the crown precious, namely, that which is acquired by our struggle, but which does not encircle us of its own accord (sed non ultro coalitam). And the harder we strive, so much is it the more valuable; while so much the more valuable it is, so much the more should we esteem it. And indeed those things are not esteemed so highly which come spontaneously, as those which are reached by much anxious care. Since, then, this power has been conferred upon us, both the Lord has taught and the apostle has enjoined us the more to love God, that we may reach this [prize] for ourselves by striving after it. For otherwise, no doubt, this our good would be [virtually] irrational, because not the result of trial. Moreover, the faculty of seeing would not appear to be so desirable, unless we had known what a loss it were to be devoid of sight; and health, too, is rendered all the more estimable by an acquaintance with disease; light, also, by contrasting it with darkness; and life with death. Just in the same way is the heavenly kingdom honourable to those who have known the earthly one. But in proportion as it is more honourable, so much the more do we prize it; and if we have prized it more, we shall be the more glorious in the presence of God. The Lord has therefore endured all these things on our behalf, in order that we, having been instructed by means of them all, may be in all respects circumspect for the time to come, and that, having been rationally taught to love God, we may continue in His perfect love: for God has displayed long-suffering in the case of man’s apostasy;” (4.37.7).

Here Irenaeus, following Paul, speaks vividly about the need to work and labor — even violently (quoting Jesus) — to win the prize of immortality. We must be like Paul, he says — an able wrestler who struggled for the prize. It sounds pretty Pelagian to Reformational ears. But the key thing to note here is that Irenaeus is not talking about striving to win God’s love, but rather striving to keep one’s heart in love with God. Irenaeus is not working within the context of a medieval merit theology. The question is not whether we will be deemed worthy of the crown, but whether we will deem the crown worthy of ourselves! God’s disposition toward the sinner is a given; it is a posture of grace. The sinner’s disposition toward God is the thing in question. For Irenaeus, God himself is the prize. What would be the point of the prize if one did not love it? God makes us struggle for the prize so that we learn it’s true value, lest having been given to us, it were deemed no prize at all.  For Irenaeus, God does not require us to love him as some sort of hoop to jump through; an act of merit we must perform. Rather he requires us to love him because loving him is salvation. It’s what humanity was created for. Admittedly, one would like to see a more explicit articulation of enabling grace here. But this is isn’t proto-Pelagianism.

calendar November 25, 2013

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Medieval Chivalry for Contemporary Christians?

“More than a code of manners in war and love, chivalry was a moral system, governing the whole of noble life. That it was about four parts in five illusion made it no less governing for all that. It developed at the same time as the great crusades of the 12th century as a code intended to fuse the religious and martial spirits and somehow bring the fighting man into accord with Christian theory. Since a knight’s usual activities were as much at odds with Christian theory as a merchant’s…”

That’s Barbara Tuchman [a fantastic historian], A Distant Mirror. When I googled the first sentence as I didn’t want to type the paragraph for my notes, I found it employed by Christian writers like Robert Lewis, Raising a Modern Day Knight. I wonder if our contemporary disciple-makers have carefully considered the literary context of that sentence, and if contemporary Christians have carefully considered chivalry as a moral system in its historical context.

For starters, a knight’s chivalry had nothing to do with his role as a husband. Chivalry encouraged and then leveraged romantic, emotional love for one or more individuals so that he would play his social role well. The more amorous a gentleman felt, the more generous a gentleman became. His emotional flights would give wings to his loyalty to a lord or king, so that when called to war he would plays the part and fight for their interests and honor (and almost never to save lives). Later, after nationalism arose, women weren’t needed for this role as the romantic emotions that supported a willingness to kill could be produced by love of France of Germany or USA. In the 13th and 14th centuries, chivalry was completely divorced from the pursuit of marriage and in fact had nothing to do with it.

The love associated with chivalry was explicitly *not* for maidens nor for one’s spouse, but for other men’s wives so that it could be unrequited in every respect and thus “love for love’s sake.”  In any event nobility were not encouraged to associate romance with marriage “in order not to get in the way of dynastic arrangements.”  Tuchman notes that the idealization of “guilty love”  in the chivalry code resulted in major problems. Turns out it’s pretty easy to fantasize about other men’s wives: the “unrequited” part was often the hardest part of the code to achieve.

According to Tuchman, this inspirational, platonic approach to women could, in theory at least, elevate their estimation in society–she could transcend being “merely a sexual object, a breeder of children, or a conveyor of property.”  On the other hand, it often left them plucking not just eyebrows, but bangs in order to make their foreheads higher and more beautiful. Being a romantic inspiration is really hard work, and I am not sure it is liberating.

At first blush, and I’ll admit I’m no expert here and happy to be proved wrong, the modern attempt to corral this system seems to have more in common with Disney-fied roles and approaches than with the ancient chivalry code, still less with any specifically biblical portrait of gender roles or discipleship. My guess is that most of the fruit of the emphasis on “being a modern-day knight”  is probably really good, and beats what Kanye wants us to think about romance and love and marriage. But apart from the cultural catastrophe of making a platonic approach to romance a model  for Christian romance, dating/courtship, marriage, and masculine and feminine identity, I think it can skew what a Christian husband is supposed to be. I’m not a gallant knight off on errands. I’m an often-plodding, faithful partner . . . and I get to seal the deal. That’s the NT’s image of a “romantic” man, both more and less sexy than the 13th and 14th century vision.

Even passing familiarity with the 14th c seems to suggest that this highly specialized medieval code of conduct is not a helpful moral code, as critics in its own time attest. (Tuchman’s first 95 pages are a great non-theological guide to the era as a whole.) Can anyone point me to helpful critiques (or encouragement to use these models) by medieval Christian historians?

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