Bible Translations, Not Inspired (Redux)

Open BibleSome time ago I published a brief reflection titled “Bible Translations, Not Inspired,” in which I argued that we must not assume that our contemporary Bibles—because they are translations—are the same thing as the inspired (inherent) words of God. While I don’t want to disagree with that post, I do want to reflect upon the inspiration of the scriptures, spurned on by Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It?, which I’ve been reading the past couple of days.

Occasionally I will run into someone who holds an unusually high view of a certain version or translation of the Bible. This is true across denomination lines: Catholics have the Apocrypha and the Vulgate, the Orthodox have the Septuagint, and various Protestants have their Scofield Reference Bibles, the King James Version, or the dearly-beloved ESV. And because we have our version of the best Bible, clearly our theology must be more fully informed (and therefore accurate). Continue reading

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Did God Command Genocide? (Part VI)

This is the final post in a series examining whether or not God commanded Israel to commit genocide in the conquest of the Promised Land.

A Way Forward

Fall of JerichoGiven Ancient Near East warfare terminology, “driving out” language, and an emphasis on the destruction of the heads of state, it seems that the vast majority of Israel’s wars recorded in Joshua are non-genocidal wars against the wicked tribes of Canaan who are being punished in order to stop their crimes. This is not to suggest that God did not command the people of Israel to fight against the Canaanites. Nor is it to advocate that God did not use language of total destruction when telling the people of Israel how to conquer the land. Nor does it mean that the people of Israel always appropriately followed God’s commands during the conquest. And finally, it does not mean that it is not possible that God actually deemed total destruction appropriate in some instances. What I really want to emphasis from this study is that when trying to understand the Israelite Conquest of Canaan, we must consider the warring context of the Ancient Near East and carefully examine the biblical record before coming to conclusions about the possibility of genocide recorded in Joshua. Continue reading

Did God Command Genocide? (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not God commanded Israel to commit genocide in the conquest of the Promised Land.

How Do We Read the Bible? : The Importance of Context

Context is EverythingMany Protestant Christians talk about reading the Bible “literally.” But I often don’t understand exactly what that means. Webster’s defines “literally” as “in a literal manner or sense; exactly.” When applied to the interpretation of a written text, this type of reading would seem to indicate that you take the text at its simple face value. But there are many portions of the Bible that even those advocating a “literal” reading of the Bible do not suggest should be interpreted woodenly. Consider, for example, the parables of Jesus. Is it possible that the Parable of the Sower or the Good Samaritan were actual events that Jesus was merely repeating for his followers? Possibly. But most people who have read or heard these stories have understood them as parables–stories that Jesus told to make a point and teach a truth–and not as historical narrative. But parables are not the only parts of scripture that should caution our desire to read the Bible “literally.” The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (the central portion of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and the Psalms are two additional chunks of Christian scripture that most people are hesitant to interpret “literally.” Continue reading

Book Review: Did God Really Command Genocide? (Copan and Flannagan)

Did God Really Command GenocideAny contemporary reader who picks up the Bible will be struck by the seeming divide between the God of Jesus Christ and the God who commands the destruction of whole nations and the obliteration of Canaanites during Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. And while many Christians simply don’t think about the possible difficulties of a loving God commanding genocide, that has not stopped critics of Christianity—especially the New Atheists—from using portions of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges as ammunition for their assaults on Christian faith. Truth be told, this seeming contradiction between a God of Love and God of Wrath is not something new, for as early as the mid-second century a follower of Jesus names Marcion argued that the god’s of the Old and New Testaments were different entities. Clearly, there is much at stake in the answer to the question: did God really command genocide in the Old Testament? Continue reading

Reflections on Communion

These reflections originally appeared as part of a Round Table discussion at Conciliar Post.

CommunionWhat is communion and how does it impact my faith? For me, Communion is the sacramental participation in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, a visible and real “joining together” with our Lord that, among other things, is a foreshadowing of our eventual union with Him in the new Heaven and new Earth. I think a good explication of this are the three English terms that are often used to describe this Christian meal: Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist. Continue reading

Textual Plurality and Biblical Interpretation

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syrian Christianity.

BibleThis article reflects upon considerations of textual plurality and biblical interpretation as found in Lucas Van Rompay’s “The Christian Syriac Tradition of Interpretation”, James Kugel’s Traditions of the Bible, and the pseudepigraphal Jubilees. In each of these works there are concerns with how biblical texts were to be understood and how communities argued these texts should be properly interpreted, though this is relatively unsurprising in an era preceding any sort of formal scriptural canon. By my reading of these perspectives, there were at least two motivations in tension with each other during this period: inexact textual plurality and the desire for exact biblical interpretation. Continue reading

Platonism and Paul?

Faith and ReasonThe dialogue between faith and reason has long held a place of prominence in the Christian tradition. Sometimes this relationship has been understood positively—construed in the words of Anselm of Canterbury as “faith seeking understanding”—and other times it has been construed negatively—perhaps best represented by Tertullian of Carthage when he asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”[1] However one views the relationship between faith (or theology) and reason (or philosophy), coming to terms with how these “spheres of knowing” interact with one another remains an important part of not only what it means to be a Christian, but also what it means to be a human. Thinking carefully and critically about both theology and philosophy is an important posture for finding answers to life’s great questions. Here, I want to briefly comment on this relationship between theology and philosophy for one of the earliest followers of Jesus, the Apostle Paul. Continue reading

Reflections on Ephrem’s Commentaries

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syriac Christianity.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Though said to have written a commentary on every book of the Bible, the only authentic and extant prose commentaries of Ephrem the Syrian are those on Genesis and (part of) Exodus. These commentaries, following the more traditional “text and gloss” approach, represent a distinct departure from Ephrem’s approach in his Hymns to commentary and theology. This essay offers several reflections on these commentaries, concluding that they represent an important part of any attempted reconstruction of Ephrem’s conception of scripture and theology. Continue reading

Would Christ Have Come If Humanity Had Not Fallen?

Or, On the Value of Speculative Theology

Medieval UniversityA common criticism of medieval Christianity theology centers on the practice of speculative theology, the asking of seemingly obscure questions which have little bearing (or none at all) upon the vicissitudes of human life or Christian faith. Perhaps the most common example of this are stories about medieval theologians sitting around and discussing how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.[1] What possible value could the answer to such a question have, we wonder? Of course, there exists no evidence suggesting that this particular topic was ever discussed in the medieval world—in fact, the claim seems to be a modern fabrication intended to dismiss the medieval worldview.[2] But the basic criticism persists: why were medieval Christians so enraptured with fine details and endless clarifications on seemingly speculative questions? Continue reading

Ephrem’s “Hymns on Paradise”

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syrian Christianity. Given the length of Ephrem’s Hymns on Paradise and the number of reflection-worthy aspects of his thought demonstrated in these hymns, this essay offers several general reflections on Ephrem’s concepts of Paradise (historic and cosmic), the limiting of investigation, proper interpretation, and order.

Garden of EdenEphrem’s Hymns on Paradise are a truly beautiful collection of the Syrian poet’s reflections upon the Genesis 2-3 narrative and reality of Paradise. More than any other collection of hymns we have considered to this point, the Hymns on Paradise develop Ephrem’s thought on a single (albeit lengthy) passage of Scripture, namely the account of Adam and Eve in Paradise. This is not to say that Ephrem does not incorporate other Scriptural passages and motifs, for he certainly does—the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and story of King Uzziah being perhaps the most notable. Yet by-and-large these hymns focus on Genesis, and it will be interesting in the weeks to come to compare his poetic recasting of this narrative with his prosaic Commentary on Genesis. Continue reading