A Crisis of Praxis

I need to start this post by stating that I am a believer in Jesus. I think the Apostles Creed provides an accurate summary of the major, non-negotiable tenets of the faith. I think “Unity in essentials, Liberty in non-essentials, Charity in all things” provides a great framework for how believers should interact with each other.

 

I also need to say that I’m fed up, and I’m having what I think I can call a “crisis of praxis.”

I need to be clear and further state that I’m talking about myself. I may identify areas that I see as issues in society and the church-at-large, but largely what I’m frustrated with is how out-of-sync my theology has become with my praxis. In other words, how what I think about Christianity has become out-of-sync with how I actually live.

I theologically understand the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. But these days, it’s as if those things have no direct, tangible, daily effect on my life.

I’m not talking about legalism or rule-following. I’m not talking about a pastor exhorting a particular action as the “application” of a passage in a sermon.

The way I was taught and the way I continue to think about praxis is that it is the logical outflow of the faith we have in Jesus. There should be a result of that faith that is natural, visible, and un-forced. And it should be distinguishing.

But I just don’t see it. I don’t see evidence of theology and belief practiced in my own life or in large as a result of the presence of the church, be it local or global.

The past six or seven years have worn me down. I have had (rightly, I’d argue) pretty much my sole focus on my little family of 5 and the insane challenges (no, really) that our life situation has brought us.

And I don’t have anything left. As the vulgar yet popular saying goes, “I’ve got zero f*cks left to give.” In this world where my immediate life situation demands and takes pretty much everything, what happens outside of my life situation sucks my hope away.

I’m grieved by my own action and inaction, but too weary and spent to do anything about it. How should I respond to that homeless woman who, in the summer and fall, essentially lives outside of the office where I work? Smiling and nodding isn’t the right way, but it’s about all I have bandwidth for apart from a muttered prayer as I enter the office each day.

How is it that I can sit through sermons at my church, basically numb to what is being said? This isn’t the pastor’s fault — he’s a good friend of mine, and he won’t be surprised that I’m writing this. But when the thing I look most forward to at church is that I can sit for an hour and zone out and not be interrupted by kids or crisis, how can that be right? This seems like an issue. And, honestly — I really don’t care, and I really don’t want to change it.

And when I look at the wider scope of things, I see the big-C “Church” (well, the protestant flavor) happily wielding power as a political pawn through self-proclaimed church “leaders” who, to me anyway, seem literally hell-bent on pursuing power at the cost of everything. Like Esau, they’ve swapped it all for a bowl of pork-and-beans, and they don’t even know it — or they do know it and they don’t care.

Does this not drive anyone else to despair?

When I look at our elected leaders, I see politicians who in their words acknowledge the King of Kings, but lack in their basic understanding of the Bible and their perverse application of it in their pontificating on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate, in their blathering during hearings, and during their interviews while appealing to their base saying whatever they can to retain power. It is sick. It drives me to despair.

I’m not expecting parity between what one thinks to be true and how one’s actions portay that truth. Lord knows that’s impossible. But the disconnect on all levels between what is testified to as true and what actions betray to be true has caused me to experience more dissonance than I’d previously thought possible.

It has worn me down.

And I haven’t even got to the issues of white privilege and patriarchy that dominate both church and society at all levels — local, national, and global — yet seem so insurmountable. I am grieved by these too, and yet I have no energy for a response. All I can muster is, unfortunately, apathy.

Talk about “white privilege,” I’m a living, breathing example.

And that’s the crisis, at least to me. My theology says my faith should provoke more than intellectual assent. But my praxis betrays this. When I look to the local church for help, I sense desire to do something, to be sure, but not a lot of ability or knowledge on how to do anything apart from the same church programs that have always been done. (I don’t know either; this isn’t a criticism, it is a statement of what I see happening.) And when I look to the church at large for help, the only thing I see is self-proclaimed “leaders” using platforms as personal power plays.

And all I can muster is apathy and preservation of my Sunday hour of uninterruption.

This is why I frame this as a “crisis of praxis.” I see the issues and they weigh upon me, but I’m spent.

I have zero f*cks left to give.

Advent, Christmas, Festivus, &c.

It’s December. Christmas is steadily approaching (less than two weeks, y’all!). We’re pretty much smack-dab in the middle of Advent. Gift buying is in full swing, and the stress of it all climbs daily until its zenith later this month.

How’s it going in my family?

Well, in our house this year, Advent is about getting the chocolate out of the “Advent” calendar, and that’s about it. There is nothing overtly spiritual or Christian about it.

And I’m really OK with that. Honestly, that’s about all we have energy for.

Anticipating-Arrival-001Yes, I’m the same guy that wrote an Advent devotional/guide that got published by Lexham Press that scads of people use for devotions over Advent.

I’m here to say that your family doesn’t have to do the same things the same way every year. You don’t.

There aren’t rules here, and there isn’t a right or wrong way to do Christmas and/or Advent with your family.

Festivus-Kramer-001We don’t need to worry about whether or not a coffee cup says “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Heck, you can celebrate Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or even Festivus if you want to. It’s OK. Really. Go on with your feats of strength and airing of grievances, if you must.

Or skip the whole thing and take a break and a big, long, nap. Seriously. (This option sounds especially good to me right now.)

Here’s the important thing: Where are you with Jesus? Is he your Savior? Do you know it?

It doesn’t matter if you do the right “Christian” thing, or read the right Bible verses each night, or go to Christmas Eve service, or whatever. You don’t need to have a nativity scene set up in your house to proclaim your holiness. If you want a disco ball instead of a star or angel on the top of your tree, it’s OK.

What matters? What matters is who you think Jesus is, what you think he accomplished, and what role he plays in your life.

 

 

Want to Meet at SBL in San Diego?

For the past few years (2018, 201720162015) I’ve advertised my desire to meet with just about anyone at the annual SBL meeting. This year is no different. I’d enjoy meeting with you and chatting about whatever, whether it is in passing, over coffee, over a meal, or after a session.

Why would you want to meet with me? I can think of four reasons, listed below. Just respond (email is fine, rick at faithlife dot com) so we can get it on the calendar. I’m in San Diego from Friday, Nov 22 through Monday, Nov 25. Let’s do it.

Reason One: I’m buying. Let’s be clear, I’m asking you, you’re not asking me. So I’m happy to get the coffee, meal, snack, or whatever. What are you waiting for?

Reason Two: My Job at Faithlife/Logos. I manage a team at Faithlife that does really cool stuff developing and utilizing Bible data. We speak Python, Django, C#, Javascript, XML, SQL, JSON, and a bunch of other stuff (Ancient Languages, Linguistics, Grammar, Syntax, managing data, and more). Are you at the intersection of code, data, and the Bible? Then let’s talk. Remember: The scholar best set up for the future is the one who can manage all sorts of data; if you want to talk more about that with me, I’m game.

What is the ultimate Bible data you want or need access to? I want to know about it. If you’ve got a plan for it, I want you to pitch me on it — at minimum your elevator pitch, but more if you want.

Reason Three: I really dig this stuff. Chances are I’ll be interested in and maybe even have experience with the thing that you’re studying, dissertating, or examining.

Reason Four: My Publications. In short, I’m familiar with a wide array of data, a wide variety of editing and publishing tasks, and have worked pretty much the whole “stack” as regards creating and working with Bible data. I’ve likely got experience at multiple levels with the thing you’re focusing on in Biblical studies. That, or I know someone who does. Check out last year’s post for the list.

Just respond (email is fine, rick at faithlife dot com) so we can get it on the calendar. I’m in San Diego from Friday, Nov 22 through Monday, Nov 25. Let’s do it.

The Language of Ethical Instruction in the Letter to Titus

Ethics-in-Titus-001So, probably around 18 months ago, the strangest thing happened.

I was invited to give a paper at a conference in Germany. Like, for real. The conference theme was “Ethics in Titus.” (Conference flyer) It seemed right in my wheelhouse.

I actually thought the invite was a phishing attempt, but after checking with my friend Ray Van Neste who was also on the invitation, I figured it was genuine.

Talk about imposter syndrome — the list of invitees read like a who’s who of people who have written on the Pastoral Epistles. And then me (with “Prof. Dr.” prepended to my name) right there with the rest of them. And my topic? “Ethics and Language in Titus.” Again, right in my wheelhouse, mostly.

So I said I’d write a paper (available here) and attend. I mean, who wouldn’t? Turns out they obtained funding, and my trip would be paid for (reimbursed).

I started writing the paper earlier this year. I did some research on the folks putting on the conference and found out that speech act theory was a tool used in other writings associated with these people, so started to dig in — especially since colleagues at Faithlife had recently completed a speech act analysis of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament, and used that analysis to arrive at a specialized analysis of commands (which can be viewed as “ethical instructions”) as well.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper uses an application of speech act theory to identify ethical instruction (commands) in the letter to Titus. A further structural analysis of the letter according to the principles of Discourse Grammar segments the letter, grouping the ethical instruction into larger units. Each ethical instruction is examined individually to determine the nature and purpose of the instruction.

So I wrote the paper. But as the time of the conference approached, it became clear that it would not be best for my home life to be gone for 5–7 days (if you know me and my family, you know our schedules and needs of our kids are pretty crazy). So I had to back out attending, but they still wanted the paper, and since it was mostly done, I was able to provide a copy that they could hand out to attendees and it still has a chance to make the conference volume.

I’ve uploaded the paper to my “Papers” page, or you can directly download it:

If you happen to read it, please let me know what you think.

Dear Joshua Harris

Howdy. Looks like it’s been a pretty big week (month?) for you. I have to admit, I never read your book on kissing dating goodbye, but I did appreciate your comments on discontinuing the book a few years back.

Why am I writing? That’s a great question. I’ve seen comments and diatribe by people after your recent statements about your “deconstruction.”

I know you know and realize this, but they’re all full of crap. I know you’re fully aware of the doctrinal and theological points those folks are making. And I’m also sure you’re aware that the motives of those sorts of comments, while the writers would like to deny it, is usually preaching to their own audience and not really out of genuine concern for you or anyone else but themselves.

Anyway, Josh (can I call you Josh?), I wanted to let you know that I think deconstruction of your faith is a good thing. Especially if you were brought up in a fear-based, rules-driven, legalistic environment. Pardon my language, readers, but Josh — deconstruct the hell out of that shit.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t even have the questions. I do claim to be a Christian, but I’m not going to throw doctrine at you or tell you you’re serving Satan or try to sell you fire insurance. Lord knows you’ve had enough of that recently. From my perspective, what Jesus did during his ministry was open up his life and just be with people. He loved them for no other reason than that’s who he was, and what he did.

If you just want to hang out with someone who isn’t going to try and “convert” you (whatever that means), I’m here. Heck, I live in Bellingham and I hear you’re just up the street in Vancouver, BC. Come on down for dinner sometime with my family. We’ll fire up the grill, have something yummy. My boys (6, 2) will run around all crazy-like and be really noisy — especially if the 2 year old “sings”. My daughter (12) will probably just read. We can sit on the deck — well, unless it’s raining — and talk about absolutely nothing theological. You can just relax, and breathe.

That’s actually a serious offer. Use the contact form or email to rick at faithlife dot com. Either way, I hope you get the space you need, and that your path becomes more clear to you.

 

P.Vindob. G 27290b — Easter Songs

P.Vindob. G 27290b (TM, Images) is a papyrus dated to AD 400–599 (5th–6th century). Treu and Diethart titled the papyrus “Osterlieder” (“Easter Songs”).

Treu, Kurt, and Johannes Diethart, eds. “39. Osterlieder.” Pages 74–75 in Griechische literarische Papyri christlichen Inhaltes II. Vol. 1 of MPER N.S. 17. Vienna: Hollinek, 1993.
P-Vindob-G-27290b-verso

P.Vindob. G 27290b verso, from the ONB

Treu and Diethart published the papyrus in the order verso then recto. This order is followed in the transcription below.

Verso

Suffering because of us, O Lord glory (be) to you.

He has risen from the dead, Savior, in three days … and all the unceasing forces of angels brought praise, saying, “You are blessed, O Lord, and praiseworthy!” and (were) singing forever †

Recto

The one who was raised from the dead and three days all the works …

(Sing the?) Trishagion together … the church … But you, the one who in holiness gives rest, guard all of us in faith. †

Several points can be deduced from the text.

  • Jesus’ suffering was because “of us” and the author of the hymn ascribed glory to the Lord (κυριε, in the vocative) because of it.
  • The hymn author testifies that the Savior rose from the dead “in three days.”
  • One of my favorite lines: “… all the unceasing forces of angels brought praise … and [they] were singing forever!”
  • The recto repeats the claim of being raised from the dead in three days.
  • The use of τρισαγιος (“Trishagion” or “thrice-holy”) is a bit of a mystery.
  • The rest-giver is asked to guard “all of us” in faith. Why “rest-giver”? Through his death and resurrection, Christ has provided eternal rest for us. He is the rest-giver, the rest was provided “in holiness,” and the prayer is to guard us all until we are able to enter the rest that was secured for us on that first Easter morning.

Christians in the first 500 years of Christianity were not all that different from us. Yes, they had access to some of the writings that later became NT canon. But they were also creative. They wrote and preached their own sermons based on their own understanding of the message of the gospel and the story of the Old Testament (the LXX for many). They composed their own hymns and own liturgical documents. They had an understanding of who God is and who Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in relation to God. They used the creative arts of writing, illustrating, composing, and singing to express their faith, much like we do today.

We are not all that different from them.

P.Berol. 21124 and the Descent of Christ to Hades

P.Berol. 21124 (aka BKT 9.24, TM, Images) is a papyrus that dates to AD 300–399. It is fairly fragmentary and small (not a lot of text, either) so it is difficult to translate in any sort of coherent manner. I’m using Kurt Treu’s transcription as basis for my translation.

Treu, Kurt. “Varia Christiana II.” AfP 32 (1986): 23–24.

P. 21124: Hymnus auf die Höllenfahrt Christi

P.Berol. 21124 recto, aka BKT 9.24. (from Berliner Papyrusdatenbank)

My translation follows:

Recto

  1. […].[…]
  2. […] who loosed tḥẹ body aṇḍ tḥẹ[…]
  3. […].[.]… to puniṣḥ light from heave[n…]*
  4. […]..[.]…. unbroken wall was .[…]*
  5. […]the F(ath)er . of us : Adam . having called [up…]
  6. […]and[.] . .[.]. the sons of [A]dam : that the f(ath)e[r…]

Verso

  1. […] ẉay out : … . […]..[…]
  2. […].̣… of the book : And I have found the .[…]
  3. […]..[..] summary with ….[…]*
  4. […]…. sun (and) the earth: ..[…]

Why is this seen as a hymn of Christ’s descent? The phrase “unbroken wall” in recto line 4 may have some relation with “gates of Hades” in Mt 16:18. That, set with light from heaven being punished, and other discussion of “Adam . having called up” and “the sons of Adam” may point to influence from the Acts of Pilate and Descent of Christ to Hades, a work classified as Christian Apocrypha (or New Testament Apocrypha) that puts forth a traditional view of what may have happened after Christ’s crucifixion that includes scenes in Hades of Old Testament luminaries telling stories about their lives and prophecies/looking forward to Christ’s triumph over death. Des. Hades 3 has Seth (Adam’s son) telling a story, at Adam’s behest, about when Adam died. In this section, there are occurrences of “Father” in close proximity to “Adam” and mention of “sons” and “Adam.”

P.Vindob. G 19931 and the Blood of Jesus

P.Vindob. G 19931 (TM, Image) is a papyrus fragment dated to the 5th century (AD 400–499). It was originally published in 1924 by Carl Wessely.

Wessely, C. “5. Adoracion du sang de Jésus-Christ.” Page 435 in Les plus anciens monuments du Cristianisme écrits sur papyrus: Textes édites, traduits et annotés. Patrologia Orientalis 18.3. Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1924.
P-Vindob-G-19931

P.Vindob. G 19931; image from the ONB.

P.Vindob G 19931 is a hymn about the blood of Jesus. Sort of an early Christian “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” type thing. And you can begin to understand the Christology of at least the hymn writer as well as those who found the hymn worth copying (this appears to be a copy, at least to me; reasons given further below).

When I run into stuff like this little fragment that has so much to say, I’m always a little amazed it hasn’t had more press. Here’s a translation of Wessely’s transcription.

    ⸓ because of us

† Blood of the one made into flesh ⸓ from the holy virgin, Jesus Christ.

† Blood of the one who was born from the holy mother of God, Jesus Christ.

† Blood of the … being made to appear … Jesus Christ.

† Blood of the one who was baptized in the Jordan by John the forerunner, Jesus Christ, amen.

† Blood of the one who brought himself as a sacrifice for our sins, Jesus Christ, amen.

There are several theological assertions made in this tiny scrap.

  • Jesus Christ was made into flesh and had blood. He was incarnated as a human from some other (deity, though the hymn is not explicit about this) state.
  • The flesh is from the “holy virgin”
  • Jesus Christ was born (so, not made). And born from the “holy mother of God.”
  • It’s a pity this line is so fragmented. Is “being made to appear” in support of docetism, or is there text missing that would make this statement be an explicit refutation of docetism? I’d guess refutation because the blood of Jesus is so important in this material, but that’s just a guess.
  • “John the forerunner” baptized Jesus in the Jordan.
  • Jesus “brought himself” as a sacrifice for our sins. He actively did it, it did not just happen to him.

Now, why do I think this is a copy and not an original?

The very first line with the metobelus-like symbol appears to me to be a correction. The symbol on line 1 matches the symbol on line 2 and (to me, anyway) indicates a correction by addition. The scribe skipped the text inadvertently and made an addition note about it. So the first line is really: “Blood of the one made into flesh +because of us+ from the holy virgin, Jesus Christ.”

1500 years ago this material was used in some sort of Christian context. The blood of Jesus was (and is) important and crucial to the efficacy of his sacrifice.

PSI inv. 535 and the Crucifixion of Christ

PSI inv. 535 (TM, Image) is a papyrus fragment dated to a fairly narrow window, 450–499 AD. It might be better to extend that window to a hundred-year window, something like 425–524 AD, as I didn’t note any external information that would support a 50 year window. The papyrus was originally published by Naldini:

Naldini, Mario. “Nuovi papiri cristiani della raccolta fiorentina.” Aegyptus 38 (1958): 138–146.
PSI_inv.535_r

PSI inv. 535, image from PSIonline

The papyrus is not small; it is around 17.6cm by 12cm. And the letters are fairly legible outside of the places where the papyrus itself is damaged.

My draft translation is below.

  1. ḥearing̣ .[…]
  2. of judgment in the …. … […]*
  3. now For in thẹṃ have become a murderer tḥị[s one …]*
  4. [who] worked so that t[h]ey ḍịṣplay because the same […]*
  5. against But th(e) S(av)i(o)r shouting “Away! Away! Crucify ḥ[im!” …]*
  6. and since the cross going glory(?)[… king-]*
  7. ḍom to change the tribes in insolence …[…]
  8. [hav]ing confessed while suffering but king .[…]*
  9. ḥẹ was doing [abo]ve steadying himself, he for ..[…]*
  10. […]…. ** wanderi[ng] about he coverṣ[…]*
  11. […]… and the indeed he urgẹḍ ẉḥọṃ […]

Lines 5–6 are the primary lines that clue us in to a context regarding Christ’s crucifixion. The translation above largely keeps the word order of the papyrus, but a less restrictive translation could be like: “But shouting against the Savior, ‘Away! Away! Crucify him!'” This has some sort of relation with the first part of John 19:15:

Then those shouted, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests replied, “We do not have a king except Caesar!”

Line 3 perhaps points to those in the crowd being considered murderers of the crucified one, Christ.

So there you go. A late 5th century sermon that uses “Savior” immediately previous to describing the one condemed to crucifixion.

P.Berol. 21143, the Denial of Peter, and the Resurrection

P.Berol. 21143 (TM, Images) is a 4th–5th century papyrus fragment with writing on the recto (front) and verso (back). It is approximately 10cm by 10cm, so it is not huge. It contains what may be two different writings (one on the verso, one on the recto). The editio princeps is:

Sarischouli, Panagiota. “1. Zwei christliche Text.” Pages 5–18 in Berliner Griechische Papyri. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1995.
P. 21143 R + V: Christlicher Text

P.Berol. 21143 (recto) from Berliner Papyrusdatenbank

Sarischouli’s transcription and my draft translation are available via my “Stuff Early Christians Read” project, but I reproduce the recto translation here:

  1. […].̣.̣.̣.̣[…].[…]
  2. […rem]ẹmbering denial of Pet[er…]*
  3. […con]c̣ẹṛning the faith he found[…]*
  4. […]. the burning heat of the .[…]
  5. […it ]ẉịṭhered. // For the …[…]*
  6. […] making payment of the fo[r]mer proceeḍṣ*
  7. […so that ourse]lves we must cry out, “patience!”*
  8. […]..[….] ọf̣ a master trụṭ[h]
  9. […].[…..]. in the one to deny
  10. […]…. in rememb[rance…]
  11. […]. in misfortune. Alle[leuia]
  12. […]..[..]..he will wash the .[…]
  13. […]. Master G[od…]
  14. […]., my of̣ [sins/sins/misfortunes]

For our purposes here, the interesting portion is the recto as it has a reference to “remembering the denial of Peter,” an obvious allusion to New Testament material (Mt 26:69–75 and parallels). There is too much missing text to do much more, though some phrases available elsewhere in the NT (“concerning the faith,” cf. 2Ti 3:8; 1Ti 1:19; 6:21; Ac 24:24) with the “he found” very possibly referring to Peter. Was there mention of him being restored? And what was withered by the burning heat?

The verso side of P.Berol. 21143 also has some phraseology reminiscent of Easter:

  1. […]. fleec(e) .. be(comes) .[…]*
  2. [was bor]n of a virgin a(nd) became li[ght? ]*
  3. [the pain of death] having ended a(nd) having ris[en the third day from the dead]*
  4. Giṿẹṛ ọf̣ Ḷịg̣ḥṭ, Ch(ris)t, the unapproach[able light]
  5. the e[y]ẹs in the mị[nd having opened]
  6. …. praise.[……..]. .[…]
  7. …. F(ath)er of the wor[ld…]*
  8. […]. .[.].. we glorify dai[ly…]
  9. […in the] temple of hoḷy glor[y … Jesus Christ who]
  10. [from the dead r]ọse up. We sin[g into all the ages…]
  11. […so that we] may worship the one who ṛọ[se up…]
  12. […] J(esu)s, tḥe stone rọḷḷẹḍ [away…]*
  13. […]…[…]

Here we have further doctrinal testimony: Jesus (likely the subject of the clauses at the start) being born of a virgin and becoming light. How he ended “the pain of death” and rose from the dead on the third day. Christ, equated with “Giver of light” and testimony about the “eyes in the mind” opening “the unapproachable light” (cf. 1Ti 6:16). While the easy place to go is to a gnostic reference of some sort, I’m not so sure because I think NT folks are to easy to paint stuff with a gnostic brush when the situation was likely more complicated.  Following this, there is testimony of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, that the one risen from the dead is worshipped, and reference to “the stone rolled away.”

This is incredible stuff!

We’re listening in on either a sermon or a hymn from the fourth or fifth century. This is 1500 years ago, at least. And people were testifying to the same story of Jesus’ death (complete with Peter’s denial) and his resurrection (with worship of the resurrected one).