Guided Tour of Jordan and Israel 3-20 March, 2016

Tour Leaders: Bishop Paul and Mrs Anita Barnett

Jordan
Mt Nebo
Madeba
Petra
Wadi Rum
Gadara
Jerash
Machaerus
Baptismal Site
Amman

Israel
Dead Sea
Masada
Ein Gev
Qumran
Jericho
Jerusalem (7 nights)
Nablus
Sebaste
Caesarea
Mt Carmel
Haifa
Megiddo
Tiberias
Sepphoris
Nazareth
Cana
Capernaum
Tabgha
Mensa Christi
Korazim
Caesarea Philippi
Beth Shean

Straightforward Emirates flights:  Sydney-Dubai-Amman (and return)
Experienced local guides.
Excellent hotels.
Air-conditioned buses.

 

All enquiries to Olive Tree Travel
Katrina@olivetreetravel.com.au

Professor Edwin Judge: A Book Launch

Book Launch
E.A. Judge, Engaging Rome and Jerusalem,
(ed. S. Piggin; North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014).

In 1966 E.A. Judge, Reader in History at the University of Sydney had a small third year Roman History class of which I was a member, along with a younger Tom Hillard.

Tom has gone on to great things as a Roman historian and I have pursued the study of Christian origins within the canon of Jewish, Roman and early Christian texts.  Another in the class, Judith Nicholls, now a senior mature age student, is researching her PhD on Jerome.

Edwin Judge’s office is lined with the higher degree theses of his dozens of supervised students.  These volumes are silent tribute to a master teacher’s scholarship but equally to his generosity.

We students derived data from Judge, but more importantly, method, or more precisely documentary method.  Surely my guess is close to the mark in thinking the words ‘Ancient History Documentary Research Centre’ are Judge-inspired.  I am not guessing, but speak from knowledge, that ‘New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity’ is pure Judge.

Judge was always an elegant lecturer, who combined eloquence with gravitas, with a degree of tantalizing obscurity thrown in, who was always more than a pleasure to hear.  He was different from, but as good as, Cable or Mansfield, which is high praise.

But it was the method…so simple: a sheet of text from the classical era; that was all.  In the course of the well-shaped hour its Provenance would emerge, with critical comment; also its literary Context.  Then what did these words mean?  What was their significance relative to other texts?  Then on to an emerging explanation of what was going on, historically.

The cluster of ‘history’ words are noteworthy: histore? (‘to learn by inquiry’); historia (‘a learning by inquiry’); historikos (‘of’ or ‘for inquiry’); so Liddell and Scott. What I remember learning from Judge was ‘inquiry’ via exegesis of texts.

History is documents, whether carved in stone or written on paper.

As it happens, I had learned about documents beforehand from Knox and Robinson, my teachers at Moore College, who had studied Greek at the University of Sydney under, respectively, Enoch Powell and George Pelham Shipp.  My teachers schooled me in the method.  But Judge took it to a new level and mightily reinforced this text-based method as a platform to journey into exciting historical territory.

But I did learn data from Judge, one aspect of which is thankfully preserved in Stuart Piggins’ collection.  To this day I cannot bring myself to refer to the early Julio-Claudians as ‘Emperor Augustus’ or ‘Emperor Tiberius’.  It was a delight, therefore, to re-read ‘Who First Saw Augustus as an Emperor?’ which Judge had explored more fully explored in the papers in Jim Harrison’s collection, 2008.

As it happens you will search the New Testament in vain for the word, ‘emperor’.  It does not appear.  Its texts come from the later Julio-Claudian and Flavian era (circa 50-95) but you will not find ‘emperor’.  You will find ‘Caesar’ ? Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar, ‘tribute to Caesar [Tiberius]’, ‘Caesar’s friend [Tiberius]’, ‘no king but Caesar [Tiberius]’, ‘the decrees of Caesar [Claudius]’, offence ‘against Caesar [Nero]’, ‘the tribunal (b?ma) of Caesar [Nero]’, ‘appeal to Caesar [Nero]’, ‘you must stand before Caesar [Nero]’, ‘the household of Caesar [Nero]’.

I do not know, but would like to, if the uniform precision of the New Testament about ‘Caesar’, influenced Judge’s judgement.  After all, these New Testament texts are the earliest major sources for the ‘Caesars’ of the first century, predating by decades Tacitus and Suetonius.

There are many fine contributions about early Christianity, let me mention three:
Where is the Historical Jesus?
Jesus outside the Gospels
The Essential Jesus
The first ? ‘Where is the Historical Jesus?’ ? was published in The Australian newspaper in 1968 but a young Stuart Piggin had heard it with excitement as a lecture in 1965.

Its insights are stunning.  Classical man would not have been surprised by assertions of resurrection because people were looking for ‘monstrosities’ as ‘portentous’ because they viewed the future with anxiety.  But in the gospel the ‘resurrection’ was no mere portent but the climax to an extended historical narrative about Jesus of Nazareth (my words).

Was that narrative myth?  Christian meetings in no way resembled mystery cults but were educational (my word) in character focusing not on ‘religious atmosphere’ or ritual but on historical statements and historical documents that soon became or already had become ‘crystallised in the creeds’.   Judge’s brief analysis quietly demolished Rudolph Bultmann’s elaborate argument that the gospel was myth-based.  No one believes this today, even though Bultmann dominated New Testament thought in the first half of the twentieth century.  Judge was ahead of his times, as in so many areas.

Was the argument ‘legend’?  Judge’s keen awareness of chronology ? a most vital discipline for the historian ? unerringly ‘fixes’ the texts we call ‘canonical’ to the two generations immediately following Jesus.  These texts, which are rich in uncontrived historical detail (my words), were not sufficient for people a century later, however, who wrote new gospels romantically filling in the gaps.  But they did so with fantastic legendary elements, as in the Gospel of Peter, where the risen Jesus is a gargantuan figure who is so huge that he reaches to the heavens!

Judge comments:  ‘By contrast with the accretion of legend in later versions the historical integrity of the canonical texts stands out clearly’.

This was a prescient statement.  Many scholars today do a double shuffle.  They ridiculously push the dates of the canonical texts into the second century.  This is in spite of retrospective references to them by the church fathers in the early second century (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp).  This, too, in spite of the emerging mass of papyrus manuscripts beginning with P52 (a fragment of John from c. 125) that culminate near the end of the second century in a codex with the four Gospels and Acts (P45), Paul’s thirteen epistles and Hebrews (P46) and the Apocalypse (P47).

These codexes (or is it codices?) were each for church reading and teaching (education and edification).  But the flavour of the month now is to date that which is early late and to classify that which is late and legendary as if primary regarding the historical Jesus, about whom as a consequence we can now say nothing.

What then of Paul’s version of the gospel?  Judge points out that the young Pharisee had been brought up in the ‘hard school’ of ‘punctilious…verbal accuracy…[in] ancient Judaism’.  When the arch-enemy of the gospel became a leading advocate he scrupulously distinguished his own words from the words of the Lord.  This man of powerful education and intellect remained resolutely the ‘slave (doulos) of Jesus’.

The gospel authors wrote in the two decades after Paul’s death in 65 (Mark wrote from Rome between 65-70). Almost certainly they were aware of Paul’s writings but were not influenced by them.  They wrote down as history what they had preached, a biographically based account of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.  They did so independently of Paul.

Jesus outside the Gospels (1985) is a masterly survey of and commentary on references to Jesus in early non-Christian sources.  Its precision and brevity invites expansion into a monograph, something for Edwin to do in his spare time!  He goes against the flow in denying that Suetonius’ Chrestus, who inspired Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome, was Christus, the founder of the Christiani.  He was merely a man named Chrestus, about whom we know nothing else.  Does Edwin Judge still believe this?

My last sample is: The Essential Jesus (2002) where Judge reviews a book that critically reviews the reductionist Jesus Seminar.  In a rare example of humour Judge comments, ‘None of the contributors is likely to be elected as a fellow of the Jesus Seminar’.  But maybe it wasn’t humour, just a laconic statement of fact.

There are also a number of pieces on education, reflecting Judge’s interest not only in university education, but education at primary and secondary levels as well,  indicating his remarkable breadth of interest.

Edwin Judge is my teacher and dear friend.  His influence on me has been wholly good, indeed inestimable, and for that I thank God most sincerely.  I am certain that I speak for many about a man we all love.

I am honoured to co-launch Stuart’s collection, which is all the more valuable because it sets in stone what Edwin Judge thought at the time he wrote, now going back many years.  It is, therefore, a modern historian’s ready made source book for the thoughts of a great historian of antiquity.

We thank Stuart for his hard work in tracking down these texts and for his very helpful introductory notes.
Paul Barnett
11th March 2015

 

Science Turns to God

Eric Metaxas’ ‘Science turns to God’ article in The Australian (29 December, 2014) provoked a spate of hostile letters and the newspaper’s editorial comment.

In brief, the article contrasted what we know today about the conditions for life on this planet with what we knew back in 1966.  In that year Time published the opinion of Carl Sagan that there were ‘two criteria for a planet to support life ? the right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star’.

Metaxas’ argument is that the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), despite high levels of funding, has not discovered any signals pointing to life elsewhere in the universe.  He claims there are octillion planets (1 + 24 zeros) in the universe, surely more than enough for their signals to be picked up by our vast telescopic networks.  But, says, the author, ‘silence of the rest of the universe has been deafening’.

The article then turns to what scientists today think are the necessary criteria for a planet to support life.  Metaxas claims that ‘there are now 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met’.  He cites the example of a large planet like nearby Jupiter, whose gravity draws to it asteroids that would destroy Earth.

His argument is that greater faith is required to believe the universe depends on random, accidental forces that belief in an intelligent creator.

The major statistic relates to the creation of the universe itself.  If the four necessary forces — gravity, electromagnetic force, the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ nuclear forces — were determined less than a millionth of a second after the big bang, there would be no universe.

Two Criticisms:
(i)        Metaxas is not a scientist, and his style is a little over-confident.
(ii)       Letter writers to The Australian complain that his appeal to Fred Hoyle and Paul Davies were inaccurate.
(iii)      His reference to SETI seems to be an example of the ‘God of the gaps’ argument by which God’s existence is positively asserted because of what we don’t know.

Reflections of a non-scientist:
(i)        The contrast between current multiple known criteria for life on the planet             relative to the known criteria in 1966 is helpful.  But Metaxas doesn’t say who are these more modern authorities.
(ii)       The 200 criteria, if accurate, are very important.  But their importance needs to be stated cautiously and humbly, without any hint of coercion so as to drive unbelievers into a corner.
(iii)      The arguments of ‘natural theology’, which seem to be Metaxas’ approach, may arouse interest, and the beginnings of faith.  But it is the testimony of the Gospel that arouses a genuine and true faith in the God and Father of our Lord  Jesus Christ.

 

 

‘Paul lived in Rome two whole years’. The Mysterious Ending of Luke-Acts

‘Paul lived in Rome two whole years’.
The Mysterious Ending of Luke-Acts

Non-specialist readers, as well as academics, are baffled by Luke’s final glimpse of his hero, Paul, in Rome.  We know from Paul’s Pastoral Letters that both Paul, and his companion Luke were alive and active for some time after those those ‘two whole years’.  The key question is: why doesn’t Luke tell us about those extra years, but just leaves Paul in prison?

Indeed, as I will propose, Paul’s three last letters explain Luke’s ‘mysterious ending’ of his epic two-volume narrative.

Luke’s reference to Paul’s two year ‘house arrest’ in Rome awaiting Caesar’s trial implies at least two things.  The first is that Luke was close at hand for him to know of the timespan of this imprisonment, and the second is that Paul was then released.  Had Paul been executed at the end of those ‘two whole years’ Luke would surely have told us. In any case, since the Roman authorities in Judea did not find against him it is likely that Nero Caesar would not have found against him.  Which law of Rome had he broken?  Clearly Luke intends us to know about Paul’s circumstances, namely that he had been released.

This is also confirmed in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, written from the Praetorian Barracks in Rome.  Paul wrote to the Philippians during the ‘two whole years’ and he clearly expected to be released and to come to them in Macedonia (Phil. 1:25-26).  Thus evidence from Luke and Paul independently confirms that Paul was released after the initial two year imprisonment in Rome.

For his part during those two years Luke would have been actively gathering texts and researching for his planned, major two-volume ‘orderly account’, as he had most likely been doing in Palestine during the previous three years, when Paul had been in prison in Caesarea.  Those five years in total would have provided Luke with opportunity to speak to key people in Palestine and Italy, as well as to collect texts he would employ in a chronicle that would span the seventy years between the birth of John the Baptist and the ‘two whole years’ of Paul’s incarceration in Rome.

If, as I believe, Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome shortly after the martyrdom of Peter in 64, it would at last provide Luke with a precious, Peter-authorised account of the ministry of Jesus from his baptism to the resurrection.  This would provide the narrative ‘spine’ for the first ‘book’ of ‘the works and words’ of the historical Jesus.

This would connect well with Paul’s comment to Timothy: ‘Luke alone is with me’ and his pointed instruction, ‘Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry…..When you come, bring…the books (biblia, ‘written scrolls’) and above all the parchments (membranas, ‘blank sheets )’. Paul knew his own end was near, so that Mark’s ‘usefulness’ to him would not be for some kind of ongoing ministry partnership.  More probably it somehow related to Mark’s relationship to the ‘books and the parchments’ that Luke would use in writing Luke-Acts (see Luke 1:1-3).

To return to our mystery, we ask again: Why didn’t Luke tell us about what happened to Paul after those ‘two whole years’?  I think the answer is staring us in the face.  It is that Luke doesn’t need to tell us.  The information has always been there for us to discover.  Where might that be?  It is there in Paul’s three Pastoral Letters, especially the third and final letter, Second Timothy.  From those letters we can piece together Paul’s movements between his release (in c. 62) and his death (in c. 64).

Luke was aware of the contents of that third Letter, as noted above, and indeed may have contributed in some way to its contents, as C.F.D. Moule suggested many years ago (The Birth of the New Testament; London, A & C Black, 1973, pages 220-221 )

In any case, Luke had his own reasons to end his epic in the way he did.  During those ‘two whole years’ Luke shows us Paul ‘proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus’.  Clearly that is the vision Luke is leaving with his readers, to pick up the gospel baton from Paul and to run with it into the next generation.  For Luke to merely have narrated Paul’s brief spell of freedom back in the east and ended with his execution might have seemed to him something of an anticlimax.  In any case, for those interested to know about Paul after the ‘two whole years’ it is all there in those three letters, in particular the third.

Paul Barnett?9 January, 2015

Why Follow Jesus?

                                            
At the end of the rather amazing narrative in John 6 Jesus asks the twelve remaining disciples, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’

Context
The context was that 5000 were following him at the beginning of the day but now the last of them has drifted off and only the original twelve remained.

Peter replies for the twelve, ‘Lord, to whom can we go?’ And his reason was, ‘You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the holy one of God’.

The day started spectacularly.  Jesus had travelled from the west side of the lake to the east side  the Golan Heights side of Lake Galilee.  It’s about 8 kilometers wide.  A large crowd followed him because of his miracles of healing the sick.  They become hungry so Jesus provides bread in abundance miraculously, a great ‘sign’ from God pointing to his ‘oneness’ with the Creator, who is the ultimate giver of bread.

This food reminded them of the time when, as they wrongly thought, Moses gave them ‘bread from heaven’.  It also reminded them of God’s promise, recorded in Deuteronomy 18, that God would send them a prophet like Moses.  The crowd thought, ‘Well this is it.  This is the prophet’.

Those were bad times.  The very corrupt local ruler, Herod the younger, was based just across the water in Tiberias.  It was an oppressive regime, propped up by the even more corrupt Roman Empire.  So the people who had been fed, who had found the God-sent prophet, attempted to force him to become their king.

Jesus forthwith withdrew privately to pray and packed the disciples into a boat back to the other side.

Back on the Western Side
John resumes this exciting narrative on the western side of the lake, at Capernaum.
‘You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  They had not looked beyond the bread to the bread-giver.

He cautions them, ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…’  Bread goes mouldy after a few days and is inedible.  But not the bread the Son of Man will give.

Do we see what is going on here?  Is Jesus’ message transcendental or temporal?
There was a big debate about that recently in the Australian newspaper.

It’s not an either/or question is it?  Jesus speaks the words of eternal life.  That’s transcendental.  But he had healed the sick and fed the hungry.  That’s temporal.  So with Jesus it’s not either/or but both/and.  But there is a priority: the transcendental.  That’s really the message of John 6.

We easily think that the world back then was like ours now. We have pensions, they had pensions.  We have schools and hospitals, they had schools and hospitals.
Wrong.  They didn’t.  For the poor, the widows and the orphans there was nothing.

The first Christians went to their world with Jesus’ words of eternal life and they also cared for the sick, and widows and orphans.  Carthage mid 200s was overtaken by a severe plague.  People fled, leaving their sick behind.  The Christians stayed and cared for their own sick, but also other sick people.  Good Samaritans.  These temporal acts were a factor in Constantine adopting Christianity as the religion of the empire.

The emperor Julian, Constantine’s nephew, gave up the faith and attempted to de-convert the world back into the old religions.  He was angry with the ‘Galileans’, as he called them because they cared for people outside the churches as well as their own ? schools for children, hospices for the dying, hostels for the poor.

That’s a snapshot of history.  Christians have pioneered many things that the welfare state now does ? provides schools, hospitals, universities.

But with Christians, as with Jesus, the temporal flows out of the transcendental.  First the transcendental, then the temporal.

The Bread of God
So Jesus said, ‘the bread of God comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’.

Then, ‘I am the bread of lifeWhoever comes to me will never go hungry…’.  Jesus identified himself by the name the Lord revealed to Moses.  The Lord was, is, and will be; always.  So, too, Jesus was, is, will be, always…bread for hungry hearts to sustain eternal life.

Throughout the remainder of John 6 Jesus becomes more specific and pointed and the crowd becomes correspondingly more restless.  ‘How can he be bread come down from heaven when we know his mother and father.  He’s a local boy’.

Even more specifically Jesus said, ‘   I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world’.

The people began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’

He tightens the screw even more.  ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’.

No wonder they were perplexed.  What does he mean?  The words are a metaphor for violent death.  Blood separated from flesh is a figurative way of referring to a violent death.  Jesus meant crucifixion.

Jesus is the bread from heaven not just as the Son of God, but as the crucified Son of God.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

The king they wanted was a military figure like Moses, a Messiah who would drive out the Herods and the Romans.  But Jesus is speaking of himself crucified, as a defeated figure.  A loser, not a winner.

Their reaction corresponds with Paul’s comment in First Corinthians, ‘We preach Christ crucified, a scandal to Jews’.

Fitting in with Jesus
So from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

The crowd of 5000 who had been filled with the bread and who hailed him as a king, now melt away.  A crucified king was a contradiction in terms.

They were probably angry.  We all want a god to fit in with us and our ideas.  A tame god, our designer god.

He says, ‘You must fit in with my definition of who I am’.  Part of discipleship is to follow Jesus as he reveals himself.

Jesus asked the remaining twelve, ‘Do you want to leave, too?’  The Greek of that question expects the answer, ‘no’.  Jesus expects them to stay with him, because he has chosen them.  All that the Father gives to him will come to him.  Jesus even knows that one of the twelve will betray him.

Eternal Words
Peter replies for the twelve, ‘To whom else could we go?  You have the words of eternal life’.

Many people have words, lots of them.  Politicians, philosophers, experts, commentators, all these bombard us with their words and seek to win our admiration and agreement.  But none of these have ‘the words of eternal life’ that Jesus has spoken during this chapter.

When I think about life in a macro sense whose words do I want to hear?  When I am at my deathbed whose words do I want to hear?  Jesus was qualified to speak ‘eternal words’ because he was the Son of God, something historically confirmed by his miracles and his resurrection from the dead.  So when he says, ‘Come to me, I am the bread from heaven’ I say to him, ‘I come, I believe’.

 
 

Jesus’ Improbable Plan

Jesus and the apostles expected the nations of the world to be won for him.  This is a historical statement that is historically true that will stand in the face of even the most stringent, critical analysis.

Consider how improbable such a vision must have been.

‘Make disciples of all nations’ he said but those to whom he said it were but eleven in number, simple uneducated men, without friends in high places.  Their own track record had not been good; one was a betrayer, another a denier and all were deserters.
He, their leader, had been handed over by the temple hierarchs and crucified by the Romans.

Yet he expected world conquest, but not achieved by naked power but by mere words backed up by an ethical life.

His apostle Paul looked for the full ingathering of the Nations and the salvation of all Israel.  But the members of the church in the city of Corinth were at odds with one another and with him.  And they were a mere handful of people, perhaps 150 in a city of 250,000.  Yet these issues did not seem to faze him.

The Christians in Rome were probably not more than few hundred and they were divided into separate groups that could not yet find a way to meet together as a single ‘church’.

Another apostle, John, wrote that the whole creation would worship God and the Lamb.  How improbable those words must have seemed to the tiny membership in the seven churches in Roman Asia, that were probably less than 1000 altogether.  These churches were fractured doctrinally, their members compromised by association with pagan cults and under extreme pressure to abandon worship of the crucified Lamb for the worship of the seemingly all-powerful Caesar.

If we exercise a little historical imagination we reach the staggering conclusion that these visions of a world won for Christ would have seemed absolutely implausible at the time.

And yet, within a few years there were signs of remarkable growth in early Christianity.  Two hundred years after Paul wrote the church in Rome had ‘an immense and countless laity’ who supported ‘no less than 1500 widows and persons in distress’ who were served by forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons and fifty two exorcists (Eusebius, History of the Church VI. 43.11-12).  This is a spectacular reversal of the broken and scattered communities Paul wrote to in his Letter to the Romans.

Historians debate the genuineness of Constantine’s ‘conversion’ early in the fourth century.  What cannot be disputed, however, is that the new ‘Roman Empire’ based on Constantinople (‘the city of Constantine’) was founded on Christianity.  That Christian empire stretched from the Balkans, through Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt to North Africa and it lasted from the mid-300s until 1453 when Constantinople fell to the siege of the Muslim Ottomans.

A Nestorian version of Christianity captured Mesopotamia, the Caspian region of Central Asia and extended eastward through India into China and southward into Africa.  Christianity in that massive geographical expanse continued until the twelfth until it was eventually extinguished by Islam.  See Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2008).

Meanwhile Christianity spread north into Russia and northwest into Europe, Ireland and Britain.

Jenkins points out that for centuries there were three great geographical expression of Christianity ? Byzantine Christianity that ringed the eastern Mediterranean Christianity, European Christianity that extended from Russia to Britain and Nestorian Christianity that extended east Mesopotamia and Central Asia to China and southwards into Africa.  Jenkins’ argument is that we know about the Byzantine and European versions of the faith, but have forgotten the very extensive church of the Middle East and Central Asia and its expression in Africa.

In the Colonial Era Christianity spread to the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia and New Zealand.

Thus the expansion of Christianity from its tiny beginnings is as amazing and improbable as the initial vision of Jesus was as re-stated by his apostles.  That expansion has occurred in the face of great opposition ? from Jews and pagans in the early centuries, from Jihardist Islam from the eighth century, from secular humanism from the era of the Enlightenment.  That opposition has often brought with it considerable suffering, even death.  The symbol of Christianity was and remains an instrument for killing people in Roman times, a cross.

As a consequence of that opposition Christianity has but disappeared from the the Middle East, Asia Minor and Central Asia and it is significantly diminished in secular Western Europe.   Nevertheless, it has survived the repression of atheistic communism in China, Russia and Eastern bloc countries.  Christianity has grown dramatically in Korea, China and Africa.

Thus despite all the issues, many of them created by Christians themselves, there is a remarkable statistic to note.  It is that 31% of the people in the world still identify themselves as ‘Christian’.  While there may be debate about the level of understanding and commitment in that statistic, it is nevertheless amazing in light of the impossible circumstances of Jesus and the apostle two thousand years ago.

There are two critical conclusions we draw from these observations.

One is that Jesus’ vision has been fulfilled by God and not man.  Men and women could not have brought made such an an unlikely dream the reality it still is.  Despite claims to the contrary God is emphatically not dead.  We think that God will continue to expand his kingdom in human hearts throughout the world.

The second conclusion is that we ordinary mortals are offered a partnership in this great project.  Ultimately God doesn’t need us.  He will do it regardless.

But should we choose to join hand with God what would be involved?

John and Paul give us some strong clues.

John, in writing to his seven churches, encouraged their hope that God would bring them out of ‘Babylon’ to ‘the New Jerusalem’, the City of God.  Their’s was to be a life and death commitment to the Lamb, who had been slain for them, and a disengagement from the worship of the Caesar and the pagan religions around them.

Paul encouraged the Romans each to present their whole selves to God in loving service of one another in the wholehearted exercise of their gifts.  In Romans 16 Paul calls on the readers to ‘greet’ twenty-six named members on account of their ‘work’.

‘Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you’; ‘Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord’; ‘Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa’.  Their ‘work’ is not specified, except in some cases ? Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus…greet the church in their house’.  Prisca and Aquila were church planters, who were also tent makers.  Note that word ‘also’.  It’s not in the text, but sits there between the lines.  Not one of the twenty-six is identified as a ‘presbyter’ or ‘bishop’, or any other church official.  Women were as prominent as men.

From Romans it is absolutely clear that they did not ‘work for’ their salvation since that was God’s gift in the crucified and resurrected Lord.  But the apostle certainly expected them to ‘work out’ that salvation in the hard work of ministry to others, both within and outside the community of faith.

Today we need to support our church institutions, but only if they are worthy of our support.  At the same time individual Christians and local churches should not depend on the central institution.  Like the laymen Shaftsbury and Wilberforce who took initiatives independently of ‘organised religion’ Christians in all ages need to be opportunists for the kingdom, entrepreneurs for Jesus.

Above all Christians need to get the idea ‘also’ right.  I must not think of myself a husband who is ‘also’ a Christian, a Christian who is ‘also’ a father, ‘also’ a neighbour, ‘also’ a friend.  I will seek to express my Christianity ethically and spiritually as a husband, father, neighbour and friend.  My engagement with the idea ‘also’ tells me about my ‘heart’ and my ‘heart’ regarding Jesus reveals everything.

Recently I visited the home of a woman I know well to be a great wife, mother and friend.  On her dining room table were dozens of gingerbread figures (dare I call them gingerbread ‘men’?).  They were all neatly wrapped in cellophane and there was a message inside.

She replied to my question that they were gifts for the other children in her boys’ school classes.  ‘What’s the message inside’, I asked.  Her answer: ‘Today to you is born this day in the City of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’.

It took her initiative, her hard work, her love and it set a great example to her two young boys.  It is an example of godly opportunism, doing a simple thing that draws people to Jesus.

Paul Barnett
Christmas 2013.

 

 

 

The Cross-Shaped Bronze Serpent at Mount Nebo, Jordan

To stand at Mt Nebo looking across the Jordan Valley to Jericho is a great experience.

There across the river is the Promised Land that typologically symbolizes the Kingdom of God, the hope of the Christian.

There’s no evidence that Jesus ever stood there, although the site of his baptism is not that far away, so it’s possible.

The bronze serpent sculpture is a recent creation, but an inspired one.  It combines the serpent (as from Numbers 21) with the cross.  The sculptor has cleverly portrayed in bronze the words of Jesus to Nicodemus.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3.14-15)

Nicodemus was religious (a Pharisee), clever (the teacher of Israel), and eminent (a member of the Jerusalem Ruling Council).  What is more, he believed that Jesus was a teacher come from God on account of the miracles.  He believed about Jesus.

But none of these things gave him eternal life, but only believing in the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, as the Lamb of God who bore the sin of the world.

Under the leadership of Joshua the whole nation entered the Land.  It was their national possession, provided they carefully observed all they had been taught by their great prophet Moses.

But Jesus told Nicodemus that under God’s new arrangement each person individually had to be ‘born again’ in order to ‘enter the kingdom of God’.  God makes individuals his children, but their children must each be ‘born again’ to belong to God’s family, members of his kingdom.  It has been said that God has children, but not grandchildren.

The local Christians (the Franciscans) at Mt Nebo have done a great thing in creating the cross-shaped bronze serpent.  It is such a powerful symbol as it stands at the place where the Promised Land lies before you.

They have also installed a plaque with John’s words:

The Law was given through Moses;
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

Jesus, the One ‘lifted up’, was and is the ever-renewing source of ‘grace’ (= mercy) and ‘truth’ (faithfulness) to those who commit to him.  The message is clear even to a good, religious and clever man like Nicodemus: look to Jesus and be saved.

Constantine R. Campbell Paul and Union with Christ. An Exegetical and Theological Study (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012) 478 Pages

This is probably the most important biblical thematic study by an Australian since Leon Morris’s Apostolic Preaching of the Cross published in 1955.  Dr Campbell has already established an international reputation for his work on the Greek of the New Testament.  To this distinction he has now added the major thematic and theological work, Paul and Union with Christ that promises to be the benchmark on this key subject for years to come.

Paul and Union with Christ falls into three main parts.  In the first, Campbell surveys major contributors from Deissmann (1892) to Gorman (2009).  Although the analyses are necessarily brief they represent a massive achievement and in themselves make the book worth owning.

He proceeds, second, to the major core of the monograph, a two hundred page exegetically detailed study of every Pauline union-with-Christ text, related to the key prepositions en, eis, syn, and dia.  Campbell examines each text in turn providing his own translation of the Greek, all with attractive simplicity.  This section will prove to be invaluable for those who teach from or write on these critical Pauline texts.  The author concludes this part with a discussion on Pauline metaphors like ‘body’, ‘temple’ and ‘marriage’ that elucidate the union-with-Christ texts.

The final ‘theological’ section, occupying the latter 40 percent of the book, rests squarely on the foundational exegesis of Paul’s union-with-Christ texts in the second part.  Here he discusses the work of Christ, the Trinity, Christian living, and justification.

Dr Campbell is acutely aware of past as well as present attempts to understand Paul’s union-with-Christ texts in relationship with the apostle’s overall theology. The ‘occasional’ character of his epistles makes the task quite complicated, if not impossible.  Paul’s focus and emphasis from letter to letter depends on the issues he is addressing.  Romans is the closest to a systematic statement of his beliefs, yet even here Paul is addressing a series of specific pastoral issues amongst those in his mission in that city.

So do the ‘union’ texts represent the ‘centre’ of Paul’s thought, or perhaps their ‘key’?

Campbell is fully aware of these issues and that many (most?) of the union texts have layered and interconnected meanings and without a single, dominant, controlling idea.  So he settles on the notion of ‘webbing’: ‘…union with Christ is the “webbing” that holds it all [Paul’s thought] together…Every Pauline theme and pastoral concern ultimately coheres with the whole through their common bond – union with Christ’ (p. 441).

Inevitably such a massive work prompts some questions.  One is that he notes the fact but not the content of Dr John Lee’s trenchant criticism of the BDAG Greek lexicon (p. 27 n. 8).  Lee, an Australian, is an international expert on lexicons so it would have been helpful to know his concerns, especially since Campbell follows the structures BDAG to the degree he does (though not uncritically).  Another, is the question how historically Paul became ‘a man in Christ’ (2 Cor. 12:2) and how historically his addressees became ‘those who belong to Christ’ (1 Cor. 15:23)?  What was the role of Paul’s Damascus conversion for him and the role of his gospel preaching for those who became his churches?  Connected, third, is how important to Paul was his failed attempt to relate to God through law in contrast to his life-changing epiphany as from Damascus that he now knew his ‘Abba’, Father in the Crucified One, in the power of the Christ who loved him in him (Gal. 2:19-21).

Dr Campbell has put us deeply in his debt by his dedicated labours in producing this epochal book.  Despite its immense erudition and imposing research it is written humbly and simply and with due respect to those with whom he differs.

Paul Barnett

(A review published in Southern Cross, Sydney, April 2014)

 

Why I am Still A Christian

Why I am still a Christian

It was a long time ago.  I had become dissatisfied with my life’s direction and that of the friends in my social circle.  In my early twenties I began to attend a church and thankfully found the minister’s message and the congregation’s welcome deeply encouraging.  I began for the first time to read the Bible.  One day I attended a lunch hour service in St Andrew’s Cathedral where the speaker, Dr Howard Guinness spoke on John 6.37.  That’s where Jesus said, ‘Whoever comes to me I will in no wise cast out’.  I prayed a prayer in which I told Jesus I was ‘coming’ to him.  That was in 1957.

I could now go on and say that life had been easy ever since, one green light after another.  I have indeed been blessed with a wonderful marriage, a loving family and a satisfying life’s work, but there have been challenges to my life as a Christian.  Let me mention four.

One was doubt.  Yes, doubt.  While my ‘conversion’ was real and deeply helpful I had questions about the truth basis of Christianity.  My new friends assured me it was true, but they didn’t really know why it was.  Even four years in a good seminary (Moore College) didn’t really address that question.  It was only when I began Ancient History studies that I understood how numerous and early were the sources for Jesus and the spread of earliest Christianity.  I have sometimes often wondered about God’s providential dealings with people, but thankfully I have no doubts about the truth basis of our faith.

Another challenge was the difficulty of my wife Anita’s prolonged back pain.  She had been a nurse and this had left the unwelcome legacy of extreme back pain that lasted for many years.  Two operations failed but thankfully a third was successful, but that was after a decade of suffering.  Not that she complained or stopped her partnership with me in our work for the Lord.  She soldiered on bravely.  I am aware that many people don’t find the relief that she found, so we count ourselves much blessed by the way things have turned out.  But when things were bad we found it all very hard.

A third challenge has been discouragement.  I am thinking of my own luke-warmness as a Christian.  Truly I am a Laodician, neither hot nor cold!  My prayer life and Bible reading are pretty average and my ministry to people often falls short.  Along with that I have to say I have been discouraged by some of my fellow Christians, including fellow ministers, whose ethics are sometimes lower than the ethics of the non-Christian company I worked for.  I am thinking of people who have been a bit too keen on advancing their own interests rather than serving the Lord.  I sometimes think that behaviour in church circles are not unlike the attitudes of the chief priests and the Sanhedrin that condemned that innocent man who is our Lord.   But I pass this judgement as one who has not lived up to his own ideals, fully aware that it is precarious to judge the behaviour of others.

A fourth challenge has been what I am calling decadence.  I am thinking of the decline in the social fabric of society.  ‘Where is God’, I ask, ‘allowing this to happen?  Why have you allowed things to deteriorate so much?’  I am thinking of the media’s exaltation of celebrities regardless of their values or lifestyle, of the collapse into binge drinking and substance abuse by so many, and of the decline in civil discourse in public life, to mention just a few examples.

In a way there’s nothing new here.  The ‘good old days’ were not always that good.  The difference is that when bad things happened back then it was against the values of the times, values that were significantly Christian.  When many bad things happen today they are just accepted.

I realize that compared with the headwinds many have struggled against that mine seem relatively minor.  Yet for me they did and to a degree still do represent challenges to my faith and reasons not to continue as a Christian.

Jesus knew well that continuing to follow him would be fraught.  ‘Take up your cross and follow me’, he said, referring to the pain of rejection for those who identify with him.  When the crowd of 5000 whom he had fed drifted away due to his challenging words he asked the twelve who remained, ‘Will you also go away?’  In fact, they all did fall away when at last he came to Jerusalem.  One was a betrayer (for money), another a denier (for approval) and ten who were cowards (because of fear).  Their sins live on in us so that we fail him repeatedly.

It was because Jesus knew how morally feeble we are that he commanded his followers, ‘Abide in me’, words which simply mean, ‘Continue with me’, ‘remain with me, ‘don’t give up’.  St Paul said, ‘We don’t give up’, implying the struggle he had had to do just that.

So the following of Jesus was never going to be easy.  The exodus pilgrims’ journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Canaan anticipates the pilgrimage of the disciple of Jesus, the spiritual journey from conversion/baptism to the promised kingdom.  Soon after the Lord brought them out of Egypt they worshipped a golden calf, a pagan fertility symbol, in spite of their agreement to his covenant to refuse to make for themselves an idol or image that they will worship.  They grumbled and they sinned so that in the end only a minority actually arrived in the Promised Land.

So we must not underestimate the challenges of continuing and moving forward as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the end, however, we depend on him to strengthen us to continue.  At the beginning he said, ‘Come to me.  I will welcome you and not cast you out’.  But he also said, ‘My sheep hear my voice and they follow me and no one will snatch them from my hand’.  Here the Lord makes two promises.  He welcomes us and he holds us.

This does not relieve us of the responsibility to continue.  ‘Make your calling and election sure’, said Peter.  That means I need to confirm and reconfirm my commitment to Jesus.  Bible reading, prayer and gathering with other Christians is basic to my continuance as a Christian.  I need to support and love of other members of the Christian family and they need mine.  We help one another along the way, not least in times of distress and heartache.

Why am I still a Christian?  Ultimately it is the Lord’s doing.  He made the invitation, ‘Whoever comes…’ and he gives the assurance, ‘no one will snatch them out of my hand’.

(A talk given in Brisbane in March 2013 under auspices of Matthew Hale public Library)

A New New Testament (March 2013)

A New New Testament (2013)

Hal Taussig and a team of eighteen scholars and religious leaders have chosen ten texts (out of sixty seven surveyed) to be published alongside the twenty-seven that comprise the New Testament and called it A New New Testament.  The ‘new’ texts are from the post-New Testament eras and are mostly ‘gnostic’ in character (an exception is the Acts of Paul and Thecla). (http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2013/03/sls_20130329_0710.mp3)

 In fact, these texts are not ‘new’ but go back almost to the era of the apostle and for the most part have been known for many years by historians.

 The stated aim of the group is to bring these texts to the general public.

Publicity for the book asks, ‘…don’t we have a great deal to gain by placing them back into contact with the twenty-seven books of the traditional New Testament—by hearing, finally, the full range of voices that formed the early chorus of Christians?’  In fact, however, the New Testament and the extra texts did not form a ‘chorus’ of united voices.  The mainstream Christian leaders called the teaching in these texts ‘heresy’.  An intellectual and spiritual chasm separated these opposing religious viewpoints.

Hal Taussig and his colleagues say that the ‘canon’ of the New Testament was not really ‘closed’ until relatively modern times and that it is therefore valid to publish other texts with the twenty-seven of the biblical canon within the one book.  This asserts that the canon is, in effect, elastic.  It is an elastic canon, capable of the addition of new texts.

That was not the view, however, of church leaders in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  By ‘church leaders’ I am thinking of people like Irenaeus who was a pupil of Polycarp, who was a pupil of John, who was a disciple of Jesus.  Irenaeus, through the chain of orthodox teachers going back to Jesus, was articulating the views of those teachers, back to Jesus himself.

In the 2nd century these leaders were confronted with strongly differing, in fact, antithetical views.  Marcion rejected the Creator God of the Old Testament and reduced his canon mainly to an expurgated version of Luke and some of the letters of Paul.  The Gnostics from Egypt created extra gospels (mainly gnosticized adaptations of Jesus’ teachings with little narrative), for example the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Thomas.  Scholars are broadly agreed that these are derived from the canonical gospels.

So the big issue for the true followers of Jesus in the century after the apostles was to establish which gospels were genuine and which were not.  A succession of 2nd century leaders asserted the fourfold gospel.  Irenaeus insisted that the gospel was ‘quadriform’, not less that four and not more than four.  Likewise the Muratorian Canon and Tatian’s Diatessaron (= ‘one through four’) each insisted that there were four gospels.  The codex P46 dated to the end of the 2nd century has in it the four Gospels plus the book of Acts.  The four superscriptions that date from the early second century – ‘according to Matthew’, ‘according to Mark’, ‘according to Luke’, ‘according to John’ – assert there is ‘one gospel’, but each ‘according to’ the four named gospel-writers.

Accordingly, it is clear that those who were disciples of the disciples of Jesus in response to Marcion, on the one hand, and to Valentinus, on the other, insisted on a closed canon of four gospels.

Following the first Easter the original followers of Jesus formulated creeds and confessions, for example, as quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 that affirms the death for sins, the burial, the resurrection and the numerous sightings of the risen Christ.  This and other creed-like statements eventually became expanded as baptismal creeds in the second century (e.g., by Ignatius), which then became the great creeds of Christendom to expose heresies like Gnosticism (the Apostles Creed) and Arianism (the Nicene Creed).

These creed-like statements within the New Testament insisted on the facts of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus and permeate the literature of the New Testament.

The Gnostics altered the sayings of Jesus in the genuine Gospels as vehicles for their alternative doctrines.  Those doctrines reacted against the historical and geographical facts about Jesus and formulated a religion that was essentially non-historical, mystical and meditative.  They reacted strongly against the Old Testament.  It was all about being absorbed upwards out of this material world into the pure world of deity.  It skilfully used New Testament terms like ‘enlightenment’ and ‘salvation’ which it employed in diametrically opposite ways to the New Testament.

Should these texts be published?  Definitely.  It would be helpful to have these texts and others like them available in good translations, with critical manuscript apparatus and scholarly commentary, but not published in the same book as the twenty-seven genuine texts.  Otherwise it would imply that the canon is indeed open-ended and that the genuine and that the non-genuine are reducible to the same level.

John Dominic Crossan, a leading member of the Jesus Seminar, was part of the panel of nineteen.  This sends a pretty clear message that the publishing group is somehow connected with the Jesus Seminar, a body of scholars dedicated to questioning the integrity of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels.  Marcus Borg, another member of the Jesus Seminar, has written a glowing review the book as part of its advertising campaign.  In other words, this panel is not a broad-based body of scholars (for example, the Society of Biblical Literature) but an association committed to questioning the integrity of historic Christianity and promoting instead its own alternative version of Christianity.