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Seven Marks: Apostolic Teaching

Seven Marks: Apostolic Teaching

nt church booksIn the video, Dave calls this simply “The Word of God.” I’m embedding it at the end of this post.

9781631990465mOne of my observations in talking to people about their churches and church programs is that they find the first moment when a book or program differs from their situation and take one of two approaches. First, they might discard the entire thing. This is fairly common. That won’t work for us. It doesn’t matter that what we’re doing isn’t working either. Second, they try to follow the program precisely, despite any differences, because if it worked for the expert who wrote the book, it has to work for them.

Neither of these is a strategy that is likely to succeed. Each person, community, church congregation, denomination (or jurisdiction within a denomination) is different. Each one will have different opportunities and perhaps a different call from God. I am passionately convinced that sharing the good news about Jesus with the world is our general calling. Whether that is going to involve a food pantry, classes, involvement in broader community outreach, collecting money for projects across the globe, or any one of a myriad of other possibilities, is wide open.

Especially in protestantism we tend to downplay tradition, but our church tradition has a role. The way you will carry out certain missions is going to depend on the history of the church congregation. We don’t all get her in the same way, and we’re not going to move forward in the same way. Dr. Ruth Fletcher, in her book Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations devotes an entire chapter to choosing, to the necessity of discerning the right path and making and carrying out decisions.

The reason I wanted to emphasize this right now is that quite frequently we think we cannot benefit from something like “apostolic teaching” or “the Word of God” unless we absolutely agree on what it is and how we’re going to deal with it. But just amongst the books that I publish, we have Dr. David Alan Black, a Southern Baptist Greek teacher (and full-time missionary, he’d insist!) and Dr. Bruce Epperly, a United Church of Christ pastor, seminary professor, and a process theologian who are both going back to the same place: Acts of the Apostles. Now I’ll tell you that if you read both of their books, something I urge you to do for reasons beyond the fact that I publish both, you’ll find quite a number of things they disagree on and quite a number of points of different emphasis. But in a church that is often drifting and dying while repeating the same behaviors that led it to its current malaise, that one similarity is enormous. Let’s look back at the early church. Let’s ask what made Christianity what it is. Perhaps there is something there that would help us.

Now one interpreter might be looking for a definitive, apostolic pattern to apply and follow. Another might be looking for a series of commands that one can carry out. Another might be reading the story and asking how are stories might relate. Yet certain things come out of such a study, and certain things result from going to the source.

I’m very protestant in ethos. I’m not at all interested in things like apostolic succession, in the sense of a series of people who had hands laid on them by a person who had hands laid on them leading back to the apostles. But I’m very interested in seeing what those early apostles did. I’m very interested in connecting my story to theirs. There is nothing about that process that is mechanical or that allows me to depend totally on someone else’s work.

Dave makes this point in the interview as he talks about us teaching one another. Why am I comparing what Dave has said with what two other authors have said? Is it so that I can sell more books? Of course I want to sell more books. I’m never going to lie to you and tell you I don’t care about selling books. But that’s not the key reason. I started publishing to do this. I wanted us to teach one another, to do on a broad scale what Dave is talking about in the local church (where I also want to see it done). I want is to help one another learn. I hope we find ourselves challenged.

There is nowhere that I want to see this more than in our use of the Bible. How is it that we can begin to see more of this individual Bible study in the church? And let me specify here by “individual” I mean “individual in community.” Let’s avoid two serious errors: 1) That Bible study is individual without any community control or involvement, and 2) That Bible study is a communal affair that can be handled by an expert passing out information. The reason I named a series I publish “participatory” in spite of the number of people who thought that word was too long, is that it is individuals participating in community who have the best possibility to find the message for themselves, their churches, and their communities.

Ruth Fletcher comments on this. Note how she doesn’t propose the same type of study for all types of churches.

Even though this is an age when people care more about what the church does than what it believes, transforming congregations know they must lessen the gap between people’s experience of God and the church’s teaching about God if the church is once again to become a reliable source of wisdom. Beliefs matter. Transforming congregations that are creedal churches help individuals discover a deeper truth in the words they recite; those that are non-creedal churches create safe space where individuals can work out their own guiding beliefs. They create space within their own tradition where people have the freedom to honestly express doubts, to say what they do not believe, to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers, and to wonder about the mysteries of the universe. (Thrive, p. 91)

Bruce Epperly has a similar idea:

The first followers of Jesus “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They were a church whose spirituality was truly holistic. They prayed and they studied, and discovered study was a form of prayer. We need thinking Christians, who take theological reflection seriously, who ask serious questions, and challenge unhealthy and superficial images of God and human experience. (Transforming Acts, p. 48)

If you think the various visions are distant from one another consider this: What would happen to the church in America if we were to focus on studying the early church looking for insight into how to be a church following Jesus in the world today? I think that a number of wonderful things might happen despite how we decided to approach the question and the hermeneutical principles we took to the effort. Do I want us to debate such hermeneutical principles? Absolutely! The do make a difference. I think one of the greatest things we can do is to consider and discuss that issue seriously. But if we started at that point, we’d already be devoting ourselves, in our own limited ways, to the apostles’ teaching. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

The section on this mark in the video begins about 15:30. I’m not setting the video to the starting point, as I suspect most who are willing to invest time in the video will watch it as a whole once.

Praying and Studying to Change Yourself

Praying and Studying to Change Yourself

Yesterday I wrote a bit about using prayer and Bible study as a starting point for change. The problem is that it’s very easy to pray and study the Bible in such a way that it makes you a worse person.

I’ve found a relatively simple way to determine whether I’m doing this myself:

  1. If I’m studying the Bible to figure out what other people are doing wrong, how other people need to change, I’m making a worse person of myself.
  2. If I’m studying the Bible so that by beholding I can be changed, so that I can find out how to be a better follower of Jesus, I’m allowing God to make a better person of me.

I frequently hear (and have sometimes myself offered) prayers that ask God to fix someone else. If you’re praying for your pastor and asking God to make him or her see things your way, you’re on a dangerous path. Let God make the decisions. It might just turn out that what needs to change in your relationship with your pastor might be you.

In Bible study I’d take another step and say that one’s general approach needs adjustment. When I started studying biblical languages I imagined that I would discover the original text and read it in the original languages, and thus resolve issues, at least to the extent that I would be certain of what was right and what was wrong. Getting that information was my entire intent.

As I studied, I found that every aspect of that approach was problematic. Even the idea of an original text wasn’t easy to define. Was I looking for the text that came from the pen of the writer, however inaccessible that might be? Was it to be found in whatever sources were used by a writer? Perhaps the text actually used in the early church was more important than some earlier text that was beyond my reach. Having discovered (or pretended to discover) whatever text I was after I then had the problem with where and how it applied. The hard and indisputable facts were generally in dispute, no matter how long I studied.

Over time I have come to believe that there is value in studying all levels of the text. Those who prefer canonical criticism look down on form, source, and redaction critics, and claim that the canonical form is the “special” form of the text. Source criticism, just as an example, assumes that one wants to get closer to the roots of the text.

I find both approaches helpful. One is certainly on less solid ground looking at the prehistory of the text. While I may have doubt about the details of the canonical form of the text, I am frequently in serious doubt about the text’s prehistory. Yet when I’m studying the text to see God in action, I am always able to listen for the voice of God. Sometimes that voice will even get through the static of my own thoughts.

Talking to God and listening to God are about changing me. Only when I first focus this on me will I be in a position to help someone else. If I respect them and love them as I believe God loves me and calls me to behave, I have to allow them to behold and become changed (2 Cor. 3:18) as well.

Keys to a Church Following Jesus

Keys to a Church Following Jesus

Before I dig into this series organized around Dave Black’s book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, I want to make a couple of off-the-cuff remarks.

Over the last few years I’ve come to believe that we have two key elements that need to be changed, but more fundamentally, we keep talking about the church too much differently than we talk about individuals. As individuals, we need to be following Jesus, not just appropriating the label “Christian.” As a church, we need to be following Jesus. Those who are following Jesus will be witnesses. A church following Jesus is a witness.

What do I see as the two key elements?

  1. Lack of Bible study and reflection. I see this broadly, as in study that leads us closer to God.
  2. We do not lead lives of prayer. This differs from praying occasionally, or offering pre-written prayers in a church service.

I think that if we were to correct these two elements, others would correct themselves. I need to correct them as well. There are those who commend me on my biblical knowledge and who consider me a man of prayer. (Others, not so much!) But the fact is that I don’t live up to the standards I believe in. While we are, indeed, all imperfect, we can all keep heading in the right direction.

I also think these two elements are much more closely connected than is generally realized. Prayer should be communication, conversation, not a monologue directed at God. Bible study should include the discipline of listening and a constant process of opening one’s self up to what God has for one in scripture.

 

Eschatology: They Remembered Him

Eschatology: They Remembered Him

9781938434105sI had hoped to do a bit more writing on how we interpret the Bible before tonight’s discussion. In diving into teaching a bit on eschatology, I have come to feel a bit like someone who has encountered one of the versions of the certification test for senior generalists, or the ultimate final exam. (You’ll find a few different versions and titles.) The extra credit question, “Define the universe. Give three examples,” is a bit of the right feeling.

There does not seem to be any aspect of biblical studies that is not important or even critical in understanding eschatology. Some of the best examples of how not to interpret an be found in the way people handle this subject. There is always the problem of background information. How much must the student know before tackling a topic? But in eschatology, those background items become even more critical.

Tonight I’m going to work from Dr. Vick’s second chapter, “They Remembered Him,” and discuss what is the core of explicitly Christian eschatology. It’s quite easy for people to predict the end of the world. It may take some time, but eventually somebody is likely to be right! But does a particular outline of the end times make this doctrine Christian?

We frequently neglect eschatology in teaching and preaching. But how well does the gospel work when do this? Is it possible just to ignore this issue? Even when we talk eschatology in an individual sense, not when will the world come to an end (if it will), but when will you personally come to an end and meet God? And the latter question may not be quite as simple as it seems either. Are these events simultaneous? Do I go to heaven when I die or not?

So join me tonight as I discuss these issues and also the foundation for what Jesus said in his little apocalypse. You can find in on its Google+ Event Page or using the YouTube embedded below.

Speaking of Biblical Interpretation

Speaking of Biblical Interpretation

James McGrath posted a rather humorous piece this morning, titled The Fundamentalist Interprets Scripture (Sheep and Goats).

I think he makes an important point here, but it is my belief that we all have our ways of avoiding what scripture says. The liberal finds things out of date. The conservative finds ways of categorizing texts, or let’s scripture interpret scripture by finding a text that says something different. The moderate (yes, even passionate moderate!) cuts the sharp edges off of the text making it seem more mainstream and less challenging. And we all find it much easier to notice the passages that correct someone else’s behavior.

I do it very poorly, I admit, but I really want to read scripture so that I can become more closely acquainted with God, seen especially through Jesus Christ, and so that by beholding I can become changed. (Hear the echos of my memorization of the KJV as a child!) Not so that by my beholding I can correct the rest of the world. I want to share, but let the Holy Spirit do the conviction, as necessary.

If we all studied the Bible (and yes, other books as well) with this goal, might the world not be a better place?

Finding What We Expect

Finding What We Expect

Last night after my discussion of eschatology, in which I mentioned that we tend to discover what we’re looking for in scripture, I returned to the house. Now I think this warning is important. We need to check our questions. On my hub site, henryneufeld.com, I use the slogan “helping you find the right questions.” It’s important to examine our questions, as they can determine our conclusions.

And life gave me an illustration. My wife generally has dinner about ready to go when I get done with my study. We were having nachos. She dropped something, and I headed around the counter to pick it up for her. Now at the same time as she dropped something (note that I’m not telling you what it was), I had dropped one pinto bean on the floor. I picked that up first. A stepped-upon pinto bean makes a nasty looking mess. In my head now is dropping an item of food while setting up a plate of nachos.

I go around the counter look back and forth and fail to find the item that my wife had dropped. I see nothing anywhere. Finally, she points at the floor, somewhat frustrated. Her cane has fallen and is right there and obvious as can be. So I picked it up and handed it to her.

What happened? I firmly had in my mind that since we were both fixing our nachos and I had just dropped a food item, she had dropped one too. There was no food item on the floor, therefore there was nothing to pick up. I was totally unaware of the cane, much larger than a food item, sitting there hidden in plain sight.

The question I have is just how many answers will be hidden in plain sight as we study the scripture because we know what is there?

What the Bible Really Says? Really?

What the Bible Really Says? Really?

bible_really_saysI opened my mailbox today to be greeted by a slick flyer inviting me to discover what the Bible really says about a variety of things. Among the the questions I’m told I can get answered: What is the future of our country during this economic downturn? What does the Bible really say about the second coming? What does the Bible really say about law and grace? What does the Bible really say about a vacation every week?

I’m rather well acquainted with this type of brochure, because I grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist. We had plenty of opportunities to see this sort of advertising. We were supposed to be the people who were right, and thus who would eventually straighten out the rest of the world. Well, at least those who were not destined for the lake of fire.

One of the things that my SDA teachers wanted me to learn was to go to the Bible about everything and to study it for myself. I did, and as a result I decided that the SDA church wasn’t the church for me. Especially on the topic of eschatology, I came to very different conclusions.

That’s the critical thing. The internet and the airwaves are filled with people who claim that they know precisely what the Bible teaches about almost any subject you can imagine, even when the Bible may not say much of anything about it.

To discover God’s message for you in scripture, you need to study for yourself. Now one of the things I was taught to do as a child was to look up the texts the evangelist used to see whether he was citing them correctly. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but in a way this is a trap.

Studying the texts that someone else provides in the order and in the structure in which they provide them will very often lead you precisely to their conclusions. What you need to do is study the scriptures for yourself, in an order that you may discover, prayerfully, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that God promises to you, not just to experts or ordained leaders.

While you’re doing that you need to examine just how it is that you come to understand the text, and especially to understand the way in which the text applies to you and to your life.

You can illustrate the problem with the way that the brochure I received talks about a “weekly vacation.” What the writers of the brochure mean is the seventh-day Sabbath. For various reasons that seem good to them, they believe that the command to keep the seventh day holy still applies, while other commands, such as various sacrifices do not. I don’t mean here to argue that they’re wrong about that, but rather that their view comes from a particular way of understanding scripture.

9781631990991s
Some of our presuppositions and their impact.

I remember a certain book about the King James Version, one that advocated it as the only Bible Christians should use. “It’s a very scholarly book,” I was told. “It’s filled with footnotes.” The problem is that the footnotes varied between those that were to unreliable sources, those that were plain wrong, and those that were to other examples of the author’s own work.

Similarly, just because a presentation of scripture has a large number of texts doesn’t mean it’s scriptural. Neither does it mean it’s not. What it means is that you should examine it and decide for yourself.

When I cite SDA documents many people approve. Of course we should examine (and dismiss) the claims of schismatics like Seventh-day Adventists. They are, after all, wrong! But there is no type of mistake in understanding scripture that is truly exclusive to SDAs. You’ll find these mistakes in many denominations and tradition streams.

You need to examine everything. Think about these things for yourself. Get multiple scholarly opinions and test your own work against those. If you do this, you may be surprised at how many opinions about the Bible are predetermined by the presuppositions of the person holding that opinion.

Including mine.

Unity and Bible Study

Unity and Bible Study

That’s a very broad title, but I do want to look at the connection. One of the places where we, as Christians, find the most disagreement is in our study of the Bible. In my view, there’s a good reason for this. The Bible is a complex book. Yes, one can find common themes, but there are also many topics on which we can disagree legitimately. While I object to any claim that the Bible doesn’t have inherent meaning—I always say that at least we know it’s not talking about the pink elephant—I still recognize that serious students can come to different conclusions. I find the demeaning way that we refer to scholars who are far from us on the theological spectrum quite unhelpful. Is it not enough to say “I disagree,” or “I disagree strongly”?

This relates closely to views of attaining Christian unity. Let me highlight two opposed approaches. First, we have the idea that somehow we must eliminate the differences in Bible study. For Catholics, this generally leads to a reference to the magisterium of the church. Protestants often look with some longing at such an authority, an authority that might bring some sense out of the chaos of protestant views of scripture. So you know my prejudices, let me state bluntly that, irrespective of what set of doctrines and interpretations such a magisterium imposed, I would not be a member of the resulting church.

The second approach is to say that we can have unity of purpose and action in a chaos of individual ideas and spiritualities. The application of this can be quite variable. Do we look to a small list of teachings which are sacrosanct while allowing freedom on all others? Do we allow for just any position at all? Or do we perhaps unite on practice?

I believe that the difficulty we have with Christian unity is our own hostility to what is different. I recall meeting with members of a church about a particular service of which they disapproved. It turned out that not only did they not attend that service, but that no matter what was changed, they would not begin to attend it. I had to tell them that I could hardly present to the pastor the idea that a service should be altered in form so that nobody would attend! They were hostile to spirituality and forms of worship that someone else was doing when they weren’t even present.

I’m actually quite a doctrine driven person. I don’t know which actually came first, the doctrine or the practice (though I suspect in my life it was practice), but when I think about things now I start from doctrine and move to practice. That’s just the way my mind works. So the doctrinal standards of a church congregation are important to me. I don’t join a church that strongly proclaims doctrine that I cannot support. I was considering joining a church once before I discovered their approach to politics. In fact, the problem was that I discovered that, contrary to any statement they might make, they had a congregational approach to politics. So I went elsewhere.

In protestant churches, and particularly among charismatics in my experience, there is a desire to fight the doctrinal chaos with a sort of mini-magisterium. This results in a “don’t go against the pastor” or “don’t touch the Lord’s anointed” attitude. The pastor is the one who makes the determination. I object to this as strongly as I do to larger versions of the magisterium. Protestantism by its very nature (and I’m an unrepentant protestant) is a break from submitting one’s conscience to that sort of authority.

I would suggest that what we need in Christianity is not a unity of conformity, but rather a unity of attitude and spirit. We claim to follow one master. Let’s allow others to follow him, rather than trying to make them follow us. Let’s approach this with the greatest measure of grace for others. If we need to meet in separate buildings, no problem. Let’s do what is best for loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. But let’s do it without hostility. Perhaps we could manage to resolve our differences in worship practice by meeting in separate times of worship in the same building. There are many ways to work together.

What set this off this morning? Well, Dave Black posted about not needing teachers and the Holy Spirit as teacher. I reposted it to The Jesus Paradigm so we’d have a permanent link. I agree with what Dave says. He honors scholars, pastors, and teachers, while at the same time acknowledging that the Spirit of Truth is available to us all.

I don’t want to make this a commercial. Hmmm. Yes I do! Here are some books I publish that relate to this topic: I’m Right and You’re Wrong: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it, When People Speak for God, The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, From Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and Faithfully.

Book: I’m Right and You’re Wrong

Book: I’m Right and You’re Wrong

When I started Energion Publications just over 10 years ago, my primary interest was in Bible study materials. My goal was to get the people in our churches to study the Bible more, and to do so for themselves. My complaint about much of the material available was that it was often shallow and repetitive, and that people had often been seeing the same things over and over again. (I don’t mean that there were or are no good materials; merely that there are not enough materials that address people in the pews.)

It wasn’t just that some material was shallow. It was that often when the material was a bit deeper it tended to present conclusions without really teaching students just how those conclusions were reached. Quite frequently, church members were simply accepting the conclusions they were taught on authority, not because they had really examined them and come to accept them for good reasons. Their pastor, or some well-respected person from their denomination or tradition stream claimed that a verse meant a certain thing, so that’s what it meant.

When people from two different tradition streams would meet, debate could get heated as people fired spiritual canon loaded with pre-interpreted texts. They thought they were firing them at one another, but generally they were firing them past one another, because their targets had memorized a completely different interpretation for that particular passage.

I launched several projects in response to this. First was the Participatory Study Series, the first series I know of to intentionally select authors from different tradition streams to cover different books of the Bible. My idea was to give people a chance not just to study about the various methodologies, but to study a whole book of the Bible with the guidance of a qualified scholar from different traditions. Thus you can study Philippians with the guidance of process theologian Bruce Epperly and Ecclesiastes with conservative evangelical Russel Meek. As time goes on, this variety will increase rather than decrease.

There was still more to be done. Our conclusions about scripture depend heavily on our approach to interpretation, our interpretation depends to some extent on our view of authority, and both interpretation and authority depend, to some extent on our understanding of inspiration.

Thus I published Learning and Living Scripture: A Introduction to the Participatory Study Method, but that little book didn’t really deal with the conclusion. It embraced it and invited more! So I wrote my own book about inspiration and listening to God, When People Speak for God, and then acquired a truly masterful work, From Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and Faithfully by Edward W. H. Vick. Shoring up a more conservative viewpoint was Elgin Hushbeck’s Evidence for the Bible.

9781631990991With all those books, the question still remained. How does one learn to understand and even benefit from the variety of approaches to Bible study?

Well, now we have a short, easy-to-read book that will help you understand why we disagree about what the Bible says, and why so many of those disagreements are so intractable. It’s I’m Right and You’re Wrong: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it. It’s a challenging title, and in just 40 pages, you’re going to begin to get a picture of the variety of scriptural interpretation.

Author Steve Kindle writes with a gentle passion. This is not a book proving that his approach to interpretation is the one and only right approach. He doesn’t deny that there is objective truth out there; he just doubts that we are going to be able to get there with are finite and not-so-objective minds. What he does instead is try to give us an idea how various approaches work.

There are at least two things you can do, starting with this book. The first is simply improve your ability to converse with people whose approach to the Bible might be different than your own. With the basic information Rev. Kindle provides, you can build your understanding by listening to others. Second, you can use the excellent footnotes to find more detailed expositions of these various approaches and learn more about them than could possibly be contained in a 40 page book.

As a publisher, of course, I would be delighted if you’d also embark on a journey with the Participatory Study Series and actually study some books using guides written from a perspective other than your own.

At a minimum, however, learn how to break through the hostility that often characterizes debates about the Bible to come to understand how someone else has become convinced that he’s right and you’re wrong!

Note: This book is already printing, but we’re leaving the pre-order pricing up for one more day. That means you can order from Energion Direct for just $3.49. If you take this opportunity to get 3 or more copies, shipping will be free. The shipping charge is just $2.00 on orders of less than $9.99.

Announcing According to John: The Word Became Flesh

Announcing According to John: The Word Became Flesh

This will be the second study. I’m going to mention a few things to think about. The question remains as to how many of these things I will be able to address, but I think it’s worthwhile to consider these in any case. The study will be via Google Hangouts on Air at 7:00 pm central time, Thursday, January 18. The event on Google+ is here. And here’s the trailer:

I’ll embed the YouTube below, but first, some things to think about! The major scripture for the study is John 1:1-18. If you haven’t read the book of John through completely recently, it will help to review the entire book.

Critical Issues

One issue of source (and to a lesser extent redaction) criticism comes up for this passage, which is the question of whether John 1:1-18 was written as part of the gospel or whether it is an early Christian hymn adapted for and incorporated into the gospel. There are some folks who regard it as poetry with some prose comments added.

Read the passage and pay special attention to the boundary between John 1:18 and 19.

Textual Issues

I’m going to list two, though one comes in two parts:

First, in verses 3 & 4 we have a verse division/sentence division issue. Should it read something like “… without him was not anything made that was made”? Or alternatively “… without him was not anything made. That which was in him was …”? You’ll probably find references to these two possible divisions in the footnotes to your translation. I just looked at the NRSV and REB as I was preparing this, and their notes are pretty clear. The NIV at BibleGatway.com isn’t showing a note. Does your Bible have a note?

The difficulty for the average student is that these translations don’t provide any justification for the decisions made. It would be impractical to expect them to. But if you have a Bible with study notes or a good commentary, you may find a bit more information.

Second, John 1:18 has two alternative readings, which the REB lists as “God’s only Son” (their text) and “the only begotten God” (alternative). Of course, if you read Greek, you should consult your apparatus to discover the evidence for these readings. How much difference does this make? What is the translation choice of the Bible you use? The NIV kind of combines the readings, while the NASB makes the opposite choice to REB and uses “the only begotten God.” I will definitely discuss this variant and something about how these choices are made.

Just for fun, I went through my files and extracted a paper on this verse that I wrote in college, for a course titled “Translation Problems.” Though it doesn’t have a date on it, I think this was in my junior year, which makes the paper more than 35 years old. Read it and see if you agree with my younger self! (I note here that this was written when I was still a Seventh-day Adventist, and references to Ellen White and “the Spirit of Prophecy” should be taken in that context.) Younger readers will doubtless be unacquainted with the quaint device used to produce this paper, a manual typewriter. If I remember correctly it was an old Remington, and no, it had no Greek font!

Theology

Well, combining theology and inter-textual relationships.

First, do you think the cultural/philosophical background for the phrase “the Word of God” should be taken from Greek thought (the word logos is so common in Christian speech that it has almost become an English staple!), or should it be found in passages in the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament? This will have some impact on precisely how we read it.

Your answer doesn’t have to be one or the other. We discover the precise meaning of a word through it’s use in a particular context, and so this word can be shaped not only by the Gospel of John, but by the New Testament, and by its usage discussing concepts from the Hebrew scriptures, but from doing so in Greek.

Second, I want to explore a connection to one of my favorite books in the New Testament—Hebrews, and specifically Hebrews 4:12, though the prologue (1:1-3) comes into it. James Moffatt, in the International Critical Commentary volume on Hebrews, says: “Here the writer poetically personifies the revelation of God for a moment…. Here it [the Word of God] denotes the Christian gospel declared authoritatively by men like the writer, an inspired message which carries on the OT revelation of God’s promises and threats, and which is vitally effective” (p. 55). Moffatt distinguishes this from the usage in John 1:1-18.

Looking from the other direction, Leon Morris, in his volume The Gospel According to John (Revised) in the NICNT states that the only other place where the word (logos) is used undoubtedly with the same meaning is Revelation 19:13 (pp. 63-64).

I’m going to look at some elements of these two passages. Do you think they are more closely related?

Finally, I want to examine the concept of testimony. We start here with John the Baptist bearing testimony to Jesus, and near the end of the gospel we see Thomas brought to giving a testimony to Jesus: “My Lord and my God” (20:28)! We’ll tie this in later with the critical question of whether chapter 21 was originally part of the book or was added later as a sort of postscript.

Doubtless I will have many words on all these topics and perhaps a few more! The YouTube embed is below.