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Perspectives on Paul: Introducing Paul, an Apostle

Perspectives on Paul: Introducing Paul, an Apostle

Apocalyptic background - flash and lightning in dramatic dark sky

I’ve been having an interesting time preparing for my study tonight, and I’m feeling the boundaries of a 1/2 hour study. Most people will probably be glad. In order to make this work, however, you’ll need to read the material suggested. In this case, the “Introduction” from Meditations on the Letters of Paul by Herold Weiss and “Becoming Galatian: Spiritual Practices for Reading Galatians,” and Lesson 1: Introduction and Background,” from Galatians: A Participatory Study Guide by Bruce Epperly. The scripture passage will be Galatians 1:1-5, but it would be a good idea to read the entire book—it’s only 6 chapters—and also read and compare the introductions to other letters of Paul, whether disputed or not. Just start at Romans and read the first verse or two of each book until you get to Hebrews.

I’m finding the idea of posting two or three times on this topic during the week difficult, but that’s not a reason to abandon it. It’s important to allow topics to percolate, and one of my bad habits is to study the material on Thursday morning. In this case, I have looked at it some before today, but not enough, and I intend to change that.

But for tonight we’re going to look broadly at what is contained in the reading material and then focus on what made Paul an apostle, what made his letters authoritative for the church, and the nature of these letters as evidence. I’ll also touch on why I’m using Galatians, besides the fact that I think Epperly’s study guide is the right sort of challenging material to get us out of a rut on how we read the book. I think Herold Weiss similarly challenges our standard approaches (read his article Paul Did not Teach Righteousness by Faith), but he does son on a broader basis. We’re going to use Epperly’s more focused book to get to Weiss’s broader understanding.

Note here that I don’t mean that we will necessarily agree with either one. Rather, I’m looking at the focus and at ways of getting us each to let Paul’s writings speak to us. We will never completely discard our background. Yet we can try to give the scriptures the greatest possible chance to change us. That is the goal of this study.

Here’s the video embed:

Thursday Night Study: Paul’s Eschatology with Dr. Herold Weiss

Thursday Night Study: Paul’s Eschatology with Dr. Herold Weiss


On Thursday night I’ll be interviewing Dr. Herold Weiss, author of Meditations on According to John and the forthcoming Meditations on the Letters of Paul, to be released this week. We’ll be talking about Paul’s eschatology and how critical it is to understanding Paul’s theology.

Google+ Event Link

YouTube Viewer:

Identifying Extremes – Examining Everything (An Example)

Identifying Extremes – Examining Everything (An Example)

book cross-hatchThis morning Dave Black posted some things about reading Hebrews from the Good News Bible (TEV) and also on authorship and canonicity. I’m not posting to enter into a debate on this point, but rather to note an attitude.

Dave says:

The undeniable reality is that questions of canon and authorship matter. Of course, both sides demonize the other. Proponents of Pauline authorship are dismissed as obscurantists, while proponents of Hebrews’ non-Paulinity are accused of succumbing to the spirit of the age. But why should we tolerate this kind of judgmental divisiveness? Maybe we need another conference on campus to discuss the issue!

Good points! I am deeply concerned when people who are treated with intolerance by one group, move to another, and then treat their former group with intolerance. Is there justification for some reaction? I know many people personally who have been treated badly and many of them have been deeply hurt. There’s some justification here for anger. I publish books by authors who have lost their jobs over theological positions.

But is the justification enough? I don’t think so. Our response to intolerance needs to be greater tolerance. That doesn’t mean we have to accept and approve behavior. What it means is that we need to look for a freer exchange of ideas and better treatment of people.

There are those who wonder why I publish a book like Dave’s The Authorship of Hebrews. Not only do I publish that book, but I requested it. Dave didn’t push it on me. I don’t accept Pauline authorship of Hebrews. I don’t believe we can know the author’s name with any confidence. Yet Dave’s work on this topic shifted my position from one that excluded Paul from the list of possible authors to accepting that his authorship is a possibility. More importantly, Dave demonstrates how to challenge an academic consensus—with detailed, careful scholarship.

Now let me provide a contrast and a comparison. In the lower right of my little graphic today we have the cover for the forthcoming book from Dr. Herold Weiss, Meditations on the Letters of Paul, which I’m currently editing. First, the contrast. Contrary to Dave Black’s acceptance of Pauline authorship of Hebrews, not to mention the pastorals, Dr. Weiss accepts a minimal Pauline corpus. He even rejects Colossians. So his meditations are on a substantially smaller set of writings that Dr. Black’s would be. Now for the similarity: Besides the fact that I enjoy and have learned much from both writers and both books, neither of these men has ever asked me to accept something because it’s in their tradition, or just because they said so. They are both willing to debate and discuss.

I can give you numerous reasons why I publish books from a variety of perspectives, and I’ve done so before. But there’s a personal reason. I like them and I benefit from them. I have published some books that I really wish had been better. I do not claim any sort of editorial infallibility. In fact, I would claim feet of clay. But I have learned from and benefitted by reading each and every book I have published.

Let me suggest a response to Dave’s little book. How about looking at some of the vocabulary comparisons excluding the pastorals, or even working from a minimal Pauline corpus? I’d like to play with that. I don’t know if it would be meaningful, but somebody could look at it.

Just a thought …

Completing My According to John Study

Completing My According to John Study

john banner thumbAt the beginning of the year I began a journey through the gospel According to John, using as my guide the book Meditations on According to John by Herold Weiss. I began this study largely for myself. I admit it. My motivation was selfish. I wanted to force myself to stick with the study week by week and to look into it more deeply than would be required just to satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to be able to present something based on each chapter of the book. (The entire study is now available as a playlist:

The book is a bit alien to me. I stuck rigorously with the fundamentals of biblical studies, the languages, the history, the cultures, and the means of coming to some sort of idea of what that writer meant to say to his (or her) original audience. I avoided application because that is much harder to nail down, much less certain.

9781631990120sI have frequently noted on this blog that I am not a theologian. That’s in the professional or academic sense. My training has not been in theology. I continue to maintain that. Teaching through one book does not make one a theologian. Nonetheless I do now have a much greater appreciation for the theological task.

What Dr. Weiss has done in this book is opened up in a practical way some approaches to connecting theology with what one reads in scripture without at the same time trying to force scripture to fit in with our creeds. We tend to see this as an either-or situation. Either the creed is scriptural or it is not. Either the trinity, for example, is scriptural, or it is not. But it is not quite so simple. One can pick up some pieces that eventually formed a part of the doctrine of the trinity without imagining that the particular text actually operated in a trinitarian framework. Indeed, one can believe the doctrine of the trinity without believing that it is actually taught in scripture. There’s a difference between being able to trace the roots to various texts and affirming that those text teach what grew out of interacting with them, with other texts, and with the experience of people living the faith.

Dr. Weiss made a valuable comment on that in his final interview for this study. (He graciously appeared twice to answer questions during the series.) He noted that very few of us really had the knowledge of philosophical language and categories of the time sufficient to really understand the results of those early councils that formulated the doctrine of the trinity. I would add that it is therefore not surprising that so many people, in talking about the trinity, fall afoul of one or another officially condemned heresy on the subject, without being aware that they have done so.

I am the publisher of Dr. Weiss’s book. One might suppose that my sole reason for using it was that I publish it and want to publicize it. I don’t deny that publicity was in my thinking. I do want to publicize the book. But for me editing this book was a profound experience. This is not because I believe that every view that Dr. Weiss expresses is set to become the new academic orthodoxy, but rather because he challenges us constantly to look at the text and what it meant and can mean.

One of the most critical issues is also probably the most controversial. Dr. Weiss challenges the common idea that the book is fundamentally sacramental. He believes that the view of operation of symbolic actions (and here I summarize a huge amount of text with some trepidation—I will provide a link to Dr. Weiss so he can correct me if I’m wrong) is more to be found in the washing of the disciples’ feet than in the traditional “sacramental passages such as the wedding at Cana, the discussion of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood, or “born of water and the spirit” in John 3.

Participation was small during these studies. The most watched episodes, other than interviews, are in the 20s for views, and the least watched episodes are in single digits. I actually expected it all to be in the single digits. After all, I’m not truly an expert on this gospel.

This experience will impact my teaching in almost all areas. Some of the time I spent looking at the use of metaphors, of symbolism and how it can be layered, and the relationship between our experience, the text we read, the traditions we’ve inherited, and whatever creeds we follow will lead me to change the way I talk about almost any scripture. Of course, there are also many elements here that will remain applicable to this gospel alone. In fact, there are many ways in which I will be more wary of seeing symbolic meaning in something straightforward than I was before, because I have seen writers go a bit over the top with it.

I’m writing this both as a summary and to personally thank Dr. Herold Weiss for this book. I think it’s a great gift to the church. I think that a serious read of the gospel of John alongside these essays would be constructive for almost anyone interested in reading the Bible more seriously.

I’m now doing a preliminary read of Dr. Weiss’s next book, Meditations on the Letters of Paul, and I am also finding that they profoundly challenge me to think more and differently about that apostle. I’ll probably find occasion to use some of that material online in the future.

9781938434105sNext week, August 20, I will begin a study of Eschatology. The first couple of weeks I’m going to lay out a road map, looking at definitions of major terms used. In this, I’ll follow the study guide written by Dr. Edward W. H. Vick, Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide. The study will continue indefinitely every Thursday evening at 7 pm central time.

Once I’ve drawn the road map with definitions, I will go into studying some specific passages and the way in which they are applied in eschatology. This study will be much more what I’m used to doing, as I look at the historical setting. At the same time, I will be pointing out how these passages are used in the various schools of thought about eschatology in the church today.

I’d enjoy having your input here in the comments or during the Google Hangouts on Air. Watch this blog for announcements and links to each event.

Explaining the Difference Between John and the Synoptics

Explaining the Difference Between John and the Synoptics

In the comments to my announcement for Thursday night’s interview with Dr. Herold Weiss there was a comment that included a question. I missed it and failed to ask it during the interview. I e-mailed it to Dr. Weiss, and he sent me a response. Since this ties into the topic of the interview, I will also include the YouTube embed of the interview video below:

Meditations on According to JohnQ: As I’m sure Dr. Weiss knows, the Jesus Seminar allocated no sayings of Jesus in “According to John” as “likely authentic.” How does Dr. Weiss rate Jesus’ sayings in “John”, and how does he explain the vast difference between the Jesus of “John” and the Synoptics?
A: The difference between the Synoptics and John is due to the bifurcation of the oral tradition that started with the disciples but quite early departed into different trajectories. We can identify four of them: the tradition of Q, the tradition in the Gospel of Thomas, the tradition in Mark and the tradition in John. At some points there are connections between them. The tradition of John, as I point out in the book, can be seen being developed within the Johannine community, so that now there are some tensions withing the gospel. As for the work of the Jesus Seminar, I find it a bit pompous. The criteria of authenticity are logical, but their application is always subjective. All the sayings of Jesus are colored by the oral traditions behind them. That is also true of the work of the ‘historians’ of antiquity. They had  no sense of responsibility to evidence and facts. The case of Josephus, or Tacitus is well documented. ‘Scientific history’ is a child of the XIX century.
There may be some who think that if we cannot be certain of every word in the gospels as ‘history’ we cannot believe in Jesus. I find that quite amazing. If one is to depend on history for what one believes, then all you have is a Jew who was crucified as a traitor by the Romans. The Gospel is about something else completely.

Here’s the interview video:

According to John: Final Interview with Herold Weiss

According to John: Final Interview with Herold Weiss

books1Well, I hope it’s not my final interview ever, and since we’re going to announce his next book, already under contract (and I have a preliminary manuscript in hand!), it likely won’t be. But it’s a wind-up interview for my study of According to John using Dr. Weiss’s book Meditations on According to John. You can find out more about the interview on the Google+ Event Page, or simply come back to this post and use the viewer embedded here.

Be sure to post any questions in the comments here and I’ll ask Dr. Weiss during his interview.

According to John: We Must Work while It Is Day

According to John: We Must Work while It Is Day

john bannerWell, that and some additional news …

Tonight (Thursday, June 25, 2015) via Google Hangout on Air I’ll be talking about chapter 19 of Dr. Herold Weiss’s book Meditations on According to John, title “We Must Work while It Is Day.” There’s a great deal of interesting material in this chapter, and I keep adding to it as I read and re-read the passages. I’ll be talking about what the Sabbath means to Christians and also about some basic concepts in eschatology, not to mention eschatology itself.

I also want to give everyone a tentative schedule for the next few weeks and let you know what I’m planning after this series is done.

Here’s the schedule (edited June 30 to add the interview with Drew Smith):


July 2 – Chapter 20 – United by Love

July 9 – Chapter 21 – Jesus Wept

July 16 – Interview with Dr. Drew Smith, author of Reframing a Relevant Faith.

July 23 – Chapter 22 – Rivers of Living Water (since I’m preparing for a Sunday School series in August on the time of the exile, I will doubtless reference Ezekiel’s temple!)

July 30 – Chapter 23 – Where Are You From?

August 3 – Chapter 24 – Abide in My Love

August 10 – Closing interview with Dr. Herold Weiss

I am also planning to schedule a re-do of my interview with Dr. C. Drew Smith, which may move some of these sessions, or it may simply fill the open slot on August 3. This interview is now on the schedule for July 16, with the later chapters moved down to fill in.

9781938434105sI think I’ve mentioned a few times how far out of the box this whole series has taken me. I diligently pursued nuts and bolts of biblical studies, avoiding theology and liturgy as I would abominations (whatever those may be!). So to spend this much time thinking about theology from a biblical book was somewhat of a challenge. I’m going to move somewhat closer to my roots as we move forward, both in the sense of my approach, which will involved more nuts and bolts, and in terms of the topic, which will be eschatology, something rooted in my upbringing and education in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

I’m going to start by using the book Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide by Edward W. H. Vick as a guide to learning the general terminology and getting a view of the map of ideas on this topic. That will be quite theological, of course. Then I plan to look at a number of apocalyptic and/or otherwise eschatological passages in scripture, looking for the author’s intentions in the text and then also at how those words have become part of the various views about eschatology in the Christian community today. The idea will be to understand how people come to their conclusions, why there is so much variety, and how one can find one’s own way through the material. This series will likely continue for some time, as I have the complete books of Daniel and Revelation, not to mention a large number of shorter passages elsewhere. And yes, I would treat the first six chapters of Daniel as material that is just as eschatological (or not) as chapters 7-12.

If nothing else, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to learn new things myself! I have been gratified, however, to see that a few of these sessions have YouTube views in the teens, though most stay single digit. I really expected three or four to follow along the way. Over time, who knows! I am grateful to those who have listened and who have commented, either via the Q&A app or by e-mail. It has been a great experience already, and we still have several weeks to go.