Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The 2014 Convocation Address on "Truth and the Hermeneutics of Identity" by Klyne Snodgrass

It's been a whirlwind of running around, grabbing coffee on the go, cutting through the humidity across campus to get to classes... yes, the Fall 2014 semester has begun! 
   Among the highlights this week has been the convocation address by North Park Theological Seminary's own Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies, Dr. Klyne Snodgrass. Wow! His address was part seminar, part sermon, and 100% inspiration. For those who are not aware, Klyne is going to retire officially from full-time teaching at North Park in Spring 2015. This is his last academic year, and so he was asked to address the incoming seminary class of 2014. His address was on "Truth and the Hermeneutics of Identity." You can watch his message here in the window below: 


If you fast forward to the 22:12 mark, you'll find Klyne moving from 1st gear to 5th and firing on all six pistons in a tremendous challenge to live according to the truth of God in a world of so many competing epistemologies. I think one of his most powerful statements is how our mental health is dependent on truth. Nothing will warp a person more than living according to a lie. 
   It saddens me to think that this is my last year with Klyne on faculty. He has been a mentor, colleague, and friend for the past 8 years (going on 9) since I first arrived at the seminary in 2006. I am grateful that I could share some of my best years of teaching at North Park with a person who not only speaks the truth with grace, but lives by it.
Nyvall Hall of North Park Theological Seminary
Photo taken by Max lee from the 2nd floor of
the new Johnson Center on the NPU campus

Friday, August 22, 2014

The 2014 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship

Every year, North Park Theological Seminary not only holds the prestigious Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, but also sponsors the Lund Lectures which invites one Old Testament scholar and a New Testament scholar to speak on any number of themes which reflect the cutting edge research in biblical studies and are of contemporary interest today. This year, I am excited to hear a friend and senior colleague at Westmont College, Dr. Tremper Longman, speak on the subject of human sexuality and the Song of Songs (I've known Tremper for years since my one-year stint of teaching at Westmont back in 2002-3), as well as an influential figure in New Testament studies, Dr. Beverly Gaventa, speak on the subject of free and costly grace in Romans (I have not the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gaventa yet, but have heard her lecture on a number of occasions at SBL). Both will be fantastic, I'm sure! Here is a quick photo of the poster now being advertised throughout the North Park campus. 
By the way, thanks to the media department of the Evangelical Covenant Church, both days of the Lund Lectures will not only be video-recorded but also streamed live through the CovChurch.tv website. More details on how to watch the lectures live (and later as a recorded video) in the weeks to come.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Sting of Death according to Paul

In a previous post on common popular fears surrounding the afterlife (here), I commented on Virgil's depiction of Hades in the Aeneid and showed pictorially one anonymous artist's rendition of the three judges of Hades (Rhadamanthus, Midos, and Aeacus) preserved on an Apulian red-figure volute κρατήρ (= a wine diluter; ca. 330-32o BC). There we read a graphic description from Virgil, and we saw a graphic picture from the "Underworld Painter," of how the warden of hell, Rhadamanthus, ordered a fury to whip and torture those souls guilty of heinous crimes in their earthly life. This image of divine judgment and justice in the afterlife is an important point of cultural and religious engagement for understanding Paul's triumphant discourse in 1 Cor 15:55-57: 
  • Where, O Death (θάνατε), is your victory (τὸ νῖκος)? Where, O Death, is your sting (κέντρον)? 56 The sting of death (τὸ κέντρον τοῦ θανάτου) is sin (ἁμαρτία), and the power of sin (ἡ δύναμις τῆς ἁμαρτίας ) is the law (ὁ νόμος). But thanks be to God who gives to us victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This is a very packed set of verses. What does Paul mean by the sting of death? The Greek word for "sting" is κέντρον and can mean something like a venomous sting of a bee, wasp, or scorpion. But it can also refer to a sharp object or goad used to spur horses, oxen, or other beasts of burden. A photo of a κέντρον held in the hand of the charioteer is shown below and circled in yellow
Chariot Racing from a 510 BC Attic Hydria
The κέντρον or horse's goad (circled in yellow)
image credit: wikipedia commons
The κέντρον, as early as Herodotus (Histories 3.130), was also used to torture prisoners of war and criminals. It was a torturing device used punish the wicked (cf. Aristophanes, Wasps 403-407).
    In the mythic world of the Aeneid, it was the furies who held whips, goads, and other weapons to torture and punish wrong-doers. But in 1 Cor 15:55, Death itself holds the κέντρον. The vocative θάνατε personifies Death, and Paul taunts Death as the last enemy. Or, as Garland puts it, "does Paul picture death wielding a goad in its hand to rule over humans and torture them?" (Garland, 1Cor, p. 745). Is Death a military general, believing it has victory (τὸ νῖκος) at hand (because of Adam's fall), but only to find its victory stripped away, disarmed of its ability to torture and goad humanity any more, because of Christ's death and resurrection? Here is my interpretative translation of 1 Cor 15:55-57 once more:
  • Where, O Death, you last of the apocalyptic superpowers, is your victory? You were robbed of your victory by Christ's death and resurrection. Where, O Death, is your ability to torture and punish humanity? Where is your sting? 56 It used to be that Sin could torture, goad, and punish humanity as Death's ally. Sin is the sting which culminates in death. The Law gave sin its power and authority to accuse humanity for failing to observe the commandments. 57 But not any more! Thanks be to God who through the cross and resurrection of Christ removes the sting from death by providing forgiveness for sin and vindicates believers at the resurrection by overcoming their death with new life. 
Christ's resurrection is Paul's historical anchor and theological point of assurance that the triple threat of Death, Sin, and the Law (when it empowers sin to accuse) has been neutralized forever. Christ snatches victory from Death and hands victory instead to God's people. Where is your (σου) victory, O Death? I'll tell you where it went, says Paul. God gave it to us (ἡμῖν) through Jesus Christ our Lord. Wow! Can I get an "Amen!" from the congregation out there?!
   In my next post, I will compare the Philodemus text on the "sting" and "bite" of death with Paul's reference to death's goad here in 1 Cor 15. While it is possible that the lexemes τὸ νύττεσθαι and δηγμὸν used by Philodemus are synonymous with the way Paul employs the word κέντρον, there are also very clear differences. But for now, we can simply all be challenged by Paul's taunt against stingless Death and his unwavering confidence in what God had done through Christ. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wake Up O Sleeper!

In my previous post on the grave reliefs depicting the agony of separation between the deceased and surviving family (here), I shared how many people in the Greco-Roman world grieved over the prospect of never seeing their loved ones ever again. In contrast to their grief and pain, Apostle Paul puts forth the hope of every Christian believer: 
  • 13 But we do not want for you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are sleeping (περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων), so that you will not grieve as the rest (of the world) do, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Christ died and was raised, and in the same way, God, through Jesus, will also bring with him (σὺν αὐτῷ) the ones who have fallen asleep (τοὺς κοιμηθέντας).... 17 Then we who remain living will be snatched up together with them (ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς) in the clouds for a meeting with the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:13-14, 17)
There are many exegetical points to unpack in this short set of verses, but let me focus on just two related themes. The first is the metaphor which Paul uses for the believers who have died: i.e., they are sleeping (κοιμωμένων). For Paul, Easter Sunday means that Jesus conquered death's grip on our world. In the same way that God raised Jesus from the dead, Paul encourages the Thessalonian church that God will raise believers who have died to new life. Death is not final separation, but a temporary or interim state like sleep. God will raise Christ followers on the day of the resurrection. With a command-cry (ἐν κελεύσματι; v. 14), God will give this word to the dead: "Rise!" Or in the words of Eph. 5:14: "Wake up, O Sleeper! Rise from the dead and Christ will epiphany before you!" Christ will return to awaken those who have fallen asleep by the power of his word. 
   The Christian hope has always been that life, really living, does not end at the grave. Death is just a momentary interruption like a person taking a long nap. God will raise us up with a command of his word, and we will not only be united with Christ forever (σὺν αὐτῷ) but we will be united with each other (ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς). The resurrection is a reunion of Christian believers where we meet again with those whom we have left behind and those who have moved on ahead of us. It gives us hope that beyond the grave, believers in Christ have an eternity to catch up with one another in the life to come.
6th century AD Inscription
ΚΟΙΜΗΤΗΡΙΟΝ... ΑΙΓΙΑΡΙΟΥ (highlighted in blue)
 "The sleeping place... of a goatherder"
Photo by Max Lee ©  2014 Corinth Museum
In the above inscription, one of a few dozen that can be found in the Museum at Corinth, Greece, we have an example of a Christian grave marker. But instead of the word "tomb" or "memorial" (μνημεῖον), the term ΚΟΙΜΗΤΗΡΙΟΝ (κοιμητήριον) or "sleeping room" is used. By the 4-6th century AD, Christian believers wrote on their tombstones that the grave is but a sleep room, a temporary resting place, for those who have died in Christ and have the hope we will not only be reunited with Christ but with loved ones who have also believed.
   Eventually, the idiom of "sleeping place" (κοιμητήριον) will make it into the Byzantine Greek lexicon under the alternative spelling (κυμητήριον) and mean "burial place" or "tomb" as the following inscription shows: 
6th century AD inscription with the Byzantine spelling
ΚΥΜΗΤΗΡΙΟΝ (derived from κοιμητήριον) which means "burial place"

Photo by Max Lee ©  2014 Corinth Museum
   This past weekend, three generations of my family met together in Chicago: the grandparents, my younger brother, myself and our spouses, and my teenage sons and middle school nieces. As we get older, life can leave us with many regrets. But as Christian believers, we all have the hope that not only will the Lord make all that is wrong and crooked right at the resurrection, but we can all celebrate what God has done together and spend eternity catching up on time missed with one another and those we love. Maranatha!

Postscript 08/09/14: Exegetical Exercise: 1) Read the above post. 2) Go to the Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias in the reference section of the university library and learn more about the resurrection of the dead and how this doctrine is different from Greco-Roman ideas about the immortality of the soul. 3) Interpret 1 Thess. 4:13-18 drawing insight from your background study. In other words: how does understanding that the resurrection means more than resuscitation but an different state of bodily existence help you understand Paul’s message of hope in 1 Thess. 4:13-18? What happens to the soul in the interim period between the (physical) death (of the body) and the resurrection of believers at Christ’s return? 4) Be sure to consult at least one academic commentary on your biblical text from the reference section. 

Minor Correction 08/16/14: I'm going to add a clarifying point. With the Christian grave inscriptions above (ca. 6-7th centuries AD), probably the semantic shift from the definition of κοιμητήριον as "sleeping room" to the meaning "burial place" had already taken place. You actually see both words κοιμητήριον (Koine spelling) and κυμητήριον (Byzantine spelling) used on a number of inscriptions from this time period (good examples are found at the Museum in Corinth, Greece). I'm not exactly sure when the semantic shift took place but we know that by Byzantine times, κοιμητήριον had come to mean "burial place" and its Koine definition of "sleeping place," along with its use by Christians on grave markers, was earlier. This note does not change any of the points I make above but simply clarifies the time stamp when the definition of "burial place" for κοιμητήριον enters into the Byzantine lexicon. MJL

Saturday, August 2, 2014

August Preview from the Chicago Botanical Garden

My parents are visiting from California and are here for two weeks spending their time with the grandsons, and then on occasion they'll talk to me as well. But it's been tough to find time to blog with all the day trips we have been taking (though I'm not complaining at all!). We've been exploring the best of Chicago and the Lake Michigan coastlines. So I'm struggling to scrape the minutes to post. I'll return to the blog next chance I get, but in the interim, here is a review of July to set up a preview for what's ahead in August.
   For all of July, I have blogged on Greco-Roman traditions surrounding death. The first post was on the grave reliefs depicting the agony and grief experienced by all when the deceased is separated eternally from their remaining loved ones (here). The second post was on the literary evidence for common cultural fears surrounding death, especially those recorded in the mythic traditions of Mediterranean religions (here). The third was on philosophical critiques against fearing death and the advice which philosophers like Philodemus gave to help people manage their grief and pain (here). In my next series of three (may be four?) posts, I hope to explore areas where the message and content of the Pauline letters intersect with these traditions. Just need to carve out the time and space to do this, which may not happen until the (grand)parents return home.
   Until then, here's a photo from the Chicago Botanical Garden, with a word from 1 Peter 2:24-25:
Tropical Water Lily in full bloom
Photo take by Max Lee © 2014 Chicago Botanical Garden

For, "All people are like grass, 
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
 but the word of the Lord endures forever." 
And this is the word that was preached to you.
 (1 Peter 1:24-25 TNIV)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Preview of Fire in My Soul: Essays in Honor of Seyoon Kim

At the request of Wipf & Stock, I am dedicating a post on the newly published Festschrift entitled: Fire in My Soul: Essays on Pauline Soteriology and the Gospels in Honor of Seyoon Kim. Here is a fantastic ad and flyer that W&S put together to showcase the book: 
Click here to order a print edition at Wipf & Stock online
I was a part of the editorial team who helped plan and prepare the festschrift for publication. It is a wonderful collection of essays in honor of a truly great scholar and person of Christian integrity, Dr. Seyoon Kim, Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, now retired from full-time teaching and re-writing F.F. Bruce's commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians for the Word Biblical Commentary series into a new (sure to be a game-changing!) volume (see a preview here). 
   Let me highlight just some of the essays. First up are my own two essays which I hope to turn later into chapters for my next monograph after the WUNT manuscript is complete under the same title: Greek Words and Roman Meanings. Anyone familiar with David Hill's classic book on righteousness language in the New Testament can see from my title the appreciative nod I give to his 1967 book Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings. In his work, Hill argues that the Greek words δικαιοσύνη, δικαιόω, and their cognates function as linguistic shells for the Hebrew words tsedeq(ah)/tsadaq. But I argue in my essays that Greek words do not have Hebrew meanings, but (Greco-)Roman ones as part of the common (Κοινή) vernacular of Paul's day. To make a long story short, I have remapped the lexicon on righteousness language so Septuagintal influences on the definitions have been removed. In this way, when we examine Septuagintal echoes in Paul concerning his language of justification, we have a starting or reference point by which to gauge the strength of an OT echo and how much it extends or changes the semantics of the δικ(αιο)- word group as it was commonly employed in the every day discourse of the Greco-Roman world.
   If we look at the key players in the current debates on justification (e.g., N.T. Wright, Douglas Campbell, Michael Gorman, Michael Bird, Douglas Moo, and others), all these scholars attribute a unique definition of "righteousness" to Paul based on a different set of OT texts to which they think Paul refers in his letters. I argue that the more "unique" Paul's use of righteousness language is from their typical 
Κοινή usages, the greater burden is placed on the NT scholar to prove that the supposed OT echo is there in the Pauline text, and the echo changes the meaning of  the δικ(αιο)- word group in the way they think it does. I've discovered, for example, that forensic language in Paul need not have to appeal to the LXX for its source material but there are numerous Greco-Roman juridicial texts which provide working definitions for how Paul used righteousness/justification language in his letters.
   But enough about my essays, here are some other gems. In Chapter 6 (The Internal Integrative Motive Running through 2 Cor 11:23-12:10), Brian Kim argues that the opponents of Paul in 2 Corinthians take OT traditions concerning the false prophet and use these traditions to accuse Paul of being a false apostle. Paul, however, takes this moment to reflect on what does it mean to be an apostle of Christ? He takes his opponent's accusation that physical illness is a sign of God's judgment against a false prophet and turns it into a theology of weakness which identifies an authentic apostle. 
   In Chapter 7 (Matthew's Use of the Septuagint and its Implications), Jin Hwang (a fellow editor) has studied Philo's practice of quoting Scripture as an analogue for how Matthew employs OT echoes in his gospel. Hwang not only offers a comprehensive analysis of Matthew's use of the Septuagint but also demonstrates that Matthew's citation practices align well with the methods of other Hellenistic Jews like Philo. Hwang also provocatively suggests Matthew's audience might be Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora who would appreciate the transliteration of Hebrew/Aramaic words. 
  One last example. In Chapter 15 (Methodological Similarity between Xunguxue and Biblical Exegesis), Hyeon Woo Shin offers a comparative study of the gospel genre with the long-standing history of critical exegesis in China called Xunguxue. Shin argues that the rhetorical devices used by the gospel writers might find better analogues in Chinese exegetical practices (e.g., huwen, or synonymous parallelism; hexu, or word order; and even hermeneutical principles as "scripture interpreting scripture") than Western literary models. Shin's essay helps illustrate how one methodological approach can serve as a comparative foil for another to reveal the strengths and weakness of each. 
   I hope you get a chance to pick up the volume and read the rest of the essays. Many thanks again to all the contributors and staff at W&S for all their hard work. Soli Deo gloria!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Philodemus on Removing the Sting and Bite of Death

I'm posting a bit later than I had planned. The family and I went out of town over the weekend to show our support to my youngest son as he competed at a major chess tournament. It was a nice diversion for us, though he did not do as well as we had hoped (our delusions of grandeur were crushed after the 1st round!), but back to the subject on hand. 
   Now that I have mapped out a range of mainstream beliefs, fears, and superstitions surrounding the afterlife in the Greco-Roman world (here), this would be a good place to introduce what some of the popular philosophers of Paul's day had to say about conquering our fear of death. The Epicureans, by far, had the boldest of claims. In Key Doctrines 2, Epicurus makes a statement which will become epigrammatic for generations to come among his followers: 
  • Death can do nothing to us (ὁ θανατος οὐδεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς), for a dissolved thing cannot sense anything, and anything which cannot sense also cannot do anything to us. 
The Epicureans believed in a material soul and that the soul could not survive long without the body. At death, the soul seeps out of the pores of the body and dissolves into nothingness as the body, too, dissolves when it decays in the grave (Philodemus, On Death IV, 8.7-29).* There is no eternal afterlife, and there is nothing to fear after death because we simply cease to exist. There is neither pain or pleasure, but a just a gentle release from life. So death is nothing to be afraid of. 
   But what about before death? Is not most of our anxiety about death experienced when we start to think about what we might lose at death, or when death is near and we are about to step over the edge of life with our last breath? 
   A Greco-Roman Epicurean by the name of Philodemus (ca. 110-40 B.C.), whose works were carbonized and preserved following the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 at an ancient library in Herculaneum, Italy, devoted an entire treatise (of which we only have Book 4) on how to die well and without fear of what might happen afterwards.
Click here for an affordable paperback edition
* Excerpts taken from this edition by W. Benjamin Henry
Philodemus explains, for example, that "it is natural for such a person to be stung" (διότι φυσικὸν μὲν τὸ νύττεσθαι τὸν τοιοῦτον) by death (On Death IV, 16.5-7), and death has "a most natural bite"(φυσικώτατον δηγμὸν) that produces tears even in the most sensible person (25.7-13).* But what turns a natural reaction to death into an unmanageable great sorrow (μεγάλην... λύπην; 25.11-12)* is the attachment of untrue, false, superstitious, and unwarranted ideas to the natural impulse.
   So much of the Epicurean program for soul-therapy (a term popularized by Nussbaum's study on ancient philosophy entitled The Therapy of Desire) for mastering fear and other emotions (like anger or lust) involves cutting off the false or empty opinions (δοξῶν) we attach to a natural impulse (τὴν φυσικὴν ὁρμήν16.4-8).* 
   Philodemus gives us several examples. The cure for fearing that my sudden death will leave behind my wife and children in dire straits is to recognize the false opinion that their livelihood depends on my continued existence and to provide for them a competent patron or guardian who will care for them if I were to die suddenly (25.2-36). 
   Or, a beginning student of philosophy who dies before she can reach perfection need not be pained by the wrong idea that all her time studying philosophy was wasted but take comfort that her efforts towards perfection could leave behind an inspiring example for others (17.32-18.14).
   Philodemus goes on to give many more examples, but they all have a common theme: a person removes the fear of death by dissociating from it the wrong beliefs or ideas which fuel our deepest anxieties. This therapeutic program was, for the philosopher, the best way to die well and die with courage.
   Now as a historian, I pass no judgment on Epicurean teachings. Philodemus (and fellow Greco-Roman Epicurean philosophers like Lucretius and Diogenes of Oenoanda) provided a rational way of dealing with the pathos associate with death. Certainly there is truth to the proposition that human beings often attach to natural reactions all sorts of unreasonable, far-fetched, and even complicated "what if" scenarios that only function to fuel our stress. 
   However, existentially and personally, I cannot help but feel the Epicurean program for soul-therapy is still poor medicine. Am I really OK if my life is cut short and ceases to exist before I could finish my studies? You mean I dragged my poor wife and kids through the vicissitudes of a Ph.D. program and died suddenly before I could graduate with my degree?! (I actually had a near-death experience on the Pasadena highway on the way to the Fuller Theological Seminary campus to turn in my finished dissertation!... but that's a different story for another day).
   What if I did not plan for my sudden death? What happens to my wife and kids after I'm gone? Philodemus' advice only seems to work if you take the time to plan out and anticipate your death. It feels like an ancient form of buying life insurance. Yes, you'll be dead but at least your family will be taken care of. Hmmm... is this enough?
   Next post: Paul. Let's see what the apostle to the Thessalonians and Corinthians has to say on the subject of death and its sting.