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 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)