July 26, 2012

Written Before the Foundation of the World? Translation Matters

I got a few interesting comments on Facebook and Twitter recently when I wrote that I find it increasingly humorous to run across what seem to be theological biases in published standard translations of the Bible, and I must say that it's not always so humorous. Some questions of translation could go either way; others should not be handled so poorly. So, I thought I would point to another verse where there is almost always an unhelpful discrepancy between the original and the published translations.

The ESV renders Revelation 13:8b like this: "everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain." This translation suggests that the action of having one's name written (or not) in the book of life took place "before the foundation of the world." The NRSV, NAS, and NLT each handle this verse in a similar way. This translation has a certain Calvinistic odor about it suggesting that one's fate is unconditionally predetermined before the dawn of creation. Arminians (like myself) don't appreciate that too much precisely because we think it maligns the character of God. Why would a good God condemn any of his creatures, if he has the power to save them without doing harm to their will? Arminians insist that he would not. In the case of Revelation 13:8, the Greek text does not support the Calvinist view.

In the Greek syntax of Revelation 13:8, the prepositional phrase does not modify the verb rendered "has not been written" (γράφω); instead, it modifies the substantive participle translated "who was slain" (σφάζω). So, a proper translation would read: "everyone whose name has not been written in the book of life of the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world" (cf. the NIV). You can easily see that the Greek makes no comment on the timing of when one's name is or is not written in the book of life. The emphasis is altogether different. The emphasis is on God's eternal commitment to reveal himself as the one who is self-giving sacrificial love in the person of Jesus, the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8 says nothing about individual or unconditional predestination; it says that God is unconditionally committed to the cross, and he is committed to it from eternity.

July 20, 2012

Lincoln on the Sufficiency of the Gospel

I will begin preaching through Colossians on Sunday, and I've been consulting a few commentaries in preparation. I'm taking the opportunity to work through one commentary by my teacher, Andrew T. Lincoln, who contributed "Colossians" to The New Interpreter's Bible (vol. XI, Abingdon, 2000). One of the strengths of the book are the theological and pastoral reflections at the end of each section of commentary. Reflecting on the opening paragraphs of Colossians, Lincoln has this to say:
"There is a host of different ways in which contemporary believers can be tempted to feel that the basic gospel message is inadequate and that it needs to be supplemented by additional religious rites or disciplines, more sophisticated knowledge, or some compelling experience, if they are to be accepted by God or to reach their full potential as human beings. They need to hear that, although the gospel has riches that are yet to be fathomed and implications for all areas of life that are yet to be explored, there is no inadequacy about its basic message. They need to know that the hope that is at the heart of it and inseparable from the person of Christ is secure and that such hope is the potent incentive to a life of faith and love" (594).
Colossians deals throughout with the believer's tendency to add knowledge, experience, or discipline to the work of Christ, and that tendency has yet to be done away with. We all need to hear afresh the sufficiency of Christ and the good news that tells of his death and resurrection that works powerfully within us.

July 19, 2012

Involuntary Retirement Recommended for Bishop

The big news this week in United Methodism (aside from episcopal elections) is the vote of the South Central Jurisdiction's Committee on Episcopacy to involuntarily retire Bishop Earl Bledsoe. You can find the details in this report from The United Methodist Reporter. The committee is concerned about Bishop Bledsoe's administrative abilities, even though, he insists, that the statistics show growth and vitality in the North Texas Conference during his time as bishop there. The South Central Jurisdiction will vote this afternoon on whether to accept the recommendation of the Committee on Episcopacy to involuntarily retire Bishop Bledsoe? This appears to be an unprecedented move that raises a variety of questions.

Does a Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy have the authority to involuntarily retire a bishop? Is this an implication of the General Conference vote to end guranteed appointment? How does this shape the future with regard to the accountability of bishops? What do you think? What other questions are raised by this action? How will this shape the future of United Methodism? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

July 17, 2012

The Dual Focus of the Resurrection

What is the significance of the resurrection? According to J. Christiaan Beker:
For Paul, the historicity of the resurrection of Christ and its "bodily" character are crucial. The historicity of the resurrection signifies its eschatological-temporal significance, that is, it is a proleptic event that inaugurates the new creation. The "bodily" character of the resurrection manifests the resurrection as an event that not only occurs in time but also signals the "bodily" ontological transformation of the created order in the kingdom of God. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is both crucial and yet provisional. It is crucial because it marks the beginning of the new creation; it is provisional because it looks forward to the consummation of that beginning.
From Paul the Apostle: The triumph of God in Life and Thought (Fortress, 1980), 159.

July 5, 2012

Why Read Revelation?

I'm teaching a Bible study on the Book of Revelation this summer and am thus reading a variety of resources to prepare. One that I'm enjoying very much is Mike Gorman's (a fellow United Methodist!) Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Cascade, 2011). One of the challenges to reading Revelation well is the abundance of outlandish interpretations that distract us from the central figure and message of the book, namely Jesus and his call to faithful discipleship despite the challenges and hardships that inevitably arise from living such a life in the midst of a fallen and rebelling world. While reflecting on his theological and missional approach to the Apocalypse, Gorman gets to the heart of this issue:
Revelation is not about the antichrist, but about the living Christ. It is not about a rapture out of this world but about faithful discipleship in this world. That is, like every other New Testament book, Revelation is about Jesus Christ - "A Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:1) - and about following him in obdience and love. "If anyone asks, 'Why read the Apocalypse?', the unhesitating answer must be, 'To know Christ better.'"
It's easy to lose sight of the reality that the Revelation is a revelation of Jesus. Any responsible reading of John's great vision will insist on keeping this fact properly in front of us.

July 2, 2012

Theology, Ethics, & the Imitation of Christ

I always enjoy it when New Testament scholars write theology for the Church:
"Paul sees the community of faith being caught up into the story of God's remaking the world through Jesus Christ. Thus, to make ethical discernments is, for Paul, simply to recognize our place within the epic story of redemption. There is no meaningful distinction between theology and ethics in Paul's thought, because Paul's theology is fundamentally an account of God's work in transforming his people into the image of Christ."
"The distinctive shape of obedience to God is disclosed in Jesus Christ's faithful death on the cross for the sake of God's people. That death becomes metaphorically paradigmatic for the obedience of the community: to obey God means to offer our lives unqualifiedly for the sake of others. Thus, the fundamental norm of Pauline ethics is the christomorphic life. To imitate Christ is also to follow the apostolic example of surrendering one's own prerogatives and interests."