Archive for Dr. Olmstead

Colloquim — Matthew 21:43

Dr. Wes Olmstead will be presenting a paper on Friday November 12th, at 12:30, here at Briercrest. The topic: “A Gospel for a New Nation: Once More, the ἔθνος of Matthew 21.43.”

If you can’t make it, but will be at this year’s SBL, he will be presenting the paper in the section, Theme: Matthew’s Gospel and Early Christianity: Studies in Memory of Professor Graham Stanton: November 20th, 9-11:30am.

The abstract of the paper:
In defending the title for the monograph that presented many of the fruits of his lifetime’s research in Matthew’s Gospel, Graham Stanton wrote: “While Matthew does not use the phrase ‘a new people’, he did see Christians in his own day as a distinct entity over against Judaism. This is confirmed by the important redactional verse 21.43 and, as we shall see in several chapters below, numerous other passages. My title, ‘A Gospel for a New People’, does not correspond precisely to the evangelist’s terminology, but it does sum up his intentions” (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1992, 18). This conclusion has faced such serious challenges in subsequent years that it is possible to speak of a new consensus, which argues that Stanton’s reading is fundamentally anachronistic. Instead of the ethnos of 21.43 being defined over against Judaism, it is argued, for Matthew this ethnos instead refers to “a group of leaders . . . that can lead Israel well” (so, e.g., Anthony J. Saldarini, Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community [Chicago: University of Chicago, 1994], 61.). This essay revisits this discussion and argues that, while Stanton’s conclusion should be nuanced, it more faithfully represents the position outlined in Matthew’s narrative than does the current consensus.

It is Finished!

3,495 words (with a requirement that it not exceed 3,500 words)

14 pages

40 footnotes

27 sources

6 drafts

30 hours of reading

40 hours of writing

3 hours of editing

4 bottles of diet pepsi

Mix well, and bring to rolling boil.

The final result: “A New Passover: The Death of Jesus in the Gospel of John.”

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with a paper like I have with this one. I think the reason is two-fold.

One, I was told by several people that the professor is an extremely hard marker.

Two, I felt overwhelmed writing about Jesus. Who am I to talk about the Passion? Looking back, in all my other biblical studies courses I haven’t actually written about the crucifixion. I’ve written about the gospels before, but usually it was about historical milieu or relationships between a specific gospel passage and other passages (for example the OT). I’ve never written about the death of Jesus. More than once I was confronted by a voice in my head that said, “you’re not qualified to write this. If you do write this you’re going to get it all wrong.”

Finally it is done. It has been submitted to the professor, and I even managed to submit it two weeks BEFORE the due date!

It feels good. But, a question looms: Now what?

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Pastor Mack asks the question: Can a pastor commit adultery with culture?


Marc Cortez has posted a very useful video explaining Markan Priority. I wonder if Dr. Olmstead had shown this in class if I would have ended up being more accepting of Markan Priority?

Chaplain Mike over at Internet Monk has post where he seeks to define Evangelical and Post-Evangelical. An excerpt:

As a post-evangelical, I have not departed from evangelical doctrine. I love Jesus. I treasure the Gospel. My heart and life have been captured by the grace of God in Christ. I fully embrace and gladly own the name “evangelical” in this sense. David Bebbington’s classic 1989 study Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980, identifies four main qualities which describe evangelical convictions and attitudes:

* Biblicism, a high view of the Bible
* Crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
* Conversionism, the belief that sinful human beings need to be converted
* Activism, the belief that faith should be expressed in effort.

Though I would want to clarify my beliefs in these areas, and though I would say that these four statements in and of themselves are inadequate, they do accurately describe a few key elements of my basic stance as a Christian.

An example of a completely unapproachable Jesus:

The Lamb in John’s Gospel

As I work on my paper on John’s presentation of the death of Jesus, I am attempting to answer the following question: Is Jesus’ death in the gospel of John an expiation for sin?

To answer this, I am looking at the Lamb motif in John’s Gospel. For example: John the Baptist declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29). As well, the timing of the Passover in this Gospel is fluid, as John chooses to present Jesus being crucified at the same time that the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in advance of the Passover meal (as compared to the Synoptics which present the Last Supper as the Passover meal), thus suggesting a parallel between the lamb sacrificed at passover and Jesus’ death.

Morna Hooker outlines four interpretations of the Lamb motif in John:
1. The Lamb is a messianic title. This is C.H. Dodd’s theory.
2. The Lamb is the Passover Lamb.
3. The Lamb is from Isaiah 53:7. Here, the Suffering Servant is like a lamb led to slaughter.
4. The Lamb is a sin offering.

Hooker notes that if we take up the second interpretation, where Jesus is the Passover Lamb, we must remember that the Passover Lamb did not remove sin: “The original passover lambs were sacrificed in order to ward off God’s angel, and the annual festival is a reminder of this salvation.”

Bruce Grigsby, on the other hand, argues that while the original Passover event did not signify a removal of sin, by the time of John’s writing, the Passover event and the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb did indeed signify payment for sin.

So now I am off on a research tangent, looking for resources that explain the importance and interpretation of the Passover event in 2nd Temple Judaism. Anybody have any suggestions of where to start?

Morna Hooker, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: New Testament Interpretations of the Death of Christ. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) pg 97-98.
Bruce Grigsby, “The Cross As An Expiatory Sacrifice in the Fourth Gospel” JSNT 15 (1982), pg 51-80.

Reflection on Research

Came across this quote as I was researching my paper for Gospels:

The attentive reader of John’s Gospel already knows the interpretation Jesus himself has given his death: it is an act of friendship love; it is a laying down of life for another, it is loving someone to the very end.” pg 146

Donald Senior, The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991

The research is done, now on to the writing!

Does it Really Matter?

I have one day left of my week-long intensive class on the Gospels with Dr. Olmstead. We spent nearly two full days on background issues. We talked about things like Marcan Priority, the Griesbach Hypothesis and Q. Now most of you are probably going “huh?” and that’s okay.

While it is fascinating to speculate on the origins of the Gospel narratives, the class kept coming back to two important questions: 1. Does it really matter? 2. How do these “academic” issues affect our ministry and ultimately the life of the church?

How many of our parishioners are going to come up to us and ask us to expound on the Farrer-Goulder Theory? How many are going to care that the majority of scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke expounded on it in their own unique ways?

How does reading, and researching the academic arguments that go around and around and around impact our preaching, our pastoral care, and our presentation of the Gospel?

If I hold that Matthew was written first, with Mark then editing it down into a piece that is possibly meant to be presented theatrically, does that really impact my preaching? Does it change the Good News? Does holding this position make me less orthodox? less evangelical? less Christian? Does it really matter?

How would these scholars explain the importance of these issues to an average congregation? Should there be more interaction between the ivory tower academics and pragmatic pastors on the front line of church life?

On the flip side, how have these endeavours enriched the church? These academics point us to the fact that the Gospels are more than simple stories. They show us that the authors of the Gospel narratives were not “dictation machines,” but they were creative and thoughtful and nuanced writers. These academics also show the church that the Gospels were not created in a vacuum. They were created in community where many voices and many eyewitnesses testified to the scandalous love as found in the One who was “raised up”. The Gospels are not four individual’s opinion of Jesus. This is most clearly seen in Luke’s preface:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus…”(Luke 1:1–3 NIV)

Our ivory tower academics challenge the church to think richly and deeply and intelligently about our faith.

Making it What We Want

I guess I’m not postmodern enough.

I struggle with the idea that the meaning of a story, text, play, poem, Scripture passage resides in ourselves and not in the author’s original intention, or in the context of the author’s original audience.

Take Margaret Wente’s article in the Globe and Mail about the re-imagining of the Robin Hood story. Now granted, Wente starts by skewering the new Russell Crowe Braveheart meets Gladiator take on Robin Hood:

What explains the enduring appeal of Robin Hood? I’m not talking about the new Russell Crowe movie, which in my view is a waste of time and $12.99. I’m talking about the Robin Hood of my childhood – a handsome outlaw-hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, and hung out in Sherwood Forest with his gang of Merrie Men.

She then talks about current trends in Robin Hood literary criticism:

In 1999, the world’s leading Robin Hood scholar, Stephen Knight, wrote a paper mischievously called “The Forest Queen.” (There are entire conferences devoted to Robin Hood.) Although the paper was actually about Maid Marian, it prompted a call from a curious reporter for the Times of London, who thought there might be a gay angle. Were those Merrie Men, he asked, even merrier than we think? The answer was maybe. As Mr. Knight tells it, “I gave my opinion that one of the political meanings of the story was to read Robin’s resistance to authority as being the resistance of the gay to the straight.”

Would Mr. Knight’s thesis been understood by the original author of the Robin Hood legend? By it’s original audience?

We do the same thing with Jesus. Jesus becomes a hippy-republican-pacificist-warrior-‘manly man’-androgynous-revolutionary-libertarian guru, depending on how we “feel” about him. It’s not about the original audience. It’s not about the author’s original intention. It’s about us. We know best. We are the hermeneutical centre of everything.

As I gear up for my Gospels class with Dr. Olmstead next week, and I read some of the literature of scholars (see: Jesus Seminar) who know for sure that Jesus could not have said what he said, or did what he did, or meant what he meant, I can see why I tend to avoid studying Jesus. As bad as that sounds for a pastor and seminary student, it is true.

I don’t want to reduce Jesus to an historical person who didn’t actually do what he did. Nor do I want to impose my ideal image of Jesus on the Gospels when my ideal image is not what the Gospel writers envisioned as they wrote their accounts of the life of Jesus. But it means that I’ve kept the Jesus of the Gospels at a distance, afraid to come in contact with Him. I have kept him wholly-other, and I think I need a correcting vision of Jesus being indeed “God with Us.”

Thankfully, N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God has helped me immensely. He concludes the book with this:

We come to him as ones unknown, crawling back from the far country, where we had wasted our substance on riotous but ruinous historicism. But the swinehusks — the ‘assured results of modern criticism’ — reminded us of that knowledge which arrogance had all but obliterated, and we began the journey home. But when we approached…we found him running to us as one well known, whom we had spurned in the name of scholarship or even of faith, but who was still patiently waiting to be sought and found once more. And the ring on our finger and the shoes on our feet assure us that…we shall discover again and again not only who he is but who we ourselves are: as unknown and yet well known, as dying and behold we live. (pg 662)

Prepping for Gospels Class

In two weeks, I will be taking a week-long modular course on the “Gospels” with Dr. Olmstead. In preparation, we are to read N.T. Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God.”

I am fascinated by Wright’s understanding of Mark 13 and the coming of the “Son of Man”. He suggests that Mark 13 is at its core, “a well-known Jewish story retold”, particularly the story of the Maccabean Revolt and cleansing of the temple in 167 BC, (as well as the overarching story of redemption and vindication as found in the OT prophets).

In Mark 13:14-15, Jesus warns that there will come a time where the people will have to flee to the mountains. Wright understands it this way:
“The disciples are not to stay and fight for the physical survival of Jerusalem. They are not to be implicated in the coming war… No mistaken sense of loyalty must sway them into trying to bring the kingdom after all by means of the sword. Rather, they are to waste no time: they must run way.” (pg. 359).

Jerusalem has become Babylon, and thus the response of the disciples should be to flee because Babylon will be destroyed in judgment.

Wright argues that this fleeing is not cowardice:
“The way of loyalty was the way of flight. Such flight would not betoken cowardice. It would be undertaken with the intention of regrouping as a body, in order subsequently to be vindicated as teh ture people.” (pg. 353).

Just as Mattathias and his family fled to the hills (1 Macc. 2:15-28), so to the followers of Jesus will have to flee. When the Maccabees fled it did not mean defeat, for as Wright notes: “Mattathias’ flight to the hills ended with his family becoming the new royal house.” (pg. 353).

Wright also argues that the “Coming of the Son of Man” does not mean the Second Coming at the end of time. The “Coming of the Son of Man” in Mark 13:26, (““At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”) can also be understood as “going” (the word is erchomenon in Greek). Wright suggests that this “coming” is not a downward return, from heaven to earth, but the other way around:
“The ‘son of man’ figure ‘comes’ to the Ancient of Days. He comes from earth to heaven, vindicated after suffering… The ‘coming o the son of ma’ is thus good first-century metaphorical language for two things: the defeat of the enemies of the true people of god, and the vindication of the true people themselves.” (pg. 361-62)