Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Day at the Museum

Clarke referenced the Codex Sinaiticus and the Septuagint in a couple of posts last week, so Marion and I decided to hop a plane to London and have a look at the original. (That’s not exactly how things progressed, but isn’t far from the truth.)

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We’re in London this week to learn about the Codex Sinaiticus and other artifacts that point to the veracity of the text of the Bible.

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. It contains the oldest complete New Testament in existence, and dates to around 350 A.D. The Old Testament portion is a copy of the Septuagint. Codex Sinaiticus is used by scholars today to create the most accurate translations of the biblical text. The manuscript is served in high definition on the Internet, and it doesn’t take long to see how scribes painstakingly corrected the original writing. There are corrections plastered in the margins everywhere. It was obviously important for the scribes to make sure the work was as accurate as possible and up to par with the best copies of the Bible in existence at the time.

The British Library’s portion of Sinaiticus is currently on display in a special exhibit at the British Museum. We asked Clive Anderson, co-author of Through the British Museum with the Bible, if he could guide us through the exhibits. Although Clive wasn’t scheduled to conduct a tour while we were in town, he graciously agreed.

Some days are better than others. Today was the day for our tour.
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Paul, Moses, Romans 10, and How New Testament Writers Use the Old Testament

Targum Neofiti. Now online at the Vatican Library. This 2nd century Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament, used in Jewish worship, may hold the critical clue for how Paul references Moses in Romans 10 to teach that Christ is the end of the Law.

Targum Neofiti. Now online at the Vatican Library. This 2nd century Aramaic paraphrase of part of the Old Testament, used in Jewish worship, may hold the critical clue as to how Paul references Moses in Romans 10 to teach that Christ is the end of the Law.

I do not know about you, but I must be honest: I like reading things in the Bible that come across crystal clear. If I bump into something that forces me to dig back into some other part of the Bible, and it STILL comes across as a bit confusing, then I am like… well….uh… perhaps I should just move on to the next verse.

Sometimes (though thankfully, not every time), studying the Bible to really understand it is a lot of work. But if we are willing take the effort to do the digging, we can discover some riches that can not be had simply by skimming over the top. A classic case of this can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, specifically Romans 10:4-9. Paul is in the middle of making the case that God has not forgotten about the promises He made to the Jewish people, even though the Jews had confused their zealous observance of the Law of Moses (Mosaic Law) with genuine righteousness. In Romans 10:4, Paul comes to this conclusion that has intrigued students of Scripture for centuries:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (ESV).

What exactly does this mean? Has Christ rendered the Law of Moses meaningless? Has He in some sense fulfilled the Law? Chances are pretty good that your pastor’s library is filled with books that debate this very subject.

Then, Paul does something that is, well, frankly, a bit weird…. at least to modern readers. Check out Romans 10:5-9:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says,“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (ESV).

Okay. What is all of this talk about living by the Law, much less ascending into heaven and descending into the abyss? I kind of look at that and go, “Uh, Paul…. you could have used a clearer illustration. I have no clue what this is about.” I am a 21st century American reading a 1st century text written by a Jewish convert to Christianity, and I am drawing a blank. This is when people start to peer into their notes in their study Bibles to see if they can figure out what in the world is going on. There is lot going on here, but I want to focus on just few aspects of this curious passage that will help us to understand how the New Testament writers, such as Paul, use the Old Testament to teach their message. Do you care to dig a little bit with me?
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Romans-1-Style Idolatry Indoctrination for Children

Okay, folks. What is wrong with the song in this video?  (Read Romans 1:25, just in case you are not sure, or see the full context in Romans 1:18-31).


The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

Habakkuk, one of the minor prophets, has a major message in the Bible. (credit: Wikipedia - 18 century icon painter - Iconostasis of Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, north Russia.)

Habakkuk, one of the minor prophets, has a major message in the Bible. Tucked away in a rather forgotten part of the Bible, the Apostle Paul uses Habakkuk to provide the central theme to his arguably greatest work in the New Testament, the Book of Romans.  (credit: Wikipedia – 18 century icon painter – Iconostasis of Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, north Russia.)

Paul’s most “theological” book in the New Testament, the Book of Romans, is in many ways an extended commentary on one single verse from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2:4:

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (ESV).

That last phrase, “the righteous shall live by (his) faith,” stands in the main thesis statement of Paul’s letter, at the end of Romans 1:16-17. The problem is that this brief little phrase is not entirely self-explanatory.

My late pastor emeritus, Dick Woodward, would teach that the Book of Romans at a high level could be broken down into the different themes emphasized in different parts of the book (Note: “righteous” can also be translated as “just“, from Woodward’s MiniBible College, New Testament Handbook, p. 268):

The just shall live by faith (Romans 1-4).

The just shall live by faith (Romans 5-8).

The just shall live by faith (Romans 12-16).

So, how does one go about unpacking this verse? The great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, puzzled over how to understand this Bible verse, as quoted by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans, for at least two years, as a young teacher of theology in the early sixteenth century. Luther’s main problem, at first, was that he considered the idea of righteous as being something that one had to work for, a type of status that one would have to earn before a Holy God.  As a person of faith, Luther was convinced that he had to modify his own behavior, such that if he were to become truly righteous, only then could he truly live. But his quest to live a righteous life led him into depression. No matter how righteous he tried to be, he never felt like he was ever good enough to meet God’s rigorous demands. In his own understanding at the time, he actually hated the Gospel message:

I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God (Luther’s account of his own conversion).

Eventually, Martin Luther came to see that he had the logic of the verse all wrong. Instead, he finally learned that a person becomes righteous only by having faith, an implicit trust in God. It was through this faith, and through faith alone, that Luther learned that he was “declared” to be righteous by God, and that, as a result, enabled him to live, to live an eternal life. In a total reversal of thought, Luther had now become born again, loving that which he had hated before:

I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.

Luther’s personal, theological breakthrough kickstarted the whole Protestant Reformation. The stumbling block of trying to understand Habakkuk 2:4 as presented in the Book of Romans was not unique to Luther. In fact, the debate over how the New Testament uses Habakkuk 2:4 for the sake of the Gospel remains a topic of considerable theological debate.
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Kirk Cameron’s Monumental Missed Opportunity

Kirk Cameron's 2012 film, Monumental, is worth seeing, but only if accompanied by good, historical scholarship to correct the inaccuracies and misguided theology.

Kirk Cameron’s 2012 film, Monumental, is worth seeing, but only if accompanied by good, historical scholarship to correct the inaccuracies and misguided theology.

I love history. I love it because history tells us who we are. The study of history tells us about where we have come from as individuals and as societies, and it helps to tell us where we are going. We ignore the lessons of history at our peril, as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sadly, we live in an age where we suffer as a culture, and particularly as a Christian church, from chronic amnesia. We risk fulfilling the prophecy of Santayana with such terrifying disinterest and apathy.

The story of the Christian faith is rooted in history. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the narrative of ancient Israel, are events that exist within space and time. As believers, we are under obligation to get the story right. So, it bothers me when those of us as Christians, who should care the most about history, tend to misrepresent that history, fudging on the story at certain points to advance misguided theological agendas. Even if we deem the motives to be well-intended, we do no favors to the church and the surrounding world with unsubstantiated alterations that distort the telling of that history.

This explains the frustration I felt when I recently viewed Kirk Cameron’s 2012 documentary, Monumental. I was indeed entertained by watching Monumental, but I am not so sure if I was equally educated. As a work of amateur historiography, Monumental is worthy of consideration and a thoughtful discussion starter. But as a serious documentary of responsible scholarship, Monumental falls short. It made me want to plead with Kirk Cameron, the famous actor turned film producer, “can I call for a do-over?” I know that I am just a few years “late to the party,” but please allow me to explain.
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