Reading John

9781610978033Chris Skinner sent along a copy of his (I have to say right up front) really great little book some time back.

The Gospel of John is often found at the center of discussions about the Bible and its relation to Christian theology. It is difficult to quantify the impact John’s Gospel has had on both the historical development of Christian doctrine and the various expressions of Christian devotion. All too often, however, readers have failed to understand the Gospel as an autonomous text with its own unique story to tell. More often than not, the Gospel of John is swept into a reading approach that either conflates or attempts to harmonize with other accounts of Jesus’ life. This book emphasizes the uniqueness of John’s story of Jesus and attempts to provide readers with a road map for appreciating the historical context and literary features of the text. The aim of this book is to help others become better, more perceptive readers of the Gospel of John, with an ability to trace the rhetoric of the narrative from beginning to end.

It accomplishes that goal in 8 chapters, titled 1) Reading John: Where to Start?; 2) John’s Prologue: The Interpretive Key for Reading the Gospel of John; 3) A Tale of Two Stories: John’s Two Level Drama; 4) John, Jesus and Judaism; 5) An Alien Tongue; 6) John’s Characters and the Rhetoric of Misunderstanding; 7) Putting the Pieces Together; 8) Postscript: Reading John Theologically?.

Even a cursory glance at the contents demonstrates that Skinner’s purpose is not to give readers a commentary on the Gospel.  150 pages would be the length of a basic commentary, to be sure, but Skinner’s jumping from place to place in the Gospel and following a topical outline would turn any commentary in the format into a confused mass.  Instead, readers receive guidance in understanding the main themes or notions of the Gospel According to John.

Chapter One addresses the most basic of questions such as language, audience, authorship, and purpose of the Gospel.  Skinner can’t be credited in this chapter with breaking new ground (thankfully).  But he can be credited with that most mythical of beasts in academic writings: exactitude.  In the second chapter Skinner wants us to accept the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘interpretive key’ for understanding the text.  It would be nice if there were, but the quest for the historical key always ends up saying more about the author’s perceptions than the Gospel’s intentions.

One of the features of the book which I consider quite helpful is the use of ‘Tables’.  On page 11, for instance, we find a table on The Septuagint: The Old Testament For a Greek Speaking World which proffers very basic material which is nonetheless essential.  But at times the tables seem to reach far beyond the Gospel into areas which – properly speaking – do not apply to it at all.  On page 15 Skinner provides a table he calls ‘The Chalcedonian Definition’.  And though Skinner and the rest of us may interpret John through the lens of that document it isn’t actually probative to the meaning of the Gospel itself.  It is, bluntly, eisegetical.  Readers who take it seriously will be reading John in terms he may, or may not, have intended.  It’s better to let John be John than it is to interpret him through the later lens of Greek and Latin theological terms.

Another feature of the book I find very helpful is the inclusion of what I would term ‘study questions’ or ‘group discussion helps’.  See page 30 and the conclusions of other chapters for these.

Chapter three may be the highlight of the book.  Here Skinner is at his most Bultmannian.  He bypasses Bultmann’s terminology but the essential points are Bultmann to the end.  Here too Skinner continues to do what he does throughout which is- to tell stories, anecdotes, and share what he sees as illustrative materials.  The book isn’t hurt by these and they are instructive- but at times they almost appear to dominate the discussion in much the same way that in nearly every class any of us have ever been in or taught there’s that one person who always has something to say and after a while you want to shove them out of the window or put a garment in their mouth.  Skinner doesn’t arrive at that level of annoying, but he comes dangerously close periodically.

When I read chapter four, another favorite, I kept hearing the voice of Tom Thatcher in my ears.  And I also kept hearing the many voices of all who in recent years have tried to understand what the New Testament means by ‘Jews’ and ‘Jewish’.  This is a very fine chapter and its help in clarifying one of the most important topics in New Testament scholarship is astonishing (even if the story about Charlie Ward made me wonder a bit).  But to return to the subject (which the frequent stories sometimes obscure), Skinner’s observations on ‘The Jews’ is must reading for anyone trying to understand the Gospel of John.

Chapter five does its best to illuminate the strange sounding language of John (when compared to the Synoptics).  So herein the ‘I Am’ statements, John’s use of irony, the ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you’ bits, and what Skinner calls ‘literary asides’ are discussed in sufficient detail so as to permit Gospel readers to grapple with them when they run into them in the biblical text itself.

The sixth chapter is really an expansion on one of the literary tropes of John briefly noted in chapter five: misunderstanding.  In particular, Skinner wants us to think about the Beloved Disciple and Peter as examples of John’s very clever way of introducing and developing the characters in the story of Jesus which he relates.  Skinner believes, I think correctly, that

… character misunderstanding is a major part of the narrator’s rhetorical strategy and is related both to the Prologue’s description of Jesus and the gospel’s overall christological presentation (p. 120).

The seventh and essentially last chapter is an exposition of John 3:1-21.  In that exposition, Skinner makes use of the conclusions reached in the previous chapters and shows readers how they work out in a particular text.  In other words, this chapter is a ‘case study’.

Chapter eight is oddly titled “Postscript: Reading John Theologically?” as though reading the Gospel theologically is optional.  There is, in fact, no other way to read this Gospel or any other biblical text.  Even more curiously, Skinner notes,

Throughout this book I have tried to focus primarily on literary and historical concerns while leaving theological questions to the reader (p. 143).

This doesn’t seem to be the case at all given the presence of the aforementioned table on the Chalcedonian declaration the presence of which cast a theological shadow not only on its immediate context but on the entire volume.  The bell once rung cannot be unrung.

Nonetheless, this is an excellent introduction to the major themes of the Gospel of John and those who make the effort to read it in all its glorious brevity will not rue doing so.  I really like it.  As a consequence, I can highly recommend it (even though it could have been shorter and more to the point were the numerous anecdotes left out).

Quote of the Day

Sondern wir haben uns losgesagt von allem, was den Tag scheut und Schande bringt. Wir sind nicht hinterhältig, noch verfälschen wir das Wort Gottes, sondern, indem wir die Wahrheit offenbar machen, empfehlen wir uns einem jeden menschlichen Gewissen vor Gott. – St. Paul

No, @Twitter – Never

nope

He was appointed President of Southeastern Seminary after the Fundamentalist takeover in the 80’s after Randall Lolley was forced out, all the decent faculty fired or forced to leave by conditions completely miserable and the place where I was just finishing a ThM was turned from a formerly brilliant institution of higher learning and genuine theological education into nothing more than a cookie cutter factory producing little Patterson clone Fundamentalists.

I wouldn’t follow this education-destroying right wing nutbag if he were paying for followers to the sum of $1,000,000.

[The photo below is of a brick that was part of the Seminary sidewalk which, quite ironically, the Patterson administration destroyed and replaced as if to say, “we will no longer walk the path of theological greatness.  We have destroyed everything you love”.  Everyone who attended Southeastern Seminary before 1988 knows what kind of brilliant scholars taught there].  As far as I am concerned, SEBTS died in 1988.

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If You’re Anywhere Near Penn State…

This notification is for you and you should attend.

The Penn State Men’s Soccer schedule for 2015 has been announced! A great season is ahead with 10 home games and a number will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

Our B1G home opener will be against Indiana and will be this year’s Mack Brady Game!

Kickoff is scheduled for noon and we expect to have a tailgate, a Soccer Shots clinic, and other events prior to the game, so mark your calendar now! More details to follow.

Do go.

Karl Barth Didn’t Believe it Himself

Barth has famously been quoted as saying ‘Jesus is the answer, now what’s the question?’. The problem with Barth’s cute sounding notion is that he didn’t even believe it himself. Had he, he would have written one book. And in that book there would have been one page. And on that page there would have been one word. And that word would have been ‘Jesus’.

But of course we all know Barth wrote a lot more than that- thus declaring that his seemingly clever quip was hollow and meaningless.

Brunner was better than Barth because he avoided such things as lame bumper sticker theology (since such bumper sticker theology is never ultimately true). And he was better than Barth because he said what needed to be said in fewer words.

Barth could have done as well if he hadn’t lent out his pen to Charlotte v. Kirschbaum. She was the chatty one.

ISD’s Catalog

ISD has pulled together its latest titles on Religious and Biblical Studies and is offering them at special prices through the end of August 2015. The catalog includes titles from Equinox Publishing, Peeters Publishers, Brepols, V&R Academic, Mohr Siebeck, and others, including a newly distributed publisher, Edizioni Terra Santa.

Go here.

Gay-pocrisy: A Series of Theses

  1. Homosexual couples wish to marry.
  2. To celebrate their nuptials they often choose the traditional (!) accouterments of white clothes and black clothes and ceremony and celebration afterwards – including the consumption of cake.
  3. To acquire said cake they visit a baker.
  4. Homosexual persons describe themselves and one another as ‘family’.
  5. Family normally supports family.  If a family member provides services, those who love them, who consider them family, patronize them and thereby support their business and their livelihood.
  6. For every town or city with a Christian baker (florist, hairdresser, wedding planner, makeup artist, etc.) there is at least one gay baker (florist, hairdresser, wedding planner, makeup artist, etc.).

Therefore, if gay persons truly considered their fellow homosexuals as family they would, in fact, patronize their businesses.  If not, either they don’t really consider them ‘family’ or they simply wish to make a political point by attempting to force someone outside the ‘family’ to provide a service which a ‘family’ member can and would doubtless joyfully provide.

Accordingly, the myth of the ‘gay family’ is proven by the fact that homosexuals, rather than supporting one another’s businesses, refuse to do so.  There is no gay community.

Or, if there is, then the members of that community which refuse to employ other members of said community are acting hypocritically when they claim love for one another and support of one another.

Gay-pocrisy is manifest most clearly when homosexuals would rather sue (a Christian) than support a putative member of their community.

If The Green’s Are Christians, Why Are Their Manuscript Acquisitions so Shady?

Roberta writes

… what I am questioning is the quality of the information delivered so far by the editors of the Sappho fragments, the “anonymous collector”, the Green collection and Christie’s department of manuscripts. However, I am still hoping that all the persons involved will add solid evidence on the provenance of the fragments and also of the Coptic Galatians 2 papyrus, which comes apparently from the same Christie’s lot. Solid evidence means: images of the cartonnage before dismounting (which must be available since folders are mentioned in some details in the article), documents attesting the acquisition history of the pieces, and the name of the ‘trusted dealer’ who sold Coptic Galatians 2 to the Green collection in 2013 after the fragment went from Christie’s elegant London showrooms (2011) to the eBay Turkish bazaar of MixAntik (2012).

I have already argued that anonymous collectors represent an issue for academics. Anonymity is a right, but it brings along all sorts of complications: important details might not be fully disclosed to the audience, not even to the scholars involved in the publication of the pieces, and things can go very wrong, as the case of the ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ has demonstrated. The Sappho fragments’ case illustrates my point and goes well beyond matters of simple privacy.

Why are the Green’s not being forthright?

People Dig their own Grave

Many more perish by intemperance than by violence. Intemperance is the source and nurse of all diseases. More perish by surfeiting than by suffering. Every intemperate person digs his own grave with his own mouth and teeth, and is certainly a self-tormentor, a self-destroyer, a self-murderer.  –  THOMAS BROOKS

David in Renaissance Art

Published by Librairie Droz: Les figures de David à la Renaissance, edited by Elise Boillet, Sonia Cavicchioli, Paul-Alexis Mellet.

The literature and arts of the Renaissance fully exploited the ambiguous and complex character of David. The biblical king was particularly emblematic of the intersection between the sacred and the profane, between religion and politics, that characterized the rise of national states against the backdrop of the Wars of Religion. Artists, writers, and political and religious intellectuals dissected David’s singular journey, searching for meaning in his political and spiritual destiny.

Read more here.

If You Don’t Bake the Gay Cake, You Do Discrim-i-nate….

So saith the court in Ireland.

A Christian-owned bakery that refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan has been found guilty of discrimination after a landmark legal action.

The Northern Ireland Equality Commission brought the case against Ashers Baking Company on behalf of Gareth Lee, the gay rights activist whose order was declined.

Giving her ruling at Belfast County Court on Tuesday, district judge Isobel Brownlie said: “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.

Let’s hear it for freedom.  Yay, freedom… To be forced against conscience to do what a tyrannical minority want you to do.  Yay… ‘Freedom’.

Now let’s force Muslim bakers to make cakes with cartoons of Mohammed.  And let’s get those polyamourous marriages, pederast weddings, and of course, animal love couplings all legitimized too.  Doggie cakes…