Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Good News for the Gospel

Our word "Gospel" comes from the Old English: gōd spell which means "good tidings." This was a direct translation (in it's day) for the Greek εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion): good message... the good news!

Naturally, the vast majority of English Bibles translate euangelion as either good news or gospel. But what does euangelion really mean? Does it really do the concept of euangelion justice to simply translate it literally as good news?

The reason why I bring this up is because recent scholarship (the last few decades) has been revealing that there is a depth of meaning behind euangelion that can't be captured by a literal translation. As more and more manuscripts are discovered that are also written in Koine Greek we can get more context for how certain words are used. It has become clear that the word euangelion is used most frequently in a very specific context: announcements to the citizens of the empire concerning royalty, specifically birth and coronation proclamations.

"The word euangelion was not invented by the Gospel writers... It referred to an announcement of 'glad tidings' regarding a birthday, rise to power, or decree of the emperor that was to herald the fulfillment of hopes for peace and wellbeing in all the world" (Mounce's CEDONTW).

"The idea of good news... had two principle meanings for first-century Jews. First, with its roots in Isaiah, it meant the news of YHWH's long-awaited victory over evil and rescue of His people. Second, it was used in the Roman world for the accession, or birthday, of the Emperor" (NT Wright's glossary in his "for Everyone" series).

So euangelion is not just, "Hey, honey, I've got some good news. I got a raise at work..."

No! Euangelion is all about, "GOOD NEWS!! An heir; a SON has been born to the emperor!" or "GOOD NEWS!! The reign of the new King has just begun! It's the beginning of a new era!"

On top of this, it is of note that in the Gospel of Mark the word euangelion is used 7 times (for those of you unfamiliar with the significance of numbers in the Bible please read: this). Couple this with the fact that the passion narrative in Mark's gospel is "arranged according to the coronation ceremonies of the Roman Emperor" (Velvet Elvis, 64) and I think we are running into a pretty significant theme.

The reason why I bring this up is because I think a lot of Christians are under the impression that the gospel is about personal salvation... but maybe it's not!

Over the next few weeks I'll be developing this line of thought (and it's implications) a bit more.

In the meantime:
What do you think?
How is this similar or different from what you think the Gospel is?
What implications do you see when you encounter this alternative definition of euangelion?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"... but the LORD was not in the earthquake."

While my title is a blatant mis-quote of 1 Kings 19:11 this phrase has really struck me.

It seems as though every few years there is some sort of huge natural catastrophe that brings uncomfortable issues to the forefront of our minds. As long as the media pushes these to the front-page we feel some sort of compassion/obligation to toss a few dollars to the Red Cross or some other agency, but for the most part as soon as the media lets the issue go we slip back into our egocentric, ethnocentric lives.

How do we deal with natural evil?

Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes... or even cancer for that matter. How do we deal with these? Who do we blame? We have no person, no human to blame. I don't think we can blame it on Satan either. When nature strikes who do we blame? Who is there to blame except God?

These are the uncomfortable questions we often push to the back of our minds until life gets back to "normal."

If you have a couple of minutes check out 38:40-41:40 of the video below. The moderator is asking Nancey Murphy what current issues are facing the world of philosophy, theology, and science (she is an expert on the interrelatedness of these 3) that need to be dealt with.

Of course, her answer is: natural evil.

I find her answer interesting. Traditionally, Christians have said that natural evil is the result of moral evil or sin. Of course, as our understanding of science has progressed (she says) this sort of answer doesn't fit with the way the world actually functions.

According to Murphy neither the sinfulness of man nor the wrath of God are directly responsible for natural evil. Instead she says (obviously from a scientific perspective... [how does that shape our theology?]) that if humanity is to exist at all we need a world with tectonic plates. In other words, for any life of any kind to survive on this planet it requires a world with volcanoes and earthquakes. And thus God created our world that way.

What do you make of that?
You don't need to have some sort of fancy intellectual insight.
What sorts of things run through your mind when you see events like we have now in Haiti?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christus Victor

There is a word used in the New Testament that provides us with a wonderfully vivid picture of what Jesus accomplished as the Christ. This word, triumph (qriambeuvw), is only used twice in the Bible:

2 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession
, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

Colossians 2:15 (ESV)
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

This word, triumph, is not simply another word for "being
victorious" (the word for victorious, nikavw, is used 28x in the NT). This word comes from a very specific practice from the ancient
world which the Romans perfected.

Since every single person to whom the New Testament was originally written lived under Roman rule it is safe to say that they would all be familiar with this practice and it is quite likely that a significant number of them would have witnessed something very similar to a triumph at some point in their lives.

The Roman Triumph was a celebratory procession that marked a great victory and the end of a war. This procession (a glorified parade) was designed to heap praises upon the victorious General and to heap abuse and shame upon the hapless losers.

But not just any soldier or General could qualify for a proper triumph. No! they had to meet a strict set of criteria in order to qualify. They had to:
1. be a of a certain social class and from a proper family line
2. kill a minimum of 5,000 enemy soldiers
3. bring their army home with them (symbolizing that the victory was so complete that there was no need to leave soldiers behind to keep the peace)
4. the senate had to approve and endorse the triumph
5. etc... (there were a lot of criteria)

Once the General met all of these qualifications he could have his triumph which looked roughly like this:
1. Leading the parade were the members of the senate who endorsed the triumph
2. Trumpeters and priests with incense (engaging the senses of the onlookers... notice how in 2Cor2:14 Paul talks about fragrance...)
3. Carts and wagons full of the spoils of war
4. the conquered war leader/king with his family and other important people of the conquered nation all of whom were bound
5. the victorious General with his family and other important people. The General is crowned with the laurel wreath.
6. finally the procession is rounded out with the disarmed, defeated army who gets to march through Rome while the people ridicule them.

And once the whole procession reaches it's destination the defeated army is sold into slavery and the defeated leaders are publicly executed. This usually happened either by crucifixion or strangulation: both of those emphasize the helplessness of this once powerful leader.

Take a few minutes and watch the video below. This gives you an idea of what sort of imagery Paul and Timothy were using when they wrote 2 Cor. & Col. This is the imagery they wanted to conjure in the minds of their readers/listeners:

[warning: this is a little graphic]

So, I'm going to leave the application of this to you!

What is the significance of Paul/Timothy's use of triumph?
What does this say about what Jesus has done?
What other thoughts do you have that this brings to mind?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Love lifted me!

... or at least my Jeep!
In case you didn't know, the "stapes" is the smallest bone in the human body. I don't think that I can say "I don't have a mechanical bone in my body"; it's just that if I do have a mechanical bone it would be my stapes.

So in an act of true brotherly love my brother Darrell helped me (told me what to do and did at least half of the work himself) put a small lift on the my Jeep. It's just a small 2 1/2 inch body lift but I'm very happy with it.

For those of you who might care here is how it went:

In the front we swapped out my old "stock" coils...
... for some of Darrell's "used" but much sweeter coils. This gained us just under 3 inches.

In the back we inserted some 2 1/2 inch blocks just under the leaf springs:

And here are the final before and after pics: (watch Kaleb's pom-pom to get an idea of the hight difference).

Thanks, Deebs. You're the best!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

No Rapture Here!

Matthew 24:37-42 (ESV)
37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

As I've mentioned before (and as you can see in the side-bar) I've been reading Ben
Witherington III's book The Living Word of God. In his chapter, "Truth Telling as an Art-Form" BW3 uses the above passage as an example of how certain texts are often abused.

For years these 6 verses have been used to describe "the Rapture." As I read BW3's interpretation of this passage I felt like I was slapped across the face! What is described here is so NOT rapturous! In fact, it is very much the opposite of what we picture when we think of the rapture. After thinking through this I was very much frustrated that I had never really read this passage properly before.

Often it is only verses 40-42 that are quoted from this passage and what is left out is the context of the analogy that Jesus is using: Noah.

"As were the days of Noah...they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."

What is described in the following verses where two people are side-by-side and one person is "taken" has nothing to do with 1 Thess 4 or any other passage that supposedly describes the Rapture. What Jesus describes here is the opposite.

Two people will be side-by-side and the people who will be "taken" will be those who (as in the days of Noah) are"swept away" in the flood of judgement.

After all, that's exactly what happened with Noah. The righteous (Noah and his family) were left behind to restart God's creation while the unrighteous were destroyed.

And so, it is not the righteous who will be taken away... it is the righteous who will be left behind! It is the unrighteous who will be swept away.

So, if you want to keep your ideas of the Rapture you'll have to use different scriptures than this one!

I don't know why I had never thought of this passage this way before. Now it seems so obvious, and it makes way more sense in the full context of Jesus' teachings on end times... too much dispensationalism in my Sunday School I guess!! :)

So, what do you think:
What do you think about this interpretation of Mt. 24?
Have you ever had something like this happen where you've thought of a certain passage a certain way most of your life only to have it flipped around on you?
What other passages do you think are often misinterpreted?

An Axe to Grind

Check it out: it's my Christmas gift to me!
What it is is a Gransfors Bruks small forest axe.
It was handcrafted in Sweden by Kjell-Åke Sjölund.