Sunday, July 14, 2024

On Bible translations

A recent visit to a local Christian bookshop is one provocation for this post. Another is reading Peter Simpson's Colin McCahon: Is This the Promised Land? Vol. 2 1960-1987 (Auckland University Press, 2020) on NZ’s (arguably) greatest artist, Colin McCahon, and seeing the impact the New English Bible translation made on him and his religious paintings.

Taking the bookshop first: I am bewildered by two observations looking at the Bible section of the bookshop. 

1. The available Bibles are dominated by (i) fairly recent translations published by North American publishers and (ii) the ESV (which is not so recent, and is a certain form of conservative Christianity’s go to successor to the KJV/RSV/ASB line (both evangelical and - in respect of some parts of the English-speaking world re "lectionary Bibles" - Catholic).)  

2. Thus very good English translations (such as NRSV, New Jerusalem Bible, Revised English Bible, Good News Bible, NIV, New Living Translation) are hard to find (at least in this particular shop). 

(Obviously such observations will vary from store to store, from Protestant store to Catholic store and so on.)

Apart from the obvious commercial consideration (a publisher will make more out of their own “brand” of translation than out of another translation that they (presumably) pay royalties on to the copyright holder of the translation), why would the English-speaking Christian world - at least as measured by what a bookshop thinks it can sell most of - move on from the translations I list above? What on earth is wrong with:

- NRSV: best, modern, scholarly, appreciated by Catholics and Protestants, inclusive (great for congregational reading in worship; better than ESV on that score) translation ever?

- New Jerusalem Bible: learned, readable, scholarly Catholic translation, widely appeciated by Protestants as well?

- Revised English Bible: updated successor to the fine New English Bible (more on that below) and with good ecumenical scholarship behind its updates?

- Good News Bible: brilliant translation within confines of deliberately limited vocabulary; and when supplied with Annie Vallotton drawings, the best ever illustrated Bible, and not particularly needing updating even as English speech has changed over the 50+ years since it first appeared?

- New Living Translation: fresh, vibrant English, easy to read - potentially the new Good News Bible of its day?

- NIV: ok if all the above impress you but you are keener on a translation skewed favourably by its evangelical translators, then this is for you and for me?

(I would be happy to put The Message in the list as well. There weren't many copies of it available in this store …!)

It is not as though, before we get to the actual plethora of very recent translations or current availability of diverse forms of publication of the ESV, that the English-speaking Christian world has been short of great translations. Who would need more than the six I list above to choose from?

Apparently we all do!

What is wrong here with even more choice in 2024? Arguably, nothing! Choice is good. The paper Bibles are printed on will be just the same amount of paper whether we have a choice of six translations or of sixteen (assuming something of a consistent rate of purchases among Christians). Etc. It does make it harder to have a sense of a common reading of Scripture together - though it could reasonably be argued that if we are not all reading the NRSV in church then we do not have a common reading whether the range beyond the NRSV is two or ten or twenty versions.

We might also add that the Bible has always been a “contested space”. Even when there was no translating going on, just copying of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts in pre-printing press scriptoria, we know that various scribes sought to improve the text before them with the odd extra clarifying word or the subtle change which harmonised one text with another or made some difficult to understand sentence less difficult. Then when (in the English speaking world) translations took off, the much loved 1611 KJV was the outcome of several esrtwhile attempts through the previous century to form a widely agreeable text for the whole of the then English-speaking world.

Once, several centuries later, the stability and continuity of the KJV was no longer fit for a now changed English language, it was always unlikely that a “revised version” of the KJV would satisfy all across the UK/Commonwealth and USA, across Catholic and Protestant communities, and across theologically diverse congregations. Thus by the time the 19th century Revised Version gave way to the post WW2 Revised Standard Version (with various other Catholic and Protestant translations popping up through the first half of the 20th century), the character of 20th century English was ripe for the 1950s (JB Philips New Testament), 1960s (NEB New Testament, Today’s English Version (Good News Bible) New Testament, The Jerusalem Bible), 1970s (completion of NEB, GNB, emergence of The Living Translation) and 1980s (NIV, The New Jerusalem Bible).

If, then, within the particular “contest” of the diverse character of English (incuding the diverse character of its speakers: first language, second language; “American” v “British”; “popular” v “academic”), to say nothing of diverse nature of desired translations (word for word, meaning for meaning, somewhere in between), we allow that there was never going to be a “new KJV for the 20th and 21st centuries” which swept all other “wannabe” dominant Bibles before it (and, we might note, even the so-called New KJV has not particularly dominated the field of modern English Bibles), the question remains: do we need all the translations currently available? 

(My associated question: are we seeing the sweeping aside of wonderful translations in favour of North American publishing houses turning a profit on their “house” translations which have nothing much to commend them, relative to what is already in existence?)

Yet, without particularly wanting to support the most recent of translations and the publishers behind them, might we note that there has been an unhelpful tendency on the part of the major players of the mid to late 20th centuries to adjust/update their translations so that no particular moral authority exists anywhere in the English speaking world to stop others coming forward with new translations?

Consider:

While the NEB, dating from the early 1960s/70s, had some old fashioned English, so could have been updated by its publishers (i.e. the REB), has the REB met any particular need for a solid, academically very sound translation not already met by the NRSV? (And, the NRSV is better at inclusive language that the REB!)

The Bible Societies, while still publishing the Good News Bible, felt it had shortcomings in the market for “limited vocabulary” English Bibles, and so published the Common English Version (CEV). But was it really needed? Many years later it seems that the GNB is still around (albeit very, very hard to find in the Chch bookshop I mentioned above) and the CEV is … not so much.

Then what about the NRSV itself? Recently, its progenitors determined it was in need of an update, it seems in an even more inclusive direction re its language, so we now have the “NRSVUE” (NRSV Updated Edition). Well, OK, but if body A thinks an update in a particular direction of an existing translation is needed, why shouldn’t body B think a new translation is needed in another direction? What is wrong with some stability of availability of a translation? The KJV was available for some 270 years before the Revised Version came along. The NRSVUE has come along after some 30 - 40 years of the NRSV!

Put another way, could all Bible publishers, societies and committees just stop bringing out new or updated editions of their English versions! Let a season of settlement enter into our English speaking world. In 2100, let the wise owls of Rome, Geneva, Oxbridge, Harvard, Toronto, Melbourne, Dublin and Auckland get together and sift through the current practice of the congregational and individual reading of Scripture to determine, say, the top four versions, and then whether any or all of those versions need updating. Let’s then just publish those versions for the next 270 years!

How about that second provocation for this post?

For those unfamiliar with NZ art, Colin McCahon was (even in his own life-time) and is (in his works which live on) one of our foremost artists and probably our foremost "religious" artist, noting that a considerable portion of his prolific output of paintings focus on Christian themes. In the second volume of Peter Simpson's biography of McCahon (splendidly illustrated with reproductions of his paintings), he describes McCahon discovering the then still fairly new New English Bible New Testament (pp. 95-99), and cites from a 1969 letter McCahon wrote:

"Have you looked at the New English Bible (Oxford-Cambridge 1961) WOW. It says lovely things - like - Mary went to the place where Jesus was - " [ p. 96]

Simpson then references five works of McCahon's each of which consisted of a biblical text, worked from (in McCahon's words) "my rediscovery of the meaning of the story of Lazarus," i.e. from John 11 - these works themselves forerunners of much larger 1970 paintings. (See also Simpson's exposition on pp. 144-147.)

But, relative to this post, let's take the words noted above, "Mary went to the place where Jesus was" (John 11:32). In the KJV (which presumably was the translation McCahon was familiar with prior to his being gifted the 1961 NEB New Testament), these words are rendered, "Then when Mary was come where Jesus was". The freshness of the NEB is immediately obvious, and raises for the reader the life-giving thought, Might I, like Mary, go to the place where Jesus is?

But here is the thing, when I went to check my own NEB New Testament re these words, I could not find them. Instead, John 11:32 reads, "Mary came to the place where Jesus was". Subtlely different! What gives? On closer inspection, I have a copy of the 1970 Second Edition. Changes here and there have entered in, in the space of nine years. My point here is not to evaluate whether those changes are good, bad or indifferent. (The Greek points more to "came" than to "went to".) My point is that "we" keep changing the English text of Scripture, even within the tradition of a particular translation, and, so, the likes of, well, me, can scarcely complain when I go into a bookshop and see a bunch of new translations!

The NEB, incidentally, is a great translation - it has a feel for the English language which other translations - including the Revised English Bible do not have. Hard to get hold of a copy!

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Paul Liberated from Misunderstanding (Part 2/2)

Continuing from last week ... BJ = Beyond Justification and CDP = its authors Douglas Campbell and Jon DePue and JT = Justification Theory:

In the end I think I have two big questions about BJ (aside from anything else I raised last week):

1. Is it plausible to read Romans and Galatians as a debate between Paul and one of more Jewish Christians distorting the gospel (rather than a debate between Paul and the Judaism or Judaisms of his day)?

2. Is there a difference between the God of retributive justice (wrongdoing deserves punishment) and the God of love?

1. There is an intriguing possibility that the answer to the first question is "Maybe for Galatians, but not for Romans." CDP answer affirmatively for both, however, and so I confine my remarks here to Romans, not being convinced that they have gotten Romans right, while accepting there is plausibility to their case re Galatians. In particular, Romans conjures up CDP's (as far as I know) novel proposal that when we get to Romans 1:18-32 we do NOT hear Paul speaking but the voice of "The Teacher" (i.e. the Jewish-Christian false teacher) coming through. I am not convinced as I am sure many others are not. There is no specific clue that between v. 17 and v. 18 we have a change of voice, that Paul is switching from what he believes to what another person believes. 

Sure, later in Romans 2 and beyond there are some questions Paul raises and responds to (which could indeed be the questions of an opposing interlocutor so that Romans includes the kind of debate CDP propose is there). But if Romans 1:18-32 is the voice of Paul, do we not have to engage with this God of Paul who is wrathful against wrongdoing and with the impact this makes on his understanding of the gospel? This engagement being especially through Romans 3 and 4, no matter how difficult it is to make sense of it. And, even if we broadly agree with CDP that JT is the not-quite-wholly-plausible theory that flows out of Romans 3 and 4, does this question not remain? It is quite plausible that Paul writing to Christians in Rome, sets out in Romans 1:18-32 what is a fairly unexceptional Jewish critique of the excesses of Rome's licentious culture? (Look to Jude, for example, for another NT example of such unexecptional critique). If the gospel is the power of God to transform the lives of sinners (1:1-17), then it is the power of God to transform all sinners, Jew and Gentile, averagely/morally good citizen of Rome and exceptionally immoral citizens too.

For myself I continue to think, in a pretty much standard Protestantish manner, that Romans 3 and 4 set out an answer to the following question: 

If, within the flow of Israel's theological understanding, from Mosaic law or Torah, through to first and then second Temple worship (the Judaic sacrificial system), we ask the question, relative to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, on what basis are our sins and their consequences before God removed from us and forgiveness and new life proceeds from an engagement with God's own revealed solution to the problem of wrongdoing? Then, according to Paul, writing in Romans 3-4, that basis is that Christ has fulfilled the law of Moses, and on the cross became both the ultimate and lasting sacrifice for our sins and thus also heralded the end of the application of Torah to human life. 

And, consequentially, in response to the obvious supplementary question, how might we gain the benefits of that sacrifice, the answer given (in Romans, Galatians, 1 Peter, Hebrews etc) is that we are asked to put our faith in Jesus Christ: we are not asked to do good works, to make an offering of money or meat or other materials. This is so, whether (again in fairly recent debates) we posit that "good works" (i.e. "works of the Law") means works which establish identity, such as being circumcised, or works which respond to the Law as the covenant between God and ourselves in which our response is marked by strict obedience to all the laws within Torah. 

Further, no matter how many times we translate "faith in Jesus Christ" into "the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ" (noting a modern debate about the meaning of the frequent phrase pistou Christou in Paul's writings), we are left with instances when, clearly, our faith is invited by God as our response to the gospel of new life in Christ (as, in fact, I note CDP inter alia acknowledge also).

So, whether or not Paul has in mind a specific "teacher" - a member of  Jewish Christian group imposing its distortion of the gospel on Christians in Rome as well as in Galatia - he offers us, in all its complexities within the text, with all the tragic risks that it would in centuries to come contribute to a theological/cultural anti-semitic outlook, a theology of salvation which is utterly Christian (i.e. focused on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us through death and resurrection and through release of the Holy Spirit). This soteriology stands its ground distinctively in the face of counter claims based on Judaism or Judaisms of his day, and proposes that in Christ, all who avail themselves of the salvation he offers, are entering into the true fullness of God's plan for the Jews, notably into the true fullness of God's promises to Abraham himself. Put a little differently, Paul in Romans takes on "all Judaism", whether the Judaism of Jews or the Judaism of a particular Christian Jewish teacher, and highlights the fulfilment of promises to Abraham and the goal of laws revealed to Moses being the son of David, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

2. Is there a difference between the God of retributive justice (wrongdoing deserves punishment) and the God of love?

Now this question could have mountains of words written in an attempt to answer it when that attempt is to provide a full and final theological coup de grace of an answer, drawing across the whole of Scripture. This is not that. 

Here I simply observe that the Old Testament is full of God commanding just living with reference to punishment for failure to obey (law), wrathfully speaking against injustice (prophets) and reflections on the collective punishment (exile, destruction of Jerusalem) of Israel/Judah for its disobedience which permeate historical and prophetic books in the OT. 

This is the theological background to Paul's engagement as a Jew (a Pharisee no less) transformed by Christ and now writing to Jewish and Gentile Christians about the gospel and its meaning and application in contexts where arguments between Jews and Christians, and between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians abounded. 

It is quite reasonable to expect that what Paul writes will incorporate the "God of retributive justice" into his new understanding of the "God of love" - of the God who loved us so much that in Christ Jesus God's Son, he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), made us alive when we should be dead "through our trespasses" (Ephesians 2:5; cf 2:1-10), and became "a sacrifice of atonement by his blood" (Romans 3:25) saving us "through him from the wrath of God" (Romans 5:9). Thus and so can Paul also boldly declare, concerning the God who is love, "God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8) and that nothing can separate those in Christ from God's love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:28-39).

In sum, I do not think, within Paul's theological writings, within Romans in particular, a neat cleavage can be made between the God of retributive justice and the God of love.

To conclude: BJ is not the final word of clarification on what Paul writes to Christians then and now about matters of salvation, justification, theology and, thus, also christology. If we have misunderstood Paul (and BJ totally nails the depth of the challenge for anyone past, present or future to make the claim of "finally, we may understand Paul completely"), then Campbell and DePue have not yet liberated Paul from misunderstanding. Their best point, IMHO, is that any "justification theory" (let alone the specific "Justification Theory" they oppose) must embrace the whole of Paul on God's transformative work in Christ - through his death, resurrection and unleashing of the Holy Spirit. And wherever we arrive within that embrace, it must be devoid of antisemitism of any shade, implicit or explicit.

Monday, July 1, 2024

Paul Liberated from Misunderstanding - Do Campbell and DePue Deliver? (Might be Part 1/n)

As usual, if you do not like this post, before you even read it, there are some alternatives :)

1. What to make of Matariki? Archdeacon Lyndon Drake makes a good point here about spirituality in NZ.

2. A correspondent has alerted me to a wonderful video-coffee with ++Rowan Williams and Sr Vassa. This description may, or may not entice you to view/listen: "Sister Vassa is an Orthodox nun and liturgiologist in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Like Rowan himself, she has been outspoken against Kirill's advocacy of war in Ukraine and strained relations with other Orthodox. Against this background, Rowan defines orthodoxy, reflects on mediating That Topic, comments on an alleged clash of civilizations, and advocates candor within church unity about what is unholy."


Now to this week's "post proper":

Beyond Justification: Liberating Paul's Gospel by Douglas A. Campbell and Jon DePue (Cascade Books, 2024)

This book is a popular version of a long academic-standard book by Doug Campbell (The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, Eerdmans, 2009.) That longer book is well reviewed/discussed (for example here and here) and I acknowledge insights from those reflections, but, generally, my frustration(s) here and in futue posts with the popular version are my own!

Now, generally, when anyone says (something like), "Look here, Christians have misunderstood X for 1900/2000 or so years, but I have discovered what X really means," we should be very suspicious. There is nothing true which is new and nothing new which is true - and all that!

However, there is a case for saying (with the author of 2 Peter 3:15-16) that Paul is difficult to understand in places, and that through the 1900+ years since he wrote, there has been much discussion, most notably in the context of the Reformation and its aftermath as to what Paul's words mean for the contemporary church (in the context of contemporary reflection on relationships between Jews and Christians). 

The Reformation's aftermath remains with us as, for example, in 20th and 21st centuries, we continue to dialogue Anglican-Catholic, Lutheran-Catholic, Reformed-Catholic and so forth, and as we have the New Perspective on Paul and, now, Campbell and DePue, who could be said to propose a New New Perspective on Paul. Or, alternatively, as various scholars propose a new "originalism" about what Paul really meant. 

So, a starting point here is not to dismiss this book (or its larger precursor) on the basis we might dismiss other theological claims which seem to amount to, "I, Peter Carrell now know what no one else before me has known." Rather, let's join the fray and ask, with many well-known and not well-known readers of Paul's epistles, "What did Paul mean when he wrote Romans and Galatians and in the context of those epistles in particular, developed his theology of salvation in which we are justified through the death and resurrection of Christ?"

For ease of writing I am going to abbreviate the (popular) book title to BJ and the authorship to CDP.

CDP advance a complex of theses in BJ. My summary (which is "my" summary of the complex amlagam which is BJ) is this:

1. That Paul's soteriology (or, gospel) is "participatory, resurrectional, and transformational" - God draws us [participatory] into new life in Christ made possible through his death and rising again [resurrectional], in which we are empowered through the Spirit to live a life pleasing to God [transformational]. Concimitantly the God of this gospel is the God of love who has loved us from before the foundation of the world, never stops loving us, and never stops drawing us into the loving life of God. And, 

1A: this gospel is not "the gospel of justification" or "justification theory" [JT] which posits a God of retributional justice who requires our punishment unless it is borne by another, i.e. Christ dying on the cross, and who seeks "faith" from us instead of "works". For this gospel, passages in Romans 1-4 and Galatians 1-4 appear supportive, but it is then hard (so CDP argue) to make sense of the participatory, resurrectional, and transformational passages in Paul's writings, notably in Romans 5-8, and in epistles such as Ephesians. In fact, on CDP's count, only about 10% of Paul's writings support JT and faithful interpretation and application of Paul's writings should work with the other 90% (if not the whole 100%) of his epistles. 

2. That JT (and even recent attempts to revise it through scholars such as E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright) have either harmed Jews through the Christian era, leading most horribly and tragically to the Holocaust, or, in respect of recent revisions, insufficiently improved the situation for Jews for the present and the future: Jews in one way or another are replaceable by Christians in our various understandings of Pauline soteriology. By contrast, 

2A: BJ leads to an understanding of Pauline theology which avoids diminution, let alone denigration of Jews, or even denial of the right of Jews to exist.

3. That JT rests on a misreading of Romans and Galatians because there has been a failure through centuries and centuries to recognise that Paul is not contrasting his gospel with Jewish soteriology generally (in popular summations: faith v works, grace v law, the cross v temple sacrifice) but with a specific teaching of Jewish Christians who influentially proposed that Christians should abide by the requirements of Mosaic law. 

In other words, Paul doesn't have "Jews" or "Judaism" or "Judaisms of the so called Second Temple period" in his sights, but a very specific opposition to his participatory, resurrectional, and transformational gospel. That is, Paul has an opposition internal to the fledgling Christian movement in his sights, and not Jews who remained external to this movement. 

In support of this thesis, BJ provides an alternative reading of key passages in Romans and Galatians, effectively meaning that, with some adroit imagination (where no other clue than BJ's thesis exists) or some reasonable presumption (e.g. where Paul proposes a question and then answers it, the question could reasonably be the question of an opponent), these passages are Paul's dailogue/debate with a malignant distortion of the gospel, and not with Judaic thought generally.

Now, this might be enough for this week's post save for a few final notes.

A. I am completely with BJ in understanding that Paul's gospel is participatory, resurrectional, and transformational. Not only is this coherent with the "whole" of Paul's writings, it is also coherent with, say, Johannine theology, and with my own preferred understanding of the eucharist in Anglican theology.

B. I think worrying about outcomes for Jews may distort how we read Paul, and this may be the case in BJ. We SHOULD worry about outcomes for Jews for any theological work we do, but we should take care we are not attempting to rescue Paul (or others such as Luther or G.K. Chesterton) from anti-semitic charges we would prefer them not to be condemned for. Let's read Paul and then work out mitigations afterwards to any unsatisfactory readings we arrive at. Or, more simply, I think BJ would be a better reading of Paul if its concerns about BJ's outcomes re Jews were tackled at the end of the book and not at the beginning.

C. (A personal note.) It has been a privilege in my life to have once known Douglas Campbell (when I began theological study with Otago University in 1984, he was a graduate in Dunedin working in my local parish church between the end of Otago's [southern hemisphere] academic year in 1983 and heading to Toronto for postgraduate study in September 1984). I hold him in the highest regard as a person and as the possessor of a luminous mind. 

While I do not know Jon DePue and never met E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn was my doctoral supervisor and I have had a few face to face engagements with N.T. Wright. I do not believe that if Sanders and Dunn were still alive they would not have a robust response to the critique CDP mount against them ... and I look forward, in hope, to Wright's! (If he has already responded to the earlier book, let me know in a comment here.)



Sunday, June 23, 2024

Weekend news and views

If last Sunday, on Chatham Island, was brilliant weather wise, this Sunday, back in Christchurch is, well, miserable: wet and cold.

But yesterday there was some cheering news: our Synod, meeting in a special one day session, agreed to some changes re thye Cathedral Reinstatement Project - an injection of funds (subject to satisfactory sale of the Transitional Cathedral) and a reduction in scope of the Project (particularly to reduce our commitment to the building being 100% of New Building Standard, now down to 67% NBS). An RNZ report is here. We still have a mountain to climb for the Project to succeed but yesterday was an important step up the steep slope.

This morning my eye was caught on X/Twitter by an article about a famous NT scholar, Geza Vermes, published in Church Times. Well worth a read for those interested in the question of what "the Jewish Jesus" means - a question which Vermes refined with acute insight, out of a fascinating personal spiritual journey.

Reading this short article links to some reading of my own through the past couple of weeks: Beyond Justification: Liberating Paul's Gospel by Douglas A. Campbell and Jon DePue. I haven't finished this book yet and hope to review it on here in due course. But a strong motivation through this book is that Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity influenced by what they call "Justification Theory") might review and revise its attitude to Jews and Judaism.

For what it is worth my hunch is that my review will be along the lines of "love the conclusion, disagree with the pathway to it"!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Lovely day

I am writing from the Chathams - from Chatham Island (also known as Rekohu or Wharekauri) to be precise - there are a number of small islands hereabouts but only two are inhabited - the other one is Pitt Island.

The Chatham Islands are one of the parishes for the Diocese of Christchurch and, while easy to get to due to a regular plane service, they are not easy to get to when it comes to booking a spot of several days not only in my diary but also in the diaries of parishioners, themselves often busy with things here and/or travel to New Zealand. The plane trip is 2 hours +/- depending on whether departing from Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland airports, and which direction the wind is blowing - our actual flight time the other day was 1 hr 40 min.

We have one church here, St. Augustine's, which is at a small settlement called Te One, about 3 km from the main settlement of Waitangi. There is also a vicarage on the same property as the church which ensures accommodation for visiting priests and bishops! 

For this visit I am accompanied by the Reverend Mike Hawke who will be involved with the parish in months and years ahead as a visiting priest, succeeding the Reverend John McLister.

The primary reason for visiting at this time of the year - mid June, winter - is that it works for the Preece family to gather to participate in an event this afternoon when we formally unveiled the memorial stones for two members of that family.



The Reverend Riwai Preece was our last resident priest on the island (1990-2015). Mr Bunty Preece, his brother, was mayor here, a farmer here and notable at the time of his death in 2018 for being the last surviving officer of the famous WW2 Maori Battalion. 

It was a privilege to be part of this afternoon's ceremony along with about 60 others. A sumptuous afternoon tea followed - including crayfish, groper wings, and weka [yes, legal to eat on this island, in case you are wondering].

Amazingly, after a raw and wintry day yesterday, with the sea foaming, the wind roaring and rain falling, today was gorgeous: sunny, warm, and hardly any wind. God be praised!

Our morning service was delightful and we managed to do ordinary but important things (apart from the service itself) such as pray for the new vestry, pray for Mike Hawke and his ministry here and dedicate a refurbished window (thanks Halswell Men's Shed!).

The epistle today, 1 Corinthians 5:6-10, challenged us about aspiring to please Christ above all, and to walk by faith and not by sight. The gospel reading, Mark 4:26-34, brought the kingdom of God to our attention. What is Jesus doing in our lives? What is he saying to us? What is he calling us to do?

Walking by faith and not by sight has a certain irony for Chatham Islanders at present. There have been troubles recently re sea transport of goods to the island, with one sharp consequence being that there is no petrol for sale here. Diesel is for sale still. Bottled gas supplies are running low. Boat troubles also mean that farmers have uncertainty about getting their cattle and sheep to meat works in New Zealand. Everyone believes the situation will come right before absolute crisis is reached, but no one can see clearly when the solution will chug into the harbour!


Sunday, June 9, 2024

Nothing Post!

I cannot squeeze time to post this week, apart from these few sentences. Weekend events and prep work as I write in the weekend itself. Then, Monday to Wednesday, our Clergy Conference is happening. Thursday some travel begins.

Prayer - as always - appreciated! 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Was Jesus mad? Did his erstwhile supporters, even family gaslight him?

If you don't like the look of this week's blogpost, then how about reading Edward Feser's fascinating post insteadfascinating post instead? He talks appreciatively of one of my favourite philosophers!

Was Jesus mad is a question which arises from this coming Ordinary Sunday 10's gospel reading? 

Mark 3:21: When [Jesus'] family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." [NRSV; other translations, equally possible re the underlying Greek, have "He has gone mad."] 

Neither Matthew nor Luke follow Mark on this particular note, which, arguably, was embarrassing for followers of Jesus.

This Markan passage also raises the question whether people around Jesus, possibly even his own family, were gaslighting him (i.e. making statements about him which may have unsettled him and paradoxically may contribute to a person accused of madness becoming convinced that they are mad!)

For those unfamiliar, gaslighting has been defined in this way: "Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse or manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition." As an aside, some diocesan training the other day, looking at bullying, also discussed gaslighting.

In at least one sense, Jesus was "mad". If we define "mad" as "at odds with the widely accepted norms of society, going against the grain of culturally acceptable behaviour", then Jesus as "mad": by this time in Mark's account of his life's work, he had taken on the role of God in forgiving a paralysed man his sins, he had called people to leave their safe and secure jobs to follow him, he had confronted demons and delivered people of them, he had healed people and he had generally defied the religious (i.e. cultural) authorities of the accepted Jewish way of life, especially in breaking sabbath keeping rules. The passage which follows Mark 3:21 involves a severe charge against Jesus that he was himself an agent of the devil (a charge which even Matthew and Luke do not shy away from reporting).

Two thousand years later we think Jesus the man was full of sound wisdom and good life guidance, and his healing work led ultimately to the medical systems millions if not billions around the world benefit from, and the first followers have become the well-known, well-established church of God with its footprint in nearly every country in the world. Jesus, from this present day perspective was not and is not "mad" but a very normal bloke!

Nevertheless, there is a lingering question prompted by Mark's account: was Jesus someone who we would not feel that comfortable around? Yes, we would be drawn, like the crowds, to his genius as a teacher-communicator, and to the stories of his miracle working prowess. Yes, we might be inspired to follow him, leaving our nets etc. But might we also wonder who he really was? What his "deep" agenda actually entailed? Whether there was something very odd about this charismatic-yet-enigmatic figure?

Of course Mark does not exactly shy away from Jesus as a figure with several if not many layers to personality and agenda. He emphasises the "messianic secret" - the fact that Jesus' had a deeper agenda than people assumed at first sight when encountering him. He presents a Jesus who is all comms and public relations with the crowds and yet likes to withdraw and be alone. From near the very beginning of his Gospel, Mark develops the "dark theme" that Jesus will die, that his crowd-pulling ministry will lead to death - and death at the baying cries of pretty much the same crowd. 

And, let's be honest with ourselves as readers of Mark's Gospel: in the Gospel passage for this Sunday, Mark 3:20-35, Jesus is a "maddening" man: he puts his family into second place, if not cast to some outer place, owning to a new family, the ones who do God's will as better than the natural kith and kin to which he belongs, and which Jewish law bound him to support and cherish. 

Of course, we read this passage with all the perspective of post-resurrection readers: God worked out a plan for the universes through Jesus, a plan which puts all "normal" human relationships into perspective, and a plan which calls out the deepest and most long term allegiance to the key agent of the plan, Jesus the Son of God!