Jim West’s Desktop Challenge

While I am loath to give evil memes the light of day, Jim West, the Boss Tweed of Biblioblogdom, has called upon his minions to provide a screenshot of their computer desktop and thus satisfy his morbid curiosity. Since, for good or ill, I am counted among such, here it is:

The picture is of the catholicon of the Visoki Dečani Monastery in Kosovo, Serbia. The monastery was founded in 1327 by my patron saint, the Serbian king and martyr St. Stefan of Dečani, whose feast is next Monday, November 11/24. The remarkable 14th-century monastery church survives intact from the time of its foundation, and was placed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2004. The monastery brotherhood has produced a beautiful recording of the Supplicatory Canon to St Stefan of Dečani; listening samples are available on the monastery website, and the CD may be purchased from the Narrow Path Bookstore in Lansing, IL. Свети, благоверни краљу Стефане, моли Бога за нас!

(Incidentally, the Rev Dr West seems to be rooting for my demise. I’m sorry to disappoint him, but I am not dead, nor do I post once a month, nor indeed is my blog “rancid bread for dinner” (!), as he asserts. I briefly entertained the thought of unleashing my fan club on him, but as the eminent Rt. Rev. Dr. N. T. Wrong of Durham, North Carolina, found out, this is far too ghastly a fate for anyone!)

Some More Highlights from the Blogroll, Conveniently Annotated and Expanded

Alas, my gentle snowflakes, my internet is broken once again. O woe! O sorrow! I should have liked to post this on Thursday, but the connection tragically quit working. Behold the trials we must endure! Be that as it may, I was able to glean the following jewels from the blogosphere before it all went haywire, and am delighted to share them with you:

And Even, Alas, a Vile Meme

Our good friend Jeff has regrettably tagged me with one of those revolting little memes that make their way around the blogosphere like a scourge against everything that is pure and beautiful and good. This particular mutation of that atrocious virus calls for posting some sentences from page 123 of the book that happens to be nearest you. Ordinarily I would simply refuse to comply with such a thing, but given that a) I cannot bring myself to ignore Jeff, and that b) it would give me occasion to mention a most interesting book, I have decided to just post the blasted excerpt.

The quotation comes from the late Alan E. Lewis’ magnum opus, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001):

“Jewish literature, within and outside the Scriptures, had long before John personified as Word or Wisdom that creative, self-communicating power by which God made and ruled the world, saved and addressed the chosen people (e.g. Ps. 33:6; Prov. 3:19; 8:22; Isa. 55:10-11). But no incipient hypostatization of this divine self-disclosure crossed the threshold of God’s own monarchy to become an independent entity, more or other of God’s self-in-action. It was even less conceivable that the wide ground of holiness and power, guarding God’s transcendence from all confusion with the ceatures of the Maker’s hand, should be trampled and defiled through an identification of Yahweh’s eternal act and being with the immanent, mortal clay of human life. Yet for John it was precisely fleshtransient, grasslike, and dependentthat God’s eternal, creative Word became.”

Of course, one cannot follow Lewis everywhere he leads, but this is a fascinating book on a subject not often addressed in academic theological discourse, and it is highly recommended to all as an original and rewarding contribution to the literature.

Thomas Nelson Markets the Orthodox Study Bible

Thomas Nelson has launched a website for Book Review Bloggers [now BookSneeze] in which they offer a free review copy of the Orthodox Study Bible to those who sign up. This, it seems to me, is an effort to offset the severe beating that the unfortunate OSB has taken in the blogosphere on account of the general shoddiness of both its translation and annotations. For links to several reviews of that lamentable volume, as well as some musings of my own, simply search this blog for the term “Orthodox Study Bible.”

Anyone interested in Nelson titles, in any case, would do well to take advantage of that publisher’s “streamlining” of the review copy request process. It should be noted that they offer such copies not only to bloggers, but also to anyone willing to review their books on such retail websites as amazon.com and christianbooks.com. Reviews must be at least 200 words long.

And speaking of Orthodoxy and study Bibles, our good friend Kevin Edgecomb has posted a typically excellent evaluation of Robert Letham’s section on “Eastern Orthodoxy” in an article for the ESV Study Bible entitled “The Bible in Christianity.” Taking Kevin’s comments together with Iyov’s sharp assessment of the corresponding section on contemporary Judaism in the same study Bible, the emerging picture is not particularly favorable to the ESV-SB’s attempted engagement of non-Evangelicals.

Eschatology Week: Contra Errores Dispensationalistorum

Yes, I am aware that it is now another week than the one just ended, but since I am not yet done posting on eschatological subjects, I have decided to apply a non-literal hermeneutic to the term “week” (cf. Daniel 9:24-27) and proceed unmolested. If, however, you can’t live without a harmonizing explanation, please note that I didn’t announce Eschatology Week until last Tuesday, and so, strictly speaking, I have until tomorrow to address the subject!

Be that as it may, my friend Shawn Anderson has posted the “Disputation of NiceneCouncil.com on the Power and Efficacy of Dispensationalism, or, The Ninety-Five Theses Against Dispensationalism,” the full text of which may also be accessed at the following address:

Ah, the Dispensational-Covenantal Wars live on! The “theses” address not only eschatological and hermeneutical subjects, but also matters of soteriology related to the so-called “lordship salvation” controversy. On the whole the “theses” seem sound to me, but they are by-and-large concerned with “classical” and “revised” dispensationalism, taking no account whatever of the “progressive” dispensationalism formulated over the past 20 years by various scholars of that tradition (Blasing, Bock, Pate, Saucy, Hoch, Turner, etc.). But of course, neither do the “classical” and “revised” contingent, as evidenced by the recent Summit Statement of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, and to which Manuel and, amazingly, N. T. Wrong alerted us earlier.

The Voice: A New Kind of Translation

A couple of weeks ago, Tim over at Catholic Bibles asked if anyone out there knew anything about The Voice, a new Bible translation he stumbled upon while shopping at a local bookstore. Now Wayne Leman over at the Better Bibles Blog offers some answers.

Having carefully inspected the materials to which Wayne links, I propose that this new translation henceforth be called the New-And-Improved Version for Emergents: A Literal / Dynamic, Mystical / Poetic, Literary / Prosaic, Liberal / Conservative, Egalitarian / Complementarian, Inclusive / Exclusive, Sectarian / Ecumenical, Emergent, Unfinished TranslationN.A.I.V.E. for shorts. Who knows, perhaps it will even become the translation of choice for classroom use at Mars Hill Graduate School!

(Don’t get it? See here.)

Saturday à Machen: Jesus, Paul, and the Kingdom

J. Gresham Machen” . . . Jesus and Paul present the same view of the Kingdom of God. The term ‘kingdom of God’ is not very frequent in the Epistles; but it is used as though familiar to the readers, and when it does occur, it has the same meaning as in the teaching of Jesus. The similarity appears, in the first place, in a negative featureboth in Jesus and in Paul, the idea of the Kingdom is divorced from all political and materialistic associations. That may seem to us to be a matter of course. But in the Judaism of the first century it was far from being a matter of course. On the contrary, it meant nothing less than a revolution in thought and in life. How did Paul, the patriot and the Pharisee, come to separate the thought of the Kingdom from political associations? How did he come to do so even if he had come to think that the Messiah had already appeared? How did he come to do so unless he was influenced in some way by the teaching of Jesus? But the similarity is not merely negative. In positive aspects also, the Kingdom of God in Paul is similar to that which appears in the teaching of Jesus. Both in Jesus and Paul, the implications of entrance are ethical. ‘Or know ye not,’ says Paul, ‘that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?’ (1 Cor. vi. 9). Then follows, after these words, as in Gal. v. 19-21, a long list of sins which exclude a man from participation in the Kingdom. Paul is here continuing faithfully the teaching of Him who said, ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Finally both in Jesus and in Paul the kingdom appears partly as present and partly as future. In the above passages from Galatians and 1 Corinthians, for example, and in 1 Cor. xv. 50, it is future; whereas in such passages as Rom. xiv. 17 (‘for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’), the present aspect is rather in view. The same two aspects of the Kingdom appear also in the teaching of Jesus; all attempts at making Jesus’ conception thoroughly eschatological have failed. Both in Jesus and in Paul, therefore, the Kingdom of God is both transcendent and ethical. Both in Jesus and in Paul, finally, the coming of the Kingdom means joy as well as judgment. When Paul says that the Kingdom of God is ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,’ he is like Jesus not merely in word but in the whole spirit of his message; Jesus also proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom as a ‘gospel.’”

(J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion [1921; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], pages 160-161.)

Highlights from the Blogroll, First Michigan Edition

I don’t mean any offense, my gentle snowflakes, but I have come to the conclusion that you people just write too much. Why, a little while ago, whilst I endured the trials of nearly a week without internet, no fewer than 500 new messages accumulated in my Google Reader! However, you are all such a lovable bunch (well, all except Jim West), that I can never bring myself to simply mark all messages as read and ignore the pearls of wisdom with which you have chosen to adorn the blogosphere. Of these, the following recent posts stand out:

  • In a topic wholly appropriate for Eschatology Week, Manuel Rojas briefly discusses whether εἰς ἀπάντησιν functions as a terminus technicus in I Thessalonians 4:17.
  • The amazing John Hobbins has been writing up a storm on supernumerary Psalm 151 (LXX) and its Hebrew text(s). John’s learned commentary and signature bibliographies are truly a treat, and are always a joy to read. Read his posts on this enthralling subject here, here, here, and here.
  • Nijay Gupta (to borrow Nick Norelli’s words, “one of biblioblogdom’s best and brightest”) shares his thoughts on the views of two fine New Testament scholars on two most interesting questions: Is Q Still a Hypothesis? Francis Watson Asks the Question, and Douglas Moo on the authorship of Colossians.
  • Our friend Phil Sumpter masterfully lays to rest one of the more inexplicable criticisms of the canonical approach (especially as represented by the late great Brevard S. Childs) in his post, Is the canonical approach uncritical?
  • In response to a query from Yours Truly, Rick Brannan has posted a thoroughly helpful resource guide to Tracking Down Similarities Between the NT and the Apostolic Fathers.
  • Meanwhile, Super Kevin Edgecomb offers a wonderfully warm appreciation of the Church’s first and greatest Biblical scholar, Origen of Alexandria, entitled The Man of Steel.
  • Christopher Orr alerts us to a new, excellent, and ongoing review of the lamentable Orthodox Study Bible by one R. G. Jones. His wonderful table comparing the OSB Old Testament to the Greek (which is precisely the kind of critique that I think is most necessary) reminds me that I need to get back to my examination of the OSB’s “translation” of λειτουργέω and λειτουργία!
  • Over at Catholic Bibles, Tim McCormick reports that Fr Joseph Fessio, SJ, editor of Ignatius Press, has stopped by to answer some of his questions concerning the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition. Frankly, I find Fr Fessio’s answers neither convincing nor satisfactory, but I’m glad that someone from Ignatius Press has, a long last, seen fit to share some information on the changes made for this edition.
  • Fr Milovan Katanić notes that 2008 marks the centennial of Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac’s Osmoglasnik. It appears, then, that those of us who believe in the inherent superiority of Serbian chant have reason to celebrate!
  • Bill Poser, one of the geniuses over at Language Log, has a fascinating post on the use of archaic English verb endings in the Book of Mormon. As one long interested in the literary features and peculiarities of that work, I was startled to see a post on this subject, and delighted to read such an informative piece.
  • And finally, the Irreverend Mr Ker has crawled out of his self-imposed blogging hiatus to offer what is, by far, the best post-election commentary on the political involvement of US Christians: Why American Christians look so stupid and what you can do about it.

Eschatology Week: A Christless Eschatology

These reflections grow out of a conversation with a good friend nearly a decade ago, at the height of the popularity of the Left Behind series, in which we pondered how might an Orthodox Christian evaluate the bewildering eschatology that underlies these and other such popular works on the “end-times.”

I should like to start by writing a bit concerning the origins of “pretribulational rapturism,” which are often (especially in polemical literature1) traced back to the apocalyptic visions that a 16 year old Scottish girl, Margaret MacDonald, reported to have in the earlier part of the 19th century. While it is true that MacDonald claimed to have a number of visions where she received new “revelations” concerning the end of the world, it is doubtful that this eccentric claim had much impact in the formulation of “end-times timelines” during the past two centuries. While her spiritual leader and mentor, Edward Irving, did manage to place some of his works on the shelves of many leaders of the 19th century “Prophetic Conference” movement, the notion of post-apostolic revelations was widely discredited in these circles (the direct ancestors, incidentally, of 20th century dispensationalists). It is far safer to assume that many Bible teachers arrived at their conclusion that believers in Christ must be either resurrected or raptured at the beginning of a 7-year Great Tribulation through simple theological deduction. In their minds, the Bible teaches that God has two different peoples, with two different plans: Jews and Christians. God’s saving dealings with one people couldn’t coincide in time with his dealings with the other, so after the death of Christ and the establishment of the Church, the plan for the Jews was suspended until a later time. The 7-year Great Tribulation (cf. Daniel 9:24-27) was understood to be the “time of trouble for Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7)that is, the time when the plan for the Jews would be resumed. It follows by resistless logic, then, that the Church must be cleared from the scene before such a thing could happen. The Church would experience, according to H. A. Ironside, “Not Wrath, But Rapture.” Thus, it was only after much deduction that the doctrine became firmly established in these circles, even if its positive Scriptural support was feeble at best. (I Thessalonians 4:16-17, Revelation 3:10 and Revelation 4:1 were usually the sole texts offered in support of the doctrine, and each passage can be otherwise and more satisfactorily explained exegetically.)

So much for that. I have recounted the interesting development of eschatological thought in North American fundamentalism not only to dispel the oft-repeated Margaret MacDonald myth, but also to illustrate a point. An Orthodox Christian reading the account above will doubtless be struck by the lack of any reference to Christ himself. This is certainly the case not only in this instance, but indeed with much of popular thought concerning the “end-times.” It is no wonder, then, that South African Reformed theologian Adrio König gave his fascinating monograph the sobering title The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989)! Numerology, mathematical calculations, political agendas, conspiracy theories and flat literalism in biblical interpretation have produced what can truly be called “sci-fi eschatology”an understanding of the end-times majoring on the minors of chronology, date-setting, and character identification2. This understanding of eschatology, which counts with such popular exponents as Hal Lindsey (author of the infamous Late Great Planet Earth) and Tim LaHaye (co-author of the Left Behind series), is vigorously rejected by many Protestants; yet few prophetic voices have been raised to denounce this nonsense, and then only in certain, very restricted, academic circles. Although this debate is quite alien to the Orthodox Christian context, the external agitation affords us the opportunity to calmly consider our own thinking concerning the consummation of all things.

It is my contention that the Orthodox faith is thoroughly eschatological in its perspective, and because of this little time is found to indulge in so-called “speculative eschatology.” In other words, the reason why we spend no time at all attempting to figure out how things will work out at the end of time is that everything we say and do bears the marks of our living firm hope for the “bring[ing] of all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). Note, for example, the following words from the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

“Remembering this saving commandment [Take, eat! Drink of it, all of you!] and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious Coming…”
In the Eucharistic mystery, which stands at the very center of the life of the Church, we have not only a participation in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary, but also a participation in the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom of God. Thus, at that moment, we can confidently speak of the entire history of salvation (including the “second and glorious Coming”!) as having “come to pass for us” already. This is possible because we believe that all of history and prophecy is summed up in the person of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Israel, covenant, kingdom, land, sacrifices, victoryall of these have been assumed by Him and reinterpreted in Him. Thus, we regard it as foolishness when we hear that the modern state of Israel, the United Nations, the European Union, or the Vatican are the key to prophecy, because we are confident that it is in Christ that all things find their culmination. The King has come, announcing that the Kingdom is already among us (cf. St Luke 17:20). Because of this we also reject the heresy of chiliasm, which promises a future kingdom as though the word of Christ were false and the age of Kingdom had not dawned already. Christ has brought to fruition the presence of the Kingdom through his victory over sin, death and hell. But even though the Kingdom is among us, that old serpent, the devil, continues to work the mystery of iniquity. This is why look forward with joy to the last day, when the promise of God to our forefathers Adam and Eve will be completely fulfilled, and the Seed of the woman will forever crush the serpent’s head (cf. Genesis 3:15). Until then, we know that human flesh sits at the right hand of the Father, and because of that, that future victory which is already won is ours in Him.

So the next time we are troubled by the outcome of the ages, or bothered by the majoring on minors of some, look up, for thence shall rise the Morning Star, to consummate the victory he already won, to fulfill the Kingdom that is already at work, and to sit with us at the heavenly Banquet in which he already has made us participants.

Notes:

1 For instance, cf. Dave MacPherson, The Incredible Cover-up: The True Story on the Pre-trib Rapture, Rev. and combined ed. Plainfield: Logos International, 1975.
2 I am indebted to Spanish Evangelical scholar Dr José Grau for this wonderful term, which appears in his exceedingly useful manual of eschatology as “escatología ficción.”

Eschatology Week: The Identity of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11)

Welcome to Eschatology Week at The Voice of Stefan! It occurred to me over the weekend that I’ve had a couple of posts on broadly eschatological themes in the works for quite some time, and given the eschatological events scheduled for Tuesday, there is no better time to publish them than the present.

I wish to start the festivities by briefly discussing a subject of the greatest importance for all serious students of biblical prophecy: what is the true identity of the Two Witnesses described in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, verses 3 through 12? Needless to say, endless streams of ink have been spilled over the centuries (and, more recently, numberless bytes have been consumed) in the attempt to settle this question. I was therefore not surprised when our friend James McGrath publicized a letter he has received from a scholar of prophecy in which a tantalizing proposal is made: the Two Witnesses, the scholar maintains, are none other than Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Some might greet such a suggestion with great skepticism; I, however, view it with a great deal of sympathy, because this unnamed titan of prophetic study, having come so close to the answer, has sadly missed the goal in the end.

Yes, my gentle snowflakes: it is my considered opinion that our scholar friend has indeed missed the mark, but not by much. After years of study of this edifying subject, I am prepared to announce that the Two Witnesses to which the Book of Revelation, chapter 11, verses 3 through 12, alludes are the greatly renown performers, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

For a start, let us consider a matter of simple arithmetic: we are plainly told that the witnesses are two in number; no more, no less. Holy Writ nowhere mentions two talentless sideckicks playing guitar and drums respectively, and riding on the coat tails of the Two Witnesses’ success. This much should be obvious from a dispassionate reading of the text. It therefore stands to reason that the Two Witnesses should have been revealed as a duo (like Simon and Garfunkel), and not as a foursome (like The Beatles).

Further, we are told that the witnesses are “the two olive trees” (v. 4). It is known by all serious students of the Bible that the olive tree is a type of Israel, and that therefore, the Two Witnesses must be Jewish. Now, it is hardly necessary to submit evidence to demonstrate that Simon and Garfunkel are both Jews; but those wishing to identify Lennon and McCartney as the Two Witnesses are left without a leg to stand on, so to speak, unless they also subscribe to British Israelism (a thoroughly discredited theory, but one, nevertheless, not without its ardent supporters).

From these considerations it will appear that our biblical case for the identification of the Two Witnesses is strong, but admittedly, it is not without its problems. It is clear that, of the two, Simon is far greater than Garfunkel. It was he, after all, who wrote the songs (i.e., prophecies), and so the question might rightly be posed as to whether Garfunkel may be reckoned as a Witness at all. The great Casablancan philosopher, Groucho Marx, expressed our problem well in a thank you letter to publishers Simon and Schuster dated March 24, 1954:

“Dear Boys:

I received a wire recently congratulating me on the merits of my radio show. I must say I was flattered by its enthusiastic tone, but without inquiring too deeply into your affairs, it would be helpful if I knew whether the wire was Simon’s idea or Schuster’s.

It is difficult to thank partners, for in a partnership there is always the likelihood that one of them is a mastermind and the other a stooge, and in spreading thanks equally I could conceivably be offending the brains of the organization. Eventually this could create a serious schism in your young publishing company.”

The Philosopher wisely uses here words such as “likelihood” and “conceivably,” because such worries are based on nothing but conjectures. And while spreading thanks equally did create a serious schism in Simon and Garfunkel’s young organization, the fact remains that their discography (i.e., prophetic corpus) was equally performed by both and indeed published under both their names, and therefore this apparent difficulty need not concern us any further.

In conclusion, I am overjoyed to be able to share with all of you these assured results of many years of labor in the study of biblical prophecy. I hope that these convicting truths have either upbuilt your faith or broken down your godlessness, as may be appropriate.