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Boxall Characters and Setting in Matthew’s Story

In this chapter author, Ian Boxall stresses the importance of reading the Gospel of Matthew as narrative and explores characters and places to more effectively engage the text. He makes a distinction between “round characters”, those who possess a variety of character traits, and “flat characters”, those who behave in predictable ways, such as crowds. He identifies God as the main actor in Matthew’s story, if fact, the main character in the whole of salvation history. Jesus is the main protagonist in Matthew, his messianic credentials are identified, as well as his role as the perfect personification of God’s ‘son’ Israel.

Angels and demons are identified as key players in the narrative, and their role id expounded upon. Political and religious leaders are identified as a single “flat character” because their traits do not develop throughout the narrative. There have no traits other than their “evilness”. Boxall contends that the character, John the Baptist is the returned prophet Elijah from the old testament. The disciples are another character group who are part of the action, they contrast, and are more nuanced than the political and religious leaders. They listen and learn from Jesus, and are generally more receptive that the general crowds which are treated as individual “minor characters”.

Settings and geographical place offer great significance to the narrative. Places recall individuals and events from Israel’s past history and help link the past to the present. The settings of the narratives also have symbolic significance for Matthew’s audience.

JMason – Marshall on Jesus’ prayer

Marshall claims to want to do “not simply a word-study but a study of the concept of prayer” in the gospels.

From the outset of his article Marshall assumes that St. Matthew based his writing on Mark and a Q source (which was also used by St. Luke). From this he makes a variety of suggestions about who wrote what in the gospel and whether Matthew was likely to have inserted his own thoughts about prayer into the work. He concludes the “there is…nothing in any of this to suggest an independent development of the topic of prayer in Matthew’s gospel.”

My thoughts on this initial discussion are that no serious Christian should care what Marshall concludes, since the questions he asks are at best irrelevant to the reception of the inspired text, and at worst they are destructive to the piety of the faithful and seek to cast doubt on the received tradition of the Holy Church. I don’t blame Marshall in particular for this, since it seems simply to be the stock and trade of the “Scripture scholar”. I also confess that from this point I am skeptical about the value of any conclusions which Marshall will draw since they will evidently rely on forcibly treating divine revelation as if it were the meandering thoughts of middle-eastern peasants.

The remainder of the commentary has value mostly as a catalogue. Marshall notes where prayer is mentioned and the barest details about its context. With regard to Mark 1:35 “And rising very early, going out, [Jesus] went into a desert place: and there he prayed,” Marshall notes that it suggests that Jesus got up earlier that morning than the other people…

Some of Marshall’s comments suggest that he considers the gospels to be basically inventions: “Here Jesus is portrayed,” “the actual words [are] taken from Psalm 22,” and “Jesus is depicted as…”

It seems to me that more fitting language would be: “we see Jesus,” “the gospel informs us that Jesus does,” or “Jesus quotes from Psalm 22…”

Marshall combines his confident trust in the fallibility of the gospel narrative with a confidence in his own (and his peers) interpretation of the real meaning of words and events as well as the moral import of what they contain. He knows, for example, that prayers for divine blessing are “petitions for God to do good to other people” including those who crucified Jesus (although he isn’t sure who inserted the part about Jesus praying for his persecutors into Luke’s gospel). He suggests from a reference to certain hypocritical prayers in Mark 12:40 that long prayer in general is a questionable practice. (So much for the monastic life.) In reference to a lack of distinctions made in Luke 18 he makes claims as to the worthlessness of casuistic reckonings about morality.

Marshall seems determined to read the gospels (and sections within them) in isolation from each other and from the Old Testament: He says, for instance that “there is nothing in Luke 11:5-8 that suggests that importunity, or continued and intense effort, is required for prayers to be heard by God…” and goes on to make a page of conclusions based on that understanding.

Marshall is not just confident in his interpretation of the text, but also in which parts are late scribal additions (as for instance Mark 9:28: “And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”) It is somewhat curious, given his obvious certainty about its invalidity, that he spends a few paragraphs condemning this line as a “folk-memory” .

Marshall does not understand the perduring presence of Christ in the Eucharist, suggesting in reference to the Resurrection that Christ left his disciples from this point. He concludes based on this assumption that fasting does not have much value in relation to prayer. He also seems confused as to the implications of the Hypostatic Union (or at the least uses very imprecise language), claiming that at Gethsemane “Jesus had to be content that the Father’s will, rather than his own desires, would be fulfilled.”

In the end Marshall does draw some general points about Jesus’ prayer in contrast to traditional Jewish prayer: 1. Jesus shows, particularly in the exclusive company of his disciples, his special of relationship of Son to God the Father. 2. Jesus’ prayer revolves around the coming of the kingdom of God and its implications. 3. His prayer has to do with a transformation of the notion of the temple, the center of worship.
Marshall offers the conclusion that prayer is not solely about getting what we want or not, but that it involves coming into contact with the Divine will.

Paul As Preacher

Paul as Preacher: The Gospel Then and Now (2007)

This was a lecture given by Michael Devlin delivered on October 19, 2005 at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland. Michael Devlin is a bishop in the British House of Lords.

His lecture began by commenting about a conference he had in Atlanta Georgia, when England won the Rugby Union World Cup. He was so excited and eager to share the good news to the people in his hotel and conference…. But nobody in the hotel or conference attendee’s had the slightest idea what Rugby was, let alone how important England’s victory was. Michael commented on their blank look’s. “I might as well have walked out onto O’Connell street in Dublin and announced to a startled audience that Hang Chow province had just won the Chinese inter-provincial table tennis tournament”.

 This analogy the author thought would paint a picture for his audience an idea of what Paul was doing in his preaching and cultural differences. “When Paul arrived in, Thessalonica and announced that Jesus was Lord, it must have felt like someone telling an audience about a game they did not play, being won by a team they did not know. Announcing that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s true King and therefore the World’s true Lord. This would not have made any sense at all to a first-century pagan. To suppose a Jew would become Lord of the world was ridiculous to a citizen of Rome”.

Paul saw that what the non-Jewish world needed was a Jewish message about the one true God and what this God had done in Jesus the Messiah. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he insisted, was the one true God, the world’s creator, who revealed Himself to Israel. Then God acted through Jesus for the whole world.

Paul was a pioneer missionary, He was telling a story and making a royal proclamation. The word “Gospel” was used in this time frame proclaiming the good news about the emperor of Rome, the Caesar colt, the fastest growing religion. Paul used the word “Gospel” when he was summoning all people to join in the community that hailed Jesus Christ, not Caesar as the true lord. To announce this gospel in today’s world means confronting postmodernity, post secularism, with the same challenging word, to let today’s Caesar’s know that Jesus is Lord.

Michael Devlin lecture of Paul’s preaching of the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ as lord had four main points:

  1. Paul’s proclamation was challenging news to people who were not expecting it.
  2. His message belonged within the storied world of Jewish apocalyptic and eschatology, and can only be properly understood there.
  3. Paul believed that this message went to work in human hearts and lives to generate new community.
  4. His preaching of Jesus, and the communities it generated, posed a deliberate challenge to the empire of Caesar.

My overall view of this speech from a person claiming to be a Pauline scholar was weak and very wordy. Not once did he mention the letters of Paul that were read to the various communities. The genre for Paul is his letters dealing with the communities’ respective issues, I thought would be critical to highlight or introduce. His topic,” Paul as preacher” and his forced metaphor of a rugby game to get his audience to focus on the cultural difference of England, Atlanta Georgia, and China. In 2003 most of the world would have known of the game of rugby. We need to go to the century and culture to understand Paul. Again the author does not identify the category of rhetoric Paul used in his writing or preaching. In fact, he states “the gospel itself must carry its own power and human rhetorical skill must stand back and give it room to operate”. The author calls his narrative a “love” story in the various” gospel speaking communities”. I believe the arguments were different in the various communities and Paul would have summarized his letters to his targeted audiences.

Chapter 8

Chapter 8

 

Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church

 

N.T Wright ends the book Paul with a great summary of the whole book, this book has brought me to a better understanding of Paul. Not the Paul that was taught to me but the deeper side of Paul, Paul the Preacher and Paul the bridge builder. Who Paul is  proclaiming the kingdom of God to and why he is moved my love to preach to the whole world. The Paul that teaches about Love and how Love is a better understanding of Jesus.

 

N.T Wright says in the first part of the Chapter what the relationship is with Paul and Jesus

“ Jesus preached about God But Paul preached about Jesus. Or if you like, Jesus announced the Kingdom of God, Paul announced the Mesiahship of Jesus.”

 

This moves the reader into, what has happen to me in most of the Chapter which, to ask for myself who is Jesus for me? Something that Wright says in page 168” our labels of culture, philosophy, politics, sociology religion and even theology are all alike inadequate.” Most labels we put on Paul and his mission is something that could be false. We have learned in this class that Paul’s Letters should be read in context of the people and the time that Paul lived, not our time.

Chapter 7

This Chapter discusses how St. Paul reworks or rethinks the Jewish views of eschatology. The author shows that Paul makes Jewish eschatology come to pass in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. He writes, taken from Romans 8.17, 28-30, “the spirit conforms the Messiah’s people to his suffering and glory, so that the Jewish expectation of the coming of the Messiah is not just fulfilled in the Messiah himself, but, extraordinarily, in His people as well.” Jewish eschatology thinks God will put all things right. They are the chosen ones, they have covenants with God and if God doesn’t make all things right, and paganism not defeated, then even God is in question. Paul reshapes Jewish views by showing that though Jesus Christ and His death, resurrection and ascension, all is fulfilled. Paul paints a vision that the end of all things is derived from the Old Testament and is in two stages. He redefines the Jewish doctrine using both the Messiah and the Holy Spirit.

I most enjoyed the comparison to the exodus and the two comings of Jesus Christ. First we are baptized into the Messiah as when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Now we live in between times like the wandering in the desert. We sin and suffer, but still are walking with God. We are no longer slaves of the Torah when we walk with the Holy Spirit and keep Him as our guide. Till the second coming when there will be a new heaven and new earth, we then will reach the Promised Land.

Chapter 6

This Chapter 6, “Reworking of God’s People” focuses on Paul’s emphasis and convincing argument that ALL people belong to God’s family.  N.T. Wright points out that throughout the Old Testament, it is shown that God chose Israel as His chosen people and it was the belief of the Jews that because of this, only Jews were the selected people, the special people, of God, who were to be His royal nation, His holy priests and the light of the world.  Paul takes this thought and shows how election is redefined through the Messiah.  As seen in Galatians 3, God desires a family of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, and this is very difficult for the faithful Jews to accept.  Wright shows that Paul preached unity of God’s people through this redefinition of election and that God has one family, not two.  His family consists of all those who believe in the gospel.  This family is defined as the people of the Messiah, no longer Jew or Gentile.

Wright shows that the “Messiah represents His people so that what is true of Him is true of them.  He has been crucified; therefore they have been crucified with Him.  They share His new life, not in terms of fleshly identity, that is, of Jewish ethnicity, but in terms of the Messiah’s own new life, a life in which all nations can share equally (p. 113)”. This is not an abandoning of the Jewish ways, but a reworking of God’s people in the Messiah to unite His family as one people.

This is a beautiful way to express the intense love that God has for all His people.  In Christ, we are united as faithful believers.  The Messiah came not to divide but to unite and those who participate in both faith and works are called to become one family in Christ.

Chapter 5 – Rethinking God

In Chapter 5 of “Paul, N.T. Wright reviews the way that St. Paul puts forth a fresh new way of looking at God, steeped in Jewish tradition but redefined in terms of the reality of Jesus of Nazareth as the long awaited Messiah.  He covers the Jewish theology of Monotheism (one God), Election (one People of God) and Eschatology (one future for God’s world), but in the light of Christ. 

Wright reviews the Jewish foundational theology of the one God of Israel as the God of both creation and covenant.  He then explains the Christological dimension, equating Jesus with God the father, often in the redefining of the Shema prayer with God the father/creator and Jesus as Lord.  The second phase of the redefinition of God is expressed in terms of Jesus and his Spirit together.  Paul famously explains that there are many gifts, but one Spirit, many types of service, but one Lord in Jesus, and one God and Father who accomplishes all in all. 

Finally, Wright shows how Paul uses Old Testament passages to show their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah.  Paul continues the Jewish theme of the people of God against the pagans found throughout the Old Testament, but now meaning both Jews and Gentiles who accept Jesus as Messiah and savior.  Paul goes on to show how this new people of God must necessarily be set apart from the pagan communities around them and live in a certain way of Christian love and service.

This reader found Wright’s analysis to be thorough and convincing.

Paul – Gospel and Empire Chapter 4

Gospel and Empire

This chapter deals with the power and influence of the Rome within the world of St Paul at the time of his letters.  Wright points out that St Paul’s mission was a dangerous one since it took shots at Roman ideology.  Wright also reminds us of Paul’s faithful assertion of Jesus’ divinity and His role as redeemer.  It is interesting to realize the very “Christian” words like “savior”, “good news”, “lord” and “son of god” were used by the Roman emperors and therefore Paul’s use of those words would have spoken to those reading his letters at the time that Jesus was more than the emperors of Rome.  I did not realize that the religion of Rome’s (emperor divinity) was the fastest growing religion at that time due to Rome’s military might.

Paul’s world would have been comfortable mixing religion, politics, and culture into the belief system – not separating these categories.  The Jewish people of the time would also have been comfortable seeing God as the one who used pagan rulers or nations to do His divine will, being the actor to do God’s bidding as well as receiving punishment for their actions.  This view would have relevance in their present (Rome) as well as from History (cf. Babylon or Assyria). They would have been accustomed to working within the confines of Roman rule by making the best of it versus anarchy and rebellion. 

Wright lists some very interesting exegeses from various letters with respect to Rome and its imperial force.  He helps give context to some of the letter such as Corinthians where he states that Corinth was more Roman than Rome.  Another example is from Thessalonians where “peace and security” are mixed in travail and destruction – a reference to Rome’s promise of peace and security. Jesus conquers death – much more powerful than simple military conquering.  Wright suggests that woven within Paul’s writing are words that would have evoked recognition of Roman signals –of Rome’s expected support and/or Rome’s reliance on military power and the emperor’s role. 

Chapter 3: Messiah and Apocalyptic

Chapter 3 speaks to the concept of Messiah and Apocalyptic.

Messiah: N.T. Wright states that there is a school of thought that Paul was a ‘political’ thinker rather than a ‘religious/theological’ thinker.  That the concept of Jesus as the Messiah would have had no meaning to the Gentile audience that Paul evangelized so that Paul’s concept of Messiah was a political category rather than a religious one.  Wright argues than Paul, in his writings was very clear that Paul saw Jesus as the true royal Messiah that was promised to Israel.  That Jesus was a descendent of the royal house of David (that Jesus came from “the seed of David”).  That Jesus fought the ultimate battle against evil and death, and won.  That had built, in himself, the promised new Temple; and has done all of this as both Israel and God’s representative.  Bringing to a culmination the promised Old Testament covenants.  Which leads into party two of Wrights chapter…

Apocalyptic:  Wright states that over the last few generations the word apocalyptic has been interrupted in a variety of ways.  Many believe this to be a reference to the ‘end times’, or as Wright states God’s abolishing “the space time universe forever, in a cosmic conflagration”.  Most recently in popular culture, is the concept of the righteous being ‘taken’ to God’s eternal glory and those deemed unworthy ‘left behind’.  Wright argues that Paul believed that the apocalypse has already come about!  For Paul, the apocalypse was the “sudden, dramatic, and shocking unveiling of secret truths, the sudden shining of bright heavenly light on a dark and unsuspecting world”.  That Jesus Christ the Messiah, through his death on the cross and resurrection has fulfilled the Old Testament covenant plan “through which the whole creation would be liberated from corruption, evil and death.

Regarding Messiah, I completely agree with Wright.  Regarding Apocalyptic, I had never considered the perspective of Paul presented by Wright – that the apocalypse has already occurred.  In reading this chapter and contemplating on it, I can see and understand the perspective presented.  As presented it makes complete sense.  That said, I am not certain that I fully agree with Wright on this. I will have to consider this more.

Creation and Covenant (Chapter 2)

The first section of Chapter 2 addresses “creation and covenant” in the Old Testament.  Two very different Psalms, Psalm 19 and Psalm 74, are used to show how God is the God of creation, but also a God that is just, all-powerful, and conquers evil.  Wright draws on certain covenants of the Old Testament such as: Abraham.  He points out that God is the creator, yet he is the God of covenant.  He will rescue and deliver his people from the enemy and from all evil.  Through Israel, God will address and solve the problems of the world, bringing justice and salvation to all people and how creation is “invoked” to solve the problems within the covenant.  God is FAITHFUL, but He is righteous.  

 

The second section of Chapter 2 focuses three new passages: Colossians 1: 15-20, 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 1-11.  This section, as well as the third, seemed similar in the fact that the emphasis was on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, being the NEW creation and the NEW covenant.  Wright states that Paul goes back to Genesis and makes it evident how God fulfills his covenant promises through Christ and renews creation.  

 

There is one particular line that struck me from the third section that I want to share.  It reads. “When God fulfills the covenant through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the spirit, thereby revealing his faithful covenant justice and his ultimate purpose of new creation, this has the effect both of fulfilling the original covenant purpose (thus dealing with sin and procuring forgiveness) and of enabling Abraham’s family to be the worldwide Jew-plus-Gentile people it was always intended to be.” Therefore, God never leaves anything unfinished.  He fulfills, completes, and makes his covenant even greater, in His timing.