A Review of “Two Milestones”

In this chapter of his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict attempts to present an in-depth analysis on the “Two Milestones” of Peter’s Confession and the Transfiguration. Before getting at Peter’s Confession itself, Pope Benedict looks at the question prior, “Who do people say that I am?” and the response of the apostles. Pope Benedict explains that the responses of the “people” are not necessarily false but are “inadequate”. The “people” see Jesus as a great prophet but not as the Son of God. Like “people” today, the “people” of Jesus’ time just measure Jesus up with what they already know and fail to see his uniqueness. He is not merely another prophet, who’s earthly wisdom “people” can adopt according to what they like and discard what they do not like. Immediately, Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the “Christ”, the “Messiah”, the “anointed one”, or “the Son of the living God”, depending on how it’s found in the Gospels, is in stark contrast to what the “people” have said. What did Peter mean in this confession? Some scholars like Pierre Grelot argue that Peter was misled by notions of a historical Messiah and does not really mean his confession of Jesus as the “Son of God” in the theological sense because that concept would be unknown to him. Pope Benedict counters by offering evidence that the disciples surely knew that Jesus was truly God incarnate in front of them. “At certain key moments” … (i.e. the sermon on the mount, the calming of the storm at sea, the large catch of fish) “…the disciples came to the astonishing realization: This is God himself” (304). In the next event, the Transfiguration, Peter and a couple other disciples see this in a more profound way and “personally experience the anticipation of the Parousia” (318).

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.

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 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.    

St. Paul’s World and Legacy

The first section of Chapter 1 addresses St. Paul’s worldview and his use of narrative. I like the way Wright posits that St. Paul uses elements of each of the three worlds in which he lived, Jewish, Greek, and Roman, to propose to his readers a unique fourth world that pre-existed his conversion: the newly developing world of Christianity. This perspective clearly counters the notion that St. Paul “created” Christianity. Wright also addresses the narrative techniques found in the Pauline letters, emphasizing that they are not just literary devices that add decoration to separate theological content, but that narrative is the vehicle for the theological content that makes it accessible to all audiences, both Jewish and Gentile, ancient and modern. This is consistent with the technique of reading Scripture with an eye to all four senses that has been emphasized in other Scripture classes I have taken.

The second section of this chapter is devoted to what Wright calls St. Paul’s “legacy,” that is, the research on St. Paul that has been performed over the past two centuries. He goes into some rather particular details, but his main point in this section seems to be that, while a reader should always approach a text as objectively as possible, it is not possible to remove oneself completely from the context of the world in which one lives, and so reading of Scripture will always have an eye to its relevance in the current age. I particularly appreciate in this section that Wright does not propose an “impossibly objective” reading of St. Paul, but rather assures the reader that it is natural to read a text within one’s own historical context, and that one can never discredit the working of the Holy Spirit as scriptural texts are re-read with fresh eyes. In comparison with some of the positions we discussed in class and some that he mentions in this chapter, Wright seems to have a balanced perspective on the writings of St. Paul.

Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right

In the article “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right,” Mr. Craig A. Evans presents a detailed and precise argument in support of the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a tomb.  He does this in response to the arguments of Mr. Bart Ehrman, who believes that Jesus’ body was not laid in a tomb based on the facts that a) his burial was not mentioned in the early creeds of the Church and b) it was not the custom of the Romans to allow the burial of criminals.  Because of this, he believes that the story of Jesus’ burial, even the detail about a certain “Joseph of Arimathea,” was a legend that was added to the gospels at a later time.

To counter these arguments, Evans thoroughly lists ancient sources, both Jewish and Roman, as evidence to support his claims.  By citing historians and witnesses like Philo and Josephus, Evans is able to give substantial proof that, according to the ancient burial customs of the Romans and the Jews (especially of criminals), Jesus’ entombment is not only plausible, but probable.

I enjoyed Evans’ methodical and thorough approach to the issue.  Though he seemed repetitive and his evidence lengthy, all seemed necessary to adequately satisfy the doubts that Ehrman leaves in the mind of the reader.  However, my favorite part was the last section of the reading.  Here, Evans logically and concisely answers the issue of the tomb, wonderfully summing up the evidence he manifests throughout the article.  It is a perfect apologetic answer for the average person.

What did the First Christians think about Jesus? -Gathercole

In Gathercole’s essay: What did the First Christian Think about Jesus? the author describes the likely Christology of early believers so as to show that the facts do not point a Jesus that gradually becomes God. Gathercole does so by contrasting the thought of Bart Ehrman, a novelist purporting Jesus as an “ugly duckling” arriving at divinity during different stages of his life, i.e. at birth in Luke and Matthew and the baptism in Mark. One of the responses is the “I have come” statements made by Christ which imply Jesus as pre-existing then come into the world to accomplish his mission. During the Tunnel Period, Erhman claims to have found a pre-literary formula or creed in Rom 1:3-4 which seems to imply Jesus being adopted at Son of God at the Resurrection. This claim is addressed as wildly speculative by Gathercole on many levels. Finally in the exaltation understanding of Jesus glorified, Gathercole highlights the different characteristics and actions of Jesus during his earthy mission and glorification in order to show where the adoptionists go wrong in their line of thought, namely seeing this transition as the moment Christ became God, which he posits, was not the orthodox position of early Christians.

            I enjoyed the article however the author does assume the reader have an advanced understanding of theology, scripture and logic. I found myself re-reading sections just to understand his arguments. I did agree with his positions and especially enjoyed his reflection on Jesus’ exalted and earthly characteristics as a pitfall for some adoptionists who view this as the moment of divinization for Jesus. The work was a great counter argument and debunking of the claims of Ehrman positing the Jesus became God gradually in the thoughts of early Christians.

Jesus of Nazareth – Volume 2 Chapter 5 – The Last Supper

In this chapter, Ratzinger provides an excellent summary of scholarly thought on the events of the Last Supper. He harnesses the historical-critical method with finesse – deftly avoiding becoming bogged down in boring detail, and instead focusing on becoming more closely acquainted with the person of Jesus.

First, our Pope emeritus asks whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and gives a convincing “no”. He goes to lengths to show that John’s chronology, which places the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, is chronologically true to history, unlike the Synoptics. The Last Supper couldn’t have been a normal Passover meal, as it didn’t occur on Passover!

Benedict turns next to look at the words of institution. Words, he says, that militate against an image of “friendly Jewish rabbi” or “political revolutionary”. Rather, they include an anticipation of the cross and resurrection, of His death for the expiation of our sins. All Passover celebrations, all sacrificial lambs point to Him, and Benedict shows a beautiful sense of continuity in the relationship of God with His people before and after the events of Holy Week. In response to our sin Jesus gives himself freely, and the reality of evil is overcome, not ignored.

Benedict goes on to touch on many important nuances, like the “for all/for many” change we’ve seen in the new translation, and what the “this” of “do this in memory of me” refers to (more than the words of consecration, but not a whole Passover meal). Finally, he concludes with a section that deals with the importance of both the cross and the resurrection for our liturgy. All is useful knowledge for seminarian debates – and of course, for good liturgy.