The Call of Simon Peter in Luke 5:1-11

This story, which is unique to Luke, is a bit of a gem among call narratives. It may be divided into three distinct sections: vv. 1-3, 4-7, and 8-11.

Unlike Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ interaction with Simon in this scene is preceded by his healing of Simon’s mother-in-law (4:39); presumably Simon also saw or heard about the rest of Jesus’ activities in Capernaum (4:40-41) before Jesus appeared on the shore:

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

In this first scene Jesus is doing just as he told the crowds in 4:42-43, that is, he is proclaiming the good news of the coming of the kingdom, mentioned for the first time in Luke in 4:43.

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Son of God

I was having a chat with the homies about Christological titles and since my response is longer than the original format allows, I will put it here. The crux of the matter concerns how the Synoptics deal with Jesus’ quotation of Ps 110:1. This quotation, which distinguishes the messiah from the son of David, appears in all three Gospels. From Mark 12:35-37 (NRSV):

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘ 37 David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.

According to Jesus then, the messiah is not the son of David but a greater figure than David himself. The challenge this presents appears when reading Matthew and Luke, both of whom affirm that Jesus was the son of David. In the novelty of the infancy narratives, it is possible to lose sight of the Christological foundation of the Gospels.


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The Part I Left Out…

I was blogging a bit over with Benjamin the Scribe, but didn’t get all of this first lesson quite done. So, I thought I’d just finish it up here, by reading the selection from the Johannine tradition. It consists of two of the three sections of the Fourth Gospel’s prologue:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

This passage, thought by some to be an early Christian hymn broken up by parenthetical insertions such as vv. 6-8, is delivered by the Johannine narrator. The narrator is a reliable figure so readers are invited to understand the rest of the Gospel through this passage. The import of this is that when Jesus makes claims of an exalted status which are rejected by “the Jews” as blasphemous, readers know that Jesus is speaking only the truth, that is, he is a reliable revelation of God.

The sections assigned for this first week’s lesson describe the relationship between the Word and God, and between the Word and the world. As usual, I read for insight into the usual six questions:


What is the human condition? The human condition is roughly portrayed by “the world.” On the one hand, the world is a special place since it was created by God through the Word and remains the object of his love. On the other hand, the world is in darkness, that is, it is very much in need of a new and better revelation of God to give human life purpose and direction.

What is God going to do about this? God sends two characters as witnesses to provide light to this world that he loves. First, John the Baptist is “sent from God” as a witness to testify of the Word who has come in the flesh. Thus, in the Johannine tradition John is one of the five witnesses listed out by Christ (John 5:32-35), and far more important in this role than as the person who baptized Jesus (as he is in the Synoptics). The Word, who is everything God is, is the perfect revelation of God, having been with him from the beginning. His revelation of God is not a series of propositions about God, but is the perfect portrayal of God’s love.

Who is Christ that he can accomplish God’s intent? Christ is the Word who took on human flesh and lived among humans. The key point is that he is the sole entity capable of doing what needs to be done because he has seen and known God like no other. A bit farther on, outside of the selections for this week’s lesson, John will say that Jesus is the only person to have seen God. This does not mean that John has forgotten about the great theophanies of the Hebrew Bible, but that Jesus is the only one who is “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18 KJV), a position of intimacy claimed by none of the prophets.

What is the nature of the community that responds to this? The community formed in this tradition is illustrated by John the Baptist. He is the first witness, sent by God, to the Word made flesh. The community, then, is composed of those who first respond to someone’s witness by believing that Jesus is who he claims to be, and who then bear witness of this point themselves, thereby drawing others to Jesus, who reveals himself more fully. This idea of a community formed by and around a chain of witnesses is actually illustrated in John 1:19-51. After Jesus is resurrected, he will send his disciples out into the world just as his Father sent him: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Joh 20:21 NRS). Thus, the Johannine church is the extension of Jesus’ mission to reveal the love of God, which makes people who respond “the children of God” (1:12).

What behaviors are incumbent on this community, and why? Because this community is defined by a relationship, the primary ethical obligation will be what sustains a relationship: love. Thus, to get ahead of things, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 NRSV).

What does this community anticipate in the future? This community sees a future that is dominated by conflict between light and dark: “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” In the end they are confident that the light will prevail; this favorable resolution is foreshadowed by their witness of the glory of the Father’s unique Son, which they have seen. In the meantime, they enjoy a relationship with God as “the children of God” (1:12). This is not the relationship that Jesus has with God, because he is the Son of God, but it is not something enjoyed by the rest of the world, nor does it come by human desire or initiative (not of blood…not of the will…).

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The 144,000 PARTHENOI of Revelation 14

The story of the 144,000 who stand with the Lamb on Mt. Zion in Rev 14:1-4 is one of those “flashpoints” in the interpretation of John’s vision. Craig R. Koester’s new commentary in the Anchor Bible, vol. 38A, has something of a new approach. To begin with, here is Koester’s translation. The emphasis is mine, and it indicates the places at which I wish to further explain Koester’s approach:

Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion. With him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven that was like the sound of rushing water and like the sound of loud thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. They sang what seemed to be a new song in from of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders. And no one could understand the song except the 144,000, who had been purchased from the earth. These were not defiled with women. Now these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes are maidens. They were purchased from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb. In their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.

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New Kid in Town: Newest Anchor Bible Commentary on Revelation

This seems to be the year for commentaries on Revelation. And although there are a couple more on the way, Craig R. Koester’s work is such a good example of the genre that I’m crawling out from under my rock to write a bit about it.

First off, it’s the newest addition to the Anchor Bible, joining an earlier volume on Revelation by Josephine Massyngberde Ford, so it’s labeled as volume 38a. It was published September, 30, 2014, and weighs in at 881 pages plus 43 pages of lists and a preface. Tiny print, too: looks like 11 pt in the introductory matter and 10 pt in the body.

For those of you in the tl;dr camp: if you want one commentary on Revelation, this is the one you want to check out from the library because its list price on Amazon is $118. Used copies are available for a marked down price of $110, and third party sources go as low as $87.56.

That said, this is a well done commentary written from a more centrist Christian viewpoint than the Evangelical commentaries that have recently dominated the market. By this, I do not mean to suggest that this latter group are not fine commentaries, but that they have now been joined by another, and equally interesting, point of view.

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Things You Wouldn’t Think Might Go Together…


About last Friday or so I was sitting under my rock reading from Ehrman’s and Holmes’ Text of the New Testament: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, which happens to be about textual criticism. I am not making this up – it was chapter 17, Wasserman’s essay on criteria.  So anyway, word filtered in that the Maxwell Institute had a new book collecting all the NT apocrypha and giving high quality pictures of the same, etc., etc.

 And I thought to myself:  This is good news!  Textual criticism is concerned with the recovery of the oldest possible readings of ancient documents, including those of the Bible.  It’s pretty important in Classics, as well. Before anybody can get their so-called higher criticism on, they have to have a text – the best one possible. And before the textual critics can work, they have to have the best possible copies (pictures or transcriptions) of the texts.  Although I haven’t seen it, I suspect (hope) that’s what this latest book features.

 Personally, I find textual criticism fascinating, but it is tedious, painstaking work and sometimes not everyone appreciates this the way they might.  Rarely do the textual critics make pronouncements about Life, the Universe, and Everything but the exegetes who do are in reality indebted to textual critics.

 However, what I really want to mention is this:  In addition to providing us texts to work on, some aspects of textual criticism are also an excellent window into the world of early Christianity and into THE ASSUMPTIONS AND BIASES that are part of ours!   Yep, I’ve moved on from Status Quaestionis and into Eldon J. Epps’ Junia: The First Woman Apostle.  It’s a fascinating book, and quite accessible, too.   I’m just a few pages in, but I’m enjoying it immensely.

 Anyway, Epps is making the point that, with the 1927 edition of the critical Greek text of Romans 16, the female Junia became the male Junias.  Why?  According to one Hans Lietzmann, writing in 1906, the name must be male “because of the following statements” identifying the person as an apostle.  Yep.  Can’t be a woman because we KNOW that women can’t be apostles!  And, it stayed that way until 1970 or so. 

 Why did it finally change?  Ah, well, textual critics, of course, because the exegetes mentioned so far seem to have been quite satisfied about the whole thing!   And there you have it:  textual criticism as a means to social justice…

Quick and Powerful

And so another Labor Day comes, bringing the end to summer.  May the next summer bring more jobs to those who need them, and some recovery to the household income of those who do have jobs

Now, back to the BoM. I have been wandering around in the BoM looking, from the perspective of a reader of the NT, at how the BoM uses the biblical text. Those who’ve been around for a bit know that sometimes there’s no change and sometimes there’s some significant change, usually in a fashion that makes the idea in the NT “friendlier” to a modern reader. Here we have a case in which new wine has definitely been poured into an old wineskin — and in a timely fashion, too, as Helaman 1-5 was the GD lesson on Sunday.

When the author of Hebrews wanted to exhort his readers to get with the gospel program, among other things he pointed out that the word of God is not something that can be fooled, or fooled with:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. (Heb 4:12-13 NRS)

And here it is in the KJV, which is closer to the text of the BoM. Note in particular the standout phrase “quick and powerful:”

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Heb 4:12-13 KJV)

The basic image is that of a two-edged sword. Now we moderns don’t use swords, two-edged or otherwise, unless we’re in a real bind. And in fact, I’d be surprised if all that many folks who read this blog have ever seen a real, serious, two-edged sword outside of a museum. So you can bet that when the BoM uses this verse, the sword business is changed:

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, like a light saber…

Haha, no, that’s not it! If it were, it would be quite amazing. But here it is:

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked — And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. (Hel 3:29-30)

See, all that sword business is gone! But even more interesting is the matter of by whom this “quick and powerful” word of God is used, and the identity of its target. In the NT, it’s the means by which God determines the kind of folks we are. We’re judged against the word of God, and its power to discern the character of the human heart is metaphorically portrayed by the ability to separate soul and spirit or joint and marrow.   In the BoM, the word of God has not lost any of its power to puncture pretensions or rend rationalizations.  However,  we use it ourselves to judge the thoughts and intents of other people, and in particular those who would exhort us to do some thing or make some choice in their favor.  In short, it’s one of God’s gifts to his children, to enable them to separate serious discussion from empty, deceptive rhetoric, which the BoM always associates with the devil.

And gracious me, it’s Labor Day and the beginning of  open BS Season  the end of the quadrennial American political season! Every four years, too, at just about this same time of the year. Heh.

Black and White

As I have casually wandered around the BoM this summer looking at how it uses the NT, I have noted instances in which it “clarifies” NT ideas, instances in which it “de-complicates” NT ideas, and instances in which it completely changes the meaning. In this post, I’d like to point out an instance in which an NT idea is “updated” so that it speaks more openly to modern issues.

Perhaps the most radically egalitarian statement in the NT is Paul’s affirmation to the Galatians that they have no need of the Law of Moses because of their faith in Christ. Christians are “baptized into Christ” and have “put on” Christ, and in light of this event all the old distinctions are rendered void (Gal 3:26-29):

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Most importantly, Christ was the seed promised to Abraham, so those who are Christ’s are heirs of Abraham’s promise, with no exceptions. But to drive home the point, Paul listed three major distinctions: Jews/Greeks, bond/free and male/female. These divisions were “live” in Paul’s day, of course, but with the exception of gender they are now more or less moribund.

So in 2 Nephi, Nephi makes a similar point with very similar language but notice how the divisions are changed:

For [the Lord] doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

The Jew/Greek distinction is missing because it is replaced by a racial distinction, the heathen get their own mention, and the Jews are paired off against the Gentiles. This last pair, in particular, highlights the promised eschatological unity of God’s covenant people in the Last Days.