22 September 2010

Sep 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

We finish up the part of Isaiah associated with the prophet Isaiah (and it's just more recap of 2 Kings). We then start the part attributed to an unknown author dubbed "Second Isaiah". According to Harris in Understanding the Bible:
In Isaiah 40-55, a new voice is heard, proclaiming to Judean exiles in Babylon that the time of punishment is past and that a new era is dawning, heralded by the conquests of Cyrus of Persia, who will defeat Babylon to become the Near East's new master. Presenting Cyrus as Yahweh's anointed king, the anonymous prophet known as Second Isaiah (or Deutero-Isaiah) prepares his fellow exiles for a radically changed world in which their God will lead them in a new exodus to their homeland. The first prophet to declare explicitly that Yahweh is the only God, Second Isaiah states that the covenant people's historical role is henceforth that of Yahweh's servant, God's vehicle for brining divine "light" to Gentile nations.
It seems like this is going to be a good bit more cheery than the dire prophecies of the historical Isaiah. It also seems like we will start discovering more of the content that makes this book so important to Christians (at least, I have been told that Isaiah's important to Christians, and there are only a few small segments of what we have read so far which seem to justify that importance, so I hope it will become more obvious).

Harris also answers a question that I had when we started reading all of the duplicate information from 2 Kings. According to Harris, it is believed that the editors who composed the joint work inserted the passages from 2 Kings to ease the transition between the prophecies of the historical Isaiah and those of Second Isaiah. Isaiah's prophecy to Hezekiah that Judah will fall to Babylon provides a bridge between the two sections.

Even right off the bat, in today's reading, we can see that the God of Second Isaiah was a much more universal, a much more cosmic God. The God of Second Isaiah sounds much more like the God of modern Christians than nearly anything else in the Old Testament thus far.

In Isaiah 40:12-31, we can see how much the Jewish vision of God has changed. With their emphasis on the vastness of God's power and wisdom, these verses sound almost like they could belong in Job. However, instead of taking that as proof that God cannot care about humanity, like Job does, Second Isaiah seems to take God's vastness as proof that he is aware of the suffering of the exiled Jewish people.

New Testament

Today we read our first epistle that is widely believed to not actually have been written by Paul. I read today's reading before reading the background, and I had forgotten whether or not this letter is considered genuine. Even so, I thought that it seemed suspiciously polished. More like someone writing an essay distilling Paul's thoughts than the more raw, meandering words of Paul himself.

Let's see what Harris has to say:
Scholars believe that Ephesians is a tribute to Pauline thought penned by a later disciple who modifies and updates Paul's ideas to address concerns of his own day. The writer argues that the unity of Christ and the cosmos must be reflected in the unity of the church, whose members engage in spiritual warfare with supernatural evil.
"Spiritual warfare with supernatural evil"? We'll see whether or not this ends up being as wacky and entertaining as it sounds.

Expanding on the authorship debate, Harris presents the following reasons for why scholars doubt the letter's authenticity (note that these points are quotations from Harris slightly modified for a list format):

  • vocabulary: contains over ninety words not found elsewhere in Paul's writings
  • literary style: written in extremely long, convoluted sentences, in contrast to Paul's typical direct, forceful statements; the quietly devotional tone and smoothly organized sequence of thoughts differ from the apostle's usual welter of ideas and impassioned language
  • theology: the absence of such typically Pauline doctrines as justification by faith and the nearness of Christ's return
  • References to "Apostles and prophets" as the church's foundation imply that these figures belong to the past, not the authors generatio
  • The Gentiles' equality in Christian fellowship is no longer a controversial issue but an accomplished fact
  • Judaizing interlopers no longer question Paul's stand on circumcision
  • When Paul uses the term church, he always refers to an individual congregation. In contrast, Ephesians' author speaks of the church collectively, a universal institution encompassing all communities of faith.
Harris finishes by saying:
The accumulated evidence convinces most scholars that Ephesians is a deutero-Pauline document, a secondary work composed in Paul's name by an admirer thoroughly steeped in the apostle's though and general theology.  ... Some scholars propose that Ephesians was written as a kind of "cover letter," or essay, to accompany an early collection of Paul's letters. [booyah! I so said it was like an essay before reading this]
Given that this letter was probably not written by Paul, what is it's value? Based on the summary, Ephesians does seem to be a fairly reliable study of Paul's views. As such, it gives valuable insight into how Paul was perceived by those who came after him. Which of his views were considered most important? Which no longer seemed relevant? The Christian church has been evolving since it's very inception, and this provides valuable insight into that evolution.

So which of Paul's ideas are important to the author of Ephesians? The author of Ephesians seems to emphasize the blessing of being united with God through Jesus. He also emphasizes the idea that the followers of Jesus were chosen for that role. He also seems to want to make clear Jesus' divine status and authority.

Psalms and Proverbs

Prostitutes continue to be bad. Actually, it really tells you something about the times the author(s) of proverbs lives in when you realize that they are always referring back to prostitutes, thieves, drunkards, and gluttons for their examples of disreputable behavior. We have such a greater variety these days.