04 October 2010

Oct 4

Reference links:
Old Testament

Jeremiah is easier to read when read aloud. It makes the structure and the repetition clearer, at least for me.

Judah has failed in their commitment to the Lord. The people are like a prostitute. They try to come back to the Lord, but not sincerely. Even if they were sincere, the Lord would have every right in rejecting them. Jeremiah blames the impending doom of Judah on their lack of faithfulness. Because they will not turn to the Lord and accept his forgiveness, they will be crushed by the surrounding nations.

Jeremiah is making prophetic judgments about the future destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, but given the historical context, it seems as if he is just reading the signs of the time. If you consider further that it was not until much later that these words were committed to paper, Jeremiah starts to sound less like a prophet and more like those people who are writing books about the recent recession in the US (and how they knew it was coming).

When everyone makes predictions, some of them are bound to be right. Plus, recording predictions after the fact always leaves one open to hindsight bias:
Hindsight bias is the inclination to see events that have occurred as being more predictable than they were before they took place. ... In psychological experiments of hindsight bias, subjects also tend to remember their predictions of future events as having been stronger than they actually were, in those cases where those predictions turn out correct.
New Testament

The problem with the letters traditionally attributed to Paul being arranged from longest to shortest is that it means I have to read background information more and more frequently as we go through them. (That, and it's a stupid ordering. I mean really, you couldn't do better than longest to shortest deciders of the canonical order?)

Which is to say, new book! We start the Epistle to the Colossians today. What does Harris have to say about it:
In Colossians, which may be the work of a Pauline disciple, the author emphasizes Jesus' identity with the cosmic power and wisdom by and for which the universe was created. The divine secret is revealed as Christs Spirit dwelling in the believer. ...
If Paul is the author of Colossians, as a large minority of scholar believe, he had not yet visited the town of Colossae when he wrote this theologically significant letter. ... If genuine, Colossians was probably composed at about the same time as Philemon, to which it is closely related. ... In the opinion of some analysts, both the complex nature of the false teachings, which may represent a form of Gnosticism, and the Christology of Colossians seem too "advanced" for the letter to have originated in Paul's day. Other critics point out that if the letter was written late in Paul's career to meet a situation significantly different from others he had encountered, it could well have stimulated the apostle to produce am ore fully developed expression of his views about Christ's nature and functions.
On to the actual content! The first thing I notice is that this letter is claimed to be from Paul and Timothy and uses "we" throughout. Paul tends to switch over to using "I" fairly quickly in most of his letters. Perhaps the answer to the authorship question is that this letter sounds less like Paul because it really was written by Paul in conjunction with someone else. Timothy, perhaps, acted as more than just a secretary taking down Paul's dictation; he may have been an actual co-author, leading to stylistic differences. That said, I just made that up (although I am sure it's not an original idea), and I have no reason to think that other than that it kind of seems consistent with what we have seen so far.

After a greeting and wishes for the continuing growth and well being of the church at Colossae, we read what our references believe is a traditional hymn rather than the original words of the author. This hymn emphasizes the supremacy of Christ and his vital role in creation. Some lines near the end are interesting:
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
This reminds me of some strains of Jewish mystical thought I have read about. In those strains (and please forgive me if I butcher this), since God was everything, perfect and unchanging, the only way for creation to happen was for God to withdraw from himself; to leave a void which would be filled by creation. But because God had withdrawn from himself, there is all sorts of badness. Somehow, we get from there to mystical beliefs that everything contains divine sparks that must be liberated to enact a reconciliation between God and creation.

This type of idea common to both Jewish mysticism and gnosticism. If, as some scholars believe, Colossians is a response to gnostic beliefs, then the verses quoted above could be seen as a response to the idea that there are divine sparks in everything that need to be liberated. Instead, this hymn seems to reinforce the idea of separation but then claims that it is through Jesus that the reconciliation occurred.

Note also that this is a very different view of the purpose of Jesus' death than the more standard idea that "Jesus died for the sins of human beings".

On an unrelated note, I picked up The Chronological Study Bible: New King James Version from the library to help me understand the context of Jeremiah. While flipping through there, I was glancing at the chronological one year reading plan. Based on that plan, the reader would not be reaching the New Testament until later this week. That just emphasizes, to me, how little of the content of the Bible is from the New Testament.

Psalms and Proverbs

While reading Jeremiah, it's obvious how today's psalm is from a relatively narrow slice of Israel and Judah's history. According to the psalmist, God is honored in both Israel and Judah. And now that we have read through the history and are reviewing some of it in Jeremiah, we know how small the window of time was when both kingdoms actually worshiped God.