On the Holy Spirit (for children)

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Cover of the 1993 update

I picked up a copy of a delightful children’s book at a rummage sale this last weekend: The Holy Spirit in Me by Carolyn Nystrom, illustrated by Wayne A. Hanna (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981).*
This small 30 page book (part of the Children’s Bible Basics) offers just about one of the finest summations of a Biblical (and practical) theology of the Spirit in succinct and simple terms. It is written about the person and work of the Holy Spirit as creator, inspirer of Scripture, anointer of Jesus, seal of sonship, the one Jesus’ baptizes his followers in, charismatic endower, indwelling keeper, sanctifier, helper, empowerer for witness to Jesus, reminder of what Jesus has done and said, enabler to love others, advocate in prayer, and producer of the life of God in us.
One example page states:

Ephesians 1:13
Ever since the day the Holy Spirit filled that room where people waited, He lives inside each person who believes in Jesus. He is God living in me. He will never leave me, and I will never leave him.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book and think it a great introduction to small children on the role of the Spirit in the world and in their lives.
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* The cover used is from the 1993 update that used Eira B. Reeves as illustrator.

Lamenting Lamentations: A Literary-Theology

lamentationsIn teaching the book of Lamentations, I was (once again) struck by the structure of this little book in its Hebrew form. It seems by its very structure to shape the Hebrew reader/hearer. Of course, any reading of the text that simply notes structural issues and not the text proper would fall short, but I’m offering here only a brief look at these structural elements as one more move toward the theology of Lamentations which seems stated by the text proper (which I bring up to clarify the theological trajectory which cannot properly be stated apart from the text).
The first two chapters have triple bicolon strophes per verse (22 verses each) with each strophe beginning with the next letter of the acrostic acrostic. Chapter 3 (66 verses) has triple bicolons where each bicolon of that strophe begins with that letter of the acrostic and is signified by a new verse number. Chapter four (22 verses) is doubled bicolons per strophe each strophe beginning with the acrostic. And chapter five (22 verses) is a dissolution of any of these patterns: no acrostic, no continuity of bicolons, irregular strophes. It makes the crescendo of the lament at chapter three begin its decline into full breaking of any sense of control by chapter five. This is signified by the heightened use of the acrostic even though the count of bicolons is identical to the first two chapters. It is a move toward greater disorder of a judged people (a sort of return to Genesis 1.2’s tohu-wabohu or being “unfilled and unfruitful”). It functions as the pottery of Jeremiah 18 that is not to the intention of the potter and must be undone from its form.
The soul of the LORD’s people are laid bare. They are undone. Can anything be made of this or is this the end of all?
Taking up the text itself, this places them right where the LORD wanted them in order to bring life from death, hope from despair, and salvation from judgment. The earth might fall into disarray, all order into disorder, but the LORD’s kingdom is established, his reign is life, his rule: restoration.
19 You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
20 Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
    renew our days as of old
22 unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lam.5.19-22 NIV 2011; bold for emphasis)
TERMS USED
Acrostic in the Scriptures refers to the successive 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet beginning the first word and following in succession to the end of the alphabet.
Bicolon is a two line poetic unit.
Strophe refers to the larger thought unit of any number of smaller units (perhaps also called a “stanza”).
Tricolon is a three line poetic unit.

Eating Your Theology (Gen.1)

AtrahasisIn Sunday School this week we covered Genesis 1. Something that struck me was verses 29-30:

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1:29-30 NIV)

Whereas some have taken this as some sort of Pre-fall diet plan to get healthy (it isn’t), I realized it is making a VERY significant claim theologically. In the ancient Near Eastern stories of the creation of humans (see Atrahasis Epic), people were made to feed the gods. They did feed themselves, but only as they would “sustain the gods”. And the gods (Igigi) were said to toil hard at making food and led (by their rebellion under the toil) to the creation of humans.
In the Genesis 1, however, it is the God of Israel who feeds people and creatures alike. There is not even a mention of God eating (to be fair God is described as eating later in the canon). Now THAT is a theological claim we should not miss. This God, the god of Israel, is the one who feeds all of creation and has created in order to care for creation. And the work was not toilsome to begin with, but simply attending to the garden of God (Gen.2-3). And it was God Himself who watered the dwelling of humans and gave them freely to eat. This is the God of Israel. This is the God of the Church.
Now that’ll preach!

Book Exchange

Thanks to Jason Gardner I will be reading a new book soon: Cynthia L. Miller, ed., The Verbless Clause in Biblical Hebrew: Linguistic Approaches (Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 1999). Hopefully Jason enjoys Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012). How are those for fun reading selections. A little light reading for the weekend. 🙂
Others may have seen such in the past, but I had never witnessed a book exchange via a blog. What a great idea for exchanging resources. I will be doing this again in the future. Thanks Jason!

Am I Really Pentecostal?

ImageAm I  really Pentecostal? I’m thinking of this in several ways because recently I have been attacked by some for (1) being too Pentecostal, and by others for (2) not being Pentecostal enough. So which is it? Or is neither accusation correct? Maybe I’m the perfect Pentecostal (whatever that might look like 🙂 ).
What does it even mean to be “Pentecostal”? Does it just mean I speak in tongues? That would be a pretty lame interpretation that would leave aside the entire Pentecostal conceptualization of the Gospel message (Jesus is Savior/Sanctifier, Baptizer, Healer, and Soon Coming King) or ethos (empowered participants of the life of the Spirit).
Can I be “Pentecostal” and not speak in tongues? Think William Seymour as he began his ministry. Can I speak in tongues and still not be “Pentecostal”? Think Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Does it really hinge on tongues? Should it?
Is it to be a person of the Spirit (whatever that means)? Or is that too individualistic and to generally broad? Is it to be a vibrant member of the people of the Spirit? Or is that broader still even while encompassing the wider movement of God’s presence and work in the world?
And shouldn’t I already have all this figured out because I’m not only a self-describing “Pentecostal”, but even a pastor of a “Pentecostal” Fellowship (and among the regional leadership of said wider Fellowship)? Worse still, I’m a “Pentecostal” scholar working on a PhD in Pentecostal Studies. But does that mean I happen to be a Pentecostal who is a scholar or that I am a scholar of things Pentecostal? And does that mean I really have it figured out?
One would really think a person like myself should have a lot more answers. The problem is that with every answer, I find more questions begging to be answered.
So what kind of Pentecostal am I anyways? I would like to think I am the kind that loves the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loves my neighbor as myself. I would like to think I am the kind that does this in the vivifying power of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who was sent by the Father, who is the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
Oh, and I also speak in tongues.
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Blood and Water

Blood and waterI have continued to be more deeply convinced that giving undue historical emphasis in explaining texts leads in a direction not normally intended by the writers of Scripture. A case in point came to mind in a recent conversation with two of my students. One was reading a volume Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (David C. Cook, 2013) by J. Warner Wallace. I have not read this volume so I can make no claims about its contents. It simply spurred the conversation. We were discussing the historical intent of the crucifixion narratives of the various writers and specifically we discussed John’s account of Jesus death and how when the Romans came to him they found he was already dead so instead of breaking his legs (as would be necessary to bring about a quick death due to asphyxiation which might normally take days for the crucified to succumb to under normal conditions) one of them pierced him with a spear and the text says “blood and water flowed out immediately” (John 19:34 NET, emphasis mine).
Why does John emphasize that blood and water flowed from Jesus side? He is after all the only writer of the story of Jesus in the canonical accounts to mention this. John states right afterward that “the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe” (John 19:35 NET). He writes with theological intent to convince his audience to trust in the Lord Jesus and also to know that this particular witness is trustworthy. So why does John tell us that “blood and water” came from Jesus side? Why doesn’t he just say “blood”? Is he trying to saying something more specific about the death of Jesus?
There are numerous accounts I have read and heard where it is proposed that John is simply saying that Jesus was truly dead and this is typically followed by an attempted forensic pathology discussion of how one’s body reacts post-mortem. However, this seems to do an injustice to John’s specific intent. Not that it isn’t John’s intent at all to speak of the certainty of Jesus death (it seems to be a part of it) and therefore the certainty of resurrection, but to treat the account as if this is all it really is saying. John seems to be doing more than simply providing some historical claim to “blood and water”.
The following note found in the New English Translation is helpful in placing John’s comments within their greater Johannine context:

101 sn How is the reference to the blood and water that flowed out from Jesus’ side to be understood? This is probably to be connected with the statements in 1 John 5:6–8. In both passages water, blood, and testimony are mentioned. The Spirit is also mentioned in 1 John 5:7 as the source of the testimony, while here the testimony comes from one of the disciples ( 19:35). The connection between the Spirit and the living water with Jesus’ statement of thirst just before he died in the preceding context has already been noted (see 19:28). For the author, the water which flowed out of Jesus’ side was a symbolic reference to the Holy Spirit who could now be given because Jesus was now glorified (cf. 7:39); Jesus had now departed and returned to that glory which he had with the Father before the creation of the world (cf. 17:5). The mention of blood recalls the motif of the Passover lamb as a sacrificial victim. Later references to sacrificial procedures in the Mishnah appear to support this: m. Pesahim 5:3 and 5:5 state that the blood of the sacrificial animal should not be allowed to congeal but should flow forth freely at the instant of death so that it could be used for sprinkling; m. Tamid 4:2 actually specifies that the priest is to pierce the heart of the sacrificial victim and cause the blood to come forth. (NET)

When we look at a sampling of the Church Fathers on this passage we discover a decidedly unhistorical intent rules their exegesis (or better, a decidedly theological intent rules their exegesis). None of them denies the historicity, but each in turn recognizes a greater theological intent to John’s including this detail.
Tertullian (On Baptism XVI) writes: “For He had come “by means of water and blood,” just as John has written; that He might be baptized by the water, glorified by the blood; to make us, in like manner, called by water, chosen by blood. These two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side, in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood.”
Augustine (Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John): “Three things then we know to have issued from the Body of the Lord when He hung upon the tree: first, the spirit: of which it is written, “And He bowed the head and gave up the spirit:”  then, as His side was pierced by the spear, “blood and water.” Which three things if we look at as they are in themselves, they are in substance several and distinct, and therefore they are not one. But if we will inquire into the things signified by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the One, Only, True, Supreme God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of whom it could most truly be said, “There are Three Witnesses, and the Three are One:” so that by the term Spirit we should understand God the Father to be signified; as indeed it was concerning the worshipping of Him that the Lord was speaking, when He said, “God is a Spirit:” by the term, blood, the Son; because “the Word was made flesh:” and by the term water, the Holy Ghost; as, when Jesus spake of the water which He would give to them that thirst, the evangelist saith, “But this said He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him were to receive.” Moreover, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are “Witnesses,” who that believes the Gospel can doubt, when the Son saith, “I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me, He beareth witness of me.” Where, though the Holy Ghost is not mentioned yet He is not to be thought separated from them. Howbeit neither concerning the Spirit hath He kept silence elsewhere, and that He too is a witness hath been sufficiently and openly shown. For in promising Him He said, “He shall bear witness of me.” These are the “Three Witnesses,” and the Three are One, because of one substance. But whereas, the signs by which they were signified came forth from the Body of the Lord, herein they figured the Church preaching the Trinity, that it hath one and the same nature: since these Three in threefold manner signified are One, and the Church that preacheth them is the Body of Christ. In this manner then the three things by which they are signified came out from the Body of the Lord: like as from the Body of the Lord sounded forth the command to “baptize the nations in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” “In the name:” not, In the names: for “these Three are One,” and One God is these Three. And if in any other way this depth of mystery which we read in John’s epistle can be expounded and understood agreeably with the Catholic faith, which neither confounds nor divides the Trinity, neither believes the substances diverse nor denies that the persons are three, it is on no account to be rejected. For whenever in Holy Scriptures in order to exercise the minds of the faithful any thing is put darkly, it is to be joyfully welcomed if it can be in many ways but not unwisely expounded.”
Cyril (in his Catechetical Letters) writes of baptism (water) and martyrdom (blood) as the referents in this passage. This doesn’t mean he understood it as a non-historical event, but only that he saw in John’s comments something more. In fact, he saw a theological agenda intended to speak to the place of the Church in the sufferings of Christ: identifying with Christ through baptism and martyrdom.
John of Damascus writes in the context of the “water and Spirit” (drawing a link to John 3) that these two (blood and water) refer to “water for our regeneration, and the washing away of sin and corruption; and blood to drink as the hostage of life eternal.” This is a decidedly sacramental (baptism and eucharist) hearing of the text. Again, this is not to suggest that John of Damascus denied the historicity of this event, but to note he hears something more in the words of the Gospel writer.  John of Damascus also places this firmly within the context of the endowment of the Spirit in connection with the washing of the waters of baptism (not identifying Spirit and water baptism, but connecting them as both essential features of the Christian life; perhaps this is a reflection of the later theological gloss in 1 John 5:6-8).
Jerome (A Commentary on the Apostle’s Creed 23): “It is written that when the side of Jesus was pierced “He shed thereout blood and water.” This has a mystical meaning. For Himself had said, “Out of His belly shall flow rivers of living water.” But He shed forth blood also, of which the Jews sought that it might be upon themselves and upon their children. He shed forth water, therefore, which might wash believers; He shed forth blood also which might condemn unbelievers. Yet it might be understood also as prefiguring the twofold grace of baptism, one that which is given by the baptism of water, the other that which is sought through martyrdom in the outpouring of blood, for both are called baptism. But if you ask further why our Lord is said to have poured forth blood and water from His side rather than from any other member, I imagine that by the rib in the side the woman is signified. Since the fountain of sin and death proceeded from the first woman, who was the rib of the first Adam, the fountain of redemption and life is drawn from the rib of the second Adam.”
So I guess what I’m getting at is that there may be a “thicker reading” of the text (see Kevin Van Hoozer’s numerous works on this term) than simply John making a historical claim (which he is). He may be heard to make the claim of Christ’s fullest provision for the sanctification of His Church in the outflow of blood and water from his side. It is these that bear witness to us: the blood and the water.
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Related articles:
Beyond the Historical Grammatical Malaise
On Theological Interpretation and Authorial Intent
Hearing Scripture Together