The Fatherhood Chronicles CXI

“It’s My Favorite Song!”

So Sofie said to me this morning.  But of course, one should keep in mind that at present, anything Sofie desires or happens to like and is presently speaking about is her faaayyvrutt.

But some of her favorite things do, indeed, happen to be her favorite things.  For example, she generally wants the blue bowl and blue spoon to eat her breakfast with.  She really does consistently select Rags as her stuffed dog to play with.  And there tends to be one “Angelina Ballerina” video (of three we have) that she chooses to watch when given the choice.

And ever since Pascha, I’ve caught Sofie singing “Christ is risen from the dead, tramping down by death by death, and ‘pon the tombs, stowie light.”  She really belts it out in Church.  So does Delaina, as they both hold their prayer books and try to imitate the adults.  So, this morning, as Sofie was cuddling with me on the futon–when she first gets up, she cuddles till she wakes up–she started singing “Christ is risen from the dead,” and I joined in with her.  She said, “Again,” and so we both sang it again.

“It’s my favorite song,” she declared.

All through breakfast she continued to sing it off and on.  And Delaina joined in–by repeating “from dead” over and over.

Happy Paschatide.

On the Problems of Private Interpretation

One of the frustrations I often have in dialoguing with Christians from the Restoration Movement churches of my upbringing is their unreflective use–and thus inherently asserted authority–of private interpretation.  They will rail against, for example, the sacramental view of the Lord’s Supper, but in so doing will cobble together a proof-texted “argument” from the Old Testament prohibition against consuming blood, added to the letter in Acts 15:29 which enjoins upon the Gentiles the prohibition against consuming blood, and then use that idiosyncratic interpretation to “disprove” the historic Church’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  (Hey, that’s at least one level better than Zwingli who rejected it on the basis of his own somnolent imagination.)  And, of course, since the interpretation is, after all, nothing more than Scripture, then it must be authoritative.

Of course, such interpretations fail to recall Jesus’ own demand that we consume his flesh and blood (cf. John 6), and that St. Paul reaffirms, in Colossians 2, St. Mark’s declaration that Jesus himself declared all foods clean.  But never mind that.  After all, if the parts of my argument are nothing more nor less than Scripture, then, well, it must be a “scriptural” argument, right?

St. Irenaeus, however, not only disabuses us of this notion, but also illustrates the dangers of such interpretaion.  From Irenaeus’ Against Heresies I.8.1:

Such, then, is their [i.e., the Valentinians’] system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.

Note the two highlighted portions. The bold notes how the heretical Valentinians cobbled stuff together without any rhyme or reason to attempt to build a “biblical” case for their unChristian doctrines. Looks quite a bit private interpretation.

But notice also the metaphor the saint uses, which I have underlined. By taking only portions of the Scriptures, out of their context, which includes their ecclesial and liturgical contexts, and then refashioning them according to their own understanding, they miss not only the true meaning of the Scriptures used, they also miss the true beauty.

But private interpretation has another inherent problem, too: it is necessarily schismatic. This is illustrated quite readily by the more than twenty thousand Protestant denominations in the world, which offer competing and contradictory doctrines based on the “right” of private interpretation.

By asserting that one’s personal (or even one’s own group’s) interpretation ought be preferred over the antiquity and consensus of the historic Church, one loses the true meaning and beauty of the Scriptures. Only by keeping the jewel of Scripture set in its context of the life and work and worship of the historic Church can one read it aright, and live it.

On the So-Called “Apocryphal” Books of Scripture

[Note: I put this in a comment to a previous post, but decided that, since it was a bit off topic of the post, and that it might be interesting to my readers, I would put it up in a post all its own.]

The evidence from history is unequivocal: the Church considered what Protestants call “the Apocryphal books” as part of the canon of Scripture. As one piece of evidence, Canon 85 of the Apostolic Canons (scroll to bottom of page), dating from about A.D. 380:

Let the following books be counted venerable and sacred by all of you, both clergy and Laity. Of the Old Testament, five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; of Joshua the Son of Nun, one; of the Judges, one; of Ruth, one; of the Kings, four; of the Chronicles of the book of the days, two; of Ezra, two; of Esther, one; [some texts read “of Judith, one”;] of the Maccabees, three; of Job, one; of the Psalter, one; of Solomon, three, viz.: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; of the Prophets, twelve; of Isaiah, one; of Jeremiah, one; of Ezekiel, one; of Daniel, one. But besides these you are recommended to teach your young persons the Wisdom of the very learned Sirach. Our own books, that is, those of the New Testament, are: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter; three of John; one of James, and one of Jude. Two Epistles of Clemens, and the Constitutions of me Clemens, addressed to you Bishops, in eight books, which are not to be published to all on account of the mystical things in them. And the Acts of us the Apostles.

Consider also this piece of evidence.

Most Protesant evangelicals assume that the Jews closed the OT canon prior to the time of Jesus, or, it was ratified about A.D. 90, thus giving some weight to the fact that the Protestant OT canon was the one Jesus himself used and was ratified shortly after his lifetime on earth. Dr. Albert Sundberg, however, calls into question whether the Jews actually had a closed canon by the end of the first century A.D. in his article:

“The Old Testament of the Early Church” Revisited

But even if the Jews closed the canon shortly after Jesus’ lifetime on earth, why would Christians take their lead from the Jews post-Pentecost?

Also, consider this other important fact: the Apostles used the Septuagint. This is beyond dispute. (Cf. the evidence.) And also consider that all of the oldest extent complete Christian Bibles that we have (dating from about the A.D. 300s), contain the so-called “Apocryphal” books.

Not until the time of Luther was there a wholesale rejection of these books. Not even Origen or Jerome contradicted the Church’s practice–for even though both of them observed that the “Apocryphal” books were not in the Hebrew canon, they both included them in their editions of the Scripture. Thus they recognized that the Christian tradition was to include these books in the canon.

No, the “Apocryphal” books are part of the Christian canon.

The Body of Christ

The Church is Christ’s Body.  Yes, this image is a metaphor, and so we must be careful of literalizing the image beyond what the metaphor carries.

That said, a human body is not just the aggregate sum of its parts.  You don’t just pile a bunch of organs and limbs on a table and say: There’s a human body.  No, that’s a collection of human body parts.  Similarly, you don’t just stitch body parts together in any old way that you want.  For a human body to be human, it’s organs and limbs will be arranged in ways that are, well, human.  There won’t be a foot sticking out of the middle of the forehead and there won’t be an arm sticking out where the leg should go.  A human body is organized, quite literally: it’s organs (and limbs) are arranged in a definite shape, order and extension.

Now, let’s turn to Scripture, and I’ll say a bit more about this metaphor.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. . . .

But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. . . .

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. . . . But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.  (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 20, 24-29, NKJV)

Now, note that what I have described above, on the basis of the human body metaphor–it’s ordered arrangement, it’s greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts, and so on, are precisely the very things St. Paul says about the Church with regard to the metaphor.

Now, here’s the thing: Christ’s Body existed on the Day of Pentecost and looked a certain way, was arranged and ordered a certain way.  That Body continues to exist, because it is Christ’s Body and he promised to keep it, and it continues to look a certain way, is arranged a certain way and is ordered a certain way.  No limbs have been lopped off.  No organs have been cut out.  No parts have been rearranged.  Muscles have developed and gotten stronger.  Ligaments and tendons (cf. Eph 4:16) have grown stronger and more resilient as the Body has grown and increased and developed (just like all human bodies do).  But it is the same essential body.

Now, many today, including the churches in which I was raised, want to claim to be the New Testament Church.  But look around.  The matter of identification isn’t hard.  Do they look the same?  Are they shaped and arranged the same way?  Do they have bishops (Acts 20, 1 Tim 3 and 5)?  Do they observe a Lord’s Supper which is the very real participation in the Body and Blood of the Lord in the bread and the wine (1 Corinthians 10-11)?  Do they hold to the traditions handed down from the Apostles (1 Thessalonians 2)?  If they don’t look like, act like, have the same dimensions and arrangements that the New Testament Body had, how can they be the New Testament Body?

Now, granted, the New Testament Church today looks a little different than it did in the first century: after all, I, as a near-forty-year-old man look different than when I did as a teenager.  But people who haven’t seen me in years still recognize me, because I still look pretty much the same, still act pretty much the same.  So, too, the differences in the New Testament Body of Christ today and that of the New Testament Body in the first century, are differences of growth and development of a body, an organism.

On that basis, it’s pretty easy to figure out where and who is the Body of Christ.

Personal Tips on Getting Back Into Shape, Greek-wise

If you’re like me, you may have spent 3 three years in Greek classes in college, and used Greek fairly extensively in your pastoring, but once you don’t have a sermon or Sunday school lesson to prepare regularly (and perhaps sometimes not even then), it becomes easier and easier to leave the Greek behind.

But you don’t want to waste all that education and work. And, once again if you’re like me, you remain impressed by those professors who brought only their Greek New Testament to your exegesis classes and worked straight from the Greek, translating on the fly. (Oh, sure, I know they prepped prior to class, but, still, they weren’t working from cribbed notes.) That’s the gold standard that stays in your brain and drives you on: I want to be able to “throw out” all my English translations. (Not really, but you get the point.)

Furthermore, you might, like me, have moved on from koine Greek to “classical” (Attic Greek) without the benefit of a “classical” (Attic) Greek class or formal training in such. And, like me, you might have in the intervening years since graduation become convinced that NT Greek classes should not teach koine Greek as if it’s its own language, but teach Attic and then talk a bit about how koine differs. And, more to the point, you might now be attempting to ply your trade in philosophers who wrote Attic (not koine) Greek. And you really, really want to be able to work directly with the text without toting around Little Liddel or even Middle Littel, and especially not your Smyth grammar.

On the other hand, spending even just a few weeks “reviewing” your Greek grammar, and maybe your class notes, or doing some flashcard work is utterly demoralizing. You’re NOT a first year Greek student, even if you can’t sight-read any passage in the GNT or Plato, and to sort of “start over” is not what you’re looking for. You just want to read the Greek every day.

So, what to do?

Well, I’m not an expert in linguistic paedegogy, let alone Greek language paedegogy, but I know what has worked well for me, so I’ll share it.

Here it is: Read. Greek. Every. Day.

That’s it.

Well, okay, here’s some other tips that can help.

First, DO NOT have an English translation open, or even close by, as a crutch. Kubo’s reader’s lexicon (or the Attic equivalent) is okay, but vow to toss that to one side after a month.

Secondly, READ OUT LOUD. Say the words as you read them. Now you may have to whisper them, as I do in my living arrangements with a small apartment and a wife and daughters I need to keep from disturbing at various points, but say it out loud nonetheless. Vocalize it.

Thirdly, DO NOT TRANSLATE WHAT YOU READ, even in your head. If you see entelecheia, DO NOT think “actuality.” That’s translating. As best you can, when you see entelecheia let the exact same concept that comes to your mind when you see the English “actuality” (or Sachsian “being-at-work-staying-the-same”) come to your mind when you see the Greek. This is very difficult to do, and takes real concious and concerted effort. Your first several sessions will go very slowly as you try to disabuse yourself of the mental translation habit. But it will pay off huge if you keep at it.

Fourthly, do not worry about comprehension levels. Read the same paragraph a few times to try to make the concepts come up into your mind, but if it doesn’t happen, MOVE ON. Keep reading the Greek and keep avoiding mental translation. You will find that comprehension sort of turns itself on as you keep at this.

Fifthly, DO THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY. Don’t even take a break for the weekend or for Sunday. After you’ve done this for a few months, then you can take a break.

Sixthly, have a standard or measurement of progress in place prior to beginning and then stick to it as best you can. Some are fine with reading a page or two a day. Some work better with a chapter or two a day. Some need to tie specific readings with dates on the calendar. Others get discouraged and bogged down if they miss a date and feel like they have to “catch up.” What works for me is to have specific chapters/sections listed, but not tied to calendar dates, and then check off, or date stamp, each reading as its completed. That way if I do miss a day, I don’t feel like I have to “catch up” but on the other hand, if I have the time and want to do so, I can “catch up.” But I have a standard by which I can measure my progress. Something different will work for others. But the point is to be able to say: “The bookmark has moved this far,” or “I have read X chapters thus far,” or “I have only 72 more days to go.”

Seventh: Grammar and vocab will come with reading, so it’s not necessary to review or practice these prior to or in addition to your daily Greek reading. That said, it can’t hurt. But make it secondary not primary. The primary thing is to read the Greek every single day. Not to be grammar experts or claim you know 10,000 distinct words.

This is what I’ve found to be helpful to me.  Unfortunately I have not read Greek every day since I graduated (and completed my third year of Greek) nearly sixteen years ago.  I have had periods of several weeks to a few months when I have read Greek every day.  And to get back up to speed quickly–which rewards daily diligence, and at this point it’s not about knowledge it’s about behavior–I haven’t found anything that works better than the above.  Of course: Your mileage may vary.