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Reading Scripture Allegorically

Father John Behr

Patristic expert, Father John Behr, likes to be provocative. Here is a recent conversation (15 minutes) I had with him which began with a provocative statement: “Unless we are reading Scripture allegorically, we are not reading it as Scripture.” You may not agree with his answer but he will certainly get you thinking. This is part two of a podcast we did together. When we met, Father Behr was in transition. moving from St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York–a post he held for 25 years–to becoming Professor of Patristics at the University of Aberdeen. He ends the podcast making some recommendations about how a person might go about reading the Church Fathers.

To hear the podcast (15 min) click here.

The Stone Chapel is a podcast of the friends and staff of the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas.  It is hosted by Dr. David Capes, Senior Research Fellow at the library and former faculty member at Houston Baptist University and Wheaton College.  The purpose of the podcast is to bring to our audience great conversations from the world’s leading experts in theology, biblical studies, archaeology, Church history, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ethics, ministry, and a host of other topics close to the mission of the library.

The Lanier Theological Library is a magnet for scholars, church leaders and influencers.  For the last ten years, it has welcomed hundreds of academics and church leaders from across the globe for public lectures, study, panel discussions, consultations, and encouragement.

James A. Sanders (1927-2020)

I share with you an email from a friend and colleague, Dr. Craig Evans, regarding the passing of another great scholar from our midst, Dr. James A. Sanders. Though I did not know him, I did follow, appreciate, and benefit from his many works. J

3 October 2020

Dear SCT Colleagues:

I pass on to you sad news. As some of you may have already heard, James A. Sanders, born 28 November 1927, passed away yesterday morning, 1 October 2020. Jim was nearing his 93rdbirthday. I met Jim in Claremont, California, at the beginning of the fall semester in 1977. It was the beginning of my doctoral studies. Jim was 49 and I was 25. Jim was always a handsome, youthful fellow. In fact, he could have passed for Dick Clark’s brother! Jim had just moved from Union Seminary in New York to the Claremont School of Theology, to launch the newly built Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center (ABMC), which housed in its climate-controlled vault thousands of images of biblical manuscripts, including microfilm and microfiche images of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jim served as ABMC President until 2004. While at Union Jim’s colleagues included the likes of J. Louis Martyn and Raymond E. Brown.

Although Jim was not my doctoral supervisor (Bill Brownlee was), he played an important mentoring role while I was at Claremont and throughout my career. He and I founded in 1989 and then co-chaired the SBL program unit Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. This in turned led to the founding of the Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity (SSEJC) series published by Sheffield Academic Press, then later Continuum, and now Bloomsbury T&T Clark. To date, we have published 21 volumes in the SSEJC series and two more volumes are in the works. As you may know, Jim served as the President of the Society of Biblical Literature in 1979. Jim’s best known work is Torah and Canon (1972). Jim was also well known for his The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (DJD 4; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), whose conclusions were confirmed many years later by Peter Flint’s work on all of Qumran’s Psalms scrolls.

Jim and I co-authored Luke and Scripture (Fortress Press, 1993) and co-edited several books, mostly in the SSEJC series. We presented together at several conferences, at SBL and elsewhere. I had the opportunity to edit, along with Shemaryahu Talmon (1920-2010), a Festschrift in honor of Jim, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The 700-page book is called The Quest for Context and Meaning (BIS 28; Leiden: Brill, 1997). Contributors included Reginald Fuller and W. D. Davies. In recent years I helped Jim assemble his studies in two volumes: Scripture in Its Historical Contexts. Volume I: Text, Canon, and Qumran(FAT 118; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018), and Scripture in Its Historical Contexts. Volume II: Exegesis, Hermeneutics, and Theology (FAT 126; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019). Jim was awarded an honorary doctorate at Acadia University, where coincidentally I found myself on the faculty many years later. In fact, while at Acadia Divinity College I became friends with Jim Perkin, former President of Acadia University and himself a New Testament scholar, who had nominated Jim for the award.

Jim Sanders was a prince of a fellow. His wife Dora, whom Jim loved very much, died in June of 2016, at the age of 88. Dora danced, played the piano, the violin, and the organ. Dora participated in the American Dance Festival every summer from 1949 to 2004. She and Jim were quite the pair: Jim from Memphis, Tennessee, and Dora from New Jersey (and, spiritually, from New York). Jim and Dora had one child, a son, Robin David Sanders Sr., and two grandsons Robin David Sanders Jr, and Alexander Jonathan Sanders. It was Alex who in 2017 invited me and Ginny to fly out to California to attend Jim’s 90th birthday party. Although that visit was not possible, we did have opportunities to see Jim on other occasions in California and lunch with him. (Often when I flew to California in summers to teach at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, I had the chance to visit Jim.)

Jim was one of the best biblical scholars of our era. Of all my professors at Claremont (and they were all good), it was Jim Sanders who could bring together the exegetical and textual minutiae and the big picture. It was he who taught me what textual criticism really was and what biblical criticism was and wasn’t and how it could edify the Church. For Jim faith and scholarship were never at odds but were always complimentary. Some of my former and current grad students have complimented me by making that observation. Well, now you know where I got it. Jim will be sorely missed but his legacy will be a lasting one.

Best,

CAE

Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., D.Habil.

John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins

Houston Theological Seminary

Houston Baptist University

Exegetically Speaking– Season 2

I’m happy to report that Exegetically Speaking–Season 2 has started. It is a podcast I began when I was dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College.

In season 2 we are doing something different. We are partnering with the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, TX, to bring you these podcasts. Some of the same great guests showing us exactly how reading the Bible in the original languages pays off.

Here’s our intro to Season 2!!! You can cut and paste the URL to your browser

http://exegeticallyspeaking.libsyn.com/exegetically-speaking-season-2-intro

or click here

Every week we release a new episode or two!

How Paul Read His Bible

Paul was not trained in a modern seminary to read Scripture.  As a man of his day, he read Scripture like the rabbis he had heard in the synagogue or studied under in the academy.  Often the ways he reads and interprets Scripture seem odd to us.  Still they were the strategies his teachers and other biblical writers were using at the time.

Midrash is a term used to refer to how Jewish teachers approached and explained the biblical texts.  It begins with a healthy respect for the Scriptures as divinely inspired, as God’s Word to the world.  Yet as God’s Word the books of the Bible must do more than tell about what happened back then, they must be read against our current questions, crises and moments.  Whenever you hear a sermon about timeless truths or life principles from the Bible, the teacher is engaging in midrash.  One way to think of it is to say these ancient texts also speak to modern problems.rembrandt-saint-paul-in-prison

For Paul there are many ways of realizing the significance of the Scriptures in his day.  The allegory of Sarah and Hagar (Gal 4:21-31) is one of them.  Paul offers a figural reading of Abraham’s two sons, one born to Hagar, the other to Sarah, his wife.  For him, these two women serve as representative figures of the current problem Paul is addressing in Galatians.  Now, this does not mean that Paul discounted the literal, historical meaning—a memorable story of how God had been working out his promises to Abraham and his family—he just sees in the conflict within Abraham’s family a correspondence between the conflict that he was trying to work out among believing Jews and Gentiles in his day.

Like Hillel, one of the great rabbis of his day, Paul often made use of catch words to link one text to another so that they become mutually interpreting. You might call this “stringing pearls.”  In Gal 3:6-9 Paul mixes his own commentary (midrash) with Scripture:

Text (Gen 15:6) Abraham put faith in God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness

Comment           Those who put faith (in Jesus) are the sons of Abraham

Comment           Scripture foretold that God would makethe Gentiles right by faith

Text (Gen 12:3) in you, Abraham, all the Gentiles would be blessed

Comment          Those who put faith (in Jesus) are blessed with Abraham who had faith

The story of Abraham provides Paul with a Scriptural image for how to address the predicament in Galatia.  Abraham’s “faith” became the occasion for how the patriarch was reckoned by God as “right/righteous”; but what was true for Abraham is also true for all the sons of Abraham, defined by Paul as those, including the Gentiles, who put faith in Jesus.  As Paul continued to think through the story of Abraham, his mind shot back to the initial promise itself where God promised Abraham that he and his kin would become a blessing universally to all the nations/Gentiles.  These keywords within Abraham’s story (faith, right/righteous, blessing, Gentiles) became the pearls by which the apostle could string together his Scriptures to include this new chapter, the climactic chapter of God’s story in the world.

YHWH Texts in Paul’s Christology

Here is a link to the second lecture I gave last year at Acadia Divinity School.  The series title was “Paul’s KYRIOS Christology.” Thanks to Danny Zacharias and fleetwd1 for making this available.

https://youtu.be/wD9WpqF3siE

 

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