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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.
Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., D.Habil.
John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins
Houston Theological Seminary
Houston Baptist University
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
or click here
Every week we release a new episode or two!
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.
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.
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.
Recently I sat down with N. T. Wright, Research Professor for New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews.
The big idea is to see how Paul does something which I think he is not usually given credit for, which is that he basically invents something which in hindsight we could call Christian theology. Now that may seem rather odd, because didn’t the Jews have theology? Well they did and they didn’t. Didn’t the pagans have theology? Well not really. They talked about the gods but that wasn’t a big topic of analysis. Paul has this vision that because of who Jesus is, because who the Holy Spirit is, everything that they had known about God as in the Jewish Scriptures has to be reworked from top to bottom, particularly for this reason: that Paul believes that what has happened through Jesus, his death and resurrection has radically defined the people of God so that the people of God are no longer defined as they were in Israel by circumcision and the Sabbath and the food laws and the things which marked out Jewish people from their non-Jewish neighbors. So if you are going to have a community which is a single community which is very important for Paul, the unity of the church is very, very important for Paul–not for us and that’s a problem by the way but a topic for another conversation. If this community is to be united and holy but without those markers to keep it place, how are you going to do that when Paul’s answer is that the whole community needs to be involved in this prayerful, worshipful, Scripture-soaked reflection on who God is, who God’s people are, and what God’s future is for God’s world. So in a sense this book is about Pauline theology and I expound all the details of Pauline theology, but back of that is this sense that Pauline theology as a whole is something which he is doing with his congregations because he realizes that without that they are not going to be able to be the people they are called to be.
They way I put it is this. You know this saying: “Give someone a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” Paul isn’t content just to give people dogmas: “Here is a true doctrine which you ought to believe.” He does that and that will help for a while. What he wants people to do is to grow up in their thinking, to mature as Christians in their thinking, so that then they will be able to sustain their life and the life of the church in days to come because he won’t always be just to tell them: “believe this, don’t do that, whatever.” So teaching people to think Christianly which then emerges as Christian theology. That is the heart of it.