Interviewing Ikons: Lynn Cohick

Lynn Cohick is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.  She received her Ph.D. in NT/Christian Origins from University of Pennsylvania, 1996.  She is the author of three books: Ephesians in New Covenant Commentary Series (2010), Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (2009), The New Testament in Antiquity (2009, co-author), and a co-editor of Evolution of the Synagogue (1999).  Dr. Cohick also taught overseas at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya, for three years (1998-2000).  Her articles have appeared in numerous articles and books.  She is a member of the North American Patristics Society, Society of Biblical Literature, Evangelical Theological Society, and Institute of Biblical Research.  She is interested in several topics, including how average Jews and Christians lived out their faith in the ancient settings of Hellenism and the Roman Empire, women in the ancient world, especially how they celebrated their religions, the impact of feminist thought on New Testament studies, as well as the Apostle Paul and his epistles within their larger Jewish and Greco-Roman milieu.

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Searching for Meaning, Part I: Historical Criticism

We continue our series on Paula Gooder’s Searching for Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, by taking our first step into historical criticism. Historical criticism is not a “method”; rather, it encompasses a wide range of methods to illuminate the meaning(s) of a text. Gooder elaborates:

Historical criticism (sometimes also called higher criticism) does not constitute a particular method of study, but includes a range of techniques to increase our understanding of the social and cultural world of the New Testament and further our understanding of the New Testament itself (5).

Hans-Georg Gadamer explains how historians have classically approached texts. The historian “uses other traditionary material to supplement and verify what the texts say” because the true meaning of a text “can be discovered only behind its literal meaning, by comparing it with other data that allow us to estimate its historical value.”[1] The historical approach attempts to “go back behind [the texts] and the meaning they express to inquire into the reality they express involuntarily.”[2] In other words, the methodologies under historical criticism attempt to get “behind the text”, which Gooder states is “the concern to recreate and understand the events that lie behind any given text” (xviii).

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Leaving the Rapture Behind: Wright and Chrysostom on 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

imageThe Left Behind series is getting more attention with a new movie release this upcoming October. It seems fitting to address its eschatology (the study of the “end-times”), which is centered on “the Rapture”. The Rapture, as Bernard McGinn defines it, is “Christ’s bodily rescue of the faithful by way of a collective, physical ascent to heaven”.[1] I’ve discussed elsewhere the impact of the Rapture in the 20th century (though we are still feeling the effects today) and how it is a “historically odd reading” of Christian eschatology. So what is the historically “correct” understanding of Christian eschatology? One of the major texts that is brought up in eschatological conversation is 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17, which states:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. (NRSV)

The foundation for the Rapture’s imagery is found in this passage, particularly where St. Paul states “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air”. An initial, superficial reading of this text seems to close the case: it’s right there in the text! However, do we have the ears to hear what Paul is saying in this passage? I turn to two figures: the 20th-21st century New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and the 4th century theologian St. John Chrysostom. Although 1600 years separate the two, their readings of this text are surprisingly similar.

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Interviewing Ikons: Bruce Ellis Benson

imageBruce Ellis Benson is Professor of Philosophy at Wheaton College (IL) and executive director of the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology. Dr. Benson is the author or editor of eleven books and has lectured in the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Netherlands, Belgium, and across the United States. His articles have appeared in numerous journals and books. Although trained in the analytic tradition while a student at Wheaton, Dr. Benson’s philosophical interests have been largely formed by the continental tradition. As a graduate student at KU Leuven, he was first a recipient of the Flemish Community Fellowship and then a Belgian-American Fellow. As a Fulbright Fellow in Germany, he studied at the Hegel Archives with Otto Pöggeler and had extended visits with Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose hermeneutics have greatly have influenced his thought. He has served as an editorial assistant in the Husserl Archives. He was a visiting scholar at the New School in 2002-2003 and lecturer at Union Theological Seminary in 2003. He has taught at the Center for Religious Inquiry in New York City. In 2009-2010, he returned to Leuven as visiting professor. At Wheaton, Dr. Benson has received both the Junior Faculty Achievement Award (for teaching excellence) and the Senior Scholar Achievement Award. His latest books, Liturgy as a Way of Life and The New Phenomenology: A Philosophical Introduction, highlight his interests in continental philosophy and aesthetics.

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Searching for Meaning: New Testament Interpretation - Introduction

For those who follow my blog, hermeneutics (the study of interpretation) is my main interest. Interpretation is what we do everyday: in our daily discussions, interactions with social media, and even reading body language, we are constantly trying to understand the message others give to us. However, many of us, even those who have been raised as Christians, come to Scripture with odd presuppositions and difficulties. Some say “the Bible needs no interpreting” or it is “self-interpreting” and arrogantly claim that their understanding of Scripture is exclusively correct. We know many denominations that hold to this idea, but each come out with varying interpretations (why does a self-interpreting book come out with different results in different contexts?). I’ve covered that discussion elsewhere on my blog. I have also surveyed different approaches to Scripture throughout history (up to the 16th century). However, many of us approach Scripture with difficult questions: what does this passage mean in its historical context? How is this passage supposed to be understood in light of the canon? Why do different translations word this phrase differently?  One way to tackle these questions is learning the different interpretive methodologies used in New Testament studies.

To explore these areas of interpretation, I will be starting a series following Paula Gooder’s Searching For Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, which covers 23 different interpretive methods and views. In addition to presenting each method, Gooder employs another scholar’s insights to discuss each method. Each post in this series will cover one chapter and its corresponding interpretive method. Gooder states the “study of New Testament today relies on a basic understanding of an ever expanding range of ways of interpreting the biblical text” (xv). Her book combines a theoretical explanation with a practical application of these methods. The chapters serve as an introduction to each interpretive method, not an in-depth analysis. This is one reason I have chosen to do a series based on this book: it is a relatively easy introduction to New Testament interpretation.  In addition, I will also be drawing upon insights from other scholars to supplement the discussions, such as Hans-Georg Gadamer, Anthony Thiselton, and Randolph Tate (to name a few). Listening to other voices is essential to the field of interpretation. Otherwise, we could easily fall into the trap of listening to ourselves.

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Interviewing Ikons: Susan R. Holman

imageDr. Susan R. Holman is Senior Writer at the Harvard Global Health Institute, and a historian whose work explores the history of religious responses to poverty, hunger, and disease. After earning a BS/BA in nutrition and psychology, she received an MS in Nutrition from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, followed by an MTS from Harvard Divinity School in 1991, and PhD in Religious Studies from Brown in 1998. She has worked as a registered dietitian, in public health and clinical nutrition, as a medical writer and editor, and occasionally lectures in the university and seminary setting. She is author of thirty academic articles, papers, or book chapters, and six books, including The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (Oxford 2001), God Knows there’s Need: Christian Responses to Poverty (Oxford 2009), Basil of Caesarea: On Fasting and Feasts (with Mark DelCogliano, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2013), Beholden: Religion, Global Health, and Human Rights (Oxford, forthcoming 2015), and a college-level nutrition textbook. She is volume editor of Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society (BakerAcademic 2008), and maintains an occasional website/blog.
(Photo by Stephen Sheffield)

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The Odd Place of Christ’s Genealogy in Luke

The genealogies within the Bible are often considered boring. Too often this results in them being overlooked and ignored. Many take the advice of Titus 3.9: “[A]void foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (ESV). If controversies about genealogies are “unprofitable and worthless”, then what do we do with the biblical genealogies? Understanding genealogies in their correct context gives may help us avoid “foolish controversies”.  However, what do we do with the rather “odd” place of Luke’s genealogy of Christ?

Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3.23-28) is placed after the Baptism of Christ and before the Temptation in the wilderness. What is peculiar about this placing is that it breaks the narrative flow of action. Luke 3 is full of action – John the Baptist is confronting the Pharisees (3.7), speaking about the one who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit (3.16), then the mention of Herod locking up John in prison (3.20), and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at his baptism (3.21-22). Then follows a genealogy. Why would Luke break the “action” of these important episodes by inserting a boring genealogy? For example, the Gospel of Mark places these episodes back-to-back (Mark 1.9-13). The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy. Why didn’t Luke’s Gospel follow the same pattern?

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