Thursday, November 17, 2016

For When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong

                This Sunday, November 20th, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King. How appropriate it is, given the events that have recently transpired in the United States, that at this time we should be reminded of God's sovereignty. For those that bear the name Christ, indeed, Christ is our king. So it was with little surprise that on the night of November 8th, I saw several posts on social media declaring that, regardless of the election results, Jesus is king. But just what sort of king do we claim to put our faith in? This Sunday's Gospel reading tells us plainly.

                Luke 23:35-43 paints a portrait of a reviled, mocked, crucified man, of one suffering the death penalty, and of one who is silent in the face of persecution. Three times his scoffers needle him to save himself if he is the Messiah, and the last, another damned to the cross, even demands that he save them as well. All the while the reader knows that, despite being intended as a jeer toward Jesus, the sign above the accursed savior's head is, in fact, true – This is the king of the Jews. I wonder if this is the kind of king people imagined when they made their allegiance known on Facebook.

                For all of the ways in which religious values and beliefs influenced voters, I am baffled by how much the notion of making America "great" swayed so much of the population. Oh, don't get me wrong. There were many, many ironies and social phenomena in this election that caused me to make this face:

but I'll restrain myself to one.

                It may come as a shock to some, but the sacred Scriptures are not a code of moral law. There are laws and commandments contained within them, for sure, but the Scriptures are so much more than that. If we truly want to allow God's word to nourish our hearts and consciences, then we must realize that they reveal to us, more than anything else, God's self and the relationship God has with humanity and vice versa. This relationship was ultimately made manifest in the Incarnation – in Jesus, the Word made flesh. Therefore, the Christian tradition is not a set of dogmas, doctrines, and moral obligations. The Christian tradition is an encounter with a person, with Jesus Christ.

                I find it amusing that, when we step back and look at the Scriptures as a whole, we see a God in relationship with really not-so-great people. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children. Jacob was a deceptive momma's boy. Moses was poor of speech. The prophet Jeremiah even says of himself, "Ah, Lord God! I know not how to speak; I am too young." Samson and Samuel were born to barren women. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was from an enemy nation. David, the youngest (and presumably scrawniest) of his brothers, slew Goliath and supplanted King Saul, the man who "stood head and shoulders above the people." And enemy commanders were brutally dispatched by women, that demographic of society thought to be far too weak and powerless.

                Time and again in Scripture the Lord favors the poor and the humble over the powerful and strong. Addressing the Israelites before they cross into the Promised Land, Moses says,

"It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your fathers, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a).
And that is just the Old Testament.

                Whom does Jesus choose for his inner circle of disciples? A motley crew of fisherman; men who never seem to understand what Jesus is saying; men who make mistakes but usually learn from them. Who were the ones to whom Jesus first appeared after his resurrection? Women, again that oft dismissed sector of society. Who were the most receptive to Jesus? The sick, the blind, the deaf, the poor, the public sinners and outcasts. Who was chosen to be the mother of Jesus? A poor, young girl from a backwater town; a girl with a heart receptive enough to be filled with the grace to say, "May it be done to me according to your word," and to cry out in the spirit of her ancestors,

"He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty."

                At the heart of the Scriptures – I would even venture to say the key that unlocks the whole of the Scriptures – is the Paschal Mystery, the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. Oh, how that mystery of dying and rising permeates the Scriptures in both Testaments. Life emanates from the barren. The flood waters destroy, and a new earth is made. A people are enslaved, and God leads them through the waters to freedom. They are led into exile, and a highway is made in the desert for their return. The Word of God humbles himself and takes on our humanity, even so far as  becoming a mewling, puking infant. Though innocent, he willingly lays down his life and accepts death – a most humiliating death at that! He hardly says a word at his execution, and when he does it is one of mercy. And it is by dying that he becomes the first born of the dead; through him we have new life, and, indeed, all things are made new: "By his stripes we were healed" (Isaiah 53:5)!

                What is the sign that Christ gives to his disciples of his presence among us? Bread, broken and shared! His flesh as fractured bread, gnawed and eaten together. His blood as wine, poured out and shared among a communion of people. What images does Jesus give of the way of life to which he calls us? A grain of wheat that produces much fruit, if only it falls to the ground and dies; the challenge to take up one's cross; selling all that you have and giving it to the poor; the master washing the feet of his disciples; the first being last and the greatest becoming the least. Who conquers the beast in the book of Revelation? What symbol for Christ does the visionary see? Not just any lamb, but a slain lamb! Even in his glorified body, Christ, risen from the dead, still bears the wounds of the nails and lance, continuously revealing his total self-emptying for the human race he loves so much and with whom he desires to be in relationship. He has given his whole self to us, made himself vulnerable and broken, that we might become whole! That, my friends, is power! That is a true king! That is what it means to be great!

                All this talk about greatness in our times. All this desire for security, to hold onto power. All of these assertions of certainty and self-justification; beliefs that God is on our side because we open up the Bible and follow the rules. Do we, who bear the name of Christ, who have died and risen with Christ in our baptism, allow the Paschal Mystery to continue to work in us today?  Have we traded the wider narrative of the Scriptures for a gospel of wealth? Have we sacrificed an encounter with the crucified and risen Christ for a collection of dos and don'ts? Can we learn from the apostle Paul, who time and again admitted his faults, who recognized that he was a sinner, who repeatedly confessed that he once persecuted the Church?  Paul, the man who exclaims, "I will rather boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9b-10). That, my sisters and brothers, is the power of Christ at work in a man humble enough to be receptive to how much our generous God wants to fill us with his grace! As it was revealed to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9a)!

                I invite you to watch this TEDx Talk by Brené Brown and consider, as the title suggests, the power of vulnerability. Meanwhile, let us ask ourselves, do we have the humility to admit when we have made a mistake, to be like the so-called "good thief" and recognize that we have done wrong and are in need of mercy? Do we have the meekness to let go so that others may have enough, or as Mahatma Gandhi said, to live simply so that others may simply live? Do we have the vulnerability to say, "I don't know your native language, but I want to understand you better because you are my brother, my sister"? Do we have the heart to hope in the midst of fear? Do we have the honesty to say, "I can't do it all"? Can we empty ourselves so that we might be open to encountering Christ in 'the other'? Will we allow ourselves to be free rather than comfortable, to be generous rather than secure, to be totally self-giving and broken rather than unloving and superficially intact?

                For this week I recommend simply reading this Sunday's Gospel passage from the Solemnity of Christ the King: Luke 23:35-43. Read it, and reflect on what it really means to be great. Read it, and consider what true power is. Read it again and again. Read it until you weep. Weep for all the misconceptions our society has of power! Weep for all those who hold onto power by stepping on the necks of minorities, the poor, and immigrants! Weep for our own hands that hold on, white-knuckled, to the things that give us security! Weep for the self-righteous! Weep for those who think the only way to win is to speak loudly, to have a biting comeback for every rebuke! Weep for those who will never know that true victory is in dying – dying to self and emptying yourself totally for others!

Peace and all good!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Praying with Laments and... Steel Magnolias

One of my favorite movies of all time is Steel Magnolias.* I must have seen it for the first time when I was four or five years old and have loved it ever since. If you have not seen this film, I’m not sure why you’re reading this insignificant, little blog and not searching for it right now on Netflix. Be fair warned that there will be spoilers in this post.

One of the best scenes of the film is when M’Lynn, so brilliantly portrayed by Sally Field, is at the cemetery with her friends after the untimely death of her only daughter, Shelby. Her grief is immeasurable, and she breaks down in one of the most gripping and visceral expressions of human anguish to which anyone who has experienced a tragic loss can surely relate. Human suffering such as this, I believe, is inevitable. We only need to turn on the news or read the front page of the newspaper to recognize that people of all races, all religions, and all professions are hurting everywhere – be it from death, war, hunger, natural disasters, abuse, prejudice, or persecution. What help, then, might Scripture offer in times of great sorrow?

I find that the Scriptures contain many comforting messages of hope and salvation and promises of a better future. Christ’s very death and resurrection stands preeminent among them as we grapple with the mystery of suffering. But I am wary of pushing certain hopeful parts of Scripture upon the grieving soul. At the gravesite in Steel Magnolias, M’Lynn’s friend, Annelle, tries to comfort her by expressing how good it is that Shelby is now with her King in Heaven. Not surprisingly, her well-intentioned, though inopportune, sentiment is met with sharp bitterness. Although bringing up the joy and hope of eternal life can be healing in its own right, when it comes to our pain, whatever the cause, we need to acknowledge it, not move it along. We need to sit with it, feel it, exclaim it. And we have a precedent for this in the Scriptures.

The book of Psalms is a collection of ancient, lyrical poems from a wide range of periods in Israelite history. They run the gamut of human emotion and reveal just how personally this people related with their God. In Hebrew, the Psalms are called Tehillim or "praises," and indeed most of the Psalms offer praise in some form or another to God. Some are distinctly hymns of praise, others are of thanksgiving, some refer to the monarchy, to God's anointed, or to the sovereignty of God, and others offer wise instruction. But the largest category of Psalms are the laments, hymns either individual or communal that express deep sorrow and pain, remorse, a dire plea for rescue, or even accusations against God.

There is a Yiddish word that describes perfectly the tone and tenor of many laments, a word we should integrate into our own spirituality and everyday vocabulary: chutzpah (the "ch" as in Chanukah not Cheetos). Defined in Merriam-Webster as "Personal confidence or courage that allows someone to say or do things that may seem shocking to others," this is the kind of boldness that the people of Israel had when speaking with their God in these laments.

You hand us over like sheep to be slaughtered,
            scatter us among the nations.
You sell your people for nothing;
            you make no profit from their sale. (Ps 44:12-13)

And why shouldn’t Israel have the audacity to speak this way? In one of my favorite Scripture passages (Jeremiah 13:1-11), God describes his chosen people as being as close to him as underwear is to a man’s loins! When you are that close and intimate with someone, there are no masks; there are no pretenses. You can say exactly what is on your heart. Personally, I think that the freedom to appropriately argue with an intimate friend or loved one is a sign of a healthy relationship. If God is so near to us, why not have a little chutzpah? Shocking though it may be, it’s okay to be mad at God! At least you're being honest. And as a fellow friar once remarked, “What? You think God can’t take it?"

In that same scene with the grieving mother and her friends, M’lynn screams in desperation. “Oh God, I want to know WHY!!! Whyyy?!” Perhaps it is a cry we are all familiar with. Why did my baby die? Why did our house flood? Why did that man kill all those people? Why did he hurt me? Why did she leave me? Why am I terminally ill? It is no different in the Psalms:

Why, God, have you cast us off forever?
            Why does your anger burn against the sheep of your pasture? (Ps 74:1)

Why have you broken down the walls,
            so that all who pass by pluck its fruit? (Ps 80:13)

Why do you reject me, Lord?
            Why hide your face from me? (Ps 88:15)

The Psalms are not afraid to question God. They are not afraid to wrestle with God and the mystery of suffering. Incidentally, the meaning of the name Israel given in Genesis 32 suggests “one who struggles with God.” But for all of the articulations of misery, anger, and regret in the laments, for all the cries demanding God’s assistance and all the anxious fears of imminent death, there is usually found within them pronouncements of utter trust in the Lord and, quite frequently, irrepressible praise to God.

Psalm 22 – the one Jesus quotes as he is dying on the cross – begins with a cry of despair: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? And while the psalm has some excruciating verses – But I am a worm, hardly human, scorned by everyone, despised by the people (v. 7), Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. So wasted are my hands and feet that I can count all my bones (vv. 17-18) – it is punctuated by stanzas with complete confidence in God’s power to save and concludes triumphantly with the sufferer's exultation of God because of his hope for future vindication: Then I will proclaim your name to the assembly; in the community I will praise you (v. 23).

More often than not, the laments approach God in this way. They may be poems of great anguish, and they certainly don’t mind doling out the chutzpah, but they usually give to God due praise. There are a few laments, however, that do not mitigate their complaint against God. Psalm 44, for example, at first gives the impression that God is to be praised for all of the former blessings and victories God had bestowed upon Israel. And while it stands that such were all praiseworthy deeds, the psalmist only uses the examples of God’s past favors to set up his argument that God has now rejected them, that God has unjustly left them desolate. The Psalm does not end in praise of God but in demands, sorrow, and accusations:

Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Rise up! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face;
why forget our pain and misery?
We are bowed down to the ground;
our bodies are pressed to the earth.
Rise up, help us!
Redeem us as your love demands (Ps 44:24-27)

Similarly, the composer of Psalm 88 pours out a heartbreaking prayer to a seemingly silent God. There is no praise of God, only desperate supplication and the belief that the lamenter is suffering for God’s sake and, at times, by God’s own hand. It ends hauntingly: Because of you companions shun me; my only friend is darkness (v. 19).

  As tragic as these laments may seem, the very fact that the psalmists are crying out to God shows that they have some faith, some smidgeon of hope that God will indeed rescue them in their time of need. Though the authors’ circumstances may be different than our own, we can still pray with the Psalms in the midst of our own sorrows, because hopefully, even when everything else is utterly lost, we still at least have a God to cry out to… even when we’re angry with God.

But how does God answer us in our pain? Is there any fulfillment to the pleas in the Psalms for God to rescue us? Sometimes, very much so! Sometimes we are able to see how God has come to our aid. We are healed. Our loved ones are safe. We secure employment. We are reconciled. Sometimes justice, charity, and peace prevail. And I haven't even touched on the notion of Christ's death and resurrection, which is ultimately our salvation!

Yet even still, there are those moments when we are like M'Lynn at her daughter's grave, so grief-stricken, so disconsolate. In anger and sorrow she hollers, "I just want to hit somebody 'til they feel as bad as I do!" – a very honest and human response, no doubt. Isn't it true that in our own moments of suffering it is oftentimes a comfort to be met with empathy, to be near to someone who knows something of our pain? Isn't that why we have support groups? Isn't that why we seek help from those who know what it's like to lose a loved one, who know something about living with depression, or who have gone through a divorce?

God does not always answer our laments and supplications the way we hope. At some point, we and those we love will die. Sometimes we are left with scars that won't heal. I think, however, that God's answer to these Psalms is not always immediate rescue, rather it is that God knows what it's like to feel as bad as we do. God's answer was to become human and live these very Psalms, to be betrayed, to be mocked and abused, to be abandoned, to die. God knows the depths of human suffering, and in Jesus we do not pray the Psalms alone. God is with us in our suffering. God has indeed shown us his face, as the psalmists so desperately demand, and it is the face of the Crucified One.

Naturally for this week, I recommend reading and meditating upon any of the laments from the Psalms. A couple of my favorites are 22, 38, 42-43, 44, 51, 69, 74, 80, 88, 102, 137. Feel free to thumb through your Bible to find a Psalm that you like, one that resonates with you, or one that makes you cringe. Sit with the pain of the psalmist, or meditate on the sufferings of Christ. If you are struggling with something, then make the psalmist's words your own. Cry out to God, and don't be afraid to have a little chutzpah. God is listening. Maybe you're not really feeling too sorrowful at the moment yourself, but pray with the Psalm knowing that there are people out there who are in desperate situations. Pray with it for the sake of their pain. Pray that they may not feel alone in their suffering.

As always, you may post comments or questions to my e-mail, Facebook page or the comment box below. You can share your own thoughts on the Psalms or tell me which is your favorite. I would love to hear feedback. You can also follow the Codega on Twitter. Until next time...

Go watch Steel Magnolias!

And peace & all good.

* Steel Magnolias, directed by Herbert Ross (1989; Culver City, CA: Columbia Tristar Home Video, 2000), DVD.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Influence & Interpretation

            It has certainly been awhile since my last post. My apologies. There were many loose ends to tie up in the month of May, and since then I also have been traveling quite a bit on the road – never mind the fact that vacation time has made me lazy. I know: excuses, excuses. In truth, I began a post at the start of June, but I found myself dissatisfied with its content, so, like the potter of Jeremiah 18:1-4, I've started over... and over. After several attempts, I am desperate to post something (anything) on this blog, so I'm keeping today's post a little shorter. I can hear the sighs of relief already.

            The recent attack on our LGBT brothers and sisters in Orlando, as well as the general increase in mass shootings over the years, have weighed heavy on my mind. It has me pondering what sort of influential factors – aside from mental illness – feed the kinds of ideologies that lead to such tragedies. I'm well aware of the powerful role that religion and sacred literature play in our lives – largely for good, but sometimes for ill when they are misconstrued. So, as one who writes about Scripture, it concerns me that poor interpretations of sacred writings sometimes contribute to humanity's worst atrocities, from hate crimes to all out war. I'm not drawing a direct link between the Bible and hate crimes or terrorism, but I do think it is necessary to ask ourselves, Do the Scriptures draw me to love my neighbor? Why or why not? How does Scripture influence my image of God? What, then, does that image of God incite within me? Fear? Hate? Love? Peace?

            One of the reasons why the Bible is often grossly misunderstood is that many people, even very well-intentioned people, take a fundamentalist approach to Scripture. But the Pontifical Biblical Commission (i.e. the Catholic Church's committee to ensure proper interpretation of Scripture – let it never be said that the Catholic Church doesn't care about the Bible) has some interesting things to say about this sort of take on Sacred Scripture.

"Fundamentalist interpretation starts from the principle that the Bible, being the Word of God, inspired and free from error, should be read and interpreted literally in all its details. But by 'literal interpretation' it understands a naively literalist interpretation, one, that is to say, which excludes every effort at understanding the Bible that takes account of its historical origins and development."[1]
But wait, it gets better. The Commission goes on to say,
"The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious and illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide" (emphasis mine).[2]

            The Bible is not a history book. It is not a science book. It isn't even a handbook of morality. True, the Scriptures can be a rich source of encouragement, consolation, moral exhortation or reprimand, and certainly of truths about who God is and our relationship with God. Indeed, short phrases and passages from the Bible are frequently quoted and read in everything from greeting cards to Sunday Mass readings so that the Word of God might touch us in these very ways. But, as we strive to understand what God is saying to us in these sacred texts, it is important to keep in mind that the human authors, through whom the Holy Spirit worked, wrote in a particular time and place in history. They had their own culture, their own language and literary styles, and their own limited understanding of the natural sciences. Therefore, as stated in Dei Verbum (the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation by Vatican II), "in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, [the interpreter] should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words."[3]

            Okay, I've been on my soapbox long enough. (Actually it is the Church's soapbox, as I have spent most of my time quoting Church documents.) If the fundamentalist approach to Scripture is so abhorrent, if we want to avoid "intellectual suicide," what, then, are we to do with Scripture? Knowing that the Bible should not always be taken literally, a number of folks have asked me plainly, "How should we interpret the Bible?" A complex question, indeed, and I said I'd keep this post brief today.

            There is no short answer to this query. Theologians, biblical scholars, and even some of the authors of Scripture themselves have been wrestling with questions about biblical interpretation for millennia. I return to my Shrek-inspired assessment of Scripture: "The Bible is like an onion; it has layers." Layers of meaning, that is. My first inclination, as Dei Verbum suggests, is to explore the historical, cultural, and literary context, but that takes some research, and not everyone has the time or resources for that - though I'd like to draw your attention to some websites listed in the top right-hand corner, particularly "Bible Research" and "Bible Odyssey." But if your reading Scripture for your spiritual benefit, without tomes of biblical exegesis, and want to know how best to approach these texts, I would say look to Jesus, the very Word made flesh, and keep in mind the bigger picture.

            If we want to avoid the kinds of corrupt biblical misinterpretations that lead to prejudice, hate and violence, we should remember that the Word of God tells a story of a God who brings forth life, who wants to be in relationship with humanity, who calls his people to faithfulness, who loves his people, poor, lowly, and faltering though they are. It is a story about how God saves his people, sometimes from outside forces but often from the very calamities they incur from their own mistakes. And if you read the Gospels you find that this story reaches a climax in the person of Jesus. In him the saving God, who desires to be in relationship with his people, becomes flesh and dwells among us, ultimately laying down his own life that we may be saved.

            You also find that this story continues today beyond the pages of Scripture in the lives of those who have united themselves to Christ, who have died and risen in Christ. You see it in the lives of those who suffer, in the poor and those who radically depend on God, in those who long for justice, in those who heal and show mercy, in those who rise up from the ashes of destruction and usher in new life, and in those who love without counting the cost. This is the biblical story alive in our world today!

            If you want an interpretive lens for reading the Bible, examine the life of Christ, and remember that our saving God desires to be near to us, heal us, and make us whole. This is not an exhaustive account of biblical interpretation. Oh honey, there are many, many more layers left unpeeled. Yet if we read the Scriptures keeping these things in mind, perhaps we can curb the hate and violence that is born from ideologies based in literalist and corrupt interpretations of the Bible.

            For this week I suggest reading Isaiah 54, but read it in light of the bigger picture of Scripture, of God's saving and loving relationship with humanity. Behind this portion of Isaiah we have God's chosen people, who have been in exile in Babylon for decades. Whether or not it was due to poor politics and inferior defenses, the people of Judah believed they were in exile because of their infidelity to God. But, at last, the Babylonian empire falls to Persia, and God's chosen are free to return to the Promised Land. Thus the prophet speaks tenderly to the people, revealing to them God's love, mercy, and desire to reunite himself to them despite the sins of their past. You can read innumerable passages in the Bible referring to God's blazing wrath – I won't deny that they're in there – but ultimately it all comes back to God's love for his people. So as you read this, ask yourself, How does this affect my image of God? Do I see myself in this passage? How? How might my relationship with my neighbor be affected by a message like this one? Meanwhile, let us pray and work for peace in our world, for mercy, and for the increase of tolerance. Until next time...

Peace and all good!

[1] Pontifical Biblical Commission, "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church," The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teaching, ed. & trans. by Dean P. Béchard (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002), 273.

[2] Ibid., 275.

[3] Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum (1965), no. 12, accessed June 14, 2016,

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Getting Our Act Together: A Review of The Acts of the Apostles

           Having just finished reading The Acts of the Apostles last week, I thought I'd have a little fun and write about it somewhat in the style of a book review.

            Luke does it again! Following his break-out success with arguably the most eloquent Gospel to have been written, Luke delights and edifies his readers with an adventurous sequel: The Acts of the Apostles. Admittedly, I was a little surprised by how much I actually enjoyed reading it, but, believe it or not, it's kind of a page-turner in some ways. As when reading an exciting novel, I found myself asking with anticipation, "What happens next?"

            Unlike the rest of the New Testament, which is pretty much made up of the four Gospels and letters to various Christian communities, Acts is kind of a unique book. Most of the NT is naturally centered on the person of Jesus Christ and what the Church believes about him. At other times, especially in the Epistles, the NT speaks more prescriptively about how the members of the Church should behave and function in the world. Acts is different, though. Like the Gospels, Acts is a narrative, but unlike the Gospels the central character is not Jesus of Nazareth. Like some Epistles, it is concerned with the actions of the Church, but it is not written as a letter or exhortation. It's a story, a narrative, about the Holy Spirit and the early Church.

            Here we have the sequel to Luke's Gospel, and, like many sequels, it doesn't match the fame and excellence as the original. But let's face it, what sequel is going to compare to a story about Jesus? Nevertheless, Luke packs in the action: miracles, visions, angelic rescues, shipwrecks, riots, life-or-death soliloquies, and murder! Oddly enough, I'm reminded of The Hunger Games in a way. For me, the sequels could never compare to the first book, where we're introduced to Katniss and the twisted dystopian reality the people of Panem find themselves in. It's mesmerizing, thought-provoking , and chilling. The sequel, Catching Fire, picks up where the former left off but never captivates in quite the same way as its predecessor. But, like Acts, it is full of even more action than the first and explodes the story onto a grander stage. No longer is Katniss' plight a personal matter of survival and protecting her family. It becomes much bigger than just her; it's about the whole nation of Panem and the liberation of all of its districts. Similarly, Luke's Gospel focuses on the character of Jesus. It's gripping, dramatic, and stirs the soul to see life with new eyes. And there is no shortage of astounding events either – not least of all the passion, death, and resurrection narratives. But what began in the Gospel as a local movement focused on an enigmatic figure now launches onto the world stage in Acts, as the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit and risking life and limb, take the Good News of Jesus Christ to ends of the world.

            It's a flimsy comparison, I know – the Hunger Games series and Luke/Acts – but in short, all I'm saying is that Acts has all the page-turning action of sequels, like Catching Fire, which take a compelling narrative and widen its scope to encompass an even greater mission. But The Acts of the Apostles is more than just Volume II of Luke's masterful work. It's a great story in its own right. What I like most about it is that it's both a narrative and a self-examination of what the Church is supposed to be. I wouldn't call it history, but rather Luke's idealized version of who the Church is and how it should live out its mission.

            Today, "church" is all too often confused for a place of worship and/or something one "does" once a week. Others think the "church" is really just made up of the priests and bishops who provide the necessary things for believers to worship and who act as guardians of some moral code. But Acts tells us a different story, a truer story. The Church (in Greek, ekklesía, which means assembly) is that community of believers who are empowered by the Holy Spirit through baptism and who profess that Jesus is the Messiah (a.k.a. Christ) who has died and been raised from the dead and has opened salvation to all. The Church, as the Greek term clearly indicates, is first of all a community. There was nothing individualistic about it. The phrase "I'm spiritual, just not religious" did not exist back then, because it would have denied that essential community component. Am I getting on a soapbox? Yes. Yes, I am. But my point is that Luke paints an idealized picture of what the Church was and is meant to be: a mutually supportive community of faith in Jesus Christ.

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need (Acts 4:32-35).
            But this community also has a mission: to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, to proclaim that salvation through Jesus is open to all. That mission naturally begins with the People of Israel, but, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it soon opens up to the Gentiles. Much of Acts grapples with the tension that is brought about by the inclusion of the Gentiles and whether or not the entirety of the Mosaic law should be an obligation upon them. Let's be real, folks; one of the more critical issues back then was circumcision. But Jesus didn't say anything about circumcision, so what was the community to do? Thus, a council in Jerusalem (often referred to as the first council of the Church) convened in order to discern with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit how the Church should proceed in this matter. Yes, that's right. The first Church council was about circumcision. This is what happens when most, if not all, of the leaders in a community are men.

            I won't spoil the outcome of that council – you can read it for yourself in Acts 15 – but the so-called Council of Jerusalem has more to say to us than whether one needs to follow Mosaic law to be a Christian. It is an illustration of how the Church makes decisions, especially about things not clearly dictated by Jesus... which is a lot. 1.) Decisions of the Church are always made with the guidance of the Holy Spirit – "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities..." (Acts 15:28). 2.) The Church comes together as a community with open discussion. And 3.) the decision is promulgated, or made known, through a written document to the wider Church everywhere. This is just one example of how The Acts of the Apostles is an excellent reflection of what the Church is and how it should act.

            Even if you're not too interested in trying to figure out the Church's self-understanding in Luke's narrative, Acts is a fun read just as it is. There were moments when I nearly laughed out loud. Like when Rhoda is so excited to see Peter at the door she leaves him standing outside to run and tell the others who it is (12:12-16). Or when Eutychus falls asleep, "as Paul talked on and on," and so falls out of a third story window (20:9-12). Even the time when the Lycaonians mistake Paul and Barnabas for gods is pretty laughable (14:8-18). As far as NT books goes, Acts is probably the most entertaining.

            So hit the road and sail the seas as you journey with old favorites, like Simon Peter, that impetuous fisherman from the Gospels, now an impressive – though still impetuous – leader of the disciples, who preaches fearlessly and heals great numbers of people in the name of Jesus Christ. Revisit other characters that are easily forgotten in the Gospels, like Philip, who draws an Ethiopian eunuch to belief in Jesus Christ by interpreting the Scriptures. Or James, who apparently holds a lot of sway in the Jerusalem Christian community at this point (15:13-21).

            Get to know new characters, like Stephen, the first man to give up his life for proclaiming Christ. Or Saul/Paul, an extrovert and insufferable know-it-all whom God uses to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ even to the Gentiles. Follow his adventures from when we're first introduced to him as a vehement persecutor of the Way, to his blindingly radiant encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. Then journey with him across the Mediterranean up to his mildly anti-climactic testimony before the Jews in Rome. Watch as Christianity's most spiteful adversary develops into one of its most prolific advocates – despite breaking up with his mission partners and boring a young man out of a third story window. Let's just say, it takes all kinds of people in the Church to build up the Kingdom of God, and that should be rather comforting to us all.

            For this week, I recommend reading just about any part of Acts – or even the whole thing if you have the time. But I would especially suggest reading either chapter 7 (Stephen's discourses and martyrdom, which gives a good summary of Old Testament essentials and salvation history) or chapter 15 (the council in Jerusalem). Whatever you read from Acts, just keep in mind that this is your story too. It's a story about us, the Church, so ask yourself how the apostles' experience of living as active, Spirit-led members of that community affects your own experience of being a member of Christ's Body. Do you see your role as a member of the Church differently? How might the Spirit be leading you now in your life?

            To close, I just want to say thank you for all your support in reading and participating with this blog! Last week I turned in my final report for this project, and, barring any unforeseen issues, I will graduate in May. My final project and M.A. degree would not have been possible without your readership. I greatly appreciate all of your help! As always, feel free to post questions or comments via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or the comment box below. Until next time...

Peace and all good![1]

[1] This post would not have been possible without

Harrington, Daniel J. The Church According to the New Testament: What the Wisdom and the Witness of Early Christianity Teach Us Today. Lanham, Maryland: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.

            By the way, I just want to add one more thing. I kind of like to stress The Acts of the Apostles, especially chapter 15, because it helps to answer a question a family member once posed to me: How can the books of the Bible be called the "word of God" if human beings were the ones who decided which books went in? My response would be yes, human beings made those decisions, but it was as a community – as the Body of Christ – and it was through much discernment of the Holy Spirit. The early Christians recognized with earnest that through their baptism they were filled with the Holy Spirit and that the Church was led by the Spirit. The Church is still human, of course, and makes mistakes – boy, does it make mistakes – but we cannot deny the power of the Holy Spirit in any of the good that the Church does. And I would affirm that the books within the Bible were canonized through the guidance of that same Spirit.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Word Up!

            Since the end of January, I've been writing about how human beings wrote the words of Scripture as well as how they compiled and canonized those texts. Most people, I think, are aware of this reality; they recognize that the Bible didn't just drop from Heaven. Yet for some, there's still something a little unnerving about the human origins of something considered so sacred. How can we say this is the "Word of God" when clearly humans were generating and sanctioning these texts?

            To approach this, I must appeal to the Vatican II document, Dei Verbum. In 1965, the Church officially put forth this document (a.k.a. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) which explains the Church's long held – and sometimes not so well clarified – understanding of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. It asserts that the Scriptures "have God as their author" but that "in composing the sacred Books, God chose and employed certain men, who, while engaged in this task, made full use of their faculties and powers..." (DV, paragraph 11). Now I'll admit, that does sound rather convenient to simply say, 'well God is still the author, but he used men kind of like scribes to get his message across.' If that was the case, you'd think the Scriptures wouldn't have so many embarrassingly violent laws, prophecies, and stories in them. But that isn't what Dei Verbum is getting at. The Scriptures were inspired, yes, but I don't think it means the human authors had the Holy Spirit whispering to them the exact words to write.

            One of the first things I think we need to understand is that God's Word is more encompassing than mere words on a page. God's Word is powerful. Consider that in ancient times when a king spoke, his word alone had the power to effect change. The king spoke, and schtuff got done. Sure, maybe the action was carried out by other people, but it was only because the king said it – as Pharaoh iconically says in the movie, The Ten Commandments:  "So let it be written. So let it be done." Likewise God speaks, and schtuff happens: "'Let there be light.' And there was light" (Genesis 1:3). God's Word is effective and creative! As it says in Isaiah: "Yet just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth... So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).

            Interestingly enough, I find that urban and prison slang has a better sense of the term "word" for our purposes today. In such contexts word can mean an "affirmation" (yep, mm-hmm, I agree), "approval," "truth," or "to speak the truth."[1] For example:

Me: That moment when Edith finally tells off Mary on Downton Abbey was priceless!

Fellow D.A. Enthusiast: Word!

            I would put a link to, so you can get an even better sense of the slang usage of "word," but there's some inappropriate language on that page, and I wouldn't want to scandalize my mother who I'm sure is reading this right now. (Hi, Mom!) You can type in the web address and can check it out at your own risk if you want, or just take my word for it. (No pun intended.)

            The point, however, is that 90s urban slang has its finger on the pulse of what "word" in the biblical sense is about, because in both cases it means more than just human language. From the perspective of Urban Dictionary, God's Word is like a resounding "Yes!" permeating all that is – "God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good" (Gen 1:31). God's Word is Truth. God's Word is positive. God's Word is living!


            Both the Greek and Hebrew terms for "word" have multiple meanings. The Greek word, logos – from where we get our word logic – can mean a lot of things: "reason," "divine utterance," or an "expression of a thought" being some of them.[2] Likewise, the Hebrew word dabar can mean a matter, event, or affair and also has a connection to reason.[3] God's Word isn't just the words that God speaks or those written down in Scripture; it's all of the reason, truth, thoughts, and ideas that are behind and communicated through those words. God's Word is God's self-communication! And what Dei Verbum is saying is that God used human beings, in a particular time and place, and of a particular culture with its own limited language, to communicate God's self in the Sacred Scriptures.

            Admittedly though, the fact that human beings were so closely involved in the process of divine revelation might drive some people nuts. With so much human particularity how can the scriptures communicate such an ultimate and universal message like the Word of God? But then – oh, and I just love this – this is precisely what happens in the incarnation, for Jesus is the Word made flesh (i.e. the Incarnate Word)! Jesus Christ is God revealed to us in a particular and limited time (early first century CE), place (Palestine), culture (Palestinian Jewish), gender (male), and age (I don't think Jesus lived much beyond his early thirties).

            One of the greatest and most delectable mysteries of the incarnation is that the infiniteness and universality of God was willingly emptied and made limited in time and space in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness... (Philippians 2:6-7a). So just as Jesus is God's self revealed in a human way (in weakness and with limitations), so too the Scriptures are divine revelation communicated in limited human language and culture. Or, as Dei Verbum so beautifully puts it, "For the words of God, expressed in human language, have become like unto human speech, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like unto human beings" (DV, paragraph 13).

St. Francis in Prayer Before the Crucifix, El Greco, 1585-1590

            By the way, as a Franciscan and a graduate of the University of the Incarnate Word, incarnational spirituality is a particular fancy of mine almost by default.

Chapel of the Incarnate Word at UIW. Go Cardinals!

            I guess the bottom line of what I'm getting at is that God's word is fleshy business, and the Word of God is revealed to us in two very human ways: obviously in the human person of Jesus, but also in the very human language and culture of Sacred Scripture. Either way, though, the word of God is more than the words on a page. It is living, and God wants to write it on our hearts. As a biblical studies nerd, I am fascinated by all of the humanness of Sacred Scripture, and I'm eager to learn more about its historical, anthropological, and literary context. Yet for all of its human qualities and limitations, I do not criticize it as irrelevant or even dated. I know that the Word of the Lord continues to speak the Truth; It continues to reveal God's self. But in order to listen to it, I must look upon and accept the human face of Scripture, and, likewise, I must look to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who is the human face of God.

            I know that this week is Holy Week and that it would be all the more appropriate to recommend to you readings from the Passion or Resurrection narratives of the Gospels.* So, if you have the time, by all means please sit with those passages! Of course, I also recommend attending the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter where you will also hear those readings. However, it makes sense, given today's topic of word, to read John 1:1-18. Yes, I agree, this reading seems out of place for Holy Week, but whatever. I've got to run with the inspiration I'm given. It's a short passage, but as you read it meditate for just a bit on that profound mystery of the very Word of God becoming flesh. Consider how God spoke through the Law and Prophets, yet finally in Jesus was fully revealed. Consider also how Jesus fulfills the Scriptures and is the very lens for interpreting them. Contemplate, especially as we enter deeply into the sacred mysteries of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection – what we call the Paschal Mystery – how these events in the life of Christ reveal God's grace, truth, and glory.

            As always, I welcome questions and comments on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail (, or in the comment box below. I pray that you all enjoy these high holy days of the Christian calendar and have a blessed Easter. I leave you today with the words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians for you to consider the next time you hear the lector at Mass say, "The Word of the Lord."

           "We too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).


* Passion and Resurrection Narratives:
Matthew 26:1-28:20
Mark 14:12-16:20
Luke 22:1-24:53
John 18:1-21:25

[1] Urban Dictionary, "Word," last modified October 14, 2005, accessed March 20, 2016.

[2] Bible Hub, "3056. Logos," accessed March 20, 2016,

[3] Bible Hub, "1697. Dabar," accessed March 20, 2016,

Friday, March 4, 2016

Making the Cut: Where did the Bible come from? Part V

            Two weeks ago I wrote up a whirlwind tour of the books of the New Testament (NT) and just barely scratched the surface of who wrote these texts and when. The big question that has often been asked of me, though, is Who decided what got in? How did these 27 books become the NT? I'll be honest, the answer to these and similar questions is complex, but, since I'm ready to move on from this "Where did the Bible come from?" series, I'll try to be as succinct as possible. (I hear a sigh of relief.)

            First, a couple of things to keep in mind:

1.) Faith in Jesus Christ preceded the writings of the NT.

2.) The Church, (i.e. the community of believers and followers of Christ) existed before the Christian Scriptures were composed.

3.) Most, if not all of the books of the NT were written for audiences that already believed that Jesus was the Christ – albeit, these audiences probably needed some theological clarification about their beliefs and how they should live, which is what prompted many of the NT writings to begin with.

            A fine example of some of the above points are the early Christian hymns and creedal statements that were incorporated into the Scriptures. If you take a look at Philippians 2:6-11 (one of my favorite passages in Scripture, by the way) you have what appears to be a hymn about Christ that was possibly used in community worship. What it says about Jesus is so fitting and true, that Paul integrates it into his letter to the Philippians. Whether it was sung or not is beside the point, but try to imagine this as a song, short and catchy enough for people to learn it and sing it by memory. Of course, memories were probably a lot more adept back then because people didn't have buttons, phones, and Google remembering everything for them. Thus a profound truth about Christ issued from the community of believers and was passed down orally through this lyrical poem before it ever became "Scripture" as we know it today. In effect, this Truth was handed down to believers through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by means of *drum roll* Sacred Tradition.

GIF from

            The Catholic rebuttal to Martin Luther's insistence on "Scripture alone" is that both Scripture and Tradition "form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church."[1] But what is Sacred Tradition anyway? Let me be quite clear that it is not customs or disciplines in the Church –like not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Those things are "traditions" with a lower-case 't' and have little to do with essential beliefs and teachings of the Church. Just remember that if you accidently eat meat on Friday this Lent. Rather, Sacred Tradition is that "living transmission" of the word of God "accomplished in the Holy Spirit" through the Apostles and their successors, which "includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God."[2] Basically, it's the faith and Truth in which the Church believes that has been passed down orally by the Apostles and their successors.

            Why this lengthy – and somewhat boring – tangent about Sacred Tradition? (Bless you, by the way, if you're still reading.) It's because the composition of the NT and the selection of which books became canonized rests on this issue of Tradition. Sacred Scripture and Tradition are not opposed to or in competition with one another. That would be ridiculous! Rather the two inform and complement one another. Tradition is informed by the written Word, and Scripture was written as a result of oral transmissions of the faith and is interpreted in light of Tradition. It's like love and marriage... that go together like a horse and carriage. This I tell you brother: you can't have one without the other. Thank you Frank Sinatra.

            So as I mentioned in the last post, the earliest NT writings were the letters of Paul. Such writings, though some were intended for particular audiences, were shared among many other local church communities. Moreover, like the Torah and Prophets, which were obviously considered sacred by the early Church, these Christian writings were read aloud in liturgy when the community came together for worship. Likewise, the Gospels and the other NT writings were used in this way, and many of them were cited by leaders in the early Church in their own letters.

            According to Luke Timothy Johnson – without whose book, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, this post would not be possible (gotta give props where props are due, folks), "As writings were exchanged, local churches began to build collections that were more extensive than those written specifically to them."[3]  Eventually, local churches within the catholic (and by catholic I mean universal) Church had collections of Christian writings; some books of which were common to most local churches, but other books were favored by a minority. So while some of these collections agreed on certain books, like the letters of Paul, they differed on others.

            Surprisingly, however, evidence shows that within the early Church there was actually a great deal of agreement on which Christian writings were considered sacred. An early Latin document known as the Muratorian Fragment contains a list of canonical books that includes the four Gospels and Acts, the letters of Paul, the first two letters of John, the letter of Jude, and Revelation. While it leaves out some books from today's canon (3 John, 1 & 2 Peter, James, and Hebrews), it also included some books that are not in our NT: for example, the Apocalypse of Peter and the Shepherd of Hermas. (Ever hear of these books?) However, it concedes that the Shepherd of Hermas should not be read in worship, and it was debatable as to whether the Apocalypse of Peter should be or not.[4]

Image from

            In a roundabout way I have so far hinted at some of the criteria the early Church deferred to in the complex and lengthy process of selecting which Christian writings would be part of Scripture. Here are some of the standards that influenced the canonization process.

1.) Did it have apostolic historicity? Did it seem to derive from the apostles or at least those who knew them? Again, much like the books of the Jewish canon, the older a text was the more authority it carried. Books written too late would not make the cut.

2.) Did it conform to the tradition of faith that had been handed down to them? That is, did it reflect the faith they had come to believe and know to be true, or did it reflect a heretical teaching? Thus, my lengthy tangent about Sacred Tradition.

3.) Was it read publicly in liturgy? Or better yet, should it be read in liturgy? It seems like the Shepherd of Hermas was a popular, early Christian text and not a bad one to read, but it apparently didn't have the authority to be read in church.

4.) Was it used widely among the universal Church, or was it only accepted or rejected by a handful of local churches?

5.) Did it have "universal pertinence"?[5] In other words, was it applicable to all of the Church in every place and in all times?

            I don't want to over-simplify this complex process of canonization. It is not like the early Church fathers got around a poker table with this list of criteria and a deck of potential NT books, folding if the text didn't meet enough standards and laying down royal flushes if it did. That would have been rather entertaining if it had been the case, though, I must say. And to that end I would love to see a tapestry much like the one of dogs playing poker with Athanasius, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and Origen seated around the table instead.* In any case, as the early Church discerned which books ought to be considered Scripture alongside those writings inherited from their Jewish ancestry, these standards were surely factors that guided this organic process of canonization.

It's not how it happened, but it's funny to imagine nonetheless

            It should be noted that not every book we have in the NT was readily agreed upon by every local church. There was much debate concerning the inclusion of the Book of Revelation (not surprisingly, as that book's trippy) and even some hesitancy around the Gospel of John. These books obviously made it in, but some were vehemently rejected. The Muratorian Fragment is adamant that certain letters attributed to Paul which actually derived from a heretic named Marcion as well as the Gnostic writings of Valentinus and Basilides should be not be accepted at all.[6] Early Church fathers like Eusebius, Irenaeus, and Athanasius all railed against writings considered heretical.

            How I would love to say a few things about the heresy of Gnosticism and its writings, but I'm running long as it is. I will say, however, that if you're wondering about such texts like the so-called Gospels of Peter, Mary Magdalene, or Judas, I will tell you straight up right now. Those and other such "gospels" were A.) not written by those to whom they were attributed, for, as I mentioned in my last post, writing under a different name was quite common back then. B.) These books were written much later than the NT writings, probably in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. And C.) they derived from heretical Gnostic beliefs and teachings that ran contrary to the orthodox Tradition that had been passed down in the early Church. I hope to devote a post to Gnosticism and their writings in the future, because it's a sick and twisted heretical movement, though admittedly quite fascinating, but let's just leave it there for now.

            So okay, some books were readily accepted, some debated, and some unequivocally nixed. At what point, then, did the early Church have a canonical list of the 27 books of the NT that we know and love today? In his Paschal Letter (367 CE) the bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, includes those 27 books and even refers to them as the "springs of salvation."  In 397 the North African Council of Carthage decided on such a list that included those 27 and no more, stating that these "are to be read in church as divine Scripture." These 27 books for the most part went unchallenged until the Reformation of the 16th century, but the Council of Trent in 1546, as well as the Church of England shortly thereafter, reaffirmed the authority and canonicity of these books.[7] 

          So there you have it. As I mentioned in the last post, the books of the NT were composed within about a hundred years after Jesus' death and resurrection. And then less than three hundred years after that it was pretty much decided which Christian Scriptures would be part of the biblical canon. Ain't that something?

            For this week, since much of this post had to do with the complementary nature of Sacred Scripture and Tradition, I suggest reading 2 Timothy 2:1-26 and 3:10-17. In these passages we hear Paul writing from prison to encourage one of his successors, Timothy, to remain steadfast to the Gospel he has preached and is now in chains for proclaiming. He urges him to resist false teaching but not to engage in useless and quarrelsome debates, correcting opponents instead with kindness. He affirms Timothy's life of faith, love, patience, and endurance in suffering and reminds him to remain faithful to what he has learned and what he knows from Scripture. As you read this passage, considered what you have come to know and believe from the faith that has been handed onto you. What do you know to be true – about God, Jesus Christ, life in the Spirit, our relationship with God and one another? How has it "trained you for righteousness," made you more loving, peaceful, patient, or less quarrelsome? How has it brought you into conflict, and how have you responded? What about the Christian faith and Gospel message challenges you, and how might you pray to God for perseverance?

            I will be taking another hiatus from blogging for the next couple of weeks in order to work on some other things for this project, but I greatly appreciate your readership and spreading the word about Bible Codega. It has been a tremendous help as I complete the practicum for my M.A. I still encourage questions and comments via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or the comment box below. And while I might not put up a new post for some time, I'll still be responding to questions. Until next time, may you have a blessed remainder of the Lenten season and happy reading of Scripture.

Peace and all good!

[1] Dei Verbum,  10 §1.
[2]  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 78. and Dei Verbum, 8 §1.
[3] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, Rev. ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 597.
[4] Ibib., 600-601
[5] Johnson, 600.
[6] Ibid., 601.
[7] Ibid., 603.
* For the record, I'm pretty sure Athanasius, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and Origen were never even in the same room altogether.