I'm Definitely Taking This Class!

The ATS postgraduate assistant just mentioned in an email that my PhD advisor, Dr. Ben Witherington, III, will be offering a course this summer titled "Socio-Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament". I could finish my coursework in the spring but it looks like I'm going to go ahead and wait and take this class in the summer!

Here's the description:

NT903 offers a post-graduate/doctoral level course studying the use of rhetoric, social history, and social scientific critical methods to interpret and apply the New Testament. Reviews the various methodologies that fall under the headings mentioned above, with a focus on the main currents of thought and main contributors to these various disciplines. Students develop competencies in both the rhetorical side and the social historical or social scientific investigation of the New Testament. The course is taught in seminar format, with lectures by the professor, student paper presentations, and detailed critiquing by the class of these presentations, plus reading the required texts before each module.


The Help Korah Book

Today, I am incredibly pleased to announce the first ever, that's right, The FIRST EVER, Help Korah book! The title is Help Korah: Sketches & Stories, Poems & Prayers. Here's what the back cover of the book says:

"In this awe-inspiring book, founder of HelpKorah, Michael Halcomb, joins with his wife Kristi and friend Chris Van Allsburg, in helping transport you into the world of Ethiopia. From the eye-catching sketches to the words of every story, poem and prayer, readers will be inspired, challenged and moved. If you have ever been to Ethiopia, this book will surely bring back memories. If you have yet to travel to this historic African land, this work will not only give you a glimpse into one of the earth’s most fascinating places, but also help prepare you to go experience it for yourself.

If you enjoy this book, you will be eager to know that more projects are underway! Stay tuned for other great literary works from HelpKorah in the near future."

This book boasts over 100 pages of inspiring sketches, beautiful poems, heartfelt prayers and riveting stories. So, take a peek in side. Below is a simple, .pdf sample as well as a nice little flash version of the book that allows you to zoom in on pages, scroll pages, use an interactive table of contents, etc. (Note: It may take a moment to load, especially on slower browsers.)

We have created the book in numerous formats. So, you can buy Kindle or Nook-friendly versions, a flash or .pdf version or you can go with the beautiful softcover edition. You can purchase them here online by clicking the button below. Please, know that 100% of the proceeds go toward ministry efforts in Addis. I (Michael), my wife Kristi and our co-author Chris Van Allsburg will split the proceeds of each book 3 ways and allot those funds for travel to Ethiopia. In short, every cent given through the purchase of this book will help us accomplish work in Addis. So, in advance, we say "Thank You" for helping us and for supporting this cause and showing your love for the people of Korah.

The 1st Ever HelpKorah Book
Help Korah: Sketches & Stories, Poems & Prayers
Get Your Copy Now!!!

Book Format Options


Bittersweet News: Desperate for Ethiopia

On the one hand, I rejoice today because as far as child sponsorship goes, 56 children have been sponsored, meaning we only have 6 profiles left posted right now over at HelpKorah.com. (We're working on getting more posted!) So, this is GREAT news! If you can sponsor 1 of the 6, click HERE.

On the other hand, my spirit is grieved by an email I just received from one of our contacts at our partner church in Addis Abeba. It is a gut-wrenching story and just eats away at me. Yet, it is the REALITY of life there for so many women! Please, read the story of Almaz and if you can do anything to help, especially in the way of sponsorship, please, use the Help Korah contact page to get in touch with me. Here's the testimony she gave to our contact, Nebiyu:

"The street life is very challenging and miserable especially for a woman who has young daughters. Formerly, I used to live on the street because I had no other options to survive," explained Almaz. "I am from Arba Minch, which is about 550 km far from Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. I used to live in the small village around Arba Minch. I had a great desire to help my parents and myself. While I was in this mind, I met a woman that can find a job for me in Addis Ababa. Her name is --------. She promised to give me a job in Addis Ababa. After a while, I decided to come with her and work in Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, she did not have the capacity to find a job for me even; she lives in the very crowded house with in an uncomfortable situation. That situation made me to search a job and work for survival. I lived with her for two years by working small activities to generate income for my own expense. At that time, ----- introduced me with Dawit. After a while, I gave my first baby from Dawit in 2005.I got a daughter and her name is Kalkidan. In Addis Ababa, there is a trend to increase the price of the house rent, if the family size is increased. Because of this, the price of the house rent was increased and I could not be able to pay the house rent. So I obliged to live on the street. It was very hard to me to begin life on the street with my baby. it was the only option to live, and thus street become my home. In order to prevent the wind, the sun, and the rain, I made a shelter on the street beside the fence of somebody’s compound. Even if, I made a plastic shelter, I always feel cold when the weather turned into colder especially, at the nighttime. Moreover, I had faced different challenges in different time. In order to make life easy, it was a must to work during the day time but the street boys and girls come and took the night cloths and the materials that I used to cook the food. There was also a problem in the nighttime. The street men come to me in order to satisfy their desire and mate me forcefully. For this reason, I started to live with some other street women. Unintentionally, I became pregnant and gave birth to Meron in 2008. At that time, I could not work anything because I had to look after for my daughters. So I decided to beg the people who walk on the street to get money for food. When I was living in this situation, one day five ladies came to my shelter and told me as they wanted to help me. I agreed with them and they took me the house where they rented for me. Now I am so happy because I have no fear whether it is dry season or rainy season. The weather does not make me think a lot. They promised to me as they will cover my room expense until I become self-sufficient. In addition, they told me to contact Transformation Love ministry in order to get further support in physically, socially and spiritually. Currently, Kalkidan is 5 years old and Meron is 2 ½ years old. I did not get a sponsor who can cover my daughter’s school and food expense."

Again, if you can help, please, use the contact form HERE and get in touch with us as soon as you can.


The Ground Zero Mosque: Focusing The Discussion

In my last few posts I have made mention of the construction of the mosque hoping to be built a couple of blocks from Ground Zero in New York. By now, most all of us in America have caught wind of this story in some form or another. I have not had the opportunity to read other bloggers' thoughts on it--though, I wish that I'd have had the time--but I do know that some have been posting their two cents.

As one whose interest is first and foremost exegesis of the Bible, I thought I'd put my thoughts out there with the hopes of focusing the discussion a bit more. I want to keep this post brief, so, I will simply state my case and be done.

Basically, within the Scriptures themselves, "place" and "space" are central issues. In the Old Testament, especially in texts like Deuteronomy, "the land" is very significant. Further, I have noticed that the phrase "the land" is actually ciphered by the phrase "the place" all throughout Deuteronomy. In some real way, the Old Testament without "land" or "place" as a focus would be like the New Testament without Jesus.

All throughout Israel's history, mountains, arks, temples and other places marked "sacred space." In short, as we read throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we see sacralization of place happening again and again. Wherever YHWH entered or dwelt, that place became sacred. Just as well, places also became sacred because of the ways that people treated them and the things they did in them. For example, worship took place in a sanctuary where appropriate dress, diet, words, thoughts, etc. accompanied them. Here, things happened differently than elsewhere and thus, contributed to sacralizing the place. This is why it was so troubling when the temple was desecrated and violated! It was not just symbolic, it was a statement about the loss of power and status in real, every day life!

As we move through the New Testament and especially beyond, we see places like Golgotha or the Garden where the tomb was, sacralized by Christians. One only needs to take a tour of Turkey or Greece today to realize that the tourist traps, which the guides try with all of their might to tie back to biblical figures, have become sacralized. Of course, Muslims do the same thing. Their Dome of the Rock, their praying toward Mecca, etc. all denote "sacred spaces" in their theology.

In my view, the issue about the mosque near Ground Zero is not really at all about American rights or it "being too soon" or Islamophobia or other such ideas. At the heart of the matter is really sacred space. To be even more particular, I think the main thing that needs to be addressed is sacralization. Until persons tackle this matter head-on, I believe that frustration will only continue to mount and that threats, veiled or not, and stigmatizing will prevail. The question that needs to be dealt with is: Who should get to sacralize this space and why?

At the most basic level, I see this tension more clearly than any other! This is the heart of the issue because whoever gets to make this space and place sacred will essentially get to imbue it with meaning. Such meaning will certainly flow into issues of social status, religious power and ethical influence. Regardless of all the other nuances that persons draw out of this argument, I truly believe that this is a fundamental matter to which attention MUST be devoted. It may even lead to the conclusion that at this "place" and at this "time" no religious group should be able to claim sacralization on this place because it will only cause more conflict.

To be sure, the issue isn't over nationalism, racism, ethnocetnricsm or any of that, again, the core of the problem is found in the notion of sacralism. It would do all of us well to begin fleshing out our theologies of "place" and "space" so that we can make an educated contribution to the ongoing debates and discussions. This, I submit, would get us much farther along than the empty-headed fellow taunting the sign at the top of this post for whom the matter of "building churches in Saudi Arabia" has more to do with making a point than understanding the depths of "sacred space" and "sacred place."


51 Worship Services Not For Jesus

In my previous post, I dealt with the whole "rallying of the troops" (see the comments, too!) mentality being espoused by many, to co-opt Sunday morning worship and devotion and Christ in our churches and to replace it with Allah, Muhammad & the Quran and called it, fairly, I think, "A Reactionary Absurdity."

As I was driving home from class this afternoon, I had a thought cross my mind that went something like: "Had their not been a plan to burn the Quran, none of this would have ever happened in the first place. Now that the Fla minister has called off the burning, which has incited rage and rioting as well as the push for more than several church goers to sacrifice Sunday morning worship and devotion of/to Christ to speak about Islam and their book, has his plan actually backfired?"

Then, I had another thought: "If we can give up one gathering devoted to Christ in the name of tolerance, novelty and education, what is to stop us from giving up all 52 Sundays?" Simply put, Nothing! Or, why not devote 51 Sundays to other religious texts and movements and to put Christianity on a level playing field, give it only 1 Sunday too?

For Sepetember you could read books from Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. For October you could read from books for the Mormonism, Jehova's Witnesses, Judaism and the Occult (especially for Halloween Sunday). For November you could read from texts focused on Deism, Jainism, Bahaism and Confuscianism. For December congregations could focus their worship on Taoism, Shintoism, Babism and Mandaeism. And you know, I could keep going and keep going until we have a year full of meetings that finally looks nothing like Christian worship but more like a college class on world religions. Even more, we could really deflate them all and reduce them all to mere similarities, just like we as Post-Englightenment folk, love to do (reduce everything) until basically they are all the same thing.

What this all really leads to in my estimation is not only religious ridiculousness but a denial of allegiance to Christ. As I said before, there is a time and a place to speak of these other things but not "in the place of" expressing our loyalty, allegiance, devotion and worship to Jesus Christ.

Read The Quran Sunday: A Reactionary Absurdity

You may have heard by now that in reaction to the Quran burning, another church in Flordia has decided to do the opposite, to read the Quran. That's right, as a part of Sunday morning worship, a UCC congregation led by pastor Larry Reimer will read the Quran.

Reimer says that this idea was born out of a reaction to the burning festivities. His congregants approached him wondering what they should do about the burning and how they should react, immediately after catching wind of the burning plot. Reading the Quran was their idea. The pastor wrongly says, "Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all part of the Abrahamic tree of faith. We all believe in the same God, and in many aspects we are all trying to accomplish the same goals." Well, this just depends on what Jew, Christian or Muslim you ask; it is a terrible over-generalization with only some less than half-truths.

Reimer goes on to say, "And in Islam, there are things that I think any follower of any other religion could learn from. Take prayer, for example. In Islam, one prays at least five times a day. The discipline to do that? Few of us have it. And like Christianity and Judaism, there is a strong call to love God and your neighbor." Personally, I consider this reactionary event an absurd spectacle. It is one thing to react by reaching out to one's neighbors but it is another thing to sacrifice one's own worship and sacred rituals for another. Trading the name of Yahweh on Sunday morning for Allah (or just morphing them into the same thing) or replacing the name of Christ and the Scriptures of our faith with those of Muslim personages and texts is an affront to the Christian faith. Is there a time and place for reading the Quran and having dialog and meal-time with Muslim folks? Absolutely, but worship time should not be placed on the altar of "novelty" and "innovation" and done in the name of "tolerance" just to make a point.

While many are calling this "outreach," I see it less as Christian outreach or even evangelism and more as Christians doing Islamic evangelism. Handing out copies of the Quran to families on Sunday morning is quite offensive. In the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), God's people are commanded to enter towns and demolish things contrary to their faith, especially idols. Yet, here we are, thousands of years later, in the name of tolerance and sensitivity, embracing other ideologies, promoting contrariwise religions and even distributing their worldviews and stamping it as positive.

Don't get me wrong, I am for Christian dialog and conversation and peace and even as I said in this previous post, submission. But submission does not mean sacrificing one's Christian faith to achieve the end-goal of coexistence or even peace. Submission means serving others in the name of Christ all the while maintaining the Christian faith one embodies, even if it means loving the so-called "other" or "enemy." The Quran reading represents to me, a faith gone terribly awry. Again, there is a proper time and place for it and what is being promoted is NOT it! There is also a time and a place for worship, devotion and reaffirming the Christian faith, the corporate gathering of believers (usually on Sunday morning around the world), is one of those times and places!

Some may level the charge that this is mere Islamophobia or fear-driven on my part. It is neither of those. Again, read THIS POST. What it is, is a call to not "burn" the principles of our faith in the name of advocating or embracing the principles of another religion. To read those things into my article HERE is to totally misread and to totally miss the point. When the Early Church came together, to be sure, they were not reading the texts of other religious movements in an effort to create a false unity or to redefine their own identities. Instead, they remained rooted in their Scriptures (the Old Testament) and later, into the 4th century CE and beyond, also the New Testament.

The reductionistic approach that attempts to morph Judaism, Islam, Christianity and/or any other religion into one is both highly offensive to those of us who take our faiths seriously and incredibly ignorant on many levels, especially the theological level. So, this Sunday, I will not read the Quran during worship nor will I promote or support it, as my friend James McGrath desires for all to do. In the end, it is nothing more than a reactionary absurdity that has burnt the Bible and the truths it proclaims just as much as, if not more than, the literal burning of any book such as the Quran.

Pisteuomen Hits 100,000

Well, I've been at this blogging thing for about 3 years now and today, Pisteuomen has reached a milestone: 100,000 visits. To be honest, I've gotten way more mileage out of this site than I ever imagined I would have. I've made lots of friends through this site, many of whom I've been able to meet in person. I've had numerous people recognize me at churches or conferences or various places from this site, which has been kind of fun. I've enjoyed all of the good dialogue and debate, as well as encouragement from everyone. Though 100,000 is not much compared to some sites, I consider it a pretty good achievement for being an actual biblical studies blog (that is, a blog that actually does biblical studies related stuff). Anyway, here's to another 100,000 and even 1,000,000!


Submission To Islam

In the last few weeks, talks about the relationship between Islam and Christianity as well as Islam within America have stirred much controversy. On the one hand, the Quran burning festivities have sparked outrage worldwide. On the other hand, the building of a Muslim museum and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero have created much controversy. News analysts, columnists, bloggers and many others have come out of the woodworks to voice their opinions on either or both of these hot topic issues.

At the level of which side(s) to support and which to reject, there seems to be inconsistency. The call to have patience with Muslims worldwide and to refrain from burning the Quran originates from various viewpoints depending on the person. For example, some desire patience so as not to harm American troops around the world. Others desire patience because in a land with freedom of religion, this is simply what one should do; they should tolerate the "other." Still, others think that by yielding patience, we show our power; if we give into anger and retaliation, we show our weakness, just what the Muslim "enemy" wants and so, they get another victory by controlling us. The same things could be said of the near Ground Zero building project. The question might be asked, however, "If Christians and/or Americans are expected to have patience with regard to the Quran burning, why are Muslims or Muslim Americans not expected to have patience with people as the express their anger, hurt and grievances about the mosque in NYC? And what about the rage Christians in America might feel when they see the mobs burning bibles, flags and photos of pastors (in the PRESENT!!!), where's the patience? The Quran burning has only been a "threat" of sorts while these people are actually doing it!

Much of what is going on here is a power struggle. It is sort of becoming a shouting match except with tyrannical tirades; whoever can do the most oppressive, offensive and tyrannical thing, wins. What does the Christian make of this? How does the Christian react? What is the role of Jesus and Jesus' ethics in all of this for the Christian?

Probably, many will see it as weakness or naivete but on a very real level, the call for the Christian is to submit! Submit to Islam? Seriously!?! I find it fascinating that when it comes to wars and governments, the average Christian is ready to rattle off Romans 13 to support their claims. All the while, they leave Romans 12, in connection with chapter 13, out of the equation (see more on this in a previous article of mine HERE). A litmus test of consistency should be applied, however, to the believer who cites this text.

Romans 12.17-21, the five verses preceding the infamously prooftexted 13.1-7, say, "17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Should Christians engage in Quran burning? No! But why? Simply put, because this will not cause us to live at peace with Muslims. Further, this is an act of revenge. What should the Christian do? Perhaps we should share a meal with the Muslims, share a drink with them and listen to them. Either we will get to know them or they will leave with coals heaped on their heads, which is to say, with God's wrath upon them. Paul's advice is wise and sound. We do not fight with the weapons of this world he says in 2 Corinthians, instead, we fight with wisdom from the Spirit of God. That wisdom says to leave room for God's vengeance, in other words, God's wrath, which will have its say in due course. The Christian who revolts against peace and peacemaking with Muslims has not only stirred controversy among inhabitants of this world but also God's wrath against themselves.

As for the building at Ground Zero, should the Christian stand back in fear and never express their feelings? Not necessarily. Should they picket and speak against what they see as injustice? Perhaps. But should they make threats, create fear and incite violence? Not at all. Should the plead for patience? Maybe. Should I ask another rhetorical question and continue on like I'm interviewing myself? :)

Sticking with Paul's advice, it would be most advantageous to sit with the opponent and share food, drink and conversation. Furthermore, that meal should be provided by the one offended as a sort of peace gift. Breaking bread may be the key to "overcoming evil with good" (12.21) in situations such as these. Of course, it is not violent. It is not warlike. It is not pretentious. It is not wrathful. It is not anger-driven. And because it is not any of these, it runs against the grain of how people in our world interact with those they consider most threatening and dangerous to themselves. But even Jesus shared bread with his enemy-betrayer Judas. Jesus overcame evil with good.

Should Christians submit to Muslims? Yes. But not in the sense of giving up. No, in the sense of hearing them out, sharing a meal with them, showing patience to them and maybe even requesting the same. Power in God's kingdom is not the type that lords force over position or anything else over people. Instead, it is a power vested and rooted in submission. It is an upside-down power in the world's eyes and mind. However, it is the way of Jesus. And it is ingrained in the ethic of Jesus. The way forward for the Christian through discussions and issues like these, in my view, starts at the table, the meal table.

But what if they will not come to the table? Well, then, we wait. And how long should we wait? As long as it takes! This, I suggest, is not a show of weakness or stupidity, it is an act of peace and kindness, situated in the deep ethic and heart of none other than Jesus Christ himself who bade us to be peacemakers and to love those considered to be our enemies.

On The Interpretation Of Scripture

In the field of biblical studies and in particular biblical interpretation, one of the most well-known and formative essays on the topic was penned by Benjamin Jowett. His article, "On the Interpretation of Scripture" sparked decades of controversy in Europe and to this day, has had lasting affects on interpreters of the Bible (from the average layperson to the top-ranking professors). If you want to engage a fundamental article in this area, check out this nice, clean-cut, interactive, magazine-style copy of Jowett's article by clicking on the "Open Article" button below. Enjoy.



Free Commentaries: 25,000+ Pages

That's right, College Press has decided to post their entire commentary series free, online. Together, this is over 25,000 pages of research, exegesis and theology. While this certainly isn't the best commentary series on the market, it also isn't something to be totally looked over. Some of my former professors have written in this series and honestly, several of the volumes contain good work. Regardless, they're all free now! The only bad part about downloading these over at the College Press site is that it takes FOREVER; the download time (even with DSL, broadband, etc.) is quite slow. It took me over an hour and a half to download all of these works, plus, clicking one download link for each                                                                              book was not very fun.

So, to spare you all the trouble, I have put all of the books in 1 folder, which I split into 7 downloads. This means that compared to about 70 downloads you now only have to download 7 things. Before you download, however, do the following: 1) Create a folder on your desktop to save the files in, 2) Click the links to download and save the files in the created folder, 3) Once all 7 files are download, highlight them all and right-click, then unzip them all at once in the same folder. If you do not do steps 2 and 3 and save / unzip them to the same place, the pdfs will probably not work. Anyway, here's the contents and the links, enjoy:

* Old Testament Commentaries
* Old Testament Literature
* New Testament Commentaries
* New Testament Literature, History & Theology


Hebrew Helps 30-33

Hebrew Helps 30-33 are now posted. Here, I look more at gutturals, segholates and geminates. Once you've checked out this resource, give my new Hebrew website "Getting Hebrew" a look! (To see the earlier installations of this series, click the links at the foot of this post.)

+ Helps 1-3
+ Helps 6-8
+ Helps 11-12
+ Helps 15-17
+ Helps 22-25
+ Helps 4-5
+ Helps 9-10
+ Helps 13-14
+ Helps 18-21
+ Helps 26-29

Hebrew Helps 26-29

Hebrew Helps 26-29 are now posted. Here, I look more at gutturals (and resh) and how they interact with the definite article, also how they work with the dagesh, and additionally I look at the Dagesh Lene and Dagesh Forte and its various types . Once you've checked out this resource, give my new Hebrew website "Getting Hebrew" a look! (To see the earlier installations of this series, click the links at the foot of this post.)

+ Helps 1-3
+ Helps 6-8
+ Helps 11-12
+ Helps 15-17
+ Helps 22-25
+ Helps 4-5
+ Helps 9-10
+ Helps 13-14
+ Helps 18-21

Hebrew Helps 22-25

Hebrew Helps 22-25 are now posted. Here, I look at gutturals (and resh) and how they interact with the definite article. Once you've checked out this resource, give my new Hebrew website "Getting Hebrew" a look! (To see the earlier installations of this series, click the links at the foot of this post.)

+ Helps 1-3
+ Helps 6-8
+ Helps 11-12
+ Helps 15-17
+ Helps 4-5
+ Helps 9-10
+ Helps 13-14
+ Helps 18-21


Exploring Pacifism, Pt. 4

In the previous parts of this series, I have laid out some of my views on power, force and violence. In exploring the issue of pacifism from a theological & ethical standpoint, namely that of Christian theology & ethics, the time has come to engage those portions of scripture that persons "use" to advance not only the idea of submission to modern government agendas of power, force, violence and war but also the promotion of it, especially when it comes to the Apostle Paul. Such readings treat Paul as if he were writing a systematic theology on state-run or government-led politics and militarism. This is seen, perhaps, nowhere more clearly than with Romans 13.1-7. As Ernst Bammel has pointed, however, "As an account of the Pauline view of the State this passage must be given its place in the side aisle rather than the nave."

To begin, we shall cite this section below and follow it up with some exegetical and interpretive thoughts:

Romans 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 13.2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 13.3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 13.4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 13.5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 13.6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 13.7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

As one apt interpreter has remarked about these verses, "These words have caused more unhappiness and misery in the Christian East and West than any other 7 verses in the New Testament by the license they have given to tyrants." I would venture to guess that this assertion is indeed correct. Given that this is so, we should realize when we step up to the plate to "take on" these verses, we have before us an important task. So, while I do not believe that my comments here will extinguish the debate surrounding these verses, I do hope that some thoughts offered can show that there are healthy alternative readings which exist, other than the typical, non-contextual, modern-political readings of these verses.

I wish to make 3 points here:

1) We recall that in the original languages, the texts of the New Testament were not divided by chapter and verse numbers. Instead, they were written Scriptum Continuum, which is just a fancy Latin way of saying that all the letters ran together. There were no punctuation marks, no dividers, no sentence or paragraph breaks, etc. I say all this to say that the modern day translations of the Bible separate Romans 12 from Romans 13. However, this is VERY problematic! In my view, those words which precede what we define as Rom 13.1-7, help set the context for Paul's words. Thus, Rom 12.9-21 must be considered. When we read these verses, we find that they are littered with language about "love" and turning the other cheek.

Clearly, war is evil. Some would call it a necessary evil (this is a popular idea among Christians) but I would disagree with the "necessary" part of that claim. In 12.9 Paul says, "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil and cling to what is good." Can we really imagine Paul saying this and at the same time promoting war and violence? He says in the same breath: "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves."

Following this he says, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Does he say, "When you are afflicted retaliate?" No, he says to be patient! He says right after this, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." Again, does he say "Kill the enemy" or "Bomb the foes"? No! He says to bless them and not even to "curse" them! Certainly if "cursing" them is out of the question so is killing them!

Then, Paul calls persons to live in harmony with one another and to shun a mindset of superiority so as to associate with the lowly. Continuing on, he says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil." Is this not clear enough already? Paul is against violence and the violation of others by cursing them or inflicting any type of evil upon them. In fact, he urges that as far as it is possible within their own power, to "live at peace with everyone." He is not saying, "Go destroy them" or "get rid of them" if they cannot be at peace with you. Instead, he is saying, do your part to make peace. He is not naive to the fact that some people will not allow reconciliation to happen. He continues, driving home the point once again: "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath." Clearly, for Paul, any sort of harm done to another is uncalled for and unjustified. The judgment, he contends, is up to God and God alone. How quickly and often Christians forget the truth that vengeance really is the Lord's!

And as if that isn't enough, Paul cites Proverbs and says, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head." Of course, the burning coals metaphor is not literal; it is a metaphor! He is saying that if you are nice to your enemies despite their unjust acts towards you, not only will wrath be on their head but eventually, they will get so preturbed by it that they may actually begin to act differently towards you. And he follows this with: "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good." Is it not clear enough that Paul is non-violent? Keep in mind, this is all prior to 13.1-7! Thus, we CANNOT simply read 13.1-7 univocally or on its own! These verses must be taken into account.

If the command is not to do evil but to overcome evil, and if, as so many are willing to admit, war is an evil, then how in the world can we go on acting as if promoting war is okay or even Christian? And so, Paul has made his case! And then he moves into his language about governing authorities. This is where I make point #2.

2) Among interpreters of Romans and in particular, Rom 13, there have been some very creative readings suggested. Post-colonial readings and anti-imperial readings have gained much ground and attention in recent decades. However, it may well be the case that while there are some merit to those interpretations, they are not so spot-on. In my view, the social contexts suggests, as made evident in the work of T. Engberg-Pedersen, that Paul is inverting Stoic political ideology.

Basically, Paul's comments in 13.1-7 reverse the claims made by the Stoic philosopher Seneca in his De Clementia (On Clemency 1.1-4). As Engberg-Pedersen notes, "The point [of Rom 13.1-7] is this...there was an idea in Rome in the 50s CE of the ruler or earthly rulers acting on behalf of the gods or God in support of behaviour that is good. This idea writers could take for granted and presuppose in what else they had to say. Indeed, they could appeal to it as something that would not be questioned—and could then move on from there to make whatever other points they were bent on making. Seen in this light there is absolutely nothing strange about the transition from Rom. 12.21 to Rom. 13.1ff. Believers should ‘conquer the bad by means of the good: in so doing, they should be subjected to the powers of this world since these, on their side, represent God and in themselves support behaviour that is good (13.1ff)."

In Seneca's work, he is referring to how an idealized idea of government, in particular, Nero. And Seneca hopes that Nero will practice judicious clemency and honesty and goodness, thereby proving his divine appointment. Do this and nobody in society will question your political role, it will simply be assumed that these qualities were given by the divine! Paul, however, is saying in Rom 13 that it is quite the opposite: If one embodies such qualities, the people will reason from bottom-to-top, not top-to-bottom, that divine appointment has been proven. If the contrary is proven, then one is not ordained by God. To sum up: Paul's claim to submit to God-ordained authorities presupposes first of all that the authorities were put in place by God. He does not suggest submitting to non-ordained authorities! Remember, there may be authorities in place, but they REALLY have no power if they're not ordained by God. And what is power? It is not what the Romans thought of power, the mighty fist or the sword, which helps "lord it over" people. No, it was submitting to and serving one another! (See the previous posts in this series, which discuss "power" in Christian theology.)

To rebel against the authorities that God has ordained is to rebel against none other than God himself. This all brings up the matter of discerning who is God-ordained? Hitler? Bin Laden? Hussein? Bush? Obama? Chavez?

Well, the key to recognizing those who are God-ordained is by looking back at what Paul has already said: They will be overcoming evil with God and not using violence and for or repaying evil with evil. Perhaps Americans and those in other parts of the world should really consider who they vote for in light of such things!

3) One last item of context may help shed light on this pericope. In Rome, Paul was basically dealing with a power struggle between various groups, namely, Jewish Christians and Roman (Gentile) Christians. The Jewish Christians had been exiled from Rome and when they came back, they realized that their leadership positions and essentially the entire church, had been co-opted (filled in) by the Gentile believers. Thus, there was a great struggle! Not wanting the Jewish folks to be exiled again, not wanting the church to divide, not wanting to draw attention to them because it could mean death, not wanting them to go into the streets and start chanting against the empire, Paul simply tells them to do what they have to do to keep the peace. If that means paying a tax, just do it. (Note: "Under Nero a difficult situation had become significantly worse. Tacitus tells us that so severe was the unrest over taxation that Nero was almost forced to capitulate over the issue. Instead of capitulating, however, he increased the burden of taxation, and non-payment became a criminal offence. In these circumstances Paul urges his readers to conform, to pay the taxes, and thereby not draw attention to themselves in a way that would provoke a Roman backlash.")

In fact, it has been suggested that if we read Rom 13 along the lines of 1 Cor, something interesting is realized, namely, that Paul is radically qualifying his statements. In 13.11-14, we see the "as if not" construction that appears in 1 Cor 7.29-31. The idea is, "do this but do it as if you were not really doing it." In other words, when you pay your tax, just do it as if you were not really doing it. This is expressed in the Greek by the "ως μη" construction (esp. Rom 13.13). As Taube has put it, "Pay your taxes (fulfil your duties in that field) as something that can in fact be fulfilled. And then forget about it since the duty has, by now, been fulfilled. In other words, do it ‘as if not’ doing it."

Having laid all of this out, even in a rather brief blog post, I think it is more than clear that there is an alternative way, and even a better way to read this section of Romans than is often suggested by the typical modern-day evangelical. Even more, I think it is abundantly clear that Paul is all about peacemaking and peacekeeping. Many have accused Paul of being inconsistent here but I do not think that is the case. All the same, I do not think he was issuing a systematic theology of the State and government and blind submission to ungodly (or godly) rulers.

Instead, the call was to never use violence, never to retaliate, never to repay vengeance and never to oppress others but to love and serve them. Where the enemy would not allow reconciliation to happen, the call then was still not to harm them or attack them but again to serve them. In the context of Romans, where the church was not only full of internal struggle but where that struggle was being kept under watch by an abusive government, Paul warned his followers to make peace and to do whatever they had to do so as not to draw unneeded attention to themselves, especially in the political arena. This is what eventually leads him to say, as a last resort you can even do all this as though you were not really doing it! Or, to put it differently, you can do all this knowing the real reasons you are doing it as opposed to the reasons the corrupt government thinks you are doing it.

In the end, there is no justification in this section of Romans for war or violence that I believe can be found! However, I do believe there is justification here for Christians to have a mentality and faith that overcomes the psychological bent and law of retaliation!

Tupac - A Rose From The Concrete

To some, Tupac Shakur was no more than a filthy rapper and an ex-con thug. Indeed, he had some lyrics that make me a little more than uncomfortable and his lifestyle was certainly not the type that I myself live. But the truth is, Tupac was an incredible poet and a master of the pen. A wordsmith who died way too young--age 25--I have always been drawn to his passionate lyrics and literary creativity.

Some might ask, why an aspiring biblical scholar like myself would spend time on such un-Christian things or even waste my time on something they see as less than scholarly? To that, all I can say is that within Pac's songs, there is great theological wrestling and depth. There is also, as I have already intimated, great poeticism and cultural savvy. In many ways--I have noted this before here on Pisteuomen--Tupac was like the prophets of the Old Testament. His challenges to the powers that be, his calls to change our ways of living (yes, even his own), his dealings with the divine, his hopes for the future and much more all speak volumes to me.

Perhaps I will let him speak for himself at this point (Some May Encounter Offensive Language Below):

"You try to plant something in the concrete and if it grow and the rose petal got all kinda scratches and marks you not gone say, damn look at all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from concrete you gone say, DAMN A ROSE GREW FROM THE CONCRETE. Same thing with me, I grew out of all this. Instead of saying, you did this you did this, you should be like DAMN HE GREW OUT OF THAT, HE CAME OUT OF THAT? That’s what they should see, all I’m trying to do is grow and make good out of the dirty nasty unbelievable life style they gave me."

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Hebrew Helps 18-21

Hebrew Helps 18-21 are now posted. Here, I look at preposition and the formation, function and uses of articles. Also, once you've checked out this resource, give my new Hebrew website "Getting Hebrew" a look! (To see the earlier installations of this series, click the links at the foot of this post.)

+ Helps 1-3
+ Helps 6-8
+ Helps 11-12
+ Helps 15-17
+ Helps 4-5
+ Helps 9-10
+ Helps 13-14

Hebrew Helps 15-17

Hebrew Helps 15-17 are now posted. Here, I look at Honorifics (Plural of Majesty), Duality and share a table that I've created that reviews the suffix endings of Hebrew nouns. Also, once you've checked out this resource, give my new Hebrew website "Getting Hebrew" a look! (To see the earlier installations of this series, click the links at the foot of this post.)

+ Helps 1-3
+ Helps 6-8
+ Helps 11-12
+ Helps 4-5
+ Helps 9-10
+ Helps 9-10 "> Helps 13-14