Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reminder: Course resumes next week

Just a reminder: Our course resumes next Wednesday January 7. See below for the optional homework assignments. We will be talking about the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) next week. See you then!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Biblical Faith: Notes from Dec. 17

The Bible – Fasten your seatbelts: We are doing a tour of the Bible from 40,000 feet. 
You will also find on the posting from tonight a list of biblical resources, and a homework assignment.

Here we go....

Tonight we will discuss the origins and history of the Bible. This is a lot of information that will come your way, some of it very basic. Consider tonight as foundational to all the rest we do in this course:

The word: Bible:

English derived from Old French bible, based on Latin biblia, and Greek biblios. All mean “books” for that is what the Bible is – a collection of books, an encylopedia of the relationship between God and God’s people.

The Christian Bible has Old Testament and New Testament.

Three religions lay claim to the OT, each with their own way of organizing an interpreting it. Judiasm and Christianity have evolved on parallel paths, neither is the same religion they were 2,000 yrs ago. Islam also considers Bible sacred, and the Koran draws from both the new and old testament – there is even in the Koran a story of the virgin birth of Jesus.

The Old Testament is the Christian name for the Hebrew Scriptures, which contains 24 books written primarily in Hebrew and a few passages in Aramaic, which was a common street language in Biblical times, the language of Jesus.

The Hebrew Scriptures are organized differently than the Christian Old Testament. The Hebrew organization reflects a ranking of the importance of the books:

The Law (torah)
The Prophets (nebi’im)
The Writings (ketubim)

The Hebrew letters are often used as a Hebrew abbreviation for the whole thing, hence you will see Jewish bibles labled “Tanakh”

Greek Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) – Paul used that; was organized differently

The Christian OT organized differently

Chapters and Numbers
For quality control in copying, the copiers would count the letters. The count had to come out exact or they knew they forgot something.
Eventually chapters and verse numbers were added for quality control
Do you memorize a favorite “verse” from Hemmingway? That was not the purpose of the chapters and verses.


Organized into three sections:
Gospels – “Good News” of the life of Jesus
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles (Part II of Luke)
Epistles – or letters of Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude and unknown authors
Apocolyptic – Revelation of John

NT organization essentially reflects the importance of the documents (gospels first, Revelation last) and the length within each section (Romans the longest Paul letter, so it goes first).

Emphasize: The documents are not arranged chronologically – the first NT document written is probably 1 Thess and it is in the middle of the pack. The first gospel written is in all likelihood MK.

Please notice: Nothing in the NT is called “The book of…”


OT is written in Hebrew
Problem: To save space, they left out the vowels. So we don’t exactly know what all the words are; plus, in Jewish piety, don’t ever say or write God’s name – so YHWH;
Several names for God; they are translated differently in English bibles; for example YHWH is translated as LORD (in capitals) in English bibles.

NT is written in Greek
Problem: To save space, they smushed all the words together (in capitals) and left out the punctuation

Greek is a dead language. Translation problems: “Epiousion”
Translated usually as “daily”
But it appears only once in Mt and Lk in the Lord’s prayer
Origen said it means “bread that we need”
Jerome said it means “super-substantial” – implies Eucharistic bread

German problem
English bibles borrow from German bibles (Luther)
“Jesus” is Germanized from Latin “Jesu”
“Jesu: is from Greek Ιησος which is from Hebrew Jeshua, or “Joshua”
So you’d be accurate to say “Joshua Christ” although no one would know what you are talking about.
Christ, by the way, is from Χριστο, or “anointed one” – Christ is not his last name; so “Jesus Christ” translated literally means “Joshua, the anointed one.”

Biblical Canon
What was accepted as authentic, or “canon” in the Bible was a long and complex process; it took 1,000 years or more of development.

Probably by the end of the First century AD (time of Jesus) the 24 Hebrew books were accepted by Jews as canon; in Alexandria, development near that time of Greek version; important to Jews as they were dispersed to have some accepted set of books accepted as authoritative.

But it is impossible to know what Jesus would have considered authoritative.
Paul used the LXX; the only “Bible” Jesus and Paul would have know would have been the Jewish bible.

Early church had a smattering of books; there was an explosion of early Christian testaments and “gospels.” Meanwhile, Hebrew books also coming on scene – Ben Sirah (or Eccesiastes), known as “Apocryphal” (meaning “outside” books) or “intertestamental” in contemporary parlance. RC and Eastern churches accepted these while Jews generally rejected.

There was NO canon of NT books until middle of second century. Everyone doing their own thing, each church with their own gospel and letters. For example, Alexandria had Mark while Antioch heard Matthew.

It became imperative to have a canon because of Marcion heresy – Marcion held that only his version of Lk and 10 letters of Paul were canon – all else, including OT, were rejected.
So, the early church fathers needed to settle the question – what was the bible?
We’ll talk more abt that in NT segment – but foretaste: Revelation widely considered over the top, Gospel of John barely made it.

Councils at Hippo 393, Carthage 397 recognized a 27 book canon, but unanimity was never fully achieved; Syrian church went with 22. The 27-book canon is the list of Athanasius of Alexandria in 367.

English Bibles
The English Bible was hard-born, the product not of objective translators sitting in a sanitary laboratory, but of the product of a long and sometimes violent history.

IMPORTANT: Those who controlled the Word of God controlled how people perceived God, and those perceptions matter a great deal to the institutions of churches, and in turn, to public order and governments. It is naïve not to see the Bible as a politically charged document.

What for us is the Bible?

• History of God’s people.
• History of the perceptions of God by a particular people at a particular time; it their story, they wrote it in their language with their imagery.
• A set of laws about living in relationship to God and to each other.
• Advice for living a “good life.”
• A dialogue – sometimes even a debate – about the nature of God and the wisdom of sticking with conventional ideas for life.
• “Good News” of salvation brought by Jesus.
• A series of “proofs” about Jesus.
• Doctrines.
• A prayer book – It would be totally dead without it being part of the conversation between humanity and God.
• And more…

Why we read the Bible in church:
The story of salvation. The story of our ancestors and how Goid saved them. We read the story to make it ours. Hebrew concept of remembering.

Bible is written to be heard in the context of worship corporate or as individuals in private.
Oral document – meant to be heard, not read.

Written to tell us about God. It is not just about us, that makes it tricky as human history. Sacred document, sacred texts, should not be tested the same way.

That makes the Bible more than the sum of its parts, but a sacred document that is in dialogue with the reader/hearer. It is our Bible, as much ours as those who wrote it, because it is our story we hear, not just the story of long ago.

Biblical resources

Bibles that are solid translations with excellent footnotes and cross-references:
HarperCollins Study Bible
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha

Bible Commentaries:

There are numerous multi-volume Bible commentaries on the market, and most are quite expensive. Typically, Bible commentaries extensively expound on translation issues and historical context, going verse-by-verse in each book of the Bible. The best multi-volume Bible commentaries are:

The New Interpreters Bible Commentary (Protestant orientation)
Sacra Pagina (Catholic orientation)
The Anchor Bible (all over the map)

The best single volume commentary: The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (multiple authors)

Bible Dictionaries:

Bible Dictionaries are organized something like an encyclopedia, with short articles on biblical subjects. Not all are accurate, and by necessity of brevity, all have gaps. The best on the market:

The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary
The Oxford Companion to the Bible

Other good-to-have Biblical references:

The Complete Gospels, edited by Robert J. Miller, HarperSanFrancisco, 1994 (contains early church “gospels” and other narratives not included in the New Testament).

Interliner Greek-English New Testament, edited by Jay P. Green, Baker Books, 1996 (contains line-by-line Greek and English translations for the NT).

Books about the Bible:

The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, by Peter J. Gomes, William Morrow & Co., 1996.

Understanding the Old Testament, by Bernhard W. Anderson, Prentice-Hall, 1975 (still the standard, available on the used book market).

The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, by Roland E. Murphy, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond E. Brown, Doubleday, 1996.

The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, by Raymond E. Brown, Doubleday, 1993.

The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave, A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels (two volumes), by Raymond E. Brown, 1993.

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright, HarperSanFrancisco, 1999 (a fair representation of two differing contemporary views about the historical Jesus).

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Heart of Contemporary Faith, by Marcus Borg, HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins, by Burton L. Mack, HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel: Crossing Over into God, by L. William Countryman, Trinity Press International, 1994 (readable study and new translation of the Gospel of John).

…and there are many, many more! Enjoy your reading!


Episcopal and Revised Common Lectionaries (daily and Sunday Biblical readings): 

BlueLetterBible -- Biblical translations, word/phrase search, and links to other biblical resources:

Most English versions of the Bible and other resources: New Testament Gateway

Homework Dec. 17, 2008

A- For the ambitious:

Please read all of Genesis 37:1-36, and then Genesis 39 to 47:28
This is the story of Joseph and how the Israelites settle in Egypt. It is sometimes called the “Joseph Novel” because it seems to be a complete and coherent story, with plot, suspense and structure. Regardless of whether it is historically accurate, it is packed with theological meaning and observations about human behavior. It also serves to explain why the Israelites were ended up in bondage in Egypt, setting up the saga of Moses and the Exodus.
The story of Joseph and his brothers begins in Genesis Chapter 37; the story is interrupted with an unrelated story in Chapter 38 (so skip that chapter); the story picks up in Chapter 39 and concludes in Chapter 47, verse 28.

1- How did God sustain Joseph throughout his ordeal?
2- What was Joseph’s response?
3- Why do you think ancient Jews remembered this story?
4- What questions do you still have about this story? What is confusing, what do you need to know to understand the story better?
5- Do you recall a time in your life when you felt abandoned but later found new life?

B- For the moderately ambitious:

Please read Genesis Chapters 1-3 (the story of Creation)

1- Who is the story about? Who is doing everything?
2- How many distinct accounts of the creation of humankind are there?
How are they different? Similar?
3- What questions do you still have?

C- For couch potatoes:

Please read Psalm 105
Congratulations! You’ve read the entire Bible.
1- Who is the psalm about? Who is doing everything?
2- What catches your attention? Why?
3- What questions do you still have?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Introduction: Notes from first class

Purpose of this course is to:

1- Form a small group community at St. Paul’s
2- Open-ended exploration of personal faith questions
3- Impart basics of Anglican way of Christianity
4- You can be confirmed, received, or reaffirm your faith on Feb. 8 with Bishop Jones.

Class method:

Sometimes in class all we do is communicate facts, content, history, dates, events
In this course, there will be all of that – but we will try to give you a place to explore it in a community; that is, to live out what it means to live in a community of faith explorers – which is why we call this course “Journey.”

We will journey together. This is not a conventional class where you are competition.
You will hear me talk a lot – but this will be more than talks from me – but experiential – as groups, you will experience what it means to take a journey of faith together, to struggle, to discover together.

You are welcome to take notes, but this is not a conventional class with papers and books and grades. Rather, you are invited to share together, to be in fellowship with each other.
We will also have the ability to continue our conversation with this blog.

All I ask is you put your name on your comments. Anonymous comments violate our norms.
There is a confirmation class in Sacramento that may be joining this conversation.


Intentionally done with Anglican structure: Scripture, Reason, Tradition.

* Theology is a structured conversation about God. We create the conversation together. We are all theologians.

To ask together what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. Our questions include:

* How do we work with our tradition, which begins with the Bible? How do we read the Scripture as modern people? How does our worship tradition fit into our life of faith? How do we live our lives within the context of our baptismal covenant? Where does reason fit? How do we reconcile faith with science?

* Learn something of what it means to be in this branch – Episcopal Church – of the Christian Church.

* Place to explore faith questions with a group of people; what it means to be “Church.”

* Being together is in this setting means that we understand the church as a living organism – that church is more than just attending church.

Class structure:

Each class will begin and end with prayer
Presentation of 30-40 minutes; Break
Group discussion
end in prayer


There are no reading assignments; no papers.

But there are expectations:
To have a healthy discussion, we need to have an agreement with each other about the healthy boundaries of our discussion, or “norms” – that is, a set of guidelines for how you will conduct your conversations.

No one needs to reveal more about themselves than they feel comfortable revealing; no one should press anyone to say more than they wish. It is OK to say nothing at all in a group. See covenant below.

Our covenant as a community on the path

1- Be here: Commitment to be here each week by each of us is foundational to all we do. Sometimes, however, some of us must be absent, but we recognize that the whole group is diminished if we are absent, so each of us will make every effort to be here. We honor each other by being here on-time and staying for the whole session.

2- Confidentiality: We are building a safe place together so that each of us can discover our path with God. This is a sensitive subject. We will be sharing our lives past and future together. Repeating the personal details from our conversations – gossiping – is never permissible. It destroys the safety of our group. Yet the concepts and insights we gain are worth repeating. Use common sense.

3- Respectful Sharing: We discover by sharing with each other with respect; no one should dominate the discussion or attack anyone else. Arguing is not sharing. Side conversations divide the group. Silence is permissible; no one must speak unless they want to. No one need share what they are not comfortable sharing. Changing the subject to pursue your own agenda is not respectful of others. Be honest. Each of us is responsible to ensure that all may be heard.

4- Respectful listening: Sharing means listening to each other – actively – by focusing our attention on the person who is sharing and the topic at hand. Active listening is a conversation, a dialogue – not a debate. Don’t interrupt. Don’t interrogate. Don’t presume to judge. Stretch yourself to listen with your whole being. Body language counts. Let God fill the silence.

5- Prayer: We pray together. Prayer is part of our conversation as a group; we begin each evening in prayer and we will end in prayer. Prayer can be with words, with movement, or in silence. Truthfully, there are infinite ways to pray just as God is infinite. God hears all prayers, so we must be careful to respect each other for how each of us prays.

Assignment first week: Telling our stories

Telling your own story through symbol:

Find an object that represents you. It can be a photograph, or a toy, or a rock, or a twig – whatever speaks to you. Then bring your object to class and come prepared to tell your group the following:

1- What is it?
2- If this object could speak, what story would this object tell us about you?
3- How do you experience God in this object?

The Journey begins: Walking the path of faith

We begin our Journey of Faith tonight -- at least, this chapter of the journey that has been ours since birth. Please join me at St. Paul's tonight at 7 pm or at the end of St. Nicholas's appearance in the parish hall, whichever comes first. Welcome to the path (the photo at right is a path laid by 12th century monks in the Luberon of Southern France). 

Here is an outline of the course:

Journey of Faith 2008

Dec. 3 – Introduction
Expectations, norms, introductions

Dec. 10 – Telling our stories

Dec. 17 – The biblical faith
How we read the bible, its history, praying with the Bible

Dec. 24 – OFF

Dec. 31 – OFF

Jan. 7 – The Hebrew Scriptures and God’s promise to God’s people

Jan 14 – The New Testament and Jesus and the Dream of God

Jan. 21 – Thinking theologically
Creation, Sin, Repentence, Redemption

Jan. 28  – The Anglican and Episcopal tradition
David McIlhiney

Feb. 4 – Sacraments

Feb. 7 – (All day retreat): Writing our creeds, serving our community

Feb. 8 – Confirmation Sunday with Bishop David Jones

Friday, November 21, 2008

Journey of Faith: a special Wednesday evening course at St. Paul's beginning Dec. 3

It gives me great pleasure to offer a course for adults to explore our faith, ask questions about Christianity and grow deeper as a community. This course, beginning Wednesday Dec. 3 at 7 pm, is designed for any adult who wants to enrich his or her faith journey. This course is also designed for any adult who would like to be confirmed, received as an Episcopalian, or reaffirm her or his faith commitment with Bishop David Jones on Feb. 8, 2009. This course is open to all who wish to join us on this journey of exploration into the deepest mysteries of life. We won’t find all of the answers, but the road will be full of wonder and amazing grace.

Let me explain a little of how we will do this: Sometimes in class all we do is communicate facts, content, history, dates, events. We will do some of that – but more importantly we will try to give you a place to explore the meaning of faith in community and “equip the saints” with tools for exploring our faith and putting it into practice in daily life and work.

Each evening will open with prayer. I will then give a presentation on the topic of the evening, and we will then divide up into small groups for discussion. We will close each evening with prayer. The outlines of my presentations, and handouts, will be posted on this blog where I hope we can continue the conversations outside of the classroom. Also, anyone who lives far from Charlottesville is invited to join us on this journey through this blog and by entering into the conversation through the "comment" section. All I ask is that you identify yourself.

Topics each week will include how we interpret the Bible, the tradition of the creeds, and how we live out our lives as faithful people living in tension with the modern world.  The course is structured in the classic Anglican method of "Scripture, Reason and Tradition." 

The course will have eight Wednesday evening sessions (with Christmas and New Years Eve off)

On Saturday, Feb. 7, the day before the bishop’s visit, we will spend time together in retreat, but not just any kind of retreat. It is my hope we will use our time on that Saturday – maybe only a few hours – working together in simple service to our community.

To join us, please call the office 434.295.2156, or just show up on the first night, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.