Book Review: Peter Enns, Evo. of Adam…

Please do not read this post if you’re planning on reading Peter Enns’ book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Read it first and then return to this post if you wish. I do not want my thoughts and opinions to spoil or stilt yours.

I don’t normally do book reviews and with a topic as controversial as Peter Enns’ Evolution of Adam, I feel as though I ought to do some more studying to give it an honest critique. I should also mention that it was a matter of eight or nine months to start and finish this book; I’d read a section, put it down, read something else, come back to it a week or two later, put it down again, and so on, and so on. My recollection of various parts is scattered, although I believe I retained the main objective throughout.

Even though my reviewing abilities are somewhat hindered, I can review the aspects I appreciated. After all, despite Peter discussing some heavy scholarly stuff, he talked quite a bit about modern day theology and how we ought to approach ancient texts.

For those who haven’t read it (or haven’t even heard of it), Peter Enns takes on a rather controversial topic: Genesis 1 & 2 and whether or not Adam is a historical person or a figurative one. Of course, it’s much more nuanced than that, but this is the primary discussion he refers back to on a frequent basis.

He begins with setting the scene of the Ancient Near East by discussing in brief the conventional non-Jewish stories surrounding Israel at the time (most likely during the exile). In order to truly understand the New Testament as a whole (and especially Paul) we not only have to understand the Old Testament and how it came to be, but also how those in New Testament times (including Jesus) interpreted the texts. Starting with the environment from which the Old Testament was produced, Enns continues on to discuss Paul’s theology and his interpretation of Adam as an historical or metaphorical figure.

“Evolution” doesn’t come through in explicit terms until towards the end of the book and even then it isn’t discussed at length. This is because Enns appears to have been more focused on setting the stage in which the theory of evolution (or theories of evolution) can actually fit into the Judeo-Christian narrative – namely, if a literalist view of Genesis 1 through 11 is asserted (again, Enns spends more time in the first two chapters), then, as Enns argues, it’s nigh impossible to see how it would match up with the scientific evidence we have today. If such a view is not asserted, which Enns suggests is the correct way to approach the ancient texts, then evolution and Christianity are not at all opposed (unless, of course, “human origins” is the topic; Enns believes science and the Bible are “incompatible” for they speak different languages).

What Enns seems to put forth here is a foundational understanding of the Biblical writers so that we might be better at grasping their overall message. Enns expertly separates modern ways of thinking from the most likely ways the ancient authors thought and taught. This is, I believe, Enns’ greatest feature in this book for by separating what is a modern belief from what ancient Jews would have believed (i.e. Genesis being a literal, historical account of events that happened – modern view), he not only reveals the beauty within ancient theology, but also the flaws in modern theology.

In his final pages, where he lays out the nine main theses he discussed throughout the book, he says something that I find refreshing:

“At present there is a lot of fear about the implications of bringing evolution and Christianity together, and this fear needs to be addressed head-on. Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether.” – 145

To sum it up, Enns’ book is about a theological foundation to understand the texts of the Bible, but to also understand the interaction between Israel and God, and then how later Christians (both Jewish and Gentile alike) were grafted into that interaction. What Enns strives for (and may have attained – I don’t know, I haven’t done enough studying to critique the more in-depth arguments) is a Christianity that leaves room for thinking – a Christianity that not only lives up to the calling of Christ, but does so with an engaged and honest mind. It’s like he said: Sometimes our theologies don’t lead us down a slippery slope, but rather up a hill we should never have been on.

I enjoyed it quite a bit and, given my low level of understanding regarding the subjects, I would give it a 5/5. Enns possesses a rare talent by writing both to the scholar and the lay-reader. I felt challenged to dive deeper into understanding God and how we are to read the creation stories in Scripture. Not only that, but I felt challenged to engage God with my mind instead of my comfortable, preconceived beliefs.

If you’re interested in the Creation and Evolution discussion, this is a great text to start with because it helps lay out how one should understand Genesis before engaging the evolution theory (or theories).

Enjoy and God bless!

Christian Baptism Part 1: John the Baptist…

“The Jews asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie,’” – John 1:25-27

Baptism carried a great deal of significance in Jesus’ time. Notice, though, that “the Jews” aren’t questioning John because he is baptizing, but because he’s not “the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet.” They don’t ask him, “Why are you dunking people in water?” This indicates to me that somewhere along the way the practice of baptizing people became the norm.

John the Baptist has stood as a seemingly-pivotal character in Christianity; he’s the forerunner for Christ – clearing the paths for Him, so to speak. The Gospel authors interpreted Isaiah 40:3 as speaking of John (while the small sect of Essenes located at Qumran interpreted this verse for themselves and their movement); “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” To the Gospel authors, John was a game-changer.

But what does his baptism mean? Can Christianity exist without it? Does John the Baptist even need to be a historical character in the Christian narrative? These are questions that drove most of my research for my Early Christianity class last winter. When it came time to write my paper, I didn’t get to talk much about John or his baptism since I was more focused on Christian baptism as a whole. But looking back over what I’ve studied, what I’ve written, and what I’ve read since last winter, I would have to say that John the Baptist is a fascinating character in Christianity.

Gerd Theissen offers interesting thoughts about John:

“His baptism is a symbolic action. And implicitly it has a political significance. If all Jews have to have themselves baptized again, the whole land is threatened with uncleanness. Here the question of cleanness is pointedly blown up – against a ruler who blatantly violated the commandments relating to cleanness in building his capital. John’s criticism of [Herod] Antipas’ marital politics also fits this picture. For Jewish marriage laws had been violated in this marriage. Here John the Baptist was merely articulating a widespread hostility to rulers who were increasingly alienating themselves from Jewish traditions,” – Pg. 35

To the Gospel authors, John’s baptism was something more than a political statement or a symbolic action; it was the ushering in of God’s kingdom. It was clearing the way for Jesus. But historically speaking, as plenty of scholars have discussed, John the Baptist and Jesus may have never had any contact with each other whatsoever. This idea is shocking to the average Bible-believing Christian, but hypothetically speaking, the Gospel authors could have adopted John and his baptism into the narrative of early (or as Theissen likes to say, “primitive”) Christianity. The encounters we see in the Gospels may have been creative insertions into the historical facts in order to get at the deeper picture: Many thought John was the Messiah or that his baptism was powerful; but Jesus supersedes him.

If it had been the center of my research paper, I would have argued that John didn’t need to be “preparing the way” for Jesus; He could have believed that he was waiting for someone else and Jesus surprised him as well. Case in point, re-read Matthew 11:2-3; “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” Many interpret this as John simply doubting his earlier convictions about Jesus (especially if we take Luke 1:41-44 as historically true), but what if he was discovering for the first time, here in Matthew 11 (or in Luke 7:18-35) that Jesus was the Messiah he had been waiting for all along? It changes things a little, doesn’t it? It describes John the Baptist with a little more humanity than what we might have been taught in Sunday school, doesn’t it?

Then what meaning can be found in his baptism if he had little or no communication with Jesus? If he was unaware that he was “preparing the way” for Jesus, then what good is his baptism? Mark’s Gospel (believed to be the earliest of all the Gospels – except for maybe Q, but that’s for another post) gives a pretty clear description of why John was baptizing: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” (1:4). Much like his Jewish relatives at Qumran, John was enacting a symbolic action of repentance.

What does it mean, though, for Christianity? I think it means quite a bit: It was the model early Christians used to signify their death with Jesus (and to their sins) and rise to life with Jesus (and receiving the new life of the Holy Spirit). Of course this took a long time to get worked out in Christianity because we religious folk like to disagree on a lot of things, but without the model of John’s baptism of repentance, it may not have had much of an affect for the early readers to follow Christ. What I mean is, it’s quite possible that the early readers knew who John the Baptist was and if his work was interpreted as the beginning of Christianity, then the early followers might be much more convinced to follow.

I do not mean to imply that John the Baptist’s role in Christianity was entirely made up by the Gospel authors. John’s historicity is just as probable as Jesus’; Josephus talks (I think) more about John the Baptist than he does Jesus (he barely mentions Jesus). What I do mean to say is that John may not have had contact with Jesus and/or may not have believed Jesus was the Messiah he was prophesying about. Either way; John’s baptism was eventually done away with – even though it was the blueprint to Christian baptism.

Why was it done away with? Jesus had arrived. In John’s Gospel we see John the Baptist’s departure begin very early. Jesus had been teaching His disciples to baptize and happened to be doing so in eyesight of John. John’s disciples asked him why and he famously says, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” (3:30). To John the Gospel author, John the Baptist knew his time had come and his purpose was fulfilled.

And yet even to the author of Luke and Acts we see John’s baptism superseded by a baptism “into Christ.” In Acts 19:1-7, Paul encounters former disciples of John and says, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus,” and then proceeds to baptize them “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” (19:4-5). This is one passage I highlighted for discussion in my paper, so I’ll save most of the talk about it for the next post(s) (although, it’s worth pointing out that Paul never talks about this incident in his letters). But suffice it to say, when Jesus had died and then resurrected three days later, John’s baptism was no longer needed. It had served its purpose.

Theissen’s suggestion of political implications is still highly plausible. In fact, all of the elements discussed here (symbolism, political statements, allusions to Jesus, etc.) could be present in John’s baptism. I believe this is the beauty of the Scriptures we read; they’re so incredibly nuanced (layered in meaning) that they never run out of life. And I don’t think God intended them to, either.

Baptism Part 7: Introduction to Christian Baptism…

Baptism gets interesting when it’s brought to Christianity. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, ritual immersion plays a major role in the belief system and practice at Qumran. But in the New Testament, there is a rich diversity of what baptism means and how it’s practiced. It’s difficult – probably near impossible – to give one decisive meaning for baptism, which then makes it essential to look at each text in and of itself to see what possible meanings can be deduced.

In my paper I broke it down to five main spheres of influence: John’s baptism (which combines the various Gospel views), Paul’s baptism (drawing from Galatians 3:27-29 and Ephesians 4:5), Acts 19:1-7 (which is an interesting turning point in the Christian baptism), 1st Peter 3:21, and – since it was a discussion of early Christianity and not just New Testament Christianity – Didache 7, which probably has more of a philosophical interpretation than the others.

I really didn’t get to discuss these varying facets at any real length, just briefly highlighting one or two main points. But since I’m not trying to fit any 12-15 page limitation, I’m hoping to break open each of these more fully. Also, after writing two 13-page papers on people being dunked in water, I’ve noticed other verses and passages in the NT that offer an interesting view of baptism and I’m looking forward to discussing those as well.

Right now, my plan for this next set of posts is to implement Gerd Theissen’s thoughts mixed with a couple other scholars (Everett Ferguson, N.T. Wright, and others). Theissen’s book, The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World, acted as the framework of thought for Dr. Falk’s Early Christianity class in the winter, so I thought it’d be interesting to present some of his main points and invite readers into some of the discussions we had as a class.

Since from here on out is a long discussion on Christian baptism, I think it’d be best to title this set of posts as such; “Christian Baptism.” Of course there will be references back to Qumran or Greco-Roman washing rituals to discuss certain similarities, but ultimately my focus will be on the New Testament books as well as some of the non-canonical books (books that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the New Testament).

Ultimately the goal is to see/discuss the formulation of Christian thought regarding baptism’s role in following Christ. Was it simply an initiatory rite or could an early Jewish-Christian still partake in purity rituals? Was it thought of as simply a metaphor or did one need to physically be baptized? In answering and/or discussing these questions, I’m hoping to read through the New Testament and relevant books to see the evidence with fresh eyes. As scholars indicate, we can’t look into the minds of the New Testament authors and know what they were thinking when they penned their letters/gospels. But what we can do is read the text for what it is and go from there.

As N.T. Wright says, though, it can’t simply be a discussion based on speculation and mystical fantasy; there must be some grounding in historical evidence. Currently I’m reading his book The New Testament and the People of God, which I hope will provide some historical insight that isn’t otherwise present in the New Testament. I’ll also borrow information from Bart Ehrman and his textbook, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament.

There isn’t much time left in the summer, so I’m hoping to milk it for all it’s worth. Once again, though, I open the floor to any who would like to share questions, thoughts, or possible conclusions on the various things I write. What drove both my religious studies classes last winter wasn’t a long series of lectures from Professor Falk (although I’d pay just as much for that as well). No, what drove those seminars were the class discussions. Students’ thoughts were shared, challenged, and refined and I’m hoping something similar happens through these posts.

***For all the previous posts on baptism/ritual immersion, please click here or the “Baptism” tab on the side.

Investigating Christology…

A question that has been rattling around my mind for the past couple of days deals with Christ’s divinity. A friend of mine from both my religious studies classes wrote his Early Christianity paper about Paul’s Christology; investigating whether or not Paul regarded Christ as God (second Person in the Trinity) or as an agent of God (one through whom God brought about His kingdom). I forget the details of his argument because I only heard his presentation and haven’t been able to read his paper on it, but I recall it stirring my mind a little. On Friday, I had coffee with my friend and he essentially told me the boat he was in: He has a difficult question to deal with (especially in rooting this back into his faith) and very few people are willing to even hear his questions.

Later on in the afternoon, I watched a video posted on Near Emmaus with NT Wright discussing Christology in terms of John’s Gospel. One thing Wright mentioned was that the “I am” statements of Jesus weren’t necessarily claims to be God, second Person of the Trinity. Instead, they could very well have been Messianic claims.

Trying to figure out the difference between a claim to be the source of divinity as opposed to a source is an interesting investigation. This is the heart of the question I’ve had: Which was Jesus; God or agent of God? And I know that plenty of other theologians and scholars throughout history have taken up the study of Paul’s Christology or Christology in general, so I’ll have several hands full of resources to glean from. But as of right now, I’ve had an interesting idea in mind: Study through the seven authentic Pauline letters (as well as the others, too, though wary that they may not have been penned by Paul) and see what the evidence actually says. (Those seven, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, are Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.)

What I think will be the most challenging thing for me is figuring out how it fits into my faith. All my Christian life I’ve been taught to treat Christ as God and now to even question the possibility might shake my faith. But yet I don’t know; just because Christ may not have been God doesn’t mean He wasn’t the Messiah proclaimed about in the Prophetic books. It will simply challenge my 21st century, indoctrinated way of thinking about Jesus, God, and the Bible. These doctrines have, thus far, been foundational to the way I’ve approached Scripture and God; but does that mean I have been correct in doing so? Is it in fact wrong to think of Jesus as God? Or are we actually incidentally right?

There are plenty of questions that could emerge from this study, so I must be careful to keep the central one in focus: Is Jesus the source of the divine or a source of the divine? What my heart leads me to believe may not be what the evidence suggests, so this could be a challenge journey. But it’s one I feel compelled to take. Anyone who is willing to study this idea as well is welcome to comment on the blogs I post or start up posts of their own. For reading I’ve opened up Romans and taken note of all the times Paul seems to make a Christological claim (one that either equate Him to God or defines Him as God’s agent).

Christ taught His early followers to seek things out and to love God with all their minds. I aim to do so with this study and would greatly appreciate anyone else willing to ask these questions and to share answers/opinions along the way (especially anyone from Near Emmaus, which I believe there was at least one person kind of investigating Christology).

To those who might not want to read what I read, but rather what I write, I hope to make these posts informative and inviting. I’d encourage any readers to do readings on their own about these questions, but it’s not a requirement. I just desire an honest investigation.

Baptism Part 1: Ritual Immersion in “Common Judaism”…

My first time reading the Bible was spent in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. I didn’t start with the New Testament at all; I started with the Torah. Thumbing back through those books, I realize now it’s a miracle that I even stuck with this Christian thing. Don’t know Moses ever realized this, but what he put down isn’t that exciting of a read.

Whether reading the Torah is boring or not, I have found it to be absolutely essential in order to truly understand the New Testament Scriptures. Having gone through the research from this past term has really opened up a lot of the New Testament; I get a better understanding of how Jesus’ not-washing-His-hands-before-He-ate thing was really kind of shocking. Granted, at the time of Jesus there were additional rules on purification, but those rules found their roots in Leviticus 11-15 or Numbers 19. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not you were sinning, but rather a matter of whether or not you were clean.

It’s important here to clarify what I mean by “clean.” In our 21st century world, “clean” is closely tied with sanitation. At work we wash all the dishes and pie pans so that customers are less likely to consume sickness-causing bacteria. We “clean” all the utensils for this purpose. But in the mindset of Jews in Jesus’ time, “clean” had spiritual connotations; not only was the physical dirt washed away, but it was believed that the spiritual dirt was also wiped out.

This spiritual dirt, though, did not just reside inside the person; it was believed to be outside the person as well. If someone had a bodily discharge, their clothes were rendered impure as well as anything they touched (Lev. 15). One’s uncleanness was also believed to affect the surrounding people as well, which is why many of the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the New Testament were repulsed by the impure; they believed they were in danger of being contaminated as well.

Ritual purity, as one may easily see, was an on-going process. In fact, it was practically daily. In “Common Judaism,” the era in which both Jesus and the community at Qumran were around, ritual purity was practically everything. Sure, theologies regarding the resurrection and what one believed about God were very important, too. But in order to be a part of those discussions, you were required to watch out for your purity. If you were deemed impure, you were required to go through the ritual process in order to regain the ability to discuss theology (or really anything else) with other people. No, it isn’t a commandment necessarily (it is at Qumran), but it makes common, practical sense. Religious leaders didn’t want to be impure or unclean, so if they were in close proximity with someone else who was unclean, then they’d avoid that person.

Just to get a sense of what I mean, I turn to Boaz Zissu and David Amit, archaeologists who specialize in the study of miqva’ot (immersion baths in ancient Judaism). They’ve outlined six different types of baths within two main categories: in-settlement ritual baths and other ritual baths. Under the in-settlement umbrella are domestic baths, public baths and public baths near synagogues. Domestic baths were located nearby houses and were probably used for purification after a bodily discharge, which includes a man’s seminal discharges and a woman’s menstruation cycle (as you might guess, this probably a frequently used bath). The public baths away from synagogues are located near villages and whatnot and were probably used by those who didn’t have their own at home and who couldn’t get to a synagogue bath. At Qumran, Zissu and Amit note, their public baths were intended for a “quick immersion of a large number of people,” which aligns with the Community’s annual renewal ceremony. But I’ll get there later.

The public baths located next to synagogues are interesting because there is nothing in the rabbinic traditions, as Zissu and Amit explain, requiring purity for entry into the synagogues. What has been suggested, though, was that these were used in order for various religious leaders to be purified before handling the sacred Scriptures – more of a precautionary measure. It didn’t matter whether or not they were impure; they just wanted to make sure they were pure before handling anything sacred. What these baths could have also been used for is, like the public baths away from the synagogues, anyone who didn’t have access to an immersion bath at home or in their home town.

Ritual baths located away from the settlements had three types as well; in agricultural locations (i.e. vineyards), along roadways intended for pilgrim-usage, and near graveyards. For the ones located in agricultural places, it’s possible these were utilized to ensure one’s wine or oil was prepared in purity so that nothing would be sold impure. Pilgrims in route to Jerusalem could have incidentally come into contact with something impure (i.e. a dead animal) and simply to ensure purity upon entry into Jerusalem, they were immersed in these baths. Grave sites were littered with the possibility of impurity. Coming into contact with the dead was the worst form of impurity to the common Jew. That’s why, when Jesus heals a demon-possessed man in the graveyard (Luke 8:26-33), you don’t see any religious leaders just walking around. They avoided the graveyards because they were too risky. These baths were there, though, to ensure one’s purity.

Studying through all the things that would make one impure often made me feel like taking a shower. The level of seriousness devoted to ritual purity in Common Judaism is already an intense level. But both early Christianity and the Qumran sectarian group had to find ways of differentiating themselves and their baptisms away from what was Common Judaism. Why? In order to be its own autonomous religion, it had to separate from the old, “mother religion” of Judaism, as Theissen notes. Qumran is a different direction because they were very much Jewish; they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah (assuming they even heard of Him) and therefore did not feel the need to be their own religion. However, they obviously felt the need to renew and revitalize the practices of the Torah as they should be rightly practiced. Both of these subjects, though, will be discussed in later posts.

What I advise for you, though, is – if you have the time – study up on the Torah, specifically the purity laws. Read Leviticus 11-15 and Numbers 19 several times slowly. They’re boring and very elaborate, but in order to truly get the sense of what both the Qumran baptism meant and the Christian baptism means, we need to know what the Torah requirements were. We need to know what Qumran and early Christianity were up against.

Water’s Washing Power: An Introduction to Qumran Immersions and Christian Baptisms…

On May 12th, 2002, I was baptized into Christianity. I awkwardly stood at the front of the congregation in my swim trunks and cut-off t-shirt while everyone else watched in their Sunday best. It wasn’t any regular Sunday either; it was Mother’s Day. Lots of perfume, flowers, and girls sitting with watchful eyes. You see, I grew up in a congregation of roughly 15 people that came every Sunday. On that particular day there were close to 50 or so in the small little church. I was a bit nervous.

After I was dunked, people cheered and thus began my walk with God. For a long time I didn’t think much of my baptism; I thought it was just something one is supposed to do in order to be a part of the group. Mere paperwork for attaining membership. And now, almost nine years of walking with God, I suddenly had an interest in the meaning of getting dunked for Jesus.

This winter term I took two classes from Dr. Daniel Falk (my favorite professor): Early Christian Religion and Dead Sea Sectarian (REL 414 and 412 respectively). In the first week of classes I immediately caught on to one major similarity: Isaiah 40:3. It says, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” For Christian readers, we immediately think of John the Baptist as this voice in the wilderness (Mark 1:2-4). But what I found remarkable about the Community at Qumran was that they also refer to this verse:

“And when these [initiates] become members of the Community in Israel according to these rules, they shall separate from the habitation of unjust men and shall go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of… make straight in the desert a path for our God.’ This (path) is the study of the Law which He commanded by the hand of Moses, that they may do according to all that has been revealed from age to age, and as the Prophets have revealed by His Holy Spirit,” – Community Rule, 8:13-16a (or 1QS 8:13-16a – I’ll explain in another post).

This striking similarity began an interest in baptism because John was baptizing and Qumran, as I would later discover, had a lot of ritual immersion pools – either 10 or 11, which Hannah K. Harrington (a scholar on the purity laws in the DSS) indicates that given the small size of the community (big enough for about 200 people) is the greatest number of miqva’ot (Jewish term for immersion pools – plural; miqveh – singular) in one condensed location. This said to me that the Qumran sectarian group was stringent about purity laws, even adding their own (Harrington–The Purity Texts, 19).

Digging a little deeper, I found ritual immersion to be already extremely important in Judaism. Boaz Zissu and David Amit note 220 ritual baths that archaeologists have discovered in the Judean Hills and in the Land of Benjamin (Common Judaism, 49). So what made Qumran so different? And since the Qumran community existed roughly around the time of Jesus, then we can begin to ask the question, what made the Christian baptism so different? As I argued in both my papers from this past term, Qumran utilized ritual immersion to keep themselves, as God’s “highway,” clean and clear for His kingdom to enter; early Christianity utilized baptism in order to signify one’s death to the old life of sin and rise to new life specifically in the name of Jesus.

There is a lot of information regarding these two directions, so I have no idea how long of a series this is going to be; I just know it’s going to be several posts. For those who aren’t familiar with the Dead Sea Scrolls or Qumran, don’t worry; I’ll explain. Teaching on that subject alone will take two, possibly three, posts alone. But what I think first needs to be explained is the major emphasis on ritual purity in what scholars call “Common Judaism,” – a time period in which a familiar system to all Jews was in place. This is the time period that the Qumran sectarians distinguished themselves from the “common Jew,” and from which Christians would also come to distinguish themselves. “Common Judaism,” as already indicated, had a major emphasis on ritual purity; so I find it to be a foundation for understanding both Qumran and Christianity.

What’s also important, especially for early Christianity, was the importance of ritual purity in the Greco-Roman society. I did not realize this before, but apparently it was extremely important to the average pagan to be cleansed with water in a ritual purity act before dealing with “sacred” things (i.e. entering temples). This requires an explanation also, but I won’t get to that until after I’ve explained both Judaism and Qumran; Greco-Roman purity pertains a little more to early Christianity than to Qumran.

My tentative outline for this series is as follows; Judaism’s ritual purity, Qumran’s ritual purity, Greco-Roman paganism’s ritual purity, and finally Christianity’s baptism. Looking through both my papers, it should be between 8 and 10 posts, but we’ll see. I may add more or take some parts out. Nevertheless, I’m actually excited (in a nerdy sort of way) to revisit what I’ve spent 10 weeks studying to share with those who might not be otherwise interested in this material. Baptism is so incredibly important in Christianity (and religions throughout) and I’m not sure if we’ve really understood that level of importance. Heck, even after immersing myself in this stuff for an entire term, I’m not sure I fully grasp the stuff.

Finally, at any point please comment on the blog if you have any questions about this stuff. I recommend doing so specifically through the blog site so that other people may ask questions about your questions; essentially I would like a central location for any possible discussions. You can “like” it on Facebook (or on WordPress, too), but I’d prefer comments to be on the site itself. I really hope all those who read enjoy the material as much as I have. It makes for a greater thirst of God’s knowledge.

God bless.

Beliefs and Opinions…

Nothing against the scholars, but their words do not speak to me. At least, not like poetry does. When I say “poetry” I don’t necessarily mean stuff that rhymes; I mean any piece of imagery that strums the strings of your soul’s guitar – any combination of words that puts a rhythm to your heart’s beat. I’d have to imagine that, to some, there’s poetry in the words of the scholars. But with the two very intense religious studies classes I’ve taken this term, I’ve quickly discovered that the scholar’s inner poet is given the backseat.

Why am I talking about all this right now? Well, I’m exhausted. I’ve been forced to work harder this term than I have for any other term of my college life and I’m not even in the thick of it yet. These next two weeks will be a true test as I have one final, two presentations, and three papers to write. Before I look ahead, though, my heart has called for a spiritual reflection.

There is a reason why I was an English major in college: figurative, implicit language speaks clearer to me than literal, explicit language. When reading the work of a Dead Sea Scrolls or New Testament scholar, I learn something, but no fire ignites my heart. Unless, of course, I’m frustrated with their grammatical or spelling errors – in that case, I do get riled up. But when I think back to the English classes I was taking even a year ago, I was deeply inspired. Ever since my last English class, though, I haven’t felt the same love for my classes or the texts we’d read.

I’m not saying that scholars should be done away with; I’m just saying that when they speak with their minds more than their hearts, I’m not as drawn to them. There’s a difference between speaking with opinion and speaking with conviction; one states what they think while the other expresses what they believe.

The biggest challenge to my faith this term hasn’t been the statements attacking the validity or reliability of Scripture or anything like that; it’s been the removal of personal conviction. Anything you believe with your heart and soul is regarded as a “bias” and therefore makes you less credible. Yet if there was any common sense among these scholars, which I believe there is, they’d recognize that everyone has a bias and no matter how hard one might try, that bias can’t be removed.

Again – I cannot stress this enough – I learned so much this term and am glad that I have taken these classes (even the journalism one). But what I found lacking was belief. Arguments and theses were given and with sound reason and logic; but there seemed to be very little conviction. I don’t believe in Jesus because He makes the most sense; I believe in Jesus because when my heart felt nothing but pain and depression, He broke through. My testimony is proof – at least to me if no one else – that I cannot allow my intellect to lead and guide my faith; Jesus dives into the heart and leads from there. My intellect must submit to the Spirit beating life into my lifeless soul.

Some time ago, and I forget where I received this from, I heard a different interpretation of Philippians 3:13. Usually, and this is how I thought of it before as well, we think of our sins and failures when we read how Paul forgot what was behind him. But what of his successes? If he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” as he proclaims, then certainly the religious zealots around him would have seen that as a major success in his life and not a failure at all. We can’t ignore his failures, but we can’t ignore his successes either; both were forgotten by Paul when Jesus entered his heart.

Learning about our faith is essential for a further strengthening of it. Either we learn the history of where our forefathers in Christianity came from and where they ended up or we learn about what Jesus is really teaching us in Scripture. In both regards, the scholars are more than helpful; they’re absolutely essential. They are the ones who have dedicated their lives to understanding their faith; to them, the words of dead scholars and theologians speak poetry. What I am saying here is that I do not hear that poetry; I am not moved by the opinions of others. I am moved by the power of Jesus; a power that is reflected through the heart of a person, no matter their intellectual understanding of what’s happened.

Our book for Early Christianity was Gerd Theissen’s The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World, which we were asked to write a critique of before today’s class. I scrambled to get it done merely because I had slept in much longer than I wanted to, so I didn’t take much time to truly reflect over what I liked and what I didn’t. Theissen is a believer, to be clear, but throughout most of the book he spoke with his mind. Yet when he described the exploration of early Christianity like the exploration of a cathedral, when he put things into a figurative light, I was able to get a sense of what he was saying. Sadly, he only talked with this cathedral metaphor in the first and last chapters. The eleven in between were brutal for an English major like me.

Yes, I learned, but I wasn’t inspired much. Ideas can be taught and understood with the mind without the heart ever entering into the mix. But beliefs aren’t possible without the heart. When I come to Jesus, when I kneel at His cross, I’m not engaging Him with my mind only; my heart and soul are leading the way. If my mind has any role in the experience, it’s following the heart’s lead.

I am not trying to suggest that we should disregard the scholarship or learning anything with our minds; that’s just stupid. And contradictory. If that’s you’ve received from this post, then that’s what you’ve learned from my teaching, thereby rendering the possibility of an intellect-less faith impossible. What I am saying is what I believe: Jesus speaks to our hearts and souls in a way that our minds can’t fully comprehend. They’re left only to turn away in ignorance or surrender with a child-like trust.

State your opinions, sure, but keep in mind that if your opinions are entirely intellect-driven, there is no real faith. It’s a fabricated faith in reason and logic and the mind’s ability to understand all things – one of the most misleading messages. One must believe with conviction; it’s what makes true life possible. And since one must believe with conviction, it shouldn’t be ridiculous for someone to express that belief with conviction – as if their life depended upon it.

“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame,’” – Romans 10:10-11