Wednesday, October 27, 2010

East and West: How---Might Technology Help?

(Prof. Darrell Bock is Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, USA. This note is written exclusively for NTSW)

To have better contact between the East and West for New Testament Studies, we need to have better means to meet together and promote exchanges. The normal means of doing this at the current large NT gatherings really do not permit the personal level of detailed exchange that is necessary to build the networks that allow a genuine exchange. So we need to find ways to facilitate meetings, despite some of the distance and expense issues. Perhaps internet technology can open up more opportunities for less expensive means of communicating and holding discussions. At the least this option should be explored. I have held classes through Skype that have connected me to others on my own continent, but that certainly is also possible elsewhere where the internet pipe is large enough to handle the load. So a small proposal that is certainly but one small piece of a larger puzzle.

Exegete Locally; Interpret Globally!

(Professor Michael Willett Newheart, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at the Howard University School of Divinity, writes for NTSW)

Perhaps folks have heard the saying, "Think globally, act locally." For the NT scholar, one might paraphrase it: "Exegete locally, interpret globally." Yet I'm not even sure what that gets it. Any exegesis we do locally must be influenced by global perspectives. Facebook allows and encourages international dialogue. I know that I have much to learn about the New Testament from folks in India, China, South Africa, Indonesia, and all parts of the world. We are all myopic. We see from where we sit. How much better to sit at the table with brothers and sisters from all over the world to enjoy the fruits of the labor of all of us. Indeed, I think that the survival of the world depends on it!

Let the Eastern-Western Dialogue Flourish!

(Professor Charles H. Talbert is Distinguished Professor of New Testament in the Department of Religion @ Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA. He writes exclusively for NTSW)
"As Christianity's current expansion is into areas south and east of its traditional northern and western spheres, voices from the vibrant faith of people on the new frontiers need to be heard. New areas of Christian expansion have new questions and answers that are often different from those of the more established areas. Dialogue between east and west helps clarify what belongs to the essence to the Faith and what is only a cultural accretion. Let the dialogue flourish".

There Is One Body and One Spirit

(John David Punch, Ph.D. is a guest researcher at the Research Unit for Theology with North-West University, South Africa and a pastor at the historic Park Street Church in Boston, MA.)

There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Despite these inspired words, we have done a very good job at dividing from one another. Schisms, scandals, denominational loyalties, church polity, etc. have created numerous avenues for separation. Still, in spite of our ability to divide, God unites by his Spirit. The words of Jesus still ring true – “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

One of the wonderful ways that our Lord appears to be continuing to build his church, bridging some of the gaps that divide us, is by the use of certain tools of our technologically-saturated age (i.e. Facebook, Skype, etc.); however, because such tools are only as good as the person or persons who use there, there is a call (“one call” anyone?) for New Testament scholars from all points of the globe and from all points of the divided church to utilize these tools for the benefit of Christ’s church.

Ours is a time where such boundaries might just be broken down, where East might meet West, where Catholic might meet Protestant, where Anabaptist might meet Reformed, where… (insert your own categories). But division is only broken down when there is room for dialogue and interaction. We now have more tools than ever and more access to one another’s work together. We also have “one Spirit” who can bring all of us back together in Jesus. So let us pray toward that end as we learn to utilize the tools given us and let us consider how to unite around “one Lord” in “one faith.” At least one can have this “one hope.”

The Necessity to Bridge the Eastern and Western New Testament Scholarship

(Professor James Hamilton Charlesworth, George L. Collord Professor of New Testament and Inter-Testamental Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA, writes exclusively for NTSW).
This necessity and theme has defined my career since 1962 and probably earlier. Long before that date I sensed within church circles a blind focus on Paul and his journeys to the West. Left behind, and really unknown to many Christians, was the movement of Christianity to the East and the traditions associated with Thomas. Those who heard about Thomas assumed all accounts were pure legends, missing the movement of “the Good News” from Antioch to Edessa through Jewish communities.

Too many forgot the paradigmatic importance of Jesus. After all, do we not all agree that Christians claim to follow Jesus and not Paul? From the thirties to the eighties many NT scholars thought it was impossible to reconstruct Jesus’ life. Now, if one defines “biography” according to ancient historiography, leading experts conclude a biography of Jesus is possible.

Beginning in 1954, I became attracted to the novel ideas and perceptions in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The study of Semitics impressed me with a concept of time different from what I had learned. Time was trifurcated into fulfilled time and unfulfilled time, with a perception of the continuing activity of an act [esp. expressed through the participle that is not controlled by “past” and “future”]. Thus, the future could be “fulfilled time” and the past “unfulfilled time.” I found it odd that New Testament scholars had become obsessed with discerning if Jesus meant the Kingdom of God was present or only future. That is a myopic focus on Greek texts. Jesus had preached primarily in Aramaic and such distinctions of present and future would not be present. This example placards that West needs East.

Living intermittently, since 1968, in the Middle East helps me perceive that I have become one who lives both in the West and in the East. What defines the conflicts that highlight our news is not a clash defined primarily by land or even “religion;” it is a clash between East and West. The conflict is between two cultures. I once asked a revered Arab to be logical and consistent. I was rebuffed: “I will not think like a westerner.” Far too often we NT scholars have attempted to enter the New Testament world using the logic and philosophy of the Enlightenment.

We New Testament scholars have a much more complex task that we thought. The Bible was written by Jews; with the exception of Luke and he may have been a diasporic Jew (he certainly knows complex Jewish sources and traditions). Too often we brought our cultural baggage to exegesis and exposition. We ignored how different were those who shape our texts.

The Form Critics taught us that we had the same life concerns as the ancients; we were to focus primarily on Jesus’ call for decision. The sociologists taught us that we cannot “go there;” that the ancients are very different. Archaeologists have reinforced the sociological sensitivities that should now inform all exegesis and exposition. In Jesus’ world, all slept in one bed; archaeological examinations of pre-70 homes in Nazareth, Capernaum, and Yotapata inform texts in which a patriarch awakes and finds his grandfather dead beside him. That phenomenon shaped humans sociologically and anthropologically. Mikvaot and stone vessels and the rules for purity in the 'Temple Scroll' emphasize that we do not easily fit into that ancient world.

If there is going to be promising advancement in biblical research we all need “the other.” West needs East. The same is also imperative if we are to have a future with values and hope – or are we leaving our grandchildren with a world in which most will deem the Bible a relic, terrorists define any outing, all are deeply in debt, and no one can possibly dream?