Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation 1-2

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

Here it is!  The week where we fly through four books (while retaining the usual five chapters)!  This week, I am working through 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation, chapters 1-2.


2 John
  • Verse 1 - When we went through 1 Peter, I mentioned a theory that suggested that an unnamed woman referenced there was actually intended to be a reference to the congregation of the church.  I expect that the "lady" referenced here is even more likely to be a reference to the church, but I do wonder, if this is so, how one understands "the church's" children, given that the church is made up of the people of God in the first place.
  • Verse 7 - Here's that last "antichrist" reference.  Again, it seems apparently that any number of people might be given this label.  It's certainly not intended to reference a single epitome of all-time evil entity.
  • Verse 13 - Might "sister" be another congregation (presumably the one John is writing from)?
  • Just what do we get out of these 13 verses that 1) is distinctive from other letters, and 2) was so important that it was retained in the canon of the Christian Church?
3 John
  • Verse 3 - Wow, what did Gaius do
  • Verses 9-10 - Similarly, who is this Diotrephes that his attitude should get such special mention?  And, am I correct in surmising that he is doing these misdeeds while nominally being part of a Christian congregation?
  • Verse 13 - Another "pen and ink" reference (same as in 2 John, but not 1 John, for whatever that's worth).  Indeed, verses 13 and 14 are very similar to verse 12 of 2 John.
Jude
  • Verses 4-5 - We've seen a bit of this elsewhere, but this seems to be another call for discipline within the church.  Indeed, Jude is suggesting that certain people be cast out entirely.
  • Verse 7 - Much has been said in our modern culture about how certain Christians focus almost exclusively on sexual sins.  Whatever may be true about such Christians' potential blindness to other sins, it is nonetheless true that sexual sins do get singled out with reasonable frequency in Scripture itself.  Besides that, I remain struck by Jude's harsh rhetoric.  We're not just talking about correction.  He's in full "eternal punishment" mode.
  • Verse 9 - According to the footnotes, this is an apparent reference to the Testament of Moses.  I confess that this is not an apocyphal text with which I am familiar. 
  • Verses 14-15 - I am somewhat more familiar with 1 Enoch, referenced here.  What does it mean for our understanding of Jude that he references (as Scripture) texts that we do not recognize as Scripture?
  • Verse 10 (yes, I know I'm going out of order) - Ironically, it seems to me that those who advocate for greater religious discipline are usually the ones who I would accuse of "speak(ing) abusively against whatever they do not understand" (and, frankly, I don't see this text as sufficient to challenge this attitude).
  • Verse 22-23 - After so much harsh rhetoric, it's a bit of a relief to see this call to show mercy and rescue people... although that relief is diminshed again by the quick return to such language as "hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."
Revelation
Chapter 1
  • Verse 4 - I'm going to have to decide in the coming weeks just how much depth I want to get into with this book.  The imagery is so dense I could comment forever (indeed, the commentary I'm consulting at the moment is 374 pages long, not counting introductory material, and that's just for the first five chapters!), and having tried to keep from making this st of blog entries an exhaustive commentary series for nearly 11 whole months, I really don't think I should shift gears now.  That said, it's worth noting that the number seven, a number "commonly understood to signify completeness" is used quite a lot in Revelation.1 We get it twice in this verse alone!
  • Verse 13 - I was prepared to suggest that the phrase "son of man" gets used a lot, too, but as it happens, it actually only appears twice.2  I guess it's just that so much has been made of those words.  It has already been noted that the term was used by Jesus himself in the gospel, and the footnote here references the book of Daniel.  I find myself thinking that the phrase is so strange that it has to be a conscious reference.  I mean, really, why should John take note of the fact that "someone" looks like a human being (the way I would interpret the phrase "son of man" absent any known symbolic reference point)?  It would be self-evident, wouldn't it?
Chapter 2
  • Verse 6 - From Aune, pp. 147-148: "The Nicolaitans appear to be a minority group of Christians trying to gain a hearing and a more extensive following in the Ephesian church and are also mentioned in connection with the church in Pergamon (2:15)"  The text does not make clear what the "hateful" practices of these people actually were,3 and it is noted that "apocalyptic literature rather consistently avoids the actual names of protagonists and antagonists," further muddying matters.
  • Verse 13 - I'm guessing that "Antipas" was not the better-known Herod Antipas, who could hardly be considered God's "faithful witness." 
  • Verse 20 - While I note the use of "tolerance" as a bad word (common with many conservatives today), I also note that the "Jezebel" referenced here, by being a self-proclaimed "prophet," is apparently trying to be an active part of the church.  This would be a rather important distinction from the kind of "tolerance" of secular values often decried by believers today.4

1David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Word Biblical Commentary), Word Books, 1997, pp. xciii-xciv.  Aune counts fifty-four uses of the number seven.
2Aune, p. 93. The other time the "son of man" appears is in Revelation 14:14.
3Aune, p. 148, suggests that a reference in 2:14-15 to "the 'teaching of Balaam' is apparently identical with the 'teaching of the Nicolaitans' and consists of eating meat previously sacrificed to pagan deities and the practice of fornication."  As I read those verses, however, I'm not so sure that the two groups hold such "identical" teachings.
4Interestingly, Aune, p. 204, suggests that "the charge that 'Jezebel' teaches Christians to practice sexual immorality is probably groundless and reflects the stock slander (unaffected by the facts) typically leveled at opponents by ancient writers....  Nearly all the uses of the πορν- cognates in Revelation are figurative rather than literal.... The term 'fornication' is probably used here in the sense of 'apostasy,' a usage found frequently in the OT." 

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