Notes on Philippians

I haven’t been too active lately on this blog, but I decided to get back into it by posting my notes on Philippians, which I hope to begin doing tomorrow. I’ve started several projects that I’ve never finished–I’ve kept them on the back burner though, and someday I will get back to it–due to interference from my day job. But this time I think I will complete the project, because I’m doing it for a class I’m teaching this semester and have to keep up.

It will be something in between a full-scale commentary and random notes. I have a few insights and opinions on the epistle that I think may be helpful to others. Anyway, it is helping me to clarify my understanding of this little jewel of an ancient Christian letter.

Religious Extremists Burn Holy Books

On Halloween the spiritual adviser of a neo-traditionalist sect in Georgia invited his followers to join him in a book burning (the group’s website is here).  In addition to burning recording of “Satan’s Music” (country, Jazz, Gospel, etc.) the group took special pride in burning the holy books of adherents of another religion, books considered holy, or the Word of God by those who read them.

You may recall that during the abuses at Abu Ghraib there were reports of copies of the Qur’an being defaced.  The outrage led to several attacks on innocent people.  Police in Georgia, however, are not expecting any retaliation.  The people whose holy books are being burned are followers of an ancient faith whose founder taught nonviolence.  He taught them to bless those who persecute them, to turn the other cheek, and to pray for those who insult them.

Four Rules for Interpreting the Bible

Here are four rules for interpreting the Bible that I teach my students, along with the acronyms that help them remember them.

1.  Do No Harm (DNH).  This is the first rule of any profession, and the Bible itself warns against twisting its words in a way that causes harm.  Judaism taught this principle, based on the teaching of Moses,

[These words] are your life.  By them you will live long . . .

Judaism takes this to mean that the commandments can only be interpreted in a way that enhances life, never in a way that threatens it.  Jesus taught a similar principle: It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to save life rather than destroy it.

Of course, the Bible has often been misused.  Krister Stendahl said,

There never has been an evil cause in the world that has not become more evil if it has been possible to argue it on biblical grounds.  (Cited here)

2.  Author’s Intended Meaning (AIM). Don’t use the words of the Bible to push your own agenda.  For example, when the Bible talks about oil–it is not referring to barrels of petroleum–it is talking about olive oil.  We have to take the historical setting and the understanding of the human authors seriously.

3.  Author’s Intended Purpose (AIP). The first writers and readers of the Bible lived in a world far different than ours, yet they are trying to reach goals that are relevant to us: reconciliation, love, compassion, justice, for example.  Most of us in North America don’t worry about food offered to idols–but the purpose for the teaching on the subject in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is to teach us to respect cultural and religious differences, to embrace diversity.

4.  Whole Context (WC). This basically means we have to get the big picture, to read every part in light of the whole.  It also means we have to have a concept of progress.  The story of the Bible is the story of God interacting with imperfect people and leading them a step at a time a little closer to where thy need to be.  If we forget this, we will stumble over details along the way, and we may even interpret Scripture in a way that does harm.

Codex Sinaiticus

Last month in London, in the British Library, I had a glimpse of one of the oldest and most important copies of the Bible, Codex Sinaiticus.  It was acquired by the British in 1930.

This week the manuscript goes online.

This Website will go live on July 24, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.  AP

More here.