The online scriptorium of author and pastor Matthew Burden
Reflections on the Christian Life
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Photo of the Week
Monday, August 30, 2021
Quote of the Week
- Thomas Aquinas, medieval theologian & philosopher
Friday, August 27, 2021
A Little Humor for Modern Writers
Every so often, I try my hand at a bit of whimsy, patterned after the humorous illustrations on the Dr. Boli blog. This is one of my creations, which I made a few months ago to skewer this generation's vainglorious pursuit of becoming social media influencers. It's been on my mind recently because of my writing and publication work. Due to market conditions nowadays, most publishers have to expect writers to do almost all the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing, and they ask their authors to try to develop social media followings. All that to say, I've felt like this poor chap more than once this year:
Thursday, August 26, 2021
Historical Theology: How Did We Get Our Bible?
How Did We Get Our Bible?
- Most scholars agree that all 27 books of our New Testament were written and in circulation by the end of the first century (or, in a couple instances, by very early in the second century); the earliest ones (like Mark & Galatians) were probably in circulation in the 50s AD. A few things need to be kept in mind, though:
- These books were circulating independently—other than some of Paul’s letters, they were probably not being used as a unified volume.
- Most books probably did not enjoy a universal geographic appeal early on—for instance, Matthew is considered to have been widely used in Syria among Aramaic-background Christians, whereas Mark and Luke circulated more among Greek-speaking communities further west.
- Whereas many of our New Testament books tell us who wrote them, some are anonymous (for instance, Hebrews, as well as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, whose “titles” were only added later). Other books, such as James and Jude, give the names of their authors but not a firm statement of their apostolic identity.
- There were also a few other very early Christian books in circulation, like the Didache, a Christian handbook from the first century which claims to be “the teaching of the Twelve,” and 1 Clement, a letter from the first post-apostolic generation of the church of Rome, quite possibly written earlier than Revelation. There was also a whole range of other early Christian literature which tried to “fill in the gaps” of the Gospel stories (like several interesting books which add details about Jesus’ birth and childhood; they are actually where we get the traditional picture that the Bethlehem stable was in a cave).
- Neither was there an official collection of Old Testament documents—there were two groups of books that the Jews of the period recognized as inspired: the Torah (Pentateuch), and “prophecy” (which included many of the books of history and wisdom as well as the prophets). But there were also other pseudo-Old Testament books in circulation, called the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, which many early Christians used and found edifying.
- Since none of the earliest Christians produced a definitive collection, or “canon,” of the authoritative books, later generations were left with the task of figuring out which ones truly bore the authentic stamp of apostolic teaching.
- The first major challenge came from a heretic named Marcion, in the mid-2nd century.
- Marcion, influenced by some Gnostic tendencies, thought that the God of the Old Testament, who was often described figuratively as having human features and emotions, could not have been the same God revealed through Jesus Christ. So he released the very first list of “approved” books, but he included only the letters of Paul and a watered-down version of Luke.
- Most of the books in our New Testament were immediately agreed upon. A few, however, hit temporary snags: no one really knew who wrote Hebrews, a few people doubted that 2 Peter had actually been written by Peter, and Revelation had never been widely used in the worship of the eastern churches. After some debate, though, all 27 made it in, and a clear line formed between these apostolic Christian books, carrying with them the clear inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and all the other early Christian books. Today, every single Christian denomination in the world agrees on that 27-book canon.
- As for the Old Testament, the Christian churches agreed with the traditional view of the Pharisees on which books were sacred—the 39 books that we now continue to honor. However, many denominations also include a “second canon” of additional books which, even if not fully inspired, are still edifying. These are known as the Apocrypha.
What does all this mean for us today?
- We can be confident in the authority and inspiration of our biblical books. (If every single Christian denomination can agree on something, it’s probably a safe bet!)
- We need to remember that the Bible is a library of books, and even though we use it in one single volume, each book has its own themes and concerns that it’s trying to address; if we read it all as one book without regard for these distinctions, we’ll miss the special emphases.
- Although the Bible is our supreme witness to the apostolic faith, and thus our one authoritative guide, we also need to recognize that God speaks and works through the community of faith—the church. Just as God used the church to collect and ratify his Scriptures, so God still gives the church (and not the individual believer) the central place in making known his will in the world.
- Even though some of the books that didn’t make the cut aren’t inspired by God, they’re still edifying and they give a fascinating glimpse at how the first few generations of Christians thought. Reading and studying them can help us better understand the culture and perspectives of the biblical authors. Highly recommended are the Didache, 1 Clement, the letters of Ignatius, and, from the Old Testament Apocrypha, Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon.
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Photo of the Week
Peace beyond all earthly treasure, come and all our hearts control!
Come, Almighty to deliver! Naught shall make us then afraid;
We will trust in Thee forever, Thou on whom our hope is stayed!
- 19th-century anonymous hymn text
Monday, August 23, 2021
Quote of the Week
"My hope is built, not upon frames and feelings, but upon the atonement and mediation of Jesus."
- John Newton, 18th-century pastor and hymnwriter
Saturday, August 21, 2021
- Robert Wood
Friday, August 20, 2021
My New Book - Now Available for Pre-Order!
The first of my two publication projects is now ready for pre-order! I'm happy to announce that my pilgrimage memoir, Wings over the Wall, is off to the printers, with an anticipated release date of Oct. 1. Regular readers of this blog will remember that the book's genesis was a running series of posts here on The Peace and the Passion, as I ruminated over my experiences on a trip to Israel in 2018. I've added quite a bit of devotional and biblical reflection to that narrative for the book, so that now the story is not only a retelling of my experiences, but an invitation to the reader to embark on their own a pilgrimage into the Gospels. I had a few advance readers look it over, and here are a couple of their endorsements:
“Burden finds spiritual meaning in nooks and crannies most of us miss. From the Temple Mount to an old pew in Maine, here is a paean about paying attention... With an eye on the birds and a heart toward heaven, Burden's Wings over the Wall effortlessly soars above the rest.”
author of The Delightful Horror of Family Birding
You can pre-order your copy now by going to my publisher's website: northwindpublishing.com. While it will also be available on Amazon and other major retailers upon its release (Oct. 1), I would encourage anyone who can do so to buy directly from North Wind Publishing, as this is the most direct form of support for both author and publisher. (Nonetheless, even if you don't buy it from Amazon, please consider leaving a rating or review there if you are an Amazon user, as this helps considerably.) Thanks to all my readers for your support and encouragement!
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Historical Theology: The Challenge of Gnosticism
Question: How much ‘spirituality’ is too much?
Gnosticism: focused on “knowledge” rather than good works; “spirit” rather than body; and attempted to understand the mysteries of heaven, angels, and other spirits
The Influence of Culture
- “Gnosticism” developed from the mixture of Christianity and certain Greek ideas (see notes on Plato below)
- How do some of our American cultural ideas influence how we think about our faith? (for instance, our disposition to think about the spiritual life individualistically rather than collectively)
Spiritual Cosmology of Plato (Greek philosopher in the 4th century BC):
- The world of “matter” is just an illusion; what really matters is the divine world
- Human souls are, in fact, sparks of the divine world that now are stuck in this world of matter
Who Were the Gnostics?
- Groups of people within Christian congregations, from late 1st century to early 3rd
- They had a wide range of views, but a few points in common:
Common Gnostic Themes
- An emphasis on “secret knowledge” as a means of salvation
- A denigration of physical matter (including the human body)
1.) There is one all-powerful, spiritual God over all others
2.) Human beings are “sparks of the divine” trapped in bodies
3.) All physical matter is evil and must be escaped
4.) God sent a spiritual emanation of himself (Christ) as a non-physical messenger of the secret knowledge we need for salvation
The Goal of Gnosticism
To escape the “tomb” of the physical body and return to God
1.) Acquire the “secret knowledge” / “wisdom” of our true origins
2.) Denigrate the body—some groups did this by extreme austerity; others by hedonistic license
The New Testament vs. Gnosticism
Paul, in 1 Corinthians, attacks certain Christian cliques who defined their elite status with reference to “wisdom” (1 Cor. 2), and who apparently had no shame in how they used their bodies (5:1-2)
James stands against a trend in early Christianity that emphasized only a faith based on knowledge of Christ; in contrast, he reminds us that what we do, here and now, in our bodies, matters to our spiritual lives (James 2:14-24)
But the clearest example of a NT author actually challenging an early form of Gnosticism is the apostle John. In his Gospel, he makes clear that both “spirit” and “flesh” are important, and reminds us over and over that Christ came “in the flesh” (see John 1:14, 6:51-57, 20:24-28)
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” - 1 John 1:1
“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” – 1 John 4:2-3
“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” – 2 John 7
Are we a little too Gnostic?
- We need to remember that, according to Scripture:
- The body and the physical world are good creations of God, to be treasured and cared for (not to be escaped)
- Human beings are meant to be embodied—that means that when we think about eternity, we should probably think more in terms of “resurrection” and “the new earth” than of our “soul going to heaven”
- As important as knowledge of Christ is, it’s not our act of intellectual assent that saves us—it’s Christ’s own sacrifice that does that. And when we want to grow as Christians, our sanctification comes from the work of the Spirit more than from some new insight we can apply to our lives
- “Real worship” isn’t just the things we think about as “spiritual”—singing, praying, reading the Bible. Real worship, according to Scripture, is a matter of our whole lives being oriented towards God—our jobs, our relationships, the food we eat, etc.—all of this is part of true Christian “spirituality”