John 3 and Genesis 12
2008-02-12 by David Carr

A reader noted that I did not say much about John 3:1-17 in my blog and wondered what I might add about that reading. I must admit that I do not have much to say about John 3:1-17 myself, being an Old Testament scholar.

Nevertheless, I consulted with my resident expert on John, my lovely wife, Colleen Conway, who is co-chair of the John section at SBL and professor of New Testament at Seton Hall. She mentioned ways that this story about the visit to Jesus at night by a Jewish authority, Nicodemus, contrasts with the following story, in John 4, about Jesus’s encounter with the anonymous Samaritan woman at the well during the day. As in that story, there is word play in this one about being “born again” and “born from above” (Greek anothen means both “above” and “again”). And this story is somewhat unique in John’s gospel in saying that Jesus does not come to judge the world, but to save it. Elsewhere Jesus very much comes for judgment.

So there is this and more to do with John 3:1-17 (all this is my redaction of my wife’s brief comments while fixing dinner). But this only relates in a general way to the themes of the promise to Abraham in Gen 12:1-4a and Paul’s use of this theme in Romans 4.

And this raises the question about how to preach lectionary passages. So often preachers will focus only on the gospel passage. I went to one church for a few years where the pastor seemed to only preach Paul (even when a Pauline passage was not read in the service). Few, if any, have attended to Hebrew Bible passages. So, I advocate taking some time through the year to give communities a taste of the gospel as spoken through the Old Testament (big surprise, since I’m an Old Testament professor!). This can offer a different perspective to the sermons audiences may have heard from year to year on the gospel passage (e.g. John 3:1-17). In this case, I would argue that attending to Gen 12:1-4a and its word of promise to landless exiles can be a powerful word of grace to lots of people in a community – even in a relatively privileged church – who may be experiencing isolation, disorientation, and suffering that they are not fully free to speak of. Paul opens this promise to Gentiles…us.





Concordia Housing
2008-02-12 by CJ Teets

Concordia University housing for the Festival of Homiletics is now available. Concordia University, in St Paul, MN, is a short taxi or bus ride from the MSP airport. We have single, double and triple occupancy air-conditioned dorm rooms, available for the nights of May 19-23, 2008. The double and triple occupancy rate is $30/person/night and the single occupancy rate is $50/person/night. Our spacious dorm accommodations have female and male common bathrooms with separate shower and commode areas. Each sleeping room has a telephone, twin bed(s), and includes sheets, a blanket, a pillow, towels, and soap. The common lounge on each floor has a microwave, vending machine, television and coined washer and dryers. Concordia is located just off of I-94 between Minneapolis and St Paul and is about a 15 minute commute by car or a 45-minute bus ride from your downtown conference locations: MetroTransit Concordia’s address is 275 N. Syndicate St. N., St. Paul, MN, 55104. Online registration is available at Concordia Housing .



Free Tuesday!
2008-02-12 by David Howell

Our thanks to David Carr our guest blogger this week for his first entry below.

Lots of pastors are registering for the Festival of Homiletics: over 1700 already. We are adding speakers and events. Check the agenda on this site often.

As is our custom, we sometimes have a Free Tuesday on GoodPreacher.com

Use these codes for a few hours:

Username: FREE   Password: feb12

Go on in, have a look around, "sit a spell"... we think you'll like what you see... we have lots of resources for your preaching ministry (some material is still being added).





God's Untamable Promise and Jesus Christ
2008-02-11 by David Carr

God’s promise and Jesus Christ

 

The reading from the Old Testament, Gen 12:1-4a is one of the most pivotal passages in the whole Bible.  Following on the stories in Genesis 1-11 of creation, violence, flood and its aftermath, this story of God’s promise to Abraham stands as a new beginning that unfolds through the rest of the Bible.  God has selected out of all the clans of the earth this one person, Abraham, and started a history with him and his descendants that ultimately leads to three of the major world religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

 

Astute Jewish interpreter that he was, Paul noted that Abraham does not do much in Genesis to earn this promise.   To be sure, later Jewish legends (picked up on by Islam) claimed that Abraham was actually the first monotheist, and that he destroyed his father, Terah’s, idols, before leaving home.  But the Bible does not record such a story, and it’s probably a creation of interpreters who wanted Abraham to appear more Torah-abiding than he was.  In the lectionary reading for today Paul simply notes that Abraham was seen as righteous by God already in chapter 15 of Genesis (Gen 15:6), two chapters before he was circumcised (Genesis 17).  For Paul, this was but one argument that all people, not just circumcised and Torah-abiding members of the people of Israel, receives the guarantee of God’s promise (Rom 4:16).  The faith of Israel and gentiles, not works of either, were what insured the gift of God’s blessing.  [Note: that Rom 4:16 and other texts in Paul assume that gentiles receive the promise alongside, not instead of, Jews.]

Christians see God’s blessing to Abraham as coming to them through Jesus Christ.  This is reflected in the combination of lectionary readings for the day, and even in the translation of Gen 12:3 that is given in many church Bibles.  For example, the NRSV still translates this passage as: “And in you all clans of the earth shall be blessed,” anticipating a passage later in the Bible, where Paul claims “and the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham,  saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’” (Gal 3:8; NRSV)   The problem, as hinted at in notes in the NRSV translation of Gen 12:3, is that there are good reasons to think that the Hebrew of Gen 12:3 actually says something else.  Many interpreters think that the Hebrew text here is talking about God’s gift of blessing to Abraham that is so intense, that all clans of the earth will bless themselves by Abraham, that is wish a blessing on themselves like the one they see Abraham enjoying.  Someone might say, “may God make me as rich, happy and fertile as Abraham.”  Ancient Israelite kings received this kind of promise (see Psalm 72:17), and Genesis 12-25 describes the gift of this superlative royal blessing to Abraham, a landless exile living in Mesopotamia.  Blessing is not going out to the clans of the earth through Abraham.  Rather, Gen 12:3 depicts God’s blessing of an isolated, vulnerable, landless man (Abram) that is so great that other clans of the earth will look to him as a model of the sort of blessing that would wish for themselves.

As it turns out, blessing did go out to the world through Abram, and that includes blessing going out to the world through his descendant, Jesus of Nazareth.  How might we read Genesis alongside Paul and the Gospel reading?  First, I’d suggest that we hold on to the picture in Genesis 12:1-4a and following of God’s unbelievable, extravagant promise to Abraham and other landless exiles that God would bless and protect them.  Later Jews would hear this story in Babylon, Rome, Europe and elsewhere, and trust that God would somehow provide for them, and Christians and Muslims too have found power in this gift of royal promise to an isolated, faithful person far from home.  For these readers, “Abram” was a picture of them as God called them to leave their native land and family to go to a place they did not know.  So also, the promise in Gen 12:1-4a can be a word of unbelievable hope to the landless exiles in our midst, the exile experience almost all of us go through at some point.  [Note: though past scholars and many commentaries once dated this passage to the time of Solomon, many now see it as part of a retelling of the Abraham story during the Babylonian exile.] 

Second, we must balance our claiming of this promise for ourselves with a recognition of it belonging to others as well.  Jews have read this passage, with reason, as the first of a series of God’s special promises to them, and indeed, this promise to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3 is only the first of a series that eventually lead to the gift of this promise to Jacob and his children, the ancestors of the tribes of Israel (see, for example, Gen 28:13-16).  Muslims have claimed the Abrahamic promise as well, emphasizing Ishmael as the conduit of blessing to them.  As we have seen, Christians have read Gen 12:1-3 as an anticipation of God’s promise going out to the world through Jesus, and thus wanted to claim Abraham’s promise for Christianity.  There is an aspect of this text’s claim of special promise that seems to lead people to want to claim it specially for themselves.  The reality, however, is that this promise to a landless exile, Abram, and his descendants, can not be tamed by any of these approaches.  It flows through and beyond the borders of religious communities to speak God’s word of unbelievable hope to descendants of Abraham that the (exilic?) authors of this text probably could never have imagined.   





This Week!
2008-02-10 by David Howell

David Carr is our guest blogger. He is professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  Carr is the author of The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible (Oxford, 2003) and Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (Oxford, 2005), along with other books and articles. He has particular interest in the formation of the Bible and in Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Old Testament.




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