Monday, March 24, 2014

No Right to "Religious Expression"

As a theologian and a Christian in the United States—but not a lawyer, so I'll be glad to be corrected by those better trained in the field—I'm about to suggest to you that something you may think sacrosanct doesn't actually exist. You have no right to the protection of "religious expression."

Not under the First Amendment to the Constitution, and not even under the poorly-conceived Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—which was quickly ruled to be such an overreach of legitimate Congressional authority that it could not be applied to the states. (At which point Congress enacted narrower laws to do what it meant to do in the first place: protect the lands and practices of First Nations peoples.)

But the freedom of "religious expression" is exactly the line being pushed today, and for the past several years, as though Christians had an unquestionable Constitutional right to express and act on their opinions without threat of censure or punishment. It's a popular idea, and I get the popularity, but it's one successfully refuted by the struggles of generations of conscientious objectors. There's a reason why it looks so much like trying to create a new right that doesn't actually exist: it doesn't! And that's exactly why it keeps getting smacked down in the high courts.

Let's have a look at what you do have, instead—and what, in point of fact, every other citizen regardless of their religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, or political alignment also has, to the exact same degree. Let's look at what the saeculum in which you exist is designed to protect for everyone in it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

No Property of the Church: Eph 1:15-23

Well, with my theology work all going elsewhere (or nowhere yet), I seem to be in full-on Biblioblog mode lately. And today is no exception. Having run the translation for Ephesians 1:15-23 for Ascension, I'd like to comment on it, and that's something that readily lends itself to blogging. So I'll start by giving you my translation of the text, and we'll jump into it from there:
"Because of this, having heard about your trust in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of the saints, I also do not stop giving thanks on your behalf, making mention of you at my prayer meetings, so that the god of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, shall give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in His recognition, the eyes of your heart being enlightened so that you see what is the hope of God's calling, the wealth of the glory of God's inheritance among the saints, and the sheer hyperbolic magnitude of God's power for us who trust, according to the activity of God's mighty strength, which has been active in Christ since God raised him from the dead and seated him at God's own right hand in the realms above the sky—above every leader and authority and power and lordship, above every name that is given, not only in this age but in the one to come—and subordinated everything under his feet, and gave him as head over all things in/to/for the assembly, which is his body, the complement of the one who fulfills everything in all times."
This is a fun text, especially in that its excellent Greek often makes for very poor English. In the Greek, this is all one long sentence, which is how I've given it to you. And "one long sentence" is really just a thing we say, having added our own punctuation to it, when all it means is that nothing here breaks from carrying forward the main idea. In this way, a good, high-level Greek sentence is like a good English paragraph.

It's no exaggeration, therefore, to say that there's a lot going on in this sentence. And not all of it is, I feel, adequately captured by the NRSV. (Or the NIV, or the ESV, or the NET, ...) So, rather than dive into one critical issue, I'm going to walk through the passage bit by bit. Along the way, we'll find more reasons to distrust the "objective genitive," as well as some heavy historical questions about what the Church has assumed from this passage. Come on along!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Acts 1:2—a bequest?

I've been given a preaching opportunity well in advance, for Ascension. Which is forty days after Easter, which is forty days away from this week. But it's never too early to translate the texts and get them "under my fingers," so to speak. And, frankly, to get critical exegete brain out of the way of gospel preacher brain!

Today, of course, is a "critical exegete" day. As so many are. But this will be a brief note (by my standards), rather than the usual treatise.

So: your average English translation of Acts 1:2 suggests that Jesus commanded his chosen apostles. Which is not what the Greek says, unless it is very clumsy Greek indeed. And among the things you've got to ask yourself is, did Jesus actually issue commands to his disciples by means of the Holy Spirit? Is that what the Spirit does? (Besides which, is that what actually happens at the end of Luke?)