Archive for August, 2010

Quite the Couple

I’m sitting at the airport right now with crutches leaning against my airport wheelchair, a fracture walker on my left leg, and expecting my sweet and very pregnant wife to return momentarily with a golden starbucks latte. Yes, we are quite the couple right now. I can’t walk due to a severly sprained ankle and Aimee gets tired fairly quickly. I forgot to tip the service man who wheeled me to our gate, and Aimee walked a good ways to track him down. Needless to say, she is exhausted.
This my friends is a day in life of the beautiful covenant we call marriage. Parenthetical note – Aimee has returned, and we are giggling about how difficult to take the top off of a Starbucks yogurt without spilling the granola everywhere. This is the good stuff folks – little moments like this. Love you Pretty.

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Review #2 of Roger Bagnall’s Early Christian Books In Egypt (2009)

After reading chapter one, I felt like I had sat through a sporting event where my team had won in overtime or extra innings. It left me excited and with high expectations for game two of the series. However, I must say that I was a bit disappointed with the content of chapter two in Early Christian Books In Egypt. I am still trying to figure out whether it was a necessary means to an end.

Prior to diving into new material, Bagnall does offer a helpful summary of chapter one:

I suggested that a realistic assessment of the probable size and character of the Christian communities in Egypt in the second century of our era would lead us to see how unlikely it is that we would possess more than one or two pieces of Christian text from any time before the Severan period (193-235), when Demetrios was bishop of Alexandria and the construction of a network of bishops outside Alexandria, in the nome capitals, had its first, hesitant beginnings (25).

He picks up here to offer two case studies that serve as examples of the perils of allowing the quest or passion for early dating of manuscripts from Egypt to override evidence and truth that might lead to a more realistic but uncomfortable conclusion. The two examples have a primary difference, but they also share something in common, which is where Bagnall unloads. The two differ in the quality of their scholarship.

 The first case study concerns the questionable scholarship of C. P. Thiede and his desire to re-date several papyri to the first century (25-6). Bagnall, like many others, rails on the poor method and integrity of Thiede’s work, especially the duplicity regarding his publications to scholarly and public audiences. Reason and good scholarship became secondary to the quest for early dating.

 The second case study concerns the quality scholarship of Nikolaos Gonis with reference to three previously unpublished papyri of the Shepherd of Hermas (read it here: or here: available in volume 69 of the Oxyrhyncus Papyri. Bagnall praises the scholarship of Gonis. The extant manuscripts of Hermas consist of a unique collection. Four of them are written on scrolls, and two of these are written on the recto (inside part) side of new scrolls, with the verso side left blank. Such witnesses testify to the significance of the Shepherd to the early Christian community, which can also be observed in Codex Sinaiticus. The particular controversy in this case study has to do with P. Iand I 4 (42, figure 2.7). Dates from the middle of the second century to the beginning of the third century have been proposed for the manuscript fragments (see the work of Gronewald and Lenaerts, Carlini and Cavallo). Carlini writes concerning this early date for the Hermas manuscript,

An insurmountable difficulty to a date in the first half of the second century for a papyrus of the Shepherd arises at once from the traditional information concerning the composition of Hermas’s work: according to the detailed notice contained in the Muratorian Canon, the date of composition should fall between 142-155, when Pius, the brother of Hermas, occupied the [episcopal] seat of the Church of Rome (43).

The Muratorian Canon has traditionally been viewed with authority. The exact quote from the Canon concerning the Shepherd is offered here from the translation of Bruce M. Metzger:

(73) But Hermas wrote the Shepherd (74) very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, (75) while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair (76) of the church of the city of Rome. (77) And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but (78) it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among (79) the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among (80) the Apostles, for it is after [their] time.

The date of Pius’ possession of the episcopate is not a matter of controversy or debate. Thus, to have a manuscript of the Shepherd in Egypt that dates to the middle of the second century to the beginning of the third century (i.e., P. Iand I 4), but the original draft of the document to have been created between 142-155 begs the question: does this leave enough time for the work to have made its way to Egypt? The result is that scholars involved in the discussion take what Bagnall calls “exit routes” to avoid the problem. For example, one scholar suggest that the Shepherd existed as two separate works early on and only later became a unified work. Bagnall clarifies the this position,

If two parts of the Shepherd circulated separately, it becomes possible to interpret the notice of the Muratorian Canon about the publication of the work under Pius as a reference to the publication of an edition of the two parts in a single book, a hypothesis that would permit the circulation of the individual components in separate editions before 155 (47).

Bangall criticizes such a position of interpreting the Muratorian Canon tendentiously in order to rescue “the palaeographic date given to the papyrus fragment” (47). These two case studies magnify the weight given to palaeographic dating, and this is Bagnall’s point. He is teasing a bit. All reason can be thrown to the curb in order to maintain a date. It is important to be reminded at this point that Bagnall is applying this to papyrus books in Egypt, where he has gone to great lengths to show the disparity of Christian population during the first and second centuries and further the expectation of a sparse Christian literary presence.

Perhaps these examples are more necessary than I originally thought. After typing this out and laboring through the chapter, I think Bagnall’s point resonates a bit more with me. Maybe game two of the series wasn’t so bad after all. It is my hope to have a review of chapter three available in the next couple days. God bless.

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Rated “R” Movies and the Bible

I will continue my posts on Bagnall’s book tomorrow; however, today I would like to post about something that comes up all the time in ministry. Let me preface what I am about to say with acknowledging that proper leadership for a young person as they develop (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.) is very necessary. So, I am not suggesting an unfiltered method of parenting or mentoring young people; however, I am asking that we do not ignore the obvious and ask appropriate questions about our relationship with media as we are informed by the Scripture and the Spirit.

It is striking to me the number of adult Christians who vehemently condemn the viewing of rated “R” movies simply because of the rating, but have no problem reading some of the things written in the Bible. So that we’re on the same page, here is the interpretation of the rating system in the U.S.A. according to Wikipedia:

  • E – Exempt from classification. Films that are exempt from classification must not contain contentious material (i.e. material that would ordinarily be rated M or higher).
  • G – General. The content is very mild in impact.
  • PG – Parental guidance recommended. The content is mild, but somewhat moderate in impact.
  • M – Recommended for mature audiences. Parents are strongly cautioned. The content is moderate in impact.
  • MA15+ – Not suitable for persons younger than 15. Persons younger than 15 years must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The content is strong in impact.
  • R18+ – Restricted to adults 18 years and older. The content is high in impact.
  • X18+ – Restricted to adults 18 years and older. Reason is because of pornographical content. No violence nor “fetishes”, including spanking, may be shown (legally may be sold in the ACT and the NT only but may be purchased interstate via mail order). The content is high in impact.
  • RC – Refused Classification. Banned from sale or hire in Australia.

Based on this rating system, I would like to try a little exercise :). I would like to share with you a script. After reading it, classify it according to the rating system above—I’d love to see your rating in the comment section. Here we go:

But he urged them persistently, so they turned aside with him and entered his house. He prepared a feast for them, including bread baked without yeast, and they ate. Before they could lie down to sleep, all the men–both young and old, from every part of the city of Sodom–surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”

Lot went outside to them, shutting the door behind him. He said, “No, my brothers! Don’t act so wickedly! Look, I have two daughters who have never had sexual relations with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do to them whatever you please. Only don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Out of our way!” they cried, and “This man came to live here as a foreigner, and now he dares to judge us! We’ll do more harm to you than to them!” They kept pressing in on Lot until they were close enough to break down the door.

So the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house as they shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, from the youngest to the oldest, with blindness. The men outside wore themselves out trying to find the door. Then the two visitors said to Lot, “Who else do you have here? Do you have any sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or other relatives in the city? Get them out of this place because we are about to destroy it. The outcry against this place is so great before the LORD that he has sent us to destroy it.”

So, what do you think? Of course, there a number of passages—some even sketchier than this one—that I could have employed for this exercise. What about the story of Tamar and Judah? What would that look like on the big screen? David and Bathsheba?

It’s true isn’t it? Sometimes even the Bible deserves an “R” rating. Honestly, it is in the “R” rated material that we are oftentimes confronted most firmly with the deceitfulness and sickness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) as well as the core of what true righteousness and holiness is (who was more righteous, Tamar or Judah?). The crucifixion of our Lord, when accuracy is sought as in Mel Gibson’s film, even landed an “R” rating for violence, but in the violence, we also learn of the love of God, the faithfulness of the Son to the Father, the power the Spirit gives to endure suffering, the weight and magnitude of our sins, and a slew of other things.

So, where do we go from here? What should the Christian’s relationship with the media look like? I have a couple of suggestions, take ’em or leave ’em.

(1) Pornography is not o.k. The purpose of porn is to exploit the lust of the human heart. It destroys people and families. There is no story. The sole purpose is to highlight lawlessness and results in the corruption of one’s sexuality.

(2) Affirm the good, and be warned about the evil. In most cases, isn’t this the writer’s purpose anyway? This is what we do when we read the Scriptures isn’t it? As David traveled down the road of adultery and murder, we are constantly challenged in our spirit to test our own hearts. The same should be true with any film—no matter the rating.

(3) Prepare your young to interpret media. Look, our world has gone hook, line and sinker into the age of media and technology. The prospect of avoiding it—unless one joins an Amish community, a convent, monastery or something of the sort—is highly unlikely. So, what are you, parent, doing in order to teach your young ones to interpret the media? Just as you teach them to interpret the stories and teachings of the Bible, so must you teach your children to interpret the stories that appear on the internet, in the news, on the T.V. and on the silver screen. To cop out by totally cutting off your youth from the media or to allow them to view anything without instruction are two extremes that this youth pastor advises must be avoided.

(4) Rely on the Spirit. You might think I would say, rely on the Scripture. However, even the Scripture needs interpreting. God supplies the follower of Jesus with the Holy Spirit for a number of reasons—one of which is to illuminate and teach the Christian. He is referred to as the Spirit of truth, and Jesus promised that he would lead the Church in his teachings. Trust him.

I hope this has helped to create “level paths” for you so that you are more able to see the glory of God and his great wisdom in how he has communicated to us—those who live in a broken world and stand in need of salvation.


Review #1 of Roger Bagnall’s Early Christian Books In Egypt (2009)

Early Christian Books in Egypt by Roger S. Bagnall is a small 110 page volume; however, don’t let the size of this little ditty fool you—or else you’ll find yourself left behind at the bus stop as advancements in papyrology and codicology pass you by.

Early Christian Books In Egypt (2009) by Roger S. Bagnall

The claim of the first chapter, which is entitled “The Dating of the Earliest Christian Books in Egypt, seeks to set the scholar free “from the struggle to push the dates of manuscripts back into the second century, or even into the first” (23–24). Bagnall builds a strong case that Christianity in Egypt during the first and second centuries (i.e., pre-Demetrian Christianity) was not as prominent as sometimes thought. Oftentimes, it is the early dating of the New Testament papyri discovered in Egypt that forces the issue.

Perhaps equally problematic, it shows just how vital the existence and early dating of the papyri are to the entire conception of the development of Christianity in Egypt and how much is at stake in such datings. Without these early datings of papyri, we have no contemporary witnesses to pre-Demetrian Christianity to provide a background for his era. It is worth the trouble at least to consider the consequences that would follow from taking a different view (5).

The first pillar of Bagnall’s presentation is that the episcopal network of Egypt developed late. Bagnall (and Wypszycka) paints the Egyptian episcopate as an underdeveloped program best described as a “monarchic structure” with the Alexandrian see at its head. Thus, the oversight of the church in Egypt came from the see of Alexandria as opposed to a matured multilevel hierarchy of bishops spread out across various regions. This underdeveloped episcopate is presented as possible evidence for a small representation of Christianity in the first and second centuries in Egypt.

Wypszycka holds that the underdeveloped episcopate of Egypt was due to an inability to bring about development because of resistance from “provincial clergy” (7). Bagnall highlights an assumption at this point. It may not be that there was a lack of desire to develop the episcopate or that there was opposition to doing so. It may very well be that the presence of Christians in Egypt was not widespread in the first and second centuries. The relation of New Testament papyri to the presence of Christianity in Egypt prior to the third century all of a sudden becomes quite important. Documentary papyri prove to be of no help because it is not until much later that Rome began to document religious affiliation, and even then it is questionable that early Christians or Christian clergy would have thought of themselves in the same way that, say, an Egyptian priest would have (8). Bagnall shuts the door firmly on the notion of gaining information about the presence of second century Christianity in Egypt from documentary papyri.It should be noted, however, that this argument only establishes a lack of documentation of Christian presence in Alexandria in the second century not necessarily a lack of Christian presence in Egypt at this time. Thus, the significance of literary Christian papyri (e.g., from the NT) discovered in the Egyptian countryside (e.g., Oxyrhyncus and elsewhere) is magnified.

After an evaluation of the Christian (and in some cases possibly Jewish) literary papyri dated to the II or III centuries by the Leuven Database of Ancient Books, Bagnall concludes that there are 29 total papyri to consider—8 of which are dated to the II/III century and 21 of which are dated to the early III century. Bagnall admits that there remains much editing work to be done regarding papyri discoveries from Egypt; however, it is at this point that he begins to develop a proper numerical expectation of Christian literary papyri in Egypt (primarily in Alexandria and its surrounding nomes) based upon an understanding of the proportion of population in Egypt that may have been Christian (18ff.). By means of statistical analysis, figures are proposed for Christians in Egypt up until the end of Demetrios’ possession of the “episcopal throne in Alexandria” and the beginning of the episcopate of Heraklas. By 250 C.E., Bagnall suggests that 116,849 Christians were in Egypt, which made up 2.120% of the population. From this statistic and the knowledge we have of extant book fragments from Egypt, Bagnall estimates the probable number of Christian books by II/III century to be 12.

There is, to judge by the figures in this table, only one chance in eighteen that any Christian book of the late first or early second century would survive. That is, the odds are seventeen to one that we would have zero such books. We should have just one or two Christian fragments from the second century as a whole. On any reckoning, the number of published fragments of Christian character usually assigned to these early periods considerably exceeds the expected number (21).

Bagnall goes on to urge the reader that, “It is time to let go of the idea that Christian literature is somehow underrepresented in the papyri before the later third century” (21). Prior to concluding the chapter, he discusses the ownership of books among lay Christians and Christian clergy. He emphasizes that the possession of books in ancient cultures cannot be separated from education and social status. Therefore, with the underdeveloped clergy situation and lay people who were no doubt spread across the social spectrum (although perhaps there existed a more centralized mass in one class or another), one can easily grasp Bagnall’s point—there weren’t very many Christian books in Egypt during the first and second centuries, and we should stop expecting the alternative.

He closes the first chapter of this powerful little book by offering liberation to papyrologists. While admitting that agreement with this theory is in one sense a defeat, it also strikes Bagnall as,

a welcome liberation, which papyrologists should embrace, because it is only with the pre-occupation with origins set aside that the interest and original contribution of the few genuinely early texts can be assessed properly (24).

I think that Bagnall raises significant considerations for those interested in the manuscripts accredited to early Christianity. However, I also feel that there are some considerations left out of his discussion regarding, (1) the presence of Christianity in Northern Africa via key figures from Cyrenaica, (2) Coptic traditions concerning the development of Christianity in Egypt, and (3) the possible statistical anomaly created by the Jewish Christian presence in Egypt.

Thomas Oden, professor of Theology Emeritus at Drew University, delivered a series of lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary’s W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectureship. The topic of the series was Libyan Christianity (Libya is Egypt’s neighbor to the west) as established by messianic Jews from Cyrenaica. I remember being intrigued by these lectures and by the possibility of Christianity having early (first century) roots in Libya. If Christianity indeed has first and second century roots in Libya, what might this mean for the development of Christianity in Egypt?

Oden also alluded to the Coptic tradition in his lectures. The Coptic tradition holds that Mark (the author of the canonical gospel bearing his name) served as the first bishop of Alexandria and was later martyred there around 68 C.E. When the presence of such an influential figure (an author of one of the New Testament books nonetheless) serving in Alexandria is combined with possible connections between the Alexandrian see and the development of Christianity in Libya (as suggested by Oden), it is possible that a lack in Christian documentation or publicized Christianity does not necessitate a lack in Christian representation and presence in Alexandria and the surrounding regions.

Lastly, Bagnall closes his chapter with a suggestion that some books that have been considered Christian may indeed be Jewish in origin. Thus, the evidence for early Christian literature in Egypt declines even further, if such a thing it true. He (and Oden) references the Jewish revolt that ended at the beginning of Hadrian’s reign (117). Bagnall states that a significant lack of “documentary evidence for a Jewish population” is observable between 117 and the later part of the third century. However, I would like to see some statistical estimations regarding the population of Jews in Egypt during the first, second and third centuries. I do not think it is enough to evaluate “Christian” population alone. For we must remember that the first few centuries of “Christianity” might be described as such for a Gentile convert. However, to the Jew who embraced Christ, this movement was merely an advancement and reform of their existing Jewish faith. Thus, I would be interested in seeing how large a Jewish representation existed in Egypt and an estimated figure on how many of these Jews may have indeed been reformed Jews (i.e., followers of the Messiah, Jesus). Would these numbers drastically increase the number of expected “Christian” books in Egypt? Maybe, maybe not.

While I would like to see these last three issues addressed by Bagnall, his reasoning in the first chapter is still strong. An explosion of Christian writings in Egypt during the first two centuries is perhaps an unreal expectation. What do you think?