Hebrews and Brevity

Hebrews 13:22 says “I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.” Ok, well… that’s kind of a stretch. ER Richards, in his book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, concludes a section about the size and shape of pieces and scrolls of papyrus says that the letter of Paul to Philemon was “a fairly typical letter in length, perhaps even a trifle long.” If he’s right, then even 1 Peter 5:12 is stretching it “I have written to you briefly.”

Probably what these writers are comparing their efforts to are not letters as such, but almost as transcriptions of talks. We are pretty sure that most writing was written to be read out loud in public rather than read in silence at a desk somewhere. Hebrews takes less than an hour to read aloud, not outrageously lengthy for a lecture even by today’s standards. Commentators have pointed to words like encouragement in Peter and exhortation in Hebrews as more important in their self-evaluation than the words that mention these things as writings. It’s also frequently said that the appeal to brevity was conventional, and the writer/speaker might mean something more like “I want you to know, my subject is so vast, I could have gone on for much much longer.”

One commentator paraphrases Hebrews as saying “I’ve had a lot to say. Now I’ve said it. I hope you didn’t find it too long.” I like that.

The Unforgiving Servant & Judgement Day

I don’t think I ever noticed this before, and it might be pushing the parable too far, but there is an interesting parallel to Christian belief about eternal Judgement in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35).

The servant was originally threatened with punishment because of his debt. That debt was forgiven him. He then refused to forgive someone else’s debt to him.

When the servant was eventually punished, it was not because of his debt exactly, but because he was not affected by the grace shown him.

United Airlines and Capitalism First

Father James Martin gets it right, as he often does, in his recent article for America Magazine. This isn’t about one company’s customer service, it’s about the morality of “just business.”

The same economic calculus that says profits are the most important metric in decision-making leads to victims being dragged along the floor of an airplane and eking out an existence on the floor of a hovel in the slums of Nairobi.

Milanote — A Nice Project/Mood Board Web App

So far I’ve been impressed with Milanote — it’s a bulletin board / mood board web app. Although it’s subscription-based (which I usually don’t like, but makes sense since they’re hosting information), there is a free account which wants you to have fewer than 100 notes at any one time. Currently, you can’t view or edit your information offline, but that’s a feature they’re planning to implement. It reminds of me of Evernote, except designed by designers.

If you sign up for a free account by this link, https://app.milanote.com/refer/rczCq9oxWyWczSey2x
they will give me another 20 notes on my allowance. Yay!

If you do sign up, one of the first things you might want to do afterwards is click on the grey dot in the upper right corner and use < account settings > to turn off e-mail notifications.

Geraldine Latty — New Album

I’m looking forward to Wednesday and the launch concert for colleague Geraldine’s new album, “Can You See It.” She’s released one of the cuts for free on SoundCloud and I can’t stop listening to it: Spirit of God.

Flying over Mars

Jan Fröjdman’s wonderful video, based on high-resolution NASA photos … crank the vimeo HD setting up to 2K and watch it full-screen on the best screen you can find. Just try not to stop yourself signing up for that one-way trip.

(via kottke.org)

When Sinned Against

Tim Carter gave a magnificent chapel sermon at London School of Theology this week. It distilled years of work he’s done on the topic of Forgiveness into one sermon, based on his reading of Colossians 3:5-17.

Forgiveness, he suggested, is a journey and it begins with recognising that there was wrong-doing, and then recognising and setting aside one’s ‘natural’ negative reactions to being wronged. This was the point that interested me the most. He said that the list of sins in 3:5 were the wrong-doing, and that the pile up of words in 3:8 was actually a list of negative responses to being sinned against that we must ‘put off’ if we are seeking to forgive:

anger = our first response to being sinned against
rage/wrath = losing our temper, giving in to and wallowing in that anger
malice = wishing evil in return; dreaming of or plotting revenge
slander = ‘triangling’, trying to involve neutral parties in our feelings against the offender
filthy language/verbal abuse = pulling someone down with words; slagging people off.

Tim urged us, as does the New Testament, to rid ourselves of these natural but wrong reactions, and work towards reconciliation, speaking truth and love.

LST Principal Calvin Samuel talks about the Bible

The first four college chapel services of 2017 focused on our key values as a community: Bible, Gospel, Church, & World. Our new principal, Calvin Samuel gave the talk the first week, on the Bible. You can listen to it here.

Seriously Literal Reading of Scripture

I’m still in the throes of marking and I never feel great about taking time to blog while there are students waiting to hear from me, but I must mention our Laing Lecture last night, in which alumnus Iain Provan took us through the difference between a ‘literal’ reading of scripture (yay) and a ‘literalistic’ reading (boo) and did so by referencing not some academic philosophico-rhetorical treatise, but by a PowerPoint slide showing Amelia Bedelia. Gotta love it.

Slaves of Jesus (Romans 1:1-6)

This morning I will have the final sessions of my first time teaching Romans. I’ve had such a great time; LST students are such good people to journey with on an adventure like this. I decided to keep back the “formal epistle bits” of 1:1-17 and chapter 16 until the last session. My thought was that just as the formal Thanksgiving section of 1 Corinthians is amazing once you know the rest of the letter well enough to recognise the important themes, perhaps we’d see more of the formal bits once we were familiar with the rest of the letter.

I’ve indeed found some interesting things in the opening verses. Commentators have recognised the towering importance of the phrase “obedience of faith” in verse 5, and there is much discussion about what it means.

There are actually quite a few more interesting points, but what’s less often discussed is the way the relation between Paul calling himself a slave in verse one, and the two main features of slavery: verse 5 obedience and verse 6, ownership — you belong to Jesus Christ.

Imagine how the actual slaves (and slave owners) among the recipients would have received this as the opening to a letter!

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