Interesting. William Baird notes in his History of New Testament Research that the nineteenth-century commentator Frédéric Louis Godet, who embraced traditional authorship for each of the four gospels, understood the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 to have been Luke himself. “This leads him to suppose that each evangelist has carved in his narrative a small niche for himself: Matthew as the converted tax collector (Matt. 9:9); Mark as the young man who fled naked from Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52); Luke as the Emmaus pilgrim (Luke 24:13); and John as the beloved disciple (John 13:23; 20:2).” (1:374)
In the last couple of posts, I’ve highlighted a couple of the major points from John Taylor’s intriguing essay on the Lord’s Supper in the early church. Here, my purpose is not so much to critique his work, but to touch on a few general points regarding the Lord’s Supper in the present-day church, with reference to his essay.
First, whether or not a meal is strictly to be considered part of the “Lord’s Supper” as understood in the early church–and I tend to think it was, in line with Taylor’s contention–I think it would be profitable to observe such a practice in our churches. I’ve been a member of a church that has done this (monthly) and visited another that observes the Supper each week and has a meal each week, though the former happens in the service and the latter after the service. I’m not at the point of arguing that such an observance is mandated, but I do share Taylor’s concern that something is lost when the loaf/cup is divorced from what seems to have been its original context of a meal.
Second, from a very practical standpoint, when the church sups together, an outstanding opportunity for conversation, edification, and building relationships is thereby provided. Many churches recognize this and have some sort of meal together as occasion arises; our present church normally has lunch together after the service on the fifth Sunday of a month (the several times a year that occurs) and at other additional times.
Third, Taylor makes the point that in some way or another, “the Lord’s death” is “proclaimed” in the Supper, and argues that this is more fully accomplished in a meal framed by the bread/cup than in the bread/cup alone. I see his point, and even if one were to argue that a meal as such is not necessary for such “proclamation,” a regularly observed meal would seem to provide a prime opportunity to allow unbelievers in attendance to “know that we are [Christ's] disciples, by the love which [we] have for one another” (John 13:35). As a very practical point, a meal also provides an already-scheduled time to which to invite visitors for interaction. We’ve found that when we’ve invited visitors to stay for an after-church meal, they often say they have lunch plans already, but if such a meal were to occur every week (gasp!), visitors who return could be expecting to stay for it.
I think that the symbolism vested in the bread and cup means those items should be limited to baptized believers, and thus having a meal (for all in attendance) in conjunction with the bread and cup (for baptized believers) would pose a potential challenge. Taylor recognizes this as well, and responds:
Churches, including my own, which restrict the consumption of the particular “elements” to those who are baptized, would have to administrate this much as they have always done in the context of a worship service. (12)
It is true, I think, that table fellowship is not as significant now as it was in Paul’s Jewish/Greco-Roman context. All the same, something important is still communicated when believers join in joyful camaraderie to together “eat their food with great joy and simplicity of heart.”
I have much of 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 memorized simply because the passage was read at so many observances of the Lord’s Supper during my growing-up years. So the words of v. 26 are very familiar to me: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (KJV).
What John Taylor pointed out to me through his essay was the significance of the verb καταγγέλλω, translated “shew” in the KJV I heard growing up, and “proclaim” in most modern versions. Taylor points out that Paul arguably always uses this word to reference gospel proclamation to the unconverted (Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 2:1; 9:14; Phil 1:17, 18; Col 1:28). Typically, of course, verbal proclamation of the gospel is in view, but Taylor sees in 1 Corinthians 12:26 “an extension of the term’s usual sense of a verbal public announcement to a non-verbal act [i.e., eating and drinking]” (3). Thus he explores how the Lord’s Supper acts as such gospel proclamation, arguing the sub-thesis that “evidence suggests that Paul understood or intended the Lord’s Supper to have a distinct and deliberate evangelistic role—to be a missional event” (2).
In a valuable excursus, Taylor explores what sort of unbelievers might “naturally” be at Christian services: unbelieving spouses (1 Cor 7), unbelieving children, unbelieving widows in the household of their adult Christian son or daughter, household servants of a Christian hosting the gathering in his or her home (3-4). As well, Paul clearly sees the presence of unbelievers at a service as a live possibility (1 Cor 14:26, 29; see my earlier post on this); this possibility is heightened by the various venues which could potentially have been used for church meetings other than the homes of wealthy members (Taylor alludes to this possibility; note also the intriguing work of Edward Adams, The Earliest Christian Meeting Places: Almost Exclusively Houses?).
As to the matter of the meal “proclaiming” the Lord’s death, the symbolism invested in the bread and the cup would obviously be significant in this regard. As well, though, the meal itself said something:
Unbelievers are meant to see and experience a meal which is a message, the visible love and unity of the church, the body of Christ, lived out in holiness and without class distinctions. The common meal of the church—the Lord’s meal—is meant to establish it and identify it as a united body, a community which shares in the body and blood (10:16-17) of the crucified and resurrected Messiah, which remembers him, proclaims his death and anticipates his return. (9)
Taylor reaches back to the well-known Acts 2:42-47, highlighting not only the emphasis on the “breaking of bread” in the passage, but also noting that the passage emphasizes they ate meals together; indeed, this sharing of meals (μετελάμβανον τροφῆς) is syntactically the main idea in 2:46-47a: “And day by day, attending (pres. ptc.) the temple together and breaking (pres. ptc.) bread in their homes, they were sharing their meals (impf.) with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising (pres. ptc.) God and having (pres. ptc.) favor with all the people.” This is striking, and Taylor highlights the connection between these common meals and the favor they had with “all the people,” as well as the summary comment regarding those who were being saved.
Given the nature and significance of table fellowship in the NT era (Gal 2:11ff comes to mind), one can see how the Lord’s Supper as a common meal would not only proclaim the gospel symbolically through the bread and cup, but would also highlight the results of the gospel in making diverse and previously antagonistic people one in Christian fellowship.
I imagine that when Christians think of the Lord’s Supper today, they usually think of it as an observance involving only the cup and the bread. That is, apart from one’s particular view of the Lord’s Supper (real/symbolic presence, etc.), it is understood not to involve a full meal (as we usually think of a “supper”), but a symbol of a meal. If our normal meals consisted of the amount of nourishment that we ingest when we observe the Lord’s Supper, we would become quickly malnourished!
One of the questions that John Taylor addresses in his interesting essay “The Meal Is the Message” is whether the early church thought of “the Lord’s Supper” as consisting merely of the cup and bread. He argues in the negative on this point, contending instead,
It is not simply the so-called “elements” of the bread and the cup but the entire meal, and the unified and loving way in which it took place, which were intended to have symbolic value as a memorial to and proclamation of Jesus, to interpret his death for both insiders and outsiders. But this richly symbolic meal has been largely replaced in ecclesial and liturgical practice by a symbol of a meal. (1)
The loaf and the cup, he avers, were certainly “framing and defining elements” of the meal, but the meal itself (which included the bread and cup) was what was considered “the Lord’s Supper.” “The Lord’s meal was a meal” (6). Supporting this point, Taylor notes that “When the Fathers use the expression “the Lord’s Supper” they are either commenting on, or quoting [1 Corinthians 11:20], as describing a full meal” (6). And clearly, in the central passage 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, “the Lord’s Supper” is contrasted with “one’s own supper” (vv. 20-21), the following description of which indicates a full meal; the contrast seems not to be between a symbolic meal and a full one, but between the Lord’s supper and one’s own supper.
Certainly, the loaf and the cup were invested with particular significance; this is plain. What Taylor argues, however, is that this significance is properly understood within the context of a full meal. He further bolsters his point by contending that the bread and cup were not “joined . . . as a single event separable from the rest of the common meal,” but were taken at different times, the bread during the meal and the cup at its conclusion (7).
Given the significance of table fellowship in Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, one can see how Taylor’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper would connect with what we read in the NT about Jesus’ own ministry and the practices of the NT church.
At the conclusion of his essay, Taylor makes a thought-provoking point. Writing within a Baptist context, he notes that Baptists have objected to sprinkling because (among other reasons) it diminishes the ordinance’s rich symbolism (“whether of burial . . . or of complete cleansing” ). He wonders aloud if something similar has occurred with the Lord’s Supper:
Could we, along with the vast majority of the Christian tradition, have done exactly the same thing with the Lord’s Supper? Instead of a richly symbolic common meal, which has its meaning as a meal, which is a proclamation event as a meal, we consume a mere symbol of a meal, a symbol of a symbol, and in the process of transferring the event to its typical liturgical setting, its intended ecclesial and missional functions have been neglected. (12)
Half a year ago, I solicited from John Taylor of Southwestern a paper he presented at the 2013 ETS annual meeting in Baltimore, as I was unable to attend the presentation. With my interest both in Marshall McLuhan and in liturgy, you can imagine how the title caught my interest: “The Meal Is the Message: The Community Meal as Symbol and Proclamation in First Corinthians.” The paper did not disappoint!
In his essay, John defends this thesis: “A return to the oft-neglected practice of regular common meals for the believing community, with the framing and defining elements of the loaf and the cup, and with the possible presence of outsiders, would more closely fulfill the missiological, theological and ecclesiological intention of the Lord’s Supper as set forth by Paul” (2). In a series of short posts, I plan to highlight a number of intriguing points that John makes in his essay.
Claire Clivaz, Andrew Gregory, and David Hamidović, eds. Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish and Early Christian Studies. Scholarly Communication 2. Leiden: Brill, 2014.
This fascinating volume won points with me as soon as I opened it. Directly following the table of contents and list of contributors is a collection of abstracts covering all the essays in the volume. Read eight pages, and you’ve got a good idea of what the entire volume is about. May the editors’ tribe increase!
In this collection of essays, one finds
- an update on the preservation of the DSS at a methodological level, explaining how the latest technologies allow greater assessment, monitoring, collaboration, and access vis-a-vis these valuable documents;
- a proposal for using CAD software to compare the scribal scripts of the DSS in order to match the fragments more accurately, as well as to evaluate already reconstructed texts;
- an overview of the use of digital tools for the transcription and markup of biblical manuscripts;
- a description of the strategies, tools, and techniques of a project aimed at identifying different families of Arabic translations of the Gospels;
- an exploration of how the use of the Internet and a digital framework encourages collaborative research in the Arabic traditions of the NT;
- new dimensions in producing critical editions of texts, focusing on the literature of Ethiopian Jews as preserved in a particular manuscript;
- an overview of digital approaches to various areas of LXX research: lexicography, translation technique, and textual criticism;
- a proposal for the use of wiki-based collaboration to handle the enormous amount of data connected with the study of ancient monotheism;
- a discussion and evaluation of online collaborative tools, particularly as used in NT textual criticism;
- a presentation of new ways of searching and engaging biblical quotations in early Christian literature, with significant implications for reception historical studies;
- a proposal of a new lexicographical tool for the study of the biblical Greek lexicon, allowing more semantic flexibility in searching;
- a discussion of new developments in commercial academic publishing, specifically those using digital platforms in contrast to print media;
- an argument for more open source/open access tools in the field of biblical studies.
While a particular object of study might not be of special interest to the reader, the importance of this volume lies in the exploration of game-changing methodologies that exploit technologies previously unavailable. Again and again, the contributors are exploring not just how digital tools can help scholars do the same work better, but how it can help them to do their work differently; not just making it more efficient, but effectively transforming it. To engage an overused Kuhnism, the book’s larger agenda is to explore and promote a paradigm shift in biblical studies and related fields made possible by the engagement of digital culture:
Our concern here is . . . to draw attention to the emergence of the conscious recognition of something new in the way that we study ancient texts, a shift that would not be possible were it not for digital technology, and that will almost certainly affect the way in which our disciplines will develop. Thus we hope that this volume will contribute to the conscious and explicit recognition of an emerging phenomenon that is more than the sum of its parts, and will offer critical reflections on how this development transforms our fields of study. (xvii)
The scholars contributing to the volume all “share a common interest in trying to understand changes in the ways in which we read and write in a setting where more and more information and data is being made available at increasingly faster rates” and who “are actively engaged with wider questions about how digital technology may reshape, enlarge or otherwise affect not only the specific disciplines in which they are trained, but also the whole spectrum of the humanities and social sciences” (1).
Some takeaways I gleaned from the volume:
- Juan Garcés highlights the third century AD, when “one regime of book production and storage supplanted another” (97). Specifically, the “‘basic form of the book was in a state of flux,'” with papyrus yielding to parchment and (more importantly) the scroll yielding to the codex. Origen’s Hexapla seems to have innovated a new layout (six columns of text that were meant to be compared across two pages, rather than read straight through, one column after another), with significant implications for textual criticism of the OT. Similarly, one of Garcés’s larger points is to explore “what methodologically innovative approaches are facilitated by the refashioning of the LXX as digital data” (99).
- Beyond the medium of data presentation, however, Garcés also suggests that the digital turn also necessitates a new academic culture, which emphasizes collaboration much more than individual scholarship: “existing ways of collaborating among scholars need to be extended and transformed in order to succeed in the new digital environment” (137). One transformation involves the scholarly posture toward resources: instead of tight editorial control and proprietary rights, he suggests that the new “research culture” tied to the digital research environment involves an “overall attitude . . . of sharing and exchange at the earliest convenient moment” (137). Tied with this is the use of other people’s material: instead of “standing on the shoulders” of previous works in a sort of seriatim collaboration, the digital turn encourages “exchange [which] is more immediate, or more precisely: at much shorter intervals and interactive” (137).
- I’m quite interested in the ongoing Biblindex project at http://www.biblindex.mom.fr/, which is working toward new ways of searching for Scripture references in subsequent works and manipulating the resulting data; this has clear implications for reception history, textual criticism, and so forth.
- Andrew Gregory asks some excellent questions about the book-like nature of electronic publishing, e.g., “whether books that are published digitally will continue to display their contents in ways that developed in the context of print” (257). He references such printed-book-shaped electronic publications as “electronic incunabula” in that “they retain the characteristics of an earlier form of written text, but do not make full use of the possibilities that new technology allows (257; “incunabula” are “the earliest western printed books, which retained much of the character of earlier manuscripts” ). He points out that the generation which has grown up with digital access to information thinks of the dissemination of that information in different ways than a book-like form and challenges the reader by noting that “it remains to be seen how printed and digital books will co-exist in the new and coming world when those who grew up with only the former have given way to their digital-native successors” (258).
- Further, Gregory interacts with the notion of what a book is. This was stimulating; he engaged Cope and Phillips (“Introduction,” in The Future of the Book in the Digital Age) who argue that “a book . . is less a physical object, than a textual form,” and that it “should no longer be defined as an object, but by what it does” (239). “A book is not a product. It is an information architecture,” they contend (240). But Gregory responds that “this definition overlooks . . . the nature of the different media that allow books not only to shape but also to communicate the information that is inscribed in them as written text,” pointing out that digital publishing doesn’t merely transfer “text from one medium to another with added ease in searching and indexing” (240). Instead, it “increases and extends the functionality of the book, and allow[s] discrete texts to be read as constituent parts of a much greater body of text and the content it conveys” (240).
- Gregory highlights a growing body of literature that addresses the sorts of questions about digital publishing that he raises, including van der Weel, Changing Our Textual Minds; Shillingsburg, From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts; Thompson, Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States.
- In arguing for open source online resources, Russel Hobson points out that the discipline of biblical studies is actually behind the much smaller field of Assyriology: “Ultimately, we purchase expensive, feature lade commercial products to do research tasks in Biblical studies that we can do in Assyriology without cost by using openly accessible online resources” (265).
- Further, Hobson points out, when data is controlled using the proprietary model and a closed system, “databases become stagnant pools that are superseded or fall out of use unless continual sources of funding can be found to keep them alive” and “the survival of the data depends entirely on the survival of the project” (267).
The volume was thought-provoking as it engages a variety of questions about new ways of manipulating, publishing, and archiving information (text especially, but other data as well) in the realm of biblical studies and related disciplines. Certainly, the digital turn has brought a new era in biblical studies. The sort of questions that are raised as a consequence connect with McLuhan’s maxim that “the medium is the message” and challenge me to think about the implications of newer forms of information handling for my discipline.
In reading through Craig Keener’s article on the Gospel of John in the new (2nd) edition of IVP’s Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, I find a interesting reference when Keener is defending the possibility of Johannine authorship. He makes the point that John could very well have been alive, in his 80’s, in the last decade of the first century. After all, “disciples typically were in their teens” (427). That’s an intriguing thought, and though a bit jarring to my twenty-first century American mind, not implausible. Can anyone point me to further studies that would support this assertion?
I’ve been doing some work on the Gospel of Mark, and wanted to highlight some non-commentary resources I’ve come across.
William R. Telford, Writing on the Gospel of Mark, Guides to Advanced Biblical Research (Blandford Forum, UK: Deo, 2009). This appears to be the first, and presently the only, volume in this new series. I hope it will not be the last! Telford provides an exceedingly thorough section on the state of research (5 divisions, with numerous subdivisions and sub-subdivisions and sub-sub-subdivisions), 44 pages long. This is followed by 160 pages of “sample exegeses and readings” (historical/social-scientific, literary, theological, ideological/ethical approaches), and then–I kid you not–325 pages of (largely) annotated bibliography, again, thoroughly organized and subdivided. A short 13-page essay on “the future of research” and indices close out the volume. One can only imagine the amount of work this tome took.
Bruce Chilton, Darrell Bock, Daniel M. Gurtner, Jacob Neusner, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Daniel Oden, eds., A Comparative Handbook to the Gospel of Mark: Comparisons with Pseudepigrapha, the Qumran Scrolls, and Rabbinic Literature, The New Testament Gospels in their Judaic Contexts 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2010). At over $200, you’ll want to get this from a library!
Rodney Decker, “Markan Idiolect in the Study of the Greek of the New Testament,” in The Language of the New Testament: Context, History, and Development, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, Early Christianity in Its Hellenistic Context 3, Linguistic Biblical Studies 6 (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 43-66. Christopher Skinner talks about this article here.
J. F. Williams, Mark, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014). Not out yet, but soon! This is the series which Murray Harris started some years ago, producing a single volume on Colossians and Philemon; B&H has recently picked up and restarted the series.