My Upcoming Paper on the “Two Swords” of Luke 22:35-38 at HBU’s Annual Theology Conference

Taking up the SwordI was thrilled to have my paper accepted again this year at Houston Baptist University’s annual theology conference coming up soon on April 16-18 (put it on your calendars!). Last year’s theme was “Paul and Judaism” (my abstract for last year’s conference is here), while this year’s conference is more broadly focused on “The Church and Early Christianity.” As it has come to be expected, the keynote speakers lined up for the conference are first-class: John Barclay (Durham University), Everett Ferguson (Abilene Christian University), and Ben Witherington III (Asbury Theological Seminary). The thrust of the conference is to explore the early church’s theological, ecclesial, and social relationships, internally and externally, in their respective historical contexts.

My particular presentation will hopefully contribute to the ongoing conversation on the earliest Jesus movements’ ethics regarding violence and pacifism, particularly in relation to Roman imperial domination, and more particularly from the perspective of the author of the gospel of Luke and the community (or communities) intended to receive them. My paper is entitled: The Sword and the Servant: Reframing the Function of the ‘Two Swords’ of Luke 22:35-38 in Narrative Context.” Here is the abstract:

The “two swords” passage of Luke 22:35-38 has plagued interpreters for centuries. Scholars have attempted to explain this passage by suggesting that Jesus was either not speaking literally of buying swords, alluding to future persecution of the disciples, preparing them for bandits along the way, preparing them for the time of trial to come when he is gone, etc. Many of these interpretive positions seem to be out of step from Luke’s narrative portrayal of the mission and ethic of Jesus and his disciples. In recent scholarship the dominant approaches to solving the interpretative issues associated with this enigmatic text have tended to focus myopically on the pericope itself apart from a thorough treatment of passage within its narrative context. This study will provide an explanation of Jesus’ command to buy a sword within the immediate context of the narrative as a prophetic announcement of the disciples’ denial in the same way he announces Peter’s denial in the previous section. This will be demonstrated in two ways: (1) arguing for Luke’s positioning of the unique “two swords” pericope (Lk 22:35-38) within a wider chiastic structure of Lk 22:31-62 and (2) demonstrating that in Luke’s employment of Isaiah 53:12 in the immediate narrative context, he understands the transgressors that Jesus is to be counted with are not the criminals that he is crucified next to, as traditionally understood, but with his disciples who brandish the sword. This reading is consistent with the non-violent martyrological ethic of the Jesus movement in Luke-Acts and has profound implications for early Christian ethics in the context of Roman imperial domination in the first-century as well as for contemporary Christian ethics today.

El Greco - The Agony in the GardenFor anyone who has wrestled with this enigmatic, and at first reading, seemingly contradictory text in Luke while scratching their head and getting a migraine from all the possible problematic ethical implications that result (hope it’s not just me), I think you may be in for a treat (and a cure for your interpretive headaches, although, I might give you whole new ones). I hope to argue for a more coherent narratival and intertextual reading that provides answers to a number of exegetical problems and interpretive questions regarding such a controversial text in New Testament studies. Not only would this proposed reading be important for the study of earliest Christianity in its Early Jewish and Greco-Roman context, it would be especially important for those seeking to appropriate this text in the complicated discussions regarding violence and pacifism in contemporary Christian ethics.

I look forward to seeing many of you there. I’m anticipating an interesting and engaging conference (par for the HBU course) and a good time with friends old and new! Make sure and register for the conference here. You’d be hard pressed to get more bang for your buck at only $40.00 for the cost to register! A big thanks to my friend Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for consistently hosting such great events like this one. See you there!

* ADDITIONAL NOTE * On Saturday March 21, I was honored with the news that my paper was also accepted by the Synoptic Gospels program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meeting on November 21-24, 2015 in Atlanta. If you don’t catch it first in Houston, you can catch it then.

Clement of Rome and the Unity of the Chosen of God

Clement of RomeWhen reading the Apostolic Fathers such as 1 Clement as a biblical studies student, my first knee jerk reaction is to read it with the excessively critical lenses of one who is searching for theological trajectories that can be traced from the scriptures to these deuterocanonical texts and do comparative work in order to be able to say something about the authorial conception of God.  Last night, to my own amazement I must admit, I did not read the text in this way.  I just layed back comfortably in my bed, tired from a long day, and said “hey, why not read some 1 Clement (if you are thinking random, I know)?”

Surprisingly enough I was encouraged and lifted up at the choice words of one of our fathers in the faith.  After reading the opening of the letter, presumably written to the Corinthian church from the church in Rome, I was struck with its overwhelming focus: a plea for the unity of the people of God and the warning against the sin that would separate us from each other and from the Lord.  Scripture was coming to mind as I was struck by these words of the first verse:

Because of the sudden and repeated misfortunes and reverses that have happened to us, brothers, we acknowledge that we have been somewhat slow in giving attention to the matters in dispute among you, dear friends, especially the detestable and unholy schism, so alien and strange to those chosen by God, which a few reckless and arrogant persons have kindled to such a pitch of insanity that your good name, once so renowned and loved by all, has been greatly reviled.

Many churches in the baptist tradition have been through splits or schisms in recent times; I having personally experienced this in the beginning of my ministry to students.  When I read this I began to hurt with the realization that we have lost a strong view of the unity and the sanctity of the people of God.  The last time we have heard of a split did we see it as detestable?  Did we see it as unholy?  Has splits in churches become so common that it is no longer realized as strange?  Has it become something indigenous to the church and no longer foreign?  Have we been so conditioned that we have never seen it as strange or foreign?

When Clement states why the schism has occurred in Corinth, it begins to hit a little to close to home.  It began with “reckless and arrogant persons“.  This seems always to be the case.  Time and time again this line rings true.  Men who are reckless: theologically, relationally, administratively, etc.  Arrogant men who are puffed up and full of their own knowledge, which is for the benefit of others, as it swells and makes heavy the head of the unwise man.  He raises himself high and exalts himself over his peers.  His cancerous banter is an excretion of prideful lewdness that one might call “a pitch of insanity”. The all-to-familiar sound rings true of a great many men today who have forgotten the humility of Christ and the gospel they once believed.

Something else in this text rattles our ecclesiological cages.  Notice the way Clement recognizes the previous state of the church: “…your good name, once so renowned and loved by all…”  Did our churches ever have a good name?  Were we ever loved by all?  Did our love and unity become apparent to the community around us?  Have we served our community in such a way that word has spread of our good name and we could actually be recognized as renowned?  Have our lives been such where it spawns a great love for our people from among all our community?  Lord help us.  May they see and hear our gospel from our deeds.  May we gain a name and community that when reckless and arrogant men cause a schism, people could say that our name would have to change to be reviled.  May we then amongst our busy and trying schedules be bold enough to address it publically and seek reconciliation and faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of a body to be unified and holy; to be recognized among the peoples of the earth as the Chosen of God.