Eugene Peterson’s lifelong focus is on soul care, especially on spiritual formation and pastoral nurturing. This course will be a dialogue with his thoughts, teaching, and applications using his Eerdmans spiritual theology series: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (2005); Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (2006); The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus Is the Way (2007); Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (2008); and Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (2010) and also his others books, videos, and lectures. Eugene, a ‘pastor of pastors’ had much to offer all pastors and to all followers of Jesus Christ in forming and developing their Christian Spirituality.
The Lecturer: Dr Alex Tang
Dr Alex Tang, MD PhD, has a deep interest in Christian spirituality and formation, practical theology, biomedical ethics, and spiritual direction. He teaches in seminaries in the Asian region. Alex is a spiritual director and facilitates retreats. He has authored several books and contributed to journals, book chapters, and conferences. Alex is a Research Fellow with Centre of Disability Mission of Asia (CMDA) in Singapore. His interest is in interdisciplinary studies and he enjoys conversations about the Christian imagination.
This paper seeks to evaluate Alex Tang’s “Holistic Spiritual Formation Crucible Paradigm” (Tang 2014, 13, 244ff.), henceforth referred to as the Crucible Paradigm (moniker by the writer), by using Jeremiah Gruenberg and Annang Asumang’s “Axes of Formation” model of assessment (2019). Tang is a medical specialist and a spiritual director and teaches Christian spirituality, spiritual formation, and biomedical ethics at graduate seminaries in Malaysia and Singapore. Gruenberg and Asumang are with the South African Theological Seminary; the former being a PhD candidate with a submitted thesis in theology and spiritual formation (2019); the latter a medical specialist and faculty and post-graduate supervisor in biblical studies, theology, spiritual formation, and education.
The intended outcome of the study is a learning opportunity in critiquing a spiritual formation system that the writer, a Singapore resident, has been learning, practicing, and exploring in its possible integration with other disciplines. It would also be intriguing in using a standardized assessment model which apparently sought to plug a gap in the “academic venture into Christian spiritual formation” and hopefully contribute in a small way toward a better understanding of one such approaches in the discipline toward a larger meta-theory (Gruenberg and Asumang 2019, 3-4). Another reason for this choice is its claim to be able to assess theories of spiritual formation by meeting five requirements: “ecumenically applicable [in any denominational or traditional context], receptive to interdisciplinary approaches, biblically grounded, theologically sound [which reflects historic Christian orthodoxy], and comprehensive in scope [through various facets of Christian spiritual growth and maturity]” (Gruenberg and Asumang 2019, 4-5).
Tang’s Crucible Paradigm
The assessment will be done on Tang’s Till We are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English–speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (2014). A related instrument developed by Tang, “Spiritual Formation Inventory,” will provide supplementary material as well (Tang 2018, 14-19). Tang’s definition for Christian spiritual formation is “the intentional and ongoing process of inner transformation to become like Jesus Christ himself, to become with others a communal people of God, and to become an agent for God’s redemptive purposes” (Tang 2014, 6). In this paper, spiritual formation and formation are terms used interchangeably for Christian spiritual formation. A Christian faith community is a “gathering of believers who meet regularly and consistently to worship, learn about their faith, and encourage and support one another”; it includes those from parachurches and marketplace and home fellowships that are not part of any church (Tang 2014, 6).
The Four-Axis Formation Assessment Model
Joe Rodgers, a psychology professor and researcher, stated that a model is one which “matches the reality that it describes in some important ways” and “is simpler than that reality” (Rodgers, 2010, 5; quoted in Friedman, et al 2010, 81). The four-axis model seeks to describe reality although it may fall short in some ways as it is a simplified version of reality. This is the inherent limitation of any such model and is acknowledged here. According to Gruenberg and Asumang (2019, 5), the four axes of this model are: 1) the intended goal/s of spiritual formation according to the theory, 2) the key concept/s undergirding it, 3) the theological foundations of the theory, and 4) the formational activities associated with it. In using the model, Gruenberg and Asumang (2019, 6) outlined three stages of application: 1) identification, systematic description, and analysis of each one of the four axes, 2) description and assessment of the interrelation of the four axes, and 3) final critique of the theory as a whole. This paper will follow the three-stage methodology as above.
In this first stage of assessment, the goal, concept, theology, and activity as axes of the paradigm are individually described and analysed.
Goal of Spiritual Formation (First Axis)
The intended outcome of Tang’s theoretical approach sees Christian spiritual formation not just “for self-development, but also part of God’s larger plan of redemption for his created order, which includes nurturing a people committed to him and restoring the created world” (Tang 2014, 1). The goals of such a formation are, therefore, “ Individual believers’ acquiring a Christ-like character;  Development of a people of God;  Establishment of the kingdom of God and the healing of the whole of creation” (Tang 2014, 86). The three formative strands that will achieve the desired goals are, “ Person-in-formation [to Christ-likeness];  Persons-in-community formation [to become a people of God];  Persons-in-mission formation [in the kingdom of God and the healing of creation]” (Tang 2014, 86, 88, 91, 93). Tang used the following (Figure 1) to show the inter-relatedness of the three strands as part of a unified process where “their functions overlap and are indistinguishable from one another” with the Holy Spirit as the active agent in all three formative strands (Tang 2014, 86-8; figure is adapted from Angela Reed’s diagram, “Three Foundations of Spiritual Formation” 2010, 160).
Figure 1: Formative strands of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 88).
In analysing Tang’s three goals of formation, it is recognised that 1) “becoming Christlike individually” is a common goal shared with other formative theories (e.g. Gruenberg and Asumang [2019, 7-8] listed nine major works on formation showing the same goal) and reflects biblical concepts of believer’s growth (e.g. Gal 4:19; Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18) toward the restoration of imago Dei and classically affirmed by theologian Anthony Hoekema (1986, 27); 2) “becoming a people of God as a community” in formation as less common (though affirmed by Steve Kang [2002, 146-49], professor in interdisciplinary studies) and Tang seeing a) God actively calling out a people to Himself in both the Old Testament and New Testament (e.g. Exo 6:7), b) Paul’s use of “the called-out ones” or ekklesia as an image of the Church (e.g. “church” and “churches” in Rom 16:4-5, cf. Thayer and Smith, Greek Lexicon entry for “Ekklesia”), and c) Pauline references to individual believers as “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19) and to the church as “temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16-17) underscores the workings of the Spirit through individuals and collectively as a whole (affirmed by Richard Averbeck [2008, 43], a theologian); 3) “becoming missional for the kingdom of God and the healing of creation” by bringing Christ’s atonement and reconciliation to the individual, community, and creation is consistent with Paul’s “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph 1:10, NIV) which F. F. Bruce (1984, 261) described as “the unification of a divided universe.”
Paradigmatic Concept (Second Axis)
The key ideas behind this paradigm are as follow. Tang’s favoured metaphor for the spiritual development of a person-in-formation is that of a journey (Tang 2014, 89); crucible or womb as analogical containers of development for the persons-in-community formation (Tang 2014, 91-3, 185-86); and persons-in-mission formation as redemptive agents of God’s holistic shalom in his kingdom and to both the human race and creation (Tang 2014, 93-5, 108-16).
Spiritual formation for a disciple of Christ describes the sanctifying and transforming process as a journey (discipleship pastor Bill Hull 2006, 35, quoted in Tang 2014, 73) and it is not linear and predictable like a pilgrimage but the journey “is like an unfolding drama, with unpredictable twists and turns in the plot” with “fits and starts, sudden shifts and surprises, as well as imperceptible growth” (educator Suzanne Johnson 1989, 104, quoted in Tangs 2014, 89). The formative processes are to be carried out in a crucible which parallels the faith community where formation and transformation takes place (Tang 2014, 133-36, cf. theologian LeRon Shults and psychologist Steven Sandage’s intensification model as basis for the crucible analogy 2006, 31). Tang also used the womb analogously as “a nurturing crucible” which “supplies not only nutrients but also growth-enabling elements” (Tang 2014, 185-86). The concept of shalom is important to Tang’s theory on spiritual formation and is deeply connected with the kingdom and the mission of God: “Shalom signifies the state of wholeness of the pre-Fall creation, the redemptive acts of God, and the gathering of a people to promote the kingdom of God” (Tang 2014, 116). I.e. shalom is God having “a whole person, a whole people of His own, a whole earth, and a whole creation in interconnected relationship” (Tang 2014, 109). God’s people then “have a mission to reveal his righteousness and share this love” (theologian Chris Wright 2006, quoted in Tangs 2014, 107). Spiritual formation sees the need for holistic social justice and creation care beyond communicating the gospel (Tang 2014, 117).
In analysing the journey metaphor for personal formation, the crucible analogy as community for formative nurturing of its members, and the shalom concept intrinsic to the kingdom of God and his mission, we see Tang’s formational orientation toward process of transformation, context of community, and missional eschatology.
Tang’s premise is that “a holistic Christian spiritual formation paradigm based on a crucible of spiritual formation elements [italics for emphasis]” in the context of ESPCs’ “unique socio-political and psychocultural” environ will achieve the goal of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 7). It is holistic in seeing the three formative strands as noted above being an intrinsic part of the formation paradigm. Spiritual formation is therefore personal but not individualistic, shows a balance of both relational and service-orientation within the faith community, and is not just about “being” but also about “doing” as well. The seven spiritual formation elements are “growing into Christ-likeness, building relationships [with God, self, others], being missional, pursuing intentionality, seeking spiritual learning, being dependent on the Holy Spirit, and developing community” with the formational community as the context and supporting “crucible” for such development (Tang 2014, 175). The formative crucible is the faith community where these spiritual formation elements are nurtured and allowed to flourish. Tang’s “Spiritual Formation Inventory” instrument reordered the elements into the acrostic SHALOM to help individuals assess their spiritual development (Tang 2018, 14-19). In folding the seven elements into the six SHALOM components, Tang left out explicit mention of the Holy Spirit as conceptually “it is understood to be incorporated into all the other elements” (Tang in WhatsApp message to writer, 9 December 2019).
Theological Underpinnings (Third Axis)
Figure 2: The nature of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 118)
The theological and philosophical foundation is the “substance” answering the “why” questions behind the theory whereas the paradigmatic concept is the “shape” (Gruenberg and Asumang 2019, 12). Christian spiritual formation is a process involving “restoration, relationship, and shalom” in the context of three major biblical and theological concepts: 1) Restoring the imago Dei; 2) Relationship with the triune God; 3) Shalom and the kingdom of God (Tang 2014, 95). The following diagram (Figure 2) shows the nature of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 118).
Restoring the Imago Dei
At creation, God made man and woman in his own image as the imago Dei (Gen 1:26-27). Reformed theologian, Anthony Hoekema, then explicate two results when they disobeyed God resulting in the Fall: 1) a functional aspect: rupture of man’s threefold relationship with God, with others, and with creation; 2) a structural aspect: the “original image” became the “perverted image” at the Fall, and from the “renewed image” becoming “perfected image” through Christ’s redemption (1986, 75-96). Hoekema noted, “the purpose of redemption is to restore the image of God in man” (1986, 27). In restoring the imago Dei in a person, that person is becoming more like God which “also means becoming more like Christ” (Hoekema 1986, 89). The Church is then made up of those who are restored to the divine image. The theological underpinning of the person-in-formation is the restoration of imago Dei (which is an epistemological dimension of formation).
Relationship with a Triune God
A theological foundation of spiritual formation is having right relationships with God (vertically), with self and others (horizontally). The Jewish Shema reveals God’s heart in wanting a community of God’s people in love relationship with the triune God for his glory (Jn 17:20-25; Eph. 3:11): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5, NIV). Theologian Scot McKnight (2004, 6) called it the “Jewish creed of spiritual formation.” Jesus Christ gave the Great Commandment derived from the above passage in Mark 12:29-31 (cf. Matt 22:37-40 and Lk 10:26 27). McKnight (2004) labelled it the “Jesus Creed” reflecting the heart of Christian spiritual formation. In Romans 8:27-29, Paul connects the triune Godhead with its outworking in the spiritual formation of believers. The triune Godhead invites believers to join in the perichoresis or dance of the trinitarian community (Tang 2014, 104; this is another epistemological reality of formation). The faith community of believers is to demonstrate to all others what shalom as perfectly whole and complete relationship is (Tang 2014, 106). Christian faith communities can thus learn from the perfect triune model of relationships amongst the Godhead (Tang 2014, 106-7). The persons-in-community formation should look to the example of the trinity in their relational behaviour (Tang 2014, 108).
Shalom and the kingdom of God
Shalom in the Old Testament occurs 250 times (Mounce 2006, 503) and means “a state of wholeness, completeness, well-being, prosperity, health, contentment, salvation, righteousness, and justice” (Beck and Brown 1986, 777; Kittel, Friedrich, and Bromiley 1985, 406-20, as quoted in Tang 2014, 108) and is often used to describe relationship to God. In the New Testament, the equivalent Greek word is eirene which occurs 91 times. Shalom is a key concept in Christian spiritual formation viz: 1) Christ as the Saviour is the mediator of shalom, reconciles people to God, and brings wholeness to people and the world (Eph 2:14-18; Col 1:20; Gal 6:15); people-in-formation thus experience growth in shalom (Tang 2014, 111); 2) The kingdom of God as a “shalom world” with “the rule of God in the hearts of His people” (Tang 2014, 112); 3) Mission of God carried out through shalom by Christians and their faith community as persons-in-mission; Missiologist Leslie Newbigin (1995) suggested a trinitarian model for the mission of God: a) proclaim the kingdom of God as faith in action, b) share the life of the Son as love in action, and c) bear witness of the Holy Spirit as hope in action (Tang 2014, 113).
The biblical and theological foundations of the Crucible Paradigm are based on the theological concepts of a process of being restored to the image of God, becoming a people of God, and as agents for the mission of God. Tang’s psychosocial foundations of Christian spiritual formation integrates educator James Loder’s (1989) “logic of transformation,” theologian LeRon Shults and psychologist Steven Sandage’s (2006) “intensification model,” and Dallas Willard’s (2002) “renovation of the heart.” There are sound biblical, theological, and psychosocial foundations for the Crucible Paradigm of formation.
Role of the Spiritual Formation Community
A Christian spiritual formation community with underlying spiritual formation and discipleship coupled with committed leaders and members to spiritual formation will provide the impetus, vibrancy, and identity to the spiritual dynamics of congregational life. The community will need to demonstrate a good mix of relational and service-oriented ministry to support the Crucible Paradigm of formation.
Role of the Spiritual Formation Elements
Within the crucible of a formational community, Tang listed the following five elements as key to generating synergy within the community: 1) Growing into Christ-likeness; 2) Building relationships; 3) Being missional; 4) Enhancing spiritual learning; 5) Developing community (Tang 2014, 259). He left out the other two as listed below.
Role of the Holy Spirit and Human Intentionality
According to Tang, “the Holy Spirit is the generator that powers the elements of spiritual formation while human intentionality is the engine that drives it.” He concluded, “the Christian spiritual formation paradigm may be described as a spiritual formation community that acts as a crucible for the spiritual formation elements to act with the formative assent of individuals and transformative action of the Holy Spirit.” While the role of the Spirit is seen here as sovereign (and thus separated out from the other five elements) perhaps there could be more discussions on how the Spirit does act transformatively in response to certain trigger events or states, if any.
Formational Activities (Fourth Axis)
The formative activities advocated by the crucible paradigm may be grouped under the spiritual formation elements for which examples are provided by Tang (2014, 295-332). These seek to help Christians ameliorate negative external socio-political an psychocultural influences. According to Tang (2014, 332), it is aimed at a holistic and integrated approach using socialisation or enculturation principles. Some of these include: 1) Growing in Christlikeness by being restored from spiritual brokenness “through the spiritual disciplines, critical thinking, and mentoring” (Tang 2014, 295-300); 2) Building relationships with God and with each other “through their spiritual lived experiences to enrich one another” (Tang 2014, 300-15); 3) Spiritual learning by “taking personal responsibility for learning and learning through the catechetical process” (Tang 2014, 315-23); 4) Developing community “by using Christian practices, through intergenerational composition, living by community rules, and sharing testimonies and celebration” (Tang 2014, 323-29); 5) Being missional through social engagement by “caring for the sick, poor, and oppressed” (Tang 2014, 329-32).
In analysing this axis, it is noted that Tang used 37 pages of his book in providing rich suggestions and relevant examples as possible activities in implementing the Crucible Paradigm. He used the spiritual formation elements as the framework for these actionable items.
Relationship Between the Four Axes of the Crucible Paradigm
In this second stage, an assessment will be made in the interrelatedness among the four axes of the paradigm. In general, there appears to be good fit and alignment between all the four axes. The common constructs include the three goals of spiritual formation, the associated three formative strands, and the seven/five plus two spiritual formation elements. There may be apparent exception when the second axis, paradigmatic concepts, is compared to the third axis, theological underpinnings. The metaphor of the journey (second axis) may not seem aligned with items on the third axis. This may be reconciled if the “process of becoming” is seen as part of the “journey” of person in formation.
Critique of the Overall Crucible Paradigm
In this third and final stage, a critical assessment of the unified paradigm is made. Tang presented a theoretical construct of the holistic spiritual formation crucible paradigm that is systematic in its approach, comprehensive in scope, relevant in its intent and actual study, and contextual in its suggested application. The use of womb as an analogy for a nurturing environment may well fall short as the growing foetus does not need to do anything for growth. This is not Tang’s approach toward spiritual development and he has prescribed active participation in formative practices to aid the process. The shalom concept is so fundamental to this paradigm that a suggestion is now made for the inclusion of the term in the paradigm description itself, within the outcome goals, or in the name of the paradigm, e.g. holistic shalom formation crucible paradigm.
The Holistic Spiritual Formation Crucible Paradigm was assessed through breaking it down into the four axes covering the goal, concept, theology, activity, and the interrelatedness between axes and the critique of its unified paradigm. The four axes were found to be consistent conceptually and the overall unified paradigm acceptable with a suggested tweak to the name or description of the paradigm. One of Tang’s future research suggestion is exploring the paradigm applicability in other Asian situations in the region. While the assessment by this paper has not directly addressed the point, it does appear to be relevant in its theory and approach beyond Malaysia or the Presbyterian Church (Tang did note some practices and lessons from the Presbyterian Church in Singapore, for instance). It is also noted that the initial research done by Tang utilized Western philosophy and practice but he has had been able to extract the relevant and contextualise them accordingly.
Averbeck, Richard E. 2008. “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation.” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 1, no. 1: 27-53.
Bruce, F. F. 1984. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Coyle, Adrian. 2011. “Critical Responses to Faith Development Theory: A Useful Agenda for Change?” Psychology of Religion 33, no. 3 (September): 281-298. Accessed: December 21, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1163/157361211X608162.
Fortosis, Steve. 1992. “A Developmental Model for Stages of Growth in Christian Formation.” Religious Education 87, no. 2 (March): 283-98. Accessed: December 21, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1080/0034408920870211.
Loder, James E. 1989. The Transforming Moment. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers and Howard. (Quoted in Tang 2014, 128-33.)
Lowe, Mary. 2010. “A Summary of the Findings of the Study: Assessing the Impact of Online Courses on the Spiritual Formation of Adult Students,” Christian Perspectives in Education 4, no. 1: 1-18. Accessed: December 21, 2019. http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cpe/vol4/iss1/3.
McKnight, Scot. 2004. The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press.
Reed, Angela H. 2010. Quest for Spiritual Community: A Practical Theology of Congregational-based Spiritual Guidance. PhD diss., Princeton Theological Seminary.
Rodgers, J. 2010. “The Epistemology of Mathematical and Statistical Modeling: A Quiet Methodological Revolution.” American Psychologist 65, no. 1 (January): 1-12. Accessed: December 21, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018326.
Shults, F. LeRon, and Steven J. Sandage. 2006. Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
This is the best quote I have heard about growing old
When they asked her to reveal her beauty secrets, Audrey Hepburn wrote this beautiful text that was later read at her funeral.
To have attractive lips, speak kind words. To have a loving look, look for the good side of people. To look skinny, share your food with the hungry. To have beautiful hair, let a child cross it with his own fingers once a day. To have a beautiful poise, walk knowing you’re never alone, because those who love and loved you accompany you. People, even more than objects, need to be fixed, spoiled, awakened, wanted and saved: never give up on anyone. Remember, if you ever need a hand, you’ll find them at the end of both your arms.
When you become old, you will discover that you have two hands, one to help yourself, the second to help others. The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, in her face or in her way of fixing her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the door open to her heart, the source of her love. The beauty of a woman doesn’t lie in her makeup, but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the tenderness that gives love, the passion that it expresses. The beauty of a woman grows over the years ′′
As I meditate and think about growing old, here are four movements of the Holy Spirit that will help us.
Stories We Listen To – Your Story, My Story, His Story:
Metanarratives and the Christian Life
Whether we are aware of it or not, stories we listen are influencing the how we think, how we see or perceived everyday things and how we develop our values. When we hear the word ‘story’, we usually think of fiction as stories in books or movies. Sociologists and philosophers had long understood that stories or narratives may are not just fiction but the determining factor in how we live our lives. The stories that we listen to have the ability to shape our reality. These reality-shaping stories are also known as worldview.
We have been studying the Gospel according to Matthew. We have studied the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:1-17. We have seen that the genealogy was divided into three section of fourteen generations each; from Abraham to David, David to the Exile, and Exile to Jesus. Since the number seven is a very special number in Jewish numerology (indicates completeness and perfection), each section is 2 x 7 which makes fourteen. This implies that the generations from Jesus onward is the seventh of the sevens generation, making it a very special generation. Matthew proceeds to tell us how special this generation is by telling us the story of the birth of Jesus Christ (Matt.1:18-25).
Before we examine the story itself, we shall look at some of the stories Matthew’s listeners are hearing. The prevailing stories/worldview according to Scot McKnight in his book Kingdom Conspiracy (2014) during the time of Jesus are:
The eschatological battle of God in the Psalms of Solomon
The Maccabean and Zealot strategy of holy warfare
The Essene strategy of holy withdrawal
The Pharisee push for great zeal for Torah obedience
The Sadducee strategy of realism by cooperating with Rome
Note about extra biblical writings, bible and Jewish History:
Pseudepigrapha (also Anglicized as “pseudepigraph” or “pseudepigraphs”) are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is represented by a separate author, or a work “whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past”. The word pseudepigrapha (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseudes, “false” and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphē, “name” or “inscription” or “ascription”; thus when taken together it means “false superscription or title”) is the plural of “pseudepigraphon” (sometimes Latinized as “pseudepigraphum”).
Pseudepigraphy covers the false ascription of names of authors to works, even to authentic works that make no such claim within their text. Thus a widely accepted but incorrect attribution of authorship may make a completely authentic text pseudepigraphical. Assessing the actual writer of a text locates questions of pseudepigraphical attribution within the discipline of literary criticism.
In Old Testament biblical studies, the term Pseudepigrapha typically refers to an assorted collection of Jewish religious works thought to be written c 300 BC to 300 AD. They are distinguished by Protestants from the Deuterocanonical (Catholic and Orthodox) or Apocrypha (Protestant), the books that appear in the Septuagint and Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles. Catholics distinguish only between the deuterocanonical and all the other books, that are called biblical Apocrypha, a name that is also used for the pseudepigrapha in the Catholic usage. In addition, two books considered canonical in the Tewahedo churches, viz. 1 Enoch and Jubilees, are categorized as “pseudepigrapha” from the point of view of the Chalcedonian churches.
Assumption of Moses
Ethiopic Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)
Slavonic Book of Enoch (2 Enoch)
Book of Jubilees
Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)
Letter of Aristeas
Life of Adam and Eve
Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
Psalms of Solomon
Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch)
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
One of the Pseudepigrapha, the Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms (religious songs or poems) that are not part of any scriptural canon (they are, however, found in copies of the Peshitta and the Septuagint). The 17th of the 18 Psalms is similar to Psalm 72 which has traditionally been attributed to Solomon, and hence may be the reason that the Psalms of Solomon have their name. An alternate view is that the psalms were so highly regarded that Solomon’s name was attached to it to keep them from being ignored or forgotten.
The Psalms of Solomon were referenced in Early Christian writings, but lost to modern scholars until a Greek manuscript was rediscovered in the 17th century. There are currently eight known 11th- to 15th-century manuscripts of a Greek translation from a lost Hebrew or Aramaic original, probably dating from the 1st or 2nd century BCE. However, though now a collection, they were originally separate, written by different people in different periods.
Politically, the Psalms of Solomon are anti-Maccabee, and some psalms in the collection show a clear awareness of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem under Pompey in 63 BCE, metaphorically treating him as a dragon who had been sent by God to punish the Maccabees. Some of the psalms are messianic, in the Jewish sense (clearly referring to a mortal that happens to be divinely assisted, much like Moses), but the majority are concerned less with the world at large, and more with individual behaviour, expressing a belief that repentance for unintended sins will return them to God’s favour.
The Septuagint /ˈsɛptjuːəˌdʒɪnt/, /ˈsɛptuːəˌdʒɪnt/, /ˌsɛpˈtuːədʒɪnt/, /ˈsɛptʃuːəˌdʒɪnt/, from the Latin word septuaginta (meaning seventy), is a translation of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek. As the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is also called the Greek Old Testament. This translation is quoted in the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline epistles, and also by the Apostolic Fathers and later Greek Church Fathers. The title (Greek: Ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν Ἑβδομήκοντα) and its Roman numeral acronym LXX refer to legendary seventy Jewish scholars who solely translated the Five Books Of Moses as early as the late 2nd century BCE. This translation is not extant, except as rare fragments. The traditional story is that Ptolemy II sponsored the translation of the Torah (Pentateuch, Five Books Of Moses). Subsequently, the Greek translation was in circulation among the Alexandrian Jews who were not fluent in Hebrew but fluent in Koine Greek, which was the lingua franca of Alexandria, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean at the time.
The Vulgate (/ˈvʌlɡeɪt, -ɡɪt/) is a late fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible that became, during the 16th century, the Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible. The translation was largely the work of St. Jerome, who, in 382, was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina (“Old Latin”) collection of Biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. Once published, it was widely adopted and eventually eclipsed the Vetus Latina and, by the 13th century, was known as the “versio vulgata” (the “version commonly-used”) or, more simply, in Latin as vulgata or in Greek as βουλγάτα (“Vulgate”). It was made the Catholic Church’s official Latin Bible as a consequence of the Council of Trent (1545–63).
The Deuterocanonical Books (Apocrypha)
Deuterocanonical books is a term used since the 16th century in the Catholic Church and Eastern Christianity to describe certain books and passages of the Christian Old Testament that are not part of the current Hebrew Bible. The term is used in contrast to the protocanonical books, which are contained in the Hebrew Bible. This distinction had previously contributed to debate in the early Church about whether they should be classified as canonical texts. The term is used as a matter of convenience by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and other Churches to refer to books of their Old Testament which are not part of the Masoretic Text. The deuterocanonical books are considered canonical by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Church of the East, but are considered non-canonical by most Protestants. The word deuterocanonical comes from the Greek meaning ‘belonging to the second canon’.
The Catholic deuterocanonical scriptural texts are:
Additions to Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24)
Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon)
Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira (or Sirach or Ecclesiasticus)
Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah in the Septuagint)
Additions to Daniel:
Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24-90)
Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13, Septuagint prologue)
Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14, Septuagint epilogue)
The death of Alexander the Great of Greece in 323 BCE led to the breakup of the Greek empire as three of his generals fought for supremacy and divided the Middle East among themselves. Ptolemy secured control of Egypt and the Land of Israel. Seleucus grabbed Syria and Asia Minor, and Antigonus took Greece.
The Land of Israel was thus sandwiched between two of the rivals and, for the next 125 years, Seleucids and Ptolemies battled for this prize. The former finally won in 198 B.C. when Antiochus III defeated the Egyptians and incorporated Judea into his empire. Initially, he continued to allow the Jews autonomy, but after a stinging defeat at the hands of the Romans he began a program of Hellenization that threatened to force the Jews to abandon their monotheism for the Greeks’ paganism. Antiochus backed down in the face of Jewish opposition to his effort to introduce idols in their temples, but his son, Antiochus IV, who inherited the throne in 176 B.C. resumed his father’s original policy without excepting the Jews. A brief Jewish rebellion only hardened his views and led him to outlaw central tenets of Judaism such as the Sabbath and circumcision, and defile the holy Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews.
5.1 The Jewish Hammer
Though many Jews had been seduced by the virtues of Hellenism, the extreme measures adopted by Antiochus helped unite the people. When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the man. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 BCE the Jews rose up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation.
The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for “hammer,” because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. Jews refer to the Maccabees, but the family is more commonly known as the Hasmoneans.
Like other rulers before him, Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of his Jewish adversaries and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When that was annihilated, he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated. In 164 BCE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees and the Temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah.
5.2 Jews Regain Their Independence
It took more than two decades of fighting before the Maccabees forced the Seleucids to retreat from the Land of Israel. By this time Antiochus had died and his successor agreed to the Jews’ demand for independence. In the year 142 BCE, after more than 500 years of subjugation, the Jews were again masters of their own fate.
When Mattathias died, the revolt was led by his son Judas, or Judah Maccabee, as he is often called. By the end of the war, Simon was the only one of the five sons of Mattathias to survive and he ushered in an 80-year period of Jewish independence in Judea, as the Land of Israel was now called. The kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon’s realm and Jewish life flourished.
The Hasmoneans claimed not only the throne of Judah, but also the post of High Priest. This assertion of religious authority conflicted with the tradition of the priests coming from the descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron and the tribe of Levi.
It did not take long for rival factions to develop and threaten the unity of the kingdom. Ultimately, internal divisions and the appearance of yet another imperial power were to put an end to Jewish independence in the Land of Israel for nearly two centuries.
Sources: Mitchell G. Bard,The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. 4th Edition. NY: Alpha Books, 2008.
The most important Macabbee/Hasmonean during Jesus’ time is Herod the Great.
What is the story/worldview of Matthew 1: 18-25?
Matthew 1:18–25 (NIV84)
The Birth of Jesus Christ
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Meaning of the name Jesus
The word Jesus used in the English New Testament comes from the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous), a rendition of the Hebrew Yeshua (ישוע), related to the name Joshua. The name is thus related to the Hebrew consonantal verb root verb y-š-ʕ (to rescue or deliver) and the Hebrew noun yešuaʕ (deliverance).
In the New Testament, in Luke 1:31 an angel tells Mary to name her child Jesus, and in Matthew 1:21 an angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus during Joseph’s first dream. Matthew 1:21 indicates the salvific implications of the name Jesus when the angel instructs Joseph: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”. It is the only place in the New Testament where “saves his people” appears with “sins”. Matthew 1:21 provides the beginnings of the Christology of the name Jesus. At once it achieves the two goals of affirming Jesus as the savior and emphasizing that the name was not selected at random, but based on a Heavenly command.
2.1 Regarding Jesus’ birth
Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Question: “Is ‘virgin’ or ‘young woman’ the correct translation of Isaiah 7:14?”
Answer: Isaiah 7:14 reads, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Quoting Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23 reads, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” Christians point to this “virgin birth” as evidence of Messianic prophecy fulfilled by Jesus. Is this a valid example of fulfilled prophecy? Is Isaiah 7:14 predicting the virgin birth of Jesus? Is “virgin” even the proper translation of the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14?
The Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 is “almah,” and its inherent meaning is “young woman.” “Almah” can mean “virgin,” as young unmarried women in ancient Hebrew culture were assumed to be virgins. Again, though, the word does not necessarily imply virginity. “Almah” occurs seven times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8; Isaiah 7:14). None of these instances demands the meaning “virgin,” but neither do they deny the possible meaning of “virgin.” There is no conclusive argument for “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 being either “young woman” or “virgin.” However, it is interesting to note, that in the 3rd century B.C., when a panel of Hebrew scholars and Jewish rabbis began the process of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they used the specific Greek word for virgin, “parthenos,” not the more generic Greek word for “young woman.” The Septuagint translators, 200+ years before the birth of Christ, and with no inherent belief in a “virgin birth,” translated “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin,” not “young woman.” This gives evidence that “virgin” is a possible, even likely, meaning of the term.
With all that said, even if the meaning “virgin” is ascribed to “almah” in Isaiah 7:14, does that make Isaiah 7:14 a Messianic prophecy about Jesus, as Matthew 1:23 claims? In the context of Isaiah chapter 7, the Aramites and Israelites were seeking to conquer Jerusalem, and King Ahaz was fearful. The Prophet Isaiah approaches King Ahaz and declares that Aram and Israel would not be successful in conquering Jerusalem (verses 7-9). The Lord offers Ahaz the opportunity to receive a sign (verse 10), but Ahaz refuses to put God to the test (verse 11). God responds by giving the sign Ahaz should look for, “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son…but before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” In this prophecy, God is essentially saying that within a few years’ time, Israel and Aram will be destroyed. At first glace, Isaiah 7:14 has no connection with a promised virgin birth of the Messiah. However, the Apostle Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, connects the virgin birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:23) with the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Therefore, Isaiah 7:14 should be understood as being a “double prophecy,” referring primarily to the situation King Ahaz was facing, but secondarily to the coming Messiah who would be the ultimate deliverer.
Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Psalm 22:16-18: “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Likely the clearest prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
What are some of the stories/worldviews we listen to today?
Salvation by therapy
Steve Wilkens and Mark Stanford, Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories that Shape Our Lives (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009)
I will add two more
How do these stories/worldviews affect our lives as Christians?
The Trinity or the Triune God is very difficult to understand. It is not three Gods in one nor is it three separate God. The analogy of water often used to explain it; water can exist in three separate states – liquid, gas and solid (ice) is not an adequate analogy unless water can exist in all three states simultaneously. The analogy then breaks down as the Trinity is three separate Persons (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) with one essence in one Godhead.
It is crucial to note that the word “Trinity” never appear in the Bible and that the doctrine of Trinitarianism is derived from a canonical understanding of the Bible. A canonical understanding is an understanding that is derived from the best Scriptural evidence and theological studies. Understanding of the Trinity also needs a historical perspective as it was many years after the early church that the doctrine was formally recognized, notable the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
The essentials of the Trinity
(1) There is only One God. God is One.
(2) Each of the persons within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is deity.
(3) Each of the persons within the Godhead is of equal status. Jesus Christ the Son is not lower than God the Father.
(4) Each of the three Persons are of the same essence.
(5) The Trinity is eternal
One of the challenges of the Trinity Godhead is that it is a Mystery and we may not be able with our limited human minds to understand fully.
Son – Ps. 2:7; Heb.1:1-13; Ps. 68:18; Isa. 6:1-3; 9:6
Holy Spirit – Gen. 1:1-2; Exod. 31:3; Judg. 15:14; Isa. 11:2
Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 3:17
Persons of the same essence: Attributes applied to each person
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
He was with God in the beginning.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
1 Peter 1:5
who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time
2 Cor 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
Can anyone hide in secret place, so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.
For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
1 John 5:6
This is the one who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.
Equality with different roles: Activities involving three persons
(1) Creation of the world
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
(2) Creation of man
the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
(3) Baptism of Christ
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him
(4) Death of Christ
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Lord of the dance
One way for me to try to understand the Trinity is to think of a dance. No, not the modern dnace but the traditional dance where there are different roles and change of partners. Sometime one leads and sometimes the other. The understanding of the Greek word perichoresis or dance by the Orthodox Church helps me a lot in understanding this. If the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is in a dance, then there is the dance with three persons. Again not an easy concept to grasp.
Communion in the Trinity and its significance for me
What is of important to me is the relationship between the three Persons in the Godhead. They are so close that they are in one essence or communion. What is significant to me is that as Jesus Christ the Son won freedom for me by his work on the cross and my acceptance of it has placed the Holy Spirit with my spirit. This infusion of the Holy Spirit is an invitation for me to join in communion with the Godhead. It is my invitation to be part of the dance.