"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
-Luke 2:13-15 (KJV)

This must have been an amazing scene.  It is one of many moments in the Nativity story that I would liked to have seen with my own eyes.  But it’s also somewhat of a strange scene – the messengers, the audience, and the message itself.  I’ve always enjoyed Handel’s setting of this in Messiah.  It’s a tremendously epic chorus, but it ends as soon as it begins, and we’re left with just a few more bars of the strings by themselves.  While listening to the end, I always picture the shepherds staring blankly at the sky, completely and utterly dumbfounded.  There is something very poetic about the scene.  The grand announcement was not made to kings or religious rulers; it was made to simple shepherds without any sort of warning.

But I’d like to focus on the message itself; it’s a message that I have found difficult to understand.  From what little study I’ve done, translations other than the KJV come closer to the original meaning.

Recall from a previous post that I have recently read a book called Free Will: A Contemporary Introduction by Robert Kane.  In that post, I introduced the Free Will Problem and explained the basic position of compatibilism.  To review, a compatibilist holds that free will and determinism are not at odds with one another; in other words, someone can be considered to have free will in a completely determined world.  The way that a classical compatibilist will defend this notion, is by arguing that if we understand free will as the ability to do that which one desires without physical constraint or coercion, there is no contradiction.  While our desires and urges may be determined by our genetics or environment, not to mention the natural laws of the closed physical system, as long as we are not prevented from acting on those desires, we are free.

From despair.com
Or so the saying goes.  It is a popular maxim that has been around for some time, and has maintained an almost universal popularity.  But G.K. Chesterton, some years ago, gave a powerful critique of it.   In his book, Orthodoxy, he writes this.  It is worth mentioning that these words were published in 1908, well before the decades and decades of "believe in yourself" mantra in the U.S.
Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true.  Once I remember walking with a  prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world.  Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it.  The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself."  And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell."  I said to him, "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves?  For I can tell you.  I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar.  I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success.  I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men.  The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums."
The reader will recall from a previous post that I recently finished How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, with my small group. Overall, our group found it to be an incredibly helpful guide for how to approach the unique nature of the Bible with all its different genres and books. In that post, I summarized the first two chapters of the book, which serve as introductions to the difficulties of interpreting and translating scripture. In the current post, I will discuss those chapters of the book which I found most and least helpful.

The Epistles as Occasional

Chapters two and three of this book, which are among my favorites, focus on how one should read the Epistles. As discussed in the previous post, in order to understand what any part of the the Bible means to us, we must first understand what it meant to them (the original recipients). To do this, we must really understand what type of literature a book is, and why it was written in the first place. The epistles, of course, are letters. Simple, right? After all, letters are often straight forward and easy to follow. Except these letters are obviously not simple. If they were, there would not be quite so many disagreements among Christians. Each letter is slightly different. Some are letters written to individuals, while others are written to groups. Each uses different parts of what formal letters of that time would have contained. Some would be impossible to recognize as letters at all if the recipient had not been addressed.  For example, 1 John has none of the formal elements of a letter (name of writer, greeting, etc) and James is written such that it is almost indistinguishable from a theological tract.  The one thing that all the epistles have in common, though, is that they are occasional. This means that they were "occasioned, or called forth, by some special circumstance, either from the reader's side or the author's."1 This is the most important point to keep in mind while reading the epistles, because it is the single factor that makes them so difficult to understand.

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