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Colossians Remixed 3

posted by xscot mcknight

Just in case you are wondering what Walsh and Keesmaat’s understanding of Colossians and postmodernity might look like, they have “updated” Colossians 1:1-14, what the ancient Jews called a “targum.” This is from:Colossians Remixed.
I feel this question coming on — what are the best commentaries on Colossians — so I’ll answer it:
First, for simple, straightforward analysis of the Greek grammar and syntax, you can’t do better than Murray Harris, Colossians and Philemon.
Second, for the debates about meaning and exegesis, I like Peter O’Brien,Colossians-Philemon.
Third, for the most recent commentary I like James D.G. Dunn, Colossians and Philemon.
Fourth, at a more popular level, I recommend David Garland’s fine Colossians and Philemon and Tom Wright’s shorter, but always suggestive, Paul for Everyone.
Now on to W-K’s suggestive “targum” of 1:1-14. Is there any substantial difference here between what this targum is doing and how we “apply” the Bible, both in sermon and in personal reading?
Colossians 1:1-14 Targum
Brian and Sylvia, disciples of Messiah Jesus by the grace of God, to the covenanted community of faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in the totally wired world of the new global economy. At the dawn of a new millennium, and in the face of a world of terror, may you experience the all-encompassing shalom and wholeness that is received as a wonderful gift from God our Father.
Col. 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
Col. 1:2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father

[Now notice what they do with the next couple of verses. Here they are: Col. 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true word of the gospel 6 that has come to you.]
We want you to know that thankfulness permeates our prayers for you. We continue to give thanks to God, the Father of our sovereign Messiah Jesus, as we hear the stories of struggling and daring discipleship that continues to characterize his followers. We have heard that your faith and trust in Jesus is proved true because it takes on the real flesh of love in your midst – a love that is manifest in your care for the poor, providing shelter to the homeless, food for the hungry and hospitality to the stranger. Such faith and love are inseparable: one cannot exist without the other. But neither is possible without hope. And here at the end of a century of such bloodshed, betrayal and broken promises, it is an amazing thing to be a community animated by hope. May that hope sustain you in a world addicted to violence.
But your hope is not the cheap buoyant optimism of global capitalism with its cybernetic computer gods and self-confident scientific discovery, all serving the predatory idolatry of economism. You know that these are gods with an insatiable desire for child sacrifice. That is why your hope is not the shallow optimism of the “‘Long Boom” of increased prosperity. Such optimism is but a cheap imitation of hope. Real hope – the kind of hope that gives you the audacity to resist the commodification of your lives and engenders the possibility of an alternative imagination-is no human achievement; it is a divine gift. This hope isn’t extinguished by living in “the future of a shattered past,” precisely because it is a hope rooted in a story of kept promises, even at the cost of death.
You didn’t get this hope from cable television, and you didn’t find it on the Net. This hope walked into your life, hollering itself hoarse out on the streets, in the classroom, down at the pub and in the public square, when you first heard the good news of whole life restoration in Christ. This gospel is the Word of truth – it is the life-giving, creation-calling, covenant-making, always faithful servant Word that takes flesh in Jesus, who is the truth. So it is not surprising that the Word of truth is no detached set of objective verities committed to memory and reproduced on the test. No, this Word of truth is active, bearing fruit throughoUt the cultural wilderness of this terribly scorched earth. From the beginning blessing, “Be fruitful and multiply,” God has always intended that creation be a place of fruitfulness. Now the Word of truth is producing the fruit of a radical discipleship, demonstrated in passion for justice, evocative art and drama, restorative stewardship of our ecological home, education for faithful living, integral evangelism, and liturgy that shapes an imagination alternative to the empires.
In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
And when that kind of fruit is evident in your lives, you don’t need to choke on the word truth – you don’t need to whisper it through your tears. You see, once you have comprehended the grace of God in truth and your life bears witness to the power of this truth, then you can speak — indeed you can sing — of truth with integrity. You have learned all of this well from prophets and singers, teachers and preachers, artists and storytellers who have come before us, and again, they all testify to your love in the Spirit.



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Peggy

posted September 19, 2007 at 12:33 am


…really inspiring view and perspective, here. Thanks, Scot, for the reminder that the vision I’m pursuing isn’t off track 8)



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Georges Boujakly

posted September 19, 2007 at 5:42 am


The difference is not substantial between this kind of targum and how we apply biblical truth today. It sounds a bit like an amplified Amplified Bible approach.
What I struggle with when reading the biblical text is not what to apply from the text to the issues of my generation. My ever present question is how do I become the kind of person the text seems to be promoting.
I see Scot doing this in Jesus Creed, Embracing Grace, and Praying with the Church. If more believing scholars combined their scholarship with their spirituality in writing in their areas of expertise we would be the richer for it. We would also learn well-reasoned ways of applying the text.



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Matthew

posted September 19, 2007 at 7:11 am


My first reaction is that there needs to be more separation between locution and illocution.
Scholars continue to debate exactly what heresy Paul was writing against. He clearly wrote pro-Christ and less clearly seemed to write against some heresy – some claim it was a proto-gnosticism while others claim it was Judaism. I think it is common to believe the heresy was syncretism.
However, this targum explicitly decries capitalism in the discussion of hope. Paul’s use of hope was more subtle (much more subtle), much less politically oriented, and more positively focused on Christ.
The targum here specifically links fruit to actions such as social justice – a loaded term. I am uncomfortable with this for the same reason I am uncomfortable with linking fruit to the old-fashioned “don’t drink, smoke, chew, or run with those who do.” It is my belief that fruit points more to Gal 5, fruit of flesh vs. fruit of Spirit. That is: anger, lust, additions, etc. vs. love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, etc. Issues of the heart more than issues by which I can physically keep score.



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Matthew

posted September 19, 2007 at 7:18 am


I would be interested to hear how others describe the difference between pointed, specific application and eisegesis. It is frustrating to me that most pastors I hear seem to me to regularly eisegete. Yet, I am personally probably weak at making pointed application. Part of the problem is that when you agree with someone, you never think they are eisegeting. When you disagree, that is all you think they are doing.



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Beyond Words

posted September 19, 2007 at 8:22 am


Matthew, can you explain what part of social justice as a fruit of life in Christ you are uncomfortable with? I realize the term “social justice” conjures the specter of classic protestant liberalism…however, the biblical story is replete with God’s desire for our acts of justice and mercy–God says he wants us to practice justice and mercy more than he wants our sacrifices of praise and worship.
As far as fruit of the Spirit is concerned, would you agree the fruit of the Spirit defines our relationships within the Body and also equips us for the restorative and missional work of kingdom building and disciple making?
Our heart issues are sometimes refined by laying down our lives for others. I wonder if it would be helpful, instead of looking at social justice from the perspective of physically keeping score, to view acts of mercy and justice as a model of God’s grace so freely given to us.
Greg Laughery at Living Spirituality had a great post the other day based on 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15 and the generosity of the Macedonian church. It’s a must read. It really helped me solve the riddle of grace and works.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 19, 2007 at 8:34 am


Matthew,
I’m surprised you suggest actions like social justice are not what Paul has in mind when he speaks of fruit. To be sure, it begins with Spirit and it works out into “attitudes” and “heart” stuff, but it is impossible to read the Torah, the Prophets, Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, James the Lord’s brother and even Paul — yes, Paul, too — and not think that fruit works out in a life of good works. And that must be read over against the Old Testament and Jewish context where works of mercy were seen as the way God’s people were to live. Justice is central to the biblical vision of spirituality. (I don’t like “social” justice as an expression because what I usually hear is something measured by the US Constitution and a Western theory of freedom.)
W-K are pretty subtle in their perception of hope — it’s a nice section in the chp. Hope always has a social manifestation — namely, the kingdom of God wherein God’s will is both established and done in this world and beyond.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 19, 2007 at 8:42 am


Matthew,
Something else comes to mind for W-K: they take pains to argue, and we will post this on Friday, that terms like peace, truth, grace, and wisdom are relational terms. So, fruit will be manifest in relational categories as well.



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ChrisB

posted September 19, 2007 at 9:20 am


I’m curious what exactly constituted “social justice” in the NT. As I read Acts and the few glimpses of Christian life in the epistles, the first generation of the church didn’t set out to feed the poor but their poor. They didn’t set out to free the slaves but to tell slaves that they were free in Christ. Later we get stories of Christians rescuing abandoned children, but even then it doesn’t appear they were trying to change society so much as show society what it was supposed to be.



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Matthew

posted September 19, 2007 at 9:25 am


It’s not that I am against social justice. But the term is loaded. It often means more than helping the homeless or donating time to the less fortunate – it conjures an entire political ideology. But good people will come down on different sides of political arguments. It is one thing to say, “You have cared for the poor by feeding and clothing them.” It is another to say, “You only serve Fair Trade coffee beans at your church.” I see Paul less worried about the politics and more worried about the Christology.
I thought the first paragraph was great. But they go on to pit hope against global capitalism. Would global communism be better? Perhaps Paul would stage die-ins and would be pro-Chavez. But I don’t think so. And I don’t think it’s Paul’s argument. I think Paul is saying “Hope comes from Christ,” not “Good thing you haven’t bought into Western Consumerism.”
[I am not reacting to the first paragraph or the first part of the third paragragh under vv3-6. It’s the second paragraph and the conclusion of the third that bug me.]
[I am trying to be concise, which makes it sound terse and angry. I’m not. I am going through Colossians myself and appreciate the chance see you engaging this book, Scot]



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Rick

posted September 19, 2007 at 9:42 am


I see what Matthew is saying. Although W-K may be right in the description of some of the social actions/results of that fruit, they seem to skip over (as Matthew mentioned in #3) the Galatians 5 aspect.



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Julie Clawson

posted September 19, 2007 at 10:30 am


Matthew – if you read Colossians Remixed you would see that W-K do think that Paul had a very political agenda – he was standing up to nothing less than empire itself. The book delves into the whole issue of slavery and women. Mentioning that its failure to make blatant political statements was for the protection of the believers, but if one is familiar with the language of empire as well as Jewish thought, the meaning is far more obvious and subversive than what we often think today. I think their point is that we are not religious being separate from the world. Following Christ is not about individualism, but about how we relate and serve others.



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Matthew

posted September 19, 2007 at 10:40 am


Is it their view, then, that Paul is more conerned with subverting the Roman empire than with a Judaic or gnostic or syncretic heresy?



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John W Frye

posted September 19, 2007 at 10:52 am


Matthew,
Both global capitalism and/or global communism would be expressions of “empire.” That’s what W-K are getting at in their targum. It’s the idea of a controlling, global authority–“Caesar is Lord” (then) = “Money is Lord” (now) that captures the collective imagination and shapes human choices. Postmodernism is a collective idea that, as W-K point out, falls ironically right in line with globalization.



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Beyond Words

posted September 19, 2007 at 11:10 am


Matthew, I think it’s safe to say that Paul’s work in proclaiming the good news was up against all those competing ideas!



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Matthew

posted September 19, 2007 at 12:03 pm


John, thanks for that. And thanks to everyone else as well. It makes for interesting thinking.
I would say that if someone were to have Paul saying, “Replace your hope in x political system with a hope in Jesus” I would agree. If someone were to have Paul saying, “Replace x political system with y political system” then I would disagree.
Overlooking what I think are politically loaded terms, I see them saying that Paul is praising their actions as love personified and their hope as real, genuine, divine. No earthly event or system can add to it, no event or system can take it away. That is certainly a story I will buy.



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John W Frye

posted September 19, 2007 at 4:16 pm


Scott,
I agree with you, and I don’t think W-K are saying that Paul is saying, “Replace x political system with y political system.” They are however saying that there are realities within the gospel of the kingdom of God that take all forms of empire to task.



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tim atwater

posted September 21, 2007 at 8:00 am


sorry this is v late — but —
there are huge gaps in biblical political theology (i think) that more or less necessitate leaps of faith…
what we don’t know is huge…
what we do know is mostly negation (Samuel-Kings–the prophets –and all that follows –there is a fatal flaw in kingship of any kind other than the kingship of God…)
(Judges — there is probably also a fatal flaw in anarchy… i was almost persuaded by Ellul’s Christian Anarchy…but it breaks down along the lines of Judges i now think…)
Walsh and Keesmaat open up discussion of the theo-politics if exile in a creative way…
to do justice we should re-read Esther, Daniel, Jeremiah… Lamentations… as essential background texts for how Paul is probably thinking as he considers the big hairy gorilla of empire ever in the background of Colossians (and all his letters)….???
grace and peace and truth….



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