Author Archives: Mogget

God is Light III: The Situation

This is the third in a series of posts that will, at some point before Final Judgment, culminate in the exegesis of a selected section of 1 John. I will try to avoid the War and Peace effect this time but, my goodness, it is such fun to think about!

The bottom line is this: The community that had originally formed around the Beloved Disciple and the Fourth Gospel has now broken into at least two factions. The Elder writes to those who yet remain in his camp to confront and correct the errors of the schismatic group and to comfort them by assuring them that they have made the correct choice and are assured of eternal life. The cause of the break-up seems to be that while “both parties knew the proclamation of Christianity available to us through the Fourth Gospel…they interpreted it differently” (Brown, Community, 106).


We know what we know about this conflict primarily from what 1 John tells us, so we have only the Elder’s word for the situation. There is no independent verification of the theological position taken by the Elder’s opponents, or of any of the ethical shortcomings that he attributes to them. It is quite likely that, if we had written evidence of their position, the Elder’s point of view would be declared just as profoundly inappropriate.

How, then, can we trust what he says? The best response to this question is to ask what might have been the consequences had the Elder misrepresented his opponents. It is clear enough that the breakup is quite recent, which implies that the Elder’s addressees knew from their own experience about his opponents. If his characterization were too far off, then his efforts to persuade and comfort would be rendered ineffective by this lack of authenticity. Personally, I think it more likely that we have an incomplete picture of the opponents rather than a very inaccurate one.

Finally, there is disagreement about whether or not the schism itself is the “main thrust” of the Elder’s remarks, or whether he has wider objectives including simply explaining what is an appropriate way to understand the Fourth Gospel. The folks who opt for the wider view are principally Pheme Perkins, Judith Lieu, and Ruth Edwards. My thought is that they have done us a service by calling attention back to the pastoral components of the text but I remain unconvinced of their larger position. You can get a synopsis of their thoughts and access to their works in any decent commentary. For my part, I will probably quote or allude to their thoughts at appropriate points rather than summarizing them now.

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God is Light II: Literary Relationships

This is the second post in a series on 1 John. The point of this series is to illustrate how exegesis is done by “doing” a bit of exegesis in a rather step-by-step fashion. The first post dealt with author and genre. This one deals with the literary relationships between the Johannine Epistles and the remainder of the Catholic Epistles, the Gospel of John, and the rest of the NT.

Although I neglected to mention it in the first post, the content of the first four or five posts will cover what we might call “introductory matters.” It is easy to be impatient with the time it takes read this sort of thing. It is my experience, however, that it is invariably time well-spent. There is no substitute for context when you try to interpret a literary work.

Finally, Eric reminds me in a comment on the first post that part of this illustration should be to show how I use the various sources and tools that go into something like this. So I will!


In the last post, I proposed that the relationship between 1 John and 2 John was that the latter was a cover letter for the transmission of the former. This, I think, is a good approach given that Irenaeus (d. 202 CE) seems to have thought that the two were one document. Sometimes 1 John is found alone, but this might be explained by the fact that the Elder would not have used a cover letter for his own church or those that were very nearby.

What about 3 John?
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God is Light I: Genre and Author

Some time ago, quite some time ago, actually, Eric asked if I’d do a bit of exegesis of a passage in 1 John to illustrate the activities involved. I don’t remember quite what passage we agreed on, but I think it was the first substantive section of the First Epistle of John, 1 John 1:5-2:17.

So here we go…


The first stop is genre. A literary genre is a group of texts that exhibit a coherent and recurring pattern of features, usually further defined in terms of form, content, and function. The nice thing about placing a text in a literary genre is that it gives us some idea of what to expect, although most authors subvert the conventions of genre to one degree or another. And that, in itself, is often very illuminating.

The title of the work in question is “The First Epistle of John.” This is a fine title except for the fact that it’s not an epistle (there’s no addressee or sender, no salutation and no closing) and there’s no indication it was written by anyone named John, let alone the prominent disciple of Jesus by that name. In fact, there’s no indication at all to tell us who wrote it. From the standpoint of genre the First Epistle of John resembles the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews more closely than any other NT work. And like 1 John, the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews is not an epistle, was not written by Paul, and is not addressed to the Hebrews. Other than that, though, it’s a great title.

OK, that was illuminating…

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A Special Day at FPR (Updated)

Today we mark two important milestones at FPR. First, May 9th, 2008 is the third anniversary of our creation. Second, this composition is the 500th post. In light of this, we thought it proper to do something a bit special to mark the occasion.

Our founder, the illustrious John C., has posed a question and invited the rest of us to respond in 150 words or less. His response leads the roll; we follow in no specific order.

You may note that our number is not quite complete. We find ourselves unable to pry certain members out of various odd corners of the remote past in a timely fashion. This is a hazard of the occupation. We will, however, update this entry as their comments become available.

THE QUESTION: How has your decision to pursue academic research in religion or ancient history affected your faith?



My academic experience has taught me the value of having a flexible faith. For me, this means quickly paring down what is important to me in my faith to the bare minimum and then allowing the remainder of my beliefs to ebb and flow with the tide of evidence, experience, and inspiration. The academy encourages one to question everything in an attempt to see what survives. That is well and good, but there are some things that I have determined are going to survive no matter what answers or non-answers critical examination gives me. These are, primarily, my experiences with my God and they are, I believe, untouchable by rational inquiry. Rationality strikes me as a particularly temporal goal and endeavor and the pursuit thereof is best at enlightening human motivation and natural causes. It is very, very useful for learning how best to navigate, explain, and influence the world around you. It establishes good limits on what can and cannot make for proofs and arguments acceptable outside of your self. What it is best at is, I think, showing the limits of what we can legitimately claim to know. In rationality, all information is tentative, which is a very good thing. It just isn’t the basis of my faith. For all that, without the rational, I wouldn’t have the language, the reason, or the rationale to understand my own faith or others in even the imperfect manner I do today. I am as human as anyone else and we all examine ourselves rationally. The academy has given me the means to examine, articulate, experiment on, stretch, flex, and strengthen my own faith. For that, I am forever in its debt.

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Julian of Norwich and the Atonement

I don’t know if you have ever heard of Julian of Norwich. She’s a 14thcentury mystic, an anchoress, really, in Norwich, England. When she was thirty years old, she became so ill that her local priest came to administer the Last Rites. As she fixed her eyes on the crucifix, she experienced a series of sixteen visions (shewings), beginning with a vision of the blood running down Christ’s face as the crown of thorns was pressed home. She produced one version, called the Short Text, quite soon after her visions. Fifteen, or maybe twenty years later, she produced the Long Text, after she’d had time to think on what she’d seen and after she’d had one more visionary experience.

Her ideas about sin are, how shall we say it, unconventional, and especially so in comparison to Medieval Christianity. Where the church taught that Man was naughty and God was angry, Julian said that God was not and never had been angry and that sin was not “a deed,” that is, something that humans do, but that it was basically Man’s unawareness of God’s love and nearness. In a [hazel] nutshell, God didn’t blame Man. She knew she wasn’t in line with the church (ah yes, the Inquisition) and so she wrote in Chapter 50:

For I knew by the common teaching of Holy Church and by mine own feeling, that the blame of our sin continually hangeth upon us, from the first man unto the time that we come up unto heaven: then was this my marvel that I saw our Lord God shewing to us no more blame than if we were as clean and as holy as Angels be in heaven. And between these two contraries my reason was greatly travailed through my blindness, and could have no rest for dread that His blessed presence should pass from my sight and I be left in unknowing [of] how He beholdeth us in our sin. For either [it] behoved me to see in God that sin was all done away, or else me behoved to see in God how He seeth it, whereby I might truly know how it belongeth to me to see sin, and the manner of our blame…I cried inwardly, with all my might seeking unto God for help, saying thus: Ah! Lord Jesus, King of bliss, how shall I be eased? Who shall teach me and tell me that [thing] me needeth to know, if I may not at this time see it in Thee?

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One Eternal Nightmare

It was kind of odd that anyone even found her that day. She was alone, in the bed in the handicapped area off the main women’s dressing room at the temple. Her face was pale, and she was sweating, in tears, and sick to her stomach. Her home was some distance away but her stake had a meeting that afternoon. She’d fallen the day before and re-injured her back, causing muscle spasms and making her unable to sit, stand, or walk without pain.

Her new husband had given her a blessing after the accident, telling her the situation was “a test of her faith” to be demonstrated in her decisions about coming to the temple. He brought her to the temple and left her alone while he went on a session; she found her way to the dressing room and then to the bed. To the extent that she was coherent, it seemed that she was to meet him in the hallway so that they could attend the meeting together.

In time, news of this situation found its way to the matron. Someone suggested that in the course of comforting the young woman she invite the couple to visit with a member of the presidency on the way out for some kindly discussion of the situation from another point of view. Ultimately, the matron rejected this course of action, saying that it was a learning experience for the husband in his newly created family unit and “we must respect his priesthood leadership.”

Meanwhile, on a planet nearest the throne of God heavenly Mother sat watching the path below her window. One of her favorite sons, young Elohim, was coming for a visit. His was a newly created dominion, with one of the prettiest planets she’d ever seen. Lately, she’d heard some disturbing news, though, about certain unfortunate events. But, as she’d reasoned to herself several times over the course of the morning, it was a new experience for him and she was obliged to respect his priesthood leadership.



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A Note on a Footnote in Mt 28:20

Last Sunday as I was preparing to teach GD I noticed an odd footnote associated with the word “teaching” in Mt 28:20.  This verse is part of a larger passage, the Great Commission of the First Gospel.  The speaker is the resurrected Jesus and the occasion is his departure.  This is the text in the AV:

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsover I have command you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

This is one of the most theologically dense passages in the entire Gospel so I was not surprised to find various footnotes.  But I was surprised to find this particular footnote, associated with the second occurrence of the word “teaching” in v. 20:

The Greek text suggest this would be post-baptismal teaching.

Weird, eh?  That’s definitely not an answer to any of the first ten or so questions that spring to mind when reading the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel!  So what gives?

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