Why Would A Jew Thank God that He Was Not Made a Woman?

Rabbi Judah says, “A man must recite three benedictions every day:

“Blessed be You, Lord, who did not make me a gentile. Blessed be You, Lord, who did not make me uneducated. Blessed be You, Lord, who did not make me a woman.”

I’ve seen this used in Christian literature to show that Jews were against women. This is a terrible misunderstanding. Amy-Jill Levine explains the context and meaning of this prayer.

“Rabbi Judah was responsible for the codification of the Mishnah around 200 CE. This text is from about half a century later. To claim the prayer was recited by all Jews in the first century is a stretch. Second, the prayer praises God that the supplicant is in a position to know and so to follow all the commandments. Gentiles were not under Torah and so were not expected to follow it. The uneducated do not know all the rabbinic commentary and so are unable, in Rabbi Judah’s eyes, fully to understand the practices and the rationales. Women were exempt, in the rabbinic system, from many time-bound commandments, since the rabbis realized that their time was not their own; domestic duties, child care, and so on would have precluded their saying certain prayers at certain times.” (Short Stories by Jesus, pp. 185-86)

Have We Misread the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector?

I’m reading Short Stories by Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine. My copy is an advanced reader copy so my page references may not match the final print edition. Levine examines some of the parables of Jesus and looks at them the way a first-century Jew might have heard it. One of her major themes is to correct the contemporary manner in which the parables are interpreted in such a way as to contrast “what Jesus taught and what ‘the Jews’ generally understood.” Many of these interpretations “make Judaism look hardhearted and exclusivist. . . Such teachings not only get Jesus wrong, and they not only get Judaism wrong; they inculcate and reinforce bigotry.” (20-21) She interacts with some of the best in Christian scholarship on the parables showing numerous fallacies, unsubstantiated assertions and unwarranted interpretations. Among those she takes issue with are Kenneth Bailey, Klyne Snodgrass, Craig Blomberg, Arland Hultgren, and Luke Timothy Johnson

Many of her interpretations turn the typical Christian interpretation on its head. Take for example the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The common interpretation which sees the Pharisee as a hypocrite and the tax collector as the good guy, she says, is completely off. “The saint is not a sinner, the sinner is not a saint, and our conventionally unconventional reading about a reversal of status in the long fun gets us nowhere.” (170) This type of interpretation shows “Jesus emerg[ing] less as a first-century Jew than as a Young Man Luther, the Pharisee and the Temple represent (bad) Judaism, and the sinful tax collector is the redeemed (gentile) Christian.” (170-71) The traditional interpretation starts from the very start with comments made by Luke. Here Christians may object to the way in which Levine is critical of Luke’s added commentary. To a first-century Jew the Pharisee was only doing what God wanted him to do. “The problem with his prayer is not in his personal religiosity; it is in negatively judging someone else. The Pharisee has the information to speak to his own status, but he cannot and therefore should not judge the hearts of others.” (173) A first-century reader would have been fairly positive towards the Pharisee and the tax collector “would have been presumed to be corrupt.” (174) But here he is in the temple where forgiveness may be found. The crux of her interpretation lies with her translation of verse 18. “To you I say, descending to his house, this one is justified, alongside that one. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Most versions translate this “this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.” Levine notes that the Greek preposition, para, can mean “rather than” but that it can also mean “because of.” “Thus the last line could be understood as suggesting that the tax collector received his justification on account of the Pharisee.” (Emphasis mine. 192)

The standard translation actually poses another problem since it may lead someone to think “Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee.” “Once we negatively judge one character and promote the other, the parable traps.” (192) What’s the punch of the parable? “They [first-century Jews] knew that the tax collector could be justified. The problem was, they would not have like the idea. Nor would they have liked how this justification took place. Were we in their system, neither would we—and that is the punch of the parable.” (192)

Levine explains that Jewish tradition believed in what was called the “merits of ancestors.” That is to say, “even if we sin, and we will, the good deeds of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the other ‘fathers’ could be transferred to us.” (193) This Pharisee indicated that he had more than he needed. “First-century Jews then might conclude that the tax collector has tapped into the merit of the Pharisee as well as, given the location and his use of atonement language, the communal aspect of the Temple system.” (193)

Levine offers a personal example of a student project where four students are involved. Three of the four are hard-workers, smart, and have various gifts to offer to the project. The fourth contributes nothing but still benefits from the work of the others and receives a high score as well. Levine says, “I found this system unfair. I was justified (I got the ‘A’), but along side me, indeed because of me, so was the slacker. My sense of justice then was too narrow, my sense of generosity too constrained, my sense of self-import too great. But that fourth person believed in the system; that fourth person, whom we dismissed as lazy, as stupid, or as unable to contribute, may well have done what he could. He may have felt himself unworthy; indeed, we three others may have signaled to him that we were disappointed he was assigned to our group. He trusted in us; he trusted in the system. Had we been more generous with him rather than resentful, we could have learned more as well. And what if he didn’t care at all? What if he depended on us, even thought we were fools for doing his work for him? What we do is still worthwhile. We can afford to be generous. There are other systems of justice (e.g., test grades, a final judgment) in which his contributions or sins will be assessed.” (195)

It’s something to think about.

Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Science in Nashville, Tennessee; Affiliated Professor, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge, UK.

Short Stores by Jesus will be released in September. It will be a hardcover with 320 pages and sell for $25.99.

Short Stories by Jesus

Coming October 2014 – “The Didache Bible”

This October Ignatius Press will release The Didache Bible. This Bible will be in the Revised Standard Version: Second Catholic edition. The notes will feature “extensive commentaries on all books of the Holy Bible based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Other features include:

  • Twenty-seven full-color biblical maps, including the journeys of Jesus Christ.
  • Common questions about the Faith answered in 106 apologetical explanations.
  • Comprehensive, forty-four-page glossary and a topical index.
  • Available in leather or hardcover
  • Useful for students and adults studying Scripture.
  • Ideal for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Catholic Faith.
  • Accessible by all people in its level of scriptural scholarship.
  • Large 6″ x 9″ size
  • Both editions are sewn

The hardcover will sell for $35.00 and the leather edition will sell for $56.00. I think it is a nice feature that the hardcover will be sewn. Not many hardcover Bibles are.

Didache Bible


Coming April 2015 – “This Strange and Sacred Scripture”

The Old Testament is a subject of a lot of controversy right now. Coming next April you can add another voice to the choir. This Strange and Sacred Scripture will explore the thorny issues surrounding the Old Testament. Here’s the catalog description:

“The Old Testament can seem strange and disturbing to contemporary readers. What should Christians make of Genesis 1-3, seemingly at odds with modern scientific accounts? Why does the Old Testament contain so much violence? How should Christians handle texts that give women a second-class status? Does the Old Testament contradict itself? Why are so many Psalms filled with anger and sorrow? What should we make of texts that portray God as filled with wrath?

Combining pastoral insight, biblical scholarship, and a healthy dose of humility, gifted teacher and communicator Matthew Schlimm explores perennial theological questions raised by the Old Testament. He provides strategies for reading and appropriating these sacred texts, showing how the Old Testament can shape the lives of Christians today and helping them appreciate the Old Testament as a friend in faith.”

Take a look at some of the endorsements:

“Some of my friends say strange things and hold strange views, but because they are my friends I can’t just dismiss what they say. Having friends who think differently from me helps expand my thinking and rescue me from the limitations of my current perspective. I give my friends the benefit of the doubt when they say things that are outrageous. Matthew Schlimm invites us to do the same with the Old Testament, helps us to listen to many of its notoriously outrageous statements, and also shares with us worthwhile insights from other people who are friends with the Old Testament (and from yet other people who would not see themselves as its friends).”

John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Seminary and university Old Testament professors: make sure you have your students read this text. Marcionites and semi-Marcionites: this text is the coup de grâce to your idea that the Old Testament is not only pre-Christian but even anti-Christian. To the reader puzzled by much of what you encounter in the Old Testament: immerse yourself deeply in this text, and you will find much food for thought from an author who has addressed intelligently and provocatively the questions that linger in your mind. Matt Schlimm: well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Victor P. Hamilton, professor emeritus of Old Testament, Asbury University

“Many of us have waited a long time for this book: a compelling engagement of the toughest questions about the Testament that both attracts and repels us. In plain language, without taking theological shortcuts, Schlimm shows why Christianity needs the Old Testament in order to address the complexities and real difficulties of life. His concrete guidance for how to read this strange literature and his suggestions for further study are invaluable.”

Ellen Davis, Duke Divinity School

“At a time when many critique and marginalize the Old Testament, Schlimm argues that we need to appreciate it as a friend–a friend who is at once odd, insightful, complicated, controversial, and realistic. He is not willing to give up on the Old Testament or its God. This Strange and Sacred Scripture creatively engages the difficulties that trouble interpreters. While some may disagree with the author at points, this book’s tone and presentation invite readers to join the conversation about and with this unique friend we call the Bible.”

M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas), distinguished professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary

Matthew Richard Schlimm (PhD, Duke University) is assistant professor of Old Testament at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. He previously taught at Duke Divinity School and has held various ministry positions in United Methodist churches. He is the author of From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis and coeditor of the CEB Study Bible.

This Strange and Sacred Scripture will be a paperback with 288 pages and sell for $22.99.

Strange and Sacred Scripture

Around the Web

Just a few things I found interesting. Enjoy!

Larry Hurtado has an interesting post on “Paul: The Second-Temple Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles.” His opening paragraph quickly got my attention.

“I returned last night from a very enjoyable trip to Rome to take part in the Nangeroni Seminar on “Paul as a Second-Temple Jew.”  For more information on the Nangeroni Seminars click here.  This encouraging and demanding event brought together about 35 scholars from various countries who are specialists on second-temple Judaism and/or the Apostle Paul.  The premise and the broad conclusion to which all assented is that Paul was and remained in his ministry as apostle to gentiles a Jew.  He did not renounce his identity as a member of the Jewish people.  He did not demonize his ancestral religion.  He did not reject the Torah (“Law”) as false.  He did not regard his Jewish past as one of frustration, failure, inability to observe Torah, or as something to escape.  He did not play off the particularity of his Jewishness in favour of some kind of universalism.”

Sam Storms asks (following a Christianity Today article): “Would Jesus Hang Out at a Strip Club?”

Terrance Thiessen asks “Why Did the 5 ‘solas’ of the Reformation Arise?” His last line was a money quote for me. “Interestingly, many Catholic theologians affirm these principles these days, but we Protestants are still not satisfied with the way they unpack them in detail and in practice. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the Reformation, though not over, is not complete failure.”

Peter Enns has a provocative post entitled “The Apostle Paul’s Clear Inerrant Teaching on Government and Why We Don’t Need to Follow it.”  In part he writes, “The truth is, I don’t know many Christians who take Paul at his word here. They may try to deftly extract themselves by saying that Paul is merely giving an ideal principle, or that only legitimate authorities are instituted by God. But again, that’s just “adding” something to God’s word, which clearly makes a pretty cut and dried case for human governmental authorities as instituted by God. But a proper understanding of these words of Paul’s, as with most other things in Scripture, requires some sensitivity to their historical/cultural or literary context (or both).”

Bill Mounce asks “What is a Kandake? (Acts 8:27)” “’Kandake’ is a lot harder to translate than first meets the eye. First of all, what does it mean? The NASB and ESV read, “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (similar is the HCSB and NET). What does “Candace” sound like to you? Sounds like a personal name to me. If the qualifying “queen of the Ethiopians” were not there, it might sound like a place, but with the qualifying “queen of the Ethiopians” it can’t be a place.”


Jerry Walls Discusses Purgatory

Yesterday I told you about a forthcoming book by Jerry Walls entitled Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. While hell is quite a controversial topic in itself many Protestants may wonder about how a Protestant can defend a doctrine like purgatory. The video below offers some of his thoughts on the subject. As he notes at the end of the video many do not realzie that C.S. Lewis was a firm believer in purgatory.


Coming February 2015 – “Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory” by Jerry Walls

Jerry Walls is a favorite author of mine and I’ve read his books on Heaven: the Logic of Eternal Joy and Purgatory: the Logic of Total Transformation (both from Oxford University Press). He also has a full monograph on Hell: the Logic of Damnation (University of Notre Dame Press). Now Brazos Press will release a book on all three topics. Walls has gathered quite the reputation in this area of study. Consider these endorsements:

“Jerry Walls has spent much of his academic career providing an account of the Christian story of the afterlife from a rigorous, analytic-philosophical perspective. He has subjected the doctrines of hell, heaven, and purgatory to careful and ingenious scrutiny. He has also considered questions about the grounds for morality. In this book he condenses much of this research into one accessible volume that deals with all these issues as well as the problems of evil they raise and the question of personal identity beyond the grave. It is a terrific resource that will be of use to all those for whom such things are pressing theological and existential concerns.”

Oliver Crisp, professor of systematic theology, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Walls may not tell us everything we would like to know about what happens after death, but he tells us what we need to know and much of what we want to know, and does it with style and verve. This book clearly explains why heaven and hell are crucial if human existence is to be fully meaningful, and it even gives an account of purgatory that should be acceptable to Protestants. This is a wonderful book that inspires hope by clearly showing what God’s love for humanity means for us.”

C. Stephen Evans, University Professor, Baylor University

“Jerry Walls shows once again that on the four last things–death, judgment, hell, and heaven–he is by far the most thoughtful evangelical philosopher. His mastery of Scripture, historical theology, and the philosophical literature is unmatched.”

Francis J. Beckwith, professor of philosophy and church-state studies, Baylor University

“Jerry Walls has written a book that should be read by anyone interested in the personal, philosophical, or religious significance of death and whether it is reasonable to believe that there is life after death. I wager there is no living philosopher who has thought more deeply or written with such clear, engaging prose about the prospects of a Christian philosophy of death and afterlife.”

Charles Taliaferro, professor of philosophy, St. Olaf College

“Jerry Walls offers an insightful, accessible defense of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Though still unpersuaded about the latter, I would urge the reading of this book, first, for the important theological and philosophical insights it affords concerning hell (the realm of the illusory triumph of the creature’s will) and heaven (the new, transformed–though still physical–earth and heaven that are permeated by God’s presence and blessing); indeed, much wisdom on these doctrines alone is to be found herein. Second, concerning purgatory, Protestants have a unique opportunity to more fully understand the arguments for and then to properly assess the merits (!) of this doctrine. The book is sure to generate much lively discussion and deepened understanding.”

Paul Copan, Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University

This is sure to be a significant work on some very contested issues. Watch for it next February. It will be paperback with 240 pages and sell for $19.99. I think it would make a good read for some book clubs.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory