A Catholic Reflection on Peter’s Denial of Jesus

Yesterday I promised a couple of posts on the new commentary on the Gospel of John from the newest entry in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series. After many of the passages this series contains a “Reflection and Application” section which offer rich devotional material. Here is one such reading after Peter’s denial of Jesus (John 18:15-27). I was especially encouraged by it.

“John 18 gives us a sad account of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Since we have all been unfaithful to Jesus, we should see some reflection of ourselves in Peter (Catechism 1851). Peter wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple (6:68), learned from him, ate at the Last Supper with him, and insisted that he would follow Jesus even to death (13:37). Yet despite his best efforts and intentions, Peter fails miserably when forced to choose in a difficult situation. Since the number three often symbolizes completeness, Peter completely disavows Jesus. Whenever we sin, we act just like Peter: we deny Jesus by our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.

The example of Peter can be a healthy warning for us not to underestimate our own weaknesses and the lingering effects of original sin. Warming himself by the fire with the guards who arrested Jesus’ opponents, pressure Peter over his relationship with Jesus. We must be careful not to put ourselves into situations where we will be pressured to sin and deny our relationship with Jesus.

The older form of the Roman Holy Week Liturgy subtly presented Judas and Peter as two traitors and then leads us to recognize ourselves as traitors with a choice: repent like Peter or give up like Judas and despair of mercy. As we shall see with Peter, God’s mercy is infinitely greater than the worst of our sins. God is always ready to forgive those who return to him.” (pp. 296-97)

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Two New Commentaries from Baker Publishing Group

I lost a bit of sleep last night as I poured over two new commentaries: 2 Samuel by Robert Barron in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and The Gospel of John by Francis Martin and William Wright IV in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. I spent a fair amount of time on the former while scanning the latter. It’s hard to know where to start with Barron’s commentary. His discussion of the Uzzah’s death (2 Samuel 6) in particular was theologically rich and profound as he weaved through theological concepts such as the love of God, divine immutability and sublimity. He explains that the “key issue seems to be liturgical impropriety.” (p. 56) But as any reader of this passage knows God seems just a bit over the top in killing Uzzah. Barron writes,

“Once more the temptation is to conclude that a God who would respond with deadly violence to such a minor violation of liturgical law is surely unbalanced. Yet we have to keep the symbolic nature of the language in mind and get to the spiritual truths the author is endeavoring to communicate. The entire purpose of liturgy is to restore humanity to right order, adoratio leading to the harmonizing of self and society.” (p. 56)

As virtually every commentator has noted the ark was not being carried in accordance with the law. Barron continues:

“ . . . Yahweh had instructed that it be carried by poles. A small matter? Perhaps, but obedience is the hinge on which Israelite life turns. God was angry not because Uzzah’s act personally offended him (in point of fact, the one who needs nothing from the world cannot, even in principle, be offended) but rather because it represented a compromising of the liturgical attitude. The church fathers are eminently clear on this score. Chrysostom says, ‘As the wrath of God was drawn down on Uzzah for intruding on an office that was not his own, God’s wrath will likewise advance against those who subvert the gospel.’ Salvian remarks, ‘Uzzah’s punishment for steadying the ark shows that nothing may be considered lightly when it pertains to God.’” (p. 56) “The strangeness of God and his actions has nothing to do with capriciousness of God’s part; rather, it is a function of God’s absolutely unique manner of being and our limited consciousness. . . . Hans Urs von Balthasar speaks of God as a raging Alpine torment, which utterly smashes any receptors designed to channel it and convert it to human use. This divine sublimity is, by turns, thrilling and terrifying. The prophet Isaiah can exult in the overwhelming beauty of God manifested in a temple vision of cloud with angels (Isa. 6:1-3), but as the Letter to the Hebrews has it, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb. 10:31). A one-sided stress on the latter quality gives us an arbitrary God, but a unilateral stress on the former gives us a superficial and manipulable God. Without for a moment rescinding any of the clarifications that I made above, I will also say this: Yahweh’s striking down of Uzzah is finally inexplicable, for it expresses and participates in the sublimity of God.” (57)

This is only one passage of many that I read that I found thought out with theological acumen and depth. This is a commentary I will enjoy for years to come.

Here is one small snippet from The Gospel of John. I’ll have more in future posts.

The Mother of Jesus. At Cana, we see Mary as the model of the Church. Here words to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (2:5), expresses the same disposition that she voiced to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: ‘May it be done to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38). In both cases, Mary’s words recall those of Israel at Mount Sinai: ‘Everything the Lord has said, we will do’ (Exod. 19:8; see 24:3, 7). The mother of Jesus displays the disposition that all believers should have toward God: humility, receptive openness to God’s will, and lively obedience. These are the basic attitudes of discipleship, and they are fundamental for growing in holiness. We also see Mary acting as an intercessor who mediates between Jesus and the members of the household. She presents the needs of others to her Son, and she instructs others to obey him. Mary has a unique role in salvation history because it is only through her that the divine Word became flesh so as to accomplish the work of salvation.” (pp. 60-61)

2 Samuel (Brazos Press) is a hardcover with 240 pages and sells for $29.99.

Robert Barron (STD, Institut Catholique de Paris) is rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. He founded Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry of evangelism, and has written numerous books, including Catholicism (over 100,000 copies sold), The Priority of Christ, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (winner of a Catholic Press Association Book Award), and Heaven in Stone and Glass.

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The Gospel of John (Baker Academic) is a paperback with 368 pages and sells for $22.99.

Francis Martin (SSD, Pontifical Biblical Institute), a renowned Scripture scholar, is founder and president of Father Francis Martin Ministries (FFMM). He is professor emeritus of New Testament at the Dominican House of Studies, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and chaplain of the Mother of God Community in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

William M. Wright IV (PhD, Emory University) is associate professor of theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is the author of Rhetoric and Theology: Figural Reading of John 9.

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Coming this June – “What Does it Mean to Be Catholic?”

With Fr. Barron coming to our store this July our Catholic department has seen considerable increased traffic. This June I’ll be happy to add to our inventory a new book from Eerdmans by Jack Mulder, Jr. The book is What Does it Mean to Be Catholic?” Here’s the catalog description:

“What does it mean to be Catholic? Many people, both non-Catholics and even Catholics themselves, really don’t know. This accessible book by Jack Mulder is ideal for all who are curious to know more about Catholicism.

Writing in a conversational style, Mulder clearly portrays the main contours of the Catholic faith. For readers who have ever wondered what exactly the Roman Catholic Church teaches about predestination, original sin, the Virgin Mary, abortion, same-sex marriage, and other issues, Mulder explains all that — and much more — in simple language.

Mulder, who was raised in the Protestant tradition and converted to Catholicism later in life, speaks from the perspective of having wrestled with his own beliefs over the years. With solid information — and without proselytizing — Mulder’s What Does It Mean to Be Catholic? presents a truly fresh perspective on the distinctive features of the Catholic faith.”

What Does it Mean to Be Catholic? will be a paperback with 231 pages and sell for $20.00.

Jack Mulder Jr. is associate professor of philosophy at Hope College, Holland, Michigan. He is also the author of Kierkegaard and the Catholic Tradition: Conflict and Dialogue.

Here are just a couple of the early endorsements:

“This is one of the most surprising and unique books I’ve encountered in recent years. It is the meditation of a convert, but it is not at all defensive or apologetic. Jack Mulder is a man who appreciates his past as he relishes his present. He has produced a book that in its breadth and depth — and its pure delight in God’s astonishing ways — evokes Augustine. It inspires and instructs, just as it builds bridges instead of walls.”

Scott Hahn

“User-friendly, clear, orthodox, honest, personal, and winsome. Free of scholarly baloney, rhetorical tricks, or argumentative intimidation, this is a very good book to introduce Catholicism to open-minded inquirers, especially evangelical Protestants.”

Peter Kreeft

“In this book Jack Mulder speaks as an adult convert to Catholicism who both values ecumenical dialogue and loves the beauty he sees in Catholicism. Mulder’s book will be useful to all those who want a brief, highly readable, historically informed overview of the distinctive doctrines that define the Roman Catholic faith. Teachings about purgatory or sainthood or the pope are presented as outgrowths of a coherent and unifying vision of God’s redemptive purposes. Mulder writes with both conviction and an irenic spirit toward all who seek the truth.”

Caroline J. Simon

What does it mean

Was Paul Trained in Rhetoric? A Look at 2 Corinthians 11:6

Over the weekend I started reading parts of the newest commentary in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) series. It is 2 Corinthians by George Guthrie from Baker Academic. New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg has said “it is an outstanding accomplishment for the Baker Exegetical series consistently to have produced what with only rare exceptions have become the best available commentaries on the Greek text of the New Testament book or books treated.” Not that my opinion matters much compared to Dr. Blomberg’s but I couldn’t agree more.

In the “Introduction” Guthrie says that Paul perhaps had training in rhetoric (p. 6). This, of course, raises questions about 2 Corinthians 11:6. (2 Cor. 10:10 is also relevant but this post will only address the former passage.) The passage reads, “I may indeed be untrained as a speaker . . .” (NIV) (“untrained” also in HCSB and NABRE. The NET, NLT, and ESV = “unskilled”; CEB = “uneducated”; MEV = “unplolished in speech”; Good News Translation = “amateur”.) Guthrie notes that Tarsus was “one of the great educational centers of the world at that time.” Here Paul received “a well-rounded education.” So what do we make of the Paul’s remark in 11:6? Guthrie translates the word as “amateur.” He further explains,

“The word ἰδιώτης could be used with a range of meanings. Generally, a peson who was ἰδιώτης lacked experience or training in a particular field of knowledge (e.g., government, military, medicine, oratory, etc.; cf. Acts 4:13) and therefore was an amateur or layperson as compared to a specialist of some kind. The word could also be used pejoratively of a ‘common’ person belonging to a low social class, but it often was used to distinguish an untrained person, or a ‘beginner,’ over against a professional or expert.” (p. 517)

Guthrie appeals to research done by Bruce Winter (Philo and Paul Among the Sophists: Alexandrian and Corinthian Responses to a Julio-Claudian Movement, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

“However, Winter makes the interesting observation that the word could also be used of those trained in rhetoric but who chose not to function as public orators or teachers of rhetoric. Thus ‘non-orators’ may indeed possess some knowledge of rhetoric, but they have abandoned ἀπάτη [apatē, fraud, trickery] in their practice of it.’ Indeed, Philo (Agr. 143) can use ἰδιώτης of those highly trained in rhetoric, and Isocrates (Antid. 201,204) celebrates those so trained but who chose to use their skills for the good of the community rather than for personal advancement.” (p. 517)

“Thus Paul admits he is not engaged professionally as a public orator. . .The ‘professional’ skill to which Paul alludes is the affected, or ‘ornamental,’ style of the Sophists rather than classical Greek rhetoric. He ‘admits’ that he does not possess their ‘skill’ in professional speaking—but this is not an admission that Paul was ignorant of Greek rhetoric, for his letters point to a knowledge of the art; indeed, ‘he must have had the basic training in rhetoric available to highly educated individuals in Greco-Roman cities’ (quoting Craig Keener); even this section of 2 Corinthians shows a detailed knowledge of rhetorical argument! Thus, rather than a humble admission of inadequacy, the apostle continues to speak somewhat tongue in cheek.” (p. 518)

By the way, as a complete aside. I don’t find too many pastors pointing out that we get our English word “idiot” from the Greek word ἰδιώτης so Paul must therefore be calling himself an idiot!

2 Corinthians is a hardcover with 736 pages and sells for $49.99.

George H. Guthrie (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including commentaries on Hebrews and James, and was a translator or consultant on four Bible translation projects. Guthrie is currently spearheading a biblical literacy effort to help churches train their members more effectively in reading the Bible well.

2 Corinthians

 

Book Give Away

This week I’m offering Peter Williamson’s new commentary on Revelation (Baker Academic). I did a couple of posts on this last week (see here and here). It has quickly become one of my favorite commentaries on Revelation. Leave your name in the comments section by NLT Friday, April 24th 6:00 am EST. I’ll announce the winner that Friday. If I don’t hear back from the winner within 7 days the book will go to another entry.

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