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UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY, ROLE & RESPONSE OF MINOR PROPHETS - HABAKKUK

The book of Habakkuk in the Hebrew bible comprises two compositions, namely the oracle of Habakkuk and the psalm of Habakkuk. They belong to different genres but share a common theme which includes the preservation of loyal trust in god amidst challenge to faith presented by the bitter experience of foreign invasion and oppression.1

Identity

At the beginning of both the parts of the book, the author is called “the prophet Habakkuk”. From the liturgical nature of both parts of the book, especially the second part, we can infer that he was a cultic prophet on the staff of the Jerusalem temple. Thus, we can locate Habakkuk within one of the Judean prophetic traditions. He was undoubtedly a central prophet in Jerusalem who had social maintenance functions within the religious establishment.2

He was also one of the temple singers.3 The literary features of the book thus suggest that there are several other indications that the prophet functioned writing Jerusalem’s central religious establishment.4 His name has been identified with an Assyrian garden plant, and it has been suggested that he may have been a captive living at Nineveh or at some other point in the Mesopotamian world. Traditions refer the inclusion of Habakkuk in the story of Bel and the dragon as found in the apocryphal book. Through his writing we can judge this prophet as a man of God who through the personal testament of a soul confronts go in the face of difficulties. Here the prophet appears as a person of high ethical sensitivity, capable of the same kind of graphic descriptive writing as that found in Nahum.5 He is called as a prophet but like other Judean prophets is said to have seen his oracles.

Role

Like many central intermediaries, he may have been required to produce oracles on specified occasions. He helped to insure the stability of the society by articulating Israel’s traditional faith and by uttering oracles against the people’s enemies.6 The problems on which Habakkuk seeks a response from god are evidently acute personal problems, challenging his own faith, even if he voiced them on behalf of others too. The prophet complained to god about the injustice of Jehoiakim’s rule. He also questions the presence of God amidst the evil situation around him.

Response

Habakkuk is made up of an extended and personal dialogue between God and the prophet. The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from a faith of perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust in God. Habakkuk addresses his concerns over the fact that God will use the evil Babylonian empire to execute judgment on Judah for their sins. In the first chapter, the prophet expresses shock at God's choice of instrument for judgment. In his second prayer, Habakkuk focuses on the nature of God. In chapter 3, Habakkuk responds by expressing his ultimate faith in God, even as he doesn't fully understand it. Also the prophet gives a polemic against idolatry of the nation.7

Conclusion

The prophetic books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah give us the role these prophets played in the Judean country. The identity of these prophets and their message of the day of the Lord, warnings against idolatry and other wickedness of the people, bought a revival in their faith journey.


1 Ibid., 831

2 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 278.

3 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 2 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 832.

4 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 278.

5 James H Gailey Jr. The Layman’s Bible Commentary vol 15 (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1962), 53.

6 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 279.

7 C Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Pub, 2007), 221.

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY, ROLE & RESPONSE OF MINOR PROPHETS - NAHUM

The prophetic account of Nahum intertwines the themes of divine judgment and compassion. The judgment coming on the Nineveh promises salvation for the people of God. The prophet proclaims the doom of Nineveh and says that God will show compassion to his oppressed people.

Identity

The name Nahum may be translated as compassion. Many scholars are of the opinion that Nahum’s ancestors were exiled in northern Israel and that Nahum wrote his prophecy in Assyria and sent it to Judah.1 It has been generally assumed that "the Elkoshite" given in Nahum 1:1, refers to Nahum's place of origin and not as ‘son of Elkosh’.

The critical study of this text infers that Nahum was a well- educated man, with access to royal files, and Judah's intellectual and military elite. As a citizen of Judah and a sensitive prophet, his feelings of sorrow and revulsion for the state of both kingdoms under Assyrian despotism must have been magnified by several factors. He represents the state of mind of the average man of his times, who has been rankled by the long-lasting oppression and humiliation of his people, and whose faith in God's goodness and power had been tested daily. A number of commentators even assumed a cultic background for Nahum’s prophecies. Nahum was a central prophet related to the Jerusalemite tradition.

Role

The sole purpose of Nahum's prophecy was to breach the wall of hopelessness, and persuade his listeners that salvation is coming, and that a complete downfall of Assyria is in the making. R.R. Wilson believes, "As a central prophet Nahum helped to preserve the social structure by expressing the nationalistic values of the royal cult."2

Nahum prophesied at a critical time in the history of the Israelite people. The nation was split, part in exile and part under the harsh Assyrian rule and internal despotism of Manasseh. The long Assyrian tyranny, coupled with Manasseh's long reign, and constant fear of a fate similar to that of the Northern Kingdom, have created an atmosphere of hopelessness. Nahum brought hope to the downtrodden nation.

Nahum's prophecy had a strong sense of God's sovereignty and lordship over history. Nahum used his extraordinary poetic capability to convey realistic scenes of the fall of a seemingly invulnerable empire. His eternal message is one of hope, which gives comfort to anyone oppressed by a long-lasting and seemingly invulnerable tyrant.

Response

His oracles against Nineveh have both religious and political implications, for his words help to maintain the whole social structure and not just the cult.3 To communicate his message to the people of Judah, Nahum uses theology, pathos, and irony. Assyria is undoubtedly a mighty empire, but the Lord is infinitely stronger.

By the time of Nahum, the Israelites were well aware of God as their divine warrior. During Nahum’s life time, the people of god could still hope that the divine warrior would intervene and alleviate their oppression by destroying the Assyrians.4 This book is not just a warning or speaking positively of the destruction of Ninevah, it is also a positive encouragement and "message of comfort for Israel, Judah, and others who had experienced the endless cruelty of the Assyrians." Also Nahum shows the nature of God to be slow to anger. But God will by no means clear the guilty, but will bring his vengeance and wrath to pass. God is presented as a God who will punish evil but will protect those who trust in Him.


1 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 1 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 768.

2 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 277.

3 Ibid.

4 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets vol 2 (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 777.

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY, ROLE & RESPONSE OF MINOR PROPHETS - ZEPHANIAH

The book of Zephaniah opens with a vision of world disaster. But this book gives a radical call to the community to have a change of heart and warns them of the day of judgment of the Lord.

Identity

Through the introductory verses in the book of Zephaniah, we learn that he traces his ancestry back to four generation. His genealogy of four generation, which includes the name of Hezekiah reveals that, he is the only prophet to trace back his lineage back that far. The rabbinic commentators like Ibn Ezra and David Kimchi believed that Hezekiah in the list is most likely King Hezekiah.1

He is also noted as a prophet who concerns himself only with the upper echelons of society and not directly with the average Israelite (1:8-9; 3: 3-4). In this regard he is a city prophet. But he does not allude to the lot of the poor, and focuses more on to the misconduct of the religious and civil leaders.2 His name means, “the lord has hidden”. The prophet placed himself solidly within the Jerusalemite royal establishment and also has some connections with the Deuteronomistic traditions.3

Role

The role of prophet Zephaniah was mainly against the existing popular religion which was a mixture of Yahwistic and Pagan elements. During those days, the worship of Baal and other planetary deities were widespread. The functionaries of the ancient Judean society were an already corrupt system. Here, he announced the nearness of the day of the lord.

Response

The central theme of the book of Zephaniah is the ‘Day of the Lord.' Zephaniah elucidates two major aspects of this central theme, judgment and restoration. His reading of the popular religious attitude includes an awareness of those people whose hearts were stagnant and who thought that YHWH was stagnant too, uninvolved in Judah. The background of Zephaniah’s preaching in 1: 2-3:8 is his announcement of the imminent coming of the day of the Lord, of that time when God will pour out his destroying judgment on all of his enemies, including those among his own people.4 Because of Judah’s idolatry and indifference toward God and because of the pride of the foreign nation, the Lord “will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth” (1:2). Zephaniah also speaks about the Lord’s Sacrificial Feast in the second oracle.


1 C Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Pub, 2007), 196.

2 Thomas Edward McComiskey ed., The Minor Prophets (Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 898.

3 R.R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 280.

4 Elisabeth Achtemeier, Preaching from the Prophet (Michigan: William B Eerdmans, 1998), 97.

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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AN EXEGESIS OF THE LETTER TO ROMANS PART II

Literary Structure

Greek had been the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world.1 Being a linguist and scholar, Paul uses language in Romans with plenty of metaphor, a practice he might have learned from the Hebrew Prophets before him. There is hardly any paragraph in this letter without a metaphor.2 Paul uses words not to define but to evoke. Paul’s language is a lively. Rather than including high technical words, he has used the language of common discourse loaded with metaphors.

Scholars have pointed out certain literary structural problems like the textual variations in the last three chapters. This concern about the element of grace and the doxology. Also the inclusion of chapter 16 shows an unlikely style of writing by Paul in including such a long list of salutation to a place and a church where he had never visited.3

Integrity

Over the years, the integrity of the letters to Romans had been under a long debate. According to the Radical Partition theories, several scholars have the opinion that the current form of Romans with all its complexities and difficulties is actually a composite of two, three or seven separate letters. The reason behind the proposal of such partition theories is due to the ambiguity in finding a single occasion and purpose of writing the letter.4 Scholars have also questioned the number of chapters in Romans. A century before the parchment P46 turned up it had been argued on internal evidence that the original letter to the Romans ended at 15:33. Thus it was said that the last chapter was a part of some other church wherein Paul was well known. Another debate which questions the integrity of this letter is the fourteen chapter version of Romans. The main argument for this debate is due to the doxology being placed in the end of chapter 14.

Major Themes

After the regular greetings, Paul develops his theme. He states that all mankind both Jews and Greeks needs to be put right with God. The term Justification is used by Paul to describe an effect worked in those who believe what God has done in Christ. Since God has acquitted people in judgement, they were now justified.5 He also uses the term Righteousness, which means to have a right relationship with God. Pauls two main themes, the integrity of the gospel committed to him and the solidarity of Jews and gentiles in the messianic community are already apparent in the first half of the letter’s first chapter.6

Next Paul describes the new life in union with Christ that results from this new relation with God. In chapters 5-8, Paul discusses the purpose of the Law of God and the power of God’s Spirit in life of believers. He also brings into light that the rejection of Jesus by Jews is a part of God’s plan for bringing all mankind within the reach of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Also themes like baptism, new order, service to God, the duty of Christians to the state and to one another and questions of conscience has been widely discussed here.

Conclusion

Of the nine letters of Paul which are generally recognized as authentic, the most important are Romans, I and II Corinthians and Galatians.7 Romans it is said that has been composed with greater leisure and thus has been crafted with much more precision and the themes included are systematically placed. Scholars claim this book to be the principal source of book for the study of Paul’s gospel and is undoubtedly the most important theological book ever written.8 It is also sometimes described as Paul’s last testament. As we travel across this letter, we find ourselves immersed in a classic work of spiritual formation.


1 Ibid 89

2 Rochard Foster, Dallas Williard. The Spiritual Formation Bible. (London; Hodder and Stoughton, 2006) 2045

3 C K Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, (Great Britian: R & R Clark, 1957) 11

4 Andrew Das, Solving the Romans Debate,( Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007) 10

5 Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New testament, (New York: DoubleDay, 2009) 577

6 John Stott, The Message of Romans, (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994)36

7 Interpreters Bible 355

8 Ibid 355

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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AN EXEGESIS OF THE LETTER TO ROMANS PART I

Introduction

It is generally said that there is no more interesting body of documents in the New Testament than the letters of Paul. One of the ancient Greek literary critics has pointed out that, “Everyone reveals his own soul in his letters. In every other form of composition it is possible to discern the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as the epistolary.1 As compared to his other letters, there is a stark difference in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The main reason being that while writing to the Romans, he was writing to a church he had not founded.2 So this letters seems to be more impersonal as compared to the other letters. The Roman church was not set up by Paul and is believed to have existed by the early 40 CE. He felt that by proclaiming the gospel in Rome he would be able to spread the message of Christ all across the globe.

In this paper we shall discuss about the origin, authorship, literary style and major themes of Paul’s letters to the Romans.

Authorship

In 1:1 Paul names himself as the one who writes this letter to the Roman Christians.NT scholars generally accept the Pauline authorship of Romans and believed that the letter at least in major part, is from Paul’s hand. The style and Vocabulary of the letter are similar to the letters to Galatians and I and II Corinthians. Another argument which proves the authorship of Paul is that the letter covers the issues of Christian doctrines which was severely disturbing the early church. Also certain external evidences like the use of this letter during the early second century by church writers like, Clement of Rome (AD 95), Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna etc proves that this letter of Paul by that time was well known.3

Date, Time and Place

It is generally believed that the letter was written during Paul’s stay in Greece, probably at Corinth as mentioned in Acts 20:2.4 Though the date of the letter cannot be confirmed, it is believed that the letter might have been compiled during winter between late 54 and early 59 CE. At that time Pau was writing this letter.

Theological Purpose of the Book

The letter to the Romans is addressed to the Christians of the capital if the Roman Empire.Paul states in 1:8, 15:19 that he has finished his work in Asia Minor and Greece and wanted to plant churches farther to West. Since the message of Christ had been spread in parts of Italy, pauls states his plan of visiting Spain and spreading the gospel there. Some argue that the purpose of the letter is to state Paul’s plan of visiting the Roman church on his way to Spain. The counter point to this argument is that why do we need such a theologically sound and long epistle just to state one’s arrival. To this some point out that the intention of Paul might have been to gain sufficient financial aid for his Spanish mission. It might be for this purpose that he stated the importance of the universal need of salvation through Christ and not being ashamed of the Gospel etc. he thus urges the Romans to support his effort to take the gospel to the ‘barbarians’ in the western parts of the empire.5

By including the complicated themes of Justification of faith to a community which he had not founded, the question of such a purpose arises. For such a reason some comment that it was basically written as a general letter not specifically intended to be sent to Rome.6

Also some are of the opinion that he wrote this letter seeking prayer and support from the Roman church on his journey to Jerusalem. It is believed that the journey to Jerusalem was full of dangers. Also Paul is said to have enemies there. The verse in Romans 15: 30 supports this point.

Paul was a great strategist. He might have thought of establishing Rome as his base to work in the new western terrains.7


1 William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible (Bangalore: Theological Publication In India, 2010), xxiii

2 Ibid 1

3 George Arthur Buttrick, John Knox, Interpreters Bible, (USA: Parthenon Press: 1954), 359

4 T W Manson, Black M Peake’s Commentary on the Bible() 940

5 George Arthur Buttrick, John Knox, Interpreteres Bible, (USA: Parthenon press: 1954) 359

6 Joseph Fitzmyer, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 71

7 William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible. The Letter to the Romans. (Bengaluru: Theological Publication in India, 2010) 5

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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Such a Man Did Live - BOOK REVIEW

Such a Man Did Live: Celebrating the Life of Suffragon Metropolitan Zacharias Mar Theophilos

There are some initiatives that would stand out in history not only because of its monumental value but also because of the appropriateness of its timing. “Such a Man Did Live” is one such kairotic gift to all of us and as the title of book suggests it indeed is one expression of the celebration of the life and ministry of Suffragan Metropolitan Zacharias Mar Theophilos. It is on the one hand a reflection of hundred people of repute, who journeyed alongside Thirumeni. Like anyone else in the world they were also grieved by his loss since they walked closely with him or at least watched him closely as he went about ministering to the people of God. On the other hand it is a beautiful caricaturing of Thirumeni using a wide variety of verbal images that comes from the hearts of people who intimately interacted with him. There is no disputing the fact that Thirumeni was much more a towering personality than the book could capture, but at the same time one must admit that the larger than life impact of Thirumeni is very fairly captured in the kaleidoscope the book tries to offer to the reader.

The 400 page volume published by the Notion Press stands out primarily for the galaxy of contributors. These wide ranging personalities include Bishop Zacharias’ classmates, colleagues, co-workers and co-travellers in life’s pilgrimage. The fact that twenty five Bishops of global stature has written in itself tells of the influence Thirumeni was. The General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia and former General Secretaries of the World Council of Churches along with several other ecumenical personalities of repute have penned their impressions.

The editors Rev. Vinod Victor, Mr. Jacob Chandy Varghese and Mr. Oommen Koruth have all had a very personal and passionate relationship with Bishop Zacaharias and that is evident in the care with which they have weaved together the tapestry of the book. The Publishers have done a good work in giving a professional touch to the book though one could have desired that the photographs were more obvious and patterns more uniform.

Perhaps a humble attempt to pick a few quotes from the book would throw some light into the width of the spectrum the book is trying to cater to

The Valiya Metropolitan Philipose Mar Chrysostom while giving us an inclination to the pedigree of Bishop Zacharias recalls, ‘ I remember Israel Vydian, his parental uncle, who was well known and well respected. I know that Zacharias Thirumeni’s family was a blessed family. Only from such blessed families we receive blessed spiritual leaders like him. We need to be thankful to God almighty for giving us a spiritual leader like him’.

The words of Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan reveal the intimate relationship they had working together as Bishops, “ My memories also go back to the days of his initiatives for the establishment of Santhigiri Ashram. I supported Thirumeni especially when some people raised concerns about the establishment of Santhigiri. He was a visionary and his social concerns and ecumenical outlook prompted him to venture the establishment of Santhigiri. His concern for the healing ministry was also incredible. He established funds for the poor cancer patient’s treatment and also initiated the palliative care services. His contributions to those areas will ever be remembered by the Church”.

The Major Arch Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, George Cardinal Alencherry, being an ecumenical fellow traveller reflects,

‘… The very name Theophilus signified a friend of God. His close attachment to our Lord Jesus Christ, was reflected in his concern for the poor and the sick. He worked tirelessly even to the last moment of his life to keep alive the values of the Gospel among the people he live and worked for. Through his close contacts with the leaders of other churches and religions, he knew where and how to discern the areas of unity and co-operation’.

The former General Secretary of World Council of Churches Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser in his article points of the “ecumenical value” of Thirumeni, “As a delegate of his church to the 7th Assembly of the WCC at Canberra in 1991 he was elected as a member of the Central Committee. Subsequently the Central Committee elected him as member of its Executive Committee. He continued to serve in these two capacities even after the 8th Assembly at Harare in 1998 until the 9th Assembly at Porto Alegre in 2006… Raiser further states “ Under his guidance a sub committee was able to prepare and present to the Central Committee the revised version of the draft texts enabling the Central Committee in 1997 to take its important decision on the policy statement “ Towards a Common understanding and Vision of the WCC “. He was thus directly involved in giving shape to the new understanding of the role of the WCC in the context of the wider ecumenical movement at the beginning of the 21st century.”

Bishop Theophilus was successful in understanding the heart throb of the pastors because he himself was a successful pastor. Mary Nebu Mathew from Mumbai recalls, ‘ The advent of Rev. Oommen Koruth to the St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church, Santa Cruz, in 1975 was a fillip to the youth of the parish, especially to the teens and youth who were brought up in Bombay… Rev. OK’s Bible study classes were unique in many ways… He encouraged us to think for ourselves, giving scope for our thoughts and ideas, at the same time enlightening us with Biblical interpretations at a deeper level.’

Smt. T. Sumithra a class mate of Thirumeni the wife of Mr. Govindankutty Menon re calls how they happened to meet Zacharias Thirumeni immediately after his consecration at Trivandurm one Sunday, ‘… After the Sunday service, Thirumeni spent quite some time with us that evening exchanging details about our lives during the period we lost contact. Before leaving, he led in prayer, invoking the Lord’s blessing for each one of us… Thirumeni must have been extremely busy with a lot of important engagements. Yet he found so much time to spend with us. We were simply overwhelmed.’

His College mate Thampan Thomas recalls, how Oommen Koruth joined them during the student’s strike in 1958 at Union Christian College, Aluwa, ‘ … By noon more than 300 students were in police custody. When we announced that as the last batch we too were courting arrest, the student Oommen Koruth too joined us for picketing and we were taken to police station…’

Rev. Jaisen A. Thomas recalls, ‘ Thirumeni was a mentor and a true friend whose love and nurture helped me towards ministry….About eighteen years ago, while I was still in college, my family had gone through a great tragedy. My younger sister, Jaisle, had been kidnapped (she is still missing) and as a family we were struggling, especially during those initial days. During those difficult times, Zacharias Thirumeni came to stay at our house in Richmond, Virginia for four days and comforted us with his loving presence and sincere prayers. At that

point, Thirumeni was not just a Bishop visiting us but, a true friend who shared in our pain and reminded us and encouraging us in faith and hope. As my mom often said, “Zacharias Thirumeni was a saint and even though he had many difficult times he always had a heart for others’… It was this heart that is shared by several authors in the book and this is what made him instrumental in the formation of several Mar thoma churches in diaspora contexts.

K. Raju who served Thirumeni as his personal driver for 33 years gives us a glimpse of Thirumeni’s daily routine, ‘Thirumeni’s days starts early in the morning. After his private prayer he gets himself ready to be in the chapel at 7.30 am with the entire staff, so also at 7.30 pm. After breakfast he turns busy with visitors or visits, functions, meeting etc., He spends time after dinner for study, reply to daily mails and phone calls till he retires at 12 midnight.’

There are gems culled from the life of Thirumeni in each of the hundred articles but that is best left for the reader to cherish grabbing a copy of the book.

The Editorial board and the advisory team must be complemented for the meticulous work behind mustering such a variety of articles. Yes one could surely point out several key omissions. People who worked closely with Thirumeni and would have been able to give deeper insights about his personality. But not everything can be included in one book. The Glimpses of Thought though given without the context of each gives us several personal traits of the great man. The analysis of his songs, the sharing of his selected sermons and the attempt to read his theology and mission in the back drop of modern scholarship are worth the attempt.

It is only appropriate that Santhigiri one of the most conspicuous living memorials of Thirumeni’s vision and passion has taken up the onus to publish this book and to distribute it and as the Preface hopes, this book would help several people to be inspired to live a life which such a man lived.

Written By: 
Rev. Sunny George

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