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Contagious Holiness: Jesus' Meals with Sinners (New Studies in Biblical Theology) Paperback – September 2, 2005
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"[Offers] an enlightening analysis of Jesus' table fellowship for Christian academics and laypersons alike. . . . Citing his own experiences overseas, the outreach efforts of the "Scum of the Earth" church in "Denver (of which he is a member), and other Christian ministries, Blomberg's application of 'contagious holiness' is a promising resource for Christians living in a post-9/11 age." (Linda MacCammon, Theological Studies 68/1, March 2007)
"A pivotal book for understanding how meals fit into the mission of Jesus and the church." (Missiology, January 2006)
"Dr. Blomberg not only addresses current disputes about the 'table fellowship' practices of the historical Jesus, but also traces out the historical and theologically laden implications of table fellowship across the canon of Scripture, and issues a call to contemporary Christians to reform their habits in this matter." (D. A. Carson, Professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois))
About the Author
Craig L. Blomberg (Ph.D., Aberdeen) is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado. His books include Interpreting the Parables, Neither Poverty nor Riches, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, commentaries on Matthew and 1 Corinthians, Making Sense of the New Testament: 3 Crucial Questions and Preaching the Parables.
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The first chapter surveys the practice of meals in the Old Testament, noting especially the role of meals in defining who is - and is not - a member of the community. The second chapter surveys inter-testamental developments, concluding that such developments are largely in line with the Old Testament pattern, and arguing that the Roman symposia do not play a significant role as background for Jesus' meals in the gospels. The third and fourth chapters then survey the gospel material - focusing first on general material in the gospels, and then on material unique to Luke's gospel.
Over against the Jewish expectation that eating with the wrong people would result in one being defiled, Jesus practiced what Blomberg helpfully calls "contagious purity" or "contagious holiness." Jesus clearly expected that, by eating with those who were excluded from the community, he might be able to bring them into the community by way of faith and repentance. This theme of repentance is one that Blomberg skillfully defends, in opposition to the claims of Sanders and others that Jesus ate with sinners without calling them to repentance. Jesus' meals were radically inclusive, to be sure, but not as a means of accepting the sin of others. Rather, it was a means of graciously calling others to a restored life as part of the new people of God by faith in him.
Blomberg weaves other themes through the gospel meals as well: the Lord's Supper, and especially the Messianic banquet of Isaiah 25, a theme that he believes is central to many of the meals in the gospels. Referring to the meals in Luke 24, he writes:
Instead, one thinks again of the coming eschatological banquet. ...if Jesus' table fellowship prior to the resurrection foreshadowed the Messianic banquet, and if his resurrection implies that the Messianic age has begun, then `This scene is a foretaste or anticipation of the messianic banquet with Jesus as host' (159).
Blomberg then concludes with a chapter discussing provocative ideas for how the church today might carry out the life of fellowship via meals that Jesus so clearly lived in his ministry. The book of Acts portrays the church carrying on that way of life, and doing so in a way that is intended to give shape to the life of the church today.
This book is highly recommended as a study of an important biblical theological theme, as well as helpful contribution to studying the Gospel of Luke in particular.
The book is well written and the Biblical exposition is thorough and scholarly. The approach of the book is too academic I think to be considered moving or inspiring; although, it is still enlightening. It certainly demonstrates the usefulness of meals in ministry.
Blomberg addresses the Lord's Supper in a cumbersome manner in the final chapter. I wish he would have taken more time and care to include a separate section on the relation of the Lord's Supper and its continuation in the church to his thesis. He seems to even mention it apologetically not wanting to turn off readers from a non-liturgical tradition.
The book is actually 180 pages of text followed by sources and indexes.
Publisher: IVP Apollos
Reading Level: High
“There is a ‘desperate need for Christians to excise innumerable church meetings, in order to free their diaries for proper meeting with unbelievers.’” (172-173)
Did Christ intentionally eat with the worst of the worst to upset the Pharisees? Was Jesus a good dinner guest? What is a Greek symposium and does their presence in the gospel narratives discredit their historical reliability?
These are not the typical asked questions by laymen. Instead they are the technical questions asked by students of biblical theology. Craig Blomberg in Contagious Holiness works through the Scriptures in an effort to clarify and quantify the table ministry of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Blomberg’s tone is concise but dry. The usage of technical quotes and language is high. There are many technical footnotes that will detour casual readers. As part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) this is to be expected. The results though do have practical application to the church and its future with table evangelism.
In chapter two, Bloomberg demonstrates that Old Testament meal narratives encourage eating with friends but avoiding enemies. The table becomes the fence of friendship and acceptance. Similarly in chapter three, Bloomberg shows that extra biblical sources including those in the intertestamental period reinforce and exaggerate this ‘eat with friends but avoid enemies’ paradigm. The concept of impurity being shared at the dinner table is introduced. It is here that the washing rituals that lie at the foreground of the New Testament begins to be seen.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ clearly and decisively breaks this mold. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus flips the role of the table and holiness/impurity on its head. Instead of meals being a way of defining the righteous in the world, Christ presents a wide open table and makes purity contagious. When Christ eats with sinners He is not worried with sinners rubbing off on Him. His mission is to have His holiness fall onto others. This upset the Pharisees with whom Christ ate. Christ did not exclude the self-righteous. Yet, Blomberg shows through repeated encounters that Christ’s interaction during these dinners barely qualifies as polite guest behavior.
On the more technical issues, Blomberg argues there is no signs that the Greek symposium concept impacted Luke or the other gospels. The lack of symposium elements in the most Hellenistic gospel, Luke, provides historical credibility to all of the meal scenes. Blomberg also clarifies misconceptions of Christ eating with ‘the worst of the worst sinners.’ Though the ‘worst of the worst’ would not have been excluded, Blomberg shows the language likely means all groups declared “unclean.”
Similarly, contra the thesis E.P. Sanders, Jesus is not presented as one who eats without presenting the kingdom of God along with repentance. Just as Jesus was provocative with the self-righteous Pharisees, His parables and teachings would have encouraged repentance and life changes.
In conclusion, Blomberg’s Contagious Holiness is the technical background that many pastors and elders need to encourage their local churches to food-oriented ministries. However, Blomberg is technical and dry in a way that will turn off many laymen readers.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.