Typically, this idiom is meant to conjure up images of quiet, peaceful slumber. Uninterrupted. Silent. Restful. Cuddly. Wake-up-feeling-really-refreshed. All night long.
Anyone who has ever actually had a baby realizes that what this idiom really means is exactly the opposite. No one actually wants to “sleep like a baby” if you know what a baby sleeps like. The dreaded 45-minute sleep cycle. Waking up crying every 3 hours to feed. Waking up every 1 hour if they have a cold. Frazzled parents wandering around drowsily and asking each other how often they are allowed to give ibuprofen before it becomes a “problem.” The shared longing with other parents of real babies for that magical “sleeping through the night” stage, only to find out that, clinically-speaking, “through the night” only means “5-6 hours at a time.”
“Like a baby.” Who came up with that anyhow?
Kind of like the Christmas song, Silent Night. What on earth were they thinking?
There should be a support group for teenagers who grew up in the nineties before the Internet and Dish Network came along to provide a wider array of wholesome entertainment outlets during the long summer afternoons when you had nothing else to do but turn on the television and watch the major networks’ star-studded 3pm-5pm lineup of pre-Dr. Phil talk shows: Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Geraldo Riviera (before it became just Geraldo), Ricki Lake, and whatever that lady’s name was who looked like she was on the Golden Girls.
Of the many psychologically damaging things one could observe on those shows – which, I suppose, in an odd way anticipated the bizarreness of most “reality” shows today in how they exposed the worse of the human condition on live-ish TV – the most prevalent was the paradigm for how a baby-daddy should respond when the paternity test comes back implicating him. (Note: I believe that is the only time in recorded history that “paradigm” has been used with reference to Jerry Springer). The formula involves (a) denial, (b) yelling, (c) name-calling, (d) more denial, (e) attempted punch by the baby-mommy who is restrained somewhat too late by the security professionals, (f) swearing, (g) scurrilous accusations by the baby-mommy’s friend or sister or cousin, who is also on stage, (h) booing from the audience, (i) cut to commercial break, (j) some ridiculously forced reconciliation by the show host and / or someone storming off set, whichever comes first.
The emotional scarring of my mid-90s adolescence aside, this all makes me think of how Joseph must have reacted when he found out that “before they came together Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18).
[Yes, believe it or not, with that high-class introduction, this is a Christmas-themed post after all.]
In general, you can learn a lot about people based on what is on their bookshelf, whether they even have a bookshelf, and how many bookshelves they actually have. The literature that one reads – from nothing at all to vampire fiction to romance novels to classical literature to anything by dead Russians – reveals a lot about one’s interests, passions, hobbies, and so on. Or, viewed from the other direction, that which we read plays a large role in shaping and molding us: expanding our experience base, informing us about myriad subjects, and, ultimately, influencing our worldview. One might even say that the things we read the most are the best indicators of the factors and values that make us who we are.
This presents an odd little conundrum for the Christian reader. Unless you have shelves full of well-marked copies of the Bible, or unless you can honestly say that you spend more time reading Scripture than anything else (newspapers, instruction manuals, work-related documents, and cookbooks included!), then you have this peculiar little mismatch between what you actually read and the single book which, in theory, is the most formative influence on your life. For instance, even if you spent an hour a day studying the Bible vigorously this past week, chances are you spent at least twice as much time reading other writings, both religious and non-religious. Does that mean you undervalue the Bible? That it is not the most important of all? Can you measure the importance of your literary influences based on number of copies, or number of minutes spent reading them in a given time frame?
It is pretty obvious that, in general, the answer is “no.” While we all would admit that we should spend more time studying God’s Word than we typically do, it is pretty reasonable to conclude that we do not have to spend numerically the most time reading it than anything else in order to prove that we value it more highly than anything else we read. Put differently, God’s Word can be the definitive, rock-solid authority in our lives without negating the possibility that we can benefit and learn from other texts.
Strangely, this seemingly simple truth seems lost on many biblical scholars who draw puzzling conclusions about the nature of early Christianity by taking a look at what I’m calling the “early church bookshelf.”
I was sitting in a class on biblical interpretation offered at the RTS Washington D.C. campus in the summer of 2012 when I essentially stumbled upon what would later become the genesis of my dissertation topic. The professor, Dr. Tommy Keene, had provided some direction on our writing assignment that morning, and during a short break I was poking around Accordance (Mac Bible software) thinking about what I might want to research for the paper.
I had recently been working through 1 Peter in my personal studies, and our lecture that morning had revolved around the various views of the structure and flow of argument in Romans. Pretty soon I recognized that both letters at key junctures quote the same verse of the book of Isaiah: the stone placed in Zion. What I did not know then but later discovered as I fleshed out my paper and, ultimately, landed on my “stone” thesis idea, was that much of the debate about how Romans and 1 Peter are quoting Isaiah revolves around one key grammatical feature of the sentence: a single pronoun. This one pronoun provides great insight into how NT authors reflect upon and quote from the OT.
I had just received a hardbound copy of Lancelot Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint (introduced in a prior post) from Amazon right before Christmas, so I thought I would peruse it along with the New Testament readings I was doing.
Yes, that is very nerdy. I know.
But the basic idea was to understand what and how the authors of the gospels were quoting from the Old Testament as they presented the arrival of Jesus Christ in the flesh as the fulfillment of prior expectations woven throughout the Hebrew scriptures. When I got to Matthew 2, I found something stunning (to me) that fueled my desire to study the Septuagint more fully.
As I have engaged in conversations with various people in my life regarding our decision to pursue this step of additional education and research at Cambridge, roughly 50% of folks have ventured into the uncharted waters of asking me the question, “So, what is your dissertation topic?” (The other 50% were probably wise to keep it to other matters!)
In a single sentence, my research topic is as follows. I aim to demonstrate that the NT authors who quote the OT “stone” passages in powerful and important ways in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Romans, and 1 Peter, are drawing their rhetorical power from the multi-faceted and ambiguous nature of the “stone” as a metaphor, which shaped the preconceptions of their hearing and reading audiences in such a way that the quotations themselves achieve remarkable results. (I didn’t say it would be a short sentence!)