Friday, January 27, 2017

Color, Culture, and Creation

Yung Suk Kim

There are many colors on earth, named or unnamed; but all of them are beautiful. There are many flowers in the world, named or unnamed; no question that all are splendid. All of them are flowers, small or big, short or tall. The flower is the flower.

There are many people of color on our globe, documented or undocumented; all of them are God’s masterpiece. Yellow is color, black is color, and white is also color. All races are colored and cultured. Some are more distinctive than others. Yet all represent a colorful representation in God’s world where different thoughts and lifestyles coexist.

Even within the same culture, not all speak the same language because each person has his/her own thought or culture. Diversity is the way that the world exists and prospers. Differences, whether personally or culturally, are not wrong by themselves but are a moment to explore deeply about who we are.

In God’s creation, there are many colors, many races, many cultures, many stories, and many histories. One cannot represent all. It is the imperial culture that does not embrace diversity.

I was born and raised in Korea. Then I ended up in America and now teaches at a graduate school. As a US citizen, I often feel I belong nowhere. But I also realize that I belong everywhere because I am part of the world. I have the vision to realize a world of diversity and solidarity. Toward that vision, long ago I wrote up a teaching philosophy:

I foster and teach to engage in the knowledge of who we are in this world in which we see each other as diverse and different. Diversity is not a given but a source of critical engagement with one another. I value both a critical and self-critical stance toward any claim of the knowledge, the truth, and the reality. I emphasize the following as pedagogical goals: learning from others, challenging one another, affirming who we are, and working for common humanity through differences. In my teaching, all in all, I aim to communicate critical diversity and transformative identity in a variety of life contexts.

Fighting racism

About twenty years ago, I attended a national conference about peacemaking at Montreat Retreat Center, in North Carolina, and its theme was fighting racism. I saw the beauty of the place with its mountain trails, singing birds in trees, ever-flowing streams in deep valleys, and grotesque rocks taking pride in their appearance. 

More than nine hundred people, including children, gathered to reflect on peacemaking. I realized that we are all beautiful and unique. But the reality in the world is still saddening and race relations are worsening. 

One day when we lived in Miami, one of my daughters complained about her skin color and physical shape, as she said: “Dad, why do I have this kind of eyes and skin color?" As a matter of fact, her friends teased her at the school. My heart then collapsed and I felt a deep, indescribable agony. Lord, what can I do?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A new translation of 1 Cor 12:27

I am excited about this new translation of 1 Cor 12:27, which I made long ago, and I still believe that this makes a great sense to me: "You are a Christic body and you have to embody Christ individually and communally."

For more about this idea of the body, see my book, "Christ's Body in Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor" (Fortress, 2008) and other works I did. For more info, visit my site: or list of All publications

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Unreading examples in the New Testament

Un-reading means resistance to a dominant traditional reading that subjugates the voices of the marginalized.

Jesus un-reads familiar texts during his time. His parables are good examples of unreading: For example, Leaven, Mustard Seed, Vineyard Workers, and “Father and Two Sons.” Society reads the text in a certain way, but Jesus unreads (reverses) it, forging a new meaning. I have one article about the Father and Two Sons (Lk 15:11-32), available here:

By definition, “a parable is a story cast alongside of life for the sake of leading the audience to see something differently.” [Marcus Borg, Jesus: The Life, Teaching, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (New York: HaperCollins, 2008), 259]. C.H. Dodd also defines it similarly: “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” [C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (New York: Scribner, 1961), 5]

We, modern readers, also must unread certain texts in the New Testament. Among others, some of the post-Pauline texts may be good cases that involve repressive social relations, which are expressed with the so-called household codes: regulating various household relationships between master and slave, between husband and wife, and between parents and children. Women’s subordinate position in 1 Tim 2:11-15 is also a good case. In all of these household codes or in women degradation texts, one has to read, reread, and unread the texts because the ultimate meaning is not controlled by the past or by any authorities today. Meaning or interpretation is a politically self-conscious business in that one has to take a stance. Namely, abusive or sexist texts should be named and rejected. In the stages of reading and rereading, one has to ask why these seemingly unnecessary texts for today’s readers are there in the early church. This process will help readers to see what happened in the past and to engage us in critical contexts then and today.  

Another text is 1 Cor 14:33b-36, which is considered “interpolation” (meaning an inserted text by the later editor of the church, possibly much time after Paul’s death, as we see similar kind of texts in 1 Tim 2:11-15. Except for this particular passage, Paul’s overall letters (I mean his undisputed letters, total 7 of them) do not have women degradation passages. Rather, the opposite is the case that Paul calls woman apostle (Rom 16:7); also Gal 3:28 is radical in terms of gender relation. So readers have to unread 1 Cor 14:33b-36 because it is not Paul’s voice or theology.

When it comes to the Gospels, I may think of one particular place; Mark 9:1 will be a different case that readers have to read, reread, unread, and tell their positions. While some consider it as Jesus’s own saying, others render it Markan addition or creation. In either case, readers have to struggle to understand what it means to hear this apocalyptic saying in the first century CE and now.  Eventually, one must decide about this text and interpret it for today’s world by unreading all previous interpretations. I think this text is more of technical in nature so it may not be easy to come to a conclusion.

In Resurrecting Jesus: The Renewal of New Testament Theology, I attempted to show how to read the New Testament and what it means to read them for today. I focused on the historical Jesus on one hand and the New Testament as a literary product on the other.

Regarding a critical understanding of biblical interpretation, my book Biblical Interpretation: Theory, Process, and Criteria will be helpful. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

One-minute lights-off to protest

 I am amazed by the peaceful yet powerful protests going on in Korea now, against President Park. Yesterday more than 2 million people gathered and marched to demand her immediate resignation.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

1.5 million people's shouts and lights

The most powerful video I have ever seen in my life. Watch this. You will see more than a million people's shouts and lights at the most crowded plazas in Seoul, Korea, to send a massive protest to president Park that she resign immediately. The gathered people performed a dramatic show by turning off their candles or lights for a minute at 8 pm last night. Then they turned on the lights a minute later. They say that the darkness won't overcome the light (like John 1:5). Then a song is sung with all in unison, "the truth cannot collapse ..." In fact, many homes and shops in the nation participated in this symbolic protest against president Park. Almost 2 million people protested peacefully. I see a new kind of democracy there because of effective social media and their voluntary participation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bible translation matters

There are many problems in the translation of the NIV. Especially, a lot of translation issues are found in Paul's letters. But today I discovered another problem in Luke 15:4. Eremos means a desert or wilderness in the plain sense, but the NIV translates it as "open country." I kind of know why such a translation was made.