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.

Friday, September 23, 2016

an interesting conversatioin with a colleague

Yung Suk Kim

One of my colleagues asked me in the middle of a meeting: "What is the Greek word for the  pastor in the New Testament?"

I said: Well, I don't think there is a Greek word for the pastor in the NT.
Taking a few minutes, I wrote the following on a sheet of paper.

"The typical titles for the leaders of the early church":
1. doulos, slave (esp. for Paul): "I, a slave of Jesus" (Rom 1:1)
2. diakonos, Phoebe: minister (Rom 16:1)
3. presbyteros: elder, bishop (later epistles)
4. apostolos: apostle (Gospels and Paul's letters)
5. leitourgos: servant (later epistles) ... This was added later by me.

Then he said: "No slaves! We've been slaves too long!"

I said: "Tears!"

He said: "No doulos! Terrible Bible! Oppressive!"

I said: "I agree! We need a new word!"

He said: "You need to un-read that text!"

I said: "Amen! No longer bound!"

Then, our exchange ended.

It was my intention to reveal the historical titles for the leaders of the church in the New Testament, one of which is doulos used for Paul. Often people translate doulos as a servant, which does not seem to reveal what Paul tries to say in his cultural setting. Whether Paul is good or bad in his view of slavery, he uses the word doulos (slave) for himself. Why did he so? That must be explained. That is part of what we have to do. Otherwise, we cannot hide the fact that he used that word for him.

Habakkuk 2:4 in the Septuagint and quotations in the NT

Yung Suk Kim

BHT Habakkuk 2:4
Hineh upplah lo-yashrah napsho bo betsadiq beemunato yichyeh

LXT Habakkuk 2:4
ean hyposteiletai ouk eudokei e psyche mou en auto ho de dikaios ek pisteos mou zesetai
(Look at the proud. My spirit is not right in him, but the righteous shall live by my faith)

NRS Habakkuk 2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

NIV Habakkuk 2:4 "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-- but the righteous will live by his faith--

Quoted in the NT:
Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38

ROM 1:17
NIV Romans 1:17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

NJB Romans 1:17 for in it is revealed the saving justice of God: a justice based on faith and addressed to faith. As it says in scripture: Anyone who is upright through faith will live.

NKJ Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

NRS Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."

BNT Romans 1:17 dikaiosyne gar theou en auto apokalyptetai ek pisteos eis pistin, kathos gegrapptai, ho de dikaios ek pisteos zesetai.

GAL 3:11
NIV Galatians 3:11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

NJB Galatians 3:11 Now it is obvious that nobody is reckoned as upright in God's sight by the Law, since the upright will live through faith;

NKJ Galatians 3:11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith."

NRS Galatians 3:11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for "The one who is righteous will live by faith."

BNT Galatians 3:11 hoti de en nomo oudeis dikaioutai para to theo delon, hoti ho dikaios ek pisteos zesetai

HEB 10:38
NIV Hebrews 10:38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him."

NJB Hebrews 10:38 My upright person will live through faith but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him.

NKJ Hebrews 10:38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him."

NRS Hebrews 10:38 but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back."

BNT Hebrews 10:38 ho de dikaios mou ek pisteos zesetai, kai ean hyposteiletai, ouk eudokei he psyche mou en auto

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Abortion case study

Abortion: Case Study of PC(USA)

Yung Suk Kim

(unedited version)

Today's abortion issue in the U.S.A is very complex. It involves multiple parties such as legal bodies (government or states), religious groups, women (parents) and unborn children and doctors. In fact, this issue is not only about social justice but also about the issue of life and death. The Presbyterian Church (USA) began to express its concerns about this issue and advocate its position to influence public policy in 1970.

Looking back to the social context in the earlier time of abortion debates in this country, the watershed would be the early nineteen seventies when the Supreme Court's decision (1973) so-called Roe v. Wade ruled that "decisions about abortion are a matter of individual conscience and a constitutional right of privacy" (Williams 1990, 39).

Strikingly enough, as medical advancement has been accelerated, the abortion issue has been more controversial because it brought about new chances which might be used both positively and negatively for the women who considered abortions. Owing to this advancement of medical technology, abortion has been easier and safer than before, but at the same time, it has been misused as a means of birth control and of other uses of exploitation such as an easy to unwed teens' pregnancies or unwanted pregnancies. Among youths, abortion is often considered just as taking away a kind of tumor as it is not different from a usual medical treatment. Meanwhile, on the flip side of convenience issue of abortion, there have been other women who are so poor or powerless that they have had no access to that benefit.

As seen above, the issue contains the elements of consideration about religious faith, personal moral decisions, and social justice as well. The complexity of abortion involves society as a whole together with its complex environment. Thus this complexity requires us to answer many questions about human existence and life, God’s providence and God’s relation to creation and human beings, women's rights and the rights of unborn children, human's responsibility to and ability in creation, mission of church, the role of individual Christian and a community, biblical faith or principles to this issue, theological implications, and reflections, and the list goes on and on.

Considering the complexity of abortion and the wider scope of this issue, all the aspects of this issue on which the General Assemblies of PC (USA) have worked cannot be covered in this small paper, partly because of the limit of length and principally because of lack of my capacity to deal with them. In this research I mainly investigate the denomination's position in terms of theological background together with the reasons for the theological position behind. Also, my intention is to see how PC-USA has changed its position, if at all, over the last 25 years or so, together with its formational process in its public advocacy and in its guidance to the whole church.

PC-USA Position
1) General Review of Struggling History
In view of such big complexity in this issue, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has struggled with abortion issue since 1972 when the General Assembly statement (184th) declared: "the artificial or induced termination of pregnancy is a matter of the careful ethical decision of the patient, . . . and therefore should not be restricted by law . . ." (Internet PC USA 1998). In this document from the 1972 minutes of General Assembly, "freedom of personal choice in problem pregnancies" was affirmed. Later on, the U.S Supreme Court, in 1973, ruled that the U.S Constitution allows women to have freedom of choice about abortion(Williams 1990, 39). The General Assembly's statement in 1972 clearly stated that abortion is not a matter for the courts but it is a matter personal ethical decision.

On the other hand, women have been oppressed by a patriarchal society in which some were victims of rape and incest, and of other reasons. But under that society, women had to endure their pain caused by unwanted pregnancies and other kinds of oppression. In other words, women's rights and freedom have not been honored. In this sense, this statement sought to strike a balance between women’s rights and the unborn life's. Though the denomination took a pro-choice stance, this stance was conditional as in the cases of problem pregnancies or health problems.

In 1983, the Advisory Council on Church and Society transmits to the 195th General Assembly the following two reports, "The Covenant of Life and the Caring Community" and "Covenant and Creation: Theological Reflections on Contraception and Abortion." Here again, from 1972 statement of the General Assembly, these reports strongly present the conviction about human responsibility as "co-laborers with God" (Williams 1990, 87). Since creation is "not fixed, but on-going", we, humans, should be good "stewards" of God’s creation, "acting with prayerful concern for the value and quality of life as a gift of God" (Williams 1990, 87). As in God’s covenant relationship with the people of God, parents and children are also bound in this relationship. The theological support behind this statement is that God has given humans not only the responsibility of caring for creation but also the ability to share in it. God is concerned about for the quality and value of human life (Williams 1990, 87). In this thought, controlling unwanted pregnancies (problem pregnancies) is human responsibility and it is an act of caring for God’s creation. This conviction about stewardship validates the termination of unwanted pregnancies.

The reunited church (1983) approved the document mentioned above, and after that continued to be reaffirmed by consecutive General Assemblies (1985 & 1986) (Williams 1990, 139). The latest major statement on abortion by the Presbyterian General Assembly appeared in 1992. In this time, it seems that the statement lowered its strong voice with humbleness and openness to a wider spectrum of voices. This document recognizes:

There is both agreement and disagreement on the basic issue of abortion. The committee (on problem pregnancies and abortion) agreed that there are no biblical texts that speak expressly to the topic of abortion, but that taken in their totality the Holy Scriptures are filled with messages that advocate respect for the women and child before and after birth. Therefore the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) encourages an atmosphere of open debate and mutual respect for a variety of opinions concerning the issues related to problem pregnancies and abortion (Internet PC USA 1998).

This statement echoes its moderate position while emphasizing morally acceptable choice for women. In fact, in the face of pluralistic views on this issue, personal choice guided by the community of faith and the Holy Spirit is crucial to moral decision-making. It is noticeable that this statement recognized the multiple views on this issue because the General Assembly does not represent all the churches and members. However, General Assembly speaks for itself and asks members of churches to participate in the said issues. The formational process of ethical issues in PC (USA) is discussed in the fourth section.

Biblical, Theological Background and Reasons
Since there are no exactly-stated biblical texts which speak about abortion, biblical faith or principle had been sought out to apply it to this issue. It is not easy to pinpoint clearly a biblical or theological background, especially when more than last 25 years of involvement by the General Assemblies and their counter-partners is considered. But the strongest background comes from human’s positive role as God’s stewards and from freedom of personal choice as God’s gift. In other words, in God’s creation, humans are also co-workers with God in protecting, caring for, and improving the quality of life (Williams 1990, 91). In light of human’s role as co-workers with God, anthropology, as a corollary, is bright; humans are capable of making good moral decisions in the midst of conflicting values.

The reason why personal freedom is emphasized is that since this abortion issue varies depending on the contexts and that it is an issue of personal ethical matters, legal intervention is not welcomed in these situations. No matter how complex or difficult each case of abortion may be, the responsibility for the abortion decision lies with women who are ultimately accountable to God, and who ask God to give them wisdom and courage to deal with complex situations. Whatever decision would be among available options (rearing, adoption, abortion), God would give hope and empowerment to women. This is basic confirmation of Presbyterian’s mind and theology. In the midst of hard choices and of even seeming failures, God’s forgiveness and grace abound and are sufficient to overcome the times of grief (Williams 1990, 92). So, the key is the faith community’s guidance and support with the Holy Spirit to the women who are faced with making a serious decision.

Major Changes over the period of struggle
Beginning 1970, PC (USA) General Assembly began to express its concern about abortion. At the beginning, the mood was to release women from their agonies caused by problem pregnancies by affirming the importance of personal choice (freedom of women), and this position was later strengthened by the U.S Supreme Court’s decision (Roe v. Wade) (Williams 1990, 93). But later on, this line of thought became more refined theologically, reaching its peak in 1983, when the reunited church approved a document, "The Covenant of Life and the Caring Community and Covenant and Creation" (Williams 1990, 139). At this time, its overtone was so strong that women’s rights were too much emphasized at the expense of the unborn child. But, in the 1992 statement, as mentioned in the previous section, the mood was returning to a moderate position, recognizing various perspectives on this issue, while maintaining minimum rights of women to choose abortion. Also, the change is its attention to the use of language concerning abortion issue (negative or violent uses) and attention to the low-income, oppressed women. Furthermore, it recognizes the tension between pro-life and pro-choice. The recommendation to "open debate and mutual respect" shows its moderate position (Internet PC USA 1998). Also, it is significant to note that in this statement of 1992 abortion is considered as a last resort.

Formational Process 
It is very important to know the process of the issue by which this issue was handled and how to make public advocacy. Since the PC (USA) takes its form of government as "Presbyterian", it has its own constitution. One of the benefits of being Presbyterian is to make good use of the whole system of this government stated in the Book of Order. "Shared power" and a balanced function is the core theme in the Presbyterian polity (Book of Order 1997, G-4.0300). There is a two-way communication at large in the PC (USA): Top-down and Bottom-up. The former includes the communications from General Assembly to congregations through Presbyteries and synods, and the other, vice versa.

The issue handling process is "multidirectional"; on the one hand, The Committee on Social Witness Policy of the General Assembly has a "responsibility to foster the prophetic voice of the church in society by developing studies and statements that address the social, economic, political and moral issues facing the nation and the world, and on the other hand, the General Assembly "addresses these concerns corporately through the development, adoption, and implementation of social witness policy" in order to guide and "advise the whole church regarding its public stance and response on current social issues" (Social Witness Policy pamphlet). Meanwhile, the General Assembly’s actions or statements approved by the General Assembly do not necessarily obligate its members, but they are guidelines and recommendations to them (PC-USA Why and How, v). And then, congregation or Presbytery can make overtures against the General Assembly’s statements issued.

As stated before, the Presbyterian polity is based on shared power and check and balance. Multidirectional and multilateral communication are basic tools to address concerns, to debate them and to discern God’s will in working together within a large community of faith. Over the last 25 years or so the Presbyterian Church (USA) has worked to better serve the mission of Christian Church. This still debatable issue of abortion has been handled in the multidirectional system. Because of this system and work, PCUSA could maintain balancing its position about abortion. In fact, a lot of overtures from presbyteries were received by the General Assembly. This provided chances to proceed a further talk and to review the official statement of the General Assembly. This intercommunication rather the one-way communication enriches capacity to handle various ethical issues.

The long history of struggle with this issue of abortion is exhaustive but helpful to be more conscious of the vulnerable existence of human beings and to be dependent on God’s grace and wisdom. The acknowledgment of the complexity of the issue as socio- economic, ethical, religious matters was the bottom line in the General Assembly’s advocacy; the cause of many abortion cases are varied. Recognizing women’s status of oppression, especially in the cases of the powerless and poor women, the situation is more serious than men’s expectation or society-held conviction as I read women’s personal stories about their painful experiences. So, the church at least should stand for the people of oppression and reaffirm personal integrity and freedom as persons standing before God, while resorting to wisdom and courage. In this sense, our denomination’s body, the General Assembly struck a balance between pro-life and pro-choice, leaving God’s realm or work in the midst of difficult situations. Also, the acknowledgment of the complexity of this issue and of humbleness is important because we have "neither the wisdom nor the authority to address or decide each situation" (Internet PC USA 1998). It should be noted that the General Assembly recognized pastoral care and moral guidance to related women who are standing on the brink. Pro-life groups usually pay attention to the unborn baby as the same human being, but not much attention is given to the women’s pain. As I understood in women’s stories, most women who had abortions suffered from double pain. One is the loss of potential life (unborn baby) and another is the loss of her being, a feeling of separation from society, sometimes from their own churches, being treated like criminals. They claim that this pain is greater than the loss of the fetus itself (Eggebroten 1994, 33). What then is the church’s mission? Reconciliation and peacemaking are important. One of the guiding principles of the General Assembly was reconciliation and peacemaking (Reconciliation between women and men, society and church, etc.).

In conclusion, I support the latest statement of the General Assembly (1992). The best way to deal with abortion is to work on removing causes of abortion (caused by unwanted pregnancies) in advance, by returning to Christian way of character formation in the faith community. Once abortion takes place or is considered as an option, each case is to be approached through the lens of love and suffering as our Lord ministered to the oppressed and the poor in this public ministry (Church and Society 1990, 83). Condemnation and judgment are the evil dangers which block us to be included in an inclusive community.

Works Cited
Eggebroten, Anne, ed. 1994. Abortion -My choice and God’s grace. California: New
Paradigm Books.

General Assembly. 1997. Book of Order, 97-98. Louisville: Presbyterian Church (USA).
Internet PC (USA). 1998. Abortion.

Presbyterian Church (USA). 1990. Jan/Feb. Church and Society. ed. Kathy Lancaster.
Louisville: The Social Justice and Peacemaking Unit of the General Assembly.

Presbyterian Church (USA). Pamphlet titled Social Witness Policy: Why, What, How?

Presbyterian Church (USA). Why and How the Church makes Social Policy Witness?

Williams, Alex W., compiler. 1990. Abortion: All materials related to Presbyterian
Churches. Georgia: Presbyterian Campus Ministry, Inc.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Teaching the Bible in a Different Culture

Teaching the Bible in a Different Culture

Yung Suk Kim

Ellen Ott Marshall wrote in a blog: “Transnational pedagogy is learner-centered teaching. It takes into account the varied experiences of students in the classroom, recognizing and utilizing expertise and also accommodating different backgrounds.” Her words struck a chord in me.

I am teaching in the area of biblical studies, and New Testament in particular, at the school of theology where I am the only faculty member of Asian (Korean) heritage and my students are predominantly African-American. They are thirsty for the “living waters” so to speak.

Most of my students, full-time employees in the private or public sectors, come to study in the evenings during the weekdays or on weekends. In this unique environment, teaching the Bible or theology is a daunting task, partly because I am a cultural stranger to the students and partly because my students are divergent even within their African culture.

Some are more marginalized than others. There are also issues regarding gender and class. More importantly, their theological spectrum is broader than I had assumed, ranging from liberationist to fundamentalist positions. However, one thing I have discovered again and again is that I could share my own marginalized experience with them.

I also found that the students are very open to new learning and challenges in biblical studies. Over the years, I have come up with the following teaching philosophy that tells who I am or what I am doing in this vocation of theological education:

I teach to engage in the knowledge of who we are in this world where we see one another as diverse. Diversity is not taken for granted but utilized as a source of critical engagement with others. I value both a critical and self-critical stance toward any claim of knowledge, truth, and reality and emphasize the following as pedagogical goals: learning from others, challenging one another, affirming who we are, and working for common humanity through differences. All in all, the goal of my teaching is to foster critical diversity and imagination in their learning process.

Most recently, I taught Introduction to Biblical Studies to first-year students. The contents and design of the course focused on helping students to become critical contextual biblical theologians. I explained the processes and complexities of biblical interpretation in which the reader takes the center stage. I also emphasized three elements of critical contextual interpretation: how to read (the text), what to read (textual focus or theology), and why to read (contextuality of the reader), which will be the topics of my future book.

In my teaching, I reiterate the importance of the role of the reader, who has to engage not only the text but also his or her life in a particular life context. At the same time, I help students to be critical of all readings because not all are equally valid or helpful. The oft-cited verse in my classroom is: “Test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).

We not only unpack the texts from many perspectives, but also deconstruct our familiar readings and reconstruct them in new life contexts. Students are refreshed because of their new learning experience in biblical studies. They also find themselves loving the scripture not simply because of what has been written there but also because they can engage it critically and faithfully for their lives. Oppressive theologies are rejected and the students are reaffirmed as the people of God. In this way the Bible is deconstructed and reconstructed through their lives, because God is the God of all. God is not the God of the past alone, but of the present amidst their turmoil.

In one of my classes, I asked each group (made up of six or seven people) to discuss and answer this question: “Who is Jesus to you and your community? Portray him, using all kinds of methods or approaches that you have learned so far.”

Each group worked hard, and all were genuinely engaged. They used pencils, colored pens, and poster board. Afterward, members of each group stood alongside each other and presented their works creatively and faithfully. I was very impressed by their comprehensive understanding of Jesus in context and by their skills in portraying him from their particular life contexts.

One group said Jesus is water because he is the source of life for Africans and others. After the presentation, I added one thing: Water is a great metaphor since I could relate to my experience of water in my culture. I briefly talked about the image and metaphor of water in Daoism and my cultural experience. The experience here is cross-cultural, spiritual, and contextual.

The other group said Jesus is the sun, because he shines upon all people, showing God’s love to all in the world. The idea here is that Africans need the light and that they become a light for others. I added one more thing: Jesus as the sun is like the power plant, which runs with nuclear fusion, giving energy and light to others (centrifugal). In contrast, the Empires gather power for them at the expense of others (centripetal). There are three more groups that presented nicely. I could see all of my students were engaged in the exercise and they were excited by what they had done. Finally, all said amen. 

**This writing was also published in 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Greek Verb Chart

Yung Suk Kim

I made this Greek chart long ago. I hope this still makes sense. For a PDF, click here

Saturday, July 30, 2016

New Testament as Story: What or How Should I Tell?

Yung Suk Kim

It is no question that the New Testament is full of stories. I talk about how Jesus, Paul, and early Christian communities lived their lives as best as they could. I am indignant about Jesus’ innocent suffering caused by the political and religious powers. My voice turns dull and cumbersome in such a moment.  I admire Jesus for his life-risking work for God. I talk about Paul’s passion for God's good news for all, Jews and Gentiles.

After Paul, the churches became conservative and abandoned Paul’s vision of equality in Christ. Thus, for example, women were subordinate in the church. 

While tons of NT stories can be told from the reader’s diverse interpretive perspectives, not all the stories are equally effective or sound. So the question is how to interpret many diverse yet divergent stories in the New Testament and how to retell them in our tongue. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

My teaching philosophy

Yung Suk Kim

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. 

This is also found on my website: 

my writing philosophy

Yung Suk Kim

Life is short, and writing is long.
By profession, I am a biblical scholar with expertise in New Testament study. In retrospect, all books and articles that I have written reflect a philosophy of writing characterized by the following characteristics: critical, short, and practical. 


Facts are different from fiction or belief. Through a critical study, I want to say what it is we can learn from ancient texts.


There are already millions of books out there. I always ask why I must write another book. 

As a writer, my job is to take a stand and to communicate it with diverse audiences. 

*See also: To become a prolific writer?


Saturday, June 18, 2016

So dark and bright a night

Yung Suk Kim

I have never seen this much brighter night sky with an almost full moon accompanying a few first-grade stars. That was last night when I stayed inside home without power. I fell in love with this particular night-- so dark and bright a night. It is interesting to see a bright moon and stars in the dark night. Literally, I could see both light and darkness in the same wider place. What does this imply to our reality of the world and human lives? What does this coexistence of dark and light mean to us?

In fact, the night before yesterday, I mean just a day ago, this same night was full of laser-light show-like thunderstorms and flashes of lightning. What a mystery of nature that is full of uncertainties, having every possibility in it!

Monday, June 13, 2016

A new portrait of Jesus

Yung Suk Kim

We need an alternative view of Jesus beyond the Western Jesuses or Jesus the liberator.

QUOTE (pages 4-6)
To some people Jesus becomes a hindrance to God’s revelation because they see only Jesus without looking at God to whom Jesus points his finger. Jesus does not preach about himself but proclaims “the good news of God” (euangelion tou theou) (Mark 1:14).6 Jesus does not say believe in me but “believe in the good news (of God)” (Mark 1:15).7 The good news is not about Jesus but about God. Jesus is not the primary source of good news. Rather, he testifies to the truth of God, as indicated in John 18:37, and embodies the good news of God through his costly journey of faith. Therefore, if we do not distinguish between God and Jesus, Jesus becomes an idol that keeps us from seeing who God is or what God requires us to do. Micah seems to deliver a good word about that: “O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

In this idolatrous view of Jesus, his crucifixion is understood merely as salvific atonement through which sins are dealt with and cleansed.8 But in fact, Jesus’ death would be unthinkable if he did not proclaim the good news of God in a hostile world. His lifelong ministry and message is focused on God’s good news and his rule: “The time is fulfilled and God’s rule has come near; change your mind and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Jesus was willing to die for God’s good news and God’s rule in the here and now. But this does not mean that his death is necessary or that his suffering is good. Jesus’ mission is not to die for humanity as a sin offering but to proclaim God’s rule on earth.

As we see above, the historical Jesus has been understood in ways that remove him from the very struggle he had in proclaiming God’s good birth to death, and therefore that he only identifies with the weak. In other words, Jesus himself was not weak.10 This view explains away the weakness of Jesus that results in his crucifixion. However, Paul so clearly states that “Jesus was crucified out of weakness (ex astheneias)” (2 Cor 13:4a). Paul does not hide the fact that Jesus was crucified because of weakness. Ex astheneias means “out of weakness,” “by weakness,” or “because of weakness.” I wonder why then the NIV and others including the NRSV translate ex astheneias as “in weakness,” as if Jesus suffered voluntarily. In my judgment, translators or editors of those English Bibles have interest in making sure that Jesus’ crucifixion is voluntary and salvific. But there are two problems with this kind of translation. On the one hand, the problem is that evil hands behind Jesus’ crucifixion are not questioned or named. Even though Jesus risks his life for God’s good news, his tragic death is not the goal of his life; it is the consequence or price of his work. On the other hand, the problem is that questions about theodicy are not raised, as if God allowed Jesus to be crucified for salvation of humans. Actually, Jesus’ death is tragic and it is not wanted by God or Jesus. If Jesus’ message about God’s rule had been accepted by people, he would not have been crucified. In Paul’s view Jesus was a weak human being like any other. That is to say, Jesus could not avoid his tragic death as long as he continued proclaiming God’s rule on earth.

Paul does not stop at Jesus’ crucifixion by weakness. He goes on to declare God’s power: “but [Jesus] lives by the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4b). Jesus’ crucifixion happened in the past, but now God makes him live now. Paul makes a distinction between Jesus and God. On the one hand, Jesus did his best and yet was crucified because of weakness. In other words, Jesus could not raise himself. His best job was to live for God even at the risk of his life. The next part is God’s business. God vindicates Jesus by his power. In this way, Paul contrasts Jesus’ weakness with God’s power and in doing so he makes a distinction between God and Jesus. So the whole verse of 2 Cor 13:4 makes better sense if we translate it like this: “For he was crucified by weakness, but lives by the power of God.” Here “by weakness” has a direct parallel with “by the power of God.” But most English Bibles do not have this distinction or contrast between Jesus and God. By translating ex astheneias as “in weakness” they support the view of Jesus’ salvific suffering or the redemptive suffering of God with Jesus.11 In doing so, what is sacrificed is the negligence of evil power and complex meaning of his life and death. We will discuss more about Jesus’ crucifixion and weakness in chapter 6.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Big questions about theological education

Yung Suk Kim

On a scorching humid June day, I strolled and pondered on things like these following: 
  • What is diversity-driven education and how can we go about it? 
  • Where can we begin to do a theological interpretation of scriptures with a focus on holistic human transformation? 
  • How can we put in place inter-cultural curriculum? 
  • What does interculturality mean?
Raising the above questions, I have rough ideas/answers about desirable theological education. First, diversity should be understood in a critical, self-critical fashion. Diversity is not the same thing as a mere display of different cultures or faces. Diversity involves critical engagement within and beyond the community. The hiring of minority faculty members or recruiting such students is not the same thing as diversity, either. Diversity is a way of thinking and a way of living by allowing comfortable spaces to be openly visited by others or other ideas. 
Second, for this direction of diversity, there must be more of courses that deal with other religions and other scriptures. 
Third, there must be more of exposures to other cultures, for example, by taking students on trips to other countries. 
Fourth, even the Bible must be reinterpreted constantly both in view of diversity (diversity/divergence of scriptural voices within the Bible) and in view of changing contexts of today's world.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

[영어 신간소개] <약한 메시아: 약자의 눈으로 본 예수의 모습>

Yung Suk Kim

[신간]Yung Suk Kim, Messiah in Weakness: A Portrait of Jesus from the Perspective of the Dispossessed (Cascade Books, 2016)

이것은 영어책이다. 굳이 한국말 제목을 달자면 "약한 메시아: 약자의 눈으로 본 예수의 모습"이라 하고 싶다.

이 책은 약함에 대한 책이다. 약함은 헬라어로 astheneia이다. 약함을 어떻게 이해하느냐에 따라 예수의 모습이 달라진다. 흔히, 오랜 서구적인 전통을 통한 예수 해석은 “강자”의 눈으로 예수를 본 것이다. 즉, 하늘에서 온 “강한” 예수가 약자들을 대변했다고 보는 신학이다. 그러나 이에 대한 정면 반박으로 이 책이 쓰여 졌다. 즉, 땅에서 온 “약한” 예수가 약자들을 대변하였다고 보는 것이다. 예수를 약자의 눈으로, 약함이라는 새로운 정의로 바라볼 때 그의 삶과 사역, 죽음까지 잘 이해할 수 있다.

인간의 문제는 약함을 제대로 이해하지 못하는 데 있다. 인간은 죽게 되어 있는데 죽으려 하지 않기에 많은 문제가 발생한다. 인간은 본디 약한데 이것을 모르고 강하여지려고만 하는 것이 문제이다. 진정으로 약함을 안다는 것은 자기를 아는 것이며 그런 눈으로 이웃과 세상을 참되게 바라볼 수 있으며 하나님 앞에서 가장 인간다운 모습이 된다. 약함은 인간의 조건이며 미덕이 될 수 있다.

위와 같은 “약함의 시각”은 예수 당시 스토아 학파와 지배사회의 논리를 정면 도전한다. 그들은 말하길, “약함을 인정하되 그냥 체념하고 살아라. 그것은 타고난 운명이므로 바꾸려고 하지도 말고 자기통제(self-control)로 극복하라.” 그래서, 강자가 약자를 다스리는 것이 하늘의 뜻이라 말하며 약자를 합법적으로 억압하는 것이다.

그러나 예수는 복음서가 말하듯이 이런 지배사회의 논리를 부정하고 사회의 약자가 귀한 존재라 말하며 행동하였다. 그것은 “약함”에 대한 인식을 달리 한 반증이라 할 것이다. 즉, 예수는 약함을 타고 났으며 그것을 뼈저리게 경험하고 잘 해석하고 실천한 사람이다. 그의 약함에 대한 시각은 그의 어린 시절 삶과 가족환경, 갈릴리의 정치사회적 환경, 유대사회의 피폐, 로마제국의 강압통치, 민생의 파탄 등과 관련 있다. 이런 약함으로 가득찬 사회에서 약자를 위하여 “약한” 예수는 그의 삶을 바쳐 “하늘의 길”(하늘이 통치하는 세상)을 가르치며 행동하고 끝까지 그의 길을 걸어갔다.

그 결과 그는 십자가를 지게 되었으며 그 십자가는 약함의 역설을 보여준 사건이다. 즉, 그는 약하였기에 십자가를 질 수 밖에 없었다. 고후 13:4에 바울은 그런 예수의 모습을 분명히 말하였다. 즉, “그가 약하였기에 십자가에 못박혔다고. 그러나, 하나님이 그런 예수를 지금 살리었다고.” 예수의 약함과 십자가의 인과관계는 명확하다. 고후 13:4 전반부에 eks astheneias가 있다. 이 구절은 영어로 “out of weakness” 혹은 “by weakness”로 번역하는 것이 가장 원문에 가깝다. 그런데 많은 영어성경에서는 “in weakness”로 번역하는데 이는 예수의 자발적 대속론을 뒷받침하기 위한 자의적 번역이다. 대부분의 한국어 성경에서는 제대로 번역되었다. 예를 들어, “새번역”: “약하셔서 십자가에 못박혀 죽으셨지만.” 여기서 분명한 것은 예수는 스스로 자기를 구원할 수 없었다. 그는 약함으로 죽었고(약한 척한 것이 아니다), 그의 죽음은 약자들을 대변한 결과이다. 그러나 하나님이 그를 살리었다. 그것이 바울의 예수 이해이며 약함의 역설이다. 예수는 약함으로 죽었지만 하나님의 힘이 그를 살리었다. 예수의 십자가는 동시에 여러 가지를 보여주는 “약함”의 사건으로 해석하여야 한다. 즉, 예수의 십자가 처형은 하나님의 심판을 불러오며 처형에 가담한 자들이 마땅한 처벌을 받는 것이 하나님의 정의이다. 동시에, 십자가는 예수의 사랑과 희생정신을 보여준다. 그는 십자가의 길을 피할 수 있었으나 끝까지 하늘의 길을 따라 갔다. 또한 동시에, 약함으로 십자가에 못박힌 예수를 하나님의 힘으로 살린 것이니 하나님의 정의가 불의를 이긴다는 것을 보여준다.

-저자 website:

new book Messiah in Weakness

Messiah in Weakness

A Portrait of Jesus from the Perspective of the Dispossessed

ISBN: 978-1-4982-1745-3, Cascade Books, 2016

Kim raises a perennial question about Jesus: How can we approach the historical Jesus? Kim proposes to interpret him from the perspective of the dispossessed—through the eyes of weakness. Exploring Jesus’ experience, interpretation, and enactment of weakness, understanding weakness as both human condition and virtue, Kim offers a new portrait of Jesus who is weak and strong, and empowered to bring God’s rule, replete with mercy, in the here and now. Arguing against the grain of tradition that the strong Jesus identifies with the weak, Kim demonstrates that it is the weak Jesus who identifies with the weak. The paradoxical truth with Jesus is: “Because he is weak, he is strong.” In the end, Jesus dies a death of paradox that reveals both his ultimate weakness that demands divine justice, and his unyielding spirit of love for the world and truth of God.

In Messiah in Weakness, Dr. Kim presents the intriguing and engaging contextualized proposition that Jesus of Nazareth embodied both weakness and strength. Expanding the conceptualization of weakness, Kim convincingly demonstrates how Jesus, through his ministry of teaching and healing and his suffering/crucifixion, enacted weakness, advocating for the weak. Reading through the decolonizing lens of weakness, Kim guides readers through a path paved with history of interpretation, adept literary analysis, contextual theology, and cultural and contemporary relevance.
--Mitzi Smith, Ashland Theological Seminary

A timely intervention of public biblical interpretation. Yung Suk Kim's interpretation of Jesus provides a much-needed intervention in our current cultural moment. A society determined to assert its power naturally seeks a Jesus who affirms its striving -- Kim names such theologies idolatrous and demonstrates how Jesus brought transformation out of his own weakness. Acknowledging that we are all weak, he reasons, we can live in solidarity with the rest of humanity.
--Greg Carey, Lancaster Theological Seminary

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Jesus did not come simply to die"

Excerpts from Yung Suk Kim, Resurrecting Jesus: The Renewal of NewTestament Theology (Cascade Books, 2015), 74-75.

Jesus did not come simply to die on the cross. He was supposed to live a good life without a tragic death on the cross. In other words, death is not the goal of his life, as opposed to the popular Christian belief that “Jesus came to die for us.” As we have seen in the previous chapter, Jesus came to proclaim God’s good news (euangelion tou theou), which is about God’s rule (Mark 1:14–15), to testify to the truth (John 18:37), and to show God’s righteousness through his faith (Rom 3:22). Jesus did not come to die for us but came to show who God is. The result is his death on the cross, a tragedy that cannot be romanticized or spiritualized for whatever reason. Jesus knew he would be killed if he continued his work.

Therefore, a mere emphasis on Jesus’ death or blood without looking at the historical context of his death is not only unrealistic, but keeps us from seeing both his love and passion for the world, and the ugly faces of the evil that are accountable for his death. If Jesus’ death is read only as a vicarious sin offering, it is like suffocating Jesus’ testimony to God’s justice in the world. People often watch Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, weep, and thank Jesus because he was punished instead of them. This kind of penal substitution theory of atonement blinds people from seeing the evil system or powers held accountable for Jesus’ death. If Jesus’ death were God’s plan, then how can one account for the Gospel of Judas? In it, Judas Iscariot is praised because he helps Jesus to die so that salvation is complete. So the essential question before we explore the meaning of his death is why he was put to death. We care about Jesus’ death not because he died but because he died tragically because of his poignant teaching and dangerous acts toward the power center of Jerusalem and Rome. Crossan’s words are helpful here: “If Jesus had lived, did everything we know he did, and just died in his own bed, he must have been talking only about the interior life, because Rome is not paying attention, no one is bothered by it.”[1] So the relevant questions are: Why was he put to death? What does his work have to do with his death? These questions are crucial not only to understanding the death of Jesus but also to constructing New Testament theology.

[1] Crossan, The Message of Jesus, 54.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A peek at my new book MESSIAH IN WEAKNESS

Messiah in Weakness: A Portrait of Jesus from the Perspective of the Dispossessed (Cascade Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-4982-1745-3

Exploring Jesus’ experience, interpretation, and enactment of weakness, understanding weakness as both human condition and virtue, this book offers a new portrait of Jesus who is weak and strong, and empowered to bring God’s rule, replete with mercy, in the here and now. Arguing against the grain of tradition that the strong Jesus identifies with the weak, this book demonstrates that it is the weak Jesus who identifies with the weak. The paradoxical truth with Jesus is: “Because he is weak, he is strong.” In the end, Jesus dies a death of paradox that reveals both his ultimate weakness that demands divine justice, and his unyielding spirit of love for the world and truth of God.
In Messiah in Weakness, Dr. Kim presents the intriguing and engaging contextualized proposition that Jesus of Nazareth embodied both weakness and strength. Expanding the conceptualization of weakness, Kim convincingly demonstrates how Jesus, through his ministry of teaching and healing and his suffering/crucifixion, enacted weakness, advocating for the weak. Reading through the decolonizing lens of weakness, Kim guides readers through a path paved with history of interpretation, adept literary analysis, contextual theology, and cultural and contemporary relevance. --Mitzi Smith, Ashland Theological Seminary
A timely intervention of public biblical interpretation. Yung Suk Kim's interpretation of Jesus provides a much-needed intervention in our current cultural moment. A society determined to assert its power naturally seeks a Jesus who affirms its striving -- Kim names such theologies idolatrous and demonstrates how Jesus brought transformation out of his own weakness. Acknowledging that we are all weak, he reasons, we can live in solidarity with the rest of humanity. --Greg Carey, Lancaster Theological Seminary


This book examines Jesus’ experience and understanding of weakness, compares his view of weakness with that held by the culture and philosophy of the Greco-Roman and Jewish world, and articulates how Jesus in his life and work employs and enacts an alternative virtue of weakness as the source of God’s power. This book also explores how Jesus as a person of true weakness is in close contact with the Spirit and challenges those hardened-hearts to be weak before God and the world. Jesus’ death on a cross is a paradox that reveals both his ultimate weakness that demands divine justice, and his unyielding spirit of love for the world and truth of God. In the end, a new portrait of Jesus emerges from the weak Jesus who himself is dispossessed and empowered to bring God’s rule in the here and now, which distinctly contrasts the hitherto widely accepted strong Jesus who merely identifies with the weak.

Concept of Weakness

Weakness is broadly defined as all aspects of weakness that permeate every sphere of human life. For example, we can think of physical or spiritual frailty, intellectual limitedness, and adverse human conditions due to social ills or natural disasters. But more than that, weakness also can be understood as virtue as opposed to the culture and philosophy in Jesus’ time. The alternative wisdom and power is well summarized by Paul: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25).

The book raises a host of weakness-related questions about God, Jesus, and ourselves:
  • What is weakness (astheneia)?

  • Was Jesus weak? Or did he simply identity with the weak?

  • How did Jesus see God and the world?
  • How can we explain Jesus' death in view of this lens of weakness?
  • Can we see God and world from the perspective of weakness?
  • Can we also read biblical characters through this lens of weakness?
  • How should we see ourselves?

Chapter 1
Jesus and Weakness
Portrayals of Jesus
An Alternative View of Jesus: “Messiah in Weakness”
Chapter Outline
Chapter 2
The View of Weakness in the Hellenistic-Roman World
Political Ideology in the Roman Empire
Hellenistic Schools of Thought and View of Weakness
Chapter 3
The View of Weakness in Jewish Tradition
View of God in Creation Story
Deuteronomistic Works
Prophetic Writings
First-Century Judaism
Jesus’ View of Weakness
Chapter 4
Jesus’ Experience and Interpretation of Weakness
Jesus’ Experience of Weakness
Jesus’ Interpretation of Weakness
    Water Baptism
    Religious Symbols
Chapter 5
Jesus’ Enactment of Weakness
Teaching in Parables
Social Activism
Healing and Exorcism
Chapter 6
Jesus’ Crucifixion as a Paradox of Weakness
Jesus’ Crucifixion as a Paradox of Weakness
Jesus’ Crucifixion as out of Weakness
Jesus’ Crucifixion as Holy Death of Love
Jesus’ Crucifixion as Weakness that Demands Justice
Chapter 7
Laozi’s Tao Te Ching and Weakness
Weakness as a New Paradigm for Humanity
Excursus: Reading Biblical Characters through the Eyes of Weakness