Sunday, July 31, 2005

Evangelicalism (in brief)

James Crossley at Earliest Christian History asks: "what is an evangelical?" and “what is an evangelical biblical scholar?”. These, I'm sad to say, are questions that even evangelicals disagree over (sigh)! I read from Michael Pahl at Stuff of the Earth that bloggers have blogged this unto death. But I thought I would add my own two cents.

The term “evangelical” means different things to different people. For some, evangelical is a synonym for fundamentalist and is used pejoratively. I can easily imagine Janet Reno or Howard Dean calling someone a “son of an evangelical” as a term of abuse. In Germany Evangelische means not-Catholic. I think the term Evangelica [sic] might be German for Fundamentalist. [Somone correct my German please!]. In the US, the designation "evangelical" takes on quasi-political/social connotations and, for better or worse, associations with the Republican party. In the UK, evangelical could designate low church associations within Anglicanism.

As I see it, what is now evangelicalism is a network of Christians who follow something similar to Bebbington's quadrilateral.

- Conversionism—a belief that lives need to be changed (or a stress on the New Birth);
- Activism—the expression of the Gospel in deed (or an energetic, individualistic approach to religious duties and social involvement);
- Biblicism—a particular regard for the Bible (or a reliance on the Bible as ultimate authority);
- Crucicentrism—an emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (or a focus on Christ's redeeming work as the heart of essential Christianity).

In terms of historical origins - there is the Reformation heritage; influences of revivalism and pietism from the 18th-19th centuries; holding to the basics of the faith with early 20th century fundamentalism; but evangelicalism emerged as movement separate from fundamentalism in the 1950s as several intellectuals and Church leaders (e.g. J.I. Packer, Carl F. Henry; Daniel Fuller; Billy Graham etc) were dissatisfied with the isolationist tendencies and doctrinal rigidity of fundamentalism and instead wanted to engage the wider cultural world of the day.

I think evangelicalism should de defined theologically (as opposed to something like a renewal movement according to the late and great Stanley Grenz). What I regard as the sine qua non of evangelicalism is how one articulates the evangel; not necessarily some particular view of biblical authority, eschatology or soteriology.

On being an evangelical biblical scholar (of which I brazely identify myself as) I see five distinctives:

1.Evangelical Scholarship is done for the purpose of education, enriching and edifying the Christian Church.
2.Evangelical Scholars are mediators between the Church and the Academy and explain complex intellectual currents to lay people in language that lay people can understand.
3.Evangelical Scholars make genuine contributions to further the collective knowledge of their field.
4.Evangelical Scholars endeavour to help Christians develope a faith-seeking-understanding.
5.Evangelical Scholars aim to intellectually equip Christian leaders to carry out their missional vocation in the context of the 21st century.

Why I am I an evangelical, well, I believe in and have experienced the saving and transforming power of the evangel.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Marinius de Jonge and Christology

Whilst I'm on the topic of short pithy quotes I remember from historical Jesus books, here is a paraphrase from Marinius de Jonge's book God's Final Envoy.

"When the early Christians mentioned God they had to mention Jesus as well, and whenever they mentioned Jesus they felt constrained to mention God in the same breath."

Again, I'm estranged from my library (and experiencing the associated separation anxiety) so I don't have the precise quote or page number! But it raises a good point that Jesus is mentioned in the NT primarily in terms of being the subject of divine agency - God handed over Jesus, God raised Jesus, God exalted Jesus. At the same time, the early Christian authors seem to have had a unanimous conviction that Jesus is the one in whom God is made known, he is the one who reveals and executes the divine purposes! That means Christians should avoid Christo-monism (as if the Father has abdicated heaven upon the exaltation of the Son) and also eschew an adoptionist christology that sees Jesus as anything other than participating in the divine identity. I think Wright's book RSG makes essentially the same point: the resurrection means that Jesus is the one in whom Israel's covenant God YHWH has made himself known.

My favourite christology books include:

Richard Bauckham, God Crucified.
Larry Hurtado, The Lord Jesus Christ.

It seems that the best christology is written by Scotsmen!

Question: what is your favourite christology book and why? Or should I also ask, what is your favourite christological passage in the NT? Mine would have to be Col. 1.15-20 (although Phil. 2.5-11 is hard to run past).

Leander E. Keck and the Resurrection

I enjoy most of Leander E. Keck's works. His volume Jesus in Perfect Tense was a good read. There was one quote that struck me in particular from the book.

"The resurrection attests the power of God's goodness and the goodness of God's power". That's a good one to keep in mind for sermons on Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately, I've vacated my house and I'm living with some friends until we move so I don't have access to my library to find page numbers.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Why I’m a Calvinist

Scot McKnight and James Hamilton are both blogging on Calvinism at the moment. Both feeds are worth checking out and they come from contrasting perspectives. This had led me to some reflections on the topic:

I am a Calvinist because:

(1) I find it validated in Scripture. To be honest, I just don’t know how one can read texts like Ephesians 1 and Acts 13.48 and not be. (Though I fully concede that texts like Hebrews 6 may not necessarily comport with some Reformed expressions of perseverance, so I would want to carefully nuance what is meant by “perseverance of the saints”).

(2) I find the only explanation for my conversion from darkness to light to be the unmerited and efficacious power of God’s grace working in me. I did not grow up in a Christian home. My upbringing was somewhere between areligious and irreligious. Everything I knew of Christianity I learned from Ned Flanders. I was brain washed by the media in thinking that all Christians were hypocrites and child molesters. As a teenager I was an atheist and/or pantheist (depending on what I had had for breakfast). I teased Christians at school and called them “God-botherers”. In order to get where I am now took some work and it was not mine. I did not wake up one day and decide to let Jesus into my heart. It was not a case of Jesus knocking on my door and I finally answered. I was dead in my sins (and they were many) and dead people do not move (apparently a major symptom of death). To paraphrase Paul’s testimony in 1 Cor. 15.8 – God ripped me out of the womb like a dead foetus and breathed life into me? [Note to self: check out which of Scot Mcknight’s conversion models suits my story the best!] To put it briefly, something really freaky and wonderful happened on the road to Damascus in August 1994.

Let me close with a few further reflections. I like to think of myself as a “nice” Calvinist, that is, I am an evangelical first and Reformed second. I also hold many Arminian friends, pastors, and scholars in high esteem and affection. For instance, I. Howard Marshall, Scot McKnight and Ben Witherington are writers I love to read and I find their studies inspiring, exhilarating and provocative – even challenging to my own Calvinistic viewpoint. In fact, Witherington’s Romans commentary and McKnight’s Jesus Creed are coming on the plane with me to Scotland. So in other words, I’m NOT a “six point Calvinist”, i.e. someone who believes in consigning non-Calvinists to theological exile.

Lastly, when I went through Bible College I flew the Calvinist flag pretty high; mainly because I was often baited to the topic by peers and lecturers. As such I became known for my firm Calvinistic convictions. In fact, the day I graduated, the student association gave me for a going away present a copy of a 1920s tract called “Why I Disagree with All Five Points of Calvinism”. Everyone, including myself, found it most amusing. In hindsight now, although I’m glad I stood up for myself when baited during tutorials, I really wish I would have been more well known for my love for Jesus than for my love for Reformed theology. I guess that’s called “sanctification” – a lesson I may have been predestined to learn!

New Romans Commentary

Romans: A New Covenant Commentary
William J. Dumbrell

The blurb reads:

Romans: A New Covenant Commentary offers an exposition of Romans in terms of the operation of the New Covenant. Dumbrell argues that the operation of the New Covenant terminates the age of the Mosaic covenant. Mosaic law and its system of atonement thus ceases with the death of Christ. The further important point is that Paul is relating in his exposition to his current ministry and thus to national Israel in a post-cross situation still pursuing a covenant relationship under the defunct Mosaic covenant.

William J. Dumbrell received his Th.D. from Harvard University. He has published books and many essays on the Old Testament and biblical theology. He teaches at several Sydney colleges and at Macquarie University, Sydney.

Dumbrell has written some interesting articles on the NPP in light of covenant theology.

William J. Dumbrell, “Justification in Paul: A Covenantal Perspective,” RTR 51 (1992): 91-101.

William J. Dumbrell, “Justification and the New Covenant,” Churchman 112 (1998): 17-29.

Although I don’t agree with everything he advocates, I still like the fact that he sees some genuine covenantal implications to justification. His other books on biblical theology are excellent and worth digesting.

Critical Realism and the New Testament

Ever since I read Wright’s NTPG and Ben F. Meyer’s Critical Realism and the New Testament, I’ve been convinced that critical realism (henceforth CR) is the way to go hermeneutically for NT scholars who wish to take seriously the postmodern criticism of historical study but still wish to engage in serious and concerted historical study of Christian origins without opting for deconstruction or reader-orientated approaches. The problem, as I see it now, is that many authors have cited Wright and Meyer whenever the issue was raised and assumed that by referencing them in a footnote one has solved all the problems and this supposedly gives exegetes a license to carry on study as virtual-naïve realists. Although I affirm CR in principle, my point is that CR should not be perceived as some kind of hermeneutical Messiah that has saved us completely from the postmodern criticism of modernist hermeneutics. I think more work needs to be done in applying CR to NT hermeneutics in order to gain clearer insight as to how CR makes historical events, textual meaning and authorial intentions accessible; whilst at the same time affirming that CR has its own inherent shortcomings and still remains contestable at several points.

Note, Meyer’s book Critical Realism and the New Testament has recently been republished by Wipf & Stock.

More on NT Biblio-bloggers and NT Buffs profile

After reading several blogs and emails it appears that my profiling of NT bloggers and NT Buffs are shockingly accurate – or at least partially accurate in most cases. Hard to think that my Military Intelligence analysis skills have finally found a useful application. I must qualify, by request, what I meant by insinuating that many NT biblio-bloggers are “centrist right” on the political spectrum. By “centrist right” (in North American terms) I mean someone who would oppose the Iraq war, oppose Bush’s tax cuts for the top 1% of wage earners, oppose gay marriages, and enjoys the Simpsons. Someone “centrist right” (in British terms) might be a person who opposes the Iraq war, is terrified of the liberal democrats ever gaining power, and enjoys Blackadder.

I must correct my initial post: the greatest insult a NT buff can experience is being called a theologian! Or even worse, an evangelical Barthian Theologian who has clandestine sympathies for Bultmann like the type of person who operates that prosaic blog Faith and Theology! :)

BNTC, Bloggers and MacDonalds

It appears that my proposal of NT biblio-bloggers meeting at MacDonald’s during the BNTC has met with disappointment, dismay and disgust. Maybe we can meet at the BNTC and decide afterwards where we want to go for coffee.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Update on things and BNTC

Here's where I'm at:

The thesis was handed to the printery and should be ready on the 5th of August which is D-Day.

The movers came around and uplifted our stuff on Tuesday and within a week or so, it should be on a boat headed to Scotland. I am already experiencing separation anxiety from my library.

My article on 'Modernizing Jesus' has been accepted and now I'm just about to send off my piece on 'Who Comes from the East and the West?' on Matt 8.11-12/Lk 13.28-29.

We booked our tickets to the UK and we leave on the 19th of August.

That reminds me, do any biblio-bloggers out there wanna get together at the BNTC one night for coffee or something. Given that us NT biblio-bloggers seem to have our own little community and common interests, perhaps we should get together and have the joy of meeting one another en prosōpō at, say, Macca's (i.e. MacDonald's) for a bite to eat and some cheap pommy coffee.

It would be interesting to do a psych profile on the average NT biblio-blogger. Let me guess, early to mid thirties, introverted, erratic personality disorder created by trying to solve the synoptic problme, liable to mood swings when favourite sporting team is loosing, and centrist-right convictions on the political spectrum. Maybe we'll find out at the BNTC in early September. Drop me a line if anyone is interested in organizing a coffee time - maybe we can get Continuum to host it for us? Not likely :)

10 ways to determine if you're a NT buff

1. Whenever you listen to a sermon on the NT you always wonder what commentaries the preacher used.
2. The back of your toilet door has Greek verb paradigms engraved on it from your seminary days.
3. Your outdated copy of BAGD is now on the coffee table for visitors to browse over.
4. rates you as one of their top 1000 book buyers.
5. You keep mistaking v's for n's.
6. When lay people ask you what your research interests are and you tell them, they always ask "What's the point of studying that?"
7. When your wife asks you what you want for your birthday/Christmas/Father's day - you always ask for a book.
8. When you read a passage out of Matthew you wonder if the passage derived from Mark, Q or 'M'.
9. You lay awake at night wondering how best to explain the "parting of the ways" between Judaism and Christianity.
10. The most heinous insult you have ever experienced is when someone mistook you for an Old Testament scholar.

Current Wish List

If some generous benefactor happened to be willing to pick up my tab on a spending spree at my purchases would probably include:

John Meier, A Marginal Jew, vols. 2-3 (and 4 when available)
E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
[The fact that I consider myself a historical Jesus specialist and I don't own a copy of these books suggests that I should be slapped in the face with a very soggy fish]
Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus
J. Becker, Jesus of Nazareth
Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus

Martin Hengel, Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ

Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (AB)
E. Achtemeier, Mark (Hermeneia - when out)

John Nolland, Matthew (NIGTC)
Craig S. Keener, Matthew
William Davies & Dale Allison, Saint Matthew (ICC)

J. Christian Beker, Paul the Apostle
D.A. Carson et. al., Justification and Variegated Nomism vol. 2
Charles Talbert, Romans
Robert E. Jewett, Romans (Hermeneia - when out)
N.T. Wright, Philippians (ICC - so I'm told!)

G.B. Caird, New Testament Theology
I. Howard Marshall, One Jesus, Many Witnesses

George Nickelsburg, Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins
Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah

Scot McKnight, Embracing Grace
Phil Jenkins, The Second Christendom [I think]

Apart from the cost, the problem is also finding the time to read them.

Thank goodness for libraries, RBL, Dove-books and second-hand shops!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Matt 8.11-12 and a communion song

Over the last 3 years I’ve spent a lot of time looking over Matt 8.11-12 – ‘I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ In fact, I can say that I have read this verse nearly every day for the past 3 years!!! Working on the verse so much had led me to write an article on it (pace Dale C. Allision; which I am hoping to submit to NTS by the end of the week) and also to write communion song using Matt 8.11-12 as the template.

Meditating on this passage led me to believe that in Jesus’ ministry, his open table-fellowship functioned to foreshadow exactly who would participate in the eschatological banquet. Banqueting imagery is used most often to denote those whom God would vindicate in the face of adversity (e.g. Isaiah 25; Ezekiel 39; Revelation 19).

{Note: Matt 8.11-12 is often erroneously referred to as a ‘messianic banquet’, but technically it is only the messianic banquet if the messiah himself hosts the banquet. Here it is hosted by the patriarchs}

Jesus’ table-fellowship was, in effect, handing out the hors’ deuves of the eschatological banquet and overturing who would be participating and, notoriously, who wouldn’t – something I think that Matt 8.11-12 addresses. God would vindicate the poor, lame, blind and disempowered who attached themselves to him rather than the religious and political leaders. I think the logion in Matt 8.11-12 is a defense of Jesus’ open-table practice dressed up in apocalyptic language.

This in turn, moved me to consider how the messianic banquet of Revelation 19 is itself foreshadowed by the Lord’s Supper. With these ideas fresh in my mind I went on a song writing weekend with some mates from Church and I wrote the lyrics for a song (for which Dave Shepherd composed the music) entitled ‘Ready Your Hearts’ – here are the lyrics.

Many will come from the east and the west
And recline at the table of God
Sinners and mourners are counted as blessed
Led as one to the city of God

Ready your hearts for the glorious feast
This table proclaims to us here
Singing songs of salvation at your vindication
As the banqueting day draws near
Gird up your minds for the triumph of God
This table proclaims to you
The Lord Jesus Christ through his sacrifice
Will return to make all things new

Many will come from the north and the south
And will dine with their heavenly king
Singing and laughing will burst from our mouths
On the day that death looses its sting

Many will come from the ends of the earth
A people with hearts full of praise
Then we shall sing for all of God’s worth
Magnifying the Ancient of Days

What I wanted to convey in this song was that communion is an anticipation of the good things of God; it is a vibrant metaphor that God has triumphed and the act of meeting together to break bread in Jesus’ name is, quite literally, a foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb. Communion is fundamentally a sumptuous feast of joy and not the occasion for a sermonette on 15 reasons why Christians should feel guilty before partaking of the elements. In the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, Whistle Down the Wind, one of the characters tells a young girl that: ‘There’s a feast waiting for ya and ya haven’t even had gotten a taste’. I say, that there is a feast waiting for us at Jesus’ table we get a taste and what a taste it is: sharing a meal with Jesus’ family and getting ready for the messianic banquet!

I think there is a book in here somewhere (though not according to IVP since they didn’t even read my two page synopsis but rejected the proposal anyway – maybe they’ll be weeping outside!), something I’d like to work on next year.

If anyone wants the song sheet etc. Contact Dave Shepherd at Grace Bible Church and maybe we can arrange something.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Letters of Pergamum

One of the best books I have read in recent times is by Bruce Longenecker of St. Andrews Uni in Scotland, The Lost Letter’s of Pergamum. It is a cracking read. It stands in the tradition of Gerd Theissen’s Shadow of the Galilean as a narrative exegesis of Luke-Acts. The blurb reads:

Transported two thousand years into the past, readers are introduced to Antipas, a Roman civic leader who has encountered the writings of the biblical author Luke. Luke's history sparks Antipas's interest, and they begin corresponding. As Antipas tells Luke of his reactions to the writing and of his meetings with local Christians, it becomes evident that he is changing his mind about them and Jesus. Finally, a gladiatorial contest in Pergamum forces difficult decisions on the local Christians and on Antipas. While the account is fictional, the author is a respected biblical scholar who weaves into this fascinating scenario reliable historical information. Bruce Longenecker is able to mix fact and fiction and paint an interesting and valuable study of the New Testament world and early Christianity. Readers are invited to view Jesus and the early church from a fresh perspective, as his first followers are brought to life. More reliable than typical historical fiction and far more interest.

It is largely fictitious – I know – but it’s still a moving story about the gradual conversion of a Roman nobleman with a gripping conclusion to his story as one who imitates Jesus. I am not an emotional man (my wife calls me the world’s only living heart donour!), in fact the last time I cried was when Queensland lost the 1994 State of Origin series – but with a glass of cab sav in hand I read Pergamum in one afternoon and I wept a few tears for Antipas’ bravery and self-sacrifice.

I begin to think that more NT scholars should novels like this. Not only a good story, but a good introduction for students to learn how Luke-Acts may have been received in a Greco-Roman context.

Buy it, read it – and keep the kleenex close by.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Mark 7.15 and Jesus Revisited

Given Mark’s editorial remark and application of 7.15 in 7.19c ‘and declaring all foods clean’ [lit. cleansing all foods] could that imply abrogation of the OT purity laws by Jesus given Mark's inference?

A better way to understand Mk. 7.15 is in a comparative sense whereby the point is ‘not only . . . but also’ (cf. Booth 1986: 69-70, 84-85, 218; Sanders 1990: 28; Loader 1997: 215-16; McKnight 1999b: 93; Svartvik 2000: 203, 406; Holmén 2001: 241; Rudolph 2002: 298; BDF § 448, n. 1).

Understood this way, what matters is not so much cultic purity, but also moral purity. The point becomes that cultic impurity does not harm someone as much as moral impurity can. A similar theme is found in Aristeas where it is reported that Jews ‘honour God not only with gifts and sacrifices, but also with a purity of heart’ (Ep. Arist. 234). Purity is not negated by shifting it from cultic to moral realms,(Chilton 2003: 363) but is redefined or prioritised in terms of relations of persons rather than exclusively by ritual contamination through objects and space. Such a redefinition is memorialized powerfully in the parable of the Good Samaritan (McKnight 1999b: 94).

Mk. 7.15, then, is probably an attempt to articulate the relationship between morality and purity. Was impurity sinful? In one sense impurity was simply part of daily life whether it was from menstruation for women or burying a deceased relative and for that reason it was not intrinsically sinful. The law allowed for the reintegration of persons who were temporarily impure for a time. However, it should be borne in mind that ancient cultures, Judaism in particular, did not know of a rigid distinction between ethics and purity or belief and ritual. Moral and ceremonial impurity was not always distinguished. Ritual language for cleansing is frequently used of sin (Lev. 16.30; Num. 8.7; Zech. 13.1; Prov. 20.9; Pss. Sol. 9.12; 1QS 3.7-8; cited in Holmén 2001: 224).

On the Day of Atonement the high priest made amends for the impurity and transgressions of the people (Lev. 16.16, 30). Furthermore, ritual impurity could be seen as sinful to that extent that ritual expressed one’s piety and adherence to purity laws was commanded (Lev. 19.8; 22.9; Num. Rab. 19.8; Ant. 3.262; Philo, Spec. Leg. 3.209). Religious observance whilst in a state of impurity was considered sinful. The equation of ritual with moral impurity was heightened in some contexts such as Qumran. Philo saw a philosophical connection between moral and ritual purity. Early Christianity retained the similar ideas pertaining to purification and the removal of sin (Acts 15.9; 2 Cor. 7.1; Heb. 10.1-4; Jas. 4.8; 1 Jn 1.9). The use of the language of impurity to describe immorality is more than metaphorical because transgression of the law produces a genuine defilement with consequences of the cultus, people, priesthood, land and the perpetrator (Bryan 2002: 144). It is arguably this nexus between morality and purity that Jesus addresses.

There was in existence a tradition of criticizing merely outward forms of religious display, in both the Hebrew sacred scriptures and in the intertestamental literature (Hos.6.6; Jer. 7.22-24; Zech 7:4-14; Num. Rab. 19.8; Prov. 21.3; Sir. 34.25-26; 1QS 3.2-12; Josephus, Apion 2.173; Jub. 23.21; T.Mos. 7.7-9; Philo, Spec. Leg. 3.208-9). Thus, a purely outward or ceremonial expression of Jewish religion performed in isolation from moral expression is censured in prophetic, rabbinic, sapiential and apocalyptic writings. As such, Mk. 7.15 (and the citation of Isa. 29.13 in Mk. 7.6-8) fits neatly into second-temple Judaism and can be understood as warning against elevating purity over morality. Such a statement corresponds with other complexes in the Jesus tradition such as the beatitudes, ‘blessed are the pure in heart’ (Mt. 5.8) and the woe against the Pharisees who ‘clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are bull of greed and self indulgence’ (Lk. 11.39-40/Mt. 23.25-26; Gos. Thom. 89). Jesus is no more trying to abrogate the cult than Hosea or Sirach.

Thus Mark interprets this saying in light of his Gentile audience with a view to their freedom from Jewish food laws (cf. 7.3-4), whilst Matthew perceives in the logion an affirmation of the moral component of the Jewish law and a powerful critique of the Pharisees. Holmén points out that Jesus’ actions do not stem from a desire to abolish the distinction between clean and unclean, but they do reveal a disinterest and arguably even a depreciation of them in view of moral commands (Holmén 2001: 236-37; cf. too Klausner 1929: 255, 367). It needs to be noted that relativisation and absolving can still yield the same practical outcome: non-observance. That was a corollary not followed by all Jewish Christians, but the Pauline missiological principle of non-law adherence for Gentiles stands to some degree in continuity with the implications of Mk. 7.15 and was interpreted that way by Mark in 7.19.

Resources I found helpful:

Bruce Chilton, 1997a. ‘Purity and Impurity.’ In DLNTD. Edited by Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 988-96.
___________, ‘Jesus, Levitical Purity, and the Development of Primitive Christianity.’ In The Book of Leviticus: Composition and Reception. Edited by Rolf Rendtorff and Robert A. Kugler. Leiden: Brill. 358-82.
Tom Holmén, 2001. Jesus and Jewish Covenant Thinking. BIS 55; Leiden: Brill.
Scot McKnight, 1999b. ‘A Parting within the Way: Jesus and James on Israel and Purity.’ In James the Just and Christian Origins. Edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans. NovTestSup XCVIII; Leiden: Brill. 83-129.
David J. Rudolph, 2002. ‘Jesus and the Food Laws: A Reassessment of Mark 7:19b.’ EQ 74: 291-311.
Ben Witherington, ‘Mark 7.15 and the Radical Jesus,’ in The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001. 228-30.

Ben Witherington's Blog

NT scholar Ben Witherington has started a blog called: Ben Witherington. He teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary and is a prolific author in NT studies. I concur with Sean du Toit at primal subversion that it is shame that we have not heard of it earlier!

I had the pleasure hearing Ben speak on Romans and Revelation at Morling Theological College in Sydney in 2004. Even better yet, I heard him sing! Ben is also a very moving poet.

Ben’s book The Christology of Jesus is probably my favourite of his. All of his commentaries are worth reading, esp. his commentaries on Galatians, Revelation and Mark. I’m not sure about his book on the James’ ossuary – the jury is still out on that one – but at any rate Ben gives a good overview of the place of James in the early church.

In person he was very friendly, amiable and a very capable communicator. He gave an excellent lecture on Romans 7 and in another class the best introduction to rhetorical criticism I have ever heard. In talking to him, he said he is planning on finishing his series of NT commentaries and is then planning on writing a NT theology – which I earnestly look forward to reading.

Ben, welcome to the biblio-blogosphere!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Mark 7.15 and Authenticity

Without going into a whole detailed argument about authenticity etc. Here's my brief reflections on Mk. 7.15 re: authenticity.

Context Plausibility:

- Other Jews could critique the Pharisee’s emphasis on purity (T.Mos. 7.3, 9-10; T.Levi 16.2), why not Jesus?
- Jesus' remark may be the answer to a question posed to Jesus as a veiled exhortation from one religious leader to another to undertake a more strenuous form of law observance.
- No mention of Gentiles which was the direct concern of purity disputes in early Christianity (e.g. Gal. 2.11-14; Acts 15). Gentiles and purity laws is also, a topic which Jesus ventured no opinion on!


- The thought is verbalized elsewhere in the Jesus tradition (e.g. Lk. 11.39-40/Mt. 23.25-26; Gos. Thom. 89)
- The idea is ‘cross-referenced’ (Holmen 2001) in Jesus’ action in dining with sinners.

Those in favour of authenticity: Bultmann, 1963 [1921]: 105; Cranfield 1966 [1959]: 240; Perrin 1967: 70; Banks 1975: 138-39; Booth 1986: 108-12; Guelich 1989: 375-76; Sanders 1990: 28; Loader 1997: 75; Borg 1998 [1984]: 110-11; Holmén 2001: 248-49. I imagine also Wright and Gundry. [Note: I’m not using a consensus argument here – I won’t go there – but the authenticity is supported by a reasonable constituency of scholars].

The case is obviously not water tight, but I reckon this saying could plausibly derive from Jesus' ministry in a setting analagous to the one described in Mk. 7.1-23.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mk. 7.15 and Purity

Recent conversations on Mk. 7.15 by James Crossley at
Earliest Christian History and Michael Turton at The Sword have drawn my attention. I wrote several pages on this passage for my thesis, but omitted them in the final draft (which I am currently in the process of emailing to be printed and am writing this blog in-between downloads). I’ll say more later, but in the interim, here is a small bibliography on purity which has direct relevance to the topic of Mk. 7.15.

- Maccoby, Hyan. Ritual and Morality: The Ritual Purity System and its Place in Judaism. Cambridge: CUP, 1999.
- Regev, Eyal. 'Pure Individualism: The Idea of Non-Priestly Purity in Ancient Judaism.’ JSJ 31 (2000): 176-202.
- Poirier, John C. ‘Purity beyond the Temple in the Second Temple Era.’ JBL 122(2003): 247-65.
- Klawans, Jonathan. Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism. Oxford: OUP, 2000.
- Dunn, James D.G. ‘Jesus and Purity: An Ongoing Debate.’ NTS 48 (2002): 449-67.
- Sanders, E. P. Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies. London: SCM, 1990).
- Harrington, Hannah K. The Impurity Systems of Qumran and the Rabbis. SBLDS 143; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993).
- Kazen, Thomas. Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? CBNT 38; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2002.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

New Matthew commentary in NIGTC series

According to Dove Book sellers, John Nolland's volume in the NIGTC series will be out in September! Nolland's 3 volume work on Luke is great and he gives a very sober evaluation of tradition and source critical issues. I look forward to reading it. What is more, he's an Aussie - so you know it will be good! The blurb reads:

Having devoted the past ten years of his life to research for this major new work, John Nolland gives us a commentary on Matthew that engages with a notable range of Matthean scholarship and offers fresh interpretations of this most Jewish of the Gospels. Without neglecting Matthew's sources or historical background, Nolland's volume focuses on the story that Matthew tells and how it is told. Nolland maintains that the Gospel of Matthew reflects the historical ministry of Jesus with considerable accuracy, and he brings to the table new evidence for an early date of composition. With remarkable facility he connects Matthew's story with its source in Mark as well as with other parts of the biblical narrative. Other features of his commentary include an introduction summarizing key information, accurate translations of the Gospel based on the latest critical Greek text, and thorough bibliographies for each section. Students, teachers, and preachers of Matthew's Gospel will be delighted by these features no less than by Nolland's invaluable verse-by-verse comments.

On Matthew commentaries in general, here's my take:

1. Davies & Allison in the ICC series must have pride of place.
2. Craig S. Keener's commentary on Matt is probably the best evangelical one I have come across; almost encyclopedic in its collection of primary and secondary source references in the footnotes, and also very good for preaching.
3. Ulrich Luz in the continental commentary/hermeneia series is also a good read esp. his emphasis on wirkungsgeschichte.
4. Donald A. Hagner produces a useful commentary in the WBC series that is also worth noting.
5. On top of that, Blomberg in the NAC and Carson in the EBC are good on the coservative side too.

Ever wondered why no-one has written a volume on Matthew in the NICNT series - I believe it is because it is cursed - everyone assigned to write it has a habit of dying, e.g. Ned B. Stonehouse, Hermann Ridderbos, and Robert Guelich! Does anyone know who is down to do it now?

Thesis Update:

I've finished proof reading the whole thing and I've been converting my into PDFs. Tommorrow I walk into my own private Gethsemane (the University Printery) and get it printed for examination. Followed by a lovely seminar on the Christology of Hebrews.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Light blogging ahead for - the hour has come!

In less than 48 hrs I submit my thesis to the Uni of Queensland for printing and binding, and then, seven days or so later, it gets handed over for examination by two learned scholars somewhere in the world.

This means that I'll be on light blogging duties as I finish proof reading and completing two journal articles.

Thus, the hour has come for the Son of Bird to be handed over to the judgment of the examiners where they will either humiliate him or glorify him, or more likely, recommend a pass with minor corrections (I pray and hope).

So to all my friends in biblio-blog land - pray for me in many languages!

Thanks goes to Rick Strelan and Bob Webb for their supervision over the past three years and their help has been invaluable (perhaps I should have taken on board more of it?).

No matter what happens, minor corrections, a university medal, major corrections or resubmission, I say: soli deo gloria!!!

If my examiners are out there, remember: blessed are the merciful, for they shall attain mercy.

Latest JGRChJ

James Crossley at Early Christian History notes several pertinent publications from Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.

What I found interesting were:

Douglas C. Mohrmann
Boast Not in your Righteousness from the Law: A New Reading of Romans 10.6-8

Is the righteousness about boasting in law observance or boasting in chosen/national status? Or both?

Latest RBL

The Latest RBL is out and the following titles caught my attention:

Carson, D. A., Peter T. O'Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid, eds.
Justification and Variegated Nomism: Volume 2: The Paradoxes of Paul

Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

[who is this guy and how does he write so many book reviews!!!!]

Hartin, Patrick J.
James of Jerusalem: Heir to Jesus of Nazareth
Reviewed by Peter Davids

Hartin, Patrick J.
James of Jerusalem: Heir to Jesus of Nazareth
Luke Timothy Johnson

[Not every day you get to contrast Davids and Johnson on James!]

Talbert, Charles H.
Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7
Reviewed by Robert Bryant

New Testament Theology

I took time out from my study (I’m beginning to tire of reading about Gentiles) to read an article on NT theology by Andreas Köstenberger . A German-born Baptist (although he sadly does not have red hair) who teaches at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His commentary on John is well worth buying, I like it better than Keener’s recent volume! The article is:

“Diversity and Unity in the New Testament”, in Biblical Theology, ed. Scott J. Hafemann (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002) 200-23.

It was a good read and he briefly covers some key issues in NT study such as:

1. The relationship between Jesus and Paul.
2. The Synoptics and John
3. The Paul of Acts and the Paul of the Epistles
4. Alleged developments in Paul
5. Paul and Peter, John, James and other Voices in the NT
6. The Center of the NT

I particularly liked section 6 where Kostenberger sees the unity of the NT in three key areas:

1. The one God
2. Jesus the Christ, the Exalted Lord
3. The Gospel

I like his quote (p. 156): “The gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the major integrative glues of Scripture”.

My favourite NT Theology works

D.A. Carson, “New Testament Theology”, in DLNTD [good place to start]
James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament [must be reckoned with]
George Caird, New Testament Theology [magisterial]
Peter Balla, Challenges to New Testament Theology [answers criticisms of guys like Raisanen]

I haven’t read I. Howard Marshall yet, but I imagine that it would be high on my favourites soon enough. I’m also hoping to live long enough to see Ben Witherington’s NT Theology (which he told me he is planning to do after he has written a commentary on EVERY NT letter!).

Sunday, July 17, 2005

New Christian Origins Blog

James Crossley of the University of Sheffield has just started a blog Earliest Christian History. The subtitle reads: James Crossley’s blog. Mostly covers Christian Origins but but will stray into general history, politics, music and possibly football.

I remember reading the foreword to James’ monograph in the JSNTSup series about the date of Mark’s Gospel which was probably the funniest foreword I’ve ever read in a NT monograph – esp. his hatred and contempt for his former employer.

As for dating Mark in the 40s (if I remember correctly) well, that is a “courageous” line of argumentation (to use the language of “Yes Minister”). But I haven’t read the thesis completely so the proof of the pudding should be in the eating.

James’ article in JSHJ is an interesting piece about the semitic background to repentance. This essay appears, coincidentally, in the same issue of JSHJ as my article “The Case of the Proselytizing Pharisees? – Mt. 23.15”. So it appears that blogging with a black background (since good NT guys blog in black) and publishing in JSHJ is something that James and I have in common.

Not sure about his connection with Maurice Casey. Casey is an excellent scholar but happens to lapse into ad hominem arguments against those of a conservative ilk. For example, Stanley Porter has attempted to argue that Jesus spoke Greek at times, and that we may actually have in the Gospels some of the the Greek words of Jesus. Casey wrote in ExpT 108 (1997) that such a view is “an evangelical fantasy”. Now I don’t know what Casey thinks evangelicals fantasize about, but discovering the Greek words of Jesus is not one of them. In my case, I fantasize about a world run by a race of red-head superman, where Nicole Kidman, myself and Horatio from CSI Miami reign in a presidium. Or else I fantasize about my gorgeous wife in a honeymoon sweet wearing nothing but . . . well, let’s not go there. I’ve just finished writing a critique of Porter’s criterion of Greek language and context (to appear in JSHJ); alas I hope to be more gracious and irenic in my critique than Prof. Casey.

Oh yeah, and another thing, Casey criticizes Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God in JSNT 69 (1998): 100, n. 19 on the grounds that Wright’s book might do something horribly wicked like “mislead many people into maintaining a traditional form of Christian belief”. Tom – you bastard – how do you sleep at night! Though I suspect this tells us more about Casey’s disdain for orthodoxy than anything else.

Keep in mind, Casey remains a capable scholar, a leading Semitic expert, and always worth listening to in his areas of expertise.

Welcome James, I’ve already appreciated your humour and scholarship (forgive my critique of your esteemed mentor). Maybe I’ll catch you at BNTC – if I get there in time!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Wright Versus Bultmann?

Let me explain. I have just had an article published in Criswell Theological Review on the New Perspective on Paul. The article is entitled: “When the Dust Finally Settles: Coming to a Post-New Perspective Perspective”. In it I give what I think is a fair critique and appreciation of the NPP. At several points I do take Wright to task over some of his assertions about justification (let’s face it, who doesn’t?). However, that left a bitter taste in my mouth, because I really, really do like Wright and I find his scholarship nothing short of inspirational even though I don’t agree with everything he says. I also wanted to distance myself from some of the ad hominem attacks against him by those in the Reformed tradition (to which I also belong). So, despite my critique, I wanted to finish off on a positive note about the NPP and Wright. I composed a conclusion that was probably a bit over the top and some would consider it sycophantic. Thus, the most controversial sentence of the conclusion ended up on the cutting room floor. However, my dear friend Benjamin Myers of faith and theology who read the original draft wanted to interact with me on the controversial topic I raised in a scandalously positive assertion about Wright vis-à-vis Bultmann. So I have produced here the unedited and original final paragraph of the conclusion that I wrote:

In this essay I have urged a dialogical and irenic approach of critiquing and appropriating what the NPP has to say. Lamentably much of what I have read on the NPP (particularly on the internet) has not always been insightful or gracious. N.T. Wright in particular has come under some vitriolic criticism. I do not concur with every point he raises, in fact, I find several of his exegetical conclusions unconvincing. All the same, Wright has put Paul into a thoroughly Jewish framework and forced us to have a serious historical reading of Paul. Wright’s studies on the historical Jesus, though contestable at points, are equally refreshing. I seriously wish scholars and students of the evangelical tradition would appreciate what a gem we have in Wright who has shown that many of the tenets of historical Christianity are not quite so passé as its detractors have thought. As far as New Testament Theologians go, many went to Marburg to sit at the feet of Bultmann, and behold, one greater than Bultmann is here.

Why did I say that? Well, Bultmann was great and influential. Though I fear he was essentially an existentialist, and New Testament was just his medium. Don’t get me wrong some of his works are superb, esp. his NT Theology (at points). But I think Wright has a better eye for the big picture and for situating exegesis in the wider context of the story of Christian Origins. The echo of Mt. 12.6 was just to give my assertion charm and controversy.

Is Wright greater than Bultmann then? To vote, go to the faith and theology blog and time will tell!!!

[Note: If the vote is not up yet, it will be soon]

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Three Riddles of New Testament Studies?

1. What and who is the Son of Man?

- Did Jesus use the term himself or did the church merely ascribe it to him?
- Did Jesus refer to himself or to some future Son of Man?
- Is the term a technical title, a circumlocution or what?
- Is the Son of Man a corporate figure, an individual or Israel?

I think Café Apocalypsis has some interesting musings on the Son of Man and 1 Enoch.

2. What is the righteousness of God?

- Subjective genitive/objective genitive
- Covenant faithfulness
- Salvation-creating power
- Establishing justice in all of creation
- God’s relation restoring love

3. How I interpret the book of revelation?

- Idealist
- Preterist
- Futurist
- Historic

When I think of Revelation I think of my beautiful wife Naomi. Both are a source of great hope and encouragement to me when times are tough. Both exhibit an incredible complexity and beauty that is hard to fathom. And half the time I am at my wits end if I know what either of them are raving on about!!!

Latest WTJ

I just got the latest copy of Westminster Theological Journal and it contains some fine NT articles, including:

“The Formation of the Gospels in the Setting of Early Christianity: The Jesus Tradition as Corporate Memory” – by some Aussie git called ‘Bird’.

“‘Evil Beasts, Lazy Gluttons’: A Negletected Theme in the Epistle to Titus” – Riemer Faber.

“2 Corinthians 6:2: Paul’s Eschatological ‘Now’ and Hermeneutical Invitation’ – Mark Gignilliat.

Some Emergent folk might like to note the book review by K. Scott Oliphint on Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor (eds.), Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Christ died for our sins?

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed poses the question of how do we prove to postmoderns that Christ died for our sins? Now this is a tricky question, but here’s my take:

First, it depends on what you think “for our sins” (1 Thess. 5.10; Rom. 5.8 etc) means in terms of atonement theology and I would strenuously argue in favour of substitutionary and representational models of atonement (note Wallace GGBB pp. 380-89 who suggests instances were hyper overlaps with anti).

Second, it depends on what you mean by prove. I can cite several NT verses to show that Christ died for us in a redemptive way, which is at one level proof; but it is unlikely to be persuasive to postmodern Peter or postmodern Patricia? They might say, “Well, that’s just your interpretation!” or “That’s true for you, but not for me!”. Or they might even try to deconstruct my exegesis and say that my atonement theology is merely the attempt to impose on them feelings of guilt so as to force them to conform to my Christian ideology. Or those with a hermeneutic of suspicion might say that ascribing a redemptive function to Jesus’ death is an instance of cognitive dissonance whereby the early Christians compensated for the death of their leader and for their smashed hopes by regarding Jesus’ demise as a planned act of God that constituted their deliverance.

Third, my tentative solution is to perceive the cross as the crucial moment in three intersecting stories: the penultimate climax of the Jesus story, the hope of the story of a world gone wrong, and the prequel to the story of the Christians. We don’t prove anything about Jesus’ death, rather we tell the stories, and invite participants to identify themselves within the story. We urge Peter and Patricia to enter into our narrative world and pose the question to them, “Is this story, your story?” And ask, “Do you sense the goodness of creation, a goodness now marred, tainted and poisoned by evil and yet, the world still groans for deliverance? Do you see in the human race the icon of something beautiful and glorious and yet now tragically broken with a rapacious appetite for terror and a lust for destruction – do you even see glimpses of that at times in the darkest corners of your inner being? Can you define evil, name it, know it, explain your innate fear and hatred of it, and describe why in a world without absolutes it still seems so inexplicably wrong, like it wasn’t meant to happen? Do you see in the cross just another dead Jew, one of many, from Golgotha to Auschwitz? Or can you see what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have felt – on that wretched piece of wood hangs not a tragedy but a triumph, not the vanquished but the victor, not a failure but our future, power in powerlessness, and hatred trounced by love. In the cross can you feel your rebellion conquered, your thirst quenched, your penalty paid, your soul quickened, and your defiance crumble? Can you close your eyes and see yourself walking towards that cross, edging closer and closer with every step, and reaching out with your hands to hold it, to shake it, to grasp so you can share its weight, its ugliness, its despair, and its agony, to reach out and embrace it and cry in defiance “this cross is mine, my death, my sin, my condemnation, my annihilation”? And to then open your eyes and see a world . . . reborn. Is this how the story really goes? Is this your story? If so, Christ died for our sins.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Paul and Empire

Of all the recent works on Paul and Empire, my favourite article is Wright's Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire. In particular I like the following quote:

His missionary work . . . must be conceived not simply in terms of a traveling evangelist offering people a new religious experience, but of an ambassador for a king-in-waiting, establishing cells of people loyal to this new king, and ordering their lives according to his story, his symbols, and his praxis, and their minds according to his truth. This could only be construed as deeply counter-imperial, as subversive to the whole edifice of the Roman Empire; and there is in fact plenty of evidence that Paul intended it to be so construed, and that when he ended up in prison as a result of his work he took it as a sign that he had been doing his job properly.

Updates on NT Wright Page

There is a new article on the N.T Wright page entitled Paul in different Perspectives which gives Wright's take on his own "Solas".

Whatever one might think of Wright, in reading the opening paragraphs, critics and admirers must respect his deep and passionate commitment to the Scriptures!

Mt. 8.11-12: Jesus and the Gentiles

Here’s the blurb for an article I’m working on which is my Ph.D thesis in a nutshell:

Since Joachim Jeremias’ Jesu Verheissung für die Völker it has often been assumed that in Mt. 8.11-12 Jesus looked forward to the inclusion of gentiles into the kingdom at the eschaton. However, several recent studies, most notably by Dale C. Allison, have called into question this view and have instead advocated that the logion refers to the regathering of the Diaspora. The purpose of this study is to evaluate Allison’s arguments and to propose that a gentile reference is implicit in the logion based on: (1) the broader context of the inter-textual echoes of passages concerning the regathering of Jewish exiles; and (2) a wider ethnic membership for those who participate in the patriarchal banquet based on the reference to ‘Abraham’. Furthermore, the logion is interpreted in the historical Jesus’ ministry through the lens of a partially realized eschatology where the saying represents Jesus’ contention that Israel’s restoration was already happening and gentiles are already entering the kingdom as an embryonic foretaste of their inclusion at the eschaton.

So is Mt. 8.11-12 about Jesus and the Gentiles or Jesus and the Diaspora?

Mark 9.1 & Tom Hatina

And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."

What does this saying refer to?

Realized eschatology = Kingdom has already come in power (Dodd, Mann, Evans)
Pentecost (Bruce, Taylor, Dunn)
Parousia (Nineham, Hooker)
Resurrection (Hurtado, Waetjen, Kilgallen)
Transfiguration (Cranfield, Lane, Witherington)
Fall of Jerusalem (France, Plummer)
Jesus' teachings (Tolbert)
Jesus' death (Brower, Barnett, Wright, Bird)

Recent Thomas R. Hatina in the recent issue of Biblica has written an article entitled:

Who Will See "The Kingdom of God Coming with Power"in Mark 9,1 - Protagonists or Antagonists?

In conventional readings of Mark 9,1, the meaning of the "kingdom of God coming with power" determines the identity of the bystandarders who will supposedly experience ("see") it. Since the prediction of the kingdom is usually regarded as a blessing, it is assumed that the bystandards are protagonists. In contrast to this conventional approach, the reading proposed in this essay begins with the group(s) which will experience ("see") "the kingdom of God coming with power", first 9,1 and then in 13,26 and 14,62. When prior attention is given to these groups in the context of the narrative, Jesus' predicton in Mark 9,1 emerges not as a blessing promised to the protagonists, but as a threat of judgment aimed at antagonists.

Interesting, well argued, but naaah! I stick with my original view (which sadly for me Hatina does not cite).

In my article (Michael Bird, "The Crucifixion of Jesus as the Fulfillment of Mark 9:1," TrinJ 24.1 [2003]: 23-36)I side with Brower and Wright and go for the crucifixion view. I think this is tenable based on: (a) the link between the kingdom and Jesus' death in Mark 2.18-22; 14.22-25, 62; 15.1-40 (b) The cross for Mark is power in powerlessness; (c) the literary context of 8.31-9.13 is dominated by allusions to the cross - those who remain loyal in the death march to the cross will see the kingdom come in power; and (d) the promises of "some", "standing here" and "seeing" were fulfilled in the women who witnessed Jesus' execution.

This reminds me, I must read Hatina's article on Mark 13 which I've been meaning to do!

11th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference

Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference

Opening Act of Worship in Greenside Parish Church
Monday 29th August at 8pm

This will be the first major theological conference I have ever attended (sadly such conferences are rather scarce in Brisbane, Australia). And what great speakers:

Tom Wright: Christian Origins
Don Carson: The Wrath of God
John Webster: The Attributes of God
Bruce McCormack: Barth's Doctrine of the Trinity
Donald Macleod: Pastoral Implications of our Doctrine of God
Henri Blocher: God and the cross
Pierre Berthould: Divine Compassion
Paul Helm: Calvin's God
Oliver Crisp: Jonathan Edwards God
Stephen Williams: The Sovereignty of God

Wright and Carson are two of my favourite authors (like chalk and cheese I know but I enjoy them both).

A Creed for the Emergent Church

I will never forget the first time I heard the “Prayer Warriors Creed” from Michael Frost. His reading of this poem during a sermon was truly moving. Frosty is very good at getting people discontent with mediocre forms of Christianity (which I think makes up in part for his lack of bible exposition in preaching!). Given its focus on doing Christianity rather than merely knowing doctrine, I submit that with some tweaking it could easily become the first holy creed of the emergent church!

I belong to the fellowship of the unashamed
I have the Holy Spirit with me
The dye has been cast
I have stepped over the line
The decision has been made
I won't look back, let up, slowdown, back off or be still
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.
I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, and cheap living.
I no longer need prominence, position, promotion or popularity. I don’t have to be praised, recognized, regarded or rewarded.
I now live by faith, I depend on his strength
I walk by patience, I live by prayer, I labour by love
My face is set, my gait is fast
My mission is clear, my goal is heaven
My road is narrow, my way is rough
My companions few
My God is reliable
With God's help, I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, or ponder at the pool of popularity.
I cannot be bought or compromised
I won't give up, shut up, or let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, paid up, prayed up, and preached up for the cause of Jesus Christ
I must go until he comes, give until I drop, work until he stops me, preach until all I know is gone.
And when he comes he will have no problems recognizing me.

As much as I like this poem/creed I think that a more urgent theological task for budding young emergent theologians is to articulate the content and meaning of the gospel in such a way as to be faithful to the biblical texts, to maintain theological integrity, but also to contemporize the expression of the gospel so as to gain a fair hearing from unchurched postmoderns. Indeed, I think the greatest question posted to Emergent leaders by mainline Evangelicals is: ‘Let us hear how you construe and define the gospel of Jesus Christ!’ A legitimate question too!!! Maybe it can be answered at the first emergent ecumenical council.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Live 8 and Jas 5.5

One verse of Scripture that time and time again drives me to despair of the affluence of western culture (which I am apart of) is Jas. 5.5: ‘You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter’ (NIV). The NIV tones down the verse a bit, more literally it reads, ‘you have fattened your heart in the day of slaughter’. This is a terrifying indictment of wealth that is hoarded for the purpose of pursuing exuberant luxury and it applies to all of us in the west. Moreover, it urges us to use our resources for the elimination of poverty.

Far as I’m aware Live 8’s goals include:

(1) Increases of financial aid to Africa (Note, European farm subsidies are four-times greater than the amount of aid giving by European countries to Africa!).
(2) Cancellation of debt in developing countries.
(3) Fairer conditions in terms of free trade agreements.

I think all of the goals are reachable and they would significantly impact the living standards of many Africans. However, even if these goals are achieved will they end poverty in Africa? I have to say, they most definitely will not. Either way, debts or no-debts, aid or no aid, poverty will continue to Africa as long as the continent is infested with endemic corruption, plagued by civil wars, and ruled by malevolent totalitarian regimes. What does this mean? We should not bother trying to fill a leaky bucket? No, we must continue to aid the plight of the poor, the underprivileged, the oppressed and the hungry for one simple reason – God commands it. If we do not, then when we stand before the great white throne, before a lamb that looks a bit like a lion, he may well say: ‘You fattened your heart in the day of slaughter’.

Best books I’ve read on wealth and the Bible are:

Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Povery nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions (NSBT 7; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999).

Thomas E. Schmidt, Hostility to Wealth in the Synoptic Gospels (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987).

New SBL Publication and Oral Tradition

Of all the new SBL publications the one that interests me the most is:

Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity

Edited by Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher

Drawing on the methods of social and cultural memory theory, this volume both introduces memory theory to biblical scholars and restores the category “memory” to a preeminent position in research on Christian origins. In the process, it challenges current approaches to research problems in Christian origins, such as the history of the Gospel traditions, the birth of early Christian literature, ritual and ethics, and the historical Jesus. The essays, taken in aggregate, not only outline a comprehensive research agenda for examining the beginnings of Christianity and its literature but also propose a fundamentally revised model for the phenomenology of early Christian oral tradition, assess the impact of memory theory upon historical Jesus research, establish connections between memory dynamics and the appearance of written Gospels, and assess the relationship of early Christian commemorative activities with the cultural memory of ancient Judaism.

I think Kenneth Bailey and James Dunn have reinvigorated interest in theories of oral tradition and corporate memory in the transmission and development of traditions in early Christianity. Dunn's theory of Jesus in the memory of the early church is really building on the work of N.A. Dahl. Dunn's work has met with ambivalent response in recent issues of JSNT 26 (2004) and ExpT 116 (2004). Ted Weeden is about to deliver some serious criticisms to Bailey at the next SBL conference in Philly. Throw into the mix Werner Kelber and his theory of different hermeneutics for oral and written traditions and it makes an interesting realm of scholarship. I think it is slowly being recognized that Gerhardsson and Bultmann are not the only two games in town in terms of transmission of the Jesus tradition.

I wonder if consideration will be given to the late Paul Ricoeur's, Memory, history, forgetting (trans. K. Blamey et. al.; Chicago: Chicago Uni Press, 2004). Might well be of relevance!

Job: Tutor in Biblical Studies in UK

South East Institute for Theological Education

Tutor in Biblical Studies

SEITE requires a full-time Tutor to join the existing ecumenical staff team,to be based in either Medway or central London. We are a regional provider of ministerial formation and theological education, responsible this year for 129 students, including 78 Ministerial Students.

Further details:
The Administrator, SEITE, Sun Pier House, Medway Street, Chatham, ME4 4HF
Tel: 01634 846683
Closing date for applications: July 29th 2005
Interviews are expected to be on Thursday September 1st 2005

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terrorism, Suffering and the Triumph of God's Mecy

Last night I had some friends over for dinner and we were discussing some lovely topics, cricket, the weather, McKnight's book Jesus Creed, when the London terrorist attack beamed onto the TV. What can I say? So many feelings:

Bastards! Why, Why, Why? God, avenge us! Forgive them, for they know not what they do. How long O Lord how long!

I think it is important that Muslims across the West are not persecuted for the actions of a small minority intent on exporting their violence in the service of destroying western democracies. I'm reminded of the words of an Arab publisher:

"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."

From an article in the Telegraph called: Innocent religion is now a message of hate

What can we say, well turning to Revelation is always a source of hope and encouragment to me when times are tough. What do we find there, God's mercy triumphs over the most despicable of human evil in the end.


Bailey on Informal Controlled Oral Tradition

On Biblical Studies Kenneth Bailey’s article on Informal Controlled Oral Tradition is available to read.

Bailey disagrees with those who argue for memorization of the Jesus tradition (e.g. Gerhardsson) and those who opt for a fluid and flexible tradition that was susceptible to unsupervised alteration (Bultmann, Funk). Wright and Dunn both lean heavily on Bailey and his article is worth reading.

Mark Goodacre notes in his blog NT Gateway that Ted Weeden is planning to write a response to Bailey.

I have written my own musing in the recent issue of Westminster Theological Journal in a piece entitled: The Formation of the Gospels in the Setting of Early Christianity: The Jesus Tradition as Corporate Memory. There I argue for a modified version of Bailey’s thesis which is cojoined to Dunn’s theory of oral memory. I think Bailey’s model has great merit, but it is at best an analogy based on his experience rather than being a socio-anthropological model which can be easily transported into first century studies of oral tradition.

Keep also in mind another article I have coming out on an adjacent topic:

“The Purpose and Preservation of the Jesus Tradition: Moderate Evidence for a Conserving Force in its Transmission.” Bulletin of Biblical Research 15.2 (2005): 161-85.

Here’s an except from the BBR piece:

Developing a working hypothesis of how the Jesus tradition originated and was transmitted is fraught with significant problems. Indeed, the gap in our historical knowledge about the precise details of the transmission of the Jesus tradition is roughly analogous to those medieval ocean maps which marked uncharted regions as, “And here, there be dragons!” We simply cannot know with any degree of certainty what is out there beyond and before the Gospels. E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies comment, “We are left with questions which we cannot precisely answer: how was the material transmitted? Why were the diverse types either preserved or created?”

The Blogfest continues

I have the pleasure of introducing two new blogs to Euangelion.

1. Faith and Theology: A Blog for Theology, Faith, Hermeneutics, and the Meaning of Jesus Christ Today

Faith and Theology

It is run by my good friend Benjamin Myers who is probably the smartest little cookie I know. His Ph.D is in literature (Milton), but his expertise and passion is systematic theology. He has a love for Karl Barth (personally I think his cyber-identity should be Darth Barth, that’s just me). When my biography is written people might say that my greatest accomplishment in life was having an article appear beside the great Ben Myers (see the recent Reformed Theological Review 64.1 [2005]).

His recent posts on “Hope for a World gone Wrong” are quite fitting for the current events in the UK. Also, his initial entry “Blogging: A Theological History” is a humorous read which spoofs basically every theological tradition in existence.

2. Primal Subversion: a random place for random thoughts about Jesus, the Empire of YHWH, and a tribal group called "primal" which gathers in a village in southern africa

Primal Subversion

Sean Du Toit (any relation to David Du Toit I wonder?) has a cool blog. He likes the same stuff I do Wright, the Matrix, the Historical Jesus and he has said some very nice things about me. Though I fear that it might change when the Wallabies decimate the Springboks next Saturday (Rugby).

New Blog: Biblical Studies

I noticed on Mark Goodacre’s blog that Rob Bradshaw’s Biblical Studies web-page also has a blog – welcome Rob to the biblioblogosphere!!! Rob is real good at detailing new publications so keep an eye on this page.

To wet your appeitite he has posted Ralph. P. Martin's 1960 monograph on Philippians 2.5-11 on his website. That is cool to the max!

[Thanks to Jim West who finally taught me how to hyper-link. As we say in my country, Jim I owe you a coke and a kangaroo burger!]

So, Michael, what is your thesis on?

I'm slowly getting tiried of answering people who ask me what my Ph.D is on (Jesus and the Gentiles). And then going through the process of explaining it to them. But I have found a good way of making it more interesting and even having some fun at their expense. When people ask me what my thesis is on I say, with a straight face: “Shakespeare’s use of the semi-colon and its effect upon usage in the King James Bible”.

I have used it on University lecturers, lay-people, Ph.D students, family, friends and others. Oh, the joy I have had in seeing their face expressions and listenening them try to say something polite – “Oh . . . um . . . that sounds . . very . . . um . . . interesting!”

So I'm throwing the gauntlet out to other Ph.D cands to think up other more bizaar thesis topics that we can use all when we keep getting asked that same infernal question: "So, Michael, what is your thesis on?"

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

John P. Meier on law and Jesus

On Deinde there is an interesting summary of the ANZSTS conference in Perth, Australia featuring a series of lectures by John P. Meier. The lectures are about the historical Jesus and the law. I really wanted to go to that conference and present a paper on the The Peril of Modernizing Jesus and the Crisis of not Contemporizing the Christ, but alas, finishing my thesis and doing a Ph.D took precedent!

Here’s the links:



Eph. 4.11-12 and the ministry of the ministers

There is an interesting article in Novum Testamentum about Eph. 4.12.

It is Sydney H. T. Page, “Whose Ministry? A Re-appraisal of Ephesians 4.12,” NovT 47.1 (2005): 26-46.

Whose Ministry?

Eph. 4:12 consists of three prepositional phrases that indicate why Christ gave the Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Recent translations take the second of the three phrases as dependent on the first, so that together the two phrases refer to the single purpose of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. However, a careful examination of the prepositions used in verse 12, the grammatical structure of the verse, the key terms found here, the literary context, and the way the text was understood by Chrysostom suggests that the three phrases ought to be seen as parallel to one another, in which case they describe three distinct purposes for the giving of the individuals mentioned in verse 11.

Are the three prepositional clauses in v. 12 co-ordinate (see Lincoln in WBC) or else is the second clause subordinate to the first (O'Brien, Martin and Best et. al). What’s the diff?

1. Co-ordinate view (= Christ gives ministers to do this ministry)

to (pros) equip the saints,
for (eis) the work of ministry,
for (eis) building up the body of Christ”

Trans: “to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”

2. Subordinate (= Christ gives ministers to equip others to do ministry)

to (pros) equip the saints for (eis) the work of ministry,
for (eis) building up the body of Christ”

Trans: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”


1. Where do you put the comma in translation?

2. Who does the ministry?

My view: I side with Lincoln and Page since I think grammatically and contextually it makes better sense that ministry is that performed by the apostles, prophets, evangelists and teaching-pastors. I think an all church participation in ministry is guaranteed by vv. 7, 12 but I don’t think Christ gives evangelists so that other people can do the evangelism!

[Actually the translation of poimenas kai didaskalous – is another interesting issue: pastors and teachers or teaching-pastors – note they are both under the same article? Hmmm? It is a Ph.D for some brave soul!]

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

RBL Latest

The following reviews can be accessed through RBL.

[Note: I have tried, and tried, and tried to figure out how to insert a hyper-link in a blog entry. I have used the little hyper-link icon on the blog entry, but I am doing something wrong cause it never works. Other times when I publish an entry the new entry somehow "messes" with the blog page by eliminating all the side bar info. Does anyone have a 12 step plan for how to post a hyper-link for a technologically challenged numpty like myself who does not speak-Geek. Oh yeah, and another thing, how do I get rid of that stupid star sign rubbish on the "about me" link. Why follow the stars when you can follow the one who made the stars!]. Oh yeah, back to RBL, here are the reviews. William Loader's book in particular would be interesting!

Esler, Philip F.
Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul's Letter
Reviewed by Margaret Aymer

Finlan, Stephen
The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors
Reviewed by Christopher Mcmahon

Loader, William
The Septuagint, Sexuality, and the New Testament: Case Studies on the Impact of
the LXX in Philo and the New Testament
Reviewed by Robert Hiebert

Miller, Patrick D. and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, eds.
The Ending of Mark and the Ends of God: Essays in Memory of Donald Harrisville
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Doug Moo and Romans

Doug Moo and Romans

Question: How many commentaries on Romans has Douglas J. Moo written?

Answer: 5 !!! They are:

1. Romans 1-8 (WEC; Chicago: Moody, 1991)

2. ‘Romans,’ in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, eds. R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, G. J. Wenham, and D. A. Carson, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1994).

3. The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996)

4. Romans (NIVAC; Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2000)

5. Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (EBS; Grand Rapids, Baker, 2002).

It was whilst writing some class notes on Romans that I happened upon this discovery and I honestly do not know if Dr. Moo should be given a medal or placed in a mental asylum. There are three questions I would like to ask Dr. Moo: (1) Has he figured Romans out yet, if so, in which commentary? (2) Is he sick of Romans yet? Hard to imagine being sick of Romans I know, but after 5 commentaries you have to wonder. (3) Posing as a publisher from Grand Rapids I’d like to ask him if he would be interested in writing a three volume commentary on the Greek text of Romans in P46 just so I can see the expression on his face. To make things even better I’d love to ask him in front of his wife to hear what she has to say about the matter.

Jokes aside, I think Moo’s NICNT commentary in the best going around and one I have as my course text book! Although I am anxious to see what Jewett has to say in the Hermeneia series too!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Communion: A New Perspective

One thing I like about the emergent church is their willingness to be radical and innovative in their praxis concerning worship, ministry and preaching (although I don’t necessarily agree with the entire theological package, but I often like the contemporary forms in which their theology is expressed). One area that I think really needs to be re-thought and even re-theologicized is how evangelicals (emergent or otherwise) do communion. To be honest, I think the way that the Lord’s table operates in most traditional evangelical churches is still indebted to a pre-Reformation and sacramental understanding of communion. People seem to think that a crumb of bread and a drip of juice, followed by a short devotional is how it has always been. Robert Jewett writes: “The purely symbolic meal of modern Christianity, restricted to a bit of bread and a sip of wine or juice, is tacitly presupposed for the early church, an assumption so preposterous that it is never articulated or acknowledged.” (Robert Jewett, “Tenement Churches and Pauline Love Feasts,” Quarterly Review 14 [1994]: 44)

The way I understand table-fellowship in Jesus’ ministry and the early Palestinian church is that, for a start, it took place around a whole meal. Furthermore, Communion is not meant to be an intermission between singing and preaching, it was a symbol of the radical inclusiveness of all those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus and it foreshadowed who was going to be vindicated in the future age. When the early church sat down at their table-fellowship meals they were eating the hors d’oeuvres of the Messianic banquet!

About a year ago I visited a small missional (= maybe emergent) church in north Sydney called “Small Boat, Big Sea” hosted chiefly by Michael Frost (Deputy Principal of Moorling Theological College). The church met in a manse (though once a month they do a worship service in the church next door). I met a group of about 15 people aged between 18 and 45, and was warmly received. I even got offered a glass of red wine upon entry which I accepted with glee (something I don’t experience that often Baptist churches). We soon sat down in a room surrounded with lounge chairs and pillows, and the group talked about a recent outreach event where they offered a meal and marriage seminar to unchurched couples, next was a video clip from a movie about a guy stuck in a phone booth, that led to a discussion on repentance, it was followed by a young girl recounting a book she had recently read about being a Christian woman. This was followed with a meal (including more red wine and curry!!!). I like this church, though I know it is not for everybody, and there are things I would sure do differently. I also know that I’m theologically poles apart from Frosty on a lot of issues – but what I did like was the intimacy of sharing a meal with fellow believers who share only one thing in common – not jobs, education, socio-economic status, address, gender, ethnicity, background – but profess that Jesus is Lord. For me, this is what Acts 2.42 is all about – “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Personally, I think the breaking of bread is more than a potluck dinner and needs some kind of liturgy (but contemporary for the Gen-Xers) in order to enhance our reflection and remembrance of Jesus – but it is a model worth considering.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

New Blog: Café Apocalypsis

Through Brandon Wason's Novum Testamentum I came across a gucci [Australian Army lingo for cool] blog called Café Apocalypsis. It is subtitled: Brewed with a metaphorical, esoteric, and eschatological blend of aromatic Biblical Studies. It has news reports in biblical studies, interesting opinion (esp. on the Left Behind series which I regard as apocalyptic soap opera), and good summaries of scholarship. I liked Alan's summary of N.T. Wright's preterist interpretation of Mark 13. The site also has some excellent link's to other authors. Sounds like this blog will be a news-fest for anyone studying the book of Revelation.

I have added it to my blog roll.

Some Humour

What do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common?

Same middle name!

Vanhoozer and Hermeneutics

I really enjoyed Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s recent essay “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics” in the recent issue of JETS 48.1 (2005): 89-114.

Vanhoozer’s book Is There a Meaning in this Text? is equally good and it saved my gluteus maximus on several occasion during my doctoral studies when I had to defend a critical realist epistemology for reading the Gospels to uncover a historical Jesus!

What I admire about Vanhoozer’s article is that he refuses to bend the knee to postmodernism, but is willing to admit where it is right! His critique of Charles Hodge and Carl Henry for using the Bible as a resource for churning out theological propositions is on target. The propositionalists imply that there is something deficient in the Bible’s canonical form which warrants the necessity of propositionalizing it. I have often wondered how much of evangelicalism is simply a response to Modernism and the outcome has been some degree of acculturation at least in terms of evangelicals adopting a foundationalist epistemology, a naïve hermeneutical objectivism, and using the inductive/empirical method in theology. I like Vanhoozer’s words: ‘Without some propositional core, the church would lose its raison d’etre, leaving only programs and potlucks. At the same time, to reduce the truth of Scripture to a set of propositions is unnecessarily reductionistic. What the Bible as a whole is literally about is theodrama – the words and deeds of God on the stage of world history that climax in Jesus Christ’ (pp. 100-1).

But Vanhoozer is no postmodernist either. He writes: ‘nothing is to be gained simply by exchanging masters! Evangelicals should no more emerge out of postmodernity than modernity. On the contrary, we should be prepared to diverge from modernity and postmodernity alike in order to preserve the integrity of our witness to the truth of the gospel’ (p 113).

There are several areas where I know I disagree with postmodernism.

(1) That truth is merely a function of community, a socially constructed entity, and does not necessarily denote any correspondence to reality. Of course that statement itself might well be just a social construct!
(2) Epistemological relativism. The diversity of all beliefs does not demand the relativity of all knowledge. Relativism is also conceptually incoherent in that it denies the existence of universals whilst making a universal claim. Relativism is self-stultifying since it regularly participates in the evaluation of other conceptual systems whilst implying that it has no basis for doing so.
(3) Hermeneutical Anarchy. I never cease to tire of the irony of authors who strenuously insist that when it comes to reading texts there is no such thing as authorial intent, and they continue to argue this point by writing books and articles somehow expecting their authorial intent to be discernible, lucid, understood, and compelling to the reader.
(4) Religious pluralism. To be honest – this is what scares me the most. Postmodernists like to tout themselves as inclusive and tolerant, like a big friendly life-size teddy bear. But there’s a catch. Everyone is affirmed in their belief as long as it operates within the bounds of pluralism and does not foster any kind of exclusivism or criticism – ‘it’s true for you, but not for me’ is as nasty as you can be. Religious pluralists cannot tolerate those who are not pluralistic and they are quite happy to put the thumb screws down on anyone who fails to worship at the pantheon of pluralism and pluriformity – the teddy bear becomes a big mean hairy ogre with little provocation. If you don’t believe me, look at the religious vilification laws in Australia, Scandinavia and soon too the UK. Religious pluralism is no longer the philosophy of the intelligentsia it is now law! On the one hand religious pluralism is okay if you mean the freedom to choose and practice your own religion – but when you start legislating what criticisms you can and cannot make about other religions I get really nervous!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Strange Acts

My doctoral advisor, Dr. Rick Strelan, has just published a book about Acts in its Hellenistic cultural setting. It is worth checking out by all those interested in the Book of Acts and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world!

He's presenting a seminar on his book at the British NT Conference in September if anyone is interested.

Strange Acts
Studies in the Cultural World of the Acts of the Apostles

Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft - BZNW 126
by Rick Strelan


This book examines many of the strange events and actions in Acts in the context of the Hellenistic world and from that perspective. These events and actions include the ascension of Jesus, direction by the Spirit, visions, angelophanies, prison escapes and resuscitations of the dead. Many of these events are either avoided in scholarship or are investigated with an agenda other than to understand them for themselves. The book constructs an ancient audience to be one that has a close familiarity with the Septuagint and with other Greek and Latin writings. The culturally-strange events are then interpreted through the lens of these texts.