Friday, April 27, 2007

Penal Substitution and Propitiation

I wonders if part of the current debate (see my earlier post Wright on Penal Substitution) is because there is a failure to distinguish between "penal substitution" and "propitiation". They are related but they are not the same thing. What is more, how is God's wrath to be understood?

We can define Penal Substitution (PS) as the view that God punishes Jesus for our sins by putting him in our place on the cross. No definition of PS that I know of (e.g. Robert Latham, Leon Morris, or John Stott) mentions wrath as far as I can remember. PS means that God prosecutes his contention against our sin by handing over Jesus to the cross to die in our stead. I think PS is taught in Rom. 8.1-3 and implied in Rom. 3.25, 1 Cor. 5.7, Gal. 3.13 and 1 Tim. 2.6. If Dan Wallace is right (GGBB, 383-89) then there may be some grounds for seeing a semantic overlap between the prepositions hyper "for" and anti "in place of", e.g. "Jesus died hyper [for/in place of] us" or in order to deal with our sins. But it is one thing to say that Jesus satisfied the justice of God, and it is another thing to say that he satisfies the wrath of God - they are not the same. I would also concur with St. Leon of Morris that hilasterion means "propitiation". The meaning is that Jesus' death appeases and satisfies God's wrath. What is more, in Romans the verdict of condemnation against human wickedness occassioned by God's wrath in 1.18-32 is identical to the verdict executed in Christ's death in Rom. 3.21-26 - so there is a connection between atonement, justice, and wrath. But how? Well, when that verdict is executed then God's wrath is propitiated.

What is God's wrath for that matter? I don't think it is the inevitable and impersonal exercise of God's justice in a moral universe (C.H. Dodd) nor can it be described as God's action as a "vengeful Father" (I think that is what Stephen Chalke is objecting too). The best definition of wrath is that it is the response of God's holiness towards evil, it is the display of God's righteous indignation towards human depravity (F.F. Bruce, Romans). It is neither impersonal nor spiteful. About a year ago I read a horrid story of a 4 year old girl who was beaten to death by her mother's boyfriend and the couple put her body in a suitcase through it in the River Ness. When I read that story I felt wrath, a righteous anger. It wasn't spiteful, it was not disproportionate, but my anger against such an horrendous crime was appropriate to me as a Father and and a law-abiding citizen - that action demanded punishment and I wanted to see that punishment meted out fully and finally. On the cross, God does not extract "revenge" against the Jesus, rather he executes his wrath (righteous indignation) against sin in the body of the sinless Son.

For those in want of further eading, let me recommend the following:

Carson, D.A. ‘Atonement in Romans 3:21-26.’ In The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives, eds. Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 119-39.

Gathercole, Simon. ‘The Cross and Substitutionary Atonement.’ SBET 21 (2003): 152-63.

McGowan, A.T.B. ‘The Atonement as Penal Substitution.’ In Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology, ed. A.T.B. McGowan (Leicester, England: IVP, 2006), 183-210.

McKnight, Scot. A Community Called Atonement (Nashville: Abingdon, forthcoming 2007).

Paul and Perseverance

Today in my Pauline Theology class we had a lecture on Paul and Perseverance. I opened the lecture with a discussion about whether or not the bumper-sticker-theology phrase "once saved, always saved" is an appropriate representation of Paul's conception of perseverance. Views were expectedly diverse on the topic but mostly in favour of it. I set out to show that things are a little more complex than that. We then worked through the Pauline materials and had a bit of an intro to the view of Judith Gundry-Volf. After that I then asked the students to come up with a new bumper-sticker-theology phrase that more adequately describes Paul's perspective on perseverance while I went and made myself a drink. When I came back they had come up with this phrase:

Salvation! Work out what God has worked in!

Well done to Paul, Ian, Anne, George, and Dan.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jesus the Messiah - I

At the end of the year I am hoping to finish writing an article on the historical Jesus and the question of whether or not he made a messianic claim. Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah? Scholarship is mooted at this point. Indeed, a non-messianic Jesus is deeply ingrained in certain elements of scholarship. The main views seem to be:
  • Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah and the Church proclaimed Jesus as Messiah as an inference based on his resurrection.
  • The disciples proclaimed Jesus as Messiah during his life but Jesus rejected the title.
  • Jesus did not claim the title, but neither did he reject it.
  • Jesus claimed to be the Messiah
In a future post I hope to offer one or two or thirteen reasons why I think he did claim to be enacting a messianic role.

Wright on Penal Substitution

Alot is going on around the web about penal substitution esp. in relation to the views of Stephen Chalke, N.T. Wright, and a recent book edited by Mike Ovey, Steve Jeffery, and Andrew Sach (eds.) Pierced for our Transgressions (IVP). Jim Hamilton and Denny Burke add their comments. N.T. Wright responds to his critics on the Fulcrum website.

Here is a quote from NTW himself:

"No clearer statement is found in Paul, or indeed anywhere else in all early Christian literature, of the early Christian belief that what happened on the cross was the judicial punishment of sin. Taken in conjunction with 8:1 and the whole argument of the passage, not to mention the partial parallels in 2 Cor 5:21 and Gal 3:13, it is clear that Paul intends to say that in Jesus’ death the damnation that sin deserved was meted out fully and finally, so that sinners over whose heads that condemnation had hung might be liberated from this threat once and for all."

Wright, ‘Romans,’ 10.574-75

Bywater on VanLandingham

Kevin Bywater (Ph.D cand. at Durham Uni) begins his review/evaluation of Chris VanLandingham's book on judgment and justification in Judaism and Paul. See his blog Living Waters.

Jensen on being "Reformed"

Peter Jensen, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, has a lecture on Why I am a Reformed Christian. Please listen to it if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Paul and Gender II

William Mounce (Pastoral Epistles, 103) approvingly cites this quotation from David M. Scholer:

"The concept of genuinely objective biblical interpretation is a myth. All interpretation is socially located, individually skewed, and ecclesiastically and theologically conditioned ... All biblical interpreters, regardless of where they now stand on the issue of women in ministry, have been deeply influenced by both the sexism and misogyny of our culture and also the currents of nineteenth-century women's rights and twentieth-century feminist movements."

In other words, the door of biases swings both ways.

Paul Winter and the Son of Man

Paul Winter: ‘the place of origin of the Son of Man myth must be sought neither in Iran, nor in Judea, not even in Ugarit, but in German universities’.

Cited in Simon Gathercole, The Pre-Existent Son, 255.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Definition of Mission

Later in the year I'm returing to the topic of mission or proselytism in the ancient world. I think that alot of the arguments about whether or not second-temple Judaism was a missionary religion or not comes down to a matter of the definition of mission and the differences between conversion and adherence - balancing sociological and theological factors also contributes to the definition. For example James C. Paget defines a missionary religion as ‘one which, in a variety of ways, makes it clear that conversion to that religion is a good thing’. Based on his work on mission-commitment in Judaism, John Dickson defines mission as ‘the range of activities by which members of a religious community desirous of the conversion of outsiders seek to promote their religion to non-adherents’. Martin Goodman identifies different types of missionary activity including: information, education, apologetic and proselytization. For him the latter consists of: 'Those who approved of proselytizing mission believed that, as members of a defined group, they should approve of those within their number who might choose to encourage outsiders not only to change their way of life but also to be incorporated within their group'. What started me thinking on this subject was Scot McKnight's much under read book Light Among the Gentiles: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (1991) which is well worth checking out.

Paul and Gender

I'm currently writing a chapter for my new Paul book and the chapter is called: Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts. It is honestly one of the hardest things I've ever written on (Jesus and the Law is # 2) and I am continuing to plow throw it with great caution and care. But I very much liked this quote from Judith Gundry-Volf:

"In sum, Paul seems to affirm both equality of status and roles of women and men in Christ and women’s subordinate or secondary place. He appears to think that sometimes the difference between male and female is to be expressed in patriarchal conventions and that sometimes these conventions should be transcended or laid aside."

Judith Gundry-Volf, ‘Paul on Women and Gender: A Comparison of Early Jewish Views,’ in The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul’s Conversion on his Life, Thought, and Ministry, ed. Richard N. Longenecker (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 186.

Paul and Scripture Seminar

The website for the Paul and Scripture Seminar (SBL) is hosted by Bruce Frisk. The papers from the 2006 Washington meeting include the following:

Bruce N. Fisk, Westmont College
Synagogue Influence on Paul's Roman Readers

Stephen Moyise, University of Chichester UK
How does Paul Read Scripture?

Stanley E. Porter, McMaster Divinity College CA
Paul and his Bible: His Education and Access to the Scriptures of Israel

Christopher D. Stanley, St. Bonaventure University
The Role of the Audience in the Interpretation of Paul's References to the Jewish Scriptures

Diana M. Swancutt, Yale Divinity School
Scripture 'Reading' and Identity Formation in Paul: Paideia Among Believing Greeks

For those who do not know, Paul and Scripture is a battlefield between guys like Richard Hays one the one hand who think that Paul quotes Scripture with the literary context in mind and on other hand the likes of Chris Stanley who think that the context was not important and not evident to his readers (to put it simply).

Friday, April 20, 2007

Preachings on Romans 14.1-15.7

Over the next couple of weeks in my church, Dingwall Baptist Church, I am preaching through Romans 14.1-15.7 and two major verses stick out in my mind:

Romans 14:19 - So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

[Those who have read my Saving Righteousness book will now how much I love that verse]

Romans 15:7 - Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

I think these two verses some up much of the exhortation in 14.1-15.7 and I wish all churches had them written somewhere in the auditorium or etched on the desk of all committee meetings.

Trying to teach about the "weak" and "strong" is a bit daunting also, both at a scholarly and popular level. Were the weak Jews, Jewish Christians or Gentiles?

Horace (Sat. 1.9.68-72) includes a story where one person refuses to speak to another person and the approached person says:
"Today is the thirtieth sabbath. Would you affront the circumcised Jews?"
The other replies, "I have no scruples".
Then he retorts, "But I have. I am a somewhat weaker brother, one of the many. I will talk another day."
(See commentaries by Ben Witherington and Charles Talbert).

The Pre-Christian Michael Bird

I know that given recent events in America this is probably not the best time to post this, but to give my friends in the blogosphere a laugh I thought I would upload this photo of me from my Army days, just to show that I was not always a NT Geek. For the record, I believe in stringent gun control laws. When I first joined the Army I weighed a remarkable 45 kg and moved up to 65 kg in about two months. It was actually during my time in the Army that I became a Christian and being a Christian in the Army was not always easy! The Army philosophy is what I call Cartesian Alcoholism: "I drink, therefore, I am!" But I developed skills (public speaking, discipline, and confidence) that prepared me for an academic career and I learnt very quickly to be able to provide an answer for the hope that you have (1 Pet. 3.15). My time in the Army (13 years all up) shaped a lot of my character and taught me how to cope with adversity, so in that sense, I am grateful for it. From now I am only a soldier of Christ and I carry a NA27 instead of an M-60 - Amen!

Zahn on the Pastoral Epistles

It is a good exercise to ocassionally read older NT Introductons when you get a chance and it makes you realize that very little is actually new these days. I have been flicking through Theodor Zahn's NT Intro and here is what he had to say about the Pastoral Epistles:

With regard to that last refuge of so-called criticism, namely, the linguistic character of the letters, it is to be remarked at the outset that a pseudo-Paul, by repeating and imitating Pauline expressions, would be sure to make mistakes and so betray himself. The opposite is what we really find. Even the greetings, which would be the most apt to be handled in this way, are thoroughly originaly, hwoing dependence neitehr upon earlier letters nor upon teh common model. Here also is to be observed the peculiarity of Paul's style, by which he repeats within short range a characteristic word once used or a realted word, without prejudice to the fact that for one not a Greek he has command of an unusually larger number of words and expressions, which would tend rater to increase with time than to diminish. Itis also to be observed that 1 Tim. and Titus were written withint a short time of each otehr and for like reasons, and that of 2 Tim. also is considerably close to thtese letters both in time and purpose than it is to any of the Epistles that we have investigated. Consequently the fact that these three letters have certain expressions in common which either are found not in the earlier Pauline Epistles at all, or occur only rarely, is no proof that they are spurious, but only goes to confirm the conclusion arrived at from the investigation of their contens, that they all belong to the same period of Paul's life, and that the last. If it be admitted tha the linguistic phenomena of the letters controvert altogether the efforts of numerous "apologists" to find a palce for 1 Tim. and Titus in the earlier period of Paul's life, then the "critics" in their turn ought not to deny that 2 Tim. is different from the other two not only in content, but also linguistically. Such difference is very difficult to understand if all three are the work of a forger, but very easy to explain if they wre written by Paul under the conditions which the letters themselves disclose.

T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament (ed. M.W. Jacobus; 3 vols; 3rd edn; Minneapolis: Kock and Klock/Kregal, 1953), 2.121-22.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

David deSilva on Revelation

For those interested in studies on the book of Revelation, the following volumes by David deSilva will be available soon:

Seeing the World Through John’s Eyes: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation (Louisville, KY:Westminster John Knox Press, 2006 [or 2007 ?]).

A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008).

The Legacy of Paul

Next to Jesus Paul has been the most influential figure in the history of Christianity. Although all the NT writers are working out the implications of Jesus for particular communities of believers, Paul in his numerous letters does this on the widest scale of all. That range, plus the depth of this thought and the passion of his involvement, have meant that since his letters became part of the NT, no Christian has been unaffected by what he has written. Whether or not they know Paul's words well, through what they have been taught about doctrine and piety, all Christians have become Paul's children in the faith.

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1997), 422.

One might write a history of dogma as a history of the Pauline reactions in the church, and in doing so would touch on all the turning points of the history. Marcion after the Apostolic Fathers; Irenaeus, Clement and Origen after the Apologists; Augustine after the Fathers of the Greek Church; the great Reformers of the Middle Ages from Agobard to Wessel in the bosom of the medieval Church; Luther after the Scholastics; Jansenism after the Council of Trent; everywhere it has been Paul, in these men, who produced the Reformation. Paulinism has proved to be a ferment in the history of dogma, a basis it has never been.

Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma (trans. Neil Buchanan; Boston: Little, Brown, 1901), 1.136.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Unity of Luke-Acts and a New Blog

The latest issue of CBR is out and features the following article:

Patrick E. Spencer
The Unity of Luke—Acts: A Four-Bolted Hermeneutical Hinge
Currents in Biblical Research 2007 5: 341-366.

Nearly every scholarly investigation of Luke—acts today must address the question of unity. it is a hermeneutical hinge and the answer to the question has wide-ranging interpretive implications. the call to dissolve the unity of Luke and acts—and the `hyphen' cadbury inserted—focuses on four `bolts': (1) genre, (2) narrative, (3) theology, and (4) reception history. Despite far-reaching argument over the past twenty years favoring removal of the four `bolts', the hinge remains securely fastened. In addition, there is significant coalescence around certain issues such as the presence of an intermixing of genre types in acts and an intertwining of the narrative and theological themes in Luke and acts. and questions about unity have led to new avenues of exploration and the identification of trajectories that crisscross both volumes and tie them together.

For an analogous set of essays see the forthcoming issue of JSNT in July 2007.

Patrick Spencer also has a blog called: Gospels, Acts, and Hermeneutics.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Chrysostom on Col. 2.15

In a remarkable text from Colossians, Paul can say that God having ‘Disarmed the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ (Col. 2.15). What appeared to the spiritual rulers and principalities as God’s apparent defeat on the cross was in fact the occasion for his greatest triumph. John Chrysostom commented on this passage: ‘Never yet was the devil in so shameful a plight. For while expecting to have him, he lost even those he had; and when Christ’s body was nailed to the cross, the dead arose. At the cross death received his wound, having met his death stroke from a dead body. And as an athlete, when he thinks he has hit his adversary, himself is caught in a fatal grasp, so truly does Christ also show, that to die with arrogance is the devil’s shame’.

Peter Gorday (ed.), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (ACC 9; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 35

The Lion and the Lamb

Last sunday morning I preached on Revelation 5. I set out trying to explain and exposit the meaning of vv. 5-6 "Behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah ... I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain".

During my sermon I said: "Behold the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, with the head of a Lion, the body of a Lamb, and the head of Lamb" [those who know their American sitcoms will recognize the Simpson's intertexture, an area of textual discourse as yet uncharted by V.K. Robbins and friends]. My own thinking is that the function of such imagery is rhetorically apologetic and simultaneously ironic. That is, John the Seer argues that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah/Root of David (i.e. the Messiah) is also the Lamb who was slain (i.e. the crucified Jesus). In other words, the crucified Jesus is Israel's Messiah! The messiahship of Jesus (as a crucified messiah) was a point of contention in Jewish - Christian relations and I would be prepared to argue that Mark's Gospel in particular is an apology for the cross (see also Robert H. Gundry, Craig A. Evans and S.G.F. Brandon). I think Rev. 5.5-6 is advocating a similar picture here.

50 Free Books on-line

In my internet searches I have come across a site that lists 50 free books relating to biblical and theological studies. See religion online. Authors are as diverse as Susan Garett, Jimmy Carter, Marcus Borg, and Walter Wink.

Top 50 Blogs

According to the blog ratings Euangelion ranks at # 4 - hooray! The fact that Chris Tilling is at # 2 leads me to think that the whole thing is rigged! Alas, Mark Goodacre, the guru-swami-ninja-Jedi-blogmaster that he is remains in a league of his own.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Underrated NT Scholars of the 20th Century

I have put together the list of who I think are the most underrated and under read scholars of the twentieth century. No doubt the list could have included others and some will question my nominations. I have divided up the list geographically and I apologize that the list of Euro-Americano centric but this is where my experience of reading comes from.

Continental Europe

Theodore Zahn
Adolf Schlatter
N.A. Dahl


E. Hoskyns
G.B. Caird
Charles Moule


Henry Cadbury
John Knox
Charles Talbert

Congrats to Joel and Karla Willitts

Joel Willitts and his wife Karla had twins yesterday! Zion, the little boy, weighed in at 3.4 pounds and his sister, born one minute later, Mary, weighed in at 2.4 pounds. Photos of the bubbies can be seen over at Jesus Creed. They are both ADDG - absolutely drop dead gorgeous!

It was a tough road for Joel and Karla and the pregnancy has been especially hard on Karla so keep them in your prayers, esp. a good recovery for Karla!

So big congrats to the new parents! May your nights be sleepless and your days filled with gooey nappies!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Around the Blogosphere

I was sad to hear that Reginald Fuller passed away. He wrote some interesting works on Christology, Resurrection, and a NT Intro. Always worth reading, don't always agree, but always worth reading.

The latest The Biblical Theology Briefings is also available with articles by Dan Strange (Oak Hill College, London) on "The Many-Splendoured Cross" and Mark Meynell (Senior Associate Minister, All Souls, Langham Place) on "The Shedding of Blood for a Sin-ravaged world: Personal Reflections on the Recent Atonement Debates".

Another Aussie has entered the blogosphere in Joe Mock in his blog Eden or Edan. Joe is Pastor of an Indonesian Presbyterian Church in Sydney. Greg Carey of Lancaster Theological Seminary has launched his own blog entitled NT Geeks. And Reformed/Charismatic Theologian Sam Storms also has a blog called Enjoying God Ministries.

And David Kirk is continuing his reflections on theological study.

I also have to include this cartoon for bloggers who are preachers too!

HT: Wade Burleson

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sam Storms on Ministry and the SBC

I have just read an excellent interview with Sam Storm (former professor at Wheaton College and Storms is a charismatic Reformed theologian - all too rare). I have to include his assessment about things in the SBC which many should consider (at least if you're interested in the SBC):

Within the Southern Baptist landscape right now, what issues do you see driving our mutual discussion? Is there an overarching issue that relates to all of the things abuzz in the Convention? If so, what is it?

The issues are much the same as they’ve been for generations. The things Christians disagree and argue about are fairly constant: the sovereignty of God and human responsibility, especially as it relates to evangelism and missions; the role of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts in particular; the role of women in ministry and leadership; eschatology, spontaneity vs. liturgy in worship, etc. These and a few other issues are almost always at the center of debate, not just among Baptists but across denominational lines.

The one thing these issues have in common is that none of them is central to the gospel itself. They are all, at best, secondary doctrines, or doctrines on which Christ-exalting, Bible-believing Christians can and often do disagree. Sadly, some question the evangelical credentials of anyone who might dare to differ with their view on Calvinism or whether miraculous gifts occur today or the timing of the rapture or the nature of the millennium.

But there is something else that is even more disturbing, and that is the angry and divisive dogmatism that is emerging over behavioral issues on which the Bible is either silent or leaves one’s decision in the realm of Christian freedom. Perhaps the greatest threat to unity and acceptance in the Church is the tendency to treat particular life-style and cultural preferences as though they were divine law. To be even more specific, it’s the tendency to constrict or reduce or narrow the boundaries of what is acceptable to God, either by demanding what the Bible doesn’t require or forbidding what the Bible clearly permits.

My experience has been that this is typically driven by one of three things: either an unjustified fear of being “spiritually contaminated” by too close contact with the surrounding culture, or an unbridled ambition to gain power over the lives of others, or a failure to believe and trust in the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ (or all three combined).

I’m concerned that in certain segments of the Convention there is a mindset reminiscent of the old “fundamentalism” that is characterized by isolationism, separatism, anti-intellectualism, cultural withdrawal, and a generally angry and judgmental attitude toward all those who dare to differ on these matters that quite simply don’t matter; at least they don’t matter nearly as much as whether or not you believe in the deity of Christ, his substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Whereas conservative evangelicalism has typically drawn the line on theological essentials, this more recent fundamentalism draws the line ever more narrowly on issues such as total abstinence vs. moderation in the use of alcohol, the degree of freedom and the role of affections in public worship, the legitimacy of so-called “private prayer language,” etc. Sadly, when one’s commitment to Christ and the authority of Scripture is judged on the basis of this latter group of issues, rather than the former, the situation is bleak indeed.
MB: Well said Sammy!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Good Friday Reflection

I have a sermon called Gospelizing 101 where I exposit Rom. 3.21-26. There I reflect on God's righteousness and the atonement and I also go into 1 Pet. 2.24 which says: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness". This lends itself to one of my favourite illustrations of the atonement:

During World War II, there was a group of Australian prisoners in a Japanese POW camp in South East Asia. One of the prisoners tried to escape in order to find some food. He was caught and sentenced to receive a flogging. His physical condition was so terrible that the beating would surely kill him. Knowing this, the chaplain of the camp offered to take the flogging in his place. The Japanese commandant was astounded by this as he had never understood Western morality and out of curiosity he gave permission for the chaplain to take the flogging. The chaplain was taken to a tree, stripped naken, tied up, and viscously flogged. The prisoner who tried to escape was forced to watch and he saw the Chaplain’s body being broken and bloodied by the whip as the chaplain was flogged until he lost consciousness and then flogged some more. Later he wrote in his diary, “It was at that moment that I finally understood the Bible when it says, ‘He himself bore our sins in his body when he hung upon the tree’.”.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Early Christianity and Buddhism

Stephen Carlson (former lawyer come NT student) has a post on Clement of Alexandria on Buddhism. I found this interesting because I was once studying various missionary movements in the Graeco-Roman world including Judaism and Christianity, but I also noticed that Christian authors were aware of the existence of Buddhist teachers and missionaries in places such as Egypt, Asia Minor and Britain. In fact, Elaine Pagels in her book Gnostic Gospels argued for the influence of Buddhism on Thomasine Christianity. Here a few citations that I have tracked down on the internet (I have not double checked the primary sources just yet).

Clement of Alexandria recognized the influence of Bactrian Buddhists (Sramanas) and Indian Gymnosophists on Greek thought: "Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Sramanas among the Bactrians ("Σαρμαναίοι Βάκτρων"); and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians, who foretold the Saviour's birth, and came into the land of Judaea guided by a star. The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sramanas ("Σαρμάναι"), and others Brahmins ("Βραφμαναι")." (Strom 1.15).

Origen stated that Buddhists co-existed with Druids in pre-Christian Britain: "The island (Britain) has long been predisposed to it (Christianity) through the doctrines of the Druids and Buddhists, who had already inculcated the doctrine of the unity of the Godhead" (Commentary on Ezekiel).

Hippolytus knew of the Indian Brahmins and includes their tradition among the various sources of heresy: “There is . . . among the Indians a heresy of those who philosophize among the Brahmins, who live a self-sufficient life, abstaining from (eating) living creatures and all cooked food … They say that God is light, not like the light one sees, nor like the sun nor fire, but to them God is discourse, not that which finds expression in articulate sounds, but that of knowledge through which the secret mysteries of nature are perceived by the wise” (Adv. Haer).

Scythianus was an Alexandrian religious teacher who visited India around 50 CE. He is mentioned by several Christian writers of the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, including Cyril of Jerusalem, Hippolytus and Epiphanius. Cyril of Jerusalem says this of his pupil Terebinthus: “But Terebinthus, his disciple in this wicked error, inherited his money and books and heresy, and came to Palestine, and becoming known and condemned in Judaea he resolved to pass into Persia: but lest he should be recognised there also by his name he changed it and called himself Buddas." (Catechetical Lecture 6.23)

Monday, April 02, 2007

John and the Synoptics

I am in the process of preparing some course material on the Fourth Gospel and have been wrestling with the relationship between John and the Synoptics. I found this taxonomy helpful:
  • John wrote a spiritual Gospel to interpret or harmonize the other Gospels (Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius).
  • John intended to displace the Synoptics (e.g. Windish)
  • John is essentially independent of the Synoptics (Dodd, Gardner-Smith)
  • John has access to Synoptic-like material (Bultmann)
  • John has Synoptic and non-Synoptic sources (Neirynck)
  • John knew Mark and had to cater to public knowledge of Mark (Bauckham)
  • John rewrites the Synoptics along the lines of midrash or reinterpretation (Brodie)

See further: MacKay, Ian D. 2004. John’s Relationship with Mark (WUNT 2.128; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck).

Following up on Bauckham's proposal, to what extent do John 1.32, 3.24, 6.70, and 11.1-2 presuppose or clarify Mark? Or do they simply reflect common knowledge about Jesus and his ministry?