Friday, August 31, 2007

Jack Spong's New Book

There can be no doubt that Bishop Jack Spong is an absolutely brilliant man! Think about it - he has found a way to get paid a bucket load of money for writing absolute drivel, while the rest of us soldier away at doing lengthy, rigorous, and in-depth scholarly research only to earn enough royalties to buy a Happy Meal at McDonalds.

Anyway, my good friend Ben Myers has a review of Spong's latest book which is both irenic and penetrating in his assessment of Spong.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Peter Stuhlmacher on Biblical Theology

This quote ain't bad for a German guy:

"The longer I work in this area, the more it amazes and worries me that both the world of biblical scholarship and the Church no longer only accept with gratitutde the biblical Word of God, but also continually rebel against its claims and authority" (p. ix.)

"The unity of the New Testament, which cannot be separated from the Old, lies in God's gospel of Jesus Christ" (p. xii).

Peter Stuhlmacher, How to Do Biblical Theology (PTMS 38; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995).

Howard Marshall's new book

The Christian understanding of the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ and its relationship to the salvation of sinful humanity is currently the subject of intense debate and criticism.The papers covering this important area are expanded versions of the 2006 series of Chuen King Lectures given in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In the first two chapters Howard Marshall discusses the nature of the human plight in relation to the judgment of God and then offers a nuanced defence of the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for sinners. The third chapter examines the place of the resurrection of Christ as an integral part of the process whereby sinners are put in the right with God. In the final chapter argues that in our communication of the gospel today the New Testament concept of reconciliation may be the most comprehensive and apt expression of the lasting significance of the death of Christ.

I. Howard Marshall is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Honorary Research Professor at the University of Aberdeen.

I have seen the third chapter of this book and it is well written and persuasively builds a case that justification is indebted to the resurrection as well as the cross (for those who have read SROG, you'll know that such a conclusion is dear to my heart). The book is available directly from Paternoster.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

John Webster on the Historical Jesus

I am in Edinburgh for the Dogmatics Conference (Dorothy, we ain't in biblical exegesis-land anymore!). John Webster's paper, "The Eternal Begetting of the Son" finished with this statement:

"The only historical Jesus there is is the one who has his being in union with the Son of God who is eternally begotten of the Father. Those who pore over the gospels searching for another Jesus (whether their motives be apologetic or critical) pierce their hearts with many pangs, for they study a matter which does not exist."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blogs by my Students

Over the summer several of my students at HTC have started blogs, including:

The Word Alone by Daniel Patterson

Reformed Christian UK by Stephen Barton

Eldership Matters by Peter Wilson (who is getting ready to start posting)

In addition, David Kirk is blogging his way through Neil and Wright on the history of NT interpretation.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jewish-Christian Christology and Jewish-Christian Gospels

Every weekend I try to take home one to two journal articles to read. This weekend it has been:

Peter Balla, "Does Acts 2:36 Represent an Adoptionist Christology?" EJTh 2 (1996): 137-42.

Andrew Gregory, "Jewish-Christian Gospels," ExpTim 118 (2007): 521-29.

A few things come up for mention:

1. Adoptionism.

Does Acts 2.36 and Rom. 1.3-4 teach that Jesus only became the Son at his resurrection? Balla clearly thinks not since he finds enough evidence that Luke already believed that Jesus was the Messiah and Son prior to the resurrection. For Luke the term "made" (epoieesen) means "made known" rather than "made into existence". But was the same view held by the early church? Well, that depends on what one thinks of the speeches in Luke-Acts (see Martin Dibelius, F.F. Bruce, Marion Soabards, and Colin Hemer on that one). I tend to think that Luke has represented fairly accurately the kerygma of the early church, he certainly doesn't Paulinze the other Apostles, despite the fact that Paul is his hero. Early Christian exegesis of Psalms 2 and 110 was not necessarily taken in an adoptionist direction, but focused on (a) public nature of God's work in vindicating and enthroning Jesus, and (b) the kingly nature of Jesus' reign from the Father's side. On Romans 1.3-4, where Jesus is "designated (horizo) the Son of God in power by resurrection from the dead" is not the refering the conferal of sonship not otherwise possessed, but the translation of his sonship to a new eschatological function that he did not previous discharge (see commentaries by Dunn and Moo).

I find it interesting that certain scholars (I think perhaps of Dunn in Unity and Diversity in the NT as one example but I'll have to check), argues that later Jewish Christology was adoptionistic (e.g. the Ebionites) and their christology was censured as heretical, and yet (so it goes), it was the same christology of the early church. If Balla's analysis is right, that assumption needs to be questioned. Mention should also be given to Richard Longenecker's book The Christology of early Jewish Christianity which is worth consulting.

2. Jewish Christian Gospels.

Andrew Gregory is a rising star at Oxford (he has red hair too which obviously counts in his favour). I'm awaiting his work on Jewish Christian Gospels which will be a good read no doubt. Anyone willing to amass together all the quotations of the Jewish Christian Gospels from the Church Fathers and try to make sense of them deserve a medal. I tried making a list once and got confused, dizzy, and bored, so I gave up. His Expository Times article is a good preview of what is to come.

One good thing that Gregory does is that he contests the view that there were three Jewish Christian Gospels: (a) The Gospel according to the Hebrews; (b) the Gospel of the Nazoraeans; and (c) The Gospel of the Ebionites. There are several issues here. First, the Gospel of the Ebionites is known only from Epiphanius and what he has to say on the topic does not always leave us with great confidence that he knows what he's talking about. Second, one or more of these Jewish Christian Gospels may be no more than a Hebrew version of Matthew with textual omissions (i.e. the virgin birth) and textual additions that were noted by the Church Fathers. This latter view may explain the Gospel of Nazoraeans. The number of Jewish Christian Gospels would be a wonderful Ph.D topic for some brave soul.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Jesus' Life, Death, and the Atonement

Steve Bryan in his (luke-warm) review of Scot McKnight's book, Jesus and His Death, in the March edition of JETS, has a very good introduction to his review:

In teaching courses on Jesus, I have often asked this question: "Would it matter if Jesus had died in a rickshaw accident in Calcutta or by a stray bullet in inner-city Los Angeles or as a tuberculosis victim in Addis Ababa as long as he died as the sinless Son of God?" My purpose in asking this question is to provoke students to consider the way in which evangelical soteriology is often abstracted from the historical circumstances in which Jesus lived and died, cut off from the story of Israel and often even from the story of Jesus' own life. Many evangelicals have never considered the way in which the individual confession that "Jesus died for me", or the universal confession that "Jesus died for the word" is tied in Scripture to the particular story of God's dealings with Israel. The reticence of evangelicals to take up the study of the historical Jesus is perhaps symptomatic of the real challenge that such study presents to evangelical theology. That is not to say that evangelical soteriology need be threatened by the study of Jesus as a person with aims and intentions that were sensible within a first-century Jewish context. Rather, it is simply to point out that much evangelical soteriology is formulated in such a way as to take little accont of Jesus' own understanding of his death. Against this tendency, Scot McKnight's work faces squarely the historical question of Jesus' understanding of his death. There is much to praise in McKnight's work, but its greatest contribution is the clarion call to anchor soteriology in the mission of Jesus, especially in Jesus' interpretation of his death.

Friday is for Quotes: J. Oswald Sanders

One book I try to read once every two years is J. Oswald Sanders' book Spiritual Leadership, which includes this quote:

"True Greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them. And that is never done without cost."

I say this while preparing my sermon series on "Shepherding under God" which features three sermons on Ezekiel 34, John 10.1-21, and 1 Peter 5.1-5.

Why Scotland is the Place for Systematic and Historical Theology

I am proud to announce that HTC has just acquired the talents of Gerald Bray and Paul Helm as part-time lecturers in theology. They will teach in the Master of Reformed Theology course and also supervise Ph.D candidates (contact HTC if you'd like to do a Ph.D under their supervision). The UHI-Millennium Institute news is here and the brief reads:

HTC welcomes new chairs

Professor Paul Helm and Dr Gerald Bray have joined the staff of Highland Theological College UHI in a part-time capacity. Both are well-known scholars in the Reformed tradition with many publications to their names.

Professor Helm is a philosopher who formerly taught at King’s College, London, and at Regents College, Vancouver. Dr Bray taught at Oakhill Theological College in London and more recently at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is currently director of research for the Latimer Trust.

The new chairs will each supervise three or four PhD students and will also teach two MTh modules (or BA hons modules) at HTC.

The Pistis Christou Debate at SBL

On seminar to attend will be:

The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical and Theological Studies
11/16/2007, 12:30 PM to 5:30
PMRoom: 28 A - CC

Michael Bird, Highland Theological College
The Faith of Jesus Christ: Problems and Prospects (15 min)

Joel Willitts, North Park University
The Saving Value of "Faithfulness" in Jewish Traditions (30 min)

Stanley Porter, McMaster Divinity College
Lexical and Semantic Reflections on Pistis (30 min)

Douglas Campbell, Duke University
The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ in Romans and Galatians (30 min)

Preston Sprinkle, Aberdeen University
Pistis Christou as an Eschatological Event (30 min)Break (15 min)

Ardel Caneday, Northwestern College, St. Paul
The Faithfulness of Jesus as a Theme of Pauline Theology (30 min)

Francis Watson, University of Aberdeen - Scotland
The Faith of Jesus Christ (30 min)

R. Barry Matlock, University of Sheffield
The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ in Romans and Galatians (30 min)

Mark Elliott, University of St. Andrews-Scotland
The Faith of Jesus Christ in the Church Fathers (30 min)

Benjamin Myers, University of Queensland
The Faithfulness of Christ in the Theology of Karl Barth (30 min)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Historical Jesus Scholars and their Favourite Gospels

Recent work has left me thinking about how much of the differences among Historical Jesus scholars stems from their preference or favouring of one particular Gospel. For instance:

Albert Schweitzer - Gospel of Matthew
- Schweitzer held (I am pretty sure) to Matthean priority.
- Schweitzer's key verse is Mt. 10.23 which determines the program of Jesus' ministry in Schweitzer's view.

E.P. Sanders - Gospel of Mark
- Sanders favours the Farrer-Goulder option for the Synoptic problem.
- Sanders' Jesus is very much the Jesus of the Marcan outline, and I read somewhere that he has been criticised as such.

N.T. Wright - Gospel of Luke
- Wright is deliberately ambivalent about the Synoptic problem (though he favours Marcan priority) and he supposes that a good Historical Jesus hypothesis is one that does not depend on any particular view of the Synoptic problem
- The vibe I get in reading Jesus and the Victory of God, is that Luke is Wright's default gospel which is apparent especially in his discussions on Lk. 4.16-21, 12.1-59, 13.1-5, 33; 15.1-32; 17.20-22.

John Dominic Crossan - Gospel of Thomas + Q
- Crossan's view of the sources and strata of the Gospel tradition is well-known and frequently criticised (see Dale C. Allison's criticism in particular which are most penetrating).
- Crossan's Jesus is very much derived from the purported non-eschatological layer of Q and from Thomas (see criticisms by Mike Bird "Peril of Modernizing Jesus" EQ [2006] and Gerd Theissen's apt description of the "California Jesus").

Does anyone know of a scholar who privileges the Gospel of John (Ernst Renan?)?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Latest JSHJ

The latest issue of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (not available on-line yet) includes:

John H. Elliott
"Jesus the Israelite was neither a 'Jew' nor a 'Christian': On Correcting a Misleading Nomenclature"

Thomas Kazen
"The Coming Son of Man Revisited"

John P. Meier
"Did the Historical Jesus Prohibit All Oaths? Part 1"

New books on Jewish Christianity

A couple of books about Jewish Christianity have come out, including:

Jewish Believers in Jesus
Skarsaune, Oskar and Reidar Hvalvik, editors
Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007
pp. xxx + 930

Description: Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries examines the formative first five centuries of Christian history as experienced by individuals who were ethnically Jewish, but who professed faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Offering the work of an impressive international team of scholars, this unique study examines the first five centuries of texts thought to have been authored or edited by Jewish Christians, including the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament Apocrypha, and some patristic works. Also considered are statements within patristic literature about Jewish believers and uses of oral traditions from Jewish Christians. Furthermore, the evidence in Jewish, mainly rabbinic, literature is examined, and room is made for a judicious sifting of the archaeological evidence. The final two chapters are devoted to an enlightening synthesis of the material with subsequent conclusions regarding Jewish believers in antiquity.

Jews or Christians?: The Followers of Jesus in Search of their Own Identity
Jossa, Giorgio
Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006
pp. viii + 175

Description: When was Christianity born? When was it that Christianity, born as a particular current within Judaism, constituted itself as a religion different and separate from the Jewish religion? The question has been asked, and the problem has therefore been considered, since the historical-critical investigation of Christian origins began. However the problem has become acute only in the last few decades, because of the occurrence of a whole series of circumstances and of reflections that have deeply changed the historiographic understanding regarding Judaism in the first century, and thus the origins of Christianity as well. Traditional opinion considered the founders of Christianity to be Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus. Recent studies however affirm that a Christian religion as distinct from the Jewish religion can be spoken of only much later, and that for the entire first century, and for at least a part of the second century, Christianity was nothing more than a sect within Judaism. Dealing with the problem from an historical point of view, and thus considering not only Christianity of Jewish origin but also that of gentile origin, Giorgio Jossa demonstrates that the birth of a Christian identity as distinct from Jewish identity must actually be dated back to the first period of life of the community of Jesus.

These should be good to read, esp. the one edited by Hvalvik since I have appreciated and enjoyed much of his work on Christian origins and Jewish-Christian relations.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Honour and Shame in Mark's Gospel

When I was in theological college, I took a course on Jesus and the Gospels and my lecturer, Jeff Pugh, introduced us to social-scientific criticism of the New Testament. What I found particularly helpful was his interpretation of the Gospel of Mark through the categories of honour and shame. Jeff showed, with great pathos and pastoral effect, that in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus enters into the competitive honour game of challenge-response in the honour stakes in his encounters with his opponents. In fact, as the credentials of his opponents gradually increases in the narratives (Scribes --> Pharisees --> Saducees --> Herodians --> High Priests --> Pilate), Jesus is up to the task. And despite the fact that Jesus' honour is overtly attacked, Jesus emerges as more honourable than his opponents because, despite their protestations, Jesus defends God's honour (see esp. Mk. 3.20-35). Indeed, seeking honour in servitude represents a whole new praxis for his followers to emulate (Mk. 10.41-44), and Jesus makes the "cross", the quintessential symbol of the dishonourable death, the criterion for honouring him and God.

In a fairly recent article, David Watson ('The "Messianic Secret": Demythologizing a Non-Existent Markan Theme,' Journal of Theology) writes:

"Mark not only proposes a new context for securing honour, but through the actions of Jesus promotes new criteria by which honor is established. God's own Son has shown a new way of living, and those who wish to be a part of this new community centered on Jesus must be ready to adopt a vision of honorable behavior quite different from that held by the vast majority of people in the wider culture. By enduring dishonor from outsiders, showing compassion and humility, becoming a servant, and putting others first - all of which Jesus does in Mark's gospel - Christians displayed honorable behavior according to the standards of their own group. Thus, they achieved honor among other Christians."

The Meaning of "Faith" in Paul

John Dominic Cross and Jonathan T. Reed say this about "Faith":

"Faith does not mean intellectual consent to a proposition, but vital commitment to a program. Obviously, one could summarize a program in a proposition, but faith can never be reduced to factual assent rather than total dedication. Faith (pistis) is not just a partial mindset, but a toal lifestyle commitment. The crucial aspect of faith as commitment is that it is always an interactive process, a bilateral contract, a two-way street. Faith is covenantal and presumes faithfulness from both parties with, of course, all appropriate differences and distinctions."

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Prayer for Monday

Mondays need prayer!

O Almight God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandst him earnestly to feed thy flock; Make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors dilligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same, that they may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- The Book of Common Prayer, p. 276.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Antioch Incident

One of the most important texts in Galatians (and for understanding earliest Christianity) is the confrontation in Antioch between Peter and Paul as narrated in Gal. 2.11-14. This is what David Garland has to say about this text:

"If there had been a church bus at Antioch, the Gentiles would always have had to move to the back. In the church building, one might find a Gentile water fountain and a Jewish water fountain and the Gentiles would have had to sit in a special Gentile balcony section. Signs in various areas of the church might warn, "Jews Only, No Gentiles Allowed," and the bulletin logo might announce "Separate but Equal in Christ". In practice, however, the Gentile Christians were considered to be unfit for full equality. The compulsion was subtle but real. If Gentiles wanted to eat the Lord's Supper with Cephas and the other Jewish Christians, they would have to do something to make themselves fit. They would have to become Jews, submit to circumcision and abide by the Jewish dietary regulations. The truth of the gospel, as far as Paul was concerned, does not mix with this kind of compulsion."

David Garland, "Paul's Defense of the Truth of the Gospel Regarding Gentiles (Galatians 2:15-3:22)," RevExp 91 (1994): 170-71.

CT Article: Rethinking Seminary Education

Christianity Today has a good article on Retooling Seminary: Northern Baptist's new strategy: to reach more students with less, which documents how both struggling and large seminaries are investing more time and effort into distance education and satellite campuses.

"Many successful seminaries have expanded beyond their home sites. Fuller Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary all offer extensive satellite and distance education programs. Yet some schools have resisted the trend, believing students are better served within the strong community of a central campus."

My own college, Highland Theological College, has been aware of this trend for years and is a specialist provider in distance theological education with students from Scotland to the Czech Republic to Kenya.

Review of Don Garlington: An Exposition of Galatians

An Exposition of Galatians,
A Reading from the New Perspective
Third Edition
By Don Garlington
Available from Wipf and Stock

This commentary is a very useful study on Paul's letter to the Galatians, useful in the sense that it has an excellent introduction, the comments are succint and clear, and it represents a very good distillation and interface with several recent dissertations on Paul and Galatians too (e.g. Steve Cummins, Roy Ciampa, Brian Dodd, Stephen Finlan, etc.). Garlington is up-to-date on research and is not merely commenting on other commentaries.

The introduction covers lots of ground including: ocassion and purpose of the letter, the message of Paul's opponents and Paul's reply, the new perspective on Paul, what time is it?, Galatians and Anatolian folk belief, Galatians and Pauline rhetoric, and offers an outline of the letter. In sum, Garlington dates Galatians pre-Jerusalem council, Paul's opponents were Jewish Christians arguing for a covenantal nomism, he is unconvinced about structuring Galatians along the lines of a rhetorical handbook, and he regards the letter as an "epistolary sermon".

On the New Perspective, Garlington is certainly an insider as he accepts E.P. Sanders' view of Judaism as covenantal nomism, though he is probably closer to Dunn than to Wright on several aspects of Pauline interpretation. Garlington states: "the ensuing commentary assumes a modified form of the 'New Perspective' and seeks to expound Galatians within its framework" (p. 25). Still, Garlington rejects several overstatements made by proponents of the New Perspective, esp. those made by N.T. Wright. Against N.T. Wright, he says: "Wright has constructed a seemingly false dichotomy between the identity of the people of God and salvation. It is closer to the mark to say that Galatians does have to do with entrance into the body of the saved, meaning that to belong to the new covenant is to belong tot he community [of] the saved. Therefore, justification does indeed tell us how to be saved, in that it depicts God's method of saving sinners - by faith in Christ, not from works ofthe law - and place them in covenant standing with himself. If justification is by faith, then in point of fact a method of salvation is prescribed: one enters into the realm of salvation by faith" (pp. 9-10). What is more, and much like Wright and Dunn as well, he categorically rejects that salvation is of works and he maintains that Paul clearly repudiates a works based religion. Garlington writes: "In this regard, the Reformers were correct that if justification is not by Jewish tradition, then it is not by church tradition either. Salvation is not by 'religion', however conceived. This is the hermeneutical 'significance' or application of the historical issue at stake: only Christ can save, not religion or tradition. Christ must be, in the familiar phrase, a 'personal saviour'. When Paul became a Christian, he left 'religion' and came to Christ" (p. 25). I include this aside because Don Garlington has been sadly misunderstood and misrepresented by many of his harsher critics (see Sam Waldron's essay here as a good example). I disagree with Garlington on several points, not the least of which is his perseverance/apostasy reading of Romans 2, but I would hardly characterize him as an "enemy of sola fide" as someone once maliciously said about him on some site that I read on the internet. Others, such as Thomas Schreiner, James Dunn, and myself have found it worthwhile to cite and to interact with his work on "faith" and "obedience" at several points. While Garlington is clearly "of the New Perspective" it is inappropriate and inaccurate to pin criticisms of Dunn and Wright onto him, he has his own unique take on justification and obedience and boundary markers, and he needs to be tackled in his own right and not on the coat-tails of others.

The commentary itself summarizes the arguments of each verse and each chapter ends with more detailed section notes that expound finer details of exegesis (somewhat like the Anchor Bible commentaries). I'll mention now a few conclusions that Garlington makes:

A. Gal. 1.12: He understands "zeal for the law" to be "an implacable nationalism that was prepared to deal harshly with even an apparent usurpration of power over the law and the temple."
B. Gal. 2.11-14: Peter withdrew from fellowship with Gentiles because of pressure from certain men sent by James, and they objected to meals that treated Gentiles as complete equals in Christian fellowship, without Gentiles becoming equal via proselytism.
C. Gal. 2.16: Garlington takes the pistis christou as an objective genitive.
D. Gal. 3.12: He argues for a redemptive-historical reading of Paul's rejection of Lev. 18.5. Garlington asserts: "Therefore, the resolution of the problem must be sought along the lines of the historical character of Paul's argument. His is not a topical discussion of faith and works but an epochal delinaeation of the respective places of law and faith in salvation history."
E. Gal. 6.16: The "Israel of God" includes Jews and Christians, in his words: "The assembly of Christ consists of Jew and Greek alike with no distinction betweem them: their identity is no longer derived from the Torah but from Christ and the Spirit."

The only disappointing thing about this commentary was the typographical error in the opening dedication which is not a good way to start, a lack of theological and pastoral reflection, and the absence of indices. Otherwise, a fine commentary that is worth having.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Outline of Revelation 2-3

Craig Koester provides a useful outline of Revelation 2-3 and the letters of the seven churches:

1. The Problem of Assimilation: Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira.

2. The Problem of Persecution: Smyrna and Philadelphia.

3. The Problem of Complacency: Sardis and Laodicea

This would make a good sermon outline for Revelation.

David Black on Scholarship and Blogging

Over at David Black Online (post 10:44 AM), David makes some excellent comments about Scholarship and Blogging. Take special note of his advice in the second paragraph. I post here the entire entry:

This question came up during our faculty meeting: Do you have to be published to be considered a scholar? For what it's worth, here are my two lepta. To be a scholar is to be a thinker. To be a thinker is to be a researcher. To be a researcher is to be a writer. And whatever you think is worth writing is worth having somebody other than yourself read. Does that make any sense? So to answer the question: To me an unpublished scholar is an oxymoron. The main reason we get our doctorates is to learn how to become lifelong students of Scripture (the dissertation being the least important thing we will ever write/publish). So, when I graduated from the University of Basel in 1983, I set the following goals for myself: one book every five years and one journal article every year. The Lord Jesus has kindly allowed me not only to meet but to surpass these goals. And on top of everything else I maintain a website (which is the modern-day equivalent of the printing press in terms of its potential for mass communication). Is this onerous? Not at all. Jesus said, "My yoke is easy, My burden is light." So what can we ever complain about? Having said all this, do I consider myself primarily a scholar? No. A writer? No. A teacher? No. Perhaps the best expression to describe who I am is shepherd (Eph. 4:11). My goal is to be the best "pastor" (shepherd) to my students that I can possibly be by God's grace. And to do this I need to be the best scholar, writer, and teacher that I can be. But a personal, caring, loving, sacrificial shepherding of my students is always my highest priority.

Like I said, just my two lepta.

One more thought before I go. I mentioned the Internet above. Occasionally I'll hear some slighting remarks about "all those blogs out there that are ruining the church." I'm amazed that anyone could have such a negative attitude toward blogging or websites in this age of cybernetics. Let me put it this way: If I publish a book it may take 5 years for 10,000 people to read it. But if I publish an essay on my website it may take a week for the same number of people to read it. And these people live in India, Ukraine, Brazil, all over the world in fact. Get the picture? And all of this for only 10 measly bucks a month. The Internet is such an incredibly effective tool for publishing that I am shocked at how few are using it effectively. My advice to you if you are a fledging scholar is to start a blog, publish it regularly (constant updating and good content are the two keys to any successful blog), and watch what it will do for your writing skills as you begin that first book project. And if I can give you any advice along way don't hesitate to contact me. I am happy to "shepherd" my web audience as well.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Christians Converting to Judaism

In my current study I am finding it quite illuminating how the threat or reality of Christians converting to Judaism was:

1. The counter-Pauline proselytizing mission was arguably attempting to force Gentiles to become Jews in order to become Christians, and so bring Gentile Christians in a closer relation to the Jerusalem church and with Judaism.

2. Hebrews is a document where the audience is under some form of duress. which is accompanied by a temptation to return to Judaism and to the synagogue.

3. The Apostolic Fathers has much to say about Christians going on to judaize. In the opinion of some scholars the Epistle of Barnabas has in its background competition between Jews and Christians for Gentile converts and the author of Barnabas goes so far as to warn Christians against adopting Jewish laws (Ep. Barn. 3.6). Ignatius of Antioch exhorted his readers against 'living in accord with Judaism' and 'Judaizing' (Ign. Magn. 8.1; 10.3), arguably becomes some either were or were tempted to do so.

4. The second century Apocalypse of Peter, written in vicinity to the Bar Kochba revolt of 132-35 AD, intimates in one passage that Jewish Christians were forsaking Jesus to follow a new Messiah, reneged on that decision, and were subsequently persecuted (Apoc. Pet. 2.8-13).

5. Justin Martyr knew of Christians who had 'gone over to the polity of the law' and 'have some some reason switched and joined the legal community, and now denying that he is the Christ' (Dial. Tryph. 47.4).

6. Eusebius refers to Serpation of Antioch who wrote a letter to a certain Domnus who later lapsed from the faith to Judaism during a time of persecution (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.12).

7. The fourth century Council of Laodicea forbade Christians from keeping Jewish feasts and the Sabbath.

These texts obviously have a lot of implications of Jewish-Christian relations and for the "parting of the ways".

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Craig Koester on Dispensational Views of Revelation

Craig Koester in his excellent book, Revelation and the End of All Things (see the side bar for the link), offers this critique of the Dispensational reading of Revelation.
1. The system has a mechanical view of prophecy and fulfillment that is foreign to Revelation.
2. Niether Daniel nor Revealtion refers to the rapture.
3. The sharp distinction between Israel and the church is unwarranted as the NT writers assume that the story of Israel continues within the Christian community.
4. The system confuses literal and symbolic imagery.
I largely concur with this, but one thing we should note is that critics of Dispensationalism usually fail to differentiate between the diverse strands of Dispensationalism that exist. Ben Witherington's book The Problem with Evangelical Theology is guilty of this as well. In Dispensationalism there is the "Classic Dispensationalists" like Darby and Scofield, the "Revisionist Dispensationalists" like Charles Ryrie and the late John Walvoord, and the "Progressive Dispensationalists" like Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising. Criticisms made against Darby do not necessarily apply to the Progressive Dispensationalists like Bock. And Revisionists like Ryrie have suspicions about whether the Progressives are even remaining true to the core of Dispensationalism. Graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary would probably be able to tell you more about the finer nuances within this theological movement.

Bishop Dionysius on Revelation

Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria (mid-third century), one of Eusebius' heroes in his History of the Church, was a great bishop who led the church in times of plague and persecution. He was also a capable biblical scholar (a rare trait among bishops these days) and wrote about Revelation.

A certain Nepos, a bishop of Egypt, argued that the Scriptures should be interpreted in a more Jewish fashion and he took the hope for a millennium in Revelation 20 quite literally. Dionysius wrote a response to Nepos in a book called On Promises. I find two interesting things about what Dionysius says concerning the canonicity of Revelation and its authorship.

1. In contrast to some who attributed Revelation to Cerinthus, Dionysius says:

I, however, would not dare reject the book, since many brethren hold it in esteem, but since my intellect cannot judge it properly, I hold that its interpretation is a wondrous mystery. I do not understand it, but I suspect that the words have a deeper meaning. Putting more reliance on faith than on reason, I have concuded that they are too high for my comprehension. I do not reject what I have failed to understand, but am rather puzzled that I failed to understand.

That probably sums it up for many of us!

2. On authorship, Dionysius says this:

That, therefore, he was named John and that this book is by a John - some holy, inspired writer - I will not deny. But I do not agree that he was the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, who wrote the Gospel according to John and the general epistle. From the character of each and on the style and format of [Revelation], I conclude that the author is not the same. For the Evangelist nowhere names himself in either the Gospel or Epistle in either the first or third persons, whereas the author of Revelation announces himself at the very beginning: "The revelation of Jesus Christ which he ... sent by his angel to his servant John."

(Eusebius, H.E.7.25)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Proof Reader Wanted

I am about a month away from finishing a manuscript for a book entitled, Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second-Temple Period, and I am looking for some kind persons who would be interested in proof reading the manuscript. It is only about 40 000 words long, lots of detail on primary sources, but I have to say that it is probably not the most exciting book that you will ever read.
The story of this book is that I spent eight months researching evidence of and arguments about Jewish missionary activity in the pre-Christian period. It was a chapter of my Ph.D thesis which I sadly had to cut out when I turned the thesis into a book. But I swore that since I learned so much from my research on this subject that one day I would turn the omitted chapter into a small book in its own right. This is the end product.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Jim Hamilton Reviews Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission

Jim Hamilton offers a review of my book Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission. I agree with him too that discussions of authenticity are dull and boring! There is only so much of Rudolf Bultmann's History of the Synoptic Tradition you can read in one sitting without dying of boredom and frustration.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

F.C. Baur on Revelation

I know that F.C. Baur gave some lectures on Revelation. Does anyone know if those lectures are extant in either German or English publications?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Back in Babylon

After five weeks in Australia, I have finally arrived back in the yorkshire pudding side of the world only to be greeted with a new outbreak of foot-n-mouth disease, a new Prime Minister, and a peculiar London day (peculiar in that there was a blue sky all around).

NPP on the Web

Scot McKnight blogs on the New Perspective over at Jesus Creed and is quite sympathetict to the NPP, though not uncritically so. This can be juxtaposed with Sinclair Ferguson and his thoughts on the New Perspective on Paul and Sinclair approaches the issues from the vantage point of Historical Theology.

I'll also point out the latest issue of Novum Testamentum which includes an article by Debbie Hunn on 'Eαv μη in Galatians 2:16: A Look at Greek Literature. Debbie is a librarian at Dallas Theological Seminary and in my opinion she is probably second only to Darrell Bock as DTS's best author on NT stuff. We have recruited her to write an essay on the pistis christou debate for a forthcoming book. You go girl!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Willitts' MIA

A heavy teaching load in the month of July and early August and my twins have conspired together to distract me from the ability to have any useful reflections on scholarly issues. After Zion and Mary came home from the hospital the first of June life has been completely turned upside down. While it is true that a single infant can do this to any well-adjusted married couple, twins are in a whole another category. Even friends of ours who have multiple children, but not twins, are amazed at the amount of work that come with these two little packages. Karla and I have nothing to compare the experience of twins to of course, but I can honestly say these days have been some of the most challenging of your lives.

In early July I started teaching summer school. I have been teaching two summer intensive courses: one in the morning (Biblical Greek) one in the afternoon (Intro to the Bible). I would have certainly not scheduled things this way had I known what we had gotten ourselves into, but I committed to those courses before we knew we had twins. This meant then that I was teaching from 8:30 to 5:00 pm most weekdays. Well one of the courses has now ended and I will continue to be teaching Greek until the middle of the month. Then it is time to get geared up for the fall semester to begin at North Park starting on Aug 27th.

I have had to step back from scholarly things this summer which while on the one hand is frustrating -- like I have not been able to finish formating my Matthew book, I realize that there is just nothing I can do about it. I thought I would have time to work between things, but the reality of life has been very different and such idealism was naive. Scot McKnight has been a great encouragement to me in this however. He shared that in the early years of his children's lives he wrote very little. He had committed to being a family man first and not to sacrifice even a moment of his children's childhood for a scholarly project. I have taken this to heart. I am quite an ambitious person and feel compelled to make a contribution. I have begun the difficult process of re-orienting my thinking such that my children are now becoming what I consider my greatest contribution rather than what I can offer NT scholarship. And of the latter, who really cares anyway? As one of my former supervisors likes to say, "you're just moving footnotes around".

The truth is I am not reading all that has been published recently. I am not keeping up with blogging. I have not been able to write. Instead I am teaching and preparing lectures, syllabi, etc. I am feeding babies; I am supporting my wife; I am cleaning dishes, doing laundry, washing bottles, changing babies, bathing babies, going to Target and the grocery store. Of course I am watching baseball and the Yankees, but what else am I going to do for the hour or more I have my hands full with baby and bottle.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rodney Stark on Gnosticism

April DeConick has blogged on Are Gnostics Fringe Believers? where she writes:

The literature produced by the "other" forms of Christianity looks scant only because the members of the Apostolic Church burnt it. But these other Christians were equally prolific in their writing and instruction. We happened to get lucky with the NH and Tchacos finds, which recovers part of this other literature. From it we can tell that they were very very sophisticated theologically, and were often critical of theologies of the Apostolic Church. And we can see theologies develop within the Apostolic Church that respond to the criticisms of the other Christians. The theology of the Apostolic Church would not have become what it did without the Gnostics and other Christians (and Jews) as dialogue partners.

An interesting counter-point is provided by sociologist Rodney Stark, and I provide below a few quotes from his book Cities of God (see the side bar for more details).

Purely as a matter of faith, one is free to prefer Gnostic interpretations and to avow that they give us access to secret knowledge concerning a more authentic Christianity, as several popular authors have recently done. But one is not free to claim that the early church fathers rejected these writings for nefarious reasons. The conflicts between many of these manuscripts and the New Testament are so monumental that no thinking person could embrace both (p. 142).

Elain Pagels stresses that the Gnostic writers 'did not regard themselves as "heretics"'. Of course note. But the issue of heresy is hardly a matter of self-designation. Let us assume that these writers (including forgers) sincerely believed that they possessed the truth and that the conventional Christians had it all wrong, while the conventional Christians were equally sure that theirs was the true Christianity. Within the confines of faith, the charge of heresy can be resolved objectively only on the basis of which side more accurately transmitted the original teachings of Jesus. That decision must come down to sources (152).

Had the Gnostics prevailed, they presumably would be viewed today rather more in the manner that Pagels and other 'Ivy League' Gnostics would wish, assuming that such a thing as Christianity still existed. But the Gnostics did not prevail, because they did not present nearly so plausible a faith, nor did they seem to understand how to crate sturdy organizations. Instead, most of them did and taught their own 'thing'. To sum up, the Gnostics gospels were rejected for good reason: they constitute idiosyncratic, often lurid personal visions reported by scholarly mystics, ambitious pretenders, and various outsiders who found their life's calling in dissent. Whatever else might be said about them, surely they were heretics. As N.T. Wright put it, they 'represent ... a form of spirituality which, while still claiming the name of Jesus, has left behind th every things that made Jesus who he was, and that made the early Christians what they were' (p. 154).

My comments:

1. I like the word "nefarious" and I intend to use it more in daily conversation.
2. I love the term "Ivy League Gnostics" and if you've ever sat in an SBL seminar with a Harvard or Vanderbilt graduate you'll know precisely what Stark is talking about.
3. If the question of "orthodoxy" is determined by theological continuity with Jesus and the Apostles, then the idea of "heresy" is a real possibility and is not a later imposition by an ecclesial oligarchy. The innovation of the Marcionites, Valentinians, Montanists, and Gnosticis is what sets them apart from the proto-orthodox. Note Irenaus' comment: '[E]very one of them generates soemthing new, day by day, according to his ability, for no one is deemed "perfect" who does not develop among them some mighty fictions' (Adv. Haer. 1.18.1).
4. The proto-orthodox won for a reason, and I think Stark outlines what those reasons were.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Continuing Exile?

N.T. Wright's thesis that Israel was, ideologically speaking, still-in-exile has prompted much criticism and discussion. Several scholars have attempted to rearticulate or qualify Wright's exilic theology in several ways. Was Israel still-in-exile despite the fact that most of the Babylonian exiles had returned to the land? The following scholars answer "yes":

Brand Pitre: Yes, because the 10 northern tribes were still dispersed away from the land.

Michael Bird: Yes, because the promises of Isaiah 40-66 had only been partially realized.

Michael Fuller: Yes, because most Jews lived outside of Palestine.

For criticism see the pertinent works by Steven M. Bryan and F.G. Downing.

Tyndale House in 2008

I have recently been appointed secretary for the New Testament studies group of the Tyndale Fellowship. In 2008 the NT study group will be continuing its focus on Petrine studies, i.e. the historical Peter, Petrine literature, and Petrine traditions. If you have an idea for a paper that you'd like to present at the Tyndale Fellowship (it is held in early July) then please email me and it can be considered for inclusion. I am particularly interested in Ph.D cands. who are doing their studies in the area of the Petrine epistles.

Invitation for Ph.D cands.

I've noticed that a large number of biblioblog readers are Ph.D candidates (I know I was when I started reading biblioblogs). So if you're a Ph.D candidate and doing your thesis on NT studies or Christian Origins, feel free to email me and tell me in 500 words: where you're studying, why you're studying, and what you're studying. And then include a synopsis and outline of your thesis. I will then post it at Euangelion for all to see and behold.

Five things not to do in sermons!

5. Do not yell out at the top of your voice, "Will someone shut that kid up!" even if you want to say it.

4. Do not repeatedly scratch your genitals if you have a transparent perspecs lecturn as your pulpit.

3. Do not try to break the record for how many power-point slides you can fit into a sermon.

2. Do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, quote the Left Behind series.

1. Do not begin your sermon by saying: "I'm gay and Jesus loves me" and then pausing for a long time. Note: I have actually done this. It was a sermon about homosexuality and I was quoting a UMC minister who had recently outed himself, but a Deacon in the frontrow nearly had a coronary before I could put the quote into its proper context.

Blog Interview: April DeConick

Biblioblogger of the month is April DeConick and you can read Brandon Wason's interview with her here.

Why I'm a Calvinist

I frequently introduce myself as "Reformed" and have even called myself "a card carrying Calvinist" in print. There are a variety of reasons why.

Scripture: In reading Ephesians 1 and Romans 8, it seems clear to me that God is completely sovereign over salvation, from call to the consummation.

The Reformers: I think they were right when they taught that God justifies the ungodly and he saves men and women who cannot save themselves.

Experience: I grew up as a non-Christian and spent several years in the Army living the Army life (I drink therefore I am). I was not a spiritual seeker, I did not want or search for God. I thought all Christians were paedophiles and hypocrits. I sowed the seeds of sin in my own heart and encouraged others to do the same. So when I became a Christian and heard of "total depravity" I did not take much convincing, I was sold. I did not wake up one day and say, "I have decided to let Jesus into my heart". God did not meet me half-way, he did not give me enough grace to overcome sin and leave the rest to me, and he did not woo me into faith. Rather, God took a spiritually dead corpse and breathed life into it.

On the TULIPS scale I'd go for all five, but I would very, very carefully define Perservance and Limited Atonement in such a way that probably pushes the boundaries of classic Calvinism. (a) In sum, perseverance is contingent upon faithfulness and people who profess Christian faith can indeed loose their salvation if they fall-away. But I believe that those who are elect will not apostacize. (b) Some of the proof texts for limited atonement do not work (e.g. Mk. 10.45), and several passages clearly give the atonement a universal dimension, e.g. 1 Jn. 2.2, 2 Cor. 5.19-21. So the atonement has clear cosmic significance and encompasses every living person in its sphere. Still, I think the atonement is only efficacious for the elect, otherwise with universal atonement you do get the problem of double-payment (i.e. if Jesus died for everyone's sins, then how can God demand a second payment/punishment at the final judgment?). The atonement is indeed limited, but the question is whether it is limited by design or effect (Charles Spurgeon is good on this point).

But to be Reformed is to be biblical first and foremost, sola scriptura, so if the Calvinistic system or the Reformed confessions can be shown to deviate from Scripture, well too bad for them.

Gerd Theissen on continuity between Jesus and early Christianity

Phil Harland reports on Gerd Theissen's paper at the international SBL held in Vienna which was on continuity between Jesus and the early church. Harland summarizes Theissen's view as:

Theissen pointed to evidence which he interpreted as Jesus’ universalizing tendencies, Jesus’ tendencies to include non-Judeans. These “liberal” (as Theissen calls them) ideas of Jesus are reflected in Jesus’ eschatological views (e.g. Mt 8:11-12), according to Theissen. In other words, Jesus opted for the inclusion, rather than annihilation, of the nations / gentiles (those from East and West, in Theissen’s interpretation) option within Judaism of the time. This reflects continuity with those Jews who likewise imagined the end-time inclusion of the Gentiles, as well as some continuity with Paul’s subsequent focus on including gentiles in God’s end-time community, according to Theissen.

I've argued similarly in my Ph.D dissertation and looked at the issue of continuity and discontinuity more specifically in a EABS paper to be published by WUNT and edited by Tom Holmen.

Phil Harland also has some good comments on the anti-imperial Paul which is quickly becoming scholarly orthodoxy. While I think that Paul's gospel has clear theopolitical outcomes (to use Michael Gorman's term), I still think that much written about the anti-imperial Paul is indebted to anti-Bush or anti-American rhetoric which is then read into Paul.

Do you need to know background in order to understand the Bible?

Do you need to know background in order to understand the Bible? That is the question I'd like to ask here. Do you need to have a familarity with second-temple literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the rabbinic writings, apocryphal and pseudepigraphal Christian writings in order to properly understand the New Testament? If you say "yes" does it mean that no-one since E.P. Sanders and G.W. Nickelsburg has interpreted the New Testament properly and that biblical interpretation is now the domain of an elite few who have the time, skill, and opportunity to read such a vast array of writings? If we say "no" are we saying that historical context does not matter that much? If we say "yes" are we reducing biblical study to the practice of an elite few and taking the Bible out of the hands of Christians?

Factors to take into account: (1) In the early church there were those who doubted the necessity of knowing the OT in order to understand the NT, and the orthodox Christians affirmed that you need the OT in order to make sense of the NT, so the idea of studying background, specifically inner-biblical background, is completely warranted. (2) Several NT authors quote pagan literature, echo thoughts from found in Jewish apocryphal documents, and even cite pseudepigraphal literature. (3) Many Christian authors such as Justin Martyr and critics like Celsus were already engaged in the process of comparing and contrasting the NT to other religious writings. Thus, history-of-religions questions were present at the genesis of Christianity. (4) While understanding and applying the NT may be a function of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, by doing some historical study we give the Holy Spirit more to work with in terms enabling us to understand the context, content, and concerns of the New Testament authors.

On background to the NT see the website New Testament Background, the volume on background edited by Stanley Porter and Craig A. Evans, and the book also by Craig S. Keener.