Monday, March 31, 2008

Scripture and Confession

Chris Terry Nelson of Disruptive Grace, provides a good 10 point summary from Edmund Schlink's Theology of the Lutheran Confessions about the relationship between Scripture and Confession. My favourites were # 5 and # 9:

"(5) Dogmatics is bound by the Confessions as exposition of Scripture. This means again, obligation to Holy Scripture as the sole norm - obligation not so much to a specific exegesis as rather to Scripture itself. Not what men say about Scripture constitutes the sole norm, but what Scripture says to men. A Confession has no binding force apart from the fact that it correctly expounds Scripture. If we were bound to the Confessions simply because they claim to see the propriety of this claim on the basis of Scripture, the Confession would be, like the tradition of the Roman church, a second norm for dogmatics alongside Scripture. Doctrine cannot be bound to the Confessions in the sense of a fides implicita, that is, independent of a clear exegetical understanding of their scripturalness. The truth and binding force of a Confession does not rest simply on its claim - no matter how much that claim may be supported by respected church fathers at various times - but in its actual agreement with Scripture which ever anew discloses itself to exegetical study."

"(9) From all this it follows that we must carefully distinguish between a theology of the Lutheran Confessions and a text in dogmatics. If by a theology of the Lutheran Confessions we mean a faithful preproduction of their content in systematic order, this endeavor is not dogmatics. Again, dogmatics is not simply a repetition or repristination of the Confessions. Two facts must be considered: (a) The Confessions are the model of all church doctrine, including all dogmatic endeavor, which teachers of the church undertake and the results of which they present orally and in writing. As the voice of the church Confessions have more authority than the voice of an individual. (b) On the other hand, the norm for dogmatics is not the Confession, but solely the Holy Scriptures. Dogmatics, like the Confession, must teach the summary of Scripture. The possibility must be conceded from the start that dogmatics may, in the process of exegesis, question some of the confession formulations. Unlike a theology of the Confessions, dogmatics must, furthermore, review the consensus of the Confessions with the ancient church as well as the consensus of the Reformation age, develop them further, even call them into question."

In other words, the confessions of the church are not infallible, and Scripture always, always, always trumps the confessions!

HT: Ben Myers

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mark Nanos on the “weak” in 1 Corinthians 8—11, Part One

Mark Nanos, as I have come to expect, has offered interpreters of Paul an alternative reading of a familiar text. What I especially appreciate about Mark’s work, is that whether in the end I agree with this conclusions, I am always forced to think differently about a Pauline text. Mark looks at well-trodden passages in Paul from new vistas and this is refreshing. No different is the case with this recently updated and unpublished paper titled “The Polytheist Identity of the ‘Weak”, And Paul’s Strategy to ‘Gain’ Them: A New Reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1”.
I planned to write a brief review consisting of one post, but alas I again find I just can’t be brief—or better his paper deserves better than brief—so I will break this review up among a few posts.
Mark’s thesis is that the “weak", whom he prefers to label "impaired" (more on this later), throughout 1 Cor 8—11 are not what the traditional and prevailing interpretation asserts, namely Christ believers who are prone to idolatry because of their cultural baggage. Through 33 pages of argumentation Mark contends that the group in view is instead non-believing idolatrous Corinthians. And since no moniker is better, he labels them “polytheists”, by which he means “non-Christ-believing-non-Jews” (1).
Mark begins with a largely even-handed review of traditional interpretations of the referent of Paul’s term “weak”, which differ slightly in detail, but agree on the Christ-believing identity of the group. He lists several reasons why he thinks the traditional interpretation has had such convincing force. Among the reasons are (1) Paul’s reference to this group as “brothers/sisters”, (2) Paul’s assertion that to sin against them is to sin against Christ, and (3) Paul’s assumption that the weak brothers and sisters are vulnerable to influence by the knowledgeable. What’s more, Mark suggests prevailing meta-assumptions about Paul also function to support the traditional reading not least the prevailing view of Paul as one who no longer is a Torah-observant Jew since converting to Christ faith.
While I will say more about these things later, I would quibble with the way he paints with broad strokes the assumptions of the traditional interpretation at least on one of the points. He seems to assume that all who hold the traditional view presume that the weak are “not mature enough in their Christ-faith to think like the knowledgeable ones” (9, emphasis added). This negatively slanted characterization of Paul’s presentation of the weak may characterize many if not most of the perspectives in the traditional camp, but it certainly is not shared by all.
A critical eye toward the weak, at least in my view (although I am yet to admit that I fit as a traditionalist in this discussion), could not be farther from the context of 1 Cor 8-11 since all criticism is aimed squarely at those with the so-called knowledge, the presumed strong. Thus, whatever might be thought of the weak, Paul gives no reason to think that he wishes them to mature beyond their current mindset. In fact, Paul seems to assume that such a phenomenon is simply a fact of reality of which the knowledgeable must accommodate.

The Enns of Biblical Studies in Reformed Circles

By now news that Peter Enns has been suspended from his position as Associate Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary as of 23 May 2008 is well and truly on the blogsosphere. Like Dave Miller I was at the Institute for Biblical Research in Philadelphia in 2005 when Baker handed out free copies of his book. And it is a good book, esp. for anyone wrestling with biblical criticism and Christian faith (though like all books on Scripture it is not without its shortcomings, see reviews listed here and here). But if Bart Ehrman had read a book like this before he went to Princeton then he might not have apostacized (but that is admittedly a conjecture).

My biggest question right now is what does the happenings at WTS mean for biblical scholars working at confessional institutions in the USA? The problem is the link between historical study of the Scriptures and the theological intepretation of the Scriptures - both of which should be valued and esteemed! Schreiner (see the post below) writes that: "[S]ystematic theology looks at the canon as a whole from an atemporal perspective". That is fine in and of itself, but there are some theologians who have a system that simply cannot cope with the historical and cultural contingency of the origin and development of the Christian Bible. For them, to use ancient near eastern writings, Greco-Roman texts, or second temple literature to assist in biblical interpretation is supremely offensive. The two issues here are: (1) Do theologians take the historical content and context of the Bible seriously? And (2) what are the boundaries of Reformed confessionalism? That said, I am unsure about some of Enns' conclusions in his book esp. his "incarnational model" in light of criticisms by Andrew McGowan and John Webster. But Enns is asking the right questions and coming up with some cogent answers that I (personally) think are consistent with Reformed Orthodoxy. But there is certainly one passage in the book that must change with a second edition:

"Also influential has been my own theological tradition, represented by my colleagues at Westminster Theological Seminary, past and present, and the wider tradition of which that institution is a part. This is not to imply that I speak for that institution or tradition. Nevertheless, I am thankful for being part of such a solidly faithful group that does not shy away from some difficult yet basic questions and with whom I am able to have frank and open discussions. This does not happen at every institution, and I do not take that privilege for granted....I believe with all my heart that honesty with oneself is a central component to spiritual growth. God honors our honest questions. He is not surprised by them, nor is he ashamed to be our God when we pose them. He is our God, not because of the questions we ask (or refrain from asking), but because he has united us to the risen Christ. And being a part of God's family is ultimately a gift to us, not something to be obtained by us. God has freed us in Christ and made us his children. And, as all children do, we ask a lot of questions" (p. 9).

Friday, March 28, 2008

New Testament Theology and Canon

Should a New Testament Theology be restricted to the New Testament canon or should it encompass other literature like the Apostolic Fathers? Should we opt for a 'Theology of Early Christianity' instead of a 'Theology of the New Testament'? F.C. Baur knew of this issue but in his own 'New Testament Theology' he restricted himself to the canon. Even William Wrede was quite conservative and only going beyond the canon by including the epistles of Ignatius as an appendix to a theology of the Johannine Literature.

I concur with many scholars (Weiss, Biblical Theology, 2 n. 1; C.F. Schmid, Biblical Theology of the New Testament [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1882]: 8-9; Schlatter, ‘New Testament and Dogmatics’, 145-49; Leon Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament [2 vols.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982]: 2.271-72; Morgan ‘Introduction’, 19, 64-67; Marshall, New Testament Theology, 18-19) that an exclusive focus on the New Testament is reasonable given that it is, generally speaking, our earliest Christian literature and among the most influential too in the history of reception. Wrede contests the priority of these writings and also objects on the grounds that ‘anyone who accepts without question the idea of the canon places himself under the authority of the bishops and theologians of those centuries’ (Wrede, ‘Task and Method’, 71). But there is no problem if the New Testament and second century literature occasionally overlap since disputed areas of overlap, like border disputes in Kashmir, can still retain fixed boundaries (Marshall, New Testament Theology, 19; see also Dunn, ‘New Testament Theologizing’, 243) and Wrede’s own delineation between the Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists is not convincing and contains overlaps as well. Also we only receive the New Testament and its history of interpretation from these bishops and theologians and we should do the courtesy of listening to them rather than disregard them as we would a Fed-Ex delivery boy after handing over a package. The bishops did not create or impose the canon, but ratified the emerging consensus and the theological convergences that were happening already. Thus, the ‘subsequent experience’ of the canon might be more illuminating than what Wrede acknowledges. At the same time the bishops and councils did not merely gather up together the ‘inspired’ writings and those that were ratified by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit as there was a dialogical process underway about what should be the universally recognized register of sacred books. While the documents that formed the canon were thought to be inspired, inspiration was not limited to these writings as several patristic authors could refer to non-canonical writings as inspired or as Scripture as well (see Allert, High View of Scripture, 58-65, 177-88; pace Thielman, Theology, 28-29). Furthermore, as John Poirier (‘The Canonical Approach and the Idea of “Scripture”,’ ExpT 116 [2005]: 367) puts it: ‘Although the apostles were inspired in the performance of their office, it is not as inspired writings per se but as witnesses to the kergymatic narrative that the New Testament writings were considered authoritative for the early Church’. Consider also Jens Schröter: ‘The canonical status of the New Testament scriptures cannot be secured by appealing to their inspiration. This is rather circular, since the special status of these documents is already presupposed, and it is exclusively out of the context of the formation of the canon that it was received. Alternatively, a substantive theology of the New Testament should take it account the development of the historical documents of the early Christian canonical writings of the Christian church’ (‘Die Bedeutung des Kanons für eine Theologie des Neuen Testaments,’ in Aufgabe und Durchführung einer Theologie des Neuen Testaments, eds. Cilliers Breytenback and Jörg Frey [WUNT 205; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2007]: 157 [my own trans.]). In my view, an exclusive focus on the canon derives not from inspiration but from its ontological status as the historical testimony of the believing communities to the apostolic kerygma.

This is drawn from a footnote in a forthcoming lecture that I'm giving in July.

Schreiner on New Testament Theology

Adam Cheung interviews Tom Schreiner about his forthcoming volume New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. A few things come to mind:
  • In light of several things (including influences diverse as Wrede, Ladd, Marshall, Thielman, and Carson), I have recently come out in favour of the corpus-by-corpus approach as opposed to the thematic approach when it comes to doing New Testament Theology. Although I recognize that the thematic approach (e.g. Guthrie, Caird, Schreiner) provides a better synthesizing element than does the corpus-by-corpus approach, I take the latter to be superior in terms of analysis of the actual texts themselves.
  • In the interview, Schreiner offers an excellent description of the differentation between systematic and biblical theology.
  • This volume looks like it will be a synthesis of Piperesque and Laddian view points when it comes to the framework of a New Testament Theology, which is probably a good combination.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Torah as Social Boundary Marker

Dunn and Wright have argued that "works of the law" means the mosaic law in general but also connotes the specific commandments of sabbath keeping, food laws, and circumcision as emblems of Israel's election and requiring separation from the nations. I tend to think that "works of the law" means the "works which the law requires" but that point should not eviscerate the fact that doing the works of the law meant engaging in a form of law keeping that required separation from non-Jews and it was an expression of loyalty to one's ethnic identity. Committment to the law was not merely a theological conviction but a social stance as well. In other words, doing the "works of the law" meant keeping the Jewish way of life.

The following passage from Tacitus, Hist. 5.5 illustrates very clearly the social stimga attached to keeping the Torah:

"This worship, however introduced, is upheld by its antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal. Hence a passion for propagating their race and a contempt for death. They are wont to bury rather than to burn their dead, following in this the Egyptian cus tom; they bestow the same care on the dead, and they hold the same belief about the lower world. Quite different is their faith about things divine. The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honour to our Emperors. From the fact, however, that their priests used to chant to the music of flutes and cymbals, and to wear garlands of ivy, and that a golden vine was found in the temple, some have thought that they worshipped father Liber, the conqueror of the East, though their institutions do not by any means harmonize with the theory; for Liber established a festive and cheerful worship, while the Jewish religion is tasteless and mean."

Imperial Cult in China

Over at the RNS site I came across this quote:

“The Communist Party is like the parent to the Tibetan people, and it is always considerate about what the children need. The Central Party Committee is the real Buddha for Tibetans.”
-- Zhang Qingli, the China-appointed Communist Party chief in Tibet, where Chinese police have suppressed protests by Tibetan monks and lay people clamoring for autonomy. Zhang's remarks, quoted by The Associated Press this month, were uttered last year.

If you change "Buddha" to "Jesus", you've got a pretty good recipe for institutionalized idolatry at the national level. You should worship the Politburo, not Jesus! This is probably the closest thing we have in our day to worship of the state as an alternative to worship of a deity.

McKnight on Thiselton

In an article on Performing Orthodoxy over at CT, Scot McKnight gives a glowing review of Anthony Thilselton's new book The Hermeneutics of Doctrine. It all reminds me of a quote from Kierkegaard: "As you have lived, so have you believed"!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Biography of D.A. Carson

Andreas Kostenberger has posted a biographical sketch of D.A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School which is a very good read. I admire the productivity and sheer breadth of Carson's work in the New Testament as well as his pastoral focus too. (I often lay awake at night in fear that I'll be mentioned in the third edition of Exegetical Fallacies). He is also one of the few scholars who is just as good in person as he is in print which I've learnt from Carson's almost yearly visits to Australia. Best of all Carson is a good example of another Baptist Anglophile! Recently, D.A. Carson has written a biography of his father entitled: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson which will be illuminating of Carson's own spiritual journey too no doubt.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Separation of the Agape and the Eucharist

Darrell Pursiful has a follow-up post to why the eucharist was separated from the agape meal. Great stuff, do read it!

Honour and Shame

I'm currently rewriting my notes for a course that I teach on Luke-Acts. Here's what I have to say about "honour" and "shame" in the New Testament:

The values of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ had pivotal importance for both Roman and Jewish societies. First century people in the Mediterranean were told from childhood to seek honour and avoid disgrace. Social interaction, religious life, and group loyalties were affected in some way by the values of honour and shame. Honour is the claim to a certain status and the acknowledgement of that status by group consensus. Honour can be either ascribed (by gender, rank, noble birth, etc) or acquired through social advancement in public accomplishments, by excelling over others, and by embodying certain virtues like piety, fidelity, and courage. Honour was a limited commodity in ancient societies and it was attained through the social competition of challenge and response. The Greek philosopher Aristotle listed two motives for action: honour and pleasure (Nic. Eth. 3.1.11 [1110b.11-12]). One of the earliest Latin handbooks on rhetoric stated that a course of action must be honorable, regardless of however safe or unsafe it might be (Rhetorica ad Herennium 3.5.8-9). Quintilian, a teacher of rhetoric in the first century AD claimed that honour was the main factor in the art of persuasion (Institutes 3.7.28, 3.8.1). According to Joshua ben Sirach honour is an important aspect of the life of an obedient Jew. He affirms the fifth commandment to honour one’s father and mother and emphasizes the rewards of such behaviour (Sir. 3.3-8), honour is something that God confers (Sir. 10.5), those who fear the Lord are worthy of honour and those who do not fear him receive dishonour (Sir. 10.19), and someone who is the leader of a family are worthy of honour, but someone who fears God receive honour in God’s eyes (Sir. 10.20). Sirach also exhorts readers to, ‘Excel in all that you do; bring no stain upon your honor’ (Sir. 32.23). Shame is, by contrast, the public recognition of a lack of honour or else a failure to act honourably. Certain actions and professions can be regarded as shameful such as adultery and prostitution. For some persons, usually of a subservient position in society or a household, honour was to be found in one’s sense of shame and embarrassment. For instance, in Sirach we read: ‘A shameless woman constantly acts disgracefully, but a modest daughter will even be embarrassed before her husband. A headstrong wife is regarded as a dog, but one who has a sense of shame will fear the Lord’ (Sir. 26.24-25). A woman then is most honourable if she has a strong sensitivity to bringing shame on herself or her family. Honour and shame were values that created social adhesion, formed collective identity, enforced group boundaries, and fostered a set of standards of conduct. If a voluntary association, household, or individual was to pursue honour and avoid shame, then they would have to adhere to what constitutes honourable behaviour in the eyes of the wider pagan society. But Jews and Christians often failed to do this since they did not undertake their civic responsibility to worship the emperor (= impious and disloyal) and they engaged in practices that appeared socially inappropriate like circumcision and greeting each other with a ‘holy kiss’ (= barbarous, immoral). Associations and groups that failed to act honourably ran the risk of derision, insult, abuse, reproach, and harassment from society (e.g. Heb. 10.32-34; 1 Pet. 2.11-12; 4.1-4) and in some extreme occasions even provoke an extreme response like expulsion from a society or city (John 9.22; 12.42; 16.2; Acts 5.40-42; 18.2; Rev. 2.9), confiscation of property (Tob. 1.20; 3 Macc. 7.21; Heb. 10.34), and even death (2 Macc. 7.1-49; Acts 8.58-60; 12.1-2; Rev. 2.13). Christians could respond by saying that God will ultimately honour them (Rom. 8.18-39; Phil. 3.17-21; 2 Thess. 1.4-10; 1 Pet. 2.20; Rev. 12.10-11). Suffering, insult and persecution is a sign of dishonour in society but a sign of honour within the community that follows Jesus (Acts 14.22; 2 Cor. 4.6-18; Heb. 11.37-40), and by enduring persecution they follow the example of Christ and acquire even more honour (John 15.20; Heb. 12.1-4; 1 Pet. 3.14-17).

CT Articles

Over at Christianity Today are two fine articles:

Why Evangelize the Jews? by Stan Gundry

Heaven Is Not Our Home by N.T. Wright

Paul's View of the Law: Where Should the Study Begin?

When considering the question of Paul's view of the Law one is immediately confronted with a host of preliminary issues and questions. One such issue, for example, is the question of the referent of the term nomos: Does nomos refer to the Mosaic legislation, to the Mosaic Covenant, to a generic principle, to all the above and more?
One question however that is not often considered adequately in my view is the question of where such a study should begin. This question is not insignificant since where one begins has a large influence on what one concludes.
As I approach the subject I have been surprised that very few if any interpreters begin with Paul's view of the end. What I mean is few begin with a discussion of the function of the Law for end-time judgment/salvation. In Romans 2:5-16 Paul asserts the abiding function of the Law for eschatological judgment ("the doers of the Law will be justified"). If Paul maintains that the Law continues to function as the criteria for judgment at the end of the age, should that not affect one's interpretation of Paul's view of its validity in the present? Would not beginning here preclude or at the very least significantly nuance interpretations which present Paul's theology as a fundamental antithesis between works and faith?

Monday, March 24, 2008

How did we get from Agape to Eucharist?

Darrell Pursiful has an interesting blog post on The Earliest Liturgy: Development and relates to the subject of how eucharistic meals got separated from an agape meal in the early church. I am intrigued as to when, where, and why it happened and whether the separation was a good thing in terms of theology and community.

Jim Hamilton's Lecture on Davidic Typology

My good friend Dr. Jim Hamilton of SWBTS gave the Julius Brown Gay Lecture at Southern Seminary last week on the subject of The Typology of David’s Rise to Power: Messianic Patterns in the Book of Samuel. An MP3 is available and I believe that MP3's by Graham Goldsworthy on Biblical Theology are also available from SBTS as well.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Schizophrenia of Q Research

I am currently reading through E. Earle Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents (Leiden: Brill, 2002) and finding his approach to the formation of the NT most enjoyable (it is kinda like J.A.T. Robinson meets Birger Gerhardsson). There's this gem of a quote about Q:

"Q is a single document, a composite document, several documents. It incorporates earlier sources; it is used in different redactions. Its original language is Greek; it is Aramaic; Q is used in different translations. It is the Matthean logia, it is not. It has shape and sequence; it is a collection of fragments. It is a Gospel; it is not. It consists wholly of sayings; it includes narrative. It is all preserved in Matthew and Luke; it is not. Matthew's order of Q is correct; Luke's is correct; neither is correct. It is used by Mark; it is not used by Mark" (pp. 17-18).

Well, I'm dizzy already!

BTW, Ellis is one of my favourite Baptist NT scholars (up there with George Beasley-Murray) and we should look forward to his forthcoming commentary on 1 Corinthians in the ICC series. But don't hold ya breath as last I heard is that he's only up to chapter five.

Bultmann the Marcionite!

As a follow-up to my post on Bultmann the Heretic, I've located a reference that indicates Bultmann's Marcionite tendencies:

"[T]o the Christian faith the Old Testament is no longer revelation as it has been and still is, for the Jews . . . [it] is not in the true sense God's word."

R. Bultmann, "The Significance of the Old Testament for the Christian Faith," in The Old Testament and Christian Faith, ed. B.W. Anderson (New York, 1963): 31-32.

John Stott on the NT

Here is some classic Stott:

"The biblical historians were not historians in the modern sense, writing with scientific detachment. They were theologians too, writing from a divine perspective. They were not morally and spiritually neutral; they were deeply committed to God's cause. The Old Testament history books were regarded as prophecy, and the four lives of Jesus are not biographies but gospels written by evangelists, who were bearing witness to Jesus. Consequently, they selected and arranged their material according to their theological purpose. Moreover, their purpose arose naturally - though also in God's providence - from their temperament, their background and their God-given responsibilities to the people of God. Man and message were related to each other. It was no accident that Amos was the prophet of God's justice, Isaiah of his sovereignty and Hosea of his love; or that Paul was the apostle of grace, James of works, John of love and Peter of hope; or that Luke, the only Gentile contributor to the New Testament, stressed the worldwide embrace of the gospel. The Holy Spirit communicated through each a distinctive and appropriate emphasis."
John Stott, "Culture and the Bible," in Authentic Christianity.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Reflection - Jesus Smells!

A week ago my colleague at HTC, Dr. Innes Visagie (a.k.a "the sausage man"), gave a wonderful homily on Eph. 5.1-2: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (NIV).

Sacrifices are frequently said provide a pleasing aroma to the Lord (e.g. Gen. 8.21; Exod. 29.18, 25, 41; Lev. 1.9, 13) and they avert his wrath, expiate sin, and effect reconciliation between the offender (us) and the offended party (God).

We experience salvation for one and only one reason: because Jesus smells! The scent of his death turns away the wrath of God against our sin, it is our passover sacrifice, Jesus is our substitute and representative because God smells the death of his son. But note the application here as well (and we can add 2 Cor. 2.14-16). We are to imitate God and love as Christ loved, which means we have to smell as well. Does your life smell as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God? Are you a "living sacrifice" (Rom. 12.1) and do you and your church offer "spiritual sacrifices" acceptable to God" (1 Pet. 2.5).

Smell ya later.

A blessed Easter to all!

The Son of Man coming "to" OR "as" the Ancient of Days?

In 1 Enoch 37-71, the Son of Man figure is assimilated to the throne of God. Where did this close association of the Son of Man with the throne, reign, and sovereignty of God come from? Well, one can compare some of the versions of Dan. 7.13-14 in want of an answer.

In Greek versions the Son of Man comes:

heōs tou palaiou hēmerōn (to/as far as the ancient of days) - Theodotion (based on the MT)

ōs palaios hēmerōn (as the ancient of days) - LXX (cf. Rev. 1.13-14 with the description of the Son of Man with characteristics similar to the Ancient of Days).

This is a clear instance of how the textual tradition began to gradually merge together the "one like a son of man" with the "ancient of days".

The World was Created for ... ?

In 4 Ezra we find this statement:

"On the sixth day you commanded the earth to bring forth before you cattle, wild animals, and creeping things; and over these you placed Adam, as ruler over all the works that you had made; and from him we have all come, the people whom you have chosen. All this I have spoken before you, O Lord, because you have said that it was for us that you created this world. As for the other nations that have descended from Adam, you have said that they are nothing, and that they are like spittle, and you have compared their abundance to a drop from a bucket. And now, O Lord, these nations, which are reputed to be as nothing, domineer over us and devour us. But we your people, whom you have called your firstborn, only begotten, zealous for you, and most dear, have been given into their hands. If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?" (4 Ezra 6.53-59 [NRSV]).

What is interesting is a similar view is found in the Shepherd of Hermas:

"As I slept, brothers and sisters, a revelation was gien to me by a very handsome young man, who said to me, 'Who do you think the elderly woman from whom you received the little book was?' I said: 'The Sibyl.' 'You are wrong,' he said. 'She is not.' 'Then who is she?' I said. 'The church,' he replied, 'she was created before all things; therefore she is elderly, and for her sake the world was formed'." (Herm. 8.1 [trans. Holmes]).

Was Hermas dependent on 4 Ezra and does this suggest some kind of supersessionism in Hermas?

New Book on

My new book on Paul (A Bird's Eye-View) is now up on and is due to be published in less than a month in the UK (18 April 08). This book is designed as an introduction to Pauline theology for undergrad students and a refresher for Pastors. It gives a summary of Paul's letters, surveys the key elements of Paul's theology, provides some background material, includes some contemporary reflections, and with a bit of humour thrown in.

In terms of "Introductions to Paul" we are spoiled for choice given recent publications including:

Michael Gorman, Reading Paul
Paul Barnett, Paul: Missionary of Jesus
David Capes et. al., Rediscovering Paul

Spring Break in Florida

The time in Florida was great and it proved to be a much needed time of recreation and refreshment. The weather was incredible upper 70's every day and sunshine. I was able to take Zion to his first Yankees game. He did great, although it took him a couple of days to recover.
The time with family was full as Zion and Mary met their cousins and aunt and uncle for the first time. My mom and her husband Craig were very generous providing more than we needed.
Not only did we spend time with my family, but we visited with some of our closest friends in the world, the Terry and Wendi Russell. We met them over a decade ago while in Youth Ministry. The Russell's were key volunteers in our ministry in Dunedin, FL in the late nineties and we have been like family ever since. Terry and Wendi have both had successful careers in the health care industry and are devoted Christ-followers. Of all our friends we have the most fun with Terry and Wendi. These days they have a small horse ranch in central Florida and live on the intercoastal in a town called Redington Shores.
We also introduced the twins to our the beach. Zion especially loved to eat the sand and Mary talked to the Seagulls.
We're back in Chicago where we are experiencing a Spring snow storm.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Via Dolorosa

Sandi Patti does a wonderful rendition of one of my all time favourite Easter songs: the Via Dolorosa.

John Dickson on Easter

John Dickson has some good, sober, and fair judgments about the history behind Easter at the Sydney Morning Herald.

HT: Michael Jensen

Writing Text Books

In the Times Higher Education there another good article called, "Familiar text, New chapter" about the reluctance of British academics to write text books. It includes this inset quote: "It is quite difficult to get people to write textbooks in the disciplines I work in. If you want advancement in the current climate, writing a textbook seems to be low down on the list of priorities. That is a great shame."

In the UK the main culprit on this problem is what is called the Research Assessment Exercise which means books published by a University Press and by major Academic Publishers on original and highly unique topics score quite high, while text books score comparatively low. I think one has to earn one's bones in the profession by writing a decent biblical studies monograph. The problem is that you might write this grounding breaking work on the Ethiopic text of the Didascalia and it might completely change how textual studies on that document are done, there will be 5-7 dazzling book reviews, and bucket loads of RAE brownie points. Of course only 100-300 copies will be printed by your publisher, the price will only be affordable by libraries, and I estimate that less than 50 people a year might even touch your book globally. I have nothing against rigorous and detailed scholarship in highly specified fields and nothing against University Presses and Academic Publishers (I've published in the LNTS monograph series and I have volumes planned with Brill, Gorgias, and other similar publishers in order to do my RAE duty), but I think there has got to be some academic value attributed to a book that people actually read and use! A book on the Ethiopic text on the Didascalia is fine, but a text book on the Gospels is more likely to influence a group of students and teachers and those that use or assign the book are more likely to remember the name of the author and his institution. Currently the RAE process is being re-drawn and if they go for a bibliometric system (i.e. publishing success is measured by frequency of citations by other authors) then textbooks and commentaries (once vetoed by those on the hunt for RAE points) will suddenly become worthy avenues of exploration.

Vermes on the Resurrection

In the Times Higher Education there is an article about Geza Vermes called "Faith No More" that gives a bit of his life story and promotes his new book on the resurrection. It includes this hyperbolic overstatment: "Not even a credulous nonbeliever is likely to be persuaded by the various reports of the Resurrection. None of them which satifies minimum requirements of a legal or scientific inquiry." Geez Geza, you should check out Ross Clifford's good little book Leading Lawyer's Case for the Resurrection.

A Church in Saudi Arabia?

There is an interesting article on CNN about a Catholic Church to possibly be built in Saudi Arabia for the many foreigners living and working there.

Monday, March 17, 2008

BBC Passion Part II

I watched the BBC "Passion" episode two and thought it was pretty good but ended all too quickly. I'm particularly enjoying the characterisations of Caiaphas and Pilate as guys in a tight spot and trying to do the best they can. I found it interesting that the rationale for Caiaphas' move against Jesus is largely based on John 11 "it is better that one man die for the nation" etc. The dove seller who informed on Jesus looked a lot like James Crossley of Sheffield Uni too (I didn't now James could act). It is good also how the temple is being made central to the divisive issue between Jesus and the High Priest. I was a bit disappointed that there was no apocalyptic discourse apart from Mk. 13.1-2 and I wish they'd make some reference to the Son of Man at least in the passion predictions (unless the "I" subsumes them). I have to say that this Jesus seems to have a clearly Johannine understanding of his own death rather than a Synoptic one, i.e. he dies for the sins of the world and not for the renewal of Israel. I'm also still struggling with this Jesus versus the sacrificial system and it reminds me of a quote from Markus Bockmuehl: "‘What is clear is that conservatives are often just as keen on this theme of Jesus’s superiority or separation from contemporary religious Judaism as ostensibly more liberal interpreters" (Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 204). Otherwise I'm immensely enjoying the show and look forward to the final dramatic installment on Friday night (I'll have a bottle of red wine and a loaf of fresh bread to enjoy with it).

Bockmuehl on Jesus Seminar, Christology, and Parables

I've (finally) finished Bockmuehl's Seeing the Word and found many stimulating ideas about historical Jesus scholarship, how to construct Jesus' identity vis-a-vis Judaism, and the task of New Testament scholarship. A few highlights include:

1. On Jesus’ relation to the Father:

"His self-constancy and perserverance of character, in other words, are consistently construed in relational terms as between the Son and the Father. “God was in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19); but also: Jesus is the identity of God. What you see is what you get: indeed, what you see here is all you could possibly get. For the fourth Evangelist and others this is crystal clear. To see Jesus is to see the Father of Jesus (John 14:9), Abraham’s and Isaiah’s thrice-holy Lord made flesh (John 8:56058; 12:41), the unique son who alone bears the ineffable name (Phil. 2:9; Eph. 1:21; John 17:11-12): “the Messiah who is over all, God blessed forever” (Rom 9:5) who sits on the heavenly throne, at God’s right hand (Mark 14:62; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 12:2; Rev. 7:17) and to whom is due the worship of all creation (Phil. 2:10-11; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:12-14; 22:3). In keeping with that conviction, several authors go so far as to claim that only here can God be seen: no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).’ (Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 192). This is a good a summary as you'll find of the NT's teachings on Jesus' relationship to the God.

2. On the Jesus Seminar:

"Although these writers never explicitly deny Jesus’ Jewishness (and generally take vociferous exception to the charge that they do), they do in fact develop a Jesus largely neutered and declared as to Jewish religious specifics’. The resulting metamorphosis has proved astonishingly popular among a generation of ageing flower children: here is a less judgmental, more inclusive peasant philosopher of timeless universal wisdom and countercultural charisma." (Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 196). I've argued much the same in an EQ article and I'm glad that I'm not alone on that one given Bill Arnal and John Kloppenborg's apologies for the construction of the non-Jewish Jesus.

"What is perhaps most striking bout this 'new vision,' as Borg 1987 calls it, is less its newness than the family resemblance it bears to its critical predecessors. Here, the nineteenth-century ethical-liberal idealism of Albrecht Ritschl, Adolf von Harnack, and others seems to have echoed and transformed into the Jesus Seminar’s ahistorical spirituality and mellifluously bland (or, on the other hand, neo-Marxian) moralism". (Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 197). Amen! Amen!
3. On the "Referent" in Theology

"Contra certain postliberal views sometimes (rightly or wrongly) associated with Hans Frei …, for the early Christian church the identity of Jesus is not accessible simply in “stories” about him that may or may not have a bearing on history. It is the referential truth of that apostolic testimony that undergirds that the very possibility of faith (John 19:35; 21:35); indeed, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile ad you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17 NRSV). And what is “doubting” (apistos, “faithless”) about the Fourth Gospel’s Thomas is not his desire for facts but his emphatic refusal to trust the apostolic testimony: unless he personally sees and touches the evidence, he “will not believe” (John 20:25, 27, 29). Unless at some basic level we are prepared to receive, trust and inhabit a given communal embodiment of memory and witness, we can know nothing at all. The solipsis of cogito ergo sum is logically compelling only in the madhouse." (Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 206).

4. On Parables:

On the parables: "Parables are centred on God, God’s people, and God’s word". (Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 216). This is simple but it is still one of the best descriptions of the parables I've heard and it is far better than "earthly stories with heavenly meanings".

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reflections on BBC's "Passion" (Updated)

I just finished watching the BBC Passion movie (see Mark Goodacre for news and summaries). My reactions are mixed. Overall, I thought it was okay, very dramatic, good direction, plot moves quickly, and it draws you in. It tries to set the political and religious scene of Judea more than your average Jesus film. I was glad that in the temple cleansing/demonstration someone does raise a legitimate question to Jesus that the money changing was a convenience and not necessarily a con. Also the issue of the Roman possession of the high priestly vestments was a good topic to bring out too for audiences to highlight the kind of non-military influence the Romans had over the High Priest. But I was not impressed by the association of Joseph of Arimathea with the High Priestly family (where did that come from?). The endless references to the "kingdom of God is within you" over emphasizes a minor Lucan theme and the constant "look in your heart" soon became nauseating. Probably most controversial (and I advise Paula Fredriksen not to watch this film as it will only make her mad) is that it sets purity over compassion when it comes to Jesus and the Law. There is an (apocryphal) scene where Jesus goes into the temple and instead of offering a dove in sacrifice he sets it free. He also says that he believes in "sacrifice but a different kind" (the author of the Gospel of Ebionites would have loved it and perhaps also the author Hebrews too, but "it ain't how it was"). On the whole I'd call it's portait of Jesus rather Borgesque. I look forward to the next installment.

Book Review: New Testament Theology - Frank J. Matera

Frank J. Matera
New Testament Theology: Exploring Diversity and Unity
Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox, 2007.
Available from Alban Books
Available from

Frank Matera is Andrews-Kelly-Ryan Professor of Biblivcal Studies at the Catholic University of America. He is already well known for his work on NT Christology, NT Ethics, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and his Ph.D thesis on a redactional critical approach to Mark 15.

The book includes the mandatory about introducton and then examines the Synoptic Tradition (dealing with each Gospel individually), the Pauline tradition (grouping the letters together such as Galatians/Romans, Captivity Epistles, Pastoral Epistles), Johannine Tradition (Gospel and Epistles) and other voices (General Epistles and Revelation). He then concludes with a section of the diverse unity of a New Testament Theology based around the headings of: "Humanity in Need of Salvation", "The Bringer of Salvation", "The Community of the Sanctified", "The Moral Life of the Sanctified", and "The Hope of the Sanctified".

Matera's project is to explore the "diverse unities" of the New Testament. He contends that a New Testament Theology should be "bolder" than offering descriptions of the theologies of the various authors/corpora but provide "a theological interpretation of the New Testament that integrates and relates the diverse theologies of the New Testament into a unified whole without harmonizing them" (xxvii). In his view the benefit of a New Testament Theology is that "it can provide readers with an overview of the New Testament; it makes important connections among the writings of the New Testament that one might otherwise overlook; it wrestles with theunity of God's revealtion in Christ; its results can be of assistance to systematic theology (xxxi)."

Out of the plethora of New Testament Theologies around, this remains a helpful for for identifying the variety and unity of the New Testament message about Jesus and God.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Paul and Justification

A couple of good posts on Paul and justification this week include Ben Witherington on "The New Perspective on Paul and the Law-- Reviewed" and Dane Ortlund had [?] a useful taxonomy of views on "Justified by Faith, Judged according to Works" but seems to have deleted the post, although it can still be viewed on Google reader if you've got it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Two Poles about Israel in Paul's thinking

In reading over Romans 2-3, 9-11, I'm getting the impression that Paul is trying to hold together two things:

1. God's faithfulness to Israel.
2. God's impartiality in judging the human race.

Does this account for much of the tension in Paul's theology about Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles without Torah observance?

Augustine and Origen on the Harmony on the Gospels

I’m currently reading through Francis Watson, ‘The fourfold gospel,’ in Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, ed. Stephen C. Barton (Cambridge: CUP, 2006) where he refers to how Origen and Augustine handled the plurality of the canonical gospels. Consider the following quotations:

1. Origen

"The student, perplexed by the consideration of these matters [differences among the Gospels], will either give up the attempt to find everything in the gospels true, and, not venturing to conclude that all f our information about the Lord is untrustworthy, will choose one of them at random to be his guide; or he will accept all four, and will conclude that their truth is not to be sought in the outward and material letter (Origen, Comm. Joh. 10.2)".

"[I]f they sometimes dealt freely with things which to the eye of history happened differently, and changed them so as to subserve the mystical aims they had in view – speaking of something that happened in one place as if it had happened in another or of something that took place at one time as if it had taken place at another, and introducing into what was spoken in a certain way some changes of their own. Where possible, they intended to speak the truth both materially and spiritually; and where this was not possible, they chose to prefer the spiritual to the material. Spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in material falsehood (Origen, Comm. Joh. 10.4)".

2. Augustine

"Each evangelist constructs his own particular narrative on a kind of plan which gives the appearance of being the complete and orderly record of the events in their succession. For, preserving a simple silence on the subject of those incidents of which he intends to give no account, he then connects those which he does wish to relate with what he has been immediately recounting, in such a manner as to make the recital seem continuous (Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists 2.5.16)."

"If you ask which of these different versions represent what was actually expressed by the voice, you may fix on whichever you wish, provided that you understand that those of the writers who have not reproduced the identical form of speech have still reproduced the same sense intended to be conveyed. And these variations in the modes of expression are also useful in this way, that they make it possible for us to teach a more adequate conception of the saying than might been the case with only one form, and that they also secure it against being interpreted in a sense not consonant with the real state of the case (Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists, 2.14.31)."

From this it seems clear that Origen and Augustine were probably not inerrantists, but they still believed in the authority and veracity of the Scriptures as God’s Word communicated to human beings (whether or not they were consistent on that point will be for others to decide). Based on these quotes, Francis Watson the comments:

“In Augustine’s reflection on gospel differences, there is no trace of an a priori commitment to the precise historical accuracy of every part of every gospel. Rather, this is a pragmatic, inductive approach that considers each difference on its merits, and finds the harmony of the gospels more in the theological subject-matter than in the verbal expressions … Origen’s claim that a theological truth can come to expression in a historical falsehood, and that the fourfold gospel itself falsifies the absolute historicity of its individual narratives, seems better attuned to modern scholarly assumptions about the gospels. Yet, in the end, Origen and Augustine have a great deal in common. They have both made a careful study of the gospel differences; they are both convinced that the four gospels speak in various ways of a singular though infinitely rich theological subject-matter; and they both believe that this subject-matter is articulated in the differences and not in spite of them. In contrast, it is not clear that modern scholarship has achieved the balance sought by these patristic theologians in their reflections on the fourfold gospels: the balance between individual text and its plural contexts, or between difference and commonality (p. 50).

This raises some interesting issues for Gospel interpretation!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OT and the NT

I found this quote from Peter Stuhlmacher about the OT and the NT (with an inelegant English translation):

Das Zeugnis des Alten Testaments von der Wirklichkeit und dem Wirken des einen Gottes wird im neuen Testament aufgenommen und christologisch präzisiert: Der eine Gott ist der Vater Jesu Christi, und der Christus Jesus ist der Sohn des lebendigen Gottes, der die basileia tou theou so repräsentiert, bis er sie durch die Parusie und mittels des ihn übertragegen Weltgerichts vollends aufgerichtet hat.

The testimony of the Old Testament from the reality and the workings of the one God in the New Testament is recorded and christologically clarified: The one God is the father of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, he so represents the basileia tou theou until his Parousia and with the final judgment of the world where it is fully established.

Peter Stuhlmacher, ‘Erfahrungen mit der Biblischen Theologie,’ in Biblische Theologie und Evangelium: Gesammelte Aufsätze (WUNT 146; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck2002): 18.

The Latest ZNW (2008)

Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und Kunde der Älteren Kirche 99.1 (2008) is out and includes the following articles:

Eva in Röm 7
Stefan Krauter

Christus, des Gesetzes Ende? Die Theologie des Apostels Paulus in kritischer Perspektive
Eduard Lohse

God's Execution of His Condemned Apostles. Paul's Imagery of the Roman Arena in 1 Cor 4,9
V. Henry T. Nguyen

Affirming the "Creed": The Extent of Paul's Citation of an Early Christian Formula in 1 Cor 15,3b–7
David M. Moffitt

From Apostle to the Gentiles to Apostle of the Church: Images of Paul at the End of the First Century
Gregory E. Sterling

»Das (Buch) nach Philippus«. Zur Titelnachschrift Nag Hammadi Codex II,3: p. 86,18–19
Peter Nagel

The Name of the Pool in Joh 5,2. A Text-Critical Note Concerning 3Q15
Reinhart Ceulemans

Der Apostel von Johannes 13,16
Luise Abramowski

Abraham, the friend of God, in Rom 5. A Short Notice
Karl Olav Sandnes

"They Promise Them Freedom". Once again, the ψευδοδιδάσκλοι in 2 Peter
Thomas Scott Caulley

Erste internationale Konferenz »Der Apostel Paulus und Korinth«. 1950 Jahre nach der Abfassung der Korintherbriefe (Korinth, 23–25 September 2007)
Christos Karakolis

My Proposal for the Antioch Incident, Part Two: What role does James play in the circumstances; and who are “those of the circumcision”?

I assume few readers even remember that I am working on a series of posts on Jewish Christianity and the study of the Antioch Incident was a complementary aspect of a study of James and his role in the incident. This investigation seemed necessary given the long standing view that Galatians 2:11-14 represented the point when Peter (and James) and Paul’s ministry “parted ways” with the two pillars of early Christianity never again being reconciled. This division was seen as a figure of speech for the two opposing streams of early Christianity: Jewish and Gentile Christianities.

After thinking about the Antioch incident, I have come to the conclusion that the two questions of (1) James’ role and (2) the identity of the circumcision party are in all events less crucial for the interpretation of the incident than many have admitted. I have come to this view for two reasons.
First, the two entities “people from James” and “those of the circumcision” are enigmatic references which allow for multiple interpretations as the secondary literature bears out. It appears at least that while these entities are unknown to modern readers they were nevertheless evident to those who first heard the letter since Paul feels no need to define them for his reader. While it is useful to attempt to reconstruct both the identity and the role played in the incident, perhaps the wisest approach is one that is not dependent on a definitive interpretation of these characters in the story.
Second, the focus of the plot is not on either of the two parties and their role in this brief vignette is within the framework of the story’s setting. While it appears quite clear that Paul characterizes the circumcision group with negative shades, given their relationship to Peter’s behavior, the “men from James” are neutral and flat. It is possible that the reader is to group them with the circumcision party, but the connection is not made for the reader by Paul and their function in the narrative can be construed diversely.

In the end, I don’t think the Antioch Incident provides much useful information for our understanding of James. The story does not emit a quantity or quality of evidence needed to develop an understanding of James’ role in the event and I think this fact needs to be more readily acknowledge by interpreters. There is no reason to assume James was apprehensive about the Gentile mission in Antioch such that he sent a delegation to investigate. The text says neither that the “men from James” actively pressured Peter “to draw back” from associating with Gentiles, nor that James sent them for this purpose.
What’s more, it seems best to leave open the question of the identity of the “circumcision party” without overly specifying the referent historically. They are no doubt a group of circumcised males—perhaps Christ believers, perhaps not, perhaps Judeans, but perhaps Antiochean Jews—who disagreed with the practice of associating with Gentiles in their social space. Their disagreement with the intimate association influenced Peter to behave in a way contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

Rom. 1.17: Anthropological vs. Christological Readings

I've currently reading through Desta Heliso's Pistis and the Righteous One (Mohr/Siebeck, 2007) which is about Romans 1.17. As I see it, this is the case, pro and con, for the christological intepretation of Rom. 1.17:

1. It is absurd to talk of human faith as the mechanism through which the "righteousness of God" is revealed when, in Rom. 3.21-26, it takes place in the Christ-event (Heliso, p. 36).
2. Could not the phrase "the righteous [one] shall live by faith" refer to the Messiah who acquired eschatological life through his faithfulness and is the one who will come to save the faithful (Heliso, p. 70)?
3. Hab. 2.3-4 was interpreted messianically in the LXX .
4. The title ho dikaios was a christological title in the early church (e.g. Acts 3.14; 7.52).

But on the negative side (see esp. Francis Watson):

1. Christ is not mentioned by name in the entire passage!
2. Paul's main concern is to demonstrate: (a) the conformity of his gospel to the pattern of Scripture, and (b) to show the link of "righteousness" and "faith" in counter-point to an ethnocentric nomism.
3. Most uses of Hab. 2.3-4 in Judaism (e.g. Qumran) were not messianic.
4. 1.16 clearly focuses on human faith, while 1.17 is probably more focused on divine faithfulness.

I find it hard to go past the anthropological reading when it is tied more closely to divine activity (as opposed to a believing versus doing antithesis). Mark Seifrid is about to argue (in our forthcoming "Faith of Jesus Christ" book) that this passage means "Faith has its source in the faithfulness of the God who promises and fulfills". Interesting stuff!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Paul Helm on Calvin

Last week Prof. Paul Helm gave the annual John Murray lecture on "Calvin: What's the Big Idea?". It was a great lecture that set forth the view that Calvin's big idea (= central theological tenet or stimulus) was not predestination or common grace, but "our knowledge of God and our knowledge of ourselves". Anyway, Paul Helm's lecture is availabe in audio here! Enjoy!!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fact and Meaning in Biblical Studies

What is the relationship between an event and theological/moral/existential meaning? The Kantian paradigm that heavily influenced post-enlightenment philosophy makes a sharp bifurcation between "Fact" and "Value" so that the two are ultimately related but cannot be equated. In terms of biblical studies this bifurcation can be seen to have two major effects:

(1) It influences the two-stage model of biblical theology which is inherent in Krister Stendahl's differentation between what the text "meant" and what the text "means". This assumes that "facts" are inherently value neutral but meanings are inherently unfactual and often pluriform. This, however, might not be the case, esp. if facts come with their own intentional interpretations in-built.

(2) In more radical terms this can lead to the creation of meaning and value wholly independent of [historical] facts. This is seen most cleay in Crossan (in)famous saying: "Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens" (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 197). A formulation Bultmann would have been proud of! Here Easter is not an event that happened in history, but is a a vertical encounter with God, and could even be said in platonic terms to constitute the narrative climax of the "brilliant myth" that Christian theological structures are based upon. What I find most interesting is that Markus Bockmuehl notes how this was the pagan view of reality as well (Seeing the Word, 69 n. 61). Sallustius, the friend of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, in his manual on neoplatonic paganism said that "These things never happened, but always are" (tauta de egeneto men oudepote esti de aei) in On the Gods and World 4.9.

Spring Break 08!

This week begins our Spring Break and it could not come at a better time. The winter here in Chicago has felt unusually long with more snow events than I can recall in some time. So the Willitts family is boarding a plane this week and heading to the Sunshine state (Florida) to visit family and friends (That is the state from where I hail).
The trip is the first time we have taken the children on a plane so we are slightly apprehensive about the whole thing. Since Karla is a flight attendant we are perhaps more aware than others of just how annoying little children can be on a plane. We have taken necessary precautions and will have Benadryl close at hand if needed. However, if you have any tips about making a plane trip with small children bearable I would love to hear them.

The highlight of the trip for me no doubt will be spring training Yankee baseball games. I plan on taking Zion to his first game and although he won't remember it and the game will be during his nap time which will ensure an interesting experience, I want to take him to a game before his first birthday. We'll have the photos!
In addition to sun and baseball, I will be grading. I have an immense amount of grading (marking for those across the pond) as it is the middle of the semester and projects and exams for each of my classes have come due. I always think essay exams are a good idea until I have to grade 40 of them!

Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

One of the indivduals who exercised a significant influence on my development as a scholar is Dan Wallace of Dallas Seminary. In 2002 Dan founded the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.
The Dallas Morning News did a nice peice on Dan and the work of the CSNTM this weekend for the front page of their religion section. Among their objectives is to photograph 1.3 million pages of Greek New Testament manuscripts.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Wrede's Analogy

William Wrede in his famous essay on "The Task and Methods of [so-called] New Testament Theology" complains that little attention is given to the social context of the New Testament and too much emphasis is given to a conglomeration of theologies or theological doctrines. He then offers this analogy:

Consider the following: suppose that we are living two thousand years from now and are interested in the social democratic movement in our nineteenth century. Most of the literature of social democracy is lost, but we do still have a reasonable number of sources - two popular biographies of Lassalle, an academic treatise of Marx, a few letters of Lasalle, Engels and one or two unknown workers active as agitators; then a few pamphlets two or three pages long and finally a social inflammatory writing describing the socialist picture of heaven upon earth, - i.e. a collection of literature something like the New Testament. Now suppose we want to use these documents to get a picture of the outlook, ideas and earliest development of social democracy. We proceed as follows: we establish the order in which they were written. We then treat each one on its own. Marx and Lassalle rank alongside all the rest, only are dealt with more fully. The same procedure is adopted in each case. We naturally ask what Marx understands by labour, production, surplus value, etc. But we also ask what the pamphlets and letters mean by the concepts of bourgeoisie, proletariat, by the idea of its 'disinheritance', and by the variation in the concepts of labour or co-operative. Perhaps we manage to establish that in one of the papers the concept of ownership means just the same as that of property, and that some of Lassalle's ideas and phrases can no doubt be found in the inflammatory writing, and also - remarkably enough - traces of Darwin's influence, and a little Nietzsche. There are four occurrences of 'struggle of existence', two of 'adaptation', and one of 'master morality'. Another author has a special preference for the idea of agitation - so he is clearly 'the socialist of agitation'. In this way we carefully catalogue the ideas of each writing, stolidly piling one investigation upon another, arranging it all attractively according to the main points of view. Then we call the whole thing 'The Ideas of Social Democracy in its Period of Origin' (in Morgan, p. 82).

Wrede's point is that a history-of-ideas approach ends up with a caricature rather than a genuinely historical account of the New Testament.

Friday, March 07, 2008

My Proposal for the Antioch Incident, Part One: What is Paul’s issue with Peter?

I had intended to continue surveying important voices on the question of the Antioch incident. However, as with so many good intentions, I must now revise the breadth of the study. While it would have been productive and important to survey Esler (although it should be said that I did read him), Tomson and Bockmuehl (although he is much like Tomson with the added geographical insight that Antioch was the “gateway” to the ideal Land of Israel), I must move on to other things. So in conclusion of this rather protracted rabbit trail I will offer my proposal for the three questions: (1) What is Paul’s issue with Peter; (2) What role does James play in the circumstances; and (3) Who are “those of the circumcision”? Here I will address the first question.

As I have already on more than one occasion suggested in earlier posts, I wish to propose that the issue here is not what was eaten (traditional view), or how (the manner in which) it was eaten (Nanos’ view), but where it was eaten. The contextual marker for this is the verb “withdrew”: Peter and the other Jews who followed his lead “withdrew” from eating with the non-Jewish believers in Jesus. It is possible that the description is meant to be a figure of speech, but it is not obviously so. What if we take it to be a concrete depiction of the event: Peter left the meals. In this way, Peter’s action of which Paul so vehemently opposed was a departure from a place where the shared meals were eaten. If the space was Jewish space to where would they have withdrawn? Would not they have had to force the non-Jews to depart? This may appear to some to be an overly literal reading of the text, but I am growing persuaded that the verb “to withdraw” is more than simply a figure of speech in this context and becomes something of a key that better explains the other elements. Furthermore, the idea of a concrete withdraw can be substantiated by an appeal to Luke’s account in Acts, however controversial that may be. If one allows Luke’s narrative to have an influence here then it makes good sense of Paul’s strong rebuke of Peter.

Acts 10—11 make clear the issue at stake in Peter’s ministry to Cornelius’ household was association: the right for a Jew to enter the home of a non-Jew, even one who is a god-fearer (see 10:28). Peter’s vision corrected an apparently longstanding view that it was against law to enter the home of a non-Jew. God makes clear that this is to be no concern of Peter and he subsequently visits Cornelius at his home. This raises the concern of the Jerusalem church so a meeting is called and Peter is called to account. After his testimony the church agrees that God does not make distinctions between Jew and non-Jew and in essence a halakic principle of association is set forth that makes it appropriate for Christ-believing Jews to fellowship in the homes of non-Jewish god-fearing believers in Jesus.

On this reading, Peter and the other Jewish believers in Jesus by withdrawing from fellowship with Gentiles, presumably from fellowship in the Gentile’s own social space, were not only implying that these Gentiles needed to be judaized (2:14)—and I take this to mean not only to become circumcised but more importantly for this context to live in such a way as to create a conducive Jewish social space for intimate social intercourse—but disregarding the direct revelation from the Lord.

I think then when the context of Gal 2:11-14 is carefully considered and allowed to rightfully define the clause “living like a Gentile” (2:14), it seems to me that the clause connotes association—or lack of. In another context the description may mean something very different since “living like a Gentile” is ambiguous when disconnected from a particular context, as is “living like a Jew”. I agree that our source materials suggest that it was possible for one to live Jewishly and eat with Gentiles but it appears that the “eating with” was acceptable under certain conditions at least for some more scrupulous Jews; that is: in a controlled Jewish social space. While I am well aware that there was not one view on levels of association in the first century, clearly there were strong views of separation by some groups at least in Judea. Luke's evidence suggests there were such views among even the common folk such that Peter states it is "unlawful for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him" (10:28). Cornelius was a god-fearer so he must have had social intercourse with Jews, but it seems as if the issue rested on the place of that intercourse. E.P. Sanders voices this perspective on the situation in the Second Temple period:
Jewish food laws permitted them [Jews] to entertain Gentiles, but not to accept Gentile hospitality (unless the Gentiles could provide Jewish food and wine). The new result of this one-sided possibility would be very little entertaining of the one by the other. Social intercourse among equals involved reciprocity (1990:181; cf. Dunn 2002:209, emphasis added).
So the issue appears to be not whether Jews ate with Gentiles, but where Jews ate with Gentiles—on Gentile terms on Gentile turf or on Jewish terms on Jewish turf? The Jewish believers in Jesus followed a halakic principle revealed first to Peter (Acts 10) that allowed them to freely associate with god-fearing Gentiles in their social space without question and this openness seems to have been in conflict with some other approaches which is the point of Acts 10.

While this view is perhaps closest to Nanos’ reading, I remain unconvinced of his assertion that the issue was “how” these meals were conducted since it is unclear to me how an outsider could tell in Jewish social space that Jews were treating god-fearing Gentiles with a higher respect than was appropriate to their position. He did not provide evidence that showed concretely how this would be observed. In an earlier post Isuggested the possibility in jest of a bouncer at the door of the house who said “Drop’um!” I think the verb “withdraw” has real traction when taken concretely. Peter was eating with Gentiles in Gentile social space (as he did with Cornelius), but then withdrew from those situations. I agree with Nanos' point, however, that Paul's answer to the problem is an affirmation of the Gentile identity as equal members of the eschatological age. Interestingly, Paul's central idea in Galatians 2:15-21 is reminiscent of that of Acts 11:17-18.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Book Notice: Putting Jesus in His Place

Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ
Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski
(Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal, 2007).

I've spent part of the afternoon re-reading through this volume by Bowman and Komoszeski on the deity of Jesus. D.A. Carson offers a fairly positive review of this book at RBL. Basically the book is organized around the acronym HANDS:

Jesus shares the honours due to God.
Jesus shares the attributes of God.
Jesus shares the names of God.
Jesus shares in the deeds of God.
Jesus shares the seat of God's throne.

The volume is written in easy to read English at a semi-popular level and would be ideal for an adult Sunday school group or even a college class. The sub-headings have catchy titles drawn from recent movies and modern hymns. At the same time this book is not a substitute for Murray J. Harris' work on Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus and those wanting to go deeper really should engage the work of Bauckham, Hurtado, and Hengel (whom Bowman and Koniszewski are clearly dependent upon to varying degrees). The thrust of the book is largely apologetic, but it is never overly simplistic or crass; their interaction with alternative interpretation like that of Dunn on Phil. 2.5-11 are even handed and they lay out the issues relating to disputed texts like the "firstborn" of Col. 1.15 and Jesus' ignorance of the date of the parousia in Mk. 13.30-32 as it relates to his omniscience. I still wonder if a chronological or corpus driven approach might be a better way to tackle this subject, but the thematic approach of HANDS is clearly an easy and catching way to articulate Jesus' divinity and naturally lends itself to a single lecture or sermon based around these five points. Very useful book for pastors, students, and lay-people.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bockmuehl on Edward C. Hoskyns and the Object of NT Study

I'm currently into chapter 5 of Seeing the Word where Bockmuehl looks at Hoskyns as an example of "Evangelical Catholicism" (something I think Bockmuehl would identify with). Bockmuehl notes the hostility towards Hoskyns by Cambridge faculty after his death which tried to erase his memory from the landscape. Bockmuehl commends Hoskyns for his "compelling integration of catholic ecclesiology and evangelical conviction about Scripture" (p. 140) although Hoskyns vocally disliked both fundamentalists and liberals alike. In fact, Hoskyns was wrested from liberalism after an encounter with Barth's Romerbrief. Hoskyns wanted to combine historical criticism with theological formulation. C.K. Barrett recalls Hoskyns saying: "You look down your critical miscroscope at the New testament text with a view to describing the religious life of the first-century Christians, and you find that God is looking back at you through the microscope and declaring you to be a sinner" (p. 147). Hoskyns's Riddle of the New Testament and The Fourth Gospel are illustrations of this approach. Bockmuehl finds here a great model for the task of the modern Neutestamentler: "Hoskyns's question of New Testament scholarship's engagement with the actual content and life of that book remains a challenge full of intellectual vitality and promise. Far from being accessible through either a master of secondary literature or a sociological redescription of Christian origins, Scripture's theological res, its subject matter and ecclesial setting, inextricably defines the New Testament's historic footprint and identity - and is implied readings. It is this object of study that does stare back at us through the microscope and that calls the implied interpreter of faith in the gospel of the living God" (p. 160).

Ben Myers is Biblioblogger of the Month

My good Aussie friend, Ben Myers of the blog Faith and Theology, is biblioblogger of the month. Ben is one of the smartest guys I know and I believe he will have a significant impact on the theological scene internationally. Not bad for a guy who has never done a theology degree and has Ph.D on John Milton!

Scot McKnight on the Robust Gospel

Over at CT, Scot McKnight has an excellent article on the The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel which is well worth a read. In fact, I strenuously urge all of my students to read this article.

In particular I liked point # 2:

The robust gospel places transactions in the context of persons. When the gospel is reduced to a legal transaction shifting our guilt to Christ and Christ's righteousness to us, the gospel focuses too narrowly on a transaction and becomes too impersonal. We dare not deny transaction or what's called double imputation, but the gospel is more than the transactions of imputation. The robust gospel of the Bible is personal—it is about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. It is about you and me as persons encountering that personal, three-personed God.