Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daniel Schwartz on the Ioudaioi Debate

Myself and Joel Willitts have thought a fair bit about whether Ioudaioi should be translated as "Jews" or "Judeans". See our respective posts on Judean and Syrian, Being Jew or Judean, and Its High Time to Change our Terminology. I'm not yet ready to jettison the term "Jew" in favour of "Judean", although I do think that "Judean" finds a proper place at many points especially related to the Gospels and in parts of Josephus. See also Phil Harland (e.g. here and here) and Loren Rosson's posts (here).

What has further raised doubts in my mind about treating Ioudaioi as "Judean" is an essay by Daniel R. Schwartz, '"Judean" or "Jew"? How Should We Translate Ioudaios in Josephus,' in Jewish Identity in the Greco-Roman World, eds. J. Frey, D. Schwartz, and S. Gripentrog (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 3-27. Schwartz notes now post-holocaust sensitivites have both helped and hindered discussions of Jewish identity and he notes the complex problem of identity as not all Jews adhere to Judaism and not all adherents of Judaism are Jews by birth, so life and usage can get complicated (a complication exhibited in Israeli courts where Jewish identity often has to be proven). He also acknowledges examples where Ioudaios clearly means "Judean" such as Apion 1.177ff and Antiquities 18.196. Yet Schwartz presents no less than ten reasons why we should prefer "Jews" over "Judeans"!

(1) Epigraphic evidence indicates that Ioudaios refers mostly to people who have been born as Jews, regardless of where they are from, and in a few cases to those who had converted to Judaism. (2) If the Idumeans, Judeans, and Galileans made a common front against the Romans, what is that front to be called? (3) In 2 Macc. 2.21, 8.1, and 14.38 Ioudaios defines a person by his relation to religion not by his place of Judea. (4) There seems to be no evidence at all for calling someone we would call a non-Jew a Ioudaios. (5) When we do hear of pagans mentioned in Judea they are usually called 'Greeks' not 'Judeans'. (6) Our English term 'Jew' refers not only to religion but also to descent, and much data in Josephus points to Ioudaios as something predicated by birth. (7) There is an element of development in Josephus' thought between Wars written in the 70s and his other works written in the 90s, Josephus' understanding of being Jewish developed from one which assumed that religion and state go together to one which recognized that they need not. (8) Greco-Roman authors very rarely linked the Ioudaioi with the land of Judea and they used other words for it such as Idumea, Palestine, or Syria. (9) Given that more Ioudaioi lived outside of Judea than in it (i.e. the Diaspora) there is not enough evidence to indicate that Ioudaioi could unambiguously be taken as linking those it denoted to a particular land. (10) There is no good reason not to treat Ioudaios just like Rhomaios. All "Romans" were Roman regardless of whether they were in or from Rome or not.

Interesting stuff to think about!

Pronouns in Ephesians

It is a strange week when two people, in two different continents, email you on consecutive days with the same question about the personal pronouns in Ephesians, but that is what happened to me recently.

On pronouns, I've always been interested in the "we" of Gal. 2.16: "we know that no one is justified on the basis of works of law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ". Who is the "we"? I think it refers to Jewish Christians which demonstrates that justification by faith was not a Pauline novum, but something that was transparently part of the faith of the early church (see R. Hays ABD 3.1131 and E.P. Sanders PPJ 519 for the same point).

In Ephesians (leaving authorship aside for a moment) there is a constant switch between first person and second person pronouns in chs. 1-2. My student and friend David Kirk writes to me and notes:

"Paul uses first person pronouns for 1:3-12; then second person for 1:13-18. He uses second person for 2:1-2, then first person for 2:3-10, then second person for 2:11-13. In Chapter 2, it is clear that to some degree the second person pronoun refers to Gentile believers. Does the first person pronoun then refer to Jews? If so, Paul's argument is that Gentiles have been incorporated into blessings which were first and foremost for the Jews, which seems a thoroughly Pauline thought, and is what Paul goes on to argue in 2:13ff. In it's favour is that 1:3-12 then makes a lot of sense, with God's choice being of Israel (a thought with strong roots in the OT), adoption as sons being a predestined eschatological goal for the Jews; the 'mystery of his will' in verse 9 then becomes the revelation by Law and prophets with a view to the summing up of all things in Christ. Also 2:1-3 makes sense, especially 'even as the rest'. If my speculations are correct, 2:1-2 refers to Gentiles, 2:3 refers to Jews."

I think the Kirkmeister is on the money and made a good observation. Hopefully he'll blog about this fairly soon himself. Update: David Kirk has posed on this here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Alternative Worship

Charles Wesley wrote church music by rewriting beer drinking songs with Christian lyrics. I wonder why we don't do the same thing nowadays, take popular songs and re-write the lyrics with Christian themes. I have an example. Let's take Bonnie Tyle's "I Need a Hero" and Christianize it:

I need Saviour
I'm holding out for a Savior till the end of the age
He's gotta be God and he's gotta be man
And he's gotta save me from my sins
Oh, I need a Saviour.

I could be up for a Dove music award hey!

Text Linguistics and Statistics

As Mark Twain said: There are lies, there are damnable lies, and then there statistics! Thanks to Rick Brannan, I found this quote from Matthew Brook O'Donnell:

"It seems unlikely that by simply counting words it is possible to differentiate between authors. While a particular author may have a core or base vocabulary, as well as an affinity for certain words (or combination/collocation of words), there are many factors, for instance, age, further education, social setting, rhetorical purpose and so on, that restrict or expand this core set of lexical items. In spite of this, New Testament attribution studies and many commentaries (sadly, some rather recent ones at that) have placed considerable weight on counting the number of words found in one letter but not found in a group of letters assumed to be authentic" (Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament, 388).

Unbaptist Thoughts on Baptism and Communion

1. I've been reading the book edited by John Armstrong on Four Views of Baptism. The problem I've always had with the paedo-baptist view has been: (1) In Acts 16.33 "household" means slaves and retainers not children (so J.D.G. Dunn); (2) In Col. 2.11-12 what replaces OT circumcision is not baptism, but rather circumcision of the heart, i.e. regeneration; (3) what places a person in the church is baptism, so how can you have unregenerate church members, the NT has no category for unregenerate baptised persons! Nonetheless, I have to admit that in the Four Views book Richard Pratt makes one good point that gives me pause to think: "[Abraham] was also commanded to circumcise his sons before they even had the opportunity to exercise faith (cf. Gen. 17:12). In much the same way, baptism is rightly applied to adult converts after they profess faith, and rightly applied to their children even though these same children may not be capable of faith" (pp. 70-71). If the new covenant is the messianic execution of the Abrahamic promises, this is interesting point regarding the incoroporation of children.

2. I find it curious that Baptists still have "infant dedications" though they do not have infant baptism. And paedo-baptists still have "confirmations" or professions of faith before admitting baptized persons into full fellowship, though they do not have believers' baptism. This makes me wonder that we need something to signify that children are "children of the promise" and something to signify that the faith of their parents has become their own. The question is, of course, where do we put the water of baptism: at the front end or back end of this process? While the answer is not arbitrary, I cannot help but think that credo and paedo-baptists are perhaps closer to each other in function than is ordinarily admitted.

3. If a person is baptized, can one legitimately refuse them communion? I had always thought that the logic of paedo-baptism leads to paedo-communion. That of course might not be such a bad thing! In the early church, the Lord's Supper was an entire meal, eaten together (that is the impression I get from 1 Corinthians 10) not just a morsel of bread and a drip of juice, and the meals were used to feed believers who were poor and it probably included their children (since they had to eat too). Is "communion" a sacrament administered by the church to the properly qualified persons, or is communion the meal that Jesus gave to his followers to celebrate the kingdom of God through him, which was shared among believers including those of relatively low socio-economic status as a primary means of physical sustenance for them? There's a big difference between these two options!

The End of Evil!

There is a duality in human beings, they are created for good, but they do evil. How does one set them free from evil, from the evil within themselves! Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which I read in high school) depicts this struggle to conquer the evil of the human state as the challenge of science. Science, so it goes, might one day find the answer to the cause of evil and find a way to control it and eliminate it. The result in Stevenson's narrative, however, is not freedom from evil but its intensification when humans try to play God. In a tragic irony, Jekyll becomes the very thing that he tries to destroy.

Well, Jekyll and Hyde has been made a into musical (with none other than David Hasselhoff playing the lead role). Watch the opening two scenes and note the biblical echoes (e.g. "in the twinkling of an eye") about what it says about human evil and how one might go away in liberating humanity from its clutches.

So we learn that science can have a go, but in the end it does not have all the answers. How then do we defeat evil, not the evil of others, but the evil of ourselves? I'm reminded of what Paul says at the end of Romans 7.24-25: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bird's "Playdoyee" book

The best line in the Martin Meiser's recent review of Bird's SROG is the last: 

In sum, this well-reasoned playdoyee for reconciliation deserves many attentive readers. 

I'm not sure what the word "playdoyee" means, but I wonder if this is a typo by Meiser for "playdoughee"? This is surely more characteristic of Bird. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Review: Struggles for Power in Early Christianity

Elsa Tamez
Struggles for Power in Early Christianity: A Study of the First Letter to Timothy
Trans. Gloria Kinsler
Maryknoll, New York: 2007.
Available from Alban Books in the UK
Available from in the USA

Tamez examines 1 Timothy in light of its clear "prejudice" against women and slaves (p. xvii), but she also notes that it has much that a feminist/liberation theologian can affirm about wealth and its misuse (e.g. 2.9, 6.9). She proposes not abandoning 1 Timothy, but a critical re-reading of the text. Tamez proceeds in four chapters looking at the historic context of the Greco-Roman empire and the Christian community behind this text. Attention is given to struggles in social position, power relations between the genders, the author's intolerance of other theological views, and she proposes a new criteria for election to positions of leadership. In the end, she confesses to studying 1 Timothy with "openness" but ultimately distances herself from the author. In the conclusion she writes: "The rereading of the text has been too revealing for us to continue blindly affirming in a fundamentalist manner all that the text says. We have understood the complexity o the historical moment and the diverse reasons for the affirmations of the text. Upon understanding the context behind teh text and teh text itself. we can dissent from all those affirmations that exclude women, the poor without a roof, and slaves. We can also dissent from teh hierarchial posture that is imposed and excludes, withotu entering into a debate with those who thik otherwise" (p. 111). This book is an interesting read and it gives a good example of reading against the grain of the text, but in the words of the great British philosopher and international man of mystery, Austin Powers, "it's not my bag baby"! What I found more valuable was the appendices that included a diagram on the socioeconomic structure of the Roman empire, an introduction and translation of The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a curious diagram on plurality on the primitive churches cited from Gerd Theissen's The Religion of the Earliest Churches (which I should blog on some time), and a translation of 1 Timothy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Colossians Commentary - Lessons Learned (Part 1)

I'm nearing the end of my Colossians/Philemon commentary and this is what I've learned:

On commentary writing:

1. Commentary writing ain't all that easy. It is hard because you have to say something on nearly everything and you might not have something new, special, or particularly innovative to say on every single topic or issue that arises. Some issues and problems apprehend your attention more than others.

2. Commentary writing can go on ad infinitum. There are so many grammatical matters you could go into and so much secondary literature to read and interact with. In a fairly short commentary (55K in my case) I had to pick the issues and debates I was gonna enter into and select the commentators that I was gonna principally dialogue with. This was an intermediate commentary so there wasn't gonna be stacks of critical discussions on manuscript variations and massive discussions on every possible view.

3. How to write a commentary? For me, it is important that you don't end up writing a commentary on other commentaries (which can be easily done). I think it's important to read the text in Greek a few times, read a few English translations, look at one or two commentaries to get a grip on the major issues (grammatical and theological), then write your comments with only lexical aids in hand, and then consult the secondary literature.

4. What are the best Colossians commentaries? This is a hard one (but see the list over at Best Commentaries - so many commentaries are still coming out: Sumney, Pao, Beale, Moo). If I had to pick one, it would probably be N.T. Wright's in the TNTC series, which is a good pocket size commentary packed with adequate detail and thoughtful reflection and is great value for money. My second choice is a tie between Peter O'Brien (WBC - soon to be revized by Clinton Arnold) and James Dunn (NIGTC) for their thoroughness and clarity. My third tier pick is Markus Barth's Colossians (AB) and Philemon (ECC) volumes since I continue to enjoy his writings immensely - even if he is opaque at times - and also Andrew Lincoln (NIBC) has some great stuff too and is always to the point. Fourth, Lohse (Hermeneia) provides good background in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, McL. Wilson (ICC) shows the relevance of the Nag Hammadi literature, and Charles Talbert (Paideia) has some background info from Greco-Roman literature. In terms of multi-volume commentaries, Andrew Lincoln's is a standout in the NIBC vol. 10 and it is a great volume with Richard Hays on Galatians and James Dunn on the Pastorals as well - one I recommend to buy! Although I have not been able to get hold of Todd Wilson's Colossians' contribution in the Revised Expositor's Bible Commentary just yet, that might well be another big gem in a diamond mine. Best German commentaries are probably Michael Wolter and Joachim Gnilka, but more so the former (sadly Schlatter was disappointing). Best commentary on the Greek is Murray Harris hands down, but don't neglect Moule. Best older commentaries are easily Lightfoot and Chrysostom. Sadly, once Colossae has been excavated (which is beginning!), the critical commentaries will need to be re-written in light of archaeological evidence that comes to the fore.

5. Studies on Colossians to consult are: Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism - argues for a syncrestic background to the Colossian heresy. While I think his overall thesis is wrong this volume is a paragon of how evangelicals can do really good cutting biblical scholarship. He almost convinced me! Christian Stettler, Der Kolosserhymnus - great piece of work, I shall have to read it again more slowly, he argues that the hymn emerged from Greek-speaking Jewish Christians circles in the context of their worship of Jesus.

In a future post, I'll nail my colours to the mast of a number of issues on Colossians itself.

Martin Hengel on 1 John

‘The first letter of John, which takes the intentions of the Gospel further, defines this precisely: “Whoever does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might love through him" (4.8ff). This means that in the Son who has become human, God’s love, his very nature, has become manifest for humankind; God himself comes to them. The incarnation of the love of God, not the deification of Christ, is the main theme of Johannine theology.’

Martin Hengel, ‘Christological Titles in Early Christianity,’ in The Messiah, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), p. 432.

Friday, August 22, 2008

New Biblical Theology Blog

A new blog, Biblical Theology, is now up and running and you can see the first post here. Contributors include James Hamilton, Desi Alexander, Michael Bird, Steve Dempster and with mroe to come!

Jim writes in the opening entry: "This blog exists for the glory of God, in service to the church, to promote the study and discussion of biblical theology’s history, methodology, aims, achievements, developments, direction, and points of contact with other approaches to the study of the Bible."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Forthcoming First Corinthians Commentaries

Jo Fitzmyer's commentary on First Corinthians in the Anchor Bible series (published now with Yale University Press rather than Doubleday) is said to be out later this year, probably at SBL at a guess! Fitzmyer is an energetic and competent author and after reading his Romans commentary I think that he should be made an honorary Protestant! I have to wonder if the guy who put the imprimatur on that volume really read it, but that's another story. Yet I think Fitzmyer will have a hard time topping Thiselton, Fee, and Schrage for the best 1 Corinthians commentary in stock, but no doubt he'll come close. I should also mention that Andrew Clark of Aberdeen Uni is down to do the WBC volume on 1 Corinthians and Bruce Winter for the New Covenant Commentary Series as well - both guys have a wealth of knowledge on the Greco-Roman world.

SROG Reviewed at SBL

Over at RBL, Martin Meiser gives a very generous review of my book Saving Righteousness of God. I think I owe him some 'rotwein und pumpernickel'!

Signing the Cross

Here's a patristic quote on signing the cross:

"Let us not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Let the cross, as our seal, be boldly made with our fingers upon our brow, and on all occasions; over the bread we eat, over the cups we drink; in our comings and in our goings; before sleep; on lying down and rising up; when we are on the way and when we are still. It is a powerful safeguard; it is without price, for the sake of the poor; without toil, because of the sick; for it is the grace from God, a badge of the faithful, and a terror to devils; for 'he displayed them openly, leading them away in triumph for force of it.' For when they see the cross, they are reminded of the Crucified".
- Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13.36.

I'm not sure if signing the cross will heal people or keep evil spirits away, but remembering the cross from morn to dawn, immersing oneself in symbolism related to the cross, and eating bread and wine in memory of Calvary sounds like a good way to cultivate a cruciformed spirituality.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Circumcision of the Messiah

Here's my translation of Col. 2.11-13: "In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision done without human hands, in the putting off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the operation of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in the trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with him, having forgiven us all of our trespasses".

What is the 'circumcision of the Messiah?

A number of commentators see circumcision of the Messiah as refering to Jesus’ death. This makes sense given that Paul refers to union with Messiah in circumcision, burial, and resurrection in vv. 11-12, whereas in Romans 6 Paul there refers to sharing in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Yet I would maintain that (1) circumcision of the Messiah is coordinate to putting off of the body of flesh and is the opposite of the uncircumcision of your flesh in v. 13. The content of v. 11 then does stand not for the indicative (death of Jesus) and imperative (putting off evil deeds) elements, but underscores the transformative power of being in-Messiah. Paul is giving a messianic rewording to ‘circumcision of the heart’. (2) The actual indicative aspect of Paul’s exhortation is provided in vv. 12-15, while v. 11 states the reality that is created by Jesus’ triumphant death. (3) Any attempt to find an identical linear sequence to Romans 6 fails because baptism in v. 12 encompasses death and resurrection with Jesus and in v. 13 it is their individual spiritual death and spiritual quickening that is in view. (4) There seems to be a two stage scheme of participation based on baptism/burial (= death) and resurrection in vv. 12-13 and there is no wooden imitation of the pattern in Romans 6.

Monday, August 18, 2008

American Politicians and Religion

I find the interface between religion and politics in the USA to be most amusing. Watching, for the most part, irreligious men and women feign religion and seeing people buy it does not happen in most western countries. In fact, in some places, being a Christian is probably a liability to being elected. My own country Australia has no equivalent to the "Religious Right" although there are some Christians in politics in both major political parties. Yet I should say that the Australian Greens try to pick on any one who is a Christian in politics as among the "Religious Right" and the Greens' idea of secularism means feeding evangelicals to the lions at Stadium Australia as a commemoration to the genius of Nero and for the entertainment of the left-wing intelligentsia. Apparently, it is a good opening act to Keating: The Musical!

On Americans, Religion, and Politics, what would happen if certain persons were to find themselves in heaven?

1. A Democrat: Well I'll be darned, there really is a heaven!
2. A Republican: Wow, heaven sure is shiny, but it ain't as big as Texas!
3. John McCain: Well I'll be darned, there really is a heaven!
4. Barack Obama: Say, why isn't Jeremiah Wright here, he died six months ago?
5. Hillary Clinton: What the heck is my husband doing here? I didn't think that you let adulterers into this place.
6. Mike Huckabee: What, you want me to go back and preach to America that one can be a social conservative and still believe in universal health care and compassionate economics? Lord, even if someone rises from the dead, they will not believe!
7. Mitt Romney: Yes, Lord, I do have bags of money with me, during my life time I found a way to take it with me. Now where are those golden tablets that I heard about?
8. George W. Bush: [Before the seat of judgment] You know, apology is a word that gets used alot these days ...
9. Nancy Pelosi: What are the souls of all these unborn babies doing here, I thought I had them "taken care of"?
10. Colin Powell: I guess I'm here because working for George was kinda like doing purgatory already.

Something to offend everyone!

How Did Christianity Begin?

The Bird vs. Crossley smack down is just about here. To be released in mid-September in the US and UK. At the Hendrickson website you can read: The objective of How Did Christianity Begin? is to present two contrasting perspectives on the history of early Christianity. The contrast is evidently sharp as one co-author comes from a conservative Christian background (Michael Bird), while the other co-author (James Crossley) approaches the matter from a secular standpoint. The volume works sequentially through Christian origins and addresses various topics including the historical Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, the Gospels, and the early church. Each author in turn examines these subjects and lays out his historical arguments concerning their origin and meaning. The volume also includes short responses from two other scholars (Maurice Casey and Scot McKnight) to the arguments of Bird and Crossley so as to give an even handed and broad evaluation of the arguments and debates that unfold.

Let me say that Scot McKnight's rejoinder to Crossley is worth the price of the book alone! There are some good exchanges, more agreements than we first imagined, and some humorous ancedotes as well! Hopefully Crossley and I will be invited on the Colbert Report which I can use to make fun of Crossley's gothic fashion sense and his religious devotion to ManUism.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jews eating with Gentiles

When it comes to Jews eating with Gentiles, what were the options, and what attitudes did Jews have towards Gentile food and Gentile dining company? This is an important question for Jews living in cities of the Diaspora where kosher food was not always plentiful and they had to interact with Gentiles in order to get anywhere in the social order. Here's an overview:

Rejection of Gentile oil as impure: Josephus, Life 74; War 2.591; Ant. 12.120.
Rejection of Gentile wine: Dan. 1.8; Add. Esth. 4.17.
Bringing one’s own food and wine to a meal: Jdth. 12.1-4, 19.
Eating only vegetables: Dan. 1.8-15; Josephus, Life 14; Rom. 14.1-2.
Dispensing with prayers and libations at joint meals: Ep. Arist. 184-85.
Sitting at separate tables: Jos. and Asen. 7.1.
Not eating with Gentiles at all: Acts 10.28; 11.3; Tacitus, Hist. 5.5.

Colossians 2.8-23 - Significance

I have been (and still am) working through Col. 2.8-23 for a writing project. I am convinced that this section shows fairly convincingly that Paul is countering a form of Jewish Mysticism. It is certainly the most theological and polemical section of the entire letter, which has led me to reflect on its significance for the contemporary church. Here's my thoughts so far:

The new covenant community has always been a creedal community confessing its faith as to what God has done in creation, in the history of Israel, in Jesus, and in the life of the church. The triune God has made himself known in his acts of reconciliation and renewal and this fills the content of sermons, Bible studies, liturgies, songs, prayers, and statements of belief from ancient times until even now. For this reason, the early church developed creeds as short programmatic summaries of its faith. These creeds enabled the church to know its own mind and to state how it distinguished itself from Judaism and paganism and from unwholesome derivations of its own beliefs. While no one likes people who are doctrinaire and unduly infatuated with doctrinal precision over every minor issue, nonetheless, we cannot help but notice that the content of faith matters immensely. A common faith is what ultimately defines the centre and boundaries of the church and even forms the fulcrum of our common fellowship.

It is vitally important, then, that the church in all ages guard its theological vision of the nature of God, Christ, and salvation without being pointlessly puritanical or vacuously broad. Even though it might seem unpopular, we should maintain the language of ‘heresy’ and warnings against it, as perversions of our distinct theological vision can endanger the integrity of our message, the focus of our worship, detract from our mission, and even risk shipwrecking our faith upon the jagged rocks of cultural conformity. Heretics never intend to distort the biblical and ancient faith, rather, they intend to make it more palatable and pliable to the spirit of the age, and so remove barriers to belief. For the second century gnostics this meant marrying Christianity to platonic cosmology and for the old liberals of the early twentieth century it required revizing Christian doctrines in light of rationalistic critiques of revealed religion. We should embody the virtue of tolerance, especially in matters that are adiaphora or ‘indifferent’, but at the same time we should think carefully of what we tolerate and not allow anyone to bring sin or false teaching into the church and expect it to be baptized and blessed in Jesus’ name.

We live in an age where, in some circles, inclusiveness has become the new orthodoxy and where exclusiveness has become the new heresy. This is where Col. 2.8-23 is so important. It informs us that some things are not for negotiation, such as the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ, and that nothing can supplement or detract from God’s actions in his annointed Son. Colossians demands no compromise to the creed of solus Christus or ‘Christ alone’. To capitulate this point will result in a theology that is at first imprecise, then wishy-washy, then populalist, then worldly, and finally trivial. Paul calls on Christian communities to confess their faith with courage and fidelity against the philosophies of this world, be they within the church or external to it, and to singularly propound without reservation the absolute finality and ultimacy of Jesus Christ in all things. From this faithful confession emerges a unity rooted in one faith, one Lord, and one baptism, it unites believers from all over the world, it brings them together in a common mission, it entreats them to recline at a common table, and forges their shared identity as those who are in the Messiah.

N.T. Wright on Col. 2.15

NTW is at his best when he writes on Col. 2.15:

"The 'rulers and authorities' of Rome and of Israel - as Caird points out, the best government and the highest religion of the world of that time had ever known - conspired to place Jesus on the cross. These powers, angry at his challenge to their sovereignty, stripped him naked, held him up to public contempt, and celebrated a triumph over him. In one of his most dramatic statements of the paradox of the cross, and one moreover which shows in what physical detail Paul could envisage the horrible death Jesus had died, he declares that, on the contrary, on the cross God was stripping them naked, was holding them to public contempt, and leading them in his own triumphal procession - in Christ, the crucified Messiah. When the 'powers' had done their worst, crucifying the lord of glory incognito on the charge of blasphemy and rebellion, they have overreached themselves. He, neither blasphemer nor rebel, was in fact their rightful sovereign. They thereby exposed themselves for what they were - usurpers of the authority which was properly his. The cross therefore becomes the source of hope for all who had been held captive under their rule, enslaved in fear and mutual suspicion. Christ breaks the last hold that the 'powers' had over his people, by dying on their behalf. He now welcomes them into a new family in which the ways of the old world - its behaviour, its distinctions of race and class and sex, its blind obedience to the 'forces' of politics and economics, prejudice and superstition - have become quite simply out of date, a ragged and defeated rabble." (Colossian, pp. 116-17).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Books on Calvin and Union with Christ

Next year is the 500th anniversary of the nerdy but brilliant little frenchman, John Calvin, and it seems that everyone is celebrating his birth, not by cheering for Rodger Federer or by consuming copious amounts of swiss chocolate, but by writing books on Calvin's doctrine of union with Christ and its effects on later theology. Here's three I've found:

Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology by Mark A. Garcia (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008).

Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology by William B. Evans (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008) [Yes, I know that this isn't directly on Calvin, but he obviously has a lot to do with it and his face is on the front cover of the book!].

Latest Evangelical Quarterly

The latest EQ includes:

"The Evangelical Sacrament: baptisma semper reformandum".
Anthony R. Cross

"In the wake of Trypho: Jewish-Christian Dialogues to the third to the six centuries".
William Varner

"Puritan or Enlightened? John Erskine and the transition of Scottish Evangelical Theology".
Jonathan Yeager

"'Let there be no compulsion in religion.' Tafsir comparison on the verse 2:256".
Anna Munster

It also includes some good reviews of Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Jesus und das Judentum (I. Howard Marshall) and Maurice Casey, The Solution to the "Son of Man" Problem (Dick France).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kasemann on Christ and the Powers

The great Kaesemann writes:

"The letter itself answers the question at hand in terms of 'Christ alone.' The powers cannot establish a connection with Christ, nor can they separate from him. All that can be said about them is that they who were once rulers of the world have been disempowered by the Christ, who alone as the eschatological ruler of the All [kosmocrator] holds in his hands the governance of the world and the salvation of his own" ("Romer 13:1-7", 359).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lightfoot on Col. 2.15

Lightfoot's commentaries are not dry remarks on ancient Greek, but are powerfully sermonic at certain points. Consider this quote on Colossians 2.15:

"The final act in the conflict began with the agony of Gethsemane; it ended with the cross of Calvary. The victory was complete. The enemy of man was defeated. The powers of evil, which had clung like a Nessus robe about His humanity, were torn off and cast aside for ever. And the victory of mankind is involved in the victory of Christ. In His cross we too are divested of the poisonous clinging garments of temptation and sin and death" (p. 190).

An "orderly separation" for Anglicanism?

The Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, bishop of Winchester, offers some interesting thoughts about the 2008 Lambeth conference and about the future of Anglicanism. On the former, while he lauds Rowan Williams' third plenary address (which I have to say is quite encouraging including an olive branch to GAFCON), he laments that: "By the second full week of the Conference I and many other bishops had come to the view that the programme as a whole was designed to ensure that the Conference should not seek to offer any clear guidance or teaching on any issue, because of the potentially divisive effects of our starting upon the plenary debates, and the voting, which alone would enable the Conference to articulate a particular view comparable to that of 'Lambeth [1998]'". This confirms what has been my suspicion for some time, namely, that Williams' strategy to hold the communion together is, in desperation I suspect, to filibuster the communion by stifling any democratic process leading to a definitive resolution precisely because it would lead to a dissolution of the communion as it stands. This might not be as bad as it sounds if Williams is trying to buy time in order to (1) let all sides cool down, re-think their actions, meet face to face, and get an alternative perspective on what is going and where, and also (2) create some space for an Anglican covenant that can hopefully provide a way forward where all parties can agree on a new rule book for the communion and force TEC to swap "unilateral" for "mutally accountable". Sadly, the problem I have with such a strategy, noble as it sounds, is that in order to do that Williiams must brazenly defy the will of the majority of the communion who, as far as I can tell, would very much have liked a democratic resolution to the current crisis at Lambeth: vote to reaffirm LR 1.10 and then vote that those who do not agree to live-by LR 1.10 (note: [1] "live-by" and "agree with" are different things, no one's asking for the latter; [2] "live-by" means moratoria on same-sex blessing and ordination of active homosexuals to the episcopate) are invited to remain in the communion, but only in a second tier position. I'm sure someone can show me a problem with that scenario somewhere, but I understand the annoyance of the global south who claim that the voice of the majority is being quashed by an elite few. On the future of Anglicanism, Scott-Joynt states: "I described this apparently likely outcomes 'living down' to the concerns about “Lambeth 2008” that motivated the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in July, and that led more than 200 bishops to refuse the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to the Conference. I expressed my concern that if this were to be the outcome of the Conference, more Provinces might well be drawn away from the See of Canterbury to the new structures that GAFCON had committed itself to bringing into being; and I suggested that the wisest future for the Communion could be some kind of negotiated 'orderly separation' that would free both 'sides' from more years of necessarily inconclusive debate and from the damage that each perceived itself receiving from the other." This call for separation is not that of some ultra conservative licking his fingers waiting for the fabric of the communion to finally tear apart so he can say, "Ha, see, I told you so!". Rather, I think that Scott-Joynt's words are the recommendations of a realist who wants all sides to embrace the inevitable on terms that are, hopefully, acceptable to all parites.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Around the Blogs

Things of note around the blogosphere:

1. Scot McKnight, author of the Jesus Creed blog, is the featured blogger of the month over at See this: Blogger of the Month for August 2008.

2. Congrats to Ben Blackwell, a Ph.D student in Durham, who has just accepted a part-time position as N.T. Wright's research assistant.

3. Congrats to Chris Tilling for his appointment as NT Tutor at St Mellitus College and St Paul's Theological Centre where he'll be working with, among other people, the wives of Rowan Williams and Alister McGrath!

4. Nijay Gupta, also from the Durham cohort, offers some good thoughts on becoming a more well-rounded biblical theologian.

5. Andrew McGowan is preaching the excellencies of the great Baptist Preacher Charles Spurgeon to Presbyterians in Sydney, Australia and teaching Reformed folk what covenant theology is about (i.e. Meredith Kline doesn't know a covenant from his elbow [my words not McGowan's]). The good news is that so far no one has commented "You are surprisingly understandable for a Glaswegian" or asked him "Which part of England are you from?".

6. Wipf & Stock is producing some funky books on Anglicanism including the forthcoming title On Rowan Williams: Critical Essays including one essay by Ben Myers.

Friday is for Ad Fontes

I have to say that reading Book One of Ovid's Metamorphoses was most illuminating. It is, in the opening verses, a Graeco-Roman account of creation with many similarities to Genesis 1. History is also divided up into certain ages (Golden, Silver, Brazen, Iron). The god Saturn is driven to tartarus (cf. 2 Pet. 2.4; Jude 13 ), the giant Argus had a head with a hundred eyes (Zech. 4.10; Rev. 5.6), and the seating of the gods in a heavenly council reminds me Dan. 7.9:

"And he, their father, had assum'd the throne, Upon his iv'ry sceptre first he leant, Then shook his head, that shook the firmament: Air, Earth, and seas, obey'd th' almighty nod; And, with a gen'ral fear, confess'd the God. At length, with indignation, thus he broke His awful silence, and the Pow'rs bespoke."

A synopsis of the Metamorphoses is available here.

The Expulsion of Jews from Rome

Walter Wiefel's hypothesis is that Romans should be understood against the backdrop of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 49 CE and their return at the accession of Nero in 54 CE which significantly effected the contours of Roman Christianity in the mid-50s. I have made use of this myself in lecturing, preaching, and writing on Romans. In my mind, Romans is essentially a fund raising letter and Paul wants to outline his apostolic message, assuage reservations about his stance vis-a-vis Israel and the Torah, but he also wants to make a positive impact upon Christian groupings there in order to address a potenially fractious cosmopolitan community on the verges of being Balkanized (or Galatianized!) over matters pertaining to Torah observance. I have always wondered, however, that if the Roman expulsion was part of the ocassion of Romans then why does Paul not explicitly mention it? Is it kind of like the grandmother in the sitting room that everybody knows about but never talks about?

In an article review of Bob Jewett's Romans commentary (JSNT 31.1 [2008]: 91-94), John Barlcay questions the evidence for and relevance of the expulsion for interpreting Romans. Barclay makes a good point about how little we really know about Judaism in Rome in the 40s. Dio Cassius' account of Claudius' clamp down on synagogue meetings in 41 CE is of a piece with Claudius' general suppression of meetings in clubs and taverns and not necessarily due to intra-Jewish debates about Jesus, Messianism, and Torah. Suetonius' reference to the impulsore Chresto is not necessarily a faulty latinism of Christus. The name Chrestus was an extremely common Roman name and Suetonius knew that Christians were called Christianoi so he would be unlikely to get them confused if he knew of the Christianoi and their Christus. Furthermore, Paul makes no mention of changes in leadership or shifts from synagogues to house churches as the new meeting places for Jesus believers,which one might expect if seismic ecclesial shifts have transpired among the Roman Christian communities.

Even so, I'm a little more sanguine about the relevance of the expulsion for when Paul writes Romans ca. 55-56 CE. Any study of Judaism and Christianity in Rome in the first and second centuries must take into account Peter Lampe's astute study which provides more detailed evidence and hypotheses about the emergence of Christianity in Rome. Also, there is enough evidence from Tacitus, Tertullian, and textual variants to suggest that mistaking Christus for Chrestus was common place. The evidence from Acts 18.2 about Priscilla and Aquila's journey to Corinth from Rome because of the expulsion is further proof of the expulsion and also Paul's contact with Roman Christianity suffering effects of the expulsion. Like Jewett, I find Barlcay's conclusion that Priscilla and Aquila may not have been converted until after they left Rome unconvincing. Finally, Romans 14-15 looks very much like Paul using prior theological debates (i.e. 1 Corinthians 8-10) as the basis of exhortations to unity and mutual acceptance among the Roman Christians.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Two Recent Articles in the Pistis Christou Debate

In recent days there have been two articles published on the Pistis Christou debate:

1. Jae Hyun Lee, "Against Richard B. Hays’s ‘Faith of Jesus Christ’" JGRChJ (2008): 51-80.

Here Lee critiques Richard Hays' monograph The Faith of Jesus Christ. In particular, Lee takes Hays to task on the purported narrative structure of Galatians and the alleged divine-human dichotomy that Hays seems to assume. Overall, this is a good lexical semantic approach to the pistis christou debate, but it suffers from historical redundancy. Hays himself has pretty much abandoned arguing for the subjective genitive view based on a narrative sub-structure to Galatians and few subjective genitivalists refer to the redundancy of pistis/pisteuo any more (I know for a fact that Doug Campbell has abandoned that line of argument all together). Lee's critique might have been relevant in the early 1980s, but I question its utility now in 2008, the debate has moved on. What is more, I would point out that by undermining the weakest point of someone's argument does not mean that you have thereby undermined their argument in total. Lee's critique may be correct (and I surmize that for the most part it is), but Hays' argument has stronger nodes especially in his analysis of Romans 1-4 and reading Gal. 2.15-16 in light of Gal. 3.23, which do not get dealt with.

2. Kenneth Schenck, "2 Corinthians and the Pistis Christou Debate" CBQ 70.3 (2008): 524-37.

Schenck maintains that 2 Cor. 4.13 provides evidence that Paul could think of Jesus as having faith and that Paul saw Jesus' faith as exemplary for the faith of subsequent believers in addition to its instrumental role in their resurrection. This depends on seeing Paul's quotation of Ps. 115 (LXX) as messianic where the speaker is Jesus himself and it refers to Jesus' faith that God will raise him from the dead. The line of argument runs: (1) Paul reads the psalm and sees Jesus having faith that God would raise him from the dead; (2) Paul also has this faith that God will one day raise him and the dead in Christ; (3) because the God who raised Jesus will also raise him and the dead in Christ (p. 528). Schenck supposes that the concepts of Jesus' obedience to God in his death and his confidence in God to raise him from the dead "flowed into each other in Paul's mind" (p. 535). The significance of this observation is that it might illuminate other texts. Perhaps in Rom. 1.17 ("from faith to faith") Paul refers to Jesus' faith and the believer's faith and Gal. 2.16 where three faith expressions are used in sequence. My only quibbles here are that (1) the Church Fathers had much to say against Jesus' faith as exemplary for various reasons. (2) One could accept Schenck's conclusion about 2 Cor.4.13, but still maintain the objective genitive interpretation of the relevant passages in Galatians, Romans, and Philippians. While it might illuminate the subjective genitive position it does not necessitate it or reinforce it.

Book Review: Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles

I found Francis Watson's revised monograph Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective to be a stimulating read with much to think about it. I think this book proves (as do others, e.g. Jewett on Romans) that we are entering a post-NPP phase. It also makes a good synthesis of Luther and Baur on Paul and demonstrates that social readings and theological interpretation are not mutually exclusive. My review can be uploaded here (seven pages).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Top Ten most Critical Topics in Pauline Research

What are the big issues you need to solve in historical and theological study of Paul. Here's my ten picks in no particular order.

§ Why Did Saul of Tarsus Persecute the Church?
§ The Origin of Paul’s Gospel?
§ Paul and the Beginnings of the Gentile Mission
§ Paul and the Antioch Episode
§ Paul’s Problem with the Law
§ Paul and His Opponents
§ The Pauline Hermeneutic: Paul and Israel’s Sacred Traditions
§ The Purpose of Romans
§ Paul and the Parting of the Ways
§ The Quest for the Centrum Paulinium

Paul and Sola Gratia

Can Paul's theology be summarized as an expression of sola gratia? If faith and obedience are the necessary means or necessary evidences of salvation, is this really by grace alone? Recently Francis Watson has written: ‘The Reformational assumption that Pauline theology is summed up in the phrase sola gratia should be treated with considerable caution’ (Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles, p. 346). In my mind, Paul’s remarks in Gal. 1.15-16 and 1 Cor. 15.8-10 seem to correspond remarkably well with a sola gratia principle indeed. What Watson has undermined is perhaps more akin to a monergism that leaves no room for conversion and obedience as the necessary pre-condition of salvation. The only genuinely form of monergism in this regard is probably some type of universalism. Incidentally, I hope to have a seven page review of Watson's book out soon, it's been a cracking read, easily one of the top five books in Pauline studies in the last ten years.

Roland Boer Responds to D.A. Carson

Over at his blog, Stalin's Moustache, Roland Boer responds to D.A. Carson's recent RBL review of his book. I would be keen to know what and how Boer determines who is on the religious right. I would consider myself "evangelical" and fairly conservative in terms of theology, but economically I believe in universal health care, that the state should control essential services like gas and electricity supply, which does not quite fit into the RR of the USA.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Robert Morgan on Conservative NT Theologies

Robert Morgan, probably the foremost expert on the discipline of NT Theology in our time, writes as follows:

‘The tendency of textbook NTTs to become compendia of the biblical material is always present in conservative or Biblicist presentations whose authors assume that saying what the Bible says is sufficient, or is all that biblical scholars can offer. But to repeat in a new historical situation what was said in an old one is inevitably to say something different. The problem of interpretation cannot be evaded, especially when reading religious texts still considered authoritative in a changed intellectual milieu. All NTTs are interpretations, though some modern theologians stand closer to the letter of scripture than others. The main question for them all is how the biblical material is aligned with the interpreter’s own understanding of the subject matter. The older textbooks had answered this by organizing the conceptual material according to the framework supplied by traditional dogmatics. Conservative NTTs retain more of this than more critical ones do. Doctrinal themes can provide a language for historical descriptions After all, these topics emerged in large part from the church’s engagement with scripture. But NTT needs to distinguish the historical descriptions provided by biblical theology from the accounts of modern belief constructed by dogmatics. Conservative NTTs which make extensive use of dogmatic vocabulary have been suspected of minimizing the distinction. They react against NTTs which exaggerate the gap between the New Testament and modern Christianity, but themselves underestimate it. Among these G.E. Ladd (1974) especially, but also D. Guthrie (1981) and L. Morris (1986) have served their evangelical market well, not least by making room in it for a cautious historical criticism, but they have not significantly advanced the discipline’ (pp. 474-75). [1]

I certainly feel the gravity of Morgan's objection. Some NTTs often feel like quasi-systematic theologies merely restricted to the New Testament for their material. Even so, I think one could be a little fairer on the Biblicist/Conservative approach for a number of reasons:

1. A NT Theology should, as a matter of form, include some element of synthesis and applicatio (as I think Morgan is saying), so it is not entirely illegimate to import notions and frameworks from modern theology as long as you recognize that you are using modern theology on the basis of the text rather than finding a modern theology in the text. In fact, my Tyndale House lecture was about "NT Theology Reloaded" which has urged a more socio-historical approach in NT Theology, but without undermining the theological nature of the texts, the theological nature of interpretation, and the necessity of dogmatic inquiry which begins, somewhat, with a biblical theology itself.
2. Notably Morgan does not provide any examples of over use of dogmatic theology in the nominated volumes. Does a stratification of topics like the 'christology' of Hebrews, the 'eschatology' of Revelation, and the 'soteriology' of Romans represent a crass and unhistorical approach even though the categories are drawn from systematic theology? Potentially so, but not necessarily and such an approach is not limited to theological conservatives, e.g. see the NTG series published by CUP.
3. I would not describe the named trio (Ladd, Guthrie, and Morris) as woodenly dogmatic. Ladd had drunk deeply from a well of German scholarship and is more in line with the salvation-historical school. Guthrie is certainly highly thematic and not given over to historical critical discussion, but many German theologies also take a thematic approach. Morris' theology is built on the idea of historical development and he proceeds largely in the chronological order that the NT was written, starting, I believe, with Galatians!
4. In terms of utilitity and homiletical preparation, like for preaching a series of what the NT has to say about Christ, I have to confess that in my experience (though I am of the evangelical camp), Guthrie has been more useful than Bultmann.

[1]. Morgan, Robert. ‘New Testament Theology Since Bultmann,’ ExpT 119.10 (2008): 472-80. I should add that this is a jolly good read for those who want a heads-up of NT Theologies in the last 40 years.

Monday, August 04, 2008

New Blogs: Koinonia

A new blog from Zondervan and its authors is: Koinōnia: Biblical-Theological Conversations for the Community of Christ. Some excellent contributors are here and the first poste is by Bill Mounce on the "obedience of faith" in Rom. 1.5.

Paul and an eight year old

I popped into work today to check mail and email and I brought my daughters with me. My elderst daughter, Alexis, asked to read one of my books while she was waiting: shock of my life, a member of my family actually interested in my academic writings! I had to make sure she didn't think it was a colouring book first and then I gave one to her to read. Then after reading a few pages of Saving Righteousness of God, she asks me:

"Dad, was Paul Catholic?"
"Umm. No darling".
"Was Paul Baptist?".
"Aah. No, those things came later."
"What was Paul then?"
Daddy pauses and thinks. "Paul was a Christian".

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Interview with Greg Venables

Watch this excellent interview with Greg Venables Anglican Primate of the Southern Cone. Venables is irenic, passionate, and zealous evangelistic in his beliefs. Pray for such a man!

Friday, August 01, 2008

SBL 2008 - Travel Advice

Normally when you enter the USA from overseas you fill out the little green form on your flight over to get through customs, but as of August 2008, you can now register in advance through ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). This comes on line as of August 2008 and will be compulsory and replace the green form as of January 2009. It includes those countries (like UK, EU, and Australia) on the Visa Waver Programme. You need to apply at least 72 hours in advance, and the authorisation lasts for up to two years or the life of your passport. Remember!

NT Interviews: Schreiner and Pennington

Over at Between Two Worlds are interviews with Tom Schreiner on NT Theology and Jonathan T. Pennington on Life and Ministry (from Matt Montonini).