Sunday, September 07, 2008
British New Testament Conference
I am back from the BNTC held in Durham which was a great couple of days. I was glad to meet up with Tomas Bokedal at Newcastle train station on the way down and we had a great Italian lunch after arriving. There was also the pleasant surprise of catching former Aberdeen students Dr. Preston Sprinkle and Dr. Joey Dodson and it was a delight to finally meet in person Ben Byerly of NEGST. Of course, there was a number of Ph.D candidates from Durham and St. Andrews who provided good company and it is always a delight to see James Crossley.
John Barclay's paper on "Two Versions of Grace: Romans 9-11 and the Wisdom of Solomon" was brilliant. He juxtaposed these two documents and showed how Paul's understanding of grace is genuinely radical since grace does not depend on any quality or virtue of the recipient. Whereas Wisdom was dealing very much with the issue of theodicy (why do bad things happen to good people and vice-versa), Paul sets forth a fairly radical view of divine grace by removing any notion of conditionality. Barclay says in his conclusion: "Paul's discourse on grace and mercy operates fully within Jewish tradition, but also radicalises it to an extraordinary degree by refusing to allow any element of condition or worth as the accompaniment to divine gift. The alternatives Paul refutes, we must insist represent not some special Jewish tendency to emphasise 'works', but the sorts of rationale that any responsible theist would give to the operations of God in history. What makes Paul peculiar is that he makes the conditionality of the divine gift an issue. Elsewhere, in Romans 4, he will suggest an oppositional distinction between pay and gift that is unusual if not unique in antiquity, and in a developed form this will become the central theological anithesis in the different social and economic conditions of the Reformation era. The fact that this antithesis is not operative here in Romans 9 suggests that it still remains only on the margins of his thought. But what is clear here is that by pressing to an extreme the unconditionality of divine gift he defies the normal criteria surrounding the reasonable gifts." When I heard this I had to take off my glasses, rub my eyes, and check to see if it really was John Barclay and not Tom Schreiner speaking. Afterwards I went up to Barclay and asked if he had discovered Banner of Truth lately!
The next morning included good papers at the Hermeneutics Seminar by Ben Blackwell on the New Testament and Patristic Interpretation and Joey Dodson on "Personifications and Citations" in Paul. Halvor Moxnes gave a great paper on Galilean identity at the Jesus Seminar where I tried to convince Phil Esler that Ioudaios means "Jew" as opposed to "Judean" by asking if we have any evidence for a Gentile living in Judea being called a Ioudaios. He wasn't convinced. On the one hand, he was right that there is a definite reference in Against Apion that clearly relates the Ioudaioi to Ioudea, but I still think that Ioudaios is linked to religious identity in many respects.
Great people and books were at the book stalls. I was a good author and handed out flyers of the volume by James and I for SPCK (it was a more shameful act of self-promotion than even I'm used to). Publishers and sellers represented included T&T Clark/Continuum, Albans, STL, and Paternoster. I brought H.D. Betz's Galatians commentary for a bargain. I had a look around Durham Cathedral too (gorgeous and big, much like my sister-in-laws) and layed hands on the crypt of J.B. Lightfoot and asked the Lord for a double portion of whatever he had!! Sadly, the good bishop of Durham was unable to make an appearance. But I heard from a reliable source that he has a book coming out in January which is a response to John Piper's book The Future of Justification so watch out for that one. Speaking of Wright, the fiendish James Crossley got hold of Wright's name tag and was walking around the bar wearing it one evening. I guess the old saying is true, you really do become what you admire! Another highlight was seeing Loren Stuckenbruck, the host of BNTC as Durham department head, and we had a great discussion about the worship of angels in Colossians 2. On that note, I should not forget to mention that on the train I was able to read most of Ian Smith's volume Heavenly Perspective where Smith argues that the Colossian philosophy was a form of Jewish mysticism, which reinforced what I had already suspected.
Loveday Alexander's paper on classics and NT studies based upon Acts was well received and it highlighted for me the continued need to know classical sources for those doing NT studies. My paper on "Jesus the Messiah, A Role Declined? A Response to an Unmessianic Jesus" went fairly well. James Crossley argued against the triumphal entry in Mark as being messianic which I think only convinced him and the furniture. There was lots of good discussion about what passes as "messianic" and is there a conception of "the Messiah" in Judaism or is "the Messiah" an entirely Christian thing. I was cheered to hear that Maurice Casey agreed with alot of what I said and he argued for something similar but without the complications of the title "Messiah". Halvor Moxes, expectedly, made some fitting comments about my handling of N.A. Dahl. Eddie Adams gave a good presentation on Christian meeting places in the first centuries of the Christian era and noted that households (insula or domus - see here) were not the only option with shops, workshops, hired dining rooms, storehouses, baths, and out-of-doors all used as well.
On the way home I shared part of the journey with Dale Martin of Yale University (I missed his paper on Angels and Demons) and had a good chat with him. He was flying on to Copenhagan and probably missed his plane. I also shared the journey (which was delayed by 5 hours due to flooding in NE England) with Patrick Egan of St. Andrews which made a painful trip more comfortable.
Overall, a good time, some good wine, good papers, great company, and terrible trip on the way back.