Wednesday, January 30, 2008

U2 in 3D

I am so pumped! Some time in the next week I am going to go see the new U2 film U23D at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago as an early birthday present. I have added the widget to our blog temporarily so I can watch the trailer regularly in anticipation.
I am a huge U2 fan and they are arguably the greatest band of the late 2oth and early 21st century. They were around when I was in high school and they are better than ever. Moreover, Bono has become a model of Christian activism and has been a great influence on American Evangelicals getting them involved in the HIV Aids crisis in Africa and the Make Poverty History campaign. In 2006 Bono was interviewed by Bill Hybels for the Willow Creek Leadership Summit which was simulcast in 125 churches to over 70,000 Evangelicals throughout North America.

Most days I have U2 playing as students enter my classes. It sets an excellent tone for teaching. Are there any other U2 fans among our readers?

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Antioch Incident: Scot McKnight’s View

I continue with my analysis of various proposals for understanding the Antioch incident. I turn to someone of whom I have great respect and am a fan, my colleague Scot McKnight, who is also the contributor to the blog Jesus Creed.

As a reminder I am pursuing three questions in my study of the incident which have significant import for understanding Jewish Christianity and Paul’s relationship to it. Those questions are (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” ?
So to Scot's views:

(1) What is Paul’s issue with Peter?
The incident concerns Peter, the first apostle (Matt. 10:2). In its essentials, the event concerns Peter who, in the normal course of affairs, was willing to shed the identifying markers of Judaism (food and table restrictions), perhaps even circumcision and Sabbath observance, to enjoy a new-found fellowship with Gentile Christians, but who also abandoned such a stance when ‘certain men came from James’ (1995:99).
Scot assumes Peter ignored Jewish food laws prior to the arrival of the visitors from James—he quips: “Peter was probably eating ‘baby back” spare ribs or shrimp scampi”(1995:103)—but after the coming of the “more conservative Jews” he not only reverted to adherence of a strict Jewish kashrut, but he even began forcing Gentiles to be circumcised. He suggests that Peter’s conduct led to “two churches: a kosher church and a Gentile church” Scot concludes,

So what was Peter doing? He had previously enjoyed unrestricted social fellowship with the Gentiles, speaking their language, eating their food, drinking their wine, touching their children, and sitting in their homes. When the Jewish nationalists arrived, Peter, perhaps remembering his narrow escape in Jerusalem, reversed his behavior and withdrew from the Gentiles . . . in addition he then began to force Gentile Christians to be circumcised (and to follow Jewish social laws), to reduce the threat of persecution he was beginning to free from these ardent Jewish nationalists (1995:107).

As an aside it is interesting to note Scot’s explicit view of Paul and his practice vis á vis Jewish halakah. Here is an extended quote:

Paul was more than concerned with the ‘contradictory behavior’ of Peter. True, he changed his color, like a chameleon, but changing colors may be necessary at times (see 1 Cor 9:19-23). It is proper, when with Jews, to live like a Jew in order to reach such people. But, when with Gentiles, living like a Jew is wrong (1995:100, emphasis added).

(2) What role does James play in the circumstances?
Scot seems to think that James had very little if any influence in the circumstances that took place in Antioch. While he does think, as we will see, that the “men from James” are from Judea—perhaps identical to the “circumcision party—and represent a Jewish nationalistic faction within the early church, he, nevertheless, thinks it unlikely that they represented James’ true interests. He does think, however, that they have been in fact sent by James. He states,

The ‘men from James,’ may have been either Jewish Christians from Jerusalem who were either honestly or falsely representing the position of James, or they may be identical to the circumcision party, in which case they were not Christians. I suspect they were truly from James, though they may not have been representing James with full integrity (1995:104).

(3) Who are “those of the circumcision”?
Scot leaves open the possibility that the enigmatic group “the circumcision party” could be either believing or non-believing Jews, although he is quite sure that they are not Jewish Christians in Antioch. What he does see as clearly evident is that these folk are “a group of law-abiding Jewish zealots bent on ‘forcing’ Gentile converts, to either Christianity or Judaism, to convert fully if such converts wished to be under the umbrella of Judaism. They are a “group of ardent Jewish nationalists, based in Jerusalem, who urged all groups in Jerusalem and Judaism to live faithfully according to the law”(1995:104). Furthermore, he seems to closely associate, if not equate, the “men from James” with this group: “The presence of the ‘men from James’ and their words that the nationalists were upset were enough for Peter to change directions” (1995:105).
Scot’s interpretation, while I think is an evenhanded treatment as well as a good representation of traditional interpretations of the passage, is grounded on a certain type of metanarrative of the New Testament story—and especially of Paul—that, while can be convincing at one level because of its appearance of coherence, has significant weaknesses—weaknesses which I think are exposed in this context. . With respect to the first question on the nature of the conflict between Paul and Peter, Scot’s reading assumes two significant points: (1) the verb “eating with” (sunesthio) means eating the same thing, and (2) that Gentiles were not accommodating their lifestyle when eating with Jews. In regard to the first issue, that is “eating with” means eating the same food, Scot assumes this to be the case, but cannot support it in the text beyond noting that the activity of eating something took place with the Gentiles. Nowhere however in this context does it state explicitly that Peter and the Jewish believers in Jesus when eating with the Gentiles were breaking kosher law. I don’t believe an appeal to Acts 10—11 provides a foundation for this view either since the issue in the Cornelius story is not what Peter ate, but with whom he associated himself over a meal as here. In Peter’s own interpretation of the vision in both Acts ten and eleven, Peter explicitly interprets the vision as relating to table fellowship and not food: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate or to visit with anyone of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28; cf. 11:3-12 [esp. 11:12: “making no distinction”]). Thus the clean and unclean food on the sheet in his vision was an analogy for people and the Lord was teaching Peter that God does not make distinctions so neither should he.
Second, his assumption that the Gentiles were not accommodating their own lifestyles for their Jewish brothers overlooks the historical reality of Diaspora Judaism generally and Antioch’s situation particularly. Given the large Jewish population in Antioch, there would have undoubtedly been regular contact between Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the Synagogue. This contact would have spilled no doubt outside the Sabbath meetings and into homes. It was not entirely uncommon for Gentile God-fearers to respect the Torah and accommodate their lifestyles when fellowshipping over meals with Jews. Practically this would simply mean serving foods that were kosher and idolatry free. Of the latter they were on the whole probably already accommodating their lifestyle if we assume that something along the lines of the Noachide commandments were recognized in the first century which is very likely. Hays and others [see comments from earlier post] agrees when he states, “It seems unlikely that such flagrant violations of Jewish norms would have been practiced at Antioch, particularly if the Gentile converts were primarily from the ranks of the “godfearers”, who presumable would have already assimilated to Jewish dietary practices.”
It is possible to take the last two questions together and reflect on McKnight analysis. McKnight is compelled for some reason to assert that while the “certain ones” were in fact sent from James, the supposed influence they exerted to cause the incident was not sanctioned by him. I don’t find this explanation very convincing. If for the sake of argument one assumes (1) that these were sent by James and (2) that they were the reason Peter “drew back” from table fellowship then it seems to me to be a much more consistent and convincing case to say, as many do, that James was ultimately the force behind situation. Both of these points are gap fill and are arguable. Yet if one brings them into the text then I can’t see how James is acquitted of some or all responsibility. As for the circumcision party, I am yet to be convinced of this hypothesis that Jewish nationalists were on the loose around the Diaspora causing trouble. The context strongly favors a view of “the circumcised” whom Peter is in fear to be either the Jerusalem-based circumcised church—this is consistent with the role James may have played in the above reconstruction—or non-believing circumcised folk to whom previously Peter was said to have been sent (2:7), whether they be circumcised by family or by conversion. I personally find the latter to be more likely since it is not explicit that either James or those who arrived from James were the motivation for Peter’s withdraw.
I will attend to Mark Nanos' view in the next post.
Works Cited
McKnight, Scot. 1995. Galatians. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Book Review: The Bible Canon - L.M. McDonald

Lee Martin McDonald
The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority
3rd ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.
Available from Alban Books
Available from

At SBL last year I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lee Martin McDonald for a few minutes for a chat about various things. McDonald is former President of Acadia Divinity School, current President of IBR, and soon to be adjunct at Fuller Seminary in California. His expertise has been in the history and reception of the Christian canon and the third edition of his The Biblical Canon is an excellent analysis of the issues relating to the canon (OT and NT but mainly with a focus on the NT). As a seminary instructor he is also cognizant of providing a readable and accessible treatment of the primary sources for students.

My favourite quote from the book is this one:

"No credible person today seriously believes that the Bible fell out of heaven fully bound in its current state with guilded edges and with a highly precise interpretation from God in it. The human dimension of the origin and production of the Bible, as well as how the divine message is conveyed through human words and ideas, cannot be ignored. Human beings were involved in the origins and production of hte Bible, and all of the words and ideas in the Bible are also reflective of human involvement. How the Bible is the word of God and yet comes to us in human form continues to be a mystery to Christians of every generation. This is not only an important part of the church's understanding about the Bible, but also about God's involvement in the human activity of Jesus, whom the church continues to confess as Lord and Christ.
Some of us were taught in seminary that the early church received from Jesus a closed biblical canon, our present OT, that was later expanded by the Catholics to include noncanonical (and thereby uninspired) apocryphal writings. In regard to the Hebrew Scriptures (or the OT), we were often taught that Jesus, the church's final authority, cited or referred to a closed canon of Hebrew Scriptures and that his authentication of them (he cited verses from teh three major parts of the OT: Law, Prophets, and Writings) was th echurch's mandate for accepting them as authoritative Scripture. In other words, the church simply adopted the canon of Jesus. In regard to the NT writings, man of us were taught that the early church simply recognized (as opposed to determined) its own inspired NT Scriptures that were believed to be apostolic, that is either written by or authorized by an apostle within general proximity to the time of Jesus and the apostels or at least written in the first century. We were further taught that these NT writings were unified in their teaching (i.e. they were orthodox) and for these reasons they were recognized by the majority of the churches to be inspired by God" (pp. 5-6).

McDonald's book reminds be of Craig Allert's A High View of Scripture with the exception that McDonald is far more detailed and methodological in his approach to the historical circumstances surrounding the canonization of the Christian Bible. But both are a good example as to why we cannot propagate the myth that the church simply recognized the inspired writings that became our New Testament. The Church was more active in the creation of the Scriptures than being a passive receptacle. However, McDonald certainly does not think the Scriptures any less divine or any less authoritative in the early church because of this. He still writes as an ordained Baptist minister and as a seminary lecturer.
An outline of McDonald's book runs:

1. Introduction
2. The Notion and Use of Scripture
3. The Notion and Use of Canon
4. Origins of the Hebrew Bible
5. Early Jewish Scriptures
6. Stabilization of the Hebrew Bible
7. Rabbinic Tradition
8. The Scriptures of Jesus and Early Christianity
9. From Story to Scritpure: Emergence of the New Testament Writings as Scripture
10. From Scripture to Canon: Tracing the Origins of the New Testament Canon
11. Influence of "Heretics"
12. Books, Texts, and Translations
13. Collections and Citations of Christian Scriptures
14. The Criteria Question
15. Final Reflections

Seeing the Word: Part 1

Today we begin the first part of our overview of Markus Bockmuehl's book Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study (STI; Grand Rapids, MI:Baker, 2006). This will not so much be a review as much as I will highlight interesting points and issues that Bockmuehl raises. (I should point out that Bockmuehl was Joel Willitts' Doktorvater and he might be able to add comment here and there on some aspects).

In his introduction, Bockmuehl finds an analogy between Simon Marmion's painting of the Evangelist Luke painting the Virgin and Child and New Testament scholarship. He states: "The student or scholarly writing, say, about Jesus of Nazareth will in a sense find herself, like Simon Marmion, painting the bibical author painiting Christ". The purpose of this book is to take account of NT scholarship, explore the potential value of implied readers and wirkungsgeschicte, and what it means to remember the Christ.

Chapter 1 is entitled, "The Troubled Fortunes of New Testament Scholarship" and starts off by noting C.H. Dodd's 1936 inaugural lecture about the present task in NT studies. Bockmuehl notes the fragmentation of the discipline into divergent methods and criteria and a collective unease about the relationship between biblical studies and theology. The sheer volume of secondary literature means that it is most difficult for any scholar to be competent in more than one or two sub-field areas. Bockmuehl also laments the striking numer of graduate students unable to operate in primary source languages and secondary source languages such as German, French, and Spanish. He colourfully says: "By the late twentieth century, the Neustestamentler's cappucino had too frequently become all forth and no coffee" (37). [Considering that I hate coffee this does not bother me].

Bockmuehl then looks at several attempts to rescue the discipline from its historical rootlessness and fragmentation including a renewed focus on historicism. To this he questions whether the "Third Quest" for the historical Jesus has run its course, but he finds numerous opportunities for work in this area: further research on balancing Paul's Jewishness with his Gentile mission focus, archaeological gaps to be filled like digging up Colossae (I ask myself this all the time), commentaries on the DSS, Josephus, and LXX are all in progress which is a good sign too. But Bockmuehl asks, what is the place of history in the overall exercise of NT scholarship. It must be part of something bigger and here he alludes Nicholas Lash by suggesting that a "coherently critical approach would need to render a credible account of the texts in relation not only to the stated or implied phenomenology of Christian origins, but also to explosively 'totallizing' theological assertions that writers like Paul and the evangelists state or imply in practically every sentence" (46). We can try to get behind the text and talk about what it meant rather than what it means, but the story these texts tell is "inalienably theological" and the vested interpretation is enver treated as a optional extra in need of stripping away in order to get to the phenomological core. To this I say, "amen", and I am hoping to explore as much in a two volume work on a theology of early Christianity!

Bockmuehl also looks at several other attempts to rescue the discipline including final-form literary approaches and ideological and self-deconstruction studies. He takes issue with the latter for many reasons including that it fails to be self-criticial and the ideogogues who have come to save us from our power-hungry and oppressive selves fail to reflect on or to criticize their own ideological make-up. He writes, "The ideological velvet gloves of egalitarian inclusion ill conceal the claws of a hermeneutical worldview that is in fact far more totalizing and prescriptive, and far more stifling of free criticism" (54). Furthermore, "From both a hermeneutical and a theological perspective, any approach primarily based on this metacritical relativism can only be regarded as discarding the exegetical baby along with the inevitable eisegetical bathwater" (55). The so-called secular pluralism advocated by some scholars which calls for the elimination of theology from the science of biblical study is in fact designed to eliminate religious perspectives from the academy because these perspectives represent the most serious challenge to the secular framework. (I commend Bockmuehl's final image in the chapter: there are limits to how much you can usefully say about the stained glass windows of Kings' College Chapel without actually going in to see them from the inside [74]).

As a way forward, Bockmuehl suggests studies on and Wirkungsgeshichte and Implied Readers as possible avenues for the future to renew the discipline. In other words, his concern is the place of the text in history an the place of the reader in the text.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book of the Month

I got a pleasant surprise this morning when I visited the library and not only discovered that the latest version of the Expository Times was out (with the sweet and addictive scent of its pages), but also that my book, The Saving Righteousness of God was the "Book of the Month". The details are: Paul Foster, "Book of the Month: The Saving Righteousness of God," ExpT 119.4 (2008), pp. 181-82. Dr. Foster gives a fairly positive, but not uncritical, overview of the book and he correctly grasps the overarching concern of the volume as being to stake out some mediating ground in what is at times a very vocal debate in Pauline studies. He also suggets that the book would be useful for a joint seminar between systematicians and biblical scholars about the topic of soteriology.

Ontology and Gender

While grading some Pastoral Studies papers I came across an interesting quote that, according to Feminist studies, "males are prone to regard themselves as generic humans rather than gendered persons conditioned by historical and cultural processes". I thought this most interesting especially since I had a thought provoking converstation with my good friend, Mimi Hadad of CBE, about gender and identity. Her point was that underlying the whole debate over the role of women in the church and home within evangelicalism are some tacit assumptions about ontology. For me there is no question as to whether or not culture conditions and shapes our perception of gender identity and gender roles (in multiple ways whether feminist or patriarchal), it simply does. That is why I find myself frustrated by some conservative Christians that I have met who make odd claims that women should not wear jeans or trousers and the like because it is too masculine and is thus unbiblical (too masculine for whom is always my response). But at the same time I cannot go along with the idea that gender is merely a social construct. There are too many physiological, neurological, and psychological differences between men and women to reduce gender to environmental factors. I've learnt this from nearly 10 years of marriage and having two daughters! Nonetheless, I think that our conception of ontology is crucially important for how we understand gender identity, gender roles, and how to treat other human beings. If we add to this a Christian worldview of Creation and New Creation, things become all the more complex as to how to relate to gender and ontology together. This I believe is why every seminary needs to have a course that explores "Sexuality, Gender, and Theology" since this is the burning issue of our age in terms of pastoral practice, expectations in Christian marriage, and theological debates in mainline churches.

A Rare Foray into American Politics

I don't mention politics much on this blog and especially politics and religion. In my home country of Australia the two rarely go together which makes the current Prime Ministery of Australia, Kevin Rudd, something of an oddity since he's probably the first PM in living memory who is so open about his faith. In America things tend to be different. Democrats are now actively courting faith-based voters, especially evangelicals, in the long haul to the White House. Republicans on other hand have always been close with evangelicals (too close for my liking at times). Although I suspect that they may well lose that support if the GOP picks a pro-abortion candidate like Giuliani. If Giuliani wins the GOP ticket, many evangelicals will probably start thinking about whether Hillary or Barrack is the lesser of two evils. But if there is one thing that probably sums up Hillary Clinton's relationship with evangelicals, it is this cartoon:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Antioch Incident: Richard Hays' View

In preparing to write a post on the issue of James and the Antiochean incident in Galatians 2:11-14, I have decided to address the issue by surveying and critically assessing interpretations of Galatians 2:11-14. I will in each case attend to three questions, although another is no less important and certainly interesting but not relevant for my interests here. The three questions are (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” [lit.] or as in the NIV, “the circumcision group” or in the NRSV, “the circumcision faction”? The question that is not relevant for our interest here is the question of when the incident took place. While the consensus remains that it happened after the Jerusalem council in the early 50’s C.E.—so Acts 15=Gal 2:1-11—no argument is without its problems and I remain persuaded by the view that Gal 2:1-11 is a reference to Luke’s famine visit by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 11. The incident in this scheme took place in 48 A.D. and Paul wrote his missive to churches in southern Galatia in 49 C.E. while on his way to the Jerusalem council.[1]
I begin with Richard Hays interpretation.[2]

(1) What is Paul’s issue with Peter?
Peter’s hypocrisy (hypokrisei) according to Hays was not that he disregarded “basic Jewish dietary laws by eating meat with blood in it, or pork and shellfish”, because he reasons, “it seems unlikely that such flagrant violations of Jewish norms would have been practiced in Antioch, particularly if the Gentile converts were drawn primarily from the ranks of the ‘godfearers’, who presumably would have already assimilated to Jewish dietary practices”. Instead, Hays suggests that the issue was Peter’s disassociation from the Gentiles at the table. The likelihood of this interpretation is strengthened by Gal 2:12 which speaks not of food per se, but “eating with” the Gentiles. Hays goes on to observe that eating with Gentiles is not forbidden by the Torah, but scrupulous Torah-observant Judeans thought of this as equivalent to eating Gentile food, since their presumption was that all Gentiles were idolaters.

(2) What role does James play in the circumstances?
Hays believes James is the force in the story. This is borne out in various remarks: Hays says that the “men from James” pressured Peter to “stop eating with Gentile believers”; that “James [was] worried that too much fraternization with Gentiles would have bad results”; and that “the response of this fraction at Jerusalem [judean Jewish Christians] was to urge Peter, with the blessing of James, to avoid contact with Gentiles”.

(3) Who are “those of the circumcision”?
Hays while acknowledging the ambiguity of the phrase “those from the circumcision” he appeals to other contexts, namely Rom 4:12, to support the view that this designation denotes Jewish Christians. With no substantial support, Hays hesitantly concludes “it appears that Paul is accusing Peter of fearing other Jewish Christians in Antioch”.

While I find Hays answer to the first question convincing and correct, his answer to the second is lacking textual support. 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. The text simply states that before the “men from James” arrived Peter associated with Gentiles at the table, but after they arrived he stopped. Thus, the reason for his action could be as much his own fault as that of the guests from Jerusalem. Furthermore, the passage suggests the former (Peter’s own issue) since Paul’s confrontation is solely directed at Peter and those who joined him. One would expect that if Paul’s issue was with those from James his invective would be aimed at not only Peter, but also James and the Jerusalem church who, according to the standard view, were the real cause of the incident. As for his answer to the third question, it seems more reasonable to take ones cue from the immediate context where Paul uses the term to refer to the group that comprises Peter’s missionary scope in 2:7. In this case, clearly the group in view is non-believing Israelites and not Jewish believers in Jesus.

I will address my colleague Scot McKnight’s view in the next post.
[1] For a similar chronology see Witherington 2004:275.
[2] Hays 2000.
Works Cited
Hays, Richard B. 2000. The Letter to the Galatians. In NIB, 11:183-348. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Witherington, Ben. 2004. The New Testament Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Evangelical Universalist?

Mark Casserley of SPCK forwarded me the announcement of the publication of the following volume: The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald (this is a pseudonym based on Gregory [as in 'of Nyssa'] and MacDonald [as in 'George']). The book addresses several questions: Can an orthodox Christian, committed to the historic faith of the Church and the authority of the Bible, be a universalist? Is it possible to believe that salvation is found only by grace, through faith in Christ, and yet to maintain that in the end all people will be saved? Can one believe passionately in mission if one does not think that anyone will be lost forever? Could universalism be consistent with the teachings of the Bible? The author's answer of course is "yes". You can find discussions of it at blogs associated with Maggi Dawn, Chris Tilling, and Jason Clark. No doubt this will prompt much discussion and debate. Imagine me saying in my Yoda voice: "Beginning it is of the Universalist wars."
I have three comments:

1. As for myself, I'm pretty much an exclusivist but with inclusivist leanings on some areas (see Jason Clark's blog for definitions).

2. I'm not a universalist. I side with Dale C. Allison: "I do not know what befell Mother Theresa of Calcutta when she died, nor what has become of Joseph Stalin. But the same thing cannot have come upon both. If there is any moral rhyme or reason in the universe, all human beings cannot be equally well off as soon as they breathe their last and wake again" ("The Problem of Gehenna," in Resurrecting Jesus [London: T&T Clark, 2005], 99).

3. As a comical point, I must include the infamous Dr. Peter Williams' reply to Mark Casserly's email:

Dear Mr Casserley,
Thank you for the information. I hope that SPCK will also be paying for body guards and for safe housing for 'Gregory'. It is very important to keep him safe from all those evangelicals who might take the law into their own hands...
Best wishes,

(Used by permission).

Monday, January 21, 2008

A High View of Scripture Part 5: Inspiration and Inerrancy

We come now to the end of my review of Allert's book A High View of Scripture and find the juicest and most controversial part of the entire book.

Allert contests the widely held conclusion that inspoiration was the only criterion for the inclusion of books in the New Testament. Inspiration was not the criteria used and what was regarded as inspired referred to more than the New Testament and also included the offices and ministries of the church.

He devotes a significant amount of time to discussion of theopneustos in 2 Tim. 3.15-17 where he notes: (1) the passage is more concerned about the function than the origin of Scripture; (2) the passage emphasizes soundness of life and doctrine which one may learn through Scripture and tradition; (3) Allert understands 'sacred writings' not as all Scripture but as all relevant passages in that body of religious authoritative writings known as Scripture, not necessarily the OT and NT; and (4) He warns against etymological errors in that take 'God-breathed' as a mechanically literal description of how Scripture was produced. Allert emphasizes that this phrase could be a pauline neologism and it indicates that the authority of Scripture is from God and it contributes to the plan of salvation; thus, the main point is the usefulness of Scripture. I would accept most of this with a few qualifications and a slight objection. Most pressing of all is that Allert never really tells us what 'God-breathed' actually means. Surely it has connotations of origin, source, authority, and spirit-givenness-by-God-givenness or something like that!

In the next major section, Allert covers, "Inerrancy - A Necessary Evangelical Definition". He takes issue with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and he objects specifically to articles # 4 and # 5 on the grounds that they appear to be denying that a critical examination of the phenomenon of Scripture can inform a doctrine of Scripture. Here I would slightly disagree. The Chicago Statement does not actually deny this as much as it fails to incorporate the phenomena of Scripture in the early church. Allert further points out that the problem with this definition of inerrancy (i.e. Chicago) is that it assumes modern standards of precision for truth and error.

Allert then has a juicy section on the case of R.H. Gundry, ETS, and the Gospel of Matthew. In sum, Gundry argues that elements of Matthew 1-2 were midrash and were fictitious stories based on patterns from OT narratives. Midrash itself is a slippery term and I think Matthew 1-2 is perhaps midrashic given the constant flow of OT quotes (so too D.A. Hagner) but not actually midrash! Allert contends that when Gundry's approach is measured against the Chicago Statement it is clear that he has tried to understand Matthew in terms of the literary conventions of his day just as the Chicago Statement advocates. This is why Gundry said that he could in good faith affirm inerrancy. What is the problem then? The problem is, Gundry regards the genre of Matthew 1-2 as making it unhistorical whereas most of his peers regarded it as historical. Allert notes correctly: "If the logic of Gundry's critics is followed, then a failure to agree with a group's interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture may leave one open to the charge of failing to hold inerrancy because one does not see what the Bible says, that is, does not a agree with that group's interpretation of the Bible". The problem here is that one's view of genre can be regarded as a litmus test of inerrancy which I take to be problematic. Let me give two examples:

1) Luke 16.19-31 is a story about the rich man and Lazarus. Now I take this to be a parable and not a literal description of the afterlife. Nonetheless, some interpreters have argued (including a former Professor of mine) that the word 'parable' is not used in the story and thus it is a literal description of the intermediate state! If I regard this as a parable, would I be denying inerrancy?

2) Tremper Longman's NICOT Ecclesiastes commentary argues that much of Ecclesiastes is written in a genre similar to the speeches of Job's friends. In other words, it is indicative of the perspective that one should not have about God and hard times. I think Tremper is wrong on this (and several other persons I'm told think the same), but is this a denial of inerrancy by getting the genre wrong.

Now some might object that these two examples do not refer to historical events in the life of Jesus. But why priviledge history in this way? (For what it's worthy Gundry's Mark commentary is one of the best defences of the historical material in Mark available). History matters and the Gospels are undoubtedly rooted in testimony and history, but how does history have to be told and can multiple genres be used? Does the Chicago Statement allow for this? If not why not?

In sum, Allert's book argues sucessfully for taking into account the phenomenon of Scripture for developing a doctrine of Scripture and not relying on theological inferences about what Scripture should look like. Though many details are contestable, it is worth reading. Next week I'll start a series on reading Markus Bockmuehl's Seeing the Word.

Brief History of Jewish Christianity, Part Two: James (

In the last post on Peter and the Twelve I described how Luke presents the development of the leadership of the church in Jerusalem from being lead by Peter and the Twelve disciples to James and a group of elders (Acts 11:30 [“elders”]; 15:2 [“apostles and elders”]; 21:18 [“James and all the elders”]). Bauckham assumes perhaps rightly that if any of the Twelve remained in Jerusalem at this time they were likely subsumed within this larger body of leadership and no longer functioned as a unique collection of leaders.[1]
James was the eldest the four brothers of Jesus according to Mark (6:33; cf. also Gal 1:19; 1 Cor 9:5; Hegesippus in Eusebuis H.E. 2.23.4)) and although there is debate about whether or not these individuals were the offspring of Mary and Joseph it seems likely (cf. Bauckham’s detailed argument and his balanced opinion [2]). It is perhaps for this reason that he exercised authority over the Jerusalem church. That Luke’s picture of James’ role in the affairs of the Jerusalem church is reflective of history is confirmed by Paul and the later traditions about him. Paul recognizes James' unique authority with Peter and John in Galatians 2:9 where he refers to them as the “pillars”. The later traditions about James, which may contain some legendary features, surely reflect the reality of his role. I am thinking of not least the passage from the Gospel of Thomas:

The disciples said to Jesus: “We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be great over us?” Jesus said to them: “Whenever you shall come, you are to go to James the Righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

For other later evidence of James' leadership in the Jerusalem church see also Eusebius, H.E. 2.23.4-7 where among other things James is called the first bishop of the Jerusalem church (cf. also Psuedo-Clementines).

The above quotation not only suggests James’ unique leadership role in the Jerusalem church, but also with the epitaph “the righteous” an essential piety of James is remembered. James was known for his strict adherence to the Torah and was even honored by non-Jesus believing Jews at his untimely and unjust death supposedly at the hands of Ananus the high priest in A.D. 62 (cf. Josephus Ant. 20.197-203; Hegesipus in Eusebius H.E. 2.23. 1-19). Josephus writes, “those of the inhabitants of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and were strict in observance of the Law were offended by this” (Ant. 20.201). This impression of James is confirmed by the letter attributed to him in the New Testament. While there is debate as to whether it was written by James, that it reveals a high regard for the Torah is unassailable (cf. comments in Marcus[3]). And the fact that it was connected to James the brother of Jesus, although the familial relationship is not raised in the letter itself—note the author’s own self designation, “James, the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Messiah” (1:1), shows at the very least how James was remembered.

Reference to James and Torah-observance leads obviously to a discussion of the controversy at Antioch between Peter and Paul recounted in Galatians 2:11-21 since the occasion seems to have been caused by the arrival of “certain men from James” (Gal 2:12). Furthermore, this controversy is often used as evidence for the supposed division between James and the Jerusalem church (Jewish Christianity) and Paul and his Gentile mission (Gentile
Christianity).[4] We will discuss this in the next post.

[1] Bauckham 2006:67.
[2] Bauckham 1990.
[3] Marcus 2006:91.
[4] Carleton Paget 199; Marcus 2006; Segal 1992.
Works cited
Bauckham, Richard. 1990. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.
________. 2006. James and the Jerusalem Community. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:55-95. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Carleton Paget, James. 1999. Jewish Christianity. In The Cambridge History of Judaism: The Early Roman Period, ed. William Horbury, W. D. Davies and John Sturdy, 3:731-75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Marcus, Joel. 2006. Jewish Christianity. In The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1: Origins to Constantine ed. Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young:87-102. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Segal, Alan F. 1992. Jewish Christianity. In Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism, ed. Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, 42:326-51. Leiden ; New York: Brill.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book Review: Following God Through Mark

Ira Brent Driggers
Following God through Mark:
Theological Tensions in the Second Gospel
Louisville/London: WJK, 2007.
Available in the UK via Alban Books for £13.99
Available in the US via for $ 18.96.

In this volume Ira Driggers examines the portrait of God in the Gospel of Mark. In sum, Driggers is concerned with how the Gospel depicts God and what significance this has for a believing audience. His methodology is a narative critical reading that focuses not only on highlighting theological propositions but on the experience that the Gospel creates. He begins by noting a number of tensions based on the disciples who initially follow Jesus and yet misunderstand Jesus, they resist the passion and yet find themselves amidst the passion.

In chapter one Driggers looks at Mk. 1.1-15 and notes a tension in that God acts through Jesus, but God also acts directly as well (e.g. voice from heaven and via Scripture). In chapter two, he shifts to Jesus' relationship with his disciples where in 1.16-20 he argues for two mutualy exclusive explanations about the event on how the disciples choose to follow Jesus of their own volitional will and how they are also "fished by God". Then in chapter three Driggers examines the first half of the Marcan Gospel and identifies how the identification of Jesus with his disciples are thwarted by the disciples' own fear and misunderstanding and God also hardens the disciples directly. This highlights the tension of the Gospel and highlights the mystery of God. Coming to chapter four, he focuses on the second half of Mark and the necessity of the passion. He (again) points out two divergent facts that the passion is due to the blindness and sin of the world and yet it is also grounded in God's ancient promises in Scripture. The disciples' abandonment of Jesus is due to their own self-protection but also part of the divine script. Then in chapter five, Driggers examines the Gospel's conclusion and he suggests that Mark's Gospel jeopardizes the very promises that the narrative itself creates. The tension of the Gospel (created by the failure and fear in 16.8) means the story must carry over into the story of the implied audience whom themselves must break the silence of the women and continue to follow Jesus' teachings on discipleship which the disciples failed to do. It also underscores the fallibility of all disciples and the desperate need for merciful empowerment from a transcendent God. In sum: "The Gospel ends on a note of responsibility and impossibility, pointing hearers not only to the mystery of God but also to the mystery of discipleship" (p. 3). The final paragraph of the book is worth noting: "Given God's action within the narrative often sets the disciples at odds with their commission (if only for the purpose of Jesus' passion), such an assertion of divine fidelity is crucial, particularly for the audience outside the narrative. Although hearers will naturally question their fortitude in the face of opposition, they need not worry about God's faithfulness. Indeed, the opposition itself is, as an emulation of Jesus' own path, a sign of that faithfulness. In this sense the very promise of divine empowerment fosters obedience to the impossibie discipleship task: God and follow the path of Jesus, for God will be with you" (pp. 105-6).

All in all this is a good book on a neglected topic: God in the Gospel of Mark and the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Mark too (M.M. Thompson has written a good book on God in John's Gospel and D.A. Carson wrote his Ph.D thesis on divine sovereignty and human responsiblity on John as well - but it is high time that someone covered in it Mark). The only thing that I don't like about this book is that the apparent tension and the purported contradictions in the story may be due to either (1) paradoxes created by the mystery of God, (2) instances of the complexity that transpires when God intervenes in human affairs, or (3) exist only in the mind of Driggers.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Biblical Theology - An Endangered Species in Need to Defence

I confess that I am deeply concerned about a developing trend in Reformed circles that denigrates historical study of the Bible and demands that Biblical Theology conform to the systematic formulations of Reformed Theologians. Let me begin by saying that I am strongly in favour of Systematic Theology. You cannot have a coherent Christian worldview without it, you cannot answer the big questions of life if you are not equipped with a good Systematic Theology. I've written on the subject of prolegomena in Systematic Theology and the place of the gospel in Systematic Theology, so I'm NOT trying to play off Biblical Theology against Systematic Theology (on this point see Richard Gaffin's article "Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards"). Second, the issue is how do you get to Systematics. What I learned from reading Millard Erickson's textbook Christian Theology, was that you do theology in three stages:

1. Exegesis: analysis of the biblical texts in their historical and literary contexts.
2. Biblical Theology: situating exegesis in wider context of each body of literature (e.g. theology of the Pentateuch or Pauline Corpus and then OT or NT Theologies respectively). Importantly, Biblical Theology looks at the issues that the biblical authors raise in their own language and on their own terms without importing foreign ideas or issues.
3. Systematic Theology: the act of synthesizing key motifs and ideas as they relate to the mosaic of Christian belief done in dialogue with Philosophy, Scripture, and Tradition.

Importantly, Systematic Theology is the end process of exegesis and Biblical Theology. In short, exegesis and Biblical Theology determines Systematic Theology rather than the other way around. That means that there is a genuine risk that Systematic Theology will have to modify its findings based on the results of good exegesis and a sound Biblical Theology. But there are a cohort of Reformed Theologians who are calling into question the validity or results of Biblical Theology precisely because (I suspect) that it is deterimental to their Systematic Theology. Let me give three examples:

1. Robert Reymond. Reymond's Reformed volume A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (1997) is a text book used in my own institution. Overall it is a fine book written from a Reformed Evangelical perspective. Reymond is certainly not against Biblical Theology per se as her interacts with and leans on Gerhardus Vos repeatedly. Nonetheless, there is one point that caught my attention. In his discussion on the covenant of grace, Reymond argues that OT saints had faith in a dying and rising Messiah. He then takes Vos to task over his denial of this oint. Reymond writes: "On the other hand, it is possible to address the issue of the Old Testament saints' understanding of redemption so one-sidedly from the 'biblical-theological' perspective that one permits the hermeneutic of that discipline to overpower the 'analogy of faith' principle in systematic theology, and as a result neither the teaching of the Old Testament itself nor what the New Testament writers expressly report or imply that the Old Testament meant and that the Old Testament saints knew about the suffering Messiah and his resurrection from the dead is given its due" (p. 535). I for one do not think that a suffering/rising Messiah was at the heart of the faith of Israel and the New Testament does not assume that it was so. This reading of the Old Testament is only possible once the disciples have been given an Easter hermeneutic by the risen Jesus (see Luke 24.26-27, 45-46). Yet, Reymond is prepared to argue so based on the "analogy of faith" over and against the results of Biblical Theology. I appreciate what he's trying to achieve, but I have doubts whether this is the right way to achieve this.

2. Guy Waters. Waters' book Justification and the New Perspective (2004) presents a good and accessible survey of the debate about Paul and justification, he scores a few good points on Wright, Dunn, and Sanders at certain places, but overall the book is written with an uncharitable rhetoric that is unfortunate (e.g. he calls Wright a "trojan horse to the church"). What I found somewhat disconcerting about the book is when Waters says this about J.P. Gabler: "Warfield, Vos, and John Murray were agreed that the former [Biblical Theology] was properly the handmaiden to the latter [Systematic Theology]. These three men were good students of the historical-critical thought and had remembered how biblical theology in the tradition of J.P. Gabler had decimated systematic theology, both as an ordering principle of biblical data and as a force within the church" (p. 202). The problem here is what Waters attributes to Gabler is patently false. Gabler's concern was to stop Dogmatic Theology imposing itself upon the biblical texts and distorting the texts, espeically when the results of Theology kept changing. He called for the development of a separate discipline of Biblical Theology that would allow the biblical texts to speak on their own terms on their own issues and without preempting results. What is important to remember is that Gabler wanted the results to feed into Systematic Theology and into the life of the Church. Gabler writes: "Thus, as soon as all these things have been properly observed and carefully arranged, at last a clear sacred Scripture will be selected with scarcely any doubtful readings, made up of passages which are appropriate to the Christian religion of all times. The passages will show with unambiguous words the form of faith that is truly divine; the dicta classica [standard collection of proof texts] properly so called, which can then be laid out as the fundamental basis for a more subtle dogmatic scrutiny. For only from these methods can those certain and undoubted universal ideas be singled out, those ideas which alone are useful in dogmatic theology . . . And finally, unless we want to follow uncertain arguments, we must so build only upon these firmly established foundations of biblical theology, a dogmatic theology adapted to our own times" (English trans. in SJT 33.2 [1980], pp. 143-44). Does this sound like a guy who is trying to prevent theology from being a force in the church? And if you don't believe my reading of Gabler, here is D.A. Carson's description: "Gabler charged that dogmatic theology is too far removed from Scripture, constantly changing and perpetually disputed. Biblical theology, by which Gabler seems to mean a largely inductive study of the biblical text, has much more likely hood of gaining widespread agreement among learned, godly and cautious theologians. The fruit of such study may then serve as the basis on which dogmatic theology may be constructed" (D.A. Carson, "New Testament Theology," DLNTD, p. 796). Carson goes on to note that many followed the first part of Gabler's proposal (inductive study free from doctrinal consideration) but they did not follow him in the second part of feeding the results into the service of dogmatic theology. But Gabler was not against Systematic Theology itself and Gabler was I think correct in his vision of seeing Biblical Theology determining the contours of doctrinal formulations - a point which some Systematicians take exception too!

3. Tom Ascol. In an article in the Founders Journal on "Systematic Theology and Preaching" (1991), Pastor Tom Ascol urges that Systematic Theology has an important place in the pastoral office and in the vocation of preaching (amen!); however, he makes some disparaging remarks against Biblical Theology along the way. He laments the apparent demise of Systematic Theology by those who do not trust Scripture to represent a coherent and inerrant compendium of divinely revealed truth. He writes: "At the same time that systematic theology was falling into disfavor the study of Pauline, Petrine, Johannine, etc. theologies was growing in popularity. Thus this kind of 'biblical' theology has been heralded as the proper domain of the legitimate theologian and the study of systematics has been relegated to the realm of philosophy (where "systems" are acceptable) . . . It is specious to argue that 'biblical' theology is by definition more concerned with the Bible than is 'systematic' theology. Both are concerned with the text of Scripture. It is the comprehensive, coherent teaching of that text which concerns the latter. Careful exegesis is no more valued by one than the other and neither can be slighted in any thorough study of God's Word." He continues: "Systematic theology is a necessary discipline in the pursuit of both knowing and proclaiming the whole counsel of God. It will curb careless exegesis which results in fanciful, contradictory expositions of various texts. Where it is depreciated doctrinal instability prevails, and God's people are robbed of Christian vitality." I can agree with alot of what he says except that (1) biblical theology should be conducted without recourse to having to conform to Systematic Theology, and (2) Biblical Theology should inform and determine Systematic Theology. A Christian Biblical-Theologian will conduct his enquiry in the context of the "Rule of Faith" but he should not be expected to carry out his study in order to confirm the results of Systematic Theology. Apart from putting the cart before the horse (i.e. Scripture over System) it begs the question, whose Systematic Theology? Calvin, Beza, Arminius, Rowan Williams, Paul Tillich etc. In a footnote Ascol states: "This is not to disparage or undervalue biblical theology in general or such courses in particular. Both biblical and systematic studies are needed in any comprehensive theological curriculum. However, as Ramm contends, it should be recognized that the study of various biblical theologies (i.e., of Paul, John, Peter, etc.) emerged under the belief propagated by liberalism and neo-orthodoxy 'that the Bible contains a medley of contradictory theologies' (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 174)." Ascol appears to admit the legitimacy of biblical theology as a concession to exegetes but then devalues it by repeating the genetic fallacy of Bernard Ramm that confuses the veracity of a methodology with its origin. Liberals may have invented and developed Biblical Theology but that does nothing to prove that it is illegitimate or unbiblical of itself.

Systematic Theology is a good thing and we desperately need good theologians to formulate a coherent Christian belief mosaic and to find ways of retelling the Christian story in a comprehensive, compelling, and coherent way. But Biblical Theology must be subservient to the text of Scripture and not to any theological system. Many of the debates in the Reformed Churches and in several Reformed Seminaries about the New Perspective on Paul and views of Scripture are between those who owe their allegiance to Scripture and those who owe their allegiance to a System of doctrine. Now I am not implying the priority of Biblical Theology over Systematic Theology, to the contrary, I am insisting on it! A Systematic Theology based on good Biblical Theology will be far more valuable to the Church than a Systematic Theology that asserts the infalliblity of its system and the immutablity of its findings over and against the claims of Biblical Theology. I've learnt from my colleague, Prof. Andrew McGowan, that Semper Reformanda does not mean finding new ways and contemporary opportunities to defend the assured findings of a theological system, it means making sure that our theology lives, and breathes, and oozes the truth of Scripture.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Important sources for Jewish Christianity

Joel Marcus (2006:90, n. 13.) usefully lists the important sources for Jewish Christianity.

I. Texts written by Jewish Christians

(a) Matthew
(b) John
(c) James
(d) Jude
(e) Revelation
(f) Didache 6 or the whole
(g) Pseudo-Clementines (Epistle of Peter, Kerygma of Peter & Ascension of James)
(h) Fragments of Jewish Christian gospels (Gospel of the Nazareans, Gospel of Naassenes, Gospel of the Ebionites, & Gospel of the Hebrews )

II. Historiographic accounts

(a) Acts (6—7; 15; 21:17 26)
(b) Josephus (Ant. 18.63; 20.197 203)
(c) Eusebius (HE 1.7.14; 2.23; 3.27.1— 6; 5.8.10, 5.17, etc)

III. Theological description and responses from opponents
(a) Christian

(1) Galatians
(2) Romans (esp. 14:1—15:13)
(3) Philippians 3:2-7
(4) Justin (Dial. 16, 46-47, 110, Apol. 31)
(5) Ireneus (Haer. 1.26.2; 3.11.7; 3.21.1; 5.1.3)
(6) Tertullian (Carn. Chr. 14, 18; Praescr. 32.3-5; 33.11; Virg. 6.1)
(7) Hippolytus (Haer. prol. 7.8; 7.34.1-2; 9.1-17.2; 10.22.1; 29.1-3
(8) Origen (Hom. Luc. 17; Hom. Gen. 3.5; Comm. Mt., sermon 79; C. Cels. 2.1, 3;5.61, 66)
(9) Eusebius (D.E. 3.5; 7.1)
(10) Epiphanius (Pan. esp. bks 19-31, 51)
(11) Jerome (Ep. 112.13, 16; 125.12.1; Comm. Gal. on 1.11-12; 3.13-14; 5.3; Onom. 112; Comm. Habac. on 3.10-13; Comm. Mt. on 12.2; Comm. Am. on 1.11-12; Comm. Isa. on 1.12; 5.18-19; 8.11-15, 19-22; 9.1; 31.6-9; 49.7; 52.4-6; Comm. Ezech on 44.6-8; Comm. Jer. on 3.14-16; Didasc. apost. and Apost. const. passim)

(b) Rabbinic
m. Sanh. 4.5
t. ‘Avot 13(14).5
t. Hul. 2.20-21
t. Yad. 2.13;
b. ‘Abod. Zar. 16b-17a, 26ab; 27b-28a
b. Ber. 28b-29a
t. Avot. 116ab
b. Sanh. 38b, 107ab
b. Sukk. 48b;
b. Git. 45b
b. Ta’an. 27b
Siphre Numbers 143
Genesis Rabbah 8.9; 25.1
Exodus Rabbah 19.4

Works Cited
Marcus, Joel. 2006. Jewish Christianity. In The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1: Origins to Constantine ed. Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young:87-102. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jesus as Messiah in the Fourth Gospel

According to Tom Thatcher:

"John's Christology, his image of Jesus, emerges at the intersection of three currents: the recall of things that the historical Jesus presumably did and said; a post-resurrection understanding of Jesus' ultimate destiny; and a messianic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, not only specific passages but the entire text taken as a whole. The interplay of memory, faith, and Scripture may therefore be viewed as John's christological formulae, the generative matrix through which he developed statements about Jesus' messianic identity"

Tom Thatcher, "Remembering Jesus: John's Negative Christology," in The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments, ed. S.E. Porter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), pp. 173-74.

Another great save!

Over at Metacatholic Doug Chaplin notes a very odd occurence of how someone found his blog. Apparently someone googled: "michael bird saving don carson".

For what it is worth I do not think Don Carson needs saving; although I do defend Carson's book Justification and Variegated Nomism against some of the criticism it has received from several scholars including Jimmy Dunn in his TrinJ review in an large footnote in Saving Righteousness of God (pp. 93-94, n. 14). But that is pretty much it. Though I imagine that the search was probably expressing a conflation of words rather than expressing an actual sentence.

Euangelion gets a Makeover!

My thanks to Michael Halcomb for our snazzy new blog header. As we used to say in the Aussie military: "It is gucci!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Start of a New Semester

I love the beginning of a new semester and I suppose this is because I love teaching so much. There are few things more exciting for me than a room full of undergrads who have expectations about learning. Of course there are varying degrees of interest among students in my classes. Some are majoring in Biblical Studies others are taking the course because they're required to do so to graduate. Nonetheless the opportunity each semester a teacher has to challenge conventional ideas, present new ideas and engender passion for the Bible and for learning is not only a privilege, but a thrill.
Each new semester reminds me why I love what I do. I was reflecting with Karla recently about my career and I told her that I wouldn't change a thing about my life if I were to inherit millions of dollars (by the way, that will never happen!). While I would certainly change some things like where we live (our two-bedroom condo has already been outgrown), I can't imaging doing anything else -- OK besides playing the outfield at Yankee Stadium in pinstripes. I am doing exactly what I want to do with my life. I am living my vocational dream and I am thankful to God that he has given me the opportunity to be about what I love.
I know some students of mine and some folks early in their preparation for careers read the blog and I want to encourage you especially to follow the dreams you have. Live your life pursuing your passions and the dreams so long as you have in mind the values of the Gospel and an eternal perspective.
This idea is reflective of one of Jonathan Edward's Resolutions. Many years ago I came across these Resolutions which are essentially commitments he had made early in his life and which he rehearsed daily. Here is a particular one that I have found useful in this regard:
Resolved, to live my life, at all times, as I think best in my most devout frames, and when I have the clearest notions of the things of the gospel and eternity.
This is a solid life perspective to follow.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Cynic Hypothesis Once More!

Chris is fairly nuanced in his criticism and he acknowledges some of the weaker elements of the Cynic hypothesis, nonetheless, he still finds that it has a certain utility in relation to the Q tradition. He finds the value of Cynic parallels with Q to be: (1) It avoids treating the Q woes in a law-gospel antithesis indicative of Protestantism; (2) It allowed the practice of the Q community in a systematic way that was eventually developed by the Christian Origins seminar; and (3) It avoids supersessionism and refutes the view that all pagan parallels are irrelevant to early Christianity. In response:
(1) Let us all say together the Meieranean Creed: "I cannot help thinking that biblical scholarship would be greatly advanced if every morning all exegetes would repeat as a mantra: 'Q is a hypothetical document whose exact extension, wording, originating community, strata, and stages of redaction cannot be known.' This daily devotion might save us flights of fancy that are destined, in my view, to end in skepticism." (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol 2, p. 178). In case I appear too heavy-handed in my criticism about Q reconstructions consider the following remarks: Dunn (Jesus Remembered, 158) writes, “The various attempts to build hypothesis upon presupposition can scarcely inspire confidence in the outcome.” S. G. Wilson (“Review of The Formation of Q,” University of Toronto Quarterly 58 [1988]: 227-28) declares that Kloppenborg’s proposal “involves hypothesis upon hypothesis upon hypothesis, a house of cards which can easily tumble.”Call me a sceptic if you wish, but if the best value of the Cynic hypothesis is explaining the contours and dynamics of a document and a community that might not have even existed, I find it hard to get too excited about its utility and virtue. That said, I am willing to posit Q as a working hypothesis (Goodacre has not convinced me just yet, but he has made me far more cautious about Q itself) but talk of stages of redaction and a Q community are shifting to a more tenuous and uncertain realm. Much of Q studies reminds of the markings on the fringes of medieval nautical maps which say on the outer edges: And here there be dragons! In other words, no-one knows for certain what is beyond and before Q.
(2) Drawing attention to the Cynic tradition was principally the work of Hengel and Theissen who noted its analogy to elements of the Jesus tradition (not the least of which is the mission discourse in Mark 6). But they did not take in the direction of Mack, Vaage, Seeley, Crossan, Downing, Cameron, Price which is exactly why Theissen called the Jesus Seminar's Jesus the "Californian Jesus".
(3) The Q hypothesis has been related very closely to a high level of Hellenisation in Galilee as Chris himself notes. Here I commend the work of J.L. Reed who has pointed out that the Q tradition seems to know of some contact between Jesus and an urban environment, but with M.A. Chancey we have to keep in mind that Galilee was only in its infancy of hellenization in the first century.
(4) I also like the short comment of H.C. Kee: "Jesus’ wisdom does not consist of pious, timeless aphorisms on an allegedly Cynic model, as a contingent of New Testament scholars have tried to show. The true analogue between Jesus and the Stoic-Cynic tradition is rather what might be called an eschatological-ethical theme: the gods will reward and sustain the king who honors virtue, who is humane, and who is characterized by prudence (phronesis), temperance (sophrosune), justice (dikaiosune), and courage (andreia)." (H.C. Kee, The Beginnings of Christianity, 459).
I have made other comments on the Cynic Hypothesis here and in my EQ article on "The Peril of Modernizing Jesus and the crisis of not contemporizing the Christ" (2006).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

It’s High Time to Change our Terminology

This is the view of John H. Elliott in his excellent article appearing in the most recent issue of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus: "Jesus the Israelite was neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian’: On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature". The "terminology" I’m referring to is what we label Jesus and the early church. Here is one of his strongest statements:

It is time finally for interpreters, Bible Translators, and commentators to cease and desist. Jesus and the Jesus movement (with all its various movement groups) have their roots in Israel, not ‘Judaism’. They were , in the nascent period, predominantly ‘Israelites’, not ‘Jews’; Galileans, not Judeans; Nazoreans, not ‘Christians’. They belonged to the House of Israel, not ‘Christianity’ (p. 148).

Leaving aside the clearly anachronistic use of the term "Christian" or "Christianity". While we continue to use these terms anachronistically we seem to be more aware of the problem than with the terms "Jewish" and "Jew".
With verve Elliott rehearses the well-known contrast between insider/outsider language in the Second Temple period in reference to Israel, and convincingly shows that Jesus and the early believers (including Paul) preferred the term "Israelite" over the term "Jew" in their self-designations. He avers that the New Testament guild must be more careful in their language when referring these historical personages and events to at best avoid anachronisms and at worst promulgate false assumptions.

Elliott presents that case that in the Second Temple period outsiders (specially the Romans) referred to Israelites as Ioudaioi and that term was eventually adopted by Diaspora Jews as a self designation especially when conversing with non-Israelites although nonetheless infrequently used. What’s more, Elliott explains that the term Ioudaioi maintained a geographical connotation as it expanded to include ethnicity. While at first the term was coined in the Persian period to refer to those who resided in the region of Ioudaia, it later came to be used as a designation by outsides for all those who oriented their lives—politically, ethnically, economically, socially and culturally—around Judea: the Jerusalem and the Temple, and the cult and law as practiced there. Thus, Elliott argues that the term Ioudaioi be translated as "Judeans", not "Jews" since as he states, "The term ‘Jew’ as a translation for Ioudaios does not communicate the connection of the name with the name of the land" (p. 148).

Also important is his discussion of the term Ioudaisimos which is translated "Jewish". Not only does the term rarely appear in Greek (and has not Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent), but also it was not a conventional term of Israel parlance. He opines, "It is ironic and unfortunate that a name occurring so infrequently [Jew, Jewish] in the literature of Israel and the New Testament should have become in modern times the most frequent designation of the children of Israel" (p. 142-43). Furthermore, Elliott argues that it was used in the Maccabean period to designate not a social collectivity but a "Judean way of behavior".

As a Christian, New Testament scholar and teacher I am as guilty as anyone for the lack of precision in my language. I take Elliott's criticism to heart and will attempt to be much more careful in my writing and speaking. Here is my list of terms to work on:
Israelites, not Jews (Galilean Israelites, Judean Israelites, Diaspora Israelites)
Judeans, not Jews
Judean lifestyle, not Jewish
Believers in Jesus, not Christians
A caveat: It is not possible to avoid completely the terms "Jew", "Jewish", and "Christian" nor is it necessarily desirable in every instance since these terms are so widespread in secondary literature. And most discussing topics such as Jewish Christianity, for example, don't think for a moment that the appellation is anything more than a modern construct used to describe an ancient phenomenon. (By the way, Craig Hill in Jewish Christianity Reconsidered [pp. 40-41] has a nice discussion of the term and an argument for retaining it [or at least tolerating it] .

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Works of the Law and Justin Martyr

As I've argued in The Saving Righteousness of God, "works of the law" refers to the whole Mosaic legislation and I am not fond of the term "boundary markers" to use Wright and Dunn's terminology. I'm even less convinced that "works of the law" in 4QMMT means the distinctive practices of the Qumran sect. Nonetheless, one has to admit that in the context of discussions about the relationship of Christian Gentiles to the Law (esp. the view that one must become a Jew in order to become a Christian), that "works of the law" means the Judean way of life as codified in the Torah. What has really higlighted this for me again is reading the opening chapters of Justin Martyr's Dialogues with Trypho. In Book 10, Trypho retorts to Justin:
"But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God, while you do not obey His commandments. Have you not read, that that soul shall be cut off from his people who shall not have been circumcised on the eighth day? And this has been ordained for strangers and for slaves equally. But you, despising this covenant rashly, reject the consequent duties, and attempt to persuade yourselves that you know God, when, however, you perform none of those things which they do who fear God. If, therefore, you can defend yourself on these points, and make it manifest in what way you hope for anything whatsoever, even though you do not observe the law, this we would very gladly hear from you, and we shall make other similar investigations."
Notice here that observing the Law has as one of its main purposes separation from the nations and what does Trypho give as his two favourite exampels: circumcision and sabbaths. Sound familiar? Notice also, that Trypho thinks that this is necessary for anyone who seeks favour from God, even for strangers (= aliens) and slaves, thus it is applicable to Gentiles. Justin's response, in good ol' Pauline fashion is to say:
"But we do not trust through Moses or through the law; for then we would do the same as yourselves. But now — (for I have read that there shall be a final law, and a covenant, the chiefest of all, which it is now incumbent on all men to observe, as many as are seeking after the inheritance of God. For the law promulgated on Horeb is now old, and belongs to yourselves alone; but this is for all universally. Now, law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law—namely, Christ —has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy, after which there shall be no law, no commandment, no ordinance."

Wanted: Logo for Euangelion

To all those readers of Euangelion who have some competency in web design, I am hoping some clever little sausage might be willing to design a logo for the top of the blog that adequately reflects what Euangelion is about: New Testament Studies, Christian Origins, Theological Intepretation of Scripture, and Following Jesus. I look at Ben Myers' blog and Chris Tillings' with their snazzy headers and feel like this one is rather lacking in the visual eye candy department. Given that I have the artistic skills of a sedated sloth who works as an accountant in Bristol, would anyone like to design one? I'm thinking of something with purple, blue, and gold, no funny stuff like Tom Wright with a pitchfork, but something ancient-futurie. Any takers, please email me.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reading Calvin

It is has been way too long since I last read through Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin combines theological observation with a passion for God's glory that is hard to match. It was refreshing for my soul to read this quote from the nerdy little frenchman this evening:
"Since then he arms and equips us by his power, adorns us with splendour and magnificence, enriches us with wealth, we here find most abundant cause of glorying, and also are inspired with boldness, so that we can contend interpidly with the devil, sin, and death. In fine, clothed with his righteousness, we can bravely surmount all the insults of the world: and as he replenishes us liberally with his gifts, so we can in our turn bring forth fruit unto his glory."
ICR II.15.iv.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pastoral Wages in the Early Church

Does anyone know of any writings from the early church or of any secondary literature about wages, salaries, or remuneration for those dedicated to ministerial service in early Christianity? Several NT passages obviously come to mind "the worker is worth his wage" (Lk. 10.17; 1 Tim. 5.18), Paul's apostolic right to receive financial aid (1 Corinthians 9), and "double-portion" (1 Tim. 5.17) etc., but does anyone know of anything else?

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Foray into Mark Nanos’ views on the “Torah-Observant Paul”

I just finished reading two essays written by Mark Nanos available on his website: A Torah-Observant Paul? and Rethinking the “Paul and Judaism” Paradigm. If you are unfamiliar with this work I wish to encourage you to read these two very interesting and no doubt controversial papers for a foray into his views.

If I were mapping out the movements in Pauline studies I would say that Mark, among others (and interestingly especially Messianic Jews: see David Rudolph’s forthcoming monograph from WUNT A Jew to Jews) is at the forefront of not a “New Perspective” (Dunn’s phrase for the Sanders revolution) or even a “Fresh Perspective” (Wright’s phrase for the anti-Imperial perspective of Horsley and others) but rather an “Ancient Perspective” on Paul (Paul as a Torah-Observant Jew) [I am sure that this phrase will not be coined, but hey it is the best I can do!].

I found the essays in need of some editing and revision. There are syntax problems here and there and the argument is at times difficult to follow with all of the parentheses and interruptions with dashes. In addition, the introduction to the paper A Torah-Observant Jew? was especially difficult and all the more for uninitiated. It felt like there were elliptical statements throughout that would be well served to spell out a bit more. Still these issues are not substantial and I am sure they will be revised before they are officially published pieces.

To reveal my hand slightly before discussing my view on Paul on a later post about Jewish Christianity, I will say that I am warmly sympathetic to his view of a Torah-Observant Paul. What’s more, I found myself in sympathy with many of his viewpoints in the essays. I was especially encouraged in my developing views on Paul by his perspective since I am not much more than a novice—perhaps unlike my co-blogger—when it comes to Pauline theology. I suppose one advantage I have had is that I am coming to Paul after spending a significant amount of time in the Gospels focusing on the Jewish background of Matthew. What Nanos states about Pauline interpreters—that is that while Paul gets touted as a Jew, the full weight of that assumption is often less than significant for the interpreters’ conclusions—I have said about Matthean scholars. For example, how can interpreters of Matthew so easily assume that a theology of Land has no remaining value for the Jewish author. I often think such things are so easy for non-Jews to say, although of course I myself am a non-Jew.

I want to interact with one point from his essays here that relates to Paul and Israel. On several occasions Nanos makes the point that Paul did not think non-Jews needed or even should be allowed to become members of “Israel” by proselyte conversion; in fact to do so, according to Nanos, would undermine Paul’s conviction that the end of the ages had dawned (you can read his discussion so I won't unpack this any further here). I agree in part with this assertion on one definition of the term “Israel”. In other words, I agree with Nanos that Paul differentiated between expectations for Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Jesus with respect to the Torah and asserted that non-Jews had equal standing, or were co-members with Jews as non-Jews and this was in fulfillment of eschatological expectations that Paul believed, in contrast to his compatriots, had arrived at least partially in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Still, I have been wondering these days about the term “Israel” especially Romans 9—11. What is the difference for Paul between the terms “Jew” and “Israelite” that surface in Romans? Why does Paul use the term Jew elsewhere in Romans, but in the context of Romans 9—11 he uses the term Israelite/Israel? Now most, as far as I can tell, see this change as one of election: who are the true chosen people? Most of course think Paul at best is saying that both Jew and non-Jew are now God’s chosen people and the election term “Israel” can be applied to both or at worst that the non-Jews have now taken ancient Israel’s place as God’s true Israel (quoting Paul “not all Israel is Israel”). Thus the meaning of the term “Israel” is thought to go back to the story of Jacob and his descendants. Indeed this view seems surely possible and perhaps even likely given that Paul references them in the context. Yet I question such a quick assumption when we come to Paul’s statement “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26).

The term “Israel” is multivalent and can mean at least five different things: (1) a name of a person; (2) the name of the northern 10 tribal territories—in distinction from Judah; (3) the united kingdom under David and Solomon which included not only the 12 tribal territories, but also encompassed Gentile territories from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea (cf. Davidic census in 2 Sam 24); (4) the Northern Kingdom in distinction from the Southern; and (5) the Judean returnees from the Babylonian captivity.

Isn’t it at least possible that when Paul says that "all Israel will be saved" he envisages the restoration of political-national Israel that included the restoration of the twelve-tribe kingdom of David and included non-Judeans and non-Israelites--that is those of the northern kingdom? Thus the term "Israel" as a political term can encompass at least three groups: Israelites, Judeans and those who are neither, but within the kingdom of Israel(=kingdom of David). It is true that Paul's understanding is more radical with respect to these "others" than the ancient prophets understood in that even in prophetic contexts where the other nations are envisaged as participating in the eschaton they did not have equal standing in the kingdom. This for Paul is the "mystery" (Rom 11; Eph 2-3) Paul has been given by God to proclaim: Jew and Gentile as equal members of the Messianic kingdom.
It is surprising to me that nobody is even considering this possibility given that the term can be applied in this way. This is all the more startling to me since many agree with Wright that Paul’s gospel to the nations is the royal proclamation of Jesus kingship as the Davidide. In this messianic context such an implication can’t be far away. While this is not so much an issue I have with Nanos, I think it could potentially strengthen his line of thinking. I would like at some point in the near future to pursue this line of thinking.