Friday, February 29, 2008

If the Apostle Paul met Bultmann

Robert Morgan in his excellent book, The Nature of New Testament Theology (featuring essays by Wrede and Schlatter) includes this hypothetical conversation between the Apostle Paul and Rudolf Bultmann (pp. 49-50):

Bultmann, having critically divested Paul of his futurist eschatology, says to Paul, "You were wrong about the future, of course, but on the whole I agree with what you taught about God and man. Though I am doing Christian theology as I interpret your epistles. I am actually a historian and I claim that my interpretation is historically true even though it is a critical one, removing the egg-shells of traditional futurist eschatology which you did not realize were inessential to your position." Now Paul might reply: " Well, actually, I was wrong about the date of the parousia, and you are right to look for ways of getting around that, so that you can continue to take my witness seriously. I agree, too, that what I taught about God and man remains valid regardless of the date of the parousia; so if your account of my theology ignores my abberation it may still be true to the substance of what I was saying. Unfortunately, however, you have thrown out some of the baby with the bath water. You have misunderstood me in making me say the samething as your hero John, who did not accept any future perspective. I disagree with that heresy and approve of the ecclesiastical redactor who made John acceptable. The truth is that Kasemann, Moltmann and Co. have understood me better than you, though of course they owe more to you than to anyone else since brother Martin!"

Bultmann the Heretic!

I'm currently working my way through some studies in New Testament Theology where (Lord willing) I hope to invest a great amount of time over the next 60 years. I've been glancing at Alan Richardson's much neglected An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament. I found this amazing quote on page fourteen:

The 'conclusions' of the liberal or 'historicizing' critics have been stood upon their head: what the liberals deemed to be mythology has become history and their history has become mythology. No wonder the conservatives are bewildered nowadays - and the conservtives are, of course, the liberals. Time had made ancient good uncouth. It has become apparent that we cannot build a theology of the New Testament - whether an orthodox one, like Gore's, or an heretical one, like Bultmann's - upon an imaginary bed-rock of objective-historical 'fact'.

I love it! I think of Jim West when I read this.

New Covenant - a Must Read Book!

I've never been able to get into the obsessive-compulsive infatuation of my Reformed brothers and sisters with the word/concept of "covenant". I once heard a Presbyterian ministry pray at a wedding and he used the word "covenant" 23 times in a prayer - no lie. But one book that is a MUST read on the subject is that by Petrus J. Gräbe in his book New Covenant, New Community (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006). This book is an excellent summary of OT, NT, Systematic, and Patristic material on the "new covenant". If you're interested in what is new in the new covenant, or what continuity is there with national Israel, read this book. It is detailed (exegetically and theologically) and well worth the time. Five stars on this one!

Third Race - Kerygma Petrou

As I've said before, if I were planting a church I would call it "Third Race" (see Aristides, Apology for more info). That is derivative of the fact that the new covenant community is a cosmopolitan community made up of Jews, Gentiles, Barbarians, Scythians (and Democrats too). Paul mentions this in Eph. 2.12 that formerly the Ephesians were "alienated from the citizenship of Israel and aliens from thecovenant of promises not having hope and without God in the world". A similar theme, more positively put, appears in the Kerygma Petrou, frag. 2: "So then learn in a holy and righteous manner that which we deliver to you, observe, worshipping God through Christ in a new way. For we have found in the Scriptures, how the Lord said, 'Behold, I make with you a new covenant, not as the covenant with your fathers in mount Horeb.' He had made a new one with us: for the ways of the Greeks and the Jews are old, but we Christians who worship him in a new way as a third race" (trans. J.K. Elliott).

New Covenant in Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr has several references to a "new covenant". The most thought provoking is this one: ‘[T]he new covenant … announced by God is Christ himself’ (Dial. Tryph. 51.3).

Nanos on “Living like a Gentile” in Galatians 2:14

One more post on the issue of "living like a Gentile" in Galatians 2:14.
Mark Nanos has a novel interpretation of the clause which deserves attention. He proposes that the traditional reading of the phrase “living like a Gentile” should not be understood as a critique of Peter’s behavior—be it related to dietary laws (e.g. Longenecher) or Noachide commands (Dunn), but rather a statement of identity. Paul, therefore, asserts that Peter continues to recognize the fact that both Jews and Gentiles are made righteous before God in the same way. Nanos’ offers this equation: “living” = justification/legitimation; he states: “Paul’s challenge assumes that Peter still understands his righteous standing (“living” = justification/legitimation) to be based in Christ” (2002:314). His proposal is based primarily on two interrelated observations: (1) the present tense of the verb “living” needs to have its temporal force and (2) the point of the argument in 2:15-21 should be read back into 2:14 such that the issue for which Paul was concerned was not one of practice, but of identity.

With respect to the former, Nanos thinks that interpreters have not noticed the temporal force of the tense of zoā (“to live”). According to Nanos, with the present tense-form Paul is not addressing Peter’s past actions, but how he is presently acting. Paul would have known that at the time of his confrontation, Peter was no longer acting in the way that characterized “Gentiles”, but Paul nevertheless regards Peter as in some sense continuing to live as a Gentile: “Peter is no longer living like a Gentile in the sense of his dietary practice: he is surely eating Jewishly at this point” (2002:313). Nanos thinks this underappreciated observation is the key to understanding Paul’s accusation. Taking the point of the tense-form temporally Paul is asserting that Peter continues to live Gentilely and Nanos attempts to explain how is can be and what is its force. Nanos interprets the verb “to live” as not expressing a manner of conduct of life, but as a figure of speech to express a state-of-being, that is a justified life before God:

The only sense in which Peter is still living in the same way as or like a Gentile when living separate from this Gentile table is in the sense of identity in Christ, which is, as Paul so clearly puts the case in vv. 15-16, but being justified in the same way as are these Gentiles, by faith in/of Christ” (2002:314).

Thus, his interpretation of “to live” is inextricably linked to his view that the theme of 2:15-21 continues what was here the issue: identity in Christ. He comments: “although Paul’s theme of how Jew and Gentile are justified—live before God and with each other in Christ—is often noted by interpreters as the theme of vv. 16-21, I am simply suggesting that this same theme is present in v. 14 when Paul writes of how Peter ‘lives’” (2002:315). In 2:15-21 Nanos observes that Paul employs the language of living to challenge the implication that arises for these Gentiles from the discriminatory behavior of Peter and the other Jews who join him.

Nanos’ interpretation of Galatians 2:14 is not only fresh but more fully to integrates the narrative of the incident (2:11-14) with Paul’s discourse of 2:15-21 than perhaps previous attempts have been able to do. I am convinced by the assertion that Paul’s point in both sections is related to identity and not simply to practice. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced by two aspects of his interpretation.

(1) Given that tense-form primarily communicates aspect and not time, one would have to have solid pointers in the context to suggest that the time of action and not kind of action is in view when the present tense-form is used. In other words, noticing that a verb form is in the present tense does not, in Greek at least, mean that one should introduce the issue of time. While it is true that an author will most often use the present-tense form in a present temporal context, these are not one and the same. New Testament authors can and do use a present-tense form in a past temporal setting to communicate a continuous action. One might suggest that the imperfect tense-from would have been then the better choice if Paul was wishing to express Peter’s continuous action in the past. Yet, given the rhetorical nature of the conditional statement in the context of a past remembrance, it is just as likely if not more so that Paul’s used of the present-tense form is for emphasis: “Peter you continuously lived like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you continuously compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” What’s more, Paul’s point in the statement comes in the apodosis and the present tense of the protasis creates rhetorical symmetry. Even if this does not convince, I don’t think the present-tense form can bear the weight of the argument itself since I don’t see compelling contextual markers that highlight the temporal sense of the tense-form.

It is difficult then for me to agree with Nanos that Paul’s use of “living” in 2:14 is not primarily directed toward Peter’s practice or halakah described in the immediate context, although it is not in my view addressing dietary halakah. I do not, however, think that identity and practice here are unrelated. Thus, the issue of identity that Paul does then take up is appropriate because the identity of the Gentile, along with the Jew, has been redefined in light of Christ. Furthermore, that new identity had implications for intimate association between Jews and Gentiles which Peter because of fear of the circumcised stopped living out.

(2) Taking the verb “to live” as a figure of speech expressing state-of-being does make sense as Nanos argues, but the problem I have is that “living like a Gentile” is parallel with “living like a Jew”. And in view of this, his interpretation seems less useful. If we take Nanos’ reading of the former, what do we make of the latter? What is the state-of-being that is Jewishly that is in contrast? I don’t think that taking the “living as a Gentile” defined as “right standing before God” makes sense of the meaning of its parallel, but opposite partner, “living Jewishly”. For me, it just makes more sense that Paul is focusing on a manner of conduct characteristic of these two groups, namely the kind of associations characteristic of them.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Paul: Conversion, Commission, and Chronology

When did Paul get his "commission" to go to the Gentiles? Was it on the Damascus Road (e.g. Gal. 1.13-14; Acts 26:14-15) or a subsequent relevation, or then again was it something that only became clearer to him later on in his ministry (Acts 22.17-18)? If this call only came into perspective later on, did Paul consider his period of time in Arabia as part of his call to go to the Gentiles (Gal. 1.17). One of our HTC students, David Kirk, has a good run down on this.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And the Oscar goes to ...

My thanks goes to Aaron Ghilioni of Brisbane, Australia (aka Brisvegas or the New Zion) who draws attention to the recent Oscar victory by myself and my friend Ben Myers. The similarities are truly disturbing.

Another James Commentary

Anglican scholar James Dickson has a commentary on James: The Wisdom of the Brother of Jesus which appears useful, exerpts of which are available on-line for those interested. The blurb reads:

James, more than most books in the Bible, shoots straight from the hip. He has little time for sophisticated rhetoric and fine argumentation; he wants simply and urgently to call on believers to look like real believers. His message is fast and (at times) furious but it is always sprinkled with grace.Allowing ourselves to be ‘found out’, as it were, and then submitting ourselves to the gracious hand of God are the keys to reading (and commenting upon) this important portion of God’s word.

The Contents (pdf)
The Foreward (pdf)
Sample Chapter Six (pdf)
Publisher: Aquila Press

N.T Wright on Rowan Williams and Sharia

Tom Wright has offered a response to the hoo-haa about Rowan William's lecture on Law and Religion in Britain. I liked this quote from Tom's short piece:

For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. In recent years various governments, including our own, have pushed the other way, to suggest that the secular state is itself master of all of life, including religious conviction. That's why we've seen an airline worker sacked for wearing a cross, while in France the government has tried similarly to ban Muslim women from wearing their traditional head-covering. Because we haven't had to address these issues before, our society has tended to slide round them by emphasizing words like 'multiculturalism', which often doesn't actually mean that we celebrate our different cultures but rather that we subordinate them all to whatever the secular state wants. That is as much a problem for Catholic adoption agencies, as we saw last year, as it is for Muslims who want to follow their traditional teaching about (for instance) the prohibition of interest on loans while living within a society where the mortgage system is endemic. Rowan was going to the roots of these problems and coming up not only with fresh analysis but fresh solutions, particularly what he calls 'interactive pluralism'. The question of how we live together as a civil and wise society while cherishing different faiths is a deep and serious one and can't be pushed away just because people take fright at certain misunderstandings. His point was precisely that neither the secular state nor any particular religion can 'monopolize'.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Christ Files: A Search for the Real Jesus

There is a documentary on Jesus that looks absolutely brilliant. It is called The Christ Files and it is by John Dickson (an excellent NT scholar, pastor, and evangelist in Sydney Australia and associate in the department of Ancient History at Macquarie University). Generally I tire of endless documentaries which usually regurgitate the same theories, the same cohort of "experts", and the same prosaic overstatements. But this one looks genuinely good. Anything that Dickson writes is worth reading. The section rugby is great too!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Strength in Weakness

This Sunday gone I departed from my normal routine in order to go and hear a student of mine preach what turned out to be a very good first-ever sermon. I was listening to Hebrews on CD in the car on the way over and one passage jumped out at me: "And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets- who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight (Hebrews 11:32-34, ESV)". The message here is that, by faith, God turns our weaknesses into his strength. That is good news for those of us who recognize that we are fallible, imperfect, weak, sinful, and sometimes even wounded eikons (to use Scot McKnight's term) that become vessels of God's grace through his majestic and mysterious power (see also 2 Cor. 12.9 and 13.4). How I wish I could have shared this with the student before the sermon, oh well, may be next time.

For those interested in this subject further see: Michael Parsons and David Cohen (eds). On Eagles’ Wings: An Exploration of Strength in the Midst of Weakness (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2008). Which includes an essay by me on, “Obi-wan Kenobi, Neo, and Mark’s Narrative Christology,”51-62.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Karen Jobes on Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation

I got an email from Michael Pritchard of Zondervan, and he informed me about a blog post that highlights the work of Karen Jobes (Wheaton) on Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation. Zondervan have made available an18 page paper given by Karen on Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation at the Fall 2007 Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting. Her two major contentions are:

1. Translation as bilingual (inter-lingual) quotation.

“Because of the growing importance of accurate, authoritative translation in the highly charged forums of the United Nations and the European Union, the practice of simultaneous interpretation has enjoyed increasing study by linguists over the last thirty years.” p. 5

“Although simultaneous translation of spoken language may at first seem an inappropriate analog to Bible translation, both tasks share the paramount goal of producing a precise and accurate translation that is faithful to the meaning of the original language.” p. 6

2. Verbosity as a measure of translation.

She surveys the word count of several English translations and compares it with the Greek and Hebrew Texts.

“My point is that the concepts of formal versus functional equivalence, though perhaps useful in their day, do not fully do justice to how language works and to what characterizes translations that are faithful to their sources. Furthermore, the concepts of formal and functional equivalence have been polarized and used to valorize or demonize a given English translation, which has been quite counter-productive for scholarly debate of translation issues, to say the least.” p. 16

Her paper seems to be a criticism of the "essential literalists" of the ESV etc. I know that a number of professional Bible translators read this blog, and I'd like to hear what they think of Jobes' proposal.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Biblical Theology and Christian Origins

I'm currently working on my Tyndale Lecture which will be about Biblical Theology and Christian Origins. At the moment we are privileged to have three major-massive-macro bigger-than-Ben-Hur New Testament Theology + New Testament History projects currently in production by N.T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God), James. D. G. Dunn (Christianity in the Making), and Martin Hengel (Geschichte des frühen Christentums). To this we might also add the plethora of German Neuen Testament Theologie or Theologie des Urchristentums by H. Hubner, K. Berger, F. Hahn, J. Gnilka, P. Stuhlmacher and others.

The task of placing New Testament Theology in its historical co-ordinates is hardly new and it goes back as far as Anton Lutterbeck in his volume: Die neutestamentlichen Lehrbegriffe: oder, Untersuchungen über das Zeitalter der Religionswende, die Vorstufen des Christenthums und die erste Gestaltung desselben: ein Handbuch für älteste Dogmengeschichte und systematische Exegese des neuen Testamentes (Mainz: Florian Kupferberg, 1852). The question of how to integrate the theological message of the New Testament into the religious history of antiquity (or vice-versa) without being purely descriptive or rewriting history to suit a certain theology is perhaps the defining issue in New Testament Theology.

Also, what is the difference between "A Theology of the New Testament" and a "Theology of Early Christianity"? Is it that a "Theology of Early Christianity" is broader than the NT canon, although we should ask exactly what Christian sources do we have from the first century apart from the NT? The Didache and 1 Clement (probably), Gospel of Thomas (probably second century), Q (did it exist and isn't it absorbed into Matthew and Luke anyway)? Big subjects.

19th Century New Testament Theologies

I am keen to pursue study of NT Theology before Wrede and I'm (chasing up) and looking forward to reading over:

Georg Lorenz Bauer, Biblische theologie des neuen testaments. Leipzig: Bengandschen Buchhandlung, 1800-1802.

Chr Fr Schmid and Carl Weizsäcker, Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testamentes. Leipzig: Fr. Richter, 1886.

Bernhard Weiss, Biblical theology of the New Testament. Trans. James E Duguid and David Eaton; Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1893.

Heinrich Julius Holtzmann, Kanon und tradition. Ein beitrag zur neueren dogmengeschichte und symbolik, Ludwigsburg, F. Riehm, 1859.

My question is, exactly how dogmatic was biblical theology prior to Wrede?

Friday, February 22, 2008


Forgive the intrusion of personal details, but I have just celebrated my 9th wedding anniversary with my beloved wife, Naomi. We now enter our tenth year of marriage together which will climax in her accompanying me to SBL Boston in November. She remains one "righteous babe". She is to me what Desdemona was to Othello!

New Books that I've Noticed

While surfing the RBL "books for review" the following stood out:

Timothy: Paul's Closest Associate
Malina, Bruce
Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 2008

The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus
Fiore, Benjamin
Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 2007

The Psalms of Solomon: A Critical Edition of the Greek Text
Wright, Robert, editor
New York: T&T Clark, 2007

Schmid, U. B., editor
Leiden: Brill, 2007

Schmid, Herbert
Leiden: Brill, 2007

Sobanaraj, S.Delhi
ISPCK, 2007

Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament
Brower, Kent and Andy Johnson, editors
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007

Incarnate Word, Inscribed Flesh: John's Prologue and the Postmodern
Nutu, Ela
Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007

2 Peter & Jude
Reese, Ruth Anne
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007

Bockmuehl on Paul and Peter

In chapter four of Seeing the Word, Bockmuehl looks at Peter and Paul in terms of reception and history. In Patristic literature and in art up to the medieval period, Peter and Paul are depicted in unity and greeted together. In fact, in early martyrologies their deaths are often remembered together (e.g. 1 Clement 5; Ignatius Rom. 4.3; Irenaeus Haer. 3.1.1). However, historical studies since F.B. Baur have maintained that Peter and Paul largely went their separate ways and were in competition with each other until "early catholocisim" got the parties back together (though note that early on some sober voices like B. Weiss and T. Zahn heavily cautioned against Baur's take on this). Bockmuehl draws on a wonderful insight of Eduard Lohse that much of the characterizations of Peter vs. Paul seem to assume that Protestantism is a branch of Paulinism and catholicism is a branch of Petrinism. In my book, SROG, I find compare Crosan/Reed with Heyden to much the same effect. Bockmuehl notes that, historically, Peter and Paul probably had a lot more in common than what Baur, Goulder et. al. recognize. 1 Corinthians 1-4 rhetorically culminates in the theme that Paul, Apollos, and Peter are united as servants of Christ. Gal. 2.11-14 implies that Peter is lapsing in his practice on common ground shared in Christian doctrine. Petrine and Pauline perspectives can be found in both Mark and 2 Peter. In hs view, "Scripture's canonical whole bears powerful testimony to the political sophistication of the apostolic tradition that refuses ti dissovle that volatile tension between Paul and Peter by choosing between them. A sympathetic but ideologically critical reading may well ask usefully probabing questions of any attempt to take the icon, or biblical texts that it represents, merely as convenient extensions of a fiction of uncluded ecclesial harmony culminating in the observer's own community" (p. 133). According to Bockmuehl, "What chiefly divides the two apostles at Antioch is neither a matter of basic gospel doctrine nor straightforwardly of halakah, but rather the theologically and halakically articulated arbitration between different but equally passionate ecclesial loyalties to the gospel of Jesus Christ" (p. 135 - this is good stuff). In the end, Bockmuehl sees no reason why a sympathetic historical criticism could not give qualified endorsement to the patristic view.

I love that picture above and hope to put it on the cover of a book one day!

Review: Nick Perrin, Lost in Transmission?

Nicholas Perrin
Lost in Transmission? What Can We Know About the Words of Jesus?
Nashville, TNA: Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Available from

Nick Perrin is Associate Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, formerly N.T. Wright’s research assistant, and has engaged in studies of the Gospel of Thomas in relation to other second century Christian literature. In this volume Perrin engages Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus in order to demonstrate the integrity of the Christian Bible. All of the chapters begin with a paragraph quote from Ehrman's book and Perrin gives a short biographical illustration and then engages Ehrman’s remark in each chapter.

By his own admission, Perrin is not a textual criticism specialist and he deals only “indirectly” with many of Ehrman’s claims. Much of the book is autobiographical of Perrin’s journey in faith from a non-Christian background to faith in Jesus (including his stint as a Christian Buddhist). He starts off by comparing Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus with John Lennon’s song Imagine: Imagine there’s no heaven and imagine that we don’t have the actual words of Jesus – both take us to realities without God. One of his criticisms of Ehrman is that while Ehrman may have rejected his fundamentalist Christian faith he has not for the most part changed his epistemology. Perrin charges him with judging the Bible according to the standards of Platonic idealism rather than according to the Bible’s own standard of truth which is Jesus Christ.

In another chapter, Perrin deals with the view that either Jesus did not exist or else that Christianity evolved out of some kind of hodge-podge of Greco-Roman myths. In chapter three, Perrin delves into post-enlightenment perspectives on Jesus. He likens modern Jesus research to a three-ring circus featuring H.S. Reimarus (sceptic), G.E. Lessing (liberal), and J.M. Goeze (orthodox). In Perrin’s mind, they epitomize how more recent Christian believers and doubters make sense of the Gospels. Perrin makes a good point that much of the scholarship that goes on assumes an epistemological dualism between absolute certainty and thorough-going scepticism. In his view there is nothing to say that truth is ‘a risk-free venture’ and this leaves room for faith, faith as impacting epistemology as well.

Perrin minces no words in attacking religious pluralism as essentially intolerant of any kind of particularism and in turn he wonders what Jesus would have made of the claim that he himself did not necessarily have the exclusive backing of God. He also engages the issue of the historical Jesus and proposes that we should seriously consider Jesus as a figure in Palestinian Judaism rather than in a Hellenistic context, and also that Jesus was a type of movement founder. These remarks are set against the background of the quest for the historical Jesus. He goes on to discuss how Gospel scholars mine the Gospels for the actual words of Jesus through the various criteria of authenticity and he contrasts the form critical approach to the Gospels (e.g. Bultmann) with the Scandanavian approach (e.g. Gerhardsson). Perrin is convinced that the Gospels do provide accurate accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings but he is fairly nuanced in his approach and warns against complete harmonizations. He also contests Ehrman’s claim that the later Evangelists ‘wrote over’ Mark.

Perrin maintains that the four Gospels, as Irenaeus said, were a fourfold testimony to Jesus by the Evangelists and not a cacophony of mutually exclusive portraits as Ehrman charges. This means that Jesus can not be reduced to a system of beliefs or propositions devised by the Gnostics. On the transmission of the text of the NT, Perrin suggests that the Christian context in which the texts were copied probably contributed more to their preservation than to their corruption. The NT was a sacred text for these scribes and they were self involved readers who cared a great much about its detail. He states: “If the original text of the New Testament can be compared to a plush law of grass and textual corruptions to weeds, then I am saying that the hired gardeners (the scribes down through the ages) have generally been quick to identify the weeds” (p. 140). Perrin points to a glaring inconsistency in Ehrman’s book. Ehrman keeps talking about the corruption of the text and proceeds to talk about what the original autographs looked like.

The following chapter deals with the Gnostic Gospels and why they lost out. Perrin is pretty much right here, but he is wrong when he argues that Romans did not take to persecuting some Gnostics because some Gnostics were martyred (p. 161), but on their whole their spiritual practices were much more indigenized in the Greco-Roman world. After this Perrin talks about the relation between our Bible translations and the original texts (along the way he notes that he was discipled by the navigators and used the NAV Topical Memory System which I also used as a young Christian and am now passing on to my daughters). He compares Scripture to the mathematical construct of pi: “If pi was derived in order to ascertain the area of a circle, then the Scriptures were derived from God in order that we might know this God and make firm our salvation and obedience. God is far more interested in our responding to the knowledge of his revelation than in our refining it. Sometimes we just have to draw the circle, even with an imperfect knowledge of our pi” (pp. 178-79).

In the final chapter, Perrin talks about his conversion at a Navigators conference which became the occasion for his appointment with God. Against Ehrman, Perrin gives an analogy with the moon landing. Although it is frequently said that John Armstrong got his lines wrong, “One small step for … man” when he meant to say, “One small step for a man”. Whereas most people thought that Armstrong stuffed up his one and only scripted line, recent computer analysis has shown that static interrupted the transmission and Armstrong did say what he intended to say in the first place. In other words, Jesus’ voice is preserved in transmission even if we sometimes miss out the details because of the static.

This book is not an academic response to Ehrman. It is more for lay readers who want to know what all the fuss is about concerning early Christianity. This book would be better to give to lay people who have read the Da Vinci Code or Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus and want some easy non-technical responses. For me the highlights were the biographical cameos that feature from Perrin’s life that make him a narrator we can sympathize with. It is enjoying to listen to him tell the story of God because it is a story that he is consciously self-involved in.

Galatians 2:14 and "Living Like a Gentile"

A good deal of the interpretation of the Antioch Incident rests, it seems to me, squarely on the interpretation of Gal 2:14: “If you being a Ioudaios live like a gentile and not like a Ioudaios, how can you compel the gentiles to become Ioudaios?” What does it mean that Peter is acting as a “gentile” at one time and as a Ioudaios at another? How does his behavior “compel” the gentiles to become Ioudaioi? This is a question that I didn’t factor into earliler investigations of viewpoints on the interpretation of the Incident.

In reading Philip Esler’s position (1998:138-39) in preparation for a future post, he seems understand the idea of “living as a gentile” as dining with gentiles. I think this is correct at least from the context. Yet, this idea is untethered from the oft associated assumption that Peter in eating with was eating the same food. The latter as we have suggested previously is not self-evident from a reading of the text. Thus, the lifestyle of living like a gentile is singularly focused on the issue of association. Gentiles evidently did not have formal barriers which prohibited their associations with others. In contrast, from both the evidence of the New Testament and Second Temple literature it is clear that while there was a wide-ranging perspective on association with Gentiles especially the Diaspora, nonetheless there were boundaries drawn by Israelites—some more conservatively than others—prohibiting intimate association with Gentiles (cf. Acts 10 which suggests that at least some Judeans believed the Law forbade entering Gentile social space). In view of this, Paul's claim that Peter while not living like a Ioudaios--although being a Ioudaios--seems then also to be related to association.
Paul's statement implies that it was widely believed that Ioudaioi (perhaps primarily those from Judea) did not as a general rule associate with gentiles when among the Diaspora and this distinctive characteristic was formulated as a generic trait of Ioudaios.

Perhaps a modern analogy would illustrate the point. Amish folk predominately, if not exclusively, reside in the eastern part of the US primarily in Pennsylvania. The have a clear and pronounced identity rooted in a geographical region. Furthermore, it is rare for them to travel outside of the safe confines of their social-cultural space geographically speaking (Remember the old Harrison Ford movie “Witness”). However, it is obvious that on certain occasions they might be required to do so. In these situations it would be clear that they are Amish and they are acting Amishly or living like an Amish person would. Thus the distinctive of the Amish becomes a generic trait. If Paul and Peter were Amish, Paul would be saying to Peter, although you are Amish, you were living like an American, and not like the Amish. Now it is true that the meaning of this charge is not specific and could relate to a number of issues. In our context, as we have established, the focus is on some element of intimate association.

The assertion that Peter is compelling the gentiles to become Ioudaios (Gal 2:14), relates to the consequence of his withdrawal from association and thus implies, as others have noted, the need for circumcision. Still I don't think only circumcision is in view here, but rather the creation of a Ioudaios social space where Ioudaios and gentiles could more freely associate. Thus, I wish to propose that the issue in the Antioch Incident is not what was eaten (traditional view), or how (the manner in which) it was eaten (Nanos’ view), but where it was eaten. I hope to develop this more in a future post.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Interview with Richard I. Pervo re: Acts of the Apostles

1. How did you first get into study of Luke-Acts?

Haenchenish story: on an airplane trip to St Louis in 1970 (to meet with Board of Examining Chaplains) I read Acts in Greek. Had focused upon Gospels. (No one in those days taught courses entitled “Luke-Acts.”) In summer of `73, while studying for exams, read Haenchen’s commentary and argument with it. This set the path. (Had long viewed Acts as a Lieblingsbuch.)

2. Could you explain for us what you mean when you locate the genre of Acts as a analagous to an "ancient novel"?.

In 1987 Profit with Delight compared Acts with historical novels, but did not press the identification. This claim is sophistry: Ancient novels are romances. Acts is not a love story. Therefore Acts is not a novel. No one, to my knowledge, has called Acts a romantic novel. (Interaction with romantic novels is as early as the Acts of Paul). The issue has been the range of comparison. Does one stop at top shelf, or also look lower? The objective has been to read Acts in terms of popular literature. One may call it “apologetic history,” “popular narrative,” or whatever. “Historical novel” is acceptable. Acts is more like Alexander Romance and Artapanus than Thucydides or Polybius. (Both Greg Sterling and Richard Pervo point to Artapanus as a major model for comparison.)

The objections to viewing Acts as a specimen of historiography are major. This is a separate question from historical value (not handled aptly in Profit with Delight, which assumed, sometimes argued, historical problems as a means for urging wider generic exploration.) Acts is best viewed as a response to contemporary issues rather than as an attempt to extract historical data from various scraps of tradition.

3. In partnership with Mikeal Parsons you've argued that we should not automatically assume that Luke-Acts are a complete literary unity. Why so? How would you respond to critics?

Same trick. Mikeal Parsons and I (Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993]) took up question of various unities. Some are not disputed: authorial unity and canonical/reception disunity. Arguments for generic unity exist, but the majority do not hold this view. (Major problem is that, if the genres are identical and work essentially one, Luke is no longer a Gospel, but first part of longer work.) Theological unity is different if based upon Luke or upon Acts—not to deny range of theological unity. Narrative unity is hard to argue, for two books use different methods and techniques. (I have an essay responding to critics in a forthcoming volume edited by Andrew Gregory. Few critics—note Verheyden—actually respond to these issues. Howard Marshall grasped the point of our project, which was to challenge overall unity as a presupposition. This little book attempted to question unity as a dogma.) Parsons and Pervo argue that Acts should be viewed as a sequel to a Gospel. One cannot tell whether this was planned from the first. A gap of up to a decade may have separated the two.

4. I understand that you attribute a 115 AD date to Acts, on what basis do you make this decision?

110-120, latest c. 130. See my Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge). There I argue that Acts may have been used by Polycarp, c. 130—although not a ditch to die in. Luke used a collection, evidently, of Pauline letters and Josephus. Thus earliest is c. 100. Issues of theology and ecclesiology, notably “orders” of ministry, order of widows for latter, concern with various “heresies” for former, e.g., place Acts in world of the “Apostolic Fathers,” supported from vocabulary, etc. Luke is a critical collaborator with “early Catholicsm,” not an uncritical proponent of it. Doesn’t like bishops of Ignatian sort, but may tolerate them. No household codes. Also moving toward world of the apologists.

5. How does Acts relate to history in your opinion?

Positively. History is important for Acts. Salvation history is a means of establishing continuity between traditional religion (etc.) of Israel and Christianity. History is the realm in which God’s purpose is manifest. (Such arguments eschew “objective” history, which is discutable. This is to say that history is neither so clear nor so convenient as writers may wish. Luke knew this [Luke 13:1-9], but ignored it in his narrative.)

If the question is about the historical value of Acts, it becomes difficult. Acts contains history, but it is difficult to use, for the author favors stereotyped accounts, blending of disparate sources, and, when desired, invention of episodes. The first eight chapters have limited historical value. In so far as written sources were used, they mainly focused upon origins of the gentile mission, not the Jerusalem community.

6. What is your understanding of the origination of the Western text of Acts with its expansionist tendencies?

See article of Peter Head, "Acts and the Problem of Its Texts," in B.W. Winter and A.D. Clarke eds., Ancient Literary Setting. BIFCS 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1993, 415-44. Note also István Czachesz, “The Acts of Paul and the Western text of Luke’s Acts: Paul between Canon and Apocrypha,” in Jan Bremmer, ed., The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1996), 107-25. The D-Text has several tendencies and may not be a unity. If one follows Bosmard’s reconstruction, it may also abbreviate. One outstanding feature is that of pedantic copy editor sort of reader. Another is in tune with trends of c. 150. Thus D-Text can be seen as a bridge, at points, between Acts and APl. Where D-text most different from “Alexandrian” (which is not “original”) it is often missing—as in conversion of Paul. In general text of Acts is difficult. A number of corrupt passages. Emendation is sometimes needed. Nestle-Aland text cannot be taken for granted.

7. What would you posit as the overaching purpose of Luke/Acts?

Luke and Acts are legitimating narratives, most visible in the latter. This is expressed by demonstrating continuity of several types, between Israel and the Church, Peter, James, and Paul, goals of imperial civilization and church. This reaches toward apologetics. The legitimacy in question is that of gentile, Pauline Christianity from the perspective of Israelite heritage (which some were ready to toss overboard).

8. Who was Luke?

One can only seek to reconstruct implied author: male, gentile, probably born a believer, thoroughly familiar with LXX, basic but not advanced Greek education, writing from viewpoint of Ephesus.

9. What impact did the failure of the parousia to materialize have for Luke/Acts?

Luke clearly rejected view of parousia as a “spiritual” phenomenon. He did not care for “eschatological radicalism,” political revolt, grab sheets and head for a mountain top. Church must settle down in society (without selling out to it). Long range planning is in order. Let God worry about the end of the world. A notion of individual eschatology is beginning to creep in. (Orientation not unlike, mutatis mutandis, that of Middle Ages. If Lord is to return shortly, let’s build beautiful cathedrals in which to receive him.)

10. Your Hermeneia Acts commentary in scheduled for publication in Novemeber, what will be distinctive about it?

It will be the first commentary in some decades to date in era of transition from Trajan to Hadrian, build upon use of Pauline letters, Josephus. First substantial commentary to view Acts consistently in terms of ancient popular writing.

For students. When taking up a commentary (or monograph) it is vital to identify what questions the author is seeking to answer and to evaluate the results through judging the suitability of method(s) chosen and the depth of investigation, as well as author’s presuppositions, explicit and implicit. Prefer explicit in one’s own work. This is what I am going to do, how, and, most important, why. Appreciate the various strengths and degrees of expertise. Surveys of research should not just argue that all who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but seek to identify the particular contribution of each predecessor. Note always that conclusions are not to be derived from what X said about Y, but what Y actually said. (Examples of latter above.) Beware of those who pretend that showing some weaknesses in a particular argument prove its opposite. All arguments have weaknesses. Prefer those that solve more problems than they create. (For clergy the problem is acute when one grabs a commentary while preparing a sermon. Know your commentaries.)

11. What do you think are the areas of Luke-Acts that require further exploration (esp. for potential Ph.D candidates)?

Much to be done on intertextuality and reception—i.e., look both to predecessors and successors. Literary criticism that is sensitive not only to ancient rhetoric (and modern methods) but also to historical context. A good thesis would take up Luke and Artapanus (as well as other Jewish historians available only in fragments). (I am not fond of literary study that either ignores issues of historicity, or is based upon NRSV—and could have been written last week, or is a covert defense of “historicity.”) Haenchen dynamited source theories to clear field for attention upon what Luke wrote. Intertextual study has moved beyond mechanical source criticism.

Theological study should henceforth posit a setting and expound from that viewpoint rather than general abstraction. This is circular, but necessary. Conzelmann remains a model here. One may not agree with results, but will do well to follow model. O’Neill was half right—which is better than most.

Basically, the area must move from old arguments about Paul of Acts vs. Paul of letters to (Luke and) Acts as reception of Pauline and other theology. Then issues of church and society, eschatology, etc. can be given a fresh hearing.

Really good textual criticism that goes beyond apologetic for standard text. Inspiration is a doctrine, not a tool for textual criticism. (Anachronism prevails: Luke prepared, in some way, D-Text because no one would have tampered with inspired literature. This is ridiculous.) Reception history needs to walk hand in hand with textual criticism.

Positive evaluation of Lucan theology of glory that does not simply seek to rebut the claim. All theologies have their limits. Luke did not find Paul's theology generally relevant, but he played a major role in its preservation by constructing a way of reading Paul.

Dissertations that take up particular passages or sections in view of entire work are useful and needed. Scholarship proceeds tree by tree without forgetting that one is in a woods. I.e., both inductive and deductive—and be aware of which is in play.

12. Who would you rank as your favourite Luke-Acts (whoops, sorry, Luke/Acts) scholar?

In one sense would say H. J. Cadbury, striking out his caution. Best would be a combination of Cadbury, Haenchen, dropping his sarcasm, and the Venerable Bede. The last understood that Luke was a poet, the second that he was a theologian, albeit not systematic, the first that he was a writer. All three are necessary, but the greatest of these is the poet.

My SBL Proposals

In imitation of Joel, my proposed SBL papers are:

Paul, Apostle to the Diaspora? (For the Pauline Epistles Section)

This paper proposes that Paul’s commission to go to the ethnē also included Diasporan Jews as a subset of this identity marker. This is indicated by (1) The flexible and often plastic nature of the terms ethnē and hellēnos for signifying Jews and non-Jews; (2) The problematic nature of Jewish identity in the Greco-Roman cities of the Diaspora; (3) Evidence of Paul’s association with synagogues; and (4) Sociological models of conversion. The paper concludes that there is some evidence for defining Paul’s apostleship to the ethnē geographically and not purely in ethnic categories.

The Historical Jesus and Textual Criticism (For the Historical Jesus Section)

This paper argues that historical Jesus research needs to pay greater attention to the field of textual criticism and study of early Christian manuscripts. It is accordingly argued that the field of textual criticism impacts historical Jesus studies in at least three ways: (1) the textual integrity of the New Testament and the possibility of historical Jesus research; (2) the significance of the agrapha; and (3) text-critical contributions to historical issues in life of Jesus research.

Torah in Early Christianity: Diversity

One of the hobgoblins of New Testament Theology is "diversity". I think there are at least seven different views of the Torah in the early church. From my very brief survey of the NT, I identify them as follows:

(1) For Judean Jesus believers with a pharisaic background adherence to Torah is still the definitive marker of covenant identity and obedience to its precepts is the grounds for entrance into the new age even with the advent of the messiah (Acts 15.1, 5).

(2) For some Judean Jesus believers connected to the Jerusalem church, the coming of Christ compliments rather than replaces the Torah so that Jews and Gentiles are still bound to follow the Jewish way of life (Gal. 2.12, 14; 4.10; 5.2-4; Gal. 6.13).

(3) The apostolic decree states that Gentiles should obey minimally the noachide commandments as a mark of respect to their Jewish brothers and sisters (Acts 15.28-29).

(4) For some Diasporan Jesus believers living outside of Palestine Jesus is God’s supreme agent of salvation, but the Torah remains holy and good and should be followed (Mt. 5.17-20; Jas. 2.8, 12; Barn. 2.6).

(5) In groups connected to the Greek-speaking Jesus-believers the Torah has a limited role in redemptive history that has been completed by arrival of the messiah with the result that the Torah is relativized rather than abrogated (Acts 6.13-14; Col. 2.17; Heb. 10.1).

(6) For many Jesus believers with a history of Torah observance (i.e. the ‘weak’ who are easily offended), adherence to the mosaic law’s precepts is part of their social, familial, and devotional life and while professing faith in Jesus as messiah and Lord, they lack the maturity/insight to see that they are free to relinquish submission to its commands (Rom. 14.1–15.7).

(7) According to Paul the Torah exists in a set of binitarian antitheses between Christ and Torah and Torah and Spirit (e.g. 2 Cor. 3.1-9; Rom. 8.2; 10.4). The Torah points to salvation but does not provide it (Gal. 3.21-25; Rom. 3.21). Torah is bound up with the old age of sin, law, and death which those in Christ are free from (Rom. 7.5-6; 8.2; 1 Cor. 15.56). The Torah remains good and holy (Rom. 7.12). While the Torah can still inform the righteous behavior of the Jesus-believers (Rom. 13.9-10), the basis for upright living is the example of Christ (e.g. Phil. 2.5-11), the teaching of Christ (1 Cor. 9.20-21; Gal. 6.2), and life in the Spirit (e.g. Gal. 5.18; Rom. 7.6; 8.2-4). In the context of defending the integrity of his Gentile converts Paul regards law observance as leading to a curse (Gal. 3.10; cf. Acts 15.10), slavery (Gal. 4.22–5.1; Rom. 7.6) and he likens compelled obedience to Torah as to submission to hostile pagan deities (Gal. 4.8-9; Col. 2.14-15). What counts is not circumcision but new creation (1 Cor. 7.19; Gal. 6.15).

I wonder what we would could add to this list in terms of diversity if we included the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, and early non-canonical literature?

See further Raymond Brown and John Meier, Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity (New York: Paulist, 1983): 1-9; Peter Stuhlmacher, ‘The Law as a Topic of Biblical Theology,’ in Reconciliation, Law and Righteousness (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986): 110-33.
Why do I suspect that James Crossley will have a comment or two about this?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New English Bible Translation

I am glad to report that a new ecumenical Bible translation project is in development (as yet unnamed) but you can read the details about it over at the graphe site. As for the aim of the translation: "We intend to introduce and distribute a new ecumenical Bible translation to congregations. This completely new translation (title to come) will be an excellent rendition of the original texts and also a document that is accessible to readers of the Bible in our churches. The new Bible translation would be pitched at an 8th grade reading level (compare 11th grade for the NRSV), so that it might enjoy wider use. The new translation will be used in the teaching and worship practices of congregations in at least the following traditions: Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and the United Church of Christ. Readers and seekers from many other traditions will benefit also from this new translation."

The editors include:

David L. Petersen, Old Testament Editor
Joel B. Green, New Testament Editor
Elizabeth Caldwell, Readability Editor
David A. deSilva, Apocrypha Editor
Emerson B. Powery, Greek Associate Editor for Apocrypha and NT
Brent A. Strawn, Hebrew Associate Editor
Cynthia Long Westfall, Greek Associate Editor
Carol A. Wehrheim, Associate Readability Editor

And before anyone knocks it, I'm doing the translation of 1 Esdras.

Deadline for SBL Paper Proposals for 2008 Approaching

As a PSA (Public Service Announcement) I want to remind you that the deadline for SBL paper proposals for Boston 2008 is fastly approaching: March 1st. Remember if you have never presented at the national SBL you will need to submit a full manuscript of your paper when you submit your proposal.
Here are the three proposals I submitted:
Pseudepigrapha Group
Title: The Identity of the “Lord’s Flock” in Psalms of Solomon 17:40
Abstract: The term “the Lord’s flock” in Psalms of Solomon 17:40 has a rich background in the Hebrew Bible. In the Scripture the term exclusively refers to Israel and is especially prominent in prophetic literature and in the Psalms. The aim of this paper will be to address the question: to whom does the term ‘Lord’s flock’ in Pss. Sol. 17:40 refer? Three options are possible: (1) corporate, national Israel with no individual distinction, (2) a subset and nucleus of national Israel, who are ‘sinfully righteous’, or (3) a group made up of both a subset of Israel and ‘reverent Gentiles’. Through a careful analysis of the context of the Psalms of Solomon I will argue that the third interpretive option, a group of both Israel and the Gentiles, is the most likely. This conclusion would then provide a parallel to the Messianism found in the New Testament and especially the Gospel of Matthew.

Pauline Epistles Group
Title: Saint Paul and “all Israel” in Romans 11:26
Abstract: According to Romans 11:26 Saint Paul believed that “all Israel” will be saved. A convincing interpretation of this phrase has proved elusive to commentators on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Cranfield perhaps most usefully clarified the interpretive options as has more recently Bassler. The phrase can be interpreted to refer to: (1) all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles; (2) all the elect of the nation of Israel; (3) the whole nation Israel, including every individual member; (4) the nation as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member. In this paper I will suggest that these interpretive options do not adequately take into account the multivalent nature of the term “Israel” in the Jewish Scriptures on which Paul depended. I will offer the heretofore unappreciated Pauline context of Davidic Messianism (Rom 1:3) as the best background against which to understand this phrase. When this is done, Saint Paul’s “all Israel” may refer to a restored political-national Israel in the pattern of the Davidic and Solomonic Empires which comprised both Israelites, those of both the northern and southern tribes, as well as Gentiles. This “inclusive” Israel interpretation distinguishes itself from other such inclusive readings of the phrase by maintaining national Israel’s central place in salvation history—thereby not falling into supersessionism, but also allows for the an entity that includes both the restored southern and northern tribal league and non-Israelites under the political-national term “Israel”.
Matthew Group
: The Friendship of Matthew and Paul: A Response to a Recent Trend in the Interpretation of Early Christianity
Abstract: Recently it has been argued that Matthew’s so-called Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20) represents a direct anti-Pauline polemic. While this thesis may be theoretically possible and perhaps fits within the perspective of an earlier era in New Testament research, namely the Tübingen school, the evidence in both Matthew and the Pauline corpus does not support such at reading of early Christianity. In this paper I will argue that an antithetical relationship between Matthew’s Great Commission and Paul’s Gentile mission as reflected in his epistles is only possible (1) on a certain reading of Matthew and (2) on a caricature of Paul. In light of the most recent research in both Matthew’s Great Commission and the historical Paul, these two traditions can be seen as harmonious and not antithetical in spite of the recent arguments to the contrary. This argument will prove a further corrective to the view of early Christianity that posits a deep schism between so-called Jewish Christianity and Paul’s Law-Free mission to the Gentiles.
We'll just wait and see.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Luke-Acts in NT Theologies

I am not aware of many (or any) pre-1990 NT Theologies that view Luke-Acts as a distinct corpus in a NT Theology. I find this most amusing since in the early twentieth century we had Dibelius and friends telling us that Acts was mainly theology/kergyma and not history, and yet W.G. Kummel writes a NT Theology according to its "Major witnesses: Jesus - Paul - John" with no mention of Luke as a key player. In NT Theologies, Acts often gets dumped into a general section on the "kerygma" of the early church (e.g. Bultmann and Ladd) and Luke gets thrown in with Matthew and Mark under "synoptics" (e.g. Ladd). In fact, on my shelf only Strecker, Marshall, and Thielman treat Luke-Acts as a theological unity. Does anyone know who was the first to put Luke-Acts as one unit in a NT Theology?

Recent issues of EQ, SJT, and CBR

The latest issue of EQ 80.1 (2008) includes:

R. Alastair Campbell
"Triumph and Delay: the Interpretation of Revelation 19:11-20:10"

David H. McIlroy
"Towards a Relational and Trinitarian Theology of Atonement"

Rob Warner
"The Evangelical Matrix: Mapping Diversity and postulating Trajectories in Evangelicals' Theology and Social Policy"

Gordon Leah
"'A Person Can Change': Grace, Forgiveness, and Sonship in Marilynne Robinson's Novel Gilead"

The latest issue of SJT 61.1 (2008) includes:

Benjamin Myers
"The Stratification of Knowledge in the Thought of T.F. Torrance"

Danile J. Treier
"Biblical Theology and/or Theological Interpretation of Scripture?"

Jess Couenhoven
"'Not Every Wrong is Done with Pride'"

David Martin
"Does the Advance of Science Mean Secularisation?"

Barry Harvey
"Preserving the World for Christ"

Jeffrey Hensley
"Article Review: Trinity and Freedom"

Pul D. Molan
"What Does it Mean to Say that Jesus Christ is Indispensable to a Properly Conceived Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity?"

The latest issue of CBR 6.2 (2008) includes:

James C. Miller
"Ethnicity and the Hebrew Bible: Problems and Prospects"

Stnaley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts
"New Testament Greek Language and Linguistics in Recent Research"

David A. deSilva
"What Has Athens to Do with Patmos? Rhetorical Criticism of the Revelation of John (1980-2005)"

Susan Marks
"Women in Early Jduaism: Twenty-Five Years of Reserach and Reenvisioning".

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bob Webb is Blogging

Dr. Bob Webb is a man that I owe a great amount of debt. He was the associate supervisor for my Ph.D and he gave me alot of good advice (e.g. Don't write a Ph.D thesis trying to convince the converted about the historical Jesus and the gentiles, instead write a Ph.D thesis that will convince your worst possible examiner, like Bob Funk, so pick the arguments that you know you can win). Bob is a historical Jesus specialist and editor of JSHJ but also has expertise in the field of the General Epistles and is currently writing a commentary on 2 Peter and Jude in the NICNT series. He has also started blogging in association with several others at Prime Time Jesus. Glad to have you on board Bob!

Paul's spirituality of the Cross

Today I preached at two services with the good folk of Culloden Baptist Church on 1 Cor. 1.10-17 and 1 Cor. 1.18-2.5. In my latter sermon I touched upon the centre of Paul's spirituality and the word of the cross with a quote from by forthcoming Paul book: "The lesson of Paul is that a spirituality that is rooted in anything other than the cross of Christ will inevitably become novel, then triumphalistic, then wishy-washy, then worldly, then trivial, and finally, dead. For Paul, Christian spirituality is not a private matter that takes place in the mental events of our thought-life but it is manifested in action. A spirituality of the cross means not merely wearing a cross but carrying one as well."

Learning the Biblical Languages

I must confess that I find it most disconcerting and disappointing that an increasing number of seminaries are considering dumping the study of biblical languages from their programs or else are substituting full-on introductory courses in biblical languages for courses on "biblical language tools" (i.e. how to do a word study and how to use a lexicon without actually learning the languages). To those who fail to see the relevance of biblical languages to becoming a the pastor of a mega-church, I recommend two things:

1. John Currid, Calvin And the Biblical Languages (Rosshire: Mentor, 2006). The blurb reads: "The church today is built on the Reformation’s linguistic heritage yet is in danger of losing that strong foundation. Many seminaries no longer require that their students learn the Biblical languages for their divinity degrees – some do not even teach them! Yet these are the basic tools of any study of the Bible, and if we don’t teach the Bible, then what is the church teaching? If we need encouragement as to what can happen to our sermons and Bible study when we develop a knowledge of the languages that they are written in then Calvin is an excellent encourager."

2. Martin Luther, "To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools" (1524) available courtesy of Rodney Decker here. Note this quote: "And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments. If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but the time will come when we shall be unable either to speak or write a correct Latin or German."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

RBL Review: Jews or Christians?

Find here my RBL review of Giorgio Jossa, Jews or Christians?: The Followers of Jesus in Search of their Own Identity (Tubingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2006). This was a cracking good read and is the exact opposite of the book edited by A.H. Becker and A.Y. Reed (eds.), The Ways that Never Parted which I have subsequently reviewed for Bible and Critical Theory (forthcoming).

Jesus died in order to ... make the church

When we think of the purpose of Jesus' death according to the New Testament the first thing that often comes to our minds is the function of Jesus' death in relation to the salvation of individuals in terms of justification, redemption, reconciliation, etc. But I think that a much neglected function of Jesus' death is to reconstitute Israel as the new people of God comprized of Jews and Gentiles united in one body. Two texts highlight this:

1. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:13-14).

Here Paul sets forth the purpose of Christ's death as redemptive, not just of sinners in general, but to incorporate Gentile sinners into the worldwide Abrahamic family. The "Gentile sinners" are not merely redeemed so that they can go to heaven, they are redeemed so that they will be part of the people of God and participate in the life of the Spirit.

2. Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life (John 11:49-53).

I think this passage is an example of the two levels of John's Gospel (literal and ironic). According to Caiaphas, Jesus is to die for the nation, that is, in order to prevent the Romans from needing to intervene in a tumultuous riot sparked by messianic hopes (i.e. so let's kill him before they over react). Ironically, Jesus does die for the nation, as the Lamb of God, but he also dies in order to fulfill the divine promises that God would against reconstitute the tribal league of Israel. Caiaphas is an unwitting mouthpiece for the declaration that Jesus fulfills the hope of Israel. That hope includes the end of the dispersion/exile of the majority of the Jewish people from Judea.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How Do We Discover The Real Jesus? Four Foundational Ideas and One More

Here is the outline of my talk on the approach to the study of Jesus historically.

1. The evidence you use will determine the Jesus you find.
2. The four Gospels tell us four unique stories about the one Jesus and they are our fullest and most reliable source of information.
3. Jesus must be understood as a first-century Palestinian Israelite whose worldview is shaped by the story of ancient Israel.
4. The person of Jesus is best discovered by careful attention to both his words and works.
5. The appropriate view of knowledge (epistemology) is a critical realism that understands we can’t access historically “what actually happened”—our knowledge of Jesus is only ever a mediated one and, try as we may, we can't get behind the sources.
If you were speaking to High School students about the Historical Jesus what things might you have talked about when providing a foundation for such a study?

High School Winter Retreat on Jesus

This weekend, Feburary 16-19, I have the privilege of speaking at a Winter Retreat for the High School ministry at College Church in Wheaton. In my former life, unlike Mike's career as a dancer, I was a full-time youth worker for a number of years. Some have asked me how one goes from Junior High pastor to University professor, but that is a story for another time--perhaps the give away was that I was teaching my 8th grade boys small group Greek in the late 90's.

The topic for the weekend is the Historical Jesus; here is the outline of my talks:
Session 1: Why Do We Need to Understand Jesus Historically?
Session 2: How Do We Discover the Real Jesus? (4 Foundational Ideas for Studying Jesus)
Session 3: Who is Jesus? Jesus' Message
Session 4: Who is Jesus? Jesus' Work
Session 5: What is our calling? Jesus' Ongoing Mission
As I once wrote I am not a big fan of the whole Historical Jesus enterprise, but I am wholly committed to the idea that to properly understand Jesus' mission and message we must firmly root him in a 1st century Palestinian Israelite context. After suggesting some points on studying Jesus I will attempt to put Jesus' message and work in his context for the students. Perhaps most importantly I want to convince these students that we have to guard against ahistorical interpretations that do not adequately capture the nature of the Gospel.

Monday, February 11, 2008

In My Former Life ...

Before I became Anglican Bishop of Niagara, before I was a NT lecturer, before I was paratrooper, before I was a struggling lyricists, I was in fact a short-lived pop start in the UK charts. And after a glass of wine and at the behest of some friends in San Diego last year, I gave a brief rendition of one of my old songs with a few dance moves combined. I'm sad to say that the whole thing was caught on film and Scot McKnight has a link on Mike Bird dancing at SBL.

I'm terribly embarrassed to have this posted on the web. I'm also more embarrassed (but somewhat proud) that my wife was too young to remember this song.

Scot, I'm going to get you ...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Review: Acts - Darrell Bock

Darrell L. Bock
BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.
Available at

For those familiar with Darrell Bock's mother-of-all-Luke-commentaries, you'll welcome the addition of his (delightfully more concise) volume on Acts. The introduction is fairly comprehensive (48 pp.). He opts for a pre-70 AD date for Acts and he regards it as a piece of Jewish and Hellenistic historiography that is blended with theology to produce a "theography". There is a superb quote from E. Earle Ellis on Vielhauer about the Paulinism of Acts: "When he [Vielhauer] has difficulty in recognizing Luke's Paul, this writer often finds a similar difficulty in recognizing Vielhauer's Luke" (Ellis 1974: 47). Bock also argues for the essential historicity of Acts in the tradition of Hengel, Hemer and Bruce. In regards to the purpose of Acts, Bock identifies from the prologue a concern to show (Theophilus) that being a Gentile in an originally Jewish movement is part of God's design. Bock does touch briefly upon Luke's claim to legitimize this new movement in the Greco-Roman world, but I think this and the apologetic dimension of Acts has a lot more going for it. Bock also treats the theology of Acts fairly sensitively. In discussion on the topic of the "New Community's Emerging Separate Identity" he correctly notes how a major issue in the early church was the question of whether Gentiles should be treated as prosleytes to Judaism and what was expected of them in the new community in regards to the Torah. Although at one point Bock's (progressive) dispensational colours shine through: "Whether this new community saw itself as the 'restored Israel' ... is a matter of debate. They did, however, view themselves as a community that had been formed by God in conjunction with promises made long ago. The remnant of Jews who believed in the Messiah was the link to the Israel of the past. The new community's existence meant that God was doing something fresh from a structural point of view, distinct from the Israel of old." Unfortunatley, I will never understand the dispensational sine qua non of an absolute discontinuity between the church and Israel. Bock's commentary itself is very detailed, easy to read, and open to theological reflection. Bock is at his best when commenting on inter-textual links with the Old Testament and his discussions are always informative. Otherwise, this is a commendable volume and is useful for students and pastors.

Forthcoming Acts Commentaries

I'm currently re-hashing my lecture notes on a course on Luke-Acts, so I'm naturally interested in forthcoming Acts commentaries. A few I've learnt of:

1. Steve Walton (WBC).
2. Richard I. Pervo (Hermeneia).
3. Craig Keener (Eerdmans).

Bockmuehl on New Testament Theology

In Seeing the Word chapter three, Bockmuehl looks at the possibility of a NT Theology given the diversity of voices in the New Testament (indeed a "a cacophony of ireconcilably conflicting interpretations and pleas for power" according to some). Are we left with an entirely phenomenological approach to the theology of individual letters rather than a singular message of the New Testament? In contrast, Bockmuehl argues that: "There is in fact a strong case that the New Testament text itself begs to be read systematically, whether as a canonical whole or in its constituent parts". The various writers, in their diversity and disagreements, claim to be concerned with the same Gospel as their fellow Apostles. An ecclesial reading is possible because the texts imply a Christian readership, what is more, "the New Testament does not create the church but rather presupposes and confirms it at every turn".

In terms of a method for NT Theology, Bockmuehl proposes: (1) To establish the kerygma of the New Testament; (2) to seriously engage in the issue of unity and diversity; and (3) plot the place of the New Testament in historic Christian Theology.

RBL Review

My review of Stanley E. Porter (ed.), Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007) is now availabe at RBL. James Charlesworth's review orientates the volume in the context of some wider studies on messianism in recent years.

The New Testament Scholar and the Importance of Teaching

Have you had the experience of reading a book and finding that the author discusses an issue that you would have never expected given the subject of the book, but that in the end was itself worth the price of the book? I had that experience again today as I was rereading Luke Timothy Johnson’s book The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels.

I am preparing a series of talks for an upcoming church retreat on Jesus for high school students and I was rereading Johnson's book The Real Jesus, one of my favorite books on the historical Jesus. The first time I read it I must have either skimmed this part or overlooked its profundity. In a chapter titled “Cultural Confusion and Collusion”, Johnson describes the crisis in the academic discipline of biblical and theological studies for contemporary relevance or cultural significance as he labels it. He observes that many professors of the Bible who were trained in the historical critical method in American university religious studies programs have a difficult time connecting to the needs of contemporary undergrad students. Johnson reflects on the fact that most of the professors’ training in this context was based on an assumption that historical scholarship was the answer to church tradition. Thus the job of a professor was to move students who were brought up within the traditions of a church a more critical and therefore better apprehension of Christianity through the historical critical study of the Bible. This paradigm requires that students have a pre-formed and “uncritical” tradition which they bring the classroom. It doesn’t take too much time in a contemporary classroom to realize that the target of which this paradigm is based is a mirage, a figment of imagination. Undergrads today have little to know prior biblical knowledge of which to be disabused. Even those students who come from strong evangelical homes are not all that more prepared to critically reflect on their knowledge. Johnson has hit his proverbal spot when he opines, “The pressing need of such students is to have the tradition transmitted in the first place” (1996:74, emphasis mine).

Johnson offers a way through the crisis of cultural significance by asserting that academics must “rediscover” the truth that the “finest expression of scholarship is in teaching”. He states that scholars must again become effective educators. He avers that scholars need “no other forum than the one already generously placed at their disposal by society, the classroom”. Finally he makes a strong suggestion that New Testament scholars "must above all develop models for studying the New Testament that, while lacking nothing in critical acumen, do not flatten the rich possibilities of those texts to the thin and distorted ‘history’ that has too often been made the representative of biblical scholarship” (1996:76).
To these thoughts I say a hearty "Amen!"

Friday, February 08, 2008

An M.Th in New Testament

In Australia and the UK we lack the fascination of doing Master's Degrees. In fact, I think Oxford hands them out automatically after completing a B.A. Honours (I may need correction on that). I never did an M.Div or an M.Th. I did a B.Min (Theol), Hons. in Religious studies, and then a Ph.D. But I wonder what would the ultimate M.Th in NT would look like. I think the following subjects would look like a good cohort to choose from:

1. Textual Criticism
2. Christians and Jews in the Greco-Roman World
3. The Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament
4. The Historical Jesus
5. Studies in Johannine Literature
6 Current Issues in Pauline Studies
7. Exegesis of Luke-Acts
8. Exegesis of Hebrews
9. New Testament Theology
10. The New Testament in the Second and Third Centuries
11. The New Testament and Pastoral Ministry
12. History of the Interpretation of the New Testament
13. Dissertation

Tom Wright - Acts for Everyone

Tom Wright

Acts for Everyone (Part 1; Part 2)
London/Louisville: SPCK/WJK, 2007.
Available from SPCK
Available from

Tom Wright's popular level commentary series (New Testament for Everyone) is in two volumes and is what I would call a scholarly informed devotional on the Book of Acts. Wright works through the book methodically and provides a translation, an opening illustration, and a brief description of the text. Some of the illustrations are worth the price of the book including the story of the bishop who lamented that when Paul preached there was a riot, but when he preached, they serve tea! I found particurlarly helpful Wright's discussion of Acts 15 and his illustration and explanation of the text was one of the best I've read with good application. Time and again, Wright anchors the story in the life and worship of the Church as it is illuminated by the Spirit and unyielding in its proclamation of Christ. Wright also gives several interesting biographical cameos too. That said, this is definitely not an exegetical commentary, I wouldn't rely on this resource for sermon preparation and the like, but it would make a good adult Sunday school resource.

I also recommend Wright's sermon: "Shipwreck and Kingdom: Acts and the Anglican Communion" given to the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham, June 2005. This is a good taste of what the commentary is like.

Ben Witherington's Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians

I want to offer praise for Ben Witherington's recent commentary on 1 & 2 Peter entitled Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians. I am most encouraged by Witherington’s view of the social milieu of the letter of 1 Peter. He asserts, "We will argue that the early church fathers were right that 1 Peter is written by Peter to Jewish Christians" (2007:17, emphasis added).


The prevailing assumption today among Petrine interpreters is that 1 Peter was written to Gentile Christians. I have believed for quite sometime now however that this consensus position on the question of audience at best does not adequately explain the content of the letter and at worst renders 1 Peter the most thoroughgoing supersessionist text in the New Testament.

The Antioch Incident: Mark Nanos’ View, Part Three

Mark Nanos has provided a very interesting proposal of the Antioch incident that deserves careful attention both in the overall reconstruction and in the details, although in this brief post I will not be able to address much more than a few points which are relevant to my own interests.

I begin by commending his evaluation of the traditional as well as the more recent interpretative trends. I find myself in hearty agreement with much of his analysis here and his critique of the scholarly assumptions that the “ones from James” are identical to the “circumcision party” and that Jewish dietary practices were the central issue. With respect to the latter, the oft stated idea that Peter did not eat according to prevailing Jewish dietary norms prior to the arrival of the one’s from James and shortly thereafter withdrew from this practice and again followed a stricter halakah cannot be substantiated by details in the passage itself. Among other things Mark observes that “in this text Paul never mentions the food itself, and he does not identify those with whom Peter fears as ‘the ones for Jewish diet’ or ‘for a more rigorous diet’ . . . [furthermore] “food is never the topic of concern in this letter” (2002:303,04, emphasis added). More emphatically Mark avers:
There is simply no explicit statement in this narrative or the whole letter that the meals at which Peter and the other Jewish believers in Jesus—including Paul(!)—had been “eating with Gentiles” included food that was objectionable on Jewish dietary terms (2002:304).

In addition to his analysis of previous approaches I would also find sympathy with his claim that identity and the issue of the status of Gentiles within the inaugurated eschatological community were an aspect of if not the central concern of all parties involved. I agree with Mark that in the subsequent discussion (Gal 2:15-21)—whether a summary of Paul’s continued reprimand of Peter in the moment or a later explanation added on for the letter—the issue it seems as Paul understood it was what Peter’s association or disassociation meant for the identity of the Gentiles as Gentiles in the inaugurated eschatoloical community. The issue of food laws is wholly absent. The focus is not on halakah related to food laws, but halakah related to association with perhaps a caveat that the two are not altogether disconnected of course, but can be distinguished. Paul’s argument in Galatians 2:15-21 makes the point that both Jews and non-Jews are justified by Jesus Christ’s faithfulness [Ok I admit it: I take this as a subjective Gen.] and by their trust in (eis) that work of redemption just as the Gentiles are. Furthermore, I would add that the observation that this idea is reminiscent of Luke’s characterization of the Jerusalem perspective on the reception of the Spirit by non-Jews in Acts 10—11 and 15 is to me no coincidence. I will say more about this later.

The previous affirmation notwithstanding, there are still a couple of points that I would raise that still linger in my mind which leave me not fully convinced by Mark’s fresh explanation of the incident. The first relates to his interpretation of the collocation “the ones of/from circumcision”. First I am not yet convinced that the preposition ek implies the idea of “for” here. At the very least it would be an unusual use of the preposition. Had Paul wished to stress that the group in question “advocated” circumcision a more appropriate preposition was close at hand. While it is possible to interpret the group as those advocating circumcision—and on this point Mark is perhaps not far from the traditional view—it must be based on clear contextual clues and the preposition should not be forced into an inappropriate mold. Thus, Mark can assert that the group from out of the circumcision [i.e. Israelites] advocated proselyte circumcision thereby upholding the communal norms, but it cannot be sufficiently supported by the preposition.

Second, I am not so sure the preposition can bear the weight of the argument as Mark makes it. Once Mark establishes his reading of the ek early in the piece he then bases much of his reading of the incident on that point. Often he refers to the phrase “the ones for (or advocating) circumcision” to support a further step in his argument. For example, Mark states, “In fact, they are labeled by Paul according to their interest in the traditional way to negotiate the inclusion—not exclusion—of Gentiles seeking full membership among Jewish communities: ‘the ones for circumcision’” (2002:303, emphasis added). This strikes me as rather circular because it seems to me that the question of the identity of the group is precisely what needs to be argued for based on Paul’s reflection on the incident.

Finally, Mark thinks it obvious that Paul does not use the term “circumcision” to distinguish between believers and non-believers in Jesus since Paul, Barnabas and the rest of the Jews who are referenced in the passage would have themselves also been circumcised although believers. In this way they would be similar to all Israelites. He claims “the labels ‘the circumcision’ or ‘the ones from/out of circumcision’ by themselves do not sufficiently distinguish between Jews who believe in Christ and those who do not, but only between Jews and Gentiles” (Nanos 2002:288). However, he does further claim that the phrase can be employed “to distinguish among Jewish people” and in this way it would suggest an intra- or inter-Jewish group distinction. Mark thinks Paul here is distinguishing himself and the rest of the Jewish believers in Jesus in Antioch from this other Jewish entity. That being the case, one is naturally prone to ask, why couldn’t Paul refer to Jewish non-believers in Jesus with this term? This would fit the context where the previous use of the term in Galatians 2:7-8 is suggestive of this kind of distinction. The phrase ek peritomēs then would be employed to simply denote a group out of non-believing Israelites, the target of Peter’s mission (2:7-8). While this group may be advocates of proselyte circumcision as Mark thinks, this would have to be shown from the context and not from either the use of the term or the adverbial logic of the preposition. Having established the scope of Peter’s mission in the early context, we might then be able to assume that the fulfillment of his mission was the occasion for his presence in Antioch.

In sum, my own sense is that a more generic and general interpretation of the phrase is better. This view, however, does not necessarily undermine Mark’s thesis, although I do think he has over specified the referent given the limitations of the details in the text.

The second lingering question that leaves me not yet convinced by his reading is his assertion that the central issue in the Antioch incident was the manner in which the meals were conducted. It is not clear to me how Peter would have acted differently if he treated these Gentiles as mere “guests” in accordance with the presumed social norms. Mark does not develop this in any detail although he assumes that there would be a significant enough practice to reveal how Peter and the rest of the Jewish believers in Jesus regarded the Gentiles with whom they ate. This seems to be quite fundamental to Mark’s argument. And I would have wished that he developed this more beyond some vague educated guesses about how the conduct might have been different [he refers to possible seating arrangements and distribution of food and drink as potentially observable conduct (2002:316)]. It appears that there are no ancient sources upon which to draw for this part of his argument. How would these advocates of proselyte circumcision observe that the believers in Jesus regarded their Gentile associates as more than guests? What would their posture be? If these meals were conducted in Jewish social space as Mark seems to think, then what would be observable? I wonder rather crassly if there was something like a bouncer at the door of these meals who said not “Let me see your ID” but “Please drop your trousers.” Isn’t it true that from an outward appearance there would be little to distinguish a Diaspora Jew from a God-fearing Gentile?

In the end, there is much in Mark’s fresh reading that bears careful consideration and it has usefully advanced my own thinking on the subject. In a future post, I will suggest my own working hypothesis for the issue central to the Antioch incident, but before that I will look next at Philip Esler's view.