Saturday, November 29, 2008

Provenance of Philippians

When and where was Philippians written? Philippians is attributed to a Roman provenance ca. 62 CE by most english commentators (see Bockmuehl; Witherington; O'Brien; Fee; Silva etc.) yet many continental commentators are open to an Ephesian setting ca. 55-57 (e.g. Gnilka; Muller, etc.). Mark Goodacre in his 2008 SBL paper on Dating the Crucial Sources in Early Christianity gave Philippians and Philemon a question mark in regards to their place in a Pauline chronology which reflects the indeterminate nature of the evidence. More recently, though, I've become convinced of the probability of an Ephesian provenance ca. 55-58 CE during an imprisonment in Ephesus for Paul's letter to the Philippians. In a nutshell, here are the best arguments:

(1) Most Pauline chronologists (e.g. Knox, Ludemann, Jewett, and Riesner) either posit or allow for the possibility of an Ephesian imprisonment (see 2 Cor. 1.8-11).

(2) Assuming the unity of the epistle to the Philippians (see John Reumann in AB for the alternative view), Philippians 3 stands out as including some polemical remarks against proselytizing opponents (3.2-9) and some anti-nominan behaviours (3.11-12, 18-19) which may reflect very recent debates in Galatia and Corinth and Paul is doing some preventative house keeping to make sure that another 'church' does not go the same route.

(3) The reference to the praetorium in Phil. 1.13 does not necessarily correspond to the imperial residence in Rome because (a) would the emperor really house accused criminals from the east in his own residence?; and (b) praetorium can mean simply 'head quarters' in places outside of Rome.

(4) There are a number of similarities in language and ethos between Philippians and Philemon. Francis Watson has shown the similarities in language between both epistles and we can note that these two epistles also look forwad to Paul's imminent release from detention. There are too many journeys implied by the movement of Paul's co-workers (Ephaphras, Onesimus, Tychicus, John Mark) back and forth between Paul's locale and the Lycus Valley for Philemon to have been written from Rome which is over 1000 miles away, hence, Ephesus is a more likely setting for Philemon. Thus, if Philemon and Philippians are co-temporous, they were probably written from Ephesus.

(5) Paul's intent to send Timothy to the Philippians in Phil. 2.19 probably corresponds to the sending of Timothy to Macedonia in Acts 19.22. There is no evidence, internal or external, that Timothy ever accompanied Paul to Rome (if the Pastorals are authentic or early post-Pauline then Timothy was definitely outside of Rome during Paul's Roman imprisonment).

(6) How does this pan out for Pauline chronology? If Philippians was written from Ephesus after Galatians and 1 Corinthians, then Paul probably composed it during ca. 55-56 not long after Timothy had returned from the visit to Corinth that Paul describes in 1 Cor. 4.17, 16.10-11 and after the tearful letter of 2 Cor. 2.1-4. Paul intends to send Timothy to Philippi (Phil. 2.19 = Acts 19.22) and to eventually visit himself (Phil. 2.24; 2 Cor. 2.12-13; = Acts 20.1).

See further:

Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007).

Frank S. Thielman, 'Ephesus and the Literary Setting of Philippians,' in New Testament Greek and Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Gerald F. Hawthorne, eds. A. M. donaldson and T. B. Sailors (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 205-25.

Why Professors Blog

Fred Sanders, a contributor to The New Media Frontier, has a good post on Why Professors Blog. It gives a discussion of myself, Scot McKnight, and Andreas Kostenberger with reference to academia and blogging.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-SBL/ETS round up

Like all-and-sundry, I have my own own post-SBL/ETS wrap up:

1. Boston was absolutely freezing and far colder than the north of Scotland. But it was a beautiful city with many historic sites and I also saw my first Unitarian Church (and I also saw Loren Rosson my first unitarian person). The squirrels in Boston common looked cute enough to eat!

2. My two ETS papers went well. One was on "The Role of Canon in New Testament Theology" where I argued for a Theology of the New Testament over and against a Theology of Early Christianity since the canon has a certain ontological status not afforded to other writings. Nonetheless, I also argued that New Testament Theology must take into account the wider context and impact of the New Testament itself. I maintained that we need a "Theology of the New Covenant" in order to combine content (the New Testament texts), context (New Testament world), and community (New Testament believers). There was some good discussions afterwards about wirkungsgeschichte, the value of Graeco-Roman sources for study, and the canonisation of the New Testament (I said that God created the canon through the Church and I expected to get crucified as clauset-Catholic for this, but in actuality, the audience was receptive to this articulation). My other paper was "What if Martin Luther Had Read the Dead Sea Scrolls?" which was a talk on moving from historical particularity to theological interpretation. I tried to show that a nuanced and accurate depiction of New Testament history actually helps rather than hinders theological intepretation and I gave examples with works of law, faith of Christ, and righteousness as examples. Afterwards there was some good discussions with Craig Evans and Mark Nanos (Mark is an excelelnt speaker who forces you to think and rethink everything about Paul that you simply assumed was true).

4. The book fest was rather limited this year as my birthday was the day before ETS so I couldn't milk it all that much and many of my publishing friends have moved on to other jobs, ergo not many free books this year. But I did pick up a free copy of Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell on James (ZEC) and Mariam is smart girl who will be going places in the future! I got a review copy of Klyne Snodgrass on the parables as a desk copy for a course I teach. At IBR I got given a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer's Theological Intepretation of the New Testament. The only book I purchased with Jimmy Dunn on Galatians in BNTC. The books I wanted (Jimmy Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem & Craig Blomberg, The Case for Historic Pre-Millennialism) were not available - Doh!

5. Met up some with good friends at ETS including Michael Pahl, Brian Vickers, Joel Willitts, and Stan Porter. My wittiest conference remark this year was with Andy Naselli:

Andy Naselli: I'm trying to build bridges between evangelicals and fundamentalists!
Mike Bird: You ever seen that movie, "A Bridge Too Far"?

6. Papers at ETS that I enjoyed were Dan Wallace on the New Testament and Textual Criticism (do read this when it comes out in JETS). Dan gave a good overview of the state of play and made reference to the ETC blog, but glossed over it due to lack of time. He argued for maintaining the recovery of the autographa as the goal of textual criticism, took Parker and Ehrman to task for some of their views, talked abut the Centre for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, collaboration in textual criticism research, and why evangelicals should be involved in textual criticism (I'm sure Peter Head would have had a tear in his eye!). Denny Burke gave a good presentation on the "righteousness of God" where he argued that dikaiosyne does not express a verbal idea but a nominal one related to a quality of God (hooray for Fitzmyer!).

7. At SBL the best session I attended by far was, "Cross, Resurrection, and Early Christian Diversity" - I only caught echoes of the first session since it was packed liked sardines, but the second session with Simon Gathercole and April DeConick was "soopoirb" (Boston pronunciation of superb). I also enjoyed the Hebrews and Disputed Pauline Sections as well.

8. I had some good meetings at SBL. I finally got to sit down and talk to Bob Gundry after many years of trying to meet him. Breakfast with David deSilva who is a great guy with a great all round knowledge of NT. Biblioblogger and my padawan Danny Zacharias was there and grimacying in pain from a back injury. His paper on Pss. Sol. was good and he showed me some Greek teaching stuff that he's working on which will rock the world of biblical Greek education! I met Jack Poirier for the first time too, the mystery man with such a great knowledge of ancient Judaism and he writes journal articles quicker than I can cook toast. I made Frank Thielman's day by telling him that I agree with him that Philippians was written from Ephesus (I recommended the idea to Mark Goodacre). At the Hendrickson reception I had a good chat with Edith Humphrey's (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) and Mark Booker (AMiA) about the Anglican communion. Edith told me to tell my Sydney Anglican friends, I quote you, "Back off from lay presidency for now, it's not the time". Ladies and Gentlmen of Sydney, you have been warned. Speaking of Sydney Anglicanism, I met Constantine Campbell of Verbal Aspect fame who seems to come to SBL more for the jazz music than for the scholarship. I couldn't leave out having lunch with Nick Perrin and David Vinson which was great fun except when I nearly sneezed to death. It seems everywhere I went I kept running into Oliver Crisp who is sabbaticalling at Princeton (lucky son of a toad). I finally met April DeConick too which was a delight and she gave a good paper on Gospel of Thomas. Lunch with Rebecca Mullhearn and James Crossley (James was unusually sober for SBL) was fun as well.

9. I was glad to hear that Hendrickson has accepted my book on Crossing over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period which should be out next year. There should also be something on the cards with Paraclete about a history of scholarship on the historical Jesus aimed at the "Elaine Pagel sort of reader". I saw Dominic Matthos of T&T Clark and they have agreed to publish two edited volumes called Paul and the Second Century and Paul and the Gospels which I shall get around to organizing very shortly. So a productive time on that front!

10. As always the best reception was "Scottish Universities" with Hendrickson in second and Baker and IVP tying for third!

The Two Approaches in Pauline Interpretation

I think William Campbell has offered an insightful observation about the two competing approaches and resultant theologies in Pauline scholarship:

There are in fact two theologies of Paul in conflict. One derives from post-Augustine Christian theological terms and disputes which are considered normative even for Paul. The other seeks to avoid the overt theological conceptualization, to concentrate on the concrete realities of Israel and the nations in relation to God, and to limit discussion to the meaning and terminology of the contextualized letters of Paul.

Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity, p. 32

Selected Books from SBL

This year I was determined to practice discipline in the book room at SBL. I think I was relatively successful in purchasing a handful of books. Of these only 2 were impulse purchases. 

These are the books that I have picked up:

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How it Died. Philip Jenkins. HarperOne

Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism. Paula Fredriksen. DoubleDay

King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature. Adela Yarbro Collins and John Collins. Eerdmans

Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. William S. Campbell. T & T Clark

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State. Hanan Eshel. Eerdmans

Matthew 1-7. Ulrich Luz. Fortress

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Around the Blogs

My post ETS/SBL wrap up will be soon enough, but here's something that have been happening in the interim:

Ben Myers of Faith and Theology has accepted a job at the Uniting Theological College in Sydney, so congrats to Ben and we wish him well in his new job.

Mark Dever interviews Don Carson about his call to ministry and evangelicalism.

Justin Taylor plugs into some video interviews with John Lennox (do watch some of them, he is great) about God, Science, and Atheism.

In the crazy world that is Anglicanism, the liberal American province will be received back into communion by the Anglican Consultative Council while the Province of the Southern Cone is likely to be suspended for providing a safe haven for Dioceses fleeing the the Episcopal Church in America.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Off to ETS and SBL

It's that time of year again: airports, bookstalls, chatting, papers, coffee, receptions, renewing friendships, and begging publishers to give me at least five minutes of their time so I can sell them my latest project, "Shakespeare's use of the semi-colon and its impact upon the grammar of the KJV".

I will be flying out on my birthday to Boston. So remember, should you see Michael Bird then (a) give him a hug and pinch his cheeks and say "Ooh what a cute little boy you're growing into, happy birthday Mikie", (b) buy him lunch with salad, steak, and lobster, (c) buy him a book from a European publisher, (d) buy him a glass of imported Aussie red wine at a nice restaurant, (e) take him to a "football" game featuring the Greenbay packers [I use the term "football" rather loosely here since it is played by a bunch of pillow biting nancy boys]; (f) buy a copy of all of the books he's written and get him to autograph them as to increase their resale value on e-bay; (g) attend his two ETS papers, applaud loudly at the end with optional wolf whistles, and then quote what the people of Tyre and Sidon said to Herod in Acts 12.22; (h) buy him a copy of Jimmy Dunn's book Beginning from Jerusalem and Craig Blomberg's The Case for Historic Pre-millennialism; (i) tell him that you love reading his blog (except for the rants by his sidekick Willitts); (j) buy him a bottle of Aussie red wine, ask him what he thinks of the New Perspective, and stare into his gorgeous blue eyes as he talks the night away; (k) buy him a cassette of books from either Brill, Mohr/Siebeck, Walter de Gruyter, or Baylor Uni Press; (l) if you see him in a liquor store buying red wine because the Yale reception only had the vulgar French stuff, avoid eye contact and pretend you don't know him; (m) tell him you saw James Crossley giving a paper at the Queer hermeneutics session and that it was really, really bad (then explain what you were doing there in the first place); (n) buy a round of drinks for Michael and all of his Ph.D students who he will be meeting with; (o) ask him if he is the guy who plays Horatio on Miami CSI and act shocked when he says, "why yes"; (p) tell him to run faster after he is chased out of the ETS banquet hall by an angry mob of PCA/SBC academics for proposing a toast to the USA's president-elect; (q) ask him if he could get you Joel Willitts' autograph and watch him roll his eyes; (r) wish him a happy birthday and a safe trip home.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Jesus the Messiah

Coming out mid next year is my book, Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Baker 2009). I was amazed that no single monograph has appeared on this subject for some time. It was an immense topic of discussion in late nineteenth century German scholarship until William Wrede's Messianic Secret whereafter interest appears to have waned. Whether Jesus claimed to be a messianic figure is arguably one of the most important questions for a NT Theology and the history of early Christianity. My objective in this book is not to "prove" that Jesus was the Messiah to satisfy apologetic needs, rather, it is to show that the messianism of Jesus is the best way to account for the messianic dimension of the eary church (esp. as reported by Paul) and the messianic testimony embedded in our sources (i.e. the Gospels). In this respect I interact largely with works by N.T. Wright, Craig Evans, and Martin Hengel. I like to think that I'm relatively nuanced and careful in how I define a messianic figure, a messianic text, and which Gospel passages attribute a messianic role to Jesus (and the probability of their authenticity), but that will be for others to decide. I had been thinking about this topic ever since doing doctoral studies, but it was really Joseph Fitzmyer's The One Who is to Come that really motivated to write something since, as Hengel noted long ago, the non-messianic Jesus has become a virtual dogma in biblical scholarship. This volume is an attempt at a minority report. Stanley E. Porter was also kind enough to write the foreword which forms an excellent introduction to the problem being addressed in the book. It was also good to leave Paul for Jesus again and return back to the Gospels for a period of concerted study.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Latest TrinJ

The latest issue of Trinity Journal 29.2 (2008) includes:

David Jackman
Preaching that Connects, Part 2 Internal Transformation: Pastoral Patterns and Practice

Thomas H. McCall
I Believe in Divine Sovereignty

John Piper
I Believe in God's Self-Sufficiency: A Response to Thomas McCall

Thomas H. McCall
We Believe in God's Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper

Gregory S. Magee
Uncovering the "Mystery" in 1 Timothy 3

Michael F. Bird & Robert Shillaker
Subordination in the Trinity and Gender Roles: A Response to Recent Discussion

Steven R. Tracey
What Does "Submit in Everything" Really Mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission

HT: Andy Naselli.

Latest TynBul

The latest issue of Tyndale Bulletin 59.2 (2008) includes:

Nicholas P. Lunn
The Last Words of Jacob and Joseph: A Rhetorico-Structural Analysis of Genesis 49:29-33 and 50:24-26

Kim Huat Tan
The Shema and Early Christianity

Brian S. Rosner
'Known by God': The Meaning and Value of a Neglected Biblical Concept

Barry N. Danylak
Tiberius Claudius Dinippus and the Food Shortages in Corinth

Armin D. Baum
Semantic Variation within the Corpus Paulinum: Linguistic Considerations Concerning the Riches Vocabulary of the Pastoral Epistles

William R. Baker
Searching for the Holy Spirit in the Epistle of James: Is 'Wisdom' Equivalent?

Daniel K. Darko
No Longer Living as Gentiles: Differentation and Shared Ethical Values in Ephesians 4:17-6:9

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My ETS Paper On-line: What if Martin Luther Had Read the Dead Sea Scrolls?

My paper scheduled for 21 Nov 2008 at the Evangelical Theological Society in Boston is available on-line and is entitled: What if Martin Luther Had Read the Dead Sea Scrolls? Historical Particularity and Theological Interpretation in Pauline Theology: Galatians as a Test Case. Let me say: (1) This is a draft and I hope to tinker with it a bit more before I submit it somewhere for publication; (2) It is placed on-line for the benefit of others but I'd prefer that it were not widely distributed in it's current form; (3) In a nutshell, the paper argues that a proper understanding of the historical particularity of Paul's letter to the Galatians has a very good pay off in terms of theological interpretation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Latest BBR

The latest issue of Bulletin for Biblical Research 18.2 (2008) includes:


How Big Was Nineveh? Literal versus Figurative Interpretation of City Size
Charles Halton

"The Disciple Jesus Loved": Witness, Author, Apostle—A Response to Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Stephen O. Stout

Jewish Opposition to Christians in Asia Minor in the First Century
Eckhard J. Schnabel

Seeing Things John's Way: Rhetography and Conceptual Blending in Revelation 14:6–13
David A. deSilva


Judgment and Justification in Paul: A Review Article
Michael F. Bird

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Desmond Alexander on Biblical Theology and Systematics

Des Alexander has a good post on "Is there a wedge being driven between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology?". Des includes this quotation in a recent evangelical mag:

The wedge that has been consciously driven between systematic theology and biblical theology over recent decades in influential circles is starting to bear very bad fruit. Exclusive emphasis on the Bible as storytelling has combined with a trendy cultural impatience both with the past and with the very idea of systematic theology, and this has provided fertile soil for the reception of the kind of ideas promoted by the scripture revisionists.

Let me "deconstruct" (I feel dirty just for saying that word) the implied perspective of the author of that paragraph. The phrase "scripture revisionists" is a coded reference to those who follow Scripture's story line and refuse to use Scripture as a pretense to proof texting a particular theological system. Let me again reaffirm the value of theological interpretation and systematic theology since both are important in worldview formation and making Scripture answer questions of the present time. But as I have asserted elsewhere (see here and here) systematic theology should be in constant dialogue with Scripture and renewing and reforming itself accordingly, i.e. semper reformanda! And if that means that the System/Tradition/Confession is wrong, needs clarification, or nuancing at points, etc., then jolly well so be it. Systematic Theology is a method and not an authority of itself (and vice-versa for Biblical Theology too)!

New Blogs: Read Better, Preach Better

I've discovered a new blog called Read Better, Preach Better: Bible Hermeneutics, Ethics & Preaching which is run by Con Campbell (Moore Theological College, Sydney), Bruce Lowe (RTS-Atlanta), and (Rich Creighton - Banstead Baptist Church, UK). Bruce is a good friend of mind and is a fellow member of the Aussie biblical studies diaspora! It will be one to add to your blog reading lists!

The Fruit of Israel's Redemption

I find the image of increased fertility and fruitfulness in Col 1:5-6, 10 most interesting: "the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing- as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth ... so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God". My default position would be to relate this to Genesis 1 where Adam and Eve were to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen 1:28). So the Christians as the new humanity do exactly that. However, in reading over Isaiah just this morning, what I also find fascinating the same image being applied to the redeemed Israel: "In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit" (Isa 27:6) . Taken up from Genesis 1, the progeny of Jesus, the new Adam, are growing and bearing fruit, and obedience to God’s gospel-word is the means by which the old world is colonized by the new humanity of the new creation. In light of Isaiah 27 we could say that the great redemption of Israel that Isaiah predicted with its replanting of Israel produces an abundance of fruit that grows into the entire world. So too does the redemption in Messiah Jesus and the calling of the church to be Israel-for-the-sake-of-the-world bring forth a fruit basket of blessings that covers the earth.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ph.D Studentship

From Dr. L.J. Lawrence on behalf of the BNTC:

PhD Studentship in Biblical Studies: the Use of the Old Testament in the New Newman University College is offering a fully-funded PhD studentship in Biblical Studies, available from January 2009 for three years. The successful candidate will be required to study on a full-time basis and preferably to be willing to live within reasonable travelling distance of the College. Applicants must have a good first degree (1st or 2i), preferably in Biblical Studies. Those with a good first degree in Theology will also be considered, if they can demonstrate that their undergraduate course included a substantial element of Biblical Studies. It is desirable that applicants also have an MA or MTh in Biblical Studies, or a closely related area, and a working knowledge of New Testament Greek. It is important to demonstrate in the application evidence of the skills necessary to undertake independent research (e.g. details of research methods modules undertaken and/or successful dissertations completed.) The studentship will require exploration of some area within the general field of the Use of the Old Testament in the New. Candidates will be free to choose which book(s) of the New Testament to study in depth, and which aspect of the field to focus on (e.g. direct OT citations; OT allusions; the exegetical techniques of a NT author; the representation in a NT book of an OT narrative or characters; Septuagintal text-form; parallels in the Qumran texts, other ancient Jewish commentaries or Hellenistic literature; the contribution to this field of rhetorical or narrative criticism; theological intentions of a NT author). Candidates will be invited to state on their application form the aspect(s) of New Testament study in which they are particularly interested, and to outline a draft research topic/proposal. Those called for interview will also be asked to supply samples of their previous work. The Supervisory team will be: Dr. Martin O’Kane, Visiting Professor of Biblical Studies at Newman University College and Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter (areas of expertise: Hebrew Bible, literary and inter-disciplinary approaches to the text); and Dr. Susan Docherty (areas of expertise: Use of the OT in the NT, Septuagint, Second Temple Judaism). For further information please contact: Dr. Susan Docherty;; 0121 476 1181 ext. 2231. Informal enquires/discussions from interested candidates are welcome.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Paul and the "Heretics"?

I have been racking my brain trying to find a patristic reference (Tertullian or Irenaeus?) that states that all the heretics got part of their ideas from Paul and claimed him as there own. I read it somewhere and cannot for the life of me remember where. Does anyone where the substance of this idea comes from?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Darrell Bock responds to Tony Burke on "Heresy Hunting"

DTS Prof. Darrell Bock responds to Tony Burke's article on "Heresy Hunting" at SBL Forum. This is a very apt response by Bock and my own response can be found here.

F.F. Bruce on the Boundaries of Evangelical Scholarship

Dan Reid of IVP posts this quote from the great F.F. Bruce:

"No such conclusions [he is referring to pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic biblical scholarship] are prescribed for members of the Tyndale Fellowship. In such critical cruces, for example, as the codification of the Pentateuch, the composition of Isaiah, the date of Daniel, the sources of the Gospels, or the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles, each of us is free to hold and proclaim the conclusion to which all the available evidence points. Any research worthy of the name, we take it for granted, must necessarily be unfettered" (F. F. Bruce, "The Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research" EQ 19 [1947] 52-61).

Dan subsequently comments: "This is a point well remembered today, over sixty years later, when it seems that some forces within evangelical scholarship (and no commentary on Tyndale Fellowship is intended here!) would indeed like to fetter research and its results (declaring what is in bounds and what is out, sometimes on question-begging grounds), often by appealing to the evangelical past. Well, the evangelical past was not all of one mind, just as it is not today."

For me the questions is: can one accept a certain view of the gospel and a certain view of biblical criticism (e.g. dating the final form of Daniel in the second century BCE or regard 2 Peter as a post-Petrine writing) and remain an evangelical? Bruce himself was conservative as they come, esp. with anything to do his NT history and staunch evangelical (see his biography In Retrospect). But I take his point to be that one can be confident enough in the gospel that one does not see the entire veracity of God's revelation collapse if some critical conclusions on sources happen to be correct.

I think evangelicals wrestling with the origins and study of the Bible should read three books (and these books should themselves be read critically of course!):

Kenten L. Sparks, God's Word in Human Words - on biblical criticism.
Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation - on cultural context and historical contingencies.
Craig Allert, A High View of Scripture - on canonisation.

Proposition 8

I don't want to get into debates about American politics, church/state separation, and gay marriage etc. Part of me thinks that Paul and the apostles would not care less about but Nero being married to two of his male slaves, so why should we? But there again it does affect the cultural context in which marriage is described and defined and so impacts all of us in a way. What is more, religious liberty could be eroded if religious and para-religious organisations were legally penalized for not recognizing gay marriages. So, despite my reticence to endorse any cultural view here, I did appreciate this short video by my friend Michael Barber and his colleagues at John Paul the Great Uni.

The Diablogical Denny Burke

My good friend Denny Burke (who has neither committed suicide nor fled to Alaska after senator Obama's election victory) is the Dean of Boyce College. He has recently started the Boyce College Diablogue which includes some thought provoking podcasts such as his sermon on Rom. 3.21-26 and Tom Schreiner's review of Scot Mcknight's book The Blue Parakeet. I cannot help but notice that "Diablogue" and "Diabolos" do sound a little familiar!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Public Reading of Scripture

Today at chapel at HTC Andrew McGowan gave a good sermon on the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4.13). A long time ago in Scottish churches you used to have the "lecture" which consisted of a Bible reading with commentary and then you would have the "sermon" as a separate event. Twenty years ago the Rev. Willy Still of Aberdeen was well-known for his 20 minute Bible readings and 90 minute sermons which arguably followed this model.

I think there is something to be said for having regular and systematic Bible readings in churches on Sundays in addition to the reading for the sermon. (1) In some more "liberal" churches where they have a lectionary you actually get more Bible reading than in some "evangelical" churches. (2) At Dingwall Baptist Church our current pastor, Bill Wilson, was a missionary in Malawi for ten years and he deliberately introduced a lectionary into some churches precisely because they were not getting regular preaching and teaching from the whole breadth of Scripture. (3) I think there is something to be said for the art of reading Scripture dramatically, powerfully, and movingly which is lost these days.

Michael Bird gives his okay to same-sex marriages

That's right, you heard me. In a move that is likely to provoke outrage, shock, and perhaps even death threats, none other than Michael Bird himself is prepared to sanction gay marriages in churches. If ya don't believe me that it's all true, then read this article in the Hamilton Spectator. As you all know, in addition to my duties as NT tutor at the Highland Theological College I also moonlight as the Bishop of Niagara in Canada (great view of the waterfalls from my Cathedral office by the way). After a limited period of biblical reflection and watching Priscilla Queen of the Desert on DVD (I wept!), I have finally told my Diocese that they have my consent to prepare liturgies for gay marriages. However, being the gracious churchman that I am in the Banglican tradition, I've told them to wait a few months before doing any services, so we don't offend the bible believing brothers in Africa and give them time to get with the program.

This is a sarcastic προσωποποιία because some chappy in Canada with my name is doing a very, very naughty thing. Let me add a few comments. (1) Along time ago when I was in the Army me and some of the troops were on a boyz-night-out in Sydney. We were walking down Oxford Street when a gay couple walked towards us. One of my more inebriated and less compassionate colleagues lunged out to attack the couple. Sensing that violence was imminent I stood between him (and him was built like Arnie Schwarzeneggar) and the gay couple and was shielding them out of the way. I felt ashamed and embarrassed by my colleague's action (and by colleague I mean boss). Moral of the story, I'm not some homophobic fundy with a God-hates-fags theology. (2) I've had contact with groups like Exodus and I've seen the good ministry that they do. I'm not saying that you can necessarily cure homosexuality - it's a complex social, psychological, and (perhaps even) genetic phenemenon, but I have seen people transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ and lead lives of godly celibacy or fulfilled heterosexuality. It's not the same for everyone, some struggle, some backslide, some go back and stay, and some never look back. (3) Everyone should read Robert Gagnon's book about the Bible and Homosexual Practice. (4) Everybody is invited to my church and come as you are: gays, prostitutes, ex-cons, even people who vote Republican! But no-one is allowed to stay as you are, and if you have to do business with God in the area of sexuality, well, so be it. Because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and need to know the transforming power of the gospel. My view is to advocate Christ-like compassion with a Christ-centred gospel (5) Finally, given all the problems in the Anglican communion now, why the heck would any sane bishop go ahead and do something like this? Why violate the moratoria now! I mean, give Rowan Williams a break, the guy has a hard enough job as it is between TEC and GAFCON without a junior bishop throwing another iceberg at the good ship S.S. Anglica. (6) On the upside, with the name "Michael Bird" becoming famous now I might be able to finally sneak into the Anglican Scholars reception at SBL and score a couple of free drinks!

Prof. Andrew McGowan to Leave HTC

For those in the Reformed stratosphere, you may be interested to know that Rev. Prof. Andrew McGowan will be stepping down as Principal of the Highland Theology College to become the incumbant minister of Inverness East Church of Scotland. David Kirk has the low down. Andrew will be dearly missed by the HTC team particularly for his rare combination entrepreneurial vision and theological erudition.

Burridge on Inclusivist NT Ethics

A new book on the scene is Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics by Richard A. Burridge (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2007). This book will prompt much debate and discussion. Central for Burridge is that NT ethics revolves around: (1) NT ethics means imitation of Jesus, and (2) NT ethics calls for a radical inclusiveness in an all embracing community. Burridge seems to come close to equating non-acceptance of homosexuality with apartheid in South Africa. The closing words of the book are: "Whenever we are presented with a choice between being biblical and being inclusive, it is a false dichotomy - for to be truly biblical is to be inclusive in any community which wants to follow and imitate Jesus" (p. 409). I'd like to know (1) how the heck Burridge gets around a text like 1 Cor. 5.1-5, and (2) how would Richard Hays respond (Hays' book The Moral Vision of the New Testament is already an academic classic)?

Debates with Dawkins

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the third of UHI's lecture series with John Lennox of Oxford University (the first two lectures were delivered by Richard Dawkins on atheism and Andrew McGowan on the place of theology in a modern university). Lennox presented a response to Dawkins that was penetrating, thoughtful, and provocative - it was also cordial with no venemous remarks. He rejected Dawkins' dichotomy of "God" or "fairy tales" and exposed some of Dawkins' poor research (i.e. Dawkins cites a professor of German literature in the USA who believed that Jesus did not exist and thus ignored his more learned colleagues at Oxford like Geza Vermes). Lennox points out that Christians and Atheists have both headed the Human Genome project so being a good scientist and a person of faith are not incompatible. Central to the thesis of Lennox is that the universe is rationally intelligible though he does not go from there down an intelligent design route, but he is right to ask why this universe is intelligible to us? He thinks the real debate then is about worldviews not empirical science. He asks, which worldview can account for the raitonal intelligibility of the universe? While the religious answer is no doubt an element of faith, Lennox pointed out that the atheist also accepts certain things on faith or without evidence such as the existence of a multiverse so as to account for the anthropic principle (i.e the universe seems wired to produce life since life exists). I gave up apologetics for biblical studies a long time ago, but this was probably the most brilliant lecture that I've attended all year.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of having dinner with John Lennox and found him to be one of the most engaging, mission minded, and jovial Christian personalities that I've ever met. His language skills are amazing too as he is fluent in English, German, French, Russian and was able to converse with our Hungarian waiter at the restaurant in Hungarian! He has been lecturing in parts of Eastern Europe and Russia since 1975 as well. In a nutshell, do go and see him lecture or debate if you ge the chance.

I should also point out that Justin Brierly of Premier Christian Radio inteviewed Dawkins after his debate with Lennox on his program Unbelievable. This part of the interview was interesting:

JB: When you make a value judgement don't you immediately step yourself outside of this evolutionary process and say that the reason this is good is that it's good. And you don't have any way to stand on that statement.

RD: My value judgement itself could come from my evolutionary past.

JB: So therefore it's just as random in a sense as any product of evolution.

RD: You could say that, it doesn't in any case, nothing about it makes it more probable that there is anything supernatural.

JB: Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we've evolved five fingers rather than six.

RD: You could say that, yeah.

This brings me back to Lennox's genuine fear of Dawkins' atheism, that it is not simply leading us to a secular society with tolerance and libertarian ethics without religion, but it is leading us to Nietzsche's madman where might makes right in the absence of God, where weakness and vulnerability are eradicated in the name of progress. It is an amorality that leads to churches being buldozed, freedom of speech and religion being destroyed, and reaches back to the insidious gulags of the Soviet Union. As Lennox said: "The atheist bus is taking us into a pitiless world where our sense of justice is an allusion" and "insignificance leads to indifference". Think ye on such things!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Paul Barnett Honoured with Honorary Doctorate

Paul Barnett (former Anglican Bishop of North Sydney) has been honoured with an honorary doctorate from the Australian College of Theology. So congrats to Paul. For those who don't know, Paul is the author of many fine works on NT history and the NICNT volume on Second Corinthians. I had the pleasure of having lunch with him back in 2004 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Best of all, I like that he has Eph. 6.19 as the motto of his ministry.

David deSilva on the Nicene Creed

In the Sacramental Life, David deSilva offers this reflection in the Nicene Creed:

"When we were baptized, we became part of the larger story of a community of faith, a story passed on in summary form in the Nicene Creed. This creed gives us our foundational story line, which in turn gives us our identity, our sense of direction and our orientation to the world - if we allow it! Like the confessionof sin, the creed uses we forms. It is an affirmation of our commitment to a story that we received from a community of faith that has struggled to live in line with this story across the millennia. Ours is not a private faith, nor is the story one that we are free to alter to suit our liking. Indeed, the Nicene Creed exists largely as a result of the church's working out the nonnegotiable contours of the story of God's interventions in God's world in response to some independent thinkers - who would come to be known as "heretics" - whose innovations were viewed as unhelpful tampering with that story. The early church leaders who wrestled with the formulation of the creed did so not only out of a desire to get the story and the characters straight. They also did so out of a knowledge that the story we tell about God is the starting point for living out our lives before him and in line with him."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Friday is for Ad Fontes

1 Enoch 49. 1-4 reads:

So wisdom flows like water and glory is measureless before him forever and ever. For his ight is in all the mysteries of righteousness, and oppression will vanish like a shadow having no foundation. The Elect one stands before the Lord of the Spirits; his glory is forever and ever and his glory is unto all generations. In him dwells the spirit of wisdom, the spirit which gives thoughtfulness, the spirit of knowledge and strength, and the spirit of those who have fallen asleep in righteousness. He shall judge the secret things. And no one will be able to utter vain words in his presence. For he is the Elect One before the Lord of the Spirits according to his good pleasure.

What I find interesting is the reference: "He shall judge the secret things" as it is similar to 1 Cor. 4.5, 14.25, and Rom. 2.16 about Jesus judging the secret things of human hearts.

What future for women in ministry?

Over at the Sydney Anglicans website Narelle Jarrett has a good article on what future for women in ministry? This shows that you can have a religious body that is thoroughly complementarian but also genuinely concerned with seeing women's ministerial potential recognized and utilized. On the same site is the news that Moore College has officially gone co-ed. No doubt some will think that these moves do not go far enough (Sydney Anglicans can debate that among themselves), but it is certainly a step in the right direction. On another note, I should point out the interesting news that the Australian Diocese of Canberra and Goulbern has elected Stuart Robinson to be it's bishop (interesting because he's a Sydney Anglican and Canberra is Anglo-Catholic last time I checked).

Election in the USA

I confess that I've never liked American bibliobloggers blogging about (a) politics, (b) baseball and NFL (haven't they discovered rugby and cricket yet?), and (c) and policies like the war in Iraq, universal health care, and why taxes are mostly wrong. It all sounds so parochially American and way too partisan. But now in a measure of unprecedented hypocrisy I will formally unveil my predictions (not necessarily my preferences) for the US election. (See JT's predictions).

1. Obama will win most of the swing states including Virginia, Ohio, also North Carolina, probably Florida, Colorado, and maybe even New Mexico. In other words, if it ain't solidly "red" then it will probably be lost. As to why:

2. The media is so pro-Obama it's funny. Many of McCain's criticisms of Obama have been criticized as out of play by the media (personally I think Obama's association with dodgy persons is open season). They've been behind Obama since the primaries and pushed him over the top against Hillary Clinton.

3. Palin was a figure who appealed to the GOP base but did not win over the GOP moderates or independents. She simply does not have the experience at the international and national level to lead the country and everybody knows it. McCain is an old man and cancer survivor and so the prospect of him dying and Palin taking over is not an impossibility.

4. Everybody fears that McCain is more of Bush in terms of international relations and economic policy. He's in a catch-22 since he can't denounce Bush without upsetting his own constituency and he cannot buddy up to him without identifying with the most unpopular president in living memory.

5. The biggest problem that Obama has is that he's on the extreme left of the DP. Americans have never liked extremists but they are probably willing to take a chance on an extreme leftie than an extreme right-winger as an alternative to the present regime.

6. Sadly the only choice the yanks have is between war mongers and baby killers. God bless America, they need it!

Colossians Commentary - Lessons Learned (Part 2)

I have just completed the first draft of my Colossians/Philemon commentary for the New Covenant Commentary Series and here are my final reflections on commentary writing (see earlier posts here):

1. I affirm my earlier post that continued commentary writing still has a place in scholarship. It is a good place to learn and to disseminate what you actually think about a given book of the Bible. The biggest problem is that you do not have something unique or ground breaking to say in every single verse. Still, commentaries need to be updated in light of on going research of the day and we need to continually ask how the text relates to the church of our own day.

2. I have no intention of writing a commentary on every book of the New Testament. I could revisit Colossians again ten years from now in light of planned archaeological excavations for a technical commentary like Hermeneia, ICC, or something similar. I might like to do another one on Galatians, Mark, or John; but I don't see myself trying to cover every single one. Kudos to Ben Witherington for doing it, but I'm not gonna even try.

3. I've learnt that one can read, cite, and interact with secondary literature ad infinitum. I think it's best to identify two major dialogue partners (for Colossians it was Dunn and O'Brien, if I was doing Galatians it would be Dunn and Martyn) and go to the rest as needed.

4. Finishing a commentary is alot like finishing a sermon series. It ocassions reflection on what you've learned, what you've changed your mind on, how to preach or efficiently, and how to live your Christian life in a new way.