Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book Notice: Seyoon Kim, Christ and Caesar

Seyoon Kim
Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.
Available at

Political readings in Paul are in vogue at the moment whereby Paul's theology (and indeed much of the NT including Luke and Revelation) are said to be deeply subversive to the Roman political edice in general and directly opposed imperial propaganda in particular. Seyoon Kim responds to some of these readings with a powerful critique that has some measure of validity. I think Kim raises some good points about the parallelomania that endemically permeates these studies, the inability of these scholars to do full justice to Romans 13.1-8, and Luke's attempt to show that the Church and Roman society are not entirely incompatible does not fil well with their thesis, and (I would add) some commentators make Paul out to be some kind of liberal college arts professor who is anti-American and anti-Bush to the enth degree.

Even so, I am not convinced by Kim's handling of Acts 17.1-9 (pp. 44-45) that opposition to Caesar is not implied by Paul's gospel as Paul meant something very different to the offence that his gospel actually caused. Second, Kim declares that this counter-imperial message was essentially absent in the early church, but the narrative of the Acts of Paul shows that this is patently false and the two kingdoms were regarded as incompatible. Third, counter pagan propaganda is implied in Israel's national religion which long saw Yahweh as defeating pagan nations and de-throning their Gods (e.g. Isaiah). Fourth, the older studies of Adolf Deissman and William Ramsay I think capture correctly how Paul's epistles have to be situated in the context of the Roman political world. Ramsay wrote: "A universal Paulinism and a universal Empire must either coalesce, or the one must destroy the other". Ramsay is also not cited once by Kim either.

Credit to Kim, he does make some genuinely good criticisms and shows how the pendulum needs to swing away from a Paul who looks like a left-wing political activist. He also argues in the conclusion that we should not expect Christians living in countries under hostile regimes to take up arms in the cause of revolution in order to prove their discipleship, nor should we fear to politically engage the world around us (Kim commends Luke over John the Seer as a model here). Even so, I would urge against pushing Paul and Luke in the direction of a political quietism.

Those wanting more should read Denny Burk's article in JETS (2008): "Is Paul's Gospel Counterimperial? Evaluating the Prospects of the "Fresh Perspective" for Evangelical Theology" for an approach similar to Kim.

Guy Waters on N.T. Wright's new book

Over at the Reformed Forum is an interview with Guy Prentiss Waters about N.T. Wright's new book on Paul and justification. It was a good discussion and Waters' reference to Wright was not entirely negative. I'll offer a few comments:

When the panel began talking about Waters' essay as to how Rom. 10.5 proves the covenant of works, I made several painful facial expressions (much like those I made in relation to a sermon that intended to prove the pre-tribulation rapture from Psalm 110). But as I listened on, the discussion proved indeed worthwhile.

Waters makes a pertinent observation in that Wright is far more nuanced in his current work than he was in his 1997 volume What Saint Paul Really Said. Wright is genuinely attempting to bring the old and the new together (I'm reminded of Mt. 917). Still, Waters (who studied under E.P. Sanders at Duke) regards the Traditional Reformed view and the New Perspective view as thoroughly incompatibable. That is something that stands in diametrical opposition to my own approach to the matter which has sought to find the common ground between both perspectives. Waters compliments Wright for a covenantal approach and for also emphasizing the unity of the Bible's storyline. He suggest, however, that Wright makes far too much of "exile" rather than "being-in-Adam". I'll say several things here: (1) Certainly Wright does lean on exile very heavily, but for Wright "exile" is essentially a synedoche for a wider story that relates to Israel's role in creation, in appropriating the role of Adam for themselves, and their recapitulation of Adam's plight. What is more, Wright acknowledges that it was precisely the problem of sin that sent Israel into exile in the first place. I remember hearing D.A. Carson relay a conversation he had with Wright and he told Wright that he needs to push the problem back further than exile and back into eden. I think Wright did do that very much so in Resurrection of the Son of God which has a big focus on the creation narrative as providing the background to the resurrection theology of the NT. In other words, Wright's focus on exile is problematic in some respects esp. as a controlling meta-narrative (I have a forthcoming essay on this subject) but hardly at odds with a creation-Adam-sin-Abraham-Israel-Messiah narrative. (2) Waters counters that what Wright needs is a construal of the controlling story along the lines of Adam (covenant of works) and Christ (covenant of grace). If that is what the covenants mean for Waters, I could probably go for that depending on how it pans out in the details. At the Edinburgh dogmatics conference in 2005, Andrew McGowan argued for a basic structure of redemptive-history as comprising of an Adamic administration and a Messianic administration (a la John Murray rebooted). Wright was at the conference and in a conversation with McGowan (I am told) he found that kind of formulation essentially correct and in-line with his own thinking. And it gets better, I'll never forget attending a Bethlehem Institute discussion at ETS which touched on covenant theology and John Piper gave his own view as one is either in Adam or in Christ - those are the categories. Hence, I suspect that there is probably more in common between Wright and Piper on this Adam/Messiah element than is apparent (though I admit that my garnering of evidence on this is admittedly oral to date).

Waters argues that it is biblical to speak of justification according to works when properly understood, but not justification on the basis of works. I concur here. I find Wright often fuzzy and less exact than I'd like him to be on this matter. Even so, the impression that I get is that works are ultimately evidential for Wright rather than instrumental. What tips me off on that is that for Wright justification is forensic and he emphasizes the theme of assurance very strongly in his commentary on Romans 5-8. Assurance is exactly what you don't have in the Tridentine system (Sinclair Ferguson gave an excellent lecture on this topic at a John Murray lecture a few years ago).

On the "Righteousness of God" Waters is correct that it cannot be reduced to God's covenant faithfulness (Mark Seifrid's dictum is that all covenant keeping is righteous but not all righteousness is covenant keeping!). Even so, I do not understand why any Reformed proponent would take out a theological restraining order so as to keep God's righteousness and God's faithfulness to Israel's covenant apart from each other (that is Luther not Calvin!!!). I think Seifrid's point is well taken, but even his SBTS colleague Tom Schreiner thinks that he's gone too far and "separates righteousness too radically from covenant and wrongly traces it only back to creation" (Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 353 . 46). I would point out that relating God's righteousness to his faithfulness to the covenant goes back as far as Ambrosiaster and was also present among the English puritans like George Joye! In my view, the righteousness of God refers to his character and saving activity and it certainly covers God's faithfulness to Israel (hence for the "Jew first" in Rom. 1.16) even if it cannot be reduced to it. By the same taken (contra Tom Schreiner, New Testament Theology), I do not think the righteousness of God is the gift of righteousness from God as it is a far more comprehensive event than this.

For me the highlight came at the 50 minute mark with Waters giving a very good description of how Wright (and me) understand justification as participating in Christ's vindication in his resurrection (Seifrid and Gaffin agree with this for the most part). Believers are thus justified since they participate in Christ and share in his justification. But he proceeds to argue that Wright then telescopes transformation from Romans 6-8 into justification via union with Christ. Here I am not convinced that Wright does that. Wright does regard justification as forensic and even though he doesn't necessarily articulate the duplex gratia as Calvin does, I think he's in a similar ball-park as union with Christ provides the basis for our justification and is the source of our sanctification.

Overall, a very interesting discussion, there are several elements I'd certain demur from Waters on, but I think he makes some genuinely valid observations through out.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Glenn Davies on Children at Communion

Glenn Davies is Anglican Bishop of North Sydney and a former lecturer at Moore Theological College. He wrote a short article entitled "The Lords' Supper for the Lord's Children" which appear in Reformed Theological Review 50.1 (1991) 12-20. In his conclusion he wrote:

The Lord's Supper is for the Lord's people. It is a meal in celebration of the redemption he has won for us. All those to whom this salvation belongs are appropriate guests at the Lord's Table. Participation in the Lord's Supper is participation in Christ. To deny this meal to those who participate in Christ is a travesty of the one body in which we all share. Our covenant children are members of Christ's body and share in Christ. They should therefore share in the one bread and drink and the same cup of blessing which we drink. However this is not to suggest that the warnings [of] 1 Cor 11:27-30 have no relevance for children. Participants in the covenant meal are required to be in covenantal fellowship, and that covenantal fellowship is evidenced, through God's grace, by covenantal obedience. Yet it is a mistake to judge the faithfulness of an individual solely in terms of mature self-understanding or an articulate profession of faith. Evidence of covenant standing is not correlative to one's age. An understanding appropriate to the age, however, does not necessarily imply that children have the ability to articulate the meaning of the sacrament in adult thought forms. Conversely, an inability to give an articulate explanation of the relationship a child sustains to his or her parents does not mean that they have an incorrect understanding of their relationship to them. There is much that may be deficient about or own understanding of the Lord's Supper, as indeed there was for the twelve apostles who first took of it with their Master. Yet the immaturity of their understanding did not prevent their participation in that Supper. The importance of Paul's warnings, however, is whether or not the child is remaining faithful to the covenant in which he or she stands. To deny them the Lord's Supper is to effectively discipline them in the same way we would do a covenant breaker. Their exclusion is tantamount to identifying them with the world, unworthy to eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord. Yet our children belong to God, by the sure promise of his Word signed and sealed in baptism. Let us then feed them with the blessing of Christ, and teach them through the Supper that the priviledge of union and communion with Christ belongs to them. The Lord's Supper is for the Lord's Children.

Friday is for Ad Fontes - Sirach and Wine

Friday night is always red wine and primary sources night for me. Here is my latest reading from Sirach 31:

(25) Let not wine-drinking be the proof of your strength, for wine has been the ruin of many. (26) As the furnace probes the work of the smith, so does wine the hearts of the insolent. (27) Wine is very life to man if taken in moderation. Does he really live who lacks the wine which was created for his joy? (28) Joy of heart, good cheer and merriment are wine drunk freely at the proper time. (29) Headache, bitterness and disgrace is wine drunk amid anger and strife. (30) More and more wine is a snare for the fool; it lessens his strength and multiplies his wounds. (31) Rebuke not your neighbor when wine is served, nor put him to shame while he is merry; Use no harsh words with him and distress him not in the presence of others (NAB).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paul the Jewish Evangelist

I am currently working on an essay about "Paul's Judaism" (partly inspired by a Mark Nanos stirring paper). I hope to one day return to the subject of Paul as a missionary among the Gentiles and not just too them (see Rom. 1.5 and 1 Cor. 9.20). That I think opens up the possiblity of Paul seeing himself as having some kind of role as an evangelist to Diaspora communities as well even if only in a limited sense with his main role oriented towards non-Jews. But the subject of Jewish evangelism is often rejected in favour of a Sonderweg (special way) of salvation for Jews under the Torah and Mosaic covenant. It's also argued that Israel's "misstep" was its refusal to accept that, with the resurrection of Jesus, God had now opened up a way for Gentiles to enter the Abrahamic family through faith in Christ. The biggest problem I have is that apart from not making sense of Romans 9-11 it implies that the existence of Jewish Christianity was simply a necessary transitional phase or, even worse, a grave mistake. On Jewish evangelism in relation to Romans (esp. 10.14-21!) note the following quotations from Richard Bell and N.T. Wright:

Richard H. Bell (Provoked to Jealousy: The Origin and Purpose of the Jealousy Motif in Romans 9–11 [WUNT 2.63; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1994], 354-55): ‘Paul’s theology demands a mission to the Jewish people. Provoking Israel to jealousy is no replacement for mission. It is just one possible precursor for mission. The gospel must be preached for it is only the gospel, God’s reconciling word, which can make someone a Christian (Rom. 10.17) … I would maintain that evangelism to Jews is not antisemitism; rather to renounce preaching the liberating gospel to Jewish people is antisemitism’.

N.T. Wright (‘Romans,’ in NIB, ed. Leander E. Keck [12 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002], 10.697): ‘to imagine that Jews can no longer be welcomed into the family of the Messiah … [that] for Paul, would be the very height of anti-Judaism’.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Blog

My newest friend from the virtual world of biblioblogdom is Michael Whiteton, a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary. I've only known Michael for just over a week and already we've co-written a short article about the Pistis Christou debate in the Church Fathers after I happened to discover a juicy text hereto never mentioned in any discussion which Michael greatly contributed to. (I'll post on this some time in the future). He has a blog called Ecce Homo. What is more, he is also a red head! And we know that the world needs more red-head Neutestamentlars than anything else! Tragically he's quite tall and has not yet procured a taste for an Aussie Cab Sav, but with a dozen parachute jumps and a case of Wolf Blass all can be fixed. Go pay a visit to Michael's blog and say hello.

Paternoster 2009 Catalogue

In the latest Paternoster 2009 Catalogue on-line you can find some really good books including, on page 3, the forthcoming The Faith of Jesus Christ edited by myself and Preston M. Sprinkle. This will be one of THE books of 2009 I have to say. I do not know for sure when it is due to be released in the USA by Hendrickson.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spring 2009 Baker Catalogue

The Baker Publishers Spring 2009 Catalogue is available here which has some great books in Biblical Studies (esp. p. 26) and lots on Calvin as well.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Second Review of "Saving Righteousness of God"

Over at RBL there is a second review of my book The Saving Righteousness of God by James Sweeney which is very positive (though he painfully notes some of the tragic typographical errors in the book).

The Goal of our Instruction?

What is the goal of biblical exegesis and theological interpretation for the reader, practitioner, and minister? In other words, what is the "goal of our instruction" (1 Tim. 1.5) in the Christian Scriptures? I think Eugene Peterson sums it up well when he says that through the Scriptures “we learn to think accurately, behave morally, preach passionately, sing joyfully, pray honestly, obey faithfully”. (Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005], 182).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Vanhoozer on Theological Method

My advice to systematic theology students in the Evangelical Tradition is to read Vanhoozer as much as they can. He shows that doing theology needs to take into account hermeneutics, speech-act theory, postmodern objections to foundatonalist epistemology, the canon, and critical engagement with Barth. In his essay "The Apostolic Discourse and its Developments" (note the echo of C.H. Dodd) in Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible Vanhoozer narrates his experience in theological method.

"Once upon a time, if asked what in the New Testament was authoritative, I would have replied, 'Revelation.' (On this point, thomists, evangelicals, and Barthians all agree, though they parse 'revelation' differently.) Theology's task, I thought was the extraction of propositional revelation or truth from Scripture and its consequent organization into a consistent conceptual system. Two pictures - one of Scripture as revelation and one of theology as a two-stage process, from descriptive exegesis ('what it meant') to a normative dogmatics ('what it means'') - held me captive. Scripture is not simply a propositional shaft to be exegetically mined and theologically refined like so much textual dross to be purified into systems of philosophy or morality On the contrary, both the form and content of the New Testament are elemetns in the divine drama of revelation and redemption".

I concur here. Some systematicians who have drunk at the well of rationalism proceed in the theological task as if God (by either folly or due to human weakness) gave revelation most unfortunatley in different genres: Law-code, narrative, prophecy, Proverbs, Gospels, Epistles, and Apocalypse. We can navigate our way around this unfortunate circumstance by translating this genred revelation into proposition statements of truths to be believed. For example, Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, wrote: "In demonstration, in council, and all rigorous search of truth, sometimes does all; except sometimes the understanding have need to be opened by some apt similitude, and then there is so much use of fancy. But for metaphors, they are in this case utterly excluded. For seeing they openly profess deceit, to admit them into council, or reasoning, were manifest folly." In other words, metaphors are a stupid means of conveying truth (and that probably goes for playwrites as much for God). Yet, our theology should take into account not only the propositional cohere of what God says in Scripture, but also the how of God's self-communication. In other words, form and genre are equally important in our analysis of the divine discourse. Indeed perhaps our theology (and even our preaching) should convey not only what God says, but also how he says it. I tell my students, if you're preaching narrative material then preach narratively; if you're preaching topical material, preach inductively/proverbially; if you're preaching didactic material, then preach deductively/didactically. The same holds for theology does it not? Yet I would add that Alister McGrath has shown the viability of a cognitivist-propositional approach to theology and thus we need not yield to the oldYale crowd with their narrative theology?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Two Bargain Books at Wesley-Owen

For those in the UK, in the latest Wesley-Owen catalogue there is a stack of Paternoster books going cheap as chips which I recommend:

1. Tim Chester, From Creation to New Creation - excellent for giving small groups and Sunday school classes an introduction to the biblical storyline. (RRP £8.99, Now £4.50). Blurb: "The Bible is the story of God's salvation. Despite our fall into sin, and the recurrent rejection of God's rule, God promised to make Abraham into a 'great nation' and to 'bless' him. Yet what does this mean? How are we to interpret this promise of salvation? Looking at God's covenantal promises with Abraham, Moses and David, Tim Chester presents the 'big picture'? of the Bible and helps Christians understand the part in relation to the whole."

2. Petrus Grabe, New Covenant, New Community - the best introduction to the concept of covenant in the Bible, Second Temple Jewish literature, and Patristic literature that I've seen. (RRP £ 17.99, Now £ 8.99). Blurb: "The concept of 'covenant' is a crucial component in understanding God and his actions throughout salvation history. New Covenant, New Community looks at covenant in the Old and New Testaments and the history of Christian interpretation, and makes a substantial contribution to biblical theological studies in this area. What are the elements of continuity and discontinuity in terms of the covenant concept between the Old and New Testaments? Can we truly speak of a 'new' covenant that is distinct from the old? What are the implications of a biblical understanding of covenant for the community of faith - then and now? These are just a few of the many questions Grabe addresses in this far-reaching, well-researched and highly accessible study."

Intro to the Apocryphal Gospels

Paul Foster (Edinburgh Uni) has a new book with OUP called The Apocryphal Gospels: A Very Short Introduction. The blurb states:

"This Very Short Introduction offers a clear, accessible, and concise account of the apocryphal gospels--exploring their origins, their discovery, and discussing how the various texts have been interpreted both within and outside the Church. Looking at texts ranging from the Gospels from Nag Hammadi to the Dialogues with the Risen Savior, Paul Foster shows how the apocryphal gospels reflect the diversity that existed within early Christianity, and considers the extent to which they can be used to reconstruct an accurate portrait of the historical Jesus. Foster demonstrates how close analysis of text, contents, and context are vital in assessing the value and authenticity of such ancient documents. Including discussions of controversies and case-studies such as the alleged hoax surrounding the discovery of Secret Mark, Foster concludes that the non-canonical texts, considered in the correct context, can help us reach a more complete understanding of the multi-faceted nature of early Christianity."

See also his other volume The non-canonical Gospels which is an edited collection of previously published works from Expository Times.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Martyn on Galatians (2) Paul and Apocalpyticism

1. In his Galatians commentary, J.L. Martyn refers to the "Apocalyptic Theology in Galatians," and he mentions to two different tracks of Jewish apocalytpicism: (1) Cosmological apocalyptic eschatology which focuses on how evil anti-God powers have taken over rule of this world leading human beings into idolatry and thus slavery, and God will fight a glorious apocalyptic war against these powers and save his elect from their wicked machinations; and (2) Forensic apocalyptic eschatology where things have gone wrong because human beings have rejected God, thereby bringing corruption, death, and pervsion on the world. Thus, God sets before the people Two Ways: the way of death and the way of life. Human beings must chose one over the other and thus give an account of themselves on the final day. In Martyn's thinking the Galatian intruders held to forensic apocalyptic eschatology and Paul held to cosmological apocalyptic eschatology. The problem I have is: (1) I think we can find evidence of cosmological and forensic apocalyptic eschatology in Paul's letters. (2) I think part of the problem of the Galatian intruders was that they lacked the eschatological framework of Paul and saw the Mosaic/Sinaitic era as continuing on into the era of the Messiah, whereas Paul infers a far more radical and abrupt disjunction between these two eras.

2. To you all you young theological students and Ph.D candidates remember this: don't ever talk about "apocalyptic". The word "apocalyptic" is an adjective not a noun. You can have an apocalyptic worldview (i.e. apocalyptic eschatology), you can have apocalytpicism (i.e. a sociological phenomenon like Waco or the Qumran community), you can have apocalyptic writings (i.e. an apocalypse) - but do not refer to "apocalyptic" as an actual entity in and of itself.

3. Also, for an introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, I imagine Stephen Cook's new volume on the subject will be a worthwhile read.

Five Views on Justification - Forthcoming IVP Book

Paul Eddy and James Beilby are the editors of a forthcoming volume with IVP (tentatively) entitled: "Justification: Five Views". The contributors are:

1. Traditional Reformed: Michael Horton
2. Progressive Reformed: Michael Bird
3. 'New Perspective': James Dunn
4. Theosis: Veli-Matti Karkkainen
5. Catholic: Gerald O'Collins & Oliver Rafferty

This, perhaps with the exception of # 2, looks like a pretty impressive cast of characters. I certainly would pay good money to see Jimmy Dunn, Gerald Collins, and Michael Horton talk Pauline theology over a beer and a bag of cashews. So keep an eye out for this one in the future!

Richard Bauckham's New Book

Richard Bauckham's first volume of collected essays on certain aspects of the Jewish background of the New Testament is out:

Richard Bauckham, The Jewish World around the New Testament: Collected Essays I (548 pages worth!). Here are some of the articles:

  • The Rise of Apocalyptic
  • The Delay of the Parousia
  • The Son of Man: 'A Man in my Position' or 'Someone'?
  • The Apocalypses in J. H. Charlesworth's Old Testament PseudepigraphaPseudo-Apostolic Letters
  • The List of the Tribes of Israel in Revelation 7
  • The "Parting of the Ways": What Happened and Why
  • The Messianic Interpretation of Isaiah 10:34
  • The Relevance of Extra-Canonical Jewish Texts to New Testament Study
  • What if Paul had Travelled East rather than West?
  • Covenant, Law and Salvation in the Jewish Apocalypses
  • The Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts
  • Paul and Other Jews with Latin Names in the New Testament
  • Tobit as a Parable for the Exiles of Northern Israel
  • The Continuing Quest for the Origins of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
The essays on the Son of Man, Parting of the Ways, Restoration in Luke-Acts, and Delay of the Parousia are classic Bauckham and I recommend those one's in particular. So in the very least, got your library to order a copy of this book!

HT: Chris Tilling.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thank You Naomi Bird!

Today I have to make a special mention of my darling wife Naomi, because today we celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. It has been ten years of fun (and frustration at times), moving house several times (including across hemispheres), coping with my transition from solder to student to lecturer, learning how to parent together, watching her go from being a married teenager to a married mum with three kids, and trips overseas. I've enjoyed the journey babe-o-rama and I look forward to ten more years of bliss with you. You are the answer to my prayers and I thank God for you my love!

In her honour, I give you my own translation of 1 Esdras 4 about the superiority of women:

"Gentlemen, the king is not great, men are not abundant, and wine is not strong? Who is it, then, that masters them, or lords it over them? Is it not women? Women give birth to the king and to all the people who reign over the sea and land. From women they all came forth, and it was women who brought up those men who plant the vineyards from which wine is produced. Women make men's clothes, men they give reputation, men are not even able to exist without women. If men collect gold and silver or any attractive thing, and then see a woman desirous in appearance and beauty, all those things they forge in order to gawk at her, with mouths wide open and stare at her, and her over all prefer gold or silver or any other attractive thing. A man leaves his own father, who raised him, and his own country, and clings to his own wife. With his wife he departs this life, with no remembrance of his father or mother or country. Therefore, you must surely recognize that women rule over you! "Do you not work and toile, and bring everything and give it to women? A man takes his sword, goes out to travel abroad and to raid and steal and to sail the sea and rivers, he faces lions, and he walks in darkness , and when he steals and plunders and Robs, he carries it back to the woman he loves. A man loves his own wife much more than his father or mother. Many men have lost their sense of mind because of women, and have become slaves because of them. Many have perish, or stumble, or sinner because of women. And then now, you do not believe me? "Is not the king great in his authority? All countries do not fear to touch him? Eleven o'clock and I saw him Apam, the king's mistress, the daughter of the eminent Bartacus, sitting at the right hand of the king and she took the crown from the head of the king and put it on her own head, and slap the king with her left hand. At this the king would stare at her with mouth wide open. If she smiles at him, he laughs, but if she should get angry with him, he humors her, so that she may be Reconcile to him. Gentlemen, women are not strong, since they do such things? "

Michael Bird meets Rowan Williams

Apparently Michael Bird visited the Archbishop of Canterbury to explain why he had consented to bless same sex unions. I actually wrote to the good bish' of Niagra and asked if he'd be interested in a debate on the subject, "Are same sex blessings good for the Anglican communion?" I was after an honest and sincere debate with my name sake (imagine a theological debate that runs Michael Bird vs. Michael Bird). Sadly, no reply was forthcoming. A well-known Anglican journalist of great virtue told me not to waste my time with him. Perhaps he was right.

Around the Blogs

Dan Reid notes the humour found in A Bird's Eye-View of Paul.

Denny Burke is preaching a storm on the Gospel Clarity and the Call to Suffer.

Nijay Gupta gives some hillarious comments on Theological Exegesis.

Peter Enns reviews Ken Sparks book on Scripture and biblical criticism.

Scot McKnight is charging off on his white steed against the Neo-Reformed and Hell is following after him (124 comments!).

New Reformed Journal

I've just learned of the launch of a new British Reformed Evangelical Journal named Ecclesia Reformanda. It has a good editorial team including HTC's own Ros Clark. The front webpage states:

Ecclesia Reformanda is a new journal for pastors, theological students, and scholars, that seeks to serve the Church in its ongoing reformation according to God’s Word. The editorial board believes that historic Reformed theology offers the best expression of the theology of Scripture, and so the journal is confessionally Reformed. However, a genuinely Reformed theology is always looking for God to shed new light on his Church from his Word. It is therefore always reforming.

Ecclesia Reformanda is distinctively Reformed, with a contemporary cutting edge. It presents some of the best in British Reformed thinking and writing to serve the Church, her teachers, and her Lord.

The journal covers all of the theological subdisciplines, and early issues will include articles on intertextuality in Romans 2, poetry in James, the place of children in the new covenant according to Jeremiah 32, Jim Jordan’s hermeneutics, Herman Bavinck’s theological method, and John Owen’s doctrine of justification. Future editions will contain articles on ethics, public theology, and pastoral counselling.

Interview with Joel Green on Body and Soul

One of my favourite methodists, Nijay Gupta a PH.D student at Durham, begins his interview with Joel Green on his new book today, Body, Soul, and Human Life. Only this morning my pastoral studies colleague, Innes Visagie, commented to me how much he had enjoyed reading Green's book on this subject.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Greek Memory Verses

I'm aspiring to memorize more biblical Greek this year and here is my intended list:

Deut. 10.12-13
Pss. 110.1
Isa. 53.11-12
Dan. 7.13-14

Greek NT
Matt. 6.9-13
Mk. 10.45
Lk. 9.23-24
Jn. 3.16
Rom. 3.21-26*
Phil. 2.5-11*
Col. 1.15-20
Heb. 12.1-3
Jas. 1.27
Rev. 21.6-7

Ignatius, Rom. 3.2
Diog. 9.3-5

The asterix signifies what I've done so far! Still a long way to go!! But feel free to join me in the quest.

Athanasius Quote?

Does anyone know the proper quote (and perhaps even the Greek) for a saying of Athanasius to the effect that: "He is no bishop who has denied the faith".

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jim Hamilton on the Centre of Biblical Theology

I am currently reading through Schreiner's massive new New Testament Theology. I should also mention that my buddy Jim Hamilton has two articles on the centre of biblical theology which are available on-line:

The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment: The Centre of Biblical Theology? Tyndale Bulletin (2006). (I'm glad he's finally learned to spell "judgment" using the Queens's English!).

The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts: Deliverance and Damnation Display the Divine,” Themelios 33.3 (2008), 34-47.

Those students at HTC doing Luke-Acts with me should read the Themelios essay by Hamilton since it touches upon their assigned essay topic on the soteriology of Luke-Acts!

Paedo-Communion in Presbyterian System

The Christ the Centre panel host Cornelius Venema on his forthcoming book on Paedocommunion in the Presbyterian system. Quite a good discussion on the biblical and theological issues involved. I did get the feeling that one of the interviewers seemed a bit disappointed that Venema did not think that those who lean towards Paedocommunion should be denied ordination, even if they agree to live by credo-communion as the denominational position (or maybe I'm reading that into it). Venema was somewhat circumspect, but gracious in reply. Worth listening to.

The logic of the baptist system is that if you are baptized then you should be accepted to the table of the Lord (which is perhaps why many Baptist converts to Presbyterianism support paedocommunion). Can anyone tell me the theological rationale in the Methodist and Anglican traditions for paedocommunion?

HT: Scott Clark

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Marcion, Apostle of the Unknown God

Marcion and Marcionite churches were the chief rivals to proto-orthodox Christianity in the late second century and third century (hence refutations by Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, etc.). An excellent lecture on Marcion is provided by Phil Harland which I recommend you listen to if you have a spare 36 minutes.

50th anniversary of Billy Graham's 1959 Aussie Crusade

Screeing on ABC's Compass program is a documentary about Billy Graham's 1959 visit to Australia (see the preview here). What amazes me is the number of people that I have met, mostly in their late 60s now, who were at Billy Graham's evangelistic crusades in Australia and attribute the beginning of their spiritual journey to that event. Oh, that times of spiritual refreshing would visit the shores of Australia again!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What is a Gnostic Gospel?

Pheme Perkins ("What Is a Gnostic Gospel?" CBQ 71.1 [2009]: 123) writes:

"What is a Gnostic Gospel? Used in the oral sense for preaching a message about salvation revealed through the coming of Jesus, it is the content of their soteriology, not the term, that distinguishes Gnostics from other Christians. Used in the mid-second century forward for written accounts of Jesus and his teaching commonly circulated among Christians, there is no special Gnostic Gospel. Gnostic teachers rely on the range of gospel traditions being circulated among Christians with no greater tendency than believers to exploit apocryphal Gospels. In addition, the poetics of the Gnostic universe push its teachers away from imaginative engagement with the historical or physical world such as might produce additional Gospel narratives. Instead, one has a form of writing that Plese refers to as 'meta-physical fiction,' though one might expect more narrative to justify the 'fiction' in such a description'."

Slagging on the Church

Over at CT there is an article by Mark Galli on Pastors as Lovers [of the Church]. He notes the cynicism and sarcasm that many speakers of the National Pastors Convention had for the church. I think frustration and anger at trying to turn things around in a church and not being able to, can really suck the joy and wind out of some people. I once asked a pastor friend of mine what was the best thing about ministry. He said, "Christians!" I then asked him what was the worst thing about ministry. He said, "Christians!". Anyone who had know the frustrations of ministry can relate to that.

I'm more than willing to critique the excesses and errors of the Church (be it Western, American, Asian, African, Anglican, Baptist, or The Royal Society of Red-head Exegetical Ninja Storm Troopers of the Sacred Covenant of Holy Doctrine), but there is a danger that the rhetoric of our criticisms become excessive simply in order to validate our egos, propitiate our hurt, and parade our own vision for how it should be. For instance, imagine you went up to your best friend's fiance and called her a "a lazy, stupid, whore". No matter what she had done wrong, your best friend is probably gonna be pretty ticked off at you. What's that mean? Well, the Church is the Bride of Christ, hardly sinless and not yet perfect by any stretch, but remember, when you slag her off, you're insulting Jesus' fiance. Keep that in mind next time any of us say, "The Church is so ...".

Friday, February 13, 2009

Marcion, Adolf von Harnack, and the OT

Here's a quote from Adolf von Harnack on Marcion and the OT:

"To reject the Old Testament in the second century was a mistake which the Church rightly repudiated; to retain it in the sixteenth century was a fate which the Reformtion could not yet avoid; but to continue to keep it in Protestantism as a canonical document after the nineteenth century is the consequence of religious and ecclesiastical paralysis" (Marcion, 418).

Well not much to say after that one!

F.F. Bruce on the Tyndale Fellowship and Biblical Studies

Now is one of those stop what you're reading and read this now moments. I am referring to F.F. Bruce, "The Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research," EQ 19.1 (1947): 52-61. It gives the background and basis for the creation of the Tyndale Fellowship in the UK. I was initially alerted to this article by Dan Reid and intend on interacting with it considerably in a forthcoming paper about the future of the Tyndale Fellowship which I'm delivering in July.

The Tyndale Fellowship has its roots in discussion as early as 1938 when a group of evangelicals were discussing the obscurantism and anti-intellectualism of evangelicalism at the time. Soon a committee was formed and after the second world war it was decided to hold an annual summer school, to found two annual lectures in biblical studies, and to secure a residential centre and a library for biblical research. Its doctrinal basis was to be the IVF (now UCCF) statement of faith. Bruce says: "Its object is to maintain and promote Biblical studies and research in a spirit of loyalty to the Christian Faith as enshrined in the consensus of the Historic Creeds and Reformed Confessions, and to establish the authority of Evangelical scholarship in the field of Biblical and theological studies" (p. 55). Its activities were to include: (1) to encourage younger scholars to engage in Biblical research along linguistic, historical, archaeological or theological lines; (2) to call attention to and to examine contemporary research bearing upon the right understanding of the Bible; (3) to urge the claims of Biblical studies to a permanent and influential place in the national system of education; and (4) to create opportunities for intercourse and co-operation between those who have at heart the objects which the Fellowship desires to promote and co co-operate with similar bodies among the English-speaking nations and on the European continent and elsewhere (p. 56). This lead also to the rise of Tyndale Bulletin (now on-line!!!) as well.

Bruce raises a good point whether the TF can be totally free of the stigma of obscurantism since it retains its acceptance of the IVF Doctrinal Basis. He asks: "Are not its conclusions in the field, say, of Biblical criticism, prescribed and settled in advance? The answer is, unreservedly, No" (p. 56). He goes on to say that a committment to "infallibility" means "that the Scriptures themselves, in their proper sense, never lead astray the soul who is sincerely seeking the truth" (pp. 56-57). The TF has its presuppositions, distinctive point of view, and it is committed to the "Catholic Evangelical Faith" (p. 57). He differentiates the ethos of TF from Catholic scholars who are constrained by Church Dogma (though keep in mind that this is pre-Vatican II) and also from liberal scholars who have no belief in the supernatural. Nonetheless, TF members are free to explore with a measure of academic freedom. In a statement that will obviously shock some readers, Bruce writes: "No such conclusions 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 conclusions to which all the available evidence points. Any research worthy of the name, we take it for granted, must necessarily be unfettered" (pp. 58-59). In a footnote Bruce appeals to different views among the members of TF about the authorship of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel as examples of members differing over biblical-critical issues.

Bruce declares that the necessity of linguistic study has been emphasized at length because, "Sound theology must be based on sound exegesis, and sound exegesis on a sound text, and to establish and understand a sound text we require a thorough acquaintance with the original languages ... The New Testament idiom cannot be properly understood without some knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic, and the intensive study of these Old Testament languages leads one into such other languages as Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Hurrian, Egyptian, Persian, and Arabic" (pp. 59-60).

Finally, the TF exists to show the rational intelligibility of Evangelical Christianity. Bruce concludes: "we confidently look for the sympthetic interest of all who have at heart the revival of the full-orbed historic Evangelical Faith, and invite the cooperation of those like-minded who desire to pursue the paths of Biblical scholarship to the glory of God and the blessing of their fellows" (p. 61).

Engaging with Barth

Whether you like Barth or not, if you are interested in theology, then you have to do business with him. One book that engages with Barth from an evangelical point of view is, of course, Engaging with Barth. This book has its own webpage which describes the volume and the contributors. Do check it out.

Barthians often get written off as neo-liberals by some Evangelicals while some Barthians write off Evangelicals as fundamentalists who can smile. I tend to think of Barthians and Evangelicals as rival siblings striving to be the heirs of the Reformers in the post-enlightenment era. Both camps are striving to move towards an orthodox centre from the extremes of liberalism and fundamentalism.

Harold Hoehner 1935-2009

I learned today that my former professor and, more recently, colleague and friend, Harold Hoehner went home to be with the Lord yesterday, Feb 12, 2009. To read an offical tribute to Harold see Dallas Seminary's website.

This is sad news indeed to many. Those who knew Harold loved him. What's more, it is no exaggeration to say that during his over forty years of teaching at Dallas Seminary, he influenced countless pastors and scholars who are preaching and teaching around the world. 

Three words come to mind when I think of Harold: integrity, longevity, and Kate Turabian. I had the privilege of meeting Harold while completing my Th.M. at Dallas Theological Seminary. Not only did I have him for a couple of NT courses, but he was the first reader of my Th.M. thesis. In that latter capacity, Harold was a stickler on the formating of footnotes, sparing most of his red ink for the text below the horizontal line on the page. I came to appreciate that excellence in the details of footnotes meant excellence everywhere. Excellence is perhaps Harold's most enduring legacy, at least academically. 

It was also in large part because of Harold that I decided and was then accepted into Cambridge University. Harold was so respected in academic circles in both the UK and on the Continent that his recommendation was ostensibly your ticket into a program. 

In the last days of my doctoral work in, I think, 2004 Harold was on sabbatical in Cambridge at Tyndale House and it was great to be around him in that context. I will always remember they Sunday meal he and Ginny treated Karla and I to at the Rat and Parrot Pub on Sunday. 

When talking with Harold it was not uncommon to find the conversation turning to a discussion of the superiority of MAC over PC. Harold was a MAC enthusiast. 

Harold we'll miss you, though I am confident that when you met Jesus yesterday he said, with a big smile on his face, "Well done Harold, my good and faithful servant; Enter into the joy of your master!" And, "You were right about the PC". 

Doug Wilson on Wright's New Book - Follow Up

Wilson insightfully engages a major issue here:

Wright formally rejects as exegetically unfounded a concept which he demonstrates (in the same chapter, no less) as exegetically grounded on bedrock. Wright says:

"This faithful obedience of the Messiah, culminating in his death 'for sins, in accordance with the scriptures' as in one of Paul's summaries of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15.3), is regularly understood in terms of the Messiah, precisely because he represents his people, now appropriately standing in for them, taking upon himself the death which they deserved, so that they might not suffer themselves" (p. 84, emphasis his).

Wright is gloriously right here, but there is a catch. If I were speaking to Wright in Greek, and I were to undertake the task of repeating his thought back to him in my own words, one of the words I would use with abandon would be logidzomai. I would do the same thing in summarizing Paul. The reason I would do so is that these few sentences are saturated in imputation realities, and I don't know any way of making sense of them apart from talking about imputation. What is meant by represent? How does that work? How can one person stand in for others? Why is that allowed? On what basis? How can the death that one deserves be assigned to another without gross injustice? There is no way to answer these questions in Greek without using that great Pauline covenantal word for reckon, consider, impute.

My Comments:

1. I think Wilson is correct, Wright holds conceptually to something pretty much akin to imputation (via Jesus' representative function and union with Christ), but it is the exegetical validity of the entire formulation that is disputed. The problem is with those who want to find the whole package in each and every key text, but it just ain't there.

2. Wilson does commit one fallacy in that he assumes that logizomai has one basic and consistent meaning in Paul - it doesn't - check out Rom. 2.26 [is uncircumcision imputed as circumcision?] and Rom. 4. 5 [faith is imputed?]. This complicates (but does not nullify) a Pauline view of imputation.

3. The question is where does imputation fit into the story? Whereas some want to make justification the centre and imputation the centre of justification; I would make imputation a corollary explains the forensic nature of justification, the representative functions of Adam and Christ, the gift of righteousness, etc.

Doug Wilson on Wright's New Book

Doug Wilson (of Federal Vision fame) has a series of reviews on Wright's new book on justification. It is a rather amusing review at several points. You can read posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and what I found notable were his comments:

Post # 5: "I believe that Wright is actually kicking against a particular form of the imputation calculus -- the idea that somewhere there is a reservoir of merit, and that withdrawals are made from it from time to time in order that we may pay our debts. But let's forget about merit. Suppose for a moment that we are not talking about the imputation of merit, but rather the imputation of obedience. The former is medieval; the latter is Hebraic and covenantal. Not only do I believe it is fully consistent with what Wright is saying, I believe that it is what he (in essence) is saying."

Post # 6: "And so contra Wright, the picture is more like this. Adam is in the dock, and lined up behind him (in the billions) are all his descendants, condemned because of his disobedience. He was a federal, covenantal head of the human race, and so his sin was reckoned to all of us, considered as ours, imputed to us. And so Jesus was born into our race as the last Adam, and the same kind of thing happened. Jesus stood in the dock, received the penalty that was due to Adam, rose from the dead, and was vindicated or justified by God. And so everyone who lines up behind Him is therefore justified as well. His payment of the penalty, and His perfect obedience in its own right, are now credited to us who believe in Jesus. The obedience of Jesus is imputed to us in just the same way that the disobedience of Adam was."

My comments:

1. Wilson is correct that we need to dump this idea of merit and focus on the covenantal aspects of Jesus' obedience as the true Israel and second Adam.

2. As long as we believe that Adam is the federal representative of humanity and Jesus is the federal representative of the new humanity, then something akin to imputation will aways enter into the equation in terms of switching persons from condemnation in Adam to justification in Christ.

3. I'm still not sure if the NT allows for a distinction between active and passive obedience (usually what is emphasized is his passive obedience, e.g. Phil. 2.6-11).

4. What is missing in this discussion by Wilson is reference to "union with Christ" as the mechanism that communications righteousness since we are only justified in Christ. There is no imputation without participation and incorporation into Christ.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

R.T. France - Inerrancy and NT Exegesis

There is a top rate article by R.T. France in Themelios 1.1 (1975) that dialogues with J.I. Packer on inerrancy from a NT stand point. I thought of Peter Enns and Greg Beale when I read France's thoughts on 1 Cor. 10.4:

"Take Paul's reference to the 'rock that followed them' (1 Cor. 10:4). A study of this theme in Jewish literature will soon uncover a fascinating body of tradition about this rock, or rather 'rock-shaped well, like a kind of beehive', which rolled along with the Israelites as they wandered through the desert, providing them with water to drink, irrigating the ground, and on one occasion taking the offensive against their enemies by flooding the Arnon canyon to drown them, and coming rolling up out of the valley carrying 'skulls, arms and legs innumerable', until eventually it rolled into the Lake of Galilee, where it may still be seen under the water, 'the size of an oven'. Clearly Paul was familiar at least with the idea of a mobile rock/well, even if not with the bizarre details of the later midrash, and found in this ever-present source of supply and help an apt illustration of Christ. Whether he regarded the tradition as historical fact is debatable, but he cited it not for its historical value, but for its spiritual significance: pneumatikës here probably indicates that he interpreted the tradition typologically. To try to confine Paul's thought to the traditional material from which he drew his illustration would be to do violence to his expressed intention in making the allusion. It is referred to not for itself, but for its illustrative value; the focus of his thought is Christ."

France wisely concludes:

"To return, then, to our original question: does the evangelical's commitment to a high view of Scripture, which entails inerrancy, automatically exclude him from the use of the critical methods which are the rules of the game of academic biblical study? In fact just the opposite is the case: he has, if anything, a stronger incentive than any one else to work hard and critically at his exegesis, for he believes that what he is interpreting is the word of God, and therefore should spare no pains in discovering what it really means. If anyone is obliged to practise the most rigorous grammatico-historical exegesis, without taking short cuts or fudging the issue, it is the evangelical. His doctrinal position obliges him to do the very thing the pundits demand, to study the text of Scripture critically in the light of all available knowledge relevant to it. He can, and should, have a real positive contribution to make to responsible exegesis, which is what academic biblical study is, or should be, all about."

The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science

During doctoral studies at the University of Queensland, I played tennis every Friday with members of the religious studies faculty including Peter Harrison formerly of Bond University (now of Oxford Uni). Any ways, you can read an RBL review of his book The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science. The thesis for the book is intriguing:

"Peter Harrison provides a new account of the religious foundations of scientific knowledge. He shows how the new approaches to the study of nature that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were directly informed by theological discussions about the Fall of Man and the extent to which the mind and the senses had been damaged by that primeval event. Scientific methods, he suggests, were originally devised as techniques for ameliorating the cognitive damage wrought by human sin. At its inception, modern science was conceptualized as a means of recapturing the knowledge of nature that Adam had once possessed. Contrary to a widespread view which sees science emerging in conflict with religion, Harrison argues that theological considerations were of vital importance in the framing of the new scientific method."

The review is by Mark Elliott.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Martyn on Galatians (1)

J.L. Martyn gives makes two interesting points on Galatians:

"In short, Paul is concerned in letter form to repreach the gospel in place of its counterfeit. Rhetorically, the body of the letter is a sermon centred on factual and thus indicative answers to two questions, 'What time is it?' and 'In what cosmos do we actually live?'" (p. 23)

For the most part, I agree here. Paul is gospelizing his congregation in light of the proselytizing intruders. Paul is set apart from many of his Jewish contemporaries by believing that the cogs of the eschatological clock had indeed turned over thus creating a whole host of significant corollaries about the law, salvation, and gentiles. I would say, more specifically, that Paul is asking about what "symbolic universe" the Galatians think they are living in with God's invasion of the world through his Son.

"With the advent of christ, then, the antinomy between apocalypse and religion has been enacted by God once for all Moreover, this antinomy is central to the way in which Paul does theology in Galatians, not least in connection with one of its major themes, rectification. As the antidote to what is wrong in the world does not lie in religion - religion being one of the major components of the wrong - so the point of departure from which there can be movement to set things right cannot be found in religion; as though, provided with a good religious foundation for a good religious ladder, one could ascend from the wrong to the right. Things are the other way around. God has elected to invade the realm of the wrong - 'the present evil age' (1:4) by sending his Son and the Spirit of his Son into it from outside it. This apocalyptic invasion thus shows that to take the Sinaitic Law to the Gentiles - as the Teachers are doing - is to engage in a mission that is marked at its centre by the impotence of religion" (p. 39).

I think the apocalyptic framework is definitely the way to go, yet, I hesistate somewhat at Martyn's denunciation of "religion" (see Peter Bolt's fine book, The Cross at a Distance for a similar deconstruction of "religion") since the ancient world did not denigrate "religion" in favour of spirituality, relationships, or reason the way that (post)moderns often do. Religion is simply an expression of devotion and piety towards the gods or in their name (see the end of James 1) and not a synedoche for climbing a ladder to God as some make it. You cannot play off an areligious Christianity against the religion of Judaism. In fact, I suspect that the Galatian intruders may have been no less apocalyptic than Paul in many respects. I also think that salvation-history indicates alot more continuity between the God-in-Son event and Abraham-Sinai as well, otherwise the argument in Galatians 3-4 evaporates in force.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Happy Septuagint Day

In case you missed it (and you probably did), the 8th of February was International Septuagint Day as decreed by the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies. Over at the Codex, Tyler Williams has listed the top reasons for studying the Septuagint (a must read).

My own interest in the LXX has accelerated since starting a commentary project on 1 Esdras for a new Bible translation and teaching a Greek texts class which includes part of the Septuagint.

I continue to find the LXX intriguing esp. for its messianism (see Michael Knibb's book on this subject) and its interpretation of the Hebrew text (e.g. look at variations of Dan. 7.13 ,does the one like a son of man come "unto" or "as" the "Ancient of Days"?). Also Paul's midrashic exegesis of Gen. 15.6 and Ps. 32 in Romans 4 is contingent upon them sharing the word logizomai whereas the corresponding words are not shared in Hebrew versions. We should also seriously consider the role of the Septugint, with its own unique textual traditions, as part of the Christian canon since this WAS the Bible of the early church.

We should also keep in mind that "Septuagint" can be used in two senses: (1) The creation and transmission of Old Greek texts of the Hebrew Scriptures; and (2) The books eventually collected and made standardized as the Greek Bible. In other words, don't assume that Paul and the author of Hebrews had a proto-edition of Rahlfs Septuaginta in front of them when they cited Scripture.

The stability of the LXX is of some debate but there was a conscious and gradual effort at bringing the Greek texts into closer conformity to the Hebrew Scriptures over time. Some textual recensions seemed to dominate in certain locales. Jerome wrote that certain Christian regions each adopted their own particular recension of the LXX: "Alexandria and Egypt in their Septuagint acclaim Hesychius as their authority, the region from Constantinople to Antioch approves the copies of Lucian the martyr, the intermediate Palestinian provinces read the manuscripts which were promulgated by Eusebius and Pamphilus on the basis of Origen's labors, and the whole world is divided between these three varieties of text"(Praef. in Paralipp.; compare Adv. Ruf., ii.27).

Remember, only 123 sleeps until International Peshitta Day and only 233 sleeps until International Vulgate Day!

Adam and Christ in Covenant Theology - Part II

In looking over some very thoughtful comments in my earlier post on Adam/Christ in Covenant Theology I need to make a few follow-up remarks.

1. I think Covenant remains a very useful unifying tool, especially when tied to eschatology and christology, for elucidating and the overarching meta-narrative of the biblical storyline. But this needs to be done with care so that the biblical covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, New Covenant) are not flattened out to make way for covenants attributed to the eternal divine decisions to provide salvation through Christ.

2. There clearly was an Adamic arrangement (call it a covenant, dispensation, or administration as ever you please), and Adam was created for immortality and Eden was a foretaste of that paradisal state. There was something interim and provisional about the Edenic state. There is also a clear link to the task given to Adam and that given to Israel as being Lords and Masters of God's creation. So I am happy conceptually with a covenant of works/covenant of creation, if you will, as long as we don't read into it a law/gospel antithesis and then project that antithesis further along into the life of Jesus, where Jesus becomes a heavenly frequently-flyer traveller who gives us his bonus points. Likewise, to follow one commentator, yes, Jesus takes us forward to the new Jerusalem which is an eschatological Eden (a la Greg Beale).

3. I probably should mention (thanks to John Davies for reminding me) the work of William Dumbrell which is most informative on this subject, esp. his works Covenant and Creation and The Search for Order.

Hell on Earth

Do take some time to pray for Victoria, Australia which is experiencing what we can only call "hell on earth" with temperatures at a soaring 47 celsius and bush fires in high winds that have claimed 128 lives (and that number is expected to increase up to 200!). You can see some footage here. Blogger Sean Winter is currently in Melbourne (this heat is probably not what he had in mind when he moved over with his family from England late last year) and he refers to the tragic events in a recent post.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Adam and Christ in Covenant Theology

What I love about covenant theology is that it secures the unity of God's plan of salvation in salvation-history, it demonstrates the representative functions of Adam and Christ, and shows the continuity between Israel and the church. I argue for the utility of "covenant" as a unifying theme in New Testament Theology in a forthcoming journal article. Ligon Duncan has a good introduction to covenant theology on-line which I'd recommend for beginners. Probably the most capable exponent of covenant theology in recent times is Michael Horton in his four volume magnum opus Covenant and Eschatology (2002), Lord and Servant (2005), Covenant and Salvation, and People and Place (2008). In his Lord and Servant volume Horton states:

"The two covenants executed in history are the covenants of creation and grace. Created in righteousness and ethically equipped to fulfill the task of imitating God's own 'works' in order to enter his Sabbath 'rest', Adam as the representative head of the human race was already eschatologically oriented towards the future. As a reward for his faithfulness to the covenant, he would lead humanity in triumphant procession into the everlasting consummation, confirmed in righteousness. However, as a consequence of his disobedience and the mysterious solidarity of humanity in Adam, the sanctions of the creation covenant were invoked. In contrast to the conditional emphasis of the pre-fall covenant, however, God issues a unilateral promise to overcome the curse through the woman's offspring. This covenant of grace, carried forward by Seth and his descendents, is renewed in the Abrahamic covenant, just as the works principle in the creation covenant is renewed in the Sinai covenant. On the basis of the Messiah's fulfillment of the covenant of works (in fulfillment of his mediatorial role assigned in the covenant of redemption), the people of God are accepted on the terms of the covenant of grace" (xi-xii).

The major problem I have here is that I just don't see in Genesis 1-3 any evidence for a covenant of works. As John Murray argued long ago, the word "covenant" is nowhere to be found there. Likewise, I do not see any grounds for regarding the Sinai covenant as a republication of this covenant of works either (Did God tell Adam not to intermarry with foreigners? [Deut. 7.3] I can imagine Adam saying, "Sure, no worries Lord ... but what's a foreigner?"). It seems to me that a lot of covenant theology can be made redundant if one has a proper grasp of the Adam/Christ framework for theology: human beings are either in Adam or in Christ and God's plan is to shift human beings from one to the other. In fact, my colleague (former HTC Principal and now Minister of East Church of Inverness), Andrew McGowan, has proposed the concept of an Adamic Administration and a Messianic Administration in the book The God of Covenant which I need to digest further. In addition, the covenantal framework can reduce the purpose of Jesus' earthly life as being to accrue merit to fulfill a pre-fall contractual arrangement and then to give that merit to others who, by their unfortunate estate, have no merit of their own (see words that I italicized in Horton's statement above). Two problems emerge here: (1) In my mind this clearly detracts from the purposes ascribed to Jesus' coming which are stated in the Gospels, like seeking to bring salvation to Israel (Mt. 10.5-6, 15.24) and the world more generally (Jn 3.17). This salvation fulfills a certain story rooted in Creation and Israel's covenant history, but I do not see the primary task of Jesus as to be fulfilling the conditions of covenants which are largely inferential in nature. (2) Jesus' obedience and faithfulness are genuinely salvific (e.g. Mattew 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-13 Romans 5.12-21; Philippians 2.5-11; Revelation 1.6), not in the sense of accruing merit to be imputed to others, but since it qualifies him as the true Israel, the new Adam, and the coming Messiah who is able to reconstitute Israel in his own person, take away the sins of God's people, and begin the task of restoring creation back to its state of edenic goodness. Conceived this way, something like justification means moving from the condemnation of Adam to the justification of the Messiah, participating in the life and righteousness of the Messiah, joining the people of God united in the Messiah, and so forth (Romans 5-8!; Colossians 3). In my mind, one can preserve the unity of salvation executed by the triune God and recognize the unitive nature of "covenant" in salvation-history, but do by using the Bible's own story-line as the guide as opposed to depending on a framework about covenants inferred from the Bible's story-line.

An Invasive Story: Pauline Theology

Gal. 1.3-4 says: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (TNIV).

I am gradually becoming convinced that Paul's theology must be understood as a mixture of salvation-history and apocalypticism. That is to say, that Paul's theology presumes a certain telling of history from Creation to Abraham to Israel to Christ and to the Church. Yet at the same time, in the coming of Jesus Christ there is a staccato burst of God's power that invades human history and this event is singular and discontinuous from all that has gone before. In other words, Paul narrates an invasive story of God's dealings with the world through Jesus Christ. For me, Galatians displays this mix of salvation-history and apocalytpic worldview the most clearly. The epistolary opening (Gal. 1.3-4) make references to Paul's understanding of Christ's work as redeeming believers from an old age and transferring them into the new; at the same time, Paul argues that this perspective is in accordance with Israel's sacred traditions which makes Jesus the promised seed of Abraham and sees the Law as a guardian provided to lead us to Jesus Christ.

I've tentatively begun arguing this in the first chapter of Saving Righteousness of God and hope to pursue it further at some stage. In the late 1970s there was a big debate between Krister Stendahl and Ernst Kasemann about savlation-history and apocalypticism concerning Paul and I think the answer lies somewhere between them. This semester I'm teaching Pauline theology which includes an hour of exegesis of Galatians every week and as part of my preparation I intend on reading systematically through J.L. Martyn's commentary which takes this apocalyptic approach.

Around the Blogs

Around the blogosphere:

Scott Clark defends women against the Sit Down and Shut Up Crowed.

Ben Blackwell points to some lectures that N.T. Wright gave in Chicago on Colossians.

Judy Redman hosts the Biblical Studies Carnival.

Stephen Carlson proposes a biblioblogger festscrift.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Who Do My Opponents Say That I Am? RBL Review

Over at RBL is two reviews of Who Do My Opponents Say That I Am? which includes references to my essay on "Jesus as Law-Breaker". Scot McKnight and Joe Modica did a great job of assembling this collection of essays.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scripture Memorization

When I first became a Christian, I was well discipled, and a young pastor met with me weekly and we did alot of Scripture memorization together (we used one of the those Navigators scripture memory packs). I now do alot of memory verses with my eldest daughter and I shall never forget how proud I was when she was able to recite the entire chapter of Revelation 5. These days I try (and struggle) to try memorize portions of the NT in Greek. I've done a bit of stuff on Rom. 3.21-26 but hope to learn all of the major christological passages by rote one day (Rom. 1.1-4; John 1.1-2; Heb. 1.1-3; Phil. 2.5-11, etc.). I think I read somewhere that Adolf Schlatter had memorized a fair bit of the Greek NT if not all of it. I tried to bribe a Greek class by promising that I've given them each a copy of my forthcoming commentary on Colossians/Philemon if they would memorize Rom. 3.21-26, but they didn't go for it (lazy sods). On the same subject read Dan Reid's post on memorization of NT Greek as well!

Inter-Faith Relations

Marcus Braybrooke says this in his Time to Meet (pp. 89-90):

At any meeting where the subject of the relationship of Christianity to other faiths is discussed, someone is sure to quote the words, "No man cometh to the Father but through me" (John 14:6). Critical scholarship has made clear that the words of Jesus quoted in the Fourth Gospel should not be treated as his actual words. Equally important, although claims to unique authority were implicit in Jesus' teaching, historically at least, christological claims in the New Testament have to be treated with caution ... Many New Testament scholars now recognize that Jesus' own message centred on the kingdom of God rather than on himself. Further, traditional understandngs of the doctrine of the incarnation are being re-examined. Some writers suggest that overmuch emphasis on Jesus has obscured the fact that Jesus leads us to the Father, the one God of all humankind."

In response I contend: (1) Regardless of the dominical origins of John 14.6 it is still part of the church's witness to Jesus, it is cross referenced by Acts 4.12, and thus not merely a Johannine eccentricity (in fact, John 14.6 was the first memory verse that I taught my eldest daugher). (2) The old addage that Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Church proclaimed Jesus is a half truth. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom but there was always an implicit element of self-reference as it was his ministry of proclamation, exorcisms, and healings which are the means by which God's kingdom was breaking in (see esp. Lk. 11.20). Moreover, in the Gospels, the lines between divine author and divine agent are blurred as Jesus' authority becomes that of one who shares the very throne of God (e.g. Matt 22-24). Jesus also speaks in such a way as to imply his own pre-existence. (3) As for the incarnation being re-examined, I think Braybrooke means dumbed down or denied (e.g. John Hick The Myth of God Incarnate). I will never forget hearing a doctoral student at the University of Queensland try to tell me that panentheism is the best model for explaining the incarnation. (4) The rest of Braybrooke is pretty much Adolf von Harnack's "Das Wesen des Christentum" regurgitated - believe with Jesus not in Jesus, love of God and brotherhood of man. Ultimately, Niebuhr is correct about this entire approach: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." (5) Ultimately Christians believe in the all exclusive claims of the all inclusive saviour. That doesn't mean that Christian cannot relate to peoples of other faiths in positive terms. There are shared values and common ideals across religious frontiers, a common concern to end human suffering, a desire to stop religious differences descending into religious violence, engineering transparency and mutual understanding across religious communities, and promoting the freedom of religion. People of all religions also experience common grace and general revelation.