Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference Day 2

Today was definitely the best day for papers at EDC.

Two of my favourite authors, D.A. Carson and N.T. Wright were present, and there was polite sparring between them at several points. Carson's paper was on the wrath of God and was a good critique of views which try to remove God's active agency away from actions in the biblical narratives that are punitively retributive. He also emphasized, correctly I might add, that sin must be understood fundamentally as an offence against God and not simply as something that injures or adversely affects other human beings. Carson also teased out some interesting pastoral reflections on the topic to the point that we will never understand the love of God unless we understand the wrath of God. He remains a dynamic speaker and I got to discuss with him Peter Bolt's book on Mark which, though quite good, says some things about the OT which cause me to grind my teeth.

Wright's paper was on Christian Origins and God which naturally touched upon his magnum opus Christian Origins and the Question of God. I was sadened to learn that COQG 4 is still along way off (sigh). Wright basically laid out his views of the kingdom of God, righteousness of God, and resurrection of Jesus as fundamentally answering the question of God for the early Christians, i.e. God is revealed in the person of Jesus. A good presentation that was basically a summary of Wright's various works in the COQG series. It was a pleasure to shake his hand and seem him in person. Wright's view of Jesus' self-understanding as acting out the vocation of Yahweh naturally came under a grilling by those wanted to know what he made of the Johannine materials such as John 8.58 etc. Wright is really in a catch 22 here, if he doesn't use the Johannine material as evidense of Jesus' own view then evangelicals will accuse him of having a weak Christology. Of course if he tries to argue that the historical Jesus uttered something akin to Jn 8.58, the critical scholars will attack him over his historical optimism about Johannine traditions.

Paul Helm gave a good paper on the Hiddeness of God for Calvin and Barth's appropriation of the topic.

The conference has made me grateful for coming to the UK, since meeting so many excellent scholars and hearing so many fine papers is not an opportunity I had in Brisbane. The curry houses in Edinburgh are fine too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

11th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference

I'm here in beautiful Edinburgh at the Dogmatics (or 'dogs' conf) and it is lovely. Moving shoulders with theological giants that I have only read about.

The opening worship on Monday night was by David Wright who spoke on "The Lamb who was slain: God's human history".

The first day of the conference had papers by Pierre Berthoud on Divine Compassion, Oliver Crisp who gave a insightful critique of Jonathan Edward's a priori argument for the Trinity, and John Webster on Divine Asceity.

For me the highlights were Henri Blocher's presentation on "God and the Cross" which was a great interaction with Jungel and Moltmann. Even better was Bruce McCormack's paper on Open Theism from a Barthian perspective which was full of insights. Personally, I fail how to see that Open Theism can even be perceived to be consistent with historical orthodoxy. I'm just in a different theological galaxy from guys like Pinnock. On the Open Theism perspective the incarnation must be seen as plan 'B' and not the divine purposes of God before the foundation of the world, since God's handing over of the Son entailed the use of human agency which, on their perspective, God could not control or gurantee the result of. That God suffers with us is of little consolation if God himself cannot gurantee the final victory over evil and suffering. Even better was McCormack's remarks about Evangelicals and Barth where he noted:

1. Barth was not an evangelical
2. Barth is an ally on the hot-button issues over and against liberalism
3. On those hot-button issues (I'm assuming here things like grace, sin, etc) Barth offers evangelicals a series of resources that they did not otherwise have

Ben Myers of Faith and Theology has an enormous respect for McCormack and know I understand why.

Tomorrow I'm looking forward to papers from Carson, Wright and Helm - some big names there too!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

More on the New Perspective in Criswell Theological Review

The latest issue of Criswell Theological Review 2.2 (2005) has several articles devoted to the New Perspective:

R. Alan Streett, An Interview with N.T. Wright

R. Alan Streett, An Interview with Martin Hengel

I must cite this question from the interview:

CTR: British scholars seem to have been slower than their American counterparts to embrace the NP. What accounts for this cautiousness?

Hengel: They have more common sense and are often better philogians and less dependent on fashion.

I can think of several ways of paraphrasing Hengel's response, and not of them would sound very nice! At any rate, I had always thought that the NP was more popular in the UK than the US - maybe I'm wrong here.

Donald B. Garlington, The New Perspective on Paul: An Appraisal Two Decades Later

I believe that this article is available on the website called The Paul Page, see the sidebar.

Charles L. Quarles, The New Perspective and Means of Atonement in Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period

Michael F. Bird, When the Dust Finally Settles: Coming to a Post-New Perspective Perspective

This article constitutes my irenic critique and affirmation of several points within the NP. Alan Streett gives a good summary of my position in his editorial (p. 3): "Bird presents a mediating position ... by pointing out what he views as the positive and negative aspects of the NP. He concludes that the NP has contributed greatly to our understanding of Paul; yet, he feels a rejection of forensic righteousness goes too far. We should embrace the good but spurn the bad."

Malcom Yarnell, Christian Justification: A Reformation Baptist View

Jay E. Smith, The New Perspective on Paul: A Select and Annotated Bibliography

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Quest for Pendlebury's

Once we were rested and recovered from our journey the first thing on my agenda was to make it to Pendlebury's book shop - which is the Mecca of second-hand theological books in the UK. I stumbled across the place by accident in 1999 and bought Vincent Taylor's 1952 Mark commentary for a bargain, unfortunately, I couldn't remember where I'd been or how to get there and I started thinking that the entire event was a mirage or a psychosomatic projection of my wish fulfillment for the perfect second-hand book store. Thanks to Sean the Baptist I was able to retrace my footsteps and find this El Dorado of theological books.

Of course my family did not like being dragged around London when it was RAM - rainy and miserable. The holes in my shoes meant my feet were soaked and we even got lost when we went to the wrong United Reformed church. Luckily the minster there, Francis, gave us directions and we set about on the right path. After leaving the family in a cafe for shelter I bolted 2 kms south to Church House and found Pendlebury's okay. There I purchased the following

Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul

This is a good collection of essays that is essential reading for anyone doing Christian Origins. I interact alot with Hengel's article on the origins of the Christian mission. Hengel is great is pointing out that the bifurcation between Hellenistic and Palestinian Christianity is dubious.

I. Howard Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology

Marshall is now a statesman for evangelical scholarship and I enjoy everything he writes (although I've seen his book Kept by the Power of God turn many Calvinists into Arminians. So maybe he's too good an author!) The chapters on the Son of Man are good concise summaries of the problem of the debate. Though many out there will prefer Dunn or Casey, I think Marshall gets the basic gist right. Once more, he rejectiosn any absolute dichotomy of Hellenistic and Palestinian Christianities.

C.K. Barrett, Jesus and the Gospel Tradition

Short, simple and to the point. Barrett has sober and straightforward answers to the question surrounding the shape and character of the Jesus tradition and how it was used in the early church.

Leader E. Keck, Paul and His Letters

I um and ah about Keck's notion of "rectification" to describe "justification", but in any event this is a short and sharp introduction to Paul full of good insights.

If I am ever make my way back I'll probably pick up some more Moule and Hengel. Actually, if I had to be stranded on a dessert Island with three NT scholars, Hengel would definitely be one!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Birds have landed

After an exhausting 20.5 hrs of flying, we have arrived in London safely. Children flew quite well although the 13 hrs from Singapore from London had no in flight entertainment - which meant that I had to be very creative in keeping a 5 yr old girl amused. But we are here in the big 'L' with about 300 000 other Aussies, and this leads me to a few immediate observations about London:

Why is there so much flipping football on television? Where on earth can I find a rugby league game to watch?

Why are the stairs so steep in all the houses? Everytime I go up stairs I feel like I'm climbing a mountain?

I'm just about to take a tube (i.e. train) into London and go to Pendlebury's and make some serious book purchases.

I'm looking forward to the Edinburgh dogmatics conference on the weekend and will probably blog on that as well (wishing you could be there Ben!) More blogging to follow probably after the weekend!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Two Week Break from Blogging

I leave for Toowoomba to spend some time with my wife's family today before we leave for London on Friday. Then a few days later we are in-bound to Inverness. So not much will be on the blogging radar till after then. I'm hoping to read McKnight's Jesus Creed and maybe pick up some choice books in second-hand book shops in London. Does anyone know any good second-hand book stores in London for NT books? I once went to a Jewish suburb in London several years ago (Seven Sisters?) that had a charming Baptist church with a second-hand book shop attached which was great.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Jesus and the Galilee

Following Mark Goodacre's lead I'd like to refer to Mark Chancey's excellent book: The Myth of a Gentile Galilee

The Myth of a Gentile Galilee is the most thorough synthesis to date of archaeological and literary evidence relating to the population of Galilee in the first-century CE. The book demonstrates that, contrary to the perceptions of many New Testament scholars, the overwhelming majority of first-century Galileans were Jews. Utilizing the gospels, the writings of Josephus, and published archaeological excavation reports, Mark A. Chancey traces the historical development of the region’s population and examines in detail specific cities and villages, finding ample indications of Jewish inhabitants and virtually none for gentiles. He argues that any New Testament scholarship that attempts to contextualize the Historical Jesus or the Jesus movement in Galilee must acknowledge and pay due attention to the region’s predominantly Jewish milieu. This accessible book will be of interest to New Testament scholars as well as scholars of Judaica, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, and the Roman Near East.

Sean Freyne once said that the quest for the historical Jesus is quickly becoming the quest for the historical Galilee (I think Meier said something similar about the Pharisees). You only have to compare Horsley and Freyne on the topic to know how disputed the questions about Galilee are: did the Assyrians did populate the area in the 7th century BC? How hellenized was Galilee? What influence did the Maccabees have in Judaizing the area? Chancey presents a compelling case, contra those of the Cynic Jesus hypothesis, that Galilee was fundamentally Jewish and not a cosmopolitan entity. That is not to say that Galilee was untouched by Hellenism, it clearly was, but Galilee did not loose its distinctly Jewish flavour. I also found that Jonathan Reed's book on Galilee and the Historical Jesus is good book to in tandem with Chancey as they come to similar conclusions on some issues. I also think Chancey's book represents a good model of how to turn a Ph.D into a book and, best of all, an excellent synthesis of literary and archaeological studies.

Note: He is also the author of a forthcoming monograph, entitled Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus (also Cambridge University Press).

Jesus and Jewish Nationalism

In my last post I touched upon the dilemma of Just War Theory versus Pacifism and concluded that I simply was not sure. This prompted a huge number of comments and James Crossely at Earliest Christianity presented a gentle and forthright response. The more I read the Gospels the more I lean towards the pacifist position, which is big for someone who has been on a diet of 'Just War Theory' for quite some time. For me the big influences were also Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, Marcus Bog's Conflict and Holiness, and Scot McKnight's, A New Vision for Israel.

I see Jesus as responding in many ways to the politicization of national holiness that was breeding, however gradually, an ethos of nationalistic violence. He called Israel to repent, not merely of it's covenantal transgression but also of the idolotrous nationalism that had permeated some groups. Jesus offered a challenge of what it meant for Israel to be Israel and to embrace his way of being Israel which meant being a light to the Gentiles and a kingdom of priests.

Several passages which I think that suggest this are:

1) The parables of Mark 4, esp. George Caird's take on them in his NT Theology. In Mk. 4.30-32, when the kingdom comes Gentiles (birds) would nest in its shade rather than be destroyed.

2) Lk. 13.1-5 warns Israel of judgment if it does not repent of its violence.

3) Q 16.16 is possibly a dig at those who seek to usher the kingdom in with violence.

4) Mk. 11.15-17 (temple episode) can be seen as Jesus as rejecting the temple (among other things) for being a talisman guranteeing victory over the nations. If the quotations are authentic (and I reckon they are!) then the opposite of a house of prayer for all nations is not an economic rip off, but a house that is, in Josephus' words, a charnel house of war!

5) Mark 15 (suspending historical issues) and the release of Barabbas can be understood as symbolic of the choice by some of those within Israel for a kingdom wonover by violence against Jesus' view of the kingdom.

I explore these issues further in an article in an Australian journal called Colloquium.

Furthermore, in case anyone is wondering, I'm not some ultra-right wing, war mongering, Muslim-hating, red-neck - just in case my unguarded remarks in my previous blog gave the wrong impression!!!

On the whole dilemma of developing a theology or view of war, may I reiterate the words of one comment on my previous blog - following Jesus is what matters!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Army, Al-Qaeda and Pacifism

The day before yesterday I finished up my career with the Australian Army. I served in the Army from 1992-1999, left to do theological studies and remained in part-time from 1999-2005. During the course of my service I worked as a para-trooper, intelligence operator and Chaplain's Assistance. There were some obvious blessings about being in the Army. (1) I became a Christian during my time of service when God ripped me out of the womb like a dead corpse and breathed life into me back in August of 1994. (2) Military Christian Fellowship (MCF) does some good work in training, encouraging and equipping Christian leaders in the military. (3) Australia is the second highest paid Army in world behind Canada - so I saved up enough money to put myself through college. On the downside, the military is administrated by groups of men who are best described as socio-pathic Pharisees that would make the Shammaites squeel. The Army produces a crop of self-made men who like to worship their creator - as a mission field it is like ploughing through concrete.

Right now, my aim is to read John Howard Yoder's Politics of Jesus, become a pacificist so I'll never have to serve again! Actually on being a pacifist or not, I find a great tension invovled in making the decision.

1) The greatest acts of violence are not done by men who believe what they do is malevolent, but rather, by those who believe that what they do is righteous.

2) Edmund Burke said, "The triumph of evil is when good men do nothing".

Just War theory versus being a Pacificist? Hmmm, I'm not sure.

An an ex-intelligence operator I know enough about Al-Qaeda to know that they have to be stopped in any way possible. Their goals are (1) to expel all westerners and western influences from Muslim lands, (2) set up a caliphate in the middle-east (like the old Ottoman Empire); and (3) then to export their violence to the rest of the world until the entire human race is ensalved to their pernicious ideology.

Disclaimer, not all Muslims hold this, there are moderates and I reckon most Muslims just want to live a happy and peaceful life. But the radicals are not the victims of US foreign policy or merely standing up to US imperialism, they just insidiously evil.

I don't know whether invading countries or merely holding a prayer meeting is necessarily the answer to this problem. I was reading through Revelation 11 this morning and I long for the day when the kingdoms of men become the kingdom of Jesus Christ! Lord, bring on that righteous and benevolent dictator.

Latest issue of CBR

The latest issue of Currents in Biblical Research is out and it includes my article that surveys research about the historical Jesus and the Gentiles. The abstract reads:

Joachim Jeremias’s study, Jesus’ Promise to the Nations has significantly impacted scholarly estimations of Jesus’ view of the Gentiles. This study briefly surveys earlier works, critiques Jeremias’s position, identifies other contributors who have either followed Jeremias or have tried to erect an opposing viewpoint. As such, the validity of Jeremias’s conclusion is challenged particularly against the backdrop of an emerging alternative whereby Jesus’ view of the Gentiles is constructed in the context of Jewish restoration eschatology.

This a good journal to help us all keep abreast of developments in biblical studies.

NT jobs

Any Ph.D cand's out there should check out the available NT positions at Christianity Today. Including one job going at North Park University and the point of contact sounds vaguely familiar.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

My interim office

Several bloggers including Tyler Williams (Codex blogspot), Tim Bulkeley (Sansblogue), Jim West (Biblical Theology), David Meadows (Rogueclassicalsim) have been taking photos of their respective desks. I judge Jim West the winner for most elegant and most well organised work-space. Personally, I detest having my work-space in a state other than pristine neatness and order – mess is a chaotic confusion created by laziness and ill discipline. Given that my desk, computer and bookcases have been sold and my library is now enroute to Scotland, I’ve had to set up an interim makeshift office in the only room of the house available at my current lodgings. It is cramped, but very convenient for someone like myself who enjoys a good curry! See below:

My Interim Office - Picture

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My journey through ‘justification’

When I first starting reading about Paul and justification I devoured books by R.C. Sproul, Wayne Grudem, James White and other reformed authors who affirmed the great Protestant creed of sola fide or justification by faith alone. (In hindsight, I wish that Systematic Theologians would learn a lot more about second-temple Jewish backgrounds, Jewish sectarianism, and diversity in earliest Christianity rather than resorting to atemporal theological categories and fancy Latin words straight up).

In seminary I had to write a paper on Romans 4:25 – ‘He was handed over for our sins and raised for our justification’. Here I was faced with the question, how on earth does the resurrection of Christ relate to justification? In the paper I rambled a few things I got mainly from John Murray but was intrigued by the topic all the more, to the point that I wrote my honours thesis on ‘The Relationship Between Justification and Resurrection in Paul with Special Reference to Romans’.

I was always taught that justification is largely a function of the cross (i.e. justified by his blood, Rom. 5.9) and that the resurrection was merely the proof that we had been justified. But as I read Richard Gaffin’s Resurrection and Redemption, Mark Seifrid’s Christ our Righteousness and read through the Pauline letters more carefully, I came to see that God’s justifying verdict is more intimately bound up with the resurrection of Christ. I began to see Jesus’ resurrection as his justification and believers are ‘justified’ in so far as they participate in the justification of the Messiah. Passages such as Rom. 4.25; 1 Cor. 15.17 and 1 Tim. 3.16 (obliquely Rom. 5.18-21; 8.10-11) I think affirmed that point. That led to the question as to where does imputation fit in? I didn’t know. And like Calvin and Gaffin I was quite content to hold justification through union with Christ and justification through imputation side by side without understanding how they relate together. The conclusions of this study were published in my article in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology.

Then I began to be vexed by some entity called the New Perspective on Paul. I had already decided to leave Paul for Jesus to do historical Jesus studies – so it wasn’t a priority. Yet I found myself drawn to the NPP esp. its attention to historical context and exegetical detail – however, I was disappointed by what appeared to me to be a somewhat reductionist approach to justification, namely, making justification out to be something like covenant status or identity legitimation. The idea works quite well in Gal. 2.11-14 and Rom. 3.27-31, but it does not hold in Romans 5 or James 2 – so I never quite caught the NPP bug in its entirety although I remain an admirer from a distance.

Around this time I read Gundry’s article on imputation in Books and Culture and I had to concede that Gundry was mostly right. There is no explicit text in the NT that says that believers are justified through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. I also attended some lecturers by D.A. Carson on the NPP at the Sydney Presbyterian college in 2001 where he espoused a view of different domains of discourse (i.e. exegesis and theology) whereby imputation still held sway at the theological level – a view I find convincing. Soon after John Piper’s book Counted Righteous in Christ came out and, as much as I love Piper, I was not convinced that he had refuted the arguments of Gundry. With that in tow I wrote my JETS piece arguing that at the exegetical level Paul speaks of justification in terms of union with Christ not of imputation. However, imputation could be said to implicit in the representative roles of Adam and Christ and the language of the NT e.g. logizomai does move towards that direction. If someone were to ask Paul how is the believer justified, a question he addresses, he would reply ‘through union with Christ’. If someone were to ask Paul how does union with Christ justify, a question he never directly addresses, I think something along the lines of imputation would be close to his mind. During the final stages of writing the article I was amazed to find on the internet a draft paper by Don Garlington which was basically arguing the same point I was – union with Christ not imputation holds at the exegetical level. I differ from Garlington on several points (e.g. I don’t think justification is transformative) but it confirmed to me that I (or we) were on the right line.

Where I am at now. I see myself firmly within the Reformed tradition, however, I like 1 Thess. 5.21 and I believe we should ‘test all things and hold onto that which is good' so I am open to appropriating the many good and keen insights gained from the NPP and elsewhere. I see justification as:

1. Eschatological: the verdict of judgment day has been declared in the present
2. Forensic: it refers to our status, not to our moral state
3. Effective: although moral sanctification cannot be subsumed under justification, neither can they be absolutely separated since justification remains a far more holistic term in relating to the whole of salvation than many realize (cf. Seifrid)
4. Covenantal: justification is the nexus through which one enters the messianic cosmopolitan community (cf. Kruse)

In sum, in justification God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant as a foretaste of the new age!


Translating the dik- word group into English is hard! Think of the Greek words you’ve got: dikaiosyne, dikaioo, dikaios, and dikaiosis. How do you match them up neatly with the English words righteousness, justice, justification and convey the covenantal, ethical, soteriological, relational, forensic and juridical connotations that the Greek words can often invoke? As such, the problem of shifting between ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification’ in English translations can create more confusion than anything else.

Leander E. Keck and Richard K. Moore opt for a translation of ‘rectification’ in some places – which is perhaps a more holistic representation esp. in seeing the righteousness of God as God’s rectifying power. It is an interesting proposal and one I shall have to think about.

Note also, Keck has a Romans commentary coming soon. See the table of contents here

Mark A. Seifrid

One author I cannot believe I left out of my favourite Paul books is Mark A. Seifrid, Associate Professor in NT at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His book Christ our Righteousness is excellent and represents a good synthesis of Evangelical and Continental Scholarship. See the review by Simon Gathercole. I hope he’s working on a Galatians commentary, which I would love to read.

More on Jesus

I think I should qualify why those 10 Jesus books cited here are my favourite:

1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God

This book awoke me from my dogmatics slumbers and forced me to read the Gospels historically and to see Jesus as one sent to Israel and not simply biding time until Calvary. For the life of me, I can’t buy into the still-in-exile thing as anything other than a metaphor rather than a meta-narrative.

2. James Dunn, Jesus Remembered

I like Dunn’s take on the remembered Jesus. He offers some good insights although I opine that he fails to see Jesus as setting forth an explicit messianic claim. The section of the ‘Son of Man’ is excellent.

3. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew

Simply for its scope and breadth this is well worth having (one day!). Meier leaves no stone unturned in his work.

4. Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus

Meyer’s book got people interested in Jesus and his Jewish context and shows how Jesus’ aims operated in that context. I’m not too sure about the remnant theme Meyer saw in Jesus’ ministry, but a good book nonetheless.

5. Annette Merz & Gerd Theissen, The Historical Jesus *

This is the first book you should read if you’re entering the historical Jesus maze. Theissen and Merz identify the problems and proposed solutions in historical Jesus studies for a variety of topics (e.g. miracles, criteria of authenticity, etc) and even give some excellent solutions themselves.

6. E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism

Sanders strikes for the jugular by starting with Jesus’ view of the temple and paying more attention to Jesus’ action than just his teachings. Situating Jesus in the context of restoration eschatology is on the money. What I find perplexing is that Sanders scarcely can imagine Jesus finding anything wrong with Judaism either with the temple or the Pharisees.

7. Ben Witherington, The Jesus Quest *

This is the second book you should read in HJ studies – gives an excellent overview of research HJ scholarship.

8. Scot McKnight, The Teachings of Jesus in National Context

A small book, but a good companion to Wright. McKnight’s remarks on Jesus and the final judgment are worth the price of the book!

9. Henry Cadbury, The Peril of Modernizing Jesus *

This is the third book you should read before doing HJ study. Cadbury pointed out many of the errors scholars commit in studying Jesus and it is truly staggering how the same errors get repeated and repeated and repeated even in our own day.

10. Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus

A short sharp book that takes a sober and balanced approach to several critical issues.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Specialist or Generalist

Sometimes I think about limiting my secondary source readings and research to just one area; maybe Historical Jesus OR Paul and just focusing on that. That would allow me to specialize and really get a grasp of the literature in any one given area, which is hard when so many dissertations, articles, reviews and books are being published all the time. Then I could become an “expert” in one particular area and research predominantly in that stream. This was the path I was encouraged to take at University – specialise and develop a research and teaching portfolio for your little scholarly niche. However, I have decided against this approach for two reasons: (1) I like the entire NT, and I want to be a NT lecturer/scholar, not just a Gospels or Paul or Revelation or John scholar. (2) As the only resident NT lecturer at a college, by necessity, I have to have a wide and broad grasp of general NT scholarship and issues.

So how does one become a generalist in NT studies, well, here’s my proposal:

1.Keep up to date with reviews, read and write them on a variety of NT topics. RBL and New Testament Abstracuts are great in this regard.
2.I also try to read secondary books in a topical sequence: Historical Jesus– Gospels – Paul – Later NT – Pastoral/Devotional.
3.Read books that give digests of trends in NT scholarship. The recent volume edited by Grant R. Osborne and Scot McKnight, The Face of New Testament Studies , is an excellent example. The IVP black dictionaries are also an invaluable resource.
4.The journal Currents in Biblical Literature is another excellent publication to keep abreast of trends across biblical studies.
5.If you can’t actually attend conferences at least read the seminar paper topics for various conferences like SBL, ETS, SNTS etc. Ask authors to email you their paper if you are interested in their seminar paper and you can’t attend.
6.If researching, try to work in stages, Historical Jesus for a few years, then Paul, maybe John afterwards. (I must confess that I have tried desperately to stay focused on Historical Jesus/Gospel studies these past three years; however, Pauline studies are a lot like the Mafia, every time you think you’re out they drag you back in by arousing your interest in some new topic, dimension or dispute).

That is my recipe for being a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none NT generalist. Will it work, ask me in ten years!

Apostolic Fathers

Why read the apocalyptic soap-opera of the Left Behind series when you can read the Apostolic Fathers?

In reading over the letters of Ignatius and the Epistle of Diogenes, I found two wonderful quotes.

Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions ye enjoin [on others]. Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one.
(Ignatius, Rom. 3.)

I think Ignatius was talking about ‘authentic’ Christian witness long before it became fashionable! How I would like to be found a Christian and not merely called one too!!

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
(Ep. Diog. 5)

I pray that Christians today could live lives worthy of this self-description!

Ad Fontes

Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis has a good blog entry on starting out in biblical studies and not getting carried away with secondary literature without first spending time in the primary stuff first. A good tip for all young players.

I remember reading an interview with I. Howard Marshall in Themelios some years back and, in particular, I remember Howard being asked what advice he would give to younger scholars and students. His reply was that young students should try to make the primary sources their mistress! Ever since I read that I’ve tried to balance the amount of primary and secondary literature I’ve consumed – all the more important when considering that a Ph.D should be immersed in primary source documents.

The habit I’ve formed is to read two NT chapters and one OT chapter a day; and if possible, do the NT readings in Greek.

In between books I also try to read at least one document from either the DSS, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo or Apostolic Fathers. My primary source readings in the last rotation have included Tobit, 4Q521; Migration of Abraham, Against Apion, and now I’m reading the letters of Ignatius in the Apostolic Fathers.

It is not hard. You can read 4Q521 or 4QMMT in about 10 minutes. Even reading Josephus’ Antiquities book 18 is nice afternoon read as well.

My aim has been to cultivate habits like this in the hope that it will enable me to become a more effective scholar and teacher.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Paul and Judaism

The question has been raised by Bryan Lee at Metalepsis , ‘If Paul was not deriding the Judaic people for being legalists, then what was Paul on about?’

Good question. One that many minds greater than mine have wrestled with. Well, I don’t think Paul is attacking something we might call straight out legalism (although I do think that there were forms of merit theology in some strands of second-temple Judaism). At the same time I don’t think Paul is attacking merely Jewish exclusivism emanating from covenantal nomism (although nationalism was indeed an issue). I think he confronts elements of both themes.

I surmize that what Paul attacks is the view that one must do-Judaism in order to join the people of God and thus be justified at the eschaton. It may be that Paul is not confronting ‘legalism’ or ‘covenantal nomism’ but an ethnocentric nomism.

Defined, ethnocentric nomism is the view that Jewish identity is the locus of salvation (hence ethnocentric) and one must perform the law so as to enter the Jewish constituency and be vindicated at the eschaton (hence nomistic). This differs from legalism in that the works performed are part of a covenantal framework that defines the identity of God’s people and includes God’s gracious provision to atone for sin. Ethnocentric nomism differs from covenantal nomism in that the desired end-state is eschatological salvation and not merely covenant status. Unfortunately commentators frequently only tell half of the story concerning the nationalistic and nomistic elements of what Paul confronts as is evident from a juxtaposition of Sanders and Martyn:

The argument [Paul’s] is that one need not be Jewish to be ‘righteous’ and is thus against the standard Jewish view that accepting and living by the law is a sign and condition of favored status (E. P. Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983] 46).

To compel the Gentile members to observe even a part of the Law was to imply that the Law, rather than Christ’s atoning death, was God’s appointed means of salvation for the whole of humanity (J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [AB; New York: Doubleday, 1997] 245).

Martyn is correct that a legal prescription for gentiles to take on the law (whole or part) is to denigrate the sufficiency of Christ’s death, but such observance will mean becoming effectively Jewish. Sanders is correct to correlate ‘Jewish’ with ‘righteous’ but he fails to reckon with the unstated instrument of law observance as the means to righteousness/Jewishness and he omits altogether the end state of such observance as being eschatological salvation (not just covenant status). Hence Paul repudiates the attempt to fuse together an ethnocentric ecclesiology with a nomistic approach to the law. The faith that justifies gentiles also constitutes the proof that they are members of the people of God.

For those interested this is based on my forthcoming piece in Tyndale Bulletin.

I also recommend the sober discussion on the meaning and use of the term ‘legalism’ for studying Paul in Scot McKnight’s Galatians commentary (p. 23) in the NIVAC series.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Biblical Theology

What is biblical theology? Is it theology which is biblical over and against theology which is scholastic and dogmatic? I've heard and read various definitions. As a first year undergrad, I once attended a seminar on the topic and came away more confused than anything. But the best definition to date that I have read comes from Brian S. Rosner in his introductory entry in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Rosner defines it as:

To sum up, biblical theology may be defined as theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church. It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyse and synthesize the Bible's teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintianing sight of the Bible's overaching narrative and Christocentric focus. (p. 10).

I could not have put it better myself.

Everything that has a beginning must have an end!

Today I handed in my thesis for examination. I'm glad to say that Aussie PH.D's, at least in my department at the University of Queensland, have no viva or oral defence. It is a good feeling, so many conflicting emotions. The journey has almost ended. I await the remarks of my examiners and hope for conferral of the D in the following months. I've said it once and I'll say it again: soli deo gloria! Thanks also to my wife Naomi for spending the first seven years of marriage with me as a student. It is a lot different to the AJ (Army Jerk) that she married in February of 1999. To all the budding PH.D candidates out there, I am proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for us all. Keep persevering until the end, for those of us who study in light of Christ's resurrection, we do not labour in vain!

Top 10 books on Paul

On the topic of favourite books, here's my Pauline list.

1. James Dunn, Theology of Paul the Apostle

Jimmy Dunn's magnum opus is unsurpassed in its rigorous analysis of Paul. Some sections are better than others. I'm still not sold completely on the NPP take on justification ? sympathetic, but unconvinced. This is my first stop for Pauline studies.

2. Ralph Martin & Daniel Reid, Dictionary of Paul and his Letters

If you're studying in seminary or Bible college, this is the first place to look up topics relating to Paul. It is handy to get a good summary of any given topic and a cool bibliography at the end of every entry as well. Great place for starting essays and exam preparation.

3. Michael Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological
Introduction to Paul and His Letters

This book impresses me the more I read it. Gorman presents a rich blend rhetorical, theological and devotional approaches to Paul. He gives a good account of the counter-imperial implications of Paul's gospel too. He defines justification as the establishment of a right covenantal relationship with God with hope for acquittal at the final judgment.

4. N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said (until COQG 4 !!!)

This book certainly set the cat among the pigeons. But it is a good little book about Paul. Two things I don't like: (1) In this book (as opposed to his more recent works) he essentially reduces justification to ecclesiology; (2) I think he focuses too much on Rom. 1.3-4 as being summative of the Pauline gospel where the gospel is essetentially the christological announcement that Jesus is Messiah and Lord. I think 1 Cor. 15.1-8 implies that soteriology (death and resurrection) is also part of the gospel, not merely the announcement that Jesus is the Messiah.

5. F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free

An oldie but a classic. Bruce is a good example of a seasoned historian wrestling with Paul, though his views are pre-Sanders, pre-rhetoric etc.

6. Thomas Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God's Glory in Christ

A good conservative text book on Paul. What I found interesting is Schreiner's discussion of the pistis christou debate and also how he changed from a transformative to a forensic understanding of justification.

7. J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in the Life and Thought

Beker's apocalyptic approach is on the money, his theocentric understanding of Paul makes sense, and I also appreciate his model of coherence and contingency for doing Pauline theology.

8. M.D. Hooker, From Adam to Christ

Classic essays by a careful and learned scholar. Hooker is always worth reading.

9. D.A. Carson et. al., Justification and Variegated Nomism (2 vols.)

This volumes represent a good challenge to the NPP, perhaps the best and most systematic so far. I know of the criticism vocalized against the term 'variegated nomism' (see Dunn's recent review in TrinJ and others in RBL) but I think it is a term elastic enough to describe the various approaches to law, election and eschatological vindication in second-temple Judaism. I would probably see a greater covenantal implication of justification than many of the contributors to volume 2.

10. Ben Witherington, Paul's Narrative Thought World

A good useful book that looks at Paul from a narrative approach.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Top Ten Jesus Books of Mine

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed lists his Top 10 Jesus books. That made me wanna list mine as well. Here we go:

1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. James Dunn, Jesus Remembered
3. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew
4. Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus
5. Annette Merz & Gerd Theissen, The Historical Jesus
6. E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
7. Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus
8. Scot McKnight, The Teachings of Jesus in National Context
9. Henry Cadbury, The Peril of Modernizing Jesus
10. Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus

I would give favourable mention to works by Craig A. Evans (Jesus and His Contemporaries); Bruce Chilton (Pure Kingdom; definitely not Rabbi Jesus); Marcus Borg (Conflict and Holiness; not Jesus: A New Vision); Gerd Theissen (Shadow of the Galilean); George Caird (Jesus and the Jewish Nation); Geza Vermes (Jesus the Jew); Dale C. Allison (Jesus of Nazareth); Gunther Bornkam (Jesus of Nazareth); Joachim Gnilka (The Message of Jesus); Jurgen Becker (Jesus of Nazareth); Tom Holmen (Jesus and Jewish Covenant Thinking).

More and More Blogs

Whilst I get some breathing space to do some blogging (away from cleaning, packing, cleaning, moving, and cleaning), I have found a few more blogs to introduce:

1. Sean the Baptist Σεαν ὁ βαπιστὴς is another new blog by the Rev. Dr. Sean Winter who teaches at the Northern Baptist College in Manchester. Hi Sean, and welcome. I need to make friends with as many Baptist New Testament bloggers as I can before I leave for the UK in 14 days!!! Sean notes in particular that N.T. Wright does drink earle grey tea!

2. Metalepsis. This chap (who uses a Pseudonym or had very cruel parents) subtitles his blog on "parting of the ways". If he's talking about Christianity and Judaism I'm already interested to read what he has to say. He's a Ph.D candidate in Naples USA (sounds Italian to me) and is considering an open-source thesis! A brave soul indeed. Well, to Mr. Metalepsis, from one who just handed in his thesis about an hour ago for examination, I saw unto you, he who perseveres to the end will see the fruit of his labors.

3. Soylent Green. The name reminds me of some dirty baby nappies (or for Americans, 'dipers') that I had to change recently. The blog is about "Christian Theology, Culture and Mission" and the blogger goes under the identity of the "Blue Raja" which reminds me of a movie with some try-hard super-heroes I saw a while go.

Welcome all. Note, I'm planning on being more personal and adding names to the list of blog sites on my roll. Please have patience and bare with me. Otherwise, I've started a counter and so I can monitor those who visit my site!!!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

John's Relationship with Mark

How does John's Gospel relate to Mark's Gospel? I'd always followed the line from Gardner-Smith and Dodd that John was independent of Mark (for the most part at least). Of late I'm persuade that John probably knew of Mark in some form or had read it previously (so also Carson 1991 Bauckham 1998), but John also has a bag of independent synoptic like traditions which he utilized. One recent monograph that brings some fresh analysis to the discussion is a book by Ian D. Mackay entitled John's Relationship with Mark in the WUNT series.

Mackay pays special attention to the feeding and sea crossing narratives of John 6 and Mark 6-8 and argues that there is a dependency on Mark by John, although it is not literary dependency. I would call Mackay's model aural dependency whereby the Evangelist has probably heard Mark read aloud (or read it himself) and the Fourth Evangelist evokes themes and ideas from Mark, especially the Marcan sequence.

All in all, it's a good read and his discussion on the history of the debate is an excellent and lucid starting point for anyone interested in topic.

I'm reviewing the book in the ANZSTS journal Colloquium.

Bibliographical details are: Mackay, Ian D. 2004. John's Relationship with Mark: An Analysis of John 6 in the Light of Mark 6-8. WUNT 2.182; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Accomodation for BNTC

At this stage I'm hoping to make it to the BNTC straight after the Edinburgh dogmatics conference. I'll probably only be down for a day and I need to get the details finalized in the next week or so if I'm to make it. Is there any benevolent New Testament type person out there or blog reader willing to offer accomodation to a young NT scholar from Australia? I promise not to make jokes about the abysmal performance of the English cricket team!

Blogs Flourish

I get the impression that blogging is now becoming endemic (esp. by academics). I've added a host of sites to my NT studies list and added several blogs to the blog roll. I am gravely concerned at the number of Kiwis of Baptist persuasion taking to blogging. I may have to re-evaluate my belief that the lives of New Zealander's revolve around breeding sheep and rugby players (although given the feral hair cuts of several of the All Black forwards, one must wonder if there has been any cross-breeding of late!). Perhaps blogging will replace rugby as the national past time - nah, a most unlikely diagnosis. Anyway, a warm welcome to all you trans-Tasman - Kiwi - eighth-state-of-Australia bloggers out there.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

More on Calvinism

I will never forget a little passage I read in Paul E. Little's Know What You Believe (pp. 105-6) about a conversation that took place between Charles Simeon and John Wesley.

Simeon said, 'Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have sometimes been called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin combat, with your permission, I will ask you a few questions ... pray, Sir do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God if God had not first put it in your heart?'
'Yes.' said Wesley, 'I do indeed'.
'And do you utterly despair of recomended yourself to God by anything you can do, and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?'
'Yes, solely through Christ.'
'But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?'
'No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.'
'Allowthing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?'
'What then? Are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?'
'Yes, altogether.'
'And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly Kingdom?'
'Yes, I have no hope but in Him.'
'Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election; my justification by faith; my final perseverance; it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention gbetween us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.'

Articles by Francis Watson

Prof. Francis Watson at Aberdeen University has produced several notable studies, especially on Paul and hermeneutics. I really enjoyed his article entitled “Not the New Perspective” where Watson does an about turn on his view of the NPP. On his web page at Aberdeen Uni he has several unpublished papers available on-line including:

The resurrection and the identity of Jesus
Christ and Reality in Ephesians
Jesus of History Christ of Faith
Pauline Perspectives
Constructing a Hermeneutic: A Rereading of Romans 1-4
Scripture in Pauline Theology Theological exegesis of Genesis 18-19

In particular I recommend the article on the “Jesus of History, Christ of Faith” to all HJ researchers. The question of continuity between the historical Jesus and the representation of Jesus as he appears in the Gospels is something that I have been labouring over for some time. In sum, Watson contends that, “the theologically significant Jesus (the Christ of faith) is the Jesus whose reception by his first followers is definitively articulated in the fourfold gospel narrative.” I wish I had read this article two months ago – it would have come in handy.