Friday, December 30, 2005

Wright the Heresiarch

Chris Tilling has called attention to the invective polemics of a certain C. Matthew McMahon against Tom Wright on the website A Puritans Mind. The post in question can be read here (the whole string is quite a read). This is what McMahon had to say:

Wright is a heretic. A heresiarch. He will forever burn under God's righteous wrath and under the solemn and scornful gaze of the Lamb of God for all eternity if he does not change his theological views before he dies, or rather, his lack of good theology! He is a false teacher, and one of the most influential heretics of the century because he affected people at the seminary level - where pastors are trained and scholars born - and has infected a good number of churches, right down to the layman and youth of the day.

Well, what can I say:

First, I have long been cheesed off with how some of Wright’s critics speak about him. Actually, by the time I read McMahon’s ad hominem rantings I’d finished the cheese and moved onto the wine and crackers; and at the moment I’m in a cab with Ben Myers and Chris Tilling and we’re off to the Pink Pussy Cat to have a light drink (notice the inter-textual echoes of Blackadder series 4). I never ceased to be amazed at how many of those who purport to love the doctrines of grace seem to demonstrate so little grace in their character and conduct towards others.

Second, I’ve posted on several occasions about Wright and the NPP, see the my posts Musings on the New Perspective and Paul and Judaism. I also recommend Doug Green’s sober comments about Wright for a similar evaluation.

Third, several opponents of Wright read a few lines out of WSPRS (which is both his best and worst volume) and take him to task over that. This ignores the fact that Wright has made some effort to qualify his views in subsequent works (see especially his articles on Justification on the NT Wright Page). To prove that I’m no sycophant I’ve put my criticisms of Wright in print (CTR and forthcoming in TynBul), but as a critic I still think one can admire several facets of his studies and enjoy his writings.

Fourth, when people tell me that Wright denies the reformed doctrine of justification, I often ask them “which one?”. There was a diversity of views about justification among the Reformers and Puritans!!! Compare the Augsburg and Westminster Confessions or even Richard Baxter and John Owen, they do not say the exact same thing. Martin Bucer held to a “double justification”! Go figure that one out.

Fifth, of all the theological and moral villainies in this world, why does Wright get so much attention? I find that religious pluralism and world poverty are far more worthy foes with which to battle over.

Sixth, whatever his failings, Wright is an interpreter for the Reformed tradition and his scholarship is stimulating and rewarding for those of us who read it. He belongs in the Reformed camp (although many of us will not always like the camping gear he brings with him). As far as Reformed Theologians go, many went to Philadelphia to sit at the feet of Cornelius Van Til; and behold, one greater than Van Til is here!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas and Other Things

After the Christmas and Boxing Day break several things should be noted:

First, Michael Pahl's blog Stuff of the Earth is one year old. Congrats to the tall, lanky, puck-loving, Canadian!

Second, what I got from Christmas. A Star Wars Light Sabre, Star Wars III DVD, the complete works of Shakespeare, and a pair of Homer Simpson socks (I also have Robert Gundry's Matthew commentary and Terence Donaldson's Paul and the Gentiles in the mail).

Third, Christmas service was good with much worship and rejoicing.

Fourth, I've been compiling my list of quotes and Take-home points from Hurtado. It was a good book, I learned much from it:

Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 118: “Sooner could God change into a man than a man into God” – in context of criticizing Gaius Caligula’s purported apotheosis.

On Q and diversity in the early church: “Furthermore, often (perhaps characteristically) within each group was a variety or repertoire of christological beliefs, emphases, and modes of expression. The particular repertoire may have varied somewhat from group to group, and within a given group likely varied across the decades of the first century too. Therefore, we should avoid simplistic notions that 'diversity' in first-century Christianity necessarily means multiple groups of relatively monochrome character in beliefs, rhetoric, and the kinds of text they produced. There were divisive differences. But, perhaps more characteristically, they were various groups of varying polychrome character engaging in a lively interchange with one another.” (Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p. 244).

On Jewish and Gentile fellowship: “First, although some Jews refused any meal with Gentiles under any circumstances, for many, probably most religious Jews in the Hellenistic-Roman period, eating ordinary meals with Gentiles was not an insuperable problem; any claims by scholars to the contrary are simply misinformed. In principle, so long as the food on the table fell within what was permitted for Jews to eat under Torah (e.g. no pork), and so long as eating did not implicate a Jew in participating in a feast in honor of a god (e.g. no libation of wine or consecration of meat to a god), there was no major problem. Second, Jewish Christians’ objections to eating with Gentile Christians in Acts (11:1-18) and Galatins (2:11-21) were not about what food was served, but about having meal fellowship with Gentiles whom they regarded as incompletely converted. This issue was not 'purity laws,' but the requirements for treating Gentiles as fully converted to the God if Israel.” See further Bockmuehl, Jewish Law in Gentile Churches, 56-61; 71-75; Peter Tomson, Paul and the Jewish law, 222.-58; John Painter, James the Just, 67-73. (p. 162, n.18)

On the Gospels: “In short, this all amounts to a shared programmatic effort to locate Jesus in a specific historical, geographical, and cultural setting. It represents an insistence that the Jesus whom the writers and intended readers of these Gospels reverenced (who include Gentile and Jewish believers in various locations in the Roman world), and were to see as linked with God’s purpose in a unique way, is quite definitely Jesus of Nazareth. He is not some timeless symbol, not a mythical figure of a 'once upon a time,' but instead very specifically a Jew whose life and activities are geographically and chronologically located in a particular place and period of Jewish history in Roman Judea.” (p. 266).
Thus, contra Bultmann and friends, the Gospels are not commentaries on a post-Easter Kerygma, but have an interest in the person of Jesus in his historical setting.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Last Post Before Christmas!

As we near the blessed day of Christmas, here's my final round of what's happening around the biblioblogosphere.

First, there is an on-line debate going between Alan Segal, Larry Hurtado and John Kloppenborg entitled The Jesus and the Gospel—What Really Happened?.

Second, the Expository Times has a good article by Helmut Koester on the Apostolic Fathers.

Third, Ben Myers has a series of interesting posts on the Virgin Conception.

Fourth, a new Blog Biblicalia by Kevin Edgecomb is up and running.

I had a good day including the pleasure of delivering the Christmas address to the Dingwall Academy (= High School). My parody of the "Cult of the Jolly Fatman" went down well and I hope I was able to impart to the kids that Jesus, not Santa, is the reason for the season.

Have a blessed and joyous Christmas

Mike Bird

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor

Jim West reports some good news that Prof. O’Connor is making a good recovery from illness. Why, only today I was perusing through his book Paul: A Critical Life, which is a good overview of the Apostle.

Megiddo Prison website

The ancient Church found at Megiddo prison now has its own website at Armageddon Church. It contains a resource of news and information about the find and its significance. The mission statement of the website reads:

Our mission is to promote Holyland's most ancient Church, recently discovered in Megiddo prision. Armageddon is intended to address the general public, offering a wide range of articles and interviews. We hope you will enjoy the history, the symbolism, the meaning, and lighter sides of this amazing discovery.

We will not focus on the Archaeological aspect (for the Archaeological aspect please visit the Israel Antiquitoes Authority-IAA).

We believe that the ancient Church belongs to no one and to everyone. So, if if you have an idea, a thought or an article you wish to share, we will be happy to publish it on our site.

Should be a site to watch in the future.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Wanted: Home-Group for Developing Emergentesque "Communion" Liturgies

Building on a previous post Communion: A New Perspective (nothing to do with Sanders, Dunn or Wright) I’m looking at trying to formulate a new way of doing communion particularly for those of an evangelical/emergent flavour. Let’s get away from the tid bits of bread and grape juice and break bread together in the name of the Lord Jesus the way that they did in the first century. Is there any folk out there in Scotland (or perhaps elsewhere if we can work it) who are willing to let a young NT scholar loose on their home-group and introduce strange biblical ideas about communion, the Lord's Supper and worship into their home-group meetings? This will hopefully lay the bedrock for a future study of communion in the early church and how to apply it to the postmodern church.

New Blog

It is my pleasure to introduct into the biblioblogosphere (which is open to all persons regardless of race, gender, and theological orientation; although red-head reformed baptists need not apply, we have already met our quota) CELUCIEN JOSEPH and his self entitled blog. The sub-title reads:

For His glory- This blog exists to display the excellencies and glories of God in Christ Jesus, His Son.

Anyone who lists me on their sidebar next to N.T. Wright and William Lane Craig (both of whom inspired me to become a Christian scholar) is in my good books.

I wonder if he and Joe Cathy go to the same gun-club!

"Christmas is Cancelled" - Gerd Lüdemann

In a recent letter concerning Christmas Gerd Lüdemann writes:
The biblical accounts of the birth of the Jesus, the supposed Son of God, are mere inventions and have little relation to what really happened. Historical research has demonstrated this once and for all. Ten unquestionable facts argue against their historical credibility:

1. Written centuries earlier, the quoted words of Old Testament prophets did not predict the coming of Jesus, but referred to events and persons in their past or immediate future. They would have been shocked by the notion that Jesus' birth was the fulfillment of their prophecies.
2. The New Testament authors derived most events of the Christmas story from prophecies of the Old Testament and misrepresented their original intent in order to make them seem to point to Jesus.
3. The notion that Mary's pregnancy did not result from intercourse with a male is a canard. The claim of a virgin birth has two sources: the mistranslation of "young woman" by "virgin" (in a passage that clearly did not refer to Jesus!), and the desire of Christians to place their revered leader on the same level as other ancient "sons of God" who were likewise born without participation of a male.
4. The reported worldwide census ordered by Caesar Augustus did not occur.
5. The reported murder of children in Bethlehem ordered by Herod the Great did not occur.
6. Jesus was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.
7. The angels in the Christmas story derive from primitive mythology.
8. The shepherds who kept watch over their flocks are idealized representatives of the poor and outcast, persons emphasized by Luke. They do not appear in Matthew's story.
9. The magicians from the East are idealized representatives of the Gentiles and of eternal wisdom. They do not appear in Luke's story.
10. The story of the star of Bethlehem is a fiction intended to emphasize the importance of Jesus - and, of course, to provide an entrance cue for the magicians from the East.

The logical conclusion is unavoidable: the Christmas stories recounted by the Bible and those Christian churches that present them as actual events have lost all historical credibility. Surely Jesus of Nazareth would not wish Christians to spread lies about him!

(My thanks to Jim West for first posting the letter on his site)

It appears that we have all been jipped and Christmas (the nativity scene, "a child born unto us", and even harking ages) is all a rort. Why did I buy all those Christmas presents?

I don't mind some of Lüdemann's earlier works on Acts, Paul's Opponents and Pauline Chronology (though his book on the resurrection is aweful). But to be honest, Lüdemann strikes me as bit of an iconoclaust who likes to poke fun at the Christian faith and do so with a very condescending tone (e.g. "supposed Son of God").

Mark Goodacre offers a good response at NT Gateway on his entry Lüdemann on Christmas. Suffice to say, Lüdemann is not holding all the aces and things are not quite so black and white as he would like us to believe.

Books I've found helpful on the birth narratives are: Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah , Robert H. Gundry, Matthew, and Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus.

Now I'm not denying that Lüdemann raises some interesting issues, in particular Christian Midrash of 1 Samuel, parallels with birth stories in the greco-roman world, and Christian exegesis of Isaiah 7.14, etc. But I do take exception to the mocking tone of Lüdemann and he seems a little too sure of himself. It is scholarship like this that reminds me of Percy Shelley's poem of the ruins of the ancient fictive kingdom of Ozymandias.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Now I'm no English literature guru (please consult Ben Myers for that) but some of those "supposedly" learned scholars who claim that Christianity is so obviously false, so historically spurious, and only pious fools cling to its beliefs, remind me of Ozymandias. They both make great boasts, but ultimately they shall be remembered only for their arrogance.

If I wrote the canon . . .

If I wrote the canon this would be the order:

1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
1 Peter
2 Peter
1-3 John


Well John should be first, afterall, "In the beginning was the Word". John is the new Genesis for the New Testament.

Next is Mark due to Marcan priority then Matthew, follwed by Luke-Acts as a two part literary unit.

Thereafter I would try to put in the Pauline epistles roughly in chronological order but also trying to keep the sets together, e.g. 1 & 2 Corinthians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians. I'd like to group the captivity letters together: Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon. Additionally, Colossians and Ephesians naturally go together as do the Pastorals.

In the Catholic epistles, Hebrews is a good transition from the Pastorals to the Petrine letters since they are both Hellenistic and/or Paulinesque.

I would want to place 2 Peter and Jude side by side since they contain similar material and place James and Jude side by side since they both claim to be written by a relative of Jesus. Finally, the letters of John and of course Revelation, which means that my canon is bracketed by a "Johannine Inclusio".

Not that there's anything particularly wrong with the order of the current NT canon as it stands, but if a church council was convened to re-order the books, this is how I would do it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More on Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ

Here is an interesting (though not necessarily ground-breaking) quote from Hurtado pp. 267-68.

[T]he canonical Gospels emphasize an explicit, larger "narrative world" or the story line into which they place their stories of Jesus. This narrative horizon extends both backward to include the story line of the Scriptures of Israel (Tanach/Old Testament) and forward chronologically to the eschatological triumph of God's purposes ... If the biblical sweep of the horizon "backward" in time gives the meaning-context of Jesus, the eschatological sweep of the horizon "forward" holds out the hope in which following Jesus is to be ventured, and the divine purpose that Jesus serves.

The Annual F.F. Bruce Lecture

At HTC the annual F.F. Bruce lecture was given this year by Dr. David Wenham of Oxford University. The lecture was entitled: "The Greatest Sermon ever Preached" and expectantly was about the Sermon on the Mount. David's lecture was basically in two parts, first, arguing for the essential authenticity of the Sermon. Secondly, addressing the view that the Sermon is at odds with Paul's view of justification and grace. Thereafter, David gave a good exposition of its major themes and motifs and it was an enjoyable lecture to attend.

The highlight was David's opening story about F.F. Bruce. David spent time with Bruce at Manchester and David told the story of how Bruce claimed that as a Scot he could understand the plight of the Jewish people who were oppressed by a foreign power!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jesus the Stonemason

As a tekton, what was Jesus' vocation? In most translations of Mk. 6.3; (cf. Mt. 13.55; Gos. Jas. 9.3; Justin, Dial. Tryph. 88) it is usually assumed that he was a carpenter. However, the word has a fairly broad meaning and it can denote a general "craftsman" a "builder" or most often I find a "stonemason". Unfortunately due to a history of translation, not to mention the near canonical status of Josh McDowell's book More than a Carpenter in evangelical cirlces - the notion that Jesus was a carpenter is a translation rarely challenged. I touched on this topic a bit in parts of my doctoral thesis that did not get included in the final revision. I thought it more likely that Jesus was stonemason given the meaning of the word tekton in some strands of Greek literature and he and Joseph probably assisted in the rebuilding of Sepphoris a few miles away from Nazareth after its destruction by Varus' troops (Jos. War 3.31-32; Life 347-48). This has been successfully argued in a recent article: Ken M. Campbell, "What was Jesus' Occupation?" JETS 48.3 (2005): 501-20. This is probably the best review of the evidence I've seen to date. See also Richard A. Batey, "Is not this the Carpenter?" NTS 30 (1984): 249-58 and John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1.278-85.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ

My next book review project is Larry Hurtado's, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. (Why I keep agreeing to write book reviews I just don't know, I'm always pushed for tme, but when a book review editor dangles a cool book in front of your face what can ya do!) There is a version at Amazon that is searchable if you want a preview. I also recommend the review by Moschos Goutzioudis at RBL for those interested.

Hurtado takes to task the religionsgeschictliche Schule particularly that associated with Willhelm Bousset's Kyrios Christos. Whereas Bousset argued that the title Kyrios("Lord") for Jesus emerged out of the Hellenization of the Christian faith in Gentile Christian circles, Hurtado argues that the title Kyrios does not represent a terminological or theological innovation among Gentile Christians who appropriated the term from pagan cults:

(1) The term was used by Greek-speaking Jews for the Hebrew tetragrammaton (Yahweh) and was part of the religious vocabulary of Greek-speaking Jews.

(2) Claiming that Jesus was "Lord" goes back to Jewish Christian circles as evidenced by 1 Cor. 16.22 where Paul cites the Aramaic invocation maranatha.

(3) Several pre-Pauline passages refer to Jesus as Lord and involve reorientating biblical phrases and applying them to Christ, e.g. Phil. 2.9-11; 1 Cor. 8.5-6.

See Hurtato, pp. 20-21.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Lost Blog about Honour and Shame

I was surfing around the blogosphere and I came across a choice entry on someone's blog about honour in the ancient world with a list of quotes from Aristotle, Plato, etc. about honour (or "honor" for you illiterate yanks). Has anybody seen it anywhere?


Found it: It was at The Agora @ the internet by J. Archer. Now I can go to bed.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Like the . . . of horses

A couple of more choice quotes from 1 Enoch:

"And as I continued to see in the vision, behold, from that time, one of the four, among those who had come out, was stoning from the sky, and gathering and taking away all the mighty stars, whose sexual organs were like the sexual organs of horses; then he bound all of them hand and foot, and cast them into the pits of th earth" (1 Enoch 88.2; Isaac, OTP, 64). See also 1 Enoch 86.4; 90.21 for the same.

I wish I had Nickelsburgs Hermeneia commentary at hand before I even try to explain this one. I wonder if it is a sign of deformity, the consequence of angelic/human progenty, or else a compliment! Combined with my rabbinic reference to b.Niddah 13b people might start to think that I have a lewd mind.

Otherwise, I'm about to sit down and listen to the complete works of Les Miserable, down half a bottle of Aussie cabernet merlot, and read the latest issue of New Testament Studies.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The "deeds of the Satans"

Reading through 1 Enoch 65.6, I found a notable quote:

"An order has been issued from the court of the Lord against those who dwell upon the earth, that their doom has arrived because they have acquired the knowledge of all the secrets of the angels, all the oppressive deeds of the Satans, as well as all their most occult powers ..." I find the plural very interesting. Does this suggest that "Satan" is the sum of demonic forces responsible for pouring out evil into the world and teaching sorcery to people?

I find it interesting that in the NT, Satanas usually has the definite article which makes me wonder if we should opt for a translation of "the Satan". I also wonder what that would mean for one's interpretation of angels and demons in biblical perspective?

General Stuff going on around the biblioblogosphere

First, Mark Goodacre is the Blog of the Month at Biblioblogs. A good interview with a guy who may be remembered as the Jedi Knight of NT bloggers.

Second, Ben Myers is finishing his summary Karl Barth which has been a good read.

Third, the femo-bibliologgers have added another feather to their quiver in Powers Court who links to a stack of other female bibliobloggers such as the Magadalene Review and especially Rebecca Writes who sidebar has a “league of reformed bloggers” that is so huge that it must be seen to be believed!!!

Fourth, speaking of gals, there is an interesting article by F.F. Bruce on women in ministry available here

Otherwise, I’m off to read Jim Hamilton’s latest article in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology “God with Men in the Prophets and the Writings: An Examination of the Nature of God’s Presence”.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Son of Man, Servant of the Lord, and Messiah

I've always wondered if the Servant passages of Isaiah 42-55 were read messianically in pre-Christian Judaism. I know of at least two possible places:

(1) Zech 3.8 which speaks of "my servant, the branch". And "branch" has davidic/messianic connotations as is evident from Isa. 11.1 ("out of the stump of Jesse ... a Branch will bear fruit")and Jer. 23.5; 33.15 ("righteous Branch").

(2) The Targum of Isaiah also adds a messianic reference to Isaiah 53 (I don't have it on hand so you'll have to believe me).

Of course, the Zech. 3.8 passage could be said to be rather oblique if not tenuous, and the Targum of Isaiah may date no earlier than the 4th century AD. Is there any first century (BC or AD) evidence for a messianic reading of the Isaianic Servant? I believe there is in 1 Enoch. Let me show you my argument:

(a) The mysterious "Son of Man" figure in 1 Enoch is clearly a takeover from Daniel 7, however, given his function in 1 Enoch 46, 48 he takes on the messianic roles of establishing righteousness, defeats worldly kings, and rules on Yahweh's behalf. I contend that the Enochic Son of Man is essentially a variation of a messianic theme.

(b) The Son of Man is called a "light of the gentiles" in 1 Enoch 48.4, which is a clear echo of Isa. 42.6 and 49.6. In fact, like the Servant of Isaiah and Daniel's Son of Man, the Enochic Son of Man is the representative par excellence of Israel.

(c) Therefore, one can posit a pre-Christian "messianic" reading of Isaiah's Servant via the Enochic Son of Man!

(d) The implication being that the early Christian reading of the Servant of Isaiah was hardly unprecedented and was probably rooted in Jewish messianic expectation.

(e) The centre of gravity to my argument is that the "light to the gentiles" passage in 1 Enoch 38 pre-dates Christian exegesis of Isaiah and is not a later Christian interpolation into the text.

Any thoughts?

The Rabbi's and Weird Stuff

I was once reading through the Babylonian Talmud (as you do) and I came across a stipulation by a certain Rabbi Ishmael that made me fall off my chair and burst into tears of laughter.

The rabbi's had a law for everything, not necessarily because they were concerned with inventing legalistic minutia, but because they wanted every area of life to be governed by the implications of God's law, and I mean every area! For those whose curiosity has been aroused I recommend you go and read the tractate b.Niddah 13.b.

The first part of the quote runs: "It was taught at the school of R. Ishmael, Thou shalt not commit adultery implies, Thou shalt not ..." I cannot complete it without blushing! Go have a look for yourself if you're not squimish.

Of course, the next time someone threatens to have me bound, hand and foot, I shall ask if they are implying something.

My thanks to Jim West at Biblical Theology for finding this reference.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Angelic Tardiness

I try to vary my reading between secondary and primary source material. I've finished reading Thomas Tobin's book on Romans, but before I start Larry Hurtado's The Lord Jesus Christ, I'm gonna read over 1 Enoch again. Today, I found one very interesting quote from 1 Enoch 18.14-16:

(Then) the angel said (to me), "This place is the (ultimate) end of heaven and earth: it is the prison house for the stars and the powers of heaven. And the stars which roll over upon the fire, they are the ones which have transgressed the commandments of God from the beginning of their rising because they did not arrive punctually. And he was wroth with them and bound them until the time of the completion of their sin in the year of mystery." (Isaac, OTP, 1.23)

In the Army we used to have to do push-ups if we were late for anything, or in worse cases, we'd get charged with absence from a place of duty (ask an ex-Military Policeman like Jim West, he'll know all about it). But I have to say that the Angels got the worse end of the deal.

Mother of All Commentary Lists

If ya want to know who is writing what commentary in what series then I suggest that you check out the list at Parableman. There is a list for authors in a whole heap of series like ICC; Hermeneia; NICNT; ICC; NLT; WBC, etc.

For instance, in the NIGTC series Richard Bauckham is doing John and Richard Longenecker is doing Romans. This and many more secrets will be revealed in the list. Also, Robert McL Wilson’s Colossians and Philemon commentary in the ICC series is now available.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thomas Tobin, Paul's Rhetoric inits Contexts

One of the best books on Romans I've read in a while is Thomas H. Tobin's Paul's Rhetoric in its Contexts: The Arguments of Romans.

Tobin advocates that the best way to understand Romans is not a verse-by-verse approach, but rather, through an argument-by-argument analysis.

He thinks Romans needs to be understood in light of two context: First, the Roman Christians (Jews and Genitiles) who have been expelled from the Roman Jewish community, but still maintain observance of the ethical aspects of the Jewish law. They have also heard reports about Paul and his churches (mediated through persons mentioned in Romans 16) and they regard Paul with some suspicion. Reports about his epistle to the Galatians raises their concern that Paul is anti-law and anti-Israel. They have also heard reports of the antinomian and outlandish behaviour of Corinthians and are worried that Paul's law free gospel and idea of law-free spirit-walking ethics promotes vice rather than cures it. They do not think Paul's gospel can create ethics superior to the Greco-Roman world (which the Roman Christians think that they have in the Mosaic law). Second, the situation of Paul himself. The primary Pauline context is his experience of the risen Christ that has lead him to believe that righteousness is through Christ, not through the law, and is equally available for Jews and Gentiles. Also Paul's debates about the law in Galatia that led him to make some stark and strongly worded remarks about the law.

In this context, Paul is attempting to assuage the Romans about any reservations they have about him and persuade them to adopt his point of view about the law and Christian behaviour. Towards that end Paul significantly re-thinks and revizes some of his earlier statements in Galatians about the law and Israel and appeals to convictions common to both himself and the Roman Christians.

Strengths of the book:

1. I am now a believer in the rhetorical approach to Romans. Previously I had wondered whether the whole rhetoric thing was just a convoluted way of saying that the epistle has a beginning, a middle and an end (see the book by Phil Kerns in the SNTS series). But the parrallels in language that Tobin draws with Epictetus and Paul has convinced me that Romans is a rhetorical piece.

2. Tobin gives an excellent overview of the situation of Christianity and Judaism in Rome in the 30s-50s AD.

3. Tobin puts forward a good case for the thematic and rhetorical unity of Romans 8-11.


Tobin supposes that the Roman Christians observed only the ethical aspects of the law. However, this presuposes that the law could be divided into civil, cermonial and ethical aspects; a tripartite distinction that far as I know does not precede Aquinas (I wait to be corrected on that). Thus, for the Roman Christians nomos was nomos and it had to be obeyed in its entirety, even if they were convinced of the moral superiority of the law over the perceived immorality of the Greco-Roman world.

Tobin makes too much of every little difference between Romans and Galatians to the extent that Paul is back-tracking over everything. There is no doubt that Paul uses a much different "tone" in talking about the law than in Galatians, but I'm not so sure that retreats so completely from his previous polemics.

I think Romans 5 and 8 should be viewed and transitory sections that recapitulate main themes and prepare the way for following material, rather than seeing Romans 8-11 has a cohesive unity.

Overall verdict:

All in all I have found this book helpful in preparing my course notes on Romans, it has stimulated my thinking about the letter, it is well written, well argued, and certainly worthy of purchasing.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Studies on Pre-Existence

I’ve noted several studies on the pre-existence of Jesus that have either just come out or are coming out in the near future.

Douglas McCready, He came down from heaven: The pre-existence of Christ and the Christian faith (Leicester: IVP, 2005)

Accompanying all the new studies of the life of Jesus has been the question of Jesus’ identity. Was he anything more than a human creature? A key issue in this debate is the claim of Jesus’ pre-existence as the divine, uncreated Son of God before his incarnation on earth. Doug McCready provides a thorough survey of the doctrine, covering New Testament teaching, Jewish and Hellenistic background and historical development. He carefully weighs the evidence and engages the arguments for and against the orthodox Christian conviction of Christ's pre-existence. Drawing on expert scholarship McCready makes this important subject of debate accessible to students and other non-experts who want to know the evidence and arguments for this central doctrine of Christian faith. This book will be especially useful as a supplementary text for theology courses on Christology or in biblical studies courses on the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ.

Aquila H.I.Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son: Jesus' Self-Consciousness and Early Christian Exegesis of Messianic Psalms (WUNT 2.192; Tuebingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2005)

Aquila H.I. Lee explores the development of early Christian understanding of Jesus as the preexistent Son of God. He first reviews recent attempts to explain the development as a result of the influence of Jewish angelology and similar speculations. In the second part he argues that neither the personification of various attributes of God, including wisdom, nor speculations about principal angels and a preexistent messiah in Second Temple Judaism ever provided a ready-made category for viewing Jesus as a divine and preexistent being alongside God. An examination of the Synoptic evidence for Jesus' self-consciousness of divine sonship and divine mission in the whole context of his life and teaching shows that his self-understanding was open to interpretation in terms of pre-existence. The author also examines the early Christian use of Pss 110:1 and 2:7 against this background. He proposes that the root of preexistent Son Christology is to be found in early Christian exegesis of these two messianic psalms (the catalyst) in the light of Jesus self-consciousness of divine sonship and divine mission (the foundation). The tremendous impact left by the resurrection event and the resulting conception of Jesus "literally" enthroned to God's right hand led them to see Jesus as the preexistent Lord and Son of God. In the final part of this book Aquila Lee argues that the pre-Pauline 'sending' formula "God sent his Son" (Gal 4:4-5; Rom 8:3-4; Jn 3:16-17; and 1 Jn 4:9) derives from this understanding of Jesus as the preexistent Son of God rather than from divine wisdom christology.

Simon Gathercole also has a book coming out next year on the subject (I saw a poster for it at SBL) which should be interesting.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The doctor is in!

Today I received six little words from the University of Queensland Graduate school that has made my day:

"Congratulations - your award has been approved"

Yes, it is official - I am now doktorb!

It has been a long journey, from undergraduate studies at the Queensland Baptist College of Ministries to honours and Ph.D at the University of Queensland - 7 long, fun and hard working years For me it is a sharp contrast to remember that I couldn't even get into Uni after High School (my grades weren't good enough) and I'm now a doctor of philosophy.

People to thank along the way:

My wife Naomi, for her love, patience, long-suffering, affection and encouragment along the way.

My friends and family at Grace Bible Church, esp. Dave and Craig.

My teachers at QBCM esp., Jim Gibson, Les Ball and Jeff Pugh.

Advisor and examiners who got me to do the hard work - Rick Strelan, Bob Webb and Scot McKnight.

My colleagues at HTC who took me in on the good faith that my doctorate would be awarded in the near future. I hope I have vindicated their trust.

Ben Myers who's friendship this last couple of years has been very helpful and enriching: only a true friend will either help you move house or proof read stuff for you.

And, of course, the Calvinist in me means I have to finish with the words:

"May I boast not in my own academic achievements, but only in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ"

Soli Deo Gloria