Monday, December 31, 2007

Goals for 2008

My goals for 2008 are:

1. Recover from 2007
2. Think about publishing something
3. Blog regularly enough that my posts aren't assumed to be Mike's

Goals for 2008

My goals for 2008 are:
1. Pray more (Book of Common Prayer in the Morning and extemporaneous at night).
2. Take my wife Naomi to ETS/SBL Boston.
3. Finish all of my scheduled publications on time.
- 6 books
- 2 journal articles
- 1 essay
4. Do less book reviews (they are so time consuming)
5. Call my mother more.
6. Write a course on the Epistle to the Hebrews
7. Read through the entire NT in Greek during my devotionals
8. Re-take a course on biblical Hebrew
9. Keep improving my German
10. Play and pray with my two daughters every day

The New Perspective on Paul (ca. 1976-2006)

I am going to make the announcement that we are now formally living in the post-New Perspective era of Pauline studies. For me the boundary markers in this era are:

1. The publication of Krister Stendahl's Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (1976).
2. Robert Jewett's Romans in the Hermeneia series (2006).

Stendahl's collection of essays got people thinking beyond the compendium of Christian doctrine view of Romans and posited salvation-history (= Jew and Gentile relations) as the ovearching purpose of the letter. This of course paved the way for Sanders' contribution that Judaism was not legalistic who in turn paved the way for Dunn and Wright to argue that the problem was principally nationalism, and they in turn gave over to works by Gager and Stowers and others who in some senses radicalized the issues even further.
Jewett's commentary is a fine piece of work and is the standard for Romans commentaries that follow (I have been told that he received the contract for the volume in 1972!). Jewett's commentary is brilliant for its attention to historical detail, background, socio-cultural factors of honour/shame, and even paying attention to demographics and architecture in ancient Rome. Nonetheless, Jewett still thinks of Romans as concerned with the "transforming gospel about God's righteousness" (p. 2) geared towards garnering support for Paul's mission to the Barbarians of Spain and in hope of healing fractured relations among the Roman Christians themselves. He rightly thinks of 15.7-13 as providing a "coda" for the entire letter (p. 887). Jewett thus makes Jew-Gentile issues central to the content of the letter, but at several points he deliberately departs from "New Perspective" readings. For example, on Romans 4.1-5 Jewett writes: "Yet the antithesis between Paul's view of Abraham and that of Jewish religionists in his period cited above is sharply delineated by the wording of 4:2, and it fails to do justice to the explicit references to boasting and justification by works by substituting a politically correct emphasis on God's mercy ... the preceding sections of Paul's argument show that all human beings have fallen short in the glory required for boasting and that a new basis for righteousness has been created through Christ, so that boasting in any human accomplishment has been excluded by divine action" (p. 310).
I think Jewett's commentary is a sign that we are now living in a post-New Perspective era where the best insights from the NPP have been taken on board by the majority of scholars and some of its less compelling features have been rejected. Several scholars like Brendan Byrne, A. Andrew Das, and myself have been saying similar things for the last few years, I think we are now formally "Beyond" (not necessarily "against" or "more deeper" into") the New Perspective.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Brief History of Jewish Christianity in Palestine and the Diaspora, Part One: Jewish Christian History in the New Testament Period (2.1)

I wish to sketch out a brief history of Jewish believers in Jesus and more specifically Jewish Christians, whom we had defined as those who are ethnically Jewish and maintain a Jewish lifestyle (see point 1 the question of definition in the earlier posts). But it will not be my intention to provide a detailed account of the history of the Jewish believers in Jesus. Instead I wish to make several points that I think are important that arise from our sources, in the first instance the New Testament.

J. Carleton Paget is quite right to state “In the beginning all Christianity was Jewish Christianity”.[1] And even at the earliest stage there is evidence in Luke’s account that there were diverse groupings of Jewish Jesus-believers in Jerusalem, based especially on cultural background. Luke refers to what appears to be two main groups with the terms “Hebrews” (NIV: "Hebraic Jews") and “Hellenists” (NIV: "Grecian Jews") (Acts 6:1). These terms refer to the language and culture of the Jews in question. Those who were so-called “Hellentists” were Diaspora Israelites who had migrated back to Palestine in order to be in the Land and near the Temple. Presumably they were motivated by the desire to more wholly live a Torah-observant lifestyle. Whereas the Hebrews were native born Judeans and Aramaic speakers.[2]

In the history of scholarship on early Christian history since Baur, these two groups have been assumed to be the earliest expression of the ideological divide within Christianity between those who believed in a Torah-free Gospel and those who didn’t, the Hellenists representing the former group and the Hebrews the latter. However, there is no foundation for this viewpoint as Bauckham and others[3] have pointed out and what’s more it is likely that the Hellenists were even more zealous for the Torah than the Hebrews.
It is not recognized enough that Saul of Tarsus was a “Hellentist” since he was a Diaspora Jew born in Tarsus and his first language was likely Greek. His Diaspora Jewish background likely provides the appropriate context for understanding his zeal for both the “traditions of fathers” (Gal 1:14) and for the persecution of the church (Phil 3:6). What’s more it is certainly the reason (either his, his parents or both) for his move to Jerusalem as a young man and perhaps also his study under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

The implication of this first observation is that even at the earliest stage, when the only form of Christianity was Jewish Christianity, diversity existed. Later of course the diversity took a pronounced turn when the mission to the Gentiles got underway. At that point a new theological divide arose. It should be recognized that at the earliest stage the diversity was primarily cultural and did not have negative consequences of the later theological division. The problems between the groups seemed to be related to practical "pastoral care" issues--care of widows, etc. Moreover, this latter division did not form along cultural lines, but was the result of a difference in the interpretation of Torah and its application or non-application to Gentiles, a difference which it seems transcended issues of culture creating division even among Hebrews. Presumably the same is true for the Hellentistic Jews, although little evidence is either way is extant, save the Apostle Paul. There is no positive evidence that supports the oft-made claim that the Hellenists were primarily responsible for the Gentile mission after being scattered as a result of persecution (see Acts 8:1).

[1] Carleton-Paget 1999:742.
[2] Bauckham 2006:63.
[3] Bauckham 2006; Hill 1992.
Works Cited
Bauckham, Richard. 2006. James and the Jerusalem Community. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:55-95. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Carleton-Paget, James. 1999. Jewish Christianity. In The Cambridge History of Judaism: The Early Roman Period, ed. William Horbury, W. D. Davies and John Sturdy, 3:731-75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, Craig C. 1992. Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Merry Christmas!

From Joel and myself we wish all the readers of Euangelion a very merry and blessed Christmas. We hope that for you this Christmas will be a time of pondering, praising, and proclaiming the Saviour's advent (Lk. 2.16-20).

The Ultimate Christmas Presents

My ultimate Christmas presents would have to be:
Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism by Menahem Stern.
Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaicarum by J.B. Frey
Corpus Papyrorum Iudaicarum by V. Tcerikover and A. Fuks.
Why are all the best books out of print or too expensive!!! Does anyone know where to find these books?

New Blogs 20

A couple of other notable blogs that I have to mention are:
Gervatoshav by Dave Miller which has been having a cracking good discussion on the meaning of Ioudaismos in antiquity. I recently had Chris Stanley over at my house and we had an excellent discussion on this subject as well. While I think that "Judean" is a good default translation in terms of tying the word to ethnicity, I do think that it could also be used in a more general religious sense and can be translated rightly as "Jew" at times.
In Light of the Gospel is a blog by James Grant that covers elements of interest to evangelicalism.
Another blog I've been meaning to point out for a long time is The Westminster Bookstore Blog.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Response to my esteemed colleague and co-blogger

Thanks to Michael for his longer response to my question and for recognizing not only my professorship, but also my ordination (which by they way he doesn't actually recognize!, since he doesn't believe in ordination).

While I in principle have no problem calling the phenomenon Judeo-Christianity as he suggests, I just don’t see what difference it makes. How does it provide any more clarity and sidestep the same pitfalls of the term “Jewish Christianity”. What’s more, the term “Judeo-Christian” is already used as a synonym for “Jewish Christianity” in current discussions—see the recent book entitled The Image of the Judaeo-Christians in Ancient Jewish and Christian Literature. I don’t think anything is gained by the term.

In addition, I have two further points in response to some of what Mike states. First we can all agree that the term "Jewish Christian/Christianity", and for that matter “Judeo-Christianity”, is a modern construct (not found in ancient literature) and is for many reasons an anachronistic designation for the reality of first-century Church (see Brant's comment below to my initial phrase "Jesus movement"). This is true not least for the decades of the middle to late first century when believers in Jesus were mostly of Jewish ethnicity on the one hand and Gentile God-Fears on the other who would have already been viewed as semi-Jewish. Therefore, we could define Jewish Christianity, and some have, as the Jewishness of early Christianity (see especially Daniélou's work).

Yet, since the time of Baur, Jewish Christianity has been variously defined and in the early days especially as the group who stood opposed to Paul's Gentile mission. This latter aspect for the most part has been jettisoned by recent scholarship, although some continue to propound it (e.g. David Sim). Nevertheless, what has essentially become the consensus is that the components of ethnicity and Jewish practice of certain kinds of believers in Jesus define Jewish Christian and not their perspective on Gentile Torah observance (see Mimouni). Of course on this question there was a wide spectrum of opinion.

Thus, in my view (and more on this in later posts) both Paul and his opponents (those who advocated Gentile conversion to Judaism), should be considered Jewish Christians—ethnically Jewish and practicing Torah (I am of the view that Paul didn’t cease his own halahakic observance in his mission to the Gentiles). On the law for Jews, Paul and the opponents seemed to have agreed. What distinguishes Paul’s type of Jewish Christianity, however, was not his view of the requirements for law observance on the part of Jews, but Gentile law observance. This issue was clearly a live question in the early church.

I prefer Skarsuane’s designation “Jewish believers in Jesus” to designate the ethnically Jewish believers in Jesus generally (including Jews who did and didn’t maintain a Jewish lifestyle) and “Jewish Christians” or Judeo-Christians as those who continue a Jewish lifestyle. See my discussion in an earlier post. Perhaps a further addition to Skarsaune's definition (and Mimouni's for that matter) may be to add that only were there differing Christologies among these groups, but also different perspectives on the status of Gentiles.

Second, I see no reason to wonder, as Mike does, who was more Jewish among the early Christian groups. What exact practices ethnic Jews who believed in Jesus preformed to my mind is not as important as observing who identified themselves (or were identified) as ethnically Jewish and were also recognized as such by particular Jewish communities at the time.

Jewish Christianity Definitions, Whence and Whither?

In response to a question from my buddy and co-blogger the Rev. Prof. Joel Willitts, I'm throwing up a few ideas as to why I don't like the term "Jewish Christianity".
First, at one level ALL Christianity in the first century, to some degree or other, is Jewish Christianity. Even those churches consisting mostly of Gentiles who do not generally observe the Torah still fall under the umbrella of Judaism as the parting of the ways is only in its germinal stages.
Second, and as we all know, defining the term "Jewish Christianity" is like nailing jelly to a wall given the nature of our sources (are Matthew and John Jewish Christian writings, if so, which is more Jewish?; is Gospel of the Nazoreans a rip off from Matthew?), the sociological issue of how to know if someone is in or out of the Jewish group, and pluriform views on adherence toTorah by ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles in the early church.
Third, Matt Jackson-McCabe writes: "If we designate 'Christ-believing Jews' those Christ-believing Jews who agree with Paul about the primary identity of Christ-believers and the central definition of the covenant community, then we may want to designate those who he opposes in Philippians and 'those from Jews' as Jewish Christ-believers. The latter expression would then indicate that their primary identity is Jewish; that is, they are most fundamentally faithful adherents to the Mosaic covenant. Their belief in Christ, then, functions within that sphere of identity. Our study indicates that there is so single way - or even two ways - of being a Christ-believer and Jewish in the first century. However Christ-believers understood the mission and work of Christ in relation to Israel and Gentiles varied significantly. There is enough variation among Christ-believing Jews that a single designation for them is misleading, particularly if that label's central function is to distinguish them from Paul or from the Pauline churches. Serious theological issues divided Paul from some other Christ-believers, but some times those on his own side would have been Jews and some times Gentiles and probably nearly always a mixture of the two" (pp. 77-78).
Fourth, I am not a fan of "Christian Judaism" since that sounds like Jewish Muslim or Liberal Evangelical. I think the title "Judeo-Christianity" is a better way of designating Christ-believing Jews who still find their identity (and therefore their praxis) as bound up with the Torah/Covenant while allowing for variation of how that worked itself out in reality.

New Blogs 19

My friend Peter Enns of Westminster Theological Seminary has started up his own blog called A time to tear down, A Time to Build Up which is set up to engage with the Bible and Contemporary Christian Faith. You can see a list of his publications here, which includes the controversial Inspiration and Incarnation (this is on my to-read shelf, his debates with Greg Beale in JETS and Themelios wet the appeitite). On the site I learnt that Peter is going to be a contributor with Walter Kaiser and Darrell Bock to a volume entitled: "Three Views on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament". Welcome to the blogosphere Peter.
While I'm at it I should add that Stephen Holmes of St. Andrews has also created his own blog called Shored Fragments. Stephen is an ordained Baptist Pastor, a lovely guy, and for a systematic theologian he actually has some intelligent things to say.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Face Book World

I am proud to announce that today I entered the world of Face Book by creating a profile. What is amazing is that in just a day I have gained a bunch of friends. In fact it was incredible to watch throughout the day as I gained new friends almost hourly. This is certainly something to do if you are feeling down about yourself. Open a Face Book profile and watch the friends multiply.

On a serious note, it was good to connect with some people in various parts of the globe as they saw me on Face Book. One particular friend is James Palmer a true Cambridge-trained Englishman who is now teaching in at a seminary in Chile. Well done James!

Matthew and Judeo-Christianity

Thanks to Craig Allert, I came across an interesting example of how the text of the Gospel of Matthew was handled by Judeo-Christian groups (I prefer this term to "Jewish Christian").
Mt. 8.4: "Go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."
In Tatian's Diatessaron, we find the same verse written as: "Go, show yourself to the priest and fulfill the law".
Does this provide evidnence of the text of Matthew being taken in a pro-Torah and pro-Jewish direction by elements within Judeo-Christianity in the secondary century? It certainly appears that way. Ironically, Matthew was a document that enabled and activated both pro (e.g. Mt. 15.24) and anti (e.g. Mt. 27.25) Jewish sentiments.

Richard Bauckham's Jude and the Relatives of Jesus

I remember one afternoon while in Cambridge making my regular pilgrimage to Gallaway and Porter's book store in the city centre to hunt up second hand and over stock books. This particular day I came across the book Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in Early Christianity by Richard Bauckham. At that point I had not considered either the book of Jude or the Relatives of Jesus as of any consequence to my own work. But given my great admiration for Bauckham I picked it up and found a gem. The book is rather poorly titled if you ask me as he states his focus in the first sentence of the book:

"This book is a contribution to the history of Palestinian Jewish Christianity in the New Testament Period."[1]

At least a subtitle such as "A Contribution to the History of Jewish Christianity in the New Testament" would have revealed the central importance of this work.

Only recently have I had occasion to read parts of the book and I am again, as I have so many times by Bauckham's work, struck by the clarity of his conclusions based on detailed research of primary source material.

In the book he studies Jewish Christianity in the NT by considering three topics: (1) the significance of Jesus' family (excluding James) in the early church, (2) the book of Jude and (3) Luke's genealogy. While it is not apparent at least at first how the third point relates to the first two, Bauckham sees Luke's genealogy as offering evidence--along with the letter of Jude--of the theological character of the Christianity of the relatives of Jesus and their circle in the first generation of the church. He has reason to connect the genealogy and the family of Jesus because of the statement by Justin Africanus found in Eusebius' EH 1.7.14 about Jesus relatives referred to as the desposynoi ("those who belong to the master"):
"From the Jewish villages of Nazareth and Kokhaba they travelled around the rest of the land [most likely a reference to Eretz Israel] and interpreted the genealogy they had [from the family tradition] and from the Book of Days [i.e. Chronicles] as far as they could trace it [or: as far as they went on their travels]."[2]
Bauckham's conclusion is that the relatives of Jesus were the theological heart of the Jesus movement and set its theological course. Their work reveals that they developed a Christology based on three legs: (1) Davidic messianism, (2) "Enochic" apocalypticism, and (3) pesher exegesis.

Most interesting to me at least was his discussion of both the early Jewish Christian mission in Galilee lead by Jesus' relatives from Nazareth/Kokhaba during the first generation of the Jesus movement and the Davidic messianism contained in the Lukan genealogy. Luke's family tree reveals that Jesus' Davidic line runs not through Solomon (as Matthew's does), but through the lesser known son of David, Nathan, who is linked then to Zerubbabel. The genealogy is not Luke's creation and reveals a pre-Lukan traditional genealogy that traced the line from David to Nathan to Zerubbabel.

The striking assertion by Bauckham is that Luke’s genealogy derived from Jesus' family. Thus, as Bauckham avers:

"We must now see the family of Jesus as Davidides, conscious, through family tradition, of the hopes of Davidic restoration which had been cherished in their line since Zerubabbel . . . the tradition may not have been important to Jesus himself, but it was there to be activated and developed when Jesus’ relatives became some of his most convinced and dedicated followers". [3]

[1] Bauckham 1990:1, emphasis added.
[2] Bauckham 1990:61, with my addition.
[3] Bauckham 1990:376.

Bauckham, Richard. 1990. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Plans for the Holidays

Well, I've finished my final lecture for 2007, time for the Christmas break. The plan is:
1. Spend lots of time with the family, open lots of presents, eat lots of turkey, roast potatoes, coca-cola, and potato chips.
2. Spend one hour a day reading through Bob Jewett's Romans commentary.
3. Finish writing on the messianic interpretation of the Son of Man for my Jesus-as-Messiah book.
4. Write a short 50 word article on "Paphos" for the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary and dream about summer holidays in Cyprus.
5. Do not do any marking of essays or exams whatsoever!
6. Preach Christmas sermon at Dingwall Baptist Church carols by candlelight service.

A High View of Scripture Part 4: A Closed Second Century Canon?

Craig Allert continues his argument that "Scripture" does not equal "Canon" through analysis of Christian writings from the second century.
It has often been argued that the heresies were one of the main reasons why the canon was formed, but according to Allert this is a half-truth. For instance, Marcion's insistence on the usage of Luke + Paul - the Old Testament may have been more concerned with rejecting certain writings than with assembling a definite collection. Marcion's collection was an influence on the emerging canon, but was not determinative for it. The writings revered and cited by the Church long after Marcion remained fluid and unfixed. When it comes to the Gnostics, the problem was not so much that they had their own set of Scriptures as much as it was that they were alleged to have pervereted the interpretation of the Church's own Scriptures. The issue with the Montanists was their claim to prophetic authority and not an attack of the authority of a recognized body of literature known as the canon.
Next Allert goes on to discuss the Muratorian Fragment (which mentions positively the Shepherd of Hermas, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Apocalypse of Peter but raises doubts about their usage in public readings). The dating of the fragment is of course disputed and arguments include the late second and early fourth century. Graham Stanton has convinced me of a second century date (esp. with the references to the Shepherd of Hermas), but regardless of the dates Allert points out that everyone agrees that (1) by the end of the second century the four Gospels, Paul's letters, 1 Peter and 1 John were also used widely and had attained authoritative status, (2) the status of other writings varied throughout the second, third, and fourth centuries, (3) lists that restrict or delimit the scope of authoritative writings derive mainly from the fourth century. Allert writes: "Thus, rather than conceive of a closed New Testament canon in the second century, or even documents on the way to becoming canonical, we must shift our concerns to how authoritative documents functioned in the church and what these documents were" (p. 108).
On the subject of the Gospels in the second century, Allert is quick to point out that acquintance with, knowledge of, and citation from the Gospels does not mean that they were necessarily recognized as canonical or that there was an explicit four-fold canon. Interestingly enough, Allert points out that the Apostolic Fathers were interested in the words, teachings, and commands of Jesus from either oral or written sources. That is why we findstatements like: "remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Clem. 46.7). Viewed in this way, the Apostoic Fathers really were Red Letter Christians!
Justin Martyr is well known for his references to the "Memoirs ofthe Apostles" as his way of making reference to the Gospels. Justin may have used a harmony of some kind (I'm not quite as confident as Allert of this) and Justin incorporates certain non-biblical traditions such as the Magi coming from Arabia. Allert also mentions Gospel harmonies by Tatian, Ammonius of Alexandria, and Theophilus of Antioch. Tatian's Diastessaron was probably not named so by Tatian since it is given different names by later Christian authors. The Diatessaron also includes the variant tradition fo a great shining light at Jesus' baptism (known also to Justin Martyr and Epiphanius and perhaps in Gospel of the Ebionites). The Diatessaron itself was probably the first "Gospel" to reach Syria and it functioned as Scripture in the Syrian church up until the fifth century.
On Irenaeus of Lyons, Allert notes how he provided a concerted defense of the four-fold Gospel. The question is whether Irenaeus was being innovative at this point or whether he was providinga cosmic appropriateness to a widely accepted view of four Gospels in the Church? I favour the latter but that does not make the Gospels necessarily canonical. For Irenaeus the canon was the "canon/rule of faith" which tempered the exclusivity of the four Gospels as canon. The Rule of Faith itself was not rigidly defined, but a fluid and elastic articulation of the main doctrinal affirmations of the second century church. The Rule of Faith provided the context in which Scriptured was to be decided and interpreted. Allert concludes that: "There is no doubt that the Gospels known to us as canonical were authoritative in the second century. But these Gospels were not the exclusive source for faith and doctrine in the early church" (p. 126). Consequently Scripture (esp. Gospels and Paul) functioned authoritatively in the early church, but it functioned so within a wider ecclesial traditon.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New Dean for the Nida Institute

Over at RNS was this report:

Dr. Philip H. Towner Selected as Dean of Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at American Bible Society

New York – November 19, 2007–The American Bible Society has announced that Dr. Philip H. Towner will become the Dean of the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at the American Bible Society. He will succeed Dr. Robert Hodgson, who is retiring in mid-2008. Dr. Towner will join the Bible Society staff in February to work with Dr. Hodgson over the several months before Dr. Hodgson’s retirement. The Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship connects Scripture, Scholarship and Society for the Bible Society. The Institute is named for Dr. Eugene Nida who was the executive secretary for translation at the Bible Society for four decades. It is the center of biblical scholarship and research at the American Bible Society, using its staff and library resources to support the ABS mission in the points of translation, education, quality control, creative services, and support for ABS visibility and media exposure.Dr. Towner is the Director of Translation Services for the United Bible Societies (UBS), based in Reading, England. The UBS is a fellowship of 145 Bible Societies around the world.In announcing the appointment, Rev. Dr. Paul Irwin, President of the American Bible Society, said, “I am delighted that Phil Towner will lead our scholarly work. Dr. Towner has earned a world-wide reputation in biblical translation and he will enhance the American Bible Society’s standing as a center of excellence in biblical scholarship.”Dr. Towner says, "I am very pleased to have been selected to take up the post of the Dean of the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship, and I look forward with great anticipation to joining the American Bible Society team and its mission. The Nida Institute of the American Bible Society is at a very strategic point in its history. A gifted team and important scholarly and translation initiatives already underway form a very strong platform for continued forward movement and development. We intend to increase Bible Society prominence within the worldwide academic community and ensure our ongoing contribution to the mission tasks of Bible translation and training, Scripture Engagement and Biblical Scholarship." Dr. Hodgson says, “With the appointment of Dr. Phil Towner to the post of Dean of the Nida Institute, the American Bible Society will engage the services of a world-renowned New Testament expert, a distinguished translation scholar, an active churchman, and an executive with wide-ranging experience in management and administration.”Dr. Towner is a graduate of Northwestern College, Roseville, MN, with a B.A. in History and Biblical Criticism. He received his M.A. in New Testament Exegesis from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL and his Ph.D in New Testament Exegesis from the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen Scotland. He is a member of the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas and the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research. At this time Dr. Towner is an Honourary Lecturer in New Testament, University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a Research Professor of New Testament, Biblijne Seminarium Teologiczne in Wroclaw, Poland. Dr. Towner is the author of many books, articles, essays and reviews. And he also has served on the faculties of Denver Seminary, Denver, CO, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. and China Evangelical Seminary, Taipei, Taiwan.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

James Dunn on the New Perspective

James Dunn's 1983 essay "The New Perspective on Paul" originally published in BJRL, is now available on-line thanks to Mark Mattison of the Paul Page.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Method and Sources for the Study of Jewish Christianity (1.2. Introduction)

To sum up the earlier discussions of definition, we have defined “Jewish Christianity” as a particular expression of what can be characterized as a more general Jewish belief in Jesus. What’s more, we have defined “Jewish” in both cases by ethnicity or as Boyarin articulated, “a genealogical attachment to physical Israel”, but what is unique about Jewish Christians in contrast to Jewish believers is that the former maintain a Jewish lifestyle after conversion (Boyarin: “an attachment to the fleshly practices of that historical community”). Two qualifications are in order. First, conversion to Messiah Jesus in this sense is not a change of religious traditions as the term is commonly understood today, but rather a change in beliefs, belonging, and behavior within the Jewish scriptural tradition. Second, this entity is not however a monolith as it has been treated in the history of scholarship; but rather Jewish Christianity is a variegated entity like its mother, Second Temple Judaism.[1]

This means most importantly that one should not be overly concerned to define exactly what practices defined a unified Jewish Christianity. Since its mother consisted of diverse and competing sets of exegetical interpretations of Torah and consequent practices, it only stands to reason that no uniform list of practices can be established for Jewish Christianity. This in no way however should disqualify Jewish practice as an essential in any definition of Jewish Christianity or Jewish Christian.

With this definition in mind, we now turn to discuss briefly the sources and method used in researching Jewish Christianity in the early history of the church. Sources for the study of Jewish Christianity in the later first and early second centuries are of four types: early Christian literature, Greco-Roman literature, rabbinic writings and archaeology.

Addressing early Christian sources first, it must be admitted that there is an inherent difficulty in the determination of who is a Jew in an ancient text. Skarsaune quotes Shayne Cohen’s quip: “How do you know a Jew in Antiquity when you see one?”[2] In general, Skarsaune answers people would have known a Jew as a Jew by some “characteristic of their behavior”. To complicate matters more, with the existence of Gentile Judaizers—Gentiles who took on a Jewish lifestyle after converting to belief in Messiah Jesus—recognizing a Jewish Christian is even more difficult than recognizing a Jew in general.

In addition, given the Jewishness of early Christianity with its pervasive use of Jewish genres, symbols, images and ideology (e.g., apocalypticism, the Scriptures, Messianism, etc.) in earliest Christian writings, it is not enough simply to notice something “Jewish” in an ancient text and assume it represents Jewish Christianity. What we are after are quotes and sources authored by Jewish Christians. Thus, Skarsaune suggests three criteria for determining relevant material in early Christian literary sources for research on Jewish Christianity.

(1) Unless there is reason to doubt the particular author’s opinion, one should trust the patristic sources when they reference the Jewish ethnicity of a person.
(2) Given the dearth of Gentile believers who were adroit in Semitic languages (notable exceptions are Origen and Jerome), it is reasonable to assume that when patristic authors make use of Hebrew and Aramaic and/or show familiarity with post-biblical Jewish traditions they are relying on sources that ultimately go back to Jewish believers.
(3) Prohibitions against Jewish practices among early Christians, especially in Constantinian era, are near proof that those practices were in fact occurring.

Among the most widely recognized sources for the study of Jewish Christianity in early Christianity are:

(1) New Testament
(2) Pseudo-Clementine Writings
(3) So-called Jewish Christian Gospels
(4) Fragments of literature contained in the Heresiologists (Greek & Latin church Fathers)
(5) References to Jewish Believers in Fathers (Greek, Latin & Syriac)

Besides early Christian literary sources there is information on Jewish Christians in early Greco-Roman sources, rabbinic works and from archaeological finds. The two latter areas are rife with their own methodological difficulties they will not detain us here. In latter posts we will deal with each of these areas separately. Among Greco-Roman authors the most noteworthy is Celsus, a Middle Platonist philosopher, and will be dealt with when discussing references to Jewish believers in the Fathers.

[1] See Segal (1992:327) has expressed this well: “Although most Jewish groups remained loyal to the law, what loyalty meant differed radically for each sectarian position . . . all these opinions about the law were represented in early Christianity as well, since the earliest Christians took many of their converts from the ranks of Judaism”.
[2] Skarsaune 2006a:17.

Works Cited
Segal, Alan F. 1992. Jewish Christianity. In Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism, ed. Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, 42:326-51. Leiden ; New York: Brill.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More on Arab Christians

Over at CT there is an article on Suffocating the Faith which is about the plight of Christians in the middle east. There is another good article over at RNS about the persecution of Arab Christians including the decline of Christians in Bethlehem from making up 65% to 15% of population since 1995!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


In what was, no doubt, the greatest travesty of injustice in the history of the UK music industry, Rhydian Roberts the Christian singer from Wales lost the X-Factor final to Leon Jackson, the pretty boy Michael Buble impersonator from Glasgow. Rhydian has a voice the likes I have never heard before. I despise watching television as a pointless interruption to reading, writing, or playing with the kids; but this Rhydian had me hooked. His voice made the hairs on my neck stand up! If you don't believe me, then check out his songs on You Tube. Go to this site and at the bottom of the page listen to his rendition of "You Lift Me Up". Or go to this site and listen to his version of Welsh national anthem. But keep a hanky ready for you will weep.

What is more, Rhydian is also a Christian (I learned this believe or not from a gay men's website, don't ask me how I found it!) and he's even admitted to being a virgin and he rejects the idea of being a "closet Christian". See the article about his faith here. All I can say is long live Rhydian and may he have a long and sucessful career and I hope that he makes an album of classic hymns that I'd love to hear. This guy's voice . . . listen for yourselves!

Boyarin on the definition of "Gentile Christianity"

We have been discussing the definition of Jewish Christianity and perhaps looking at it from the opposite direction may offer a further clarification of the term Jewish Christian. To this end, we appeal to D. Boyarin’s definition in his recent book Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (see side bar for the book).[1]

While we will have occasion later to discuss the important arguments of this book in greater detail, I focus here on his definition of “Gentile Christianity” in the introduction. In orienting the reader to his argument, Boyarin presents one of the basic assertions of the book: the early rabbinic writings developed in response to burgeoning Gentile Christianity represented by figures like Justin Martyr. He believes that the rabbis sought to “set the bounds” of who is in and who is out of Judaism as they understood it in reaction to the claims of Gentile Christianity. Thus, within this discussion Boyarin defines the object of rabbis’ attention, Gentile Christianity, by stating:

[Gentile Christianity] refer[s] to Christian converts from among non-Jews (and their descendants) who have neither a sense of genealogical attachment to the historical, physical people of Israel (Israel according to the flesh), nor an attachment (and frequently the exact opposite one) to the fleshly practices of that historical community”[2]

What is noticeable in Boyarin’s definition are the converse elements of description to what Skarsuane has defined as Jewish Christian.

Jewish Christian Gentile Christian
Attachment to historical, physical people of Israel No attachment
Attachment to physical practices of Jewish community No attachment to Jewish practices

Two points are noteworthy. First, similar to Skarsaune, Boyarin seems to implicitly stress the Jewish community’s role in determining Jewish identity. One could perhaps amplify his last point: “nor an attachment to the concrete practices recognized and preformed by a historical Jewish community”. The formulation suggests that it is the historic community that determines Jewish identity as Skarsaune has argued. Second, ethnicity and practice are key factors in defining not only who is or isn’t a Jewish Christian, but conversely who is a Gentile Christian.

[1] Boyarin 2004.
[2] Boyarin 2004:29, emphasis added.

Works Cited
Boyarin, Daniel. 2004. Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Divinations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book Review: John, the Maverick Gospel

Robert Kysar
John, the Maverick Gospel
Third Edition
Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox, 2007.
Available from in the USA
Availabe from Alban Books in the UK

Robert Kysar's update of his well known introduction to John is much welcomed (first published in 1976) and it attests to a lifetime of learning in the Fourth Gospel. The Introduction covers the usual matters including the language of the Fourth Gospel, relationship to the Synoptics, structure, purpose, destination, and date. Then Kysar examines Johannine Christology which focuses on the Father-Son relationship (chapter one). What is covered next is the Johannine Dualism where Kysar is concerned mainly with John's Gospel and the problem of evil (chapter two). Johannine concepts of faith (chapter three) comes up for discussion as does John's eschatology which takes into account also views of the Spirit, Church, and Sacraments (chapter four). Finally, in the conclusion Kysar looks at the "Future of the Maverick Gospel" including modern and postmodern interpretations.
This is a good introduction to John's Gospel. I appreciate the way that Kysar has changed his mind and he rejects reading John in light of the so-called birkhat ha-minim and he acknowledges the weight of Bauckham's Gospels for All Christians perspective. Some parts I cannot embrace as I do not share Kysar's enthusiasm for postmodern perspectives on John. Kysar is right that John is maverick Gospel but I would hardly call it a "heterodox form of Christianity" since its reception was very positive (with a few exceptions) in the early church. The only way this volume could be improved is with a chapter on the reception-history of John. If you're teaching on John or preaching on John this is a user friendly book (with many diagrams) that can help.

A High View of Scripture - Part 3: Canon and Ecclesiology

In chapter three of A High View of Scripture, Craig Allert looks at the relationship between canon and ecclesiology or "the centrality of the church in the formation of the New Testament" (p. 67). In his mind the problem is that: "In contemporary evangelical discussions of the doctrine of Scripture, the importance of the ecclesial context is often lost or, at best, downplayed. What I mean by this is that many tratments of the doctrine of Scripture assume that the overriding concern of the church was to form a written collection (a New Testament canon) so that it might have a solid rule by which to govern its faith and life" (p. 68). All valid points in my mind. Allert's main point is that in the early church when the Church Father's spoke of "Scripture" they did not necessarily mean "canon" and when they spoke of "inspiration" they did not see this as limited to the Church's Holy Writings.
At one point Allert states what is at stake for him in the discussion: "Much is at stake for me in this study, for as an evangelical I have been taught and still maintain that the Bible is central in the Christian life; this has not been a merely academic study. As I trace those ten or so years, I can see how the study of theological history, particularly the function of Scripture in the early church, has impacted every otehr area of my theological study" (pp. 75-76). Whereas Allert claims he once believed in "No creed but the Bible" he has come to realize that "The church existed before the Bible" and that "the Christianity of history is not Protestantism" (p. 76). Thus John Henry Newmann was right, though Allert claims to be driven to a deeperer understanding of the church while remaining within Protestantism.
On canon itself, Allert points out that "canon" usually meant the rule of faith and could be used to refer to conciliar decisions, monastic rules, clerygy and various ecclesial lists. Resultantly: "The canonical tradition in the church was meant to be seen as awhole, as contributing to the life and well-being of the entire community" (p. 82). Isolating the Scriptures from the Rule of Faith leads to the problems that Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Vincent of Lerins saw, they become employed in service of heresy. The Father's saw Scripture as authoritative and normative for the early church and they cite it on nearly every page, but Scripture was understood and applied within the context of the life of the church and alongside the Rule of Faith. He writes, "the authority of Scripture in the early chruch is inadequately conceived when it is yanked outo f the context of teh believing community and placed at the whim of the individual".
My own reflections on this are:
1. I am starting to think that a doctrine of Scripture should be a subset of ecclesiology rather than as a stand alone topic of bibliology. To many this will probably sound like a step towards Catholicism, I hope it is rather a step towards the ancient churches of Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. I should note that my colleague at HTC, Prof. Andrew McGowan in his book The Divine Spiration of Scripture, has recently argued that a doctrine of Scripture should be placed in the context of the Doctrine of God!
2. The idea of situating one's beliefs in the context of the great tradition of the church is an idea explored by Steve Harmon in his excellent book Towards Baptist Catholicity.
3. On the Rule of Faith, Peter Balla in his book Challenges to New Testament Theology, has argued that something similar to the Rule of Faith is in fact the centre of a NT Theology. In which case the Rule of Faith is created by Scripture, the upshot is that Scripture itself creates the framework in which it is to be interpreted.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More on "Jewish Christianity"

I for one am much enjoying Joel Willitts' read through Jewish Believers in Jesus (JBJ). The topic fascinates me and it is also good because I'm currently reading through Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed, eds., The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (the volume I think is a bit hit and miss).
Part of the problem of defining Jewish Christianity is, for a start, that all of Christianity at least prior to 70 AD is in some form or other "Jewish Christianity". One must wonder then if we should adopt the sub-definition of Judaeo Christianity or Christian Judaism to define that form of Christianity that continued to live a Jewish lifestyle of Torah obedience in combination with faith in Jesus. But even then the problem with praxis (or Torah-observance) based definitions is that Christian Gentiles from the time of Paul to Ignatius of Antioch to John Chrysostom were known to follow elements of the Torah.
Reed thinks that it might be more profitable to define Jewish Christianity as pertaining to certain "modes of belief and worship as a natural extension of Christianity's origins within Judaism, Christians' continued contacts with Jews, and the church's use of the Jewish Scriptures, as well as the long and rich tradition of messianic speculation within Judaism itself" (p. 231). But I submit that such a definition would aptly describe some forms of non-Jewish (non-ethnically Jewish) Gentile Christianity. Back to square one I guess!

Definition of “Jewish Christianity”, “Jewish Christian” and “Jewish Believer in Jesus”, Part Two (1.1. Introduction)

I began in my last post developing the question of the definition of “Jewish Christian”, “Jewish Christianity”, and “Jewish believer in Jesus”. We noted that Skarsaune and the volume Jewish Believers in Jesus (from here it will be abreviated JBJ) use an ethnically based definition in designating the “who” of their study. Skarsaune believes that “(1) the modern terms ‘Jewish believers in Jesus’ and ‘Jewish Christian’ are not without precedent in the ancient sources; and (2) in the ancient sources, ethnicity is the sole criterion for the adjective ‘Jewish’ as it is used in the combined terms ‘Jewish believer’ and ‘Jewish Christian’”.[1]

Furthermore, the editors of the volume wish to differentiate between “Jewish believers in Jesus”, of whom they mean any person of Jewish ethnicity who believes in Jesus as their savior implying nothing of their relationship to a continuing Jewish lifestyle and a “Jewish Christian”. Of the latter they essentially follow the Frenchman S. Mimouni’s definition which he formulated in the late nineties in the essay “La question de la définition du judéo-christianisme”: “ancient Jewish Christianity is a modern term designating those Jews who recognized Jesus as messiah, who recognized or did not recognize the divinity of Christ, but who, all of them, continued to observe the Torah”.[2]

The primary question that arises, however, from such an ethnic-based definition is: how does one determine who is ethnically Jewish; what is the criterion for that determination in a person’s ethnicity in ancient literature? This has been perhaps the most considerable critique of ethnically based definitions in the history of research because there is an obvious inability to determine the race of a person: Who is really Jewish?[3]

Skarsuane anticipating this question seeks to address it by attempting to steer clear of any anachronistic appeal to current halakic answers, namely, “a Jew is a person born by a Jewish mother or a person converted to Judaism according to rabbinic halakic procedure”.[4] Instead, Skarsuane asserts that whatever difficulties surround the terms “Jew” and “Jewish” with respect to determination of how one became Jewish, there is still a “basic fact” that in the Second Temple period and beyond, “Jews in general have had little doubt about who were Jews and who were not”.[5] Thus, for Skarsuane the bottom line regarding Jewish identity is left to the individual Jewish community themselves. He avers: “people who considered themselves Jewish and were considered to be Jewish by the Jewish community were Jewish”.[6]

Skarsaune’s approach seems to me to be commendable for a couple of reasons. First, he has antiquity on his side and can’t be accused of imposing anachronistic categories on ancient phenomena. Second, since what might be called the ontological verification of Jewish ethnicity is inaccessible even for the question of race today for that matter, appealing to the “Jewish community” strikes me as reasonable basis for judging who or who isn’t Jewish. This places ethnicity not simply in a certain percentage of bloodline, but also in the determination of the ethnic group in question. This type of understanding of Jewish identity is perhaps no more evident than with Jewish proselytes who while not Jewish by blood, are considered Jewish by the community.

Given this understanding of ethnicity, however, one might legitimately call into question Skarsaune’s definition and object that such a definition stretches the categories of race and ethnicity too far. I think the issue of what constitutes ethnicity should indeed produce future discussions and debate, although I am quite ready to jump on board with his conception on Jewish identity.

A second way Skarsuane’s definition addresses the continuing scholarly discussion of definition is the diversity of expressions of belief in Jesus among Jews his perspective allows. Unlike earlier approaches, Skarsaune’s “Jewish believers in Jesus” incorporates both those who are traditionally referred as Jewish Christians—those who also continue a Jewish lifestyle, but also includes those who after belief in Jesus assimilate into the Gentile Christian expression of Jesus belief. What’s more, in agreeing with Mimouni’s definition of “Jewish Christianity” (see above), the approach advocated by the editors of JBJ allows for a diversity of opinion even among those who fit under the label “Jewish Christian”. This kind of diversity would be analogous to the diversity within Second Temple Judaism that is widely accepted by scholars today.

One final point about definition relates to the praxis aspect of Skarsaune’s definition of “Jewish Christianity”. The oft suggested critique of praxis-based definitions of Jewish Christianity in the history of research—that there is no clear formulation regarding which laws must be kept to be considered a Jewish Christian—can be again applied here. Still, for me this critique losses much of its force when the issue of praxis is placed in the context of the Second Temple period, for at least the beginning of the Jesus movement.
It seems clear to most scholars of ancient Judaism and early Christianity from the extant evidence of the late Second Temple period that there was a variegated covenantal nomism such that, while there was a basic “common denominator” of belief and practice, there was a wide degree of diversity. Moreover, some groups defined themselves as the “true Israel” in contrast to the rest of the Jewish people based on their “unique” praxis (e.g. Essenes, Pharisees, etc.). It seems reasonable then that differing Jewish expressions of faith in Jesus should be regarded as Jewish if a certain "common denominator" of practice were evinced.
In the next post I will address the issue of sources for Jewish Christianity.

[1] Skarsaune 2006a:7.
[2] Mimouni 1998; translation is Skarsaune’s (2006a:4, 9).
[3] See Carleton Paget’s (2006:38, 42, 44, 49) discussion.
[4] Skarsaune 2006a:11.
[5] Skarsaune 2006a:13.
[6] Skarsaune 2006a:13, emphasis added.
Works Cited:
Carleton Paget, James. 2006. The Definition of the Terms Jewish Christian and Jewish Christianity in the History of Research. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:22-52. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Mimouni, Simon Claude. 1998. La question de la définition du judéo-christianisme. In Le judéo-christianisme ancien: essais historiques, ed. Simon Claude Mimouni:39-72. Paris: Éditions du Cerf.

Skarsaune, Oskar. 2006a. Jewish Believers in Jesus in Antiquity—Problem of Definition, Method, and Sources. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:3-21. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

The Place of the Gospel in Biblical and Systematic Theology

Over at, Dave Gibson and his cohort of biblical-theological-bloggers have put together another find series of articles on biblical theology. It includes a piece by myself entitled: A Theology of the Gospel: The Gospel as the Starting-Point and Integrating-Point for Biblical and Systematic Theology. One of my rare forays into systematic theology.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Latest Issue of SBET

The latest issue of the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 25.2 2007 includes:

David F. Wright
The Great Commission and the Ministry of the Word: Reflections Historical and Contemporary on Relations and Priorities.
Peter Neilson
Beyond Congregation: Christian Community for Today's Searchers
Lynn H. Cohick
Why Women Followed Jesus: A Discussion of Female Piety
Brian Talbot
Unity and Diversity? Success and Failure among Baptists in Scotland prior to 1870
Christopher R.J. Holmes
Wholly Human and Wholly Divine, Humiliated and Exalted: Some Reformed Explorations in Bonhoeffer's Christology Lectures

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Definition of “Jewish Christianity”, “Jewish Christian” and “Jewish Believer in Jesus”, Part One (1.1. Introduction)

James Carleton Paget, in his essay titled “The Definition of the Terms Jewish Christian and Jewish Christianity in the History of Research” presents the major difficulty when approaching a study of the subject: “In antiquity no one, as far as we know, called himself a Jewish Christian or spoke of belonging to an entity called ‘Jewish Christianity’”.[1] While for some this is enough cause to abandon the terms altogether, others, and it is clear that the editors of Jewish Believers in Jesus (if not Carleton Paget[2]) are of this mind, have taken a more chastened perspective by employing the terms, but defining them clearly at the start of their work. It is true that they opt for the term “Jewish believers” in hopes of avoiding some of the baggage of the past.

One of the issues that rises to the top of any discussion of the definition is whether the terms “Jewish Christianity” (Juden-christentum) or “Jewish Christian” (Judenchrist, Judéo-chrétien) refer to the extraordinary influence of Judaism, theology and practice, on early Christianity or to an actual segment of believers in Jesus who were in someway “Jewish” and thereby distinct—the distinction most often understood in nationalistic and Torah-oriented ways—from other believers in Jesus. The terms, then, can be used on the one hand to characterize what the two religions have in common and, on the other, point to what divides them.[3] In the history of research, the terms have been used variously to refer to either one of these concepts and therefore are ambiguous and susceptible to very different usages.

Of equal importance to the definition of such terms when speaking of a segment of early Christianity is the question of whether one could speak of a unified group with a definable profile of traits and ideology/theology or whether in fact Jewish Christianity was a variegated phenomenon, in which case a plurality of Jewish Christianities would be a more accurate understanding. One final point of contention with respect to the definition of terms is whether one should use a praxis-, ethnic- , or ideology/theologic-based criteria for determining whether a particular writer, text or group is Jewish Christian.

O. Skarsaune in the first chapter of Jewish Believers in Jesus seeks to address these difficult issues of definition. The first step he takes is to avoid to some degree the baggage of the history of research by using the less loaded phrase “Jewish believer in Jesus”. This is not without historical precedent as well. While there is no fixed terminology in patristic sources, the phrase “Jewish believer in Jesus”, according to Skarsaune, “can be said to encapsulate the terms most often used”.[4] He provides a broad series of examples from New Testament and early Christian sources of the use of terminology similar to “Jewish believer (in Jesus)”. For example:

John 8:31 - “Jews who believed in him . . .”
Origen, Cels. 2.1 - “. . . those of the Jewish people who have believed in Jesus”
Origen Comm. Matt., in Eusebuis, Hist. eccl. 6.25.4 - “[Matthew published his gospel first] for those who from Judaism came to believe

Furthermore, Skarsaune defines “Jewish believers in Jesus” as “Jews by birth or conversion who in one way or another believed that Jesus was their savior”.[6] With this definition the issues noted above are addressed at least to some degree.

First, Skarsaune opts for an ethnically based definition rather than praxis or theologically based one. While the editors of the volume are not the first to base their definition primarily on ethnicity this approach to the question is less than typical in secondary literature. Thus, under the rubric of Jewish believers in Jesus they include not only Jews who after conversion maintained a law-observant lifestyle, but also Jewish converts who abandoned their Jewish identity and assimilated into Gentile Christianity. This definition, however, excludes Judaizers, by which he means Gentiles who after conversion to belief in Jesus underwent a secondary conversion to Judaism by circumcision and the taking on of Torah observance. Skarsaune, then, uses the moniker “Jewish believer in Jesus” to represent all ethnically Jewish believers regardless of their continuing relationship (or lack there of) to Torah, while reserving the traditional label “Jewish Christian” for “those Jews who believed in Jesus, and at the same time continued a wholly Jewish way of life”.[7] The definition of "Jewish Christian" offered would also include Gentiles who prior to their faith in Jesus converted to Judaism and subsequently to belief in Jesus.
I will finish these points with my analysis in forthcoming posts.

[1] Carleton Paget 2006:48; see also his earlier essay Carleton-Paget 1999. One of the most interesting points in this well-researched chapter is that the real birth place of the study of Jewish Christianity is England in the works of Toland and Morgan in the 18th century rather than Germany in the work of Baur in the 19th as is most often thought. It is not surprising that Carleton Paget, the quintessential Englishman, would have made this discovery.
[2] I am unclear what exactly Carleton Paget thinks. In reading between the lines of his conclusion, I gather that he is more of a mind to abandon the terms altogether for something else. This seems to be the point of his discussion of Michael Williams’ work on Gnosticism—see Carleton Paget 2006:51-52.
[3] See the summary of M. Simon’s position by Carleton Paget (2006:43).
[4] Skarsaune 2006a:5.
[5] Examples come from Skarsaune 2006a:5-6.
[6] Skarsaune 2006a:3.
[7] Skarsaune 2006a:4, emphasis his.
Works Cited
Carleton-Paget, James. 1999. Jewish Christianity. In The Cambridge History of Judaism: The Early Roman Period, ed. William Horbury, W. D. Davies and John Sturdy, 3:731-75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

_________. 2006. The Definition of the Terms Jewish Christian and Jewish Christianity in the History of Research. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:22-52. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Skarsaune, Oskar. 2006a. Jewish Believers in Jesus in Antiquity—Problem of Definition, Method, and Sources. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:3-21. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
________ and Reidar Hvalvik, eds. 2006. A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jewish Christianity in the Late First and Second Centuries: An Introduction to a Series of Posts

I wish to begin a series of posts on the topic of Jewish Christianity in the late first and second centuries. An informed reader will quickly recognize that this subject is reminiscent of the title of a recent book edited by Skarsaune and Hvalvik, Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries.[1] This much anticipated book, at least by me, took nearly three years to finally bring to publication this year. I will be reading and interacting with it as I present an outline of Jewish Christianity.

I became especially interested in the topic of Jewish Christianity in my doctoral work on Matthew’s Gospel and aspects of his theology that seemed to me to be much more relevant to Jewish believers in Jesus than to Gentiles. For example, it seems quite obvious that Gentiles would not be concerned or interested in the continuing relevance of the Land promise contained in the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants. Furthermore, it strikes me as reasonable to assume on the contrary that to Jewish believers in Jesus the promises of the Land would still have relevance for them. I wonder than if within the theological outlook of Jewish Christianity in the first few centuries after the New Testament period a lingering expectation of territorial restoration is discernable. I have made the argument that this type of expectation is present in the clearly Jewish Gospel of Matthew[2] (see my recent book Matthew’s Messianic Shepherd-King: In Search of the “Lost Sheep of the House of Israel”[3]), albeit not in an overt manner. In other words, it is not the central concern of the First gospel. What would solidify my thesis even more would be the discovery in later Jewish Christian texts of a similar expectation. I have reason to be optimistic in my search given Skarsaune’s brief summary of Jewish believers’ eschatology:

In eschatological material we have studied there is one common trait—a very concrete understanding of the eschatological blessings portrayed in the biblical prophecies . . . For Jewish believers with whom this eschatology originated . . . this was the supreme expression of the biblical heritage and the hope of the Jewish people. Therefore, it is also no surprise that in their eschatological scenarios, the salvation of the Jewish nation had a secure place.[4]

So I begin a series of posts which focus the general topic of Jewish Christianity in close conversation with the recent publication of Jewish Believers in Jesus. Here is an outline of future posts:

1. Introduction
2. Brief Histocial Sketch of Jewish Christianity in Palestine and the Diaspora
3. Jewish Christian Sects
4. Jewish Christian Texts
5. Jewish Christian Non-Canonical Gospels
6. Jewish Christianity in Jewish Sources
7. Summary of Jewish Christian Beliefs

The first question that must be asked when beginning to address the topic of Jewish Christianity is the “who” of this designation. Who is represented by such a term? While our ancient sources do not use the term Jewish Christian nor envisage such an entity in some abstract form, they do make reference to believers in Jesus who are ethnically distinct: Jews who believe in Jesus and Gentiles who believe in Jesus.[5] I'll pick this discussion up one the next post.

[1] Skarsaune and Hvalvik 2006.
[2] See Craig Evan’s (2006) essay in Jewish Believers in Jesus where he affirms this scholarly consensus. Furthermore he observes the significant influence Matthew’s Gospel had on the early Jewish church. He states, “Not only did a form of this Gospel circulate in Hebrew, but it seems to have served as the foundational text out of which emerged the Aramaic Jewish Gospel (usually identified as the Gospel of the Nazoraeans) and the Greek Gospel (usually identified as the Gospel of the Ebionites. Thus, two of the three best known and most often mentioned Jewish Gospels are heavily dependent upon Matthew” (2006:245).
[3] Willitts 2007.
[4] Skarsaune 2006b, emphasis added.
[5] Skarsaune 2006a.

Works Cited
Evans, Craig A. 2006. The Jewish Christian Gospel Tradition. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:241-77. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Skarsaune, Oskar. 2006a. Jewish Believers in Jesus in Antiquity—Problem of Definition, Method, and Sources. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:3-21. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

________. 2006b. Jewish Christian Sources Used by Justin Martyr and Some Other Greek and Latin Fathers. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:379-416. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Skarsaune, Oskar and Reidar Hvalvik, eds. 2006. A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Willitts, Joel. 2007. Matthew's Messianic Shepherd-King: In Search of the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel. BNZW. Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Is Michael Bird a Christian?

On the net I stumbled across this on-line discussion about whether or not Michael Bird (i.e. moi) is a Christian. Some persons have obviously taken exception to my approach to historiography and the historical Jesus. I'll be honest and say that this is not a topic that I find myself discussing very often with people.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Story of Salvation

"When Christians speak of salvation, they telll a story. It is a story that stretches from even before the creation of the world to its final redemption, when the plan of salvation conceived by God from eternity is to come to fulfillment. While God's dealings of old with God's chosen people, Israel, play an important role in this story, ultimately it revolves around Jesus Christ and his death on the cross."
David Brondos, Fortress Introduction to Salvation and the Cross (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2007), p.1.

Arab Christians Rock in Egypt

Arab Christians are very much a forgotten minority in the Middle East and yet they are among the most vulnerable and most persecuted around the world. It was encouraging then to read of this event in Egypt. I'm not a big fan of taccy worship and circus-evangelism, but it is good to see any kind of vitality, energy, and life in a Christian community in these parts of the world. I would love to see one held in the Galilee!

Friday, December 07, 2007

A High View of Scripture - Part 2: NT Canon Formation

Back to Allert's book A High View of Scripture? the next chapter is "Introducing New Testament Canon Formation". He contests the "typical evangelical" view that the church consciously separated canonical from non-canonical documents and added them to the growing canon. As he sees it there are three basic views on the formation of the canon: (1) The NT as a spontaneous occurence (e.g. Zahn); (2) The NT as formed in the second century as a response to Christian heresies (e.g. Harnack); and (3) The NT as formed in the fourth century (e.g. Sundberg). The main points that Allert raises, in my view, is that just because the apostolic fathers and patristic authors cited a NT text it does not mean it was canonical because they cited alot of other texts as well like 1 Enoch, 2 Esdras, and 2 Baruch cited in the Epistle of Barnabas. Also, since the church did not inherit a clear list of authoritative writings from Judaism there is no clear reason to think that they simply added their own writings to the list. At the same time, Allert acknowledges that the NT books did have a considerable amount of authority even by the end of the first century, the church did discriminate its books in the second and third centuries, and it was not until the fourth century that authoritative lists were finally drawn up.
On the criteria of canonicity, Allert begins by noting that the scheme was retrospective. He has a good quote from F.F. Bruce, "The earliest Christian did not trouble themselves about criteria of canonicity; they would not have readily understood the expression." On Apostolicity he finds this operating in relation to authorship (real or supposed) by an apostle, authorship by an associate of an apostle, and agreement with the apostolic teaching. Orthodoxy meant congruity with the faith or teaching of the church. Catholicity was concerned with widespread usage especially by the major ecclesial centres of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. In regards to Inspiration, Allert affirms that the Bible is inspired but points out that the early church did not regard only the documents of the NT as inspired. They also regarded the institution of bishops, monks, martyrs, councils, prophetic gifts, and liturgies as inspired as well.
This is an interesting chapter but nothing I did not already know. But Allert is right in pointing out that it was not a matter of the church adding to a growing corpus of writings. It is anachronistic to speak of "canon" prior to the fourth century, but we can still speak of Scripture or "a distinct body of Christian sacred literature".

Paul and Women: A Query

I am teaching a course on Paul and today we covered the topic of Women and Ministry. Perhaps "covered" is much like saying one has "done Italy" having only spent a week on the Amalphi coast; better said, we "broached the subject".

In thinking about the topic I wrestled with an idea that has me quite curious and I thought I would raise it and see if others, more widely read and studied, would comment.

My question arises from the fact that in Paul’s context the “church” was inextricably linked with the home; he never envisaged the contemporary situation of a church as an organization outside the home. Thus, is it conceivable that his restrictive comments concerning the woman's role in the gathering which are geared to the function of the church in the household structure, would not apply to the current ecclesial situation? If this is the case then perhaps much of the current debate is wrongheaded.

It would quite possible then for one to hold to a loving patriarchy in the home based on Paul's teaching, but not translate that patriarchy to the present day church leadership structure, at least where it exists outside the context of the household. This approach would hold in tension the duality of Paul’s view of women.

Perhaps and assuredly this has been suggested already, but I have not read widely enough on the issue to know; thus input would be useful.

Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus

Routledge is soon to publish the Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus edited by Craig A. Evans. The blurb reads:
This Encyclopedia will bring together the vast array of historical research into the reality of the man, the teachings, the acts, and the events ascribed to him that have served as the foundational story of one of the world's central religions. This kind of historiography is not biography. The historical study of the Jesus stories and the transmission of these stories through time have been of seminal importance to historians of religion. Critical historical examination has provided a way for scholars of Christianity for centuries to analyze the roots of legend and religion in a way that allows scholars an escape from the confines of dogma, belief, and theological interpretation. In recent years, historical Jesus studies have opened up important discussions concerning anti-Semitism and early Christianity and the political and ideological filtering of the Jesus story of early Christianity through the Roman empire and beyond. Entries will cover the classical studies that initiated the new historiography, the theoretical discussions about authenticating the historical record, the examination of sources that have led to the western understanding of Jesus' teachings and disseminated myth of the events concerning Jesus' birth and death. Subject areas include:
- The history of the historical study of the New Testament: major contributors and their works
- Theoretical issues and concepts
- Methodologies and criteria
- Historical genres and rhetorical styles in the story of Jesus
- Historical and rhetorical context of martyrdom and messianism
- Historical teachings of Jesus- Teachings within historical context of ethics
- Titles of Jesus
- Historical events in the life of Jesus
- Historical figures in the life of Jesus
- Historical use of Biblical figures referenced in the Gospels
- Places and regions
- Institutions
- The history of the New Testament within the culture, politics, and law of the Roman Empire

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The History of NT Scholarship 1987 - 2007

If one had to update Stephen Neil and Tom Wright's book on the history of NT scholarship and include the period 1987-2007, what movements and developments would you include? I would go for the following:
1. Synoptic Gospels and the Historical Jesus
The demise of form criticism due to further studies on memory and orality
The rise of social-scientific and narrative approaches
The popularizing of the Goulder-Goodacre hypothesis on the Synoptic Problem
Continued volumes from Third Questers (e.g. Wright, Dunn, Theissen & Merz, Allison)
The questioning of the "Gospel Community" hypothesis
2. Gospel of John
The questioning of the Martyn-Brown community hypothesis
Greater consideration to the historical tradition in John's Gospel
Continued interest in the depiction of "the Jews"
3. Pauline studies
The continuing rise of rhetorical criticism
The huge storm created by the New Perspective on Paul
The development of anti-imperial readings of Paul
4. Revelation
The questioning of the dominant view that Domitian initiated a persecution of Christians
5. Methodological Developments
The rise of socio-rhetorical and post-colonial criticism
Theological Exegesis coming back into vogue
The rise of studies in reception history
NT scholars giving more attention to archaeology
6. Important Discoveries
DSS: publication of 4QMMT and 4Q521
Talpiot Tomb
James Ossuary
Gospel of Judas
Anything else (esp. developments in the general epistles)?

A. Loisy on John 20.31

A. Loisy (Le Quatrième Evangile, p. 513 cited in Raymond E. Brown The Gospel According to John, vol. II, p.1061 ) gave this paraphrase of John 20.31:
‘The earthly existence of … Christ has served as a sign or as a series of signs, for which the Gospel discourses have supplied a commentary – the Johannine Christ revealing himself as light and life in his teaching and in his action. Once one has seen in Jesus the unique revealed of God, the only one who has an absolute right to the title “Son of God,” and once one has recognized the Father in Jesus, the one understands just what the name and quality of Son are and, in this understanding that constitutes faith, one possesses eternal life’.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Studies on Messianism

Probably the two best books on messianism that I've read (so far) are:
John Collins, The Scepter and the Star
William Horbury, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ
Horbury offers some very good evidence for the Suffering Servant of Isaiah as a "messianic prototype".
1. The figure is interpreted as Messiah in the Isaiah Targum.
2. Justin Martyr gives the text a messianic spin which Trypho purportedly agrees with (Dial. 13.2-9; 18.2-90.1).
3. The Israelite king appears as a suffering servant in Pss. 89 and 39.
4. The "annointed one" is God's servant in Zech. 3.8.
5. The LXX can be read with a messianic interpretation though it does not demand this sense.
6. Mk. 10.45 could be said to combine a martyrdom and messianism.
7. In counter-point the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8 does not know who the Suffering Servant of Isaiah is, thus, the messianic interpretation was hardly uniform and not immediately recognizable to all.
He concludes: "It was perhaps orginally formed on the model fo the suffering king, and a messianic interpretation was probably current in the Second Temple period, but the passage was not then regarded as obviously messianic" (p. 33).

Review of S. Smalley's Revelation Commentary

David deSilva offers a short review of Stephen Smalley's The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse from BTB.

D.A. Carson on VanLandingham

D.A. Carson has a review at RBL of Chris VanLandingham’s Judgment & Justification In Early Judaism And The Apostle Paul. In short (and with obvious nuancing) VanL. argues that in Judaism and in Paul, justification/savlation is essentially by works. The coming of dikaiosyne makes possible the dispensation whereby humans can be acquitted on the basis of their works.
Carson's critique is right on the mark as some of VanL's conclusion are eccentric and peculariar (but always interesting). For one, Paul did not teach that Christ's death only atoned for preconversion sins and, second, Paul was not an advocate of some kind of perfectionism.
For those interested I have a full length article review of VanL's book coming out in Bulletin of Biblical Research in 2008.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Son of a ... Man!

I have always said that the last topic in NT studies that I'd ever get involved in (besides an eco-eskimo-evangelical reading of Philemon) is the Son of Man debate. I get motion sickness by reading books and articles on the subject. Nevertheless, as part of my current research project (Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question) I have to explore some (if any) of the messianic derivations and connotations of the 'Son of Man' in relation to Jesus. Does anyone have a spare copy of Maurice Casey's new book floating around cause here we go ...

Evangelicals and Israel

Over CT there is an interesting article on Evangelical responses to the Israel-Palestinian crises. While I favour Gary Burge and co., Darrell Bock does in fact give a good progressive dispensationalist response to the problem that I hope convinces a lot of the ultra-dispensationalists.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A High View of Scripture - Part 1

I'm now reading through Craig D. Allert's book A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).
In the Introduction Allert introduces his book by saying that it's not the history of the canon, rather, it is about how the historical formation of the New Testament canon should influence the evangelical doctrines of Scripture. He says, "Most evangelicals, particularly at the popular level, have what I call a 'dropped out of the sky' understanding of the Bible" (p 10). What that means is that evangelicals treat Scripture as the primary source for their faith without properly recognizing how this collection came into existence. Allert takes exception to L.I. Hodges' proposal that either one works deductively from the self-teaching of Scripture which interprets the human phenonemon within that grid, or else one works inductively from the phenomenon of Scripture even if it requires a modification of Scripture's own self-teaching. The former is a "high" view of Scripture and the latter is a "low" view of Scripture. In Allert's opinion: "The problem here is not that evangelicals have a high view of Scripture but rather that a high view of Scripture has been usurped by verbal plenary theorists - the determination of what is high and what is low comes from them. The difference between a high and low view of Scripture has been reduced to the difference between what the Bible says or teaches (high view) and what the Bible is or its phenomena are (low view) - yet surely what the Bible is has much importance for what the Bible says, and a high view needs to take this into consideration" (p. 11). That sets him towards his task which is "how a historical understanding of the formation of the New Testament canon should inform an evangelical doctrine of Scripture" (p. 12).
In chapter one Evangelicals, Traditionalism, and the Bible Allert looks at evangelicalism and its approaches to the Bible (from a decidedly Canadian perspective). Importantly (and do heed this) Allert is writing as a self-confessed evangelical who believes that Scripture is inspired. He follows Dave Bebington's quadrilateral approach to defining evangelicalsm (biblicist, crucicentric, conversionist, and activist) and notes the diversity within the evangelical movement as a whole. Allert believes that evangelical debates with liberalism have forced it into a form of "traditionalism". He writes: "Evangelicalism has a narrow theological foundation because it has mostly focused its theological liberalism. Many evangelicals today affirm the essentials that grew out of that battle with little understanding as to why these doctrines were raised above others ... This traditionalism has left evangelicals not only with withered roots as to the sources of the early church that should assist in sustaining it, but also with a mentality that protection of the essentials is more importaht than understanding how they actually came to be essential" (p. 35). His recipe for the volume is then to broaden evangelicalism's narrow theological foundation by considering how the formation of the New canon can make us all more faithful evangelicals.
At this point I have voice my utter disgust at Allert's project: He has written the book that I've been planning to write for the last two years (curse his Canadian socks). I agree with his diagnosis of the problem (lack of historical awareness of how the Bible was formed) and his prognosis (it gives us a skewed "Bible fell from the sky" bibliology). The question is will his procedure lead to an enrichment of an evangelical bibliology and maintain a genuinely high view of Scripture that is historical informed and consistent with Scripture's own self-teaching? How does Allert intend to explain Jude's incorporation of 1 Enoch, the Synoptic problem, Paul's use of the extra-biblical "rock" story in 1 Cor. 10, the churches preference for the Septuagint over the Hebrew text, biblical parallels to ANE traditions and second temple literature, and the fact that the church did create the Bible rather than merely receive it* in a way that satisfies those who pursue a deductive theological approach? I guess we'll see!
* I would say that God used the church to create the Bible that he intended us to have. But I don't think it is the case that the church merely discovered the canon whereby certain documents forced themselves onto the church by virtue of their inspiration. The issue of which documents are inspired was precisely the question!