Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Galatians 3.1-5 - Life in the Spirit

Experience is the oft neglected aspect of Paul's theological appeals and argumentation. In some of his most polemical contexts (i.e., Galatians and Corinthians), Paul can appeal to a common experience as the basis for shared beliefs and behaviours. Jimmy Dunn in BFJ, which I am STILL reading, writes this about Gal. 3.1-5:

"This repeated emphasis on experience has important theological corollaries. Paul's understanding of the gospel was rooted in experience, his own and that of others. Here are clear instances of the creative and transforming power of a lively spiritual experience. It did not conform to or allow itself readily to be pigeonholed into the language and categories of their already existing traditions. Rather, as the molten lava of a volcanic eruption breaks open old surfaces and carves out new channels, so the power of molten experience forced language and life patterns into new forms and expressions. Paul's gospel was not primarily and not only a sequence of theological affirmations deduced form Israel's history or Scriptures, or even from his knowledge of Jesus; rather, primarily for him, the gospel was rooted in an experience of the living God revealing himself through Jesus the Christ and his will to humankind in a personal and transforming way."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Coming out of the Closet

I have a post-Christmas confession. I am an introvert and Jesus still loves me. It feels so liberating to say that I am an introvert and a Christian. Some people will have trouble with that, but they just need to leave behind their victorian era views of Christian personality types and understand that this is the way that God made me and I'm proud of my introvertedness. I mean, really, didn't Moses hate public speaking. In fact, I'm going to start a lobby group called I-Force that will campaign for the acceptance and equality of introverts wherever they are in the fields of religion and academia.

More specifically, my personality type is INTJ (see here for description). Basically, this means that I'm a cold hearted book worm with a super-sized intellect in lieu of a sense of empathy. So I don't really care how you feel, but I know when I'm supposed to pretend to care in order to help someone if they need it. I'm task orientated with a capital "T" and if I'm on a mission just show where to bury the bodies of the people who get in my way. I like people, they are very useful entities, they need to be looked after, but after a while I need to be away from them. I do not understand why extroverts have some pathological and insatiable need to be around people all the flipping time. Extroversion is in fact a medical condition that I call "Barbara Streisand Syndrome" - People who need people are the weirdest people of all. Other INTJers around the blogosphere include Sean Michael Lucas, Michael Kruse, and M. Jay Bennett. For me, the real world is inside my head, and everything else is just the "Matrix".

When I tell people that I'm an introvert they scarcely believe me. Yes, I can project myself, yes I can speak in public and entertain folks. But don't confuse ego and the capacity for self-projection with personality. Ego is one of my major character flaws (I regularly cite 2 Cor 4.5 and Rom. 12.3 to try keep it in check) as I like to advertise to persons what I can do and show its value - in fact, my self-esteem is very much embedded in my capacity for intellectual success. I am also a natural entertainer so I can deliver sermons and lectures with little ease and I've learned fairly well how to read and work an audience. Truth be told, I'm actually a comedian and theology is just my medium. I enjoy being the life of the party - but only for a while - very quickly I feel the need to flee crowds before people drain me with their constant talking about stuff that I really don't care about. The hardest time for me after church is right after the service. If I'm preaching then I have to force myself to stand at the door and meet and greet everyone as they leave. If I'm not preaching then I have to make chit chat with folks and I have about 20 minutes of capacity for this, after that, I start looking for escape routes. Don't get me wrong, I like people, I love certain people, it's just that being around them can be so draining at time.

I'm saying all this because in 2010 one of the first books that I intend to read is Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture.

N.T. Wright's new book

N.T. Wright's next book is After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2010) available around March in the USA.

Sandra Bullock on Christians

I very rarely care what Hollywood celebrities think of Christians or matters of faith (these people are more interested in defending Roman Polanski), but I thought that Sandra Bullock's thoughts on the faith of Leigh Anne Tuohy who she played in the move "Blind Side" was very interesting. See the newspaper article here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Messianic Secret

Over at Peje Iesous, Chris Skinner is reading Are You the One Who is to Come? and he offers his own reflections on Mark's "messianic secret". Notably, he regards the secrecy motif as essentially a Marcan construction over and against my efforts at showing its historical character. Let me offer a few thoughts in reply to Skinner:

1. There is no denying that the secrecy motif is a narrative and theological device in the Marcan plot. From the incipit in 1.1 the reader knows who Jesus is, yet the characters in the story bumble along with a mixture of comedy and irony in trying to ascertain who Jesus precisely is. Viewed this way, Mark deliberately creates a literary tension in terms of who Jesus is said to be and who he is regarded as by characters in the Gospel.

2. Nonetheless, I'm convinced that there was a "secrecy" motif in Jesus' ministry for a number of reasons: (a) Simply on account of social realism it make sense. Amidst the various prophetic figures of first century Judea, it was natural to ask "who is this guy?" or "who does this guy think he is?". If Jesus thought himself to be a messiah or deliberately evoking messianic themes in his speech and actions, and if this would have aroused the intervention of the authorities, it is entirely conceivable that he would keep the question, or at least his answer to it, a secret. (b) It is quite probable that Jesus, like other apocalyptic seers, thought himself privy to divine revelations that could not be manifested until the appointed time. One such revelation was the identity of Elijah and the Messiah.

3. On William Wrede, it is important to note that Wrede never ascribed the messianic secret to Mark himself, but rather, he contended that Mark merely amplified a tradition already known to him about secrecy tied to Jesus' messianic identity. The messianic secret arose in order to explain why the early church believed Jesus to be the messiah when in fact Jesus' earthly life was widely known to be non-messianic. I focused on Wrede in the book mainly because he's been so influential (e.g., Bultmann just assumed that Wrede was right). But I find his description very problematic on account that he assumes that it was belief in the resurrection that lead to the messianic faith of the early church which is a non sequitur. In addition, what is silenced in Mark is not messianic, and what is messianic is not always silenced!

Mike Bird at RBL

Over at RBL I have the rare pleasure of being both a reviewer and among the reviewed!

Carl P. Cosaert
The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria
Reviewed by Michael Bird

Michael F. Bird and James G. Crossley
How Did Christianity Begin? A Believer and Non-believer Examine the Evidence
Reviewed by Leif Vaage

Strangely enough, Leif Vaage doesn't think that there is an awful lot of difference between Crossley and I. I wonder what James would say to that (flattered or insulted?).

There are some other particularly reviews to note as well such as:

James F. McGrath
The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context
Reviewed by Lori Baron

David G. Firth and Jamie A. Grant, eds.
Words and the Word: Explorations in Biblical Interpretation and Literary Theory
Reviewed by Jacobus Kok

Have a happy boxing day, I'm hoping to watch a bit of the West Indies vs. Australia in the cricket!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Greetings

Blessings to you all for Christmas. I survived a night in Luton airport with my family stranded by the snow, and we'll be spending most of Christmas on an plane en route to Brisbane, Australia. But among your Christmas prayers please remember:

Christians in the UK as diversity/equity laws begin to work against them (I'm leaving at just the right time so it seems).

Orthodox Christians in Turkey who are still banned from setting up a seminary there (and folks really want Turkey in the EU!).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Seven

For the final sample of France's commentary I'll briefly consider his discussion of the  Mission Statements (10:5-6; 28:16-20).

In discussing the relationship between the two mission statements in Matthew, France interprets the second (28:19-20) as and extension of the first (10:5-6): he comments: “The Gentile mission extends the Jewish mission – not replaces it; Jesus nowhere revokes the mission to Israel (10:6), but merely adds a new mission revoking a previous prohibition (10:5)” (1115). France’s point is surely correct although I wish he would have developed this idea more. In what way is the mission new? Does the new mission consist of a different task along with its different target—thus, implying two complementary missions? Or does France think that the newness of the mission of 28:19-20 is merely in its scope—now the mission is to all nations, including Israel? From the statement itself, I am inclined to think that he would take the latter view.

France’s comments on the direction of reading Matthew’s Gospel are useful and interesting. It is of course commonplace to consider the end of Matthew as its Schlüssel and there is the tendency to read it from back to front. France admits the theological significance of this scene in Matthew influences the reading of the whole and gives the approach some legitimacy. Still he seems prefer to read Matthew from front to back as a literary work “arriving at this final pericope in which all the strands have come together”. I would go further than France and assert that one can understand the significance of the elements of 28:19-20 from Matthew’s perspective only after reading the unfolding narrative. For example the significance of Jesus’ proclamation: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” as well as the place of the Gentile mission. One of course would come away with the impression that Matthew’s Jesus has cosmic authority and that is the basis for a mission to the nations, but the texture of the ideas is lost without the narrative. 

Related to this point is one of the most important pieces of analysis in the whole commentary in my view. Here France rightly places the stress of the passage on the culmination of Jesus kingship. By doing so, he reveals that Matthew’s narrative climaxes with Jesus’ Davidic kingship. Matthew, then, ends where he began with the affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Davidic Messiah who is not simply “the king of Jews” as the Magi heralded, but is king over the heavens and the earth. France states, “It is the universal kingship of the Son of Man which has emerged as a distinctive feature of Matthew’s presentation of Jesus” (1113).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Latest Trinity Journal

The latest issue of Trinity Journal 30 NS 2 (2009) includes a number of articles celebrating the life and work of TEDS professor and missiologist Paul G. Hiebert (see his list of works here). Other articles in the issue include:

Kevin Giles
"Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker: The Son is Not Eternally Subordinated in Authority to the Father"

Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker
"The Son Really, Really is the Son: A Response to Kevin Giles"

Dane C. Ortlund
"The Insanity of Faith: Paul's Theological Use of Isaiah in Romans 9:33".

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is There Between Durham and Hillsong?

What common cause could there be between Bishop N.T. Wright and Hillsong Megachurch worship pastor Darlene Zschech? Well the answer is here. I think I can imagine a conspiracy theory about how N.T. Wright (the unknown love-child of Pope Pius IX) and Darlene Zschech (the last surviving montanist prophetess) hatched a plot in the early 1990's to bring down Reformed Christianity. Tom would strike against their theology of justification and Darlene would break their spirits with a series of worship songs that have four words, three notes, and get sung six times through. It all makes sense. Positively diabolical. It is a plan of sheer machiavellian brilliance. Now that I have uncovered this venile plot, I should be cast as Robert Langdon in the next Dan Brown Movie!

Cyril Lucaris - Orthodox and Calvinistic

Sometime ago I read Bob Letham's book Through Western Eyes about the Eastern Orthodox church and blogged on it here. One character in the OC that I find fascinating is Cyril Lucaris (1572-1638) who was a Calvinistic Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. He wrote an interesting confession of faith that gives one pause for thought on how Calvinism can be expressed in eastern language. Less we get too excited, I would point out that Cyril's positions were opposed at the 1672 Jerusalem Synod with the Confession of Dositheus which doesn't hold back on the polemics!

Is there any hope for a Reformed-Orthodox reapproachment? Well, Anglicanism might be the best conduit in town for that dialogue. I note that Nashotah House (an Anglo-Catholic Seminary) and St. Vladamir's Seminary in the USA have a formal agreement to work towards unity. At the ACNA assembly this year metropolitan Bishop Jonah called for full communion with the new Anglican province (though he did call Calvinism a heresy along the way). I also note, with due understanding but with genuine disappointment all the same, that NT scholar Edith Humphrey has left the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and been received into the Orthodox Church (see her explanation here). Hopefully she'll be involved in Anglican/Orthodox discussion somewhere along the line. Michael Horton suggested possible eastern influences on Calvin's view of the eucharist in his excellent book, People and Place. I would also draw attention to a piece written by Jack D. Kinneer called A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy, which is significant because Kinneer is an OPC member and he studied at St. Vladamir seminary. How do you get John Calvin and John Chrysostom to sit at the one table and what would they agree on?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Six

I continue with my review of France's commentary with a reflection on his commentary on the Parable of the Vineyard (21:33-44).

France’s discussion of the Parable of the Vineyard provides a window into his understanding of Matthew’s perspective on Israel. Despite his comments in the introduction about the nature of early Christianity making the question of extra muros or intra muros complex, he seems to quite clearly in the extra muros camp.

While acknowledging that the context demands that the “tenants” of the parable be understood as the “current Jerusalem leadership”, France takes Jesus statement “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and will be given to a nation which produces its fruit” as a suggesting Matthew conceives of a redefinition of Israel as a new people of God comprised of ethnic Israel and Gentiles. France states:

The vineyard, which is Israel, is not itself destroyed, but rather given a new lease on life, embodied now in a new “nation.” This “nation” is neither Israel nor the Gentiles, but a new entity, drawn from both, which is characterized not by ethnic origin but by faith in Jesus (817).

One, however, may wish to question when background “hints” (800) and subtle implications (810) become “fore grounded” arguments. It seems to me that such a reading inappropriately sidelines what is for Matthew’s narrative primary. Even if the Gentiles of Matthew 8:11-12 are included in this “nation” (note the singular) this does not imply redefinition, but fulfillment in line with the Isaianic prophecies of 56:3-7 and 66:18-21. This prophetic fulfillment in 21:13, Matthew has already echoed with his statement of rational for the Temple action: “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Isa 56:7).

Isa. 56:3-7
3 Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isa. 66:18-21
18 “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to comea and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. 19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyansb and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. 20 And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jimmy Dunn on "The Lord's Dinner" - II

Did unbelievers ever partake of the "Lord's Dinner"? Can the eucharist be evangelistic? Here Dunn makes an interesting point:

"All this leaves unresolved the question whether unbelievers and outsiders were admitted to the Lord's dinner. The implication of 14.23-24, that such could be present when believers came together as church, may apply only to gatherings for worship. At the same time, we should not assume that the shared meals had a specially sacred character that disbarred unbelievers and outsiders from sharing in them [cf. Rom. 14.6]. Was every shared meal 'the Lord's dinner'? Was the bread broken and the wine drunk at every meal 'in remembrance' of Jesus (11.24-25)? We have already noted the same ambiguity with regard to Luke's references to the 'breaking of bread'. And it would be unduly hasty to assume that the hospitality which a Christian couple like Aquila and Priscilla extended to fellow believers and others would have had a markedly different character (in their eyes) from the meals shared when the whole church gathered in one place. Whether or not the Lord's table was seen as an evangelistic opportunity in these early years, we can be fairly confident that Christian hospitality did result in many guests and visitors coming to faith in the Lord of their hosts" (Dunn, BFJ 647).

Jimmy Dunn on "The Lord's Dinner" - I

I'm still (yes, still!) reading through Beginning from Jerusalem. On the Lord's Supper, Dunn states:

"We should not fail to note that 'the Lord's Supper' was a complete meal, which would begin, we may suppose, in Jewish fashion, with the blessing, breaking and sharing of the bread. Paul's own description is explicit that the sharing of the cup took place 'after the meal', at the close of the meal (11.25). The point is obscured by the fact that the term 'supper' in 'the Lord's Supper is an old fashioned term and now more misleading than helpfully descriptive. The term Paul uses in 11.20 is deipnon, which refers to the main meal of the day, eaten in the evening; 'the Lord's dinner' would be a more accurate translation, however crassly it may ring in the modern ear. No doubt, a large part of the attractive the churches, as with associations generally, was the companionship (fellowship) and conviviality of these meals (not to mention a share in better food than many might be able to provide for themselves). The complete meal character of 'the dinner of the Lord' also carries an important theological corollary: to the extent that we can speak of the Lord's Supper in Corinth as a sacramental meal - as we can (10.16) - a key consideration is that the sacramental character embraced the whole meal, beginning with the shared bread and ending with the shared cup. Integral to the religious character of the meal was its shared character; for Paul the whole meal was to be shared in conscious memory of Jesus' last supper and, as in the earliest Jerusalem gatherings, probably in conscious continuation of Jesus' own table-fellowship." (pp. 645-46).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Five

Fulfillment of the Torah (5:17-20)
France’s conclusions about Matthew’s view on Torah-observance reveal a propensity , albeit a right one, to interpret Matthew against the wider context of the New Testament. But it should be said that the theological content of the NT context is a presupposition not argued for but assumed.

France begins this section with the notice that a plain surface reading of the passage, which clearly presents an author who took a very conservative line on Torah observance, would be “out of step with the overall thrust of NT Christianity and with the almost universal consensus of Christians ever since” (179). Later in the section again he comments similarly about 5:19:
The use of the verb ‘do’ in v. 19 is easily read as meaning that the rules of the OT law must still be followed as they were before Jesus came, and thus as reinforcing the ‘righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees’ which the next verse will disparage. But if that is what Matthew intended these words to mean, he would here be contradicting the whole tenor of the NT by declaring that, for instance, the sacrificial and food laws of the OT are still binding on Jesus’ disciples – and surely by the time Matthew wrote Christians were already broadly agreed that they were no longer required” (186).
While there is much to commend with France’s analysis of this important Matthean text, I find the manner in which he attempts to harmonize Paul with Matthew inappropriate (180). He does suggest that one can see the tension with the surface reading of 5:17-20 within Matthew itself (e.g. 15:11), but it appears that the tensions in Matthew present themselves clearly only when one brings a certain reading of Paul’s perspective to Matthew. Furthermore, his attempt to show that Matthew has brought together different responses to two opposing tendencies—a Pauline Torah-free and a Pharisaic Torah observance—in the paragraph is a reach to far in my estimation (181). There is little in the text of Matthew to support such a hypothesis especially given the unity of the paragraph and the section as a whole.

Salvation in Post-Exilic Judaism

I am currently doing research on both 1 Esdras and Judith for two different projects. Along the way, I am very interested in the soteriology of both documents and what they have to say about "salvation" in post-exilic Judaism.

In 1 Esdras, salvation is primarily seen in the successful (albeit problematic) return of the exiles to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. A soteriological summary of 1 Esdras could be made with the words “we obtained mercy” (1 Esdr 8:53) where the returning exiles stress their reliance on God in prayer for deliverance during their sojourn to Jerusalem. At two key points in the narrative God is extolled for his mercy (1 Esd 8:53; 8:75) as he preserved the nation in the slavery of exile and enabled them to make a safe journey despite all the perils back in the land of Judea. At the beginning of the story the sin of the nation and its leaders is highlighted (e.g., 1:22, 32-55), yet God’s mercy returns in the decree of Cyrus (1:1-7), the triumph of Zerubbabel (4:59-63), and the call of Ezra (8:1-7). In the midst of the wickedness of the people and priests (1:47), God send them a messenger (i.e., Jeremiah) to call them because “he was trying to spare them and his dwelling place” (1:48), and yet this is met with their mockery and scoffing that earns God’s anger (1:49-50). It is clear that in 1:47-49 shows how God’s mercy is sandwiched between the impiety and hard heartedness of the people even if it is not efficacious. Nonetheless, even judgment can be worked ultimately for redemptive purposes and the exile is not meant to be permanent (1:55). Towards the end of the story, in Ezra’s penitential prayer (8:71-87), there is recognition that God has been faithful and merciful to his people in that he preserved them in exile, brought them back into the land, left them with a “root”, and continues preserves them with sustenance in their current state; although the people have sinned like their forefathers by intermarrying with foreigners since returning to the land. That in turn leads to contrition among the people, to the rectification of their misdeeds, and the offering of the appropriate sacrifices (8:88–9:20). In sum, 1 Esdras narrates the story of how a people who are “in” but who have violated God’s law take steps in response to their transgression (see Enns 2001: 75). It is in response to their experience of divine mercy, the exiles take measured steps to prevent any further catastrophe of divine judgment through a strenuous emphasis on separation from the nations, concerted efforts to rebuild the temple and Jerualem, and they attempt to reconstitute the body of exiles into a Torah-observant Judean society. Despite the nation’s manifold sin, both pre- and post-exile, the book focuses on how God did not completely forsake the nation. The initiative for the return from exile is attributed exclusively to God and not due to any prayer or petetiton by pious exiles. Yet preservation in the land appears to be contingent upon rebuilding Judean life in accordance with the Law of Moses (8:21-24; cf. 1:31; 5:50; 8:7, 84, 90; 9:37-50). All in all, 1 Esdras exemplifies the pattern of religion called “covenantal nomism” where God’s grace precedes the act of obedience that follows. Enns (2001: 77) aptly summarizes: “We have, in other words, transgression by the people of God, but for which there is a means of rectifying their position before God.

In Judith, there is no reference to divine initiative in bringing the nation out of exile. Instead, there is a big emphasis on the efficacy of prayer, fasting, and self-humiliation as mechanisms that prompt God's saving action to deliver the nation from Nebuchadnezzar (king of Assyria!). Any intervention by God for the nation is noticeably absent from the description of the return from exile: "But when they departed from the way he had prescribed for them, they were utterly defeated in many battles and were led away captive to a foreign land. The temple of their God was razed to the ground, and their towns were occupied by their enemies. But now they have returned to their God, and have come back from the places where they were scattered, and have occupied Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and have settled in the hill country, because it was uninhabited (Jdt 5:18-19)". Elsewhere, Judith states that a town on the verge of famine must continue to trust God rather than surrender. She argues that God is an ineffable mystery and that he reveals his salvation as he pleases and purposes (8:15-16). She is confident God will save them because they have not committed idolatry. In the end she exhorts her audience with the words: "Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him (Jdt 8:17)". There is a twofold paradox in Judith. First, Judith says that God is "not won over by pleading" (Jdt 8:16), yet the whole narrative assumes the efficacy of prayer to enable God "to hear our voice if it pleases him" (Jdt 8:17). Second, Judith urges the audience to "wait for his deliverance," but in the end she does not herself wait, rather, she acts quickly, decisively, cunningly, and violently to kill Israel's enemy. For those outside of the community, like Achior, salvation is by proselytism as the means by which one joins the "house of Israel" (Jdt 14:10). In the book, God is portrayed as mysterious and able to save, but the actual cause of salvation is the initiative of the people. I hesistate at calling this "legalism," but divine action is de-emphasized and divine initiative is entirely absent. In Judith, salvation is perhaps best achieved through covenantal piety which may or may not evoke God's favor. God’s election, covenant, and relationship with his people are largely assumed, but they are clearly conditional. Salvation is neither automatic nor efficacious. It is due to appropriate ritual appeals, godliness and contrition, obedience, the absence of sin, and merited by pious individuals like Joakim, Achior, Uzziah, and Judith. Overall, deliverance is only possible under the conditions of covenantal obedience which explains why Israel went into exile in the first place (Jdth. 5.18; 8.18).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Book Give Away

Nijay Gupta is giving away a free copy of The Faith of Jesus Christ, but there's a catch, you have to write 500 words on the topic! So good luck.

University Bias against Evangelicals?

If you have discovered yet there is a very interesting discussion happening right now by Dan Wallace over at Parchment and Pen and over at Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight. Both men I have had the privilege to know very well and consider friends. I think I've said before on this blog that I was one of Dan's interns at DTS and of course Scot is my colleague now.

For my two sense, I think Scot is right in his response. I attended DTS and was not accepted at any American universities I applied to and attended a British university. One element that has not been discussed is the ecomonic angle. American universities especially the top end schools (e.g. Duke, Notre Dame, etc) don't need students. They have 100 applicants for 2 spots each year. Furthermore, one has to score extremely well on the GRE before one is even given a siff. These kind of odds make it extremely difficult to get into the program no matter who you are.

On the other hand, as has been well documented, British universities are in desperate financial crises. And many of the more well-known schools are dependent on North American students to bolster their bottom line. The economics of the situation make it easier for an evangelical student to get accepted into a British university and that has nothing to do with a non-liberal bias. This is not to say that the British system is not more "open" in ways pointed out by both Dan and Scot. Indeed it is and this is a strength of a British research degree: You're on your own with regard to your research.

One last personal note. I have not felt slighted at the SBL meetings because of my evangelical pedigree. I am a co-chair of the Matthew section and have had very positive engagement with non-evangelicals-many of whom I consider good friends. I think it is not so much that you are an evangelical, it is how you wear it that really matters.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Things to Click

Things to click include:

According to the University of Chicago, Archaic Mark is a fake, it is probably based on Philipp Buttmann's 1860 edition of the Greek NT, and thus Stephen Carlson is right!

Scot McKnight posts this cool clip on a Liturgical Sense of Salvation. I like the "saved, being saved, will be saved" approach, but the "cooperating with grace" bit does make the Calvinist in me grind my teeth.

Nijay Gupta posts on Martin Hengel's pothumously published English translation of his book on Saint Peter by Eerdmans.

The Episcopal Diocese of L.A. has elected a partnered Lesbian as a suffragan Bishop (Ruth Gledhill).

Theare are two video clips of N.T. Wright interviewed at the Centre for Theological Inquiry talking about CTI as a research environment and his forthcoming Paul book.

Stephen Holmes talks about Evangelical Theology and this line caught my eyes: "Scotland still knows extremely orthodox Presbyterians who however have no evangelical spirit at all" - which is sad, but very true!

Nick Mackison wonders why reformed theologians with their big emphasis on the imputed active obedience of Christ have not taken to the subjective reading of pistis christou.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Four

Introduction of Galilean Mission (4:12-17)
In these verses Matthew introduces Jesus Galilean mission supported by a quotation from Isaiah 9:1-2. I think this passage reveals the need for a more robust understanding by France of the territorial interests of Matthew that he has himself so usefully pointed out. This weakness also relates to his view of the central concept of the kingdom of Heaven.

Isaianic Quotation
With respect to the significance of the Isaianic quotation, I think France overlooks a significant point that his own comments have suggested. He much to briefly sets aside Matthew’s reference to the tribal areas of Zebulun and Naphthali as merely echoes of Isaiah’s prophesy which he was about to write. Since, according to him, “tribal areas had little actual relevance by NT times”, Matthew’s mention of them was only apparently at the level of style and not theology. This is an unconvincing argument because it overlooks both his exegesis and a major point of emphasis for the significance of Jesus’ mission according to Matthew.

First, France shows an inconsistency in his reading of Matthew’s geographical interests by concluding that Matthew’s mention of the land of Zebulun and Naphthali is of little importance. Earlier when discussing Matt 2:6, France makes much of Matthew’s insertion of “land of Judah” into the quotation substituting it for “Ephrathah”. Contrasting with others who have seen little importance in this alteration, France suggests that Judah is emphasized to underline Jesus’ Judean origins and Davidic identity (2:6). Matthew seems theological (I would say politically as well) driven in his mention of geographical information not just in 2:6, but also here in 4:13 and else where.

Also, France notes that Matthew’s abbreviated citation “throws the focus on the geographical terms” of the quotation emphasizing “the link between his Galilean location and the dawning of the light”. Furthermore, he comments that Matthew’s rendition put the phrases: “way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” and “land of Zebulun and Naphthali” in apposition and suggest a westward looking orientation. France asks: “Did he then understand Isaiah to be speaking not from his own Palestinian standpoint but from that of the Assyrian invader?” Finally, France sees “Galilee of the nations” as referring to the significance Gentile presence in the northern region of Israel due to the “Assyrian conquest”.

These points suggest that Matthew is placing Jesus kingdom proclamation in the context of Israel’s exile. This point France seems to miss. It is curious because his observations point strongly in this direction. Instead he seems to read these clear points as “hints” of Matthew’s Gentile mission not launched until 28:16-20. However, Matthew’s opening genealogy focused on the exilic condition of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises of a restored Davidic throne. Matthew’s narrative is enfolding this story. It seems that the introduction to the Galilean mission reveals Jesus mission in Galilee as the inauguration of the reversal of Israel’s exilic condition.

Kingship of God (4:17; cf. 3:2)
Given France’s stress on the Davidic focus of the Gospel it may come as a surprise, at least it did to me, that when he defines the central phrase “kingdom of heaven/God” in 3:2 (referring back to it when discussing 4:17), he does not bring the Davidic element into the discussion or allow it to exercise any influence on his understanding of the definition of the kingdom. Instead France offers a familiar definition that posits a more spiritually oriented sense of the term. He criticizes the use of the term “kingdom” and opts for “kingship” as a better definition: the kingship of God” since this better captures the idea of God’s reign. While there is nothing wrong or unbiblical about his definition, it is not the whole story. If France is right about Matthew’s fixation on Davidic messianism then the kingship of God is seen in the presence of the Davidic messiah and his kingship. The Old Testament expectations of a future Davidic king are dependent on the statements in 2 Samuel 7 wherein God links his own kingship to David’s such that in time and space God’s kingship is tangible perceived through the Davidic dynastic reign. Thus, it is not simply “the coming of God” that is in view, but the coming of God through the coming of Messiah. The kingdom of God can no more be limited to reign as it can to realm. The creational kingship of God through Davidic messianism is a kingship through Israel over the all the nations.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Goswell on Early Readers of the Gospels

Greg Goswell has an interesting article in JGRChJ 6 (2009) on, "Early Readers of the Gospels: The Kephalalia and Titloi of Codex Alexandrinus". It's good to see Greg (an OT guy) writing on NT mss! This affirms my suspicion that all OT folk are closet NT wannabees!! Anyways, Goswell's article shows the significance of chapter divisions (Kephalalia) in codex Alexandrinus and how they provide an indication of scribal evaluations about the shape of individual pericopes and provide a commentary on the perceived literary structures of the text.

Are Idols non-entities or faces of demonic powers

It is interesting how in 1 Cor 8:4, Paul can say that idols “nothing,” but then in 1 Cor 10:19-21 he associates them with the worship of demons. Are idols nothing or are they a front for demonic powers? Perhaps it is the case that: “Idols are nonentities, but demonic powers used idols to inveigle humans into worshipping false gods” (David Garland, 1 Corinthians 372).

Gordon Fee on 1 Cor 15.12-19

In reading Gordon Fee's commentary on 1 Corinthians, I have this excellent summary about theh indispensability of Christ's resurrection for Christian faith:

“Both this final sentence and the whole argument of this paragraph are especially troublesome to those within the Christian faith who have done what is here only hypothetical for the Corinthians – denied Christ’s resurrection and thus ours as well. There seems to be little hope of getting around Paul’s argument, that to deny Christ’s resurrection is tantamount to a denial of Christian existence altogether. Yet many do so – to make the faith more palatable to ‘modern man,’ we are told. But that will scarcely do. What modern man accepts in its place is no longer the Christian faith, and those who reject the actuality of the resurrection of Christ need to face the consequences of such rejection, that they are bearing false witness against God himself. Like the Corinthians they will have believed in vain since faith is finally predicated on whether or not Paul is right on this issue” (p. 745).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Grace as Event

Today I gave my final lecture at HTC. It was on 1 Corinthians 15. I've read over this passage many times, but in my preparation I was struck by Paul's usage of "grace" in 15.10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them-- though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Co 15:10 NRSV). Paul says that because he was so unworthy and so unexpected a candidate to become an apostle, he responded to "grace" with a more concerted ministerial effort than his contemporaries. And yet that response Paul again attributes to God's grace. In effect, Paul says that he encountered God's grace, a grace that demanded his response, and now he attributes that very response to God's grace working through him as well! Thus, God's grace works in an initial call and produces the neccesary effects in its subject. This signifies that Bultmann was right when had a section in his NT Theology entitled: "Grace as Event".

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Three

Continuing the series of posts reviewing France's Matthew commentary in the NICNT, I begin addressing specific passages. The first is the Genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17)

France’s comments on the genealogy reveal his view on the question of the proper theological context for the interpretation of the First Gospel. France rightly presents Davidic Messianism as fundamental to Matthew’s presentation of Jesus.

Matthew’s genealogy is divided into three sets of 14 generations as is well known. Careful study shows that this can only be accomplished by a selective and historically imbalanced presentation. The point that France makes from this observation is that Matthew’s genealogy is a selective “survey of the history of the people of God” including a “royal list”, a “dynastic document” to imply that the succession of the Davidic throne continued while the actual monarchy had not. France concludes that the genealogy “focuses on the royal dimension . . . which finds its culmination in the coming of Jesus, the “son of David” and thus potentially in the restoration of the monarchy” (32).

The structure of the list with its two pivots at David (1:6) and the Exile (1:12), reveals Matthew’s interests in the issues of Davidic kingship and exile. France summarizes:

Its aim is clear enough: to locate Jesus within the story of God’s people, as its intended climax, and to do it with a special focus on the Davidic monarchy as the proper context for a theological understanding of the role of the person to whom Matthew, more than the other gospel writers, will delight to refer not only as “Messiah” but also more specifically as “Son of David” (33).

The Davidic character of the opening of the Gospel is absolutely the “proper context for a theological understanding” of Jesus’ mission. This observation is impressive and important. Although most would not disagree, few, even France himself, have yet to provide a reading of Matthew that is thoroughly Davidic.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Getting High on NT Christology

The "Early High Christology Club" (i.e., Hengel, Hurtado, Bauckham) have argued that 1. Jewish monotheism was strict, 2. In the first twenty-years of the church some momentous developments happened in christology that resulted in Jesus being identified with the God of Israel and incorporated into patterns of religious devotion normally reserved for YHWH. In contrast, scholars such as James Dunn, Maurice Casey, and James Crossley have argued that we have to wait until the Gospel of John (e.g., 1.1, 8.58) before we encounter any christological beliefs in Jesus' identity that genuinely transgresses what was acceptable in the first century Jewish monotheism . However, some are now contesting whether Johannine christology (from the Gospel and Revelation) really go so far as to include Jesus within the identity of God, or simply place Jesus in an exalted and divine state beside God. I've already noted the arguments of A.Y. Collins that the Johannine materials present Jesus as the most eminent created being (was Arius right afterall?). Now James McGrath in his book The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, contents that:

1. In the Fourth Gospel - "The claim that Jesus was the Messiah, God's supreme agent, was clearly a sticking oint between Christians and non-Christian Jews, and the group whose traditions and experiences are reflected in the Gospel of John are no exception. However, it seems that it was not the things that were said that were in themselves provocative and controversial in the abstract. Rahter, what was really at issue was the fact taht these things were said about Jesus. Similar language applied to an even, or even to a huan being was was universally accepted within Judaism as having been divinely appointed and sent, did not provoke this sort of controversy. This simple fact makes clear that what was at issue was not hte idea of the Logos, nor the idea of a divine agent bearing the divine name, but the claim that Jesus was such a figure" (pp. 68-69).

2. In Revelation: "The inclusion of God's appointed representative alongside God as recipient of praise is noteworthy, but it is neither unique nor without precedent. Such a development was foreseen to a certaiin extent and was perhaps even to be expected as a response to the appearance of God's agent in the realization of his eschatological salvation ... And so the depiction of Christ in the Book of Revelation represents a development within the context of Jewish monotheism rather than a development away from Jewish devotion to the only one God" (p. 76).

Several criticims could be made here (James McGrath and Michael Whitenton had an exchange over this I believe) and I'll leave it to others to examine McGrath's points.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Emendations in Modern Versions of the LXX

As I continue to work through 1 Esdras, I've noticed that at certain points in the Rahlfs-Hanhart and Gottingen (also the work of Hanhart) editions, that conjectural emendations are preferred for several names at certain points. For instance, in 1 Esdr 2.12 (15), Hanhart prefers the conjecture of J.A. Brewer who opts for Beslemos despite the fact that Belemos is attested by both Alexandrinus and Vaticanus (see bishlam Ezra 4.7). Nothing in the text cries out for an emendation and there are several alternative spellings that could have been used if the witness of the two major codices was deemed inaccurate. Moral of the story - make sure that you read the apparatus of the LXX!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Origen on Gospel Harmonization

In his Commentary on John (10.2), Origen says this about harmonizations of discrepencies between the Gospels:

"The truth of these matters must lie in that which is seen by the mind. If the discrepancy between the Gospels is not solved, we must give up our trust in the Gospels, as being true and written by a divine spirit, or as records worthy of credence, for both these characters are held to belong to these works. Those who accept the four Gospels, and who do not consider that their apparent discrepancy is to be solved anagogically (by mystical interpretation), will have to clear up the difficulty, raised above, about the forty days of the temptation, a period for which no room can be found in any way in John's narrative; and they will also have to tell us when it was that the Lord came to Capernaum. If it was after the six days of the period of His baptism, the sixth being that of the marriage at Cans of Galilee, then it is clear that the temptation never took place, and that He never was at Nazara, and that John was not yet delivered up. Now, after Capernaum, where He abode not many days, the passover of the Jews was at hand, and He went up to Jerusalem, where He cast the sheep and oxen out of the temple, and poured out the small change of the bankers. In Jerusalem, too, it appears that Nicodemus, the ruler and Pharisee, first came to Him by night, and heard what we may read in the Gospel. "After these things, Jesus came, and His disciples, into the land of Judaea, and there He tarried with them and baptized, at the same time at which John also was baptizing in AEnon near Salim, because there were many waters there, and they came and were baptized; for John was not yet cast into prison." On this occasion, too, there was a questioning on the part of John's disciples with the Jews about purification, and they came to John, saying of the Saviour. "Behold, He baptizeth, and all come to Him." They had heard words from the Baptist, the exact tenor of which it is better to take from Scripture itself. Now, if we ask when Christ was first in Capernaum, our respondents, if they follow the words of Matthew, and of the other two, will say, After the temptation, when, "leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea." But how can they show both the statements to be true, that of Matthew and Mark, that it was because He heard that John was delivered up that He departed into Galilee, and that of John, found there, after a number of other transactions, subsequent to His stay at Capernaum, after His going to Jerusalem, and His journey from there to Judaea, that John was not yet cast into prison, but was baptizing in Aenon near Salim? There are many other points on which the careful student of the Gospels will find that their narratives do not agree; and these we shall place before the reader, according to our power, as they occur. The student, staggered at the consideration of these things, will either renounce the attempt to find all the Gospels true, and not venturing to conclude that all our information about our Lord is untrustworthy, will choose at random one of them to be his guide; or he will accept the four, and will consider that their truth is not to be sought for in the outward and material letter."

ETS/IBR/SBL 2009 Reflections, Part Two

Continuing the reflections on the annual meetings I attended last week, I want to summarize the lecture Tremper Longman gave at the opening meeting of IBR on Friday night.

The title of the paper was "Of the Making of Commentaries There is No End: The Past, Present, and Future of a Genre”. In the lecture Tremper argued that writing new commentaries is an important and necessary endeavor. To be honest, I was surprised at this perspective given the oft stated remark, "Not another commentary!" I thought he would trumpet the elitest view that commentaries are a waste of scholarly energy.

Given that I am currently under contract for two commentaries, Tremper's argument was relevant to me. So for all you commentary naysayers here is Tremper's seven reasons for writing new commentaries.
  1. Advances in knowledge
  2. New methods and prespectives
  3. Competing interpretations
  4. Human finitude
  5. Reading in community(s)
  6. Changing context(s)
  7. Different readerships: clergy and laity
Some of these categories seem to blur into one another, but there is enough here to make the point that new commentaries are a necessary function of evangelical scholarship especially those written for the clergy and lay folks. I think Tremper was correct to express hesitation about commentaries for a scholarly audience. I personally don't think that we need a Davies and Allison type Matthew commentary every handful of years.

One other interesting element was Tremper's less than sanguine view of the Brazos's Commentary series. I would concur with his coolness . I reviewed the Matthew volume by Hauerwas. While I found it spiritually enriching, it was only loosely connected to Matthew. I wondered at times if he actually needed the Matthean text for the book. If a theological commentary works, it must engage closely with the text and its context. The text should not be a pretext for a theological perpsective that would have otherwise existed without the Matthean text.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Two

The Significance of Matthew’s Geographical Interest
Although one may quibble with where France perceives the major geographical shift the more substantive question is what does Matthew make of the geography? After providing what France hopes is not “a complete caricature” of Galilee, he affirms the prevailing view that the north-south divide is ideological in Matthew. Taking his cues of course from Mark’s narrative structure, Matthew has “enhanced the ideology he found in his Markan source”. France believes then that Matthew presents confrontation between the northern prophet and the southern establishment of Judea. As evidence he presents the label “Nazarene” from 2:23 in which he detects a “dismissive tone of a superior Judean observer. When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, Matthew records both the comments of the people of the city (21:10-11) and what he characterizes as “two rival teams of Galileans and Judeans” who are “starkly opposed in their attitudes” to Jesus (7). Peter, whom France characterizes as “distinctive a northerner as his master” is noticed as a potential follower of Jesus the Galilean in 26:69. Most significantly for France is the Gospel’s climax taking place not in the “holy city”, but in Galilee. Galilee not Jerusalem is the place where the messianic mission is launched. This evidence then for France reveals “a Galilee/Jerusalem schema” (7).

While I applaud France’s appreciation of Matthew’s geographical theology, I find his understanding of its importance unsatisfying. A purely north-south divide cannot to my mind explain many of the territorial additions found in Matthew (e.g. 4:12-17; see comments below).

Author, Date, Setting, and Synoptic Relationships
Notable points on these issues are as follows:
  • France “softly” advocates the traditional view that the author of Matthew is the Apostle.
  • France has a more sophisticated understanding of the situation on the ground in early Christianity that makes the questions of extra muros or intra muros even more difficult to ascertain or better perhaps simply anachronistic. A clear break between Judaism and Christianity is a much later phenomenon that was a gradual process. He states “The specific point of ‘explosion’ in relation to which the situation of the Matthean community has commonly been assessed seems to me more a modern scholarly simplification than a realistic account of the likely pattern of relations between Jews and Christians in the first century” (16).
  • France thinks the view, advocated most distinctly by D. Sim, that Matthew’s gospel was composed by an exclusively Jewish community (i.e. not mixed: Jews and Gentiles) whose interests, at least at the time of composition, were not focused on mission to the Gentiles is merely a passing fade. His doubt is not well disguised in his dismissive comment that the “trend . . . coheres well with currently fashionable attempt[s] to reclaim the historical Jesus for Judaism and to play down the extent of his challenge to scribal tradition” (17). Further, he accuses such interpretations as being as “one-sided in its reading of the evidence” as its opposite position on the question. He concludes: “I suspect that a commentary written in twenty year’s time would not feel obliged to give it so much attention” (17).
  • France believes that the Matthean community is both “inside” and “outside” the Judaism of the late first century given its convictions about the person of Jesus of Nazareth and its inclusion of Gentiles within its borders as well as the rejection of such ideas by the traditional Jewish institutions. Thus, he concludes, “Matthew portrays a new community which is both faithful to its scriptural heritage and open to the new directions demanded by Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven, and therefore necessarily expanding beyond the bounds of the Jewish people” (18).
  • France finds the pillars upon which the consensus of scholarly opinion regarding the date of Matthew to be suspect. While not seeing it of “great exegetical importance”, he nevertheless “favors” the position that Matthew was written in the sixties while the temple was still standing (19).
  • France employs a modified and chastened approach to the question of synoptic relationships. He believes in the priority of Mark, but advocates a perspective of the process of composition as much more “fluid” than has been the case. This fluidity would allow for “the process of mutual influence between various centers of Christian gospel writing” (21). Where he thinks Mark’s most influential on especially Matthew is in the narrative structure “with a single journey of Jesus from north to south” (21). As for the Q hypothesis, France has little sympathy. Although happy to suggest Q tradition, the specificity with which scholars today speak of the “Q community” and “recensions of Q” leave him “cold” (22). In this light, France describes his approach:
    I am more reluctant than many other interpreters to speak simply of how Matthew has “redacted” Mark’s material or to attempt in Q material to discern how Matthew has “adapted” the common tradition. I regard the Marcan and Lucan parallels as other witnesses to the traditions Matthew had available, but not necessarily as his direct sources. Where he differs from them, it may be because he is deliberately altering the tradition as they have recorded it, but it may also be because he has received the tradition in a rather different form. This commentary will therefore call attention to differences between the Synoptic accounts where they help to highlight the distinctive contribution of Matthew, but without always assuming direct dependence and therefore deliberate alternation of an already formulated tradition. (22).
My general impression is that France has a common-sense approach to the higher critical issues and methodology that is commendable. However, I regard his dismissal of the growing perspective of the Jewishness of Matthew’s community(s), represented by Sim, as off the mark.

New Commentary Series

Scot McKnight notes the launch of a new commentary series by Zondervan called Regula Fidei. Scot is the senior editor with Lynn Cohick (Wheaton), Joel Willitts (North Park Uni), and me (Bible College of Queensland) as the associate editors. The best way to describe what the series will be like is a cross between the NIVAC series and Scot's book the Blue Parakeet. Its distinctive features include orienting the text to the "Big Story" of Scripture and dedicating 50% of the commentary to how we "live the story". I'm slated to do Romans (whoa, I know!), Joel is doing Galatians, Lynn is doing Philippians, and Scot is doing a volume on the Sermon on the Mount. I'd love to say more of who we have but committments are not on paper just yet. But there are lots of young and up and coming scholars from the USA and Australia nominated for the roles (Brits need not apply!). There's a cohort of Aussies involved including John Dickson (Centre for Public Christianity) and probably one other chap from the antipodes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part One

I will be excerpting sections of my review of R. T. France's The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament) in a series of posts. Here is the first installment.

R. T. France’s commentary on Matthew is a significant contribution simply in its size: a massive 1117 pages of introduction and commentary—with emphasis squarely on the latter as the introduction is a brief 22 pages. Much more than that however, France’s Matthew is the fruit of a life of labor toiling in the field of the Gospels more generally and Matthew specifically. Whatever weaknesses one may think it has, are significantly outweighed by its overall strength. One will go away from the commentary not only with a greater understanding of the First Gospel, but more importantly in my view with a greater passion for following its central character. Lay folks and scholars alike will find France’s commentary a useful guide to apprehending Matthew’s message. It will no doubt take its place alongside the few other evangelical Matthew commentaries that are widely consulted within the field.

This review will be extremely selective and admittedly superficial—but how does one do justice to such a tome in such a short presentation? The purpose of my study was to take some soundings of France’s commentary to grasp a sense of his reading of Matthew. I will proceed through the commentary sequentially dealing first with introductory matters and proceeding through the commentary proper. Then I will discuss interpretive issues that I found to be interesting or curious in what I deem to be key Matthean passages: (1) the genealogy Matt 1:1—17, (2) the introduction of Galilean mission (4:12-17), (3) the fulfillment of the Torah (5:17-20), (3) the parable of the vineyard (21:33-44), and (4) the mission statements (10:6; 28:19-20). This seemed to be the most useful strategy given France’s own words to potential reviews. He wrote:

I have noticed that reviews of biblical commentaries often focus on the introduction rather than undertaking the more demanding task of reading and responding to the commentary itself. Potential reviewers of this commentary who hope to use that convenient shortcut will, I fear, be disappointed (1)

Matthew’s Structure & Outline
One thing that immediately stands out to me in the introduction is France’s understanding of the structure of the Gospel. He argues, in contrast to most modern commentaries, that Matthew has structured his Gospel geographically. Following Mark, Matthew organized Jesus’ story within a geographical framework. He writes, “This geographical outline of the story seems to me a more satisfying basis for discerning its narrative structure than the search for verbal division markers” (4). He comments further,

To read the Gospel of Matthew as a continous [sic] narrative, structured around the geographical progress of the Messiah from his Galilean homeland to his rejection in Jerusalem, with its final triumphant scene back home in Galilee, is to begin to appreciate its power as a work of literature, no simply as a source for theological or historical data” (2007: 4-5).

In France’s earlier work, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, he notes that “references to Jesus’ geographical movements punctuate Matthew’s narrative even more clearly than Mark’s” giving the following as evidence: Matthew 3:13; 4:12-16; 4:23-25; 9:35; 11:1; 14:13; 15:21; 15:29; 15:39; 16:13; 16:21; 17:22; 19:1; 20:17-18; 20:29; 21:1 (1989: 151).

France’s outline of the Gospel, then, is as follows:
I. Introducing the Messiah (1:1—4:11)
II. Galilee: the Messiah revealed in word and deed (4:12—16:20)
III. From Galilee to Jerusalem: the Messiah and his followers prepare for the confrontation (16:21—20:34)
IV. Jerusalem: the Messiah in confrontation with the religious authorities (21:1—25:46)
V. Jerusalem: the Messiah rejected, killed, and vindicated (26:1—28:15)
VI. Galilee: the Messianic mission is launched (28:16-20)

While this geographical structure is a significant development and represents a turning back to a much earlier understanding of the Gospel’s structure (see for example Allen), one may ask why France sees a narrative turn at 16:21 since no major geographical move has happened. The next geographical statement of structural consequence comes rather in 19:1: “he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan River”. This is the first time in the narrative since 4:12 that Jesus is said to be moving to Judea.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ETS/IBR/SBL 2009 Reflections, Part One

I am sitting in the airport trying to get back to Chicago after a good week at both ETS and SBL. I accidentally got myself involved in two sessions at ETS so I attended the whole three days. I offered a paper on Thursday entitled: "Is the mission of Jesus universal in the Fourth Gospel? And Are the Gentiles in John?". This was meant to be a provocative look at the question of the purpose of the Gospel in view of John 11:49-53 and the less than explicit references to Gentiles in the Gospel. This is something I've been thinking about for some time and I think is a set of questions worth exploring.

The second session I was involved in was in the Synoptic Gospels session on Friday afternoon. The topic was recent commentaries on Matthew and Mark. I was asked to review R.T. France's commentary. I will make it available for the blog in the very near future. It was a great time as I mucked it up with Ben Witherington, Darrell Bock, Nick Perrin and others. The session as a whole was rather laborious when I wasn't involved, but the discussion at the end was good fun.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Off to SBL in New Orleans

I'm currently in Charlotte, NC (using free wifi thanks to Google) enroute to New Orleans, the "Big Easy" for SBL. Joel Willitts is already there. I'm not doing any papers this year as I'm there mainly to attend meetings and soak in some jazz music. My biggest anxiety is whether to go to Tom Wright's lecture on Justification on Sunday night, or else, attend the NT Theology session with J.D.G. Dunn, U. Schnelle, and D.A. Carson on at the same time. That's a hard pick, but I'll probably go for the latter. Also, I'm told by Hendrickson that the Faith of Jesus Christ book is literally flying out. So make sure you buy your copy before they sell out - and for the record, I predict they will sell out - it's a cracker-lacking book that is gucci to the max!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christ Centred Interpretation Only?

Earlier I posted on Jason Hood's article about "Christ Centred Interpretation Only?" published in SBET. As a follow up, in the latest issue of CT, Colin Hansen has a piece on "Christ-Centred Cautions" that highlights Hood's concerns that Christ Centred preaching can denigrate those who preach a message of moral exhoration from Scripture. Hood's concern is that Jesus and the biblical authors themselves use Scripture for a great deal of moral exhortation. Hood accepts the premise that Christ is the centre of Scripture and rejects crass moralizations. But there is no escaping the fact that much of the NT use of the OT focuses on moral exhortation.

A few other thoughts:

1. While it might sound a bit neat, there is clearly a "both/and" balance here. Undoubtedly when NT authors and the Church Fathers came to a biblical text they brought with them the story of Scripture itself, they read the Bible christocentically, because the Bible explicitly told them to (e.g., Luke 24:27; John 5:45-47; Rom 10:4, etc.). And yet we should also read the Bible ecclesiocentrically because we are supplied with the example of this as well. How much of the NT's use of the OT talks about the church in the context of its coming into existence, warnings from Isael's past, and its hostility with the world around it (e.g., Romans 9-11!). In my mind 1 Corinthians 10 shows both elements since in 10.4 we see that the rock that followed Israel in the wilderness was "Christ" and then in 10.11 the wilderness narrative was written "as warnings for us on whom the end of ages had come". In fact, Richard Hays argues that the ecclesiocentric element is more prolific than the christocentric element in Paul.

2. In certain Reformed circles it is common to see the necessary application of every sermon to be, somehow, about the Law vs. Gospel distinction. This seems like an odd thing to interject into every sermon. Yes, Gal 3:12, "The Law is not of faith", but let's note also Rom 3:27 with the "law of faith" and by faith "we uphold the Law". There is undoubtedly two epochs of Law and Christ (Gal. 3.10-14 and Rom. 3.21), but they are part of a single story in which there are continuities and discontinuities and focusing on the discontinuities seems like an odd thing to trump out twice on Sunday.

3. As someone who preaches a fair bit around the traps, I tend to think that the goal of preaching is transformation. Transformation in terms of conforming our minds to the Word of God and conforming our lives to the pattern of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paul Helm on J.I. Packer

Bucking the fashionable trend in some circles to denigrate J.I. Packer as too broad a churchman, Paul Helm has written a piece that gives a sympathetic non-conformist perspective on J.I. Packer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Martin Bucer and the Tetrapolitan Confession

I have a great affection for Martin Bucer in his attempt to reconcile Lutheran and Reformed views in Germany and he was his "own man" in many respects when it came to theology. After much hunting around (and it took alot of hunting) I finally found a copy of his Tetrapolitan Confession at Google Books. Not only is there no mention of imputation, but it also says this about good works:

"But since they who are the children of God are led by the Spirit of God, rather than that they act themselves (Rom 8:14), and 'of him, and through him, and to him, are all things' (Rom 11:36), whatsoever things we do well and holily are to be ascribed to none other than to this one only Spirit, the Giver of all virtues. However it be, he does not compel us, but leads us, being willing, working in us to both will and to do (Phil 2:12). Hence Augustine writes wisely that God rewards his own works in us. By this we are so far from rejecting good works that we utterly deny that any one can be saved unless by Christ's Spirit he be brought thus far, that there be in him no lack of good works, for which God has created in him".

Is this a confession of faith that Tom Wright could sign up to since it invokes Wrights' concern about the Spirit in the Christian life?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Catholic Epistles, Theology of

I've written earlier about the task of considering, writing, and even applying a theology of the Apostolos (= Acts + General Epistles). I'm glad to see more attention given to the canonical function of the General Epistles as a whole in the following works:

Peter H. Davids, “The Catholic Epistles as Canonical Janus: A New Testament glimpse into Old and New Testament Canon Formation,” BBR 19.3 (2009): 403-16.

David R. Nienhuis, Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistles and the Christian Canon (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007).

Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr and Robert W. Wall (eds.), Catholic Epistles and Apostolic Tradition (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009).

I think this is a new and mostly uncharted sphere of research!

Theology of the Cross

My recently viva'd student, Jason Hood, has written a number of articles on the cross and evangelical theology. The first one is published in WTJ and is available on-line as The Cross in the New Testament: Two Theses in Conversation with Recent Studies (2000-2007). On the second one, Patrick Schreiner offers a good review of Hood's article on "Christ-Centered Interpretation Only?" published in SBET (2009).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Writing like Dostovesky or Lucado

Writing has always been a struggle for me both at the level of production (amount) and quality (style). Once I was told by a professor in my doctoral program that my writing was Schlecht (which for you non-German readers means bad or poor!) and that I would need to ratchet it up several notches if I were to succeed in academia.

I appreciated that the professor thought that academic writing should have both excellent research and literary qualities. If you read dissertations you will realize quickly the lack of emphasis on the latter. His prescription to my writing foibles was to read 19th century novels to gain a sense of style required for excellent academic writing. So I took the first summer of my Ph.D. to read a couple of Dostoevsky novels: the Idiot and Brothers Karamasov. It was a great experience for an person who has read very little classic literature (I hated English in High School and avoided it in College as much as I could). While I would not claim that my thesis is of a high literary quality to say the least (please!), don't be surprise if you find traces of the style of the English translation of Dostoevsky.

Recently, I have been attempting to write for a wider audience (interested laity) and I have struggled to write in a way that avoids complex and pregnant sentences--the stuff of good German and 19th century literary style. One older and wiser mentor suggested to me recently that I need to read Max Lucado. Truth be told many years ago (probably a couple of decades ago) I read almost everything Lucado had written. However, when my friend recommend this to me--and his recommendation was perhaps tongue-in-cheek--I balked: Max Lucado are you kidding that is like one step above Joel Osteen. Still as I reflected on his recommendation, it made me realize that when I write for the church that is exactly the kind of voice I need to hear rolling around in my head as I am constructing thoughts in sentences. So, in the short term, I'll be putting down War and Peace and picking up Cast of Charaters.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Richard Mouw on the Covenanters

Richard Mouw (President of Fuller Seminary) has a great little post about the Scottish Covenanters and reflections on what they mean for us today. Very relevant for those of us living in Scotland!

Congrats to Jason Hood

Congratulations to Jason Hood (Memphis, USA) for successfully defending his Ph.D thesis on "The Story of Israel in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus: With Special Reference to the Function of Biblical Genealogies". It was examined by Hector Morrison (HTC/UHI) and Paul Foster (Edinburgh Uni). Jason is no longer a padawan, he is now a fully fledged Jedi Neutestamentler!

Reviews of Doug Campbells Deliverance of God

Andy Rowell has usefully collated a series of early reviews of Doug Campbell's big book The Deliverance of God. I'm hoping to read it very soon myself, just as soon as I finish reading Jimmy Dunn's tome Beginning from Jerusalem!

Reformation & Revival Articles

Robert Bradshaw has gradually been posting up whole issues of the journal Reformation & Revival (now superseded by the on-line Advancing the Christian Tradition). In the latest batch are a cohort of articles on "Eschatology," "New Covenant," and "Justification" that contain a great many good pieces with consulting.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

A. Andrew Das on Rom 4.4-5

Note this recent article A. Andrew Das, "Paul and Works of Obedience in Second Temple Judaism: Romans 4:4-5 as 'New Perspective' Case Study," CBQ 71.4 (2009): 795-812. In this piece Das seeks a middle ground on the NPP debate (and the angels cried Hallelujah!) noting that some erroneously miss perspectives about God's empowering grace in Judaism, while others oddly miss the many demands for strict and perfect obedience as well. He concludes:

"New Perspective interpreters such as Dunn and Wright have correctly highlighted the abandoment of Jewish ethnocentrism in Paul's letters, but their central claim that his critique of the Law is limited to ethnocentrism does not withstand scrutiny. The Jews considered observance of the Law's works to be a necessary accompaniment of God's gracious election of the people. Second Temple literature praised those who were exemplary in their obedience, especially Abraham. Paul's convictions prevent him from recognizing the validity of works that proceed apart from the gracious framework of God's activity in Jesus Christ. The Apostle has sundered strict obedience from God's election and mercy toward ethnic Israel. Romans 7:7-25 can therefore describe teh futile struggle to obey what the Law requires. One searches in vain in 7:7-25 for an atoning mechanism that availa for sin apart form Christ (vv. 24-25). Paul may therefore speak of empty "works" or human exertion in contrast to grace as a warrant for why the works of the Law needlessly divide humanity. An adequate 'new perspective' must account for the Apostle's critique of works considered apart form God's grace in Christ."

Sheffield University at CT

The attempt at closing the Biblical Studies department at Sheffield University saw a wide and varied coalition of folks come together to strenuously object to the closure. Over at CT is an article about the kerfuffle. See also James Crossley's response to remarks by BW3 cited in the article.

Living the Old Testament World

Check out this video by Zondervan on John Walton and the new Zondervan Illustrated Background Bible Commentary. It scores a 12.4 on the "craic-o-meter".

CEB - Gospel of Matthew

The forthcoming Common English Bible has released its first excerpt and it features a translation of the Gospel of Matthew. Probably the most interesting "new" thing is that ho uious tou anthropou, normally translated as "the Son of Man", in the CEB is rendered as "the Human One".

HT: Doug Chaplin

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Knowledge of God and Known by God

1 Cor 8:3 states, "but anyone who loves God is known by him," and based on this Richard Hays writes:

“The initiative in salvation comes from God, not from us. It is God who loves us first, God who elects us and delivers us from the power of sin and death. Therefore what counts is not so much our knowledge of God as God’s knowledge of us” (Richard Hays, First Corinthians, 138).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Evangelicals and Catholics

Over at CT is a piece by Colin Hansen entitled, Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which points to a division among the IVCF chapter at George Washington University over whether Catholics can hold positions of leadership in an IVCF chapter.

Part of the article suggests that N.T. Wright is responsible for driving evangelicals to Rome. I had a big on-line exchange with Dan Wallace about his remark on a book blurb that "in some respects" there is "hardly" any difference between N.T. Wright's doctrines on justification and that of Rome [In fairness to Wallace this was a remark from a book blurb, for a fuller word from Wallace about N.T. Wright see here]. Now I confess that I don't want to get a reputation for being an apologist for N.T. Wright (though it might be too late for that). Although I greatly admire his work, I have some genuine criticisms that I have voiced in an excursus in SROG, and I gave John Piper some feedback on his manuscript The Future of Justification on what I think are the weaker nodes of Wright's arguments. But the attempt to make Wright look like John Henry Newman in an evangelical garb is a bit too much. Wright has criticized Anglo-Catholic views of the afterlife re: purgatory, he holds to a forensic justification as his critics even admit, and his view of grace is different from catholic sacramental theology. Contra Francis Beckwith who is cited in the article, I simply don't know how Wright can give someone an appreciation of a Catholic view of grace that is somehow different from a protestant view of grace. Part of the problem is that some folks want to reduce the debate to "Geneva" versus "Rome" as if they are the only two games in town: they are not! For a start, there is a lot of diversity among the residents of Geneva. The Westminster and Augsburg confessions disagree on what is imputed, Melanchthon and Luther disagreed on whether good works are necessary for salvation, John Calvin was also able to hold together justification and sanctification through union with Christ in a unique way, Martin Bucer held to a two-fold imputation for the impious and the pious, the Puritans weren't exactly monolithic on justification either as a comparison of Richard Baxter and John Owen shows, I think it was George Joye (like Ambrosiaster from the Church Fathers) who saw God's righteousness as his faithfulness rather than as a righteousness imputed from God, etc. Then look at Rome. Yes, we have Trent that was reactive and heavy-handed, and therefore, given to a theology born out of polemics. But read some modern Catholic commentators like Joseph Fitzmyer and I remain confused as to how his Romans commentary which is sooo protestantesque in places was ever granted nihil obstat. D.A. Carson tells a story of how he asked Joseph Fitzmyer what did he believe: his Romans commentary or the 1993 catechism which is solidly tridentine when it came to justification? Then there's a guy like Scott Hahn who is a better and more consistent covenant theologian than some Presbyterians I know. Then what about the Barthians who have a more christocentric approach to the matter that is speaking a different language altogether? Hans Kung saw in Karl Barth a bridge between Protestants and Rome. Not forgetting the post-Bultmann Lutherans like Ernst Kasemann and Peter Stuhlmacher who don't fit neatly into any precise camp with their view of justification as transformative in the sense of God both declaring and making the sinners righteous. Then go east young man with the Orthodox theologians who can integrate justification closely to their leitmotif of theosis. Now suddenly the multiple-choice theology of Geneva or Rome seems highly simplistic doesn't it? Wright's critique of Reformed interpretation, overstated and full of generalization I often find it!, can only cause folk to go to Rome if they are caught in this Geneva or Rome dichotomy. In other words, if you ingrain into people that Geneva (or one suburb of Geneva) and Rome (= Trent) are the only two options, once they question some of their Reformed heritage, you haven't left them with any other option.

In my mind, the most analogous antecedent figure to N.T. Wright is Martin Bucer. Bucer regarded "works of the law" as Jewish ceremonies (which is kinda like boundary markers) and he wanted to integrate the Spirit into the process of the Christian life and saw a second justifying work in the life of the Christ. I think a good project for some brave soul would be to compare Bucer and Wright on Romans 2 and Galatians 4-5 to see where they agree and disagree. I would add that perhaps some affinities with Richard Baxter (see Paul Helm) can be made as well. If I had time to read-up further, I'd say a little bit of Ulrich Zwingli on regeneration and Richard Hooker on the sacraments might be a good comparison with N.T. Wright as well. In other words, Wright is clearly "in" the broad Reformed camp, even though he has some camping gear that I don't like.

I genuinely believe that good progress has been made in Catholic-Protestant relations since the Reformation. This is evidenced by the Evangelicals and Catholics Together as well as the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification which were positive moves forward (see Richard Mouw's quotation from Charles Spurgeon on Spurgeon's trip to a Catholic Church). I can honestly say that I'd rather worship and pray with an Orthodox Catholic than with a Liberal Protestant. I believe in the Reformation and yet recognize that the definition of a Christian in Rom 10:9-10 is broader than my own doctrinal statement. Still, at the end of the day there remains several incommensurable and irreconcilable differences between evangelicals and Catholics over the distinction between justification and sanctification, the nature of Christian assurance, the eucharist, the papacy, doctrines of Mary, and priestly celibacy. In the end, rediscovering covenant as a unifying theological category, experiencing the blessings of liturgy, digesting the church fathers in a serious way, and seeking transformation rather than transcendence, should be a means of enriching our own theological tradition rather than a reason for running to Rome. What is more, resources to do these things actually are available in the Reformed tradition if you look far and deep enough.

Update: Note the response from Wright via Trevin Wax.