Friday, January 30, 2009

The centre of the New Testament - Apostolic Discourse

What is the theological centre of the New Testament? Justification by faith, that's only really central in Romans 1-5 and Galatians 1-2. Jesus Christ - well duh - that is so broad as to be meaningless! Salvation-History, but doesn't that confuse the car with the driver? It must be resurrection then, but is the resurrection ofJesus Christ the centre of Philemon and Jude; and for that matter does the centre of the NT have to be the centre of every constitiuent part? It is hard to find a centre given the theological diversity in the New Testament and the differences in genres as well as differences in time and space that separate these documents.

I like Peter Balla who proposes a shared creedal summary, a kinda early "Rule of Faith", as the shared theological fabric in the NT. Then again Dodd's kerygma is an attractive option since it brings together the Gospel of Mark, Paul's epistles, and the Lucan speeches into a comprehensive unity. More recently, I'm interested in the notion of "apostolic discourse" (borrowed from John Webster and Kevin Vanhoozer) as it is the essential elements of the apostolic testimony to God and Jesus Christ. Of course that again begs the question, what are the essential elements of the apostolic testimony to God and Jesus ? I'm still working that out! For the moment, I'm tending towards certain "fixtures" that involve God, Christ, and the story of salvation as it is made in the NT. The word "gospel" is an encoded reference to that story which is decoded in the apostolic proclamation that details the relationship between the exalted Lord and Messiah to Jesus of Nazareth, the life of Jesus in relation to the hope of Israel, the identity of Jesus Christ in relation to the God of Israel, and the God of Israel in relation to the rest of creation.

Greg Beale on the Erosion of Inerrancy

Over at the Reformed Forum there is a session with Greg Beale on inerrancy. A few thoughts:

I appreciate Beale's arguments as I confess that I'm also not sure about using the incarnation as an analogy for a doctrine of Scripture, some postmodern views of Scripture are between weird and scary, and I am wary of parallel-o-mania in using ANE and Second Temple texts in biblical study. Concerns that I do have, however, are:

1. That a priori theological deduction about Scripture always trumps the phenomena of Scripture in formulating a doctrine of Scripture. A doctrine of Scripture should take into account Scripture's witness to itself, but also the phenomenon of Scripture's textual history and its relationship to its cultural context (Charles Hodge said: "Our views of inspiration must be determined by the phenomena of the Bible as well as from its didactic statements" [Systematic Theology 1.169]).

2. In my mind, there are undoubtedly antecedents to Warfield-Henry-Chicago from Augustine to John Owen. But I think you have to admit that modern discussions on inerrancy have been influenced by post-enlightenement critiques of revealed religion, philosophical rationalism permeating theological method, and the "Battle for the Bible" in North America. But the assumption, I think intimated by Carl Trueman in the interview, is that 17th century doctrines of Scripture were basically identical to the 20th century left me gobsmacked. I wouldn't deny the similarities, but we shouldn't deny the different contexts either. I get the impression that some think that God gave Calvin and the Westminster divines a private revelation of the works of B.B. Warfield. Yet Calvin was influenced by medieval views of Scripture and not by modernist ones! I would point out that some doctrines of Scripture from the period could define the Bible's truthfulness without using inerrantesque language at all, e.g. the Anglican 39 Articles (and see the recent GAFCON statement of faith - no reference to inerrancy: alas, orthodoxy without inerrancy is possible!!!). In fact, references to the autographa in particular were fairly spasmodic in the 17th century, but only now have become central. That is one clear difference between the 17th century context and the 19th-20th century context.

3. Why has "infallible" become such a pernicious term now? I know Fuller Seminary uses it and Rogers/McKim tried to redefine it somewhat, so it is guilt by association I suppose. But the word occurs in the WCF and 1689 LBC and I don't see why I should somehow be ashamed of my confessional heritage and be forced to use the word "inerrancy". The word "infallible" was good enough in the 17th century and it's jolly well good enough now. I would say, contra Beale, that J.I. Packer was right, the word "inerrancy" was basically absent prior to the 19th century. Who said Warfield is the standard to which the reformers and reformed scholastics must match up to? Admittedly, much of what is included under the aegis of inerrancy is absorbed under the older term infallible - so why not go back to using the word infallible if its in the reformed confessions?

4. That inerrancy requires rejection of certain genres and means holding very particular views of intertextual hermeneutics. The matter of genre should be settled by genre criticism, not by an appeal to inerrancy (e.g. is Matthew 1-2 midrash). On intertextuality (Beale is very good in noting that NT authors have "varying" levels of interest in the original context of the OT) we need to take a case by case approach and be prepared for some creative applications by NT authors of OT texts that was quite meaningful in its own literary context, but does not square up with modern literary criticism (e.g. Paul's allegory in Galatians 4).

5. I would say, with the Chicago Statement, that Scripture is "true and trustworthy" and that trustworthiness is anchored in the faithfulness of God to his Word.

New Book on NT and Christian Theology

One of the best books I've read in recent times is:

Markus Bockmuehl & Alan J. Torrance
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.

The first essay on the Septuagint by J. Ross Wagner (who I must try to meet one day) looks at the Septuagint as part of the Christian Bible. He points out that there was no single "Septuagintal" text that the NT authors drew on, but a diversity and fluidity of biblical texts in Greek that, in an on-going process, translators were constantly trying to bring into closer conformity to the Hebrew text. He finally opts for John Webster's dogmatic theory of the "sanctification" of Holy Scripture that specifies how the Septuagint may legitimately lie with the Church's ongoing search for the Christian Bible. God speaks in and through texts that remain very human artifacts. The sanctification refers to the Spirit's election and overseeing of the historical events leading to the formation of Scripture so that the events themselves serve the purposes of God. The Spirit's superintending refers to the production of a text, not just its authorship.

In the second essay, "Is There a New Testament Doctrine of the Church?" Markus Bockmuehl, in his usually good form, contrasts the presentations of Ernst Kaesemannand (a then young) Raymond Brown at the 1963 World Conference on Faith and Order on the Church in the NT. argued for no unifying ecclesiology which emerges largely from his conviction that there is a plethora of christologies and theologies in the NT. In other words, the fragmentation of churches has its justification in the multiplicity of conflicting confessional positions in the NT itself. At the same time, Kaesemann raised ecclesial and canonical diversity to a metaphysical ideal, this is helped much by Walter Baur's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, and embraced by postmodern discourse that idolizes endemic and irreconciliable diversity as a hegemonic metanarrative. Brown, in contrast, departs from Kaesemann by stressing that Luke-Acts cannot be reduced to a later harmonization of incompatible Palestinian and Gentile church views into a coherent construct. And the disputed or "pseudepigraphal" epistles are not a correction to Pauline and Petrine views, as much, a continuation of their style and thought. For Brown there are three areas of common conviction among NT authors as including continuity with Israel, apostolicity, and baptism/eucharist. Bockmuehl goes on to argue that there was a widespread perspective in the NT of the New Covenant people of God as the elect of the God of Israel. The Old Testament fathers are our fathers of the faith. On apostolicity, the Rule of Faith shaped the canon but was also shaped by it. As Irenaeus supposed, one cannot be in authentic ecclesial life if one stands apart from the apostolic foundations. Bockmuehl also contests Alfred Loisy's much repeated dictum that "Jesus foretold the kingdom of God, and it was the church that came". Bockmuehl maintains that Jesus did intend to found a messianic community since the intended outcome of Jesus' ministry was the Son of Man's messianic rule over Israel as its King. That required a further apostolic mission from his chosen disciples to gather the leaderless lost sheep of the house of Israel. That is why, according to the Synoptics and Paul, that Jesus expressed his thought on the matter by instituting a eucharistic meal that became the focucs of their remembrance and worship.

That's all for now. I might post highlights later on.

Messianic Interpretation in the Targums

The most thorough study of messianic interpretation in the targums is S.H. Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation (New York: Ktav, 1974) which conveniently provides a list of texts that give a messianic slant to (often) non-messianic texts in the Hebrew Bible. The list is cited on the hope of Israel missionary website (I'm aware of Levey's work but I confess that I haven't confirmed these citations just yet).

Gen 3.15 (Pseudo-Jonathan): "They are destined to make peace at the end, in the days of King Messiah"

Gen 3.15 (Frg.): "They will make peace with one another in the end, in the very end of days, in the days of King Messiah"

Gen 35.21 (Ps.-J): "And Jacob moved on, and pitched his tent onward to the tower of Eder, the place whence the King Messiah is destined to reveal himself at the end of days"

Gen 49.1 (Ps.-J): "As soon as the date of the End when the King Messiah would arrive was revealed to him..."

Gen 49.1 (Frg.): "For he was revealing to them all that was going to occur at the very end, the time of the Messiah."

Gen 49.10-12 (Onq.): "The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children's children, forever, until the Messiah comes, to whom the Kingdom belongs, and whom nations will obey."

Gen 49.10-12 (Ps.-J): "Kings and rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor scribes who teach the Torah from his seed, until the time when the King Messiah shall come, the youngest of his sons, and because of him nations shall melt away....How beautiful is the King Messiah who is destined to arise from the house of Judah...How beautiful are the eyes of King Messiah, as pure wine!"

Gen 49.10-12 (Frg.): "Kings shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor scribes who teach the Torah from his children's children, until the time of the coming of King Messiah, to whom belongs the Kingdom, and to whom all dominions of the earth shall become subservient...How beautiful is he, King Messiah, who is destined to arise from the house of Judah....How beautiful to behold are they, the eyes of the King Messiah..."

Exod 12.42 (Frg.): "Moses shall go forth from the wilderness and the King Messiah from Rome..."

Exod 17.16 (Ps.-J): "from the generation of this world, and from the generation of the Messiah, and from the generation of the World-to-Come."

Exod 40.9-11 (Ps.-J): "...and consecrate it for the crown of the kingdom of the house of Judah and King Messiah, who is destined to redeem Israel at the end of days...and from whom is to descend the Messiah son of Ephraim, by whose hand the house of Israel is to vanquish Gog and his confederates at the end of days."

Num 11.26 (Frg.): "At the end, the very end of days, Gog and Magog and their armies shall go up against Jerusalem, but they shall fall by the hand of the King Messiah."

Num 23.21 (Ps.-J): "The Memra (word) of the Lord their God is their help, and the trumpet-call of the King Messiah echoes in their midst."

Num 24.7 (Frg.): "Their king shall arise from among them, and their deliverer shall be of them and with them...Exalted shall be the kingdom of the King Messiah."

Num 24.17-24 (Onq.): "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but he is not hear; when a king shall arise out of Jacob and be anointed the Messiah out of Israel."

Num 24.17-24 (Ps.-J): "...but when a mighty king of the house of Jacob shall reign, and shall be anointed Messiah, wielding the mighty scepter of wage war against Israel, in the days of the King Messiah...and those shall fall by the hand of the King Messiah..."

Deut 25.19 (Ps,-J.): "Even unto the days of King Messiah, you shall not forget."

Deut 30.4-9 (Ps.-J.): "and from there he shall bring you near by the hand of the King Messiah..."

I Sam 2.7-10: "He shall give strength to His king, and shall make great the kingdom of His Messiah"

I Sam 2.35: "I will raise up before Me a trustworthy priest, who shall minister according to My word and My will, and I will establish for him an enduring reign and he shall serve my Messiah all the days."

2 Sam 22.28-32: "and the deliverance which Thou shalt perform for Thy Messiah and for the remnant of Thy people..."

2 Sam 23.1-5: "...Said David, the son of Jesse, said the man who was anointed to the Messianic Kingship by the Memra of the God of Jacob...God spoke to me...and He decided to appoint for me a king, he is the Messiah, who is destined to arise and rule in the fear of the Lord..."

1 Kgs 5.13: "who were destined to rule in this world and in the world of the Messiah"

Isa 4.1-6: "At that time the Messiah of the Lord shall be a joy


Now obviously the vast majority of these glosses belong to third or fourth century textual witnesses and developed traditions about a messiah from the talmudic period. However, if we can use 12th century AD masoretic texts to reconstruct 8th century BC Israel, surely we can lean on 4th century texts/traditions to shed light on 1st century (even pre-70 AD) Palestineian Judaism (esp. since a similar messianic embellishment can be found in Old Greek texts). Generally speaking, I think where you have a Targum reading paralleled by a NT, DSS, LXX, or Philonic reading, then you have a reasonable case that the specific targumic reading is probably fairly early.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Auction for Charity

Due to some fortunate circumstances I have an extra copy of Adela Yarbro Collins & John Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008). It retails on for $28 (USD) or £16 (UK). I'm putting it up for auction in the comments section and the proceeds are to be sent to Compassion UK. Auction ends midnite Friday (postagge is free). It's a worthy cause, it is a cracking good book for anyone who wants to understand messianism and intermediaries figures as a background to the NT, and it is a great companion to Are You the One Who is to Come? written by moi.

Bird vs. Crossley - Part 2: On Premier Christian Radio

Over at PCR, is the second installment of the debate betwee myself and James Crossley. Here we discuss Paul, Christology, and more on the Gospels.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RBL Review: Bob Gundry - The Old is Better

Over at RBL is my review of Robert H. Gundry, The Old Is Better: New Testament Essays in Support of Traditional Interpretations (Mohr Siebeck, 2005).

Doctrine without Scripture?

Sometime ago I was reading the website of a Reformed Institution that had a page detailing its official views on justification. There is nothing at all wrong with saying where you stand on controversial issues. I could agree with some of the statements, some I could agree with if they were qualified, some I could not accept, and some were just flat out strange. But as I read this document with all of its assertions about justification, I noticed that it cited many catechisms and confessions but it did not cite Scripture even once in the entire document. This left me concerned and confused (that is PC for it scared the daylights out of me).

What role does Scripture have in Reformed theology? The approach taken in the anonymous document mentioned above is concerning because: (1) It replaces Scripture with the Confessions. (2) It makes the Confessions the mediator of Scripture. (3) It assigns, by implication, the authority of Scripture to the Confessions. (4) It turns the Confessions and its modern devotees into a new magisterium and thus undermines everything that the Reformers themselves fought against and even died for, the authority of Scripture in the life of the church: Sola Scriptura.

Let me head off two potential objections. First, that the Confessions are a summary of what Scripture teaches. Yes and No! The Confession constitute an attempt to summarize and systematize the teaching of Scripture. As such, I can happily sign my name on the dotted line underneath the WCF because I believe, all things being even, that it represents the mind of Scripture. However, the Confessions are also interpretations of Scripture by fallible human beings and they place Scripture in a theological framework also developed by human beings. Thus, they are one step removed from Scripture itself. To cite the Confession then is not the same as citing Scripture and neither should we ever presume to think so. Second, we all interpret Scripture in light of some tradition and there is no neutral perspective and no strictly biblicist approach to interpretation. I concede as much. The Confessions and Catechisms represent the fallible attempt of men and women to articulate the infallible truths of Scripture. The Confessions/Catechisms represent the mind of the Reformed Tradition. Tradition is a tool for reading Scripture. We should read Scripture in light of our Tradition, but we should also read Tradition in light of Scripture!

For those in the Reformed churches, I ask you, should we cite the Confessions rather than Scripture in our doctrinal forumulations? I say unto you: "nay" and "over my dead body"!

1. We have the example of the Bible itself where theological truth is defined by that which is "according to the Scriptures" (e.g. 1 Cor. 15.3-8) and theological truth is apprehended by being good Bereans and "searching the Scriptures" (e.g. Acts 17.11).

2. The example of the Reformers themselves would lead us to believe that Scripture must be primary in our theological formulations and church life (not just derivative from commentaries on Scripture). Calvin himself said: “Let us not take it into our heads . . . to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word.”

3. Semper Reformanda means testing our doctrine, polity, liturgy, and church life to make sure that it is in line with Scripture not in line with the Confessions (not rehearsing the mantra that the Confessions are substantially without error and engaging in deviant labelling of those who disagree).

4. This perspective is also the view of one of the Reformed Confessions. Let me cite to you the 1560 Scots Confession XVIII:

When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture, or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much to ask what men have said or done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded. For it is agreed by all that the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself. So if the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost, although councils, realms, and nations have approved and received it. We dare not receive or admit any interpretation which is contrary to any principal point of our faith, or to any other plain text of Scripture, or to the rule of love.

Once upon a time, men could make doctrines for the Christian religion without reference to Scripture. It was called the Dark Ages. For the sake of the Reformation of the church, I urge my brothers and sisters in the Reformed churches to give serious consideration to the relationship between Scripture and Confession and not elevating (in practice especially) the latter over the former. Otherwise we will wake up one day and find ourselves enslaved to a new magisterium that claims to be biblical, but in practice, is far from it. There endeth the lesson.

Jensen on Bird

I am grateful to Michael Jensen for his generous thoughts on my articulation of justification in Bird's Eye-View of Paul.

Tom Schreiner vs. Australia

Tom Schreiner is a good man and a fine scholar, but I was enraged with post-colonial nationalism when I heard him say in a lecture recorded at Oak Hill College in London that he cannot tell the difference between a British accent and an Australian one. But all is forgiven now and I'm happily reading over his NT Theology and enjoying it very much. However, a few other Australians are reading it as well and have problems with Schreiner's unifying theme of God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ. You can read the critical questions posed by Michael Jensen and comments by Ben Myers.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Getting More Sceptical on Q

In recent years I have been becoming more and more pessimistic about the existence of Q due to my readings of Luke. Two particular texts burn in my mind:

1. Jesus' Confession Before Caiaphas

Mark 14.62: καὶ ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ δεξιῶν καθήμενον τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.

Matt 26.64: ἀπ' ἄρτι ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καθήμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.

Luke 22.69: ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν δὲ ἔσται υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καθήμενος ἐκ δεξιῶν τῆς δυνάμεως τοῦ θεοῦ.

I find it an amazing coincidence that Mattew and Luke would both independently qualify the Marcan Jesus' statement to the effect that "from now on" you will see/it will be the Son of Man seated besides the Power.

2. Jesus and the Centurion and the Eschatological Reversal Saying

Matt 8.5-10 and Luke 7.1-10 both include stories of Jesus' encounter with a centurion at Capernaum. This is unique among Q material as it is the only narrative in Q itself (and some rightly attribute it to an independent tradition known to both Matthew and Luke). However, Matthew finishes this story with a reference to a saying of eschatological reversal (8.11-13) and yet Luke has this same saying but in a completely different context (13.28-30).

Now earlier I thought that it would be unlikely for Luke to split up Matt 8.5-13 into two parts (Luke 7.1-10 and 13.28-29) if he had access to it when it would be so congenial to his pro Gentile interests. But there again, Matt 8.11-12/Luke 13.28-29 might be another independent saying known to both authors. Luke can also omit some missional material because he intends to bring it up in his second volume (e.g. Mk 13.10).

More telling is the fact that Luke inverts the order of the saying in contrast to Matthew, but Luke also includes "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (ἔσται κλαυθμὸς καὶ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων) which is arguably a distinctive Matthean expression.

3. Conclusion

I am gradually coming around to the position that Luke used Matthew, but I don't think I'm prepared as of yet to give up the notion that there were still some shared and independent traditions between Matthew and Luke consisting of both oral (e.g. the centurion at Capernaum) and perhaps even written materials (e.g. parable of the mustard seed).

But I'm not Synoptic problem guru and I'll leave it to other minds to figure out.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

James Dunn on New Testament Theology

I've just seen that in May 2009 Abingdon Press is releasing New Testament Theology: An Introduction (Library of Biblical Theology) by James D. G. Dunn. The blurb reads:

"In this volume in the Library of Biblical Theology series, James D.G. Dunn ranges widely across the literature of the New Testament to describe the essential elements of the early church’s belief and practice. Eschatology, grace, law and gospel, discipleship, Israel and the church, faith and works, and most especially incarnation, atonement, and resurrection; Dunn places these and other themes in conversation with the contemporary church’s work of understanding its faith and life in relation to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Notice: Jonathan Knight, Christian Origins

Jonathan Knight
Christian Origins
London: T&T Clark, 2008.
Available in the USA from
Available in the UK from T&T Clark/Continuum.

Jonathan Knight is Research Fellow of the Katie Wheeler Trust and Visiting Fellow in New Testament and Christian Ministry at York St John University. He is the author of Jesus: An Historical and Theological Investigation (T&T Clark, 2004), Luke’s Gospel (Routledge, 1998) and The Ascension of Isaiah (Sheffield Academic Press, 1995).

Anyone trying to do all of "Christian Origins" in one volume is embarking on an ambitious task given the size and scope of the project. However, it is refreshing to have a single book on the subject as opposed to the multi-volume tome's by Wright, Dunn, and Hengel on early Christianity which take a life time to write and read.

The advantage of this volume is that it is concise, sufficiently critical where it needs to be but never esoteric, it posits the historical Jesus as a messianic claimant, it roots the early Christian movement firmly in apocalypticism (in fact Knight has a book forthcoming on that very topic), and deals with complex issues like Paul's conversion and the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism with simple and fair judgments for the most part.

Knight is clearly more at home in the Gospels than in Paul and I would contest some of his judgments in places. I think he is very light on Graeco-Roman context too. As for being a text book, I'm not sure if I prefer Knight's outline of Christian Origins over Christopher Rowland's book, but Knight is certainly in the same ball park in terms of value and a worthy alternative.

Table Of Contents

Part One: From Judaism to Jesus

1. About Christian Origins
2. The Nature of the Sources
3. In Search of Ancient Israel
4. The God of Ancient Israel
5. The Interpretation of Scripture
6. The Synagogue
7. The Temple
8. Jewish Parties
9. Diaspora Judaism
10. Jewish Eschatological Hope

Part Two: Jesus and His Mission

11. An Approach to Jesus
12. A Brief History of Jesus
13. The Message of Jesus
14. Who Did Jesus Think That He Was?
15. The Trial of Jesus
16. The Resurrection of Jesus

Part Three: Paul and His Christian Beginnings

17. On Paul the Apostle
18. Christianity before Paul
19. The Writings of Paul
20. Paul and Christian salvation
21. Paul and the Future
22. Pauline Ethics

Part Four: The Birth of Early Christianity

23. The Eschatological Framework of Christianity
24. The Post-Pauline Writings of the New Testament
25. The Emergence of Beliefs about Jesus
26. The Breach between Christianity and Judaism
27. The Symbols of the Kingdom
28. The Development of the Christian Ministry
29. Early Christian Ethics
30. The Rise of Gnosticism
31. Summary and conclusion

Appendix: The Gospels as Sources for Jesus

You can can read another review at at kata ta biblia.

The Fruit of My Loins

I am proud to be able to announce the birth of Markus Xavier Bird born at 0640 on the 24th of January 2009, weighing eight pounds and fourteen ounces (big bubba!). My wife Naomi was a brave little trooper and she did exceptionally well in what was an unexpectedly slow labour. During the birth I was mainly on back rubbing duties, but I did manage to read quite a bit of Johnathan Knight's Christian Origins book as well.

Naomi and I had a deal, I select the name for a boy and she selects the name for a girl. We both had the power of veto and Rafael Aurelius Amadeus Bird did not make the cut. So I picked the name "Markus" because the Gospel of Mark is my favourite Gospel and I like the spelling of "Markus" in Markus Bockmuehl's name (and I also like Bockmuehl's scholarship, esp. his book on Jesus, Philippians commentary, and the volume on Jewish Law in Gentile Churches). The "Xavier" part has nothing to do with St. Francis Xavier (the missionary) or Charles Xavier (leader of the X-men), but simply because I liked the sound of it and I once worked with an excellent military lawyer named George Xavier O'Kane who was a good man, but was falsely accused of being complicit with the mistreatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. I always wondered what the "X" in his initials stood for and when he told me, I thought that it made for a good middle name.

May Markus be red-headed, irenically calvinistic, and above all, be a lover of God and a follower of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Crossley on the Jesus Project

My friend and sparring partner, James Crossley, has a thoughtful and careful article in Bible and Interpretation about the prospects for historical Jesus study in light of the purposes of the Jesus Project. James proposes greater focus on the study of the Aramaic behind the Jesus tradition and attention given to socio-historical and anthropological explanations for illuminating the emergence of Christianity. Fair and reasonable points on anyone's score card. Though I would point out to James that: (1) Not all historical Jesus scholars operate with the "great man" view as evidenced by John Meier's "Marginal Jew" and Gerd Theissen's somewhat illusive "Galilean". (2) You cannot "explain" Christianity simply by reference to its socio-historical context and surrounding cultural currents because sooner or later you still need to do business with the text of the Gospels themselves: we need biography and sociology in our historical reconstruction! I assume that James would agree with me here, why else would you learn Aramaic unless you're prepared to go logion for logion and pericope for pericope. (3) I also plea to James to be equally "deconstructive" to the Jesus Project as he is to other bastions of scholarship on the subject matter because he rightly recognizes how theologically and ideologically loaded all historical Jesus scholarship can be.

What bothers me about the Jesus Project is two things: (1) The rhetoric that they will be objective and scientific is simply delusional to anyone who knows the meaning of the word "postmodernity" (and we have to ask what are they implying about the rest of us not part of their circle?), and (2) Does anybody out there really think that they are going to be any less ideologically driven than their predecessors the "Jesus Seminar"? For instance, the fact that they include Derreck Bennett's A Skeptic's Letter to Lee Stroebel on their website (Bennett is not a scholar as far as I can tell and he describes himself as a "pesky Internet blogger" and relies heavily on the work of Robert Price for his conclusions) indicates that this "project" has atheist propaganda as its objective. Look at the other array of anti-apologetics articles here too which don't strike me as disinterested scholars offering a careful and cautious voice in a complex scholarly conversation. You could easily download half of this stuff to internet infidels (a mixture of scholarly and amateur atheism on the web) and no-one would be able to tell the difference.

Where will the Jesus Project take us? Well, we call the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar the "Californian Jesus" (to use Gerd Theissen's colourful term). I suggest that the Jesus Project has a pre-fabricated Jesus ready to go which I will call the "Promethean Jesus", i.e. a Jesus who, if he exists at all, will be conducive and appealing to the editors of Prometheus Press an atheist book publisher.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Reformed Seminary in Dallas

I am glad to be able to mention the launch of the website for Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas. It looks like a great place for anyone who wants theological training esp. for ministry in the PCA and OPC. Serving at Redeemer Seminary is Michael Rasmussen who is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and Dean of Students. Michael is also a Ph.D student at HTC doing his Ph.D in OT (a lecturer in practical theology with research interests in OT!).

HT: Daniel Kirk.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The exorcism of Jesus

The second volume of Joel Marcus' AB commentary on Mark 8-16 is due out soon. In a recent essay on "Identity and Ambiguity in Markan Christology" (in Hays and Gaventa Seeking the Identity of Jesus) Marcus argues that Jesus himself is exorcised in the Marcan crucifixion scene:

"If Jesus' death is demonic, then the death scene represents an ironic, kenotic reversal of the situation in the Beelzebul controversy (3:22-30), in which Jesus is presented as 'the Stronger One,' whose exorcisms prove him mightier than Satan. Now it is Satan who has suddenly, albeit temporarily, gained the upper hand, and Jesus' demonic cries might almost be taken as confirming the scribes' earlier charge: 'He has Beelzebsl ...' (3:22). This is not completely surprising, since there is often an ambiguity about exorcists, whose power over the demons may be seen by hostile critics as an indication that they are on the demons' side. The exorcist, therefore, inhabits a dangerously liminal space because of his commerce with the demons, and this commerce may either lead to his own possession or testify that he is already possessed. The Markan Jesus' demonic possession on the cross, if that is what it is, may thus be the terrible result of his grappling with the powers of darkness - a grappling that he undertakes for the benefit of demon-possessed humanity. The 'Son of the Most High God,' as the Gerasene demoniac calls him (5:7), takes his place among the possessed in order that humanity may be definitively delivered from is demons. Mark, then, may undestand Jesus' earlier exorcisms in the Gospels as proleptic of Jesus' own exorcism at the cross, just as he understands the healings in which Jesus raised people from sickness (2:9, 11-12; 3:3; 9:27; cf. 10:49) or death (5:41) as proleptic of Jesus' own 'being raised' by God (14:28; 16:6)."

Marcus' words could be said to comport with a couple of things mentioned in the Gospel of Luke such as Luke's comment that after the temptation in the wilderness: "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time " (Luke 4:13) and what Jesus says to the cohort who come to his arrest: "Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour-- when darkness reigns" (Luke 22:53). But then again, it is another thing to say that Jesus was demon possessed, and the expiration of Jesus on the cross is more of a person giving up of his spirit (i.e. breath of life) signifying his death, than the expulsion of an unclean spirit.

New Anglican Websites

The GAFCON and Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans websites have been redeveloped and look swish.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bengel on Acts

J.A. Bengel concluded his comments on Acts with the words:

"Victoria Verbi Dei: Paulus Romae, apex evangelii, Actorum finis ... Hierosolymis coepit: Romae desinit. Habes, Ecclesia, formam tuam: tuum est, servare eam, et depositum custodire".

"The victory of the Word of God. Paul at Rome, the culmination of the Gospel, the conclusion of Acts ... It began at Jerusalem: it finishes at Rome. Here, O church, you have your pattern. It is your duty to preserve it and to guard it".

Cited from Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, 221-22.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CNN on Gaza

I spent enough time in military intelligence and accumulated enough knowledge of international terrorism to know that I have very little sympathy for Hamas. But I do relate to the suffering and injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people. Very moving is this video about a Palestinian doctor in Gaza.

New Book on Adoption

At ETS in November last year I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Russell Moore who is a colourful character in the SBC and he is never dull or boring. He has recently written a book called Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches, due out from Crossway at the end of May (HT: Justin Taylor).

I've learned that adoption opportunities in the UK and Australia are very different. In Australia there is a ten year waiting list to adopt a child from within the country and a three year waiting list to adopt a child internationally. In my home state of Queensland there was a recent and most tragic case of a family adopting a child from India only to discover that the child had been kidnapped and sold to the adoption agency (or something like that). My wife used to work with a crisis pregnancy help line and she learned that would-be mothers who approached social services to give their child up for adoption were often referred to "clinics" for abortions instead (no wonder there's a freaking 10 year wait!). Probably a further factor in Australia is that the Govt. gives a baby bonus of $5000 to families who have a child, thus making it quite lucrative to have children. While this does help struggling working class families (I have benefitted from it in the past), a pastor friend told me a story of a lady in his church who has a daughter with a heroin addiction and she pays for her habit by having baby after baby. She abandons the babies after getting the bonus and it is the grandmother who then has to raise the children and deal with babies born with a heroin addiction. Very sad. As for the UK, I saw in a documentary two years ago that there are not enough people available to adopt all the children in social care and in many cases not enough foster families to house children in the interim either. Truly sad.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Revelation Bonanza - Part 4: Stuckenbruck on the Millennium

There are some very good Revelation commentaries out there: Beale is near encyclopedic, Caird is an oldie but a goodie, Keener is great on application, and I'm also partial to Witherington. In terms of short commentaries in one volumes whole Bible commentaries, I am a great admirer of Loren T. Stuckenbruck in the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. This is what he says about Revelation 20:

The scenarios in 20:1-3 and 4-6 are patterned, respectively, after two Jewish apocalyptic traditions: (1) the notion of a temporary abode for evil powers in anticipation of the final judgment (cf. Isa 24:21-22; 1 Enoch 10:12; 21:1-10; Jub. 5:10; 4Q203 7, 8) and (2) the expectation of a period of messianic rule before the final judgment (cf., eg., 1 Enoch 91:12-16; Sib. Or 3:635-701; 4 Ezra 7:27-35; 2 Bar 29:3-30:5). The combination of these traditions allows John to split up the eschatological judgment into two stages or resurrections, one which stresses the reward of the martyred righteous ("first resurrection") and another which stresses the judgment of the wicked ("the second resurrection"). This, in turn, throws the spotlight on the privileges afforded to loyal Christians during a millennial reign.

Read in sequence, 20:4-6 and 11-15 could be read as an eschatological judgmnt occurring in two stages. What may seem to be successive stages could actually be a literary device used by John to focus singly on the vindication of the righteous martyrs and on the eradication of the wicked and evil. It is, therefore, misleading to insist that John was simply interested in chronology. Many have deliberated whether the millennial reign precedes or follows the final judgment. So formulated, this question has produced traditions of interpretation which, respectively, are labeled "premillennial" and "postmillennial". Whereas the former [I think "latter" is meant] regards the millennium as the culmination of a gradual improvement brought about by the church in the world, the latter [I think "former"] expects that the world will only be changed decisively when God's activity intervenes in a world in a downward spiral of evil. While it might be possible to read 19:11-20:15 either way, the passage in its prsent form is inconsistent. The impression is left that John, rather than being concerned primarily with the order of events to be, was attempting to draw attention to the ultimate destinies of the righteous and the wicked that is, to show in sharprest relief that God will vindicate the faithful ones and annihilate those who are allies of Satan.

Bird vs. Crossley - Part 1: On Premier Christian Radio

On Monday James Crossley and I discussed and debated on the programme Unbelievable on Premier Christian Radio in London. It was good fun (James was well behaved for the most part) . James and I did a web-tv interview and a two part radio programme with Justin Brierly. The first part of the radio debate is now on the PCR link above. There we discuss, did Jesus believe he was God and does the resurrection explain the origins of Christianity?

Oh Gosh, do I really sound like that!

Justification and Race

Probably the main area where my own view of justification departs from mainstream Reformed perspectives is in giving a place to the horizontal aspects of justification. I think Calvin teases this out fairly well in his Galatians commentary, but the horizonal dimension has been largely overlooked and neglected in Reformed dogmatics. I have articulated this with the description of justification as the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age (No doubt some will regard that as too broad, whereas my aim is to be comprehensive). I have no desire to deny or downplay the clear vertical element whereby we are counted righteous in Christ by faith. But I have come to the view that ignoring or denying the horizontal element is indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and of justification. Two exampes suffice: (1) In Gal. 2.11-15, Paul moves from a debate about food and fellowship to some sharp polemical remarks about justification by faith and not by works of the law. Regarding Cephas' segregation from Gentile believers, Paul says that this is not walking according to the truth of the gospel. That means either separation or gospel, but it can't be both; (2) In Rom. 3.28-29, Paul says that we reckon that a man is justified by faith without works of law, and he asks in return, "or is God the God of the Jews only?" Notice "or"! In other words, justification by faith and ethnocentrism are mutual exclusives.

Now let me ask, can a person believe in racial segregation and believe in the gospel and justification at the same time? I will say "no". Now let me say that it is not that such a person has failed to grasp an "implication" of the gospel or of justification. The language is much stronger than that in the NT. Such a stance is a perversion of the gospel and a competing alternative to justification. A person can believe in the gospel partially and grasp justification fallibly. But a person who believes in racial segregation or cultural hegemony does not believe in the true gospel and does not grasp the true meaning of justification.

I will never forget Mark Seifrid telling me that 11.00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America. Now let me ask, is there a reason why some of the most rancorous and acidic critiques of the New Perspective derive some certain leaders in certain Southern denominations in the USA? Is it because they are happy to use justification as a stick to bash Catholics for works-righteousness, but object when that same stick is used to bash them for driving for 40 minutes across town to attend a white middle-class church when a perfectly good evangelical black church is 5 minutes around the corner? Does attributing a horizontal dimension to justification potentially challenge the cultural dynamics and social separateness of churches that are almost single race churches? Subsequent Note: After re-reading this post and receiving some comments, do not take me as saying that opposition to the NPP is rooted in racism or that southerners are inherently racist. What I am saying is that resistance to recognizing that justification has horizontal significance can be, at the conscious or sub-conscious level, because it potentially challenges the boundaries of certain ecclesial sub-cultures that have become defined by race. I'm trying to draw a line between those who resist attributing to justification a horizontal dimension and the fact that church life in the south is heavily segregated and I have known pastors who like it that way.

I'm obviously being provocative here so let me qualify that. (1) There are many fine men and women in the south who believe in the gospel, have big problems with Tom Wright and co., and rigorously oppose segregation and racism. (2) I'm aware that you don't have to be white in order to be racist. Prejudice knows no limits and no one has a monopoly on indifference. (3) I'm moderately aware of the social, cultural, and historical complexity of racial relations in the USA. (4) Anecdotally, a friend of mine offered to pastor a church in the suburbs of Atlanta if the church consented to move to a new area because, he said, too many blacks were moving into the area. Also, I once met an African-American Christian who simply didn't want to atttend a church with a majority of white folks because they had a different culture typified, in his mind, by their refusal to east pickled hogs feet. Such things should not happen among brothers and sisters in the faith. I'm not an expert on American race relations, but neither am I completely naive on this subject, and I think justification by faith has something to say to this.

I'm not trying to reduce justification to an anti-racist mantra, I'm not trying to replace soteriology with sociology, nor do I want to rob justification of its offence to humans in their self-righteousness and ingrained prejudices (me genoito). Yet justification in its rich, fully orbed, and biblical scheme is what the church needs to cling to in order to preserve sola gratia of the gospel whereby sinners (and not the righteous) are justified by faith in Christ and preserve the truth that Christ unites in himself a Greek and a Jew, an American and an Arab, an African and an Asian, and thus unites them together in full eucharistic fellowship! This is justification. If our tradition-confession-system has not adequately given place to the horizontal dimension of justification, if it has robbed us of our greatest tool to fight division and prejudice in the church, then rather than preach the infallibility of the tradition-confession-system and anathematize those who hint that it might be somehow deficient in any way, we should modify, change, re-write the tradition-confession-system. To be Reformed is to be biblical first and foremost and not to seek the favour of men and their traditions. So I say: Long live the Reformation, Praise be to the Father through the Son, and Make us One Lord God as You are One.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Revelation Bonanza - Part 3: Gospel and Apocalypse

What relationship does the Apocalypse have to the Fourth Gospel? Both are clearly in the Johannine "school" (if such a thing existed) as they share a similar christology on Jesus as the Messiah, Son of Man, Lamb of God, etc. Yet obviously the Apocalypse is fully into apocalyptic eschatology while the Fourth Gospel emphasizes a distinctively realized eschatology. The links between the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse of John are probed by Jorg Frey in an appendix to the revised edition of Martin Hengel's Die Johanneische Frage. John's Gospel is not necessarily a rejection of apocalyptic thinking since the main thrust of it has an affinity with an apocalyptic theology. In both books the revelation of heavenly mysteries is found in Jesus. Likewise, the Gospel's emphases on dualism, determinism, election, messianism, revelation, hostility with the world, wisdom, and judgment all have points of contact with apocalyptic writings like the Apocalypse of John.

Revelation Bonanza - Part 2: Reception History

I have a copy of Judith Kovac and Christopher Rowland's book The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ in the Blackwell Bible Commentaries. It is a commentary on reception-history and it is one of the more interesting things about the Apocalypse that I've read in recent years. What was genuinely new to me was that the first commentary on the Apocalypse by Victorinus of Poetovis (ca. 260 AD) took a chiliastic interpretation (this is in addition to Papias, Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian), while the first amillenialist interpretation appears in the fourth century with Tyconius and Augustine (although symbolic interpretations are as early as Origen and Cyprian). I have to recommend this volume as a good read on the Apocalypse. Kovacs/Rowland also cite the admonitory opening words of the Geneva Bible's comments on the Apocalypse: "Read diligently; judge soberly and call earnestly to God for the true understanding hereof" - probably good advice!

Revelation Bonanza - Part I: Angel-Christology

I'm having a Revelation bonanza this weekend. In the first installment I look at angelomorphic christology in Revelation 10. That chapter reads in the TNIV:

1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. 2 He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, 3 and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. 4 And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down."

5 Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6 And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, "There will be no more delay! 7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets."

8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: "Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land."

9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but 'in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.' " 10 I took the little scroll from the angel's hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. 11 Then I was told, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings."


Bob Gundry asserts the presence of an angelomorphic christology in Revelation 10. He argues for a theophany with Jesus appearing in angelic form. He notes the similarity between ch. 10 where the angel has a scroll in his hand and ch. 5 where Jesus the Lamb took a seven-sealed scroll in his hand. Also, the description of the angel's feet as likened to pillars of fire recalls the divine theophany that led Israel in the wilderness. He then states:

"The great variety of Christologies in Revelation makes the presence there of angelomorphic Christology unsurprising; and the role of Yahweh's angel in the Exodus-narrative and later Jewish literature concerning it combines with the prominence of Exodus-typology throughout Revelaltion and with the promiennce of angelology elsewhere in apocalyptic literature to provide multiple impetusues for an angelomorphic Christology in Revelation comparable to angelomorphic theology in the OT and later Judaism. Inasmuch as such Christology provides an angelic connection for the saints on earth with God in heaven, a further impetus may be found in the felt need of such a connection, due to the original audience's having suffering ostracism from Jewish synagogues, Greco-Roman civic life and culture, the Roman government and its agents ... and the rich and powerful elite."

On the one hand, in the NT there is clearly a critique of christologies that venerated Jesus as merely a supreme angel (Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1.15-20, 2.18 come immediately to mind). And yet, angelomorphic christology evidently manifested itself without necessarily undermining other facets of a christology of divine identity. For case in point, the "I have come" (ἦλθον) sayings in the Gospels (e.g. Mk. 2.17) with coming + purpose have their most analogous background in the coming of angels for specific purposes (e.g. Dan. 10.11). According to Simon Gathercole, these sayings function to demonstrate Jesus' pre-existence, his heavenly origins, and his transcendence of the heaven-earth divide.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ben Witherington on NT Ethics

BW3 has a post from the second volume of his forthcoming book on NT Theology and Ethics. Here is a foretaste:

"It is sad but true to say that NT ethics has been the step-child of NT studies throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. There are a variety of reasons for this in the scholarly world. One is the disparaging remarks made about NT ethics by various highly influential NT scholars. When you complain that what we have in large portions of the NT is ‘bourgeois’ ethics (e.g. in the Pastoral Epistles), or an ethical miscellany cobbled together from Greco-Roman and Jewish ethics, or a baptizing of various forms of the status quo, the contempt for what is being urged in the NT is not far beneath the surface of the discourse. But there is another reason why NT ethics has suffered both abuse and neglect and it is theological. In some forms of Reformed theology, ethics is frankly an after-thought. Reformed theology is all about God’s sovereignty, and grace and divine salvation, and there is an allergic reaction to the notion that the ethics of the NT might have something to do with theology, might have something to do with human salvation, because of course ethics is almost exclusively about human behavior, not God’s behavior. Even when a Reformed scholar emphasizes ethics as an essential act of gratitude in response to grace, he has failed to do justice to the inherent and necessary connection between theology and ethics in the NT. For example, salvation has to do with both theology and ethics in the NT. And there is a crucial epistemological issue to consider—how exactly can you ‘know’ a truth in the Biblical sense without living into and out of that truth? In the Bible, understanding often comes from doing or experiencing. Belief and behavior are not meant to be separated from one another into hermetically sealed off containers. The obedience which flows from faith is also the obedience which reassures, strengths and more fully forms faith."

Re: the bold type, I understand his objection and I've seen Reformed theology go doctrinaire and antinomian, but this still strikes me as a Weslyan/Arminian caricature of Reformed Theology. I'd like to know which Reformed Theology he is talking about. That said, BW3 does have some genuinely good stuff in his post on NT ethics, esp. in relation to the role of the Holy Spirit in ethics, the commonality of NT ethics being a shared narratological framework, and his focus on the kingdom .

RBL Blog

Review of Biblical Literature celebrates its 5000th review and it has also set up its own blog.

The Lordship of Christ

I confess that I am not really into John MacArthur. I find him too polemical, he canonizes his own Christian sub-culture and thinks it's normative for others, he's a pretty strong dispie, and due to the zealous reverence that some of his followers have for him I actually thought that the "Master" of "The Master's Seminary" referred to John MacArthur himself rather than to Jesus (fortunately some TMS grads have since corrected my misunderstanding - true story though!). Still, I think his sermons and books on Lordship salvation are genuinely prophetic for pockets of evangelical sub-culture that want assurance without transformation, that is committed to the point of convenience rather than to following the way of the cross, that eviscerates repentance from the gospel, that defends rather than confronts carnality and worldliness in the church, that promotes a nominal faith rather than cross shaped faith, and reduces Christianity to a what-Jesus-does-for-me consumerism.

Listen to his sermon on The Gospel according to Jesus (hosted at the Sydney Anglicans site), read the book edited by Michael Horton Christ the Lord, and the pastoral letter on the subject by John Piper if you want to get the gist of the subject. Incidentally, the first theology paper I wrote in seminary was on this topic and the whole Zane Hodges "Easy Believism" thing blew me away as it looked like an apology for a form of Christianity that was cultural, nominal, and not really interested in discipleship. Articles by Millard Erickson and (a young) Darrell Bock were most helpful in the course of my research back then.

Why Go to Church - The Didascalia (Eth.) View

‘Admonish, then, O bishop, thy people, and bid them come to the church day and night, and never absent themselves from it, that the congregation therein be not diminished, for they are members of Christ. And we say this not concerning the priests alone, but concerning all the people, that each one may understand the word of the Lord. For our Lord saith, “But he that is not with me is mine adversary, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” Be not slothful, then, for ye are members of Christ; separate not yourselves from His Body and His Blood; nor choose the cares of this world before the commandments of God. Gather yourselves together in the church in the evening and in the morning; glorify God, and sing, and read the psalms of David, the sixty-second, and the hundred and fortieth as well. And especially on the Christian Sabbath which is (the day of) His holy resurrection, offer praise and thanksgiving and honour to God who created all things by His son Jesus Christ, whom He sent unto us; who was well pleased to suffer according to His will, and was buried in the earth, and rose again from the dead. But if ye come not to the church, what excuse, or what answer will ye make to God? For on this day, the Christian Sabbath we ought to hear the preaching of His holy resurrection, and remember His sufferings, and make remembrance of Him, and read the Scriptures of the prophets, and the gospel; and (celebrate) the eucharist, the sacrifice, and oblation, (our) spiritual food’ (ii. 59).

Bultmann on the Jewishness of early Christianity

Rudolf Bultmann, Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting (trans. R.H. Fuller; Leipzig: Thames and Hudson, 1956 [1949]), 175: ‘The eschatological community did not split off from Judaism as though it were conscious of itself as a new religious society. In the eyes of their contemporaries they must have looked like a Jewish sect, and for the historian they appear in that light too.’

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Helmut Koester on a Hundred Years of NT Scholarship through HTR

In the centennial edition of Harvard Theological Review Helmut Koester has an article on "New Testament Scholarship through One Hundred Years of Harvard Theological Review" (HT: ETC). There are some good histories of NT research by Stephen Neil/N.T. Wright, John Riches, W.G. Kummel, and of course William Baird. This article is a good browse over trends in 20th century scholarship.

Bruce Chilton on the Jesus Seminar and Jesus Project

Over at Bible Interpretation, Bruce Chilton has an interesting piece on 'Plus ça change… “The Jesus Seminar” and “The Jesus Project”'. The "Jesus Project" is a spin off from the "Jesus Seminar" in the sense of being a shift from a Jesus studied by liberals to a Jesus studied by atheists (generally speaking that is!!!). I liked Bruce Chilton's final paragraph:

The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion has put its reputation on the line in sponsoring “The Jesus Project,” but so far amateurism, special interest advocacy, and a lack of critical focus have undermined a commendably earnest intent. Anyone who has followed the work of “The Jesus Seminar” should have learned long ago that Fundamentalists are not the only partisans who permit their wishes to cloud what they see and that it takes more than a declaration of “objectivity” to acquire the discipline of reasoning from evidence, both textual and archaeological. But I gave the Seminar time, and I can see no reason not to hope that genuine exchanges of insight and a deepening of knowledge might emerge from the so far conventional proceedings of “The Jesus Project.”

HT: Mark Goodacre

Top 100 Theology Blogs

Euangelion makes it at #3 on the Top 100 Theology Blogs according to the Christian Colleges website.

N.T. Wright Interview

Trevin Wax has an interview with N.T. Wright about his forthcoming book on Justification.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Testament in Antiquity

There are so many good NT Introductions out there these days. Currently, I refer students to David deSilva, Raymond Brown, and sometimes Robert H. Gundry. But I am considering adding to the list the recent book by Gary Burge, Lynn Cohick, and Gene Green (all of Wheaton College) with their new volume The New Testament in Antiquity. I love Gary Burge's stuff on Gospel of John and Christian Politics about the land of Israel. Lynn Cohick is writing a commentary on Ephesians in the NCCS which I edit with Craig Keener. Sadly, I don't know that much about Gene Green as I haven't read his Thessalonians or 2 Peter/Jude commentaries. Zondervan has put an interview up of the trio on youtube discussing the book.

Westminster Theological Seminary Document

WTS-Philly has released a document on "Affirmations and Denials" related to recent controversies over biblical interpretation.

David Vinson on Science and Theology

David Vinson is a medical doctor with a keen interest in the interface between science and theology. Do check out his resource website, which has some good endorsements, it all looks very interesting.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Some stuff on Revelation to mull over:

1. D.A. Carson preaches a stirring sermon on “The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb” (Revelation 12) [HT: Any Naselli].

2. Interpretation 63/1 (January 2009): Revelation as a Critique of Empire [HT Mark Goodacre] with articles by Craig Koester and Warren Carter.

3. Those wanting an introduction to Revelation should read Craig Koester's book.

4. Alan Bandy rethinks the meaning and application of Rev. 3.20.

5. Check out how close we are to the second coming by reading the Rapture Index (ecumenism, Barack Obama elected President, UN calling for a truce in Gaza - the end is nigh).

Is John's Gospel Sectarian?

According to the most usual definition, a sect is a religious group that rejects the social environment in which it exists. In that sense, the whole New Testament can be typified as sectarian to some degree (I would put Revelation on one end of the spectrum and Luke-Acts on the other). Given that the Gospel of John is largely salvific and missional towards the world (e.g. 3.16; 20.31) on the one hand, to what extent is it sectarian on other other hand. Bob Gundry provides an answer:

"John paints the world in very dark colors. It is full of darkness Those human beings who make up the world are children of darkness. They do not belong to the light. They do not comprehend the light. Their deeds are evil. They do not acknowledge God, God's Son Jesus, or God's children, who believe in him and in Jesus. Moreover, they hate God, God's Son, and God's children. They murdered God's Son, rejoiced over his death, and excommunicate and kill God's children as well. Satan dominates worldlings. He is their father. God loved the world; but because of their unbelief his wrath rests on them already, so that they are headed for a resurrection of judgment. And only God is said to love the world. Though John often portrays Jesus as loving those who believe in him, he never says that Jesus loved the world."

Robert H. Gundry, "Is John's Sectarian?" in The Old is Better (WUNT 178; Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2005), 316.

Children's Talks: Bart Simpon and Karl Barth

Now I've heard it all. I came across a children's church talk involving Bart Simpson and Karl Barth!

The Lord's Supper

There a couple of good posts on the Lord's Supper around the blogosphere:

First, Michael Jensen sets forth ten propositions (tongue in cheek) why we should not celebrate it at all. (There are actually debates among prominent leaders of the Sydney Anglicans on this topic including should it be celebrated and can lay people preside over it).

Second, Jim Hamilton, has a good post at Moore to the Point on why it should be celebrated weekly.

If you haven't already read it, a good little book that I enjoyed is N.T. Wright's The Meal that Jesus Gave.

I tend to think that a church pot-luck dinner with a few prayers and hymns sung at the same time is far closer to what the early church did re: the Lord's Supper, as opposed to current practices involving a 5 minute guilt-trip sermonette, a crumb of bread, and a drop of sour grape juice. Rob Jewett wrote: "The purely symbolic meal of modern Christianity, restricted to a bit of bread and a sip of wine or juice, is tacitly presupposed for the early church, an assumption so preposterous that it is never articulated or acknowledged."[1] Bo Reicke showed that the early Eucharistic meals took in the context of a common meal shared by a broad stream of early Christianity through the fourth century (see Jude 12, Ign. Smyr. 8.2 on “love feasts”) [2].

I should point to two excellent blog posts by Darrell Pursiful on how and why the eucharist got separated from communal meals (see here and here). Interesting reading.

For those in the memorial/ordinance tradition, I have this question: how and to what extent is the Lord's Supper a means of grace!

[1] Robert Jewett, “Tenement Churches and Pauline Love Feasts,” Quarterly Review 14 (1994): 44.

[2] Bo Reicke, Agapenfeier, 21-149.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Journal of Early Christian Studies

Blogger Stephen Carlson has prompted much discussion in JECS 16 (2008) with two articles interacting with him heavily:

Scott G. Brown
The Letter to Theodore: Stephen Carlson's Case against Clement's Authorship

Abstract: Chapter four of Stephen Carlson's The Gospel Hoax identifies certain features in the Letter to Theodore as anomalous within a private letter of Clement of Alexandria but explicable if the letter is a modern forgery. This paper examines the logic of those arguments and demonstrates that each feature of the letter that Carlson deems suspicious is fully consistent with Clement's modus operandi as revealed in his undisputed writings; the concordance is so striking as to add new support for the letter's authenticity.

Jeff Jay
A New Look at the Epistolary Frameowrk of the Secret Gospel of Mark

Abstract: This article offers the first epistolary analysis of Clement's letter to Theodore and demonstrates that it comports in form, content, and function with other ancient letters that addressed similar circumstances. In these letters authors issue accounts of the composition and transmission of their works in order to diminish confusions that arose when premature, stolen, and conflicting copies reached the public. The analogy provided by these letters helps establish the remarkable generic coherence of the letter to Theodore, which is difficult to explain by the supposition that the letter is a modern forgery.

Well done Stephen!

What is the Rapture?

Student: 'Professor, what happens at the Rapture?'

Liberal Professor: 'Well, at the Rapture you walk up to your window, look outside, see people floating up into the sky, and then you should say to yourself, "Well, I'll be damned!"'

Dylan's Jesus Years

I've never got into Bob Dylan (any more than Bob Marley), but there is an interesting CT piece about a doco on his experience of Christianity in the late 70s and early 80s. I know this will be of interest to Ben Myers and HTC's own Len Cazaly.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

N.T. Wright Blurbs

IVP USA has uploaded endorsements for Wright's new book. It includes a very colourful blurb from Scot McKnight which has prompted some discussion over at Between Two Worlds and Heidelblog.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Peter Williams Debates Bart Ehrman On British Radio

As I reported over at the ETC Blog, Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina and Peter J Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge recently appeared on the radio programme "Unbelievable?" hosted by Justin Brierly on Premier Christian radio.

They discussed Bart's best-selling book "Misquoting Jesus" and whether the textual variation and transmission of the New Testament Documents is as bad as the book makes out. They also discussed what impact this has for a Christan view of the Bible's authority.

You can listen back to it online in the programme archive at Alternatively you can click the "download the podcast" option to get the MP3 or subscribe in itunes. For a quick click and listen page go to Denny Burke's blog.

A future interview will include Bart Ehrman and Richard Swinburne on the problem of evil. And next Monday, James Crossley and I are going down to London to do something similar with Premier Christian Radio in reference to our book, "How Did Christianity Begin?"

Call for Papers - Tyndale Conference 2009

The Tyndale Fellowship's triennial conference is going to be held in Cambridge during the 6th - 10th July 2009. This years theme is "New Testament and Ethics". Richard Burridge (Kings College, London) will be giving a presentation in relation to his book Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to NT Ethics, with responses from John Nolland (Trinity College, Bristol) and Michael Thompson (Ridley Hall, Cambridge). The annual Tyndale Fellowship New Testament lecture will be given by Roland Deines (Nottingham University).

There are still several spots available for papers although preference will be given to papers proposed on NT and Ethics. Anyone wishing to propose a paper for the NT group should email myself (michael.bird[AT] before the end of January 2009. Areas that the program team would like to see are:

(a) Where are we with Caesar (questions of emperor cult, Romans 13, public Christianity, etc.)?
(b) Where are we with grace versus law in Pauline ethics?

Further information on the programm and presenters will be made available at the conference website.

Augustine, Calvin, and Barth

Augustine, Calvin and Barth find themselves waiting outside the throne room on the Day of Judgement.

Augustine goes in first, and after half an hour comes out and says to the others: 'It was wonderful! I had all the mysteries of sin, grace and salvation explained to me!'

Next, Calvin goes in, comes out an hour later and says to the others: 'It was wonderful! I had all the mysteries of election, predestination and divine sovereignty explained to me!'

Finally, Barth goes in. After two hours, God comes out and says to the others: 'I've still got no idea what he is talking about!'

Thanks to my colleague Jamie Grant for that one!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Josephus, Jesus, and Messiah

The Testimonium Flavianum reads:

And there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is necessary to call him a man, for he was a doer of paradoxical works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure, and many Jews on the one hand and also many of the Greeks on the other he drew to himself. This man was the Christ. And when, on the accusation of some of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, the divine prophets having related both these things and countless other marvels about him. And even till now the tribe of Christians, so named from this man, has not gone extinct.

Much of this text is disputed and I'm interested only in the reference to Jesus as a messianic claimant and whether it is authentic to the testimonius. The current form, "This was was the Christ" is obviously a Christian interpolation or ammendment. Yet in favour of the authenticity of a messianic reference to Jesus in the testimonium Flavianum, Alice Whealey ("The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic," NTS 54 [2008]: 573-90) draws attention to the Testmonia preserved by Michael the Syrian (twelth century) and Jerome (fourth century) which independently attest to a reading of "he was thought to be the Messiah" and this corresponds to Origen's claim (Comm. Matt. 1.15) that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. A variant is also found in the Arabic chronicles of Agapius of Hierapolis (tenth century) "he was perhaps the Messiah". In light of this, there probably was a reference to Jesus as Messiah in the testmonium, but probably in a way that held that the messianic status of Jesus was dubious. Christian scribes who transmitted the text of Josephus removed this dubiety from the testimonium and inserted instead, "He was the Messiah". Alternatively, Jerome's version may be an assimilation from Ant. 20.200 and the question in my mind is whether λεγομενον (and its Syrian and Arabic equivalents indeed impliy dubiety as in the English "so-called" or whether it is more like the German "sogenannten"). Jesus "being-called Messiah" is also found in Mt. 27.17, 22 and Justin, Dial. 32 where it does have pejorative undertones. Overall, I think there was a Messiah reference in Ant 20.200 and probably in Ant. 18.63 but it was spruced up (rather than interpolated) by a Christian scribe.

See further the discussions by Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis. See also the collection of sources at Ben Smith's Text Excavation.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Francis Watson on the Historical Jesus

I've just finished reading Francis Watson's article "Veritas Christi: How to Get from the Jesus of History to the Chrsit of Faith without Losing One's Way" in Seeking the Identity of Jesus, eds. R.B. Hays and B. R. Gaventa. (You can see how it has stirred my thinking on the post below). One of the highlights of the volume so far. Watson purpose is to show, "how the scholarly constructed known as the 'historical Jesus' can be reintegrated into the canonical image of the historic, biblical Christ" (p. 101). He believes that: The Theologically significant Jesus (the Christ of faith) is the Jesus whose reception by his first followers is definitively articulated in the fourfold Gospel narrative (p. 105). In particular I liked this quote from the conclusion: "Even from a historical point of view, however, it is not at all easy to detach Jesus from his first followers. Their reception of him is also his impact on them. The concrete details of the historical Jesus belong within an account of the 'historical, biblical Christ' and should not be allowed to take on an independent life of their own. The distinction is inevitable, but it exists only in order to be transcended" (p.114).