Friday, July 31, 2009

Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary

I recently consulted Ben Witherington's contribution in the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary Series: Matthew: Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. I don't intent to offer anything much of review of his commentary here, but rather to say something about the commentary series itself. I had not before consulted a commentary in this series and was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered. The commentary is laid out well and visually engaging. It has pictures, maps and sidebars with historical and theological information. The commentary includes a CD that contains the text of the commenary which is indexed and searchable. The editors express that they intend to combine "credible biblical scholarship, user-friendly study features, and sensititvity to the needs of a visually oriented generation of believers". I'd say they have achieved their aim.

As for Witherington's commentary on Matthew, I will say that it presents a largely classic evangelical perpsective on the higher critical issues, although he does not think Matthew the tax-collecter and disciple of Jesus was responsible for the Gospel in its final form. His primary contribution to Matthean scholarship is to show the prevasive sapiential character of the First Gospel. He contents that wisdom traditions are not simply present in Matthew, but are central to the presentation of Jesus identity.

Reflection on Tea

Scot McKnight here posts a converation we had about brands of tea and what I think of a certain one.

Bird & Willitts Reunion

It was great to have Mike at my house last night. Here's a picture of the two of us. Believe it or not this was the best of several. The fact that my eyes are barely open is not a reflection on the company I was keeping.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Michael Bird on N.T. Wright and other Influential Authors

Zondervan has interviewed me on authors that have shaped and influenced my thinking. Here's what I had to say (but note that this is a send up and is not real!):

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Zondervan Road Trip Through the Mid West

I've been driving through the American mid West with the guys from Zondervan. And here's some of the experiences so far.

There is also this one on "How To Speak Australian" which I did so that my American friends could understand me (Note, "gucci" is a common term in the Australian Army and not widespread in Australian civilian culture).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Calvin on Gospel

Tullian Tchividjian reprints a beautiful portion of John Calvin's preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534).

Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.
But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.
Read the rest at Between Two Worlds.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cover of Next Bird Book

I'm currently finishing up the editing and indexing for another Bird-Book that I hope to be out in time for ETS/SBL 2009, which is Crossing over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (Hendrickson). Here's the cover: gucci job by the designer me thinks!

COSL Cover

Off to Chicago/Wheaton

I leave on Monday for a week of meetings in Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Wheaton. I'm looking esp. forward to going to Wheaton since I've never there been before. I've heard it's like the Christian "Mecca" with many churches but very few liquor stores. I can't wait to see the Billy Graham Center and bask in the glory of a colossal edifice dedicated to good ol' St. Billy the Evangelist himself. On the way there and back I'm hoping to "finally" read through Mike Gorman's book on Inhabiting the Cruciform God and Markus Barth on Justification. I hope to see you around the traps if you're there (I'll be the read head guy kneeling in front of the BGC crying out, "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy to gaze upon thee"). Otherwise, I just hope that I don't get kidnapped by any of those right wing rocky mountain militas while I'm in Grand Rapids. Just to be safe, I've got a bumper sticker on my luggage that says, "The UN wants to take your guns away," which means they should let me off if I'm captured.

Calvin and Theosis

Sadly, I could not make the Calvin 500 Conference in Geneva this month gone by. But in looking at the photos of the event it looks as if a great time were had by all, and it was great to see PCA and PCUSA guys there in such intimate fellowship drawn together by their common love for John Calvin (who knows were such friendship could lead too). One of the papers I would have like to have heard was that given by Bruce McCormack on, "Union with Christ in Calvin's Theology: Grounds for a Divinisation Theory?" In sum, McCormack rejects the notion that Calvin's idea of union with Christ can be seriously integrated with the Eastern Orthodox notion of theosis. McCormack recognizes that there is one passage in Calvin that might support this perspective: "the flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing forth from the Godhead into itself. Now who does not see that communion with Christ’s flesh and blood is necessary for all who aspire to heavenly life?" (ICR 4.17.9). The problem that McCormack notes is that Calvin's christology will not actually allow God's essential life to be communicated to believers. McCormack states that Calvin "has dispensed completely with that which made divinisation theories possible, viz., the idea of an inter-penetration of the natures. This move only serves to underscore what we saw earlier: the believer participates only in the human nature of Christ. And since there can be no inter-penetration of the natures in Christ, participation in the human nature of Christ cannot result in a participation in the divine nature. The end result is that one simply cannot find the ontological ground needed for a divinisation theory in Calvin’s Christology. If there is no inter-penetration of the natures, there can be no divinisation".

Under the heading Residual Questions, McCormack also deals with Calvin's alleged link of justification and sanctification through "communion". He writes:

"Dennis Tamburello thinks himself to find evidence of a “twofold communion” with Christ in Calvin’s writings—one of which corresponds to justification and one to sanctification. His primary sources for this claim are Calvin’s commentary on Gal.2:20 (published in 1548) and a letter written to Peter Martyr Vermigli (in 1555). In the first, he says, “Christ lives in us in two ways. The One consists in his governing us by his Spirit and directing all our actions. The other is what he grants to us by participation in his righteousness, that, since we can do nothing of ourselves, we are accepted in him by God. The first relates to regeneration, the second to the free acceptance of righteousness.” It is surely not without significance that this work was published before the onset of the Osiandrian controversy and, therefore, before Calvin had given his doctrine of justification its final form. Be that as it may, it is conceptually odd to treat justification as a form of communion if one understands justification along the lines of the imputation of an alien righteousness. One could say that it is still necessary for faith to be awakened in the individual who would receive the promise of imputed righteousness—and that, therefore, union with Christ must logically precede justification. All of that would make sense, though it would be strange to describe it in terms of a twofold communion."

I think that pretty much makes sense, though I think Calvin's duplex gratia provides a better explanation for the link of justification and sanctification through union with Christ than what Tamburello's notion of "communion" does.

I should note that the essay will published in Tributes to John Calvin, ed. David W. Hall (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2009).

The Return of the Messiah

No, I'm not talking about the parousia here. Rather, I'm talking about what I perceive to be a "surge" of sorts in ascribing a messianic paradigm, intent, self-consciousness to the historical Jesus in recent scholarship. In the Wrede to Bultmann era, the messiahship of Jesus was a theological construct, a profession of the christology of the believing community, read back into the earthly life of Jesus in the Gospels. N.A. Dahl provided a glimmer of continuity between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter christology by arguing for the authenticity of the titulus on the cross. So Jesus did not claim to be the messiah, but he never denied the allegation of being a messianic claimant at his trial either, which is why the titulus was put up. Others (e.g. Fredriksen, Dunn) argued that while Jesus' followers and some of the crowds thought him the messiah, Jesus himself shied away from this leadership role. Some like Sanders say that Jesus saw himelf as the royal arbiter of God's kingdom, but not in fact as a messiah.

But times they are a changing. Obviously, you have guys like N.T. Wright and Craig A. Evans asserting the case for a messianic Jesus. I have my own contribution to the subject as well in the now released book, Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question. Then there is also Dale C. Allison's work on Jesus of Nazareth: Millennarian Prophet and his more recent book The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith. What is more, in the latest issue of JSHJ there is a cracking good essay by Suzanne Watts Henderson titled, "Jesus' Messianic Self-Consciousness Revisited: Christology and Community in Context." Henderson's article concludes:

"In embodying God's dominion unleashed on earth, both Jesus and those who followed him apparently thought they were ushering in the messianic age of God's rule. As messiah, Jesus functioned authoritatively to bridge the chasm between divine and human power, making God's kingdom authority available to those who would trust in God's coming rule. Understood in this light, Jesus' messianic demurral, his messianic death, and his designation as 'messiah' in the post-resurrection age make more coherent and contextual sense than is often recognized"

I've said elsewhere, that this would make a great Ph.D topic for some brave soul.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Leap of Faith - My former job!

Before I got into NT scholarship, this is what I used to do for a living! So don't mess with me folks!! BTW, those landings hurt!!!

Rikki Watts: The Psalms in Mark's Gospel

I have an unpublished paper by Rikki Watts of Regent College entitled: "The Lord's House and David's Lord: the Psalms and Mark's Perspective on Jesus and the Temple." The abstract states:
"Four Davidic Psalms (2, 118, 110, and 22), each cited or alluded to at least twice, in this order, and at critical junctures in Mark's narrative, play a key role in his Gospel. In contemporary understanding Psalm 2 was associated with teh future messianic urging of Jersusalem and especially the Temple (e.g. 4QFlor, Pss Sol 17). Psalm 118, concluding the Egyptian Hallel, spoke of Israel's future deliverance under a Davidic king with the restored temple as the goal of Israel's return from exile. Psalm 110's surprisingly elevated royal desgination, uniquely expressed in Melchizedekian preist-king terms, contributed to several portraits of exalted heavenly deliverers, some messianic, who would preside over Israel's restoration (e.g. 11QMelch, 1 Enoch) while Psalm 22's Davidic suffering and vindication described teh deliverance of righteous Zion (e.g. 4QPs). Drawing from the dual perspective of their original contexts and contemporary interpretations, this paper proposes taht Mark's careful arrangement of his psalm citations presents Jesus as both Israel's Davidic Messiah (Pss 2, 118) and the temple's Lord (Ps 110) who, coming to purge Jerusalem but rejected by the temple authorities, announces the present structure's destruction and, through his death and vindication (Ps 22), its replacement with a new people-temple centred on himself."

What do the rest think on this? I concur with the use of Psalm 2 in Judaism and its relevance for the Gospel of Mark. The issue of replacing the temple with a people-temple is perhaps more controversial, although I am willing to give it some air time (the problem is that the early Jerusalem church seems fairly temple-centred in their worship and that requires explanation: two temples in parrallel or one temple inside another). Certain Ps 110 is also a big part of Mark's Christology too.

A Tale of Two Gospels in Two Provinces

Read Archbishop Duncan's open letter to the world Anglican communion entitled, "Two Cities: One Choice". I liked this part in particular:

The Anglican Church in North America, whose leaders met at Bedford, Texas, from June 20th to June 25th, embraced the values and behaviors familiar to Christians in every age: daily repenting of human sin in disobeying the one Lord, embracing the need (both personal and corporate) of a divine Savior, and recommitting to the proclamation in word and deed of the gospel of transforming love. The unity at Bedford, despite very real differences, was palpable.

The Episcopal Church, whose leaders met at Anaheim, California, from July 8th to 17th, blessed the values and behaviors of a re-defined Christianity: enabling a revisionist anthropology, budgeting litigation rather than evangelism, and confusing received understandings of Scriptural truth, not least concerning the necessity of individual salvation in Christ Jesus. At Anaheim, there were those who valiantly stood against the revolutionary majority, and their pain and grief at what was happening was heartbreaking for all who saw it, not least for their brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church in North America

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Divine Were ANE Kings?

I'm reading through J.J. Collins and A.Y. Collins King and Messiah as Son of God and am enjoying it very much (I wish I had this book a year or two ago!). I've always enjoyed John Collins' work on Daniel and the rise of messianism. This book looks more explicity at the links between divinity and messianism.

In the opening chapter, John Collins discusses notions of divine kingship in the ANE. He notes that scholars have shrunk back from earlier claims that these monarchies (Egypt, Hittite, Mesopotamia, etc.) regarded their kings as incarnations of gods. Collins cites two scholars to counter this view: (1) Silverman: "A pharaoh might be: named as a god in a monumental historical text, called the son of a deity in an epithet on a statue in a temple, hailed as the living image of god in a secular inscriptions, described as a fallible mortal in a historical or literary text, or referred to simply his personal name in a letter"; and (2) Leprohon: "The evidence shows that the living pharaoh was not, as was once thought, divine in nature or a god incarnate on earth. Rather, we should think of him as a human recpient of a divine office. Any individual king was a transitory figure, while kingship was eternal".

I think two implications flow from this: (1) The divine-language used to describe kings in the OT (e.g. Psalm 45 "elohim"; Isaiah 9 "immanuel") are part of the ANE culture that is being tapped into and the king is praised in exalted terms, though still human and still evidently subject to God (see esp. the wider context of Ps 45). The Israelite/Judahite king was never an object of veneration in the cultus, but rather functioned as its chief custodian. (2) In Genesis 1.26-27, when humans are said to be in the "image of God", theologians argue over what the "image" precisely is: moral, psychological, relational, etc. But since "image of god" was used quite often to describe ANE kings, it means perhaps no more than humanity is royal in God's eyes and is charged with the delegated divine function of ruling over creation.

Book Notice: Approaches to Paul

My friend Mark Nanos just informed me about Magnus Zetterholm's new book Approaches to Paul: A Student's Guide to Recent Scholarship. At first glance it looks to be a very useful book for a course on Paul and once I have received it, I'll write a review on the blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Thanks to Steve Walton for alerting me to this little gem from the Times about dealing with undergrads. It's funny, because it's partly/mostly/completely true!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Update on Textbooks for Teaching Paul to Undergraduates

A couple of years ago I wrote a dialogical post on preparing a Paul course. A major concern at that point was the determination of the best textbooks to use in the course. The choice of textbooks is all the more challenging in my context as I teach within a General Education curriculum which requires students to take Bible classes that have no vocational interest in the subject. These are late teenagers--sometimes early twenty-year olds (but its getting harder to tell the difference anymore) who are taking Paul because they "have to".

Over the course of the last two years, teaching Paul now four times, I have, through trial and error, found what I think are the best two Paul books for my context. I don't claim to think however that these are the most suitable for every context. What's more, while I would like to use Michael's book Introducing Paul--and do recommended it often to students, it overlaps with my own lectures (great minds think alike).

The IVP book by Capes, Reeves and Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (2007) and Horrell's An Introduction to the Study of Paul (T&T Clark Approaches to Biblical Studies) (T&T Clark, 2006). The former overviews topics like letter writing in the first century (Richard's expertise) and short chapters over all of Paul's letters. The latter is introduces students to the academic study of Paul and shows them the various approaches to his interpretation.

There is really only one other book I still have yet to find that I think would be useful as a third leg of the stool. That is a short book that provides a narrative history of Paul's life. Richard Longenecker's short book The Ministry and Message of Paul would be just the book if it were not now over 30 years old.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Articles by Paul Foster from Edinburgh Diocese

My good friend, Paul Foster of Edinburgh Uni, has some good articles the Scottish Episcopal e-zine "Edge" including the topics of the Trinity (pp 12-13), the Apocryphal Gospels (p 6), and taking Paul seriously (p 6).

Lane Tipton and Calvin, Union with Christ, & Justification

There is a great little clip by Lane Tipton of WTS-Philly on Calvin and Justification. Tipton asserts that some modern exponents have over emphasized the forensic aspect of justification at the expense of the rest of the benefits of Christ. In fact, Tipton seems to make the scandalous inference that justification is based on union (gasp!). Do watch it!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

CT on Martin Hengel

Christianity Today has a piece on Martin Hengel entitled: "The Champion who Debunked Bultmann". It also links to an essay written by Martin Hengel entitled, "Raising the Bar: A daring proposal for the future of evangelical New Testament scholarship," (2001) that includes these quotes:

"Only by mastering these languages can we read and understand the necessary Jewish, Greco-Roman, and early Christian sources, especially the church fathers, who are the earliest exegetes of the whole Bible. To present the faith to the 21st-century world, we need to support young, gifted scholars who have excellent philological-historical training and possess a broad learning base as well as specialized expertise. The evangelical community needs to free up resources for our scholars."

Listen to this proposal:

"Allow me to make a daring proposal: Why not found an IBR-run institute of advanced studies at a traditional, renowned university center in the United States? The university would grant room to IBR on its campus, thus allowing IBR to develop a respectable evangelical presence at the university. Another plus of a renowned university location would be the scholars' access to a world-class library collection. Such a center would house evangelical doctoral students and postdoctoral students who could study alongside more seasoned professors during their sabbatical years. The institute would also attract the best scholars from overseas who are indebted to the truth of the gospel and love the Bible. The center would operate within a free atmosphere of scholarly discussion but with the confident assurance that Christ, "the truth and the way and the life" (John 14:6), will overcome all human misunderstandings and wrong ways."

Hengel concludes in the end:

"John 8:32 promises that "the truth will make you free." This is the ultimate aim of all true biblical scholarship. The search for truth unites us, and it is a task for which we remain always responsible. In a time of astonishing discoveries about the Bible, but also of deep errors and seducing deception, this task is more necessary than ever."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Graham Stanton Passes Away

I've just heard (via Mark Goodacre) that Graham Stanton has passed away after a long struggle with cancer. At TF Richard Burridge reported to us that Graham was seriously ill and not long for this world. In the past, I have benefitted immensely from many of Stanton's works including his Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching and Jesus and the Gospels. He will be dearly missed. May he rest in peace.

Addition by Joel Willitts.
Graham Stanton was a wonderful person and an excellent scholar. During my four yeas at Cambridge, I have ample opportunity to see him up close. He had a irenic personality and a commonsense perspective when approaching any subject. He was a man of faith as well as a scholar.

His scholarship will be missed and his person even more.

Gospel of Thomas: Three Recent Books

Some recent and decent books on the Gospel of Thomas that have come out in recent days include the following:

Uwe-Karsten Plisch
The Gospel of Thomas: Original Text with Commentary
Stuttgart: Bibelgesellschaft, 2007.
Available in the UK and Europe at Alban Books.

This is a fine introduction and commentary on the Gos. Thom. and its associated literature. Plisch is very circumspect about dating and though he recognizes that logia 68 is post-Bar Kochba revolt, it does not mean that the whole document is. He regards the transmission of Gos. Thom. as preserving a mixture of traditions that are earlier and later than the Synoptic Gospels and some independent traditions too, though he provides no argument for this in actuality. But he does raise a good point that the case for Thomasine dependence on the Synoptics only applies to about half of Gos. Thom. which parallels the Synoptic accounts. What I did find interesting was Plisch's suggestion for how the Gos. Thom. emerged and he uses the analogy of a box filled with ostraca. He writes: "In studying the Gospel of Thomas, I was thinking about a box filled with ostraca. Without making too much of it, this image can still be applied to the aporias in the Gospel of Thomas. One the one hand, the size of an ostrakon is limited; on the other hand, it is big enough to allow recording of several excerpted proverbs that can even come from different sources. Yet it can also happen that there is not eough room on the ostrakon (or other writing surfaces) for the entire text of the last excerpted logion, so that the rest of the text has to be recorded on the next writing surface." It is this variety of sources that best explains the disparity of the Gos. Thom. in his thinking. That means that the tradition-history of each logion should be evaluated on case-by-case merits. Plisch follows mainstream commentators by identifying the roots of the Thomasine tradition in Syria. He thinks the use of doublets might indicate the influence of lectionaries on the collection of logia as well. Plisch also provides one of the best short introductions to the theology of Gos. Thom. that I've read where he notes its distictive perspective on Jesus, the kingdom, salvation, ethics, and ecclesiology. The presentation of the text in the commentary contains the Coptic text of each logion, followed by a Greek retroversion of the logion whenever it has a parallel in the NT or in the P.Oxy materials. An English translation is also included and in the commentary Coptic and Greek words are helpfully transliterated.

Enno Edzard Popkes
Das Menschenbild des Thomasevangeliums: Untersuchungen zu seiner religionsgeschichtlichen und chronologischen Einordung
WUNT 206; Tuebingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2007.

This is Popkes' published version of his Habiltationsschrift which is distinguished from some approaches to Gos. Thom. by its refusal to try to excavate layers of redaction and tradition underneath the text. Popkes provides a study of the anthropology in Gos. Thom. and especially the concept of "image". Popkes will also be contributing an essay on "Paul and the Gospel of Thomas" to a collection edited by myself and Joel Willitts in the future so keep an eye out for his essay there.

Christopher W. Skinner
John and Thomas - Gospels in Conflict? Johannine Characterization and the Thomas Question
PTM; Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2009.
Available through Wipf & Stock in the USA.

In this volume Christopher Skinner contests the notion that the Fourth Gospel was composed as a polemic against Thomasine Christians or the Gospel of Thomas due to certain readings of John 20.24-28 which are said to reflect and inter-community conflict. Skinner points out that Thomas is a fairly insignificant character in the Fourth Gospel, Thomas is simply one of many unbelieving and uncomprehending characters which provide a narrative foil for the literary and the theological designs of the Fourth Gospel, and interactions between Jesus and Thomas do not reflect interneccine strife anymore than the interactions between Jesus and Phillip.

He writes: "In their publications on the John-Thomas relationship, Riley, DeConick, and Pagels are concerned with the history of early Christianity and what they regard as its multiform development. All three scholars rely heavily upon source-, form-, and redaction-critical criteria to explain the conflict they envision. Elements of historical inquiry also factor into their discussions. Then, after developing a picture of the John-Thomas conflict using a complex set of different historical-critical elements, each scholar introduces a one narrative critical insight to vaidate their view - the characterization of Thomas. This leads to a truncated reading of the Johannine narrative that drastically overemphasizes the significance of one minor character. The hermeneutic that emerges is an amalgam of loosely connected methodological assumptions forced together to pain a picture that is unsupported by the available information. Through this approach they reveal that their greater concern is to mine the text for insights that will assist their revaluation of early Christianity and gospel origins. Or, to say it more succinctly, in the character of Thomas they simply find what they are looking for. Because of this they generate incomplete, superficial readings of the Fourth Gospel that subjugate the interests of careful reading to those of historical speculation and reconstruction" (pp. 231-32).

Skinner's arguments should be read beside those found in Ismo Dunderberg's volume, The Beloved Disciple in Conflict? since Dunderberg argues similarly against a John/Thomas community conflict. Overall, Skinner's monograph makes for a sound read and gives a good update on recent research on the Gospel of Thomas.

Is Baptism a Gospel Issue - John Davies

Over at the PTC Blog, John Davies has a good post on Is Baptism a Gospel Issue? He concludes at the end: "When we abandon baptism, we substitute other more individualistic and subjective forms of recognition and exclusion. We undermine the unity on which the NT places such a high value. We subvert the gospel."

N.T. Wright Project

A trio of students at Princeton Theological Seminary have started the "N.T. Wright Project," which is their attempt at reflecting on several of Wright's works. Their blog can be found here, and the posts contain son the Wright vs. Piper debate, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Last Word.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Is Michael Bird Scottish?

Is Michael Bird Scottish? Well, according to "World Magazine" I am! Over at WM, Marvin Olasky reviews Introducing Paul, and he sounds pretty excited by it, but I have to tell Marvin: ochai laddy, ya a wee bit off da mark on dat un. But an easy mistake to make since I do have red hair and I am in Scotland! If anyone has an on-line subscription to WM, I'd love to read the whole review.

Paul and Pagan Sexual Ethics

If you think Paul is a bit too harsh in Rom. 1:26-28, consider this image from ancient Rome (sadly, I could not bring myself to post it on the blog, be warned, it is pretty explicit).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Phoebe as "Deacon" and "Leader"

At the recent PCA assembly in Florida, I an informed that there was a spirited debate between two big-hitters in the American Pressbie scene, Tim Keller and Ligon Duncan, about women Deacons. Well, over at SBL Forum, there is an interesting article by Elizabeth McCabe on "A Reexamination of Phoebe as a “Diakonos” and “Prostatis”: Exposing the Inaccuracies of English Translations".

Roland Deines' Tribute to Martin Hengel

Over at SBL there is a very moving tribute to Martin Hengel by his former student and colleague Roland Deines.

I should also mention that the New Testament Group of the Tyndale Fellowship is dedicating its 2010 meeting to interacting with the work of Martin Hengel. This will involve mostly invited speakers and we hope it is a fitting tribute to the importance of Hengel's work from a broadly evangelical perspective.

Gospel of Peter Images On-line

Thanks to Gospels.Net, but now you can view all of the pieces of the Gospel of Peter online including the The Akhmim Fragment, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2949, 4009, and The Faiyum Fragment (although the P.Oxy and Faiyum materials may not actually derive from the Gospel of Peter - see Paul Foster's work on this for the arguments).

David deSilva on 2 Thess 2.1-12

In his NT Intro, David deSilva has come good comments about the exhortation in 2 Thess 2.1-12:

"Second Thessalonians 2:1-12 is not merely about eschatological information, however. It plays a strategic part in shaping the outlook of the converts who heard it. It has a rhetorical function and social effect that we could easily overlook. Apocalypses and the invocation of apocalyptic topics often have as their goal the clarification of the cosmic significance of the choices and alliances people make in the here and now. While speaking of future and other worldly realities, these apocalypses also shape the hearer’s perception of the present, this worldly realities" (p. 547).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tom Wright on recent TECs schismatic actions

Over at the Times Online, Bishop Tom Wright of Durham pull no punches in his piece The Americans know this will end in schism. The last paragraph was a bit of a double-edged sword, "Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship. Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level." I hope that many of my American Anglican friends in the USA get the recognition that they deserve for keeping the faith.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tom Schreiner on Revelation 20

In a recent sermon, Tom Schreiner preaches on Revelation 20 and narrates his change from amillennialism to pre-millennialism. It is a very good sermon in terms of both theology and exhortation.

HT: Andy Naselli.

Tyndale Fellowship - Part 3

The Wednesday of TF started with myself leading devotions on 1 Tim 4:16, "Watch your life and doctrine closely". But the main event of the day was the panel session on Richard Burridge's new book, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics with reviews from John Nolland and Michael Thompson and with responses from Richard Burridge. It was a humdinger!

Nolland and Thompson gave a good critical appraisal of Burridge's work. In a nutshell, Nolland complained that Burridge neglects the words of Jesus too much on ethics (e.g. Matthew 18) and Thompson suggested that Burridge potentially sets up a false dichotomy of imitate Jesus or exclude homosexuals. I felt sorry for Burridge since the book isn't about homosexuality and the Anglican communion, he didn't want to discuss this for two hours, but we all knew that it was (as he said in his book) the "white elephant in the room". Burridge gave his own biographical description of his journey in the Gospels and in NT ethics. He said that he's spent "15 years trying to prove that the Gospels are really about Jesus" and he has also been effected by his experiences in South Africa in relation to apartheid. He believes that the historical Jesus matters for NT ethics and NT ethics should start with Jesus (in contrast to Richard Hays' approach). Burridge also rejects "biblical" versus "inclusive" and he rejects the false choices of "rigorous exclusion" and "anything goes ethics" when it comes to applied ethics. He also pointed out that one of the major motivations in the Clapham sect was their reading Scripture in light of the experiences of a slave and ex-slave and for him the "gay issue" should be approached in much the same way. I got hints that, if pushed far enough, Burridge would treat same-sex relations much in the same way as the COE currently treats remarriage after divorce: they are not ideal, people who participate in them need to repent, but they are part of life in a fallen world and need to affirmed and treated graciously.

My thoughts on Burridge's paper are: (1) I think it is important to note that the "historical Jesus" is the "historically reconstructed Jesus" and while this exercise has a valid place in Christian Theology, I don't want to use it/him to displace the "canonical Jesus". (2) I appreciate Burridge's attempt to swing the pendulum away from the words of Jesus and towards the actions of Jesus (e.g. his inclusive table-fellowship with sinners) for informing Christian ethics. But swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other is simply not the solution, rather, a balanced approach is needed. In the end, I think Burridge would concur. (3) I genuinely appreciate the logic of relating marriage after divorce to same-sex relationships (not ideal, must repentant, but in a fallen world we have to live with it), the only problem is that nowhere in the NT do we find marriage after divorce in the vice-lists and nowhere in the NT do we find exception clauses for same-sex relationships. So I'm not too sure if you can put the two in the same boat. (4) As Burridge concedes, his inclusive approach may well run aground on Paul, esp. his vice-lists and practice of church discipline. (5) Although Burridge never defines what it means to be "inclusive," I get the vibe that he means it hermeneutically, that is, you are willing to sit down with gays, lesbians, LGBT, and read the Bible together and everyone has a place at the table. Sadly though, that is one Bible study that can just go on forever, and you're still left with the problem of what do you do in the end in the church. Does being hermeneutically inclusive have to result in being ecclesially inclusive in membership and ministry? I'm all for Bible studies, but what do you do at the end of the day if everyone does not agree? (6) I hear from some of my Anglican friends in the USA that the only heresy is "exclusion". I cannot help but think that Burridge's book is going to be used to provide a theological justification for that perspective and it will widen the chasm between the orthodox and the revisionists in TEC.

I think Burridge spoke very well, he gave some good responses to what Nolland and Thompson presed him on, the whole panel discussion was cordial and gracious, and it was a very exciting and often animated exchange of views. In sum, I think "inclusive" is a good word like "liberal" (who wants to be called "illberal" in their giving!). But the challenge is to be, as Burridge himself notes, biblically inclusive. For me, it means that everybody is invited to my church - gays, prostitutes, druggies, even people who vote republican - and come as you are, but no-one is allowed to stay as they are, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and need the atoning work of Christ, the loving care of the Father, and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

That evening the John Wenham Lecture was given by Wayne Grudem on the "Perpescuity of Scripture" (I was pleased that he affirmed much of Mark Thompson's little IVP book on the subject in the NSBT series which is a little gem). Grudem spoke well, I think his points were very valid and sound, it was a great presentation that was ideal for a mixed audience of scholars and lay people. In the end, he expressed his probable rejection of the WCF which limits perpescuity to the things necessary for salvation (i.e. the gospel presentation). In my mind, the only problem with perpescuity is that it seems to die a death of a thousand qualifications when you apply it. Even so, Grudem did a good job of showing how it relates to the nature of God and to the nature of revelation. The biggest question I had was related to extra-biblical sources. Grudem said that extra-biblical sources cannot be used to falsify the Bible. Fine, but they can falsify people's interpretation of the Bible and their understanding of how the Bible relates to its environment. I asked Grudem about this. I noted that the Bible was written "for us" but not "to us" and we don't have all the shared historical and cultural knowledge between authors and readers. Ultimately discovering more of this shared knowledge can improve and even correct our understanding of the Bible. Thus, knowing that Jude cites 1 Enoch seems a necessary condition of understanding the Epistle of Jude in my mind. Grudem replied that it doesn't change anything we know and the 1 Enoch citation might even be an authentic prophesy handed on orally (all I can say is that in seminary I did change my mind from regarding this passage from 1 Enoch as an authentic prophesy to seeing it as a pseudepigraphon that was rhetorically useful for Jude's purpose in talking about the final judgment). Interestingly enough, the next day at breakfast I pressed Grudem on this and he gave a good example of how the ESV has been influenced by further findings in extra-biblical sources. Grudem said that Bruce Winter's work on women in Corinth convinced the ESV committee that gyne in 1 Cor. 11.2-16 should be translated as "wives" rather than "women" since evidence (literary and archaeological) shows that only wives had to wear head coverings. I pointed out to him that many churches in Scotland practice mandatory head coverings for all women in worship. Have we discovered, then, new evidence to show that they have been wrong all along? If you say, "yes", I think you've conceded the argument about the value of extra-biblical sources, viz., that they can correct our understanding of the Bible.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tyndale Fellowship - Part 2

Day two of the TF was great. Mariam Kamell (a Ph.D student at St. Andrews) kicked off the NT group meetings with a cracking good paper on the ethics of James where she noted that James does have an indicative element (implanted word, new birth) prior to its indicative ethics (keeping self pure, visiting orphans and widows, etc). This was followed up with some other good papers on Paul and imitation (Rick Weymouth with pictures of Christian relics in Jordan), Paul's ethics based on 2 Cor 5.17 (Timothy Keene - Timothy with Chris Tilling are the only two people I know who accepts N.T. Wright's reading of 2 Cor 5.21) and ethical points in the Acts 15 Jerusalem council (Hyung Dae Park).

The annual TF NT lecture was delivered by Roland Deines of Nottingham University, who was soon to leave for Martin Hengel's funeral in Germany. His topic was ‘God’s Role in History as a Methodological Problem for Exegesis: Towards a Historical-Critical Assessment of the Conviction that God is Acting in History’ and he started by noting what Josephus says about miraculous events: "let each one decide on this as he fancies". Ancient historians, such as Lucian of Samosata, aimed for a reserved objectivity on the "miraculous" and this is preferable to modernist approaches. Deines presented a survey of the approaches of Troeltsch, Hengel, and Ratzinger. What Deines was heading for was a way to integrate God's existence into the study of historical effects. His own view was that revelation is real, but mysterious and unfixable, and we should be prepared to integrate a degree of transcendence into our view of historiography. The two big issues here are: (1) If we accept the historical possibility of miracles, then don't we have to accept all "miracles" in all religions as well, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim, etc.? Why or why not? (2) If you reject miracles and God/transcendence as part of an explanation of history, then you're buying into a perspective that is only 200 years old and limited to Western civilization. To say that they only reason why Muslims in the Middle East still believe in religious miracles is because they haven't had their enlightenment yet is a tad bit imperialistic. Deines' paper was very philosophical for a NT paper, but otherwise, very stimulating.

New Baptist Logo

The Anglican Church League contains some of the more conservative members of the Sydney Anglicans and they are not afraid to dish out what they think about liberals and pentecostals and sometimes on other evangelicals in Australia (of course whether there actually are "other" evangelicals in Australia or even intelligent life north of Hornsby might be the root of the problem). While I'm a pro-GAFCON anglophile, the ACL's jibe at those who should be thought of as brothers is not always my cup of tea. But I have to say that I do agree with the implied jibe behind their recent report on the Australian Baptist's new logo. Australian Baptist Ministries (formerly Baptist Union of Australia) has taken out the cross and Bible from their old logo and replaced it with three concentric circles. Read the article and find out why. All I have to say to my Aussie Baptist friends is: (1) This is what happens when you let Victorian Baptists run anything of national importance; (2) Your new logo looks like an advertisement for treating ringworm; and (3) What a load of ... [fill in as preferred].

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tyndale Fellowship - Part 1

I'm back from the Tyndale Fellowship and had a brilliant time. It was a matter of automobiles (Inverness to Edinburgh), planes (Edinburgh to Stanstead), and trains (Stanstead to Cambridge) to get there, but well worth it. I was most pleased to see folks making the effort to arrive there after International SBL in Rome and after the Sinaiticus Conference in Birmingham too.

The first plenary session featured John Drane, David Wenham, myself on the "Nature & Purpose of the Tyndale Fellowship". John Drane raised questions about the publicity of the fellowship (since some Bible College principals in the UK have not even heard of it), the distinctivness of the fellowship (since many of us belong to other learned societies already), the value of the fellowship (what do we do for the church), and what kind of "fellowship" is the fellowship? In my response I reviewed the goals for the Tyndale Fellowship espoused in F.F. Bruce's charter for the organization published in EQ in 1947 and said that we are more or less meeting them and remaining true to the vision of the founders. I also pointed out that while publicity can be handled better, we already have an international reputation which is great. On distinctiveness, the Tyndale Fellowship is one of the few places where scholars can be nakedly and unapologetically evangelical and not be called a neanderthal. As for value-added, we can make a significant impact to the church by encouraging study of the biblical languages when some colleges are dropping them from the programme - this roused hearty "amens" from the audience. We should make our scholarship more accessible for others, but that is not to say that good cutting edge scholarship by evangelicals simply is valuable in its own right (Peter Williams cogently stated this during the Q&A). On being a fellowship, I don't see the need to reproduce what the local church should do, Tyndale Fellowship is a fellowship in so far as it fosters cooperation, encouragement, learning, and friendship in a Christian environment. See more thoughts on this by Nijay Gupta who was there.

The Christian Doctrine lecture was given by John Webster on "Creatio ex nihilo" which was brilliant (as JW always is). Ironically, the lecture was given during a thunder storm which added further excitement to the lecture. Webster basically showed how CEN gives us a particular Christian understanding of Creator, Creation, and Creatures. He raises a good question, one that many biblical scholars and scientists ask: how can an ANE text provide a rationale for a metaphysical reality? Although Webster believes that theology is "biblical reasoning", he also believes in the value of theological reasoning. That is becasue God's actions in salvation-history cannot be divorced from the inner-life of God in himself which is the condition of God being for us. To contemplate the work of creation is to conteplate the Worker in his work. One quote for one of my M.Th students I have to mention: "Immutability is not the absence of love, but the grounds for the constancy of his love."

The Old Testament lecture was delivered by Lena-Sophia Tiemeyer on "To read - or not to read - Ezekiel as Christian Scripture" and this was probably the most provocative and interesting of all the papers at TF this year. Basically, Tiemeyer wants to read Ezekiel for authorial intent and with the "grain" of the text, as part of Sola Scriptura, in canonical perspective, but she recognizes elements of Ezekiel which she finds morally abhorent such as that which happens to the populace of Jerusalem and Judea. She believes that a "Christian" reading requires honesty as some parts are morally offensive and sound to us as unworthy of God, yet we cannot be selective and we cannot explain it away. Instead she chooses to look Ezekiel's "violent and misogynist God" in the face and plea before him. We should read Ezekiel with Lamentations and be willing to lament before God, appeal to his mercy, honour, and grace, and accept God's acts but also call him to account. I thought Tiemeyer was giving a no holds barred wrestling with God (esp. her reflections as a woman on Ezekiel 16). My question to her was whether her approach was distinctively "Christian". Granted it was canonical, but a Jewish readership could come to the same conclusion. What I wanted to know (and Chris Wright pressed her on this too) what would happen if we read those hard parts of Ezekiel not just canonically with Lamentations, but in dialogue with the story of the cross too? How does that impact our reading of suffering, judgment, and God in Ezekiel?

Craig Blomberg Reviews "Introducing Paul"

Over at the Denver Journal, Craig Blomberg reviews my book Introducing Paul. I was quite happy that it was a very positive review, though I might have to go back and re-think a few things on the Pastoral Epistles that Blomberg rightly brought up. To have an American both understand and affirm my sense of humour was also quite an achievement for me. But the highlight of the review was Blomberg's statement at the very end, "may the American IVP in the future retain the wonderful British IVP title!". Are my friends in Downers Grove listening?

Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference in August 2009

One of the best theology conferences in Scotland (held every second year) is the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference which is to be held at the Free Church College on 24-27 August 2009. This year's topic is "The Doctrine of Church" and it features Bruce McCormack, Henri Blocher, Andrew Clarke, Michael Horton, John Franke, Jason Curtis, Andrew McGowan, and Paul Nimmo. Do get along if you can!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Interview with Martin Hengel

Thanks to John Dickson and the Centre for Public Christianity is this interview with Martin Hengel on video. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

To my American readers I say, "Happy Independence Day!" and I would like all of you to now go back and read Romans 13 about submitting to divinely instituted government (it's never too late to repent you know and the English are much nicer these days). And while you're at it, please remove those idolatrous icons of nationalism, i.e., your American flags, from places of worship as our citizen is in heaven and God does not look and sound like Colonel Sanders (I know that sounds shocking but trust me on it!). Finally, let me leave you all with a joke:

Q: What is the difference between America and a tub of yoghurt?

A: If you leave a tub of yoghurt for 200 years it will develop a culture!

Blessings to my yanky mates!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Martin Hengel Passes Away

When I got to work today, I sat down to drink my tea and read my googlereader feed, and I was saddened to hear of the passing away of Martin Hengel.

Hengel was a luminary among the German academy, his command of primary sources was brilliant, he exposed how many of the suppositions of critical scholarship weresimply not critical enough. He destroyed the Bultmannian taxonomy of Hellenistic vs. Palestinian Judaism, he was viscious as he was right when attacked form criticism (note his words: "Therefore nothing has led research into the Gospels so astray as the romantic superstition involving anonymous theologially creative community collectives, which are supposed to have drafted whole writings"), he boldly asserted that Acts might actually have more historical value than what most of his contemporaries would allow, and despite his historical-critical endeavours he sincerely believed that Theology really was a good thing (see my summary here of Hengel). Of course, Hengel was not an "inerrantist" either, not this remark:

"This may seem to us to be quite an extreme case [Osiander on harmonizing the Gospels], but a similar sort of unbiblical, and ultimately rationalistic, apologetics remains the rule in Protestant orthodoxy until the beginning of historical criticism in the eighteenth century, and indeed in some evangelical fundamentalist circles to the present day. Such a “fundamentalistic rationalistic” exegesis which makes the New Testament a law book does little service to the real historical and theological understanding of the Gospels (the two cannot be separated) as the radical ahistorical scepticism which seeks to investigate the text only by a literary approach in terms of its aesthetic value or by a dogmatic approach in terms of its unalterable fixed “truth content” and prohibits any authentic historical investigation, or at least is not interested in it."

I shall remember him for his work on the Gospels (esp. the origins of the superscriptions and his work on the Fourth Gospel), his writings on Paul's early years, and his SNTS lecture on the tasks of New Testament studies. My recent book, Are You the One Who is to Come? was partly inspired by his own essay "Jesus, the Messiah of Israel" and I was sincerely hoping to send him a personal copy thanking him for his own work.

Note also my post about Larry Hurtado's tribute to Hengel in ExpTim a while ago. Roland Deines will be providing the Tyndale Fellowship NT lecturer next week on God and History and it includes a section on Martin Hengel. I look forward to hearing that from one of Hengel's former students.

Several people have blogged on this too and I sharen't add much more other than concur with Sea Winter: "Tübingen has lost a great Neutestamentler. If God writes footnotes, then at least Hengel will be on hand to add a judicious classical reference or two, probably from memory. Requiescat in pacem".

Around the Blogs

Around the blosophere:

On the travails in the Church of Scotland, note the sober and gracious thoughts of David Robertson (from a Free Church perspective). He particularly warns his FC friends against "schadenfreude, delighting in another’s misery in order to indulge in an ‘I told you so’ kind of self-justification".

Chris Tilling has the new COE logo, absolutely hillarious!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Latest Issue of EQ

The latest issue of Evangelical Quarterly 81.2 (2009) includes:

Benjamin Sargent
The dead letter? Psalm 119 and the spirituality of the Bible in the local church

Jason B. Hood
Evangelicals and the imitation of the cross: Peter Bolt on Mark 13 as a test case

Keith Innes
Towards an ecological eschatology: continuity and discontinuity

Derek Tidball
Post-war evangelical theology: a generational perspective

Paul Helm on N.T. Wright

Paul Helm is starting a four part review of N.T. Wrights' new book on justification. This quote was interesting:

"I gained three general impressions of theological nature. One is that the gap between Wright and the classic Reformation view of justification (as expressed by John Piper, for example) seems to be not as great as before. If one presses the logic of Wright’s present position, then the gap is even less. Where the gap has already narrowed is over the question, Are believers justified now? Or are they only justified at the last, on the basis of a whole life? In the new book he writes that the future judgment responds to the present verdict which is issued simply and solely on the basis of faith’ (165) See also 179, 207-12, 223. But it has to be admitted that Wright wobbles on this, as in 166-7 ‘the verdict on the last day will truly reflect what people have actually done’. The vagueness of the language irritates: 'corresponds to', 'anticpate', 'reflect'. How corresponds to, anticipates, reflects?, one vainly asks."