Thursday, December 30, 2010

RBL Review of Matthew's Messianic Shepherd-King

I was very pleased to see another review of my book Matthew’s Messianic Shepherd-King (De Gruyter, 2007). Don Garlington review in RBL was published today. I want to thank Garlington for his thorough reading of the book evidenced in his very useful summary of nearly 4 pages. Students of Matthew wishing to know what I argued and how I argued it without before reading or let alone buying (Garlington notes the outrageous price of De Gruyter books) the book would do well to read this review, at least the first four pages. In addition his general assessment is positive:

As an overall assessment, this is a notable and useful work. The exegesis is detailed, informed, and serves to shed a good deal of light on the First Gospel against the backdrop of Tanak and in the context of Second Temple literature. Certainly, the attention given to the geographical and political dimensions of the Gospel is very apropos. The book is well organized and, in the main, clearly written, with numerous internal summaries that facilitate the reading process. Helpful as well are the frequent tables that place various texts in parallel for the purposes of comparison and contrast . . . this is a volume well worth consulting on the part of research scholars, not least because of its frequent insights (e.g., 133–34, 138). Certainly as a heuristic undertaking, the book is to be commended for its boldness in advancing an uncommon reading of Matthew.

In the end however he finds himself in agreement with D. Senior’s review in the same publication. He writes,

In sum, notwithstanding the value of Willitts’s thesis for research purposes, I have to agree with Donald Senior’s previous evaluation of the book: “the narrow focus that Willitts suggests for Matthew’s Gospel, even when coupled with a vision of eschatological triumph, strains the imagination”

His agreement with Senior is apparently the result of at least 4 criticisms. I want to respond briefly to three.

1. The passages in the Hebrew Bible do not establish the case that the scattered sheep of Israel have exclusive or even particular reference to the North and postulating that Matthew restricts “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to this region is solely to beg the question. Here I would submit that with a more accurate reading of the thesis would reveal that my logic for the conclusion about the identity of “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” is not based on a false understanding of the identification of the “scattered flock” as exclusively the northern kingdom. I don’t believe I ever make that claim. The biblical evidence does however show that the scattered flock were the exilic people of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. This criticism to me seems off the mark.

2. The name “Israel” is varied and ambiguous, as I myself note, so in Garlington’s estimation this is “another instance of assuming a conclusion, or at least of special pleading”. He adds “The data presented are simply not decisive or compelling, making it difficult to believe that Matthew necessarily envisages the northern kingdom as distinct from “all Israel.” On this point I am again slightly surprised by the criticism since it appears that Garlington read the thesis carefully. My point in the chapter to which he references the discussion is to show that each context must be considered definitive for understanding the meaning of the name “Israel”. I make a comprehensive argument to show that the “house of Israel” is a reference to the northern kingdom although I make the point that the limitation was suggestive of a restoration of “all Israel”. In other words, Matthew’s Jesus was interested in a comprehensive salvation of Israel corporately and territorially. So when Garlington asserts that I’m “assuming the conclusion” I again think this misses the mark significantly. He may not buy my argumentation, but I don’t assume the conclusion. I would like to know what he means by this so that I can think this through more carefully if there is something to his criticism.

3. The hermeneutical issue of “literal” versus “symbolic” or “typological”. He asserts that “I do little to provide a convincing refutation” of a symbolic/typological reading of “land”. First it should be noted what was the purpose of the chapter in question. Garlington is not alone in judging my thesis on my inadequate argument in favor of Matthew's belief in territorial restoration. The chapter however was not meant to be comprehensive. It was rather to be a preliminary argument that would supplement the larger argument of the thesis. I readily admit more work needs to be done, but I was attempting to at least make such a suggestion reasonable in a scholarly climate where even the question seems bordering on outrageous. He claims that I do not take “seriously enough the factor of typology in Matthew”. He agrees that the expectation of territorial restoration was in the air in first-century Palestine, but he queries in what appears to be a rhetorical question: “was Matthew in sympathy with this sort of expectation? (emphasis his)?” For some reason he thinks this would be a highly unlikely hypothesis adding “especially in light of Matthew’s use of the Hebrew Scriptures”. Well, this seems like questioning begging to me. What about Matthew’s use of Scripture would undermine just such a hypothesis? Does typology? I don’t believe so. This is all the more clear to me when Matthew was apparently doing the same thing with the Scriptures that other Jews of his day were with Scripture who held just such a view? So why wouldn’t he? That is my question. I don’t see the hermeneutical problem. Instead, and this should not be a surprise, I believe presuppositions, deeply held, are the reason this kind of hypothesis is considered to “strains the imagination”.

Well there was another point about imperial readings of Matthew and I’ll have more to say on in a forthcoming piece. Notwithstanding the contentious points mentioned above, I am thankful for Garlington’s review and I would look forward to dialoguing about these with him at some point in the future if he's willing. I respect Garlington as a scholar and Christian and have learned a great deal from him particularly on issues of the New Perspective.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Communion is about Death and Resurrection

Markus Barth (Rediscovering the Lord's Supper, 45-46) makes a good point that communion celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus.

"Those celebrating the Lord's Supper know the pain and shame, the horror and scandal, of Christ's death. However, they rejoice in the crucifixion and praise the slaughtered Lamb because God has raised him from the dead the crucified Son and has accepted his intercession by enthroning him at God's right hand. In Paul's theology, as much as in the message of John, Hebrews, First Peter, and Revelation, the Crucified is always the raised and living Christ. The one who rules the church and the world and who will come again is the crucified Christ. Through Christ alone the godless are justified and reconciled, saved and given peace (Rom. 4:5, 25; 5:1; 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:10-14; 5:14-15, 18-20; Eph. 1:19-23; 4:9-10; Rev. 5). We have abundant reason to rejoice in Christ's death and to praise the slaughtered yet living Lamb."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BAR and 2011 Digs

I received the latest issue of BAR (Biblical Archaeological Review) this past week. I have a love/hate relationship with this yearly issue because it invites volunteers for the upcoming 2011 digs in Israel. I love archaeology, but I have very little experience doing it and with a young family and ministry commitments little opportunity to pursue it. So when I get this issue, I find great envy welling up in me as I think about those who will volunteer on these digs. I have been on two digs: one in 2000 and another in 2007. If I could I'd go to Israel every summer for a few weeks to haul rocks and dirt out of squares.

Truth be told, I'm not very attracted to philosophy and I don't have great theological chops, but I find engagement with the tangible world of the New Testament to be one of the most thrilling experiences I've had intellectually, spiritually and professionally. For me, the best New Testament interpreters are those who know text and artifact. I unfortunately must admit I know little about both. One of my heroes in NT studies is the German scholar Rainer Riesner, with whom I once had opportunity to meet. He exemplifies just this combination. He has a wonderful little book on "Bethany beyond the Jordan" (Bethanien jenseits des Jordan) where you see firsthand the power of the two disciplines at work.

If you are just beginning your academic study in the New Testament, let me make a plea that you complement your study of the text with a study of artifact. Take course in archaeology if their offered (I'll never do this, but I would enjoy getting an MA in archaeology). Go on a dig(s). If you are single I challenge you to go to Israel and spend a year of your study there. Learn the Land and get dirty. Alternatively, go to Greece or Turkey if you're more interested in the Greco-Roman world. I sat in on a session at SBL that was a fascinating presentation on recent discoveries of Jewish synagogues in Turkey.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Markus Barth on the Lord's Supper

I'm reading through Rediscovering the Lord's Supper by Markus Barth (thanks to Wipf & Stock for the copy). Here is what Barth concludes about the Jewish background of the Lord's Supper:

1. The abandonment of altar-like structures in favor of real tables.
2. The participation of children because it is not only permissible but necessary.
3. The combination of liturgical act with a real meal, called an agape in the early church.
4. Joyful and jubilant means of celebration including oral, musical or artistic contributions.
5. The elimination of clerical dominion over the meal.
6. The opening of the church and chapel doors with for spontaneous and regular communion.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas to Euangelion Readers

From Joel and myself a very merry Christmas to all and blessings for the new year ahead!

Anyway, here is a quote from my "Stupid History" calendar for Dec 24:

"The Puritans, known for their religious fervor, hated Christmas. A law was passed in 1659 outlawing the celebration of Christmas, and a five-shilling fine was levied against anyone 'found observing, by abstinence from labor, feasting or any other way, any such days as Christmas day.' They considered Christmas 'an extreme forgetfulness of Christ, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights'."

This is why the Free Presbyterians in the UK don't celebrate Christmas today.

That is also why I'm not Free Presbyterian (plus several other very good reasons).

The grace be with you all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

John Calvin on the Fourth Gospel

Thanks to Andreas Kostenberger (A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters, 5) I found this quote from Calvin about John's Gospel:

"And since they [the four Gospels]
had the same object, to show Christ,
the first three exhibit His body,
if I may be permitted to put it like that,
but John shows His soul."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas according to the Book of Revelation

I'm preparing my Christmas sermon for tomorrow on Revelation 12. Here is the introduction:

It’s Christmas. So put up your nativity sets. Polish up your star of Bethlehem. Feed the donkeys. Put your plastic baby Jesus in the manger. I guess we should dress up as shepherds, wise men, and angels. Let’s do the nativity all over again as we do every year. Get some cute little girl to play Mary, hold hands with a cute little Joseph. Watch them bring frankincense, gold, and myrrh. We can sing “Little Drummer Boy” and “We Three Kings”. If we want to get theological we can argue about whether Jesus was born in a stable, a guest room with animals, or a cave. We all know the story. But let me ask you this. What if we could do the nativity story directed by Quentin Tarantino? (QT is a director of some of the most violent films that you’ll ever see like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill). What would the nativity look like if Quentin Tarnatino wrote and directed it? I think the answer is Revelation 12? A woman in child birth is crying out in pain while a dragon is waiting to devour whatever is ejected from her birth canal. This is the nativity of John the Seer! No mangers, no shining stars over Bethlehem, a dragon waiting to kill and consume the Christ child. You see for John the Seer, Christmas (the birth of Jesus) is not simply a positive message of hope, good will, and joy to all people. Christmas is about God’s plan to destroy evil, vanquish the devil, and the triumph of God’s people against their chief adversary. Christmas is not consumer Christianity for the masses. It is an apocalyptic drama of God’s plan to repossess the world for himself through the seed of Eve, the child of a Galilean maiden, the fruit of Israel’s own womb. It’s the Woman vs. the Dragon. It is the Church vs. Satan – that is why Jesus was born. That is Christmas according to the book of Revelation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Australian School Chaplains on CT

Over at CT is an article about how the Australian Govt. funds Chaplains in State and Private schools (I should say that funding is limited to two days per week and any further financial support comes from local churches and local businesses). The program is being continued and even enhanced under the current Prime Minister Julia Gillard even though she is an atheist. Most of the chaplains come from evangelical churches and participate in the pastoral care of students and provide religious education. My college trains many students who are already working as chaplains. I think that for many Americans this would be just mind blowing to even imagine government funding of religious chaplains in State schools. Despite being a very secular country, programs like this are popular and successful because these chaplains are the like the Salvation Army of the school yard. The school chaplains are supported by both sides of politics and the only party that opposes the scheme are the Greens (who probably would prefer to see the funds spent on teaching children how to grow, sell, and use cannabis without their parents or the police finding out about it).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Righteousness and Covenant Membership (Again)

Pauline studies is like the mafia, every time you think you're out they drag you back in. I would much rather be writing about Gospels. Any how, I cannot resist one thought. Over at Table Talk, Charles Hill has a review N.T. Wright's Justification. I think Hill is right that "righteousness" in Paul is not reducible to covenant membership. Paul did not need the word of the cross to know that God is the God of Gentiles too (though whether Wright actually reduces righteousness to that and nothing more than that is perhaps another question, elsewhere his definition appears broader, but I take the point as a valid criticism based on what I've also read Wright write). But then again, as I've consistently argued, one's status before God and one's identity in the people of God are indelibly connected. Reformed theologians should be the first to agree with this: God justifies the elect! Paul's primary contention in Galatians and Romans is not to refute a works righteousness merit theology, but Paul is arguing that one does not have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. Paul is certainly critiquing the view that one's status before God is determined by law keeping, but the law in question is also bound up with the election of the Jewish nation, their constitution, charter, covenant, and conduct - so it's also ethnographic and corporate. So I don't see how one can, or why one would want to, play off righteousness as a status with righteousness as something about group identity (and that applies to pro- or anti-NPP). Overall, Hill's discussion of the context of Romans 1-3 is correct, except for one thing. Hill writes:

"From Romans 2:25 Paul starts putting Jew and Gentile on the same level. Circumcision and being a Jew are spiritual things. Being a literal Jew had advantages so long as the advantages were used rightly. But the Jews were not faithful. (Nor can they accuse God, whose holy prerogative it is to judge mankind.)"

I grimaced when I read that "circumcision" and "being a Jew" were "spiritual things". It's partly true given 2.28-29, but not in 2.25-26. Cause I'm not circumcised (whoops, that's probably TMI for most of you), but I have been in the gym showers with men who are circumcised and their circumcision looks pretty real to me. And I've met a few Jewish people in my time and their Jewishness seems ethnic, cultural, and religious to me and not something that exists purely on a spiritual plain (note, I'm being facetious as ever, and I don't imagine that this is the sum of Hill's exposition of these verses). The words "Jew" and "circumcision" were prestige terms that one could claim, boast about, and appeal to as the grounds for one's status before God and membership in a community. What is interesting in Romans 2:25-29 (forgetting the controversy around 2.13-16 for now) is that this is where we find Paul's first reference to imputation! Paul there states clearly that the circumcised can have their circumcision came to naught if they fail to keep the law. Conversely, the uncircumcised can be reckoned (logisthesetai) as circumcised if they do keep the law (2.26). In fact, by the power of the Spirit that is exactly what these Gentile persons do and that is why I and others like Tom Schreiner think the Gentiles in Rom 2.25-29 are Christian Gentiles. These Gentiles have a circumcision of the heart (yes, a spiritual circumcision) that is better than a physical circumcision, importantly, this circumcision of the heart promised in the Torah gives everything that physical circumcision does and more. These Gentiles also receive praise from God (and I wonder if praise here might actually be almost salvific/forensic, i.e., acceptance, regard, and embrace by God). But if circumcision is a designation of the identity as a Jew and the benefits and privileges that go with it, then, the first thing imputed to Gentiles in Romans is membership in the covenant people.

To recap, I've argued elsewhere (e.g., SROG) that righteousness cannot be limited to covenant membership. However, I find it impossible to read Romans and Galatians without identifying Paul's language of righteousness with the ethnic, corporate, and ecclesial issues of the identity of the people of God beside the matter of the basis of their acceptance before God through faith in Jesus Christ. That is why a number of commentators as diverse as Peter O'Brien and Francis Watson and myself argue that justification has horizontal and vertical dimensions.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Parallels Between Revelation 4 & 5

I've recently preached on Revelation 5 at my Church in Brisbane (Acacia Ridge Presbyterian Church). In my thinking it is crucial to see how Revelation 4 & 5 go together. In terms of the high christology of Revelation, we can observe the parallels between the praise ascribed to God in Revelation 4 and that ascribed to Christ in Revelation 5. Charles Talbert (Apocalypse, 26-27) notes the parallelism between the two chapters:

God's glory (4.2b-8a) - Lamb's glory (5.4-7)
Worship of God (4.8b-11) - Worship if the Lamb (5.8-12)
First hymn (4.8b) - First hymn (5.9-10)
Narrative (4.9-10) - Narrative (5.11-12a)
Second hymn (4.11) - Second hymn (5.12b)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Things to Click

Around the blogosphere I note the following:

Patrick Schreiner notes a new book co-edited by his Father Tom Schreiner on the Lord's Supper in the Baptist Tradition. He provides an interview with the editors Tom Schreiner and Matthew Crawford about the book. I've glimpsed at the book and it looks good. Though as many of my student's know, I often joke about the Baptist view of the sacraments as teaching a doctrine of "real absence," i.e., wherever Jesus is, he's nowhere near the bread and wine. In fact, it is probably better if he doesn't even come to our communion service, because if he did ever come too close to the bread or the wine, we might end up turning Catholic. Caricatures aside, this book by Schreiner and Crawford looks like a good description of the Lord's Supper in the Believers church.

There is a continuing debate over at the Gospel Coalition on Bible Translation, this time discussing 2 Tim 2:2 about entrusting things to reliable "men" or reliable "people". Contributors to the discussion include Craig Blomberg, Ray Van Neste, and Michael Bird. More on the theme of women, you can read Ben Witherington's interview at CPX about Jesus, women, and the church. The Zondervan blog also draws attention to one of it's books How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership.

On Paul, there is a podcast about Brian Tucker's book You Belong to Christ: Paul and the Social Formation of Identity in 1 Corinthians 1-4. Matt Montonini also draws attention to a video interview with Doug Campbell about his book Deliverance of God (gotta love that Kiwi accent).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Evaluation of Emerging Movement

Crossway College graduate student, Eleanora L. Scott has an article in the latest issue of Evangelical Review of Theology on "A Theological Critique of the Emerging, Postmodern Mission Church/Movement". She writes in her conclusion:

"There are issues that EM must consider. Experience should not be elevated above theology, although they may sit side by side. Spirituality must not be seen as self-centered or as neutral and spiritual conflict must be expected and addressed. The movement must remain self-critical, critical of current culture, and open to the criticism of others. Phases that unnecessarily incite the existing church and reductionist views of church history must be avoided. And God's mission to the wider world must not be marginalized. However, the contributions that the EM has to make to ecclesiology and the existing church outweigh these issues. Tapping into the culture's desire for spiritual experience is remarkable. Embrace those who are different and including them in authentic community is extremely important in redeeming the church's image as elitest and irrelevant ... Time will tell whether EM is as significant as it appears; EM could very well be another Reformation of sorts. Kimball suggests that we measure EM's success 'by looking at what our practices produce in the called people of God as they are sent out on a mission to live as light and salt in their communities'. This is certainly reasonable."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Kingdom of God and the Cross

Justin Taylor posts some thoughts by Greg Gilbert on the Kingdom of God and the Cross. In light of a spate of lectures on this subject by N.T. Wright (e.g., at Duke Divinity School; IBR in Atlanta) and Scot McKnight's recent article in CT, I think we should have a conference on this topic somewhere. I know what my presentation would be called: "Can you Preach the gospel from the Gospels?" Perhaps the YRR and Emergent folk will find something in common at last (besides the art of caricaturing the views of those they disagree with). If some brave soul wants to organize this, let me know when and where!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

PTS Conference on Romans 5-8

In 2012 at Princeton Theological Seminary there is a conference on Creation, Conflict, and Cosmos that is about Romans 5-8. See the details here.

Who are the Christians in the Middle East?

My non-academic purchase at SBL was Who are the Christians in the Middle East? by Betty Jane Bailey and J. Martin Bailey. Very informative read. I learned a lot about the Middle East Council of Churches and the Fellowship of Middle East Christian Churches. Christianity is a lot stronger in Egypt and Sudan than I thought at least in terms of numbers. Best quote of the book was from the Sudanese ambassador to Britain saying: "Our government's goal to produce an Islamic society has been a failure. At no time in history has the church grown so rapidly as it has in the 1990s". For those who don't know the differences between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox or know about the Reformed and Anglican presence in the Middle East, this book is a worthwhile read.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Scot McKnight on Jesus and Paul

Over at CT, Scot McKnight has an article on Jesus and Paul which is well worth checking out!

I think Scot is hitting at what is quite possible the major issue in biblical theology for evangelicals. How do you read Jesus and Paul together? How does Jesus' kingdom message line up with Paul's theology of justification?

Scot's own solution is: "The gospel is first and foremost about Jesus. Or, to put it theologically, it's about Christology. Behind or underneath both kingdom and justification is the gospel, and the gospel is the saving story of Jesus that completes Israel's story. "To gospel" is to tell a story about Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord, as the Son of God, as the Savior ... Excuse me for piling on here, but only when we grasp the gospel as the saving story about Jesus that completes Israel's story do we see the profound unity between Jesus and Paul. Both "gospeled" the same gospel because both told the story of Jesus."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dale Allison: The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

Over the SBL period I read Dale C. Allison's The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009). I enjoy Allison's books, but I have to confess that I always come away feeling a little depressed at the end. Allison strikes me as such a melancholic author. But in many cases he's right. We simply do not get out of historical Jesus research what we would like to get: historical certainty, a Jesus like us, a Jesus concerned about our concerns, etc. In this book, Allison writes a lot about the relationship between theology and history as well as the mistaken certainty of history in Jesus questing. One thing I took away from the book is that I think Allison makes a key point when he notes that even those who shaped the Jesus tradition were themselves shaped by Jesus. Consequently, the divide between authentic and inauthentic sayings is artificial. Even materials that are judged to be verbally inauthentic, can still summarize Jesus' authentic viewpoint. Allison is also on the money when he notes the pervasive nature of eschatology in Jesus' teaching/theology. He writes: "The matter of Jesus' own christology cannot be disentangled from his eschatological expectations, for in the Synoptics it is chiefly in logia about the last things that his status is most exalted" (p. 90). Next is to read his other new book Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009).


I'm glad to announce that the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters now has its own dedicated blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SBL Gk NT meets Old Spice

Here is my video about the SBL Greek New Testament in the tradition of "Old Spice".

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who Chose the Gospels?

I've heard many times now (mainly from Ivy League Gnostics) that the Christian canon was imposed top down by a theologically narrow oligarch of bishops bent on eradicating all traces of diversity from the ecclesial landscape. I think the truth of the matter is that the four Gospels reflect the diversity within the majority of the early church and the so-called "lost Gospels" lost out because they weren't all that popular and weren't all that good to begin with. The Fourfold Gospel arose out of a large consensus of the eastern and western churches and not because a cohort of bishops with the backing of Roman power decreed it by force.

One book on this subject that has come out and I'm looking forward to reading is Charles E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Conspiracy (Oxford: OUP, 2010). According to the blurb:

It is now widely said that the four Gospels rose to prominence only after a long battle within early Christianity, a battle finally won in the fourth century, after the establishment of the Church by Constantine the Great. In Who Chose the Gospels? Charles E. Hill demolishes this claim, providing a more historically accurate, alternative account of how the Church came to acknowledge four, and only four, narratives of the life of Jesus. Hill offers not only an informed critique of recent, overtly "political" readings of early Christian history, but also a more nuanced analysis of how and why, out of all the Gospels written in the early centuries of the Church, just these four "made it" into the Bible. In fact, the author shows that despite the profusion of Gospels, there was wide agreement among church leaders, in diverse regions of the empire, at least from the second century onward, as to the authority of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Thus it was not a conspiracy but common consensus that determined the books of the New Testament.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post-SBL Smack Down

I'm back from the land of fried chicken (Atlanta) and biblical scholarship (ETS-IBR-SBL). Great time was had by all. I arrived a few days earlier and stayed with my awesome buddy Joshua Jipp, a Ph.D student at Emory Uni. He took me too the Martin Luther King museum that was awesome. We also went out to a peculiar restaurant that specialized in chicken and waffles.

I have to confess that due to meetings with Ph.D students, friends, editors, and well-wishers, I didn't actually make too many sessions this year. At ETS I attended Jason Hood on summaries of Israel's story as a literary device which was great. The only plenary I got to was N.T. Wright on "Justification, Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow" where Wright was in his usual good form. It was a tad defensive and I forgot how many times he used the word "accused" to describe accusations laid against him. The gob smacking revelation was where he appeared to back down on using the phrase "on the basis of" to describe how works relate to justification. The phrase "on the basis of a life lived" is well worn in his works and Wright seems to me to want to mean that in an evidential way. Note Ardel Caneday's remarks on the significance of this change in Wright's wording. What is more, Wright also appeared to give a tacit approval to the concept of "incorporated righteousness" which has been my hobby horse for about seven years now! I think incorporated righteousness is a way of linking the forensic nature of justification to union with Christ and it might be the common ground in the NPP debate. I also liked Tom Schreiner's comment that N.T. Wright is a rocket leading us into the stratosphere, we merely want to change his trajectory slightly.

At the IBR session on Friday night I experienced one of the best academic moments of my short career. N.T. Wright gave a brilliant paper on the kingdom of God and the cross showing how they go together. It was classic Wright with much wit, bustling exegetical tours of texts, theological synthesis, and insightful hints at application. My remit was to respond to Wright which was a hard act to follow. It felt kinda like being asked to do an encore for the Beatles. But I did my best and tried to match him in wit and wisdom. I offered an affirmation of his main point that kingdom and cross together with a survey of Mark 15. I then made a demonstration of the value of the wider Christian tradition since many commentators in ages past (esp. ancient expositions of the Lord's Prayer) have engaged the subject too with much for us to consider. Finally, I suggested a point of integration of his thesis with a futurist eschatology, specifically the Christus Victor motif about the Messiah's future victory. It was a grand time and I really enjoyed the interaction.

At the IBR worship on Sunday, Karen Jobes gave a moving sermon on the theme "Jesus Loves Me This I know" and he words to her mother on her death bed were truly memorable. David deSilva did a great job in leading the worship and he even included my favourite hymn "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus". I love IBR. The historical Jesus sections with Bock and Webb were absolutely brilliant as well!

At SBL, the Pauline soteriology group focused on cosmology which was good with papers by Martinus de Boer, Beverly Gaventa, and Eddie Adams. My only quibble is that some of these apocalyptic interpreters of Paul seem to have no positive view of Israel and the Law. They are the "religion" that constitutes the antithesis to Paul's new creation. By the way, I should mention a Princeton conference on Romans 5-8 in 2012 that will feature Beverly Gaventa, John Barclay, Douglas Campbell, and my good buddy Ben Myers!

Of course the books at SBL are always a highlight. They leave any bibliophile salivating at the mouth. For me Baylor had the pick of the books with many good volumes on Jesus, orality, and memory which I picked up. A big seller at SBL was Dale C. Allison's volume on Constructing Jesus and a big seller at ETS was Wayne Grudem on God and Politics. I only bought one of these books (you can guess which one).

I wished I had attended more sessions, got to the bibliobloggers dinner, and eaten more fried chicken.

I warn you all. I made another video at SBL. It is about the SBL Greek New Testament in the tradition of "Old Spice" (don't worry, I keep my clothes on).

Time to file away the 60 gazillion business cards I picked up, get some sleep, and read some of the books I bought. Next year in San Diego!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Heading off to ETS/SBL

Not long until I head off to Atlanta, Georgia for ETS/IBR/SBL. I wasn't planning on going this year, but two things drew me in. First, I was asked to be the respondent to N.T. Wright at the Friday evening IBR session (and who could turn that down?). Second, there is a restaurant in Atlanta called Buckner's. I went there 11 years ago and ever since then I've spent many nights laying awake dreamily salivating about their fried chicken, stewed tomato, biscuits, and peppered mashed potato. It was the best chicken I have ever tasted in my life and I've eaten chicken on four different continents. So why go to Altanta: IBR and Fried Chicken!

Things to do and see at ETS/SBL:

1. If you see Michael Bird on his birthday (Thursday, 18 Nov) give him a nice bottle of red wine, nothing sweet, Merlot and Pinot Noir preferred.

2. If you see Ron Hendel at SBL, ask him if he'd like to recommit his life to life to Torah-observance and become a permanent member of the theological interpretation of scripture section.

3. Don't forget to get some extra napkins so that you can wipe up the saliva from drooling at the Hendrickson facsimile of Codex Sinaiticus. Note, this would make a good birthday present. Note also the price of $800.00!

4. If at ETS you see N.T. Wright running towards you at a freakish pace and a mob of angry Presbyterians with pitch forks and burning crosses are chasing him, get the heck out of his way and yell, "Run Tom run!"

5. If you see me lying on the ground clutching my stomach with my belt undone, it means I've just got back from Buckners. Please pump my stomach so I can go back and eat some more fried chicken.

6. If you want to get noticed, stand at the entry to the book exhibit at ETS with a sign saying "Obama is our Messiah, Newt Gingrich is the Anti-Christ," though don't expect to live too long. However, if you do this at SBL, you'll probably get offered an assistant professorship at Vanderbilt or Harvard!

7. Whatever you do, don't bring handouts for your audience, don't mention handouts, don't refer to handouts. In Atlanta, the only people who talk about handouts are Democrats. If you mention handouts at ETS they will lynch you.

8. Come with Michael Bird and Joel Willitts to the Yale Divinity School reception. Every year we pretend to be a gay couple who just got married in Toronto so that they let us in. Works every time!

9. Go to the Scottish Unis Reception, but paint half of your face blue and tell people you are a professor of biblical studies at Glasgow Uni.

10. Make sure you get a free copy of SBLGNT and the free sample issue of Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NT position in Sydney, Australia

From Ben Myers:

United Theological College Sydney is seeking to appoint a lecturer responsible for the teaching and oversight of New Testament Studies. The appointee would also be responsible for supervision of post graduate students in the field and be expected to engage actively in research.

The appointee would be involved in the formation of candidates for specified ministries and would be nominated as an academic associate of the School of Theology, Charles Sturt University. United Theological College is the constituted college for the Uniting Church in the Synod of NSW/ACT. It is also a partner in the School of Theology, Charles Sturt University.

The position is available from 1 July, 2011. Full details of the position may be obtained from e Principal, Revd. Dr Clive Pearson, United Theological College, 16 Masons Dr, North Parramatta NSW 2151 Australia. Phone +61 2 8838 8926 or email

Applications for this position close on 21 February 2011.

Surprises in Sudan

CT has a great article about the Church in Southern Sudan. Here's a memorable quote:

The most recent bout of war, from 1983-2005, left some two million dead, and five million in membership of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS). Package that in your next "how to grow your church" bestseller: 1) resist the imperial claims of your own Shar'ia-imposing government, 2) endure genocidal bombings of villages, 3) have millions of refugees suffer thousand-mile walks (including the famous lost boys), and 4) emerge with a church twice the size of the Episcopal Church in the United States. That's not even counting millions of Catholics. "Khartoum tried to swallow the South," Bishop Hilary Garang Deng of the ECS told me. "But Christianity was like a bone, stuck in the throat, causing it to vomit."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Pistis Christou debate at Bible Gateway

Over at BibleGateway are some entries about the "pistis christou" debate with thoughts so far from Tom Schreiner and Craig Blomberg (my own entry is now up).

New Journal Dedicated to Pauline Studies

Dear biblioblogosphere, I'm proud to announce the launch of a new journal dedicated to Pauline studies published by Eisenbrauns. It is called Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters. On the homepage you can find info on subscriptions and submissions. It's edited by myself with Nijay Gupta (see his blog) as the associate editor and we have an international editorial board. The sample issue is available on-line and the inaugural article is by Dr. Susan Grove Eastman (Duke Divinity School) on "Philippians 2:6-11: Incarnation as Mimetic Participation" - quite a treat to read! The next issue of JSPL will include Paul Foster "Eschatology in the Thessalonian Correspondence", Michael Gorman "Justification and Justice", Richard Bell "Paul's Theology of Mind", and a review of Douglas A. Campbell's Deliverance of God by Michael Gorman and Chris Tilling.

Monday, November 08, 2010

My ETS and IBR Papers On-Line

For those interested, here are links to my papers in Atlanta:

All on Friday 19 November in Atlanta.

Mark 13 and 14-15: United Between Them

Just reading through Dale C. Allison's The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, very interesting read in terms of looking at Allison's intellectual biography that comes through the book.

My interest here is the links that Allison makes between the Marcan eschatological discourse (Mark 13) and the Marcan passion sequence (Mark 14-15). He writes:

"As for the relationship between Mark's account of the crucifixion and Jesus' own expectations, our Evangelist has constructed a striking series of correlations between his eschatological discourse, Mark 13, and the chapters it introduces, 14 as well as 15. 13:24 foretells that the sun will go dark, and this happens when Jesus is on the cross (15:33). 13:2 prophesies that the temple will be destroyed, whereas its veil is torn apart two chapters later (15:38). 13:9 foresees that the disciples will be 'delivered up,' will appear before Jewish councils, will be beaten, and will stand before governors, all of which happens to Jesus soon enough (14:41, 53-65; 15:1-15). 13:35-36 admonishes the disciples to 'watch ... lest the master come and find them sleeping,' and in Gethsemane, after Jesus tells his disciples to 'watch,' he comes and finds them sleeping (14:34-42). These and other parallels reveal that for Mark the eschatological discourse and Passion narrative are of a piece: Jesus' death belongs to eschatology. His demise either foreshadows the latter days, or it inaugurates them" (p. 27).

This observation about the links between Mark 13 and 14-15 is well documented and exploited further (though at times a bit too far) by Peter Bolt's gem of a book The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark's Gospel. Further links can be made with the coming of the Son of Man and the reference to the "abomination of desolation" that Bolt is able to relate to the passion story. It means, in the very least, that Mark 14-15 can be interpreted in light of Mark 13.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Baker Discussion with Dale C. Allison

There is a FB discussion going on about Dale C. Allison's new book Constructing Jesus which is worth checking out. Questions are posed to Allison, Baker selects the best questions, Allison will then be answering those questions (BTW, if your question is chosen you get a free copy of the book).

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Translating Rom 1:17 - Bird, Yarbrough, Moo

Over at Bible Gateway there is a discussion on how to translate Rom 1:17. See Colin Hansen's intro here. It includes my own translation and its rationale for how I handle Rom 1:17. Doug Moo literally takes me to task for my understanding of "literal".

Monday with J. Ramsey Michaels

In John 20:31 the debate has been over the textual variants whether "these [things] were written" so that "you might believe" (Aorist subjunctive) or "you might continue to believe" (Present tense). Is the Gospel of John written to convert non-believers (first option) or to strengthen believers (second option). Michaels splits the horns of the dilemma by saying: "[T]he point is rather to encourage readers -whoever they may be - to emulate the faith of those mentioned in the narrative, the anonymous witness at the cross in the first instance, Thomas and his fellow disciples in the locked room in the second. In this way, readers are invited to claim the mantle of honor as 'those who did not see, and believed' (v. 29)."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Bible Translation and NIV10

The NIV10 is now up at Bible Gateway. Brian LePort has a good round up of reviews on the new NIV. Denny Burke links to a video by Doug Moo (head of the translation committee) and Denny offers some commentary about the NIV, NIVI, TNIV, and NIV10 controversy. I should also point out that Bible Gateway/Gospel Coalition has some blog posts on Perspectives on Translation. This includes my own contribution to the topic of "What Makes a Translation Accurate?". The forum will soon post some additional questions with answers from various scholars. Questions to be addressed in the forum include:

(1) What makes a translation accurate?

(2) Should I consider using multiple translations or stick with one?

(3) When and why do we update Bible translations?

(4) How should a translation render Romans 1:17?

(5) How does a translation best convey hilasterion in Romans 3:25?

(6) How should we identify the teachers Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2?

(7) How should we translate the phrase πίστις Χριστο in such passages as Galatians 2:16?

I had a lot of fun answering these myself, esp. (4) and (7)! More anon on that.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Teaching Experiences - Second Guessing

This past week I had one of those classes that make you reflect on teaching. Teaching is a task that, if you allow yourself, you can constantly second guess yourself. There are classes where you have to be instinctual and go with your gut. You can plan only so much in teaching and sometimes all the planning in the world won’t produce or avoid certain exchanges in the classroom. In the middle of a discussion you make choices and it is difficult to know if you’ve made the right one at least in the moment. In retrospect I think I would have handled the situation differently, although it is hard to know for sure.

If I look at the results of the discussion, it appears to have had an affect on most of the class. First we had a number of students very angry. Two students actually got up and left the classroom because they were frustrated by particular responses from other classmates. There was a sizable group of students that were disengaged from the discussion altogether—probably a third to two-thirds. I don’t think this meant that they were not listening, but as one person from that group admitted at the end she simply did not know enough to even begin to offer an opinion. Finally there was the one student who was both vocal and contrarian. This student ended up dominating the discussion, as it became something of a debate between them and me. In retrospect I probably should have conceded that they would not accept the approach I was advocating and move on. Instead I engaged them in an attempt to show the student why I had come to the conclusions I had. At least with this student in the classroom, my engagement really didn’t get me anywhere.

Let me provide some context. We had read Pamela Eisenbaum’s Paul was Not a Christian and we were concluding with a discussion of our thoughts on the book. I had students read the book using a series of questions that assisted them in evaluating the author’s arguments. I intended for us to talk about what students thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the book. However I began with a general question: “What did you think of the book?”—We never got past that question.

A vocal group of more conservative students hated the book. Among other things, they felt that Eisenbaum caricatured Christians negatively—Eisenbaum is Jewish. After one person stated this a chorus of others agreed save one student. One of the students, our vocal-contrarian, disagreed and offered a very affirmative view of the book. She found convincing the universalism with which Eisenbaum concluded her book.

What ensued was a debate not so much about the book, but about universalism vs exclusivism and relativism, is any one interpretation better than another? These topics arose from the book of course—Eisenbaum concludes that Paul was a universalist and maintains a “two-ways” soteriology; further, she claims that Jesus saves only Gentiles—but the conversation hovered over the book at about 30,000 feet in a debate about abstract ideas. For my part, I decided to continue the conversation thinking that a conversation about critical thinking and critical realism would be beneficial for the entire class. I'm not so sure that was the best tack to take. I should report that in post-class correspondence there is a continuing engagement via email. One never knows.

I take solace in the fact that we’ll have another shot at it this week. What a wonderfully humbling profession we have.


BTW: Paul was not a Christian is a challenging book written in polemical style.

I would say some of the strengths are:
1. A historically contextual reading of Paul
2. The stress on the ambiguity of several of Paul's key phrases (e.g. pistis christou and ek ergo nomou)
3. The emphasis on ethnic distinctions in Paul

The weaknesses are significant:
1. The christology in the book is wanting- there's just no way Paul thinks that Jesus is Messiah only for Gentiles
2. The two-ways salvation and universalism in Paul is highly suspect; it could only be asserted by means of a contorted reading of Pauline texts.
3. The optimistic Pauline anthropology advocated is improbable

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Edition of the Greek New Testament

Logos Bible Software and the Society of Biblical Literature have teamed up to create new critically edited Greek text called SBLGNT. The official website is here and you can find the news at the ETC Blog. Well done to Prof. Michael Holmes for doing this! It should be available for SBL Atlanta in print and electronic editions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Timothy Gombis on Ephesians

Matt Montonini has a great interview with Tim Gombis on his new book on Ephesians called The Drama of Ephesians. It gives a cosmic-redemptive approach to Ephesians. I've read some of Gombis' stuff and I think this could be one of the best books on Ephesians since Markus Barth's The Broken Wall. I'll be looking for it at ETS/SBL.

Martin Hengel on Rudolf Bultmann

The Tyndale Fellowship volume in memoriam of Prof. Martin Hengel will include some freshly translated essays of Hengel's work. Among one of the essays to be newly translated is "Eine junge theologische Disziplin in der Krise" by Dr. Wayne Coppins. Below is an excerpt from Coppins' translation.

Note what Hengel has to say about Bultmann and his influence in Germany in the 1960s which literally drove Hengel into NT studies:

"After I became Stiftsrepetent [i.e., a student instructor] in 1954, my colleagues at the instructors’ table (with the exception of my friend Otto Betz, who had already then recognized the significance of the Qumran texts) appeared to me to be “ drunk from the sweet wine from Marburg”. In hearing the new theses I could time and again only shake my head: a radical synoptic criticism on the basis of “form criticism,” an unmessianic Jesus of whom Paul knew hardly anything more than the “that of his having come,” the radical separation between “Palestinian” and “Hellenistic” community, earliest Christianity as “syncretistic religion” profoundly influenced by a pre-Christian Gnosis and oriental mysteries, Paul and John as opponents of Jewish apocalyptic and as the first “demythologizers,” Luke by contrast as a contemptible “early catholic,” and above all a fundamental devaluation of all “objectifying” historical knowledge and behind it all a latent Marcionism, for which the term “Biblical theology” was almost already a swearword. Although I, being fascinated by the early church and ancient history, had more of an inclination to devote myself to church history, I began, to a certain extent as a protest against these “new insights,” a New Testament dissertation, which dealt with Judaism as the birthing ground of Christianity (Die Zeloten [AGSU 1], Leiden 1961). It was the then so fashionable theses of R. Bultmann, which dominated the field but were questionable in my judgment, that brought me to the New Testament."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mondays with J. Ramsay Michaels

Michael's commentary on Jn 1:51 (a verse near and dear to the heart of my former student David Kirk) says this:

"In simplest terms, 'the angels of God going up and coming down over the Son of man' represent the 'glory' (doxa) to be displayed in Jesus' ministry (compare v. 14), from the wedding at Cana (2:11) to the raising of Lazarus fro the dead (11:4, 40) - all of it preliminary to the Son of man's final 'glorification' in the passion narratives ... As to the term 'Son of man' ... [i]n its strategic context here, it trumps all the other [titles] - even 'Son of God' - as the defining title for Jesus in this Gospel. This is appropriate because, unlike the others, 'Son of man' is not a title someone else gives to Jesus, but one that he claims for himself, just as in he other Gospels. (137-38).

Latest SBET

The latest issue of SBET includes:

Globalization: Opportunity or Threat? (Finlayson Lecture)

The Church Moves South: Elucidation and Implication

Luther on Union with Christ

Sin, Grace, and Virtue in Calvin: A Matrix for Dogmatic Consideration

Meaning, Reference, and Tetxtuality: An Evangelical Appropriation of Hans Frei

Michael Jensen on Fundamentalism

Over at Religion and Ethics at ABC News, Michael Jensen (Moore Theological College) has a good antipodean view on "Fundamentalism".

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chris Wright

Lausanne III has two of my favourite preachers (Vaughan Roberts and Christopher Wright). Here is part of a sermon by Christopher Wright.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The latest issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is dedicated to Galatians and includes some essays by Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and Ardel Caneday. I should point out that among the SBTS faculty that Tom Schreiner (ZEC), Mark Seifrid (HTA), and Brian Vickers (NCCS) are all writing Galatians commentaries (Mark Seifrid is writing his in German!). See the cover page here.

Those in favor of SBTS holding a conference on Galatians please type "Aye" in the comments!

More on the Historical Jesus and Christ of Faith

Here is a well-known quote from Kittel on the historical Jesus vs. Christ of faith:

The Jesus of History is valueless and unintelligible unless He be experienced and confessed by faith as the living Christ. But, if we would be true to the New Testament, we must at once reverse this judgment. The Christ of faith has no existence, is mere noise and smoke, apart from the reality of Jesus of History. These two are utterly inseparable in the New Testament. They cannot even be thought of apart … Anyone who attempts first to separate the two and then to describe only one of them, has nothing in common with the New Testament.

Gerhard Kittel, G. K. A. Bell and A. Deissman (eds), Mysterium Christi (London, 1930), 49.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Michaels on Faith and Works in John

I'm reading bits of J. Ramsay Michael's massive and magisterial John commentary in the NICNT series (though secretly it breaks my heart to see anyone replace Leon Morris on "John"). For me, the verse I always turn to first to see how a commentator handles the text is John 5:28-29:

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is cominga when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
Michaels comments that: "The second problem [in addition to the futurist eschatology that seems out of whack with the rest of John] is that good works, not faith, seem to determine salvation ... But again the problem exists only for modern readers, who have learned from centuries of biblical interpretation to set faith against works. It is not noticeably a problem for Jesus' hearers on the scene, nor for the implied readers the author has in mind ... Coming to the Light, or to Jesus, and 'hearing my word' (v. 24) or 'voice' (v. 25) amount to the same thing. Either way, believing in Jesus is what counts. Those who 'do good things' or 'do the truth' are those who believe" (322).

Things to Click

According to the Vatican, Homer Simpson is Catholic.

Israel is going to put the Dead Sea Scrolls on-line.

Durham University (who topped the UK RAE) is advertizing a position in NT.

Larry Hurtado has a great post on NT Diversity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Things to Click

Jason Hood has some diabolical fun with 666.

Matt Montonin has an interview with J. Ramsay Michaels about his new John commentary.

Ben Myers has 13 Theses on Writing.

Lesslie Newbiggin - New Creation & New Community

Classic Newbiggin:

This presence of a new reality, the presence in the shared life of the Church of the Spirit who is the arrabōn of the kingdom, has become possible because of what Jesus has done, because of his incarnation, his ministry as the obedient child of his Father, his suffering and death, his resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his session at the right hand of God. When the apostles are asked to explain the new reality, the new power to find joy in tribulation, healing in sickness, freedom in bondage, life in death, this is the explanation they give. It follows that the visible embodiment of this new reality is not a movement that will take control of history and shape the future according to its own vision, not a new imperialism, not a victorious crusade. Its visible embodiment will be a community that lives by this story, a community whose existence is visibly defined in the regular rehearsing and reenactment of this story which has given it birth, the story of the self-emptying of God in the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Its visible centre as a continuing social entity is that weekly repeated event in which believers share bread and wine as Jesus commanded, as his pledge to them and their pledge to him that they are one with him in his passion and one with him in his victory. Instead of the celebration of the sabbath as the end of God’s old creation, they celebrate the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, as the beginning of the new creation. In this they find enacted and affirmed the meaning and goal of their lives as part of the life of the cosmos, their stories part of the universal story. This story does indeed lead to a glorious end and is therefore filled with meaning, but the end is not some far distant date in terrestrial history. The end is the day when Jesus shall come again, when his hidden rule will become manifest and all things will be seen as they truly are. That is why we repeat at each celebration of the Lord’s Supper the words which encapsulate the whole mystery of the faith: “Christ has died, Christ has risen: Christ shall come again.”
Lesslie J. Newbiggin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 120-21.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Book Notice: Getting the Reformation Wrong

James R. Payton
Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings
Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.
Available at

This helpful volume looks at the Reformation. Payton deals with a number of views that are often much misunderstood. For example, that the medieval catholic church was monolithic and moribund in its corruption. The Reformation progressed smoothly and rapidly. The Reformers agreed with each other on most issues. The Reformation was a huge success with no downside. Payton shows that the facts are a little bit more complex on this.

A good example is how Payton shows how the Reformers, though agreeing on key details like jusitification by faith alone, still had some differences among themselves on justification. He writes:

"The various Reformers reflected on how the great transaction promised in the gospel 'worked,' and they came to somewhat different insights. These sometimes reinforced each other, but at times they were in conflict. Luther emphasized the 'sweet exchange' between the sinner and 'Christ and that sinners are united to Christ by that faith impelled in them by the Holy Spirit. Melanchthon's regular stress on divine mercy fits closely with this, although bringing a different accent. Zwingli tied justification to the divine decree of election, with fail the temporal manifestation of what God intended from eternity past from his chosen. Bucer stressed that justification includes the reception of the Holy Spirit, who leads believers to live for God: 'Hence he [St. Paul] never uses the word "justify" in this way without appearing to speak no less of this imparting of true righteousness than of the found and head of our entire salvation, the forgiveness of sins.' Calvin stepped back from Bucer's declaration when he asserted that justification by faith precludes 'the sense ... that we receive within any righteousness,' but Calvin brought another emphasis when he asserted, 'Christ, therefore, makes us thus participants in himself in order that we, who are in ourselves sinners, may be, through Christ's righteousness, considered just before the throne of God.' But these differences were variant modulations within the Reforms' concerto. The Protestant Reformers agreed in emphasizing justification sola fide."

Payton also gives some good summaries of the careers of the Reformers and whether their careers were a success. In the case of Martin Bucer, all of his Reforms in Strasbourg over a 25 year period where undone and he went into exile in England.

Overall, Payton believes that the Reformation was a triumph because it led to a return to the gospel. However, he considers it a tragedy since it led to the fracturing of the church, not just from Rome, but into over 30, 000 Protestant denominations.

This book is a reasonably short, enjoyable, and easy read that allows one to gain a far more nuanced perspective on the Reformation.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Wanted Translators

Myself and Jason Maston are editing some papers from the Tyndale Fellowship conference for a volume in honour of the late Prof. Martin Hengel. We will also include an appendix in the volume that will contain several newly translated essays from Hengel's collected writings. As such, I'm looking for three to four chaps who are willing to do a translation of Hengel's essays for inclusion in the book. Criteria for involvement in the project is: (1) Proficiency in German and English; (2) Have a Ph.D in NT or at least be a Ph.D candidate; (3) Can do the translation by the end of the year. Translators will receive due acknowledgment of their work and get a gratis copy of the book.

Richard Hays on guarding the Gospel

Richard Hays: “The Christian community as a community of love is not infinitely inclusive: those who reject Jesus are not and cannot be part of it. There is great danger to the church, in Paul’s view, when some people represent themselves as Christians while rejecting the apostolically proclaimed gospel.”
Richard Hays, First Corinthians (Interp; Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1997), 291-92.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Perils of Porn

ABC Lateline has an excellent interview with Gail Dines, Professor of Sociology at Boston University about her book Pornland which argues that pornography has hijacked sexuality. She is very forthright about what pornography does to women, men, and why it needs to be stopped. Porn has become increasingly violent and brutal in the last 20 years in order to keep its consumers interested. She comments at the end:

This is why we started Stop Porn Culture and I encourage people in Australia also to start an organisation because nobody said that pornographers have the right to come in and do a stealth attack on our culture the way they have done.

I should also give a plug to Tim Chester's book Captured by a Better Vision: Living Porn Free which is apparently a cracking read.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A New Explanation for the Resurrection

I"m reading Charles Freeman's book A New History of Early Christianity which includes a rather innovative explanation for the resurrection.

Freeman grants the reality of the empty tomb, but then proposes that Caiaphas solved the problem of Jesus’ disciples who might become trouble makers. He writes: “Removing the body, making sure that the tomb was left open and leaving a message with ‘a young man’ that Jesus would reappear in Galilee would solve the problem without further brutality” (p. 32). Thus Caiaphas is the origin of the resurrection story! He substantiates this by appeal to the Gospel of Peter and he suggests that the story of the two men carrying the cross out of the tomb is in fact based on an actual story of two men removing the body while the guards were awake. He also chastizes Tom Wright for failing to consider this possibility in RSG. Freeman calls his theory “pure speculation” and “circumstantial evidence” (pp. 33-34), but I am more inclined to say that he has understated his caveats and his proposal is little more than imaginative fiction masquerading as a historical study.

Friday, October 01, 2010


Over at CT there is an article on the Common English Bible and the politics and power-plays of Bible translation in the USA.

The Trinity in the New Testament

I'm spasmodically plugging away at an eventual "Evangelical Theology" volume. I'm currently getting into the Trinity and I am looking at the biblical basis of Trinitarian theology. Along the way I've found a couple of good quotes on the subject:

Concerning the devotional practices of early Christianity and the Trinity, Larry Hurtado writes:

The struggle to work out doctrinal formulations that could express in some coherent way this peculiar view of God (as “one” and yet somehow comprising “the Father” and Jesus, thereafter also including the Spirit as the “third Person” of the Trinity) occupied the best minds in early Christian orthodox/catholic tradition for the first several centuries. But the doctrinal problem they worked on was not of their own making. It was forced upon them by the earnest convictions and devotional practices of believers from the earliest observable years of the Christian movement.
Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 651

On the Trinitarian nature of the baptismal formula in Matt 28:19-20, John Meier states:

Certainly, one could hardly imagine a more forceful proclamation of Christ’s divinity – and incidentally, of the Spirit’s distinct personality – that this listing together, on a level of equality, of Father, Son, and Spirit. One does not baptize in the name of a divine person, a holy creature, and an impersonal force.
John P. Meier, Matthew (NTM 3; Delaware: Liturgical, 1980), 371-72

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Raphael Golb Convicted in DSS court case.

Raphael Golb, son of scholar Norman Golb, was convicted for identity theft for his on-line impersonation of scholars. Read the details at AP.

Publication from Wheaton N.T.Wright Conference

The proceedings from the Wheaton Theology conference are scheduled to be published by IVP and will be available in March 2011. It is called Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright. See the page here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The original Autographs

I'm currently wondering about the value of the concept of the original "autographs" as the locus for a doctrine of biblical inspiration. A number of issues come to mind:

1. Text-critics debate whether their task is to reconstruct the original autographs or simply an "initial text" (i.e., the earliest recoverable edition of a text).
2. The death of Moses in Deuteronomy 34 is obviously secondary (Moses didn't write about his own death) and was written up after the event and not by Moses.
3. The LXX edition of Jeremiah is significantly shorter that MT Jeremiah. That means that the Hebrew Vorlage underlying LXX Jeremiah was also considerably briefer that MT Jeremiah. MT Jeremiah, though considered by Jews and Christians as the canonical edition, may then constitute an expansion of an earlier Hebrew edition of Jeremiah.
4. The Psalter probably experienced some redaction at the level of the collection as a whole when it was formed into books with phrases added like "people of his pasture" and perhaps the superscriptions added as well.
5. The best witnesses to The Lord's Prayer in Matt 6:13 omit the words, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen" and so most modern critical editions omit the words as do most English translations. And yet, the words are still widely used in Christian prayers today despite not being in the autographs.
6. The western text of Acts is 10% longer than other witnesses and some scholars have speculated that Luke produced two editions of Acts, the second one a slightly expanded and embellished version. If so, which one was the autograph?

As a text-critic, I'm not willing to give up on the autographs, even if I cannot guarantee 100% that we have them fully reflected in modern editions (but I think we must be pretty darn near close if not on target for the most part). Yet there are instances where the text that we consider canonical, inspired, infallible, and authoritative is probably not identical to what the authors themselves probably wrote. Thus, I'm starting to think that the theologically significant text for a doctrine of inspiration is not the autographs, but the Bible as it has been received in the church.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Blog: Zurich Connection

My good friend Joe Mock, a Presbyterian minister in Sydney, has launched his own blog dedicated to the study of the Zurich reformers Zwingli and Bullinger. The blog is called Zurich Connection. Do check it out.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Notice: Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

As people (or it could just be me) we have a tendency to read our hero’s life-story believing that if we stood in their shoes we would have acted or reacted in the same way. I can’t say that about Bonhoeffer. In Eric Metaxas’s new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, I saw myself several times, but not in Bonhoeffer.

I stood among the shallow-minded Union Theological Seminary students whom Bonhoeffer encountered in New York. At 25 years old, Bonhoeffer was already eons ahead of them both academically and spiritually. He wrote that the Union students:
Talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of criteria … They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level (pg. 99).
This quote has stuck with me since finishing the book. If I’m honest I find myself talking the same theological blue streak and exhibiting an equal deficiency of depth, insight and self-awareness. I see in myself a lack of maturity and charity and humility and biblical and theological wisdom. Bonhoeffer was the opposite, and as a young man he possessed all of these qualities.

Concerning the book, there are a lot of qualities deserving of comment (narrative style, judicious insight, interaction with sources, organization), but I wish to highlight three.

First, Bonhoeffer was a theologian. His life as a theologian and pastor, calls into question the dichotomy between the pastor’s role to preach and live theology, on the one hand, and the scholar’s role to produce theology on the other. Bonhoeffer was both. Perhaps Bonhoeffer offers a refreshing example of pastor-theologian to a new generation of pastors who wish to construct theology within the context of the church. Bonhoeffer’s work called the church to obedience rather than compromise, and that summons could only be invoked from a deep theological well.

Second, Bonhoeffer embraced ambiguity. Progressing through the narrative, I noticed Bonheoffer’s willingness to accept the murkiness of espionage and conspiracy as discipleship to Jesus. To Bonhoeffer, the ethical implications of faith weren’t separated into simple, clean-cut categories. In other words, killing the Furor was perceived to be God’s will. This provides an ethically uncomfortable question for us to consider (albeit in a comfortable vacuum): What if God’s will is “wrong”, as it’s normally understood? Bonhoeffer was willing to courageously pray and think through these unthinkable difficulties to discern God’s will, and then to put those conclusions into concrete action.

Third, Bonhoeffer was mature. In his relationship with his finance, his decision making, his view of responsibility, his spiritual disciplines, and his ability to endure great suffering that led to death, Bonhoeffer was sustained by Jesus Christ and His body. As you read his letters and books, you interact with a mature person in Jesus Christ.

Metaxas has done an excellent job in bringing us Bonhoeffer’s life-story. We need people like Bonhoeffer, ethically thoughtful, theologically rich, and responsibly Christian. His life challenges complacency, while drawing attention to Jesus Christ, His presence today, and discipleship to Him.

Review by guest contributor: Jameson Ross

Mikeal C. Parsons on Luke's Paul in Luke: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist

I got to know Mikeal Parsons while he was on sabbatical during my Cambridge years. What year now slips me. I found Mikeal to be a great guy and someone who was both engaging and generous. Recently I picked up his book on Luke which is in the Hendrickson series Luke: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist. I really like the series. I have used the two books Warren Carter has writen on Matthew and John for classes I've taught. Parson's book is quite different that Carter's two and is not really ideal for an introduction to the book. However this is not a criticism of the books since Parson's makes it plain in the introduction that he has not intended it to be such a book.

Parsons uses the format of Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist to focus his discussion on the Greco-Roman context of Luke's Gospel and Acts. One of its chief concerns is to show the role of ancient rhetoric in Luke's writing. Parson's chapters are informative and insightful. Parson's also has a very interesting chapter on the concept of "friendship" and "physiognomy" in the Greco-Roman world and Luke-Acts.

One of the most important sections of the book as far as I'm concerned is his discussion of the relationship between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the Pauline Letters. For me these 16 pages (123-39) are worth the price of the book. In this section Parsons critiques the standard view that the Paul of Acts is irreconcilably different than the Paul of the letters.

As an aside, teaching a course on Paul I run into this issue a great deal. As recently as this semester I've had to lecture on this topic because one of the textbooks I'm using for the course Pamela Eisenbaum's Paul Was Not a Christian assumes just such a negative stance toward the Paul of Acts. In her study she excludes Acts as evidence for reconstructing Paul.

Parson's however shows by an unconventional means that Luke's Paul would have appeared familiar to the authorial audience who had known Paul through his letters. Parson writes:
We conclude that the authorial audience who knew Paul through his letters (and probably knew him only through those letters) would have recognized Luke's portrait of Paul as a reliable, though enriched and expanded, presentation of that same Apostle who through his rhetoric, miracles, suffering, adn throught, proclaimed that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (p. 139).
I would only quibble with Parson's discussion of the Torah in Paul and Acts (pp. 137-8). The discussion is weakened by the assumption that Paul's on-going relationship to the Torah was not motivated by theological conviction but rather expediency as evidenced in Timothy's circumcision (Acts 16:1-3) and Paul's statements in 1 Cor 9:19-23.