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.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reformed Stuff

For those Reformed folks out there note the following:

An interesting short essay by John Frame on Law and Gospel (HT: Jason Hood). This reminds me that I can do magic in Presbyterian churches. I can turn Presbyterians into Baptists simply by setting bread and wine before them on a table. I can also turn some Presbyterians into Lutherans just by uttering the words "Law" and "Gospel".

Michael Horton has a new theology book coming out call The Christian Faith which is previewed at Koinonia.

By far the best little introduction to Reformed Theology that I've come across in recent years is by R. Michael Allen. The chapter on creeds and confessions and their proper use alongside Scripture is worth the price of the book!

Preview of Dale Allison's New Book

James McGrath provides a quick preview of Dale Allison's forthcoming book on Constructing Jesus for those into historical Jesus studies.

N.T. Wright Reads Humpty Dumpty

Thanks to Jason Hood at SAET, you can read a N.T. Wright interpretation of the Humpty Dumpty story.

Best Pope Protester Ever

Here's a cool photo from Scotteriology about the most theologically informed Pope Protester in the UK.

You need to know a bit of Latin, some medieval theology, and the date 1054 AD in order to get it! Otherwise, look it up on OrthodoxWiki.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Scripture Memorization

Thanks to a Crossway student, Sam "Periscopes" Duncan, we listened to a message from John Piper in chapel yesterday about Scripture memorization. Watch it here. Piper spends 15 minutes reciting several biblical texts from the OT and NT. His performance of Romans 8 is very powerful and it goes to show the power of aural/oral delivery of the biblical writings. One of the best things that I ever did as a young Christian was spend time memorizing a bunch of Bible verses in a pack made by the Navigators. I still think of Psalm 119.9, 11: "How can a young man keep his way pure, by living according to your word ... I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you".

John Dickson - The Christ Files

Be ready for this when the DVD comes out! It's an excellent doco by the uber-talented John Dickson.

Projects for 2011 - Gospels and Romans

I'm winding up my research for 2010. All I have left to do is to polish up my ETS and IBR papers and a write dictionary article on John and the Synoptics . Next year will involve editing a Four Views book for Zondervan and co-editing the 2010 Tyndale Fellowship volume in memoriam of Prof. Martin Hengel with Jason Mason.

For me, 2011 is going to be the year of Gospels and Romans. Projects I'll be working on include:

Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (Paternoster).
This volume examines how the messiahship of Jesus functions in the narrative and theological horizon of the individual Gospels. It examines their apologetic, kerygmatic, and evangelistic usage of messianic themes. It includes developing some articles I've previously published in Reformed Theology Review.

The Gospels of the Lord (Eerdmans)
This volume looks at the formation of the Gospels in the setting of the early church including chapters on "gospel to Gospel", "Jesus Tradition", "Formation of the Gospels in Early Church", "History and Theology", with some stuff on canonical versus historical approaches to interpreting the Gospels. I also hope to add in some excursus on things like "Q", "Text of the Gospels in the Second Century", and "An Evangelical and Critical Approach to the Gospels", plus a section on how to read the non-canonical Gospels.

On Romans, I intend to sink my teeth into a Romans commentary in the Regula Fidei series for Zondervan. But along the way I'm also writing an essay on Romans and Imperial Perspectives (IVP) and an introduction to Romans for a text book on Paul (Eerdmans).

Gospels and Romans sounds like a cool year ahead indeed. Though I'm starting to think that it might pay to do some stuff on the Catholic letters some time soon for my own benefit more than anything else!

Forthcoming Paul Books

This last year I've been focusing on Paul in the context of the early church. How does Paul relate to other Christian groups? What did other Christians think of Paul? How was Paul an influencer of and influenced by other Christian views? What was Paul's legacy in the early church? As such, I've been involved in editing two volumes with my guru-swami-ninja-jedi buddies Joel Willitts and Joey Dodson to tackle these issues in two volumes with a cast of all-star contributors:

1. Michael F. Bird and Joel Willitts, Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts, and Convergences (LNTS 411; London: Continuum, 2011) - 21 April 2011.

This volume attempts to situate the Apostle Paul, the Pauline writings, and the earliest Christian Gospels together in the context of early Christianity. It addresses the issue of how the Christianity depicted in and represented by the individual Gospels relates to the version of Christianity represented by Paul and the Pauline writings.

Paul and the Gospel of Mark
Michael F. Bird (Crossway College, Australia)
James G. Crossley (University of Sheffield, UK)

Paul and the Gospel of Matthew
Joel Willitts (North Park University, USA)
Paul Foster (Edinburgh University, UK)

Paul and the Gospel of Luke
David Morlan (USA)
Stanley Porter (McMaster Divinity College, Canada)

Paul and the Gospel of John
Mark Harding (Australian College of Theology, Australia)
Colin Kruse (Melbourne School of Theology, Australia)

Paul and the Gospel of Thomas
Joshua J. Jipp (Emory University, USA)
Christopher Skinner (Mount Olive College, USA)

2. Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson, Paul and the Second Century (LNTS 412; London: Continuum, 2011) - 21 April 2011.

This volume looks at the imprint and influence that the writings of the Apostle Paul had in the second century examining the Pauline corpus in conjunction with key second century figures and texts, such as Ignatius, Polycarp, and the Epistle of Diognetus. As such this volume is an exercise in the Wirkungsgeschichte or ‘effective-history’ of Paul. It investigates the impact of Paul’s legacy and examines how this legacy shaped the Christianity that emerged in the second century as represented by the Apostolic Fathers, the early Christian Apologists, and among Gnostic and Judeo Christian groups.

Introduction: Joseph R. Dodson (Ouachita Baptist University, USA)
Paul and the Pauline Letter Collection: Stanley Porter (McMaster Divinity College, Canada)
Paul and Ignatius: Carl Smith (Cedarville University, USA)
Paul and the Letter of Polycarp: Michael Holmes (Bethel University, USA)
Paul and the Epistle of Diognetus: Michael F. Bird (Highland Theological College, UK)
Paul and Marcion: Todd Wilson (George W. Truett Seminary, USA)
Paul and Justin Martyr: Paul Foster (Edinburgh University, UK)
Paul and Valentinian Interpretation: Nick Perrin (wheaton College, USA)
Paul and Judeo-Christians: Joel Willitts (North Park University, USA)
Paul and the Apocryphal Acts: Andrew Gregory (Oxford University, UK)
Paul and Irenaeus: Ben Blackwell (Durham University, UK)
Paul and Tertullian: Andrew Bain (Queensland Theological College, Australia)
Paul and Women: Pauline Hogan (Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Canada)
The Triumph of Paul or Paulinism in the Second Century?: Mark Elliott (St. Andrews University, UK)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review of Introducing Paul by Guy Waters

Over at Reformation21, Guy Waters of RTS has a review of my book Introducing Paul. I think it is a very fair review but with expected points of contention over "incorporated righteousness" vis-a-vis "imputed righteousness". There were some pointed questions by Waters and I appreciate that he has taken the time to understand what I was trying to say. He observes correctly that what I'm putting forward is not quite the standard Reformed view, but nor am I in the N.T. Wright camp. Waters raises a good question about what is the "righteousness" that believers are incorporated into or have imputed to them. Now I'm 100% convinced that it is not the merit of Jesus or his entire life of obedience. I've just gone and read again over Romans 5 and I see how people can think that, but it is clear that this is not explicitly said in the text. Jesus' "one act of righteousness" results in justification, but the one act of righteousness is not something that is imputed as the grounds of justification (Rom 5.18-19). My advice here is to look at the meaning of "righteousness" in 5.17 and 21 before going into 5.18-17. In Rom. 5.17, 21, righteousness refers to a salvific status not to a substance or merits that can be infused/imputed (delete as preferred). It is thereafter that we see in Rom. 5.18-19 that Jesus' act of righteousness (i.e., his sacrificial death) leads to justification and by his obedience believers will (note future tense) be righteous at the final day. Yet there is no explicit statement of imputation here and the righteousness in 5.19 might be transformative as well as forensic (see Schreiner's Romans commentary on this which is particularly helpful). I have a little rhyme: "No matter how much may people try, kathistemi does not mean logizomai." So Depending on the context of Romans 3-5, I think "righteousness" can refer to (1) The status of being righteous, (2) Deemed to have fulfilled a covenant relationship, or (3) Salvation generally. I think we are incorporated into the status that the Father gives to his Son in the resurrection (i.e., a verdict of righteous). Then by virtue of union with him we also share by implication in his faithfulness that was the basis of his vindication. So what is true of the Messiah is now reckoned to be true of the people of God. It is this implication that I think makes imputation legitimate. If we are in Christ than what is true of him is true of us, including the faithful execution of his messianic vocation as the second Adam, Son of God, and true Israel.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Critical Assessment of Rosner's "Paul and the Law", Part 3

Who is the Christian of whom Rosner speaks?

Perhaps this will appear to you to be a quite unusual question at first. Of course Christians are followers of Jesus Christ both Jew and Gentile you might say. This certainly seems to be the way Rosner is using the term. He states in the conclusion: “although Jews are under the law, believers in Christ are not” (p. 418). This understanding of identity in Paul however is anachronistic and false. It is true that in one place Paul distinguishes Jew, Gentile and the ekklesia of God (1 Cor 10:32). But this type of categorization is exceptional and whatever it might mean, it does not denote the so-called “third race” theology prevalent in the some circles today. Paul’s categories for identity are binary sets: Jew and Greek, male and female, and slave and free (Gal 3:28). For the sake of argument, even if the term "church" were taken as a category for Paul alongside the ethnic distinctions, the term "Christian" was not.

Rosner’s study exhibits this common category error and consequently the thinking does not reflect the complexity of the issue adequately. The result of this weakness is that his conclusion that “a major shift in the way the people of God relate to the law” has occurred for Paul cannot be sustained. While it may be true, the argument in this essay is too weak to establish it.

Let me put my point in a simple a question: Was a Jewish believer in Jesus at the time of Paul a Jew or a Christian?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Critical Assessment of Rosner's "Paul and the Law", Part 2

Before I discuss the essay in any of its details, which I'll do, I want to address a few of the key assumptions Rosner brings to the essay. Now I write this well aware that Brian is reading these posts. So I hope to be irenic in my evaluation and that the points I raise will spur on the conversation. Moreover, I trust that Brian will feel comfortable pointing out errors, when there are such, in my representation of his perspective. I think it is good to write with the awareness that the person along with whom you are thinking is present. And I want to thank Brian for an interesting and thought provoking essay. So here we go.

First, there is an assumption that one can create affirmations of Paul’s thought from non-assertions. Rosner refers to this kind of evidence as “implicit” and treats it on the same level with Paul’s, one might say, “explicit” evidence. However, whatever the “implicit” evidence might offer it is in no way equal in weight to the explicit. The whole essay is an argument from silence. Perhaps in no other situation does ones larger construct of Paul come into play than when one seeks to create a “compelling story” (p. 417) from silence. And for this reason it is just as well that implicit evidence is “largely overlooked in treatments of Paul” (p. 417).

Second, to refer to the implicit evidence as “omissions” is to interpret the evidence, non-evidence really, before actually reading it. To label the so-called silences as “omissions” reveals a position on the question before setting out to answer it. It assumes at least in part that Paul decided to leave out something he might have on other occasions or times included. Anyone who has preached the same message to different audiences will understand that one may “omit” information in one setting that was appropriate in another. However, why should we characterize the non-evidence as omissions? By the way, I’m even having trouble knowing what terms to use to refer to Rosner’s evidence.

One other assumption, although this bleeds over into point of view, is the categories with which this essay functions. Rosner seems boil the groups down to either Jew or Christian and concludes that Paul says one thing about Jews and another about Chrsitians. This bipolar perspective on the constituency of Paul’s communities and early Christianity is in need of critical evaluation. Paul himself stands as one who is BOTH a Jew and a believer in Jesus. Paul’s language about himself in the context of Romans 2, which is the focus of Rosner’s essay, moves easily between Jew (notice the first person references – e.g. 2:5) and Christ believer. These then are not airtight categories of identity. Thus, the bottom line is Rosner’s assessment at the end of the day falls down primarily because of its lack of sophistication with respect to Paul’s understanding, and indeed the situation on the ground in the first century, of Christian identity.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Critical Assessment of Rosner's "Paul and the Law", Part 1

I will write a few posts in response to Brian Rosner's recent article in JSNT. The title of the article is “Paul and the Law: What he Does not Say” (32.4, pp. 405-19). Here's the first set up post.

Rosner notes three kinds of evidence in Paul’s letters that have a bearing on one’s view of Paul’s understanding of the relationship of the law to the Christian: what Paul says, what Paul does with the law and what Paul does not say about the law. As his starting point, Rosner refers to a quotation from Betz’ Galatians commentary, claiming that Paul never says Christians are to “keep” or “obey” the Torah. He affirms Betz’s idea that Paul carefully distinguishes between the ‘doing’ of the Torah which is not required of Christians and the ‘fulfilling’ of the Torah which is.

The article’s purpose is to use Paul’s silences as a means of ascertaining his view on a Christians relationship to the Torah. He wishes to extend Betz observation. To this end he turns his attention to Romans 2:17-29 as a test case and lists some 10 things Paul says about the Mosaic law and the Jew.


  • rely on the law (17a)
  • boast in the law (v. 23)
  • know God’s will through the law (v. 18)
  • are educated in the law (v. 18),
  • have light, knowledge and truth because of the law (vv. 19-20)
  • are to do the law (v. 25)
  • (by implication) are to observe the righteous requirements of the law (v. 26)
  • keep the law (v. 27);
  • occasionally transgress the law (vv. 23, 25, 27)
  • possess the (law as) written code (v. 27).

The article sets out to answer on simple question: “Does Paul say the same things of believers in Christ in relation to the law?” (p. 406). The bulk of the essay then takes each item in the list in turn and discusses the silence of Paul on this point with respect to Christians. At times drawing antithetical relationships between what Paul says about a Jew and what he says to a Christian (e.g. Christians rely on Christ not the law).

Rosner concludes his essay thusly, “Paul never says that Christians relate to the law in any of these ways” (p. 417). For him the only reasonable implication from this evidence is “a major shift in the way the people of God relate to the law” has happened (p. 417). “The Law of Moses”, says Rosner, “is much more of a focus for Jews than for Christians and the two groups relate to the law quite differently. The evidence of omission is fully in line with Paul’s perspective that, although Jews are under the law, believers in Christ are not” (pp. 417-18).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ben Myers on Christian scholarship

Here's a cool quote from Ben Myers about Christian scholarship:

Scholarship is an exercise of obedience to Jesus Christ. It helps prepare the church for fresh words and deeds. Of course, we need not imagine that scholarship will always have an immediate impact on the church’s confession. But scholarship is nevertheless vital for the continuing life of the church. It is one of the places where the church exercises its muscle of discernment – a muscle that otherwise has an alarming tendency to atrophy. Or to change metaphors: when the church grows drowsy, scholarship diffuses its caffeinating influence, helping to keep us ready, watchful and alert. So when Christian scholars engage with contemporary thought, it’s not because the church needs protecting from the world, but because Christ is already in the world and he calls us to meet him there.

Latest Issue of BBR

The latest issue of BBR 20.2 (2010) includes:

Brian P. Gault
"An Admonition against 'Rousing Love': The Meaning of the Enigmatic Refrain in the Song of Songs.

William N. Wilder
"The Use (or Abuse) of Power in High Places: Gifts Given and Received in Isaiah, Psalm 68, and Ephesians 4:8"

Gerald W. Peterman
"Plural You: On the Use and Abuse of the Second Person"

Craig S. Keener
"Spirit Possession as a Cross-Cultural Experience"

Joshua W. Jipp and Michael J. Thate
"Dating Thomas: Logion 53 as a Test Case for Dating the Gospel of Thomas within an Early Christian Trajectory".

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bible College of Victoria

The Bible College of Victoria is going through two big changes. First, they are changing their name to Melbourne School of Theology. Second, they are moving to a new venue in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Things to Click

Over at Clayboy, Doug Chaplin asks what should we call the Old Testament/First Testament/Hebrew Bible. In my academic works I tend to refer to "Israel's sacred texts and traditions" because the canon was not closed for most Jews and there was a fluidity of texts and editions around. Also, Old/First Testament presupposes a Christian canonical framework, which I think can be used in its proper place, but not in the descriptive historical area. Even "Hebrew Bible" is a bit misleading and anachronistic since it contains it contains Aramaic and ANE loan words and "Bible" itself is a modern term. I think a bigger question is what do we call the Jewish literature written after the OT and before the NT (whoops, I lapsed into the old language again). Do we call it "intertestamental literature" or "post-biblical literature" or something else?

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight reflects on the new translation the Common English Bible. I know for a fact that the 1 Esdras translation is absolutely brilliant, the best in English around (I do have insider info on that one!). A big point of discussion is that the CEB translates tou huiou tou anthropou (i.e. the Son of Man) as "the Human One". This is not entirely new. In the Scholars Bible (by Robert Funk et al.) the phrase is translated as "Son of Adam" and Herman C. Waetjen in his under read but useful Mark commentary A Re-Ordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark's Gospel translates it as "the Human Being". Do we translate the words or a possible semitic idiom behind the words?

Over at the Institute, Anthony Bradley has a great post on Glenn Beck confusion and why Christian leaders are unable to offer a viable alternative to him.

Over at Vorsprung durch Theologie, David Kirk reflects on his time studying on 1 Corinthians.

James Dunn: NT Theology as "Theologizing"

‘To enter thus into NT theology is to begin to re-experience theology as theologizing, to begin to immerse oneself in the stream of living theology which flowed form Jesus and the reactions to him.’

James D. G. Dunn, ‘Not so much “New Testament Theology” as “New Testament Theologizing”,’ in Aufgabe und Durchführung einer Theologie des Neuen Testaments, eds. Cilliers Breytenback and Jörg Frey (WUNT 205; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2007): 227.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Zacchaeus and the Rich

On Sunday I spoke on Lk. 19.1-10 and today we looked at the same text in our class on the Gospel of Luke. In reading Darrell Bock's commentary (BECNT) there is a good summary of the passage. The story of Zacchaeus is the opposite of the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Zacchaeus is the example of the rich man who goes through the eye of the needle.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Paul Foster: The Gospel of Peter - 2

4. According to Eusebius, in the late second century, Serapion, the bishop of Antioch, forbade a congregation in Rhossos from using the Gospel of Peter because it was conducive to docetic interpretation. Does the Gospel of Peter as attested by the Akhmim Codex have a docetic christology?

Once again, this is a question that occupied research on the Gospel of Peter since its initial publication in 1892. The reason for this is that scholars were guided (or perhaps misguided) by Eusebius’ comments. Eusebius cites Serapion (bishop of Antioch) who writes the following statement to the Christian community at Rhossos about the Gospel of Peter:

'For I myself, when I came among you, imagined that all of you clung to the true faith; and without going through the Gospel put forward by them in the name of Peter, I said, “If this is the only thing that seemingly causes captious feelings among you, let it be read.” But since I have now learnt, from what has been told me, that their mind was lurking in some hole of heresy, I shall give diligence to come quickly to you; wherefore brothers expect me to come quickly. But we, brothers, gathering to what kind of heresy Marcianus belonged (who used to contradict himself, not knowing what he was saying, as you will learn from what has been written to you), were enabled by others who studied this very Gospel, that is, by the successors of those who began it, whom we call Docetae (for most of the ideas belong to their teaching) – using [the material supplied] by them, were enabled to go through it and discover that the most part indeed was in accordance with the true teaching of the Saviour, but that some things were added, which also we place below for your benefit.’ Such are the writings of Serapion.' (Eusebius, H.E. 6.12.2-6).

It is instructive to note exactly what Eusebius reports Serapion as saying. Not that the Gospel of Peter itself was Docetic, but that the successors of Marcianus added certain things to this text to make it align with their Docetic tendencies. Serapion tells his readers that he will list those Docetic additions, but unfortunately Eusebius does not continue his citation of Serapion’s treatise, so modern readers are left in the dark about the specific contents.

The first generation of scholars to work on the Gospel of Peter read Eusebius citation of Serapion as saying the Gospel of Peter itself was Docetic. Thus, they looked for Docetic elements in the text. Swete, under the influence of this patristic description, catalogued what he saw as the self-evident docetic features of the text. He listed five examples.

1. The Lord’s freedom from pain at the moment of crucifixion.
2. His desertion by His ‘Power’ at the moment of Death.
3. The representation of His Death as analēpsis, ‘ascension’.
4. The supernatural height of the Angels and especially the Risen Christ.
5. The personification of the Cross.

Such a perspective on the docetic character of the text continued to be reiterated at the commencement of the more recent phase of research, albeit with recognition of the multifaceted nature of docetism and the ambiguous nature of the textual evidence in the Gospel of Peter (Mara, 1973: 107-111; Denker, 1975, 1975: 111-125). This position was challenged by McCant focusing in particular on the first three of Swete’s five points, since these had been the ‘stock-examples’ used to establish the case for the text being docetic (McCant, 1984: 258-273). The text on which the first point was based, ‘he remained silent as one having no pain’ (Gos. Pet. 4.10b), is seen as part of the silence motif of the Gospel of Peter which is not necessarily underpinned by docetic concerns. McCant states, ‘[n]othing in his sources or redactional activity indicates any motivation for negating pain in the Lord’s experience, although GP 4.10b remains ambiguous and neither affirms nor denies the experience of pain.’ (McCant, 1984: 262). The parallel contained in the Martyrdom of Polycarp is perhaps of great importance not only because of the close similarity in terminology, but because it portrays the noble and heroic character of those who suffer obvious pain in silence. Upon being pushed out of the wagon that has transported him to the stadium for martyrdom, Polycarp injures his shin. Yet he does not acknowledge such a wound, rather he walks as one ‘whom nothing had hurt’. Similarly the other supposed examples of Docetism have been considered to be far from compelling in modern research.

5. What does the Gospel of Peter tell us about growing interest in the figure of Peter in the early church?

At one level – very little! Peter hardly surfaces in the surviving portion of the Akhmîm narrative. He is only explicitly named in the final verse of the text, which states, ‘I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew took our nets and went to the sea’ (Gos. Pet. 14.60). However, when this text is seen alongside the burgeoning literature that circulates in Peter’s name in the second century and beyond, it becomes possible to perceive a wider phenomenon at work. The range of texts encompasses Apocalypses, Acts, Preachings (kerygmatic texts), and Epistles. The Gospel of Peter stands as part of a larger literary tendency where texts are generated around Peter as a central protagonist or the authority behind the text written often in his name. In many ways this is unsurprising, and reflects the phenomenon of pseudepigraphical literature, which is widely attested in contemporary ancient literature and beyond. This body of Petrine literature amply illustrates the ongoing production of texts either centred on Peter or written in his name. This growth is consonant with the increasing prestige that Peter enjoyed as a primary source of authority and with his link with the Roman see.

6. What is unique about the resurrection account in the Gospel of Peter?

How about a ‘walking talking cross’ for a start! Miraculous elements are heightened, the security measures placed at the tomb are emphasized and specific details absent from canonical accounts are introduced into the story. In many ways the narrative answers the questions of the pious, and it was designed to be used as an apologetic tool that shows the impossibility of the disciples stealing the body of Jesus. Perhaps the best thing is to give readers a flavour of the text by citing the resurrection scene:

34. Now when the morning of the Sabbath dawned a crowd came from Jerusalem and the surrounding region that they might see the tomb which had been sealed. 35. But during the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, while the soldiers were guarding two by two according to post, there was a great voice in the sky. 36. And they saw the heavens were being opened, and two men descended from there, having much brightness, and they drew near to the tomb. 37. But that stone which had been placed at the entrance rolled away by itself and made way in part and the tomb was opened and both the young men went in. 38. Then those soldiers seeing it awoke the centurion and the elders, for they were present also keeping guard. 39. While they were reporting what they had seen, again they saw coming out from the tomb three men, and the two were supporting the one, and a cross following them. 40. And the head of the two reached as far as heaven, but that of the one being led by them surpassed the heavens. 41. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you preached to those who sleep?’ 42. And a response was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’

7. Where is the actual Akhmim codex at the moment and what would it be worth it anyone could find it?

This is another question of fundamental importance. In the early 1980s the manuscript was photographed at the Coptic Museum in Cairo. These excellent images were taken by Adam Bülow-Jacobsen and are available online.

It appears that at some stage the manuscript was moved to the Alexandria Library. I have made numerous attempts to ascertain the current whereabouts of the manuscript. In June of this year a colleague, Prof. Dr. Johannes van Oort (Radboud Universiteit, Nijmegen & University of Pretoria), wrote to me making the following statement:

“Between June 12–20 I did my utmost in Alexandria to see the Gospel of Peter manuscript, but without any real success. According to all my information, the manuscript is not in Cairo (neither in the Egyptian Museum, nor in the Coptic Museum, or in any of the other ones). Also, I have an explicit statement that it is not in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria. All my indications are that it should be in the Alexandria Library and during a week I visited this location every day. The people there looked in their treasures, but until now they could not find the manuscript.”

As to whether it would be worth finding the manuscript, of course. Apart from being able to conduct a fuller codicological analysis to assess the technology used in the books construction, with improved imaging techniques problematic readings might be clarified.

Why the manuscript went missing is unknown – an accident, an oversight, sequestered, sold – nobody appears to have firm information since the last set of photographs were made.

8. Why should people be interested in the Gospel of Peter?

An excellent question! The text provides a highly informative and interesting window into the way gospel traditions developed and were expanded in the second half of the second century. It also reflects the concerns and beliefs of at least one community of believers in that period. Anybody interested in the study of Christian origins, the transmission of gospel traditions, or the life and piety of second century Christians will be richly rewarded by reading this fascinating gospel text.

Paul Foster: The Gospel of Peter - 1

Paul Foster
The Gospel of Peter: Introduction and Commentary
Leiden: Brill, 2010.
Texts and Editions for New Testament Study 4
Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Wendy Porter.

Blurb: Since its discovery in 1886/87 there has been no full-scale English-language treatment of the Gospel of Peter. This book rectifies that gap in scholarship by discussing a range of introductory issues and debates in contemporary scholarship, providing a new critical edition of the text and a comprehensive commentary. New arguments are brought forward for the dependence of the Gospel of Peter upon the synoptic gospels. The theological perspectives of the text are seen as reflecting second-century popular Christian thought. This passion account is viewed as a highly significant window into the way later generations of Christians received and rewrote traditions concerning Jesus.

Interview with Paul Foster:

1. What are the textual witnesses to the Gospel of Peter?

This is not an uncontroversial question. Prior to 1886 there were no known surviving manuscripts of the Gospel of Peter. Then in a winter season dig of 1886/87 at Akhmîm in upper Egypt a team of French archaeologists unearthed a small parchment codex interred in a grave. This codex contained four incomplete texts. The first, occupying pages 2-10, began and ended mid sentence, and was otherwise unknown. However, because it was a gospel-like passion and resurrection account, and since the first person narrator of this account is presented as being Peter, scholars were quick to identify this text as a fragment of the Gospel of Peter. This text had previously been known only from Patristic references to its title or a description given by Eusebius of its use at Rhossos. While the identification of the Akhmîm as being part of the Gospel of Peter is an inference, it is a plausible hypothesis.

This remained the only suggested manuscript of the Gospel of Peter until the 1970s. Then the Oxyrhynchus project published two pieces of papyrus catalogued as P.Oxy. 2949. The larger of the two fragments has some textual overlap with the Gos. Pet. 2.3-5, but also more of the surviving text deviates from the Akhmîm parallel. This partial overlap led Dieter Lührmann to posit that P.Oxy. 2949 was an early witness to the Gospel of Peter. Since then he has also suggested that P.Oxy. 4009, and P.Vindob.G 2325 are textual witnesses to the Gospel of Peter. However, since there is no overlap between these texts and Akhmîm text, and neither self-identifies as the Gospel of Peter, I am hesitant to consider any of these fragments as textual witness to the Gospel of Peter. So for me there is only one likely textual witness to the Gospel of Peter and that is the first text in the codex discovered at Akhmîm, which probably dates to some time from the late 6th to early 9th century.

2. What do you think of Dieter Luhrmann's attempt to date textual traditions of the Gospel of Peter to the second century?

In a word, ‘unconvincing’! While I think that the Gospel of Peter probably originated in the second half of the second century, my assessment would be that we having no manuscript fragments from the second or third centuries. For those who wish to disagree with me, the place to start is with P.Oxy. 2949, since there is some partial overlap with a small part of the Akhmîm text. However, those who wish to see P.Oxy. 2949 as an early fragment of the Gospel of Peter should also account for its divergences from the Akhmîm text form. As I have noted elsewhere, Lührmann’s reconstruction of P.Oxy. 2949 produces a text of 238 letters of which only 44 are shared with the alleged parallel section of text in the Akhmîm codex, or 18.49% of correspondence. There may be some relationship between these two texts, such as parallel forms of a similar tradition, but with over 80% divergence suggesting that they are witnesses to the same text appears problematic. There are numerous parallels between the synoptic gospels that have a far greater degree of textual affinity, but the parallel versions belong to different gospel accounts.

With the other fragments the case is far, far weaker. Lührmann identifies P.Oxy. 4009 as a witness to the Gospel of Peter by using a highly convoluted argument that employs 2 Clement 5.2-4 as a middle term. The details of this argument are complex and highly speculative. Perhaps it is sufficient to note that there is no overlap between P.Oxy. 4009 and the Akhmîm text, Peter is never mentioned in P.Oxy. 4009, and that it is a highly fragmentary text. The identification is based on the way Lührmann reconstructs the text, and it is questionable whether identification should be based on reconstruction rather than those letters actually present on the papyrus. The case of P.VindobG 2325 is weaker still. This fragment preserves a parallel account of the cock-crow story know from Mark 14.27-30. Most scholars read the fragment as a third person narrative because of its affinities to the Markan text. By contrast, Lührmann forces the texts to become a first person narrative due to the way he introduces first person pronouns into his reconstruction. He then concludes that since this text refers to Peter and is a first person narrative, it shares these features with the Akhmîm text and must consequently be a hitherto unknown part of the text. The Akhmîm text itself has no account of the cock-crowing story, perhaps because its starts too late with the end of trial before Pilate.

Methodologically, Lührmann’s arguments appear flawed because he reconstructs texts to produce the results he wishes to see. Also, without any textual overlap with the Akhmîm text, P.Oxy. 4009 and P.VindobG 2325 are claimed to be parts of the Gospel of Peter that did not survive in the Akhmîm fragment. This would appear to be beyond proof.

3. What is the relationship between the Gospel of Peter and the canonical Gospels (esp. in light of J.D. Crossan's proposal)?

The issue of The Relationship Between the Gospel of Peter and the canonical Gospels has been "vigorously Debated at all stages of scholarly investigation of this text Since its discovery, with scholars Arguing That It Is Either independent of the canonical gospels or depend upon 'em.J.D. Crossan offered a creative break-through by suggesting a third way, namely that the Gospel of Peter in its final form is dependent on the canonical Gospels, but has embedded in it is an early source, ‘the Cross Gospel’ (perhaps the near pun on Crossan’s name was intended) and this was earlier than the canonical accounts and was in fact used by them as a source for their accounts of the Passion and resurrection. While postulating this third possibility was a brilliant hypothesis, when one examines the contents of the ‘Cross Gospel’ the forms of the traditions it contains still appear to be later than the parallels in the canonical accounts. In the commentary section of my book I spend significant space discussing the tradition history of various pericopae and showing how they align with concerns of second century Christianity. In the end Crossan's hypothesis Remains more bright Than persuasive.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Christian Sanctification - Indicative but no Imperative?

One of the standard features of Christian ethics is that it has an indicative part (what God has done for us in in salvation) and an imperative part (how we are to live in consequence). In other words, because of what God has done for you, now you should live in a manner worthy of your salvation. This pattern of indicative and imperative certainly works in Paul (e.g., Romans 6), but I would argue that it is also the pattern in the Pentateuch since the long is given to a redeemed people not to redeem the people. In fact, Charles Talbert's study on the Sermon on the Mount shows that while Matthew is big on imperatives, he still has an indicative.

Where am I going with this? Well my concern is that some are beginning to replace the imperative element in Christian sanctification (i.e., the need to diligently prosecute, pursue, and cultivate holiness and godliness) with the need for more knowledge of the indicative (i.e., believing more in the grace of God). Dan Ortlund, who is a jolly nice chap, gives a big listing of quotes that basically take this line. For instance, one guy quoted, Jared Wilson, writes: "As pat as the answer may sound, the key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is submissive study of the Scriptures". Now let me say that I believe in big "G" grace and I'm against big "M" moralizing. I'm fully aware that an understanding and appreciation of Christ and his work will work itself out in transformed behavior. No denials. But I am concerned that the "now go and do this" and "in response let us live like this" or "don't do this" that we find in the Scriptures are being marginalized in the name of a piety that is largely cognitive rather than transformative, a piety that is cerebral rather than practical.

But let's consider one of the exhortations to godliness in the Scriptures. Here is 2 Pet 1:3-10 (I preach a sermon on this passage called "Godly Mathematics").

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now notice that there is clearly an intellectual aspect about knowing the call of God and his promises, but thereafter we are called to add certain virtues to our life in order to life a godly life. It is not just a matter of read your ESV study Bible more or "let go and let God brother". We have the responsibility to deliberately adopt changed attitudes and changed behaviours that show our family likeness by our conduct and thereby make our calling and election sure! This is not some moralizing self-help step ladder to salvation, it is the genuine calling of the Christian to work out what God has worked in (Phil 2:12-13). Good theology, godward passion, and christocentric interpretation is not enough. Based on the words of Jesus, Paul, and James I'm willing to say that the differences between the sheep and the goats, between the followers and the fans, between hearers and doers, and between wearing a cross and carrying one, is whether one earnestly struggles against sin and earnestly seeks after godly virtues in the power of God's Spirit. It is mediation on grace, imitation of Christ/God, transformation of the self, and actively pursuing application that will make us godly people.

HT: to Jason Hood for pointing out Dane's post to me.


I constantly read that any soteriology that is apparently synergistic must be bad. Whether that is second temple Judaism or semi-pelagianism, they are synergistic, and therefore they are the bad kinda thing that the Apostle Paul warned of. But I think that "syngergism" as soteriological category is a misnomer. First, every form of soteriology seems to have an element of divine action and human response. If "salvation" is contingent upon certain human responses, like faith repentance, then anywhere where you have a divine sovereignty/human responsibility tension, then you are gonna have some kind of synergism. Even if God animates the human response directly or indirectly, it is still a human response. Second, the only form of soteriology that is not synergistic is universalism. Unless you do absolutely nothing, no response, no responsibility, no ability, no effort at all, the only form of monergism is universalism, everyone gets saved no matter what they believe or what they've done. Some systems of soteriology are explicitly synergistic and they speak of cooperating with divine grace (e.g., Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox), however, we should avoid ragging on these with the charge of "synergism" because any soteriology that includes a human response is in some sense synergistic. A better way to evaluate soteriologies (ancient or modern) is to look at the type of divine action, its efficacy, and the human response that makes it effective in a particular scheme.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Gordon Fee on Revelation

At ETS/SBL Gordon Fee's Revelation commentary in the NCCS will be available. To wet your appetite here is an excerpt from the preface:

"Stepping into Revelation from the rest of the New Testament is to enter into a strange, bizarre world; and this is true even in the days of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Instead of narratives, arguments, or plain statements of fact, the Revelation is full of angels, trumpets, and earthquakes; of strange beasts, dragons, and bottomless pits. Most believers, therefore, take one of two extremes: some simply avoid it in despair; others take an exaggerated interest in it, thinking to find here all the keys to the end of the world. Both of these positions I would argue are simply wrong. On the one hand, in the providence of God, it is Holy Scripture, a part of the twenty-seven document canon of the New Testament. Indeed, it serves as the ultimate - and marvelous - conclusion to the whole of Scripture. On the other hand, a great deal of what has been written about it, especially at the popular level, tends to obscure its meaning rather than to help the reader understand it. In fact many years ago, when I was teaching a course on the Revelation at Wheaton College, one of the options for a term paper was to analyze the exegesis of Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. Two of the students took me up on this alternative, both of whom independently came to the conclusion that the task was altogether impossible, since there is not a single exegetical moment in Lindsay's entire book. John himself would surely have found Lindsay's book as 'apocalyptic' as most modern readers do John's".