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.