Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SBL Retrospective: The Sessions

More than a month after the conference, this SBL retrospective is late (see early notes here and here)--but it is only a little later than last year's, and I'd like to comment on a few of the sessions in more detail later on. Without further apology:

As I feared, I spent most of Friday and Saturday confined to my hotel room, finishing up my paper for the Sunday morning Josephus section. However, I did make it out to the Friday evening IBR session to hear Tremper Longman try to justify why we still need more commentaries, to overdose on dessert, and to pick up my free book. (Joel Willitts summarizes Longman's main points here; Doug Chaplin isn't persuaded; my reaction is still percolating.)

On Saturday, I missed a couple good sessions on Romans (21-230, 21-336). Fortunately for me, Andy Rowell recorded the second session. I also missed the Bible Software Shootout (21-313). (According to the word on the street [scroll down for more links], the program I used most often didn't shine, but I have yet to hear it from Bibleworks's perspective.)

On Saturday evening I emerged for David Clines's presidential address. This was, perhaps, an odd choice, since the presidential addresses are always published in JBL, and they can be rather dull. But I was curious to hear what Clines had to say on the subject of "Learning, Teaching, and Researching Biblical Studies." Instead of the radical post-modern presentation I was expecting, Clines gave a good lecture on the importance of focusing on teaching, and teaching well. His enthusiastic defense of student-centred learning will not have been new to anyone familiar with the field of pedagogy, but it was refreshing to hear in this context.

9:00-11:30 a.m. Josephus - My paper to an intimate audience of about a dozen people seemed to go well despite competition from the session next door. When it was over the chair invited the panelists to join the other members of the group for lunch. A highlight of the conference.

1:00-3:30 p.m. - I caught the tail end of Eric Meyers's presentation on Archaeology in Galilee (22-203), and then walked down to view the Mississippi, and do a little shopping.

4:00-6:30 p.m. Historical Jesus (22-324) - Panel review of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 4: Law and Love. The comments by the Jewish scholars Lawrence Schiffman and Adele Reinhartz (as well as Meier's responses) were especially interesting. I decided to purchase the book.

7:00-9:00 p.m. New Testament Theology (22-403) - A panel discussion focusing primarily on Udo Schnelle's new New Testament Theology. I stayed long enough to decide that I could let the dust settle before trying to read (or purchase) any of the spate of NT Theologies that have been published in the last 5 years. Too many new books.

9:00-11:30 Pauline Epistles (23-138) - Several good papers and vigorous discussion. I had to smile when one presenter commented disparagingly about the "justification by faith" paradigm and the next referred critically to "the so-called New Perspective on Paul." My favorite was Akio Ito's impressively clear and helpful paper on Romans 8:10: "'The Spirit is Life' or 'the Spirit is Alive.'"

1:00-3:30 Pauline Soteriology (23-233) - Panel Review of Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God in which Campbell tries to show that he is not the Emperor. (This is not a negative judgement on Campbell's thesis--I haven't read his 1200+ page book yet--but from his presentation it appears the stakes are that high.)

4:00-6:30 Wandered the book exhibit; decided not to purchase books.


10:00-11:30 Book of Acts (24-106).

All in all, a fine conference with stimulating sessions, good conversations (not included in this review), a few new books, and a couple regrets. I wish, for example, that I had shared Bruce Fisk's experience exploring the lower ninth ward---or had even thought of the idea.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Final grades submitted yesterday.
End-of-term paperwork completed this afternoon.
Tomorrow we leave for Montana to catch the Empire Builder to Portland. So begins two weeks of much needed time away. There will be some course prep too, and, hopefully, a return to blogging... later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Paul, Mission and the End of the World Part II

When I checked the article on "mission" in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters this morning, I was happy to see that Paul Bowers agrees with me:
[F]or Paul the most decisive event of the End had already taken place in Jesus Christ....Throughout his letters the references and allusions to his sense of mission habitually take orientation from this consciousness. For him the End had already arrived, eschatological expectation had given way to eschatological experience, and the long-expected ingathering of the nations was now being fulfilled. He conceived of his Gentile mission as eschatological in nature principally not by virtue of some connection with a yet future event but by virtue of its evident connections with a past one.

That Paul did see a link between the Gentile mission and the Parousia is evident from Romans 11, but the exact nature of the relationship is left unemphasized and obscure in Paul's treatment, and no other Pauline texts clearly take up this particular theme. - W. Paul Bowers, "Mission," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity, 1993), 617-618.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Paul and the End of the World: Reflections on Romans 15:19

Ever since hearing Robert Jewett give an illustrated presentation on "Paul's Mission in the Light of Ancient Maps," I have been intrigued by the idea that Paul's "missionary methods" were driven by his eschatology--by his conviction that spreading the Gospel would speed the parousia.

Jewett bases his interpretation on the Peutinger Map (pictured above), a medieval copy of a much earlier Roman map, that may have been based originally on a 1st century BCE original. According to, "The eleven sheets of parchment have a total length of 680 cm and are just over 33 cm high." The twelth sheet is missing, but most likely included the Iberian peninsula. On the eastern end, the map extended as far as India; the city of Rome was at the center of the world. (See here and here for more details).

With a height of 33 cm, the map is not to scale: Jewett observes that "Palestine is depicted as a strip of land with sea at the top and bottom, with the Jordan River system flowing horizontally and Jerusalem located above the Dead Sea" (Romans [Hermeneia; Fortress, 2007], 913 n. 112). But Jewett appears to suppose that rather than being a schematic subway-like map (so Livius), the map conveys an ancient view of the world--one that Romans 15:19 indicates that Paul shared:
“With this geographic framework, it is not at all mysterious that Paul would have thought of Illyricum as lying on a circle from Jerusalem, and that Illyricum was the closest point he had reached on the route to Rome. His framework is not chronological but, given his worldview, geographic—and eschatological, for the early Christian mission aimed at completing the circle around the known world centered in the Mediterranean, before the parousia" (Jewett, Romans, 913, citing Knox and Barrett for the relatively common suggestion about mission and the parousia).
James M. Scott has apparently argued similarly that Paul (1) viewed Jerusalem as the center of the world much like other Jews (cf. Ezek 5:5; Acts 2:5-13) and (2) that Paul's Gentile mission strategy was informed by the list of nations in Genesis 10. "Scott . . . suggests that Paul particularly longed to go to Spain because it was the last of the sons of Japheth who needed to be included for the fullness of the Gentiles to come in (Rom. 11:25)" (Schreiner, Romans [Baker, 1998], 769 summarizing Scott).

Moo responds to an earlier version of Jewett's model (defended by scholars such as Barrett and Dunn) by arguing that Paul's reference to "fulfilling the Gospel" in Romans 15:19 is merely a statement of good mission strategy rather than the fulfilment of an eschatological hope: "That Paul saw himself as a significant figure in salvation history, with a central role in the Gentile mission, is clear; but that he thought his own efforts would bring that mission to its conclusion is not clear at all" (Moo, Romans [Eerdmans: 1996], 893-4]).  

I am wondering about a third mediating possibility:
  1. Despite other passages, such as Col 1:24-29 and 2 Peter 3:9-12, I am not (yet) convinced by the argument that early Christians believed their work in spreading the Gospel would hasten the Day of the Lord, and that this urgency and sense of imminence motivated Paul's mission activity. 
  2. But what if Paul thought the coming in of the Gentiles signaled that the end had already begun? According to Tom Schreiner, "it is likely that the language used here reflects prophecies from the OT where the 'word of the Lord' has its inception in Jerusalem (Isa. 2:1-4; Mic. 4:1-4), and the Gentiles stream there to hear God's torah. Paul probably saw this prophecy fulfilled in his ministry" (Romans, 769). With Scott, Paul may have combined passages such as Isa 2:1-4 with the table of nations in Genesis 10.
On this reading, Paul is not hastening the day, he is living in it...while still anticipating its final fulfilment.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Anti-Evangelical Bias in Graduate Schools

For those who have been following the tempest-in-a-biblioblog-teapot* caused by Dan Wallace's post** complaining against anti-Dallas Seminary bias among Biblical Scholars, AKMA's comment (scroll down to #38) on the Jesus Creed is the most helpful I've read yet. There's plenty of good advice in the comment thread for students interested in graduate schools too. Update: Don't miss Scot McKnight's response. And Tony Jones's.

*For other posts on the same general subject see Biblia Hebraica, kata ta biblia, Exploring Our Matrix.
**And no, I haven't read all 513 comments in Wallace's comment thread. And yes, I'm baffled by Wallace's claim that most biblical scholars aren't Christians.

For my own thoughts on the intersection between faith and scholarship, see here and here.

In case you are wondering, I'm still recovering from SBL and end-of-term busyness....

Monday, November 30, 2009

SBL Retrospective: The Books

I wish to report that, despite the load I carried back with me in my carry-on luggage, I am still "on the wagon", more or less:
  • The top 4 books (the Loeb edition of Josephus) I brought with me to SBL.
  • The bottom 4 were donations from publishers, who evidently hope I will adopt them as textbooks or recommend them to my students.
  • The 3 paperbacks underneath Josephus I purchased as gifts.
  • The 3 commentaries in the middle I purchased for my own library, which is a bit strange given my love-hate relationship with commentaries. They can be justified under an admittedly broad interpretation of the fine print at the end of my new year's resolution, since I expect to use all 3 in my teaching next semester.
      As I wandered the bookstalls deciding what not to purchase, and sat in 2.5 hour book review sessions, I also considered how I want my book-buying and reading habits to change over the long term once this year is through. Some initial thoughts:

  • In the midst of everything else I get to do, I need to develop the discipline of reading widely in (and out of) my field:

    1. Reading in subjects I have to teach and for current research projects take top priority.
    2. Classics take precedence over the latest "important" monographs. If they are *really* important, they will still be worth reading a few years down the road.

  • I want book-buying to work for me: Instead of purchasing a bunch of "important" books at a discount, and never reading them, it is better to pay full price, and only purchase a new book when an old one is complete. (Of course, it is not necessary to purchase every book one reads.)

  • Other suggestions?

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    Herman Melville on Faith

    "But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope." - Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Street Preaching in New Orleans

    "Everything is not okay, people" announced the street-preacher through a megaphone at the corner of Decatur and Canal Street. I had to smile. Many of the well-dressed academics jay-walking between the New Orleans Marriott and Sheraton were Christians. No doubt some on this Friday afternoon were themselves of the "evangelical" persuasion, and were making the transition between the ETS meetings that had just concluded and the IBR meetings that were about to begin.

    But everything is not okay, people: Where else but at SBL and its affiliated societies, is the study of Christianity's sacred text combined so thoroughly with pride, envy, greed, and rank ambition--to the point where we can no longer tell the difference between soli deo gloria and self-promotion?

    This, of course, is a distortion of the ideal, which for the SBL is "to foster biblical scholarship." In theory, we connect with other scholars and put our best work forward in academic publications and conference presentations not to make a name for ourselves or get noticed, but to serve the discipline, hone our craft, improve our teaching--in short, to honour our subject. For Christian scholars of everything from biology to biblical studies, careful disciplined study of God's world is, finally, a way of serving its creator.

    But the temptations are real, a distorted "rat race" mentality all too common. I remind myself of them here because they are temptations to which I am prone. Κύριε ἐλέησον.
    P.S. One of my roommates bought the street preacher lunch at Arby's. I walked by on the other side.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    New Orleans New Orleans

    I'm heading down to the "Big Easy" tomorrow morning, and I confess I'm concerned about falling off the wagon. So far this year, I've been pretty good at sticking to my new year's resolution, but I always knew the hardest test would come in New Orleans . . . at the Society of Biblical Literature's massive book display: How can you resist row on row of book displays featuring the major publishers in Biblical Studies, with discounts at 40-50% (or more)?

    Since I know I am going to purchase books again next year it is easy to rationalize starting now, when the prices are good. But then I glance at all the books on my shelf from previous years that I still haven't read, and renew my resolve. Still, it can't hurt to browse a little...

    My other concern is finishing my paper: The way things are going, I may spend Friday afternoon and all day Saturday confined to my hotel room working away on Sunday morning's presentation.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    The difference two years make

    (For the sake of comparison, consider last year's photo.)

    Here is the birthday girl riding her new home-made "hobby horse":

    (At first she thought it was a mop.)

    In other news, some folks came by a few weeks ago and drove off with our wind-damaged garage:

    The new, improved, and larger version is coming along nicely:

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Robert Pirsig on (Metaphorical) Mountain Climbing

    "Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. . . . When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it's a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That's never the way" (189).

    "Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow. But of course, without the top you can't have any sides. It's the top that defines the sides" (183).

    Robert M. Pirsig, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance (Bantam: 1975).

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Josephus and Deuteronomy's "Prophet like Moses"

    Tomorrow afternoon at 12:30 p.m. (in S113) I will be presenting a paper on Josephus's interpretation of Deuteronomy 18 as part of Briercrest's Bible and Theology Colloquium series.

    A week from Sunday (Nov 22) I will present a revised version to SBL's Josephus group in New Orleans. Here is an abstract:
    In his summary of the Mosaic constitution (A.J. 4.196-302), Josephus omits Deuteronomy's legislation about prophets, but inserts an enigmatic reference to a “prophet” in his paraphrase of Deut 17:8-13. The “prophet” who, according to A.J. 4.218, participates in the Jerusalem high court along with the high priest and gerousia, has been variously regarded as another term for the high priest, or as representing the scribes or the Pharisees. This paper builds on Sarah Pearce’s argument that the “prophet” is to be understood in the first place as Joshua, and that the passage presents this system of government as an ideal. A review of the use of “prophet” (προφήτης) in Josephus demonstrates that the historian consistently distinguished prophets such as Joshua from priests and kings; it also suggests that Josephus understood Deuteronomy 18 as a prediction of a succession of prophets, and, finally, that he intended A.J. 4.218 as a summary of Deuteronomy 18:15-22 as well as 17:8-13.

    If the title sounds dull to you, the paper probably will be too. If, on the other hand, the title sounds intriguing, I hope (!) the paper will be too.

    If you can make it out (in either location), I'll be glad for your feedback.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Deuteronomy 18 and Moses' Successor

    Is it true that Deuteronomy 18 is the only passage in the Pentateuch that speaks abstractly about a successor to Moses?
    • Numbers 27:12-23, Deuteronomy 31 and 34:9 present Joshua as Moses' successor, but I'm looking for passages that talk about a transfer of leadership without mentioning Joshua (or someone else) by name.
    • Deuteronomy 17:14-20 provide instructions about kings, but Deuteronomy doesn't view kingship positively or present it as succession.
    • Deuteronomy 17:9, 12 mentions "the judge who is in office in those days," but again a direct connection with Moses is not made explicit.
    What am I missing?

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Robert Pirsig on Teaching Colleges

    The school was what could euphemistically be called a "teaching college." At a teaching college you teach and you teach and you teach with no time for research, no time for contemplation, no time for participation in outside affairs. Just teach and teach and teach until your mind grows dull and your creativity vanishes and you become an automaton saying the same dull things over and over to endless waves of innocent students who cannot understand why you are so dull, lose respect and fan this disrespect out into the community. The reason you teach and you teach and you teach is that this is a very clever way of running a college on the cheap while giving a false appearance of genuine education. - Robert M. Pirsig, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance (Bantam: 1975), 129.

    • In case you are wondering, my current place of work does not have the ethos of a teaching college, at least not in the euphemistic sense. The teaching load is heavy by university standards, but lighter than many another private liberal arts college.
    • I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Pirsig's Zen at the recommendation of my friend, Jeremy Kroeker, whose excellent funny Motorcycle Therapy: A Canadian Adventure in Central America I recommend highly--even though I have never successfully ridden a mortorcycle.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Pastor or Scholar?

    One of my seminary mentors, the late Don Verseput, observed how many students come to college or seminary wanting to be youth pastors under the influence of their own youth pastors, and leave wanting to be teachers, under the influence of their college or seminary professors. Something is wrong, Verseput suggested, if Christian college and seminary professors groom their best students to be scholars like them. The result may be flattering, but it is also misdirected: The job of a pastor may not be as high status, and it does not require as much education, but from the perspective of the church, it is more important, more valuable, more urgent.

    I was reminded of Verseput's comments a few weeks ago when I read Justin Taylor's account of John Piper's transition from college professor to pastor. This excerpt is from a sermon Piper preached as a pastoral candidate:

    Right now in my own life, I stand on the brink of a professional change. I really love my job at Bethel College. It is very rewarding. When I see students out there who are in my 1 Corinthians class, it makes me very glad. One of the ways God has said to me “Move Piper,” is this: when I read Philippians 1:19-26, there is in me a tremendous longing. Last October it became an irresistible longing to be an instrument in God’s hands to fulfill these goals in a local church. At this point in my life I say, and I believe God is saying to me, “The potential, Piper, for magnifying me is greater now in the pastorate than in the professorship.”

    We don't just need more pastors, we need pastor-scholars. According to Kevin Vanhoozer,
    "Seminary faculties need the courage to be evangelically Protestant for the sake of forming theological interpreters of Scripture able to preach and minister the word. The preacher is a “man on a wire,” whose sermons must walk the tightrope between Scripture and the contemporary situation. I believe that we should preparing our best students for this gospel ministry. The pastor-theologian, I submit, should be evangelicalism’s default public intellectual, with preaching the preferred public mode of theological interpretation of Scripture." (HT: Mike Bird)
    The point of my job, I remind myself from time to time, is not to encourage my students to imitate my career choices, but to help prepare them to do something more important with their lives.

    The Epistemology of the Natural

    "The epistemology of the natural opens a space for the discourse of power/knowledge."

    The above sentence comes to you courtesy of the University of Chicago Writing Program's "Make Your Own Academic Sentence" creator. Visit The Virtual Academic yourself, "and let Professor Pootwattle design an academic sentence just for you."

    ...I could use a "Make Your Own Academic Paper" creator right about now.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Five Influential Books

    Two years after Ken Brown began this "meme," Nick's list finally triggered my own list of books read during the last decade that rocked my intellectual world:
    1. Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale: 1989): At an SBL panel discussion of Francis Watson's, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (Continuum: 2004), Hays quipped that Watson's was the most important book on Paul's use of Scripture since his own Echoes of Scripture. I read Echoes for fun in the fall of 1999, the first semester of my Ph.D. at McMaster University. Watson still sits on my shelf waiting to be read.
    2. John Barton, Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile (1986; repr. Oxford: 1988): I read Barton in Jerusalem in the fall of 2000, on the recommendation of Michael Stone. Barton combined with a number of other factors to severely jostle my conservative evangelical doctrine of Scripture. His insights into later Jewish perceptions of biblical prophecy are foundational to my own work on prophecy in early Judaism and Christianity. As evidence of its importance, a full issue of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures was devoted to the book on its 20th anniversary. Fortunately, it is now back in print.
    3. John Goldingay, Models for Scripture (Eerdmans: 1994): If Barton inadvertently shattered my doctrine of Scripture, Goldingay (read 2001-2002) helped put the pieces back together. Richard Bauckham called it a "study of the doctrine of Scripture that moves us decisively beyond both the old defensive conservatism and the old rationalistic liberalism."
    4. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906; trans. 1961): I read Schweitzer in 2003-2004 after hearing Dale Allison recommend it enthusiastically. Paradoxically, it was reading Schweitzer's confident presentation of the results of the historical-critical method that helped convince me of its limitations. See here and here for earlier references to Schweitzer on this blog.
    5. Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The 'Lutheran' Paul and His Critics (Eerdmans: 2004): I finished Perspectives in 2006. This is the one book on this list that I return to repeatedly (whenever I work on Paul). To quote Nick: "Besides being convincing on a great many points of contention in pauline scholarship, this book is a model of good writing and the use of humour."
    Honourable mention: N.T. Wright. Since it has been a decisive influence on so many other evangelical scholars, I am embarrassed to admit I only read Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress: 1996) in 2007. Wright's early influence on me was more direct: In my final year of college, Wright gave a series of lectures at a nearby seminary that left my head spinning for days. In a good way.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    The Twist

    This fantastic Terry Taylor / Swirling Eddies song can only be considered a contemporary worship song in a very loose sense, but it is the best modern rock reflection on the death of Jesus that I know:

    Here's another version with pictures and lyrics:

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Dead Air

    Sometimes life is more important than blogging.

    So there.

    P.S. The last couple weeks were busy: Crafting a sermon on an unfamiliar passage takes time, especially when one is out of practice. The next month will be busy too. One month from today I present the SBL paper I have barely started writing. I do have a backlog of blogging ideas, though. Stay tuned...

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    The Naked Truth about 2 Corinthians 5:3

    A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

    Our 2009 Briercrest College and Seminary Bible and Theology Colloquium series kicks off tomorrow with a paper by Dr. Kevin Daugherty on "The Naked Truth about 2 Corinthians 5:3."

    Please join us in room S115 @ 12:30 PM if you can make it out.

    Gadamer on Teaching from Old Notes

    In a certain sense interpretation probably is re-creation, but this is a re-creation not of the creative act but of the created work, which has to be brought to representation in accord with the meaning the interpreter finds in it. Thus, for example, historicizing presentations--e.g., of music played on old instruments --are not as faithful as they seem. Rather, they are an imitation of an imitation and are thus in danger "of standing at a third remove from the truth" (Plato). - Truth and Method (1960, repr. Continuum, 2004), 118.

    Gadamer, of course, is talking primarily about drama as artistic representation, but I think there are analogies to teaching understood as performance.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Keck on Faith in Paul

    “Had Paul been interested in the power of faith, in the potency of our trusting, he might have organized ‘faith clinics’ in which he taught people how to ‘believe harder’ so that their faith would be more powerful. Then, of course, he would have said that God justifies the godly.”
    - Leander E. Keck, Romans (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 133.

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Sin in Paul's Judaism

    At first glance Romans 3:9b appears to conclude Paul's argument in 1:18-3:8: "For we have already accused all, both Jews and Greeks, as being under sin." The problem is that Romans 1:18-3:8 doesn't work well as a demonstration of universal human sin:
    • Romans 1:18-32 describes the wrath of God at work in people generally, but the specific illustrations about idolatry and immorality make it clear that Paul has non-Christ-believing Gentiles primarily in view.
    • In Romans 2:1-16, Paul addresses an (imaginary) individual who judges the people described in 1:18-32 but does the same things. As I mentioned earlier, I think it is significant that Paul doesn't specify the ethnicity of this hypocritical judge.
    • In Romans 2:17-29 Paul addresses an (imaginary) Jew who boasts in the law but does not keep it. Indeed, his sins are flagrant violations of the ten commandments: he steals, he commits adultery, he robs temples and so causes God's name to be blasphemed. I don't see how this can be taken as a blanket condemnation of Paul's Jewish contemporaries, and I am mystified by Simon Gathercole's claim that "this Jew is not merely an individual but a representative of the nation" (Where then is Boasting?, 199).
    I do not see a knock-down argument, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that all have sinned; I see 3 illustrations of human sinfulness. They all share similar traits related to the misuse of the knowledge of God (see Keck, Romans, 88): the Gentile idolater who refuses to acknowledge God (to which Paul’s audience goes ‘uh-huh’), the one who judges the sins of others, but does not practice what he preaches (to which Paul’s audience goes, 'yeah, I guess you’re right'), and the Jewish law-breaker by presuming on God’s covenant faithfulness:
    “2:17-29 is not Paul’s indictment of Judaism as such. Rather, he uses this indictment of the hypocrisy of a particular type of Jew to express the idea that simply being a Jew does not automatically confer privileged status in God’s impartial judgment” (Keck, Romans, 83).
    Paul’s main concern in chapter 2 is not with showing that everyone is a sinner but with proving that God’s judgement is impartial, everyone will be judged on the basis of what they do. In fact, Paul doesn’t explicitly generalize in Romans 2 from the sin of a couple examples to the sin of everyone. The case studies lead from what is known—Gentile idolaters are guilty before God—to a conclusion (perhaps) surprising for some Jews: the covenant does not save the disobedient from God’s wrath. Again, the point is not to prove by conclusive argument that all are sinners but to demonstrate by example that God’s wrath justly falls on those who do what they know they ought not to do.

    What then do we make of Romans 3:9? And how does Paul think he has demonstrated, by the time he gets to 3:19-20, that "the whole world is accountable to God"?
    • (1) According to E. P. Sanders we should just give up and move on: “Paul’s case for universal sinfulness, as it is stated in Rom. 1:18-2:29, is not convincing: it is internally inconsistent and it rests on gross exaggeration” (Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 125).
    • (2) Francis Watson argues that 3:9 refers back to the quotation from Scripture in 3:4, which in turn anticipates the florilegium of Scriptural citations in 3:10-18:

      “The crucial exegetical point is that the references that follow to ‘the faithfulness of God,’ ‘the truth of God,’ and ‘the righteousness of God’ all derive from the initial reference to ‘the words of God.’ In Scripture God speaks, and what God speaks is an indictment of the entire human race. What is at issue is whether what God says is true, whether God is in the right in his scriptural indictment of the whole world. The scriptural indicment itself follows in vv. 9-20…" - Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (2d; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007, 219).

    • (3) Moo notes “that Paul characterizes his argument not as a proof of guilt but as an accusation of guilt….Criticisms of 1:18-2:29, then, to the effect that Paul has not logically demonstrated the guilt of all people are wide of the mark” (Romans 201 n. 18).
    • (4) Stephen Westerholm thinks Paul's indictment harks back to Paul's description of humanity (not just Gentiles) in opposition to God in 1:18-32 (Perspectives Old and New on Paul, 387). Westerholm may well be right, but I think a 5th option--really a variation on Moo--is more (or also) correct.
    • (5) According to Keck, “This verse does not summarize what Paul had said in 1:18-2:9; rather, it interprets what he had said by disclosing its import: The plight of the Gentiles and Jews is the same because what will count on Judgment Day is deeds” (95).
    I suspect that Paul’s accusation—even though it is addressed to individuals and initially focused on establishing God’s impartial judgement—is meant to have illustrative force: Paul wants his audience to recognize themselves (or better, their pre-Christian selves) in the description and recognize their need. Paul's statement of the import of chapters 1-2 adds a new, previously unstated premise: "the problem with people is not just that they commit sins; their problem is that they are enslaved to sin” (Moo 201).

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    Models of atonement in contemporary worship songs

    You would think the topic would have been well-studied, with lists of relevant songs collated, but nothing of substance comes up in a Google search for "models of atonement in contemporary worship songs." There are lists of sermon illustrations, but no lists of songs.

    To fill that gap, and--with your help--to generate some illustrations to use in class next week, I offer this (very) preliminary list:

    Thank You for the Cross - Matt Redman

    Leave additional song names in the comments, and I will add them to the list.

    Update: I have begun revising the list:

    By His Wounds - Mac Powell (Penal Substitution/Satisfaction)
    Highly Exalted - Robin Mark (Penal Substitution/Satisfaction
    How Deep the Father's Love for Us - Stuart Townend (Penal Substitution/Satisfaction)
    In Christ Alone - Stuart Townend (Christus Victor, Penal Substitution/Satisfaction)
    Thank You for the Cross - Matt Redman (Moral influence?; no model discernible?)
    You Are My King - Chris Tomlin (Penal Substitution)
    The Wonder of Your Cross - Robin Mark (Moral Influence?)

    Songs that should not have been written:
    Above All - Paul Baloche

    Thanks for the suggestions!
    Update (May 2010): See my friend Dale Harris's thoughtful post and song on this topic.

    Retrospective Multivalence in Romans 2 - Part 2

    Another reason for seeing a secondary reference to the work of the Spirit in Christian gentiles in Romans 2 is Paul's use of "reckoning" language:
    • In Romans 2:27 Paul says that the uncircumcision of the law-keeping Gentile will be "reckoned" (λογισθήσεται) as circumcision. 
    • In Romans 4:3 Paul quotes the LXX of Gen 15:6: "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned (ἐλογίσθη) to him as righteousness." The rest of the chapter reflects on the significance of this "reckoning," using the verb repeatedly and drawing in Psalm 31:1 LXX because it also uses the verb λογίζομαι. The verb "to reckon" (λογίζομαι) is used 40 times in the NT. 32 of those occurrences are in the undisputed Paulines, and 19 are in Romans. The verb is arguably important to Paul because of its connection to Gen 15:6.
    • In Romans 6:11-12 Paul turns to the practical implications for those who have been joined to Christ and whose faith is reckoned as righteousness: "reckon yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God...Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies..." 
    I see that Doug Moo's conclusions on Romans 2:26 are similar to mine:
    Without directly describing Christians here, then, Paul's logic anticipates his teaching that it is faith and the indwelling of the Spirit that meet God's demand and so bring people into relationship with God. We may paraphrase: "if it should be that there were an uncircumcised person who perfectly kept the law (which in this sense there is not, though in another sense, as we will see, there is), that person would be considered a full member of the people of God." - Douglas Moo, Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 171.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Best Romans Commentary

    The best short commentary on Romans is Leander E. Keck's Romans (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2005). Even my daughter likes it!

    Keck is a very careful reader of Paul, and a fine (and witty) writer. He appears to have thought about nearly every question, and his answers are succinct and clear. I dare say his commentary ranks with the major commentaries of Jewett, Dunn, Fitzmyer, Moo and Cranfield in its attention to the interpretive issues in Romans, but he addresses them in much smaller compass. As an added bonus, Keck writes as if what Paul says has life-changing significance. Paul J. Achtemeier, author of another short commentary on Romans says "This is as good a commentary on Romans as is likely to come down the pike."

    The only downside of the commentary is that it is, perhaps, a little too compact. (I suppose transliterated Greek can be off-putting too for readers who don't have Greek.) This is the second time I have assigned Keck as a textbook in a 3rd year undergraduate Romans course. This time through my students are letting me know that Keck, like Paul, is a challenging read.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Retrospective Multivalence in Romans 2

    The Paul of Romans 2 appears to defend salvation by works against a Jewish conversation partner who emphasizes God's grace. Francis Watson puts it this way:
    “Here, in disconcerting contrast to the standard account of Paul’s relation to Judaism, it is the Jewish interlocutor who is committed to salvation by grace alone, and Paul who (as we shall see) teaches salvation by obedience to the law” - Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 202.
    In verse 7, Paul declares that God will give "eternal life to those who by persistence in good works seek glory, honour and immortality." In 2:14-15a he says that "when Gentiles who do not have the law by nature, do the law, they who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show the work of the law written in their hearts." And toward the end of the chapter he argues that the uncircumcision of the uncircumcised person who keeps the law (circumcision excepted) will be reckoned as circumcision, and that the one who is uncircumcised by nature but who fulfills the law will judge his circumcised law-breaking interlocutor (2:26-27).

    Of the many explanations of these puzzling statements, I will mention two:
    • (1) The Gentiles are Christians who do the law through the Spirit (cf. Cranfield, Schreiner, Fitzmyer, Watson, Jewett). On this view, the reference to the law written on their hearts recalls the new covenant passage in Jer 31:33. Paul alludes more clearly to a related passage (Deut 30:6) in 2:28-29, which may make an allusion to Jer 31:33 in 2:15, and hence to Christian gentiles, more likely. As Paul will explain more fully later on, it is by the Spirit that Christian gentiles who are not under law fulfill the law; they will still be judged according to their works (2 Cor 5:10), but these works are Spirit-enabled.
    • (2) Paul is talking about a hypothetical situation (e.g., Moo, Westerholm, Talbert, Keck). In each case we should add the unstated caveat "if it were possible": It is true that God would reward with eternal life those who do good and keep the law, but--as he will explain later on (in 3:20)--no one can keep the law on their own apart from the Spirit, and Paul does not mention the Spirit in this context. Stephen Westerholm adds that Paul *never* says that Christians do the law (the language of 2:14) in any other context. Paul would not describe Christians who are not under law in this way. Keck explains that talking about Christian gentiles would be a distraction from Paul's main argument, which is to show that since God is impartial there is no advantage in having the law if one doesn't keep it.
    In class on Monday I argued for #2, but I am almost persuaded by option #1, and I am toying with the idea of affirming both. Instead of trying to nail down what Paul really meant even when he didn't come out and say it, I suggest it is better to approach Romans as ideal first readers whose initial expectations and conclusions are modified and reshaped as the letter progresses. Examined from this perspective, there are a few clear examples of "retrospective multivalence", which may help us puzzle out the identity of the law-keepers in Romans 2:
    •  In Romans 1:18 Paul says that God's wrath is revealed against the impiety and wickedness of people who suppress the truth in their wickedness. As Paul's Christian and Jewish audience listened on, I imagine them nodding their heads in agreement at Paul's denunciation of pagan Gentile idolaters. The abrupt switch to diatribe style in 2:1-5 might have come as a bit of a shock (even if they realized Paul wasn't attacking them directly). Perhaps they would have returned to 1:28-32 and recognized aspects of themselves in the picture (greed, malice, envy, etc.).
    • Most scholars now seem to agree that "the man who judges" in 2:1, 3 is the same as the man who calls himself a Jew in 2:17. Keck, surprisingly, argues that the diatribe partner is still a Gentile. Jewett and Barrett regard the "judge" as people in general, and I think they are right. To be sure, Paul is preparing for the rest of the chapter when he switches to address an imaginary Jew directly, but before the Jewish dialogue partner is introduced Paul's audience would not have had to make that connection, and there is no reason why they should have. Retrospectively, of course, the direct attack on the Jewish dialogue partner assumes and draws on 2:1-16.
    • In Rom 2:29, when Paul says "a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and whose circumcision is of the heart, in the Spirit and not in the letter," most scholars agree that Paul describes a Christian. Since it is most unusual for Paul to refer to a Gentile as a Ioudaios (more surprising even than "Israel"), I conclude the "inward Jew" is a believer in Jesus who remains ethnically Jewish. But even the Christianness of the "inner Jew" only becomes clear later in the Epistle when Paul discusses the work of the Spirit.
    Returning to the Gentile law-keeper in Romans 2, it is clear to me (with option #2) that Paul's main argument in the chapter is about the implications of God's impartiality, not the conversion of Gentiles (against Watson). Christians are not primarily in view, and Paul would not describe them in quite these terms if they were. Romans 3:20 shows that, for Paul, no one can keep the law on their own. But read retrospectively, Paul's audience might hear the new covenant echoes and might conclude legitimately that the caveat has been decisively modified in Christ: It is Christians who fulfill the law through the Spirit even if they don't "do" the law.

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Romans Reading Reprise: Wright's Justification, Watson's Paul, etc.

    I successfully crossed two books off my Romans Reading list this summer, and made progress on a few others. N.T. Wright's Justification I read in July, and thoroughly enjoyed. Wright is a big picture scholar, who talks in memorable images. His determination to find a way to keep the whole in view, and to explain all the evidence is exemplary. I found myself wanting to agree with his model because it combines a mostly sympathetic portrayal of first century Judaism with a coherent reading of Paul that makes good sense of much of the evidence. I particularly liked Wright's emphasis on the resurrection and realized eschatology, and its implications for Israel. His discussion of the role of the Spirit in connection with present and future judgement is rich and helpful (pp. 152-3, 188).

    It should come as no surprise that I wasn't completely persuaded by Wright's theory of a continuing exile. As to the central issue in Wright's response to John Piper, I am not convinced that justification means covenant membership or that 'righteousness of God' is limited to God's covenant faithfulness (Wright insists that defining righteousness as covenant faithfulness is not a limitation). I don't for that reason agree with Piper, whose book I haven't read. Following Stephen Westerholm, I take 'justification' as primarily a forensic term that means 'acquittal.'

    My sense is that readers familiar with Wright will find little that is new here, though perhaps he gives a little ground to his critics. Still, Justification is an excellent, succinct, readable introduction to Wright on Paul for the uninitiated, and there is much that can be learned even if one is not finally persuaded by Wright's model.

    Wright has come in for the kind of personal attack that would make the reformers proud and should make their heirs ashamed, so I will limit myself to one comment on the good bishop's sometimes overblown rhetoric: Wright deconstructs the new perspective, showing that there is considerable variety in its major proponents (Stendahl, Sanders, Dunn, Wright), but he then uses the term repeatedly with himself as its chief representative. The effect is to lump representatives of the old perspective together when there is equal variety there as well. Note too that "Lutheran" does not mean Lutheran.

    I found Francis Watson's, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), which has 5 chapters on Romans, much more exciting and helpful than Wright's Justification, although I am not persuaded in the end by Watson's central sociological thesis--that Paul wrote Romans to convince Jewish Christ-believers to separate completely from the synagogue and join Paul's sectarian, mostly Gentile churches. Especially helpful is Watson's distinction between dynamic and static views of grace. Pardon (or skip over) the long quote:
    In this book, it is acknowledged that divine agency plays a more direct and immediate role in the Pauline 'pattern of religion' than in the Judaism Paul opposes. . . . .The difference between the two arises from the fact that membership of the Jewish community is dependent on birth, whereas membership of a Pauline community is dependent on conversion. Any religious group which proclaims the necessity of conversion is likely to emphasize the distinction between the old life and the new. . . . Such groups take a dynamic view of God's grace, and this contrasts with the more static view of grace taken by groups in which membership is determined by birth. . . . The two 'patterns of religion' are different, but we should not conclude from Paul's juxtaposition of 'grace' and 'law' that they are equal and opposite. In a certain sense, they are incommensurable. We are not to imagine them as opposite ends of a spectrum, such that we might in principle start from one end and eventually arrive at the other. Pauline antithesis represents a chasm, not the opposite ends of a continuum. . . . This emphasis on the dynamic Pauline view of grace is incompatible with the New Perspective's claim that the two 'patterns of religion' exemplify a single soteriological schema, according to which we are saved by grace but must confirm our membership in the covenant by obedience. If there is any truth in this equation, it is at too high a level of abstraction to be interesting" (15-17).
    Other notes: Daniel Kirk's Unlocking Romans: Resurrection And The Justification Of God still reads like a dissertation, but the conclusion is good enough that it made me decide to go back and pick up where I left off (somewhere in Romans 4). I also perused Simon Gathercole's Where Is Boasting?and wished I had more time for Lampe. And I moved from Romans 3 to Romans 6 in Barth's commentary.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Baptism and Grace

    Karl Barth quoting Martin Luther:
    'Your baptism is nothing less than grace clutching you by the throat: a grace-full throttling, by which your sin is submerged in order that ye may remain under grace. Come thus to thy baptism. Give thyself up to be drowned in baptism and killed by the mercy of thy dear God, saying "Drown me and throttle me, dear Lord, for henceforth I will gladly die to sin with Thy Son"' (Luther). This death [in Rom 6:3-4] is grace. - Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans(Oxford: 1968), 194.

    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    Faith and History Déjà vu

    According to April DeConick, "the MOST IMPORTANT discussion of my generation" is the question "whether we are willing or not to abandon our field to confessional claims to knowledge and truth in the post-modern age":
    There is a big difference between confessional scholarship and its working assumptions and historical-critical scholarship and its working assumptions, and we must never confuse the two. . . . Confessional scholars are willing (some even feel compelled) to allow for the physical resurrection of Jesus to be historical fact. Of course it is not. Dead bodies don't come back to life. And Jesus' body did not come back to life. This is a theological doctrine that was historicized in the literature of the early believers. . . . [T]his is a very serious issue for our field, and now that post-modernism is gripping the academy, we see the abuse of philosophy in order to bolster the positions of confessional scholars who want to continue to make the argument that their theology (and their scripture) is history.
    I confess to being puzzled why April thinks this is the "MOST IMPORTANT discussion" of her generation. I thought it was an important discussion in the 19th century--one that Albert Schweitzer believed had already been solved. Schweitzer was wrong. The debate continued because thoughtful modern scholars (not just apologetic post-modern wannabees) argued that the practice of history and theism can go together. Instead of recycling Schweitzer's arguments (or the ones he took for granted), it is surely worth examining the history of debate since Schweitzer to find out why his views have not carried the day.

    For thoughtful contemporary responses to April's post, see this post by Mark Goodacre, and this one by Doug Chaplin. And here are a few links to my earlier posts on faith and historical criticism:

    History, Criticism, and Christian Conviction - Part 1
    History, Criticism, and Christian Conviction - Part 2
    Barth and Barrett on Criticism
    Martin Hengel and Historical Criticism
    On Confessional and Secular Biblical Scholarship

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Raymond Brown on J. Louis Martyn and scholarly collegiality

    "In a Festschrift the intellectual quality of the contributions pays tribute to the scholarship of the one being honored. I wish to go beyond such formal acknowledgment by expressing what many of us owe to Lou Martyn as a person and a scholar, for in that combination lies what I do not hesitate to call his greatness. . . . .

    "He has never been a 'school man'; he appreciated his masters, but he has continually thought in his own way. His basic test is always the text, verse by verse, so that the theory has to fit the text and not vice versa. . . . .

    "For a decade and a half, then, with the aid of a junior colleague rotated on a regular basis, Martyn and I have had to work together on all the Field exams and dissertations of a very active New Testament doctoral program. . . . The thought that a small department by working together in friendship and respect, had achieved the level of the larger departments of the past meant something to the doctoral students as well, for consistently they treated both of us as their friends. Never, to my awareness, have they found us undermining each other or using them against each other . . ."

    - Raymond Brown, "A Personal Word" in Joel Marcus and Marion L. Soards (eds.), Apocalyptic and the New Testament: Essays in Honor of J. Louis Martyn (JSNTSup 24; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989), 9-12.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Raymond Brown on eating peas with a knife

    "I can recall speaking before a group of scholars on John and someone asking me if I thought that my approach meant that the Bultmannian consensus on John might now be breaking up. My response was that I had never understood that there was a consensus since the English and most Roman Catholics had never accepted Bultmann's unprovable thesis that the roots of John were not in Judaism but in gnosticism. At that time I did not yet understand the way in which some Americans, influenced by German scholarship, created the appearance of unanimity by quoting each other and their masters; and the reaction to my remark by the audience was as if I had eaten peas off my knife."

    - Raymond Brown, "A Personal Word" in Joel Marcus and Marion L. Soards (eds.), Apocalyptic and the New Testament: Essays in Honor of J. Louis Martyn (JSNTSup 24; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989), 9-12.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Reflections on Romans 1:5

    Paul can talk about faith apart from works, but he can't imagine faith apart from obedience.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009

    Fall Semester "To Do" List

    • Teach (and grade) Romans, Gospels and Greek Syntax. Classes begin tomorrow, on Labour day.
    • Finish and submit the article I was working on this summer (now the first in a two-part series).
    • Write my SBL paper on Deuteronomy 18 in Josephus.
    • Work on assorted administrative tasks.
    • Spend time with students.
    • Be a husband and father.
    • Be involved at church.
    • (blog??)
    Do all the above in grace and under Mercy.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Ancient Jewish Humour

    Mark Goodacre's latest podcast on humour in Paul reminded me of a few funny early Jewish texts: Tobit, Judith, Bel and the Dragon, and Susannah are all funny in their way, but the text that takes the cake, in my experience, is the Testament of Abraham--especially if read slowly in Greek, as a group of us did this summer. In the introduction to his major commentary on the Testament of Abraham, Dale Allison explains that he chose this text because his kids liked it so much when he read it to them.

    Texts like this help to contextualize and evaluate the question whether or not Paul was funny. And while humour is, no doubt, "a cultural thing", these texts show that some aspects of ancient humour are transcultural. Last but not least, they are a lot of fun to read.

    What other funny ancient Jewish or Christian texts would you recommend?

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Trends in Higher Education: Enrolment

    I ran across this sobering report in the March 2009 issue of University Affairs today:
    Within two years, the size of the 18-to-21-year-old cohort is expected to level out and start declining nationwide, according to Trends in Higher Education: Enrolment(published by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada). That decline won’t be uniform and will be strongest in the four Atlantic provinces and Saskatchewan. “Institutions in these provinces will all confront significant enrolment challenges over the coming two decades,” says the 2007 study.

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    The Death of Jesus in Acts

    As I prepared to teach the book of Acts last semester I was worried that I would not find anything really practical to talk about. I was determined to show that Acts is not a church growth manual or a template for evangelism. If it is true that "We can understand a text only when we have understood the question to which it is an answer" (Gadamer), then we are on firmest exegetical ground when we learn to track the concerns that were important to Luke. But what happens when Luke's questions are totally foreign to our own? What happens if, as I was increasingly convinced, Luke's primary concern is, on the one hand, the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel in the church, and, on the other hand, the inclusion of Gentiles in the assembly of God's people? What is the practical significance of this question in a mostly Gentile church?

    Of course, Luke has other concerns as well, and I probably missed the obvious by focusing on what Acts is not. Be that as it may, I was delighted that the course coalesced (finally and to some extent) around a hugely practical theme that, I think, holds the answer to one of the major questions in Acts scholarship. The theme is suffering; the question is the significance of the death of Jesus in Acts. I have talked around the question before (e.g., here and here): The speeches in Acts mention the necessity of Jesus' death but concentrate on the saving significance of his resurrection. Did Luke think Jesus' death was just some tragic mistake that God put right?

    A couple years ago (!) I suggested that disciples participate in the saving significance of Jesus' exodus (= his death) by following him to their own death. I saw more clearly last semester that the same pattern plays out in Acts. Thus, Stephen calls for forgiveness on his executioners as Jesus did (Acts 7:60; Luke 23:34 [?]), Peter is arrested by Herod with plans for his execution on Passover (Acts 12), and Paul, like Jesus, goes on a long journey to Jerusalem, before his trial and eventual execution (in Rome). The significance of these "Peter, Stephen, Paul parallels" is not so much to model the main characters in Acts as prophets like Jesus, the prophet like Moses (so David Moessner), but to model the pattern of discipleship for Luke's readers.
    • In Acts 14:22 Paul declares "we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."
    • In Acts 20:35, Paul presents his own life as a model for the Ephesian elders. 
    • Those who read on to the triumphal end of Acts know well enough from the predictions along the way how Paul's own life will end. Inasmuch as Paul's life is exemplary, this too is a summons. Theophilus is not allowed to sit comfortably on the sidelines.

    I conclude, then, that the missing references to the significance of Jesus' death in Acts are found in the portrayal of Jesus' followers, who suffer like he did. If Luke thinks God's promises to Israel are fulfilled in the church, then the cruciform pattern of church life must also be connected in some way to the already-present-but-not-fully-here kingdom of God.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Which Dead Sea Scrolls translation?

    I am toying with the idea of assigning the second edition of The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, and Edward Cook, trans.; 2d ed.; New York: HarperCollins, 2005) instead of the more standard translation by Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Penguin Classics, 2004).

    Wise, Abegg, and Cook is a trifle more expensive, but their text introductions tend to be more informative for an average reader. I only have the first edition. Does anyone have experience using the second? Which would you recommend?

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Topics in Jewish "Backgrounds": What am I missing?

    This is a list of topics in early Judaism (in no particular order) that seem immediately relevant to the study of early Christianity. What else am I missing?

    • Purity
    • Women
    • Sacrifice
    • Prayer
    • Law
    • Interaction between Jews and Gentiles
    • Temple and Synagogue; Sanhedrin
    • Political context - Relations with Romans; who rules what in the Land?
    • Hellenization
    • Groups: Priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Common people/ 'people of the land'
    • Social-economic situation(s)
    Belief / Theology
    • Afterlife/Resurrection
    • Eschatology
    • Messiah
    • Theodicy - Where is God? What time is it? (exile?)
    • Salvation (see Law)
    • Sin/atonement
    • Angels/demons
    • Election (light/dark)
    • Scripture, canon
    • Ethics
    Scripture / Genre
    • Apocalypse
    • (Re)interpreted Scripture: Pesher, Rewritten Bible
    • Wisdom
    History ... A general knowledge of events is certainly important, but how much detail is required if, again, one is primarily concerned with the 'so what?' question from a Christian perspective?

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity

    If you were teaching a course on Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity what primary (or secondary) texts would you assign? What would the main issues be? What are the most important features of Second Temple Judaism for an understanding of early Christianity?

    (I don't really like the course title because it can suggest that Judaism is only important for the light it sheds on early Christianity, not something worth studying on its own terms. But it occurred to me, as I began revising my syllabus for next semester's class, that taking the 'backgrounds' part seriously  is a good way of asking the 'so what?' question.)

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Hermeneutics Textbook Dilemma: And the winner is...

    I had an intensely negative reaction to J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays's Grasping God's Word (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) when I first considered it five years ago, so it is with some embarrassment that I have decided to adopt it as a hermeneutics textbook next semester.

    I thought then that the book had a lot going for it: It is a well-written, thorough, how-to manual, pitched at the right level for college students and geared toward the evangelical market. But I couldn't get over their profoundly misguided 'principlizing bridge' approach to 'the interpretive journey', which the authors treat as a blueprint for the book:

    So what changed? After taking a second look (on Scott's recommendation), I was impressed again with the book's positive features and how much its basic content suits what I want to do in the course. I also think that my disagreement with Duvall and Hays could be useful pedagogically. (David Jasper's A Short Introduction To Hermeneutics will also raise important questions that stand in tension with aspects of Duvall and Hays.) Finally, Grasping is a relatively easy read, which should offset some of the more challenging selections I am assigning from Augustine, Clifford Geertz, Richard Hays (a sharp critique of the principlizing approach), and N.T. Wright.

    Thanks to everyone for the suggestions. In a future upper-level incarnation of hermeneutics it would be fun to assign Swartley's Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (Herald, 1983) or something like it. The good folks at Baylor University press sent me an excerpt from Peter Leithart's brand new Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, which also looks excellent and provocative.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Hermeneutics Textbook Dilemma - Take 2

    I am now considering two very different potential textbooks to go along with David Jasper's A Short Introduction To Hermeneutics as textbooks in my 2nd year college hermeneutics course next semester.

    I pick up a copy of W. Randolph Tate's Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (3rd ed.; Hendrickson, 2008) each year I teach hermeneutics, and put it down quickly after reading the Introduction's opening paragraph:
    Hermeneutics has traditionally been defined as the study of the locus of meaning and the principles of interpretation. Biblical hermeneutics, then, studies the locus of meaning and principles of biblical interpretation. Hermeneutics in the broad sense is bipolar: exegesis and interpretation. Exegesis is the process of examining a text to ascertain what its first readers would have understood it to mean. The varied set of activities which the hermeneut performs upon a text in order to make meaningful inferences is exegesis. . . . (xix)

    Tate writes well (he is 'workmanlike', whatever that means), and I like his content and approach. The trouble is his diction. Forget about 'hermeneutics', 'exegesis' and 'hermeneut', I'm afraid my first and second year students will be put off by words like 'locus', 'bipolar', 'ascertain' and 'inference'--all in the opening paragraph.

    Tremper Longman III begins Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind (NavPress, 1997) with a story. Well, he begins every chapter with a story, but here's the story that begins the preface:
    As I began this book, I thought often of Carmen. she had heard the gospel at a rally in her dorm, and the message made a lot of sense to her. She was lonely; the Christians were neat people. She started attending a Bible study that met for an hour, three nights a week, and she eventually trusted Christ as her Savior. She began reading her Bible every day. . . . . And then, her roommates started to get on her case about spending so much time with those 'religious nuts.' So after a few months, she found excuses not to go to her study group. The excitement just wore off, and the Bible reading times became fewer and fewer. Something about it all began to go dry. Her Bible started gathering dust on her shelf. (11)

    Longman's book is pitched to a lay Christian audience, which might work for beginning students at my confessional college. Parts of it make me gag. (Tremper invites his readers to mediate on the "Man" standing by the Sea of Galilee with the "glinting of light in His hair and beard" [46].) But the book is well-written, and he introduces basic concepts in a basic readable way, shorn of technical terminology. (Is the meditation exercise an example of lectio divina?)

    So what do you think? In a lower-level required undergrad course, should I assign a content-rich textbook that stretches students' vocabulary even if it means I have to take extra class time explaining what the author is talking about? Or is it better to assign an accessible book that I can be more confident students will read and understand, and spend class time going into (much) more depth? Am I underestimating my students' ability to read?

    Sunday, August 9, 2009


    This afternoon I finished the best theology book I've read in years. It deals with faith, doubt, grace, forgiveness and glory, while interacting with Barth and Feuerbach and using words like crepuscular.

    If you don't already know, Gilead is a pulitzer prize winning novel by Marilynne Robinson.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009

    K.L. Noll vs. H.-G. Gadamer

    In a recent opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on "The Ethics of Being a Theologian," Kurt L. Noll asserts that theology does not advance knowledge and that theologians who claim a legitimate place in the academy are unethical. Tyler Williams at Codex now has an excellent even-handed response.

    I will only add my surprise at how Noll defends the place of religious studies (as opposed to theology) by subordinating the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences. Noll writes:
    In my view, the purpose of academe is to advance knowledge, or an understanding of how things are in the real world. . . . Our colleagues in the natural sciences have an advantage over us, in that they are able to wrestle with reality using research tools unavailable to the humanities or social sciences. Nevertheless, when unencumbered by overtly ideological agendas, even those of us in the humanities and social sciences can advance knowledge. (Italics added.)
    I would have thought scholars in the humanities would have more confidence in the legitimacy and independent value of their own discipline after Gadamer, who argued that "a logically consistent application of this method [of the natural sciences] as the only norm for the truth of the human sciences would amount to their self-annihilation" (Truth and Method [1960, repr. Continuum, 2004],17).

    Now it is possible that Noll has read Gadamer and disagrees with him, but some acknowledgement of Gadamer's critique "of modern approaches to humanities that modeled themselves on the natural sciences (and thus on rigorous scientific methods)" (wikipedia) is surely in order.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    Richard Horsley, Walter Grundmann and Guilt by Association

    I recently had occasion to work through parts of Walter Grundmann's Jesus der Galiläer und das Judentum (Leipzig: Georg Wigand, 1940) and was reminded of Richard A. Horsley's argument in his much more recent Galilee: History, Politics, People (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1995):
    • Grundmann begins his discussion in the Tel Amarna period, pointing to evidence in the Amarna archives that “arische Volkstämme” lived in Galilee during this period (166). Horsley begins with Deborah (Judges 5) and then turns to the Amarna archives (21).
    • Grundmann (166) and Horsley follow A. Alt (and many others) in arguing that Galilee “was a secondary shortening of an original galil ha-goyim, ‘circle of the peoples,’” which “was likely a reference to the ‘peoples,’ ‘city-states,’ and other rulers who surrounded and competed for political –economic domination in the area” (20).
    • Like Grundmann (166-7), but in more detail, Horsley argues that Galilee developed separately from Judaea and was only briefly under the unified rule of David and Solomon (22-25).
    • Grundmann argues that there was no peaceful time after the Hasmonean invasion of Galilee around 100 BCE for Jews to settle in Galilee (170); Horsley argues that there was no peaceful time after the Hasmonean invasion for the newly conquered Galileans to be integrated into the Judaean ethnos (51).
    • Both Grundmann (171) and Horsley (87-88) point to the fact that Galileans did not participate vigorously in the Jewish revolt as evidence for a separation between Judaea and Galilee.

    There are differences too, the most important of which is that Grundmann argued most Galileans were not racially Jews, while Horsley thinks they were the descendents of Northern Israelites (39-40). And of course, while Grundmann was a Nazi, Horsley is not.

    Horsley never mentions Grundmann. I presume he developed his theories independently or under the influence of a common tradition. Still, the similarity between their arguments is striking.