Monday, December 31, 2007

Full Bibliographic Disclosure

It has been brought to my attention that I may have been carelessly citing my sources when I quote from books or articles. I usually do not cite the way I would in an academic paper for sake of brevity. Usually, my m.o. is to include the author, the title of the book, and the page #. This almost always includes a link to or the like, giving the reader full disclosure to the publisher, date, and so forth.

Sometimes in subsequent posts, I will merely provide the title of the book, again for brevity purposes. I may be accused of academic laziness, a charge I never want associated with my name. This is the first occasion where a reader has brought this to my attention, a respected academician no less, in whose opinion should be taken seriously.

I was curious if my other readers have been put off by my lack of full bibliographic data? I would like to rectify this problem, so what do you think?

BTW- Any posts I do for Caesar's Calendar should appear thus: Feeney, Denis. Caesar's Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History. Sather Classical Lectures 65. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 2007.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Quote of The Day

The ease and apparent naturalness of our dating system conspire to beguile us into overlooking the fact that all of the dates it generates are themselves ultimately synchronisms. The centuries-long work on constructing a coherent historical chronology on an axis of B.C.E./C.E. time has been absorbed and naturalized so thoroughly by all of us that we can take it completely for granted, and forget just how much synchronistic work our predecessors going back to the Renaissance had to do in order for us to be able to say something like 'Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 B.C.E.' This project of domestication has brought incalculable benefits in terms of convenience and transferability, but it is one that students of antiquity should be regularly defamiliarizing, because we lose as much in historical understanding as we gain in convenience when we cloak discrepant ancient data with the apparently scientific unified weave of the Julian calendar and the B.C./A.D. system. (Italics mine; excerpt from Caesar's Calendar; 12).

Friday, December 28, 2007

What Do You Use: B.C./B.C.E.; A.D./C.E.?

Denis Feeney in Caesar's Calendar writes that:

It is a practically impossible mental exercise for readers of this book to
imagine maneuvering themselves around historical time without the
universalizing, supranational, and cross-cultural numerical axis of the dates B.C. and A.D., or B.C.E. and C.E. These numerical dates seem to be written in nature, but they are based in a Christian era of year counting whose contingency and ideological significance are almost invisible to virtually every European or American, except when we hesitate over whether to say B.C. or B.C.E.

This quote got me thinking. In your scholarship/reckoning which dating reference do you prefer and why?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What I Found Under My Tree!

My beautiful, wonderful, wife, Faith gave me a really interesting book for Christmas, Caesar's Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History by Denis Feeney.

I am really interested in getting into this book. Here is the rather lengthy blurb:

The ancient Romans changed more than the map of the world when they conquered so much of it; they altered the way historical time itself is marked and understood. In this brilliant, erudite, and exhilarating book Denis Feeney investigates time and its contours as described by the ancient Romans, first as Rome positioned itself in relation to Greece and then as it exerted its influence as a major world power. Feeney welcomes the reader into a world where time was moveable and changeable and where simply ascertaining a date required a complex and often contentious cultural narrative. In a style that is lucid, fluent, and graceful, he investigates the pertinent systems, including the Roman calendar (which is still our calendar) and its near perfect method of capturing the progress of natural time; the annual rhythm of consular government; the plotting of sacred time onto sacred space; the forging of chronological links to the past; and, above all, the experience of empire, by which the Romans meshed the city state's concept of time with those of the foreigners they encountered to establish a new worldwide web of time. Because this web of time was Greek before the Romans transformed it, the book is also a remarkable study in the cross-cultural interaction between the Greek and Roman worlds.
Feeney's skillful deployment of specialist material is engaging and accessible and ranges from details of the time schemes used by Greeks and Romans to accommodate the Romans' unprecedented rise to world dominance to an edifying discussion of the fixed axis of B.C./A.D., or B.C.E./C.E., and the supposedly objective "dates" implied. He closely examines the most important of the ancient world's time divisions, that between myth and history, and concludes by demonstrating the impact of the reformed calendar on the way the Romans conceived of time's recurrence. Feeney's achievement is nothing less than the reconstruction of the Roman conception of time, which has the additional effect of transforming the way the way the reader inhabits and experiences time.

After unwrapping this book I immediately started thinking of the Lukan birth narrative and how it is carefully anchored in time:

"1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)"

I am hoping to have some reflections on this book soon.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Now Why Didn't I Think of That?

When I was John Byron's grad assistant for Greek one of the questions I was asked by fearful, overwhelmed students was "What is the best way to learn?" Even though that seems like a simple question, it is not. As all of us who have taught have come to understand everyone learns differently and at different speeds. My usual answer was "Use all of your senses." In other words, learn by reading, writing, and listening. Mnemonic devices don't hurt either. In fact, the textbook John requires all of his Greek students to use was Lyle Story's Greek to Me. Many students think it is silly when they are introduced to Amy A. Esty (i.e. eimi, ei, esti) and the various cartoons and mnemonic tools. If one can past the "corniness" of this approach, it will ultimately prove viable in their learning aquistion and take the edge off of learning their paradigms.

As far as listening goes, I find that Zondervan is on the cutting edge in learning the biblical languages. Jonathan T. Pennington, assistant professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has recorded several Greek and Hebrew audio cd's that I have recommended to students. Now Zondervan is at it again! Kenneth Berding associate professor of New Testament at Biola University will be releasing Sing and Learn New Testament Greek:The Easiest Way to Learn Greek Grammar in May 2008. Here is the blurb:

Sing and Learn New Testament Greek provides a way for learning (and remembering!) New Testament Greek grammar forms through simple songs. It includes a CD (containing eleven songs and a PowerPoint with paradigm charts for classroom use) and a booklet with the same paradigm charts for students’ personal use.Description: A new addition to the Zondervan line of biblical Greek resources. This resource includes everything a professor or a student will need: a CD (containing eleven songs and a PowerPoint with paradigm charts for classroom use) and a booklet with the same paradigm charts for students’ personal use. Sing and Learn New Testament Greek provides a way for learning (and remembering!) New Testament Greek grammar forms through simple songs. It is not designed to compete with existing Greek grammar books, but to serve as a required supplemental resource for elementary Greek classes. Indeed, it has been designed to be used alongside of any introductory grammar. A professor can simply assign to his or her students any (or some) of the songs for the paradigms a particular elementary grammar employs. In this way, students will actually remember what they have learned. (As we are all aware, people do not easily forget something learned via song.) The entire project includes songs for indicative verb endings, participles, infinitives, imperatives, contract forms, and prepositions, among others. All but the last song can be sung in 15 seconds or less. Parsing is enormously easier through this method. And it is a lot more fun than traditional methods. (Are we allowed to even use the word “fun” in reference to elementary Greek? Absolutely!) Beginning Greek students can listen to the CD as they drive to and from school or work, or put it on their iPod. These songs are so simple that students who have used them complain about waking up in the middle of the night with the songs running through their heads. You’ll never hear that complaint from students who have had to use rote memory to learn grammar forms.

This is a method I used myself when learning both Greek and Hebrew. The songs only made sense to me, but it worked. If I only contacted Zondervan before Mr. Berding!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Helpful Resources on Romans Anyone?

Recently, I was asked by my associate pastor if I would teach a class on Romans for the leadership of our church over the summer. The church will start offering classes such as Old & New Testament surveys and the like in the near future.

I am excited about the possibility certainly, but I am also a bit overwhelmed by the daunting task that lay ahead. I am wondering what those of you who have taught Romans, had a class on Romans, and/or have read widely in this book have as suggestions for resources. I have the commentaries by Fitzmeyer, Moo, Schreiner, Jewett, and Keck.

I am in the very early stages of preparing my own translation, but that is as far as I have gotten.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Baker Academic site; new commentaries

Baker Academic has a new, sleek look. Moreover, 3 forthcoming BECNT titles are soon to arrive. The first, as many know who attended SBL, is David L. Turner's Matthew commentary.
Arriving after this one are the commentaries on Mark and the Johannine epistles, written by Robert Stein and Robert Yarbrough respectively.

I have always enjoyed the Baker Exegetical Series because I think it strikes the right balance of technical and user-friendly. Garland's 1 Corinthians volume, along with Bock's volumes on Luke and Acts are among the finest commentaries on these books.

Now, if I can just find more bookshelf space!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From the Archives: Classic Bruce

But Paul's pre-eminent contribution to the world has been his presentation of the good news of free grace- as he himself would have put it (rightly), his re-presentation of the good news explicit in Jesus' teaching and embodied in his life and work. The free grace of God which Paul proclaimed is free grace in more senses than one-free in the sense that is sovereign and unfettered, free in the sense that it is held forth to men and women for their acceptance by faith alone, and free in the sense that it is the source and principle of their liberation from all kinds of inward and spirtual bondage, including the bondage of moral anarchy.
The God whose grace Paul proclaimed is the God who alone does great wonders. He creates the universe from nothing; he calls the dead to life; he justifies the ungodly. This third is the greatest wonder of all: creation and resurrection are consistent with the power of the living and life-giving God, but the justifying of the ungodly is prima facie a contradiction of his character as the righteous God, the Judge of all the earth, who by his own declaration 'will not justify the ungodly'(Exodus 23:7). Yet such is the quality of divine grace that in the very act of extending it to the undeserving God demonstrates 'that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus' (Romans 3:26).
(F.F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, pp.18-19)

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Jesus and Gospels Textbook is Right on the 'Mark'

Mark Strauss, Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, San Diego, has done the academic and lay communities a service. Strauss has written a gem of a book called Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels (Zondervan, 2007). If one is looking for a textbook on this subject, the buck stops here!

The volume is 525 pages long plus a glossary and indexes that brings the total page count to 541. The book is divided into four main sections: 1) An Introduction to the Four Gospels (23-67); 2) The Setting of the Gospels (93-149); 3) The Four Gospels (171-297); 4) The Historical Jesus (347-511). From an aesthetic point, you will not find a more handsome volume. Color photographs, charts, sidebars & maps fill nearly every page.

What is most impressive about this volume though is the sheer comprehensiveness. All angles are covered, from definitions of different methodological practices in Gospel research and Historical Jesus research, overviews of the major players from past to present (Bultmann, Schweitzer, Wright, Meier, etc.), to investigating each gospel in its relationship to the other, as well as its own unique contribution.

Moreover, each chapter concludes with a chapter summary, key terms, discussion and study questions, and a “digging deeper” section that is choc a bloc full of bibliography. This brief overview does not do justice to the work itself. Strauss is to be commended for a brilliant piece of work. I cannot imagine a better introduction to Jesus and the Gospels.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

R.T. France on Matthew 5:38-42

Quite simply the best commentary I have ever read, check that, the best commentary I am still in the process of reading and reviewing is R.T. France's The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT; Eerdmans). This is just one example of what I am impressed with, check out his comments on Mt 5:38-42 which he labels "Retribution":

Here more than anywhere in this section we need to remind ourselves that Jesus' aim is not to establish a new and more demanding set of rules to supplant those of the scribes and Pharisees. It is to establish a 'greater righteousness,' a different understanding of how we should live as the people of God, an alternative set of values. In place of the principle of retribution he sets nonresistance; in place of the defense of legal rights he sets uncalculating generosity; in place of concern for oneself he sets concern for the other. The disciple may be forced to conclude that in an imperfect human society Jesus' illustrations of these principles could not work as literal rules of conduct, that unlimited generosity to beggars would not only undermine the economic order but also in the end do no good to the beggars themselves. But instead of therefore dismissing Jesus' teaching as starry-eyed utopianism, a proper response to this challenging section is to ask in what practical ways Jesus' radical principles can be set to work in our very different world. Our answers will vary, but if they are true to Jesus' teaching they will represent an essentially non-self-centered approach to ethics which puts the interests of the other before personal rights or convenience. We should note also, however, that a willingness to forgo one's rights and even to allow oneself to be insulted and imposed on is not incompatible with a firm stand for justice in principle and for the rights of others. (217-218)

This is just part of the introduction to the section(217-218), before the verse-by-verse exegesis! (219-222)
I have found this commentary to be intellectually stimulating, but one also that gives pause for reflection and self-inventory and highly recommend it without reservations. 'A commentary you cannot put down' is the best compliment I can give it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scot McKnight's Seven Principles on Pauline Theology

I was perusing through Scot McKnight's magisterial Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory when I came upon his Excursus: "Chasing Down Paul's Theological Ship" (372). After summarizing the way scholars have gone about discussing Paul's theology (372-374), McKnight concludes with this observation:

Paul's theology is not systematics; instead he is grasped best when at least the following seven Pauline principles are kept on the table as we proceed through his letters. First, the gospel is the grace of God in revealing Jesus as Messiah and Lord for everyone who believes; second, everyone stands behind one of the twin heads of humanity, Adam and Christ; third, Jesus Christ is center stage, and it is participation in him that transfers a person from the Adam line to the Christ line; fourth, the church is the body of Christ on earth; fifth, (salvation-)history does not begin with Moses but with Abraham and the promise God gave to him, and finds its crucial turning point in Jesus Christ--but will run its course until the glorious lordship of Christ over all; sixth, Christian behavior is determined by the Holy Spirit, not the Torah; seventh, Paul is an apostle and not a philosopher and systematic theologian. These principles springs into action when Paul meets his various threats (circumcision, wisdom, gifts, works of the Torah, ethnocentrism, flesh, rival leaders, and the eschatological fights about the Parousia or the general resurrection). (374)

I find these principles quite helpful as guidelines when thinking and writing about Paul's theology, but I am curious as to what fellow bibliobloggers might think. Is there more that should be added?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My How Times Have Changed!

Gerald F. Hawthorne's Philippians commentary in the WBC is approaching its 25th year. Recently, it has been revised with the help of Ralph Martin, making a helpful commentary even more so. I do not have the latter, but in the former I came across a striking quote as Hawthorne surveys those scholars who believe that Paul did not author Philippians:

With the aid of sophisticated computers, (A.Q.) Morton and (J.) McLeman are able to do intricate and detailed studies. For example, they claim that they can readily count the number of sentences in each epsitle that bears Paul name and at the same time the frequency of και in each sentence. On the basis of such analysis they show, to their satisfaction, which of the letters were written by Paul and which were not. (xxviii)

Wow! Even though Hawthorne criticizes their findings, they believe Paul did not author Philippians, their research was considered sophisticated! To live in a day in age where software programs such as Bibleworks and Logos can garner these results in less than a second is amazing. Who knows how long Morton and McLeman labored over this research in 1966! By 1983, Hawthorne still considered this research "intricate and detailed." I'm also curious as to whether this section on authorship has been completely revised in the second edition.

So bibliobloggers does anyone have the second edition?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

From the Archives: The Sitz im Leben of Paul's Letters: Difficulties and Challenges

How does the Pauline interpreter delve into the complex world of Paul and his letters? On one hand, the difficulty that confronts the interpreter is Paul's texts themselves. Paul argues many things from his own presuppositions, without articulating what his presuppositions are, leaving the interpreter the difficult task of reconstruction. That reconstruction is only made possible by determining what sources to use outside the Pauline corpus (i.e. Josephus, Philo, ancient Greco-Roman sources, etc...). The words of Philip Towner capture this dilemma quite poignantly:

Reconstructing the social and historical backgrounds of occasional letters (among
other types of ancient written documents) is admittedly a procedure that often
has to be carried out with less information than we could wish to have. It
requires reading between the lines, or guessing what lay in the shadows of
Paul's comments, provoking them, and determining their meaning and significance.
Internal clues are an obvious starting place. But for Paul's letters the social
and cultural realities that determined the shape of life and values of the
Christian communities often come best to light through secular sources. Yet
which are relevant, and how can we be sure? Piecing together the situations that
gave rise to a letter of Paul is artwork, or perhaps something more on the order
of restoration, where the restorer must access every useful bit of information
to fill in the gaps and retrieve a reasonable facsimile of the original. Without
the original as a basis for comparison, any copy or reconstruction will always
bear a 'provisional' rating, and plausibility remains open in certain respects. But I
would argue that even if certain questions must remain open and reconstructions can only be provisional, the sort of documents left to us by Paul cannot be read
usefully apart from some attempt to piece together the social and historical
situation that gave rise to them in the first place.

(Philip H. Towner. The Letters to Timothy and Titus [NICNT]. Eerdmans, 2006, 194-195.)

With response to the above quote, are there any other challenges in interpreting Paul's letters that can be discussed? What say you?

Were Paul's Audiences Scripturally Illiterate?

When it comes to studying Paul's use of the Old Testament, or more broadly, the New Testament's use of the Old, the interpreter should be aware that there is some disagreement over the audiences ability to detect allusions or understand the citation's original context. With literacy at about 10% in the ancient world one should always pause and consider the possibility that the audience may not understand the allusion or citation that the author is attempting to make. In the case of direct quotations, Chris Stanley (Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul) has gone some way in helpfully sketching out the diversity within Paul's audiences and their understanding of Scripture (i.e. (a) The 'informed audience' - 'a person who knows the original context of every one of Paul's quotations and is willing to engage in critical dialogue with Paul about his handling of the biblical text' (68). (b) The 'competent audience' - the 'hypothetical person who knows just enough of the Jewish Scriptures to grasp the point of Paul's quotations in their current rhetorical context' (68). (c) The 'minimal audience' - '...people in this category were aware of the high degree of respect given to the Scriptures in Christian circles. As a result, they would have been inclined to take seriously any argument that claimed to be grounded in the biblical text. But their ability to follow the argument of a passage laced with quotations would have been limited' (69).

Although Stanley's construct is comprehensive in scope, there is some reticence in my accepting it wholesale. First and most importantly, it ignores the fact that the first-century world was primarily oral in nature. Studies such as Bailey's and Dunn's Jesus Remembered bring this point out forcefully. One does not even have to go back far in history to see Scripture being understood in political speeches (i.e. Lincoln and MLK Jr.) by audiences, whom in the case of Lincoln, had a high rate of illiteracy (see the point made by Fee in Pauline Christology, 24nn.55-56). Secondly, it is certainly reasonable to assume that Paul’s letter carriers (i.e. Titus, Timothy, etc.) would have been well versed in the Scriptures to teach the Pauline communities in his absence. Moreover, (if we give credence to Luke-Acts), it is plausible that synagogal liturgies, which included the reading of Scripture (e.g. Luke 4.16ff; cf. Acts 13.15), would have been employed in the early churches that Paul founded. Gamble (Books and Readers in the Early Church) states the matter clearly:

Paul’s use of the scriptures of Judaism in his letters takes the most varied forms, from direct quotation to passing allusion, from using a text as a simple proof to developing intricate midrashic arguments, from typological appeals to allegorical interpretations…. The frequency, variety, and subtlety of Paul’s recourse to scripture presumes not only that the communities he addressed acknowledged the authority of Jewish scripture, but also that they were sufficiently familiar with it to understand and appreciate his appeals to it, subtle and diverse as they were.(212-213)

Thirdly, Francis Watson in an email correspondence (4/17/2006) stated frankly, "I don't find the current emphasis on illiteracy particularly plausible. There's writing everywhere in the ancient world!" This of course takes the form of inscriptions on monuments, and numismatic evidence.

This leads me to a point made by Edward Champlin in his book Nero. Champlin is in the process of describing the ability of audience members in the theatre to detect the allusions of the actors in the play. He cites an example that took place in Rome in 68 CE , where the actors took up a comical song "Onesimus is coming home from his villa" (otherwise unknown). The 'audience finished the words and repeated them several times, apparently in mockery of the new emperor Galba, then on his way from Spain' (96; Suetonius, Augustus 53, Galba 13). Champlin insightfully states:

This remarkable sensitivity on the part of the audience underscores the heightening of awareness within a Roman theatre: audiences expected to find contemporary relevance in the productions; performers expected to have their pointed remarks and actions caught, interpreted, and appreciated.

...In short, the Roman people were accustomed to seeing their rulers everywhere presented as figures of well-known myths, and they were accustomed to performances on stage that commented directly on their own contemporary concerns. We must remember the expectations of the Roman audience when we read the hostile or dismissive accounts of Nero's performances: every person there would expect that when their emperor himself entered the theatre to perform, he would be identifying himself in some way with the character he played: he could not have avoided it, he could not have done it unthinkingly. On occasion, in his most extravagantly theatrical gesture-one that seriously undermines the nature of ancient drama-Nero would wear a mask showing his own features. That could not possibly leave anyone in doubt: Nero was Orestes the matricide, Orestes was Nero; Nero was Oedipus, the man who had killed his father and married his own mother" (Italics original; 96).

In sum, to guard against anachronistic views of illiteracy, we must remember that the ancients ways of learning, hearing, and remembering are not are own. We do well therefore in not underestimating their ability to detect allusions and understand citations. Consequently, with some strong corroborating evidence and counterarguments, we can give Paul and the New Testament writers their due as faithful communicators of Holy Scriptures.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Watson, I Presume!

Stop me if you have heard this before, "there are as many Jesus' and or Paul's as there are their interpreters." Ever wonder why so many disagreements over the Historical Jesus, or all the debate that rages over what the center of Paul's theology may be? Do disagreements wear on you as a reader? Do you wish everyone got along, held hands and sang 'kum baya'? Sometimes these thoughts cross my mind when I see scholars getting snippy with one another, making an interpretive disagreement into a personal dislike for the other. I think this kind of rhetoric imbued with a thinly-veiled disgust on the part of some towards the likes of those like N.T. Wright (I'm particularly thinking of Reformed perspectives vs. anyone who holds to a form of the so-called New Perspective on Paul in particular) does more harm than good.

Don't get me wrong, disagreements should be vigorously discussed, but it is the spirit of these so-called conversations that I at times question. Thinking about this post reminded of a great quote from Francis Watson who views disagreements from a much healthier perspective:

Disagreement is a familiar social practice in which it is difficult not to engage on a regular basis. It arises from the fact that humans live not in solitude but in community, and that from time to time their respective norms, projects or goals come into conflict. Since interpreting texts is an extension of the interpretative activity that permeates all human interpersonal relations, it is hardly to be expected that the specialized activity will be immune from the disagreements endemic to the wider field. Indeed, the possibilty of disagreement is inherent in the practice of textual interpretation: for if a text needs to be interpreted at all, its meaning is not self-evident and there is always room for more than one account of what that meaning is. If it is possible to interpret, then it is also possible to misinterpret; and to claim that misinterpretation has taken place is to engage in the practice of interpretative disagreement. In itself, disagreement is an ethically neutral act. It does not necessarily imply that one party is doing violence to the other, that a human right to freedom of speech is under attack, or that there has been a failure to understand the other's point of view. The ethical risks that accompany disagreement are perhaps no greater than those attending other practices, such as the avoidance of conflict. Disagreement is always an act rather than just an occurrence, and those who engage in it do so on the basis of means and ends they regard as appropriate and rational. Most important of all, disagreement presupposes a shared concern and thus an acknowledgment of community rather than a retreat into isolation. It always intends its own resolution, even if this can only be attained in the form of a negotiated compromise or an agreement to differ.
(Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, pp.24-25)

Remember, one can disagree without being disagreeable. It is also good to remember why and for whom we are engaged in this scholarly enterprise.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

James Dunn on the 'center' of Paul's Theology

After reviewing the myriad ways in which Pauline interpreters have sought to describe the 'center' of Paul's theology (The Theology of Paul the Apostle;19-22), James Dunn describes the mediating view "between the static imagery of centre and the changing imagery of development" may lie in the "unfolding of the significance of the intial christophany." (22) He then notes an attempt by Jürgen Becker (Paulus. Der Apostel der Völker) to explore the center of Paul's theology by identifying three phases in Paul's writing: 1) His theology of election (1 Thessalonians); 2) His theology of the cross (Corinthian correspondence); 3) His message of justification (already in Galatians). (22) Dunn notes that for Becker the second is the "real centre; the theology of the cross is the 'canon' by which the theology of election is defined; the message of justification is the language in which theology of the cross is clothed." (22-23)

Attractive as the above sketch that Becker proposes, Dunn now gives the nod to another scholar similarly named, Johan Christiaan Beker("Paul's Theology" 364-77; and "Recasting Pauline Theology" in Bassler, ed., Pauline Theology 1.18, reflecting on his earlier Paul the Apostle).

Dunn writes:

However, of all the attempts in this area, the most sophisticated and influential has probably been Beker's advocacy of a model of coherence within contingency, where for him 'the coherence of the gospel is constituted by the apocalyptic interpretation of the death and resurrection of Christ.' (italics original) The strength of this model is precisely that the coherence does not reduce to some static formulation or unalterable structure of thought, and so cannot be easily broken by the shifting currents of contingency. Rather, the coherence is that stable, constant element which expresses what Beker calls 'the convictional basis of Paul's proclamation,' or what Paul himself refers to as 'the truth of the gospel' (Gal 2.5, 14).

Certainly students of Paul's theology would be wise to adopt some such model. It is simply a matter of respect for our subject matter and for the sheer stature of the man that we should assume an essential coherence to his thought and praxis, unless proven otherwise. And it is simply a matter of common sense that any such coherence will have taken a variety of forms, some of which may be defined in developmental terms, but all of which will be contingent in greater or less degree. At all events, it is the more flexible model which is most likely to prove fruitful as a tool in the analysis of Paul's theology. (23)

So bibliobloggers what do you think? Is Dunn on to something? I personally like the idea of 'coherence within contingency' I believe it takes Paul out of our interpretive boxes and allows for a more 'concrete Paul' rather than an 'abstracted Paul'. By this I mean a Paul who is a sophisticated theologian, one who is not bound solely by 'justification by faith' and the like, but rather a Paul who cannot be pinned down to one overarching theme.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thomas Schreiner on the 'Center' of Paul's theology

Here is Thomas R. Schreiner's proposal for the 'center' of Paul's theology:

The image of a house may help us visualize the heart and soul of Pauline
theology. ...The illustration of a house is used here because it is suggestive
in conceiving of Paul's theology not because Paul himself supplies such an
illustration. No analogy fits perfectly when we try to communicate the Pauline
gospel. Visualizing Paul's thought in terms of the building of a house provides
an entry point into Paul's thought, a doorway through which we can enter into
his worldview.The foundation of the house is God himself. From him the house
takes its shape, and it is utterly dependent on him for its growth. The house in
this illustration represents God's saving plan in history, and that plan
includes the role of church in history. God is the foundation for all that
occurs, 'because from him and through him and for him are all things. May the
glory be his forever' (Rom 11:36). ...One advantage of thinking of God as the foundation is that the other teachings of Paul are not then conceived as concentric circles that are farther and farther from the center. Whether Paul thinks of justification, reconciliation or sin, they are all based on the foundation; they are not separate from the foundation, nor are they far removed from it. They are themes that frame the house and give it detail, but all these themes depend on the foundation. Since God is the foundation of the house and it depends on him for its survival, he deserves honor for the building of the house.

...Such an illustration also highlights the importance of salvation history, what is often called the 'already but not yet' dimension of Pauline theology. When we speak of salvation history, we think of the fulfillment of God's saving plan and promises. The fulfillment of God's plan in history is announced in the Pauline gospel. The promises made to Israel in the Old Testament have now become a reality in and through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God's saving promises are already a reality for the believer in Jesus Christ...On the other hand, believers still await the consummation of salvation history... Salvation history, then, could represent the remodeling of the house, for the new covenant fulfills what was promised in the old (Jer 31:31-34; 2 Cor 3:4-18). The image of 'remodeling' is misleading if it suggests that God 'starts over' with the church. Perhaps we should think of the Old Testament as the framing of the house and think of the fulfillment of salvation history as the completion of the inside of the house...Hence, the image of the house nicely captures various dimensions of Paul's theology-the foundation is God and Christ, salvation history portrays the progress being made on the house, and the theme of the house is the gospel.(Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ; 19-20)

Well, what does one make of this 'center' in comparison to Thielman's? Thielman, if one remembers, stresses that in order to flesh out the 'center' of Paul's theology, Paul himself must be explicit in its importance to him. On the other hand, Schreiner states that the illustration of a house is not one in which Paul himself uses, but rather is useful for illustrating the 'center' of Paul's theology. Both are in agreement that themes such as justification cannot solely be the center of Paul's gospel. For Thielman 'justification by faith' is too specific to be helpful, and for Schreiner justification is one of the frames of the house, but God and Christ are alone the foundation. For Thielman "God's graciousness toward his weak and sinful creatures" summarizes the center of Paul's theology (232), while Schreiner maintains that the house imagery captures the various foci of Pauline theology, namely God and Christ, the fulfillment of OT promises in Christ, and the gospel of God which is the "theme of salvation history" (e.g. Rom 1:1; 20).

Let me ask my fellow bibliobloggers to weigh in. What are the strengths and weaknesses of both Thielman's and Schreiner's observations on the center of Paul's theology?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Carson reviews VanLandingham

Recently at the Pistis Christou session @SBL , I had the opportunity to meet Ardel Caneday. Quickly the discussion turned to the subject of VanLandingham's book. We were both ruing the fact that we had not seen much in the way of reviews for the book. My short-lived posts were interrupted by a fatal cup of coffee that ruined VanL's book, so I asked Ardel if he had seen anything. He was just as curious as I, as to why the anticipated firestorm surrounding the book never materialized. Well, we have t0 wait no longer! In the latest RBL, D.A. Carson gives us a thorough critique (6 pages) of the book and its' contents. Do check it out!

Friday, November 30, 2007

From the archives: Frank Thielman on the 'center' of Paul's Theology

Once in awhile I thought it would be nice to reproduce a thought-provoking piece from my former blog, Pauline Perspectives. This particular post originally appeared on February 27, 2007 and garnered some interesting discussion. Without further ado, to the post we go!

Frank Thielman, Presbyterian professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, and author of Theology of the New Testament: a Canonical and Synthetic Approach (Zondervan, 2006), approaches the problem of identifying the 'center' of Paul's theology in this manner:

The confusing variety of proposals probably results from two causes. First, interpreters of Paul who speak of a 'center' for his theology have different understandings of how broad or narrow the chosen 'center' ought ot be. Should the 'center' be some theological principle from which everything else is derived- a sort of theological first cause? Or should we understand the center more narrowly to make it more useful in distinguishing Paul's theology from other Christian theologies? Second, the theological presuppositions of interpreters seem to play a hand in many assessments of Paul's 'center.' Lutherans tend to see 'justification by faith' as the center, Roman Catholics tend to speak of something like 'Christocentric soterilogy,' and Reformed theologians seem to favor 'redemptive history.'
It is possible, however, to overcome these two problems. First, if articulation of a 'center' is to be useful in organizing Paul's occassional and unsystematic theological statements, it seems necessary to focus on a theological theme that is broad enough to account for other important themes, yet not so broad that it becomes useless in articulating the distinctive nature of Paul's theology. (italics mine) If this is right, then 'justification by faith,' although an important subtheme of Paul's theology, may be too specific to do justice to other elements. By contrast, 'Christocentric soteriology' may be too broad to indicate Paul's distinctive concerns since much of the New Testament could fit under this heading.
Second, although presuppositions are unavoidable, it is possible to resist the temptation to vindicate them by implausible readings of the text. One way to avoid the inappropriate incursion of presuppositions into the search for a center to Paul's theology is to insist that our 'center' must be something that Paul explicitly says is important to him. (italics mine) Since Paul is a coherent theologian and we have a large corpus of theologically oriented letters from him, it seems reasonable to expect him to provide us with a 'center' for his theology that will be useful in filling the gaps between his divergent theological expressions.
God's graciousness toward his weak and sinful creatures fills both these criteria (italics original). Although it is an important concern within non-Pauline New Testament texts as well, the extent to which Paul speaks of the gracious nature of God's character is distinctive. It grounds his approach to such widely differing problems as the imposition of the Jewish law on Gentile believers in Galatia (Gal. 1:6; 5:6), a divisive elitism in Corinth that arises from the church's indigenous Greco-Roman culture (1 Cor. 1:26-31), the lagging of the Corinthian contribution to Paul's collection for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1, 6-7), and, at the end of Paul's life, Timothy's need for encouragement not to be ashamed of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8-9). It is, moreover, a concept that Paul himself identifies as central to his understanding of the gospel. To set God's grace aside, he says, is to imply that Christ died for nothing (Gal. 3:21) (pp.231-232).

So do you agree with Thielman's assessments? What would you characterize as the 'center' of Paul's theology? Does Paul even have a 'center' and if so how do we arrive at it? Personally, I think Thielman is on the right track here, but I'm curious about your thoughts.

Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?

One of my great hobby horses outside of New Testament studies is reading and learning about the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Recently, I was asked for a wish list for Christmas and invariably as I do every year, I listed a couple of Lincoln books. Well, this year I have found what looks to be a real gem titled, Lincoln's Christianity by Michael Burkhimer. To get a flavor for Burkhimer's thesis it reads:

In Lincoln's Christianity, Michael Burkhimer examines the entire history of the president's interaction with religion—accounts from those who knew him, his own letters and writings, the books he read—to reveal a man who did not believe in orthodox Christian precepts (and might have had a hard time getting elected today) yet, by his example, was a person and president who most truly embodied Christian teachings.

Lincoln's religious beliefs have always been the source of controversy and brought to mind a book review I did in seminary four years ago on Allen C. Guelzo's Redeemer President.

I have reproduced it in full here:

Guelzo, Allen C. Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1999.

With as many biographies already written about Lincoln, one would assume that there would not be any stones unturned. Lincoln’s legacy has often been viewed through a Christian lens. Themes in Lincoln’s presidency readily lend to those assumptions, such as his ability to lead the nation through its darkest hour, claiming guidance from “Providence,” and his assassination on Good Friday. These factors all serve to give Lincoln a Messiah-like quality, and have remained relatively unchallenged until recently.
Allen C. Guelzo, dean of the Templeton Honors College at Eastern College, and Grace F. Kea Professor of American History, manages to piece together a Lincoln never before studied by biographers in the past. Far from the Christian and backwoods lawyer turned president that he is often been portrayed as, the author paints a convincing picture of Lincoln’s personal and public life as one shaped out of intellectual curiosity, skepticism, and the determination for self-improvement. Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President traces Lincoln’s intellectual roots to the religious, social and political movements of his day: Calvinism, the Enlightenment, and classical liberalism. These factors would ultimately guide Lincoln to associate himself closely with the Whig party.
According to Guelzo, Lincoln’s affiliation with Whig thought was due to the rejection of his father’s lifestyle, modeled after the Jeffersonian agrarian economics that he despised. If Jefferson’s vision of America illustrated the virtues of self-sufficiency, the Whigs vision was concerned with self-advancement highlighted by their vision of a national banking system, investments in internal improvements in canals and railroads, and the advocacy of high-tariffs to safeguard American businesses. These factors guaranteed Lincoln’s support of the party as he affirmed himself “an old-line Henry Clay Whig.” According to Guelzo, the lifestyle of Lincoln’s father as a subsistent farmer also shaped Lincoln’s attitudes about slavery. Lincoln believed this Jeffersonian and later Jacksonian democracy lead to economic slavery by restraining people from self-advancement. Although Lincoln’s liberal inclinations fit well with the Whig ideal, his religious thoughts were shaped more by identifying with the skeptical thought of Thomas Paine.
This skepticism, according to the author was rooted in Lincoln’s rigid Calvinistic upbringing. Guelzo writes,
“It was also a Calvinism which Lincoln rejected, partly because it was his father’s religion, partly because he could make no intellectual sense of it; and yet it was ingrained so deeply into him that his mental instincts would always yield easily to any argument in favor of determinism or predestination, in favor of the helplessness of humanity to please God, in favor of melancholy as the proper estimate of the human condition.” (20)

This melancholy regarding the human condition forged what Lincoln deemed his “Doctrine of Necessity.” Lincoln’s “doctrine” held the belief that human beings did not possess free will or the moral responsibility for their actions. Instead of responding based with free will, Lincoln believed that human beings responded to “motives.” These motives always appealed to the self-interest, and lead to a fatalistic world-view from Lincoln. According to Guelzo, Lincoln’s view of God then was not one of a redeemer but an impenetrable judge. He writes,
“If Lincoln’s concept of God looked like anything else on offer, it was not the orthodox
Trinitarian God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit described by the Old School theologians, but a truncated one with God the Father-remote austere, all-powerful, uncommunicative-and neither Son or Spirit.” (153)

Lincoln’s thoughts were anything but static, however. Guelzo notes two important shifts in his thinking that lead to shifting attitudes about slavery and ultimately God.
The first major shift occurred in 1854 during the Lincoln-Douglas debates over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and continued through the demise of the Whig Party causing Lincoln to join the newly formed Republican Party. According to the author, Lincoln expanded his views on slavery to encompass a moral overtone. Originally, Lincoln’s views on slavery contained Whig leanings emphasizing that slavery was wrong because it fostered pride in the ownership of slaves, denying the motivation for self-improvement. Once Lincoln understood that slaves yearned for self-improvement, he was able to relate to them on a human level. Despite this significant change in thinking, Lincoln still would not affirm his total support of the abolition of slavery.
The second shift in thinking came during the Civil War in 1861 and 1862. Guelzo demonstrates that Lincoln began to reevaluate the meaning of providence when the war continued with no foreseeable end in sight. Previously Lincoln viewed providence as an impersonal law that governed human affairs, but following numerous defeats and mounting causalities, he believed that providence was addressing him, demanding that slavery needed to end. The author writes,
“Lincoln had come, by the circle of a lifetime and the disasters of the war, to confront once again the Calvinistic God who could not be captured or domesticated into Tom Paine’s Almighty Architect, who possessed a conscious will to intervene, challenge, and reshape human destinies without regard for historical process, the voice out of the whirlwind speaking to the American Job.” (327)

Lincoln’s new understanding of providence enabled him to pen the Emancipation Proclamation, despite political risk. However, Lincoln’s admittance of the divine personality of providence did not draw him closer to religion, but served instead to reinforce the wide distance that separated him from God. Guelzo concludes that Lincoln’s faith could be best be summed up as a “…deep sense of helplessness before a distant and implacable Judge who revealed himself only through crisis and death, whom Lincoln would have wanted to love if only the Judge had given him the grace to do the loving.” (446)
Guelzo’s portrayal of Lincoln is lucid, balanced, and original. Many of the myths that have turned Lincoln into a strong Christian are effectively exposed by the author as an inaccurate attempt to portray Lincoln as a Messiah-like figure by early biographers. Instead, Guelzo depicts Lincoln as a man plagued by doubts, whose thought was closely aligned with others such as Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson, who questioned the complete sincerity of faith in a Calvinistic God. Guelzo is successful in tracing Lincoln’s thought due to his remarkable grasp of the secondary literature of Lincoln’s time. Despite the enormity of the sources used, the author is successful in producing a very readable book.
No aspect of Lincoln’s life is untreated in this intellectual biography. Lincoln’s early years, his romances and marriage, his legal and political career, his disdain for abolitionists, his modified views of slavery, his strained relationships with cabinet members and Union Army generals, are all uncovered by Guelzo and are treated with the same rigorous care that is characteristic of the remainder of the book. Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President provides the ideal starting point for anyone interested in Lincoln’s life.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

N.T. Wright on Doug Moo + Online Resources

In the now-famous N.T. Wright interview with Trevin Wax, the latter asks Wright about his critics concerning the New Perspective such as D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Doug Moo. See what Wright has to say concerning Moo:

Moo is in a different category again. Doug Moo, I would say, is a much greater Pauline scholar than either of the two I just mentioned. One of the things I really respect about Doug Moo is that he is constantly grappling with the text. Where he hears the text saying something which is not what his tradition would have said, he will go with the text. I won’t always agree with his exegesis, but there is a relentless scholarly honesty about him which I really tip my hat off to.

Incidentally, there are several fine resources of Doug Moo's that can be found online. First, his paper "Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment" presented at the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) Spring conference (2007) in Wheaton is available, along with an MP3 of the lecture. Secondly, has four MP3's of expostions Moo gave on Colossians at the John Bunyan Conference (2006). Finally, Moo has a really cool website that he shares with his wife, Jenny that details their world-class photography of beautiful nature scenes. One can even order a print for his/her home! Included on this website his a link called "Doug's Biblical Studies" where one discovers some of Moo's forthcoming projects such as a Colossians/Philemon commentary for the Pillar series, Galatians for BECNT, and a Pauline Theology for Zondervan!

As an aside, I am always delighted when someone of Moo's caliber makes some of their writings/lectures available online. It really gives a boost to academic interaction. Way to go, Doug!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hans-Josef Klauck on Res Gestae

Hans-Josef Klauck in his outstanding The Religious Context of Early Christianity, comments that the Res Gestae Divi Augusti ("The Deeds of the Divine Augustus"), a funerary inscription written by Augustus denoting his achievements as emperor, downplays some of the explicit language used by the imperial cult in Asia. Here, Klauck writes, Augustus is at his diplomatic best, referring to himself by his diplomatic title 'princeps' "and with similar reserve he merely indicates a sacral elevation of his person."(298)
Klauck goes on to write that this was the prevailing attitude of Augustus in Rome. However, Klauck that this reticence to worship Augustus as a god was merely on the surface:

Augustus was not officially declared to be a god during his lifetime, but every possibility stopping short of such veneration was exploited. Augustus was not the direct object of religious veneration, but his 'genius' was venerated, i.e. his benevolent protector spirit, or in abstract terms the genius that guided him. The fact that two laurel trees were set up at his doorposts indicates that a separate object of veneration was his 'numen', the divine power which dwelt in him. (299)

After mentioning that at banquets (both private and public) toasts were made in his honor and that the Senate chose to honor him with the designation "Augustus" translated in Greek to Sebastos, meaning 'sanctified,' 'venerable', 'exalted', etc., The Secular Games were held in 17 BCE "celebrating the dawn of the new age which would once more be governed by ancient values such as fides, pax, honor, pudor and virtus. The Roman tendency to deify abstract concepts favoured the veneration of such entities as concordia, victoria, and pax Augusta." (299)

Moreover, "the pax Romana was seen as the great achievement of the Augustan age; and it was precisely this state of peace, so long unknown until then, that earned Augustus genuine gratitude and veneration." (299)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

To Blurb or not to Blurb?: That is the question!

Many of you are well aware of the discussions swirling around the biblioblogosphere concerning Tom Schreiner's forthcoming New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. If not I refer you to Ben Witherington's post which got the whole thing started: "For God so loved Himself?" Is God a narcissist? Others, such as John Piper and Denny Burke have done an ample job of responding to Witheringon's criticisms, so I won't rehash the arguments from this debate.

What strikes me is that Witherington actually writes a blurb for Schreiner's N.T. Theology, a volume in which he is very critical. I am not so naive as to think that one has to be in 100% agreement with an author one is reviewing, and to Witherington's credit he states this in the blurb, but I'm wondering how helpful blurbs are for those of us who are avid book purchasers.

I was once told by a professor of mine not to buy books on the basis of the blurbs on the back, but I am still inclined to purchase something when I see the likes of an N.T. Wright, James Dunn, John Barclay, Gordon Fee, Richard Bauckham, etc. endorsing a book and its contents, than I am a book with no blurbs whatsoever.

So how important are blurbs? Should the criteria for buying books include questions such as: Is it the scholar's in whose opinion you respect? Is it the author him/her self? Is it the publisher? Is it the subject matter?

Let me know what you think.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Vintage Fee: Reflections on Colossians 2:2-3

Colossians 2:2-3: "My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."(NIV)

Very rarely is one persuaded to reflect and worship when reading an exegetical study, but that was exactly what happened when I was in the middle of reviewing Gordon Fee's magisterial Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study. Some of you may wince at the above statement, but often scholarly work never penetrates more than the intellect. It is rare to find a world-class exegete that can move your heart as well, but this is exactly what Fee accomplishes throughout this study and especially in this moment of brilliance concerning Colossians 2:2-3:

...Even though most of Paul's concern from this point on is with Christ as Redeemer, he has felt compelled at the beginning to present Christ as fully divine: preexistent, Creator, the one in whom all the fullness of the Deity dwells, and the ultimate revealer of the 'mystery' of God. And all of this, apparently, is to deforck the powers and divest them of whatever hold they may have on the Colossian believers.... (And now for the good stuff !)

And this calls for a final word. One of the tragedies of this kind of exegetical exercise occurs if we focus on the 'meaning' of the passage and thus lose the Pauline focus altogether, which is on the utter greatness and glory of Christ. In trying to 'get it right' with regard to what Paul says, we are in constant danger of 'getting it wrong' as to why he says it at all--the ever-present danger of doing with this grand passage what Jesus castigated the Pharisees for doing with the law: to turn from worship and adoration to fine-tuning our exegesis and thus never returning to worship and adoration. To do that, I would argue, would in the end defeat the Christology altogether. We simply have not entered into an understanding of Paul's understanding of his Lord if we are not drawn into his absolute adoration and devotion. In the end, this passage should cause us to genuflect more than gesture (316-317).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Once More Caesar's gospel

"Jesus is the One who has the message of 'the good news of the kingdom of God'(Lk 4:43), the reign of peace which shows the pax-Romana up for what it is--in words placed on the lips of the chieftain of the British tribes, 'to violence, robbery, and rapine they give the lying name of 'government'; they create a desert and call it 'peace'" (Tacitus Agricola 30; quoted from deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 329).
All the discussions swirling around the blogosphere concerning Paul's gospel vis-à-vis Caesar's, or more specifically Barclay v. Wright after the recent events at SBL, have got me recalling other useful items I have read on the topic.

Scanning my library, I came upon a relevant quote to the debate from Michael Gorman in his Apostle of the Crucified Lord. It should be noted that Gorman and Wright are very similar in their approach to this subject, but nevertheless this quote is worth presenting in full:

Augustus was the bringer, and his successors the guarantors, of peace and security--in a word, of salvation. This was his 'evangel' or good news (euangelion/euangelia), as an inscription from 9 B.C. at Priene, not far from Ephesus in the province of Asia, asserts about the Savior(sotēr) Augustus:
'[S]ince the Caesar through his appearance(epiphanein) has exceeded the hopes of all former good messages (euangelia), surpassing not only the benefators that came before him, but also leaving no hope that anyone in the future will surpass him, and since for the world the birthday of the god was the beginning of his good messages (euangelia)...' This inscription echoes the sentiment expressed by Horace in poem (Carmen saeculare) written in 17 B.C. for games in honor of Augustus: 'Already faith and peace and honor and ancient modesty and neglected virtue have courage to come back, and blessed plenty with the full horn is seen.' Similarly, a sheperd's speechin Virgil's Eclogues (1.6-8) contains this claim about Augustus: [I]t is a god who wrought for us this peace--for a god he shall never be to me; often shall a tender lamb from our folds stain his altar.'

As magnificent benefactors, Augustus and his imperial successors were given (or took themselves) titles such as Savior, God and Lord. The emperor was 'equal to God' (cf. Phil 2:6 where this is predicated of Christ). Although most emperors did not require the actual worship of themselves as a god(notable exceptions being Caligula [Gaius], who ruled from 37 to 41, and possibly Domitian, who ruled from 81-96), the power and might of the imperial office made each of them recipients of godlike honors simply by being emperor of Rome.

Jews(and thus the earliest 'Christians') enjoyed exemption from certain aspects of Roman life, including the imperial cult. Needless to say, however, any movement or message that appeared to displace the emperor from his throne would be understood as counterimperial and anti-Roman (cf. Acts 17:1-9; pp.17-18).

Did Paul pit his gospel against Caesar's?

John Barclay's latest critique of Paul's view (or lack there of) concerning the Roman Empire is breathtakingly brilliant. In sum, Barclay argues that Paul's gospel is not concerned with the Roman Empire per se as he is with those that comprise 'the archic powers', all the powers that are aligned against God and his purposes. Rather for Barclay, Caesar should not be seen lurking in the shadows of the Pauline text, and should be relegated to the status of insignificance along with the other 'archic powers.'
I find Barclay's suggestion helpful as it guards against the scholarly fad to read Caesar into texts where he does not belong, but I am wondering if Barclay's resistance in allowing such terms such as Kyrios, eirene, euangellion, parousia, etc. to have anti-imperial overtones is pushing his stance too far the other way. Certainly, Paul does not explicitly single the Roman Empire out, but does he really have to? Much like trying to reconstruct Paul's churches in Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica, etc., there is much Paul does not tell the 21st century reader, because he is relying on the shared knowledge he had with the 1st Century reader! There is an implicit conversation taking place there! Would Paul then have to draw special attention to the Roman Empire, who in Paul's day ruled the then known world?
I think if we are to pit Barclay v. Wright based on the one session at SBL, then I believe that Barclay won the 'debate.' However, one should be careful in how quickly we dismiss Paul's rhetoric concerning the Roman Empire. This conversation is not over, and Caesar could still be the 'naked emperor' rather than the 'emperor who isn't there' at all!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Wright Interview; SBL sessions on MP3

As I am sure most bibliobloggers are aware, Trevin Wax has recorded an MP3 interview with none other than N.T. Wright. The interview offers a full transcript as well and covers everything from the origins of Wright's faith to the doctrine of Justification (Protestant as well as Catholic circles) to forthcoming projects from the bishop's pen. The interviews were the product of Wright's recent visit to Asbury Seminary and should be required listening for his critics and his admirers alike.

Kudos also belong to one Andy Rowell, a Doctor of Theology student at Duke, who has contributed MP3's of 3 separate sessions at SBL. They include Richard Bauckham's response in the Synoptic Gospels section to the critique of his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses; N.T. Wright's lecture "God in Public-The Bible and Politics in Tommorrow's World;" and Wright and Barclay's "debate" in the Pauline Epistles section titled "Paul and Empire." Having attended the last of these myself, I would highly recommend listening through the entire MP3.

I hope this is a recurrent theme in Biblical scholarship that those with tech savvy instincts
continue to provide the academia and the broader public with lectures from meetings such as SBL for year's to come. Way to go Trevin and Andy!

Reflections on SBL

I had a great time in San Diego. It was a chance to catch up with old friends like John Byron, Mike Bird, Andrew Das, Allan Bevere, Dave Capes and Mike Gorman and to take in some lively sessions that featured the likes of Ross Wagner, Francis Watson, John Barclay, N.T. Wright and John Goldingay.

Moreover, I had the opportunity to take in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Natural History Museum and the San Diego Zoo. Wow, what a treat these two places were! Well worth the time and the expense.

The book stalls, the receptions and the IBR meetings were the other highlights.

My head is still swimming and I hope to write more anon concerning some of my observations while there.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mike Gorman on Paul's Gospel

Mike Gorman's latest Reading Paul is a delightful introduction to the study of Paul. I like what I am reading thus far and I really enjoy what Gorman says about the Pauline gospel:

According to Paul, the gospel of God is not a set
of propositions; it is the account of the planned, executed, and
soon-to-be-consummated benevolent intervention of God into the history of
Israel, human history more generally, and the entire cosmos to set right a world
gone awry
(italics original; 44).

The comment sounds much like N.T. Wright whom along with Richard Hays Gorman mentions in his acknowledgements as strong influences on his interpretation of Paul (x).
Do you think Gorman is correct? What definition would you give for Paul's gospel?