Thursday, January 31, 2008

Getting to Know John Byron Part 2

(5) Shifting gears a bit, tell us about the trips to the Holy Land and to the Mediterranean that you have organized for Ashland Seminary.

In the last three years I have organized trips to Israel and Greece. These have been a great opportunity for students to gain a knowledgeable experience of the places where historical events took place. My wife and I have led both of these trips and have enjoyed the experience. More recently, I have reached an agreement for Ashland students to dig at Tel-Gezer. This is a four year project that will give students a chance to spend five weeks in Israel.

(6) What can the student/person expect to come away with after having visited the places that the Bible depicts?

Once a student experiences the land of the Bible, he/she will be able to understand the culture and geography. There are elements about being there that changes the way one thinks about the Bible. I lead a decidedly non-devotional tour. The purpose is for students to allow their classroom to be the land.

(7) John, can you explain your philosophy of teaching?

I believe that education should encourage the acquisition of knowledge for the purpose of appreciating ultimate (and temporal) realities. Such an education should affect the person in terms of who he or she is and enable them to understand their world better. Thus the educational experience should not be merely the gathering of facts but also fostering the development of a worldview. For this reason I believe it is vital to see sister academic disciplines as complementing and not competing with the study of the Bible. All study should be pursued objectively and critically while holding conclusions tentatively when satisfactory answers are not readily forthcoming. Students should be encouraged to welcome truth and integrate it with their own developing worldview.

The discipline of Biblical studies in the context of a liberal arts institution has the unique opportunity to help accomplish these goals. The Bible is an ancient set of documents situated in a culture and time period foreign to the modern reader. It is within this context that the acts of God in the lives of individuals and nations are communicated. It is the task of Biblical studies to examine these documents critically in order to determine the historical meaning and relevance that they represented to the original authors and readers. Once critical analysis and exegesis has occurred, the next task is to interpret its relevance for the modern reader. When this successfully occurs the Bible not only becomes a relevant ancient document but also the source from which paradigms can be constructed. Readers are not only informed about God’s actions towards humanity but also are able to identify with individuals and events in the Bible as they discover their own identity as Christians.

In order to fulfill the above objectives, Biblical studies should stimulate students to think through their beliefs and opinions and know why they hold them. During the process it may be that, to one degree or another, they will alter what they had not thought through very carefully before. Exposure to varying opinions and positions provide an opportunity to learn how to think more critically and eventually arrive at stronger convictions in areas of concern. At the same time, such exposure will help students understand others better with whom they may disagree. If others are like I am, we often find it difficult to be aware of our own biases. When we are willing to question them prayerfully, however, we can expect the result to be greater understanding of the issues concerning us. The culmination of all Biblical studies should be the development of theological truths and principles that will affect the life of the student and, ultimately the world in which they live and minister. If the process of education has not inspired both their intellectual and spiritual life, then the knowledge gained will be of little value outside of the sterile setting of the classroom.

As one committed to the belief that in the scriptures God has revealed what is essential for faith and life, my own scholarly endeavors entail using all appropriate tools in order to gain an appreciation and knowledge of the Bible and of the way in which it has come to us. However, because the Biblical message is the basis for my life and faith, it also means receiving that message in a personal way. Consequently, I seek to engage in study with both a critical mind and a prayerful spirit, trusting the Spirit to lead me to the appropriation of truth on a personal as well as an academic level. I am aware that my endeavor is not merely for myself, but also for all those to whom I minister and relate.

(8) What inroads do you think scholarship can make on the church?

I think scholars would be of more service to the church if we would try harder to integrate our faith and scholarship. There is a dichotomy between these areas that is not healthy. I believe that the Church would benefit from honest interaction with us as we describe our struggles and the way that we have nuanced our faith. We would benefit if there was more room for us in the Church.

(9) What advice would you give anyone interested in doing a PhD in New Testament studies?

1.) Have a ten year plan. If you are serious you need to realize that it will not happen quickly.

2.) Begin to contact professors you would like to work under. Get to know them a bit and talk about potential research topics. This will keep you from being an ‘unknown’ when it is application time.

3.) Treat your studies like a job. Someday you will need to be at an office from 9-5. Start good habits now and you will accomplish a lot more. This will also allow you to have more evenings and weekends free for your family.

4.) Remember that you are in the program to be stretched. If you choose a program that only reinforces your theology than chances are your horizons will not be broadened.

5.) Go to a university. A seminary Ph.D. is not as marketable and will limit your job opportunities. Remember, you need to find a job when you are done.

6.) Try to publish while you are working on the Ph.D. Even book reviews will demonstrate your commitment to learning and publishing.

Thanks for your time, John.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Getting to Know John Byron Part 1

It is difficult to overestimate the influence that certain people have on an individual's life. John Byron, Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary, has been that person for me. He is been there for many of my ups and downs both personally and professionally, and I am honored to consider him a close friend.

John is also a wonderful scholar and that is why I am pleased to have him weigh in on my second "Getting to Know..." interview. This interview will be conducted in two parts.

Without further ado, here's part 1:

(1) John, tell us a bit about your background, family, etc.

I am the oldest of four children. I was raised in a family of tradesmen and although education was thought to be important I am the only one on either side of my family to go to college. My father attended an Episcopal seminary in Garden City, NY, but he did not receive any type of a degree. I grew up in the Episcopal Church but eventually moved to a more Charismatic focused church when the movement swept the Episcopal Church. I still have a fond place in my heart for liturgy and, in many ways, miss it.

I married my wife Lori in 1990. She has been a constant support to me. I don’t think I would be where I am today without her. We both love to travel and once realized that by our tenth anniversary we had lived in 3 states and 3 countries. Our record for the longest place lived is Suffolk, VA (4.5 years) but Ashland will soon break this record.

At the moment, I find the Anabaptist approach to theology quite attractive. While I still affirm the creeds, I view them as an outline of my faith rather than the source. There are things in the creeds that I would disagree with from a historical point of view, but I affirm as a part of Christian theology.

(2) Describe your journey from Elim Bible Institute to studying at Jerusalem University College before finally ending up at Durham to do your PhD.

Elim is a three year, unaccredited Bible College. I went there straight out of high school and was still influenced by the Charismatic movement. I have a sort of tortured relationship with my Elim past. I do not represent most if anything that would be “Elim” but I still have friends there and I can appreciate the influence that place had in my life. I often wish I had gone through a liberal arts program instead, but hindsight is always 20/20. Moreover, I met my wife there and that is the best thing that I walked away with.

After Elim Lori and I were on staff at a Mennonite church in Middletown, Pa. I was youth pastor there for three years and discovered that I needed to learn a whole lot more. It was during this time that I began to move away from the Charismatic movement. After 3 ½ years we left there to go to Regent University where I enrolled in the divinity school.

I was at Regent for four years and earned a MA in biblical and theological studies. Overall my experience was great. The professors were very good and helped me to move toward becoming a NT scholar. I have many of the same conflicted feelings about Regent as I do Elim. But in the end, my experience at both of those places has often helped me to understand where some of my students are coming from and to help them broaden their thinking.

I went to Jerusalem University College because I wanted to learn more about ancient Israel and Judaism. I originally went to earn a second MA, but circumstances and finances meant that I could only stay a year. In the end it was a great experience.

I ended up at Durham because one of my former professors at Regent had studied under Jimmy Dunn when he was at Nottingham. My wife and I went there in 1999 and I complete my degree in 2002. My Doctor Father was Loren T. Stuckenbruck who was an excellent supervisor. It was an outstanding experience and we both miss the people and the country.

(3) Give us a summary of your dissertation which has appeared in revised form in Mohr Siebeck (Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism and Pauline Christianity.)

Slavery language in the Pauline epistles has been a focus of considerable scholarly attention over the last 30 years. The apostle’s unhesitating utilization of both the language and imagery of enslaved human beings has been a source of both intrigue and embarrassment in New Testament studies. Of particular interest is Paul’s self-identification as the slave of Christ. Interpretation of this phrase and its background commonly follows one of two possible avenues: 1) the phrase is viewed as an honorific title found in the LXX and borrowed by Paul from the Patriarchs, Moses, David and the Prophets; 2) the phrase is an adoption of symbolism from the institution of Greco-Roman slavery illustrating that Paul is in a similar relationship with Christ. Essentially, scholarly focus has been on Greco-Roman slavery and its possible influences on Paul. Conspicuously absent are attempts to situate Paul’s usage of slavery language within the context of Early Judaism. I demonstrate that Paul’s metaphor of slavery is located best within the traditions of ancient Israel and Early Judaism rather than Greco-Roman slave practices. This is accomplished through a history of traditions examination that encompasses the LXX, ‘Apocrypha,’ ‘Pseudepigrapha,’ Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, and Josephus. This approach makes it possible to recover the literary traditions surrounding ancient Israel and early Judaism’s self-understanding of themselves as the slaves of God. In the context of this examination, Paul’s slavery language is interpreted and compared with that of his Jewish contemporaries. The product is a Paul who is not so much borrowing images from society as he is continuing in the traditions that are part of his heritage as a Jew. At times Paul’s slavery metaphors do interact with images of the Greco-Roman institution. But in these rare cases, it is to assist him as he elucidates more clearly for his readers his notion of slavery to God and Christ. For Paul, Christ is the slave of God par excellence and to follow Christ in loyal obedience is equivalent to being his slave and ultimately to fulfill the obligations of being the slave of God. On the individual level this occurs by imitating the paradigm set down by Christ as the slave of God found in Philippians 2.6-11. In the context of the community it occurs by enslaving ones self to others in the same way as Christ enslaved himself to others. When Paul’s slavery language is interpreted in this manner, it helpfully places him within a broader discussion in early Judaism concerning what it meant to be a slave of God and how the obligations of such a relationship should and could be fulfilled. Slavery to Christ is not, then, an abstract concept adopted from societal images nor is it an honorific title. Slavery to Christ is Paul’s understanding of how the Christ event enables believers to fulfill their obligations to God as slaves.

(4) Tell us about current/ future research projects, particularly your work on Cain and Abel traditions in late antiquity.

The story of Cain and Abel narrates the primeval events associated with the beginnings of the world and humanity. But the presence of linguistic and grammatical ambiguities coupled with the lack of specific details provided translators and interpreters with a number of points of departure for expanding the story. The result is a number of well established and shared interpretive traditions between Jewish and Christian literature. While commentators are aware of these traditions, they are sometimes relegated to footnotes or parenthetical statements that seem to suggest the traditions are aberrations of the canonical story and therefore only curious artifacts.

My research focuses on how the interpretive traditions derived from Genesis 4 exerted significant influence on New Testament authors who knew rewritten versions of the Cain and Abel story. It is a wide-ranging study that analyzes how the Cain and Abel story was expanded and reinterpreted; and particular attention is devoted to considering themes developed in extra-biblical literature which made the story attractive to New Testament authors. My goal is to challenge New Testament scholars to appreciate these traditions within the broader interpretive context rather than within the narrow confines of the canon.

I have two articles published on the subject:

“Living in the Shadow of Cain: Echoes of a Developing Tradition in James 5:1-6” NovT 48.3 (2006): 261-274.

Slaughter, Fratricide and Sacrilege: Cain and Abel Traditions in 1 John 3,” Biblica (2007): 526-535.

I hope to have a monograph length work finished in the next year.

In addition to Cain and Abel I am completing a volume for Sheffield Phoenix Press entitled: Recent Research on Paul and Slavery. It will be available in July, 2008.

Part 2 of this interview will be found in a subsequent post.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My RBL review of Gordon Fee's Pauline Christology

My RBL review of Gordon Fee's Pauline Christology can be viewed here.

It was an amazing honor to review one of my scholarly heroes in Gordon Fee. I had the opportunity to chat with him at SBL 2006 in D.C. and it was one of those thrills you never forget, especially his ability to make you feel like a peer.

I am also thrilled to see that Don Garlington, another scholar I admire has also written a review of Fee's book that can be viewed here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Craig Blomberg on Matthew 8:17

Matt 8:17: "'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases'"(NIV; quotation of Isa 53:4)

Few scriptures have been used as much as Matt 8:17 citing Isa 53:4 to promote the 'health and wealth gospel'. I know, I used to belong to a church that used this scripture quite often to speak of healing as God's will. In fact, if one was not healed, it was often attributed to a lack of faith on the part of the recipient.

I have also been to churches on the other side of the theological tracks on this issue. The idea of someone being healed directly by God makes some quite frankly, uneasy to say the least. Usually a spiritual interpretation is given to Matt 8:17, thereby bypassing the physical interpretation of the verse.

I was relieved to find a fair and balanced interpretation of this verse in the "Matthew" section (1-100) of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, authored by Distinguished Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary, Craig Blomberg. It is worth quoting in full:

The context in Matthew is clearly one of physical healings. Charismatic exegetes have regularly picked up on this observation, combined it with the observation that Isa. 52:13-53:12 is about the atonement provided by God's Suffering Servant, and thus stressed that there is physical healing in the atonement. If by this they mean that God sometimes does still miraculously heal people today of physical afflictions on the basis of Christ's work on the cross, they are absolutely correct; but if by this they promise anyone such healing, based only on sufficient faith, they fly in the face of numerous NT texts to the contrary, most notably Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36 pars.) and the Lord's response to Paul's prayer concerning his 'thorn in the flesh' (2 Cor. 12:9). Noncharismatics, often recoiling from such abuse of Matt. 8:17, sometimes deny that Matthew had anything but spiritual healing in mind, on the basis of the context of Isa. 53:4. If that is so, however, it then makes no sense for him to put this text at the end of section on physical healing. (30, emphasis mine)
By the way, I have only been reading the "Matthew" section of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, I give it two, enthusiastic thumb's up! The combination of resources (i.e. secondary literature, primary source material, theological sensitivity, etc.) make this a must have for any student of the Bible!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Theological Worldview: John Wesley and I

Some of my former professors from Ashland (i.e. David deSilva, Allan Bevere, & Dan Hawk) will be delighted to hear this. I took a quiz over at and my results were:

What's your theological worldview?
You scored as a Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavily by John Wesley and the Methodists.
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Neo orthodox
Reformed Evangelical
Roman Catholic
Classical Liberal
Modern Liberal

Needless to say I'm surprised, amused, and bewildered, although not necessarily in this order. I guess I'm always suspicious of being labeled!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. Excerpts from the "I See the Promised Land" speech

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., on Martin Luther King Day, I thought I would quote from his last speech on the day before he was assassinated (April 3, 1968). The setting of the speech took place on the eve of a protest march for striking garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

I chose the excerpt where he talks about Jesus (i.e. the parable of the Good Samaritan; Luke 10:25-37)

...Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to church meetings--an ecclesiastical gathering--and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the casual root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effort.
But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the day of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?".
That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" "If I do no stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

King concludes with these ironic words of death threats he had been facing due to his trip to Memphis:

....Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (Martin Luther King Jr., "I See the Promised Land." 21 Jan. 2008 <>)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

John Nolland on the Writing of Commentaries VII (Final Installment)

Insight #7: The reader is just as important to the task of interpretation as is the commentator.

Commentaries exist to enable their readers to engage more successfully with biblical texts. They should be helpful companions for the journey of engagement with the text, and they should provide stimulation and assistance in the task of coming to terms with the challenges of the text. We should not, however, expect too much of them. In the end it is each reader who needs to make sense at the deepest level of the biblical text with which they are engaged. The commentator provides a thoughtful and well-informed instance of how, at a certain level, one person coming from one place, in conversation with many others from various places has travelled the journey for themselves. (311, italics mine)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

John Nolland on the Writing of Commentaries VI

Insight #6: No commentator is an island. Novelty must not be pursued for its own ends.

There are tendencies in scholarship in the humanities for novelty to be pursued for its own sake; for boredom to set in not because the fruitfulness of a method has been exhausted, but simply because it has been around for some time; for novelty to be valued for its own sake, and confused with creativity. We can always improve old answers, but we should be much more cautious about totally disregarding or overturning existing answers. (309; italics mine)

Friday, January 18, 2008

John Nolland on the Writing of Commentaries V

Insight #5: The commentator must not assume that his audience consists of 'ideal readers.'

While real authors, however, hope for ideal readers, they are unlikely, if they have reflected on the matter (or even if not), to assume ideal readers. Real authors are content with something less than an ideal reception of the text. They will be looking for successful and effective communication, not ideal communication; and they will expect to communicate to different degrees and at different levels. ...Despite all appropriate qualifications and limitations, I want a commentator to write with a confidence that a real writer has successfully communicated with real readers in a transaction that can be ultimately satisfying for both parties. (308-309, italics original)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

John Nolland on the Writing of Commentaries IV

Insight #4: Good commentators are humble about the task at hand.

Good commentators recognize that the texts on which they comment will never be a perfect encoding of what the biblical writers had in mind. They will have said both more and less than they intended. More, because the writing is informed by their conscious intentions, but also by aspects of what make them up, of which they are not at all or only partially conscious. More, because they are making use of larger thought constructions and cultural artifices of which they may be only inchoately aware, or only partially aware, and which once evoked have resonances of their own that inevitably escape the control of the writer. More, because it is a reader who must finally integrate into some significant whole what is being offered by the text; and readers in their attempts at integration inevitably make conscious or unconscious appeal to things that never entered the mind of the author. But also less, because all attempts at communication are only partially successful. This might be because the producer of the text assumes, often quite unconsciously, a framing context within which what is being said makes its proper sense, but is only able imperfectly to provide that context directly within a text of any reasonable compass. (307-308; italics mine)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

John Nolland on the Writing of Commentaries III

Insight #3: The best commentaries are 'timeless.' Commentaries that are methodologically narrow do not fit this category. is also true that the best of commentaries tend to transcend their age and setting. There is a cultural and historical specificity about any reading of biblical books. But since these are texts that engage with God and with profound dimensions of what it is to be human, those readings which have been most sensitive to what I am still prepared to think of as the timeless within the timely will continue to have a capacity to address people at other times and in other places. Methodologically I am nervous about the kind of up-to-dateness that is in danger of soon becoming an out-of-dateness, as scholarly fashions move on. I have been struck by the narrowness introduced into many works by the studious implementation of a method of inquiry, and also by the technical verbiage that especially the more recent methods often generate. Though this may seem contrary, I believe there is a robustness to eclecticism that is not present in even the most rigorous application of the more narrowly focused favoured methods of the moment. The best of commentaries will stand the test of time, though we might not be wise enough to recognize this quality in them when they are hot off the press. (306-307; italics mine)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

John Nolland on the Writing of Commentaries II

Insight #2: There is a delicate interplay between the interpreter and the text.
Commenting inevitably involves, whether consciously or not, the bringing together of the horizons that belong to the text and the horizons that belong to the interpreter. If the horizons of the interpreter are dominant, then the text is unlikely to have been heard in more than a superficial manner: it will have been stretched upon a porcrustean bed. If the horizons of the text are given exclusive dominance, then the danger is of a product that is technical and sterile, and distances readers from the text. A good commentary will be sensitive to the tension involved here, and seek to work with it creatively. (306)

Monday, January 14, 2008

John Nolland on the Writing of Commentaries I

In the Journal for the Study of the New Testament 29.3 (2007), John Nolland, Vice-Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, and author of the Luke volumes to the Word Biblical Commentary Series (1989, 1993) and the Matthew volume to the New International Greek Testament Commentary Series (2005), has written a fascinating article called "The Purpose and Value of Commentaries," (305-311). I have decided to make this a several part series due to the profundity of insights offered by Nolland.

Insight #1: Sometimes the assumptions of the commentary writer drive the results.

I write as an Evangelical scholar, but I have not intended my commentaries to be in any sense in-house products. Whatever one's presuppositions, it is a real turn-off to those who do not share some or all of them to find that the results being offered in a work are to a large degree a reworking or a restatement of the starting assumptions. We all of course work with assumptions of various kinds, and we all have our blind spots, but I particularly value the efforts of those who have tried to generate an open texture of communication and have in this way sought to write in such a way that readers with various sets of presuppositions can engage with and benefit from their work. (306, italics mine)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From the Archives: Gordon Fee on Philippians 2:8

Referring to the phrase "death on a cross" (2.8d), Gordon Fee defends the clause as a rhetorical device in which " ... its effect lies in the repetition of 'death' back to back: 'unto death, death, that is, of a cross.' At the same time it combines with 'in the 'form' of God' (v.6) to frame the narrative to this point with the sharpest imaginable contrast: God and the cross.'(p.217)What Fee concludes next is profound and deserves to be quoted in full:

Here is the very heart of Pauline theology, both of his understanding of God as such and of his understanding of what God has done and is doing in our fallen world. Here is where the one who as 'equal with God' has most fully revealed the truth about God: that God is love and that his love expresses itself-in self-sacrifice-cruel, humiliating death on a cross-for the sake of those he loves. The divine weakness (Death at the hands of his creatures, his enemies) is the divine scandal ( the cross was reserved for slaves and insurrectionists). No one in Philippi, we must remind ourselves, used the cross as a symbol for their faith; there were no gold crosses embossed on Bibles or worn as pendants around the neck or lighted on the steeple of the local church. The cross was God's-and thus their- scandal, God's contradiction to human wisdom and power: that the one they worshiped as Lord of all, including Caesar, had been crucified as a state criminal at the hands of one of Caesar's proconsuls; that the Almighty should appear in human dress, and that he should do so in this way, as a 'Messiah' who died by crucifixion.
(Gordon Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians (NICNT), (pp.217-218)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Paul Owen on "Works of the Law"

In the latest JBL (126, no.3), Paul L. Owen, Assistant Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, at Montreat College has written an interesting article, "The 'Works of the Law' in Romans and Galatians: A New Defense of the Subjective Genitive" (553-577). Owens has followed up on Lloyd Gaston's proposal in Paul and the Torah (1987) for the subjective genitive reading of "works of the law".

Owen proposes that the subjective genitive reading "would therefore denote the effects of the Law's activity among humankind since the time of the giving of the Law to Israel..." and "would then lie not so much on human failure fully to obey the Law (although that is implied) as on the Law's own inability(owing to the gripping power of sin) to produce in people a righteousness that can survive before the bar of God's judgment." (554)

Owen's argumentation definitely deserves a close read for anyone working on Paul's view of the Law and also those folks who are engaged in the pistis Christou debate. Without much time to reflect, I do believe Owen's reading makes sense of much of the evidence, offering a coherent reading of Rom 3.20, 28; Gal 2.16; 3.2, 5, 10.

Do check it out and let me know what you think.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Beautiful Mind: The Ability of F.F. Bruce

Perusing through my newly purchased Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, I came upon the entry of "F.F. Bruce" written by W.W. Gasque. The article is fascinating in that it challenges many assumptions that have been made about Bruce, especially his supposed fundamentalism. Also, I was not aware that Bruce never completed an earned doctorate!

What really got my attention though, was the paragraph where Gasque discusses Bruce's expertise on the Bible. Here is the quote in full:

Bruce's knowledge of the Bible was prodigious. Those who knew him well believed that he had the whole Bible, in the original languages and in several translations, committed to memory. When he was asked a question about the Bible, he did not have to look up the text. He would sometimes take off his glasses, close his eyes as if he were scrolling the text in his mind and then comment in such an exact manner that one knew he was referring to the Hebrew or Greek text, which he either translated or paraphrased in his answer. If he were in an academic context, the reference might be directly to the original language; in speaking to students who were not necessarily theologians, he would normally use a contemporary translation; in church he would use the appropriate translation familiar to the majority of his hearers, whether the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the New English Bible, the King James Version or in conservative Brethren circles, the New Translation by John Nelson Darby, again normally quoting exactly from memory. He also seemed to know all the hymns of the classical and evangelical Christian traditions by heart as well as a large body of secular poetry--English, Scottish, Greek and Latin. (239)

Wow! I wonder if any of you have heard similar stories about Bruce's fantastic memory?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Getting to Know Daniel M. Gurtner Part II

Here is part II of my interview with Daniel M. Gurtner, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN. For part one of this interview click here.

This may coincide with the previous question, but could you explain the theses of your monograph The Torn Veil: Matthew's Exposition of the Death of Jesus? (Daniel M. Gurtner, The Torn Veil: Matthew’s Exposition of the Death of Jesus. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 139. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN: 052187064X. 320pp.)

The book is a revision of my PhD thesis under Richard Bauckham at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Here’s some information from the blurb: It examines the meaning of the rending of the veil at the death of Jesus in Matthew 27:51a by considering the functions of the veil in the Old Testament and its symbolism in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. I incorporate these elements into a compositional exegesis of the rending text in Matthew. I conclude that the rending of the veil is an apocalyptic assertion like the opening of heaven revealing, in part, end-time images drawn from Ezekiel 37. Moreover, when the veil is torn Matthew depicts the cessation of its function, articulating the atoning role of Christ's death which gives access to God not simply in the sense of entering the Holy of Holies (as in Hebrews), but in trademark Matthean Emmanuel Christology: ‘God with us’. This underscores the significance of Jesus' atoning death in the first gospel.

You have also written a grammar on Syriac. How did that project come about?

The book is not a Syriac grammar. Rather, it is an answer key, etc., on an existing Syriac Grammar. The grammar is by Wheeler Thackston. My key gives the ‘answers’ to the exercises and an English-Syriac vocabulary. It came about simply by my recognition that most who learn Syriac do so on their own and could use some tools to help.

Tell me a bit about the forthcoming Built Upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew in which you co-edited with John Nolland. What was it like to be involved in a project with the likes of Donald Hagner, John Nolland and R.T. France, some of the heaviest hitters in Matthean studies?

Here’s something from the preface to answer part of your question: Built upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew is a collection of essays from the 2005 Tyndale Fellowship conference. Contributions feature reflections from seasoned veterans in Matthean studies, complimented by voices of other scholars in an international collaboration on critical issues in Matthean studies. Frequently collections of essays published on the first gospel cover topics that seem unrelated to each other. Here a collection of essays covering mostly topics pertinent to the entire gospel is gathered in a single volume. Broad-brush strokes are painted by the hands of seasoned veterans – Hagner, France, and Nolland – each of whom have written major commentaries on the Matthew. Complimentary to their works are the contributions of a number of lesser-known scholars to the English-speaking world. Together these essays provide a valuable contribution by an international team of Evangelical scholars addressing critical questions in Matthean studies. In Built upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew, authors address important Matthean issues pertinent to the entire gospel, including the use of his sources (Baum) and grammatical features to relate his message (Black). Law and Righteousness are classic issues given fresh attention (Deines), as is Matthew’s portrayal of salvation history (Eloff). Matthew’s view of Jerusalem (France) and its Temple (Gurtner) are given comprehensive treatment. The ongoing discussion of Anti-Semitism in the first gospel is the subject of a thoughtful and responsible essay (Nolland), as is Matthew’s view of the Church (Hagner). The Sermon on the Mount is addressed in relation to the writings of Paul (Wenham). Careful attention to Old Testament and Jewish influence is given to otherwise enigmatic texts in Matthew 2 (Instone-Brewer). Typological fulfillment is employed to unravel the mystery of the “virgin will conceive” (1:18-23) text (Hamilton). The Isaianic “Hearing Motif” is traced through a significant portion of the gospel (11:2-16:20) from a narrative perspective (Brown). The volume concludes with a joint reflections on writing commentaries on the first gospel in the twenty-first century by esteemed experts in that field – France and Nolland.
Working with each of these scholars has been a remarkable experience. I have done most of the busy leg-work for this project, and each has been every encouraging and quickly responsive to my many questions regarding their work. The opportunity to work closely with great essays by top scholars has only helped to mature my thinking in the first gospel. There is simply no substitute for many years of leading scholarship that several of our contributors have to offer, and I hope I have gleaned from some of their maturity.

Tell us about your post-doctoral work at Tyndale and how you ended up at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN?

The British PhD is three years in duration. By God’s grace, I was able to finish it in two years. So, I spent my third year in Cambridge. I spent that time preparing my thesis for publication and working on some other projects. It was a great time to meet many reputable scholars at Tyndale House for their own research, as well as establish some lasting friendships with doctoral students studying at Cambridge. Bethel Seminary was one of several schools for which I interviewed. I was contacted by Dr David Howard, past president of ETS and respected OT scholar. I got to know him and was drawn by his vision for theological education at Bethel. My wife and I both were able to visit the area felt strongly inclined by the Lord’s leading to come to Bethel. We love living in Minnesota, and have a great church and environment in which to raise our family.

What are your current and future research projects?

I have several:
Commentary on Exodus for the Septuagint Commentary series (Brill). Provisionally titled, Exodus: A Commentary on the Greek Text of Codex Vaticanus. (Brill, 2010).
I am also preparing a critical Syriac text and English translation of 2 Baruch. Provisionally, Second Baruch: A Critical Edition of the Syriac Text. Likely either Brill or T. & T. Clark (2008?).
Co-authoring The Synoptic Gospels in their Judaic Context: Commentary from Scripture, Rabbinic Literature and the Scrolls of Qumran. With Lawrence Schiffman and Jacob Neusner. Edited by Bruce Chilton. 3 vols. Leiden: Brill. Volume 1 (Mark) due out in November, 2008.
Several other things also, but those are more long-term.

Share some thoughts about the academy vis-à-vis the church and how both may complement the other.

This is a bit of a ‘pet’ subject of mine, but I’. Teaching in an evangelical seminary, I find that many either assume or explicitly say that if you want to be a professor, learn Greek and Hebrew and lots of exegesis. But if you’re going to be a pastor, don’t bother. Few things could be more tragic for the church. Our churches need pastors who are critical thinking, well educated, astute articulators of carefully, biblically- exegeted theology for the health and vibrance of the church.

Thanks for your time, Dan!

Getting to Know Daniel M. Gurtner Part I

The "Getting to Know" series will feature New Testament scholars in various disciplines who are making significant contributions in their respective fields of research.

I am pleased to present an interview conducted with Daniel M. Gurtner, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN.

Tell me a bit about your family, background, etc.
I was raised in Pittsburgh in a nominally Christian family. I gave a verbal profession of faith at the age of 16, but soon grew to ignore it. On 13 August 2001, however, I was starkly reminded of my verbal profession when I sustained a severe head injury playing high school football that would change the course of my life. With athletics now out of my life due to the severity of the injury, I went to a small Christian college not far from home. It was there that I realized that my verbal profession needed substance, and finally surrendered to the Lordship of Christ the spring of my freshman year of college (1993). I am married to Beth (2001), and we have two children: Matthew (2005) and Kyra Lynn (2007).

How did you get involved in biblical scholarship and who were your influences?
As a young Christian, I was discipled in the classroom. This was especially the case because I had never read the Bible before worth speaking of and was now required to take Bible classes at my college. I loved it. I took all the classes I could in Bible and most from the same professor, Dr. Jim Bibza of Grove City College, who remains a friend and mentor to this day. From those classes and a further passion for rigorous, worshipful exegesis under Dr. Greg Beale at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, I sensed a firm calling very early on in my faith to an academic ministry.

It says in your bio, that you took two years off to be a pastor in Pittsburgh before returning to academics. Was that a difficult decision to make?
No. I was burned out from school and was unsure of my next academic step. I desperately needed some practical experience, so going into pastoral ministry was an essential step for my preparation for teaching in a seminary, as I am now.

How has experience in the pastorate helped in your scholarship?
Primarily the pastorate helps my teaching. Having been a full-time pastor I not only gain some credibility with students, but am able to give some advice as to how to handle texts in highly practical pastoral circumstances. I cannot say that it has necessarily helped my scholarship, but it has greatly enhanced my own faith and ability to teach seminary students effectively.

How did you end up at St. Andrews for your PhD?
For several years I was inquiring of a number of leading Matthean scholars about doctoral programs. I knew my subject of study, and so it was just a matter of finding the right place to go. I was advised to determine my subject, and then find the best person in the world to work under for that subject. The feedback I got was unanimously Prof. Richard Bauckham at the University of St Andrews.

Who is your doktorvater?
Primarily Richard Bauckham, though I also worked for a time under Prof. Ron Piper during a time of Prof. Bauckham’s illness.

Explain the process that helped you choose your dissertation topic and why you chose it.
The process was entirely devotional and related to my own spiritual pilgrimage. Reading the tearing of the veil text in light of what Hebrews does with the same imagery, I sought to study the text from an OT and Second Temple Jewish background to grasp the significance and magnitude of what is accomplished in Christ. Ultimately, I came down with a very different reading of the text, but that is how my interest originated.

This concludes part I of the interview. Part II will be found in a separate post.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Back in Black: IVP is at it again!

Over the years a set of wonderful resources has helped many seminarian through the minefield that can be Biblical Studies. I a referring to of course the IVP 'Black' series. I own each one that has been released thus far.

The latest in the series is on the way! The Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings edited by Tremper Longman and Peter Enns is due out in June of this year. Once again, the dictionary appears substantial--another 1,000 pages. Here is a quick blurb:

The third OT volume in this celebrated series offers nearly 150 articles covering Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ruth, and Esther. Special features include well-rounded discussion of the literary dimensions of Hebrew poetry, prose, and Israelite wisdom literature; plus commentary on hermeneutics; feminist interpretation; form, historical, and rhetorical criticism; book introductions; and more.

I hope that IVP plans on updating the first two volumes fairly soon. The Jesus and the Gospels volume is 16 years old while the Paul volume is nearly 15 years old. Don't get me wrong, the volumes are still immensely valuable, but the bibliographies could use some updating, along with the articles themselves.