Friday, October 29, 2010

Kudos all the Way Around: Michael Holmes and Michael Hanel

The two Michael's, Holmes and Hanel, have just made my studying of the GNT that much sweeter! First, as many of you well know by now, Michael Holmes has partnered with SBL, creating a free GNT (SBLGNT)! Please, take the time to read through all the particulars here.

I am also grateful to Michael Hanel, of the Bibleworks blog, for creating a download to place into Bibleworks! As soon as I saw that SBL partnered with Logos (which I do not own), I had wondered if anyone would create a module for Bibleworks. I have already downloaded the module and it looks great! I'm anxious to see how it differs from the NA27.


First Impressions: Grant Osborne's Matthew

While at work last night, my wife called me to let me know that a package from Zondervan arrived. I asked her what is was, and she said, "Don't know, but it's pretty thick." Well, that comment certainly piqued my curiosity, so I had her open it. Alas, once opened we discovered it was Grant Osborne's Matthew in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) series. "Thick" is a very fitting description, rivaling the size of Ramsey Michaels' John (NICNT), checking in at a whopping 1154 pages!

Thus far, I have only read through the introductory material (21-47), but here is my initial reaction. First, this is a commentary that is targeted for pastors. In the preface, Osborne traces the genesis of this commentary back over 30 years, when he took a sabbatical at Tyndale House in hopes of writing a commentary on Matthew (13). Osborne is emphatic on his emphasis in writing this commentary for pastors, stating:

"If I were to dedicate the rest of my life to one single, thing, it would be bringing the Bible back into the center of the church's life. One of my greatest worries is the 'dumbing down' of the church, and in my forty-plus years of ministry I have seen biblical preaching receive less and less place in the life of the church. I cannot help but wonder if some actually believe the Bible is the Word of God when they do not care what it means and do not want to proclaim its truths to their congregations. ...Thanks be to God that there are many pastors who are standing sure on the Word and proclaiming it to the best of their abilities. This commentary is for them" (13).

One of the ways Osborne aids the pastor in this commentary is to briefly summarize what other scholars say about a given passage. His bibliography is representative (49-56), and all the major players are represented (e.g. Davies and Allison, France, Keener, Luz, Nolland, etc.)

The introduction contains the usual preliminary matters, authorship: Matthew, as held by the early church (33-34), date: AD 65-67 (35), genre: Matthew's gospel is most similar to Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Hellenistic biographies (30-31), audience: Mainly Jewish, but also targeted to a Gentile audience (31-33), sources: Q, M, L (35-38), structure: follows the narrative-discourse pattern (40-47).

Other introductory matters, as befits this series, are unique. The first section focuses on the studying and preaching of Matthew's Gospel (21-22), studying the Gospel's plot both at the macro and micro level (22-24), studying redactional changes (24-25), studying the characters and dialogue (25), and studying the implied reader and performing reader identification (25-27). Other issues are taken up, such as historical reliability (27-30), and Matthew's use of the OT (38-40).

In the next post, I will focus on some of the unique features in the commentary proper.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tim Gombis: The Drama of Ephesians Interview

(Tim and his son, Jake)

For awhile now I have been wanting to interview Tim Gombis, associate professor of New Testament at Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio. When I was doing my "Getting to Know..." series of interviews where I would interview an up and coming New Testament scholar, Tim and I planned to do an interview at that time. That was about two years ago! The timing just was never right.

Now, however, the timing has never been better, with Tim publishing a wonderful and provocative book entitled The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God. This book is a rarity in that it has the potential to transform the reader's life and should be read repeatedly. Tim brings Ephesians to life, calling us to take on the cruciform character of our risen Lord, modeled in the life of the Apostle Paul, in order to transform our communities.

Without further ado, here is the interview I conducted with Tim on this volume:

1. Talk about how The Drama of Ephesians grew out of your dissertation at St. Andrews under Bruce Longenecker where you studied the concept of divine warfare in Ephesians.

I had the most wonderful experience in St. Andrews. Not only was Bruce an excellent supervisor, but the town is just the most lovely spot on the planet. We lived just over a mile from St. Mary’s College, which housed the Divinity faculty, and I mostly walked to and from work each day. Those walks afforded me time to think through what I had been studying all day, not only the logic of the text and interpretive arguments, but to revisit the rhetorical force of the text. It was difficult to rehearse all of that daily and not be struck by the transformative power of the epistle. Quite frankly, writing the dissertation transformed the manner in which I related to my wife and kids, how I conceived of my relationships, and how I envisioned my future, along with so much more. So, while the dissertation took the shape it did as an academic work, I planned to write a separate work to communicate what I had seen in Ephesians to a wider audience. This book took shape during that long and wonderful “conversion of the imagination,” to use Richard Hays’s phrase.

2. Your main goal in this book is to perform ‘a dramatic reading’ of Ephesians (9). Could you explain how this differs from the typical way Ephesians is mined for doctrinal truths in order to produce a coherent theological system?

Christians sometimes fall into the habit of reading the Bible as a resource for something else—something outside of the Bible, like a doctrinal system. So, we see Paul mention justification in Galatians 2 or Romans 3 and we call to mind our doctrine of justification and note mentally that these passages are ones that can be utilized when speaking of that doctrine. Any part of Scripture, then, becomes a collection of bits of data to be taken elsewhere and arranged along with loads of other bits to create something else.

But we seldom imagine that there are narratival and theologically rich trajectories in Scripture, even in Paul’s letters. We need to learn to read “across” the text to determine these trajectories and then immerse ourselves in them to see how the gospel that Paul articulates to churches in Rome or Asia Minor might rebuke, redeem, and transform us. It’s a far more compelling exercise to find ourselves as characters in these gospel narratives, trying on different roles and gaining wisdom for creative Christian action in the world.

3. The “powers and authorities” play a powerful role in Ephesians (1.20-23, 3.10, 6.10-18). How does an understanding of the Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish texts shed light on these figures?

People across time have looked out at their world and noticed that things are broken in ways that are greater than the sum of all human decisions. There are small-scale injustices, but there are also massive and trans-national systems of oppression on a massive scale that boggles the mind. Contemporary social scientists, political theorists, and economists have a variety of modern tools for describing and predicting these phenomena. The ancients noted these dynamics, too, and saw the work of rebellious supra-human figures at work. The Old Testament manifests such a worldview, developed and extended in a variety of Early Jewish texts. All of this, obviously, shaped Paul’s view of an open cosmos, so he utilizes this language when speaking of how the world is broken on a range of levels and in a variety of ways. The challenge is translating this language to a scientifically determined worldview. But just to say that this conceptual framework provided a way for Paul to speak of community habits and individual behaviors that partake of larger matrixes of corruption, and, alternatively, habits and behaviors that draw upon and radiate God’s presence.

4. You speak of some responsible and practical ways we are to engage these powers (48-58). What are some of the biggest misconceptions regarding engagement of these entities and what can we learn from Paul’s stance when he is read faithfully?

I think the biggest misconception is that we engage them directly. Another might be that they have direct influence over our brains. For Paul, they are figures behind the perversions of cultures and the large-scale systems of oppression we see in the world.

Paul makes reference to these figures only to note that the cosmos is broken on more levels than we typically imagine. He doesn’t focus on them directly as objects of fascination in themselves. And we do not encounter them directly. The church is called to identify the powers’ malignant influence in the world by naming practices of exploitation, oppression, manipulation and destruction, and then to resist conforming to these practices and patterns. God has sent the Spirit to form New Creation communities that embody together the self-giving and cruciform life of Jesus on earth. That is our engagement with the powers—naming and resisting.

5. How should we understand the ‘in Christ’ language that so pervades Paul’s description of the union of Christ and believers in Ephesians 1.1-14?

Paul’s phrase is meant primarily to indicate our new cosmic location. We are no longer ‘in the world’ or ‘in death’ in the sense that we were formerly enslaved to destructive patterns, cut off from the life of God. We are now ‘in Christ’, subject to the transforming power of God’s Spirit and united intimately with God and God’s people.

Paradoxically, this means that we are now truly ‘in the world’, since we are now set free to inhabit creation as humanity was originally meant to. In this sense, the ‘in Christ’ language functions along with Paul’s ‘new creation’ language.

6. You describe Ephesians 1.20-2.22 as being structured according to the pattern of divine warfare (86). Could you discuss how the church fulfills the temple-building component of this pattern?

The pattern of divine warfare in the ancient world runs broadly as follows: A deity goes out to conquer, triumphs, and returns to build his temple, the symbol of his triumph. His people then gather at the temple for worship and celebration of his sovereign reign.

Paul utilizes this pattern in proclaiming the triumph of Christ over the hostile cosmic forces, but Christ does not gather his people to his temple. He gathers them as his temple, which he fills by the Spirit. The church then—the multi-ethnic people of God—is the symbol of God’s triumph over the powers. This is indeed a rich ecclesial notion and Paul wonderfully exploits it for all its worth. The triumph of God is magnified on a cosmic level when God’s people are unified. When we are fractured or don’t pursue unity as we ought to, the glory of God’s triumph is diminished. But, as Bruce Longenecker says, when churches are unified and when former enemies embrace as reconciled friends, the victory and supremacy of God is advertised to the cosmic powers of darkness.

7. Could you talk a bit about Paul’s cruciform role in Ephesians 3.1-14, and how as actors in the gospel drama what are some of the ways we are to model ‘power in weakness’?

This was the most powerfully transformative passage for me personally. It is so utterly counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. We imagine that we will succeed personally and professionally through self-assertion and will advance in our careers (or in ministry!) through power-accumulation and the exercise of power over others.

But throughout Ephesians (and everywhere in Paul), the manner in which God triumphs in Christ sets the normative pattern for Christian discipleship. God triumphs through the death of Christ, he wins by losing. The victory of the powers was their defeat and the defeat of Christ was his victory. Paul draws the clear implication that if God triumphs through the cross, then cruciformity thoroughly shapes Christian communities and Christian lives.

I believe this is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 3. His imprisonment is not a set-back, but the perfect place for God to magnify his triumph over the powers. God builds his church through the preaching of this shamed prisoner, this ‘least of all the saints’, rather than through someone with loads of social or political capital. For Paul, this makes perfect cruciform sense, and it is one of a number of passages that sets the normative ethical pattern for Christian existence.

How do we model that? By cultivating postures of servant-hood and humility in relationships, never exercising power over others nor relating manipulatively. For those who are well-practiced in (self-)destructive relational modes, our repentance is a bit more painful! But the way of life is the way of the cross.

8. Much ink has been spilled on the famous ‘armor of God’ passage in Ephesians 6.10-18, and many have used this text to justify militant political views within the church. How does a proper reading of this passage subvert the common militant one?

Yes, sadly, in our heated political climate this passage is tragically hijacked to speak about the necessity of battling this or that political opponent. Paul makes clear, however, that we aren’t battling against other humans or political parties!

Our cosmic warfare is truly performing the script of Ephesians—embodying the ‘ethical’ vision of the entire letter. This involves cultivating postures of humility toward outsiders, living cross-shaped lives of peace-making, seeking to shape our churches into communities of joy and justice, realizing that we are only good for the world when we are the first in line to repent and receive God’s grace.

If the powers of darkness, according to Paul, are seeking to transform the church into just another institution that seeks power, exploits, dominates, oppresses, and hurls vitriol at its enemies, then our cosmic warfare is to resist this and imagine alternative strategies for participating redemptively in our surrounding cultures.

9. After reading this volume, I realize two things immediately. One, pastors and leaders need to engage your volume in order for the message of Ephesians to be captured within their faith communities. Second, this is a book that needs to be read more than once, as there are many profound and practical insights of which the reader needs to be reminded.

What is your hope for this volume?

I hope the book sheds light on Paul’s cosmic vision of God’s redemptive mission and how communities are empowered to participate in that. I hope that it expands the horizons of readers’ imaginations so that they see that God’s salvation is huge—cosmic in scope. At the same time, it is embodied and performed in the simplest acts of humility and self-giving love. God’s resurrection power is overwhelming and overpowering, but we get in on it when we reconcile, forgive, transform strangers into friends, and love one another in the name of Jesus.

Thanks, Tim. This interview was well worth the wait!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wheaton Conference Videos on YouTube

The 19th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright has various videos posted on YouTube.

The first, shown here in two parts, is Wright's chapel message centered on Ephesians. There is a great challenge here to memorize the text of Ephesians.

Here is part one:

Here is part two:

Here are various clips where Wright addresses Paul and Justification by the Faithfulness of Messiah:

Paul and the Church:

Paul and the Torah:


Monday, October 25, 2010

What I am Up To: Ephesians Cubed

I am having a great time meandering my way through three great resources on Ephesians of late.

First, I must say I am finding William Larkin's handbook on Ephesians to be of great value on technical exegetical matters. I would also say that this would be a great resource for anyone wanting to memorize the text of Ephesians in Greek.

Second, being used in tandem with Larkin, is Frank Thielman's offering in the BECNT series. Here, one can find great in depth exegetical discussions as well as relevant background information. This combined with Thielman adopting some fresh insights (e.g. περιποίησις rendered as "remnant" in 1.14; (84-86), makes Thielman's Ephesians a must have commentary on this letter.

Last but not least is Tim Gombis' The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God. Gombis rightly in my view, sees Ephesians through the lens of divine warfare. The "powers" have hijacked God's good creation, Christ has triumphed over these powers, and in short, has invited us through his triumph, via his death and resurrection, to participate in redeeming his creation for his glory.

I will have much more to say about these resources in due course, so stay tuned.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New N.T. Wright Audio

N.T. Wright, who recently delivered the Gray Lectures at the 2010 Convocation and Pastors' School at Duke Divinity School, has both of his lectures available for free at this site.

For a good write up on Wright's first lecture, see Ben Witherington's post here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Galatians Resource

The latest issue of SBJT (Southern Baptist Journal of Theology) is out, focusing on Galatians and features articles by Thomas Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, Jason Meyer, and Ardel Caneday among others.

Here is the table of contents, and here is a page from which you can download the free content.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tim Gombis and the Quote of the Day

Tim Gombis in his new book, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (IVP), notes that to read Ephesians as "drama" conflicts with the popular way people often read this letter:

Conceiving of the task of Bible reading as the discovery of isolated principles in the text that need to be recognized, extracted and arranged in a systematic outline of theology leaves interpreters in a situation where there is no demand that they experience transformation. That is, interpreters who might be living wayward lives can happily engage in Bible reading with no change or without being drawn into a richer relationship with God and other believers. On a modern conception of the interpreting individual, the task of interpretation is relatively isolated from the rest of life- I, as an individual, can sit down, read my Bible, recognize and isolate one or two truths from Scripture and get up and go on with my life, regardless of whether I ever do anything with these truths I have found in Ephesians. I may find some way to apply these things to some aspect of my life, but if I do not, there will not be any marked difference in how I conceive of my place in this world, how I conduct myself in relationships or how I play a role in society (17; italics mine).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Frank Thielman and the Quote of the Day

In Frank Thielman's forthcoming commentary on Ephesians, he discusses the subject of election with regards to 1.4-5, particularly with the phrases, καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου  ("inasmuch as he chose us in him before the foundation of the universe...; 1.4) and  προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν("having predestined us for adoptive sonship by means of Jesus Christ for him[self]"; 1.5).

Thielman writes:

If Paul were engaged in a philosophical discussion about the precise logic of election, and if Ephesians demonstrated an economy of language that made redundancy improbable, one of these explanations might be correct. Paul's focus, however, is not on the logic of election but on its occurrence and the need to praise God because his choice of a people for himself is such a clear demonstration of his grace. Paul's use of language in Ephesians generally, and in this benediction particularly, moreover, is as lavish in its own way as the grace of God, which he praises. Redundancy, then, is not a valid objection to understanding προορίσας ἡμᾶς as a restatement of ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς. Paul simply turns the jewel slightly and views it from a different angle, now describing God's primordial action on behalf of his people not as his choice but as his predetermination of them. God determined that they would be his people before the foundation of the world. Their status as his people, therefore, came as an utterly free gift, irrespective of anything they could possibly have done to merit it (51; italics mine).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Google and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Kudos to the folks at Google and the Israeli Antiquity Authority for the news that the Dead Sea Scrolls will begin to appear online within months and best of all, are going to be free!

This is a welcome trend, as the Codex Sinaiticus has already appeared, allowing scholars unparalleled access to these ancient documents.

Regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls, read more here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hebrew and Greek in the life of a student and pastor

John Byron, Jim West, and  Scott Bailey have all chimed in on the importance of biblical languages for both the pastorate and for students of the Bible in general.

I agree that those who are in seminary, pastorate, or both, need the biblical languages. But what happens after seminary?

My own situation, although I'm sure is somewhat unique, is that I work a blue collar job unrelated to the degree I received from Ashland Seminary four years ago. Although I have done decently in keeping up with my Greek, my Hebrew is not as sharp as it once was. I feel a pang of regret even as I write this!

Has anyone discovered the key to revitalizing their Hebrew/Greek acquisition once dust has been allowed to form on the bookshelf of one's mind? What tools have you found particularly helpful? Is it better to start all over with your Hebrew grammar or dive right into your BHS?  Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 15, 2010

J. Ramsey Michaels Interview Part III

Here is the final installment of my interview with J. Ramsey Michaels. I hope this interview has been as beneficial for you as it was for me. It was an immense honor to be able to ask the author about his commentary that will be a landmark on John's Gospel for many years to come.

1) One of the refreshing aspects of your commentary is your repeated insistence to interpret John's Gospel in its final, canonical form. One place where this becomes an issue is John 20:1-18, where Mary Magdalene is the first to discover that Jesus' tomb is empty. There has been widespread insistence that because Mary sees the 'two angels' in Jesus' tomb (20:11), as opposed to what Peter saw (20:6-7), and more ambiguously what the beloved disciple saw (20:8), that there must be two different stories now conflated in the Johannine narrative, and that to ultimately resolve this difficulty many see that verse 11 should follow on the heels of verse 1. What do reconstructionists sacrifice when they dissect the text in this manner?

Ramsey Michaels
In a word, coherence. My responsibility is to make sense of the text as it stands, so far as I am able. And I do so, though not without ambiguity. That’s not all bad, because ambiguity is part of the reading experience, at least where truly great literature is involved. In a footnote I draw a comparison to John Fowles’ novel, A Maggot, in which two different scenes in a cave are reported. No one proposes two different sources for this because it is simply part of the story. Why do we do so with ancient literature? Would it even occur to us to do so if there were not three other Gospels with which we are compulsively comparing the Gospel of John? I don’t think so.

2) Scholarship has long held that the 'signs in the presence of the disciples' mentioned in John 20:30 are to be identified with the series of seven (2:23; 3:2; 6:2; 7:31; 9:16; 11:47) mentioned in the first half of the Gospel. Discuss why you believe that 'signs' points to something more immediate in the context of John's narrative.

I’m definitely in a minority here (me and Hoskyns are out there by ourselves). But the signs in the first half of the Gospel have already been terminated, in 12:37. They failed to produce faith. These signs are “in the presence of the disciples,” and presumably them alone, and those addressed as “you,” in “that you might believe” are also disciples or potential disciples. The signs in the first half of the Gospel are not limited to the disciples (except maybe the Cana wedding), but are more public in nature, especially in chapters 5, 6, 9 and 11. True, the resurrection appearances are not called “signs,” but I see an analogy to the “many infallible proofs” in Acts 1:3. I think scholars have become so enamored of the so-called Signs Source that it blinds them to the immediate context of chapter 20.

3) One of the most fascinating aspects of your commentary comes at the very end (1057-1058) when you discuss the final verse of John's Gospel (21:25). You discuss the canonical placement of John's Gospel, and note that in this particular verse "it is hard not to notice how appropriate it is as a colophon..." to the four Gospels (1057). Could you elaborate a bit more on this?

In contrast to 20:31, there is no reference to “this book,” as if only one book is in view. It is obviously a fitting conclusion to the fourfold Gospel. I suppose the usual view is that it helps explain why John was placed last, but I suggest that it may have been the work of whoever decided to place John last, interrupting the sequence of Luke and Acts. In a final footnote I mention that the only first person singular “I” in the Gospels other than Luke 1:3 occurs here. In our canonical text, it is followed immediately by another “I” at the beginning of Acts. On a somewhat whimsical note, I asked, Could these two “I’s” be the same? Definitely whimsical, for it could imply that the author of Luke-Acts was responsible for the first compilation of the fourfold Gospel, placing John between his own first and second volumes. He would thus be the first canonical editor, so to speak. It sounds off the wall, even to me, and it is not something I am in a position to pursue, but it is curious. I’ll let others have fun with it.

4) In the section of your introduction, Theological Contributions (39-42), you mention that John's Gospel is as much about God as it is Jesus, especially in its christology and soteriology. Could you talk a bit about why scholars have neglected this theme, and how Bultmann's contribution is important in this regard?

I don't mean to imply that this theme has been totally neglected by any means. At one level it has been recognized, especially by Marianne Meye Thompson, in God in the Gospel of John (I do think she sensed some degree of neglect, and I agree with her).

I suppose because the Jesus of this Gospel is such a striking figure, to some degree in contrast to the other Gospels. Readers either love him or hate him. Consequently, there has been a fascination with christology to the partial neglect of theology proper. Maybe what is somewhat new in my presentation is the application of all this to soteriology as well as christology

Actually, my admiration (or call it a love-hate relationship) with Bultmann does not have directly to do with this particular issue. Well, except for maybe one thing: he does say, famously, "Jesus as Revealer reveals only that he is the Revealer." True so far as it goes, but if he is the Revealer, he is the Revealer of God, that is, of God as Father. In that sense, Bultmann's formulation is inadequate.

5) As a lifelong student of John's Gospel, this was a chance for you to distill 50 years of reading and research into this commentary. What is your hope that your contribution will have on future research of John's Gospel?

That's harder. Very general questions are always harder for me. I just hope the commentary fosters respect for the text, meaning the text as it stands. I am not the first to insist on this. I learned it from C.H. Dodd. Also, I would make a plea to just bracket the historical questions ("Did it really happen?") once in awhile, and just enjoy the story. Of course the historical questions are there, and we will always return to them. But when our concern for them leads us to chop up the story into pieces of early tradition that might agree or disagree with the other Gospels, maybe we should stop and ask ourselves what are we gaining and what are we losing? But obviously there is no one right way to read the Gospel of John, or to write a commentary.

6) Your approach to the Gospel of John, namely a literary one, has dovetailed into other interests, such as Flannery O'Connor and her works. Talk a bit about your other interest in modern American Literature and the volume on O'Connor (The Terrible Speed of Mercy: Flannery O'Connor and the Bible; Baylor University Press; forthcoming) that you are currently writing?

As to my interest in American literature, it has been a hobby with me for quite some time, and in "retirement" one is freer to indulge one's hobbies to the full. Flannery O'Connor's fiction is so rich in biblical and theological allusions that the book I am working on is one that has begged to be written. What is interesting is that she was a Catholic (a pre-Vatican II Catholic at that) and I am a Baptist. Yet her most intriguing characters are rural Fundamentalist, Baptist or Pentecostal types. From the start I realized that we had much in common. The O'Connor scholar I respect most is Ralph Wood at Baylor, a fellow Baptist.

I have other interests as well. My book collecting mania has led me into an interest in American religious history, and I have an article in press for The Harvard Theological Review on "Charles Thomson and the First American New Testament." This should be out early next year.

Thanks Ramsey for the generosity of your time and for your wonderful contribution on John's Gospel.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

J. Ramsey Michaels Interview Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with J. Ramsey Michaels concerning his new commentary on the Gospel of John (NICNT).

Ramsey Michaels
1) We have been conditioned to read John 1.1-18 as a unit, the so-called Johannine prologue. You have instead chosen to focus on John 1.1-5, in what you deem a "preamble"(45). Could you explain why you decided to break with tradition in focusing your attention on this smaller unit? And would it be more accurate to speak of a Phōs Christology than a Logos Christology with regards to this unit and John's Gospel as a whole?

I don’t pretend that Johannine scholarship is going to stop speaking of the Prologue any time soon. However, it became clear to me that 1:6 is clearly intended as the Gospel’s narrative beginning, more or less comparable to the beginning of Mark. To relegate it to the status of an insertion or interpolation, as is so often done, simply does not make sense (at least if one is looking at the Gospel synchronically, as I am). On a diachronic reading, sure, there may have been some form of a Prologue, or early Christian hymn, but as soon as this entity was interrupted by vv 6-8, and maybe v 15, the interruption became the narrative beginning, sot that it is no longer appropriate to speak of "the Prologue" as an entity. Rather, we have a narrative about the coming of John, preceded by a notice about what (or Who) preceded John, in keeping with verse 15, “he was before me.”

I tried to make the point that it is indeed a matter of a Light (rather than Word) Christology so far as this unit is concerned. Less so for the Gospel as a whole, where Word hardly occurs, Light is a conspicuous theme, but more basically it is a Son Christology, in keeping with 1:14 and 18.

2) One fellow blogger wondered what you make of  the ‘cleansing of the temple’ chronology (2:13-22) question?

I do have a note at the relevant place about the temple cleansing (n. 3) describing a harmonistic view that there was a first early cleansing under the auspices, as it were, of John the Baptist (see Mt 21:32, "John came to you . . ."), and then a later cleansing at the beginning of Passion week.

This is actually a view I once held and used to teach, and it is a possibility I guess. But in the text as it stands, Jesus is so obviously acting on his own initiative with no involvement of John that it is pretty hard to defend. If that's the way it actually was, John's Gospel has radically reinterpreted it, so that from an apologetic point of view one has not gained very much. As I say, I prefer to interpret the Gospels one at a time, not try to blend them into a continuous account. If I were to guess as to the historical reality, I would have to go with the majority that the synoptic chronology is probably right.

3)  In your commentary, you provide a reading of John 7.37-8.29 both without the famous story of the women caught in adultery (7.53-8.11), and a reading that includes the disputed story. Knowing that the earliest manuscripts do not include this latter unit, what are some of the advantages of reading this unit within this larger unit, and what do you make of this stories inclusion in the later manuscripts?

I handled it both ways because the passage has been part and parcel of the Gospel as it has been read for many centuries. With the recent accent on the reader as much as on the "original" writer, I felt that this was appropriate.

As I try to show in the commentary, there are some clues in the context as to why it was placed here, one of course being the reference in 8:15 about judging.

One that I did not notice until I actually wrote the commentary is that this "story within the story" is about an aborted stoning, which is what chapter 8 in its entirety is also about (see the ending of chapter 8). In that sense the woman is a stand-in for Jesus himself, who at one point asks, "Who among you convicts me of sin?"

In a similar way, I argue in the next chapter that the man born blind is also at certain points in the chapter a stand-in for Jesus.

In short, it is arguable that this passage about the adulteress is part of John's Gospel as it actually exists, even though it is not "original."

Just an added note. A very concise way of saying what I said in the previous note is that 7:53-8:11 is part of canonical John, even though it is not part of original John. A matter of canonical criticism.

4) Scholars have long posited two separate farewell discourses in John's Gospel (13.36-14.31; 15.1-16.33). Could you explain the pros and cons of holding to such a viewpoint and how you deal with this in your commentary?

In 1970-71 I had a sabbatical in Goettingen, Germany, and I wrote a manuscript for a monograph dealing precisely with the issue of the two farewell discourses, developing the thesis that there were in fact two and that they differed in certain subtle ways: questions in the first, no questions in the second; Jesus answers prayers in the first, the Father answers prayers in the second, etc.

I argued that the original "discourse" consisted only of 13:31-35, that this was expanded first with 13:36-14:31, developing the theme of Jesus' departure stated in 13:33; then 15:1-17:26 was added, developing in reverse order (a kind of chiasm), the themes of mutual love (15:1-1:4a), Jesus' departure (16:4b-33), and his Glorification (17:1-26).

I was quite excited about this, but was unable to get it published. However, it fed into my short commentary in paperback on John that appeared in 1984 and again in 1989. I still believe there is something to it, but I have concluded that my job is to deal with the Gospel in its present form, not with its tradition history. So I refer to it in the commentary, but as a kind of subtext.

Also, I believe that the accent on mutual indwelling in the Vine in chapter 15 must be understood against the backdrop of chapter 14, notably 14:20. That is, the "second" discourse, if you can call it that, in some ways presupposes the first, so that the canonical arrangement is to that extent vindicated. In short, there may well have been two separate farewell discourses at some point in the tradition, but now there are not, and "now" (that is, the canonical text) is what I am dealing with. In short, the theory of two farewell discourses is "interesting," but that's about all.

5) One of the exegetical moments that stood out for me was in John 17:1-26, where Jesus prays for his disciples. Although this prayer is famously known as Jesus' "high-priestly" prayer (17:17, 19) you add that elements of the prayer equally lend itself to being called the "Shepherd's prayer" (17:9-10; 857). Could you discuss how the "abrupt neuter plurals" of vv. 9-10 (865) connect to 10:14-15 where Jesus announces himself as the 'Good Shepherd'?

The neuter plural pronouns have not obvious antecedents in the context. I am arguing that the implied antecedent is ta probata, “the sheep,” from chapter 10, especially vv 14 and 15, where the same pronouns for “mine” and “yours” are used. I do not dispute the notion that this is a “high priestly” prayer (17:17 and 19 bear this out), but Jesus is, after all, explicitly the Good Shepherd in this Gospel, never explicitly High Priest, as in Hebrews. The two designations are by no means mutually exclusive.

Monday, October 11, 2010

J. Ramsey Michaels Interview Part I

Once in awhile I will pick up a book I have trouble putting down. The same cannot be said for the genre of commentaries. Commentaries by nature lend themselves to be mined for specific texts, and often include technical information that speaks above the reader. Or as often the case with a commentary, they become a commentary on commentaries, reporting what others have said about particular issues but very limited concerning original contributions.

Ramsey Michaels
If you desire a commentary that reads like a novel, while at the same time contributing stimulating exegetical discussions, J. Ramsey Michaels' The Gospel of John (NICNT, Eerdmans) is for you. I recently had the good fortune of reading through the commentary in its pre-publication stage and found myself in awe of this
page-turner. This also afforded me the opportunity to interview J. Ramsey Michaels about his contribution, 17 years in the making. This is part I of the interview.

1) You have written the replacement volume for John's Gospel in the NICNT (Leon Morris' contribution appeared 40 years ago). Do you recall your initial reaction when receiving the offer to do so?

Well, it was nineteen years ago. But I do remember being excited and honored to be asked. I had great respect for the NICNT series. Ned Stonehouse, the first general editor had been my mentor at Westminster Seminary, my friend Bill Lane had been an outstanding early contributor, and Gordon Fee, friend and colleague, was the current general editor. And I had always admired Leon Morris’ contribution, which I felt was somewhat underestimated by the guild.

2) How did your experience in teaching John's Gospel to seminarians throughout the years shape this present volume?

Enormously. It had required me to think about virtually every verse in the Gospel, not just the ones I had written articles about. This influence was present already in the earlier, more popular commentary that had been published by Harper in 1984 and Hendrickson in 1989. As I recall I dedicated that volume to my former students over the years. At least three of them have since written fine commentaries of their own on John.

3) You have written commentaries on 1 Peter, Revelation, Hebrews, and a more popular level commentary on John's Gospel. Could you give a glimpse on your process in writing a commentary, particularly with regards to your latest?

I work with the text and only the text at first, trying to discern the narrative flow, and forming my own impressions of what is going on. Only when I have formed these impressions and spotted the areas in which I still have significant questions do I turn to the commentaries and secondary literature to see to what extent these authors have the same impressions I do. Sometimes one or more of them changes my mind, sometimes not. As I go along, I notice if something I discover compels me to modify what I said earlier. Early on, I develop some sense of how long this thing is supposed to be, and try to tailor my comments accordingly. I have been pleasantly surprised that they usually come out to about the right length or detail – even though I confess, this one is a tad long.

4) Many might be surprised that you have listed Rudolf Bultmann's commentary on John as the most "useful of all" (xi). What made his work so influential in the process of writing this commentary?

As for Bultmann, it was only when I was well into this commentary (not the earlier one) that I discovered how impressive Bultmann actually is. As I say, he is admired and celebrated for all the wrong reasons. The devil is in the details, and his eye for detail is unsurpassed. His source theories are dead so far as I am concerned, but his value is in the crunch time of sheer plodding verse by verse grammatical and contextual exegesis. Not that he is always right, but that one always has to take account of what he says and deal with it. Sometimes he deals with it by discarding what he has found, but there is no reason to follow his example in that respect. In short, he is in general a reliable reader of the Gospel in its present form, even though he is all too eager to change it.

5) Describe the importance of eschewing source criticism in favor of commenting on John's Gospel as we have it presently.

Quite simply, the sources are not “John,” any more than Shakespeare’s sources are Shakespeare. Analyzing Shakespeare’s sources is no substitute for actually reading the Bard. In the case of John, the temptation to focus on the sources is greater because lurking in the background is the question of the historical Jesus and “what really happened.” That is of course a worthy and legitimate enterprise, but in my judgement not what a commentary is about. On the other hand I did not entirely neglect the sources. I tried to keep them mostly in the footnotes, and to concentrate on what the Gospel author did with them rather than on the sources for their own sake.

6) Your approach is to view John's Gospel at the literary level (i.e. 'plot,' 'characterization', point of view). How does this approach help advance our understanding of the Johannine Gospel? Could you provide an example?

This is sort of a corollary to the preceding question. I guess I do that simply because that is the way a reader, any reader, reads the Gospel (or any other work of literature for that matter). And whatever else he is, the commentator is a reader. Some might object that John is history, not literature. I would answer that this does not make it any less literature, and literature deserves a “literary” reading. John McPhee, one of America’s finest writers of nonfiction, for years gave a course at Princeton on “The Literature of Fact.” Not surprisingly, his nonfiction books are often incorrectly displayed in bookstores under Fiction. In short, just because something is true, doesn’t mean it can’t be a good read.

Examples? That’s harder. For one, I used to hold, and still suspect, that there were “originally” (whatever that means) two farewell discourses, 13:36-14:31 and 15:1-16:33 (or 17:26), differing from each other in subtle ways. But I had to ask, did anyone ever actually read it that way? If not, my job is simply to point out the possibility, not rewrite the text. The text is what it is. Whether historically exact or not, it is without question literature, and shares with all good literature such things as plot, characterization and the rest.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Quote of the Day

J. Ramsey Michaels, in his new, splendid commentary on John's Gospel (NICNT) makes the following remarks concerning John 19.15:

On the positive side, Pilate’s question, “Shall I crucify your king?”juxtaposes for the reader crucifixion and kingship, allowing two seemingly incompatible notions to illumine and interpret each other. Jesus will indeed reign as king in this Gospel — of the Jews, and of all people — not from a throne but from a cross, for his violent and shameful death will reveal once and forever his eternal kingship. But on the negative side, deliberately or not, Pilate’s question forces from the Jewish priests a pledge of allegiance to Rome: “We have no king except Caesar!” (v. 15b). It is the final irony. Not content with rejecting Jesus, “the Jews” reject their own Jewishness. Any discussion of the so-called anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism of the Gospel of John must take account of the fact that in the eyes of the Gospel writer those who crucify Jesus are no longer “Jews” in any meaningful way, but loyal subjects of Rome who acknowledge “no king except Caesar” — in that sense Romans! Their bold words, “We are Abraham’s seed, and have never been in slavery to anyone” (8:33), now ring more hollow than ever. In denying Jesus they have denied as well any hope of a messianic king, and beyond that even the kingship of their God, the God of Israel. While not as hurtful or anti-Semitic in its long-range effects, “no king except Caesar” in John’s Gospel is in its way no less disturbing than Matthew’s “His blood be on us and on our children” (Mt 27:25), for it presents a Judaism that — momentarily at least
— denies its very existence. (944)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Excerpts from the Zondervan Exegetical Series

Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, Grant Osborne, Matthew, and Clint Arnold, Ephesians, all have excerpts of varying lengths, and can be viewed here.

In addition, Osborne's Matthew features a browse inside feature that offers a much more extensive look at this volume.

James Dunn interview

My friend, John Byron has a great interview with one of the greatest New Testament interpreters of our time, James D.G. Dunn. Do check it out!