Sunday, July 31, 2011

An Interview with Roy Ciampa: 1 Corinthians Pillar Commentary Part III

Here at long last is the final part of my interview with Roy Ciampa regarding his new co-authored (Brian Rosner) 1 Corinthians commentary. Enjoy!

1.     Much ink has been spilt on 1 Cor 11.2-16 and the gender distinctions discussed in the context of worship. What is the main message Paul is driving at here?

We argue that Paul is concerned with the communication of glory/honor and shame through behavior in worship, wanting to make sure nothing is done that would bring shame on God’s people or on God himself through their behavior.  Headcoverings on women had had a particular social significance in the Roman world but that was being challenged by some less traditional folks. To oversimplify (which is why this is only a paragraph long and the commentary takes much more space!) Paul is concerned to make sure the public meetings of the church did not become contexts where husbands and wives would bring shame on each other (and God) by dressing in immodest or culturally inappropriate ways.  Paul draws on Genesis 1-2 both to defend and (then) to relativize the distinctions between men and women found there.

2.      Another issue that has engendered much discussion is the issue of women’s ‘silence’ in 14.34-35. First, in your estimation, is this an interpolation as Fee, Hays, and others hold, and second, what is the nature of silence that Paul is prohibiting here?

We think it is unlikely to be in interpolation, since the text is found in every ancient witness we have (one might expect some MS[S] to survive without it if it were not original). The silence is not a general silence (since Paul has already indicated women may pray and prophesy) but as indicated in the verses themselves, probably relates to asking inappropriate questions during the worship time, perhaps especially less-informed married women (Paul indicates their husbands could answer their questions) asking questions of other women’s husbands (a social offense that is mentioned in ancient texts we cite in the commentary). In the commentary we weigh other alternatives as well, of course (including the view that women are prohibited from evaluating prophecies).

3.      What are the interpretive keys to understanding Paul’s phrase ‘baptized for the dead” (βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν) in 15.29?

Perhaps the most important key is to recognize that the reference to “the dead” in Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of the dead is not to the dead in general, but to the believing dead (who will be raised in incorruptible glory, etc.) and thus the guaranteed future of glory and blessing that “the dead” Paul is referring to will enjoy. People concerned about what might happen to them after death would want to do what they could to be sure they would also enjoy the blessings that the Christian dead would look forward to. When he says that people are “baptized on account of the dead,” we may assume that he means that they are baptized on account of the righteous dead, those who will be raised in power and glory. This, then, is more specific than dead people in general, but it does not suggest something as specific as living or deceased apostles or specific loved ones who have recently passed away. So we would paraphrase the verse in this way: “Now, if there is no resurrection, what will be accomplished by those who get baptized because of what they have heard about how our dead will be raised? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people undergoing baptism on account of them?” Our interpretation comes close to the suggestion that some others have made that Paul’s text entails an ellipsis and that “baptism on account of the dead” means “baptism on account of the resurrection of the dead,” but it is not quite the same thing.

4.     This commentary is a fine contribution to the Pillar series and ranks in my estimation at the very top of 1 Corinthian commentaries along with Garland, Thiselton, and Fee. Moreover, you are both to be commended for not writing another commentary on commentaries, but advancing our understanding of this wonderful epistle.

What are your hopes for this particular work and could you both comment on future research/ writing projects?

Our hope is that this commentary will enrich the life and faith of those who read it (and those who are ministered to by those who read it) by giving them a clearer understanding of God’s redemptive plan and how it relates to the Corinthians’ issues and to our own). Writing the commentary has greatly enriched our own lives and faith and we can only hope it will do the same for others.   In addition, we hope that some of the commentary's distinctive interpretations might be taken seriously by scholars, such as our understanding of the argument and structure of the letter and the new approach to chapter seven and the euphemism, not to touch a woman.

As for book projects, Roy is working on a commentary on Galatians and Ephesians for Baker’s new Teach the Text Commentary series and another commentary on Ephesians for a new series to be published by Kregel, called Kerux. Brian is working on the Crossway Preaching the Word volume on 1 Corinthians and an NSBT monograph on Paul and the Law.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Interview with Roy Ciampa: 1 Corinthians Commentary Part II

Here is the second installment of my interview with Roy Ciampa concerning his co-written commentary (Brian Rosner) on 1 Corinthians in the Pillar series (Eerdmans). Part I can be viewed here.

1.     Many commentators take 1 Cor 4.8 as evidence to show that the Corinthians suffered from an overrealized eschatology. Do you believe this to be the case, and if not, what is the problem that Paul is describing here?

We do not think overrealized eschatology is behind the problems in Corinth. Rather, we think that all of their problems are best explained by the influence of attitudes and ways of thinking and behaving that were very popular in Corinthian (and broader Greco-Roman) culture. The Corinthians had problems with their eschatology (both realized and future eschatology), but that is not the best explanation for their problems. To imagine oneself to be filled, rich, and reigning was a claim commonly made by Cynic and Stoic philosophers. Epictetus, for example, thinks the true Cynic can say, “Who, when he lays eyes upon me, does not feel that he is seeing his king?” Plutarch reminds us that according to the Stoics “the wise man is termed not only prudent and just and brave, but also an orator, a poet, a general, a rich man, and a king.” The Corinthians had apparently adopted the inflated self-understanding of pagan philosophy.

2.     One of the significant contributions of this commentary is the proposed structure that views 4.18-7.40 and 8.1-14.40 as main subsections in the letter body, rather than the traditional break many place between chapters 6&7. Could you talk about your proposal here and the significance this has on your interpretation?

We point out that that letter does not consist of a random set of topics, but breaks down into four main sections, which follow a logical flow that Paul recounts elsewhere in brief passages. So 4.18-7.40 deals primarily with sexual morality and 8.1-14.40 deals with worship. Each of those larger units has a negative treatment of the problem which is followed by a positive treatment. So sexual immorality is dealt with in the negative treatment in 4:18-6:20 and the proper sexual behavior is dealt with in chapter 7. The problem of idolatry (as confronted in food offered to idols) is given the negative treatment in chapters 8-10 (to 11:1, actually), and then we have an extended positive treatment of the proper worship of the one true God in chapters 11-14. As Paul approaches the negative section in each case he gives a command to flee the key vice (“flee sexual immorality” in 6:18, and “flee idolatry” in 10:14) and then to glorify God in that area (“glorify God with your bodies” in 6:20 and “Whether you eat or drink [the contexts in which worship takes place and in which idolatry was being committed] or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” in 10:31). The larger pattern of the letter reflects the understanding of Romans 1:21-26 that false wisdom leads to sexual immorality and idolatry and therefore true wisdom (wisdom of the cross) leads people away from those vices. The letter also reflects the pattern found in 1 Thess. 1:9-10 where Paul speaks of the readers turning from idolatry to worship the one true God (cf. chapters 8-14) and wait for his resurrected Son from heaven (cf. chapter 15). So in chapters 1-4 (to slightly oversimplify the actual division of chapters) Paul deals with false and true worship and in chapters 5-7 he deals with the sexual immorality and sexual purity that flow from those two kinds of wisdom and in chapters 8-14 he deals with the idolatry and proper worship of God that also flow from those two kinds of wisdom and in chapter 15 he explains what it means to wait for the consummation, the return of God’s resurrected Son (and the consummation of their own redemption and that of creation as well). Wow. That’s a long answer!

3.     Taking a closer look at 1 Corinthians 7, particularly 7.1, talk a bit about what Paul means when he states, “…it is good for a man not to touch (ἅπτεσθαι) a woman.”

It is important to keep in mind that in the Roman world there was great debate regarding whether sex was to be engaged in only for procreation (and in marriage) or if pleasure was also an acceptable motivation. Those who thought sex could be pursued for pleasure normally expected that such sex would be pursued outside of the marriage (with household slaves, prostitutes or other avenues) and sex with one’s wife would be primarily for procreation and establishing legal heirs. Earlier discussions of the euphemism of touching took it to be a general euphemism for sexual relations, and that conclusion was based on just eight examples of the euphemism that had been discussed. I found 25 examples of the euphemism and noted that while people were right to say it was a euphemism for sexual relations it was probably incorrect to conclude that it referred to sexual relations of any kind. The euphemism was not used for procreational sex in marriage, but for various other kinds. It was used to refer to what a man did to the object of his sexual desire (incidently, it was not unilateral, men and women did not touch each other, but a man would touch a woman (or a boy). Rather than reflecting a Corinthian group that rejected sex as a whole (like other scholars, we take the line to be a quote from the Corinthians’ letter to Paul), it more likely reflects a Corinthian group that is criticizing some of their members for going to prostitutes and continuing to pursue recreational sex outside of marriage despite being members of the church.

4.     Too often, we read Paul’s description of what the marital, sexual relationship looks like through our 21st century lenses, and think, “Of course, that’s the way it should be.” Could you give us a glimpse into just how countercultural Paul’s message is in 1 Cor 7.2-5?

The more clearly we understand that the “touching” referenced in 7:1 was not a mutual act but what a man did to the object of his own sexual desire, and the clearer we are about how sex and marriage functioned in the Roman world the more dramatic we will recognize Paul’s message in 1 Cor 7.2-5 to be. In that world sex and marriage were clearly hierarchical and marked by asymmetrical power relations. Not only does Paul reject the idea that a man should use a woman for his own sexual self-gratification (the significance of touching), but every line of 7:2-5 emphasizes mutuality. Every single statement made about the husband is also made about the wife as well and then Paul talks about the need for mutual agreement between husband and wife. When we realize that husbands were significantly older and more mature and experienced than their wives the egalitarian emphasis on mutuality found in these verses stands out even more remarkably!

5.     The chapters in which Paul addresses food being sacrificed to idols (chaps. 8-10) has often been interpreted as a concern to avoid damaging the consciences of Christians who associate this food with idolatry. In your estimation is this a correct interpretive assumption, and can you tell us what two kinds of idolatry Paul wrestles with in this section?

That, properly explained, is part of the problem. We see Paul dealing with both subjective idolatry and objective idolatry. By subjective idolatry we mean that there are Corinthian believers who are eating food that has been offered to idols (following the example of other Christians they have seen) who cannot help but think of themselves as participating in idolatry. They have pre-Christian experience as idolaters and think they are committing idolatry as they eat the food, their consciences not knowing better and not being strong enough to keep them from following the example they have seen. There are other Corinthian believers who have concluded that since there is only one God in the world idols have no significance and in theory it is impossible to commit idolatry since “an idol is nothing in the world.” These believers are not committing subjective idolatry – they don’t think of themselves as worshiping any idols, they don’t believe in idols – but they are guilty nevertheless of objective idolatry in that their misunderstanding has led them to participate in what are actually idolatrous behaviors that make them partakers of the cup of demons (as idols do not represent gods, but do represent spiritual beings masquerading as gods). They are also guilty, of course, of leading their brothers and sisters in Christ into subjective idolatry.

Interview with Roy Ciampa on 1 Corinthians: Part I

Some of you may remember that some time back I had posted part one of an interview with Roy Ciampa, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, on his co-written (along with Brian Rosner) commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Pillar series.

Well, for convenience sake, I am reposting part one of the interview below. This will be followed by part II of the interview in a separate post, followed finally, by a third and final post.

Without further ado, here is part I of my interview with Roy Ciampa:

1) It is fairly unusual to see a commentary co-written. Your 1 Corinthians contribution is co-written with Brian Rosner. Can you explain how this process began, and how you divided up the research and writing responsibilities?

Brian was originally invited to write the commentary but was finding himself too busy to try and get it done by himself. He had been my doctoral advisor and we had become very good friends and shared similar perspectives on Paul and Pauline exegesis. He got permission to invite me to serve as co-author with him and I was only too happy for the opportunity to work with him on it.

We found our collaboration to be a wonderful experience and now wonder why it doesn't happen more often! 1 Corinthians itself is part of a dialogue between Paul and the Corinthians and our writing of the commentary also grew out of our constant dialogue. While all commentary writers dialogue with what other authors have written, other voices don't get to respond to their arguments until the commentary is published. In our case we were able to dialogue not only with the literature, but with a live co-author that could help sharpen the argument before it was published. We are convinced the collaboration led to a better commentary. Most of we regard of our best insights were sharpened in the conversation.

We had some extended times together to talk through our understanding of the letter as a whole and key issues within it. We came up with an original understanding of the structure and argument of the letter and co-authored an article in the journal New Testament Studies defending what would appear in longer form as the structure for this commentary. We also co-authored the contribution on 1 Corinthians in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker), giving us the opportunity to work through that aspect of the letter together, as a foundation for the fuller treatment in this commentary.

We also went over each other’s work as it was being prepared, giving feedback, suggestions of other sources, arguments or ideas, etc. Whenever one of us completed the first draft of a chapter of the commentary we sent it to the other, who then read it and suggested changes (and caught mistakes). Sometimes we went back and forth several times on a passage or chapter before we were done. Email and Skype make this type of close and constant collaboration between people living on different continents possible in a way that earlier generations couldn’t have imagined! Both of our fingerprints are all over every part of the commentary and we made sure we were both very happy with our material before we felt ready to send it to Don Carson and Eerdmans.

2. In this commentary, your approach is to read 1 Corinthians in a biblical/Jewish manner. Could you first, discuss what makes this unique, and second, how does this differ from traditional approaches to 1 Corinthians?

Previous commentaries on 1 Corinthians have tended to pay close attention to the Greco-Roman backgrounds informing the Corinthian situation (which we also do), but tended to neglect the extent to which Paul’s own biblical and Jewish theological framework governed his response to the problems in Corinth. Our commentary is unique in recognizing the extent, for instance, that the letter builds on biblical and Jewish concerns about sexual immorality and idolatry in a situation where Greco-Roman culture is influencing the worshiping community in dangerous ways.

3. This question probably has some overlap with the one prior, but what issues and vices does Paul confront within the church at Corinth?

The key vices are sexual immorality, idolatry and greed. These are the key vices for which Gentiles were notorious in Jewish and early Christian thinking.

4. Could you speak to the role the ‘cross’ plays in 1 Cor 1-4?

Paul’s apocalyptic theology consists of five elements, so critical to his ethics, has the cross at its center. It consists of five elements, all of which are evident in 1 Corinthians 1-4 with reference to the cross: (1) God’s conflict with enslaving powers, (2) involves a decisive/invasive action in Christ, (3) which issues forth in a judgment that is (4) final and (5) cosmic/universal in scope. According to 1 Corinthians 1-4, the cross signals the end of the world’s puny power, arrogant boasting, fancy talk, shallow wisdom, and so on. The following chapters announce the beginning of a new world marked by sexual purity, mutual love, reconciliation, self-restraint, unity and the like.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Interview with Danny Zacharias: The Singing Grammarian


I am a Greek grammar junkie. I am constantly on the lookout for the latest and greatest in Greek grammars. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for such publications is slowly waning. This is due to some recent attempts (no names, please!) to change the manner in which Greek is taught.

Happily, I am able to report, that all is not lost when it comes to Greek grammars, or tools for its acquisition. One such product that does a nice job of engaging the senses, The Singing Grammarian (Kregel), by Danny Zacharias, offers both visuals, in the form of videos, and aural, in the form of music, happily combining the two most effective ways to learn a language. Danny has tapped into what I hope continues to be a trend, namely, language acquisition through visual/oral (aural) performance.

I recently had the chance to ask Danny a few questions regarding The Singing Grammarian. Enjoy!

1.       Biblical Greek is traditionally taught via the textbook, workbook, and vocabulary cards. I always told students to try and use all of their senses when learning Biblical Greek/Hebrew. Was it a similar desire on your behalf that led to the creation of this project?

Absolutely. The intro language courses in Bible colleges and seminaries hit students like a hammer with endless memorization and new concepts. When I started teaching Greek I began the course with the same message as you. Knowing what it was like for me to learn by reciting paradigms over and over again to get them memorized, I figured there must be a better way to get those to stick.

2.       How was the project tested, and how did it become more refined as time passed?

During that first year, as I racked my brain trying to figure out memorization techniques for my students, I was listening to a Greek alphabet song and then I wondered if there were other songs for learning Biblical Greek—Google said there wasn’t. So that first year, with a very encouraging and positive group of students at Acadia Divinity College, I started to download MIDI files of popular tunes and did very simple voice recordings over top of them. I chose children’s tunes that everybody knows, as I figured it would be one less thing their brains would have to absorb. The students laughed and poked some fun, but mostly they kept saying “your song was how I was able to remember the paradigm.” That was when I knew I was on to something. I started to get more serious at that point, focusing more on the lyrics and writing more and more songs for my students. So the test ground has been 100% my students over the past four years at Acadia Divinity College.

3.       This question is probably related to the prior, but could you tell me about the contributions of Michael Fredericks to this project?

I’m very glad you asked me this, because Michael deserves a huge amount of credit. I would still be working on this project if it wasn’t for him and I’m quite convinced that if I had been left to my own devices the songs would not have come out nearly as well. Michael was in that first class of mine and one of the voices of encouragement. But Michael was also straight with me when a song or lyric didn’t work well. Over a period of about a year, Michael became a master of Apple’s Garageband app and made magic out of everything I gave him. Just imagine someone giving you lyrics for the aorist active & middle paradigm, to the tune of “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and asking you make it into a rock song! But Michael never disappointed.  He is a very talented musician and has a great musical sense, so I couldn’t have had a better person helping me. Our voices are actually quite similar, but you should be able to tell when it is Michael singing. He is featured in the dialogue of The Greek Alphabet Song, my talking partner during The Third Declension Song, and doing any harmonization you hear through the entire project. His wife Julie even helped out a little in The MI Verbs Song.

4.       How does The Singing Grammarian differ from a similar project done a few years ago by Ken Berding for Zondervan, and was this a springboard for your idea?

We were in the thick of writing and recording when I heard about Berding’s publication of songs from Zondervan, so no it wasn’t a springboard for my own project. I was sad he beat me to the punch, but there is a significant amount of difference between the two projects and I hope they both meet the needs of students. The Singing Grammarian has more songs and a wider variety of musical styles. I also tried as best as possible to match introductory textbooks. So for instance, Berding has 1 song called the “Noun Endings Song,” whereas I have a song for each declension which may fit better with an introductory textbook.

5.       Your music and accompanying videos are 18 total. Were there any that proved to be more difficult to craft than the others?

The Participles Song was definitely the most difficult. There is so much information to get in there. I think we had a few different versions before we landed on that one. The Article Song was the easiest because Michael actually wrote that one :-)  Another major time component for every song was the accompanying video, as the timing always needed to be just right, and some of the songs were faster than others!

6.       What sort of feedback have you received from colleagues regarding The Singing Grammarian?

I’ve received some very kind endorsements that you can find on the Kregel site as well as the Facebook page. As the publication is still quite new, I am very eager to hear from colleagues in the coming months. I’m even more excited to hear from students out there. If you want to provide some feedback, please post on the Facebook page. You can also add a comment to the Greek Alphabet Song on YouTube, as we have put it up for free there. We will probably add another free song to YouTube later this summer too.

Currently, you can only purchase The Singing Grammarian on the Kregel site. This is a new type of publication (a collection of videos) but Kregel hopes to have it on Amazon soon as well. Amazon is another good place to leave feedback if and when the time comes.

7.       Have you decided to do more projects along these lines?

In that first year, with the hopes of attacking all of the senses during memorization, I also set out to make vocabulary memorization easier. So concurrent with this project, I was also working on multimedia flashcards. I’m very proud of these flashcard sets as well, and they have been very successful, particularly on the iTunes appstore. I plan to work on Hebrew multimedia flashcards as well. Some have asked if I want to do a Hebrew version of The Singing Grammarian—I’m not sure I want to commit to that. I have already written some Hebrew songs, but not near the amount as for Greek. Those guttural sounds and throat clicks are hard to rhyme !

8.       Finally, can you tell the frustrated student/professor why they need to purchase The Singing Grammarian?

Because I need the money to pay off my student loan debt :-)

More seriously, I put all of this time and effort into The Singing Grammarian because I believe learning NT Greek is a worthwhile enterprise for those who want to interact with and better understand the New Testament. It saddens me how many students work to just get through Greek and then forget about it. This project is an attempt to make learning Greek a more enjoyable process that will then encourage students to keep up their Greek for a lifetime.

Professors, this is your chance to easily add a useful multimedia component to your syllabus AND your classroom time. It is amazing how laughter in your classroom can really change the dynamics of a group of students. The Singing Grammarian will bring laughs, learning, and music to your class time. Think about the hundreds and thousands of songs you can easily sing along to on the radio or your iPod. The Singing Grammarian taps into that ability to remember things through song.

I was also very happy at the price Kregel assigned to The Singing Grammarian, it works out to only $1 a song. This is a very reasonable price, something that can easily be added to a syllabus without breaking the bank. Finally, in the tradition of other Kregel products, professors should know that this can easily come alongside most introductory grammars—so whatever intro textbook you have decided on, The Singing Grammarian will be a melodious teaching companion.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Future of the People of God Review Part I

Many books one reads, especially in the area of biblical studies, are solid and sane, but very few have the potential to shift entire paradigms in the way we think about a figure or text. Andrew Perriman's The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom (Wipf and Stock; 2010; $22.00) has this rare potential. Based on this proclamation, one would think that a) What else can be said regarding Romans? After all, isn't Romans (along with John's Gospel), probably the most researched, written about book within the canon, and indeed, all of Western civilization? and b) Being that this monograph is about Paul's letter to the Romans, and has the potential to shift paradigms, one would think that like Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God, that this volume would reach quadruple digits in length. Addressing this latter concern plays a part in the overall strength of this volume. Perriman is to be commended for packing an immense amount of material in a mere 159 pages! Although Perriman, has a relatively short bibliography (31 works by 27 authors), he has chosen his sparing partners wisely (e.g. Dunn, Wright, Kirk, Moo, Gathercole, Campbell, Käsemann, etc.).  Moreover, the author has obviously done his homework, as a myriad of canonical, Second Temple texts, and Greco-Roman literature, has been employed in defense of his thesis.

 So, what is Perriman's thesis exactly? We now return to the uniqueness of his contribution. Perriman sees Romans as an apocalyptic text, that is rooted in history with a "historical frame of reference"(3) and that this historical frame of reference could include both Nero's "great Day of Fire" (AD 64; Tacitus Ann. 15.44; cf. Suetonius Nero 16.2), which led the emperor to blame the Christians for the devastating fire that destroyed much of Rome, and subsequently had them executed, along with the Jewish war (AD 66-73), which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70. Secondly, Perriman reminds the reader of the precarious existence of the early church and the world in which they inhabited, that was "dominated by the pagan gods and subject to the savage and unaccountable foibles of the ruling elite"(3). After making these two observations, Perriman lays before the reader his argument which will pervade all that follows:
What I will suggest is that Paul's argument in Romans in effect presupposes- in a way that is critical for interpretation- a narrative about the concrete existence of the 'people of God,' that runs, roughly speaking, from the exile as a paradigmatic judgment on Israel, through the painful experience of subjugation by foreign powers, including the disastrous war of AD 66-73, through a traumatic bifurcation set in motion by Jesus and his followers, through a period of intense conflict with the paganism of the Greco-Roman oikoumenē to reach a provisional but nonetheless momentous conclusion in a victory over the gods and nations of the old world, represented most clearly by Constantine's deliverance of the churches from persecution and the subsequent elevation of Christianity to the status of imperial religion by Theodosius (3-4).
 With this thesis in hand, it is essential that the reader understand that this volume is not masquerading as a mini-commentary (10), and that the author identifies with the New Perspective on Paul (henceforth, NPP), although not slavishly so. In fact, regarding the latter, the NPP "has not had the courage of its hermeneutical convictions" in identifying the particularity of Paul's Jewish thought (10). Perriman also is skeptical of the helpfulness of empire-critical studies, in that Paul cannot "be coherently recast as an anti-imperial, proto-Marxist theorist," demonstrating once again the struggle to identify what the resurrected "Son of God" would have sounded like to ancient audiences (10). Although, I for one do not share Perriman's skepticism regarding this last point, I can understand the underlying struggle of the interpreter's task in trying to grasp the historical and literary context of Paul's thought, especially in the case of Romans, a letter, perhaps more than any other Pauline document, that has suffered from the abstraction of theologizing at the hands of interpreters.

 Due to the importance of this volume, I have decided to review this volume in multiple posts in order to hopefully do the book adequate justice.