Tuesday, December 15, 2015

F.F. Bruce Video

I was notified this morning that a video of F.F. Bruce's Annual Moore College Lecture from 1977 is now posted online thanks to the folks at Moore Theological College. These lectures, originally entitled "Promised Beforehand by the Prophets," were later produced in a volume by Eerdmans entitled The Time is Fulfilled (1978).

As far as I know, this is the first video of Bruce produced online.


Lecture 1: "The Time is Fulfilled"; Sept. 6, 1977:

There are four more lectures in this series, all in audio format. I will update this post should the video become available.

HT: Timothy Knowlton and the F.F. Bruce Facebook Page

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Brief Reminiscences of I. Howard Marshall

My first SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) annual meeting in 2004 (San Antonio, TX) was memorable for a multitude of reasons. I learned more from that meeting about what not to do-- Spending money you don't have, bring home way too many books, try to book the entirety of my days and nights with sessions, meetings, and parties, leaving no time for reflection and rest. In all, I was an exhausted mess by the time the meeting ended.

I. Howard Marshall (1934-2015)
Despite my overzealous scheduling, there was one event in particular that I am grateful I attended. On the evening of Sunday, November 21, 2004, InterVarsity Press held a symposium to celebrate the releases of I. Howard Marshall's New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel, along with Eckhard Schnabel's Early Christian Mission (2 volumes). A panel discussion featured both authors addressing the topic: "The Missionary Context of the New Testament and Early Christianity." Unfortunately, I do not recall much of the discussion, but I do recall bringing Marshall's New Testament Theology, which I had just purchased at the ever-tempting IVP book stalls. Once the symposium ended, I made my way up to the front, standing in line to have my book signed by Marshall. I remember his warm greeting, a smile, followed by a handshake, and him asking me after looking at my name tag, "What are you studying at Ashland Seminary, Matthew?" After a brief discussion, he signed the volume, closed the book, and wished me well.

Despite this brief exchange, which for him had to have happened thousands of times over his long, illustrious career, many of them forgotten about on his end, I am certain, his kindness to a stranger, a young, seminary student, was something I shall never forget.  I was brought back to that particular moment yesterday when I heard the sad news that Ian Howard Marshall passed away one month short of his 82nd birthday after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer. For many, Marshall's influence was felt through his voluminous writings, whether they be from his magisterial Luke commentary (NIGTC), his Pastoral Epistles commentary (ICC), his aforementioned New Testament Theology, or his monographs, which included such gems as Luke: Historian and Theologian, The Origins of New Testament Christology, Aspects of the Atonement, among many, many others. For others, those who had the wonderful privilege of studying under him (Craig Blomberg, Ray Van Neste, Joel B. Green, Darrell Bock, to name a few), Marshall's generosity and humility were hallmarks that his students have emulated.

Over the several other SBL meetings I attended in the intervening years, I would see Marshall at some of the sessions, occasionally browsing the book stalls, but never again did I approach him and speak with him. What I observed during those fleeting moments though was a genuine humility and graciousness in dealing with others. I'll give but one example. I was at a session and I believe one of the speakers was Stephen Finlan, a fine NT scholar in his own right, and I remember looking a mere two rows ahead of me, and the great I. Howard Marshall was jotting down notes, like a young student! I thought to myself, "What a wonderful example!" This wasn't just a one-off, either. Marshall took notes for every other paper in the session! I observed him doing this at other sessions over the years, so I believe this was a regular practice for him. He never stopped being a student despite his immense stature in the evangelical scholarly community.

As for what he wrote in my book that fateful night? "Howard Marshall- 2 Tim 2:15".  The passage in full reads thusly:

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."

If any scholar lived those words, it was I. Howard Marshall (1931-2015). Rest in Peace and Arise in Glory!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

An Interview with Johnson Thomaskutty on Dialogue in the Book of Signs: Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with Johnson Thomaskutty, Dialogue in the Book of Signs. To see part I, click here.

Without further ado, on to the interview!

5. Exchange units within a dialogue are discussed at three different levels in your work. Can you discuss how these function in your reading of a dialogue and perhaps give a brief example of each? (e.g. micro-, meso-, macro-levels) 

As you rightly said, Dialogue in the Book of Signs discusses the phenomena of dialogue at three levels. First, at the micro-level, it discusses the dynamics of the individual utterances of the interlocutors and their interconnection and role, alongside the narrative, within the exchange units. Here, the study looks at how the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic aspects integrally work together within the exchange units. ‘Exchange’ is a peculiar term I employ throughout the study in order to indicate the independent units of the episode(s). An ‘exchange’ can be identified as: (a) a self-contained unit within an episode; (b) a narrative unit that contains a dialogue either explicitly or implicitly; (c) a narrative unit that decides the plot structure; and (d) a unit of its own characteristics, i.e., setting, dramatic framework, literary unity, rhetorical features, and development. Second, at the meso-level, the current project analyzes how the exchange units work in relation to one another and how they together form the episodes. Third, at the macro-level, it describes the holistic features of the dialogue in John 1:19-12:50. At this level, the entire Book of Signs is considered as a ‘single literary whole’ communicated by the author/narrator to the reader. In all three levels, the narrator-and-reader dialogue is analyzed alongside the character dialogues. Thus, a triadic-layered structure is established in order to decipher the dialogue foundation. For example, our multidimensional analysis of John 4:1-42 enables us to classify the dialogues into different categories. An important feature of the narrative is its use of explicit and implicit dialogues. In 4:1-42, a five-tier exchange develops within the narrative framework (i.e., vv. 7-26, 27, 28-30, 31-38, and 39-42). At the outset, vv. 1–6 frames a narrative setting for the entire episode. There are two explicit dialogues within the episode: (a) between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (vv. 7–26); and (b) between Jesus and the disciples (vv. 31–38). While exchange one (vv. 7–26) and exchange four (vv. 31–38) are mostly composed out of character utterances and dialogues, exchanges two (the disciples’ dialogue at the background, v. 27), three (the rear-of-stage dialogue, vv. 28–30), and five (vv. 39–42; cf. Dodd, 1960: 315) show narrator’s abbreviating tendencies. By incorporating both the explicit and implicit dialogues, the episode as a whole is dynamically coordinated and aligned by the narrator. In sum, the exchanges together form the episode (4:1-42) and the episodes together form the Book of Signs as a macro-level dialogue.

6. John 9 is rich with dialogue occurring at various levels. What is the payoff in your approach in analyzing this chapter?

Yes, John 9 is rich with dialogue occurring at various levels. If we consider 9:1-10:21 as a single unit, 9:1-41 has to be considered as a dialogue-driven section. The first exchange (9:1–7) has a sign- and work-centered dialogue progression. On the one hand, it shows features of a question-and-answer interaction, and yet again it keeps the form of a challenge-and-riposte. Within the overall framework of the exchange, the dialogue leads to a sign performance of Jesus. In the second exchange (9:8–12) the dialogue progresses from the sphere of a community to the level of a group and an individual. Other aspects such as dual-layered development, question-and-answer format, and forensic aspects are also features of the exchange. The third exchange (9:13–17) maintains elements of a false assertion and a subsequent question of perplexity and a question-and-answer dialogue. In this exchange, a reader can observe the way a dialogue functions within another dialogue. In the fourth exchange (9:18–23) the narrator uses elements of a question-and-answer dialogue and that contains a sequence of a forensic question, a knowing-and-unknowing contrast and a response of escape. In the fifth exchange (9:24–34) a juridical and antithetical progression of dialogue is in the view. The sixth exchange (9:35–38) has a belief-invitation, belief-willingness, revelation, belief-confession, and belief-actualization sequence with tenets of a flashback-centric and revelatory dialogue. And the seventh exchange (9:39–41) shows antithetical and ironical natures of the characters through their very utterances. But the seven-tier dialogue of 9:1-41 is incomplete without the succeeding monologue (10:1-18) and the community dialogue (10:19-21). The episode (9:1-10:21) maintains all the features of a U-shaped plot. While Jesus’ sign performance (9:1–7) and its declaration by a minority group (10:21) are at the heightened positions, the trial of the man (and also of Jesus) and the discourse of Jesus are at the lowered position. This sequence helps the story to maintain a beginning-middle-ending order. At the extended level, John 9:1-10:21 has to be considered as a dramatic dialogue leading to a monologue and a community dialogue.

7. What impact do you hope your monograph makes upon Johannine studies? 

That is indeed another significant question. The current monograph may contribute in the ongoing study of the Gospel of John the following way. First, in the field of dialogue studies: the work reveals that John’s Gospel exemplifies dialogue as a literary genre not simply in the isolated pieces (as we usually look at, i.e., Nicodemus event in chapter 3 and the Samaritan woman event in chapter 4) but in the overall framework of the gospel. While the intradiegetic dialogue reveals the dialogue of the characters among themselves, the metadiegetic dialogue functions as a connecting link between the narrator and the reader. In that sense, John as a literary masterpiece is composed primarily out of the utterances (dialogues and monologues) and the narratives. Within the narrative framework, the intradiegetic dialogue functions both explicitly and implicitly. This understanding may help a Johannine reader to read and understand the entire gospel from an exchange/episode/narrative framework and from dramatic angles. Second, in the field of interdisciplinary approaches: the present study attempts to suggest a new way forward with the help of a polyvalent analysis. It makes use of different approaches (i.e., genre, narrative, rhetorical, dramatic, reader response, and the like), different layers (i.e., micro-, meso-, and macro-), and aspects (i.e., content, form, and function), that better qualify it to be called a multidimensional analysis. It further helps the reader/interpreter to look at the text from multivalent angles in order to see myriad possibilities of meanings. Third, the potentiality of the text and the involvement of the reader: the study reveals that the text itself is potential, powerful, and rhetorical to create a world of its own before the contemporary reader. The semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic layers of the Johannine text guide the contemporary reader to create meaning in a dynamic relationship with the internal textual constructs like the narrator, narratee, implied author, and implied reader. Moreover, the study guides the contemporary reader to be engaged in verbal exchanges with the characters of the story. In that sense, a contemporary reader can consider the text itself as a dialogue partner. Thus, the study encourages the readers and interpreters of John to expound the text with the help of polyvalent methods. It also informs them the contribution of the dialogue toward the narrative development of the gospel.

8. Can you discuss other projects with which you are currently engaged?

Right now I am engaged in writing a monograph entitled Didymus Judas Thomas: New Testament, Apocrypha, and Historical Traditions. Prof. James H. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary is the main motivation behind this work. In June 2013, I spent a profitable time with him to discuss the Thomas project at École Biblique Jerusalem. The whole trip was sponsored by Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins. I thank the GRI program of The Center for Missiological Research (CMR) at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, for providing a grant for the writing project right now. Upon the completion of the project, I may begin working on another monograph with a title A Polyvalent Analysis of Dialogue in John 13-21 for Brill. I would like to thank Prof. Paul N. Anderson of George Fox University for the encouragement toward this. He was one of the key figures who encouraged me to publish my doctoral dissertation under Brill. As the editor in chief of the Biblical Interpretation Series, Prof. Paul guided me all through the revision/editing processes. Also, I have another project in my list entitled Gospel according to John: A Commentary for India Commentary on the New Testament (ICNT) Series. Thank you, Matthew, for these significant questions.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Vincent Taylor: Reflections on Commentary Writing

Vincent Taylor (1887-1968), was a preeminent New Testament scholar of his time, serving the bulk of his career as Ferens Professor of New Testament at Wesley College, Headingley, Leeds from 1930-1958. He wrote famous monographs such as Jesus and His Sacrifice: A Study of the Passion Sayings (1937) and The Atonement in New Testament Teaching (1940). As well known as these works were, however, Taylor was probably best known for his magnum opus The Gospel According to St. Mark (MacMillan) published in 1952. Taylor's commentary, although dated, is still considered one of the most valuable commentaries on the Second Gospel to this day, due to Taylor's handling of the Greek text. His approach is now widely used in many commentary series; one thinks of Eerdmans New International Greek Testament Commentary series as well as Harper Collins/Zondervan's World Biblical Commentary series.

I am always interested in the approach a scholar takes when writing a commentary. Many would opine that it is the least creative writing that there is, but to call it artless is a stretch too far. All of the tools that a scholar acquires in his training is challenged by the genre. I was excited therefore to see Taylor's comments in the Preface (v-ix), about what he hoped to achieve. Here are his thoughts on the monumental task of writing a commentary:

I hasten to say that in this work I have no thought of attempting to write a definitve commentary. I am content rather to report progress and perhaps to stimulate others to essay the task. It is not by one commentary, but by a series, that we are most  likely to make real progress. And, for the encouragement of others, I may say that there is no task so rewarding. When we write monographs on such questions as the Parables, the Kingdom of God, or the Son of Man, we read everything germane to such inquiries, but other subjects, which do not make the same appeal, have perforce to be passed by. In writing a commentary this method is not possible. Every theme that arises must be followed, and every line of inquiry into which it opens. The commentator is compelled to be cathollic in his sympathies, international in his outlook, hospitable in his interests (vi; italics mine).
Although the reflections may be more than 60 years old, the same holds true for the commentator today. To boil it down, the commentator, using every tool in their exegetical holster, must still follow the text, allowing it to dictate where the writer goes.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

J. Ramsey Michaels on Evangelicalism: Quote of the Day

One of the finest books I have been in the process of reading now for some time, I (Still )Believe, (Zondervan) coedited by a mentor and friend, John Byron, is full of wonderful stories of some of the most prominent Biblical scholars in the world today. One of the contributors, J. Ramsey Michaels, has over the years, also become a mentor and friend to me as well. It was with great anticipation that I read Ramsey's essay, "Four Cords and an Anchor" (173-185), where he describes in some detail his journey through the four cords of his faith, namely, Roman Catholicism, Fundamentalism, Anabaptism, and Calvinism.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading Ramsey, whether it is his magisterial commentary on John (NICNT) or his works on Flannery O'Connor, knows of his unique ability to simultaneously wax poetic and pinpoint the issue at hand, with a beauty and clarity that few writers possess. In this regard, Ramsey resembles one of his heroes, Amos Niven Wilder.

A great example of these traits is on display when Ramsey recounts his 25 years at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and his status as an "evangelical." At this stage in the essay, Michaels reflects on the perplexing nature of that description:

In many ways evangelicals are a strange breed, exemplifying to an extreme the principle of 'no creed but the Bible.'  Whether the buzzword is infallibility or inerrancy, the Bible is all that unites them.  Their common belief in an infallible Scripture seems to produce no other beliefs in common, other than the basic elements of the gospel--Christ's death and resurrection--that define Christianity. It is as if the Bible teaches nothing in particular other than the gospel. They are low church--or else high church, Calvinistic--or Arminian. They practice believer's baptism--or infant baptism. They believe God created the world in six days--or millions of years. They ordain women--or not. They speak in tongues--or not. Self-styled evangelicals can be found on both sides of virtually every theological, ecclesiastical and ethical issue that matters. Moreover, they regard this as one of their strengths, a testimony to their 'diversity' or 'openess.'
How is this possible? By the magic of 'hermeneutics.' I may confess my faith in an inerrent Bible, but what really counts is how I read it and interpret it. Something is wrong when our common agreement that the Bible is 'infallible' or even 'without error' produces agreement on vitually nothing else. If that is the case, what good is it? If  'evangelical'  means simply Christian, or even just Protestant, is it not redundant? (177-78; italics mine).
As one can see in the above quote, Michaels expresses well what a slippery, inadequate label "evangelical" is while simultaneously exposing the ironic nature of the entire enterprise, wisely noting that our interpretive traditions often play the largest role in how we read the Bible.

As a side note, I am happily reading the reflections of some of my favorite scholars  (Fee, Lincoln, Michaels, Hagner, McKnight, etc...) in this wonderful book. This has been one of my favorite books of 2015 and I recommend purchasing a copy here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

An Interview with Johnson Thomaskutty on Dialogue in the Book of Signs: Part I

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Johnson Thomaskutty, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Editor of UBS Journal at the Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India, on his recently published dissertation, Dialogue in the Book of Signs: A Polyvalent Analysis of John 1:19-12:50 (Brill).  Currently, Johnson is serving as a Global Research Institute scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Johnson's Dialogue in the Book of Signs is methodologically sophisticated and will be a volume that  Johannine specialists will need to consult for further work in this section of John's Gospel. I have split the interview into two parts, with the second part due to appear later this week.

On to part one of  the interview:

 1. First, can you talk a bit about your experience under the supervision of Prof. Jan G. van der Watt at Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands?

I appreciate that question. My Doktorvater Prof. Dr. Jan G. van der Watt deserves great appreciation for his continuous effort in shaping my thoughts and painstakingly going through my dissertation manuscript several times. As a distinguished Johannine scholar, he insightfully molded my academic pursuit with an international outlook. I will remain thankful to him forever. The following things are my observations and experiences with regard to Jan van der Watt: first, he is, on the one hand, one of the friendliest professors I have ever met, and, on the other hand, one of the most analytical and thoroughly experienced scholars not only in the Gospel of John but also in New Testament studies as a whole, Literary Criticism, and Jewish and Greco-Roman rhetoric; second, in our conversations, I was always the beginner of the dialogue and then he, with much creativity and articulation, attuned my thinking patterns toward the expected goal; third, when it comes to the academic standards, there is no compromise on his way. He inspires his students to work at the higher levels by making involved in reading books from his own personal library and also by enabling them to brainstorm multiple layers around the topic; fourth, he gives special exposures to his students by taking them along to other Dutch (and even German) universities and by connecting them with other renowned scholars in the field. I remember that he assigned Prof. Jacobus (Kobus) Kok of the University of Pretoria as my co-promoter, connected me with the Philosophy Department of Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen to discuss the philosophical side of my topic, took me to Utrecht University to discuss the narratorial aspects, and sent me to Leuven University in Belgium to discuss the topic with Prof. Gilbert van Belle; and fifth, we had conversations on the topic mostly in his office. We also had intellectual exchanges through e-mails, at De Refter (university cafeteria), and in some of the restaurants in Nijmegen. Prof. Jan was a great motivation for me to develop the skills of scientific biblical analysis, dialoguing with the biblical texts, originality in thinking, arguing for and against the existing views and propositions, and the best use of interdisciplinary approaches to the biblical texts. Above all, he is one of my distinguished friends.

2. What led up to your exploration of the genre of dialogue in the Fourth Gospel, particularly in the so-called “Book of Signs” (1:19-12:50)?

In my observation, the dialogue of the Gospel of John remained as one of the most significant literary genres without much scholarly attention. The Book of Signs [1:19-12:50] in the gospel is comprised of several dialogue texts. This large block of the gospel is a major dialogue portion in the New Testament connected to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Our analysis of the Johannine scholarship on dialogue reveals a few gaps. They either lack breadth (only looking at a few dialogues or a certain aspect of dialogue), or depth (only providing a cursory analysis of some dialogues), or both. The following are the four major gaps we identify in the previous scholarship on Johannine dialogue: first, in most of the cases the dialogues are looked at from a diachronic point of view; second, the dialogues of John are mostly analyzed in relation to other aspects or without exclusive focus on them; third, a good number of studies are incomprehensive as the authors treat the texts with wider gaps in between; and fourth, the two major aspects of the dialogue (i.e., character level and narrator-and-reader level) are not treated proportionately by the authors. I felt that filling these gaps requires necessary attempts from the Johannine interpreters so that the dialogue of the Gospel of John may receive adequate attention. Moreover, some important concerns such as treatment of both the explicit and implicit dialogues, consideration of dialogue as a significant genre within the narrative framework of the gospel, a dialogue-centric interpretation of the gospel rather than the habitual practices of narrative-centric interpretations, and the exploration of the contribution of dialogues to the narrative framework of the gospel are brought to the centre of the current discussion. In that sense, the present monograph is an attempt to illuminate dialogue as the most significant literary genre of the gospel by means of a multidimensional and comprehensive analysis. Of course, my original plan was looking at the entire gospel from this perspective. Due to the broadness of the topic and the difficulty in confining the study of the whole gospel within a doctoral dissertation, I changed my plan (in consultation with Prof. Jan) to discuss it within the first twelve chapters of the gospel.

3.How does studying ancient dialogue inform a nuanced reading of the Fourth Gospel?

Dialogue, as a literary genre, was widely in use even before and during the composition of the Gospel of John. As our study follows the synchronic methods, the details in it are intended not to state that John had influences from his predecessors or contemporaries but rather to make all aware of the extensive use of a literary genre that was made use by the Fourth Evangelist. A brief survey of the Sumero-Babylonian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Greek, and Roman religious traditions serves to confirm that dialogue and interactions among the deities themselves and between the pantheon and the human world were part and parcel of the affairs of the ancient world. This pattern of dialogue helps us to understand the dialogues of John between Jesus and the Father, Jesus as the one ‘from above’ and Jews as those ‘from below,’ and Jesus as one who is the ‘word became flesh’ and the rest of the humanity. The philosophical traditions, as in the case of the religious traditions, provide us clues for understanding the existent patterns of dialogue before John. In John, as in the case of Platonic dialogues, it is difficult to distinguish between the voices of Jesus, the protagonist, and John, the author/narrator. As Aristotle identifies ‘conversations with Socrates’ as a literary genre, in John ‘conversations with Jesus’ can be identified as a literary category. While dialogue as a broad category appears in their writings, the philosophers employed that genre at different levels and for different purposes. Similarly, John uses dialogue at a different level and for fulfilling his own literary and theological purposes. Though John employs dialogue as a significant category in his writing, his dialogue has to be treated on its own terms. Furthermore, the Johannine dialogues show striking similarities with the dialogues of the Old Testament. As in the case of the Old Testament dialogues, the Johannine dialogues maintain an “inner-negotiation” and “outer-confrontation” pattern. In the monograph, I discuss these aspects in the introductory chapter so that the readers may get a better grasp of the literary genre used by the Johannine narrator.

4. How does a synchronic reading of dialogue in the Book of Signs better inform the reader?

The primary focus of the diachronic approaches was not on the dialogues/discourses themselves but on their history and sources. Johannine dialogues were discussed in relation to their environs. The aspects like speech units in relation to one another and their interaction within the narrative framework of the gospel were not adequately dealt with. Moreover, the episodic development, dramatic flow, plot structure, and characterization of the dialogues were scarcely looked at. Diachronic studies mostly define the literary phenomenon rather than describing it. At that critical juncture, a study of Johannine dialogue that would illuminate its function within the present text (i.e., by means of synchronic methods) remained as a serious concern. Dialogue in the Book of Signs uses insights from genre, narrative, rhetorical, dramatic, and reader response methods in order to analyze the dialogue texts of John. It helps further to use description and clarification and analytic and synthetic methods to understand the overall nature and function of dialogue in the Book of Signs. The study is an attempt to implement a polyvalent analysis as an overarching approach to pull things together in understanding the overall content and rhetorical thrust of dialogue in John 1-12. This analysis contributes to the advancement of a thoroughgoing interpretation of the dialogue. When we analyze the dialogue texts from a genre critical point of view, we also make use of a polyvalent approach, as an overarching method, to ponder the literary aspects of the Book of Signs. The combined function of the genre components such as content, form, and function are analyzed to determine the nature of the dialogue.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stephen Fowl and the Virtue of Charity in Interpretation

Stephen E. Fowl, Professor of Theology, Loyola College, Maryland, is known best for his work on Paul (see his Ephesians, Philippians commentaries) and his work in Theological Interpretation of Scripture (see here) has an insightful essay on the latter in the Festschrift for Andrew Lincoln, Conception, Reception, and the Spirit, entitled, "Historical Criticism, Theological Interpretation and the Ends of the Christian Life" (173-186). Fowl does not offer specific methodologies on how theological interpretation should be carried out, but rather points the way forward with an eye towards the future of the enterprise, namely, matters of self-definition.

I'd like to focus on one particularly helpful section of Fowl's essay in this post. He notes:
When theological interpretation of Scripture was trying to get a foothold in the academy there was a good deal of overheated rhetoric from both theological interpreters and historical critics about either the necessity of or the bankrupt nature of historical criticism. I think the time is right to reflect on these relationships in less fevered tones. (178)
After Fowl argues that theological interpretation should employ various interpretive practices, including the various methods of historical criticism (182), he remains reluctant to provide a descriptive account of what theological interpretation should look like. Instead, Fowl takes a prescriptive posture towards the practice of theological interpretation, particularly as it pertains on the interaction with those with whom we disagree. Fowl writes:
Rather than pursuing a method, however, to keep all of the various interpretive interests of biblical scholars in some sort of proper order, theological interpreters would be better served by working to cultivate a set of interpretive virtues which will help them make wise judgments about how to keep theological concerns primary in their interpretive work (182; emphasis mine). 
Fowl recognizes that there is a multiplicity of virtues a theological interpreter should strive to cultivate, but insists that the most important are charity and prudence. My focus is on the former, because what Fowl states here, I believe, has ramifications for all sorts of discourse (political, religious, personal, etc.) and exemplifies Jesus' command of loving one's neighbor (Mark 12:31).

Fowl states:

Charity in interpretation is always directed towards maximizing agreement between interpreters. The point of this is not to reduce disagreement because disagreements are bad and upsetting. Rather charity assumes that if interpreters read each other's works in ways that maximize their agreements, then both the nature and the scope of their disagreements will be clearer and more capable of resolution. Such charity is particularly important when dealing with interpreters and interpretations that come from times, places, and cultures far different from our own. When we seek to maximize the agreements between ourselves and such interpreters we diminish the temptation simply to reduce those interpreters to inferior versions of ourselves who can be easily dismissed. In this respect, when historical critics emphasize how it the temporal and cultural 'strangeness' of the Bible, they are emphasizing a necessary, but not sufficient, aspect of interpretive charity. They see the importance of undertsanding intepreters and interpretations on their own terms (183; emphasis mine).
Fowl takes the notion of interpretive charity a step further when he states:
...the charitable interpreter will want to present alternative interpreters and interpretations in the most positive light possible. This might require going above and beyond the work done by those who hold alternative views; this may involve doing more for one's argumentative opponents than they did for themselves. (183).
In case Fowl could be accused of an artificial attitude of interpretive humility, he goes on to state:

It does not require one to support weak or erroneous interpretations in favor of keeping interpretive peace. There is no reason for charitable interpreters to shy away from disagreement or argument. Indeed, this seide of the eschaton, Christians can expect disagreement and debate will mark all their engagements with Scripture. In such a situation, charity is that virtue that will give us the best chance of resolving are disputes well (183; emphasis mine). 
We would do well to follow Fowl's lead. I believe he has his finger on the pulse of something hugely significant. I, for one, tire of the ad hominem attacks that pervade much of the scholarly, social, political discourse one sees on a regular basis. We have lost sight of the mantra, "Disagree without being disagreeable." Fowl has provided an important insight on how our discourse should take place in the scholarly community, and I argue, his point transcends this very community and gets to the heart of Jesus' command to love one's neighbor.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

C.F.D. Moule on the Historical Jesus

Recently, I was reading C.F.D. Moule's article, "The Christ of Experience and the Christ of History;" Theology 81 (1978); 164-172, when I came across this beautiful quote from a section of the article where Moule argues in part that the worshipped Christ "is continuous with a fully historical figure" (170).

Moule states:
Besides Paul, there are the Gospels, representing, at their latest, collections including very early traditions about Jesus. A good deal is thus known about the character of Jesus. Of course the Gospels present us not with photographs but with portraits, and portraits conceived with varying degrees of freedom; they are all interpretations, not slavish chronicles. Each is different; each is more or less impressionistic. And there are those who deny that any clear-cut, consistent impression of a single sitter emerges through the portraits. But-although I would be among the first to agree that he is much too big to be characterized simply, and that any hope of portraying him may have to be through a succession of paradoxical, partly conflicting impressionsyet it seems to me that certain features do constantly recur. We know Jesus as a man with inflexible singlemindedness and a determination as resilient and hard as steel, and yet with a heart of extreme tenderness and feminine sensitivity; an artist of intense poetic directness, capable of grasping and presenting shattering truths pictorially with a few deft strokes of his brush; and, above all, one who took God with absolute seriousness, so that, wherever Jesus was, there was God's sovereignty, releasing men and women from their fantasies and neuroses and letting them stand free and upright as children of God. Where God is obeyed as intensively as Jesus obeyed him, where God is treated as axiomatic, there things happen which do not happen normally (170-171).

Friday, October 16, 2015

Murray Harris' Advice for Learning Greek

One approach I have used in the past to improve my facility in reading Greek was to dedicate myself to memorization of key passages and or complete letters, i.e. my start and stop relationship with memorizing Philippians.

I was delighted to read a brief interview with the great exegete, Murray Harris regarding his latest offering on John in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. When asked what study habits he has found most useful in his decades of research and study Murray states:

 As for the study habit that has proved most helpful in my academic career, it is this. There is no better way to become proficient in Greek, to gain a “feel” for the language, and to become enriched by the theology of the New Testament than the regular memorization of the Greek text. Paste a photocopy of verses or sections of the text on to cards and carefully reflect on it as you go about your daily exercise. 

This statement had provided me with a fresh impetus to try my hand at this once again. After all, if someone the stature of Murray Harris has found this practice helpful, who am I to argue?

For more on this volume and interview, click here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and the Quote of the Day

Sir Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, 13th Baronet and priest of the Church of England, is perhaps known best for his classic commentary, The Fourth Gospel, which was subsequently completed by his student, Francis Noel Davey, due to Hoskyns untimely death. To give one a measure of Hoskyns as a scholar, the great Charles Kingsley Barrett considered him a main influence in his own scholarly career.

In reading the Introduction, "The Problem of the Fourth Gospel"(17-20), Hoskyns discusses the anonymity of the authorship of the Fourth Gospel and states:

"...the author has done his best, apparently with intention, to cover up his tracks. For his theme is not his own workshop, but the workshop of God, and to this we have no direct access! Where the author's personal ideas and reminiscences? Where is his personal experience? No doubt they are there; no doubt, indeed, there is nothing else there but what he thought and what he experienced, but he does not intend us to bury ourselves with him as though he himself were himself the goal of our inquiry. He has, in fact, so burnt himself out of his book that we cannot be certain that we have anywhere located him as a clear, intelligible figure in history. At the end of our inquiry he remains no more than a voice bearing witness to the glory of God. So anonymous is his book, so intentionally anonymous, that there is in it, apart from the shy little 'I suppose' of the last verse, no 'ego' except the 'Ego' of Jesus, the Son of God. The author of the book has effaced himself, or, rather, has been decreased and sacrificed, in order that the Truth may be made known and in order that the Eternal Life which is in God may be declared." (18-19).

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Gordon McConville on the OT and Human Flourishing

Just wanted to pass along a short video that I found interesting. J. Gordon McConville, Professor of Old Testament Theology at the University of Gloucestershire, has some compelling things to say about human flourishing in the OT in this brief interview.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Studying Isaiah with John Oswalt

John Oswalt, Visting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Seminary, best known for his work in Isaiah, particularly his two-volume commentary set in the NICOT series, has a series of  videos on Isaiah as well as Exodus through the Francis Asbury Society. Click here to access the channel on Vimeo.

Jack Lundbom's Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount

Jack R. Lundbom, best known for his magisterial work on Jeremiah, including a 3 volume commentary in the Yale University Press series and a recent stand-alone commentary on Deuteronomy for Eerdmans, has turned his keen interpretive eye towards perhaps the most famous section of the Gospels, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount teaching material (chs. 5-7). The volume, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: Mandating a Better Righteousness is a recent release by Fortress Press

Here are the particulars:

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the best-known repository of the teachings of Jesus and one of the most studied. Amid the considerable erudition expended on the Sermon, however, Jack R. Lundbom argues that it has proven too easy to deflect or disregard the main thrust of the Sermon, which he characterizes as a mandate to holy living and a “greater righteousness.” Through careful attention to the structure of Matthew’s Gospel and the place of the Sermon within it, keen sensitivity to the patterns and themes of Israelite prophecy, and judicious comparisons with other Jewish and rabbinic literature, Lundbom elucidates the meaning of the Sermon and its continuity with Israel’s prophetic heritage as well as the best of Jewish teaching. By deft appeal to Christian commentators on the Sermon, Lundbom brings its most important themes to life for the contemporary reader, seeking always to understand what the “greater righteousness” to which the Sermon summons might mean for us today.
For more info including chapter samples click here .

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Francis Watson's Forthcoming Volume

Francis Watson, one of the leading NT scholars in the world has already produced such groundbreaking works as Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith  and Gospel Writing, has another work on the way that promises to break new ground on how one should read the Gospels. Instead of focusing on the individuality of each Gospel in order to ascertain say, the theological meaning of Mark, Watson aims to read the fourfold Gospel in their plurality, arguing that this is the way the church witnesses to the work of God in Christ.

The book is set to release in April 2016 is priced at $24.99 and is 224 pages long.

Here is the info:

This groundbreaking approach to the study of the fourfold Gospel offers a challenging alternative to prevailing assumptions about the creation of the Gospels and the person of Jesus. How and why does it matter that we have these four Gospels? Why were they placed alongside one another as four parallel yet diverse retellings of the same story? Francis Watson, widely regarded as one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, explains that the four Gospels were chosen to give a portrait of Jesus. He explores the significance of the canonical Gospel's plural form for those who constructed it and for later Christian communities, showing that in its plurality it bears definitive witness to what God has done in Jesus Christ. Watson focuses on reading the Gospels alongside one another rather than in isolation and explains that the fourfold Gospel is greater than, and other than, the sum of its individual parts. Interweaving historical, exegetical, and theological perspectives, this book is accessibly written for students and pastors but is also of interest to professors and scholars.


Prolegomenon: The Making of a Fourfold Gospel More than Four? Fewer than Four? Why "Gospel"? Why the Evangelists' Names? Why These Four? Part One: Perspectives 

1. The First Gospel: Jesus the Jew The Messiah's Double Origin Genealogy as Narrative The Sacred Story and Its Shadow The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah 

2. The Second Gospel: Preparing the Way The Four Faces of the Gospel The Voice in the Desert The Inclusive Gospel An End and a Beginning 

3. The Third Gospel: Magnificat How Luke Became Luke Reassuring Theophilus Reading in Parallel 

4. The Fourth Gospel: Seeing God Three plus One The Johannine Eagle In the Beginning Part Two: Convergences 

5. Four Gospels, One Book The Evangelist: Portrait and Artist Prefatory to a Gospel Order out of Chaos Parallels and Numbers 

6. The City and the Garden Acclamation Reading the Event A Man of Sorrows 

7. Christus Victor The Death of the Messiah Atonement Pattern Life Aftermath 

8. The Truth of the Gospel The Eucharistic Milieu Evangelical Apologetics Form and Content The One Word


Friday, August 28, 2015

Robert H. Stein and the Quote of the Day

Robert H. Stein
Robert Stein's Jesus, the Temple and the Coming of the Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13, is a wonderful study on Mark's most enigmatic chapter. On the heels of Stein's excellent commentary on the Second Gospel in the BECNT series, Stein rounds out his work with a detailed study on this oft disagreed chapter. I recommend it without reservation as I am convinced of Stein's outline and

This brings me to the quote of the day as Stein concludes his interpretation of the command "keep awake" in Mark 13:37 this way:

The exhortation to 'keep awake' indicates that the warnings against apocalyptic preoccupation and frenzy in 13:5-8 and 21-23 are not meant to weaken the blessed hope of the parousia but rather to encourage watching, looking forward to and praying for the coming Son of Man. The longing for the blessed hope of the appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Chris is not primarily a characteristic of certain fanatics on the fringe of the Christian community but has been, is and will continue to be at  the heart off the Christian communtiy's hope and longing. This is why the Christian community has, is and will continue to pray, 'Your kingdom come' and 'Marana tha' (135; italics mine).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Going to Seminary not an Option? Ashland Seminary and Faithlife Offer a Way Forward

My alma mater, Ashland Theological Seminary, is partnering with Logos/FaithLife and their Mobile Ed curriculum to offer a Graduate Diploma in New Testament studies. This is a brilliant opportunity for those who desire to study from home. Want to study under David deSilva and others? Click here for more info.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Oscar Cullmann Audio

Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999), a Protestant Theologian and New Testament scholar, was a pioneer of the ecumenical movement where his dialogue with the Catholic church began in the 1920's, long before ecumenism became fashionable. Cullman served as Professor of New Testament and Ancient Christian History at the University of Basel from 1938-1972. Some of his principle publications were:
Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999)

Christ and Time: The Primitive Conception of Time (1950); Baptism in the New Testament (1950), and the Christology of the New Testament (1959).

Recently, my good friend, Cliff Kvidahl, notified me that a lecture Cullmann gave at SBTS (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) in 1966 was made available online. Click here for the link to the audio.

Friday, August 7, 2015

John A.T. Robinson Video

My good friend, Cliff Kvidahl, alerted me to a video of John A.T. Robinson (1919-1983), a New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, giving an informal lecture, "Gospel of John: Discussion Questions" before students of Southern Seminary in 1982, a year prior to his untimely death from cancer. Robinson was best known for his work Honest to God (1963) and his The Priority of John (1984), where he argued for an early date for John's Gospel, a study that extended his thesis in Redating the New Testament (1976), where he argued that all N.T. writings date prior to 70 AD. To get an idea of his stature as a British Johannine scholar, Richard Bauckham includes him in a dedication in his forthcoming Gospel of Glory (Baker Academic), along with B.F. Westcott, Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, C.H. Dodd, Barnabas Lindars, and C.K. Barrett. Pretty good company, indeed!

John A.T. Robinson (1919-1983)

George Eldon Ladd Audio Lectures

George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982)
George Eldon Ladd, one of the great and tragic figures in the history of New Testament scholarship, was best known for his career at Fuller Seminary (1950-1980) and his magnum opus, A Theology of the New Testament. For an excellent analysis of his life and career, I encourage picking up the excellent volume, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by John D'Elia.

I, along with many others I'm sure, have long wondered what Ladd may have sounded like when delivering a lecture. I am happy to say that the Boyce Digital Library has nine audio lectures dated to 1982, the year of Ladd's death. The lectures, focusing on the Kingdom of God and eschatology, were the hallmarks of Ladd's scholarship.

Click here to access and enjoy listening to one of the greats.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

More F.F. Bruce Audio

F.F. Bruce 
Over five years ago, I noted in a post some audio lectures I discovered that featured 1,700 lectures/sermons of scholars and theologians, no one more famous than F.F. Bruce (1910-1990).

Fast forward to the present, and I have discovered seven more audio resources on the Voices for Christ site, which can be accessed here. The provenance of these lectures is unknown, but make no mistake, these are authentic and one of them even features a Q&A with the audience!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Paul and the Gift: A Preview of John Barclay's Book

Perhaps the most anticipated book in biblical studies for 2015, John Barclay's Paul & the Gift, now has an extensive Google Preview where most of the volume can be read online. Click here if you don't want to wait until September.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Calvin Roetzel Remembers Ernst Käsemann

Calvin J. Roetzel, Sundet Professor of New Testament and Christian Studies, Department of Classical & Near Eastern Studies, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota and Arnold Lowe Professor of Religious Studies (emeritus), Macalester College, recently (March 25, 2015) spoke about his friendship and the influence of one of the greatest NT scholars of the twentieth century, Ernst Käsemann. His lecture, "Ernst Käsemann Remembered" delivered at Emory University, Candler School of Theology, Pitts Theology Library, can be found here.

Here is a description of the lecture and the donation Roetzel made to the Pitts Theology Library of his personal correspondence with Käsemann:

"Professor Roetzel was one of several prominent American scholars who worked with Professor Käsemann in Tübingen and brought his influence into North American scholarship. Prof. Roetzel is donating to the Pitts Theology Library his personal correspondence with Prof. Käsemann, a collection of letters that ranges in topics from personal details related to his visit in Tübingen to substantive conversations about Pauline theology. The Pitts Theology Library is using Prof. Roetzel’s donation as the beginning of a curation effort of other American scholars who own Käsemann correspondence. Building upon existing archival items, Pitts has contacted several New Testament scholars who have indicated they are interested in participating in this endeavor. Professor Roetzel’s lecture will provide the context to this collection and celebrate the enormous contributions of Professor Käsemann."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gordon Fee: Master of Pedagogy

Gordon Fee, in this short video clip, provides a brief master class on the effectiveness of using a historical illustration to teach a Biblical principle, namely, a lesson on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 that signalled the death knell of Nazi Germany in WWII, which eventually was consummated on May 8, 1945 (V-Day), eleven months later. Fee ties these events to an illustration with the Kingdom of God.

At one point during this stirring clip (about the 4:16 mark) Fee exclaims:
In the coming of Jesus, God planted his flag on this enemy turf and said "This is my planet! I claim it in the name of the cross!" 

What an inspiring clip! Enjoy!

Murray Harris's John 3:16

Murray J. Harris
Murray J. Harris, professor emeritus of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has written a nice little book on probably the most famous of all Biblical passages: John 3:16.  John 3:16: What's it All About?(Cascade; 2015). To call this a book is a bit of a stretch as it is probably closer to the size of an essay. Weighing in at twenty-nine pages of text (forty-two when endnotes are included), Harris provides a straightfforward exegesis, first, by providing a brief overview of authorship (Harris opines for the traditional understanding of John, one of the twelve being the author), and then by discussing the context of the famous passage, by examining Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus. On this score, Harris does seem to ignore the narrative function of the time of Jesus' and Nicodemus' discussion,(i.e. 'at night') preferring to elucidate the timing of the meaning by purely historical reasons, (e.g. "Jewish rabbis taught that the ideal time to study the law was at night..." ; 3-4).

After this, Harris goes through each phrase contained in the passage (e.g. "For God" [8-9]; "so loved" [10-11]; "the world" [12,13], etc.) Finally, the book ends with a section called "Final Comments" (27-29), where Harris lists six adjectives that describes what "eternal life" looks like (e.g. "Embodied," "Localized," "Personal," "Active," "Corporate," "Permanent").

All in all, this is a good little book for those who want to discover as the subtitle asks "What's it All About?"

Friday, July 10, 2015

Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospel of John

J.B. Lightfoot (1828-1889)
When one thinks of the great British commentators on the Fourth Gospel, Westcott, Hoskyns, Dodd, Barrett, and Lindars, one name is conspicuous by its absence: Joseph Barber Lightfoot. Lightfoot, the preeminent NT scholar of his time, never wrote a commentary on the Fourth Gospel, partly due to his respect for his colleague, B.F. Westcott.

Lightfoot did, however, continue to take notes on John's Gospel, which Ben Witherington III discovered at the Durham Cathedral Library in the spring of 2013. With this discovery and its future publication (The Gospel of St. John: A Newly Discovered Commentary; Dec. 2015; InterVarsity Press Academic; 384 pp.), perhaps Lightfoot's name will be placed alongside the pantheon of the great British commentators on the Fourth Gospel.

Here are the particulars:

InterVarsity Press is proud to present The Lightfoot Legacy, a three-volume set of previously unpublished material from J. B. Lightfoot, one of the great biblical scholars of the modern era. In the spring of 2013, Ben Witherington III discovered hundreds of pages of biblical commentary by Lightfoot in the Durham Cathedral Library. While incomplete, these commentaries represent a goldmine for historians and biblical scholars, as well as for the many people who have found Lightfoot's work both informative and edifying, deeply learned and pastorally sensitive. In addition to the material on the Acts of the Apostles, published in volume one, there were detailed notes on the Fourth Gospel, a text that Lightfoot loved and lectured on frequently. These pages contain his commentary notes for John 1-12. Lightfoot had long wanted to write a commentary on the Gospel of John, but he was unable to do so due to more pressing demands on his time, as well as his respect for his colleague B. F. Westcott. As a result, though he continued to compile notes on the text, they never saw the light of day until now. Included alongside the commentary are Lightfoot’s long out-of-print essays on the historical reliability of the Fourth Gospel. Now on display for all to see, these commentary volumes reveal a scholar well ahead of his time, one of the great minds of his or any generation. 


Introduction: External and Internal Evidences of the Authenticity and Genuineness of the Fourth Gospel
Appendix A: External Evidence for the Authenticity of the Fourth Gospel
Appendix B: More Internal Evidence for the Authenticity and Genuineness of St John’s Gospel Appendix C: Lightfoot and German Scholarship on John’s Gospel
Author Index
Scripture Index

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Excerpt of Richard Bauckham's Gospel of Glory

Richard Bauckham
One volume that I have been anticipating for some time is Richard Bauckham's Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (forthcoming, Baker Academic). I am delighted to see that Baker Academic has released an excerpt of the Preface and the first chapter. Also, I was delighted to see the giants for whom Bauckham dedicates the book, as well as his interaction with a hero of mine, C.F.D. Moule, and his famous article, "Individualism in the Fourth Gospel," NovT 5 (1962): 171–90.

Update: It looks that Amazon has provided a "Look Inside" which provides most provides some of the book's contents!

Fr. Lawrence E. Frizzell Remembers Fr. Raymond E. Brown

Rev. Lawrence E. Frizzell, S.T.L., S.S.L., D. Phil., Director and Associate Professor, Jewish-Christian Studies Graduate Program, Seton Hall University, shared some memories of colleague and friend, Raymond E. Brown. I would personally like to thank Fr. Larry for his encouragement and support of the website. The tribute can be found here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Review of Christopher Skinner's Reading John

With plenty of valuable introductions available on the Fourth Gospel (e.g. Anderson's, Burge'sEdwards' [2nd edition, forthcoming], Köstenberger's, Kysar's, etc.), and another forthcoming from the pen of renowned NT and Johannine scholar, Richard Bauckham one might be forgiven for asking: "Why another introduction on John's Gospel?" Enter Christopher Skinner and his Reading John (Cascade Companions; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), who quickly turns the above question on its proverbial head, asking: "Why not another introduction on John's Gospel?" Granted, in order to change the question, the introduction has to make a unique contribution to the ever-crowded scholarly landscape on the Fourth Gospel. I am happy to say that Christopher Skinner's Reading John exceeded my already high expectations and will be my go-to resource for any future classes I am privileged to teach on John.
Christopher W. Skinner

Why such high expectations, one may ask? To start, Christopher Skinner, Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Mount Olive College, is one of the brightest young Johannine scholars going today, as he has already written a published dissertation under the great Francis Moloney, entitled, John and Thomas--Gospels in Conflict? Johannine Characterization and the Thomas Question (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 115; Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009), edited and contributed to the monograph, Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John (Library of New Testament Studies; London: T &T Clark, 2013), and is currently working on a volume with another young, bright Johannine scholar, Sherri Brown on Johannine ethics for Fortress Press. In addition, Skinner has written several articles and essays on the Fourth Gospel. One would be hard-pressed to find a better candidate to enter the fray of Johannine introductions.

One is quickly impressed with Skinner's economy. Unlike many of the aforementioned introductions, Skinner does as much if not more in less space. Weighing in at a scant 145 pages, excluding indices, Skinner manages to cover all of the bases of what an introduction on the Fourth Gospel should include. Second, Skinner's writing style is winsome. One will not find a ton of technical, scholarly jargon, if avoidable. If unavoidable, Skinner gives brief definitions along the way, thereby not hindering the reader. Also, Skinner gives examples from TV shows, movies, etc. that help facilitates understanding. For example, the detective show, Columbo (self-disclosure: I'm a fan), begins every show with a person premeditating and committing a murder. The viewer gets to witness this unfold while Columbo comes on the scene later in the story and tries to solve the crime that only the viewer and perpetrator are privy to. Skinner uses this example (9-10) to introduce John's Prologue (1:1-18), where "the Prologue reveals to the reader information that is necessary to evaluate the unfolding events in the story" (9). While the readers/hearers of the Gospel are privy to this inside information, much like the viewer of Columbo, the characters in John are not, much like Lt. Columbo as he arrives at the crime scene, unaware of how the crime took place.

Yet another help to the reader of Reading John is the various sidebars included throughout the volume. I counted 25 such "tables" throughout the book, ranging from the Septuagint to the responses of Jesus to Nicodemus in 3:3, 3.5. These tables highlight such important Johannine features such as the "I am" sayings, the "Double Amen" formulations, the theme of misunderstanding, the Jewish festivals and much, much more. Every literary feature unique to John's Gospel Skinner highlights, making a very convenient guide for the reader.

As far as the structure of the book goes, the material is spread out over eight chapters. Chapter one, "Reading John: Where to Start?" (1-7) orients the reader around five key tenets of interpretation, namely, the recognition that John was written for a first-century audience, was written in Greek, was anonymously written (despite the appellation "John" that has been attached to it), is an autonomous narrative and deserves to be read on its own terms, rather than through the Synoptics, and finally, the reader is warned that there is no such thing as a "plain reading" of the text, as readers bring their own presuppositions to the text. Chapter two, "John's Prologue: The Interpretive Key for Reading the Gospel of John" (8-31), is perhaps this reviewer's favorite chapter of the book.  Skinner brings his expertise to bear on this topic as he has written on it extensively elsewhere, both in his revised dissertation, John and Thomas, as well as an excellent essay, "Misunderstanding, Christology, and Johannine Characterization: Reading John's Characters through the Lens of the Prologue" (111-127) in Characters and Characterization. Among other things, Skinner demonstrates reoccurring themes found in the prologue that are developed throughout the rest of the Gospel (e.g. life, light, darkness, sent, witness, the world, etc.), the connection of these motifs to the Jewish Festivals (Table 2.5, 21), and concepts mentioned in the Prologue that one should keep in mind as the reader explores John further (30). Further, Skinner also provides the reader with questions at the end of each chapter ("Reflection") that help drive the content home.

Chapter 3, "A Tale of Two Stories: John's Two-Level Drama"(32-46) is, in fact, one of  the most important chapters of the book. Having taught the Fourth Gospel before, I was hesitant to dive into the various Johannine Community Hypotheses (e.g. Martyn, Brown, etc.), and wish I would have been armed with Reading John when I had. Whatever one thinks about the Johannine community theories, one is faced with the fact that the majority of scholarship favors a view that the Gospel was written to a community that was facing persecution, namely, one that was being evicted from the synagogues (John 9:22; 12:42; 16.:2). Therefore, the reader needs to read John's story simultaneously as a story about a community at a specific point in time as well as a story about Jesus. Skinner does an admirable job of giving the reader an overview of the major interpretations, both pro and con of this hypothesis.

Chapter 4, "John, Jesus, and Judaism: Is the Gospel of John Jewish and Anti-Jewish at the Same Time? (Or, is the Gospel of John Schizophrenic?; 47-67)" addresses perhaps the thorniest of all topics regarding the Fourth Gospel. Skinner rightly insists that hoi Ioudaioi refers to the Jewish leaders in John's Gospel and is a technical term for Jesus' enemies (60-64). This is important to note in that hoi Ioudaioi is limited in scope and in no way speaks to Jews in general or to Jews as a large representative group. When reading the Gospel, readers need to be sensitive to this fact is the incalculable harm that has been meted out to the Jewish nation under the flag of Christianity.

Chapter 5, "An Alien Tongue: The Foreign Language of the Johannine Jesus" (68-95), the longest chapter in the book, explores the "I Am" statements (70-78), the use of irony (79-91), the "double Amen" sayings (91-93), and literary asides (94-95) found in John's narrative. The chapter is well organized with copious examples of each literary feature, sharpening the reader's perception of John's unique Christology and theological emphases.  Chapter 6, "John's Characters and the Rhetoric of Misunderstanding" (96-122), follows closely on the heels of the previous chapter and also demonstrates Skinner's expertise as he provides a mini-primer on narrative criticism and characterization. Helpfully, Skinner helps the reader by fleshing out what this looks like when he uses Peter, the misunderstanding character par excellence of the Fourth Gospel (102-121). This reviewer learned much from this chapter, one such example (112-113) being the verbal connection where Peter is warming himself by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest along with slaves and guards, stating that Peter "was with them" (John 18:8b), the same phrase used of Judas among the arresting party of Jesus in 18:5. The implication being, of course, that the narrator expects the reader/hearer to make the connection between Judas and Peter as the preeminent examples of Jesus' betrayers.

Chapter 7, "Putting the Pieces Together: Reading John 3:1-21,"(123-142) provides the reader with a working synthesis of the material Skinner has presented in chapters 1-6. Again, Skinner's skill as a scholar and more importantly, a teacher, come to the fore here making this an ideal text for students of all ages. Wisely choosing the rich story of Nicodemus' encounter with Jesus, the author is able to pull all the strands of themes present in the previous chapters. The reader gets to see how the Prologue, the theme of irony and misunderstanding work themselves out in this narrative unit.

Last, but not least, Skinner briefly addresses the challenges if reading John theologically in chapter 8, "Postscript: Reading John Theologically?" (143-146). To read John theologically, Skinner notes that the intersection of three axes needs to be kept in the forefront of any theological interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (143). One, John's own first-century cultural context, two, major concerns, iterations of Christianity throughout the centuries, and three, the cultural contexts of contemporary readers (143). Skinner notes that the dualistic worldview of the Fourth Gospel makes theological interpretation difficult but not impossible as he encourages "a move forward with an imagination worthy of John's theological vision and a sensitivity to the frailty of the human experience" (145).

In sum, Skinner has provided the beginning student with a first-rate introduction to John's Gospel. It does not end with the student, however, as he has also provided the teacher of the Fourth Gospel a handy, convenient, intro that keeps both teacher and student engaged, no easy feat, but Skinner is up to the task. Reading John has me chomping at the bit to teach the Gospel again and I have a feeling I will be using it as the required text for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

An Intriguing Forthcoming Paul Book

In the fall, November, to be precise, will mark the release of a book that all students and scholars of Paul should be made aware. A. Chadwick Thornhill's The Chosen People Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism, a revision of a doctoral thesis written at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, will be published by InterVarsity Press.

Here reads the description:

One of the central touchstones of Second Temple Judaism is election. The Jews considered themselves a people set apart for God’s special purpose. So it is not surprising that this concept plays such an important role in Pauline theology. In this careful and provocative study, Chad Thornhill considers how Second Temple understandings of election influenced key Pauline texts. Thornhill seeks to establish the thought patterns of the ancient texts regarding election, with sensitivity to social, historical and literary factors. He carefully considers questions of "extent" (ethnic/national or remnant), the relationship to the individual (corporate or individual in focus), and the relationship to salvation (divine/human agency and the presence of "conditions"). Thornhill looks at the markers or conditions that defined various groups, and considers whether election was viewed by ancient authors as merited, given graciously or both. Thorough and measured, the author contends that individual election is not usually associated with a "soteriological" status but rather with the quality of the individual (or sometimes group) in view—the collective entity is in view in the Jewish notion of election. While Paul is certainly able to move beyond these categories, Thornhill shows how he too follows these patterns.

Here are the endorsements:

In what may be the best book yet written on early Jewish and Christian concepts of election, Chad Thornhill provides clear and compelling evidence for the view that election in early Jewish and Christian circles was both corporate and conditional, and that the focus of election language was not on the salvation of particular individuals from before the foundations of the world. In short, election and salvation were not synonymous terms in either early Judaism or the writings of Paul. Thornhill covers a wide swath of early Jewish material and convincingly situates Paul's discussion—especially Rom 9–11—within it. Thornhill's careful and compelling exposition should be a game changer in the age-old battles over the relationship of God's unconditional love and choice of a people and the issue of human freedom when it comes to the matter of individual salvation—Ben Witherington III, Jean R. Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary

The welcome emphasis on Jewish backgrounds that now permeates the field of New Testament scholarship has rekindled a number of traditional discussions surrounding Pauline theology. Among the most illuminating developments is a renewed interest in the notion of corporate election. Based on evidence from the Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish literature, many scholars now insist that the time-worn debate over the relative importance of divine sovereignty versus human responsibility in God's salvific economy must be reframed in collectivist—rather than individualist—terms. The challenge, of course, is to appropriate these background materials in a way that (1) makes sense of the particularity of Paul's social location while (2) still supporting a close reading of the apostle's letters. Chad Thornhill's book is a welcome contribution to the conversation on both counts. Thornill thoroughly surveys Second Temple Jewish thinking about election and then interprets key Pauline texts against this background. Those interested in a fresh and intriguing solution to a familiar theological puzzle will find much to think about in these well-written pages.—Joe Hellerman, professor of New Testament language and literature, Talbot School of Theology 

The book will retail for $35 and will weigh in at 336 pages.

In addition, Thornhill has a website, which includes his original dissertation, To the Jew First: A Socio-Historical and Biblical-Theological Analysis of the Pauline Teaching of ‘Election’ in Light of Second Temple Jewish Patterns of Thought.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Johan Christiaan Beker and the Quote of the Day

I found this quote by the great New Testament scholar, Johan Christiaan Beker, both timely and sobering, especially in light of the events of the past week:

It seems to me that, above all else, personal integrity is the necessary condition for the whole theological enterprise. Integration without integrity degenerates into a facile communal consensus; the exploration of the New Testament text without integrity leads to surrendering the truth of the text. Without personal integrity, the student and pastor will sell out either to an opportunistic hermeneutic that looks for ways to satisfy the demands of the marketplace, or to a anachronistic, fundamentalistic hermeneutic that lacks the courage to adapt the text to the current concerns of the world. Integrity requires the courage to be controversial, to face conflict whenever the gospel demands it ("Integration and Integrity in New Testament Studies"; Christian Century, 109 (17); 1992; 515-17, here, 517).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thomas Boomershine and the Quote of the Day

Thomas E. Boomershine, Professor Emeritus of New Testament and of Christianity and Communications at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, has a fantastic quote in his new book, The Messiah of Peace: A Performance-Criticism Commentary on Mark's Passion-Resurrection Narrative (Cascade) on the importance of hearing a story performed orally and what is missed by the modern practice of silent reading and the distance of the reader from the narrative.

He states:
One of the reasons why hearing the story rather than reading it in silence makes a difference is that the storyteller narrates the events and the words of the characters in a tone communicating more than factual information, and draws listeners into identification with characters who may be outwardly different. Full engagement with sympathetic identification with the characters of the story is fully possible also with silent reading if readers are attentive to and psychologically open to the clues to the storyteller's invitation. But if readers maintain a high degree of psychological distance in the reading of the story, its actually meaning can become virtually the opposite of the intended meaning, communicated inherently in the structure of the story. The source of that distance, therefore, may be a change either in the self-identity of the listener( from identifying oneself in the post-war first century as Hellenistic Judean to identifying oneself in the post-Nicea fourth century as a Christian) or in the psychological distance to the story(sympathetic hearing to critical silent reading) or both in combination. But, regardless of the cause of this shift, the story can undergo a radical transformation in its meaning. Thus, the story of the man and the woman in the garden can change, especially for male readers and theologians, fro meaning 'we violated God's covenant and our effort to blame it on the woman is a joke' to 'the woman violated God's covenant.' Likewise in Mark's story, the meaning of the story, especially for later Christians who did not identify themselves as Jews, can shift from 'we were involved in the death of the Messiah' to 'the Jews killed Jesus.' (30; italics original)