Friday, February 27, 2015

Fridays with Fee: Part IV

I was also concerned that Paul's own theological urgencies get their proper hearing. From my perspective, it has been a blight on the landscape of much New Testament scholarship—probably related to our twin concerns to affirm pluralism and not to offend others—that we have been good technicians of the text, but have avoided theology like the plague. It is hard to imagine anything less fair to Paul himself who was an intensely theological person. So for good or ill, I wanted Paul's theological emphases, as I perceived them, to get their full hearing. Whether I have understood the Apostle adequately remains for others to judge, but surely one fails to comment adequately on Paul who does not try to "hear" him, to come to grips with what drives him, what motivates the words and the rhetoric -

Gordon Fee; "Reflections on Commentary Writing;" (Theology 
Today; 46.4; 1990; 387-392; here 389)

One of the hallmarks of Gordon Fee's classic 1 Corinthians commentary and much of his subsequent work for that matter, is his ability to tease out the theological emphases of the texts he examines. Not only is Fee a master exegete with all the requisite skills in which that entails, but he never loses perspective; he is able to discern the forest for the trees, answering the big picture questions on which theological analyses are dependent.

Today's "Fridays with Fee" looks at a small unit of  1 Corinthians, 4:1-5, and will illustrate that Fee does indeed give Paul's theological emphases a "full hearing."

In his introduction to the larger unit 1 Cor 4:1-21, Fee writes:

...The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not a matter of creed for him; it was the singular reality that conditioned his entire existence. But not his alone. By way of the resurrection the eternal God had set the future inexorably in motion; the 'coming' of Christ and subsequent 'judgement' are inevitable corollaries, as sure as life itself. For Paul, therefore, those sure events radicalize present Christian existence. All merely human judgements are nothing in light of the final judgement; all merely human values, which weigh things heavily toward what might appear to be the favorable end of the scale, have already been judged and are now reversed by Christ himself.
Paul's problem is that in their own way the corinthians were also eschatological people, for they too had received the Spirit. But for them this meant not so much that the future determined one's present life as that one had entered into a new realm of being altogether. They had already arrived, as it were, but in all the wrong ways (4:8). What Paul is trying to do above all else is to get the Corinthians to enter his orbit, to see things from his eschatological perspective. There fore, it is not simply a matter of his being right and their being wrong on certain specific issues. It has to do with one's whole existence, one's whole way of looking at life, since 'you are of Christ, and Christ is of God' (3:23), meaning that 'you belong to Christ, and through him you thereby belong to God as well.' Without this perspective ourselves much of what is said here can be enigma; but it need not be, once someone has been drawn into Paul's orbit by one's own encounter with the living Christ (170).

1 Cor 4:1-5: This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Fee on 4:2:

Not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor 'initiative,' nor 'success'--the more standard contemporary requirements), but faithfulness to the trust, is what God requires of his servants. For Paul this means absolute fidelity to the gospel as he received it and preached it (cf. 15:1-11). His intent, of course, is not to provide a general maxim for Christian ministry--although it is still the only valid criterion--but to set up the singular criterion by which God alone could be his judge and which would therefore rule out the Corinthian 'examination' of him and his ministry (175).

Fee on 4:3:

Therefore, for Paul all merely human judgements against him, whether by the Corinthians or by others who would so judge him, are of little or no consequence whatsoever. The only judgement that counts is the final eschatological judgment administered by Christ himself. So much is this so that Paul includes any personal 'judgments' he might make of himself as equally inconsequential. He does not 'even judge himself,' not because he is irresponsible, or intends to be so, but because he is in the service of another. His personal evaluations of his own performance are irrelevant; what is master thinks is what counts. Besides, any such judgments also belong to this age. In his own worldview Paul stands too close to the consummation to be exercised by self-examination (176).

Conclusion regarding 4:5:

The application of this paragraph to the contemporary church seems self-evident. On the one hand, it is a word to those in the church who are forever 'examining' their ministers, and who in any case tend to do so on the wrong grounds. Corinth is not the only church that ever became disillusioned with its minister because he or she lacked enough 'charismatic' qualities. But God's Word to us is faithfulness, not success, is what is required of God's servants. On the other hand, although not intended so by Paul, by implication it is also a word to those who preach and teach, that they recognize themselves as 'under trust.' Their 'trustworthiness' is finally going to be judged by the Lord himself, on the grounds of their being faithful to the trust itself, the gospel. In that hour none of one's self-evaluations as to one's worth in the kingdom is going to count for a thing, only our faithfulness to the gospel itself (179).

Monday, February 16, 2015

John Barclay's Paul and Gift

John Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, Durham University, is simply put, one of the greatest living New Testament scholars in the world today. For many years, students and scholars alike have been awaiting his work on the Apostle Paul's theology. Apparently, the wait will end just in time for the 2015 annual SBL meeting when Barclay's Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans) will be released. The release date is October 16th, the book retails for $70.00 and the page count is a hefty 688 pages.

Here is the description:

A fresh scholarly reading of grace in Paul's theology
 In this book esteemed scholar John Barclay explores Pauline theology anew from the perspective of grace. Arguing that Paul's theology of grace is best approached in light of ancient notions of "gift," Barclay describes Paul's relationship to Judaism in a fresh way. Barclay focuses on divine gift-giving, which for Paul, he says, is focused and fulfilled in the gift of Christ. He both offers a new appraisal of Paul's theology of the Christ-event as gift as it comes to expression in Galatians and Romans and presents a nuanced and detailed consideration of the history of reception of Paul, including Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Barth. This exegetically responsible, theologically informed, hermeneutically useful book shows that a respectful, though not uncritical, reading of Paul contains resources that remain important for Christians today.
If folks are interested in learning more about Barclay's work on Paul's theology of grace as gift, one could also explore his audio lectures on this very topic at Regent Audio here .

Also, see his lecture,"Paul and the Gift" as he delivered the first lecture for the St. Mary's Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible (2013; St. Mary's University College Twickenham) here:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Albert Vanhoye's Forthcoming Commentary on Hebrews

One of the most famous interpreters of Hebrews, Albert Vanhoye, S.J.,ironically, has yet to release a commentary on Hebrews until now.  is releasing another commentary on Hebrews. (Brian Small has informed me that this will mark VanHoye's second commentary on Hebrews. The first, A Different Priest: The Epistle to Hebrews, was published by Convivum Press in 2011. Brian has a review of it here).

Vanhoye, now also a Cardinal and 91 years of age, has dedicated most of his academic energies to the letter of Hebrews, highlighted by such works as La structure littéraire de l'Epître aux Hébreux, Desclée de Brouwer, Tournai, 1963; Situation du Christ. Epître aux hébreux 1 et 2, Paris, 1969; and La lettre aux Hébreux: Jésus-Christ, médiateur d'une nouvelle alliance, Paris, 2002.

There are not many details as of yet regarding the commentary to be published by Paulist Press. However, it will be released in July 2015, weigh in at a concise 256 pages, and retail at $34.95.
No doubt, both students and scholars of Hebrews will be eager to read Vanhoye's contribution, no doubt peppered with insight from someone who has spent a lifetime studying this letter.

Fridays with Fee: Part III

Another week with little reading progress, but thankfully, Fee's keen observations are so abundant that a lack of quantitative engagement with his commentary (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, rev. ed.) does not prohibit the series from moving forward.

Onward to more of Fee's pearls of wisdom:

1 Cor 3:10-15: 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

All to often those 'in charge,' be they clergy, boards, vestry, sessions, or what have you, tend to think of the church as 'theirs.' They pay lip-service to its being 'Christ's church, after all,' then proceed to operate on the basis of very pagan, secular structures, an regularly speak of 'my' or 'our' church. Nor does the church belong to the people, especially those who have 'attended all their lives,' or who have 'supported it with great sums of money,' as though that game them special privileges. The church belongs to Christ, and all other things--structures, attitudes, decisions, nature of ministry, everything--should flow out of that singular realization. Moreover, those 'in charge' must be ever mindful of who is really in charge. To be a servant does not mean the abdication of leadership, nor, on the other hand, does it mean to become everyone's 'errand boy or girl.' It has to do with attitude, perspective, not with one's place on the organizational chart. And as Paul will make clear a bit later (4:8-17), it must be 'like priest, like people.' Servant leadership is required precisely because servanthood is the basic stance of all truly Christian behavior, modeled as it was by the 'Servant King' himself (145).

 1 Cor 3:18-23: 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. 

The opening salvo is irony once again: 'If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age.' Of course they do; that is quite the point. This same formula will appear three more times in the letter, two of which (8:2; 14:37), along with this one, speak to the heart of the attitudinal issues that plague the church. They think of themselves as wise, as having arrived at knowledge (8:2), and as being spiritual (14:37). That is precisely their problem. And in each case Paul must disabuse them of such opinions; otherwise the church is up for grabs (164).
3: 21b-22: All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. 

The list of 'all things' begins with the three men (Paul, Apollos, Cephas) mentioned early on (1:12), around whose names the Corinthians are clustering in some form of jealousy and strife (3:3). This of course is the point of everything. One is therefore not quite prepared for the sudden expansion of the list, which really does include all things. One wonders whether Paul himself had all this in mind when the sentence began. Nonetheless it is altogether true to his theology. These five items, 'the world, life, death, the present, and the future,' are the ultimate tyrannies of human existence, to which people are in lifelong bondage as slaves. For Paul the death and resurrection of Jesus marked the turning of the ages in such a way that nothing lies outside of Christ's jurisdiction. In the form of the cross God has planted his flag on planet Earth and marked it off as his own possession; hence the 'world' is his. So also with the whole of existence ('life' and 'death'), which are immediately placed into eschatological perspective ('the present and the future'). Because in Christ Jesus both 'life' itself and therefore 'the future' are ours, 'death' is ours as well, as is 'the present.' We die, but 'life' cannot be taken from us; we live the life of the future in the present age, and therefore the present has become our own possession. For those in Christ Jesus, what things were formerly tyrannies are now their birthright. This is the glorious freedom of the children of God. They are free lords of all things, not bound to the whims of chance or the exigencies of life and death. The future is no cause for panic; it is already theirs. In light of such expansive realities, how can the Corinthians say, 'I am of Paul, or Apollos'? That is too narrow, too constricted a view. Apollos--and Paul, and Peter, and the whole universe--is/are yours. You do not belong to them; they belong to you, as your servants, because 'you--and they--are Christ's, and Christ is God's' (167).

...The Corinthian error is an easy one to repeat. Not only do most of us have normal tendencies to turn natural preferences into exclusive ones, but in our fallenness we also tend to consider ourselves 'wise' enough to inform God through whom he may minister to his people. Our slogans take the form of 'I am of the Presbyterians,' or 'of the Pentecostals,' or 'of the Roman Catholics.' Or they might take ideological forms: 'I am of the liberals,' or 'of the evangelicals,' or 'of the fundamentalists.' And these are also used as weapons: 'Oh, he's a fundamentalist, you know.' Which means that we no longer need to listen to him, since his ideology has determined his overall value as one who speaks in God's behalf. It is hardly possible in a day like ours that one will not have denominational, theological, or ideological preferences. The difficulty lies in our allowing that it might really be true that 'all things are ours,' including those whom we think God would do better to be without. But God is full of surprises; and the Eternal One may choose to minister to us from the least expected of sources, if we were but more truly 'in Christ' and therefore free in him to learn and love.
This does not mean that one should not be discriminating; after all, Paul has no patience for that teaching in Corinth which had abandoned the pure gospel of Christ. But to be 'of Christ' is also to be free from the tyrannies of one's own narrowness, free to learn even from those with whom one may disagree (168-169).

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fridays with Fee: Part II

I would think myself to be the least likely person to have ever written a commentary.
So opens Gordon Fee's article, "Reflections on Commentary Writing" (Theology Today; 46.4; 1990; 387-392; here 387). This ironic self-reflection may be the key to Fee's standing as a biblical commentator, one that is marked by the best of those who take on the task of commentary writing, namely, humility before the text, careful attention to detail and the ability to exposit the texts continuing relevance.

This brings me to the second installment of "Fridays with Fee." Although I did not cover as much ground in the past week as I would have liked, I have nevertheless found a few Fee gems in reading through his The First Epistle to the Corinthians (rev. ed.).

Without further ado:

1 Cor 2:14: The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

People are revealed for who they are by their response to the cross; to see it as foolishness means to stand over against God and God's ways--and to stand under divine judgment as without God's Spirit and therefore apart from 'what God has freely given us' (125). 

1 Cor 2:6-16:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” the things God has prepared for those who love him 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 

16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul's concern needs to be resurrected throughout the church. The gift of the Spirit does not lead to special status among believers; rather, it leads to special status vis-à-vis the world. But it should do so always in terms of the centrality of the message of our crucified/risen Savior. The Spirit should identify God's people in such a way that their values and worldview are radically different from the wisdom of this age. They do know what God is about in Christ; they do live out the life of the future in the present age that is passing away; they are marked by the cross forever. As such they are the people of the Spirit, who stand in bold contrast to those who are merely human and do not understand the scandal of the cross. Being 'S/spiritual' does not lead to elitism; it leads to a deeper understanding of God's profound mystery--redemption through a crucified Messiah (129).

1 Cor 3:3:  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 

The Corinthians have the Spirit, but are behaving precisely like people who do not, like 'mere human beings.' Being human, of course, in itself is not a bad thing, any more than being sarkinoi is (v.1). What is intolerable is to have received the Spirit , which makes one more than merely human, and to continue to live as though one were nothing more. Receiving the Spirit begins one's life in the age to come, wherein life is to be lived according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh ('sinful nature'). The verb translated 'acting' (lit. 'walking') is used regularly in Paul for 'the walk of life,' that is, one's way of living (cf. 7:17). For him the basic imperative of the Christian life is 'Walk [live] by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature' (Gal. 5:16). He simply has no patience for belief that does not issue in proper behavior; and this not 'perfectionism,' is is rather a matter of growing up (136).