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.