Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Righteousness of God: An Interview with Lee Irons Part III

Lee Irons 
Here is the third and final installment of my interview with Lee Irons, author of The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (Mohr Siebeck), 2015.

Part I of this interview can be read here and part II here. Many thanks are in order to Lee for the privilege of this interview and for his contribution of The Righteousness of God,  what I hope will be a game-changing book in the often hostile world of Pauline studies.

8.  When you focus on δικαιοσύνη θεο in Paul (pp. 272-336), you determine that in 7 out of 10 occurrences (Rom 1:17; 3:21-22; 10:3 [2x]; 2 Cor 5:21; and Phil 3:9) denote a righteousness received from God as a gift. The other 3 occurrences (Rom 3:5, 25-26) signify God’s distributive justice. Would you walk us through one example of each and how this overturns Cremer’s and the New Perspective’s insistence on the interpretation of “covenant faithfulness”?

Irons: One of the things that has caused some trouble for Pauline scholars is the assumption—mistaken, in my opinion—that “the righteousness of God” in Paul must have a uniform meaning that applies in each and every one of its occurrences in Paul’s epistles. This is to assume that the phrase is a terminus technicus (technical term) functioning as a cipher for a highly specific Pauline theological concept. But Paul’s use of theological vocabulary is not so rigid. He uses a variety of terms to express the same or similar concepts, and he sometimes uses the same term with a variety of meanings and applications. It is better, in my opinion, to take each instance of “the righteousness of God” on its own and see what he means by it. When you do that, I believe a good argument can be made for taking the phrase in two related but distinct ways: (1) the righteousness that comes to believers as a gift from God (7x), and (2) God’s own attribute of justice (3x). Now it may fairly be asked, “How do you know which is which?” I argue in my book that the key to sorting out the two usages is the presence or absence of the terminology of appropriating or receiving righteousness “by faith” or similar language. To provide a more rigorous basis for this procedure, I appeal to the linguistic concept referred to in German as Näherbestimmungen. (I got this from Ulrich Wilckens in his EKK commentary on Romans published in 1978.) It’s a compound word built out of the words näher (“near, nearby”) and Bestimmungen (“definers, delimiters,” from the verb bestimmen “to define, delimit”). So Näherbestimmungen could be translated literally as “nearby definers or delimiters,” but English-speaking linguists are probably more familiar with the term “syntagmatic constraints.” A key characteristic of Näherbestimmungen is that they disambiguate polysemous terms. The example I use in my book is the polysemous word “glasses.” Depending on the context, the term can refer to eyeglasses to correct vision or to drinking glasses. It is a polysemous term, a term with more than one meaning, although clearly both usages derive from the fact that eyeglasses and drinking glasses are made of the same material (“glass”). In any given case, how do we know which meaning is in view? We know it from the context, of course. But we can be more specific. It isn’t just that the general topic being discussed that brings clarity. There are specific verbal cues—Näherbestimmungen

Applying this to “the righteousness of God,” we can look for similar syntagmatic constraints to determine which meaning Paul has in mind in any given instance. I argue that the various terms Paul uses for appropriating or receiving righteousness (“by faith,” “through faith,” “to all who believe,” etc.) function as Näherbestimmungen that deactivate the potential meaning “God’s own attribute of justice” and activate the meaning “the gift of righteousness from God.”

You asked me to give an example of each. I’ll start out with the verses that everyone acknowledges are Paul’s thesis statement for his epistle, Romans 1:16-17: 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘He who is righteous by faith shall live.’” (ESV modified)

In this instance, “the righteousness of God” is revealed “by faith, to faith” (ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν). Although debated, it probably means the righteousness of God is revealed not only “by means of faith” but “to faith,” that is, “to all who have faith.” This interpretation rests on comparison with the similar but fuller expression in Rom 3:21-22, where Paul recapitulates Rom 1:17 and says that the righteousness of God is manifested “through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe” (διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας).

Because of the appropriating Näherbestimmungen (“by faith, to faith,” “through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe”), we are pretty much forced to take “the righteousness of God” not as an attribute or activity of God but as the status of righteousness given to all who believe. It is hard to make sense of the notion that God’s covenant faithfulness is revealed “by/through faith” or “to faith.” But it is easy to see how it is that a righteousness that comes from God can be revealed “by/through faith.”

With regard to the other meaning, “God’s own justice,” I’ll simply point out that there are no appropriating Näherbestimmungen in these three instances (Rom 3:5, 25-26). For example, the two instances in Rom 3:25-26 are in nearly identical prepositional phrases, “for the demonstration of his justice.” In the context, Paul is saying that God set forth Christ as the propitiatory sacrifice after he had passed over the sins committed in the previous Mosaic era, “in order to demonstrate that he is just.” The sacrifice of Christ shows that, in forgiving the sins of believers, God is not violating his justice but is doing so in a way that is consistent with his justice. The syntagmatic constraints here (e.g., the phrase “for the demonstration of”) point in a different direction. There is no language of “the righteousness of God” being received or appropriated “by faith.”

I know you wanted me to pick only one example of each usage, but I can’t help but bring up another example of gift-of-God usage. I’m referring to Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:9. In context, he is explaining how he has set aside all of his fleshly privileges (Jewish heritage, circumcision, being a strict Pharisee, righteousness under the law) in view of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. He says he counts all those fleshly things as rubbish, so that he might gain Christ ...

“and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (ESV).

In this instance, Paul doesn’t just use the bare genitive θεοῦ (“of God”), which is ambiguous, but instead he inserts the preposition ἐκ (“from”). This clarifies the meaning of the genitive so that it is explicitly now a genitive of source or author. This is called a précising term because it makes the meaning more explicit or precise. The addition of the preposition in Phil 3:9 encourages us to back to the other cases (Rom 1:17; 3:21-22; 10:3; 2 Cor 5:21) and read the genitive the same way, especially Rom 10:3.

It is crucial to see how Paul explicitly contrasts the two kinds of righteousness:  the righteousness “of my own, which comes from the law” versus the righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ” and which is “from God.” Paul makes the very same contrast in Romans 10:3-6. Naturally, then, we should assume that “the righteousness of God” has the same meaning in both passages.

N. T. Wright dismisses Phil 3:9 with a wave of the hand. He writes, “All too often scholars have referred to this passage as though it could be the yardstick for uses of dikaiosune theou; but this is impossible” (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 104). He doesn’t say why it is impossible. But to my mind, Phil 3:9 is the clinching piece of evidence that for Paul “the righteousness of God” is a righteousness comes “from God.” 

1   9.  How is the famed Πίστις Χριστοῦ debate relevant to the one on δικαιοσύνη θεοand what is your conclusion with regards to the former?

Irons: As is well-known, the phrase pistis Christou in Paul’s writings (e.g., Gal 2:16, 20; Rom 3:22; Phil 3:9) is grammatically ambiguous. The genitive Christou could be taken in an objective sense (“faith in Christ”) or a subjective sense (“Christ’s own faith”). Since the Greek word pistis can also mean “faithfulness,” most who hold to the subjective genitive interpretation render the phrase “the faithfulness of Christ.”

Traditionally, translators and commentators have seen the genitive as objective, have taken pistis to mean “faith” rather than “faithfulness,” and have regarded the implied subject as the believer. So, for example, Romans 3:21-22 would read: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (ESV).  This has been the traditional interpretation as far back as Augustine and Chrysostom and was the assumed interpretation until fairly recently. Although there was a German scholar who advocated the subjective genitive as early as 1891 (Johannes Haußleiter), it wasn’t until 1981 that the issue became a lively debate among Pauline scholars, sparked by Richard B. Hays’s influential dissertation, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11.

Why did I address this topic in a book on the righteousness of God? The reason is because of the verses I just quoted—Rom 3:21-22. The pistis Christou phrase occurs in direct conjunction with “the righteousness of God.” One of my arguments for taking it as “the righteousness that comes from God as gift” is the fact that Paul repeatedly states that this righteousness is “by faith” (ek pisteōs) or “through faith” (dia pisteōs), implying that it is “received” by faith, or “comes” to those who have faith. But in Rom 3:22, this only works if the contentious phrase dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou is understood as our faith in Christ (the objective genitive interpretation). If, on the other hand, the phrase is interpreted as Christ’s own faithfulness (the subjective genitive interpretation), a crucial support for my interpretation of the righteousness of God in Rom 3:21-22 is removed. Conversely, some New Perspective scholars, notably N. T. Wright and Richard B. Hays, are attracted to the subjective genitive interpretation of pistis Christou because it comports with their reading of dikaiosynē theou as God’s covenant faithfulness. Romans 3:21-22 has special importance in their construction of Paul’s theology since they would interpret Paul as affirming that God’s faithfulness to his covenant is revealed in the faithful obedience of Christ.

So the two interpretive debates go hand in hand. How you read the one phrase will affect how you read the other. I should point out, however, that James D. G. Dunn is unique among New Perspective scholars since he advocates the “covenant faithfulness” interpretation of dikaiosynē theou, but defends the traditional objective genitive interpretation of pistis Christou.

In any event, in the book (pp. 329-34), I provide a number of arguments in support of the objective genitive interpretation, “faith in Christ,” relying heavily on the arguments of scholars who defend the traditional reading. I am convinced that the traditional reading, “faith in Christ,” is exegetically well grounded and that the arguments against it aren’t compelling.

10. What do you hope your study accomplishes and what kind of feedback have you received from the scholarly community thus far?

Irons: I have received some positive reviews from scholars coming from an “old perspective” interpretation similar to my own, e.g., Thomas Schreiner’s review on The Gospel Coalition websiteI have received some positive reviews from scholars coming from an “old perspective” interpretation similar to my own, e.g., Thomas Schreiner’s review on The Gospel Coalition website, and a few others. What remains to be seen is how those from the New Perspective side will react, particularly those who are committed to the popular view that dikaiosynē theou in Paul means “God’s covenant faithfulness.” On that front, I am excited to report that such a dialogue may occur in the near future. I was contacted by the editor of a new journal that will feature a discussion of my book in its inaugural issue. They are commissioning a piece by someone who is more favorable to the Reformation interpretation, and a piece by someone who studied under N. T. Wright and leans toward a New Perspective interpretation. I will be given a chance to write a response to both articles.

With regard to my aims, I hope the scholarly community will come around to seeing the fundamental weakness, even (dare I say) the error, of Cremer’s relational theory of righteousness and its exegetical offspring, the covenant-faithfulness interpretation of “the righteousness of God” in Paul. Trust me, I’m aware of how brash this must sound! I realize these are widely held views, and that I am going up against some of the titans of biblical scholarship in the 20th century. Almost all of the lexicons of biblical Hebrew and Greek and the major theological dictionaries assume and promote Cremer’s relational theory. It is a deeply entrenched position in both Old and New Testament scholarship. Such a monolithic view will not die out easily or quickly. But my hope is that I have at the very least planted some seeds of doubt.

I also hope that my work has given new life to an “old perspective” Reformation reading of Paul. Clearly, “the righteousness of God” was an important, even crucial concept for Paul, since he sets it out right at the outset of his epistle to the Romans as standing at the heart of the gospel (Rom 1:16-17; 3:21-26). I don’t deny that the New Perspective has made a valuable contribution in various ways—reminding us of the importance of the social dimension (the inclusion of the Gentiles) of Paul’s gospel, and warning us against slandering the Judaism of Paul’s day as if it denied God’s grace and forgiveness. But the pendulum has swung too far. The introspective conscience that wants to know how a sinner can be accepted as righteous before a holy God did not begin with Luther. Paul and his contemporaries were also interested in that question. I hope my book demonstrates that a Reformation reading of Paul can be defended as a responsible one.

Paul stated that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation because in it “the righteousness of God” is revealed by faith. For Paul, this teaching of righteousness by faith stands at the heart of the gospel. He believed and taught with all his energy that the only way sinners can have a status of righteousness before God is not by doing what the law requires, since no one does keep the law, but by grace through faith in Christ. Thanks be to God for “the free gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17)!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Righteousness of God: An Interview with Lee Irons Part II

 (For part I of the interview, click here).

Without further ado, here is part II of my interview with Lee Irons on his book, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015).
Lee Irons

5. Another very helpful section (pp. 65-68) is where you discuss Hebrew Parallelism. Discuss how a passage like Ps 143:1 has been used by those to support their relational interpretation of δικαιοσύνη θεο and why this is erroneous?
  Irons: New Perspective scholars, following Cremer, often cite verses where the terms “righteousness” and “faithfulness” (or “salvation”) occur in parallelism. For example, Psalm 143:1 reads:

“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness!” (NASB)

Those following in the Cremer line would then argue that the term “righteousness” can itself denote “salvation” or “covenant faithfulness,” and that this Old Testament background has influenced Paul’s usage. On this reasoning, Dunn and Wright argue that “the righteousness of God” in the Old Testament and in Paul means “God’s saving activity as an expression of God’s covenant faithfulness.”

Based on the work of Robert Lowth in the 18th century, older scholarship used to subdivide Hebrew parallelism into three subtypes: “synonymous parallelism,” “antithetical parallelism,” and “synthetic parallelism.” In the first type, synonymous parallelism, the two parallel phrases were viewed as saying the same thing in different words. However, after the paradigm-shifting work of James Kugel and Robert Alter in the 1980s, scholars no longer believe there is such a thing as strictly synonymous parallelism. Alter asserts that there are always “small wedges of difference between closely akin terms.” Kugel’s formula is: “A, and, what's more, B.” Research on Hebrew parallelism has advanced since the work of Kugel and Alter, but scholars still agree that the concept of synonymous parallelism ought to be set aside. It is therefore no longer valid as an argument for taking the righteousness of God as a cipher for God’s covenant faithfulness.

How should we understand a verse like Psalm 143:1? I argue that it is a case of hyponymy. Consider the poetic parallelism in Isaiah 3:8:

“For Jerusalem has stumbled,
and Judah has fallen.”

Clearly the parallelism here does not mean that “Jerusalem” and “Judah” are synonymous terms. It only indicates that there is a close relationship – Jerusalem is the main city within Judah. Everyone who is in Jerusalem is in Judah but not everyone who is in Judah is in Jerusalem. “Judah” is the hyperonym, and “Jerusalem” is the hyponym. On the older theory of synonymous parallelism, “Jerusalem” and “Judah” would be taken as synonyms rather than seeing the latter as a subcategory of the former.

Likewise, faithfulness is an important sub-category within righteousness. As Mark Seifrid argues in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Volume 1 (ed. Carson, O’Brien, Seifrid), faithfulness is covenant-righteousness. In other words, faithfulness is a species of righteousness, that is, righteousness with regard to keeping one’s promises. The way God is “righteous” within the terms of a promissory covenant is by being faithful to keep his promises and delivering his people. But this does not mean that the lexical denotation of “righteousness” is “faithfulness to a promissory covenant.” Nor can we assume that all divine acts of righteousness are instances of being faithful to a covenant or keeping a promise.

Just as everyone who is in Jerusalem is in Judah but not everyone who is in Judah is in Jerusalem, so all instances of faithfulness to a promissory covenant may be termed “righteousness,” but not all ”righteousness” is faithfulness to a promissory covenant.

6. Can you discuss the concepts “stereotype” and “calque” in relation to the LXX and the Hebrew text with particular reference to the word group ΔΙΚ-צדק? 

Irons: These are terms used in linguistics generally, but allow me to explain their use specifically in Septuagint studies. A stereotype is a Hebrew-Greek equivalence, that is, a Greek word chosen by the translators to be the normal word representing a particular Hebrew word. It does not mean that they will always and only use that Greek word to render that Hebrew word, but it is their preferred habit. A calque is a Greek word that has taken on a new meaning due to its regular use in the Greek-speaking Jewish community. For example, the Greek word διαθήκη in extra-biblical Greek meant “a last will and testament,” but in Greek-speaking Judaism, it had become a virtual stand-in for the Hebrew word berith or “covenant.” It was a Greek word with a Hebrew meaning. Although the original meaning in extra-biblical Greek had not been completely forgotten, the Hebrew meaning was generally the one activated when the discourse had to do with any of the covenants mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, most notably the covenant God made with Israel when he gave them the law.

This is relevant to the debate over “the righteousness of God,” because one of the arguments made in the past for interpreting the phrase as “God’s saving activity in fulfillment of his covenant promises” is the fact that in the Septuagint δικαιοσύνη is a stereotype for the Hebrew words tsedeq and tsedaqah. The argument then runs: because the Hebrew words tsedeq and tsedaqah mean God’s saving activity or God’s covenant faithfulness or both, therefore the Greek word δικαιοσύνη has taken on the Hebrew meaning.

The problem is that, as Septuagint scholars recognize, one cannot move so quickly from a stereotype to a calque without further examination. Evidence that a particular Greek word is a stereotyped equivalent for a particular Hebrew word is not in and of itself proof that the Greek word in question has become a calque, a Greek word with a Hebrew meaning. One needs evidence that this Greek word was actually used this way in Jewish literature composed in Greek. Aside from a few books in the Apocrypha, the Septuagint is a translation, not literature composed in Greek. The only solid evidence that a Greek word has become a calque is the use of that Greek word with a Hebrew meaning in Jewish literature that was originally composed in Greek, such as The Wisdom of Solomon, Fourth Maccabees, the writings of Philo, and so on.

For this reason, I have a chapter (Ch. 5) in my dissertation examining the usage of δικαιοσύνη in Jewish literature composed in Greek. I looked for evidence that δικαιοσύνη had taken on an alleged Hebrew meaning such as “salvation” or “covenant faithfulness,” and I could not find much evidence. I certainly did not find any instances where it meant “covenant faithfulness.” I found two instances where it seemed to have a salvific meaning. I concluded that it was barely possible but very unlikely that “salvation” had become one of the meanings of δικαιοσύνη in the Greek vocabulary of Hellenistic Judaism.

7. Cremer’s relational interpretation (“covenant faithfulness”) of the “Righteousness of God” terminology is put to the test in perhaps your most important chapter, “The Righteousness of God in the Old Testament” (Ch. 4; pp. 108-193). You convincingly demonstrate that God’s righteousness is one of distributive righteousness/justice rather than Cremer’s insistence on the exclusivity of salvation righteousness/justice. What are the implications of this conclusion?

Irons: It undercuts Cremer’s primary basis for the conclusion that the Hebrew concept of righteousness must be “relational.” Cremer (following Ritschl before him) had claimed that righteousness is used in an exclusively positive, saving, delivering sense. He said it was durchaus positiver (“thoroughly positive”). I argue that he was simply wrong in that claim, since negative, judging occurrences are also found in the Old Testament (e.g., Exod 9:27; 2 Chron 12:6; Ezra 9:15; Neh 9:33; Ps 7:11; 11:7; 50:6; 129:4; Isa 5:16; 10:22; 28:17; 42:21; Lam 1:18; Dan 9:7, 14). However, beginning from that mistaken starting point, Cremer argued that the “thoroughly positive” use of righteousness could only be explained by postulating that the Hebrew concept of righteousness is not a normative concept (as in Greco-Roman culture) but a relational concept in which righteousness is faithfulness to a relationship or covenant. But if the references to God’s righteousness in the Old Testament are not exclusively positive (saving righteousness) but sometimes negative as well (judging righteousness), then the terms for “righteousness” are not equivalent to “salvation.” The prime rationale for viewing “righteousness” in Hebrew as a relational concept is unsound.

By careful exegesis of a number of representative OT texts, I make the case that 41 passages in the OT (mostly in the Psalms and Isaiah) that refer to God’s righteousness (usually in the phrases “my/his/your righteousness”) are best interpreted as being instances in which God brings to bear his judicial righteousness or justice, with negative effects on the enemies of his people and with positive (delivering, vindicating) effects on his people. For example, Psalm 103:6 says: “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (ESV). When God works righteousness, it means that he comes to judge the enemies of God’s people (those doing the oppressing) and as a result, God’s people (the ones being oppressed) are delivered and vindicated. Thus, even the instances of God’s saving or delivering righteousness are expressions of God’s distributive justice. Cremer’s relational theory of righteousness was a mistake, not only lexicographically but theologically, because it creates a false dichotomy between God’s distributive justice and his saving justice or righteousness. God’s saving righteousness actually depends upon his distributive justice. There is no salvation apart from justice. In effect, Ritschl (and Cremer, although Ritschl was more deliberate about it than Cremer) evacuated the concept of righteousness of its judicial, distributive element, leaving a God who is pure love devoid of justice. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Righteousness of God: An Interview with Lee Irons Part 1

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Lee Irons about his revised published dissertation, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015). Irons challenges the relational view of righteousness first advanced by Hermann Cremer in 1899, which has had a profound influence on advocates of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). In my opinion, Irons has done a meticulous and thorough job of reexamining the use of righteousness language in the OT, Second Temple texts, etc., presenting the best defense of righteousness as a gift from God to date.

This interview will be divided up into two to three parts, due to the detailed interaction.

1. First, tell us a bit about your experience at Fuller Theological Seminary and your experience of being a supervisee of Donald Hagner.

Lee Irons
Irons: I did my Ph.D. in New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary under the supervision of Dr. Donald A. Hagner. My very first Ph.D. seminar at Fuller was with Dr. Hagner on “The History of New Testament Research.” That was a fantastic way of getting introduced to the field of New Testament studies. But it wasn’t purely historical, since Don also gave his students his own perspective on employing the historical-critical method from a posture of faith that recognizes the Scriptures as the word of God in the words of men. I also took a Ph.D. seminar with Dr. Seyoon Kim on “Jesus and Paul,” which was wonderful. Dr. Kim was also my secondary advisor. He was very helpful in guiding me during the writing of my dissertation when Dr. Hagner was transitioning into retirement. Both Don and Seyoon had F. F. Bruce as their Doktorvater, so I am blessed to call myself a second generation student of that great evangelical New Testament scholar. Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson’s Ph.D. seminar on “New Testament Research Methods” was also very useful. She taught me not to take secondary sources as gospel truth but to check the primary sources for myself. This is the mark of a good scholar. It is surprising how often the secondary sources (e.g., commentaries, lexicons, etc.) simply quote one another in a long chain of scholarly dependence that is often ultimately built on a shaky foundation. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the doctoral program at Fuller. It was a blessing to be able to study with New Testament scholars of the highest caliber within the context of an evangelical faith community. My mentors modeled for me how to do rigorous scholarship from the standpoint of Christian faith.

2. What were some of the influencing factors that led you to take on the topic of the “Righteousness of God”? 

Irons: I wanted to write a dissertation that would make a significant contribution to NT scholarship and also be relevant to the church. I didn’t want to write on an obscure, dry-as-dust topic that would be relevant only to a tiny group of specialists. That is why I chose to write on one facet of the debate over the New Perspective on Paul. In addition, I have two long-standing scholarly interests that I wanted to be able to incorporate: lexical semantics and Septuagint studies. The result was that I chose to write on “the righteousness of God” in Paul. I knew this was a huge topic of discussion in Pauline studies, and so I would not be at a loss for secondary literature to interact with. Yet I felt that it would be worthwhile to go back and do the lexical spadework of studying “righteousness” terminology in both the Old Testament (in Hebrew) and in the Greek Bible (LXX and NT).

3. Can you discuss the impact of the 19th-century German scholar, Hermann Cremer, and the influence he has had on the relational interpretation of the “Righteousness of God?” (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ)

Irons: Practically all of the lexicons and theological dictionaries published in the 20th century repeat the claim that “righteousness” in Hebrew thought is not a “norm concept” but a “relational concept.” This is one of those cases where the secondary literature needs to be assessed by going back ad fontes. The source of the “relational theory” is the 19th-century German theologian Hermann Cremer, who is probably more well-known for his Biblical-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, which was a precursor of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT). Cremer published a book in 1899 titled Die paulinische Rechtfertigsungslehre im Zusammenhange ihrer geschichtlichen Voraussetzungen (The Pauline Doctrine of Justification in the Context of its Historical Presuppositions). The book was reissued in a revised version in 1900. This book has exercised a profound influence on both Old Testament and New Testament scholarship. Cremer, who was both critical of and influenced by Albrecht Ritschl, argued that the term “righteousness” in the Hebrew Bible is always a positive concept having to do with salvation and never a punitive concept. I argue in my dissertation that this is not true, but he thought it was true and developed his relational theory in order to explain it. The relational theory is that there is no norm outside of the relationship defining what is right; rather, righteousness is faithfulness to the relationship itself. This is the basis for the claim of New Perspective scholars such as N. T. Wright and James D. G. Dunn that “the righteousness of God” means “God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel.” It is not an exaggeration to say that Cremer has exercised a dominant influence to the point that very few scholars can be found who question it. It is just accepted an assured result of critical scholarship. Yet hardly anyone has gone back to Cremer’s 1899 book to examine his arguments to see if they are valid. (It’s not easy for English-speaking scholars since the book has never been translated into English. Even if one does have the courage to try working one’s way through the original German, the book was printed in the old calligraphic style of German typeface called Fraktur. Incidentally, a PDF scan of the book can be downloaded for free from Google Books.)

4. In your chapter on method, you point to the difference between “lexical concepts” and “discourse concepts.” How does distinguishing these concepts give the interpreter clarity when investigating “Righteousness of God” terminology? 

Irons: The distinction between “lexical concepts” and “discourse concepts” is from Peter Cotterell and Max Turner in their excellent book Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation (IVP, 1989). Lexical concepts, to put it simply, are word meanings, that is, the sense or senses of a word, the mental concepts that a word evokes. Discourse concepts are additional concepts that may be associated with a particular word in the context of a particular discourse, but which are not necessarily part of the lexical concept or meaning of the word itself. Cotterell and Turner illustrate the distinction with the following example:

A speaker may keep referring to his Uncle’s bike, but (having formally introduced it earlier, as it were) now just speaks of it as ‘the bike’. Because the expression ‘the bike’ now still refers to Uncle George’s old red one, this is all included in the concept denoted by the expression ‘the bike’ in the speaker’s discourse, even though it is not properly part of the sense of the expression ‘the bike’ as such .... Oldness, redness, and to-Uncle-George-belongingness would not be part of the lexical concept “bike”, but would belong to the discourse concept “the bike” in this particular situation. (p. 152)

It would obviously be a lexical fallacy for a lexicographer (dictionary maker) to include these additional facts of being old, red, and belonging to Uncle George as part of the definition of the English word “bike.” These are incidental qualities of a particular bike in a particular discourse.

This fallacy is what James Barr famously called “illegitimate totality transfer.” In Chapter 8 of The Semantics of Biblical Language, Barr gave his famous critique of Kittel’s TDNT. His main concern there was with the way in which specific Greek words are used as symbols or placeholders for larger theological concepts. TDNT is organized like a dictionary but (Barr claims) is really a series of articles on various aspects of New Testament theology using the Greek words as the launching pad for each essay. (Personally, I think this is not entirely fair to TDNT, but Barr has a point to the extent that TDNT does not always keep clear when it is doing lexicography and when it is doing theology.)

The example Barr gives to illustrate “illegitimate totality transfer” is the Greek word κκλησία (p. 218). The Kittel approach would be to write a lengthy essay on the theological concept of the church in the New Testament, showing how the church is the first installment of the kingdom of God, the bride of Christ, and so on. The fallacy of “illegitimate totality transfer” happens when the exegete encounters the word κκλησία in a certain passage, say Matt 16:18 or Acts 7:38, and then reads into that one instance the “totality” of the theological concept of “the church” as expounded in TDNT.

In my dissertation, I argue that this happens when scholars such as Ernst Käsemann, Peter Stuhlmacher, and N. T. Wright define “the righteousness of God” in such broad theological terms that the discourse concepts bleed into and greatly enlarge the lexical concept until it has ballooned out of proportion. For example, Stuhlmacher, in his famous dissertation, Gerechtigkeit Gottes bei Paulus (1966), defines “the righteousness of God” as “the age-spanning, creational, in-the-beginning existing, now-as-Word-existing and in-Christ-personified liberating right of the Creator to and over his Creation.” If there was ever a case of totality transfer, this would be it! Even if we grant that all of these grand theological concepts are present in the broader discourse of Paul’s “righteousness of God” language (which I doubt), we shouldn’t import all of that rich theology into the meaning of the word “righteousness.”

(End of Part I)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jesus as Lord? A Neglected Text in the Markan Christology Debates

Following the episode of the storm-stilling (Mk 4:35-41), Jesus has an encounter with a demon-possessed man as he departs the boat along with his disciples in the region of the Gerasenes (5:1ff.). I will not rehearse this episode, except to say that Mark connects the storm-stilling (4:35-41) in the previous episode to this one by what Jesus does in expelling the demons into nearby swine, who run off a cliff into the sea (5:13). Just as Jesus demonstrates his mastery over the forces of chaos that inhabit the sea (the wind and waves), he now expels those forces back into the sea, i.e. their home.

What I am most interested in is the postscript to the healing, namely, the exchange between the healed Gerasene and Jesus (5:18-20). Due to the brief and subtle nature of this episode, it is often neglected in Markan Christology debates. Despite this, I believe this passage plays a crucial role in Mark's view of Jesus. 
From Demoniac to Disciple (Mark 5:18-20)

 After Jesus exorcises the Gerasenes demons by sending them into a herd of swine (5:8-13), the townsfolk begin to plead with Jesus to leave their region (5:17).
As Jesus begins his departure by getting into the boat, the now healed Gerasene begs Jesus to allow him to accompany him on the journey (5:18). Jesus will not permit this (cf. 1:34), but instead of a command to silence, Jesus tells him: "Go home to your people and report to them how much the Lord has done for you, (ὅσα ὁ κύριός σοι πεποίηκεν) and how He had mercy on you" (πεποίηκεν καὶ ἠλέησέν σε; 5:19). 'Mercy' is a defining characteristic of the God of Israel (e.g. 2 Sam 24:14; 1 Chr 21:13; Pss 23:6; 25:6; 40:11; 69:16; 119:156; 123:2, 3; Isa 30:18; 55:7; 63:7; Jer 16:5; 31:20; Lam 2:2; Ezek 39:25; Dan 9:9; Hab 3:2; Tob 3:2; 13:6; Wis 9:1; Sir 2:7, 9, 18; 16:11; 17:29; 18:11; 36:17; 47:22; 51:8, 12; Bar 2:19; 3:2; Pr Az 1:67; 2 Ma 8:5; 11:10; 1 Es 8:78; 3 Ma 6:39; 4 Es 2:4, 31; 7:132; 8:45). In perhaps the most famous theophany of all, YHWH identifies himself to Moses in response to the latter's request to see his "glory" (Exod 33:18): "And he (God) said, 'I will pass by before you in my glory, and I will call by my name, the Lord (κύριος) and I will have mercy upon whomever I will have mercy (καὶ ἐλεήσω ὃν ἂν ἐλεῶ) and I will have compassion upon whomever I will have compassion' (Exod 33:19).
Returning to the Markan passage, after Jesus refuses the Gerasene entry unto his boat in order to journey with him (5:19), the narrator records the actions of the Gerasene: "And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus did for him (ὅσα ἐποίησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς) and all were amazed" (5:20). Notice the subtlety? When the narrator describes the actions of the Gerasene, he substitutes 'Jesus' (ὁ Ἰησοῦς; 5:20) for the divine name 'The Lord' (ὁ κύριός; 5:19). One more piece of corroborating evidence is the fact that Mark refers to Jesus as Lord elsewhere in his Gospel (Mark 1:3; 2:28; 11:9; 12:36-37).


 Mark's subsitution of the name 'Jesus' for the name of the God of Israel, 'the Lord', is in keeping with Mark's implicit high Christology and should be considered a key text in the debates on how Mark views Jesus.

1 Another connection between the stilling of the storm and the encounter with the Gerasene demoniac is the manner in which the demoniac approaches Jesus. Mark narrates that after seeing Jesus in the distance, the demoniac approaches him and kneels before him (5:6) and cries out "with a loud voice"...(καὶ κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγει; 5:7). In the previous episode, the adjective "great" (μεγάλη) occurs three times (4:37,39,41). Also, the herd of swine is also referred to as "a great herd of pigs" (ἀγέλη χοίρων μεγάλη)feeding on the hillside (5:11).

2 "Begging"/"Pleading" (παρακαλέω) is a main theme of Mark 5 (5:10, 12, 17, 18, 23). Paradoxically, just as the demon possessed man begs for his demons to not be sent out of the region (5:10), Jesus is asked to leave the region by the townspeople after the exorcism takes place (5:17). 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

C.H. Dodd and the Quote of the Day

I was reading through the great C.H. Dodd's little book, Gospel and Law: The Relations of Faith and Ethics in Early Christianity (Bampton Lectures; Columbia University; 1950) and ran across this gem of a quote regarding judgment, repentance, and ethical behavior in light of the Kingdom of God:

C.H. Dodd (1884-1973)
'Give to everyone who asks.' 'Turn the other cheek.' 'Leave father and mother, wife and children, and hate your own soul.' 'If your hand or eye is leading you astray, cut it off and cast it away.' 'Never worry about food or drink. The morrow will look after itself.' The one thing that all such sayings enforce is the unlimited scope of God's commands. They leave no room for complacency. It is impossible to be satisfied with ourselves, when we try our conduct by these standards; and yet, since God is here in His Kingdom, these standards are obligatory. It is put briefly in the maxim: 'When you have done every thing say, 'We are unprofitable servants: we have only done our duty' (Luke 17:10). Such sayings as these invite us to recognize how far away from God's demands our best has been. They provide an objective standard for self-criticism. In other words, they bring home God's judgment upon us. To accept this judgment is the first step in what the New Testament calls 'repentance.' 
...The precepts of Christ, then, in judging us, expose our need for forgiveness and throw us back on the inexhaustable mercy of God which offers such forgiveness. Forgiveness is clearly not merely a balm to the uneasy conscience; it is the actual creative power of God coming in His kingdom, released for action when men accept His judgment and repent; and it opens up unlimited possibilities to the enterprise of the repentant and forgiven sinner. (61-2; italics mine).

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lost at Sea? Does Mark Portray Jesus as Divine in the Two Sea Miracles (4:35-41; 6:46-53)? Part I

(NB: The first two posts of this series can be found here and here.)


 Continuing my exploration of whether Mark contains a High/Divine Christology has thus far produced an affirmative and resounding 'yes' to the question. Of course, such claims need to be nuanced, as Mark is perhaps the most implicit of the canonical Gospels, thereby encouraging a close reading of the texts in question, in what Timothy Geddert refers to as a "connect-the-dots" approach.1 More than likely, the original audiences had little trouble in picking up on Mark's allusive approach, but 2,000 years removed from the original settings in which his Gospel was read or performed has dulled the collective senses of those who approach his narrative. Mark's Gospel has made a significant comeback in scholarly circles as the plethora of commentaries, monographs, articles, attest. However, this comeback has been fairly recent, within the last generation or so, causing the Second Gospel to be sidelined in many discussions of a High/Divine Christology vis-à-vis the other Gospels.

  Here, I offer another round of posts concerning Jesus' so-called nature miracles, in particular, the two episodes that demonstrate his mastery of the seas (Mark 4:35-41; 6:46-53). In order to do justice to the overarching question of whether Mark portrays Jesus in divine terms, we will walk through each episode separately over a couple of posts.

Jesus Stills the Storm: A Brief Overview (Mark 4:35-41/Matthew 8:23-27/Luke 8:22-25)

At first blush, this episode seems to fit awkwardly as it comes directly after Jesus' teaching in parables (4:1-34). A closer inspection, however, reveals that the whole of 3:7-4:41 are held together by the theme of the boat (3:9; 4:1b; 4:36).2  
The scene opens with the narrator shifting the scene as Jesus' teaching has come to a conclusion, and he tells his disciples, "Let us cross over to the other side" (4:35; cf. 5:1). The "other side" being the Sea of Galilee (cf. 5:21-23). The narrator continues, "Leaving the crowd behind (cf. 4:1; 3:9), they(the disciples) took him(Jesus) with them (the disciples) in the boat, and other boats were with him" (4:36). Moloney is probably on to something when he suggests that this last remark ("...and other boats were with him") probably refers to the growing following that Jesus is gathering.
In true Markan fashion, the narrator wastes no time in describing what happens next: "And a great windstorm (λαῖλαψ μεγάλη ἀνέμου) arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat so that the boat was already filling up" (4:37). As many commentators note, μεγάλη ("great") is a theme that ties this unit together, as after Jesus commands the storm to be stilled, "...a great calm (γαλήνη μεγάλη) arrived" (4:39b). Also, the disciples reaction to Jesus' miracle describes them as "greatly afraid" (φόβον μέγαν; 4:41a).
Despite the fierceness of the storm, Jesus is in the stern, "sleeping on a cushion" (4:38a). The reader should make a mental note of the contrast that is being set up here, i.e., Jesus' relaxed state as the powers of chaos are tossing his and the disciples boat around. The disciples are perplexed as they wake him and ask "Teacher (Διδάσκαλε), don't you care that we are perishing?" (4:38b). Jesus promptly awakens, rebukes the wind and shouts to the sea: "Peace! Be Still! (4:39ab). The results are immediate as the wind ceases and the sea becomes calm (4:39c). Jesus then rebukes his disciples by questioning their lack of faith (4:40). The narrator concludes the episode by commenting that the disciples fear was "great" (see above) and that they questioned one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"(4:41).

Exorcism at Sea? Insight from Mark 1:1-28

 The careful reader of Mark's Gospel may have noticed an episode earlier in the narrative, namely, 1:1-28, where Jesus performs an exorcism on a demon-possessed man in a synagogue in Capernaum. Without rehearsing each verse of the episode and comparing it to our current investigation, 4:35-41, a handy chart will be provided instead:


The similarities are striking, and if we interpret one episode in light of the other, it becomes apparent that Jesus treats the seas in the same manner in which he treats the unclean spirit, by exercising his authority over them. Edwards notes that Jesus' command, "Peace/Quiet! Be Still!" is
...the language of v. 39 is, strictly speaking, proper to that of exorcism. The wind is 'rebuked' (or 'censured'). The Gk. epitiman has been used twice earlier in Mark of the rebuking of evil spirits (1:25; 3:12). ...The Greek word for “ ‘Be still!’ ” pephimōso, carries the sense of 'muzzled.' It occurs in the second person singular, as though Jesus were addressing a personal being. Its unusual perfect passive imperative form indicates that the condition shall persist, that is, 'Be still, and stay still.'6

 The questions asked at the end of each unit also piques the reader's attention as the identity of Jesus is raised. The reader is encouraged to discover what is perplexing to the disciples with their question, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"(4:41). To answer this, it would be helpful to see our passage (4:35-41) in light of the Old Testament (OT). To this, we now turn.

The Old Testament Background of Mark 4:35-41: "...the Wind and the Sea Obey Him..."

 The careful reader of Mark's Gospel needs not only to be attuned to how Mark tells his story but also what traditions stand behind his story, namely, the OT. Mark's direct citations may be few, but his entire story is steeped and saturated with the OT in the form of allusions, echoes and the like. To understand Mark then, one must understand the OT. Our passage, Mark 4:35-41, provides a key example of Mark's use of the OT.

 Scholars have long recognized that our passage has many resonances with the narrative of Jonah (4:37-38; cf. Jonah 1:4-6). These resonances are mostly at the conceptual rather than the verbal level as this table demonstrates:

Jonah 1:4 καὶ κύριος ἐξήγειρεν πνεῦμα εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ ἐγένετο κλύδων μέγας ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃκαὶ τὸ πλοῖον ἐκινδύνευεν συντριβῆναι

And the Lord raised up a wind upon the sea, and a great wave came upon the sea, and the boat was in danger of being shattered.

Mark 4:37 καὶ γίνεται λαῖλαψ μεγάλη ἀνέμου καὶ τὰ κύματα ἐπέβαλλεν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, ὥστε ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τὸ πλοῖον.

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

Jonah 1:5 καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν οἱ ναυτικοὶ καὶ ἀνεβόων στος πρὸς τὸν θεὸν αὐτῶν καὶ ἐκβολὴν ἐποιήσαντο τῶν σκευῶν τῶν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν τοῦ κουφισθῆναι ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν Ιωνας δὲ κατέβη εἰς τὴν κοίλην τοῦ πλοίου καὶ ἐκάθευδεν καὶ ἔρρεγχενAnd the sailors were afraid and cried out, each to his god. And ⌊they threw out the things⌋, the ones that were in the boat, into the sea in order to lighten it for them. But Jonah went down into the hold of the boat and slept and snored.

Mark 4:38 καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἐν τῇ πρύμνῃ ἐπὶ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον καθεύδων. καὶ ἐγείρουσιν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ· διδάσκαλε, οὐ μέλει σοι ὅτι ἀπολλύμεθα
But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Jonah 1:6 καὶ προσῆλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ πρωρεὺς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ τί σὺ ῥέγχεις ἀνάστα καὶ ἐπικαλοῦ τὸν θεόν σου ὅπως διασώσῃ ὁ θεὸς ἡμᾶς καὶ μὴ ἀπολώμεθα

And the captain came to him and said to him, "How are you snoring? Rise up, and call upon your God so that God might deliver us and we might not be destroyed."

In both episodes, a great storm occurs at sea with the boat facing the danger of being sunk or destroyed (Mark 4:37/Jonah 1:4), both Jonah and Jesus fall asleep while the storm is occurring (Mark 4:38/Jonah 1:5), and both are questioned as to why they are sleeping during the storm and asked to do something about it (Mark 4:38b; Jonah 1:6). The similarities are fascinating but the differences are equally striking. First, Jonah is the fleeing prophet while Jesus "is is not fleeing from God but actively involved in the accomplishment of his will."7   
Second, in the Jonah account (Jonah 1:6), the captain asks Jonah to call on his God, while the disciples expect no intercession, "Rather, the disciples call upon Jesus even as the distressed sailors of Ps 107,23-30 called upon Yahweh to save them from the storm."8

Ps 107:23-30 (106:23-30 LXX) provides a striking background for the disciples question:
     23 Those who come down into the sea with ships, 
       making business on many waters, 
     24 let see them the works of the Lord 
       and his wondrous things in the deep. 
     25 He spoke, and a wind of storm stood, 
       and the waves of it were lifted up. 
     26 They went up to the heavens and down to the depths; 
       their soul in evil things was melting down. 
     27 They were troubled, they were shaken like one who is drunk, 
       and all their wisdom was devoured. 
     28 And they cried aloud to the Lord when they were afflicted, 
       and from their tribulations he led them out. 
     29 And he established its storm, 
       and its waves were still (καὶ ἐσίγησαν τὰ κύματα αὐτῆς)
     30 And they were gladdened because they were at rest, 
       and he led them to the care of his will. 
The Psalm has as a theme people who find "...themselves in trouble, cry out to Yhwh, find themselves delivered, and are challenged to make their confession of all that." 10 

 I would argue another telling difference in the accounts is based on the issue of the identity of Jesus and Jonah. For instance, in Jonah, the sailors ask him: "Tell us what is your occupation? And where did you come from? And from which country? And from what people are you?" (Jonah 1:8) Jonah answers: "I am a slave of the Lord, and I worship the Lord God of heaven (κύριον θεὸν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), who made the sea (ὃς ἐποίησεν τὴν θάλασσαν) and the dry land. Similarly, in the Markan account, after Jesus rebukes the wind and stills the sea (θάλασσα; Mark 4:39), the disciples ask about the identity of Jesus: "And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea (ἡ θάλασσα) obey him?"(Mark 4:41). Whereas Jonah worships the Lord who made the sea, Jesus commands the sea. The disciples recognition of that command, begs an answer from the reader (4:41). 

 Who then is this?

 The last major point I'd like to make in this long post gets to the heart of the question, "Just who is this Markan Jesus who rebukes winds and calms the sea?" A prominent theme in the OT depicts YHWH as the one who deserves praise for being the Lord of the land and sea (Pss. 29:1-11; 65:7; 74:13,14; 89:10; 104:3; 107:23-30 [see above]; 114:3); the one who can bring the wind and calm the waters (Gen 8:1; Job 26:12), dry up the sea by his power (Isa 50:2; Nah 1:4), and set parameters for the sea (Job 38:8-11). Many more passages could be cited, but the point of these citations is to say that YHWH alone exercised authority over the sea. What Jesus does in Mark 4:39 is to do only what YHWH can do. Regarding the disciples' question in Mark 4:41 Garland states:
The audience schooled in Scripture can supply the answer to their awestruck question. He is the Son of God, who has mastery over the sea, the place of chaos and evil as God does. He has divine power to do what only the God who created the sea can do...11
 Mark's implicit Christology leads one to the unmistakable conclusion that the Second Gospel boasts of a High Christology indeed.

1  Timothy Geddert, "The Implied YHWH Christology of Mark's Gospel," Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.3; (2015); 325-340.

2 Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). Moloney states perceptively: "Despite the variety of sources and shifting narrative perspectives across 3:7-4:41, the theme of the boat holds the narrative together. Indeed, the boat is in some ways at the center of the story: will it sink or not?"; 98.

3 Ibid.; 98.

4 See, for example, Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). Stein also rightly suggests the next episode, 5:7, where the demon cries out with a "great voice" (φωνῇ μεγάλη); 242.

5 Chart provided by Ardel Caneday, from his personal slides in a personal correspondence on February 16, 2016.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 149–150. 

Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 27, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 338.

8 Bernard F. Batto, "The Sleeping God: An Ancient Near Eastern Motif of Divine Sovereignty, " Biblica 68 (1987), 174.

Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). Italics mine.

10 John Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms 90–150, ed. Tremper Longman III, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 246.

11 David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark's Gospel: Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2015), 293.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: An Interview with Robert H. Stein on Mark 13

Robert H. Stein 
Awhile back, I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Robert H. Stein, Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary about his recent book, Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13 (InterVarsity Press Academic; 2014). In my humble opinion, Stein does the best job to date unraveling Mark's most difficult section as he guides the reader through the issues of this enigmatic chapter.

Without further ado, on to the interview!

1. Did Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13, derive from your Mark commentary in the BECNT series, and if so, what led you to decide to dedicate a monograph to such a complex series of passages such as Mark 13?

Stein: While writing my commentary on Mark, I was unhappy with the material I wrote concerning Mark 13. I did not sense that I had come to a satisfactory understanding of what Mark meant by the chapter. Consequently, I kept reading this chapter in my Greek New Testament. Gradually I began to see the two questions asked by the disciples in 13:4 as the key to understanding what follows in 13:5ff. Attempts to see them as essentially unrelated or referring to two different events, as most commentators do, seemed less and less convincing. The text gave no such hint. I then began to work my way through the Gospel of Mark to find if elsewhere we found two questions placed side by side together. When I found such examples, I then sought to find whether they referred to the same thing or whether they referred to a totally different matter. I found that they refer to the same thing. (See page 68 for examples.) If they refer to the same thing, then the material following is in 13:5-23.

2. How do the two questions the disciples ask Jesus in Mark 13:4 provide the key to understanding the chapter as a whole?

Stein: I noticed that the two expressions “these things” and “all these things” occur again in the same order in 13:29 and 13:30. In the parallel account in Luke, who follows Mark more closely than Matthew, the order “these things” and “all these things” in Mark are translated “these things” and “these things", indicating that he understands these expressions as synonyms. (See pages 66-68.)

3. Much scholarly disagreement surrounds this chapter, not least of which, concerns the outlining of Mark 13. I was particularly fascinated and convinced by your interpretation of 13:24ff. and the manner in which Jesus/Mark alternates between discussing the Temple’s near future destruction along with the uncertainty of the arrival of the Son of Man. What are some of the interpretive payoffs of reading the passage in this way?

Stein: For one, it acknowledges that 13:23 (“I have told you all things”) forms an inclusio and brings to a conclusion the subject matter dealt with in 13:5ff. (“Then Jesus began to say to them . . . .”). Second, it allows 13:25 (And then you will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”) to be interpreted as a reference to the parousia (cf. pages 116-18). It also allows 13:28-31 which refers to “all things (13:29)” and “all these things (13:30)” to refer to a knowable event (13:30), and 13:32-37 to refer to a different, unknowable event (“no one knows" [13:30]).

4. You have provided a helpful interpretive translation at the end of the volume (136-138). Have you received feedback from other scholars concerning your translation and the book as a whole?

Stein: Unfortunately, it is too early for book reviews to appear,1 but some friends who have read the book have been positive and the blurbs on the jacket of the book have been kind and generous. (Perhaps, because most of them are good friends, these blurbs are more kind and generous than they should be!)

5. What are some of  the current projects that you are working on? 

Stein: Presently I am working on an essay and sermon for a two-volume issue on expository preaching in the Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry. The title of the sermon is “If this were my last sermon.” Other than that, preparation for my Sunday School class and preparation for a week seminar on Mark Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminar this coming summer, I have nothing on my agenda.

1 Since the time of this interview, several online reviews have appeared. Here are some that I discovered:;;;;;;;