Monday, March 02, 2009

The relevance of Eschatology

Thanks to Paternoster for a review copy of What are we Waiting For? Christian Hope and Contemporary Culture, ed. by Stephen Holmes and Russell Rook.

Few things make for as much fun as bashing certain forms of crazy popular evangelical eschatology with a decent bit of scholarship. This volume includes essays, under the section headed Hopeful Word by Stephen Holmes ("Introduction: The dangers of being Left Behind"), John Goldingay ("Eschatology in Isaiah"), I. Howard Marshall ("Eschatology at the Heart of New Testament Theology"), Richard Bauckham ("Eschatology in the Book of Revelation"). Under the heading Hopeful Church there are essays concerning eschatology and the Church Fathers, evangelical history, mission, hell and heaven. Under the heading Hopeful Culture there are essays on eschatology and such themes as imagination (by St Andrew's Trevor Hart), pop culture and politics (by Luke Bretherton of King's College), including other issues. The final section, Hopeful Word, deals with environmental issues, among other matters.

In other words, there is a wealth of helpful information here all rightly motivated by the claim eschatology rightly conceived is of profound relevance for contemporary life. Some will find essays in this book provocative yet it could just be the best inoculation against the various whack-job eschatologies on the market, especially those haunting the evangelical bookstalls.

Speaking of eschatology, I am rather excited that we have Andrew Perriman (author of RE:Mission; The Coming of the Son of Man, Otherways) guest lecturing at St Mellitus next week.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Jesus and the Eyewitnesses summary

I've finally put it on my server so it can be downloaded as a pdf here.

I wrote this rather extensive summary and short critical reflection on Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses quite some time ago, largely adapted from my earlier blog series. I ended the essay with these words:

'Time will tell whether [Bauckham's] thesis comes to exercise a similar influence on New testament scholarship as the speculations proffered by Bultmann and co. Whether co-opted by conservative Christians in the cause of defensive apologetics-at-any-cost, or whether denounced or dismissed by critics as the work of intellectually dishonest confessionalism, the depth of Bauckham's scholarship is incontrovertible. His arguments are here to stay and, I hope, will profoundly shape the unfolding debate.'

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Guest Book Review by David M. Moffitt

My thanks to Brill for a review copy of Hebrews: Contemporary Methods—New Insights. BINS 75. Edited by Gabriella Gelardini. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Thanks also to David for another insightful review. Again, before I hand over I should note that the Greek font used is SPIonic.


The general trend to read the texts of the New Testament as works that belong within the pale of Second Temple Jewish literature, and thus more and more against the background of a Jewish milieu, has largely left the subset of Hebrews scholarship unaffected. I have no wish in this brief review to impose a reductionistic dichotomy between Judaism and Hellenism. Nevertheless, to paint with a broad brush, it seems to me that the world of Hebrews scholarship has remained happy to assume that, if any New Testament text can be considered pervasively influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy, rhetoric, and culture—surely this is it. Hebrews, many believe, represents a kind of Philo-like fusion between early Palestinian Jewish proclamation about Jesus and the bigger world of the Hellenized diaspora. As a result, a great number of assumptions about the cosmology, Christology, soteriology, and eschatology of the document have largely remained insulated from the sea change going on in the rest of the New Testament canon. Hebrews: Contemporary Methods—New Insights (now available in an affordable paperback edition) is one of a handful of recent publications containing hints suggesting that even the inlet of Hebrews studies is starting to be affected by the turning of the tide.

I cannot here detail all the essays in this volume. For a more thorough survey of the contents of the book see that of C. Patrick Gray in RBL:,2272,4895,2150,1059,6070,6966,5102,5445,5732. Instead, I will highlight two essays illustrative of what I consider to be some of the book's contributions vis-à-vis the kind of change alluded to above.

The volume's very first essay by Ekkehard and Wolfgang Stegemann is entitled "Does the Cultic Language in Hebrews Represent Sacrificial Metaphors? Reflections on Some Basic Problems" (pp. 13–23). In this piece the brothers Stegemann helpfully remind us that, "[D]ue to our epistemological paradigm, the sacrifice of Christ can a priori be ruled out as a potential historical referent [for the language of Jesus' heavenly offering], since from the perspective of our worldview heaven is no place for historical events" (p. 15). In other words, our modern worldview makes it easy for us to assume that the use of cultic and heavenly language in Hebrews to describe Jesus' salvific work "must be theological and metaphorical" (p. 17). The Stegemanns carefully note that they are not offering a detailed discussion of theories of metaphor (p. 14). Rather, they wish to point out to us that Hebrews scholarship has often used the language of metaphor in opposition to that of real, historical, objective representation. There is what actually happened (Jesus was crucified), and there is the metaphorical language of sacrifice and heaven used by the author to create the spiritual/existential significance of the earthly event. All of this looks like the sort of thing we might expect from a good Platonist after all.

The Stegemanns' essay is more a word of caution than a constructive proposal for how we should then read Hebrews. Yet, their brief word of exhortation offers us an opportunity to demythologize some of our own assumptions. What if, for example, the author of Hebrews does not imagine himself as interpreting the real, earthly event of Jesus' death by way of appeal to a spiritualization of the cultic practices depicted in Jewish scripture? What if he is not speaking in terms of metaphors (where the language of "metaphor" is understood along the reductionistic lines that the Stegemanns, rightly in my view, think many scholars intend when they use it)? What if, as those at Qumran seem to have thought, the author believes that there really exists a heavenly tabernacle (that Moses really saw), that there really is a heavenly liturgy and throne, and that Jesus really went to that place? It is not clear that a relatively orthodox Platonist would think this way, though a Jew with apocalyptic leanings just might. The Stegemanns do not develop their point in this direction. It seems to me, however, that their critique of our implicit assumptions at least provides a little space for us to try to reimagine the message of the homily along the lines of Jews who read their scriptures more like the apocalyptic writers than like Philo.

The second essay I want to highlight is that of Christian Eberhart entitled "Characteristics of Sacrificial Metaphors in Hebrews" (pp. 37–64). As the title suggests, Eberhart approaches the depiction of Jesus' death in Hebrews in terms of a metaphorical appeal to the sacrificial system. Yet, relying largely on his own massive research into Hebrew sacrificial practices, he encourages us to take the biblical accounts of sacrifice more seriously in order to clarify what the content of a metaphorical appeal to those practices might be. The first half of his essay provides readers with a concise summary of his own work and the backdrop against which it stands. One of his claims is that the Jewish scriptures do not identify the climax of a sacrificial act with the slaughter of the victim (p. 49). Rather, the offering, i.e., the bringing of the sacrificial blood (or other materials) into the presence of God, is where the effectual benefits of the act are obtained. Referring to the purifying/atoning results of blood sacrifices, Eberhart points out, "[T]his purification would not happen if the animal of, e.g., a sin offering were to be slaughtered without the subsequent blood application rite being carried out" (p. 58). In such cases the death of the victim is a sine qua non for the blood rite, but "the moment of slaughter as such … has no particular significance" (ibid.). One of the interpretive payoffs for Eberhart is that the references in Hebrews to Jesus' blood can be more clearly understood as emphasizing Jesus' death as the prerequisite for salvation. The term "sacrifice" can then be seen as referring to more than just the crucifixion. That is, in keeping with Hebrews' own logic, the sacrifice of Jesus should be seen to be inclusive of his death and "transition from earth to heaven where he now serves as the heavenly high priest" (p. 64).

As an exercise in pushing us to think seriously about the ways sacrifice probably worked, or at least is depicted in the Jewish scriptures, Eberhart does us a great service and helps us begin to think through the Jewish milieu of Hebrews afresh. It is not uncommon for interpreters to conceive of Hebrews as an attempt to map the death and ascension of Jesus onto the two supposedly great moments of Yom Kippur—the slaughter/death of the victim and the offering of its blood. The work of Eberhart, however, challenges this conception of Yom Kippur. There was only one great moment—the presentation of the blood. In light of Eberhart's work, I find it interesting that the preferred verb for Jesus' priestly action in Hebrews is prosfe/rw (prospherō – meaning "to offer, present") and never qusia/zw (thusiazō – meaning "to sacrifice"). Eberhart, unfortunately in my view, translates the verb prosfe/rw with the gloss "sacrifice." Let me be clear that this is probably more an issue of English rendering than the Greek per se, but if the emphasis in Yom Kippur really does fall on the presentation of the sacrifice (where "sacrifice" is a noun) and not the act of slaughter, then it seems more accurate to bring prosfe/rw into English as "to offer/present," than as "to sacrifice." To sacrifice (especially oneself) in contemporary English parlance calls to mind an act that brings about death and connotes all kinds of things that may actually muddy the point being made by the author of Hebrews (and brings too much of Paul into Hebrews to boot). Some translations are more careful about this (e.g., the RSV), though some, like the NIV, prefer to gloss prosfe/rw as "to sacrifice" and thereby leave English readers with the impression that Jesus sacrifices himself in Hebrews. In fact, Jesus always offers himself to God (i.e., he is never the subject of the verb qusia/zw in Hebrews), and, interestingly, when the author speaks explicitly about where this occurred, he locates it in heaven.

I realize I may be accused of hair splitting (and that many will likely want to challenge some of my previous comments by pointing to passages like 10:5-10), but, while the semantic domains of these two Greek words overlap to a high degree in cultic contexts, the very evidence Eberhart deduces about the high point of blood sacrifices being the presentation of the blood before God may suggest that the author of Hebrews is more careful in thinking through the relationship between Jesus' death and Jesus' ascension/priestly activity in heaven and Yom Kippur than is generally assumed. In keeping with my comments above, perhaps we ought to take Hebrews' language of Jesus' offering himself, his body, and his blood, which incidentally is the agent of life in Leviticus, not death (a point that Eberhart notes; cf. another essay in the volume, that of Ina Willi-Plein, "Some Remarks on Hebrews form the Viewpoint of Old Testament Exegesis," [pp. 25-35, esp. 33]), in heaven more seriously. Perhaps, that is, what Jesus does in heaven is, very much in keeping with the biblical account of Yom Kippur, far more important for atonement in Hebrews than the crucifixion.

Space already fails me to say more. My own views on the points I raise above are being hashed out in my dissertation (a very brief abstract may be viewed here: Suffice it to say that Gelardini has compiled a volume of interesting and engaging essays, and I am grateful to Brill for publishing it. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about some of the current issues being debated in Hebrews scholarship.

David M. Moffitt

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Guest book review: Misquoting Truth

My thanks both to IVP for a copy of Timothy Paul Jones's Misquoting Truth. A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus and to Samuel Ciszuk for his review.

With the basic teachings of Christianity more or less constantly under fire and its demise proclaimed by a multitude of experts for what seems to be a host of different reasons for decades –at least here in the West, one should by now have expected inflation in the appeal of books proclaiming the end of Christianity being nigh. Perhaps at least one should expect people in general and Christians in particular to have become blasé by alarmism and approach their critics a bit more sceptically and patiently. Not so, it seems, as those attacking the validity of Christianity's basic tenets still seem to have a huge opportunity to impact believers', who allow their doubts to be fed and the carpet of trust in the basic tenets of their faith being pulled from underneath them, while not applying at least the same level of questioning against the critics themselves as they apply to their own faith.

One who did not panic when faced with serious questions, but paused for thought and then wrote a book to answer some of the latest claims of fallacy levied against the New Testament (NT), is Timothy Paul Jones, who in his "Misquoting Truth, A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus" (2007, IVP Books), gives a strong defence against claims from a fellow textual criticism scholar, Bart Ehrman. Ehrman claims that so many mistakes have entered the NT and so many different versions have been put together, that the NT of today has very little in common with what the eyewitnesses of Jesus and the apostles originally wrote. His book "Misquoting Jesus", made discussions within the highly technical field of textual criticism accessible to lay readers, explaining much of the field's intricacies, while forcefully putting forth his revisionist thesis about the validity of the NT and his –to the lay reader often shocking claim- that "there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the NT". Because of Ehrman's accessibility, his book became something as rare for a textual criticism tome as a bestseller, thereby taking the place as perhaps the only book on the subject read by many a believer -struggling to deal with the book's message- or indeed un-believers, inoculating them safely from coming to view the Bible as any reliable source of truth and authority. Jones' "Misquoting Truth" therefore fills a deeply needed void, in that it continues on Ehrman's path in making textual criticism even more accessible to readers without formal theological schooling, while systematically addressing the allegations of textual fallacy raised by Ehrman.

Jones does not spare energy on gracefully meeting Ehrman's contentions head on, chapter by chapter allowing Ehrman to speak for himself through numerous and often lengthy quotations, before attempting to paint a picture of what actually more-or-less is the broad consensus among scholars and going through the evidence which testifies against Ehrman's claims. Jones goes through the facts surrounding the original NT manuscripts in chapter 1, placing them into their historical context and also explaining how they were handled in the early church. In chapter 2 he delves into an assessment of the copyists, who copied and preserved the original texts, describing their stringent standards and meeting Ehrman's questioning of their abilities. In chapter 3 Jones meets Ehrman's criticism about the truthfulness of the Gospel full on, exposing the flaws in his reasoning and laying bare the facts which actually are widely agreed upon within the international body of NT contextual criticism scholars. First in chapter 4 does Jones takes his argument further, from defending the NT against Ehrman's charge and into scrutinising Ehrman's questions themselves, demonstrating how they seem bourn out of a will to find fault with the Gospel, rather then out of a fair will do research eventual textual discrepancies. In the second part of the book, Jones outlines and introduces the concept of oral history, the Gospels' authors, the concept of historical eyewitness testimony and how the books now forming the NT were originally chosen, in their respective chapters, informing and educating the reader, while continuing to undermine the basis for the relevance of Bart Ehrman's questions. The book is finally tied up with some more personal remarks from the author, tying his personal journey through theology and contextual criticism in with Bart Ehrman's and reflecting on their respective different outcomes.

Throughout the book, Jones meets Ehrman's charges of fallacy against the NT in a highly gracious way. Perhaps he is even too gracious, given how successfully he appears to not only defend the NT, but also expose Ehrman's questions as being the wrong questions -posed out of an initial will to discredit the relevance of the Gospel, and therefore exploiting a lack of detailed knowledge among readers in order to seem relevant, rather then to base them on anything even remotely close to objectively defined problems.

While successfully meeting a large swathe of charges against the validity and trustworthiness of the NT, the book is also a wonderfully easy and concise introduction to the history, background and treatment of the Gospels, as well as the field of contextual criticism. It is full of "fact sheets" and "know more"-boxes, for everyone needing to get a quick background on everything from parchment, to characters like Marcion of Sionpe. The will to make all jargon and terms understandable to all is perhaps taken too far occasionally, slowing down the narrative somewhat. Also, I might have found the narrative a little bit too personal and chatty at times, although that arguably is a question of taste. While, luckily, not all of us have struggled with these issues, I would clearly recommend the book to everyone. Not having given these issues any particular attention, I was rapidly drawn in by the book and it is my firm belief that any reader's respect for the Gospel and for the early Christians will be strengthened by it.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Guest Book Review: Martin Hengel's Die vier Evangelien

My thanks to Dr Thomas Scott Caulley, of Tübingen's Institut zur Erforschung des Urchristentums, for the following superb review of Martin Hengel's, Die vier Evangelien und das eine Evangelium von Jesus Christus, WUNT 224, Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2008. Before I hand over to Scott, I would point out that the Greek font used in the review is SPIonic, which can be downloaded here.

This work is an expansion of Hengel's book, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (SCM/TPI, 2000). The new volume is a re-working of the Vorlage from which The Four Gospels was translated, "um über 40 prozent auf den jetzigen Umfang". Both volumes are dedicated to Hengel's long-time translator and friend, John Bowden, who translated The Four Gospels. Some of this material has roots in Hengel's earlier work, including on the Gospel titles and John's Gospel.

While Hengel engages with the latest scholarship, this book is more than just an updating of the literature. The new section VII.2, "Die 'Minor Agreements' zwischen Lukas and Matthäus gegen Markus", is significant. The previous section VII.1 ("Das Rätsel 'Q'") includes changes which transition to the new material. On the other hand, most of the additions are supplemental to the overall argument, which remains unchanged.

Hengel begins with a two-part problem: (1) What is the relationship between the early Christian understanding of "Gospel" as the preached message (Paul); to the written "biographical" reports of the four Gospels, and how can both of these represent the same title ("Gospel")? (2) How is it that we possess these written "Gospels" in a four-fold form, which though canonical, presents us with several contradictions? He restates the problem in two overlapping questions: (A) "What was the 'Gospel' originally, as the message of salvation? Was it accounts of Jesus from his closest followers, or was it teaching about him as "christology" and "soteriology"? Or is this only an apparent contradiction? Must not the Gospel have necessarily contained both from the beginning? (B) Why, and from what time have we had the "Gospel" also as story (Erzählung), and indeed in such different literary forms?

Hengel's answer to these questions leads to the conclusion that the gospel was both "proclamation" and "story". He points to proclamation in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, but notes that "story" was not totally absent in Paul. The "narrated Gospel" is most important in the case of Peter, whom Hengel believes stands firmly behind Mark's Gospel. Finally, Hengel compares the Gospel to the Torah, two examples of the "Erzählung des Heilsgeschehens".

Hengel defends a traditional "slow-growth" theory of the development of the four-Gospel collection, against recent attempts to redefine that development as "punctiliar" (variously, T. Heckel; D. Trobisch). He faults H. Gamble (Books and Readers) among others for perpetuating the old assumption that the Gospels were circulated as anonymous documents—Hengel thinks the titles were necessarily present once the Gospels began circulating. "Jedes schriftliche Evangelium braucht den Nachweis der Autorität, die dahinter steht". The reception of Mark's Gospel in Rome, the congregation which emerged as de facto leader of the Christian west after the destruction of Jerusalem and Neronian persecution, marks the transition from the use of the term "Gospel" as preached message to written document.

Hengel's detailed account of the first Christian "book cupboards" is integral to his argument. As book titles met the needs of the libraries, scriptoria and book shops of hellenism, the titles of the Gospels were functional necessities in the church from early on. Hengel notes what others have pointed out, namely that in the manner of ascription, the titles of the Gospels break with convention found throughout the hellenistic world. This usual form is the genitive of the author's name, followed by the title of the work. Indeed, this conventional form is used with the Catholic epistles (Pe/trou e)pistolh/ A). The apparently unprecedented Kata\ Ma/rkon, etc. as ascriptive title is a shortened form, presupposing the collection title, "The Gospel(s)". The short titles within the collection should thus be rendered: "(The Gospel) in the version according to Mark", or "Luke", etc. But since "der eigentliche 'Autor' des einen Evangeliums war Jesus Christus selbst", the ascription to the "human author" in the genitive is inappropriate, and we find instead in Mark 1:1, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ". Thus, the title of the work cannot read simply "Ma/rkou eu)agge/lion", as convention would dictate, and the double genitive Ma/rkou eu)agge/lion )Ihsou~ Xristou~ would be stylistically very awkward.

Hengel argues for the priority of Luke over Matthew. He sees in the Lukanischen Doppelwerk the work of a "direct" Paulusschüler as well as Pauline companion. Acts cannot have been written a long time after Paul. Where would an anonymous 2nd century author have acquired the historical details in Acts which are largely confirmed by a comparison to Paul's epistles? The "We" sections in Acts are not from an unknown source, but are autobiographical reports in the same style as the entire work. Citing Luke's Passion narrative with Jesus' admonition about the coming catastrophe (Lk 23:28-31), Hengel asserts that the author of Luke must have experienced those days, after which he also was involved in the disputes with fanatical Christians over the imminent expectation of the Parousia.

In the last part of the work Hengel outlines his case that Matthew is the latest of the Synoptics, and dependent upon both Mark and Luke. In general, Matthew reflects the Jewish War only where he inherits the material from Mark. On the other hand, like John Matthew reflects the later development of the Christian argument with the Synagogue that emerged as stronger after the war. Matthew presupposes the post-70 emergence of the Pharisaic Scribe as preeminent religious authority in Palestine, a situation reflected throughout the Gospel, but especially in Matthew 23 (the hendiadys "Scribes and Pharisees", and Matthew's special material "The Scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so do what they say, but not what they do..."). The trinitarian formula of Matt 28:19 suggests a relatively late time of writing. Finally, next to John's Gospel Matthew presupposes the furthest development of the polemic between Jews and Christians. Hengel adds a section here not found in The Four Gospels expanding his argument for the early date of Luke-Acts. In closing, Hengel cites the irony that the two "non-apostolic" Gospels are the earlier of the four, and closely linked to the apostles. The other two are later, and bear the apostolic names with which they were provided. Once a Gospel had been identified as apostolic, all subsequent Gospels must also be apostolic.

Hengel builds a plausible case for the origins of the reception of the Gospels in the early churches. He notes that in hellenistic contexts, under certain circumstances a well-known pseudepigraphical name was given to a document so that it would not be anonymous. It is suggested that the first Gospel received its title in this manner. But this solutions begs the question, Who made such decisions, and how did they become nearly universally accepted, and, seemingly "over night"? The argument, "once a Gospel had been identified as apostolic, all subsequent Gospels must also be apostolic" seems a bit contrived. Was this not rather merely a function of advancing time and changing needs of the communities?

While Hengel makes an impressive case for the early superscription of titles to the Gospels, pushing the events back into early obscurity does not ultimately answer the questions about the remarkable uniformity of the Gospel titles, the near-universal popularity of the codex in Christian circles, and the seemingly universal use of the nomina sacra in early Christian texts. In fact, Hengel's argument against D. Trobisch (that "the Vierversammlung cannot have been the work of an individual Christian authority or school, since no person, no school, and no congregation in the early 2nd century possessed the authority and power to impose on everyone else their individual decision about a four-Gospel collection") appears to work against his own case. While we owe Prof. Hengel a great debt for illuminating the events and possible motivations behind the development of the four-Gospel collection, the search continues for more complete answers to these basic questions about the early Christians and their scriptures.

Thomas Scott Caulley

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book of the Year: Christology and Science by Shults - Part 2 of 2

Once again, my thanks to the kind folk at Ashgate for a review copy of F. LeRon Shults, Christology and Science (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

The above more detailed overview of his first chapter enables a much more concise summary of the following three chapters. In a nutshell, late modern philosophical and scientific discourse, especially in its turn to relationality, seriously undermines the philosophical underpinnings of some traditional doctrinal formulations relating to incarnation, atonement and parousia. This changes both the material formulation of these doctrines as well as their methodological handling. With reference to Jesus' way of knowing, acting and being in the world in relation to God and his neighbours (i.e. what he calls the philosophy of Jesus Christ), it also changes what this all means for human desire for spiritual transformation in relation to God and other people.

In the following I will summarise the argument of chapter two as illustrate of his basic approach, and only note those in the third and fourth chapter. I will thus leave out much even though his argument is immensely rich and not easily abridged.

Turning to chapter 2, and the incarnation, traditional christological formulations have been based, he argues, upon certain philosophical commitments about sameness and difference, body and soul, origin and goal, which are now redundant. For example, '[t]he theory of evolution developed by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) challenged the notion of human nature is a substance that always remained the same' (29), as well as a 'historical paradise in which death did not exist' (31). How, then, should we rethink the intuitions of Christian scriptures and tradition in the late modern period, when philosophical and scientific discourse challenges the assumptions behind traditional Christian formulations? In examining changes in anthropological formulations Shults asks:

'Why should we insist on expressing the doctrine of the incarnation in ways that are tied to ancient Greek or modern anthropological concepts of personhood, which focus on the sameness of hypostasized substances? Why not critically engage the relational and dynamic thought forms of contemporary anthropological discourse as we seek to articulate belief in the Word became flesh?' (34)

Having examined the philosophical challenges, in each chapter Shults details the consequent interdisciplinary opportunities. In relation to the incarnation he examines the work of Arthur Peacock, Dennis Edwards and more briefly a variety of other proposals from Teilhard de Chardin, through Rahner, to George Murphy. Again, each chapter ends with an analysis of the corresponding aspect of Christology the theme analyses (incarnation and the identity of Jesus Christ; atonement and the agency of Jesus Christ; Parousia and the presence of Jesus Christ). Shults' constructive proposals take seriously the relationality of late modern discourse, tying the philosophical and scientific challenges to hand in the service of reforming Christology.

In the third chapter, Shults undertakes an analysis of atonement from the perspective of cultural anthropology, detailing the consequent philosophical challenges and the various interdisciplinary opportunities they offer, opening up conceptual space to explore a reformative Christology. In his final chapter he examines Christ's parousia in light of Physical Cosmology. When traditional formulations are often concerned about where Christ is, exactly when he is coming back and so on, what to do with modern philosophical and scientific discourse which maintains there is no same 'now' for all observers (Einstein), no simple notion of space as the place an object occupies? But rather than simply negating older formulations of the coming of Christ, the parousia and ascension, Shults attempts to remain faithful to the biblical and traditional intuitions while again creatively adopting the language in the cause of reforming Christology.

Having already written too much, yet being painfully aware that there is so much more to Shults' arguments, I will end this short review with the usual points of critique and praise.

First, Shults' analysis of the problems is probably more compelling and more clearly presented than his solutions, which themselves beg so many questions. But it is only a short book! Also, some of his rhetoric probably tips over the boundaries of careful. For example, he writes 'theological inquiry that evades contemporary science produces a sterile faith that is not worth having' (16). Hmm, a bit harsh! One also wonders if, in his chapter on incarnation, he has sufficiently appreicated the relational ontology of the Capadocians, as maintained by Zizioulas, for example. But these, and a few other points that could be mentioned, are minor.

So, and second, I have decided to award this book the coveted and illustrious (!) prize of 'Chrisendom Book of the Year'. Surely something LeRon can put on his CV! It is deeply a thought provoking book, well written, concise, and, quite simply, a work of genius. He has managed to hold so much together, skilfully weaving his argument through all manner of disciplines. As such it also resembles a work of art. I can only stand back and look on with a sense of deep respect for the author. Sorry to make you blush, LeRon, but your book is something special. I also found myself gladdened to find such a close conversation partner, in not just a few ways mirroring what I am attempting to do with Pauline Christology from a biblical studies perspective.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Book notice: Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith

My thanks to the kind folk at T&T Clark for a review copy of Francis Watson's, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (T&T Clark, 2004).

Given my new teaching responsibilities, it has slowly become clear that I don't have the time to write as many proper book reviews as previously. Instead, I wanted to write a few 'book notices'. Besides, you can find coherence summaries of Watson's work in numerous reviews (cf. e.g. here for Mark Gignilliat), so I instead wanted to simply offer a few thoughts on why the book has impressed me.

I have postponed a review of Watson's book simply as it is one of the best books in the Apostle Paul part of my library. It is one of those few books that has challenged me to rethink my stance on fundamental matters, such as the much debated meaning of dikaiosu,nh qeou/ in Romans 1:17, the way Paul uses scripture and how this relates to the 'Christ-event', the plausibility of the so-called apocalyptic paradigm for understanding the Apostle etc (I will never forget his argument which runs that for Paul 'it is more important that scripture should shed a light on Christ than that Christ should shed light on Scripture' [16]! Not sure I would agree, but his point has buried under my theological skin forever). Apart from that, reading Watson is simply a delight. You know that you will learn a lot, and his close reading of the texts is a lesson in and of itself. I turn to the work of Watson when I want to digest serious scholarship, when a want my mind stretched and my flaky 'New Perspective' biases challenged! What is more, if anyone wants to engage with his more recent work, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2007), bear these words in mind (from the preface of the Eerdmans volume): 'this volume conserve to complement the argument of my Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith'.

Of course, if anybody is seeking to understand 'Paul's doctrine of righteousness by faith', one will need to engage with Watson's argument that claims it 'is an exercise in scriptural interpretation and hermeneutics' (76). And more broadly, if anybody wants to understand Paul's use of the Old Testament, this book is going to be essential. But because of the scope of Watson's argument, and the number of texts with which he engages, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith is a book worth having in your library for all matter of issues. As I said, it is one of the best books in my Apostle Paul library. This tome will take a while to work through properly, but he is a scholar with whom time is well, and enjoyably, spent.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Book of the Year: Christology and Science by Shults - Part 1 of 2

My thanks to the kind folk at Ashgate for a review copy of F. LeRon Shults, Christology and Science (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

Every generation of theologians, Shults reminds his readers in chapter one ('Reforming Christology'), must articulate 'the institutions of the biblical tradition about the significance of Jesus Christ in a way that engages its own cultural context' (1). This task is made all the more important because '[m]any traditional depictions of the person, work and coming of Christ are shaped by assumptions about humanity and the world that no longer makes sense in light of contemporary science' (1). Shults' short book attempts to open up fresh avenues in this venture. Yet far from merely offering cerebral re-mapping of Christian vocabulary against modern science, he presents a reforming Christology which seeks to effect contemporary life, to 'facilitate the reformation of ways of living in the world' (1).

The dialogue between Christology and science is, of course, an interdisciplinary engagement. And the potted history of the relation between religion and science will leave some suspicious from the start that such a dialogue is possible. So Shults suggests an interpersonal metaphor for thinking about the interaction of theology and science, namely to think of them as lovers: 'fascinated by the differences, as well as their shared interests', working at their love, 'willing to confront one another for the sake of illumination' (3), and seeking not to annoy each other on the way! As part of the project, philosophy will play a mediating role in this dialogue.

That philosophy must act in such a role is necessary given the need to make explicit the assumptions about the way things are, assumptions that colour our doctrinal conceptions in key respects. For example, try asking these questions, all addressed in one way by Shults in the book: Is a thing's relations a part of that thing, or are they accidental to it? Can we speak of an isolated thing with attributes? Does a thing live in space, or is the relation between a thing and the space that it occupies more complex? Does the genus 'human' exist apart from particular humans? What does it mean to be present? How is causality understood? Is there any meaning in speaking of the time of an event? Etc. Our answers to these questions may share little in common with modern science but rather reflect premodern, Newtonian or some other outdated concepts. Yet much of our Christology is based upon, at fundamental levels, outmoded scientific aassumptions about the way the world really is.

But if theology and science are lovers, more listening needs to happen, just as any marriage/relationship counsellor will say to a troubled couple. And this communication takes place in a reciprocal triangular mediation of Christology, science and philosophy.

Anybody who has read Shults' works before will know his burden to use developments in late modern thinking. These developments change the way we answer (and sometimes even ask) those basic questions, among others, and thus presents theology with a challenge and an opportunity in reforming Christology. In a section titled 'Jesus Christ in the Philosophy of Science' Shults, with special emphasis on developments in the philosophy of science that are relevant to reforming Christology, notes three important themes.

First is the 'growing appeal of relationality as heuristic category in the philosophy of science' (5). No longer can the category of relation be suppressed to that of substance, as in the history of thought stretching back to Aristotle. Through names such as Locke, Hume, Kant and Hegel, the concept of relation came to the forefront, a development reflected in the philosophy of logic, mathematics and physics. For example:

'Einstein's field equations for general special relativity ... are based on the use of functional relations. Quantum physics pressed philosophers of science even further, leading them to challenge the adequacy of substance/attribute predication theory to make sense of the entanglement phenomena discovered at the subatomic level. Here reality itself resists the abstraction associated with the category of "thing" (substance), and physicists increasingly appealed to inherently relational and dynamic modes of talking about what " happens between" and within the unpredictable flow of "interphenomena"' (7).

Second is the emphasis on the contextuality of all scientific enquiry. Importantly, this overcomes the dichotomy between faith and reason, (one made prominent again at the popular – though only at the popular level – by writers such as Dawkins), making them both part of a more relational whole. Third is interdisciplinarity, the 'transgressing of boundaries between disciplines' (10). Besides, Shults adds that 'Christology is interdisciplinary whether we like it or not'. Once again, relational categories 'play an important illuminative and generative role in this interdisciplinary context' (11).

Turning to examine further the relations in his triangular mediation (I will not summarise all of these sections), Shults speaks of philosophy's role in the material shaping and methodological role of Christology. While traditional theological treatments of Jesus Christ have neatly divided Christology from soteriology, pneumatology and eschatology, the philosophical turn to relationality blurs the boundaries around these distinctions. In examining science and the philosophy of Jesus Christ, he argues that the philosophy of Jesus Christ refers to his way of 'knowing, acting and being in the world in relation to God and his neighbours' (16). Hence Shults examines in the following chapters, under the rubric of reforming Christology, the following three areas which correspond to chapters 2,3 and 4:

  1. Incarnation and evolutionary biology
  2. Atonement and cultural anthropology
  3. Parousia and physical cosmology


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guest Book Review: Sumney’s Philippians Greek

My thanks both to Hendrickson Publishers and to Luke Welch for his review. Luke revels and excels in detail, as you will read.

Review of Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student's Intermediate Reader, 2007 Hendrickson: Peabody, Mass.

The book under review is an attempt to ease the transition from first year Greek to reading the New Testament by explaining and parsing every word in Philippians and discussing the syntax thereof. This concept is based on the educational system either in Bible Colleges or Seminaries in North America. After a short introduction to the letter of Philippians, including the provenance, integrity, purpose and text, he proceeds with the Greek text NA27 and an English translation of every section of the letter. The introduction is based primarily on commentaries both in English and in German.

In the first section to Phil 1:1-2, the author offers basic syntactical observations and a word study of dou=loj. It may have been preferable to introduce the student to the principles of a word study, a concept that seems to still be deeply rooted in the Evangelical tradition in North America. What he says about the word dou=loj is true, but is the word not also used outside of the New Testament? This is a fundamental presupposition to hermeneutics and not necessarily a critique. I would however take issue with his "converting" the nominative xa/rij and ei0rh/nh into infinitives then using Smyth, 2014 to sneak the optative into the translation. I agree, an optative should be included in the translation, but it could be just as correct to say that it is implied, or that we should think that the author meant to include ei1h or plhqunqei/h (I Pet 1,2). The next comment, "Compare this use of the infinitive in commands in Smyth, 2013" (5) is incomprehensible to me. If this were a discussion on the use of the infinitive in I Peter, it would be justified. He then cites Wallace's categorization of this phenomenon, "nominative absolute" (5), but unfortunately leaves unanswered how these two suggestions should fit together. Are they infinitives or nominatives in a special function?

The overall goal of the first section was however reached. The reader could with very little knowledge translate or at least understand this section of Philippians with ease.

Continuing to read, on page eight one is confronted with the suggestion of a certain Peng, I am not sure if he means Paine. He correctly sees pas with the article as meaning "whole" but the translation is a bit awkward. The use of e0pi/ plus a dative is also brought into the discussion. This maybe should have been worked out, since this is an important but small distinction. In classical Greek, a temporal dative with a preposition would have been construed with e0n. In Koine it seems that the meaning of e0pi\ and e0n overlap, or there distinction has somewhat been diminished, something confirmed by the substitution of one for the other in manuscripts (Eph 6,16).

There are some keen observations on page 8 and 9 but then we stumble upon another "conversion" of the Greek. ei0j is understood as equalling a dative of advantage, then he introduces the dativus commodi as a grammatical category. It then becomes clear that ei0j can mean "for the sake of," but should this not be discussed under meaning of the preposition?

As a reviewer one cannot discuss every single sentence in a given work, but it would be hoped that this sort of work is done in classrooms where this book could be of service.

I can skip ahead to some exegetically significant passages.

Among the keen observations on Philippians 3,4-6 are: zh=loj as a neuter, something easily overlooked and the use of the designation Israel and the indeclinable Israel and Benjamin. Names are always difficult for students of NT Greek, I don't recall them in a beginning grammar of NT Greek. The comments to "Hebrew of Hebrews" leaves the reader wishing the author had cited his sources. He also confuses the discussion by using the designation "Palestinian." This designation was later an important one in the early church and the superscription is after all on one letter in the NT "to the Hebrews."

A sketch of NT syntax, a glossary and an annotated bibliography round out the book.

A few words about the overall character of the book are in order. The author seems to be committed to the syntactical system of Daniel Wallace. This point is not defended or discussed. He proceeds as if the categories are as much true as the text of the NT. These categories are partially constructs based only upon usage in the NT with very little reference to other Greek works from this time. It is never asked, "how would someone have expressed this in Greek of the time?" This said, one other point should be mentioned, the citation of BDF and Wallace seems to follow closely the register of those given works.

The placement of this work in this tradition can lead me to say, I could recommend this book for second year college students, and perhaps second semester seminary students, although at the graduate level the works BDF and others should be consulted directly. The book offers one text as a working basis to learn syntax and therefore bridges the gap to Wallace for those students who do not enjoy reading single sentences for grammars sake.

Luke Welch

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Guest Book Review: Nelson Moore on James McGrath’s The Burial of Jesus

James F. McGrath is Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. His newest book, The Burial of Jesus: History and Faith (Booksurge Publishing, 2008,) is without question a good read.

The book is imminently readable and at 142 pages, easily digested. It is not a scholarly tome – there are no footnotes, no critical interaction with other historical Jesus scholarship, and many areas where he could have elaborated but chose not to. Rather, this is a book written by a biblical scholar for a popular audience.

McGrath has three primary goals: to introduce the average reader to the historical reasearch methods employed by biblical scholars, to put those tools to work in the historical study of the burial of Jesus, and ultimately to convince the reader that a bodily resurrection did not take place and is not a necessary component of Christian faith. This last goal is not explicitly made public in either the title or the opening chapters of the book, but by the time the reader arrives at the the final pages, there can be no mistake that this really is high on McGrath's priority list.

Chapter 1 – Introduction

McGrath shares his concern in the opening chapters about two elements of contemporary religious life in America. One is the proliferation of conservative Evangelical and fundamental strains of Christianity. The other is the popularity of television documentaries that seek to show "what the scholars have discovered" and then present often sensationalized or one-sided claims – claims that seem more oriented around drawing a large audience than around dealing in a thorough and reasoned manner with historical and archaeological material. So McGrath is annoyed by both of these. And in response to that he has produced this book.

He notes also in the first chapter that since the claims that Christians make are often historical (e.g. Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus was buried) it is simply a requirement that the tools of historical study be employed to investigate what happened. It would be ridiculous to make historical claims and then resist the attempts of historians to evaluate them.

Chapter Two – Research Methods

McGrath spends chapter two laying out his argument for how historical research in Gospel studies should be done.

He does a good job of laying out the tools of historical research. In general, historians have access to ancient records (in our case, gospel narratives, Pauline epistles, other early documents) and archaeological finds (signets, cookware, weaponry, etc.) It is the job of the historian to examine this data and draw conclusions. No historian worth his or her salt would ever accept written sources uncritically. As a result of this, Prof. McGrath will expose the biblical narratives to the same kind of critical inquiry. And he is not afraid to reject biblical sources that display evidence of tampering.

McGrath then proceeds to use the tools of historical critical biblical study to examine the Synoptic Gospels. He does a fine job outlining what is the majority opinion among New Testament scholars today: Mark was written first; Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source; Matthew and Luke seem to have shared a second common source that we often refer to as Q; Matthew has some material that is totally unique to his Gospel; so does Luke. A careful reading of this material will help one realize that these are not wild claims that are invented by an imaginative scholar, but rather are reasoned conclusions based upon careful examination of data.

Based upon his work here, McGrath concludes that Matthew and Luke have heavily modified the original story for theological and rhetorical purposes. As a result, they are not reliable as historical sources. This conclusion will become very important when he later examines the burial of Jesus.

Chapter Three

In chapter three, McGrath puts to work the historical research methods that he laid out in chapter two. Due to his conclusions there, he will use the Markan account almost exclusively. He draws the following conclusions.

It is virtually indisputable that Jesus existed and that he was crucified. While history will encounter some who from time to time seek to deny these facts, the historical record is really rather clear. It is also virtually certain that Jesus really did die. Theories about how Jesus could have survived crucifixion are most unlikely.

He concludes that the words ascribed to Jesus as he hung on the cross are in all likelihood fictive. He concludes that Jesus' body was in all probability laid in a mass criminal's grave, used often for the purpose of entombing crucified criminals. The likely motive for the Sunday visit of Jesus' followers was to get the body out of this dishonorable location and to give the body of their fallen leader a more proper burial. The whole tradition surrounding Joseph of Arimathea, the desire of the woment to anoint the body, the existence of the guard at the tomb – all are rejected as unhistorical.

What we can conclude, therefore, is that Jesus lived, he was crucified, he died, and the body was missing on Sunday morning. As an historian McGrath is willing to concede that it is possible that the body rose from the dead. But he does not believe that the tools of historical inquiry can reach that conclusion. (And since he believes those are the only tools suitable for historical research, he does not draw that conclusion.)

Chapter Four

One might expect a book entitled The Burial of Jesus to end at this point. McGrath continues his exploration, however, to investigate what happened after the tomb was found empty. (He is particularly interested in examining New Testaent experiences with the resurrected Lord because as a Christian, he believes that they are still happening.)

McGrath examines Paul's testimony and notes that Paul has no empty tomb references. He then points out that "all such details which emphasize the physicality of Jesus' resurrection body are in the latest of the New Testament Gospels: Luke and John" (106). He concludes concludes in chapter four that it was not the existence of an empty tomb that created resurrection faith, but rather encounters with the risen Christ.

Chapter Five

Chapter five is McGrath's attempt to lay out what resurrection and faith look like in light of his findings. He briefly examines Christian beliefs regarding concepts such as eternal life, final judgment, the immortality of the soul, and the like. Among other things, he draws the following conclusions. New Testament authors speak of eternal life not as "going to heaven whe you die" but rather something to be experienced on earth. In the Bible, judgment is more often than not something you need to be concerned about while on earth. A non-corporeal resurrection of Jesus corresponds more clearly with what Christians have believed regarding their own fate. "If it makes sense to regard eternal life as something non-bodily, then surely the appropriate action is to regard Jesus as having entered eternal life in precisely the same way and same form as will eventually happen to all" (130). This corresponds to the concept of Jesus as forerunner.


The Burial of Jesus by James McGrath is definitely worth purchasing and reading. For those unfamiliar with how historical work is done in Christian academic contexts, McGrath provides a wonderful primer. If you are a biblical scholar, you may find this book very valuable as a resource to share with friends or students who are looking to understand historical scholarship. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this work.

by Nelson Moore

post scriptum

I would like to thank Chris Tilling Really Very Holy Ministries for the opportunity to present this material. May Tom Wright be blessed.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Review – Dictionary of OT Wisdom, Poetry & Writings

Thanks to IVP for a review copy of the Peter Enns and Tremper Longman III ed. Dictionary of the Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings.

This is the third Old Testament volume in the now famous IVP "Black Dictionary" series, offering almost 150 articles covering, as the blurb says, 'all the important aspects of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ruth and Esther'. Of course, as with any similar reference dictionary, the articles will be uneven, yet these volumes have already established themselves as reflecting quality scholarship even if the spectrum of perspectives is more narrow than that represented by, say, the Anchor Bible Dictionary. But whatever your academic standpoint, at 1,000 pages this volume will need to be a to-hand resource for anybody working on the field of Wisdom, Poetry or Writings. Contributors include the likes of Brueggemann, David deSilva, Peter Enns, John Goldingay, Allan Millard, Philip Johnston, and many others, and a sample of some entries listed under 'A' can be found here. Of course, one major bonus this volume has to offer is that the various bibliographies will be up-to-date.

The earlier IVP volumes could fall into the trap of functioning like a compendium of sporadic apologetic essays on various themes, rather than rounded reviews of scholarship and serious contributions to academia – even though they were stil immensely useful. My impression was that this apologetic trend reduced in the following NT related volumes, a shift in general ethos that I suspect has continued with this volume (though I haven't, of course, read all of the articles so I cannot say for sure). Either way, I am very glad to have the Dictionary of the Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings on my shelf and I will make regular use of it.

"At last, a fully comprehensive, fascinating compendium of information about Psalms, Wisdom literature and other writings of the Old Testament! From characters such as Ruth to major Wisdom books such as Job, from scholarly method to major theological themes, this volume gives us articles of real depth and substance. Its broad and thorough remit includes contributions on Jewish and Christian tradition, festival worship, ancient Near Eastern background and Hebrew language from a range of highly qualified experts in the field. An essential reference book for all serious-minded students of the Hebrew Scriptures."

- Katharine J. Dell, Senior Lecturer in Old Testament Studies, University of Cambridge


Friday, September 12, 2008

Book review: Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man

My thanks to the kind folk at Eerdmans for a review copy of the Gabriele Boccaccini ed. Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man: Revisiting the Book of Parables (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2007).

Given my new teaching commitments, the move to the UK, my need to finish my doctorate while holding down a full-time job etc., my book reviews will become less detailed and thorough – at least until the middle of next year. Nevertheless, I plan to accurately introduce you to some great books in the following weeks. For a perfectionist like me, it will surely be difficult to keep my comments to a minimum!

Today I wanted to draw attention to the important book noted above. I read this from cover to cover in a few days, thirsty for more knowledge on what I was slowly coming to realise was a hugely important text for early Christianity: the Similitudes of Enoch (chapters 37-71 of 1 Enoch). Most consider these chapters to have influenced at least Matthew's eschatological discourse, and a copy of the first chapters of 1 Enoch were very possibly known in the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem (as Jude 14 testifies, at least if the author of Jude is considered a member of the Jerusalem church. Bauckham thinks so: Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter [Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1983], 14–17; Bauckham, "Jerusalem," 86; Richard J. Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church [Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1990], 171–78. Whether he is right about this or not will be disputed, of course, and I refer to David R. Nienhuis' new volume Not by Paul Alone for discussion – a book on my 'to read' list). Certainly, Enochic ideas were floating around in the first century that influenced the young Christian movement, and these chapters of Enoch are a crucial window into that world of thought. And one need not accept the developed (and questionable) speculations of Margaret Barker, or such like, to swallow this pill: understanding the Similitudes of Enoch will help one better understand early Christianity. Conservatives and all others simply need to accept this. Indeed, 1 Enoch is actually still considered canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Daniel C. Olson, in Enoch: A New Translation (North Richland Hills, Tex.: BIBAL Press, 2004), details well the many ways 1 Enoch is important for understanding early Christianity in his introduction, so I refer to that for more on this subject (though, frankly, I don't see much, if any, influence of these chapters on Paul – and the supposed allusions proposed by Nickelsburg in his commentary and Anchor Bible article leave me decidedly unconvinced. At the very least, Paul was still breathing in a landscape touched by Enochic myths).

So if the above 'pill' needs to be swallowed, how does the Boccaccini volume shape up to the task of helping one better understand the issues involved in scholarly discussion on the Similitudes?

In a word: brilliantly.

This volume was the most important help for me in clarifying my thoughts on numerous fronts concerning 1 Enoch 37-71, it showed me where modern scholarly discussion is 'at' in relation to the chapters (the contributors are leading scholars in the field, including Boccaccini [bet you didn't see that one coming!], Nickelsburg, Knibb, VanderKam, John Collins, Grabbe and many others – see the full list here) and provided a number of excellent examples of scholarly acumen. Perhaps my favourite article was Matthias Henze's utterly brilliant and devastating response to an essay of the volume's editor (cf. "The Parables of Enoch in Second Temple Literature: A Response to Gabriele Boccaccini" pp. 290-98). The articles were well organised and managed to retain something of the dialogical character of the Enoch Seminar at Camaldoli, upon which the book is based, and thus made the reading experience all the more enjoyable.

Of course, in any volume like this the essays will be uneven. But instead of griping about this or that article/argument, I do want to raise one objection: there is no index in the back, not for authors, subjects or, most importantly, for the primary texts. Nicht Gut! I would also recommend that the reader not uncritically accept Sacchi's concluding summary regarding the supposed consensus concerning the dating of 1 Enoch 37-71. In other words, don't think you can read the conclusion alone!

Whether you are interested in learning more about the Similitudes of Enoch, or whether you are an Enochic scholar, there is much in the precious volume. In terms of 1 Enoch 37-71, this is, by miles, the first non-commentary book that I would recommend.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Guest Book Review: OT Ethics

My thanks to Phil Sumpter for the following review, and to the kind folks at IVP for the copy.

Christopher J. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004)

The title alone is enough to make you baulk at the scope this volume attempts to achieve. This isn't just a description of the ethics of ancient Israel, nor is it a description of the ethics found in the literary deposit of this community: “the Old Testament.” It is an attempt to locate the ethics of both within their true Sitz im Leben, the lived contemporary reality of the true Israel, the Church. Before we even enter its pages, then, one can expect at the outset an attempt to integrate historical critical, literary, philosophical, and theological concerns in a synthesis of the like rarely encountered in the guild of biblical studies. Whether Wright has succeeded will remain to be tested by those with an adequate knowledge in all these areas. Critique by specialists in only one area will run the risk of confusing the particular with Wright's broader vision.

A three-dimensional approach to OT ethics such as this, which strives both for descriptive accuracy and theological normativity, cannot be content to tell us “what the OT said.” A model is needed in order both to integrate the parts and span the horizons, and this is the task Wright's first section: A Structure for Old Testament Ethics. He takes the now well-known route of “world-view” analysis (á la N.T. Wright) in order to provide a context in which to make sense of and correlate the mass of OT ethical material. Though he often talks of “what an ancient Israelite thought,” it is clear that the world view he has in mind is the one presupposing the entire OT canon – an entity with its own hermeneutical and theological integrity (see footnote 3). If one poses this totality the four “world-view questions” (Where are we? Who are we? What's gone wrong? What's the solution?), we come up with an “Israelite” answer along the following lines: we are in God's creation, created for relationship in the image of God, the created order is in a state of fallenness due to our rebellion and so God's solution has been to initiate a historical project of redemption. The “we” in the narrow sense is Israel, elected to be the means of God's redemption in the world. As Wright goes on to explain, this “we” can be expanded in different directions: either paradigmatically to stand for humanity as a whole, eschatologically to stand for the redeemed community of the eschaton, or typologically to refer to the church.

Wright identifies three primary “actors” in this world-view who stand in triangular relationship to each other: God, Israel and the Land. This so-called “ethical triangle” provides Wright with a framework for sifting through the diverse OT material as well as a foundation for expanding the OT material beyond its original horizon.

These three “pillars of Israel's faith” are padded out in the following three chapters. Accordingly, the “theological angle” provides us with the “fundamental axiom” of OT ethics: “ethical issues are at every point related to God—to his character, his will, his actions and his purpose” (23). Wright takes us through the OT's presentation of God's identity, particularly as it is manifested in the narrative accounts of his actions. This activity, salvific in nature, provides a foundation for ethics. God takes the initiative (e.g. the exodus), his people respond, and obedience flows out of thankfulness for this action. These actions are combined with God's speaking (e.g. at Sinai) in order to bring about his purposes for creation through Israel. Wright sums up the heilsgeschichtliche context: “Old Testament ethics, based on history and bound for a renewed creation, is thus slung like a hammock between grace and glory” (35). In the meantime, our actions should be grounded in a knowledge of this God as we emulate him by “walking in his ways.”

The “social angle” references Israel on the triangular grid. Wright points out that within the aforementioned meta-narrative, redemption has a social dimension. In Gen. 12:1-3 God responds to the fall by choosing a nation, which was to pattern, model and be a vehicle of this redemption. In terms of the application of OT ethics, then, our hermeneutical procedure must take very seriously the communal nature of the people of Israel. We must not jump from isolated principles to the present, but rather first locate that principle within its original social context. Only then can we draw an analogy with present “Israel,” before going on to see the implications for the world at large. Yet the distinctive nature of this nation as opposed to the other nations must not be lost. This nation has a unique experience of God, which gives its history a didactic quality. Through it we learn about God (the “theological angle”) and we learn how to live (the “social angle”). In short, Israel is God's paradigm, an important concept for Wright as he attempts to make Israel's ethics ours. According to Wright, a paradigm is

a model or pattern that enables you to explain or critique many different and varying situations by means of some single concept or set of governing principles” (63).
Israel as paradigm helps the Church today implement what was true then to a new situation now.

The final essential element in Israel's world view is the Land, providing us with an “economic angle.” When understood within Israel's story, we see that the promised land is a theological entity, part of the pattern of redemption. The understanding of the land as both divine gift and divine tenement, for example, has what Wright calls “enormous paradigmatic power” for the appropriation of Israel's economic ethics. Within the divine economy, we see that the welfare of the land and its inhabitants functioned as a “covenantal measuring gauge,” signally the quality of the relationship between God and his people.

Following the belief that “God's relation to Israel in their land was a deliberate reflection of God's relation to human kind on the earth” (183), Wright moves on in the following two chapters to work out the implications of this “redemptive triangle” for the ethics of ecology and economics in general. In the case of ecology, for example, he discovers parallels to the affirmations made at the narrower level concerning Israel in the land of Canaan: “divine ownership (the earth belongs to God, Ps. 24:1) and divine gift (the earth he has gifted to humanity, Ps. 115.16)” (103)—the so-called “creation triangle.” This double claim becomes the foundation for Wright's ethical reflection in the following two chapters. The fact that a concern for ecology is largely foreign to the authors of the Bible demonstrates how we can paradigmatically appropriate the Bible's principles for issues beyond the Bible's original horizon.

The most intriguing chapter is the sixth, in which Wright, having now illustrated ways in which the Bible can be paradigmatically appropriated, rises once again to theory in order to discuss two others ways of appropriating the OT: the eschatological and the typological. By means of fascinating triangular diagrams, he shows how these different methods are distinct yet complementary. Paradigmatically interpreted, for example, the land becomes the earth as it is now: cursed. Eschatologically, the past becomes a template for the new, and so we have a foretaste of the new creation. Typologically, for the apocalyptic community caught at this point in the “in-between-time,” the land is now fulfilled by the koinonia, the fellowship of believers. This complex interrelationship is then demonstrated exegetically in relation to the jubilee (Lev. 25).

The rest of this main part of the book is dedicated to further ethical issues: politics and the nations, justice and righteousness, law and the legal system, culture and family and finally the way of the individual. The volume is rounded off in Part 3 with a historical overview of the church's wrestling with this question, a bibliographic overview of the contemporary attempts to deal with the question of OT ethics from a confessional standpoint and a detailed discussion of hermeneutics and authority in the OT. A final appendix presents us with some broad perspectives which Wright finds helpful for setting the “Canaanite question” within it the context of broader biblical considerations. Though Wright doesn't feel he has solved the issue, he feels these considerations help “contain” them.

In response, I can only echo a critic's comments on the blurb at the back of the book: this book is “truly a magnum opus and should be at the top of the reading list for any student, teacher, minister or layperson interested in the relevance of the first part of the Bible to modern ethical issues.” Issues that have dogged the church since its inception are taken up once again and re-articulated in a clear, logical and thorough manner, taking into account the latest developments in rhetorical, literary, and, to a degree, canonical criticism. Whether Wright's conclusions become the consensus opinion of the next generation obviously remains to be seen, but I can't imagine future discussion of the issue ignoring the well-thought out arguments laid out in this book.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Review: The Quest for Paul’s Gospel

First, my thanks to T & T Clark for a review copy of Douglas A. Campbell, The Quest for Paul's Gospel: A Suggested Strategy (London: T & T Clark, 2005)

The Quest for Paul's Gospel is an ingenious and innovative, if unusual, book. Rather ambitiously, Campbell attempts to sketch a 'grand strategic' plan for understanding Paul's Gospel, an approach for understanding the Apostle's thought in its entirety.

First, Campbell seeks to justify the necessity for such a grand-strategic thesis. Importantly, he defends himself against potential postmodern objections which would question the need to conceptualise and systematise an objective Gospel at all. Contrary to this, and other issues, Campbell believes his project is vital in recovering Paul's theology for the church out of the hands of anti-theological readings most notoriously represented by Heikki Räisänen. Only by postulating a coherent Pauline understanding of 'Gospel' can the Apostle speak powerfully to and through the church today.

To this end Campbell's argument proceeds in three steps.

In step one he details the main strategic options for understanding Paul's Gospel. The main contenders, he argues, the following three models: justification by faith (JF), pneumatologically participatory martyrological eschatology (PPME - similar to what many have designated as an 'apocalyptic' approach), and salvation-history (SH). Importantly, in chapter 2 he maintains that only one of these models, unless Räisänen's anti-theology approach is accepted, must be adopted at the exclusion or subordination of the others. They cannot all be right. For Campbell, the PPME model constitutes the heart of Paul's Gospel.

In chapter 3 he elaborates on what is meant by PPME, offers reasons why 'apocalyptic' is not the best label, and details the relationships between the various words, 'pneumatologically', 'participatory', 'martyrological', and 'eschatology' which constitute the PPME model. Importantly, he makes a case for the elimination of the SH model as a contender for Paul's Gospel by assimilating its concerns into his preferred PPME model.

Step two of Campbell's argument seeks to answer such questions as what the PPME Gospel is, and what it means for the church today. To do this he examines the narrative dimensions of Paul's letters, particularly that of Romans 5-8, what he calls 'the textual heartland' of the PPME approach. His analysis isolates the story of Christ in Paul's letters, one which includes trajectories of Christ's descent and ascent. An added strength of the PPME model, in light of Campbell's analysis of the model in terms of the Christ-story, is that it involves a complete soteriology.

Chapter 5 is an extended meditation on Galatians 3:28, a passage Campbell believes presents the PPME model in nuce. In particular, the abolitionist thrust of the passage evidences the a-posteriori (not a priori) logic of the PPME model. Whereas the SH and JF models both assume a first phase or given state-of-affairs, and from this point work forwards, the 'PPME model works backwards. It is an a-posteriori account of salvation, a retrospective model, which begins with the solution and then defines the problem in the light of this revelation' (47). This is one reason why it is impossible to adopt the JF and/or SH models together with the PPME model. They belong in completely different theological worlds and can only relate to one another via subordination or exclusion.

In light of this Campbell examines, as a case study, the question of gay ordination in relation to Paul's Gospel understood in terms of the a-posteriori nature of the PPME model. Essentially, Campbell argues that to be consistent to the PPME heart of Paul's Gospel, one can argue that gays can be ordained as such sexual distinctions are rendered null and void in light of Christ (here building on his reflections on Gal. 3:28). That Paul's ethical reasoning appears to explicitly contradict Campbell's assertions can be explained on the basis of the Apostle's own inconsistency: when Paul reasons ethically a priori, from the way things are, from creation, the Apostle falls into the binary ethics of exclusion and oppression that the heart of his Gospel actually negates (according to the PPME model). So Campbell writes: 'Paul's analysis of society in terms of serried binary oppositions lacks theological authority. It is neither christologically derived, not fundamentally scriptural; it depends on Athens, not on Jerusalem' (120). The a-posteriori logic of the PPME model, on the other hand, recognises that 'the clearest insight that we get into God's purposes as given to us in Christ in redemption is also our clearest insight into creation' (119). And so the PPME model helps the church to creatively think ethically through modern issues in a way that is faithful to the heart of Paul's Gospel even though it may need to critique the apostle where he has not been consistent enough to his own proclamation. This makes for fascinating reading! In chapter 7, Campbell argues that the a-posteriori, retrospective logic of the PPME model also helps clarify the relation between Paul, Judaism and the law in a way that is acceptable in a post-Holocaust world.

Step three of Campbell's thesis seeks to engage with what he considers is the main competitor to the PPME model, namely the JF model. If his own model is to win the battle as a coherent explanation of the heart of Paul's Gospel, then it needs to either eliminate or subordinated the JF model, and to justify this move exegetically where the JF model appears to have a strong foothold. To do this he engages with two terms that are foundational to the JF model: 'faith' and ' works of law'. But in order to first grasp the scope and nature of the JF model, he brilliantly examines the JF model in more depth in terms of its contractual construal of Paul's Gospel. While the contractual JF model 'has a rigorous internal coherence...; and number of explanatory strengths; an impressive church-historical pedigree; and a reasonable number of supporting texts in Paul, including an extensive section of his most important that, Romans' (164), the entire contractual understanding of Paul's Gospel is deeply flawed. Its main difficulties cluster around its portrayal of 1. Natural theology; 2. The justice of God; 3. Christ and the Atonement; 4. The nature of Judaism; 5. conversion; and 6. The nature of Christian existence. Campbell's prose sparkles with energy as he lampoons the JF model on these fronts.

This analysis of the JF model leads to a deconstruction of its supposed basis in Paul's letters. First Campbell disputes that its understanding of faith is coherent with Paul's notion of pistis (chapter 9). In chapter 10 Campbell builds an impressive and convincing case that pistis in Galatians 3:15-29 is best understood christologically, as indicating Christ's faithfulness -- not the faith of believers in Christ. Finally, in Chapter 11, Campbell attempts a complete rereading of Romans 1:18-3:20 in such a way that contradicts the reliance of the JF model on this text. Rather than expressing the apostle's own considered opinion throughout, Paul, so Campbell argues, presents the understanding of his Jewish-Christian opponents in these chapters, and through his argument cleverly undermines them.

Campbell cuts to the chase in his conclusion and states that: 'my central contentions have been that the theological future of Paul, and hence much of the church, lie in what I have called the PPME model of his Gospel, and here only. Every other objective spells disaster, but this objective holds the promise of total victory' (262).

A Response

What is one to make of this brilliant and often persuasive thesis? There are undeniable strengths to Campbell's arguments, sharpened as they are by Campbell's impressive intellectual grasp of the many interlocking issues and themes. In this respect one could mention his analysis of the narrative dimension in Paul. Campbell focuses on the Christ-story, one actually found in some Pauline texts and is thus not merely a story presupposed by 20th century scholars. This way of dealing with narrative in Paul has some advantage over narrative patterns that are not actually found in Paul. The ethical vision of Campbell's thesis is also exciting and his criticisms of the contractual nature of the JF model almost worth the price of admission alone. However, while I was much stimulated by Campbell's proposals, I have not often marked a book with so many question marks! I will limit myself to mentioning the following potential problems with his thesis.

  1. Campbell cites NT Wright as the 'foremost representative ... today' of the SH model (cf. 24 n.22). And the SH model, Campbell tells us, reasons only a priori. But I argue that this is a straw man portrayal of the SH approach. Indeed, Wright himself is a clear example of a broadly SH approach which embraces continuity and discontinuity most effectively (cf. his Romans commentary where he explicitly states the vital necessity to grasp both continuity and discontinuity [N. T. Wright, "The Letter to the Romans. Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections," in The New Interpreter's Bible, ed. L. E. Keck, et al. (Nashville: Abington, 2002), 402-3], and Paul: Fresh Perspectives [London: SPCK, 2005] where he masterfully works this out in detail through various themes)

  2. Construing Paul's theology in terms of a-posteriori and a priori approaches may make a lot of sense in 20th century, especially post-Barthian, theology. However, and building on the previous point, I remain unconvinced that it is a helpful way of seeking to categorise Paul's Gospel so as to illuminate the flow of thought in Paul's letters themselves. As Francis Watson has argued:

    'For Paul, it is more important that scripture should shed light on Christ than that Christ should shed light on scripture. Paul has no independent interest in the meaning of scripture as such: the meaning of scripture is identical to its significance, and both are to be found in its manifold, direct and indirect testimony to God's saving action in Christ. Scripture is not a secondary confirmation of a Christ-event entire and complete in itself; for scripture is not external to the Christ-event but is constitutive of it, the matrix within which it takes shape and comes to be what it is. Paul proclaims not a pure, unmediated experience of Christ, but rather a Christ whose death and resurrection occur "according to the scriptures" (1 Cor.15.3-4). Without scripture, there is no gospel; apart from the scriptural matrix, there is no Christ. The Christ who sheds light on scripture is also and above all the Christ on whom scripture simultaneously sheds its own light. In Galatians 3, for example, Paul does not simply assert that scripture must be read differently in the light of Christ, so as to refute opponents who appeal to scripture on their own ground. Rather, Paul's rereading of scripture is determined by his single apostolic preoccupation with the Christ-event, which must be interpreted through the lens of the scriptural witness' (Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith [London: T&T Clark, 2004], 16-17)

  3. A good litmus test for whether one has understood Paul is to ascertain whether too much in Paul's letters speaks against a certain case. To push Pauline material away as theologically inconsistent with the heart of Paul's Gospel (as Campbell does in relation to Paul's ethics) or as the views of Paul's opponents (as Campbell does in relation to Rom. 1:18.3:20) should thus raise warning signals that Paul has simply been misunderstood. Indeed, Campbell's argument in relation to Romans 1-3 is perhaps the weakest link in his chain. While Paul could cite his opponents or positions he would later critique (as in 1 Cor. 8, for example), Paul's 'irony' in Romans 1-3 is not so marked (there is, for example, no hoti marking a view not his own, and the argument of 1:18 simply flows on from 1:17 thematically – especially clear if one keeps the content of the cited Habakkuk in mind).

  4. Finally, the tone of the book is, in my judgment, overly polemic and employs far too many aggressive military metaphors to make his argument. I agree with Michael Gorman's comment on an earlier post on this blog here, and look forward to his forthcoming (fall 2008) Eerdmans book, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology, which pursues a 'more synthetic model' than Campbell's.

These point aside, I would end this review with a hearty recommendation. If you have recently discovered the SH model and/or have begun to feel that the JF model does not square as well with Paul's texts as you previously believed, then before you simply lock, stock and barrel accept the approach of, say, Wright or Dunn, give Campbell's PPME model a hearing. Not only has it much to offer the exegete in terms of insight, it has a tremendous amount of potential for wisely thinking through a variety of both theological and ethical matters.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guest Book Review: Our Mother Saint Paul

My thanks to WJK for a review copy and to Alisha Paddock for her review.


Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. 218 pages, $24.95.

In Our Mother Saint Paul, Beverly Roberts Gaventa embarks on a project long in the making. Gaventa has long been interested in Paul's use of metaphors, especially those referring to the role of mother. She not only combines articles previously written, but also brings them up to date by adding new insight and research. In this book, Gaventa takes on two tasks. First, she investigates four passages in which Paul uses maternal imagery and second, she explores Paul's theology, specifically in Romans, keeping God's apocalyptic act at the forefront of her discussion.

In part one, Gaventa argues, and rightfully so, that the passages in which Paul employs maternal imagery have been neglected or glossed over in recent scholarship. After isolating these passages, Gaventa discovered that Paul uses these metaphors to add new dimensions to the apostolic office. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul portrays himself as both an infant and as a nurse taking care of her own children. Apostles are not only to be innocent and childlike, but also "the responsible adult" who tends "charges with care and affection" (27).

In Galatians 4:19, Paul writes that he is going through the pain of labor again until Christ is formed. Paul is so desperate not to let Galatians return to their pagan ways, he is willing to go through the painful birthing process again. Gaventa argues that Paul shows how an apostle is to "birth" people into the family of God.

In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a, Paul is dealing with spiritually immature believers who cannot handle solid food, but milk provided by a "nursing" Paul. This utilization of maternal imagery has a three-fold function. One, it stresses the importance of the concept of family (which is lacking in the Corinthian community). Two, it "places Paul at the margins of what is perceived to be 'genuine' manhood," to show the apostolic role is of servant leadership (50). Three, it emphasizes the bond between Paul and the Corinthian believers which is akin to the bond between a nursing mother and her child.

In the final passage (Romans 8:22), Paul is not the one who takes on the role of mother, but it is all of Creation which is in labor. Here Gaventa contends that one has to read this text apocalyptically. Even though Creation is in labor, what is awaited is not Creation birthing something, but God's actions of adoption and redemption (57).

The second part of Our Mother Saint Paul attempts to place the passages from part 1 into their proper apocalyptic context. The first half is an in-depth look at Paul's autobiographical remarks in Galatians 1 and 2. Gaventa argues strongly that these verses should not be looked upon only as an apology, but as a way to show how the singular gospel Paul preached puts an end to "all prior commitments, conventions and value systems," including Paul's Jewish beliefs (93).

The second half of part two thoroughly examines the letter to the Romans and its apocalyptic context. Gaventa explains that God had an active role in handing over Creation to "cosmic conflict" (113). She also clarifies that the idea of sin in Paul's letter is more than a transgression, but an anti-God Power (capital 'S' Sin) that is defeated by Jesus' resurrection (127). With this defeat of the cosmic powers believers are liberated, but this freedom comes with certain behaviors and boundaries. Believers are actively to support one another, be engaged in prayer and thanksgiving, all serving in the house of the Lord. The boundaries of the believing community are "the shared memory of God's action" against Sin and Death and "God's persistent calling and saving" of both Israel and Gentiles (143).

One of the more important contributions to Pauline discussion OMSP brings is a new framework in which to deal with the issue of women in the Church. Gaventa maintains that Paul's gospel is one that "obliterates worlds" (68). There is no room for gender in Christ. Instead we are a new creation in which identity markers mean nothing. Gaventa does not attempt to answer the questions she poses, but to present them in order to prompt more discussion.

Beverly Roberts Gaventa sheds light on texts and wrestles with issues that have been in the dark too long. But there is one issue I have with the book. Part one and part two do not seem to be connected. After the introduction of part two, there is no mention of maternal imagery; the focus turns wholly to explaining Paul's apocalyptic context. Gaventa needed to work a bit harder keeping the theme of maternal imagery at the forefront of the reader's mind. This might have been achieved had there been a conclusion to the book. A summary would have helped the reader place the metaphors mentioned in part one into their apocalyptic context. Overall, Gaventa sets forth a new and refreshing perspective that will add much to Pauline scholarship, doing a wonderful job going where few men have gone before.

Alisha Paddock

Manhattan Christian College
Manhattan, Kansas

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