Saturday, December 31, 2005


Given my last post, I was thinking that it's perhaps time to change my blog name. But to what?

Any ideas?

P.S. Simon, Brainshit is not an option, before you suggest it.
P.P.S. The idea is to try to come up with something hugely profound and scholarly that makes me look cleverer than I really am (shouldn't be too hard).

Half a year of blogging

When I started 'Brainpoo' in July 2005 I was not expecting it to become much more than a place where a few of my friends would read some silly thoughts, an outlet for my multitude of heresies, and as a place to keep up with those 'left behind' (the presence of that phrase ought to earn a couple of bemused search-engine visitors) in England. Hence the silly name 'Brainpoo' (which as I keep telling everyone, in the best Adamic style, was my wife's dubious idea).

However, things started to get more theological. I found myself very much enjoying a number of theologically related blogs (from which I have learnt a great deal more than I expected I would through such a medium) was linked to, then added to biblioblogs (a bit of an embarrassment really. I mean look down the list of names: Biblical Theology, Faith and Theology, Jesus Creed, Thoughts on Antiquity, Euangelion, Exegetitor etc. with 'Brainpoo' cringing in the corner hoping no one will notice such a stupid-sticking-out-like-sore-thumb name. Alas, its too late to change the links now).

Most astonishing of all, my web server tells me that people from an amazing 38 different nations have visited! In descending order of popularity:

Germany, United Kingdom, Canada,
New Zealand, Australia, Norway,
Netherlands, Iceland, Italy,
France, Sweden, Brazil,
USA, Switzerland, Mexico,
Denmark, Portugal, Austria,
Belgium, Argentina, Spain,
Hungary, India, US Military (yikes!),
Russia, Singapore, US federal government agencies (?!),
Greece, Israel, Philippines,
Thailand, Finland, Croatia,
Lebanon, Venezuela, Liechtenstein,
Morocco, Lithuania Turkey and Taiwan!

This blogging thing is thus really a global phenomenon. I guess that's what I like about it.

Rather amusingly, the most clicked on feature of my blog site is the picture of the Miami cheerleaders posted months ago! In fact, 1,237 grubby theologians and chess players have tried to 'zoom up' on it – can't think why.

As far as raw numbers go: In July when I started only 234 visited, in October 4,482, and in November 6,500. In December the numbers are pushing into the 10,000s. OK, that might not sound like many for some, but I'm still surprised, and the rate of increase is really something. I ask myself why a blog that includes such dubious and diverse topics as Flat-Earth creationism, Paul the Apostle, chess, sinful lies about Barth, Wright's ultimate end in the lake of fire, shagging mantises, etc. attracts such intelligent visitors.

Anyway, a big thanks to all who have visited me in the last half-year. It has been a lot of fun getting to e-know you.

Happy blogging for 2006!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

"Silence, unbeliever!! Our weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the pope, and nice red uniforms" - Michael Palin as Cardinal Ximinez in the famous Monty Python sketch.

Want a touch of Spanish Inquisition to go with your New Year?

Well, all of us who:

  • have been thinking hard over the issues thrown up by Tom Wright's particular spin on the Pauline 'New Perspective',
  • and those of us who have been concerned, out of faithfulness to scriptural teaching, to reassess the biblical foundation of the doctrine of imputed-righteousness, etc.
can now safely put our pens down!

For good.

Yea, I bringeth thee news from the wells of Puritan Truth. For one hath cometh unto us with the very oracles of theological exactitude. Yea, I speaketh of the recent ecumenical pronouncements of the Rev. Dr. C. Matthew McMahon, of A Puritan's Mind:

"Wright is a heretic. A heresiarch. He will forever burn under God's righteous wrath and under the solemn and scornful gaze of the Lamb of God for all eternity if he does not change his theological views before he dies, or rather, his lack of good theology! He is a false teacher, and one of the most influential heretics of the century because he affected people at the seminary level - where pastors are trained and scholars born - and has infected a good number of churches, right down to the layman and youth of the day."
The rest of this delightfully unbalanced and infuriating post can be found here.

Ahh, breath the free-air fellow bloggers. It's stuff like this that should make us glad to be members of the world-wide community of faith.

Thanks to Alastair for bringing my attention to this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Emil Brunner

Speaking of Jim West, I would refer my readers to his recent and enjoyable posts on Emil Brunner whose works I have been reading through myself recently. I have thus far found Brunner so stimulating because as well as being intellectually engaging, it is also material that can be preached and prayed through. On top of that, he writes with conviction and passion, like a man who really believes what he's speaking about. I like that. In my opinion, and this is only my opinion, there is nothing worse than a damp-squid with a pen who doesn't appear to actually believe a word he writes – but I wont mention any names (Tillich). Theologically, I have found Brunner's take on universalism most helpful, even if not entirely satisfactory (cf. pg 53 of Bauckham's article now posted free on Rob Bradshaw's blog!). Jim's posts in chronological order:

a. Emil Brunner (intro)
b. a book recommendation that overviews Brunner
c. The ultimate theological audience
d. Brunner on revelation and reason
e. Brunner on anthropology
f. and Brunner and Mozart

    "Alle Kreatur ist nicht nur durch das Wort, sondern für das Wort, und eben darin zum Bilde Gottes geschaffen ("All of creation isn't only through the Word, but also for the Word, and as such created in God's image") ... Wir sind, was wir von Gott hören ("We are what we hear from God")"

    Brunner, Gott und Mensch, 55.

    'The lost message' on Christian Fundamentalism

    The 'totally lost message' has been writing an entertaining series on Christian Fundamentalism. He and I go back a long way. In fact, we both became Fundies together in our late teens, and so he writes with insight and sympathy. Nevertheless, in the best ecumenical tradition, his protestations have been curdling some Fundamentalist blood.

    Much of his mean but hilarious Fundie-windup diplomacy happens on other blogs. Most amusing of all was his recent escapade onto a Fundie blog in which he took issue with the hermeneutic being used by the contributors (i.e. just quote the bible and that's that). He actually managed to convince one poor soul (honestly!) that he owned a freedom-yearning slave, but didn't want him released because the bible doesn't command him to!

    Simon's posts have been all the more interesting as he, like myself, is a 'recovering Fundie' (i.e. someone who has learnt a lot from this tradition - above all a deep love of and respect for the Scriptures, an emphasis on a lively 'relationship with Christ', and a prayerful devotional life - but cannot stand its 'turn brain off' tactic, dubious proof-texting, some of its doctrines concerning Scripture, bizarre and blinkered hermeneutics, overly sectarian intellectual-social-positioning, often fruit-loop eschatology, the conquer-all mentality, its frequent 'God-ordained' association with the political right, and its often arrogant quasi-scholarly intellectual bankruptcy - especially in many of its so-called apologists. That's my definition of a 'recovering Fundie' anyway). Have a look at these:

    Part 1: Introduction
    Part 2: Fundamentalist understanding of Scripture A
    Part 3: Fundamentalist understanding of Scripture B
    Part 4: Fundamentalism and Biblical texts
    ... more is promised, including a superb short analysis of 2 Tim 3:16 (I've read a draft)

    But as Jim West recently wrote on his blog: "Conversations with Fundamentalists are dead end streets and not really worth the time or effort they require". While this is, I doubt, meant as a universal truth, my own experience of late has been sadly confirming his claim. Normally, discussion with Fundamentalists do not even begin; you become a deviant to be corrected. But in another sense, I'm happily resigned to this. We all have our own perspectives, and the Fundies have there own uniqunesses with which to enrich the Christian tradition.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    My Christmas presents

    Sadly, even after threats of suicide, shameless pleading, hours of sulking etc., Anja still wasn't persuaded to buy me Barth's entire Church Dogmatics (she muttered something about moving out if I had the nerve), but I was glad to have been given instead:

    1. My Struggle for Freedom (Continuum, 2004), by Hans Küng.
    2. The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), by Kevin J. Vanhoozer
    3. The new Hurtado book: How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions About Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2005)

    4. And finally, and most profound and thought-provoking of all, the entire 4 series DVD set of Blackadder – British comedy at its very best. If you haven't seen these, you really are missing something.

    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Frohe Weihnachten

    Here is wishing all of my readers a very happy Christmas, and a blessed new year.

    It has been a pleasure getting to know many of you, and I have learnt and continue to learn and be challenged through your own blogs and your comments on mine.

    This is our cheesiest imaginable 'Christmas Video-Card' to all of you (just press play):

    (Update: My brother-in-law, Markus, has just informed me that this doesn't work with Firefox, just in case you were having any problems)

    A Christmas Meditation

    "Der wahre Mensch Jesus von Nazaret ist für den Glauben des einen wahren Gottes wirkliche Offenbarung" – Hans Küng, Christ Sein, 434

    Translated: "The true human, Jesus from Nazareth, is for faith the real revelation of the one true God"

    Or as John wrote:

    "Qeo.n ouvdei.j e`w,raken pw,pote\ monogenh.j qeo.j o` w'n eivj to.n ko,lpon tou/ patro.j evkei/noj evxhgh,satoÅ" – John 1:18 (To view the Greek or Hebrew on this blog please install the free Bibleworks fonts)

    My translation: "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's bosom, who has made him known."

    I find that the practice of meditation on Scripture and theological writings can make an old truth suddenly appear bright and new. Yesterday, as I was pondering over these words of Küng, and those of John 1:18, the startling, shocking, yet glorious truth hit me once again: When we look at Jesus we see what God is like.

    "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14).

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    Gebet an Weinachten

    "Gott, ewiges Geheimnis unseres Lebens, du hast durch die Geburt deines eigenen Wortes der Liebe in unserem Fleisch die ewig junge Herrlichkeit deines Lebens als unserem eigenen Dasein eingestiftet und siegreich erscheinen lassen. Gib uns der Erfahrung der Enttäuschung unseres Lebens den Glauben, dass deine Liebe, die du selbst bist und die uns geschenkt hast, die ewige Jugend unseres wahren Lebens ist"

    -- Karl Rahner

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Küng and the deity of Jesus

    I've been reading in various places that Küng has denied or at least questioned the divinity of Christ.

    For example, the Encyclopaedia Britannica claims: "Küng's prolific writings questioned such traditional church doctrine as … the divinity of Christ"

    But is this so? In his Existiert Gott? he writes: "Gerade die orthodoxe Trinitätslehre hat nie Gott und Jesus einfach identifiziert; gerade sie hielt am Realunterschied von Gott und Jesus fest" (744) - but this is, of course, not the same as denying Christ's divinity! A few pages later he adds that in the Pauline tradition, Christ is understood as the "bild Gottes, als das Ja Gottes" (748). And in John, Christ is known: "nicht nur als Wort Gottes, sondern indirekt als Gott gleich, ja als Herr und Gott" (749). He then goes on to affirm the "God from God" text of the Nicene Creed, qualifying himself only to say that he is not speaking of a "Zwei-Götter-Lehre" (749).

    That sounds pretty orthodox to me! Am I missing anything?

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005


    Nope not a 'Fundie Spike' - though I have been tempted to blog something controversial on evolution and creation just to see what happens - its because I've been linked to from Susan Polgar's Chess blog site. To get so many visitors is no surprise: chess is big on the web, and Susan is, after all, the winner of 4 Women’s World Chess Championships,10 Olympic Medals and is currently ranked #1 in the United States and #2 in the world.

    These were the pages that caused all the fuss:

    On a Personal Note

    Its been a while since I last posted - the realities of life before Christmas, visitors from England etc. But in that time, apart from simply enjoying the stream of great posts from many on my blog roll, I've been reflecting on blogging, what it has meant to me, and some hopes for the future.

    Regarding the phenomenon of so-called biblioblogging, I am particularly encouraged. Here is how I see it (what follows is a bit of an overly-dramatic dangerous macro-history list of over-generalisations for you. And this will be for those with 'ears to hear' – I will have to leave much unexplained otherwise it will become too long):

    The advent of the first written signs, the formulation of alphabets and the rise of literacy was a huge step in the evolution of humans, and one with huge intellectual and social consequences.

    However, with the printing-press, knowledge and philosophy was taken a step further, language traditions were solidified and various schools of thought became important precursors of the Enlightenment.

    Then, the onset of better international communication, the telephone and fax, the localisation of academic schools started to 'thin at the edges', but nevertheless remained firmly intact (cf. in chronological order, the Tübingen School, Bultmann and Heideggerian existentialism, Horsely and his anti-empire Boston based political readings. As I said, those with 'ears to hear'!).

    Most recently, the internet, online discussion groups, and e-mail has furthered international communication and cooperation in theological research but blogging is playing a unique and important role in this development. Why?

    To make this more personal, my theological agenda has been unquestionably shaped by the interests of my undergrad lecturers. E.g. In me is the social-scientific bent of Philip Esler, and yes, I admit, a flavour of Tim Gorringe's politics. Jim Davila's academic rigour, while impossible to simply copy, remained a bench-mark, and most important, Richard Bauckham's brilliance, methods and 'basic level questioning' will always leave a huge mark on me.

    And the internet, despite its discussion groups, was always a bit of a disappointment. Instead of creative academic debate, we had, and impersonal discussion forums.

    'Impersonal' is, I suspect, the key problem that blogging has changed. These days, with blogging, my own personal theological development has been energised through the development of friendships with those of theological persuasion that I have never, to be honest, seriously engaged with. And these developing relationships have opened the door to share unpublished works behind the scene – and this has been particularly important for my thoughts on the Pauline New Perspective. As my undergrad lecturers influenced me, so too now various scholars across the globe have been shaping my thinking - and most of them probably unaware they do so. And all because I have been building, for want of a better term, a 'personal history' with some of them.

    Interestingly, Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World-Wide-Web (who now happens to have started his own blog) writes that:

    "In 1989 one of the main objectives of the WWW was to be a space for sharing information. It seemed evident that it should be a space in which anyone could be creative, to which anyone could contribute. The first browser was actually a browser/editor, which allowed one to edit any page, and save it back to the web if one had access rights a communication that has [...] Now in 2005, we have blogs and wikis, and the fact that they are so popular makes me feel I wasn't crazy to think people needed a creative space.
    Of course, local situatendness and cultural embeddedness will always remain (this is no pining for a 'neutral observer'), but the international sharing and exploration and debate now occurring at a relational and personal level through blogging is perhaps one of the most important developments for academia since the telephone and fax machine. Blogging is fulfilling the dreams that many of us hoped for the internet in the first place.

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    Decent theological totty

    On a rather different note ...
    I don't mean to make any of you feel jealous or anything, but some of you know that I live only a 30 minute bike ride away from one of the finest theological libraries in the whole world. On top of that, Tübingen sports a few respectable second-hand book shops filled with all kinds of treasures. And so I spent a while today rummaging through the labyrinths of shelves in search of decent theological totty. I came home with some real goodies from the library, and I purchased second-hand:

    1. Große christliche Denker, Hans Küng (München: Piper, 1994) for just 2 Euros!
    2. Existiert Gott? Antwort auf die Gottesfrage der Neuzeit, Hans Küng (München: DTV, 1981 [1978]), just 3 Euros.
    3. Gott und Mensch. Vier Untersuchungen über das personhafte Sein, D. Emil Brunner (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1930), again, just 2 Euros.
    And seeing as Küng was the major theme of the day, I also bought his most recent publication Der Anfang aller Dinge. Naturwissenschaft und Religion, (München: Piper, 2005)

    Given a number of recentish blog debates, especially on Ben's Faith and Theology, my theology of creation has been brought into question. And so I'm hoping that Küng's Der Anfang aller Dinge is going to help me think through a few of my new issues. Has anyone read it? Indeed, has anyone any comments about Küng and/or his works listed above?

    The prisons of Manila

    Prisons in Manila, the Philippines, are incarcerating children (as many as 20,000) as young as 6 years old behind bars. The conditions are awful as the picture above shows - much like human chicken cages, a situation that they may have to suffer for years on end. By law they ought not to be in prison so young, but apparently the major of Manila doesn't give a damn, even though all it is that these kids may have done is sniff glue, steal something to eat due to hunger etc.

    I must say, the TV report showing all the blank and hopeless faces of these precious children is haunting me and has really upset me. Please join with me in praying for change.

    Have a look at Father Shay Cullen's Preda Foundation webpage for more info.
    "People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples scolded them, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." (Mark 10:13-14)

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Stendahl on Vision

    Our vision is often more obstructed by what we think we know than by our lack of knowledge

    -- Krister Stendahl

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    A noteworthy blog added to the roll

    All by accident I have had contact with a certain Nate Bostian, the producer of a truly funny, but also articulate, thought provoking and delightful blog entitled nate's incoherent babble. Though his posts are about as concise as Church Dogmatics, it's really worth a visit.

    His latest post recounts his experience as dressing up as Santa for a children's church group:
    "50 kids staring at me in amazement and joy, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, laughing, shouting, and waving at me. It was as if God had entered the room. Seriously. They could not have been more excited if God Himself, robed in glory and power, with myriads of angels, entered into the worship center.

    I consciously wondered, as I waved and said "Ho Ho Ho", if God would strike me dead for idolatry. I was being worshipped as God in the middle of HIS sanctuary. I didn’t mean to be worshipped. It just kind of happened."

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    The logic of Talbott's universalism

    "Consider the following inconsistent set of propositions:

    1. God's redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.
    2. Because no one can finally defeat God's redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully a accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he se sincerely wills or desires.
    3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever
    If the above set of propositions is logically inconsistent, and it surely is, then at least one of the above propositions is false. But which one?"

    (Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, ed. Robin A. Parry & Christopher H. Partridge [Cambridge, Eerdmans, 2003], p. 7 - cf.

    Of course, Talbott, as a universalist, rejects the third proposition.

    Though my thoughts in this area are only preliminary, I remain as yet unconvinced of the universalist position on exegetical grounds (i.e. how does one deal with such passages as Gal 5:21, Rom 10:1, Mt 25 etc.). Nevertheless, Talbott's reasoning above causes pause for thought.

    Which proposition would you reject? Or would you try to affirm them all? If so, why? Or would you understand the issues in relation to an entirely different scheme?

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Updating Barth

    Some exciting news has just come in:

    To mark the 40th anniversary of Barth's passing, the British Hard-Postmodernist and Come to Think of It Almost Nihilist Society (BHPACTTOIANS) announced, on December 10th of this year, that they will fund a new translation of Barth's works into English. One spokesperson stated: 'Its time to make Barth more available to the modern reader, but in order to do so, some of the language will need to be updated'. Of course, this is a big project, and forking up the cash is no small commitment. And so the BHPACTTOIANS have insisted that they will play a large role in the translation. Their spokesperson stated: 'the translations (to be called the 'New International Barth Versions') will be 'dynamic rather than literal; accommodating rather than ... err, dogmatic'

    As a taste of what is to come, they revealed:

    Church Dogmatics will be renamed to Church Suggestions

    Nein will be renamed to Possibly Not, Depending on Your Opinion

    and The Word of God and the Word of Man renamed to the punchier The Word of Man

    While there has been no official reaction from the Center for Barth Studies, or the Karl Barth Research Institute in Göttingen, I am sure these will prove to be a welcome addition to Barthian scholarship, making this great theologian's works accessible to even the most rampant and unreasonable postmodernist.

    Sad & old Trendy & new

    Jesus in the genitive

    After a rather exhausting weekend (including a 5 hour chess game yesterday that ended in a boring draw), here are some 'thought-experiments' in the light of Michael Pahl's and Mark Owens' comments to my post on 1 Thess 1:3

    Michael Pahl:

    First, thanks for your thoughts as I found them very helpful.

    "Chris, I think the concern with how these themes play out in the rest of the letter has more weight than you are giving it here".

    Yes, you are quite right. Indeed, I was aware of this, but I had already written too much, so I decided to cut of a few corners. My fear was that if I had made it any longer, none would have read it!

    If I understand you rightly, you are suggesting, among other things, that the objective genitive in 1:3 is best read as qualifying only 'hope' because this was precisely what the Thessalonians were lacking, and because 'love' is to be understood in terms of brotherly love, rather than love 'in the Lord Jesus'.

    However (and I agree with you, I'm just testing some thoughts here), while Paul does want to emphasise the brotherly nature of love, the objective genitive may reflect something of the love worked out 'in Christ'. Cf. e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:24 'My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus', and notice how the genitive is translated in 2 Cor 5:14 and Rom 5:5. In other words, is it possible that the objective genitive in 1:3 qualifies love in a less straightforward manner than simply 'love for the Lord Jesus'? And is it not Pauline that a work of love done to a neighbour is an expression of love for Christ/God? In Gal 5:6, for example, Paul appears to bring faith and love together in just such a way. So, in sum, the 'love' in 1:3 can be related to the objective genitive if it is not understood simply as 'love for the Lord'. And some of the verses above suggest that it doesn't have to be read in such a way even if modified by this objective genitive. Arguably, Paul could be a good deal more flexible than we think in understanding what an objective or subjective genitive does (cf. Zerwick). However, the question then becomes, could Paul think of a number of elements being modified by the same genitive in a couple of subtly different ways? Is there precedent for that?

    Additionally, there are the reasons for reading the triad as lumped together as I outlined in the first post. What are we to do with them? Is it not safer to argue that the meaning is simply ambiguous, and that the genitive could modify all three? Or, would you deny the possibility at all?

    Mark Owens

    Thanks, Mark, for these thoughts and the book tip. And I'll get back to you soon in regard to the question you e-mailed me …

    "I wonder if Paul is not here doing something similar to what he does in his introduction to the letter to the Philippians…? I'm thinking in particular of 1:9-11 where Paul prays that their love might grow, yet latter indicates that there is an absence of love within the congregation (4:2-3)."

    Interestingly, Philippians 1:9-11, much in relation to the point I was experimenting with to Michael above, Paul prays for 'love to overflow' and links this to 'producing a harvest of righteousness through Jesus Christ'. And in verse 8, of course, he speaks of the affection of Jesus expressing itself through him. Once again, it is perhaps hasty to divide brotherly love from a love modified by 'Jesus in the genitive'!

    I'm betting P. O'Brien, Introductory Thanksgivings, would have some helpful info.

    I'll have another look at this one. Thanks for the tip.

    So, a big thanks to you both for your comments; I was very grateful. And if at any point you would take particular issue with my thought-experiments above, then let me know! If I haven't been clear enough, I apologise. I just didn't want to qualify what I meant endlessly and write something so long you would never read it!

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    My Forschungsgeschichte

    First, a big thanks to those of you who have already posted a response to my monster of a blog on 1 Thess 1:3 - I'm still chewing over your thoughts. And I think all will agree, especially insightful were Ben's piercing exegetical comments. Anyway, I'll post a reply to them all soon.

    I didn't have time today as I was presenting and defending my history of research in Dr. Hans-Joachim Eckstein's Oberseminar in Tübingen Uni. What a delight it was, and I even managed to drag Anja along with me. As much as I enjoy discussions through internet media, there is nothing like an open debate with well educated folks who've actually taken the time to read your paper. Most enjoyable, and very encouraging as Eckstein really liked my approach and argument.

    Here are the opening sentences of the paper:
    The question, ‘Who is Jesus and in what sense is he God, if at all?’ is one born and raised in controversy. Almost ever since it has been asked it has generated a wide mixture of response, ranging from physical violence and vicious debate to worship and praise. And discussion has continued not only among theologians and clergy, but also lay-people, atheists, agnostics, the religious, politicians, historians, philosophers etc. Also within Pauline scholarship, for the last 20 to 30 years a lively debate has been underway concerning this very question. Should, indeed, Paul’s Christology be called ‘divine’?

    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    1 Thessalonians 1:3

    Here is the promised post. And make sure you read the previous before venturing into this, OK?

    Admittedly, for a NT research student my grasp of Koine Greek is pretty dubious. For those of you who know your Greek, the truth of my honesty will become apparent in the following. For those without much Greek, however, it may all sound hugely impressive ... but even more hugely boring. So whether you know Greek or not I guess I don't really win with this post.

    But the problem is, when one ventures into academic NT exegesis, a bit of Greek tends to come in handy. And so this is a question really for all of you Greek boffs out there.

    What is the relation of the objective genitive in 1 Thess 1:3 ('tou kuriou hmwn Ihsou Xristou') to the lengthy object of the sentence (starting with umwn, working through the triad of faith, love and hope)? Is the objective genitive modifying just the 'hope', or also the 'faith' and 'love'? This question, while considered in earlier commentaries, has gone out of fashion in modern works. That the objective genitive modifies just 'hope' is simply assumed. But is this assumption correct?

    Leon Morris, one of the few more modern scholars to at least raise the question, states:

    ‘It is not absolutely clear whether we should take “in our Lord Jesus Christ” with “hope”, or, as Neil, for example, does, with the whole of the preceding, including the work of faith and labor of love’.[1]
    Here are some reasons, against the (albeit silent) modern scholarly consensus, to follow the line of thought represented by Neil (whose work on Thessalonians I sadly don't have access to). First, the triad of 'faith, hope and love' occur together regularly in early Christian writings. That this is so suggests that the objective genitive may modify all of the preceding, given their natural association with one another. Second, the umwn that begins the ‘lengthy object’[2] of the sentence is dependent on ergou ... kopou and upomonhς. This 'object' culminates in the appearance of the objective genitive, and thus suggests that tou kuriou hmwn Ihsou Xristou relates to the entire 'object'.

    Furthermore, the reasons I've found in commentaries against Neil's position fail to fully convince. For example, Morris makes the suggestion that the objective genitive relates only to ‘hope’ because the phrase ‘before our God and Father’ must also be read to do so.[3] However, such a reading of this phrase is deeply problematic, and I prefer to see it as related to the opening participle (mnhmoneuonteς), as most commentators do. The main reason given against Neil's reading is that the focus on just ‘hope’ in Christ sits very comfortably with the rest of the letter that has the eschatological events centred around Christ very much to the fore. And Christ is not tied to faith or love in 1 Thess, so the argument goes. However, while Paul doesn’t speak of love toward Christ in this letter explicitly, the idea is arguably present. And while Paul does speak of the object of faith in 1:8 as God, the entire third chapter will demonstrate how faith is expressed by whether or not the Thessalonians are ‘standing firm in the Lord’ (3:8).

    Another potentially more problematic argument (not found in any commentaries) against reading the objective genitive as modifying all three elements of the ‘lengthy object’, is that Chrysostom reads it automatically as only referring to ‘hope’ (cf. my post on Silva's GF principle for a discussion on such reasoning).

    So, what does the jury say? Is the objective genitive modifying just 'hope', or the entire triad?

    And if you have managed to finish this post without killing yourself in bored desperation, then congratulations. If you found it interesting, as I did, then you should probably be a bit worried.
    [1]Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), 42.
    [2]to use the language of Earl Richard, First and Second Thessalonians. Sacra Pagina Series Vol. 11 (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1995), 46.
    [3]Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, 42, esp. fn. 24.

    ... *drum roll* ...

    This is the official announcement for one of the most mind-numbingly boring posts you will ever read.

    It will be posted here soon – later today –, so here are a few tips for your preparation:

    1. Make sure you've got some sugar, and a serious amount of caffeine in your blood stream, or you'll never make it
    2. As it may send you into a coma or three, please get permission from your local doctor first.
    3. Arrange for somebody to be with you as you read it (they could even engage in intercessory-warfare-prayer for you during the ordeal).
    4. Make sure there are no nooses, razor-blades or high balconies to hand, as I am predicting that about half way through, in desperation you just might want to use them.
    5. Colour you room up - big bold luminous colours. Get rid of anything grey as that simply won't help.
    6. Of course, don't read it while operating any dangerous machinery, waiting for a date, before an interview or anything else important.
    7. And if you actually find it interesting (as in some kind of sick way I apparently do), then arrange to get some professional counselling/exorcism, or go to suggestion 4) and reverse the advice.
    Remember, the goal is to finish the text and make some helpful comments, so be prepared.

    Posts of note

    My blogging time has been somewhat restricted in the last few days. Nevertheless, other blogs have been producing some really great material. (In other words, all I'm doing here is pointing at what other have done, cos my own creative-juices have been drained dry by hours of cold and in-depth exegesis of 1 Thessalonians. My 'New Perspective' posts have been postponed until I'm done with 1 Thess. Believe me, it may only be a small letter, but the number of cans of worms waiting to be unexpectedly opened by the unwary exegete is truly frightening)

    1. Ben Myers has been summarising Barth's entire Church Dogmatics – a single sentence summary for each volume! Really worth a read, and these are a series of posts I will want to return to from time to time.
    2. Alastair of Adversaria, a relatively new discovery, has been posting on Newbigin, Umberto Eco and a varia of other themes.
    3. Mike Bird has been posting some really useful book reviews.
    4. Scot McKnight has been ruffling a few 'Conservative feathers', which is always fun to read, both here and here. I remain unconvinced, however, that he should carry on writing sentences with either authority or identity forming (in relation to scripture), as such formulations tend to go further than he wants to, as becomes clear when he is forced to explain things.
    5. The lost message's New Method of Evangelism post has gotten even funnier,
    6. and, well, honestly many more beside. Just go through my recently added 'blog roll'.

    Tomorrow I'll be offering my most boring post yet for which I apologise in advance.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    Online theological journals

    I just received an e-mail from my college librarian saying:

    "You might find it useful to be aware of the Directory of Open Access
    Journals, which as its name suggests is a gateway to electronic
    journals for which no subscription is needed. There are about 30
    theologically-related journals available, some sound as if they could
    be useful. There is also a search facility. The link below takes you
    straight to the journals listing."

    Saturday, December 03, 2005

    Dualisms and Empire

    "The poem of Colossians 1:15-20 has the potential not only to set our imagination free from the captivity of empire but also to shatter the way our dualism has restricted our faith. A split-vision worldview that divides faith from life, church from culture, theology from economics, prayer from politics and worship from everyday work will always render Christian faith irrelevant to broad sociocultural forces."

    -- Walsh, Brain J. and Keesmaat, Sylvia C., Colossians Remixed, (Illinois: IVP, 2004), p. 95

    Friday, December 02, 2005

    Facts to make you popular #2

    The male praying mantis has to walk on seriously sharp egg shells when he wants to hump.

    Particularly frightening is that if he doesn't quite position himself firmly and squarely enough on the back of his sweetheart, she might just turn around, bite his head off and then feast on his brains while his body twitches to an end the act of copulation. To gross to be true? And let's face it, that isn't very polite is it? Or perhaps it isn't all that bad at all, as at least the poor little insect was having fun before his grey-cells were sucked out - I can think of plenty of less enjoyable ways to die. But is headless mantis-sex really possible?

    Apparently it is. In this report, you can learn all the gory facts. You'll also learn that the details so captured the imagination of one 15 year old boy, that for the first time all year he managed to complete his biology homework.

    The fear of works

    "The fear of works, which sometimes seems to be all that remains in Protestantism from the Reformation, must not lead us to fall back on nothing but theology and idle talk. It would certainly be better if we knew a great deal less and lived out a modest amount of knowledge a great deal more ... only discipleship in our everyday life can justify our dogmatics in the face of the world; otherwise we are birds of passage in religion and philosophy, of whom there are far too many, and where competition has long since outflanked us"

    - Ernst Käsemann, Jesus Means Freedom (London: SCM, 1969), p. 60

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Silva's "Greek Fathers Principle" revisited

    The 'Greek fathers' (GF) Principle for modern exegesis (based on an essay in Interpreting Galatians, by M Silva, p. 29-31)

    1. The commentaries of the Greek fathers (e.g. Chrysostom) on the Greek NT can help in the task of exegesis given that they were native Greek speakers. This remains true given a number of qualifications:
      a. The potential for 'semantic shifts' in the centuries that separate them from Paul
      b. The fathers own brand of Greek through which they read the NT: "Chrysostom apparently sought to understand the NT on the assumption that it was written in 'good Greek'" – which it was not.
      c. Just being a native speaker doesn't automatically mean that they are capable of giving an accurate syntactical or semantic account. "Educated speakers in particular are notoriously unreliable guides". In what way? The GF's reading of Greek, especially when we are aware of a textual ambiguity and they simply assume "that one of the possible meanings is the right one", is at this point "strong evidence for the way a native speaker would naturally understand the language". However, when a GF like Chrysostom "self-consciously analyses the language", then things can go pear-shaped. Native speakers are best when they use their language rather than reflect on it!

    2. And so the principle can be adjusted to read: The GF commentaries are useful aids in the task of exegesis as one voice among many, especially when we are aware of a textual ambiguity, and they simply assume "that one of the possible meanings is the right one".
    This obviously has some direct and important consequence. E.g., "It is interesting that most of the Church Fathers were quite clear in their belief that the phrase 'the righteousness of God' referred in the first place to an attribute of God and secondly to a derived attribute of believers … and not to something like the concept of God's covenant faithfulness" (Witherington, Paul's Letter to the Romans, p. 54 fn.15). Silva himself, in response to Hays and his subjective genitive reading of pistiς Ihsou Xristou, uses this principle as evidence for the objective genitive reading ('faith in Jesus Christ').

    A quick critique
    1. However, is it fair to suggest that native speakers get their own language muddled when they explain syntax and vocab, or is it simply that their explanation is not good, but their usage remains normative? As an Englishman living in Germany doing all kinds of English-language proof-reading for German speakers, I will certainly know the correct way of understanding and expressing the English text, even if my ability to find the correct grammatical terms is lacking (which it sadly is a lot of the time). My German wife (an English teacher), for example, has a far better grasp of English grammar's theoretical terminology. Yet I can still better discern what the correct English is, being a native speaker, without necessarily being able to explain it as well! Nevertheless, my grammatical or semantic decision will be (mostly!) correct. I submit that Silva has mixed poor explanation of language with its nevertheless correct understanding. Bang goes one of Silva's points above?
    2. Furthermore, an exegetical decision about the meaning of 'the righteousness of God' or 'pistiς Ihsou Xristou' in the GFs will be a result not just of their grasp of Greek, but the hermeneutical and conceptual frameworks they bring to the text. When this is understood, it is no surprise that they understand these important phrases the way they (arguably anachronistically) did!