Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Audience competance and Paul's intentions

How do we determine whether Paul is intentionally alluding to various scriptures (and or Jewish interpretive traditions of these) where some (or many) scholars believe he is?

It is often thought that an awareness of the scripture knowledge of the specific audiences to which Paul writes (including 2nd Temple Jewish literature and interpretive traditions) will assist us in establishing this, but I have some doubts. The general line of thought is as follows: if the recipients of a particular letter are unlikely to detect and/or understand a particular "allusion" to scripture within the letter because they are not sufficiently familiar with the scripture alluded to, then it is unlikely that Paul intended such an "allusion".

Apart from the difficulty in establishing the general amount and nature of scripture knowledge and the amount and nature of scriptural knowledge in specific churches, this line of thought rests on the twin premises that Paul is sensitive to the scripture knowledge of his audiences and so places constraints on his references to them (including "allusions") in his writing. As far as I know these are assumptions lacking explicit evidence in his writings (Could 1 Peter 3.15-16 refer at least in part to scriptural allusions?). Furthermore, what amount of scripture knowledge did Paul feel constrained to, and how would we determine this? Did he know, assume, or expect that there would be those present at readings of his letters with adequate scripture knowledge (perhaps the 'informed' or 'competent audience' in Chris Stanley's terminology) who could point out or explain references to the scriptures?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Contextual Exegesis

Following on from our previous post on “Contextual Hermeneutics” I have found two posts that also deal with this issue. Nijay Gupta writes on A Couple of Disturbing Trends in Pauline Scholarship. This is followed by Matthew Montonini’s post Were Paul's Audiences Scripturally Illiterate?

Both posts propose issues that I’d like to discuss further. Gupta suggests “What we do know is that the encoded/implied reader was quite savvy with Scripture.” While Matthew outlines the position of Chris Stanley in his book Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul (T & T Clark, 2004). Stanley offers three different proposed audiences:

(a) The 'informed audience' - 'a person who knows the original context of every one of Paul's quotations and is willing to engage in critical dialogue with Paul about his handling of the biblical text' (68).

(b) The 'competent audience' - the 'hypothetical person who knows just enough of the Jewish Scriptures to grasp the point of Paul's quotations in their current rhetorical context' (68).

(c) The 'minimal audience' - '...people in this category were aware of the high degree of respect given to the Scriptures in Christian circles. As a result, they would have been inclined to take seriously any argument that claimed to be grounded in the biblical text. But their ability to follow the argument of a passage laced with quotations would have been limited' (69).

Both posts deal with the question we raised in our first post on Contextual Hermeneutics. How much background information can we assume in any of Paul’s churches? Views that suggest an “informed” or “competent” audience appear to be more assumption than demonstration. More discussion needs to take place on factors that could determine what the audiences capabilities were.

Instead of discussing the broad outlines of each view, let us take the specific example of the Thessalonian community. How plausible is it, that a congregation established a few months ago would be either an “informed audience” or a “competent audience”? Thus, for a specific example I alluded to, 1 Thess 4:4 and the understanding of skeuos is still relevant. Would Paul have expected his readers to pick up on the supposed allusion to 1 Sam 21:5, as commentators have?[1] Or would Paul be working with a more rabbinic background understanding?[2] Or did Paul simply choose a word that was multifaceted?
In this case, it seems more likely to me, that the Thessalonian church would be classified as a “minimal audience”. It appears a priori implausible to suggest that recent Gentile converts were “savvy with scripture”. I’m quite happy to concede that the Thessalonians were a ‘minimal audience’ with a respect for the Scriptures. I’m even happy to concur with the notion of formal scripture readings in the community, and leaders in the community reading the LXX. But this would definitely not amount to the audience being informed or competent in the Scriptures. Not after such a short time.

Thinking wider therefore, what we probably have reflected before us in the Pauline churches are various stages of these three categories. Perhaps some in the Galatian churches would have been “informed” community members. It seems likely that Rome would have had a competent audience, if not an informed one.
But can we suppose any at Thessalonica? I’m not convinced.

[1] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, pg. 51 n.59
[2] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, pg. 227

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Judeans in 1 Thess 2:14?

Phil Harland discusses and recommends Steve Mason’s new article: Steve Mason, “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007) 457-512. [I can't get my hands on that article, so am trusting Harland's reading]. According to Harland, “Mason convincingly argues that Ioudaioi (traditionally translated “Jews”) and related terms should be understood in terms of ethnic groupings in antiquity. For the Hellenistic and Roman periods (at least until the third century CE) we should be speaking of “Judeans”, not “Jews”, and of “Judean customs” or practices, not “Judaism”.”
In light of this discussion, can this affect our understanding of 1 Thess 2:14-16?
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from those Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.
This surely softens the blow of what many have seen as problematic. But does it capture the essence of what Paul was suggesting? Given the contrast with “Gentiles” it does appear to make more sense of the passage, since Paul is not suggesting that all Gentiles have refused his message, and therefore he is not suggesting that all Judeans were involved in the death of Jesus.
Is this plausible? Any objections?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Contextual Hermeneutics: 1 Thessalonians 4:4 as a Test Case

Scholars often debate the finer points of interpretation based on various backgrounds or nuances to specific words, phrases or ideas. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 we are presented with a verse that causes much distress to the interpreter for precisely this reason. The background context will determine how one understands this verse. The passage in context reads:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; 4 that each one of you know how to acquire/control your own vessel/organ/wife in holiness and honour, 5 not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.
The key words are that of skeuos (vessell/organ/body/wife) and ktasthai (acquire/control). How one interprets or understands these words depends very much on the probable backgrounds to which interpreters appeal. Given that Paul is writing to a mainly Gentile audience, a roman background is possible. But Paul is a Jew, well versed is the writings and thought-world of Judaism. So interpreting this against a Jewish back-drop seems equally possible. Enter here the problem of “background information of the early Christians.”
How much background information can we assume in any of Paul’s churches? This has to be one of the most perplexing issues in NT scholarship. We have literally no information from them, or about them, to determine their own background understanding. The audience in all of Paul’s letters remains practically anonymous to us.[1] Thus, how is one to determine the concrete meaning of a phrase, such as the one above? For example, J. E. Smith’s article “1 Thessalonians 4:4: Breaking the Impasse” spends forty pages analysing three distinctive interpretations.[2] This study is exhaustive in its attempt to investigate these options thoroughly. But again the problem persists as to whether or not we allow Paul’s understanding to dominate our interpretation, or whether we allow the audiences assumed understanding or limited knowledge to affect the way we interpret scripture. Illustrative of this is Wanamaker’s comment:
The Thessalonians did not know Hebrew and therefore Paul could not rely on them to make the kind of connections made by Maurer and others in arriving at this interpretation.[3]
So my question is: Do we sometimes over interpret scripture? Looking for every possible allusion and echo to the Hebrew narrative [or elsewhere], when it is highly unlikely that the audiences would even be aware of such scriptures and allusions? Is much of the research we acquire, a bit of a waste? Any ideas?
[1] M. Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word (Baker, 2006) pgs. 68ff. considers possible “implied readers” which may offer some assistance to this problem. However, it will not solve the specifics of this problematic feature of our discipline.
[2] Jay E. Smith, “1 Thessalonians 4:4: Breaking the Impasse” Bulletin for Biblical Research 11.1 (2001) 65-105.
[3] C. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, pg. 152

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Restoring what was Taken

Well, my study of Thessalonians may now resume, with my books being happily replaced by someone in my Church being frustrated that I could no longer continue with my series on Thessalonians due to my car being stolen with my laptop and all my commentaries and books on Thessalonians inside! God's people are so good, and gracious!

I'm hoping to explore 1 Thess 2:13-16, that tricky little piece which some have assumed and argued is an interpolation. I'm also wanting to explore further the view that 1 Thess 5:14ff. is addressed to the leaders. I'm trying to get my paws on a copy of Jeff Weima's book: Neglected Endings: The Significance of Pauline Letter Closings. Incidently, Weima is writing the Baker commentary on Thessalonians which should be quite good. I'm also looking forward to finishing Fee's tome, which I only got half way through!

As you can see, my summer reading will consist of books on the epistles of Peter. I'm hoping to plough through Green, Jobes and McKnight (or Michael's) and then move on to Davids, Bauckham and Neyrey (perhaps adding Reese) on 2 Peter. This is for a series we're doing at Primal. Should be good, and informative. Hopefully, Thessalonians won't distract me further [nor will Michael Pahl, who's posts on Thessalonians were the first to entice me to survey and study, briefly, these letters!].

Anyway, back to studying...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It's All about Q...

And all this for Q...
Well, almost. There seems to be a bit of a "Q" fe(a)st on at the moment, so I'll just recap for those not familiar with the discussion. "Q" is short for the German word, quelle, which means "source". I'm not sure who coined the term [somebody in the blogosphere should know], but it's been around for some time now. Basically, "Q" is the designation for material common to Matt and Lukas, but not found in Mark. It is a hypothetical source/(document?) that is postulated to account for corresponding material in Luke and Matt's gospel. An easier solution to the problem is to say that Luke used Matt, that's my view, but much scholarship today still feels the need for "Q" and so the investigation continues.
Mark Goodacre alerts us to some of the discussion going down in his post: Christmas without Q. I must plead guilty to not fully understanding all the techinical issues involved, and I am "Q" sceptic because I just can't see how or why we need to postulate a hypothetical document, when a real one [Matt] exists which explains most, but probably not all, of the difficulties in our problem. Inference to the best explanation leads me to accept Markan priority, although there were times when I favoured the Griesbach Hypothesis and still think about it, and that Luke used both Matt and Mark [cf. Luke 1:1-4].
I am particularly sceptical about much of Q scholarship, and find myself echoing a quiet AMEN when I read Meier's causcious advice:

The affirmation of Q’s existence come close to exhausting my ability to believe in hypothetical entities. I find myself increasingly sceptical as more refined and detailed theories about Q’s extent, wording, community, geographical setting, stages of tradition and redaction, and coherent theology are proposed. I cannot help thinking that biblical scholarship would be greatly advanced if every morning all exegetes would repeat as a mantra: “Q is a hypothetical document whose exact extension, working, originating community, strata, and stages of redaction cannot be known.” This daily devotion might save us flights of fancy that are destined, in my view, to end in scepticism.

J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew II, pg. 178

So, if you're interested, get reading as this is a fascinating, though technical at times, area of research into the gospels and early Christianity.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Unfortunately, my car was stolen last week. Along with it, my laptop and every commentary on Thessalonians that I own [Malherbe, Witherington, Green, Best, Bruce], along with Fee's Pauline Christology and God's Empowering Presence, so I'm taking some time out to sort things out, and catch up on all the work that's now behind... All I can hope for is one educated thief! Bless them LORD!
Hope to return to the blogosphere soon...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fee vs. Pahl on “The word of the Lord”

Gordon Fee in his massive tome, Pauline Christology, [reviewed by Tilling] suggests that the complex phrase “the word of the Lord” (1 Thess 1:8 and 4:15) refers in 1:8 to the gospel and in 4:15 to “that which is spoken by (or about) the Lord Jesus.” Fee writes:

For Paul, “the word of the Lord” is now that which is spoken by (or about) the Lord Jesus. Indeed, it seems most likely that in the first passage here (1:8), where the phrase is articular, Paul intends it to stand for the gospel; that is, it is the “word” about the Lord. The second passage (4:15), however, is most likely a reflection of the usage in the Septuagint, and thus it refers to a word that Christ himself has spoken (either, most likely, in the Jesus tradition that has come down to Paul, or as a prophetic word that Paul has received from Christ). [1]

Fee does not elaborate further on the reasons for his decision, which is a pity, because Michael Pahl has offered substantive reasons for taking 4:15 as reference to the gospel. See his the making of a dissertation. Fee only references Hurtado’s treatment in Lord Jesus Christ.[2] Hurtado does not develop his view that this is “a saying of the exalted Jesus, probably delivered initially through a Christian prophet.” But merely points back to the treatment of E. Best in his commentary on Thessalonians.[3] Thus, it will be fascinating to see how Michael’s dissertation, now defended, is received by scholarship.
I for one am particularly sympathetic and open to Pahl’s detailed analysis, and wish to read more of his argument. Especially on Pauline epistemology. But that’s for another day…

[1] G. Fee, Pauline Christology, pg. 45
[2] L. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, pg. 150-1 as well as Donfried, Shorter Pauline Letters, pgs 39-40 who thinks that this refers to a prophetic oracle.
[3] Best, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, pg. 189-194.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monotheism - Again

The discussion about Monotheism continues, with Chris Tilling helping us along. In the comments to Chris' post, I asked: isn't Paul's "monotheism" more about loyalty to YHWH than a statement about the philosophical nature of GOD? Chris agrees with my position. Being the curious person that I am, I had a quick look at Thiselton's massive contribution where he writes:

Only God is God. Nevertheless, the fact that kyrios-cults do really exist means that habituated patterns of loyalty and devotion long practiced by new converts before their conversion cannot simply be brushed aside as no longer affecting their lives and attitudes in the present. At an existential and psychological level they still leave their mark. Indeed, this may mean even more. Not only do they return a subjective influence; they may also constitute objective forces of evil which bring destruction, disintergration, and pain. Unless we adopt a partition theory between 8:1-13 and 10:14-22, Paul appears to associate them with demonic forces.

[Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, pg. 633]

This seems to offer the best understanding of 1 Cor 8:6. Therefore, it appears that Paul is mocking the existence of "so-called gods" [Thiselton's translation]. These forces may be subjective or objective, but they do not assume Paul's definition of who God is or what God does. These are "so-called gods" which Paul then describes as demons later in 1 Cor 10. Thus, I'm not sure that we can confidently call Paul a polytheist.
Besides, this issue surely has more to do with loyalty and devotion than it has to do with ontological issues. There has to be a stable definition of what constitutes GOD, for there to be discussion about how many or who this GOD supposedly is. Bauckham's categories of Creator and Sovereign appear to appropriate the evidence well. Surely Paul did not believe in other creators or other sovereigns? Surely only YHWH was the Creator and Sovereign, and in that identity they [the early Christians] included Jesus. For all other gods, they were atheists - denying them loyalty and ontological status.

Exegetical Dictionary of the NT

Well, it's nearing that wonderful time of the year when I can begin hinting to my wife what presents should find there way underneath the tree... Or, whatever we decide to put up this year. As this will be our first Christmas as a married couple, my wife is looking to spoil me and so is asking for suggestions. So here's where I need some help.... I'm thinking of the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament.

The English translation of the three-volume Exegetisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament, this monumental work by an ecumenical group of scholars is first of all a complete English dictionary of New Testament Greek. Going beyond that, however EDNT also serves as a guide to the usage of every New Testament word in its various contexts, and it makes a significant contribution to New Testament exegesis and theology. EDNT's thorough, lengthy discussions of more significant words and its grouping of words related by root and meaning (with alphabetical cross-references) distinguish it from simpler Greek-English lexicons. Advancing the discussion of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, EDNT summarizes more recent treatments of numerous questions in New Testament study and takes into consideration newer viewpoints of linguistics.

Is this really as helpful as it claims? I've got Bauer's, Liddell/Scott's, and the abbreviated TDNT. And I'm not sure whether I should upgrade my software package (I'm currently working with Logos) or get hard copies... Obviously, the electronic version is cheaper. Any advice from those who use these tools? Or should I just get some more commentaries/books that will incorporate this?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Was Paul a Monotheist?

The Blog-father, Mark Goodacre, opens up the discussion, apparently initiated by Paula Fredrickson [See also Gods and the One God] about monotheism in antiquity. Dr. Goodacre quotes Fredrickson's article, Gods and the One God, where she states:
The world was filled with other gods, and ancient Jews knew this. Paul complains about their negative effect on his mission. Astral forces (stoicheia) previously enslaved his formerly pagan converts in Galatia (Galatians 4.8). "The god of this cosmos" blinded believers so that they cannot see "the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God" (2 Corinthians 4.4). Paul writes, "For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth -- as indeed there are many 'gods' and many 'lords' -- yet for us there is one God, the Father . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 8.5-6). Paul and his Gentile readers do not doubt the existence of many gods. They just do not worship them.
My own question in this discussion is a clarification of terms. Yes, monotheism designates the belief in one god. But surely within the Judeo-Christian worldview it designates loyalty or worship to one god, not just belief in one god. What made Paul a monotheist, was not just his belief but his adherence, allegiance and devotion. Every other god was a demon or demonic allusion [this appears to be what Paul is suggesting in 1 Cor 10:20: No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God.]
Paul appears to be a monotheist because his loyalty and devotion was to the god of Israel revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, and not to others. There apparently were other gods, forces, demons, emperors who claimed the title of GOD within Paul's world[view], but none of them amounted to Paul's identification of GOD as Creator and Sovereign of the universe - revealed in and through the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus our LORD.
It will however, be fascinating to see if Fredrickson develop this thesis, and if so how... Stay tuned...
For more on this topic, see Richard Bauckham's Paul's Christology of Divine Identity.

Friday, October 05, 2007

IBR - Articles

Torrey Seland notes the following:
The Institute for Biblical Research has launched its new web page with a new URL. Try this one:
In addition to diverse postings of information concerning the activities of the institute, they now also launch a new availablity to the articles of Bulletin for Biblical Research.
BBR Articles Listed by Date (Full text 1991-2004.1; abstracts 2005.1-2007.1)
BBR Articles Listed by Authors The BBR articles listed on their page are found in the following three formats:*.html (Web format for quick viewing on your computer screen);*.doc (Microsoft Word format for using in word processing);*.pdf (Adobe Acrobat format for printing and viewing exactly formatted).
I'm still on leave from work at the moment, catching up on some lovely Birthday reading -> all about Thessalonians, which is very exciting. So back soon... In a week or two...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Authorship of 2 Peter - Ethical Dilemma

If 2 Peter was not written by Peter, then do the autobiographical statements in this epistle constitute a false witness? As Kelly states:
The author certainly represents himself as the Apostle, starting off with a greeting from ‘Symeon Peter’, recalling his presence as an eye-witness at the Transfiguration (i. 16-18) and his receipt of a private communication from the Lord about his imminent death (i. 14), affirming in a clear allusion to 1 Peter that this is his second epistle (iii. 1), and speaking of Paul as his colleague (iii. 15).[1]
How can someone inhabiting the moral worldview of early Christianity, so clearly falsify the evidence so as to lead the readers to believe that Peter wrote this letter? Thus, does the author of 2 Peter misrepresent himself as the apostle Peter, and if so, does this constitute identity fraud? Conrad Gempf responds with this counter-example from modern experience:
A few years ago I met someone who claimed to be C.S. Lewis. He clearly knew a lot about the man whose identity he was appropriating and on occasion mixed what he said with genuine excerpts from Lewis's books. He was very entertaining to spend an evening with, but he was not the man he pretended to be. There were other people present - should I have denounced him to them? Should I have confronted this man: 'Impostor!'?
Perhaps your feelings will change when I tell you that this man was on a stage at the time, surrounded by props. I had gone to see a one-man show based on the life and writings of C.S. Lewis. Despite the fact that the great majority of the audience with whom I was seated were Christians who would claim to be against falsehood and deceit of any kind, no-one was unhappy with the actor or the playwright for the fraud they conspired to present to us. In this context, the pretence was not only acceptable, but laudable. We all paid good money to be lied to, and emitted loud noises of approval when it was complete.
If we can forget for just a moment our deeply-ingrained acceptance of theatre and fiction as valid genres, we may be able to glimpse just how peculiar the whole business is - how odd someone from outside our culture might find it. I submit that it is in this frame of mind that we are best able to approach the curious business of religious pseudonymity ('pseudo' = false; 'nym' = name): the practice of writing a literary work under the pretence that someone else, usually someone more famous, wrote it.[2]
Richard Bauckham has argued for a notion of an intentional pseudepigraphy with regards to 2 Peter which alleviates this ethical problem.[3] If Bauckham is right, my question is whether one is not safer to speak of the authorship of this epistle as rather allonymous rather than pseudonymous. This distinction is used by I. H. Marshall for understanding the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.[4] Marshall states:

I use the term pseudonymous to refer to documents that were intended to deceive their recipients into thinking that somebody other than the real author wrote them, and the term allonymous to refer to documents composed by somebody other than the purported author but in a way that was transparent and not intended to deceive the readers.[5]

If 2 Peter was recognised as a ‘testament’ of the deceased Peter, then there is no wilful deception which resolves the ethical dilemma. If this is accurate, then 2 Peter is closer to that of an allonymous writing rather than a pseudonymous writing, for it does not seek to mislead people, but rather is evidently a later writing under the auspices of some authority.
Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude, pg. 235
[2] Conrad Gempf “Pseudonymity and the New Testament” in Themelios 17.2 (January/February 1992): 8-10, pg. 8.
[3] See Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, pg. 286. Bauckham suggests that 2 Peter is pseudonymous but that it would have been recognised as such, and thus it never sought to intentionally mislead its primary audience.
[4] I. H. Marshall, New Testament Theology (IVP, 2004) pg. 398
[5] Marshall, New Testament Theology, pg. 398 n.4

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Obedience to Scripture - Preach

Earlier this year, like a month ago, NewFrontiers hosted its annual Student camp. I was asked to do the final session on the camp, and the talks are available for download as follows. The theme of the camp was "Devoted." Here are all the messages...

This is not an academic message, it's a sermon. For those interested and willing, I'd like some feed back on this message. So if you're keen, drop me some comments.

Thanks much, s D.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Was Jesus Literate?

Craig Evans has published another study online discussing the issue of Jesus' literacy. See: Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus - C. A. Evans and W. H. Brackney (eds.), From Biblical Criticism to Biblical Faith (Mercer University Press, 2007) 41-54.
Skimming through it, it's a helpful response to the work of P. F. Craffert and P. J. J. Botha, “Why Jesus Could Walk on the Sea but He Could Not Read and Write,” Neot 39 (2005): 5-35. Botha argue for the illiteracy of Jesus in the fourth part of his paper, under the heading “Was Jesus Literate?” (pp. 21-32). Evans response, is to that section of the paper.
As usual, Evans doesn't waste time and his familiarity with the material and the context in which Jesus was raised, lived and what the determining factors are, remain almost unmatched. The article assumes a knowledge of Greek, so either brush up or learn it, or just skip over. Another excellent offering from the mind of one of the greatest NT scholars alive.

Who is the "Author" of 2 Peter?

I wrote the following over the weekend, and then found Mike Bird's comments on the same topic today, so at least I'm glad that I'm thinking along the same lines as a NT geek!

Did the apostle Peter author the work known as 2 Peter? There are two distinct elements, among others, that compound the problem faced in discussions of the authorship of 2 Peter. Firstly, there is the complicated notion of what constitutes an “author” of a particular work, and secondly, given the ethical world the early Christians sought to express, does narrating a story under the auspices of someone else constitute giving a false witness? These issues inspire various possibilities with little confidence in acquiring certainty in our understanding.
The authorship of 2 Peter is often discussed with the majority favouring some form of pseudonymous authorship.[1] As Kelly noted nearly four decades ago:
“Scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous, although it must be admitted of the few who do that they defend their case with an impressive combination of learning and ingenuity.” [2]
This first issue plunges one deep into contemporary philosophical and literary debates. Without getting too complex, biblical scholars must realise that our current definitions and conceptions of “authorship” may be to simple.[3] It is possible that Peter did not strictly pen the work known as 1 Peter, Silvanus did (1 Pet 5:12).[4] Although, we could use a broader definition of authorship (namely the figurative definition), so that Peter is clearly the originator of the ideas and teachings present in 1 Peter, but not the actual person who penned them on to papyri. But if that is true, and allowable, then what prevents one from suggesting that a disciple, after Peter’s death, penned 2 Peter, believing that he was in fact merely restating and formulating the teachings of his teacher? Is Peter then still the author, and would the first century Christians have had a problem with this? Thus, Davids writes:
1 Peter (or 2 Peter, for that matter) is just as much “by Peter” whether he dictated every word or whether he told a co-worker, “Write a letter to x to combat y – you might use argument z, as well as any others you can think of.” In either case an ancient would think of the letter as being “by Peter,” even if in the latter case we would lack any certain knowledge of how Peter himself thought.[5]
So in what sense are we suggesting that Peter was the author of this work? And does Peter remain the author, if a disciple recounts and relays his teachings, despite the fact of his being dead? [6]
In out next post, we'll consider the claim that if Peter was not the author of 2 Peter, this constitutes wilfull deception.
[1] J. H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, pg. 128 does not even seek to argue the matter of pseudonymity, but merely assumes this is the case.
[2] J. N. D Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (A & C Black, 1969) pg. 235. However, M. J. Kruger “The Authenticity of 2 Peter”, JETS 42 (1999): 645-71, argues that the case against Petrine authorship is not conclusive.
[3] The Oxford English Dictionary offers a few options that are instructive. Author: A) a writer of a book, article, or report. B) someone who writes books as a profession. the writings of such a person. C) figurative: an originator or creator of something, especially a plan or idea.
[4] Contrary to this however, see the study of E. R. Richards “Silvanus Was Not Peter’s Secretary: Theological Bias in Interpreting dia Silvanou… egrapsa in 1 Peter 5:12,” JETS 43:3 (2000) 417-32. Although, this does not negate the possibility of Silvanus, or someone else, as an amanuensis. See P. H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Eerdmans, 1990) pg. 198-90. But Davids has subsequently changed his mind. See Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, (Eerdmans, 2006) pg. 128.
[5] Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, pg. 128
[6] A contemporary example is that of G. B. Caird and his student L. D. Hurst. Hurst took Caird’s notes, books, ideas and practically wrote most of the script of Caird’s New Testament Theology (Oxford, 1994). Did Caird author this work, or did Hurst? Or more poignantly the question must be asked, are they Caird’s ideas, or Hurst’s?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Calvinism Scares Me

Roger Olsen makes some bold statements about Calvinism...

Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

That seems more like the God of the Bible than the all-determining deity of Calvinism. In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, "OK, not my will then, but thine be done -- for now."

And God says, "Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that's one of my self-limitations. I don't want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world."

It's a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it's the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity.

The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you've come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.

Dr. Roger Olson is a professor of theology in George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

HT: Mike Bird, who unfortunately offers a weaker retort which I'm not convinced answers the charge or represents the position well.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Scholarship and Faith

I must confess that I do wonder about some "Christian" scholarship now days. I was reading Dodd's commentary on the Epistles of John this morning, and it just fed my soul. I read contemporary commentaries and I almost never feel that way. I remember reading Alfred Plummer's ICC commentary on 2 Cor. He kept referring to Jesus as 'the Master'. Reading through it, you got the feeling this was a man who actually took serious the Scriptures and actually loved Jesus.
Which brings me to my point: Are we actually serving people [Christians] by writing commentaries that hide our faith? Have we secularised commentaries so that it's strictly business? Exegetical business? Are we compromising on our faith by merely reporting on the analytical details or "the text"? G.B. Caird wrote hymns and songs, and by reading his commentaries you always get the feeling that he's telling you all the necessary details but he's also sharing his soul, and encouraging us to love GOD. Plummer's ICC commentary still managed to deal with the details and give you a glimpse at his relationship with GOD. Does the NIGTC, NICNT, WBC, or even BEC series ever give you this feeling? That these scholars actually love GOD and are teaching us the Scriptures because they believe in them and were trying to live by them?
Or is this too much to ask in a series, and we want to remain palatable and nice to the rest of the world? Do we do theology like Paul did theology? Giving glory to GOD as we teach and preach the gospel in our writing about GOD's word?
Witherington says:

Paul is a pastoral theologian who lives what he preaches and believes what he says. Experience, not just understanding, is the basis of expression in so much of what he says. However uncomfortable some of us may be with this, it is still an essential feature to understanding Paul’s theology. Nor should we overlook how much worship and Christian experience was the matrix out of which much Christian theological reflection came…

Ben Witherington, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Eerdmans, 2006) pg. 237

Think on these things...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Book Meme

Sean the Baptist notes the Book meme going around... These are books that I thoroughly enjoyed, struggle with, and go back to time and time again...

  • Gospels: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Bauckham
  • Pauline Studies: In Search of Paul by Crossan & Reed
  • Historical Jesus: Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright
  • Theology: The Suffering of God by T. Fretheim or The Drama of Doctrine by Vanhoozer
  • Pneumatology: God’s Empowering Presence by G. Fee
  • Science and Theology: The Faith of a Physicist by J. Polkinghorne
  • Ethics: The Moral Vision of the New Testament by R. Hays
  • Hermeneutics: Is There a Meaning in this Text? by K. J. Vanhoozer
  • Novels: I don’t read novels, but I did read Crossan's book on Jesus, does that count?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West

Mark Goodacre highlights the release of an epic essay by Stendahl, I quote the BlogFather in full...

Over on the Paul Page, they have made available online one of the most important articles on Paul written in the twentieth century. Perhaps the most important. With all the recent discussion on the biblioblogs about the new perspective on Paul, the reproduction of this essay, which predates yet anticipates the new perspective, is timely:

First, a big thank you to Mark Mattison for producing this. Second, a bibliographical note. Mark gives the bibliographical detail as Krister Stendahl, Paul from among Jews and Gentiles, published by Fortress in 1976. The original location for the article was Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 199-215.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Schweitzer's Famous Quote - Removed?

Scot McKnight in his short survey on the historical Jesus notes this famous quote by Albert Schweitzer.

“There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and cries: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign.”

[Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, pg.370-371.]

If you follow the link in the reference, and scroll down to page 370-1, you'll see the quote in that edition. McKnight claims that the quote was removed from later editions of his work. My question is simply this: WHY? Did Schweitzer change his mind? Did later editors remove it, is there any explanation for this phenomenon, or is it just an enigma?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

1 Thess 5:14 - Leaders or Congregation?

In his homily on 1 Thessalonians 5:14, John Chrysostom argued that it referred to those who lead, or "rule." This has not found favour among contemporary commentators such as Bruce, Best, Morris, Green and now Witherington. I, however, like to swim against the tide of scholarship often and wish to suggest that Chrysostom was actually on to something that is too easily dismissed by our regular commentators. Look carefully at the passage:
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to recognise those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 consider them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not annihilate the Spirit’s fire. 20 Do not despise prophesying, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 25 Beloved, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27 I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The question at the transition in vs. 14 is pivotal, who does Paul address? The leaders or the community? Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia held the view that the leaders are here being addressed.[1] Contemporary commentators, however, have suggested that the whole church is in view here. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional in that of course it is applied to the whole community, but it is the leaders who are to model this to the others. Because Paul has urged the leaders in vs. 12 to admonish the community, Paul probably still has in mind the leaders, but this of course applies to the entire community. In fact, Paul may be addressing the leaders in front of the community so that the community is aware of the leaders responsibility to them, and the churches responsibility to each other.
The strongest critique of the position that it is the leaders to whom Paul is referring to in vs. 14 comes from E. Best in his celebrated commentary on the Thessalonian Epistles.[2]
(i) The position of the leaders as a definite group is not as clearly defined in v.12 as this view supposes; there will have been at this early stage of development in the Thessalonian community considerable fluidity as to who the leaders were and what their duties were. The much more clearly cut situation depicted in the Pastorals comes from a later date.
(ii) Verse 16ff are certainly addressed to the church as a whole; there is nothing to suggest a change of subject between v.16 and v.15; v.15, as Rom 12:14-17, is most easily understood as spoken to the community as a whole, an probably a common tradition underlies both 1 Th 5:12ff and Rom 12:9ff; finally there does not appear to be any change of subject between v.14 and v.15
(iii) If v.14 is addressed to the leaders then there is a change of subject from vv.12f; but v.14 is introduced by practically the same phrase as v.12, and if a change of subject were intended we should expect some greater contrast.
(iv) Brothers as in v. 12 indicates the community at large and not a group within it.
(v) In fact Paul elsewhere uses phrases like those of v.14 to address communities as a whole rather than their leaders; although the same words are not used the conceptions of the second and third phrases are found in Gal.6:1; Phil 2:4 and in 2 Cor 2:7; 7:13; 1 Th 3:17 leaders are encouraged by ordinary church members. We thus conclude that in our verse Paul is laying a duty on all the members of the church.
We'll deal with these objections and in doing so, suggest why Chrysostom and others are actually on to something important. (i) This objection assumes to much and neglects the fact that in vs. 12, the leaders are identified as a specific group. We have no real data concerning the developmental stages of leadership among early Christianity and to assume some sort of evolutionary model is to go beyond the specific evidence of vs. 12. It is most likely that Christianity merely assumed the leadership structures of the Synagogue and/or cultural structures.
With regards to (ii), I would concur with Best that the subject has not changed and that this refers to the entire community. But we must pay careful attention to whom Paul's primary directives are to here. Paul is directing the leaders in this final pericope, and he is doing so in a public letter so that they may do likewise to the community. The subtle change in primary audience happens in vs. 14. Paul addresses the entire community, about the leaders (this includes the leaders being addressed) and then in vs. 14 he addresses the leaders about the community (this includes the community being addressed). Otherwise the repetition of brothers is unnecessary - why not just carry on with the exhortation? But because I contend the exhortation is to all, but specified groups within the all and in front of the all, this makes more sense of the data.
(iii) Best is again correct that this is addressed to the whole community, but Paul is addressing the leaders and the community, and does not want to make a greater contrast. Vs. 14 is directed to the leaders, so as to motivate and direct the entire community in these directives.
(iv) We agree, but "brothers" in vs. 14 could be primarily directed at the leaders, and it makes more sense to hold this because Paul has already addressed the community about the function of leadership in vs. 12-13 and now primarily addresses the leaders as to their further duties in front of the congregation so that the congregation can also follow these directions but also allow the leaders to especially model this and fulfill these duties.
(v) We do not deny that Paul uses these terms and actions for the work of the whole church, but Paul is especially interested in emphasizing the role and function of leaders here, in front of the community. This in fact makes sense of 1 Th 5:27, where Paul writes: I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. Who is the "you"? And then who is the all of "them"? Surely, Paul and the apostolic team have written to the leaders, and now wish this letter to be read, as instruction, to the whole community.
Thoughts, comments and criticisms are welcome...
[1] See also C. Masson, Les Deux Epitres de Saint Paul aux Thessaloniciens (Paris, 1957).
[2] Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, pg. 229

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Method in "Christ and Horrors"

I'm busy reading Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology in the Series: Current Issues in Theology (No. 4) by Marilyn McCord Adams. The blurb is as follows:
Who would the Saviour have to be, what would the Saviour have to do to rescue human beings from the meaning-destroying experiences of their lives? This book offers a systematic Christology that is at once biblical and philosophical. Starting with human radical vulnerability to horrors such as permanent pain, sadistic abuse or genocide, it develops what must be true about Christ if He is the horror-defeater who ultimately resolves all the problems affecting the human condition and Divine-human relations. Distinctive elements of Marilyn McCord Adams' study are her defence of the two-natures theory, of Christ as Inner Teacher and a functional partner in human flourishing, and her arguments in favour of literal bodily resurrection (Christ's and ours) and of a strong doctrine of corporeal Eucharistic presence. The book concludes that Christ is the One in Whom, not only Christian doctrine, but cosmos, church, and the human psyche hold together.
There is a wonderful quote in her section on method, which states:

My assumption is that human reason's best chance at truth is won through the effort of integrating our data with our many and diverse intuitions into a coherent picture with the theoretical virtues of clarity, consistency, explanatory power and fruitfulness.

Christ and Horrors, pg. 11

View Excerpt as PDF (but it only goes up to pg 10 on the first chapter of method). So far it's a good read, and she admits to universalism - the current topic of discussion. It's very philosophical, which is vastly different from this year's reading (however, I am also half-way through Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks, which is brilliant, but technical and quite a tough read for this biblical studies student).
I think that Adams' reflection on method is apt, and her emphasis on theoretical virtues helpful. It reminds me of The New Testament and the People of God by N. T. Wright. If the subject catches your eye, this book (Christ and Horrors) is a well thought out and well argued piece that should stir much theological reflection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Around the Blogosphere

Here's a little summary of what's going down in the blogosphere at the moment.
First up on my blog-roll is a discussion on the gospel traditions by Michael Pahl [1 & 2]. If you're unfamiliar with the names of Bailey, Dunn and Bultmann with regards to oral traditions and written sources, then Pahl's brief intro's will serve you well.
Following that, Ben Witherington gives us a brief preview of what's to come in his book: Troubled Waters: Rethinking Our Theology of Baptism. Ben's got some fascinating thoughts here, but I wonder if his exegesis would be helped by some creative theological reflection. Of course, Ben is right on the money when he points to the paucity of evidence regarding this initiation rite, but is he correct about families and households and baptising children just because they belong to the family of faith? There is much to think about here, whether you're a paedo-baptist or not.
Mike Bird is still struggling with the Pistis Christou debate, and has some quotes by Mark Reasoner, which I think miss the mark. I'm not convinced that this discussion is decided by theological factors. Maybe I don't fully understand all the issues at stake, but Richard Hays dealt a decisive grammatical and exegetical blow to the objective genitive discussion in his paper "Pistis and Pauline Christology: What is at Stake?" In Pauline Theology Vol. IV, 35-60. Atlanta: Scholars, 1997.
Furthermore, I disagree with Reasoner's comment that: Proponents of the subjective genitive, who hold that Christ's faith is what saves, will not call for a distinct, conversion-constituting act of placing one's faith in Jesus. They will rather call people to join the church that lives out in a concentric pattern the faith that Jesus displayed. The fact that the faithfulness of Jesus is what accomplishes salvation, does not mutually exclude the need for trust on our behalf to participate in the salvation/victory that Jesus has accomplished. There is a false dichotomy here that I reject. As a proponent of the subjective genitive, I am still with Paul [and Jesus] in viewing them as calling for a decisive act of faith, trusting what Jesus has done.
Mark Goodacre describes how access to the internet interferes with writing, and I know all about this problem! He's not giving up blogging, just becoming more disciplined with time. A lesson I am trying to learn - and only partially succeeding at! My writing time has been halved lately, but I'm on a road that will get me back to my happy place soon... I hope! The trick for me is to have regular and set writing times when I can forget the odd jobs and just focussed. Working at home now on Thursday mornings gives me the perfect opportunity to pour in some good writing. It's quiet and I'm alone - no distractions from my black hole -> the office!
Ben Myers has a great article on apologetics that he discusses. He note the following concerning his piece: Against certain forms of apologetics, I suggest that “the task of apologetics is not one of rational coercion, but of imaginative invitation. It is the invitation to envision – or rather, to re-envision – the world through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ…. The fundamental mode of such apologetic discourse, therefore, is one of peace and freedom. This sound excellent, and right on track to me.
Alan Bandy re-opens the café, with an excellent series on faith and scholarship that must be read. Brant Pitre describes Walking in the Footsteps of the Messiah, which offers further confirmation on Brant's thesis developed in Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement. I think this is one of the best books on the historical Jesus that I have read. His arguments are coherent and insightful, as well as pretty solid. When I write my thesis one day, I hope that it can match this offering.
That seems to me to be the best blogging around, if you've got any other suggestions post them in the comments box. This month Stephen Cook has done a great job over at Biblische Ausbildung:Biblical Studies Carnival XIX. One should also note that the Biblioblogger of the month for July 2007 is Claude Mariottini.
Back to the books for me...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What is GOD?

Chris Tilling has a thoughtful little blog-post on GOD IS LOVE. I would just like to supplement his post with two delightful quotes from C.H. Dodd's commentary on the Johannine Epistles.

1 John 4:8-10 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
The great British scholar, C.H. Dodd notes the following about this verse:
To say “God is love” implies that all His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, which is – to love. The theological consequences of this principle are far-reaching. Verse 9 is a restatement of the great Johannine declaration of the love of God (Jn 3:16) in terms differing only slightly from the form give in the Fourth gospel. It reminds us once again that in speaking of the love of God we are thinking of loving action, definite, concrete and recognizable on the historical plane. Verse 10 underlines one point in this declaration which is of fundamental importance: the Christian religion starts not with man’s love for God, but with God’s love for man, and with God’s love expressed in specific action in history.[1]
The meaning of the word [agape] must in fact be understood from the Gospel itself; and the pit and marrow of the Gospel is this: God’s sending of His Son to be the propitiation for our sins… It means that the coming of Christ, and in particular His death ‘for our sins, according to the scripture’ (1 Cor 15:3), constitutes the means by which we are cleansed from the taint of sin, and enter into the sphere of divine forgiveness, with the newness of life that it brings. That God provided such means for us, at such a cost, indicates what is meant by the love of God.[2]
This is enhanced by Anthony Thiselton's discussion of love in his massive commentary on 1 Corinthians, where he writes: Love denotes above all a stance or attitude which shows itself in acts of will as regard, respect, and concern for the welfare of the other. It is therefore profoundly christological, for the cross is the paradigm case of the act of will and stance which places welfare of others above the interests of the self.[3]
While I'm not sure how to answer Chris' final question, I do take refuge in the love of GOD, and I do try and share that love with anyone who is interested.
[1] C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles (Hodder & Stoughton, 1953) pg. 110 [2] Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, pg. 112
[3] A. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NIGTC (Eerdmans, ), pg. 1035

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Will God Remember?

Still delving into a deep well of Hebrew theology, DanO has caused me to seriously think about some stuff. Dan has his own excellent blog: Poser or Prophet: On Journeying With Those in Exile. Be sure to check that out. He offers various thoughts, on some biblical topics as well as theological which have caused me to sit down and think deeply.
Back to God and Memory, Dan raises the interesting question of Exodus 2:23-25
After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
This fascinating passage is followed by a tradition of questioning whether or not Yhwh will remember his covenant to Israel. Listening to Tom Wright's lectures on Romans, while driving into the city recently, I was reminded of his four-fold plan of studying and reading: Exegesis > Theology > History > Praxis. It's a very helpful model, but I find that I'm always mixing them up (in fact I think the biblical writers do this all the time, especially Paul), and actually struggling to separate them - I think because of my view that the Scriptures have authority over my life, that they speak beyond their intended audience and to me now, and that someone I must respond to them. But that's another story - Back to Yhwh.
Did Israel really think that GOD had forgotten them? Does God actually become unaware of situations? One can easily suggest the scenario of Gen 18. God has heard rumours of disaster on the earth, so he "comes down" to see if it's true. Is this all part and parcel of anthropomorphic language, or is this actually conveying something about how God has chosen to interact with humanity?
I'm getting Fretheim, Durham and Brueggemann's commentary on Exodus so that I can explore this further, but in my own life, I'm pondering about whether GOD has forgotten some. And is Jaques Ellull right that the task of the community is to remind GOD of his covenant with humanity? Have we succeeded in this task? Are we even aware of such a mandate? Does it even matter to us? SHA!
Much to think through...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Does God get Amnesia?

Still perusing the Hebrew narrative I find myself struck by an odd notion, repeated in the New Testament, of God declaring that He will forget the sins of Israel. This raises the fascinating theological and philosophical question as to whether or not God can actually forget. The scriptures seem quite adamant on this. In the words of Miroslav Volf, The “miracle of miracles, God doesn’t even remember our sins (Isa 43:25; Jer 31:34; Heb 8:12; 10:17 see also the psalms where God is asked to forget, which presupposes that God can forget: Psalm 79:8 & 25:7). They are just gone, gone from reality and gone from memory.” [Volf, Free of Charge, pg. 142-143]

Since Open Theism has taken us further in discussing and illuminating God’s relationship to humanity, I’m asking the question as to God and Memory. Does God’s mind erase information? (I realise that there are immediately problems with referring to God’s mind, but I can’t find another way to speak about this) Or is something else meant by the verses quoted above? What does this suggest about God’s omniscience? Does God have perfect past knowledge? Volf has explored some of this in his recent offering: The End of Memory. But to my knowledge, and please feel free to fill in the gaps, this has not been extensively discussed. The commentaries on the various passages noted above, either completely ignore this issue, fail to grasp the issue, or merely restate the issue. What I'm looking for is some clear and critical thinking on this topic - other than my own of course...
A tentative thought, is to suggest that God not remembering Israel's sin means that the issue that was affecting the relationship between YHWH and Israel has been decisively dealt with, so that when YHWH looks at Israel that is not the first thought that comes to mind - but rather, Israel is viewed through the lens of sins having been dealt with. The problem with this thought, is that it flatly ignores the literal statements of Scripture and offers rather an explanation, that appears to be based on an anthropomorphic understanding of these passages. Which seems unlikely in my own hermeneutical understanding.
So my final remark is to simply accept that God forgets sins. But this seems to counter-intuitive. Like my mind is being held captive to philosophy... Does God really forget my sins? Should we rejoice with Volf at this "miracle of miracles"? Indeed, if true, if would constitute a miracle of miracles...
Comments, questions, criticisms? All welcome...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Confessions - Meme

From Ben Myer: Peter Leithart lists a series of theological “confessions” – so I thought I’d do the same.
These are quite different and I found myself unsure as to whether to share these confessions with you all, but in the Spirit of honesty, here's what I actually think...
I confess: I started my theological journey as a strict Calvinist.

I confess: I never felt like I understood what the gospels were about, until I read Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright.

I confess: that I sometimes think being an ivory tower theologian (scholar) would be fun.

I confess: I think theologians have missed [lost] the plot if they neglect commentaries and serious biblical exegesis.

I confess: I don’t quite get how some can passionately read and study all about Christianity and God and yet be so disconnected from His presence and mission.

I confess: I despise novels, especially Christian novels.

I confess: Pannenberg is one of my heroes.

I confess: that Paul Tillich, Richard Dawkins and Craig Blomberg annoy me.

I confess: although it’s fashionable to say bad things about Augustine, I think we should wholeheartedly support and embrace this trend!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hunting the Beast of Doubt- Responding to DeConick

April DeConick asks the cynical question: Why do these conclusions continue to be drawn by biblical scholars, as if the canonical gospels are any more accurate (or "peerless") theologies and histories than the non-canonical gospels?
[Now this is merely representative of many people's thoughts on this matter. And so my response is to all, not one.]
One could get tired of stating the obvious, but perhaps the answer to this is quite simply that having weighed the evidence, this is the best explanation we (I) have - that Matt, Marko, Lukas and Jonno are more reliable in ascertaining information about Jesus of Nazareth than Thomas, Judas, Mary or other gospels from the early centuries. The rhetoric displayed by DeConick & others seems to suggest that it is self-evident that "None of our texts are histories, let alone accurate histories. And how much historical information we can actually reap out of any of them, and the procedures for doing so, are questions more problematic than not."
In fact, I disagree. I think Lukas is an able historian, not in the modern sense of that word, but having surveyed the evidence & arguments I trust that he conveys reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth. I trust that he has used his sources wisely, and has testified to the reality and essence of Jesus' mission, message, and life. In general, I would reply to the quick retort: "where is the evidence?" by saying: "The evidence is in my library; read it, master it, tell me what's wrong with it in such a way that your objections actually outweigh the arguments made in this material, and then I might listen to you." I may not have read everything, but I've read and studied enough over the past seven years to make an informed and honest decision regarding the state of the question.
Now, lest I sound arrogant, I am reminded of the words of my former principle: Feel free to help me out: Sit me on your cyber-spatial couch and give me some therapy. Show me where I've missed something or made a fallicious reference, or neglected pivotal evidence. Failing that, stop whining about people who come to different conclusions. Offer critically engaging arguments with evidence (or point to works which actually do so, and don't resort to ad hominem), then we may realise the folly of our ways, and change our minds. Failing that, why not reconsider your own position, and realise that perhaps things are not self-evident, and maybe you have missed something...
Thoughts, comments and criticisms welcomed...
Nice chatting...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Blackwell Bible Commentaries

The blurb from Blackwell reads as follows...

The Blackwell Bible Commentaries offer a genuinely new approach in their emphasis on the way the Bible has been used and interpreted through the ages, from the church fathers through to current popular culture, and in spheres as diverse as art and politics, hymns and official church statements.

These are the first commentaries to place an emphasis on the Bible in literature, music and art; the Bible in history and politics; and the Bible in theology and religion. The volumes explore the fascinating reception history of the Bible, since what people believe a sacred text like the Bible means is often as interesting and historically important - theologically, politically, morally and aesthetically - as what it originally meant.

This outstanding series will be appreciated by students, their teachers, and anyone who wishes to understand how the Bible has been interpreted down the ages, and is still used in contemporary culture. Further information about the series is available from the Blackwell Bible Commentaries website at

The webiste offers sample chapters for free, so be sure to check it out. Christopher Rowland played a part in the one on Revelation, which I'm sure will be good. Anyone know anything about this series or read anything more about it?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hermeneutics of Trust

Reading through the Pope's new book on Jesus, and I found a most helpful discussion on what Richard Hays terms the hermeneutics of trust (See his article: Salvation by Trust? Reading the Bible Faithfully available from Religion Online).

The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history – that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity. And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly pure scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast the times.

The theological debate between Jesus and the devil is a dispute over the correct interpretation of Scripture, and it is relevant to every period of history. The hermeneutical question lying at the basis of proper scriptural exegesis is this: What picture of God are we working with? The dispute about interpretation is ultimately a dispute about who God is. Yet in practice, the struggle over the image of God, which underlies the debate about valid biblical interpretation, is decided by the picture we form of Christ: Is he, who remained without worldly power, really the Son of the Living God?[1]
Thus, the question over starting assumptions and how worldviews affect interpretation are always to be at the front of the researchers mind. How does my faith (presupposition), affect the way I read, understand and interpret? Does it prohibit me from accessing the truth? Or does it allow me to penetrate further into the mystery of what actually happened, because I am not constrained by the beast of doubt?
[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007) pg. 35-36

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

G'day Kiwi's

Funny story, apparently one of our Kiwi readers had the most unusual encounter with my little sister last week.
A reader of this blog from Auckland, New Zealand, went to the Salon to have her hair done and they started talking about this blog. Apparently she mentioned this blog and my sister curiously started asking various questions which led to the unveiling of my identity as her brother!
So, to whoever you are, glad you enjoy the blog!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Well, blogging has been slow due to work and some different reading. I'm thoroughly enjoying John Goldingay at the moment. The newly released commentary on Psalm 1-41 is outstanding, the translation in it fresh and helpful. Israel's Gospel, volume 1 of a projected three volumes (Volume 2, Israel's Faith has just arrived here), is one of the best books on the Hebrew narrative I have ever read. It is a solid, and exceptionally insightful book - with a few links to the New Testament as well.
Around the blogosphere there is some exciting stuff happening. Mark Goodacre alerts us to The Faraday Institute of Science and Religion, which has amazing audio, vision lectures, with notes and pdf files and even some powerpoint presentations - from scholars like McGrath, Polkinghorne (My favourite) to Simon Conway-Morris and my former lecturer at Auckland, Graeme Finlay. If this tickles your fance, check it out...
Michael Pahl begins an exciting series on "The Gospel" which is helpful. Mike Bird swims against the tide by questioning "Q" and then the so-called rupture between Peter and Paul, with links to Mark's gospel. My own view on Q scholarship is ably described by John Meier:

I cannot help thinking that biblical scholarship would be greatly advanced if every morning all exegetes would repeat as a mantra: 'Q is a hypothetical document whose exact extension, wording, originating community, strata, and stages of redaction cannot be known.' This daily devotion might save us flights of fancy that are destined, in my view, to end in skepticism.

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol 2, p. 178.

In other spheres, Chris Tilling is hosting a review and interview with Chris VanLandingham about his new book: Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. Be sure to check them both out. Ben Witherington remarks that he is,
reminded of the intellectual responsibility of Christians to discourse with our culture at a level that can reach even the brightest of the potential converts. It's time to stop dumbing down the Gospel. It's time to boil up the people, tease their minds into active thought. For the mind is a gift from God, and is not only a terrible thing to waste, its an unethical and unChristian thing to waste.
Which leads finally to the post by my nemesis Eddie, on the necessity of historical questions in Christian faith. It's a great quote and should make those concerned to advance the Kingdom think, rethink and then deploy their intentions based on sound reasoning and clear thinking.
Back to work for me... The Psalms are calling... ANd my Hebrew is useless...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Importance of Apologetics

For my inaugural post, I thought I would share a quote which rightly captures the importance of the intellect in becoming a follower of Jesus. Although it is (slightly) outside the main focus of this blog (biblical studies), it is nevertheless tightly wed to it. In an atmosphere of sensationalism, conspiracy theories, and bad scholarship surrounding Jesus and the rise of the Christian movment, the area of Christian origins should (in my opinion) be the focal point of our dialogue with our contemporaries. So without further delay:
Commitment to Christ is a matter for the entire person, not for his mind alone; and intellectual conviction (if, indeed, it can be had at all without the whole person being involved) is not the whole business. But the whole business, precisely because it concerns the whole person, can never be achieved in defiance of the intellect. Reason, though not the whole, is a part of the personal response; and the attempt to bring to light the falseness of certain allegedly rational objections is therefore not unimportant.
-C. F. D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Implications of Certain Features of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1967), 2-3

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ezekiel 16

Ezekiel writes to shock and to shake, and reaches his most shocking so far here in his epic portrayal of the harrowing life story of Ms. Jerusalem. If it opens in the beguiling manner of a “rags-to-riches” fairy tale, it soon devastates the audience with the extend to which no one lives happily ever after as its camera moves from abandoned baby to nubile beauty to nymphomaniac whore to brazen adulteress to heartless child killer, a woman no better than her foreign parents and arguably worse than her sisters Samaria and Sodom. It is the prophetic equal to a four-hour movie blockbuster with repeated scenes of sexual violence and violence on children, which no one under 18 is allowed to see. It became another passage in Ezekiel which rabbinic leadership hesitated to have read in worship.
John Goldingay

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Theology for ALL

How disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theology is the business of a few theoreticians who are specially appointed for the purpose, to whom the rest, as hearty practical men, may sometimes listen with half an ear, though for their own part they boast of living “quite untheologically” for the demands of the day (“love”). As though these practical men were not continually preaching and speaking and writing, and were not genuinely questioned as to the rightness of their activity in this regard! As though there were anything more practical than giving this question its head, which means doing the work of theology and dogmatics! Again, how disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theological reflection is a matter for quiet situations and periods that suit and invite contemplation, a kind of peace-time luxury for which we are not only permitted but even commanded to find no time should things become really serious and exciting! As though there could be any more urgent task for a Church under assault from without than that of consolidating itself within, which means doing theological work! As though the venture of proclamation did not mean that the Church permanently finds itself in an emergency! As though theology could be done properly without reference to this constant emergency! Let there be no mistake. Because of these distorted ideas about theology, and dogmatics in particular, there arises and persists in the life of the Church a lasting and growing deficit for which we cannot expect those particularly active in this function to supply the needed balance. The whole Church must seriously want a serious theology if it is to have a serious theology.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), 76-77.
[HT: David]