Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Selwyn on Peter's Audience

Reading through the commentaries on 1 Peter, I'm struck by this response by Selwyn to the view that first Peter is primarily directed to a Jewish audience.
This interpretation of the facts, however, encounters serious difficulties at certain points, and, though sufficient to put the extreme “Gentile” view out of court, is too narrow for its parts. While, for example, the “vain conversation” (ματαία ἀναστροφῆς) {1:18} of the readers’ life before conversion admits of the view that they had been lapsed Jews, the description of it as “handed down by tradition from your fathers” (πατροπαραδότου) {1:18} could hardly have been used of any but Gentiles. Again, though many Jews may have fallen into the vices named in iv. 3-5, they are typically Gentile excesses, and certainly no Gentile could have been “surprised” if Jews abstained from taking part in them. Further, the careful attention given in ii. 18ff. to the duties of slaves, even though based on common sources, indicates that there were many slaves among St. Peter’s readers; and it is most improbably that these were Jews.[1]
I'm beginning to think that Witherington has succeeded in demonstrating that a Jewish contingent among a Gentile Christian community is probable, but not that 1 Peter is predominantly addressed to a Jewish Christian community. But I'm continuing to read Witherington, as he has definitely made his case well, if not ultimately persuasive.
[1] Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter, pg. 43

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Not so Idle thoughts" article...

Ben Witherington “Not so idle thoughts about eidolothuton,” TynB 44.2 (1993), 237-54.

Does anyone have a digital copy of this article, that they'd like to please email to me? [primalhcc AT gmail . com] Thanks!


It is commonly assumed that eidolothuton is a polemical term created by early Jews to refer to meat sacrificed to a pagan god. An exhaustive search of the data in the TLG and in the papyri casts doubts on this hypothesis. All of the references to eidolothuton in the sources are found in Christian texts, with two exceptions; and both of these exceptions may have been influenced by Christian redaction. In any case, it appears that neither of these texts antedates the Corinthian correspondence. Thus, this term may have originated in early Jewish Christianity.

A study of all the NT references to eidolothuton reveals that this term in the early period was distinguishable from hierothuton (sacred food), and that it meant meat sacrificed to and eaten in the presence of an idol, or in the temple precincts. Numerous reference to eidolothuton in the Greek Fathers show that Chrysostom and others understood this to be the meaning of the term in Acts 15 and in other contexts.

Several possible implications of the above are: (1) the Decree in Acts 15 is about Gentiles refraining from meals and immorality in pagan temples, not about them keeping a modicum of Jewish, or Noachic food laws; (2) 1 Cor. 8-10 reflects Paul's acceptance and implementation of the Decree; (3) Galatians was written before the Decree and reflects the struggle that led to the Decree; (4) Paul and James were in basic agreement in regard to what Gentiles needed to do to maintain table fellowship with Jewish Christians-avoid pagan feasts and immorality. Neither imposed circumcision or food laws on Gentiles. The latter was the position of the Judaising faction in the Jerusalem Church who were more conservative than James, Peter, or Paul. As C. Hill's recent 'Hellenists and Hebrews' shows, F.C. Baur's view of early Christianity is no longer adequate.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

1 Peter 4:3 - written for Jews?

Torrey Seland provides a helpful overview of Ben Witherington's arguments for a predominantly Jewish audience of 1 Peter. I agree with Seland that Withering has mounted an impressive case for a Jewish audience.

Doing some research I found this statement by Craig Keener:
An audience in Asia Minor might consist mainly of Jewish Christians, but Peter’s audience probably includes Gentile Christians (cf. 1:18; 4:3–4).
Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (IVP, 1997).
The type of commentary doesn't allow for footnotes, but Keener is well known to be an authority on first century sources and places. And thus he appears to confirm Witherington's position that these areas had sizeable Jewish-Christian population.

I must confess that 1 Peter 4:3 sill suggests to me a Gentile audience. I'm struggling to see how this can refer to Jewish Christians.
ἀρκετὸς γὰρ ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι πεπορευμένους ἐν ἀσελγείαις ἐπιθυμίαις οἰνοφλυγίαις κώμοις πότοις καὶ ἀθεμίτοις εἰδωλολατρίαις
You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.
Witherington’s comments on 1 Pet 4:3 are all the more therefore surprising as he notes the following concerning this verse:
Notice that all of these vices listed are things that went on at pagan festivals or dinner parties, including in temples. Drunkenness and orgies are forbidden, but notice also the prohibition against idolatry, here called “disgusting” or “lawless [athemitois] idolatry. Pagan idol feasts is a subject that Paul addresses as well at length in 1 Corinthians 8-10, as does Acts 15’s decree articulated by James, and we may see this as one subject for taboo in Revelation 2-3 as well. Second Corinthians 6:14-7:1 is the Pauline form of the same advice: “Do not become entangled in pagan idol feasts and so be unequally yoked spiritually with unbelievers.” The association of idolatry and immorality is quite natural in Jewish polemic, because it all happens in the same venue: the pagan temple.[1]
It is exceptionally difficult to see how this refers to a Jewish audience. Can we suppose that all Jews living in the area’s of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, have been engaged in such activities? Or is this just hyperbole? Can we imagine a sizeable population of Jews, even Hellenized Jews doing all this? Engaging in orgies?[2] Idolatry? The question then becomes, in what sense were they still Jewish?

Yes, Witherington can marshal texts from early Judaism that warn of “debauchery”[3] and “idolatry”[4] but what help are these texts in illuminating the situation at hand?[5] Was Peter aware of these texts? Would Peter have referred to all Jewish Christians of these areas the way he does in this vice list? One should also note that some early commentators on this passage suggest a Gentile audience.[6] Thus, there is no consensus or unanimity among patristic commentators that Peter writes to a Jewish-Christian audience.[7]

[1] Witherington, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter, pg. 196. Witherington does reference an earlier article of his, “Not so Idle Thoughts about eidolothyton,” TynBul 44, no 2 (1993): 237-54. So one wonders if this advances his case for understanding this as referring to Jews. [If anyone has a digital copy of this article and would like to send it to me, I would be MOST grateful!]

[2] Michaels, 1 Peter, pg. 223, translates vs. 3 as “There was time enough in the past to have done what the Gentiles wanted, as you went along with them in acts of immorality, lust, drunken orgies, feasts, revelries, and lawless acts of idolatry.”
[3] Testament of Judah 14:2-3
[4] Testament of Judah 23:1
[5] Witherington, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter, pg. 196-7
[6] See ACCS 11:112. Thus, not all patristic commentators viewed 1 Peter as written to Jewish Christians.
[7] Contra what Witherington, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter, pg. 17 appears to suggest.

My Students!

This year, I had the privilege of teaching these fine students the first nine chapters of Acts. We had a great, but rather intense time, of working through all the introductory issues, and some exegesis!
They were a great bunch of people, and I look forward to hanging out with them in March, for the next installment - Acts 10-19!
So if you're one of them, get cracking!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jesus, the Jumper!

In the quest for the historical Jesus over the years, various elements of Jesus identity, mission and message have been emphasised.[1] I am convinced now, that we have missed a significant part of Jesus’ identity as a JUMPER. Jumper's are a peculiar breed in Scripture, and because there are not many of them, this is often overlooked when studying Jesus. But before we look at the Hebrew background, let us offer some definitive gospel passages that suggest Jesus’ identity as a Jumper.
Luke 24:31 αὐτῶν δὲ διηνοίχθησαν οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ ἐπέγνωσαν αὐτόν καὶ αὐτὸς ἄφαντος ἐγένετο ἀπ' αὐτῶν.
Luke 24:35-39 "καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐξηγοῦντο τὰ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ καὶ ὡς ἐγνώσθη αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου ταῦτα δὲ αὐτῶν λαλούντων αὐτὸς ἔστη ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς εἰρήνη ὑμῖν πτοηθέντες δὲ καὶ ἔμφοβοι γενόμενοι ἐδόκουν πνεῦμα θεωρεῖν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς τί τεταραγμένοι ἐστέ καὶ διὰ τί διαλογισμοὶ ἀναβαίνουσιν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν ἴδετε τὰς χεῖράς μου καὶ τοὺς πόδας μου ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι αὐτός ψηλαφήσατέ με καὶ ἴδετε ὅτι πνεῦμα σάρκα καὶ ὀστέα οὐκ ἔχει καθὼς ἐμὲ θεωρεῖτε ἔχοντα."
Lukan scholarship is more hesitant to state a fully fledged “jumper” identity, even though scholars like Nolland will reference Philip jumping as a parallel.[2] Even the superb commentary by Green fails to interact seriously with this issue.[3] Time did not permit me to further analyse other commentators, but it is unlikely that they have given this much thought! John 20:19 οὔσης οὖν ὀψίας τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων καὶ τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων ὅπου ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταὶ διὰ τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς εἰρήνη ὑμῖν
John 20:26 καὶ μεθ' ἡμέρας ὀκτὼ πάλιν ἦσαν ἔσω οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ Θωμᾶς μετ' αὐτῶν ἔρχεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον καὶ εἶπεν εἰρήνη ὑμῖν.
Johannine views of Jesus are more definitive in noting Jesus’ identity as a Jumper. Thus, Craig Keener, commenting on John 20:19 notes that:
John may wish to underline the nature of the resurrection body – corporeal (20:20) but capable of acting as if incorporeal (20:19), though presumably not like the “phantoms” of Greek though that could pass through the thong of a bolt in a door (which would contradict the image of 20:20)… the repetition of the closed doors in 20:26, again as the context of Jesus’ sudden appearance among them, is emphatic; John wishes to underline that Jesus appeared despite closed doors and to the disciples’ astonishment.[4]
Ben Witherington suggests that:
Although, the Fourth Evangelist does not engage in speculation about the matter, he clearly portrays Jesus in all the Easter stores as having differing properties from those he had before the crucifixion. He is seen as still a physical human being, but one who is also much more, and can appear in or disappear from a room without using a door.[5]
Beasley-Murray notes that this incidence “shows the ability of Jesus to presence himself in any place.”[6] This final quotation from Beasley-Murray concludes our scholarly evidence for the notion of Jesus as a “jumper”.
My case is simple. Having seen the movie: Jumper, on Saturday night, I am convinced that this is not only our destiny but a common scriptural phenomenon. Scripture is full of Jumpers! The first of course is Enoch (Gen 5:24); then Elijah (2 Kings 2:11 ); Jesus (Matt 28:9; Luke 24:35-39; John 20:19) and finally Philip (Acts 8:39-40). There don’t appear to be any references to Paul jumping, unless one counts 2 Cor 12:2. But this would have to be a “in body” experience for it to count as “jumping”.
Recognising that Jesus is probably the more difficult case to prove, it nevertheless appears to be the case. Questions however do remain. When did he become a Jumper? Was it only after the resurrection, as Witherington suggests? Whatever the explanation, given the reasons listed above, I submit to you that the BEST explanation is that Jesus was a jumper. Thus, Jesus, and then the first followers, are following in the prophetic steps of the past, possibly claiming their mantle of gifting. This suggests a strong intimacy with the Spirit as the means by which people JUMP. And because Jesus was a jumper, that is our destiny. And that looks FREAKIN AMAZING!
So where would you jump to?
For those of you who have not seen the movie, can you please do the appropriate research as to times and venues and make a point of seeing this. If for no other reason than to give yourself a break from reading.
[1] For a helpful introduction to research see G. Theissen and A. Merz, The Historical Jesus (SCM, 1998) and C. A. Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries (Brill, 1995) pp. 1-49.
[2] Nolland, Luke 18:35-24:53, pg. 1206
[3] Green, The Gospel of Luke, pg. 853-55
[4] Craig Keener, The Gospel of John, 2:1201
[5] Ben Witherington, John’s Wisdom, pg. 342
[6] Beasley-Murray, John, pg. 378

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Audience of 1 Peter [II]

For those interested in the discussion between myself, Joel B. Green and Torrey Seland regarding the audience of 1 Peter, and more specifically Ben Witherington's arguments for a predominantly Jewish audience then check out the intro to 1 Peter by Witherington and Torrey Selland's post 1 Peter written for Jews? (II).
Reading through Witherington's arguments, they don't appear as weak as I had first imagined. His explanations for the critical passages [1:14, 18; 2:10, 25 and 4:3-4], appear to be reasonable, even though I'm still not convinced that his case is a strong one. The link above, to the introduction, is a valuable resource if you don't have the book yet [Yes, mine did arrive yesterday!].
On other matters related to this, Joel Green, author of the THNT commentary on 1 Peter, has directed my attention to E. Randolph Richards' book, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. I'm hoping that this will deal with the issue raised in Green's commentary, quoted before, regarding "Letter-Carriers" as performers and interpreters of the epistles that they carry and deliver.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Audience of 1 Peter

Over at Torrey Seland's blog, there is an interesting conversation regarding Ben Witherington's proposal that the audience of 1 Peter is mainly Jewish. Joel Green, author of the new THNT commentary on Peter offers his thoughts on Seland's blog. As Seland notes, this goes against the scholarly trend, which sees this epistle as written to a predominantly Gentile audience. I find myself in agreement with Seland who states: "I came to realize that the descriptions inherent in passages as 1:14, 18; 2:10, 25 and 4:3-4 were hard to read as labels of former Jews." So it will be fascinating to see how Witherington handles these texts and the scholarship surrounding them.

My copy of Witherington's commentary will arrive today hopefully, and then perhaps I can make further comments on this interesting topic. I must confess to be enjoying 1 Peter rather more than expected. Not that I anticipated anything bad, but Joel Green's commentary is thoroughly helpful and absolutely brilliant in the exegesis and theological commentary. Anyone interested in 1 Peter should check this out immediately!