Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Happy Holidays Break

Greetings friends and fellow bloggers. Well, blogging has been slow these last few months. I've finished up the first half of my MTh, and am now in the process of writing courses for next year. So I've decided to take a bit of a break from blogging and return in the New Year. So to everyone, have a great break, take a rest, enjoy your friends and families and read some good books.
Ciao for now...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Church in a Workship?

McKinnish Bridges, in her recent commentary on the Thessalonian correspondence argues that the Church in Thessaloniki was composed of artisans who met in their workshop as a voluntary association.

If one imagines the community reading Paul’s words as a group of artisans linked by common vocation and workspace, is one able to understand this text more clearly? I believe so. The passages related to work, to community living, to physical labour have much more meaning when the community is visualised as a working community of manual labourers… The social world of artisans creates a new backdrop for understanding these letters. As I read Paul’s words, I see a community of skilled artisans who have gathered in their workroom to hear his letters read. They pause from their task, wipe the dust from their hands, and listen to their artisan-colleague, Paul, who in earlier days shared their same tools and workspace. In that context of dust and death, craft and faith, the members of the community learn how to live more closely in relationship to God and to one another.

See McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 8, 10.

It's a fascinating proposal that I'll be giving some careful thought.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To Know GOD!

James Merick has eloquently put what I have felt for a while now...

It says something terrible about the state of the discipline [contemporary theology] that it is utterly objective and scholarly, that one can be successful without ever having to pray, meditate upon Scripture, participate in the life of the church, serve the poor, counsel the downtrodden or just repent of one’s selfishness and become more loving. It is a blight against contemporary theology that the mark of success has to do with argumentation or even conformance to some tradition, intellectual or confessional, not holiness. That one can be considered a knowledgeable theologian without ever really having to be affected by the knowledge they have is at the very least curious for a discipline concerned with knowledge of the ultimate ontologically reality, God... Knowing God entails personal change, for one cannot truly know God without coming into active, transformative relationship to him. Theologians thus do not know various doctrines, even if they can argue compellingly for them, if their selves are not conformed, not taught by the content. Calvin thus recognized that theology is not only plagued by false gods or idolatry, but by false selves as well. For him, it is impossible to retain a false self and yet know God in truth. In this way, what makes for a successful theologian is not simply good intellectual traits, but, more fundamentally, virtue and piety. Theologians are those who do not simply pontificate and speculate about the truth for others, but above all those who have been personally taught by Truth, who have been grasped by the content of their task to the point of being conformed to it. True theologians do not fool themselves into thinking that theological problems are solved conceptually (in other words, enough babbling about the perils of capitalism and more getting on with providing relief to those who suffer from its oppression). True theologians don’t master their discipline, but are mastered by it, being moved not simply intellectually by thoughts, but personally by realities shorthanded by doctrines.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jesus Interrupted

Michael Kruger, Associate Professor of NT and Academic Dean at RTS in Charlotte, NC, reviews Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. Here’s the conclusion:

In the end, Jesus Interrupted can be best summarized as a book filled with ironies. Ironic that it purports to be about unbiased history but rarely presents an opposing viewpoint; ironic that it claims to follow the scholarly consensus but breaks from it so often; ironic that it insists on the historical-critical method but then reads the gospels with a modernist, overly-literal hermeneutic; ironic that it claims no one view of early Christianity could be “right” (Walter Bauer) but then proceeds to tell us which view of early Christianity is “right;” ironic that it dismisses Papias with a wave of the hand but presents the Gospel of the Ebionites as if it were equal to the canonical four; and ironic that it declares everyone can “pick and choose” what is right for them, but then offers its own litany of moral absolutes. Such intellectual schizophrenia suggests there is more going on in Jesus Interrupted than meets the eye. Though veiled in the garb of scholarship, this book is religious at the core. Ehrman does not so much offer history as he does theology, not so much academics as he does his own ideology. The reader does not get a post-religious Ehrman as expected, but simply gets a new-religious Ehrman–an author who has traded in one religious system (Christianity) for another (postmodern agnosticism). Thus, Ehrman is not out to squash religion as so many might suppose. He is simply out to promote his own. He is preacher turned scholar turned preacher. And of all the ironies, perhaps that is the greatest.

The Neglected Apostle

Given my research into all things Petrine, I'm really looking forward to this upcoming volume by the late Martin Hengel.

Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle (Paperback)~ Martin Hengel (Author), Thomas Trapp (Translator). Many biblical scholars treat the apostle Peter as a vague figure in the early church and regard the early tradition as something that cannot be trusted. In Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle Martin Hengel rejects the common minimalist view about Peter’s role in the Scriptures and in the early church. Arguing that Peter is wrongly underappreciated, Hengel shows that Peter was, in fact, central to developing both the Jewish and Gentile Christian missions. / Though Hengel’s work rests on meticulous scholarship, it is written in a manner that any interested reader will find clear and enlightening.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reading an Apocalyptic Prophecy - Revelation

Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. This is explicit in 1:11, what is revealed to John (what he 'sees') he is to write and send to the seven churches which are here named. This command applies to all the vision and revelations which follow in the rest of the book. The habit of referring to chapters 2-3 as the seven ‘letters’ to the churches is misleading. These are not as such letters but prophetic messages to each church. It is really the whole book of Revelation which is one circular letter to the seven churches. The seven messages addressed individually to each church are introductions to the rest of the book which is addressed to all seven churches. Thus we must try to do justice to the three categories of literature – apocalypse, prophecy and letter – into which Revelation seems to fall. [Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 2.]
The whole book of Revelation is a report of visionary revelation, but it also includes oracular prophecy within it. This occurs in the prologue (1:8) and the epilogue (22:12-13, 16, 20); the seven messages to the churches (2:1-3:22) are oracles written as Christ’s word to the churches; and also throughout the book (13:9-10; 14:13b; 16:15) there are prophetic oracles which interrupt the accounts of the visions. [Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 3.]

Monday, November 09, 2009

Phil 2:5-11 as Pattern

ilThe life of Christ shows that the way up is by stepping down, that the way to gain for oneself is by giving up oneself, that the way to life is by death, and that the way to win the praise of God is by steadfastly serving others. The teaching of Jesus during his years on earth was articulated not only by the words he spoke but by the life he lived… In his humility, Jesus did what he asked others to do. And it was his great act of humility that was sung about by the church as its members met together to worship and praise him who is now exalted to the highest station in heaven. Placing the Christ-hymn precisely in this place in his letter, Paul simply wants to say, “Follow this example, pattern your life after his life.” Imitation of Christ, then, is the pattern of discipleship in Philippians.[1]
[1] G. F. Hawthorne, “The Imitation of Christ: Discipleship in Philippians.” in Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament Edited by R. N. Longenecker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 169.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Christological Paradigm

When the first hearers of Matthew’s Gospel heard Jesus’ call to suffer rather than to inflict suffering, to accept death rather than to inflict death, to reject all efforts to save themselves from their plight by military action and to leave their deliverance to God, they knew that the one who gave such scandalous instruction had himself lived and died in accord with that call.
Gene Davenport, Into the Darkness: Discipleship and the Sermon on the Mount (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), 15.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blessing the Revolution

Just as the Decalogue begins with a declaration of fact – God’s liberation of Israel from bondage in proof of his love (Ex 20:2) – so the Sermon on the Mount begins in the beatitudes with a declaration of fact – God’s compassionate turning towards the disadvantaged, bringing them into his liberating reign of peace and justice.

Chris Marshall, “Blessing the Revolution,” 5.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

Beatitudes and Kingdom

When God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done, no one will have to be poor in Spirit, mourn, be meek, or hunger and thirst for righteousness, but everyone who is ruled by God and does God’s will is merciful, pure in heart, committed to peacemaking, and willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness.

Mark Allan Powell, “Matthew’s Beatitudes: Reversals and Rewards of the Kingdom” CBQ July (1996) 460-478, here 475.
This is quite possibly the best article I've read thus far on the Beatitudes. Powell convincingly makes the case that the beatitudes be read in two stanza's (5:3-6 & 7-10 - each containing 36 words, 11-12 contain 35 words. 5:6 & 10 both end with righteousness, and 5:3-6 is marked by alliteration in the Greek text). The first section deals with reversals of misfortune, and the second deals with rewards for virtues embodied in praxis. Thus moving forward the debate between those who see it primarily as reversals or primarily as rewards. He also widens the referent of God's blessing to include those beyond the community of disciples. According to Powell, when God's kingdom reigns, everyone marginalised will benefit, not just those within the community of faith.
If you're interested in this section of scripture, make sure you engage with this article.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Beatitudes - Quote

The initial reference point for exploring the Matthean beatitudes is given in Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near (4:17), coupled with the conviction that this is good news (4:23). It seems likely that the distinctive third person format of 5:3-10 allows these verse to serve functionally as an expanded restatement of 4:17: this is what is now imminent. This is good news specifically to those who find themselves in these identified situations (a list which is probably designed to echo key elements of the shared experience of God’s people: chastened by the humiliation of exile and beyond, and living as a subject people; longing for God to put things finally to rights; peacemakers, not motivated by a thirst for vengeance, having discovered the depth of their own need for mercy; seeking to be pure in heart; and ready to suffer, if need be, as those identified with the way of God). Jesus brings good news for those who have travelled the distance with God and been educated by the history of their people.
John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew NIGTC (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2005), 196-197.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Philippians 3 and the New Perspective

The Law/Torah is not a system of legalism by which a person tries to earn/merit a place in God’s covenant community. The question Paul is often dealing with is: Should ex-pagan’s be circumcised or not? Or more directly, “how do you define the people of God?”[1] The Torah provides the governing paradigm for how the people of God are to demonstrate that they are indeed part of the covenant people. The question in Judaism is, “how do you know who’s in and who’s out?” What marks out God’s people? Historically, the symbols of circumcision, Sabbath, food-laws, temple and land have demarcated the people of God. A version of the New Perspective suggests that the faithfulness of Jesus has inaugurated a new era of the kingdom of God and in this era the people of God are demarcated by faith/loyalty to/in Jesus. Jesus is now the boundary marker of God’s covenant people.
What has all of this to do with Philippians 3? We’ll start with Wright’s translation of Philippians 3:2-11
Watch out for the dogs; watch out for the evil-workers; watch out for the mutilated ones. For it is we who are ‘the circumcision’ – we, who worship God in the Spirit, who boast in King Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh. I too, however, do have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks they have confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness in the law blameless.
But whatever gain I had, that I counted loss because of the Messiah. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worthy of the knowledge of King Jesus, my Lord, through whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and reckon them as trash, so that I may gain the Messiah, and be found in him – not having a righteousness of my own, from the law, but that which is through the faithfulness of the Messiah, the righteousness from god that comes upon faith: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.[2]
It is important to note that Paul has not named any “works” which would merit salvation. Rather, he is appealing to Israel’s ethnic identity markers.
The point to be noted in the debate occasioned by the new perspective on Paul, is that what he objects to thus far is confidence in ethnic identity, confidence in the fact of belonging to Israel, the covenant people of God, confidence in having been circumcised and thus, even as an eight-day old, having been faithful to that covenant. In speaking of Jewish confidence before God he did not turn first to thoughts of self-achievement and merit-earning deeds. Rather, it was pride in ethnic identity, of the Israelite over against the other, of Jew over against Gentile, against which he registered his first protest in setting out to express afresh what the gospel of divine righteousness meant to him.[3] The passage confirms that a central problem, which found its resolution in Paul’s understanding of how God’s righteousness worked, was Jewish confidence in their ethnic identity as Israel, the people of God, the people of the Torah, ‘the circumcision’. The implication is fairly obvious that such reliance on ethnic identity carried with it the corollary that Gentiles, ‘the uncircumcision’ as such, were debarred from the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel.[4]
It is clear that Paul undermines these boundary markers by appealing to the Spirit and Christ (3:3) as the new boundary marker of God’s people.[5] But Paul is not denigrating his Jewish heritage. Rather, when compared to knowing the Messiah, he can look back upon his ethnic identity markers as utterly worthless in attaining the righteousness of God. Rather, according to 3:9, Christ’s faithfulness (taking πίστεως Χριστοῦ as a subjective genitive) to humanity has established the righteous relationship that Paul now experiences.
What is the point of this passage within the context of Philippians? Why did Paul choose to incorporate this chapter into his epistle? How does this fit with the themes of Philippians? Wright argues that Paul used his own example of confidence and privileged status according to the flesh, and his now sacrificing all such privileged status to know Christ, as a paradigm for the Philippians to follow suit.[6] Given that some of them were Roman citizens who were perhaps prone to elitism due to their own status, Paul uses this scenario as an exemplary paradigm to show them that none of that really matters. In fact, compared to knowing Christ, it’s all σκύβαλον. They are to imitate Christ’s attitude to privilege and status, and consider others, laying down their lives for one another (2:5). Thus, we see the convergence of the New Perspective and the themes of Philippians coalescing neatly.
Bibliography on Philippians 3 and the New Perspective
N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997, 124-125
N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision London: SPCK, 2009, 119-130
J. D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul Michigan: Eerdmans, 2008, 469-490
[1] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997), 120.
[2] Wright, 123.
[3] J. D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2008), 475-476
[4] Dunn, 490
[5] cf. 1 Cor 12:3.
[6] Wright, 124

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wright and Dunn on the New Perspective

HT: Text, Community & Mission

Euangelion For those wanting more on the New Perspective: Mark Mattison: Summary of the New Perspective.

Dunn's seminal article that launched the NPP is available: The New Perspective on Paul - Dunn

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Carey on Fowl - Theological Interpretation

Greg Carey has a great set of reflections on Stephen Fowl's important little book, Theological Interpretation of Scripture. The first reflection is here, the second here, and now a third. I think Carey has done us a great service in offering his thoughtful responses. Do check it out, if you're interested in theological exegesis and interpretation - especially withregards to the issue of historical analysis. Carey has a great quote where he rhetorically asks: Isn't it wonderful how conflict often generates revelation? And isn't this a theological interpretation based on historical analysis? Do check these out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friendship in Antiquity & Philippians

The ancients valued friendship and spent much time discussing this concept. Here's a few quotes that illustrate their various views. I've specifically focussed on the concept of μιᾷ ψυχῇ as found in Philippians 1:27.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 9.8.2
Men say that one ought to love best one's best friend, and man's best friend is one who wishes well to the object of his wish for his sake, even if no one is to know of it; and these attributes are found most of all in a man's attitude towards himself, and so are all the other attributes by which a friend is defined; for, as we have said, it is from this relation that all the characteristics of friendship have extended to our neighbours. All the proverbs, too, agree with this, e.g. 'a single soul', and 'what friends have is common property', and 'friendship is equality', and 'charity begins at home'; for all these marks will be found most in a man's relation to himself; he is his own best friend and therefore ought to love himself best. It is therefore a reasonable question, which of the two views we should follow; for both are plausible.
Plutarch, De Amicorum Multitudine 96F
[I]n our friendship's consonance and harmony there must be no element unlike, uneven, or unequal, but all must be alike to engender agreement in words, counsels, opinions, and feelings, and it must be as if one soul were apportioned among two or more bodies.
Euripides, Electra 1045
My dearest, you who have a name that sounds most loved and sweet to your sister, partner in one soul with her!
A helpful discussion of friendship in antiquity, from a biblical scholar, comes to us from Luke Timothy Johnson.

In the Greek world, friendship was among the most discussed, analysed and highly esteemed relationships. Epicurus included it among the highest goods available to humans. The Pythagoreans founded a way of life on its basis. For Plato, it was the ideal paradigm for the city-state. Even the more pragmatic Aristotle considered friendship the prime metaphor and motive for society. The word “friendship” was not used lightly in these circles, nor was friendship considered simply a casual affection. On the contrary, it was regarded as a particularly intense and inclusive kind of intimacy, not only at the physical level, but above all, at the spiritual…

To be “one soul” with another meant, at the least, to share the same attitudes and values and perceptions, to see things the same way. Indeed, the friend was, in another phrase frequently repeated, “another self.”

L. T. Johnson, Brother of Jesus, Friend of God: Studies in the Letter of James (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 213-4.

This illuminates the genre of Philippians as a "Friendship" letter (Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 2-7 and deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 653). It also suggests that the theme of unity in Philippians (O’Brien, Philippians, 38) is a central concern. I would also suggest that the element of κοινωνίᾳ (partenership/fellowship), is central in Philippians.
I'm struggling to find an adequate translation for μιᾷ ψυχῇ as one soul doesn't capture the concept in contemporary usage. One life is not much better. If anyone has ideas, let me know... Back to the drawing board... conceptually that is.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Roman Galilee?

The debate rages on about how much of an influence Rome had in Galilee. For a while it looked as if Sean Freyne's older view of Galilee, as considerbly Jewish had been surpassed by Mark A. Chancey, See his «City Coins and Roman Power in Palestine.From Pompey to the Great Revolt» in Religion and Society in Roman Palestine. Old Questions and New Approaches (Routledge, 2004). and M. Chancey, Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus (Cambridge, 2005). But now Freyne has responded: Sean Freyne, “Galilee, Jesus and the Contribution of Archeology.” The Expository Times 119 (2008): 573-581 and Freyne, Sean. “Galilee and Judaea in the First Century.” Pages 37-51 in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine. Edited by Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M Young. (Cambridge University,2006). This appears to be a fluid area of debate, I'm not quite sure why, but let the discussion continue.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Philippians 1:28b

ἥτις ἐστὶν αὐτοῖς ἔνδειξις ἀπωλείας, ὑμῶν δὲ σωτηρίας
This is an extraordinarily difficult section to interpret. It offers various options which provide very different views, and has thus given rise to dispute among exegetes.[1] Before entering into such discussion, we should remember the context in which this section is found.
Paul has noted that his apparent misfortune has actually helped to advance the gospel (1:12-14). In 1:15-18 Paul describes those who preach Christ from both pure and impure motives, yet his perspective is one of indifference since what matters is that Christ is proclaimed, and in this Paul rejoices (1:18b-19a). Paul then describes his own struggle in prison, being seized by two options: life and death (1:23), and yet his perspective is that to carry on living will benefit others, and help to advance the gospel (1:24-26). We then arrive at what many have labelled the thesis statement (1:27-28a) of Philippians where Paul’s governing imperative is to “focus solely on living as citizens, worthy of the gospel of the Messiah.” Regardless of what happens to Paul, they are Stand firm in the Spirit, united together in one accord, striving together for the advancement of the gospel, not being intimidated by society.[2] In all this however, before approaching our particular phrase, we must remember Gorman’s insight that “when Paul writes autobiographically, he writes paradigmatically.”[3] Paul has not just recounted these details to merely inform the Philippians. Rather, he is intentionally describing his own response to suffering and trials, and providing them with a model of how to respond. With this in mind, we are now ready to read and interpret 28b.

ἥτις ἐστὶν αὐτοῖς ἔνδειξις ἀπωλείας, ὑμῶν δὲ σωτηρίας

For them this is a sign of destruction, but for you salvation

The questions which are raised include the following: What is the sign? What sort of destruction is this? Who is the sign for? Who is destroyed? How does the sign communicate, and what does it communicate?

As Fowl notes, most commentators understand that the “sign” or “proof” to which Paul appeals, is in fact the steadfast loyalty of the Philippian Christians in the face of great opposition.[4] Thus, the argument concerning the referent of the antecedent ἥτις, is inconsequential. What matters, is what follows next.

Fowl describes the position of many commentators on the next phrase when he writes:
The majority of the recent commentators and recent English translations take it that Paul is claiming here that the Philippians’ steadfast faith in the face of opposition is a concrete manifestation to their opponents of the opponents’ destruction.[5]
But is this necessarily the case? This reading raises the interesting question of how the opponents would interpret this sign? How would they see Christian faithfulness as a sign of their own destruction?[6] This appears implausible, and does not fit neatly with the context we have outlined above.[7]

Hawthorne and Fowl have advanced a view that I find particularly helpful in answering and explaining the questions raised above. They see this verse (28b) as offering two different ways of evaluating the Philippians’ faithfulness in the wake of fierce opposition. Hawthorne thus offers the following translation:

For although your loyalty to the faith is proof to them that you will perish, it is in fact proof to you that you will be saved – saved by God.[8]

The Philippians are to view their situation of persecution as a positive sign that they are remaining faithful, and are in fact living as citizens of heaven (1:27a; 3:20), even though those who oppose them view their faithfulness as a sign that they are going to be destroyed, through incarceration by officials and through punishments from the gods.[9] Just as Paul is currently in prison and suffering for his living worthy of the gospel (1:12-26), yet maintains a godly perspective, this verse shows us that Paul is exhorting these Philippian followers to remain faithful and live worthy of the gospel of the Messiah, despite the perspective of outsiders. As

Fowl concludes,
In 1:28 Paul is displaying two competing conceptions of the result of the Philippians’ adhering to their faith in the ways Paul admonishes. To the opponents, it is wilful flaunting of Roman authority and anticipates the Christians’ imminent destruction. In reality, it marks the salvation of the Christians. On this account, debates about whether the destruction/salvation pairing here refers to the temporal or eternal realm simply miss the point. The opponents view the Philippians’ physical destruction as testimony to their eternal perdition. For Paul and the Philippians, their steadfastness demonstrates their salvation, whether they live or die. It is simply the way they magnify Christ in their bodies (cf. 1:20).[10]
Granted this reading is not perfect, and the traditional interpretation is still plausible, we find this reading fits better with the context outlined, and thus should be considered carefully.

[1] G. D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995), 168-170; G. F. Hawthorne, Philippians (Waco: Word, 1983), 58-60 and S. E. Fowl, “Philippians 1:28b, One More Time” in New Testament Greek and Exegesis: Essays in Honour of Gerald F. Hawthorne Edited by A. M. Donaldson and T. B. Sailors. (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003), 167-179. “No one view stands head and shoulders above the rest. Indeed, all attempts to make sense of this verse end up having to supply words or concepts that are not directly expressed, but perhaps implied, in these two clauses.” (172).
[2] Fowl, 171 “As the rest of vv. 27-28 unfolds, it is clear that, for the Philippians, ordering their common life in a manner worthy of the gospel will require a set of practices in which they as a community will have to engage.”
[3] Michael Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 258
[4] Fowl, 173. See Fee, 168-169 as well as M. Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 101; P. T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991), 154.
[5] Fowl, 174. See Bockmuehl, 101; Fee, 168f.; O’Brien, 156-157. Fowl also notes this is the interpretation taken by many translations, RSV, NRSV, NEB, CEV, and NAB.
[6] Fowl, 174
[7] Beare, while taking this question seriously, proposes that the opponents would be affected psychologically by the Christians response. While this is possible, it unlikely this is what Paul had in mind. See F. W. Beare, Philippians (London: Black, 1959), 68.
[8] Hawthorne, 54
[9] Fowl, 176, “It is a concrete manifestation to the opponents of the Christians’ impending destruction, a destruction that would have entailed not only physical death but also the judgement of the gods.”
[10] Fowl, 176

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bar Kokhba Coins Discovered

GNEWS announces a discovery of important coins from the Bar Kokhba revolt. This is an exceptionally important find as it illuminates an area we are still quite ignorant about. This movement was finally dealt with by the Romans who annihilated, exterminated and eradicated them from the land (See Dio Cassius 59.13.3) in about 135 CE.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Role of Audiences in Interpretation

In light of my previous post, the Blog Father has just alerted us to The Role of the Audience in the Interpretation of Paul’s References to the Jewish Scriptures by Dr. Christopher D. Stanley.

πολιτεύεσθε - Phil 1:27a

Phil. 1:27a Μόνον ἀξίως τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τοῦ Χριστοῦ πολιτεύεσθε
Only, live as citizens (πολιτεύεσθε) worthy of the gospel of the Messiah...
Reumann: This point only: Exercise your citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ...
NLT: But whatever happens to me, you must live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ, as citizens of heaven.
NKJV: Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ...
NCV: Only one thing concerns me: Be sure that you live in a way that brings honor to the Good News of Christ.
Living Bible: But whatever happens to me, remember always to live as Christians should
As you can see, contemporary English translations opt for the word live but probably because we don't really have many alternatives, and thus lose a particular nuance of the Greek word. Thus, Reumann's translation is interpretive, but carries the particular nuance of the Greek.
πολιτεύεσθε is a fascinating word with a rich heritage. R. R. Brewer, "The Meaning of Politeuesthe in Philippians 1:27," JBL 73 (1954) provided us with a helpful survey of how this word is used in various civic and Pauline contexts. He suggested that it was a way of describing one's obligations as a citizen. Then came E. C. Miller, "πολιτεύεσθε in Philippians 1:27: Some Philological and Thematic Observations," JSNT 15 (1982). Appealing to its use in the LXX (Esth. 8:12; 2 macc 6:1; 11:25; 3 Macc 3:4; 4 Macc 2:8, 23; 4:23; 5:16) and Josephus (Vita 12; Letter of Aristeas 31) Miller suggested that this refers to "the Jews living in fidelity to Torah as God's chosen nation."
Enter the discussion on Paul's understanding of this word in Phil. 1:27. Scholars are quick to note that Paul does not employ his usual word for "life" (An example is περιπατεω, as in 1 Thess 2:12; Rom 13:13; etc.). Given that Philippi is a Roman city, an imperial outpost if you will, should πολιτεύεσθε be taken as a reference to living as a citizen of Roma, or as those who conduct themselves faithfully in light of the Gospel's teaching, as God's chosen people? Are these mutually exclusive options, or can one be a dual citizen?
Perhaps Paul has left open the ambiguity of citizenship in this passage, and chooses to unveil that only in 3:20?
Bockmuehl is probably right to read this as a politically relevant act, which in the context is distinguished from alternative lifestyles that might have been chosen... The rhetorical force of Paul's languge is to play on the perceived desirability of citizenship in Roman society at Philippi, and to contrast against this the Christian vision of enfranchisement and belonging... Paul interposes a counter-citizenship whose capital and seat of power are not earthly by heavenly, whose guarantor is not Nero but Christ. (Bockmuehl, Philippians, pg. 97-98).
At play here is the sticky hermeneutical issue of how much we allow Paul's audience to determine the meaning of the passage. While Paul may be reading this word in light of it's usage in the LXX (plausible), would the Philippian audience be aware of this (unlikely)? Or would the majority of them understand it the way Romans usually understood it? Bockmuehl's interpretation probably navigates through this impasse.

Friday, September 04, 2009

How to Read Revelation - Bauckham

Richard Bauckham preached at Crisweel College on How to Read the Book of Revelation. This is an excellent message. Thanks to Craig Downey, who runs a good blog [Lion and the Lamb] for this notice.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Great Resources

There are some really helpful resources, podcasts and general stuff around at the moment, so here's a list of a few.

Now go and enjoy these!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Law & the Spirit

In Graeco-Roman society, a pedagogue oversaw the up-bringing of a child. Included in the pedagogue’s charge were the supervision, care, guidance, protection, instruction, and discipline of the child. This metaphor of the pedagogue is suggestive of a broader familiar relationship, since a pedagogue was employed by a father who wanted his child to be nurtured in accordance with paternal expectations and hopes. The metaphor of the law as a pedagogue is well suited to Paul’s temporal argument; just as a pedagogue is relieved of duty once the child comes of age, so the law’s function as an overseer of God’s people comes to an end with the coming of Christ. It is with the benefit of Christian hindsight that the experience of being under a pedagogue (the law) can be seen as a form of confinement (3:23), since with the coming of Christ a form of guidance is available that sets people free for service: that is, the guidance of the Spirit. If is the Spirit, rather than the pedagogue, that is to form the character of God’s people come of age. The pedagogical role of the law has given way to the guidance of the Spirit. So Paul writes: ‘If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit’ (5:18, 25). The Spirit, who as we have seen produces the fruit of Christ-likeness in Christians, has been sent into the hearts of Christians reproducing in them Jesus’ own intimate cry to God: ‘ABBA, Father’ (4:6). Israel’s relationship to God had been a mediated one by means of the law acting as a pedagogue; by contrast, the Christian’s relationship to God is one of intimacy as the Christian enters into the boundaries of Jesus’ own cherished and distinctive sonship. While the people of Israel enjoyed a special relationship with God prior to Christ (signalled by the giving of the law), that relationship was of a different order altogether to the kind of unprecedented intimacy that comes in the wake of Christian union with Christ.
Bruce Longenecker, “Galatians,” in The Cambridge Companion to Paul, pg. 69-70

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Authorial Intent and Theological Interpretation

I'm currently engaged in multiple thought adventures, from studying the sermon on the Mount (exegetically, theologically, and ethically) to a historical-critical analysis of Philippians, to teaching an introductory course on the New Testament, to arguing with friends about hermeneutics. Amidst my reading, thinking and research I stumbled upon this, by Stephen Fowl:

To claim, as many biblical scholars do, that Paul never would have thought in such metaphysical terms is not in itself theologically relevant. Later creeds and confessions are best understood as scripturally disciplined ways of coherently ordering claims, inferences, and implications of scriptural language about God, the world, and God's purposes for the world. Scripture by its very diversity requires such an ordering. The question is not whether Paul thought this way himself. Rather, the question is whether one uses historical-critical, sociological, philosophical, or christian theological categories for order that diversity.

Fowl, Philippians, pg. 95-96.

First things first. Fowl's commentary is like a breath of fresh air for those wanting more than just careful historical and exegetical analysis. His interpretation of φρονεω, as a common pattern of thinking, feeling and acting, is accurate and instructive. However, Fowl has problems with the notion of authorial intent, and in his essay for Between Two Horizons, "The Role of Authorial Intention in Theological Interpretation" he advances his position on this matter. As one may guess, I cannot understand this position. Perhaps it is to complex for me, but having read Umberto Eco's The Limits of Interpretation and Kevin Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in this Text?, I am persuaded that any death or denial of authorial intent undermines the meaning of a text.
More specifically, the context of Fowl's quote above intrigues me. The discussion revolves around Phil 2:5-11. Fowl advances a plausible reading that suggests the "form of God" should be taken as a reference to God's glory. He does some good historical analysis, and then forsakes it in his theological construction. Now, if the creeds and confessions are scripturally disciplined, what does that mean? That we have read the scriptures and understood their intention, and formulated what we believe based on them? That seems most likely. However, were we to deny authorial intent, we could come up with any creed and just forsake what Paul says. When we claim that what Paul meant (or any author for that matter), is irrelevant, we sink into the despair of relativism. And that just won't do. Fowl himself constantly appeals to what Paul meant, and intends throughout his excellent commentary. But here, retreating into Philosophical particularities, loses the plot when he suggests that it doesn't matter if Paul himself thought this way or not. Reader-response criticism, despite Fowl's, and Wall's claims to the contrary, have no "controls" that are valid if one denies authorial intent as the governing dynamic.
For a better proposal, one need look no further than Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, which outlines a suitable hermeneutic which allows for careful theological reflection within the bounds of good exegetical work. Of course theology (especially systematics) will always want to go further, but it cannot go against what the authors of Scripture said. Nor can it claim much validity once the voice of Scripture's teaching is silenced. As Hays sees it, there are four steps: (1) The Exegetical Task, Reading the Text Carefully; (2) The Synthetic Task, Placing the Text in Canonical Context; (3) The Hermeneutical Task, Relating the Text to Our Situation; and (4) The Pragmatic Task, Living the Text.
It is therefore utterly relevant whether or not a particular Scriptural author thought in particular categories. Since failing to attend to those categories, could entail in a misunderstanding and misapplication of their teaching. I find myself increasingly sceptical of theological claims that are far removed from the categories of Scripture. They may have good ideas, but is it good theology?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Matthew and Torah

Have you ever read an essay that has just been utterly helpful, and organised your chaotic thoughts into a coherent understanding? This has been my experience today reading Roland Deines “Not the Law but the Messiah: Law and Righteousness in the Gospel of Matthew – An Ongoing Debate” in Built Upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew eds. D. M. Gurtner and J. Nolland (Eerdmans, 2008) pg. 53-84. His discussion proceeds like this:
1.1 Is there a New Consensus?
2.1 Texts in Favour of a Law-Abiding Christian-Jewish Community
2.2 Texts Supporting a New Understanding of Torah in the Kingdom of God
3. The Basic Concepts in the First Gospel as a Framework in which the Law is to be Understood.
4. Matt. 5:17-20 as a Crucial Text for Understanding Matthew's Concept of Torah and Righteousness
4.1 Why Does Jesus Have to Defend Himself Already at the Beginning of His Career? (5:17) 4.2 Matt 5:17: Fulfillment of the Whole Will of God as Jesus' Primary Goal
4.3 Matt 5:18: Iota and Jots/Strokes: A Clue to Legal Details or a Confession-Like Formula for the Ongoing Relevance of the Whole Will of God (Abbreviated in the Term nomos)?
4.4 Matt 5:19: From Christological Fulfillment to Disciples' Obligation
4.5 Matt 5:20: The Implementation of the Eschatological and Exclusive Jesus-Righteousness as the Condition for Entering the Kingdom of God.
5. Conclusion
Deines ruthlessly unpacks the problems, pointing us to more detailed discussions, while helpfully explaining the decisive issues along the way. This is arguably the best essay I've read on this topic thus far. If this topic interests you, as it should, go read and learn! I won't spoil it and give you his conclusions - where would the fun in that be?

Ok, I'll give you a couple of clues:
matt 17:24-27; 11:11-15 and most importantly 5:3-10!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Love your what?

Today's study brings me to Matt 5:43-48. The opening two verses are shocking, and jolting to say the least - especially if one is a follower of Jesus and takes these words seriously:
Vs. 43 “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ Vs. 44 However, I am saying to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...
Reading Dale Allison's excellent book: The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination, I found this quote which penetrated my thoughts:

Jesus quotes Lev 19:18 not to contradict it but to enlarge it. The Pentateuch, like subsequent Jewish tradition, understands “neighbour” to be Israelite (see Lev 19:17), and this reading allows one to confine love to one’s own kind, or even to define neighbour in opposition to enemy. Jesus, however, gives “neighbour” its broadest definition. If one loves even one’s enemies, who will not be loved? One is inevitably reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan, who is good to an Israelite, his enemy (Luke 10:29-37). Love must prove itself outside the comfortable world of family, friends and associates.

Allison, The Sermon on the Mount, pg. 100

This saying embodies the activities of Jesus perfectly - and thus it is a call to disciples to be perfect, as their Father in Heaven is perfect (vs. 48). Anyone who thinks being a follower is easy, has obviously not understood what Jesus requires!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Jesus of History vs. Christ of Faith

Against any attempt by pious Christians of a mystical or docetic bent to swallow up the real humanity of Jesus into an “orthodox” emphasis on his divinity, the quest affirms that the risen Jesus is the same person who lived and died as a Jew in 1st-century Palestine, a person as truly and fully human – with all the galling limitations that involves – as any other human being. Against any attempt to “domesticate” Jesus for a comfortable, respectable bourgeois Christianity, the quest for the historical Jesus, almost from its inception, has tended to emphasize the embarrassing, nonconformist aspects of Jesus: e.g., his association with the religious and social “lowlife” of Palestine, his prophetic critique of external religious observances that ignore or strangle the inner spirit of religion, his opposition to certain religious authorities, especially the Jerusalem priesthood.
Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:199

Monday, August 03, 2009

A New Covenant?

Jeremiah 31:31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
Walter Brueggemann comments that:

It is clear, against such a Christian misreading, that the contrast of "old and new" concerns the Israelite community of covenant in both its parts. The "old" covenant belongs to that Israelite community which through its sustained disobedience forfeited covenant with God, even as it lost the city of Jerusalem. The "new" covenant now wrought by God also concerns the Israelite community. This is the community formed anew by God among exiles who are now transformed into a community of glad obedience. Thus we are right to posit a deept discontinuity between old and new, but that deep discontinuity is not between Jews and Christians, but between recalcitrant Jews prior to 587 and transformed Jews after 587 who embrace the covenant newly offered by God.

[Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, pg. 292]

But is it more than this? I am continually intrigued by Terrence Donaldson's excellent book: Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology. Donaldson argues that

one of the central features of Zion eschatology in the OT and throughout the Second-Temple period was the expectation of a great gathering of Israel to the holy mountain of Yahweh where they would be constituded afresh as the people of God. The gathering of the scattered flock to the holy mountain was to be the first act in the eschatological drama... In addition, one can also point to the fact that in Jewish expectation one aspect of the consummation on Mount Zion was to be a new giving of the Torah... in contemporary eschatological thought it was expected that the Messiah would bring about renewed obedience to the Torah, that he would interpret it more clearly and that he would even bring a new Torah.

[Terrence Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain, pg. 116. See further Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount, pg. 155-156]

Now the reason this intrigues me, is because I'm currently looking at the six antitheses of Matt 5:21-48. The solutions on offer at the moment suggest either that Jesus is intensifying the demands of the Torah, or that he is revising the demands of the Torah. Given the backdrop just noted, this changes everything. Jesus could be noting that the Torah applied to the people of old, the people under the leadership and direction of Moses and the teachings he gave. But given that this is a new messianic age, Jesus is giving a new set of teachings that draw from and emerge from the teachings of Torah, but go further and redirect some of it’s emphases and teachings. One could then go further and suggest that given the New Exodus theme (Wright, JVG et. al.), that Jesus envisioned his teachings replacing the demands of the old covenant, because they had been delivered from their former bondage of exile, and this was now the beginning of God's reign through the teachings of Jesus, and the Spirit, no matter where they found themselves (Matt 28:16-20).
Of course this requires much annotation and justification from the sources, but I'm a BIG picture thinker, and so I'm just thinking out loud here. Thoughts?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Imminent Eschatology?

The widely accepted view that the whole early church believed in an imminent advent of Christ is based on a superficial reading of the evidence. The advent was imminent only in the sense that it might happen at any time, not because it must happen within a given period. The decisive act of God had already happened in the death and resurrection of Christ, and from then on men must live their lives under the shadow of the end. But the end would come when God’s purposes were complete, and this was something only he could decide (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7).[1]
[1] Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison, pg. 107
I find it fascinating that this perspective does not seem to have taken root in scholarship. How often do I read perceptions that still think the early Christians thought the world would end within their life time.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Graham Stanton Passed Away

This is sad news indeed. We have lost two giants among New Testament scholars this month! I was reading Stanton's Jesus and the Gospels just yesterday - thinking that his contribution, although cautious, was an outstanding example of biblical scholarship. I was looking forward to his ICC contribution to Galatians! Stanton was an outstanding scholar, and I'm glad that Paul's promise will apply to him.
ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος·

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A God of Intolerable Violence?

There is an interesting discussion on the God of the First Testament vs. the God of the NT on the question of God's violence in the Hebrew scriptures. See Michael Whitenton, Daniel Kirk and Michael Gorman.
As someone who studies the New Testament writings, I value and appreciate the Hebrew Scriptures as the necessary story within which to locate the narratives of the first Christian writers. I love the Hebrew scriptures and both affirm their value and necessity for understanding Jesus and the first Christians. BUT!
I cannot reconcile the GOD revealed in Jesus of Nazareth with a few of the depictions of YHWH in the Hebrew scriptures. In fact, this is a significant problem for me. I'm currently wrestling through this issue, and I've tentatively arrived at some very uncomfortable positions. It appears that only a Christological reading of the Hebrew scriptures can solve this dilemma. But But I take a more radical position than Daniel Kirk appears to take.
If, as I believe, Jesus fully reveals to us the identity of God, and we are to live and decide what's right and wrong within the trajectory of Jesus' teachings, actions, ethics, life, etc. (the NT), why can't we read the Hebrew scriptures retrospectively, and through the lens of Jesus, assess whether or not Israel got it right when they heard God? I realise this sounds slightly like Marcion, but I have no desire to throw out the Hebrew Scriptures. However, I've got to question whether or not they (Israel or the particular writers of these traditions) heard right, or faithfully represented the intentions of YHWH when engaging in such horrific acts. I'm perfectly happy to concede that we are quite ignorant concerning the surrounding circumstances of these events and actions, and so our conclusions are tentative, but I think this Christological approach may help us.
Anthony Thiselton argues, concerning prophecy, that: The authentic is to be sifted from the inauthentic or spurious, in the light of the OT scriptures, the gospel of Christ, the traditions of all the churches, and critical reflections (Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, pg. 1140). Could a sifting perhaps apply to the writings of the Hebrew scriptures themselves? Could we, in light of other portraits within the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christ event, the teachings of the New Testament, and critical reflection, sift our teachings/traditions of these violent narratives which do not in fact accurately portray the intentions of YHWH? I'm almost convinced we instinctively do this anyway. We read 2 Sam 13 and affirm that the actions are heinous and evil. We read of a Elisha's cruel punishment of childish pranks (2 Kings 2:23-24), and we conclude what? That God really gave him the power to do this?
While I would not advocate deleting these traditions, it would then be possible to see them as instances where Israel or a prophet appealed to the authority or agency of God for these horrific events, but were in fact wrong to do so. AGAIN these are tentative thoughts which I find very uncomfortable because it challenges what I believe about the Bible. But I can't help but think this may be a better solution to the problem than just claiming we don't have enough information to make an informed decision. Or perhaps I'm wrong.
Does this make sense? Questions, comments and criticisms are all welcome.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Introducing the New Testament Class

Thanks to Rafael for asking about my teaching! So here's what I've decided regarding our intro course to the New Testament.
  1. David deSilva's An Introduction to the New Testament will be the class text, but we'll also be making plenty of use of Cohick, Burge and Green's The New Testament in Antiquity. The reason I chose deSilva is simply because it's so comprehensive. [I may teach hermeneutics next semester and I'll use this text with Michael Gorman's Element's of Biblical Exegesis] deSilva is the best introduction I own, and I've worked through at least 10 of them in preparing this course. The New Testament in Antiquity is very good, colourful, and informative, but deSilva just has more! Plus, I teach in a seminary and we're just as interested in academic study as we are in character and Spiritual formation, and deSilva's material is good.
  2. I have an overview lecture on the historical Jesus, focussing more his aims and intentions (following Ben Meyer and N. T. Wright) and his message of the reign of YHWH. I've set as an optional reflection an article on the Third Quest, and a compulsory reflection on Wright's chapter "The Mission and Message of Jesus" in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.
  3. I've tried to include a discussion of either a Jewish or Roman source in every lecture. So, when I deal with 1 Thessalonians, I'll be picking up on the imperial background, when I deal with Galatians, I'll be dealing with covenantal nomism, and so forth. I've found a great resource on coins of the ancient world. I'll also be using The New Testament in Antiquity as a resouce for background information, as well as giving them a list of anthologies dealing with primary sources. They also have to reflect on chapters 2 & 3 of deSilva which cover this terrain well.
  4. As noted above, we'll be using deSilva as the text, but also Cohick, Burge and Green. I've also put together a file of articles that they can reflect on or just read for themselves, as well as a small bibliography of helpful commentaries, books and articles on each gospel/epistle/apocalypse.
  5. I've chosen to deal with Paul letter by letter, but grouping them together and emphasizing a particular theme from each letter. So the obvious one is Romans & Galatians, where I'll be dealing with the New Perspective, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians where I'll be dealing with eschatology.

The outline will be a) Introduction & Setting; b) Jesus: Mission and Message; c) Matt & Mark; d) Luke & Acts; e) 1 & 2 Thessalonians; f) 1 & 2 Corinthians; g) Romans & Galatians; h) Philippians & Philemon; i) Colossians & Ephesians; j) Pastoral Epistles; k) 1 & 2 Peter plus Jude; l) Hebrews and James; m) Gospel of John; n) Epistles of John; o) Apocalypse of John. We may also have a guest lecture on Hebrews by our First Testament lecturer. If that happens, I'll shift Jude with James and do a lecture on the "The Wisdom of the Brothers."

I have three hours to teach each class, with a 25min break of course. The hardest lecture to write was on Jesus. There is SO MUCH to include, but in the end it's just a sketch. One is tempted to overwhelm students, but that's not going to help them. Perhaps another time will afford me the opportunity to explore the historical Jesus in depth!

Anything else you want to know?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Anthologies of Primary Sources

So following on the from the previous post, I've been thinking about alerting my students to some primary source material. I realise there are dangers in isolating various texts from their respective contexts, but I also feel that they are helpful in establishing the necessary context in which to read the New Testament writings. So here's a couple that I've found useful. If you know of any others, please suggest them!
    • C. K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents
    • M. Harding, Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context
    • L. H. Feldman & M. Reinhold, Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans
    • V. M. Warrior, Roman Religion: A Sourcebook
    • J. Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History
    • B. D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament
    • M. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers
    • B. Davenport, The Portable Roman Reader

These books have been utterly helpful with introducing me to the wide variety of literature that make up the world of the 1st Century (pertaining to the study of early Christianity). Many of them have valuable introductions, and background information which show how the source is to be understood. Many of these also provide helpful bibliographies for further research, which is excellent. Some of these are also very helpful in that they arrange them thematically, which can be excessively helpful for those doing research on particular topics.

Go and enjoy some primary sources!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Most Influential Primary Sources

Kevin Scull has provided a helpful meme asking for different scholars and students to note their favourite primary sources. As Kevin notes, this is fast becoming an excellent resource and a steep learning curve as I discover sources I'd never heard of!
My own top 5 resources would include:

It would be interesting to see what specific quotes or sections of primary sources people have found most helpful. Also, are there specific inscriptions or archaeological finds that noteworthy? My own research last week discovered this oath on allegiance to the emperor:

This is the oath taken by the inhabitants of Paphlagonia and the Romans who do business among them. ‘I swear by Zeus, Earth, Sun, all the gods and goddesses and Augustus himself that I will be favourably disposed to [Cae]sar Augustus and his children and descendants all the time of my [life] in word and deed and thought… Whatever I may see or hear being said or plotted or done against them, I will report it and I will be the enemy of the person who says or plots or does these things . . . If I do anything contrary to this [oath] . . . I pray that there may come on me, my body and soul and life, destruction, total destruction until the end of all my line and of all my descendants…’ In these same words this oath was sworn by all the [inhabitants of the land] in the temples of Augustus throughout the local districts [of Paphlagonia] by the altars [of Augustus].

R. K. Sherk, The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian (1988). Another version of this same oath is offered below:

Imperator Caes[ar,] son of the god, Augustus the twelfth consulship, third year (of the province, 3 BC), on the day before the Nones of March in Gangra in [camp(?)], the oath completed by the inhabitants of [Pa]phlagonia [and the] R[omans] who do business among them; I swear by Zeus, Earth, Sun all the gods [and] goddesses, and Augus[t]us himself that I will be favourably disposed toward [Cae]sar Augustus and his children and descendants all the time of my [life] in word and deed and thought, considering as friends those whom they may consider (friends) and holding as enemies those whom they may judge to be (enemies), and for things that are of interest to them I will spare neither my body [nor] my soul nor my life nor my children, but in every way for the things that affect them I will undergo every danger; and whatever I might perceive or hear against them being said or plotted or done, I will report it and I will be an enemy to the person saying or plotting or doing [any of] these things; and whomever they may judge to be their enemies, these, on land and sea, with arms and steel will I pursue and ward off. If I do anything contrary to this [oath] or anything not in agreement with what I have sworn, I pray that there may come upon myself, my body and soul and life, my children and all my family and whatever is of use to us, destruction, total destruction till the end of all my line [and] of all my descendants, and may neither the [bodies] of my family or of my descendants by earth or [sea] be received, nor may (earth or sea) bear fruit [for them.] In the same words was this oath sworn by all the [inhabitants of the land] in the temples of Augustus throughout the districts (of the province) by the altars [of Augustus.] And likewise the Phazimonians living in what is [now] called [Neapo]lis [swore the oath,] all of them, in the temple of Augustus by the [altar of] Augustus. [*]

What an extraordinary text describing the allegiance of some to the emperor!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Martin Hengel

John Dickson has a wonderful tribute to the late Martin Hengel. What a scholar! I was dipping into his books this week as I prepare a lecture on the historical Jesus, it's still some of the most helpful material written thus far.

Do make sure you read as much of Hengel as you possibly can, you will be a better informed thinker!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Matt 5:3 - those who Lack the Spirit?

Dr. Bob Robinson was my teacher for Kingdom Ethics: A Study of the Sermon on the Mount paper, and it was fantastic.  We discussed the Beatitudes. After the class I sat down with the text and just worked through them one by one. What struck me was the usual interpretation of Matt 5:3.
Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι,
ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.
There is some interesting discussion on the translation of Μακάριος, which I translate as Blessed by God or Privileged by God... The interesting thing that I noted however, was the translation of πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι - which is usually translated as the poor in spirit - a reference taken to mean those economically marginalised and bankrupt. However, I'm not convinced this is accurate. Instead I'm thinking through a translation like this:
Privileged by God are those who lack the Spirit,
for Heaven’s Kingdom is theirs.
Here's my rationale: Matt 3:11; 12:28; 22:43 all refer to the Spirit of God. Matt 3:11 has noted John's prophecy that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Scholars agree that a background to the beatitudes is probably Isaiah 61, which notes that:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners...
If this is true, then we could have Jesus' announcement of blessing/privilege to his audience consisting of an announcement concerning the Holy Spirit, which is now available through Jesus to anyone who lacks the Spirit. What a blessing!
I recognise that there are possible problems with the construction (See the criticism of Luz, Matthew 1-7, pg. 191 n. 59), but it does appear to make more sense than the usual interpretation, which ignores τῷ πνεύματι.
France, The Gospel of Matthew, pg. 165 sees this as a "poverty in spirit" but in a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrognat self-confidence which not only rides roughshod over the interest of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant. This is closer to my understanding, but again, it forces πνεύματι to refer to the human spirit which is impoverished or lacking, when Matthew's usage suggests a reference to the Divine Spirit.
Thoughts? Have I missed something?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Matthew's Genealogy

I'm currently doing some work on Matthew's gospel, and have briefly looked at his genesis narrative (1:1-2:23). This is a fascinating account. For more, see the entries by Goodacre, Bird, articles here, virgin birth here, and history in the infancy narrative here.

Matthew writes the next great Act in Israel’s developing story. The opening genealogy immediately recalls Israel’s sacred writings, as Matthew tells “the story of the genesis of Jesus the Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham.” In connecting the story of Jesus with the story of two of Israel’s greatest heroes, the founder Abraham, and the great king David, Matthew appropriately opens the New Testament Scriptures by immediately connecting them to the story of God and his people, Israel. Given Matthew’s concern for including the Gentiles, it is likely he sees Jesus as the means by which YHWH will fulfil his promise to Abraham to make him a great nation, and through him to bless all the families of the earth (Gen 12:1-3). By connecting Jesus to David in the beginning and throughout the narrative (cf. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30–31; 21:9, 15; cf. 22:42), Matthew shows us Jesus’ Davidic decent which was a necessary aspect of God’s Messiah (22:42), and thus Jesus is seen as an heir to the Davidic throne. Tom Wright is at this point very helpful where he notes the following:
[[Matthew presupposes a telling of the Jewish story according to which Israel has failed, has ended in exile, and needs a new exodus; and he undertakes to show that this new exodus was accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He does this at a multiplicity of levels: the often-remarked ‘fulfilment’ passages (‘All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet…’) are simply the tip of a very large iceberg. Matthew’s plot and structure presupposed the entire Jewish story-line to date. They claim to be bringing about that of which Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 30. They are not simply a collection of types, historical precedents arbitrarily repeated. They claim to be the continuation and proper completion of the whole history itself. Jesus, for Matthew, is both the new David and the new Moses, but also something more. Moses had promised that
YHWH your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as YHWH promised… Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is YHWH your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you (Dt. 31:3-6).
For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfilment of both parts of this prophecy. He is Emmanuel, Israel’s god in person, coming to be with his people as they emerge from their long exile, remaining with them still as they go on to possess the land (1:23; 28:20). And the land they now possess is the whole world; as the wise men from the east came to pay homage to Jesus, as the centurion demonstrated a faith which Jesus ‘had not found in Israel’, and as the Canaanite women had ‘great faith’, so the ministry of Jesus, which at the time was only to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’, will result in salvation for ‘all nations’.]]
[N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, pg. 388-89]
I am increasingly persuaded that rather than a waste of time, Matthew's opening chapters, including the genealogy, provide the necessary context for understanding Matthew's entire gospel. Just as the Sermon on the Mount cannot be isolated from the gospel of Matthew, so too, it is unwise to isolate Matthew's gospel from it's own genesis narratives. As Dale Allison instructively notes: The broader context must always be kept in mind. Likening the First Gospel to a sentence, the Sermon is only one word: and who could determine the meaning of a word while ignoring the sentence in which it occurs? [Allison, The Sermon on the Mount, pg. 10]

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reading Romans

Mike Bird is has a reading list for Romans for a course he will presumably be teaching. I'm not brave enough, nor have I read enough to teach a course on Romans. My experience in reading Jewett's tome (which I never finished) left me completely baffled as to the purpose and meaning of Paul's letter to Rome. However, in reading Jewett's articles, I've come to appreciate much of his perspective, and his pastoral heart. For example, at the end of brilliant and utterly helpful article, Jewett writes the following:

If Paul's grandiose argument were better understood, it might still provide a basis for achieving its original vision: to bring "all the peoples" (Rom 15:11) to praise the One whose gospel can still restore our eroded and fractured world to its intended righteousness.

Robert Jewett, "Following the Argument of Romans," in Word & World Volume VI, Number 4, pg. 389

I can't help but think that the world, including the church, should be helped by such scholarship with a pastoral and apostolic concern. Of course there will always be quibbles. I'm not sure about the supposed interpolations in Romans 16:17-20a and the concluding doxology in 16:25-27. [[I accept that these could undermine Jewett's case somewhat.]] But his work on Shame, unity, and the missionary purpose of Romans is, to this student, undeniable in its accuracy. His structuring of the argument employing the rhetorical features provided by Quintilius is helpful in unpacking Paul's argument.
My five top reads on Romans:
  1. Paul Achtemeier, Romans (WJK)
  2. N. T. Wright, “Romans,” in NIB (Abingdon)
  3. R. Jewett, Romans (Fortress)
  4. J. D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, 9-16 (Nelson)
  5. C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 9-16 (T & T Clark)

Romans is like a black hole. You could spend the rest of your life just studying this letter. Oh well, back to 1 Peter. :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Missional Hermeneutics

How can we not interpret the Scriptures in light of the mission of GOD? How could we ignore mission as central to the core movement of the biblical narrative? Isn’t this what the Bible is all about? While we must at once recognise that the Scriptures are multivocal, and come in a variety of literary genre’s and expressions, the canon as a whole tells the [one?] story of God’s mission. This mission includes creating people, calling people, teaching people, leading people, rescuing people, restoring people and redirecting people. This is the story about God and people, and God’s mission to connect with them in a variety of settings, in a variety of ways, but ultimately through Jesus who perfectly reveals the identity of the missional GOD.
Exegesis of any particular passage must also attend to the [controlling? meta?] narrative which pervades every facet of Scripture and is thus integral to understanding both of the specific passage and also the entire Scriptural symphony. Specific passages cannot be properly understood in isolation from the whole canon/story. God’s mission thus provides the interpretive key to unlocking the central message and mission of Scripture.
How does our text advance the mission of God?
  • What does our text add to our understanding of the mission of God?
  • What counsel does our text give to those involved/situated in the mission of God?
  • How does our text understand/construct the identity of God’s missionary people?
  • How does our text help or equip those engaged in the mission?
God is directing his missional movements throughout history through the symphony of Scripture, inspiring and inciting God’s people to understand and improvise, and thus advance God’s mission on planet earth. A failure to engage the voice of God revealed in the symphony of Scripture would be a failure to understand, appreciate and therefore participate in God’s unfolding and reconciling mission.
Michael Gorman is advancing this discussion, see his posts. See also the essays at the Gospel and Our culture. Goheen and Bartholomew provide several articles pertaining to this topic. An excellent article by J. V. Brownson, "Speaking the Truth in Love" in International Review of Mission VOL. LXXXIII No. 330. See also Michael Barram "The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic" Interpretation 43.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Roman History and Background

In doing some research on the Roman and imperial background for my upcoming course on the New Testament, I've found some excellent websites.
Greek and Roman Corinth
Augustus: Images of Power
Rome: From Republic to Empire
Roman Emperors
Augustus and Tiberius
The Roman Imperial Cult: Bibliography
Bruce Winter showed us a picture of ancient Corinth reconstructed at last year's SBL. But for the life of me, I can't find the picture online. Does anyone know where it is?