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?