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?

πιστις χριστου in Phil 3:9

I'm currently engaged in a back and forth discussion with Mark Keown regarding the validity of the subjective genitive reading of πιστις χριστου in Philippians 3:9. Mark is remaining neutral, while I am persuaded that this is clearly a subjective genitive, and thus refers to the faithfulness of Christ. Commentators on Philippians are divided on this issue: Barth, O'Brien, Sumney, Fowl, Bockmuehl and Cousar have argued for a subjective genitive, while Hawthorne, Fee, Silva, and Reuman have argued for an objective genitive. The entries by O'Brien and Bockmuehl are particularly helpful in demonstrating the subjective genitive reading.
If anyone has any other references to scholarship that deal specifically with Phil. 3:9, please could you let me know. [[I've lost my copy of Morna Hooker's excellent article, 'πιστις χριστου,' NTS 35 (1989) pg. 321-42, so I'll have to go make another copy (EBSCO doesn't have it!) The discussion by Ian G. Wallis The Faith of Jesus Christ in Early Christian Traditions (Cambridge, 1985) is particularly helpful!]]
I've translated Philippians 3:9 as follows: not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through the faithfulness of the Messiah, the righteousness from God based on faith. The contrast between human righteousness and God's righteousness alone suggests to me that the faithfulness of the Messiah (sub. gen.) is the correct reading.

Since there is an echo of the Christ hymn (Phil 2:6-11) in chapter 3, the phrase dia pisteos Christou can serve as shorthand for the obedient self-surrender of Jesus - that is, to his faithful obedience unto death on a cross (2:8). Futhermore, if the subjective genitive is read, then one avoids duplication with the last phrase in 3:9, "the righteousness of God based on faith.

[Charles Cousar, Philippians and Philemon: A Commentary, NTL (WJK, 2009) pg. 73-74]

The righteousness of God is revealed and established "through the faithfulness of Christ" to which believers respond on the basis of faith.

[Stephen Fowl, Philippians, (Eerdmans, 2005) pg. 154]

Let the debate, I mean discussion, continue.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Teaching the New Testament

So, in about two months time I'll be teaching my first Introduction to the New Testament course (1st year undergraduate course), and I'm super excited, and concerned. First off, this gives me a chance to exercise my generalist tendencies, since I'll be introducing the NT, not just Paul, Peter, John, the Synoptics or Jesus. However, there are some daunting elements, such as what to include and what to exclude. There is only so much one can cover, and I don't want to privilege anything, but give the NT a fair hearing. So here's my list of questions for those engaged in teaching, and for those who've done an Introduction to the NT.
Those who Teach
  1. What text book(s) is the most helpful?
  2. Should/did you include the historical Jesus?
  3. Background contexts and information? [Overview of 2nd Temple Judaism? Roman history?]
  4. Textbook or list of readings?
  5. How do you deal with Paul? Letter by letter, or theme by theme?
Those who Study
  1. What was the best part of your intro course?
  2. What was the worst part of your intro course?
  3. Text book or collection of readings?
  4. More time given to lecturing, class discussion or group work?
  5. Powerpoint or lecture outline?
Anyone: Got advice, tips, do's and dont's for a newbie? I recognise that some of this will be highly subjective, and I'll just have to proceed via trial and error. I've taught individual letters before (at this level), which I really enjoyed. But the thought of trying to cover the whole NT is scary. So any help would be appreciated!

Monday, June 01, 2009

NETS Available Online

For those wanting to read an english translation of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament the first Christians (most likely) read, The New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) is freely available online. This translation surpasses the old one of Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton (1851). See also The Septuagint online for the Greek texts. These are invaluable resources for those doing inter-textual study of the two testaments.