biblical studies


I was at Border’s the other night, and was shocked to stumble across N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. I’m used to seeing his more popular level books in stores, but hadn’t ever seen one of his more scholarly tomes. Naturally, I interpreted this as God’s guidance to finally read this wonderful oeuvre ;-). I’m several chapters in and loving the book so far. After diving into Greek and Patristics, it’s refreshing to read something that is:

a) In English
b) Centered around Jesus
c) In English
d) Written by Tom Wright

I don’t know that I’ll be blogging about it much, but I will certainly be enjoying it.

~alex

Advertisements

In his commentary on the Psalms, Eusebius includes a section which has his “hypotheses” on every Psalm (Gk υποθεσις).  These are short little multi-word summations of each Psalms’ theme, as Eusebius understands it. I’ve translated the first 15 here. If anyone has any ideas for Psalm 5 and 14, please let me know. I’m not quite sure how to interpret those. These can be found in Migne Patrologia Graeca volume 23 column 68.

Psalm 1. An example of godliness and staying away from its opposite
Psalm 2. A prophecy concerning Christ and the calling of the nations.
Psalm 3. A prophecy of the good things coming to David.
Psalm 4. A prophecy concerning the One who suffered
Psalm 5. A prayer from a figure of the Church. (?)
Psalm 6. A teaching on confession and praise.
Psalm 7. Praise by David and the calling of the nations
Psalm 8. A prophecy on the calling of the nations.
Psalm 9. The death and resurrection of Christ, and his ascension to the throne, and the overthrow of all enemies.
Psalm 10. A victory song for those who contend for the godly prize.
Psalm 11. The kinds of evil, and a prophecy about the coming of Christ.
Psalm 12. The rising up of enemies, and expectation of Christ’s coming
Psalm 13. The kinds of evil, and a prophecy of Christ’s coming.
Psalm 14. The final restoration according to God. (?)
Psalm 15. The election of the Church and the resurrection of Christ.

And here is the Greek:

Psalm 1 – Greek αʹ Προτροπὴ θεοσεβείας καὶ ἀποτροπὴ τοῦ ἐναντίου.
Psalm 2 – Greek βʹ Προφητεία περὶ Χριστοῦ καὶ κλήσεως ἐθνῶν.
Psalm 3 – Greek γʹ Προφητεία γενησομένων ἀγαθῶν τῷ Δαυΐδ.
Psalm 4 – Greek δʹ Προφητεία τῷ Δαυῒδ περὶ ὧν πέπονθεν.
Psalm 5 – Greek εʹ Ἐκ προσώπου τῆς Ἐκκλησίας προσευχή.
Psalm 6 – Greek ςʹ Διδασκαλία ἐξομολογήσεως.
Psalm 7 – Greek ζʹ Τῷ Δαυῒδ ἐξομολόγησις καὶ διδασκαλία κλήσεως 1 ἐθνῶν.
Psalm 8 – Greek ηʹ Προφητεία κλήσεως ἐθνῶν.
Psalm 9 – Greek θʹ Θάνατος Χριστοῦ καὶ ἀνάστασις, καὶ βασιλείας παράληψις, ἐχθρῶν τε πάντων καθαίρεσις.
Psalm 10 – Greek ιʹ Ἐπινίκιος ὕμνος τοῦ κατὰ Θεὸν ἀγωνιζομένου.
Psalm 11 – Greek ιαʹ Κατηγορία πονηρῶν, καὶ προφητεία Χριστοῦ παρουσίας.
Psalm 12 – Greek ιβʹ Ἐχθρῶν ἐπανάστασις, καὶ προσδοκία Χριστοῦ παρουσίας.
Psalm 13 – Greek ιγʹ Κατηγορία πονηρῶν, καὶ προφητεία Χριστοῦ παρουσίας.
Psalm 14 – Greek ιδʹ Τοῦ κατὰ Θεὸν τελείου ἀποκατάστασις.
Psalm 15 – Greek ιεʹ Ἐκλογὴ Ἐκκλησίας, καὶ Χριστοῦ ἀνάστασις.

This is the second part to a two part review. Part One can be found here.

In the first part of the review, I briefly summarized Part One of Wright’s Paul in Fresh Perspective. This part was entitled ‘Themes.’ This post deals with the second half of the book, which Wright calls ‘Structures.’ ‘Structures’ refers (I think) to the structures of Paul’s thought. This part of the book deals primarily with how the three key Jewish doctrines (monotheism, election, and eschatology) are redrawn by Paul around Jesus and the Spirit. Hence, the chapters entitled, “Rethinking God,” “Reworking God’s People,” and “Reimagining God’s Future.” The final chapter deals with the relationship between Paul and Jesus in the light of the rest of the work: “Jesus, Paul, and the Task of the Church.”

Wright begins, appropriately enough, by exploring Paul’s understanding of monotheism. His argument is Paul’s primary polemical target is not Judaism (or even Jewish Christianity), but Paganism. Wright notes the varieties of monotheism that existed in Paul’s period and defines Paul’s as “covenantal and creational monotheism.” The thrust here is that God is passionately involved with the events of the world, but different from the world (against both stoic pantheism and epicurean deism/atheism). This God of Paul’s has created the world and is working toward putting it to rights. This is a typically Jewish understanding of God, but then Wright shows how Paul’s understanding was different than historic Judaism: it had been redrawn around Jesus and the Spirit.

Beginning with Jesus, he cites several passages where Jesus has been put in places reserved for God in the OT. These include Romans 10:5-13 (where Jesus is the Lord in Paul’s OT exegesis), Philippians 2:5-11(where Jesus is the name at which every knee should bow, though this is Yahweh in Isaiah), and 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 (where Jesus is inserted into the schema, the classic monotheistic confession of Israel). In light of these, he thinks Romans 9:5 should be understood as Jesus being called “the one is God over all.” People often claim that Paul couldn’t possibly be calling Jesus God here, but this a priori dismissal doesn’t hold in light of these other passages. Next, Wright discusses the Spirit. He examines several passages, including Galatians 4:1-8, Romans 8, Romans 10:3, and 1 Corinthians 12:12-14. Wright notes that the Spirit and Son are working together to fulfill God’s promises. The Spirit is instrumental in bringing about the “new exodus.” Additionally, the Spirit marks us for the age to come as members of God’s family. 1 Corinthians 12, while referring to the unity and diversity of the church, serve as a way to understand the complex interactions for Paul of Father, Son, and Spirit. Wright then closes the chapter by examining how this played out in Paul’s churches.

The next chapter deals with the theme of election, “Reworking God’s People.” Election exists to deal with Sin and Death, it calls “a people from, and for, the whole world.” Wright sees Paul as both affirming Israel’s election (as in Romans 9), but redefining it as well (as in Galatians 2:11-21). Here Wright builds off his understanding of justification by faith. For Wright, Paul’s doctrine of justification is not a description of “how people get saved,” but rather “how you know who your family members are.” The question is not one of “getting in,” but rather, “how can I tell who is in?” He cites Gal 2:11-21, where justification deals with a conflict over table fellowship. He then proceeds to discuss Jesus and the Spirit in relation to Election.

Beginning again with Jesus, Wright argues that election is now by the “faithfulness of the Messiah” and not by Torah. Jesus is both the end and fulfillment of Torah. Faith functions as a marker by which we tell who our fellow brothers and sisters are. He discusses the constitution of God’s people in the Messiah, referring both to 1 Cor 10 and especially Eph 2:11-3:13. He cheekily notes when discussing Ephesians that even if Paul didn’t write Ephesians, he would have heartily endorsed it as a statement of his theology. God’s family is now Jew+Gentile and depends on the Messiah, not on Torah. When discussion turns to the Spirit, Wright notes passages like 2 Cor 3. Here, The Spirit stands over against Torah. It is not Torah which marks out God’s people, but the seal of the Holy Spirit. Not only does the Spirit mark God’s people, but he also empowers them to be God’s people, to be who they are.

This brings us to eschatology, “Reimagining God’s Future.” Wright starts here by tracing out the eschatological hopes common in Second Temple Judaism. He maintains that the “return from exile” played a big part here. He discusses several other themes, like Renewal, Resurrection, and Judgment. When discussing Jesus, Wright notes especially that through Jesus, “these are the last days. “ In the resurrection, God’s future has broken into the present (of course noting the now/not-yet dimension of eschatology). The final judgment is redrawn as a resurrection and judgment with Jesus in the middle of things. Likewise, with the Spirit, the Spirit’s coming denotes the “last days,” using Joel 2 has a basis for this. Wright is quick to note that the Spirit’s work links present justification with final justification. By the Spirit, we anticipate in the present our final vindication, the final verdict where God will declare us as ‘righteous.’ Likewise, the Spirit’s work in us and through us assures us that God will have firm grounds to make this declaration.

This brings us at last to the final chapter, “Jesus, Paul, and the Task of the Church.” Here Wright focuses on the relationship between Paul and Jesus. The problem is that Paul doesn’t seem to refer to Jesus’ teachings much. He doesn’t mention the Kingdom of God often, nor does he refer to his ethical rules like the Sermon on the Mount very much. Wright claims that we see a problem because we have reduced them both to “expounders of universal ethical truths.” In doing so, we hopelessly misunderstand them. He argues that when we recover them as “historical people,” we can understand their relationship much more easily. Wright likes the metaphor of “composer and conductor,” or “architect and builder.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3). Basically, Paul is not out to reproduce Jesus’ teaching verbatim, but to implement the much larger project that Jesus inaugurated. The Kingdom of God ‘discrepancy’ is simply a change in audience. “Kingdom of God” talk resonated deeply with a Jewish audience. It conjured up images of the Messianic Kingdom and the rule of God. This wouldn’t have made much sense to a pagan though, so Paul used different language. “Gospel” and “Lord” were perfectly comprehensible to pagans, so Paul’s announcement of the “real Gospel” of the “real Lord” would have been entirely understandable for pagans. In talking about ethics, Wright argues that Paul is teaching his churches to think Christianly, and not simply giving them a list of rules. This is why he spends much more time grounding his practical instruction in “first principles” rather than giving a laundry list of Jesus’ sayings.

That rounds out the book. This section got quite a bit longer than I anticipated, so my apologies for that. This is a terrific little book from Wright. There’s all sorts of fine details that he doesn’t address, but he does a terrific job of highlighting the “big picture” concerns for Paul. I’d recommend the book to anyone who’s interested in Paul. The book isn’t overly technical, nor is it terribly long, but the content is thought-provoking and worthy of attention!

~alex

This is part one of a two part review. The second part may be found here.

In preparation for the Paul class I’m taking this fall, I’m looking back through N.T. Wright’s Paul in Fresh Perspective. The book is based of the Hulsean Lectures he did at Cambridge, and was published in 2005. The work contains a wonderful, short outline of Paul’s work. The first part deals with themes. Here, Wright addresses, “Creation and Covenant,” “Messiah and Apocalyptic,” and “Gospel and Empire” in successive chapters. The second part addresses structures, where the chapters are entitled, “Rethinking God,” “Reworking God’s People,” “Reimagining God’s Future,” and then “Jesus, Paul, and the Task of the Church.” I will address Part One in this post, and Part Two in a second.

Wright begins with an introduction that briefly locates Paul in the three worlds: Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic Culture, and Roman Imperial dominance. It is against this backdrop that Wright works throughout the book. He deals cursorily with some of the interpretative movements over the course of the past 100 years, locating all within historical situations (and noting how this affected the exegesis). For instance, he notes that suspicion over Pauline authorship in Colossians and Ephesians arose “when the all-dominant power of New Testament scholarship lay with a particular kind of German, existentialist Lutheranism for whom any ecclesiology other than a purely functional one, any view of Judaism other than a purely negative one, any view of Jesus Christ other than a fairly low Christology, and view of creation other than a Barthian ‘Nein’, was deeply suspect.” (18). Of course, he also notes the “situatedness” of the movements he sees as helpful, understanding it as a providential grace of God and not a postmodern “deconstructive nihilism.”

Following the introduction, Wright jumps into the themes of “Creation and Covenant.” He locates these first within their Old Testament context. Psalm 19 functions paradigmatically here, where God is extolled in the first half for his creation and in the second for the covenant, the giving of Torah. Wright draws on themes from Genesis, the prophets, and the Psalms. Basically, Covenant should be understood as the solution to the problems in Creation (namely Sin and Death). Abraham is naturally quite important here. God’s promises to Abraham are the basis for God redeeming the cosmos. Particularly, through Abraham, the seed will come through whom “all nations will be blessed.” According to Wright, this is encoded in the phrase δικαιοσυνή θεού (righteousness of God). Wright understands God’s righteousness as God’s faithful fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. This climaxes in Jesus, the Messiah, who is “the seed to whom the promise referred.” Wright looks at three passages here Colossians 1:15-20 (he notes the controversy of including Colossians), 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 1-11. He traces creation and covenant through these 3 passages from a “bird’s eye view.”

Proceeding, Wright moves on to “Messiah and Apocalyptic.” Here, he notes the notoriously slippery meaning of the word “apocalyptic.” He argues that term, as it has often been used, is misguided. He takes issue in particular with the idea that Second Temple Jews expected an impending end to the space time universe, which has often been the assumption of “apocalyptic.” Rather, he argues that “apocalyptic” in Paul should be understood in terms of revelation. God has revealed his plans for the world. These include a “new heaven and a new earth,” not simply a destruction of the present world and a “whisking away” to Heaven. This revelation has taken place supremely through Jesus the Messiah. Wright spends a good deal of space debunking the claim that “Christ” functioned merely like another name by Paul’s time. He argues instead that the title “Christ” has royal and messianic connotations, and needs to be understood as such. This locates Jesus more easily within the OT themes which Wright explored in the prior chapter.

This brings us to the final pair of themes, “Gospel and Empire.” Whereas the prior two chapters locate Paul largely within Second Temple Judaism, this chapter pits Paul against the Greco-Roman society, especially the imperial Roman Empire. He warns readers that is all too easy to impose “post-Enlightenment” divisions of “religion and politics” back onto first century texts. The political situations which Paul faced are significantly different than those encountered in modern, Western democracies. Wright then proceeds to show the implicit imperial critique in Paul’s writing. He notes that Paul draws on imperial language quite often to explain the Gospel. Some of these words include ευαγγελιον(gosepl, or good news), κυριος (lord), σωτερ (savior), and παρουσια (royal appearing). For Wright, it is implicit that whenever Paul says “Jesus is Lord” he also means “Caesar is not.” He treats Philippians 3:20-21 in some detail here, and also briefly addresses 1 Thessalonians 4-5. The crux of the chapter is that Jesus’ gospel stands over against the “good news” of Caesar.

That wraps up the first section of the book. I’ll work through the second part of the book in a second post.

~alex

Other parts to this series can be found on my Deliverance of God page.

Campbell spends the first part of his book highlighting problems with the traditional Protestant understanding of Paul, which he dubs “Justification Theory.” (hereafter Justification, or JT) Often called the “Lutheran reading,” a summary of it can be found here. This description takes up the first chapter of the book.

Campbell then moves onto highlighting the difficulties of Justification. He proceeds on several levels. His first list is at the “intrinsic level.” These are difficulties which are present before examining passages that support other readings. One example is JT’s understanding of humankind (anthropology). Justification posits that mankind is both intrinsically depraved and sinful, but simultaneously capable of rationally deducing certain properties about God. These include certain moral rules, a day of judgement based on merit, etc. Humanity is intelligent enough to reason their way to most of the things in the “Premises” and the “Loop of Despair” in the JT outline. This of course clashes with a humanity that is “in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) Basically, you get a tension: two paradoxical descriptions of humanity. Likewise, Campbell questions JT on grounds of theodicy. The problem is this: God demands absolute, 100% obedience to the law to get into Heaven. Yet, as we have seen, humanity is incapable of this. How can God be just if his demands are impossible to fulfill? He notes several others, but we can move onto the next type of tension.

Campbell then moves onto systematic difficulties in JT. These are difficulties that JT experiences when put next to other Pauline passages, chiefly Romans 5-8. Campbell constructs an “alternate soteriology” from Romans 5-8 and compares it to Romans 1-4. He then highlights the tensions. Some of these are repeats from the intrinsic difficulties (his charge of a paradoxical anthropology is strengthened by his reading of Rom 5-8). He also gives tensions on other grounds, like ecclesiology (nature of the Church), the nature of faith (faith is surprisingly low key in Rom 5-8) and theology (what is God’s fundamental attribute?). His case it very persuasive here. If only a few tensions existed, they would probably be reconcilable. The nature of theology is such that one learns to live with tensions. However, he has placed the bar quite high for anyone wanting to reconcile the traditional reading of Romans 1-4 with other parts of Paul’s thought, especially Romans 5-8.

The final difficulty that Campbell notes is Judaism. Campbell claims that JT makes certain empirical claims about Judaism that are demonstrably false. JT states, for instance, the Judaism is a law of legalism which ultimately leads to the “loop of despair” in the outline. The classic reading of Paul has a highly polemicized picture of Judaism which has plagued Europe for hundreds of years (Luther was a raving anti-semite remember, probably his deepest character flaw). This found its terrible climax in the Holocaust and the Nazi atrocities. It’s important not to attribute these horrible things to Christian theology, however the Lutheran caricature of Judaism certainly didn’t help the matter. Against JT’s claim of Judaism as a religion of “works-righteousness” and “legalism,” Campbell largely follows the work of E.P. Sanders. However, he reorients some of his claims, and puts them on a sounder theoretical base (according to Campbell anyway). Essentially, Campbell argues that Sanders’ work has punched an empirical hole in JT.

The final chapter in Part One deals with interpretative dilemmas that JT has influenced. He starts with the dilemmas faced by Pauline interpreters. Krister Stendahl’s work on introspection is the first he explores. He then moves onto the Participatory emphases, especially noting Wrede’s construal of Paul’s gosepl. After a few more interpretative tensions, he proceeds to “Broader concerns in the Pre-Christian Vestibule.” These problems include Natural Theology, Post-Holocaust, Christian Relationships with Government, and a few other things. The final section of dilemmas deals with the “Consequent Construal of Christianity.” Many of these dilemmas have been raised by Orthodox and Catholics. They include the charge that JT is not sufficiently Trinitarian, or that it caricatures the role of the Holy Spirit and/or Christ. The sacraments also have a section here. Essentially, Campbell raises a whole host of interpretative quandaries that are at least partially influenced by JT. He argues that displacing JT as the primary reading of Paul will help or solve many of these dilemmas. With this charge, Part One closes.

~alex

So I’ve dropped almost completely off the radar the past couple of weeks.  I’ve had tons going on at work and school (err, the typical excuse ;-) )  I’ve also been writing a rather large paper (it’ll end up being 25pgs probably)  for my Early Christianity class on Ignatius’ use of Paul, which has consumed lots of my writing energy.  On the plus side, I should be able to post more often now since things are slowing down *somewhat*.  I’ll likely blog portions of the essay I’ve been writing, which has been a blast so far.  I’m arguing that Ignatius’ understanding of martyrdom was shaped extensively by a “participatory” understanding of Paul.  Lot’s of good stuff :-)

more soon!

~alex

I’ve decided to purchase Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God after working through nearly 200 pages of it so far (I have it on Interlibrary Loan right now). I’ve been amazed at the argument thus far. He’s done a very thorough job of highlighting the problems with the classic Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith. I’m not yet sure how persuasive I’ll find his proposed solution, but he has convinced me that we need a solution. I’ll be blogging on this work quite a bit. I’m hoping to offer some summaries and maybe a small bit of analysis as I work through the book. This is both for the benefit of my audience (the book is long and not cheap), but perhaps mostly so I’ll understand the issues better by engaging with them.

So, hopefully, there will be a series of posts on this work right around the corner ;-)

~alex

Next Page »