Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Social Distinctives of the Christians in the First Century

Social Distinctives of the Christians in the First Century Pivotal Essays by E. A. Judge. By David M. Scholer (ed.). Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 227 pp., $24.95, paper.

Social Distinctives of the Christians in the First Century is a collection of important essays written over the last forty-eight years by E. A. Judge. It provides NT researchers with insight into the social identity of the early Christ-movement. David Scholer in the introduction understands Judge as ‘the new founder of social-scientific criticism of the New Testament’ but also recognizes that Judge rejects key developments within field with regard to social determinism and the imposition of sociological models (xiv). Scholer is to be commended for doing a vital service for researchers of the early Christ-movement by gathering in one place Judge’s research which is often difficult to access. The result is that these foundational articles are available to a new generation of researchers who will find stimulating analysis and probative examples of inter-disciplinary research between classical and biblical studies. Judge’s command of Greco-Roman sources and his interest in social history combine to provide a convincing description of communal life within the early Christ-movement.

Chapter 1, ‘The Social Pattern of the Christian Groups in the First Century’ concludes that the NT documents provide no systematic teaching on the social life of the early Christ-followers. He employs the Acts of the Apostles as his framework; however, he fails to recognize the continued role of Jewish identity in the formation of the early Christ-movement. Chapter 2, ‘Paul’s Boasting in Relation to Contemporary Professional Practice’ emphasizes the importance of rhetoric in the development of cultural identity in antiquity. Chapter 3, ‘St. Paul and Classical Society’ argues that understanding ‘the complex civil obligations and expectations under which Paul and his converts lived’ is vital to uncovering their social identity and Paul’s theologizing (83). In chapter 4, ‘St Paul as a Radical Critic of Society’ Paul is understood as a Roman citizen who was well-educated and part of the mainstream of society but also rejected the prevailing Greco-Roman approach to ‘self-protection’ and ‘status’ (105). Chapter 5, ‘The Social Identity of the First Christians’ reviews the ‘new consensus’ (125) concerning the social identity of the early Christ-movement as representing a cross-section of Roman society. Chapter 6, ‘Rank and Status in the World of the Caesars and St Paul’ reveals Judge’s command of the papyrological evidence and serves as a fine model for researches to follow when working with the fragmentary evidence from Oxyrhynchus. Chapter 7, ‘Cultural Conformity and Innovation in Paul’ surveys key ‘eulogistic terminology’ (166) to explain Paul’s attitude toward money while in Corinth and the absence of friendship language in Paul’s letters. He also convincingly argues that Paul rejected the patronage system while in Corinth (173). In chapter 8, ‘The Teacher as Moral Exemplar in Paul and in the Inscriptions of Ephesus’ relies on inscriptional evidence to understand how Paul’s call for imitation functioned. It was not to be understood as a call to imitate an educational model or an ethical system but as the cultivation of a ‘kindred practice’ within his communities (185). Scholer concludes with a comprehensive bibliography of Judge’s work and three useful indices including modern authors, subjects, and ancient sources. The book is free from typographical errors but tends to be disjointed which often occurs in compilations.

In a short review such as this there is only space for one critique of Judge’s work. His approach to understanding the social distinctives and context of the earliest Christ-movement relies on papyrological, textual, and inscriptional evidence while dismissing a significant explanatory role for contemporary social-scientific models. He argues that these models were developed much later and in a context foreign to that of the Roman empire (140). He argues that NT scholars should resist using the results of ‘modern sociology’ until their findings can be validated through a type of ‘painstaking field work’ that is all but impossible when dealing with ancient cultures. He concludes that those who employ these methods are engaging in ‘the sociological fallacy’ (128). Judge, however, employs the resources of ‘cultural-anthropology’ to explain Paul’s engagement with the economic realities of the Roman empire (166-7). His rejection of social-scientific theories as an explanatory device may not be as absolute as he presents in his writing. Scholer does, however, balance the discussion in the introduction by providing a summary of these issues and a bibliography for further research (xvii-xx). David Horrell (cf. xviii) has argued that the imposition of models on ancient data is only one approach that may be employed within social-scientific criticism. One may engage in historical and textual work as practiced by Judge and then allow themes to emerge that may then be correlated with the findings from the social-sciences. This inter-disciplinary work provides the conceptual resources that assist scholars in their efforts to address the concerns of contemporary society. This critique aside, this book is recommended for those interested in the social history of the earliest Christ-movement in its Greco-Roman context.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Paul and the Dynamics of Power

Paul and the Dynamics of Power: Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ-Movement. By Kathy Ehrensperger. New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2009. Pp. xiv + 235. Paper, $39.95; 2007. Pp. xiv + 235. Cloth, $140.00.

This book argues that Paul approached power in a differentiated manner, one that should not be subsumed under the rubric of domination or power-over. Kathy Ehrensperger provides a contextually sensitive reading of Paul’s power discourse in order to provide insights into how authority was deployed within the early Christ-movement.

Chapter One serves as an introduction to the book and orients the reader to previous studies on Paul and power (e.g. Schütz, Holmberg, Kittredge, and Polaski); and Ehrensperger’s presuppositions, which include: Paul’s Jewish embeddedness and the Roman empire as his primary interlocutor. These guide her exegetical choices throughout the book, e.g. Paul’s approach to argumentation has its source in the Jewish symbolic universe and the domination of the Roman empire serves as a key reason as to why Paul chose not to seek to dominate members of the early Christ-movement. Ehrensperger’s approach to Paul and power is examined as his extant letters are interpreted in a dialectic between his epistolary discourse and contemporary power theories (e.g. Weber, Foucault, Arendt, Wartenberg, and Allen). Chapter Two surveys these approaches to power and provides an explanatory rationale for her study and argues that a binary understanding of power in Paul is unwarranted and that he deployed power for empowerment and not for domination. Thus, Paul’s approach to power was strategic, situationally determined, and combined aspects of “power-over, power-to, and power-with” (34) in order to establish stable communities of Christ-followers throughout the Mediterranean basin.

Chapter Three extends Ehrensperger’s argument by explaining how communication occurred within the Pauline communities. Paul is understood as part of a network of leaders working together to establish communities of Christ-followers by means of letters which relied on the resources of kinship language to establish their social identity in Christ. Ehrensperger’s contrapuntal reading is evident as she understands Paul to be in a hierarchically-defined, asymmetrical relationship with his addressees but that this relationship was temporary and that planned obsolescence, similar to Wartenberg’s concept of “transformative power” (61) describes accurately Paul’s application of power. Chapter Four addresses Paul’s discourse of grace, not as a hidden discourse of power but as an others-centered discourse of empowerment that has its source in Israel’s Scriptures. Chapters Five and Six focus on the interaction of identity, power, and culture within the Christ-movement in light of the Roman empire. The subversive nature of the apostolic message as an “alternative value system” (97) to Roman elitism is discussed as the leaders of the Christ-movement are understood to be re-socializing key components of Roman social identity within the constraints placed upon them by the empire. Chapters Seven and Eight argue that Paul’s approach to communal formation was thoroughly Jewish in its orientation. Paul’s epistolary discourse is understood in the context of Jewish pedagogical practices which allows her to uncover analogs for Paul’s discourse primarily in the Jewish Scriptures and not from Greco-Roman moral philosophers. Paul functions as a group prototype or exemplar in his letters and Ehrensperger discusses mimesis as an implicit critique of Roman imperial ideology and a call to follow those who “embody the message of the gospel and its alternative values” (154). Chapter Nine argues that Paul was seeking to transform communal life within the Christ-movement based on a prior relationship of trust between Paul and his audience and that if Paul’s goal was to dominate the group; then letters are an inefficient way to accomplish that. Chapter Ten concludes by arguing that Paul exercised power in a transformative manner and that he would not exercise it in a manner similar to the Roman empire in that it would be inconsistent with the message of Israel’s Scriptures and Christ-crucified.

Ehrensperger has produced an excellent monograph that provides a fine example of how contemporary social-scientific theories can interact with ancient texts. One slight concern, 1 Cor 4:21 is rightly noted as a counter-example of transformative power and that it will be addressed in section “10.4” (179 n. 2). When one reads that section; however, one only finds a general discussion about how the leaders in the Christ-movement did not always live up to the standards of the gospel. A discussion of how this key verse on Paul and power is to be understood in the context of transformative power would have been helpful. That slight concern aside, this monograph deserves a wide reading from Pauline scholars, graduate students looking for an excellent example of clear argumentation, and practitioners in ministry who will find in it timely insights into how to apply Paul’s theologizing to concrete ministry settings.

A slightly different version of this originally appeared as: Review of Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul and the Dynamics of Power: Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ-Movement. (Library of New Testament studies, 325. London: T & T Clark, 2007), Biblical Theology Bulletin, volume 39, no. 3 (Aug 2009): 175-76.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Divine and Human Agency in Paul

Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment. Edited by John M. G. Barclay and Simon J. Gathercole. Library of New Testament Studies 335. London: T & T Clark International, 2008, x + 208 pp., $44.95; 2006, x + 208 pp., $130.00.

Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment is a compilation from a colloquium held at the University of Aberdeen in 2004. The book offers a fresh examination of Paul’s understanding of agency through a comparative approach of select Judean and Greco-Roman literary sources from around 200 BC-AD 200. It provides a contrapuntal reading of Paul within his cultural context that is both creative and informative. The need for this book, according to Barclay in the introduction, is based on the reemergence of the importance of agency by scholars working within the ‘new perspective’ and the postmodern turn which challenges scholars to re-conceptualize their assumptions concerning ancient and contemporary topics of study. It offers three models from which the various authors work in conceptualizing divine and human agency: competitive in which both agencies are mutually exclusive; kinship in which both are shared but transcendence is limited; and “non-contrastive transcendence” in which God’s sovereignty “grounds and enables human freedom” (p. 7).

The first three readings focus on early Judaism and Paul’s understanding of agency is peripheral. G. Boccaccini’s “Inner-Jewish Debate” surveys the emphases of those within early Judaism: Zadokite emphasizing covenant, Enochic elevating the role of non-human agents, and Sapiential seeing no clear link between divine and human agency. The next generation of Judaism continues the diversity of understanding of divine and human agency: the Sadducees seeking to restore balance, the Pharisees allowing for coexistence between the two agents, and the Qumran sectarians holding to a strong deterministic viewpoint. Early Christianity seeks to balance agency through the inclusion of the devil and Jesus, who is understood as divine wisdom, while Rabbinic Judaism reserves that place for Torah. Boccaccini’s survey clearly demonstrates the diversity of approaches to maintaining the balance between divine and human agency within the family of Judaism. P. Alexander’s “Predestination and Free Will” provides a cogent survey of agency within the Dead Sea Scrolls by providing an exposition of “The Sermon of the Two Spirits” with its dualistic and deterministic outlook, and convincingly argues for its centrality in the life of those living in Qumran. F. Avemarie’s “Tension between God’s Command and Israel’s Obedience” wrestles with God’s expectation of obedience from Israel and the various ways in which Rabbinic discussions understood the agency of the Torah in communal motivation. These discussions include humanity being modeled after the Torah, free will being necessary to allow for the possibility of punishment, and an evil inclination as the explanation for the struggle against God’s commands. He also concludes that there was significant diversity concerning the role of human cooperation in obeying God’s commands.

The next three readings discuss the cultural environment of Paul from both a Judean and Greco-Roman perspective and begin to narrow the focus of the book by considering their impact on Paul’s writing. S. Westerholm’s “Paul’s Anthropological ‘Pessimism’ in its Jewish Context” assesses Jewish writings concerning the capacity of humankind to obey the commands of God. Overall, the texts surveyed hold out the distinct possibility that humans can obey the commands of God – quite unlike Paul’s pessimistic view of humanity. F. Watson’s “Constructing an Antithesis” provides a stimulating reading of 4QMMT, 4 Maccabees, and Paul in which the diversity of viewpoints concerning divine and human agency are attributed to the diversity within the hermeneutic approaches of each author. So, the Pauline antithesis between grace and works did not develop in an analogous way with that of 4QMMT and 4 Maccabees, but was in fact a construct of Paul. Watson argues that one cannot know the extent to which Paul’s antithesis corroborates with or differs from other viewpoints held within Second Temple Judaism in that Paul’s construct is more clearly defining his gospel rather than summarizing views of others contemporary to Paul. T. Engberg-Pedersen’s “Self-sufficiency and Power” dialogic reading of Epictetus and Paul provides a study of the similarities and differences between Stoic and Pauline thought. He problematizes the distinction between divine and human agency and suggests that the interaction of humankind with the divine is a close approximation to current discussions of divine and human agency. He concludes, however, that in both Epictetus and Paul agency is intertwined and is not to be understood in a binary relationship.

The final three readings provide the most direct interaction with Paul’s writings and his understanding of divine and human agency. J. Barclay’s “By the Grace of God I am what I am” provides a comparative reading of Philo and Paul concerning divine grace and human agency. Both authors emphasize the priority of grace, but there are some differences concerning its place in their theological framework. Philo associates it with creation while Paul connects it with the Christ-event, and for Philo a “resting sage” (p. 157) is the ideal person while for Paul the ideal person is an obedient person. S. Gathercole’s “Sin in God’s Economy: Agencies in Romans 1 and 7” suggests Paul is arguing that God uses the history of sin for his divine revelatory purposes. That is, the history of sin is the way in which God makes himself and his righteousness known. L. Martyn’s “Epilogue: An Essay in Pauline Meta-ethics” provides a brief sketch of the metaphysical, epistemological, semantic, and psychological components necessary for a complete meta-ethical theory, which he intends to develop further in an upcoming book. He summarizes and responds to key aspects of the preceding essays and offers brief remarks concerning an apocalyptic framework from which to understand Paul’s ethics. He argues for a corporate understanding of Paul’s ethics and that the new Spirit-led community is the new agent by which divine and human agents work together to overcome the “supra-human powers” (p. 178) warring against God.

This book’s strength rests in the mature reflection of seasoned scholars who provide even-handed conclusions while avoiding unnecessary speculation. The broad coverage of texts make this work a valuable addition to researchers working within Pauline studies, as well as theological studies within the fields of soteriology and theological anthropology. There are, however, a few weaknesses that need to be mentioned. Westerholm’s analysis has a distinctly pre-‘new perspective’ orientation to it, while Watson’s essay actually weakens the impact of other contributions within the book by pointing out the deficiencies of the comparative method because of the diversity of hermeneutic approaches employed by the various ancient authors, a perennial problem likewise noted by Barclay (p. 140). Gathercole’s contribution too quickly assumes the presence of a Jewish interlocutor in Romans 1-2, a viewpoint that has been called into question by both William S. Campbell and Robert Jewett. Also, it is not clear if this book was designed as a ‘call’ to return to a pre-Sanders understanding of Paul or as a contribution to the research to move beyond the ‘new perspective’ readings of Paul. That said, researchers from both sides of that debate will find material within this book both to embrace and critique. Pauline studies are enriched by this compilation of essays on divine and human agency.

Spirit and Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:1-2:16

Harold Attridge and David Barlett discuss 1 Cor 1:1-2:16 and provide some useful reflections on the purpose of the letter and its relevance for identity formation (though that last part is not until the last 30 seconds).

Thanks to Mark Goodacre for the link, over at NTgateway.com.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Does Paul Part Ways with his Jewish Heritage?

What Must I Do To Be Saved? Paul Parts Company With His Jewish Heritage. By Barry D. Smith. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007, xiii + 285 pp., $90.00 hardcover

Chapter one provides a wide survey of Second Temple literature that points out that obedience to the Law rightly interpreted leads to eschatological salvation. Barry D. Smith, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Crandell University, in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, sees a rather consistent teaching within these texts of God as a righteous judge who will hold people accountable for their obedience or their disobedience to his Law. However, God is not only a righteous judge; Smith also detects in these texts a consistent pattern that argues that God is also to be understood as merciful. Thus, God is described as the one “who removes guilt resulting from transgression of the Law on the simple condition of repentance” (p. 34). This forms the basis of the synergistic soteriology that Smith observes in these otherwise disparate texts from the various forms of early Judaism. Central to Smith’s argument is the rejection of ‘the new perspective on Paul’. Moreover, he contends that “Second-Temple Judaism was characterized in part by a legalistic works-righteousness” and that this historical-religious context is a prerequisite for a coherent reading of Paul’s soteriological reflections (p. 71, emphasis original).

In chapter two, Smith is convinced that Paul’s approach to soteriology was non-synergistic and thus discontinuous with other expressions of early Judaism which held that eschatological salvation could be achieved by obedience to the Law. This is the point at which Smith is in direct conflict with the scholarly conclusions of those within ‘the new perspective on Paul’. These scholars hold that such an understanding of eschatological salvation was not part of the various expressions of Judaism during the Second Temple period. Smith, on the other hand, argues that Paul rejects what ‘new perspective’ scholars argue did not exist – a legalistic works-righteousness approach to eschatological salvation. Paul’s understanding of synergistic soteriology, which Smith argues, was inherited from his Pharisaic background (Phil 3:6) was transformed into a non-synergistic soteriology in which no one can be declared righteous through obedience to the Law. Jew and gentile both can only be declared righteous by faith. Thus, humanity cannot boast before God in that their salvation is fully contingent on God’s grace through faith. Smith argues that Paul’s scriptural grounding for this understanding is sourced in his reading of Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous by faith shall live” (p. 160).

If this summary sounds rather conventional, this is intentional on Smith’s part because he states in the introduction that the purpose for this book is to offer “a restatement of the traditional formulation of Pauline soteriology in light of recent criticisms of it” (p. 1). Throughout chapter two Smith maintains the general contours of the accepted Augustinian-Lutheran understanding of Pauline soteriology. For Smith, Paul’s non-synergistic approach resolves the tension inherent in the existing synergistic soteriological formulations within early Judaism with regard to God’s judgment and mercy by completely relying on God’s mercy. Thus, there is no room for any human works-based contribution with regard to eschatological salvation (p. 75). For Smith, Paul has forsaken his Jewish identity and its accepted paradigm for salvation – a synergistic soteriological scheme in which humanity cooperates with God with regard to eschatological salvation. For Smith, this also includes a “repudiating of the idea that the Law was ever truly intended as a means of life (Lev. 18.5)” (p. 76). Thus, for Paul, who has now rejected his Jewish heritage according to Smith, faith and not obedience to the Law, is the only way to be declared righteous.

Chapter three addresses the issue of coherence with regard to Pauline soteriology in that several passages in his letters appear to indicate that Paul was synergistic with regard to the possibility of being disqualified based on patterns of disobedience (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9-11; 9:24-27; Phil 3:12-14; Rom 2:5-11). Smith, however, argues that these passages do not contradict the Pauline non-synergistic soteriological framework. Rather, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the lack of free will for Christ-followers guard against any possibility of practical unrighteousness and disobedience (pp. 201, 206). Thus, Smith argues that the same mercy of God that provides eschatological salvation also produces good works in the life of a believer.

A number of strengths emerge from this monograph. First, Smith provides a generous sampling of Second Temple texts that are directly relevant to the broader discussion of soteriological approaches in early Judaism. Second, he bifurcates the positive arguments that occur in the main text with extensive defensive arguments that occur in the footnotes. This allows the reader to follow Smith’s argument without too many digressions in the main text of the study. Third, Smith achieves his stated goal of providing a restatement of the traditional Augustinian-Lutheran understanding of Paul while addressing many of the critiques evident in the writings of, for example, E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright. This rather adventurous monograph is a welcome addition within the field of Pauline studies.

Smith’s work, however, is weakened by two issues: his approach to the continuing significance of Paul’s Jewish identity and his use of parallel literature. The critique that follows should be read in the context of an appreciation for the general soteriological framework from which Smith argues. Moreover, it is informed by a group of scholars broadly referred to as ‘beyond the new perspective on Paul’ (e.g. Robert Jewett, William S. Campbell, Kathy Ehrensperger, Neil Elliott, and Mark Nanos).

First, it is not clear how discontinuous Paul is with his Jewish heritage. Beyond the soteriological framework, Smith does not provide adequate documentation or argumentation that would substantiate such a strong assertion. It may be that Smith’s desire to critique the ‘new perspective on Paul’ has led him to assert more than the evidence allows. For example, in 1 Cor 7:17-24 Paul instructs the Corinthian Christ-followers to remain in the social situation in which they were in when they were called. This passage has significant soteriological implications and calls into question this component of Smith’s argument. He asserts that the calling in view in 1 Cor 7:20 is not soteriological but he offers no argument for why this view should be accepted (p. 181 n.13). While it is possible to argue that Paul’s previous existence and its relation to his Jewish identity have been reprioritized; it is too strong to argue that Paul has parted ways with his Jewish identity. In Rom 11:1, Paul declares that he is “an Israelite” and “a member of the tribe of Benjamin”. Smith does not address this verse in relation to the continuing significance of Paul’s Jewish identity (p. 217 n.167); nor does Romans 9-11 figure into his argument in any significant way. The last half of the letter is vital to understanding Paul’s Jewish identity and the manner in which his soteriological arguments in the first half of the letter are applied in the context of honor/shame discourse, ethnic diversity, and social identities that retain their fundamental significance ‘in Christ’ (Rom 9:1-5; 14:1, 5; 15:7; 16:16a).

Second, Smith’s argument in chapter one is based primarily on Second Temple texts in which the literary context is often unclear, the dating for some is an open question, and much of the Qumran material is too incomplete to serve as a useful guide for scriptural interpretation. Furthermore, it is not clear why one should employ these texts and not the ‘canonical’ texts for comparisons with Pauline soteriology. Is it possible that a comparison with the ‘canonical’ framework, interpreted in the context of kinship discourse, would reveal Paul as one arguing in a manner somewhat more consistently within his Jewish heritage? Smith’s book, however, fills a need by providing scholars and students interested in contemporary Pauline studies with a delineation of key aspects of the traditional understanding of the Augustinian-Lutheran framework for Pauline soteriology.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Theology and the formation of social identity

I've been thinking that I need to get my daughters more focused on theology as a way to help form their social identity, but I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it or not.

Theology Lessons from Brian Christopher on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of Early Jewish Prayers in Greek

Pieter W. van der Horst and Judith H. Newman. Early Jewish Prayers in Greek. Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. xvi + 298. ISBN 978-3-11-020503-9. $118.00 cloth.

Jewish prayers in Greek are an oft neglected group of liturgical texts that provide insight into Diaspora Judaism, relations between Judaism and Christianity, and how biblical material was contextualized and interpreted within religious communities. This present volume, which is part of the Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature series, offers commentary and introduction into a specific set of literary and non-literary artifacts – Jewish prayers which are written in Greek. The work is co-authored with Pieter W. van der Horst, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, early Christian literature, and the Jewish and Hellenistic World of early Christianity at Utrecht University, NL. He comments on the Apostolic Constitutions (AC), Pap. Egerton 5, Pap. Fouad 203, and tombstone inscriptions from Rheneia. Judith H. Newman, Professor of Old Testament and early Judaism at the University of Toronto, Canada; comments on the Prayer of Manasseh, the Prayer of Azariah, the Prayer of Jacob, and the Prayer of Joseph, which is included as a way to contextualize the Prayer of Jacob (p. 250). This publication continues the high-quality work that one has come to expect from these careful scholars. They provide insightful commentary, clearly-developed argumentation, and compelling historical judgments into the role of these ancient Jewish prayer texts in the lives of diverse religious communities.

Horst and Newman provide densely packed introductions for each of the prayers, presenting issues related to the reception and interpretation of each prayer. One example will have to suffice for this brief review. Horst discusses the nature and origin of AC arguing for a provenance in Syria around 380 C.E. His textual criticism discussion follows the work of Marcel Metzger. The history of the research into the Jewish origin and nature of these Christian prayers in AC 7.33-38 focuses on the foundational maximalist work of Kolher, Bousset, and Goodenough. They argue that the prayers were Jewish in orientation with rather easily recognizable Christian interpolations. This was the predominant view until the minimalist work of Fiensy who called into question some of the methodological approaches of the previous group of scholars, especially with regard to the ease of identifying Christian interpolations. Fiensy concludes that the prayers represent Jewish synagogal prayers which follow contours of Rabbinic thought at the beginning of the fourth century (22). The reason for including the Jewish prayers with Christian interpolations in AC, argues Horst, is that the Christians in Antioch were attracted to Judaism and this was one way in which church leaders could keep Christians from thinking they needed to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath in order to pray prayers like the Seven Benedictions (25). Though this conclusion might be contested, Horst has identified a significant issue relating to the way in which ‘the parting of the ways’ is often presented without sufficient attention being given to differences in each particular context. His commentary on AC 7.33-38 offers a generally convincing redaction-critical reading, which finds much of this material sourced in the Seven Benedictions with added content from other aspects of “the Sabbath morning service” (p. 89).

Horst and Newman, however, do approach their commentary from somewhat different perspectives. Horst’s commentary often has the feel of a traditional commentary, especially in his discussions of sources, syntax, and conceptual parallels. Newman’s exegesis is informed by contemporary theoretical and literary perspectives that support her exegetical choices into these fragmentary pieces of discourse. This results in a slight lack of coherence within the commentary proper. That minor quibble aside, this volume provides reliable commentary and up-to-date bibliography for liturgical works that are sometimes overlooked in discussions of Jewish identity and early Christian origins and should be included among the resources of scholars working in these areas of research.

This is a revised version of a review that was published originally as:
Review of Pieter W. Van der Horst and Judith H. Newman, Early Jewish Prayers in Greek. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 19, no. 4 (2009): 601-2.

Review of Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel, NSBT, Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2008. Pp. 224. ISBN 978-0-8308-2625-4. $22.00 paper.

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain (KS) provide a clearly argued and accessible study on the trinitarian theology of the Gospel of John. The introduction establishes the need for the study and addresses some of the concerns that are raised when discussing trinitarian beliefs within John (e.g. accusations of historical and theological anachronisms). KS then lay out their hermeneutical approach which is described as “confessional criticism” (p. 23).

Chapter one argues that an understanding of Jesus as God is compatible with exclusivist monotheism and that it is historically plausible that an understanding of Jesus as God emerged quite early within Christianity and thus was not a creation of the church later during the Patristic Period. This chapter provides a brief overview of relevant scholarly works which impinge on Christological studies and Johannine literature, devoting time to the important work of Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado. KS provide a clear argument for the Apostle John’s authorship of the Gospel while critiquing Bauckham’s view that John the Elder wrote the fourth Gospel. The important contribution from this chapter to the argument of the book is that it demonstrated that early Christianity re-defined its inherited understanding of monotheism and thus God’s identity by including in it Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God (Deut. 6:4; Jn. 10:30; 1 Cor. 8:4-6). This reconfiguration is described by Bauckham and cited approvingly by KS as “Christological monotheism” (p. 44).

Chapter two surveys the use of theos in the Gospel of John and notes that it is used to refer to both the Father and the Son. KS recognize that this suggests “an apparent ditheism” on John’s part but comment further that “these two persons sustain a nuanced and complementary relationship” (p. 60). Chapter three provides an overview of the use of pāter with reference to God. It serves to broaden the accepted understanding of monotheism while also functioning as “the dominant, controlling metaphor” with regard to “Jesus’ relationship with God” (p. 73). Chapter four explores John’s application of the terms monogenēs, son of Joseph, Son of God, Son of Man, and Son. Chapter five provides an overview of the presence of the Spirit which evidences a marked increase in the latter half of the John’s Gospel. Chapter six summarizes the findings of the book up to this point and concludes that the trinitarian presence in John’s Gospel centers on mission.

Chapter seven provides a theological interpretation of the Trinity in John’s Gospel. This chapter argues that John’s Christological perspective is fully trinitarian which also has as its focus Jesus’ filial agency and mission of redemption (p. 124). Chapter eight demonstrates the trinitarian nature of John’s Christology by investigating the role of the Spirit in relation to the Son. KS discern in John’s Gospel a pattern in which the Spirit is sent from the Father, persists with the Son, and likewise continues with his followers (p. 148). Chapter nine argues for the centrality of the Trinity in God’s mission in the world and provides practical suggestions for the way the church should participate in that mission. Chapter ten utilizes Jesus’ high-priestly prayer to organize the trinitarian themes evident in John’s Gospel and in subsequent ecclesial reflection with regard to the correlation between Immanent and economic Trinity.

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain have written an accessible and practical volume that provides a stimulating overview to both current trinitarian thought as well as the broader scholarly debates within the field of Johannine studies. This work will prove useful for thoughtful pastors, seminary students, and informed laypersons. It fills a lacuna in the field of biblical studies by providing a biblical survey and theological overview of the Trinity as it is presented in the Gospel of John.

A slightly different version of this review was originally published as:
Review of Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel. (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2008), Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 19, no. 4 (2009): 616-17.

Review of Deliver Us from Evil

Richard H. Bell. Deliver Us from Evil: Interpreting the Redemption from the Power of Satan in New Testament Theology, WUNT, 216. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007. Pp. xxiii + 439. ISBN 3-16-149452-9. $197.50 cloth.

Richard H. Bell’s work contributes to the field of New Testament Theology by providing a densely argued case that deliverance from Satan includes Jesus’ exorcisms as well as his death and resurrection. The focus of this monograph is on “interpreting the redemption from Satan in New Testament theology” (p. 2 emphasis original). After analyzing the New Testament data on this topic, Bell provides a framework for the way this material can be considered true.

The first chapter briefly discusses the history of interpretation of the doctrine of the devil. Next, Bell surveys both Jewish and Christian texts to explain the way each of these traditions understood the work of Satan. The last half of the chapter argues for the necessity of myth to understand the work of Christ with regard to the defeat of the devil (p. 65).

The second chapter discusses Jesus’ exorcisms found in the gospels and argues that the line between “healing” and “exorcism” is quite fluid (p. 71). Bell then provides arguments for their historicity (p. 77). The significance of Jesus’ healing and nature miracles are presented as evidence of the presence of the “eschatological age” which supported the claims for “Jesus’ messiahship” (pp. 97, 107).

Chapter three describes Bell’s philosophical construct, a “Kantian-Schopenhauerian framework” closely aligned with “transcendental idealism” in which the “distinction between the phenomenal world and the noumenal world is maintained while the role of “reason” is “demoted” (pp. 125-51). This framework allows Bell to suggest that the noumenal world may be impinged upon by the phenomenal world (p. 158). Thus, by utilizing the subject-object orientation he is able to argue that Jesus’ ministry affected the noumenal realm.

Chapter four argues that the soul is “the supra-temporal aspect of the human person” and, though properly belonging to the noumenal realm, “corresponds to every stage of our phenomenal existence” (pp. 207, 224). Furthermore, Bell contends that participation in Christ means “that the believer really does participate in Christ’s death on Calvary” (p. 210 emphasis original). Likewise, he argues that humanity also participates in Adam who is understood “as belonging to the noumenal realm” (p. 215).

Chapter five surveys Paul’s understanding of the activity of Satan that suggests Paul had more to say about Satan than is often thought. Humans are under his control because “they have participated in the sin of Adam” which Bell describes by using the concept of “identical repetition” (pp. 241, 256). He also argues that, for Paul, those “participating in the death and resurrection of Christ” have been “released from Satan’s bondage” (p. 263). This is expressed ritually through baptism and the eucharist both of which are understood as “speech-event[s]” affecting “existential displacement” (p. 279).

Chapter six sets out to establish the differences between Hebrews and Paul with regard to their understanding of redemption and the defeat of the devil. Bell concludes that Hebrews lacks a Pauline concept of “existential displacement” while presenting a more “mythical conception of redemption” that includes a “pattern of identitical repetition” (pp. 315, 306). Believers “do not so much participate in Christ but share with the redeemer a common nature” (p. 299 emphasis original).

Chapter seven addresses “the truth of the myth of the deliverance of Satan” (p. 333). Bell prefaces this with seven ways in which exorcisms and the cross and resurrection, both understood as deliverance from the devil, may be combined. Then he concludes, after discussing speech-acts/speech-events, that the truth of the myth “can be discerned only through faith” (p. 340). Chapter eight closes with Bell’s reflections on the nature of demons, a critique of Bultmann’s “program of demythologizing” (pp. 341-42), and reflections on the importance of recognizing the reality of demons and Satan in theological studies and the mission of the church (p. 358).

This work is an excellent example of the way the biblical material may be placed in dialogue with the philosophical questions that emerge from its exegesis. Though some may not be convinced by his use of myth, he has shown how this concept may address the mind-body problem with regard to changes in the phenomenal realm. His commitment to moving beyond Schopenhauer’s understanding of the “principle of sufficient reason” by integrating “speech events” with regard to theology should be given due consideration (p. 43). Bell has provided a brilliantly dense reading of Paul which scholars will find both useful and thoroughly stretching.

A slightly different version of this review originally appeared as:
Review of Richard H. Bell, Deliver Us from Evil: Interpreting the Redemption from the Power of Satan in New Testament Theology. (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 216. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 19, no. 3 (2009): 465-67.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review of Peoples of the NT World

Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide. By William A. Simmons. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008, 352 pp., $37.95, hardcover.

William A. Simmons, professor of New Testament at Lee University, seeks to describe the characteristics of the groups evident in the New Testament and how these groups interacted and influenced one another. Simmons begins with a series of defining moments in the survival of Jewish identity from the Babylonian period to the early Roman empire. He argues that Jewish identity during this period was constructed in opposition to the various occupying powers. The varying responses to imperialism, however, contributed to the fragmentation of Jewish identity that resulted in identity-based groups evident in the New Testament. Simmons gives full attention to the impact of empire and insightfully recognizes that political, social, and religious factions contributed to communal destabilization within the Christ-movement.

Jewish groups are the focus of chapters two through five. Simmons plausibly traces the beginnings of the Pharisees to the reforms of Ezra whilst noting that a concern for the survival of Jewish identity informed the Pharisees’ commitment to following the law. The Sadducees are presented as possibly being associated with the Zadokites and are seen as having similar approaches to cultural assimilation as a means of negotiating Jewish identity in the context of imperialism. The social and political power of the scribes is discussed by Simmons who notes that in Israel, the scribes were central to the discursive formation of Jewish identity. The Zealots are presented as a group that is understood in a binary relationship to the emerging ethos of the early Christ-movement.

Marginalized groups associated with Judea are the focus of chapters six through nine. Simmons rightly notes the association of the tax-collectors with the occupying power of Rome but he also contends that their marginalization had a moral basis associated with it (102). Simmons’ exegetical and historical insight emerges clearly in his understanding of “sinners” as an identifiable social group who were not only “ritually unclean” but “moral profligates” who had cast aside “their religious heritage” (108). This marginalized group, however, is one in which Jesus shares table fellowship. This act of social identification, argues Simmons, provides a theological framework for the social practice of the emerging Christ-movement. The social stratification evident in the Roman empire is clearly seen in the discussion of “the people of the land”, a marginalized group that existed in a constant state of liminality. The significance of ethnic identity is clear in the discussion of the Samaritans. Simmons argues that in the ministry of Jesus “ethnic and racial barriers were being transcended in the name of God” (131). Whist true salvifically, William S. Campbell has argued that ethnic identity continues to be relevant in the Christ-movement but in a reprioritized manner (Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. [London: T&T Clark, 2008: 6-8]).

Chapters ten through twelve introduce social groups associated with the earliest Christ-movement. The followers of John the Baptist are discussed and John is understood as the key transitional figure within the existing religious climate in Judea and that of the emerging Jesus-movement (134). Simmons builds on Jacob Jervell’s idea of the mighty minority in his description of “the Hebrews” as an identifiable social group within the New Testament. The next chapter discusses “the Hellenists” as a similarly constructed social group. Simmons notes that issues related to Jewish and gentile identity emerged quite early on in the Christ-movement, as early as Acts 6. However, it may be better to see the ‘parting of the ways’ that was to occur as a result of the Temple tax, the destruction of the Temple, and the Bar Kokhba revolt. It was not a result of an ongoing ideological battle between the Christ-movement and Judaism or between “the Hellenists” and “the Hebrews” within the Christ-movement. This supposed ideological battle forms the framework of Simmons’ argument in these two chapters. W.D. Davies rightly noted, however, that “in Christ Jews remain Jews and Greeks remain Greeks. Ethnic peculiarities are honoured” (‘Paul and the People of Israel’, NTS 24 1978: 23). Thus, Simmons may be too stark with regard to this ideological battle.

The Roman context is discussed beginning with a highly informative chapter on syncretism and magic. Magic as an ordering principle is often overlooked in New Testament introductions and Simmons’ work makes a significant contribution in this regard. The next chapter describes “the Herodians” as transitional client figures between the Jewish and Roman world (204, 223). Chapter fifteen provides an uneven summary of the Roman emperors and the provincial governors. Also, a discussion of the imperial cult and ideology would have made this chapter more useful. Roman centurions are researched in the next chapter. Simmons argues that these extensions of Roman imperialism are presented in a positive light within the New Testament and that they contributed to the furtherance of the gentile mission (273).

Chapters seventeen through nineteen consider the significance of other key ordering principles within the Roman empire. First, patronage is discussed and the stratified nature of the empire is understood as the means in which the empire could be maintained. Simmons rightly notes the presence of a transformed understanding of patronage within the early Christ-movement (290). Second, the philosophical context of the New Testament is uncovered. Simmons provides helpful introductions to Epicureanism and Stoicism. Third, slavery is overviewed and he understands some of the New Testament documents to contain “the seeds of emancipation” for slaves that would emerge in later revisions of Roman law (321).

This book is highly recommended for general survey courses and those seeking to understand the cultural context of the New Testament. Simmons has produced a richly illustrated and extensively researched monograph that deserves to take its place among the existing handbooks on the New Testament. Slight editorial slippages (e.g. 36-37, 53, 182-83) should be addressed in future editions so that this helpful work will be given the attention is rightly deserves.

A slightly different version of this review originally appeared as:
Review of Williams A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008). Criswell Theological Review, N.S. volume 7, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 108-10.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review of How Did Christianity Begin?

How Did Christianity Begin?: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence. By Michael F. Bird, James G. Crossley, Scot McKnight, and Maurice Casey. London: SPCK; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008, xviii, 206 pp., $19.95, paper.

Michael F. Bird, lecturer in Theology and Bible at Crossway College, in Queensland, Australia, Scotland and James G. Crossley, lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Sheffield in England; set out to write a description of the emergence of Christianity as a separate religious movement from the perspective of a believer (i.e. Bird) and a non-believer (i.e. Crossley). What results is an engaging study into some of the most contentious issues in New Testament studies including: the historical Jesus, the resurrection, the apostle Paul, the Gospels, and earliest Christianity. The book is structured as an ongoing dialogue in which one author presents his argument and the other author provides a counter-argument designed to show the weaknesses in the previous author’s argument. Each chapter then concludes with a brief response from the author who began the chapter. Additionally, each chapter ends with an informative bibliography designed for further reading. This is an important part of the book because often Bird and Crossley are only addressing or responding to aspects of arguments that have been developed more fully in the writings of other scholars. After the above mentioned five areas are discussed, the next chapter provides a critique of Crossley’s overall argument by Scot McKnight and likewise an assessment of Bird’s approach by Maurice Casey. McKnight and Casey, as senior scholars in the field, provide a broader context for the arguments that Bird and Crossley offer and also make comments as to the way they would approach these issues. The book ends with a short reflection on the nature of scholarly discourse and then includes an index of biblical and ancient authors as well as modern authors.

The introduction orients the reader to Bird’s evangelical approach and Crossley’s secular approach. Chapter one begins with Crossley arguing “that Jesus and Christianity were the product of broader social, economic and historical trends” (1). He concludes that most everything that is recorded concerning Jesus is also found in the various expressions of Judaism during the Second Temple Period. Bird, on the other hand, argues that what is recorded about the historical Jesus is accurate and quite exceptional. Moreover, Crossley’s “materialist” framework, misuse of sociological methods, and “cross-cultural” analyses which rely heavily on parallels result in findings that are not convincing (32). Crossley rightly notes that his cross-cultural comparisons are contextually sensitive and that Bird is too strong on this critique (33).

Bird begins chapter two with a defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and concludes that the resurrection accounts for the emergence of the earliest Christ-movement. Crossley contends “that in terms of conventional historical reconstruction the bodily resurrection should be dismissed as a historical event” (51). Here it is clear that even scholarly dialogue has its limits and that these competing positions are mutually exclusive though Bird does suggest that possibly he and Crossley can agree that a least they can acknowledge that the early Christ-followers “believed that Jesus rose from the dead” (65).

Chapter three discusses the apostle Paul and Crossley argues that Paul’s preoccupation was with issues related to the correct interpretation of the Law within Judaism and not with high Christological formulations. Thus, it would be too bold to argue that Paul equated Jesus with God in a manner similar to that of the Gospel of John (84). Bird relies on Philippians 2:5-11 to support his contention that language which had been limited to the God of Israel was now being applied to Jesus (96). Furthermore, Bird’s approach to Paul’s understanding of the Law is that the Law was fulfilled in Christ. Bird and Crossley, however, agree that Paul’s major concern was with “those who wanted to impose Law-observance on Gentiles” (94).

Bird begins chapter four, which discusses the Gospels, by arguing that the Synoptic Gospels and John evidence more continuity than is often concluded by scholars. Bird makes it clear that he follows the consensus dating for the Gospels. This is important because much of Crossley’s argument relies on a dating of Mark in the early 40s (106, 173 n.4). Bird also offers a sustained argument for the historicity of the Fourth Gospel, a viewpoint that is critiqued later in the book by Casey (184). Crossley understands Mark to be promoting continued observance of the Law and that the community to whom he writes was still within Judaism. Crossley provides a rather extensive discussion of Mark 7:19, one in which he concludes that the issue in this verse was hand-washing and not a declaration by Jesus that all foods are clean. Bird concludes by noting Crossley has failed to grasp the differentiated manner in which Law-observance would have been expressed within the Christ-movement and that a “high Christology…belongs to the earliest decades of the early Church” (136).

Chapter five begins with a discussion of the development of earliest Christianity. Crossley connects the concepts of pagan monotheism with empire as key ordering principles in earliest Christianity. Also, he argues that existing social networks were used by leaders of the Christ-movement in order to foster growth and expansion. Bird relies on an understanding of the gentile mission that was implicit in the ministry of Jesus as a key ordering principle for the emergence and continuation of earliest Christianity. Bird offers nine reasons for the ‘parting of the ways’ that seek to combine the political as well as the religious reasons for the separation of Christianity and Judaism (154-59).

Chapter six begins with a critique of Crossley by Scot McKnight who suggests that Crossley downplays the impact of his own presuppositions while elevating Bird’s evangelical bias. Furthermore, McKnight notes that Crossley’s methodological approach is not consistent and thus his conclusions are far from compelling. McKnight offers a brief outline of his preferred approach to early Christian origins, which is highlighted by his focus on “Anawim theology (i.e. the lost and forgotten ones)” and a key recognition that Christianity consisted of “linguistic[ally]-shaped communities” (173, 181). Maurice Casey’s critique of Bird focuses on Bird’s evangelical bias, his commitment to the historicity of the Fourth Gospel, his definition of the miraculous, his commitment to the Christ of faith rather than the Jesus of history, and his anachronistic readings of the Gospel witness. Finally, chapter seven briefly summarizes areas with Bird and Crossley agree and disagree while calling for future historical research to be “anchored in evidence” and practiced “in a spirit of learning” (196).

The structure of the book, with its reliance on a brief presentation and rebuttal may lack the rigor necessary to address in a substantial manner issues as complex as early Christian origins. The book lacks sustained exegetical argumentation and scholarly support is kept to a minimum. This gives the impression that a line of argumentation has been answered by means of a brief rebuttal that may overlook further implications and possibilities with regard to the critiqued position. Moreover, with a topic as broad as early Christian origins, it is unlikely that the chosen format can do little more than orient or introduce the reader to a few scholarly debates. The impact of the Roman Empire, though discussed in chapter five is not given its full consideration as a over-arching factor in the development of the earliest Christ-movement and the findings of Christian identity scholars are overlooked. None of these weaknesses should dissuade one from reading this book. It is a helpful introduction to many of the current issues in the study of early Christian origins and provides a useful starting place for students and newcomers to the issues it explores.

A slightly different version of this review appeared as:
Review of Michael F. Bird, James G. Crossley, Scot McKnight, and Maurice Casey. How Did Christianity Begin?: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence. (London: SPCK, 2008). Criswell Theological Review, N.S. volume 7, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 106-08.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review of Healing, Weakness, and Power

Audrey Dawson. Healing, Weakness and Power: Perspectives on Healing in the Writings of Mark, Luke and Paul. Milton Keynes, U.K.: Paternoster, 2008. Pp. xvii + 302. ISBN 978-1-84227-524-5. $38.00 paper.

How did Mark, Luke, and Paul understand the healing ministry of Jesus and its continued expression in the life of the apostolic church? This is the concern of Audrey Dawson, who writes from dual perspective of a consultant physician and a New Testament scholar. This results in a work that is broad in scope, exegetically sensitive, and thoroughly stimulating. Chapter one introduces the topic to be studied and discusses many of the problems associated with researching ancient conceptions of healing in the contemporary context.

Chapter two begins with a wide-ranging summary of views of healing and sickness within Jewish thought as a way to contextualize Jesus’ healing ministry. The Greco-Roman world is surveyed and she concludes that the practice of magic was a widespread phenomenon and that healing miracles conferred power on individuals and credibility for their religious framework. Dawson’s argument in this chapter is that much of Mark, Luke, and Paul concerning the healing ministry of Jesus and the apostles is consonant with the expectations, practices, and beliefs within the early Roman empire.

Chapter three focuses on the Gospel of Mark and its depiction of healing by arguing, from a narrative-critical perspective, Jesus is seen as a healer, who attracts both crowds and opposition but this healing activity is only seen prior to his passion. This ministry focus is then developed within the broader context of Mark’s Christological concerns in which Jesus’ weakness becomes a focus of the latter part of the Gospel (p. 66). Dawson further argues that Jesus passed the concern for healing on to his followers. Thus, healing ministry would in turn form a key component of their mission throughout the Mediterranean basin, a mission sourced in Jesus’ example of healing both Jew and gentile (p. 90).

Chapter four Dawson discusses Luke’s portrayal of the healing ministry of Jesus and the apostles in Luke-Acts. Luke’s narrative presentation differs in significant ways from that of Mark. For example, in Luke the healings also serve a pedagogical function (Luke 11:14). Also, Mark emphasizes the humanity of Jesus while Luke describes him “as the powerful, obedient Son of God” (p. 156). Moreover, healing is understood in the context of the revelation of God’s power and functions as a key component for the legitimation of the mission to the gentiles through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:12).

Dawson argues, in chapter five, that Paul’s presentation of Jesus’ healing ministry is quite different in comparison to Mark and Luke. The source of this difference is Paul’s experience with personal illness in which he developed his theology of suffering and mission (2 Cor 12:7-10). Dramatic physical healings were thus not a central part of Paul’s ministry. Furthermore, Dawson understands Paul’s message of spiritual salvation to the gentiles to be an extension and his re-contextualization of the earthly ministry of Jesus which had emphasized physical healing.

Chapter six discusses the implications of the preceding study, reveals its findings, and brings to the fore the similarities and differences with regard to healing, weakness, and power in Mark, Luke, and Paul. Dawson’s work is particularly helpful in her assessment of Luke as one not writing as a physician (pp. 152-56) and locating the source of Paul’s reprioritization of the significance of physical healing within the life of the Christ-movement in his personal experience with chronic illness (pp. 198-203). This revised doctoral dissertation, done under the supervision of Andrew D. Clarke at the University of Aberdeen, provides a compelling reading of the differentiated and situational significance of healing within the earliest Christ-movement and makes a valuable contribution to New Testament studies.

This review originally appeared as:
Review of Audrey Dawson, Healing, Weakness, and Power: Perspectives on Healing in the Writings of Mark, Luke and Paul. (Milton Keyes: Paternoster, 2008). Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 20, no. 1 (2010): 134-35.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review of Introducing Paul

Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message. By Michael F. Bird. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008, 192 pp., $20.00, paper.

Michael Bird sets out to provide an introductory book on Paul’s life, thought, and writings in a way that is relevant and stimulating without being overly-distracted by “scholarly debates and complex technicalities” (p. 6). This is quite a challenge; however, Bird, who is a lecturer in Theology and Bible at Crossway College, in Queensland, Australia, admirably accomplishes this task in Introducing Paul. Chapter 1 is a fast-paced discussion seeking to answer the question, What is Paul? Bird’s answer is that he was “a servant of Jesus Christ” (p. 29). Furthermore, this chapter introduces the reader to various contested issues within Pauline studies, all structured around the image of Paul as a “persecutor, missionary, theologian, pastor, martyr, and maverick” (p. 28). Bird understands Paul’s greatest accomplishment to be his successful mission to include gentiles within the transformed understanding of the people of God. Chapter 2 briefly highlights the implications of Paul’s Damascus road experience, referred to as a conversion “to a messianic sect within Judaism” (p. 35 emphasis original). Bird provides a traditional Pauline chronology and then a description of the way Paul’s identity and theologizing were discontinuous with his Pre-Damascus road Jewish self-understanding and Pharisaic theology.

Chapter 3 presents a narrative substructure for a Pauline biblical theology. Bird’s topical review of salvation history provides the reader with key intersecting narratives that inform his epistolary discourse. His discussion of Adam and Christ is quite theological while his discussion of Israel argues the viewpoint that, for Paul, the church has replaced Israel as the people of God (p. 50). Chapter 4 gives a brief summary of the argument, structure, and framework of all the canonical letters attributed to Paul. Bird is a maximalist with regard to Pauline authorship of these letters (but see pp. 70-71 n.5). Chapter 5 provides a narrative-critical reading of the Gospel. Bird contends that for Paul, the Gospel is concerned with both the person and work of Christ. Furthermore, the Pauline stories in Rom. 1.1-4, 1 Cor. 15.1-5, and 2 Tim. 2.8, function as theological narratives designed to inform their auditors about God, salvation, and humanity (83). Bird draws from historic empire studies and the work of N.T. Wright to provide an informative discussion of the way the gospel was heard in the context of Roman imperial ideology.

The death and resurrection of Christ, which Bird understands as the center of Paul’s theological thought, is expressed through images and metaphors designed to explicate the significance of the Gospel. These concepts are introduced by Bird in chapter 6 and, when taken together provide a contingent discursive understanding of Pauline soteriology. The expressions covered by Bird include: righteousness, sacrifice, reconciliation, redemption, adoption, renewal, and victory. Chapter 7 offers a brief discussion of Paul’s eschatology and its importance for New Testament theology in general. Bird presents the “already” and “not yet” scheme, while also considering it plausible, based on 1 Cor. 15.23-25, that Paul expected a “messianic or millennial reign of Christ upon the earth” (p. 121). In Chapter 8, Bird presents Paul as a “messianic” monotheist who understands Christ as one “participating in the divine identity” (pp. 126, 128). This is an excellent of example of the way an introductory book can discuss important and relevant but often challenging conceptual material. The subject of Pauline ethics is the focus of chapter 9. Bird relies on the traditional Pauline “indicative” and “imperative” interpretive framework as a way to organize some of Paul’s teaching on the social implications of the Gospel (p. 136). Chapter 10 discusses Paul’s approach to discipleship and spiritual formation, which Bird refers to as “gospelizing”. In “gospelization”, individuals are formed in the shape of the cross and empowered by Christ’s resurrection (p. 162). The epilogue provides a reminder concerning the fragmentary nature of the Pauline discourse, the significance of his legacy within church history, and a clarion call to emulate Paul by living a missional life.

Bird has written a useful entry-level book for undergraduates, informed laypersons, and for ministers seeking to stay current within Pauline studies. His book sometimes presents only one side of rather disputed and contentious issues (e.g. the relationship of the church and Israel) and the influence of N.T. Wright is evident throughout the work. This book is recommended for those seeking to understand the contours of Paul’s thought in a way that is engaging, relevant, and highly readable.

Originally published as:
Review of Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), Criswell Theological Review, N.S. volume 7, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 119-20.

Reading Ephesians, Part 3

This is the final part of my review of Reading Ephesians by Minna Shkul, check here for part 1 and part 2. It is also published in the Journal of Beliefs and Values. See part 1 of this series for bibliographic information.

Chapter 6 provides the ideological paradigms necessary for the negotiation of social identity within the non-Israelite Christ-following community. The primary principle is that the community must replicate the holiness standards of Israel, which include distancing itself from the unclean identity and behaviours of the nations. This is achieved by social categorisation of both the ingroup (i.e. God's holy community), and the outgroup (i.e. those awaiting God's judgement); however, this occurs in an asymmetrical manner. The putative abolishing of the Law in Eph 2:15 indicates discontinuity with Jewish identity, while the call in Eph 4:17 to no longer live as gentiles problematises non-Israelite identity and leaves the community in a constant state of identity-liminality. The resolution, for Shkul, is in a third identity position: she concludes that 'Christianness is a primary identification that ought to characterise both values and behaviours of community members' (239). It is a social identification that is neither Jewish, nor non-Israelite, but one that is formed by the letter's social entrepreneurship, resulting in 'a cohesive community of God's people who manifest his holiness' (238). Chapter 7 provides a brief summary and conclusion to the work.

In a review this size, two brief evaluative comments are in order - one hermeneutical and the other social psychological. Shkul follows closely the work of Judith Lieu with regard to the reality- and identity-constructing power of texts and, likewise, Lieu's jaundiced eye towards the ability of scholars to reconstruct the historical context of/behind a text (2004, 9). While Shkul is right to note a lack of circumstantial content in the letter, it is not evident that the best hermeneutical choice is to resist any substantive reconstruction (181 n. 8). Ephesians undoubtedly constructs the cognitive framework of its auditors; however, it also reflects the social and political world of its author, and at least in a general fashion the world of its addressees. So, Shkul rightly focuses on the textual world, but there is some need for socio-historical reflection on the author and/or its auditors, otherwise it would be difficult if not impossible to assess whether or not Ephesians was successful in its social entrepreneurship (Tellbe 2009, 52).

The references to Jenkins' internal-external dialectic of identification (203) and to Pickering's 'sociology of the stranger' (234), with its concern for assimilation and difference, could have been strengthened by including Brewer's optimal distinctiveness theory (2003, 480-91). This would also allow for further refinement on the way identification with or rejection of key aspects of an ethical approach with its basis in Israel's scriptures interacted with the ongoing influence of non-Israelite social identifications (e.g. household and kinship structures). Shkul's Reading Ephesians provides a largely persuasive and theoretically complex social-scientific reading of Ephesians that draws extensively from social identity theory, social memory, cultural studies, and literary theory. It admirably achieves its goal of advancing 'Ephesians scholarship by a methodological evaluation of the construction of identity and community, long acknowledged to be formative to the thought of the letter' (240).

© 2010, J. Brian Tucker
Brewer, M. B. Leary, M. R. and Tangney, J. R. (eds) (2003) Optimal distinctiveness, social identity, and the self. Handbook of self and identity pp. 480-491. Guilford , New York.

Lieu, J. M. (2004) Christian identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman world Oxford University Press , Oxford.

Tellbe, M. (2009) Christ-believers in Ephesus: A textual analysis of early Christian identity formation in a local perspective Mohr Siebeck , Tübingen, Germany.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reading Ephesians, Part 2

This post continues my review of Minna Shkul's Reading Ephesians, that I began in yesterday's post. Chapter 3 provides an Iserian 'wandering viewpoint' analysis of Eph 2:11-22, with a specific focus on 2:15, in order to determine whether or not Jesus was remembered to have abolished the Law completely or partially. Shkul concludes that Jesus abolished the Law completely (113); however, this should not be interpreted as an anti-Jewish interpretive stance. Jewishness provides autochthony and behavioural models for this non-Israelite Christ-following community, though its symbolic universe is reconfigured around the Christ-event. This is necessary because the community will be required to leave their existing Roman culture behind now that they are 'in Christ' (125). With regard to the partial continuation of the Law and previous social identities within the Christ-movement, Shkul acknowledges that 'multiple identities' and 'righteous gentile' constructs have textual support in the undisputed Paulines (102-5). However, she contends that there is no warrant for holding these positions in Ephesians where one overarching identity is the ideological perspective of this reformist, Jewish author, writing in the late first century CE. Shkul is quick to point out that often NT scholars acknowledge the Deutero-Pauline status of Ephesians, but continue to interpret the letter as if Paul had written it and it reflected a mid-first historical century situation (131). She provides warrant for rejecting that approach and suggests ways in which looking at Ephesians as a late first century document provide an evidentiary bridge between the early Christ-movement and the universalistic Christian identity that emerges during the time of Ignatius.

Chapter 4 uncovers Paul's reputation as the unique communicator of God's mystery, which is described as the inclusion of the gentiles in God's people, and as one who legitimates non-Israelite Christianness. The pseudonymous epistle presents historical reflections of Paul as a group exemplar who embodies the values and behaviours of the subgroup. These prototypical features also socially categorise both ingroup and outgroup and bring to the fore a rationale for rejecting any discourse opposed to that which has been legitimated by Paul's prophetic ministry. The primary ideological reforms evident in the construction of Paul's prophetic persona include the following two elements: (1) foreigners 'in Christ' are now accepted into Israel as God's people; and (2) the law no longer marks communal boundaries. The result of these reforms is what Shkul calls 'non-Israelite Christianness' (172). This ideological discourse contributes to the eventual separation between the Christ-movement and Judaism; however, the reputational construal of Paul should not be understood as an overt critique of the Jews.

Chapter 5 uncovers key theoretical perspectives that will be employed in the reading of Eph 4-6, which is to occur in chapter 6. The framework draws on key resources of social identity theory (e.g. positive ingroup assessment, social stereotyping, prejudice, and scapegoating). These provide interpretive clues into the social orientation of Ephesians with regard to the paradigms it provides for acceptable communal life (see Eph 4:17). Thus, Shkul is interested in discerning in Eph 4-6 the meaning of identity to the writer of the letter, and the way it communicates his approved communal behaviours, which have their basis in the group's social identification (184). This allows Shkul to minimise any need for conflict with outsiders, which has little to no basis in the text; rather, she fills a gap missed by other scholars by noting the way the text creates social distance, and, if embodied, may actually produce conflict with those outside the ideologically constructed ingroup (182).

This is part of my review published in Journal of Beliefs and Values 31.2 (August 2010): 238-41.