Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2015 IBR Identity Formation in the Pauline Letters Call for Papers

Call for Papers for our Friday November 20, 2015 research group meeting in Atlanta meeting in conjunction with the 2015 SBLAAR Annual Meeting. Our session is entitled: “Cultural Anthropology and Identity in Paul’s Letters.” Our Research Group welcomes proposals dealing with the way the use of cultural anthropological theories have been used in order to research Paul’s identity-forming work. Papers may address specific reading strategies such as limited good or broader evaluations of movements such as the Context Group. Alternatively, new applications of contemporary cultural anthropological theories to the Pauline discourse are welcome. Those interested in participating in that should contact the co-conveners for further information: J. Brian Tucker and Jim Miller

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

IBR and SBL Sessions Reviewing The T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament

The T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament will be reviewed in two different sessions this week. Here is the list and the presenters.

Review of Trebilco's Self-Designations and Group Identity in the New Testament

Trebilco, Paul R. Self-Designations and Group Identity in the New Testament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xii + 375 pp. £60.00 (hardback), ISBN 978-1107012998.

            Paul Trebilco, Professor of New Testament at the University of Otago in New Zealand, explores the source, use, and purpose of seven self-designations found in the NT: brothers and sisters, believers, saints, the assembly, disciples, the Way, and Christians. This densely argued monograph brings together classical lexical methods and sociolinguistics in order to determine the way these terms were used to form group identity in their recipients. Trebilco allows each section of the NT to speak on its own terms and does not downplay the diversity of the authors; rather, distinct theological emphases are acknowledged. Furthermore, the asymmetrical influence of Israel’s scriptures and, in other cases, the Greek and/or Roman context, are drawn upon by Trebilco for their heuristic values. This results in a study that provides ample textual evidence for addressing the way naming and labelling in the NT contributed to the formation of group identity among the earliest Christ-followers.
The introduction situates Trebilco’s study by noting his interest in two questions: What would Christians have called each other? And how did the various NT authors refer to these individuals in their writings? Thus, throughout the study, Trebilco focuses on both self-designations and labels as a way to distinguish answers to these two questions. He notes that, surprisingly, no full-length monograph has been written on the topic of self-designations in the NT; thus, his work commendably fills this gap. From a methodological standpoint, Trebilco draws on social-scientific insights about the way naming forms identity and about the role that social dialects play in the maintenance of this identity. Here he recognizes the performative nature of identity and the particular significance of insider and outsider discourse in its construction. Trebilco’s contribution to the study of labelling and identity formation is his helpful three-fold distinction between: (1) ‘insider language for self-designation’, (2) ‘outward-facing self-designations’, and (3) ‘outsider-used designations’ (10). These categorizations provide much needed precision in the discussion of group labels in early Christian origins, though the way one determines which category is being used remains an open question. Challenges to Trebilco’s approach that might have been addressed in the introduction include the following two: (1) several scholars doubt that language can form identity to the extent that Trebilco contends (e.g. Holmberg 2008); and (2) a number of scholars doubt if one could claim extensive use of any label by the Christ-movement(s) at this early stage (e.g. Campbell 2008).
Chapter 2 provides a study of ‘brothers and sisters’ (adelphoi). Trebilco begins by surveying the use of this term in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish literature and concludes that it referred to fellow Israelites. In these contexts as well as in the ‘Greco-Roman’ context, when members of a voluntary association referred to each other, this term could be used metaphorically to cover all ingroup members. Paul, in close continuity with its use in Israel’s scriptures, uses this term as insider language, central to his construction of group boundaries. Trebilco finds no evidence that this term was used for outsiders, though he does conclude that it ‘goes back to the earliest periods’ of the movement and was ‘the most common…designation for Christians in the NT’ (45, 65). Two further comments are in order. First, Trebilco correctly recognizes, I think, that this term cannot be used to support the idea of a radically egalitarian community. Second, because of the use of kinship discourse in Roman imperial contexts, a discussion of cultural translation might have provided further insights into Paul’s use of this group label (see Ehrensperger 2013).
Chapter 3 outlines the use and significance of the ingroup label ‘the believers’ (hoi pistoi and hoi pisteuontes) and contends that it was a term of self-reference that emphasizes faith as a key marker of early ‘Christian’ identity. Especially in Romans, Trebilco sees this label creating, for gentiles, a new boundary between insiders and outsiders, replacing circumcision (81-82). This last nuance is rather helpful since this label does not distinguish these early Christ-followers from non-Christ-believing Jews. In fact, Trebilco contends that this term originated as one of self-designation among Jewish Christ-followers under the influence of the stone discourse found in Isa 28.16. Two further observations should be noted. First, Trebilco is undoubtedly correct in his argument that believing is both something that occurs at conversion and is a component of new life in Christ. Second, it may be too stark to claim that Acts 22.19 supports the idea that believing functions as a cipher for distinguishing Christ-followers from synagogue attendees (105).
Chapter 4 highlights the fascinating phrase ‘the saints’ or ‘the holy ones’ (hoi hagioi) and contends that this self-designation likely began among Jewish Christ-followers in Jerusalem as they sought to maintain their group identity within two communities. Building on Daniel 7, they aligned themselves with the eschatological covenant people Israel as well as with a more narrowly defined subgroup within Israel following the Jerusalem apostles. Trebilco understands Paul to be doing something similar with regard to this first use, but then he expands the referent to include both Jewish and gentile Christ-followers, a significant development (129, 141). This group label brings to the fore a contentious issue among scholars with regard to the way group descriptors originally applied to Israel are used in the NT to describe both in Christ Jews and gentiles (146). The use of this term with an expanded referent may still be understood as intra-muros discourse and need not imply supersessionism.    
Chapter 5 covers ‘the assembly’ (hē ekklēsia), oftentimes anachronistically translated with the English gloss ‘the church’ (164). Trebilco thinks this term goes back to the Hellenistic Jewish Christ-followers in Jerusalem and was chosen because ‘synagogue’ (synagōgē) was already widely used to describe non-Christ-believing synagogues (185, 190). In this way, ekklēsia functions as a social dialect within the movement and suggests a broad relational network, one beyond the local level (181). Two comments are particularly relevant here. First, Trebilco insightfully notes that the earliest members of the Christ-movement saw themselves simultaneously as members of an ekklēsia and a synagōgē (193). Those who argue that the use of ekklēsia indicates an early parting of the ways have overstated their case. Second, though Trebilco does sense the tension (207), a slight corrective may be in order regarding the lack of widespread dispersion of this term since it has recently been persuasively argued that Paul may use hē ekklēsia to refer specifically to the Pauline Christ-movement and not to Christ-followers in general (see Korner 2013).
Chapter 6 discusses the use of ‘disciples’ (mathētai) as a group identifier, one that is prevalent in the Gospels and then all but disappears in the rest of the NT. Building on the criteria for authenticity from historical Jesus studies, Trebilco contends that Jesus did use this term (i.e. the underlying Aramaic talmîdayyā), thus accounting for its presence in the Gospels. However, he also recognizes that this term was not used as a self-designator (226) because it was too closely associated with the historical Jesus and his itinerant ministry and did not translate into the diverse contexts of the emerging Christ-movement (230). However, the use of the term disciple does re-emerge at the time of Ignatius, who provides a model for the way a label from a previous era may be re-contextualized and re-used (mis-used?) by Christians of a later time.
Chapter 7 overviews the use of the phrase ‘the Way’ (hē hodos) as a self-designation that emerged in a Jewish context through reflection on Isa 40.3. It was an early way for members of the movement to describe themselves and other members. This term had broader use and is actually one of the few that covers all three of Trebilco’s categories (Acts 18.25-26; 24.14; 22.4). It was too imprecise, however, and thus quickly fell out of use as a continuing identifier of group identity (268).
Chapter 8 discusses the group label ‘Christian’ (christianos), one that Trebilco considers to have been an outsider-developed term imposed on the Christ-followers in Antioch (Acts 11.25-26). His case for this is based on a passive reading of ‘to be called’ (chrēmatisai). Thus the verse would be rendered, ‘the “disciples” were called “Christians” by others’ (276). The use of this term is often seen as an early indication that believers in Christ could be identified as distinct from other forms of Judaism, but Trebilco, rightly I think, rejects this assertion. There is nothing in the use of the term ‘Christian’ to indicate a correlative and not Jewish (279). First Peter 4.16 may be an indication of a development with regard to this term and may suggest that some were starting to socially identify with this originally derisive term. However, Trebilco appears on target when he points out that Christ-followers ‘would have been reluctant to use it internally’ because it did not sufficiently describe (or say enough about) their transformed identity (more on this below) (292).
The concluding chapter discusses the implications of Trebilco’s argument and provides several keen insights with regard to the social implications for the discoveries of the previous chapters. For example, he suggests that there never was simply one overarching self-designator within the Christ-movement; rather, a variety of these emerged for different contextual reasons. Thus, Trebilco and Campbell are not that far apart in their rejection of the presence of a dominant label among the earliest adherents (302). Second, the pervasive presence of social dialects was crucial to the formation of early Christ-movement identity. However, this also raises the issue of the transformation of identity in Christ, and here I would like to have seen Trebilco go a bit further. In this work, identity seemed to be a textual creation almost to the exclusion of ethnicity and social context. Jew and gentile discourse is ubiquitous and used by the NT writers in ways that cohere with all three of Trebilco’s categories. Thus, it would seem that one area of self-designation and group identity that should have received further attention is the way these writers negotiated broader ethnic and social discourses in the use of these theological indices. Hence Campbell’s reminder to NT scholars: ‘identity precedes theology and … in fact theological constructions emerge to solve the problem of identity rather than create it’ (2008: 52).
Trebilco has written an insightful and helpful monograph on one aspect of the development of Christ-movement identity, i.e. the way naming forms identity. This book deserves wide readership and engagement from NT and early Christian origins scholars. While his attention to lexicography will undoubtedly be seen as methodologically dated by some, he does provide substantial evidence upon which subsequent scholarship can build. This work is highly recommended and provides several insights into the diverse ways Christ-movement identity was formed throughout the Mediterranean basin. 


Campbell, W. S. 2008. Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. London: T & T Clark.

Ehrensperger, K. 2013. Paul at the Crossroads of Cultures: Theologizing in the Space-Between. London: T & T Clark.

Holmberg, B. 2008. ‘Understanding the First Hundred Years of Christian Identity’. In Exploring Early Christian Identity, edited by B. Holmberg, 1-32. WUNT 226. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Korner, R. J. 2013. ‘Before ‘Church’: Political, Ethno-Religious, and Theological Implications of the Collective Designation of Pauline Christ-Followers as Ekklēsiai’. PhD diss., McMaster University.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Schedule for The NT and Economics Colloquium

The New Testament and Economics Colloquium, 2014
The Land Center for Cultural Engagement, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Riley Center Rooms 237-39

Thursday Sept. 18:
8:00-8:30:        Breakfast
8:30-8:45:        Welcome:        Craig Blaising, Executive Vice President and Provost, Professor of Theology
8:45-9:50:        Session I:         Klaus Issler, Talbot Theological Seminary
The Diversity of Method and Presuppositions in NT Interpretation of Economic / Commercial Factors with Illustrations from Jesus Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30).
9:50-10:05:      Break
10:05-11:10:    Session II:        Jim Hernando, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary
The Economic Substructure in the Parables of Jesus: Implications and Insights.
11:10-11:25:    Break
11:25-12:30:    Session III:       Craig Blomberg, Denver Seminary.
Redistribution of Wealth: A Socialist Anathema or a Biblical Fundamental?
12:30-1:30:      Lunch
1:30-2:35:        Session IV:      Ed Noell, Westmont College.
Wealth, Exchange, and the Rights of the Poor: New Testament Teaching in Light of Old Testament Conceptions and Institutions.
2:35-2:50:        Break
2:50-4:05:        Session V:        Terence Mournet, Ashland University.
Wealth in Luke/Acts in Greco-Roman Context.
4:05-4:20:        Break
4:20-5:25:        Session VI:      James R. Wicker, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
An Assarion for Your Thoughts: The Challenges of Translating NT Numismatic Terms.
5:25-6:45:        Dinner
6:45-7:50:        Session VII:      J. Brian Tucker, Moody Theological Seminary
The Jerusalem Collection, Economic Inequality, and Human Flourishing: Redistribution of Money or Relationships of Mutuality or Both?

Friday Sept. 19
8:00-8:30:        Breakfast
8:30-8:45:        Introductions and Prayer: John Taylor
8:45-9:50:        Session VIII:    David Kotter, Colorado Christian University
The Distinction between Greed and Self Interest in the Life and Letters of the Apostle Paul.
9:50-10:05:      Break
10:05-11:10:    Session IX:      John W. Taylor, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Labour of Love: The Theology  of Work in First and Second Thessalonians.
11:10-11:25:    Break
11:25-12:30:    Session X:        Tom Davis, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Business Secrets of Paul of Tarsus.
12:30-1:30:      Lunch
1:30-2:35:        Session XI:       Keith Reeves, Azusa Pacific University
Show Me the Money: Romans as a Fund-Raising Letter.
2:35-2:50:        Break
2:50-4:05:        Session XII:     Aaron Kuecker, LeTourneau University
Liturgical Economics in Philippi: Economic Practice in Union with Christ.
4:05-4:20:        Break
4:20-5:25:        Session XIII:    Round Table/Museum Visit/(Dead Sea Scrolls).

6:30                 Dinner (off campus)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review of Dunson's Individual and Community in Paul's Letter to the Romans

Individual and Community in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. By Ben C. Dunson. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 332.  Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2012, xii+217 pp., $117.50.

Ben C. Dunson, Professor of New Testament at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida, in this revised thesis written under the supervision of Francis Watson at the University of Durham, argues that “the individual and the community belong together in Paul’s theology; there is no Pauline individual outside of community, just as there is no community without individuals at the heart of its ongoing life” (p. 1 emphasis removed). This goes against much of the recent work on Paul that sees the relationship between the individual and the communal in Paul generally, and in Romans specifically, as most precisely aligned with the communal. Dunson, on the other hand, is convinced that the individual and the community are closely intertwined concepts for Paul, since he views individuals in Christ as simultaneously members of Christ’s body.

The introduction highlights several reasons why the individual focus in Paul has fallen out of favor. First, Dunson points to the rise of social-scientific criticism and its anti-individual perspective. Here the work of several members of the Context Group is seen as problematic. Second, the rise of the New Perspective on Paul, with its lack of conviction with regard to Paul’s interests in an individual’s private relationship with God, polarizes communal and individual readings. Third, the rise of apocalyptic as an interpretive framework, with its focus on the cosmic and social dimensions of Paul’s discourse, leads to a further rejection of the importance of the individual in his writings. Though Dunson recognizes the recent work of Gary Burnett with regard to the individual and salvation in Paul, he finds his attempt unpersuasive and offers his monograph, with its close attention to several portions of Romans, as a way to explicate the idea that, “There simply is no individual in Pauline teaching on the believing life that is not at the same time embedded into the ongoing life of the believing community” (p. 16). Thus, Dunson is convinced that if scholars downplay or over-emphasize one of these approaches over the other, foundational aspects of Paul’s theology will be missed.

Dunson, in chapter 2, traces the separation of the individual and the community in Paul to the vigorous debate on this topic between Rudolph Bultmann and Ernst Käsemann. He seeks to bring to the fore the oftentimes overlooked communal aspect in Bultmann’s existential approach. At the same time, Dunson seeks to nuance Käsemann’s non-individualistic and apocalyptic understanding of Paul. After a thorough analysis of both scholars, he notes the way Käsemann’s legacy has been particularly felt, i.e., in the way scholars have adopted his apocalyptic understanding of the righteousness of God. For Dunson, Bultmann’s approach to God’s righteousness as “God’s saving action” is less problematic (p. 61). However, he sees both scholars as selective in their use of textual data and hopes to point out several gaps so that what emerges is not a simple synthesis of the two but the way that, for Paul, the individual and the communal imply one another (see p. 17).

One of the main lines of critique is that people in antiquity did not have a conception of the individual in the same way people do today. Thus, anyone researching from within a contemporary individualistic framework is open to the charge of anachronism. To counter this charge, in chapter 3, Dunson draws on the writings (i.e., the lectures transcribed by Arrian) of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. While resisting the parallel or influence approach often practiced among history of religions scholars, Dunson attempts to place another first century writer in the middle of an ongoing debate between the individual and society. He does not downplay the clear ideological differences between Epictetus and Paul; rather, he allows him to speak to his own concerns, which are primarily centered on moral progress. He offers a fairly persuasive set of data suggesting that Epictetus’s focus on the development of personal virtue has a vital and concomitant communal component to it (cf., Diatribai 1.4; 3.2; with 2.5; 2.10; and 2.22). Epictetus can, at the same time, focus on self-preservation and faithful communal living (Diatribai 4.10.12-13). This allows scholars such as Troels Engberg-Pedersen to set aside “the false assumption that the individual and the community are antithetical concepts” (p. 107).

Chapter 5 unpacks the first four kinds of individuals found in Romans. Within the larger scholarly debate surrounding the nature of these characters, Dunson’s view clearly sympathizes with a Lutheran approach. The characteristic individual, found in Rom 2:1-5, 17-25; 3:1-9, helps to abolish any “Jewish soteriological privilege” (pp. 114, 127). The generic individual, seen as the most pervasive type in Romans, emerges as Paul addresses humanity’s plight without regard to individual ethnic identity, revealing his anthropological universalism. The binary individual, found most predominantly in the Jew-gentile distinction, is employed by Paul, according to Dunson, in a way that radically relativizes existing identities, especially “the covenantal boundaries of Israel” (p. 128). The exemplary individual, i.e., Abraham in Romans 4, is seen as one that other individuals are expected to emulate. This section provides substantial textual argumentation as Dunson seeks to cast doubt on the covenantal definition approach to Romans 4.

In chapter 6, Dunson continues developing his typology by bringing to the fore the communal aspect of the individual. The representative person, differentiated from the exemplary one by the vicarious nature of the description, is found in the Adam-Christ parallel in Romans 5. Dunson argues that the individual has been brought into a communal relationship by the actions of Adam and Christ (p. 154). The negative exemplary individual is found in Romans 7, understood by Dunson both as describing Paul’s own past experience and indicating his role as a representative Israelite (p. 164). The somatic individual is a member of the body of Christ and develops Paul’s “principle of unity-within-diversity” and “individual-within-community” (p. 169; Rom 12:3-8). The final category in Dunson’s typology is the particular individual; this describes real persons in the context of their existing social identities and in relation to other community group members (Romans 16). The conclusion details differences between Paul and Epictetus with regard to the individual and summarizes Dunson’s findings concerning the inseparability of the individual and the community in Romans.

Overall, Dunson has made his case, and scholars should not overlook the significance of the individual for Paul in Romans. There is considerable improvement here on Burnett’s earlier work on the individual in Paul. However, a few questions still remain. First, the generic individual is a crucial part of Dunson’s thesis, but can Paul really conceive of abstracted, non-historicized individuals to the exclusion of their existing identities in such a substantial way? Second, has the move from rhetoric to anthropology been made too quickly? A literary trope may not be that useful for discerning Paul’s concept of the individual. Third, while Dunson readily acknowledges that he is being selective in his choice of sections in Romans to discuss (pp. 110, 147), one wonders if the almost complete avoidance of Romans 9-11 limits the significance of his conclusions. With these questions in mind, Dunson’s work is recommended for scholars working on identity formation in Paul. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review of Kobel's Dining with John

Dining with John: Communal Meals and Identity Formation in the Fourth Gospel and its Historical and Cultural Context.  By Esther Kobel. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2011. Pp. xx + 370. Cloth, $176.00.

In Dining with John, Esther Kobel, at the University of Basel, is interested in the role communal meals played in the experience of the earliest Christ-followers and the ‘historical’ Johannine community. To uncover this role, she pays particular attention to the rhetorical function of food, drink, and meals in the Gospel of John and offers an imaginative context, informed by the concept of hybridity, by allowing the text to function as an indicator of a plausible Sitz im Leben that arises from key discursive pointers in John’s Gospel. Koebel’s socio-rhetorical approach, as practiced by Vernon Robbins, recognizes the way these discourses mutually inform one another and, more importantly, draws from both the Jewish and non-Jewish context and cultural codes. After an introduction and a state of the question, the study is broken into two parts: the first pays close attention to metaphorical use of food and drink in the Fourth Gospel, while the second brings to the fore selected themes from the narrative world of the Gospel that were likely important to the negotiation of the group’s identity.   

A central premise for Koebel is that the Johannine community’s regular meals had a deeper significance than just bodily sustenance. Chapter 1 provides the reader with her understanding of the foundational issues. Her assumption concerning the Gospel is that it “was written for and directed to a specific section of the Christ-movement, a ‘textual community’ which I will call the ‘Johannine community,’” though this should not be construed to provide “a direct window into a historical Johannine community.” Rather it describes a “context” a “living environment” and “practices of the Gospel’s addressees and/or authors” (33). She follows what has come to be the dominant social-scientific approach to understanding identity (Tajfel, Turner, Jenkins, and Hall). Chapter 2 surveys the existing scholarship dealing with the sociological perspective on meals within the broader field of biblical studies and the Fourth Gospel specifically.

Chapter 3 overviews the narrative structure of the Fourth Gospel and the way meal scenes, food, and drink emerge throughout. She makes a strong case for the centrality of meal settings and their associated discourses as an interpretive key for the Gospel of John (especially in comparison to the Synoptic tradition). The primary and oft repeated point is that Jesus provides food for his believers, and those who accept this food and partake of him/it show themselves to be his followers and make concrete their Christian identity (at least in its embryonic form). The meal scenes in John 6 and 13–17 provide the pivot points for the entire Gospel, the first with regard to the significant reduction in participants as the story continues, and the second (with the removal of the betrayer) as the occasion for the formation of the ingroup, “the true community that is marked by mutual indwelling of the disciples with Jesus even after his death” (107).

The strength of this study emerges in the socio-rhetorical intertextures evident in part 2. Chapter 4 sets a clear context for the way meals form identity; this chapter alone makes a significant contribution to NT studies. Chapter 5 studies the eucharistic discourse in John 6 and the way footwashing decenters it. Chapter 6 surveys the way non-Jewish (and non-Christian) discourses influenced meal practices. Kobel is particularly interested in the framework mystery cults may provide for understanding John 6:51-58, described as a “Jesusphagy/Christophagy” (247). If some of the members of the Johannine community were former participants in the Dionysian tradition, then eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood would have been particularly allusive. Chapter 7 reads the same pericope in the context of accusations of cannibalism. She sees this practice in the light of Greek and Roman groups who bound themselves together by eating flesh and drinking blood. This is not meant to imply this was actually occurring but that those who might have come from this background needed to be reassured that “chew[ing] on the flesh of Jesus” was an acceptable way to “continue bonding around their leader” (270). Chapter 8 addresses the betrayal meal scene and places the context in the reoccurring Roman persecutions of voluntary associations. The Christ-believers might have been afraid that some of the Jews would betray them to the Romans. If the earliest Christ-movement was seen as a type of voluntary association, this could provide a plausible context for fearing the Jews, since the Romans relied on betrayal by an insider for their prosecution of group members (292).

Chapter 9 provides a summary and is followed by an appendix on Jesus’ avoidance of food in the Gospel of John. Kobel notes that the interpretive pluralism that her study reinforces should not deflate contemporary interpreters but should be an encouragement that this Gospel is a fine example of cross-cultural communication and one that could be understood by both those from a Jewish and a non-Jewish background. Kobel is quite convincing with regard to her claim that the meal accounts are central to the Gospel’s rhetorical purpose to create belief in Jesus and to form a distinct social identity within his followers. While one could quibble with some of the exegetical choices made in this work or whether meals have this type of identity-forming power, it stands out as an excellent example of the way social scientific criticism (here in its socio-rhetorical guise) provides fresh insights into several long-standing debates within NT studies.