Prof. Andrew Lincoln Reviews My Colossians Commentary (Gupta)

As I was perusing the latest issue of Interpretation (April 2015, 69.2), the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I saw that Andrew Lincoln had reviewed my Colossians commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2013). I read his review with much trepidation – he is one of the world’s finest New Testament scholars, not least on Ephesians/Colossians!

Well, I was deeply relieved to see that he found it not so bad, better than not so bad! At my age and experience, one never quite knows how one’s own work will be received. This is very encouraging indeed. I don’t think I am allowed to cite the whole review, but here is the main section:

He covers much of the recent secondary literature and articulates his findings in a clear and discerning fashion. At the same time, he makes his own contributions to interpretation of the letter and appreciation of its message. The content of the interesting sidebars ranges from the latest information about excavations of Colossae through comparative material in ancient literature to short essays on relevant themes in Pauline theology.

In the format for the series, the two main sections for each textual unit are headed Commentary and Connections, with the latter as the location for providing insights for potential application in preaching and teaching. Wisely, Gupta does not allow this division to make exegesis and application two entirely separate tasks. So, for example, he enriches his commentary on Col 1:9–12 by drawing on insights from theologians Ellen Charry and Colin Gunton. Likewise, his Connections sections do not jump directly to sermon illustrations or immediate practical application but remain rooted firmly in what has been discovered from the texts and wrestle with their hermeneutical and theological implications. Indeed, one of the refreshing features of this enjoyable commentary is its attempt to draw not only biblical scholars but also contemporary theologians into conversation with the text. For Gupta, the witness and thought of Bonhoeffer, in particular, epitomize an emphasis found throughout his commentary: the cosmic Christ and the crucified Christ are mutually informative, and such a Christology calls into question any spirituality of transcendence that obscures the significance of living under Christ’s lordship in this world.

Thank you, Professor Lincoln! I am deeply honored!

No Turning Back: R. Longenecker and Luther on the “End of Nomism” (Gupta)

I am doing a bit of research on Paul and the Law (just a small scholarly discussion, of course!), and I found Richard Longenecker’s discussion of the subject interesting (Paul, Apostle of Liberty). Longenecker argues that Paul pushes for the “end of nomism” for believers in Jesus. Christ has “brought to an end the possibility of a valid nomistic piety” (154). The work of Christ alone makes one righteous, so the Christian ought not to walk according to Torah. He ends his discussion with an appeal to Luther’s illustration of living by faith alone in Christ and not combining faith with law. Living by faith and works is as

the dog who runs along a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, and, deceived by the reflection of the meat in the water, opens his mouth to snap at it, and so loses both the meat and the reflection (“Treatise on Christian Liberty”; adaptation of Aesop fable; see Longenecker, 155)

What do you think about this analogy of old and new covenant?

How Greek Was Paul’s Eschatology? Multiple Perspectives in Latest NTS Issue (Gupta)

The most recent issue of NTS (61.2) has a summary of the SNTS conversation that took place between George Van Kooten, Oda Wischmeyer, and N.T. Wright on the subject “How Greek Was Paul’s Eschatology?” Van Kooten urges that there are such clear substructural similarities between Paul and Stoic thought and this should affect how we analyze Paul’s eschatology. N.T. Wright is obviously suspicious of such an argument and argues that Paul’s eschatology fits entirely within a Jewish-religious framework transformed through the Christ event. Oda Wischmeyer offers what I think is the most helpful essay regarding this question. Wischmeyer points out that in the Pauline letters, Paul does not explicitly quote Stoics or refer to any philosophy directly. That should warrant caution.

Also, most Greeks tuned in to philosophy did not think in thoroughgoing eschatological terms, she argues; “cosmology” is more central to Greek philosophy than “eschatology,” but the Stoics (in particular) did have a view of the shaping of things to come. Wischmeyer concludes: “we will fail to find influences of distinct philosophical schools such as the Stoa or Platonism, when we look for elements of Greek eschatological ideas in Paul. What we will come across, however, is something like a philosophical koine, words or even terms that are used in Jewish and non-Jewish Greek philosophical and religious language — ‘language’ understood in terms of terminology [e.g., eikonkosmos]” (247).

Part of the discussion involves Paul’s own education. Again, Wischmeyer explains: “As far as I can see, we should seek to understand Paul as one of the so-called Jewish-Hellenistic diaspora writers with more or less loose relations to their cultural environment, but we should not feel inclined to put him especially close to figures such as Philo or Josephus – Jews with a profound education in both Jewish and Greek religious, ethical and philosophical tradition and literature, who are not only aware of Greek philosophical debates but often explicitly discuss the position of philosophers.” (247).

Again, this little summary of engagement is a fun read.

Reading Backwards with Richard Hays – Brief Reflections (Gupta)

HaysAt the end of 2014 I had high hopes of blogging chapter by chapter through Richard Hays’ new work, Reading Backwards (Baylor, 2014). Truth be told, I got sidetracked and by the time I finally got back into the book there were a number of good online reviews and I really don’t have much to add to that discussion. So, please permit me now to simply provide some reflections on the book.

Main arguments

Richard Hays has two interests in this short book, both of which are identified in the subtitle: Figural Reading BackwardsChristology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. First, he urges that the Evangelists did not proof-text the OT, but neither did they read it in a straightforward contextualized sense. Rather, there is a kind of dialectical relationship between old and new. The term he uses for this is “figural reading” – he defines this as “the discernment of unexpected patterns of correspondence between earlier and later events or persons within a continuous temporal stream” (p93).

The second major concern Hays has is to demonstrate that if we pay close attention to the way that the Evangelists read the Old Testament and explain Christ, they portray Jesus Christ as the embodiment of Israel’s God (see 107) – the “highest” form of Christology can already be found in the Synoptic Gospels (see a key summary statement on pg. 72)

What about supersessionism? Hays is rightly sensitive to this. He affirms that a figural reading does not reject the first sense, but continues it and adds to it: “The canonical Evangelists understand themselves to be standing within the still-unfolding narrative trajectory of Israel’s covenantal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (106).

What was their Old Testament? Hays notes that the Evangelists tended to prefer the Septuagint. This forces us, once again, to re-think the nature of the Old Testament. Hays leaves open the possibility that we should extend special authority to the Septuagint (e.g., maybe Augustine was right!) (p. 107).

Evaluation

This is not a monograph, as Hays makes clear in the preface (ix). It is a “progress report” on a much larger and more comprehensive study of the Old Testament and the Evangelists that he is still writing. This is critically important to note because it is not a complete work all by itself. It is vintage Hays in that it is interdisciplinary, thoughtful, stimulating, creative, and exegetically responsible. However, there is much that is left unsaid or undersaid. Here are a few of my questions I hope will be treated more thoroughly in “the big book.”

1. How aware were the evangelists of their hermeneutic (this is briefly touched upon in the preface)? And how aware were they of the differences between them (e.g., Matthew versus Mark, or John versus Mark)? 

2. What is the difference between “figural reading” and typology (see pg 15)? What is the relationship between “figural reading” and sensus plenior? (I do see clearly that Hays does not endorse a kind of sensus plenior that cancels out the original sense)

3. What are the controls and limits of “reading backwards”? Who does this reading and how do you know it is right? Sometimes when Hays refers to “reading backwards” (as a Gospel-shaped hermeneutics, .e.g, p. 104), it is unclear who is doing this reading. Are the Evangelists concretizing canonically these readings, or is there a kind of openness for Christians yesterday, today, and tomorrow to freshly discover through reading backwards in ways the Evangelists had not considered? I know Hays is well aware of the debate about this, and I don’t blame him for not addressing it in his short book, but inquiring minds hope this makes it into the big book.

4. How would Jews have made sense of an “embodiment” of Israel’s God? Was he another god, or perhaps another version of God? Was he YHWH “in the flesh,” so to speak? What were the Evangelists thinking as they made these associations? Did they think the ideas they were alluding to were dangerous, blasphemous (even if true)? How could they even conceive of making such a radical statement, and if they knew it was radical, why do it without giving a more complete explanation or defense? 

That’s all I want to say at this point, other than to encourage you to pick up the book if you are interested in the relationship between the Old Testament and the New.

Patr

Justo González, The Story that Luke Tells (Gupta)

GonzalezJusto L. González is an impressive theologian – not only is he the author of the popular The Story of Christianity textbook, but he has written as well on preaching, Christian theology, and even biblical studies. In particular, has written books on Revelation and Acts. In 2010, he published the Luke volume in the WJK Belief series. This year (2015) he wrote a book, probably growing out of his commentary, called The Story that Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel (Eerdmans).

It is more of a popular-level theology of Luke – there are no footnotes or bibliography. González treats eight themes: history of humankind, history of Israel, “the great reversal” (of the gospel), gender, salvation, food and drink, worship, and the Holy Spirit. It is a very enjoyable read, and perhaps would work well for a Sunday school class or Bible study.

My favorite chapter of the book is González’s discussion of women in Luke-Acts. On the subject of Acts 16, González says this:

There is a measure of irony in this story. The Spirit sent Paul a vision of a man, and what he found in Philippi was a group of women! What is often said about Paul’s anti-feminine prejudices is probably at least an exaggeration, and perhaps even an error. But if Paul did have such prejudices, which were common in that time, Luke presents the Holy Spirit as overcoming them by sending Paul the vision of the Macedonian man, when what he is to find in Philippi is a group of women” (57).

Also, González notes that the Western text-tradition tends to suppress attention given to women in Acts. For example, on one occasion, when the text should read “Priscilla and Aquila,” the Western text reverses the order (see p. 58). In Acts 17:12, the text says that in Beroea there were “not a few Greek women and men of high standing,” but the Western text says there were “women and not a few men of high standing.” González also notes that in Acts 17:34, the Western text leaves the female name “Damaris” out of the text entirely. These are interesting observations and I am inspired to look further into ostensible biases of the Western text tradition.

González is a winsome and gifted communicator, and he “holds his own” in the Biblical Studies arena. If you want to dip into Luke’s theology and his message for the church today, this is a pretty good place to start.

Book Notice: The Role of the Jewish Feasts in John’s Gospel (Skinner)

Wheaton BookYesterday I checked my campus mailbox and found that, to my delight, I had received a copy of Gerry Wheaton’s recently published monograph, The Role of the Jewish Feasts in John’s Gospel (SNTSMS 162; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). This monograph is a revised version of Wheaton’s dissertation, written at St. Andrews, initially under the direction of Richard Bauckham, who was then passed on to Kelly Iverson after Bauckham’s departure from St. Andrews. Wheaton is currently Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA in San Jose, Costa Rica. Here’s a description of the book:

In the first three Gospels, Jesus rarely travels to Jerusalem prior to his final week. The Fourth Gospel, however, features Jesus’ repeated visits to the city, which occur primarily during major festivals. This volume elucidates the role of the Jewish feasts of Passover, Tabernacles, and Dedication in John’s presentation of Jesus. Gerry Wheaton examines the Fourth Gospel in relation to pertinent sources from the second-Temple and rabbinic periods, offering a fresh understanding of how John appropriates the symbolic and traditional backgrounds of these feasts. Wheaton situates his inquiry within the larger question of Judaism in John’s Gospel, which many consider to be the most anti-Semitic New Testament text. The findings of this study significantly contribute to the ongoing debate surrounding the alleged anti-Jewish posture of the Fourth Gospel as a whole, and it offers new insights that will appeal to scholars of Johannine theology, New Testament studies, and Jewish studies.

I was excited to get this book; I only wish I had had access to it six months ago when I was writing a chapter on John and Judaism for my forthcoming book. I look forward to working through Wheaton’s argument. Thanks to the good people at CUP for the copy!