VIDEO: John M.G. Barclay on Early Church Concern for the Poor (Gupta)

In April, Prof. John M.G. Barclay (Durham, UK) gave a plenary address at Houston Baptist University’s theology conference on early Christianity. His paper was entitled: “‘The poor you have always with you.’ Why it mattered to the early church to give to the poor”

HBU graciously posted the lecture on Youtube. This is, no doubt, part of Prof. Barclay’s wider work on grace and gift-giving in the Greco-Roman world and in Paul. (see his soon-coming book, Paul and the Gift). Enjoy!

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? (Gupta)

SparksRecently, Zondervan published another volume in the Counterpoints Series, this time on the genre of Genesis 1-11, called Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: The Bible’s Earliest Chapters. Charles Halton edited the book and the three essayists are as follows:

James K. Hoffmeier: History and Theology

Gordon J. Wenham: Proto-History

Kenton L. Sparks: Ancient Historiography

[Unfortunately all of the viewpoint titles are either misleading or unhelpfully ambiguous!]

The volume focuses on the interpretation, in particular, of three passages: the Nephilim (6:1-4), Noah (6:9-9:29), and the Tower of Babel (11:1-9). The central question is this: did the stories in Genesis really happen? (p. 156). Halton gives this thumbnail summary: “Hoffmeier says yes, Wenham says sort of, and Sparks says probably not” (p. 156). Despite the reflections of some very misguided blog reviews, this is not simply a matter of being “conservative” or  “liberal.” Sparks is lampooned by some bloggers for being too liberal in disposition (and, thus, not really evangelical). I had the privilege of teaching at Eastern where Sparks serves as an administrator. He is a godly believer, taking Scripture with the utmost seriousness. There are a lot of hermeneutical and philosophical considerations that go into the disagreement between the viewpoints. You have completely missed the point of the book if you just “choose your favorite” view.

I am only going to say two quick things about the book. Firstly, I resonated strongly with Wenham’s case for “proto-history.” He wants to avoid the baggage of using the word “myth” despite the clear theologizing of the Genesis writer. Wenham describes the kind of history-writing in Genesis 1-11 as a “portrait of the past” (not a photograph; p. 87).In this case, one simply cannot sift out the factual/historical details from the theology or parabolic elements. And, for Wenham, one does not really need to. Yet, there are enough clues for Wenham to think that the Genesis writer is trying to represent something that comes from that past.

This leads me to my second note. How does one determine genre anyway? When we study various biblical books, we usually begin with a genre and then move to studying the text in light of that genre. However, Genesis 1-11 is so unique, that is almost impossible. In the end, we tend to muddle our way through the bits and then think through the genre in light of these bits. But how can “method” really help? Whose method? With what results?

As with most of the other books in the Counterpoint series, the point is not the settle the matter by having one contributor “win.” Rather, the benefit is in the discussion itself, seeing the complexity and challenges for what they are. We will have our leanings, but at the end of the day the book is far from closed.

If you are interested in continuing to reflect on the relationship between science, history, and theology in Scripture, this is very worthwhile. If you just want answers or to have your camp “win,” it won’t do you much good.

Jeffrey Weima’s 1-2 Thessalonians BECNT Commentary (Gupta)

WeimaOver the past few years, I have collected about two dozen commentaries on 1-2 Thessalonians for my research. Some of them are good, some are mediocre. A few are truly excellent – for example, Howard Marshall’s NCB volume is a classic. Also, F.F. Bruce’s work never gets old for me. Still, many commentaries come and go and few leave a lasting impression on scholarship.

Well, the case is quite different with Jeffrey Weima’s 2014 BECNT commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians (Baker). This is the most thoroughly-researched, soundly-argued evangelical academic commentary to date, and it will serve students and pastors well for a very long time. Weima has spent a lifetime researching these letters and there is hardly a soul in the world (perhaps Karl Donfried is a rare exception!) who knows these letters and the history of their study better.

I have been impressed time and time again with Weima’s careful argumentation and his attention to details: linguistic, exegetical, historical, etc. Here are some areas where I think Weima shines:

1 Thess 2:1-12 as defensive/apologetic – Weima offers a strong defense for this somewhat traditional view (against, e.g. Malherbe).

1 Thess 2:7a – Weima makes a good case for reading nepioi as original (infants)

1 Thess 4:4 – Weima argues soundly that skeuos (vessel) does not mean wife. He prefers the “sexual organ” interpretation, which I am amenable to, but I personally prefer “body.”

2 Thess 2 – few scholars really understand rhetorically why Paul raises the whole issue of the Man of Lawlessness. Weima has a great read on how Paul is crafting an argument and comforting/exhorting his readers.

2 Thess 3 -the ataktoi as rebellious-idlers.

The one area where I don’t think Weima has made a strong case is in his appeal to “peace and security” as a Roman slogan, or representing Roman protection ideology. Whether or not Paul’s phrase fits a Roman slogan, this kind of reference to Roman securitas does not fit the context of 1 Thess 5. But Weima is in the majority of scholars on this issue (and I am “the odd man out,” so to speak), so he is running on a well-trodden path.

If I were collecting commentaries on the New Testament (e.g,. as a pastor), Weima’s would be at the top of my list for 1-2 Thessalonians. There is no question about it. As I complete my 1-2 Thessalonians commentary, Weima’s work has been an important teacher, companion, and dialogue partner.

Gary Burge – Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion – Short Review (Gupta)

BurgeThis past weekend, I got a fun little book in the mail, Gary M Burge’s A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion (IVP, 2015). A few years back Ben Witherington wrote A Week in the Life of Corinth, a fictional story that drew the reader into the world of St Paul as an entertaining form of learning about the New Testament. I guess this genre showed potential and has expanded into a little series, so Burge’s offering would be the next offering.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion follows Appius and his household through his duties and life’s ups and downs. The book is less than 200 pages, but the writing is engaging and several characters of different household status are given significant development.

Strengths

I really liked this book – finished it in just a day or two. I knew Burge was a skilled New Testament interpreter, but he proved to be thoroughly knowledgeable in the geography of the Roman empire as well as historical and social dimensions of life in the ancient world.

And here’s a key component – Burge is actually pretty good at the fiction writing. Most NT scholars couldn’t pull this off (Bruce Longenecker and Bruce Fisk have proven themselves to be exceptions!). Of course Burge is no Tolkien, but given all the things that must come together to make biblical historical fiction “work,” this is a real achievement. I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone, so I will just say that this book offers helpful insight into Roman army life, honor-shame culture, tensions between Jews and Gentiles, household life, public sexuality (so this book is not G-rated “family reading, BTW!), Greco-Roman religion, and healing/medicine.

Limitations

I wouldn’t say there are any weaknesses to the book, but do want to note a limitation. The book does not intersect with the New Testament directly except at one point. So, this story paints a helpful picture of the New Testament world, but it is not itself something about the “New Testament” per se. That is not Burge’s fault – the series is a kind of “spin-off” of the New Testament (or “spin-into” more accurately). Still, this may limit its value as a supplement for a NT survey/introduction. I could see it used in a NT backgrounds/settings course where the focus is on understanding culture and life in the Greco-Roman world.

Again, though, I want to repeat that I deeply enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to better understanding the world of Jesus and the first Christians.

David deSilva’s Baylor Handbook on Galatians (Gupta)

deSilvaI wish to commend to you David deSilva’s new (2014) Baylor Handbook on the Greek Text of Galatians (Baylor). This whole series is excellent and very useful for students and scholars who want a guide to the Greek NT.

deSilva goes above and beyond the call of duty by not simply commenting on grammar and syntax, but also delving into the historical context of Galatians and briefly touching on theological issues. In many ways, then, this is a precursor to his anticipated NICNT commentary on Galatians.

Three aspects of deSilva’s interpretation of Galatians remind me of Peter Oakes’ exegetical work in his new commentary, and these are worth mentioning:

(1) Both Oakes and deSilva recognize the Pistis Christou debate is complicated, but both lean in favor of the objective genitive (see deSilva 43).

(2) When it comes to the translation of pistis, deSilva (like Oakes) does not fall back on a simplistic notion of “faith” this is assumed or repeated in too many commentaries (see 74).

(3) deSilva is sensitive to getting the interpretation of Ioudaismos/Ioudaizein right historically, so “to adopt a Jewish way of life” (not “religion” per se).

Overall, then, I think deSilva has good exegetical sensibilities (and not just because I agree with him on these!)

Perhaps my one concern for this handbook is the way deSilva approaches tense and verbal aspect. He does not offer a preface-explanation of his approach, and in practice it seems that deSilva links tense to Aktionsart (see 14, 37, 102, 107). This approach is popular in some circles, though I think it behooves the author in this series to explain and even defend this approach somewhere (as it is contested in scholarship).

All in all, though, deSilva offers much wisdom in this handbook, and if I teach a Greek readings course, no doubt this will become a textbook.

Logos May “Free Book” – NT Wright’s The Lord and His Prayer (Gupta)

Very happy to note that this month’s (May 2015) free Logos book is N.T. Wright’s handy little devotional book called The Lord and His Prayer. I am teaching a course on prayer next year and I have found this book helpful in my preparation.

Also, for $1, you can add his Following Jesus: Biblical Reflection on Christian Discipleship. I have used Following Jesus as a course textbook for undergrads in the past and many found it insightful and edifying. Enjoy!

Winner of Oakes Galatians Twitter Contest is… (Gupta)

and-the-winner-is-1gmwj15

Last week I posted a contest to win Peter Oakes’ new Galatians commentary (Baker, 2015; Paideia series). You had to tweet the message of Galatians in a clever way using the hashtags #WWPT and #Galatians. We had nearly 30 participants, many good entries! The WINNER is:

“Jesus crucified, flesh fossilized. Peter petrified, ate with circumcised. Law victimized, now Spirit-faith-love emphasized.”

It is accurate and rhymes!

Thank you Jeremy Falk. You can contact me with your mailing address through my work email address which you can find here. Congrats to Jeremy, and thanks to all the participants!

Just a reminder – whether you get it free (like Jeremy) or not, be sure to get a copy of Peter Oakes’ Galatians commentary. It is a must-have.