An Afternoon with Charles Cranfield–Nijay’s visit

My colleague and friend BEN BLACKWELL paid a visit to the NT scholar C.E.B. Cranfield on Monday and chatted with him for a couple of hours. Yesterday was my turn. Overall, I found Prof. Cranfield to be very warm and welcoming, though he certainly is not restrained in his criticisms of certain scholars and particular ways of interpreting Paul.

Here are some questions I asked, and summaries of how he responded. It was a very enjoyable afternoon.

1. Professor Cranfield, do you have any (new) thoughts on the ‘Romans Debate’ (i.e. why Paul wrote Romans)?

Cranfield explained, not unsurprisingly, that the letter is intended to be an introduction of Paul to a church he had not known in person (that is, on site), but that he was intending to visit soon. In the letter he sought to offer an ‘outline’ of his theology. Were there actually problems in the church? Yes (see 14-15), but that is not the primary reason for the letter. ALso, Cranfield mentioned that Paul would also have been pre-emptively addressing concerns that came from ‘Jewish communities hostile to Paul’. Again, Cranfield holds a traditional position that Rom. 1.16-17 bear the main theme of the letter.

2. What should Pauline-scholars-in-training be reading?

Cranfield was very critical of those who eschew older academic works and prefer only literature that has been written in the last few decades. In fact, Cranfield’s list of people to read begins with the Greek fathers. He repeatedly mentioned John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cyril, and Thomas Aquinas. Then, Cranfield went on to praise both Calvin (Cranfield belongs to the United Reformed Church) and Barth. Incidently, when it comes to pauline soteriology, Cranfield considers himself to be a thoroughgoing Calvinist with the one correction of Barth’s view on election.

On a level of being ‘learned’ in theology in general, C. also claimed that every theologian should be well acquainted with Shakespeare as he was able to pack in his lines of poetry with such deep reflections on theology and the human condition. One of his favorite lines comes from RICHARD II, where Shakespeare writes: ‘World’s ransom, blessed Mary’s son’ – Cranfield used this as the basis of a final exam for a theology course where he write these words at the top and then simply added: ‘Write as many scriptural texts that support portions of this line’. What an exciting challenge!

3. What is the relationship between justification and final judgment according to deeds for the Christian?

Cranfield first noted that Paul’s language of justification is past, present, and future. He did not have a straightforward reply, but accepted that there is a mystery. He does not believe that each deed is tallied and a person is judged solely on the basis of doing ‘good works’. Rather, the judgment question is whether the believer has lived ‘from faith’. At the same time, and I detected the Calvin and Barth in him in this, he felt that he could not be so audacious as to repeat the Wesleyan hymn line: ‘bold I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ my own’ – Cranfield said, ‘Being as old as I am, I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about what it will be like to me my Maker, and I don’t think I will be boldly approaching his throne’.

4. [This question was borne more out of my own research interests] Professor, what do you think is the relationship, if any, for Paul, between the Sacrifice of Christ and the the sacrifice expected of Christians (Rom 12.1; Phil 2.17) in life?

First of all, Cranfield queried me on whether or not Paul ever uses the word ‘thusia’ (sacrifice) for the work of Christ. I noted that it does appear in Ephesians (5.2). C. confessed that, though early in his career he defended Pauline authorship of Ephesians, he now does not think Paul wrote it (based on its stylistic peculiarities and its unique theological contributions). I argued with him (how crazy am I) that most commentators even who think Paul did not write it still see 5.2 as stemming from early traditions (e.g. A.T. Lincoln). Also, I pointed out that thought thusia is used of Christian sacrifice in Philippians 2.17, Paul goes on to talk about conformity to Christ’s death in chapter 3. Also, the ‘Christ hymn’ of the earlier part of chapter two focuses on Christ’s obedience unto death specifically as a pattern for Christians (‘have the same mindset as Christ’).

On this point, Cranfield did concede a bit. He said, OK, there may be some basic association. He added, ‘But, I would only make the connection with fear and trembling’. I took the point to heart.

5. [Again, the question relates to my research]: What was Paul’s attitude towards the Jerusalem temple after his conversion?

C. answered, as a Jew Paul would still have had much sympathy for his religious heritage. I also asked if Paul would have felt that the ‘Spirit’ resided in the temple. C. responded that because God is everywhere, there is no reason to think it could not be (but he did not seem absolutely sure about this). He followed up by asking (genuinely), would Paul have known about Jesus’ criticism prediction of the temple’s destruction? I don’t know. Cranfield didn’t have more to say. I wondered if Paul took the statement ‘you are God’s temple’ seriously and that the churches were his temple. Cranfield felt this was going too far; it was a metaphor that emphasized the eschatological and obedience-expecting presence of the Spirit. Ok, I’ll think more on this.

Prof. Cranfield invited me back again for another chat in a few weeks. I think I will take him up on it.

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2 thoughts on “An Afternoon with Charles Cranfield–Nijay’s visit

  1. Nijay,

    I’m glad you got to meet and converse with Prof. Cranfield for such a length of time. He must have quite a passion for the church and for training new scholars.

    Thanks for sharing some of your questions and his answers too. (I was pleased to read his suggestions about Chrysostom and some other fathers :)

    See you in September

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