The Living Word – 2nd Ed Book Notice (JDG Dunn)

I am not familiar with the first edition (1988), but I had talked to Jimmy before about the authority of the Bible and he had mentioned his discussion of ‘the living word’.

Here is a tantalizing quote about how the NT and the canon can be understood as ‘the living word’: ‘The phrase makes it clear that revelation was conceived not as a static, once-for-all speaking of particular words which thereby immediately  became fixed and petrified.  The medium through which the revelation came was conceived of in a much more fluid way.  The words and style and idiom could be reworked and indeed transformed into a different form, with enlarged scope and emphasis and adapted to changed circumstances’ (68).

This is not just a ‘second edition’ per se, but has some additions: four new essays on the subjects of ‘God’s word in human speech’, ‘bridging the gap between the academy and the church’, the hallmarks of ‘good exposition’, and a concluding chapter on the Bible as living tradition.

On a personal note, I think the publishing of this edition is timely as the issue of the Bible’s authority is such a hot topic.  Jimmy, in this book, is trying to soften the defensive views and tones of fundamentalists.  What he does that is different is take a sympathetic view towards the concerns of fundamentalists.  He does not write them off – his book is not an alternative approach to biblical authority from a ‘liberal’.  He wants to address fundamentalists (primarily) with a hopefulness that he is accepted  by them as someone who takes the Bible very seriously.  That should be valued, even if his views are ultimately neglected.
Also, he handles the very serious issue of pseudonymity in the Bible.  He supports the idea that this was common in Jewish tradition and should not be understood as deceptive and, thus, fatal to the view that the Bible is divinely inspired and authoritative.  Though, in the end, I do not accept this common view (for a number of reasons), I think Jimmy pitches the best kind of argument to convince an evangelical.

For those who are curious, the biggest problems I have with pseudonymity in the NT  is three-fold:

1. Can we really prove or know that Peter or Paul did not write the letters ascribed to them in the NT (this is the truth-is-often-stranger-than-fiction-principle)?  Can we decide, in our time, exactly who wrote these letters, why, and how they fooled so many over the years?  Take 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1.  Fitzmyer says: Qumranist wrote it.  Betz -nah, anti-Pauline Judaizers did and someone slipped it into the letter.  Murphy-O’Connor – fellas, this looks as much like Philo as Essenes or whoever.  A few squeaky voices are heard in the distance:….could it be Paul…?

2. Good false-writers pick someone long gone (Enoch, Moses, Abraham, etc…).  That way everybody is on the same page – did Enoch really write this?  No – duh!  With Paul, hm… did he write Colossians?  [false author of Colossians says: did I not make that clear?]

3. It is very uncommon to find epistles that are falsely written and yet accepted within a community.  The number of personal details in Colossians and Ephesians (let alone the PE) just seem superfluous unless (1) Paul wrote it [or authorized the writing of it], or (2) a false-writer was really trying to fool someone.  I can understand a basic attempt to be faithful to the genre (the letter), but not at the level of what we find.

Well, I know many of you out there disagree with me – this is a controversial subject.  Be aware – I plan on reading Dunn’s section closely.  I am open to being convinced, but it has not happened yet.

I will keep you posted on any interesting tidbits in this book.  On a personal note, this book was gifted to me by Jimmy himself as a congrats on the viva.  It is a fitting reminder that, even now with a PhD, I need to learn (all the more) what God’s word is, how to properly intepret and respect it, and how to affirm its vitality, bringing it to others carefully and faithfully.

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2 thoughts on “The Living Word – 2nd Ed Book Notice (JDG Dunn)

  1. An often overlooked (if not downplayed) position, regarding pseudonymity, which dovetails with your #3, is the moral argument espoused by E.K. Simpson (1954 commentary on the PE). Simpson, in response to P.N. Harrison, maintained the idea that if someone wished to commandeer Paul’s name for writing purposes and dupe an audience into thinking the letter was in fact Pauline, then that someone has completely ignored a key element in Pauline teaching–i.e. integrity.

  2. Hey Nijay,

    I didn’t know Dunn wrote books regarding the authority of the Bible… thanks for this post, looking forward to reading it in the near future.

    I’m also with you on the pseudonymity issue.

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