My Wheaton conference book picks

I left the Wheaton NT Wright conference with a few more books than I intended, but there were some really good deals.

Classics

I picked up three classics from Eerdmans.  First, Gordon Fee’s Philippians commentary from the NICNT series.  It is a marvelously detailed treatment which offers plenty of fresh readings and sane and competent advice on older cruxes.  I have numerous Philippians commentaries (O’Brien, Bockmuehl, Fowl, Cousar, Hooker, Reumann, Thielman, Hawthorne/Martin), but I have been waiting for a good time to get Fee – truly deserving of the title “magisterial.”

Also, not an old book, but an instant classic, is Marianne Meye Thompson’s The God of the Gospel of John, which seeks to fill in the theological gap that Nils Dahl wrote about regarding the lack of reflection on “God” as a subject in NT theology.  Thompson remedies this in the fourth Gospel.  I have heard nothing but good things and since I am trying to break into Johannine studies, this seems like a great place to start.

Finally, I saw it fit to pick up a Wright book (also Eerdmans): The Lord and His Prayer.  I have always been fascinated by the Lord’s prayer, exegetically and liturgically, so I have often desired to acquire this short exposition.  I hope to preach and teach regularly on the Lord’s Prayer and I appreciate the Bishop’s guidance!

Freebies

The conference saw fit to offer two free books to the first 400 people to register on site (both from IVP): A biography on John Wyclif and also Mark Goodacre and Nick Perrin’s highly regarded Questioning Q.  I look forward to dipping into the latter when I begin work on my Gospels lectures.  Also, for free we received a booklet (from the Wheaton College bookstore) on the Gospel and Culture written by Wright.  A nice keepsake for those of us in attendance.

New Books

Two new books made it into my already heavy backpack.

1. Anthony Thiselton’s The Living Paul (IVP, 2010) - this introduction to Paul is not necessary because there is nothing like it.  In fact, I am pleased with other intros to Paul (Bird, Horrell, Gorman, Hooker, Wright, etc…).  But, in light of Tony’s influential commentaries on 1 Corinthians and his mastery of all things hermeneutical, I think this would be very useful and interesting to read.  I will certainly blog on it soon!

2. Volume 2 of IVP’s Ancient Christian Doctrine series: this volume is on “We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ” of the Nicene-Constantanopolitan creed and works through the thoughts of many patristic writers in an orderly fashion.  I will also give more thoughts on this, but let me say that this is a remarkable series that will allow NT researchers like me access to very important dimensions of the reception of the NT and early Christian beliefs.  Many cheers to series editor Thomas Oden and book editor J.A. McGuckin.

Wheaton Conference on Wright – Day One (Part 2): Hays and Thompson

I briefly already introduced the issues of what Richard Hays and Marianne Meye Thompson discussed in their papers at the Wheaton conference, but now it is time to circle back and give some more detailed reflection.

Hays on Story, History and Method

As I mentioned before, Richard (RBH) was responding in large part to Wright’s public criticism of Seeking the Identity of Jesus (which was a theological approach to studying Jesus that also sought to reveal the problems in modern historical-Jesus research).

RBH was interested in picking up on this question: What is the relationship between story and history in seeking out Jesus.  Tom Wright seemed to think that RBH’s book was too Barthian and chose myth and narrative over (and against) dealing with the real history and facts.

In response, RBH countered with his own criticism of Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God by questioning methodologically the historians oft-performed dissection of the well-crafted gospels in search for the historical substance that can be determined by pulling apart and rejoining.  Put another way, RBH asked, what is the role of canon and tradition with respect to the most appropriate study of the Jesus of Nazareth? This is essentially a hermeneutical question.  Does faith assist or obscure historical inquiry?  Do we bracket out faith in our investigations, academic or otherwise?

Another important aspect of RBH’s critique is how Jesus should be studied, not just after the resurrection, but in light of the resurrection.   Hays says something like (not an exact quote): The resurrection is the epistemological key to understanding the world and, thus, it is the key to understanding history. How does the resurrection make this particular historical endeavor unique or peculiar?  RBH wonders, after Tom wrote his big Resurrection book, how would you (Tom) revise Jesus and the Victory of God?

Ultimately, Hays is concerned that in the process of historical slicing, the literary voices of the individual gospels get “drowned out.”  Is this acceptable?

I felt that RBH had very good criticisms and his appraisal of JVG was fair and accurate.  I am not feeling a sense of resolution on the question of history and story.  I am still curious as the how “historical” the Gospel actually are and to what degree that “matters.”

Marianne Meye Thompson on John’s Gospel

The heart of MMT’s criticism was that Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG) left out John’s Gospel which is a seriously underappreciated resource for the study of Jesus.  Also, she reports, Tom’s conclusions about the identity of Jesus in JVG are found throughout John, so there is no real disadvantage to permitting this as evidence.  Following RBH, MMT points out that the resurrection plays a huge role in John, so excluding it from JVG underplays the significance of resurrection.  MMT notes (paraphrase): In John, resurrection is part of Jesus’ life.  There is no historical Jesus without resurrection!

Wright’s Responses

Tom offered an important insight into scholarly writing by acknowledging that he would have liked to include John in JVG, but needed to play by the rules of the guild of Historical-Jesus scholars to work within that field and be heard.  Apparently, while Tom was writing JVG, John Dominic Crossan asked him bluntly, Are you going to include John?  Then I will know you are not doing serious historical-Jesus research. Tom saw his role in writing JVG, then, as (in part?) an apologetic one – reaching masses of Barnes & Noble religious readers and he wanted his fair treatment of the issues to be read and heard alongside the Crossans and Macks.  He saw the exclusion of John, then, as (I quote) “a self-denying ordinance.”

As for faith and tradition in historical study, Tom explained the context of the his writing of JVG and how he was often either locked in the attic where theological thoughts flowed without good historical grounding, or trapped in the basement where the canon was up for grabs and smashed to bits in search for the “true” bits.  He is happy to work with the canon and he accepts the contribution of tradition, but he does not want tradition to set the agenda.  He observed, for example, that the political dimensions of Jesus’ teaching and context was quickly lost in the church and has only recently brought back to those elements.

Personally I (Nijay) am divided between RBH and Tom on this one.  I really enjoyed Seeking the Identity of Jesus, but I also feel it right to try and get back to the original meaning and context of the text through historical and social-context study.  So, I felt confirmed in my anxiety by the tension between these two scholars – both NT luminaries and still at loggerheads on such a basic issue as exegesis and how to learn about Jesus.  Humbling, stimulating, encouraging.

I agree with Mike Gorman who said on his blog that this conference demonstrated what it means to call a scholarly engagement a “dialogue” – a true meeting of minds that seeks out mutual agreement, interaction, and a hope to push forward bringing together the best ideas of two (or more) brains and hearts.  Bravo!

Paul and the Gospel of Thomas (Part IX)

Two questions with which I have been concerned in these posts are: (1) “What is the relationship between Paul and Thomas,” and (2) “In what way(s), if any, is Thomas a reaction to Paul and his legacy?”

In answer to the first question, I have argued that there are at least three instances where the Gospel of Thomas is dependent upon Paul for traditions that are subsequently modified. There also appear to be other, less clearly identifiable instances of Pauline influence on the Gospel of Thomas.

The second question is a little more difficult to answer. If the Gospel of Thomas made use of Pauline texts and/or traditions, it follows that substantive changes to the received materials support theological ideas different from those espoused by Paul. Some might be tempted to see a Paul-Thomas conflict or even an anti-Pauline polemic emerging from the Gospel of Thomas, and while such a conclusion would certainly be convenient given recent scholarly trends, I do not think the evidence can be pressed that far. However, Thomas’s altering of Pauline texts does raise questions that require further exploration.

In the case of Gos. Thom. 3 and its use of Rom 10.5-8, what are we to make of Thomas’s nearly complete reworking of both the shape and the context of the Pauline version? In Romans 10, Paul’s point is explicitly soteriological. The means of attaining salvation are understood quite differently in Paul and the Gospel of Thomas. For Paul, salvation is associated with a cluster of theological realities such as the sacrificial or representative death of Jesus, faith in or the faith of Jesus (depending on one’s view on the pistis christou issue), dying and rising with Christ, and the efficacy of the resurrection as a precursor to what will come for all believers. By contrast, the Gospel of Thomas states from the outset that eternal life can be attained by properly interpreting Jesus’ teachings. Absent from Thomas are discussions of Jesus’ sacrificial death, participation in Christ, limitations on law observance for Gentiles, and the sufficiency of faith as the response to the gospel. Instead, Thomasine soteriological sayings (e.g., 18b, 19c, 37, 111) focus on proper interpretation of the logia Iesou. Therefore, it makes sense that when Thomas makes use of a Pauline soteriological text like Rom 10.5-8, the material is altered in a way that will not contradict Thomas’s understanding of soteriology and will help support another Thomasine view—in this case, the internal presence of the ‘kingdom’.

In Gos. Thom. 17, the material from 1 Cor 2.9 has not been altered as radically as that in Rom 10.5-8. Nonetheless, Thomas modifies a Pauline instruction concerning wisdom that leads to maturity in Christ, into a rather abstract promise related to inheritance, and likely salvation. In its context, Paul’s statement is about the sanctification of the Corinthian believers and how God has already begun a process believers can appropriate. The version of this saying in Thomas deals with salvation rather than sanctification. Paul has a developed understanding of progressive growth ‘in Christ’ while such an emphasis is largely absent from Thomas. For Thomas, knowledge and wisdom appear to be the path to every spiritual blessing.

Finally, both Thomas and Paul reject circumcision as being a source of salvific merit or status, but Thomas’s rejection is more absolute than Paul’s. In Rom 2.25-29, Paul maintains that circumcision has some value since it springs from the religious traditions of the Jews. Gos. Thom. 53 however, rejects circumcision completely. The only circumcision that matters is ‘circumcision in the spirit’, which ultimately provides an absolute benefit. Thus, in typical Thomasine fashion, a great distance is put between Thomas’s theological agenda and anything that would have been of value to the Jews, whereas Paul continues to draw upon early Christianity’s critical link to Judaism.

All of these observations seem to indicate that the authors of Thomas decided to pick and choose elements from Paul (as well as other early Christian traditions) in order to develop and support their theological views. In the end we can simply say that where the authors of the Gospel of Thomas used Pauline material, they did so in a way that amounted to a rejection of Paul’s original point. Even if, in some ways, Thomas’s use of Paul is a begrudging nod to the validity of something in Pauline thought, the reworking nevertheless constitutes some degree of rejection. This rejection of Paul’s theological ideas appears to be a part of the warp and woof of Thomasine Christianity and its different developing theological perspectives.

Later this week I will conclude this series of posts on the Paul-Thomas relationship with a final statement of my conclusions.