Best Gospel of John commentary as textbook for seminary course?

Next summer (2011), I am teaching exegesis of  the Gospel of John for Asbury Theological Seminary and I will require students to work through a commentary (as one of a few textbooks).  I am undecided, as I want something extensive, but engages well in theology and ethics (and not just historical and philological details). I welcome you to participate in my poll (below) keeping in mind this is for seminary students (primarily training for ministry) [i.e. longer and more complex is not necessarily better].

When you make your choice in the poll, if your opinion is strong, I would appreciate if you give your reasons for your choice (or against the other options) in the comments. If you think there is a better one out there that is not on the list, do share with a comment. Thanks for your votes!

Come Study Philippians in Greek with me in Seattle this fall!

I would like any interested reader who lives in the Seattle area to consider coming to study Philippians (in Greek!) with me this fall at Seattle Pacific University on Tuesday nights from 6pm-8:35pm.  I am teaching this course in the graduate school of theology.

Part of the class will involve serious engagement in the Greek text- discussion of translation (syntax, textual criticism, some morphological issues), but I want to have ample time to dive into historical, social, theological, and ethical issues.

I am currently leaning towards assigning Bockmuehl’s BNTC commentary, which is universally praised for being concise, rich in wisdom, and attentive to all the exegetical problems. If a student has already read this commentary, I would allow a substitution like Morna Hooker’s commentary or perhaps equivalent pages in Fee.

In terms of theology and ethics, we will also be working through a very important book by Michael Gorman called Cruciformity which shaped my own thinking about Paul in many ways.

We will utilize a number of articles in the course by Stephen Fowl, Ross Wagner, Morna Hooker, N.T. Wright and others.  Students will also read two of my own articles – one on Chapter1 and one on Chapter 2.

I am working on a couple of book projects involving Philippians and I will be testing out some of those materials on my students. There will be ample opportunities to give me helpful feedback that can make these resources more useful.

So, please consider joining me in this course. If you have any questions about the course, feel free to write a comment.

Details: THEO 6210 Scri in Org Lang-Grk: Phili/Phi

“This course will include an in-depth exegetical treatment of the text, focusing on linguistic analysis of the Greek text. Attention will be given to historical, literary, and theological questions, as well as selected issues in the history of interpretation.”

Redman, Perrin, Popkes, DeConick, and Others

Judy Redman’s critique of Nick Perrin seems to be generating a buzz around the blogosphere over the last few days. Judy started off with a few posts to which Clayboy (aka Doug Chaplin) responded. This morning over at Euangelion Mike Bird has posted a response from Nick (presumably given directly to Mike?) where he compares the views of E. E. Popkes (expressed in his recent monograph Das Menschenbild des Thomasevangeliums) and April DeConick. This exchange is providing helpful discussions for those considering important issues in Thomas studies. Let’s hope it continues.

Book Notice: Hearing the NT, 2nd ed. (ed. J. Green)

In my seminary, there was a strong emphasis on learning well the tools of exegesis.  One of the books that was on the recommended reading list of every exegesis course of mine was the first edition of Hearing the New Testament (ed. JB Green; Eerdmans, 1995).  Thus, I was excited to see a new edition come out recently (2010) with some revisions and additions.

Most often, changes to a book like this would make it longer – an expansion.  However, it was apparently decided that they should revise and re-write in such a way as to maintain about the same length.  Here are some changes I noticed:

Deletions: They removed Anthony Thiselton’s “New Testament Interpretation in Historical Perspective”  and Edgard McKnight’s “Presuppositions in New Testament Study”.

Replacements: Bruce Chilton’s “Traditio-Historical Criticism and the Study of Jesus” was replaced by Holly Carey’s “Traditio-Historical Criticism”; Sandra Schneiders’ chapter on “Feminist Hermeneutics” was replaced by F. Scott Spencer.  In place of John R. Levison and Priscilla Pope-Levison’s “Global Perspectives on New Testament Interpretation” we have two essays: “African American Criticism” (Emerson Powery) and “Latino/a Hermeneutics” (Efrain Agosto).

Expansions: Most of the essays have additions to the “Suggestions for Further Reading” sections.  A few essays brought new material into the actual bodies of the chapters.  Prof. Green added a good portion to the introduction.  One remarkable statement he adds is this: “During [the last forty years], we have witnessed the fall of historical criticism as the approach that, previously, quite literally defined critical biblical studies” (p. 11).  However, it is noted that a good number of chapters (2-6) still fall within this ambit.

I am still very impressed with the excellent contributors chosen for this project and the erudition in the essays.  However, it should be kept in mind that this book does not teach how to use these interpretive strategy.  Rather, they give the reader background and insight into the significance of the tool/approach and its development in biblical studies.

Judy Redman Critiques Nick Perrin

Over at Judy’s Research Blog, Judy Redman has provided a few posts (here and here) in which she critiques Nick Perrin’s book Thomas: The Other Gospel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007). In the first post she takes issue with Nick’s claim that the Gospel of Thomas does not require belief in Jesus. In the second, much longer post, she comes to the defense of April DeConick in areas where Perrin has criticized her. Right now she seems to be plodding through chapter by chapter. Let’s hope she provides us with her thoughts on the entire book.

The Free First Issue of Early Christianity

As many have noted, the new journal called Early Christianity (Mohr Siebeck) is offering its launch issue for free.  In a market of academic resources that is overcrowded, it is difficult to justify a new journal.  However, given the international cooperative effort of this work (esp. English-speaking and German-speaking scholars) and its attempt to study early Christianity as both involving the NT and the post-NT developments, I think it will be very productive and significant.

I was eagerly looking forward to Francis Watson’s review of Campbell’s Deliverance of God, but it was not nearly as analytical as it was simply descriptive.  A couple of comments he makes, though, are interesting:

This is a highly unusual book which is likely to prove influential even among those who remain unpersuaded by some, most, or all of its arguments. (p. 185)

…the [synthetical re-construction of Campbell's view of Justification] theory itself operates with sovereign disregard for the actual views of other Pauline interpreters, who find themselves transplanted onto a terrain whose contours and features have been determined by Campbell himself.  This may be at least as disconcerting for those he enlists as his allies as for those he regards as his opponents (whom, it should be said, he treats with courtesy throughout). (p. 185).

All of the essays in this first issue are excellent – particulary John Barclay’s which he shared with me when it was in the version of a conference paper.  Durham student Jono Linebaugh’s essay is also impressive and getting into this journal, in the inaugural volume nonetheless, will be a nice feather in his cap when he turns to the job market – well done, Jono!

Wesley Study Bible: Part II: Interview with editor W Willimon

In a recent post I mentioned The Wesley Study Bible (eds. Joel Green William Willimon; Abingdon).  I am pleased now to offer you an interview that I conducted with co-editor William Willimon, Bishop of of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I first encountered the work of Bishop Willimon through the work Resident Aliens which was co-authored with Stanley Hauerwas (1989).  I also know his commentary on Acts in the Interpretation series.  Most recently, he wrote This We Believe: The Core of Wesleyan Faith and Practice (Abingdon), a book that is particularly geared towards complementing the study Bible.

Without further ado,

Q1: How did you come to be involved as an editor in the Wesley Study Bible?

I was invited by the Abingdon editorial team and jumped at the chance to be part of the project.  I knew that it would be a great gift to the church.

Q2: What is your vision for how it will benefit the lives of Methodist churches and others within the wider wesleyan movements?

I think that it will provide a wonderfully Wesleyan read on the scripture, “practical divinity” exemplified.

Q3: For a long time, Wesley was not considered to be a real theologian or a skilled biblical interpreter.  There is some discussion that this has been changing in the last 50 years.  Why do you think this change is taking place?  Put another way, how and why is the production of theWesley Study Bible a sign of the times?

Well, I disagree with that reading. Wesley was a marvelously Trinitarian theologian.  Alas, too much “theology” today is practiced outside the church, in the service to the academy alone, so probably these “theologians” can’t tell a real theologian when they meet one!  Wesley is a theologian in much the same way that Luther or Calvin are theologians – thought in service to the church and its ministry.

Q4: For those that use this study Bible, but do not identify with the Methodist/wesleyan traditions, what do you hope they will take away from it?  What kind of messages are in this study Bible for the worldwide church?

I would think that they would find this Bible to be quite useful, if they are open to an unashamedly Wesleyan read on scripture.

Q5: Are there other Bible-related/reference resources you would like to see produced for the Methodist/wesleyan faith communities? (Personally, I hope to see, someday, a Biblical studies journal from a wesleyan perspective)

I hadn’t thought about it but I like the idea of a Wesleyan Biblical Studies Journal.  Great idea.  Maybe God is calling you to produce such a resource for the church?

Wesley Study Bible: Part I (Review)

In an interesting essay*, Randy Maddox argues that Methodists are just now reclaiming John Wesley as a theologian: “…Wesley’s significance as a theologian had been receiving little positive attention among his Methodist descendants up to 1960″ (p. 213).  Most books written in the 19th century were biographies that highlighted Wesley’s zeal and piety, not his theological perspective.  One of the criticisms of Methodism, as a group that tried to distance itself from Anglicanism, was that it had no comprehensive outlining of its theology (in the 19th century).

The work of Albert Outler in 1961 was a watershed and now there are numerous studies of both Wesley’s theology and his hermeneutical approach to Scripture.  Thus, The Wesley Study Bible (Abingdon) is long overdue, but serves as a sign that the Methodist re-claiming of the life and thought of John Wesleyan is not a fad, but will help re-shape and renew these communities of faith.

I could not imagine better editors for this project than Joel B Green and Bishop William Willimon.  Joel has written, not only extensively on NT texts and their interpretation, but also on theological hermeneutics.  Bishop Willimon is an expert in homiletics, liturgics, and pastoral care.  These gentlemen assembled a fine group of theologians and biblical scholars in the wesleyan tradition to give notes and sidebars for the study Bible.

There are essentially three kinds of items in the study-note section of the Bible.  First, biblical scholars have written short comments to guide your reading of the text –  especially historical, literary and social elements that illuminate the text.  Second, theologians have produced a large number of sidebars focusing on a “Wesleyan Core Term” – these are central ideas about various aspects of the church’s life and doctrine (e.g., Assurance, Atonement, Baptism, Christian Liberty, Classes, Election, Ethics, Fasting, Heaven, Inward Sin, Justifying Grace, Lay Leadership, etc…).  Thirdly, pastors have written “Life Application” sidebars that bring the biblical message into modern life (e.g., Envy, Giving, Hope, Mission, Self-Seeking, Temptation, etc…)

As for the biblical scholars involved, you will recognize many of the names: Bill Arnold, Bruce Birch, Mark Boda, David deSilva, Michael Gorman, L. Daniel Hawk, Andy Johnson, John Levison,  Thomas Phillips, Emerson Powery, Ruth Anne Reese, Brent Strawn, J. Ross Wagner, Robert W. Wall, and Ben Witherington (among a number of others).

I think Green and Willimon have produced an excellent resource for wesleyan communities and it will offer parishioners insight into the Bible and its meaning (from a wesleyan perspective), while also introducing them to distinctives of John Wesley and also pointers for application.

The editors offer a nice explanation of what they hope to achieve: “We need to know who we are.  Even more, we need to be who we are.  Therefore, we offer the Wesley Study Bible to the people called Methodist across the world, trusting that it will serve as God’s instrument to help us be clear about who we are, shape us as people going on to perfection, and encourage use to live lives that truly reflect our faith in Christ.” [NB: the translation is NRSV]

*see RL Maddox, “Reclaiming an Inheritance: Wesley as Theologian in the History of Methodist Theology,” in Rethinking Wesley’s Theology for Contemporary Methodism (Kingswood, 1998).

Christianity in the Greco-Roman World (Book Notice)

How do you get students to learn about the Greco-Roman background of the New Testament?  You could assign Helmut Koester’s History, Culture, and Religion in the Hellenistic Age, or perhaps Everett Ferguson’s popular Backgrounds of Early Christianity; but reading these kinds of textbooks can be tedious and boring.  A fresh alternative, though not as detailed or exhaustive, can be found in Moyer Hubbard’s Christianity in the Greco-Roman World: A Narrative Introduction (Hendrickson).  There are many fine qualities that are immediately recognizable in this book.

1) Format – this book has four major sections: Religion and Superstition; Education, Philosophy, and Oratory; City and Society; and Household and Family.  Within each section there are the following features: the section begins with a fictional narrative introducing the subject matter in 4-5 pages.  Though brief, it is enough to give you a taste of what life was like and how the culture and beliefs shaped their world.  Then, basic information on the topic is presented.  Next, Hubbard relates this background/contextual material to the early Christian movement and shows how such knowledge illuminates the context.  Finally, there are suggestions for further reading.

2) Strong points – Hubbard’s short narratives are remarkably entertaining and informative.  His writing style is attractive and he offers a nice variety of useful information without you even realizing it!  It has the flavor of Bruce Longenecker’s attempt at teaching through fiction in his The Lost Letters of Pergamum. Also, there are numerous sidebars with short ancient quotes from philosophers, inscriptions, coins, worshippers, etc…  Here is one from Petronius: “Indeed, the streets of Rome are so filled with divinities, that it is easier to meet a god than a man” (p. 23).  Sometimes the quotes are humourous: “To the God who cures hangovers” (An inscription in Corinth).  Finally, I appreciate that Hubbard offers annotations for the recommended reading. This helps guide the reader in the use of these resources.

Perhaps my only concern is the title: by using Early Christianity, I don’t think it will be crystal clear to some that this specifically applies to the NT times (and not just later).  However, the same is true for Ferguson and it became popular through frequent use, so the same could happen for Hubbard.

I could see this book working well as a textbook in a course on hermeneutics or NT backgrounds.  It might work for a survey course, but it would depend on the depth of the primary textbook.  In any case, I warmly recommend it as light reading or for classroom use.