Free Audio Courses from Regent College In Honor of Earth Day (Gupta)

Today is Earth Day! Regent College Audio is offering several free audio courses and lectures on “creation care.” They have two whole courses available worth nearly $60 – but absolutely free (from speakers such as Iain Provan and Rikki Watts). I was just thinking yesterday, as I finished listening to the Gordon Fee Galatians course from Regent, that I wanted to buy another course. I hadn’t thought about “creation care” courses, but you can’t beat the price tag! Remember to use the coupon code to get the deal.

Check out the options today. I just sign ordered the two full courses available. The deal expires on Saturday.

Doug Moo’s Commentary – Review Pt2 (Gupta)

In this review series on Douglas Moo’s BEC Galatians commentary, we have already discussed the introduction. Now we move on to chapter 1 of Galatians in the commentary proper.

1:1-5

I was a bit surprised by Moo’s translation of 1:1 – “Paul–an apostle chosen not by human beings nor by a human being…” - why did he translate both of these prepositions with “by”?  He seems to contradict or challenge his own decision on p. 68 by stating that dia (the second “by”) is best understood as “through” – so why not translate it as “through”?

1:6-10

On the subject of the Galatians “so quickly” turning to another gospel, Moo wonders whether there is a faint allusion to the golden calf incident of Israel where “They have been quick to turn away” from God’s command and towards an idol (Ex 32:8). The allusion would be very hard to detect, but fitting for Paul’s message in Galatians (pp. 76-77).

When it comes to the meaning of “gospel/good news” in 1:6, Moo challenges N.T. Wright’s overall reading of euangelion where Wright argues that the “good news” (with Isaiah in view) is not about salvation, but about the lordship of Christ and the eschatological reign of God. Moo contests that this is what Paul is talking about in Gal 1:6. According to Moo, “Paul uses the language to focus not so much on the fact of God’s reign or Jesus’ lordship but on the wonderful benefits that the coming of Christ as Lord brings to his people. In Galatians, at least, this is certainly the case” (78).

I have to admit that, on close reading of Galatians, Moo seems to have the better argument. However, I think it is a mistake to think we can neatly separate the gift from the reign of the gift-giver (remember Kaesemann here). The reign and the benefits come as a package. Nevertheless, Moo’s point should be taken to heart.

With reference to 1:8, Moo says that the false teaching will lead the Galatians to hell (literally; p. 80). Hmmm, not sure if this is the right way to put this, given Paul’s non-interest in hell-language. I think it best to leave it as “cut off from Christ” (5:4), as Paul writes it.

On 1:10, Moo translates doulos as “servant” in his translation, but then talks about Paul as “slave” in the exposition. I think “slave” is the better rendering here as Galatians places a premium on retaining the offensive, status-destroying dimension of the cross of Christ.

1:11-12

What does the “revelation of Jesus Christ” refer to in 1:12? Is it objective or subjective genitive? I think, wisely, writes: “this is one of those texts where it might be best to refrain from locking the meaning into either option” (95).

1:13-17

Again, I am surprised by some translation/sense consistency issues. On 1:16, Moo refers to the idea that Paul says God revealed his Son “to me” (p. 98), but then he translates it as “in me” (99). I think “in” is right, but why the confusion?

While it is clear Moo disagrees with Dunn and Wright on a Old/New Perspective reading of Galatians, I am impressed with how often Moo quotes or cites Dunn approvingly (on other issues, of course). That is the mark of a good scholar, who can still retain the best ideas of a scholar with whom one disagrees.

I was not satisfied by Moo’s treatment of the word Ioudiaismos in 1:13. Moo rejects Dunn’s view that this word (I.) refers to a “distinctive nationalist Jewish movement that arose at the time of the Maccabees.” In Moo’s own defense of a broader meaning (“Jewish faith as a whole”), he cites BDAG. I am reluctant to turn to BDAG as a source because it can come across as objective or non-interpretive, but it definitely is driven by human interpretation of words and texts. Moo ought to have noted that I. is a very rare word and it doesn’t help to point to Ignatius’ Magn. 10.3 lest the reader think Paul is pressing (in Galatians!) for a parting of the ways. I think the proper working out of the meaning of I. in Gal 1:13 is crucial to understanding the whole letter. I had a chance to read Peter Oakes’ forthcoming Galatians commentary (Paideia) and his treatment of this subject is superb. I think my concern with Moo’s approach also has to do with his use of the word “faith.” Oakes has the better wording where he refers to it as the Jewish “way of life characterized by practices that Jews generally saw as being proper.”

1:18-24

One comment here – I was interested in Moo’s discussion of pistis in 1:23. Here is says pistis does not take its normal sense of “believing,” but rather seems to refer to the faith-in-Jesus movement itself (p. 114). I think this is about right, but in another post I will have more to say about why pistis is the right word for this. Also, later, I will have sharper disagreement with how Moo reads faith-works language in Galatians and Paul more generally.

Final Thoughts

It may seem like I didn’t like what I have read so far in Moo, but the above notwithstanding, I found his discussions thoughtful and mostly well-researched (though I prefer Louw-Nida over BDAG as my go-to lexicon). Would I assign students to read Moo in an exegesis course? If it is the only commentary as textbook, probably not, but alongside Dunn or Hays (or Oakes!) I would be happy with that.

 

 

 

“Unbelievable” Debate between Ehrman and Gathercole on Christology (Gupta)

If you don’t get a chance to read Bart Ehrman’s new How Jesus Became God (and the response book, How God Became Jesus) – or even if you do! – make sure to check out the radio debate between Ehrman and Simon Gathercole (Cambridge NT scholar and contributor to response book).

I think listening to Ehrman helped me better see how all the pieces of his book chapters fit together and also how he responds to somewhat obvious criticisms (esp re: historical Jesus/Synoptics and Pauline Christology). Having said that, I thought Gathercole was very quick on his feet and responded forcefully against Erhman’s arguments without coming across as saint vs. sinner. I think Gathercole was exactly the right person for this debate as he is one of the sharpest minds in biblical scholarship today and has put a lot of thought in Christology questions.

At the end of it all, I was just so pleased at how the tone was very respectful on both sides and there was a lot of laughing and joking. Radio host Justin Brierley should be commended for his hospitality and his astute role as facilitator.

So, who won the debate? I don’t think this program worked that way. I think the greatest benefits were (1) seeing some of the weak points in Ehrman’s argument, (2) seeing where the agreements lie between Ehrman and Gathercole, and (3) recognizing how multifaceted and complex was the theistic world of the NT and the language and thoughts of the NT writers. I think these complexities make Ehrman’s theory possible, but it simply does not rule out the more orthodox perspective. At the same time, Gathercole could not “prove” the orthodox view over and against Ehrman. Not sure if you should call it “faith” at the end of the day, but definitely there are educational guesses and assumptions on both sides! Enjoy!

Debate Part I

Debate Part II

Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God – Review Pt1 (Gupta)

bartI have mentioned before that I have never read a Bart Ehrman book, but his recent offering, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), piqued my interest for a few reasons. Firstly, I am teaching a course on Christology in the fall. Secondly, I am also interested in the “Response” book (Bird/Evans/Gathercole/Hill/Tilling). Third, this is a make-or-break issue for NT studies and it is actually vigorously debated. So, I spent the last couple of days reading through his first two chapters: “Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome” and “Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism.”

Let me just say, right off the bat, that he makes a helpfully important point in the first chapter - in what way was Jesus considered (a) god? In the Greco-Roman world, as Ehrman appropriately explains, there was no simple divide between the human and divine realms. Rather, there were tiers and people and entities could be plotted on a gradation. In his own words: “Divinity came in many shapes and sizes; the divine realm had many levels” (20).

I think this chapter was useful because one needs to understand how Greeks and Romans would have perceived the works and claims of Jesus. For example, I often tell my students that Jesus’ miracles do not prove that he is “God” (he was not the only show in town). In fact, neither really does his resurrection prove so much (since “resurrection” the way Jesus did it was not a pre-loaded category). The whole package of Jesus’ advent (incarnation), life, death, resurrection, ascension and session made his status and identity clear (or so we Christians believe). So, I think Ehrman has clarified how Jesus would have been “placed” in a world of many different kinds of beings.

But the major concern I have with this chapter is its direct relevance to how the Jewish disciples of Jesus would have considered Jesus “God.” This is what he treats in chapter two, but it still places a question mark on what he is proving in chapter one.

OK, so what about chapter two? Ehrman sets out to prove that, despite the fact that most Jews of the first century were monotheists, they still seemed to have thought it possible for people and entities (like angels) to fall along roughly the same stratification of human to divine as in the Greco-Roman theo-cosmology. He picks up on issues related to this already in the OT: the Nephilim, the Angel of the Lord, even the exaltation of the human king (Ps 45). He also gets into the range of unique figures (angels, Son of Man, Logos, Wisdom) in early Jewish writings from places like Apocalypse of Abraham, 1 Enoch, and Philo.

I think Ehrman does raise some helpful points – for example, the complex and unique way kings were seen in Israel (or the High Priest, for that matter, in Philo, a point Ehrman doesn’t make). But in the end he tries to flatten out the difference between Greco-Romans and Jews by saying, when all is said and done, Jews basically held to the same tiered system of the human-divine world that pagans did as well (see his conclusions on pg 83). He remarks that first-century Jews “believed that there was only one God Almighty [but] it was widely held that there were other divine beings –angels, cherubim, seraphim, principalities, powers, hypostases. Moreover, there was some sense of continuity–not only discontinuity–between the divine and human realms” (83).

Again, there is some truth to what Ehrman says here, but he does not seem to clarify how Jews as “monotheists” perceived their own sense of the oneness of God, except for Erhman to rely on henotheism – Yahweh was simply stronger or superior. (How is a pagan mythology with Zeus on top, on this account, not also a type of monotheism?)

I have several problems with this chapter (far more concern than with the first chapter).

#1: Jews simply did not slap the label of “god” on various entities in the way Greeks and Roman did, so we need to be very careful about comparing their theo-cosmologies.

#2: It is true that sometimes we see Jewish writers use “god” language for a variety of people/angels/ideas. However, almost always Ehrman points to examples in Jewish literature that look nothing like the Gospels. For example, Ehrman tends to rely on Jewish apocalypses, but these texts are notoriously grandiose and visionary – it is hard, in such texts (like Revelation also) to know when a writer is thinking merely metaphorically and when some literal element is expected (floating, burning, destroying, hair color, clothing, animals, etc…). Put another way, I bet a Jewish reader would interpret the divine-attributions of Jesus in John somewhat differently than they would Abraham or Moses in an apocalypse (by virtue of genre).

#3: Ehrman makes regular appeal to Philo as one who seemed to attribute to divinity to a variety of people and ideas (e.g., Moses and Logos). This is true, but how helpful is what Philo thinks  - how well does he represent common Judaism (Ehrman appeals to Sanders, so that is why I am talking about common Judaism)? Philo was far from your average Jewish thinker and he was clearly blending Greek thought with Jewish tradition in ways not found regularly in most of our extant early Jewish literature. The best place of comparison between the NT documents and early Jewish texts would be “re-written Bible” (Jubilees, Josephus) and letters (Letter of Aristeas), etc…

#4: Erhman appeals to examples in the OT and early Jewish literature where the Angel of the Lord becomes human (55-57). I admit it is difficult to pinpoint the status and nature of the Angel of the Lord in the OT. But I think Ehrman is wrong to label this figure as both divine and human. In what sense is the Angel of the Lord a human? It makes more sense to think the Angel appears to be human. Think about Tobit (which Ehrman makes no appeal to) where it is made clear the angel Azariah only appears to be human and it is explained that, when he was eating and drinking, it was all pretend (because, huzzah!, angels don’t eat and drink). Now compare that to the strong emphasis that the very human Jesus eats and drinks and sleeps and gets tired before his death, and that he spends quite a lot of time eating after his resurrection (let alone he has real scars).

#5: Can I say I think it is hugely unfortunate that Ehrman did not feel the need to discuss the views of Richard Bauckham on Jewish monotheism? Erhman must know of Bauckham’s work. Why not one page? Or a paragraph? Or even a footnote? Almost all academic discussions in the last two decades on early Jewish monotheism have wisely needed to respond, in one way or another, to Bauckham’s “exclusive monotheism” proposals. So why not Ehrman? [By the way, Ehrman picks one small quote from Larry Hurtado to support Ehrman's own point!]

Last couple of comments of an introductory nature: Ehrman, I don’t think, is clear about what his purpose is in the book. Sometimes he seems to come across as the agnostic who wants to challenge the divinity of Jesus (as if an enemy of Christians from an academic standpoint). At other times, he seems like he is trying to be a “mere historian” who is simply wanting Christians, whatever their beliefs, to know the evolution of the early Christian understanding about the divinity of Christ. I think this muddled approach leads to confusion about what exactly Ehrman is arguing.

Perhaps a bit more off-putting is what seems like name-dropping – how he travelled with his buddy Dale Martin of Yale. You might think - well, he’s simply mentioning who he went with. Fair enough. But did you know “Yale” appears in the appendix once and notes one place in the book – the place where he mentions Dale Martin as his traveling colleague (with Martin contributing nothing to his thoughts on Christology in the book)? Why would someone need to look that up in the appendix?

I don’t want to end on a negative note – let me say that I am going to use this book as a textbook in my Christology course and I really want my students to grapple with the complexities of Jewish and Greco-Roman beliefs that Ehrman identifies. His first chapter, on Greco-Roman understandings of divinity, is largely, for me, an informative and interesting essay. Even his second chapter on Jewish belief has some important points. I think he has run the risk of over-simplifying, but I want to give him credit where it is due.

Next up, I will turn to the evangelical response book and walk through their reaction to these first two chapters from Ehrman (see Bird et al, How God Became Jesus, Zondervan).

 

 

My New Article on John’s Gospel in HBT (Gupta)

I just discovered today that my article on the Gospel of John in the latest Horizons in Biblical Theology (36.1, 2014, 60-78) has been published on Brill Online (accessible to those with subscription access). The title of the essay is this: “Gloria in Profundis: Comparing the Glory of Moses in Sirach to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.” This is one of the most enjoyable pieces of scholarship I have ever worked on, especially because it was G.K. Chesteron’s poem, Gloria in Profundis, that inspired this article. In fact, I end the article with snippets from Chesterton’s powerful poem.

Here is the abstract:

The glory of Jesus is a leitmotif of the Fourth Gospel and probably reflects both the Shekinah “glory” of Israel’s God revealed in Jesus as well as honor attributed to Jesus by John. The Jewish wisdom teacher Ben Sira also employs glorification language frequently and carefully in Sirach. Bringing these two texts into conversation illuminates the peculiar and unique ways in which John portrayed the identity of Jesus. In Sirach 45:1-5, in particular, Ben Sira praised the glory of Moses—a man beloved of God, made equal to the angels, great before his enemies, powerful in word, intrepid before kings, sanctified in faithfulness, party to the holy presence of God, and privy to the secret things of God. Given that John also had much interest in Moses comparison and typology, setting these texts side-by-side brings to the forefront the double-nature of the Fourth Gospel’s glory-Christology. On the one hand, the Johannine Jesus offered great demonstrations of power and authoritative teaching. On the other hand, he fared quite the opposite as Ben Sira’s vision of the exalted Moses, especially in John’s passion narrative where Jesus appears frail, weak, shamed, and defeated. Comparing the Moses of Sirach to the Jesus of John’s Gospel especially reveals the Evangelist’s paradoxical theology of gloria in profundis—the humble glory of God demonstrated in Jesus.

Watch N.T. Wright and Others in Free Justice Conference Videos (Gupta)

2014 was a big year for the Justice Conference, especially because they managed to line up a number of highly respected pastors, scholars, activists, and Christian leaders as speakers. I was disappointed that I could not be in attendance, but I was elated when I found out from a student of mine that the videos were recorded and can now be watched for free online here.

Here is a sample list of some of the speakers: Eugene Cho, Bernice King, Lynne Hybels, John M Perkins, N.T. Wright, Bethany Hoang, and Rich Stearns.

You can also view videos from past years from folks like Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Twiss, Walter Brueggemann, and Miroslav Volf. I am excited to see how the Justice Conference expands and grows in size and importance over the years.

Six Interesting New Fall 2014 Books from WJK (Gupta)

Carol A. Newsom, Daniel (The Old Testament Library) – November

Richard Lischer, Reading the Parables (Interpretation, Resources) – September

Daniel Migliore - Philippians and Philemon (Belief) – August

Kevin Vanhoozer - Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine - September

Ellen Davis - Biblical Prophecy: Perspectives for Christian Theology, Discipleship, and Ministry (Interpretation, Resources) - October

Christopher B. Hays, A Sourcebook for the Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East

(I found out about these through Twitter: @wjkbooks)

@wjkbooks

@wjkbook