Get Fitzmyer’s Romans Commentary Free (Gupta)

For the month of October (2017), you can get Fitzmyer’s Anchor Bible Romans commentary free from Logos! (CLICK HERE). This is one of the best free offers I have ever seen, don’t miss it.

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Pennington on the Sermon on the Mount (Gupta)

Pennington.jpgJonathan Pennington has written an interesting and insightful study called The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing (Baker, 2017). He argues that “the Sermon is Christianity’s answer to the greatest metaphysical question that humanity has always faced-How can we experience human flourishing?” (14); more specifically he classifies the Sermon as “Christocentric, flourishing-oriented, kingdom-awaiting, eschatological wisdom exhortation” (15).

His first two chapters focus on the terms “makarios” (blessed) and “teleios” (mature). Regarding makarios Pennington argues that it is a mistake to treat this as vocabulary focused on  divine “blessing.” Rather, this term points to behavior or virtues that promote human flourishing. This leads Pennington to resist using the word “blessed” to translate makarios, because that sense of “human flourishing” gets lost in translation. When it comes to teleios, Pennington argues that it is not best understood as “perfect,” but rather pointing to wholeness and holiness, “wholehearted orientation toward God” (78). In chapter four, Pennington addresses briefly seven other concepts related to the Sermon and he rightly emphasizes Jesus’ concern with the disposition of the heart. Chapter 5-11 of Pennington’s book are basically a short commentary that looks at the Sermon from the perspective of Jesus’ concern for human flourishing.

Overall, Pennington is convincing in his argumentation and his work on the Sermon overall here is engaging. I was not completely convinced that makarios is about “human flourishing” and not about divine blessing. What about a text like LXX Ps 32:1, “Blessed are those whose lawless behavior was forgiven and whose sin was covered over?” What aspect of human flourishing is involved here? Now, I will say when I look at Matthew, yes it seems that he is talking primarily about wisdom and proper virtues and behavior that is considered conducive and approved for flourishing, but I am not persuaded this is built into the Jewish use of makarios all by itself, nor am I convinced this isn’t also about divine blessings. Another small concern – Pennington mentions a few times how Jesus was engaging in a discussion of human flourishing that was popular at his time, including amongst Greco-Roman thinkers. But how helpful is it to place Jesus in that company when he does not seem to be talking to or for such Greek philosophers, and his discourses don’t seem to look much like theirs (and far more like, e.g., Sirach). Not a make-or-break issue, but more of a curiosity.

Since I just finished a book on the Lord’s Prayer, I thought I would mention that Pennington’s short section on the LP is very good, especially on the matter about “Thy kingdom come” and “on earth as in heaven” (an area of speciality for Pennington).

I want to commend Pennington for pressing the importance in the New Testament of formation and discipleship – given he teaches in a conservative Baptist context, he may be stepping out on a bit of a limb here to write such a book. I appreciated these comments

The theological elephant in the room for this discussion is the Protestant emphasis on Paul’s doctrine of justification and how the Sermon’s focus on the necessity of virtuous discipleship squares with this (or not, as some would have it). In short, I would suggest that it is a misunderstanding of Paul if one reads him as being in conflict with Jesus’ emphasis on discipleship and the necessary and effectual work of God’s grace given to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul and Matthew are in fundamental agreement and share the same ethical and eschatological worldviews, even though at times they are addressing different questions and speak in somewhat different terms. (302)

I am glad that Pennington is able to bust this artificial dichotomy between Matthew’s Jesus and Paul.

As far as theological commentaries go, this is certainly one of the best, and definitely required reading on the famous Sermon on the Mount.

Summer 2018- Teaching Galatians at Regent College (Gupta)

For many years, I have admired the summer study program at Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada). So, I am thrilled to announce that I will be teaching a Regent College summer course July 16-20, 2018. The title of my course is Galatians: Faith in Christ at Work through Love. In the past, Galatians has been taught by eminent scholars such as Gordon Fee, John Nolland, John Barclay, Richard Longenecker, and one-off lectures by people like N.T. Wright and F.F.Bruce. I am proud to share in this legacy – I don’t have a cool accent, but I will probably have more pop culture references! Currently, I am working on a commentary on Galatians, a monograph on Paul’s language of faith, and a reading companion to the Greek text of Galatians (and related texts from the LXX).

2018 looks to be a very exciting summer at Regent, with one-week courses taught by Carol Kaminski (“Covenants of the Old Testament”), Paul Lim (“Prison Writings: The Spirituality of Freedom”), Rikk Watts (“Uses of the Old Testament in the New Testament”), Lynn Cohick, (“Women in the New Testament and Early Church”), Bruce Longenecker (“Early Christianity in the Greco-Roman World”), and many others! If you are in or around the PNW next summer, check it out.


Writing Advice from Respected Theologians (Gupta)

Check out this blog post from Eerdmans where several respected theologians give their advice on theological writing and research. I echo Keener’s appeal to learning – right from the start – how to organize and archive your notes and research. It has taken me over ten years to find a good system, and I am afraid I wasted many hours in the past re-tracking down information, or simply giving up on ideas where I could not find or remember earlier thoughts and notes. In terms of systems, I use Google Keep for day to day self-reminders, and GoogleDrive folders to store my research.


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A Book You’d Be Surprised to Learn that I Like (Gupta)

Mike Bird challenged me to join the blog meme “A Book You’d Be Surprised to Learn that I Like,” so here I am.

My book is:

J. Christian Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought


In fact, I really enjoy several of Beker’s works, and it saddens me that his scholarship is not given much attention these days. I discovered Beker when I was in seminary and he was the first “apocalyptic” Pauline scholar I encountered. I was very attracted to his approach to Paul’s thought, and for those two or three people out there who have read my dissertation, you could perhaps tell that I am a Beker-ian at heart. I do not identify myself with the “apocalyptic Paul” movement that is popular today because Martyn is considered the figurehead of that group; it is a shame that in the long run Beker’s works will be overshadowed by Martyn and de Boer (I fear).

As for me and my household, we will honor Beker!

(Also, I like The Hunger Games books, let the mocking begin…)

Mitzi Smith and African American Interpretation (Gupta)


Confession: there was a time when I scoffed at the idea of cultural-perspective readings of Scripture. It felt faddish and self-serving. It seemed little more than a distraction from “simple exegesis.” I somehow believed that my perspective was objective and pure, while others brought their own values and assumptions to the text.

I have learned a lot since then, and I discovered (!) that I too bring my own cultural lenses to the Bible. I was taught to read Scripture by a certain community and for a certain community. I still try to be careful when I study Scripture that I do not force my own desires upon the text in a self-serving way. But more and more I am aware of my blindspots. And I am more sympathetic to those who cannot help but bring to the reading of Scripture certain passions, sensitivities, and hurts. I am not above that, I am not immune to that, and it can be an asset as much as a liability.

In spring 2018 I am teaching a new course at Portland Seminary called “The Use and Abuse of the Bible.” I will be introducing students to biblical hermeneutics, and part of what I want to do is better understand Latino/a, Asian, and African-American interpretation (hereafter AAI). So, I ordered Mitzi Smith’s new book, Insights from African American Interpretation in the “Reading the Bible in the 21st Century” series from Fortress. To be honest, prior to reading this book I knew little to nothing about AAI. Smith does an outstanding job briefly and plainly introducing it to the uninitiated. AAI recognizes that “the God of the Bible speaks to black people. The Bible and Eurocentric interpretations of it had become a primary means for constructing a rationale for enslaving, oppressing, and excluding black people” (12). The Bible is not for white people; “God’s self-revelation to black people and other people of color reaffirms their full humanity and hermeneutical agency or their right to read the biblical text through the lens or framework of and in dialogue with black people’s humanness, loves, traditions, artifacts, concerns, joys, and struggles, past and present (12).

After the introductory chapter, Smith treats “Twenty-First Century Foundations” where AAI emerged to counteract widespread oppression inside as well as outside of the American church (ch 2). Then she examines developments in the 21st century (ch. 3) where AAI has become an academic discipline with a significant body of scholarship. One of my favorite features of this book is the inclusion of samples of AAI: chapter 4 offers Smith’s study of Matthew 25:1-13 (Parable of the Ten Virgins), and chapter 5 is on Judges 19.

What I gained from this book (aside from better understanding AAI in particular, of course) is the poignant reminder that we do not turn off our feelings, experiences, and culture when we read the Bible. If we treat reading Scripture as a kind of free-floating ethereal (“spiritual”) experience cut off from “real life,” it becomes purely an escapist activity and will surely lose its transformative power. I am also reminded how crucial it is to read Scripture with others, hearing their stories and perspectives. This takes patience and empathy, but it continues to prove vital for strengthening my faith and my interpretation of Scripture.