Concordia Seminary (Fort Wayne) Symposium – papers posted online

My wife is from Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Heard of it?  Whenever we travel back to the US we make a visit to her parents.  And, as our Durham library is all but useless when it comes to theology holdings, I try to pop in to Concordia Theological Seminary to see what they have there.  You may have heard the name because they have their own periodical (Concordia Journal).  Well, last time I was there I noticed that this small Lutheran seminary has a symposium each year with papers read on a particular topic (justification, identity, holiness, etc…).  What really surprised me was the names of some of the guest speakers.  Last year, for instance, Abraham Malherbe was a keynote speaker!  I missed going to the conference by only a few days!  Others who have read papers in the past include Mark Seifrid, Stephen Westerholm, Richard Hays and Harold Attridge.  In 2008, Simon Gathercole will be there reading a paper.

Ok, so you probably can’t go, and neither can I, but the good news is that previous papers are put online (except a few).  Check out past papers at: http://www.ctsfw.edu/events/symposia/index.php

Something, I think, worth checking out…

New Book: Holiness and Ecclesiology in the NT

This edited volume of essays involves two important subjects: holiness and the church/people of God.  The general orientation of the contributors is towards a view of holiness that acknowledges the communal dimension of the biblical message of sanctity.  And, the list of authors is quite impressive: George Brooke (DSS), Richard Bauckham (Gospel of John), I. Howard Marshall (Acts), Robert Wall (Paul in Acts), Michael Gorman (Paul, cruciformity, and holiness), Peter Oakes (Romans), Bruce Winter (1 Corinthians), Troy Martin (Galatians), J. Ross Wagner (Philippians), Joel Green (1 Peter), and others!  This is a truly impressive cast of writers and I look forward to reading each of these essays.

NB: One of my supervisors (Stephen Barton) gave to backcover commendation: ‘This book is the only New Testament study I know that makes the vital link between holiness and sociality so consistently. I commend it strongly.’   For those interested in this subject, I recommend Stephen’s work in general (look up his articles esp. on ATLA), Robert Banks, David Horrell, Ben Witherington (commentary on 1 Cor), Gordon Fee (Paul, Spirit, People of God), and the work of Mary Douglas.  When Stephen mentioned the issue of holiness and sociality, I thought of Michael Newton’s work on Purity in Paul (and Qumran) as well as the book A Vision for the Church (ed. Bockmuehl).

A Couple of Disturbing Trends in Pauline Scholarship

Recently, as I was perusing a book on Paul’s temple imagery in 1 Corinthians, I was struck by a couple of trends in how scholars approach his letters.  The first is the matter of determining authorial intent.  Call me old fashioned, but a reading that takes no interest in what Paul actually intended is doomed to be damaging.  The author of this monograph, John Lanci, writes:

‘The goal [of this study] is to construct a plausible reading of the text, rather than to discover the original intention of its author…I will nowhere discuss the original intention behind the argument’ (3).

Now, if the monograph were titled in such a way as to focus on the reader’s interpretation rather than the original author’s than I can swallow such a statement.  The fact that he titles the book “Rhetorical and Archaeological Approaches to Pauline Imagery” means to me that he wishes to trace Paul’s rhetoric – an element that is inseparable from intention.  If we are interested in Paul’s persuasive power (rhetoric), can it be done by just proposing a plausible ‘reading’?  Now, what Lanci ends up doing is pretty good and I appreciate that he is attentive to the social background of the original readers.  What I am more concerned with is when we give up on trying to know what Paul actually intended to say!

More and more people are asking, ‘how did the readers receive Paul’s statements?’  To a large degree this is not only highly speculative, but also almost completely irrelevant to what Paul has to say to us.  Now, if you are just saying, ‘Paul knew his audience and spoke to them in terms they would understand’, that is well and good – but that still involves authorial intent.  In my mind, a helpful reading must still be interested in intent of author matters.

Second, we continue to see Paul in terms of either Hellenism OR Judaism and this is simply wrong.  But, it is certainly recognized that the Jewish Scriptures (in Greek) were the single most influential materials for his language in his letters.  Lanci argues against the notion that Paul’s imagery of temple in 1 Corinthians must refer to the Jerusalem Temple.  Instead, Lanci proposes that Paul’s temple language is mulivalent.  I would agree that Paul was not trying to establish a ‘spiritualized’ replacement for the Temple, but his language is almost always distinctly Jewish (i.e., influenced by the LXX).

Lanci’s reasoning is this: Paul’s audience was composed of Gentiles.  Paul would have wanted to communicate to his audience ‘in their own idiom’ (10).  Thus, it is ‘not unlikely’ that he would use imagery that came from the set of knowledge available to his readers (10).  Here is where I think Lanci errs.  If we were in Paul’s shoes, we would probably write very differently – a few more examples from Greek life and argumentation from Hellenistic philosophies.  But, our starting place must be what Paul’s argumentation style actually WAS.  And, we know that he reasoned FROM SCRIPTURE REGARDLESS OF HIS AUDIENCE.  Though quotations are more prominent in some letters than others, all of his letters are saturated with echoes and allusions.  1 Peter, for example, was written to Gentiles.  Should the author have been more sensitive to the fact that his readers may not have known Exodus 19.5-6?

We cannot know what Paul expected from his readers (despite Chris Stanley’s objections).  What we do know is that the encoded/implied reader was quite savvy with Scripture.  Paul’s primary tool of identity transformation apart from the example of Christ (and himself) is his Judaeo-graphic hermeneutic – his bringing of his audiences into the story, characters, statutes, themes, places, and objects of the Old Testament.  What did it mean to his audience when he called them a lump of dough from Passover?  What did it mean when he told them ‘OUR Fathers…were baptized into Moses’ (1 Cor. 10.1-2)?

To borrow from Richard Hays, Paul sought the ‘conversion of [their] imagination’ by reframing their past, present, and future in terms of the the Scriptures through echoes, quotations and even metaphors.  That is not to deny that metaphors of, lets say, running or politics, came from the wider web of knowledge in the ancient world.  Certainly.  But, on the matter of such an important image as the temple, all ‘backgrounds’ would probably not have had equal weight.

Book Review: Our Mother Saint Paul

Beverly Gaventa is one of my favorite pauline scholars – clear, balanced, exegetically-skilled and knows her primary sources well. This book is no exception in that regard. One is almost always disappointed to discover, though, that the chapters of the book have been (more or less) published previously as essays and articles in other volumes. In this collection, only about 3 out of 11 chapter are ‘original’. Now, I have not read a ton of Gaventa’s previous work, but I felt that there wasn’t enough editing done in the book to smooth out the material, eliminate redundancies, and expand what was said previously.

Overall, the book has two major units. The first several chapters are interested in Paul’s application of maternal and nursing metaphors specifically to his own apostolic ministry. She pays attention to how this might contribute to the overall picture of a family of God that Paul is drawing. But, as Reider Aasgaard has pointed out, since Paul is not always consistent in the relationships of this family (who is the father, God or Paul?), the issue is much more complicated.

The second part, in Gaventa’s opinion related to the first, involves reading the apocalyptic horizon of Paul’s letters. She focuses a great deal on Romans. Here she demonstrates the influence of Lou Martyn and E. Kasemann on her thinking. Not much is unusually new here, but she does a good job representing a whole crew of pauline scholars that are redirecting NT scholarship away from New Perspective (Jew/Gentile) issues and focusing on the ‘anti-God’ or ‘cosmic’ elements in Paul’s letters.

Overall, I am happy to have so much of Gaventa’s scholarship in one place. She is one of the best pauline scholars of our time and anyone interested in Pauline theology would benefit from this.