Review of THE WORD LEAPS THE GAP (FS for Richard Hays)

I have tried to commit to reading the entire 664 pages of the Festschrift for Richard Hays entitled The Word Leaps the Gap (Eerdmans, 2008; eds. J.R. Wagner, C.K. Rowe and A.K. Grieb).  Truth be told, I just can’t get through it.  The volume boasts a whopping 32 chapters and world-reknowned contributors such as N.T. Wright, Jimmy Dunn, Beverly Gaventa, Markus Bockmuehl, Joel Marcus, Luke T. Johnson, and many more.  There are certainly attractive features here that make any NT researcher drool.  But, the drawback is information overload.  Clearly the title of the volume aims at Hays’ ongoing interest in literary criticism (esp. intertextuality) and hermenuetics (and ethics?).  But, in terms of scope in this volume, the sky appears to be the limit.  Only a handful of essays seem like a reflection on and expansion of Hays’ actual work or specific interests.  Therefore, I will focus (briefly) on some of the essays that are very close to Hays’ life projects.

I have posted before on Hauerwas’ self-reflective essay ‘Why “The Way the Words Run” Matters: Reflections on Becoming a “Major Biblical Scholar”‘ (ch 1).  This is a helpful discussion because it demontrates how the diving walls between theologians and biblical scholars are coming down, but also reveals how the two groups are still having trouble dialoguing.  I was not convinced by Hauerwas’ personal defense and repudiation of the historical-critical method, but it is equally interesting how Hays is set up as a traditionalist when he now is accused by Biblical scholars of denying a one-meaning-for-every-text-as-determined-by-the-original-author approach (which is no secret in Hays’ work).

Joel Green’s ‘”In Our Own Language”: Pentecost, Babel, and the Shaping of Christian Community in Acts 2:1-13’ is also a highly profitable piece, though Hays has not really done much on Acts.  But, in terms of intertextuality and biblical theology, Green makes some compelling arguments for how Pentecost does point to a certain kind of unity among humanity, but not in the way that scholars and preachers have assumed (vis-a-vis the so-called ‘reversal’ of the confusion of language as Babel).  This is, in some ways, a politically-driven essays (which seems to poke against imperialistic attitudes of homogenozing and totalizing rule).  Both N.T. Wright and Hays, I think, would find such an approach profitable.  I think that, though this was a captivating essay, reading counter-imperialism into the New Testament can be overdone.

I have also blogged about E.P. Sanders’ ‘Did Paul’s Theology Develop’ essay which also flows into Hays’ work on Paul’s theology.  Many scholar-friends of mine have commented that we have not seen a substantial work from Sanders in a while.  This, I think, will mollify some who have been longing for more.  Sanders explains that development in theology does not mean that Paul had to be ‘wrong’ earlier in life and found his way to a more correct theology.  Sanders thinks that it works more like maturity, where views were refined and honed, rather than ‘fixed’.  Also, he points out how unusual it would be for such an early ‘ad-hoc’ sort of theologian (who was first and foremost an apostle) to have worked out some sort of ‘systematic’ theology.  Sanders claims that Paul may be coherent without being systematic.  And coherence is very worthwhile.  I am sad that some of my seminary profs made me think Sanders is some kind of liberal heretic.  I have enjoyed much of what I have read (in my phd seminar and in doctoral research) on Paul.

James Dunn did not shy away from raising a subject that he and Hays have gone ’round and ’round on – pistis Christou.  This latest contribution by Dunn, ‘EK PISTEOS: A Key to the Meaning of PISTIS CHRISTOU’, is a small, but strong piece of evidence for the object reading.  Essentially, Dunn argues that, given the pattern of how Paul tends to use pistis (as in ek pisteos), it is hard to see how one is expected to switch to another meaning for pistis christou.  I don’t think it has to be that easy (as Dunn makes it seem), but Dunn has a reasonable point.  I think that Hays’ subject reading is highly attractive, but more for its theology than for how the text (grammatically/syntactically/in the history of interpretation) compels the reader to see this meaning.  So far, I think Francis Watson has been the one to convince me of the objective reading (see his updated Paul, Jews, and Gentiles, Eerdmans, 2007).

Markus Bockmuehl’s ‘The Conversion of Desire in St. Paul’s Hermeneutics’ also interacts quite directly with Hays work – building on (and challenging) Hays’ own common formulation ‘conversion of imagination’.  Bockmuehl likes where is going with this phrase, the shaping of social reality and identity through the Word, but finds the focus on ‘imagination’ a bit anachronistic.  Instead, Bockmuehl considers, just briefly, the more common interest (at least lexically) that Paul has in desire – something much discussed by ancient philosophers (whereas ‘imagination’ was not spoken of in the positive way).  There is much to ponder here, though thematically I think Hays’ formulation is better.

Honorable mention should go to the essays by

Doug Campbell – picking up an ‘echo’ in Romans and exploring it.

Beverly Gaventa – looking at the Scriptural catena in Romans 3.10-18; her essay marks such eloquent prose.

John Barclay – on grace, and the manna background of 2 Cor 8.1-15.  Hays interest in community is picked up by Barclay.

N.T. Wright – on faith as a virtue.

In final analysis, this was a fun book to read, but overall it was too broad in terms of the topics covered.  If they limited themselves to intertextuality, ethics, and ‘theological intepretation’, it may have reined in the discussion more (or perhaps still too broad).  I don’t see this every becoming a ‘must-read’ kind of book, but few Festschriften are.  However, the ones for Fee (on Romans), Dunn (on the Holy Spirit), and for Larry Hurtado/Alan Segal (on christology and monotheism + a little more) are all excellent cutting edge discussions of their specific areas.  This is especially helpful when a number of essays are methodologically driven (such as the FS for Hurtado) or on subjects rarely discussed in detail (such as many essays in Dunn’s FS).  I am happy to own Hays’ FS, but largely because I admire Richard Hays as a biblical scholar.  Indeed, I have never seen so many world-class NT scholars chomp at the bit to celebrate another scholar’s achievements and dreams.  Blessings to you, Richard, as these next years take you deep into the echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.  A second FS may still await you!

My Intl. SBL (Rome) proposal accepted

I have just received word that my international SBL (Rome)  paper proposal has been accepted in the Paul group.  My family and I are excited because my wife has never been to Italy and I haven’t visited since I was in high school.

I have dreamed about going back and taking lots of pictures and using them in NT course instruction.  Also, they have some good food too….

OK, here is the abstract and title for the paper:


In recent scholarship on the theological foundations of Paul’s ethics, it is almost  unanimously concluded that Paul was not a systematic ethicist, but rather a passionate apostle whose ambition it was to lead his churches to obey God’s will and imitate Christ.  When it comes to the details of how Paul promotes these moral objectives, there is less consensus.  Some scholars from social-scientific and/or literary backgrounds have found that much of Paul’s ethics is imbedded in his theological constructions.  And his theology is less syllogistic and more narratival and metaphorical.  Drawing from such research, especially on recent developments in conceptual metaphor theory, I consider how one particular group of Pauline metaphors, his militaristic ones, are ripe with moral implications.  When such metaphors are recognized as having deep ethical potential, our own reckoning of his moral vision will become less propositional and more organic.

Hauerwas Defends His ‘Hermeneutic’

In the new Richard Hays FS (The Word Leaps the Gap; Eerdmans, 2009), the very first essay is by Stanley Hauerwas who defends himself against Hays’ criticism. Hays has argued that Hauerwas has a freewheeling approach to the Bible which does not seem to depend on a close reading of the text especially from a historical standpoint. Hauerwas states quite bluntly that Hays accuses him of not actually doing exegesis (though Hays never says it in this way).

Hauerwas, though somewhat sympathetic to Hays’s concerns, still admits: ‘I hope to make it clear why I do not believe a “Coherent hermeneutical position” is much help for reading the Bible’ (p. 2).

Though Hauerwas is not much of a bandwagon person, he is still representing a burgeoning attitude that is suspicion of the gains of the historical-critical method (which Hauerwas thinks that Hays still operates within).  Hauerwas is particularly suspicious of the usefulness of word studies.  ‘Historians will do what historians will do, and often we may learn something from them that may be of use, but I remain unconvinced that the so-called historical knowledge is a trump or even is necessary for how Scripture is to be read by the church’ (p. 9).  He goes on: ‘I simply do not believe that I will learn from word studies the “meaning” of the word teleios.  I do not believe that I will learn the meaning of the word teleios because I believe it is a philosophical mistake to think that the word has a [= just one] meaning’ (p. 9).

Hauerwas’ modern example is not surprising: ‘For example, if I wrote that Hays was an “asshole,” most would think I was making a very negative judgment about him.  But where I come from, Texas, “asshole” is a term of endearment males use after they have scored a touchdown’ (9 fn. 20).

My criticism of Hauerwas here would be that if an exegete is doing his historical work rightly, he or she will locate the given Hauerwasian statement in its original socio-historical milieu and discover this unique insight about how Texans use the word “asshole.”  So, here I think his analogy fails.

Must-Read Book List for Preparing to be a Pauline Research/Scholar

As I am nearing the completion of my doctoral research, I have been reflecting on how ‘ready’ I am to engage within the guild of NT and specifically Pauline scholars and whether my base of knowledge is mature enough and up-to-date, so to speak. It is becoming increasingly difficult to play catch-up because of the rate of scholarship output in Paul. But, one must have goals. So, I am setting my sights to complete a list of books on Paul that I think everyone should read before, during, or soon after their doctorate. You may have concerns with what I included, or you may feel that I left things out. So be it. I am not going for an exhaustive list, but a reasonable one. You will notice that I have aimed for covering a broad range of areas so as to touch upon key categories of research. I have not read every book on this list – some I have read in full, others in part, and a few I wish to work through in the next two years.

A. Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (NY: H. Holt & Co., 1931).

V.P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968).

E. Kasemann, Perspectives on Paul (London: SCM, 1971).

Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974) paperback, $12. This includes his classic essay, “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.”

E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977) paperback, $30. A landmark study.

Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth, trans. John Schulz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982).

Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) paperback, $18. A widely-acclaimed social analysis of the early Christian movement.

J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984)

Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale UP, 1989).

Abraham Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).

Morna Hooker. From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Jerome H. Neyrey, Paul, In Other Words: A Cultural Reading of His Letters (Louisville, KY: Westminster / John Knox, 1990) hardcover, $23.

Wright, N. T. The Climax of the Covenant : Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.

G.D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994).

J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997) hardcover, $40.

B. Longenecker, ed. Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment (Louisville: WJK, 2002).

J.P. Sampley, ed. Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook (Continuum 2003).

J.D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

Horsley, Richard A., ed. Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997.

Common Mistakes in Theological Research #7: Cart Pulling the Horse


This CMTR entry has to do with how a researcher/writer uses secondary sources.  There are two ways (as well as a few others) of using quotes/resources in the formation of your thesis argumentation.  Some research is referred to that demonstrates where you got your ideas and traces the origins and trajectory of your thought.  This is essentially how we start our research.  A second type of citation is where you are using the scholarship of others to confirm or affirm what you discovered on your own.  This second kind is more about supporting your research and using a consensus-of-support sort of argument.

In your thesis, you are probably going to do both kinds of citing, because you want to show where your work comes from and also how your ideas fit together with the work of others.

The MISTAKE comes especially when you lean too heavily on the second kind (where you end up primarily using secondary sources only as confirmations that you are ‘right’).  To a reader/evaluator, this can come across as proof-texting if it is done too much.

How do you avoid this?  I think I have given this advice before, but make sure that you are not just looting when you research.  Looting is when you only read a relevant page or two from a book you thought might be related to your research.  Try to train yourself to read whole chapters, whole articles, and, if possible, whole books.  For me, sometimes the best stuff (not quotes, but good solid research) is found in places you wouldn’t have guessed.
This is a preventative measure.  As far as after you have written your thesis, go back through the footnotes and see what the ‘balance’ is like.  There is no perfect recipe, but you can see if you are leaning too heavily on one side.

The real mistake that is made here is only using sources as pats on your back rather than foundations.  That is like…letting the cart pull the horse.  Not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea.  The overall tendency for those who make this mistake is to be lazy by not thinking creatively about what makes for good sources as influences.  Be willing to read more than just commentaries, dictionaries, and books in the ‘appropriate’ section of your library.  Read books outside your discipline, but that can inform your method.  Be risk-taking in making connections – your supervisor or editor or friend-who-reads-your-work-that-is-a-professional will tell you if the links are not working.

EP Sanders on Why Paul being Unsystematic is not Heretical

I am currently reading through the massive tome in honor of Richard Hays, The Word Leaps the Gap (Eerdmans, 2008), and I skipped ahead of many chapters to read what EP Sanders had to say about the topic ‘Did Paul’s Theology Develop?’  There is much to report here on Sanders’ many insightful thoughts in reflection on his academic journey, but overall the major thrust of the essay is to differentiate between his use of the terms unsystematic and coherent (and also to talk about what it means to grow and develop in one’s thought).

Systematic: Sanders explains his understanding of the term this way: ‘Paul’s theology would be systematic if all parts of it could be fitted into a hierarchical outline that contained several main principles, each with subdivisions that follow from the main points…Paul did not write a systematic theology, since he wrote occasional letters relating to specific issues’ (325-6).

Coherence: Coherence means “clinging together.”  Probably all systematic arrangements are also “coherent,” but it is possible to have coherence without hierarchical or logical arrangement.  That is what I think of Paul: coherent, unsystematic, not notably inconsistent.’ (328); How Coherence works in Paul: ‘My own image of Paul’s thought is a circle containing two main principles: (1) The God of Israel is God of the whole world; he called the Jewish people, brought them out of bondage, and have them the law; but all the creation is his. (2) In recent days, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to save the whole world from the wrath to come, without regard to whether or not people are Jewish.  Around the outside of this circle can be grouped diverse statements on such topics as the law and the human plight’ (328).

Obsession with Systemization: Sanders basically argues that it is an unnecessary conclusion that if Paul is unsystematic, he must be a bad theologian or apostle.  This is largely because we study him as theologian, but don’t quite grasp exactly what he was trying to do with his message.  We study his texts as scholars and some of us as scholars and Christians.  But, we can’t help but test Paul as another scholar.  Sanders thinks this is where we get off-track.  I end with a very illuminating quote:

‘Paul the completely confident academic and systematic theologian — sitting at his desk, studying the Bible, working out a system, perfect and consistent in all its parts, unchanging over a period of thirty years, no matter how many new experiences he and his churches had — is an almost inhuman character, either a thinking machine or the fourth person of the Trinity’ (Sanders, 347).

Getting a NT PhD and the Job Market

Lately I have received a flurry of questions about the job market for PhD students who wish to teach in a university or seminary.  Here are some questions I have received and my reflections.

It has always been bad odds for PhD candidates, but because of the ‘economic crisis’ in America, it has gotten much worse.  For one of the positions I applied for, there were over 100 candidates and it was not even a high-profile school.  So, for those early on in the process, I suggest you really explore your calling and be ready for the challenges ahead.  If you are unsure about doing a PhD and are jumping into it with a wishy-washy attitude, do the rest of us a favor and bow out! 🙂
NB: New TEstament is always a more flooded area than any other because it gets so much attention in Seminary curricula and also from the pulpit.  At Durham, the NT people outnumber the OT 2:1 (if not more).  In my latter years in seminary I was considering switching over to OT for the job prospects.  I just did not find Ugaritic that interesting…
That is a difficult question to answer for many reasons.  First of all, it depends on the kind of institution in which you want to teach.  Obviously it is quite critical for a research university (like Duke or U. of Chicago), but it matters less to a teaching-intensive institution (as seminaries are mostly classified).  Also, the key to finishing your PhD and getting a job is completing your dissertation and you should not take on too many projects that would distract you from that.  Finally, though it can be a time-saver to pre-publish as articles portions of your thesis, some PhD programs prohibit or strongly discourage this.  Do your homework to know if this is even feasible.  Having said all of that, I advise NT students to aim for having at least 1 article published in a respected, credible peer-reviewed journal (JBL, NTS, NovT, JSNT, CBQ, etc..).  It is ideal to have three articles published by the time you are interviewing (IMHO).

This is also a challenging question because it varies from one search committee to another.  Look at the institutions where you want to teach and see where their profs got their Phds.  That is the best indicator of their preferences.  When push comes to shove and they have 1oo applications, it can’t hurt to be at Cambridge or Princeton.  In many ways, though, the recommendation from a good, well-respected supervisor, even from a non-ivy-league institution, can go a long way.


If the American institution where you are applying to teach has a biblical studies department, then they have professors who hopefully stay current in the field and will recognize that Loveday Alexander taught at Sheffield, that John Barclay is at Durham and that Bruce Longenecker is/was at St. Andrews.  If you are in more of a comparative religions situation at a smaller liberal arts college, that may be more of a challenge.  Evangelical seminaries usually are fine with the UK schools because so many American evangelical academics study at Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and Durham.


No.  Sorry.


The challenge is that each search committee is going to be different and it depends on the overall quality of the applications.  The honest-to-goodness best way to get hired is to (1) have a good PhD institution, (2) publish some , (3) teach some, (4) have impeccable recommendations, (5) do some administrative work (sitting on committees), (6) do some paper presenting, (7) keep up contacts from your undergrad and Masters institutions, and (8) write an original and thought-provoking dissertation, and (9) impress the search committee with your communication skills, ready-at-hand knowledge, down-to-earthness, other-centeredness, and interdisciplinary.  Oh, and that you are both a team player and an independent researcher.

Ok, I guess I was being a little facetious.  I would prioritize, institution, publications, and networking.  Good luck!