Interview with Risto Uro on the Gospel of Thomas (Part II)

9780567086075Here’s part two of my interview with Professor Uro:

(CWS) 4. To your mind, what is the relationship, if any, between the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John?

(RU) I agree with Ismo Dunderberg that the attempts to reconstruct a conflict between John’s and Thomas’ communities are on a shaky ground. I also find helpful his idea that both the figure of the beloved disciple in John and the apostle Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas should be seen in the context of other figures of authentication that abound in early Christian literature. There are interesting points of contact, though, and both gospels seem to roughly derive from same stage of the Christian movement as 1Timothy, Hebrews, and some of the Apostolic Fathers.

(CWS) 5. Another research interest that I have and one that I hope to promote on this blog is the historical Jesus. What implications for historical Jesus research does the Gospel of Thomas have? In your opinion is there anything in Thomas that is old enough to be potentially illuminating about the life of the historical Jesus? If so, what?

(RU) I think the most important contribution of Thomasine studies to historical Jesus research is methodological. As I explained above, one of my first interests was to use Thomas’ materials to understand the tradition process in light of orality and literacy studies. Now the field is often called orality-scribality-memory studies. The results of such studies may not be as direct or dramatic as tracing some “authentic” traditions in Thomas, but I have been influenced by E.P. Sanders too much to take the sayings tradition as a point of departure in the study of the historical Jesus.

(CWS) 6. What scholars pursuing research on the Gospel of Thomas (and/or Christian Origins) have you found most helpful for your own work on the Gospel of Thomas?

(RU) As to the scholars, I cannot overstate the influence of the “original” Thomas project team in Helsinki (Dunderberg, Marjanen and Uro). We worked together intensively musing over Thomas and other Nag Hammadi writings on countless occasions for a period of several years. Moreover, my post-doctoral studies in Claremont brought me under the influence of the so-called Koester-Robinson school. I haven’t been a very obedient member of the school, but I always think with appreciation of what these great scholars have done to promote the study of Nag Hammadi and extra-canonical writings.

In terms of books, I have already mentioned Davies’ The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom and Kelber’s The Oral and the Written Gospel. Steve Patterson’s The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus was on my desk constantly while working on Thomas.


My Conference Paper on Wright, Piper, and Justification

This year, when I proposed 4 papers for SBL, I was very discouraged that all 4 got rejected. Thus, it is the first time in four years I will not be presenting an academic paper at SBL (though I was invited to present in a Phd-prep workshop). I felt, therefore, that my conference experience was going to be a bit deflated.

Then, I got a nice email from ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) asking me if I would participate in the Pauline Studies seminar as part of a review panel discussing Tom Wright’s book Justification (alongside Mark Seifrid and Michael F Bird). I gladly accepted!

The title of my paper is: “To What End diakaiosyne? The Hermeneutics and Ethics of Justification in the Wright-Piper Debate.” (Friday, 3:20-4:00).

I am not an expert on Pauline soteriology, certainly not of the caliber of Seifrid or Bird, but I want to tackle the discussion from another angle: is dikaiosyne the summit of Pauline theology? Is it an end? Or is it a means to an end?

The question normally revolves around whether righteousness is imputed or declared, whether it is Christ’s own or as a result of Christ. Piper is concerned, along with others, that justification loses its power if it is mixed with a semi-pelagian theology that some detect in Wright’s work which ostensibly puts serious stock in the confirmation of righteousness at final  judgment.

I think that, in general, Wright is closer to what Paul is communicating, but I think a better way to work the argument (so as to not appear to be promoting a diminished christology) is to focus on anthropological teleology  – what is the goal of justification? My paper will beg for the answer (I hope): is the end not transformation that is detectable in ethical (or virtuous) living?  Here, I think, Wright has gotten Romans 2:7-8…well…right!

I will try to argue that Wright could buttress his argument by driving further some important texts on justification such as 1 Corinthians 6:11 and the emphasis on the Spirit and justification (cf. Gal. 5:5).

Finally, at the Wheaton Conference, Kevin Vanhoozer gave a show-stopping performance that brought speech-act theory into the conversation. I think, though I am not sure where I will fit this in, that I will try something similar using Berger and Luckman’s work on the sociology of knowledge. This has a great bearing, not just on justification and ‘soteriology’, but also on ecclesiology (as Wright would applaud), identity, and community ethos (which falls generally under the umbrella of ethics).

I do hope some of you will turn up, as I think this will be a fun discussion. Don’t ask me any really complex questions, though!  I may defer and give you the Bird.