Second issue of JTS online now

One of the premier theology/Biblical journals, Journal of Theological Studies, has its second issue of 2010 online now. It includes some very interesting titles (I don’t have access to the electronic version, so I will eventually check out the print version). Here are some highlights

“The Defilement of the Hands as a Principle for Determining the Holiness of the Scriptures” (T. Lim)

“The Testament of the 12 Patriarchs and the Didascalia Apostolorum: A Common Jewish Christian Milieu?” (Joel Marcus)

As for Reviews:

Walter Moberly reviews Todd Billings’ The Word of God for the People of God

John Goldingay reviews Scott Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant

Christopher Tuckett reviews Larry Hurtado’s The Early Christian Artefacts

Larry Hurtado reviews James Dunn’s Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

James Dunn reviews T. Engberg-Pedersen’s Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul


On being a teacher of theology and Scriptures

I have done a lot of lecturing this week, both inside and outside the classroom. It has given me a chance to reflect on what it means to be a teacher, especially of theology and Scriptures.

I used to think, as a student, that teachers were paid to come up with new ideas and novel approaches to problems. Sure, they can and sometimes do, in fact, provide these things. However, as an instructor myself, I have come to realize that very little of what I say in class is “original.” Rather, my role, if we performed, is to:

– Selectively offer the insightful pieces of information, amid the vast amount of literature I access weekly

– Distill the centuries and decades of scholarship in my subject

– develop analogies and models that help contextualize the theoretical information I have learned, to better serve young or uninitiated students

– tacitly and explicitly make a case for the usefulness of theological reasoning and interpretation in everyday life

– help students and other learners process the method through which they read the Bible and think about “theology” and religion

This moves me further away from what I all along expected to be in academia – an information giant. Rather, we (as teachers) are roaming interpreters, moving between book and community, rapackaging heavy loads into bearable ideas and exhortations.

Hansen’s Philippians Commentary (Part I)

After having it collect some dust on my shelf, I am finally cracking the pages of Walter Hansen’s Pillar commentary on Philippians (Eerdmans). To be frank, I have not found the Pillar series to be especially impressive in the area of creative and “new” ways of reading the text. However, they hardly will ever lead you astray or into speculative indulgences. They are great as “the only commentary on own on ___”. I have yet to see what Hansen contributes to the study of Philippians, but so far he has proven to be judicious and fair in the reading.

So far I have read the introduction and the commentary of 1:1-11.


Alongside other perfunctory introductory matters, H. contributes a few other elements. He considers Philippians to be, essentially, a deliberative speech, though he shows reservation in applying rhetorical categories directly to Paul as if that were Paul’s intention. Especially in terms of sub-diving Philippians into rhetorical components, H. writes, “A preoccupation with rhetorical form over substance is an obstacle to understanding the meaning of the theological themes and practical exhortation in Paul’s letter” (pp. 14-15).

He also treats some key themes including: disunity, suffering, opponents, “gospel,” and “community.” In terms of the theme of “opponents,” I appreciate his perspective on the “enemies of the cross”: “The result of giving in to the pressures of their culture would cause Christians to lives as enemies of the way of the cross: walking in the way of destruction, obeying their physical appetites as their god, making their boast in shameful activities, and setting their mind on earthly things” (p. 30).


(1) Why “with the overseers and deacons” – “…because they were the potential solution to the problem of disunity in the church” (p. 42)

(2) meaning of phroneo – “…refers to interior thoughts, attitudes, and feelings that motivate exterior directions and actions” (p. 51)

Again, I found much of what Hansen said already in Bockmuehl, O’Brien, Fee, Silva, Hooker, or Fowl. Nevertheless, he is a close reader of the text and an articulate communicator. More to come!

Required articles for grad class on Philippians – an update

The “textbook” for our Philippians exegesis class is actually a series of essays and articles that the students will read (alongside Bockmuehl’s excellent and concise commentary)

I break the weeks down into passages, and articles deal either with that passage or are connected thematically (if that can be managed)

Phil 1:1-11

(1) Peter Oakes, “Jason and Penelope Hear Philippians 1:1-11,” in Understanding, Studying and Reading (1998)

(2) J. Hellerman, “Brothers and Friends in Philippi: Family Honor in the Roman World and in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians” BTB 2009.

Philippians 1:12-26

(1) N. Gupta, “I Will Not Be Put to Shame: Paul, the Philippians and the Honorable Plea for Death” Neotestamentica (2008)

(2) L. Ann Jervis, At the Heart of the Gospel: Suffering in the Earliest Christian Message (Eerdmans): the Philippians chapter

Philippians 1:27-2:11

(1) N. Gupta, “To Whom Was Christ a Slave (Phil 2:7)? Double Agency and the Specters of Sin and Death in Philippians’, HBT 32 (2010): 1-16.

(2) N.T. Wright, “Jesus Christ is Lord: Philippians 2.5-11” in Climax of the Covenant (Fortress)

Philippians 2:12-3:1

(1) P. Holloway, “Alius Paulus: Paul’s Promise to Send Timothy at Philippians 2.19-24” NTS 2008

(2) Ross Wagner, “Working Out Salvation: Holiness and Community in Philippi,” in Holiness and Eccesiology in the NT

Philippians 3:2-21

(1)-(2) The two appended essays in R. Hays’ Faith of Jesus Christ:

– “Once More: PISTIS CHRISTOU” (Dunn)

– “Pistis and Pauline Christology: What is at Stake?” (Hays)

Philippians 4:1-23

(1) S. Fowl, “Know Your Context: Giving and Receiving Money in Philippians,” Interpretation 2002

(2) G. Fee, “To What End Exegesis? Reflections on Exegesis and Spirituality in Philippians 4:10-20,” BBR 8 (1988): 75-88.


So – that’s it. I have another article on Philippians coming out in 2011 (JSNT), but too late for my class. I may still have them read the yet-to-be-published version, but it is a bit technical and dry, so I might spare them!

Thank you to all who offered advice – I truly value your input and at least 2 on this list I was unaware of previously. So, much appreciation!


On the crafty serpent of Genesis 3

While Christians traditionally associate the Edenic serpent with Satan or a demonic character, many OT scholars have pointed out that this comes from later interpretation and fits only awkwardly in the narrative of Genesis 3. Some have pointed out that it would be at cross-purposes with the trajectory of the narrative to have evil-personified already in the garden even before the first human sin. So, some OT scholars simply argue that the serpent has no ill-will or evil motive. While I appreciate the narrative-focus and I respect the due circumspection, I have been unsatified with leaving the serpent as an innocent conversation partner.

Recently I read a different view put forward by Bill Arnold. He hypothesizes (acknowledging a serious lack of concrete evidence, but appreciating any theory that may fit the context) the serpent may have been the pinnacle of the animal-creation process (3:1a) in search of a suitable helper for Adam. “Since the serpent was “more crafty” than all the rest, he must have been the most likely candidate as a helping partner for the man, which may further explain the serpent’s ability to speak, reason, and engage the woman in dialogue (she did not seem surprised). As the animal most like the man and therefore the best candidate as his companion, the serpent may therefore be motivated by resentment of the woman” (pp. 63-4). This may be, Arnold wonders, why the serpent approaches the woman first, in hopes of “proving” his superiority to her.

Again, we don’t have a lot of clues to know what the make of this, but I certainly think it answers a lot of questions.

See Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary)

Matthew’s Greek

It is an unfortunate commonplace in classrooms of seminaries and Christian colleges to hear that Matthew improved and corrected the ugly and unintelligent Greek of Mark. As a teacher of Greek, while it is true that Mark seems to deviate from what we artificially consider the “standard” rules of Koine Greek, it is a bit simplistic to pretend that we can label Mark’s education level by his Gospel. For example, I have heard Greek teachers say that, unlike English, in Greek word order “doesn’t matter” or that there are not rules for word order. That is ridiculous! While there may be some flexibility and variety, and while the construction of sentences is significantly different, we should observe that that may only be our perception of the language or rules.

Anyway, I stumbled across a nice essay by Richard Beaton (Fuller) that questions whether we can label Matthew’s Greek as more “polished.” Beaton tips his hat to Bacon’s suggestion that it may be, rather, a desire on Matthew’s part to align it more with “synagogue Greek,” having to do more with style than education (Beaton, “How Matthew Writes,” in Bockmuehl and Hagner, The Written Gospel, pg. 120).

On my desk: A very LARGE commentary on John

Today, Thursday, is the one day of the week I do not teach. So, it is called my “sanity day.” I get a chance to work on some conference papers and articles, and even (hopefully) to do some blogging. So here I am. And, an added bonus, there was a large package from Eerdmans today. What could it be? Was it several books?

It was J. Ramsey-Michaels’ NICNT on the Gospel of John. As some of you know, I will be teaching John next summer at Asbury and so I am pleased to have another good resource.

A detailed review will be coming in time, but here are some first impressions.

1. It is HUGE – a whopping 1094 pp. (Moo’s Romans is nearly 100 pages shorter)

2. This commentary is 17 years in the making!

3. He mentions,regarding his influences in his Johannine commentary preparation, “To my surprise I found Rudolf Bultmann’s commentary the most useful of all, a work widely admired for all the wrong reasons” (p. xi)

4. Approach: on the obsession with determining the “background” of 4G: “”Background,” to my mind, is better assessed in relation to particular passages than in generalities” (xi).

5. The introduction is intentionally brief (about 40 pages).

6. I read a sampling of the commentary and I was impressed at some of the insights that Michaels’ found, particularly regarding 2:19-21. He seems to be particularly good at literary analysis and the logic of the flow of the text.

More to come!