Schreiner, gender, and the clarity of Scripture (Galatians commentary)

I am currently reading/reviewing Thomas Schreiner’s new Galatians commentary for the Zondervan Exegetical series. I knew, going into it, that there would be some things I disagree with. Overall, I have been surprised at how much I DO agree with him on and that, overall, he is not as hostile to the New Perspective as I had expected.

More than anything else, I was upset by his treatment of Galatians 3:28 and the issue of the “oneness” of the church and “male and female.” He writes

…the equality of men and women in Christ does not cancel out, in Paul’s mind, the distinct roles of men and women in marriage [he cites household codes] or in ministry contexts (1  Cor 11:2-16; 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:9-15). [259]

OK, fair enough – nothing I haven’t heard before, although simply “citing” verses seems a bit superficial in an “exegetical” commentary series that exists almost solely on the basis of the idea that Scripture needs to be interpreted.

I have more concern with some of his hermeneutical concepts:

I just witnessed to some Mormons two days ago who found the doctrine of the Trinity to be philosophical nonsense. Some think the doctrine of the two natures of Christ is irrational as well. How can one person be fully God and fully man? I am not suggesting that anything in our faith is contradictory or irrational, but I am suggesting that even if some truths are beyond our finding out, we must submit ultimately to Scripture instead of limiting ourselves to what seems reasonable to us. [261].

I am quite shocked by this. Certainly he is right to say that the actual way the Trinity works is mysterious – no qualms there. But, when it comes to Christian ethics, I think we are in different territory. Consider the issue of slavery in America and the UK. Keep in mind, it was the pro-slavery group that had the stronger Scriptural arguments. To some degree the same would go for Apartheid. The impetus for the abolition of slavery, which did come from Christian circles, was exactly THAT IT WAS UNREASONABLE. The Scriptural arguments against slavery, and there were plenty in due time, only really came as a result of the uneasiness of slavery ethically.

He does backtrack a bit later: “Incidentally, I think a robust philosophical defense can be made of the notion that women and men are equal in essence and different in role.” (261). I am not sure, if he does believe this, why he makes the statement about “just believing it” even if you can’t understand why. I really think he would have been better of sticking to his guns and just making the best case for it.

The early church, even with the doctrine of the Trinity, was never content to say, “Ah well. My brain gets muddled when I think about the Trinity. Let’s just say we believe it and move on.” No, they knew that, even if it seemed like an impossible task, they had to keep struggling with it to make it intelligible philosophically (thank you Augustine, you tried very hard). The Church is not NIKE – we don’t “Just do it.” Paul’s letters could have been much, much shorter if he subscribed to this philosophy.

I was also disappointed by the judgmental tone of Schreiner’s final statement on the issue: “we must also avoid wrenching texts out of context and reading a program out of them that was never intended by the author” (261).

As an egalitarian myself (I prefer this label over Schreiner’s ostensibly derogatory label “evangelical feminist”), I hardly think he has to make such a bald warning. As an example of one who espouses the egalitarian position that Schreiner refutes, he cites F.F. Bruce. After citing Bruce, you caution “evangelical feminists” to be more exegetically carefully? Didn’t Bruce teach our generation of EVANGELICAL NT scholars how to be exegetically careful?

I have to apologize to Schreiner, that I judged him and his commentary before I had a chance to read it. Again, there is much I appreciate, especially his pastoral sensitivity and ability to write concisely. On the other hand, I think the messy hermeneutics of the handful of pages on 3:28 is disconcerting and fits only awkwardly in an exegetical commentary.

PNW SBL – two sessions I will be involved in

I am looking forward, in mid-May, to the Pacific Northwest SBL meeting. I will be involved in two sessions. First, I was excited to have my paper accepted. The Title and Abstract are below:

Door Locks Only Stop Mortals: The Isaianic Key That Unlocks the Mystery of the Johannine Resurrection House Appearances (John 20:19-29)

Only Luke and John recount resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples in a home (Luke 24:36-44; John 20:19-29). John’s account is more vivid, twice mentioning that the doors were locked when Jesus miraculously came into their midst, and only John recounts the audacious demand for physical proof from Thomas (20:24-25).

In this paper, we will explore the serious possibility that John draws from the prophetic-eschatology of Isaiah 26, a text strongly focused on the Day of the Lord and the coming of peace, divine vengeance, life from the dead, judgment, and victory. Drawing such connections allow the reader of the fourth Gospel to be further attentive to such key features of this narratives in terms of irony, faith, human agency, new life and the righteousness and faithfulness of the God of Israel. Ultimately, reading John 20 with Isaiah 26 helps the Gospel interpreter to understand how a crucified and risen Jesus could fulfill the hopes of restoration and peace promised to the people of God.


Also, I will be participating in a review panel discussion of Paul N. Anderson’s soon-coming book on the Gospel of John entitled Riddles of the Fourth Gospel (Fortress Press). While it is not out yet, Anderson has furnished me with a copy and I am about 3/5 through it. So far, it is very impressive: carefully thought out, very accessible for students, and contains a cogent argument (thus far) regarding how he thinks the various “riddles” can be penetrated. I will certainly have some words to say about the book, but by far it will be positive.

So, if you are coming please do drop in on one or both of these and say hello afterward.


Todd Still’s soon-coming Philippians commentary

I noticed recently that Todd D. Still (Truett Seminary) has a Philippians commentary coming out soon in the Smyth & Helwys series. You can see the sterling endorsements he receives here. The book is due out in March (next month) and Todd showed me the text a few months ago and it is really excellent. Paired with the flavor of the series (lots of pictures and charts), I think students will be thoroughly impressed.

Two Helpful Introductions to the Gospels

Lately I have been reading two very useful introductions to the Gospels. The first is Francis Moloney’s The Living Voice of the Gospels (Hendrickson/Baker, 2007). This is a very easy-to-read, accessible introduction that focuses on the literary and theological messages of the Gospels. After each introductory chapter on the four Gospels, he gives a commentary-like reading of a key passage (Mark 1; Matthew 1; Luke 22-24; John 6). There is a strong push for a narrative-critical reading, theological interpretation, and reader-response sort of hermeneutics which de-emphasizes historical questions and issues (though he shies away from technical jargon). While I thoroughly enjoyed his comments, I was sometimes left with the question – is this all just symbolism? Are the Gospels historical at all? I understand Moloney’s point in focusing on the “living voice,” but perhaps he has neglected the historical elements to a fault. In any case, complemented by other books, I found his approach very rewarding.

Another useful textbook is Mark Allan Powell’s Fortress Introduction to the Gospels (1998). Strikingly different in approach from Moloney, Powell concentrates on source critical and redaction-critical insights, presuming Markan priority. If you want to get acquainted with the history of the study of the Gospels and higher criticism (which I found very interesting), this is an excellent study with some very insightful charts and diagrams. I was particularly impressed with the brief, but cogent chapter on “Other Gospels” – a subject that many students are curious about.

Simon Gathercole on Luke and Thomas

The most recent issue of New Testament Studies contains an article written by Simon Gathercole on the relationship between Luke and the Gospel of Thomas. Gathercole examines the views of Greg Riley and Steven Johnson, that certain awkward phrases and concepts in Luke show evidence of reliance upon Thomas. He provides a helpful critique along with his own position that Thomas knew Luke, but Lukan influence upon Thomas is “very probably indirect” (p. 143).

(To read the other side, see Gregory J. Riley, “Influence of Thomas Christianity on Luke 12:14 and 5:39,” HTR 88 [1995]: 229-35; and Steven R. Johnson, “The Hidden/Revealed Saying in the Greek and Coptic Versions of Gos. Thom. 5 & 6,” NovT 44 [2002]: 176-85; idem, “The Gospel of Thomas 76.3 and Canonical Parallels: Three Segments in the Tradition History of the Saying,” in John D. Turner and Anne McGuire, eds., The Nag Hammadi Library After Fifty Years: Proceedings of the 1995 Society of Biblical Literature Commemoration [NHMS 44; Leiden: Brill, 1997], 308-25; idem,  Seeking the Imperishable Treasure: Wealth, Wisdom, and a Jesus Saying [Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2008]).

Willimon’s WHY JESUS (review)

Some time ago I interviewed UMC Bishop William Willimon regarding his role as editor of the Wesley Study Bible. When I saw that he had a new book on Jesus (Why Jesus, Abindon), I immediately ordered it. Might this be a good textbook for the course I teach on Christian Formation?

It is an excellent and interesting book, indeed, written for a semi-popular audience, stripped of Christianese jargon, and full of whit. It basically raises the question: Why bother with Jesus? What was he like and what can that mean for me? Why should I take notice?

As the book is an extended meditation on Jesus’ identity, the chapters focus on different aspects of this identity:

Vagabond, Peacemaker, Storyteller, Party Person, Preacher, Magician, Home Wrecker, Savior, Sovereign, Lover, Delegator, and Body.

The chapters are quite short (usually less than 1o pp.), and include small sidebar items called “Aside to Jesus” where, creatively, Willimon makes a quick statement relevant to the topic which he addresses to Jesus himself, such as: “Aside to Jesus: You sure are easier to live with when you are spiritual than when you get physical” (p. 125, in a discussion of the physical Church as the “body of Christ” according to Paul). Also, he has a “Look It Up” section at the end of each chapter where readers can spend time in the Scripture passages that Willimon makes reference to.

Here are some of the strengths of this book:

-It is unique – so contemplative, but Willimon is always provocative, often irreverent, and an equal opportunity offender. He especially goes after cheap grace, civil religion, separating ethics and faith, and hypocrisy.

– He is self-effacing, always drawing attention to the plank in his own eye.

– His reading of the NT (and mostly the Gospels) can be very insightful

-He does well representing the current state of discussion on NT issues when they are relevant.

Here are a few drawbacks or limitations of the book

– The book overall comes across as hippie and anti-American (politically). Obviously he is going for this, and I resonate with some of it (and perhaps much of it), but it becomes a bit too repetitive for me.

– This may seem nit-picky, but he calls Jesus a magician (and titles a chapter based on this). Personally, I think that is a mistake. He may have been mistaken for one, but I think his method and result are quite different in many cases than to so-called magicians of his day. Anyway, that may be a scholarly quibble not worth much.

-His style of writing in this book, while down-to-earth and accessible, comes across as very “stream-of-consciousness,” quickly darting here and there from idea to idea and text to text. While I enjoyed reading it, I can’t summarize what I read in each chapter save the guidance of the title. Perhaps at least a nice intro and conclusion per chapter may have been helpful.

Well, I have decided not to use it in my class, but that does not mean I didn’t enjoy reading it. I am going to quote Willimon tomorrow in my sermon, and I think many Christians will find the book convicting and probing overall.

Reviews of my book

Since the last time I sat down to think seriously about my blog I have read three critical reviews of my book, John and Thomas: Gospels in Conflict?, and I wanted to interact briefly with those reviews here on the blog.

The first review appeared in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and was reviewed by Timothy Wiarda of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Wiarda was generally sympathetic to my thesis, commenting that my exegesis is judicious and that my attempt to refute “one of the main pillars of the community-conflict hypothesis must be judged a success” (p. 652). He seems to get what I’m trying to do, though there are times when his presuppositions lead him to question a particular exegetical assertion I have made. This happens to us all, doesn’t it? I tell my students that often, what we bring to a text is more determinative in the interpretive process than what the text presents to us. Still, Wiarda’s review is positive and it was good to see that the first reviewer received the book without deciding to use it as a doorstop!

The second review appeared in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly and was reviewed by Stevan Davies of Misericordia University. I have interacted some with Steve on this blog and have always appreciated his work. In fact, in my forthcoming book on Thomas, the first extended quotation belongs to him. I read his review with some excitement and was surprised by the largely dismissive tone Steve takes throughout the review. Not only has he (apparently) failed to grasp the narrative method I’m seeking to employ (which is spelled out at great length in Chapter Two), his review makes it sound as if he did not even read that chapter. As a specialist in Thomasine studies, he understandably agreed to review the book with the hopes that it would shed more light on the Gospel of Thomas than it actually does. Though you should never judge a book by its cover, the subtitle of the book, Johannine Characterization and the Thomas Question, does shed some light on the dominant emphasis of the book. Inexplicably, Steve also left the subtitle of the book out of the review’s citation(?). To me, that would have been helpful for any reader of the review to understand a little more about my purpose in the book. Again, I’m not sure Steve really understood what I was trying to do.  He closes the review by commenting that while “this book may be a contribution to Johannine studies, it is not very much of a contribution to Thomasine studies” (p. 175). This is a fair criticism, but it’s a criticism that speaks more to his expectations of the book prior to reading it than it does to my stated purpose for the book. My main goal was to examine Johannine characters with a view to shedding light on the Thomas issue. That is explicitly stated in the book’s introductory chapter!

The third review was written by Susan Hylen of Vanderbilt University for the journal Interpretation. The review has not yet been published but Susan was kind enough to send me a copy in advance. Like Wiarda, Hylen is sympathetic to my thesis and complementary of my exegesis, though she comments that she would like to see more of a specific focus on issues of Johannine characterization and less emphasis on narrative exegesis. She writes: “Skinner’s work is a useful reminder that scholars who engage in constructing a history of the early church often neglect complex literary questions,” but then expresses some concern that I have not provided an alternative theory for the relationship between John and Thomas

These reviews point out limitations that are probably to be expected of most published dissertations. They also raise prospects for future explorations. I am very thankful for all three reviews. Each reviewer spent time interacting with my thesis and providing critical reflections. It is certainly better to be critiqued than to be ignored altogether. Overall this was a positive first experience with peer review. I found it interesting that two journals sent my book to individuals with interests in questions of Johannine exegesis and characterization, while the third sent it to a scholar who specializes in Gospel of Thomas research. It’s even more interesting that the Johannine specialists found it helpful while the Thomasine specialist found it lacking.

I await further review and more opportunities for reflection. . . .