Going Radio Silent for a Few Weeks….

Sorry that I have been too busy to post regularly in the last few months. We have baby #3 coming any day now and we are making preparations – sitting in front of my computer and “blogging” does not make the top…well, even 100 things I need to be doing!

I will check in in a couple of months, baby in tow, and coffee in hand (but not too close to the baby).

Planned reviews coming up: Cornelis Bennema’s Encountering Jesus, Calvin Roetzel’s fifth edition of The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context, Ciampa and Rosner’s 1 Corinthians (Pillar), Scot McKnight’s James (NICNT), and a few more.

Also coming is a bibliography on doing research in the Gospel of John (for seminary students, not PhD students!).

And I will be giving a report on my papers at the Pacific NW SBL in mid-May.

NB: I have begun active research on my Colossians commentary. Lots of ideas and article ideas. I will be posting some of these “in process” as I mull over what this short, but rich letter is all about. So far, very interested in Paul’s phrase, “your love in the Spirit/spirit” (Col 1:8). I lean towards the reference to pneuma being the Holy Spirit (see Fee’s rationale, of course). Colossians bubbles over with important concerns over eschatology and cosmology, and mentioning their “love in the Spirit” offers a note of assurance that the new age has really dawned and communal solidarity and love is a sign that the crucified Lord rules in glory and power.

Jesus, Paul, and the People of God – A theological dialogue (Review-ish)

When it comes to people’s attention that I studied for my PhD at Univ of Durham, I am often asked, “Did you meet N.T. Wright?” There is a fascination with this scholar who has almost achieved the status of a rock star – at least in biblical-academic circles!

I was so pleased, then, when Wheaton held a conference about a year ago where scholars were invited (including Wright) to have a “theological dialogue” with him. It was an exciting experience to be in attendance and see Evangelicals (and others) treating Wright with respect, even when they disagreed. Subsequently, the papers given at that conference have been published by IVP under the title Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue  with N.T. Wright.

I will not rehearse all of the contents, as I already blogged on the conference, but for me I am glad to have the book to remember that special occasion and to have in mind that fruitful (though certainly critical) academic discussion can take place. Just to reiterate, here were some of my favorite papers, now memorialized as essays.

M.M. Thompson, “Jesus and the Victory of God Meets the Gospel of John” – Thompson represents a renewed focus on GJohn and the need to bring it out of the dark basement of Jesus studies. Wright admitted that it was not ideal to omit GJohn in JVG, but a methodological concession to allow his argument to have a hearing. If he re-wrote JVG in an “updated and revised” form, I wonder if he might include it now.

R.B. Hays, “Knowing Jesus: Story, History and the Question of Truth” – this subject is crucial in NT studies right now. How important is history in NT theology? Should we “quest” for the Historical Jesus? I look forward to continuing to digest this issue with Hays’ always exceptional counsel. I think I end up closer to Wright and Keener, though, on this matter…for the moment…

I also would commend to you the two state-of-his-thinking and state-of-the-discipline discussions on Jesus and Paul by Wright in the book. We are at such a good juncture to sit back and reflect on where we are in the big picture of these two massive fields of study.

Please do check the book out if you couldn’t make it to the conference. This was one of my favorite academic meetings I have been to, and having a record by IVP is a blessing!

The Letter to the Hebrews, by P.T. O’Brien (Review)

Two of my favorite commentaries are written by veteran author P.T. O’Brien (Philippians, NIGTC, and Ephesians, Pillar). I was very excited to see another commentary contribution by O’Brien, this time on Hebrews (2010). The Pillar series in which it appears is an evangelical exegetical commentary series with seminary-educated pastors in mind. I recently found Walter Hansen’s Philippians volume to be rather excellent, and Douglas Moo’s volume on Colossians to be, while not sterling, certainly reliable.

What about Hebrews? Well, I was very pleased with the introduction and we will begin there. It has all of the standard introductory sections.

On authorship, of course, the jury is still out, perhaps forever. Clearly it was not Paul (Heb 2:3). O’Brien offers up Barnabas or Apollos as popular options. Ultimately he chooses the agnostic approach showing approval of Luke Timothy Johnson’s comment: “another remarkable mind and heart besides Paul’s was at work in interpreting the significance of the crucified and raised Messiah Jesus for the understanding of Scripture, of the world, and of human existence” (LTJ, 44).

In terms of the situation of Hebrews, O’Brien seems to be in agreement with deSilva that the matter of honor/shame is significant: “The listeners were tired of bearing the shame of living outside of their cultural heritage” (13:7-8).” (p. 13).

Date: between 50-90AD.

In terms of the structure of the text, O’Brien notes the startling variety of ways scholars have divided up Hebrews. He resonates strongly with the discourse analysis approach of George Guthrie.

The exegetical commentary notes are unremarkable in my opinion. That is not meant to be a harsh criticism, but just to note that you will not find provocative “new” readings of key cruxes in Hebrews (as far as I could tell, not being a Hebrews scholar). For example, Hebrews 6, for O’Brien, does present the issue of apostasy, but he rightly concludes that they have not crossed over into that territory yet, though it is a real possibility.

On the issue of “dead works,” (6:1; 9:14), O’Brien rightly resists the idea that this refers to works of Torah as if Torah is meaningless. Rather, he thinks it is best to take this is “works that produce death.” I am not sure this is very convincing, because he never really ties that in to major points in the letter. I prefer deSilva’s suggestion that it refers to “dead works” that relate to idolatry (though perhaps not literal idol worship). This is especially likely since, at least in 9:14, the focus is on the “living God” – a typical designation in contexts that criticize idolatry.

One criticism I have, overall, for the series is that it is too light on focused theological analysis and application. When it comes to sorting out literary and historical issues, it does fine. I think pastors are really in need of solid points of theological implications and how to deal with modern ethical and theological problems in the church. In that arena, I have always felt the NIV Application commentary series has excelled (as well as the Interpretation series). Even the new Zondervan Exegetical series is cutting a path along these lines without mimicking some of the other kinds of commentaries.

The bottom line is that if this is your opportunity to buy just one commentary on Hebrews, it is not a bad choice. If you are a commentary collector, I feel that you may be a bit unimpressed, though, again, O’Brien has really proven himself to be an outstanding interpreter of the New Testament. If I could recommend just one commentary, though, I would suggest William Lane or Craig Koester for an advanced one, and Luke Timothy Johnson or David deSilva for a lighter one.

The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Review)

Until this year, I had never studied Hebrews before. In fact, I believe I had only read it a handful of times. What I was missing out on! I just lectured on Hebrews a couple of days ago and it is such a rich, if enigmatic, theological text. One of the most useful texts in developing my own thinking about Hebrews is the rather recent (2009) collection of essays found in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Eerdmans), edited by R. Bauckham, D.R. Driver, T.A. Hart, and N. MacDonald. The essays in the book began life as papers presented at the St. Andrews Conference on Scripture and Theology. A collection on the Gospel of John has also been published. The purpose of this focused gathering (that happens every few years on a new subject) is to “bridge the divide between biblical scholars, systematic theologians and other scholars concerned to read Scripture theologically” (ix). In that sense, this project would fit relatively well in the wider “theological intepretation of Scripture” movement, but (happily) I did not detect a denigration of the traditional historical-critical method found in the essays.

The book covers 7 “conversations”: Bauckham, Bruce McCormach, John Webster and Harold Attridge weigh in on Christology in Hebrews; John Polkinghorne, Eddie Adams, and Terry Wright discuss Cosmology; Richard Hays, Oskar Skarsaune, Mark Nanos, Morna Hooker, and Nehemia Polen on “supersessionism,” Stephen Holmes and I.Howard Marshall look at soteriology; Douglas Farrow and Edison Kalengyo  talk about Hebrews and “the modern world,” Ken Schenck and Daniel Treier deal with Hebrews’ “theology of Scripture”; and the subject of “the call to faith” is treated by R.W.L. Moberly, Markus Bockmuehl, Nathan MacDonald, Carl Mosser, Loveday Alexander, Mariam Kamell, and Ben Witherington.

Wow! Quite a conference it must have been!

I really enjoyed Bauckham’s fine work on Hebrews’ Christology, arguing, as to be expected, that Jesus shares in the unique identity of God as Son, Lord, and High Priest. Bauckham, though, also underscores how important the full humanity of Jesus is in Hebrews.

I was also fascinated by R. Hays’ piece on supersessionism where he challenges such a reading of one scholar in particular – the Richards Hays of 1989 who wrote very superficially about Hebrews’ use of Scripture in his book on Paul! It is interesting to see Hays process of reflection as he re-assesses this epistle. Instead of “supersession,” Hays rather points to the key idea being “new covenantalism.”

Morna Hooker’s essay was also very interesting, arguing that, despite the fact that Hebrews is clearly not written by Paul, we shouldn’t dismiss too quickly the similarities in theological perspective. While Paul focused his theological insights in Christ on the subject of justification, law, and judgment, Hebrews concentrates a similar theological perspective on cult, temple, and priesthood.

Well, I admit I have not had a chance to read each and every essay, but having read a good many, I learned so much. For anyone interested in Hebrews, and especially for those that want to see good dialogue take place between biblical scholars and “theologians,” look no further. I highly recommend this volume.

My New Article in Journal of GR Christianity and Judaism

I just saw (recently posted) the new article by Fred Long (Asbury) and me in the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism called:

“The Politics of Ephesians and the Empire: Accommodation or Resistance?”

I am very proud of this article, partly because it was a pleasure to partner with Fred Long on this as he is the real Ephesians guru. This was also good preparation for me as I prepare a commentary on Colossians – as there is much overlap in cosmology and interest in “powers.”

This article has been in the works for a long time. It began, partly in my hands, as an idea for an extended review article arguing against some of the claims made by Neil Elliott about Ephesians/Colossians. Elliott saw these documents as witnessing to a “canonical betrayal” of the real Paul in that they were accommodating documents that gave in to the imperial status quo and tried to soften the radicality of true Pauline disruption of power plays. Fred contacted me, as he is writing a truly revolutionary commentary on Ephesians, and offered the suggestion of working on something more constructive and substantial. (We were both surprised that the topic of Ephesians and empire has been rarely broached by NT scholars.) What we have now is the result of some of my theoretical and history of interpretation work, and his impressive Greco-Roman context research. We learned a lot in the process of working on this and we appreciate the support of Stan Porter and his editorial team. I would certainly endorse the idea of co-authorship, but we both recognized that such an endeavor comes with a unique set of challenges in terms of unity and coherence. Enjoy!