Some New Book Releases of Note

Today two books landed on my desk. The first is from Baker – Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation (Patrick Gray). Now this is a short work (< 200 pages) and meant to be very introductory, but I am currently reading two other books that would challenge Gray’s approach in different ways. Firstly, I am about half way through Ben Witherington’s new commentary on Philippians and he is very insistent that epistolary-genre analysis (what Gray is focusing upon) is a dead end – rhetorical analysis is the key. We shall see how Gray would respond to this, if he dips into this debate. On the other side, Joel Green feels that the genre-based approach that splits the exegetical task into “what it meant” (in that context) and “what it means today” (in our time) is too artificial a division. My guess is Joel would not like what Gray is doing, though I am generally more inclined to support Gray’s approach as a heuristic model of interpretation. Now I have not read Gray’s book yet, so we shall see where he goes with this exegetical guide. More to come!

The second book, from Eerdmans, is S.E. Porter and Jason Robinson’s Hermeneutics: An Introduction to Interpretive Theory. This book covers the basic questions about the field of hermeneutics, but the focus is on the major influences in theological hermeneutics: Schleiermacher, Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Habermas, and others. They also give serious attention to Daniel Patte, Derrida, Barth and Bultmann, and recent contributions by Thiselton, Vanhoozer, Culpepper, and Stephen Moore.

Now I love books on exegetical method, but more philosophically-driven books on hermeneutics tend to make my head hurt. But I trust Porter and Robinson to be helpful guides, and I am convinced that if you are concerned with understanding what a text means, you must engage with serious hermeneutical questions about the search for textual meaning.

Announcing – a new title for my blog – “Crux Sola…”

After 5(ish) years of blogging under the blog-title of my own name, I have finally chosen a “proper” title. I searched the internet a bit to make sure I was not a copycat and I believe I am not (feel free to correct me if I am and I will go back to the drawing board).

The title is: “Crux Sola…” which is short for Luther’s famous dictum, “Crux sola est nostra theologia” – The cross alone is our theology.

Recently I read some of Luther’s works and also Alister McGrath’s fine essays on Luther’s theology of the cross where the dictum is stated. McGrath explains it better than I can:

In 1518 the German reformer Martin Luther defended a series of theses in disputation at Heidelberg, in which he set out the basic features of the “theology of the cross.” Of particular importance is the idea that theology involves a response to the “rearward parts of God” (posteriora Dei), which are only made known in the cross. The theses alludes to Exodus 33:23, which refers to Moses only being allowed to catch a glimpse of God from the rear, as God disappears into the distance. (McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 25)

McGrath points to two statements made by Luther in his discourse.

#19: The person who looks on the invisible things of God, as they are seen in visible things, does not deserve to be called a theologian.

#20: But the person who looks on the visible rearward parts of God as seen in suffering and the cross does deserve to be called a theologian.

The summary of Luther’s theologia crucis is so eloquently stated by McGrath:

For Luther, the cross is the center of the Christian faith. The image of the crucified Christ is the crucible in which all responsible Christian thinking about God is forged. (McGrath, 25).

Fellow blogger, Mike Gorman, has named his own blog from Luther’s statement, crux probat omnia – “the cross puts everything to the test.” While I share with Mike a Wesleyan background, I too appreciate Luther’s cross theology.

Final Page Proofs Are In!

Today I FINALLY received the final page proofs for my book, What Are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas? Amazon lists May 1, 2012 as the anticipated date of publication, but the email I got today said the book will be in the warehouse by mid-March. The manuscript has been at the press since January 2011….so it’s somewhat overdue (in my humble opinion). Don’t forget to pre-order your copy. The book lists for $12.95 but Amazon has it for $6.40 (that’s a savings of over 50%!). It’s a steal, if I do say so.  : )

Jesus’ Call for Repentance and What We May Learn From the Movie Gladiator

I was teaching today on the subject of Jesus’ introductory message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).

We can figure out that Jesus is not so much announcing the appearance of a realm (kingdom), but a re-established authority and rulership (kingship). I like the prophetic vision from Zech 14:

On that day [The Lord’s] feet shall stand on the mount of Olives…And the Lord will become king over all the earth” (14:4, 9).

So, we know what Jesus means by “kingdom.” What does he mean by “repent”?  I had long struggled with this, because it smacked of legalism. Am I supposed to just do some good deeds to make God happy? Reading Cranfield on this, he drew a connection between the Greek metanoia and the Hebrew shuv. This is the idea of returning to the Lord – turning away from idols or false kings. Looking at the OT context, Cranfield writes,

This ‘returning’ as it is preached by the prophets is, basically, ‘a matter of returning to Yahweh with one’s whole being and in all decisions taking Him absolutely seriously as Israel’s God’. It is realized in obedience to his will; it involves trusting absolutely in him and ceasing to rely on such human helps as foreign alliances or on false gods; it includes a new attitude to everything, which expresses itself negatively as a turning away from all evil… (ICC Mark, 45).

Here is where the movie Gladiator comes in. So, we have the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who knew his demise was coming and wanted to select an appropriate successor. He chose Maximus (the general of his armies of the east) over his son Commodus. Yet, Commodus dared to secretly kill his father and ruin Maximus. So, the people of the empire hailed Commodus as Sovereign and Maximus managed to stay alive, though he was sold into slavery as a gladiatorial fighter.

As Maximus climbs the ranks of gladiators and moves closer to being able to challenge Commodus directly, he places many of his fellow gladiatorial companions as well as former comrades in the Roman army in a position where they must choose – either they stick with Commodus who, though being evil was predictable and the soldiers’ lives would probably continue to thrive, or they join the Maximus’ revolution and seek to topple the reigning emperor.

To “repent” in this situation (esp for the former military comrades of Maximus) would be to turn away from the power and authority of Caesar and turn to Maximus. Before Maximus actually toppled Commodus, those that supported him would be acting in faith. They probably had to trust that he was good enough to lead and strong enough to win.

I think this would work as a basic analogy for what Cranfield is talking about. To “repent” and follow Jesus was a turning away, not just from Caesar or from the devil, but any and all centers of value and authority that have stood against the kingship of Yahweh. Jesus was insistent upon preaching “repentance,” not because he was a sourpuss, but because it would take this kind of epistemological and ideological shift to truly transform the world.

Of course it would have been cool if Jesus called out in the garden of Gethsemane – “Are you not entertained?”

More on the authorship of Colossians – a response to my friendly critic, Richard Fellows

In a previous post I discussed the thorny issue of authorship of Colossians. While there are no easy answers, I err on the side of caution and follow the principle – in dubio pro reo (which I learned from Markus Barth) – “When in doubt, side with the accused.” Very wise counsel.

One commenter, Richard Fellows (see comment left here), is quite certain Paul did not write Colossians and has urged me to respond to his series of reasons. So here I go.

1. Concern #1: Wouldn’t Colossae be a reasonable choice for a forger since the city was destroyed by an earthquake and no church survived?

This argument is circumstantial (it does not prove anything, it is only convenient), and it can cut both ways. Dunn writes, “Why would a pseudepigrapher, consciously free to create his own history and aware that Colossae was not strictly speaking one of Paul’s churches, of all places, Colossae?” (1996: 37). 

2. Concern #2: Colossians follows the abbreviated names of Philemon. However, Paul was using “pally” names to warm up to Philemon in his personal letter, while he tends to use longer names in other genuine letters. The forger made a mistake by copying the pet names from Philemon, such as Epaphras (versus Epaphroditus).

First of all, it is not all that clear why certain name forms were used and when. Also, even if Epaphras is short for Epaphroditus, Reumann notes that they could be different people. Thirdly, even if it is the same person, because Epaphras was known to the Colossians, it would make sense to retain the more personal form (if that is really what it is).

3. Concern #3: The forger mistakes “Jesus” for a companion of Paul (Col 4:11)

Really? This highly skilled forger who has spent significant time analyzing Paul’s thought just doesn’t quite get who Paul thinks Jesus is? That is like a modern art forger who has spent significant time replicating works of Rembrandt not know how to draw people! I have NEVER come across a commentary that genuinely entertains the possibility that a forger could make this kind of mistake.

4. Concern #4: The forger swaps people and calls Aristarchus a “fellow-prisoner” in Col (4:10), but does so of only Epaphras in Philemon (23).

How is this a mistake? It would be one thing to mistake an older brother for a younger brother and vice versa (something empirical), but these are either terms of endearment (and, thus, there are lots of reasons why Paul would change such language), or they literally took turns spending time with Paul in prison (and we do have evidence of this kind of thing happening on occasion).

5. Concern #5: Why bother trying to defend the authenticity of Colossians? It is pro-slavery and misogynistic.

Why support ANY of Paul’s letters? Or the Bible for that matter (have you read the Old Testament?). Going back to Paul, why support Romans which is apparently pro-government? Or 1 Corinthians where Paul tells everyone to stay in their present state (even slaves)? Morna Hooker mentioned somewhere that, when reading Paul, it is wise to give him the benefit of the doubt. Read with him, not against him.

Think about Bonhoeffer. When he decided to join the conspiracy he was “Hail Hitler”-ing like nobodies business! How can anyone trust him? Context. 

I defer to Richard Hays’ really good work on interpreting the household codes as subversive, not supportive of the status quo. Also, read David Horrell’s work on 1 Peter and the household code where he draws from post-colonial and political theories of how subjugated or dominated peoples affirm their identity through hidden or coded forms of protest. It is worth thinking through an “emic” perspective and giving the ancient text opportunities to be “sensible” within its own context.

Richard, while it is clear I disagree with you on EVERY front, I do want to give respect to you that (1) you read for the details, (2) you do not lack creativity, and (3) you continue to study texts you disagree with. We seem to be on the opposite sides of the issue ideologically. I adhere, basically, to a hermeneutic of (cautious, circumspect) trust and you do not. While I am eager to see how you might respond to my responses, I am hesitant to anticipate that we will see eye-to-eye. But what else is the internet for, if not to hear each other out from miles and miles away.

Graham Stanton on Depicting Jesus as a Sage

Those who portray Jesus primarily or solely as a wisdom teacher or Jewish Cynic have built dubious hypothesis upon dubious hypothesis. Why? One cannot help observing that once again history is repeating itself: as has often happened in historical Jesus research, the reconstructed portrait of Jesus bears an uncanny resemblance to the researcher. (Cambridge Companion to Jesus, 65)