What is Progress in NT Studies? Walton Responds…

Expository Times online is now posting articles in advance as they are in line for publication. One such article, by Steve Walton (London School of Theology) is entitled “What is Progress in New Testament Studies.” This article is a slightly revised version of his public lecture that marked his promotion to full professor. As a public lecture it is appropriately meant to be non-technical and does a fine job of promoting the study of the New Testament as a true academic discipline in the university.

While Walton makes several very good points, one matter he addresses is the profit and ills of reception study. On the cautionary side, Walton warns Biblical scholars not to confuse study of the history of the interpretation of the NT with the study of the NT documents itself. He goes as far as saying study of reception fits more as a sub-discipline of “Cultural Studies.” For NT interpreters, it should go without saying (but nowadays actually needs to be said) that such scholars need to study the actual NT texts themselves in their own historical and literary context.

Of course Walton has some positive things to say about reception study. For example, he looks at Acts 1:15-26 where the apostles are selecting a disciple to replace Judas. Peter seems to be addressing men (1:16) as the cohort of leaders entrusted with this task: “Men, brothers.” Were women there? John Chrysostom (whom Walton refers to as the first commentator on Acts) understands there to have been present both men and women. Does Chrysostom encourage us to take more time and effort to see whether there actually were women there?

Reading Chrysostom prompts looking further, and it is noteworthy that in Acts 17:34 the same expression can include women. Thus reading Chrysostom, an interpreter more likely to be alert to ancient Greek usage after the writing of Acts, suggests that the group being addressed in Acts 1:15-26 consists of both women and men. (p 7)

This is just one nice discussion in the whole article. There is much here that reminds me of Markus Bockmuehl’s reflection on the trajectory and state of NT studies.

Congratulations again, Steve, and I often recommend students try and do their doctoral studies with you, so keep up the good work! Also, finish up that Acts commentary so I can buy it!

Five Interesting New Books on Jesus and the Gospels

I have, sitting on my desk, about 25 new books that I got at SBL and elsewhere – can’t wait to be done with finals grading and kick back with a good book (or 2 or 20) during the Christmas break. I would like to spotlight or review each and every one eventually, but for now I would like the mention five new and interesting books on Jesus and the Gospels.

The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (Helen Bond, Continuum). I am about halfway through this book and it is a very engaging work. Sometimes Jesus books are tedious and stale. Bond writes in a very attractive style. She gives just the right amount of information and divides up the short book (194 pp.) into 13 chapters. She is neither a pious optimist, defending everything the Evangelists recount about Jesus point-by-point; nor is she a thoroughgoing skeptic, trying to deconstruct the Christ of faith and propose her own revised Jesus of Nazareth. She clearly has a deep appreciation for her own Doktorvater James Dunn and appears to be basically on-board with the Third Quest. I will have some critical comments about this book in a later post, but I want to make it clear that anyone interested in the “Historical Jesus” would find this book an extremely cogent and illuminating “state of the discussion.”

Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera (eds. C.W. Skinner and K.R. Iverson, SBL). While Festschriften tend to be “hit or miss” in terms of how insightful they are, there have been several as of late that have been “keepers.” I especially like when FSs truly engage with the honoree by focusing on a particular subject where the honoree made his or her mark. This is absolutely the case of this FS as it looks at this unity/diversity dialectic in NT theology, a hallmark of Matera’s work. The Synoptics are given special attention in the first half of the FS (“Unity and Diversity in the Gospels”), with eminent contributors such as Francis Moloney, Jack Kingsbury, John Donahue, Paul Achtemeier, William Kurz, and John Meier.I am particularly interested in Donahue’s essay: “The Lure of Wealth: Does Mark Have  Social Gospel?” (71-94).

Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel and Early Christianity: Studies in Memory of Graham N. Stanton (eds. D.M. Gurtner, J. Willitts, and R.A. Burridge; T & T Clark). Speaking of Festschriften! Here is another one, this time for the late Graham Stanton. While I did not have the privilege of ever meeting Prof. Stanton, he was known through the UK as a true gentlemen, the kind of scholar and all-around gracious fellow that most students desire to emulate. Contributors in this FS (almost all focusing on Matthew) include Richard Burridge, Scot McKnight, James Dunn, Don Hagner, Craig Evans, Chris Tuckett, and David Catchpole (among a few others). What a fantastic memorial and tribute! The one problem is that this FS retails for $120, while the Matera FS sells for $50! Cost, in either of these cases, does not reflect quality! It is simply the way publishing works (sadly).

Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and theological Introduction (Jonathan Pennington, Baker). I just finished reading this book rather recently and I must say that it is extremely well written and a very fresh theological perspective on the hermeneutics of the Gospels. Like a good dialogue partner, I found myself at times nodding in agreement with Pennington, at other times scratching my head in confusion, and even still wanting to throw the book across the room out of frustration and disagreement! That is a good thing! He’s making me think! I talked with Pennington at SBL and congratulated him on the book. I told him, quite directly, that I was surprised that a profess at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had the [shall we say ‘guts’] to push some of the buttons that he does in the book. One can even get a sense for this “button-pushing” in Thomas Schreiner’s tempered back-cover endorsement where he says “While I don’t agree with everything Pennington says…” I never thought of myself as the “conservative” while reading a book by a SBTS prof, but, sure enough, I was! Thanks Jonathan for your boldness. I will have a series of blog posts on this excellent book, underscoring, not the Good/Bad/Ugly, but the Great, the Good, and the So-So.

Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (eds. C. Keith and A. Le Donne; T & T Clark). Last, but not least, I got in the post yesterday this very attractive volume that relates to a conference held earlier this year. James McGrath has a nice “round-up” of how that conference went. Together, the contributors attempt to bury the “criteria-movement” of HJ research in the ground. By many people’s accounts, this is an important “snapshot” in the history of NT scholarship where we see the progression towards a consensus that the choppy and marble-pitching approach to the study of the Gospels historically is a dead end. The “quest” will, no doubt, still go on for the foreseeable future (sorry Scot!), but memory studies and oral culture habits seem to be paving the way. More to come…

Your favorite Jesus scholar (asks Le Donne)? And Paul?

Anthony Le Donne asks the question, “If you could study under two (and only two) living historical Jesus scholars, who would they be?”

I encourage you to go to Anthony’s blog and comment! 

I think it would interesting to ask the same about the study of Paul…

Any thoughts?

I think I might say (for Paul), if I could spend the weekend at a Pauline seminar, I would want to hear from Beverly Gaventa (where can I pre-pre-order her Romans commentary?) and Richard Hays. When I had originally applied for PhD programs, I wanted to study with Stephen Barton/John Barclay (Durham, where I went), but I also applied to study with Simon Gathercole (then at Aberdeen) and Markus Bockmuehl (then at Cambridge).

It is no surprise, then, that when people ask me where they should go to study Paul, I usually recommend Duke, Princeton, and Durham. Now I add St Andrews because of Wright and Hafemann.