“Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment” (Forthcoming Book Notice)

In my Paul class on Monday we got into a bit 0f a serious discussion about how to hold together, for Paul, justification by faith and judgment according to deeds. I try to explain it in covenantal terms and allow both elements to be there (faith alone, and works as serious basis for judgment), but it is a notoriously complex matter.

Thus, I was ecstatic to see a notice in my email inbox regarding a new “Counterpoints” book from Zondervan – Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment (July 2013). The four views are, I think, chosen well.

Robert N. Wilkin: Works will determine rewards but not salvation: At the Judgment Seat of Christ each believer will be judged by Christ to determine his eternal rewards, but he remains eternally secure even if the judgment reveals he failed to persevere in good works (or in faith).
Thomas R. Schreiner: Works will provide evidence that one actually has been saved: At the final judgment works provide the necessary condition, though not the ground for final salvation, in that they provide evidence as to whether one has actually trusted in Jesus Christ.
James D. G. Dunn: Works will provide the criterion by which Christ will determine eternal destiny of his people: Since Paul, Jesus, and the New Testament writers hold together ‘justification by faith and not by works’ with ‘judgment according to works’, we should not fall into the trap of playing one off against the other or blend them in a way that diminishes the force of each.
Michael P. Barber: Works will merit eternal life: At the final judgment, good works will be rewarded with eternal salvation. However, these good works will be meritorious not apart from Christ but precisely because of the union of the believer with him.

Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part I)

MarkGoodacreThis morning I am pleased to post the first part of an interview I conducted with Prof. Mark Goodacre in which we explore his views on the Gospel of Thomas. Prof. Goodacre presently serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Duke University. Anyone paying attention will recognize that Prof. Goodacre is quite well-known around the web, not only for his scholarship, but also for how he makes NT scholarship accessible to so many. Along with the very useful website, NT Gateway, and his blog, Mark provides regular reflections on various subjects through his podcast, the NT Pod. He has recently written a book entitled, Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’ Familiarity with the Gospels. I have already given this book my strong endorsement, as have others across the blogosphere (see here, here, here, here). I will say it here again: the book is very good and deserves the attention it is getting. No one interested in the subject matter can afford to ignore this book–even those who disagree. I hope you enjoy this first half of our interview.

(CWS) 1. I have asked this question of every scholar I have interviewed on this blog: What initially sparked your interest in studying the Gospel of Thomas?

(MG) Well, I have always been really interested in the Synoptic Problem and I have spent a lot of time investigating the double tradition and the hypothetical “Q” source.  My skepticism over the existence of Q often led people to ask the question, “But what about the Gospel of Thomas?”  After all, scholars have often paired Q and Thomas, making them early witnesses to a trajectory within early Christianity that specially emphasized Jesus’ sayings, and which was not very interested in Jesus’ death.  So my interest in Thomas proceeded in part from my interest in Q.

I found also that there are many fascinating Synoptic-type questions to be explored in the study of Thomas. Indeed, quite often Thomas has been discussed in ignorance of detailed knowledge of the Synopsis and the Synoptic Problem.  I suppose that I felt that I could see a few things that others were missing when they were looking at Thomas.

Having begun there, I then found that I greatly enjoyed where Thomas was taking me – into the world of second and third century Gospels with which I had been unfamiliar.  I used to fall victim to canonical bias in my teaching and focused almost exclusively on the New Testament.  Now I find that some of my favourite teaching is in Non-canonical Gospels, including Thomas but also many other works.

(CWS) 2. I have had an opportunity to work through your recent book, Thomas and the Gospels. In the book you make a sustained (and quite compelling) case for Thomas’s familiarity with the Synoptic tradition.  Can you provide here a sketch of your view(s) on Thomas’s relationship to the Synoptic Gospels?

(MG) The case begins by asking a key question that is almost universally missed in studies of Thomas’s relationship to the Synoptics:  how similar are they?  Is there sufficient verbatim agreement between Thomas and the Synoptics to suggest that there is a direct link?  I argue that the verbatim agreement in several parallels between the Synoptics and Thomas is so striking as to make a direct link highly likely.

Where one has this kind of agreement, one next needs to ask whether the characteristic features of one work show up in the other.  I call these “diagnostic shards”, borrowing a term from archaeology, and I suggest that there are good, strong cases of Matthew’s and Luke’s redaction that show up in Thomas.  The Gospel of Thomas, for example, uses Matthew’s favourite term “kingdom of the heavens”.  And it has parallels to places where Matthew and Luke are clearly redacting Mark.  On one occasion (Thomas 79), Thomas has such clear parallels to Luke’s distinctive setting, language, imagery and theology, that it becomes unlikely that Thomas is not using Luke.

(CWS) 3. As you know, some scholars have written at length about the supposed relationship between Thomas and the Gospel of John. (This question is of particular interest to me, since I wrote an entire dissertation on the subject!). To your mind, what, if any, is the connection between John and Thomas? Please explain.

(MG) I must admit to feeling a little guilty about writing a book called Thomas and the Gospels and then dealing so little with John!  As it happens, I think it’s one of the most fascinating things about Thomas that it has at times a kind of Johannine feel, with Johannine echoes, and yet it does not feature the same kind of verbatim agreement that you see between Thomas and the Synoptics.  I think it is possible that Thomas knows John but it is difficult to establish.  I wonder whether it is in part a question of timing.  If I am right about the date of Thomas (I argue for a date in the 130s, Chapter 9), then John may not yet have the same degree of authority as the Synoptics have, and so its author is less inclined to look to its sayings to lend the account legitimacy.

I have very much enjoyed the work of several scholars, including yourself, on the relationship between John and Thomas.  I always introduce students to Elaine Pagels’s and Gregory Riley’s work on the relationship, not least because it provides such good intellectual stimulation on these important early Christian texts.  It’s an issue I want to think about some more in due course.

F Scott Spencer on Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows (Book Notice)

I first came across F. Scott Spencer’s work when I was a salesman for Hendrickson Publishers and he published with us Journeying through Acts. I read his work again more recently as he was one of the contributors to a volume on multiple views on hermeneutics (Spencer taking the “Literary/Postmodern View”). Even when I had read his chapter, I wasn’t quite sure what this view was all about, but he takes up such a view again in his recent book from  Eerdmans: Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows: Capable Women of Purpose and Persistence in Luke’s Gospel (2012). Spencer’s not the first person to write a book on women in Luke  – Barbara Reid has been very influential in this discussion with her book Choosing the Better Part. Also, there is a feminist companion to Luke (ed. A.J. Levine). Indeed, this isn’t even Spencer’s first book on women in the Gospels. In 2004, he wrote Dancing Girls, Loose Ladies, and Women of the Cloth: The Women in Jesus’ Life (Continuum). But this new book is not a rehashing of his 2004 volume. It has a persistent focus on Luke and his gospel.

How is this book different than other texts within the ambit of feminist biblical interpretation? While Spencer has a lot of respect for what he calls “FBI” agents (its an acronym, get it? Spencer gets this from the informal way Harvard students of Fiorenza refer to themselves), his desire is to study the gospel of Luke both in terms of faithfulness to the lives and plight of women in the world, and working from a hermeneutic of trust in God as he reads Holy Scripture. Spencer has no assumption that Luke was a bona fide feminist. Neither does he understand Luke to have an agenda where he wants to suppress and stifle the voices of women. Rather, he urges that a responsible study will reveal “the creative agency and capable activity of women in Luke’s Gospel” (x).

After an introductory chapter, he gives attention to 6 key episodes: Luke 15:8-10, Luke 1-2, Luke 8:1-3; Luke 10:38-42, Luke 4:25-26, and Luke 18:1-8.

If Spencer is anything, he is good at reading all the fine print of the text and thinking through what Luke actually writes. Sometimes you will encounter a strange or weak argument, but his project and the majority of his discussion are worthwhile. One bonus – Spencer is the king of puns. His cleverness keeps the text moving and helps the reader to stay engaged.

John T. Carroll’s Luke Commentary in the NTL (Review)

John T. Carroll is familiar to me as co-author of an excellent book called The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I ordered his new commentary on Luke in the WJK NTL series. His commentary is rather short compared to other recent commentaries on Luke (Bock’s two volumes in BEC amount to about 2000 pages!; Joel Green’s NICNT is 1000+), but the NTL series tends to produce succinct commentaries that follow the flow of the text with concern for historical matters, exegetical conundrums, literary concerns, and theological ideas expressed in and through the biblical work. Carroll does all of this adroitly. The text also includes a fresh translation, in this case being a particular benefit because Carroll puts a lot of work into this, trying to be precise as well as stimulating. Thus, he translates (what we tend to see as) “kingdom of God” as “God’s reign.” Also, he renders the “Son of Man” language as “Son of Humanity.” This is a notoriously thorny issue (how to interpret the language of the “Son of Man”) and I don’t think Carroll’s solution is fully satisfactory, but I admire his attempt to translate it in a meaningful way beyond the tradition phrase.

In terms of authorship, Carroll finds the traditional association with Luke neither careless nor provable. Rather, he prefers to examine the gospel itself to determine a kind of “profile” of the (encoded) author: a Gentile, committed to God, the Jewish Scriptures, and the community of the Jewish people. So, this very well could be a God-fearer (p. 2).

A far as what this Gospel is about and why he wrote it. Carroll is not alone in thinking that this helps to establish a stable social identity for believers at the end of the first century:

Who are we as a people in light of recurrent conflict within synagogues and increasingly Gentile membership? How is Israel’s story—how are its Scriptures, its hopes, its future—still ours to claim? And with the embarrassment of our founder (Jesus) and his prominent successor (Paul) put to death through Roman judicial process, what place do we have in the Roman social order? The story Luke tells (in both Gospel and Acts) appears to take aim at precisely this sociorhetorical exigency: the need of early Christian audiences in urban centers of the Roman Empire to answer such questions, whether their own or those of others around them, and as the people for whom Jesus is Christ and Lord, to connect their own story to the ancient story of Israel. (4)

In terms of genre, Carroll follows Sterling by appealing to “apologetic historiography” (p. 5). As Carroll works through the text, though, he maintains a focus on the flow of the narrative itself – Luke’s story and how it shapes identity and teaches the community through a social, theological, and ethical vision.

The NTL typically features excurses peppered throughout the commentary. I was surprised that Carroll only included 4 of these, but they are certainly important ones: “Parallel Birth Announcements,” “Women in Luke’s Narrative,” “Poverty and Wealth in Luke’s Gospel,” and “The Reign of God and the Roman Empire in Luke’s Gospel.” In each of these discussions (of the second, third, and fourth topics), the conversations tend to be polarized in the history of scholarship. It is all the trend to see Luke as promoting women, focused on the poor, and anti-Rome. Carroll avoids this either-or in view of the complex nature of the third gospel. For example, pertaining to possible anti-imperial sentiments in Luke, Carroll says this:

Luke’s audience is introduced to, and invited to participate in, a counterreign defined by alternative practices and a fundamentally different notion of power and status, in a third space not dominated by the ideology of Rome, even if this counterrealm does not translate into overt revolution. And it is a space liberated from the malevolent, distorting rule of Satan. Yet for all of this, and despite Satan’s clam to have conferred power over the nations (4:6), the narrative does not paint Rome in unambiguously negative colors. (402)

Furthermore, Carroll says

As a third space, liberated from Satan’s control, this is a community whose identity is bound up with a crucified and risen Lord and whose character and future are defined in terms set by the reign not of Caesar but of God. Yet the movement that Luke terms ‘the way’ continues to navigate that Roman Empire, for the most part, peaceably, from within. (404)

What this means, in the end, is that Rome can easily be viewed as a destructive power in league with Satan. However, we also see signs that “God can make use of imperial power to accomplish purposes of liberation and salvation” (404).

As a whole, this commentary is very helpful when trying to work through the wider narrative of Luke , and you get Carroll’s take on the major exegetical problems in Luke. On the word-by-word or verse-by-verse level, space prohibits detailed discussion from Carroll, so if you go looking for a word study, you will be disappointed. This is a quick-and-easy-access commentary, but far from exhaustive. Carroll is a good reader of the text, sensitive to Luke’s story-telling mind. Carroll admits that he only scratches the theological surface of meaning and application, and then leaves it to others to take the ideas further. I recommend, if you use this commentary, to compliment it with other longer ones such as those by Culpepper (NIB) or Green (NICNT).