Emory Lectures by Wayne Meeks (Skinner)

MeeksI am always looking for resources that I can recommend to students or that I will find helpful for my own thinking about certain issues. Today I have a recommendation that accomplishes both of these nicely. Over at iTunesU, on Emory University’s Jesus and Culture page, I stumbled across a series of lectures given at Candler School of Theology back in 2010 by Wayne Meeks, Woolsey Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Yale Divinity School. These lectures are obviously five years old, but like my 1998 Dodge Stratus (which I purchased in 2005), they were “new to me.” I had a chance to listen to several of these lectures while working in my yard the other day and they’re quite good (as you might expect).

Here’s a general description of the lectures:

The Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture is supported by gifts from the McDonald Agape Foundation, chaired by Alonzo L. McDonald. McDonald was a longtime trustee of Emory University. The McDonald Agape Foundation “supports lectures and other public presentations that deal creatively and imaginatively with the person and teachings of Jesus as they shape and form culture.”

If for some reason you don’t have access to iTunes (1) you should probably consider joining the 21st century, and (2) you’ll be able to find Professor Meeks’s lectures here (numbers 11-15 on the list). Their titles are as follows:

(1) “Does Anybody Know Jesus?”

(2) “Memory and Invention”

(3) “A Story to Think With”

(4) “The Bible Teaches….”

(5) “Is Jesus the Last Word?”

Given the particulars of my background and biography (which many readers of this blog know) I found lecture number four particularly insightful. Like me, you can cut your grass and trim your weeds while being instructed by one of the great thinkers and communicators in our field.

Books to Read: Mike Kok’s The Gospel on the Margins (Skinner)

MarginsI have just finished reading Michael J. Kok’s book, The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century (I’m currently reviewing it for Biblical Theology Bulletin) and I must recommend it to those with interests in the Gospel of Mark, the formation of the NT canon, and reception history. Those around the blogosphere should be acquainted with Mike from his years blogging over at Euangelion Kata Markon (others will know him from his work here). This book is Mike’s first–a revision of his doctoral dissertation, which was written under the direction of James Crossley at the University of Sheffield.

It is a strange fact of Christian history that the Gospel of Mark made its way into the NT canon and was then promptly ignored by commentators for centuries in favor of the more “doctrine-friendly” Gospels of Matthew and John. In this book, Kok meticulously traces the reception of Mark in the second century from the secondhand report of Papias of Hierapolis to Clement of Alexandria. He is especially concerned to examine and test the historical veracity of early testimony regarding Mark’s supposed connection to Peter and then to answer, in light of Mark’s *connection* with Peter, why it fell into the shadow cast by the other gospels.

Overall, I found Mike’s treatment of the subject compelling and fair, and I actually learned a fair bit in the process of reading. I hope to post my full review in due course, but while I had the book on the brain I wanted to give it a shout out. Nice work, Mike!

Interview with Guthrie on new 2 Corinthians BECNT Volume (Gupta)

Dr. George Guthrie recently published a commentary on 2 Corinthians for the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (Baker, 2015). It is an excellent commentary, well-researched, articulately written, and deeply theological. Guthrie did me the honor of answering some questions about 2 Corinthians and his research.

GHG

NKG: Aside from Galatians, there is no other letter of Paul where “opponents” seem so heavily to blame for the problems in the church. How do you understand who these troublemakers are?

GHG: Broadly speaking, I think the opponents probably fit in two categories. First, there exists a vocal, local minority in the church who are opposing Paul (see 2:6). I think the fact that Paul addresses not only the church in Corinth proper, but also “throughout Achaia” (1:1) has been under-estimated in its impact on the opposition’s make-up. Paul probably is not dealing with a nice, uniform group who all meet together each week. He is dealing with house churches spread throughout a region. Some of these had “gone off the rails” so to speak.

Second, there were interlopers who had come to Corinth and presented themselves as alternate “apostles.” They certainly were agitating locals disgruntled with Paul’s leadership. As Paul alludes to these false apostles, he deals with issues like, a) how do you know a true apostle, b) remuneration for ministry, and c) ministerial behavior and integrity. The false teachers minister on the basis of human standards (5:16; 11:18), distort God’s Word (4:2) and offer thoughts “raised up in opposition to knowledge about God” (10:4-5). They preach another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel (11:3-4). Further, they treat the Corinthians harshly (11:20). The false teachers seem to preach for pay (2:17), accepting patronage from rich benefactors and presenting themselves as superior public speakers.

I identify these interlopers as Jewish-Christian ministers working under strong influences of the sophist tradition. The sophists were professional educators and traveling speakers who got paid for their services. At times they embraced philosophical relativism, placing more emphasis on the glory and profit of winning arguments than on proclaiming truth. One scholar describes a sophist as, “a virtuoso rhetor with a big public reputation.”

The emphases reflected in 2 Corinthians on public appearance, social status, powerful oratory, words of worldly “wisdom” (1·12), an emphasis on style over content, pay for speaking, boasting about achievements, public applause, competition, and their abuse of those who listened to them, all match characteristics of the sophist movement. I think they were playing off of secular leadership values in Corinth and causing a lot of problems for Paul.

NKG: Can you summarize (as briefly as you can!) how Paul uses and understands the Old Testament in 2 Corinthians? There is much debate over his negativity towards the old covenant in chapter three. What is the nature of his concern with the old covenant? How is the “new” superior?

GHG 2CorGHG: Generally, Paul uses quotations of the OT—and notice that we don’t have a quotation until 6:2!—simply to reinforce a point he wishes to make. This is the case, for instance at 6:2, 8:15, 9:9, 10:17, and 13:1. The conflated quotations at 6:16b-18 are a bit more complex, reinforcing, exhorting, and encouraging in a lovely string of texts.

The new covenant allusions at 3:3,6 and the wonderfully complex unpacking of Exod. 34 we find at 3:7-18 are something different. Here Paul does a bit of biblical theology that is closely attentive to the LXX, his Greek translation of the OT. I don’t think this passage primarily is about a negative posture towards the old covenant per se (though the abrogation of that institution is assumed), but rather has to do with the superiority of new covenant ministry over against another form of ministry. In short, new covenant ministry is superior because it gives life (3:6), has more glory both in terms of degree and extent (not just for the “minister of the glowing face” but for everyone in the new covenant; 3:9-11,18), and involves for all members of the new covenant a freedom of knowing the Lord face-to-face in a transforming relationship (3:17-18). Paul may be using this biblical reflection to address the culturally conditioned “ministry of glory” offered by the false teachers in Corinth; so he would be offering a biblical solution for a cultural problem—the proposed exaltation of the “minister of the glowing face.” The apostle would in effect be saying, “the measure of a ministry is not the so-called ‘glory’ gained by a minister but whether those to whom we minister shine with the glory of God!”

NKG:  After all that work on a major commentary, you obviously learned a lot, but sometimes more study leads to more questions. What are a few “big questions” about 2 Corinthians that still remain unresolved and that you continue to struggle with?

GHG: I have plenty of questions and look forward to studying this book for the rest of my life!! For example, having said all of the above about the opponents, I still have questions (perhaps unanswerable!) about the exact nature of the opponents in Corinth. Did they have Judaizing tendencies (some, of course, say “yes”)? What exactly were they teaching that “sounded” like the Christian message but was not? What was the nature of their abuse of the Corinthians? What happened to them once Paul got to town (after all, Romans suggests that the Corinthians came through with the contribution for Jerusalem!)? Second, I am not completely satisfied with the ambiguity of the tribulation in Asia (1:8-11), nor that of the “thorny” issue of 12:6-9. I would like to know more, but of course we are limited by the boundaries of the text!

NKG: What are a few of the most important lessons that 2 Corinthians has to teach to Christian leaders today?

GHG: There are so many. I have thought about writing a book entitled, “Awe-full Ministry,” based on the principles for ministry from 2 Corinthians and looking at both authentic Christian ministry and its dark counterfeit. Among the lessons we can learn from Paul: 1) a pattern of ministry integrity and how to communicate when we are misunderstood or misrepresented; 2) suffering as normal and strategic for authentic Christian ministry; 3) how to stand and preach the humanity-dividing gospel in the face of opposition; 4) how to commend our ministries in spiritually and biblically appropriate ways; 5) how to embrace weakness as a key for ministry effectiveness; and 6) how to use skills gained from the culture in subverting cultural values! These are just a few lessons we can learn from 2 Corinthians.

NKG: Do you mind sharing what you are devoting your writing time to now that the commentary is done?

GHG: Certainly. At present I am working on the Philippians volume for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series. After that, Lord willing, I will begin to work on a volume, also for Zondervan, on the theology of Hebrews.

Thanks very much, Nijay, for inviting me to do the interview!

EP Sanders to Release Large Volume on Paul Nov 2015 (Gupta)

SandersE.P. Sanders was one of the most influential scholars in the late 20th century to contribute to the study of Paul and his Jewish environment, not to mention his many works on Jesus and Judaism. Someone recently posted on Facebook the news that Sanders has a new book on Paul coming this fall, Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought (Fortress). According to the Amazon page, it will be a whopping 600+ pages!

Below is the basic information listed about the book.

Decades after setting the study of Paul on a profoundly new footing with Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress Press, 1977), E. P. Sanders now offers an expansive introduction to the apostle, navigating some of the thorniest issues in scholarship in language accessible to the novice and seasoned scholar alike. Always careful to distinguish what we can know historically from what we may only conjecture, and these from dogmatically driven misrepresentations, Sanders sketches a fresh picture of the apostle as an ardent defender of his own convictions, ever ready to craft the sorts of arguments that now fill his letters but—as Sanders carefully argues—were not the basis for his own beliefs and attitudes. He also gives sustained attention to a historical sketch of Paul’s context, particularly Second Temple Judaism, in order to set comparisons of Paul and that context on solid ground. Here are familiar themes from Sanders’s earlier work—the importance of works in Paul’s thought, the relationship of “plight” and “solution”—in a presentation that reveals a career’s reflection, along with new thinking regarding development in Paul’s thought. All of the letters are carefully introduced in a text that will prove a worthy guide to the student and interested reader.

My apology to Charles Quarles (Skinner)

I wanted to take a moment to offer a public apology to Professor Charles Quarles.  Earlier this week I posted about a place in his recent book in which it appeared that he had inadvertently made anti-Semitic comments. A good amount of discussion took place both in support of and opposed to my original reading of the text. Professor Quarles has taken the time to explain himself here on this blog, in the comments section of the original post. Therefore, in response I have taken down the original post and I offer him my unconditional apology for any harm this may have caused him personally or professionally.

My Review of NT Wright’s PFG Now Published with Interpretation (Gupta)

ntwright8The July 2015 issue of Interpretation is now online and contains my review of NT Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (subscriber-access only, sorry!). I thought PFG was a beast to read, but Wright is quite brilliant on many points and especially wrestled with first-century Greek religion and philosophy as new material he has not published elsewhere. I am not convinced by his reading of justification, but I do think that his defense of anti-empire rhetoric/theology in Paul (esp over and against Barclay’s critiques) is good.

I am eager to see where his scholarship goes next. He is working on commentaries on Philippians (ICC) and Galatians (Two Horizons). Both of these will be important contributions, I am sure.

Do We Need The New Testament?, Goldingay Asks – Review Part II (Gupta)

Do-We-Need-the-New-TestamentIn the first part of this review series, I talked about what I really liked about this book. Check that out.

Now I am going to explain my concerns with this book.

Goldingay is Wrong!

Despite my overall appreciation for how Goldingay advocates for the ongoing authority and importance of the Old Testament for the believer, I think Goldingay goes too far, arguing for almost no “newness” to the New Testament. Put another way, I think he is right in what he denies, but wrong in what he affirms!

Probably the most repeated argument he makes in the book is that the present world is not in a recognizably better place than it was before Christ. Thus, Christ and the Spirit (while obviously important for eternal life) did not transform this world with the indwelling on the Spirit.

Our lives do not look to be morally superior to Israel’s, nor do we seem to have a closer relationship with God than the one the First Testament speaks of. (98)

Now, I am not arguing that all Christians past and present are perfect, but Goldingay seems to argue that nothing has changed from the era before Christ to after. He assumes here a kind of phenomenological approach, but avoids the issue of what Jesus says in the Gospels. For example, Goldingay argues that people in the OT had the Spirit, and the Pentecost outpouring is not a guarantee that God can’t take away his Spirit from someone. Goldingay sees prophecies as able to be repeated and to be fulfilled multiple times, so the quote of Joel is not a one-to-one prophecy-fulfillment. But this downplays the significance of the Christ-event and Pentecost too much, I think. I agree that prophecies and fulfillments are not static, but the Gospels do imagine a monumental transformation of the world in Jesus as he proclaims the kingdom of God.

I might point to the wineskins teaching (Mark 2:22) to demonstrate how the Jesus-era is transformative. Also, how would Goldingay explain Jesus’ teaching in Matthew about the least in the kingdom surpassing the great John the Baptist (Matt 11:11)? Or his teaching in John that those who follow Jesus will do even greater works than his because “I am going to the Father” (14:12)?

Again, I don’t know how Goldingay can say “God did nothing new in Jesus” (12). What about St. Paul’s teaching: If anyone is in Christ –NEW CREATION! Former things are set aside. Behold – it is time for new things! (my translation of 2 Cor 5:17). This is more than simply a “fresh” vision of God (see Goldingay 21), it is wholly transformative (while not being complete).

Another plank in Goldingay’s argument is that there is no new revelation about God in the New Testament. I am sympathetic to Goldingay’s concern here, but I would argue that the cross is “new.” Now, certainly we see a covenant God who suffers and holds faithful to Israel in the OT, but I think Jesus’ obedience on the cross takes the revelation of God to another plane. If that weren’t so – and I think Goldingay doesn’t treat this concern directly – surely more Jews would have accepted Jesus as Messiah. If the NT is simply a “fresh” vision of God, why was it so hard for Jews to accept, especially a crucified messiah?

Goldingay, when he talks about the mission and purpose of Jesus, notes that Jesus talked about eternal life, heaven, and hell (see 23-25). When I read this section, I wondered if Goldingay didn’t miss the “inaugurated” part of Jesus’ message. Was Jesus only focused on life after death? I am not sure if Goldingay articulated what he thinks Jesus was trying to do here on earth with the lives of people.

This ties into another concern of mine, Goldingay’s argument that social justice is an Old Testament concern, but not a New Testament concern (46).

The church has also given itself to involvement for the betterment of the conditions of people’s lives, to what is often called a concern for social justice or for peace and justice. That concern is a biblical one, though not really a New Testament one. (46)

The New Testament’s not speaking about social justice makes the First Testament important in this connection, because the First Testament does so, and offers profound and wide-ranging understandings of what social justice means. (46)

And why does Goldingay think the NT does not focus on social justice? The NT “encourages believers to focus on the appearing of Jesus” (46).

Huh?

Yes, of course apocalyptic is [a?] mother of Christian theology, but Goldingay overstates his case. He is operating under a very old, outdated reading of the New Testament that the early Christians worked under an interim ethic until Jesus returns. I can’t believe I need to defend the NT’s concern for social justice, but here goes anyway (briefly)

-The Sermon on the Mount (do I need to go on?)

-Luke-Acts, specifically Luke’s concern for the poor, women, marginalized, his focus on “sharing possessions”

-“remember the poor” – the key clause of the apostolic acceptance of Paul’s ministry

-Paul’s critical, ministry-making-or-breaking collection for the poor

-James (he can hold his own with against of the OT prophets on the subject of economic injustice!)

Let me add, 1 Thessalonians is probably the first extant NT document we have, and there Paul very clearly says “devote yourself to the weak” (1 Thess 5:14). Not “tolerate” or “help.” But devote. It can’t really get any clearer than that.

Now, perhaps Goldingay is right that justice issues are clearer in the OT, but that may be because so much of the OT is prophetic texts that play a corrective covenantal role. The NT does not contain prophetic texts (aside from Revelation), so you have to read closely and read between the lines to see the justice focus – but my point is it is there! (Read Mike Gorman’s new Becoming the Gospel)

And what about Revelation – one of the NT’s longest books, one which plays strongly on themes of poverty and wealth (see Mark Mathews excellent dissertation, Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful)? Just one example – the revelation of the “whore of Babylon” who is “clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication” (Rev 17:4).

Ultimately, in his attempt to argue for continuity and a level playing field for OT and NT (which I admire), Goldingay has to ignore or downplay too much of what the New Testament promises, the shocking, unexpected “newness” of the gospel, the one foretold in Isaiah and yet nothing like anyone could have imagined. Thus, N.T. Wright’s pithy statement: “God is acting in a surprising new way–as he always said he would” – there it is, the “new” thing as if out of nowhere, and yet as we look back, truly it was anticipated and we missed it.

Well, I have said enough. I encourage you to engage with this book – again, Goldingay is one of the best. What I appreciate about Goldingay is that he takes nothing for granted. He reads carefully and makes his own judgments. He cares little for “consensus” scholarship or defending camps. That makes him refreshing – and dangerous!