Known by God – Brian Rosner on Personal Identity (Gupta)

Known by God

I had a chance to do some reading over the winter break. One book I was eager to look at is by Brian S. Rosner, Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity (Zondervan, 2017). As the title suggests, Rosner tackles the theme of “identity” by focusing on the idea of “being known by God,” tipping his hat to Galatians 4:9. The book is about the answer to the question who am I? People today are so desperate to build and curate their image and identity, but Rosner argues that Scripture teaches how what is most important (in terms of identity) is being known by God; that is, how we belong to, are remembered by, and loved by God in Jesus Christ. This gave me good pause for thought about the damage done by social media in our society today. We can feel “known” by people on FB or Instagram, but it can be so shallow and superficial and fake that we really don’t feel “known” at a deeper level. God knows us “through and through,” and that can make all the difference in terms of the security of our identity.

If I had one small bone to pick, it is the limitation of focusing on the word “known.” For my part, belonging to God is more central to what Scripture communicates about identity. Rosner talks a lot about belonging as a feature of being known, but I think it made more sense as the focus (especially in view of the centrality of familial metaphors in the Bible).

While Rosner does a lot of good work in Scripture itself, this book is wide-ranging in terms of dialogue with theologians and church leaders as well, and what is most striking is how Rosner talks about his own journey to locating his identity in “being known by God.” I think this would make a great Bible study and a good book for personal growth as well.


(Some) Best Academic Books of 2017


Well, I realize I haven’t blogged much this term  – I am finishing up several writing projects, and I got shingles in November which set me back for several weeks. But thinking about the close of 2017, I thought I would briefly mention some noteworthy books. This is far from a true “Best Books” list (as I usually do) because I did not read very much this year beyond what was directly related to my scholarship needs. But I did some reading, and now is a nice time to mention what I think are worthy contributions. In no particular order:

Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing (Baker, 2017). 

Read it cover-to-cover and loved it. It is more than a commentary; it tries to read the Sermon in historical and cultural context, but also draws out the way the Sermon addresses timeless questions about life and flourishing.

Michael Gorman, ed. Scripture and Its Interpretation (Baker, 2017).

This is a welcome companion to Gorman’s excellent Elements of Biblical Exegesis. Experts give insight into a variety of topics and perspectives pertaining to hermeneutics. Perfect textbook material here!

Matthew Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Baker, 2017).

This book has made some big waves in the last several months, and for good reason. Matt is a sharp scholar and gifted teacher. Learn and engage. Also, it’s short and cheap. #XmasList

Joshua Jipp, Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Eerdmans, 2017).

This just may be my book of the year. The word that kept coming to my mind when I read this is: bold. It is a bold manifesto on what lies at the heart of Scripture – the unilateral hospitality of God towards sinful, broken, and rebellious humanity, and the call to reach out to the outsider, foreigner, or “other” with God’s love. #XmasList

Stephen Chester, Reading Paul with the Reformers (Eerdmans, 2017)

This is a meticulously researched and carefully argued academic work that gives penetrating insight into how the Reformers read and approached Paul. Really liked his reading of Luther.

Fleming Rutledge, Crucifixion (Eerdmans, 2017)

I did not agree with everything Rutledge had to say in this, but unarguably she is a profoundly gifted communicator, and there are numerous flashes of brilliance in this tome.

Christoph Heilig et al, God and the Faithfulness of Paul (Fortress, 2017)

Just scratching the surface of this massive response to NT Wright’s PFG – very happy to see detailed engagement with Wright and plenty of pushback. Expect an RBL review of GFP (WUNT version) from me sometime in 2018.

Paul Holloway, Philippians, Hermeneia (Fortress)

Anytime a Hermeneia Commentary is released, it is a big deal. Holloway is a respected historian of early Christianity and knows a thing or two about Philippians. I am about 60% through the commentary and I have mixed feelings. In some ways it is more of a monograph (Holloway takes a very particular approach to interpreting Philippians) with an explanatory commentary – which can be a good thing, because it is fresh and intellectually stimulating. At the same time, it is rather short and can feel rushed or incomplete. I am reviewing this for Interpretation and I will have much more to say about the strengths and weaknesses of this volume. But I will readily admit that I am learning a lot from Holloway I would not have learned elsewhere.

John Walton, Old Testament Theology for Christians (IVP, 2017)

I don’t get much time to read OT literature, but this one grabbed my attention. Walton is a winsome writer and has thought a lot about interpreting the OT theologically. Just getting started with this book, but very much enjoying his approach so far.

Books I WANT to read soon:

Sarah Melcher, et al, ed. The Bible and Disability: A Commentary (Baylor Press, 2017)

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Lynn Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes, Christian Women in the Patristic Period (Baker)

Important historical work that is long overdue.

Christopher Skinner and Sherri Brown, ed. Johannine Ethics: The Moral World of the Gospels and Epistles of John (Fortress, 2017)

This book boasts a top-flight list of scholars weighing in on a perennially thorny question – did John have an ethic, and if so, what was it?






Video Lecture: Making Sense of Paul (Gupta)

This past Sunday I had the honor of speaking at a wonderful church in California (Valley Christian, Dublin, CA). They invited me to give an evening lecture on Paul; my title is “Making Sense of Paul.” You can click on the image below to go the site where you can view the lecture. I am deeply thankful to my hosts, Pastor Roger Valci (fellow GCTS grad!) and Pastor Tawni Garcia. I hope some of you may find this interesting and useful.

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Paul and the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition – New Book (Gupta)

Please allow me to tell you about a new book that I contributed to – Paul and the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition (ed. J.R. Dodson and A.W. Pitts; LNTS; Bloombury, 2017). My essay is called “Paul and the Militia Spiritualis Topos in 1 Thessalonians.”


Here is the official book description:

Paul and the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition provides a fresh examination of the relationship of Greco-Roman philosophy to Pauline Christianity. It offers an in-depth look at different approaches employed by scholars who draw upon philosophical settings in the ancient world to inform their understanding of Paul. The volume houses an international team of scholars from a range of diverse traditions and backgrounds, which opens up a platform for multiple voices from various corridors.

Consequently, some of the chapters seek to establish new potential resonances with Paul and the Greco-Roman philosophical tradition, but others question such connections. While a number of them propose radically new relationships between Paul and Greco Roman philosophy, a few seek to tweak or modulate current discussions. There are arguments in the volume which are more technical and exegetical, and others that remain more synthetic and theological. This diversity, however, is accentuated by a goal shared by each author – to further our understanding of Paul’s relationship to and appropriation of Greco-Roman philosophical traditions in his literary and missionary efforts.

Table of Contents (the order of essays is actually different in the real book)

Sidenote: fun to see several Durham grads included in this volume!

Foreword: Troels Engberg-Pedersen

Introduction: Andrew W. Pitts

1. Powers, Baptism, and the Ethics of the Stronger: Paul Among the Ancient Political Philosophers – Niko Huttunen
2. Paul and (Pan)theism – Runar M. Thorsteinsson
3. Bruce Winter and the Language of Benefaction in Romans 13.3 – Andrew W. Pitts and Bahij
4. Paul and Aristotle on Friendship – Dave E. Briones
5. Paul and the Militia Spirituals Topos in 1 Thessalonians – Nijay Gupta
6. Divine Causation and Prepositional Metaphysics in Philo of Alexandria and the Apostle Paul – Orrey McFarland
7. Early Conceptions of Original Sin – And its Overcoming. Reading Galatians 4.21-31 Through Philo’s De Opficio Mundi – Gitte Buch-Hansen
8. Gendered Exegesis of Creation in Philo (De Opficio Mundi) and Paul – John Worthington
9. Natural Hair: A ‘New Rhetorical’ Assessment of 1 Cor. 11.14-15 – Timothy Brookins
10. Elements of Apocalyptic Eschatology in Seneca and Paul – Joseph R. Dodson
11. The Nature of True Worship: Reading Acts 17 with Seneca and Paul, Epistle 95 – Brian J. Tabb
12. Death as an Ethical Metaphor in Seneca’s Writings and in Paul’s Letter to the Romans – Matthias Nygaard
13. The Wilderness Tradition in Paul, Wisdom of Solomon, and Hebrews – Madison N. Pierce



Pennington on the Sermon on the Mount (Gupta)

Pennington.jpgJonathan Pennington has written an interesting and insightful study called The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing (Baker, 2017). He argues that “the Sermon is Christianity’s answer to the greatest metaphysical question that humanity has always faced-How can we experience human flourishing?” (14); more specifically he classifies the Sermon as “Christocentric, flourishing-oriented, kingdom-awaiting, eschatological wisdom exhortation” (15).

His first two chapters focus on the terms “makarios” (blessed) and “teleios” (mature). Regarding makarios Pennington argues that it is a mistake to treat this as vocabulary focused on  divine “blessing.” Rather, this term points to behavior or virtues that promote human flourishing. This leads Pennington to resist using the word “blessed” to translate makarios, because that sense of “human flourishing” gets lost in translation. When it comes to teleios, Pennington argues that it is not best understood as “perfect,” but rather pointing to wholeness and holiness, “wholehearted orientation toward God” (78). In chapter four, Pennington addresses briefly seven other concepts related to the Sermon and he rightly emphasizes Jesus’ concern with the disposition of the heart. Chapter 5-11 of Pennington’s book are basically a short commentary that looks at the Sermon from the perspective of Jesus’ concern for human flourishing.

Overall, Pennington is convincing in his argumentation and his work on the Sermon overall here is engaging. I was not completely convinced that makarios is about “human flourishing” and not about divine blessing. What about a text like LXX Ps 32:1, “Blessed are those whose lawless behavior was forgiven and whose sin was covered over?” What aspect of human flourishing is involved here? Now, I will say when I look at Matthew, yes it seems that he is talking primarily about wisdom and proper virtues and behavior that is considered conducive and approved for flourishing, but I am not persuaded this is built into the Jewish use of makarios all by itself, nor am I convinced this isn’t also about divine blessings. Another small concern – Pennington mentions a few times how Jesus was engaging in a discussion of human flourishing that was popular at his time, including amongst Greco-Roman thinkers. But how helpful is it to place Jesus in that company when he does not seem to be talking to or for such Greek philosophers, and his discourses don’t seem to look much like theirs (and far more like, e.g., Sirach). Not a make-or-break issue, but more of a curiosity.

Since I just finished a book on the Lord’s Prayer, I thought I would mention that Pennington’s short section on the LP is very good, especially on the matter about “Thy kingdom come” and “on earth as in heaven” (an area of speciality for Pennington).

I want to commend Pennington for pressing the importance in the New Testament of formation and discipleship – given he teaches in a conservative Baptist context, he may be stepping out on a bit of a limb here to write such a book. I appreciated these comments

The theological elephant in the room for this discussion is the Protestant emphasis on Paul’s doctrine of justification and how the Sermon’s focus on the necessity of virtuous discipleship squares with this (or not, as some would have it). In short, I would suggest that it is a misunderstanding of Paul if one reads him as being in conflict with Jesus’ emphasis on discipleship and the necessary and effectual work of God’s grace given to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul and Matthew are in fundamental agreement and share the same ethical and eschatological worldviews, even though at times they are addressing different questions and speak in somewhat different terms. (302)

I am glad that Pennington is able to bust this artificial dichotomy between Matthew’s Jesus and Paul.

As far as theological commentaries go, this is certainly one of the best, and definitely required reading on the famous Sermon on the Mount.

Summer 2018- Teaching Galatians at Regent College (Gupta)

For many years, I have admired the summer study program at Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada). So, I am thrilled to announce that I will be teaching a Regent College summer course July 16-20, 2018. The title of my course is Galatians: Faith in Christ at Work through Love. In the past, Galatians has been taught by eminent scholars such as Gordon Fee, John Nolland, John Barclay, Richard Longenecker, and one-off lectures by people like N.T. Wright and F.F.Bruce. I am proud to share in this legacy – I don’t have a cool accent, but I will probably have more pop culture references! Currently, I am working on a commentary on Galatians, a monograph on Paul’s language of faith, and a reading companion to the Greek text of Galatians (and related texts from the LXX).

2018 looks to be a very exciting summer at Regent, with one-week courses taught by Carol Kaminski (“Covenants of the Old Testament”), Paul Lim (“Prison Writings: The Spirituality of Freedom”), Rikk Watts (“Uses of the Old Testament in the New Testament”), Lynn Cohick, (“Women in the New Testament and Early Church”), Bruce Longenecker (“Early Christianity in the Greco-Roman World”), and many others! If you are in or around the PNW next summer, check it out.