The State of New Testament Studies: Rebekah Eklund on Jesus Studies

I am excited to announce that the book The State of New Testament Studies (Baker Academic) is coming out in about a month, edited by Scot McKnight and myself (Nijay). In anticipation of the release (Nov 5, 2019), I thought I would do some short profiles of and interviews with a handful of our contributors to whet your appetite for the book!

Rebekah Eklund, Loyola University Maryland

Eklund-400x275Dr. Eklund wrote her essay for SNTS on “Jesus of Nazareth” (the state of Jesus studies especially in the last twenty years).

NKG: Why are you interested in Jesus studies?

REI’ve always been intrigued by the tensions (and overlaps) between Jesus of Nazareth as a figure in history and Jesus as a figure of worship and devotion around the world. How much history do we need to understand Jesus’ identity and mission?

NKG: How has this discipline (Jesus studies) developed and changed over last twenty years?

REThe argument that history and theology are difficult to disentangle in the Gospel accounts is not a new one, but has gained prominence in the last 20 years. Some have given up the “quest” for the historical Jesus altogether; others are proceeding more cautiously. Certainly the imperative to connect Jesus to his Jewish roots — rather than to disconnect him via the dissimilarity criterion — has become more accepted. There’s also heightened interest in the role of memory in the formation of the gospels.

NKG: Can you recommend one or two important books on this topic, written in the last couple of decades?

JCDA.jpgRE: Keith and LeDonne, eds., Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity — collection of essays exploring and challenging the “standard” criteria for determining the authenticity of material in the canonical gospels.

Also, Dale Allison, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus– overturns the typical dichotomy between the historical Jesus and the theological Christ of faith.

NKG: What else are you up to these days?

RE: I’m finishing up a book on the reception history of the beatitudes, forthcoming with Eerdmans.

Eklund has written an excellent monograph entitled Jesus Wept: The Significance of Jesus’ Laments in the New Testament (LNTS, 2015)
Eklund Book.jpg

 

 

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Theology is Green: Should Christians Try to Save the Planet? Part 1 (Gupta)

I am launching a new blog series called: “Theology is Green.” This series will be about why Christians should care about cultivating, caring for, and saving the planet.

Truth be told, I used to care little—really not at all—about the earth. But, especially over the last fifteen years, I have turned around on this subject. Yes, some of my habits have changed (I have an electric bicycle now!), but also my attitude towards God, God’s world, and God’s creatures, and the role of humans in this world. We are at a critical juncture in world history where Christians need to think carefully about our place in the wider context of God’s creation. To start off, I want to counter three bad arguments for why Christians shouldn’t care.

Myth #1: God’s going to destroy the world anyway, why bother with the earth?

There are some biblical texts that deal with what we might call cosmic dissolution (e.g., Isaiah 34:4), and it appears that a time will come when earth, sky, and stars are destroyed. But you will probably notice these statements often happen in poetic kinds of settings in the Bible. My interpretation of this is that it is not narrating destruction of physical things and replacement with spiritual things (why bother with the physical to begin with?). Rather, the dissolution language points to the renewal of all things. It is not so much that the earth will vanish, as it will be redeemed. We might say the same things about our bodies. We will have resurrection bodies, and they will be “different” in some ways, but they are still bodies. I hope we don’t think to ourselves now, “Let’s ruin our bodies because they will decay anyway.” No, we know that the gifts God has given to us matter, and we are expected to respect and preserve them.

Myth #2: The Bible is all about salvation, not hugging trees

There is a latent (sometimes overt) Gnosticism in our modern Western theology that tries to divide “spiritual” things (like salvation) and “earthly” things (like work). The biblical view of “salvation” is so much bigger than saving souls for an ethereal heaven. Paul talks about all creation groaning in pain and despair, anticipating freedom and redemption (Rom 8:22). And who do they (God’s creatures) place their hope in? The children of God (Rom 8:19).

Myth #3: The Bible doesn’t talk directly about earth care, so it must not be important

There are a lot of things the Bible doesn’t talk about, because it comes out of a certain time and place. The Bible doesn’t talk about how we use technology (like iPhones), but it would be ridiculous to say Christians ought not to have thoughtful reflections on the use of screens.

There are (2) quick reasons the Bible doesn’t address this head-on. (#1) Because of the importance of agriculture to the economy in the ancient world, it was in everyone’s best interest to treat the earth and animals well. Today, we are so removed from the food/materials production process that we don’t see the damaging steps that have often been taken. (#2) Because of industrialization and advancement in technology, we can do destructive things to the earth on a scale that wouldn’t have been fathomable back then. Think about littering and trash. In Jesus’ time there were no plastic cups, no napkins floating around the streets. There were no cars and airplanes to pollute the atmosphere. Yes, people were cutting down trees, but with machines now we can wipe out forests rapidly.

Questions?

I will have maybe 5-6 posts on this subject, but I am interested in the questions that you have. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist, I am a biblical theologian, so I am trying to engage with Scripture and theology. You can leave a question in the blog comments or on social media. Mean-spirited/jerky questions will not get answered.

 

Reading Revelation in Context: Quick Look (Gupta)

My friends Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Jason Maston have been editing a great series in the last few years: Reading Romans in Context, Reading Mark in Context, and now—Reading Revelation in Context. I was honored to contribute to the first two volumes (Romans, Mark), and so I have first hand knowledge of how helpful these books are.

But I will say—now that I have been able to peruse the Revelation volume—that this seems to me to be the most important of the three. Why? Because Mark and Romans make a lot of sense on their own, by just reading the text and following the story or argument. Yes, of course “reading in context” is helpful, highly insightful, and makes for an overall more accurate and satisfying reading. When it comes to Revelation—to be honest, most of us (including myself) just flip through the pages looking for something that makes sense.

As I have been reading through Reading Revelation in Context, I am struck by how vital it is to have some reading help from “contextualizing” resources from the OT and early Judaism in order to decode some of the unusual language and imagery. Here are some features of this book that make it even better as a resource:

  • Many Revelation experts as contributors: Jonathan Moo, Ian Boxall, David deSilva, etc.
  • Diverse voices and perspectives included
  • Short and accessible chapters w/study helps
  • Clear, consistent, and attractive formatting and design
  • affordable pricing

For more information, click here.

Baylor Annotated Study Bible – Quick Review (Gupta)

Confession: I really don’t like study Bibles all that much. They are bulky and awkward. The notes can feel random and incomplete sometimes. So, I don’t tend to follow which new ones are coming out.

But when Baylor announced their Baylor Annotated Study Bible with Bill Bellinger and Todd Still in the editorial roles, I took interest. Yesterday, I got the BASB in the mail, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts.

First, it is nicely designed, big (2000 pages) but not awkwardly bulky. It is NRSV with Apocrypha which is great for students. Perhaps the question on everyone’s mind is: who wrote the study notes? There are two main features of the BASB: the book introductions and the study notes. The book introductions are written by a number of senior scholars in the field including John Barclay, Alan Culpepper, Joel Green, Richard Hays, Scot McKnight, Todd Still, and NT Wright (the contributors list is long, but remarkably few women, which surprised me). As for the study notes, they are written mostly by early and mid-career scholars, with a few exceptions (e.g., McKnight did notes for Romans as well as the introduction).

Another handy features of the BASB is the end-of-book glossary of ~100 pp, which is a kind of Bible dictionary.

The Apocryphal books are at the very end of the book, but unfortunately they did not supply study notes for these texts.

How handy are the notes for the (traditional) Biblical books? From poking around here and there, I found the notes to be more literary-theological, rather than historical-critical. Although, historical insights are included sometimes as well. I like notes to express consensus views in scholarship rather than the author’s personal take, and the BASB does well on this also.

Verdict? if you are looking to invest in a more theologically-interested academic study Bible, this one is pretty good. Don’t expect it to offer commentary-level information, but for personal use it would provide some “value added” to Bible study.

Interview with Craig Keener on Christobiography

Craig Keener (Asbury Seminary) has a new book out called Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2019).

Dr. Keener was kind enough to answer some questions about his new work.

Q1: How did you become interested in studying and discussing the genre of the Gospels in depth for this book?
 CK: Maybe around 1980 Ben Aker, one of my undergraduate professors, taught a course on special hermeneutics, using a textbook by Grant Osborne. I wasn’t in that class, but I was intrigued by what I heard about it, especially exploring different genres. I was already intrigued by apocalyptic, but the subject of genres more generally (explored back then also by Fee and Stuart’s book, which influenced me a lot) got me thinking about the Gospels as biographies. Of course this was also a hot topic of discussion during my PhD work at Duke, and Richard Burridge’s influential work about the Gospels as biographies put the subject in the center of the map. I had of course read Suetonius and some other biographers from the early empire, but began delving into Plutarch as well (following the example of my colleague Mark Matson).
 When I wrote my Gospels commentaries, I was building on that approach, but I took for granted that everybody knew what ancient biographies were like–as if everybody else must have read Suetonius et al. as well. I soon discovered that NT scholars already have way too much to read, and most of them were not very familiar with ancient biographies, and certainly not what implications this genre assignment might have for historical reliability. There was more that I needed to learn as well. I conducted some further explorations, but I assumed it would take me years to finish all of them. In one doctoral seminar on the historical Jesus, however, I suggested some needed topics and a number of my doctoral students agreed to research different ancient biographers and then bring together our findings. We published a collection of those findings, so we could all build on what the others had found (and properly credit one another for the other’s findings). That provided a broader foundation to work from. By then, my friend Mike Licona, whose interests in ancient biography had long overlapped with mine, published with Oxford on Gospel differences and Plutarch, and provided more to work with. There is of course more to be done, and some of my doctoral students are developing dissertations in some of these areas.
Q2: What are some key arguments you make in Christobiography? How do you hope to move the discussion forward on the Gospels and the study of Jesus?
CK: A number of scholars are more skeptical of the Gospels’ portraits of Jesus than the evidence warrants. If someone wrote a biography today about a figure who lived fifty years ago, we wouldn’t start with the assumption that events fifty years ago are shrouded in legend and therefore reject any claim that we could not prove. We might be more optimistic if it were verified elsewhere, but we wouldn’t have reason to simply dismiss its claims a priori unless we found consistent errors. Ancient biographies differed from modern biographies; many of the alleged “problems” in the Gospels fit ancient biographic and other ancient literary conventions. These may be problems for readers who want everything verbatim and in sequence but they are not problems from the standpoint of what the Gospels’ first audiences would have expected based on their experience with other works. Moreover, when you have biographies from the early Roman empire written within living memory of their subjects (as the Gospels are), these biographies are full of information and bound to sources. More often than not, we have good reason to believe that the authors believed that the events they reported actually happened. Are they likely correct in that assumption? Here I look at the character of ancient memory to address the oral period before the Jesus biographies.
Q3: After researching and writing this long book (!), what are lingering questions or perplexities you have about the genre of the Gospels?
CK: It’s not long compared to my Acts commentary. 🙂 Where does each Gospel writer lie on the spectrum of fidelity/fixity and flexibility that ancient biography allowed? Our recent work establishes some of the contours of the spectrum, but more research is needed. Each writer tweaks genre in their own ways. Luke combines biography and historiography (Luke-Acts). Mark may have never looked at another biography. There is material that Matthew and Luke share in common that focuses more on teaching, like collections of sages’ teaching. But after learning more about the sort of information that persists within living memory, I have become especially fascinated by early second-century Christian writers such as Papias and Polycarp. They did not write within living memory of Jesus, but they did write within living memory of the writing of our Gospels. What they tell us whets our appetite, and what they don’t is tantalizing. And of course there are new issues in historiography in general, from the importance of rhetoric to postmodern philosophic concerns about historiography. There are many more issues to be addressed.
Q4: Now that this project is out, what are you working on next? 
CK: In process is a one-volume, paperback version of my Acts commentary, with Cambridge; also a collection of essays on Acts, with Cascade; I am finishing up a commentary on 1 Peter for Baker Academic, and my biggest project, which should take a few years, is an ICC commentary on Mark for T&T Clark. So it might look like I have a lot coming out at the moment, but there will be some lean years ahead as I work on a long project. As I get older, time is an increasingly precious commodity. So much to do, and only so much time. May we number our days well and devote all our resources to what is of lasting value.
NKG: Thanks, Dr Keener, for sharing your thoughts.
CK: Thank you for interviewing me. Always a pleasure and a privilege to be with you, Nijay! Blessings!

 

Book Giveaway Contest: Prepare, Succeed, Advance Second Edition (Gupta)

If you would like a free copy of my new book, Prepare, Succeed, Advance (Second Edition 2019), enter the contest to win.

Rules:

  1. In the comment section, post a question for me about doctoral studies, research, the biblical studies guild (etc.)—I will do a Q & A post later on.

  2. Also, follow me on Twitter (or acknowledge in the comment that you already do)

  3. Anyone can ask a question, but I can only mail this copy within the USA. Note that you have a US mailing address in the comment.

  4. In about a week I will randomly select a winner.

 

Launch Day: 1-2 Thessalonians Zondervan Critical Introductions (Gupta)

It’s not a commentary. It’s not a basic introduction. So what is it? It is a critical guide to the key issues in the study of a particular NT book.

About seven years ago, Mike Bird approached me with this project. He inspired me to do two things: (1) research and write this volume on the level of something in the Anchor-Yale reference series and (2) read every academic writing on 1-2 Thess in English written after 1984 (and the most importance works in German and French). Bottom line: this is not your grandparents’ critical introduction. The works cited contains several hundred items and on a rough calculation this took me about 2000 hours to research and write. The exciting part is that Zondervan has made this work very affordable compared to what a university press might charge.

What kind of topics are covered? Think of injecting the introduction to a commentary with (very healthy, legal) steroids. This series treats matters like text-critical issues, Greek style, genre, structure, historical background, methods of study, major exegetical debates, key theological themes, most influential scholars and scholarship, and history of interpretation and reception.

What are some of the key debates that are covered?

  • Did Paul write 2 Thessalonians?
  • Did Paul write 1 Thess 2:14-16? Is this passage anti-semitic?
  • What was the situation that gave rise to 1 Thess? 2 Thess?
  • How are 1 Thess and 2 Thess related?
  • Who is the Man of Lawlessness? The Restrainer?
  • Is 1 Thess 5:3 (“peace and security”) a reference to a Roman slogan (pax et securitas)?

and much more!

Thanks to Mike Bird and Katya Covrett for the hundreds of hours they have poured into dreaming up this series and launching it. As I was writing this book, I kept thinking, I would love to get my hands on ZCINT Romans, ZCINT Galatians, or ZCINT Revelation.

This—Will—Be—A—Series—To—Collect!

Find out more information here.