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.


Writing Advice from Respected Theologians (Gupta)

Check out this blog post from Eerdmans where several respected theologians give their advice on theological writing and research. I echo Keener’s appeal to learning – right from the start – how to organize and archive your notes and research. It has taken me over ten years to find a good system, and I am afraid I wasted many hours in the past re-tracking down information, or simply giving up on ideas where I could not find or remember earlier thoughts and notes. In terms of systems, I use Google Keep for day to day self-reminders, and GoogleDrive folders to store my research.


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