Salvation by Allegiance Alone – Bates (Gupta)

 

SBAAAbout two years ago, Matt Bates was traveling in Oregon and we had a chance to meet up for the first time. He heard that I was working on a book on Paul’s faith language, and I knew he was writing his Salvation by Allegiance Alone (SBAA; Baker, 2017). It is nice now to see the end product, though sadly my own project is not going to see the bookshelf for a while longer since I am not quite done yet.

In many ways, I wish Matt’s book didn’t need to be written. While I deeply appreciate his thoughtful discussion of this subject, to me it represents a reading of Scripture that should simply be clear and assumed, rather than something needing such careful defense. But the reality is that there is a history of scholarship that has locked “faith” (pistis) into being something cognitive, a non-work, and even some have referred to it as “passive”! Matt does a fine job of connecting pistis in the NT to the broader idea of commitment to the kingship of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and what it means to trust God. I will not take the time to give a thorough summary (see HERE), but rather I will give a few points of consideration.

Strengths: The idea that pistis is a polyvalent and polysemous word has been long Bates.jpgacknowledged, and volcanic pressure has been building against a passive or merely cognitive view of pistis such that Matt’s work serves as a major eruption point. As Matt acknowledges himself, this is a broader look at the word pistis, how it functions as allegiance or trust language, and how one can assimilate that within a kingdom perspective on the Christian faith. The way he constructs this broader biblical-theological perspective is refreshing, clear, and thoughtful. And Matt is disarming with his humor, which helps the reader ease into what could be a tense subject. Matt also masterfully connects pistis language across the NT, trying to be careful not to operate with a canon within a canon – this is much harder to accomplish than one thinks. Finally, Matt handles thorny questions and potential pushback with wisdom and aplomb, especially related to questions about judgment and works (see esp. ch 5). You can tell this material has been “classroom tested” because he has anticipated the most pressing questions and responds to them with thoughtful answers – the answers are not simple or “neat,” but if they were I would be very disappointed.

Random Note: Matt – my friend – you sound very Wesleyan in this book. Just an observation (*I will wait patiently for your further awakening*)

Other considerations: Again, I want to acknowledge that I have studied the use of pistis in Paul (and the Synoptics) rather carefully over the last several years and in the main I am in hearty agreement with Matt’s arguments in Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Still, in the spirit of ongoing dialogue, I want to raise some additional considerations.

  • A couple of times (e.g., 44, 103) Matt tries to translate/interpret the verb pisteuo as “give allegiance.” While I agree broadly with how Matt reads pistis, I am much less persuaded (esp without thorough defense) that this applies to the verb. We simply don’t find enough (any?) clear uses of pisteuo that would lead one in this direction.
  • As Matt himself explains, SBAA is more than a lexical study; still, I think he focused too narrowly on pistis. I think he would have profited from weaving pistis (as “allegiance”) into the wider fabric of the way the NT expresses inter-relationality, with (e.g.) language of knowing, loving, sharing, pleasing, honoring, remembering, etc.
  • Matt spends ample time on the motif of the kingship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God – and rightly so – but given how often pistis appears in political texts in non-Jewish/non-Christian literature, it would have been very helpful for this book to show how commonly pistis appears in ancient texts in relation to political alliances between armies (or between soldiers), in patronage language (see Zeb Crook’s work), and in Greek discourse on friendship. In my opinion, it is crucial that this word pistis is placed within the wider context of its daily use in Antiquity – nobody would have considered it a “passive” or “non-works” term. These points could have strengthened Matt’s overall argumentation.
  • Finally, I think Matt whetted the readers’ appetite for the notion that pistis is a rich and complex word that defies a single meaning or translation in the NT, but he does not do much more than concentrate on the times when it means “allegiance” (or something similar) and leaves aside other occasions where it has a different meaning. I can understand why he does that (to stay focused on his main concerns), but it seems to hold the reader is suspense (until more is said on the subject….*ahem*).

When I saw the endorsements for SBAA, I thought, “wow, Gary Anderson, Scot McKnight, Mike Gorman, Mike Bird, Josh Jipp – these are great conservation partners and allies.” It is also a testimony to Matt’s rich teaching. There have already been critics, but I know Matt welcomes the dialogue, including pushback. Congrats to Matt on this – and I hope many will read and engage in Salvation by Allegiance Alone.

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Gowler – Parables After Jesus Part 1 (Gupta)

Parables After JesusI love studying and teaching about Jesus’ parables in the Gospels – that is one of my favorite class sessions in the NT intro course I teach. I am also fascinated by the history of interpretation of the parables. So, I was overjoyed to see David B. Gowler’s new book The Parables after Jesus: Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millennia (Baker, 2017). Because this book covers more than fifty case studies in reception – most of them deeply engaging and insightful – I will talk about the book over several posts. Here we will briefly cover the introduction and first main chapter.

 

Introduction

Why a book on the “afterlives” of the parables of Jesus? Gowler seems to be intrigued by the impact of these tales and riddles on Christians and other readers of the gospels throughout the centuries. But he also mentions how attentiveness to reception helps us to be aware of our own blindspots and the disadvantages of having just one human tradition or perspective. The more engagement from people outside of our era and locations/culture, the more our

Gowler
David B. Gowler

vision is expanded to what may be going on in the parable. In his own words, Gowler says that “One of the goals of this book is to help readers better understand the importance of context for interpreters’ responses to Jesus’ parables” (9).

He uses the Prodigal Son parable as a test-case, noting that some (from their own vantage point) argue that the point is ethical, others focus on ethnicity (elder brother = Israel, younger = Gentiles), and others still believe it talks about different kinds of Christians. Gowler is not directly interested in settling on the “right” interpretation. He sees the attentiveness to these many interpretations instructive regarding the act of learning itself.

Chapter 1: The Afterlives of Jesus’ Parables in Antiquity (to c. 550 CE)

In this era, Gowler is selective, but covers figures like Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, and the under-appreciated Macrina the Younger. Gowler also looks at Christian a

Domitilla
Domitilla Catacombs

rtwork from this period which depicts parable images (though admitted there is not very much). It is difficult to give any sweeping summary to patterns of reception and use in this period, but Gowler does note that allegorization and blending of biblical passages and images was popular.

 

So far, I appreciate Gowler’s concise summaries of each figure or artist’s interpretation, and he includes artwork as able and relevant. Next up – the middle ages…

Handmaids
Rossano Gospels, Wise and Foolish Handmaids

Jesus: A Very Brief History, By Helen Bond (Gupta)

Congrats to Helen Bond on Jesus: A Very Brief History. SPCK contacted me a few months back to endorse the book. I was very happy to do it, but sad they used the blog title only (Crux Sola) and not my name! Still, Bond is an excellent Jesus scholar and gifted writer and teacher. SPCK should also be credited for a beautiful book and cover design. For less than $7 this is a steal!

 

J.C. Hurd’s Nonexistent 1-2 Thess Commentary! (Gupta)

404I was doing a bit of research on 1-2 Thess and came across an essay by J.C. Hurd called “Thoughts Preliminary to Writing a Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians” (in The Earlier Letters of Paul – and Other Studies [Peter Lang, 1998]). I did not recall a commentary by Hurd, so this was a bit intriguing. The essay itself is from 1977. In the essay he mentions his ongoing work on the Anchor Bible commentary on 1-2 Thess. But in a 1998 footnote at the beginning of the essay (added when this essay was collected), Hurd offers this frank footnote comment: “Alas, this commentary does not exist. I was unable to complete the work in the assigned time, and Doubleday re-assigned the responsibility.” Well, Anchor eventually published Malherbe’s outstanding commentary in 2000, but sad not to have Hurd’s work available! Also, this ranks as one of my favorite footnotes of all time.

The Growth of Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Gupta)

Feminist biblical interpretation is not a brand new discipline or method, it has been around for several decades at least. But I am impressed with its growth in the last few years. In 2012 we saw the publication of the Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters (Baker). Just the other day I received in my mailbox a book called Women in the Story of Jesus: The Gospels through the Eyes of Nineteenth-Century Female Biblical Interpreters (ed. M. Ann Taylor and H.E. Weird; Eerdmans, 2016).

Reid.jpegI would also like to point out a fantastic introduction to feminist interpretation by Barbara Reid called Wisdom’s Feast: An Invitation to Feminist Interpretation of the Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016). I know that when I was in seminary, I simply assumed all feminist work on Scripture picked apart and deconstructed Scripture with a hermeneutic of rejection. I now know that I was misguided – mostly out of ignorance. Reid’s work is a rich introduction that I wish I had in seminary. One of the most insightful ways that I have been told to think about feminist interpretation is this: seeing women where they are demeaned, suppressed, or left out and seeking to show them equal dignity and respect. This has been very transformative for my work in Scripture and apparently I too am a feminist! I am going to find a way to require my students to read Wisdom’s Feast.

That brings me to another important new book/series. Liturgical Press (/Glazier Press) Wisdom.jpghas launched a great new series called the “Wisdom Commentary” which studies various biblical texts from a feministic perspective. I enjoyed the editorial preface; here is one excerpt

…the aim of this series is not to lead readers to reject the authority of the biblical text. Rather, the aim is to promote better understanding of the contexts from which the text arose and of the rhetorical effects it has on women and men in contemporary contexts. Such understanding can lead to a deepening of faith, with the Bible serving as an aid to bring flourishing of life. (xxx)

I ordered the 1-2 Thess volume because that is where my research is focused nowadays, this volume written by Florence Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg. Here is what they wrote about their approach to these letters:

My approach to feminist analysis…is interested in the world of people behind the text of 1 Thess, that is, the subject location underlying the biblical document. This includes learning primarily about women, their experiences, and their concerns that have usually been overlooked, submerged, ignored, and even disvalued not only in ancient male writer’s andocentric worldviews but also in later interpreters’ explications of the text. (9)

It has been suggested that the church in Thessalonica in the first century was male-only. Gillman (et al) obviously takes interest in this theory and (in my humble opinion) raises important questions about its basis of evidence, and also  considers evidence to the contrary (see 31-33).

I am delighted to see feminist biblical interpretation thrive, and I am hopeful that this Wisdom series will be recognized for its contribution to biblical scholarship overall.

My Conversion to Google Docs/Google Drive (Gupta)

GDI would like to share with you my conversion experience – digital conversion that is!

This year I have made a huge change to how I do research storage and writing. I am in the process of ending my use of Microsoft Word and fully adopting Google Docs. Secondly, I am transferring all of my storage from Dropbox to Google Drive. The storage issue really is for two reasons. First, George Fox has purchased for faculty endless storage in Google Drive, so I am taking full advantage of that – but I regularly back-up everything onto an external hard drive anyway. Perhaps the biggest reason I am putting everything into Google Drive is that I find the search feature more powerful and accurate within Google drive than from my “Finder” on my Mac. One of the biggest headaches I have is trying locate a file I misplaced, or trying to figure where I took notes on something. Finder is unhelpful about half to time, but Google seems to locate it right away.

What about Google docs? At Portland Seminary, we use Google Docs for all collaborative documents and projects, and it is super easy to use and also for document sharing. Perhaps I will run into formatting issues in the future, but I already have those kinds of issues with Word. In any case, it is easy to convert a Google Doc to Word.

Has anyone else made this move? Are you still a believer?