Sunday, April 10, 2016

Seminary Library Essentials: Pauline Chronology & Life

Last time I went over the various primary sources for Second Temple Judaism, and the benefits of each individual book. This time, I am offering a select bibliography of various writings that I have found to be valuable and worthy of your time. There are other elements of various aspects of this, such as volumes on Pauline theology as a whole, and individual commentaries. But, these works function to highlight the issues within the timing of events in Paul. 

Pauline Chronology & Life.

Pauline chronology is a highly disputed issue in New Testament studies, especially since this affects some significant aspects of Pauline theology (e.g., where does Ephesians or the Pastoral Epistles fit into the life of Paul?). Whether or not one thinks Paul wrote a specific epistle has some implication for Pauline theology. Douglas Campbell hints at this issue in his work.

And we’re off!

·      Douglas Campbell, Framing Paul. $26.

This is most recent work to delve into the intricacies of Paul’s life and the chronology of his epistles. Campbell’s work has been criticized and praised across the board within the scholarly realm, and I suspect it will be a few years until scholars have felt the full weight of his arguments. For instance, he argues that Paul wrote all of the epistles attributed to him except for the Pastoral Epistles.

Campbell also thinks the epistle to “Ephesians” is not the epistle to Ephesus, but is rather to Laodicea—a hypothesis that I think has some serious traction. All in all, Campbell leaves few stones unturned, and he has shown himself willing to accept few scholarly conventions at face value. Whether or not he is successful will be seen in the next few years.

·      Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life. $35.

Written in the mid-1990s, this was one of two books Allison allowed me to bring on our honeymoon to Hawaii. As I sat in a Romanesque bathhouse, I was struck by O’Connor’s work. I was new to the theology realm, and hadn’t been accepted to seminary yet, so all of this was new. Unlike Campbell, who tends to stay away from the historical backdrop of Paul’s world, O’Connor delves deeply into the Mediterranean realm in order to situate Paul in his own social context.

Like Campbell, O’Connor challenges several conventions, excluded Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles as being Pauline. However, he argues passionately for Pauline authorship of Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, even suggesting that the Thessalonian correspondence contains several partition theories. All in all, a fascinating book that eschews theology in favor of historical placement.

·      F.F. Bruce, Paul: An Apostle of the Heart Set Free. $20.

Bruce’s book is considered a classic, though it is now outdated. It is long and a bit of a slog to get through, as opposed to Campbell and O’Connor, who write with verve and wit. Bruce’s book is similar to O’Connor in vision, focusing on the various Mediterranean elements, and even does a bit of theology, especially regarding anthropology. A critical-evangelical classic.

·      Anthony Thiselton, The Living Paul. $18.

Thiselton’s work is short, barely under 200 pages. In this little work, however, is a wealth of information. The introductory nature of this book is not hindered by Thiselton’s ability to capture major scholarly debates within a short span of pages. Thiselton covers issues of justification, resurrection, baptism, and even postmodernity. A wealth of information is in here, and it is well worth your time.

Total: $99. Woo hoo! Made it. I wish I could add more in here, but rest assured, I included these works beneath.

Recommended Works:

·      Richard Pervo, The Making of Paul. $29.

Pervo is a maximalist in the Pauline world. Paul only wrote 7 epistles and even then, there are many possible interpolations within these epistles. Pervo surveys the undisputed Pauline epistles, and spends much of the book showing the “making of Paul” throughout the first few hundred years. Tidbits include Matthew as an “anti-Paulinist,” the “Acts of Paul,” and the “gnostic” interpreters of Paul. As critical and liberal as one can get, but Pervo’s writing is witty, sly, and filled with subtle insights and wisecracks. For a “liberal” reading of Paul, this is simply my favorite.

·      David Horrell, An Introduction to the Study of Paul. $24.

Similar in format to Thiselton, but more structured and less theological. Horrell survey’s Paul’s life, his main debates (Judaism, for example), and the legacy of Paul within the New Testament (c.f. Ephesians and the rest of the Deutero-Pauline corpus). Horrell is critical but humble, allowing tensions to stand without dismissing them.

·      Jouette Bassler, Navigating Paul. $13.

Billed more as an “introduction to key theological concepts,” Bassler’s book was one of the first works on Paul to put a pebble in my shoe. She surveys several main issues in this work, including Paul and the Law, the mystical reality of Christ, the future of Israel and the Parousia.

·      Amy-Jill Levine, ed. A Feminist Companion to Paul. Used $14. Available Third-Party Sellers.

As someone who enjoys reading feminist criticism of Paul (who else, after all, inspires such responses?), this book is a treasure trove of insights. Another volume is A Feminist Companion to Deutero-Paul. While I rarely agree with these interrupters, I find myself challenged to further explore the depths of Paul’s impact on the Western world.

I hope this all helps!

In Christ,

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Seminary Library Essentials: Introducing Paul and Judaism

As the five people who read my blog know, I’m a “Paul” guy. Specifically, every paper I’ve written here at Fuller Theological Seminary has largely surrounded Paul in some form, except when the professor did not give the option for me to write about the beloved apostle.

So this series will attempt to accomplish several things. First, this is a blog series by a seminarian and is subject to the whims of seminary life. As such, there will be material I recommend today that I will not recommend in a year. Such is life.

Second, and more importantly, the goal of this series is to offer students, readers, pastors, and theology nerds (like myself) resources for specific epistles and topics within the realm of Pauline studies. I may expand it to different topics outside of Paul, or even the wider New Testament, but for the time being I will focus only on my beloved Paul.

Third, the goal of this series is to offer the essential resources for Paul for under $100. This will go by Amazon prices (assuming you have Prime!). This is necessary simply because we are not rich and do not have significant shelf space for the entirety of Pauline literature.

So, in a nutshell, this is a series about essential resources that should cap out at $100. In the form a question or a hook, “I’m interested in X and I have $100 and a week to study and learn as much as I can from the experts, who should I buy?”

My first post is on introducing Paul specifically, and his relationship to Judaism. As a New Perspective guy, I find the Greco-Roman and Jewish literature around the time of Paul to be almost—almost—as interesting as Paul himself. Thus, the resources offered here will surround the Jewish literature and resources that I think will help you dig into the backgrounds of Paul and the milieu in which he lived.

Because I also want to cheat a little bit, I will include recommended resources that I feel are almost as necessary, but are simply out of the price range I have arbitrarily set. And away we go!

Second Temple Jewish resources and literature.

·      James C. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 Volumes (Hendrickson, 2010), 2104 pages. $48.

Encompassing Second Temple literature from the Second century BCE (1 Maccabees) to even the Ninth century CE, Charlesworth has assembled a vital and truly necessary anthology of Jewish literature into two volumes. You have histories, apocalypses, poems, and even lost fragments. If anyone wants to understand Judaism, you need this collection. Richard Bauckham has recently released a large volume on additional documents, but I have not had a chance to peruse much of it, sadly.

·      The Apocrypha is free if you have an NRSV Bible. Free.

It is free. That is enough. It is similar to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha.

·      Shaye Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah 2nd edition (Westminster John Knox), 272 pages. $24.

Cohen is an immaculate scholar. He lectures at Harvard, and his book is an excellent introduction to Jewish history. He takes a strongly historical and critical approach to history, and even covers sections about gender and ethics, just to name a few.

He has a third edition out of this text, which is mandatory, but that would put me over the $100 limit I set.

·      C.D. Yonge, The Works of Philo (Hendrickson, 1993), 944 pages. $16.

Philo is a first century Jewish philosopher, and as such, he is tendentious, odd, and highly weird in his interpretation of the Law. That said, he is necessary to read simply because of his contemporary status with Paul and some other Jewish writers within the New Testament.

·      William Whiston, Josephus: The Complete Works (Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1200 pages. $11.

Same with Philo; Josephus is a Jewish historian who wrote what is essentially a commentary on the entire Old Testament.

·      Total: $99.

Not too shabby, right? There are of course more I could suggest, but these works I consider definitive for a person who wants to dig deep into the well of Pauline theology and literature.


·      James C. VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism (Eerdmans, 2000), 248 pages. $14.

Not as expansive as Cohen, VanderKam is still a great introduction from a non-Jewish perspective.

·      Richard Bauckham, The Jewish World around the New Testament (Baker, 2010), 560. $47.

An excellent anthology of Bauckham’s essays.

·      E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. $30.

The book that changed the face of Pauline studies, ushering in the mainstream nature of the “New Perspective.” 

These works have challenged me and changed me in multiple ways, the chief one being that I have begun to learn who Paul "was" in respect to his cultural context, and the assumptions I bring to the text. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Animated Stardust: A Reflection on Paul and Christian Materialism
This little post is long overdue, and my apologies for that. I really should blog more often.

It is no secret that I subscribe to what is called Christian physicalism, also called monism or materialism. This means that I believe I do not possess an immaterial immortal soul; rather, I am a body comprised of purely—but not merely—physical components that comprise a person.

In New Testament scholarship, much has been written regarding how Paul and others utilize bodily imagery, and this is relevant to the current mind-body problem, and especially in light of modern discussions on eschatology. For instance, if one is a materialist like I am, then the doctrine of the intermediate state becomes unnecessary. Much more could be said and explored, and perhaps I will do this later. Its in a written “to research” document.

I preached some time ago about 1 Corinthians 15 and the nature of the resurrection. As someone who believes he does not possess immortality or a soul, the resurrection has become a foundational (can I say that in a post-modern world? Well, I will) basis for my Christian faith. As Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Pretty simple.

If Christ has not been raised, you will perish. The aorist middle/passive verb ἀπώλοντο refers to former Israelites who suffered annihilation in the desert (1 Cor. 10:10) and the rebellion of Korah (Jude 11). In the New Testament among personal active and divine agents, the root (ἀπόλλυμι) most commonly refers to the act of death, or being killed/murdered (Matt. 2:13), or being destroyed (Matt. 10:28).[1] For Paul, I suspect the term refers to the natural state of decay that results in the complete extinction of the human person.

While I am working on a further study of how Paul uses "death" language, I wanted to reflect now on 1 Cor. 15:44-45, as well as other parts of 1 Cor. 15. In describing the “natural” (ψυχικόν) and “spiritual” states of universal human—though I doubt he separated the two—Paul uses σῶμα ("body") here in both instances. Σῶμα most commonly refers to, well, the human person—usually the totality of the human being. It is used over 140 times in the New Testament. 

In contrasting “dishonor/weakness” and “glory/power,” Paul does not stray from the bodily nature of resurrected life.In fact, it is likely he had no other category to work with, and even while writing to a highly dualistic culture (Corinth), he seemed interested in using their language to convey his principle point:

σῶμα is the operative continuance of what God gave us, and what we be in the New Creation.

The “natural” body is appositionally defined as “dust/ earth” (χοϊκός), not of “spirit.” The very nature of embodied life is that we are “living souls/persons/lives.” As dust, we are passive, subjected to death and mortality and the inevitable cyclone of cosmic breakdown. All matter eventually breaks down, resulting in returning to “dust”—if that.

A happy thought.

If you came here for happy Christian theology, this is the part you are looking for.

Christ is described as a πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν—“life-giving spirit.” In a world ruled by Death and the destructive powers of human sin, Christ is proactive, giving “life” to our bodies. The intrinsic nature of human life is mortality and death. We may be able to get out of paying taxes, but death is something that cannot be cheated.

But if Christ is raised, then there is hope for our mortal bodies. Putting on immortality implies a continued state where we are changed, but not entirely undone. It is something added to us, not something to be found within us. The author of Ephesians describes us as “putting on” various pieces of armor (6:11), implying that these things are to be added to an existing constituent.

Once this happens, then this soulless, mortal, animated piece of cosmic stardust will then say, “Where, Death, is your victory?” Thus, the resurrection of the animated piece of stardust that comprises the human person is the consequence of the victory of God in Christ over the final evil power. 

Without this resurrection, I am animated stardust. Nothing more. Until then, I await the redemption/liberation of my body (c.f. Rom. 8:23: τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν).

Just something I’ve been chewing on for months.

In Christ,

[1] Glenn Peoples, The Meaning of Appolumi in the Synoptic Gospels,” 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent and the Hope of Resurrection (Lecture Notes)

I lectured at First Baptist Church of Santa Ana (my home church), and this my lecture. I went largely off-script, but this might be of help to some of you.


Because of the recent terror attacks in San Bernardino, we are reminded of many facets of what it means to be human. Excluding the contentious nature of political discourse, I’m going to focus on two very specific theological points that have direct relevance for our modern Christian context. Because time is limited, I will be primarily focusing upon 1 Corinthians 15, with several additional comments concerning Romans 8 and Psalm 110, as well as other Second Temple Jewish texts.

Before we begin, we need to determine what “death” actually is. Many modern theologians (and not a few ancient ones!) seem keen on defining death as separation of body from soul (or spirit), and the whole matter of death becomes spiritualized almost to the point of being gnostic. Since Christians are not Gnostics (!) we need to look over how Death is viewed in Scripture.

In the Psalms, death is utilized in poetic form, and is most often simply intended to communicate the loss of life. For instance, Psalm 34:21 says, “Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.” Paul writes in Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” Notice the pattern: “death” means death. While “death” can be used in a stylized or metaphorical sense, it largely refers to the loss or extinction of life that makes a human person animated. The heart stops, the brain ceases, and all that kept us moving ceases.

A happy concept, to be certain!

The first theological point has to do with kingship and literary personification or typology. This is a wider point, but it is a major factor in Pauline theology. To put it in perspective, we often think about Paul working from problem (human sin, justification) to solution (Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice). However, it is necessary to reconsider this configuration.

Putting it succinctly—which is hard to do for New Testament students—Paul operates not with a problem to solution formula, but rather the opposite: Christ is the solution, but to what problem? Why was Christ raised from the dead? In the Old Testament, it was the death of the animal that was necessary for atonement. The animal was not then resurrected to eternal life! It simply stayed dead, having made its own sacrifice.

Christ’s resurrection, then, is a disruption of something. But what? To put a finer point on it, we do not have a New Testament without the resurrection of Jesus. I’m going to offer two considerations for this, and I’d love pushback, or complements, or both! So here we go.

When Paul writes in Romans 5:14, “Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses…” he is likely talking about physical death. Death here is the Greek noun θάνατος (thanatos), and it is articular—that is, it has a definite article that specifies or intensifies the noun (ὁ θάνατος: ha thanatos). Thus, death here is “Death” with a capital D. This Death is said to have “reigned” (ἐβασίλευσεν: aorist active verb) or “exercised kingship.” Death, from Adam, was the one who ran the show, so to speak. We know this from the Old Testament, specifically Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve are addressed as “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Mortality is imposed upon our ancestral father and mother as a consequence of sin, and thus, as Scripture and the Christian tradition affirm, we now die.

A point of consideration is that, to be immortal and able to sin with impunity, is a horrific thought. It would affirm that Death cannot be destroyed, and that Sin will eternally exist in God’s good creation. The very presence of human Death demands a response, but we do not know what this response is, or even if this problem is even a problem. Death, for us, is often just a sad reality.

We are subjected by this Death, brought about by Adam and Eve. The verb ἐβασίλευσεν occurs five times within Romans 5 (v.14, 17, 21) and each time it is connected with death and contrasted with life.

V.14: … ἐβασίλευσεν ὁ θάνατος… (“Death reigned…”)

V.17: … ὁ θάνατος ἐβασίλευσεν διὰ τοῦ ἑνός… (“Death reigned through the one…”)

V.17: … ἐν ζωῇ βασιλεύσουσιν διὰ τοῦ ἑνὸς Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“…will reign in life through the one Jesus Christ”)

The second use is a future indicative verb, namely, we “will reign” through or because of Christ Jesus and he resurrection. The Greek word ζωῇ refers to life in all it’s fullness, and here it refers to physical life—namely eternal life—because of the contrast with Death.

V.21: … ἵνα ὥσπερ ἐβασίλευσεν ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ (“so that, just as Sin reigned in Death…”)

Death and Sin here are articular, and the use of the preposition “in” (ἐν) illustrates a contrast between the evocative idiom, “In Christ” that dominates Paul’s thinking. To be “in Christ” to be included in the people of God, to be regarded as a firstborn Son or Daughter, a full member who participates in the Kingdom of God.

V.21: … χάρις βασιλεύσῃ διὰ δικαιοσύνης εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν (“so grace might reign through righteousness into life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord”).

The second use is an aorist subjunctive, indicating the hope of the future. In every instance, Death in Romans 5:12-21 is articular, intended to communicate the destructive kingship of Death. Death is King. Death controls our lives, and exercises dominion over our mortal bodies by claiming them for itself. We see this every time we turn on the television, get on the Internet, or open a newspaper.

We know no other reality other than death. As Paul says in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death [θάνατος], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The contrast between physical death and physical life is intentional; there is nothing abstract about it.


As is evident throughout 1 Corinthians, division and strife lie at the heart of the conflict in Corinth (to borrow a phrase from Ben Witherington), and 1 Corinthians is meant to assert a solution. Paul already knows what the problem is, but outlines their problems in order to pry their grip loose.

For Paul, then, Death is an enemy—the last or final enemy. In 1 Corinthians 15, we see into the very heart of Paul’s solution:

Then comes the end,[g] when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The use of ἐχθρός (“enemy”) is fairly common throughout the New Testament, being used a little over 30 times. In Paul, it seems to refer to a hostile person or concept, an antagonism that suggests that which is negative and opposite of God or the truth. In the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 5, Jesus says, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ (ἐχθρόν) But I say to you, Love your enemies (ἐχθροὺς) and pray for those who persecute you…”

An enemy is that which counters you, betrays you, and seeks your destruction for their own personal gain. Death, for Paul, is the final enemy. The ἔσχατος enemy: final, end, concluding. After Christ, fulfilling for Paul the role of YHWH in Psalm 110:5-6, has “put his enemies under his feet” (see Psalm 110:1), Christ then moves onto the final enemy.

Here, in v.26, Christ “annihilates” (καταργεῖται: present active middle/passive) Death. Mostly likely, the use of the verb indicates a both/and scenario. By Christ’s resurrection, we see the first fruits of the defeat of the final enemy. But since we await Christ’s glorious return, we do not see the final defeat of this evil entity. We know this because we still die. We do not have actualized eternal life.

But because Christ is described as the “first fruit” (ἀπαρχὴ) of the resurrection, those who die before Christ’s return will be resurrected to eternal life, to witness the final death of Death—the enemy that took their mortal body and killed it. Our resurrection, then, is our vindication, and thus we stand and watch as all of God’s enemies are destroyed and utterly removed from all creation.

There is no room for Death in God’s kingdom. God cannot have any enemies when God is “all in all” (v.28).

So where does this leave us?

Without the resurrection of Jesus, we don’t have a new testament. Without the resurrection of Christ, we will all die and turn into nothingness, never to be found again. Without the resurrection of Christ, we might as well live our lives as heathens, unbound by Law or Covenant, because there is nothing for us.

But, brothers and sisters, Christ IS risen. So how do we live?

We are “waiting for the redemption/reconciliation/liberation of our bodies” in Romans 8:23 (ἀπεκδεχόμενοι τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν), and we can now live as brothers and sisters, destined for eternal life, knowing that all the terrorism, sexism, racism, violence, and oppression in the world will ultimately be expunged from God’s creation, and that our bodies are precious to God. We hope for the future, based on this little baby, born of a virgin. We confess that great ancient creed:
We believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (they were good Baptists!)

We look for the resurrection of the death and the life of the world to come.

Live into the hope of your resurrection, be a witness to those who desperately need the good news of Christ’s ultimate triumph over death, and never forget what the Angel Gabriel said to the blessed Mary in Luke 1:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Advent, then, is about hope and confidence and the solution. The solution to the problem of Sin and Death is the resurrection of the Son of God. Thus, we can see the problem all along, and our hope can thus be reoriented towards the resurrected Christ, in whom we live.

Christ’s kingdom will have no end, and our hope, as the community of God, is to remember, to cherish, and to act accordingly with our future resurrection into eternal life. We do not live in fear, but rather we empower others to live into Christ. The evening news is not the last word. May we bless God and one another with these words.

Thank you.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Letter of Thanks to my Mentors from a Distance

It is always odd to read books that impact you, especially when you've never had the privilege to thank the author/s in person. I imagine it is incredibly awkward to shake his or her hand and say, "your book was really helpful" as most professors or theologians are a bit awkward as well!

But, in beginning my second year at Fuller Theological Seminary, I feel a bit of an impulse to thank and mention various theologians who have made my time easier, and helped influence me in my journey. So here goes nothing.

My thanks first and foremost go out to John Goldingay. Besides being a really helpful spiritual mentor (he is my priest at S.B., after all!), I've been greatly impacted by his work in Old Testament theology, and I recall a deep sense of calm after reading the first volume of his Old Testament Theology. If you haven't read it, please do yourself a favor and do so.

In thinking more about John, I have to thank him for being available for my often goofy questions about issues in the Old Testament, and his kindness in simply being a spiritual mentor. He may not know this, but I am enriched and rewarded every time I sit down in S.B., and the members there have made it feel like home.

The second major influence of my academic study has been Craig Allen Hill, who teaches at Fuller Irvine and other places. He was my Greek professor for my first two quarters, and my professor for Interpretive Practices. Aside from being gracious, he took the time to just meet with me for coffee, and I was honored that he did so. He was patient, and he taught me the language of the New Testament. I recall the first time I opened a Greek commentary (Ephesians, by Andrew T. Lincoln) and was able to read most of the Greek text, and I broke down. It was an empowering experience, and it confirmed a deep-seated desire to learn and grow into my Christian vocation.

I never had confidence that I could learn and do well at something, so the fact that I was able to learn a dead language and use it effectively was empowering. So I thank Craig Hill from the bottom of my heart.

Many more could be named, but Richard Hays (Duke Divinity School) has been a major influence on my theological development, especially his work in 1 Corinthians and the New Testament's use of the Old Testament. He revolutionized how I read Paul, and really pushed me to consider the ethical nature of Paul's instructions.

Ronald Pierce at Biola University has been a continued influence on my life. His course at Biola on women in the Bible was the first bible class I ever took seriously, and I was honored that he took the time to come to our wedding and see Allison and I take our vows. He's been a kind and spirited mentor from a distance and also a close spiritual guide for the difficulties in seminary. His course changed how I viewed the vocation of women, and challenged me to reconsider what I had previously been taught. For this, I am forever grateful.

Another influence (and I should really wrap this up!) is Philip Barton Payne. His book on Paul and women really settled a lot of issues I had, and his continued relationship at various conferences and over email has been helpful and delightful. The man is a walking lexicon and I am constantly grateful for his insight and grace as he helps this student meander through the rocky terrain of New Testament studies.

So, thanks Dr. Payne.

Last (and there is no 'last' to this list), my heart goes out to Gordon Fee. His commentary on 1 Corinthians was the first commentary I ever bought on my own, and it has continued to be a light into my life. He has alzheimers now, but his work in New Testament and also on behalf of women in ministry (c.f. DBE) has been a spiritual breeze in a Summer of spiritual difficulty. I wish I had the chance to study under him, but in watching his lectures on 1 Corinthians on youtube, you can catch a glimpse of the spiritual ferocity and sensitivity of this veteran interpreter of Scripture.

More could and should be mentioned, but these are the one's that have been most influential.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Deflated Balloons and Eugene Peterson's Dictum

Eugene Peterson wrote, “Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time” (The Contemplative Pastor, p.21). In reflecting on this single sentence for ten straight minutes, I realized I was fulfilling the Psalter’s words in Psalm 139:17: “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” To ponder the thoughts of God (interesting that they aren’t the words of God) itself takes “a quality of spirit,” but it also seems to require an illustration, as I have no words to describe it adequately. 

Imagine a balloon slowly deflating over a period of a day, air squeaking from the small hole until finally the balloon lies dispirited on the floor. Of course, this is not a positive event for the balloon, but it describes almost the cognitive sense that one needs in order to perform Peterson’s dictum.

I have done this exercise across the week, and will continue to do it today, and it helps slow everything down. In a world of wicked rapidity, taking the moment to deflate and focus on the sensation of thinking with God’s thoughts is an exercise of trepidation and interior renovation: these are anything but fun! But, the Scriptures coalesce around the idea of living in revelation and it seems the Paslter was right: “I try to count [God’s thoughts]—they are more than the sand” (Ps. 139:18a). 

Sometimes it helps to get lost in the ocean.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Psalm 110: Some Initial Reflections


There are several reasons why Psalm 110 has grabbed my attention and imagination. The primary cause for my selection is that the Psalm appears to be quoted throughout the entire New Testament, with a plethora of diverse voices quoting or alluding to it. For example, Paul seems to paraphrase or allude to 110:1 in 1 Cor. 15:24-25, Rom. 8:34 and Col. 3:1. The (possible Deutero?) Pauline epistles make some reference to the same verse in Eph. 1:20-22 and 2:6. Psalm 110 seems to be an important eschatological verse for Paul and the Pauline tradition. A strand of the Gospel tradition (Matthew 22:43-45; 26:63-64; Acts 2:33-36; 5:30-31; 7:55-56) seems to also see this verse as significant Christologically and eschatologically in the later parts of the first century CE. While almost certainly not part of the original Gospel, Mark 16:19 seems to contain a possible allusion to 110:1; given the textual tradition of Mark 16:9-20, it seems that even later scribes saw the importance of this Psalm. Hebrews is keen to cite or allude to 110:1 multiple times (1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12-13) as does 1 Peter (3:21-22). Thus, this Psalm is widely known amongst the diverse authors of the New Testament from the middle of the first century to the later parts of the first century. Since my research interests lie with the New Testament, it is necessary to understand this popular Psalm on her own terms. 


As per Fuller Theological Seminary’s preferred translations, I will limit my use to the CEB, NRSV, and NIV. Much of the differences between these three translations lie in the realm of emphasis. For instance, in 110:1, the NRSV does not include the apposition phrase, “for your feet,” whereas the CEB and NIV do include the phrase. There is also a difference in punctuation in the apposition phrasing. The CEB concludes the sentence with an exclamation point (!) and the NIV does not.

In v.2, there is a distinct difference in translation over the relation of the scepter and the Lord. The NRSV says the scepter is sent “out from Zion.” In addition to the addition of “may” at the beginning of the verse, the CEB views the scepter as reaching “far from Zion!” The NIV views the King’s scepter as an “extension from Zion.” The focus of the narrator is on the King’s scepter being extended or sent (“your”). In each case, the scepter’s point of origin is found as coming “from Zion,” though there is some tension regarding the exact nature of this scepter’s leading.

Continuing with v.3, the NRSV has an interesting phrase, “will offer themselves willingly” as opposed to the CEB’s rendering, “stand ready,” which illustrates a contested concept. The nature of a willingness to “offer themselves” suggests a deep conviction on the part of the King’s soldiers to die for him. “Stand ready” (CEB) makes sense, but “will be willing” (NIV) is less precise as to what is “willing” and suggests a future tense orientation. Regarding v.4, the CEB adds an appositional phrase, “a solemn pledge” in order to clarify the “sworn” language immediately before. This helps modern eyes see the seriousness of “swearing an oath or pledge” in Scripture and actually helps draw out the meaning.

V.5 appears to be a difficult verse to translate. The CEB seems to focus on the King’s actions: “by your [the King’s] right hand” which implies the activity of the King, and not God (NRSV, NIV). The focus of the other two translations is on God’s “crushing/shattering,” of the King’s enemies. The question then becomes, who is the one enacting judgment upon the enemies? Is it solely God, or is it the King through God’s providence? The tenses of “crush/shatter” are also different. The NRSV and NIV have a future orient, “will shatter,” and the CEB has a present tense, “has crushed.” Are the tenses in Hebrew meant to evoke a more prophetic (future) alignment, or is this an invocation for the present king?

Within v.6-7, there is some variation between 6a amongst all three translations. The NRSV emphasizes, “Execute judgment among the nations,” suggesting that the Lord is at work amongst the nations, but the nations are not the exclusive focus of judgment. The CEB counters this with, “bring the nations to justice,” which seems to highlight a less retributive aspect of the Lord’s action, and the NIV is explicit in making the “nations” the direct object of “judge.” Thus, there seems to be some differences in translation regarding the style of judgment, and the direct focus or recipient of that judgment. In v.7, both the NRSV and NIV state that God “will drink,” as opposed to the CEB (“drinks”). The emphasis from the NRSV and NIV appear future oriented rather than the CEB’s emphasis on the present action. There may also be an issue in 7a; the NRSV makes this a result of drinking by beginning the final clause with “therefore he will…” which suggests a more specific result action.

In conclusion, the differences in translation are often minute. However, a major issue may be summed up as such: how did the original author or editor intend for this Psalm to be understood, with an eye towards the future installment of a King, or with intent toward the present King? How do these variant tenses and other translational issues affect our reading of this particular Psalm in relation to Israel’s story? Is this Psalm possibly meant in a Proleptic fashion, anticipating a future of deliverance? Is this Psalm intended to instill hope in an idealized future figure? Time will only tell!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Paul and Not Jesus? A Brief Reflection

As I sip grapefruit from a wineglass, I recall a question someone asked me a long time ago. Well, long ago in the sense that I do not remember the specific time. In between the insanity at work, the joy of marriage, and the pressing of seminary, I can now think about this unmentioned comment in more detail
"Why Paul and not Jesus?"
In the spirit of New Testament scholarship, one could write a few dissertations about this very question, and I'm quite confident at least someone has. For me, Paul remains the singular apex of frustration and inspiration. In between being an iconoclast and an impeachable brick wall, Paul has shown himself to be a remarkably profound and infuriating dead man.

A key difference for me, in terms of my love for Paul, is that we have so much diverse material about him. Thirteen epistles in the New Testament are attributed to him, which roughly equates to 25% of the entirety of the New Testament, and so he is the second most prolific author we have in the canon. However, in terms of influence, Paul is second to none here in the Western world. Justification, gender, sexuality, the rapture: all of this is largely filtered through a Pauline lens (and this is a good thing in many ways), and so it is not unheard of as to why I prefer studying Paul over the Gospels.

Another possible answer is that Paul explicitly (and implicitly) challenges his congregations in the midst of immense ethical turmoil, and the reconstructions behind this-through the blessing of historical criticism-are particularly fascinating.

Finally, Paul haunts me. The man is our first interpreter of the sayings and significance of Jesus, and the fact that he is so culturally removed from myself (I say this while typing on a computer, after all!) makes him uniquely fascinating insofar as his writings continue to influence a large portion of humanity. It is easier to study Paul simply because he often just tells us what he feels. Anger. Joy. Sorrow.

Part of me wonders if Paul ever considered that his epistles to his dysfunctional and often bonkers churches would end up all collected and put between two covers and recited on Sunday mornings everywhere. I like to hope he would be flattered, but part of me thinks his reaction would be more earthy than that.