Sunday, April 30, 2006 

Pannenberg on the Delay of the Parousia

"The delay of the end events which now amounts to almost two thousand years, is not a refutation of the Christian hope and of the Christian perception of revelation as long as the unity between what happened in Jesus and the eschatological future is maintained...When we speak today of God's revelation in Jesus and of his exaltation accomplished in the resurrection from the dead, our statements always contain a proleptic element. The fulfillment, which had begun for the disciples, which was almost in their grasp, in the appearance of the resurrected Lord, has become promise once again for us." Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man, p. 108.

Saturday, April 29, 2006 

A Marginal Jew

I have just finished John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus Vol.3 which looks at the historical Jesus in relation to his contemporaries, both those who followed him and those who opposed him, whether directly or indirectly. This volume compared with the previous two is probably my least favorite. This is just out of opinion and not because I found the scholarship lacking or anything . On the contrary, the scholarship was on par with the previous two volumes but because I've already read plenty of material dealing with Qumran, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other groups the discussion of these groups was somewhat redundant for me. The two groups I did find enlightening that Meier touched on were the Samaritans and the enigmatic "scribes." But beyond this everything seemed more like a review than anything else.

Nevertheless, the depth of Meier's research amazes me. The amount of references that he has in the endnotes of his volumes is mindboggling. To date Meier's three volumes comprise a total of 2352 pages and we are still awaiting the fourth and final volume in which Meier will tackle what he calls the four enigmas or riddles of the historical Jesus:

1.) Jesus' relation to the Mosaic Law.

2.) Jesus' use of parables.

3.) The temple incident.

4. ) The death of Jesus.

Needless to say I am eagerly awaiting this final volume. I'm sure that we can expect to see much of Meier's use of the criterion of coherence in this work, especially concerning the fourth enigma. What I'm going to do is attempt to contact Dr. Meier in order to see if he will grant me a short interview concerning his final volume. If he agrees I will post the interview. If anyone has a question they wish me to ask feel free to leave it in the comments section or e-mail it to me.

For a decently thorough review of this volume go here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 

Et Resurrexit: Excursus

*Note: In what follows I will consistently use the term bodily in place of physical since a focus on the physical aspect of the resurrection might lead to a false understanding of the resurrection as simply a crass rescusitation. What the NT affirms is that the resurrection was something transformative. Nevertheless, the transformation was something that the NT authors believed happened to the physical body of Jesus. But in order to avoid the implications of the term physical I will use bodily in its place as a description of the nature of the resurrection.

It seems as if Michael Bird has stirred up a firestorm with his post concerning the necessity of belief in the resurrection (bodily) as marking one to be a Christian. Ben Meyers in his reply post , though himself holding to a bodily resurrection, disagrees with Michael and sides with Wright saying:

"On this occasion, I will have to side with N. T. Wright against Mike. I think Mike is exactly right about the centrality of resurrection in the primitive Christian kerygma. But the crucial question is whether any particular theological interpretation of resurrection belongs to the heart of the gospel. And it seems to me that the New Testament itself resists such a view. In fact, the New Testament witnesses don’t offer any precise theological interpretation of the resurrection. None of the Gospels tries to describe or explain the event of resurrection at all—rather, the resurrection is precisely the mystery at the centre of the story of Jesus." (emphasis Ben's)

Since I consider both to be very intelligent men and since they are two of my favorite blogs, it's unfortunate that I have to take sides on this issue. Yet take sides I must. Now Ben agrees with Mike that the resurrection was central to the primitive Christian kerygma. This is key. Where they obviously differ is in the matter of the interpretation of the event of resurrection. Ben stresses that there is no uniform theological interpretation of resurrection that the New Testament witnesses emphasize. The stress is rather on the mystery behind the event. Ben sees in this good reason for still calling those who do not affirm a bodily resurrection, Christians.

Now on the one hand Ben is correct to say that the New Testament documents witness to various theological interpretations of the resurrection. But on the other hand I think this diverse interpretation has to do with the meaning of the resurrection event rather than with an interpretation of the event itself. There is a difference. On my reading of the New Testament, what is uniformly taught or implied is that Jesus' resurrection was indeed bodily. When the NT authors (particularly the Gospels) discuss Jesus' resurrection it is never with the intent to impose on it some theological understanding which denies its bodily nature. Rather, as Michael in his reply post observed, the NT writers when treating the resurrection actually go to great lengths to restrict certain understandings of the resurrection that would deny its bodily aspect:

"The NT authors bracket out certain hermeneutical reflections on the resurrection including its denial (1 Corinthians 15), gnostics and docetic interpretations (John 21; Luke 24), and over-realized accounts (2 Tim 2.18)."

I think Mike has made an essential point here and reinforces my observation that a distinction should be made between diverse interpretations of resurrection meaning and differing interpretations of the nature of the resurrection event. It is the former which the NT witnesses to not the latter.

Yet this does not really answer the question that has been raised: "Is belief in the bodily resurrection necessary for one to properly be labled a Christian?" It seems to me the reason that we are running into a problem is due to some of our terms, particularly the label, "Christian." We need to remember that this term is anachronistic when speaking of the primitive community. It does not occur anywhere in the NT except for briefly in Acts 11:19-30. In the context of the passage it is suggested that the term is a label placed upon the community externally. This is confirmed by the fact that it is not used throughout the rest of Acts (nor anywhere else). The term that is applied consistently in the NT to the primitive community is "believers." This phrase appears in Paul (1 Cor 6:5, Gal 6:10), James (2.1), and especially in the book of Acts (Acts 1:15, 2:42, 44, 9:41). Why am I stressing this fact? Because to become a part of the 'ekklesia' you had to become a believer. The question then is, "a believer of or in what?" The simple answer is belief in the 'gospel.' However, the answer is not so simple anymore since the word 'gospel' has been loaded down with theological excess (incarnation, trinity,etc).

The proclamation uttered by the early assembly (ekklesia) was that the man Jesus who had been crucified was raised from the dead by God. He was now Lord and was exalted at God's right hand. It was by believing in this 'good news' (euangelion) that one was thereby incoporated into the community. The good news had content, and that content centered around the proclamation that God had raised this man from the dead and placed him in a position of authority. Furthermore, this proclamation 'God raised Jesus from the dead' would have been understood as bodily. There are three, I believe, decisive indications of this:

1.) The first point has already been made, namely, that the New Testament is uniform as to its interpretation of the event being bodily, even in the cases where discontinuity is emphasized.

2.) Secondly, the major contribution of N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God was in exhibiting that when the noun and verb forms of anastasis and egeiro were used by both supporters and opposers in the Second-Temple Judaic period the referent was always concrete and was something that happened to the body. Other interpretations and/or definitions Wright, rightly dismissed:

"Nothing in the entire Jewish context warrants the suggestion that the discussion in 1 Corinthians 15 was about'resurrection in heaven', or that the Jewish literature of the period 'speaks both of a resurrection of the body and a resurrection of the spirit without the body'. Some Jews speak of eternal disembodied bliss, but this is not described as 'resurrection'; when resurrection is spoken of, it is the second stage in post-mortem life, not the instant destiny upon death. Nothing here, either, would prepare us for the use of 'resurrection' to mean 'that after his crucifixion...Jesus entered into the powerful life of God' or 'the passage of the human Jesus into the power of God'." (204)

3.) Thirdly, juxtaposed with the proclamation that God had raised Jesus from the dead, was that Jesus had previously been crucified and so had died (cf Acts 2:23ff, 1 Cor15:3ff). If, in their proclamation of the gospel, the early believers intended for the audience to understand Jesus' death as literal and so bodily then when they claimed God raised him from the dead, the same meaning would have been intended, that is, that God had bodily raised Jesus from the dead.

Given these three observations, I fail to see how the early community's proclamation would not have been understood as involving the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Lastly, if this is how the resurrection event was meant to be understood, as something that happened to Jesus' physical body, then Paul's assertion in Rom. 10:9 carries all the more weight in this debate. Paul, who some scholars see echoing an early baptismal formula, declares that to be saved one need only to "confess Jesus as Lord" and to "believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead." These two assertions, as I stated in my previous post, are integral to one another and form a symbiotic relationship. The believer can confess Jesus as Lord because God raised him from the dead. If you excise the resurrection, by default you excise the Lordship of Jesus.

In the end, I must cast my lot with Michael. If the early community was defined by its belief in the gospel and if the content of that gospel included the bodily resurrection of Jesus then I fail to see how I can properly call someone a believer who does not believe in that message which included Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead.

Sunday, April 23, 2006 

Et Resurrexit: Initial Implications Part 3

If the early church, subsequent to their belief that Jesus’ resurrection meant the beginning of the eschaton, had come to see that same resurrection as a validation of Jesus’ Messiahship then there would have been at least one more conclusion those followers would have reached. The resurrection would further be understood as the decisive event in which Jesus becomes the Kyrios, i.e., the Lord. As with Messiahship, by itself the resurrection would not denote Lordship per say. But when we combine the initial insights discussed in the previous posts, Jesus’ resurrection as the beginning of the end and the confirmation and vindication of his Messiahship, it only makes sense that an understanding of Jesus as Lord would follow. If Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews he was also now the Lord, of not just Judea or of Israel in general but of the entire cosmos. (see Wright, "Resurrection of the Son of God", p .563-66.)

This concept that the Messiah would be the ruler of the whole earth is firmly rooted in Jewish belief, especially in the Psalms:

I will tell of the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, "You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel." (Ps 2:7-9)

"Give the king thy justice, O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son . . . May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth! May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!" (Ps 72:1; 8-11)

"I have found David my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him . . . He shall cry to me, You are my father, my god and the rock of my salvation; And I will make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." (Ps 89:20, 25-27)

And also in Isaiah:

"And now Yahweh says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered in him, for I am honored in the eyes of Yahweh, and my God has become my strength-he says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (Is 49:5-6)

Though each of these passages places a distinctive emphasis on how God’s anointed one will treat the nations of the earth (whether harshly, mercifully, favorably, etc.) each affirms that the Messiah’s function as Yahweh’s anointed one was to represent His kingdom and rule over all the ends of the earth.

For further evidence of this connection between Jesus’ Lordship, Messiahship, and resurrection there is Acts 2. Peter in the same speech in which he asserts the resurrection of Jesus as a validation of his Messiahship also asserts that Jesus is Kyrios, by virtue of his resurrection:

"This Jesus god raised up, and of that we are witnesses...Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." Acts 2:32, 36

But we can penetrate back even further than the book of Acts for a connection between Jesus' lordship and his resurrection from the dead. There is an important passage that is generally acknowledged by scholars as containing an early baptismal creed formulated by the earliest church, namely, Rom 10:9. Here we find the most basic form of Christian proclamation: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved." What this creed exhibits is that there exists a symbiotic relationship between confession of Jesus as Lord and the belief that God raised him from the dead. Indeed, you cannot have one without the other. The confession of Lordship and the inward belief of resurrection are integral to one another. The early believers could proclaim that "Jesus is Lord" precisely because "God had raised him from the dead."

In conclusion, the twin beliefs that Jesus' resurrection meant the beginning of the eschaton and the validation of his Messiahship ultimately gave birth to the notion that Jesus was now Lord. In the next post I will conclude with a brief discussion concerning why these initial implication were and are so important for us, who are decidedly removed some 2,000 years from these events, today.

Thursday, April 20, 2006 

Et Resurrexit: Initial Implications Part 2

"when his disciples were confronted by the resurrection of Jesus, they no doubt also understood this as the beginning of the universal resurrection of the dead, as the beginning of the events of the end of history. " Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man, p. 66. (emphasis added)

Pannenberg expresses in this passage the belief discussed in the previous post, namely, that the disciples upon encountering the resurrected Jesus would have understood this as meaning the general resurrection of the dead had begun. But more importantly, the beginning of the general resurrection would have further entailed that the eschaton had arrived.

Now I am not going to belabor this point since it has been made many times before. The notion that the primitive believers thought the end was just around the corner, or had occured is not a novel interpretation. There is plenty of evidence within the New Testament documents that suggest this. For a detailed study concerning this early primitive interpretation see especially Dale Allison's The End of the Ages Has Come: An Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. Allison convincingly exhibits how early interpretations of Jesus' resurrection first gave impetus to this pervasive belief in early Christianity that the eschaton had, at least in some sense, arrived.

In reality these two results of Jesus' resurrection should probably be integrated since the belief that the end had come (or was nigh) cannot be seperated from the belief that the general resurrection of the dead had begun. The former is a direct result of the latter. Thus the initial implication of Jesus resurrection as understood by the earliest followers would have been that since the general resurrection had started the end had either occured or was very soon about to take place. At any rate the transition between this age and the age to come began via Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

But apart from its ostensible eschatological meaning, the early believers would have viewed the resurrection of Jesus to signify something further: his vindication. Just days earlier Jesus had been condemned and crucified as a criminal under Roman law. His resurrection could only mean the reversal of the verdict previously placed on him. By raising him from the dead, God was declaring Jesus to be in the right, i.e. to be justified or as Karl Barth would put it, the "No!" uttered against Jesus had now been vanquished by God's "Yes!".

This also meant God's seal of approval on the itinerant ministry of Jesus. Everything that Jesus said and did throughout Galilee and Judea was in accordance with the will of God. Most importantly the resurrection involved the vindication of Jesus' Messiaship. Of course, some doubt that Jesus ever claimed this title for himself. This is not the time or place to enter into that discussion. Suffice it to say that since I'm dealing with the early believers' interpretation and not Jesus' own self-claims this is a moot point. What is clear is that the earliest followers of Jesus believed that he was the Jewish Messiah (most likely prior to the resurrection) even if they forced the title onto him. Thus the resurrection would have meant the vindication of this belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the long awaited King of the Jews.

Now when we combine these two initial insights that Jesus' resurrection meant the arrival of the eschaton and his vindication, especially concerning his Messiahship, we end up with one final initial implication which results directly from a synthesis of these two beliefs. This I will discuss in the next post.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 

Et Resurrexit: Initial Implications Part 1

Within Second Temple Judaism you find the common hope for a future general resurrection of the dead. This belief was held by most Jews with the exception of the Sadduccean sect (whose ambitions were more political and this worldly). Though there was disagreement among the Jews as to specifics concerning the resurrection (would all be resurrected, or only the righteous? would each and every individual ethnic Jew be raised to everlasting life, or only those who obeyed the covenant? Will the Gentiles partake in the resurrection? Will there be a two stage resurrection? etc) of the dead, it was unanimously agreed that the event would take place at the "end" of the present age.

All the more striking then that the primitive believers would have begun to proclaim that the resurrection had happened to their leader who had just been condemned and crucified as a criminal. What then would it have meant initially to say that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead? It would have meant that the general resurrection of the dead had begun. If one man had been raised from the dead, then it was certainly about to occur for everyone else.

There are several indiciations of this in the New Testament that point to this initial belief. First, is Paul's description of the Risen Jesus as "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20). The first fruits were considered the best or main part of the crop in the OT. Dunn explains the significance of referring to Jesus' resurrection in this manner:

"The metaphor of first fruits dentoes the beginning of the harvest, more or less the first swing of the sickle. No interval is envisaged between the first fruits and the rest of the harvest. With the first fruits dedicated the harvest proceeds. The application of this metaphor to the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit expresses the belief that with these events the eschatological harvest has begun; the resurrection of the dead has started..." (Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p 159.)

Jesus' resurrection by Paul was understood as the beginning of the harvest. And as Dunn points out, there was not understood to be an interval between the time of the first fruits and the subsequent harvest. Thus Paul's metaphor of the "first fruits" is best understood with the belief that Jesus' resurrection was thought to be part of the beginning of the general resurrection of the dead.

Secondly, the pre-Pauline formula embeded in Romans 1:1-4 when speaking of Jesus' resurrection says ex anastaseos nekron which literally translated is "from resurrection of the dead (ones)" instead of "his resurrection from the dead" which is how some scholars translate this phrase (e.g. Fitzmyer and Cranfield). But this is not what the Greek denotes and so I am inclined to agree with Kasemann, Dunn, Bultmann and others who translate the phrase literally. As Kasemann says this "hymnic tradition does not isolate Christ's resurrection, but views it in its cosmic function as the beginning of general resurrection" (p. 12). Thus in an early pre-Pauline formula we witness the same initial belief, namely, that Christ's resurrection from the dead means the beginning of the general resurrection of the dead and so the beginning of the end.

Finally, there is the strange account of the resurrection of some hoi hagioi (the holy ones) unique only to Matthew's gospel. The passage reads as follows:

"the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." (Mt. 27:51b-53)

This passage has puzzled scholars for decades. But the best explanation for it is that it expresses that same initial belief that Jesus' resurrection was the beginning of the general resurrection of the dead. Therefore, Matthew (or a pre-Matthean tradition) added this account to the Passion narrative in order to emphasize this point. Moreover, Dale Allison in his book The End of the Ages Has Come has convincingly shown the obvious literary parallels this passage has with Zech. 14:4-5 (LXX version) which was read as a prophecy of the general resurrection of the dead (p. 44). Allison concludes concerning this passage:

"The pre-Matthean and indeed primitive character of Matt. 27:51b-53 is suggested by the following consideration: the account falls in with what we otherwise know of primitve Christian eschatology. As the church moved away from its beginnings, Jesus' resurrection came to be viewed as an isolated event in the earliest period his resurrection was more closely joined to thought of the general resurrection." (ibid)

Monday, April 17, 2006 

Et Resurrexit: Prolegomena

Easter Sunday was disappointing for me. Though my church sang some songs that mentioned an empty tomb and the "aliveness" of Jesus, there was an extreme lack of emphasis on the resurrection itself. Indeed, the sermon was not on the resurrection, but rather was an evangelistic message (since, naturally more people come to church on Easter Sunday, pastors want to take advantage of this "ripe" situation). Ironically, it was an evangelistic message that did not include the resurrection at all. I say ironically, since when you penetrate into the earliest Christian Kerygma (proclamation) it is saturated with the resurrection.

The few times my pastor did mention the resurrection it was with a typical apologetic thrust, "if you visit the tombs of all the other great religious figures, you won't find their bodies, but if you visit Jesus' tomb his body isn't there." Moreover, the resurrection's theological significance did not go any further than, "Jesus was raised so that you forgiveness could be ensured." Sometimes I think Christians affirm the resurrection simply so that they can sing songs that emphasize Jesus living within their hearts. (On this see further Michael Bird's delightful post on the resurrection)

Now this isn't just a problem with my church. Whenever I meet a fellow believer I almost always ask them about the resurrection and what it means for them. Their understanding rarely goes beyond the two meanings I just gave above. This is disheartening to me. At the ETS meeting in Atlanta a few years back I remember NT Wright commenting about how the resurrection is viewed within America as simply "God's last big magic trick to ensure that Jesus will live forever." This is indeed how many believers treat the resurrection, as simply the last super miracle that God does. They never go further and ask, "what does the resurrection mean?"

Unfortunately, many of our Christian philosophers and theologians have not mitigated this situation. Though I appreciate much of the apologetic work that philosophers like William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and others have done on the resurrection they fail to deliever what the implications for Jesus' resurrection would entail. Their main intention is, quite naturally, apologetic. However, in my opinion this is a narrow view of the resurrection. And though the theologians more often ask about the resurrection's significance, this usually does not journey beyond the resurrection as a pointer to Jesus' divinity. Furthermore, as Richard Gaffin and others have pointed out, the resurrection has been significantly downplayed in soteriology, often taking a back seat to theories on the atonement thus making the death the definitive moment in salvation history.

And so for the next series of posts I'm going to discuss briefly what the resurrection meant for the earliest believers and what it means for us today. This series will have three parts which will explore the resurrection's initial, theological, and practical implications. I obviously cannot hope to exhaustively cover the meaning of the resurrection in a series of blog posts. Nevertheless, I hope to provide a least a proper overview of what I understand the resurrection to signify. No doubt some of you will have additional insights on the resurrection and so I would greatly appreciate any feedback and/or criticisms you can supply.

Sunday, April 16, 2006 


Some things unexpectedly came up today and so I was unable to blog on the resurrection. Ironic, since my website is principally dedicated to the topic of resurrection and today is resurrection Sunday. Many apologies for this, but I intend for the remainder of the month, and possibly into May, to blog exclusively on some implications of the resurrection of Jesus beginning tomorrow. Till then may everyone have a blessed Resurrection Sunday as we pause to remember that our Lord has risen.

Friday, April 14, 2006 

The Death of the Messiah

This is the day that Christians traditionally celebrate the death of their Lord and Savior. As much as I rant and rave against those who tend to glorify the cross to the extent that they lose the resurrection of Christ, the death of Jesus is important for Christian theology. Indeed, the idea that Jesus' death was for sins is found early in the Christian tradition. Paul in 1 Cor. 15: 1ff tells the Corinthians that he passed onto them what was of first importance, namely, "that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures..."

It is amazing to me, that even before Paul (who speaks more than any other voice in the New Testament concerning what God did in Christ through his death on the cross) the theological interpretation of the Messiah's death as "for our sins" was already commonplace in the tradition. The death of Jesus was obviously very important early on for the nascent believing community. But let us not forget that the death is meaningless without the resurrection and that it is the latter which led to the subsequent theological interpretation of Jesus' death. But more on this Sunday.

Since I fear that any words I have to say about the death of Jesus would be inadequate (naturally, I'd much rather prefer to speak about the resurrection) I would direct those who are looking for such insight to Michael Bird at Euangelion and his great post in which he provides an excellent story that exemplifies the sacrifice involved in the concept of penal substitution. Well, until Sunday, may everyone have a blessed Good Friday and Sabbath.

Thursday, April 13, 2006 

From Solution to Plight: Part 2

And now for part two of my series of posts on "From Solution to Plight."

There are a couple of reasons why I agree with Sanders that one should properly understand Paul's theology as proceeding from solution to plight. First, Paul's own testimony to his former life under the law in such places like Phillipians chapter 3 seems to throw in doubt the assertion that Paul before his "conversion" was undergoing an inner spiritual crisis concerning his Jewish faith:

"If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless." Phillipians 3:4-6 (RSV)

The attempt to appropriate Rom. 7: 13ff in support of a pre-Christian Paul under a state of torah-crisis is problematic espescially in light of Paul's testimony in the Phillipians passage just quoted. Indeed, the majority of commentators have abandoned the older view which interpreted this passage as an autobiographical portrait of Paul before his "conversion." Most now interpret the "I" in the passage as referring to humankind in general rather than to Paul specifically. Thus any attempt to construct a psychological analysis of Paul's pre-Christian condition under the law will forever be a fruitless and futile exercise.

Now, granted, one should be cautious of doing this type of exegetical analysis with the Phillipian passage. However, this passage seems clearer exegetically and much more "matter of fact" than the passage from Romans. With this passage it is at least uncontested that Paul is speaking about himself. If one is going to attempt a psychological analysis of Paul's pre-Christian condition, this passage certainly would be a better starting point than the exegetical nightmare of Rom. 7:13ff.

My other reason for thinking that Paul's thought runs from solution to plight mainly has to do with the content of his proclamation. But since that entails something I want to talk about on Sunday I'm going to wait until then for its discussion.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 

George Guthrie Interview

Alan Bandy has been doing a series of very stimulating posts in which he has been interviewing various scholars on their views pertaining to "faith and secular based scholarship." He recently interviewed one of my professors from Union University, Dr. George Guthrie. Be sure to check out Dr. Guthrie's wise comments on this issue here. Thanks to Alan for the hard work on these posts and for inviting my professor to participate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

From Solution to Plight: Part 1

One of my favorite books is without a doubt E.P. Sander's (in)famous Paul and Palestinian Judaism. However, it wasn't Sanders development of what he calls "covenantal nomism" (which he supported by an examination of various Rabbinic, Qumranic, Pseudepigraphical, and Deutero-Canonical literature) that fascinated me. This was largely due to the fact that before I read this book I was already well aquainted with the "new perspective" on Paul and Second Temple Judaism, having read NT Wright, Dunn, and others. But it was Sanders very brief discussion on Paul that really intrigued me.

Though I found myself disagreeing with Sanders at several points on Paul, there was one interpretation that I found very refreshing. Sanders notes that the traditional way of dealing with Paul's theology has been to start with the assumption that Paul was a deeply troubled Jew who saw mankind in a terrible plight and who additionally viewed the law as woefully inadequate to bring mankind out of this plight. And so Paul, undergoing a deep spiritual struggle, found the solution to his plight on the road to Damascus. This then influenced his theology so that, e.g., Romans begins with the plight of man and climaxes with its solution, namely Christ. To support this argument, the structure of Romans that I've noted and chapter 7 of the same epistle are utilized, with that chapter interpreted as being Paul's previous Jewish life in which he found that sin was an over powering force in his life and that the law could not bring him out of his situation.

But Sanders suggests otherwise:

"It appears that the conclusion that all the world-both Jew and Greek-equally stands in need of a saviour springs from the prior conviction that God had provided such a saviour. If he did so, it follows that such a saviour must have been needed, and then only consequently that all other possible ways of salvation are wrong. The point is made explicitly in Gal. 2.21: if righteousness could come through the law, Christ died in vain. The reasoning apparently is that Christ did not die in vain; he died and lived again 'that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living' (Rom 14.9) and so that 'whether we wake or sleep we might live with him' (1 Thess. 5.10). If his death was necessary for man's salvation, it follows that salvation cannot come in any other way and consequently that all were, prior to the death and resurrection, in need of a saviour." (p 443)

Thus Sanders flips the traditional interpretation and claims that Paul was working from solution to plight. I essentially agree with Sanders on this point and will provide some reasons for this in the next post.

Sunday, April 09, 2006 

Resurrection Misgivings

My church for Palm Sunday did a musical drama which portrayed Jesus' passion week. The main act was, of course, the crucifixion scene. The scene, not unlike that in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, was drawn out and bloody. In contrast, the resurrection scene was quick and rather vague. I doubt that those who were not already acquainted with the gospel story would have even understood what had happened to Jesus in that scene. Like much of Christianity today, my church's play forced the resurrection of Jesus to the peripheral and made the cross the true center of the gospel.

But this should not be the case. The cross and the resurrection are integral to one another. The cross has no meaning apart from Christ's resurrection. Yes, it is true that Jesus death on the cross was for "our sins" (cf 1 Cor. 15:1, 2), but it is equally true that Jesus was "raised for our justification" (Rom 4:25). Too many believers today tend to glorify the cross to the extent that the resurrection becomes void of meaning. These believers serve and worship a crucified savior instead of the Risen Lord.

Friday, April 07, 2006 

Guest Blog

Ben Meyers at Faith and Theology asked me recently to guest post on the topic of Qumran and Predestination. You can read it here and here. Many thanks to Ben for allowing me to guest blog on his site. His is one of the best out there and never fails to deliever insightful thoughts.

Thursday, April 06, 2006 

Random Talk

You'll have to forgive the light blogging this week. I've been buried in Ancient Near Eastern texts for my "Biblical Backgrounds" class. We are somewhat behind in the class so our work load was increased pretty substantially this week. But next week I am going to do a series of posts that will criticize some aspects of Luke Timothy Johnson's book on the historical Jesus that I just finished reading. My main critique will be on his understanding of the resurrection. Before I begin the posts I'm going to try to e-mail Dr. Johnson and present some questions to him. Hopefully, he will reply.

In the meantime I've made a few additions to the site. The first is my photo. I'm not exactly computer literate so it took some time for me to figure out how to finally upload one. The other additions I want to point out is the KC Hanson and Online Primary Texts links. These two sites have a plethora of information on pretty much anything having to do with the Ancient Mediterranean world and are loaded with primary and secondary material resources. So enjoy.

Monday, April 03, 2006 

Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew"

I recently purchased Pasolini's great masterpiece The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Though I haven't finished the movie, it is quickly becoming one of my favorite film adaptations of the gospel story. What I really like about this film is its portrayl of Jesus via only one of the gospels, that of Matthew. Too many Jesus' films take the route of many conservative scholars and attempt to harmonize the gospel story thereby eliminating the diversity inherent in the four different gospel accounts.

Watching Pasolini's movie brought into clearer perspective just how disjointed and seemingly unconnected some of the narratives are within the different gospels. At one point during the film I was reminded of something E.P. Sanders pointed out in his Jesus and Judaism. One of Sanders more controversial points was his insistence that the Pharisees were not a dominent group in Palestine, but were a small group located mostly in Judea. Furthermore, he viewed many of the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees as probably not authentic. Sanders explains why in the following:

"The extraordinary unrealistic settings of many of the conflict stories should be realized: Pharisees did not organize themselves into groups in the hope of catching someone transgressing (Mark 2:23f.), nor is it credible that scribes and Pharisees made a special trip to Galilee from Jerusalem to inspect Jesus' disciples' hands (Mark 7.1f). Surely stories such as these should not be read as describing actual debates between Jesus and others." (p. 265).

The forcefulness of this statement didn't really hit me at the time of reading it. But after watching Pasolini's film I now understand better what Sanders was getting at. In the film, when it comes to the scene where the disciples begin to pluck grain for themselves on the Sabbath, it follows Matthew's text (Matt 12ff) to an almost exact degree. As the disciples begin to pluck the grain, a Pharisee seems to come out of nowhere to condemn what they are doing. I was struck by the ridiculous nature of that scene because of the Pharisee's abrupt appearance. This immediately reminded me of this passage by Sanders and I quickly realized that he was right. Some of these debate settings are pretty absurd and probably didn't occur the way they are narrated. But it took seeing this worked out "visually" to help me perceive this. Such is the wonder of film I suppose.

At any rate for those of you who have not seen Pasolini's film, I highly recommend you get a copy of it. It stays truer to the story of Jesus better than many of the Jesus films made subsequent to it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006 

New Book Arrivals

I just received four new books from Amazon. They are as follows:

The Case Against Q by Mark Goodacre.

Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique edited by Goodacre and Nicolas Perrin with a foreward by N.T. Wright

Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People by E.P. Sanders.

The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gosepls by Luke Timothy Johnson.

As you can tell, my frustration with certain scholarly treatments of "Q" has finally led me to read the definitive case(s) against its existence by Goodacre and others. I don't know if they'll be able to fully convince me of their case, but we shall see. In the meantime, as I am taking a break from Meier's momumental work on the Historical Jesus and have started reading Luke Timothy Johnson's short work. I'm already half way through with it and will give a review soon.

Also, I have just finished paying off my truck (what a relief!). Instead of saving that money this month like I probably ought to, I am debating on buying one of two things. Christian Books has a wonderful sale going on on both the entire set of the Early Church Fathers ($230 dollars for a 38 volume set!) and Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics (the entire 14 volume set for $360 dollars). The Church Dogmatics is unfortunately paperback, but I think that I could live with that. This is a tough decision. The easy solution would be to get both.

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