January 2012

We, at HBU, use a common textbook across our separate OT and NT survey classes and are thinking about updating our texts.  One common issue with these textbooks is their length, which often distracts from reading the biblical text itself.  As a result, we are thinking about going with a one-volume textbook that covers the whole Bible.  There are a few options, and I thought I’d see what others use or would recommend.

One format criterion is that it cover the text canonically and not from a chronological perspective.  For instance, John Drane has a one-volume textbook, but in the OT he places the discussion of the Pentateuch in the same chapter as Ezekiel.  There are pro’s and con’s to each method, but we’d prefer to treat the sections canonically especially since we have many students who have never read the Bible.

I’ve got a couple of options in mind, and I’ll plan on doing a follow-up post to compile other ideas you offer up.  Thanks in advance.

I’ve just begun reading Greg Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology, which by its sheer size promises to be both very informative and quite comprehensive. For that reason I find it quite humerous how many times by page 9 Beale has already said such things as, “since the scope of this work does not allow for such elaboration [of 'x'] (p. 3) , and “A volume longer than the present one would need to be written to validate further ['y']” (p. 6), and “['z'] could . . . be discussed sufficiently if twice the space were alloted to the present book” (p. 9). I mean, seriously, the book is over 1,000 pages! How many more are needed to get the job done? I wonder if he wrote that introductory chapter before he realized just how long the book was going to be!

In the previous post, I noted several comments from Wright on how the Church has misread and distorted the gospels. I found much in Wright’s essay that I appreciated, and as one who comes from a tradition that undervalues the Gospels and ‘spiritualizes’ the kingdom, I completely understand his reaction against this view. However, I have reservations about the way that he pits ‘tradition’ against historical reconstruction and particularly his assertions that ‘the whole church’ or ‘the entire Western tradition’ has misunderstood the Gospels. Let me make two points.

1) The goal of biblical scholarship (indeed of any scholarship) is to advance knowledge. Scholars identify unresolved issues and attempt to provide solutions; we reassess the sources in light of new evidence, such as archaeological discoveries or new philosophical theories about knowledge. We put forth ideas that are often in conflict with previous interpreters. But at what point is it correct to declare all previous interpreters wrong not merely on issues of individual verses but rather on whole subjects like the Gospels (or Paul)? Note, this is not just saying ‘Hey, we have missed this key issue that needs to be included’. Rather, this is declaring ‘Hey, you all have gotten the whole thing wrong! This is how it really is’. Wright’s claim in the quotes listed in the previous post is not merely that we have misunderstood some aspect, but rather that the whole church—every previous interpreter—has completely missed the whole thing. The church has sailed the ship in the wrong direction for 2000 years! Or, more strongly, the church has not even been on the right boat. This is a bold claim, and although Wright is arguing for the importance of understanding the Gospels and Jesus historically, it raises for me a theological question: If the whole of the church has gotten it wrong, does it mean that God’s Spirit has not actually been guiding his people in their reading of Scripture?

2) I’m no expert on the Reformation, but Wright’s claim to be upholding the Reformation seems mistaken. The Reformers certainly stood opposed to tradition, but they didn’t declare the tradition to be wholly wrong. Luther and Calvin regularly turned to Augustine, for example, for support for their interpretations. They certainly went beyond Augustine at key points, but they were keen to make sure that others in the church’s tradition supported their interpretations. Indeed, a number of scholars have appealed for Wright to give more attention to earlier interpreters, not least because Wright may well find supporters for his views (Mike Bird has made this point on several occasions particularly in his response to Wright at IBR in 2010; after drafting these comments I read Edith Humphrey’s essay, ‘Glimpsing the Glory’,  in Jesus, Paul and the People of God and she makes some very pointed remarks to Wright  about the issue ). The whole issue raises this question for me: when proposing a radical reworking of a particular issue (such as the meaning of the Gospels or justification), how important is support from previous interpreters?

I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions. I find neither a ‘blind’ acceptance of tradition nor Wright’s absolute rejection of tradition acceptable. There must be a middle ground that recognises the value of previous interpreters while also realising that they were humans. Michael Gorman makes some good points here about the role of the creeds (and tradition) that are worth reflection.

I hope that this post doesn’t come across as another bash Wright argument. However we treat the relationship between biblical scholarship and church tradition, there is much in this essay by Wright worth pondering and much that the church does need to hear.

I’m doing an MA class on Paul this semester and wanted to draw on the wisdom of the blogging community for a reading assignment.  The majority of my assigned reading is through articles that represent key methodologies.  One methodological reading area that I have yet to nail down is that of intertexuality.  The gap I’ve got to fill is for a session on Romans, which should fit just fine.  What I’m looking for are recommendations on an article/chapter to assign.

There are always sections of Hays’ Echoes or Watson’s Hermeneutics of Faith, though I’m interested in something a little more focused.  However, I’m willing to be challenged if you have a particular passage from one of those two in mind.  Something I’m thinking particularly about is Rom 1.17 and Hab 2.4.  Hays has an article that is an option: “”The Righteous One’ as Eschatological Deliverer” which is an option.  Watts has another in the Wright edited volume.  Do y’all have any favorites?

I have been using the break from teaching as a chance to catch up on some publications that I have not yet read. One of them has been Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright, the published version of the Wheaton Theology Conference from 2010. This conference generated a lot of conversation, and the essays that I have read thus far have been enjoyable and thought-provoking. In this post and the next, I want to reflect briefly on the issue of tradition and its role in interpreting the Scriptures. This issue comes up several times (indeed, it is a reoccurring theme in the volume). It appears most directly in N.T. Wright’s concluding essay to Part One (‘Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies in the Life of the Church’, pp.115-58), largely I think a response to Richard Hays’ piece. The essay, partly biographical, explores how Wright has come to his understanding of Jesus and the Gospels by rethinking the historical situation of Jesus as a Jew. He focuses particularly on how the kingdom of God is the central message of Jesus and how the cross and resurrection relate to the kingdom. It is his comments about how the Gospels have been interpreted throughout church history that I want to highlight here.

In his discussion about the role of the canon and the church’s misreading of it, Wright states,

But history has shown again and again that the church is well capable of misreading the canon, and that tradition can drift in many directions, some less than helpful, some decidedly destructive. To appeal to tradition and dogma as the framework for understanding Jesus is to say that not only the entire enterprise of biblical scholarship but also the entire Protestant Reformation has been based on a mistake. Some may find it strange to hear me defending either of these (critical scholarship and the Protestant Reformation!), but if the alternative is to say simply that tradition has got it mostly right I reply that the history of the church tells a very different story. (p.122)

Wright here puts the church’s reading of Scripture (tradition) in sharp contrast to biblical scholarship as well as the Reformation. He goes on throughout the essay to point out how the church has consistently misunderstood the gospels. He argues, for example, that the church has failed to grasp the canonical Jesus because it treated the gospels as an argument about the second person of the Trinity rather than about the Jesus who revealed the Kingdom of God. He declares that ‘[i]t is the Western tradition … that has insisted on inventing a Jesus “behind the gospel”’ (p.132). He continues:

Kähler’s own famous protest about the danger of historians discovering a Jesus other than the one in Scripture turns out to be sheer projection. The tradition—the traditional church—which Kähler embodied at that point did, and continues to do, exactly that. And the irony has been that the tradition has been so strong that nobody has even noticed. The Gospels have remained at the center of the church’s life, but they have been muzzled and emasculated. (pp.132-33)

A couple of sentences later he writes, ‘I think that the Western church has simply not really known what the Gospels were there for’ (p.133).

A few other quotes:

It is, in fact, the church’s dogmatic tradition, through which the Gospels have been forced to give answers to questions they were not addressing, or not addressing head on, that has made the apologetic and historical tasks much harder. It is harder to retrieve the canonical Jesus (YHWH in person and Israel in person) because the whole church has taught itself to read the canon in ways that significantly diminish it, a problem that can only be remedied precisely by a fresh (however dangerous!) historical reading. (p.135; emphasis removed, underline added)

This brings us to the second great point at which the entire Western tradition has not known what the Gospels are there for: the split, almost ubiquitous in tradition but never found in the canon, between Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom and Jesus’ pilgrimage to the cross. (p.137; underline added)

The question to be asked, then, is this: What sort of a kingdom is it that needs the crucifixion of the kingdom bringer for its completion? Or, conversely, what sort of meaning might one give to the cross—what sort of atonement theology might we envision—that effects the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven? The fact that this feels quite a strange question indicates worryingly that, as I have suggested several times, the entire Western tradition appears not to have allowed the canonical Gospels to make their full impact. (p.144; underline added)

These quotes are merely highlights of what I think is one of Wright’s key points in the essay: the church’s reading of the Gospels has not merely gotten a few points incorrect, but the whole church has massively misunderstood and distorted the Gospels. In the next post, I will raise a few questions about the value of tradition for the task of interpreting scripture.


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