Books


Simon Gathercole and Larry Hurtado have published very helpful reviews of Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Gathercole’s review is at Reformation21, and Hurtado’s is on his blog where you can find the pre-publication version and links to earlier comments.

Gathercole focuses on the three key issues at the heart of Wright’s project: Monotheism, Election and Eschatology. The longest section is on election where Gathercole raises some sharp questions about Wright’s view of justification focusing particularly on Wright’s view of justification as event and his definition of righteousness as covenant membership. In his review Hurtado remarks on Wright’s view of Paul’s Christology, election and eschatology. He also raises questions about Wright’s presentation of Paul as a novel thinker and whether Wright has given sufficient attention to ‘how much Paul also drew upon, reflected and developed convictions and traditions of “those who were in Christ” before him (e.g., Rom. 16:7), those with whom, Paul insists, he shared basic beliefs and message (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1-11)’ (p.3).

One interesting feature of these two reviews is the differing opinions about the value of attempting to explain how Paul came to his Christological views. Note these comments, first from Gathercole and then Hurtado:

On the broader theme of the Christological reinterpretation of election, I had minor quibbles about some points. I am not as convinced as Wright is that we can easily identify the impulse which led Paul to come to the conclusions that he did. I wonder whether the combination of (a) the return to Zion motif, and (b) Wisdom theology, played such an important role in the development of Paul’s Christology (655). Indeed, one might wonder whether it is necessary (or for that matter, possible) to try to identify from Paul’s letters how he came to the Christology that he did. For Wright, such scepticism might I suppose appear to be an abdication of the historical task. But on the other hand, we know so little about the so-called “tunnel period” between c. 30-50 CE: we know what the Christology of Paul’s earliest letters looked like at the end of the tunnel, but before that, the outlook is dark, or at least rather gloomy. (Gathercole under Monotheism section)

In any case, for all his emphasis on Paul’s historical context, Wright’s aim really seems more to show that Paul’s beliefs form a coherently rounded theology than to address adequately how (in historical terms) Paul came to hold them. If, however, as Wright contends, Paul developed an unprecedented ‘mutation’ in ancient Jewish ‘monotheism’, it is surely all the more important to ask how this remarkable innovation arose. Certainly, Wright is correct to emphasise that Paul reflects a creative use of Jewish scriptures in developing/expressing his theology. But what in particular prompted and shaped this novel reading of these texts? Wright’s focus on Paul’s ideas is no doubt appropriate for a theology of Paul, but may leave some historical questions insufficiently addressed. (Hurtado, p.2)

Another interesting point is that both reviewers raise questions about Wright’s presentation of other views. Hurtado remarks, ‘In line with his previous publications, Wright also ridicules what he portrays as the view of some other scholars that Paul expected the dissolution of ‘the space-time universe’ (which may be another instance of caricature), and the undoubtedly widespread popular Christian notion that the future hope is to depart to a heavenly realm for existence as spirits/souls’ (p.2; his other instance of caricature is with Wright’s presentation of his view of the role of ‘divine/principal agent’ traditions in early Christology [p.1]). Gathercole comments on the second of Hurtado’s points:

Wright continues the emphasis here which he expounded at length in The Resurrection of the Son of God. I suppose my slight reservation lies in the presentation: the continuous polemic against a spiritualised heavenly eschatology becomes a little repetitive. Of course there are many people in the world who believe that our final destiny consists of our souls going to heaven when we die. Wright explicitly mentions American Evangelical Protestantism of the popular variety, at e.g. PFG, p.142 and n. 271. But such people are not the people who are going to read this book. In fact, ironically, the main scholarly target of Wright’s polemic against ‘going to heaven’ is someone who is about as far removed from popular American evangelicalism as one could imagine, namely Troels Engberg-Pedersen (pp.1399-1400). (in the section on Eschatology)

Both reviewers raise valid concerns about the way in which Wright has described these positions. I think the lack of specific examples of scholars who hold these views and detailed engagement with them is unfortunate particularly in light of Wright’s extensive engagement with Engberg-Pedersen, John Barclay and the apocalyptic circle associated with J. Louis Martyn.

These reviews give much more to think about and highlight issues that remain to be resolved in the study of Paul.

Ian Boxall’s new book, Discovering Matthew: Context, Interpretation, Reception (London: SPCK, 2014), is a welcome addition to the study of the Gospel of Matthew. Designed as an introduction to Matthew, Boxall sets out well the main issues in current scholarship and the key players in the various debates. He is not limited to only the classic works or the most recent positions; rather, he tries to give readers a feel for how debates have progressed, where they are, and where they might go. As well as gaining a sense for the state of present scholarship, Boxall aims to keep the text in front of the reader. His discussion is guided by Matthew and his presentation of Jesus, not simply what is fashionable at the moment in Matthean scholarship.

After a brief introduction that summarises the critical turn of the 19th century and lays out the content of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 2 describes the range of critical approaches for reading Matthew. One finds here the standard references to source, form and redaction criticisms. As well, though, Boxall highlights (so-called) pre-critical readings. He also gives much attention to social scientific and narrative approaches. The strategies outlined in chapter 2 are taken up, more or less, in fuller detail in the remainder of the book. In chapter 3, the issues of authorship and date, source criticism and textual criticism are addressed. The structure of the book is also discussed. The characters and, to a lesser extent, places in Matthew’s Gospel are surveyed in chapter 4. With the rise of narrative criticism, interest in the characters of the Gospels has risen and Boxall develops this in his discussion. I had hoped for slightly more on the places mentioned in Matthew’s gospel.

Set within a narrative framework, in chapters 6-12 (about 100 pages) Boxall walks the reader through the content of Matthew’s Gospel highlighting the key themes and topics debated by scholars. He begins with the infancy narratives, addressing issues like Jesus as teacher and healer, the function of scripture, the church, and concludes with discussions of Jesus’ death and resurrection. While the discussions of these issues will be familiar ground to most scholars (even those of us who do not work much in Matthew), students should find this discussion insightful and accessible.

An important and welcome feature of Boxall’s book is the constant reference to the history of interpretation. Inspired, of course, by Luz’s monumental work, scholars have been keenly interested in how Matthew has been interpreted throughout church history. An important feature of Boxall’s contribution is that he often shows how today’s readings mirror ancient ones. For example, he notes the similarities between Bornkamm’s interpretation of the calming of the storm as a model of discipleship and earlier readings, such as Peter Chrysologus, bishop of Ravenna in the fifth century, who ‘offered an ecclesiological interpretation of the boat’ (p.117). Linking present interpretations with similar ones from the past should help eliminate the notion that all early interpretations are simply wrong and must be abandoned.

Boxall also notes how Matthew has been depicted in art. I think this is important as it helps us see how the texts have influenced others, and in turn how the depiction of scenes from the gospel may influence us in our readings. Perhaps if a revised edition is done, some pictures can be included to help get the full fell of the paintings.

While I would quibble over certain positions, as far as an introductory volume goes, this one is helpful. The book addresses all the standard features that one expects in an introductory book, but in a user-friendly and especially student-friendly manner. Students will benefit from the clarity of Boxall’s discussion.

I was pleased to see that the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL) recently posted three reviews of my book, Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians (CUP, 2012). I’m not sure why my book deserved three reviews in a single publication, but I appreciate the publicity. I’m also grateful that the reviews are generally positive.

Jason Weaver writes:

Goodrich’s perspective on Paul as administrator in 1 Corinthians is both unique and intriguing. He carefully and successfully demonstrates how an understanding of the metaphor as a private commercial administrator helps the reader to understand Paul’s approach to apostolic authority. His examination of the ancient background of oikonomos is clear and well-structured. His critiques of other scholarship are both fair and balanced. Overall, Goodrich is successful in defending his thesis and providing a new and thoughtprovoking perspective on two difficult Pauline texts.

Korinna Zamfir says:

The exploration of the office of oikonomoi in the Greco-Roman world is an excellent enterprise… The description of Paul’s position in the Corinthian community is convincing in the main… The volume is an important contribution to the discussion of Paul’s apostolic authority and offers a significant insight into the social background that shaped the language and imagery used by early Christians.

Kathy Ehrensperger’s remarks, on the other hand, are less flattering. Although she doesn’t challenge any of my historical, exegetical, or theological conclusions, she heavily criticizes my introduction. To be sure, I anticipated some of the criticisms I received from her. Ehrensperger has written an excellent book on a related topic (Paul and the Dynamics of Power [T&T Clark, 2009]), which investigates a number of Pauline power motifs and builds on a good theoretical foundation. More than anything Ehrensperger criticizes my lack of theoretical reflection, while also insisting that I have both misundertood her work and been “noncourteous” in my assessment of others:

This [lack of theoretical reflection] is one of the main weaknesses of the study, and it leads to some misunderstandings of colleagues’ works (I nowhere in my work claim that “apostolic authority” or hierarchies are rendered obsolete in Pauline communities; the arguments refer to Paul’s role as a teacher, not to “ecclesial structures” per se; see 135–36 in my Paul and the Dynamics of Power) and to rather noncourteous evaluations of others’ (e.g., as “confusion”; see 13, 19). The language of scholarly debate should reflect the legitimacy and plausibility of divergent views and approaches, in my view.

A more robust discussion of modern theories of power would have certainly benefited my work. Regrettably, I hadn’t the time or space to include it. In fact, from the beginning of the project my primary aim was to focus on the historical and conceptual background/source domain of Paul’s metaphor and to allow my historical and exegetical insights to support and refine the larger constructive projects of others, not least that of Ehrensperger, whose work I explicitly endorse in my conclusion.

What I take issue with, then, are Ehrensperger’s claims that (1) I was “noncourteous” in my interaction with others, and (2) I have misunderstood her work. First, it never occurred to me that “confusion” is an offensive word; I would have thought it was quite a fair way to characterize an unresolved scholarly debate. Second, the remark was in no way directed toward her, but to the general state of scholarship on how best to illuminate Paul’s oikonomos/oikonomia metaphors in 1 Corinthians. I am happy to legitimate divergent views and approaches (esp. as they concern models and theories for studying power in the NT). What I was identifying as “confusing/confusion” was the way that respected scholars talk past each other when they draw on ancient sources from a variety of social and adminstrative domains in their competing interpretations of Pauline texts.

Secondly, while it is possible that I have misunderstood Ehrensperger, it could be that she herself was simply unclear on the issues in her book that I failed to grasp. In her review of my book, Ehrensperger claims that I have misrepresented her: “I nowhere in my work claim that ‘apostolic authority’ or hierarchies are rendered obsolete in Pauline communities; the arguments refer to Paul’s role as a teacher, not to ‘ecclesial structures’ per se.” But the way I represented her work seems to be close to, if not precisely how, others have also summarized her argument. Note the following sound bites and summaries from reviews of Ehrensperger’s book:

The power that Paul exercised over the communities that he had founded “aimed at rendering itself obsolete” as Paul labored to impart to the community members the practical and discursive tools requisite to achieving “maturity” in Christ and thus to a position of semi-equality with Paul himself (62)… In the book’s final chapter, Ehrensperger completes her portrait of the power structure inherent in the Pauline letters (and within the early Christian movement generally) as one that contrasts with the oppressive structures of Roman imperialism. The power structure inherent in the early Christian movement was temporally self-limited, aimed at rendering itself obsolete (198, citing 1 Cor 14:20). (Thomas Blanton, Review of Biblical Literature)

Paul did not do away with hierarchy, nor did he simply turn existing hierarchies upside down. Instead, Paul redefined how ‘asymmetrical’ relationships are to function and put temporal, functional, and other limits upon the hierarchies that necessarily existed in faith communities. (Wade J. Berry, The Bible & Critical Theory)

One of its greatest merits is to show that even asymetrical power relationships are not necessarily relationships of domination/subordination, nor temporally permanent… (Ian Boxall, Scripture Bulletin [this one was posted on the publisher's website!])

Ehrensperger’s contrapuntal reading is evident as she understands Paul to be in a hierarchically-defined, asymmetrical relationship with his addressees but that this relationship was temporary and that planned obsolescence, similar to Wartenberg’s concept of “transformative power” (61) describes accurately Paul’s application of power. (J. Brian Tucker, Biblical Theology Bulletin)

None of these other reviewers appears to have interpreted Ehrensperger as saying that Paul’s planned obsolescence of hierarchies and power structures applied only to his role as teacher. Perhaps I have misunderstood her argument, and if so, I apologize. But it could be that Ehrensperger herself is to be blame for not making her argument clear.

Plan to arrive at SBL a day early this year. On Friday 21st November starting at 12:30 some of the world’s top Pauline scholars will gather to discuss ‘Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination’. This special session, being organised by my co-bloggers Ben and John and myself, includes presentations from N.T. Wright, Martinus de Boer, Loren Stuckenbruck, Philip Ziegler, Michael Gorman, Edith Humphrey, Douglas Campbell, Beverly Gaventa, and John Barclay.

Here is the description:

Across various branches of biblical and theological study, there is a renewed interest in ‘apocalyptic’. This development is seen particularly in the study of Paul’s theology, where it is now widely agreed that Paul promotes an ‘apocalyptic theology’. However, there is little agreement on what this means. Scholars from different perspectives have, as a result, continued to talk past each other. This special session provides an opportunity for leading Pauline scholars from different perspectives to engage in discussion about the meaning of Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Indeed, one of the strengths and aims of this event is that different and opposing views are set next to each other. The session will hopefully bring greater clarity to the ‘apocalyptic’ reading of Paul by providing much needed definition to central terms and interpretive approaches and by highlighting both their strengths and weaknesses.

 

N.T. Wright’s volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God was eagerly anticipated by many and broke the back of many mail carriers. For those looking for some help through the massive two-volumes, Larry Hurtado is posting on some key issues. After an introductory post, in which he comments on the length of the work, Hurtado focuses on Wright’s Christology. In the second post, he questions Wright’s claim that in Paul’s view Jesus is the personal return of YHWH. In the third post, he challenges Wright’s understanding of how Jesus’ messiahship functioned in Paul’s thought and its significance for Pauline theology. All three posts are very helpful for seeing the differences between these two leading scholars. Also, in the comments Richard Bauckham and Crispin Fletcher-Louis have weighed in.

The posts can be found here: “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: Wright’s big Opus; “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: 2nd Posting; and Messiah and Worship.

John Frederick has a lenghty review of my thesis (Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians, Cambridge, 2012) in the most recent issue of JETS (56.4, pp. 877-80). I appreciate that he read the entire monograph and that he has some very kinds things to say of the work. If ever we meet at SBL, drinks are on me!

Paul and the Faithfulness of GodLike so many SBL returnees, I’ve been in recent weeks reading through select portions of N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013). Everything, so far as I can tell, seems to be fairly straightforwardly Wrightian, both in viewpoint and style. In fact, I’ve just been reading his treatment on Romans 9-11 and have enjoyed (though respectfully disagreed with) his exegesis of 11:25-27, where he defends the view that “all Israel” refers to the multi-ethnic church. One particularly witty statement that made me laugh out loud, however, concerns his comparison of himself to Paul quoting Elijah (Rom 11:3-4):

That, I propose, is how we should read 11.26a; kai houtōs pas Israēl sōthēsetai, ‘and in this way “all Israel shall be saved”‘. At this point an exegete arguing my present case may well feel like Paul as he quotes Elijah; ‘I’m the only one left!’ It is not true, of course. There may not be seven thousand, but there might be seven or more out there who have not . . . well, perhaps we had better not complete that sentence. (p. 1239)

Glad you stopped where you did, Tom! But a well-played rhetorical move nevertheless :) I suppose therein lies definitive proof that one need not provide a full quotation in order to evoke a source’s entire context.

On another note, it is interesting how may chiasms Wright both detects in Paul and employs throughout this book. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of his back-and-forth, chiastic treatment of Romans 9-11. Even if Paul returns to numerous themes at various parts of the argument, I haven’t found Wright’s unique presentation of that material to be in anyway more effective than a generally linear, passage-by-passage commentary through the text. But maybe that’s due to my typically western way of thinking.

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