I’ve just listened to N. T. Wright’s lecture on “Israel in Pauline Theology” from the HBU conference held a little over a week ago (see below). I’ve read Wright plenty before on this and related issues, so there were no real surprises here in his exegesis and overall reading of Paul. For Wright, Jesus Christ and the multi-ethnic church are the true Israel. Thus, Paul does not anticipate any yet-fulfilled mass conversion of Israelites prior to the second coming (as the scholarly majority seems to understand Rom 11:25-26 to predict).

I’m quite happy with the way Wright interprets many individual texts, though I disagree with him on at least a couple of significant issues in the lecture (esp. Rom 11:25-26), and ultimately with his final position. I won’t quibble with the content of his exegesis, since many capable scholars have already done this elsewhere (in addition to many mainline commentators, see, e.g., the recent article by my colleague Michael G. Vanlaningham, “An Evaluation of N. T. Wright’s View of Israel in Romans 11,” BibSac 170 (2013): 179-93). But there are a few things Wright says or does (methodologically) here that I think are just plain odd, even for him.

First, given the topic of Wright’s lecture, I was surprised by how quickly he asserted his position on the meaning of “Israel of God” in Gal 6:16 and then just moved on. Near the end of the 57th minute, he says, “[In] Galatians 6:16, he [Paul] calls the church ‘the Israel of God’; I think there is no doubt about that.” That’s it. No exegesis and no argument. This is unfortunate considering how much discussion that verse has received and how many scholars plainly disagree with Wright on this text (see, e.g.,  Susan Grove Eastman, “Israel and the Mercy of God: A Re-reading of Galatians 6.16 and Romans 9-11,” NTS 56 [2010]: 367-95; Bruce Longenecker, “Salvation History in Galatians and the Making of a Pauline Discourse,” JSPL 2 [2012]: 65-87, at 79-80).

To be sure, Wright warns at the beginning of the lecture that he will principally focus on passages that don’t use the term “Israel” at all. I suppose that’s fine. But it is astonishing that he then so quickly bypasses those that do while also maintaining how crucial they are for a coherent reading of Paul. What I mean is that, in my opinion, Wright terribly exagerates the significance of Gal 6:16 and Rom 11:25-26 in Pauline thought when, at the 59th minute, he says, “if those passages don’t refer to the church, then Paul has just unmade the whole theological structure he has so obviously got throbbing through his head and his heart.” Again, this is just asserted, not argued: it is as if he simply forces his entire pre-conceived ecclesiology onto the two passages. Exegetical debates aside, it is just baffingly to me that Wright would place so much significance on two texts he hardly discusses in this hour-long lecture, or to put it the other way around, that he would hardly discuss two texts he considers to be so important.

Finally, as a progressive dispensationalist, I was confused at the 12th minute when he responded to the claim of some dispensationalists (not me) that in Romans 11 Paul predicts the return of the Jews to the land. Wright says in response, “This would be odd [for Paul to predict], not least, because of course when Paul wrote Romans, they [Israel] had not left it [i.e., the land] in the first place,” a comment that sounds like it incited a great deal of laughter. But what does Wright mean about the Jews having not left the land? Had the Jewish Diaspora come to an end before 57 AD? There were obviously thousands upon thousands of Israelites still scattered across the Mediterannean. So I don’t get it. This is a very odd criticism, and one that too quickly won the audience’s approval.

Nonetheless, I appreciate Wright’s attempt to read ALL of Paul and to make his entire theological vision work together, even if I disagree with how he goes about it. I may have my summer school Romans class listen to this lecture (and maybe another one of Wright’s on justification), since it provides a good representation of Wright’s system and is generally quite easy to follow.

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.


I noted this at the Texts and Traditions in the Second Century

For those of you in the North Texas area, TCU has a regular gathering to discuss the second century called the Second Century Seminar. The next meeting will be April 3rd and features a paper by David Moessner on the Papias fragments in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical Histories. For more details and to RSVP (please RSVP by March 24th) send an email to Lindsey Trozzo at

Paul and Judaism landscape

Let me invite you to a major event we’re hosting here at HBU next week. N.T. Wright, former bishop of Durham and now Professor at St Andrews University, will be giving two public lectures in Dunham Theater: Wednesday (3/19) at 11am and Thursday (3/20) at 7pm. All are welcome, and there is no cost to attend nor need for registration for the conference (see below) to come to Wright’s lectures. In addition to his very helpful For Everyone series, Wright has written numerous scholarly works that have helped shape the face of New Testament studies in the last several decades, not least his Christian Origins series. In fact, his very recent work on Paul in this series will be the source of his talks here: Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (If 1600 pages is too much, check out the short version in Paul: In Fresh Perspective.)

Concurrent with Dr Wright’s visit, we are hosting a conference on Paul and Judaism. Internationally respected Pauline scholars, Beverly Gaventa and Ross Wagner, will be our other plenary speakers, in addition to shorter paper sessions. If you want to push in a little deeper on Paul, we would love for you to join us for the conference.

We hope you invite friends to come hear these excellent scholars with you. For more details on any of these items, see the conference website:

Houston Baptist University is hosting a conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20, 2014. Our keynote speakers include N.T. Wright (St Andrews University), Beverly Gaventa (Baylor University), and Ross Wagner (Duke Divinity School).

In addition to the keynote speakers, we are inviting papers in the area of Paul and Judaism, representing a variety of approaches from scholars and graduate students. Participants will have 30 minutes to present papers (inclusive of Q&A). Please submit a 200-300 word abstract to Dr. Ben C. Blackwell at bblackwell[at] by January 15, 2014, and you should receive notification regarding acceptance by January 31. Registration by February 15 is required for those who will present at the conference.

For more info:


I’m not sure how long it has been out, but the SBL online program book is now available to search, if you’re interested in finding out who’s presenting on what and when. Let me know if you spot any “can’t miss” sessions!

I’m spending a month at Tyndale House this summer on research leave. One event that overlapped with my time here was the meeting of the Tyndale Fellowship NT Study Group. Other groups meet as well, such as the OT, ethics and theology. These groups run at the beginning of July each year. This year’s papers included several from current PhD students, and the NT Tyndale Paper was given by Dr Hanna Stettler (University of Tübingen, Germany) on the question ‘Did Paul Invent Justification by Faith?’ in which she explored potential connections between Paul and Luke 18.

If you are a PhD student wanting to try out your research, I think these groups are a good place. You will receive constructive criticism, but there is a completely different feeling to the session. No one is attempting to make a name for themselves or trying to stand out.

The meetings are on the smaller side, unlike SBL, and people are not running from one session to the next. This means that you have a chance to talk with people like Howard Marshall or to meet new people. This year I met Tim Gombis (who blogs at Faith Improvised) and Erwin Ochsenmeier (who blogs at Foursenses). One of the enjoyable things about Tyndale is the international element. Another enjoyable feature, and this goes for the British New Testament Conference as well, is that everyone eats meals together. Sharing a meal changes the dynamics of a meeting and is a reminder that life is about more than just research.

So, if you are in the UK at the beginning of July, you should think about coming along to one of the Tyndale Fellowship Study Groups.

On May 3rd, John Barclay gave the inaugural lecture of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible, of St. Mary’s University College, UK. Barclay’s lecture, “Paul and the Gift: Gift-Theory, Grace and Critical Issues in the Interpretation of Paul,” summarized much of what will undoubtedly appear at length in his forthcoming book on Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans). Thankfully, St. Mary’s has made the video lecture available on YouTube.

There’s a conference in Edinburgh this summer that you might be interested in:

Peter in Earliest Christianity
July 4-6, 2013

Speakers include: Timothy Barnes, Markus Bockmuehl, Sean Freyne, Larry Hurtado, Peter Lampe, Tobias Nicklas, Margaret Williams

Topics include: The Historical Peter, Peter in Galilean and Roman Archaeology, Peter in the First Three Centuries

Sounds like a good mix of NT, Greco-Roman, and Patristic scholarship.  Those of you headed to St. Andrews for ISBL (July 7-11) should come to Edinburgh for this event first.

Last weekend I went to the Southwest Regional Conference for Religious Studies (SWCRS, or “swickers”), which is primarily based around the southwest region of SBL and AAR, but ASSR and IBR also had sessions.  I presented a paper and participated in a book review session, about which I’ll blog later.  For this first post, I thought I’d note the highlights from the Friday night event: NABPR.  (I missed the Saturday morning meetings for NABPR because I was staying off site at my brother’s house.)

2013-03-08 21.01.48

On Friday night a group of 15 or so met for the regional meeting of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.  While this is only a select few of the actual members and of the professors at the various baptist schools around TX, AR, MO, and OK(?), we had a number of institutions represented.  Several of us were from Houston Baptist, and other schools such as Baylor, Wayland, Howard Payne, Hardin Simmons, Ouachita (Arkansas), Southwest Baptist (Missouri), and Williams Baptist (Arkansas), among others, had faculty there.

The first half of the session was a presentation by the online tech person from Hardin Simmons.  Everyone in the room was moving towards or already doing some kind of online.  One of the early adopters Southwest Baptist Univ (Missouri) interestingly has been adjusting their online classes towards a hybrid approach that has some form of face-to-face contact because student retention is a problem with online only or online heavy programs.  That makes sense, but I hadn’t thought about it.  Some programs focused on summer online to focus on their students that were going home to do local community college work, whereas others integrate it more into the normal offering.  HBU has started offering some hybrid classes in the Dept of Theology with Charles Halton and Mike Licona.  I’ll be one of the first online only classes this summer, so I’ll get a feel for my first class that way.  If any of you have experiences/war stories send them my way so I can avoid unnecessary problems.


The second half of the evening was the presidential address by HBU’s own David Capes.  He walked through the various issues related to making a modern translation of the Bible, drawing from his immense experience with The Voice translation.   His talk ranged from translation theory to how to deal with unfriendly reporting from national media.  Even as one of the contributors to the project, I always learn something new about the project when I hear David talk.

I’m a big fan of conferences, and having one that includes a little professional development makes it all the more important.

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