Hermeneutics


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.

This is part 2 (see part 1 here) of Matthew Bates’ response to my review (part 1 & part 2) of his excellent book The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation.

Guest Post by Matthew Bates:

Ben’s comment/question:

“I accept [Bates’] thrust that the Christ-event gives the present a hermeneutical priority, but I wonder what a more sustained interaction with Irenaeus (in addition to Barnabas and Justin) on this topic would have produced? …. I find Bates’ exegesis [of Ps 17:50 LXX in Rom 15:9] enlightening, but I don’t see the need to make David such a flat character and therefore I identify more fully with Hays: Christ has the precedence but his role as the Messiah makes sense in light of David’s substantive role as King. Irenaeus has a robust perspective on typological connections (e.g. AH 3.21-3.22), which would offer mixed support and critique of Bates…”

My comments:
If the reader has followed my clarifying remarks regarding typology above, then perhaps the reader can already anticipate my response to Ben’s query. I don’t think Paul had a significantly different use of “types” with respect to the relationship between past and present than Irenaeus.
Now I move on to discuss whether or not Richard Hays’ model (see The Conversion of the Imagination, pp. 101-18) might be preferable to the one that I have proposed. It is important to recognize that I am primarily questioning Hays’ typological explanation for texts in which Paul (and others) found Christ to be the one truly praying a psalm. Hays argues for a double typology inasmuch as David was an anointed one (messiah, Christ) and also a representative that embodied Israel’s national hopes and tragedies. As such, for Hays, as best as I understand him, the Christ can be made the speaker of, for instance, a psalmic lament because David embodies corporate Israel’s sorrows.

Admittedly this is possible, but in my judgment Hays’ typological suggestion is improbable. I believe Paul’s use of the type metaphor demands that Paul has found “iconic mimesis,” that is, participation in a common image. So when we seek to explain Paul’s identification of Christ as the speaker of a psalm of lament through David, the question becomes, If this is “typology,” then what is the common image between the OT text and the Christ that allows Paul to assert that the Christ is the speaker? Is the both-are-messiahs generality enough? I don’t think so. Ben, following Hays, might not find a need “to make David such a flat character.” Yet in an attempt to persuade Ben (and you, O dear reader), I would push back by asking, What specific evidence exists that David was a robust character for Paul in the ways necessary to sustain concrete image linkage in the specific passages in question? For example, if David, as Hays claims, was to be regarded as the symbol of Israel’s national suffering, and this image provides the link, then where is there any specific evidence that Paul held such a view?

I think a much simpler and better-evidenced solution lies ready to hand. David was consistently regarded as a prophet by the earliest Christians, and as such it was believed that David could speak in the person of someone else—he could take on an alternative prosopon, and speak from the person of this new character. For example, see Peter’s “he was a prophet” explanation of how it is that David can be speaking words appropriate only to the Christ in Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-31. That is, I would argue, Paul is doing something similar, engaging in what I call “prosopological exegesis.” The reader will have to look at my book (ch. 4 and 5) to see the details for how and why I argue this, but this argument is grounded historically in early Christian exegesis both internal and external to Paul’s letters.

Ben’s comment/question:
“If the Spirit as an equal member of the Trinity plays a central role [in 2 Cor 3], should there not be more emphasis on or more of [a] place given to the Spirit’s role in Paul’s hermeneutics and not just the content of his message?”

My comments:
I can only say that I suppose I wish there could be more of an emphasis on Spirit’s hermeneutical function here. In constructive theology we can perhaps move beyond Paul’s words, draw on philosophical or traditional resources, and speculate about plausible Trinitarian dimensions beyond what Paul says, but since in my judgment Paul himself doesn’t give the Spirit a definite hermeneutical function in 2 Corinthians 3 or elsewhere, we are simply historically constrained. Paul does affirm the Spirit’s generally providential role in aiding us in all spiritual matters (1 Cor 2:6-16), and the work of the Spirit in making the confession that’s indicative of conversion (1 Cor 12:3), but the idea that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17) is a hermeneutical statement is, in my judgment, problematic since freedom here almost certainly means freedom from the performance-demanding legislation of the Old Covenant, not interpretative freedom (contra Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 149). When you buy your copy The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (which I trust all readers will do cheerfully and with alacrity), then see my fuller discussion in ch. 3 and ch. 6.

Ben’s comment/question:
“I was surprised but not bothered by the fact that [Bates] returns unapologetically to the specifically Trinitarian implications of Paul’s hermeneutic. (We’re fortunate that he’s got a forthcoming volume tentatively titled The Birth of the Trinity….)”

My comments:
I am glad, Ben, that you found my chapters that focused on prosopological exegesis particularly compelling, as these are what I regard as my most novel contribution, and that you also were intrigued by the Trinitarian implications. My second book, tentatively The Birth of Trinity (the manuscript is complete), will look at the phenomenon of prosopological exegesis in first- and second-century Christianity more broadly and how this method of reading contributed to Christology and the growth of Trinitarian doctrine. Some of my main conversation partners in this forthcoming book are Larry Hurtado (One God, One Lord and Lord Jesus Christ), Richard Bauckham, (God Crucified and Jesus and the God of Israel), Simon Gathercole (The Pre-Existent Son), James Dunn (Christology in the Making), and John Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins (King and Messiah as Son of God). I think this new prosopological angle produces some stimulating results. I hope you and your readers are sufficiently piqued, so that you will dip into The Birth of the Trinity once it is released.

All the best,

~Matthew W. Bates

When I started doing book reviews as a PhD student, someone recommended to send my reviews to the author directly.  It helps you keep in mind they will read it more closely than anyone else, and it will remind you to keep your comments civil since they are directed at a person and not a faceless journal audience.  I did that with my review of Matt Bates’ The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (part 1 and part 2), and offered for him to do a response to clarify any misunderstandings I had and further the conversation.  Thus, the following is the first part of his response.  (He sent this several weeks ago, and due to some email snafus I am just now posting it.  My apologies, Matt!)  I know you’ll be enriched by his discussion.

Guest Post by Matthew Bates:

Greetings to all of you. First of all, I want to thank Ben Blackwell and the other contributors at Dunelm Road for extending me an invitation to supply a guest post—an unexpected pleasure. This is my first foray as a writer into the blogosphere, so psychologically this is a big step for me. Indeed, I haven’t exactly embraced this new social-media laced world with open arms. My face is not booked. I don’t tweet. And although I finally got around to creating an academia.edu profile a couple months ago, I still wouldn’t consider myself truly linked in. But I am working on it. So, today as a guest writer for Dunelm Road, I appreciate the opportunity to reap all of the undeniable benefits of biblioblogging—the lustrous fame, the plush advertising revenues, the posh book deals, the billions of adoring fans—while also avoiding its dark underbelly—the inevitable posting of a check-out-this-weird-thing-my-cat-just-did youtube video in order to stave off the mounting pressure to write something intelligent and coherent for the blog every couple days! No, seriously, I appreciate the biblioblogging community for keeping all of us non-regular bloggers up to date on various happenings in the biblical studies world.

It is of course an honor to have had my first book, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, blog-reviewed by Ben. I myself have had occasion to enjoy some of his research work as we share common interests. In previous posts Ben has already supplied a solid overview of my book (see part I) and an excellent critical evaluation (see part II). He also asked a couple questions.

So what’s on tap for my guest post? Well, of course, I am going to try my best to answer Ben’s questions and respond to issues raised. Also, as is inevitably the case, probably because I wasn’t sufficiently lucid in the book itself, there are a couple little things in Ben’s review that I want to clarify. Moreover, since this might be my one and only shot at extreme social-media self-promotion—I am thinking of those billions of Dunelm Road readers—I want to say a few words about how my work on prosopological exegesis in this first book bridges to my second book, tentatively titled The Birth of the Trinity.

I will use a dialogical format, giving Ben’s question/comment from the previous posts followed by my response:

Ben’s comment/question:
“[Bates] argues that we should understand Paul’s hermeneutics as thoroughly Christian rather than Jewish”
and (summarizing)
Bates leans in an “either/or” direction on this issue.

My response:
In intention (if not in effect), I was trying to argue two things. (1) That Paul was a Jew and that he did use Jewish interpretative techniques, and that the study of such techniques generally continues to be helpful and fruitful (e.g., as in Francis Watson’s Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith), but that we can’t stop there in comparative studies, because Paul was a special sort of Jew—one who had embraced Jesus as messiah. So if perchance I give off an “either/or” vibe, I would nonetheless consider myself very much “both/and.” (2) Yet because scholarship has already repeatedly and nearly exhaustively compared moments of Pauline exegesis of the OT to all the Jewish parallels, but has scarcely even begun to compare to Christian parallels, we are more likely to discover new insights through the latter. Thus, my specific focus on situating Paul amidst other early Christian exegetes in this book.

Ben’s comment/question:
“Bates’ intention is to dismantle the emphasis upon typology as a means to describe Paul’s interpretation.”
and
For Bates, “[older texts] don’t have to speak about the old event and then make a correspondence to the contemporary event (as in typology). They just speak directly to the contemporary event/issue.”
and
For Bates, “…a correspondence between past and present is not the focus, only the present is.”
and
“Bates deconstructs Hays’ and others’ use of the language of typology, arguing that typology is focused on the (Christ-informed) present, rather than working from past to the present.”

My response:
I can certainly see, due to my tone and emphasis, why Ben might feel like my intention is to dismantle typology and to exclude the past referent, but I would like to think my point about typology is more subtle. (But then again, I always like to think that I am being clever and subtle when it is perhaps more likely that I am being obscure or inscrutable).

I want to deconstruct typology only in the sense that, unlike allegory (Greek: allegoria), typology is not an ancient term for an interpretative technique—in fact, it wasn’t an ancient term at all but is a modern neologism. So “type” (Greek: typos) language is a metaphor, a kind of trope, not a reified exegetical technique for Paul or his contemporaries. But this doesn’t mean that the “type” metaphor lacks hermeneutical significance for Paul when he uses it in 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 and in Romans 5:14. So, the real question is what does Paul intend when he deploys the “type” metaphor? Drawing on my own lexical analysis and Frances Young’s Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture, I determine that “iconic mimesis” is at the heart of Paul’s “type” language—that is, imitation predicated on participation in a common image.

An author’s use of “type” language can be based on that author’s identification of an image in a past-tense narrative that is then found to reoccur in the present, but other configurations are also possible. For example, an author might first observe the image in the present, and then retrospectively look backwards and find the image prefigured in an earlier text. If indeed (as I argue) Paul tends toward the latter, that is he begins with the apostolic proclamation and mission, and then looks backward to the OT text to find the imitation, then Paul’s use of “type” isn’t thereby excluding the past or narrowly focused on the Christ-informed present, but rather Paul is drawing attention to the resonance between certain OT events and the his present, and this resonance gives both the past OT events and present events a heightened significance.

(Part 2 of the response will follow soon.)

I am continuing my review of Matt Bates’ The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation.  See my summary of the argument of the book in part 1 of the review.  This post will focus on my evaluation of the argument.

Methdology

Though the focus of Bates’ project is by far and away exegetical, he widens the field of vision beyond that of the first century by exploring later Christian use of biblical texts as a window into understanding Paul better.  Those of you who know my own work on the helpfulness of the Wirkungsgeschichte of biblical texts (see my Christosis) won’t be surprised by my interest in and support of Bates’ project.  In situating his project vis-a-vis that of Watson, he argues that we should understand Paul’s hermeneutics as thoroughly Christian rather than Jewish.  I view this particular issue (and wider engagement with the Wirkungsgeschichte) as less either/or than Bates, but ultimately the shared Christocentrism of NT and post-NT texts does mean that the later texts might have more in common than comparator Jewish texts.  That being said Paul’s Christian (or kerygmatic) hermeneutic arose specifically in a Jewish context and so this context should not be ignored.  Of course, this is not a critique of Bates for not exploring it–there are only so many topics a book can address–but a caution about the rhetoric.

While his study of the Wirkungsgeschichte of these texts positively (and strongly) supports Bates’ emphasis on prosopological exegesis, I’m not sure the later Christians would be as supportive of his treatment of typology.  Briefly, Bates deconstructs Hays’ and others’ use of the language of typology, arguing that typology is focused on the (Christ-informed) present, rather than working from the past to the present.  See his clear discussion on pg 147-48.  I accept his thrust that the Christ-event gives the present a hermeneutical priority, but I wonder what a more sustained interaction with Irenaeus (in addition to Barnabas and Justin) on this topic would have produced?  For instance, in his application of this present-focused perspective with Romans 15.9 (p 301-2), Bates asserts that Paul is basically not concerned with David (Ps 17.50 LXX) as Hays asserts.  I find Bates’ exegesis enlightening, but I don’t see the need to make David such a flat character and therefore I identify more fully with Hays: Christ has the precedence but his role as the Messiah makes sense in light of David’s substantive role as King.  Irenaeus has a robust perspective on typological connections (e.g. AH 3.21-3.22), which would offer mixed support and critique of Bates: Irenaeus ignores the place of the virgin in Isaiah giving preference only to the Christ-informed present, whereas Adam’s and Eve’s roles as historical characters are very important.

On a related note, Bates’ inclusion of the steps in the process of developing an argument drawn from the rhetorical handbooks is enlightening for the topic of typology (and other tropes).  He concedes that it wasn’t a rigid process and that we can’t be certain of Paul’s specific engagement with the method, but if the choice of the evidence preceded the method of employing the evidence with particular tropes (like typology), this definitely strengthens his case.  Of course, Paul’s rhetorical training is highly debated, some will find the evidence more or less convincing.  But it is definitely relevant to the discussion.

Apostolic Kerygma

With use of these terms, Bates captures the heart of Paul’s hermeneutical practice in that the scriptural (OT) witness points to Christ (kerygma) and this witness forms the mission and practice of the church (apostolic).  As I mentioned, this could be positively compared to Hays’ description of Paul’s hermeneutic as Christocentric and ecclesiotelic (a revision from his original ‘ecclesiocentric’ assessment).  I particularly liked chapter 2 where Bates traces Paul’s larger perspective and puts this context of his support from the scriptures.

Bates does not focus only on Christ in the study: I was surprised but not bothered by the fact that he regularly returns unapologetically to the specifically Trinitarian implications of Paul’s hermeneutic.  (We’re fortunate that he’s got a forthcoming volume tentatively titled The Birth of the Trinity, which focuses just on this issue so we can see the argumentation developed more fully through the NT.)

I have a question related to his interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 and this Trinitarian structure in Paul’s theology.  If the Spirit as an equal member of the Trinity plays a central role, should there not be more emphasis on or more of place given to the Spirit’s role in Paul’s hermeneutics and not just the content of his message?  A key place where Bates discusses this is his exegesis of 2 Corinthians 3.  This is just about the only place in his monograph where I couldn’t see how it built towards his larger argument.  He explained how his reading is moving beyond the “literal-spiritual” distinction, but in the end his employment of the verba-res distinction seemed to return partially to the literal-spiritual.  As a New Covenant passage, a distinct emphasis is on the Spirit as the agent of transforming our understanding.  As a result, the Spirit is fundamental to all forms of knowing, but particularly understanding the meaning of the OT.  When combined with passages like 1 Corinthians 2-3, Paul imho has a strongly informed Spirit-epistemology.  If we combine this with a larger Trinitarian perspective, the role of the Spirit could be seen as even more elevated.  The later Christians made much of the Spirit’s role.  See, e.g., Wilken’s Spirit of Early Christian Thought pg 73ff.

Prosopological Exegesis

The heart of the volume is Bates’ engagement with the issue of prosopological exegesis, and this is where the work shines.  Bates demonstrates the employment of this method in ancient literature in a variety of authors from various cultural/theological perspectives.  He concedes that this exegesis is not used in the majority of Pauline uses of the OT, but it occurs enough to give an insight into Paul’s larger perspective.  That is, it coheres with Paul’s apostolic kerygma.  This conclusion is evident from Bates’ careful exegesis.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this to anyone working in the area of NT use of the OT.  For beginners, Bates introduces you to all the right players and nicely interacts with them throughout and with substantive engagement in the concluding chapter.  However, this does not mean that the monograph is just for beginners.  Bates takes the discussion forward in new ways, which is an accomplishment in a field with so many world-class scholars.

Matthew Bates (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame), currently Assistant Professor of Theology at Quincy University, has provided us with a fine discussion of Pauline use of the OT in his The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation. I received a review copy from Baylor press a few months back, and I’m finally getting around to posting my thoughts.

Over the last few decades the NT use and interpretation has garnered a growing level of interest, and Bates wades into a discussion dominated by some of the biggest names in Pauline scholarship–Richard Hays, Francis Watson, Christopher Stanley, Steve Moyise and Ross Wagner.  While not changing the whole tenor of the conversation, Bates contribution effectively widens the scope of evidence and provides a new lens on some of Paul’s uses of scripture.

A Brief Summary

Chapter 1.  Bates thoroughly lays out the history of research into Paul’s use of the OT.  In fact this is one of the most comprehensive reviews I’ve read in any dissertation/monograph.  Though informed about the issues, I wasn’t previously aware of some of the nuances of various approaches, so this was quite helpful.  He ultimately works towards two deficiencies in the field.  The first, modeled by Watson, is focusing solely on Jewish comparators.  The second relates to Hays’ limited employment of Bahktin, whose work calls for a consideration of the polysemous nature of texts in their original context and later contexts.  Hays, he says, focuses on the polysemous nature of texts, but he doesn’t take into account later contexts.  Accordingly, he calls for a “diachronic intertextuality” in which the interpretive methods of later post-Pauline interpreters are brought into the frame of comparison, rather than merely Paul and his contemporaries.

Chapter 2. Here the importance of scripture for Paul in forming his basic gospel narrative is the focus.  Rather than picking Pauline passages that directly quote scripture, Bates chooses two passages where Paul summarizes his key message (in “protocreeds”): 1 Cor 15.3-11 and Rom 1.1-6.  In both these passages, which receive detailed exegesis, Bates shows that the narrative of the Messiah is one that Paul sees as developing from his interpretation of scripture.   He summarizes the details of his exegesis by developing a 12-stage narrative in two sections: stages 1-8 relate to the story of Christ and 9-12 relate to apostolic mission arising out of the Christ event.  Though Bates doesn’t use these terms, it seems that he is detailing what Hays in his later revision of his work on intertexuality (see Conversion) would describe as a christocentric and ecclesiotelic model of interpretation.  Bates uses the terms kerygma and apostolic to capture this.

Chapter 3. Bates next brings in the results from study of rhetorical handbooks to explain how scriptures would be employed to support Paul’s apostolic kerygma.  Bates’ intention is to dismantle the emphasis upon typology as a means to describe Paul’s interpretation.  The key to this argument is considering the stage in which scripture would be employed in writing (based on the rhetorical handbooks).   Though he concedes these steps don’t happen rigidly, the order is important: 1) invention, 2) arrangement, 3) expression, 4) memory, and 5) delivery.  The collection of material to use in an argument (for Paul, scriptural texts) happens with the invention stage (1), whereas the employment of that material to the audience through tropes (metalepsis, metaphor, allegory, etc.) would occur in the expression stage (3).  That is, typology (a trope) would be just verbal dressing meant to convince, but this would not be the heart of his argument.  Since Paul has a unified view of the divine economy he can use older texts to speak about current events, which can only be viewed in light of Christ and the apostolic kerygma.  They don’t have to speak about the old event and then make a correspondence to the contemporary event (as in typology).  They just speak directly to the contemporary event/issue.  Bates goes through a number of Pauline passages to demonstrate this: Rom 5.14; 1 Cor 10.1-11; Gal 4.21-31; and 2 Cor 3.1-4.6.

Chapter 4. One central example of reading the Old Testament as speaking directly to or within the contemporary frame is through prosopological exegesis.  That is, an interpreter encounters an inspired writing which has an ambiguous voice/saying, and the interpreter “resolves the perceived uncertainty by assigning a suitable prosopon to the speaker or the addressee (or both) to explain the text” (217).  In this chapter, Bates does not focus on Paul but rather Greek, Jewish, and later Christian writers to show how this method of interpretation was employed.  This is particularly where his “diachronic intertextuality” model comes into play.  After establishing the existence and execution of the practice, he turns in the next chapter to explore how Paul employs this.

Chapter 5. Bates walks through several Pauline passages that meet his criteria for the possibility of prosopological exegesis: Rom 10.6-8; 15.3; 10.16; 10.19-21; 11.9-10; 14.11; 15.9; and 2 Cor 4.13.  Of these passages, he cogently explains how Paul inserts/hears Christ (or others) as the ambiguous speaker in OT texts.  Paul only explicitly introduces prosopological exegesis in Rom 10.6-8, but the other texts explored (besides 10.19-21) clearly show prosopological exegesis.  While 10.19-21 may appear to be prosopological, Bates argues against seeing this employed in that passage.  Importantly, Bates doesn’t conclude that this method of exegesis is the key to unlock every use of the OT (cf pg 326), but it does give insight into Paul’s perspective on the unified divine economy.

Chapter 6. In his final chapter Bates gives a gift to his readers.  He revisits all of the major conversation partners in modern scholarship and explains how his research affirms, critiques, or refutes their work.  He prefigures this in chapter 1, but having a clear discussion about each scholar’s work in light of his research is again very helpful for framing its significance in larger debates.  I’ll note two here.  In distinction to Watson’s decision to explore Paul in light of fellow Jewish interpreters, Bates finds Paul’s fellow Christians, especially those a century or so later, to be better models of helping us understand Paul’s methods.  In contrast to Hays who finds a form of typology important for Paul’s exegesis, Bates argues that the method of selecting and employing texts doesn’t support that view and more importantly the contemporary Christ-informed setting consumes Paul’s vision such that a correspondence between past and present is not the focus, only the present is.

Hopefully, that is an adequate summary of the argument.  It only scratches the surface of the exegesis and work put into the monograph.  I will return in my next post to give my evaluation of the work.

I have an article in the latest volume of JBL (131.3 [2012], 547-66) titled “Voluntary Debt Remission and the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13).” JBL doesn’t include abstracts, but here is a lengthy soundbite at the end of the survey/critique of existing interpretations that, more or less, explains what I try to do in the piece:

Numerous other interpretations could be presented here, each with its own shortcomings. The foregoing survey, however, has sufficiently demonstrated the common assumption underlying most of these inadequate explanations, namely, that unless the steward is deducting from his own profits, the reductions are to be viewed as hostile to his master, or in the words of Douglas E. Oakman, as “betrayal” and “an abrogation of the then-current social mores of fidelity.” Kloppenborg similarly remarks, “[T]he natural implication of the story is that the steward’s actions are injurious to the master’s interests.” Schellenberg concurs, explaining, “The expectation within the world of the parable [is] that loyal stewardship requires meticulous collection of the master’s debts.” But these assumptions rest on a limited understanding of the purpose and function of debt remission in the ancient economy. And since, as Klyne Snodgrass suggests, “[t]his is a parable where one must fill in the blanks,” in this essay I will offer a new explanation of the master’s praise based on the general custom of lease adjustment in the early empire. Through the testimony of Roman landowners such as Pliny the Younger, Cicero, and Columella, as well as those represented in leasing contracts from early Roman Egypt, I will demonstrate that the instability of land tenancy during the early imperial period quite often required wealthy proprietors to reduce debts (rents and arrears) in order to enable and encourage their repayment, as well as to secure the longevity of their tenants and their own long-term profitability. Debt remission in antiquity, then, was advantageous both to landlords and tenants, an insight that has significant implications for the interpretation of our parable (552-53).

If you interested in matters relating to the ancient economy and/or the interpretation of this confusing parable, I would encourage you to check out the article.

In a new article (“Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13: The Denouement of the South Galatian Hypothesis”, NovT 54.4 [2012]: 334-53), Clare Rothschild argues a number of controversial theses relating to the composition of Acts 13 and the text’s relationship to Paul’s letter to the Galatians. She argues that “Luke” (i.e., the author who wrote Acts in 115 C.E.) produced the account of Paul’s visit to South Galatia in Acts 13 without the aid of any historical data about Paul’s actual journey there—that is, with the exception of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians itself. In fact, the account is fictional, and was created for two reasons:

  1. “to provide grounds for Paul’s foundation of the Galatic churches, irrespective of the historicity of its presentation in Acts” (334; she refers to the account throughout as a “desideratum”);
  2. to place Paul in the colony of Pisidian Antioch (“Little Rome”) at the start of his gentile-centered gospel ministry in order to form a literary inclusio with the apostle’s journey to the imperial capital (“Big Rome”) at the end of the book. “Pisidian Antioch,” she explains, “affords Luke an attractively Romanesque departure point for his Roman-born, Roman-named, Rome-bound missionary” (348).

Luke, therefore, perhaps the first proponent of the Southern Galatian hypothesis, mistakenly portrays Paul’s ministry to have taken place in South Galatia, when, in fact, it took place in the north. Her theory, as she explains in the article’s final paragraph, “invalidates the Southern Galatian Hypothesis by demonstrating that South Galatia is based on nothing more than a blank mandate to get Paul to Galatia and a literary advantage of placing him in the South. And, conversely, it confirms the Northern Galatian Hypothesis: for many scholars the more cogent explanation, even before this argument was made” (353).

Rothschild’s article is certainly provocative, if not highly speculative. Indeed, there are a number of problems with her argumentation. First, even if one were to grant her thesis on Acts’ composition and literary structure, it does not follow that the Northern Galatian Hypothesis is thereby “confirmed,” as she supposes. Casting doubt on the historicity of Luke’s account does not prove that Paul never founded churches in Southern Galatian, or that the epistle to the Galatians was addressed to Northern Galatia. She does not, for instance, address the historical difficulties of the Northern Galatian Hypothesis identified by Stephen Mitchell, even though she is clearly aware of them (336-37 n. 5). In fact, Rothschild never actually advances a case for the Northern Galatian Hypothesis, only that Luke’s account in Acts 13 is fictional and its denouement in the plot of Acts lies in its connection with the end of the book.

Moreover, Rothschild believes that her argumentation demonstrates that “South Galatia is based on nothing more than a blank mandate to get Paul to Galatia” (353). But she does not adequately demonstrate the basis of this mandate. Why is Luke so committed to getting Paul to South Galatia if, in fact, he did not have good reason to do so? Was it simply for the literary purpose of bookending Paul’s ministry with Romanesque cities? This is doubtful, since Luke mentions nothing in Acts 13 about Pisidian Antioch being a Roman colony. As Conzelmann remarks, “The Roman character of the city is not recognizable in Acts (in contrast to [Philippi in] 16:12).”

It seems far more plausible, then, that Luke places Paul and company in South Galatia, because that is where they traveled following the conversion of the proconsul Sergius Paulus in Cyprus, whose possessions and prominence in South Galatia made that region an advantageous place to do ministry with the proconsul’s commendation (of course, Rothschild does not accept the historicity of the Cyprus mission, either).

To her first point—that the mission to Pisidian Antioch is creative fiction—she presents five textual features to make her case: “(1) stereotypes; (2) lack of detail; (3) historical inaccuracies; (4) brisk narrative pace; and (5) link between Cyprus and Antioch” (340). I’ll present part of her explanations and then limit my comments to some initial thoughts.

1. Stereotypes:

Stereotypes replace historical information in Acts 13-14, suggesting that the author knows little more about Paul in the region of Galatia than the duty to place him there. If, for the sake of argument, the “three missionary journeys” model for Acts is adopted, the second journey—with its references to Jerusalem—poses by far the most historical questions. Challenges posed by the first journey seem minor in contrast. With some exceptions, traveling from Paphos to Perge, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Attalia comprises the expected Galatian tour. Pisidian Antioch made a natural choice as hub. . . . Antioch was caput viae of this road system, running east through Iconium and Lystra in Lycaonia and southwest through Apollonia and Comama across the Taurus Mountains to Perge in Pamphylia.

In terms of Luke’s narrative, the via Sebaste would have taken Paul on his so-called first journey. In fact, the cities of Paul’s journey beginning in Pisidian Antioch adhere so closely to the route of the via Sebaste as to appear stereotypical. A writer in possession of a map or even just a list of the cities on this road might easily have selected them as an itinerant missionary’s (or other traveler’s) choices in lieu of sources. (340-41)

I find this to be a curious argument. Paul’s route, she explains, “comprises the expected Galatian tour.” I do not understand how one gets from “expected” to “stereotypical” to unhistorical. If this route is in any sense “typical,” why is it not thereby extremely plausible? Her point seems to rest on certain unstated assumptions about how to assess historicity. I suspect that if Luke had Paul traveling a route that was in fact atypical, she could have just as easily used that as grounds to argue for the text’s unreliability.

2. Lack of Detail:

The second observation that Galatia constitutes a desideratum of Luke’s narrative irrespective of access to specific information about Paul’s visit there (either to the North or South) is that, different from other cities [cf. 19:9] . . . Acts’ account of Paul’s visit with Barnabas to this city lacks detail. The account comprises, almost entirely, a speech to Jews and others who “fear God.” As such, the report is a construct of the Lukan imagination. Whereas the episodes about Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (14:1-20) feature local color in lieu of historical detail, the report about Pisidian Antioch lacks both. (342)

This is a bit misleading, since, as Rothschild assumes in the second half of the article, Luke knew plenty about the Romanization of Antioch to use the colony to form an inclusio with Acts 28. Knowing enough about Antioch to consider it to be “Little Rome” seems at least comparable to the “local color” that Luke knows of other cities visited on Paul’s first mission. If Luke was not aware enough of the colony’s “local color” to report Paul’s visit in any detail, why is it fair to assume he knew enough about the Romanization of the colony to use it in an inclusio? This sounds like special pleading.

3. Historical Inaccuracies:

Third, what little the narrative offers about Paul in Galatia is not always accurate. Although 13:13 mentions that the missionaries arrive from Paphos at Perge—Perge was not on the coast and the nearest tributary (i.e., the Cestrus River) was still eight kilometers from this city. Pisidian Antioch was not in Pisidia (it was, rather, “toward” or “facing” Pisidia as opposed to Antioch on the Maeander), and the adjective “Pisidian” (Πισίδιος, 13:14) has no prior attestation. The episode in Pisidian Antioch is at once significant and hollow, suggesting some kind of empty imperative. (343-44)

I’m not sure that it is fair to infer from Acts 13:13 that Perge was the first stop following the departure of Paul and company from Paphos. The Greek ēlthon eis (“came to”; cf. Acts 13:51; 14:24; 17:1; 22:11; and many other places in the LXX/NT) simply indicates arrival; to force it to mean “to land the boat at,” or perhaps “came directly/immediately to,” seems to force the phrase to mean something it does not demand. Indeed, if Luke was able to create Paul’s route by map, as Rothschild supposes, why would he not have been able to realize that Perge was not a harbor town?

Moreover, Pisidian Antioch (Antiocheian tēn Pisidian) is simply an attributive adjective and this does not necessarily imply that Luke believed Antioch was located within the geographical limits of Pisidia; it was simply the Antioch related to, or associated, with Pisidia, to which it faced. As F. F. Bruce explains, “Πισιδίαν is an adj. here: Pisidian Antioch was so called because it was near Pisidia.” And as Colin Hemer remarks, “‘The Pisidian Antioch’ is an informal allusion to a city of Phrygia on the Pisidian border.” Again, if Luke knew enough about Antioch as “Little Rome” to link it to “Big Rome,” why would he not have known where Antioch was located? Rothschild seems to be grasping at straws here to demonstrate the inaccuracy of this particular narrative.

4. and 5. Brisk Narrative Pace and Cyprus and Antioch

Fourth, the Pisidian Antioch episode is driven by a sense of urgency. No sooner do Paul and Barnabas arrive in Antioch than they enter the synagogue to deliver a speech. (344)

[T]he fifth and final observation . . . is that the Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch incidents are, in at least one important respect, linked. The Bar-Jesus episode (nine verses) constitutes the miraculous component of a two-part—miracle + teaching—segment, a common feature of the Lukan narrative. The apostles’ dash to the synagogue emphasizes the connection, unifying Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch. (345)

Now, I don’t know nearly as much as Rothschild about the literary and stylistic features of Acts, but it seems plausible that the fifth feature, in fact, helps to explain the fourth, which also helps to explain the second: Luke desires to connect the two episodes; he therefore narrates them with urgency, and therefore omits the details. Thus, the features of the text do not suggest that the narrative is some kind of historical fiction; rather it was written selectively. As William Ramsay eloquently remarks, “The power of accurate description implies in itself a power of reconstructing the past, which involves the most delicate selection and grouping of details according to their truth and reality, i.e., according to their comparative importance.”

I do not, of course, approach the NT without presuppositions. But even if I were to try to lay my historical and theological assumptions aside, I do not find Rothschild’s evidence to be strong. Her evidence certainly does not “demonstrate” what she thinks it does, nor is she able to “validate” the Northern Galatian Hypothesis; her argument neither adds support to nor confirms anything about the audience of Paul’s letter. The whole exercise seems to beg for a preliminary discussion on how to assess historicity.

Cambridge University Press has begun advertising the forthcoming release (January 2013) of Mark D. Mathews’s monograph, Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful: Perspectives on Wealth in the Second Temple Period and the Apocalypse of John (SNTSMS 154). This release is very exciting. Mark is a fellow Durham grad; we started together in 2007 and submitted our theses within days of each other in 2010. Mark and I were also neighbors in Durham for two years. His doctoral work was supervised by Loren Stuckenbruck, so when Loren moved to Princeton in 2009, Mark and his family followed him there. Mark is now in full-time church ministry at Bethany Presbyterian Church, near Philadelphia.

Here are the book summary and table of contents:

In the book of Revelation, John appeals to the faithful to avoid the temptations of wealth, which he connects with evil and disobedience within secular society. New Testament scholars have traditionally viewed his somewhat radical stance as a reaction to the social injustices and idolatry of the imperial Roman cults of the day. Mark D. Mathews argues that John’s rejection of affluence was instead shaped by ideas in the Jewish literature of the Second Temple period which associated the rich with the wicked and viewed the poor as the righteous. Mathews explores how traditions preserved in the Epistle of Enoch and later Enochic texts played a formative role in shaping John’s theological perspective. This book will be of interest to those researching poverty and wealth in early Christian communities and the relationship between the traditions preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls and New Testament.

Table of Contents

Part I. Introduction: 1. The question of wealth in the Apocalypse
Part II. The Language of Wealth and Poverty in the Second Temple Period: Introduction
2. Dead Sea Scrolls: non-sectarian Aramaic documents
3. Dead Sea Scrolls: non-sectarian Hebrew documents
4. Dead Sea Scrolls: sectarian Hebrew documents
5. Other Jewish literature
Preliminary conclusions
Part III. Wealth, Poverty, and the Faithful Community in the Apocalypse of John: Introduction
6. The language of wealth and poverty in the seven messages – Rev 2-3
7. The present eschatological age – Rev 4-6
8. Buying and selling in Satan’s world – Rev 12-13, 18
9. Final conclusions.

As with all forms of media, the eye catching title or blurb garners the most attention.  During my last few months in the UK I did some editing work for the Voice translation that just recently published the OT and NT together for the first time.  Due to some catchy titles like the one of this post, the translation has garnered some attention that might be unnecessarily negative.

One of the goals of the translation is to take terminology in the biblical text that didn’t have a specifically religious connotation at the time and use modern terminology that isn’t specifically religious.  For instance, ἀπόστολος is translated in the Voice not as “apostle” which is really only a transliteration and only has religious connotations today, but with “emissary” which does not.  Also for χριστός, rather than merely transliterating it like apostle, the translation goes with Anointed One.
When discussing this on USA Todayand other outlets the media has picked this up as taking Christ out of the Bible, when a better way to phrase it might have been taking “Christ” out of the Bible.  I’ll not take time to reduplicate the efforts by Daniel KirkLarry Hurtado, and Greg Garrett.
If you are interested in a copy to see what the translation first-hand, let me know and we can get one to you.

Rob Bradshaw has pointed out a clip on the BBC (apologies if it doesn’t work for viewers outside the UK [edit - it is also available on YouTube, ht John Byron]), which shows part of the discussion between the 2011 ESV review translators on how to translate terms for slave. I am particularly interested as this impinges on my current research on slavery in the Synoptic Gospels. The clip shows something of the challenge of translating a subject which carries so much historical freight, especially for those in the States, the main market for the ESV I suspect. Peter Williams suggests that ‘ebed should be translated as ‘servant’ everywhere, since the implication of translating it ‘slave’ would make Israel to be slaves to God. It seems to me possible that this is precisely the meaning of the term. Gordon Wenham picks up the idea and argues for a consistent translation as ‘slave’, but Wayne Grudem has concerns about the ‘irredeemably negative connotations’ of the word today. I presume he means that since we see slavery as a bad thing, this would colour our reading of the Bible which often uses the concept without any sense of disapproval. However, I disagree that this would be importing ‘highly inaccurate understandings of the meaning of the term.’* The discussion then moves to a vote on 1 Cor 7:21-3. I will comment on this in part 2, but I take it that their discussion was ultimately seeking to encompass slavery in the NT which is what I want to comment upon here.

I fear that this is evidence of the persistent idea in biblical scholarship that slavery in the ancient world can’t have been all that bad, because we hear of some slaves being well treated, some slaves gaining riches and positions of authority, and some (even many) being manumitted in the Roman world. This, however, is a highly selective reading of the evidence. In NT times, the majority of slaves worked in the harsh, even brutal, conditions of agriculture, and as far as we know, were rarely manumitted, perhaps because they did not live long enough. Those who were household slaves had the dubious privilege of being close to their owners. For younger women and boys, this often meant sexual attention, and all household slaves were the recipients of physical violence at the whim of their owner, as the parables indicate. The slave owner decided slaves’ relationships, and owned any children produced. Slaves experienced terrible punishments under Roman law, even when their offence was carrying out the criminal intentions of their owner. Moreover, slaves’ testimony could only be received under torture. The majority of slaves were cut off from their places of origin, their culture, language, and kin, never to return to them. And this included those lucky slaves who found freedom and fortune. On any level, such an account of slavery is bad, and attempts to see ancient slavery in any kind of rose-tinted light should be abandoned.

I rather like the ESV as a modern ‘word-for-word’ translation (as they put it), and I’m glad the reviewers paid such care and attention. But they ought not to try to protect the Bible from its readers (or is it the readers from the Bible?). Slavery is there and slavery was and is bad. We do an injustice to the biblical texts, and to the unnamed and unnumbered slaves, if we try to pretend otherwise.

* I recognise that the clip is edited, so the discussion was no doubt more nuanced than it suggests.

[21/9/2011 Edited to remove the non sequitur between paras 1 and 2]

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