Paul and His Interpreters


With all the debates over the last few years at SBL about the nature of Apocalyptic in Paul, we here at Dunelm (John, Jason and Ben) thought we would facilitate a Pauline cage match to let the different schools of thought engage one another directly. So, plan to come to SBL early to catch this Friday afternoon session. You won’t want to miss this line-up. The fruits of this discussion will come out afterwards in a volume with Fortress Press.

Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (S21-201)

11/21/2014 (FRIDAY)
12:30 PM to 5:30 PM
Room: 300 A (Level 3 (Aqua)) – Hilton Bayfront (HB)
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.

Session 1
Jason Maston, Highland Theological College, Welcome (5 min)
M. C. de Boer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – VU University Amsterdam
Apocalyptic as Eschatological Activity (25 min)
N.T. Wright, University of St. Andrews
Apocalyptic as Heavenly Communication (25 min)
Loren Stuckenbruck, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Apocalypticism in Second Temple Judaism (25 min)
Philip Ziegler, University of Aberdeen
Apocalypticism in Modern Theology (25 min)
Discussion (15 min)
Break (15 min)

Session 2
Ben Blackwell, Houston Baptist University, Presiding
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University
The Apocalyptic New Covenant and the Shape of Life in the Spirit (25 min)
Edith Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Apocalypse as Theoria in Paul: A New Perspective on Apocalyptic as Mother of Theology (25 min)
Douglas Campbell, Duke University
Paul’s Apocalyptic Epistemology (25 min)
Beverly Gaventa, Baylor University
Romans 9–11: An Apocalyptic Reading (25 min)
John Barclay, University of Durham
Apocalyptic Investments: 1 Corinthians 7 and Pauline Ethics (25 min)
Discussion (20 min)

I noticed over the weekend that Robert Orlando’s much discussed 89-minute documentary Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe is now available for purchase on DVD or download. I’ve now watched it and was impressed by the number and names of the scholars interviewd in the film. I also enjoyed that the documentary sought both to persuade the viewer of a particular political function for the Jerusalem collection while also providing a decent (if not one-sided) summary of Paul’s life and ministry in the process, which gave the historical survey lying at the center of the film a sense of unity from beginning to end. The film certainly has an agenda to push, and I myself was not convinced, as the film suggests, that the Jerusalem collection was a failure, in that James ultimately rejected the Gentiles’ money and Paul’s Gentile mission. Unlike the director and the interviewees given prominence toward the end of the film (where Wright, Witherington, and Hurtado seems to disappear), I find no reason to believe that James and the Jerusalem believers conspired against Paul and somehow actively or passively contributed in his beating and arrest in Acts 21. Luke explains that Paul was welcomed gladly by James and company when Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26) and I find no reason to doubt the veracity of that account. Whatever the case, Orlando’s film is worth watching and reflecting upon critically critically. This could be a good documentary to show students of early Christianity, though afterward one should given plenty of time for class interaction and for fielding questions.

St. John’s College, Nottingham, has a number of great You Tube videos on theological topics. I found this well-produced, 14-minute clip of Tom Wright summazing his view of Pauline Theology. I think I’ll air this in my summer school Romans course next week when I introduce my students to Wright. (I’m trying to do more of these kinds of things in class so it’s not always just me representing other scholars, but allowing scholars to speak for themselves).

 

This is good: Hitler on Wright and Piper

HT: Joel Willits

But I also really like what my students have prepared:

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.

 

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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