July 2009

What evidence is there to discuss the issue of Paul and Culture? Many turn first to Acts 17, or questions of education. I am not opposed to this, but my concern at this point is what we can find from his letters.

I’m rushing off to a trip to Europe with my family (so this isn’t comprehensive), but these are some things that speak for Paul’s positive and negative engagement with culture.

I have become all things to all people (1 Cor 9).
The household codes in Colossians and Ephesians are often noted a accommodation to culture.
He allows people to eat with others, even if offered to an idol (1 Cor 9-10)
In distinction to Hebrews 11.13 and 1 Peter 2.11, I can’t think of any time where Paul speaks of Christians as being aliens. However, the longing in Rom 8/2 Cor 5 may be noted, but that’s more soteriological than cultural.
Paul worked, and thus engaged in economic exchange.

His use of the world, this age, the god of this age
He definitely challenges the ethics and religion of the G-R culture (cf. Rom 1.18-32)
food interaction
Anti-imperial language

The list could be fuller, but no time now. What would you add?


I recently read Miroslav Volf’s ‘Soft Difference: Theological Reflections on the Relation Between Church and Culture in 1 Peter’, Ex Auditu 10 (1994), which has a good discussion of the way that 1 Peter interacts with culture. With it’s language of aliens, etc., Peter is setting his readers apart from their culture/society, but at the same time, the household codes are seen as a way of accomodation to culture. Thus, he calls Peter’s stance one of ‘soft difference’–not weak in its response to the problems of culture but soft. Along with Troeltsch and Weber, Volf mentions Niebuhr’s taxonomy of Christ and Culture, which in its comprehensiveness appears tidy: Christ against culture (Revelation, 1 John), Christ of culture (Gnostics), Christ above culture (Matt 22.21; Rom 13; Aquinas), Christ and cuture in paradox (Paul), and Christ the transformer of culture (Gospel of John).

Not having Niebuhr at hand I perused Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited, which happened to be down in St John’s library. For the dualist (X & C in paradox), ‘the fundamental issue in life is not the line that must be drawn between Christians and the pagan or secular world, but between God and all humankind’ (Carson, 22-23). ‘The dualist knows that he belongs to that [sick] culture and cannot get out of it, that God indeed sustains him in it and by it’ (Carson, 23). Niebuhr then contrasts the dualist with the conversionist (X transformer of C): ‘For the conversionist, history is the story of God’s mighty deeds and of man’s responses to them. He lives somewhat less “between the times” and somewhat more in the divine “Now” than do his brother Christians. The eschatological future has become for him an eschatological present’ (Niebuhr, 195; Carson, 26).

Volf’s ‘soft difference’ seems like a good way to describe Paul as well, but what can we say about Niebuhr’s dualist/paradox category? Is that the best place to place him?

I’m planning to do a few posts on the topic to get my juices flowing. I’m interested in your thoughts.

Paul and Culture, pt 1: Miroslav Volf’s Soft Difference and Niebuhr’s Paradox
Paul and Culture, pt 2
Paul and Culture, pt 3
Paul and Culture, pt 4

I came across Theologie-Skripten the other day, and thought I’d pass it along.  It focuses on theology, but as the author addresses various issues, he gives a nice overview of ancient sources–biblical and non-biblical.  So if you are looking for 2-3 page translation excercises that relate to different topics or are just want a quick idea of texts that relate to a subject, this might be a helpful place to peruse.  Also, it’s got a decent amount of German bibliographical lists about different topics.

In my trip to Rome, one of the major exhibits at the Colosseum was focused upon Divus Vespasianus.  Over at Roger Pearce’s blog he notes a couple of ancient quotes regarding the distinction between deus and divus:

(1) Servius, Ad Ad Aeneidem 12.139 (= Varro, De Lingua Latina fragment 2, edition Goetz-Schoell)

Deus autem vel dea generale nomen est omnibus: nam quod graece δέος, latine timor vocatur, inde deus dictus est, quod omnis religio sit timoris. Varro ad Ciceronem tertio: “ita respondeant cur dicant deos, cum [de] omnibus antiqui dixerint divos”.

Translation: “Deus or dea is the general term for all [gods]. […] Varro to Cicero in the third book [of De lingua Latina]: ‘That is the reply they would give as to why they say dii, when the ancients said divi about them all.’”

(2) Serv. Ad Aen. 5.45 (= Varro fr. 424, Grammaticae Romanae fragmenta, ed. Funaioli)

divum et deorum indifferenter plerumque ponit poeta, quamquam sit discretio, ut deos perpetuos dicamus, divos ex hominibus factos, quasi qui diem obierint; unde divos etiam imperatores vocamus. Sed Varro et Ateius contra sentiunt, dicentes divos perpetuos deos qui propter sui consecrationem timentur, ut sunt dii manes.

Translation: “The poet [Virgil] usually employs ‘of the divi‘ [divum] and ‘of the dii‘ [deorum] indifferently, although there should be a distinction in that we call the immortals dii, whereas divi are created from men, inasmuch as they have ended their days; from which we likewise call [dead] emperors divi. But Varro and Ateius hold the opposite opinion, claiming that divi are eternal, whereas dii are such as are held in honour because they have been deified, such as is the case with the dii manes.

There is also a good discussion of the deification of Julius Caesar in the comments of this post at Roger’s blog as well.

I had a great time in Rome last week.  The department had some postgrad money available, and so they offered postgrads bursaries if they presented papers at conferences.  This additional money made it economical to take the family along with me. 

While we saw lots of sights, we also got to spend some good time with friends.  We shared the trip with Kevin and Ashley Hill.  Kevin you will know from his Courting the Mystery blog.  They have been good neighbors over the past 2 years and good friends.  Unfortunately the call of the wild back to Calgary is too strong, so we’ll miss them when they move home this summer.  So this trip with them was a great way to spend some time, plus they had been to Rome before and therefore had many good ideas.

We also met up with old college friends Justin and Jill Hardin.  Justin’s teaching at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and is world famous for his Galatians and the Imperial Cult.  Their apartment at the Irish College had a pool, and we accepted their gracious invitation to partake of it with them and to share dinner with them.  They have some great kids, and it was one of the best parts of the trip.

So the initial reason I went was to give my paper Righteousness and Glory: New Creation as Immortality in Romans.  I think it went well.  Here in the office we have been debating about how fast to give a paper, and it was confirmed to me that 110-120 words per minute is what I have to target for.  Others here said they go with up to 150 wpm, but I start to get jumbled with that kind of pace.  Unfortunately, my fellow presenters in the session had no awareness of their paper length, and a couple of them before me went 10 minutes over their alloted 25.  Thus, when I finished in about 21 min with time for questions, the presider said that even though we had an allotted 30 min break (now only 10 min) there was no time for questions for me!?!  He didn’t cut off the people that rudely and selfishly went over but rather the person that fell within the limits?  I’ve not seen this situation before at previous SBLs, and since it was my first SBL presentation, I just let it go.  But thinking back now, I should have said something.  Ultimately, the presider should have cut the other people off at their time limit, as I heard that others did in other sessions.  Fortunately, when I presented this paper in a different venue I had plenty of time for questions and got some good feedback that helped me better nuance the argument.  I also attended the Bible Interpretation in Early Christianity section, where Kevin did a fine job on his paper on Anthanasius’ interpretation of Hebrews 6.4.  It’s incouraging to see the inclusion of historical interpretation in the plan, and hopefully it will gain a larger following.

As far as sightseeing, Rome is quite the place to visit.  It was a bit warmer than here in Durham, but it’s nice to get some sun.  The city is quite walkable, and the numerous public water fountains are great for refilling water bottles.  The real fountains, the churches, the ancient sites–nothing compares to this.  I’ve spent a bit of time in London, Berlin, and Paris and none of these have anything on Rome.  I’d say the highlight of the trip was St. Peter’s.  Hopefully I’ll get around to posting a few pics.

I’m trying to compile the top German works on Paul for the good bishop.  I think I’ve got a fairly comprehensive list of works, along with their abstracts from NTA, that I’ve now categorised.  I know the strenths and weaknesses of the stuff that pertains to my research, but I’m not sure an easy way to rank the others.  So I thought I’d put the question to the blogging world.  Which works do you think should be included in a top 20 list (articles and/or books) from the last 15-20 years?

I’d also be willing to share the full list with someone who will commit to provide feedback on what’s missing and what is most important.  Takers?

Where I think I would start first is this online textbook: A Foundation Course in Reading German by Howard Martin, revised and expanded as an open online textbook by Alan Ng. It has brief but clear descriptions, and the examples with each lesson are helpful.

My esteemed collegue Peter Orr pointed me to this free online site to learn and practice German: Deutsch-Lernen.com. The Lessons are very self directed and assume basic knowledge of grammar. For instance for Lesson 1 you are just given paradigms to learn with little to no instruction, but the exercises are helpful for reinforcing what you’ve learned.  Another free website that Peter has pointed me to is Babbel.com, and it has interactive, audio-visual exercises.  Both focus on contemporary German, but if you can master how to use German then reading it makes more sense.

Another great resource for regular translation practice is the Theological German Blog.  Also, let me remind you of Deutsche Welle, which a German website with daily international news reports written with non-native speakers in mind. It is read aloud slowly with a printed text, so it is really good for learning pronunciation.

Any other favourites out there?

[Update: Andy Rowell’s TheologicalGerman.com, which was noted in the comments, is a good place to start as well.  Thanks Ken for the comment!]

[Update2: Also, there is a decent online Theological German Grammar, by Walter Bense and updated Danny Zacharias]