November 2010

My SBL paper on ‘Deification and Colossians 2.10’ went even better than my justification one.

The thrust of the my interpretation of the passage runs like this:  As the embodiment of deity, we can only understand God by looking at Christ.  Just as the ‘fullness’ of deity dwells in Christ, believers are ‘filled’ in him.  Christ is the content of the filling, and believers therefore embody his narrative of death and life.  This experience of death and life with Christ serves as the core of Paul’s soteriology, but it also serves an important role within his response to the Colossian error.  This embodiment is past, present, and future and thus shows the continuity in the experience of life in chapter 2 and 3.  Thus, this christoformity is at the same time theoformity, or christosis is theosis.  Rather than deified elements controlling humans (2.8), Paul’s presents deified believers who experience Christ’s death and life as freed from the control of the rulers and authorities through him (2.10, 15, 20).  Though this passage did not play much if any role in patristic discussion of deification, it seems to me it is the clearest evidence of deification in Paul with the important language of ‘deity’ at the centre of the argument.

Even more than my justification paper, this seemed even better received.  As with the other paper, I didn’t get any negative responses, only points that would strengthen my paper (or requests to describe how it correlates with other Pauline passages in Eph, Rom, 2 Cor, etc.)  In fact, I joked with friends that I think I converted so many people to this reading that if there was a pool in the room we would have been doing baptisms all afternoon.  : )  My reading is very sympathetic to one that Mike Gorman offers in his Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, especially in his chapter on Phil 2.  Even with our similar readings, his praise of my paper was definitely unexpected, but nonetheless welcome.  : )  I fear that I have now peaked in my academic career because how can you ever live up to that kind of praise in the future.  Like the other paper, I will definitely clean this one up and get it to a journal in the new year.

I’ll follow up with a third post on the other important aspects of the conference.


I arrived home to Durham today after almost a week in Atlanta and thought I would share my thoughts about the conferences.

The biggest difference between this year and years past is that I wan’t able to finish completely either of the two papers I presented until I arrived. Unfortunately, this severely cut into my ability to hear the variety of papers and chat with people in the books stalls as much as I normally do. The primary contributing factor for this delay was that my computer died for 3 weeks, but I also learned that applying for all those jobs back in the States takes up quite a bit more time than I expected.   Even with the last minute editing, both were well-received.

Since Tom was speaking in the plenary sessions and the theme of the conference was justification, I thought I would attend ETS. I was pleased by the irenic tone between Tom, Frank Thielman, and Tom Schreiner. Though that tone wasn’t displayed in all the smaller sessions, I think this was a very healthy step forward in the debate. The organisers even allowed a paper I offered up: ‘New Life: A Neglected Aspect of Justification in Romans’. The heart of the paper was just a survey of passages in Romans where righteousness language is either equated with life or described as its basis. My fundamental thesis is that justification is the response to dual aspects of the problem of sin: condemnation and death.

Since this latter problem is the emphasis of E.P. Sanders and Doug Campbell, I specifically interacted with both. In fact, I support a good bit about Campbell’s positive proposal regarding liberative justice, while arguing against his rejection of retributive justice. Most that reviewed Campbell’s The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul use up all their word count rebutting his negative proposal, and from most you wouldn’t even think that Campbell has a place for justification. (This part of his reading seems to be ignored like Sander’s reading of Paul has been.) Campbell places it in the realm of liberation from the power and corruption of sin.  He decided to attend the conference because of its theme, and so he, unexpectedly, came to the paper.  I was happy that he was able to hear how I deal with his positive proposal. I was most pleased that no one challenged my reading in the Q&A time, and a couple of suggestions were given to strengthen the argument–particularly around Rom 7, which I didn’t address because of my methodology led me to focus on other passages. I’m definitely going to expand this and get it to a journal in the new year.

Since this post has grown so big, I’ll do a second post on SBL.

Following up on my earlier post on 2 Timothy in Rome

When Irenaeus talks about Paul, he is mostly interested in Paul’s theology from his letters rather than the accounts of his travels or biography.  However, as part of his support of apostolic succession in Rome, he does link Paul to this but never mentions his martyrdom.  [By the way, I explore this further in a soon to be published essay on ‘Paul and Irenaeus’ in Paul and the Second Century: The Legacy of Paul’s Life, Letters, and Teaching, ed. Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson (London: T&T Clark, 2011).]

Irenaeus notes that Paul’s was in Rome and a ‘departure’ from there (AH 3.1.2), which leaves the outcome ambiguous, but there is clearly no speculation about his death.  For his time in Rome, all Irenaeus says is that Matthew wrote his gospel, ‘while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.  After their departure’, Mark and Luke, respectively, wrote their gospels based upon Peter and Paul’s teaching (AH 3.1.2; cf. 3.14.1).  Rather than being martyred in Rome, Paul just departs.  So, it would appear that Irenaeus thinks that when Paul wrote 2 Timothy (AH 3.3.3) that this was a subsequent imprisonment to the one recorded in Acts 28, but it’s not clear either way.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is explicitly to a church that he had not been to before, but the last we hear of Paul in Acts relates to his time in Rome.  Luke ends with Paul spending two years in Rome.  He ‘welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance’ (Acts 28.30-31).  Is seems that Irenaeus, like Luke, is content for Paul’s story not to have a specific ending.  In fact, it seems that the only reason Irenaeus gives a brief mention of Paul’s life and legal troubles in Acts 20-28 is so that he can defend the fact of Luke’s presence with Paul (AH 3.14.1).

Irenaeus asserts that Paul and Peter are the founders of the church in Rome.  He returns to this a couple of chapters later when he speaks of the importance of apostolic succession and ‘tradition from the apostles’.  Rather than recounting all the churches, he focuses ‘the church that is greatest, most ancient, and known to all, founded and set up by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul at Rome, while showing that the tradition and the faith it proclaims to mean comes down through the succession of bishops even to us . . . . For it is necessary for every church—that is, the believers from everywhere—to agree with this church, in which the tradition from the apostles has always been preserved by those who are from everywhere, because of its more excellent origin’ (3.3.2).  Obviously this evidence fits well with his argument towards the apostolic succession of the bishops of Rome.

In the end, it is very interesting that Irenaeus also works from a position that Paul and Peter had an amicable relationship similar to that of  Acts, but he builds it upon their relationship in Rome rather than any of the events reported in Acts.

Here’s an invitation for those of you who will be at SBL:

The Department of Theology and Religion
Durham University, UK
cordially invites you to a

Wine and Cheese Reception
21st November 2010
8:00-10:00 p.m.
the Hyatt Regency Hotel
Montreal Room

Friends, alumni/ae, and prospective graduate
students are all welcome to meet current faculty
members and research students

Pretty much that means, anybody that wants to come is more than welcome.

I got an email the other day through Durham about partnerships/connections that the University has with two external funding schemes for international people studying in the UK.  I think both of these are focused on US students, but I haven’t taken time to get all the details.  Since funding is not that great in these parts, and probably won’t get better due to the recent restructuring of the UK higher education funding from the government, these are helpful sources:

The other source that is important but often neglected because you have to apply 18 months before the program starts is the Rotary international fund for Ambassadorial Scholarships.  They’ll only fund for one year now, but $27,000 is worth the effort and worth delaying a year if you could swing one.

Busy weekend but I wanted to get in the habit of summarising the presentations of the people who present.

Last Monday (Oct 25), Shane Berg from Princeton Theological Seminary presented a paper entitled ‘Knowing and Obeying the Law in Ben Sira’.  This draws from his larger work on ‘religious epistemology’, which is a bit more neutral terminology for what has been termed ‘revelation’ in the past.

The main part of his paper was an exposition of two passages in Ben Sira: sections from chapters 15-17 (16.24-17.14 and 15.11-20) that speak about knowing and doing the Law.  One key aspect of Ben Sira’s argument was the juxtaposition of allusions to creation (Gen 1-3) and the giving of the Law.  The thrust thus runs that God gave this knowledge of what to do to everyone, so the Jews have no excuse not to follow it.   It was also noted later in discussion afterwards that Paul too juxtaposes creation and Law in Romans 7.

Berg then mentioned two Qumran documents [update: now that I’ve got back to the handout 4Q417 1 i 16-18 and 1 QHa VII, 12-14] who focused upon the limitation of true knowledge to those within the community based on a more deterministic view of God’s election.

It was an interesting paper, and it stirred up a lively discussion afterwards.  Berg also spoke very highly of Greg Schmidt Goering’s book on Ben Sira and the Election of Israel as it discusses the dialectic of universal and particular and the mix of Wisdom and Torah.