October 2012

I’ve got a friend of a friend looking for a room to share with a couple of other people for SBL to help keep costs down.  If you are looking for someone to add or would be willing to have someone else, give me a shout out in the comments and I’ll pass along your information.  Thanks!


In a discussion forum about Jesus movies, Bruce Longenecker was praising the BBC’s The Passion as one of the better recent Jesus movies (not to be confused with Mel Gibson’s similarly titled film).  I had almost forgotten about it because it came out just after we moved to the UK.  I highly recommend it too.  If you want to get a feel beyond the limited trailer, I noticed on Youtube someone has uploaded the different episodes if you look for “The Passion Episode …” 1-1, 1-2, etc.

Also in the discussion forum was a note about a dramatized version of the Gospel of Thomas.  Since there is no narrative in the account it is 45 minutes of Jesus giving the sayings with other actors for the disciples.  It does show the distinct contrast with other Gospels since there isn’t any narrative to go along with the teaching.

In my Romans course today I lectured on Rom 7:1-25 and had a great a discussion with my students about the spiritual status of the speaker (“I”) in verses 14-25. Not surprisingly, prior to the reading and coursework they did in preparation for today, many of my students had never seriously grappled with the issue of whether the speaker in this passage represents a regenerate or unregenerate person; most had simply assumed that Paul was narrating his post-conversion struggle with “Sin”. Again, such is not surprising considering that this is the view taught in many churches and in some scholarly commentaries (e.g., Cranfield and Dunn). But this got me to wondering if this is the assumption shared by most readers of this blog. So, I thought I would post a poll so readers can vote on which position they find the strongest, also providing a third option (“both”) for those who do not believe the regenerate and unregenerate positions adequately cover the interpretive possibilities. Please do share your opinion.

Btw, for interested readers, I recommend Jason Maston’s recently published thesis on Romans 7-8, Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul: A Comparative Approach (WUNT 2/297; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010).

Let me take the opportunity to let you know of the new blog of the School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist Universitychristianthought.hbu.edu.  It’s a great place to hear about Theology, Philosophy and Cultural Apologetics.

I did my inaugural post on there just this morning about America’s Christian Roots as I interacted with an interview of Mark Noll and George Marsden at Calvin College.

Go check it out.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been reading Symeon the New Theologian.  He has a section where he rewrites the prodigal son story with an emperor that forgives and accepts an opposing general.  The emperor receives the humble and contrite general with a celebration and a feast, with a crown and robe for him.  He goes on:

And this is not the whole tale, but day and night he rejoices and is glad with him, embracing him and kissing his mouth with his own.  So much does he love him exceedingly that he is not separated from him even in his sleep, but lies together with him embracing him on his bed, and covers him all about with his own cloak, and places his face upon all his members.

Symeon the New Theologian, Ethical Discourse 10, Section 6 (pg 150-51).

I thought, wow, did I just read that?  Fortunately the translator offers this footnote:

Sometimes the saint’s gift for images will exceed his discretion and good sense.  This appears to be one such instance.  We leave it in solely out of respect for the text.  It is, however, consistent with the New Theologian’s uses of nuptial imagery elsewhere.  See also his warning against taking his metaphors in a literal, sexual sense: ‘Understanding this spiritually, you who read, lest you be wretchedly defiled’ Hymn 46, lines 29-31.

Sometimes you’ve got know when to say when.

I teaching NT theology next semester, and it’s that time of year to order textbooks around here.  I’ve been going through various texts that people here have used and that I’ve got on my shelf, but I’ve not found anything that just clicks for me.  The current prof is using Frank Matera’s New Testament Theology, which is what I might default to myself.  The biggest problem that I’m finding is that most New Testament theologies are written for seminary level students and are thus detailed and long.  I want to kindle a fire of interest in the topic not beat them to death with reading.  At the same time, I’m a fan of having outside texts–articles and relevant selections from key works–as assigned “seminar” reading so student learn to analyse and discuss arguments.  So, a huge textbook squeezes out the ability of assigning this other reading.

My questions to the blogging world are these:  1) What NT theology(ies) are your favorites and why?  2) Would you recommend it/them for undergrads or just grad students?

In response to Krister Stendahl’s salvation-historical reading of Paul, Ernst Käsemann, in his “Justificaiton and Salvation History in the Epistle to the Romans,” offers the following précis of Pauline theology and of the Christian life:

[T]he apostle does not understand history as a continuous evolutionary process but as the contrast of the two realms of Adam and Christ. Pauline theology unfolds this contrast extensively as the struggle between death and life, sin and salvation, law and gospel. The basis is the apocalyptic scheme of the two successive aeons which is transferred to the present. Apparently Paul viewed his own time as the hour of the Messiah’s birth-pangs, in which the new creation emerges from the old world through the Christian proclamation. Spirits, powers and dominions part eschatologically at the crossroads of the gospel. We thus arrive at the dialectic of ‘once’ and ‘now’, which is absorbed into anthropology in the form of ‘already saved’ and ‘still tempted’. In the antithesis of spirit and flesh this dialectic determines the cosmos until the parousia of Christ. Christians are drawn into this conflict all their lives. Every day they have through obedience to authenticate their baptismal origin anew. The churches, too, are exposed in the same way to the attacks of nomism and enthusiasm, which threaten the lordship of Christ. The church lives under the sign of the cross, that is to say, given over to death inwardly and outwardly, waiting longingly with the whole of creation for the liberty of the children of God and manifesting the imitation of Jesus through the bearing of his cross.

What were the choices in the cafeteria of perspectives before the reformation and Luther’s so-called “Old Perspective”?  The Lutheran “Old Perspective” says that the problem with Judaism was that they were seeking to attain salvation by works-righteousness.  Enter then the “New Perspective” which says in various ways that the problem with Judaism was ethnocentrism.  Along with other Byzantine theologians–John of Damascus and Gregory Palamas–I was recently reading St Symeon the New Theologian (c. AD 1000), who has quite a bit to say about how salvation history and the relationship between the (covenantal) different stages.  In each stage God chooses a ‘portion’ through whom the next stage progresses.  It is in this setting that he addresses the problem of Jewish ethnocentrism:

Out of the scattering of the nations, as I said above, Israel became the Lord’s portion [from Noah’s descendants]. Now this Israel, having become a great nation and a populous people, then fell into idolatry just like that of the gentiles. A very few, like a kind of leaven, were preserved as a portion for God. If they had believed in Christ when he did come, and had worshipped Him as God, then all of them, just and unjust, God-fearing and idolatrous, would have become one, and at the same time would have been saved.  And, if this had happened, then the gentiles would have spoken up and said to Him: ‘God and Master of all, Lord of the ages, behold all these whom You have saved without respect to any works of righteousness. What, then? Are not we, too, the works of Your hands and of your fashioning?’ The Jews would have answered them with what in fact they did say: ‘No, but we ourselves alone are His portion; we alone His [p105] lot. The tablets of the covenant, the circumcision, and the rest—these are ours, promised to us alone, and given just to us. To you, though, He will never give anything’.   In reply, the gentiles would again raise an objection, though without reckoning the envious Jews worthy of an answer: ‘O Master and Word of God, You rightly rejected us as unworthy, abandoning us who were heedless as stiff-necked and disobedient . . . .  But, You showed love . . . [to these people who also turned to idols.]  You have been compassionate with them . . . .  Will you not have mercy on us too? . . .  And so, with justice and reason, those of the uncircumcision would have been joined with the circumcised who had sacrificed to idols, and all would have become one in Christ.  [But the Jews rejected the Christ, and God drew the Gentiles into his people.] [p106] The greater part of the portion [of Israel], which had fallen into unbelief by its own free choice, He cast away.  The gentiles entered instead of them and, by faith, were joined in their turn to the portion of election by faith.

Symeon the New Theologian, Ethical Discourse 2.6 (pg 104-106).

Symeon seems to have in mind something of the discussion from Romans 9-11.  (Much of Discourse 1 seems to me to be a reading of the larger flow of Romans.)  The New Perspective was really an old perspective that predates the reformation.

Sinces it was first introduced just a few weeks ago, there has been an enormous amount of specticism about the authencity of The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. Many scholars have charged that the fragment is a forgery, several even advancing theories about its possible dependance on the coptic version of The Gospel of Thomas. Now scholars are suggesting that the fragment was probably composed with the use of a specific online interlinear of Thomas, since the fragment and the interlinear share the same typographical error. This evidence looks quite damning for The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. For more, see the article by Andrew Bernhard, as well as the blog posts at Evangelical Textual Criticism and the NTWeblog.

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.