December 2012

Reading up on Schweitzer for an article on Colossians 2 and was reminded of this gem:

What endless trouble theology has given itself about the problem of Paul and Jesus, and what shifts it has been put to to explain why Paul does not derive his teaching from the preaching of Jesus, but stands in this respect so independently alongside of Him!  In doing so it is talking all round a problem, which it has first made insoluble by failing to grasp it in its completeness.  The discovery that Paul takes up an independent attitude towards Jesus is misleading, unless one at the same time recognises all that he has in common with Him.  For Paul shares with Jesus the eschatological world-view and the eschatological expectation, with all that these imply.  The only difference is the hour in the world-clock in the two cases.  To use another figure, both are looking towards the same mountain range, but whereas Jesus sees it as lying before Him, Paul already stands upon it and its first slopes are already behind him. (The Mysticism of the Apostle Paul, 113)

David Hay captures the Christology of Colossians nicely:

Christology does not replace theology, but interprets it . . . . Hence, in fundamental ways Christ can be understood only when his relationship to God is grasped; on the other hand, God is known through Christ and, evidently, adequately know only through Christ. (‘All the Fullness of God’ in The Forgotten God, 169–70)

So, I’m hoping for an NA28 for Christmas. Nevertheless,  in a recent research seminar here in Cardiff, I was interested by a comment from Hugh Houghton of the University of Birmingham who said, ‘Don’t worry if you don’t get an NA28, the NA29 is just round the corner.’ Admittedly, when quizzed afterwards, ’round the corner’ probably means a couple of years, but still.

From the proposed timeline he showed us, there may be quite a number of new editions over the next decade or so as the Editio Critica Maior approaches completion. Although this will lead to lots of blue volumes on the shelf, I don’t see this as a bad thing (apart from financially). Quite apart from increasingly reliable and useful text and notes, I hope this plurality of editions will move us away from seeing NAxx as a definitive and fixed text. It was fascinating, now that I’m in a primarily Religious Studies department, to hear scholars of other religious traditions arguing that the quest for a single text (albeit eclectic and with apparatus), seemed to them to be unhelpful, and ideologically driven. They considered it far more intellectually useful to work with actual texts, along with their variants. Happily, this is the way that things seem to be going with the advent of excellent online resources (e.g. Codex Alexandrinus has gone online this week). Nevertheless, such an approach is generally not practical for much work in NT studies, and NAxx is still a very useful tool. But I take the general point and want to avoid the ‘laziness’ that reverence for the ‘default’ text can bring. So here’s my suggestion for future editions: how about putting the apparatus at the top (i.e. making actual MSS the main feature) and the text at the bottom?

Having said this all this, Santa, I hope I’ve been a good boy this year.

Baker Academic kindly provided me with a copy of Greg Beale’s recent Handbook of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. Beale is well-known for his studies of how the OT is used in the NT. This book provides the method behind the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament which he edited with D.A. Carson (see also his A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New). Consistent with the title, the book functions more as a primer to the issues than a technical assessment.

Chapter 1 addresses several current debates about the use of the OT in the NT. Beale does not present full argumentation for his views, but rather introduces a topic and then states his position. He is particularly concerned to demonstrate that the NT authors read the OT within its context (which eventually is clarified to be the literary context). He also spends some time discussing ‘typology’.

Chapter 2 deals with how to identify quotations and allusions. Beale notes briefly Richard Hay’s method of identifying allusions and the critiques offered by Stanley Porter. In the second half of the chapter Beale highlights key sources to help with identifying allusions (e.g., NA27, commentaries).

Chapter 3 ‘is the core of the book’ (p.41). Beale presents nine steps for assessing how the OT is used in the NT (pp.42–43) which are then explained in the chapter:

  1. Identify the OT reference. Is it a quotation or allusion? If it is an allusion, then there must be validation that it is an allusion, judging by the criteria discussed in the preceding chapter.
  2. Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
  3. Analyse the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially thoroughly interpreting the paragraph in which the quotation or allusion occurs.
  4. Survey the use of the OT text in early and late Judaism that might be of relevance to the NT appropriation of the OT text.
  5. Compare the texts (including their textual variants): NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Phiilo). Underline or color-code the various differences.
  6. Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT. (Which texts does the author rely on, or is the author making his own rendering, and how does this bear on the interpretation of the OT text?)
  7. Analyze the author’s interpretative (hermeneutical) use of the OT.
  8. Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
  9. Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT.

Although considered the core of the book, I’m somewhat disappointed with this chapter. First, I’m struggling to see what is different or profound about this approach than just teaching someone to be a good reader. Second, I’m wary of ‘step’ approaches. They give the impression that if someone simply does each step then he will arrive at the right interpretation. I realise that Beale will be aware of this, but students often think that if they simply follow the steps they will get things right and thus get a good grade. They are shocked when I say back, ‘Well yes you followed the steps, but you didn’t realise that there is more to it than just plugging in the right material’. Anyway, I think the approach offered by Beale is good, but it could use some slight refinement.

Chapters 4–6 take up specific steps from Beale’s nine-step method. Chapter 4 develops step 7 by categorising the primary ways that the NT uses the OT. Although Beale views chapter 3 as the core, primarily because it outlines a method, I found this chapter to be more interesting and potentially useful. Beale provides some 12 main ways in which the NT author’s interpret the OT, such as ‘direct fulfillment’; ‘indirect fulfillment of OT typological prophecy’; ‘symbolic’; ‘ironic’. He is careful not to make every use of the OT fit into one of the categories as he acknowledges both that he is offering only key categories and that there is overlap. Although I doubt that any nomenclature will ever be universally adopted, his attempt here at least provides a focal point around which scholars could work even if someone opts for a different label.

Chapter 5 develops briefly step 8. Beale identifies five basic presuppositions at work for the NT authors (pp.96–97):

  1. There is the apparent assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.
  2. In the light of corporate solidarity or representation, Christ as the Messiah is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel—Church—in the NT.
  3. History is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.
  4. The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ.
  5. As a consequence of the preceding presuppositions, it follows that the later parts of biblical history function as the broader context for interpreting earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors. One deduction form this premise is that Christ is the goal toward which the OT pointed and is the end-time center of redemptive history, which is the key for interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises.

Chapter 6, which has the title ‘Relevance of the Jewish Backgrounds for the Study of the Old Testament in the New: A Survey of the Sources’, expands on step 4. This chapter doesn’t actually describe the relevance of the contemporary sources. Rather, it is an (annotated) bibliography of works about the primary sources: translations, introductions, etc. He gives three points of guidance for locating Jewish texts that refer to Old Testament texts quoted in the New (pp.104-08):

  1. Consult background commentaries on key NT passages
  2. Consult major New Testament commentaries
  3. Consult primary sources in Jewish literature by utilizing topical and especially Scripture indexes of these sources in English translation

Chapter 7 is a case study of the use of Isaiah 22.22 in Revelation 3.7.

The volume ends with a ‘Select Bibliography on the New Testament Use of the Old’. The bibliography is somewhat dated and lacks direction at a number of points (e.g. General Epistles).

In general, I think this book can be helpful for students, but a few cautions would be in order. In addition to what I said about chapter 3, I would also add two other points. First, I was disappointed in the way that Beale handled the Jewish literature. Although Chapter 6 has the title ‘Relevance of the Jewish Backgrounds …’ Beale seems to keep the Jewish literature at some distance. He doesn’t actually show a student why this literature matters. I think that more careful attention to how the contemporary Jewish authors read the OT will help us better understand the NT authors as engaging in interpretative debates about the text. At times we will see that their readings match one segment of Judaism and disagree with other segments. Also, more careful attention to the Jewish literature will help us see where the presuppositions of the NT authors (particularly with regard to their understanding of Jesus as the Christ) have reshaped the way they read a text.

Second, I would have liked to see Beale address in more depth some of the problem texts like Rom 10.6–8 or Christ as the rock in 1 Cor 10.4. Hebrews is also poorly represented in the book which is surprising given the way in which scripture drives the argument. I realise that the volume is a handbook and cannot address every appearance of the OT in the NT, but problem passages of these kind are the ones that students do ask about.

I don’t hold to the patristic idea of synergism, at least as it is popularly conceived, because most work a contrastive view of agency (or a zero sum game). If it is 100% God, then it must be 0% human (and vice versa). If God exists outside the system, as supra-being, rather than another agent within the system, then you can have non-contrastive agency. Such that election is 100% God and 100% human, though the priority is always in God’s divine action and election. At any rate, that is my 2 cents on divine and human agency.

The Orthodox and patristic writers do not have the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy in mind and so are very pleased to use the terminology of synergism–fellow workers with God. Synergism is not Pelagianism. Synergism is not merely the independent agency of the human working together with the independent agency of God.  Patristic writers affirm the full dependency as created beings upon God the Creator, who is the source of ALL life, ALL light, ALL wisdom, ALL glory, etc.  To the extent that any creature experiences these attributes, they are participating in the grace and presence of God.  As believers these attributes are displayed not merely as creational participation in the Creator, but as new-creational participation in the Creator-Redeemer.  Accordingly, as believers partake in the life of Christ through the Spirit they are able to live–in the present morally and in the future with the resurrection.  They do not somehow create this moral action or their resurrection on their own in some Pelagian manner.  They only experience life through connection to the head who provides growth from God.  You might disagree with their view of agency, but their agency must always be considered in this context.

I had a friend ask why, according to NT Wright,  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.  I gave this response:

The Pharisees were, according to Wright, as concerned with the need for a political solution of purity as well as the religious, which I think is important to remember.  In the ancient world religion and politics were explicitly mixed, whereas today it is more implicit or at least mostly on the level of rhetoric rather than practice.  Thus when Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of God, the Pharisees could easily get on board with that as a restored kingdom of Israel, which entailed kicking out all the impure gentiles much like had happened with the Hasmoneans and the Hanukkah story.  However, the way that Jesus went about bringing in the kingdom was not through rebellion, which didn’t fit with the Pharisaic mindset of zeal for purity.  Rather, Jesus’ vision included not only the impure Jews as included in the kingdom but also the (really) impure Gentiles.

NTW in his own words on this:

the rigorous application of the law in the way we have observed, as a defence against Gentiles and hence as a reinforcement of national boundaries and aspirations, had become, in Jesus’ view, a symptom of the problem rather than part of the solution.  The kingdom of the one true god was at last coming into being, and it would not be characterized not by defensiveness, but by Israel’s being a light to the world; not by the angry zeal which would pay the Gentiles back by their own coin (as Mattathias had advised his sons), but by turning the other cheek and going the second mile.  The command to love one’s enemies, and the prohibition on violent revolution, constituted not an attack on Torah as such but a radically different interpretation of Israel’s ancestral tradition from those currently on offer.  Jesus, precisely in affirming Israel’s unique vocation to be the light of the world, was insisting that, now that the moment for fulfilment had come, it was time to relativize those god-given markers of Israel’s distinctiveness. (Jesus and the Victory of God, 389)