October 2013

This is part 2 (see part 1 here) of Matthew Bates’ response to my review (part 1 & part 2) of his excellent book The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation.

Guest Post by Matthew Bates:

Ben’s comment/question:

“I accept [Bates’] thrust that the Christ-event gives the present a hermeneutical priority, but I wonder what a more sustained interaction with Irenaeus (in addition to Barnabas and Justin) on this topic would have produced? …. I find Bates’ exegesis [of Ps 17:50 LXX in Rom 15:9] enlightening, but I don’t see the need to make David such a flat character and therefore I identify more fully with Hays: Christ has the precedence but his role as the Messiah makes sense in light of David’s substantive role as King. Irenaeus has a robust perspective on typological connections (e.g. AH 3.21-3.22), which would offer mixed support and critique of Bates…”

My comments:
If the reader has followed my clarifying remarks regarding typology above, then perhaps the reader can already anticipate my response to Ben’s query. I don’t think Paul had a significantly different use of “types” with respect to the relationship between past and present than Irenaeus.
Now I move on to discuss whether or not Richard Hays’ model (see The Conversion of the Imagination, pp. 101-18) might be preferable to the one that I have proposed. It is important to recognize that I am primarily questioning Hays’ typological explanation for texts in which Paul (and others) found Christ to be the one truly praying a psalm. Hays argues for a double typology inasmuch as David was an anointed one (messiah, Christ) and also a representative that embodied Israel’s national hopes and tragedies. As such, for Hays, as best as I understand him, the Christ can be made the speaker of, for instance, a psalmic lament because David embodies corporate Israel’s sorrows.

Admittedly this is possible, but in my judgment Hays’ typological suggestion is improbable. I believe Paul’s use of the type metaphor demands that Paul has found “iconic mimesis,” that is, participation in a common image. So when we seek to explain Paul’s identification of Christ as the speaker of a psalm of lament through David, the question becomes, If this is “typology,” then what is the common image between the OT text and the Christ that allows Paul to assert that the Christ is the speaker? Is the both-are-messiahs generality enough? I don’t think so. Ben, following Hays, might not find a need “to make David such a flat character.” Yet in an attempt to persuade Ben (and you, O dear reader), I would push back by asking, What specific evidence exists that David was a robust character for Paul in the ways necessary to sustain concrete image linkage in the specific passages in question? For example, if David, as Hays claims, was to be regarded as the symbol of Israel’s national suffering, and this image provides the link, then where is there any specific evidence that Paul held such a view?

I think a much simpler and better-evidenced solution lies ready to hand. David was consistently regarded as a prophet by the earliest Christians, and as such it was believed that David could speak in the person of someone else—he could take on an alternative prosopon, and speak from the person of this new character. For example, see Peter’s “he was a prophet” explanation of how it is that David can be speaking words appropriate only to the Christ in Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-31. That is, I would argue, Paul is doing something similar, engaging in what I call “prosopological exegesis.” The reader will have to look at my book (ch. 4 and 5) to see the details for how and why I argue this, but this argument is grounded historically in early Christian exegesis both internal and external to Paul’s letters.

Ben’s comment/question:
“If the Spirit as an equal member of the Trinity plays a central role [in 2 Cor 3], should there not be more emphasis on or more of [a] place given to the Spirit’s role in Paul’s hermeneutics and not just the content of his message?”

My comments:
I can only say that I suppose I wish there could be more of an emphasis on Spirit’s hermeneutical function here. In constructive theology we can perhaps move beyond Paul’s words, draw on philosophical or traditional resources, and speculate about plausible Trinitarian dimensions beyond what Paul says, but since in my judgment Paul himself doesn’t give the Spirit a definite hermeneutical function in 2 Corinthians 3 or elsewhere, we are simply historically constrained. Paul does affirm the Spirit’s generally providential role in aiding us in all spiritual matters (1 Cor 2:6-16), and the work of the Spirit in making the confession that’s indicative of conversion (1 Cor 12:3), but the idea that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17) is a hermeneutical statement is, in my judgment, problematic since freedom here almost certainly means freedom from the performance-demanding legislation of the Old Covenant, not interpretative freedom (contra Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 149). When you buy your copy The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (which I trust all readers will do cheerfully and with alacrity), then see my fuller discussion in ch. 3 and ch. 6.

Ben’s comment/question:
“I was surprised but not bothered by the fact that [Bates] returns unapologetically to the specifically Trinitarian implications of Paul’s hermeneutic. (We’re fortunate that he’s got a forthcoming volume tentatively titled The Birth of the Trinity….)”

My comments:
I am glad, Ben, that you found my chapters that focused on prosopological exegesis particularly compelling, as these are what I regard as my most novel contribution, and that you also were intrigued by the Trinitarian implications. My second book, tentatively The Birth of Trinity (the manuscript is complete), will look at the phenomenon of prosopological exegesis in first- and second-century Christianity more broadly and how this method of reading contributed to Christology and the growth of Trinitarian doctrine. Some of my main conversation partners in this forthcoming book are Larry Hurtado (One God, One Lord and Lord Jesus Christ), Richard Bauckham, (God Crucified and Jesus and the God of Israel), Simon Gathercole (The Pre-Existent Son), James Dunn (Christology in the Making), and John Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins (King and Messiah as Son of God). I think this new prosopological angle produces some stimulating results. I hope you and your readers are sufficiently piqued, so that you will dip into The Birth of the Trinity once it is released.

All the best,

~Matthew W. Bates

In my experience one basic problem with contemporary preaching is that most preachers are poor speakers. Not only do many of them not have a good command of their subject matter, but they give relatively little time to thinking about how to present the material. This could stem from several reasons, for example: a lack of confidence when speaking publicly; lack of time to prepare; or a rejection of the idea that a sermon should be well delivered. The first of these can be overcome with time. The second arises because of the general downplaying of the sermon in many of today’s churches. The role of the pastor-preacher has shifted away from the preaching of God’s Word to an administrator who manages church resources and staff. Ministers find all their time occupied by hospital visits or counselling sessions . Well these things are important (and I don’t want to downplay their signficance), the focus on them as the key components of a minister’s responsiblities reveals a shift away from preaching.

The third point stems from a misunderstanding and misuse of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 2.1-5:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (ESV)

This text is taken to mean that Paul didn’t give attention to how he spoke and whether he attempted to speak persuasively or not. Such a reading misses the contextual issues at play in the Corinthian church and overlooks the way in which Paul composes his letters.

The outcome of such neglect of speaking well, though, is that many people find the sermon boring and powerless, which breds the sense that the sermon is irrelevant to our contemporary lives. The striking thing, though, is that the ‘monologue’ is still a key element of public speaking in other fields. Political speeches are still highly valued, while people will listen to lectures from famous academics on subjects about which they know very little. The reason people listen to these others is because they speak well.

I think that the sermon has a vital role in the future of the church and the development of disciples. One key to recovering the power of the spoken Word is for ministers to give attention to how they speak. There has been signficant discussion about this in recent years, and a good place to start is the recent blog post by Ian Paul ‘Rhetoric in Preaching’, which draws attention to the place of rhetoric in contemporary society and in current reflections on preaching. He concludes by drawing attention to the practical implications of preaching persuasively:

Given the sense of growing hostility to Christian faith, the importance of good, persuasive, engaging preaching is not just about satisfying religious consumers in the supermarket of faith. Increasingly, Christians in the West need to have good reasons for what they believe, and encouraging faith involves continually making a persuasive case for trusting in God.

When I started doing book reviews as a PhD student, someone recommended to send my reviews to the author directly.  It helps you keep in mind they will read it more closely than anyone else, and it will remind you to keep your comments civil since they are directed at a person and not a faceless journal audience.  I did that with my review of Matt Bates’ The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (part 1 and part 2), and offered for him to do a response to clarify any misunderstandings I had and further the conversation.  Thus, the following is the first part of his response.  (He sent this several weeks ago, and due to some email snafus I am just now posting it.  My apologies, Matt!)  I know you’ll be enriched by his discussion.

Guest Post by Matthew Bates:

Greetings to all of you. First of all, I want to thank Ben Blackwell and the other contributors at Dunelm Road for extending me an invitation to supply a guest post—an unexpected pleasure. This is my first foray as a writer into the blogosphere, so psychologically this is a big step for me. Indeed, I haven’t exactly embraced this new social-media laced world with open arms. My face is not booked. I don’t tweet. And although I finally got around to creating an academia.edu profile a couple months ago, I still wouldn’t consider myself truly linked in. But I am working on it. So, today as a guest writer for Dunelm Road, I appreciate the opportunity to reap all of the undeniable benefits of biblioblogging—the lustrous fame, the plush advertising revenues, the posh book deals, the billions of adoring fans—while also avoiding its dark underbelly—the inevitable posting of a check-out-this-weird-thing-my-cat-just-did youtube video in order to stave off the mounting pressure to write something intelligent and coherent for the blog every couple days! No, seriously, I appreciate the biblioblogging community for keeping all of us non-regular bloggers up to date on various happenings in the biblical studies world.

It is of course an honor to have had my first book, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, blog-reviewed by Ben. I myself have had occasion to enjoy some of his research work as we share common interests. In previous posts Ben has already supplied a solid overview of my book (see part I) and an excellent critical evaluation (see part II). He also asked a couple questions.

So what’s on tap for my guest post? Well, of course, I am going to try my best to answer Ben’s questions and respond to issues raised. Also, as is inevitably the case, probably because I wasn’t sufficiently lucid in the book itself, there are a couple little things in Ben’s review that I want to clarify. Moreover, since this might be my one and only shot at extreme social-media self-promotion—I am thinking of those billions of Dunelm Road readers—I want to say a few words about how my work on prosopological exegesis in this first book bridges to my second book, tentatively titled The Birth of the Trinity.

I will use a dialogical format, giving Ben’s question/comment from the previous posts followed by my response:

Ben’s comment/question:
“[Bates] argues that we should understand Paul’s hermeneutics as thoroughly Christian rather than Jewish”
and (summarizing)
Bates leans in an “either/or” direction on this issue.

My response:
In intention (if not in effect), I was trying to argue two things. (1) That Paul was a Jew and that he did use Jewish interpretative techniques, and that the study of such techniques generally continues to be helpful and fruitful (e.g., as in Francis Watson’s Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith), but that we can’t stop there in comparative studies, because Paul was a special sort of Jew—one who had embraced Jesus as messiah. So if perchance I give off an “either/or” vibe, I would nonetheless consider myself very much “both/and.” (2) Yet because scholarship has already repeatedly and nearly exhaustively compared moments of Pauline exegesis of the OT to all the Jewish parallels, but has scarcely even begun to compare to Christian parallels, we are more likely to discover new insights through the latter. Thus, my specific focus on situating Paul amidst other early Christian exegetes in this book.

Ben’s comment/question:
“Bates’ intention is to dismantle the emphasis upon typology as a means to describe Paul’s interpretation.”
For Bates, “[older texts] don’t have to speak about the old event and then make a correspondence to the contemporary event (as in typology). They just speak directly to the contemporary event/issue.”
For Bates, “…a correspondence between past and present is not the focus, only the present is.”
“Bates deconstructs Hays’ and others’ use of the language of typology, arguing that typology is focused on the (Christ-informed) present, rather than working from past to the present.”

My response:
I can certainly see, due to my tone and emphasis, why Ben might feel like my intention is to dismantle typology and to exclude the past referent, but I would like to think my point about typology is more subtle. (But then again, I always like to think that I am being clever and subtle when it is perhaps more likely that I am being obscure or inscrutable).

I want to deconstruct typology only in the sense that, unlike allegory (Greek: allegoria), typology is not an ancient term for an interpretative technique—in fact, it wasn’t an ancient term at all but is a modern neologism. So “type” (Greek: typos) language is a metaphor, a kind of trope, not a reified exegetical technique for Paul or his contemporaries. But this doesn’t mean that the “type” metaphor lacks hermeneutical significance for Paul when he uses it in 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 and in Romans 5:14. So, the real question is what does Paul intend when he deploys the “type” metaphor? Drawing on my own lexical analysis and Frances Young’s Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture, I determine that “iconic mimesis” is at the heart of Paul’s “type” language—that is, imitation predicated on participation in a common image.

An author’s use of “type” language can be based on that author’s identification of an image in a past-tense narrative that is then found to reoccur in the present, but other configurations are also possible. For example, an author might first observe the image in the present, and then retrospectively look backwards and find the image prefigured in an earlier text. If indeed (as I argue) Paul tends toward the latter, that is he begins with the apostolic proclamation and mission, and then looks backward to the OT text to find the imitation, then Paul’s use of “type” isn’t thereby excluding the past or narrowly focused on the Christ-informed present, but rather Paul is drawing attention to the resonance between certain OT events and the his present, and this resonance gives both the past OT events and present events a heightened significance.

(Part 2 of the response will follow soon.)