October 2016

Hi, I’m Ben and I’m an anachronist. In two recent posts, I’ve called out a couple of forms of anachronism with regard to Trinitarian theology and the Bible–in historical critical work and in one progressive revelation model, but I’m just as bad. While I critique them for an uncritical, or an seemingly unaware, use of anachronism,  I would argue that we cannot escape forms of anachronism so we should own up to the issue. The big concern is that we don’t lose the particularity of each author as we read, but our practice of reading is not uninformed or uninfluenced by conceptualities that post-date the text in focus. (Again, see my discussion of Gadamer in my Christosis chapter 1 for a discussion of how we know and read texts through/by means of tradition, so escaping it is impossible.) It’s not that we need a solution to anachronism, then, but we also shouldn’t let ideas run wild as if the author is dead either.

Two essays that my class explored on the topic of the Trinity and the Bible is that of Kavin Rowe’s “Biblical Pressure and Trinitarian Hermeneutics” and  Brevard Childs’ “The Identity of God”. Both work with a hermeneutical model of progressive revelation. This model is similar to a historical critical model in which the reader is encouraged to progress chronologically–prospectively–rather than  reading backwards–retrospectively. While both encourage seeing continuity between the OT and NT, they both end their respective essays with a potential caution about reading retrospectively, reading with a creedal form of Trinitarianism as one approaches the OT and NT. One distinction, though,  is the emphasis that Rowe places on the model of NT writers reading the OT retrospectively. Indeed, Rowe’s emphasis is on how the NT writers utilize OT/LXX kyrios language to identify the Son and Spirit. Child’s notes the retrospective model of the NT writers but explicitly denies our ability to read in that fashion since they were inspired (p. 381).

It seems to me that we all read prospectively and retrospectively, and that attending to the bi-directional focus is necessary. (For explicitly Christian readings, I would say this bi-directional mode attends to the dual nature of Scripture with its dual authorship–both divine and human.) Many interpreters speak of doing both, with u-turn. The question is do you start at the past and work forward (prospectively) and then read backwards (retrospectively), or do you start with Christ and read backwards (retrospectively) first, and then turn to read forwards (prospectively). In our recent volume on apocalyptic (Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination), we found this bi-directional reading was common to many, but the difference in their approaches related to the starting point. In particular, N.T. Wright pursues a prospective-to-retrospective model, whereas Richard Hays pursues a retrospective-to-prospective model. Both approaches have their pro’s and con’s, but it’s the appreciation for bi-directional reading that is important to recognize when we are working with issues of anachronism.

I (Ben) am teaching a Trinitarianism class for the second time here at HBU, and I’m experiencing one of the great benefits of being a professor–having a great excuse to read great texts more than once rather than always pressing on to something new. I start the semester by going through the patristic debates and then we go back to the biblical material, and then I pick a more focused reading. (Last time it was Moltmann’s Trinity and the Kingdom, and this time we’ll read Macchia’s Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God.) I begin with patristic theology because most that make assessments about the Trinity and biblical texts are working with the patristic categories, either explicitly or implicitly. As my last post indicated, this raises questions of anachronism that many (if not most) would want to avoid. Of course, I’m the pot calling the kettle black by using an anachronistic model and then decrying others for doing the same. I’ll own it; however, I agree with my epistemological assessment in Christosis, by means of Gadamer, that we know things through tradition rather than in spite of it.

In the previous post, I noted how historical critics can sometimes implicitly make an anachronistic claim that the Trinity is not in the NT because it does not exist in its fully immanent and Nicene form, and therefore they can exclude or underestimate the economic Trinitarian focus of the biblical texts. However, some affirming a more traditional reading at times fall into a different kind of anachronism when reading biblical texts. In particular, as we were reading Brevard Childs’ “The Identity of God” in his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, his method betrays a type of anachronism.

Childs is definitely concerned not to read backwards because only the apostles were inspired to do that, so he is guarding against anachronism in that fashion without the inspiration of the Spirit. His anachronism appears to show up in the form of finding too much continuity in the biblical transition from the OT to the NT. I’m a fan of recognizing more continuity between the OT and NT than is often noted, but it’s not that we can simply read the text forwards from OT to NT and arrive at the Christology of the NT writers. Jason (Maston) my colleague and boss was sitting in on my lecture and helped me articulate this (via his work with Francis Watson). The Jewish texts have meanings that can shoot off in a number of directions, and it is only through Christ that we can come back and read them as in direct continuity with them.

Thus, even though Childs is concerned with anachronism of reading dogmatic theology back into biblical theology and with the anachronism of reading OT texts in too limited of a fashion because of the NT (e.g., his comments on Is 53, pg. 382), he also betrays a form of anachronism: to find such continuity between the  OT and NT presumes that he is reading backwards through the Christological lens of the NT. It’s not that the continuity in the story is not there, if you read it through that lens, but the details of the story don’t just naturally line up that way when reading forwards. There has to be a backwards reading implicit in his method even though his whole discussion of p 375-83 makes it seem that he’s wanting to avoid it.

As a quick note… Right now our eBook Reading Romans in Context is 61% off: http://bit.ly/2epiGcS  This deal disappears end of day Oct. 21.Reading Romans in Context

Statements that the Bible/NT do not have a fully orbed Trinitarianism abound. Of course, those with a “low, slow” christology make that affirmation, but even those with an “early, high” christology regularly make such claims. Behind this is a strong concern to avoid the anachronism of later (creedal) theology back into texts. It is this problem of anachronism that I think undergirds those that would both deny and affirm Nicene theology. In other words, both groups are actually committing an anachronistic reading by making the comment that a fully orbed Trinitarianism is not found int the NT.

Historical Criticism: The concern of anachronism is almost self-evident in historical critical studies. There is a one-way flow of time, and every text/author must be interpreted in light of what is contemporaneous or previous to them. In no way should later conceptualities be introduced that would taint the historical evidence. Therefore, introducing later Nicene theology into a text would be out of order and would produce anachronistic results. Accordingly, one can easily say that the NT does not have a fully formed Trinitarianism, by which they mean a fully formed Nicene Trinitarianism. However, by using this later standard by which to measure Trinitarianism, historical critics have implicitly imported an anachronistic conceptuality into their their argument. Can’t the NT have a fully formed Trinitarianism on its own terms? Or might we say, in light of the historical critical concern to bracket out the ontology of Nicaea in terms of the immanent Trinity, they can fall into the trap of missing the event and action of God in terms of the economic Trinity. For example, Dunn in his Christology in the Making argues that Christ is the revelation of God in Paul’s letters, just that Christ is not ontologically identified with God (through pre-existence) in Paul’s letters: “God had himself acted in and through Christ” (255). This seems to be a strong indication of an economic view of Trinity, which is set in opposition to an immanent view. Yet if the immanent view was not at play in the discussion as an alternative, then the economic would be allowed more space.

Thus, it seems that this anachronistic standard is shaping historical critical affirmations and denials. This doesn’t mean that ontological issues are irrelevant to assessments of these texts, but we need to be careful of importing a standard from a latter time in order to make those assessments. This isn’t only a problem for those critiquing or questioning traditional readings, and I’ll mention how more traditional readers deal in anachronism  while trying to support their readings in a follow-up post.

I was asked to write a review of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible with a focus on Romans. My first Bible that I really read was the NIV Study Bible that was around in the early 90’s. It was a great aid to my faith and personal growth. I’ve not engaged a study Bible in years, so this was an interesting exercise.

This Bible follows the same format of most study Bibles, including general introductions, call out boxes, and footnotes. As with the title of the study Bible, the information helps explain the text but with a focus on the cultural background. Those materials include geographic details, social practices (Jewish, Greek, and Roman), rhetorical practices, and engagement with other texts such as the OT and Second Temple literature.

The general introductions were informative and the footnotes included a good bit of quick information. The notes are not not merely background information, but provide a helpful explanation of how the paragraph holds together: e.g., 1:18-22, which mentions Wisdom of Solomon, and 3.10-18, which notes the unifying factor of the quotes, not just sin but body parts (feet, eyes, and especially mouth).

These are the main call-out pages that give the a focused attention on topics: Rome Homosexual Activity in Antiquity, Adam in Jewish Tradition, Flesh and Spirit, Pure and Unclean Foods, and the Erastus Inscription. I found discussion of Homosexual Activity in Antiquity. It gives discussion of Greek and Roman practices and context. In particular, it focuses on older men with boys as well as the use of prostitutes and slaves. It explains the demographic basis about baby girls being more often discarded in ancient cultures, which leads to the focus on boys. Ultimately it describes the practices without prescriptive interpretations.

There are elements that are missing. There’s surprisingly little about justification here in Romans (or Galatians). There are only footnotes which by implication gloss justification with “acquittal”. That’s not a minor issue in the letter. While I’ve seen or heard most of the information here since this letter is a focus of mine, but I can say that there were elements that I wouldn’t have focused on but should have or hadn’t thought of. So, I’m a fan.


O’Keefe (“Impassible Suffering?”, 44-45) describing Cyril of Alexandria:

Those who refuse to confess that Mary is Mother of God do not appreciate the fullness of the Son’s participation with us, just as the Arians misunderstood the fullness of the Son’s participation in God.

Thanks to Nijay Gupta for his favorable review of Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (Fortress, 2016):

This is a timely book, offering thoughtful and thought-provoking reflection and debate on how Pauline scholars use the language of apocalyptic and apply it to the Apostle’s letters. I do not doubt that this volume will enjoy a long life of use, especially the early chapters that treat the critical matters of definition and methodology. Students of Paul will benefit greatly from this colloquium on Paul’s apocalyptic thought in context. (Horizons in Biblical Theology 38 [2016]: 242-44)

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