I (Ben) noted last week about Justin Martyr’s very clear affirmation that Jesus eternally existed and became incarnate in time in his Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 48. In the conclusion I noted the issue of distinguishing between economy (what God does) and ontology (how God is). The economy is clear in that statement, but what about ontology. Trypho has the same question!

Chapter 50: “You seem,” said Trypho, “to have debated with many persons on every possible topic, and consequently are ready to answer any of my questions. Tell me then, first of all, how can you prove that there is another God besides the Creator of the world, and then show that He condescended to be born of a virgin.”

Justin continues a previous argument (about the two advents of Christ) before coming back to this question in chapter 55ff. In chapter 56, Justin provides a lengthy set of quotations and descriptions of the Abraham’s interchange with three men and Lot’s later interchange. His argument is basically that God is present in two places at the same time. Summing up at key points, he writes:

Chapter 56:[11] “Then,” I said, “let us return to the Scriptures and I will try to convince you that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, and is called God, is distinct from God, the Creator; distinct, that is, in number, but not in mind. For I state that He never did or said anything else than what the Creator — above whom there is no other God — desired that He do or say.”  …

[22] At this point I asked, “Do you not see, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in Heaven, is Lord of the two angels? When they went on to Sodom, He stayed behind and talked with Abraham, as Moses testified. Then He went His way after His conversation, and Abraham returned to his place. [23] And when He came to Sodom, it was no longer the two angels, but He Himself, who talked with Lot, as is evident from the Scriptures. He, indeed, is the Lord who was commissioned by the Lord in Heaven, that is, the Creator of all things, to inflict those dreadful punishments upon Sodom and Gomorrah, which are described in the Scriptures in this fashion: ‘The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven’ [Gen 19.24].”

He goes on to include discussion of the burning bush and gives this description:

Chapter 61 “So, my friends,” I said, “I will now show from the Scriptures that God has begotten of Himself a certain rational Power as a Beginning before all other creatures. The Holy Spirit indicates this Power by various titles, sometimes the Glory of the Lord, at other times Son, or Wisdom, or Angel, or God, or Lord, or Word. He even called Himself Commander-in-chief when He appeared in human guise to Jesus, the son of Nave. Indeed, He can justly lay claim to all these titles from the fact both that He performs the Father’s will and that He was begotten by an act of the Father’s will. [2] But, does not something similar happen also with us humans? When we utter a word, it can be said that we beget the word, but not by cutting it off, in the sense that our power of uttering words would thereby be diminished. We can observe a similar example in nature when one fire kindles another, without losing anything, but remaining the same; yet the enkindled fire seems to exist of itself and to shine without lessening the brilliancy of the first fire. [3]My statements will now be confirmed by none other than the Word of Wisdom, who is this God begotten from the Universal Father, and who is the Word and Wisdom and Power and Glory of Him who begot Him.

This doesn’t sort all the questions about ontology by any means, but it shows that Justin was indeed aware of the issues. Though later argumentation is framed differently, the ideas of God meeting Abraham in Genesis 19 which is so central for Justin is at the heart of Rublev’s Trinity:


As Brevard Childs and Kavin Rowe argued so well: the OT is not an impediment to the Trinity, it is the necessary foundation on which the Trinity is grounded.

(Public Domain)

Sometimes it is popularly asserted that the Emperor and/or the bishops at Nicaea invented the idea that Jesus is God incarnate. Of course, that has been clearly refuted in scholarship, but conspiracy stories are so much fun and more interesting to pass along. I (Ben) am heading to give a lecture at Huntington University in a couple of weeks on Justin Martyr, Paul and the issue of circumcision, so I have been rereading the Dialogue with Trypho and was reminded of this gem on Christology:

Chapter 48 [1]“We have now heard your opinion on these matters,” interrupted Trypho. “Resume your discourse where you left off, and bring it to an end, for it seems to be entirely absurd and utterly impossible of proof. Your statement that this Christ existed as God before all ages, and then that He consented to be born and become man, yet that He is not of human origin, appears to be not only paradoxical, but preposterous.” [2] “I am aware,” I replied, “that my assertion must seem paradoxical, especially to you Jews, who were never in the least interested in knowing or doing the things of God, but only the things of your teachers, as God Himself testifies [cf. Isa 29.3]. However, Trypho, the fact that this Man is the Christ of God, is not to be denied, even if I were unable to prove that He, being God, pre-existed as the Son of the Creator of the universe and became Man through a virgin.

No nuanced reading or sophisticated hermeneutic to get the main idea here. Of course, the ontology of Nicaea is still wanting, but this is about as clear as an economic description of theology as you can get, and this is about 175 years before Nicaea. Irenaeus has equally clear statements about Jesus as God, dating to just a few years after Justin’s work.

One of my (Ben’s) favorite classes as to teach to undergrads is our New Testament Theology course. It’s one of the first upper level courses that majors/minors will take, and I get to expose them to the breadth, depth, and variety among these great texts. My focus in that course is two fold: 1) give them a deeper knowledge of the different texts and genres and 2) expose them to different hermeneutical approaches and voices (patristic, historical critical, postmodern, theological interp, etc.). Last year I taught Theology of the New Testament on the masters level for the first time. Wanting to provide a unique approach (for the rare student that might have had me as an undergrad but as much for my own benefit), I was looking for a something different to do.

My colleague, Jason Maston, suggested George Caird’s approach in his New Testament Theology. I did end up following that model, but Caird’s book is difficult to find since it’s out of print and it didn’t really give enough details about each author to warrant the size of the book. So, I wasn’t really satisfied with the book, but I loved the approach I took in class. Each student had to become “the expert” on their text, and as we worked through a variety of issues each week, they had to represent the voice of their text. I would first assign them to meet with others that represented their same genre: Gospels/Acts, Paul, and Catholic Epistles. Then they would mix genres in another group. It was great interaction that really helped them see the unity and diversity of the NT.

9780830851485As I’m looking forward to the next run of the course, I’ve kept my eyes open for a replacement, and I’ve definitely got one I’ll try: Derek Tidball’s The Voices of the New Testament. 1) It’s manageable in size–I’m a big fan of fairly short textbooks so I can either assign good seminar readings of the best thinkers or just get students to dig into primary texts. 2) It doesn’t over-do the topics. That is, Caird attempted to give a more complete discussion of various texts, but couldn’t given the format. Tidball’s treatment of each text is shorter and gets you to the big picture issue, so that (for my purposes) students can then go digest the text more fully on their own.

Not having used it, I can’t speak to how well he manages the conversation, but it seems to have a good dose of the Gospels and Paul, so the CE (broadly conceived) may get less attention, though Hebrews seems to show up a bit.

I (Ben) have been busily finishing out my SBL paper over the past few weeks: “Luther and Galatians: Justification as Participation in the Life of God.” I’m working from the Luther’s Works (LW) translation, but I, of course, needed to engage the critical edition of Luther’s Lectures on Galatians. However, being partially ignorant of Luther scholarship, I couldn’t remember how accessible the Weimarer Ausgabe (WA) of Luther’s Works, the critical edition of the original Latin and German, would be. My initial search kept coming up with older english translations, until I hit on Jim West’s very helpful series of posts with links to Reformation era primary resources (check down the right hand side to find a full list of “Reformation Texts“). I won’t repeat the Luther material here, but basically all the WA critical editions are old enough to be open source, so check out West’s Luther’s Works – Weimar (sic) Ausgabe. It lists all the volumes twice: first, with the open source web links; and second, a list of each volume’s main contents.

As we’re getting closer to SBL, I (Ben) know people are making plans for sessions to attend, so let me offer an option. As a part of my larger work on Paul to highlight how he brings together the topics of justification, life, and the Spirit, I’ve been working on tracing where the Reformation tradition separated them, so I’m presenting a paper on Luther and theosis. I know I’m an interloper on Luther, so I’m welcoming the opportunity to get some feedback. Do come join us.

Christian Theology and the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Conference Room 2 (3rd Level) – Marriott Rivercenter (MRC)

Theme: Martin Luther as Interpreter of Scripture
This is the first of a four-year series on Christian theologians and their interpretation of the Bible. This session examines Martin Luther and his theological interpretation of a specific text or set of texts in the Old and New Testaments. The session is interested not only in Luther as a historical theologian but also for his role in constructive Christian theology today.

Arthur Sutherland, Loyola University Maryland, Presiding (5 min)

Claire Mathews McGinnis, Loyola University Maryland
Martin Luther on Exodus 7–11 (and Romans 9:6-13): the Hardening of the Heart (30 min)
Tyler Atkinson, Bethany College (Lindsborg, KS)
Solomon’s Political Body: Luther’s Lectures on Song of Songs and Contemporary Political Theology (30 min)
Ben C. Blackwell, Houston Baptist University
Luther and Galatians: Justification as Participation in the Life of God (30 min)
Gordon Campbell, Union Theological College (Northern Ireland)
“Christ is neither taught nor known in it”: some christological fallout of Martin Luther’s Prefaces to the Revelation of St. John (1522 & 1546). (30 min)
Discussion (25 min)

Just a week or so away from the annual conference season, so I (Ben) am excited to point your attention to Edith Humphrey’s contribution as the main lecture at IBR this year. In addition Mike Gorman and I will be serving as respondents, so I’ll get to be on stage with two of my friends who are among my favorite Paul scholars.

After having read the paper, I know it will be a treat. It won’t be a boxing match like it was a couple of years back, but we’ll have a good discussion.

Institute for Biblical Research
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Room: Texas ABC & Corridor (4th Level) – Grand Hyatt (GH)

Edith M. Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Reclaiming all Paul’s Rs: Apostolic Atonement by Way of the Eastern Fathers (40 min)

Ben Blackwell, Houston Baptist University, Respondent (10 min)
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Respondent (10 min)
Discussion (20 min)

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.