We got a few responses from our Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism volume that we were just beholden to the New Perspective and its fundamental problem—letting Jewish texts determine the meaning of inspired revelation. (That said, if they had actually read the volume or understood the New Perspective, they would have not so easily made that claim about our volume.) The challenge seems a little less pressing when you consider Jesus in his Jewish environment like we have with Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, but even then I (Ben) have received a comments from some quite hesitant to allow any uninspired text to shape our understanding of the Bible. That sounds spiritual, but the historical study of the Bible is foundational for all serious interpretations. Whether one follows the historical-critical method or its evangelical cousin the historical-grammatical method, the key idea is history.

We don’t have any problem studying the practices of the cult of Artemis in Ephesus to help us understand Luke’s portrayal of Paul’s experience there in Acts 19. We don’t have any problem looking at archeological dig sites to help understand the daily life of Jews and their Decapolis neighbors to understand Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee. In fact, my evangelical compatriots often rightly appeal to the distinctly historical nature of the narrative accounts in the Gospels and Acts to argue for their reliability. In these cases, allowing for a historical boundedness to meaning does not entail that we are letting uninspired knowledge determine the meaning of the Bible. Rather than a hindrance, we think of these as aids. In the same way, we have a treasure trove of Jewish texts that give us a window into historical perspectives of Jews contemporaneous with the New Testament. Why would ignore this rich variety that we find in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, etc.? These help us gain invaluable historical information about the first century Jewish experience.

When you read Reading Mark in Context, you will see that Jesus and Mark disagree with or modify Jewish categories as much as they accept them. As a result, we are not allowing these other texts to control our understanding of the Bible. They do, however, enlighten our understanding. If we are concerned with bad interpretation, I am much more worried about those who ignore historical information and therefore import their own very modern conceptions back onto Jesus and the New Testament. As they try to avoid letting actual historical documents determine the meaning, they end up committing a worse error by allowing their own opinion to determine the meaning (i.e., eisegesis). God chose to reveal himself in Jesus in a Second Temple Jewish setting for a reason, and it behooves the serious interpreter to understand the historical context in which God’s revelation occurred so we can understand it better. Reading Mark in Context won’t uncover all the historical issues, but it can at least tangibly introduce you and your students to Jesus’ world.

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Just the other day a new student asked me (Ben) about studying the New Testament and early Christianity. They were wondering how you study early Christianity because we have relatively few sources for knowing what they thought and practiced. However, when I noted exponential growth in the variety of material we have from the second, third, and forth centuries, the problem is not too little material from these early Christians to process but too much material. Of course, it’s not really too much, but there is so much that putting all the data together can be quite complex.

Since that is the nature of later Christian material, they offered that it’s too bad that we don’t have that same diversity with Jewish material for understanding the New Testament. While again we don’t have “too much,” we have quite a bit of theological, liturgical, historical, philosophical, mystical, narrative, etc. texts from Jews that lived within a similar time frame as the New Testament. The problem isn’t so much the limited amount of material that we have, the problem for students interpreting the New Testament is that they are almost completely unaware of the existence of the material, much less its breadth and depth.

9780310534457I was so much on board when the idea was initially brought up for Reading Romans in Context and now Reading Mark in Context because after seminary I was partially aware that this world existed, but I didn’t know anything about specific texts or much about particular ideas. Our goal with these is to introduce students to this world by making this material accessible to graduate and undergraduate level students. We provide glimpses into that world to help people know it exists and to get a sense of some of its flavor. With just glimpses this means that each chapter is selective, just covering one central topic. Of course, the depth and variety of each biblical passage means there’s much more that could be explored, but we hope this will whet the appetite to study these issues further.

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My colleague Craig Evans has helped create a great documentary that I got to see about a month ago. If you are free Tuesday, it will definitely be worth your time. Here’s the summary:

The Christian faith is based on the New Testament—but can we really trust the Bible? Skeptics say no, arguing that the Gospel manuscripts have been doctored to push a theological agenda. In this new Faithlife original film, Dr. Craig Evans (@DrCraigAEvans) takes this claim head on, traveling the globe to track down the most ancient New Testament manuscripts. Along the way, he highlights groundbreaking new evidence, demonstrating that the case for the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts is stronger than ever.

Fragments of Truth is showing in cinemas on Tuesday, April 24 only.

https://www.fathomevents.com/events/fragments-of-truth

This Thursday night, Oct. 12, at 7pm, in Belin Chapel, Houston Baptist University will be hosting our 2017 A.O. Collins lecture by Dr. Dale Allison, from Princeton Seminary. The title of the lecture is, “The Bible in an Age of Screens.” Details may be found here: https://www.hbu.edu/school-of-christian-thought/events-in-the-college/a-o-collins-lectures/ The lecture will be followed by a brief Q&A and refreshments.

The lecture is free and open to the public, so please do come join us if you are in town!

I recently posted the call for papers for the NABPR national meeting, so I thought I would note that my esteemed colleague Tim Brookins is organizing the Southwest regional NABPR meeting that meets in conjunction with the Southwest Regional Conference on Religious Studies (SWCRS)–March 9-10, 2018.

This year the NABPR Southwest conference will be focusing on “Christianity and Culture”. Papers will address the relationship between Christianity and culture at a philosophical level (the nature of cultural “translation,” the implications of the “embeddedness” of Christianity within culture, etc.) and/or a practical level (examining particular interactions between Christians and the surrounding culture in different places and at different times across Christian history).

Put it on your calendar. I know it will be a good event!

P.S. As a reminder, SWCRS proposals are due October 15.

Call for Papers
National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion
Annual Meeting
Gardner-Webb University
Boiling Springs, NC
May 21 – 23, 2018

The National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (NABPR) invites paper proposals in any area pertaining to scholarship in Religion.  In an effort to develop innovative conversations among scholars, papers which create integration between traditional disciplines or broaden the margins of disciplinary conversations are encouraged.   Although many NABPR members work primarily in the traditional disciplines of Biblical Studies, Church History, Theology, etc., proposals are encouraged from any field, including Ministry Studies.

Paper or panel proposals on any aspect of pedagogy related to the teaching of Religion are encouraged.

Proposals must be received by January 15, 2018.  Send a 300-word abstract to:

Doug Weaver
Department of Religion
Baylor University
One Bear Place # 97284
Waco, TX 76798-7284
Doug_Weaver@baylor.edu

  • Papers will be scheduled into a 30 minute time period, including discussion.
  • Proposals will be accepted or denied by March 1, 2018.
  • Graduate Students are encouraged to submit proposals.
  • The price of registration for Graduate Students is waived for the Annual Meeting.

Membership Requirement

Authors of accepted proposals must be members of NABPR in good standing by May 1. Authors must pay dues for the current year and be registered for the Annual meeting. Accepted Papers which have not met these criteria will be removed from the program. Inquires about dues and membership status should be directed to Joyce Swoveland: joyce_swoveland@baylor.edu

As with physical health, the core matters. One of the ways to have a strong core when studying Christian origins is a good general sense of the ancient world through primary texts. While you (or I!) may not be able to devote the amount of time that Shawn Wilhite describes in this post on A Strategic Approach to Reading Background Texts of the New Testament, doing any aspect of it will help.

As we have been working on Reading Mark in Context, the follow-up to Reading Romans in Context, it’s struck me again how much knowing this contextual literature is essential. What Shawn’s post captures is that it’s the consistent devotion to reading practices over time that is the most formative.