In a previous post I (Jason) noted what I think is the most important claim made by Campbell in his book Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. It is the role he assigns to Ephesians/Laodiceans as the summary of Paul’s theology. In this post I want to raise a potential methodological problem with Campbell’s project.

As the subtitle indicates this book uses exclusively Paul’s epistles to establish Paul’s biography. Campbell is following John Knox when he identifies Paul’s letters as “primary” evidence. This primacy is set over against the book of Acts, which is treated as “secondary” evidence.

I want to note two problems with this approach. First, while I appreciate the need to ensure that one understands what each letter itself is saying about Paul’s travels, it strikes me as problematic to exclude evidence when one is trying to reconstruct a person’s life from 2000 years ago. My impression is that this is not the way historians typically operate. Historians draw on all the available material to construct an account of what happened. When we have so little material to work with, it seems mistaken to disregard from the outset a potential source.

Second, and more problematic to me, is Campbell’s willingness to use other sources besides Paul’s letters to collaborate or explain potential historical connections, which Campbell does at key points in his account, while maintaining a complete disregard for Acts. It is unclear to me why he is willing to use this material but not Acts. Campbell’s argument is not exclusively using Paul’s letters for the reconstruction. For example, the Thessalonian correspondences do not clearly identify when they were written or why. Yet, Campbell confidently claims that they were written against the backdrop of the Gaian crisis in 40-42 CE. This may be the case, but the only way Campbell can make this claim is to draw on non-Pauline material to establish a potential historical referent. The Thessalonian correspondences do not explicitly identify this issue. But here is precisely the problem: as soon as one allows any source beyond the letters into play, one must be willing to allow all the evidence into play–including Acts.

Campbell indicates at several points that a follow up study of Acts is in the works (or at least a study of Paul that incorporates Acts). I wonder when Acts is evaluated will the evidence of Acts at points be allowed to modify the reconstruction Campbell offers in Framing Paul? Or, will the conclusions drawn here be given priority and allowed to overrun Luke’s account? Is the framing presented in this volume actually as tentative as Campbell indicates at times? Or, is the frame now a fixed structure and any material that does not build on this pattern going to be rejected outright? Is Framing Paul the blue prints that are still subject to adjustment, even moving a whole wall if necessary, or is it a steel structure and Acts can only add some decorative features?

I’m (Jason) presently working on a short piece that outlines Paul’s biography so I finally got a round to reading Douglas Campbell’s Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. In the run-up to the book’s publication, I had heard that it would challenge much of the status quo in Pauline scholarship. And this it certainly does. The book is methodical in its assessment of the Pauline material and the standard arguments put forward by others. It is bold in its conclusions. Campbell was not bound by normal answers, and he was willing to rethink almost everything about Paul’s biography (including positions that he himself had advocated for previously). Campbell provides the reader much to think about. The conclusion is a fascinating re-ordering of Paul’s life and letter writing.

While I have many questions about the details of the argument, I want to focus briefly on two issues in this post and the next. First, while reading the book, it was often unclear to me what the payout was going to be. Campbell insists that having Paul’s biography, specifically his chronology, right is absolutely necessary for a correct reconstruction of his theology. While modifying the dates of when some of the books were written (Romans earlier than most would place it), through the first four chapters I wasn’t sure what the significance of getting Paul’s biography right was going to be. However, it is in chapter 5 on Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians where I think the payout comes. Particularly it is Campbell’s claims about Ephesians (which he claims is the letter to the Laodiceans). He argues for the authenticity of Ephesians/Laodiceans–not itself a novel position but certainly contrary to much of scholarship. But the real shift comes in his claim that Ephesians/Laodiceans is the third letter Paul wrote (after 1 and 2 Thess). Moreover, it is written to a community that did not know Paul or his theological views. From this reconstruction, Campbell claims, Ephesians/Laodiceans “is a unique introduction to the Pauline way for those who knew next to nothing about it” (p.407). As he puts it elsewhere, “Ultimately, this position will result in a more ‘Ephesiocentric’ account of Paul’s thought than might otherwise be the case” (p.326).

Of course, many scholars hold that Ephesians is in essential agreement with Paul’s other letters. But, I think, Campbell means something more by this. Rather than interpretative priority being assigned to Romans, it must now be given to Ephesians. How exactly this will impact reconstructions of Paul’s theology remains to be seen. Will prioritizing Ephesians/Laodiceans produce a completely different reading of Paul than, say, Dunn’s The Theology of Paul, which is structured on Romans? Campbell has a book on Paul’s theology in the works, and it will be interesting to see how this refocusing on Ephesians/Laodiceans will play out.

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.

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

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)


I (Ben) am a part of a reading group at church that recently finished Charles Taylor’s Secular Age, and we’re now into Sources of Self. (I know, I go to a cool church!) Taylor’s discussion in Secular Age was very impacting. In particular, his chapter on Bulwarks of Belief is one of the most important things I’ve read on how laying out systematically how the ancient/medieval social imaginary is different to the post-Enlightenment social imaginary. Understanding that difference is fundamental to interpreting these ancient texts. (As a good intro and interaction with Secular Age, I’ve assigned Jamie Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular with success a couple of times.)

Taylor describes our current age as the Age of Authenticity, which is built upon the idea that we have to create our identity. Since people struggle either to pick the right identity to create or want to create an identity but really don’t have the resources to achieve that goal the level of anxiety has increased greatly: The Age of Authenticity is the Age of Anxiety.

As part of his argument Taylor, at times makes use of Durkheim, and I have to confess I kept getting lost in what Durkheim held to. Another friend from church not in our reading group (I know, what a great church!) mentioned these School of Life videos and specifically the Durkheim one, and his relevance for Taylor became self-evident.

519k8B372hL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Zondervan has recently released another study Bible: the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. The notes for this study Bible are completed by John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener. Both are well-known for their work on the context in which the Bible was written.  As one would expect from Zondervan, the Bible is printed well. The biblical text is in a darker font than the notes, and cross-references are centered on the page against a light brown background. There are many color pictures and maps spread throughout the Bible along with short essays about various topics.

This new study Bible has the aim ‘to increase your understand of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realities behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded’. The notes, then, focus on cultural issues that the original readers would have known but are not clearly stated in the text. The notes do not identify how one should live out the text, nor do they give much comment on theological matters (at least from what I’ve looked at).

I was asked to comment on the notes to 1 Thessalonians. The introduction is very brief covering only date and occasion. Nothing is said about the city of Thessalonica. Notes on Acts 17.9 and 1 Thess 1.9 provide a little more detail about the city, but not as much as I expected given the stated aim of this study Bible. The introductions in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible and the NLT Study Bible are more substantial and likely to benefit readers more.

The notes themselves are fuller and will help readers better understand the context of the letter. Several comments are made about how 1 Thessalonians relates to other ancient letters and speeches. Helpful also are the comments about the social impact of turning from idols and the context for the language of peace and security. Additionally, there is an explanation of ancient travel, which I think is particularly helpful for modern readers. A table identifies links between the eschatology of 1 Thessalonians and Jesus’ teachings. The notes are fuller at times than those in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible and the NLT Study Bible when it comes to contextual matters. Potential connections with the Old Testament are often noted, but no references to non-canonical literature are provided.

Isolating 1 Thessalonians for comment may give the wrong impression about the study Bible. The Introduction to the Old Testament and the Introduction to the Gospels and notes on the Gospels were much fuller and seemed more useful.

I suspect that whether one likes a study Bible is determined to a large extent by what one hopes to get out of it. Overall, this one will serve well those who interested in the context the Bible was written in.

For more information about the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture check out

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