History of Interpretation


Ben, Jason, and I are excited to announce the release of our most recent edited volume Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (Fortress Press). This book has been several years in the making, the main contents of which were initially presented and discussed at an SBL event of the same name in November 2014. The volume contains 17 excellent chapters at 488 pages. The retail price is a reasonable $39.00, though Amazon and other online book sellers are currently offering it as cheaply as $24. Below I’ve pasted the book description and table of contents. We’d be delighted if you and/or your library would obtain a copy!

Since the mid-twentieth century, apocalyptic thought has been championed as a central category for understanding the New Testament writings and the lePaul and the Apocalyptic Imaginationtters of Paul above all. But “apocalyptic” has meant different things to different scholars. Even the assertion of an “apocalyptic Paul” has been contested: does it mean the invasive power of God that breaks with the present age (Ernst Käsemann), or the broader scope of revealed heavenly mysteries, including the working out of a “many-staged plan of salvation” (N. T. Wright), or something else altogether? Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination brings together eminent Pauline scholars from diverse perspectives, along with experts of Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic philosophy, patristics, and modern theology, to explore the contours of the current debate. Contributors discuss the history of what apocalypticism, and an “apocalyptic Paul,” have meant at different times and for different interpreters; examine different aspects of Paul’s thought and practice to test the usefulness of the category; and show how different implicit understandings of apocalypticism shape different contemporary presentations of Paul’s significance.

Part I.
1. Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction—Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston
2. “Then I Proceeded to Where Things Were Chaotic” (1 Enoch 21:1): Mapping the Apocalyptic Landscape—David A. Shaw

Part II.
3. Apocalyptic as God’s Eschatological Activity in Paul’s Theology—Martinus C. de Boer
4. Apocalyptic Epistemology: The Sine Qua Non of Valid Pauline Interpretation—Douglas A. Campbell
5. Apocalyptic as Theoria in the Letters of St. Paul: A New Perspective on Apocalyptic as the Mother of Theology—Edith M. Humphrey
6. Apocalyptic and the Sudden Fulfillment of Divine Promise—N. T. Wright

Part III.
7. Some Reflections on Apocalyptic Thought and Time in Literature from the Second Temple Period—Loren T. Stuckenbruck
8. The Transcendence of Death and Heavenly Ascent in the Apocalyptic Paul and the Stoics—Joseph R. Dodson
9. Second-Century Perspectives on the Apocalyptic Paul: Reading the Apocalypse of Paul and the Acts of PaulBen C. Blackwell
10. Some Remarks on Apocalyptic in Modern Christian Theology—Philip G. Ziegler

Part IV.
11. Righteousness Revealed: Righteousness of God in Romans 3:21-26—Jonathan A. Linebaugh
12. Thinking from Christ to Israel: Romans 9-11 in Apocalyptic Context—Beverly Roberts Gaventa
13. Apocalyptic Allegiance and Disinvestment in the World: A Reading of 1 Corinthians 7:25-35—John M. G. Barclay
14. After Destroying Every Rule, Authority, and Power: Paul, Apocalyptic, and Politics in 1 Corinthians—John K. Goodrich
15. Plight and Solution in Paul’s Apocalyptic Perspective: A Study of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21—Jason Maston
16. The Apocalyptic New Covenant and the Shape of Life in the Spirit according to Galatians—Michael J. Gorman
17. The Two Ages and Salvation History in Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination: A Comparison of 4 Ezra and Galatians—J. P. Davies

Index of Names
Index of Ancient Writings

I’m happy to be participating in the a relatively new group for SBL–Texts and Traditions in the Second Century. Of course, I’m contributing to what looks to be a great discussion of Paul in the Second Century.

S22-344
Texts and Traditions in the Second Century
Sunday, 11/22/2015, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Techwood (Atlanta Conference Level) – Hyatt

Theme: Paul in the Second Century

Christopher Hays, Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia, Presiding
John Kincaid, John Paul the Great Catholic University
The Saving Righteousness of God at Philippi: Paul, Polycarp, and the Question of Dikaiosyne (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Ben Edsall, Australian Catholic University
(Not) Baptizing Thecla: Early Interpretive Efforts on 1 Cor 1:17 (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Ben C. Blackwell, Houston Baptist University
Paul and Rome: The Thematic Relationship between the Acts of Paul and Luke’s Acts Reconsidered (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jenn Strawbridge, University of Oxford
‘A Preacher of the Truth’: The Apostle Paul and Irenaeus (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Thomas McGlothlin, Duke University
Resurrection as Conformity to Christ through the Spirit: Second-Century Struggles with a Pauline Motif (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

A few days ago I quoted a great summary passage from Irenaeus, and it’s sad that we are still struggling with the same problems. Of course, few in churches would explicitly affirm two Gods in the Bible, but the way they describe God’s action in the OT and in the NT only focuses on discontinuity. That is, they are functional Marcionites: the God of the OT is mean and angry, but the God of the NT is loving and forgiving. Of course, there is some discontinuity in the vision of God in the OT and the NT. How can there not be when the greatest revelation of God had not become manifest until the NT era? However, Irenaeus rightly responds to an overemphasis on the discontinuity by pointing out the greater continuity: the Creator of the World is also its Savior. He’s worth quoting again:

If He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, “by the word of His power;” and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him.

But there is one only God, the Creator–He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom–heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them: He is just; He is good; He it is who formed man, who planted paradise, who made the world, who gave rise to the flood, who saved Noah; He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of the living: He it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. Against Heresies 2.30.9 (ANF)

Thus, Christ’s work of salvation is a fulfillment of the original intention of creation and in God’s covenanting work with the Jews. The same God is working it all out–not merely judgment and then love, or a mistake and then its solution. We see both love and judgment in both the OT and NT.

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

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.”
and
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.”
and
For Bates, “…a correspondence between past and present is not the focus, only the present is.”
and
“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.)

Matthew Bates (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame), currently Assistant Professor of Theology at Quincy University, has provided us with a fine discussion of Pauline use of the OT in his The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation. I received a review copy from Baylor press a few months back, and I’m finally getting around to posting my thoughts.

Over the last few decades the NT use and interpretation has garnered a growing level of interest, and Bates wades into a discussion dominated by some of the biggest names in Pauline scholarship–Richard Hays, Francis Watson, Christopher Stanley, Steve Moyise and Ross Wagner.  While not changing the whole tenor of the conversation, Bates contribution effectively widens the scope of evidence and provides a new lens on some of Paul’s uses of scripture.

A Brief Summary

Chapter 1.  Bates thoroughly lays out the history of research into Paul’s use of the OT.  In fact this is one of the most comprehensive reviews I’ve read in any dissertation/monograph.  Though informed about the issues, I wasn’t previously aware of some of the nuances of various approaches, so this was quite helpful.  He ultimately works towards two deficiencies in the field.  The first, modeled by Watson, is focusing solely on Jewish comparators.  The second relates to Hays’ limited employment of Bahktin, whose work calls for a consideration of the polysemous nature of texts in their original context and later contexts.  Hays, he says, focuses on the polysemous nature of texts, but he doesn’t take into account later contexts.  Accordingly, he calls for a “diachronic intertextuality” in which the interpretive methods of later post-Pauline interpreters are brought into the frame of comparison, rather than merely Paul and his contemporaries.

Chapter 2. Here the importance of scripture for Paul in forming his basic gospel narrative is the focus.  Rather than picking Pauline passages that directly quote scripture, Bates chooses two passages where Paul summarizes his key message (in “protocreeds”): 1 Cor 15.3-11 and Rom 1.1-6.  In both these passages, which receive detailed exegesis, Bates shows that the narrative of the Messiah is one that Paul sees as developing from his interpretation of scripture.   He summarizes the details of his exegesis by developing a 12-stage narrative in two sections: stages 1-8 relate to the story of Christ and 9-12 relate to apostolic mission arising out of the Christ event.  Though Bates doesn’t use these terms, it seems that he is detailing what Hays in his later revision of his work on intertexuality (see Conversion) would describe as a christocentric and ecclesiotelic model of interpretation.  Bates uses the terms kerygma and apostolic to capture this.

Chapter 3. Bates next brings in the results from study of rhetorical handbooks to explain how scriptures would be employed to support Paul’s apostolic kerygma.  Bates’ intention is to dismantle the emphasis upon typology as a means to describe Paul’s interpretation.  The key to this argument is considering the stage in which scripture would be employed in writing (based on the rhetorical handbooks).   Though he concedes these steps don’t happen rigidly, the order is important: 1) invention, 2) arrangement, 3) expression, 4) memory, and 5) delivery.  The collection of material to use in an argument (for Paul, scriptural texts) happens with the invention stage (1), whereas the employment of that material to the audience through tropes (metalepsis, metaphor, allegory, etc.) would occur in the expression stage (3).  That is, typology (a trope) would be just verbal dressing meant to convince, but this would not be the heart of his argument.  Since Paul has a unified view of the divine economy he can use older texts to speak about current events, which can only be viewed in light of Christ and the apostolic kerygma.  They 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.  Bates goes through a number of Pauline passages to demonstrate this: Rom 5.14; 1 Cor 10.1-11; Gal 4.21-31; and 2 Cor 3.1-4.6.

Chapter 4. One central example of reading the Old Testament as speaking directly to or within the contemporary frame is through prosopological exegesis.  That is, an interpreter encounters an inspired writing which has an ambiguous voice/saying, and the interpreter “resolves the perceived uncertainty by assigning a suitable prosopon to the speaker or the addressee (or both) to explain the text” (217).  In this chapter, Bates does not focus on Paul but rather Greek, Jewish, and later Christian writers to show how this method of interpretation was employed.  This is particularly where his “diachronic intertextuality” model comes into play.  After establishing the existence and execution of the practice, he turns in the next chapter to explore how Paul employs this.

Chapter 5. Bates walks through several Pauline passages that meet his criteria for the possibility of prosopological exegesis: Rom 10.6-8; 15.3; 10.16; 10.19-21; 11.9-10; 14.11; 15.9; and 2 Cor 4.13.  Of these passages, he cogently explains how Paul inserts/hears Christ (or others) as the ambiguous speaker in OT texts.  Paul only explicitly introduces prosopological exegesis in Rom 10.6-8, but the other texts explored (besides 10.19-21) clearly show prosopological exegesis.  While 10.19-21 may appear to be prosopological, Bates argues against seeing this employed in that passage.  Importantly, Bates doesn’t conclude that this method of exegesis is the key to unlock every use of the OT (cf pg 326), but it does give insight into Paul’s perspective on the unified divine economy.

Chapter 6. In his final chapter Bates gives a gift to his readers.  He revisits all of the major conversation partners in modern scholarship and explains how his research affirms, critiques, or refutes their work.  He prefigures this in chapter 1, but having a clear discussion about each scholar’s work in light of his research is again very helpful for framing its significance in larger debates.  I’ll note two here.  In distinction to Watson’s decision to explore Paul in light of fellow Jewish interpreters, Bates finds Paul’s fellow Christians, especially those a century or so later, to be better models of helping us understand Paul’s methods.  In contrast to Hays who finds a form of typology important for Paul’s exegesis, Bates argues that the method of selecting and employing texts doesn’t support that view and more importantly the contemporary Christ-informed setting consumes Paul’s vision such that a correspondence between past and present is not the focus, only the present is.

Hopefully, that is an adequate summary of the argument.  It only scratches the surface of the exegesis and work put into the monograph.  I will return in my next post to give my evaluation of the work.

In the previous post, I noted several comments from Wright on how the Church has misread and distorted the gospels. I found much in Wright’s essay that I appreciated, and as one who comes from a tradition that undervalues the Gospels and ‘spiritualizes’ the kingdom, I completely understand his reaction against this view. However, I have reservations about the way that he pits ‘tradition’ against historical reconstruction and particularly his assertions that ‘the whole church’ or ‘the entire Western tradition’ has misunderstood the Gospels. Let me make two points.

1) The goal of biblical scholarship (indeed of any scholarship) is to advance knowledge. Scholars identify unresolved issues and attempt to provide solutions; we reassess the sources in light of new evidence, such as archaeological discoveries or new philosophical theories about knowledge. We put forth ideas that are often in conflict with previous interpreters. But at what point is it correct to declare all previous interpreters wrong not merely on issues of individual verses but rather on whole subjects like the Gospels (or Paul)? Note, this is not just saying ‘Hey, we have missed this key issue that needs to be included’. Rather, this is declaring ‘Hey, you all have gotten the whole thing wrong! This is how it really is’. Wright’s claim in the quotes listed in the previous post is not merely that we have misunderstood some aspect, but rather that the whole church—every previous interpreter—has completely missed the whole thing. The church has sailed the ship in the wrong direction for 2000 years! Or, more strongly, the church has not even been on the right boat. This is a bold claim, and although Wright is arguing for the importance of understanding the Gospels and Jesus historically, it raises for me a theological question: If the whole of the church has gotten it wrong, does it mean that God’s Spirit has not actually been guiding his people in their reading of Scripture?

2) I’m no expert on the Reformation, but Wright’s claim to be upholding the Reformation seems mistaken. The Reformers certainly stood opposed to tradition, but they didn’t declare the tradition to be wholly wrong. Luther and Calvin regularly turned to Augustine, for example, for support for their interpretations. They certainly went beyond Augustine at key points, but they were keen to make sure that others in the church’s tradition supported their interpretations. Indeed, a number of scholars have appealed for Wright to give more attention to earlier interpreters, not least because Wright may well find supporters for his views (Mike Bird has made this point on several occasions particularly in his response to Wright at IBR in 2010; after drafting these comments I read Edith Humphrey’s essay, ‘Glimpsing the Glory’,  in Jesus, Paul and the People of God and she makes some very pointed remarks to Wright  about the issue ). The whole issue raises this question for me: when proposing a radical reworking of a particular issue (such as the meaning of the Gospels or justification), how important is support from previous interpreters?

I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions. I find neither a ‘blind’ acceptance of tradition nor Wright’s absolute rejection of tradition acceptable. There must be a middle ground that recognises the value of previous interpreters while also realising that they were humans. Michael Gorman makes some good points here about the role of the creeds (and tradition) that are worth reflection.

I hope that this post doesn’t come across as another bash Wright argument. However we treat the relationship between biblical scholarship and church tradition, there is much in this essay by Wright worth pondering and much that the church does need to hear.

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