History of Interpretation

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.

Continuing a series of posts about NT Christology, Larry Hurtado recently posted about “Chronology and Ontology“. There, he makes this claim:

So, how can we say that “ontological” categories don’t appear to be operative in earliest Christological texts? Negatively, there is the absence of the sort of philosophical terms that make their appearance in subsequent Christian texts. Positively, the Christological statements that we do have in NT texts seem to me to express claims more of a relational and transactional nature. In various ways, Jesus is uniquely linked with God, and is conferred (by God) with a unique status and role in relation to God.

My thoughts immediately ran to Colossians 2.9, which he doesn’t mention in his post. However, after being questioned in the comments about Col 2.9 and Heb 1.4, he follows up with a comment:

Sure, there are verbal links, but the sentences (and so the connotation of the terms) are different. And remember that sentences are the primary semantic unit, not “words”. So, e.g., in Col 2:9, Jesus is the one in whom “the fullness of deity dwells bodily,” which makes Jesus the vehicle of deity, which is a bit different from the later questions about whether the “Son” and God the Father share the same “essence.” And in Hebrews 1:3, the Son bears “the stamp” of God’s “being,” the term hypostasis used here in its more typical sense, whereas in the later Christological debates the term takes on a new/peculiar sense designating the particularity of the divinity of each of the three “persons” of the Trinity. Again, let’s respect the historical particularities of any text.

I  (Ben) wrote an article on Colossians 2.9–“You Are Filled in Him: Theosis and Colossians 2–3“–and among the topics I treat there is the ontology of this passage. As I point out there, even Dunn concedes how the terminology is relevant:

Dunn, for instance, while defending the latter option [that the dwelling is functional not ontological], concedes that θεότης “was sufficiently familiar in literary Greek to denote the nature or essence of deity, that which constitutes deity.” [Dunn, Colossians, 151]

In response to Dunn and McGrath, I make use of Hurtado’s conceptualities to argue for an ontological reading:

In one of his more recent works, Hurtado notes the informal distinction
in NT texts between discourse and practice, that is, there is a triadic shape of the God-discourse (elevated language about Father, Son, and Spirit) alongside a dyadic devotional practice (focused on the Father and Son). 24 In this taxonomy, the hymn in 1:15–20 reflects devotional practice, whereas 2:9 reflects God-discourse, since it is focused more on concepts than practice. That is, repeating but also expanding the language of 1:19, Paul is clarifying in 2:9 what he means by the fullness dwelling in Christ: it is the fullness of deity. That this fullness is not just God’s presence with Christ is shown through 1:15–20, where the cultic devotion reserved for God alone is now also given to Christ. Thus, 1:15–20 with its devotional practice and 2:9–10 with its God-discourse mutually inform one another.

As part of my conclusions, I write:

Paul’s use of θεότης invites us to consider the ontology of the assertion because the term itself relates to the divine essence. Francis Watson and others have rightly argued that in Paul’s letters that Christ’s function coheres with a divine ontology. Though addressing a later debate, the language and conceptualities of Nicaea can be of help. Importantly, one of the major topics in the Nicene debates was the issue of the coherence of act and being. That is, the orthodox confession was that Christ’s being (ontology) and act (function) cohere so that he is divine as the Father is divine. Thus, although extrabiblical concepts were employed to support the argument in the fourth century, the affirmations reflect the same judgments regarding the “unique divine identity” that Bauckham argues is in play in first-century assertions like we see in 2:9.

Of course, there is much more content and substance to my argument in the essay, but I would argue that ontology is too easily dismissed by Hurtado in this case because he wants to separate concepts and judgments. We should be sensitive to the problem of anachronism, but being too sensitive to it means that we miss the similarities.

Now that I’ve described the rationale for my in-progress book, Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology, I’m laying out below the goals and scope of my study:

Part 1: Historical Framework
To set the stage for a reevaluation of Paul’s theology of justification, I demonstrate how historical frameworks influence contemporary biblical interpretive models. In particular, I establish how Protestant readings of justification are reactionary against Catholic theology and therefore explicitly frame justification in light of Christology and faith to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit and love. Rather than being overly influenced by post-Enlightenment anthropological conceptions, I also show the need to incorporate more a more robust pre-modern understanding of the porous self, making explicit use of Charles Taylor’s work on the buffered and the porous self.

Part II: Reading Paul
In distinction to post-Reformation readings of justification which place Christ over the Spirit and faith over love, my exegetical analyses demonstrate that Paul intertwines the Spirit and Christ in his employment of justification language in key texts—namely, Galatians 2–4; 2 Corinthians 3–5; Romans 1–8. Thus, my reading of Paul shows the coherence of this doctrine with the transformative participation of believers in the triune God. After establishing the relationship of participation and justification through close readings of specific passages, I then treat a variety of participatory topics that relate to justification—namely, suffering/cruciformity, the community (adoption, covenant), and sanctification/ethics.

Part III: Theological Framework
To conclude the monograph, I explore a participatory reading of justification through the lens of the fifth century patristic theologian Cyril of Alexandria, showing that readers not limited by the later Protestant-Catholic categories offer a similar reading as my own. With this model in mind, I then provide an essay that explores justification in light of theosis, an important and growing topic of study arising from wider ecumenical discussions.

This monograph does not attempt to answer all the opposing positions regarding the topic of justification. Rather, it provides a focused and sustained reading of Paul that demonstrates how justification serves as one primary way that he develops his doctrine of a transformative participation in the triune God.

I (Ben) am starting work on a book on justification in Paul: Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology (with Eerdmans). Of course, the first question is: why do we need another book on justification in Paul? In response, my larger thesis is that other theological loci, such as the Spirit and resurrection/life, play a much larger role in Paul’s theology of justification than is acknowledged, and the book will largely be an exegetical exploration of key passages to document those connections.

One aspect to my argument is that the Protestant church has specifically shifted to a solely Christological view of justification rather than a more Trinitarian one. Note, for instance, how the Holy Spirit serves as the subject of the three first statements on justification and grace in the Catholic Catechism. (In the Joint Declaration with the Lutherans, the Spirit is hardly even mentioned.) While solus Christus isn’t as directly related to justification, it fits well with the traditional Protestant view of justification, as well. Even the very helpful Reformed doctrine of “union with Christ” belies a Christological focus in distinction to a more Trinitarian participation. Thus, a substantial part of my argument is to show how resurrection is more central to justification, and thus how the Lord, the Giver of Life (i.e., the Holy Spirit), is more important to the doctrine than our tradition has allowed.

In a paper for SBL’s session on Christian Theology and the Bible, I’ll show from Luther’s Galatians commentary how he connected justification with life/resurrection much more closely than Pauline scholars do today. Though I won’t be detailing the nuanced shifts in Protestant theology for the book, the work I’ve done for the essay appears to show that the shift was more of a second and third generation evolution than with the magisterial reformers–more with Lutheranism than Luther himself.

Christian Theology and the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

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)

I know we’re a few months out from the annual meetings this November, but now that the SBL schedule is online, I’m excited to point your attention to Edith Humphrey’s contribution as the main lecture at IBR this year. In addition Mike Gorman and I (Ben) 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.

Institute for Biblical Research
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

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)

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.

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)

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