History of Interpretation


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.

S21-210
Christian Theology and the Bible
11/21/2016
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.

P18-401
Institute for Biblical Research
11/18/2016
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.

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

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