New Testament

Douglas Moo Douglas CampbellIf you live in Chicago-land, you may be interested in the debate, “Paul on Justification: Is the Lutheran Approach to Pauline Justification ‘Justified'”?, between Douglas Campbell and Douglas Moo. The free event is being organized by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding and will be held 7:00-8:30pm, Thursday, February 12th, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s ATO Chapel. Here is the official add:

Martin Luther and other reformers viewed Pauline justification as primarily, if not exclusively, a forensic matter between us and God. We are justified before God, through faith in Jesus Christ, according to his finished work on the cross. If one believes the gospel message, then one is justified before God. Reconciliation (with God and with other humans) is a necessary implication of justification but is not part of justification as such. New perspectives on Paul have challenged this account of justification (both historically and exegetically). Rather than being merely a forensic matter focused on human salvation and its relationship to divine satisfaction, this approach suggests that Pauline justification is essentially about human liberation and the reconciliation of people one with another. On this view, Pauline justification means that Christians are justified when they participate in a realized eschatology within Christ, through the Spirit, working out their salvation within the empirical context of a life ministry of reconciliation with other humans beings. Supplementary questions of the debate include “What is justification according to Paul?” “How does it fit into the rest of Paul’s theological understanding?” and “Is a ministry of reconciliation essential to or consequential of Pauline justification?”



One of the exciting developments in recent scholarship is the series Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity (BMSEC) edited by Wayne Coppins and Simon Gathercole. The initial volumes have already received much attention. Wayne has been involved in a range of translation work, and the idea to include some translations of Martin Hengel’s work in Earliest Christian History came from him. I’ve asked Wayne, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Georgia, some questions about the series and translating German.

1. Before this series you produced several translations of German material. What led to your interest in German scholarship and particularly providing English translations?

After completing my B.A. in Greek and Latin at the University of Georgia in 1998, my friend Jay Weldon invited me to join him in Germany where he was taking part in a UGA exchange program at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. Since I was already considering graduate studies in religion, this seemed like a great way to learn German and so I took him up on his offer and moved to Germany in January 1999. I initially planned on staying a year at the most, but at some point I discovered it was basically free to study in Germany (cf. Andy Bowden), which contributed to my decision to enroll at the University of Tübingen, while living at the Albrecht Bengel Haus. At this time, I first discovered something of the riches of German scholarship, especially through my classes with Friedrich Avemarie, Peter Stuhlmacher, Otfried Hofius, Bernd Janowski, Dorothea Wendebourg, and Eberhard Jüngel, but also through my friends and teachers at the Bengel Haus. And my appreciation for the German tradition continued to grow in the course of my M.A. an PhD studies in Durham and Cambridge. During my time in Tübingen, Friedrich Avemarie also gave me my first academic job working as a Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft for the Tübingen-Durham Resurrection volume, and Peter Stuhlmacher asked me to translate one of his lectures for an upcoming trip to the States. These experiences gave me my first taste of editorial and translation work, and I found that I enjoyed it. This conviction likewise continued to deepen during and after my MA and PhD, when I had the opportunity to translate four essays by or about Martin Hengel. Against this background, I think my interest in translation has three main sources, namely a) my transforming experience with German scholars(hip) in Tübingen, b) the translation opportunities that I received in Tübingen and Cambridge, which helped me to discover how much I enjoyed this work, and c) my growing conviction that translation represented an excellent way for me to contribute to the advancement of my field.

2. What led to your involvement with the BMSEC Series

The short answer is that I wanted to create a framework in which my translation work could be part of a larger vision for facilitating increased dialogue between German-language and English-language scholarship. For a longer answer, see my interview with Michael Hölscher.

3. What do you hope this series will accomplish for scholarship?

Since I spend much of my existence translating and editing volumes for the series, it will come as no surprise that I have great hopes for it! Let me outline these in three points.

(a) First, I hope that each volume in the series will make important contributions to concrete areas of scholarship within the field. For example, I hope Jens Schröter’s book From Jesus to the New Testament will be taken up in discussions of historiography, historical Jesus, Pauline studies, Luke-Acts, the canon, and theology of the New Testament!

(b) Second, beyond their individual contributions, I hope that each volume will serve as a window into the wider world of German scholarship and thereby enable English-speaking scholars to become more conversant with emphases and developments that characterize cutting-edge German scholarship.

(c) Third, I hope—or at least dream—that the series will contribute to a resurgence of interest in German scholarship on early Christianity and that this will, in turn, motivate a new generation of scholars to commit themselves to learning German, so that they can interact even more fully with the German tradition in their research and teaching.

4. How do you choose which books to translate? The volumes so far have been recent books. Will the series also pick up some older material?

The short answer to your first question is that we—i.e. Simon Gathercole and I in conversation with Carey Newman and Henning Ziebritzki—look for works that are of incredibly high quality and written by respected authors, without requiring that they fit a certain genre. For example, the first five volumes will include two collections of essays (Schröter and Frey), three monographs (Konradt, Markschies, and Hengel/Schwemer), and one commentary (Wolter). For a longer answer, see my interview with Clifford Kvidahl (Part I and Part II).

It is not impossible that the series will include some older material, but I doubt it. The reason for this is because I think much interaction with German scholarship is too backward looking. When people think of German New Testament scholarship they often think only of the formative period of the discipline or of the contributions of Bultmann and his students. This is not, of course, all wrong, since it is absolutely essential that scholarship continue to grapple with the contributions and issues raised by such key figures and movements (cf. e.g. here and here ). At the same time, part of my vision for the series is to communicate with all due clarity that contemporary German scholarship on early Christianity is alive and well, so that the future of German scholarship also lies in the present and not merely or even primarily in the past. And for what it is worth, I also think that engaging contemporary German scholarship is often an especially fruitful way to discover the strengths and shortcomings of past German giants, or at least this has been the case with my interaction with Schröter and Markschies in relation to Bultmann and Harnack.

5. Will you tell us a little about what will be out at SBL in November 2014 and in the future in the series?

The volumes that have been planned out so far are as follows:

Vol. 1 (2013): Jens Schröter, From Jesus to the New Testament (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 2 (2014): I am very excited about this year’s BMSEC volume, namely Matthias Konradt‘s book Israel, Kirche und die Völker im Matthäusevangelium Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew, not least because of the ringing endorsements that the German and English versions have received from Ulrich Luz (‘die wichtigste Arbeit über das Matthäusevangelium der letzten zehn Jahren’Evangelium Ecclesiasticum, p. 285) and Dale Allison (‘Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew is full of original observations and fresh arguments. Konradt has built a new foundation for all future work on the crucial topic of Israel and the Church in Matthew’s Gospel’, Endorsement for the English Edition). And in addition to the high quality of the argument, I think that Kathleen Ess has done an absolutely wonderful job with the translation (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

And I am, of course, equally excited about my and S. Brian Pounds‘ translation of Jens Schröter’s book Jesus von Nazaret: Jude aus Galiläa – Retter der Welt  Jesus of Nazareth – Jew from Galilee, Savior of the World, which will also be at this year’s SBL, though not as part of the BMSEC series (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 3 (2015): The next volume, which I have recently submitted to Baylor, is Christoph Markschies‘s book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen: Prolegomena zu einer Geschichte der antiken christlichen Theologie / Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

I think that this impressive volume will prove to be a major contribution to the study of early Christianity in the second and third centuries and especially to key issues such as (1) the value of an institution-oriented approach to studying early Christianity, (2) the need to attend to diverse institutional contexts, such as free teachers and Christian schools, the Montanist prophets and their circle, and the Christian worship service and its prayers, (3) the relationships between the New Testament canon and Christian institutions, and (4) the advantages of the complementary model of the identity and plurality of ancient Christianity as an alternative to competing models such as Walter Bauer’s Cultural Protestant model of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’ and the Jesuit model of the ‘inculturation’ of Christianity.

The next volumes planned for the series are:

Vol. 4 (2016): Wolter, MichaelDas Lukasevangelium The Gospel According to Luke. Translated by Wayne Coppins and Christoph Heilig. Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity 4. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 5 (2017): Frey, JörgDie Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten. Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. Translated by Wayne Coppins. Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity 5. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 6 (2018): Hengel, Martin, and Anna Maria SchwemerJesus und das Judentum Jesus and Judaism. Translated by S. Brian Pounds and Wayne Coppins. Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity 6. Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

6. For those thinking about PhD studies or at the early stages, what advice do you have for them about how to acquire a better understanding of German? Is there a particular author or two that you think is good to ‘cut one’s teeth on’?

Hard to say. If at all possible, spend some time in Germany (or Switzerland etc.). But even if you can’t make it to a German speaking country, I suggest combining a “German-for-reading” approach with at least some “spoken German”. I’ve never used it, but David Lincicum has suggested that is a helpful resource for the latter. For the former, I have heard that April Wilson’s German Quickly is a good place to start. After that you might want to move on to a German reader or work through my model sentences. But it could be just as effective to begin working through German texts that are directly related to your research interests. But if you take the latter approach, don’t start with the German text alone. Instead find a work that has been translated on your topic and work through the original German with reference to the English. In terms of tools, I have provided links to some of the better dictionaries on my resource tab, which also includes links to other sites for learning German. Finally, the serious student might consider participating in one of Thorsten Moritz’s courses.

Good question. Chris Tilling has suggested that Udo Schnelle is a good author to start with due to his clear writing style, and this could be done with reference to Eugene Boring’s fine translations, e.g., Paulus/Paul or Theologie/Theology. Martin Hengel’s German is also fairly straightforward, though it is problematic that the English and German versions often differ greatly in length. But some of his essays might work well, for example the essays that I translated in Earliest Christian History. Jens Schröter’s German is more complex in Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, but he has clearly attempted to write in a very accessible manner in Jesus von Nazaret, so I think it could work well to use this volume in conjunction with the English translation, Jesus of Nazareth (cf. here). Finally, Peter Stuhlmacher could also be a good option, e.g., Der Brief an die Römer/Romans or Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments/Biblical Theology of the New Testament [Forthcoming; trans. Daniel Bailey].

7. Aside from your translation work for this series, what else are you working on?

Much of my recent research has carried forward past projects. Building on my previous publications on freedom, I wrote encyclopedia articles on freedom for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception and the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics. More recently, building on my RBL review of Ernst Käsemann’s posthumously published essays, I submitted an article titled ‘Revolution and Violence in Ernst Käsemann’s Radically Lutheran Theology of Liberation’, which may or may not be accepted and published. My most recent teaching and research interests are squarely focused on the Synoptic Gospels, esp. Mark, but to date my only publication in this area is my 2012 Tyndale Bulletin article ‘Sitting on Two Asses? Second Thoughts on the Two-Animal Interpretation of Matthew 21:7’. If another book-length project emerges for me in the future, then I suspect it will be related to the Gospel of Mark.

Many thanks to Wayne for answering these questions. Be sure to check out his immensely helpful blog German for Neutestamentler where he regularly works through a section from a German author explaining the grammar and reflecting on the historical and/or theological claims.

In his book Jesus the Word according to John the Sectarian: A Paleofundmaentalist Manifesto for Contemporary Evangelism, Robert Gundry asks,

Does the Bible present theological data to be organized neatly, or a range of canonical options to be kept discrete? To what extent should the theological enterprise be systematic? To what extent selective? Ought systematic theology to dominate biblical theology or vice versa? Or ought they form a partnership of equals, or go their separate ways? (p.95)

Gundry’s questions are by no means new, and in recent scholarship there has been a renewed interest in the relationship between systematic theology and biblical studies. In this line the recent volume, Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament, edited by Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brian Lugioyo and Kevin J. Vanhoozer, takes up Gundry’s specific questions in an attempt to show how the two disciplines relate.Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the N

I’ve asked Ben to describe for us some of the issues in this book.

1) The contributors to the volume are New Testament scholars and Systematic Theologians. Can you describe for us some of the different approaches or assumptions that emerge from the juxtaposition of these groups and essays?

The volume’s essays address a number of topics and do begin with a number of assumptions. The first five essays come from a New Testament studies perspective and the latter five come from a theological perspective. As you might expect, the NT scholars more often begin with the biblical text and move toward a discussion of theological implications. The theologians address theological issues with often less connection to the biblical text. Those realities only seem to fit the stereotypes that each discipline has of the other.

In Kevin Vanhoozer’s introductory essay he challenges biblical scholars not to view their work as handing off a baton to theologians. He argues that the work that biblical and systematic theology do is similar in that they both address “theodramatic” judgments. Biblical theology is more sensitive to single authors and texts while systematic theology considers God’s role in the broader scheme of things. Vanhoozer’s challenge is important because the essays point out the difficulty of each discipline continuing in its own ruts. The assumptions of the authors indicate the extent to which we continue to work in these disciplines in discontinuity from the other.

Webb Mealy’s essay on Revelation is a case study in how one’s theological presuppositions tend to influence the way exegetical arguments are made and conclusions are reached. Roger Newell argues something similar with regard to how suffering, or the desire not to suffer, has led to certain interpretations of eschatology. He refers to it as “sentimental exegesis.”

One of my favourite essays is Jennifer Powell McNutt’s examination of the use of James during the Reformation. She unearths some really interesting information about how James 5:16 was used quite extensively and about Luther’s use of James, even though he called the epistle a book of straw.

2) How does this volume as a whole answer Gundry’s questions about the relationship between the two disciplines?

Surprise, surprise, the volume does not completely answer Gundry’s questions. I would say that most of our contributors think that biblical and systematic theology form a partnership of equals, but it is telling that two to three of the NT essays lean toward the baton view of biblical studies that Vanhoozer warns against (two of them explicitly so). What the volume does provide are ten essays that are aware of the tension between biblical and systematic theology and attempt to bridge the divide. They highlight the challenges we face after a long separation of the disciplines.

3) One of the difficulties I think many face when trying to cross discipline boundary lines is the amount of literature to read. How have you overcome this?

Working across discipline boundaries does require a lot reading. My essay on “Eucharistic” language in John 6 was one of the most difficult essays I have ever written. There is so much secondary literature on John 6 before you even consider history of reception and Eucharistic theology. I wouldn’t say that I “overcame” the challenge. For example, a thorough paragraph on Thomas Cranmer’s view of John 6 would require days of reading. I read some, but I never would have finished the essay if I tried to become an expert on Cranmer or Calvin or John and Charles Wesley before I said anything about them. However, I learned quite a lot about John 6, especially its reception, its use in various debates, and about how theological presuppositions influence perspectives on biblical texts.

4) The volume is written in honour of Robert Gundry. How has he influenced your scholarship and your teaching?

I took New Testament survey and first year Greek with Bob. He was extremely influential in the beginning stages of my interest in the academic study of the Bible, and he has continued to be as we have kept in touch over the years. I have always been impressed with Bob’s care for the biblical text and his willingness to stick with views his exegesis leads him to, even if they are not popular. Most evangelical NT scholars always connect him with the infamous ETS vote of over thirty years ago, but his position on certain aspects of Matthew are based on a close, redaction-critical reading of Matthew’s source material. I’m not sure anyone has actually refuted his readings of these sections. Bob’s concern for the church is apparent in a number of his writings, including The Church and the Tribulation and in some of his recent Books and Culture When you read through his body of literature, it is easy to see that he has remained consistent in his exegetical rigour and in his beliefs. That consistency, love of the text, and academic rigour have definitely been influential to me in my teaching and scholarship.

5) If someone was looking for a PhD thesis addressing the relationship between biblical and systematic theology, what would you suggest?

I would say that there are plenty of opportunities. Obviously, there are only certain programs that will look kindly to such a PhD thesis that attempts to reconcile biblical and systematic theology. But considering the amount of literature that will need to be read and assessed, someone pursuing a project like this will need to have a narrowly focused passage or doctrinal issue that can provide an example for the interplay of biblical and systematic theology.

6) Now that you have finished this project, what can we be looking forward to next?

I am currently co-editing a book on Jewish apocalyptic thought and the New Testament that is scheduled to be released with Fortress Press next year, and my own work continues to include the Gospel of John and Jewish apocalyptic literature. A book length project is in the works on that subject.

I would like to thank Ben for answering these questions and be sure to check out his blog at Divinity United. The book is available now or you can get it from Mohr Siebeck at SBL.

I noticed over the weekend that Robert Orlando’s much discussed 89-minute documentary Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe is now available for purchase on DVD or download. I’ve now watched it and was impressed by the number and names of the scholars interviewd in the film. I also enjoyed that the documentary sought both to persuade the viewer of a particular political function for the Jerusalem collection while also providing a decent (if not one-sided) summary of Paul’s life and ministry in the process, which gave the historical survey lying at the center of the film a sense of unity from beginning to end. The film certainly has an agenda to push, and I myself was not convinced, as the film suggests, that the Jerusalem collection was a failure, in that James ultimately rejected the Gentiles’ money and Paul’s Gentile mission. Unlike the director and the interviewees given prominence toward the end of the film (where Wright, Witherington, and Hurtado seems to disappear), I find no reason to believe that James and the Jerusalem believers conspired against Paul and somehow actively or passively contributed in his beating and arrest in Acts 21. Luke explains that Paul was welcomed gladly by James and company when Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26) and I find no reason to doubt the veracity of that account. Whatever the case, Orlando’s film is worth watching and reflecting upon critically critically. This could be a good documentary to show students of early Christianity, though afterward one should given plenty of time for class interaction and for fielding questions.

I was pleased to see that the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL) recently posted three reviews of my book, Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians (CUP, 2012). I’m not sure why my book deserved three reviews in a single publication, but I appreciate the publicity. I’m also grateful that the reviews are generally positive.

Jason Weaver writes:

Goodrich’s perspective on Paul as administrator in 1 Corinthians is both unique and intriguing. He carefully and successfully demonstrates how an understanding of the metaphor as a private commercial administrator helps the reader to understand Paul’s approach to apostolic authority. His examination of the ancient background of oikonomos is clear and well-structured. His critiques of other scholarship are both fair and balanced. Overall, Goodrich is successful in defending his thesis and providing a new and thoughtprovoking perspective on two difficult Pauline texts.

Korinna Zamfir says:

The exploration of the office of oikonomoi in the Greco-Roman world is an excellent enterprise… The description of Paul’s position in the Corinthian community is convincing in the main… The volume is an important contribution to the discussion of Paul’s apostolic authority and offers a significant insight into the social background that shaped the language and imagery used by early Christians.

Kathy Ehrensperger’s remarks, on the other hand, are less flattering. Although she doesn’t challenge any of my historical, exegetical, or theological conclusions, she heavily criticizes my introduction. To be sure, I anticipated some of the criticisms I received from her. Ehrensperger has written an excellent book on a related topic (Paul and the Dynamics of Power [T&T Clark, 2009]), which investigates a number of Pauline power motifs and builds on a good theoretical foundation. More than anything Ehrensperger criticizes my lack of theoretical reflection, while also insisting that I have both misundertood her work and been “noncourteous” in my assessment of others:

This [lack of theoretical reflection] is one of the main weaknesses of the study, and it leads to some misunderstandings of colleagues’ works (I nowhere in my work claim that “apostolic authority” or hierarchies are rendered obsolete in Pauline communities; the arguments refer to Paul’s role as a teacher, not to “ecclesial structures” per se; see 135–36 in my Paul and the Dynamics of Power) and to rather noncourteous evaluations of others’ (e.g., as “confusion”; see 13, 19). The language of scholarly debate should reflect the legitimacy and plausibility of divergent views and approaches, in my view.

A more robust discussion of modern theories of power would have certainly benefited my work. Regrettably, I hadn’t the time or space to include it. In fact, from the beginning of the project my primary aim was to focus on the historical and conceptual background/source domain of Paul’s metaphor and to allow my historical and exegetical insights to support and refine the larger constructive projects of others, not least that of Ehrensperger, whose work I explicitly endorse in my conclusion.

What I take issue with, then, are Ehrensperger’s claims that (1) I was “noncourteous” in my interaction with others, and (2) I have misunderstood her work. First, it never occurred to me that “confusion” is an offensive word; I would have thought it was quite a fair way to characterize an unresolved scholarly debate. Second, the remark was in no way directed toward her, but to the general state of scholarship on how best to illuminate Paul’s oikonomos/oikonomia metaphors in 1 Corinthians. I am happy to legitimate divergent views and approaches (esp. as they concern models and theories for studying power in the NT). What I was identifying as “confusing/confusion” was the way that respected scholars talk past each other when they draw on ancient sources from a variety of social and adminstrative domains in their competing interpretations of Pauline texts.

Secondly, while it is possible that I have misunderstood Ehrensperger, it could be that she herself was simply unclear on the issues in her book that I failed to grasp. In her review of my book, Ehrensperger claims that I have misrepresented her: “I nowhere in my work claim that ‘apostolic authority’ or hierarchies are rendered obsolete in Pauline communities; the arguments refer to Paul’s role as a teacher, not to ‘ecclesial structures’ per se.” But the way I represented her work seems to be close to, if not precisely how, others have also summarized her argument. Note the following sound bites and summaries from reviews of Ehrensperger’s book:

The power that Paul exercised over the communities that he had founded “aimed at rendering itself obsolete” as Paul labored to impart to the community members the practical and discursive tools requisite to achieving “maturity” in Christ and thus to a position of semi-equality with Paul himself (62)… In the book’s final chapter, Ehrensperger completes her portrait of the power structure inherent in the Pauline letters (and within the early Christian movement generally) as one that contrasts with the oppressive structures of Roman imperialism. The power structure inherent in the early Christian movement was temporally self-limited, aimed at rendering itself obsolete (198, citing 1 Cor 14:20). (Thomas Blanton, Review of Biblical Literature)

Paul did not do away with hierarchy, nor did he simply turn existing hierarchies upside down. Instead, Paul redefined how ‘asymmetrical’ relationships are to function and put temporal, functional, and other limits upon the hierarchies that necessarily existed in faith communities. (Wade J. Berry, The Bible & Critical Theory)

One of its greatest merits is to show that even asymetrical power relationships are not necessarily relationships of domination/subordination, nor temporally permanent… (Ian Boxall, Scripture Bulletin [this one was posted on the publisher’s website!])

Ehrensperger’s contrapuntal reading is evident as she understands Paul to be in a hierarchically-defined, asymmetrical relationship with his addressees but that this relationship was temporary and that planned obsolescence, similar to Wartenberg’s concept of “transformative power” (61) describes accurately Paul’s application of power. (J. Brian Tucker, Biblical Theology Bulletin)

None of these other reviewers appears to have interpreted Ehrensperger as saying that Paul’s planned obsolescence of hierarchies and power structures applied only to his role as teacher. Perhaps I have misunderstood her argument, and if so, I apologize. But it could be that Ehrensperger herself is to be blame for not making her argument clear.

St. John’s College, Nottingham, has a number of great You Tube videos on theological topics. I found this well-produced, 14-minute clip of Tom Wright summazing his view of Pauline Theology. I think I’ll air this in my summer school Romans course next week when I introduce my students to Wright. (I’m trying to do more of these kinds of things in class so it’s not always just me representing other scholars, but allowing scholars to speak for themselves).


It is the last day of class today for my M/W course on Pauline Epistles II (covering only Galatians-Colossians and Philemon). I’ve structured the class to end with Ephesians (since it is probably the latest of these epistles), so today we’ve covering Eph 6:10-24. To get a handle of the passage I’ve been reading through Tim Gombis’ The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity, 2010)–also because my students have a book review of it due today–and I was struck by Gombis’ insightful comments on how believers are to participate in divine/spiritual warfare. I’ve always been puzzled about how to apply Paul’s instructions about the “armor of God” in Eph 6:10-18 in the resistance of cosmic spiritual powers. Gombis’ take on the entire subject is illuminating.

First, Gombis suggests that while these powers are real and not to be demythologized, it is important that we focus not on their identities, but on their effects, i.e., “social practices, systems of injustice and oppression and relational dynamics that allow for exploitation and prevent human flourishing” (p. 50). (This looks similar to the approach of Robert Ewuisie Moses in his recent Practices of Power: Revisiting the Principalities and Powers in the Pauline Letters [Fortress, 2014], though I have not yet read it). As we strap on the armor of God, therefore, we are not to engage these spiritual beings head on in any way, if for no other reason than because they have already been defeated by Christ himself (Eph 1:20-23; Col 3:15). Instead, the church’s engagement of the powers involves redeeming and transforming their social and structural effects.

[T]he church wages its warfare in a subversive manner–it is not at all what we might expect. If Paul’s rhetorical summary appears in Ephesians 6:10-18, then his instructions for performing divine warfare are contained in the ethical section of the letter, Ephesians 4:17-6:9. Here, we will see that the church engages in warfare against the powers in ways that defy and overturn our expectations. Our warfare involves resisting the corrupting influences of the powers. The same pressures that produce practices of exploitation, injustice and oppression in the world are at work on church communities. The church’s warfare involves resisting such influences, transforming corrupted practices and replacing them with life-giving patterns of conduct that draw on and radiate the resurrection power of God. Our warfare, then, involves purposefully growing into communities that become more faithful corporate performances of Jesus on earth. Far from being a frightening prospect, this is good news for the world. (pp. 159-60)

I find Gombis’ understanding quite sensible. For one, it helpfully connects Ephesians 6 to the previous two chapters of the letter in a way that I had not previously considered; thus, rhetorically, the end of the letter hangs together quite naturally. Secondly, this reading makes sense of Paul’s largely virtue-driven system of spiritual defense: by embodying “truth,” “righteousness,” “peace,” and “faith,” believers will be transformed and thereby resist evil powers as well as influence their communities. Now, “the gospel,” “salvation,” “the word of God,” and “prayer” are not virtues to be embodied in the same way as those just mentioned, but one can easily see how these can also function as means of individual and community transformation, both inside and outside the church.

Gombis’ book is a good read. I’m looking forward to hearing how my students respond to it!

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