In Mark 11.27-12.34 Jesus engages with other Jewish groups as they pepper him with various questions. In one of the rare engagements between Jesus and the Sadducees, they present him with a problem regarding marriage and resurrection (12:18-27). They tell a story about a woman who marries, but the husband dies. Of course, in Jewish law the solution is simple: the woman marries the man’s brother. Yet, in this story, the next brother dies, as does the next and the next and so on. Their question then is whose wife will she be at the resurrection. (The account is probably based on the story of Tobit.)

The story told by the Sadducees is tragic, but their real concern is with the legal code of the levirate marriage law (Deut 25.5-10). According to the logic of the Sadducees, one cannot maintain a belief in resurrection and uphold the authority of the Torah. They make two assumptions here: 1) marital practices of the “supposed” resurrection age will mirror those of the present age; and 2) the ultimate authority of the Mosaic Torah in both the present age and the next. If the Torah commandment of levirate marriage remains applicable in the resurrection age, which it must, then this creates a bizarre situation that violates other laws about adultery. Their question to Jesus is fundamentally about the Torah.

In his response Jesus challenges the Sadducees understanding of Scripture. He claims that if the Sadducees were reading Scripture properly they would realize that God is the God of the living. This is the point of his quotation of Exod 3.6, whatever exactly is the best interpretation of Jesus’ quotation.

But stopping here is to grasp only the surface meaning of Jesus’ response. Underneath the surface Jesus is leveling a more marked charge: the issue as Jesus frames it is not merely whether there will be a resurrection nor even how best to interpret Moses, but rather the very nature of God. Is Israel’s God one who gives life only in the present or also in the future? The conjunction of the double declarations of God’s identity is crucial: Scripture reveals that God is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and it is accepted truth that he is “the God of the living,” therefore, Jesus infers, the patriarchs must live again.[1] Jesus cuts through the legal questions to the core issue: what is the nature Israel’s God?

By turning to Exod 3:6, Jesus’ tactic is not only cleaver, but it thoroughly undercuts the Sadducees’ rejection of the resurrection. Jesus exposes them as hermeneutically deficient, for they had failed to grasp the full import of this text as it relates to one of their core beliefs. But, even more sharply, Jesus charges that their denial of resurrection is actually a denial of Israel’s God.

[1] Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, WBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 256–57.

In a previous post, I (Jason) briefly explained how little clear evidence there is in second temple Jewish texts for a widespread belief in resurrection. Recognizing this point may help explain two issues about the development of early Christianity (probably more, but I’m only interested in these two right now).

First, if resurrection was not a widely held belief, then the commonality between Jesus, his movement and the Pharisees on this issue can help explain why the two are often linked together. Despite all their differences, these two groups were united in their acceptance of a minority view. They found common support, and if necessary could look past their obvious differences on other matters. This explains why some of the teachers of the law (Luke 20.39) praised Jesus when he rebutted the Sadducees. Recognizing this shared viewpoint also helps explain why there was so much tension between the Pharisees and Jesus. Both had a common message about resurrection which they were offering to the same group of people. In other words, they were competing for the same audience, and Jesus appeared to be winning.

Second, the distinctiveness of the Christian message stands out. If many people were not expecting individual resurrection, then the Christian message strikes a different tone. It not only appears awkward in comparison to Greek and Roman ideas of the afterlife, but also in comparison to many Jewish ideas. The Christian message not only struck a chord with its claim that the messiah was a crucified man, but also with its claim that this one had been raised and that all who believed in him would also be raised. The resurrection of believers should be seen as a distinctive part of the Christian proclamation.

This spring I (Jason) wrote two short pieces on resurrection. The first is on the Sadducees’ question about marriage and resurrection in Mark 12.18-27 (par. Matt 22.23-33; Luke 20.27-38). The second surveys Jewish views during the second temple period. The issue that stood out to me while working on these projects is the lack of clear evidence for a widespread belief in resurrection during this time. I think most people work with the impression that the vast majority of Jews believed in resurrection, and the Sadducees were the odd ones. Reading a work like N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God certainly gives the impression that most Jews believed in resurrection. The literature, however, does not clearly support this view.

Sirach has no notion of a continued bodily existence after death. One lives on only in the memories of others. This work was hugely popular in the second temple period and even into the Rabbinic era. Of course, later scribes added resurrection statements, which indicates that they were bothered by the lack of a resurrection belief. These edits, however, come at later stages and cannot be dated clearly to the second temple period.

Jubilees 23.31 describes the death of the physical body and the continuing existence of one’s spirit. Wisdom of Solomon appears to describe a similar view. In order to get either text to refer to resurrection, one must assume that eschatological texts that speak of a continued existence after death assume resurrection even if not clearly stated.

Perhaps the most surprising evidence is the Dead Sea Scrolls. Experts in this literature have, for some time, been challenging the reading that finds here a strong belief in resurrection. George Nickelsburg made the case in his early study Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life (1972), which was updated in 2006. Important texts like 1QS, CD and 1QM have no clear evidence for a belief in resurrection. The strongest evidence comes in the Hodayot, but this is far from clear. I suspect that the author(s) did have leanings toward a bodily afterlife, something like resurrection, but this is far from obvious. Even then, the evidence from the scrolls is strikingly thin.

To be sure, there were Jews who believed in bodily resurrection. Josephus indicates that he believes in resurrection (Ap. 2.217-18), and he attributes the same to the Pharisees, despite describing their position in Greek philosophical language (J.W. 2.163; Ant.18.14). Texts like 2 Macc 7 also give the impression that resurrection was a popular position. 2 Baruch also advocates for resurrection, although it is not clear exactly what the author envisions the afterlife to be like (chapters 49-52). And, of course, the New Testament texts testify to the belief in resurrection among the early Christians.

In the end, though, the Jewish literature does not provide strong evidence for the view that many Jews believed in a bodily resurrection after death.

When ruling out transformation as part of justification, he gives his best short summary:

‘Justification’ is the declaration of the one God, on the basis of the death of Jesus: this really is my adopted child, a member of Abraham’s covenant family, whose sins are forgiven. And that declaration, in the present, anticipates exactly the final verdict which can also be described as ‘adoption’…. Whichever way you look at justification, whichever Pauline context you line up beside it, it always retains this character: the ultimate future brought forward into the present, and the two have joined hands by the spirit. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 958-59)

My only beef with that, in light of my larger project, is that Paul so directly connects justification with new life, that the new life is not just at the resurrection but starts now. So, while justification is a new status it is also eschatological life–both now and the future. It is not based on works, but the life given now is the ability to love and serve God through the Spirit as God’s new creation act in us, that is through his justification of us. And, with Wright, this justification will ultimately entail resurrection from the dead.

You may be interested in a nice summary here as well: What N.T. Wright Really Said

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.

In my previous post, I described the rationale for my current project with Eerdmans–Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology–in light of wider theological concerns. In this post, I situate the rationale even more closely to the biblical studies context:

In contemporary biblical studies much discussion of justification just serves as a rehashing of “old” and “new” positions. These two perspectives have dominated, but the insistence on participation in Christ/God via Schweitzer and Sanders has served as a burr under the saddle. In fact, Wright places the relationship of participation and justification as a central theme of debate over the last century. (See N.T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters, Part 1.) The roots of the debate, he says, go back to Luther’s justification-only view in contrast to Calvin’s placement of justification in the wider sphere of participation. (Wright’s categorization of Luther greatly simplifies and weakens Luther’s proposal about faith being uniting; however, later Lutheranism (through Melanchthon) could much more be open to Wright’s charge.) Pauline scholars in the Reformed tradition have repeatedly attempted to place justification within the sphere of participation; however, their claims are hindered due to their repetitive emphasis upon justification as primarily forensic, by means of imputation. (For example, see Constantine R. Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 388–405.) They, like Wright, set the debates about justification in post-Reformation terms, and therefore “status” issues are primary, whether status before God (as in traditional readings) or status within the community (as with New Perspective readings).

The old and new perspectives have been challenged by those we might call participationists: E.P. Sanders, Michael Gorman, Douglas Campbell. The problem is that these participationists have not provided a thoroughgoing study of justification in Paul. Influenced by Sanders discussion of Paul’s “participationist eschatology,” recent participationists—e.g., Michael Gorman and Douglas Campbell—have provided interesting readings of justification in Paul; however, neither provides a monograph length study of texts which substantiates a holistic reading. (Campbell, for example, has done better at critiquing other models than providing a positive reading of Paul of his own.) Accordingly, there remains a need for a theologically rich and exegetically sustained reading of justification in Paul that frames it within his wider theology of participation.

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)

Next Page »