Reviews


In a previous post I (Jason) noted what I think is the most important claim made by Campbell in his book Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. It is the role he assigns to Ephesians/Laodiceans as the summary of Paul’s theology. In this post I want to raise a potential methodological problem with Campbell’s project.

As the subtitle indicates this book uses exclusively Paul’s epistles to establish Paul’s biography. Campbell is following John Knox when he identifies Paul’s letters as “primary” evidence. This primacy is set over against the book of Acts, which is treated as “secondary” evidence.

I want to note two problems with this approach. First, while I appreciate the need to ensure that one understands what each letter itself is saying about Paul’s travels, it strikes me as problematic to exclude evidence when one is trying to reconstruct a person’s life from 2000 years ago. My impression is that this is not the way historians typically operate. Historians draw on all the available material to construct an account of what happened. When we have so little material to work with, it seems mistaken to disregard from the outset a potential source.

Second, and more problematic to me, is Campbell’s willingness to use other sources besides Paul’s letters to collaborate or explain potential historical connections, which Campbell does at key points in his account, while maintaining a complete disregard for Acts. It is unclear to me why he is willing to use this material but not Acts. Campbell’s argument is not exclusively using Paul’s letters for the reconstruction. For example, the Thessalonian correspondences do not clearly identify when they were written or why. Yet, Campbell confidently claims that they were written against the backdrop of the Gaian crisis in 40-42 CE. This may be the case, but the only way Campbell can make this claim is to draw on non-Pauline material to establish a potential historical referent. The Thessalonian correspondences do not explicitly identify this issue. But here is precisely the problem: as soon as one allows any source beyond the letters into play, one must be willing to allow all the evidence into play–including Acts.

Campbell indicates at several points that a follow up study of Acts is in the works (or at least a study of Paul that incorporates Acts). I wonder when Acts is evaluated will the evidence of Acts at points be allowed to modify the reconstruction Campbell offers in Framing Paul? Or, will the conclusions drawn here be given priority and allowed to overrun Luke’s account? Is the framing presented in this volume actually as tentative as Campbell indicates at times? Or, is the frame now a fixed structure and any material that does not build on this pattern going to be rejected outright? Is Framing Paul the blue prints that are still subject to adjustment, even moving a whole wall if necessary, or is it a steel structure and Acts can only add some decorative features?

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I’m (Jason) presently working on a short piece that outlines Paul’s biography so I finally got a round to reading Douglas Campbell’s Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. In the run-up to the book’s publication, I had heard that it would challenge much of the status quo in Pauline scholarship. And this it certainly does. The book is methodical in its assessment of the Pauline material and the standard arguments put forward by others. It is bold in its conclusions. Campbell was not bound by normal answers, and he was willing to rethink almost everything about Paul’s biography (including positions that he himself had advocated for previously). Campbell provides the reader much to think about. The conclusion is a fascinating re-ordering of Paul’s life and letter writing.

While I have many questions about the details of the argument, I want to focus briefly on two issues in this post and the next. First, while reading the book, it was often unclear to me what the payout was going to be. Campbell insists that having Paul’s biography, specifically his chronology, right is absolutely necessary for a correct reconstruction of his theology. While modifying the dates of when some of the books were written (Romans earlier than most would place it), through the first four chapters I wasn’t sure what the significance of getting Paul’s biography right was going to be. However, it is in chapter 5 on Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians where I think the payout comes. Particularly it is Campbell’s claims about Ephesians (which he claims is the letter to the Laodiceans). He argues for the authenticity of Ephesians/Laodiceans–not itself a novel position but certainly contrary to much of scholarship. But the real shift comes in his claim that Ephesians/Laodiceans is the third letter Paul wrote (after 1 and 2 Thess). Moreover, it is written to a community that did not know Paul or his theological views. From this reconstruction, Campbell claims, Ephesians/Laodiceans “is a unique introduction to the Pauline way for those who knew next to nothing about it” (p.407). As he puts it elsewhere, “Ultimately, this position will result in a more ‘Ephesiocentric’ account of Paul’s thought than might otherwise be the case” (p.326).

Of course, many scholars hold that Ephesians is in essential agreement with Paul’s other letters. But, I think, Campbell means something more by this. Rather than interpretative priority being assigned to Romans, it must now be given to Ephesians. How exactly this will impact reconstructions of Paul’s theology remains to be seen. Will prioritizing Ephesians/Laodiceans produce a completely different reading of Paul than, say, Dunn’s The Theology of Paul, which is structured on Romans? Campbell has a book on Paul’s theology in the works, and it will be interesting to see how this refocusing on Ephesians/Laodiceans will play out.

Thanks to Nijay Gupta for his favorable review of Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (Fortress, 2016):

This is a timely book, offering thoughtful and thought-provoking reflection and debate on how Pauline scholars use the language of apocalyptic and apply it to the Apostle’s letters. I do not doubt that this volume will enjoy a long life of use, especially the early chapters that treat the critical matters of definition and methodology. Students of Paul will benefit greatly from this colloquium on Paul’s apocalyptic thought in context. (Horizons in Biblical Theology 38 [2016]: 242-44)

519k8B372hL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Zondervan has recently released another study Bible: the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. The notes for this study Bible are completed by John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener. Both are well-known for their work on the context in which the Bible was written.  As one would expect from Zondervan, the Bible is printed well. The biblical text is in a darker font than the notes, and cross-references are centered on the page against a light brown background. There are many color pictures and maps spread throughout the Bible along with short essays about various topics.

This new study Bible has the aim ‘to increase your understand of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realities behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded’. The notes, then, focus on cultural issues that the original readers would have known but are not clearly stated in the text. The notes do not identify how one should live out the text, nor do they give much comment on theological matters (at least from what I’ve looked at).

I was asked to comment on the notes to 1 Thessalonians. The introduction is very brief covering only date and occasion. Nothing is said about the city of Thessalonica. Notes on Acts 17.9 and 1 Thess 1.9 provide a little more detail about the city, but not as much as I expected given the stated aim of this study Bible. The introductions in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible and the NLT Study Bible are more substantial and likely to benefit readers more.

The notes themselves are fuller and will help readers better understand the context of the letter. Several comments are made about how 1 Thessalonians relates to other ancient letters and speeches. Helpful also are the comments about the social impact of turning from idols and the context for the language of peace and security. Additionally, there is an explanation of ancient travel, which I think is particularly helpful for modern readers. A table identifies links between the eschatology of 1 Thessalonians and Jesus’ teachings. The notes are fuller at times than those in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible and the NLT Study Bible when it comes to contextual matters. Potential connections with the Old Testament are often noted, but no references to non-canonical literature are provided.

Isolating 1 Thessalonians for comment may give the wrong impression about the study Bible. The Introduction to the Old Testament and the Introduction to the Gospels and notes on the Gospels were much fuller and seemed more useful.

I suspect that whether one likes a study Bible is determined to a large extent by what one hopes to get out of it. Overall, this one will serve well those who interested in the context the Bible was written in.

For more information about the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture check out www.contextchangeseverything.com/.

Matt O’Reilly has written a review of Reading Romans in Context edited by Ben, John and myself at his blog Orthodoxy for Everyone. He writes toward the end:

Reading Romans in Context is distinct in that it introduces elements of context by focusing on particular texts. We might say that books on biblical backgrounds often take a wide-angle approach; Reading Romans in Context is a zoom lens that takes the reader up close to the particularities of the ideas in question. I find that students are sometimes intimidated by the large amounts of information that come with a lecture or reading assignment on New Testament backgrounds. There is a lot to learn, and it takes a lot of work. The precision focus of the chapters in this book strikes me as offering a complimentary approach that has potential to mitigate that problem. Students should be able to handle this book, and I am happy to recommend its use in a course introducing the New Testament, Paul and his letters, or on the exegesis of Romans. As a pastor, I would also feel comfortable recommending this book to an interested layperson in a local church setting.

Thanks Matt for the review. Although there are not formal plans (yet) for additional volumes on Paul’s letter, we are working on Reading Mark in Context.

My thanks to Zondervan and Mike Bird for a copy of his latest book, What Christians ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed.

I haven’t had the chance to work through the whole volume yet, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. The structure of the book is simple. After some overview chapters about the development and importance of creeds and the nature of ‘faith’, Mike works through the Creed line by line. In his exploration of each line, Mike shows the connections with the Bible and ancient traditions. The chapters are also filled with personal stories, hymns and movie references.

One element I appreciate is that the book is pastorally sensitive. Mike connects the Creed with every day life but doesn’t shy away from aspects that can be uncomfortable for some (such as the language of Father for God). This is a book that takes the Creed seriously as a summary of the Christian faith and as a call to shape one’s life by that faith.

This book is not written for the scholar. That is, you won’t find here complex discussions of the text of the Creed (although it is discussed briefly) or lots of footnotes. The volume is written for the average church goer. I can imagine this book being used in a small group or Sunday School class. It is undoubtedly much better than much of the other material commonly used in small groups.

I know there are other books available on the Apostles’ Creed, but I’ve not looked at them. Perhaps Mike could do a couple of blog posts on how his book relates to other studies on the Apostles’ Creed.

In nearly every work in theological or biblical anthropology one finds a discussion of the ‘image of God’. The recent volume The Image of God in an Image Driven Age: Explorations in Theological Anthropology (eds. Beth Felker Jones and Jeffrey W. Barbeau; Downers Grove: IVP, 2016) seeks to place this phrase in its biblical context and to draw out the theological and ethical implications of the idea that all humans are created in God’s image. The editors describe the aim of this work in this manner: ‘The Image of God in an Image Driven Age encourages continued reflection on the imago Dei in a time when narcissism reigns and new patterns of living are desperately needed’ (p.261). The papers originated from the twenty-fourth annual Wheaton Theology Conference and draw on scholars from Wheaton and wider. A unique aspect of this volume is that the papers are not only by biblical scholars and theologians, but also artists. The reflections on the place of image theology in art and culture adds a new dimension to the usual discussions.

Part One of the book addresses the biblical material and rehearses the usual explanations for what image of God means. The papers are clear although the discussions don’t bring any significantly new evidence to the table. Catherine McDowell’s and Craig L. Blomberg’s papers would serve well as entry routes into the discussion. In Part Two the authors connect the image of God with the themes of sexuality, iconoclasm and Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. The chapters are interesting attempts to trace how humanity as image bearers is reflected and distorted in various ways. Similarly, Part Three expands the link between image bearing, culture and theology. One of the more interesting papers is Janet Soskice’s piece ‘The God of Creative Address: Creation, Christology and Ethics’. She contends that image bearing should be linked with speech. She emphasizes that image bearing is a physical idea and cannot be limited to rationality. The paper is a creative theological reading of Scripture. Part Four focuses on the ethical implications of humanity as image bearing. Beth Felker Jones’ piece ‘Witnessing in Freedom: Resisting Commodification of the Image’ presents a strong challenge to the selling of the human in practices such as slavery and marketing of body images in adverts. She addresses sexual ethics as a specific form of the exploitation of humans.

The volume brings up some interesting issues related to the image of God. I did feel that there was a lack of explicit Christological reflection on this subject. The Genesis account of the image of God was given priority and seemed to set the agenda for many of the papers.

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