Hi, I’m Ben and I’m an anachronist. In two recent posts, I’ve called out a couple of forms of anachronism with regard to Trinitarian theology and the Bible–in historical critical work and in one progressive revelation model, but I’m just as bad. While I critique them for an uncritical, or an seemingly unaware, use of anachronism,  I would argue that we cannot escape forms of anachronism so we should own up to the issue. The big concern is that we don’t lose the particularity of each author as we read, but our practice of reading is not uninformed or uninfluenced by conceptualities that post-date the text in focus. (Again, see my discussion of Gadamer in my Christosis chapter 1 for a discussion of how we know and read texts through/by means of tradition, so escaping it is impossible.) It’s not that we need a solution to anachronism, then, but we also shouldn’t let ideas run wild as if the author is dead either.

Two essays that my class explored on the topic of the Trinity and the Bible is that of Kavin Rowe’s “Biblical Pressure and Trinitarian Hermeneutics” and  Brevard Childs’ “The Identity of God”. Both work with a hermeneutical model of progressive revelation. This model is similar to a historical critical model in which the reader is encouraged to progress chronologically–prospectively–rather than  reading backwards–retrospectively. While both encourage seeing continuity between the OT and NT, they both end their respective essays with a potential caution about reading retrospectively, reading with a creedal form of Trinitarianism as one approaches the OT and NT. One distinction, though,  is the emphasis that Rowe places on the model of NT writers reading the OT retrospectively. Indeed, Rowe’s emphasis is on how the NT writers utilize OT/LXX kyrios language to identify the Son and Spirit. Child’s notes the retrospective model of the NT writers but explicitly denies our ability to read in that fashion since they were inspired (p. 381).

It seems to me that we all read prospectively and retrospectively, and that attending to the bi-directional focus is necessary. (For explicitly Christian readings, I would say this bi-directional mode attends to the dual nature of Scripture with its dual authorship–both divine and human.) Many interpreters speak of doing both, with u-turn. The question is do you start at the past and work forward (prospectively) and then read backwards (retrospectively), or do you start with Christ and read backwards (retrospectively) first, and then turn to read forwards (prospectively). In our recent volume on apocalyptic (Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination), we found this bi-directional reading was common to many, but the difference in their approaches related to the starting point. In particular, N.T. Wright pursues a prospective-to-retrospective model, whereas Richard Hays pursues a retrospective-to-prospective model. Both approaches have their pro’s and con’s, but it’s the appreciation for bi-directional reading that is important to recognize when we are working with issues of anachronism.

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

While Wright is pegged as the “ecclesiological” version of justification, it strikes me that this is a red-herring. While justification as covenant status addresses the division of Jews and Gentiles, the problem is more basic. Wright sees justification has addressing the human problems of sin, condemnation, and death, and Paul’s discussion of a creational, anthropological, covenantal, and forensic eschatology is described in terms of justification (see the progressive discussion of these framing terms in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 925-37). Ultimately this is all captured in his discussion of final eschatology:

Paul’s vision in Romans 1-8, then, has as its framework the all-important narrative about a future judgment according to the fullness of the life that has been led, emphasizing the fact that those ‘in Christ’ will face ‘no condemnation’ on that final day (2.1-16; 8.1-11, 31-39). The reason Paul gives for this is, as so often, the cross and the spirit (8.3-4): in the Messiah, and by the spirit, the life in question will have been the life of spirit-led obedience, adoption, suffering, prayer, and ultimately glory (8.5-8, 12-17, 18-27, 28-30). This is not something other than ‘Paul’s doctrine of justification‘. It is its outer, eschatological framework.   …   And, to repeat a vital point about the character of Paul’s theology, that integration [of present and final justification] makes nonsense of all schemes that depend on regarding Romans 1-4 and 5-8 as representing two types of thought or systems of soteriology. That division results from failing to notice Paul’s larger controlling category, namely, the covenant promises made by God to Abraham to deal with the problem of the world’s sin and its consequences. Those, Paul insists, are the promises to which the covenant God has been true in the Messiah. The faithfulness of this God is the underlying theme of Romans 1-8… [sic] as it is also the problem, and then the solution, throughout Romans 9-11. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 941-42)

He later uses the terminology of ‘inaugurated forensic and covenantal eschatology’. “The future verdict … is thus brought forward into the present, because of the utter grace of the one God seen in the ‘faithful’ death of the Messiah … and then at work, as we shall now see, through the spirit in the gospel” (944-45).

Restoring the community, setting it to rights, is important, but in Christ and the Spirit God is setting the whole world to rights, and so to limit justification, for Wright at least, to ecclesiology is to miss his larger picture. That said, he frames it this way:

Once we have worked through the first five preliminary points, we ought to realize that this sixth one is where it has all been going. Those who are declared or accounted ‘righteous’ on the basis of Messiah-faith constitute the single covenant family which the one God has faithfully given to Abraham. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 961)


Simon Gathercole and Larry Hurtado have published very helpful reviews of Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Gathercole’s review is at Reformation21, and Hurtado’s is on his blog where you can find the pre-publication version and links to earlier comments.

Gathercole focuses on the three key issues at the heart of Wright’s project: Monotheism, Election and Eschatology. The longest section is on election where Gathercole raises some sharp questions about Wright’s view of justification focusing particularly on Wright’s view of justification as event and his definition of righteousness as covenant membership. In his review Hurtado remarks on Wright’s view of Paul’s Christology, election and eschatology. He also raises questions about Wright’s presentation of Paul as a novel thinker and whether Wright has given sufficient attention to ‘how much Paul also drew upon, reflected and developed convictions and traditions of “those who were in Christ” before him (e.g., Rom. 16:7), those with whom, Paul insists, he shared basic beliefs and message (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1-11)’ (p.3).

One interesting feature of these two reviews is the differing opinions about the value of attempting to explain how Paul came to his Christological views. Note these comments, first from Gathercole and then Hurtado:

On the broader theme of the Christological reinterpretation of election, I had minor quibbles about some points. I am not as convinced as Wright is that we can easily identify the impulse which led Paul to come to the conclusions that he did. I wonder whether the combination of (a) the return to Zion motif, and (b) Wisdom theology, played such an important role in the development of Paul’s Christology (655). Indeed, one might wonder whether it is necessary (or for that matter, possible) to try to identify from Paul’s letters how he came to the Christology that he did. For Wright, such scepticism might I suppose appear to be an abdication of the historical task. But on the other hand, we know so little about the so-called “tunnel period” between c. 30-50 CE: we know what the Christology of Paul’s earliest letters looked like at the end of the tunnel, but before that, the outlook is dark, or at least rather gloomy. (Gathercole under Monotheism section)

In any case, for all his emphasis on Paul’s historical context, Wright’s aim really seems more to show that Paul’s beliefs form a coherently rounded theology than to address adequately how (in historical terms) Paul came to hold them. If, however, as Wright contends, Paul developed an unprecedented ‘mutation’ in ancient Jewish ‘monotheism’, it is surely all the more important to ask how this remarkable innovation arose. Certainly, Wright is correct to emphasise that Paul reflects a creative use of Jewish scriptures in developing/expressing his theology. But what in particular prompted and shaped this novel reading of these texts? Wright’s focus on Paul’s ideas is no doubt appropriate for a theology of Paul, but may leave some historical questions insufficiently addressed. (Hurtado, p.2)

Another interesting point is that both reviewers raise questions about Wright’s presentation of other views. Hurtado remarks, ‘In line with his previous publications, Wright also ridicules what he portrays as the view of some other scholars that Paul expected the dissolution of ‘the space-time universe’ (which may be another instance of caricature), and the undoubtedly widespread popular Christian notion that the future hope is to depart to a heavenly realm for existence as spirits/souls’ (p.2; his other instance of caricature is with Wright’s presentation of his view of the role of ‘divine/principal agent’ traditions in early Christology [p.1]). Gathercole comments on the second of Hurtado’s points:

Wright continues the emphasis here which he expounded at length in The Resurrection of the Son of God. I suppose my slight reservation lies in the presentation: the continuous polemic against a spiritualised heavenly eschatology becomes a little repetitive. Of course there are many people in the world who believe that our final destiny consists of our souls going to heaven when we die. Wright explicitly mentions American Evangelical Protestantism of the popular variety, at e.g. PFG, p.142 and n. 271. But such people are not the people who are going to read this book. In fact, ironically, the main scholarly target of Wright’s polemic against ‘going to heaven’ is someone who is about as far removed from popular American evangelicalism as one could imagine, namely Troels Engberg-Pedersen (pp.1399-1400). (in the section on Eschatology)

Both reviewers raise valid concerns about the way in which Wright has described these positions. I think the lack of specific examples of scholars who hold these views and detailed engagement with them is unfortunate particularly in light of Wright’s extensive engagement with Engberg-Pedersen, John Barclay and the apocalyptic circle associated with J. Louis Martyn.

These reviews give much more to think about and highlight issues that remain to be resolved in the study of Paul.

Note: the fruits of this discussion have now been published: Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination

With all the debates over the last few years at SBL about the nature of Apocalyptic in Paul, we here at Dunelm (John, Jason and Ben) thought we would facilitate a Pauline cage match to let the different schools of thought engage one another directly. So, plan to come to SBL early to catch this Friday afternoon session. You won’t want to miss this line-up. The fruits of this discussion will come out afterwards in a volume with Fortress Press.

Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (S21-201)

11/21/2014 (FRIDAY)
12:30 PM to 5:30 PM
Room: 300 A (Level 3 (Aqua)) – Hilton Bayfront (HB)
Across various branches of biblical and theological study, there is a renewed interest in ‘apocalyptic’. This development is seen particularly in the study of Paul’s theology, where it is now widely agreed that Paul promotes an ‘apocalyptic theology’. However, there is little agreement on what this means. Scholars from different perspectives have, as a result, continued to talk past each other. This special session provides an opportunity for leading Pauline scholars from different perspectives to engage in discussion about the meaning of Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Indeed, one of the strengths and aims of this event is that different and opposing views are set next to each other. The session will hopefully bring greater clarity to the ‘apocalyptic’ reading of Paul by providing much needed definition to central terms and interpretive approaches and by highlighting both their strengths and weaknesses.

Session 1
Jason Maston, Highland Theological College, Welcome (5 min)
M. C. de Boer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – VU University Amsterdam
Apocalyptic as Eschatological Activity (25 min)
N.T. Wright, University of St. Andrews
Apocalyptic as Heavenly Communication (25 min)
Loren Stuckenbruck, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Apocalypticism in Second Temple Judaism (25 min)
Philip Ziegler, University of Aberdeen
Apocalypticism in Modern Theology (25 min)
Discussion (15 min)
Break (15 min)

Session 2
Ben Blackwell, Houston Baptist University, Presiding
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University
The Apocalyptic New Covenant and the Shape of Life in the Spirit (25 min)
Edith Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Apocalypse as Theoria in Paul: A New Perspective on Apocalyptic as Mother of Theology (25 min)
Douglas Campbell, Duke University
Paul’s Apocalyptic Epistemology (25 min)
Beverly Gaventa, Baylor University
Romans 9–11: An Apocalyptic Reading (25 min)
John Barclay, University of Durham
Apocalyptic Investments: 1 Corinthians 7 and Pauline Ethics (25 min)
Discussion (20 min)

This is good: Hitler on Wright and Piper

HT: Joel Willits

But I also really like what my students have prepared:

Paul and Judaism landscape

Let me invite you to a major event we’re hosting here at HBU next week. N.T. Wright, former bishop of Durham and now Professor at St Andrews University, will be giving two public lectures in Dunham Theater: Wednesday (3/19) at 11am and Thursday (3/20) at 7pm. All are welcome, and there is no cost to attend nor need for registration for the conference (see below) to come to Wright’s lectures. In addition to his very helpful For Everyone series, Wright has written numerous scholarly works that have helped shape the face of New Testament studies in the last several decades, not least his Christian Origins series. In fact, his very recent work on Paul in this series will be the source of his talks here: Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (If 1600 pages is too much, check out the short version in Paul: In Fresh Perspective.)

Concurrent with Dr Wright’s visit, we are hosting a conference on Paul and Judaism. Internationally respected Pauline scholars, Beverly Gaventa and Ross Wagner, will be our other plenary speakers, in addition to shorter paper sessions. If you want to push in a little deeper on Paul, we would love for you to join us for the conference.

We hope you invite friends to come hear these excellent scholars with you. For more details on any of these items, see the conference website: hbu.edu/theologyconference