Last Call for Biblical Studies Carnival Links for March 2015

Welcome to the CarnivalThe March 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival will be hosted by  Jacob Prahlow over at Pursuing Veritas. This is a “call for links” to blogs of interest published in March,. Email or tweet the links to Jacob (prahlowjj at slu.edu, or @prahlowjacob) or leave a comment on his blog with a link.

I am always looking for more volunteers for the 2015 Carnival Season.  Jeff Carter from That JeffCarter Was Here returns to host the April Carnival and  Claude Mariottini (@DrMariottini) has volunteer for May. Doctoral Candidate at Cambridge William A. Ross will host the June Carnival. The rest of the year is more or less open.  Please email me (plong42 at gmail.com) and pick your month!

Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.

Acts 18 – Success Breeds Jealousy

After several very difficult experiences in Philippi and Thessalonica and an unfruitful visit to Athens, Paul finally experiences some good success in Corinth. After preaching in the synagogue he establishes a church that includes several key converts. Luke lists Titius Justus, a god-fearing Gentile and Crispus, the leader of the synagogue.  Both of these were leaders in the synagogue and would have been valuable to Paul as leaders in a new church. A third convert is implied in Romans 16:23 – Erastus, the “director of public works” (NIV) or city treasurer. If Erastus was a convert at this time he would have brought some wealth and prestige to the church. In addition to these converts, Aquilla and Priscilla were in Corinth and eventually the teacher Apollos

art-thou-jealous-muchPaul may have been concerned his success would breed a violent back-lash from the synagogue, as it had in Thessalonica. In fact, Paul has seen this happen before.  The normal pattern is for him to enter the synagogue and face serious persecution.  He is not afraid for his own life, in fact, he seems more than willing to suffer physically for the Gospel.

1 Cor 2:3-4 indicates that Paul was afraid his ministry was destined for failure.  He does not yet know of the fate of the Thessalonican believers, perhaps even Berea is unknown to him.  Athens likely did not result in a church.  Will Corinth go just as badly?  Yet in 1 Cor 2, Paul claims that any success in Corinth was based solely on the power of the Holy Spirit, not his own rhetorical ability.

In Acts 18:9-10 Luke tells us that Paul has a vision in which the Lord tells Paul that he will not be harmed in the city of Corinth and that there are many people in the city that are “the Lord’s.”  There are three short, related commands: Do not fear, continue to speak, and do not be silent.

If these commands reflect Paul’s mood prior to Silas and Timothy’s return, then it is possible that Paul considered, like Jeremiah before him, to remain silent and not open himself up to further persecution (Jer 20:7-12).  But like Jeremiah, Paul cannot keep the Gospel to himself, he must be what he is, the light to the Gentiles.  Even if this means he will be persecuted.  This vision encourages him to continue, since his Gospel message will be received in Corinth. He will remain in the city 18 months, Paul’s longest place of ministry since his commission from Antioch in Acts 13.

An important observation here is Paul’s success was met with increased jealousy and persecution. Paul was obedient to his calling yet he was still suffering. Why is this? To what extent is Luke describing a successful ministry as a persecuted ministry? Compared to what some modern Christians seem to think, this is the opposite of what to expect. Yet for Paul, suffering confirmed he was doing exactly what God called him to do.

Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?

homer missionaryPaul quotes two Greek writers as support for his case that the creator God does not need temples or temple services from humans. The use of this material has always prompted discussion among readers of Acts, especially with respect to application. Is Paul modelling how Christians ought to present the gospel in a non-Christian, non-Jewish environment?

The first allusion is to Epimenides the Cretan, the poet Paul cited in Titus 1:12. The original poem no longer exists, but fragments appear in other ancient writers. The second citation is from Aratus, a Cilcian poet (Phaenomena 5).  The original line, “in him we move and live and have our being,” was pantheistic, but Paul spins this line into a statement about God as the source of our life.

In other words, he ignores the writer’s original intention so that he can effective make his point. If Aratus had been in the audience in Acts 17, what would he have said in response to Paul? In modern scholarly writing, misrepresenting another scholar’s ideas is not just a mistake, but intellectual dishonesty. Someone who does this sort of thing today would be dismissed as a poor scholar or a crank (or possibly just a biblio-blogger). In some areas of scholarship, authorial intent is not important, so perhaps Paul is not out of line here. Can Paul legitimately pull this line out of context and reapply it to prove the God of the Bible is superior to the other gods?

Homer College DegreeA second problem is how Paul came to know these lines of poetry. There are not many modern readers who can quote freely from current poets or philosophers. One possibility is Paul had some secular education which could be applied to the preaching of the gospel. We might imagine Paul thinking through his task of being a light to the Gentiles and researching possible points of contact in order to preach to pagan audiences. This is in fact a typical way of doing apologetics today. Christians will study philosophy for the purpose of interacting with the philosophical world in their own terms.

While I do not think this kind of cultural education is a bad idea at all, that may not be Paul’s point in using these sources (or, Luke’s point in presenting Paul as using these sources). These lines may have been well known proverbial wisdom, common knowledge. If so, then the allusion to Greek poets is more like the preacher who uses a common phrase in order to make his point.

Or better, this is an example of a modern pastor quoting lyrics of popular songs to make a point. I occasionally use a line from a popular movie or song in order to make a point (although with my taste in music, it usually does not work very well).  This comes down to knowing your audience.  I have found that I can get a lot further with college age group with a Simpsons reference, while the same line is lost on an adult group.  Perhaps that is what Paul is doing here in Acts 17 – he is riffing on the culture.

In both of the allusions Paul simply intends to demonstrate his thinking is not too far from the culture the audience understood and appreciated.  To cite the Hebrew Bible would have been fruitless since the audience did not know it, nor were they inclined to listen to philosophy drawn Jewish texts.

Bob Dylan GospelDoes this mean Acts 17 gives permission for Pastors to quote Bob Dylan lyrics or use Simpsons clips in their sermons and Bible studies? Perhaps, but we need to couple cultural reference with a serious point from the text of the Bible.  It is one thing to mimic culture to attract attention to you point, but it is a fairly worthless strategy is if there is no point behind the reference. I think that you can (and should) illustrate serious theological points via cultural artifacts (like poets, books, movies, etc.), but this can be very dangerous if it overwhelms the Scripture.

If the message of the Gospel is obscured by the using Fifty Shades of Grey as a sermon title, or by playing U2 songs during your worship, or hosting a Dancing with the Stars night at church, then you have missed Paul’s point in Acts 17.

Acts 17:6 – Turning the World Upside Down

After a successful time in the synagogue in Thessalonica, charges are made against Paul before the local Roman authorities (Acts 17:1-9). The charges against Paul are significant: he is accused of “defying the decrees of Caesar” and “advocating another king, Jesus.”  Given the recent history of Thessalonica, these are dangerous charges indeed.

Upside DownFirst, Paul and his companions are troublemakers. This could be standard rhetoric, although it does seem that wherever Paul goes there is trouble. But Rome did not particular care for trouble-makers. In fact, this phrase (οἱ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀναστατώσαντες οὗτοι) literally means the ones who are turning the world upside down.”  Kavin Rowe uses this phrase as the title for his excellent book subtitled “Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.” As he points out in his chapter on Acts 17, to “turn the world upside down” is a grave accusation in the Roman world (p. 96). Luke used the phrase later in Acts to describe the revolutionary activities of the Sicarii, actions that will result in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (Acts 21:38). It is possible to take this phrase not as “they are troublemakers” but rather as “they are rebels against the Roman Empire.”

Second, they subvert the decrees of Caesar. In 1 Thess 1:9 Paul says that the congregation has “turned form idols.” Obviously any pagan Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in the city would have turned from whatever idols they worshiped. But this “turning from idols” must have included the Roman cult.  If this is the case, then turning from the Roman cult could be understood as an act of disloyalty.  It is possible then that Gentile God-fearers still participated in some form of official cult, despite worshiping in the synagogue.

Third, they advocate another king, Jesus.  In 1 Thess 4 and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (1 Thess 2:19, for example).  This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).

Fourth, Paul’s preaching of the gospel challenges the truth of pax Romana. In 1 Thess 5:3, Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed.  Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live.  Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.

All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective.  After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective.  But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective.  Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome.  This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.

All this leads me to wonder how we can present this “radical” the Gospel to the world today. Does the message of the Grace of God really appear to be “turning the world upside down”?

Acts 16:3 – Was Paul a Hypocrite?

In Acts 16:3, Paul circumcised Timothy, a Hellenistic Jew who begins to travel with Paul during the second missionary journey.  The problem is Paul’s reasons for circumcising Timothy at this time. The whole point of the conference in Acts 15 was to deal with the issue of circumcision for converts. Gentile converts should not be circumcised since they are not under the Mosaic Covenant. One option is to dismiss this story as a fiction created by Luke to create the appearance of unity in the Early Church (F.C. Baur). Since it does not seem likely the Paul of Galatians would have circumcised Timothy, this story is taken as evidence Luke to not know Paul or the letter of Galatians. Or perhaps Paul was just inconsistent in the application of the decision of the council.

Timothy_stained-glassThe traditional answer for this dilemma is rooted in Luke’s description of Timothy’s parents in Acts 16:3. Since his mother was a Jew, his father was a Greek, he would have been considered ethnically Jewish. The ruling that the one’s status as a Jew was traced through the mother’s line dates back to the time of Ezra and the Mishnah includes a similar ruling often dated to the first century (m.Qidd 3:12). While it is not absolutely certain that matrilinear descent was always followed in the first century, there appears to be enough evidence to say that likely was (Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 664, n.23).

Shayne Cohen has challenged the relevance of these texts and argued Timothy was actually a Gentile who happened to have a Jewish mother (“Was Timothy Jewish (Acts 16:1-3): Patristic Exegesis, Rabbinic Law, And Matrilineal Descent,” JBL 105 [1986]: 251-268). He states “The Roman law of persons is completely irrelevant” for this case since there is no hint either of Timothy’s parents were Roman citizens. The Rabbinic texts often cited cannot be dated to the first century with any certainty. For Cohen, Ezra use of matrilineal descent is not relevant since it is not mentioned again in any Second Temple document other than the implication in Acts 16:3. Even if matrilineal descent was a principle in the first century, there is no evidence Hellenistic Jews in Asia Minor would have recognized it as valid. Finally, Cohen points out that no other New Testament text implies Timothy was a Jew. Even 2 Tim 1:5 does not require Timothy to be Jewish.

Yet Timothy is circumcised in Acts 16:3. I think it is wrong think Timothy was forced to be circumcised. He was complete agreement with Paul on this matter! I suggest that despite Cohen’s objections, from the perspective of the most observant Jew in Asia Minor, Timothy was a Jew, not a Gentile. Luke also tells us the reason Paul circumcised him was pressure from the Jews in Lystra and Iconium. They presumably knew Timothy was not circumcised and they would have made Timothy’s status with respect to the covenant the central issue whenever Paul attempted to preach the Gospel in a Jewish community.

Craig Keener sees this incident as an example of Luke’s literary-theological agenda (3:2321). After achieving unity on the issue of Gentile circumcision, Luke reports Paul did not excuse Jewish Christians from circumcision. Luke intentionally told this story after Acts 15 to emphasize the fact Paul was not a threat to Jewish heritage.

Does Paul do the right thing in requiring Timothy to keep the Law, even though he argues passionately in Galatians that those who are “in Christ” are not “under Law?”

Acts 15:37-40 – A Parting of the Ways: Part 2

[This is another post by a student in my Advanced Acts Studies seminar class, Camron Befus. Camron prepared a lecture on the conflict between Barnabas and Paul, so I asked him to write two blog posts on the topic.]

Argument 2Barnabas wishes to take his cousin John Mark on a second missionary journey Paul has proposed. But Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had already deserted them in Pamphylia and not continued with them in the work. They had such a “sharp disagreement that they parted company…” (Acts 15:38-39). Luke uses the word παροξυσμὸς for “sharp disagreement,” which is an odd choice of words to describe Paul’s disagreement. The word most often is used as “to stir to anger,” “to be irritated,” to do something that causes a person to get upset at a person. This is exactly what happened to Paul, as he was “provoked to anger” by Barnabas request.

This word is used in the Septuagint to describe God’s anger or wrath when he is provoked:

Deuteronomy 1:34-35 “When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors…”

Deuteronomy 29:27 “Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book.”

Jeremiah 32:37 (LXX 39:37) “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety.”

Luke describes Paul as being very angry at Barnabas wishing to bring John Mark along, and we quickly see they even split up because of this disagreement. From Luke’s perspective Paul evidently believed he is in the right in this discussion. Luke chooses a word commonly used to describe the unfaithfulness of the Israelites towards God to describe Paul’s anger. Did Luke use this word because he was agreeing with Paul decision to be against John Mark coming on the trip? Or did Luke use this strong of a word for this disagreement because he was disappointed in Paul having such a strong reaction against his companion?

Some scholars believe Paul is the one who is in the wrong: he did not wait for the Holy Spirit’s leading to go on a second missionary journey. It was the Holy Spirit who had moved Paul and Barnabas to be commissioned and go on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4). Perhaps God used Paul’s impatience to show him that good does not come from not waiting on God.

Paul was not going to change his mind about bringing John Mark and Barnabas must have felt the same way, so they parted ways. Their solution to the problem was to continue reaching the Gentiles, although they will no longer work together. Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and Paul recruited Silas and went to Derbe. They went to the towns Paul had visited on his first missionary journey.

What did Luke intended by using this particular word to describe Paul’s anger? Who was in the right in this conflict over John Mark?

Book Review: DeClaissé-Walford, Jacobson, and Tanner, Psalms (NICOT)

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy J., Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner. Psalms. NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 1073 pp. Hb; $60.   Link to Eerdmans

I have occasionally taught through sections of the Psalms and found the lack of quality resources frustrating. Most one or two volume commentaries are so brief they hardly merit consideration. I find Dahood’s three volumes in the Anchor Bible brief and idiosyncratic; even Hans Kraus in the Continental series never really had what I was looking for in a commentary.

NICOT PsalmsThis situation has changed considerably in recent years. In fact, this is a good time for Psalms commentaries. In the last several years, we have seen three volumes from John Goldingay (Baker, 2006, 2007, 2008) and three from Alan Ross (Kregel 2012, 2013 and forthcoming) as well as two excellent “historical commentaries” from Bruce Waltke and James M. Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship (Eerdmans, 2010) and The Psalms as Christian Lament (Eerdmans 2014). This new volume in the New International Commentary Series on the Old Testament is another welcome addition to the study of the Psalms.

Rolf Jacobson wrote most of the 54-page introduction, with the exception of the section on the canonical shape of the Psalter, DeClaissé-Walford contributed this section. First, Jacobson discusses the title, text and translation of the Psalter. The main concern of this section is the often bewildering numbering of the Psalms. While there are 150 Psalms in all modern translations, the actual numbering varies between the Hebrew Bible and Septuagint. In fact, codices Leningrad and Aleppo have only 149 since Psalms 114 and 115 are combined into a single psalm. The standard text most are familiar with dates to the Second Rabbinic Bible (1524-25). With respect to translation, the commentators in this volume have sought to provide as literal a translation as possible, although they render masculine pronouns in the plural in order to maintain gender inclusiveness (similar to the NRSV). One unique feature is the transliteration of hesed in the 255 times the word appears in the Psalter. Since it is always difficult to adequately render this word in English, the commentators have chosen to consider hesed as a loanword, like shalom.

Second, Jacobson deals with the problem of the authorship of the Psalms. This necessarily requires a brief study of the superscriptions since many of these Psalm headers may be understood as a claim of authorship. The common psalm header le-dawid can be understood in several ways other than “written by David.” The approach of this commentary is that “for practical purposes, all psalms are anonymous” (11). Jacobson offers a short explanation of other information found in psalm headers although many terms remain obscure.

The third section of the introduction is a short overview of the contributions of Form Criticism and Historical approaches to the Psalms. This is an important section since Form Criticism has been most fruitful in the study of the Psalter. Many Psalms to follow conventional patterns and must have developed in some kind of life-situation (Sitz im Leben). The contributions of Gunkel and Mowinckel, Gerstenberger and Westermann have influenced the study of the Psalms for most of the twentieth century. Jacobson includes the more recent work of Walter Bruggemann as a development in Psalms research. Building on the foundation of Paul Ricoeur, Bruggemann understands the Psalms in terms of “orientation-disorientation-reorientation” (17). The commentary resonates with the earlier form-critics (Westermann vs. Brueggemann), but the individual commentators are “sensitive to the canonical story of the Psalter” (19) in their description of the genre of an individual psalm. While Jacobson lists and describes five psalm types, many psalms do not fit neatly into any particular form.

In the fourth section of the introduction, DeClaissé-Walford discusses the canonical shape of the psalter. Beginning with McCann’s 1993 collection of essays on the shape of the Psalter, DeClaissé-Walford surveys several attempts to describe the collection of Psalms (including her own contribution, Reading from the Beginning: The Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter (Mercer University Press, 1997). She observe there are several sub-collections (Asaph, Korah, Ascents, etc.) as well as several doxologies marking out five separate books of Psalms. The collection was made after the exile in order to “offer the hermeneutical rationale for the survival of the postexilic community” (29). By briefly surveying the “plot” of the Psalter, she argues the five books of psalms narrate the history of ancient Israel (Books 1-2), the reigns of King David and Solomon and the dark days of the divided kingdom and eventual destruction of those kingdoms (book 3); the Babylonian exile (Book 4) and the restoration of the community to the land (Book 5) (38).

Jacobson describes the poetry of the Psalms in the fifth section of the introduction. After discussing the most common feature of Hebrew poetry, parallelism, he very briefly discusses “evocative language.” Essays on Hebrew poetry tend to be tedious, especially for people who do not read the Hebrew text. This section, however, is remarkably readable primarily due to the lack of examples which attempt to replicate the Hebrew text. He describes the features well without the often confusing syllable counts and transliterated Hebrew. I expected more out of the section on evocative language, it is barely more than a page long. Understanding how metaphors and other imagery function will pay dividends for interpreting the Psalms and I think readers of a commentary on the Psalms would be well-served by a more developed introduction to this sort of language.

The last major section of the Introduction discusses themes and theology of the Psalter. Jacobson recognizes the difficulty in developing a “theology” of the entire Psalter since it represents such a wide variety of contexts and perspectives. This diversity is demonstrated by citing a wide variety of commentators who have suggested a “theological center” for the Psalter. Other approaches to the theology of the Psalter focus on genre or sub-collections. It is easier to think in terms of a theology of the Psalms of Asaph, for example, than the whole collection. This commentary attempts to understand the theology of each psalm individually rather than develop a synthetic theology of the whole Psalter.

In the body of the commentary each of the three authors cover each Psalm in a few pages. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and most technical details are found in the footnotes. After a short introduction discussing structure in the genre of the psalm, the author provides a short outline and fresh translation. These translations have a number of footnotes covering textual critical issues, citing LXX and other versions, targumim, and the Dead Sea Scrolls where available. Following the translation the commentary section works through the psalm stanza by stanza. Since most syntactical comments appear in the footnotes to the translation, the main commentary reads smoothly with only occasional reference to secondary sources.

Following the some of the commentary sections written by Rolf Jacobson a brief reflection on the psalm appears. In this section there are connections to larger biblical theological interests, but also occasionally historical interpretations of the psalm. I am not sure why this is limited to only a few Psalms since I found them very interesting and helpful from a “history of interpretation” perspective. I appreciate the fact the authors for each Psalm are identified at the end of the article on each psalm.

Despite the length of the commentary, some of the commentary sections are unfortunately brief. Beth Tanner only has four pages of commentary on the twelve verses Psalm 26, including translation and notes. Jacobson writes eight pages on the eleven verses of Psalm 29. The lengthy and important Psalm 51 has only six pages. The 72-verses of Psalm 78 are covered in only 3 pages, although there are few exegetical problems in this rehearsal of Israel’s history. Unfortunately even a very long commentary cannot offer the same sort of detailed, verse-by-verse analysis of a Psalm one finds in a commentary on Ephesians, but that may not be necessary in most case. Some Psalms are more difficult and have generated far more secondary literature, so it is not surprising some Psalms are treated in more summary fashion.

There are a few sub-units in the Psalter that may have merited an excursus. For example, an introduction to the eleven Psalms of Asaph is only about a page in the introduction to the third book of the Psalter and a short footnote on the header of Psalm 73.  On a few occasions DeClaissé-Walford addes a short additional note on the use of a Psalm in the rabbinic tradition (for example, on Ps 42, 402; Ps 45, 416). I found these side-notes interestingly, but they were a bit of a tease since they appear so rarely in the whole commentary.

Often Christian commentaries on the Psalms are interested in the so-called messianic Psalms. While there are occasional notes in this direction, this commentary is not distracted by later interpretations of the Psalms, whether in the New Testament or by later Christian or Jewish interpreters. For example, Psalm 45 is a royal psalm often associated with the messiah. In her comments on the psalm, DeClaissé-Walford points out the line from the Aramaic Targum on Psalm 45 which interprets the king as “King Messiah” as well as the common (and unfortunate, in my view) Christian interpretation of the bride in the psalm as the Church and the King as Jesus. Having recognized these later interpretations, her commentary rightly focuses on the Hebrew text without advocating for these theological interpretations. Beth Tanner’s comments on Psalm 22 refrain from the Christological interpretation until the concluding paragraph. Even though I personally am very interested messianic interpretations of the Psalter, I appreciate the writers’ commitment to keeping this to a minimum in their commentary.

Conclusion. Any new volume of the NICOT series is welcome, but this is an excellent contribution to the study of the Psalms. Do not be misled by the fact this is a single volume commentary on the Psalms: the book is a full exegetical commentary on the whole Psalter and belongs on the shelf of every serious student of the Psalter.

One additional note: This commentary will soon appear in the Logos library. While I have not used the book in Logos yet, I expect it will have all the features I have come to expect in a Logos Library book (links, note-taking, etc.) As of 3/17/2015 the book is still under development as a pre-publication. If you use Logos Bible Software, you may want to consider following the link and adding this fine resource to your library!

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.