Book Review: Scot McKnight and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views

McKnight, Scot and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 285 pp. pb. $29.99.   Link to Baker Academic

Some might question whether there is a need for yet another “five views” on Paul. This book is similar to Four Views on Paul edited by Michael Bird, Zondervan 2012), which also included a Reformed (Thomas Schreiner), a Catholic Perspective (Luke Timothy Johnson) a Post-New Perspective (Douglas Campbell) and a “Paul within Judaism” chapter (Mark Nanos). Focusing just on justification, Beilby and Eddy edited a five views book featuring a Roman Catholic view (Collins and Rafferty), two reformed views (traditional by Michael Horton and progressive reformed by Michael Bird), a New Perspective view by James Dunn and a “deification view” from Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (IVP Academic 2011). There are others, including the recent Voices and Views on Paul, edited by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers (IVP Academic 2020).

Perspectives on PaulAs with most “five perspectives” books, Perspectives on Paul is set up like a conference seminar. Each essay is followed by a response from each of the other perspectives. In this book, the original presenter is given a few pages to reply to these responses. The book begins with an overview of the last forty years of Pauline scholarship. All recent books on Paul use E. P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism as a convenient watershed since it launched the New Perspective on Paul. For the last several decades, Pauline scholarship has been dominated by those who react against some theological implications or those who seek to push beyond Sanders’s view of Paul and his relationship with Second Temple Judaism.

The introduction to Perspectives on Paul therefore begins with an overview of Sanders’s main arguments followed by a summary of two major proponents of what has become known as the New Perspective on Paul, James Dunn and N. T. Wright. There are six benefits related to studying Paul through the lens of the New Perspective (11): First, the New Perspective provides a better understanding of Paul’s letters. Second, it avoids individualistic readings and western perceptions of Paul’s letters. Third, the New Perspective reduces anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism by studying the literature of Second Temple Judaism closely in order to avoid mischaracterizations of what Jews believed in the first century. Fourth, the New Perspective provides for more continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament than typical of older studies, which saw a decisive break between Paul and Judaism. Fifth, this continuity between the Testaments allows for more continuity between Jesus and Paul. Sixth, the New Perspective also opens up the possibility of continuity between Roman Catholics and Protestants over the doctrine of justification.

This last benefit is often perceived as the greatest flaw for the New Perspective by some Protestants. James Dunn and N. T. Wright are overthrowing the assured results of the Reformation. This perceived attack on the Reformation sometimes results in fiery rhetoric that lacks engagement with the Pauline letters. In November 2010, I attended the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting, which focused on Wright’s view of justification. (Here are my comments on the three plenary addresses by Thomas Schreiner, Frank Theilman and N. T. Wright). One of the parallel sessions claimed to be an answer to the New Perspective, yet the paper did not engage with the New Perspective directly and concluded what was wrong with the New Perspective is it challenges Reformation theology. In fact, the paper concluded with a lengthy citation of the Westminster Confession (as a mic-drop).

The second part of the introduction therefore surveys the reactions both for and against the New Perspective. The editors provide copious footnotes to the avalanche of anti-New Perspective literature. Among the post-New Perspective studies briefly surveyed in this section is the Paul within Judaism” view represented by Magnus Zetterholm in chapter 4, Francis Watson’s Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (Cambridge, 1986) and revised by adding the subtitle Beyond the New Perspective (Eerdmans 2011), Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans 2009) as a representative of the apocalyptic view on Paul, and John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2017), also featured chapter five of this volume.

Brant Pitre outlines the Roman Catholic Perspective on Paul. Pitre shows that Sanders’s interpretation of Paul is very close to Catholic soteriology and Sander’s exegesis of Paul unintentionally arrived at the same conclusions as patristic, medieval Catholic interpreters and the Council of Trent (27). He therefore examined several issues in Sanders, in patristic writers, and Trent. In fact, he points out that the Council of Trent’s decree and justification “Paul over fifty times and the Bible over one hundred times. He does not therefore understand statements from N. T. Wright like “the Council of Trent responded by insisting on tradition” (54). Pitre does not see a contradiction between Paul’s doctrine of “initial justification by grace through faith and final justification according to works enough by faith alone” (52)  In Zetterholm’s response, he observes that it is “quite ironic; Paul, the great hero of Protestantism, turns out to have been the first real Catholic (68).

A. Andrew Das gives the Traditional Protestant Perspective on Paul, although Das prefers to call his view a “newer perspective” (85). Das recognizes agrees with Sanders that not all Second Temple Jews affirmed a legalistic approach to salvation. But unlike Sanders, he thinks some Jews were legalistic and Paul responds to that claim. He therefore spends much of this chapter examining Galatians 3 and Romans 4 in order to argue Abraham was a model of obedience for Second Temple period Judaism. Paul demands perfect obedience to the law, but this is “not necessarily a commentary on Second Temple Judaism, but a consequence of his Christological emphases” (94). For Das, following the law is a mere human endeavor which stands in contrast to the gift of justification.

James D. G. Dunn is the obvious choice to present the New Perspective on Paul. Many of Dunn’s ideas are so well known by this point he can summarize briefly his views on Galatians 2:16 and the Antioch Incident. However, he makes the bold suggestion that Luke complicated the history of early Christianity by qualifying Paul’s claim to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Luke shifts the initial preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles to Peter (Acts 10) and omits the details of the Antioch Incident. By glossing over the sharp conflict described in Galatians 2, “Luke the apologist has taken over from Luke the historian” (142). Paul’s gospel of salvation through faith alone “was lost to sight in Luke’s history and in subsequent history that he had in effect encouraged” (145). This view of whether Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was lost is controversial. Pitre claims justification by faith is in the patristic writers (151). Das focuses a broad range of Jewish and Gentile interaction around meals, which “would be perceived by some Jews as a reeking of idolatry if not also law violations” (158). Barclay does not address Luke’s reception of Paul since it is not central to the New Perspective, suggesting that Dunn’s comments on Acts “reflect a strong, subterranean influence of F. C. Bauer” (164). Dunn confesses he has over-written in the topic and should have held the discussion of Luke’s reception of Paul for another time (168).

Magnus Zetterholm lays out the “Paul within Judaism Perspective.” For Zetterholm, the Pauline scholars must determine “what Paul is communicating in the socio-religious-political situation in which he lived, no matter the consequences for normative theology” (66, emphasis his). Torah observance was only a problem for Paul regarding Gentiles. Although he expects non-Jews in Christ to conform to certain moral standards (such as refraining from idolatry), he never expected the Gentiles to keep Torah. Jews who are in Christ should continue to keep the law. Zetterholm observes that Paul is called to be the apostle to the nations, The theological problem Paul faced was not related to how Israel is going to be saved. Of course, Paul touches on Israel’s salvation, but he has far more to say about how the pagans are going to be saved. For Paul, Israel’s salvation was never in doubt (189). Gentiles will be included in the final salvation without giving up their ethnic identity: they do not convert and “become Jews” (whatever that might mean in the context of Second Temple Judaism).   

The “Gift Perspective on Paul” appears in a book on Pauline viewpoints. John M. G. Barclay briefly summarizes his Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015) and explains how his view extends the insights of the New Perspective. Although it might seem strange to include a recent book on Paul as “perspective,” Brant Pitre suggests Barclay’s book will prove as consequential as Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism (237). As Barclay states, the “Gift Perspective on Paul” perspective is not as much a well-defined school of interpretation, but rather a loose constellation of viewpoints centering on the definition of grace as an incongruous gift illustrated by the wide diversity of use within second temple Judaism. Paul stands within the spectrum and applies the idea of grace to his Gentile mission. It is not whether there would be a mission to the Gentiles, but how the Gentiles would be included. Of importance is for Barclay is Romans 9–11, which “displays a complex dialectic between the Christ event and the scriptural story of Israel” (231).

Conclusion. To a certain extent, the title of this book is misleading. The five perspectives are all more or less in conversation with E. P. Sanders. As the editors make clear in the introduction, even the traditional view has taken new a new shape because of Sanders. Das says he is in “largely in agreement with Sanders” and Barclay’s recent nuanced view of grace (84) despite representing the Traditional Protestant view. Are there other more aggressively traditional Pauline scholars who might have provided more contrast with Sanders? Thomas Schreiner comes to mind, although he contributed to the Four Views on Paul (Zondervan 2012).

One important view missing in this book is the Apocalyptic Paul. Of course editorial choices must be made and keeping these multi-perspective books to four or five is likely the preference of the publishers. In my review of Voices and Views on Paul, I complained there was too much New Perspective and the Paul within Judaism view was missing. Perhaps this book could have been improved by expanding the introduction to include Dunn’s views, allowing for a chapter on Apocalyptic perspective. However, this would deprive the reader from enjoying one of the last essays Dunn wrote. In fact, the book is worth reading, if only for Dunn’s contributions.

Book Review: Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, and John Kincaid. Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology

Pitre, Brant, Michael P. Barber, John A. Kincaid. Paul, a New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 310 pp. Pb; $35.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

In the introduction to this volume on Pauline theology, the authors state their modest goal of contributing to a few of the major debates within scholarship, limiting themselves to recent exegesis of Paul’s undisputed letters (6). This requires unpacking Pauline theology in the light of the original context.

Pitre, New Covenant JewThe first two chapters of the book examine Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Would Paul have identified himself as a “former Jew?” For most twentieth century Pauline scholarship, the answer is “yes.” Paul was a former Jew in the sense that he underwent some sort of conversion experience and became, in the view of Rudolf Bultmann, a representative of “Torah Free Gentile Christianity.” Although the authors of this volume do not use the term, this view is the Old Perspective on Paul challenged by E. P Sanders.

Others consider Paul to represent an Eschatological Jew. This view would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a “sort of.” The authors follow Dunn in this section, although they do not refer to this as the “New Perspective on Paul.” Rather than focus on how Paul’s theology cuts across the grain of the Judaism of his day, this position would argue Paul in some ways stays within Judaism. James Dunn argued Paul experienced a conversion, but it was “a conversion to a better, a more correct understanding of [God’s] will and purpose for Israel” (23, citing Dunn’s Jesus Paul and the Gospels, 141). Three things stand out in this perspective. First, the “already” of the new creation began with Jesus. For Paul, becoming a Christian means becoming a new creation. Second, this new creation is to be “in Christ” rather than “under the Law.” This participation in Christ is central to Paul’s theology. Third, the “not yet” of new creation implies an end-time conversion of the remnant (Romans 11:26).

A third view is Paul as a Torah-observant Jew. This is often called the “Paul within Judaism” and is represented by the work of Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Magnus Zetterholm, and Pamela Eisenbaum This view of Paul would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a resounding “no.” Paul did not convert to Christianity and he never uses the term “Christian” to refer to himself or any other believer in Jesus. Paul continued to observe the Torah and would have told a Jewish convert to continue observing the law. Paul did not require Gentiles to keep the law on order to be right with God. Since the authentic letters of Paul were written exclusively to gentile audiences, modern scholars on;y hear Pau’s argument against Gentiles keeping the law. Regarding Romans 11:26, opponents of this view argue Paul does not say “all Israel will convert to Christianity” but “all Israel will confess Jesus as Messiah.”

On contrast to these three views, Pitre, Barber and Kincaid describe Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” because that is the terminology he uses to describe himself (39). They build on the work of Protestant scholars like Michael Gorman, Richard Hays, N. T. Wright, Michael Bird and Catholic scholars like Joseph Fitzmyer, Frank Matera and Scott Hahn. Since this description is “drawn from the Jewish scriptures (Jer 31:31-34), it has within itself the power to account for elements of both continuity (“covenant”) in discontinuity (“new”) with Judaism on Paul’s theology” (39). Paul understands himself as a minister of this new covenant and that there is always a balance of divine and human actions n Paul’s theology. To argue “the law is not sufficient to save is hardly anti-Jewish” (45). In fact, for Paul, “the new covenant involves emotive faithful obedience that transcends that which was possible under the Torah” (63).

Another aspect of the question “What kind of Jew was Paul?” is the recent trend in Pauline scholarship to describe his theology as apocalyptic. By apocalyptic, some scholars mean radical discontinuity between the ages is often described as a “eschatological invasion” (J. Louis Martyn, Douglas Campbell, for example). Other scholars use the term “apocalyptic” to emphasize continuity between Paul’s teaching and its early Jewish context (N. T. Wright, Michael Gorman, for example). The authors attempt a “both-and” approach which argues Paul’s theology is deeply rooted in early Jewish apocalypses (continuity), but he radically transformed that Jewish theology around the revelation of what God has done in Christ (discontinuity). Jewish eschatology can be described as “two worlds theology,” this age and the age to come. In Paul, these worlds overlap. This world is giving way to the world to come; the old creation is becoming a new creation. The overlap of the ages Paul describes as “in Christ” (73). This is clear in Paul’s contrast between a heavenly citizenship in an earthly citizenship. Yet for Paul, Christians two realms, they are still on earth, yet they are also in the heavens (88). Paul makes claims that are indeed radically discontinuous with the Judaism of his day. But he describes the revelation of Jesus Christ in this new age in ways that are consistent with the Second Temple Judaism.

The next three chapters apply this view of Paul as a New Covenant Jew to three theological issues: Christology, the Cross and the Atonement, and New Covenant justification through divine sonship.  In each Paul’s theology is in some ways consistent with Second Temple Judaism, yet in other important ways it breaks new ground. With respect to Christology, the authors observe that Paul is deeply rooted in first century Judaism. Yet at the same time he goes well beyond early Jewish sources in his messianic claims (96). There is no doubt that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah. Yet he also clearly teaches that Jesus has equality with God Philippians 2. In 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, Paul inserts Jesus into the Shema, “there is one God and one Lord” (116). Paul describes “Christ’s relationship with believers in terms that Jewish readers would have associated exclusively with the one God of the Shema (Deut 6:4-6)” (123).  

Regarding the cross and the atonement, the both-and approach emphasizes Jesus’s death is a sacrifice of atonement or redemption (continuity), yet Paul insists salvation occurs through a divine gift of love (discontinuity, 130). Atonement, ransom, and redemption are the vocabulary of Second Temple Judaism, yet Jesus’s death is not only a sacrifice. Certainly, Paul presents Jesus’s death is a covenant sacrifice, but he emphasizes that Jesus gave himself for us he underscores the gracious nature of Christ’s work on the cross. This chapter is deeply influenced by John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015).

This discussion of the atonement leads naturally to Paul’s view of justification. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid observe much of the contemporary debate and Reformation theological disputes neglect the way justification terminology would have been understood in ancient Judaism. They therefore discuss whether Paul’s doctrine of justification brings about a “change in character” or a “change in legal status” (163). Once again, Barclay’s Paul and the Gift influences the discussion. The authors agree with him that “Paul avoids viewing the divine and human actors as somehow in competition with one another” (169). In the old covenant the problem was always the heart of God’s people. The people could not keep the Torah because the Torah could not change the people. The authors conclude “saving righteousness of God in justification is a singular righteousness that concerns both legal standing and the quality of the believer” (179).

Early in the book, the authors observe Paul’s new covenant ministry among the Corinthian’s involved the liturgical celebration of the new covenant in the Last Supper (47). This is developed in more detail in chapter 6, “The Lord’s Supper in the New Creation.” The authors continue to work their both-and method. The Lord’s Supper celebrates the sacrificial death of Christ. As such, there are numerous allusions to Jewish sacrificial tradition in the key passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, especially when read alongside Exodus 24:6-8. Since Paul connects Christ’s death as a covenant sacrifice to the Passover lamb, he emphasizes that Christ’s sacrifice would involve a cultic meal (239). This is the continuity with the old age; the discontinuity is Paul’s insistence that the bread in the cup or a foretaste of the new creation found in the life-giving Spirit (243). By participating in the Lord Supper, “the gathered community becomes what is consumed, the body of Christ” (250).  

Conclusion. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid suggest a slightly new way for reading Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” that take seriously recent studies in both the Apocalyptic Paul and the “Paul within Judaism” view. A “both-and method” stresses Paul’s continuity with his Jewish world, as well as his view of the radical changes to that world caused by the apocalyptic appearance of Jesus “between the ages.” As with most both-and positions, both Apocalyptic Paul scholars and Paul within Judaism” scholars will probably find the New Covenant Paul as familiar, yet not quite satisfying. Nevertheless, this is a stimulating account of Paul’s thought which gives voice to Paul’s roots in the Jewish world without ignoring the radical nature of his thought.

 

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

Titus 3:9-11 – Dealing with Those Who Disagree

Because of the descriptions of the false teachers in the background of 1 Timothy and Titus, scholars often suggest the letters were written well into the second century. There is some similarity between the description in Titus to the followers of Marcion (explaining why Marcion would not have accepted the books as authentically Pauline) or an early form of Montanism. Montanism was a charismatic revival of the middle/late second century and the Pastorals Epistles do not mention the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit.

Other scholars suggest the description of the false teachers is “generic.” There is no specific threat to the churches overseen by Timothy and Titus, but this is the sort of generic anti-heretic language which could be applied to any number of churches. This is similar to modern political rhetoric, Republicans always accuse Democrats as favoring “tax and spend” and Democrats always accuse Republicans of being in the pocket of the NRA. Whether those things are true or not about a given politician, the accusation will almost always be made. In Titus, Paul could be laying out a laundry list of the typical things his opponents have said and done, whether he has a specific false teacher in mind.

Could the be a an early form of Gnosticism or Montanism? This is always possible, depending on the definition of “proto.” The mixture of Greek philosophy and Jewish asceticism that becomes Gnosticism later in the second century may have its roots in the very churches planted by Paul. But the false teachings that the writer is dealing with is not at all close to the Gnostic teachings of the second century. To argue against “foolish myths and genealogies” as Paul does here is applicable in the first century as much as the second (or third or twenty-first!)

Regardless of the source of false teachers in Ephesus and Crete, Paul provides a three-step method for dealing with these troublemakers. The steps seem reasonably clear, but it is hard to know how to use them in a contemporary context. Paul is not describing a medieval excommunication or some sort of strange shunning-ritual. He wants his churches to be unified around a core yet also to preserve some diversity within the members of the church. How does this work?

The first step is to avoid teachings which create quarrels and dissensions. This cannot include the core elements of the Faith, the things Paul has already defined as “sound doctrine” in Titus 3. What things might be considered “divisive” our context? Paul is talking about drawing lines which include some and exclude others. to a large extent, the modern church has dealt with this by dividing up into a wide range of denominations. This would be intentionally divisive attitude designed to cause quarrels in the church. I have occasionally been asked to preach at conservative a church which used the King James Bible only; if I intentionally preached out of a NIV Bible, the congregation would be so angry they would never hear a single word I said. Imagine if I were asked to preach in a Christian Reformed church and did a classic dispenstionalist sermon on the Rapture!

Second, if there is a person who cannot set their divisiveness aside, then they are to be warned. The text says the false teacher “stirs up dissension,” indicating they are looking for an opportunity to argue over his special doctrine. This too becomes a difficult to apply in a modern context since people want to share their views in a welcoming and affirming environment. But the divisive person is not discussing an issue in order to gain a clearer understanding, they are pushing their agenda in order to make coverts to their fringe position. I understand what it is like to have a view out of step with the majority and I try not to be divisive on the issues I know will cause people to be upset.

Last, if the person continues to stir up dissension, then the church is to shun the person as a false teacher. This is very controversial since ostracizing someone from a group is a very “un-American.” Paul seems very prejudiced and arrogant to force someone who believes differently out of the church! “Shun the heretic” has a positively medieval sound to it which most modern people would like to avoid. We want to have open and honest discussions about our differences and come to a respectful understanding whether we agree or not. But for Paul, the presence of someone teaching unhealthy doctrine or advocating impure practices in the church can only damage the church.

Most likely these steps will look different in different cultures (African churches vs. American churches, for example). I have been a university professor for many years, and every once in a while I have a student who seems to want to argue about everything I say. It is not that they want to learn anything new, they just like to debate and argue (and probably waste class time so the test gets postponed). In a few cases the student was not interested in an open discussion of new ideas, they wanted to shut down anything they disagreed with and force their ideas on the group. I can think of examples from the most Fundamentalist students ever to the hyper-Calvinist (and one really odd Arminian). Although I have yet to shun a student, I have asked them to realize they are not in debate club and other students want to learn.

How do we use this material to preserve the unity and promote diversity within a local church?

The Pastoral Epistles – The Opponents in Ephesus

One of the problems for reading the Pastoral Epistles is the identity of the “opponents” in Paul’s churches. Paul seems to have a group of elders in mind who are in rebellion against his Gospel, What is more, the opponents in Ephesus are like the people predicted to come in the “later days.” Jesus also described false messiahs and prophets who would come claiming to be messengers from God. First and Second John both describe teachers with wrong views about Jesus as “antichrist.”

Wolf Stealing Sheep

The idea that the “last days” have arrived in common in the New Testament, the earliest church believed that Jesus could return at any moment. In this they were correct. In 2 Thess 2 Paul teaches that in the last days there will be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth. In the last days, this falling away will be so intense that people will choose to believe the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel.  Did Paul actually believe that he was living in the last days?  I think that he did, but every generation of the church have had at least some people who thought they were in the last days!

But this text cannot be directly applied to any particular modern false  teaching in order to declare that we are “in the end times.” Certainly Jesus can come back at any moment, and there are plenty of people teaching all sorts of things in the name of Jesus that are simply not in line with the truth. But that is the condition of all of church history!

Paul describes the opponents in Ephesus as sub-Christian. They have Christian like ideas, but when examined in the light of the truth they are in fact not Christian at all.  Paul is not dealing with a group of people who have a honest difference  of opinion on a theological issue.  His opponents in Ephesus have rejected key elements of the gospel which separate them from the truth.

  • They have abandoned their faith. The verb Paul uses here (ἀφίστημι) is the same as 2 Thess 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deut 7:4 it is used for turning away from God to worship other gods. These opponents have rejected the core truth of the Gospel (1 Tim 3:16) and can no longer be described as within the faith.
  • They follow “deceitful spirits” and hold to the “teachings of demons.” This seems like a strong polemic, the sort of thing that we would not say about an opponent today. But there are a number of Pauline texts that describe real spiritual warfare. In 1 Tim 3:6-7, for example, Paul warns that a leader in the church ought not be a recent convert, since it is possible for him to become prideful and fall into the devil’s snare.
  • They are hypocritical liars. Combining hypocritical and liar indicates that their teaching appears to be well-intended, but it is in fact false. This indicates that the opponents are not simply fooled into teaching something that is false, they are choosing to maintain a lie for some reason (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 291).
  • Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. There are two ways to read this line. First the phrase may refer to someone who has told a lie so many times that they believe it, that there conscience no longer functions as it ought. They are numb to the truth, etc. Second, it is possible that this refers to being branded. The verb (καυστηριάζω) can mean sear, but it can also refer to branding someone with a hot iron. “The imagery suggests crime published with a branding mark on the perpetrator” (BDAG). In either case, their conscience has been destroyed by the “doctrine of demons” that they no longer know if they are teaching the truth or not.

I am not sure it is possible to identify the opponents from these four items alone. What is certain is that there are people in Paul’s churches in Ephesus who have defected from the Gospel in such a way that the are not Christians at all. Timothy is warned about these people and told to appoint elders who cling tenaciously to the gospel and are truly godly.

What are the Pastoral Epistles?

First and Second Timothy and Titus are usually described as “pastoral epistles.” The standard view of these three letters is that Paul is writing to individuals who he has placed in a leadership position overseeing churches. Paul Anton first called these three books as pastoral epistles by in 1726. The description has become so common that nearly every commentator on the books has described the letters as “church manuals” or “advice to young pastors.” This assumption is rarely questioned.

In the traditional view of these letters, young Reverand LovejoyTimothy has taken on additional responsibilities as a superintendent over several churches planted by Paul. First Timothy is therefore letter is personal advice to Timothy on how to organize the church, as well as other ministry related issues.The second letter written to Timothy is to ask him to come to him in Rome, and to bring Mark with him, but the pastoral emphasis is still the main theme. In Titus, the content is very similar to First Timothy, elders are described, and various potential problems are addressed.

Gordon Fee, however, has called the description of these three letters as “Pastoral Epistles” into question. As Fee notes, if these are “church manuals” they are not particularly effective ones. We end up with far more questions about the church after reading them! It seems hard to believe that such a wide variety of church structures and styles would all call upon these letters to validate their own church practice, if in fact Paul intended them to be read as “manuals for doing church.” Furthermore, he states “It is a mistaken notion to view Timothy or Titus as model pastors for a local church. The letters simply have no such intent” (147)

The key, for Fee, is to read seriously what Paul about his reason for writing the letters in 1 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15. In the light of Paul’s speech to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:17-35, it would appear that the purpose of the letters might very well to be false teachers in the Ephesian community.

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer

1 Timothy 3:15 …if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Acts 20:30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

These verses do not concern organizing the churches from scratch, as if Paul has done just a bit of church planting and Timothy is sent in to finish the job, like a modern evangelist with a followup team. There seems to be a serious false teaching that has caused the church at Ephesus serious problems. The problem is internal (Acts 20:30), people from the inside have begun to teach things opposed to Paul’s message. As Fee puts it, “What we learn about church order in 1 Timothy is not so much organizational as reformational” (146).

This observation may help with the most difficult problem of 1 Timothy. If Fee is correct and the problem is straying elders, does this effect the way we look at the list of qualifications for elders? What about the prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority in 1 Timothy 2:11-12?

 

 

Bibliography: Gordon D. Fee, “Reflections On Church Order In The Pastoral Epistles, With Further Reflection On The Hermeneutics Of Ad Hoc Documents.” JETS 28 (1985): 141-151.

Like a Virgin Bride – Ephesians 5:25-30

The idea that the church is the bride of Christ is common in popular thinking, especially in hymns and songs. This is based on the common metaphor drawn from the Hebrew Bible that Israel is God’s bride. Beginning in Hosea, the prophets use the metaphor of a marriage relationship frequently to describe God’s relationship to his people. This metaphor is almost entirely negative since Israel was an unfaithful bride. Jesus employs similar language as the Hebrew prophets, calling his himself a bridegroom and comparing both his current ministry and future return to a wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-12, 25:1-14).

Veiled BrideAs the idea that the Church has replaced Israel as God’s people became dominant, it was quite easy to extend the metaphor of a marriage to the church. Just as the idea was common in the Hebrew Bible, so too the image of the church as the bride of Christ became pervasive in medieval theology and art. For many, the idea of the church as the bride of Christ is the dominant metaphor in their theology. But the basis for this metaphorical transfer is a replacement theology (even if it is implicit); anyone who rejects replacement theology will also think about the usefulness of this metaphor for the church.

It remains a fact, however, that Paul describes the church as like a virgin being prepared for marriage in Ephesian 5:21-33. Christ’s love for the church is described in 5:25-26, 29. Paul cites foundational text for marriage in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 2) and draws an analogy from it. The relationship of Christ and church similar to that of the married couple – they are “one flesh” in Gen 2. Therefore there is some intimate connection between Christ and the church which can be described in similar terms.

There is something of an eschatological perspective in this bridal metaphor in Ephesian 5. Christ is the head of the church, which submits to his authority. That all things will submit to the authority of Christ is a view of the future when Christ returns (cf. Phil 2:5-11). But, on the other hand, the marriage is already in existence and there are aspects of a realized eschatology here. On the other hand, the idea of a splendid church (5:27) may imply a future eschatological element is present.

At some point in the future the church will finally be a pure and spotless bride prepared for the bridegroom at the Second Coming (the “wedding supper”). I am tempted to see this as another aspect of the already / not yet tension of Pauline eschatology, but I am not sure Paul’s topic in Ephesian 5 is eschatology at all, but rather the purity of the church in the present age.

It could therefore be argued that Paul, who took a negative approach of sexual purity (commands not do be immoral, 5:3-7), now adopts a positive argument, “reflect the love of Christ” in sexual ethics (your own partner). The “function” of the metaphor is to get the husbands to see themselves as in some ways an “ecclesial bride,” if Christ and the church are “one flesh,” and covenant loyalty is obvious and required, then the husband ought to have the same level of commitment to their wives.

So Paul does use the marriage metaphor, but he spins in the direction of a ethical teaching on the relationship of a husband and wife in their marriage relationship. How then can the church be the pure virginal bride of Christ? How does this function as a metaphor for ethical community conduct?

Not Even a Hint of Immorality – Ephesians 5:3-7

In Ephesians 5:1-2 Paul called on the one who is in Christ to “imitate God” by living out their life in the same sacrificial love with which Christ loved us when he gave up his life on the Cross as a “fragrant offering” to the Lord. Although there is no other place in the New Testament where the believer is called to imitate God, here Paul says we imitate God by living in the pattern of Christ’s self-sacrificial love.

Sexual immorality and impurity seem obvious, but Paul mentions greed in the same line. This is similar to 4:19, all three words appeared there as well.

Immorality is a generic word (πορνεία) that covers a wide range of sexual sin, often called “fornication.” As the Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once described pornography, “I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Impurity (ἀκαθαρσία) refers to anything which is filthy or corrupting, so the word is used in ethical texts for sexual sins. In 1 Enoch 10:11, for example, the sin of the angels is impurity. Paul often links filth and corruption, see 2 Cor 12:21, for example. but he does not need to define them since the meaning would be obvious to the reader.

By translating πλεονεξία as covetousness (ESV) or greed (NIV), the reader may think only of financial greed, and then wonder why greed is connected to two words which generically describe sexual sins. In classical Greek, however, this word refers to “vice pure and simple” and is among “the three most disgraceful things” (BDAG).

These vices are not even to be mentioned (looking forward to the next line), because they are not fitting for “the saints.” The verb Paul uses (ὀνομάζω) is rare, and in the passive (as it is here) can have the sense of “be known.” In Romans 15:20, for example, Paul’s desire is to preach the Gospel where “Christ is not known.” Paul’s exhortation here is that the believer is better off ignorant of these things!

For example, I do not need to know the details or experience the details personally to know that heroin addiction is not a good lifestyle choice. In the same way, Paul is simply saying the Christian does not need to dwell on the details of immorality in order to know it is not appropriate for the Christ. This has obvious implications for pornography, but also for other entertainment choices (film, music, literature). Although I would not advocate only Christian entertainment, there are some forms of entertainment which “are not fitting.”

The reason there is no need to know these things is that they are not fitting for those who are being built into a holy Temple of God (2:20). Paul is developing a metaphor of a Temple, and individual members of the Body of Christ are part of that temple. Some behaviors simply “do not fit” into that Temple. Most Christians who have unsaved friends have experienced have experienced some sheltering, “we cannot watch that movie because Bob is a Christian.”

Standing on the Edge of an Abyss

Paul also refers to obscenity, foolish talk coarse joking are three terms found only here in the NT and are fairly self-explanatory (cf. 4:29 and Col 3:8). Filthiness (αἰσχρότης) refers to obscene talk or “obscenity,” or behavior which “behavior that flouts social and moral standards” (BDAG). Foolish talk (μωρολογία) does not refer to stupidity, but intentionally foolish speech, even “foolish gossip” (EDNT, following TDNT, 4:844; cf. 2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9). The word had a positive sense in earlier Greek literature (“adroitness of speech”), but in this context the noun is obviously negative. Crude joking (εὐτραπελία) or “base jesting,” or somewhere between “the extremes of buffoonery (βωμολοχία) and boorishness (ἀγροικία)” (BDAG).

Paul is in line with Jewish wisdom literature, and there is a remarkable parallel in the Dead Sea Scrolls Community Rule (1QS 10.21-25):

1 QS 10.21-25 I shall not retain Belial within my heart. From my mouth shall not be heard 22 foolishness or wicked deceptions; sophistries or lies shall not be found on my lips. The fruit of holiness will be on my tongue, profanity 23 shall not be found on it. With hymns shall I open my mouth and my tongue will continually recount both the just acts of God and the unfaithfulness of men until their iniquity is complete. 24 I shall remove from my lips worthless words, unclean things and plotting from the knowledge of my heart. With prudent counsel {I shall hide} /I shall recount/ knowledge, 25 and with discretion of knowledge I shall enclose him with a solid fence to maintain faithfulness and staunch judgment according to the justice of God.

These kinds of people will not inherit the kingdom of God. Although Paul says a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (the immoral will not inherit the kingdom), it is surprising to find Paul using kingdom of God as more or less equivalent to salvation.

I find this all very convicting. It seems obvious the Christian ought to avoid obvious immoral things (and there are good psychological reasons for anyone to avoid the things which are corrupting). But it is quite easy for me to tell a flippant joke or engage in gossip. For Paul, the Christian needs to be wise in their speech and not “talk like the world.” This does not mean Christians have to be boring, but it is very easy to get a laugh with a crude joke.

 

 

Bibliography: René A. López, “Paul’s Vice List in Ephesians 5:3–5,” BSac 169 (2012): 203–18; Peter W. Gosnell, “Honor and Shame Rhetoric in Ephesians,” BBR 16 (2006): 105–28; esp. 123–24.

Ephesians 2:19-22 – Growing into a Temple

Ephesians 2:19-22 is the conclusion of an argument which began in 2:11. Paul began this section by pointing out in that the gentiles were once enemies of God and totally separated from the Jews (2:11-13).  This left Gentiles without hope of salvation, especially since the hatred went both ways. There was a wall, a dividing wall of hostility, between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul may very well be thinking of the literal wall in the Temple marking off the limited access for the Gentiles to worship in the Temple.

But in 2:14-18 Paul states that through Jesus we have peace with God, the enmity between Jew and Gentile is destroyed.  What Jesus did in his body on the cross created a peace between Jew and Gentile which was unimaginable in previous ages.

Perhaps his allusion to the Temple led Paul to use a Temple metaphor in verses 19-22.  On the other hand, architectural metaphors are common in the first century.  In Galatians Gal 2:9 Paul called the apostles “pillars,” a metaphor which is repeated in Revelation. Another example is 4Q Florilegium (4Q174) describes the “holy ones” as a temple, but one that is built in the last days.  For the writer of this document, the an image of exclusion, only the holy ones are a part of the temple, and of course the holy ones include only the writer and his community.  Paul’s church, on the other hand, is inclusive.  If the true Temple of God is built from both Jews and Gentiles, then all who are in Christ are a part of this temple.

House made of junkSeveral implications flow from this metaphor of the church as a Temple of God. If Paul has in mind the Temple in Jerusalem, then he may be thinking of the stones prepared by Herod’s stone workers.  These stones were cut and dressed so that the fit perfectly in the spot intended  If the individual believer is “like a stone” in the Temple, then we ought to find some comfort in the fact that God has prepared us for the role we play.

Second, the Temple is built on the proper foundation, the “apostles and prophets.”  It seems to me that Paul has in mind the first generation of the Church, the apostolic traditions and teachings.  But notice the “chief cornerstone” is Jesus himself.  In the traditional view, Paul is writing this letter in the early 60’s.  If is very likely that the first generation was beginning to die off.  Certainly the second generation of the church struggled with deviations in both doctrine and practice.  Using this metaphor, Paul is saying that anything not built on the foundation of the existing tradition is bound to be dangerous.

Third, the building is growing. This is a natural extension of the metaphor, since Greek and Roman buildings “grew up” as they were being built.  Like a tree, buildings start from the ground (the foundation)  and grow upward. There is a step-by-step process which must be followed over a long period of time.  The Church universal is continuing to grow, Paul says, until it is a Temple fit for God.

This third point ought to be a warning: We are continuing the process of “growing the church.”  What are we contributing to the Temple?  Is the contribution of the western Church material which strengthens and builds up the church?

Walking in Darkness – Ephesians 2:1

This is one of the best loved passages in the Pauline letters, virtually everyone knows Ephesians 2:8-9 and is able to recite it quickly. Paul describes how far separated from God the Gentiles really were, they were dead in their sin, separate from God and his people the Jews. Gentiles were unwilling and unable to respond to God, nor were they accepted by God’s people. Like the first chapter of the letter, verses 1-7 are a single sentence, the main subject/verb is “God made us alive” (v. 5).

The first words of this long sentence (124 words!) are “and you…” The pronoun “you” is accusative and the object of the verb “made alive” in verse 5. The content between the verb and the object is the state of the Gentile believers before coming to Christ. Despite the fact were dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ!

Paul describes a person before they come to Christ as dead in trespasses and sins. “Being dead” describes the spiritual state of the Gentiles apart from Christ. The participle is present active, indicating this was an ongoing state.

The reason for this state of death is “trespasses and sins.” These words are used as synonyms here, although Paul uses transgression for Adam’s sin in Romans 5:12-21.In verse 3 he includes himself (and all Jews) as also living by passions of the flesh. It is not that the Gentiles are evil and damned and only the Jews are saved: all have fallen short of the glory of God. Paul’s view of salvation is therefore built on the foundation of the Old Testament’s view of sin and death. Romans 5:12-21, all who are “in Adam” die, but all who are “in Christ” will live.

The Gentiles once followed the dark spiritual forces at work in the world. There are three descriptions of the spiritual forces which once held the Gentiles in bondage to sin. The “course of this world” (ESV) or the “ways of this world” (NIV) translates αἰών as a reference to the worldview of the present time (cf. Gal 1:4, this present evil age). Paul uses the preposition κατά to express “being under the control of” in several expressions, such as “walking according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). The sense of the phrase is “conforming to a norm.” (Arnold, Ephesians, 130).  In a Jewish context, the noun can refer to eternity or history, or an age of the world history (like an era or dispensation, “this age and the age to come,” Eph 1:21, 2:7). Paul uses the word for “this age” on several occasions (1 Cor 3:18, for example).

If this is the nuance of the word, then Paul is saying the Gentile readers thought like all the other Gentiles because that is the way the all think. They are simply following the thinking of the time they were living.

To anticipate the rest of the letter, Paul is saying that the time we now live is different because God has made the Gentiles alive in Christ and saved them into a new Body of Christ. To know this new age exists changes how we think and live out our lives.

But in a Hellenistic context, the word can refer to the Aeon, a ruler of the world in Greek mythology. The word appears in magical papyri and will be used in Gnosticism to refer to the real deity (O’Brien, Ephesians, 158). There are few who take this word as a reference to a deity, however, since Paul never refers to pagan gods in his other letters.  Paul has already mentioned the common Jewish two-age view of history (this age and the age to come) using this word. It is possible Paul used this word in order to evoke the Jewish idea of ages but also the Greek idea of a god.

The Gentile readers of Ephesians once lived in accordance with the “spirit of the age,” whether that is just the worldview dominant at the time or the god who controls the age.

What is the “spirit of the age” in which we once walked in a modern context? What is an example of a “pattern of thought” which controls the way we think before we came to Christ?

What are the Powers of this Age in Ephesians 1:20?

Several times in Ephesians Paul mentions rulers and authorities, powers and dominions. Most commentators observe Paul has spiritual forces in view when he uses this kind of language. By the first century, Judaism had developed a complicated view of angelic and demonic forces which operated “behind the scenes.” Sometimes these dark forces were responsible for persecution or troubles for God’s people. In Daniel, for example, an angel tells Daniel he was delayed by the “prince of Persia” (10:21) and did not escape until Michael (the prince of Israel) came to assist him. 1 Enoch 1-36 (The Book of the Watchers; see also this on Angelic Beings in 3 Enoch) offers a detailed description of demonic activity before the flood.

PAradise LostTimothy Gombis develops this view of powers and dominions as the main thesis of his book The Drama of Ephesians.This book argues Paul is using imagery of spiritual warfare drawn form the Hebrew Bible to describe what Jesus has done on the cross. Using Ephesians 1:20-23, for example, Gombis points out that Paul says Jesus was vindicated by being raised to the right hand of the father in heaven.

This is a place of authority which is far above every ruler, authority,  power and dominion.  These are spiritual forces at work in the world, the actors in the apocalyptic drama, as Gombis describes Ephesians.  Jesus has an authority which is so high above every spiritual thing in creation that it does not even make sense that human rulers should be considered as competitors to Jesus’ rule and authority!

This throne of power is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” The four terms Paul uses in this line can refer to human rulers, but in the context he has constantly used language similar to what a pagan Gentile might have used in a magical invocation of a god. These terms therefore describe spiritual rulers, authorities, powers and dominions. Since they are defeated by the power of God demonstrated in the resurrection, these are hostile, invisible powers working against God in this world (Arnold, Ephesians, 112).

This would be true in a Jewish context as well. In Daniel 10:12-14, the “prince of Persia” opposed the Gabriel when he was sent by God to deliver a message to Daniel. In the Second Temple Period, Jews developed an elaborate system of angels and demons using terms like rulers, authorities, powers and dominions to describe invisible forces at work in the world.

In fact, Jesus has been enthroned far above “every name that is named.” This is also consistent with the rest of Paul’s letters, Phil 2:9-11 makes the same point, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth. Naming a hostile spiritual power was an important step in gaining mastery over it. (Jesus and Legion, for example, the sons of Sceva in Ephesus, Acts 19). Paul’s claim is that the name of Jesus is more powerful than any over so-called powerful name in all of reality!

Rome, in Paul’s view of spiritual reality, does not really count for all that much.  If the “rulers of this age” are the spiritual forces behind Rome, and if those spiritual forces have already been defeated, then the Empire itself is doomed to defeat. This situation reminds me somewhat of the end of the Soviet Union.  The “union” dissolved so quickly that I imagine there were many people living in areas formerly controlled by the USSR that had no idea they were under a “new government.” I always wondered if Gorbachev went to work one morning and found his offices “under new management,” although most of his staff just kept on working as if nothing had happened!

This is what happened when Jesus the Messiah, the Lord of the Universe, died and rose again. The power of the spiritual forces of this dark age was broken, but it happened in such a way the world did not really notice. But for Paul, the victory of sin, death, and the spiritual dark forces of this world has already been won.

If it is true the spiritual dark forces have already been defeated, how might that affect the way the Christian lives out their life?