Book Giveaway Winner – N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives

In order to celebrate the beginning of the new semester as well as my forgetfulness in buying duplicate books, I offered a brand new copy of N. T. Wright’s Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 (Fortress, 2013) back on January 12.  All you had to do to win was leave me your name and mention your favorite Pauline scholar. I noticed James  Dunn and John Barclay did quite well in this informal poll, but the winner said N. T. Wright was his favorite.

I put all forty two comments (after deleting a couple duplicates) into a spreadsheet and randomly sorted them. I think used random.org to generate a a number. The winner of the N. T. Wright book is:

Jared Kusz

Jared made his saving throw and succeeds in adding this book to his library. Get in touch with me and I will get you this book ASAP.  I will have one more book to give away this semester, to be sure to check that out tomorrow, or follow me on twitter @plong42.

The winner of the Robert Gundry book never contacted me: Charles, if you are out there, contact me via email (plong42@gmail.com) or twitter so I can get you this book. If I do not hear from you in a couple of days I will give it to someone else.

Book Giveaway – N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives

I have a brand new copy of N. T. Wright’s Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 (Fortress, 2013). This 620-page book is the companion volume to Paul and the Faithfulness of God and collects Wright’s most articles on Paul over the last 35 years. Several are previously unpublished exegetical essays on Paul’s theology. These thirty-three articles are essential reading for students of Paul whether you think Wright is a friend or a foe. Ben Witherington III blurbs the book:

“Pauline Perspectives gathers into one convenient place the multitudinous essays and lectures on Paul and his thought world that have come forth from the prolific pen of N. T. Wright during the course of the last 35 years. Here you can see the development of seminal ideas, major themes, and the relentless pursuit of understanding important trajectories in Paul’s thought, ranging from justification to the righteousness of God to atonement to much more. Reading a book like this is like going to a great feast put on by a master chef and discovering there were no ephemeral starters but all meat, and none of it half-baked either, but well worth chewing over and always nourishing. Bon appetit!”

The book is $70 retail (but who pays retail?) I ended up with two copies, so I will celebrate a new academic semester by sending this book to a randomly selected person who leaves a comment below with their name and and the name of their favorite Pauline Scholar.

I will pick the winner on January 23. Be sure to check back to see if the odds were in your favor. If no one wins, I will send the copy to Jim West since he is a huge N. T. Wright fan.

Missed the last giveaway? Follow me on twitter: @plong42

Is Ephesians “Anti-Imperial”?

I read an article by Denny Burk in JETS a few years ago which was a decent summary of anti-Imperial readings of Paul, although I think that he has lumped N. T. Wright along with Richard Horsely and Hal Taussig. To me, Wright is not doing the same sort of work as Horsely, even though there are some similarities.  Both make the same sorts of observations concerning Paul’s alleged use of imperial language, but Horsely and Taussig take the issue much further than Wright by applying Paul’s anti-Imperialism to the imperialism of the United States.

SpartacusFirst I will lay out the basics of anti-Imperial readings of Paul and then I will make a few observations about why this is an important issue for reading Ephesians.

The increased interest in the impact of the Imperial cult in Asia Minor in the first century has driven anti-imperial readings of Paul.  In the first century, Caesar was described as Lord (κύριος) and god in art and coinage.  Since he was the one who brought peace (εἰρήνη) into the world, the emperor should be thought of as the savior (σωτήρ)  of the world.  News of the Emperor was announced as “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον).  This imperial propaganda was pervasive and could not be avoided, although most people in the first century would have simply accepted the equation of “Caesar as God” and moved on with life.

Paul preached the good news that Jesus was the Lord and savior of the world, the one who brings peace.  For those of us with Christian ears, these words are all quite familiar .  But to anyone who heard them in the first century Roman world they were just as familiar, but applied to Caesar, not Jesus!  By calling Jesus Lord, it is argued, Paul is setting up an implicit anti-Roman narrative.  Once words like gospel, Lord, savior, and peace are taken as anti-imperial, then other less common Pauline concepts are seen through this lens, such as the language used for the return of Christ in 1 Thess 4:13-18.

For the most part, the implications of these anti-Imperial readings of Paul for reading Ephesians is to confirm the non-Pauline nature of the book.  It is thought that Ephesians lacks the anti-Imperialism of Romans or other certain Pauline letters, This is evidence of a later, more pro-imperial writer.  This is a major factor for Crossan and Reed in their In Search of Paul.  Ephesians is not considered to be Pauline because of the reversal of the egalitarianism evident in Romans and Galatians.

But as Wright says early on in his Paul: A Fresh Perspective, “The argument recently advanced (in North America particularly) that Ephesians and Colossians are secondary because they move away from confrontation with the Empire to collaboration with it is frankly absurd.”  The reason for this “absurdity” is that Ephesians is just as anti-Imperial (according to Wright) as Romans 13 or any other certain Pauline text.  In fact, if there is actually an anti-empire subtext in the choice of terms Paul uses to describe Jesus and his mission, the Ephesians ought to be considered right at the heart of Pauline anti-Imperialism.   I suspect the section on submission of wives drives Ephesians out of the Pauline corpus for most of the anti-Imperialist scholars.

What elements of Ephesians might be considered “anti-imperialist”?   What benefit is there in reading Ephesians 1-2 in this way?

Bibliography:  

Burk, Denny.  “Is Paul’s Gospel Counterimperial? Evaluating The Prospects Of The Fresh Perspective” For Evangelical Theology,” JETS 51 (2009): 309-338.

Jesus Christ Has Defeated the Powers of Darkness – Ephesians 1:20-23

After spending some time reading in the so-called anti-Imperial texts in Paul, I would suggest that Paul does in fact envision the eventual destruction of the Roman Empire.  But Paul does not encourage the sorts of anti-government protests and social actions people in the West would recognize.  The reason Paul is anti-Empire is because in reality Rome has already fallen and God’s kingdom has come in the person of Jesus.

I do not think that Paul is coded his letters with subtle anti-imperial language.  He is in fact drawing upon the well-known (and not particularly subtle) language drawn from the Hebrew Bible, especially as it was translated in the Septuagint. Jesus is Lord, but not because Paul is encoding an anti-imperial message by using words with subversive meanings The Greek word κύριος was already used in the LXX to refer to the Lord, God of Israel.  By calling Jesus “our Lord” in Ephesians 1:2 Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Lord of the Hebrew Bible.

As such, he evokes the image of Jesus as the God of the Bible, but especially in apocalyptic literature. In most apocalyptic literature, the people of God are an oppressed minority looking forward to the time when God will break into history with some sort of decisive victory of his enemies. The people of God can have confidence that their oppression is going to be reversed in the near future. God will vindicate them, reward them for their suffering and punish the oppressors.  For most of apocalyptic, the evil empire can be safely ignored since the time of its final judgment is near.

Does Paul think the Roman government can be safely ignored?  This seems to be the case since Rome has already been defeated!  God decreed long ago that the coming Son of Man would destroy the power of the kingdoms of men and establish the rule of the Ancient of Days. With the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the power of the empire has already been broken.

The “son of man” language comes from Daniel 7:14, but I would include the image of the statue from Daniel 2 as well.  The greatest of the kingdoms of men will be destroyed and turned to dust when God rises to defend his people.  The grand conclusion to the narrative of the Hebrew Bible is that God will restore his people to Zion by dealing justly with the kingdoms of this world.  Paul says that this apocalyptic event in many ways happened when Jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God.

If this is on target, Paul describes the death of Jesus as victory of apocalyptic proportions! Are there other hints of Paul’s apocalyptic worldview in Ephesians?

Logos Free Book – N. T. Wright, Following Jesus

Image result for following jesus: biblical reflections on discipleship [book]Logos Bible Software is offering N. T. Wright’s Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Christian Discipleship for free in the month of March. This book was originally published by SPCK in 1994 and has been reprinted in North America by Eerdmans. Both books have been recently reprinted by Eerdmans with redesigned covers.

The book is a series of sermons on six books of the New Testament ( Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, and Revelation) and six key themes (resurrection, rebirth, temptation, hell, heaven, and new life in a new world). Although he has developed these ideas further in more recent books, Following Jesus demonstrates something of Wright’s pastoral heart. These short chapters are intentionally devotional and challenge the reader to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

N. T. Wright For $1.99 more, you can also get Wright’s Who Was Jesus?  (SPCK 2005). This book is a response to three authors who have rather radical views on Jesus (Barbara Thiering, A. N. Wilson, and John Shelby Spong). For a Jesus scholar like Wright, responding to these three is a fairly easy task and Wright is perhaps at his snarkiest. For example, the Jesus described by A. N. Wilson a “moderately pale Galilean.”

Although this Free Book of the Month promotion will likely give Jim West an apoplectic fit, most will find this a great deal on two of Wright’s popular level books.

Logos is also running a giveaway this month, you can enter to win The N.T. Wright Collection (52 vols.) for the Logos library. This includes his major works (New Testament and the People of God; Jesus and the Victory of God; The Resurrection of the Son of God; Paul and the Faithfulness of God; Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul 1978–2013; Paul and His Recent Interpreters) as well as his more popular works and the “For Everyone” commentary series. Logos says this is a $700 value and gives you four ways to enter the contest.

The free and almost free book offer expires at the end of February, so head over to Logos and grab these books.

 

What are the Powers of this Age? (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) 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 that 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!

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 that the world did not really notice.  But for Paul, the victory has already been won and Rome has no real power anymore.

 

The Powers are Defeated (Ephesians 1:20-23)

After spending some time reading in the so-called anti-Imperial texts in Paul, I would suggest that Paul does in fact envision the eventual destruction of the Roman Empire.  But Paul does not encourage the sorts of anti-government protests and social actions people in the West would recognize.  The reason Paul is anti-Empire is because in reality Rome has already fallen and God’s kingdom has come in the person of Jesus.

I do not think that Paul is coded his letters with subtle anti-imperial language.  He is in fact drawing upon the well-known (and not particularly subtle) language drawn from the Hebrew Bible, especially as it was translated in the Septuagint. Jesus is Lord, but not because Paul is encoding an anti-imperial message by using words with subversive meanings The Greek word κύριος was already used in the LXX to refer to the Lord, God of Israel.  By calling Jesus “our Lord” in Ephesians 1:2 Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Lord of the Hebrew Bible.

As such, he evokes the image of Jesus as the God of the Bible, but especially in apocalyptic literature. In most apocalyptic literature, the people of God are an oppressed minority looking forward to the time when God will break into history with some sort of decisive victory of his enemies. The people of God can have confidence that their oppression is going to be reversed in the near future. God will vindicate them, reward them for their suffering and punish the oppressors.  For most of apocalyptic, the evil empire can be safely ignored since the time of its final judgment is near.

Does Paul think the Roman government can be safely ignored?  This seems to be the case since Rome has already been defeated!  God decreed long ago that the coming Son of Man would destroy the power of the kingdoms of men and establish the rule of the Ancient of Days. With the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the power of the empire has already been broken.

The “son of man” language comes from Daniel 7:14, but I would include the image of the statue from Daniel 2 as well.  The greatest of the kingdoms of men will be destroyed and turned to dust when God rises to defend his people.  The grand conclusion to the narrative of the Hebrew Bible is that God will restore his people to Zion by dealing justly with the kingdoms of this world.  Paul says that this apocalyptic event in many ways happened when Jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God.

If this is on target, Paul describes the death of Jesus as victory of apocalyptic proportions! Are there other hints of Paul’s apocalyptic worldview in Ephesians?