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Johnson, Andy. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 349 pp. Pb; $25. Link to Eerdmans

Andy Johnson’s new contribution in the Two Horizons series from Eerdmans on the two letters to the Thessalonians represents a theological interpretation of Scripture which is intentionally missional. As Johnson explains in his introduction, his goal in the commentary is to focus on elements of the text “most useful for facilitating the continuing formation of the church in its proper identity as a missional community” (2).

Thessalonians, Commentary, EerdmansThe second goal of this commentary is to read the Thessalonian correspondence as part of the canon of Scripture. This means placing these letters into the overall story of the whole Bible and the mission of God to undo humanity’s rebellion. Although he does not use the phrase, his overview in the introduction is the familiar “drama of redemption” which drives most writing which self-identifies as theological interpretation of Scripture.

As with most of the New Testament commentaries in this series, Johnson employs a post-biblical creed as a clarifying lens for “bringing 1 and 2 Thessalonians into focus (2). In the case of this commentary, Johnson uses the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, but he also recognizes his place in the broader Wesleyan tradition as well as his openness to being instructed by other Christian traditions. There are occasional theological readings of the text which are informed by Johnson’s Wesleyanism.

With respect to authorship and date, Johnson briefly surveys the state of the question and recognizes there is some merit to the arguments for non-Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians, but he remains unconvinced (7). But from a canonical perspective, it matters very little if Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians or not since the origin of the letters is of lesser importance to theological interpretations than canonical status. He provides several pages of excellent context drawn from Acts 16-18 and following the lead of Kavin Rowe’s The World Upside Down. Although this a brief overview, it is sufficient to enable Johnson to set these two letters in a proper historical and sociological context.

In the body of the commentary Johnson works through the books in larger sections, commenting on some details of the text but falling short of a detailed exegetical commentary. This is to be expected give his stated goal to write a commentary serving the mission of the church. Greek appears in the body of the commentary with transliteration and Johnson does comment occasionally on grammar, syntax and rhetorical features. This makes for a very readable commentary which will be useful for a pastor or teacher as they prepare to preach or teach Thessalonians in a church context.

Since this is a canonical commentary, Johnson pays close attention to intertextual echoes of the Hebrew Bible, although there are a few places where he hears an echo which Paul may not have explicitly intended. For example, commenting on several texts which may illuminate Paul’s understanding of the Man of Lawlessness, Johnson suggests allusions to Ezekiel 28:1-9 as the “most instructive text in this Old Testament trajectory” even if this was not an intentional allusion by Paul (289). This way of using the Old Testament to illuminate the New is not intertextuality (as it is usually defined), but more like an older hermeneutic where Scripture is the best commentary on Scripture. Although I think Johnson is certainly on the right track to draw attention to the arrogant actions of Adam in the Garden and the paradigmatic arrogant rulers in Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28 and the claims of these rules to be divine (as well as possible allusions to Daniel 11 and Antiochus IV Epiphanes), I would prefer to see an argument Paul had this trajectory in mind when he described the Man of Lawlessness, especially in the light of where that trajectory may lead the interpreter who is trying to draw out implications for contemporary application.

One of the primary features of a Two Horizons commentary is a lengthy section on the theological implications of the commentary. Johnson’s reflections on 1 and 2 Thessalonians begin with a section on holiness. Holiness is Spirit-enabled and derived from the triune Godhead. It is “intensely personal but necessarily corporate, public and missional” (255). In these two letters holiness is fidelity to God and “cruciform living” (following Michael Gorman, but also influence Gorman’s recent Becoming the Gospel). This section focuses on cruciform living, love of enemies and peacemaking. This section reflects Johnson’s previous articles on holiness and sanctification in the Journal of Theological Interpretation.

Since eschatology is one key area for the theology of the Thessalonian letters, Johnson devotes a long section to the unique issues raised in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Thessalonians 2. He highlights three types of eschatology in the letters. First, the Parousia is described as representatives of a city going out to meet a victorious king and escorting him into their city. Related to this image is the second, the Parousia as eschatological warfare. Here Paul stands on the foundation of Isaiah. Third, the Parousia is a judgment theophany, especially in 2 Thessalonians 2. God demonstrates his “ferocious love” which restores shalom. But Johnson argues Paul stops short of describing “conscious everlasting torment in Hell” (269). Perhaps this is a theological observation driven by theological commitments, but it is a fact Paul does not describe what sort of judgment awaits the Man of Lawlessness other than his utter judgment.

Johnson devotes a few pages to Dispensational interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Although he does admit Dispensationalism is a kind of theological interpretation of Scripture as practiced in this commentary, he is equally clear the theological suppositions of Dispensationalism are wrong. Perhaps this is a problem with the idea the popular theological interpretation method, since (potentially) any “rule of faith” could be applied to a text as a theological lens. For example, Johnson is a Wesleyan and he consciously interprets the Thessalonian letters as a Wesleyan. Someone could approach Thessalonians with a Lutheran or Anglican set of assumptions and find some slightly different nuances in their interpretation.

But why should any given theological structure be discounted a priori? It seems as though any theological lens is possible even if it is not the preference of a particular scholar. Johnson dismisses Dispensationalism as a theological lens because it does not “square with Scripture,” but someone might equally dismiss his more Wesleyan views expressed in this commentary for the same reasons.

Although Johnson is fair towards Dispensationalist readings of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, his argument is blunted by his used of dated scholarship, or non-scholarship. He cites the Scofield Reference Bible and Hal Lindsey frequently and occasionally the brief commentary on 1 Thessalonians by Constable in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, a single volume New Testament commentary produced by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary. At best this use of popular level and dated material makes his critique of Dispensationalism appear to be a straw man argument. There are many books and articles which better treat 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 from a dispensational perspective than these.

Conclusion. These criticisms aside, Johnson achieves his goal to provide a Spirit driven commentary which is dominated by the redemptive mission of God. The commentary is a fine example the state of Theological Interpretation of Scripture and will be a useful commentary for pastors and teachers as the work to apply these two early letters of Paul to contemporary mission of the Church.

 

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

Buckley, Michael J. What Do You Seek? The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 158 pages; pb. $18.00   Link to Eerdmans

This short monograph collects fourteen short meditations on questions asked by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Many of these questions are recognized as programmatic in the Gospel of John. For example, Buckley draws his title for the book from the first question Jesus asks in the book. In In John 1:35-38, the first words Jesus speaks in the book asks two disciples following him, “What do you seek?” The Gospel of John returns to this theme frequently as people seek something from Jesus (healing, living water, bread from heaven, etc.) In his final question in the Gospel Jesus asks Peter, “Peter do you love me?” (John 21:15-16). Jesus’s question demands a response just as the whole Gospel of John demands a response from its readers.

Buckley’s short reflections on the text focus on the challenge issued by Jesus’s questions. For example, his comments on Jesus’s question to Peter in 21:15-16 concern forgiveness. He devotes two chapters to questions asked in the passion narrative, “what shall I say, save me from this hour?” and “shall I not drink this cup?”) On occasion the meditation ranges far from the original intention, such as in John 2:3-4, when the wedding runs out of wine Jesus asks his mother, “What has this to do with us?” Buckley uses this question to address concern for the suffering and responding to those in need. Perhaps, but Jesus used the opportunity to reveal something about himself by providing wine at a wedding. When Jesus asks his disciples “how can we buy bread” (John 6:5), he reveals something about himself as “bread from heaven,” but Buckley develops an application from the text about the unpredictability of the power of God and our weakness in service. Since this book is devotional reading, these applications are inspiring and challenging even if they seem tertiary to the text.

The book is rich in allusions to classic literature (many citations of T. S. Eliot, Dostoyevsky), philosophy and especially classical of western spirituality (St. John of the Cross, Cardinal Newman) and a few nods to modern scholarship (Bultmann, Barth, and Raymond Brown). Buckley reflects his Roman Catholic background (pp 34-24, for example) but this is not at all distracting.

Readers will be challenged by Jesus’s questions and Buckley’s thoughts on these questions.

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

 

Hardin, Leslie T. The Spirituality of Paul: Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2016. 192 pp. Hb; $16.99. Link to Kregel

Leslie Hardin is a contributor to the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care and wrote The Spirituality of Jesus for Kregel (2009). Like his previous book Hardin does not write a book on practice spiritual disciplines, but rather a series of short reflections on what Paul thinks is key to spirituality. Although this is not a “how to” guide for spiritual life, readers will be encouraged as they reflect on what Paul says about these topics. For Hardin, Pauline spirituality is a “practical partnership with the Spirit,” an expression of the Spirit of God already at work in the life of the believer (17).

Spirituality of Paul, HardinIn the introductory chapter, Hardin discusses Paul’s sometimes controversial commands to “imitate me.” Hardin expresses a common frustration with Paul’s somewhat arrogant view that he is worthy of imitation, especially in matters of spiritual discipline. After all, Paul seems opinionated and angry, perhaps even demanding of his congregations. Why imitate Paul, when Peter and John are original disciples of Jesus? In fact, why imitate Paul when we ought to be imitating Jesus? Like Randolph and O’Brien recent Paul Behaving Badly, Hardin wants to read Paul’s letters in order to answer some of these objections while focusing on the “shape” of Paul’s spirituality.

Hardin discusses ten themes in Paul: Scripture, prayer, disciple-making, proclamation, worship, holiness, spiritual gifts, edification and suffering. Some of these are certainly within the sphere of spirituality, but several are in the category of imitation. Disciple-making, for example, is not usually included in a list of spiritual disciplines. However, as Hardin explains, Paul’s missionary method intentionally sought out individuals to develop into disciples who were told to go and find others to disciple. This process of discipleship hands down tradition from Jesus to Paul, to Paul’s disciples and then to their disciples. Hardin’s discussion of spiritual gifts is good and approaches a potentially contentious issue with wisdom, but it does not always speak to the topic of “spirituality in Paul.”

Hardin discusses the shape of Pauline spirituality in his final chapter. First, Paul was faithful to Scripture. According to Hardin, Paul saw Scripture as a tutor leading to godliness through Christ. Second, Paul was an imitator of Jesus (1 Cor 1:11). Although he encouraged his disciples to imitate him, his eyes were fixed on Jesus. This is not a lame “year of living like Jesus,” but rather living out the lifestyle of Jesus in a way which impacts the world. Third, living life as an imitator of Jesus is, for Paul, a life of freedom. Hardin is clear imitating Jesus is not living exactly like Jesus in every single detail, but embracing the freed from guilt one has as a child of God. Fourth, imitating Paul as he imitates Jesus should result in glorifying Jesus. Paul sees glorifying Jesus as the goal of everything Paul says in his letters. Fifth, Paul’s spirituality is committed to unity. It is undeniable Paul desires his churches to be unified both in doctrine and practice. Finally, Hardin points out the basis of any talk of the spiritual of Paul is his emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit.

There are a few things missing in the book. For example, Hardin has consciously avoided interacting with any of the classics of spiritual discipline. Although the focus on Paul might have limit the use of some of these classics, I would have expected some interaction with Rodney Reeves’s Spirituality According to Paul (InterVarsity, 2011). It is also remarkable (or refreshing depending on your perspective) that a book on the spiritual of Paul does not use the work cruciform. In fact, there are only one or two citations of Michael Gorman in this book. Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel is likely too recent to have had an influence on Hardin, but certainly his previous books merit more than a brief citation (Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Eerdmans 2001 and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, Eerdmans 2009).

Conclusion. Despite this reservations, Spiritual of Paul is a good introduction to the several key areas of discipleship in the Pauline letters. Hardin’s style is inviting and will be appreciated by both layperson and scholar. The book would be ideal for a small group Bible study.

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

 

 

 

Porter, Stanley E. When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 435 pp. Pb; $34.   Link to Cambridge

Second Corinthians 5:16 is usually read as if Paul is denying that he knew Jesus prior to the dramatic event on the Damascus Road. When confronted by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul asks “who are you, Lord?” This too is taken as an indication Paul did not recognize Jesus and is used as evidence Paul did not know Jesus prior to his conversion. But there have been a few scholars in the early twentieth century who suggested Paul may have seen Jesus in Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion and perhaps even heard Jesus teach at some point.

paul met jesus stanley porterIn this monograph, Stanley Porter attempts to revive this idea by examining the relevant texts in the Pauline epistles as well as the book of Acts. Beginning with William Ramsay, Johannes Weiss, and J. H. Moulton, Porter suggests it is at least plausible to understand some of the texts used to show Paul did not know Jesus as meaning the opposite, he did recognize Jesus on the road to Damascus and he had heard Jesus teaching in person (chapter 1).

Although he admits he has not survey every work on the life of Paul (a nearly impossible task these days), Porter claims to have found only one recent scholar who is open to the possibility Paul heard Jesus teach at some point before the crucifixion (Tim Gombis, in Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed). Even works with a vested interest in connecting Jesus and Paul dismiss the possibility Paul knew Jesus prior to his conversion. Porter cites David Wenham who wrote a popular book on Jesus and Paul. Wenham simply states “Paul did not have firsthand experience of Jesus’ ministry (cited by Porter 175).

So what happened? Porter lays the blame for the common assumption that Paul did not know Jesus at the feet of F. C. Baur, followed by William Wrede and most significantly Rudolf Bultmann. As Porter says, “The short answer in Rudolf Bultmann and the long answer i the general history of Pauline scholarship” since Baur (45). There are several assumptions which make the possibility Paul knew Jesus less likely. First, Baur reduced the Pauline canon to Romans, 1-2 Corinthians and Galatians. Second, he assumed Acts altered history in order to make the contrast between Paul and Peter more clear. This led to the third assumption, Peter and Paul represented the two sides of the early church which eventually resulted into the synthesis of the next generation of Christianity. Bultmann argued Jesus’ teaching was irrelevant (and unknowable), and Pauline theology does not really depend on Jesus. Porter interacts length with Bultmann’s 2 Corinthians commentary since the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:16 s critically important for the thesis he wants to defend in this monograph, that Paul not only knew the teaching of Jesus, but had heard Jesus teach, perhaps on several occasions, and may have interacted with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

As a result of the influence of Baur, Wrede, and Bultmann, most scholars reject the idea Paul knew Jesus or do not even raise the question. For many, there is a gap between the teaching of Jesus and the theology of Paul. Porter cites James Dunn, “Paul’s influence in determining the beginnings of Christianity was almost as great as that of Jesus” (Porter, 71).

With respect to method, Porter realizes many scholars reduce the number of authentic epistles and often reject the Pastoral Epistles, but there is little in the disputed epistles which supports his case. He fully accepts the book of Acts as evidence for the details of Paul’s life and prefers to date the book as early as A.D. 63 (an early date even for conservative Acts scholars). Scholarship on Pauline chronology often favors the epistles, Porter sees no problem using both as sources this study.

His third chapter surveys the data in Acts and the Pauline epistles, including the three reports of Paul’s conversion in Acts, focusing especially on the phrase “Who are you Lord?” For Porter, both Jesus’ statement and Paul’s response imply recognition, that is, Paul saw Jesus a recognized him because he knew him before the encounter (94). Porter gently suggests the phrase “I am Jesus” is similar to a Johannine “I am” saying, so that Jesus is using a Christological formula to identify himself (the human Jesus) with the God (92).

Turning to the epistles, Porter begins with 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Porter offers a detailed exegesis of this passage, comparing it to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 to argue that Paul had seen Jesus just as the other apostles had. With respect to 2 Corinthians 5:16, Porter interacts at length with Bultmann’s highly influential commentary. Bultmann understood this verse to say Paul did not know Jesus before the Damascus road encounter, that he did not know Jesus “according to the flesh.” Porter offers a detailed exegesis of eleven key points in this verse and concludes it is plausible the verse indicates Paul once knew Jesus only as a human, but now (after the resurrection) Paul knows Jesus as the resurrected Lord. He is careful suggest this as a possible reading of the text, but along with 1 Corinthians 9:1 and the book of Acts, there is a strong possibility Paul had known Jesus prior to his conversion experience.

In chapter 4 Porter develops some of the implications of Paul knowing Jesus before the resurrection. This would imply all had firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ teaching because he had heard it for himself at some point in the ministry of Jesus. To support this, Porter examines five passages inn Paul’s letter which seem to reflect the teaching of Jesus: Romans 12:92-21 (loving, blessing, cursing); Romans13:8 and Galatians 5:14 (loving one’s neighbor); 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (on divorce); 1 Corinthians 9:14 and 1 Timothy 5:18 (paying ministers of the Gospel); 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (the Lord’s return).

After examining these passages in detail, Porter concludes Paul had firsthand knowledge of the teaching of Jesus corresponding to three phases of Jesus’ ministry. Romans 12:9-21 alludes to the Sermon on the Mount (which Porter argues was a single sermon preached in Galilee). Loving one’s neighbor alludes to Jesus’ encounter with a lawyer during Luke’s travel narrative, or the road to Jerusalem who asked him how he might inherit eternal life.  1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 alludes to the Olivet Discourse, part of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples in Jerusalem. Although Porter does not offer details, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 is perhaps a better example of a possible allusion to the Olivet Discourse. Obeying the government in Romans 13 may allude to Jesus’ saying to “give unto Caesar.”

I have several questions about this section of Porter’s argument. First, acquaintance with the teaching of Jesus does not necessarily mean firsthand knowledge. If Romans12:9-11 does allude to the Sermon on the Mount, it is not necessary for Paul himself to have heard Jesus teach the words himself. The writer of the Didache also alludes to the Sermon, but no one would assume that author personally heard Jesus teach. Although it is not necessary to argue Paul had a copy of Q with him wherever he traveled, it is just as plausible that he knew of some sayings sources often attributed to Q. This would account for material in Paul’s letters which would later be used by Matthew and Luke.

A second and related issue concerns the method for used for demonstrated Paul had firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. Porter must walk a fine line between verbal parallels with the Gospels and general allusions. If Paul heard Jesus teach in Galilee and wrote his recollection of that teaching in Romans some twenty or more years later, it would be remarkable if the words he used were exactly the same as the gospel of Matthew. Porter recognizes this as a problem for the vocabulary for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 (148-50), eventually concluding Paul offers a paraphrase of what Jesus said.

This raises a third concern. Sometimes a common Jewish source is a simpler solution than Paul heard Jesus teach. For example, that both Jesus and Paul summary the law as “love your neighbor” is not remarkable at all since this was a well-known summary of the Law in Second Temple Judaism based on Leviticus 19:18. That a Jewish lawyer would respond to Jesus in this way is not a surprise. In addition, it is possible to find parallels to Romans 12:9-21 in Jewish wisdom literature.

Finally, sometimes Porter makes a suggestion that goes well beyond the evidence. He very tentatively suggests Paul was the “the lawyer who asked the question” in Luke 10:25-28 (147). Similarly, that Paul “overheard Jesus’ words regarding the worker being worthy of his/her wages” (159) seems to go beyond the evidence or that Paul overheard the Olivet Discourse and “heard enough” of Jesus at that point (167). All of these are of course possibilities, but move into the area of speculation which cannot be supported by evidence.

In his conclusion, Porter cites A.M. Pope who asked what benefit to understanding of Paul if it can be shown Paul knew the life and teaching of the human Jesus. Aside from historical curiosity, the connection between Jesus and Paul would serve to further strengthen Pauline studies which place Paul in a Jewish context. The wedge driven between Jesus and Paul ought to be removed, but so too the wedge between Judaism, Jesus and Paul.

Conclusion. This is a fascinating book which makes a bold claim and supports that claim with detailed evidence and careful argumentation. Porter makes his case that it is at least plausible Paul knew the teaching of Jesus prior to the crucifixion and that he had personally seen Jesus on occasion.

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

Gorman Michael J. Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 731 pp. Pb; $48.   Link to Eerdmans

In the introduction to this second edition of Gorman’s textbook on the Pauline letters, Gorman offers ten approaches to the Apostle Paul’s letters. As is common in a Pauline introduction, the first two are the familiar traditional and new perspectives on Paul, but he also includes narrative-intertextual (Richard Hays), apocalyptic (Martyn, Gaventa, and Campbell), anti-imperialist (Richard Horsley), the “Wright-ian perspective” (N. T. Wright), Paul within Judaism (Mark Nanos), social scientific (John Barclay), feminist (Lynn Cohick, Amy-Jill Levine), and participationist (Douglas Campbell, Morna Hooker, Udo Schnelle). The reader of his introduction to Paul will find references to all of these perspectives in Gorman’s presentation since all make a contribution to our understanding of Paul.

The first six chapters of the book deal with background issues (Greco-Roman context, Pauline Mission and Paul the letter-writer) and theology (the Gospel, Pauline Spirituality and Theology). Since Gorman’s other work on Paul reflections a participationist model, it is not surprising to find this language throughout the book. (See my review of Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel). For example, Gorman Romans 8 as the “cruciform life in the Spirit” and 1 Corinthians 13 is the “rule” of cruciform love. Gorman understands justification through this lens as well. Justification in Paul is both a liberation from sin and a transformation to righteousness (175).

In his chapter on Pauline theology, Gorman offers twelve fundamental convictions (which he summarizes in a single sentence, albeit about a half-page in length). Rather than list these, I will focus on what I think are the most important for understanding Gorman’s approach to Paul over all. First, following N. T. Wright, Gorman sees Jesus’s death on the cross was the “climax of the covenant.” What the cross accomplished in Jesus what Israel could not and initiated the new age of the spirit. The present age is the overlap of this age and the age to come. Second, Gorman describes the “law of the messiah” as cruciformity, the cross is not just the source of salvation, but also the shape of salvation (177). In a text like Philippians 3:10-11 Paul can claim to be like Jesus in his death, even though he is still in this life. Third, Gorman has always challenged readers by describing the church as an alternative community. The ones who participate in the new cross-shaped life in Christ form an alternative to the world in which they find themselves. For Gorman, this is a rich source for the application of Pauline theology to present church life. If churches are to be an alternative community, then they ought to model their participation in new life by transforming communities through justice and peace-making.

Following these introductory chapters, Gorman provides a chapter on each of the thirteen Pauline letters. He begins with the title of the book with a short tagline and key verse. The first section for each chapter is the “story behind the letter.” This section briefly sets the letter into the proper cultural and historical context (including the context of the book of Acts). The second section of the chapter, “the story within the letter,” works through the outline of the book the book offering a short running commentary of each pericope. Occasionally Greek words appear transliterated in footnotes, so a student with little or no Greek will have no trouble reading the body of the chapter. Gorman provides bullet-point summaries at the end of sections for larger books. The third section in each chapter is the “story in front of the letter.” Here Gorman collects a series trenchant quotations from historical and contemporary commentators on the letter (and occasionally a non-specialist). Each chapter concludes with a series of questions for reflection and a “for further reading” list, divided into both general and technical works. This provides a student with resources to write responses and papers based on the reflection questions.

Rather than survey each chapter, I will highlight a few of the usual things people want to know about a textbook on Pauline letters. Gorman lists 1-2 Thessalonians first, and although he considers the north Galatia theory to be the scholarly consensus, he thinks the south Galatia better accounts for the data and considers Galatians to be written between 48-51. With respect to the unity of 2 Corinthians, Gorman surveys the major view for dividing 2 Corinthians into three separate letters and suggests that Paul’s use of rhetoric may account for the apparent disunity of the book. He says what unifies 2 Corinthians is the “Spirit-filled cruciform shape of the transformed life” (346). With respect to the purpose of Romans, Gorman argues the main purpose is Jew-Gentile friction in Rome, but there is far more to Romans than this one issue.

With respect to the Prison epistles, Gorman thinks an Ephesian imprisonment for Philippians is simpler, but it does not make much difference for the interpretation of the letter. His comments on Philippians 2:5-11 are the most detailed in the book primarily because Gorman considers these verses to be Paul’s “master story.” Understanding Paul’s presentation of Philippians 2:5-11 will help to interpret other problem texts in the Pauline letters. Gorman does not think the a decision on the authorship of the unit is necessary, Paul may have used a preexisting hymn, adapted a hymn, or composed the text himself.

The authorship of Ephesians and Colossians is always a major point of discussion in introductions to Paul. Gorman concludes Paul likely did not write Colossians word-for-word, but it is so close to Paul’s thought that it must be written by someone close to Paul who knew him well (551). He suggests Tychicus, the bearer of the letter, is the most likely candidate since he may have acted as scribe for Paul and then interpreter of the letter when it was first delivered. He thinks this is the same case for Ephesians, Tychicus wrote the book “maintaining the voice of Paul” (580).

For the Pastoral letters, Gorman discusses 2 Timothy first because he thinks the content of the letter comes from the time of Paul and accurately represents his thoughts, but may have been written after Paul’s death. 1 Timothy and Titus come from a later time and reflect the church after Paul’s death (614).

There are illustrations and maps throughout the book. The map of Corinth is particularly well done, I would have liked to see these for each of the locations (although that is not always possible based on the evidence). Many of the photographs were taken by Gorman or his students on his trips to Pauline sites in Europe and Turkey. Although they are reproduced in black and white, they are not the usual photographs found in these sorts of textbooks.

Conclusion. Apostle of the Crucified Lord continues to be a valuable introduction to the Pauline letters. Gorman’s presentation of Pauline theology challenges contemporary church leaders not only to know Pauline theology, but to live as cross-shaped people who seek to transform their world.

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

Longenecker, Richard N. The Epistle to the Romans. NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 1208 pp. Hb; $80.   Link to Eerdmans

It is clichéd to call this new contribution to the New International Greek Text Commentary “highly anticipated.” Richard N. Longenecker is one of the premier New Testament scholars of the last fifty years and his contributions to Pauline studies have been considerable (Paul, Apostle of Liberty, Second Edition, Eerdmans 2015; Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary, 1990). His brief Introducing Romans: Critical Concerns in Paul’s Most Famous Letter (Eerdmans, 2011). This magisterial commentary builds on a successful career spent studying Paul by digging deep into the details of this most important book of the New Testament.

Longenecker_NIGTC_Epistle to the Romans_jkt.inddLongenecker states in his preface he desires to spell out a proper interpretation of Romans by building on the work of past commentators, being critical, exegetical, and constructive in his analysis of the text of Romans, and to set a course for future study of Romans (xv). He certainly achieves these goals in the commentary. First, with respect to “building on the work of past commentators,” The beginning of the commentary lists seven pages of previous commentaries divided into Patristic, Reformation, and Modern Critical commentaries. Second, Longenecker seeks to “be critical, exegetical, and constructive in his analysis of the text of Romans.” It is certainly the case that his comments are judiciously critical and sensitive to the wider range of theological interests current in Pauline studies today. Third, one goal of a commentary of this size is “to set a course for future study of Romans.” Only time will tell if Longenecker achieve this goal, but it will be difficult for the next generation of writers to ignore this commentary.

With respect to typical introductory material, Longenecker only briefly sketches the major critical issues in the book, referring readers to his recent Introducing Romans for greater detail.  Briefly, Paul wrote the book from Corinth in the winter of 57-58woth the involvement of both Tertius, Phoebe and perhaps input from members of the Corinthian congregation (5-6). These are not controversial conclusions. He deals with two “matters recently resolved,” including the presence of glosses or interpolations (a possibility, but unlikely if textual criticism is properly applied to the text) and the original form of the book. Longenecker agrees with Harry Gamble’s Textual History of the Letter to the Romans as well as Hurtado and Marshall on the authenticity of the final doxology (8).

He devotes more space to several extensively debated topics. First, with respect to the identity and character of the recipients of the letter, Longenecker argues the recipients are both Jews and Gentiles who think in “Jewish categories,” but are not Judaizers. Second, Paul’s purpose for writing the letter is both pastoral and missional. Paul desires to impart a “spiritual gift” to the Roman believers but also to seek their support for his Gentile mission to Spain (10). The book also serves to defend Paul against misrepresentations of his mission and theology as well as offering council regarding a dispute between the “weak” and the “strong.” Third, the epistolary genre of the letter is a “letter essay,” setting instructional material in an epistolary format (14). His fourth issue is related to the third, the rhetorical genres of the letter. Although scholars have identified Romans as forensic, deliberative, or epideictic models for Romans, Longenecker considered the letter to be protreptic, a “word of exhortation” (15) with some influence from Jewish remnant rhetoric (especially in chapters 9-11). Finally, the focus of the book is to be found in Romans 5:1-8:39. This unit of the letter is the message of the Christian Gospel contextualized for Gentiles who have no prior interest in Judaism of Jewish Christianity (17). Longenecker thinks Paul found the story of the Exodus and forensic justification to be unknown and insignificant to Gentiles. His presentation of the Gospel to the Gentiles therefore focused on peace with God, and the relationship of sin and death. All people are equally unable to overcome death by their own strength, therefore all people need to enter in to a new relationship, to be “in Christ.”

Paul quotes approximately 100 Old Testament texts in 83 places in the letter and alludes to many more. This is a much higher rate than any other of Paul’s letters and the quotes are not evenly distributed throughout the book. Romans 5:1-8:39 has only two quotes. Unlike Galatians or the Corinthians letters, Longenecker does not think Paul’s use of the Old Testament is a result of some Jewish opponent in the Roman churches. Paul’s exegetical strategies are sometimes difficult to follow, these will be discussed as the commentary proceeds. In addition to quotations, Romans may have use confessional material, religious aphorisms, Jewish and Jewish Christian devotional and catechetical material (23). These materials will be identified in the commentary in the Structure/Setting section.

The body of the commentary is divided into several major units with introductions (chapters 1-8, 9-11, 12-15). Longenecker begins each sub-unit with a new translation of the text followed by notes on textual variants. The inclusion of a translation is not found in all of the NIGTC series and is welcome here especially given the extensive textual notes Longenecker provides. The introduction has a twelve-page summary of the manuscript evidence for Romans. Longenecker uses the United Bible Society’s GNT4 and NA27 as his base text and he discusses every variant appearing in the GNT4 in Romans and many of the variants found in NA27. The introduction also includes a chart listing the manuscripts for Romans including date, contents, Aland category (32-34).

Following the translation, Longenecker offers a section entitled Form/Structure/Setting, reminiscent of the Word Biblical Commentary series, a feature not found in other NIGTC commentaries. This section any special problems in the unit. For example in this section for Romans 2:17-29, Longenecker has brief comments on who is addressed by the pericope, the two prominent rhetorical conventions in the passage, the possibility of chiasmus in the passage, the use of Scripture and traditional material, and the structure and setting of the passage and a short note on theological issues. The Form/Structure/Setting section is flexible so that Romans 4:1-24 has an excellent section on the Example of Abraham in Second Temple period; for Romans 9:6-29 Longenecker covers major proposals for interpreting the section.

Longenecker’s exegetical comments are divided by verse and the commentary proceeds phrase-by-phrase. Greek and Hebrew appear without transliteration, although the exegesis is not dense with syntactical observations. For the most part he is able to stick to his intention to provide a faithful explanations of the text without being bogged down by minute details. This makes for a very readable commentary. Faithful to his intentions stated in the preface, Longenecker interacts with ancient and Reformation commentaries as well as a full range of modern writers. For example, the index lists some 27 references to Origin, 20, to Tertullian, 22 to Calvin, and 18 to Luther. Pages are not overly cluttered with references to secondary literature; it is remarkable how few footnotes there are in this commentary. This indicates original commentary rather than reporting what other commentators have already said.

After the exegetical comments, Longenecker includes several pages under the heading of “Biblical Theology.” These sections Longenecker builds on his exegesis by integrating Romans into wider Pauline and systematic theology. This is refreshing since commentary writers often ignore the contribution of their exegesis to the larger world of theology. Commenting on Romans 8:31-39, Longenecker says interpreters of Romans have “atomized what Paul writes…bringing everything under only one particular theme” or are “at a loss to understand the coherence of what he has written” (761). Following the biblical theology, Longenecker concludes with a brief “contextualization for today.” These are not “pastoral comments” by way of application. In fact, there is sometimes only a slight difference between these sections and the biblical theology sections.

The commentary includes a number of short excurses. For example, after commenting on Romans 3:25a, Longenecker includes an excursus entitled “Three Exegetical and Thematic Matters in Romans 3:25a that Are of Particular Importance (Though Also Frequently Disputed) and Therefore Deserving of Special Consideration.” (Yes, that is the title!) What follows is seven pages of slightly smaller print discussing the meaning of “whom God presenting publically,” “Sacrifice of Atonement,” and the prepositional phrase “through his faithfulness, by his blood.” This excursus is more detailed than the rest of the commentary, but it should not be assumed an excursus is not critically important to the commentary. For example, Longenecker’s nine pages of comments on the righteousness of God (Romans 1:17) are an excellent summary of the state of the discussion of this important phrase. His eight pages on “‘Works of the Law’ and the ‘New Perspective’” is worth reading before working through the commentary on Romans 3:20. Another critically important note is his more than eight pages on the remnant in rabbinic writings and non-conformist Judaism in the first two centuries B.C.E. A list of all of the excurses ought to be included in the table of contents or indices.

Conclusion. Any commentary in the New International Greek Text Commentary is worth buying and often becomes the first resource I consult. Longenecker’s contribution to this series takes its place along a handful of recent major commentaries on the book of Romans which will set the agenda for the study of this important book for the next generation of biblical scholars.

 

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

 

Apocalyptic thinking often divides history into various periods. Daniel’s outline of history as four coming kingdoms is one example, but there are others in apocalyptic literature. Perhaps the most common way for apocalyptic thinking to divide history is to describe this age as evil and the coming age of God’s kingdom. In the future this evil age come under judgment and be replaced with the way God intended it to be in the first place. Although it is possible an apocalyptic thinker may also took back to an ideal age in the past, the basic “this age and the age to come” is fundamental for apocalyptic thinking.

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Paul uses this language in Galatians 1. At the beginning of the letter, Paul develops who Jesus Christ, or Jesus Messiah is. Jesus is the one who “gave himself for our sins” and in doing so, Jesus set us free from this “present evil age.” The wording is reminiscent of Isaiah 53:5, 12 in the Greek Old Testament. It is possible Paul describes Jesus in this way because it was already familiar to his readers. Jesus has already provided salvation through his work on the cross and those who are in Christ are already saved out of the present evil age.

This “evil age” is a common way of describing the present time in Paul’s letters as well as other Jewish first century writings. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, one important document calls the present age the “epoch of evil” (1QpHab 5:7) and the late-first century Jewish apocalypse 4 Ezra describes the present age as a time when Belial (Satan) is opposing God’s will (7:12). Like these other Jewish writers, Paul is looking forward to a future kingdom. But he also thinks believers in Christ are already participating in the blessings of that future age. Paul contends we have already been rescued from this evil age.

But it is equally obvious we do not live fully in the Kingdom of God yet. Although some streams of theology have summed up the Kingdom as the church, this does not seem to do justice to Paul’s overall theology. He really does look forward to the return of Jesus as a time when perishable will become imperishable and this old, evil age will finally be replaced by God’s rule.

For Paul, we live in a time “between the ages.” Christ’s death stands between the Old Covenant of the Law and the future establishment of the Kingdom of God. The book of Galatians is one of the earliest witnesses we have to what the first generation of Christians thought about the death of Jesus. It is clear from Acts the earliest followers of Jesus expected his return very soon (Acts 3:19-20). Paul believed some who are now alive may live until the return of the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).

This “between the ages” perspective drives much of Paul’s ethics as well. We are to live our lives motivated by the nearness of the return of the Lord. A passage like Romans 13:11-14 bases proper ethical conduct on a clear understanding of the “present time.” Since the night of this dark age is almost over, it is time to wake up and “clothe ourselves with Christ.”

Good apocalyptic thinking drives proper ethical conduct in Paul, not paranoid rambling about the Anti-Christ taking away our freedoms. Nor does Paul ever suggest we take our survival kits and guns into the hills and fight the government to the death. This evil age ought to drive us to more good, loving behavior toward those who hate.

In Thinking Through Paul, Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still examine J. C. Beker’s suggestion that Paul’s thinking is “the apocalyptic interpretation of the Christ event” (TTP 302). It has become fashionable to describe Paul’s theology as “apocalyptic” even if the term is misunderstood. Douglas Campbell, for example, subtitles his book on Paul theology “An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.”

The RoadBefore taking up the possibility Paul is an apocalyptic thinker, two observations need to be made. First, “apocalyptic literature” is different than “apocalyptic thinker.” The two clearest examples of apocalyptic literature in the Bible are Daniel 7-12 and Revelation, and with the exception of 2 Thessalonians 2, I cannot think of two books more different than Paul’s letters. For the most part Paul is not writing in an apocalyptic genre, even if his idea “breathes the air of Jewish apocalypticism” (TTP, 303).

Second, not all apocalyptic thinking refers to the “end of the world as we know it” (and I feel fine). Apocalyptic as a modern genre usually describes the end of the present world. Books and films like The Road or The Book of Eli are “end of the world” stories which often leave little hope of salvation. The Left Behind series is a modern Christian apocalypse with a more positive message (God will bail us out in the end and establish his kingdom). Again, with the possible exception of 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul is not creating that sort of an apocalypse.

At its very heart, apocalyptic is about God breaking into history and acting in a very real way to defend his people. He will judge those who are persecuting his people and reward those who are faithful to the end. Revelation 19-20 describes Jesus as returning in glory far beyond that of the Roman world, destroying the power of Rome and replacing Rome’s rule with a Kingdom that will never end. Revelation is not far from many other Jewish apocalypses produced in the Second Temple period since the hope God would break into history and vindicate his people was very strong in the first century.

Paul is therefore thinking about Jesus through the lens of a Second Temple Jewish person who has encountered Jesus as resurrected from the dead. Like any Pharisee, Paul would have expected a general resurrection before God established his kingdom. But what Paul did not anticipate was God raising one man from the dead as a “firstfruits” of that future resurrection.

In fact, the origin of Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles is a revelation from Jesus (Gal 1:12). The word “revelation” appears in Paul’s letters thirteen times, and as might be expected, the word has the connotation of God’s decisive actions in history to bring salvation into the world. Paul does not say he developed his Law-free gospel through careful reading of the Hebrew Bible nor does he claim to have discovered some new way of reading the Old Testament to prove Gentiles should not keep the Law. Paul’s audacious claim is Jesus revealed this teaching to him through some sort of apocalyptic vision.

There is more in Paul which can be fairly described as apocalyptic, but is it helpful to describe these apocalyptic elements in this way? Is Paul really viewing the death and resurrection in terms of the apocalyptic worldview of the Second Temple Period? How does reading Paul in this well help us understand his overall theology?

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 (Mt 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 a virgin being prepared for marriage in Eph 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 Eph 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 that Paul’s topic in Eph 5 is eschatology at all, but rather the purity of the church in the prestent 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.

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.

 

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