Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the Sixth Day of Meier...

On the sixth day of Meier, his Marginal Jew brought to me, 6) part 2 criteria for the historical Jesus, 5) part 1 criteria for the historical Jesus, 4) agrapha and Nag Hammadi, 3) Tacitus and other Jewish sources; 2) Josephus and the books of the canon; and 1) and an introduction to the historical Jesus.

Today we finish the first half of Meier's book, "The Roots of the Problem." First there is the rest of Chapter 6: "Criteria: How Do We Decide What Comes from Jesus?" In yesterday's part of the chapter, he mentioned 1) the criterion of embarrassment, 2) the criterion of discontinuity, and 3) the criterion of multiple attestation.

The rest of the chapter finishes, first, with two more criteria that he believes are very valuable as primary criteria, although in the end making historical judgments is more an art than a science and about probability rather than certainty (183-84).

4. The Criterion of Coherence
After one has established by the first three criteria a body of probable Jesus material and events, "The criterion of coherence holds that other sayings and deeds of Jesus that fit in well withthe preliminary 'data base' established by using our first three criteria have a good chance of being historical (e.g., sayings concerning the coming of the kingdom of God or disputes with adversaries over legal observance)" (176).

Meier does warn us, however, that "Jesus would hardly be unique among the great thinkers or leaders of world history if his sayings and actions did not always seem totally consistent to us" (176). In other words, it would be ridiculous if we did not find statements from Jesus that were in tension with each other, especially since Jesus "delighted in paradoxical statements that held opposites in tension" and very importantly, "There is no reason why the preaching of Jesus may not have contained elements of both apocalyptic eschatology and traditional Israelite wisdom" (176-77).

5. The Criterion of Rejection and Execution
Jesus met a violent end at the hands of Jewish and Roman officials. So what historical words and deeds of Jesus might explain his trial and crucifixion as King of the Jews? Here's a quotable:

"A tweedy poetaster who spent his time spinning out parables and Japanese koans, a literary aesthete who toyed with 1st-century deconstructionism, or a bland Jesus who simply told people to look at the lilies of the field--such a Jesus would threaten no one, just as the university professors who create him threaten no one" (177). :-)

Meier ends the chapter with five more criteria that have been mentioned from time to time, all of which he finds more dubious and thus dubs the first three as secondary criteria. The last two he considers useless or wrong.

Secondary Criteria and Criteria to be Rejected
1. Criterion of Aramaic
Joachim Jeremias was big on this one. By the way, for those of an earlier generation who were taught in seminary to think that Jeremias was the bomb--Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus and The Unknown Sayings of Jesus--let me just say that I'm glad Jeremias is dead. He has received such an extensive thrashing these last twenty years that I am thoroughly embarrassed for the man.

I believe he was a great man and a pious believer, but his name never comes up but that the shoddiness of his methods and conclusions are at issue. E. P. Sanders has been downright mean, almost accusing him of deliberate skewing under the guise of "he couldn't have been that stupid." Meier is much more respectful--as is appropriate to the man--but scarcely has he mentioned him but to take exception to his method. Indeed, I am so glad he isn't living to go from a position of such respect to looking like an incompetent.

Of course I believe people like John Dominic Crossan and Helmut Koester already look the same in some of their historical Jesus work.

Anyway, the criterion of Aramaic suggests that if a saying of Jesus translates back easily into Aramaic, it has more likelihood of being original. Meier suggests this might be icing on the cake, but he pokes numerous holes in this as having much force at all. For example, Aramaic speaking Christians could have invented sayings of Jesus just as easily as Greek speaking ones. Further, Greek speaking believers in Jerusalem would have translated Jesus' words at a very early stage into Greek, from which time they had decades to be paraphrased in transmission. And many believe that Luke composed various speeches in a Septuagintal style, which would give the appearance of Semitisms.

In short, the criterion might corroborate a decision already made by primary criteria, but it has little force by itself.

2. Criterion of a Palestinian Environment
Does a saying or event fit the environment in which Jesus ministered? Again, Christianity continued in Palestine throughout the first century, so just because something fits that setting doesn't prove it was said by Jesus there. Meier suggests that the criteria works better in its negative rather than positive force. Thus it might more cast doubt than corroborate: "parables that reflect concern about the delay of Jesus' parousia, the mission of the Church to the Gentiles, or rules for Church leadership and discipline are post-Easter creations, at least in their final, Gospel form" (180).

I might mention an example that Meier does not mention here, although he does mention it elsewhere. Mark's version of Jesus' prohibition on divorce prohibits both men from divorcing their wives and wives from divorcing their husbands. However, it is commonly said that women were not able legally to divorce their husbands in Palestine. If this is true, then it seems unlikely that Jesus would have said the second half of the prohibition. Meier elsewhere suggests that Mark added the second half to appropriate Jesus' message for a Roman world where women could divorce their husbands. If he and others are correct, then this would be an example of the criterion of a Palestinian environment at work.

3. Criterion of Vividness of Narration
"Vincent Taylor inclined to accept vivid, concrete details in Mark's Gospel as signs of high historical value" (180). But Meier doesn't think this is a very definitive criterion at all. For example, some literary forms may lead to terseness. Does this mean it isn't original?

Meier ends the chapter with two criteria he doesn't think are useful at all:

a. Criterion of tendencies in the gospel tradition
E. P. Sanders' doctoral dissertation thoroughly undermined some of the things people like Bultmann had in mind when they spoke of such tendencies: "we can find examples of the tradition becoming longer and shorter, of discourse becoming both direct and indirect, and of proper names being droppedas well as added" (182).

b. Criterion of historical presumption
Some have argued that non-historicity should be presumed until proved otherwise. Others have argued that historicity should be presumed until proved otherwise. Meier concludes, "the burden of proof is simply on anyone who tries to prove anything" (183). The rest go in the irritating category of the "not clear."

Meier ends the first section with the question, "Why Bother?"

First, Meier suggests that two groups in particular are prone to ask this question, Bultmannians and fundamentalists. The Bultmannian thinks the quest for the historical Jesus is irrelevant to faith. The fundamentalist makes no distinction between Jesus as presented in the gospels and the historical Jesus. Meier does not agree with either group but feels he should take off the hat of a historian for a moment and put on his theologian's hat for this concluding section of Part 1.

On the one hand, he agrees with the Bultmannian that the Jesus we as Christians are interested in is not some historical reconstruction. Whose would we pick? Also, "the object of Christian faith is a living person, Jesus Christ, who fully entered into a true human existence on earth in the 1st century A.D., but who now lives, risen and glorified, forever in the Father's presence" (198). This is the Jesus of faith, not Jesus as we might reconstruct him using historical methods. To this extent Meier agrees with the Bultmannian.

At the same time, Meier argues that "Theology is a cultural artifact; therefore, once a culture becomes permeated with a historical-critical approach, as has Western culture from the Enlightenment onward, theology can operate in and speak to that culture with credibility only if it absorbs into its methodology a historical approach" (198). "The historical Jesus, while not the object or essence of faith, must be an integral part of modern theology" (198-99).

He suggests four benefits of this integration:

1. It keeps faith in Christ from being reduced to a mythic symbol or timeless archetype. "Christian faith is the affirmation of and adherence to a particular person who said and did particular things in a particular time and place in human history" (199).

2. It keeps pious Christians from swallowing up the real humanity of Jesus into a one-sided emphasis on his divinity.

3. It keeps us from domesticating Jesus for a comfortable, respectable, bourgeois Christianity.

4. The historical Jesus also subverts revolutionary ideologies as well, such as liberation theology.

Meier doesn't really address fundamentalist concerns. He merely describes them at the beginning, "Fundamentalists object to the quest for the exact opposite reason [to the Bultmannians]: the historical Jesus is naively equated with the Jesus presented in all Four Gospels. All tensions and contradictions in the four narratives are harmonized by hilarious mental acrobatics" (197).

Obviously he is not writing for fundamentalists but for people who have questions about what Jesus was likely to have been like if one uses the methods of historical study. His results cohere well with orthodox faith, as we will see.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Watched Memento

I watched Memento (Latin for "remember") last night and this afternoon. It's messed up my mind. It's a guy who only has short term memory since his wife's death. He pursues her murderer by way of tatoos, notes, and polaroid pictures he takes of things and writes on.

The movie ingeniously gets you into his perspective by starting from the end and gradually moving backwards. You see a scene, then you see the scene before that scene, until you reach certain aha moments.

But it's messed my mind up. I just wrote some notes to myself on a chapter of the philosophy book I'm writing, knowing that I'll forget it if I don't put it there now. My psyche is disjointed enough already... it's why I blog so much... little snapshots of my psyche for as long as I can hold attention... But who am I--what's the glue that holds these moments together, that constitutes any of us as a whole person?

Oh well, maybe I'm just having some sort of psychotic break. No biggie... it happens.

On the Fifth Day of Meier...

On the fifth day of Meier, his Marginal Jew brought to me, 5) part 1 criteria for the historical Jesus, 4) agrapha and Nag Hammadi, 3) Tacitus and other Jewish sources; 2) Josephus and the books of the canon; and 1) and an introduction to the historical Jesus.

I've looked ahead and I can actually catch up to the actual days of Christmas on Friday because of a particularly long stretch of endnotes. Meier nicely keeps the surface text on a college level and relegates the more scholarly discussion to endnotes at the end of each chapter. It has made it easy to reach my 35 pages a day with only 10-20 pages of reading most of the time... my kind of book.

So today I only need to cover about 9 pages of Chapter 6 to keep on pace: "Criteria: How Do We Decide What Comes from Jesus?" In this chapter Meier covers the standard criteria that mostly evolved during the "New Quest" period of the mid-twentieth century. His caveats are a great statement of mature reflection on these criteria over the intervening years.

These nine pages cover three biggies:

1. The Criterion of Embarrassment
The idea here is that there are certain events that the early church is very unlikely to have invented because they only raise questions and issues that are problematic. Indeed, the gospel traditions themselves may reflect some attempt to address their problematic nature.

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, for example, is not something an early Christian would likely have invented, since the baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew includes a dialog where Jesus directly addresses this question. Luke doesn't mention who baptizes who and John doesn't even mention the baptism at all.

Similarly, the fact that Jesus doesn't know when the Son of Man will come is missing from many later manuscripts of Matthew and Mark, and Luke himself omitted the statement. John presents Jesus as far more omniscient than any of the other gospels. Meier thus argues that there is a conservative as well as a creative thrust in the early tradition (170).

Not everything we might first think as embarrassing might have been to the earliest believers. For example, although Luke and John do not have Mark and Matthew's, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," Meier does not think this statement would have been clearly embarrassing to Mark, given its Scriptural nature. Meier thus would not conclude that it is original simply because it seems a possible issue for later Christians or the fact that Luke and John don't mention it.

2. The Criterion of Discontinuity
The idea here is that if there are words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from Judaism at the time of Jesus or from the early Church after him, they are likely historical because no one would have invented them or applied them to Jesus from somewhere else.

The problem of course is that "a successful teacher and communicator ... would have had to submit himself to the constraints of communication, the constraints of his historical situation" (173). Thus, "while the criterion of discontinuity is useful, we must guard against the presupposition that it will automatically give us what was central to or at least fairly representative of Jesus' teaching." The real danger is that it will give us a caricature of Jesus "by divorcing Jesus from the Judaism that influenced him and from the Church that he influenced" (172).

What we get from the criterion of dissimilarity is the "strikingly characteristic" or "unusual," not what is unique. At the end of this section, Meier writes, "when we deal with the public actions of Jesus, it may be wiser to speak of the 'sort of things Jesus did' ... instead of asserting that a particular story tells us precisely what Jesus did on one particular occasion. The same distinction can be applied to the sayings tradition taken as a whole. We can have some hope of learning the basic message of Jesus, the 'kind of thing' he usually or typically said (the ipsissima vox). Rarely if ever can we claim to recover his exact words (the ipsissima verba)" (174).

3. The Criterion of Multiple Attestation
This is the idea that if a saying or event appears in multiple layers of Jesus tradition, it is more likely to have been original. As a footnote, this does not mean that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have the same story. If Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, then this only counts for one attestation. The idea of the kingdom of God being a major theme of Jesus' teaching, on the other hand, appears in Mark, Q, special Matthean tradition, special Lukan tradition, John, echoes in Paul.

Examples of such teaching in multiple layers also includes Jesus' words over the bread and wine and his prohibition on divorce. He ends the pages for today with the apt quote: "no criterion can be used mechanistically and in isolation" (175).

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the Fourth Day of Meier

On the fourth day of Meier, his Marginal Jew brought to me, 4) agrapha and Nag Hammadi, 3) Tacitus and other Jewish sources; 2) Josephus and the books of the canon; and 1) and an introduction to the historical Jesus.

"Agrapha" is a term used for scattered sayings attributed to Jesus that appear here and there, "unwritten" sayings. Joachim Jeremias, mid-twentieth century German scholar, found eighteen candidates he accepted as genuine words of Jesus found elsewhere than in the gospels. Meier is not so optimistic. Jeremias' arguments amount to Jesus could have said this. "Hypothesis is piled on hypothesis" (114) and "even when all eighteen are accepted, nothing new is added to our picture."

The rest of the chapter dives into two bodies of literature that are potential candidates for Jesus material independent of the gospels. The first are the "apocryphal gospels" like the Protoevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Gospel of the Hebrews, etc... He leaves the Coptic Gospel of Thomas for the final section.

Meier rightly dismisses the Protogospel of James and the Infancy Gospel as fanciful and bizarre second century speculation about Jesus' childhood. Then he considers the Jewish Christian fragments of the Gospel of the Nararenes, the Gospel of the Ebionites, and the Gospel of the Hebrews. All, he believes are dependent on the canonical gospels rather than relayers of independent Jesus tradition.

Finally, this section treats some of the sources that have been favorites of John Dominic Crossan. Meier finds Crossan's theory that the Gospel of Peter reflects a earlier "Cross Gospel" that was used as the basis of Mark's passion story unnecessarily complicated. Basically, "the simplest theory that explains the most data is to be preferred" (116). And the simplest explanation of the Gospel of Peter is that "it is a 2d century pastiche of traditions from the canonical Gospels" (117). He does offer linguistic evidence as well.

As far as the Egerton Papyrus 2, Meier similarly concludes that we get no new information about Jesus and that it is nevertheless still more likely than not that they are based on the canonical gospels.

The final possibility in this section of the chapter is the Secret Gospel of Mark. Once again, Meier finds the hypotheses of Crossan and Helmut Koester ridiculously complicated in comparison to the simplest hypothesis that it is based on the canonical gospels. Further, "to use such a small fragment of dubious origins to rewrite the history of Jesus and the Gospel tradition is to lean on a reed" (121).

His summary of these 2nd century gospels is basically that they come from the "overheated imaginations of various 2d century Christians" (122) and that "they belong in a study of the patristic Church from the 2d to 4th century" (123).

The final section of the chapter deals with the Nag Hammadi discoveries of 1945. He defers to the study of others like Christopher Tuckett who find no independent information on Jesus. He quickly dismisses works like the Gospel of Philip and gets right down to the real point of interest, namely the Gospel of Thomas. Of all the material in the chapter with any likelihood at all to give us information about Jesus independent of the canonical gospels, it is the Gospel of Thomas.

Meier in the end concludes, "I think that the Synoptic-like sayings of the Gospel of Thomas are in fact dependent on the Synoptic Gospels and that the other 2d-century Christian gnosticism" (139). My conclusion, for whatever it's worth, is similar. The most distinctive sayings in Thomas are later and represent a gnosticizing tendency--far too realized an eschatology for the historical Jesus. The remainder could very well be independent Jesus tradition, but it doesn't really add anything startling to our understanding of him.

Monday BCS (Bible as Christian Scripture) 1.1

1.1 The Problem of Christian Scripture
The contemporary problem of Christian Scripture is a by-product of two primary features of modern times: 1) the decentralization of political control over the meaning of the Bible and 2) the rise of the historical-cultural method. In themselves, neither of these developments was bad. Indeed, in many respects they have been great boons to the pursuit of truth. Nevertheless, as with so many correctives, they unleashed a chain of events that has resulted in a situation on the opposite extreme--one that currently is no better than the one they sought to correct and indeed, that is arguably even worse.

In the West, when the church was unified as the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian meaning of the Bible was relatively stable, as it remains in the Orthodox East. The RCC did not have official interpretations of every verse in the Bible, but there were clear cut canons of what a Christian could believe. In the late medieval period, it was not necessary for the teachings of the church to map closely to the Bible, so it was not necessary to explain away biblical passages that seemed to contradict the church's teachings. In any conflicting situation, the church held the final authority anyway.

This is not to say that the Bible was not an integral part of the reasoning of the medieval church. If we look at the writings of Thomas Aquinas in the 1100's, for example, we find references to the Bible permeate his thoughts. At the same time, no premium was put on following the "literal" meaning of the text. Without limitations on non-literal interpretations, texts of the Bible could be interpreted allegorically, especially if the apparent surface meaning of the text seemed incongruent with the church's desired meaning.

The reaction of Martin Luther and other reformers to this church hermeneutic is well known. Luther rejected any number of developments in Roman Catholic thought without clear precedent in the Bible, beliefs like purgatory or the practice of priests needing to be celibate. Under the banner of sola scriptura, "Scripture alone," Luther sought to peel back the development of doctrine and practice beyond the New Testament. A premium was placed on the "literal" meaning of the text, so that such developments could not be maintained by recourse to meanings that were not obvious. And the "second canonical" books that might be used in support of ideas like purgatory were rejected as "apocrypha."

In his famous debates with Erasmus, Luther contended that individuals did not need the church to help clarify for them the meaning of the Bible. Under the twin headings of the "priesthood of all believers" and the "perspicuity of Scripture," Luther held that Christian individuals did not need someone to interpret the Bible for them and that the meaning of the Bible in relation to salvation was sufficiently clear in itself that an individual did not need the help of the church to interpret it.

Another element in Reformation hermeneutics was Luther's contention that "Scripture interprets Scripture." The thrust of Scripture as a whole is clear and the meaning of central passages relating to salvation are clear, but there are unclear passages in Scripture. These unclear passages should be interpreted by recourse to the clear ones.

If we try to analyze the situation of the Reformation as objectively as we can, it is obvious that much more was going on here than ideology. Luther recognized corruption at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church of his day and he recognized conflict between commonly recognized core ideals of Christianity and the priorities and emphases of the church of his day. These are the driving forces behind the Reformation's beginning. But these ideals would not have sustained the Reformation if there were not others--including others with power--who wished to undermine the power of the church over them or who resented the corruption and derailment of core values. A movement was thus born.

The hermeneutical theory Luther devolved from this political situation is epiphenomenon. It is a tool to support the political detachment of the Protestants from Rome and the separation of core Christian values from issues of central conflict at the time of Luther. As we will see, radicals like the Anabaptists and the Socinians probably represent a more thoroughgoing example of sola scriptura than Luther or Calvin. But in the end, the notion itself is incoherent, an impossibility of language given the nature of the biblical texts as situational documents written in such diverse contexts.

The decentralization of political control over the Christian meaning of the Bible has resulted in as many meanings as there are centers of power. When a Christian group consolidates power and becomes a denomination with a central creed, then there is a more or less common reading of the Bible for that group. But the principle of the "priesthood of all believers," accompanied by the rise of the printing press and a culture of literacy, has resulted in virtually as many meanings to the Bible as there are interpreters.

Practically speaking, it makes no difference how much authority a person assigns to the Bible when there is no clear meaning of the Bible. A person might affirm the inerrancy of Scripture in the strongest of terms and yet believe the Bible tells them to murder any practicing homosexual they might find. Affirmations of Scripture's authority thus are only as meaningful as the interpretation is appropriate.

In this sense, the basic Protestant hermeneutic has set in motion the disintegration of the Bible's meaning as Scripture. It has left us with no way of knowing what the Christian meaning of Scripture actually is. It has left us with words of the highest significance that nevertheless have no clear meanings. It is true that most mainstream Christian traditions do hold certain basic understandings of the Bible in common. But, as we will show, this commonality derives from the fact that they remain in the common tradition of the church rather than because the words of the Bible demand these understandings in themselves.

A second repercussion of the Renaissance and Reformation is the rise of contextual reading of the Bible. When John Calvin and other reformers began to seek after the literal meaning of the Bible, they set in motion a movement that would eventually give rise to the historical-cultural method, as I will refer to it. This method is the attempt to read the books of the Bible in their original settings and contexts, to read them roughly as their first audiences would have read them, with the meanings generally their original authors and editors intended them to have.

For the interpreter who wishes to arrive at the most likely original meaning of a text given the available evidence, in the most objective manner possible, an inductive method has developed. The person who approaches the biblical texts in this way approaches them as a scientist would approach a set of evidence. For example, if we ask who the author of Genesis, Matthew, Mark, or Luke was from an inductive standpoint, we will conclude that these writings are all anonymous, for they nowhere tell us who their authors were. When we ask what the meaning of a word in a biblical text was, we look for the potential meanings that those words had at the time they were written. At the same time, we would not presume that the way a word was used in Mark would necessarily be the way that word was used in John for these are two different texts from two different authors.

The result of this quest for the original meaning of the biblical texts, which stands in continuity with Luther's desire to get back to Scripture alone, has not yielded exactly what the reformers thought it would. In general, it has led to an "ugly ditch" between the likely meaning the books of the Bible had in their original contexts and the theological meanings that Christians have found in these texts throughout the centuries. We see the result in various sociological movements in late nineteenth and twentieth century Protestant Christianity.

First there was the rise of theological liberalism, in which the ability of the biblical texts to speak to today almost completely unraveled. The original meaning and the Jesus of history both together became strangers to the modern mind. We should not create a "straw man" out of thinkers like Adolf von Harnack or Albert Schweitzer, as if their only problem was a lack of faith and a disbelief in miracles. Many of the issues that the late nineteenth century interpreters of the Bible raised were real issues, issues that we are still addressing today.

Liberalism is a direct heir of the Protestant Reformation and its insistence that it is the original, literal meaning of the Bible that is the only legitimate one. When Adolf Jülicher insisted that there could only have been one meaning for any parable Jesus spoke--and thus that any gospel parable that is an allegory cannot possibly have come from Jesus--he was simply playing out the "literal meaning" trajectory set by the Protestant reformers.

The fundamentalism of early twentieth century America was a reaction to this unraveling of the Bible as Scripture. Without answers to the questions raised by modernism and liberalism, many Christian groups retreated from the discussion. They founded little colleges where their children could be educated without being exposed to the evils of evolution and higher criticism. They could simply be indoctrinated in the beliefs of the group. Most of the Bible teaching in these Bible colleges returned to the pre-modern, earlier non-contextual interpretive methods. The main difference from the medieval period was the political body telling the group what the right interpretations were. Each group imposed its own political reading of the biblical text on its children and people and removed itself far enough away that no one could question it.

Others became militant and enlisted brilliant thinkers and scholars to find ingenious ways to address the questions of liberalism on its own terms, namely, historical ones. Places like Westminister Theological Seminary were founded as intellectual military establishments. At the same time, this variety of fundamentalist inadvertantly found himself accentuating the importance of historicity and scientific accuracy in ways completely foreign to the biblical texts themselves.

The late 1940's saw the rise of neo-evangelicalism, a slightly more intellectually and socially respectable version of the earlier fundamentalists. The intervening years have seen significant changes in the nature of American evangelicalism and its hermeneutic. For one thing, time has only increased the awareness of evangelical scholars of what it means to read biblical texts in context. The professed goal of evangelical study is indeed the original meaning of the text. Rising evangelical scholars have thus learned all the tools of historical study--the same ones that were developed and used by the earlier liberal scholars. As long as no fundamental doctrine is at issue, evangelical scholars have felt free to follow the historical-cultural method to its logical conclusion.

The problem comes when the canons of reading in context appear to lead to a meaning for the biblical text that conflicts with the evangelical "rule of faith," the commonly agreed Reformation principles or the beliefs and practices of the specific evangelical tradition in question. In such cases, evangelical scholars have typically applied their great intellect to finding possible readings of the text that fit with their understanding rather than going with what at first glance might seem a more probable one.

A good example is the interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2 by some evangelical interpreters. The most straightforward reading of the Hebrew text is, "When God began to create the heavens and earth, the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the face of the Deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters." In this translation, God does not create the world out of nothing, but He creates order out of a pre-existing chaos of waters, not too dissimilar to what we find in other ancient creation stories of the time like the Babylonian Enuma Elish or the Greek Theognis. Further, we have no clear evidence of any Jewish literature holding to a creation out of nothing (ex nihilo) until around the time of Christ, perhaps even a couple centuries after Christ. The most probable conclusion, it would seem, given the evidence alone, is that the original meaning of Genesis pictured God creating the world out of primordial waters.

This situation would not have been a problem for medieval interpreters. They could either take the passage figuratively or insist that the later church's understanding of the text is the correct Christian one. But Protestant ideology is driven to find the Christian meanings in the text, not in later developments of understanding. Evangelical scholars have thus often felt compelled to argue that the original meaning of this text pointed to an ex nihilo creation. Various evangelical scholars have applied their considerable intellect to find possible ways in which the text might be taken that way. Perhaps they are correct, but to outsiders it has called the scholarly integrity of evangelical scholarship into question--and has led to not a few faith crises and even loss of faith to sincere students within evangelical communities.

The limits of what an evangelical scholar could or could conclude was the original meaning loosened considerably in the last decades of the twentieth century. We would argue that much of this loosening resulted from the Bible itself and the genuine desire to hear what it says. In some circles this loosening was further facilitated by the rise of the "church growth" movement, which allowed thinkers in these churches the freedom to pursue interpretation without as much political involvement from church leaders. The focus was on increasing numbers in the pew and on a bare bones gospel, not on holding the line on some set of inherited doctrines or practices. Of course ideological purity remained a central concern in the most central evangelical circles.

The evangelical mechanism of joining "that time" with "this time" is somewhat complicated, but has gained in considerable sophistication from the early days of the 1950's and 60's. The text is read in context (within the understood evangelical boundaries of what it is allowed to mean). Then points of continuity and discontinuity are identified between the original situations and our current context. Then the fundamental principles are played out today. Thus the ugly ditch is crossed.

Yet at the turn of the twenty-first century, the ditch remains a major concern. Many evangelical Bible scholars are turning to theological interpretation, the desire to join back together the reading of the Bible with Christian theology. The popularity of this movement must surely indicate that, for all the complex method of joining that time with this time, the presence of the ditch is still felt. Someone like Grant Osborne in The Hermeneutical Spiral can say that the inductive method is available to anyone, but in reality, the canons of evangelical hermeneutics--and indeed of historical-cultural interpretation--effectively take the Bible out of the hands of the individual Christian and put it back in the hands of a new priesthood, the priesthood of biblical scholars.

The historical-cultural method has thus helped us to read the books of the Bible in context, but it has shown us at the same time that the original meaning was an ancient meaning that is often far removed from our situations today. It has also, as we will see, led us at times to meanings that are not clearly Christian or at least that are less Christian than the way we as Christians have tended to read the Bible throughout history. Further, the process of original meaning interpretation is one that requires great expertise in ancient languages and knowledge of hermeneutics and ancient cultures. The simple reality is that only a small minority of individual Christians will ever be competent at the historical-cultural method and, ironically, even those that are regularly disagree on the original meanings of the biblical texts.

The problem of Christian Scripture today is thus the problem of knowing what the Christian meaning of the books of the Bible actually is. Christendom lacks a central political body to dictate such a meaning, and the pursuit of the original meaning results in 1) countless fragments of meaning corresponding to the individual, dozens of biblical books. These meanings 2) correspond to a myriad of ancient situations and contexts that 3) are not always clearly Christian in the sense of what Christians historically have come to believe and practice. We are, however, at a point in the history of ideas where we are not only able to understand our hermeneutical situation better than ever before. We are at a point where we are able to find an equilibrium between the concerns of the Reformation and the importance of common Christian tradition.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Explanatory Notes: 1 Thessalonians 5

It's a little funny to me that the first whole book of explanatory notes I finish would be 1 Thessalonians. I spent lots of time on Hebrews, but still lack three chapters. I spent a while on Philippians, but lack about a chapter. I have most of Galatians. But the one I actually finish first proves to be 1 Thessalonians. Oh well.

Here are the links to earlier chapters, and I suppose I'll eventually put the whole thing on my archive site.

1 Thessalonians 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-16
1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
1 Thessalonians 4

And now, 1 Thessalonians 5:
5:1-2 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you do not have need to write to you for you yourselves know accurately that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night.
After writing of the nature of the resurrection of the dead corpses of believers in 4:13-18, Paul proceeds to discuss the timing of the Lord Jesus' arrival, as well as readiness for living believers. The Day of the Lord, of his parousia, his return from heaven and the Day of Judgment, will come without clear warning. It will come like a thief.

A thief does not announce his (or in theory her) arrival. Similarly, the Lord's arrival will not come on any precise schedule that believers might know or find out.

The fact that the Thessalonians do know these things accurately confirms our initial hunch that Paul's preaching in Thessalonica focused on the arrival of Christ to judge the world and save those who believe. He did not teach about resurrection because of the imminence of Christ's return.

5:3 Whenever they say, "Peace and security," then suddenly destruction comes to them as birth pain to a woman having in the womb and they will never escape.
The Day of the Lord for Paul, as we might expect from the Old Testament usage, refers to the arrival of Christ in his judging role. Those who think they are okay and that they are accountable to no one are in for a rude awakening. They may think they are safe from judgment on their wrongdoing, but they will not escape judgment.

The image of birth pain is particularly interesting. On the one hand, a woman does not know exactly when labor will begin. This part of the metaphor fits well with the thief in the night image of the previous verses. On the other hand, a woman does know she is pregnant. It is not clear that Paul wished the Thessalonians to follow through with this potentiality of the metaphor, namely, that one might know that the child is coming at any time.

In any case, 2 Thessalonians explores the opposite angle on the Day of the Lord, namely, certain general indications that the Day is near.

5:4-5 But you yourselves, brothers, you are not in darkness so that the Day should overtake you as a thief, for you yourselves all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.
Those who are destined for judgment will experience the coming of the Day like a thief, a bad event that takes place at night when it is dark. Paul now shifts his metaphor somewhat and now distinguishes the audience from those for whom the suddenness will not be a pleasant surprise.

The image of the elect as sons of light versus outsiders as sons of darkness is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and so would seem to be an apocalyptic Jewish image. The Day should not be like the coming of a thief for the audience for they are waiting for the arrival and are ready for it, whenever it will come.

5:6-7 Therefore, let us thus not sleep as the rest but let us be awake and let us be sober, for those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk are drunk at night.
So while those destined for judgment are asleep and not expecting the thief, believers are awake and are sober. They have not passed out after a night of drunken revelry, but are awake and ready, as if it were day.

5:8 But since we are of the day let us be sober, being clothed with the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet, the hope of salvation,
The idea of Christian armor appears in its fullest form in Ephesians 6, but here we find an earlier form of it. In Ephesians, of course, it is a breastplate of righteousness, but the helmet is also one of salvation. Ephesians thus corresponds more closely to Isaiah 59:17, from which the image originally comes, although it is applied to God there (see also Wisdom 5:18). Paul will expand on the triad of faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13.

We hope for salvation because, as we have already seen, salvation is predominantly future oriented for Paul. It is on the Day of Wrath that believers are saved from that wrath.

5:9-10 ... because God has not appointed us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or are sleeping, we might live together with him.
This verse confirms the future orientation of salvation for Paul. When the Day of the Lord comes, believers will not experience God's wrath in judgment but salvation from that wrath. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ has made this salvation possible. Here are the very deeply ingrained assumptions about sacrifice and the wrath of gods. Christ's death accomplishes this "deep magic" of reconciliation to God and avoidance of God's wrath.

Thus far in chapter 5, Paul has used the imagery of being awake or being asleep in reference to readiness for Christ's return, and he has in fact used a different word for sleep than he did in the last part of chapter 4. But as Paul closes out this section on the arrival of Christ, he returns to the theme with which he began the section, namely, those who die before the parousia.

In an inclusio, he changes to speak of those who sleep in reference to those who die before Christ's return (although he uses the word for sleep he has used in chapter 5 rather than the one he had used in chapter 4). Whether we are alive at his return or whether we are sleeping, dead, at his arrival, we will live with him then.

5:11 Therefore, admonish one another and build each other up, each one the other, just as you are even doing.
Paul ended the first half of his discussion of the arrival in 4:18 with an admonition for the Thessalonians to encourage one another with these truths. He ends the second half of the discussion with a similar admonition. In this case, however, the Thessalonians already had an accurate understanding, so he can simply encourage them to continue what they have already been doing.

5:12-13 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and care for you in the Lord and instruct you. Regard them with the greatest respect in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
These verses begin the closing of the letter. He will make some final exhortations and greetings and then close it.

This verse apparently indicates that the community had Christian leaders, perhaps some sort of group of elders, who would of course literally be older members of the Christian assembly. These individuals were apparently responsible for Christian instruction and were thought to hold spiritual authority. The admonition for the audience to be at peace, in this context, perhaps refers particularly to peace between these leaders and the rest of the assembly, a relationship in which the potential for conflict is not unfamiliar to us today.

5:14 And we admonish you, brothers, instruct the lazy. Encourage the discouraged. Help the weak. Be patient with all people.
The issue of certain lazy at Thessalonica is taken up particularly in 2 Thessalonians 3. But we should be careful not to overread this comment in the light of 2 Thessalonians. Paul does not clearly have specific individuals in mind here. In any collection of people, we can expect there to be some who do not do their share.

The other admonitions are similarly general. Christians encourage people who are discouraged. They help those who are not able to help themselves. Christians are patient with others. These are all manifestations of Christian love, the fundamental Christian virtue in Paul's thought as far as human relationships.

5:15 Look that someone does not repay someone with evil for evil, but always pursue the good toward one another and toward all people.
The similarity of this comment to Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is often noticed (e.g., Matt. 5:38-48). Clearly the death and resurrection of Jesus were far more important for Paul than any teaching Jesus did on earth. Nevertheless, Paul does occasionally show that he knows some of Jesus' earthly teachings, and this is one such case.

This admonition once again reflects the fundamental Pauline ethic of love toward one's neighbor. Vengeance for wrongdoing is God's business, not a believer's concern. The believer must pursue reconciliation even with those who wrong him or her. They pursue the good not only toward one another within the fellowship of the Christian assembly, but also toward all people who are not believers.

5:16-18 Always rejoice. Be praying constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
This series of admonitions have to do with the believer's attitude. A believer should be a person with a positive attitude, someone who rejoices and gives thanks. The mention of frequent prayer appears in this context of giving thanks to God for the things that happen to you. Paul punctuates these exhortations by noting it is not just him saying them but in fact that this attitude is the will of God, manifested in what he did through Jesus the Messiah.

5:19-22 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecy. Test all things. Hold fast to the good. Stay away from every form of evil.
The next series has to do with interaction with the spiritual realm. As much as some might like to see Paul as a heady thinker, his ministry was filled with what we today would consider charismatic ministry. He performed miracles. Signs followed him. Although we have no reason to think that tongues played much of a role in his ministry (he only mentions them in 1 Corinthians 12-14, where they are presenting a problem in Corinthian worship), he seems to consider prophecy a regular feature of early Christian worship.

Any individual in the church (including women, as we find in 1 Corinthians 11) may have a word of prophecy. Leaders are not to squelch the possible speaking of the Spirit through anyone. At the same time, they are not to follow the prophecy simply because someone thinks they have a word from God. Such messages must be tested, as Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 14:32 and 1 John 4:1 also indicates.

After the testing of the prophecy, they should cling to what is proven to be good, but stay away from anything bad. Indeed, they are to avoid evil in any form it might take.

5:23-24 Now may the God of peace himself make you thoroughly holy, and may your entire spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One calling you is faithful, who also will do [it].
The rapid fire of brief admonitions in the closing section come to a close, and Paul begins his closing greeting and farewell. 5:23 is a wish for the audience to be thoroughly blameless before God. He wishes the entire assembly of believers to be completely set apart to God as God's in every part of their being and thus be at peace with the God of peace and reconciliation.

We read verses such as this one in context when we do not overread them or take comments down paths that were never the real point. For example, the image is primarily corporate rather than individual in focus. Paul's wish is for the entire assembly collectively to be blameless before God when the Lord arrives.

Further, blamelessness here is not a matter of not being able to do wrong, of never accidentally wronging another, or of having no imperfection. Blamelessness is a matter of doing what one knows is right under the assumption that one knows what is right. God's faithfulness includes His enablement to be blameless in this way (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:13).

Such blamelessness is essential if one is to be saved on the Day. The verb "to sanctify" or "make holy" is used parallel to "becoming blameless." Blamelessness does not exhaust the meaning of making holy, but it is clearly part of what is involved in becoming holy. Sanctification here presumably also involves purification from past sins.

We should not see in the mention of body, soul, and spirit some absolute statement of how God views the make-up of the human psyche. For one thing, this division of the human person is almost unique in the Bible (Heb. 4:12 comes close). The Old Testament and much of the New Testament does not use the word soul (psyche) in relation to a component or part of a person but rather to an entire, living being. Spirit (pneuma), breath, is much more often used in reference to the living part of a person that survives death.

But these are, in the end, simply expressions made from within the paradigms of the ancient world. They are the clothing of the message rather than the point of the message. To try to integrate such images with modern psychology would produce some very strange conceptualizations indeed.

5:25-26 Brothers, be praying for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
The greeting of one another with a holy kiss indicates that believers are family to each other. And prayer for each other is a regular feature of Paul's own practice.

5:27-28 I adjure you by the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you.
The letter, presumably first to be received by the leaders of the community, should then be read to the entire assembly, most of whom would be illiterate. We do not know who Paul planned to have deliever the letter, but the fact that Timothy had made a first trip makes it not unlikely that he might take another trip with this letter.

Paul then closes with a characteristic ending for him, the wish that God's graciousness be with them in their continued pilgrimage until he saw them or wrote to them again.

On the Third Day of Meier...

On the third day of Meier, his Marginal Jew brought to me, 3) Tacitus and other Jewish sources; 2) Josephus and the books of the canon; and 1) and an introduction to the historical Jesus.

Chapter 4 divides into two parts. The first deals with a reference in the Roman historian Tacitus to Christ in his discussion of the fire of Rome. Tacitus wrote his Annals near the end of his life (he died in AD118). Unfortunately, the part of the Annals dealing with AD29-31 are missing, and Jesus likely died in AD30 (according to Meier). But Tacitus does mention Christians in his discussion of Nero's blaming of Christians for the fire (AD64).

Here is the excerpt Meier mentions: "Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called 'Christians,' [a group] hated for their abominable crimes. There name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful practices from every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated."

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit that Meier extracts from this excerpt is that the Christian movement was already in existence before Christ's execution. He argues that Tacitus is probably only passing on common knowledge. He gets Pilate's position wrong (he was a prefect rather than procurator) so isn't using official Roman sources.

Similarly, the early second century reference to Christians in Pliny the Younger and in the satire The Passing of Peregrinus by Lucian of Samosata add nothing new to our knowledge and are not independent sources. We learn from them what an educated pagan of the second century might know about Jesus (92).

Meier concludes similarly of rabbinic sources: "this vast literature contains no independent reference to or information about Jesus of Nazareth" (93). He agrees with Joseph Klausner that the very few references to Jesus in the Talmud (400s) are of little historical worth (95) and with Johann Maier about pre-Talmudic material that there is no authentic mention of Jesus in the Mishna. In short, "in the earliest rabbinic sources, there is no clear or even probable reference to Jesus of Nazareth (98).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

On the Second Day of Meier...

I realize I'm a day off in terms of the days of Christmas. Two chapters today on sources for approaching the historical Jesus.

Chapter 2: "The Canonical Books of the New Testament
This chapter begins with the apt, "The major source of our knowledge about the historical Jesus is also the major problem: the four canonical Gospels" (41). The Gospels "aim first of all at proclaiming and strengthening faith in Jesus as Son of God, Lord, and Messiah."

We only know fragments about about a 3 year period of Jesus' life, so it is impossible to write any normal biography of Jesus' life. "Still worse, we know next to nothing about the true historical sequence of the events that are preserved for us" (41). Mark, he argues, has tied things together by forms, key words, and themes (like controversy stories) rather than by historical sequence. And Matthew and Luke, who drew on Mark, felt free to rearrange this material in ways that suited their purposes. Matthew thus freely reorders Mark's miracle stories into a collection of three groups of threes. So "there is no way in which we can determine which order of events might be historical--if, indeed, any is" (42).

Beyond the gospel writers freedom to rearrange the order, the gospel writers apparently were not concerned to preserve Jesus' exact wording. Certainly it is possible that Jesus repeated his material in various forms, giving rise to variations of wording. However, Meier turns to the eucharistic words of Jesus to show that even with a very important event that only took place once, "the early Church guaranteed agreement in substance, not in exact wording" (43).

Meier goes with John as an independent source of information rather than a variation on, say, Mark. "John's Gospel, in my opinion, is not to be rejected en masse and a priori as a source for the historical Jesus" (45). John is often rejected as a source for the historical Jesus because it is so symbolic. But Meier argues that "'the tyranny of the Synoptic Jesus' should be consigned to the dustbin of the post-Bultmannians."

He discusses Paul, who is notorious for the absence of Jesus teaching in his writings. But Meier does note that "Paul does not feel free to create teachings and put them into the mouth of Jesus" (46).

Chapter 3: Josephus
I have referred to this chapter in the book often over the years for its very fair treatment of the "Testimoninum Flavianum," the famous possible reference of Josephus to Jesus. There are two other possible references as well. The first is in an obscure Russian manuscript of Josephus and very obviously a Christian interpolation...

We have to remember that we only have copies of Josephus' writings because Christians copied them. Just as there is textual criticism of the New Testament, there is textual criticism of other ancient authors like Josephus. We thus always have to consider the possibility that the Christian copyists have "tinkered" a little with these sorts of Jewish manuscripts. An "interpolation" is an insertion into a manuscript.

One likely reference in Josephus' Antiquities (20.9.1) is in his mention of the conspiracy to kill James in between Roman procurators (AD62). Josephus matter of factly clarifies who this James was by referring to him as "the brother of Jesus who is called Christ." Josephus isn't really interested in James, he is interested in Ananus, who convened the Sanhedrin in between procurators. Josephus' reference implies no faith in Jesus.

The best known passage, however (Ant. 18.3.3), includes comments in reference to Jesus like "if indeed one should call him a man" and "he was the Messiah" and "he appeared to them on the third day." These sorts of comments would not come from Josephus--only a Christian would say such things. For this reason, scholars of the 1800's considered the whole quote a Christian interpolation.

But the tide has rightly turned, and Meier gives a perfectly plausible reconstruction of what Josephus likely said originally:

"At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out."

Friday, December 26, 2008

On the First Day of Meier...

My goal for the twelve days of Christmas until Epiphany is to wade through John P. Meier's 1991 The Marginal Jesus: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Sorry to say I'm using the first printing, now subtitled more clearly: "The Roots of the Problem and the Person" (known in 1991 but now printed as the subtitle). I've dipped in the book from time to time, but have never plowed through it. Also, the fourth volume in this series comes out this year, so I have a lot of catching up to do :-)

I deeply respect Meier as a scholar and a person of faith. He is Roman Catholic, so has an orthodox faith. He teaches at Notre Dame.

But he makes clear that he is undertaking a historical quest in this book. Where the book ends he expects faith to take over. He is a model of the attempt at objectivity. It is interesting to read it, now 17 years old. A lot has been written since 1991. "Third Quest" for the historical Jesus books were just beginning to surface at the time. He considers E. P. Sanders' Jesus and Judaism one of the only significant ones in recent times... in 1991.

Since then we have seen N. T. Wright's series and now James Dunn's, not to mention a host of other little projects (Crossan, Borg, Stanton, Witherington, Luke T. Johson, Frederikson...). The glut of Jesus books makes this one of those topics to let lie for a while, just like Paul and Pauline theology. Theological interpretation is the current rave... :-)

So to begin...

In both the Introduction and the first chapter, the pages for today, Meier makes a distinction between the historical aims of his book and a full picture of Jesus. On the one hand, the introduction makes clear that he is aiming at historical common ground for all historians of Jesus. In other words, if you had a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic in a room together with all the historical data, what might they agree is fairly compelling about the evidence in relation to Jesus.

The result will be nothing like a full picture of Jesus, especially for the Christians in the room. For example, the resurrection is not a matter for historical investigation at least in the sense that God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus now lives. I'm filling in Meier here, but we might say historical things about Jesus' body being missing three days after his death. We might say that the disciples were convinced that they had seen him alive after his death. These claims are the perview of historical research. But to say that he is alive is the stuff of faith.

Meier is thus, like me, more of a chastened modernist than an unbridled postmodernist. He recognizes the impossibility of objectivity. He likes Karl Rahner's term, an "asymptotic goal" in relation to objectivity, "It is a goal we have to keep pressing toward, even though we may never fully reach it" (4). Frankly, I consider myself a truer postmodernist than most of those who throw the term around, a "disciplined" postmodernist.

There are some who will scoff at Meier... and me... at this point, dismiss us as so much yesterday's news, 17 years ago and thus unaware of postmodern developments. But we are aware and recognize the uncertainty of what we are doing. We will be waiting for them after people get tired of rampant subjectivity and we become useful to them again. Meier writes, "the most important hedge against rampant subjectivism is an honest admission of one's own personal stance, one's own point of view and background" (5).

Meier also appeals to Aquinas' distinction between things we know by reason and things we know by faith (6). He suggests that he is just asking one question at a time. In this book, he takes up the things that can be "known" by reason. All the caveats are there.

I also want to reiterate my position on theological interpretation. I believe the most important reading of the Bible for Christians is a Christian one, namely, one informed by two thousand years of Christians reading the Bible with the eyes of the Spirit. People like Meier, and I would primarily include myself in this category most of the time, are not so important because our main skills are those of historical-cultural exegesis.

We are skilled at asking questions like "What did Paul mean by that statement?" or "What is the most likely history behind this theological presentation?" I believe the church should have some of us around on retainer, because, again, the alternative is the late medieval Catholic Church or the rampant subjectivity of "spiritual" exegesis, which often is not spiritual. Theological interpretation is most mature when it is a matter of second naivity, rather than what is now simply ignorance of how to read the Bible in context at all.

But I digress :-)

Meier discusses the title, "marginal Jew," in the introduction. He suggests several ways in which that is significant. The one that stands out the most to me is the fact that while Jesus appears all significant to us as Christians, he was a nobody from nowhere in the first century. He barely gets a mention by any secular person, a "blip" on the radar screen (7).

I'll skip over the rest of the introduction to his first chapter, where Meier distinguishes between the "real" Jesus and the "historical" Jesus. I don't have Luke Timothy Johnson's The Real Jesus nearby to see if he later played off this section in Meier for his title.

Meier's conclusions here are fourfold: 1) the total reality of any person (including myself) is unknowable, 2) for many figures of modern history (Nixon, Reagan), we can construct a "reasonably complete" picture, 3) this is only possible for a relatively few great ancient figures (Caesar, Cicero), 4) Jesus is not one of them. We cannot know the "real" Jesus through historical research. Meier may be optimistic here about people like Caesar, frankly.

The final section of the first chapter comments on the frequent German distinction between the "historical" Jesus (Jesus as he was) and the "historic" Jesus (Jesus as he impacts us). Meier catalogs the confused history of these terms and then basically stamps them "unhelpful." He comes back to his basic aims as a historian: "For the moment, we are prescinding from faith, not denying it" (31). In other words, he will ask historical questions without denying any presuppositions of Christian faith. And "the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus, but only a fragmentary hypothetical reconstruction of him by modern means of research" (31).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Blessed Christmas!

No one needs a Christmas wish from me today--you shouldn't be on your computers! :-)

But since I blog almost every day, it would be remiss of me not to say something on this high day of Christendom. So I share my favorite Christmas verse (P.S. It works all the other days of the year too).

2 Corinthians 5:19, 20--"That God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not taking into their account their wrongdoings... Be reconciled to God!"

A Blessed Christ-mas to all the world!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Explanatory Notes: Matthew 1:18-25

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus was thus. After Mary his mother had been engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to have in the womb by the Holy Spirit.
We are not told how this marriage came to be arranged, whether by their parents or at Joseph's initiation. It is possible that Joseph is somewhat older than Mary, although the text gives us no indication. In any case, the arrangement is apparently completed, with only the actual transfer of Mary to Joseph remaining.

1:19 And Joseph, her husband, being righteous and not wanting to make an example [of her], was wanting to divorce her secretly.
Joseph is called "her husband," indicating how far along the marriage process has gone. The word for divorce might also be translated as "release," but since Joseph is called "her husband," the word divorce seems appropriate. Joseph does not want to disgrace Mary unnecessarily, even though she has potentially disgraced him greatly. He does not want to stigmatize her. He apparently contemplates leaving her in her father's house without drawing attention to her apparent infidelity.

1:20 And while he was contemplating these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which has been conceived in her is from Holy Spirit.
In Luke, the women are visited by angels. In Matthew, they come in dreams to Joseph.

The fact that Joseph is the son of David reminds the reader of the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew 1. Because Jesus is a descendant of David, remembering that an adopted son is considered just as much a son as a biological one, he is qualified to be king of Israel and to fulfill the prophecies about David's kingdom lasting forever.

The presumption is that the child has no human male parent but that the Holy Spirit is the sole origin of the child's conception. In general, the ancients did not think of the woman as contributing any substance to the child in the womb. She was rather an incubator for the seed of the male. The Holy Spirit would thus be understood to be entirely responsible for Jesus' substance.

Some translations render the verse, "take Mary [as] your wife," giving the impression that she was not yet his wife at this time. But since Joseph is called her husband in 1:19, we should probably simply call Mary his wife. The marriage has not been consummated, but the arrangement is apparently complete. If she were younger and the marriage was arranged, it is possible that Joseph was waiting for her to come of age.

1:21 "And she will bear a son, and you will call his name, 'Jesus,' for he himself will save his people from their sins.
Jesus is of course the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua. Jesus' name was thus pronounced Yeshua while he was on earth. To say that Jesus would save Israel from its sins is shorthand for saving them from the consequences of their sins.

In general, we might see these consequences in terms of Israel's enslavement to foreign powers like the Romans, and perhaps Matthew saw such freedom as an opportunity of Jesus' earthly mission for Israel. However, for Matthew Israel did not receive the Son and God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed as a consequence (e.g., Matt. 22:7). For Matthew, the consequences of sin seem rather to focus on eternal torment following the final judgment (e.g., Matt. 25:31, 46).

1:22-23 "And this whole thing has come to be so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 'Behold, the virgin will have in the womb and will bear a son, and they will call his name, "Immanuel,"' which is interpreted, 'God [is] with us.'"
This is the first of Matthew's fulfillment texts, a distinctive element of this gospel. In general, Matthew does not seem to carry over much of the context in which he finds verses into his meaning in the text of Matthew. In this case, for example, we need know nothing about the context of Isaiah 7:14 to understand Matthew's meaning here. Indeed, in context, this verse originally referred to a child born as a sign to king Ahaz in the 700's BC. But this original meaning is not relevant to the prophetic meaning in relation to Jesus.

Matthew thus understood these words in the Greek translation of Isaiah to be potent with meaning in relation to Jesus' birth. The fact that the author draws from the Greek Isaiah is a significant argument that the author of Matthew in its current form was a Greek speaking Jew rather than the Galilean disciple. In general, the "first language" Greek of the gospel argues for the same conclusion. The Greek of Matthew is actually smoother than one of its likely sources, Mark, which involves more Semitisms in its style.

The prophet Isaiah thus spoke words that were pregnant with meaning waiting to be applied to the birth of Jesus. The Lord put this hidden meaning in the words of Isaiah.

Jesus is "God with us." This characteristic of Jesus occurs here and then again at the end of Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples, "I am with you all the days until the end of the age." The idea of Jesus as God with us thus forms an inclusio that brackets the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew has a fairly high Christology. It's sense of Jesus' divine identity and worship is more explicit than much of the New Testament. Following the Parables of Enoch, Matthew 25 has Jesus on God's throne in judgment, an extremely rare image in surviving Jewish literature. And while Jesus tells Satan that only the Lord is to be worshipped, Matthew consistently has various individuals worshipping Jesus.

Matthew does not explicitly share the inner logic of how Jesus is God with us. But throughout the Gospel, Jesus is sometimes presented in terms normally reserved for God alone.

1:24-25 And after Joseph rose from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and he took his wife, and he did not "know" her until she bore a son, and he called his name, "Jesus."
If there were any doubt, this statement makes it clear that Joseph is not the father of the child. He does not have sex with Mary until after Jesus is born. He goes through with the marriage, despite her pregnancy. Matthew knows nothing of later Christian traditions in which Mary remains a "perpetual virgin." The assumption of the text is that Joseph does go on to have relations with her after Jesus' birth.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stupid Pet Tricks

We have two dogs, a 9 year old Shizu and a 5 month old Great Dane. Great Dane's pose interesting training issues. They grow up so quickly that it's hard to put the fear of God in them when they are young and impressionable.

So our little Shizu didn't stand a chance. Normally, she would have made her territory known to a neophyte pipsqueek pup. Then when the pup grew up, it would still have that fear deep down, long after the adult had lost any real power over it. Not so with a Great Dane pup. It was practically as big as the Shizu when we bought it!

This morning, my wife Angela let the Shizu out first, as is necessary. If Bruce the Dane is let out first, he will try to play with the Shizu, causing immediate pee impotence. He will try to put his paw on the little dog, which we imagine one day will involve a broken back.

But this morning, we had waited too long to get out of our warm bed, and Bruce couldn't wait, despite his oversized bladder. My wife let him out as he started to releave himself at the back door. Then he proceded to go out, stand over the Shizu, and pee on her.

This of course was not the first incidence of Dane raising frustration. There are boards and wall board that need replaced, and multiple things that have been removed from play before completely destroyed. This morning he actually unplugged the freezer somehow.

We've also had self-destructive cats too. One male started spraying everything around when another new kitten arrived. He was subsequently banished from the house, with all the ensuing pain of carpets and furniture.

I often think, "Pet, if you just weren't so stupid. You could actually have a great life if you would just stop doing all these things that, in the wild, help you survive. Some simple adjustments and you would be much happier than you are.

And then I think, people are animals too. We self-destruct and stupidly do the worst things. A lot of people aren't any smarter as adults than they were as children. They just don't have anyone to tell them no anymore. D and F students in high school grow up and get to vote, but chances are they're still a D or F student at life too.

Happy Hanukkah!

It's no surprise that most people think of Hanukkah as the Jewish alternative to Christmas. We tend to experience them in American culture as an either or--"Jews celebrate Hanukkah because we/they don't believe Jesus is the Messiah." I suppose this is indeed the way most Americans, whether Jewish or not, experience Christmas/Hanukkah.

It is, however, needless. Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, was around before Jesus was. It celebrates the rededication of the temple in 164BC after it was desecrated by the minions of Antiochus Epiphanes IV (Dan. 11:31) in the Maccabean crisis. The story has of course grown over time. In the later form of the story in the Talmud, oil that would normally only last one day miraculously lasts eight days. This part of the story isn't in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which date over 500 years earlier than the Talmud.

From a Christian perspective, this story is in the Old Testament period. That makes it no different in theory than the story of Esther or of Passover or of Jonah. Do Christians believe that God can perform miracles and did for Israel? Indeed, Jesus attends this festival in John 10:32, and Hebrews 11:35 seems to allude to the story of 7 martyred brothers during the Maccabean crisis.

So why do some Christians have an adverse reaction to Hanukkah?

1. Because it has become a religious boundary line in later Jew-Christian cultural marking. It's an artificial line historically, but real as a socially constructed reality.

2. Because this story is in the "Catholic" books, 1 and 2 Maccabees. Come on guys, the Reformation's been over for 500 years. Get over yourselves. As far as history goes, which is not at all the touchstone of theological truth, but nevertheless, as far as history goes, there's more historical evidence for this rededication than for the overwhelming majority of stories in the Old Testament!

3. Ignorance of history

4. Can't think of any more.

I'm not suggesting that Christians should start celebrating Hanukkah. But I believe we can if we want to.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Magnificat Monday

No time for commentary, but I thought I might translate Luke 1:26-38, 46-56 this morning.

1:26-27 And in the eighth month [of Elisabeth's pregnancy], the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of the Galilee to which the name was Nazareth, to a virgin who had been betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, from the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary.

1:28-29 And when he had come in to her, he said, "Greetings, one who has been graced, the Lord [is] with you." And she was terrified at the word and was debating what sort of greeting this might be.

1:30-31 And the angel said to her, "Do not fear, Mary, for you have found grace before God. And behold, you will be pregant in womb, and you will bear a son, and you will call his name, 'Jesus' ...

1:32-33 "This one will be great and will be called 'Son of the Most High,' and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father. And he will rule over the house of Jacob forever and an end of his kingdom will not come."

1:34-35 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am not 'knowing' a man?" And the angel said to her, "Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also, the holy thing having been born will be called 'Son of God.'

1:36-37 "And, behold, Elisabeth your relative, even she herself has become pregnant in her old age and this boy is eight months from her who was called barren. Because no thing is impossible before God."

1:38 And Mary said, "Behold, the woman servant of the Lord. May it be to me according to your word." And the angel went away from her...

1:46-47 And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has exalted in God my savior.

1:48 "For he looked on the humble state of his female servant, for behold, from now on all generations will bless me.

1:49 "Because the Powerful One made me great, and holy is His name,

1:50 "And His mercy is for generation after generation to those who fear Him.

1:51 "He showed might with His arm, and He scattered the proud in the intent of their heart,

1:52 "He took down rulers from thrones, and He exalted humble ones.

1:53 "He filled the hungry with good things, and He sent the rich away with nothing.

1:54-55 "He helped Israel His servant to remember mercy, just as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever."

1:56 And Mary remained with her [Elisabeth] about three months, and returned to her house.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Explanatory Notes: 1 Thessalonians 4

4:1-2 Therefore, the rest: I ask you and admonish you in the Lord Jesus so that just as you received from us how it is necessary for you to walk and to please God, just as also you are walking, so that you might abound more, for you know what instructions we gave to you through the Lord Jesus.
Paul signals the beginning of the second half of the letter. The first half has largely had to do with the story of Paul's personal engagement with the Thessalonians as a community. Now he begins to give them specific teaching and admonition in relation to their thoughts and actions. He affirms that they are already "walking" or behaving in a certain way. Now he will reinforce some of that basic ethical instruction.

4:3-5 For this is the will of God: your sanctification, for you to abstain from sexual immorality, for each of you to know to control his own vessel in holiness and honor, not with the passion of desire like the Gentiles who do not know God,
Sanctification has the sense of being set apart as God's, with all the implications of being drawn on God's side of the line (as opposed to the "common," ordinary side or, further, the defiled side). Something that belongs to God is "superclean" and demands special handling.

Although Paul's theology significantly reconfigures the purity-impurity lines the Pentateuch and Jewish tradition drew around reality, sexual practice remained for Paul a principal area of potential defilement. Paul seems to nullify all the Old Testament purity legislation when it comes to the Gentiles except those relating to sexual conduct. He finds it inconceivable that a person might be the possession of the holy God, be "touching" the true God, and also be in contact with impure forms of sex.

Some have argued that porneia, "sexual immorality," has specific sexual connotations. The best argument for this position is the fact that porneia can occur in lists of vices that include other sexual sins like adultery. The argument is thus sometimes made that porneia only refers to particular types of sexual sins, like incest. The old King James translation of the word, "fornication," often misled interpreters into thinking that Paul was talking here about pre-marital sex.

In the end, however, it is not in the nature of vice lists for each item to be a discrete thing. Such vices often overlap in content. The safest conclusion would seem to be that by porneia, Paul refers to any of the types of sexual sin that are found in Leviticus 18. Because there were specific words for adultery and some probably created by Jews for certain types of homosexual sex, we might easily imagine that Paul would use those words when those actions were specifically in view. The word porneia would thus be used especially for "everything else," while also serving as a general word for the entire class of action.

In Jewish rhetoric, the classic "Gentile" sins were idolatry and sexual immorality. Paul here plays on that Jewish sense that Gentiles cannot control their sexual passions. In contrast believers are to conduct themselves with sexual purity and honor.

4:6 ... not to wrong or take advantage of your brother in a matter, because the Lord is just in relation to all things, as also we have said before to you and we have said emphatically.
This verse is sandwiched between the prior reference to sexual immorality and 4:7, which seems to continue the reference. It is thus likely also referring to sexual immorality. And when we ask about an area of sexual immorality in which a person might "take advantage" of a brother on a sexual matter, adultery must surely top the list. It is thus quite possible that in this section, Paul is warning the Thessalonian congregation about adultery within the church.

4:7-8 For God did not call you for uncleanness but in sanctification. Therefore, the one who rejects [this instruction] does not reject a mortal, but God who is giving His Holy Spirit to you.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that God, not he, is the ultimate source of these exhortations. Paul also makes an implict connection between "being holy," "being sanctified," and the Holy Spirit within. Sexual immorality is thus all the more inappropriate, for we have God's Spirit within us. Paul will develop this line of thought in 1 Corinthians 5-6.

4:9-10a Now concerning brotherly love you do not have need [for me] to write to you, for you yourselves are God-taught so that you love one another, for you are even doing it to the brothers in all of Macedonia.
Believers are a family, and "love of brother" is a natural consequence. The Thessalonian church apparently was acting as family to others in Macedonia. Such locations would certainly include Philippi, perhaps also Berea, although Paul never mentions it. The idea of being "God-taught" reminds us of some of Philo's perspective toward the "self-taught" person who doesn't have to study about God because his thoughts (and for Philo it would be a "his") naturally contemplate absolute truth.

4:10b-12 And we admonish you, brothers, to abound more and try to live a quiet life and to mind your own business and to work with your own hands just as we have instructed [you] that you might walk honorably with those outside and might have need of nothing.
Paul does not advocate a revolutionary path toward the social structures of the day. He recommends that the Thessalonians "blend in." They should give no cause for persecution by outsiders, nor should they get themselves entangled with the strings of patronage, whereby they are supported by a gracious provider but usually were then expected to do various things in return for the favor. Paul wants them to support themselves and retreat from societal conflict.

4:13 Now I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who sleep, so that you do not grieve like the rest who do not have hope.
On first reflection, it may seem a little odd that Paul is only addressing the topic of the resurrection of the dead with the Thessalonians now in this letter. Paul may not have been in Thessalonica for very long, but he was there long enough for the Philippians to send him material support more than once (Phil. 4:16). It would seem he was there over a month, long enough to have a group of converts to send this letter to.

Yet it is reasonable to assume that Timothy brought back to Paul word that they had questions about those believers who died before Christ's parousia, his arrival back from heaven. From this we might infer that teaching on the resurrection of believers was not the highest priority in Paul's evangelistic message.

Instead, we can imagine that Paul's earliest preaching focused far more on the soon arrival of Christ to judge the world. It emphasizes the fact that Paul not only at this point expected Jesus to return within his lifetime. He apparently preached as if it could happen at any moment.

The reference to "those who sleep" is unique to Paul's earliest writings, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians. The majority of Pauline interpreters simply take it as a metaphor for death that implies nothing of what state Paul believed the dead to be in. We would, however, join that minority who suspect that Paul's thought underwent development or "growth" on this topic during the time he was at Ephesus.

We wonder if, particularly after his engagement with the Corinthians on the topic in 1 Corinthians 15 and a scary imprisonment at Ephesus, Paul began to think more about the intermediate state of Christian dead between death and Christ's arrival. The most natural way to take Paul's reference to sleep as a bona fide reference to an unconscious state between death and resurrection. At this point, as in 1 Corinthians 15, the state of those who die is one of hopelessness. The hope he provides is not within death, but in future resurrection.

4:14 For we have faith that Jesus died and was raised, so also God through Jesus will lead with him those who sleep.
Paul's earliest writings link Jesus' death and resurrection with the death and resurrection of those who place their faith on him. We might note that Paul's later participationist language is missing here, although we cannot prove that it is not implied. But certainly in Paul's more fully developed theological expression in Romans, we die with Christ and we rise with Christ. Here Paul only says that God will do for us what he did for Jesus.

In any case, the content of faith is the same here as in Romans 10:9: "If ... you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead." We observe that God (the Father) is the active force in resurrection rather than Jesus himself. It is God who raised Jesus, and it is God who through Jesus will lead the dead (in Christ) out of the dead.

4:15 For we say this by the word of the Lord: that we who are living, who are left at the arrival of the Lord certainly will not precede those who sleep.
Again, Paul speaks to the Thessalonians as if there is a real possibility that he and they will be alive and will remain at the parousia. In relation to the dead (in Christ), living believers will not even meet Christ before them. Those who "sleep" in the ground will meet Christ first at his return.

4:16 Because the Lord himself, with a command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first,
This is the Day of the Lord, the day of his return and the Day of Salvation for those who have faith. It is Judgment Day, the day during which God will visit His wrath on the earth for its ungodliness. Jesus the Lord, the king, will descend from the sky, from heaven where he now sits at the right hand of God in the highest heaven. It does not seem likely that Jesus is implied to be the archangel here, but rather that the archangel and other angelic hosts accompany Jesus to the earth for the judgment.

The corpses in Christ, the dead in Christ, will rise from their graves first. We note that Paul mentions the dead in Christ. That is to say, Paul says nothing about Old Testament saints like Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. It at least is not clear that he has any doctrine of general resurrection. We might also add that general conceptions of the Pharisaic belief on this subject, which are often used to infer Paul's thought here that is unexpressed, are based on very flimsy evidence indeed and such arguments are often quite circular and anachronistic.

4:17 Then we who are living, who are left will be snatched up together with them on the clouds for a meeting of the Lord in the air, and thus we will always be with the Lord.
This verse is apparently the origination for the word rapture, given the Latin wording rapiemur, "we will be snatched." Paul here seems to picture an assembly of believers in the air with Christ and the angelic hosts. First the dead corpses of believers are resurrected, and they rise to the air. Then the living believers are snatched up to meet them. Paul does not expand on the transformation of bodies here as he will in 1 Corinthians.

Some have plausibly suggested that the picture here is of one of an embassy from a city going out to greet a dignitary outside their city before leading that person back into the city. So believers go out to meet their king and come in his company back to the earth where he will reign. The meeting would thus not be to go off to heaven but to return to earth with him.

A good case can be made that being with the Lord forever thus does refer to believers going off to heaven with Christ. Rather, this is an assembly for the final judgment. In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Paul indicates that believers will participate in the judgment of the world and of angels. In 1 Thessalonians, therefore, Paul probably pictures Christ reigning on earth after his arrival, with believers as a part of that kingdom.

4:18 So encourage one another with these words.
These are words of hope. They are words of hope for those who have lost loved ones who were believers. They are words of hope for those undergoing persecution for their faith.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Constantine: Friend or Foe of Christianity?

Unexamined assumptions are incredibly fascinating. They get at the real reasons why we think and act the way we do. They lay bare our hypocrisies and excuses. They tell us who we really are rather than who we pretend to be.

One of the current trends in thinking--very popular, probably not well thought through--is to make Constantine the boogie man. Da Vinci Code certainly did this. If I remember right, Erwin McManus villified him in the Barbarian Call. Tony Jones' emergent book, Postmodern Youth Ministry does it. It's in for Constantine to be the villian.

Why? Because he used his power to move "Christianity" toward standarization. He did it in the interests of unifying the empire and reducing conflict, as I understand it. He was being practical, not ideological.

It's easy enough to see why Constantine is out. For good old Protestants, I think there is a connection made, consciously or unconsciously, between this movement toward consolidation of power among Christians and the emergence of the Catholic Church as a political entity.

We are also in a Zeitgeist of diversity, pluralism, and freedom. Forcing diverse groups to conform to a standard simply is not going to be a popular movement. Mind you, Constantine only made Christianity legal and pressured Christian leaders to come up with a commonly agreed faith. Constantine died before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius. And the Nicene Creed also did not reach its standard form until after his death (AD381--the Council of Nicaea in 325 did issue a creed, but it was not in the form of the Nicene Creed). He thus perhaps gets more blame or credit than he deserves.

But here's my thought this semester. There was no Trinity as we understand it before Constantine. He in fact favored a Eusebian compromise in the debate between Arius and Athanasius, if I remember correctly (Christ of similar substance to the Father rather than Athansius' of the same substance). But for much of the 300's, Christianity was more Arian than Trinitarian, if I remember correctly (Christ the first of God's creations, of a different substance than the Father). There was no New Testament canon yet in its current form. The list of books we now use isn't even attested ever, anywhere until Athanasius' Easter letter of AD367. Only a Western synod then affirmed that canon politically in 397 in Carthage).

Here's my sense. God might have done it some other way, but if it were not for the series of events that Constantine put in motion, we might not have either the same New Testament we do today or believe in the Trinity as we do today. In short, would Christianity as we now consider it to be in its historical essence be conceivable if it weren't for Constantine?

So recognize, ye who hate Constantine, that you are perhaps hating what became essential boundaries between Judaism and Christianity.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Review HF: Dunn on pistis Christou

And now the promised review of Dunn's chapter in Richard Hays' Festscrift, The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays. Dunn's chapter is titled, "ἐκ πίστεως: A Key to the Meaning of πίστεως Χριστοῦ."

This might be my last post on the Festscrift for a while, because I want to wander through John Meier's A Marginal Jew for the twelve days of Christmas. It's 17 years old, but I've only dipped into it here and there, not plowed from cover to cover, and the fourth volume is coming out next year. Then from Epiphany to Easter I thought I might work through Dunn's Jesus Remembered in time to work through his second volume, Beginning from Jerusalem during Eastertide and into Pentecost. So many things to read, review, and write, especially when your main job is to teach.

Dunn begins this relatively short piece with a Dear Richard letter, celebrating their infamous debate in Kansas City in 1991 (when apparently, Dunn had to pay $75 dollars to reschedule his plane flight--I had to leave the unfortunately scheduled Tuesday morning meeting to catch my plane too). Hays' watershed The Faith of Jesus Christ has been republished with the two papers from that meeting (originally published in Pauline Theology 4) and Hays added a new preface to the second edition. So Dunn considered this a good time for response himself.

First, Dunn reviews some key points Hays considers established in his preface. One is that narrative elements undergird Paul's thought. Dunn agrees. He just doesn't find an emphasis of Jesus' faithfulness in Paul's engagement with that story.

Another is that "participation in Christ" pervades Paul's theology far more completely than the imagery of justification. Dunn notes, however, that only one "faith of Christ" expression is connected to such participation (Gal. 2:20). Finally, he agrees with Hays' observation of the poetic character of Paul's language.

Now Dunn launches this rejoinder to Hays' "faithfulness of Jesus" interpretation based on "out of faith" expression.

For the record, I have argued that Paul's thought moves "out of Hays into Dunn" in a recent CBQ article, "2 Corinthians 4:13 and the πιστις Χριστου Debate," CBQ 70 (2008): 524-37. I agree with Hays that Romans 3:22 and Galatians 2:16 refer to Jesus' faithfulness but with Dunn that the bulk of Paul's references in Galatians 3 and Romans 4 are oriented around human faith that leads to justification.

So, on the one hand, I agree with much of Dunn's critique in this section: "the problem I have always had with your πιστις Χριστου interpretation is that it has to draw in so many of the other πιστις references in the contexts of Galatians and Romans in order to maintain its credibility" (357). If we outline Dunn's essay as an argument, his first claim is that it is impossible to distinguish between the early "faith of Jesus" parts of these arguments and the later "out of faith" parts. They either all must fall Hays' way or they must all fall Dunn's way. I disagree with Dunn here for reasons I'll mention below.

This piece works backward. With his usual exegetical cunning, Dunn shows what I agree is the "inescapable conclusion" that Paul primarily uses the ἐκ πίστεως expression in reference to human faith. If the first part of his argument is that the train of thought is consistent. The second is that the latter part of Paul's argument falls his way, "faith in."

So now he reaches his conclusion, therefore the earlier "faith of Jesus" expressions must refer to faith in Jesus too, since it is hard to point to a place where Paul switches what he's talking about. Here is where I disagree with Dunn and agree with Hays' rendering of this expression in Romans 3:22 and Galatians 2:16. My article argues from what I believe to be the most obvious train of thought in 2 Corinthians 4:16, movement from Jesus' faith to Paul's faith. Given evidence that Paul can think this way, it became justifiable to see him thinking in this way in these passages.

I might add my strong suspicion that this is our problem because of an unspoken assumption that we need to be able to see the transition without considering the fact that we are likely missing important context for Paul's argument here. If the Jerusalem church used something like the expression "the faithfulness of Jesus" as a shorthand reference to his atoning death, then the audience of Galatians and Romans would immediately know to take the expression Hays' way because of tradition. Paul would then build on the potential double entendre to take the expression in the way that Dunn has correctly argued he does, namely, in reference to human faith.

Dunn ends the piece confident of his conclusion. "Sorry Richard," he writes before wishing him many years and signing it "Jimmy."