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."

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