Friday, April 30, 2010

Hebrews 7 Midrash and Paradigm Shifts

One of the assignments in the seminary's MA Biblical Interpretation course is to identify what kind of midrash Hebrews 7 is. The three possibilities are:

1. prophetic--where an OT text is taken as a prophecy of some current event
2. paraphrase--where an author expands on the meaning of an OT text
3. parable--where an author takes an OT text symbolically or allegorically

Interestingly, many students take Hebrews 7 as prophetic, with Melchizedek as a prophecy about Christ. This usually is expressed in pre-modern terms where the texts are read in terms of the way it looks to me rather than from listening to what the texts themselves say (thus someone might see Melchizedek as a Christophany, something unsupported by the texts themselves but nevertheless a traditional Christian interpretation). I do think there is an element of prophetic midrash in Hebrews 7, but it is more subtle than this.

Certainly Genesis 14 is not prophetic on its own terms. Nothing in this text speaks of any future fulfillment. Hebrews 7 also does not explicitly speak of Genesis 14 as a prophecy fulfilled in Christ, even though it does relate Genesis 14 to a recent event.

The subtle element of prophetic midrash comes in the use of Psalm 110:4, which the author takes as implying that the messiah will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek. It thus implies for the author that the arrival of a Melchizedekian priest brings a change of priesthood. In that sense he does seem to take Psalm 110 as prophetic and thus probably implicitly considers Genesis 14 to be prophetic.

But the primary form of midrash in Hebrews 7 is paraphrase midrash. It expands on what a priest after the order of Melchizedek might be by exploring features of Genesis 14. It uses interpretive techniques like "it doesn't exist if it is not in the Torah."

It also has elements of parable midrash. The interpretation of Melchizedek's name and the name of the town of Salem are clearly allegorical, for example.

The Rise of the Independents?

Charlie Crist, as everyone will know, has gone independent in Florida. The political climate can change so quickly, who knows if the current conditions will continue for long. But I for one greet a world where we see more and more independents running and winning--whatever you might say of Crist's motives.

It feels like you have to be extreme in either party to win a primary these days. Bring on the sane independents, as far as I'm concerned!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wesley's "End of Christ's Coming"

Chris Bounds put me on to John Wesley's sermon, "The End (or purpose) of Christ's Coming" as a good place to see his breakdown of the image of God. I was looking for his sense of what the image of God in humanity consists of.

The sermon is quite interesting. Wesley's knowledge of Latin literature is impressive, which he quotes in Latin. He has the right understanding of Romans 7 as far as he goes ("Personating a man convinced of sin, but not conquering it").

He seems to demonstrate the "modern" sense of human will as found aptly in, for example, the philosophy of John Locke (Adam "was endued with a will, with various affections [which are only the will exerting itself in various ways]"). Augustine also of course talked about two wills, but not in terms of human understanding making choices, at least as I understand it. For Augustine these wills are a matter of God's choosing rather than ours.

His reading of the Genesis text is fully pre-modern a mirror reading of the text from within his own worldview, while at the same time incorporating the questions of old ("whence the origin of sin"). Important to realize that we often reinterpret the words of the ancients without realizing it, putting our thoughts into their words. So the comment that Satan "sinneth from the beginning" means that Satan was the first one to sin.

Wesley mentions two elements of the image of God in this sermon--the natural image and the moral image. I didn't find the political image in this sermon. Wesley includes within the natural image 1) understanding, 2) will, and 3) liberty. This framework seems decidedly impacted by the post-Cartesian paradigm shift.

The moral image has to do with the original "righteousness and true holiness" that Adam had and we have lost entirely apart from Christ. The political image is humanity's commission to rule the earth, impacted decidedly by the Fall.

In Genesis, I find only the third sense of the image of God, that humanity was intended to rule the creation as God rules His creation. In the NT, the image seems understandably to have a sense of reflecting the honor of God or the glory of God. I can't think of any places where it has anything to do with understanding, free will, or volition. I can't think off hand of any places where it has to do with an original moral righteousness either--this is all post-biblical expansion of Paul expanding on Genesis, for all I can tell.

These things are of interest to me, but I am more interested in how we today might conceptualize human beings as being in the image of God. The two key biblical senses of the phrase still seem most pertinent:

1) God has appointed us stewards of His creation. We are the most empowered of his creatures--which of course includes our greater understanding, our greater liberty, our greater sense of choices to make. We thus have the greatest responsibility among God's creatures.

2) Every human individual reflects the greatness of God. To harm any individual (here I am not speaking to issues of justice) is to mess with God's stuff.

I am the greatest of novices when it comes to image discussion after the New Testament. I welcome enlightenment of fundamental discussions I do not know.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Relationships in the Bible

The "original meaning scholar" inside of me always cringes a little when I read about Moses' relationship with God... or David's or Peter's or Paul's. Frankly, I have the same reaction when people talk about the relationships between the persons of the Trinity. The reason? These sorts of comments strike me as vastly anachronistic.

Six months ago I would have tried to explain this "feeling" I get in terms of ancient personalities being "dyadic" or group embedded. I might have suggested that the modern, introspective self traces back to the Romantics and in some ways back to Augustine, who individualized our understanding of Paul's writings.

Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self has been filling in some of the details. I wish I had the time to encapsulate his massive tome in detail. One of the main shifts that I blogged on a few weeks back is a shift from seeing truth as something out there that is part of the order of the world to seeing truth as something that my mind has to sort out by sifting through all the particular evidence of my reason and senses.

Inadvertantly, "I" become the center of the universe. I can still affirm that God is the center, but I am keenly aware that I am concluding that God is the center. Before I simply assumed God was the center unthinkingly. (I sense that Taylor will go Heideggerian on me at the end, but I'm no fan of Heidegger, meaning that I find this Cartesian situation unavoidable to some extent).

Eventually, individual identity becomes more and more particular to me. "I" become more and more self-defined, determined, and differentiated. It thus entails the eventual birth of modern intimacy, where my vastly increased in size self connects with your vastly increased in size self.

What I'm getting at is that pre-moderns did not have nearly as developed senses of themselves as individuals as so many of us do. And as a result, their relationships were not nearly as deep or complex as ours can be. It is not simply that "abba" did not mean "Daddy" in Aramaic (it didn't). I am saying that there really weren't any "Daddys" of the modern sort. Love between individuals did not have the kind of differentiated complexity--or post-Romantic age feeling--that we often have in the Western world. Go look at relationships in Africa or Asia if you want to know what biblical relationships were like.

Now of course the Trinity is a realm of absolutes beyond cultural contexts. The Trinity did not change their interrelationships after Descartes, as far as I know. But I'm not sure any of us mortals could really fathom what their absolute relationships would be like. Nevertheless, I predict that most of the trendy trinitarian stuff right now will be completely abandoned within twenty or thirty years. I suspect that an aweful lot of it is yet more of the post-Cartesian, post-Romantic projection of the modern self on God.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Criteria for a good paper...

I'm beginning to grade position papers for my Hebrews class, probably the last undergraduate class I will teach at IWU for the foreseeable future. I always reinvent the wheel. Here is the list of criteria I've respun for grading:

• Has good organization
• Has a thesis
• Grammar/spelling

• Difference between their world and our world
• Difference between individual books
• Understands literary context
• Understands historical-cultural context
• Understands how words work

• Fair to opposing viewpoints

• Shows research
• X-cellence factor

Am I missing anything?

N.T. Wright going to St. Andrews

I'll add my post to the many announcing that N. T. Wright is headed to St. Andrews, leaving his role as the Bishop of Durham. The announcement is here. St. Andrews had recently lost both Richard Bauckham and Bruce Longenecker, so this is a real coup for them. It is also a real coup for those who have been waiting on Wright's Paul book for 15 years.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Descartes and the Soul 2

I seem insufferably unable to write something on Descartes and the soul. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Here is an attempt.
Our current understanding of the soul probably has as much to do with René Descartes, the “father” of modern philosophy, as with the Bible or historic Christianity. Prior to Descartes, the soul was principally the seat of life, the life force. However, after Descartes the soul principally becomes the center of our thinking. The soul becomes the part of us where my “I” most truly resides. It becomes like a little escape pod with the real me in it, the part of me that detaches from my body at death and survives with my personality and memories intact.

We mentioned back in chapter 7 that people in the sixteen hundreds increasingly viewed the world as a machine that ran on its own according to natural laws. Before this time, people often saw the spiritual world as a material world like the physical world—only made up of much thinner material like ether or fire. So Descartes practically invented the distinction between the natural and the supernatural when he wrote the following:

"I am talking about 'nature' in a narrower sense than when it means the total of everything God has given me. In that meaning, nature includes things that only have to do with the mind (and I am not including those things when I use the word 'nature'). Descartes, Meditations 4 (2nd ed.)

Nature for him did not include the things of the mind or the soul, only the “narrower” sense of the machine of the world, governed by laws God had built into the world. The supernatural thus referred not to these sorts of material things but to immaterial things like God, angels, and the soul.

The core elements of Descartes’ understanding of the soul probably look very familiar, even though they are largely foreign to the Bible. For him the soul is the part of me that is truly me, the part that thinks, has my personality, holds my memories, and that survives death. Other aspects of Descartes’ view will seem a little more bizarre. For example, he thought the soul largely engaged the body at a little gland in the brain called the pineal gland. It was not truly attached there and Descartes struggled to figure out how it could so influence the body when it was not really connected.

However, as our understanding of the brain has advanced, we have found a physical basis for every element in Descartes’ soul. Anyone who has known someone with Alzheimer’s disease has witnessed how closely connected memory is with the physical ganglia of our brains. Tangle those neurons and the memory goes away. Most psychology courses at some time also mention Phineas Gage (1823-60) as an example of how closely related the front part of our brain is related to our personalities. Gage was apparently a hardworking and responsible individual prior to an accident in which a rod blew through the front of his brain. Afterwards, he was rude and used profanity, showing little self-control.

In other words, brain research can identify various parts of the brain involved in everything from emotions, to choices, to memories, to thinking, indeed to religious experiences. Of course the fact that these parts of the brain are involved in such things does not necessarily mean that we do not have a soul. It is simply to say that it is not clear that we need to resort to a soul to explain these things. Further, we know that messing with the brain also messes with our thinking, feeling, choosing and so forth. What role a soul might play in these functions is unclear. In the final section of this chapter we will discuss what a Christian perspective on a human being might look like with and without recourse to us having a soul.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Influence of Romans on Wesley

I have permission to post the final piece that I was working on when I posted this on Wesley and Romans. Here it is:
No one particular book of the Bible served as the center of Wesley’s thought. If we simply go by his standard sermons, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew gets the lion’s share. Nevertheless, nine of his first group of standard sermons were based on Romans, all of them focusing in some way on conversion. Together, they address 1) awakening to faith, the role of the law in making us aware of our inability to be righteous in our own power, 2) justification by faith, the idea that we become right with God only on the basis of our trust in Christ, and 3) the assurance of faith, confidence in our eternal destiny through the witness of the Holy Spirit with our spirit.

Awakening to Faith
Three of Wesley’s standard sermons deal with the question of the law in the progression of a person toward faith, based in Romans 7:12 and Romans 3:31. In his use of Romans 7, he surprisingly anticipates to a large degree the place to which contemporary scholars have only recently returned. Even in popular understanding today, it is extremely widespread for Christians to think that the latter part of Romans 7 refers to the inevitable struggle of the Christian with temptation: “what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (7:19). Few New Testament scholars today interpret Paul this way, since it requires us to ignore his entire train of thought from Romans 6 through Romans 8 (e.g., Rom. 6:17-18; 7:5-6; 8:1-4).

Wesley rightly understood that Paul is here talking about a person who is unable to keep the law because they do not have the Holy Spirit to empower them to do so. For Wesley, Paul refers to a person in the process of awakening to his or her sinfulness. Because they do not have the Holy Spirit, they are unable to keep the moral law. As we would expect, Wesley added some distinctively Christian elements to his interpretation that Paul probably was not thinking, and he makes Romans 7 a regular stop on every Christian’s pilgrimage. Yet the essence of his understanding is correct. The universal, timeless part of the Jewish Law is something we cannot keep in our own power, and God can use our powerlessness as a tool to awaken us to our condition, our need for God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s power. Once we have that grace and power, God expects us to keep this “moral” part of the Law (Rom. 3:31).

Justification by Faith
It was of course while hearing Luther’s preface to Romans at a Bible study on Aldersgate Street that Wesley had his famous heart-warming experience. He would later write of that moment that, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation.” The moment had been long in the making. Although the Anglican Church of his day was broadly Protestant, Wesley grew up largely with a sense that you tried to live a good life in order to be acceptable by God in the end. What he was missing was the fact that our initial acceptance before God is not something that we can bring about by our own goodness, that no amount of good and righteous deeds is sufficient to make us right with God.

It was this truth that God had so powerfully brought to Martin Luther in the early 1500s, the doctrine of “justification by faith.” Romans scholars today might question some of the specific interpretations of Luther and Wesley on specific verses, but their basic understanding of Paul is sound on this point. Paul taught that no human being can do enough good to be considered righteous or innocent in God’s eyes. For us to be in right standing with God, God must exercise grace, his willingness to accept us despite our sins. God decided to offer this grace on the basis of Christ’s death for our sins, and all God asks for us to receive this grace is our trust, our faith in Jesus as the exalted king he raised victoriously from the dead.

Assurance of Faith
Wesley’s journal of the Aldersgate event goes on to say, “an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This notion that you could know that you were right with God, that you could know you were converted, was perhaps Wesley’s key contribution to the flow of Christian theology. He did not get it from Luther but rather from his interaction with the Moravian, Peter Böhler. We are so used to this idea today that it is strange to realize how few Christians in Wesley’s day believed you could know for sure that you were “saved.”

Several of Wesley’s sermons from Romans reinforced this belief. His sermon on Romans 8:1 featured that we as Christians should no longer feel the condemnation of our past sins. Wesley’s sermon on Romans 8:16 focused on the witness of the Holy Spirit to us that we are indeed the children of God. One of his most interesting sermons was on the circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29) because Wesley first preached it before his Aldersgate experience and then he modified it after the experience. An added paragraph would point out to believers the “clear and cheerful confidence that their heart is upright toward God.”

So we see that while Wesley did not overly focus on Romans in his preaching and thinking, it played a fundamental role in his own conversion. It was while listening to Luther’s thoughts on Romans that the grand doctrines of justification by faith and the assurance of believers came together in his own thinking. It remained, however, for the nineteenth century holiness writers to hear in its words Wesley’s doctrine of entire sanctification.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Biblical-Theological Relationships

John Drury had an excellent probing of a post I did yesterday. I tend to emphasize the distinction between earlier meanings of biblical texts and later uses of them (NT use of OT, orthodoxy's use of NT). "What, however, is the appropriate conversation between the Bible and theology?" John probes. Surely we are more interested in the end with how the two connect rather than how they might separate.

Here's a first attempt at potential relationships between the Bible and Christian theology or, as I would put it, between earlier and later points in the flow of revelation:

1. A biblical meaning may be "mature" revelation on a certain point and thus equate to Christian theology.

  • The "pre-modern" interpreter usually assumes that all points of Scripture reflect fully mature Christian theology and perceives no distance at all between the biblical text and Christian theology. Moses, David, and Isaiah all understand about the Christ. The Trinity is in Genesis 1:27, etc.
  • The "covenantal" or dispensational interpreter usually has some sense of the development between the OT and NT but sees this not as a development of understanding but as a divinely intended implementation plan.
  • A contextual interpreter recognizes a real and substantial development in understanding that takes place between the testaments and even between the NT and full Christian orthodoxy.
  • Nevertheless, there are moments of "mature" revelation in the biblical texts. Faith in resurrection is barely present in the OT (Daniel 12) but arguably reaches a mature form in the NT.

2. An earlier meaning of a biblical text may be general, but "underdeveloped" in a sense that a later biblical text or later Christian theology "fills in" or provides greater specifics.

  • The OT arguably reaches a point of maturity on monotheism in the middle part of Isaiah where revelation has moved beyond henotheism. But such monotheism is still "underdeveloped" in relation to the trinitarian Christian understanding.
  • A passage like 2 Corinthians 13:13 mentions all three persons of the Trinity but does not specify the relationship between them. (I'm putting this here for illustration--it might go more under 3 and 4).

3. An earlier meaning may stand among other moment-points whose mean is on the kingdom trajectory but which in itself is not precisely on the kingdom trajectory.

  • The idea here is that prior to a doctrine reaching "maturity," there can be a sampling of revelatory moments that have elements of the kingdom trajectory but also elements in tension with the kingdom trajectory. Alternatively, we might have a text that is further along on the path toward mature doctrine than another.
  • A difficult example of this might be some of the NT Christology that played into the hands of sub-orthodox positions in the early Trinitarian and Christological debates. Paul clearly considers Christ to be subordinate to God, for example (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:28) and relating such verses to Christ's humanity (versus his divinity) introduces elements into the discussion completely foreign to Paul's own.

4. The wording of a biblical text may be subject to a polyvalence which, whatever it meant originally, can be reinterpreted in such a way as to fit with later revelation.

  • The Spirit danced with the polyvalence of any number of OT texts to reflect mature doctrine, such as when Acts 2 uses Psalm 16 in reference to Christ's resurrection, even though this was not at all the likely original meaning of the psalm.
  • Arguably the Spirit danced with the polyvalence of a number of OT and NT texts to reflect mature doctrine in the early church, such as the common sense that the "we" of Genesis 1:27 refers to the Trinity or the tendency to take "You are my Son, today I have begotten you" in relation to the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father.

5. An earlier meaning of a biblical text may be context-particular in a way that does not move forward on a kingdom trajectory.

  • Although in a very broad sense this might be a sub-category of three, we have in mind here accommodations God made to cultures and or moments in the flow of revelation that represent elements left behind rather than carried forward.
  • Those parts of the OT that not only do not know about resurrection but that actually argue against any meaningful afterlife (e.g., Job 14:12; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).
  • So God allows for divorce in Deut. 24, even though it turns out not to be his ideal. The same might be argued for God's accommodations to slavery and patriarchy within the biblical text, perhaps even the genocide of various races.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In and Out Hermeneutics

I don't know if it's helpful to you (you can tell me), but nice little ditty came to mind this week to try to explain the difference between inductive Bible study and default pre-modern way Scripture is used (and I might throw in here the postmodern way it is used in theological interpretation). We were talking about the book of Matthew at the time.

"What I see you doing in this assignment is bringing the book of Matthew into your world. Inductive Bible study aims to get you into Matthew's world."

What I was trying to say here is what I have said elsewhere about the fact that we inevitably provide most of the "glue" that holds the individual bits of the Bible together into a coherent whole. The question that sparked this comment was an assignment in which we were going through the Great Commission and asking questions of Matthew's text like "When does Jesus receive all authority in this text?" I was expecting to have a dialog over whether the resurrection that has just taken place has brought Jesus this authority.

But understandably we got into a theological discussion about Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. Thus the comment, we can easily find ourselves bringing the words of Matthew into our theological world. The much more difficult skill--and one that often does not come naturally or easily--is to be able to get into the world of Matthew, to read Matthew as it stands in its own right without blurring its thought with thought from elsewhere.

This gets back at the question of theological interpretation. To me, it's perfectly appropriate--but don't confuse it with the original meaning.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hays and Wright

Unfortunately I missed the Wheaton conference on N. T. Wright last week. There are some good reviews out there, particularly by Nijay Gupta and Michael Gorman. The key exchange was between Richard Hays and Tom Wright. Wright considers Hays too Barthian. Hays considers Wright too oriented around the historical.

Here is Gorman's summary.

Here is Gupta's summary.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To Get in Seminary...

Three times this morning I found myself giving feedback to students along the lines of "I would be very happy if by the time you graduate you know..." so I thought I would capture those three things here (there are more, but this is part of such a list):

1. A seminary graduate should be able to tell the difference between what one biblical text says and what another biblical text says and be able to distinguish between the two.

(So Matthew 28 says nothing about Paul's "over 500 brothers" in 1 Corinthians 15. Is this the same event? It could be, but make sure you understand Matthew in its own right before splicing things from other books into it. Matthew "knows" nothing about the 500 in its self-contained story)

2. A seminary graduate should be able to tell the difference between what a text actually says and interpretations that fill in gaps left by the text.

(This is closely related to the first one, but this one has more to do with the distinction between us as readers and the text, while the first one had to do with the distinction between one biblical text and another. Many legitimate Christian readings infer Trinitarian understandings into texts long before God unfolded those understandings in the first five centuries of the church)

3. A seminary graduate should know when they are reading a text "more than literally" and when they are reading it in its plain sense.

(So Moses' calling might be a model for God calling us, but this is a metaphorical use of the text, not something the text actually says).

Arminian Details

Thought I'd preserve some thoughts here in dialog with "Once a Wesleyan." We've had this discussion before, but I put my thoughts here so I can find them later:

1. OAW: There is no mystery whatsoever in the Arminian system as to why some people respond and some don’t. The reason that some respond and others don’t is that some are better/wiser or smarter. In the Arminian system the difference lies totally in the individual’s choice. (This is in contrast to the Biblical system where the difference lies totally in God’s choice.) Hence, in Arminianism, salvation is all to the individual’s glory for distinguishing themselves from those who were to stupid to choose correctly.

Ken: If God can create the world out of nothing, then He is certainly able to empower a person, by his prevenient grace, to reach the smallest point of volition ex nihilo, a point of the barest will either to remain depraved as they are or to signify ever so slightly a desire for more grace... leading to God's empowerment to signify a desire for more grace still. Would you suggest that God is not clever enough to figure out how to do this, to empower totally depraved humanity to begin to make a choice?

Surely not. Surely you would suggest only that God does not wish to empower humanity to begin to make such a choice because you believe it would contradict His sovereignty. But if He could in theory, then it is not in any way absurd to suggest that a person might, under God's power, be able to reach the barest point of volition ex nihilo. Why some respond and others don't is a mystery, but so is creatio ex nihilo.

2. OAW: Now add to this that God knew before-hand that this was going to be the distinguishing factor between two people. And w/that observation we now have the mystery as to how the Arminians could say “God is love.” How can a loving God, know in advance all the evil decisions that will occur and still determine to create a world where all those evil decisions will come to pass?

Ken: The question of why God created the world knowing the world would rebel is a hard one, but the alternative that God orchestrates evil is not a better one. Indeed, that alternative results in such a heightened problem of evil that the better alternative would be that there simply is no God. If God orchestrates evil then He is as much an evil god as a good one and the basic categories of Christendom become meaningless. Christ on the cross becomes a game God is playing with himself.

The best alternative that keeps the fundamentals of Christianity intact is the suggestion that a world in which humans can choose, now by God's power after the Fall, between good and evil is a better world than one in which they are forced (predestined) to do one or the other. But if humans can make such choices, some will choose evil and evil will result.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Law Upheld (3)

Final installment of the piece...
So Paul certainly wanted his Jewish and Gentile audiences to conclude that the Gentiles did not need to keep the parts of the Law that related to specifically Jewish practices like circumcision (e.g., Gal. 5:2). With regard to Jews, he insisted that they should not keep purity rules that divided the body of Christ, such as when Peter and Barnabas stopped eating with Gentile believers at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-13). In this sense, he no longer considered himself to be under the Law, even though he was a Jew (1 Cor. 9:20).

Nevertheless, Paul saw the Christian as still being under Christ’s law (1 Cor. 9:21), what later Christians would call the “moral” law. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he affirmed that Christians could now keep the “righteous requirements” of the Law. They were not “under Law,” which for Paul implied being under the power of Sin and the curse of sinfulness. They were now empowered, “set free from sin” and now “slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:18).

So do we “nullify the law by this faith” (Rom. 3:31)? “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” We now keep the “moral” essence of the Law through the power of the Spirit. We do not “sin because we are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:15). Rather, we “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (6:12). In a strange paradox, Paul affirmed that it is only when we are not under the Law that we can actually keep its righteous requirements.

Not Under Law (2)

Paul mentions several functions that the Jewish Law had in the story of salvation. One is that it informed Jews of exactly what God’s expectations were (7:7). At the same time, it demonstrated to those same well-intentioned Jews that they were unable to meet those expectations (7:14-15). The Law was like a child’s guardian, who taught Israel until it was old enough not to need the instructor anymore (Gal. 3:24). The coming of Christ points to that “maturity” in the story of salvation.

Paul even considered the Jewish Law to be the “power” of Sin (1 Cor. 15:56). Knowing the Law somehow seemed to aggravate the situation. The power of Sin over weak, human flesh seemed to thrive in the face of the Law (Rom. 7:13). The very fact of knowing God’s expectations seemed to make it even harder not to fail them.

When Paul speaks in such terms, he generally had in mind a part of the Jewish Law that later Christians would call the “moral law.” Here we refer to basic dos and don’ts like not killing or coveting or committing sexual immorality. What is confusing to us is that Paul also used the word Law to refer to other parts of the Jewish Law that later Christians would call the “ceremonial” law. This part of the Law included things like what Jews could not eat, touch, or wear. For Paul the Jew, the Law was of one piece, and so he used the same word for both parts of the Law. It is thus no wonder how much confusion and variation in interpretation we find out there!

So it is true that Paul did not believe a person could “earn” a right standing with God. He taught that all had sinned and that no one deserved God’s favor. But we would argue that this valid Protestant point was not really the focus of Paul’s own arguments. For Paul, the main issue he was facing was not faith versus works but Jew versus Gentile. Most of the time when Paul said that “works of Law” could not make anyone right with God (e.g., Rom. 3:28), he arguably was primarily picturing in his mind the parts that most separated Jew from Gentile—the “ceremonial” parts.

After all, it was the question of whether Jew and Gentile believer could eat together that sparked Paul’s teaching on this subject in Galatians. Romans 4 goes on to talk about Abraham’s circumcision as the main illustration in Romans. Paul’s basic point was that specifically Jewish practices like circumcision or food laws did not earn Jews any more of a right standing with God than the standing Gentiles started out having.

What is thus confusing about Paul’s argument is that he is saying two slightly different things when he said believers were not under the Law. In part he was arguing that Gentile believers did not have to worry about things like circumcision or food laws. But in part he was also saying that the power of Sin over us through the Law was done so that through the Spirit we might actually keep its basic moral expectations.

Law and Faith Introduction

Take 2 (for Take 1, click here):
Romans 3:31 is one of those verses that sounds so strange to us that we are prone to skip right over it: "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." Wait a minute--is Paul not known for saying that we are "not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14)? Does not even Ephesians 2:15 say that Christ has "abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances"? Did Paul really say that we do not nullify the law after we have faith but in fact uphold it?!

This is a thorny issue indeed and one that different Christian groups have interpreted differently over the years. We face two extremes on either side of the issue. On the one side are those who lock on to verses like this one and others (e.g., Matt. 5:17) and do not see clearly enough how the new covenant has transformed our use of Old Testament Law. These individuals face the perils of legalism and the mistake of trying to earn God's favor.

On the other side are those who see no place for "law" in the Christian life at all. They are not perfect, just forgiven. They do not expect to see any real difference between the way they live and the way unbelievers live. They are just thankful that God does not care what they do in life, only that they have asked him at least once in their lives for his forgiveness.

Paul steered a careful course on this question in Romans. On the one hand, he surely has the Jewish Law primarily in view--what other law would a Jew be thinking of at that time? However, he wandered from talking about parts of the Jewish Law that were very Jew-specific (e.g., circumcision) to parts that he believed still applied to everyone (e.g., sexual prohibitions). Not only that, but he wandered from talking about the Law as a standard by which a Jew was once measured before Christ—and one to which no one could measure up—to the Law as a standard to which a believer could attain through the power of the Holy Spirit. Carefully distinguishing between these different ways Paul talked about law helps us make sense of his seemingly conflicting arguments.

More to come...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Righteousness of God (3:21-26)

Working on another small writing assignment. When what I had in mind as the first section hit 500 words (a little less than half the allotted words) I realized I can't use any of the below. Oh well, here it is for you, whoever you are... :-)
Romans 3:21-26 is the very heart of Romans. These six, extremely thick theological verses present in a nutshell both the problem Paul discusses in the first three chapters (1:18-3:20), as well the solution he discusses to the end of Romans 4. The problem is that “all have sinned” (3:23). We thus should expect the wrath of God to come on us when he soon judges the world (1:18). However, God has graciously provided a solution: first, he offered Jesus as a kind of “sacrifice of atonement” for our sins (3:25); second, he asks for our faith in the risen Christ as our sovereign Lord. God will consider us righteous if we only trust in what he has done for us through Messiah Jesus.

The Righteousness of God
One of the disadvantages of reading the Bible in English is that you sometimes miss aspects of the text that you cannot really see in English. For example, some variation on the root for "righteous" appears seven times in Romans 3:21-26, even though the NIV only uses the word righteousness (dikaiosyne) twice (3:21-22). What you cannot see in English is that the word justified (dikaioo) comes from the same root (3:24, 26), as does the word just in 3:26 (dikaios). Even more interestingly, the word for justice in 3:25 and 26 is the very same word the NIV translates as righteousness in 3:21-22.

The NIV was of course translated right before a new era in the study of Paul exploded, leading to a great deal of clarity on exactly what Paul was saying in these verses. For one, it is now generally realized that the phrase, "the righteousness of God" almost certainly would have immediately made any first century Jewish audience think of God's righteousness, the fact that God is a God who always comes through, who always keeps his promises. His character is well known, as is his love for his people. He brings justice for sure, but he also is a God of great mercy and salvation.

The "righteousness of God" that is revealed apart from the Jewish Law (3:21) is thus in part God showing a new way he is walking with the world in justice and mercy--a way that by-passes the Jewish Law. This new way involves God's offering of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice (3:25), whose blood provides redemption for our sins. It is understandable that the NIV focuses on the justice side of God's righteousness in 3:25 and 26, because Christ's offering demonstrates that God is in fact a just God. Even if God could have simply let us off the hook for our sins by divine command, his offering of Christ as a sacrifice certainly demonstrates that he stands for justice as well as mercy.

However, it is also possible that Paul had a double meaning in mind when he used the phrase "the righteousness of God" here, in fact that he was also thinking of something like the way Luther and Wesley took Romans 3:21. They took Paul to be speaking of a new way for us humans to become righteous that did not involve us keeping the law. Paul almost certainly was first thinking of God's righteousness, but he does go on to speak of our righteousness, that is, a way for us to be considered righteous or innocent in God's eyes. Even though we have sinned, we can be "justified freely" (3:26) because of God's gracious mercy he is offering through Jesus.

Paul thus has two "righteousnesses" in view in this passage, the righteousness of God himself, demonstrated in both his mercy and justice. The second is the righteous status ("not guilty," "innocent") he confers on us through Jesus Christ.

Properly Wesleyan Activism

Activism is one of David Bebbington's 4 pillars of evangelicalism. Of course, as a Wesleyan, I'm not too bothered whether we are "properly" evangelical or not. We are what we are. If the (neo)evangelicals want to call us evangelicals, fine. I'm not going to sweat too much if they don't want us in the club.

Ideas have a tendency to simmer in my mind for a while. Then, something happens to coalesce them, and I have my position or decision. That happened a few minutes ago doing my homework from Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self, in particular, his chapter titled, "God Loveth Adverbs." This chapter talks about some of the forces that have led the Western world to consider all "callings" in life to be of the same value to God. God is only interested in the "adverbs" of your work in life--how you do it and why you do it--not what you do. This is a post-Reformation perspective.

If you have followed my thought on what we might call, for lack of a better word, moral activism, you have seen my sense that Wesleyan activism, properly so called, would seem to focus on activism for others rather than activism against sin. To be sure, the legalistic phase of the Wesleyan Church in particular (second half of the twentieth century) focused on activism against sin, with the image of "Achan in the camp" a characteristic theme.

Since this approach has enjoyed the better part of a century within the Wesleyan movement, I can hardly say it is unWesleyan. I do today, however, wish to categorize it as what I call "Calvino-Wesleyan." By this I mean to say that it represents more the influence of the Calvinist tradition on us than an intrinsically Wesleyan-Arminian approach.

These excerpts from Taylor solidified my thinking here:

"Calvinist activism is not really paradoxical or even hard to understand. It would indeed be paradoxical if activism were meant to bring about the salvation of those whose lives were thus reordered...

"... while humans can do nothing to bring about reconciliation, the reconciled person feels the imperative need to repair the disorder of things, to put them right again in God's plan... To the Calvinist, it seemed self-evident that the properly regenerate person would above all be appalled at the offence done to God in a sinful, disordered world; and that therefore one of his foremost aims would be to put this right, to clean up the human mess of at least to mitigate the tremendous continuing insult done to God.

"That is why there is no contradiction in a Calvinist church order seeking to control the behaviour even of the unregenerate. If the aim were to effect their salvation, this would of course be senseless. Nothing can save these foreknown to damnation. But this is not the goal. The purpose is rather to combat a disorder which continuously stinks in God's nostrils" (228).

From a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, however, the Calvinist has a defective understanding both of God's sovereignty and God's love. God has allowed humans to defy and disobey Him in the meantime. There will be a judgment, a final reckoning to be sure. But God is "big enough" to handle disobedience in the meantime (unlike the immature God of some forms of Calvinism who throws a hissy fit at the smallest sign of disobedience--a model that has had immensely ill effect on the parenting of those within its influence).

Some forms of this model have a defective theology of the OT, one that takes some of God's actions without consideration of the place of some of its teaching in the flow of salvation history. It also ignores the distinction even then between God's wrath toward impurity (which is certainly there is certain parts) and God's wrath toward oppression.

All of this is to say that a properly Wesleyan activism is overwhelmingly directed toward stopping oppression and promoting righteousness. It is an activism that is for slaves, for women, for the unborn, for the disempowered in all their forms. It is for economic health It is for moving the sinner toward righteousness. This is something quite different from trying to make sure that the sinner is punished or even that sin is stopped when that sin does not clearly harm others.

The application of this activism can certainly become tricky. For example, properly Wesleyan activism is not oriented around making sure an illegal immigrant is caught and punished. The properly Wesleyan concern is for the basic health and welfare of the illegal and their family, and the law of the land can handle the question of justice. Systemic consequences are difficult to predict. It may certainly be the case some times that maintaining the system will do more benefit for others than helping a specific individual case. But we get the suspicion that those who oppose helping individuals for this reason are often only using such answers as an excuse.

I'll largely leave it at that for now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Debates over History

Woke up to an article on the history textbooks in Texas in Inside Higher Ed. Here are some excerpts from the article:

"About 800 college history professors from across the country have so far signed on to a letter circulated this week by seven academics from the University of Texas campuses in Austin and El Paso.

"The letter says that some board revisions undermine 'the study of the social sciences in our public schools by misrepresenting and even distorting the historical record and the functioning of American society.'

"The signatories mostly teach at Texas schools — including Baylor University, Texas A&M University and Abilene Christian University — but also come from out-of-state colleges such as Stanford University, Brigham Young University and the Virginia Military Institute.

"'You can quibble for and against this person or that event," said Emilio Zamora , a UT history professor. "But what is most important and glaring is that this revision does not come close to reflecting the state of historical research on the state of Texas.'"

Certainly "liberals" can be guilty of exactly the same thing. My hunch on what's happening here? Another example of American anti-intellectualism, what Mark Noll called the "scandal of the evangelical mind." It is a distrust of those most qualified to draw conclusions on a particular issue. Again, in the words of Jack Handy, "Sometimes I wonder if the experts might actually be experts."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leadership and the Gentile Mission

If you want to know the kind of integration we are doing at Wesley Seminary, here is a vidcast lecture I did for the online leadership course. Students then evaluate the lecture. Do they agree or disagree with my analysis? What are some additional or different insights they might draw?

Here is the link:

I like the Constitution...

What I Like About the Constitution, by Ken Schenck :-)

1. The Preamble
This is a lovely eighteenth century social contract, literally entered by its signers and by the states that ratified it. Following Rousseau's sense of "tacit consent," all those who live within our borders (legal and illegal alike), implicitly agree to the contract. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." If you do not wish to abide by the contract, leave or face consequences.

I like the fact that the social contract is entered for the benefit of everyone in the society rather than for a certain privileged few. It is entered for the "general welfare," for the "common defense," to "secure the blessings of liberty." This implies that the government serves to guard these values. It also implies that no one has absolute freedom but we willingly surrender a modicum of our freedom for the mutual benefits of the union.

2. Division of Powers
I like the fact that our system of government combines the best of previous government in a balance of powers. The executive office provides the benefits of a monarchy without the potential detriment of a tyrant. The 22nd amendment was an excellent modification of the possibility that a president might be so continually reelected that he or she in effect becomes a king. I like that amendment!

The legislative branch provides the benefits of "rule by a few good individuals," the original meaning of the word aristocracy. At the same time, these individuals are elected by the populace, ensuring the benefits of a democracy. But these individuals and the president represent, which means they do not have to follow the whims of the fickle populace when they know it to be against the people's own best interest.

The judicial branch is a wonderful arbiter of the social contract. I love that Supreme Court justices are for life and so are relatively insulated from politics. I like the way the membership of the Supreme Court has a tendency to even out over time because of the interchange of presidents with opposing points of view.

I love the fact that no one of these bodies has autonomy over the others.

3. I love that the Congress has two bodies, one of which gives equal representation to the states and the other of which gives proportional representation.

4. I love that the 14th amendment took out the part about slaves being 3/5 a person and not counting "Indians."

5. I like that the house initiates impeachment but the Senate tries it (balance of powers).

6. I like that the president can veto and that the Congress can overturn the veto with a 2/3 vote.
7. I like the powers Congress has, which include the authority to raise taxes for the general welfare of the United States. I'm not too tickled about the 16th amendment, which allows for income taxes, but I accept it as necessary to "promote the general welfare."

You and I know something they did not, indeed, which was not really recognized until after President Reagan, namely, that high taxes are in general bad for the overall economy.

8. I like that the Constitution is amendable! They knew it might need changed and that there would be new issues that would require addressing. History has proven them right.

9. I like the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments, because this keeps us from being a ultilitarian country that is only interested in the greatest good for the greatest number. We are instead a "universal egoist" society that looks for the greatest good for all individuals by protecting individuals from instances where the greater good might harm a specific individual. The rules are set up for the general good while preventing individual harm.

10. I like that Congress cannot establish a particular religion as the religion of the country (as well as that all the states eventually severed their ties with specific forms of Christianity). History demonstrates that the wed-ding of specific religion with government often results in persecution or war (Thirty Years War). As an Arminian, I like a government that allows individuals freedom to chose God or not to chose God, remembering that the basic social contract does not allow us to harm each other.

I also agree that this is not the same as the kind of "separation of church and state" sometimes advocated today. It means that the state cannot favor any one religion over another, not that the state must try to be completely a-religious and certainly not anti-religious.

11. The 13th Amendment
There were many honorable southerners in the Civil War (e.g., Robert E. Lee) and no doubt many northerners were not paragons of virtue. However, those in the south who 1) refused to free and mainstream their slaves and who 2) argued that their states rights superceded the power of the federal government in such matters were in my opinion wrong. Perhaps more to the point, that interpretation of the Constitution lost the war. End of story.

I thus reject out of hand much of the current rhetoric that is reminiscent of the pre-Civil War South. It is tantamount to treason and cannot be tolerated if it moves beyond the realm of rhetoric. It is anti-Constitution despite its rhetoric of the Constitution.

12. The 15th and 19th Amendment (blacks and women can vote)
It is worth reminding ourselves that these amendments represent the "progressive" causes of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

To the researchers of the future, my detractors on this blog are actually nice people. They're just children of our age, as am I. :-)

13. The 21st Amendment (repeal of prohibition)
I like that amendments can be repealed. This is a warning that any attempt to impose on others an ethic that does not involve basic harm of others will lose in the long term.

Things I don't like
1. The electoral college. It should go.

2. I have serious reservations about the way the second amendment has recently been interpreted. I have no problem as long as it is not interpreted to prohibit serious regulation and prohibition of weapons in contexts where they are completely unnecessary and far more likely to result in harm. Nevertheless, this amendment is largely an artifact of another day and is a little like the OT prohibition against wearing clothing of mixed thread.

3. The jury system as currently practiced seems seriously flawed. Your peers are unreliable. We would do better to have some sort of mixed system such as they have recently enacted in Japan.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Birth of Presuppositionalism

I have long conceptionalized the transition from pre-modern to modernist interpretation of the Bible. Most Christians, indeed most pastors, even church leaders, even Christian professors often use language like, "the Bible says" when in fact they are offering a Christian position that may only tangentially relate to the original meanings of individual passages.

Charles Taylor has this week added a good deal of depth to the phenomenon to which I am referring. I am thinking here in particular of the transition that Descartes represents between seeing an order and truth structure inherent in the universe and a paradigm that starts with particular truths and builds up toward universal truths. This provides depth of hermeneutical understanding in two directions:

1. It clarifies my "atomistic" approach to biblical interpretation. Descartes' quest for certainty ended up breaking down truth into individual truth claims. In terms of meaning, Wittgenstein embodies the end of this trajectory. I can't see any other approach to meaning that makes any sense at all but his. Meaning is a function of how words are used in particular contexts. Common meaning is not a matter of universal meanings that play themselves out in different situations. Common meaning is a matter of the overlap between word use in one context and word use in another.

Any sense of "the Bible says" is thus by the very nature of language at least in some discontinuity with the individual meanings of specific passages. It can also be in continuity with those meanings. The point is that meanings are always context specific, and common meaning implies commonality between contexts, not different instances of universal meanings.

2. The "pre-modern," although the Enlightenment commenced over three hundred years ago, still sees the meaning of the Bible as something that is out there, like the order of the world that those before Descartes saw. Descartes' attempt to find certainty by questioning all he could question exposed that there was little basis for vast amounts of what people saw as the intrinsic order of the world.

This is similar to the way the Bible is commonly used by layperson and from the pulpit alike. There a broad assumption that we know what "the Bible" says, just as before Descartes people thought they knew what the order of the universe was. Indeed, the person who knows what "the Bible" says may be able to weave an impressive pastiche of quotations together that seems superficially to go together because of common words or words that in our context make sense together (cf. Wesley).

Nevertheless, deeper exploration frequently reveals a particularity to the individual passages in question that reveals that the order found is not so much a function of the text as of the interpreter. This is particularly the case when doctrines only hammered out centuries later are seen intimately in the text (e.g., the Trinity). We are unaware of the massive amounts of "glue" that comes from us rather than from the biblical texts themselves.

3. The movement from pre-modern unreflectivity to modernist (semi) reflectivity can be quite troubling. You feel like the rug is pulled out from under you. Contextual interpretation is often compelling and the interpreter feels stupid, exposed. You had never noticed that Genesis never actually says that Moses was its author or that Exodus through Deuteronomy all talk about Moses (including his death), not as if Moses was the author himself.

One of the best responses to the uncertainty Descartes and Enlightenment heirs like Locke and Hume bequeathed on us is what I am calling presuppositionalism. In its own way, Scottish (common sense) realism is a kind of presuppositionalism. It presupposes that what we see is what we get, regardless of the fact that we can question what we see. This works well when a philosopher is asking arcane questions like whether the table in front of us is real or not. It also has fed a certain rampant American anti-intellectualism that laughs at the intelligent as stupid ("nerd," "geek") and considers a person suspect if they are actually an expert on something (global warming, etc.).

Reformed presuppositionalism is, in my view, the most ingenious response to this ideological situation. On the one hand, I think recourse to presuppositions is the appropriate response. The fundamental problem with Cartesian doubt is that reason and experience simply cannot put the Humpty Dumpty of faith back together again. Revelation is an essential ingredient in the equation, and this is not something discovered but something, well, revealed.

The question is how large our presuppositions should be and how subject to revision they are. In my opinion, the extent to which some Reformed presuppositionalists go makes their conclusions incredulous to all but those few who are already convinced of their viewpoint. Most crucially, they do not allow their presuppositions to be revised in the light of particular data. If the atomism of the Enlightenment makes it difficult to find overarching truth, the presuppositionalism of this sort hangs in air without any apparent basis whatsoever. Their system is thus unconvincing to any but the "elect," a cipher for those who stumble upon their tribe by birth or happenstance.

And so the balance is best found in language that goes back to Augustine, "faith seeking understanding." There is no reason not to begin our epistemological pilgrimages wherever we happen to start. If we start with a Wesleyan faith, a Baptist faith, etc, we have no compelling reason not to start with the faith that we have. Few will end with faith if they start from scratch--that is not the path to take.

But the version of faith with which we start should be revisable in the light of particulars. Otherwise, there is no clear connection between our faith and the truth. It would seem to be a reasonable presupposition that faith will correspond in at least a general way with reason and experience. This is not to say that the evidence demands a verdict, an opposite extreme, only that it will surely be in the ballpark.

Once one truly understands how to interpret individual passages of the Bible in context, one is no longer able to go back to exactly the same way Christians read the Bible before the Enlightenment. Contextual meaning is too compelling. To read passages in the old way is still possible, but only by reading those texts in a "more than literal" way or by placing the words in a slightly different, Christian reading context. I have argued for this hermeneutic elsewhere.

What one can no longer do is think that the overarching Christian meaning inheres in the text itself, as those before Descartes saw a particular order inhering in the world. What we can have is an overarching Christian faith (that we have inherited from the saints of the ages) that involves a reading of Scripture as a whole (with new meanings from this "new" Christian context) that is in various degrees of continuity and discontinuity with the countless original meanings of specific passages.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Descartes and the Soul 1

I don't want to take the time to write it up this morning but maybe I can at least get my juices going by jotting down some thoughts on Descartes and the soul.

1. First, there is the shift from viewing the soul as material to viewing it as immaterial. This shift goes along with the invention, so to speak, of nature by Descartes. This is the dividing up of the world into natural and supernatural, the material and the immaterial. Before creation was more of a continuous spectrum from embodied to thin, disembodied material (cf. Dale Martin).

2. Descartes letters to the princess of Holland, where she takes him to task--how can the immaterial have an effect on the material? He suggests maybe it is something like gravity. He locates the soul in the pineal gland. The body is a machine (Treatise of Man, Passions of the Soul). Thoughts are formed in the pineal gland:

Even though the soul is joined to the whole body, "nevertheless there is a certain part of the body where it exercises its functions more particularly than in all the others... The part of the body in which the soul directly exercises its functions is not the heart at all, or the whole of the brain. It is rather the innermost part of the brain, which is a certain very small gland situated in the middle of the brain's substance and suspended above the passage through which the spirits in the brain's anterior cavities communicate with those in its posterior cavities. The slightest movements on the part of this gland may alter very greatly the course of these spirits, and conversely any change, however slight, taking place in the course of the spirits may do much to change the movements of the gland" (Passions of the Soul).

3. Passions can affect the soul. Prior to him only the soul affected the body, not the other way as well.

4. Soul is simple and indivisible, potentially infallible in its detachment from the material world, able to look on objectively.

5. Descartes represents a shift from seeing the soul as the principal of life to the principal of thought. The soul becomes the seat of the "I." This leads to an introspective trajectory for Western culture.

I may add more notes today as thoughts occur...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wesley and Romans

I took an assignment that frankly is a bit of a stretch for me, but I'll give it my best shot. It's the influence of Romans on Wesley. I thought I'd take some notes here. I might add that the next installment of A Great Time for the Wesleyan Tradition is now on the seminary Dean's blog.

1. The starting point is surely Aldersgate, May 24, 1738. Wesley had been wrestling with the idea that you could be assured you were saved. "In the evening I went quite unwillingly to a society on Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." (Wesley's Journal).

Bud Bence pointed me to the part of the Preface to which he thinks Wesley is referring. It reads, "Faith is the divine work in us. It changes us and makes us born anew of God... Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure, so certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God's grace makes us glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all his creatures: and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith."

Romans was thus key to Wesley's belief not only in justification by faith (which he took from Luther) but also in the assurance of faith (which he took from the Moravians and experienced through Luther's idea of justification by faith).

2. Nine of the 44 standard sermons Wesley published in 1746, 48, 50, and 60 were on Romans. These sermons are roughly laid out along the lines of Wesley's ordo salutis, the order of salvation. Interestingly, the sermons on Romans congeal around issues relating to justification and assurance, as well as awakening and the law. Romans does not here feature in relation to Wesley's doctrine of entire sanctification.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wesley's dating of NT books

Came across Wesley's thoughts on the dating of Paul's letters--very interesting!
"As to the time wherein he wrote his epistles, it is probable he wrote about the year of Christ, according to the common reckoning,

48 From Corinth, The Epistle to the Thessalonians.
49 From Phrygia, To the Galatians.
52 From Ephesus, The First to the Corinthians.
From Troas, The First Epistle to Timothy.
From Macedonia,The Second to the Corinthians,
and that to Titus.
From Corinth, To the Romans.
57 From Rome, To the Philippians, to Philemon,
the Ephesians, and Colossians.
63 From Italy, To the Hebrews.
66 From Rome, The Second to Timothy

"As to the general epistles, it seems, St. James wrote a little before his death, which was A. D. 63. St. Peter, who was martyred in the year 67, wrote his latter epistle a little before his death, and not long after his former. St. Jude wrote after him, when the mystery of iniquity was gaining ground swiftly. St. John is believed to have wrote all his epistles a little before his departure. The Revelation he wrote A. D. 96. "

Very interesting. Paul dates Galatians after 1 Thessalonians and obviously believed that Paul died after he appeared before Nero the first time.

God-Inspired Constitution

I was struck by this line in an article on the local Tea Party movement: So and so "called the Constitution a document derived from divine inspiration that is being manipulated, destroyed and ignored by presiding politicians."

Now I know reporters get things wrong. They often seem to miss fine distinctions that are very important to the people they are interviewing or they stereotype the person they are interviewing. But if this is even close to accurate, it is also close to blasphemy.

I love the Constitution because I think the Enlightenment brought immense benefits to the Western world. The notion of a societal social contract, of inalienable individual rights, of the dispassionate quest for truth, of individual liberty, of laissez-faire economics, these are all products of the Enlightenment, associated with names like Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, Smith, and Bentham.

They also can stand in serious tension with Christian values and must be carefully balanced and reigned in from Christian perspective. How about that slaves being 3/5 of a person thing, was that divinely inspired? Should we get rid of the amendments to the Constitution, because anyone who adds or takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, well, you know.

Here's the bottom line: God comes before country--if you really believe in Him. If you don't believe in God and want to worship the Constitution, you're a little weird (and in danger of hell fire), but at least you're more coherent. I love the Constitution, but I think I'll stand back from wherever you're standing.

P.S. The Constitution also allows for taxes (so does the Bible--which commands its audiences to pay them).

P.S.S. And you have representation (the Bible doesn't care whether you have representation when it says to pay them).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Schenck the Modern

The infamous Monday reading group at IWU (okay, so we're not really that well known) is finishing up this semester dabbling in Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self. It is a somewhat dense book for we lightweights, but most are persisting. I have received a couple F's for not having my homework done.

The book does a fair job of articulating some of my thinking in relation to modernism and, perhaps even more helpful, has helped give me some categories for understanding some of those I come into most conflict with on the blog and on the Facebook edition of these posts.

I have usually described the difference between myself and my detractors as the difference between pre-modern and modern. Forget post-modern. I am far more modern than post-modern.

Of course Descartes and the Enlightenment are the boogiemen right now. I actually think they get the credit for the great advances of Western culture. I feel like they more need some crucial footnotes than anything like a return to what was before. So, yes, there is no such thing as the completely detached observer of Descartes. But it sure would help the world if we all at least tried to be.

We're reading chapter 11, "Inner Nature," for Monday, and something just clicked for me relative to some recent debates. Prior to Descartes, it was assumed that truth was a characteristic of the world, in the world out there. I'm not quite putting it clearly, but perhaps an example will help. Taylor suggests that one reason the theory of evolution was difficult for people when it came out was because of the concept of extinction. If the universe embodies truth, then something can't go extinct because that would be like a truth going away.

That's still not quite clear, is it. Another example is melancholy, which used to be associated with black bile in the body. "On the earlier view, black bile doesn't just cause melancholy; meloncholy somehow resides in it... black bile is melancholy" (189).

I have grown up, I think, with the Cartesian model, and I think this is why it is so hard for me even to make sense of some of the things my discussion partners say. I attribute this to their being unreflective, pre-modern, but this is obviously language that places a judgment on their ability to reason. I will need to reflect more carefully on how to bridge my language with them.

To use an example that has not come up in discussion, I generally have trouble making sense of the following statement: "There is a moral structure to the universe." I don't know what such a statement would mean. Where? Is there a gene in my DNA? Is it hiding behind Orion's belt?

For me, God has a will regarding morality. Yes, the consequences of certain actions will tend to lead to certain bad consequences. But this is completely modern thinking. It is something completely different from the pre-modern view, which somehow sees moral structure as somehow in the universe. I have no idea what this even means.

Another example is a recent speaker on campus who suggested that the literal meaning of marriage might be the wedding of Christ with the church and that specific human marriages are metaphors that point to it. I have great difficulty even making sense of such a statement. The idea of the bride of Christ is the barest sliver in the New Testament. So this suggestion is that in God's mind, before the foundation of the world, He designed human marriage to point to the ultimate marriage of the church to Christ.

This is an interesting idea, but seems a quite peculiar suggestion, mainly because I wonder how many Christians throughout history have received this revelation, let alone any OT individuals! There have been millions of marriages since the foundation of the world, and how many dozen have realized the symbolism of their union?! Clearly the normal sense of the world marriage is the union of a man and a woman to live together their lives long and perhaps have children. At least in terms of our experience (including the first New Testament individual to whom the idea of the bride of Christ first occurred), the notion of the bride of Christ is a new truth based on transferring language from its normal use to a different context.

In short, to consider the normal use of marriage as the metaphor requires us to know things in God's mind that we simply don't know, indeed, that the overwhelming majority of Christians have not known. The idea is not spelled out in Scripture, meaning that must be secret insight into God's mind to be true, brought to us on the lips of prophets.

But Taylor helps me understand. Before Descartes, it was perfectly normal thinking to see the particulars of our existence (like marriage) as reflections of the inherent order of the world (marriage of the church to Christ). After Descartes, we build up to the universals from the particulars by establishing common ground between the particulars.

I have not explained things well. Perhaps in future discussion I will have opportunity to point out examples. I am simply unable to think that black bile is melancholy, that melancholy inheres in bile. I believe that God has a moral will for the creation. I cannot make sense of the statement that the universe has a moral structure.

Reformed Evangelicalism

Mike Bird is a conservative evangelical--but he is Australian. That means that he shares the same conservative view of Scripture as the American Evangelical Theological Society, but he does not have the same cultural influences. I have generally found evangelical scholars like him as a good self-check on factors in American evangelicalism that are more cultural than enduring.

In any case, you can see his assessment of the American Reformed evangelical OT situation after the firing of an evangelical pillar, Bruce Waltke, from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. I don't know Bruce but I don't think anyone thinks of him as a trouble maker. He certainly won't have any problem getting another job. From the standpoint of his evangelical scholarship, his firing is puzzling. From the standpoint of truth politics, it is not surprising.

There is definitely a hard core Reformed backlash in play, 7 point Calvinism, villification of N. T. Wright. Good grief, John Piper even got in trouble for inviting Rick Warren to a conference.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Events, what's the meaning,
Meaning, what's the significance,
Denotation, what's the connotation,
Facts, what's the value?
Body, what's the spirit,
Existence, what's the essence?
Things fall apart,
Vanity of Vanities.
Mystery of mysteries,
Things come together.
Creation out of nothing,
Dust and breath, a living soul,
Being there in complexity,
Infinite horizons meeting,
By whom, with whom, in the unity of the Spirit,
One God.

Answers from Jim Garlow

I received a nice response from Jim Garlow to some questions I posted in a comment under another post in relation to his approach to the current American situation. He gave me permission to post his thoughts on the questions I raised. You might pray for him right now as he is currently focused on the violence in Mexico!
KEN: 1. Is Garlow's agenda too closely aligned with the Republican party?

JIM: Well - for starters, ask me. :-) Answer: No – not at all. My confidence is totally in the Gospel of Christ. That was the whole point. Political parties CANNOT save us. No candidate can save us.

My concern: alignment with the Scriptures. I will, however, function within whatever party that gives me the greatest voice for and identification with Christ. If, for example, the Democratic Party or one of the Independent Parties would give me a greater voice for Christ than say, the Republican party, I would join them today. My allegiance is to Christ. While we don’t need to be “too closely aligned” with any party, I wish the parties were (due to fierce commitments to Christ as Lord) were more closely aligned with biblical constructs.

KEN: Is he able properly to distinguish between his legitimate views on immigration, taxation, etc. and points on which Christians might genuinely disagree?

JIM: I sure desire to. Am sorting out many of these myself…which I have found to be an arduous task. I think there is a “range” of bona fide Christian views on these. I would be honored for you to help me on this. Your expertise would be welcomed.

KEN: Although he located himself with Niebuhr's fifth approach--Christ the transformer of culture, he feels much more like Christ over culture, civil religion that blurs Christian with particular cultural values.

JIM: No – I disdain the “Christ over culture” model. It cannot draw in the human heart. It only coerces.

Re: civil religion: I did lots of study of “culture religion” in grad school. (At one point I was accepted to do my doctorate on that topic under Franklin Littell at Temple University, then I switched to Drew U. Will Herberg was THE expert on that topic at Drew U. Altho I changed my focus to another topic, I ended up writing many papers on this.)

No – “civil religion” is lethal to biblical proclamation. I find it offensive to the Gospel. However, it is possible to affirm America’s “exceptionalism” (clearly defined) without confusing America as the kingdom of God.

KEN: 2. Is the OT prophetic model the appropriate model? This is a model that aims at the purity of Israel and the purgation of all impurity from the land. Would not a New Testament model be more appropriate--God "gave them up" to the consequences of their sin. Caesar is Caesar; God is God.

JIM: Fair question….and one I wrestle with. I am cueing off of Eph 4:12 – were Christ is all 5 – including prophetic – and I believe the church is to function in all five realms/ offices / callings / anointings listed there. What intrigues me about this question is the unique “covenantal” aspect of America’s most sacred & binding founding legal documents. Quite an intriguing & fascinating study in itself – with implications beyond my ability to grasp yet.

KEN: 3. Is the "force the world to conform to Christian values" model properly Wesleyan-Arminian?

JIM: “Force?” –NO! We live in a democracy (or constitutional republic). People vote. Some issues win. Some issues lose. That is the nature of democracy.

If the population votes that something (w/i the scope of the Constitution) then that is not “force.” It is simply the nature of our US government.

To enforce marriage as being “one man/one woman” by a vote is not more coercive than if the election would have gone the other way.

If we want to use the word “force” that would apply to the left. For example: 31 states have voted on the definition of marriage. All 31 have voted in favor of traditional, natural marriage. Is that “force?” Nope. Just the people expressing themselves on the issue.

HOWEVER, the only states that have gay marriage were “forced” on them via court, court fiat, and in a couple cases – a legislature (by one vote) – AGAINST all polling – even in “liberal” northeastern states.

Desiring to see people vote for biblical values is not “coercive.” It is an election.

But far more important than election, the (second) reason that tens of thousands of Californians were on a 40 day fast together was so that the hearts of Californians would be drawn towards Christ & biblical values (without elections).

KEN: 4. Wesleyans were indeed involved in social action in the 1800s--against the enslavement of slaves and the lack of rights of women. We should have been advocates for civil rights in the 60s but were strangely silent. It is not clear to me, however, that the social actions that Garlow promotes are "for" anyone. They are a different prophetic model, the OT one I mentioned above.

JIM: Fighting for pre-born babies is not “for everyone?” Who is it not for? Affirming the definition of marriage as one man/one woman (adding to that the coercive results of same sex marriage) is a worthy cause, in my estimation.

KEN: 5. Will the net result of such activism actually be to turn people away from Christ. I doubt that we will attract any neutral person to Christ by Garlow's political stance, but we will almost certainly harden many away from Christ.

JIM: Possibly – which concerns me greatly. You may be right. I was VERY hesitant to take any stance – on any topic - for this very reason. However – that has NOT been the case for the very reasons I gave in the talk: investing personally & relationally with those who differ & are hostile to our values. I have found the relationships quite rewarding.

I have observed something though. Much of the “I don’t want to offend them (allegedly for the gospel)” is actually “I don’t want to be disliked, to be uncool, unchick, unhip.”

I am glad Orange Scott, LaRoy Sunderland and Luther Lee did not give too much thought to this, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Niemöller, etc.

Many ways to slice this issue, but we will agree that a healthy reverence (awe / fear) of God is more important than having the affirmation of humans.

Observationally, anecdotally and phenomenalogically, among some pastors that took the strongest pro Prop 8 stances here in CA (Miles McPherson, Jack Hibbs, Dudley Rutherford, etc) the gospel continues to be beautifully received in their churches.

KEN: Having said that, I am all for us standing up for the rights of preachers to preach the gospel and I support Garlow's positions on all the lawsuits he mentioned that have been brought against Christians. Those are battles I see as worth fighting.

JIM: Ken, that is at the core of most of what I said yesterday. Consider what was signed into law on Oct 28 – in the Hate Speech legislation that was tucked into the Defense Appropriations Bill.

I wish you could have been / could be here in the context of CA – with the implications for the Prop 8 trial that is going RIGHT NOW (US District Court - Judge Vaugh Walker [San Francisco]…then to the 9th Circuit [San Francisco] – and is going all the way to the US Supreme Court via Ted Olson/David Bois). When it gets there (it is predicted it will be there in about 2 yrs) – it could mandate gay marriage in the US – with one declaration – with all the (unintended?) consequences that I outlined (loss of parental rights / personally freedoms / religious liberties) that have been documented in several US states, much of Canada & all of Europe. That is a CURRENT politica and moral reality - now. Google it, if you can.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Christology of Hebrews

I am giving a lecture on the Christology of Hebrews tomorrow. It occurred to me I have never exactly done this. Here are my first draft PowerPoints.


  • "through whom God made the worlds" (1:3)
  • "You, O Lord, founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands" (1:10)
  • These may originally have had the connotations that Jesus was God's wisdom for the creation, but whatever their original connotations, the church would come to hear in them an expression of Christ as the agent of creation, the one through whom God literally made the universe.
  • Other possible allusions: "without father, without mother, without genealogy, neither having beginning of days nor end of life" (7:3); "Christ entering into the world said" (10:5)

  • "Since the children shared blood and flesh, he similarly partook of them" (2:14)
  • "He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might be a faithful and merciful high priest" (2:17).
  • "a body you prepared for me" (10:5)
Earthly life

  • "In the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and supplications to the One able to save him from death, with loud crying and tears, and he was heard because of his reverent fear" (5:7)
  • "He was tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin" (4:15).
  • "We see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while... that he might taste death for everyone" (2:9)

  • "... that he might destroy the one who has the power of death: the Devil" (2:14)
  • "When he had made a purification for sins, he sat on the right hand of Majesty" (1:3).
  • "... to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people" (2:17)
  • "it was fitting for the One for whom and through whom all things exist to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (2:10)
  • "having been made perfect, he became a cause of eternal salvation" (5:9)
  • "He entered into the Holies with his own blood" (9:12)/"through an eternal Spirit he offered himself to God" (9:14)
  • "with one sacrifice he has perfected forever those who come to be sanctified" (10:14)
  • "I will remember their sins no more, and where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin" (10:18)
  • "You have come to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant, and to sprinkled blood that speaks better than Abel" (12:24)
  • "Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his blood" (13:12).

High Priesthood

  • "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (5:6, 10; 7)
  • "He takes away the first to establish the second" (10:9); "For when there is a change of priesthood, there is a change of Law as well" (7:12).
  • "it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens" (7:26)
  • "he always lives to make intercession for them" (7:25)
  • "God of peace brought him up from the dead our Lord Jesus" (13:20)
  • "we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens" (4:14)
  • "he did not enter into handmade Holies but into heaven itself (9:24)
Exaltation and Session
  • "You are my Son; today I have begotten you" (1:5; 5:5)
  • "Your throne, O God, are forever and ever. Therefore GOD, your God, has anointed you." (1:8)
  • "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for his feet" (1:13)
Second Coming
  • "So he will appear a second time... to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (9:28).

Jim Garlow on campus

Jim Garlow was on campus today both to speak in chapel and to speak for a Pastor's Enrichment luncheon. Garlow is pastor of the largest Wesleyan church in San Diego and has been very active politically. He has recently joined Newt Gingrich on a tour called the Third Great Awakening.

Whatever you think of his politics, you cannot know him without recognizing his genuineness and the fact that he has the best interests of individuals and the nation in view. He is part of a strong organization to mobilize to fight what he calls neo-paganism in American culture.

He is at war. He is not hateful or malicious, but he is at war. He has an organized plan to fight for America.

I have serious questions about both his approach and his exegesis, although I do not fault his character. I fear his approach will do more harm than good, but perhaps I just do not see accurately the state we are in or what needs to be done. I end the day somewhat discouraged.

Gupta's review of ESV Study Bible

I just noticed Nijay Gupta's review of the ESV Study Bible. I've been leaning toward using the NRSV too in my writing. We'll see what the revision of the NIV turns out to be. I was shifting to the TNIV in my writing, but I guess it's a gonner.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hebrews and Hermeneutics

I was reminded in Hebrews class again today of the complete inadequacy of the older evangelical hermeneutical paradigm. It was not wrong on the original meaning (although it frequently cheated with its own method). It was wrong rather about its canons of application (e.g., the vastly inadequate Fee and Stuart motto--it can't mean something it never meant).

The use of Psalm 40 in Hebrews 10 is an excellent case in point because it foils all the coping mechanisms of the older paradigm.

For example, it is clear that the original meaning of Psalm 40 was not about Jesus. Psalm 40:13 mentions the iniquities of the psalmist. In the original meaning of the psalm, therefore, Psalm 40:6-8 were not Jesus speaking but the psalmist speaking.

Secondly, the original meaning surely was not meant to do away with sacrifices entirely any more than the critiques of Psalm 51, Isaiah 1, Micah 6, or Jeremiah 7 were (unless you want to say that these verses contradict Leviticus at the very core). When Hebrews reads these words on the lips of Jesus as an indication that his death does away with the sacrificial system, this is a quite significantly different meaning than the passage had originally.

The author of Hebrews, as it were, lifts a section of this psalm from its context on the lips of David (as he would have likely read it) and figuratively places it on the lips of Jesus as he enters the world. I say figuratively because are we really to suppose that the author pictures Jesus literally saying these words as he descends through the clouds? It seems more likely that the author is simply expressing the purpose of Jesus taking on a body.

Perhaps the most interesting point is that the author of Hebrews is making his point from the Greek translation of the OT which reads differently from the original Hebrew. The Hebrew says, "my ears you have opened." The Greek reads, "a body you have prepared." We therefore face a choice. Are we going to accept that inspiration is not limited to the original meaning--indeed to the original text--or is inspiration of the biblical authors a spiritual task that was not limited by the historical or the original meaning?

By the way, this phenomenon also legitimates textual criticism and deconstructs a King James only perspective. Both texts can't be original. If a KJV person considers the reading of Hebrews 10 original, then its version of Psalm 40 is not original. But if a KJV person considers the reading of Psalm 40 original than its version of Hebrews 10 is not original.

Closing a Chapter 2

Dear Romans 1

... Then we have about a ten year period where we know very little of what Paul was doing. Acts and Galatians indicate he was back in his home country, a region on the southeast side of modern day Turkey known as Cilicia. Finally, he was drawn to one of the most active Christian cities at the time, second only to Jerusalem. It was from Antioch in the northernmost part of Syria that Paul launched his missionary journeys recorded in Acts.

His so called first missionary journey took him and a coworker named Barnabas to the island of Cyprus then to the southcentral part of Turkey, or Asia Minor, as it was known at the time. Although we do not think so, many evangelicals believe that Paul wrote Galatians just after this trip. His "second" journey then took him to Greece for the first time, in the very early 50s. He would spend about two years in and around the city of Corinth. It was on this trip that most scholars think Paul wrote his first surviving letter, the one we call 1 Thessalonians. He may also have written 2 Thessalonians at this same time, a letter we will look at in chapter 6 of this book.

The mid-50s then saw Paul's "third" missionary journey, during which he spent about three years around the city of Ephesus. It was from here that he wrote 1 Corinthians and two other letters to Corinth that have not survived. Although many disagree, we also date Galatians to this period, as well as Philippians, suggesting that Paul's stay at Ephesus ended with an imprisonment that is not recorded in Acts. Paul then wrote 2 Corinthians not long after leaving the city, on his way around the northernmost part of Greece on his way back to Corinth.

We ended the first volume of this series there, with Paul on his way to Corinth again. He had first visited the city around the years AD50-52. He alludes to another visit in 2 Corinthians 13:1 that is not recorded in Acts. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 indicate that part of his trip to Corinth this time, perhaps his final time, was the taking of an offering for the less fortunate of Jerusalem Christianity. It is generally agreed that it was on this third trip to the city that Paul wrote Romans, the most complete expression of his theology.

We wonder if a comment in Romans 15 reveals a great deal of Paul's situation as he writes: "there is no more place for me to work in these regions" (Rom. 15:23). We know from 2 Corinthians 10-13 that Paul was still having conflict with the Corinthian church. He had earlier sent them a harsh letter from Ephesus, one perhaps so harsh that neither Paul nor the Corinthians preserved it. 2 Corinthians ends unsure of what Paul will find when he gets to the city (2 Cor. 12:21). It is striking that Acts 20:4 does not mention anyone from Corinth accompanying him on his way to Jerusalem with the offering he had raised for the poor.

It is also striking that Paul does not go back into the city of Ephesus on this final trip (Acts 20:16). If Paul ended his time there in imprisonment--if his brunt with death in 2 Corinthians 1:8 and Philippians 1:20-25 refers to this time--then Paul had even more reason to by-pass the city than simply being in a hurry. Paul's words in Romans, "there is no more place for me to work in these regions," may thus be full of pathos. He writes unable to return to Ephesus and its region. He has an uneasy presence at Corinth. Certainly he had many opponents in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21:20-22) and perhaps even still at Antioch (cf. Gal. 2:11-13).

The long and short of it is that Romans seems to close one chapter of Paul's mission as he looks toward another. Paul is a church planter, not a long term pastor (Rom. 15:20-21), and he did not feel called to preach to Jews, but to non-Jews, Gentiles (e.g., Gal. 2:7-8; Rom. 15:16-18). The door had closed shut for Paul in Asia Minor and in Greece. He now looked west, to Rome and on to Spain.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Dear Romans... (1)

Today my series, "A Great Time for the Wesleyan Tradition," begins on the seminary blog. Here, I think it's time to start thinking about my second Paul volume, Paul: Soldier of Peace. It will cover the rest of the Pauline corpus: Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus. Way behind on many things, but here it begins...
1.1 Closing a Chapter
Paul had never been to Rome. He had often wanted to go there (Rom. 1:13), but he had been very busy for at least a decade starting and establishing churches all around Greece and what we now call Turkey. He writes his best known and arguably most magnificent letter to Rome at the end of what we call his "third missionary journey." The year is perhaps as late as AD58.

He probably wrote Romans from Corinth, in southern Greece. We know he was there because Romans 16 is a letter of recommendation he apparently sent at the same time. The woman he recommends, Phoebe, was a deacon of the Eastern port city of Corinth, a place called Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). So it is generally agreed that he was in Corinth when he wrote Romans. [1]

By the time he wrote Romans, Paul had confessed Jesus as his master for about twenty-five years. Before he believed, he had actually persecuted csome early Christians. He had been a Pharisee, who put special emphasis on strictly keeping the Jewish Law. He may have thought that Jewish Christians only added to God's anger toward Israel in the way some of them disregarded the rules on how to stay pure. And since he worked for some of the leaders of Israel, he had the political power to cause problems for those Christians. [2]

But some time around the year AD33, the risen Jesus appeared to Paul, and he made a complete turn around. He went from someone insisting strongly that the boundaries separating Jew and Gentile be kept to someone who saw in Christ the breaking down of such barriers. He would begin getting into trouble almost immediately because of his preaching. Within three years (around AD36) he would find himself having to escape the city of Damascus (2 Cor. 11:32-33). He would not stay long in Jerusalem, possibly for the same reason (Acts 9:29-30).

Then we have about a ten year period where we know very little of what Paul was doing...

[more to come]

[1] It is not at all clear that Romans 16 was meant for Rome. The main reason to consider it written to Rome is that it is currently packaged with the rest of Romans, and we would want a good reason to speculate that this chapter went somewhere other than the rest of the letter. At the same time, the question of the original form is not one of how things look to us, but how it looked to them, the original audiences.

Four reasons point toward a different destination for Romans 16 than for the rest of the letter: 1) variations in the ancient copies of Romans, 2) the fact that Priscilla and Aquila were at Ephesus, not Rome, in the surrounding letters, 3) the fact that Paul knows so many people at a place he has never been, and 4) one of those he mentions was the first convert of Asia. We will discuss Romans 16 in chapter 4. It seems slightly more likely that it was meant for Ephesus rather than Rome.

[2] On the whole, we suspect Paul especially targeted Greek-speaking Jewish believers like those mentioned in Acts 6.