Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Introduction and 2 Clement

As we noted at the end of our last paper, we start to see Christology develop in a different direction in the Gospel of John. The gospel is roughly contemporary with Revelation, which still seems to have a clear Messianic Christology. Towards the end of the first century, we are clearly seeing divergent Christologies.[1] There probably was diversity in belief even earlier, but no documentation of it has survived. Certainly in the second century, the diversity of beliefs increased and is better documented. Our goal in this paper is not to track down each variant belief and understand how it came to be. Instead we will focus on key figures and documents in the history of the church. We want to wrestle with the great minds of the church as they wrestled with the identity of Jesus. Specifically, we want to focus on how they developed what we found to be the key New Testament insight, that Jesus is the divine king. This will be our general methodological approach, to hear from our experts. Our path will be chronological, with our early focal points being 2 Clement, the works of Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus. From there we will move into Origen, Nicea, and Augustine. Then we will conclude with the Lombard and Aquinas before engaging reformation and post-reformation theologians (Calvin, Wesley, Schleiermacher, Newman, Barth, and von Balthasar) in our next paper.

The dating of Second Clement is an open question, but our best guess is that it probably dates to somewhere around the early-mid second century.[2] We bring it up not because of its importance to the growth of Christianity, but because it will serve as corroboration for the reading we laid out in our previous two papers. Christology is not something argued for in 2 Clement, rather it is argued from, it is conventional to its auditors,[3] which makes it all the more valuable as a witness to what was likely the dominant Christology of the early church. 2 Clement opens in 1:1 with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God, as judge of the living and the dead.”[4] This is a simple statement of functional equality, where Jesus is pictured as the eschatological judge.[5] The rest of 2 Clement assumes this fact and develops a series of ethical appeals on its basis.[6] Jesus’ status is morally foundational.[7]

Chapters 3-5 expand on this basic point. 3:1 plainly contrasts the Father with the dead gods that pagans sacrifice to. Jesus is then identified in verses 2 and following as God’s agent of salvation. Christians are to confess Jesus by doing what he says.[8] This all sounds very much like a king/subject relationship. This is made clear at the end of chapter 5; what Christ promises is, “rest in the coming kingdom and eternal life!” (5:5c). Again, it is important to note that Jesus’ role as divine king is fundamental for the unknown author of 2 Clement, and the whole thing still sounds very Jewish, or at least anchored to Jewish concepts and understandings of the Messiah and his kingdom. Justin Martyr holds a similar theology, and spells it out in more detail which will be good confirmation, again, of our thesis from the last paper.[9] We will see, though, some ways in which Justin is starting to innovate, and elements of his thought which may have begun the drift away from a Jewish Christology.


[1] If von Wahlde’s reconstruction of the Gospel of John is correct, we can probably even push it back into the 60s, into the second edition of the Gospel, See von Wahlde 2010 pp. 397-430 for a full discussion of Christology in the Gospel and Epistles of John.
[2] This is the well-reasoned opinion of Tuckett 2012. See his discussion on pp. 62-64. C.f., Holmes 2007 pp. 133-35.
[3] 2 Clement was likely a sermon of some sort. See Holmes 2007 p. 133 and Tuckett 2012 pp. 19-23.
[4] All quotations of 2 Clement will utilize the translation of Holmes 2007.
[5] Tuckett 2012 ad loc.
[6] Ibid.
[7] A point which will be developed fully in a series of papers further down the road.
[8] Ibid. 
[9] In fact, according to Hurtado 2003 p. 647, all proto-orthodox texts from the second century portray Jesus as a subordinate divine figure.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2 Thessalonians 3

You can read the text here.

Paul closes by continuing to encourage the Thessalonians to persevere. Paul, too, was facing opposition for proclaiming the name of Jesus. He requested their prayer that he would have success everywhere he went just as he had success among them and also that he would not be hindered by his opposition. The utmost of confidence is exuded by Paul that God will protect them just as he has been protected. Not only that, Paul is confident that God will work in their hearts to help them stand firm in fidelity and hope because they have the Spirit of the faithful Christ in them.

The last major piece of content in the letter is a warning about a certain type of idleness. For some unknown reason,[1] Some may be tempted to use the expectation of the end to live off of the generosity of others, especially if they were ministering or teaching in the community, but Paul adamantly opposes that and points to his own hard working example in contrast. If one is capable and has the opportunity, they should work, especially if they are going to be meddlesome in the absence of work.[2] Paul concludes this section with a carefully couched rebuke. Those who resist Paul's exhortation to work should not be supported by the community. They should be expelled, both to maintain clear boundaries for the community and for the sake of those who are errant. The goal is not permanent expulsion but correction and restoration.

Paul concludes wishing them peace, the thing they needed most given the trials they were going through. A peace that comes from the presence of the Lord, and on top of that, grace to sustain them.

[1] Both Malherbe and Fee are helpful at cautioning against drawing the conclusion that eschatological expectations led to the disorderliness/idleness.

[2] Disorderliness, not idleness is at issue her (pace the NRSV translation at this point) as Gaventa points out. Malherbe is very helpful in pointing out that this was the exact type of charge typically laid against philosophers.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Books of the Year: 2016

This year has been quite different in terms of my areas of emphasis in my reading. I spent a lot of time reading in both Early and Medieval theology. In many ways it was a strecth for me. I enjoy modern theology a bit and I really enjoy exegesis, but historical theology is a bit more challenging for me. I also have less background in those areas which makes it harder work to read and digest academic work in that field. It was quite productive for me, though and I learned a lot even if it was a work of perseverance at times. Now onto the list:

5. The Sentences Book 3 by Peter Lombard

The Lombard is a greatly underappreciated theologian, especially by Protestants. He was a very careful and thoughtful writer, and certainly far more than just a compiler of earlier opinions as has sometimes been claimed. One of the things I appreciate about him is that he is far more aware of the debt he owes to those came before him than many modern Protestants are. Having a long view of things gives him a better sense of where it is appropriate to be dogmatic and where one should be more cautious in one's opinion. It is only recently that the Sentences has become available in English. I highly recommend it.

Casey provides a very balanced (though at times vitriolic) critique of a number of different approaches to studying the historical Jesus. Throughout, his argument is careful and clearly presented. His primary historical criterion, the ability to reconstruct the saying plausibly in Aramaic is an interesting idea, as was his argument for a very early dating of Mark and its status as an incomplete rough-draft. Definitely a top tier book on the historical Jesus.

3. The Work of Theology by Stanley Hauerwas

In The Work of Theology, Hauerwas supplies us with an end of career look back at his own work and what he thinks is important for a theologian. A pleasant mix of personal reflection and theory made for an engaging and edifying read.

This was an absolutely wonderful book. It laid clear the major lines of Orthodox Trinitarian thought. It should be required reading for all serious students of theology and pastors, especially when there is so much controversy surrounding relations and subordination in the Trinity. Whether they are right or wrong, there is absolutely no doubt that individuals like Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem have deviated from the way the church in the following century interpreted Nicea.

1. Paul and the Gift by John Barclay

Barclay's book is a game changer in Pauline theology. His main point is to identify a lack of terminological precision in discussions of both Paul's and Early Judaism's understanding of grace and gifts. After clarifying that, he proceeds to make his own argument about how Paul discussed grace and gift in Galatians and Romans. He charts his own course, sure to fully satisfy no one, but hopefully sure to draw everyone back to a careful reading of the text.

Now for the books that came out in 2016 that I am most excited about but have not yet had the opportunity to read.

Hays is one of the best when it comes to the use of the OT in the NT, I hope this work proves to be every bit the classic his book on Paul is.

I have learned a lot about Paul from authors championing a thoroughly Jewish framework for understanding his letters. This should be another nice collection of essays.

3. Colossians by Paul Foster

Colossians has been well covered recently, but I think Foster's commentary could prove to be useful in the way it brings some of the results of recently archaeological investigation of Colossae to bear on the text.

Early Christian devotion to Jesus has been one of the major areas of focus in Early Christian Studies over the last decade. This is the first of four planned volumes and is pursuing a line of argument similar to what I have set forth in my section on Christology in my Exploring the Christian Way of Life series. I hope it deepens and enhances my understanding of how early Christians worshiped Jesus.

1. Romans by Richard Longenecker

Longenecker is a seasoned scholar and the brief time I spent leafing through the commentary really whet my appetite. In a few years from now I'll tackle Romans. I feel fortunate to have Longenecker's work by my side as I'm sure it'll prove a classic to stand next to Cranfield, Moo, Dunn, and Jewett.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2 Thessalonians 2

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to encourage the Thessalonian Christians. Apparently communication (oral or letter) had arrived in Paul's name claiming that the day of the Lord had come and gone or they had badly misunderstood 1 Thessalonians.[1] Either way, this shook the church and must have raised questions about why they were still facing persecution and had not yet been vindicated.[2] Paul claims the time had not come and gives his expectation of what must happen first. It seems clear to me that Paul expected it to come soon.[3]

Who did Paul have in mind when talking about this man of lawlessness? It sounds like Paul is talking about something concrete he is expecting to be done by someone alive at that time.[4] Whoever he is, Paul is expecting that he too will succumb to the power of the Messiah Jesus when he returns to judge. And so will all who follow him in his Satan led deception.[5]

Because of this, the Thessalonians have nothing to fear. God is on their side because they have received the Spirit that sanctifies them, which is God's proof of their election; a purposeful election - their glory. All they need to do is to hold fast in fidelity to what they were taught. Paul concludes wishing them comfort once more. The Thessalonians must have been truly shaken.

To expand on one point in the last paragraph a bit, there is a very clear pattern to salvation here. God's grace is prior to any activity on the part of the Thessalonians. God's grace also empowers them to live lives of holiness. However, nowhere is there any suggestion that there is no requirement on the Thessalonians for their final vindication. They are clearly charged with cooperating with God's grace both in trust and by living in accordance with God's rule, in a word, fidelity. The whole passage makes clear that those who are loyal to God will be saved on the day or judgment, while those who rebel against him will parish. It does leave one wondering what will happen to those "in the middle," but we need to be careful not to go beyond what Paul actually is trying to argue here.

[1] Fee has a nice overview of the possibilities here.

[2] I think Occam's razor requires this solution to what troubled them given the information that we actually have (i.e., 2 Thes. 1). This conclusion is in line with Fee's interpretation as well.

[3] Do we also have to wrestle with failed prophecy given that it didn't happen soon (and the temple was destroyed)? Gaventa pushes back against the claim that the reference to the temple here is necessarily the temple in Jerusalem, but if Paul indeed is the author, the temple was still standing and seems the most likely referent. See the discussion in Malherbe for the range of possible interpretations.

[4] Though see Malherbe for the argument that Paul is drawing on Daniel.

[5] Malherbe argues well that God's activity here follows/is a consequence of resisting him. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

2 Thessalonians 1

I have a small gap in my reading/study/writing schedule, so I've decided to slot 2 Thessalonians in. I'm planning to cover the whole book in three posts, hopefully all before the end of the year.

You can read the text here.

Paul [1] opens his second letter to the Thessalonians with a wish of grace before going into his customary thanksgiving section. He has much to be thankful for. The Thessalonians are growing, especially in their love for one another and their faith/faithfulness/fidelity.[2] Standing firm in their commitment was not easy given the persecution they faced. They are a church in need of encouragement, so Paul affirms them, essentially calling their witness exemplary.

Next, Paul goes on to offer further encouragement, here offering hope for a beleaguered church in the final judgment. There are a couple of points of emphasis.[3] First is that the judgment of God is just, or in keeping with people's deeds. Those who persecuted the Thessalonians would receive appropriate condemnation from Jesus on the last day because of their opposition to him.[4] Second we need to remember that this reminder is given by Paul to help them to stand firm in their faithfulness. Steadfastness through persecution prepares them for salvation and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate costly loyalty to God. In exchange, God will avenge them on the last day, and they just needed to stay on course.

This section concludes with Paul moving into a description of his constant prayer for the Thessalonians. He wants them to remain faithful to the end so that they are rewarded by God for their fidelity,[5] and to that end he prays for God to continue to bestow the grace needed to sustain them. What does God get out of this arrangement? Glory, as the Thessalonians honor him with their lives.

[1] I feel reasonably confident that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians. See, e.g., the extended discussion in Malherbe.

[2] I think it's hard to know what exact nuance is intended here, but I typically prefer fidelity (a concept which encompasses faith and faithfulness) unless there is a clear reason to limit the scope to on or the other. In vs. 3, Fee and Gaventa leans towards 'faithfulness' while Malherbe opts for 'faith.' Given the inclusio formed by vs. 11 I prefer either faithfulness or fidelity. I lean towards the latter especially given the emphasis on steadfastness in the following verse and the rest of the chapter.

[3] I think the challenge for any Pauline interpreter is to stick to his points of emphasis and try not to develop his thought beyond that.

[4] Fee makes clear that the emphasis is not on God as avenger as it is on the judged getting their due. As for the nature of the judgment to say much more than it is catastrophic and a complete separation from God is reading too much into the text. It could fit either annihilation or eternal conscious punishment depending on what one brings to the text or emphasizes within it. I would issue similar warnings about those who completely generalize vs. 8. The goal of this text is too specific to warrant a broad generalization here. In intense passages rhetorical overplays to make a point are common.

[5] Judgment according to works is at play again here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

End of Summer Review/Update

The school year is now upon us and I'll definitely not be posting the next two months. This summer didn't quite go to plan so I didn't get to do the blogging I was hoping to do. Specifically I was planning on blogging through 2 Thessalonians, but that didn't happen. It may happen late in the fall, but we will see. I may instead decide to pick up a different Pauline letter (perhaps 2 Corinthians). This is my last year of school  and by the fall of next year I should be back on a more regular blogging schedule.

A lack of blogging was not from a lack of productivity (although I'm sure my Pokemon Go playing did cut into my reading time a little bit). I've had a interesting summer learning about Medieval Christianity and specifically focusing on Peter Lombard and Thomas Aqunias. They'll both be featured in my next paper in Exploring the Christian Way which I hope to publish here in late January of 2017. 90% of the reading and 80% of the writing is done for that paper. I'll say in advance I definitely think the Medieval period gets treated unfairly by Protestants, in particular, I thoroughly enjoyed what I read of the Lombard. He was a very gifted theologian.

Finally, I have to express my extreme disappointment in the news that came out today, that Eerdmans was withdrawing three commentaries by Peter T. O'Brien over plagiarism. I owned both his Philippians and Ephesians commentaries. I will be following the refund process with Eerdmans and disposing of my volumes. Even though I believe them to be valuable resources (though not irreplaceable), O'Brien should pay a price for his dishonesty. I applaud Eerdmans for their integrity in this case.

Monday, May 16, 2016

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

You can read the text here. This is the final post in my brief foray into 1 Thessalonians.

The opening verses of this closing section are a little tricky. Who is Paul talking about? Is he thinking of leaders in the church or not? Certainly nothing in the text forces it to refer to leaders. In some senses it's hard to imagine there being formal leadership in place given that Paul had to leave so quickly after founding the church in Thessalonica and that he wrote this letter soon afterward. However, that may be because we're in a different situation where there's never a church comprised solely of new Christians. That question is hard to adjudicate. One wonders how important the question really is when Paul's comments clearly cover anyone performing certain functions.

In any regard, Paul tackles the topic of mutual edification,[1] beginning by urging the Thessalonians to show appreciation for the service of those in the community who teach and care for them. Paul's location outside the community makes this exhortation easier to make. He also is concerned that no one in the community make life difficult on those trying to build up the community, so he encourages the community as a whole to engage in ministry aimed at helping the weak and disorderly[2] become productive and not destructive members of the community. And when one does act destructively, forgiveness and generosity must ensue so that no cycles of evil and unforgiveness are formed.

The community is Paul's focus throughout this passage so we should avoid an unnecessary narrowing of focus in making vv. 16-18 about personal exhortations. Paul is trying to hammer home the need for persistent prayer by and for the community that rejoices in all that God has done for them.

His last major exhortation surrounds prophecy. Clearly from passages like these, 1 Cor 14, and Acts 11 it's clear that prophecy was a common phenomenon in the early church. It is no surprise that there were abuses of it and that Paul felt the need to lay groundwork. Prophecy was a good thing and benefited the community and should not be muzzled. However, after hearing the word it is the responsibility of the community to sift the message keeping the good and discarding the bad.[3]

Paul closes with a blessing and a few final comments as is appropriate given the overall friendly tone of the letter and the previous section. In its essence, the blessing is about the spiritual wholeness of the church, which again is fitting given the previous exhortation. The end result being vindication for those who participate in the holy body when Jesus returns.[4]

Thankfully, Paul requested this letter be read to the whole congregation which must have played a role in its preservation, bringing God's grace not only to the Thessalonians, but to as as well.

[1] That is Malherbe's way of summarizing verses 12-15.
[2] Disorderly or disruptive would be a better translation than idle according to Malherbe, Fee, and Gaventa.
[3] Gaventa makes this point very well.
[4] Fee draws out very helpfully where the text is addressing the community as a whole and as individuals.