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Book Review: Labor of God

For my first proper book review in nearly five years, I figured I'd try something of manageable length, recent vintage, and high popularity, so I selected Labor of God: The Agony of the Cross as the Birth of the Church by Thomas Andrew Bennett. Including end notes it only stretches to 125 pages, but in that brief space Bennett clears the ground and then lays on us a novel metaphor for understanding the atonement.

Bennett begins the book noting how the ironic it is that we have completely lost the scandal of the cross. Atonement metaphors began as an attempt to make sense of the scandal. Now, the metaphors have become so worn that they no longer make sense of the atonement, they have anesthetized the cross of its power. Bennett seeks to reinvigorate our theology, "to more faithfully reckon God's agency in the death of an innocent rereckon its violence, to reinvestigate its purpose, to see it in a new logic, even a new telos" (p. 2 emphasis mine). The pro…
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1 Corinthians 7:25-40

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to give advice related to sex and marriage, now addressing the unmarried congregants. While he does not have a direct statement from the Lord to draw from, his advice is weighty given the position he has been granted by the Lord. If possible, he thought it better for single men among the Corinthians to remain that way for the time being. In all likelihood there was a recent or ongoing famine that made family life difficult, a famine which was a pointer to the end to which they were all awaiting.[1] Being overly concerned about familial concerns would detract from ones ability to be wholly devoted to the Lord, and during times of hardship that distraction is acute. There is nothing wrong with the decision to get married but staying single allows less divided devotion to the Lord. Paul applies this basic point to three categories of people: men engaged to previously unmarried women[2], previously unmarried women, and widows.

In both circumstanc…

1 Corinthians 7:17-24

You can read the text here.

Paul moves on, becoming more general in his discussion, making relative all human categorizations, and digressing slightly by showing application of his general principles to the issues of circumcision and slavery. Whether married, single, or in any other situation, Paul wants the Corinthians to avoid being enslaved by their circumstances.[1] Paul hammers this home with respect to two of the greatest divisions in his world, Jew/Gentile and slave/free.

Paul argues that circumcision or lack thereof is irrelevant as a distinction. What matters is obedience.[2] Similarly, God does not care whether one is slave or free.[3] If anything, slaves are on better footing in God's eyes. All each is called to, is service to God in the situation they are in. Additionally, at times it may have been tempting to try to gain status by enslaving oneself to an important person. The Corinthians ought not to do that. Status that matters comes from being in Christ, not from an…

How Often Should Married Couples Have Sex?

In my last post I commented on 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. In the first half of the passage Paul answers a query as to whether or not married couples should completely abstain from sex. In Roman culture, sex within marriage was not primarily about pleasure, it was about procreation. For men pleasure was pursued outside of marriage. However, for Paul, marriage was the only appropriate context for sex. Paul goes on to argue that, except for brief periods of prayer, couples should not abstain from sex, and to each spouse he grants sexual rights to the other's body.

Paul never gets specific, though. How often should married couples have sex? Part of me doesn't even want to attempt to discuss the question. I'm a man, and while I know how often I'd like to have sex, I don't know what the sexual experience of women is like. It seems likely to me that it's a much more deeply personal and vulnerable activity, having another person inside of you. Also, I think we need to appre…

1 Corinthians 7:1-16

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to discuss issues related to sex as he answers something from the Corinthian letter. Paul has just outlawed sex with prostitutes and other forms of sexual immorality.[1] This leaves sex within marriage only. Some in Corinth apparently felt that sex should be abstained from there as well. In Roman culture sex in marriage was generally not for pleasure, it was for procreation. The normal avenue for pleasure (for men) was with slaves, prostitutes, or others of lower status. [2] Some at Corinth felt that sex should be abstained from within marriage.[3] But Paul sees this is their only outlet, so he pushes back against this idea. Paul argues that, for both parties, permanent abstinence is a bad idea and gives each spouse exclusive rights over the body of the other.[4] Paul makes an exception that for a period of time they may abstain for the purpose of prayer. However, he notes that there is a risk even there that sexual urges may hinder their pra…

Commentary Revies: 1 and 2 Thessalonians

It has been quite some time since I've done a commentary review, and this one will be very short, but I do want to review three commentaries on 1 and 2 Thessalonians that I use heavily in 2016 and 2017. 1 and 2 Thessalonians have been covered extensively and don't take my choice of these three to use to mean they're necessarily the best on the market. I suspect that recent commentaries like Weima's and Boring's are as good or better (and of course Donfried's forthcoming volume). I just have not had the opportunity to look at them.

It was a close call, but my favorite commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians is the classic volume in the Anchor series by Abraham Mahlerbe. He provides a very detailed exegesis of the text as one would come to expect in any volume in the series. What makes this volume so helpful is the depth of engagement with Stoic philosophy, a topic on which Malherbe is better equipped than most New Testament scholars. While there were times where I d…

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to address issues related to sexual immorality in the church debunking some false conceptions that they seem to have that Paul expresses in a series of quotations in the first couple of verses. Now the starting and stopping point of the quotations is tricky to determine and I will go with Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner and re-punctuate the NRSV as follows:

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other.” The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 

Apparently the Corinthians believed that a) the body was transitory and b) their freedom from the Law meant they had no moral obligations in terms of bodily behaviors which extended as far as sexual behavior. In fact, the stomach is for food! Why bother having the…