Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sin a History - Part 2: The Metaphor of Sin as Debt and the New Testament

When we see that the primary metaphor for sin in the second temple period was sin as a debt owed to God, our understanding of several New Testament passages is clarified. For example, we now understand more clearly why the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew has the line, ‘forgive us our debts.’ In Greek, ‘debts’ has no notion of sin attached to it. However that translation makes sense as a literal rendering of what Jesus said, especially considering that Matthew was probably written to a Jewish audience (and Luke’s translation of ‘forgive us our sins’ would be clearer to the non-Jewish that he wrote to). This also clarifies why Jesus chooses the theme of debt in his parable of the unmerciful servant.

An even more significant clarification comes related to Colossians 2:13-14, ‘13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.’ (TNIV). There has been much debate about the identity of the ‘charge of our legal indebtedness’ of verse 14. The NIV has ‘written code’ probably referring to the Mosaic Law and the NRSV has, simply, ‘record’ which probably has in view a list of sins kept by God. If sin is best understood as a debt before God, then the scale is tipped decisively in favor of ‘charge of our legal indebtedness.’ On the cross, Christ made satisfaction for our debt before God.

Given this understanding of sin as a debt, it’s not hard to imagine that almsgiving could be seen as a positive thing to counteract debt by amassing treasure in heaven. We find that this is precisely the case in the rabbis and early Christian literature. This is grounded in the assumption that almsgiving is an expression of one’s faith in God, that he will reward for the good done in this life. This impinges interestingly on the New Testament in a few spots, one of which Anderson examines at length (167-178); the story of the rich young man as found in Mark 10:17-30. Anderson tackles three major questions related to the story and we’ll look at one of them by citing Anderson at length:
The second question concerned why Jesus felt the need to add another commandment to the six he drew from the Ten Commandments in order to see whether the young man was worthy of the Kingdom of God. To answer this, recall the opening line of m. Peah, which I paraphrase: “These are the commandments that have no fixed level of observance.” If one of the distinctive features of almsgiving is the opportunity to distinguish oneself through generosity, then it is not surprising that Jesus would advise a prospective disciple to do just that. As the text recounts, the young man was able to keep the “second table” with seemingly little effort. After all, it is not that difficult to abstain from murder, adultery, theft, and fraud. But Jesus was looking for an additional command that would allow the man’s true love for God to surface. And almsgiving was just such a command (177).
How much one is willing to give to the poor, especially if you are wealthy was used as a gauge to see how much you love and trust God. This then clarifies why Paul is exhorted by the apostles not to forget the poor (Gal. 2:10) and why the collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem was so important to Paul as shown by the amount of time and emotion spent in 2 Cor. 8-9 to try to get the Corinthians to participate (and also shows why, compared to Paul, they had such a blasé attitude about the collection, since almsgiving was of little importance in Greco-Roman society in comparison to Judaism and early Christianity).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Galatians 1:11-12 and the Overall Argument in Galatians

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any human source, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (TNIV)
These two verses are the main thesis that Paul argues from here through the end of chapter 2. The Teachers claimed that Paul had been taught the gospel by the apostles in Jerusalem and that he was guilty of abbreviating the gospel that he had received by either (depending on how you come down on the New Perspective on Paul – an issue we’ll address later in Galatians) not requiring the Gentiles to follow the Mosaic Law or not requiring Gentiles to become like ethnic Jews by not forcing them to be circumcised and follow sabbath and food laws. Luther grasped the force of the Teachers arguments well:
They were saying that Paul was inferior to the rest of the apostles’ followers, who had received what they taught from the apostles; they had also observed their behavior for a long time, and Paul had received the same things from them, they claimed…Why then would the Galatians choose to obey an inferior authority and despise that of the apostles themselves, who were the prime elders and teachers not only of the Galatians but also of all the churches throughout the whole world? (Luther p. 57).
Many would have found such a claim to be very persuasive. However, it was not the truth. Paul contradicts the Teachers, stating that what he received was a revelation of Jesus Christ. [1] It did not come via any human agency. The crucified and risen Christ himself was revealed to Paul on the Damascus road. That was the source of Paul’s knowledge of the gospel. In the following sections Paul will develop this thought more.

[1] Pace the TNIV and following Hays (p. 211) I take the genitive ‘of Jesus Christ’ as an objective genitive on the basis of vs. 16.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Inhabiting the Cruciform God

This book review was previously published at Jesus Creed

Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology is a very provocative work from the pen of Michael Gorman. Over the span of the book he unpacks two major ideas, justification by co-crucifixion (JCC) and that cruciformity is theosis (becoming like God).

In his introduction, Gorman presents his main claim, that cruciformity is theoformity (2) and alerts us to the path that he will take in support. Along the way he begins to lay the groundwork by stressing the importance of ‘participation in Christ’ for Paul (3-7) and giving it a new twist. ‘For Paul, to be one with Christ is to be one with God; to be like Christ is to be like God; to be in Christ is to be in God’ (4). At the end of the introduction, Gorman gives his full definition of theosis, ‘Theosis is transformative participation in the kenotic, cruciform character of God through Spirit-enabled conformity to the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected/glorified Christ’ (7).

The first main chapter is a detailed analysis of Philippians 2:6-11, the hymn that Gorman calls, ‘Paul’s master story’ (12). He makes a key observation when discussing verses 6-8, noting an ‘although x, not y, but z,’ pattern. Although Jesus was God (in status) he did not exploit that status, instead he emptied and humbled himself (11, 16-20). The next move Gorman makes is very interesting. He analyzes the Greek word, hyparchōn, translated ‘although,’ and concludes that while lexically ‘although’ seems to be the best translation, it also carries ‘because’ as part of its meaning (20-25). Thus, the pattern Gorman identified earlier, ‘although x, not y, but z can also be rendered, ‘because x, not y, but z.’ Because Jesus was God he did not use his status for his own advantage, but emptied and humbled himself. Jesus’ emptying and humiliation, including his death on the cross, revealed what it means for Jesus to be God. It was the way in which Jesus most truly and fully exercised what it meant for him to be equal with God, turning the normal notion of divinity on its head (25). Gorman claims, that, far from being an emptying of divinity, the incarnation and the cross show us that the core attribute of God is humble self-giving. Another important claim of Gorman’s is the popular one, that Paul expresses his gospel in counter-imperial terms, that calling Jesus ‘Lord’ was in direct opposition to Caesar’s claim to be ‘Lord.’(12, 15).

Towards the end of the chapter, Gorman provides some reflections on the theological implications of his conclusions. Key for him is that theology and ethics are inseparable. Our union with God will cause us to reflect his cruciform character in the way we relate to the world, and not as isolated individuals but as the collective people of God. Gorman claims that this will cause us to reject the normal means to power, and to recognize that the normal god of civil religion, combining power and patriotism, is an idol (32-33). True power is power in weakness (34). We most fully conform to the image of God when we too are counter-imperial, being humble in a world, ‘where power is manifested in self-assertion, acquisition, and domination’ (37).

In the second chapter, which is more than a third of the book, Gorman provides us with his understanding of the doctrine of justification. He names his proposal justification by co-crucifixion (JCC). The doctrine of justification has been a source of contention throughout the last several centuries. Gorman attributes this in part because some have, ‘become enamored with cheap justification…justification without justice, faith without love, declaration without transformation’ (41). Gorman sets out to correct this. Part of the source of the problem is that many see two distinct soteriological models in Paul; one a juridicial model, and the other participationist (42). Before moving into this detailed analysis, on pages 45 through 47 he provides us with a summary of his methodology:

· We must let Paul, himself, define his key theological terms

· We need to connect the dots of Paul’s thinking, even if he didn’t

· While Paul’s writings may be filled with antithesis, we have to avoid making false either/ors

· We need to recognize the experiential character of Paul’s theology

· We should try to balance careful exegesis of the text while still attending to the bigger picture.

Working from this methodology, Gorman defines justification as, ‘the establishment or restoration of right covenantal relations – fidelity to God and love for neighbor – with certain hope of acquittal/vindication on the day of judgment’ (53 – emphasis his). Thus, for Gorman, justification is theological, covenantal, juridicial, and eschatological (54). The just are those who are vindicated as being part of God’s covenant people, being in Christ (54). Gorman defends a strong covenantal understanding of justification by appealing to Romans 5:1-11 and 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 and concludes that, for Paul, justification:

· Has Christ’s death as its objective basis

· Requires a subjective response, namely pistis or faith

· Has substantive content which include reconciliation, participation, and transformation (56-57)

In the next section Gorman tackles the meaning of pistis. Like a growing number of scholars, Gorman understands pistis Christou as subjective genitive, meaning ‘the faithfulness of Christ’ rather than as an objective genitive, ‘faith in Christ.’ As an example, Gorman translates Galatians 2:20 as, ‘and it is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I know live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me by giving himself for me’ (60). This distinction is very significant as it opens up a covenantal understanding of justification. ‘Christ’s death on the cross…was a unified act of vertical and horizontal covenant fulfillment, of love for God and for neighbor’ (61). Thus Christ’s death is not substitutionary only; it’s a covenantal act that expresses love through an act of faithfulness (62).

Gorman moves on, then, to tackle a key passage for his understanding of justification, Galatians 2:15-21. The key question related to this text, is how 2:19-20 fits into the flow of 2:15-21. He believes that Paul is redefining justification, that we are justified not by law keeping but by faith, by co-crucifixion (64-69). Our justification is not wrought by us and it is participatory. Co-crucifixion is not a one-time act, either, it is an ongoing death that allows us to live for God, which means that our justification is not forensic only; it is also transformative. We enter the covenant by co-crucifixion, and we stay in the covenant by co-crucifixion (70-72).

There’s one additional distinction that we should make. Gorman does not see us proleptically on the cross when Jesus died. Rather, ‘it is the resurrected crucified Christ with whom believers are initially and continually crucified’ (71 – emphasis his). Here he ties this material back to chapter one. Since Christ is by nature cruciform, indwelling him means being continually cruciform ourselves.

The other passage that Gorman deals with at length in this chapter is Romans 6:1-7:6. Typically scholars have seen Romans 5-8 as discussing the consequences of justification. Not so Gorman; he thinks that Paul is defining justification in these chapters (73). Much of what Gorman goes on to do in the ensuing pages is to rehash and further develop material similar to what we have previously discussed. At the end of the section he does draw out one important implication of his view: baptism, justification, and sanctification are coterminous (79).

In the remaining portion of the chapter Gorman fleshes out his concept of faith, situates his proposal within the current debates surrounding justification and offers some practical reflections. One point of interest is that he expands the typical Protestant understanding of faith to include faithfulness toward God. To be faithful toward God includes trust and also love for others (79-80). Gorman clarifies, though, that, ‘this interpretation of faith is not about merit, or “salvation by works,” but about what actually constitutes participation in Christ’s loving and faithful death’ (80). Additionally, Gorman rejects the doctrine of imputation as a legal fiction and sees texts used to support imputation as participatory rather than transactional (82-83). In his conclusion he states that he sees justification as a performative utterance, ‘an effective word that does not return void but effects transformation’ (101).

In chapter 3, Gorman discusses holiness. There are two major grounds for Gorman’s understanding of holiness. One is that the crucifixion reveals the cruciform character of God and the second is that we are called to be holy through our co-crucifixion with Christ (106). Thus holiness is about theosis, which is cruciform in nature. Gorman notices that Paul was preoccupied with holiness and he believes this is so because Paul did not see justification and sanctification as being separate as most Protestants do (107-111). ‘Holiness is not a supplement to justification but its actualization’ (111), and it is the work of the Spirit to bring about holiness in us (114-118). A key point that Gorman makes throughout the book is that Christianity is communal. We are united in Christ together. Thus since holiness is cruciformity, it is not a solo pursuit. ‘Cruciform holiness is inherently other centered and communal’ (126). Gorman closes the chapter by challenging us that, as we live a cruciform existence that is by definition countercultural, among other things our sex lives and political lives should look radically different than those of the world (126). Sex and politics should be all about self-giving, not exercises in power (127-128).

The last main chapter deals with a major objection that some might have. Can theosis incorporate violence and make it sacred violence (129)? Unfortunately, that has been attempted far too often in the history of the church. Gorman takes an interesting angle in the way he deals with the problem. He looks at the conversion of Paul. Before his conversion, Paul was a violent religious zealot as a Jew (130-137). It was the way he pursued the holiness of Israel, a la Phineas (134-137). After Paul’s conversion, he renounced his former violent ways, because he saw that God’s work on the cross was a work of love in which he died for his enemies rather than killing them (143-145). At this point, though, the objection still may remain that the cross was still a violent event and we have all of this language referring to God’s judgment and his wrath in Paul’s letters. Here Gorman provides a helpful qualification, that while God’s cruciform character ‘does in fact express the divine identity it does not exhaust it’ (158 – emphasis his). God can and will judge his enemies, but is not a role that we can take on.

In his concluding chapter, Gorman addresses eschatology and makes some concluding observations. Philippians 2 shows that the Christ story is two stage, humiliation and exultation (167). Our theosis is similarly two stage; ‘Full and total participation in the glory of God still awaits us’ (167). On the other hand, we still, through the Spirit, participate in and experience the power of the life of the risen Christ in part here and now (167). Gorman closes the book by giving us, with some hesitation, his final conclusion, ‘theosis is the center of Paul’s theology’ (171).

There are several bases on which to praise Inhabiting the Cruciform God. One of Gorman’s biggest strengths is his ability to synthesize. While I do not know if I am convinced that theosis is the center of Paul’s theology, the question of which is one of the thorniest issues in Pauline scholarship, I do think that his suggestion has a major strength in that it ties together both the doctrinal and ethical sections of Paul’s letters. It even provides an avenue for incorporating, in a significant manner, a letter such as Philemon into a discussion of Pauline theology.

Additionally, I think he’s barking up the right tree in attempting to hold together both participationist and juridicial sotereological models. Too much theology has emphasized one to the detriment of the other. Any way forward in the debates surrounding justification must make sense of both categories.

I also appreciated Gorman’s eye for the practical. The first chapter, discussing Philippians 2:6-11 in particular was very helpful. It opened up my understanding of the character of God by showing that at his core God is self giving. I appreciated how he then took time to open up some of the practical implications of his suggested reading of the Philippians passage. He has an eye to the church and wants to see people be cruciform like God is cruciform. It is always refreshing to see top rate scholarship combined with deep concern for God’s people.

There was one main element of Gorman’s argument concerning Galatians 2:15-21, which is one of the main hinges of the book, that I found less than convincing and thus that needs to be defended more thoroughly. The question is whether or not it is correct to claim that we are justified by co-crucifixion. I pause on this point because it is so crucial to his overall argument. For, Gorman then uses this idea in a very neat equation. We are justified by faith and we are justified by co-crucifixion, ergo faith is co-crucifixion. From there he redefines pistis to mean ‘faithfulness’ instead of the more traditional rendering, ‘faith.’ I think that there may be other ways of understanding how 2:19-20 work without downplaying their role in Paul’s overall argument. It may equally be that Paul was using the term ‘righteousness/justification’ in 2:19-20 in an ethical sense, where in the prior verses he used them in a judicial sense. Then Paul’s use of ‘righteousness/justification’ in vs. 21 could be understood as being used to incorporate both meanings of righteousness (see e.g., Longenecker’s commentary 94-95). Thus it may not be totally accurate to equate faith and co-crucifixion, they may be two distinct aspects of a larger reality, where the latter flows out of the former. With that said, Gorman’s reading is possible and very well may be correct; I just think that given the novelty of his position and how critical this element is to the overall argument of the book that it could have been discussed at greater length. If he’s correct here, though, it would be a monumental leap forward in our understanding of Pauline soteriology.

On top of my question as to whether or not we are justified by co-crucifixion, I have one theological concern with this redefinition. From a reformed perspective this seems to emphasize our role in justification a bit too strongly. While he does try to distance himself from the charge of promoting justification by faith and works, I’m not sure if he is successful. Obviously one’s theological framework is not the final arbiter. I merely mention this for the benefit of those readers who too work out of a reformed framework as I do. Additionally, this view leads to a fusion of justification and sanctification that may be, in my opinion, unnecessary.

I also wish that Gorman had discussed at greater length why he does not hold to the doctrine of imputation. It is quickly dismissed as a legal fiction. A longer argument would have seemed to have been in order, or at least appreciated, again for the benefit of his reformed readers.

Overall Inhabiting the Cruciform God was an excellent book. Students and scholars will benefit from the freshness and the scope of Gorman’s proposal, while pastors will appreciate the practical challenges and deep concern for proper theology. Rare is it than one can write a book that hits two distinct audiences so squarely. Gorman has done us all a great service in writing this book, and hopefully he will continue to expand the lines of thought that he developed in these pages.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sin: A History - Part 1

Currently I am reading Sin: A History by Gary Anderson, and I have to say that the book is fascinating. I don't think that I have time to write a formal review, but I will write a couple of posts discussing some of the important ideas he develops in the book. Today we will take a look at his approach to understanding what sin is.

Building on the work of Paul Ricoeur, Anderson suggests that to understand sin we must understand the metaphors used to describe it. The interesting thing that Anderson notices is that the metaphor seems to change after exile, thus the title of the book, sin has a history and the concept develops throughout the cannon.

Prior to the exile, sin was mainly conceived of as a burden or a weight that needed to be born (see e.g., Gen 4:13). After the exile we get a different metaphor, that of sin as a debt (see e.g., Is 40:1-2), which Anderson believes partly resulted from the influence of Aramaic on Hebrew and partly from the experience of Jews in the exile which they viewed as punishment for their sins. This concept of sin as debt is then carried forward into the New Testament, which is what we will look at in our next post on this book.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Top 10 Foods to Eat While Watching a Game

My co-worker and I decided to make another top 10 list for this month. We tackled the top foods to eat while watching a game (drinks not included). There was no formal criteria or mathematical system.

1. Pizza - Anytime, anywhere, it's tough to beat.

2. Hot dogs - Probably the best food to eat at the game, no matter the sport.

3. Chili - This suffers a little from being a cold weather food, but it's a great accompaniment for watching football.

4. Chips and Salsa - I'm a messy eater, so this isn't as high as it could be because I'm very likely to spill salsa on myself.

5. Chicken Wings - This is a tough one to rate. If I'm back in western New York, wings are a clear number 2 behind pizza, but now that I live in Chicago it slides down the scale a bit because good wings are hard to come by (in fact I haven't had any wings in Chicago that I'd call good, anyone know a good place to try?).

6. Deli Sandwiches - I like salami or italian assorted. If they're made with good bread, deli sandwiches offer the most bang for the buck.

7. Peanuts - Nothing says baseball like a bag of peanuts in the shell.

8. Pretzels - Large soft pretzels are another stand out at live sporting events (and underrated at mall shopping trips).

9. Chex Mix - This wouldn't have made my list prior to the Super Bowl, but at the party I went to this year I couldn't stop eating it.

10. Nachos - Probably no other food contributed more to my current physique. When I was in high school, about an hour before bed I'd have a big bowl of nachos and cheese while watching whatever sporting event was on tv.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Galatians 1:6-10: Paul's Strong Langauge in Canonical Context

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God's curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let that person be under God's curse!

10 Am I now trying to win human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

When you read Galatians you can tell that Paul was very worked up when he wrote it. Was he just an emotional guy who flew off the handle with little provocation or was the situation genuinely serious? One way we can investigate this question is to compare it to other letters that Paul wrote where he clearly addressed problems in the church or got agitated.

One instance to consider is Romans 14 and 15. Here there was a dispute within the church over Sabbath keeping and dietary restrictions. Even though Paul takes sides in this dispute (with the ‘strong’), his tone throughout is cordial and ultimately rules in favor of both parties. Both can practice as they wish as long as they don’t judge or stumble the other side. Paul puts unity ahead of being right.

We have another case is in 1 Corinthians. Here Paul deals with a litany of issues ranging from factionalism to the condoning of an incestuous relationship. Paul certainly expresses shock and is sarcastic at times, but again he never throttles them the way he does the Galatians. At times he rebukes them, but it’s clear, again, that he’s primarily seeking to restore unity in the church.

Philippians comes to mind when one looks for examples of strong language from Paul. In chapter 3 he calls a group that sounds a lot like the Teachers in Galatia, ‘dogs.’ Paul also seems to be somewhat agitated in 2 Corinthians, but this seems to be primarily based on personal attacks and then he never uses the vitriolic language that we find in Galatians.

Clearly one thing that is very important to Paul is unity. On non-essential issues, being right is secondary to promoting unity. Where does unity lie? It lies in the gospel. The gospel is the dividing line for Paul. With fellow believers we must have unity, but we must not be united with outsiders, ‘Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?’ (2 Cor. 5:14 - TNIV). That’s why he can be so harsh in Galatia. He’s seeking to preserve the unity and purity of the church by driving a wedge between the Galatians and the false teachers because they are leading the Galatians away from God. He's trying to drive a wedge between his converts and the teachers, much like Jude did, and, as I mentioned in this post, Jude provides a softer approach to the wavering that we must not ignore. The main thing to remember, though, is that we too need to be vigilant to preserve the purity of the gospel, but beyond that we must promote the unity of the body and not divide or pick fights over smaller issues. We can still address those who are in error (in our opinion) in non-essential matters, Paul certainly does that plenty of times, but we must do it in a way that does not disrupt the unity of the church. Ideally, correction should serve unity.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Galatians 1:6-10: Paul's Opponents in Galatia

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God's curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let that person be under God's curse!

10 Am I now trying to win human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (TNIV)

Right off the bat it seems pretty clear that Paul had opponents in Galatia. Who were they and what did they teach? In his Galatians commentary, J. Louis Martyn provides a detailed answer that is very helpful on pp. 117-126. I'll sketch his answer very briefly below (and try to avoid the debate over the New Perspective on Paul, for now) because it's critical that we have a general understanding of what Paul was arguing against in order for us to understand what he was arguing for.

The Teachers were Jewish Christians with ties to an influential portion of the Jerusalem church whom they believe they represent. They were not present in the church at Galatia when Paul founded it, but later came to Galatia, perhaps seeking their own Gentile mission. Like Paul, the Teachers probably called their message 'the gospel,' creating confusion, since their gospel had the Law as the point of departure rather than Christ. Rather than through Christ alone, it was through the Law that one became part of the people of God and thus received God's Spirit, and to follow the Law correctly one needed to be circumcised. Jesus was secondary to the Law.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I have a question that I would like to get input from you all on. I've been reading some of Richard Hays work on intertextuality and also am taking a course in biblical theology where this issue came up. When an New Testament writer alludes to or quotes the Old Testament, how often do they intend to pull in a wider context than the verses they just cited? To use a modern example, if you were delivering a speech on social justice, and you uttered the phrase, 'I have a dream' you probably would be doing more than just quoting a small phrase from Dr. King. You would probably be attempting to pull in the wider context of his speech and the moment in history and perhaps even of the character of Dr. King, himself. How often do biblical authors do the same thing and how integral is it to their arguments?

I am incluned to think that the above scenario does happen, so my follow up questions are, how conjectural should our exegesis be and what role this conjectural exegesis should have in the formation of our theology?

Any thoughts?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Galatians 1:6-10 and the Overall Argument of Galatians

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God's curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let that person be under God's curse!

10 Am I now trying to win human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (TNIV) [1]

Here we begin to get more information about the nature of the problem in the Galatian churches. Paul had been to Galatia and preached the gospel to them. He notes with much astonishment that they have quickly fallen away from God to a different 'gospel' at the influence of false teachers, who we will call 'the Teachers' for the rest of our series on Galatians. Paul begins this way to lay out what was at stake.

The Teachers had been teaching something that was in opposition to what Paul had preached (we will explore more about the content of their teaching in a later post) and taught when he first came to Galatia. Paul construes turning from his gospel to be deserting God himself, which is why he was so concerned. One thing to notice is that 'turning' is a present tense verb (continuous aspect) which means that the action of turning hasn't been completed yet (Dunn p. 40). Paul is holding out hope that he can stop them from completely deserting God by abandoning the gospel.

Paul's rhetoric in verses 8 and 9 seems a bit harsh. It is helpful to note that overblown language was a typical element of Greek rhetoric (McKnight p. 59-60) and hence we don't have to feel compelled to call down damnation on those whom we believe are distorting the gospel. At the same time we don't want to minimize the fact that these verses show that Paul believed that the issue here in Galatia was of the utmost seriousness. The stakes are very high and certainly leading people away from God is the most serious crime one can commit. He wanted to stress the importance of getting the gospel right and try to begin a disassociation of the Galatians from the Teachers.

In verse 10, Paul is answering an objection laid against him. His goal, no matter what the Teachers claimed, was to please God in the way he preached. He did not claim that you received entry into the family of God by grace alone through faith apart from the Law in order to make it seem easy and gain converts.

[1] In my opinion the most difficult decision in outlining the subsections of Galatians as whether or not to include verse 10 with 6-9 or 11-12. I include it in this section because I think that the γὰρ (untranslated by TNIV usually translated 'for') in verse 10 is not completely concessive and hence verse 10 should be taken with 6-9 (Dunn p. 48).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Review: Baptism: Three Views

Sorry I missed last month's book review. You will get two this month to make up for it. Our book for this month is the recently published book on baptism released by IVP Academic. The format of the book was good, better than the Point-Counterpoint Series, in my opinion, because the author of each essay was given a few pages to respond to the critiques that the other contributors gave.

Defending the Baptist view was Bruce Ware, professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A major strength is that he spends an extensive amount of time in analysis of the biblical texts. He does make some good points, especially in his analysis of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36 which strongly emphasizes faith as being a marker of the new covenant people.

On the other hand, I felt his logic was faulty on a couple of occasions. One was a minor point, but worth mentioning because I've heard others offer it. Ware claims that immersion being the mode of baptism portrayed in the New Testament suggests that baptism was not administered to infants. However, as both responses pointed out, the Orthodox Church baptizes infants by immersion.

I'm also not convinced that Ware's methodology is the best for addressing the issue. He demands that we have New Testament evidence for infant baptism if we are to practice it and claims that if it were a valid mode of baptism that surely Scripture would tell us that. I think, though, that he overlooks the degree to which much of the New Testament was situational. If the Corinthians weren't making a mess of the Lord's Supper, we wouldn't have any clear teaching on it in all of Paul's epistles. Thus, if infant baptism was the practice of the church from the get go, and it was being done properly, why would we have direction about it in the New Testament. Unlike Ware, I do not think that there is a clear cut answer to the question of mode of baptism in the New Testament.

The next essay was by Sinclair Ferguson defending infant baptism. His argument is steeped in his covenant theology. He sees a high degree of continuity between the covenants, much more continuity than Ware does, which enables him to espouse that baptism is more or less the replacement of circumcision. With Ware, I quickly retort that that is something the New Testament wouldn't have been silent about. Surely somewhere in Acts 15 or in Paul's dispute with the Galatians it would be reasonable to expect to have heard that circumcision was unnecessary because of baptism.

I thought his best points were made when discussing the New Testament mindset. Jesus was very inclusive of little children, and the Bible as a whole seems to show again and again that God works in and through family. Overall, though, I did not find Ferguson to be too convincing. I wonder, with Lane, if he doesn't overly stress the continuity of the covenants.

The final essay was written by Anthony Lane. He favors dual-practice and sees value in both positions. Lane begins by noting that the New Testament is far from clear as to who should receive baptism. The baptisms that are recorded in the book of Acts are far different than the baptisms of people who grow up in Christian families. New Testament baptism was convert baptism. People were exposed to the faith, believed and were immediately baptized. Many children in Christian homes do not have a single conversion experience, they grow into their faith. Thus their process of initiation into the faith is radically different and hence their baptism is qualitatively different.

Lane's argument is bolstered by his understanding of the meaning of baptism, which is significantly different than the other contributors. He sees baptism as a means through which we receive grace from Christ. Baptism is an initiatory step through which people become Christians.

Sensing the ambiguity of the New Testament, Lane turns to the history of the church in the first four centuries. In a very helpful study, he shows that the practice is varied and that there was no attempt to claim that one side or the other was out of step with the practice of the apostles. Thus taking, as he terms it, a seismological approach, he believes that the best answer to the ambiguity of the New Testament is that the apostles themselves practiced a dual-practice baptism.

Of all of the essays I found Lane's to be the best. Certainly not everyone will agree with me in that judgment, but I think that his approach was the best methodologically and that his understanding of the meaning of baptism seems most satisfactory. While I'm not convinced of dual-practice yet, Lane certainly has given me much food for thought on a position that I gave very little credence to before.

If you're interested in the topic of baptism I recommend the book. Each contributor is pretty representative of at least one major line of thought within their tradition. It is an excellent primer for further study.