Friday, May 20, 2011

Richard Hays on Allegory Today

Should we emulate Paul's use of allegory?

Paul's method of discerning parallels between the biblical narrative and the crisis facing his readers is invariably employed whenever preachers see the circumstances of their own day illumined or prefigured by the stories of Scripture. Thus all Christian preaching is allegorical in the Pauline sense. The function of preaching is not to give factual historical reports; rather it is to make metaphors, linking the ancient text with the present life of the congregation in fresh imaginative ways so that the text reshapes the congregation's vision of its life before God.

By that criterion, Paul's allegory in Gal 4:21-5:1 is a brilliantly successful piece of preaching...When allegory functions like that, in service of proclaiming the gospel, who can withhold the water for baptizing it? The key question is whether the allegorical reading is governed by the larger shape of the biblical story - as it is here in Galatians - or whether the method is drafted into the service of other conceptualities. Any interpretive method can be abused, including historical criticism. The tests of validity are finally theological rather than methodological (Galatians 309).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 4:21-31

21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”

28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (NIV)

Yes we are back at Galatians after (yet another) break and we'll take up one of the more fascinating passages in Galatians as Paul allegorically interprets Genesis 21 and its surrounding context. While allegory is looked down upon now, that has not always been the case. Second temple Judaism and Christianity at least up to the Reformation embraced allegory, as Paul clearly does here. Far from being a throw away or small addition to his argument, Paul uses the allegory to drive one of his key exhortations to the Galatians, to have them kick out the false teachers. Some interpreters have claimed that Paul isn't actually resorting to allegorical interpretation here but instead is interpreting typologically. I think that opinion results more from their own uncomfortableness with non-literal methods of interpretation. While Paul isn't going wild in his allegory, it still clearly is allegory.

One of the keys to interpreting this passage is seeing who's who. Paul here contrasts two groups. On the one side is Paul and those who promoted a law-free Gentile mission. On the other side are the Teachers and those who required Gentiles to be law observant. The Teachers are the children of Hagar, the ones who are enslaved and thus continue to beget children in slavery, children who oppress the children born of the promise.

Paul also rips a portion of the Jerusalem church here as well. The Teachers claimed their superiority to Paul because they were backed by part of the Jerusalem church. Paul had no official backing. However, Paul claims backing from a better Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem. Any who require Torah observance to be part of the people of God are going back to the old order before Christ, back into slavery (similar to his argument in 4:8-11). Patrilineage guarantees nothing. Only children of the promise (who's identity was revealed earlier) are free.

The citation in the middle of the passage comes from Isaiah 54:1. To understand Paul's usage here, first we need to notice the wider context in Isaiah. It directly follows Isaiah 53 and the description of the suffering servant. Isaiah 54 is the beginning of a song of praise for the eschatological victory that God's people will experience. By citing the verse at the hinge (remember there were no chapter divisions in Paul's day) Paul here is declaring that it is through union with God's people through Christ's work on the cross that the Gentiles have hope. They know that they will some day enter glory, and it's not because of the Torah, but because of the work of Christ alone. The choice of passage is also brilliant by Paul for the echoes back to the Genesis passage at hand (as well as to the story of Hannah).

As mentioned before, Paul concludes with the command to kick out the Teachers from the congregation. There is no room in the body of Christ for those who seek to marginalize and enslave God's children with any kind of law.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting the Short End of the Stick

Below are three quotes. Who wrote each of the following?

Commenting on Galatians 4:21-31
However, the free woman Sarah, who bore the free son, signifies the grace of the New Testament that begot the Christian people who are liberated in their baptism not only from original and actual sins but from every form of legal servitude. This is the inheritance of Christ, the homeland of Christ that they will inherit.
On the same passage:
This people was born through the promise because God mercifully promised to save them through faith. It was through the promise, therefore, because this people did not serve God out of any desire for fleshly things, which are visible, but rather out of an affection for spiritual things, which are invisible. They trust that they will obtain these things based upon God's promise alone.
Commenting on Galatians 2:16
In short, there is no way that one can be justified except through the faith of Christ Jesus, referring to the faith by which one believes in Christ...The apostle does not say that by faith good works are thereby made meaningless, for God renders to each person according to that person's works. Rather it is because works proceed from grace - not grace from works. Faith working through love does nothing unless the love of God is poured into us through the Holy Spirit. Nor does faith abide in us unless God bestows it. Paul says that we are to be justified by faith because faith comes first. It is from this that the rest of these are to be accomplished.
Again, who wrote each of these?

The first is by Haimo of Auxerre, the second by Bruno the Carthusian, and the last by Peter Lombard. What do they all have in common? They were all Medieval Catholic theologians. Just like the New Perspective on Paul helped bring some corrective to the ways we understood Judaism, I wonder if we need a New Perspective on Medieval Catholicism.

I haven't read a ton of Medieval Catholic Theology but reading the Galatians commentary put together by Ian Christopher Levy in the Bible in Medieval Tradition series makes me wonder if we're really describing them accurately. In particular from New Perspective advocates, you'll hear something along these lines, "the Judaism of Paul's day wasn't a legalistic works righteousness religion where the Jews believed they were earning their acceptance before God. Luther was just projecting the Medieval Catholic church backwards into first century Judaism."

If you just listen to the way Medieval Catholicism is described by some NT scholars you could very easily get the impression that there was little room for grace. Quotes like the above make me think that that's probably not true. Just like we shouldn't unfairly beat up on first century Judaism to elevate our brand of Christianity, we should also avoid the same with Medieval Catholicism. I'm not saying that there weren't legalistic elements in Medieval Catholic teaching (I haven't read enough of it to fairly answer that), but that we need to be fair.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Scot McKnight on the Church

Differentiating his view of church from common experiences of church:
Please don't mistake what I'm saying. We are not talking about church as many have experienced it. We are not necessarily talking about denominations or church buildings or catechism classes or priests or organs or parking lots or anything like that. Some churches, in fact, are like shopping malls: people park their nice cars, enter the building, get what they want, get back in the car and go out to eat. But that's not community (and it's not really church either). The word we are using is community, and we dare not confuse community-less church or Christianity or religion or Christendom with what the Spirit creates. The Spirit creates community that makes church what the kingdom wants church to be. So, when I say "Church.Life" I mean that kind of community, but it is in a church where that community forms (One.Life p. 101 - emphasis original).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Philippians 2:6-11 and Adam Christology

When I was preparing for my sermon, the argument I found that raged the strongest was whether or not there is an Adam Christology present in the passage. What thinketh I? Well I'm glad you asked! If you listened to my sermon, you might get the idea that I do subscribe to the Adam Christology theory. To channel my inner Lee Corso, 'not so fast my friend!' At the same time I want to say, 'of course there's an Adam Christology here!'

What gives? If one is doing a historical-critical reading of Philippians 2:6-11, I do not think that there is a tie back to Adam. The alleged parallels (like the alleged form/image parallel) simply are not strong enough to make the claim that Paul was intentionally playing Jesus against Adam (I won't rehash the argument here - see, O'Brien 263-8). However, does that mean that it's illegitimate to contrast Jesus and Adam when discussing this passage? Absolutely not. I'll have my cake and eat it too. It's a perfectly valid inference from the text at the level of biblical theology and it's certainly not in tension with the original meaning of the passage. The Philippians themselves very well may have made the same connections when listening to Paul.

This point is similar to one that Michael Bird makes in The Saving Righteousness of God (a fantastic book, by the way), when discussing imputation. In his opinion, no text of Scripture directly teaches imputation, but that doesn't make it an invalid concept in systematic theology. It's necessary to see more in the text than the human author intended. There's no reason why sensus plenior can't apply to the New Testament as well. Yes there are difficulties in doing this, but if we don't rise above the level of merely describing the original intentions of the author we have a dead text. We need to use and develop the ideas of the biblical author, and do it in conversation with the rest of the cannon. However, we need to be clear that that's what we're doing. I find too often that this work is often mistakenly understood to be unpacking the original meaning of a text, it's not. It's at a level removed.

So is there an Adam Christology in Philippians 2:6-11? Yes! and no. It just depends on what type of interpretation you're doing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thoughts on JVG

For about two weeks straight my friend and I engaged in conversation about Sucker Punch. Every single scene got dissected. We each had our theories on the movie and I tried to think through every aspect through the lens I constructed. At one point I asked my friend, 'am I going too far in my interpretations?' He responded by saying, 'I do think that you want it to box too neatly and consume everything with rational or symbolic relevance. The fact is it's a studio film and therefore given to the biases of the studio, the producer, the director, the whims of actresses who refuse this or that. Budget preventing this song to be chosen and forcing another etc.' I drew a very neat picture of the movie and I felt that I could integrate most every detail into that picture. The problem is that some of the coherence I saw wasn't real and was more easily explained as being caused by other factors (e.g., are the demon-like figures in the first fight scene the hospital orderlies? - probably not - it could more easily be chalked up to Snyder's personal background). The fact that this movie is part of my culture enabled me to have a clear picture of where I read too much into a particular detail.

A while back I finished reading JVG and I have to say that I absolutely loved it. It's an awesome book that provokes a lot of thought. Wright's portrait of Jesus is compelling, it has a lot of explanatory power. I have some reservations about it, though. It explains everything very neatly, and that concerns me. Wright describes his approach as one that tries to keep all of the puzzle pieces on the board. That strikes me as a necessity. However, given our cultural distance from the world of Jesus, coherence can be a bit of a problematic method and it seems like that's Wright's go to argument. When looking at individual episodes, it's hard to know at which points coherence is real and where it's only apparent. Yes a particular interpretation may cohere with the overall picture of Jesus that we're painting (which is continuous with both Judaism and early Christianity), but that doesn't make it the right interpretation. There needs to be room for a Jesus who is outside of every box at times.

Is this a fatal flaw? By no means! Does it temper my enthusiasm for JVG? Perhaps a little, but at the end of the day, coherence is really all we can go on. If we don't have a coherent Jesus who's understandable as a product of Judaism and vitally connected to early Christianity, then we probably don't have the real Jesus. However, we just need to be aware that if we follow Wright there are probably spots where we're forcing things into a grid when they don't really fit. This is where community interpretation is so critical. Perhaps by listening to the critics Wright at the same time we can hopefully at least see a few places where we should go in a different direction than the one he has chosen.

Monday, May 2, 2011


If you've been wondering where I've been the past few weeks, I've been preparing a sermon that I finally delivered yestersday. Once a year all of the interns have to preach. This was my week, and I spoke on 'Creating Unity in Community through Humility.' My text was Philippians 2:1-11. If you'd like to hear it, here's the link.