Friday, October 18, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 3

Click here for part 1 and part 2.

In the fall of 2009 I began taking classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I felt a little conflicted over signing their statement of faith, but I eventually did. I didn't learn many things there (besides Greek) that had long term impact on me, but it was generally a good time that really stretched me, both by challenging my thinking and by making it clear to me where my main points of disagreement with conservative evangelicalism lied. I did a total of 19 credits prior to withdrawing. Before moving on, though, I do want to say how much I appreciated Graham Cole's class on biblical theology. I am more of a historical theologian (with the biblical text being the most important stage in the historical process) than a biblical theologian, but I think that Cole's basic definition of the missio dei, 'securing God's people in God's place under God's reign living God's way enjoying God's shalom in God's loving and holy presence as both family and worshippers, to God's glory,' has a lot to say for it. Whether or not the Bible actually is one story, many of the earliest Christians viewed it that way, and I think there is room to subsume biblical theology under historical theology. I also think he nailed most of the key elements of being a Christian and properly emphasized the royal identity of God.

To this point I have left aside the comments I made about Sanders' work. The seed was planted in my mind, back in 2007 that being 'in Christ' was a central theme for Paul. At the start of 2010 Scot McKnight asked for readers to review books for his blog. Several people requested someone review a book by Michael Gorman, so I decided to tackle Inhabiting the Cruciform God. It changed my life. Cruciformity became my personal goal. I was a little slow in coming around on theosis, but I think it is probably the best explanation for the 'in Christ' language in Paul and is well grounded, as Gorman claims, in Paul's language of co-crucifixion. When we are justified we are united with Christ, we are brought to share in his very life itself. Importantly, this put me halfway to Campbell's apocalyptic reading of Paul.

In the Spring of 2012 I began reading Douglas Campbell's magisterial Deliverance of God. Here I found the other half of what intrigued me about Sanders' work demonstrated (and much of what I previously believed about soteriology dismantled). Paul's thought was indeed retrospective. Everything was evaluated in light of the reality of what God had done through Christ. In fact our need for Christ can only be seen in retrospect.

I bring up Gorman and Campbell because the way I understand Christian experience shapes the way I understand the Bible. Campbell's emphasis on retrospection confirms that, as Barth claimed, truth is revelatory, not propositional. Faith (and this is something much bigger than just belief) results from an encounter with Jesus, a time when he is revealed to us. I believe (as Enns claimed in Three Views of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament) that the earliest Christians read their Old Testaments retrospectively as well, meaning in light of Jesus. This fits the data much better than the old promise and fulfillment model in my opinion (even though fulfillment language is used in the NT, especially in Matthew). Scriptural and other texts were a pallet of colors. The evangelists used them to paint a picture of Jesus (to extend a metaphor of Markus Bockmuehl). Our job is much the same: to explain who Jesus is and what he means to us. We must paint well, in both word and deed.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 2

Click here for part 1.

At the start of 2008 there was a firestorm of controversy surrounding Peter Enns and his book Inspiration and Incarnation. I was continuing to study as outlined in my last post. At the start of 2009, 9 months after his "resignation", I got around to reading his book. I found it very helpful. The more I had studied the more difficult it was for me to understand how Scripture could be the Word of God and have all of the human characteristics I was noticing. Our doctrine of Scripture should not be a way of sweeping the difficulty of the Bible away. Rather our doctrine of Scripture needs to be phenomenological. Enns book was profoundly helpful for me. Even though I now reject the incarnational model he presented (just as Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so is Scripture), I needed to see someone wrestling with the same problems who came up with a way to honor Scripture while still recognizing that it was completely human.

Later that spring I moved on to God's Word in Human Words by Kent Sparks. At the same time I was studying the book of Daniel and wrestling through the magnificent commentaries of John Collins and John Goldingay among others. While Enns work honestly had been pretty mild, I was now facing challenges to the way I viewed the Bible on a much bigger scale. It was one thing to admit that the Bible is human and has errors here and there. Pseudepigrapha and failed prophecy were different matters. Sparks work was trying to find a way to account for the full extent of the Bible's humanity. He opted for interpreting within the rule of faith (i.e., one must only adhere to the major creeds - everything else is open). That was his box. I was scared. That left a lot open. I also thought it might be a little arbitrary. Why draw the line at confessional Christianity? What was the basis for that decision? I was having a little bit of a crisis, probably the biggest crisis of faith I have ever faced.

May 25, 2009 was the turning point for me. My wife and I had recently come back from vacation in Florida and I had been reading Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol. I.1. Sparks book was being discussed on Scot McKnight's blog. I jumped in at the very end of the discussion and got to ask my question.

Hi Drs Enns and Sparks ,
Thanks so much for you wonderful books, they have helped me greatly. Dr. Enns, I noticed in your last post on your blog which linked to this post that you ask the question, “What limits do we put on the contextual, historical, situatedness of the Bible for explaining biblical phenomenon, and therefore the nature of Scripture, and WHY, ON WHAT BASIS, do we place those limits?” How would you start to think about how to set those limits and where do they come down for you? I have struggled a lot with that very question. When forming our doctrine of Scripture how do we achieve the right blend of informing it through Christian presupposition about Scripture and phenomenological observation?
Dr. Sparks, I know you suggest creedal orthodoxy, but honestly that’s a bit scary to me as it leaves a lot open. Can we still have a robust faith in the Bible as God’s word (or at least the revelation of God’s word) if that’s all that we insist upon?

Enns was gracious enough to respond to me, and it's hard to overestimate the impact it had on me. 

Yes, a good question. First, the purpose of my asking that question in my post was rhetorical, i.e., to get Waltke to see the need for even asking these kinds if questions in the current debate.
As for me, I don’t think in terms of limits but more in terms of a “gravitational center” that brings us continually back to a core confession of Christ and his resurrection. That isn’t put very well, I suspect, and may sound like smooth talk. But, I envision the contextual study of Scripture not to be a bad thing, or something that is helpful but only to a point. It is not a potentially dangerous tool, but it is a tool that is in service to a larger goal, namely following Christ.
I don’t think of biblical interpretation as an activity where a box is placed around it, and Enns’ box happens is just bigger than, say Waltke’s, or a lot bigger than a few of my Reformed critics. I don’t think in terms of a “box” with four boarders, but more of a central tethering point (Jesus) to which I am bound with a really elastic bungee cord (the Spirit). Some of us are more prone to see how far that bungee cord can go (me, Sparks, etc., etc.), but we are always snapped back by the active work of the Spirit of Christ who lives in us.
You are asking a very good methodological question, Marcus, but for which I see no real methodological answer, and things like the Chicago Statement in Biblical Inerrancy, etc., don’t provide the methodological grid for me in any helpful way (not that you asked).
Exegesis and academia are as much of a journey as any other part of the Christian live. I’m good with that.

This was a turning point for me. I was able to resume the boldness that I had when I began studying. The object of my faith had to shift. It wasn't in the Bible any longer. It was now in God (I realize this isn't necessarily an either/or, but I hope you get my point). I was now going to let exegesis and historical study take me wherever it went. No question was prohibited. I trusted (and still trust) that God would keep me faithful through his Spirit. 

As I mentioned before I had been reading Barth at the same time. For me, Barth's central insight in CD I.1 is that the Bible isn't the Word of God. It is an authoritative witness to the revelation of God's Word. Divinity does not lie in the words themselves, but God can and often does use them to reveal himself to us. Scripture becomes the Word of God. Barth's insight has been critical to much of my theological work as can probably be seen most clearly in the first part of my exploration of the identity of Jesus. Along with Enns, Barth was helpful in pushing aside unnecessary presuppositions about the nature of the Bible. I felt free. In the end this is why I don't find the incarnational model helpful. The words of the Bible aren't divine in any sense. They have no special power. They only have the power that God infuses them with when he so chooses.

After that stretch of 2009 I started taking classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Here started the second stage of my maturation, but that will have to wait until next time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 1

I have been working on a one on one class for my wife on New Testament backgrounds. When one begins to understand the New Testament in its context, it becomes clear that some conceptions of the Bible are inadequate. I have gone through a metamorphosis over the last decade and after the class my wife understood why much better. This led her to ask me to chronicle my journey with the Bible and critical scholarship and how my faith has been challenged and has grown.

I grew up in a fundamentalist family. I don't resent it, unlike many who have left fundamentalism behind. My parents were trying to please God as best they could. The importance of the Bible was drilled into me and I loved reading it, especially the narrative portions of the Old Testament. When I was 7 I read through my NIV Bible in its entirety. Needless to say, there was a lot that I did not understand.

When I went to college I was a member of Agape Christian Fellowship at the University of Rochester. It is a multi-ethnic (though primarily Korean American) campus fellowship run by the English ministry of Rochester Korean United Methodist Church. This too was a very conservative setting and neo-Reformed. I continued to grow in my love for the Scriptures and began studying some. Rigorous study was strongly encouraged. My major was pure mathematics, which taught me critical thinking.

As we were leaving for Chicago in the summer of 2006, one of the students, who had a Seventh Day Adventist friend, asked me to write a paper about the Sabbath. Of course one of the main passages that must be studied is the controversy with the Pharisees in Mark 2:23-3:6 and parallels. I was not yet employed and had lots of free time. I went to the library at Wheaton College and Judson University (where my wife teaches) and began reading various commentaries. What better passage for a fearless conservative to cut their teeth on! I looked at the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and decided to primarily interface with the Matthean account. That day I fell in love with Davies' and Allison's legendary commentary on Matthew. I knew little about the synoptic problem and nothing about redaction criticism, but the way Davies and Allison interpreted the text made it come to life for me. I also was challenged to think about inerrancy. Did Matthew and Luke omit the piece about Abiathar because they thought Mark made a mistake? I came to think so and still do.

The next two years I continued to study hard and started to become aware of a wider range of biblical scholarship. In particular I focused on Paul and the Law. The second major monograph that I read was Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders. It became abundantly clear that knowing the Bible alone wasn't enough. I needed to know more about Early Judaism as well. I came away with two other major things to ponder. What was Paul's 'in Christ' language all about, and was his thinking really retrospective?

In the meantime I was also studying Ephesians and using the commentary of Ernest Best. It was my first experience reading scholarship that at times was antagonistic towards the text. I was a little uncomfortable, but I noticed that some of his critical questions were warranted.

2009 was a momentous year for me. This is when I was introduced to Enns, Sparks, and Barth. But I'll save that part of the story for next time.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Finding Our Way Through Genesis Two

The fourth post I ever wrote on this blog was a recap of a talk I heard John Walton give at a meeting of the Wheaton-Naperville chapter of the ASA. Four years later I had the opportunity to hear him speak on Genesis 2 at the same venue. As it was then, it was a complete pleasure to hear him speak. His exegesis was fascinating and his manner engaging.

Walton began the talk by asking whether Genesis 2 is a detailed recounting of day 6 of the Genesis 1 narrative or if it's at some point later in the narrative. One problem he points out with the first option is that you have a different creation order in Genesis 2 than in Genesis 1. Additionally, he notes that every other time in Genesis where you have an account that is synoptic of the one preceding, it is a story about two brothers. Walton, then, finds it likely that Genesis 2 tells a story from some point in time after day 6.

Next Walton tackled the occurrences of 'Adam' in Genesis 1-5. 'Adam' in 1:26-2:5 is referring to humanity in general and has no definite article. Starting in 2:7, interestingly, we have articular usage, through 3:24. One would not expect this of a personal name. The names Adam and Eve, themselves, mean human and wife. Walton thinks that they were meant to serve as archetypes.

At this point Walton circled back to Genesis 2. If Genesis 2 is sequel to Genesis 1 then these people aren't necessarily the same people as those in Genesis 1. In fact Genesis 4 seems to require other people. Therefore, Adam and Eve aren't the only people on the earth. From here Walton carries out his archetypal reading. Everything said about Adam and Eve is also true of all humanity.

I won't detail the entirety of the talk, but I will bring up one really fascinating point. Gen. 2:7 says 'then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life...' Walton makes an interesting observation. He notices that dust is a poor choice if you want to make something. You can't mold it into anything. If you wanted to stress the earthiness, impurtiy, or fragility of humanity you would probably use clay as it conveys the same idea but is actually malleable. Dust seems to carry a different connotation, notably in 3:19, that of mortality. So being created from dust is not a comment on our craftsmanship, rather on our mortality. Anyways, immortal people would not need access to the Tree of Life. Only mortals would.

All in all it was a very provocative lecture. We're still at least a year away from his book on Genesis 2 being ready for print. I think Walton is right on in his archetypal reading. One point he repeatedly made is that he has no problem with the narrative being historical.[1] While historical figures certainly can function archetypically in the Bible, I have to wonder if these stories are so far removed from anything that may have happened that calling them historical has little value. Either way, the theological truth about the human condition and human needs is what the story is really about.

[1] He views Adam's "surgery" where his "rib" is removed as nothing of the kind and some sort of revelatory dream. Similarly, in Genesis 3 he sees the snake as the chaos monster. I add this to restrict the range of interpretations of historical.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

John 1:35-51: von Wahlde's Composition Theory

In this series of posts (no idea how many there will be), I will mark up the NRSV text as von Wahlde does his own translation to distinguish which edition the material comes from. Plain type will represent first edition material; italics, second edition; and bold face, third.
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (NRSV)
John 1:35-51 is probably the best place to begin assessing von Wahlde's theory of composition as the material falls out very neatly. The main block of narrative comes from the first edition. There are several distinctive characteristics of the first edition here, especially the use of Hebrew terms with a translation that follows in Greek, a very Jewish Christology, and a chain reaction of belief due to testimony and a sign. There also is a sign of editing in verse 43 as 43a interrupts a very neat sequence of events.

Outside of the opening clauses of verses 35 and 43, almost all of 35-49 is from the first edition. von Wahlde has claimed that the third author is the only one concerned with atonement theology and has an apocalyptic outlook. Thus he assigns John's exclamation in verse 36 to him. Presumably in the first two editions, John said something else. While I don't take 'Lamb of God' to refer primarily to Jesus' atoning function, I do think it has apocalyptic overtones. In that regard it meshes very well with the apocalyptic theology of verse 51, which is almost certainly a later addition. von Wahlde assigns it to the third hand as well. This makes sense as the narrative would be complete, one could even say better without it. The saying begins with an awkward reintroduction of Jesus as speaker and without explanation, shifts into a plural 'you' (for something said to him - von Wahlde considers this a trademark of the third edition).

The only major piece of the text assigned to the second author is verse 50. Verse 50 is, I believe, rightly assigned to an intermediate hand. It implies that Nathanael's seemingly accurate confession is inadequate, that there is a need to move beyond Jewish Christology. This argument is a bit more tentative (at least on the grounds of 35-51 alone), but certainly is plausible. The addition changes the feel of the entire section.

Overall, I would say that von Wahlde does not run into any substantial difficulties with his theory of composition in this section of John. The material assigned to the third author do indeed seem to be the additions of a later hand. Internal evidence alone is inconclusive with regard to verse 50, though, it seems more likely that not. If von Wahlde is correct about the wider pattern he has observed then there is no reason to doubt this attribution.