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Books of the Year: 2015

Last year I never got around to writing my books of the year post. But it's back this year after a year off! This year, most of my reading covered the church of the first four or five centuries focusing particularly on Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, and Augustine. I did find some time to fit in a few other books as well, some of which are represented.

5. Framing Paul by Douglas Campbell

When you read Campbell you know you are going to get vigorous, well explained, interesting proposals. That certainly is the case here. His discussion of the use of statistics related to style in the determination of authorship is excellent and several of his proposals are very interesting, particularly his identification of Ephesians as the letter to the Laodiceans.

4. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies eds. Susan Harvey and David Hunter

I came into the year with a minimal background in early Christian studies. This handbook was extremely helpful as I was gaining my bearings. Each essay is …

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

You can read the text here.

In this section Paul writes very personally to the Thessalonians. It's overflowing with love and concern for their spiritual well being.[1] Paul missed the Thessalonians very badly and really wanted to visit them, but Satan blocked his path. Not only did Paul care about them, but they also were the evidence of how well he fulfilled his calling before God. If they remained faithful, then he was faithful to his calling and would be deemed victorious by God on the last day. The positive report he had heard buoyed his confidence that he would be vindicated.[2]

Paul wanted to come himself, but when he couldn't make and also couldn't wait any longer he sent Timothy, who was well known to the Thessalonians to check in on them and to encourage them to stay faithful to Jesus. Following Jesus changed a lot of relationships for the Thessalonians and made participation in the common life of their city difficult.[3] This was something Paul warned them about.…

Assessing Verbal Inspiration

What is the Bible? Lately I've been reading The Story of the Scrolls by Geza Vermes, and that in conjunction with recent post by James McGrath propelled me to tackle this topic here. Some in Evangelical circles answer this question by affirming that the Bible (or at least the original manuscripts) is the verbally inspired word of God, meaning that the words themselves are God's words and have some sort of inherently special properties or power. In this post I will explain why I don't think this is the right way to approach the Bible nor is it likely the way the earliest Christians understood the Scriptures. If it was, then one would expect to see the earliest Christians hold slavishly to literal interpretations and even slavishly to the literal wording of their Scriptures when quoting texts, since that is locus of God's power. I will explain that this was not the case, drawing from apostolic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, early Christian scribal practices, and the…

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

You can read the text here.

We continue with Paul's narrative about the nature of his ministry and visit to Thessalonica. It was a ministry filled with courage. That's what enabled Paul to continue on with his preaching of the gospel. Preaching that was fruitful as evidenced by the Thessalonian faithful. His ministry met with opposition while he was at Thessalonica, and probably did after he left.[1]

He wasn't a charlatan like some peddlers of philosophy of his day. What gave Paul courage to preach was not a desire for gain or glory but the status of the one whom he served as messenger. It was God whom Paul sought to please. Paul's status as appointed messenger of the divine king gave him rights to money, but Paul disavowed this right because he wanted to distance himself from the likes of those to whom he was being compared after he left.

Paul's motives were simple and innocent like a baby[2] and he was full of motherly concern and love. This drove Paul not only t…

1 Thessalonians 1

While I may be in school, I want to make sure that my exegetical skills don't erode too much. I'm going to try, when I can, to work my way through Paul's letters in chronological order in addition to working on papers for the Christian Way of Life project. The next couple of years the pace will probably be slow due to school, but hopefully by 2030 I can finish all of them. These won't be quite as thorough as some of my other studies have been and will cover larger chunks of text, at least while I'm in school. For 1 Thessalonians I will be using the commentaries of Gaventa, Malherbe, and Fee. No promises as to when the second section will appear.

You can read the text here.

Paul opens his letter by greeting the Thessalonians on behalf of his missionary team, and noting their spiritual location. They are under the influence of/in the sphere of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. How thoroughly in the sphere of, there isn't enough to know right off the bat.

Exploring the Christian Way of Life: The Identity of Jesus - Divine Messiah Part 4

This is the fourth and final of a paper on Jesus as divine Messiah. See part 1, part 2, and part 3.

The closest parallel to the New Testament’s divine Christology is the Enochic Christology concerning the Son of Man in the Book of Parables in 1 Enoch 37-71.[1] There are many parallels between the ways Jesus is portrayed as Messiah in the New Testament and the Enochic Son of Man that are unparalleled claims concerning messianic figures elsewhere.[2] Key among those are pre-existence, the receipt of worship, and association with the figure of divine wisdom. Let’s look at 1 Enoch 48:1-49:4 as an example.

In the Book of Parables, the son of man is a messianic figure. The text we’re looking at begins in verses 2 and 3 with a clear statement of idyllic pre-existence on the part of the son of man.[3] He was known, named, and chosen by God for a specific task before creation. In verse 6, it goes even farther to posit actual pre-existence (not just as an idea, but as a being) prior to creation…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life: The Identity of Jesus - Divine Messiah Part 3

This is part 3 of a paper on Jesus as divine Messiah. See part 1 and part 2.

Possibly the clearest passage on the topic from the undisputed Pauline epistles comes in 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:7. We will focus on several key verses, starting with the climax in 4:4-6:

4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (NRSV).

Here, Paul describes Jesus in terms of light, glory, and the image of God. In other words, he is the supreme revelation of God. Here Paul is combining two strands of his Christology. Jesus is acting as the second Adam, being the perfect image, but he is far surpas…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life: The Identity of Jesus - Divine Messiah Part 2

This is part 2 of a paper on Jesus as divine Messiah. For part 1, click here.

Revelation is not exceptional in showing great devotion and worship to Jesus. As Larry Hurtado has argued in many places,[1] as far back as we can tell the churches exhibited a very high Christology that honored Jesus through a variety of devotional practices.[2] Particularly noteworthy is the way in which Jesus devotion was public and corporate, not private and individual like the worship of other intermediary figures like angels.[3] With the limited scope of this paper we will focus on fragments of confessional material that we find in the New Testament.[4]

The first text we will look at is Colossians 1:15-20.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, a…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life: The Identity of Jesus - Divine Messiah Part 1

Unfortunately it didn't take much to push a winter release of my paper to the summer. Anyways, here it is:

In our last paper we looked at the identity of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. We noted that Jesus is primarily identified as Messiah. As I’ve studied further, I’ve become more convinced that Jesus messianic identity is the center of Christology. As Michael Bird put it, “the messianic identity of Jesus is the…most basic claim of early Christology.”[1] At the same time we noted that aspects of each of the Gospels suggest that the writers saw Jesus as divine, especially in the Gospel of John. Why? One could be the Messiah without being divine. It also seems that the clearest claims of divine identity are presented more in the way the Evangelists interpret the meaning of Jesus than at the core of the historical tradition.[2] Even before we get that far, though, we need to know what it means to call someone divine in the ancient world, as that may not have meant the same thing…