Southeastern Theological Review’s Round Table Discussion with Michael Licona

I’m thankful for STR for conducting a round table discussion concerning some of the brouhaha around Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27. I won’t get into my own personal feelings of how this situation unfolded. You can read the dialogue here and decide for yourself.

 

(HT Ben Blackwell)

Michael Kruger on the basis of distinguishing heresy from orthodoxy in the early church

Over at Canon Fodder (which is the best name I’ve heard for a blog), Michael Kruger has been discussing misconceptions of the NT Canon. In his latest post he discusses the basis for distinguising heresy from orthodoxy in the early church. I really enjoyed what he writes concerning the role of the Old Testament in the early church.

 Routinely overlooked by those in the Bauer camp—ironically in a Marcionite fashion—is the decisive role played by the Old Testament amongst the earliest Christians. M.F. Wiles once declared, “There was never a time when the Church was without written Scriptures.  From the beginning she had the Old Testament and it was for her the oracles of God.”[1]   Aside from the numerous examples of Old Testament usage within the New Testament itself, quotations from the Old Testament are abundant within the writings of the apostolic fathers and other early Christian texts. Thus, right from the outset, certain “versions” of Christianity would have been ruled as out of bounds.  For example, any quasi-Gnostic version of the faith which suggested the God of the Old Testament was not the true God but a “demiurge”—as in the case of the heretic Marcion—would have been deemed unorthodox on the basis of these Old Testament canonical books alone.  As Ben Witherington has observed, “Gnosticism was a non-starter from the outset because it rejected the very book the earliest Christians recognized as authoritative—the Old Testament.”[2] So, the claim that early Christians had no Scripture on which to base their declarations that some group was heretical and another orthodox is simply mistaken.   The Old Testament books would have provided that initial doctrinal foundation.

[1] M.F. Wiles, “Origen as Biblical Scholar,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome (ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 454.

[2] Ben Witherington, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magadelene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 115.

You can read the entire post here.

Book Notice: Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address

A book to keep your eye on if you are interested in theological interpretation is Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans) edited by Craig G. Bartholomew and David J.H. Beldman. In the Preface Bartholomew and Beldman lament that the Old Testament is for the most part unknown by the majority Christians and that there are far too few books to assist Christians to feast upon it as Christian Scripture. Their response to the famine is this edited volume with the goal of listening for God’s address through the Old Testament:

At the heart of the hermeneutic advocated in this book is the belief that our love for the Old Testament and our desire for God will come together only when we make the goal of our interpretation to listen for God’s address. If Scripture is God’s Word, then any other goal is inadequate.

Hearing the Old Testament boasts an impressive collection of contributors beginning with Bartholomew’s opening chapter, “Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament.” Part II of the volume concerns methods in interpretation and is appropriately named, “Learning to Listen.” Essays from Part III are involve listening to the different sections of the Old Testament.  Part IV concludes the volume with, “Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament.”

What stands out about this volume is the careful editorial process. Contributors to Part II, “Learning to Listen” first read Bartholomew’s chapter on Hermeneutics and then were invited to interact either positively or negatively with his essay. Contributors to Part III were asked to write their chapters after reading Bartholomew’s chapter and the chapter’s on “Learning to Listen.” Part IV was then written in light of the Parts I-III. This type of editorial planning should bring a certain type of cohesion that normally lacks in an edited volume. I only hope that future volumes may follow suit.

The List of chapters and authors:

  1. Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament by Craig G. Bartholomew
  2. History of Old Testament Interpretation by Al Wolters
  3. Philosophy and Old Testament Interpretation by Bartholomew
  4. Literary Approaches and Old Testament Interpretation by David J.H. Beldman
  5. History and Old Testament Interpretation by Tremper Longman III
  6. Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation by Mark J. Boda
  7. Canon and Old Testament Interpretation by Stephen G. Dempster
  8. Mission and Old Testament Interpretation by Christopher J.H. Wright
  9. Ethics and Old Testament Interpretation by M. Daniel Carroll R.
  10. Hearing the Pentateuch by Gordon J. Wenham
  11. Hearing the Historical Books by Iain Provan
  12. Hearing the Psalter by J. Clinton McCann Jr.
  13. Hearing the Old Testament Wisdom Literature by Bartholomew
  14. Hearing the Major Prophets by Richard Schultz
  15. Hearing the Minor Prophets by Heath Thomas
  16. Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament by Aubrey Spears

Historical Adam 2.0

Kevin DeYoung has asked a similar question to mine about the historical Adam. Essentially his point is that in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles there is no indication from the author that part of the record is mythological or figurative while the rest is historical. You can check it out here.

Just another side note on this issue: after my first post on this a friend questioned whether or not the biblical narrative can be more than history. His question was, in other words, whether the biblical text does more than just relate historical events. My answer was of course yes – the Scriptures are the inspired interpretation of the historical events of God and his people. But that does not make them a- or un-historical. We can recognize both the historical veracity of the biblical record and the inspired interpretation that the Scriptures provide of those events. So when I say “there is no indication from the author that part of the record is mythological or figurative while the rest is historical,” I am not in any way intending to separate the biblical authors’ ability to both relate historical events accurately and interpret history in theologically meaningful ways, but am actually trying to argue that these two things are not separable in Scripture. One can recognize the Bible’s historical accuracy and its ability (or, even stronger, its intention) to interpret history at the same time.

A Canonical Take on Adam and Eve

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I haven’t paid much attention to all the hoopla going on in the blogosphere about Adam and Eve and their historicity lately. Suffice it to say that this article in CT seems to have started a flurry of blogging activity concerning the historicity the “First Couple.” I’ll just go ahead and say up front that I believe in the historical veracity of the creation account of Genesis 1-2. (If you want to equate me to Sarah Palin, I suppose you can, but I doubt it would be fruitful for you to read any further.) This doesn’t seem to be the popular view in many of the blogs I’ve seen, but what I don’t want to do here is argue blog post by blog post against a plethora of others’ blog posts. I simply want to offer one piece of evidence that I think points to Adam and Eve being real human beings created by God as the beginning of the human race.That piece of evidence is the genealogical records found in Scripture.

Wherever Scripture records a genealogy that references Adam, they refer to him alongside the contemporaneous figure on which the passage focuses. This means that this issue is not only related to our understanding of Paul in Romans 5 but to the understanding of various writers throughout the corpus of Scripture. To begin, Adam’s narrative is continuous with the (many times genealogical) narrative of Genesis 1-11. This narrative in turn functions to bring the reader to Abraham, a central figure in Genesis and in the OT. There is no break in the story, no indication that the writer of Genesis made a distinction between one section as a “creation myth” and the other as the start of “real history.” Genesis 5:1-5 is especially noteworthy here, as the same man who was created by God in the Garden as the first man is said to have born children, one of whom is a vital part of Genesis’ genealogies, lived to a certain age, and died. This certainly doesn’t sound like an a-historical proto-man myth to me.

1 Chronicles 1-2, in which the author is concerned to show the genealogical record of King David, begins with Adam as well. He is included with other figures from Israelite history who the author certainly would not have seen as a-historical or simply a figurative tribal head.

Finally, there is Luke 3, the genealogy of Jesus. The same thing said of 1 Chronicles 1-2 can be said here. Luke doesn’t make a distinction between the historical and “figurative” (or other such categories) of people referenced in Jesus’ ancestral record.

Along with these references, there are Hosea 6:7; Rom 5:12, 14; 1 Cor 15:22, 45; 1 Tim 2:13-14; and Jude 1:14. All of these appear to regard Adam as a historical figure, and as the progenitor of the entire human race.

Now, I realize I haven’t dealt with the scientific claims that have spurred these articles and blog posts, and namely the claim that the human race began from at least 10,000 people instead of just 2. But that’s not the point of the post. I will say this, though, in conclusion; for all of those who are calling for Christians, and especially us Palin-supporting knuckle dragging Neanderthal inerrantists, to get with the times and trust science, my brief rejoinder is that for as many things that science has given us, it is neither a fool-proof epistemic source of knowledge nor even a neutral, presupposition-less epistemology. It, like any other mode of knowledge, is prone to error, subject to our own whims and biases, and should not be taken as the only source of information about our past, present or future.

N.T. Wright on Jesus’ Vindication

I think I’ll start off this blog with its demise, which is to say I want to use it to critique the work of arguably the leading NT scholar in the world, N.T. Wright. How’s that for starting off with a bang (or a death wish)?

I just finished reading Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, volume 2 in his Christian Origins and the Question of God series. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the book; Wright’s explanation of Jesus’ prophetic program, aims and beliefs, practices, and stories all greatly enhanced my understanding of not only the Gospels but the OT as well. I think Wright is careful and meticulous, and he does the church a great service not only with this volume but also with The New Testament and the People of God and The Resurrection and the Son of God. All three of these books help the church first of all in its battle with the Enlightenment project’s seemingly endless quest to either “prove” the fictitious character of the Gospels or to undermine Jesus’ message through labeling him as a misguided apocalyptic prophet. Second, they serve the church well in its quest to understand the Bible better, especially the Gospels.

One nagging question for me, though, in reading through the latter parts of JVO is whether Wright is entirely correct in his assessment of how Jesus believes he will be vindicated as a prophet. Particularly in Part II of the book, Wright frequently argues that Jesus believes and teaches that he and his message will be vindicated through the fall of Jerusalem, which we know occurred in AD 70. Wright is especially concerned to show that when Jesus teaches the disciples about “when these things will be” in Mark 13 (cf. Matt 24), he is speaking not about “the end of the space-time universe” but about his vindication as a prophet. According to Wright, this vindication begins at his death (and resurrection, although Wright mainly leaves that for vol. 3) and ends emphatically with the calamity of AD 70. Wright sees the events of Mk 13:14-23 as referring to the events of AD 70 (the “abomination of desolation” standing where it ought not to be, fleeing to the hills, false prophets), and Jesus is speaking of these events as the way in which the disciples will know that he is right about the Temple’s destruction and his own program to restore Israel from exile.

Although I agree with Wright’s larger assessment of Jesus’ program and with his definition of “the last days” not as some distant, future end-of-the-space-time-universe event but as beginning with Jesus’ mission and especially his death and resurrection, I have a number of questions about Jesus believing he would be vindicated by the events AD 70. My initial reaction is to say no, Jesus believed he would be vindicated primarily by his death and resurrection. The following are a few reasons I lean this way and not with Wright.

First, there is no explicit reference in the NT to the events of AD 70. Although some would argue there are implied references, if those events were the main vindication of Jesus’ message one would think the writers of the NT would at least mention it in a few places, whether prophetically if the book was written before AD 70 or reflectively if written afterwards.
Second, other NT writers (esp. Paul and John) both use similar language in describing a) the period in which we now reside (commonly “the last days”, “these last days”, etc.) and b) the second coming of Christ. I wonder why they would interpret Christ’s words to refer to a future second coming if, as Wright argues, these chapters in the Gospels do not refer to his return at the consummation of the new creation.

Third, Wright consistently, and I think convincingly, argues throughout the book that the primary difference between Jesus’ message and the Pharisees’ and other first century Jews’ expectations was that Jesus saw the coming of the Kingdom centered around himself and inaugurated with his life, death, and resurrection, while the Pharisees and other C1 Jews saw it centered around various symbols and practices (Torah, Temple, Sabbath, food laws, etc.) and inaugurated with a military overthrow of Rome. I wonder why Wright so consistently argues for Jesus’ non-military agenda and then says that Jesus’ vindication will come through a military victory 35 years later (albeit by Rome over Jerusalem instead of the other way around).

Fourth, two of the events of Mk 13/Matt 24 that Wright argues are seen in AD 70, namely the “abomination of desolation” and the destruction of the Temple, are already seen in Jesus’ final work in Jerusalem and in his death. Wright himself argues that Caiaphas is presented as “evil incarnate” and his position as chief priest may point to his fulfillment of the “abomination of desolation.” Second and more strongly presented by the Gospels is the fact that the Temple is destroyed not in AD 70 but at Jesus’ death when the curtain is torn in two. As Wright demonstrates, Jesus proleptically enacts the Temple’s destruction in the Temple cleansing; the temporary cessation of sacrifices momentarily ends its purpose and thus its destruction is foreshadowed. Therefore when the curtain is torn in two at Jesus’ death, the Temple is permanently destroyed. The Holy of Holies has been violated; it can no longer serve its purpose.

Also of interest is Matthew’s use of the phrase “after these things”; Beale argues that John, through a quotation of Daniel, uses this phrase in Revelation to refer to the entire time period of the “last days”, and if Matthew uses it similarly then Jesus could be referring not just to one future event on the horizon but to the entire period of time between his first and second coming.

Obviously these arguments need to be fleshed out further to provide any sort of serious critique of Wright’s position. The purpose of this post  has not been to provide a definitive alternate position, but simply to put forth some questions about Wright’s conclusions concerning Mark 13/Matt 24 and the events of AD 70.

What do you think?