Biblical Reasoning (Part 1): Tyler Wittman on Theology and Exegesis

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Tyler Wittman of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We discuss the relationship between theology and exegesis (2:18), honoring God in exegesis (9:34), the Trinity and the New Testament (20:07), inseparable operations and appropriations (27:23), and more. Buy Tyler’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

You can preorder Brandon’s new book, The Trinity in the Book of Revelation: Seeing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in John’s Apocalypse (IVP Academic, 2022).

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, a co-founder of the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. You can follow him on Twitter at @brandon_d_smith.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

Madison Pierce and Ched Spellman on Anonymous Authors and Audiences in the New Testament

This episode is a conversation with Drs. Madison Pierce of Western Theological Seminary and Ched Spellman of Cedarville University. We discuss the anonymous authorship and audience of Hebrews (7:50), the hermeneutical effect of anonymous authorship (24:26), the development of the canon and tradition (46:05), and more. Buy Madison’s and Ched’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, on the board of directors for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. You can follow him on Twitter at @brandon_d_smith.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

John Meade on the Development of the Biblical Canon, Canon Lists, and Origen the Text Critic

This episode is a conversation with Dr. John Meade of Phoenix Seminary. We discuss early biblical canon lists (1:06), the Old and New Testaments and “other writings” in the lists (7:00), the canon up to the Reformation (18:11), the unity and diversity of “authoritative” books (25:42), why we can trust our Bible (40:54), Origen the text critic (45:10), and more. Buy John’s books and check out the Text & Canon Institute.

Church Grammar is presented by the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. You can follow him on Twitter at @brandon_d_smith.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2021

It’s become an annual tradition for me and many others to write a post like this. Check out my past lists: 2015 and 2016 lists at my old Patheos blog, and my 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 lists posted here at Biblical Reasoning.

In no particular order, here are my five (six! I cheated this year) favorite books that I read in 2021.

Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? by Thomas H. McCall

This is a classic example of a book I should’ve read years ago—it came out in 2010!—but just never had the chance to, aside from dabbling in a few chapters here and there. In my view, McCall represents the best of the “analytic theology” (AT) movement: the notably logically-rigorous flavor of AT, but rooted deeply in Scripture and the Christian tradition. His critique of eternal subordination of the Son, years before the 2016 debate, is particularly helpful and still relevant.

The Incarnate Lord by Thomas Joseph White

Another book I came a little late to, but am glad I did. Few people have White’s rare ability to engage some of the most theologically and philosophically complex issues with clarity and precision. In this book in particular, he tackles all of the major issues and questions that arise in Christology in general and Aquinas’s Christology in particular.

Faith, Hope, Love by Josef Pieper

After becoming somewhat bored of overwrought, pragmatic books on morality and ethics, I asked a few philosophy/ethics scholar-friends for recommendations. This book by Pieper was the near-unanimous recommendation. I was blown away by his simple, even doxological, approach to theological ethics, which has obviously been fostered over Pieper’s decades of personal reflection and practice.

On the Trinity by Hilary of Poitiers

I’m always reading the church fathers as part of my research, teaching, and personal interest, and it was my goal this year to read the entirety of Hilary’s work on the Trinity. “The Athanasius of the West” did not disappoint; his orthodox Trinitarian formulations are worked out in unique ways, and his framing around Exod. 3:14 is worth the price of admission.

Letters for the Church by Darian R. Lockett

Lockett is one of my favorite New Testament scholars (and all-around human beings). His broader scholarship contributes to two broadly under-appreciated fields: canon and the Catholic/General Epistles. Those two expertises combine into an excellent, accessible volume on the major theological and canonical issues in interpreting these epistles.

The Same God Who Works All Things by Adonis Vidu

Vidu’s work is truly a monumental addition to the field of Trinitarian theology. Simply put, inseparable operations are a crucial piece of the Trinitarian puzzle, and Vidu’s is the first full-scale work done on the doctrine in recent memory. This book has a great combination of exegetical insights, theological imagination, and historical sensitivity.

Theological Interpretation (Part 2): Ched Spellman on Theology, Canon, and Hermeneutics

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Ched Spellman of Cedarville University. As a follow up to our conversation with Madison Pierce about TIS and the Wycliffe Colloquium, we discuss the relationship between TIS, biblical theology, and canon studies. Buy Ched’s books. Watch the Wycliffe Colloquium here.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. You can follow him on Twitter at @brandon_d_smith.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

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Matthew Barrett on Systematic and Biblical Theology, Sensus Plenior, and the NBA

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We discuss the Lakers and the NBA (2:44), the connection of systematic and biblical theology (12:10), the relationship between the covenants and Christology (17:20), Christ and the doctrine of Scripture (21:12), and authorial intent and sensus plenior (25:55). Buy Matt’s books and check out his Credo Podcast, where this conversation will be posted at a later date.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Lexham Press. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Ched Spellman on Canon-Consciousness, Biblical Theology, and Puns as Pedagogy

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Ched Spellman of Cedarville University. We discuss reading the Bible canonically (3:00), biblical authors’ compositional strategy and intention (12:58), Revelation as a canonical bookend (23:00), canon-covenant-Christology as biblical theology (32:30), puns and memes (45:00), and more. Buy Ched’s books. Also, checkout his world-famous YouTube channel.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Matthew Emerson on the Biblical Canon, Hermeneutics, and Auburn Football

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Matthew Emerson of Oklahoma Baptist University. We discuss developing interests in scholarship (2:40), the importance of the biblical canon’s order and shape (9:55), theological method and allegory (18:00), how Jesus influences and clarifies OT exegesis (31:35), Trinitarian theology and method (33:35), renewing Baptist theology (44:33), the legitimacy of Auburn’s football championships (49:40), and more. Buy Matt’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Psychoanalyzing Biblical Authors

At an ETS meeting a few years ago, I asked a presenter (and friend) whether he thought John the Seer intentionally wrote Revelation to an ideal reader or to what extent John meant to communicate certain things. I asked that question because it’s a common question I receive when discussing my own research on John’s theology. He gave a helpful answer, but the summary (rightly) was, “I’m not sure.” That’s often my answer, as well, but I was hoping he would give me some kind of uncharted insight that I could cite later. Alas.

Relatedly, I was recently lecturing at a university on the development of Trinitarian language from the NT to Nicaea and a student asked me afterward, “Do you think the OT writers would have had a pre-existing concept of the Trinity?” Though I answered the question the best I could, my initial comment was, “We need to be careful not to try to psychoanalyze biblical authors.” This is a good general rule for both my question at ETS and the student’s question of me.

That said, we can suggest or hypothesize about particular authors’ intentions or thought processes because we have the final form of their texts in front of us. Along with the text itself, what we know of the historical or cultural conditions in which it was written can help us make relatively informed conclusions about the author’s underlying intentions or influences — so long as we use those tools with care and caution.

For example, in my dissertation, I’ve made the following statement about John’s incipient Trinitarianism:

John’s apocalypse contains a view of the Trinity—that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal in substance and yet distinct in personhood—that is incipient; that is, John’s explanation of the relationship between the persons was developing rather than fully or systematically established. This developing understanding of the persons means that John’s Trinitarianism is not tidy or terminologically precise; therefore, the explicitness of his descriptions will vary from passage to passage. Like other NT writers working from early Christian kerygma—particularly the Christological interpretation of the OT, patterns of devotion, and religious experience—he uses language and concepts familiar to himself and his audience to describe the apparent multiplicity of persons within the identity of Israel’s one God. . . .

While at some level we cannot interrogate John’s mental apparatus in order to understand all of his intentions and presuppositions, we have the final form of Revelation’s text through which we can ascertain judgments about his theological project. For example, John clearly constructs Revelation as a cohesive and unified letter with an epilogue and prologue and, as we will see, his method for applying concepts and allusions varies but is not haphazard. . . .

Regardless of whether it’s John or another biblical author, we should be careful not to psychoanalyze him, most obviously because he is not here to defend himself against our false conclusions. However, we should not allow this caution to scare us from saying anything definitive about the purpose, method, or theological project of an author. Indeed, Christian scholars acknowledge that each text is written by a human author, of course, but also by a Divine Author who is working behind the scenes in ways the human author cannot see. In turn, we as modern readers have the Holy Spirit and a biblical canon that offer us the ability to pay attention to patterns within both individual books and the overarching biblical storyline that may not be obvious on an historical-critical Petri dish.

I suspect that many biblical scholars are so paralyzed by my first question above that they cannot appreciate this tension.


Book Review: Andrew Streett’s The Vine and the Son of Man

During ETS and SBL this year I was able to read through Andrew Streett’s welcome contribution to Fortress Press’ “Emerging Scholars” series, The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism. Streett, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary in Texas, revised his dissertation (Univ. of Wales Trinity St. David) for this volume.

In the monograph Streett argues

(a) that Jewish and Christian interpreters found material in Psalm 80 pertaining to events at the end of the age, a time that some interpreters believed had already come upon them and their communities; and (b) that the meaning derived from Psalm 80 most often comes from the images of the vine (vv. 9-17) and the potentially messianic man (vv. 16b, 18), which because of the ambiguity of the text are open to a wide variety of interpretations (1).

The reader familiar with the Jewish and Christian Scriptures will recognize the potential fruitfulness of exploring the history of interpretation of Psalm 80, as it is alluded to in significant passages of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as in Second Temple literature and Rabbinic Judaism. But, as Streett notes, the study of Psalm 80 and its use in later Jewish and Christian writings, and particularly a study of its eschatological interpretation, is relatively scant. Streett’s volume therefore fills a lacuna in the study of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

The book is tightly organized, beginning with two chapters on Psalm 80 in its historical and literary contexts respectively. Over the course of the remainder of the work (chapters 3 – 7), Streett traces the use of Psalm 80 through various Hebrew Bible, Second Temple, and New Testament texts, including Daniel 7 and John 15:1-8. Streett is particularly keen to show how Psalm 80 came to be read messianically and then christologically, and how it is an exegetically feasible reading.

This type of book – one that traces the history of interpretation of a particular passage through its various stages- seems to me to be increasingly popular, and I think rightly so. While the outline of this book and others like it may appear relatively simple, the work done by Streett in this volume is important and useful on a number of levels. First, it sheds light on a comparatively understudied but still important passage in ancient Judaism and early Christianity, and one whose varied interpretations helps us to understand why Christianity ultimately departed from Judaism. The interpretation of Psalm 80, and particularly the Gospel authors’ reading of it as a reference to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, is one of the hermeneutical tipping points for early Christianity. Streett’s careful exegesis of the passage, coupled with his nuanced explanation of how ancient Jewish and early Christian writers read it differently, is of great assistance to scholars of these ancient texts and of the history of religion.

Second, Streett provides readers with what I consider to be a robust interpretive method. He describes it as “eclectic”, drawing on both historical and literary tools. On the latter, he is most interested in describing how Psalm 80 can be read canonically and intertextually (11). This type of reading, that situates a passage of Scripture while at the same time reading it as part of a larger whole, is one that I wholeheartedly commend.

Third, while Streett does not describe his project this way, in my mind it is helpful for Christians who wish to understand better the rationale of the New Testament writers as they used the Old Testament. The Vine and the Son of Man demonstrates that, while there are other interpretive options for the passage, early Christian messianic and christological interpretation of it fits well within the realm of possibilities when considering the intentions of the author of Psalm 80.

On that note, one question I continue to have after reading the book, and after re-reading the relevant passages to this question a number of times, is what Streett means by “meaning,” “intention,” and “intentionality.” A number of times Streett uses these terms to my mind in seemingly disparate ways, so that at one point they can refer to a (single?) intent of the original author – i.e. “what it meant” – while at others they seem to refer to what later readers understood it to mean, and at still other times they appear to refer to what the passage means in a canonical context. Perhaps Streett means all three, and maybe more, but it is still not clear to me exactly what he means by meaning or intention.

I would also hope to see a subsequent article or book on the interpretation of Psalm 80 not just in the New Testament but in early Christianity and perhaps even beyond. It seems to me that these types of projects would be bolstered by looking at the history of interpretation not only in the Christian canon and its background literature but also in subsequent Christian writings.

That question and small quibble aside, The Vine and the Son of Man is a carefully argued, methodologically robust, and therefore welcome addition to the study of the Hebrew Bible in subsequent literature. I would recommend it to those interested in a rigorous study of the Psalter, the history of interpretation, or early Christian origins and exegesis.

 

NOTE: I received this book in exchange for a fair and impartial review.