The Christ-Gift in Galatians—Part III: Paul & the Gift

In Part III of Paul & the Gift John Barclay exegetically and theologically analyzes The apostle’s letter to the Galatians. Barclay’s treatment requires four chapters, weighing it in at just over one hundred pages. In addition to his exegesis, he compares a reading of Paul’s letter to that of Luther, Dunn, Martyn, and Kahl by drawing attention to the numerous locus of debate that are associated with it such as Faith, Christ, Works, Law—pistis Christou (πιστις Χριστου) vs. erga nomou (εργα νομου)—and several others. What Barclay reveals is Paul’s desire for new communities to form as a result of the gospel he proclaims:

“The truth of Paul’s gospel has to be both recognized and enacted–in fact, recognized in its enactment. It is only as communities are remolded in exclusive allegiance to ‘the law of Christ’ that they may be said to affirm the baptismal confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9). Social practice is not, for Paul, an addition to belief, a sequel to a status realizable in other terms: it is the expression of belief in Christ, the enactment of a ‘life’ that can otherwise make no claim to be ‘alive'” (p. 439-440).

As Barclay demonstrates, grace, for Paul, is unconditioned (incongruous) but not unconditional (rejecting non-circularity).  The gift, then, is the Christ-event: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul’s theology, incongruity is the dominant of the perfections; it is because of this that the gospel “stands or falls” (p. 370). Based on his exegetical analysis, Barclay crafts the below rendering of Galatians 2:15-21—

You and I, Peter, are Jews, used to thinking of ourselves as categorically distinct from “Gentile sinners.” But we know (though conviction and experience) that a person (whether Gentile or Jew) is not considered of worth (“righteous”) by God through Torah-observance (“living Jewishly”), but through faith in (what God has done in) Christ. We look to God to consider us valuable (“righteous”) in Christ, not through obeying the Torah, and this is so even if (in situations like Antioch’s) our resulting behavior makes us look like “sinners” (“living in a Gentile fashion”). Does that mean that Christ has led us into sin? No way! Only if one were to reinstate the Torah as the arbiter of worth (“righteousness”) would “living like a Gentile” in Christ be classified as “transgression”. In fact (taking myself as a paradigm), I have died to the Torah—it is no longer what constitutes my standard of value—because I have been reconstituted in Christ. My old existence came to an end with the crucified Christ; my new life has arisen from the Christ-event and is therefore shaped by faith in the death of Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me. This divine gift I will by no means reject: if “righteousness” were measured by the Torah, the death of Christ would be without effect (p. 371). 

Barclay’s translation is directly in line with what is conclusive of the whole letter of Galatians.

  1. The theology of Galatians ‘drives toward the formation of innovative communities, which not only span the boundary dividing Gentiles and Jews, but practice a communal ethos significantly at odds with the contest-culture of the Mediterranean world’ (p. 443).
  2. The incongruity of grace enacted in the Christ-event and experienced in the Spirit. Because the Christ-gift neither recognized nor rewarded the worth of Paul’s life “in Judaism,” and equally was given irrespective of the worth of Gentiles, it jolts its recipients into a new construal of the cosmos (p. 443).
  3. The contextual specificity of the letter and the breadth of the canvas on which Paul depicts issues.  For Paul, it is because the Christ-event has subverted every other regime of value that it cannot be repackaged within the taxonomies of the Torah without losing its character as incongruous gift. And neither does it conform to quest for honor or the definitions of capital that are regnant in the “world” on human terms (p. 444).
  4. We are able to appreciate in a new way how communal practice is ‘integral to the expression of good news, because the issue of the Law in Galatians is not law-as-demand or law-as-means-to-salvation. Living by faith is ‘necessarily expressed in new patterns of loyalty and behavior’, with the Spirit as its source, director, and norm (p. 444).
  5. Clarifying how Paul’s allegiance to the truth of the good news necessarily questions the ultimate authority of the Torah, there is no denigration of Judaism required with this reading of Galatians (p. 445).

 

As these points reveal, Barclay’s argument is boiled down to understanding the missionary context of Paul’s gospel as the perfection emphasized is incongruity.  Paul’s gospel as he preached it was missional and reflects his social context. He destroyed the hostile disunity that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s motive was to tear down the walls built by the social order, and the only way to do it was with a gospel that was new and unique. Jews and Gentiles living in community together was the new model for community that is made possible under the umbrella of the Christ-event, that is, the grace-gift. This completely changes how they would interpret community and what it means to do life together; free of social hierarchy for a “Community of Different’s”, reflecting the title of Scot McKnight’s book on the subject.

My final installment of Barclay will be published within a week, and it will reflect his findings for Paul’s letter to the Romans.

If you haven’t read them yet, check out my other posts regarding Barclay’s book Paul & the Gift by clicking the links below!

Paul & the Gift: Book Review and Introduction
Part I: The Multiple Meanings of Gift and Grace
Part II: Divine Gift in Second Tempe Judaism

Divine Gift in Second Temple Judaism: Part II—Paul & the Gift

Related imagePart II of John Barclay’s Paul & the Gift examines “grace” and the various ways it has been presented in Second Temple Judaism. He examines five texts in his analysis—Wisdom of Solomon, the Qumran Hodayot, Philo, Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum and 4 Ezra; arguing that grace has been, as Part I revealed, “perfected” differently during the Second Temple period. Barclay argues that as a result the Augustinian reading of Paul (gift-giving being absent of reciprocity) was adopted by westerners is only one of the perfections in order to understand grace. This historical analysis shows that one should look for the similarities and differences of perfected grace between Paul and the writers of Second Temple Judaism. Once seen, “it becomes senseless to ask whether Paul represents ‘real’ grace, as opposed to its ‘diluted’ forms in Judaism,” and interestingly enough, the question turns to, “how does Paul perfect the theme of divine beneficence and how does his voice compare with others in his diverse Jewish context?” (p. 320).

Barclay examines the Second Temple writings using the backdrop of the six perfections model from chapter 2 (you can get a brief overview of them in my previous post). What he finds is all five embrace the superabundance of God’s grace; at the same time, not one of them embraced the non-circularity. Remarkably, this is just another nail in the coffin of the modern idea of grace/gift-giving’s coffin; meaning that reciprocity is present in some way of all the writings…

Much like Part I, the careful treatment of these texts is carefully done and worth the price of the book alone. As I summarized the presence/absence of the six perfections in the second temple texts and the historical texts I came to a realization: explaining the nuances of these perfections was confusing, repetitive, and could potentially be an entangled mess for readers to follow (it was difficult for me and I typed it out!). However, thanks to Andrew Wilson, I found the table below; I’m sure you’ll find it more helpful than if I attempted to recapitulate with my repetitive rambling.

My apologies if the image appears distorted; I had some difficulty with it for whatever reason… The names listed in the left hand column are Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, Pseudo-Philo, The Qumran Hodayot, 4 Ezra, Marcion, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Bultmann. Though the names are distorted, the Yes/No in each box is clear. As you can see, grace was not understood the same way by every Second Temple Jew. Barclay’s analysis shows why we should not say one form of grace is purer or higher than another because grace clearly was understood differently throughout history. Don’t get me wrong, grace is still grace, but not all grace is understood the same.

O’Brien and Richards demonstrate this aspect analogously with the word “know” in their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (IVP 2012); using the example of a police officer pulling someone over for speeding. When the officer asks, “do you know how fast you were going?” when pulled over for speeding. Answering “yes” is understood differently in western culture than it is in eastern cultures. Westerners hear this as a self-awareness question—“are you aware of the speed you were going?”; whereas in eastern culture it is assumed they clearly don’t know the speed limit, otherwise they’d obey it. Asking whether or not they know would be redundant in an eastern context because it is culturally nonsensical.

Barclay’s conclusion to this component is that each writer’s depiction of gift and grace should be appreciated for what it is. He says, “It would make little sense to say that he (Paul) emphasizes grace more than other Jews of his time, but it is also clear that his views are not identical to those of the others surveyed, just as they disagree among themselves” (p. 328). I am grateful for his historical and descriptive approach, as well as the clarity he provides for each figure’s take on grace in the Second Temple period.  Barclay helps the reader conceptualize that grace is not an “all in or not at all” mentality we often assume it to be. Everyone he observes believed in grace, even if they understood it differently. The question remains, then, is should all conceptions of grace be accepted equally?  Much like Greg Boyd’s “Cruciform Hermeneutic” introduced in Part I of Crucifixion of the Warrior God (click here for my review of it), the historical framework can sometimes appear in tension with Biblical theology, which raises several interpretive questions regarding authority and inspiration. This is not to assert the two are perpetually at odds with one another, though the dynamic of each camp’s position appears as “either/or” instead of “both/and”… All one can do from here is look at Paul’s understanding of grace/gift and hold it in light of these other writings. Questions of Authority and Inspiration aside, we do know that Paul was a product of his time and culture; it would be foolish to think this had no affect on his understanding of grace and gift, as well his literary use of them. How Paul understood grace is a question Barclay attempts to answer in Part’s III & IV.

If you haven’t read my previous posts regarding Paul & the Gift ; click the following links for each:

Paul & the Gift: Book Review and Introduction

The Multiple Meanings of Gift and Grace: Part I—Paul & the Gift

 

The Multiple Meanings of Gift and Grace: Part I—Paul & the Gift

I’m willing to bet if you were to ask a random person how they define grace, their response would include either (a) someone/something possessing elegance, poise, finesse, etc., or (b) the “christianese” understanding of God’s unmerited favor for all through his son, Jesus, and a reference to Ephesians 2:8-10 (let me know if there’s a third cliche I’ve missed) In part I of Paul & the Gift, Barclay researches how the words grace and gift are used historically. His findings I found to be surprisingly diverse—Surprising in a beneficial sense for my own misguided contextual understanding. Though this increased my very empty bank of historical theology, it nevertheless exposes my lack of awareness influenced by reading with Western eyes (sigh…).

Starting with Chapter 1, Barclay observes the operation of gifts anthropologically by exploring contextual factors outside and before modern Western culture. Today, Barclay contends, we often define a gift to rule out a reciprocal response or a return of some kind. We assume it to be integral to the character of gifts, insofar as to be given without any hope of a return benefit as the core to gift-giving. But in the Greco-Roman world it was expected that one would respond to a gift with some return, and such a return did not mean that the gift was not a true gift (p. 12). Disinterested altruism was not ascribed to gift-giving in the Greco-Roman world. Quoting Barclay, “An anthropology of gift doesn’t provide any single ‘model’ or ‘essence’ of the gift, but it suggests that gifts may have important roles in creating or producing social ties” (p. 63). This historical perspective, then, is necessary for contextualizing the practice of gift-giving and exchange. Concluding chapter 1, gifts entail expectation and even obligation of reciprocity, however, they are never distributed based on the equal status of the giver and receiver of the gift.

In Chapter 2 the focus shifts to the six perfections of grace. With meticulous observation, Barclay asserts the perfections to be the most common characteristics of grace historically:

1. Superabundance– The size, significance, or permanence of the gift. This excessive, boundless, and illimitable divine wealth is befitting to Paul’s language as used in Rom. 5:12-21 and 2 Cor. 9:8, 11 (p. 70).

2. Singularity– the focus with this perfection is on the giver rather than the gift; the mode of operation or spirit as Barclay says, is solely exclusive to benevolence or goodness (p.71)

3. Priority– The timing of the gift is perfect. The gift is the initiating move that is given in “spontaneous generosity” without prior demand, reaction, obligation, or request of the recipient, which simultaneously displays the superiority of the giver (p.72).

4. Incongruity– The perfection of a gift as supremely excellent because it does not regard prior conditions of worth. This distinguishes the Christ gift from how gifts in antiquity were typically understood (p. 72-73).

5. Efficacy– A perfect gift may also be figured as that which fully achieves what it was designed to do (p.74). The development of this perfection is associated most famously with Augustine’s theology of grace.

6. Non-Circularity– This perfection focuses on reciprocity, which is a more modern concept. Is a gift only a gift if it escapes the system of exchange? If this is true, than the gift is a one-way gift establishing no relation, creating a permanent and potentially humiliating dependency, and freeing the recipient of all responsibility (p. 74-75).

What should be noted about these six perfections is that they are not dependent on one another, nor are all needed for grace’s “true” meaning. In laying them out like this, Barclay’s point is relatively straightforward: “to perfect one facet of gift-giving does not imply the perfection of any or all of the others.” Simply put, these perfections are the most common traits of grace; there is neither hierarchy in their significance, nor added value for how many perfections are central to one’s interpretation. This point is Illuminating the marquee paragraph that follows:

“To speak of “pure grace” may mean its singularity (God is nothing but benevolent) or its non-circularity (God’s grace seeks no return) – or some other of its six perfections. To describe God’s grace as “free” could mean many things: that it is unconstrained by the previous circumstances (in our terms, prior), that it is given irrespective of the recipients’ worth (in our terms, incongruous), or that it is given without subsequent expectations (in our terms, non-circular) – or, indeed, some combination of these three. Similarly, the epithet “unconditional” could mean at least two things: without prior conditions (thus, incongruous) or without resulting obligations (thus, non-circular), or both” (p. 76).

It can be seen that the six perfections have enormous implications surrounding the ongoing grace debate within the church. In Chapter 3, Barclay begins an in-depth overview of select, but pivotal, interpreters of Paul throughout history up to present day. Including figures such as Marcion, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth, Martyn, E.P. Sanders, as well as several others, his historical canvas is widespread to thoroughly cover as much as possible. I will save comparison of the figures for Part II: Divine Gift and Second Temple Judaism; where I will hold all figures/writings against the six perfections backdrop.

Concluding Part I, Chapter 4 summarizes the conclusions from Barclay’s analysis. He shows that Anthropology offers no exact model of “the gift” and proves no single definition. However, it does alert readers to the dynamics of reciprocity, power, and obligation that are common in gift-relations, but easily misconstrued. Part I achieves several goals, which can be summarized below (p. 185-187):

(i) Reaching into the past has clarified several current debates because their historical roots were not being fully articulated as they ought (p. 186).

(ii) Part I demonstrates the varied ways in which “grace” has been perfected in the history of interpretation can be disentangled with the six perfections framework—an analytical tool explaining not only that each theologian’s interpretation is different, but also why. What is revealed is it is neither necessary nor common to perfect grace in all six dimensions (p. 186).

(iii) The historical analysis of Part I is the foundation from which readers can now efficiently peruse the meaning of grace in Second Temple Judaism (Part II). They can now observe different Jewish perfections of grace without presuming that any one is necessary or proper, or that all will be the same (p. 187).

(iv) Paul’s relation to Second Temple Judaism should not be confined to two current but overly simplistic options: either Paul advocated grace against a grace-less and “legalistic” Judaism (Old Perspective), or Paul was in full agreement with all his fellow Jews on the character of grace (New Perspective). Paul needs to be placed neither over against his fellow Jews, nor in total agreement with them (p. 187).

(v) Every interpreter of Paul is in agreement that the apostle was the bearer of some “essential” meaning.  However, as Part I has revealed, this can lead to ideological tendencies; there is no reason to think that the greater the number of perfections, the better the concept of grace (p. 187).

(vi) History teaches hermeneutical self-consciousness. Part I displays exactly how historical and polemical contexts have fostered the varied perfections of grace we see today (p. 187).

Aside from the several citations and quotes, this part can be summed up as such—grace is a multifaceted pillar essential to Paul’s theology. It has been interpreted differently by different scholars in different contexts throughout history.

You can check out my introduction post to Paul & the Gift by clicking here. I will post Part II by next Wednesday.

Book Review: The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life

NT scholars advocating for the new perspective on Paul join with editors Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica in The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life—a collection of essays published by Baker Academic. Despite expectations, the book’s focus is not another New Perspective vs. Old Perspective work; instead, the all star team of NT scholars analyzes the apostle’s writings and, through a new perspective lens, exposing any implications for Christian Life. As the editors write in the introduction—“Sometimes an old-perspective reading of Paul can simply get “stuck” with the implications and aspects of individual salvation or chase the whole of Paul’s thought through what is often called the ordo salutis…it seems that a new-perspective reading of Paul offes a fresh and a rich approach as one grapples with the apostle Paul’s understanding of the Christian Life” (p. xiii).

The volume’s strength comes from various aspects argued throughout the essays; albeit for the Christian life as is displayed by Paul—ecclesiology, missiology, Pneumatology, Christology, soteriology, ethicality, ad sanctification. Contributions include:

1. The Christian Life from the Perspective of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (James Dunn)
2. The New Perspective and the Christian Life in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Lynn Cohick)
3. Faith, Works, and Worship: Torah Observance in Paul’s Theological Perspective (Bruce W. Longenecker)
4. The New Perspective and the Christian Life: Solus Spiritus (Patrick Mitchel)
5. Participation in the New-Creation People of God in Christ by the Spirit (Timothy Gombis)
6. The New Perspective and the Christian Life: The Ecclesial Life (Scot McKnight)
7. A Symphonic Melody: Wesleyan-Holiness Theology Meets New-Perspective Paul (Leach)
8. Paul and Missional Hermeneutics (N. T. Wright)

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole, there were two essays that stood out to me, starting first with Dunn’s—The Christian Life from the Perspective of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Dunn dissects Paul’s focus on the Spirit in the Christian life and both the weight and the authority invested in Galatians. Dunn’s argument is directed to the Paul’s conversion, and it’s inclusion in the letter (Gal. 1:13-17), giving special attention the words pistis, “faith” (p. 6), and pneuma, “spirit” (p. 10). His conclusion, then, is that works are not marks of the spirit, but both “faith” and the gift of “the spirit” are essential to the Christian Life. My critique, which is hardly such, regards the essay’s limited length when held in light of Dunn’s corpus of work. This does not affect the current essay, because I really did enjoy his argument which was well written. Be that as it may, I can’t imagine many would purchase this book unaware of the extensive work Dunn has contributed to the new perspective. Like I said earlier, his essay was excellent, but just as the footnotes pointing to his other writing’s indicate, there is not much here one wouldn’t get from Dunn’s larger publications.

The other essay that stood out (for a very different reason) was Gombis’s—Participation in the New-Creation People of God in Christ by the Spirit, which explores ecclesiological implications from Paul’s theology. Gombis was one of my NT Exegesis professors; reading his essay invoked nostalgia, which I was not expecting. Specifically, his emphasis on the community right out the gate—“the focus of Paul’s reflection on the Christian life is the church, the new-creation people of God made up of individuals in community… Paul does not conceive of individuals living the Christian life in isolation from the community” (104)—which was central to several of our class discussions. Gombis sets the stage by prefacing his argument with the framework from which his argument will unfold; he situates the Christian life within the narrative of Scripture. Starting first with Israel (104), following with the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (108) and the Baptism into Christ by the Spirit (110), and finishing with participation in the new-creation people of God for the Christian life (112).

As one would expect with most essay collections, the quality tends to vary from essay to essay. However, I think this would be an excellent resource for any with little to no familiarity on the new perspective. It would also make an excellent book discussion resource. I give it a thumbs up.

You can buy this book by clicking here if you are interested.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Baker for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed above are my own.

Residency Log: Entry #1

As of May 15th 2017 I started the ministry residency component for my Master of Divinity degree. I am very thankful for the opportunity to complete this component through my home church here in Grand Rapids, MI—Take Hold Church, as their pastoral resident. During this season I will use my blog as a platform for updating everyone as it progresses. I will be mentored by my pastor and friend, Shane Cox, as he oversees the residency. So far, he and I have developed a contract including  a job description and long-term plans/goals, which I will post as they progress.

Some of you may be wondering what a ministry residency even is. The short explanation is an internship for Graduate school. This is a time where I will be immersed in a pastoral ministry context, integrating what I have acquired from both life experience and the classroom. What motivates this integration are the values listed below that express the heartbeat of the residency:

-Spiritual Transformation
-Theological Reflection
-Missional Identity
-Intentional Community
-Contextual Vision

These values are present throughout the component and central to the experience I gain from being immersed in the field, Shane’s mentoring, and several workshops. The workshops will incorporate the values with different aspects of pastoral ministry. For this semester my focus will be on the aspects of Pastoral Counseling, Mandatory Reporting in the State of Michigan, Personal Finance and Ministry Leadership. All of which I look forward to growing in.

I am excited for this journey and look forward to what lies ahead. Thank you to those who have supported me and my calling to pastoral work. Your persistent prayer is humbling; I am honored by your friendship and selflessness. 

Book Review: Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Dr. Greg A. Boyd. Published by Fortress Press.

Renowned pastor-theologian and author Dr. Gregory A. Boyd has finally released his highly acclaimed Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. When I say “finally”, you need to understand exactly how highly anticipated it has been. You know that verse in Romans when Paul talks about creation groaning for the sons of God to be revealed? Well, this book has been at work for so long (10 years) that I started to wonder if that verse was actually a prophecy regarding its release. What started a decade ago as a summer project is now a well-crafted two-volume set just shy of 1500 pages in length and published by Fortress Press. In the world of theological literature, Boyd has made a Kobe Tenderloin buffet from what was supposed to be a ham and cheese lunchable.

Why did his initial plans make such a serendipitous contrasting turn?

… because the subject matter is the violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament.

Many are well aware of the tough pill to swallow that is OT violence, and the negative affect it can have on churches. Several authors have attempted to reconcile these issues in the past. These attempts to reconcile these difficult passages end up dismissing them in one form or another. Jesus was an advocate for, and student of, the OT scriptures, and according to Boyd, we cannot settle for this approach to passage that Jesus himself considered inspired. Though these passages seem antithetical to the character of God, there must be something deeper. Boyd shows us that the conundrum goes beyond the ethical explanations into an epistemological realm. He proposes a new framework for a systemic approach of scripture which he calls a Cruciform Hermeneutic—meaning that Christ on the Cross (cruciform) is the lens for interpretation (hermeneutic). His argument, then, is that the violent depictions of God in the OT cover God’s true revelation of Himself through Christ on the cross. Volume One presents the issue and builds a case for the Cruciform Hermeneutic. Volume Two clarifies the hermeneutic’s function and applying it to various OT texts.

This book is foundational and needed for the church today. The length is certainly going to be intimidating to most, but don’t let that deceive you! It is very readable! Boyd’s writing is passionately ambitious, thoroughly researched, and fearlessly unapologetic throughout. Future books dealing with OT violence will need to approach the battlefield of  Boyd’s arguments (pun intended) in both content and price (just under $40). If the praise and price won’t justify you purchasing a book this long, there is good news! An abridged version will be released this August called Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus makes sense of Old Testament Violence.  

The length of this review does not hold a candle to the book’s value. The depth of information it holds demands extensive comment and analysis. As a result I will post a seven part series, one for each of its components. They will be posted every other Wednesday starting May 31st). I am currently doing a four part series for Paul & the Gift (here’s the link to the first post of that series if you’re interested).

Disclaimer: Thank you to Fortress Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This provision did not affect my review  and the thoughts are my own.

 

Paul & the Gift: Book Review and Introduction

If asked to describe John M. G. Barclay’s new book Paul & the Gift, only one word comes to mind—groundbreaking. So groundbreaking in fact, that one may hear the rallying of anti-fracking activists upon reading. All joking aside, this is the next pillar to the foundation of Pauline Scholarship. John M. G. Barclay holds, arguably, the most prestigious chair (Lightfoot Professor of Divinity) of the University of Durham. This hardcover book weighs in at 656 pages in length and is published by WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2015), as well as a paperback version scheduled to be released this September (available for pre-order here if that’s your preference).

I first heard about this book from my New Testament Exegesis professor during our Pauline literature course. He described it as the New New Perspective on Paul, it goes beyond the New Perspective. This description was surprising to say the least; it was the first time I had heard anyone endorse a Pauline perspective that wasn’t the New Perspective since learning about what it was two years ago. Now having read the book, I understand exactly what my professor meant by New New Perspective. For those who are unfamiliar with what I’m referring, below is a summary taken from the prologue describing where research regarding Paul and grace currently resides, as well as the starting point for readers to understand where there is harmony and discord with Barclay’s arguments. Though there are several aspects that cannot be seen from the following excerpt, it is assiduous nonetheless:

“In the Christian tradition, Paul’s theology of grace has often been interpreted as the antithesis of Judaism, as if by Paul’s day Judaism had corrupted its biblical theology of grace with a soteriology of “works-righteousness” and reward. Paul’s language, laden with nuances derived from internal Christian disputes, has been conscripted to differentiate Christianity from Judaism on these terms, and to diminish the latter. On this reading, Paul was the premier theologian of grace who resisted the “legalism” of “late” Judaism, a works-based religion that amounted to auto-salvation. In recent decades this negative image of Judaism has been challenged with a counter-image, presenting Judaism as a “religion of grace.” Students of Judaism have traced grace everywhere in Second Temple literature, as the foundation of Israel’s covenant relationship with God and the frame within which the Torah was observed. Thus, for many, Paul says nothing remarkable about grace, and if his theology departs in any respect from his Jewish tradition, this has little if anything to do with grace.” (p. 2)


Concluding the prologue Barclay gives a three point framework of grace from which the reader consistently encounters throughout the book (p. 6). The first being that “Grace” is a multi-faceted concept best approached through the category of gift. Though this is susceptible to “perfection” (conceptually extended) in a number of different ways, their validity is not contingent on being a unified package. The package Barclay is referring are the six most commonly understood perfections of grace, which he elaborates on in Part 1 of the book (p. 70-76).  Secondly, grace is everywhere in Second Temple Judaism, but not everywhere the same. Paul’s theology of grace does not stand in antithesis to Judaism, but neither is there a common Jewish view with which it wholly coincides. Basically, grace is everywhere in Second Temple Judaism, but not everywhere the same. Lastly, Paul’s theology of grace hinges on his emphasis on the incongruity of the Christ-gift—it is given freely with no regard to a person’s worth. It should be noted that incongruity is very different unconditionality.

Paul & the Gift is a benchmark contribution to ongoing debates in Pauline theology, refocusing the conversation in important ways and offering critical needed analysis that goes beyond perspective, old and new. Barclay has truly provided any student of Paul with a timeless reference that is, dare I say—a remarkable gift; so remarkable, in fact, that this book review simply won’t do. My solution? Over the next few weeks I will post four Paul & the Gift installments, one for each component of the book. This book is loaded with a wealth of research worth pondering that it seemed appropriate, nay, necessary to expound on it further. I will post Part 1 sometime next week.

If you are a fan of making good decisions, than I suggest you click here and purchase a copy of this book.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts and opinions regarding the book.

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World—Book Review

In Baylor University Press’s recent publication Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, author Larry W. Hurtado educates readers on the social, cultural, and historical contexts of early Christianity in the ancient Roman world. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity and authored several publications; more specifically, his reputation to the field of early Christianity. Destroyer of the gods is no exception to his preceding work. In this literary gem, Hurtado highlights distinctions of the early Christians showing the reader not only what distinguished the people group then, but also how these distinctions played a role in the widespread presuppositions placed on religion during the modern era.

Starting with the book’s preface and introduction, Hurtado addresses the characteristics of the Jesus-movement. It goes without saying that the growth of early Christianity has had a subsequent influence on the world’s history (especially Western cultures), but one can’t help but ask why? Hurtado prepares the reader for the historical journey he is about to take them on by identifying these distinctions that many are naïve to. The following five chapters of the book, he says, are designed to, “address our cultural amnesia” (p. 1).

Chapter one looks at what the outside observer’s perspective early Christianity. This is reflected in both Jewish and pagan responses to the early Christians insofar as they are referred to as different, odd, and even objectionable at points (p. 15). Hurtado shows this with a number of examples, starting first with the apostle Paul, both an ambassador for the Jesus movement and, prior to his conversion in Acts 9, a zealous Pharisee and opponent to this (p. 16). Additionally historical figures such as Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, as well as literary works like “The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach” and “Ecclesiasticus” (200 BC). Hurtado follows with a brief overview of pagan criticisms including Tacitus (56-120 AD), Pliny “the younger” (61-112 AD), Galen (129-199 AD), Marcus (121-180 AD), and Celsus, known for his unapologetically anti-Christian literary work—The True Word (175-180 AD) was unapologetically anti-Christian. All of whom were critics of the movement, and responded with hostility.

In chapter two, Hurtado discusses the specifics of what generated this hostile attitude towards early Christianity, as well as their distinguished them from other religious movements. First addressing the terminological issue with the word religion; the modern (especially western) understanding of this word creates problems when trying to grasp the Roman era setting. Religion today is very monotheistic in that their framework for a deity is very singular, even for those who do not believe (they deny the existence of A God!). In the Greco-Roman world, however, there was a widespread piety for all the gods (religions) because it was the cultural norm. To the outsiders of the early Christian movement, this was blatant disrespect. Hurtado shows that religious responsibility was a public service that included reverence and respect to the various gods of the empire, the town, and the family. This went to the extent of the Roman people’s sense of piety, virtue, shared meals, prayer, etc; all of which were in direct contrast with the early Christians which, to them, only increased the divide that deemed them outsiders. Some of these characteristics include, but are not limited to:

-Political Acceptance; some gods were involved in the Roman Imperial order (p. 54)

-Imagery and Shrines for all gods; Christianity’s lack thereof made their God seem transcendent above the rest (p. 62)

-“Love” for gods was philia; they expressed gratitude to the kindness shown by each god’s sublimely beautiful qualities associated with them (p. 64-65)

In chapter three—“A Different Identity”—the Greco-Roman understanding of identity is explored.  Hurtado begins the chapter with the analogy of a census taken in Britain. This helped the government better know the nature of the population. Every census always included two questions: What is your race/national background? What is your religious affiliation? (p. 77). The point of this analogy is to demonstrate that religious belief and nationality are incongruous today. This was not the case for the Greco- Roman world. In the Roman world, one’s religious preference was conferred at birth and everyone was presumed to honor the gods as appropriate to their Roman culture and heritage. The Romans enthusiastically embraced the religious cults of other cultures, including Persia and Egypt because they were similar to their own religious beliefs. The problem the Romans had with the early Christians is their rejection of other gods and religious services; to them it was abhorrent and atheistic. Hurtado ended the chapter with a befitting quote from Tertullian, which may have been the first defense towards religious identity in the ancient world (p. 103):

“It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature that everyone should worship according to one’s own convictions… It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion… A Christian is enemy to none, least of all to the Emperor of Rome, who he knows to be appointed by God, moreover the Christian must desire, with that of the empire over which he reigns.” –Tertullian’s address to Scapula (Proconsul of Africa, 211-213 AD)

Chapter four investigates what Hurtado calls the “bookish” distinction of early Christianity, referring to their practice of documenting their sacred texts. In his words, “reading, writing, copying, and dissemination of texts has a major place—indeed, a prominence—in early Christianity that, except for ancient Jewish circles, was unusual for religious groups of the Roman era” (p. 105-106). Reading this was kind of shocking to me at first. From my experience, the historical reliability of scripture has been the most frequently criticized characteristic of Christianity’s credibility; the typical arguments consist of eyewitness accounts, textual variants, oral tradition, etc… Ironically, this distinction arguably plays the largest role in ensuring Christianity’s preservation and persistence into the present day. In the first century, the gathering of both early Christianity and traditional Judaism were prolific in their writing and sharing of their sacred texts, which, at that time, consisted mainly of Old Testament. What distinguished the two was early Christian’s initial step of expanding the literary portfolio from which they read for worship gatherings. Hurtado uses the circulatory epistles and gospels accounts as examples. Going deeper with the topic, he highlights the ingrained aspects of the “bookish” distinction such as writing, copying, the physical features of their books, and the amount of work all these aspects require. To me, these observations show the level of dedication one must have in that time (p. 118-132); that aspect alone made this chapter my personal favorite; both testimonial and encouraging to my own ministry, as well as well written and insightful.

The final chapter of the book focuses on the early Christian’s emphasis on the everyday living and its significance to the Christian commitment within a Greco Roman context. Hurtado explains how a modern worldview of religion is stripped down to a list of “do’s and don’ts”, assuming that is equivalent to the religion’s mission entirely; this was not the case for this time or culture (p. 143-145). Hurtado looks at practices like violent contests (gladiators), infant exposures (baby dumps), and sexual escapades to show two things: these were socially accepted practices and a cultural norm, and (2) greatly contrasted with early Christianity’s moral practices. This chapter was by far my favorite of them all. If you don’t have the time to read the entire book, then I would at least recommend reading at least this chapter. It is both concise in length and thorough with cultural analysis.

Destroyer of the gods is a readable and inspiring discussion about early Christianity and what made it distinguishable in a polytheistic Roman culture. The book is organized and written well, making it easy to follow despite prior knowledge of the subject matter. I have found socio-cultural to be my preferred area of research in the field of Biblical studies; I have several books on the subject, but still recommend this book. Hurtado beautifully reveals how these differences have subtly transitioned to be the norm for today’s Christian culture and how those roots were formed and flourished during the first-third centuries. As a whole, the text makes a considerable contribution to the understanding of this ancient Roman era and is worth the price by far. This book is without question my new “go-to” recommendation for this area of Biblical studies. You can pick up a copy of it here. I hope you do because I know you will be blessed by it.

Disclaimer: Baylor Press was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed were not affected by this and are my own.

Book Review: The Spirituality of Paul

Known for his previous release The Spirituality of Jesus, Leslie T. Hardin has provided another character survey titled The Spirituality of Paul. Published by Kregel, this book is an aid for students of the New Testament seeking better understanding of Paul’s spirituality. I have read several introduction books on the apostle Paul, and have grown familiar with how these character surveys are typically laid out; Some have focused on the Biblical Context of Paul’s letters, others have focused on Paul’s offices of ministry (Pastor, Missionary, Apostle, Church Planter, etc…), but most have been introductions to Paul’s theological corpus covering all contexts of study—Historical, Literary, Rhetorical, Cultural, Sociological, Political, Pastoral, etc…

This book, however, is very different in that it focuses exclusively on Spirituality. Obviously there is tons of literature out there about the spirituality of Paul, but this one still stands out in how it is not exclusive to the academy, yet theologically deep. This is fitting to one of the book’s focuses being Paul as a disciple-maker. Observing this in the book will surely help in one’s understanding of disciple-making from the perspective of both the mentor and pupil.

Another thing to highlight about this book is its faithfulness answer questions that are exclusive to spirituality/spiritual formation, and bring them to the contemporary surface for teaching and understanding any and all willing to receive. What were the Apostle’s spiritual practices and disciplines? How did these spiritual disciplines help him? How did Paul view Christ in light of these practices? How does suffering affect Paul’s spirituality? How do we apply these to our lives today?

Each chapter, titled to fit well-known verses, engages these questions in a thorough and concise manner. The chapters are—

  1. “Imitate Me”: Paul and the Practice of the Spirit
  2. “It Is Written”: Paul’s Devotion to Scripture
  3. “For This Reason I Kneel”: Paul at Prayer
  4. “Entrust These Things to Reliable Men”: Disciple-Making
  5. “We Proclaim Christ”: Proclamation of the Gospel
  6. “When You Come Together”: Corporate Worship
  7. “Holy and Blameless in His Sight”: Holiness
  8. “We Were All Given the One Spirit”: Spiritual Gifts
  9. “As a Father Deals with His Children”: Building One Another Up in the Faith
  10. “The Marks of Jesus”: Paul and Suffering
  11. The Shape of Pauline Spirituality

Hardin is not shy with his inclusion of personal anecdotes, nor does he neglect of surveying the backgrounds of the text as is appropriate. On top of that, this is filled with helpful footnotes and thorough bibliography. I found this book to be very enjoyable. For $16.99, it is affordable to the seminarian on a budget and readable to the new believer seeking a deeper understanding of Paul’s spirituality. This would make a great small group or Sunday school lesson book as well. All in all, I give this book a thumbs up and am thankful I took the time to read it! You can purchase this on Kregel’s website here. Special thanks to Kregel and their blogger program for providing me with this review copy of the book!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for an honest review. This did not have any influence on my reviews. All of the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

If being lukewarm is bad, what of hot and cold? Re-evaluating the misunderstood contrast taken from Revelation 3:15-16

           Lukewarm picture

 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth!

Revelation 3:15-16

Most of us have heard this passage preached to professing Christians and living a different lifestyle. It is an urgent warning to their fellow believer to go all-in with their faith, and avoid being a Lukewarm Christian. If you haven’t heard the term lukewarm before, you’ve probably heard one of these verses preached with the same underlying warning…

Matthew 6:24- Man cannot serve both God and money, just as man cannot serve two masters

John 15:9- If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Romans 12:2- Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind

1 Peter 1:16- Be Holy as I am Holy

1 Peter 2:9- But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

All of these point to the same “fence-riding” lifestyle many have assumed of Revelation 3:15-16; God would rather you be a non-believer bound for hell than a lukewarm, fence-riding Christian. This is a message that encourages moral integrity, and more importantly, an authentic faith/relationship with the creator God.  

Though virtue, integrity, morality, and authentic faith are thematic throughout all of Scripture, I am more than skeptical that this traditional understanding of the passage is the author’s intent. That is, does God really prefer people be unbelievers entirely rather than what so many have called lukewarm Christians? What really needs to be considered are the metaphors hot and cold: which of them is entirely good and which of them is entirely bad? How are we supposed to tell the difference? If there even is one…

For example, I prefer cold water over hot water to drink in the summer time, however, I’d prefer hot tea over iced tea in the winter. What about when hot and cold are used to describe a person’s character? We call bitter people cold and superstars hot. Which is supposed to be negative, and which is supposed to be positive? 

I think its fair to say it depends on the season and circumstance which we prefer. In order to understand the how lukewarm is an antagonist to them, the relationship between hot and cold needs to be distinguished, at which we will investigate in two areas: Literary Context (use of language) and Historical Context (social/cultural conditions of the author and recipients). 

Literary Context

The Greek word for “hot” is ζεστος (zes-tahs); the use of this word never has the connotation of being an “all in” Christian who is full of fiery passion. It is always used to describe temperature. Similarly, the Greek word for cold” is ψυχρος (psoo-krahs), is never associated with those lacking faith or fiery passion; its use in the NT always refers to temperature without nuances of character like  “bitter” or “angry”. 

What if the metaphors for temperatures are both good? We are so used to reading these verses to mean that hot and cold automatically mean good and bad because they are opposites, but what if that’s not the author’s intended message? What if the understood contrast between hot and cold really isn’t as black and white (pun intended) as we’d perceive? What if the passage were read “you are neither apples nor oranges, you are radishes” instead, would we still interpret it with the same connotations? Understanding the context of the passage will help verify what an appropriate application for this passage is. 

*Disclaimer: I am not arguing against morality or virtue that comes from the traditional understanding of this passage. I am pointing out that the application of the text is different from the traditional understanding of “be all in, or not at all”, because of the assumed antagonistic relationship between hot and cold. 

Historical Context

Laodicea was centrally located between several cities. Two of these surrounding cities were known specifically for their water sources–Heirapolis and Colossae. Heirapolis was had several natural hot springs it was known for. In fact, many traveled to Heirapolis because of these infamous hot springs; kind of like how people travel to the Mayo Clinic today. These natural hot springs provided healing qualities to those immersed in the water, similar to taking hot shower or hot tub for healing or relief. Twelve miles east of Laodicea was the city of Colossae. Like Heirapolis, Colossae was also famous for their water source. The difference, however, is Colossae’s water source was cold, refreshing and life-giving. It came from the snow caps of Mount Cadmus located behind the city and fed the Lycus river, from where they would obtain it. If you were standing in Laodicea and were to look towards Colossae, you would be able to see this mountain clearly. It is doubtful to think that John would not have known this when writing this letter. He certainly was well aware of Laodicea’s location being between two water-sourced cities, and it is doubtful that he would have used this metaphor with the church of Laodicea otherwise. He knew of the healing hot springs of Heirapolis, the live-giving cold water of Colossae, and Laodicea’s centrality to both.  

There is an underlying problem one may not immediately see; The city of Laodicea did not have a natural water supply. With the city being central to the landmarks of Hierapolis and Colossae, it was naturally a prime trading route, as well as a frequented stopping point for travelers. Their solution to this agricultural hurdle was to develop an aqueduct system to bring water into the city. The system was too far from Heirapolis or Colossae to be their water source. Instead, the aqueduct system was set up from what is now Denizli, a city closer in proximity to Laodicea. Denizli had hot springs as well, from which Laodicea funneled in their water. The hot water would be exported through this aqueduct system from there to Laodicea, and naturally the heat of the water would cool to a less desirable temperature. The Laodiceans put the water in the shade until it became desirably cool enough to drink. This custom was common. Below is an excerpt from the Greek historian Herodotus (484 B.C.-425 B.C.), which Stanley Porter included in his article I listed in my bibliography. He says:

            “And they have another source of water, a spring, which in the morning is lukewarm, but as market time comes becomes colder. And at noon it is its coldest. At this time they [the Ammonians] water their gardens. When the day draws to a dose the coldness declines, until when the sun sets and the water becomes lukewarm. It is at its hottest when the time draws near to midnight, and at this time it boils and bubbles. When midnight passes, it becomes colder until dawn. This spring is called the spring of the sun.” –Description of the Ammonians of Northern Africa (4.181.3-4)

From this it can be seen that both cold water and hot water were desired. Neither was bad, but both were only attainable at certain points of the day. For the Laodiceans, the water’s desired temperature needed to be controlled. It was not going to be as hot as it was in the natural spring, and it took time afterwards for the water to reach it’s coolest. As Herodotus indicated earlier, the coldest temperature was achieved at market time. Market time would be when more people are awake and active in the city, which in turn means there would be an increased demand for water that was cool and refreshing. 

This brings us to the understanding of lukewarm and how we apply it today. If Hot water is healing, and Cold water is rejuvenating/life-giving, then what are we to make of lukewarm?  We know lukewarm is bad, but how does this apply to the church as a whole? 


Conclusion

Personally, I think this passage should be considered in light of the collective church body more than the individual alone. The passage begins with, “I know your works” and is a letter written to the Laodicean church about their actions; works that are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. The church needs to be both hot and cold, spiritually healing, life-giving, and refreshing. Just as Colossae and Heirapolis were known for the healing and refreshing effects of their water, the church should be known as a place that is healing, refreshing, and life-giving. When we gather together as a community of faith, our desire should be to preserve our faith in a way that is desirable to others. Just like those who would get sick from drinking the lukewarm mineral water, there are many people who have been incredibly hurt by the church. They came to practice their faith with a community they expected to be life-giving, healing, and refreshing, and instead they experienced something vomit-worthy. The church has left a bad taste in the world’s mouth, which does not portray us as a loving community. The church has too often signed God’s name on bigotry, hateful, exclusive practices, and given it an undesirable reputation. To several, what we offer is nothing like the waters of Heirapolis or Colossae as it ought to be, all we’ve given the world is lukewarm water… bland, disgusting, bath water that nobody is drawn to…

Am I saying we need to be “seeker-driven” churches? No, not at all… I am saying that the world’s perception of the church didn’t come out of thin air. Many perceive it as a social-club exclusive to the well-behaved because that’s how many believers have carried themselves. What we need to do is be both Hot and Cold to all in need of a community that is spiritually refreshing and healing. The church should be known for these characteristics, and now is an excellent time in the world to take a step forward in practicing this so that we can be the community that.

What does it mean to be lukewarm and how do you avoid it? Cultivate spiritual healing and be the love of God to all you encounter. Foster a life-giving community, so that all who are thirsty and hurting may find healing, nourishment, and a family in the church just as God intended for it to be. 


Bibliography

Hemer, Colin J. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Keener, Craig S. Revelation. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary of the NT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Porter, Stanley E. “Why the Laodiceans Received Lukewarm Water (Revelation 3:15-18).” Tyndale Bulletin—vol. 38, 1987: 143-149.*

*Click here if you’d like to read this article. It is an online PDF of Porter’s article alone, so there isn’t access to this volume of the Tyndale Bulletin.