Book Review—Dictionary of Paul and His Letters by InterVarsity Press

dictionary of paul and his lettersThe IVP Bible Dictionary Series has been an extraordinary reference set, and I have utilized it for every research paper I’ve written. This 8 volume set always finds its way onto the Bibliography page for whatever I’m studying, continually proving this reference’s value to be both unique and timeless. I find something new every time I crack one of the volumes open, and never grow tired of the newness experience. The entire series truly serves as a gift that keeps on giving, and the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters is no exception from said gift-giving. The compendium’s praise and reputation are both well-deserved. To put bluntly, buy this book…seriously….don’t read any of Paul’s writing’s until you have a copy on your shelf… just kidding (but seriously, buy it).

Edited by the late Gerald F. Hawthorne, as well as Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, this collection of Biblical scholarship encompasses everything Pauline within a dictionary format. In this work you will find a surplus of in depth articles including extensive cross-references and bibliographies, all of which are easy to navigate. What I found particularly helpful was the index of contributing authors at the beginning of the volume; following each name is the topic(s) in bold font which they were contributor’s for. However, one thing I found a little strange was the absence of N.T. Wright and E.P. Sanders. Their contributions are considered groundbreaking with their impact on what contemporary Pauline scholarship is today: E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism was monumental to the New Perspective on Paul, and N.T. Wright has written exponentially on an array of Pauline topics.  I’m assuming the absence is more than a simple oversight, but most would understand why it struck me as odd when their names were not listed.

I should explain what brought me to revisit the book time and time again leading to the overly exhaustive favor for this reference. In the realm of Pauline scholarship, I have grown fond of the cultural, historical, and sociological factors rooted in the apostle’s context. Digging deeper in these areas has brought new light to the surface of Paul’s thought, forcing me to ask, “Is this what I want Paul to say, or is it what he actually said?” This volume has given me clarity with Paul’s rhetoric, but even more so has stretched my perception of the apostle’s mission in a Greco-Roman context. Some of the articles I found both insightful and helpful were:

-Man and Woman by C.S. Keener (p. 583-592)
-Household Codes by P.H. Towner (p. 417-419)
-Social-Scientific Approaches to Paul by S.C. Barton (p. 892-900).

This volume will bless anyone looking to dive deeper into the Pauline studies. The plethora of fruitful research presented by the numerous and highly acclaimed contemporaries of Pauline scholarship is worth its weight in gold. As the back cover describes, “In a field that recently has undergone significant shifts in perspective, the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters offers a summa of Paul and Pauline epistles,” and they hit the nail right on the head. Fortunately enough, IVP has made this 1,000+ page volume available for an affordable $54, which you can purchase from their website by clicking here.

The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters is a one-of-a-kind reference work designed to better equip every students of the Bible. I am convinced that every teacher, student, pastor, theologian, and lay person should not dig deeper into the apostle’s theological, cultural,  and literary context unless they have this within arms reach. I guarantee you won’t find another reference devoted to Paul that is this affordable.

Disclaimer: Thank you to IVP for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. The thoughts and opinions expressed above are my own and were not affected by this provision.

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Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: Book Review from B&H Academic

Last fall I took my last NT exegesis course required for my degree. Aside from what I will utilize in my thesis paper, I have finished the Greek language components for any remaining classes at seminary. I still dig into my Greek NT, but since finishing I’ve haven’t been as quick with my translating as I once was; my vocabulary, parsing, and overall grammar slowly fleets without the classroom to hold me accountable. I have to say Going Deeper with New Testament Greek from B&H Academic is just the kind of book I needed to aid in fine tuning my skills with the language.

The book is co-authored by Robert Plummer (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Benjamin Merkle (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Andreas Köstenberger (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). This is my first encounter with anything by Plummer and Merkle, though I have read plenty of Köstenberger’s writings. His exegetical commentary on the gospel of John from Baker Academic is phenomenal, as well as any of the Exegetical Guides to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) commentaries from B&H Academic, of which he is a contributing editor. To say he has championed the Greek language is an understatement, especially in the field Johannine scholarship. For anyone to research the writings or theology of John and not engage with Köstenberger is like researching bodybuilding without engaging with Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

This book has been designed not just for those seeking to fine tune their Greek skills, but also for the student and teacher. It is fifteen chapters long to fit the fifteen week semester model. The sequence of the chapters is intentional as well. Starting with a brief overview of the Greek language,  textual criticism, and the basic skills for navigating a Greek New Testament apparatus. Following this are nouns (ch. 2-4), the article and adjectives (ch. 5), the verbal system (ch. 6), verbal aspect (ch. 7), indicative mood (ch. 8-9), participles (ch. 10), infinitives (ch. 11), pronouns/prepositions/conjunctions/adverbs/particles (ch. 12), diagramming (ch. 13), word studies (ch. 14), and advice/resources for continuing with the language. Each chapter has the same layout with the following subheadings:

  • Going DeeperIntroduction to what the chapter entails. The authors include an example of the grammatical concept, showing its importance.  
  • Chapter Objectives- Learning goals for each chapter
  • Body- The bulk of each chapter. This section discusses the subject matter and all its nuances. Like many grammars, they provide Biblical examples as an aid which is always helpful. 
  • Summary- An overview of the material discussed provided at the end of each chapter
  • Practice Exercises- Ten practice exercises are included to help the reader practice what they have learned, very similar to the layout of Mounce’s grammar and companion workbook. The only difference, and selling point of the book in my honest opinion, is this does not require a companion workbook…
  • Vocabulary- We all know that learning vocabulary is the foundation of language studies; this section of the chapter affirms the truth all the more by giving a vocabulary list to review in addition to the practice exercises. Since this is an Intermediate grammar, the vocabulary is not the typical entry level as beginner grammars would include; all the words occur in the NT 50 times or less. 
  • Reading the New Testament- More than a translation exercise, this section highlights the chapter’s subject matter as it appears in a passage of Scripture. This is followed by brief commentary on the grammar and vocabulary of the passage, which is very helpful. 

 

Going Deeper with New Testament Greek is an excellent intermediate Greek grammar that I highly recommend IF you have an elementary understanding of the language. I think this is a perfect “middle point” text for those who have finished their first year language classes, but haven’t stepped into the heavy duty exegesis courses yet. I also think this would work well with Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, for those looking to thoroughly saturate themselves in the subject matter.  Coming from Mounce as my starting point, I think this is a great “next step” book.

One last thing about this grammar, they provide a “cheat sheet” for an additional $6.99. What is incredible about this cheat sheet is it’s a double-sided tri-fold laminate with both parsing and syntax. I highly recommend this to any student of the language, whether or not you have the book to follow along with. You can purchase this book on B&H’s website if you click here.

Thank you to B&H Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of the book. The words expressed are my own and were not affected by this provision.

Romans- Israel, the Gentiles, and God’s Creative Gift—Part IV: Paul & the Gift

The fourth and final part of Barclay’s book consists of a reading of Romans. He establishes the coherence of the letter; too often the letter is dissected as individual lessons which make up a collection (i.e. the righteousness of God in 3:1-26 or the contrast between Adam vs. Christ and what it means for the locus of believers in 5:1-8:39). For Barclay, however, the literary analysis necessitates approaching the letter as a whole. He incorporates a theological lens through which grace should be seen in its relationship to Israel and the Christ-event, versus the Christological lens with Galatians. There is an appreciable difference between Galatians and Romans which can be embraced by the reader. Barclay writes—

            “The Christological focus of Galatians placed emphasis on the novelty of the Christ-event, with no reference to Israelite generations between Abraham and Christ…Christ is not added to a prior human narrative, but is the hermeneutical center of a scriptural witness that ‘pre-preached’ the good news (Gal 3:8). The theological focus of Romans enables Paul to place the Christ-event on a historical line, with a past as well as a future: the origins of the Abrahamic family (Rom 4) and the means by which Israel was formed and preserved (Rom 9:6-29; 11:1-5) are here significant in themselves, and not merely as types of the present” (p. 558).

How does Barclay read Romans and which of the six perfections are revealed by his reading? Through exegetical and theological work, he shows us that Paul assumes the priority of God’s giving throughout the letter, but this is significant chiefly in underlining its incongruity—“God does not give in return, to match a prior gift: there is no correspondence in this or any other respect. It is that absence of correspondence that makes God’s mercy so unnerving, and at the same time pregnant with such promise for the future” (p. 556). Incongruity, however, is not the final word for the apostle’s letter to the Romans—“As we have seen, the motif of ‘wealth’ evokes the superabundance thematized in Romans 5:12-21, and there are statements here that emphasize the priority o God’s call or gift (9:11; 11:2,35) in a way that supports its lack of correspondence to human worth. There is a general sense of the efficacy of grace, in the fact that the Christ-event, and its preaching, elicit faith, but no reflection on the mechanism or means of that efficacy as many have developed this perfection” (p. 558).

What I found most interesting is even with Paul’s radical emphasis on the incongruity of grace by there is no implication for its non-circularity. From the conversations I’ve held regarding grace, non-circularity seems to be the characteristic associated the most to the western understanding of Paul’s grace.  with as much weight as its incongruity. This speaks volumes to the way we understand and preach grace today, bringing to question if we should level the playing field… Should our expression of grace reflect the proposed circularity as much as its incongruity?

Furthermore, the implications of grace/gift are profound for Paul’s vision of creating a new community, especially within an honor/shame culture where barriers are present and social hierarchy established.  Paul invites people into a community where these barriers are no longer present. Barclay writes, “Since God’s incongruous grace dissolves former criteria of worth, it forms the basis for innovative groups of converts, by loosening their ties to pre-constituted norms and united them in their common faith in Christ” (p. 566).

This concludes my four part series of Paul & the Gift by John Barclay. As was stated in my initial  review of the book, this was an eye-opener to my understanding of grace as Paul preached it, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to be challenged by such.  It champions over any other literature I’ve explored, setting a new standard of excellence for Pauline scholars. This book has offered a new approach to the concept of “grace,” a new analysis of Second Temple Jewish theologies of divine beneficence, and a new reading of Galatians and Romans through the lens of Paul’s theology of grace; if any of these topics have intrigued you, then I urge you to grab a copy before reading anything else related. I promise it will encourage fruitful dialogue for you and your peers.

(click here to purchase). 

Here are the links to the first 3 parts of this series:

Part I: The Multiple Meanings of Grace and Gift
Part II: Divine Gift in Second Temple Judaism
Part III: The Christ-Gift in Galatians

 

 

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.

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.