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.   

Book Review- Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions

UrbanLegends-headerMore times than not I see many people misapplying scripture to aid them in their present context.  I’ve encountered several instances where a westernized reading of scripture has fogged the context of the Biblical author’s intended understanding of the text which, unfortunately, consistently leads to misapplication. Optimistically speaking, (or as a pessimist would detest- unrealistically speaking) that the progress of technology continues to make tools and resources easily accessible and readily available to prevent future interpretive errors such as this. Be that as it may,  misapplying scripture, whether innocent or intentional, should be addressed with a plethora of grace in all circumstances. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions is a book seeking to alleviate some of the misunderstanding developed from misinterpretation.

Written by David Croteau (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Professor of NT and Greek in the Seminary and School of Ministry at Columbia International University), this is book is both fun and easy to read! Each common misconception is given a chapter, and each chapter is laid out to consist of no more than 5-8 pages. Some of the misconceptions discussed are

  1. Was Jesus really a carpenter?
  2. Was Paul a Tentmaker? (should ministers/pastors be paid for ministry?)
  3. Did Jesus die at age 33?
  4. Did Jesus really sweat drops of blood?
  5. Is money evil?
  6. Was there really no room for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the inn?

There were a few things that stood out to me about Croteau’s work, the first being the unique emphasis on the subject of hermeneutics. I have never read, let alone seen another book out there like this in that the hermeneutical emphasis is ironically subliminal (if that’s possible). By this I mean that Croteau provides historical and cultural understanding to each misconception without marketing the book as a “How To…” book on hermeneutics. The list of misconceptions aren’t new ideas in the world of evangelical scholarship (you could probably find all of them in any commentary, introduction, or survey book); this, however, looks over misconceptions throughout the New Testament, so it isn’t exclusive to a topic, idea, character, or genre as one might find in a commentary or introduction. Additionally, the book’s format provides the reader with an easy way to navigate the arguments of each misconception. To obtain this from commentaries, even the cheapest and most basic of commentaries, the total cost would still be right around $100, whereas this book is only $14.99 from B&H Publishing’s online store, here is a link.

I also enjoyed the annotated bibliography at the end of each chapter. Dr. Croteau provides further resources pertaining to each passage, and comments on each of them so you know if they’re worth purchasing or not. The annotated bibliography is also what led me to further research for my Lukewarm Blogpost (click here if you’d like to read it). B&H does this in their Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament Series as well, which was even more helpful with those considering they deal with the Greek language exclusively. I hope this is something they start including for all of their academic works because the diversity of resources is incredibly beneficial for further Biblical/Theological study.

Conclusion:

I found Croteau to be very generous and compassionate towards those who have fallen privy to these misconceptions as well as an exemplar of scriptural integrity. This is the most affordable book I’ve reviewed, and would love to see many engage with its principals. Honestly, I would love to have this book be in the Recommendations section of my blog (if I ever install the menu button for it). Whether you are preparing a sermon, writing a devotional blogpost, or just looking for a passive aggressive gift for your pastor, this book is a very fun read I highly recommend. I am certain you will enjoy it!

***Disclaimer- I received a review copy of this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed are my own, and were not influenced by their provisional review copy.

Book Review- Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate

If you couldn’t tell from my update post, the topic of gender and Christianity is something that I am very intrigued by. The last book I reviewed from Baker Academic- Paul and Gender by Cynthia Westfall focused on the Apostle Paul’s theological corpus, and how his references to Gender have been inappropriately applied. A combination of a western worldview and ecclesiological tradition has neglected the context of these gender passages by cherry-picking “proof texts” only to develop an exegetically inaccurate doctrine, both demeaning and hierarchical. You can read my review of that book here if you’d like.

neither-egalitarean-nor-complementarian

This review of Michelle Lee-Barnewall’s new book Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate bravely elevates the conversation to a new level of thinking by offering what she calls “a kingdom corrective” as an alternative to the already established schools of thought. Not only is her corrective argument informative, but also unapologetic, respectful, and simultaneously free of pompous candor or dogmatic assertions. This book is refreshing glass of water for the theologically parched, and a breath of fresh air for the either/or way of thinking that has brought hostile disunity to the church.

My review for this book will be a little different then my recent reviews. I will not expand in summary as I have prior, but not due to any form of laziness. The reason being that the kingdom perspective Lee-Barnewall argues for is what I consider to be an enormous contribution to the ongoing gender debate. Of every book I’ve reviewed, this is my highest recommendation for anyone willing to approach a new framework that goes beyond the egalitarian or complementarian sides of the coin. If you are even the slightest bit familiar with the conversation then this book will be beneficial, which is why I highly encourage all who are reading this to consider purchasing it. All that to say my review will be more reflective rather than informative, hoping that my ambiguity will intrigue you enough to consider reading it. Maybe we can even dialogue about it on here! Either way, I have a copy and would love to let anyone borrow it who is interested, but doesn’t have the funding. Comment on here and I’m sure we can work something out.   Continue reading

Book Review- Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ

Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ is an attempt to shed new light on the Pauline passages concerning gender roles. Authored by respected scholar Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall, this book urges all who have studied the apostle to do so through the theological lens of the Pauline corpus, distinguishing between the assumptions and presuppositions that they use to make sense of the texts (2). The layout for this book is not a systematic approach as one might expect. I’ve found that books dealing with specific Biblical issues tend to be laid out that way, devoting each chapter to a different problem passage. being devoted . With the exception of chapter 9 dealing exclusively with 1 Timothy 2:11-15, each passage is regarded as is fitting to the chapter’s topic, moving the reader toward a canon-based Pauline theology of gender. The chapter layout is as follows— paul-and-gender

  1. Culture
  2. Stereotypes
  3. Creation
  4. The Fall
  5. Eschatology
  6. The Body
  7. Calling
  8. Authority
  9. 1 Timothy 2:11-15

This holistic approach to Paul’s work enables Westfall to address the issues effectively. Her method helps make sense of the apostle’s writings in their context, refreshing the reader with new insights regarding Greco-Roman culture. In turn, viable alternatives are offered for Paul’s infamous passages and they encourage ongoing discussion. Westfall is re-framing the gender issues from what they were at one point, clearly seeking to stimulate critical thinking for a newfound understanding of Paul’s theology of gender.

I have read a few books, articles, and journals dealing with Paul’s view of gender. I have found the majority of them to be similarly thematic in their structure and their argument with Paul, gender, and how they handle the topic’s key texts (1 Cor. 7; 11; 14; 1 Tim. 2)—that Paul is addressing specific problems occurring with a specific people group. What makes Westfall’s book stand out is her method holds social, historical, and cultural context in very high regard, from which she builds her textual case. She does not choose one or the other, rather, demonstrates the equal importance of both. Most books looking to gain deeper understanding of the text would never ignore these aspects because they are an exegetical necessity; however, I am thrilled with her emphasis the text’s context as the hermeneutical foundation she proves it to be. Not everyone knows Greek or Hebrew, but when you study social, historical, and cultural contexts, you don’t need the language prerequisites. This aspect makes the book more enticing to those who are not versed in Biblical languages, and would benefit those just starting with Biblical Greek. I think reading someone else’s assessment has always helped me with exegesis, and I’m sure it would help other’s as well.

Coming back to my love for her focus on context, here are a few examples of things that stood out to me specifically…

In chapter 1 Westfall exposes the Greco-Roman culture and its influence on Paul’s writing. She argues Paul’s language exploits Hellenistic literature, philosophy, symbols, and language to take every thought captive for Christ (8). Specifically, the study analyzes the women head coverings in 1 Cor. 11:10. Most interpret this passage as Paul usurping a husband’s authority over his wife, but this assumption of the veil in 1 Cor. 11:10 is a prime example of presuppositions developed from the influence of western thought. Westfall argues that our culture has influenced traditional reading of the phrase ὀφείλει ή γυνή ἐξουσίαν ἒχειν, to be interpreted as “a woman should have a sign of authority over her head.” Her rendering of it is, “because o this a woman should have authority over her head. Her argument is built on the cultural study and explains the grammar of the phrase for further support as well (35).

Another good example of emphasis on context is her assessment of 1 Timothy 2, the most popular of the passages regarding Paul, gender, and leadership. Westfall sets the stage with her explanation of 1 Timothy being a personal letter authored by Paul and for Timothy. Several scholars believe 1 Timothy was either a general writing or pseudonymous, not to mention skepticism on whether or not Timothy was the intended recipient during his time in Ephesus (282-285). Prefacing the chapter with this inaugurates the overarching focus on context, giveing the reader cultural insight prior to her position on the text’s interpretation. It is here that Westfall reveals this is not the “church-government-gender-standard” passage many have made it out to be; the social setting is not that of a public worship service, nor is it addressing ministries in general. On top of this, the ethical weight given justifying gender discrimination of the female population from ministry leadership is dogmatic, chauvinistic, and an exegetical fallacy. Specifically, she says, “There is nothing in 1 Timothy 2:1-8 that would narrow the context to a ‘public worship service,’ without even considering that worship services took place in the domestic sphere of the home, not in a public location” (287). She follows with a section arguing the letter’s purpose, helping the reader to understand the purpose/placement of 1 Timothy 2:1-15 entirely; Paul seeks to provide Timothy with antidotes correlated to the present false teaching. She presents his antidotes threefold: an antidote for false teaching amongst men (vv. 2:1-8; p. 304), an antidote for economically appropriate attire (vv. 2:9-10; p. 305), and an antidote for false teaching among the women (vv. 2:11-15; p. 305). Summarizing her final thoughts, here is an excerpt from the concluding paragraph of this chapter:

“The controversial passage that addresses women in 2:9-15 does not fit the setting of the church service. It is better understood as a type of household code, whereby the heresies involving women that had invaded the household were to be corrected in each household by the husband, who was in the best position to take responsibility for the spiritual formation of his wife. Rather than prohibiting women from participating as leaders in the church, Paul addresses the lacuna in discipleship that is holding the Ephesian women believers back from maturity and sound teaching” (310-311).

These are just two examples that barely scratch the surface of the book’s informational density, and is far from elementary. If you have read anything regarding Paul and Gender, I urge you to not write this off. I can assure you it is not the regurgitation of problem texts you may be expecting. It is unique, affordable, edifying and life-giving. The gender debate has gone on for centuries and has been influenced by several different traditions. If you have been looking for a thorough overview on the discussion of the apostle’s theology of gender, then Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ will be an excellent tool to dismantle traditional western thought whilst maintaining sound exegetical integrity.

This book is phenomenal, and I recommend it to anyone even remotely curious on the subject. The examples listed above hardly do her arguments the justice each deserves. Westfall’s study incorporates the apostle’s theological corpus in the social, historical, and cultural contexts of each problem passage, deeming it beneficial to all wanting a better understanding of Paul’s theology of gender. This book both erudite and enjoyable, this is a book I will love to recommend, but hesitate to let others borrow.

You can buy this from Baker Academic’s website here. Baker Book House has a few copies currently available in their bargain section if you are in the Grand Rapids area as well. Thank you to Baker Academic for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not affect the review in any way.

Update: Reading List, Women Leadership, Take Hold Church

chi-rhoGreetings! As the title indicates, this is an “update” post. My initial intent was to post this at the beginning of the year, but needed to postpone because several book reviews I needed to catch up on, and several more to follow for this semester. In no particular order here are the books I will review over the next few weeks: I have developed my reading list for two reasons. The first is because of a class I’m taking on Greco-Roman culture and New Testament backgrounds, and the second is to further research gender and leadership roles in a first century context.

  1. Neither Egalitarian Nor Complimentarian (Baker) by Michelle Lee-Barnewell
  2. Paul and Gender (Baker) by Cynthia Long Westfall
  3. Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans) by John M.G. Barclay
  4. World Upside Down (Fortress) by C. Kavin Rowe
  5. The First Urban Christians (Yale) by Wayne A. Meeks
  6. The Ancient Church as Family (Fortress) by Joseph H. Hellerman
  7. Destroyer of the Gods (Baylor) by Larry W. Hurtado

I have developed my reading list for two reasons. The first, because I’m taking a class on Greco-Roman culture and New Testament backgrounds, and the second is to further research gender and leadership roles in a first century context. I grew fond of this subject because of a lecture I listened to by Ben Witherington III that completely captivated me. It wasn’t until later that I discovered this was the focus of his he doctoral dissertation. Following this, I was drawn to a book I found online called Man and Woman, One in Christ (Zondervan) by Philip Payne that was absolutely brilliant. Since then I have been drawn to this field of study, finding more interest in the misinterpretation of the “go-to” proof texts against women in leadership roles. All things considered I will be posting a 2-3 part series of my personal stance on the subject based on what I’ve found to be misunderstood scripturally. I will post this 2-3 part series in addition to my book reviews.

I also want to share the IVP Bookclub with all of the readers out there. The IVP Bookclub is a monthly subscription to get books for 30%-60% off from IVP, but with no obligation. Simply respond by mail, email, or phone by the deadline and they wont send you the book offered at the discounted Bookclub rate. The best part about this bookclub is that you get 3 books for $1 (+$7-$8 for S & H) that they send to your front door within 4-8 weeks once you sign up. There are 50 or so books to choose from, and the selection is definitely worth it. Plus, there is no obligation to stay signed up with the club if you choose not to. You can cancel your membership whenever you like, no penalty whatsoever. I am a member right now, and there are no gimmicks or fees in this at all. It is as good as it sounds. In fact, I signed up shortly after Christmas and got my lot of books early last week! Here’s the link if you’re interested, and let me know if you do sign up!

In addition to all of this, I will be starting my 2 residency for my degree this May. During this time, one of my tasks will be to get together a plan of action for Take Hold Church’s Ministry School, projected to (re)launch in the Fall of 2018. Take Hold Church’s Ministry School started 5-6 years ago, and was created for those seeking deeper Biblical, theological, and ministerial understanding in a small group format. Now the idea has been bouncing around again, and many of us at Take Hold believe that it may be time to get the school up and running again. Nothing is set in stone, but I will follow up with details as they formulate. You can also check the church’s website for updates regarding this, as well as other things going on at the church such as shows, outreach opportunities, ways to get involved, small groups/ministries, Take Hold Fest, and even a blog once there is a tab set up (I will be posting on there occasionally in addition to my personal page).

That’s the end of this random update. I will have a review of Neither Egalitarian Nor Complimentarian up within the week.

Book Review: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel; Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary

Exalting Jesus in 1 &2 Samuel is the newest release for B&H Publishing’s Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series. Written by Heath Thomas (Dean of Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry) and J.D. Greear (Pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh, NC), they have taken on the task of writing a commentary focused on the gospel’s presence throughout all of scripture. There are a few distinctions about this commentary compared to others that I enjoyed. First, though this is an expositional commentary, the authors hold firmly to sound exegesis. I am hardly a Hebrew scholar, so I am not in any position to critique how accurately they do this. However, from what I’ve observed, there are no red flags indicating any exegetical fallacy from their interpretation of the text. Secondly, this is very teacher/pastor focused. Granted, this is not the first commentary to bridge the gap between scholars and small group leaders, but but is still unique nonetheless. Compared to Goldingay’s Old Testament for Everyone series, this commentary is very structured and provides more teaching/preaching examples. The price is roughly the same as those volumes as well ($14.99) which wins the favor of the penny pincher compared to the NIV Application Commentary as well. These observations alone lean my budget towards this series for future purchases. 

Each chapter starts with a main idea for the verses to follow. For example, the main idea for 2 Samuel 7 reads, “The Davidic covenant reveals that Yahweh has blessed David to be a blessing; those who bless him will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed” (192). Following is an outline, where the outline’s points/subpoints are highlighted by illustrations from the author(s) to assist with their comment. The chapter concludes with points of reflection and a few discussion questions, being a useful tool for both the pastor and small group leader.

Many people ignore the Old Testament today, myself included. Unfortunately, this negligence is a huge contributor to why Manu are turned away from the Christian faith entirely. Some will look at the Old Testament as God being the “angry God” and the New Testament is when he finally came comes to his senses (Isa 63-65); as if the cross were the perscription for relentless temper tantrums. Others look at the Old Testament and see it as the first written account where science is ignored (Gen 1-3). How about king David’s justification to steal a man’s wife as long as you take him out of the picture (2 Sam 11)? All of these are examples that have been known to turn people away from reading the Old Testament, all of which I have heard over the years. However, this is all the more reason on why it shouldn’t be ignored, and this commentary series is just one tool that will help anyone struggling with issues like these. Many think because Jesus is not in the Old Testament that it serves no purpose to them today, but this commentary specifically will help snuff out that notion. The Bible tells one story, and this story is one of redemption that points to Jesus Christ. 

All in all I found this book excellent. The OT historical books have always intimidated me. Partly because I feel I have been looking for a good “starter” book on the OT historical books, and haven’t yet found one that was both credible and affordable. I think this is an excellent choice.  You can buy this book on the B&H Website or from Amazon

Disclaimer: I received this review copy of the book from B&H in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed were not influenced by their provision of such

 

 

Book Review: Paul Behaving Badly

paul-behaving-badlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, coauthors of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (IVP 2012), dive into the complicated life and teachings of the apostle Paul in their newest release, Paul Behaving Badly. This is now the third “behaving badly” publication from IVP. The other two are God Behaving Badly by David T. Lamb (IVP 2012), and Jesus Behaving Badly by Mark. L. Strauss (IVP 2016). You can read a review of Jesus Behaving Badly here, which was written and reviewed by my Greek and Biblical Studies professor from my undergraduate studies, Dr. Phil Long. All three books explore the difficult portions of scripture many readers find themselves wrestling with. There is no question that understanding the sociological, historical, and cultural contexts of scripture is necessary for interpretation, and the life and teachings of Paul solidify this further. It’s because of such why Paul tends to get a bad rap, and rightly so. Nevertheless, Richards and O’Brien attempt a conversation to alleviate these poor perceptions.

The book’s introduction addresses the problems most people, if not all, would encounter at some point when observing Paul’s persona and teachings. Richards and O’Brien include experiences of their own to relate to the readers with similar qualms. This all points to hermeneutics (interpretation) and how readers are led astray without it. The “problems” that one experiences in reading Paul is exactly why they emphasize the importance of a good hermeneutic. The introduction finishes with an invitation to the reader; an invitation to journey with them through these difficult portions of scripture with an open mind, and prepared to better understand this apostle who comes off as… well, kind of a jerk (21).

Each chapter deals with the common problematic verses of Paul’s teach, and each is unapologetically titled with, what I would consider to be cleverly marketed with their enticing shock value. The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. Paul Was Kind of a Jerk
  2. Paul Was a Killjoy
  3. Paul Was a Racist
  4. Paul Supported Slavery
  5. Paul Was a Chauvinist
  6. Paul Was Homophobic
  7. Paul Was a Hypocrite
  8. Paul Twisted Scripture

You may be thinking, “What passages are you referring to that fits these claims against the apostle?” Richards and O’Brien ask questions and make observations of these problems one sees when reading of Paul. This is done thoroughly in each chapter without restriction. For example, Paul opposes Peter upon his arrival to Antioch and does so “because he [Peter] stood condemned” (Gal 2:11), yet exhorts to other believers, “as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18)? What about Paul’s expulsion of the wicked person in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 5:13), or saying “let them be under God’s curse” (Gal 1:8-9) if one were to disagree with his message? Jesus himself said to turn the other cheek and encourage all who were weary or burdened to come to him (Matt 5:39; 11:28), why on earth would Paul speak on behalf of the gospel, but say something so opposite to Christ’s teachings? Not to mention the verses that make Paul seem racist (Rom 10:21), sexist (1 Tim 2:1-14), homophobic (1 Thes 4:3-6), and a supporter of slavery (1 Cor 7:20-21), giving Paul the benefit of the doubt is difficult to do when read with western eyes (pun intended); even the apostle Peter admits that Paul is “difficult to understand” (2 Pet 3:16). This is a brief synopsis of the several passages conversed throughout the book. All of which include analogous anecdotes from the Richards and O’Brien’s life experiences in addition to their Biblical study, which I found very beneficial.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book was the structure of each chapter. Both sides of the coin are given fair consideration without indecisive “fence-riding” one might expect. When a book’s focus is to bring newfound understanding to the umbrella of civil rights issues one sees in Paul’s writings, it is bound to be rattling some cages; especially considering the consistent increase of social injustices we see from the media.This makes the need for theologically sound interpretation of Scripture all the more significant, and further proves the urgency for literature that will address these “problem” passages. Richards and O’Brien have provided an excellent aid to the church considering, and I hope to see many more like it for the sake of people the church can be salt, light, and love to.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in bringing clarity to the difficult passages attributed to the apostle. Any reputable exegetical, theological, or socio-rhetorical commentary would discuss these same issues (probably at greater length), but shouldn’t turn anyone away from reading this book. Though commentaries might discuss the issues at greater length and interact more with the original languages, Paul Behaving Badly is different from that. Think of this more like a well researched collection of essays by Richards and O’Brien. Each chapter/essay deals with a unique “problem” passage rather specific letters he wrote.  In addition to this, it is layered with testimonials from the authors, which makes the contemporary significance easier lay hold of for the reader. It would make an excellent book for a small group to work through, and an affordable resource for those studying the apostle. If you would like to purchase this book you can buy it on IVP’s website here.

Conclusion: Was Paul a chauvinistic homophobe who supported slavery? Was he a hypocrite who signed God’s name on his own agenda? Did he manipulate the masses by twisting scripture with motives ulterior to the gospel? Was he anti-Semitic and arrogant in his superior-like statements of judgment? Was he really a jerk?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is no, and the authors have done a fantastic job defending this with grace and understanding to both camps. The 21st century lens that readers look through presents a problem that seems to never dismay, and Paul’s letters are not exempt from this irresponsible habit. Paul was a product of his cultural context, and his writings do not fit the guidelines of Western Europeans. Paul Behaving Badly emphasizes the necessity of understanding the context of every portion of scripture, and we must wear glasses fitting to apostle’s first century context if we wish to achieve that.

Disclaimer: Thank you to InterVarsity Press and Krista Clayton for generously providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not effect the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.

Book Review: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary) is notorious for his contributions to The Bible’s historicity. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels was his first publication on the subject, and following were The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, as well as Can we Still Believe the Bible? Soon thereafter, Blomberg authored his two volume introduction to the New Testament titled Jesus and the Gospels, and From Pentecost to Patmos which also has small excerpts regarding historicity issues, however, hardly scratches the surface with historicity issues being minimal. Though the notoriety of these works could stand alone, Blomberg’s most recent work The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (B&H Publishing Group) surpasses them in both length and thoroughness regarding objections to the New Testament’s reliability.

The title alone indicates the book’s separation from Blomberg’s prior works as far as material is concerned. He utilizes 14 chapters arranged into six different sections: Synoptic Gospels, Gospel of John, Acts and Paul, Non-Pauline Letters, Cannonicity/Transmission, and The Problem of Miracles. All of which unapologetically confront objections to the New Testament’s reliability as well as address the “illicit” issues that most western conservative fundamentalists would deem heretical. Even with the amount of material covered in the 816 pages, it still doesn’t cover everything Blomberg believes should be included regarding the subject, and reiterates this at several points throughout the book. Nevertheless, this book is still incredibly dense literally and figuratively, and to some that might be an immediate redflag as you read this review. This is not loaded with PhD-level diction that would lose you after the first page. Let me reassure you that Blomberg elaborates to bring those without prior knowledge up to speed so they engage. The only prior knowledge one would need to read this is a very basic understanding of the New Testament. So put down the copy of Crazy Love, because you don’t have anything to worry about.

The size of the book is by far more intimidating than it actually is. From my experience, I have assumed any book over 400-500 pages to be considered a reference, and have rarely picked up a reference with the intention of reading it cover to cover (Disclaimer: I have read every book assigned to be read for homework in every class as was written in the class schedule). I’ve always associated the amount of pages with how easy of a read a book is:

The number of pages is equivalent to the amount of information, and the more information means it is more useful as a “one stop shop” for research and study, and since it is designed to be a reference then it is likely more expensive, which means that most millenials won’t purchase it because, hey, that’s what google is for, right?! Though my lighthearted speculation is accurate, this book is the straw I’ve needed to paralyze the camel that is this presupposition. To put it bluntly, I read the forward and introduction and didn’t stop, I just kept reading.

That’s a big deal.

I’ll explain to alleviate any confusion. Typically I take a break after reading the forward and introduction, especially when they are over 31 pages combined. This was not the case for this book. I was hooked, and continued for an additional 50 pages before putting it down. The only reason I stopped was because I had time set aside specifically to spend time with my wife. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a married seminary student, it’s that me putting off plans with her to read books is a big no-no during semester. Because of school I’m required to read books more than I sleep for 30 weeks a year, so I can’t say I blame her (not to mention it was Christmas Eve…). Nevertheless, the book’s infringement on previous plans was the last thing I expected to happen, but thankful when it did.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject. If you’re hesitant because of length, trust me when I say this book is not going to do that for you. Remember, I know this because I’ve had the same presuppositions. If you don’t want to buy it because it’s too big to fit in your purse or satchel (#murse) then it is available on kindle as well. Now, those reading may be asking themselves, “Well, do I really need to buy this if he’s got all these other books on the same subject? Or do the other books go into more depth and this is just a cheaper alternative?” I cannot answer each of these questions fully because I haven’t read any of his other works regarding historicity. However, Blomberg tells the reader, “This present work gathers most of the major threads of these works together, in a completely new topical arrangement, but also moves on to numerous additional issues that the scope of my previous works prevented me from addressing at all” (p. xxiv). Based on this, I would say owning this is sufficient enough, but you’ll just have to make the decision yourself. It is only $23.17 on amazon, and you can purchase it here.

Disclaimer: I want to thank B&H Publishing Group for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not effect my review in any way.