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Unlocking Romans Chapter 1

Kurt Vonnegut once gave eight rules for writing short stories. Number Eight states: “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” While Daniel Kirk is clearly not writing a short story, his opening chapter, like all well-written academic books, does a good job of letting the reader know where he is going. The reference to Vonnegut is not entirely inappropriate, though, because Kirk is decidedly concerned with telling a story. He’s not, however, telling a story in the conventional sense with the creation of characters and plot. Instead, Kirk is telling us a story by telling us how to be a good audience. It’s something akin to my experience reading Tolstoy’s short story “The Three Hermits.” The story is about an encounter between a church official and three hermits who live on an isolated island. The hermits being ignorant of liturgy, the church official teaches them the right way to pray making them repeat the Lord’s prayer again and again. He then departs, content that he has brought them into the fold. As the church official sails on, he suddenly is overtaken by three mystical figures shrouded in light and running upon the waters. They are the three hermits who have come to inform the official that they have forgotten the words of their prayer. When I first read the story, I read it in terms of a dichotomy that seemed important to me: organized religion vs. the Holy Spirit. It was a victory over stuffy religion. With greater knowledge of Tolstoy’s battles with the Russian Orthodox Church, the meaning of the story began to change. My prior reading wasn’t wrong per se, but it really failed to capture the force and intensity behind Tolstoy’s portrayal of official state sanctioned religion as foolish, devoid of power, and spiritually suffocating. Kirk offers us a hermeneutical key that doesn’t so much change the way the story is told, but begs us to alter how we listen. Some of the broad ideas of Romans are not in dispute: that Paul is concerned with Jew-Gentile relations, that he is trying to frame his argument in a way that is theologically consistent with the Jewish Scriptures, and that he is intimately concerned with the implications of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus for the understanding of God. Less certain is how he gets there.

Daniel Kirk proposes that understanding Paul’s argument in Romans is quite simple: pay attention to Paul’s portrayal of God. He cautions the reader that whatever sort of God one expects to find in Romans will inevitably shape how one reads the letter. If we hold in our minds the God of the philosophers–the unmovable mover, the perfect and ineffable first cause–then we arrive at a reading of Romans that fails to hear Paul. Instead, Kirk proposes that Paul consistently and necessarily focuses his letter on the God of Israel. It is this God whose character is challenged by the curious fact that  his people simultaneously continue to be in bondage to pagan rulers and reject Jesus as the Son of God. As the demographics in the church shift, Paul must account not only for the rejection of the Jewish people but for the acceptance of the Gentiles. The trouble for Paul is that he is simultaneously the ambassador to the Gentiles and the representative of a God whose identity is marked by his particularity. How does an apostle navigate the disjunction between a God whose character is revealed by his patronage of Israel and his calling to a group that has historically been excluded from that group? Kirk promises to guide us through a reading of Romans–to tell us where to listen up–that will solve Paul’s dilemma, make sense of the peculiarities of the text, and, most important of all, lead us away from outmoded ways of hearing Romans. In short, he promises to show how Romans is a theodicy of sorts. Whether he will keep his word remains to be seen.

Did Clement, Bishop of Rome, Write or Quote from Hebrews?

I’m continuing to work through the fantastic Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction edited by Wilhelm Pratscher, and one of the truly fantastic parts of this book is that every chapter has a section on intertextuality. Besides being a generally fascinating subject, it is important for how we conceive of Christianity in the earliest of the early church. In the chapter on 1 Clement written by Andreas Lindemann, the relationship between 1 Clement and Hebrews is briefly explored:

The special similarity between 1Clem [sic] and Hebrews was recognized even in the early church. Eusebius writes (HEIII 38.1-3) that the fact that the author of 1Clem cites Hebrews means that Hebrews cannot be a “young” text; he also refers to the similarity of style and thought. Origen concluded from [i.e. according to] Eus VI 25.14 that people saw Clement of Rome (or even Luke) as the author of Hebrews. (pg. 59)

The section of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History Lindemann refers to is specifically dealing with what Origen has argued about the nature and authorship of the scriptures. It contains some interesting features like the claim of Matthean priority and the denial of the authenticity of 2 Peter. The section referred to above says:

11. In addition he makes the following statements in regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Homilies upon it: “That the verbal style of the epistle entitled ‘To the Hebrews,’ is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech’ but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge.
12. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit.”
13. Farther on he adds: “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s.
14. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it.” But let this suffice on these matters. (Schaff, Eus VI 25.11-14)

Lindemann continues:

To be sure, neither agreement by citation nor other references to the text allow for the assumption of a direct literary relationship. But the similarity of 1Clem 36.2-5 to Hebrews 1:3-5, 7, 13 is so great that the use of Hebrews by 1Clem must still be considered possible.

Placing the texts side by side the similarity is obvious.

1 Clement 36.2-5

Hebrews 1:3-5, 7, 13

2By Him we look up to the heights of heaven. By Him we behold, as in a glass, His immaculate and most excellent visage. By Him are the eyes of our hearts opened. By Him our foolish and darkened understanding blossoms up anew towards His marvelous light. By Him the Lord has willed that we should taste of immortal knowledge, who, being the brightness of His majesty, is by so much greater than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.3 For it is thus written, Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.

4 But concerning His Son the Lord spoke thus: Thou art my Son, today have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.

5 And again He saith to Him, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.

3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.  5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?

7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”

13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Ante-Nicene Fathers


Lindemann notes some differences that detract from the idea of a close relationship between texts. Specifically, both 1 Clement and Hebrews use the language of “high priest” to describe Jesus, but they do so in divergent ways. Lindemann suggests that it is possible that the author of 1 Clement knew Hebrews 1, but not the rest of the letter. All in all, it is a rather complicated issue. There seems to be a clear relationship, but the extent of the relationship is anything but clear.

The Didache: Still Relevant

I’ve been working my way through the fantastic book edited by William Pratscher called The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction. I am loving this book, especially its in depth interaction with German scholarship on the Apostolic Fathers. When I was reading the chapter on the Didache, I couldn’t help but think that the Didache had practical advice on sorting out good prophet (or preacher) from bad. Here is Jonathon Draper’s discussion:

The prophet speaking in the name of God must be heard and obeyed, but not everyone who claims to be a prophet is in fact a prophet, as Did [sic] also recognizes (11.8). This creates a dangerous situation indeed, for any community. Deuteronomy institutes the test of fulfillment of the prophecy, and this is interpreted by Did [sic] in terms of the lifestyle of the prophet (as also in Matt 7:15-23, “You will know them by their fruits”). The “way of life of the Lord” (τοὺς τρόπους κυρίου) differentiates the true from the false prophet (e.g., 11.9-10, 12). (Pratscher, 17)

I recommend you read the whole section of the Didache that deals with these issues 11.3-13.7, but here are some highlights from Holmes’ translation:

11.4 Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. 5 But he is not to stay more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. 6 And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night’s lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. [emphasis mine throughout] 7 Also, do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. 8 However, not everyone who speaks in the spirit is a prophet, but only if he exhibits the Lord’s ways. By his conduct, therefore, will the false prophet and prophet be recognized.

11.12 But if anyone should say in the spirit, “Give me money or anything else, do not listen to him. But if he tells you to give on behalf of others who are in need, let no one judge him.

While the whole not questioning prophets bit won’t get my seal of approval, the rest of the advice is quite sound. If someone asks for money or displays a lifestyle devoid of Christian virtue, then they are false. If people just followed this advice, there wouldn’t be a televangelist left on TV within a month.

When Love of Israel Trumps All Else

I’ve been aware of John Hagee’s particular brand of insanity for quite some time. Back in the day, I’d watch his preaching on one of the 15 Christian satellite stations that DirecTV had at the time. I was never really in tune with him, but I found his preaching style to be entertaining. It quickly became apparent that he had some bizarre views, even to my much more conservative past self. It’s been several years since I’ve kept up with Hagee, and, aside from the stuff that came up during McCain’s campaign, he hasn’t crossed my mind in years. Recently, however, I read Gary Burge’s interesting book Jesus and the Land, and in it he discusses the lengths to which Hagee has gone to defend Israel. Frankly, I was astonished that even Hagee would go so far.

[P]erhaps the most strident spokesperson for this view [Christian zionism] today is John Hagee, pastor of San Antonio’s large Cornerstone Church. His most revealing books are Jerusalem Countdown (2005, rev. 2007) and In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State (2007), both providing specific political application to a Zionist reading of the Bible. Today In Defense of Israel can be found for sale in Wal-Mart stores across America and is sold throughout Europe. His defense of Israel has now become so extreme that he preaches that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah (he will become the Messiah at his Second Coming). This means that Judaism never rejected “the Messiah” because they could not reject something that was never offered. (Burge, p. 123)

I have no words. I am disturbed that such a man is pastor to a claimed 19,000 people. Μαρανα θα!

A Brief Look at James Aageson’s Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church

Those of you who have browsed the what we’re reading tab above have seen that I’ve been reading a book by James Aageson called Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church. The book is interesting largely because of its unusual approach. Aageson seeks to locate the Pastoral Epistles within the trajectory of Pauline theology as it develops after the death of Paul. His approach is based on comparing theological patterns in different texts and noting their similarities and differences. He does this to map the emergence of what he terms “Paul the Personage” from “Paul the Person”.

In terms of the construction of Paul’s image in the early church, Anthony Blasi’s argument about charisma [emphasis original] is important. He argues that charisma is bigger than an individual and the person who has charisma is not only a “person” but a “personage.” The term “person,” according to Blasi, refers to a historical individual, whereas the term “personage” refers to an individual’s public and charismatic persona constructed in the minds of other people. For a person to maintain charisma and continue to be a personage, his or her charisma must be constructed anew for each generation. (pg. 8)

Aageson’s book takes a long look at the texts and authors that come after Paul to see how Paul is understood and reconstructed in these texts. He begins with the Pastoral Epistles, and he sketches out the theological motifs which seem to dominate each individual letter of the PE (for example: suffering in 2 Timothy). He doesn’t start with the assumption that these texts are pseudepigraphal, but rather he prefers to locate their place in this Pauline trajectory by exploring two lines of inquiry.

First, Aageson examines the relationship of the three PE to each other. He does this by comparing the theological pictures he outlined in the previous chapter letter to letter. I was particularly pleased that Aageson highlights the way 2 Timothy is significantly different in theological approach and exhortation from 1 Timothy and Titus. The parallels between 1 Timothy and Titus are quite apparent: household codes, instructions about leaders, concern with external appearances for the sake of evangelism. On this basis, Aageson suggests that 2 Timothy has a different author than 1 Timothy and Titus.

Second, and this is where the book is really interesting, Aageson chooses the  undisputed Pauline text most similar to  each Pastoral Epistle to compare the theological patterns within. He compares 2 Timothy to Philippians based on the parallels in style noted by Stowers, 1 Timothy to 1 Corinthians based on similar observations from Luke Johnson, and Titus and Galatians based on their address of Judaism. I won’t go into detail about his conclusions, but he ultimately concludes that the PE are not written by Paul. Given his previous conclusion that 2 Timothy was written by a different author from 1 Timothy and Titus, Aageson then argues that 2 Timothy represents an earlier appropriation of Paul than 1 Timothy and Titus. By highlighting the differences between 2 Timothy and the undisputed Paulines and then between 2 Timothy and the rest of the PE, Aageson begins to outline a trajectory of Pauline appropriation.

Aageson continues to trace this trajectory through the earliest Christian documents. I could say quite a bit about this part of the book especially, but for brevity I’ll just relate what texts he chooses to examine. Aageson starts by making comparisons between images of Paul in the PE and the Book of Acts. Following this, he compares the theology of the PE with the Deutero-Pauline epistles. Having exhausted his canonical comparisons, Aageson embarks on a series of comparisons with Early Church Fathers. Starting with the Apostolic Fathers Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement, then proceeding with a who’s who of early Christian thinkers, he covers the likes of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. He highlights the way “Paul receded into history” in the Apostolic Fathers and how his writings slowly and steadily moved from authoritative apostolic witness in the second century to divine writ in the third and fourth.

Last, but certainly not least, is the fascinating discussion of the Acts of Paul and Thecla and their relationship to the PE. For those not familiar, the Acts of Paul and Thecla tell the story of a young woman who hears Paul preach and as a result puts off marriage to go about the work of evangelism. Thecla is the earliest text to exhibit the trend which develops in the early church of viewing chaste women as the equals or near-equals of men. It takes a somewhat negative view of marriage which has lead to differing theories about its relationship to the PE. Some scholars argue that the PE and the Acts of Paul and Thecla represent two schools of post-Pauline thought who both seek to appropriate Paul against the other. Other scholars see the Acts of Paul and Thecla as dependent on 2 Timothy (a position advocated by Richard Bauckham). The whole discussion is a positively fascinating look at the development of the personage of Paul in post-apostolic communities.

All in the all, I don’t know if I can really buy into the conclusions of Aageson, mostly because they are predicated on a certain understanding of the PE. I’m still on the fence about authorship, so the force of Aageson’s arguments are ultimately greatly reduced. Even so, the book makes a fantastic introduction to the way Paul and his letters have been viewed throughout history. It is a bit like a reception-historical study but focused on a person rather than a specific text. Aageson can be wordy and dry at times, but the uniqueness of the subject matter and approach more than make up for it. Read it, and you most likely won’t regret it.

Coincidence or Reference to Failed Messiah?

I recently re-read A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, and at a certain point one of the characters mentions a legendary knight whose name seemed purposefully similar to a real historical figure.

“‘There was a knight once who couldn’t see, ‘ Bran said stubbornly, as Ser Rodrik went on below. ‘Old Nan told me about him.’…’Symeon Star-Eyes,’ Luwin said as he marked numbers in his book. ‘When he lost his eyes, he put sapphires in the empty sockets, or so the singers claim.” (pg. 730)

It might be a coincidence, but that reminded me of Simon bar Kokhba. I don’t think Martin is Jewish or anything, but the reference to placing sapphires in the eyes could be taken as being blinded by greed or ambition. Who knows, but I thought it was interesting.

Book Review: The Immigration Crisis by James Hoffmeier

Of the modern political controversies, the question surrounding illegal immigration is the one that causes me the most self-doubt. I have long held that contempt of law should never be rewarded and that amnesty is not the proper response. However, in the last few years, God has taught me to love justice. My compassion for the immigrant wars with the clear sense of right and wrong concerning the law. So, a while back (read a year and a half) I elected to receive an early review galley copy of a book on the subject. I shamefully have just gotten around to reading it.

The book is written by an Old Testament scholar at Trinity International University and attempts to collect the biblical evidence that might be applied to the issue of illegal immigration in an easy to ready format. I generally appreciate the books narrative structure, essentially tracing the story of Israel from Abraham to the Exile and then jumping to Jesus before concluding. Unfortunately, this narrative approach does not pay the dividends one might expect. Hoffmeier’s book contains lengthy paraphrasing of biblical stories set off by inordinately long block quotes of biblical text. He largely fails to actually make an argument when he works through this material instead choosing to leave his points only loosely connected to the present discussion.

Hoffmeier also makes several interpretive arguments that are more assertions than arguments. For example, he attempts to align certain Hebrew words with legal resident and non-legal resident arguing that the text makes an important distinction between them. This might be the case, but Hoffmeier offers no philological evidence to back up his claim with the exception of noting that the LXX uses proselytos indicating a religious understanding of the term for some. He does provide footnotes for this material, but he does not incorporate the arguments apparently given by the texts he cites. More troubling is Hoffmeier’s tendency to seamlessly weave together archeological material with the text of the Old Testament to make his arguments. Much of the information he provides is interesting but ultimately irrelevant, and awkwardly pins the text to the archeological material treating them as if they are the same sort of thing.

Hoffmeier’s consideration of the New Testament is extremely terse, and one wonders at the wisdom of spending six chapters on the Old Testament and rushing through the New Testament material. His points are generally fine, his argument based on Romans 13 is largely agreeable, but he makes awkward material choices. He spends a long time arguing that the “least of these” in Matthew 25 should only apply to Christians or disciples of Jesus , leaving us to infer that this means that the text cannot apply to illegal immigrants. Then, in the next chapter, he points out that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Christians. I was left scratching my head at his logical inconsistency.

Ultimately, I largely agree with Hoffmeier’s conclusions, but I cannot help but say that he has done a poor job arguing them. Perhaps the great shortcomings of the book should be attributed to its obvious orientation to lay readers, but the book fails if it is read as a primer for ethical reflection on the issue of illegal immigration. If you want an easy to read book that will discuss some of the issues in a lay-friendly manner and do not mind its hasty conclusions, then this book would at least make a decent starting point. If you are hoping for substantive exegesis and ethical argumentation, look elsewhere. I give it two and a half French philosophers out of five.

Book Review: Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark Yarhouse

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book.

Homosexuality is one of those topics that never dies. Everyone has an opinion whether they voice it actively or not, but they probably do voice it (and do so at length with suitable levels of anger at the people who disagree). Unfortunately, Homosexuality has become a sort of litmus test, an easy way to determine what sort of Christian someone is in a short period of time. It’s like a bizarre creed one must recite to maintain inclusion in the orthodoxy club. Even now, I’m tempted to assert my own opinions about the matter so people won’t run with the ambiguity. In such an environment, do we really need another book about the Christian response to homosexuality from the conservative position? If the book were written by a pastor or theologian, I would say no, but the book is, in fact, written by a well-respected psychologist who is an active participant in his field. (That is to say, he is not a “Christian psychologist” a la Dobson.)

That said, from what I can tell, Yarhouse definitely falls under the category of a theological conservative. I base this conclusion on the manner of his telling of the overarching story of humanity (fall, original sin, etc.). The way it is written, I have no doubt it would garner the Al Mohler seal of approval. However, this does not dictate his response to the origin and reversibility of same-sex attraction. Yarhouse’s conclusions surrounding these issues is thoroughly scientific. Yes, he challenges the flaws in some studies that have led to dramatic overstatement, but there is no apologetic effort to take on the scientific establishment. Yarhouse is thoroughly not self-conscious asserting that for the vast majority of people same-sex attraction is not likely to be a choice and that while there have been some decent results from restoration therapy there is no guaranteed way to reverse homosexuality.

Instead of attempting to combat the plain fact that same-sex attraction is largely an unchosen experience, Yarhouse focuses on the things that are in the power of the individual to control. His main point of emphasis in this regard is dealing with the formation of identity. Yarhouse argues that same-sex attraction cannot likely be put aside, but making same-sex attraction the center of your identity is a choice. As an alternative, he tells of multiple cases where he helped clients place their identity in a different source, most notably in Christ. His proposal then is to avoid blame whether it be on parents or children, and instead create an environment of love and understanding punctuated by a call to place identity in Christ not in the experience of same-sex attraction.

If I were to challenge Yarhouse on any point, it would be not emphasizing strongly enough the difficulty of asking someone to excise their sexuality from their identity. For me, being a heterosexual is no different from being white or 6’2″. It is quite simply an elemental part of who I am. Asking homosexuals to have zero natural sexual expression, expecting them to exclude their sexuality as a source of identity, and expecting them to be happy is a tall order. That is not to say that Yarhouse is wrong, but we need to be sensitive to what we are demanding of people. Whether or not you agree with Yarhouse’s conclusions about the proper way forward, you must accept the inherent value in a theological conservative making points about the nature of homosexuality in a friendly and nonthreatening manner that challenge the conservative status quo. I give it 3 and a 1/2 out of 5 German Theologians.

Michael Bird is My Hero

I’ve been reading Mike Bird’s Introducing Paul as a light refresher before I take a Pauline Theology class this fall, and I just read what has to be the best pop-culture reference ever in a NT work.

In want of a modern analogy, George Lucas’s six-part saga Star Wars can be called a ‘Tale of Two Skywalkers’, and in many ways mirrors the Adam-Christ contrast of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, where Adam and Christ stand for the two respective heads of humanity. They are representatives or types[emphasis original] of wither a corrupted humanity (Adam) or a redeemed humanity (Christ). The first Skywalker (Anakin Skywalker) faced the temptation to give in to the dark side of the force: he gave in to it and death, destruction and chaos followed. In contrast, the second Skywalker (Luke Skywalker) faced the same temptation, but was faithful and obedient to the Jedi vocation, and consequently hope, life, and the triumph of good followed. In fact, Luke was able to redeem the first Skywalker, his father Anakin, from evil through his faithfulness.

How cool is that? There should be an SBL session where we get together and watch Star Wars.

Quote of the Day – Nancy Murphy

I once heard a lecturer describe a marine organism on the borderline between plant and animal. It spends most of its time attached to rocks, but during one phase of its life it develops a very simple brain, detaches from the rock, and moves to an area with more nutrients. Then it re-attaches and consumes its own brain. The lecturer likened it to a professor who had gotten tenure.

- Nancy Murphy, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 58 – footnote 24

That ladies and gents is why you should read footnotes. By the way, this book is a fascinating argument for the non-existence of the soul. It’s worth the read if for no other reason than to understand physicalism.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012