Friday, December 16, 2016

Jerome Murphy O'Connor on Taking Statements as Questions

"The more conscious I became of the way theological thought actually develops--by historically conditioned insights rather than by logical deduction from a deposit of faith--the more I wanted to encounter the personality behind the letters [of Paul], and to determine the factors which led him to think in a particular way. This book contains the fruits of that quest, which are displayed with a certitude that all historians will recognize as spurious. Only definiteness, however, can provoke the reactions that in dialogue lead to progress. I make my own what J.A.T. Robinson said in the conclusion to a much more challenging work, 'all the statements of this book should be taken as questions.'" - Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford, 1997), v.

The J.A.T. Robinson reference is to Redating the New Testament (London: SCM, 1976), 357.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The 'Prophet like Moses' and Josephus's Aristocratic Ideal

A week from today, on the morning of Monday, November 21st, I am scheduled to present my second SBL paper, this time in the Hebrew Bible and Political Theory section (S21-128). This paper is on the influence of Deuteronomy 18 on Josephus's political philosophy. Because Josephus never directly quotes the chapter, it is in the first place an argument that Josephus read Deuteronomy 18, and that it influenced his writing of the Antiquities. Here is the abstract
Josephus’s stated preference for an aristocratic form of government in Antiquities 4.223 is often understood in terms of the priestly aristocracy of Josephus’s early life in Jerusalem. Yet while Josephus’s description of first-century Judean political life and his other forays into Greco-Roman political discourse are important evidence for his political philosophy, interpreting Antiquities 4.223 merely as a reference to priestly aristocracy overlooks the function of 4.223 in its immediate context. Josephus’s claim that “aristocracy is indeed the best” contrasts rule by kings—criticized in Deuteronomy 17 and by Josephus in Antiquities 4.223-4—with a different form of government summarized in Antiquities 4.214-218. This passage, the first direct comment about rulers in Josephus’s account of the Jewish politeia (4.196-302), describes local leaders who judge legal cases in local cities (4.214-7), and what amounts to a court of appeals in Jerusalem, comprising “the high priest and the prophet and the council of elders” (4.218).
Sarah Pearce (2013) has argued convincingly that the “council of elders” corresponds to the Israelite “elders” who appear in leadership positions elsewhere in the Pentateuch, and that within the narrative context of Antiquities, the high priest represents Eleazar, and the prophet, Joshua. However, Pearce proposes that the members of the high court are left anonymous in 4.218 because Josephus wanted to depict the court as an “ideal constitution,” “valid for a timeless present” but instantiated only in Moses’ immediate successors. Pearce does not connect 4.218 with the reference to “aristocracy” in 4.223 and she denies that Josephus “is concerned … with an interpretation of distinct elements of the biblical text through a process of one-to-one substitution.” In this paper I will argue that in Antiquities 4.214-218 aristocracy is defined as supreme rule in the holy city by high priest, prophet and council of elders, that this formulation represents an interpretive paraphrase that abbreviates and combines Deuteronomy 16-17 with the description of the “prophet like Moses” in Deuteronomy 18, and that this aristocratic pattern—including the “prophet”—recurs elsewhere in the Antiquities and functions as a standard by which other forms of government are measured. While Josephus draws on contemporary Greco-Roman political discourse, his political philosophy—at least as it appears in the Antiquities—is also informed and shaped by his reading of Torah, including the description of the “prophet like Moses” in Deuteronomy 18:15.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Maccabean Characterization and Reverse Polemic in Acts

At SBL next Sunday morning I am scheduled to present a paper in the Book of Acts section on "Maccabean Characterization and Reverse Polemic in Acts." The rather long abstract I submitted in February can be read here, for anyone so inclined.

What follows is a slightly modified thesis paragraph from my current draft:
I will argue that Luke knows his story might appear to entail a rejection of Jewishness, like that of the Maccabean era, and he attempts to avert this misreading through a series of allusions to 1-2 Maccabees. First, he allows opponents of the Gentile mission to draw parallels between Jewish Christ-believers and the Jewish renegades of 1-2 Maccabees in order to set up Paul’s climactic rejection of this position in the latter chapters of Acts. Second, Luke reverses the Maccabean “script,” claiming that it is not Jewish Christ-believers but their Jewish critics who play the part of Antiochus and the renegades. This polemical contrast supports Luke’s argument that the Messianic claims of Jesus and the Gentile mission do not undermine the law or threaten the Jewish identity of Jesus’ Jewish followers. The contrast also indicates that the church in Luke’s own day had not moved as far toward a wholly non-observant Gentile Christianity as many suppose.
If you happen to be in San Antonio at 9:00 a.m. on November 20th and can think of nothing better to do, why don't you find your way to session S20-113 in Convention Center 304B.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Requesting a 1 Corinthians Reading List

Erastus Inscription, Corinth
The lot fell to me to design a new upper level biblical studies elective this year, and I (probably foolishly) decided on Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. I reasoned that the letter would be closer to my current teaching and research interests than the book of Revelation (my other main option). 1 Corinthians also follows the Gospels, Acts, and Romans--all courses that have formed part of my regular teaching assignment. Why not work sequentially through the New Testament?

I taught 1 Corinthians once before, twenty years ago at a Bible school in Kenya, fresh out of college, with the first edition of Gordon Fee's NICNT commentary as a lifeline. In seminary I took a course on the Corinthian Correspondence from Murray J. Harris, who assigned C.K. Barrett's BNTC commentaries as textbooks. That is, more or less, my last serious academic engagement with the book.

Needless to say, I have some catching up to do. One of the reasons for the blog silence this semester is that I have been trying to read ahead for next semester. I am not as far along as I'd like, however, and a textbook deadline looms. I could use some help:

Primary Textbook: For courses like this, I typically look for an excellent, relatively short, and readable commentary, as a primary textbook. For 1 Corinthians, I haven't found anything better than Richard Hays's 1999 contribution to the Interpretation series.

Secondary Textbook/Articles: To fill in the secondary readings, I'm casting about for one or more of the following:
  • A shorter, accessible book that introduces the text from a more practical or theological level (though Hays does both exceptionally well), or an introduction to the historical context.
  • *A set of paired articles introducing diverse perspectives on major issues in 1 Corinthians.
Any reading recommendations, particularly of seminal essays on 1 Corinthians, will be appreciated!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Luke Timothy Johnson on Greek and Responsible Reading of the New Testament

"The New Testament is written in first-century Greek: diction, grammar, and syntax are not subject to the whim of readers. Writings can say only what the Koine of that time allows them to say. The only truly responsible reading of the New Testament, consequently, is one based on the Greek text in its historical specificity." - Luke Timothy Johnson, The New Testament: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: 2010), 5.

One could say the same thing, of course, about the Old Testament and Hebrew.

Monday, September 5, 2016

On Plagiarism

This summer--before the Melania Trump and Peter T. O'Brien plagiarism cases made news headlines--I was asked to contribute to an academic honesty mini-course designed for incoming Briercrest College students.

You can click on the video if you want to hear what I said, though I should note that the best thing about it is the short talk at the beginning by recent Briercrest graduate, Breanna Bowker, on the importance of reading.

At the risk of subverting the point I was trying to make in the video, what I'd like to do here is add a little nuance:

 (1) Plagiarism in biblical (and related) scholarship: Plagiarism, unfortunately, is not limited to college papers. Two examples:
  • I recently encountered a major work by a prominent scholar (who shall remain nameless), whose summaries of alternative views routinely quote verbatim from the sources that are summarized, without quotation marks. This is plagiarism. I have no idea how it made it through the review process. 
  • Last month Eerdmans announced that it is withdrawing three major commentaries by Peter T. O'Brien that appeared between 1991 and 2010 in highly-regarded commentary series (more information here). O'Brien, now in his 80's, was until this point a respected New Testament scholar. O'Brien released a statement admitting to problems in his research, which "generated clear-cut, but unintentional, plagiarism," and apologizing for this not-on-purpose error. Based on what I have seen (here), the plagiarism is indeed clear-cut and totally unacceptable. (Those who attempt to defend O'Brien on the basis that all commentaries say the same thing, should conclude rather that we need fewer commentaries.) I don't pretend to understand what led to the plagiarism. People and their motivations are complex, and I am not in a position to judge O'Brien's intentions. (As I note in the video, however, intentions don't matter.) I am happy to grant that O'Brien's teaching and writing have contributed in significant ways to the church and to scholarship. 
(2) Accidental quotation: The page-proofs of an article I wrote failed to type-set a lengthy quotation in block quotes. If I had not proof-read carefully, the quotation would have appeared in print as if it were my own. It would have been a mistake of the type-setter, entirely unintentional, but still--according to the definition I'm using--plagiarism. I hope my readers would have granted me grace.

(3) Forgotten Influences:  In the abstract for a paper that I am currently completing I referred to "a perceived threat to Jewish identity." When I composed the abstract, I'm sure I thought my formulation was original, but I recently came across Robert Tannehill's comment that "the cry of the accusers in the temple [in Acts 21:28] is the cry of a people trying to maintain itself against a perceived threat to its identity" (1990: 272), and I expect it influenced me when I first began work on the topic. Then again, F. Scott Spencer's 1997 commentary on Acts says almost the same thing without any reference to Tannehill: 
Throughout the Greco-Roman world, scores of Gentile converts ignorant of the Mosaic law, at best, or prejudiced against it, at worst, have been incorporated into believing communities alongside Jews, thus creating a perceived threat to Jewish identity. (Spencer 1997; repr. 2004: 209) 

Is this the independent identical formulation of a commonplace observation or a sign of the pervasive--but unacknowledged and possibly forgotten--influence of Robert Tannehill?

(3) Unmarked quotations and oral presentations: Conventions are less-defined for oral presentations, and it can be difficult to know what is appropriate documentation. In the script that I composed and basically memorized for the video, I included quotation marks when I defined plagiarism as "a failure to acknowledge sources," but I did not indicate where I got the phrase. (I reasoned that a popular talk of this sort would be distracting if I added a footnote.) Does this mean my definition of plagiarism is itself plagiarized? Just to be on the safe side, I hereby acknowledge my colleague, Rhoda Cairns, as my source. (For the ethics of documentation in sermons, see this post.)

All this does not change how I will deal with clear cases of plagiarism that I encounter in the classroom. No one will get away by appealing to the examples in this blog post.

When I do chat with students, however, I always emphasize that plagiarism is a major sin in an academic context, and I try to keep matters in perspective. There are far greater moral issues than this particular kind of theft, including the deadly sins of pride, envy, and greed, to which academics are perhaps especially prone. Still, I hope my students learn assiduously to avoid the minor sin of plagiarism in any academic and other writing and speaking that they do.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Rejected Prophets

I rang in the new year--just about--by hitting "submit" on my RBL review of Jocelyn McWhirter's Rejected Prophets: Jesus and His Witnesses in Luke-Acts (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014).

Nine months later, the review has now appeared. (For the record, I don't recommend binge writing over the Christmas holidays.)

Here is the final paragraph:

"Although readers will doubtless quibble over specific aspects of her argument, Rejected Prophets is a valuable contribution to scholarship on prophecy in Luke-Acts, and to the study of Luke-Acts in general. Specialists who are not persuaded by an approach that views Luke as a Jewish author writing within a Jewish context will still benefit from her careful attention to Luke’s use of the Jewish Scriptures, and to her explication of an important Lukan theme. Because it relates the theme of prophecy to other major themes in Luke-Acts, Rejected Prophets would work well as an introduction to Luke-Acts as a whole. The volume is accessible to beginning students who lack the original languages and who are unfamiliar with the historical context. More important still, McWhirter introduces Luke to her readers as a consummate story-teller and skillful reader of Scripture, illustrating at the same time how Luke’s own work may be read with profit."
 SBL members can view the whole review here:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Pietists on Learning Greek and Hebrew

I am always on the look-out for comments about the importance of learning Greek and Hebrew to use in my language classes. Here are a few, courtesy of Stephen Westerholm's chapter on "The Pietists and Wesley" in Reading Sacred Scripture:

John Wesley (1703-1791), known today more for his preaching than his scholarship, insisted that those who wish to be pastors should learn Greek and Hebrew:
"Scripture, then, is sufficient, and sufficiently clear, to meet the needs even of uneducated believers; but more is to be expected of ministers of the gospel. 'Whether it be true or not, that every good textuary [i.e., master of the biblical text] is a good Divine [i.e., clergyman], it is certain none can be a good Divine who is not a good textuary' (Works 10.482). Without a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, will not a minister find himself frequently at a loss, unable to explain even practical texts--let alone those that are controversial? Wesley responds to the implied question: 'He will be ill able to rescue [controversial texts] out of the hands of any man of learning that would pervert them: For whenever an appeal is made to the original, his mouth is stopped at once.' (Works 10.483). ... Never more at home than when searching his own or others' souls, Wesley then asks those who lack such knowledge to ask themselves, 'How many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?' (Works 10.491)" (290-1).
Wesley "published short grammars of English (1748), Latin (1748), Hebrew (1751), French (1751), and Greek (1765)" (287). His older contemporary, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), laid out a curriculum:

"He first gives attention to the 'letter' of Scripture. False meanings are easily attributed to the inspired authors when the text is read either in translation or with an imperfect grasp of the original languages; therefore, it is important that the 'etymology, signification, syntax, and idiom' of Greek and Hebrew 'be fully understood.' Francke outlines what he claims to be a tried-and-true method by which students can acquire these skills. Following his program, the student should have acquired within three months a good grasp of Greek grammar while reading through the Greek New Testament -- twice. (Francke graciously concedes that such progress is possible only if students temporarily set other duties aside.) Learning Hebrew grammar and reading through the Hebrew Old Testament, he says, has been known to take another three months" (275; parenthetical references omitted).
All quotations taken from Stephen Westerholm and Martin Westerholm, Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Victor Paul Furnish on 1 Corinthians 16:14

"'Let everything you do be done in love' .... One can imagine contexts in which this very general appeal would amount to little more than an encouragement to be kind to others. But here it is invested with the full weight of Paul's gospel as that comes to expression in 1 Corinthians. The love he has in view is the agape that is proper to God's own being, which both graces and claims the whole of creation and has been revealed in the saving power of the cross. In their belonging to the resurrected-crucified Christ, believers are formed into a community that lives from the cross and are called to be agents of God's love, both individually and corporately, within the particularities of their own time and place." - Victor Paul Furnish, The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 121.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Assessing Ernst Haenchen on the Purpose of Acts

I summarized Ernst Haenchen's understanding of the purpose of Acts yesterday (here). Today I want to comment briefly on three key aspects of his model:

1. Authorizing Christianity - The suggestion that Luke wrote to secure approval for the early Christian movement as a "tolerated" religion remains very popular, at least in a modified form. Although some scholars deny that a religio licita category existed in the first two centuries CE (see Maddox, on the one hand, and the fine discussion in Keener, on the other), it is common to suggest that Luke presents Christianity in the Roman world as a legitimate and honorable religious alternative by highlighting its Jewish origins and appealing to the antiquity of its traditions in the Jewish Scriptures. (See e.g., Gerald Downing, Philip Esler, François Bovon, Daniel Marguerat, Craig Keener.)

My question is this: Does a bid for legitimacy in the Roman world adequately explain a trial narrative that appears to address and respond to Jewish concerns--in particular, concerns which I will argue elsewhere have to do with a perceived threat to Jewish identity posed by Paul's Gentile mission? Not impossible, but it seems an odd way to go about it.   

2. Jewish Opposition - Haenchen's model supposes that Jews complained to the Romans that Christian Gentiles were not legitimate Jews and hence were "hostile to the state." But when, where and under what circumstances would Jews care about Gentile Christians, and would they have been in a position to complain to the state after 70 CE? Shaye Cohen's recent comment about the "parting of the ways" seems relevant here:
    "There was no parting of the ways between gentile Christians and non-Christian Jews for the simple reason that their ways had never been united. ... [F]or gentiles who believed in Christ and for Jews who did not, there was no need for a parting of the ways, even if there was a need on occasion for polemic, apologetic, and recrimination" (From the Maccabees to the Mishnah [3rd ed; WJK, 2014], 232-3).
3. An External Audience - Haenchen's claim that Luke's apology in Acts was "designed to win over the Roman authorities" (116) has probably received the most criticism--and rightly so. C.K. Barrett's famous rejoinder is compelling: "No Roman official would ever have filtered out so much of what to him would be theological and ecclesiastical rubbish in order to reach so tiny a grain of relevant apology" (Luke the Historian in Recent Study [London: Epworth, 1961], 63).

Barrett, C. K. Luke the Historian in Recent Study. London: Epworth, 1961.

Bovon, François. “The Law in Luke-Acts.” In Studies in Early Christianity, by Bovon, François, 59–73. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Cohen, Shaye. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

Downing, Gerald F. “Freedom from the Law in Luke-Acts.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26 (1986): 49–52.

———. “Law and Custom: Luke-Acts and Late Hellenism.” In Law and Religion: Essays on the Place of the Law in Israel and Early Christianity, edited by Barnabas Lindars, 148–58. Cambridge: James Clarke, 1988.

Esler, Philip Francis. Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology. SNTSMS 57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971.

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Volume 1: Introduction and 1:1--2:47. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Maddox, Robert. The Purpose of Luke-Acts. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982.

Marguerat, Daniel. The First Christian Historian: Writing the “Acts of the Apostles.” Edited by Gregory J. Laughery and Richard Bauckham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Other posts in this series:
Jewish Christianity in Acts: In Search of a Sitz im Leben
Part 1: Reflections on Hermeneutics and the Purpose of Acts
Part 2: The Purpose of Acts: Some Alternatives
Part 3a: Ernst Haenchen on the Purpose of Acts
Part 3b: Assessing Ernst Haenchen 

Assessing Ernst Haenchen

Ernst Haenchen (1894-1975) is not exactly a household name, except in scholarship on Acts and John. When his contribution to the prestigious German KEK series first appeared in 1955, it quickly established itself as the standard critical commentary on Acts. When a revised edition was translated and added to the NTL series in 1971, W.D. Davies lauded it as "a great work of scholarship" and celebrated its appearance, at last, in English.

Jacob Jervell, whose very different 1998 German commentary on Acts replaced Haenchen's in the same series, described his predecessor's contribution as "the most comprehensive and important work of the critical German post-World War II research on Acts."*

(As an aside, Martin Rese describes how "From the end of the sixties until his death in 1975 Ernst Haenchen took me as one of his discussion-partners. He called me up nearly every day for at least an hour, and we talked about the problems of interpreting Luke-Acts and the gospel of John."** What would that have been like, I wonder?)

(As a second aside, I note with dismay that, according to this German Wikipedia entry, Haenchen was a member of the Nazi party during WWII: That decision may have secured him a promotion during the War, but it cost him his official position, at least, after it was over. Update: See Joseph Tyson's longer discussion of Haenchen here. Tyson does not mention Haenchen's membership in the National Socialist party.)

For my part, I share W. Ward Gasque's judgement that the commentary "is in every way a magnificently impressive piece of scholarship -- a treasury of bibliographical, philological, and exegetical detail. ... Even when one does not agree with the conclusions of the author ... he must confess that Haenchen has made him look at  the text and the problem raised by it from every possible angle" (A History of the Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles [Hendrickson, 1989], 243).

To be sure, Gasque immediately went on to add:
"When all is said and done, however, it must be noted with a sense of disappointment that it is probable that Haenchen's great commentary will be regarded by future generations of scholars more as a historical phenomenon belonging to one era of the history of exegesis than as a lasting contribution to New Testament research. ... [W]hen the storm has subsided and New Testament critics are in a position to look back over the past two or three decades of research from the perspective of history they will, I think, be able to see that the commentary of Haenchen is as tendentious and ultimately as unhistorical as he thinks the author of the Book of Acts was." (Gasque, History, 244).

For better or worse, Gasque's prediction has not come true: Haenchen's commentary remains a classic, and the recent excellent critical commentary by Richard Pervo in the Hermeneia series stands very much in the same tradition. (See this post for my initial reflections on Pervo's commentary.)

*Jacob Jervell as translated and quoted in Martin Rese, "The Jews in Luke-Acts: Some Second Thoughts," in The Unity of Luke-Acts (J. Verheyden, ed.; Leuven: Peeters, 1999), 185-6.
**Martin Rese, "The Jews in Luke-Acts," 185.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ernst Haenchen on the Purpose of Acts

The introduction to Ernst Haenchen's classic commentary on Acts contains no separate section on the purpose of Acts, but it is clear enough from his discussion that he thinks Acts was written (1) to reassure Christians (a) about the continuation of the Christian story after the death and resurrection of Jesus (i.e., to respond to the delay of the parousia) and (b) about the salvation-historical continuity of Gentile Christianity with the story of Israel (i.e., to demonstrate the legitimacy of the law-free Gentile mission). In addition to reassuring Christians about these two theological issues, Acts was also written to address a political problem. In the face of criticism by Jews, Luke wrote (2) to convince Romans that Gentile Christianity should be tolerated as a religio licita, just as Judaism was:
Luke's narrative suggests "a problem-free, victorious progress on the part of the Christian mission. But in reality Luke the historian is wrestling, from the first page to the last, with the problem of the mission to the Gentiles without the law. His entire presentation is influenced by this. It is a problem with two aspects: a theological and a political. By forsaking observance of the Jewish law Christianity parts company with Judaism; does this not break the continuity of the history of salvation? That is the theological aspect. But in cutting adrift from Judaism Christianity also loses the toleration which the Jewish religion enjoys. Denounced by the Jews as hostile to the state, it becomes the object of suspicion to Rome. That is the political aspect. Acts takes both constantly into account" (100).
Luke's answer to the theological question about salvation-historical continuity also responds to the political problem:
"As a religion of the resurrection, Christianity was in the direct line of succession to Judaism. And one cannot ... expect the Roman State to trouble itself with theological niceties alien to its concern. On the other hand Christianity does not imply any transgression of Roman laws. Consequently the intelligent representatives of Rome always took a benevolent view of the Christian mission" (102).
According to Haenchen, Luke conveys the continuity between Christianity and Judaism (a) by emphasizing that the extension of the Gospel to Gentiles was divinely initiated and (b) by depicting Paul and the apostles--those who first carried the Gospel to Gentiles--as completely law-observant. Haenchen declares that "Luke knows no break in Paul's attitude to the law" (625). Paul's trial narrative, with its stress on Paul's innocence, illustrates this.

But Jewish Christianity was no longer a factor in Luke's Gentile church, and there were no longer any actual positive connections with non-Christian Jews when Luke was writing. In Acts, Jewish Christians (represented by the apostles, the Seven and Paul, etc.) play a symbolic role in witnessing to Jesus and securing the transition to a Gentile Church. This means both that Jewish Christianity has transitioned to Gentile Christianity and that "Christianity was in the direct line of succession to Judaism" (102).

Haenchen seems to suppose that after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, any Jewish Christianity that still existed survived as an inconsequential Christian sect: "Jewish Christians after 70 had become unimportant, and the Gentile Christians were not Paulinists who had to contend with Judaizers for recognition. Luke no longer hoped for the conversion of the Jews" (693).

According to Haenchen, then, Acts depicts Jewish-Christianity as Torah observant, but because Jewish Christianity had, for all intents and purposes, passed from the scene, the church of Luke's day still represents a movement away from Judaism and the law. Although Luke claims continuity with Judaism, the evidence for that continuity lies in the past. Paul, according to Luke, may have been innocent of the charges against him, but the church of Luke's day was not. Luke's Jewish contemporaries were, in fact, right to accuse Christians of opposition to the Torah, Temple and the Jewish people (Acts 21:28). "For Luke the Jews are 'written off'" (128).

This is the third (or fourth) post in a series on the purpose of Acts. The earlier posts in this series, which also link to some of my reflections on the topic from previous years, are here:
Jewish Christianity in Acts: In Search of a Sitz im Leben
Part 1: Reflections on Hermeneutics and the Purpose of Acts
Part 2: The Purpose of Acts: Some Alternatives

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Purpose of Acts: Some Alternatives

In his excellent but now rather dated introduction to scholarship on Acts, Mark Allan Powell organizes proposals about the purpose of Acts into six major categories, which he admits are not mutually exclusive:
  1. Irenic - Acts was written to unify Petrine and Pauline branches of early Christianity (F. C. Baur).
  2. Polemical - Acts was written to respond to and reject heresies within Christianity--either Gnosticism (Talbert) or Jewish Christianity (Jack T. Sanders).
  3. Apologetic - Acts was written to respond to opposition from either Roman or Jewish outsiders. In some forms of this view, Acts is addressed directly to the outsider audience as an attempt to persuade them that, for instance, Christianity should be recognized as a legal religion, as Judaism was (Haenchen). Others argue that Acts was written to Christians to enable them to respond to opposition from outsiders. Jacob Jervell, for example, suggested that Acts was written to a Christian church facing opposition from Jewish opponents. 
  4.  Evangelistic - Acts was written to encourage non-Christian readers to convert to Christianity or to provide a model for Christian witness to non-Christians (F. F. Bruce).
  5. Pastoral - "If the book of Acts is addressed primarily to believers, then Luke's purpose may be to strengthen their faith and to offer them pastoral guidance" (17).
  6. Theological - According to Hans Conzelmann, Acts responds to "a theological crisis in the life of the early church" caused by the delay of the second coming of Jesus.

  7. Mark Allan Powell, What Are They Saying about Acts? (New York: Paulist, 1991), 13-19.
This is a helpful orientation to the topic, but it will not take us very far if we are concerned primarily with the way in which proposals about the purpose of Acts account for the function of the extensive trial narrative in Acts 21-28: I would not have guessed from reading Powell's summary that Ernst Haenchen gave tremendous weight to the trial narrative in the latter chapters of Acts, and insisted that the book was written to legitimate the Gentile mission as well as to convince a Roman audience to treat Christianity as a legal religion. More on Haenchen in the next post.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reflections on Hermeneutics and the Purpose of Acts

Recent scholarship on the purpose of the book of Acts is in disarray. I will explain below why I think this matters and then suggest two factors that need to be taken into account in any discussion, but first a sketch of the current situation:
  • Although some 20th-century scholars dated Acts before Paul's death in the mid-60's and a few others dated it to the 2nd century, it is fair to say that most scholars during the 20th century were content to locate Acts in the mid-80's CE. I still think a mid-80's date is preferable, but the current trend is to date Luke's second volume to 115 or beyond.
  • Dating is only one relatively minor introductory issue: Was Luke Jewish or Gentile? Was his church composed primarily of Jewish or Gentile Christians? To what extent can we read between the lines of Luke's narrative and recover the issues facing the church in Luke's own day? When does Luke idealize the past and when does he anachronistically impose his own context onto the past? On all these questions scholars remain divided. (For one example, see this post.)

These questions are important because construing the meaning of a text normally (always?) involves reconstructing its purpose. And when you ask why a text was written, you are soon asking when it was written and to whom.  

Before I go on, a few caveats and clarifications are in order:
  1. Reading a text in light of its overall purpose is more important for some texts--and some parts of some texts--than for others. You don't need a specific Sitz im Leben to read much of Genesis well because individual narrative cycles and thematic elements help explain the meaning. In the same way, Acts can be read with profit and insight from the general orientation provided by Luke's preface--Luke writes both volumes to confirm the Gospel (so R. Maddox)--and through attention to major themes.
  2. There is a hermeneutical circle, though not a vicious one. You get at the overall purpose in the first place by considering the details within the text, not primarily from larger models drawn from external evidence about, say, the structure of early Christian communities.
  3. Scholarly reconstructions can be overdone. The 20th century is littered with the remains of ever more elaborate, hypothetical, speculative settings constructed by historical critics to account for the purpose of a book. In such cases, the payoff tends to be limited.  Better to leave questions of setting and purpose unanswered than to impose a model that ignores or results in forced readings of specific details in the text.
  4. Some authors may not be able to articulate why they write, and may only have a general sense of their work's purpose. To take one example, I have been wondering why I am writing this blog post, and I am not at all sure who it is for. Perhaps it is only my attempt to work out for myself what I referred to recently as the great puzzle of the setting and purpose of Acts. Returning to Acts, it is possible that Luke included some episodes in Acts simply because they were interesting--they made a good story.
Nevertheless, I am persuaded by recurring emphases in the text itself that Luke wrote to address specific issues or, to put it another way, as he was writing Acts, he was preoccupied with specific questions. If it is true that "We can understand a text only when we have understood the question to which it is an answer" (Collingwood/Gadamer), what was Luke's question? 

I suggest that any construal of the purpose of Acts needs to take seriously the prominence of the Jews and Judaism at the beginning and end of Acts. The first 7 chapters of Acts announce the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel in the Jewish community of Jesus followers, a community that by chapter 6 has emerged as a separate Jewish sect. The final 8 chapters insist that in extending salvation to the Gentiles Paul (representing Jewish Christianity as a whole) has not violated the law.

Identifying Luke's emphasis on the Jewish beginning and Jewish ending of Acts is not yet an articulation of his question, but it provides a means of evaluating other attempts to summarize the purpose of Acts.

No promises, but I hope to return to the topic in another post or--don't hold your breath--a series of posts.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Back up your data!

My computer suffered a catastrophic failure last weekend, and is now in process of being replaced. Because it was one of those fantastic light-weight "tablets that can replace your laptop," it is impossible to remove the hard disk to recover its contents (without destroying the computer)--and my last backup was 3 weeks before the crash.

I knew, of course, that I should back up regularly and that my usual practice of periodic back-ups wasn't sufficient. I also had the sense that another back-up was past due. But since there were no signs of imminent collapse, I didn't get to it in time.

On the positive side, I only lost one (very productive) day from the notes I was taking in Zotero, and only 3 weeks of everything else. And it wasn't the worst time to lose data: It wasn't mid-semester and I wasn't in the thick of drafting an essay.

Still, one week later, I am still trying to remember, record, and retrace my steps as well as I can, and it will be some time before a permanent replacement will be in hand and ready for work.

Lesson learned, I hope. In future, my computer will be set to back up automatically to an external hard drive, and/or to my institution's server, and/or to the cloud. I recommend you do the same.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity

I am happy to announce the release (in July) of Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), edited by my friend and colleague, Susan Wendel, and yours truly.

The book is dedicated to our Doktorvater, Stephen Westerholm, whose interest in matters of Torah and ethics is long-standing.

The volume explores a question that is sometimes overlooked in the larger academic discussion about the role of the law in early Christianity: How did the Torah continue to serve as a positive reference point for Christians regardless of whether or not they thought Torah observance remained essential?

For those who care about such things, it should be clear from the roster of contributors that the essays do not hew to a particular "old" or "new" perspective:


Anders Runesson, "Entering a Synagogue with Paul: First-Century Torah Observance"

John W. Martens, "The Meaning and Function of the Law in Philo and Josephus"

Wesley G. Olmstead, "Jesus, the Eschatological Perfection of Torah, and the imitatio Dei in Matthew"

S. A. Cummins, "Torah, Jesus, and the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Mark"

David M. Miller, "Reading Law as Prophecy: Torah Ethics in Acts"

Adele Reinhartz, "Reproach and Revelation: Ethics in John 11:1–44"

Scot McKnight, "The Law of the Laws: James, Wisdom, and the Law"

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, "Questions about Nomos, Answers about Christos: Romans 10:4 in Context"

Terence L. Donaldson, "Paul, Abraham’s Gentile 'Offspring,' and the Torah"

Richard B. Hays, "The Conversion of the Imagination: Scripture and Eschatology in 1 Corinthians"


Susan J. Wendel, "Torah Obedience and Early Christian Ethical Practices in Justin Martyr"

Peter Widdicombe, "The Law, God, and the Logos: Clement and the Alexandrian Tradition"

Stephen Westerholm, "Canonical Paul and the Law"

You can pre-order your copy today from the Eerdmans website (for $35; listed as shipping July 26) or from Amazon (for $25.52; listed as shipping July 7).

Monday, April 11, 2016

Waiting for the Summer

Winter semester classes ended last Tuesday. "Summer," for the purposes of this post, begins in another couple weeks--after I have made my way through a small mountain of marking, and submit final grades.

Then I transition from marking essays to writing them: I am happy to report that both my SBL proposals were accepted this year, which means that I will be presenting two papers in San Antonio in November, one in the Book of Acts section, the other in the Hebrew Bible and Political Theory section. It also means that I have two papers to write during the summer. Fortunately for me, neither is brand new:
  • "Maccabean Characterization and Reverse Polemic in Acts" will be a major revision of a paper I gave at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies annual meeting last spring in Ottawa. More details about the CSBS version are here.
  •  "The 'Prophet like Moses' and Josephus's Aristocratic Ideal" will be a revision--minor, I hope--of a paper I am scheduled to give at this year's CSBS at the end of May in Calgary. Provided that the pieces of my argument come together in time, I hope to show that, at least in the Antiquities, Deuteronomy 18 informs Josephus's political philosophy. 
Summer also means preparing for next year's classes, including two brand new courses (a first year "Introduction to the New Testament" and a 300-level elective on 1 Corinthians), second-year Hebrew, and an upper level elective on the book of Acts. S'all good, but full.

Somewhere in there will be vacation too.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Briercrest Colloquium: "Dialogue on Dialectic: An Imaginary Interview with Karl Barth"

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

Our final colloquium of the 2015-2016 school year will take place this Friday, April 8.

Our presenter is Briercrest Professor of Theology, Church & Public Life, and Dean of the Seminary, Dr. David Guretzki.

David's paper is entitled "Dialogue on Dialectic: An Imaginary Interview with Karl Barth."

Please join us on Friday, in room 144 @ 12:30 PM if you can make it out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Stephen Westerholm on (not) reading the Bible like any other book

Stephen Westerholm's new book arrived in the mail a couple weeks ago, just in time for my Hermeneutics class discussion on the question, "Should we read the Bible like any other book?"

Stephen begins the volume with his own answer:
"Among the slogans that set the agenda for much modern study of the Bible, the prescription that it should be read 'like any other book' seems to me singularly unhelpful. We do not read Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves or Have It Your Way, Charlie Brown the same way we read Hamlet or King Lear. Critique of Pure Reason and The House at Pooh Corner are both, I believe, eminently worth reading (though, in the one instance, I am relying on others' assurances), but they call for rather different approaches. Textbook of Medical Oncology requires yet another. To cut short a game becoming more fun by the minute, we may well ask: Like which other book are we supposed to read the Bible?
"To be sure, these and other books can all be read the same way if we approach each with a particular question in mind: How frequently does the author split infinitives, dangle participles, or quote Russian proverbs? Or, what do Romeo and Juliet, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and Pippi Longstocking tell us about eating habits at the time of their composition? (This game, too, could be fun.) These are, I suppose, legitimate questions--doctoral dissertations have certainly been written on stranger topics--but they seem somewhat limiting. Classic literature--William Shakespeare, Søren Kierkegaard, Astrid Lindgren--has more to offer its readers; those open to experiencing the 'more' soon learn that different books make different demands on their readers.
"Unless, then, we are reading the Bible merely to carry out our own limiting agendas, the notion that it should be read 'like any other book' will be true only in the sense that the Bible, like any other book, calls for a particular kind of reading. Sensitive readers of the Bible, like sensitive readers of any text, will be alert to what is being asked of them, given the nature of the text before them." (pp. 1-2)
The first chapter takes soundings in New and Old Testaments to establish that the kind of reading the biblical writings call for is one that responds to the text as the word of God: 
"[T]he New Testament documents were written by people who believed that ... their writings ... were vehicles by which the word of God, uniquely and climactically spoken through Jesus Christ, could now address those who never encountered him in the flesh." (23)
In the same way, the words of the prophets were collected because they transcended their historical contexts:
"The 'word of the Lord' was thus seen, not simply as divinely given knowledge-before-the-fact of some future event, but as a divine force that, once spoken by the prophet, was 'released' into the world where it might shape any number of events: as the word of God, it remained living and active and could not fail to have effect." (24).
This means that "the actual force of the requirement to read the Bible 'like any other book' is to deny--at the outset, and as a matter of principle--the Bible a reading in tune with its peculiar nature, to close one's ears to its call, and to preclude for oneself the possibility of experiencing the transformative impact that the biblical texts have always had within communities of faith" (27).

After a chapter on the formation of the Christian canon of Scripture, successive chapters explore the reading of Scripture by Irenaeus, Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Barth and Bonhoeffer. (The chapters on Schleiermacher and Barth were written by Stephen's son, Martin.)

Instead of trying to justify this choice of authors--why no women writers, for example--Stephen acknowledges frankly that his is not an exclusive canon:
"No dozen figures, however significant, can adequately represent the history of biblical interpretation or exhaust the approaches that have been taken to reading the sacred text; nor would any two informed readers think the same twelve figures most worthy of consideration. But selections have to be made, and no informed reader will doubt the importance of each of the interpreters treated here." (ix)
Indeed. Tolle lege


Westerholm, Stephen, and Martin Westerholm. Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

C.K. Barrett on reading what matters

"Not the least valuable part of the service Dr. ---- has rendered to his colleagues is the assembly of an enormous bibliography, running to 50 pages. His diligence in reading and in writing are beyond praise, and he has dealt with a theme too often the subject of amateurish treatment in a professional manner. In view of this it may seem -- it may be -- ungracious to question whether even so the treatment is sufficient. Is each of the topics adequately dealt with? I do not mean by this to suggest that Dr. ---- ought to have turned each of his chapters (including the Conclusion) into a book, though I am sure he could have done so; rather that he might perhaps have taken a little more time here and there for consideration. The huge bibliography (as it is reflected in the very extensive notes) sometimes at least suggests diligent work with the card index rather than prolonged and profound wrestling with the relatively few books that are really important. ... He takes up, one after another, controversial topics disputed in current theological literature; he sets out various opinions with clarity and with charity, compares arguments, adds his own, and reaches a judgement which is always worth considering and often, in my opinion, correct. But it might have made a more creative book if he had more often allowed the New Testament itself, and literature contemporary with it, rather than modern debate, to prescribe the agenda." - C.K. Barrett in a review published in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 15 (1982): 113-115.

HT: Stephen Westerholm in Stephen Westerholm and Martin Westerholm, Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), ix.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Simon Schama on writing with a fountain pen

"I have two styles of writing, anal and loopy, both adopted in slavish but futile imitation of models who used a fountain pen as though they had been born with one in their hands. I had not. My primary-school exercise books, an Abstract Expressionist field of blots and stains, looked as though the nib had wet itself on to the page rather than been purposefully guided over the paper to form actual words. And yet I loved -- and still do -- the purchase the metal makes on paper, and can't begin a chapter or a script or a newspaper piece without first reaching for a fountain pen and notebook. I scribble, therefore I am." - Simon Schama, Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and My Mother (HarperCollins, 2010), xix.

My introduction to Simon Schama came through his excellent BBC / PBS series, "The Story of the Jews":

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jewish Christianity in Acts: In Search of a Sitz im Leben

In Acts, Luke responds to the charge that Paul teaches “all people everywhere against our people, the law and this place [the Jerusalem temple]” (Acts 21:28) with an emphatic, multi-chapter denial:
  • In Acts 22, Paul identifies himself as a Jew who is accurately instructed in the ancestral law, and who is as much a “zealot for God” as his audience in the Jerusalem temple (22:3).
  • In Acts 23, Paul claims to have always conducted himself with a “good conscience” (23:1).
  • On trial before Agrippa and Festus, he denies that he “sinned against the law … or the temple” (25:8).
  • And before the assembled Jewish elders in Rome, he insists that he did nothing “against the people or the ancestral customs” (28:17).
C.K. Barrett, finding Luke’s portrayal of Paul at odds with the Paul of the epistles, concludes that Luke was honestly mistaken: He knew Paul was a Jew, he knew that Jewish Christians in his own day in the late 1st century observed the law, and he assumed that Paul did too, not realizing that “[w]hen Paul expected Jews to eat with Gentiles he was asking them to give up some of their Jewishness” or that the way in which Paul could claim “to be a conscientious Jew" (cf. Acts 23:2) “would have destroyed Judaism as currently understood”*:
“Luke writes in a situation in which it is accepted that Jewish Christians may and do observe the Law, and it is part of his conviction that Paul was both a good Jew (this will be frequently repeated in the ensuing chapters) and a good Christian. Paul was in fact a Jewish Christian of a kind that could hardly continue to exist after the first generation--a fact that was not clearly seen by Luke. The story presupposes that Jewish Christians in Palestine, in Luke's day and before it, continued to observe the provisions of the Law.”*

Wolfgang Stegemann** agrees with Barrett that the charges against Paul reflect actual Jewish opposition to early Christianity, but he transposes the conflict to the late first century. When Acts was written during the reign of Domitian, Luke’s community was located uncomfortably between the synagogue and Roman authority. The Romans suspected Gentile Christians of adopting Jewish ways because they followed a Jewish Messiah, but after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Christian acceptance of Gentiles without circumcision, indifference to the temple, and lax attitudes toward the law could only be regarded as apostasy by Luke’s Jewish neighbours. In addition to theological differences, conflict in Gentile cities caused by Christians tended to affect their Jewish neighbours. As a result, Jews distanced themselves from Christians. For non-Christ-believing Jews, the period after the destruction of the Second Temple corresponded to the period after the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, and their Christians neighbours were like the Hellenizers of the Jewish reform after 175 BCE—people who abandoned the Jewish law and made a covenant with the Gentiles. After 70 CE, the Christian community could be conceived only as an “anti-Israel movement.”

According to Stegemann, actual practice in Luke’s Christian community justifies the conclusions of Jewish outsiders: Although Luke depicts Jewish Christians in Paul’s day as remaining faithful to the law, he shows no real interest in the details of the law, which shows that Torah observance was no longer a live issue in Luke’s own much later church context. Since Luke cannot deny the charges in his own time, he responds to contemporary conflict by projecting it onto the past when observant Jewish Christians still existed in the church and before the decisive break with the synagogue. The effect, I take it, is to blame non-Christ-believing Jews for the parting of the ways, and to attribute long-standing hostility to Jews.

Of interest to me is that these two proposals are almost precisely inverted:
  • For Stegemann, Jewish Christianity is no longer a viable option in Luke’s late 1st-century context, and present conflict (between a Gentile-dominated church and non-Christian Jews) has been retrojected onto the past.
  • For Barrett, Jewish Christianity is still alive and well. Luke lives in a time of harmony between Jewish and Gentile Christians in a church that has lost sight of Paul’s radical views about the law (and the conflict that accompanied them), and he has retrojected the absence of conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians onto the past.

If you have read along this far in the hope that you will find out what I think, I am sorry to disappoint. The setting and purpose of Acts--in particular, a setting that makes sense of Acts 21-28--is a great puzzle to me. I don’t have it all worked out.


*Quotations of Barrett are from C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 2; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998), pp. 1013-1014, 1058.

**Wolfgang Stegemann, Zwischen Synagoge und Obrigkeit: zur historischen Situation der lukanischen Christen (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1991), cf. esp. pp. 178-9, 186.

Much of the substance of Stegemann’s argument appears in English in chapter 11 of Ekkehard W. Stegemann and Wolfgang Stegemann, The Jesus Movement: A Social History of Its First Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Seth Schwartz on the value of learning Arabic

"Special benefits will accrue to those willing to learn languages outside the comfort zones traditional to the field, in particular Jewish Aramaic, for Christian scholars, Christian Aramaic for Jewish scholars, and Arabic for everyone." - Seth Schwartz
So reads the final sentence in Seth Schwartz latest excellent book, The Ancient Jews from Alexander to Muhammad (Cambridge: CUP, 2014).

Schwartz does not say whether or not the promised benefits include a tenure track job.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A "Same God" Miscellany

I felt sort of lonely back in December when I voiced my agreement with former Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins's claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God (see this post). Since then many others have stepped forward to defend the same position. Here is a sampling:

(1) For starters, Peter Walhout, a chemistry professor at Wheaton College, observed:
"[M]many Christian missionaries to Muslims have the working assumption that the Allah of Islam is, to some degree, the Jewish and Christian God of Abraham. ... Obviously any Christian is going to affirm the Trinitarian nature of God and the divinity of Jesus, contra Islam, but that does not mean the missionaries are necessarily wrong in making the assertion that the Muslim Allah still refers in some limited sense to the Christian God .... It also clearly does not mean that these Christian missionaries think Islam is an equally valid path to God and salvation–why on earth would they be risking their lives as missionaries to Muslims if they thought that?" (italics added; read the rest of Peter's excellent post here)
(2) In his post, Walhout links to another blog essay by Edward Feser, who makes the philosophical case much better and more thoroughly than I did. An excerpt:
"Similarly, it is perfectly coherent to say that Muslims are “importantly” and “crucially” wrong precisely because they are referring to the very same thing Christians are when they use the word “God,” and that they go on to make erroneous claims about this referent. That the errors are “important” or “crucial” is not by itself sufficient to prevent successful reference. And since Muslims worship the referent in question, it follows that it also is not by itself sufficient to prevent them from worshipping the same God as Christians."
If you still have questions on this issue, take a look at Feser's (very long) post here.

(3) Robert J. Priest, Professor of Mission and Anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, comments:
"[F]or most evangelicals in America, our encounter with people who are Muslim is relatively recent, relatively superficial, and all-too-often inflected by American culture-war impulses. The one category of American evangelical that has long nurtured close relationships with people who are Muslim is missionaries and mission professors .... However, these individuals, who represent the heart of evangelical gospel concern, and who represent a unique mix of professional expertise and accumulated wisdom acquired over decades of study and ministry experience, do not appear to have been adequately consulted (if consulted at all).
"I've also been struck by the idea that many American evangelical missionaries and missiologists, and perhaps the Apostle Paul himself, would be in danger of dismissal if they taught at Wheaton College, since many of us arguably have been guilty of the very thing Wheaton College is sanctioning.
 "I fear that evangelicals who wish lovingly, creatively, and entrepreneurially to establish relationships of positive witness with Muslims and others will be overly inhibited and held back by fear of fellow Christians and how they might react. ... I fear that Muslims will learn the idea that faith in Jesus requires a repudiation of Allah as evil, and that this will pose an enormous barrier to consideration of the truth and goodness of the Gospel. Many missionaries with extensive first-hand experience guiding Muslims to faith in Jesus testify that this is a missiologically problematic message to send, counter-productive to gospel witness. ..." (Quotations from pp. 1, 2-3, 31 of this pdf; HT: CT)

As for Wheaton College where this all began, the conflict with Larycia Hawkins has ended with an apparent apology by the provost who placed her under investigation, an internal acknowledgement by a faculty committee that racial discrimination may have influenced the way her case was handled, and a "mutual place of resolution" that culminated in Hawkins's departure from the school.

The Wheaton College provost, I should note, appears to hold to a position on the controversy similar to my own:
"Ontologically all monotheists affirm that there can only be one divine being, and it seems logical to me that there must be some referential overlap or similarity in the divine being that each is referring to in each of the monotheistic religions." - Stanton Jones
So what was all the fuss about?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Faculty Job Openings at Briercrest College and Seminary

Briercrest College and Seminary is looking to fill faculty positions in Old Testament, Music/Worship Arts, TESOL/Modern Languages, and Psychology.

The Old Testament position was announced on January 29 and closes on March 1, so applicants will need to act quickly. Here is the job description:
Briercrest College and Seminary invites applications for a full-time faculty position (rank open, commensurate with qualifications) in Old Testament and Hebrew, beginning 15 August 2016 with primary appointment in Briercrest Seminary. The successful candidate’s teaching will support ministerial and academic degrees in the seminary along with occasional undergraduate teaching. Candidates should demonstrate a commitment to the Gospel, possess a PhD (or equivalent), and show potential for excellence in teaching, in service to the Church, and in research supporting ministerial education. Prior ministry and teaching experience will be highly regarded.
More information is available on the Briercrest website here.

And here are links to the other faculty position profiles--no less important, but probably of less interest to my readers:

Worship Arts
TESOL/Modern Languages

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Briercrest Colloquium: "Reading the Hopeless Text: Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Hopeful Reading"

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

Our first colloquium of 2016 takes place this Friday, January 29 in Room S113. Our presenter is Briercrest Assistant Professor of English, Dr. Matthew Zantingh.

Matthew's paper is entitled "Reading the Hopeless Text: Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Hopeful Reading."

Please join us on Friday, in room S113 @ 12:30 PM if you can make it out.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Of Sledding Hills and Separated Shoulders

We got away to Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park for a few days early last week...
The park was as amazing as it always is this time of year...
The torn ACL and separated shoulder I got from following my daughter headlong down a sledding hill--not so much.

Fortunately, the injury didn't keep us from enjoying cross-country skiing...

and snowshoeing...
So far, about the most comfortable position for my shoulder is sitting at my desk, which is good because I expect to spend a lot of time here over the next few months.

This semester I will be teaching Greek Exegesis I, Hermeneutics, and Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity. (I keep copies of my syllabi online here, if you are interested.) None of the courses are brand new and three classes in a semester is a lot easier than four, but it will be busy enough. Classes resume tomorrow.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Greek (and Hebrew) Job and Ezekiel in a Year

Two years ago I read through Isaiah in Greek (and Hebrew), thanks to the Greek Isaiah in a Year Facebook group. In 2015 I followed a schedule produced by the Greek Psalms Facebook group, and spent the year making my way through the Psalms in Greek (and Hebrew). When I got to the end, I wanted to start over again at the beginning. (I probably should: The 1662 Book of Common Prayer states that the Psalms should be read through each month.)

The schedule and minimal peer pressure work for me: There is still a lot of the Old Testament that I have yet to read in Hebrew (or Greek), and I am ashamed to say that, judging from past experience, I would not have succeeded in reading through these rich texts on my own.

I aim to participate in the group's latest iteration again this year, even though Job and Ezekiel--why this combination?--would not have been my first choice. If you care to join me in the foreign language of your preference, there is still time to add Job and Ezekiel to your New Year's Revolutions (as my daughter put it). The reading schedule begins on January 4. More information may be found at the Greek Job and Ezekiel group here.