Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sin in Paul's Judaism

At first glance Romans 3:9b appears to conclude Paul's argument in 1:18-3:8: "For we have already accused all, both Jews and Greeks, as being under sin." The problem is that Romans 1:18-3:8 doesn't work well as a demonstration of universal human sin:
  • Romans 1:18-32 describes the wrath of God at work in people generally, but the specific illustrations about idolatry and immorality make it clear that Paul has non-Christ-believing Gentiles primarily in view.
  • In Romans 2:1-16, Paul addresses an (imaginary) individual who judges the people described in 1:18-32 but does the same things. As I mentioned earlier, I think it is significant that Paul doesn't specify the ethnicity of this hypocritical judge.
  • In Romans 2:17-29 Paul addresses an (imaginary) Jew who boasts in the law but does not keep it. Indeed, his sins are flagrant violations of the ten commandments: he steals, he commits adultery, he robs temples and so causes God's name to be blasphemed. I don't see how this can be taken as a blanket condemnation of Paul's Jewish contemporaries, and I am mystified by Simon Gathercole's claim that "this Jew is not merely an individual but a representative of the nation" (Where then is Boasting?, 199).
I do not see a knock-down argument, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that all have sinned; I see 3 illustrations of human sinfulness. They all share similar traits related to the misuse of the knowledge of God (see Keck, Romans, 88): the Gentile idolater who refuses to acknowledge God (to which Paul’s audience goes ‘uh-huh’), the one who judges the sins of others, but does not practice what he preaches (to which Paul’s audience goes, 'yeah, I guess you’re right'), and the Jewish law-breaker by presuming on God’s covenant faithfulness:
“2:17-29 is not Paul’s indictment of Judaism as such. Rather, he uses this indictment of the hypocrisy of a particular type of Jew to express the idea that simply being a Jew does not automatically confer privileged status in God’s impartial judgment” (Keck, Romans, 83).
Paul’s main concern in chapter 2 is not with showing that everyone is a sinner but with proving that God’s judgement is impartial, everyone will be judged on the basis of what they do. In fact, Paul doesn’t explicitly generalize in Romans 2 from the sin of a couple examples to the sin of everyone. The case studies lead from what is known—Gentile idolaters are guilty before God—to a conclusion (perhaps) surprising for some Jews: the covenant does not save the disobedient from God’s wrath. Again, the point is not to prove by conclusive argument that all are sinners but to demonstrate by example that God’s wrath justly falls on those who do what they know they ought not to do.

What then do we make of Romans 3:9? And how does Paul think he has demonstrated, by the time he gets to 3:19-20, that "the whole world is accountable to God"?
  • (1) According to E. P. Sanders we should just give up and move on: “Paul’s case for universal sinfulness, as it is stated in Rom. 1:18-2:29, is not convincing: it is internally inconsistent and it rests on gross exaggeration” (Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 125).
  • (2) Francis Watson argues that 3:9 refers back to the quotation from Scripture in 3:4, which in turn anticipates the florilegium of Scriptural citations in 3:10-18:

    “The crucial exegetical point is that the references that follow to ‘the faithfulness of God,’ ‘the truth of God,’ and ‘the righteousness of God’ all derive from the initial reference to ‘the words of God.’ In Scripture God speaks, and what God speaks is an indictment of the entire human race. What is at issue is whether what God says is true, whether God is in the right in his scriptural indictment of the whole world. The scriptural indicment itself follows in vv. 9-20…" - Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (2d; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007, 219).

  • (3) Moo notes “that Paul characterizes his argument not as a proof of guilt but as an accusation of guilt….Criticisms of 1:18-2:29, then, to the effect that Paul has not logically demonstrated the guilt of all people are wide of the mark” (Romans 201 n. 18).
  • (4) Stephen Westerholm thinks Paul's indictment harks back to Paul's description of humanity (not just Gentiles) in opposition to God in 1:18-32 (Perspectives Old and New on Paul, 387). Westerholm may well be right, but I think a 5th option--really a variation on Moo--is more (or also) correct.
  • (5) According to Keck, “This verse does not summarize what Paul had said in 1:18-2:9; rather, it interprets what he had said by disclosing its import: The plight of the Gentiles and Jews is the same because what will count on Judgment Day is deeds” (95).
I suspect that Paul’s accusation—even though it is addressed to individuals and initially focused on establishing God’s impartial judgement—is meant to have illustrative force: Paul wants his audience to recognize themselves (or better, their pre-Christian selves) in the description and recognize their need. Paul's statement of the import of chapters 1-2 adds a new, previously unstated premise: "the problem with people is not just that they commit sins; their problem is that they are enslaved to sin” (Moo 201).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Models of atonement in contemporary worship songs

You would think the topic would have been well-studied, with lists of relevant songs collated, but nothing of substance comes up in a Google search for "models of atonement in contemporary worship songs." There are lists of sermon illustrations, but no lists of songs.

To fill that gap, and--with your help--to generate some illustrations to use in class next week, I offer this (very) preliminary list:

Thank You for the Cross - Matt Redman

Leave additional song names in the comments, and I will add them to the list.

Update: I have begun revising the list:

By His Wounds - Mac Powell (Penal Substitution/Satisfaction)
Highly Exalted - Robin Mark (Penal Substitution/Satisfaction
How Deep the Father's Love for Us - Stuart Townend (Penal Substitution/Satisfaction)
In Christ Alone - Stuart Townend (Christus Victor, Penal Substitution/Satisfaction)
Thank You for the Cross - Matt Redman (Moral influence?; no model discernible?)
You Are My King - Chris Tomlin (Penal Substitution)
The Wonder of Your Cross - Robin Mark (Moral Influence?)

Songs that should not have been written:
Above All - Paul Baloche

Thanks for the suggestions!
Update (May 2010): See my friend Dale Harris's thoughtful post and song on this topic.

Retrospective Multivalence in Romans 2 - Part 2

Another reason for seeing a secondary reference to the work of the Spirit in Christian gentiles in Romans 2 is Paul's use of "reckoning" language:
  • In Romans 2:27 Paul says that the uncircumcision of the law-keeping Gentile will be "reckoned" (λογισθήσεται) as circumcision. 
  • In Romans 4:3 Paul quotes the LXX of Gen 15:6: "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned (ἐλογίσθη) to him as righteousness." The rest of the chapter reflects on the significance of this "reckoning," using the verb repeatedly and drawing in Psalm 31:1 LXX because it also uses the verb λογίζομαι. The verb "to reckon" (λογίζομαι) is used 40 times in the NT. 32 of those occurrences are in the undisputed Paulines, and 19 are in Romans. The verb is arguably important to Paul because of its connection to Gen 15:6.
  • In Romans 6:11-12 Paul turns to the practical implications for those who have been joined to Christ and whose faith is reckoned as righteousness: "reckon yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God...Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies..." 
I see that Doug Moo's conclusions on Romans 2:26 are similar to mine:
Without directly describing Christians here, then, Paul's logic anticipates his teaching that it is faith and the indwelling of the Spirit that meet God's demand and so bring people into relationship with God. We may paraphrase: "if it should be that there were an uncircumcised person who perfectly kept the law (which in this sense there is not, though in another sense, as we will see, there is), that person would be considered a full member of the people of God." - Douglas Moo, Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 171.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Best Romans Commentary

The best short commentary on Romans is Leander E. Keck's Romans (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2005). Even my daughter likes it!

Keck is a very careful reader of Paul, and a fine (and witty) writer. He appears to have thought about nearly every question, and his answers are succinct and clear. I dare say his commentary ranks with the major commentaries of Jewett, Dunn, Fitzmyer, Moo and Cranfield in its attention to the interpretive issues in Romans, but he addresses them in much smaller compass. As an added bonus, Keck writes as if what Paul says has life-changing significance. Paul J. Achtemeier, author of another short commentary on Romans says "This is as good a commentary on Romans as is likely to come down the pike."

The only downside of the commentary is that it is, perhaps, a little too compact. (I suppose transliterated Greek can be off-putting too for readers who don't have Greek.) This is the second time I have assigned Keck as a textbook in a 3rd year undergraduate Romans course. This time through my students are letting me know that Keck, like Paul, is a challenging read.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Retrospective Multivalence in Romans 2

The Paul of Romans 2 appears to defend salvation by works against a Jewish conversation partner who emphasizes God's grace. Francis Watson puts it this way:
“Here, in disconcerting contrast to the standard account of Paul’s relation to Judaism, it is the Jewish interlocutor who is committed to salvation by grace alone, and Paul who (as we shall see) teaches salvation by obedience to the law” - Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 202.
In verse 7, Paul declares that God will give "eternal life to those who by persistence in good works seek glory, honour and immortality." In 2:14-15a he says that "when Gentiles who do not have the law by nature, do the law, they who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show the work of the law written in their hearts." And toward the end of the chapter he argues that the uncircumcision of the uncircumcised person who keeps the law (circumcision excepted) will be reckoned as circumcision, and that the one who is uncircumcised by nature but who fulfills the law will judge his circumcised law-breaking interlocutor (2:26-27).

Of the many explanations of these puzzling statements, I will mention two:
  • (1) The Gentiles are Christians who do the law through the Spirit (cf. Cranfield, Schreiner, Fitzmyer, Watson, Jewett). On this view, the reference to the law written on their hearts recalls the new covenant passage in Jer 31:33. Paul alludes more clearly to a related passage (Deut 30:6) in 2:28-29, which may make an allusion to Jer 31:33 in 2:15, and hence to Christian gentiles, more likely. As Paul will explain more fully later on, it is by the Spirit that Christian gentiles who are not under law fulfill the law; they will still be judged according to their works (2 Cor 5:10), but these works are Spirit-enabled.
  • (2) Paul is talking about a hypothetical situation (e.g., Moo, Westerholm, Talbert, Keck). In each case we should add the unstated caveat "if it were possible": It is true that God would reward with eternal life those who do good and keep the law, but--as he will explain later on (in 3:20)--no one can keep the law on their own apart from the Spirit, and Paul does not mention the Spirit in this context. Stephen Westerholm adds that Paul *never* says that Christians do the law (the language of 2:14) in any other context. Paul would not describe Christians who are not under law in this way. Keck explains that talking about Christian gentiles would be a distraction from Paul's main argument, which is to show that since God is impartial there is no advantage in having the law if one doesn't keep it.
In class on Monday I argued for #2, but I am almost persuaded by option #1, and I am toying with the idea of affirming both. Instead of trying to nail down what Paul really meant even when he didn't come out and say it, I suggest it is better to approach Romans as ideal first readers whose initial expectations and conclusions are modified and reshaped as the letter progresses. Examined from this perspective, there are a few clear examples of "retrospective multivalence", which may help us puzzle out the identity of the law-keepers in Romans 2:
  •  In Romans 1:18 Paul says that God's wrath is revealed against the impiety and wickedness of people who suppress the truth in their wickedness. As Paul's Christian and Jewish audience listened on, I imagine them nodding their heads in agreement at Paul's denunciation of pagan Gentile idolaters. The abrupt switch to diatribe style in 2:1-5 might have come as a bit of a shock (even if they realized Paul wasn't attacking them directly). Perhaps they would have returned to 1:28-32 and recognized aspects of themselves in the picture (greed, malice, envy, etc.).
  • Most scholars now seem to agree that "the man who judges" in 2:1, 3 is the same as the man who calls himself a Jew in 2:17. Keck, surprisingly, argues that the diatribe partner is still a Gentile. Jewett and Barrett regard the "judge" as people in general, and I think they are right. To be sure, Paul is preparing for the rest of the chapter when he switches to address an imaginary Jew directly, but before the Jewish dialogue partner is introduced Paul's audience would not have had to make that connection, and there is no reason why they should have. Retrospectively, of course, the direct attack on the Jewish dialogue partner assumes and draws on 2:1-16.
  • In Rom 2:29, when Paul says "a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and whose circumcision is of the heart, in the Spirit and not in the letter," most scholars agree that Paul describes a Christian. Since it is most unusual for Paul to refer to a Gentile as a Ioudaios (more surprising even than "Israel"), I conclude the "inward Jew" is a believer in Jesus who remains ethnically Jewish. But even the Christianness of the "inner Jew" only becomes clear later in the Epistle when Paul discusses the work of the Spirit.
Returning to the Gentile law-keeper in Romans 2, it is clear to me (with option #2) that Paul's main argument in the chapter is about the implications of God's impartiality, not the conversion of Gentiles (against Watson). Christians are not primarily in view, and Paul would not describe them in quite these terms if they were. Romans 3:20 shows that, for Paul, no one can keep the law on their own. But read retrospectively, Paul's audience might hear the new covenant echoes and might conclude legitimately that the caveat has been decisively modified in Christ: It is Christians who fulfill the law through the Spirit even if they don't "do" the law.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Romans Reading Reprise: Wright's Justification, Watson's Paul, etc.

I successfully crossed two books off my Romans Reading list this summer, and made progress on a few others. N.T. Wright's Justification I read in July, and thoroughly enjoyed. Wright is a big picture scholar, who talks in memorable images. His determination to find a way to keep the whole in view, and to explain all the evidence is exemplary. I found myself wanting to agree with his model because it combines a mostly sympathetic portrayal of first century Judaism with a coherent reading of Paul that makes good sense of much of the evidence. I particularly liked Wright's emphasis on the resurrection and realized eschatology, and its implications for Israel. His discussion of the role of the Spirit in connection with present and future judgement is rich and helpful (pp. 152-3, 188).

It should come as no surprise that I wasn't completely persuaded by Wright's theory of a continuing exile. As to the central issue in Wright's response to John Piper, I am not convinced that justification means covenant membership or that 'righteousness of God' is limited to God's covenant faithfulness (Wright insists that defining righteousness as covenant faithfulness is not a limitation). I don't for that reason agree with Piper, whose book I haven't read. Following Stephen Westerholm, I take 'justification' as primarily a forensic term that means 'acquittal.'

My sense is that readers familiar with Wright will find little that is new here, though perhaps he gives a little ground to his critics. Still, Justification is an excellent, succinct, readable introduction to Wright on Paul for the uninitiated, and there is much that can be learned even if one is not finally persuaded by Wright's model.

Wright has come in for the kind of personal attack that would make the reformers proud and should make their heirs ashamed, so I will limit myself to one comment on the good bishop's sometimes overblown rhetoric: Wright deconstructs the new perspective, showing that there is considerable variety in its major proponents (Stendahl, Sanders, Dunn, Wright), but he then uses the term repeatedly with himself as its chief representative. The effect is to lump representatives of the old perspective together when there is equal variety there as well. Note too that "Lutheran" does not mean Lutheran.

I found Francis Watson's, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), which has 5 chapters on Romans, much more exciting and helpful than Wright's Justification, although I am not persuaded in the end by Watson's central sociological thesis--that Paul wrote Romans to convince Jewish Christ-believers to separate completely from the synagogue and join Paul's sectarian, mostly Gentile churches. Especially helpful is Watson's distinction between dynamic and static views of grace. Pardon (or skip over) the long quote:
In this book, it is acknowledged that divine agency plays a more direct and immediate role in the Pauline 'pattern of religion' than in the Judaism Paul opposes. . . . .The difference between the two arises from the fact that membership of the Jewish community is dependent on birth, whereas membership of a Pauline community is dependent on conversion. Any religious group which proclaims the necessity of conversion is likely to emphasize the distinction between the old life and the new. . . . Such groups take a dynamic view of God's grace, and this contrasts with the more static view of grace taken by groups in which membership is determined by birth. . . . The two 'patterns of religion' are different, but we should not conclude from Paul's juxtaposition of 'grace' and 'law' that they are equal and opposite. In a certain sense, they are incommensurable. We are not to imagine them as opposite ends of a spectrum, such that we might in principle start from one end and eventually arrive at the other. Pauline antithesis represents a chasm, not the opposite ends of a continuum. . . . This emphasis on the dynamic Pauline view of grace is incompatible with the New Perspective's claim that the two 'patterns of religion' exemplify a single soteriological schema, according to which we are saved by grace but must confirm our membership in the covenant by obedience. If there is any truth in this equation, it is at too high a level of abstraction to be interesting" (15-17).
Other notes: Daniel Kirk's Unlocking Romans: Resurrection And The Justification Of God still reads like a dissertation, but the conclusion is good enough that it made me decide to go back and pick up where I left off (somewhere in Romans 4). I also perused Simon Gathercole's Where Is Boasting?and wished I had more time for Lampe. And I moved from Romans 3 to Romans 6 in Barth's commentary.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Baptism and Grace

Karl Barth quoting Martin Luther:
'Your baptism is nothing less than grace clutching you by the throat: a grace-full throttling, by which your sin is submerged in order that ye may remain under grace. Come thus to thy baptism. Give thyself up to be drowned in baptism and killed by the mercy of thy dear God, saying "Drown me and throttle me, dear Lord, for henceforth I will gladly die to sin with Thy Son"' (Luther). This death [in Rom 6:3-4] is grace. - Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans(Oxford: 1968), 194.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Faith and History Déjà vu

According to April DeConick, "the MOST IMPORTANT discussion of my generation" is the question "whether we are willing or not to abandon our field to confessional claims to knowledge and truth in the post-modern age":
There is a big difference between confessional scholarship and its working assumptions and historical-critical scholarship and its working assumptions, and we must never confuse the two. . . . Confessional scholars are willing (some even feel compelled) to allow for the physical resurrection of Jesus to be historical fact. Of course it is not. Dead bodies don't come back to life. And Jesus' body did not come back to life. This is a theological doctrine that was historicized in the literature of the early believers. . . . [T]his is a very serious issue for our field, and now that post-modernism is gripping the academy, we see the abuse of philosophy in order to bolster the positions of confessional scholars who want to continue to make the argument that their theology (and their scripture) is history.
I confess to being puzzled why April thinks this is the "MOST IMPORTANT discussion" of her generation. I thought it was an important discussion in the 19th century--one that Albert Schweitzer believed had already been solved. Schweitzer was wrong. The debate continued because thoughtful modern scholars (not just apologetic post-modern wannabees) argued that the practice of history and theism can go together. Instead of recycling Schweitzer's arguments (or the ones he took for granted), it is surely worth examining the history of debate since Schweitzer to find out why his views have not carried the day.

For thoughtful contemporary responses to April's post, see this post by Mark Goodacre, and this one by Doug Chaplin. And here are a few links to my earlier posts on faith and historical criticism:

History, Criticism, and Christian Conviction - Part 1
History, Criticism, and Christian Conviction - Part 2
Barth and Barrett on Criticism
Martin Hengel and Historical Criticism
On Confessional and Secular Biblical Scholarship

Friday, September 18, 2009

Raymond Brown on J. Louis Martyn and scholarly collegiality

"In a Festschrift the intellectual quality of the contributions pays tribute to the scholarship of the one being honored. I wish to go beyond such formal acknowledgment by expressing what many of us owe to Lou Martyn as a person and a scholar, for in that combination lies what I do not hesitate to call his greatness. . . . .

"He has never been a 'school man'; he appreciated his masters, but he has continually thought in his own way. His basic test is always the text, verse by verse, so that the theory has to fit the text and not vice versa. . . . .

"For a decade and a half, then, with the aid of a junior colleague rotated on a regular basis, Martyn and I have had to work together on all the Field exams and dissertations of a very active New Testament doctoral program. . . . The thought that a small department by working together in friendship and respect, had achieved the level of the larger departments of the past meant something to the doctoral students as well, for consistently they treated both of us as their friends. Never, to my awareness, have they found us undermining each other or using them against each other . . ."

- Raymond Brown, "A Personal Word" in Joel Marcus and Marion L. Soards (eds.), Apocalyptic and the New Testament: Essays in Honor of J. Louis Martyn (JSNTSup 24; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989), 9-12.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Raymond Brown on eating peas with a knife

"I can recall speaking before a group of scholars on John and someone asking me if I thought that my approach meant that the Bultmannian consensus on John might now be breaking up. My response was that I had never understood that there was a consensus since the English and most Roman Catholics had never accepted Bultmann's unprovable thesis that the roots of John were not in Judaism but in gnosticism. At that time I did not yet understand the way in which some Americans, influenced by German scholarship, created the appearance of unanimity by quoting each other and their masters; and the reaction to my remark by the audience was as if I had eaten peas off my knife."

- Raymond Brown, "A Personal Word" in Joel Marcus and Marion L. Soards (eds.), Apocalyptic and the New Testament: Essays in Honor of J. Louis Martyn (JSNTSup 24; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989), 9-12.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Reflections on Romans 1:5

Paul can talk about faith apart from works, but he can't imagine faith apart from obedience.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fall Semester "To Do" List

  • Teach (and grade) Romans, Gospels and Greek Syntax. Classes begin tomorrow, on Labour day.
  • Finish and submit the article I was working on this summer (now the first in a two-part series).
  • Write my SBL paper on Deuteronomy 18 in Josephus.
  • Work on assorted administrative tasks.
  • Spend time with students.
  • Be a husband and father.
  • Be involved at church.
  • (blog??)
Do all the above in grace and under Mercy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ancient Jewish Humour

Mark Goodacre's latest podcast on humour in Paul reminded me of a few funny early Jewish texts: Tobit, Judith, Bel and the Dragon, and Susannah are all funny in their way, but the text that takes the cake, in my experience, is the Testament of Abraham--especially if read slowly in Greek, as a group of us did this summer. In the introduction to his major commentary on the Testament of Abraham, Dale Allison explains that he chose this text because his kids liked it so much when he read it to them.

Texts like this help to contextualize and evaluate the question whether or not Paul was funny. And while humour is, no doubt, "a cultural thing", these texts show that some aspects of ancient humour are transcultural. Last but not least, they are a lot of fun to read.

What other funny ancient Jewish or Christian texts would you recommend?