My Paper Accepted for the 2016 SWCRS Entitled, “A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?”


I am excited to announce the acceptance of my paper proposal for the 2016 annual meeting of the Southwest Commission of Religious Studies on March 11-13. This paper has slowly developed out of the research for my upcoming article in the 5.2 volume of the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters entitled “‘So Shall Your Seed Be': Paul’s Use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” I shared the idea for this paper with Matthew Thiessen of Saint Louis University two years ago at the annual meeting of the SBL in Baltimore which resulted in him citing me in his upcoming book Paul and the Gentile Problem being published with Oxford Press and due to come out in March of this year. The need for this study was apparent from the defense of my paper against NT Wright’s push back in the Pauline Epistles section last year where my friend Brant Pitre also came to my defense using the same text (1 Cor 15) and told me afterwards my paper “blew his mind” (that was very cool coming from a scholar of his caliber because his stuff has blown my mind as well).  After conversations with Michael Heiser and Daniel Streett regarding my argument, I feel confident about finally presenting on the topic. The abstract of the paper is as follows:


A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?


In the Pauline discussion regarding the nature of the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15:35-49, he employs the metaphor of the sowing of the natural (or earthly) body and the raising of the spiritual (or heavenly) body. Both kinds of bodies differ in glory and are fit for different habitats. In order to demonstrate this, in 1 Cor 15:39-42 Paul enumerates a list of the creatures who inhabit the earth followed by those who inhabit the heavens, the resurrection body being likened to the later. Scholars have generally understood the background of this list to be found in the creatures from Genesis 1, even though they do not follow the same order (as recognized by Fitzmyer, Ciampa, Rosner, etc.). Other scholars have put forth reasons for this discrepancy by suggesting that the list evokes the cosmology of popular Greek philosophy (i.e. Martin). This paper seeks to propose an alternate answer to this problem. The list of earthly and heavenly creatures here in 1 Cor 15:39-42 follows the same order of creatures as enumerated in the aniconic discourse of Deut 4:15-19. If this is in fact the text Paul is alluding to, he is more than likely participating in an exegetical tradition in the Second Temple period which reads Deut 4:15-19 as part of a wider Deuteronomic scriptural matrix employed to describe the nature of the cosmos as constructed and administered by God, appointing the celestial bodies as the gods or angels in his cosmic polis as attested in Philo, Spec. Laws 1.13-19. Reading the present text within this scriptural matrix not only supplies a strong argument for this particular enumeration of creatures, but also provides a more robust reading of the passage in its wider context, connecting the language of the abolishing of the principalities and powers in 1 Cor 15:24 with the earlier discussion in 1 Cor 6:2-3 regarding the judgment of the cosmos and the angels.

Well, hope to see you there, and look forward to some critical engagement and dialogue. This will build off of a similar construct in my previous work and hopefully be a welcome contribution to the conversation of deification in Paul as well as conversations regarding Paul’s Judaism.

My Upcoming Paper on the “Two Swords” of Luke 22:35-38 at HBU’s Annual Theology Conference

Taking up the SwordI was thrilled to have my paper accepted again this year at Houston Baptist University’s annual theology conference coming up soon on April 16-18 (put it on your calendars!). Last year’s theme was “Paul and Judaism” (my abstract for last year’s conference is here), while this year’s conference is more broadly focused on “The Church and Early Christianity.” As it has come to be expected, the keynote speakers lined up for the conference are first-class: John Barclay (Durham University), Everett Ferguson (Abilene Christian University), and Ben Witherington III (Asbury Theological Seminary). The thrust of the conference is to explore the early church’s theological, ecclesial, and social relationships, internally and externally, in their respective historical contexts.

My particular presentation will hopefully contribute to the ongoing conversation on the earliest Jesus movements’ ethics regarding violence and pacifism, particularly in relation to Roman imperial domination, and more particularly from the perspective of the author of the gospel of Luke and the community (or communities) intended to receive them. My paper is entitled: The Sword and the Servant: Reframing the Function of the ‘Two Swords’ of Luke 22:35-38 in Narrative Context.” Here is the abstract:

The “two swords” passage of Luke 22:35-38 has plagued interpreters for centuries. Scholars have attempted to explain this passage by suggesting that Jesus was either not speaking literally of buying swords, alluding to future persecution of the disciples, preparing them for bandits along the way, preparing them for the time of trial to come when he is gone, etc. Many of these interpretive positions seem to be out of step from Luke’s narrative portrayal of the mission and ethic of Jesus and his disciples. In recent scholarship the dominant approaches to solving the interpretative issues associated with this enigmatic text have tended to focus myopically on the pericope itself apart from a thorough treatment of passage within its narrative context. This study will provide an explanation of Jesus’ command to buy a sword within the immediate context of the narrative as a prophetic announcement of the disciples’ denial in the same way he announces Peter’s denial in the previous section. This will be demonstrated in two ways: (1) arguing for Luke’s positioning of the unique “two swords” pericope (Lk 22:35-38) within a wider chiastic structure of Lk 22:31-62 and (2) demonstrating that in Luke’s employment of Isaiah 53:12 in the immediate narrative context, he understands the transgressors that Jesus is to be counted with are not the criminals that he is crucified next to, as traditionally understood, but with his disciples who brandish the sword. This reading is consistent with the non-violent martyrological ethic of the Jesus movement in Luke-Acts and has profound implications for early Christian ethics in the context of Roman imperial domination in the first-century as well as for contemporary Christian ethics today.

El Greco - The Agony in the GardenFor anyone who has wrestled with this enigmatic, and at first reading, seemingly contradictory text in Luke while scratching their head and getting a migraine from all the possible problematic ethical implications that result (hope it’s not just me), I think you may be in for a treat (and a cure for your interpretive headaches, although, I might give you whole new ones). I hope to argue for a more coherent narratival and intertextual reading that provides answers to a number of exegetical problems and interpretive questions regarding such a controversial text in New Testament studies. Not only would this proposed reading be important for the study of earliest Christianity in its Early Jewish and Greco-Roman context, it would be especially important for those seeking to appropriate this text in the complicated discussions regarding violence and pacifism in contemporary Christian ethics.

I look forward to seeing many of you there. I’m anticipating an interesting and engaging conference (par for the HBU course) and a good time with friends old and new! Make sure and register for the conference here. You’d be hard pressed to get more bang for your buck at only $40.00 for the cost to register! A big thanks to my friend Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for consistently hosting such great events like this one. See you there!

* ADDITIONAL NOTE * On Saturday March 21, I was honored with the news that my paper was also accepted by the Synoptic Gospels program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meeting on November 21-24, 2015 in Atlanta. If you don’t catch it first in Houston, you can catch it then.

My First Paper Presentation at SBL in the Pauline Epistles Section


The national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature will be held in the beautiful city of San Diego this year! Good things.

I’m excited about the acceptance of my first paper proposal to the Society of Biblical Literature‘s Pauline Epistles section at the national conference in San Diego on November 22-25, 2014. I will be presenting in a special joint session of the following program units: Pauline Epistles, Paul and Judaism, Disputed Pauline Epistles, Pauline Soteriology, Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making, and Systematic Transformation and Interweaving of Scripture in 1 Corinthians. This special joint session will be made up of a panel of four presenters and three respondents. Each presenter will submit their papers in advance allowing for a formal response to be written by the three respondents. The three scholars who will be responding to our respective papers are NT Wright, Pamela Eisenbaum, and Ward Blanton. For a lowly student such as myself, I am humbled and honored for the opportunity to present in the company of such accomplished scholars. The four presenters and their respective abstracts are in alphabetical order by name as follows (the second one being mine):

A.      Michael Patrick Barber and John Kincaid

“Cultic Theosis in Paul and Second Temple Judaism: A Fresh Reading of the Corinthian Correspondence”

Since the rise of the Käsemann school the centrality of apocalyptic eschatology in Paul has been widely maintained across the spectrum of contemporary Pauline scholarship, ranging from such diverse scholars as Stuhlmacher and Campbell. In addition to this, there has been the more recent emergence of the place of theosis for comprehending Pauline soteriology, as initially suggested by Hays and later demonstrated by Gorman, Blackwell, and Litwa (e.g., 2 Cor 3:18; 5:21; Col 2:9–10). In this paper we will suggest that these two strands are directly linked by means of second temple Jewish hopes for an eschatological temple and cult, and actualized in Paul. As is becoming increasingly clear (e.g., Tuschling), apocalyptic eschatology was inextricably tied to cultic worship (e.g., 1QHa 19:10-13, 1Q28b 3:25–26). Indeed, building on the work of Deismann, Aune has suggested that apocalyptic eschatology was understood to be realized within the cult in early Christianity (e.g., John 4:23). We will suggest that Paul is no exception. In order to demonstrate this, we shall turn our attention to the Corinthian correspondence, where these themes serve as a leitmotif in Paul’s discussion. Beginning in 1 Corinthians 2:6, Paul speaks of this age passing away yet this gives way to the discussion of a new temple in chapter 3. Paul then elucidates the life of this new temple in the following ways: keeping the feast in chapter 5, linking becoming one spirit with Christ and temple imagery in ch. 6, and, finally, the cultic explanation of participation in Christ in terms of the eucharist in chs. 10-11 and baptism in ch. 12. These cultic emphases continue in 2 Corinthians with the explicit temple language in ch. 6 and almsgiving as liturgical offering in ch. 9.

B.      David A. Burnett 

“‘So Shall Your Seed Be': Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions”

In Romans 4:18 Paul cites verbatim the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your seed be” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).” It is widely recognized that Paul reads the promise to Abraham of becoming “the father of many nations” synonymously with Genesis 15:5 as his seed becoming as the stars of heaven. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants. Conversely, early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 such as Philo, Ben Sira, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively, to be transformed into the likeness of the stars of heaven. This paper will argue that this early Jewish interpretation could provide a better explanation of the relationship Paul sees between these two texts. This would place Paul in context of already well-established deification (or angelomorphic) traditions in early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the gods (or angels) of the nations. This will be demonstrated first by considering the promise of becoming as the stars as it is repeated to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:17 and 26:4 in the broader framework of the Hebrew Bible in its cosmological context. Secondly, it will be demonstrated that this particular interpretation of the promise as seen in early Jewish literature contemporary with Paul should be understood in terms of early Jewish deification (or angelomorphic) traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 could make clear the relationship between a nexus of complexly related concepts in Romans 4 such as what it means that the “promise” to Abraham was to “inherit the kosmos,” “become the father of many nations,” and his seed to be as the stars of heaven.

C.      Matthew E. Gordley 

“Psalms of Solomon and Pauline Studies”

A number of surface features of the Psalms of Solomon suggest their potentially high value for understanding the world of thought from which Paul emerged and with which he engaged: they are among the few documents known to have been written, edited and translated in or around Jerusalem less than a century before the time of Paul; they offer rich theological reflection on several ideas that were central to the Judaism with which Paul engaged (deuteronomic theology; the covenant; divine justice; sin; messianic renewal); and, though not necessarily a Pharisaic composition, they are about “as close as we are likely to come to a specifically Pharisaic text” (Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 127). In spite of this confluence of important Pauline touch-points, the Pss Sol have received limited treatment within Pauline studies since the now almost two-decades-old study by Michael Winninge (Sinners and the Righteous). This state of affairs is all the more surprising given the renewed interest in viewing Paul as someone who saw himself remaining closely connected to his Jewish heritage (as recent book titles like “Paul and Judaism Revisited” suggest). This paper briefly reviews the treatment of Pss Sol in several recent major monographs (including those of N. T. Wright and Douglas Campbell), for an indication of how the Pss Sol are being employed in Pauline scholarship today. Noting the limited ways in which these psalms have been utilized, this paper points to an additional area in which further study of Pss Sol could illuminate Pauline studies: namely, in the recognition of the extent to which Pss Sol provides a unique instance of a kind of scribal resistance to the Roman imperial messianic narratives that were being embraced and promoted by Herod the Great (cf. Horsley; Schalit). Reading Pss Sol within the historical context of Herodian propaganda that associates the fulfillment of the covenant promises with the rise of Augustus allows for a greater appreciation of the subtlety and complexity of Jewish resistance to imperial ideology in the form of the otherwise seemingly innocuous genre of biblically-styled psalmody. Attention to this dynamic within Pss Sol allows a new dimension of Paul’s implicit anti-imperial narrative to come into view, particularly in a passage like Phil 2:5-11 with its complex web of biblical allusions. Though Paul writes in the context of a different set of imperial pressures, nevertheless, by comparing the method and the mode of resistance in Paul and Pss Sol we gain a greater understanding of the message of Paul, as well as a path to considering other ways that the Pss Sol might be employed to illuminate Paul’s writings.

D.      Hans Svebakken

“Roman 7:7-25 and a Pauline Allegory of the Soul”

Two distinct lines of contemporary research into Romans 7:7-25 fruitfully explore key aspects of the passage, but they have not fully engaged one other. One line of research focuses on allusions to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3, addressing related questions, such as whether the “I” (ego) of the passage speaks in the character of Adam or Eve (e.g., Stefan Krauter in ZNW 99 [2008]), or how the prohibition of desire in Romans 7:7 (ouk epithumeseis) might represent a version of the command issued to Adam and Eve in Paradise (e.g., Jan Dochhorn in ZNW 100 [2009]). Another line of research focuses on the discourse of moral psychology, addressing related questions, such as which philosophical perspective (Stoic or Platonic) the passage represents, or precisely what moral condition it describes (cf. the respective positions of Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Emma Wasserman). This paper proposes an interpretive framework capable of accounting for and integrating the respective insights of both lines of research by reading the passage in light of Philo of Alexandria’s allegory of the soul, which treats the story in Genesis 3 as a story about moral psychology. The paper has two basic parts. Part one posits the existence of a Pauline allegory of the soul by first identifying the characteristic features of Philo’s allegory then noting analogous features in Romans 7:7-25. Part two explains how attributing a rudimentary allegory of the soul to Paul not only solves specific exegetical problems but solves them in a historically plausible way: comparing Paul’s approach to Genesis with a contemporary Jewish exegete versed in ancient philosophy, not with later Christian theologians articulating a doctrine of original sin (e.g., Augustine).

It will be a stimulating section to attend and I hope to see many of you there. I have hoped to one day participate in critical dialogue at this level, but I have only dreamed of presenting alongside one of my Christian intellectual heroes throughout my biblical education, NT Wright. I am blessed beyond belief to participate at this level and I am grateful to the Pauline Epistles section of the Society of Biblical Literature for affording me this opportunity.


… and I just can’t hide it.

My Paper Presentation for HBU’s “Paul and Judaism” Conference

imagesI was delighted to hear that my paper proposal was accepted for HBU’s Conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20. The delight of course has been accompanied by a great deal of fear and trepidation seeing as how this will be my first paper presentation at an academic conference, especially amidst scholars of this calibre. The keynote speakers include NT Wright, Beverly Gaventa, and Ross Wagner. I am also honored to present alongside one of my academic mentors and friend Daniel Streett whose paper proposal was also accepted (if you are curious about his paper, see the abstract here). I am thankful for the encouragement and well-wishing I have received as of late from many of you and I’m sorry I have not had the time to entertain some of the questions regarding what my paper is about. As a result, I thought I would post a brief description here on the blog.

The title of my paper is So Shall Your Seed Be: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” The following is the abstract I sent in: 

In Romans 4:18 Paul cites verbatim the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your seed be” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).” It is widely recognized that Paul reads the promise to Abraham of becoming “the father of many nations” synonymously with Genesis 15:5 as his seed becoming as the stars of heaven. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants. Conversely, early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 such as Philo, Ben Sira, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively, to be transformed into the likeness of the stars of heaven. This paper will argue that this early Jewish interpretation could provide a better explanation of the relationship Paul sees between these two texts. This would place Paul in context of already well-established deification traditions in early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the gods (or angels) of the nations. This will be demonstrated first by considering the promise of becoming as the stars as it is repeated to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:17 and 26:4 in the broader framework of the Hebrew Bible in its cosmological context. Secondly, it will be demonstrated that this particular interpretation of the promise as seen in early Jewish literature contemporary with Paul should be understood in terms of early Jewish deification traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 makes clear the relationship between a nexus of complexly related concepts in Romans 4 such as what it means that the “promise” to Abraham was to “inherit the kosmos,” “become the father of many nations,” and his seed to be as the stars of heaven. 
I look forward to seeing old friends and new ones in Houston next month. If you are interested in this topic and want to hear more, unfortunately you will have to wait until Thursday March 20 sometime between 2:00-4:30pm. To register for the conference, you can pay online here. It is only $40 for both days which is a steal considering the nature of the conference. A big thanks to Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for putting this together. Hope to see you there!

A Jewish View of Paul – A Skype Interview with Mark Nanos

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Mark Nanos via Skype regarding his take on the Apostle Paul as summarized in the most recent “Counterpoints” volume edited by Michael Bird entitled “Four Views on the Apostle Paul.” Nanos presents a Jewish view of Paul that seeks to deal with why Judaism has viewed him in such a negative light and how the so-called ‘New Perspective on Paul‘ does not go far enough in their re-framing of the Apostle because they are still working from within the Christianity-versus-Judaism categories. For Nanos the problematic old understanding of a Lutheran Paul as fighting against a Judaism consisting of legalistic works-righteousness has been simply exchanged for a Paul fighting against a ‘Jewish ethnocentric exclusivism and particularism (p.162).’ Although this may be a helpful observation, there were still many questions that remained regarding many of Nanos’s interpretive decisions and some important places of neglect that are addressed in this particular interview. If you have 45 minutes to spare, you may want to check it out. I apologize for the poor video quality (the bad aspect ration cutting off the top of the screen, the sound, forgetting to move the mouse cursor off the screen, etc.) it’s my first time editing on iMovie.

A special thank you to Jonathan McLeod and Alex and Katy White for their outstanding collaborative effort on our group presentation on Nanos’s view on Paul for the Pauline Theology Seminar at Criswell College Fall 2012.

The Dark Side of the Moon – 2 Corinthians 4:4 – Pt. 2

A few weeks ago, I decided to see how some non-academic Christians would respond to the possibility of YHWH being the referent to Paul’s claim that ο θεος του αιωνος τουτου has blinded the minds of the unbelievers. I presented this possibility in a weekly Bible study that I lead at the church I used to pastor. Long story short, it didn’t go well. Actually, that’s not accurate; it was a disaster. Not only did none of the attendees agree that this was right none of them were even willing to consider it.

(Just like, IMHO, some in the recent blogsphere who have completely overreacted to our current favorite pastor with foot-in-mouth disease’s comments regarding God hating people.)

Apparently, God’s love is so important that to talk of Jesus’ father blinding people so that they won’t see bordered on heresy. It is like everyone gladly acknowledges, in theory, God’s hatred of things (or people) yet we must never speak of it; It’s there but never comes into play — like the dark side of the moon. This hermeneutical insistence among Christians (that I know either personally or through forms of media) has always puzzled me.(I can’t think of a way that deliverance can be accomplished apart form judgment.) But, since I do not share the need to expunge hatred from God I will present the case for YHWH (or Jesus’ Father) as being the referent for this phrase. (Please note: I am not saying YHWH has to be the referent but, he could be the referent.)

Exhibit A for the current case must be the OT witness of God’s character. First, I must assert that the OT (or the NT, or any other non-canonical literature that I am aware of) EVER claims that YHWH loves everyone at all times in such a way that judgement is never an option. Actually, the opposite is clearly true. (For a particularly blunt statement see Prov 1[1].) While one could mention many passages, it seems that Isaiah 6:9, 10 are the most pertinent verses for the matter at hand.

9 And he said, “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
10     Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”

Here, we find YHWH commissioning Isaiah the prophet with a message that appears to have no redemptive value whatsoever. The message, it says in verse 10, is to have the result that those who hear his message (this people) will NOT be repentant and thus be forgiven. On top of that, when Isaiah asks YHWH the duration of this negative purpose he is told that it will be, “until the LORD sends everyone far away,” and if anyone remains, “it will be burned again.” So, we have a very clear text that indicates the God of the Scriptures is very capable of hindering individuals from salvation.

Before moving on, I would like to mention some things about this passage that will aid one coming to a proper interpretation. The book of Isaiah seems to make clear that Isaiah did not always understand this as his purpose. Indeed, he attempted to persuade people to trust God. This language appears to be technical language for judgment or, to put it another way, they were no longer going to be given time to change their ways. God had reaching the point of no return with Israel (especially the leaders) and they were going into Exile for their idolatry.[2] In other words, it does not necessarily indicate that YHWH wanted every single person to be kept from repenting but that the nation’s fate was sealed. It also does not necessarily indicate every single Israelite was idolatrous.

Another text that is worth noting is found in Deuteronomy 29:2 − 4. It says:

Deut. 29:2   Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land,  3 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders.  4 But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear.

In this passage we have a text that has YHWH claim that the Israelites needed YHWH to give them the ability to understand, see and hear (i.e., in a salvific way). This would seem to contradict the clear requirement of Deut’s message: Obey! But, the more likely understanding of this passage is to understand the verse as and editorial aside that is meant to be understood as, “Until this day, that is, until the day of the reader, the LORD…”[3] So, the statement was a retrospective observation about the reality of Israel’s past spiritual condition. This verse along with the previous interpretation, really make sense if one sees Paul alluding to this verse in 2Cor 3:12 − 15, which says,

“… Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds;”

If the previous interpretation of the Deut. 29 is what Paul had in mind when he wrote 2Cor then things begin to make sense. Exodus demonstrates that Israel’s Wilderness Generation was hardened, in that they did not trust YWHW, and Deut claims that “to this day [of the reader which is now up to the time of Paul]” Israel still could not trust their God [in a salvific way].

If all of this is true, (I am persuaded of this!) then it would make YHWH as the referent of the phrase in question very possible.

[1] “Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.”
(Proverbs 1:24–28 NRSV)
[2] For a full discussion of this see, “A Foundational Example of Becoming Like What We Worship.” In We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 37-70. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.
[3] For a full explanation see Biddle, Mark. Deuteronomy. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Smyth & Helwys Pub, 2003, 438.

Could it be Satan? – An Exegetical Inquiry into 2 Corinthians 4:4 – Pt. 1

This semester I have been attempting to determine the referent of the phrase  ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου in 2 Corinthians 4:4. For me, this text was never in question until I read a blog post by Michael Heiser. Previous to his post I had never actually considered any other referent than Satan as possible for this phrase (BTW, I have learned that is step one in producing really bad exegesis yet, it seems that I unconsciously keep committing this faux pas!). After the article, I realized that I needed to do some work on this passages so I took an independent study on the NT’s use of the OT to hash out my thoughts. During this course, I have come to realize that YHWH, in many but not all ways, would make better sense as the implied referent of the phrase.

Of course, after I had done all my research I attended SBL only to hear a marvelous paper by Frederick Long (from Asbury) that made a compelling argument for another unconsidered referent: Caesar. Not only did his paper thoroughly thrash me for lacking knowledge in the vast aspects of the Greco-Roman world, the session itself challenged the view of intertextuality as solely relying on texts. Dr. Long forcefully demonstrated and argued, in response to an objection, that intertextuality must not only include texts (i.e., written works) but inscriptions, coins, statues, even ceremonial rights etc. He claimed, following a scholar I cannot remember, that this view understands intertextuality as really being intertexturality (look closely), that is, this aspect of exegesis must include the ubiquitous availability of texts, symbols and such that may be echoed in a given cultural context.

In the following posts I will do my best to make the best case available for all three possible referents. Hopefully, by the time I get to the view on Caesar I will have received Dr. Long’s paper so that I can properly summarize his view. Now on to the subject of this post: Could it be Satan?

When surveying the commentaries, monographs and articles one thing becomes immediately clear: Satan is so clearly the referent to the phrase in question that no argument is necessary to substantiate the assertion. (An error that ostensibly is not banished from the works of careful, trained scholars.) This was not always the case though. Amongst the patristic interpreters of this text Hippolytus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrosiaster and Didymus the Blind think that YHWH is the referent to the phrase. The most cogent justifications for identifying Satan as the god of this age/world seems to be:

  1.  1) The similarity with other language view: Eph 2:2. εν αις ποτε περιεπατησατε κατα τον αιωνα του κοσμου τουτου, κατα τον αρχοντα της εξουσιας του αερος. Here we find the writer of Ephesians claiming that those who were “dead” used to walk in accordance with the present age that was ruled by the prince of the ruler of the air. So, the logic goes that since the two verses share this language ―  the lexeme αιων along with the qualifier οὗτος, and the concept of authority αρχοντα/θεος ―  that supposing the link fair. If one wonders how Satan could be called θεος, then the reply would be that this is how he postures himself in this age.[1]
  2. The apocalyptic view which is best represented by C.K. Barrett: “The god of this age is a bold expression for the devil (cf. 1 Cor. 2:8), based on the commonplace apocalyptic presupposition that in the present age the devil has usurped God’s authority, and is accepted as god by his fellow rebels; only when in the age to come God establishes his kingdom will the devil be driven out.[2]”

Finally, while Hafemann does not have his own view per se, he does add a few more pieces of substantiating evidence explaining “how” this description fits into Paul’s understanding of Satan.[3] I believe he has contributed three additions to this theory:

  1. He notices Paul’s exclusive and careful use of νοηματα. Paul states the Corinthian saints are not ignorant of Satan’s “evil schemes” (νοηματα) whereas the unbelievers have their minds (νοηματα) blinded.
  2. There is an explicit (and unique) emphasis on Paul’s ministry attempting to “take every thought captive” to Jesus’ lordship.
  3. The thought that must be taken captive is the desire to reject Paul because of his suffering. If they do this then they we be misled (“thoughts taken away”) just like the serpent deceived Eve.

In the next post I will attempt to lay out the case for understanding YHWH as the ο θεος του αιωνος τουτου.

[1] Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, 126-27.
[2] Barrett, C. K. Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. London: Continuum, 1973, 130. Also cf. Furnish, Victor Paul. Vol. 32A, II Corinthians: Translated With Introduction, Notes, and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008, 220.
[3] Hafemann, Scott. Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel: The Letter/Spirit Contrast and the Argument from Scripture in 2 Corinthians 3. Peabody, Mass: Paternoster, 2005.

New Upcoming Interview Series: “Monotheism and the Bible: Origins, Issues, and the Status Quaestionis”

Questions on the origins of monotheism, the nature of ancient Israelite religion(s), and debates over early christology in relation to monotheism have been the topic of much of biblical scholarship as of late. There has been much ink spilled over inquiries and proposals attempting to best characterize or understand the type of theism the earliest Israelites and the earliest Christians actually had. There are a great deal of incredibly interesting and paradigm-shifting studies out there but where do we begin? Those who are interested in looking into these questions from a historical-critical perspective may find themselves overwhelmed and possibly discouraged, especially when attempting to find what is worth reading and what isn’t. We are beginning a new interview series here at The Time Has Been Shortened to deal with precisely this problem.

The series is entitled “Monotheism and the Bible: Origins, Issues, and the Status Quaestionis“. We will be interviewing scholars who have written extensively and are considered authorities in their respective fields who will be giving us the status quaestionis (or the state of the investigation) regarding monotheism and the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and in the complex relationship between Christology and Monotheism in the New Testament. The series will consist of four interviews: two interviews on Monotheism and the Hebrew Bible and two interviews on Christology and Monotheism in the New Testament. The interviews will be most likely split up into two parts each due to breadth of a few of the questions.

First two interviewees in the Hebrew Bible section are as follows:

Nathan MacDonald

– PhD in Theology, University of Durham; MA, University of Cambridge (Honorary); MPhil in Classical Hebrew Studies, University of Cambridge; BA (honors, 1st class), University of Cambridge

– Sofja-Kovalevskaja-Preis Team Leader, Georg-August Universität Göttingen

– Reader in Old Testament, St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews

– Author of “Deuteronomy and the Meaning of ‘Monotheism’” and “Not Bread Alone: The Uses of Food in the Old Testament


Michael S. Heiser

– PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison; MA in Hebrew and Semitics, University of Wisconsin-Madison; MA in Ancient History – Ancient Egypt and Syria-Palestine, University of Pennsylvania

– Academic Editor, Logos Bible Software, Bellingham, WA

– Dissertation entitled “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature

– Authors the blog entitled: “The Naked Bible: Biblical Theology, Stripped Bare of Denominational Confessions and Theological Systems


Second two interviewees in the New Testament Section are as follows:

James F. McGrath

– PhD in Theology, University of Durham; BDiv (honors), University of London; Diploma in Religious Studies, University of Cambridge.

– Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University

– Author of “The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context” and “John’s Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology

– Authors the blog entitled: “Exploring Our Matrix


Larry W. Hurtado

– PhD in New Testament, Case Western Reserve University; MA in New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; BA in Biblical Studies, Central Bible College

– Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology, University of Edinburgh

– Director of the Center for the Study of Christian Origins, University of Edinburgh

– Author of “Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity“, “How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus“, and “One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism

– Authors the blog entitled “Larry Hurtado’s Blog: Comments on the New Testament and Early Christianity


We are excited about the interview series. Be sure to subscribe to follow the conversation.

My comments on Willits, “Paul and Matthew: A Descriptive Approach”

Before sharing my thoughts on Joel Willitts article, I think I should share some of my thoughts on the “school-of-thought” to which he belongs. First, in many ways I am in agreement with his “assumption” that Paul was a Torah-observant Jew (although, I will state my concerns with this claim later). Second, while I have a certain affinity with this “assumption,” I do realize that it is an “assumption” so when arguments are built on that foundation the results ought to be held cautiously. Third, I cannot stand arguments that negatively critique other “shools-of-thought” for necessitating certain  “shaky” assumptions, yet, then they allow themselves that very freedom.

In the tradition of the One Minute Manager, I will start with my negative comments. First, I was a bit saddened when I realized that three of the four first articles of this book amounted to a three-on-one fight with David Sim (I am including the next article in the three). While I do not agree with all (or many) of Sim’s conclusions it would have been nice to allow him a chance to respond here. Maybe he was given a chance and he declined or was unable, I do not know, but it seemed a bit unfair. Also, so far in this work I have not come across an actual critique of Sim’s work but there have been many assertions that his work is wrongheaded.

Second, Willits claims that in order for Sim to, “convince a reader, one has to agree to several controversial conclusion ― built on a growing mound of educated guesses ― about both Paul and Matthew.” I would have like him to actually named some of these “controversial conclusions” so that I can hold him, that is Willitts, to his same standard of judgment. What is the definition of controversial in a “post-consensus” era (his term)? Unfortunately, as is the trend so far in this work, this luxury is not afforded to the reader. What scholar does not forward a hypothesis that is built on some assumptions? The Conservative Evangelical school? The F.C. Bauer’s school? The New Perspective school? I think all do it to a varying extent and these assumptions should be allowed inasmuch as they are clearly stated up front as unverifiable.

Willits of course is explicitly guilty of not allowing assumptions for others while allowing them for himself in the article when he says, “I will be conducting the study on Matthew and Paul with the assumption that both were Torah-observant Jews and members of a new form of Judaism that has recently been labelled ‘apostolic Judaism.’” Now, excuse me if I can conceive of this statement as “controversial.” Does this mean that his work is as valuable as Sim’s?  Not only that but what exactly does it mean to say Paul was Torah-observant? I mean, from whose perspective is this label considered to be accurate? Paul does make statements that would lead one to conclude that at least some of the time he does not “keep” the Torah from a strict perspective. On top of that, we have a statement by a member of so-called “apostolic Judaism” (James) that claims if one breaks even one command then they have broken the whole Torah. Would James have considered Paul to be Torah-observant? I think much more work needs to be done in explaining this viewpoint before it can be assumed without this assumption being a problem or, dare I say controversial[1]. I am not in disagreement with this “school,”  I am very excited about its promise, but, I do not think it is good to try and have one’s cake and eat it too.

Third, Willits claims, “apostolic Judaism was allogeneic,” i.e., when related to Judaism it is, “genetically dissimilar but belonged to the same species.” While I like the biological image and agree this is a good direction to try, his assertion seems to demand more than what he has stated ― while Judaism was not normative “apostolic Judaism” was normative. I am not sure that this is a safe assumption considering it is the very thing Sim has tried to exegetically demonstrate as wrong! It is at least possible that Christianity was not monolithic or normative in its early stages.

Fourth, when discussing the theme of judgment-according-to-works he assumes that both writers are working with the same definition of the theme. Would Sim disagree that in some way both writers had an understanding of judgment-according-to-works as a reality (even if they nuance it differently? If Matthew understood this judgment to be “works of Torah” and Paul has explicit statements that can easily understood as countering this claim (e.g., by works of the Law no one is saved), then it seems reasonable for a scholar to follow that path to its logical conclusion. For the life of me I cannot understand why Willitts “descriptive” project would not include Jesus’ command to his followers, which only appears in Matthew’s Gospel, that if they did not keep all of the Torah they would be called least in the Kingdom? One would think a description of this theme in Matthew would have to account for that statement.

Fifth, I completely agree with Willitts, who quotes Mohrlang, that the biggest difficulty in comparing Paul to Matthew is that of genre. I really wish his article would have teased out and/or demonstrated how this can skew ones exegesis. Unfortunately, he does not do this. Instead he states that his opinion regarding the production of synthetic comparisons between two corpa via exegesis, “are counterproductive and unnecessary.” Again, it is unfortunate that he does not follow through on this statement since I cannot think of one reason why this claim would be true! He does, though, leave us with a quote worth thinking about, “There is a high probability when Matthew and Paul address the same topic that they deal with it for different reasons and to accomplish different ends.” Ok, great proposition but can you demonstrate this?

Finally, I would like to reiterate that I am very friendly with this “school” and its direction. I do believe that scholarship will benefit from the work that is produced based on its new assumptions. Just because comparing Paul and Matthew is hard, or difficult, that does not mean that scholars should not attempt the endeavor. Willitts prefers caution while Sim (appears to) like paradigm busting. Both polarities have their benefits and drawbacks.

[1] I am well aware of and have learned much from the work of Mark Nanos and Anders-Runesson.

Mark 13.24–27 Revisited: A Proposal for a Corporate Son of Man and Its Implications

There is nothing like mulling over a concept for a few days to engender new ideas. The problem is that sometimes these new ideas conflict with previous thoughts. And this seems to be the case with my new thoughts in relation to my last post on Mark’s apocalyptic discourse, specifically his use of the “coming of the Son of Man.” In that post I argued that the phrase “coming of the Son of Man” represented Jesus’ enthronement and vindication, which portrays Jesus as the new Temple. I further argued that Mark did not anticipate, or at least did not write about, a parousia. However, upon (re)reading Thomas Kazen’s article in JSHJ entitled, The Coming of the Son of Man Revisited, I would like to propose a different (although similar in many ways) view: i.e., the Son of Man should be identified as the holy ones, or the faithful remnant.

Much of this argument rests of the notion that the Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7 speaks of a faithful remnant. Thus, the ascension of the Son of Man is the vindication of the remnant, who receives the kingdom and dominion. This is the view that Kazen promotes in his article, to which he applies to the Gospel accounts, specifically Mark and Matthew. However, before he explicates how this view makes sense of some odd passages in Mark, he first deals with the parousia tradition in Paul. Dealing specifically with 1 Thess 4.13–18, he notes that while Jesus is directly linked to the parousia (v. 15; i.e., Jesus is expected to return), the Son of Man imagery is instead reflected upon the believers[1]. Note that v. 17 envisions the holy ones as being “caught up in the clouds” and so vindicated. Thus, while the Son of Man imagery and the parousia are linked, their only connection is that they are incorporated into the same event, not that they represent the same person! Furthermore, if this is Paul’s understanding of the Danielic “Son of Man” imagery, we are confronted with evidence that at least some Jews interpreted the imagery in a collective sense, representing kingdom restoration for the faithful remnant.

This interpretation alleviates some critical tensions with my previous view of Mark 13.24–27 (although, it may engender other tensions). One major problem was the question of where the parousia tradition began and how to account for its absence or presence in certain NT authors. If the tradition originated with Jesus, we would certainly expect Mark to pick up on it. If it did not originate with Jesus, did Paul invent the anticipation of a second coming and why? But with Kazen’s insight into Paul’s restorative anticipations, Mark’s account becomes clearer and even harmonizes with an early tradition (against my last post)[2]. Thus, what we find in Mark is the destruction of the Temple (13.24–25) followed by the Son of Man tradition (13.26), which, in this view, represents the vindication of the holy ones[3]. Verse 27 alludes to Isa 11.12 as “he” will gather the elect. If the one who sends the angels is to be identified as Jesus, we may find here an expectation of parousia. Mark’s account does not necessarily indicate a descending Jesus as much as an appearing Jesus, but nevertheless, it can easily be seen as referring to the same event. But there is a key distinction to be made, that while Mark does indicate a parousia, Jesus and the parousia are only connected with the Son of Man tradition via an event and not because the latter is personified by former. In this sense, the parousia is not directly identified with the Son of Man tradition but is rather identified with the gathering of the saints and the restoration of kingdom! Therefore, what we find in Mark 13.24–27 is the anticipated restoration of the kingdom to the remnant (Dan 7 and “Son of Man”) and the gathering of God’s people (Is 11.12)[4].

One implication of this interpretation is that Jesus is no longer being set up as the new Temple in and of himself. With the claim of destroying the Temple only to build another in three days (14.58), it is difficult to remove Jesus from the Temple imagery. But this does not mean that the holy ones cannot be assumed into the new Temple at restoration and thus become a part of its structure.

In line with the last consideration the idea of Theosis is prominent in Mark 13.24–27 and certainly applicable to this new Temple ideology. The holy ones are mentioned in a context containing theophanic imagery: “clouds” (Exod 16.9–10; 24.9–17) and “glory” (Exod 16.9–10; 24.9–17; 34.18)[5]. Furthermore, the vindication follows the distress of the “stars,” which fall from heaven, and the “powers” (angels? gods?). Notice also that the shaking “powers” are most likely those who see the holy ones coming in “power” (Mark 13.25–26), possibly emphasizing the replacement of roles and positions. In other words (if I may get back to my main point), it seems plausible that Jesus and the holy ones constitute the new Temple, as the holy ones are portrayed in theotic imagery. Thus, in the same way we see Paul anticipating a future resurrection in light of the resurrection of Jesus, Mark anticipates the believers’ constitution of the new Temple in light of Jesus’ as the already reconstructed new Temple.

Overall, with this interpretation there are many facets to be examined and many more books to be read.


[1] Coming, 159; Contra Plevnik, Paul and the Parousia, who asserts that 1 Thess 4.16–17 is unique in that it is the only passage in which believers are in the clouds. He makes this case by presuming that the Gospel accounts speak of the “Lord” coming in the clouds (60). But this interpretation reflects an a priori assumption that the Son of Man is Jesus in the Gospel accounts.  Edwards Adams also recognizes that the clouds are associated with the believers but fails to make a connection between the cloud imagery of 1 Thess 4.17 and the Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7.13 (“The ‘Coming of God’ Tradition,” in Biblical Traditions and Transmissions, 14). Major commentaries follow suit in affirming Jesus as the Son of Man in the Gospels, which proves seminal for their interpretations of the cloud imagery primarily reflecting Jesus and only secondarily connect to the remnant (Fee, Thessalonians, NICNT, 180; Wanamaker, Thessalonians, NIGTC, 175; Malherbe, Thessalonians, AB, 276–77; Bruce, Thessalonians, WBC, 105).

[2] Coming, 168–69.

[3] This view, in my opinion, removes the tension of Jesus’ double vindication associated with identifying Jesus as the Son of Man, in which he is vindicated following the destruction of the Temple, and his vindication at the resurrection, when he assumes the role of the new Temple (Mark 14.58). In the present view of this post, Jesus’ vindication is at the resurrection and the vindication of the Son of Man is reserved for the holy ones.

[4] While Daniel 7 includes a judgment on the fourth kingdom, Mark does not explicitly reflect a judgment at this time. While it may be assumed, it is Matthew’s account that explicitly emphasizes judgment and identifies Jesus as judge (Kazen, Coming, 169; Sim, David C. Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 88 SNTSMS. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1996.

[5] Burnett has a good article on Paul’s realized theotic expressions in Colossians, in which he provides many Biblical and extrabiblical references for theophanic imagery involving “clouds” and “glory.” In fact, much of what David suggests is being revealed in Paul’s language could be transferred to Mark’s account.