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.

The Gospel of Mark and the Absence of the Parousia

It is not new to understanding the heavenly portents and the “coming of the Son of Man” in Mark 13.24–27 as referring to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the enthronement and vindication of Jesus, respectively. For a while now, R.T. France has proposed this interpretation of Mark’s account (as well as Matthew’s parallel).[ref]Jesus and the Old Testament, 229–31)[/ref] Yet, beginning in v. 32 France argues that Mark is speaking of the parousia.[ref]Mark, NIGTC, 541[/ref] While France provides evidence for this interpretation, I am not convinced and find myself asking why we need to find evidence of the parousia in Mark’s account? I found consonance in N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, where he argues that Mark does not anticipate a descending Jesus at restoration and judgment, but rather speaks of the destruction and enthronement throughout ch. 13 (360–67). As far as Mark’s account is concerned, I am in agreement with Wright (I disagree with his assimilation of Matthew into this interpretation).

 

In line with Wright’s assessment, I found Timothy Gray’s monograph, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in its Narrative Role, enlightening, as he argues that the narrative structure of Mark 11–15 focuses on the Temple. From chs. 11–13 the focus is on the earthly Temple and from chs. 14–15 the focus is on Jesus as the new Temple, and Mark 13.24–27 being the climatic turning point from old to new. Think about it: Mark 11 begins the accent into Jerusalem where Jesus pronounces a curse on a fig tree, curses the Temple leadership, and ends it with a withered fig tree. Jesus then returns to the Temple where his authority is impugned (vv. 27–33), which is followed by a parable condemning the Temple leadership (12.1–12) and further questions and teachings within the Temple precincts (12.13–41). Chapter 13 beings with Jesus and his disciples “coming out of the Temple,” looking back at the Temple, predicting the Temples destruction, and locating the group on the Mount of Olives “opposite the Temple” (13.1–3). So far the unequivocal central theme is “Temple,” which greatly suggests that the disciples questions in v. 4 are about the (1) the destruction of the Temple (2) and the signs leading up to its destruction. Thus, it makes sense that Jesus would proceed to answer the disciples questions and only the disciples questions. So when we come to Mark 13.24–25 and read about the sun becoming dark, the moon not given its light, the stars falling from heaven, and the “powers in the heavens” (gods?) shaking, the most natural referent is the destruction of the Temple. What else could he possibly be talking about? Has Mark failed to guide his readers to an unambiguous interpretation of Jesus’ discourse? There have been no clues since ch. 11 that he could be referring to anything other than the Temple.

 

Yet, against this last statement some may protest that the phrase, “coming of the Son of Man in the clouds” refers to the parousia. Maybe. But how does this relate to the heavenly portents? Taking an interpretation of “coming of the SoM” in vv. 26–27 and imposing it on the portents previously mentioned is tenuous. For one, doing this downplays the role of the Temple in Mark’s narrative and this is hardly endorsed by Mark! Mark is building up to a climactic end of the Temple, and if the portents describe the parousia, the climax for this destruction is removed. Furthermore, if the portents are taken as the parousia, the temporal flow of vv. 24–27 is redundant and resist the flow of the temporal markers καὶ τότε in vv. 26, 27. Verses 24–27 would thus speak of “the return of Christ (vv. 24–25), and then (καὶ τότε) the return of Christ (v. 26), and then (καὶ τότε) the sending of angels (v. 27). This repetition of the Advent is unnecessary and ignores the temporal markers. Thus, however one interprets vv. 26–27, the portents of vv. 24–25 must mark a distinct event.

 

But how does one interpret the “coming of the SoM?” At this point I do not wish to restate what Wright and France have argued so well concerning how this phrase could readily be understood as the enthronement and vindication of Jesus rather than the parousia.[ref]Wright, JVG, 360–65; France, Mark, NIGTC, 531–32; France, Matthew, NICNT, 923–29[/ref] I feel that their arguments are cogent and present a true portrait of a Jewish understanding of the Danielic text and how it would naturally be interpreted when used in Mark’s Gospel (or from Jesus’ lips). So in foregoing a detailed defense (which I may regret) of why I believe the “coming of the SoM” statement ought to be read as an enthronement oracle, I want to ask a few questions. Why do we feel a pressing need to find a descending Jesus in Mark’s account? Are we that eager to read Mark in light of Paul or (ironically) Matthew? Many of us are willing allow for diversity throughout the NT, but is the Second Advent off limits? Is it really that big of a deal if Mark envisions the restoration scene with Jesus sitting on the throne, while Paul and Matthew envision a descending Jesus? Restoration takes place either way, the only difference is Jesus is sitting or traveling. Granted, the predominant scenario of restoration from the second century to the present is the parousia, but should that be allowed to affect the way we interpret Mark’s account?

In the end I am arguing for a Mark that speaks of restoration but is silent concerning the “second coming” or parousia. For Mark, restoration was to occur at the enthronement and vindication of the Son of Man. This expectation was tightly wound around the destruction of the Temple, as the destruction of the old would inaugurate the new. …However, what are the Jesus followers to think following the Temples destruction and yet still awaiting restoration? In comes the Gospel of Matthew…

James G. Crossley “Mark, Paul and the Question of Influence”

One of my main interests in New Testament studies is the relationship between Paul and the Gospels. So in the next few posts I will be summarizing and commenting on each article that is found in the new book (surprisingly) titled Paul and the Gospels. A day or so after I post the summary I will post my comments on the article.

 

I. Introduction

James G. Crossley starts his article by noting that the scholarly consensus on the potential influence between Mark’s Gospel and Paul has changed. In the past hundred years notable scholars have gone from believing that Paul did not influence Mark to believing that Paul did, at least partially, influence Mark.

He then pauses for just a second to define what is meant by “influence.” By this term, he does not mean, “Mark could have been in some sense allegorizing Pauline theology, adapting ideas floating around the Pauline churches, or, indirectly acknowledging the theologian he could not completely ignore, but whose theology he did not fully approve of.’” He also details another possible view, Paul and Mark are both part of the same general Christian movement and therefore draw from the same pool of resources. This (supposed) reality would give the allusion of dependence. Finally, he also notes that it is possible for Mark to have influenced Paul given that he (soli) has argued for a very early date for Mark’s Gospel. He then turns to briefly noting the main texts that scholars have forwarded as evidence for Paul’s influence on Mark.

 

II. Mark interpreting and/or advocating Paul or Pauline thought? Some precise examples

1. Mark 4:1–20/Romans 9–11 and Mark 14:22–25/1 Cor. 11:23–25

On these supposedly parallels Dr. Crossley points out that the ideas in the texts are parallel but none of the important theological terms are the same. Therefore, there is not enough evidence to link the Romans 9–11 as having influenced Mark.

2. Romans 14:14/Mark 7:19

Here Dr. Crossley notes that this supposed parallel (“all foods being clean”) is claimed by many to be one of the clearest examples of Pauline influence on Mark. This is because most scholars assume that 1) Paul is earlier than Mark and 2) Paul’s gospel is unique because of its negative (or, flippant) view toward the law which, has been nicely summed up in Joel Marcus’s words, “the law was passé for Christians.” Crossley points out that he and a few other notable scholars have shown that this text and Mark only need to be understood as Jesus claiming that the Torah, properly interpreted, never taught that dirty hands made food unclean (therefore Matthew’s interpretation of the pericope is faithful to Mark’s intent).

 

III. Paul and Mark (unsurprisingly) faced similar issues: Jesus’s death and suffering

In this section Dr. Crossley focuses on the supposed  influence that Paul’s atonement theology had on Mark. Again, he rejects this supposed link because none of the important theological terminology is present (e.g., λυτρον, or ὁ ὑιος τοῦ άνθρώπου). He also then points out that the two atonement theories could depend on the president Maccabean martyr theology that was present and formative Judaism.

 

IV. Paul and Mark (unsurprisingly) faced similar issues: Gentiles

In this section, he notes that too much is made of Mark’s Gospel being directed towards gentiles. Crossley takes the view, noting an intriguing PhD thesis, that Mark was merely dealing with the possibility of Gentiles entering the movement which is what any other “Christian” text would’ve had to do. In other words, Mark does not appear to be “concerned” with the Gentile mission at all and this supposed “mission” definitely is not fundamental to Mark like it is for Paul’s ministry. He does agree that the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman and the subsequent feeding narratives cohere nicely with Paul’s theology of “to the Jew first and then the Gentile.”  Again, he points out that there is no linking terminology used in either of these supposed links. He also points out that acts (and maybe Luke) share the same pattern. Next, he discusses the use of the “supposed” Pauline term εὐαγγελιον.  While here Crossley cannot deny the use of the same theological term, he does point out that this term could have been taken independently from the LXX (he notes five occurrences in Isaiah alone) . So, needless to say, Dr. Crossley finds this term to be unpersuasive in showing Pauline influence on Mark.

 

V. Paul and Mark faced different problems: The Torah

Here Crossley claims that there is not enough evidence to prove that Paul and Mark’s comments regarding the law are a result of the same problem. His main point is, while some believe Mark’s gospel to be evidence of a law free Christian community, the Gospel of Mark never clearly depicts Jesus as breaking the Torah. If this is true, then Mark doesn’t depict Jesus as having an uninterested view of the Torah, like Paul. Instead, Mark depicts Jesus as being interested in the Torah, especially its proper interpretation.

 

VI. Christology in conflict

Many have read Mark’s Gospel and claimed that it contains what some scholars have called a “corrective Christology.” Dr. Crossley then gives the thesis of Joseph Tyson as being representative of this reading. Tyson’s reading can be boiled into these two antitheses: 1) Jesus’ Messiahship is not to be confused with conventional Jewish nationalistic royal Messiahship (and thus little is done with the phrase “son of David”). 2)  The Early Church that did understand Jesus in conventional, militaristic terms.

 

Crossley shows that this view is based on little evidence and is therefore mostly conjecture. Not only that, Crossley goes on to show that there are plenty of texts in the New Testament that fly in the face of this supposed view of the Early Church.

 

As for the lack of use of the title “son of David,” Crossley shows that we are not able to be certain what this term should mean so it shouldn’t play a fundament part in one’s argument. He then moves on to the term “son of God.” Again, he notes that there is a major debate in how this term is to be understood; does this term denote “high Christology” or should it be understood as indicating a “low Christology?”  The purpose for pointing this out is that if scholarship cannot come to a firm consensus on Mark’s Christology then we cannot in any way say that Mark is “correcting” anything.

 

VII. Concluding remarks

Not surprisingly, Dr. Crossley does not find enough evidence to merit the view that Paul influenced Mark. He does agree that there are definitely overlaps in their theology, but, these overlaps are not enough to suggest that Mark aware of the Paul.

 

Edit: My comments may be found here.

Is the Presence of the Criteria of Multiple Attestation and Embarrassment a Contradiction?

Over at the NT Blog, Mark Goodacre posted on a relevant issue regarding an apparent contradiction between the combination of the criteria of multiple attestation and embarrassment. I did however find myself disagreeing with the conclusion. Because my disagreement lies in the way in which the issue is portrayed, I have decided not to respond on his blog, but rather flesh out the issue more thoroughly in a post. Before I continue, though, I need to say that I do not find the criterion of multiple attestation helpful for identifying historical events. It seems that it only demonstrates that a tradition goes back to the early church, not necessarily a historical event. For many this criterion performs double duty by also affirming events that are singly attested, but as soon as a singly attested tradition is deemed historical or plausible (e.g., Mark 8.22–26), the validity of the criterion comes into question (but this is by no means a death knell for the criterion). Furthermore, and more to the point of this post, I believe these shortcomings show that it cannot function on its own, but functions best in corroboration with other criteria. In the same way that (singular) attestation and embarrassment work together to suggest the historicity of Jesus spitting in the blind man’s eyes, so multiple attestation also needs the corroboration of another criterion. Thus, the purpose of this post is not to provide a defense for multiple attestation, but to show that both the criteria in question (attestation and embarrassment) can define the same event without contradiction. In fact, I would hypothesize more strongly that if multiple attestation is isolated from other criteria, it ceases to be a valid indicator of historicity.

Dr. Goodacre’s post can be found here (a followup post can be found here) and can be summed up in this quote:

I can’t help thinking that one cancels out the other. If everyone, Q, an independent Thomas, Mark, Matthew, Luke all have this same material, who is embarrassed about it? The multiple attestation is itself an argument against embarrassment.

This may be the case in some instances, but the example of Jesus’ baptism by John––which Goodacre provides as an example in the same post––I feel does not provide an adequate example of this “cancellation.”

Regarding John’s baptism of Jesus, it is too simplistic to say that everyone has the same material. While this baptism is retained through multiple traditions (Q [maybe], Mark 1.9–11, John 1.29–34 [?]; Acts 1.21–22 [Peter would be the separate source], Gos. Heb. 2 [?], Ign. Smy. 1.1; and possibly others), each retention is altered in some way, which suggests, in this case, that there was something unsettling about the event. While there are three accounts which explicitly identify John as the baptizer of Jesus (Mark 1.9–11; Acts 1.21–22; Gos. Eb. 4), other traditions are not so eager to portray John as directly baptizing Jesus. Matthew (following Mark, Q, or M) alters the event by having John protest the baptism and by failing to explicitly identify John as the one who preformed the act. In Luke’s account John is in prison (narratively speaking) when Jesus is baptized (3.19–21). In the Fourth Gospel Jesus is never really baptized; rather, John functions as a “witness” to the person and character of Jesus rather than a source of his baptism (1:19, 34). The Gos. Heb. 2, like the Gospel of John, forgoes the baptism and focuses on the theophany. Thus, while the baptism tradition is retained in each of these accounts, each account is altered in such a way as to take the focus away from John and place more attention on Jesus and the theophany.

Noticing a trajectory of the baptismal/theophany event, Robert Webb suggests that there is a gradual ennoblement of the theophany while downplaying the baptism (Baptizer and Prophet, 106). If this is the case, it does not follow that the recurrence of the baptismal event in multiple traditions invalidates the criterion of embarrassment, or vice versa. In other words, while the baptism is a retained Jesus tradition found in numerous accounts from various traditions, it is not promulgated or “celebrated” (a word Dr. Goodacre uses in his post, which I find curious), but instead is quietly and sometimes reluctantly remembered as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Nevertheless, the Baptist must be remembered as he functions as the precursor (Elijah) to Jesus (Messiah).

It seems that the baptism might exemplify other traditions that are multiply attested and ostensibly embarrassing. That is, just because an event is attested by multiple traditions doesn’t mean it is retold in the same way. If, like the baptism, a given event is retold in such a way as to extenuate a particular action or saying within the larger event, then something about the event is demonstrated to be embarrassing as well. Thus, the presence of the two criteria do not necessarily contradict, but rather the presence of multiple attestation can serve (though certainly not always) to define an event as embarrassing. It all depends on how the event is retold.