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 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!

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…