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.

The Absence of Jesus in Discussions of Conversion in a Few Second-Century Writings

While it is difficult for us today to think of salvation in terms that exclude Jesus’ life, death, or resurrection, there appears to have been some Christian groups that understood God’s plan of salvation apart from these events of Jesus’ earthly existence. In what follows I want to look at three second-century texts that speak of conversion without mentioning Jesus’ life, death, or resurrection.

Theophilus to Autolycus

Theophilus was a second century bishop of Syria Antioch and an apologist. According to Jerome, his three volume apologetic was “well fitted for the edification of the
church” (Lives, 25, 347–419). At the beginning of the three volumes, Theophilus self identifies as a Christian: “And furthermore, you call me a Christian as if I were bearing an
evil name, I acknowledge that I am a Christian. I bear this name beloved by God in hope of being useful to God” (1.1). Theophilus never mentions the name or the person of Jesus in his three volumes. Nevertheless, he does speak about how God saves people: “For God gave us a law and holy commandments; everyone who performs them can be saved and, attaining to the resurrection, can inherit imperishability (2.27).” There is a hope of resurrection but no discussion about Jesus or his resurrection. Turning to a life of
immortality is not by knowing about Jesus but by “keeping the commandments of God” (2.27). God’s Logos does appear in the three volumes but is not identified with the person of Jesus. Rather, the Logos is innate within the “bowels” of God, who generates (γεννάω)
the Logos with the help of Sophia (2.10). The Logos was generated for the purpose of creating all things and enlightened the prophets about the creation and Torah (2.10; 3.11). Although the Logos is the divine mediator, speaking and acting on behalf of God (2.22),
the Logos’ role in salvation is to reveal God’s commands to the prophets, who in turn reveal them to all humanity (3.11). Again, obedience to these divine commands, not the work or knowledge of Jesus, is the means of salvation (2.27).

Minucius Felix

In another apologetic text, we encounter a debate between a (uneducated) Christian (Caecilius) and a Philosopher (Octavius), where Jesus is mentioned only a couple of times. This first mention of Jesus is in Octavius’ attack on Christians for following a criminal who was crucified: “There are also stories about the objects of their veneration: they are said to be a man who was punished with death as a criminal and the fell wood of his cross, thus providing suitable liturgy for the depraved fiends: they [Christians] worship what they deserve” (9.4). Caecilius’ response to Octavius’ charge reflects the second mention of Jesus: “Now, you ascribe to our religion a criminal and his cross. You are not even remotely correct in supposing that either a criminal could have merited or an earthly creature been able to be though a god” (29.2). He goes on to argue by analogy that it is not unreasonable that Christian recognize the human Jesus as a god because human
“emperors and kings” are upheld as great men and gods. Although Caecilius does not consider emperors and kings to be gods, it nevertheless defends the Christian belief that Jesus is to be venerated as a God. In his defense against Jesus being a criminal, Caecilius argues that the cross is not a symbol of indictment against Jesus because the cross is a symbol of nature and natural order: “…[T]he sign of the cross is fundamental to the order of nature [and] that it forms the framework of your [Octavius] own religion” (29.8). Thus, the conversation about Jesus in Minucius Felix is in relation to the cross, but there is no attempt on the part of Caecilius to present Jesus and the cross as points of salvation for humanity. It might then be surprising that Octavius becomes a Christian after he listens to Caecilius’ lengthy defense of Christianity. In his final words of approbation, Octavius says, “We have both won in a sense: it may sound outrageous, but I claim victory too, for while Octavius is victorious over me, I am triumphant over error” (40.1). Conversion, then, is not recognizing the actual work of Jesus on the cross but realizing that Jesus is not a criminal and that it is completely reasonable for Christians to worship the man Jesus as a god. But, this is just an isolated examples within a larger debate about a defense against anti-Christian accusations concern praxis and ritual. Overall, Octavius is converted from error because Caecilius proved to be the better philosopher––Jesus and the cross are simply one small part of that philosophical defense.

Acts of John

In the Acts of John (AJ), the apostle John travels around Asia Minor healing the afflicted and performing miraculous acts (cc. 18–86; I am excluding from this discussion John’s gospel message [cc. 87–105] and the Metastasis of John [cc. 106–115], because these accounts are significantly different than cc. 18–86). It is through healing and miracles that conversion takes place and conversion is either spoken of in terms of resurrection imagery or is the result of resurrection. Thus, the repeated trope is basically, God/Jesus (they are indistinguishable in the AJ) is a healer and physician who heals/raises the lost who are afflicted so that they might become believers in the one true God. It is remarkable, then, in light of all this language and imagery of suffering and resurrection, that Jesus’ suffering and
resurrection is never mentioned. Furthermore, conversion does not take place because the lost person believes in Jesus’ ministry, death, or resurrection, but rather because the person accepts that it is the one true God/Jesus who heals/raises from the dead. (This is not a eschatological bodily resurrection. Rather, in the AJ, at death a soul is either translated directly to God or is eternally damned––the flesh is merely a substance that disintegrates into nothing.)

The Didache and The Apology of Aristides are two other texts (that I can think of) where Jesus ministry and death is surprisingly absent when it comes to discussions about conversion. It seems, then, that it was not too uncommon for some Christian groups in the second century to not view Jesus earthly ministry, death and resurrection as salvifically significant. For me, this is perhaps one of the most striking and unexpected points of diversity within second-century Christianity.

Reason #2 Why A Healthy Knowledge Of Stoicism Is Vital For Students Of The NT

There are many good reason why students of the NT should spend a fair amount of time studying and becoming familiar with Stoicism, the least of which is that Stoicism had its hey-day in the first century of the common era. Yet, there is another reason why such knowledge is of significance. We find this reason in the second-century Acts of John.

Midway through the narrative, John receives an epiphany telling him to make his way into the country. John obediently follows the divine order and comes upon a farm, where he notices a young man running toward the farm with a sickle.

Through their conversation, we learn that the young man was on his way to commit suicide because he had just murdered his father with a lethal kick. The son discloses that there was some tension between him and his father, specifically over his desire to take another man’s wife as his own, an act of which his completely unreasonable father disapproved. The son had decided, therefore, to gruesomely kill himself with a sickle (probably because his other lethal weapon, his foot, is not among the weapons of choice for killing oneself).

John decides to intervene and alleviate the regrettable situation by resurrecting the son’s father. What happens next may perhaps be a tad bit over the top: “But when the young man saw the unexpected resurrection of his father and his own deliverance, he took the sickle and took off his private parts; and he ran to the house where he kept his adulteress and threw them down before her, and said, ‘For your sake I became my father’s murderer…. As for me, God has had mercy on me and shown me his power.”

In a state of ebullience, the son “went and told John before the brethren what he had done. But John said to him, ‘Young man, the one who tempted you to kill your father and commit adultery with another man’s wife, he has also made you take off the unruly (members) as if this were a virtuous act. But you should not have destroyed the place (of your temptation), but the thought which showed its temper through those members; for it is not those organs which are harmful to man, but the unseen springs through which every shameful emotion is stirred up and comes to light.”

What could have saved this young man from such an impetuous act? Stoicism 101! We might wonder why John, who is cast in the Acts of John as a man of superior wisdom, did not consider teaching the transparently distraught and emotionally charged young man, who happened to be wearing a sickle on is belt and disclosing his intent to kill himself in a “more cruel” manner than that of his father, a brief lesson on Stoicism. Why did he wait until later to reveal to the young man the beliefs of the group? Perhaps it was events like this that caused the church to think that catechism prior to initiation was better than the alternative.

We should not miss the other take away, though: Stoicism is more than a philosophy that helps us interpret the NT, it also has practical life applications and might one day keep you from feeling a little sheepish in front of a group of people you are trying to impress.