First Wright now Hays, HBU Continues to Impress

To all those interested in New Testament, Houston Baptist University continues to deliver conferences and lectures of interest for scholars and students alike. I had the privilege of attending and presenting a paper last week at HBU’s “Paul and Judaism” Conference. I appreciate all the support and the helpful feedback I’ve received regarding my paper “So Shall Your Seed Be: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions” and I will be seeking to publish a revised version in the near future.

The keynote speakers at the conference included N.T. Wright, Beverly Gaventa, and Ross Wagner (you can watch Dr. Wright’s plenary sessions here).  Particularly engaging was Wagner and Wright’s conversation on the meaning of “all Israel” in Romans 11:26. It was a pleasure getting to know many of the presenters like Brian LePort and Jason Myers, as well as spend some time with some old friends like Ben Blackwell. Of the presentations I heard at the conference, I particularly enjoyed Daniel Streett‘s paper entitled “Cursed by God? Galatians 3:13 in Early Jewish Context,” arguing that Paul was not saying that Jesus was “accursed” by God, but was reckoned “a curse,” referring to a loss of social status as opposed to becoming the object of divine wrath. It was a very convincing argument as many of the scholars attending agreed (and I’m not just saying that because he’s my professor and friend). Overall, the conference was certainly a success and I look forward to their attending their next theology conference in 2015.

richard-b-haysHBU has turned right around and done it again by inviting Richard Hays as guest lecturer in the upcoming A.O. Collins Lectures on April 3-4. The two lectures are titled: “The Manger in Which Christ Lies’: Figural Readings of Israel’s Scripture” on Thursday evening and “The One Who Redeems Israel: Reading Scripture with Luke” on Friday evening. I’m excited to attend and particularly interested in the lecture on Luke. Richard Hays is an exceptional scholar on all things pertaining to the New Testament use of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). If you haven’t heard him lecture before and you are close enough to travel to Houston, you need to make the trip. Thanks to HBU for consistently bringing quality conferences and lecture series to Texas. You continue to impress.

Daniel Streett on “Did Enoch Die? (LXX, Philo, Hebrews)”

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Over at Daniel Streett’s blog, καὶ τὰ λοιπά, he has an interesting post on the possible “death” of Enoch. It is worth checking out. It definitely has the characteristic Daniel Streett cheekiness as seen in the photo choices (the pic here is from his post, I seriously laughed out loud when I saw this). He references many of the variegated traditions in early Judaism regarding Enoch’s end and if you are unaware of them they are pretty fascinating. I particularly think these traditions are very important if you are interested in ascension traditions in early Judaism and early Christianity.  If you don’t already subscribe to his blog, I suggest you do. Make sure and check it out here.

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. 
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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!

Review of Bruce Metzger’s “The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987

9780198269540_p0_v1_s260x420Bruce Metzger’s, The Canon of the New Testament, is an examination of the development of the New Testament canon from the first century to the twentieth century. Yet, this book is more than a historical treatise on the canon; it also speaks to theological interests invested in canonicity (v). The book is structured in three parts: Part One is a survey of scholarly literature on canon formation; Part Two is an investigation through primary sources of canon formation; and Part Three is an exploration of the historical and theological issues surrounding the concept of canonicity.

In Part One, Metzger offers a detailed survey of the scholarly literature on canon formation from the seventeenth century through the twentieth century. He provides a sufficient review of the major scholars and their works and does a thorough job in highlighting the pressing topics regarding canonicity as they varied throughout the centuries.

Part Two of this book is a cache of valuable information. Although Metzger’s historical survey covers an expansive time frame, beginning at the end of the first century and ending at the twentieth century, he focuses his attention and fastidious research on the first four centuries.

Beginning with the Apostolic Fathers, Metzger considers this collection to represent a period of canonical preparation, where authority is not placed on a certain collection of books but rather is ascribed to the Law and the Prophets, sayings of Jesus, and apostolic sayings. Despite a few references to “the Gospel,” the majority of Jesus and apostolic saying are allusions, lacking clear and authoritative references to any particular text. Many of the allusions, nevertheless, can be traced back to canonical Gospels and Epistles, which leads Metzger to conclude that the authors of the Apostolic Fathers regard the books that would later become canonical with an “implicit authority” (73).

Before tracing the development of the canon beyond the period of the Apostolic Fathers, Metzger examines the possible reasons that precipitated the need for an authoritative collection of Christian writings. He views the conflict between the “Great Church”––as he calls it––and other Christian groups as the principal impetus for the future establishment of the canon. For example, Marcion’s rejection of Jewish scripture and Jewish contexts in the Gospels and Pauline letters caused the Church to “recognize the breadth of the written corpus as authoritative” (106). He further suggests that canon formation was influenced by persecution, during which Christians would likely be forced to choose with little delay which books they are willing to hand over to authorities and for which ones they are willing to suffer. He also mentions book making as well as Jewish and pagan constructions of lists of (authoritative) books as other possible influences perpetuating the development of the Christian canon.

After expounding on these polemical relationships and circumstances, Metzger then surveys canon formation through the Eastern and Western churches and discusses at length two early Christian book lists: the Muratorian Canon and Eusebius’ list. The results of his investigation show that it is only near the end of the second century that we first find, in Clement of Alexandria and Ireneaus, a four-fold gospel standard. According to Metzger, one exception to this later date is Tatian’s early second-century Diaterssaron, which shows that Tatian viewed Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the only authoritative Gospels; a conclusion he maintains despite his acknowledgment of extra-canonical material in the harmony (115–16). Apostolic writings, on the other hand, are still fluid as late as the early fourth century, as there is yet no consensus of which writings are to be considered authoritative and which ones are to be eschewed.

Metzger devotes two chapters to Christian attempts at finalizing a determinative canon. By adducing an extensive array of evidence from the fourth century to the present, he shows that in the East the concept of canonicity is still, as of the twentieth century, a fluid idea, while in the West the canon eventually found more stability in the sixteenth century––at least as it concerns the books of the New Testament.

In accord with his stated intent given in the preface, Part Three incorporates the theological results of the historical endeavor thus far. He begins by laying out three criteria used by the church fathers to determine which books would be considered canonical: those that attested to a “rule of faith” (defined by Metzger as those which adhered to the Christian tradition “recognized as normative by the Church” [251]), those perceived to be of legitimate apostolic authorship, and those that were generally accepted as authentic (251–254). Notably, a criterion of inspiration is omitted from this list; Metzger concludes that inspiration was not used to ascribe canonical status because the early church leaders frequently viewed anyone––even their contemporaries––who wrote or spoke under the guidance of the Spirit to be inspired. He ends the book with a discussion on current issues regarding canonicity, including: whether today the canon can considered open or closed, whether it is appropriate to speak of a canon within a canon, and whether the canon is a collection of authoritative books or an authoritative collection of books.

Metzger does include a discussion on canonicity and apocryphal literature, but it is one of the more curious parts of his book. In this chapter he gives adequate attention to apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Apocalypses, and a few “Miscellaneous Writings”––which is largely made up of writings from the Apostolic Fathers. The attention given to these works is that of illustrating why the “Great Church” eventually rejected them. The reason: they contain aberrant theological views, possess little, if any, historical veracity, and are unable to convincingly demonstrate apostolicity.

For all the astute historical examination and detail that permeates this fine book, this chapter on apocryphal literature is indeed odd. It appears that instead of merely illustrating why the “Great Church” rejected certain Christian writings, Metzger uses this chapter to defend the position of the Church by traducing those writings that stand beyond the limits of a later orthodox standard. Thus, he argues that the apocryphal works are “romantic,” “fanciful,” “strange,” and “entertaining” (168–69, 174, 175, 177, 178) writings for a “popular” audience (168, 175, 178) that belie their own historicity and apostolicity (168–69, 173, 174, 175, 177, 179). This rhetoric is problematic for a number of reasons, not least that these pejorative claims are one-sided and never fall against those writings more widely accepted by the “Great Church,” like the Shepherd of Hermas, or even those writings which eventually received canonical status, like the Acts of the Apostles or Revelation. This selective use of derogatory rhetoric enables Metzger to appeal to textual agency and conclude that “certain books exclude themselves from the canon” (286) while the canonical books “established themselves” (173). Metzger’s appeal to an absolute claim against apostolic and historical authenticity of apocryphal literature is also problematic, as it does not allow him to convincingly defend the pseudepigraphical nature of some canonical material when he argues that canonicity “is not affected by features that are open to adjudication, such as matters of authorship and genuineness” (284). Unfortunately for his argument, false authorial claims and suspect genuineness are precisely the grounds by which he adjudicates that apocryphal literature is to be rejected.

Despite this peculiar examination of apocryphal literature, Metzger’s book is nevertheless a thorough and erudite investigation into the development of the New Testament canon. This is indeed a volume that should appear on the self of every student of early Christianity, who will no doubt return to it again and again to retrieve its valuable information.

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.

In Dialogue with William O. Walker (Romans 8:29, 30)

In a recent JSPL article[1] William O. Walker states his case for understanding Romans 8:29–30 as being an interpolation.[2] Having recently finished a six month research project, in which I tried to explain how this passage fit into the flow of Romans, one could understand why I was saddened that I stumbled upon it almost immediately after I turned in the finished version of my work. Honestly, I hadn’t considered or even read anyone who had considered the passages authenticity.

In what follows I will critique what i believe are fatal weaknesses in his proposal, but before I do, I would like to state a few things that I appreciated about his work. First, I believe he is completely right to point out that this passage, especially vv. 29, 30, are strange in comparison to the surrounding material. Second, this article helped me think through much more carefully my methodology for determining if a passage is authentic or not. Now, on to the article. [3]

Following an earlier criticism by J. C. O’Neill, Walker believes that the passage (vv. 29, 30) creates a “logical contradiction” with what Paul has said earlier in the text. The tension is caused by the juxtaposition of two concepts: 1) it is emphasized that the believer must receive the Spirit by faith and, 2) Christians are predestined from the beginning. In other words, free will and divine sovereignty cannot be held together by a logical person.

O’Neil, though, doesn’t seem to be as convinced or clear minded about this “logical contradiction” as one would hope because he then questions the merits for the supposed contradiction that is being used for “evidence.” After he agrees with O’Neil that there is a contradiction he goes on to say, “It would be difficult to argue, however, that Paul does not elsewhere espouse some form of a doctrine of election or that he does not elsewhere alternate between divine and human agency.” It seems very difficult to ascertain the exact reason that Mr. Walker believes this “evidence” should be allowed into an argument that seeks to prove an interpolation since we know that this “contradiction” is present in undisputed portions of Paul’s writings and, ostensibly, in those texts it is not evidence of an interpolation.

Next, he says, “In the second place, the ‘person’ and ‘number’ indicated in the verbs and pronouns of w. 29–30 are different from those in the surrounding material.” He then points out that, “most of the language in w. 1–27 and much of that in vv. 31–39 is in the first-person plural— ‘we’ and ‘us,’” Strangely he only footnotes (n20) that verses 9–11 are in the second person plural. Not only that, but then he admits, “Indeed, the fact that v. 28ab (presumably Pauline in origin) shifts from the first-person plural to the third-person singular would appear to argue against such a shift as evidence for interpolation.” In spite of all the qualifying he makes he still feels that the evidence, “at least suggests that these verses may be an insertion into the text of Paul’s Roman letter.” Again, just like the first piece of evidence, I am not sure how this can be considered evidence for anything, much less his argument for interpolation.

The third piece of evidence forwarded for the case of interpolation is that this section is, “systematic, linear, repetitive, formalized, and one might almost say ‘scholastic.’” The reason for this being evidence of interpolation is that the surrounding material is, “much less formal and repetitive and much more free-flowing.”

In response, a couple of obvious points should be brought out. First, why if we are seeking to establish an interpolation should we only consider the surrounding material? Mustn’t we ask if there are other places in the “undisputed” letters where Paul does this sort of thing? Second, even if for the sake of the argument we assume this criticism is valid, then wouldn’t we first be led to the possibility that Paul is using tradition? Wouldn’t a creed, confession, or liturgy of some sort naturally lend itself to have all of these characteristics? I can’t help but think of the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 and this passage as being taylor fitted for this sort of claim.[4] While I will have to postpone my thoughts on the form and function of this passage to a later post, I do think Walker is right to point out the characteristics of the passages form as being a reason to reconsider its function; this is the way communication works in general.

The fourth piece of evidence that Walker sees is, “there appears to be something of a disjunction between w. 29–30 and their context in terms of subject matter.” By continuing to point out Walker’s own hesitancy to clearly label his own evidence as clear or indisputable I run the risk of appearing to beat a dead horse, yet when one builds a circumstantial case for something their own uncertainty of their own evidence must actually become key evidence itself. In regards to the subject matter of chapter 8 he says, “It is difficult to assemble the somewhat disparate parts of Romans 8 under a single topic.” I have much more to say about this (rightly) so-called subject change, but, for now, I will simply point out that while I will concede with Walker that the general topic of the chapter is, “life in the Spirit,” suffering and its ability to rob the community of its Spirit-life through unbelief plays the antagonist in the story of the Church and this section can easily be seen as building hope for people who need to endure suffering.

The fifth thing that is used as evidence for the case of interpolation is, “the removal of w . 29–30 would leave a smooth transition from v. 28… either with or without the last five words—to v. 31.” I do not disagree with this conclusion. In my thesis, which was finished before I read this article, I brought up what is almost the same thing,

“Interestingly, if one would remove vv. 28–37 the section would still make complete sense. Paul would have moved from the presence of suffering, to its temporality, to its effect (produce endurance and hope), to the believers defense against it (the Spirit) to suffering’s inability separate the Christian from God’s love. The section following vv.28–37 would still function nicely as an inclusio since it incorporates all of the themes found in the the pericope that opens the section.”

My only reason for discussing this aspect of his case’s evidence is that what we disagree with here is the most likely application of this evidence. I do not think that the evidence leads one to conclude that this section could be an interpolation, but the most likely conclusion is to understand that Paul is doing something much more subtle here with this section. This subtlety should leads us to reflect on the text as a whole and what we believe we can surmise about its provenance and audience.

The last thing discussed about this section is that it, “can stand alone as a complete, self-contained, and meaningful theological statement that sets forth, in systematic fashion, a logical progression from foreknowledge to predestination to calling to justification to glorification.” I don’t really know how to respond to this charge since I am not really sure how the logic works. If the logic of this charge is: the surrounding section is not this way (complete, self-contained etc.), so this section could be viewed as an interpolation, then, I must disagree with the logic. Also, I would wonder how I should understand Rom. 1:2–4 which itself is very similar in that it doesn’t really ‘fit’ the way the rest of the passage is constructed (using the previous logic).[5]

Finally, I would like to comment on the legitimacy of an argument for interpolation by the accumulation of circumstantial evidence. From what I understand about jurisprudence, certain crimes tend to require certain types of evidence in order to secure a verdict e.g., a body in a murder case. The same expectation is usually (except among the mythicists) required in the case of interpolation. If there is no textual witness to interpolation, then the case for interpolation is typically viewed as suspicion and not as an argument of facts and logic.[6] I do not have a problem with an interpolation having made it through the early years if the cannon’s formation undetected; undoubtedly that sort of thing happened and scholars should endeavor to find interpolations. My main problem is that there is nothing in the case that cannot just as easily be argued in the opposite direction. When this is the case, the evidence is not really evidence it is opinion.[7]


  1. Walker, William O. “Romans 8:29–30 as a Non-Pauline Interpolation” JSPL vol. 2, no. 1 (2012): 28.  ↩

  2. Actually he includes v. 28c and v.33 in his article, but for my purpose I will only discuss the material relevant to vv. 29–30  ↩

  3. In this review I will only discuss what the author calls “contextual” evidence for his argument. Maybe, at a later date, I can engage with his linguistic evidence for interpolation.  ↩

  4. Of course, it is equally likely that Paul used some of his more memorable creations in suitable places within his written compositions.  ↩

  5. From the commentators that I checked, this section is usually viewed as at least having its genesis in an earlier creed. (see Jewett, Robert and Roy David Kotansky. Romans: A Commentary. Edited by Epp, Eldon Jay. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006, 103 – 104.  ↩

  6. of course, there are extreme circumstances when the need for this type of evidence can be excused but there would need to be extreme mitigating circumstances e.g., eyewitness testimony of the crime. The same could go for interpolation; if there was an ancient testimony of a text being an interpolation or one of the earliest witnesses quotes the passage and leaves the section out (or, visa versa), then maybe we could proceed.  ↩

  7. I am doing my best to channel my inner “grand inquisitor” here.  ↩

D. Campbell’s Covenant vs. Contract Distinction

Many things that Douglas Campbell claims are controversial but arguably none are more controversial than his claim: Much of the church (post 1600) has built their interpretation of Paul’s soteriology upon a faulty understanding of how God relates to his people. Aided by Alan Torrence, Campbell makes the distinction between two fundamental ways God can relate to humanity: covenantally or contractually. For Campbell and Torrence the important distinction between the two lies in that the purpose of the covenant in the Hebrew Bible was, “to denote the Lord’s relationship to Israel as an unconditioned and unconditional covenant commitment to Israel grounded in love and characterized by hesed – God’s sustained and unconditional covenant faithfulness,”1 while a contract defines the basis of a formal relationship between two (or more) parties as being grounded in the agreement to meet certain conditions.  This distinction, though, is hard for many to swallow (or understand) due the fact that much of the material found in the Scriptures is ‘conditional,’ that is, God says that he will do X if Israel does Y. So, how exactly can Torrence and Campbell’s distinction be faithful to the material of the H.B.? Well, I don’t know if the distinction does keep, but what follows are what I think the most necessary points that still need to be made:

1) Conditional elements and/or language are found in both covenants and contracts. This can easily be seen in today’s world. A (Christian) marriage is (supposed to be) based upon a new relationship that is so strong it recreates one’s identity my means of merging with another. So, actions not in keeping with good faith do not void the relationship. The only time this contract can be voided is if one of the parties joins themselves to another party or dies (literally or effectively through abandonment).

2) Covenants had rules. The covenant was unilateral which means that one party makes all rules. Threats of judgment or the actual enforcement of the the threat did not end the covenant even though it may have for particular individuals. (See #3 for more on individual/corporate distinctions.) If a person, family or tribe was brought into judgment that did not mean that the King was no longer King of those people. In fact, the judgment was meant to be understood as being legitimate because of the king’s right to judge those who did not meat the obligations of the people.

3) We must be able to make some necessary distinctions between individuals and corporate entities. When two parties make a covenant the two actually become one entity. So the relationship is no longer one of convenience but of commitment. Usually though, a covenant has terms that if are broken evoke certain judgments on the offending individual(s). This judgment though, is not to be thought of as what we would call ‘punishment’2 but instead as ‘discipline.’3

4.) Obligations don’t change the nature of relationship, the relationship defines the nature of the obligations. (During the conference this distinction was talked about as being that of descriptive/prescriptive. That distinction was not very helpful for me.) So, say a king enters into a covenant with another land of course obligations came with it for both sides e.g., taxes, worship, support. The obligations do not make the basis of the relationship a contract, since a contract’s distinctive feature is that it is based on convenience, but the obligations make the relationship a reality. The obligations that are found in a covenant are to be understood as being for the mutual benefit of both parties.

5) Morality does play in keeping with contracts, but morality is the basis of for the obligations in a covenant.4 As I sit here, in the Raleigh-Durham airport, my flight was supposed to leave at 7:00am yet, due to mechanical and scheduling issues I cannot leave until at least 2:00pm. This failure does not make American Airlines morally bad or wrong since our relationship was one that was based on something other than personal commitment.  The more I think about this distinction the more I think it it may work. One problem remains for me, though. If the distinction holds true, it may not have the payoff that Campbell and Torrence claim? I guess that problem is for my next couple of weeks of reflection.

1 SJT 65(1): 82–89 (2012)
2 Punishment here refers to inflicting pain to a party without the purpose of this pain being changed behavior for the benefit of the person who is receiving the pain.
3 Discipline her refers to inflicting pain to a party with the purpose of this pain being that it aids the party in changing their behavior for their benefit. This does not exclude anger in the offended party.
4 A swindler is not morally wrong because he failed in his obligations but he or she is wrong due to lie that the relationship was based upon.

Crispin Fletcher-Louis’s New Blog is Up and Running

Crispin Fletcher-Louis has just begun his new blog here. I have thoroughly enjoyed Fletcher-Louis’s articles and monographs thus far and I’m excited to see the small engagements on his blog regarding temple studies, divine priesthood, divine humanity, etc. His earlier monograph entitled “Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology, and Soteriology” in the WUNT series is a very intriguing look at angelomorphic priestly Christology and participation. His following monograph entitled “All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls” is an in depth treatment of many of the texts regarding the divine priestly anthropology apparent in the DSS, much of which he wanted to further pursue after his work in the Lukan corpus. He includes an interesting commentary on the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice for those interested in these mystical priestly texts. Make sure and check out his first blog post on “The High Priesthood of All Believers.” Enjoy.