What is the Center of Paul? A Three Corded Rope?

21 05 2010
Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854
Image via Wikipedia

A friend of mine (Jason Hood) is in the process of writing an article about the kingdom of God as the center of Paul’s thinking -If I’ve understood him right. This is an age old question, but after I wrote a response to Jason, I thought it might be worth posting it for others to interact with…

Jason, you have emphasized the continuity of the concept, i.e. suggested how other key ideas and expression (eschatology, union with Christ) may be consumed under the kingdom of God. I would like to hear about the discontinuity too – why in the  Pauline corpus do we see him choosing this expression when he does, over against another descriptor. I.e. in the absence of a passage which explains why this particular expression IS a summary of these other ideas (I don’t know of any passage that brings them all together), why does Paul choose to use other expressions besides this one and why does he choose to use this expression where he does.

My only concern as I have thought about this subject myself (I start my lectures on Paul’s letter with three full weeks on the center of Paul) is a pedagogical one. Kingdom is quite an impersonal concept, as are redemptive history and eschatology. Union with Christ is a REALLY personal way for Paul to say things. Maybe this (in part) answers the question of “Why this expression?” (above), but there is also a pedagogical rub with what you are trying to say in your article. If someone says to me that “kingdom of God is the center of Paul” It sounds very corporate – which of course many today would be happy about! But given the VERY personal nature of “with/in Christ” how in your article can you capture the idea that the center of Paul is (in fact) very personal?

For what it is worth, I teach that the center of Paul is a three corded rope – union with Christ, redemptive history & eschatology. You may then state this three different ways depending (pedagogically) on what you/Paul wants to emphasize 1) The center of Paul is Jesus, who fulfills redemptive history by ushing in the eschaton; or 2) The center of Paul redemptive history, which now finds its fulfillment in Jesus ushering in the eschaton; or 3) The center of Paul is eschatology, which in Christ is the beginning of the end for redemptive history. Perhaps the redemptive history side could be restated as kingdom, since this is OT language for the hope of Israel, which finds finds a subversiveness expression in Christianity in that the way the eschaton works out and also the nature of God‘s Christ. It is this subversive edge as well as Paul’s desire to be personal, which perhaps explains why he must add the other two cords to this rope.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Review of Granville Sharp’s Canon and Its Kin

11 01 2010

Allow me to share the (unedited) conclusion of my review of Dan Wallace’s new book. I’ve already offered a few thoughts about the book here, and the rest of the review will be found in the Themelios journal later in the year. Yes, I know it’s a bit gushing, but it reflects my honest opinion!

It is rare to be invited to review a book that is both a landmark and robust to the point of seeming virtually irrefutable. It is a landmark book because it has in my opinion put to rest the debate about Sharp’s rule, and has shown that it is of enormous importance both to Greek syntax and to theological exegesis of the New Testament. Truly, the humble Greek article reaches the heights of the deity of Christ! The book is robust in that it is difficult to imagine its key conclusions being overturned any time soon, if ever. If such claims appear grandiose, the following is more so: this book will stand the test of time as one of the best contributions to Greek syntax of the twentyfirst century. Dr Wallace is to be congratulated, and all serious students of the Greek New Testament should read his book, and will do so to great profit.

Now, go read the book!

Posted by Con Campbell

Douglas Campbell, “The Deliverance of God”

22 10 2009

Douglas Campbell’s new book “The Deliverance of God – An Apocalyptic Rereading of imagesJustification in Paul” is a very substantial work likely to ruffle more feathers than a windstorm in a chicken coup.

This book is a 1000 page “crystallization” of over 20 years of musing on Romans and justification. What he tries to do in a nutshell is chart a new way forward by giving a completely new reading of Romans 1-4. Campbell believes that a correct reading has been stifled by a “justification reading” of these chapters. This he claims is true for almost every past reader. What needs to be realized instead is that in many places Paul is not expressing his own opinions so much as outlining and refuting the ideas of a Jewish teacher. His reading is very much shaped by seeing an ongoing fictitious exchange throughout.

No one is really safe from Campbell’s critique. On the one hand the NPP’s de-emphasis on good works righteousness in Judaism comes under scrutiny. On the other, traditional justification is beaten up both in broad daylight and in every dark alley where Campbell sees it lurking.

What do I think? 1) I don’t like the “everyone else is bias” approach that has somehow become fashionable in this discussion; 2) I do like the fact that he tries a new reading of Romans 1-4, which I think is overdue; 3) I don’t like the way he relies on the ficticious dialogue throughout. I think this dialogue is right for Romans 2.1-3.8 but to try and push it out almost everywhere gets quite thin. If the dialogue is wrong at any moment, if Paul is actually asking or answering a question instead, then what was the opponent’s opinion suddenly becomes Paul’s, in a way that could turn his whole thesis on its head. This indeed is what I think can and will happen as more thorough attention is paid to some of the rhetorical clues that have been missed by Campbell and the apocalyptic side is developed more naturally.

9/10 for critique of others; 8/10 for charting a new way of approaching Romans 1-4; 6/10 for execution of a new reading; and 3/10 for the conclusion that results.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Who is Babylon the Prostitute in Revelation?

18 10 2009
Hanging Balls Of Babylon
Image by Vermin Inc via Flickr

Revelation is one of those books (letters?) that is tough for anyone to read. So much confusing imagery, lots of controversy at every turn. I’m not going to attempt to unravel its mysteries , but I will argue for something I think is pretty important, which can then act as a key for opening up other things: Who is Babylon the prostitute? In many different ways the Letter / book itself points to: earthly Jerusalem. Here’s some of the reasons:

Reason #1 – Unfaithful Jerusalem was portrayed as a prostitute in the OT (Ezek 23), so the metaphor here is just the same.

Reason #2 – Jerusalem has already been called by the names of other wicked cities in Revelation (see 11:8), so there is a precedent for it going by the name of yet another OT city.

Reason #3 – The woman with stars on her head in Chap. 12 (Jerusalem) gets transported into the wilderness in 12:14. Then when John gets taken into the wilderness himself, he sees a woman: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet.” Same place is suggestive of the same woman – she has become corrupted in the wilderness (another OT theme for Israel).

Reason #4 – Only other woman (besides Jezebel, 2.20) in Revelation is the bride (contrasting the prostitute) and she is the heavenly Jerusalem. Logically then there is a contrast between unfaithful earthly Jerusalem and the faithful heavenly one (21:10)

Reason #5 – The prostitute cannot be the Rome (next best possibility), because Rome is the city of seven hills (17:9) which is the beast on which she rides – a picture of Jerusalem prostituting herself to Rome.

Reasons #6 – … and the beast turns on here (17:16) which is perfectly explained by the destruction of Jerusalem under the Romans in the year 70.

Reason #7 Note also how in 4Ezra, Ezra has a vision of a woman and it ends up being Jerusalem:

[EZRA HAS A VISION AND SEES A WOMAN…] [I] turned to her and said to her, “Why are you weeping, and why are you grieved at heart?” ”Let me alone, my lord,” she said, “that I may weep for myself and continue to mourn, for I am greatly embittered in spirit and deeply afflicted.” And I said to her, “What has happened to you? Tell me.” She said to me, “Your servant was barren and had no child, though I lived with my husband thirty years…” [SHE GOES ON FOR A BIT AND THEN …] suddenly she uttered a loud and fearful cry, so that the earth shook at the sound. And I looked, and behold the woman was no longer visible to me, but there was an established city (!!!)

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Galatians 1.14

14 09 2009

καὶ προέκοπτον (ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ) (ὑπὲρ πολλοὺς συνηλικιώτας) (ἐν τῷ γένει μου),

↑περισσοτέρως ζηλωτὴς ὑπάρχων τῶν πατρικῶν μου παραδόσεων.

Continuing the description of his former way of life, Paul here indicates his zeal and success within Judaism. First, he was advancing beyond many of his contemporaries (ὑπὲρ πολλοὺς συνηλικιώτας). The imperfect προέκοπτον continues on from the two imperfects in 1.13 to convey descriptive information—a common function of imperfective aspect.

Second, Paul was extremely zealous for the traditions of his ancestors. The subordinate participial clause 1.14b begins with the comparative adverb περισσοτέρως (even more so), with which Paul could be outdoing himself or outdoing others. That is, the adverb could be comparative to his advancing in Judaism, such that he would be be saying that he was advancing in Judaism but even more so he was zealous for his ancestral traditions. Or the adverb could be comparative to his contemporaries, such that he would be saying that he was more zealous for the traditions than his contemporaries were. The clause would then read as follows: Paul was advancing beyond many of his contemporaries, being even more zealous than they for their ancestral traditions. Either option is possible. However, given that the first half of the verse sees Paul comparing himself to others, it follows that the second half is furthering the comparison: Paul was advancing beyond his contemporaries and was more zealous for their ancestral traditions than they were.

The affect of this comparison is to underscore the radical nature of Paul’s conversion, which will be described from the next verse on. Not only was Paul an ‘extreme’ persecutor of the church (1.13)—and thus wholeheartedly committed to preserving true Judaism (as he then saw it)—but he was a rising star of Judaism.

Until Christ was revealed to him.

Posted by Con Campbell

Galatians 1.13

13 09 2009

Ἠκούσατε γὰρ τὴν ἐμὴν ἀναστροφήν ποτε (ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ),

↑ὅτι (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν) ἐδίωκον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐπόρθουν αὐτήν,

This verse begins a key section of embedded narrative that describes Paul’s former way of life (1.13–14), his conversion and calling through a revelation of Christ (1.15–16), and his lack of consultation with others (1.16–17). Paul begins by referring to the Galatians’ knowledge of who Paul was before his encounter with Christ, indicating that they had heard about his way of life in Judaism. The aorist indicative Ἠκούσατε encodes perfective aspect and here expresses the action in summary. It does not indicate that the Galatians at one particular time or instant heard Paul’s story—indeed, their information may well have been received over an extended period, and even in installments. The aorist simply indicates that the Galatians heard about Paul when he was Saul.

In the subordinate clause of 1.13b, Paul begins to unpack the things that the Galatians would have heard about his previous life with two imperfect indicative verbs. These two verbs, together with the subordinating conjunction ὅτι, shape the descriptive function of this clause. Description is a standard function of the imperfect indicative within narrative (embedded or otherwise), in keeping with its imperfective aspect. Paul describes himself as persecuting the church of God according to excess (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν), and as trying to destroy it (ἐπόρθουν αὐτήν). This second imperfect is translated trying to destroy because it is a conative imperfect, which expresses an attempted (but unsuccessful) action. There is nothing about the imperfect itself that indicates this, but it is simply one of the functions of remote imperfectivity in a context that implies that the action was not successful.[1] Obviously, Paul did not succeed in destroying the church, thus the verb is regarded as conative in function.

As Paul begins this autobiographical section, he is unsparing in the implicit critique of his former way of life. The two actions portrayed are not only violent, but harsh. He executed them in an excessive fashion. And he highlights the vulgarity of his deeds with the possessive genitive of God (τοῦ θεοῦ), which indicates his severe misdirection: in seeking to serve God, it was the church of God that he tried to destroy.

Posted by Con Campbell

[1] See my Basics of Verbal Aspect, 78.

Preaching on Galatians 1.10–12

3 09 2009

The essential point of this small pericope is that because the gospel has come by a revelation of Jesus Christ, it is not a human message, and therefore a slave of Christ will not seek to please people through it. The logic underpinning these verses can be seen by reversing the order of Paul’s points: the gospel comes through revelation (1.12); it is therefore not human (1.11); Paul therefore does not seek to please people (1.10). It is no doubt best, however, to preach the verses as they stand. In this way, a sermon could be structured simply with three points—one for each verse.

First, a slave of Christ is concerned to please God, not people. This is an enormous challenge for Christians today, with pressure from within and without the church to conform to the patterns of our societies. Indeed, heralds of the gospel are not immune from such pressure, but they ought to model the courage required to fulfil their vocation as slaves of Christ. A caveat here, however, would be that Christians should not deliberately cause offence in the name of not being people-pleasers; we do not add stumbling blocks that the gospel itself does not evoke. Additionally, we must avoid the error of thinking that if we are not people-pleasers then we must be pleasing God, for it is possible to please neither man nor God!

Second, our pleasing of God rather than people stems from the fact that the gospel is not a human message. It will not appeal to people on a ‘natural’ level because it is a divine message, which can only be received when God opens our hearts. As such, Christians must avoid the temptation to make the gospel more palatable or more ‘human’. To do so, would be to deny the nature of the gospel, and to fall into the trap of pleasing people rather than God. To ‘humanize’ the gospel is also to rob it of its power, for it will domesticate it to the level of all other human wisdom. Thus, ironically, the preacher who seeks the wider acceptability of the gospel will undermine it.

Third, the gospel is not a human message because it comes by the revelation of Christ. Christ himself has been revealed and forms the content of the message. While we will not receive a personal revelation akin to Paul’s, the gospel that is taught to us has a divine source and origin. It may have been taught to us, but it was revealed to Paul, who learnt it from no man. This underscores the significance of the apostolic gospel; we are not at liberty to proclaim a message—human or otherwise—that contradicts the apostolic witness. Our gospel must be Paul’s gospel, which is, in fact, the message of Christ.

Posted by Con Campbell

Galatians 1.12

1 09 2009

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ (παρὰ ἀνθρώπου) παρέλαβον αὐτὸ

οὔτε διδάχθην

ἀλλὰ (δι᾿ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).

While the previous verse states that the gospel that Paul proclaimed to the Galatians is not according to man—thus focusing on its nature—here Paul declares how he received this gospel. The verse consists of two negative statements followed by a positive statement. The rhetorical force of this verse as it runs on from 1.11 is created by three negatives that deny the possibility of any human source of the gospel, followed by the ultimate—and positive—statement concerning the gospel’s true source: the gospel is not according to man (1.11c); nor did Paul receive it from man (1.12a); nor was it taught to him (1.12b); but rather it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ (1.12c).

The first two negative statements are linked through the correlated conjunctions οὐδὲ and οὔτε: not…nor. The first statement is full, specifying the redundant subject (ἐγὼ), first person verb (παρέλαβον), object (αὐτὸ), as well as the all-important source that is being ruled out: (παρὰ ἀνθρώπου). This may be contrasted to the truncated second statement that simply includes the correlative conjunction οὔτε and the verb (ἐδιδάχθην). The function of this truncation is simply to add a qualification to the first statement: he did not receive the gospel from man, nor was he taught it. It is hard to know whether this qualification is of any special significance, or if Paul is simply reiterating the point that he has underscored throughout this chapter so far. It might be supposed that the two notions of receiving the gospel and being taught the gospel imply slightly different things: the former regards the gospel as a valuable commodity that has been deposited to him (cf. ‘my deposit’, 2 Tim 1.12; also 1 Tim 6.20; 2 Tim 1.14); the latter regards the gospel as something that is passed on through instruction and teaching. Given the emphasis on the gospel as a deposit in the Pastoral Epistles, the former notion may have more to do with the entrusting of the gospel to leaders in the church; leaders receive the gospel, and are thereby entrusted with it for safekeeping as well as proclamation. But when the gospel is proclaimed by such leaders, it is taught to their hearers. While such notions are speculative, they may be seen to reinforce Paul’s point: his gospel was neither received from man, nor taught to him (by man).

The strong adversative ἀλλὰ introduces the positive statement that declares the true source of the gospel. The stength of the statement has a rhetorical facet by virtue of it being a verbless clause. Such clauses are normally significant, and when found in positions other than epistolary greetings can achieve striking prominence. The verbless nature of the clause, however, leaves unclear which verbal concept is to be supplied by the reader. This ambiguity is reflected in the translations, some of which render the verbless clause I received it through a revelation (ESV), while others have it came by a revelation (HCSB). Since Paul regards this knowledge as revelatory in source, some sense of receiving it seems appropriate. After all, revelatory knowledge is not, ordinarily, learnt; its direct and dramatic nature means that it is apprehended, received, taken hold of.

The revelation could be from Jesus Christ (genitive of source) or about Jesus Christ (genitive of apposition), or even of Jesus Christ (genitive of content); the genitive could express either one. While it is standard to regard this expression as indicating source, such that the revelation comes from Jesus Christ, it might be more likely that it indicates content: the gospel was received by Paul through a revelation of Jesus Christ. The main reason for this is that in 1.15–16 Paul says that God was pleased to reveal his Son in me (ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί). His Son is the direct object of the verb to reveal, such that Paul is not saying that the message about Christ was revealed to him, but Christ himself. This is confirmed in the second half of 1.16: so that I could preach Him among the Gentiles. Again, Paul does not say so that I could preach about Him, but so that I could preach Him. Since, therefore, Jesus Christ is himself the revelation of God to Paul, it follows that here in 1.12 the genitive Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ should be taken to express content: Paul received the gospel through the revealing of Christ to him.

It is likely that Paul refers to his encounter with the risen Christ when he speaks of the revealing of Christ to him. On the one hand, the pericope that follows this verse describes his former way of life and then what happened after this revelation was received (1.16 ff), which implies that he does have an event in mind—the Damascus road incident. On the other hand, Paul stops short of explicitly referring to that event. Nevertheless, the contrast between his former way of life and what was to follow underscores the apocalyptic nature of the revelation of Christ: Paul’s life was dramatically reversed as he came into line with the reality of the risen Christ.

Posted by Con Campbell

How not to read (2)

27 08 2009

Of course, you can get things wrong the other way…

NB Before you read this poem, it helps if you know Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib – or at least the first two lines of it, which are:

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;


Very like a Whale

by Ogden Nash

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can’t seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say
   that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn’t just one Assyrian, it was a lot of Assyrians.
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thus hinder longevity.
We’ll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are great many things.
But I don’t imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts
   or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I’ll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf
I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth
   and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to
   destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn’t fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had to invent
   a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers to people they say Oh yes,
   they’re the ones that a lot of wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That’s the kind of thing that’s being done all the time by poets, from Homer to Tennyson;
They’re always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I’ll sleep under a
   half-inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we’ll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you’ll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.


Posted by Rick Creighton

How not to read

25 08 2009

I recently stumbled across an old favourite of mine – it’s lengthy, but it’s worth every word…


It is approximately the year 2790. The most powerful nation on earth occupies a large territory in Central Africa, and its citizens speak Swahili. The United States and other English-speaking countries have long ceased to exist, and much of the literature prior to 2012 (the year of the Great Conflagration) is not extant. Some archaeologists digging in the western regions of North America discover a short but well-preserved text that can confidently be dated to the last quarter of the twentieth century. It reads thus:

Marilyn, tired of her glamorous image, embarked on a new project. She would now cultivate her mind, sharpen her verbal skills, pay attention to standards of etiquette. Most important of all, she would devote herself to charitable causes. Accordingly, she offered her services at the local hospital, which needed volunteers to cheer up terminal patients, many of whom had been in considerable pain for a long time. The weeks flew by. One day she was sitting at the cafeteria when her supervisor approached her and said, “I didn’t see you yesterday. What were you doing?” “I painted my apartment; it was my day off,” she responded.

The archaeologists know just enough English to realise that this fragment is a major literary find that deserves closer inspection, so they rush the piece to one of the finest philologists in their home country. This scholar dedicates his next sabbatical to a thorough study of the text and decides to publish an exegetical commentary on it, as follows:

We are unable to determine whether this text is an excerpt from a novel or from a historical biography. Almost surely, however, it was produced in a religious context, as is evident from the use of such words as devoted, offered, charitable. In any case, this passage illustrates the literary power of twentieth-century English, a language full of metaphors. The verb embarked calls to mind an ocean liner leaving for an adventuresome cruise, while cultivate possibly alerts the reader to Marilyn’s botanical interests. In those days North Americans compared time to a bird – probably the eagle – that flies.

The author of this piece, moreover, makes clever use of word associations. For example, the term glamorous is etymologically related to grammar, a concept no doubt reflected in the comment about Marilyn’s “verbal skills.” Consider also the subtleties implied by the statement that “her supervisor approached her.” The verb approach has a rich usage. It my indicate similar appearance or condition (this painting approaches the quality of a Picasso); it may have a sexual innuendo (the rapist approached his victim); it may reflect subservience (he approached his boss for a raise). The cognate noun can be used in contexts of engineering (e.g. access to a bridge), sports (of a golf stroke following the drive from the tee), and even war (a trench that protects troops besieging a fortress).

Society in the twentieth century is greatly illuminated by this text. The word patient (from patience, meaning “endurance”) indicates that sick people then underwent a great deal of suffering: they endured not only the affliction of their physical illness, but also the mediocre skills of their medical doctors, and even (to judge from other contemporary documents) the burden of increasing financial costs.

A few syntactical notes may be of interest to language students. The preposition of had different uses: casual (tired of), superlative (most important of all), and partitive (many of whom). The simple past tense had several aoristic functions: embarked clearly implies determination, while offered suggests Marilyn’s once-for-all, definitive intention. Quite noticeable is the tense variation at the end of the text. The supervisor in his question uses the imperfect tense, “were doing,” perhaps suggesting monotony, slowness, or even laziness. Offended, Marilyn retorts with a punctiliar and emphatic aorist, “I painted.”

Readers of Bible commentaries, as well as listeners of sermons, will recognize that my caricature is only mildly outrageous

From God, language, and Scripture, by Moisés Silva (p11-13)


Posted by Rick Creighton