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

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