Wright, Wisdom, and the Return from Exile to Zion

In ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’, N.T. Wright spends a good number of pages developing his return-from-exile theme. There’s a lot to this and I think most of it is spot-on. Some time ago, however, I read an interesting blog post, where the author noted a lack of textual support for one of Wright’s claims – namely, that in Ben Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, the mode of YHWH’s return to Zion was that of Wisdom (let’s call this the Wisdom Return Thesis – WRT). What I want to do is look closely at Wright’s claim from a textual standpoint as well as from more of a meta-level, since he grounds a good deal of WRT in its prevelance in second-temple literature, and these two books in particular. What is Wright’s specific claim? On page 655, he lays it out  clearly: Continue reading

Notes on Stephen’s Speech

– Two things should be noted right off the bat: it’s the longest single speech in the New Testament, and it doesn’t jive to well with a lot of the other New Testament in terms of critique – Stephen is much harsher in his condemnation of the temple than Luke is, for example.

– The two main passages of Scripture that Stephen quotes are Amos 5:25-27 (in verses 42-43) and Isaiah 66:1-2 (in verses 49-50. Respectively, these deal with the themes of idolatry and God using the world as a footstool – i.e., not contained in a house built by hands. I think from these two specific quotations and the general theme of the speech, it can reasonably be assumed that Stephen saw the temple as not only superfluous in light of Christ but as totally unnecessary and even wrong from the very beginning. The entire temple apparatus simply allows the idolatry that Stephen takes to be part and parcel of the Hebrew people a greater reign.

– Being rather convinced by Wright’s thesis that the temple at the time of Jesus was more or less a talisman of a violent and nationalistic religion, I think it can Stephen’s speech can also be reasonably seen as a critique of Jewish privilege. Stephen traces a lineage of turning from God and his oracles in v. 38-41 – and note that it is the oracles of God that Paul connects with the advantage or privilege of the Jew. Stepehen also effectively turns the tables on his accusers by arguing that in their betrayal and murder of Jesus, they were the ones who broke the law as delivered by angels (an invocation which establishes its legitimacy). So, whereas Paul points to the receiving of the oracles of God as a privilege or advantage of the Jew, Stephen sees the idolatry present in his fathers as causing them to reject these oracles. Being also generally convinced of Wright’s thesis that a problem with the Judaism of the time was that it had developed into a closed-off ethnic religion or identity, I think that Stephen can be taken to be arguing that the privilege of the Jew had turned into a hoarding of the oracles of God.

– More evidence here could be cited from the examples Stephen gives of God’s revealing and workings in Hebrew history – such revelations are not restricted to certain people in the Holy Land but rather wherever God’s faithful servants can be found – Egypt, Mesopotamia, wherever. In his narrative, Stephen seems to connect the building of the temple with the stagnation of Israel’s religion.

– A very interesting transition occurs between v. 39 and v. 51 – in the former, Stephen refers to ‘our fathers’, who refused to obey Moses. In the latter, Stephen refers to ‘your fathers’, who resist the Holy Spirit in the same way that Stephen’s accusers do. What I think is happening here is summed up by Bruce Metzger in ‘The New Testament, It’s Background, Growth and Content’:

‘The reader can detect in the speech overtones of a growing awareness that the new faith could not be limited by Judaism and that it was the true goal of Hebrew history. The seeds of theological revolution lie within Stephen’s challenge of the alleged privilege of the Jews, and the logic implicit in his argument opened the way for a Christian mission to the Gentiles. In short, Stephen stands for a Christianity that was coming to realize its independence and self-sufficiency and was beginning to feel that it must either absorb Judaism or break with it.’ (p. 189)

Reading Notes 2/22/15: How God Became Jesus and Aquinas

I picked up the response to Bart Ehrman’s latest book, ‘How Jesus Became God’, which is titled, ‘How God Became Jesus’. So far it’s a solid little volume – Simon Gathercole’s piece on what the earliest Christians thought of Jesus is so far the winner of the group, though I did enjoy Mike Bird’s expositions of the return-of-YHWH-to-Zion theme in the NT. What caught my eye with Gathercole was an interesting note on Psalm 110:1, which, to paraphrase Gathercole, shows that Jesus doesn’t simply climb over his enemies, as it were, to defeat them, but rather they are placed under his feet by God. That would be itneresting to flesh out further within the context of a Christus Victor atonement theory. All in all a handy little book on some key New Testament christological topics – early Christian worship, Jesus’ self-understanding, burial traditions, etc. It feels a bit rushed in places and it definitely could have been bigger, but, given the popular nature of Ehrman’s book, it makes sense that a poplar level response was put out. Enough references are made to more specialized studies, though, that should the reader want more it can be easily found. Also, despite its rush to press and some negative reviews floating about, this is not a knee-jerk conservative reply to a big bad nonchristian scholar. While a bit rushed feeling, as I said, this represents genuine engagement with a serious scholar raising good questions about the nature of early Christian devotion to and worship of Jesus

I also got a selection of readings of Aquinas, which is already proven very helpful. All the big topics are covered – the soul, being and essence, principles of nature, ethics, proofs of God – and it’s handy to have all this in one good-sized paperback for quick reference (I’m a big believer in references books, in case you didn’t know). Aquinas’ style is fairly easy to read though the subject matter can be a bit dense. His writing and argumentation definitely improves the older he gets though – his first works are pretty wham-bam, but by the time we get to the Summa, it’s a very patient, almost relaxed style.

A Few Notes on ‘Written on the Heart’ in 2 Corinthians 3

Reading ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’, I came to a short exposition on 2 Corinthians 3 – and I decided to pause and dig a bit deeper into it, specifically the theme of ‘written on the heart’.

– An interesting (but by no means exhaustive) chain of uses of the theme of ‘written on the heart’ can be traced through Deuteronomy 6, Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. Roughly, each of those passages can be mapped as such:

(1) Deuteronomy 6 = slavery/exodus/Shema

(2) Jeremiah 31 = renewal of people covenant, noting Israel’s unfaithfulness in verse 32

(3) Ezekiel 36 = the vindication of Israel, and the new spirit, noting that Israel profaned God’s name among the nations

Finally, in 2 Corinthians 3, we have a few different things going on:

– the new covenant

– the fulfillment of various OT covenant promises, both of which occur within the context of Paul’s ministry to the Corinthian church and the life of the Corinthian church itself.

– the reflection and beholding of glory/Shema, which is an interesting use of temple-language in regards to the church

– said glory is revealed not in the physical temple, but in the new temple, the true temple, the people of God, unveiled by the spirit

– the rough conclusion of the chapter seems to in effect be that in the apostolic ministry of Paul, and in the life of the Corinthian church, we have the fullfillment and embodiment of the OT covenant promises.

Reading Notes 1/4/2015

I received ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’, Christmas eve, and finished the first volume in roughly 7 days – lots to think about. While I’m onboard with most of what Wright argues, I think he seriously overstates the theme of Israel’s national failure – partly because, at a textual level, the evidence he needs just isn’t there. Arguing from the implicit to the explicit is fine – but when every lack of data is brushed off with ‘the implicit narrative’ or ‘every second-temple Jew would have known this’, there’s a problem. Wright’s thesis is strained, at best – the texts he argues from (largely Romans 2:17-23 among others) simply don’t support his idea. I don’t even think he needs it, honestly. I wonder if he’s holding on to said thesis just for the heck of it. For a much more scholarly critique, see Larry Hurtado. It was nice to see him town down some of the anti-imperal rhetoric and relegate it to a somewhat more implicit role (somewhat).

I’ve been reading Pelikan’s Reformation volume, along with various writings of Luther, trying to get a handle of Lutheran dogmatics – christology, specifically (communication of attributes and all that). Christologically, I’d side with the Lutherans over the Reformed (who really do have some Nestorian tendencies), though the Lutherans have their own Eutychian leanings. When it comes to the law/covenant, though, Reformed wins every time. Even allowing for Luther’s rhetoric, I can’t get behind his idea of the law being an ideal that huamnity can’t attain, and in virtue of that, driving one to Christ. Two great web resources on this specific issue: Concordia Theology and Lutheran Theology

I forgot that I had a volume with the major christological dogmatics of Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazanien, and Athanasius, as well as all the major christological documents from the post-nicene controversies – Nestorius/Cyril, Leo’s tome, Chalcedon/Constantinople statements, Arius/Eusebius, etc. I’ve been reading the Nestorius/Cyril exchange, as well as the various christological statements.

My Cambridge Companions to Aquinas, Augustine and Plato have all arrived – I’m about halfway through the Augustine volume, which is fun because I’ve never really read and secondary work on him aside from an article here and there. It’s good to get a better handle of Augustine – though funny enough, as sophisticated as his metaphysic is, his theology is pretty blunt – ‘God damned you. Deal with it.’ But seriously though – good volume. Excellent article on the nature of God – so far that’s the standout. There are essays on his epistemology, philosophy of time, memory, language, cognition, etc. Looking forward to it.

I’ve also been reading a good amount of sci-fi short stories, starting with basic Star Wars (the ‘Tales From’ series) and branching into space opera, reading from this great volume. Lots of great old stories – it’s especially interesting reading the ‘harder’ sci-fi from older periods. In one instance, the ‘ether’ was said to have currents, waves, etc, that spaceships could get sucked into – lots of great fun.

Thoughts On The People of God as Temple

I forget what exactly inspired this topic, but I was thinking about Paul’s use of ‘temple’ language in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – broadly, Paul identifies God’s people as the temple. I dug a bit into the latter passage, which is a kind of mash-up of several Old Testament passages – Leviticus 26:12, Ezekiel 37:27 and 2 Samuel 7:14. A few rough and uninspired notes:

– Each of those three OT passages invoke either the ‘your God/my people’ or ‘your father/my son’ covenantal formulas – Paul grounds the identity of God’s people in this very covenant-focused passages.

– The purity/ethical aspects of both 2 Cor 6;14-18 and the OT texts it quotes are brought into sharper relief when considering the temple/covenant language. Impurity in the context of temple equals desecration.

– In a nutshell, Paul seems to be locating matters of purity/ethics within the context of the temple – the people of God being the temple, or being where God dwells, where forgiveness and the presence of God is. This sharpens the issue considerably.

– Related to this is the use of exclusionary language which Paul invokes. The temple is to be kept pure and undefiled.

– The three OT texts have some interesting themes – Leviticus is obviously a more ethical text, 2 Samuel has a more prophetic/eschtalogical dimension to it, and Ezekiel is soundly eschatalogical. I wonder if a trajectory could be argued here, pointing towards the eventual birth of the people of God as the temple. More work could stand to be done here.

A Few MidWeek Links

A few fun links I’ve found on the web:

What N.T. Wright does with the early high christology of Hurtado, Tilling and Bauckham, by  Andrew Perriman

‘Wright aims to take the EHC argument a step further—in a way that effects some measure of reconvergence between the two strands, though he doesn’t put it in such terms. He accepts Hurtado’s thesis that it was the experience of the presence of the risen Christ that led the early Christians to worship Jesus and then develop a high christology through a rereading of the scriptures. Chris Tilling’s relational christology gets an approving mention in passing. But the more important hypothesis to emerge in recent explorations of early christology is Bauckham’s argument that Jesus is included in the unique “divine identity” of the one God.’

To Trust the Person Who Wrote the Books, by Francesca Aran Murphy  (review of Stephen Long’s book on Barth/Balthasar, with a reply by Long)

‘The thesis of this book is that von Balthasar spotted that when Karl Barth criticized the Catholic idea of an analogy of being between creatures and God, he had confused the Catholic analogia entis with the doctrine of a “pure nature,” used by Tridentine Catholic theologians to theorize a virtual reality which is emptied of grace. Long’s thesis is that von Balthasar thought that when Karl Barth heard “analogy of being between creatures and God” the word “creatures” got itself translated into “pure nature” and so Barth imagined that Catholics were constructing a real (rather than hypothetical) foundation for theology upon this “pure nature,” which is graceless and Godless. Long observes that von Balthasar has not only this negative observation about Barth to contribute, but also a positive perception of a “turn” toward acknowledgement of the “analogy” made by Barth round about the time he wrote his book on Anselm, and which is apparent in the Church Dogmatics. Barth may prefer to call it “analogy of faith” rather than “analogy of being,” but in effect he has perceived that, in the person of Christ, there is an analogy between creature (created human nature) and God (uncreated divine nature), and that this analogy is the operative center of theology. Long’s thesis is, moreover, that von Balthasar was right about this, and not merely right about that as a textual claim with regard to Barth’s writings, but right about reality—there is a Christ-formed analogy of being between creatures and God, and above all there is no non-hypothetically, actually existent pure nature.’

Wagner and German Idealism, by Roger Scruton

‘Wagner was to the end of his life a philosopher. All the currents of philosophical thinking that were important in his day, from Fichte’s idolisation of the self to Marx’s critique of the capitalist economy, and from Feuerbach’s repudiation of religion to Schopenhauer’s theory of the will, left traces in his dramas. There is no work of philosophy that delves so deeply into the paradoxes of erotic love as Tristan and Isolde, no work of Christian theology that matches Wagner’s exploration of the Eucharist in Parsifal, and no work of political theory that uncovers the place of power and law in the human psyche with the perceptiveness of The Ring. While taking us into the heart of philosophical concerns, however, Wagner never sacrifices concrete emotion to abstract ideas. Indeed, Tristan and Isolde, to take what for me is the greatest example of this, succeeds in displaying the philosophical mystery of erotic love only because Wagner creates a believable drama, and music that moves with the force and momentum of desire.’

The Conversation Shifts, by Scot McKnight

Some thought this new perspective on Paul — typified in the writings of Sanders, Dunn, and N.T Wright — would unravel the guts of the Reformation doctrine of sin (self-justification) and justification if one did not check the new wave of thinking. All the while at the foundation of this new perspective was a genuinely radical revision of what Judaism was all about. As it turns out, the “old” perspective assumed and in some ways required that Judaism (and especially Paul’s critiques) be a works based religion. With the growing conviction that Judaism was a covenant and election based religion (Sanders, Wright) there came a radical change in how Paul’s opponents were understood and therefore what Paul was actually teaching. He was, to use the words of Dunn, opposing “boundary markers” more than self-justification.’