Month: October 2010

restful fridays with Ridderbos

This installment is a bit lengthy, but in my opinion worth the time.  It is Ridderbos’ concluding paragraph in his treatment on the parousia, and it is the final paragraph for the entire book.  Enjoy:

With this twofold point of view, namely, [1] that God will be all and in all and [2] that we shall always be with the Lord, everything has really been said thta can be said on the consumation commencing with Christ’s parousia.  Paul’s attention for what is to be in the coming kingdmo is always concentrated on this twofold viewpoint.  This does not alter the fact that he gives expression to the content of this life with Christ and the “all” with which God will fill all in various ways: it is being saved by his  life (Rom 5:10); salvation with eternal glory (2 Tim 2:10); honor and immortality (Rom 2:7; 1 Cor 15:42ff; 2 Tim 1:10); eternal glory (2 Cor 4:17); seeing face to face (1 Cor 13:12); fulfillment of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17); perfect knowing (1 Cor 13:12).  All are concepts of salvation, descriptions of God’s imperishable gift, every one of which has its own context, origin, and nuance, and offers its own special contribution in order to make what is unutterable (2 Cor 12:4) nevertheless known even now in part.  But all these words, likewise as qualifications of the life of the consummation, receive their particular meaning and content only from the gospel of the revelation of the mystery preached by Paul in an incomparable multiplicity of aspects.

–Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 562


I have finally started reading John Ziesler’s, Pauline Christianity (1990 edition) and it has been rather enjoyable thus far.  I’m always curious to see how scholars go about an intro-level book on Paul, especially when the book is around a respectable 150 pages (or less).  Part of my curiosity stems from my desire to write a similar book of my own, thus I am trying to see how scholars deal with various topics, how much they say and what they avoid.  In the present case, Ziesler has done quite well with ‘staying the course’ and not straying too far into arguably difficult territory.  However, I was completely surprised and caught off guard by a seemingly disconnected remark in an otherwise well-presented section.

When dealing with Paul’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage, Ziesler follows the standard path of considering both Hellenistic and Jewish influences (or, ‘inheritance’ as he calls them).  Ziesler first points out that because Paul writes in Greek, employs the Septuagint in scriptural quotations, borrows Stoic and Platonic terms and/or ideas; all of these things (and others) at least point to a basic influence of Hellenism.**  Zielser then moves on to consider other, more substantial possible influences–i.e. the religious aspects.  Here Ziesler once again deals with the standard options: the mystery religions and Gnosticism.

To address both of these topics in roughly two pages for each one is certainly ambitious, but I must applaud Ziesler for his efforts.  In such a short span of text, Ziesler does a fine job with showing the basic similarities as well as the substantive differences between Paul and these respective options.  He then begins to round off this section of the chapter by considering one further possible influence: the (supposed) Hellenistic notion of a good god battling against the forces of an evil one, spiritual powers guiding or determining political activities and so-called guardian angels keeping watch over specific groups or nations.  He argues that Paul shows a familiarity with this sort of thought-world, but Ziesler contends that Paul most likely drew from the OT as his primary source rather than Hellenistic religions, ‘for Judaism had a similar idea even in the Old Testament . . . and is the more ready source of Paul’s conception’ (17).

All of that treatment was fine and good.  Again, to address such things in a short amount of space is respectable and worthy of commendation.  But here is my ‘hullo’ moment.  To finish off this section on Paul’s ‘Hellenistic inheritance’, Ziesler provides the following statement:

[Paul] does, of course, use literary devices familiar to his Hellenistic readers.  For example, on several occasions he conducts a running debate with an imaginary opponent whose arguments and objections are promptly countered (see especially Rom 2 and 3).  Though some doubts have arisen, it is likely that he is employing the Hellenistic device known as the diatribe.  Certainly his freedom and skill in writing included rhetoric.
Pauline Christianity, 17.

I understand that Ziesler is more than likely attempting to balance his comment about the OT being ‘the ready source of Paul’s conception’ in the previous paragraph.  However, after rereading the entire section, I am convinced that such a balance is not really necessary.  The OT comment makes for a good ending for the Hellenistic section and it serves as a useful segue into the next.  Moreover, I think Ziesler’s concluding statement (the one just quoted in full) would have been more useful and effective if it were placed near the start of the Hellenistic section.  After all, Ziesler begins by pointing out that Paul wrote in Greek and was familiar with various Greek styles and ideas.  Finally, and this is really just me being nit-picky: the very last sentence about rhetoric is really a throw-away comment.  Unless Ziesler deals with rhetoric somewhere else in the book, it is not really necessary.  However, it seems to be included because it’s become standard procedure (in some cases dogmatic policy) to say something about rhetoric when dealing with Paul.

* I’ve been watching (and reading) a bit of ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ lately, so the lingo is fresh in mind.
** To be sure, Ziesler hesitates in putting too much stock in the Stoic and Platonic influences.  He argues that much of what seems to be direct knowledge is most likely Paul borrowing things that were more or less gnomic (or, proverbial).

Nice try

I found this comment in my spam folder the other day:*

The interesting thing is that this comment was linked with my post on the (so-called) Lost Gospels.**  I’m not exactly sure how that post had anything to do with first aid for heart attacks.  These spammers need to pay better attention, because disconnected flattery is unproductive and a bit of a let-down.

* Yeah, yeah; I know it’s a couple days old, but I’m running a couple days behind in many areas.
** Yeah, yeah (again); I know that I failed to finish the critique of that programme, but I was dealing with annoying and rather painful headaches.

huh* . . .

One of the challenges (for me) in doing PhD by research is remaining in touch with other topics, subjects and debates, even when such things are within my own discipline (i.e. Pauline studies).  Part of the reason for this comes from the fact that, for the past two years, my day has been fairly routine:  I come to the office around 7.30am, read and write until lunch time (noonish), go home for lunch, come back to the office around 1.00pm, read and write some more before finally going home for the day.  No classes, no lectures, no debates with fellow students in the office, nothing.  Just me, my books, my laptop, my coffee and my brain. 

Another part of the reason has been my focus of study.  When I’m doing my reading and writing during the respective times, I tend to be dealing with materials solely related to 1 Corinthians.  Sure, my project is concerned with multiple topics as well as multiple interpretative approaches in Pauline theology, but the focus remains on how these topics and approaches speak to the argument of 1 Corinthians.  If I were dealing the same topics and/or approaches as found in the other Pauline letters, I would need to be doing a different PhD.  The net result of this was that I started to become too isolated in my research, which is to say the abovementioned ‘challenge’ is my own fault. 

To remedy this, I decided to schedule into my day a time when I could get back in touch with Pauline studies in general.  One of the ways in which I did this was by finding lecture-series on iTunesU related to my discipline as well as those that are simply of interest to me.**  With regard to the latter category, Moises Silva‘s course on ‘New Testament Introduction’ (from Westminster Theological Seminary) is quite good.  With regard to my own discipline, I have recently begun listening to Knox Chamblin‘s course in ‘Pauline Studies’ (from Reformed Theological Seminary).  It was something mentioned in Chamblin’s first talk on Galatians that prompted this post. 

Chamblin makes two cases, one for the date and the other for the recipient of Galatians.  With regard to the latter, Chamblin argues in favour of the so-called ‘south Galatian theory’, which means that the churches in mind for Paul were those established during the so-called ‘first missionary journey’.  I have no real problems with this.  With regard to time of composition, Chamblin argues for an early date for the composition of Galatians–i.e. pre-Jerusalem Council, which means prior to 48 or 49 CE, which necessarily means that Galatians is Paul’s first letter.  I do have some problems with this suggestion, but that is another discussion for another day.

However, in making his case for a pre-Council composition, Chamblin argues (rightly) that Paul’s concern in Galatians is for Gentile-converts to be accepted into the people  of God without requiring them to adhere to the Torah–specifically the rite of circumcision.  Since Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council, Paul’s little spat with Cephas/Peter in Galatians 2 must necessarily (according to Chamblin) occur before to the Council as well.  Thus, when Peter makes his case in front of the elders in Jerusalem and argues for the inclusion of Gentiles without requiring circumcision (see Acts 15.6-11), Peter speaks with his confrontation with Paul in mind. 

Where I had to say, ‘Huh’* was when Chamblin flat out states:

[Peter says:] ‘No, we believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved just as they [Gentiles] are.’   There it is . . .  I think Peter read Galatians before he uttered those words.’

It is with that final claim that the lecture comes to a close.  I checked out the next lecture in the series to see if Chamblin continues his thought, but he doesn’t; he moves right into an examination of the letter and its structure.  The whole ‘I think Peter read Galatians before he uttered those words’ is almost like a hit-and-run kind of claim, one that left me a bit dazed and confused.  I don’t recall seeing anyone make that sort of argument about Peter knowledge of the Galatian letter.  Has anyone else encountered that claim?  Am I missing something?

* A term that here means, ‘Well, that’s interesting’.  (And yes, I totally stole that style of explanation from Lemony Snicket).
** Interestingly enough, the vast majority of these series come from Reformed seminaries.  I have only been able to find one or two that are not from a Reformed tradition.

in other news

While rootin’ around the various news sites today, I came across a few bits that were rather interesting–some slightly humorous, others more serious.  First up is the recent claim that ‘astronomers have found the oldest galaxy so far‘.  I’m not bothered about the claims about the age of the universe, or its various components, mainly because such things do not affect my belief in God.  My only concern is that such a claim is ultimately relative.  Who’s to say that the Hubble Telescope missed something older simply because it was looking in the wrong direction, or maybe simply a half-degree to the left or the right of the current find?  Sure, finding something really über old in the universe is quite cool; but let’s not shoot off all the fireworks at once.

Second on the list is the ‘finding‘ that the Mayan calendar, which (supposedly) predicted the end of the world, was wrong.  Or, we should say: the people making claims about the world’s destiny using the Mayan calendar were a bunch of plankers.*  First of all, there is nothing objectively special about the Mayan calendar; it is merely one of several forms of time reckoning from the ancient world.  Moreover, it is ultimately based on the people who established the perimeters for that particular calendar–in the same way that the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Roman and Jewish calendars were created.  Why prioritise the Mayans over everyone else?  What I like is that the article pokes a little fun at ‘believers’ who, hook-line-and-sinker, bought into the (whacked-out) theories of those who said the world would end.  Yeah, it’s certainly bad news for them.  But thankfully for those (false) ‘prophets’, the biblical rules regarding false prophecy are not strictly followed (see Deut 13 and 18).

Finally, news about potential University closures still looms large.  The financial cuts will affect smaller Universities first and hardest, of which my place of study is one, before hitting various departments in larger Universities.  (Although it is certainly possible that the respective results will be contemporaneous, but let’s not be pedantic about it).  Seeing that I’m potentially on the receiving end of this, I’m naturally concerned about the outcome.  However, what struck me the most about this present article was this specific claim:

In future, only science, technology, maths and engineering will be funded by the Government, with other subjects being financed by student fee income.

Well, it’s comforting to know that the Government has not formed a biased opinion about what matters most for society–or, the greater good.  (And yes, that last remark was made with tongue firmly planted against the cheek).  If that’s not an ideological agenda, I’m not sure what it is.

* The mentally dense, not the profession.

this and that

It’s been a quite busy, yet absolutely wonderful two weeks.  (Well, week and a half; this one is still in the making).  My parents made the trek across the small lake that separates Atlanta from Cheltenham and spent a full week with us (from 12-Oct to 19-Oct).  They have never been to England, so my gorgeous wife and I made sure they got to see some of the best parts.  This meant giving them a whistle-stop tour of the lower half of the Cotswolds, taking them to some of our favourite villages and pubs.  We even took a day and ventured over to Chepstow (Wales) so that they could see a properly old castle.  It was so comforting to see my parents and spend time with them again.  My lovely wife and I are already plotting on how to get them back over for a longer stay.

Near the tail end of my parents’ visit, I had to attend to various responsibilities which forced me to exercise my time management skills.  Thursday night (the 14th), I had my usual class that I teach for WEMTC.  I admittedly fell behind in preparing the fine points of that night’s lecture (i.e. handouts, powerpoint slides), so Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening became my two opportunities to get things ready.  Thankfully, the night went very well and the class essentially taught itself, partly because the students were deeply tuned in to the discussion and its direction.  The other part was simply due to the questions and comments they had for our topic (which was on Paul’s understanding of justification as found in Galatians 3).  Things went so well that we unknowingly slipped past our 10pm cut-off time and no one complained.

Friday morning (the 15th) was the first in a series of Bible studies hosted by the chaplaincy at the University, and I had agreed to lead the first one.  When I offered to lead originally (near the end of September), I had a topic in mind and wrote the outline for it fairly quickly.  However, tasks related to my research studies took priority and required all of my attention, energy and available brain power.  These tasks pushed me  up to the week before my parents’ visit, which meant that the Bible study at that time was more or less a hodgepodge of ideas and notes.  If I would have taught from them ‘as is’, I’m sure it would have been incomprehensible–maybe even heretical!  Thankfully, I was able to steal a couple of hours Thursday night after my class to put things right and make sense of the notes.  As with my class the night before, the study went incredibly well–not because of what I had to say, but because of the dialogue between everyone present.  I am deeply grateful for the patience as well as the insight from everyone involved.

Saturday (the 16th) was mostly a breather for me, although I did need to finalise my sermon for Sunday (found here).  Side note: our church has been doing a study on the 10 Commandments, with one week given to each one, and we have been doing them in reverse order.  I knew that I was on the books to preach one of them, but I was not sure which it would be.  Shortly after my parents planned their trip, the vicar asked me to preach on the 17th, which happened to be the Sunday my parents would be in town.  Interestingly enough, the Commandment allotted to me was, ‘honour your father and mother.’  Slightly more interesting was the fact that I had just been in dialogue with my brother about that same Commandment.*  This meant that the significance (or, relevance) of that Commandment was still fresh in mind, which made some of the writing process rather easy.  It also meant that I could use some of the ideas my brother didn’t.  End of side note.

My only real difficulty in writing that sermon, however, was that we are following the study given by J. John.  While the series basically follows his outline, it also seems to emerge from his own experiences.  When it came to ‘honour your father and mother’, the focus was on: how to do the honouring thing when you’re in a crappy family.  I certainly see the relevance of that type of focus, and I certainly understand that some families today are more than crappy.  However, that’s not my experience.  I’m not saying life was easy growing up or that my family never had any problems.  (I’m quite certain I caused plenty of them).  All that I’m saying is that when difficulties arose or when problems surfaced in the home they were dealt with in a godly way, and this way of handling things ensured growth, understanding and respect.  This difference in focus or perspective caused me to rewrite much of what was ‘supposed to be’ said on Sunday, and much of this rewriting took place Saturday morning (before anyone else woke up) and Saturday evening.**  I should also acknowledge that much of what I wrote came out of my conversations with my beautiful wife and my loving parents on Friday.

Sunday (the 17th) was a wonderful day; attendance was more than usual, the singing was inspirational, the prayers were real and heartfelt, and the conversations afterward were encouraging.  (I’m guessing the sermon was helpful simply because nobody ran me out of the church or threw shoes at me).  The only thing missing was our vicar and his family, although their absence could not be helped.  If you are the praying sort, please do remember our vicar, Roger as well as his family in your prayers–his father passed away last week after an arduous fight with cancer.  Even though Rog says not to be sad but to celebrate because his father served in the church for ’60 odd years’ and is now with Christ; prayers of comfort are still relevant and meaningful.

Monday (the 18th) was the last hurrah in showing my parents more of the Cotswolds.  Surprisingly, they wanted to revisit both our favourite village (Stow-on-the-Wold) and pub (Fox Inn, in Broadwell).  Neither my darling wife nor I complained about the request.  We spent the bulk of the day in Stow, enjoying lunch at a quaint little restaurant (the Vine Leaf), coffee from our new favourite shop (Willoughby’s) and perusing the various charity shops in town.  I almost forgot: there was a necessary stop at the chocolatier in town–not for me, of course seeing that I loath the stuff.  The evening was capped off with a lovely dinner and comforting conversation.   We all crashed early that night, partly because of the busyness of the day, another part because of the amount of food we ate, and the last part because of the early wake-up call the following morning.

Tuesday (the 19th) was probably the hardest day for me: it was the day I had to drive my parents back to the (London) airport so that they could fly home.  Their week-long visit with us seemed to go by too quickly, and I cannot think of how many times on our journey to London I wanted to turn the car around and say, ‘Forget it; you’re staying here with us’.  It had been just over two years since I last saw my parents in person, and I guess I didn’t realise just how much I missed them.  I know now.  However, their love for me and their unyielding support for what I’m doing make things easier to manage, and such things motivate me to finish in a timely manner so that the separation is not prolonged more than it should be.  So yeah, it was a tough drive to London (and back), but I’m focusing on the time we had together during their stay.  It was a great week.

The rest of this week has thus far been fairly normal, but there are a couple of differences.  Wednesday (the 20th), I attempted to return to the office and get some things done that were necessarily post-poned.  However, my attempts failed miserably because I was smacked with another headache–which we now know are mild migraines–and this caused my ability to focus to fail as well.  I tried to muscle through the early parts of it, but ultimately had to succumb to the prescribed drugs, which usually kick my butt.  As a result, I went home early and remained in a fog for the rest of the night.

Today, things started to look up seeing that the majority of the headache was gone.  However, our fuzzy little ‘mule was acting strange and refused to use her litter box.  When she finally did use it, we noticed that she was once again having difficulty and was leaving small drops of blood.  We immediately knew it was another UTI, which meant another trip to the vet.  This wound up disrupting our respective morning responsibilities, but we did what needed to be done.  Thankfully, the vet did not take very long and I was able to attend to a few necessary bits that needed to be completed before noon.  Later this afternoon, we are expecting the arrival of my beautiful wife’s sister, brother-in-law and their son, who will all be staying with us for a couple of days.  (They should be here within the hour).  The only real down side for this evening is that I can only play host until about 6pm–I have my final class to teach tonight.  However, tomorrow is wide open, which means we can enjoy our time together.

* My brother has been working through the 10 Commandments since the start of the year, and he plans to take the rest of the year to finish it.  (There are a few weeks where random topics are explored between some of the Commandments).  I highly recommend checking out the series, which you can find on his church’s website.  Click on ‘Launch Sermon Player’ at the bottom.
** For the record, it is not my habit to be so ‘last minute’ with sermon writing.

restful fridays with Ridderbos

This is not so much a quote from Ridderbos as it is a wrestling with one of his key themes.  As such, this post will be more of me thinking out loud.  Spending any amount of time with his work on Paul will reveal that Ridderbos is deeply interested in the eschatological shape of Paul’s message (or, gospel) and its implications for the present world.  (By ‘present’, I mean Paul’s time primarily, but also our time by extension).

Much of what Paul teaches about God’s dealing with the world, the sending of a messianic figure to inaugurate God’s kingdom, the liberating of those in exile, the bringing about of justification for the unrighteous and the establishment of a restored cosmos (and a few other bits) are entirely congruent with his Jewish heritage and beliefs.  If Paul spoke in rather broad terms, very few Jews in his day would disagree with his the general substance of his proclamation.  To put it differently: Paul’s basic eschatological views would have been viewed as safe (or, non-threatening).

However, because he did not speak in broad terms but advocated specific ideas about God’s present interactions, a definite Messiah, the in-breaking of the kingdom, freedom from exile, first-fruits of justification and the beginnings of new creation, Paul would have been perceived as not only incongruent with the Judaism of his day but also an apostate to it.*  To say it bluntly: Paul’s specific eschatological views would have been viewed as disruptive.  As far as I can tell, and what I’m seeing implicitly argued in Ribberbos: one of the fundamental reasons for this deals with the issue of timing.

In terms of Jewish eschatology, and I’m using a rather large brush at this point, the general themes mentioned above (twice) were understood to be reserved for ‘the end’–i.e. somewhere out in the unknown/distant future.  Moreover, when the events described in those themes are actualized in the distant future, there is nothing else; it’s victory for the good guys and game over for the baddies.  Admittedly, in at least one Qumran tradition on what could be labelled, ‘eschatological messianism’ (or, ‘messianic eschatology’–take your pick), there is the belief that the messianic age will last for 400 years before God’s kingdom is firmly established and God’s enemies are overthrown.  However, even if we follow that tradition the central eschatological motifs are still presented as future events that brings all things to a close.

Where Paul’s eschatological teaching becomes disruptive is in the fact that he proclaims Jesus to be God’s Messiah, sent into the world to bring about freedom, to justify the unrighteous and to inaugurate God’s kingdom (i.e. new creation).  Paul emphatically announces that this has happened in his own time; it is not something waiting to be revealed in the unknown future.  For Paul, what was expected to be reserved for a later epoch in human history has been brought backward and (partially) actualized in the unexpected person of Jesus.  (I say ‘partially’ because the fulness of the eschatological hope will not be known until Christ’s return).  It seems as though this timing of Paul’s eschatological teaching is that which causes the most difficulty, because he now has to account for a dying Messiah, the persistence of evil in the world (whether it be spiritual forces or political tyranny), why the fulness of God’s kingdom has not been established, how it is that justification is present reality, etc.

* David Kinghoffer’s book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus (2005) essentially states that Paul’s teaching about Jesus is the leading cause for Jewish rejection of Jesus as God’s Messiah.