PhD studies

quote of the day

This comes from my morning reading:

the human spirit is unable to compel the divine Spirit to enter the human spirit.  The attempt to do so belongs directly to the ambiguities of religion and indirectly to the ambiguities of culture and morality.  If religious devotion, moral obedience, or scientific honesty could compel the divine Spirit to “descend” to us, the Spirit which “descended” would be the human spirit in a religious disguise.  It would be, and often is, simply man’s spirit ascending, the natural form of man’s self-transcendence.  The finite cannot force the infinite; man cannot compel God.  The human spirit as a dimension of life is ambiguous, as all life is, whereas the divine Spirit creates unambiguous life

–Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (1964), 3.119-20

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oversensitivity or ignorance of the rules

A curse of ADD is that while doing one thing, something will catch my attention and I’ll want to pursue it in more detail. On some days this sort of thing is really bad–not to mention mentally exhausting–while on others it can be quite rewarding. (I’ve thought about attempting a written documentation of what happens in my head on a bad day. Maybe one day I’ll try it). Today seems to be riding the fence.

In the past I have pointed out instances of what very well appears to be plagiarism (see e.g. here, herehere). Whether stated or not, I maintain that plagiarism is not only sloppy, poor scholarship and unacceptable; it is also theft, pure and simple. In the words of Ron White: ‘I tell you that story to tell you this one.’ While following up on a minor detail in my research, I ventured (briefly) into the ‘Jesus and Paul’ debate–i.e. how much of the historical Jesus did Paul know–and came across something rather troubling. This is an occasion where I’m not 100% sure what to conclude.  I’ll let you look for yourselves first.

First, check out Richard Longenecker’s book, Studies in Paul, Exegetical and Theological (2004) and begin reading on page 2, under the heading: ‘Saul and the Historical Jesus’ (specifically the second paragraph in that section).  Once you’re done with that, check out J. Stanly Jones’ book, A Study of Pauline Interpretation: Ethical Sayings in ‘Q’ and Its Significance in Today’s Indian Context (2007) and read footnote 76 on page 19. Look familiar? Granted, Jones’ reference is to an earlier work of Longenecker, which, if you read it here (pages 19-20), mirrors exactly what appears in the 2004 work.  (I originally mentioned the 2004 work because that’s what I read first; I only came to know about the 1997 after reading Jones’ entry).

Now, before going any further, let me be clear about one thing: I am not accusing J. Stanly Jones of plagiarism. (Read that again in case there is any confusion or uncertainty in what I’m saying). Completely unlike the examples in my earlier discussions on plagiarism, Jones openly and willingly gives the reference from which he is drawing his information. So, that being said: because Jones provides the source, how are we to deal with the similarities in content? Is there a grey area in this regard? I ask because I am genuinely concerned and want to make sure I do things properly in my own writing.

Any thoughts?

bittersweet progress

Early on in my research, I had to resign myself to the fact that there are very few (if any) ‘original’ ideas or arguments,[1] and the more I have pressed on with my writing, the more I become aware of that truth.  For starters, my specific focus of 1 Cor 2.1–3.4 began with the prospect of representing a unique way of situating the argument, but Joseph Fitzmyer’s 2008 commentary quickly deflated my hopes of originality in that regard.[2] 

Then, I offered a critique of the usual arguments for and against a particular reading of 2.1 before offering my own conclusions, which I thought were (more or less) distinctive.  However, Veronica Koperski’s incisive 2002 essay[3] and Benjamin Gladd’s wonderful 2008 monograph showed my offering to be rather delayed and not atypical.

Not too long afterward I attempted to plow new ground with another tricky passage in the argument (i.e. 2.4), but quickly learned that James Dunn’s 1975 work (reprinted in 1997) already created adequate trenches and that Wolfgang Schrage’s 1991 commentary had brought in the crop and made a fine meal of it. 

The most recent occasion took place while attempting to provide a unique explanation for the apparent shift in style and content of 1 Cor 2.6-16.  I ran with a line of argument that seemed to offer a strong enough defense against those critical of this particular section of text (e.g. Widmann, Walker).  The quick version is that the wisdom of which Paul speaks in 2.6-16 is theological descriptor for the nature of the gospel he proclaims, thus maintaining a continuous line of argument from 2.1 onward.  For a while I thought I was onto something, but then I read this:

In v. 6-16 erläutert Paulus die Verkündigung und die Erkenntnis des gekreuzigten Messias als rettende Weisheit Gottes.

 –Eckhard Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (2006), 163.

Translation: ‘In verses 6-16 Paul explains the proclamation and the recognition of the crucified Messiah as the saving wisdom of God.’  Schnabel also contends that there is no need to argue for discontinuity in Paul’s argument; the apparent shift at 2.6 and the apparently diverent content of 2.6-16 can be explained by seeing Paul defining the nature of the gospel in terms of God’s wisdom, a gospel, as he says in 2.1-5, he proclaimed during his time in Corinth. Application (or significance): Schnabel beat me to it.

I freely confess that these sorts of things do bother me from time to time, and I admit to occasionally wrestling with the question: ‘Why even bother, if everyone else has said what I want to say?’  But then I am reminded of two things. First, and this is my alloted arrogant moment for the month, I remember that many of the conclusions or arguments I reach precede my awareness of them elsewhere.  While I may not come to an original idea, I did come to it via my own wrestling with the text and my own reasoning ability, and I need to take pride in the fact that the fruits of such labours are in the same basket of scholars who have gone before me. 

Second, I remember something one my previous professors once said.  To paraphrase (and adapt) slightly: doing a PhD is not so much about finding a great idea or a new way of arguing a point; doing a PhD is about examining and (re)finding yourself and learning from the incredible and new experiences such a process offers.  It is from that process that you begin to see not only who you are but who you have the potential to become.  Moreover, in seeing that reality and hope, you realise the uniqueness that God has given you and continues to shape; and it is from that realisation that a distinctively unique voice begins to be seen and heard in all that one does, especially one’s writing.

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[1] Admittedly, this resignation was also prompted by many seasoned scholars telling me that exact thing. 
[2] He is the only other scholar I’ve encountered who isolates 2.1–3.4 as a distinct ‘rhetorical’ unit.  
[3] ‘ “Mystery of God” or “Testimony of God” in 1 Cor 2.1: Textual and Exegetical Considerations.’ Pages 305-15 in New Testament Textual Criticism and Exegesis: Festschrift J. Delobel. BETL 161. Edited by A. Denaux. Leuven.

looking for some assistance*

I’ve been in conversation with people who are far more educated and knowledgeable than me about a particular reference in 1 Cor 2.4-5.  The discussion focused mostly on the possible meanings/interpretations of δυναμις (dunamis), specifically in the context of proclaiming the gospel.  One of the questions that arose from this conversation was: ‘how have Charismatic and Pentecostal writers dealt with this term in 1 Cor 2.4-5?’  This question came about simply because my treatment of δυναμις in 1 Cor 2.4-5 failed to account for such perspectives.

Upon further reflection and a cursory search of various databases, I’ve found that the failure is not so much a deliberate oversight.  Instead, it is simply the case that very little (to my knowledge) exists from the Charismatic-Pentecostal perspective on this passage/issue.  As far as I can tell, Gordon Fee and Craig Keener are the only ones who speak on 1 Corinthians from such a perspective.  (However, I should say that Keener’s treatment, as it relates to my specific concern, is not suitable or usable.  His focus more with the rhetorical force and effect of Paul’s argument).

This brings me to my need for some assistance.  Does anyone know of any good resources for me to consult that would be helpful for understanding 1 Cor 2.4-5 from the Charismatic-Pentecostal perspective?

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* Many deep thanks to Nick Norelli for getting my request out as well.

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?

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* 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.

a breather from the paper

Because I tend to read so much before writing anything (which might not be a good thing), I often find myself swirling with arguments and hypotheses of other scholars (QED).  It is in such times that I often to take a breather from what I’m reading so that I can process what has been said, which will (hopefully) inform what I write. 

However, there are also times when I need to take a breather because something I’ve read frustrates me to no end.  Usually, I’ll leave the office and take a quick lap around campus (which doesn’t take very long).  This time, I’ve decided to vent my frustrations here before resuming my writing.  Lucky you. 

I am currently wrapping up my latest essay for my present research, and in this essay I’m dealing with the ever-so-fun portion of 1 Corinthians: 2.6-16.  There are three distinct positions for how this portion of 1 Corinthians is dealt with: 1) it’s not original to the text–it is a later addition (i.e. an ‘interpolation’)–or it is merely a digression in Paul’s thought; 2) it’s influenced by Mormon Gnostic theology because of its emphasis on ‘secret wisdom’ and only the ‘perfect’ having access to God’s mind; or 3) it’s a foundational text for the doctrine of inspiration. 

Surprisingly, I’m not too bothered by the first option simply because the arguments in favour of such an idea are not that convincing.  More surprisingly, I’m not at all worried about the second option simply because the arguments in favour of that idea are utlimately anachronistic.  Moreover, to say that Paul is influenced by such a theology would wind up creating a contradiction within the larger argument of 1 Cor 1–4.  But don’t worry, there’s an escape hatch for those confronted by this problem: 2.6-16 is an interpolation. 

Where my frustration lies, and shame on you if couldn’t figure this out, is with the final option.  To some, this might be the biggest surprise of all–i.e. I’m bothered by someone making a case for the doctrine of inspiration.  Well, be surprised; but hold off for a second on calling me a heretic. 

The primary reason for my frustration is this: the text of 1 Cor 2.6-16 says nothing about the inspiration of Scripture.   In fact, 1 Cor 2.6-16 says very little about Scripture, period.  True, Paul quotes two passages of Scripture in the course of his argument (2.9, 16); but he is hardly quoting them for the sake of saying something about Scripture as a text–let alone an inspired text.  Moreover, it’s not even clear if the text he quotes in 2.9 is faithful to the OT–let alone in the OT. (I’ll leave that hanging in the air for now).

The cause of my frustration is an article by a scholar who will remain unnamed–out of respect.  This scholar argued the exact opposite of what I’ve just mentioned.  His entire case is predicated on the assumption that 1 Cor 2.6-16 is a long overlooked passage for establishing a sound doctrine of Scriptural inspiration.  What frustrated me even more was, because that is his controlling assumption, he winds up making all sorts of exegetical claims about the text that simply do not hold water.  His claims make sense if he’s trying to prove the doctrine of inspiration from that text.  However, his claims make very little sense if the text is examined for what it says. 

What Paul is saying in this passage is so incredibly rich and wonderfully illuminating (yeah, that one might get me in some trouble), both of which are lost if we read his argument as nothing but a promotion for Scriptural inspiration.  The only Pauline text clearly says something about Scriptural inspiration is 2 Timothy 3.16, but that’s an entirely different discussion.  If you want to know what is so incredibly rich and wonderfully illuminating about 1 Cor 2.6-16, I’ll try to have something out for you in about 2 years.*

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*I allow myself one comment of academic smuggery a month, and that was it.

Dealing with ‘parallelomania’ while trying not to contribute to it

Even though I work primarily in the field of New Testament studies, I have an almost uncontrollable tendency to venture outside my boundaries and into other lands.  More times than not, these journeys include the exotic plains of Ancient Near Eastern wisdom, the bustling city streets of Graeco-Roman philosophy, and even the unsettling wilderness of Old Testament theology.*  In many respects, I think this propensity for wandering is healthy in academic studies simply because it is easy to become siloed** in one’s field.  The more practical reason for wandering, however, is simply this: there are some great thinkers and writers out there who deserve to be read, but to gain access to them means jumping the fence.

One of my favourite Old Testament scholars is Samuel Sandmel.  (I have others, but he is one of the ones at the top of my list).  He is engaging, incisive, thought-provoking, occasionally disruptive, and dare I say punctually humorous in his writing.  He is recognised as a mind and person to be reckoned with by scholars working in Jewish-Christian history and theology.  This is the case not only because he too had a propensity to wander into other fields but also because he appears to have established residence in many of them.  Thus, when he speaks about a particular discipline or aspect of that discipline, we can be quite certain that he is speaking as a native of that field and one who knows the territory.

In 1961, Sandmel delivered an inaugural lecture at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference, which was held in St. Louis, Missouri.  The title of his lecture was simply, ‘Parallelomania’ and its contents revealed a growing concern that he perceived within biblical studies.  (If you would like to read it, you can find here).  The gist of the lecture confronted what he saw as the problematic tendency within scholarship of overemphasising apparent parallels between biblical texts and other ancient writings and/or writing styles, features, trends, etc.  Specifically, the problem for Sandmel was that the parallels became so prominent in academic studies that they had become seen as evidence of influence.  For example, because the letter of Hebrews deals with the topics of messiah, prophets, angels, Moses and Aaron in a way that parallels what can be found in the writings of Qumran; some believed that the author of Hebrews was influenced by the teaching of those at Qumran.  For Sandmel, the ‘influence’ bit was the problem.  Furthermore, the worst case scenario of ‘parallelomania’ was that the contents of the parallels found became the standard of measure for interpreting biblical texts.

As some of you might know, I am currently working on the specific text of 1 Corinthians 2.1–3.4 and trying to figure out what in the world is going on in this section of Paul’s letter.  In dealing with this text, I am looking at four major interpretative models and their contributions for understanding the logic of the passage.  The four models are: historical criticism, social-scientific analysis, theological hermeneutics, and rhetorical criticism.  With the exception of historical criticism and maybe theological hermeneutics, social-scientific analysis in general and rhetorical criticism in particular appear to have forgotten Sandmel’s cautionary words.  With regard to social-scientific analysis, the parallels found tend to have what could be called a chronological dissonance in the sense that modern sociological theories and trends are retroactively applied to biblical texts as though there is a one-to-one correlation.  (I admit that this is an oversimplification of the process).  With regard to rhetorical criticism, ‘parallelomania’ appears to an epidemic–especially the strand that manifests itself with the boils and sores of direct ‘influence’.  (I’m currently taking medication for my jaundice against rhetorical criticism).

I cannot count the number of scholars I’ve read in the past few months who make passionate and assertive claims about Paul’s brilliant rhetorical acumen in both his preaching ministry and literary career.  Such claims are often predicated on assumptions regarding Paul’s education–assumptions that are not typically supported in the works that assert them–but even that remains a matter of scholarly dispute.  However, because the parallels suggested exist between Graeco-Roman rhetoric and Paul’s ministry (and writing), scholars often argue that the former necessarily influenced the latter.  I realise that I open myself up to debate/ridicule in saying this, but: I remain unconvinced that such an influence actually existed or that showing an influence is even possible.  In fact, I (boldly) maintain that Graeco-Roman rhetoric has become a siloed discipline in biblical studies with the result that other possibilities are simply overlooked.

Herein lies my dilemma.  For my project, I must read through the relevant materials (i.e. the Graeco-Roman rhetorical stuff) in order to make my case that Paul was not adopting and/or employing rhetorical conventions during his 18-month sojourn in Corinth.  I must also read through other materials (i.e. the non-Graeco-Roman rhetorical stuff) that have similar themes, ideas, and terms related to what Paul says in 1 Cor 2.1–3.4 which might be better suited for understanding his argument in that particular text.  More problematic is the fact that what I’m seeing as better suited has been largely dismissed by other scholars as being unsuitable–or, it does not seem to parallel what is found in the text.  But I wonder: is it unsuitable because it does not parallel with what is found in the text; or is it unsuitable because it does not parallel the parallelomanic-rhetorical reading currently surrounding the text?  If the former, then fine; if the latter, then we have a serious problem–one that Sandmel warned us about over 40 years ago.

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* My Master’s thesis in Seminary was an attempt to document my journeys into these other fields.
** ‘siloed’ (verb): the act of being turned into a silo–i.e. an isolated building in the middle of nowhere.