A Word in Edgewise

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The Divine Name . . . before Nicea

 

Charles Gieschen, professor and dean at Concordia Theological Seminary (Indiana), has written what I regard to be a significant article.  I’d like for people to know about it.  It is in a refereed journal entitled Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003): 115-158.   The title of the article is “The Divine Name in Ante-Nicene Christology.” His thesis is this: many references or allusions to the “name” of Jesus in early Christianity should be understood as signifying that Jesus possesses the Divine Name, the holy, unspeakable name of Israel’s God (YHWH), often called the Tetragrammaton.  The “name” of Jesus in these contexts does not refer to the name given to him on the eighth day by his parents.  Gieschen spends a good deal of time in the New Testament but he also considers such extra-canonical texts as 1 Clement, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Odes of Solomon, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, among others. gieschen

Clearly, I think Charles is onto something.  He cites favorably my own book Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology, WUNT (Tubingen, 1992), that showed how Paul, the earliest Christian theologian, took Scriptural texts containing the Divine Name and applied them to Jesus.  The name “Jesus” was a common name in its day, even if it is unusual in English-speaking circles.  It is a transliteration through Greek, into Latin, into English of the Hebrew name “Joshua.”  I’ve been to many a baseball game where players from Latin American countries were named “Jesus” (pronounced Hay-soos).

When Paul says that “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord . . .” (Phil 2:9-11), it seems clear that the Greek genitive should be rendered possessively “the name that belongs to Jesus.”  And what name belongs to Jesus?  Gieschen argues, and I think he is correct, the covenant name of God revealed to Moses at Sinai (YHWH).

Gieschen concludes his study asking why a Divine Name Christology fades in the next Christian centuries.  He gives two reasons.  First, as the Jesus movement became more and more Gentile, knowledge of the Divine Name is no longer determinative for how Christ followers assess his significance.  This begins to happen even among Greek-speaking Christians who read Kyrios as the standard translation/ rendering of the Divine Name in Hebrew biblical texts. Knowledge of the Divine Name traditions began to fade. Second, it seems that heretical groups in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD are those who utilize and keep the Divine Name Christology in tact. The “orthodox,” in responding negatively to the “heretics,” set aside their teaching which associated Jesus so clearly with the Divine Name.

To cite one example:

“One single name is not uttered in the world, the name that the Father gave the Son, the name above all things: the name of the Father.” (Gospel of Philip II.54.5-8)

If Gieschen is correct, the heretics kept alive a neglected aspect of early Christology.

 

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Is there a “center” in Paul’s theology?

An earlier generation of scholars were fond of questing for the “center” of Paul’s theology.  Even in the midst of occasional, contingent situations, they believe there was an inner logic, a coherence to Paul’s thinking.  Today, scholars are less prone to talk about “center” though they do use adjectives like “central,” “integral,” and the like.  I’m wondering are we beyond trying to locate a theological center for Paul, a conceptual place from which he theologizes?  St. Paul

In an earlier book (Rediscovering Jesus, IVP [2007], with E. R. Richards and Rodney Reeves)I went in quest for the center of Paul’s theology and decided on the following criteria.

How can the center of Paul’s theology be determined? Put another way, what criteria will lead us to the center? The center will be that/those aspect/s of Paul’s theology that best satisfies the following criteria:

The center must be

1.. integral: it finds expression in all parts of all his letters.

2.. generative: it participates in—and to some degree generates—all his theologizing. It can help to explain everything else.[1]

3.. experiential: it results from encounters he has with the risen Jesus.

4.. traditional: it is consistent with the traditions he inherits and uses.

5.. scriptural: it serves as the interpretive key to new readings of Scripture.

6.. theological: given Paul’s commitment to monotheism, the theological center is ultimately a word about God, explaining and revealing him.

7.. presuppositional: at times it sits beneath the surface of Paul’s letters, supporting and limiting the argument.

The aspect or aspects of Paul’s theology that fit these criteria are likely candidates for the center of Paul’s theology.

[1]E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadephia: Fortress, 1977), p. 441, states it negatively: “a theme cannot be central which does not explain anything else.”

I’m wondering if the quest for a “center” or what is central/ integral is still relevant.  What do you think?

Publisher’s Weekly

Recently Publisher’s Weekly gave a brief review of Larry Hurtado’s upcoming book, Destroyer of the Gods (Baylor University Press, 2016).  This promises to be one of Hurtado’s best books.  He shows in detail how early Christianity redefined what a religion is and what a religion does.  The things we typically associate with Christianity–the worship of one God, ethics, the Holy Scriptures–were considered very odd in the first few centuries, so odd that Christianity was considered a clear  and present danger.

For a link to their review click here.

Or you can cut and paste the following URL in your browser.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4813-0473-3

The (W)right Way to Read Paul

My coauthors (Rodney Reeves and Randy Richards) and I are working on the second edition of our book Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (InterVarsity, 2007).  It is a substantial rewrite, not just a cosmetic upgrade. Rediscovering Paul cover

Chapter 10 is our chapter on Paul’s theology and, as I’m rewriting, I’m (re)reading N. T. Wright’s two volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013).  At the beginning of the second big volume he lays out his agenda.  His central argument is that Paul’s worldview and his theology must be understood together.  They are interdependent.  When you grasp Paul’s theology correctly and faithfully, you “do justice to the whole and the parts;” you understand the shifting historical contexts in which he lived, the forces and factors that influenced him, and you read his letters a bit more faithfully.

The (W)right way to read Paul holds together and in tension the various themes of his letters which scholars often pit against one another.  There is, he says, an “inner coherence” which emerges when you try to understand the sequence of his arguments. The letters are not a collection of detached sayings; they are robust arguments.  They are grounded in the larger themes and narratives of his Scripture and Jewish heritage.

Wright cites with approval Kasemann (Romans, 1980) when he noted that Paul’s letters do have a central concern, a coherent, inner logic which can be investigated and known.

So Wright builds his project on three platforms:

First, he begins with Paul’s Jewishness as a given, expressed in a framework of three major aspects of second temple Jewish thought: monotheism, election and eschatology.  For Wright, these elements are integrated not detached.  You cannot, for example, understand Paul’s soteriology in isolation from election, theology and eschatology.  These three elements cover the wide, gaping central concern of Paul who remained a thoroughly Jewish thinker.

Second, this framework had to be rethought, reimagined, and recast around Jesus and the Spirit.  Paul had a new understanding of what God had been up to in the Messiah and the gift of the Spirit.  He could no longer continue to think about these central categories in the same way.  The cataclysmic event of the cross and resurrection of the Messiah had changed everything.

Third, Paul’s christologically and pneumatologically redefined categories (monotheism, election, and eschatology) were deployed through the Gentile mission in three ways.

  1. They became the major aims of his letters. His letters were part of his missionary strategy, that is, to establish Jesus-infused and Spirit-directed communities across the Mediterranean.  His letters reflect this radically reworking.
  2. Paul’s own charismatic readings of Scripture were not based on proof-texting; they were grounded in reading large swaths of Scripture and attuning his mind to the great narratives of Israel which reached their appropriate climax in the Messiah. It is Paul’s full intention that his Jesus-infused and Spirit-directed communities inhabit these stories.
  3. Even as Paul’s own theology demands the formation of “churches,” he is also engaging the pagan world of his day (again in three ways).
  • the philosophers’ quest for the good life is upstaged by the good news of the gospel
  • the religious quest of late antiquity for salvation (broadly understood) with its obsession with gods and spiritual powers finds its final destination in the church
  • the imperial quest of empire is outmaneuvered by the acclamation of Jesus’ lordship, Israel’s true Messiah

Paul, according to Wright, draws from paganism everything which he thinks is true.  But pagan idolatry had ruined any chance for the wise of this age to achieve their human potential.  The human-happiness project of pagan philosophy never achieved what it promised.

But the gospel made people more human not less because, among other things, it placed in the center the only human whose life was worth imitating.

In the end Wright believes there is a coherence to Paul’s thought.  It is a coherence which holds together all the parts, uniting the disparate elements of his arguments even thought each letter is written over against a contingent situation.

An early generation of scholars was fond of talking about “the center” of Paul’s theology.  It was identified by some as justification by faith, by others reconciliation, and still by others participation in Christ.  Each of these were different ways of dealing with the broad theological category, soteriology.  Wright does not utilize the language of “center,” but his discussion of what is central, coherent appears to operate along a similar track.

 

God-talk in the New Testament

Here is a link to a good post by my friend, Larry Hurtado.  It is his reflection on over 30 years of critiques of his work.  Critics have accused his work of being either Arian or proto-Calcedonian.  Both accusations are drawn from later church controversies and should not be read back into the New Testament.  If Hurtado can be accused of anything, it is doing history not theology.  He’s not averse to theology; he just thinks the later categories invade historical reconstructions too often.

Read more about it here.

Or you can cut-and-paste this URL: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/jesus-and-god/

God in NT Theology

Figural Reading . . . the Old in the New

Last year I had the great honor of being on a panel discussion at the Lanier Theological Library with some leading scholars.  The topic was “Figural Reading . . . the Old in the New.” Richard Hays had written an important book on the topic entitled, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor University Press, 2014). That was the topic of our discussion.  It is an outstanding conversation hosted by Mark Lanier.

Richard Hays (Dean, Duke Divinity School)
Lynn Cohick (Professor, Wheaton College)
Carey Newman (Director, Baylor University Press)
David Capes (Professor, Houston Baptist University)
Mark Lanier (Moderator)

Here is a link to the site:

http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/seminar-videos-2/

The discussion takes place over 1 hr and 43 minutes.  If you’re interested in how NT writers read, interpreted and used their Bible–what we call the Old Testament but specifically the Greek version of the Old Testament–this will be a good video to watch.

I’m humbled and gratified to be a part of these conversations.

 

 

 

Jesus the God-Man

On my summer reading list is a new book by Darrell Bock and Benjamin Simpson, both faculty members at Dallas Theological Seminary.  The title of the book is Jesus the God-Man: The Unity and Diversity of the Gospel Portrayals (Baker Academic, 2016).  Bock and Simpson treat the Gospels as reliable sources for the life of Jesus, and they do give us a coherent, new reading of these diverse texts.  They are not just concerned with the Christ of faith but the Jesus of history, to use the traditional terms. Bock Jesus God-Man

It is typically understood that the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—provide us with the story of the human Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Anointed; the story of the Christ from above, that is the incarnate Word, is the subject of John’s Gospel.  Not so fast . . . Bock and Simpson say.  The portrayals in the Synoptics and John are far more interesting and complex.

At the end of the day, Bock and Simpson demonstrate that the Gospels give us different stories, different portrayals; but in their analysis their accounts are complementary not contradictory.  The Divine Christ is not absent from the Synoptics. The earthly Jesus is not alien to the Fourth Gospel.