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A “Forged” Gospel and Substitutionary Atonement

I had the privilege on May 6, 2016 of moderating a panel discussion at the Lanier Theological Library.  Mark Lanier, owner and namesake of the library, was out in California and made a surprise appearance at the end.  I guess the winds were in his favor.

The topics were diverse: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the notion of substitutionary atonement in Paul.  Those two topics were related only in that our special guest, Simon Gathercole, had written on them recently.  We rounded up some usual and unusual suspects for the afternoon’s discussion. Here are the key contributors:

David Capes (Moderator – Dean, Professor of New Testament, Houston Graduate School of Theology, Houston, TX)
Graham Cole (Dean, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL)
Craig Evans (Dean, School of Christian Thought, John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins, Houston Baptist University, Houston, TX)
Simon Gathercole (New Testament Scholar/Teacher, University of Cambridge, England)
David Moessner (Professor, A. A. Bradford Chair of Religion, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX)

The video lasts for 90 minutes but contains a lot of great information on topics related to the New Testament.  I’m grateful to Charles Mickey and Brent Johnson for their help that day.  Mark Lanier took a big chance getting a non-lawyer to moderate, but I hope he wasn’t too disappointed.  I thought it was a good discussion.

 

Here is a link to the discussion:

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

 

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife May Be a Forgery

Two recent articles appeared in The Atlantic  which appear to put the nail in the coffin of the badly named Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

The first article shows the dodgy provenance (chain of custody) of the piece.  It is a bit long but worth the read.  You can read it here or here’s the URL to that article:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/the-unbelievable-tale-of-jesus-wife/485573/

The second article may be the most important, because in it Karen King, the Harvard scholar who brought the fragment too light and has defended its authenticity, now concedes it is probably a fake.  You can read it here or here is the URL:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/06/karen-king-responds-to-the-unbelievable-tale-of-jesus-wife/487484/

As Simon Gathercole said to me, now we don’t have to worry about that text.  The forged text and our response to it tell us more about ourselves than about the ancient church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Substitution

I had the great privilege of moderating a discussion at the Lanier Theological Library last week with a number of scholars from across the world.  The keynote speaker for the weekend was Simon Gathercole  of Cambridge, but also on the panel were Craig Evans (HBU, formerly of Acadia Divinity School), Graham Cole (TEDS), and David Moessner (TCU).  There were two topics for the day determined in the main because Simon Gathercole had written recently on them.  First, we spent time discussing  claims about the badly named fragment published in 2012, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  Second, we took up the thesis of Simon’s 2015 publication: Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement  in Paul (Baker Academic).  Defending Subsitution

Let me take up for now the latter topic.

Christians in general–Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox–agree on a variety of things but one key thing is this: through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Jesus God had acted to reconcile the world to himself.  Nearly all Christians agree with that.

What we don’t agree on and what the Bible does not clearly address is how: how does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus bring about this reconciliation, redemption, justification, adoption, etc., choose whatever metaphor or image you prefer.  So, for centuries, theologians have developed various theories of atonement.  There is the ransom theory, the recapitulation theory, the satisfaction theory, the moral influence theory, the Christus-Victor theology, and substitution theory.

Most evangelicals have cut their teeth on the substitution theory, and yet recently many scholars have begun to distance themselves from it.  They argue that it is not biblical or not fair or else they say there are better ways to frame how the death and resurrection of Jesus come to play in our reality.

Professor Gathercole has written the book DEFENDING JUSTIFICATION to say that we cannot, indeed, should not, dismiss substitution from discussions of Pauline theology.  Many scholars are talking about participation in Christ and Christ being our representative as better ways of understanding how the benefits of Christ come to people through the finished word of the Messiah.  I don’t see Simon denying those ways of framing the discussion, but I do see him trying to rehabilitate the notion of substitutionary atonement.

Gathercole takes up a variety of Pauline texts including 1 Cor 15:3-8, Rom 3:21-26, among others.  He argues convincingly that substitution is part and parcel of Paul’s thought on what scholars call the atonement.  It is not the only word on it, however.  As Mark Lanier himself pointed out, we cannot dismiss Paul’s notion that the death and resurrection of Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers that cause the masses to live nasty, short, and brutish lives.

This book began as the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia and is part of a series  by Baker Academic edited by Dr. Craig Evans.  It is well worth taking up and reading.

The video of the panel discussion will be available soon at http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org

Many thanks to Charles Mickey, director of the library, and Mark Lanier, founder, for the opportunity.

 

Gathercole at Lanier Theological Library

University of Cambridge professor, Simon Gathercole, is soon to give his second lecture at Lanier Theological Library.  On May 7, 2016 from 7.00 to 9.00 pm Simon will offer a lecture entitled:

“The Journeys of Jesus and Jewish Geography”

The Gospels in the New Testament contain a remarkable amount of geographical information, especially in the quantity of references to areas, towns and villages that Jesus (and John the Baptist) visited. Are these genuine or fictitious?  Some Jesus skeptics have doubted the existence of places like Nazareth and Capernaum.  Even many New Testament scholars are unaware of the evidence for Gospel sites. Strikingly, however, a huge proportion of the place-names in the Gospels are paralleled in Jewish literature outside the New Testament, even down to some of the small villages.  This illustrated lecture will examine the historical evidence, some already known, some presented for the first time, for the places in the Gospel.  It will show how this evidence has clear implications for the reliability of the Gospel narratives.Simon Gathercole

The lecture is free and open to the public.  Click here for more information and to register.

If you have never been to the Lanier Theological Library or the Stone Chapel, you are in for a treat.  Mike Bird calls it “DisneyLand” for scholars.  Mark and Becky Lanier have done a wonderful job building these classic structures , collecting some of the world’s best books and artifacts, staffing the library, presenting lectures, and hosting events.  Scholars, teachers, and leaders come from all around the world to see this place. Charles Mickey is director of the library and coordinates all these events. He has a cracker-jack staff who do everything you can imagine to make these events successful.

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