Apr 16, 2011

Pervo on Acts 15

"The place of chap. 15 in the structure of Acts is difficult to determine. Historical knowledge exacerbates the question, since commentators know that, subsequent to the sequel of this meeting, Paul began his career as an independent gentile missionary. If, as has often been proposed, this is the central chapter in Acts, does it complete the first half, begin the second, or is a division into two principal parts undesirable? Although the chapter deals with the central issue of Acts—the legitimacy of the gentile mission—and occurs in the center of the book, it is not the basic structural pivot, nor does it break new ground. Acts 15 is central in that it brings together the various threads of the plot: Peter with his mission, Barnabas and Paul with theirs (which is the unacknowledged successor of the ‘Hellenists’), and those persons concerned with observance. The two geographical bases, Jerusalem and Antioch, also formally converge. The narrator wishes to make a profound impression with a grand assembly and a solemn decree. All of this is to paper over the rift between Paul and Peter, and the tension between Paul and James. When that tension finally emerges, in chap. 21, the reader is directed to perceive their encounter in the light of chap. 15."

Richard I. Pervo and Harold W. Attridge, Acts: A Commentary on the Book of Acts, Hermeneia–A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 367-8.

I tend to agree with much of what Pervo states above. But I am not sure that the argument of the last two sentences is sustainable. For one thing, how can you paper over a rift between Peter and Paul and then suggest that the tension emerges in chapter 21, when Peter is not even mentioned in chapter 21? Furthermore, even though James is mentioned in chapters 15 and 21, Acts 21 states that the tension is not so much between James and Paul, but between Paul and Jewish Christians who had been told that Paul was teaching Jews not to keep the Law (21:21). James actually plays a mediating role. Indeed, if there was such tension between James and Paul, why does James respond positively to Paul’s ministry report (21:20) and why would James offer Paul a way to appease the Law-observant Christians? One final point, a significant one, needs to be made. The issue in Acts 15 relates to Gentile Christians and the Law. The issue in Acts 21 relates to Jewish Christians and the Law. These are not the same issue. While James does reiterate the prohibitions from Acts 15 in Acts 21, the flow of James’ argument suggests that he understands the differences between the issues. The peri de that of 21:25 implies a change of topic, namely, that James is shifting the topic from Paul and the Jews to the Gentiles. All this is to say, neither Acts 15 or 21 picture a rift or tension between Paul and Peter and James. One might debate whether such a rift existed, but the evidence for such a rift is not to be found in Acts 15 and 21. 

Apr 15, 2011

Writing Well and Doing Theology

W. Travis McMaken has a good reminder here of the importance of writing well in theological study.

HT: Hollis Phelps

Latest Issue of Review of Biblical Literature

The latest issue of Review of Biblical Literature is out. Reviews can be accessed by clicking the links below.

Herbert Basser
The Mind behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1-14
Reviewed by Robert H. Gundry
Reviewed by Timothy Howell
Kathleen E. Corley
Maranatha: Women's Funerary Rituals and Christian Origins
Reviewed by Susan Miller
Stefano Cotrozzi
Expect the Unexpected: Aspects of Pragmatic Foregrounding in Old Testament Narratives
Reviewed by Philip Nel
S. White Crawford, A. Ben-Tor, J. P. Dessel, W. G. Dever, A. Mazar, and J. Aviram, eds.
"Up to the Gates of Ekron": Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honor of Seymour Gitin
Reviewed by Carl S. Ehrlich
Gershon Galil
The Lower Stratum Families in the Neo-Assyrian Period
Reviewed by John MacGinnis
Kathy Reiko Maxwell
Hearing between the Lines: The Audience as Fellow-Worker in Luke-Acts and its Literary Milieu
Reviewed by Jean-François Racine
Dietmar Neufeld and Richard E. DeMaris, eds.
Understanding the Social World of the New Testament
Reviewed by Renate Viveen Hood
Erwin Ochsenmeier
Mal, souffrance et justice de Dieu selon Romains 1-3: Étude exégétique et théologique
Reviewed by Paul Sanders
Klaus Seybold
Poetik der prophetischen Literatur im Alten Testament
Reviewed by Heinz-Dieter Neef 

Apr 14, 2011

The Chronology of Passion Week

Many Bible students are aware of some of the chronological difficulties related to Passion Week. Here is a USA Today article with quotes from Marcus Borg, Ben Witherington, and others. Although it has been around for awhile, I think that Harold Hoehner's Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ is still one of the best resources on the issue.

Apr 13, 2011

Hurtado on the Text of Acts

Larry Hurtado has an interesting post on the text of Acts and P127. Read it here.

Apr 12, 2011

Evangelical Leaders and Tithing

See this article on a recent survey of Evangelical leaders and the issue of tithing.

Jesus and the Psalms

See this post on Jesus and the Psalms.

Apr 11, 2011

Roy Ciampa Interview

Matthew Montonini has a nice interview with Roy Ciampa on the 1 Corinthians commentary that he recently coauthored with Brian Rosner.

Apr 10, 2011

Review of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment


Seasoned readers know that some books you work through while other books work through you, and the better books do both. I feel that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment falls into this final category. I had actually hoped to complete this review several months ago, but I found that the present work was defying a more rushed examination. In many ways this review is inadequate. There is more in Hamilton's work than I have the time to address. That being said, I hope that my remarks will be of some value, brevity notwithstanding.

Let me begin with some observations. First, the search for a center or overriding theme to either the Old Testament or New Testament has proven elusive. The proposed centers have been judged to be either too narrow and, consequently, unable to cover all the material, or so broad as to be of little value. But if one were able to solve this Gordian knot, then one could identify a metanarrative that would aid in the interpretation and application of individual books in light of its place within the larger story. Second, Hamilton’s work is a fairly comprehensive introduction/survey of the biblical books. It is probably as good, if not better at this level, as many other introductory/survey books. This book is valuable for this fact alone. Third, the argument of the book is generally easy to follow. This is a necessity  when you are trying to maintain am argument over such a broad sweep of material. While some readers may tire of seeing the phrase “God’s glory in salvation through judgment,” one cannot accuse the author of failing to keep his thesis at the forefront.

That being said, the heart of the matter is whether Hamilton has demonstrated that God’s glory in salvation through judgment is the basic storyline that runs through the Bible. I am not sure that he has. There are, of course, some books which lend themselves to this theme quite well (e.g., Isaiah). There are other books which might support part but not all of the proposed storyline. For example, some biblical books emphasize judgment (e.g. Lamentations) but not salvation and vice versa (e.g., Philemon). Then there are books where  the elements God's glory, judgment, and salvation are present, but only at a secondary or implicit level. Consider the book of Proverbs. Does Proverbs really lends itself to Hamilton's proposal? I am not sure that most readers would identify God’s glory, salvation, or judgment as major themes in the book. I admit that these ideas are present in Proverbs at some level, but they appear to be more secondary or tertiary, rather than primary concepts, and/or at the implicit rather than the explicit level. For example, fearing YHWH is a major emphasis in Proverbs, but fearing YHWH is not synonymous with God’s glory. To be clear Hamilton does not argue they are synonymous, but to make such a connection Hamilton seeks to tie Proverbs back to Exodus and Deuteronomy (pp. 292–3). But even if this linkage is accepted, the idea of God’s glory is still derivative, implicit rather than explicit. The same point could be raised about the Song of Solomon as well. Here Hamilton reads Songs in light of Genesis 3 and suggests that, 

“The Song of Solomon shows the Solomonic king who is seed of the woman, seed of Abraham, seed of Judah, seed of David, overcoming the alienation of the fall and renewing the intimacy of Eden. One of the main features of the Song is the persistence of alienation between the man and the woman. This alienation is a result of the judgment announced in Genesis 3:16. The intimacy lost at the fall (judgment) is renewed (salvation), and the beauty of God’s intention is celebrated (glory)” (pp. 307–8). 

But again, even if this reading were correct, and that could certainly be debated, I am not convinced Hamilton’s proposed storyline of God’s glory in salvation through judgment is altogether clear in Songs. This raises a methodological concern. Namely, what controls are in place to keep the reader from allowing a proposed storyline from exercising inordinate control over a book's storyline?

Perhaps I am setting the bar too high. But if one is proposing a center, I think that this center must work two ways. First, the proposed center must be central to the Bible as a whole. Second, the proposed center should also be central, or at least of primary significance, to the individual books that make up the whole. I am skeptical that God’s glory in salvation through judgment can meet this second criteria.

That being said, I conclude with my great appreciation for this book. I appreciate the depth and breadth of the work and the ambitious scope of the thesis. Perhaps greater reflection on my part, or additional argumentation on the author’s part, will convince me to change my mind. But while I affirm the idea of God’s glory in salvation through judgment, I am at this time unconvinced that this is the metanarrative of the Bible.