Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Brief response to Scot McKnight's latest

I’m a big fan of Tom Wright even if I’m largely convinced by certain apocalyptic readings of Paul. So I am invested in these conversations at numerous levels. Here’s a few thoughts, then, in response to Scot McKnight’s most recent review post of Sam Adams’ The Reality of God and Historical Method. I’ve grow a little frustrated with Scot’s reading of Adams, you see, but I don’t have time to read and comment on them all. I’m sure Sam is honoured that Scot is spending so much time on his book, though. I would have been blown away if Scot had done the same for my published PhD!

Alternatively, you can view this pdf here:


… but I’m hoping that the fancy pdf embedding method works!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Your guide for reading Paul aright in a single sentence (and a word about Barclay’s Paul and the Gift)

imageMy recent Twitter poll on Paul suggests that collectively we don't have a clue how to read Paul! At least there is little consensus from this representation. Naturally, some have given me grief for not adding more categories or for lack of nuance, so just a reminder: This is a Tweet which has a maximum of 140 characters, and I used over half to say “obviously, this oversimplifies” … which is to say that I agree that it is far from perfect or complete. Obviously.

Even so, I still find the mix rather interesting. So this leads me to …

*drum roll*

… my advice for students negotiating different views for reading Paul. How to know which is best? My principle is just a sentence and can be stated as follows:

“The extent to which your reading of Paul recognises* the unconditional** love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and the Spirit, is the extent to which you're more or less on target; hence conversely, the extent to which such a view of God is diminished or ‘qualified’ is the extent to which interpretative mischief is afoot”

Much more could be said, obviously, but not less than this.

*Perhaps I should use a poncier word here like “radiates”, to make it sound more poetic?

**Bear in mind John Barclay’s qualifications in using this term in his brilliant book, Paul and the Gift***. This important work may be one of those rare treats that actually changes the scholarly landscape. Time will tell.

***But as a footnote to a footnote, I would remark that I think Barclay nevertheless misses the mark in stating Campbell is guilty, when using the language of “unconditional”, of thinking grace is simply “no strings attached” and therefore his view of Paul/grace is to be repudiated (see 77 and 171). So Barclay speaks of “unconditioned” (cf. 562). Now my respect for John and his scholarship could not be higher. When he speaks, the wise thing to do is listen (and learn). Plus I enjoy Barclay’s generally conciliatory tone. But this is an atomistic and uncharitable reading of Campbell who speaks of “unconditional grace” in order to clarify that salvation is not contractual. Indeed, Campbell's whole project explains how this grace in the gospel is sanctification, is ethical efficacy. So Campbell summarises his understanding of Paul’s gospel as “intrinsically ethical” (on all this see numerous pages in Deliverance). Humans need to be set free in order to live ethical lives – by God from outside, as it were - and then ethics can be understood in conditioned (not conditional) and responsive terms. On all this, by the way, see Barth CD II.2. It’s what all that “being in action” business is about. More open discussion to clarify these weighty topics needs to take place, I think.

Barclay is more reckless, however, when he associates Campbell directly with Marcion who was, of course, a heretic (173 – claiming DC argues that “God is benevolent and not just”). It is better to be sure of the veracity of such accusations before meting them out in print (or in front of hundreds at SBL by name, which left a sour taste in my mouth having enjoyed the panellist papers and Barclay’s response). Of course, it could be said that Campbell is just getting what he dishes out (“methodological Arianism”, etc.), but veracious Barclay’s charge ain’t! When Campbell speaks against retributive justice as the key framework for understanding Paul’s δικ- terminology, this does not entail that Campbell opposes divine benevolence on the one hand and justice, in toto, on the other. This is quite simply misguided (though Barclay isn’t the first to misunderstand Deliverance in this way) as Campbell regularly speaks of δικ- terminology as forensic. His preliminary definition of the verb, δικαιόω, speaks of its judicial nature. The book Deliverance is a translation of δικαιοσύνη for goodness sake! What matters – and it really does – is how “justice” is understood (which is to say that the term is not unequivocal – an important point Barclay, like so many NT scholars, seems to miss). This is why Campbell spends dozens of pages distinguishing forensic-liberative justice from forensic-retributive, etc. To speak out against one notion of justice is not to wipe them all away (just look at how many definitions of “justice” Sandel explores in his Reader). Rather, God’s δικαιοσύνη is something revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:17), and so conditioned by his Christology. We need, therefore, to be clear what is entailed by δικ- terms. Campbell would of course be glad to pray Psalm 89 and indeed he draws on it in his exegesis at various points (“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” v.14). Clearly this doesn’t make Campbell a Marcionite any more than seeking precision about the nature of “grace” and “gift” makes Barclay a Pelagian (even if both hail from the UK …).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Spencer’s The Analogy of Faith

This one has me pretty excited for the simple reason that it covers an area I’m wrestling with at the moment. I have a host of questions about the truth of human speech about God, its relation to Christology and analogy, plus the phrases “analogy of faith” and the “analogia relationalis”. This book covers all this and spends good time with Barth (whoopie!) and Jüngel (hurray!)

More info can be found here. Thanks to IVP for sending my copy along.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Some NT related blog discussions

A) Two helpful conversations between McKnight and Campbell

And they are both in the blog comments sections.

This one tackles the notion of the supposed shift from prosopopoiia to parody, as if this is a different thing. This is a really good discussion for those who haven’t read the relevant sections in Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul.

This one is a robust conversation about apocalyptic and certain criticism.


B) Then there is the rather epic series, a conversation between Ben Witherington III and John Barclay about JB’s new book, Paul and the Gift. The latest can be found here, but do scroll back through the other 17 posts (!)

C) Here, David Grubbs interviewed me at the Christian Humanist about Paul’s Divine Christology

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


“To barth”, verb, to write beautiful theology, such that anybody in their right mind would at least hope it is correct.

  • You might dislike Barth. But that means that you are mad.
  • You might disagree with Barth, fine, but I bet you hope he is right. And if you don’t hope that, you’re mad.

From his exposition of Gottes Gnadenwahl, God’s gracious election:

“When God says Yes to the creature, He does say Yes; without any if or but, without any afterthought or reservation, not temporarily but definitively, with a fidelity which is not partial and temporal, but total and eternal. Once the election has taken place, there is no further question as to the validity or non-validity of this Yes. There is no further anxiety as to how such a Yes can be fashioned or maintained. There is no further despair in face of the ever-present and total impossibility of living by one’s own strength in the light of this Yes. All this lies behind the creature—as the old past. As truly as God has said Yes, as truly as God is God, the creature is affirmed, and it has no other life than life in the light of this Yes. The obedience demanded of it by the divine election of grace, what else is it but the self-evident authorisation of the creature elected and therefore affirmed by God? And so the decision which in this election is made concerning the creature cannot mean that it is placed under the alien law of an all-powerful destiny, which it must restlessly fulfil, tormented by the consciousness of its own insufficiency in the face of its greatness and demand. What indeed is there to fulfil when by the divine Yes the law of its life has not merely been established but fulfilled? All that is left for it to do is simply to live the life ordained for it, and to live therefore at peace. All that is left to it is wonder, reverent astonishment, at the fact of the mystery that it can live this life affirmed by God” (CD II.2 pp 32-33 [German pagination])

Monday, May 25, 2015

The inaugural NT symposium at Syndicate: Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

HaysAnd it has just begun, on the delightful book, Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism ed. by Christopher M. Hays and Christopher B. Ansberry.

You can read my brief introduction, here.

Kent Sparks’ response has just gone live, here, with a response written by Hays et al. Join in the conversation!

I had originally penned a longer intro which summarised the whole book in more depth. So, after you have read my intro, here is what I cut out, namely short summaries of each chapter (the first and last chapters are covered in the introduction over at Syndicate).


In chapter two, “Adam and the fall”, Hays and Stephen Lane Herring explore modern historical-critical concerns relating to Genesis, not with a view to endorsing it all, but to draw out the most significant point, namely: “most critical scholars deny that there was a historical couple named Adam and Eve who were the sole genetic progenitors of the human race and were responsible for the advent of human sinfulness and mortality” (24). They then examine the theological ramifications of this critical denial. Via analysis of Paul’s Christ-Adam typology, they alight on James 1:13-15 as a “clearer New testament count of sin”, which presents at the same time a “leaner hamartiology” which can be “sustained without Adam” (45).

In chapter three, Ansberry wrestles with questions relating to the historicity of the Exodus ultimately arguing, after summarising maximalist and minimalist scholarly camps and the concerns of branches of historiography and narratology, that the Exodus is a real, remembered event. But it has, in the canonical tradition, developed through re-appropriation, meaning that the Exodus narratives, as presented in scripture, are not straightforward or one-on-one retellings of what happened, true only in the sense that they correspond directly with what happened. They are interpreted, elaborated stories. Ansberry insists that “something of its historical occurrence is essential to Israel’s identity ... as well as Christian orthodoxy” (71), but not in a way that sacrifices integrity when confronted with historical-criticism.

In chapter four, Ansberry and Hwang tackle questions relating to the provenance, composition and development of the Deuteronomic Torah, particularly the claim that it is as “pious fraud” (74). A fascinating overview of contemporary scholarship leads to the question: “Can a fraudulent, pseudepigraphic document function as a reliable repository of theological truth?” (83). By using historical-critical results relating to the development and usage of the Mosaic traditum, they provide reason for answering in the affirmative. Particularly, these critical tools “can make evangelicals more attuned to [Deuteronomy’s] locus of authority as well as to the way in which Deuteronomy’s theological ideas have been received by Israel throughout her history” (93).

In Chapter five, “Problems with prophecy”, Amber Warhurst and Seth Tarrer cameo together with Hays. They lay out those places where prophesied events do not occur as foretold. Once again, rather than retreating into an apologetic stance, they practice critical faith and faithful criticism to set themselves new questions. They use the results of many historical-critics to re-examine the relation between prophecy and fulfillment in the Old Testament. They note, for example, that the goal and fulfillment of prophecy are understood in surprisingly broad terms and are indeed often explicitly conditional upon human response. These issues offer the framework for constructively engaging historical-critical claims in ways that need not threaten a broadly evangelical outlook at all. Examples of prophecy given “after that fact” are then discussed with emphasis on Daniel, of course. In recognizing that this is a particular genre (dating back a long way to the Uruk Prophecy), there is no reason for such occurrences in scripture to cause the kind of mental anxiety that evangelicals in particular feel about many historical-critical assertions. Likewise, also with deferred prophecy, their work in this lengthy chapter suggests that “apparent problems with prophecy in the Bible” need not “jeopardize the Christian faith”. These “‘problems’ stem not from a shortcoming in Scripture itself, but in our preconceptions about what prophecy must be” (123).

Chapter six, co-authored by Ansberry, Casey Strine, Edward Klink III and David Lincicum, delves into the questions relating to pseudepigraphy. Summaries of critical scholarship pertaining to the authorship and the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Gospel of John and the Pauline corpus, suggest that one’s account of the locus of a text’s authority need to be clarified. Ultimately:

[A]cceptance of pseudepigraphy or pseudonymity in the biblical canon neither undermines the principal tenets of the Christian faith nor operates outside the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. Rather it refines our understanding of the nature of Scripture, reorients our focus away from the human author’s work to God’s work, and reinforces our trust in the Spirit’s activity through the production of Scripture. (157)

Chapter seven is a bold attempt to confront critical issues relating to the “historical Jesus”. Michael Daling and (once again) Hays “contend that the discipline of historical Jesus scholarship does not lead inevitably to heresy, so much as it engages both believing and non-believing scholars in debates of real significance for the beliefs of the Church” (159). They make this claim by taking firm hold of the nettle, and the thorny questions surrounding Jesus’ self-understanding, miracles, virgin birth and resurrection. Again, having summarized some of the critical issues in play, their concern is to elucidate the theological ramifications of those historical-critical concerns. Ultimately, orthodox Christianity can accommodate both the notion that Jesus was ignorant of certain things, and that this or that miracle story is not historical, even if a wholesale rejection of miracles raises its own problems. Nevertheless, the evangelical may not deny either the virgin birth or the resurrection, even if some flexibility can be allowed for how these are precisely interpreted. Historical-criticism is simply “out of its methodological depth” imperially to adjudicate on these matters.

The final “case study” chapter, penned by Aaron Kuecker and Kelly Liebengood, relates the contradictions between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the letters, both in matters of chronology and theology. After examining a few scholarly proposals for negotiating these tensions, they present six points for negotiating the theological challenges these issues raise. Ultimately:

The fundamental question, then, in any comparison of Luke’s Paul and the Paul of the epistles is not whether the two portraits paint the same life or theology of the apostle to the nations, but rather whether Luke’s Paul and the Paul of the epistles bear witness to the same Messiah Jesus who pours out the Spirit and makes known the Father. (202, italics theirs)

Monday, March 23, 2015

How does an apocalyptic reading of Paul differ from Wright’s?

A friend asked this question online, so I gave it a stab in the comments.

For me, at the level of methodology, apocalyptic readings do at least four things which are less obvious (though not absent) in Wright. It is late here, so in the morning I may remember that I have left out one or two important points, but indulge me. And of course, I am aware that “apocalyptic” does not designate a unified “school”. It has also developed considerably over the years. So I here think primarily of Martyn, de Boer, Gaventa, Campbell and such like.

1) In apocalyptic readings there is a greater focus on the contingent historical particularity of Pauline communities, and related to this, discussion of the character and theology of Paul’s opponents.

2) They work with a more inductive, letter focused reading of Paul, before they play with wider narratives. Though they certainly do not necessarily discount those narratives, be they Jewish or imperial “backstories”. These matters are, however, read in light of the network of themes and language within Paul’s letters. This is of course related to the next point.

3) An apocalyptic reading endorses a retrospective epistemology. For example, it makes sure that the “problem” addressed by Paul is disclosed by the “solution”, even if its explanation is not exhausted in those terms. Wright sometimes comes close to endorsing apocalyptic concerns in theory, but at least in practice things work differently, and “backstory” themes here dominate his reading of Paul.

4) An apocalyptic reading is likewise subject-matter or ontology orientated. For example, it will claim that historical-critical work is necessary (see point 1), but it is not sufficient. Divine ontology (understood in Trinitarian categories) impinges on the purpose, nature and method of reading Paul. In this way, they are deeply historical in their methods, yet at the same time they resist historicist tendencies. “Revelation is not a predicate of history, but history is a predicate of revelation” (Karl Barth), and this means reading Paul also involves attending to a lively Word of personal address.

To be clear, Wright also works with a trinitarian theological vision, he speaks of Paul “reimagining” and “rethinking” this or that Jewish “backstory” in light of Christ, he details, in hundreds of pages, historically orientated contextual issues, and he exegetes wide swathes of Paul’s letters. I am aware of all this. Nevertheless, this all tends to play into Wright’s main focus, namely wider narrative concerns that are of hermeneutical import.

So, largely irrespective of contingent particularities (1 above), the network of overlapping themes in Paul (2 above), and the implicit ontological claims a reading generates (4 above), Wright will exegete Gal 3:1-5 in terms of a purported "Exodus narrative", and linguistic links at this level will be elevated in his exegesis (and this is where 3 above plays a role).

Naturally, there are other key disagreements concerning specific themes in Paul, though not as many as some might think. Of particular importance in scholarly discussion is the different way both evil and justification language are presented by Wright, on the one hand, and apocalyptic readings on the other.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My review essay of Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God

In case you’re interested, deGruyter have published my Anvil review essay of Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Given the length of PFG, and particularly that it was split over two books, it seems fitting that my review was likewise too long to contain in one article! It was therefore split into two parts, and by clicking the links below, you will access the “open access” pdfs.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God. A Review Essay (Part 1).” Anvil 31, no. 1 (March 2015): 45–56.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God. A Review Essay (Part 2).” Anvil 31, no. 1 (March 2015): 57–69.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Today if you hear his voice…

…do not harden your heart.

I say this because I’m sending out a powerful faith wave, tonight, which is breaking strongholds even as you read this. Some of you are literally getting up out of wheelchairs just clicking to this webpage announcement.

Inspired by reports of prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar’s audacious call for a donation of $60 million for a new jet, I’m taking a further and even bolder step of faith.

I’m calling on you, my faithful blog readers, to love-gift for Jesus $60 billion to Chris Tilling Really Very Holy Ministries (CTRVHM). I want a better jet than Creflo, obviously, but I could also do with a 6 bedroom property in London, my own golf course, 12 chess lessons with Magnus Carlsen, and an endless book budget. Plus I plan on buying the Nutella company so that I will have plenty of spare jars in my cupboards in case of an apocalypse.

Please don’t feel that your 50 pounds/dollars is an insignificant drop in the ocean of this request. God loves a cheerful giver, and so on.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Alan Garrow presents the “Matthew Conflator Hypothesis”

It was one of the best papers I have ever heard (perhaps the best) and came as something of a shock to my system. Alan Garrow presented his “Matthew Conflator Hypothesis” at King’s University, in 2014, taking use of multimedia to a new level, filling what I had expected would be a rather dull paper with wit and brilliance. More importantly, he offered an extremely plausible solution to the Synoptic Problem, one I had never taught or even thought much about. I’m delighted that Alan has uploaded 5 videos here, explaining his hypothesis. If you don’t love these, you’re mad, certified, and should probably apologies to all trees everywhere that you are using the valuable oxygen they kindly produce.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Can't remember if I put this up before, but it's worthy of creating a doublette even if I did

Jim West posts…

the-person-the-pew-commentary-series“The Time Is Drawing Nigh…

For the commentary to appear in electronic format.  Logos wishes simply to have a few more interested souls pre-ordering before investing in the effort of electronicizing them”


If you enjoy his blog, you know what to do! Buy the crap out of it. Even if you can’t read.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Was Jesus “designated” to be Son of God, implying a change of status?

Ever since I read Daniel Kirk on this (around page 40 of his Unlocking Romans) I have tended towards the translation “designated” – for the reasons Daniel gives (a fact I didn’t see as problematic for a divine Christology in the way I present it). But NTW may have changed my mind!

Tom Wright on ὁρίζω in Rom. 1:4

It is important to stress here, as I have done elsewhere, that though the resurrection thus unveils what was there before, it does not confer or create a new status or identity for Jesus. The key word horisthentos, with its root meaning to do with ‘marking a boundary’, and hence ‘defining’ or ‘determining’, has to do with the public clarification, validation or vindication of a previously made claim, not with a claim or status newly introduced. That is quite clear for three reasons. First, in the passages we studied earlier it is the death of God’s son that reveals God’s love in Romans 5 and 8, and for that to make any sense Jesus must obviously have been ‘God’s son’ when he was crucified. Second, in Romans 1:3–4 itself, the messianic status of ‘son of David’ already, according to Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7, implied that this person was ‘son of God’, so that the logical order of verses 3 and 4 has the force of a Davidic messianic claim to divine sonship being then validated in the resurrection. Third, and also in this passage, the whole double clause is introduced by the phrase ‘the gospel of God … concerning his son’: in other words, the ‘son’ is the subject of the whole sequence. If there is anything new about Jesus’ post-resurrection sonship in this verse, it is simply that his sonship, possessed all along, is now ‘in power’

--- Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p. 700

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reviewing NTW’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God

I’m presently writing a review for Anvil of Wright’s PFG. As I expected, there is much here which has wound me up, much with which I disagree. But equally, and as I expected, there is much to admire, and I have learnt again to appreciate the brilliance and breadth of Wright’s vision and skill. Those who simply dismiss Wright’s massive work—for whatever reason—are deluding themselves! Also, there are nuggets on the way such as this:

‘body’, ‘flesh’, ‘mind’, ‘heart’, ‘spirit’, ‘soul’ and ‘will’. These words sometimes appear to designate different ‘parts’ of a human being, but, as many have pointed out, it is better to see them as each encoding a particular way of looking at the human being as a whole but from one particular angle (491)

Useful. I often hear, in evangelical circles of a more charismatic bent, that a precise analysis of biblical anthropological language is a key for discipleship. But I don’t think we should, properly speaking, talk about an anthropology that the bible is “about” at all (what it is “about” for the church is defined in terms of the Word of God). Either way, Wright’s point here is a useful way of teaching on those issues.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Barthian Actualism in 5 steps

Okay theologian friends, here is my summary of the logic involved in affirming actualistic theology. I've used Nimmo (Being in Action plus his article in the Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth) in the main.

A) is this broadly correct? and
B) if you think this is a faulty theological vision, where does it go wrong?

Actualism, in a nutshell, "conceives of God and Jesus Christ, and (derivatively) of human beings, as beings-in-action" (Nimmo). To get there, it argues (while not pinning anything on the numbering which, to an extent, artificially separates united points):

1. God is who he is in revelation
2.a. This revelation involves events, acts
2.b. This divine "eventfulness" specifically has the name "Jesus"
3.a. So God's being is eventful, active, being-in-action
3.b. As the elect one, and electing God, this divine being-in-action names the event in which God elects to be God for us, and in do doing constitutes himself - his own being - in terms of this particular grace and love.

But actualistic ontology is a christological vision for all of theology, so:

4. This further entails that actualistic theology frames and structures anthropology (which for Barth derives from Christology) —we too are beings-in-action— and thus Barth's theological ethics. It also has ramifications for proclamation and Scripture becoming the Word of God, and the being-in-action of the church.
5. This is to say that actualistic theology resists any being-not-in-action, anything "static", whether it be speech about God, humans, or whatever else. It involves a "Nein", in other words, to substantialistic theology "in which God and human beings would be construed as fixed and determinate quantities in a certain abstraction from their histories, acts, and relationships" (Nimmo in The Westminster Handbook)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


I was interviewed about my forthcoming Eerdmans book while at SBLAAR couple of weeks ago. The proper video will be released early next year. This was a section responding to questions via Tweets (read: Twits).

Me on "Paul, Evil, and Justification Debates" at St Mary's

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Harvey responds to Leithart on First Things

It’s a great piece, and you can read it here. One haymaker:

“Of course, we cannot deny that God is omnipresent, but we can question whether that presence is flat, so to speak. Incarnation, Pentecost, and the return of Christ, for instance, as well as the consummated form of his presence at the End, invite an account of rich variety-in-presence. And, of course, Christians have dared to identify intensities of presence elsewhere: God speaks through prophets, anoints kings, and heals miraculously on occasion, with thin spaces, sacred spaces and all manner of sacramental spaces being regularly identified. In such accounts, God’s omnipresence is far from uniform. It is perhaps better—as so often the case with the triune God—to speak of unity and distinction here”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Guest Post: TJ Lang on Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul

It’s a treat to have Dr. T.J. Lang, Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Durham University, write a brief book notice about Douglas Campbell’s exciting new book, Framing Paul. Without further ado, I’ll pass the mic to TJ…IMG_0861 

Conventions and perceived consensus on subjects in New Testament scholarship are important for ongoing research. They can be very good things. But they can also become lures to lazy scholarship—and boring scholarship. Do we not all too often find the conclusions of previous eras repeated without remembrance of the arguments that sustained them? Might those arguments depend on claims we would no longer accept and presumptions we should no longer share?

With respect to Pauline scholarship the usual conventions are well known. If you want to write on Paul, you best stick to the so-called Hauptbriefe. Philippians is great, too. It’s fine to bring in something from 1 Thessalonians if you can, and even Philemon, but they’re mostly harmless. The other canonical letters, whatever you really think about them, are best left alone; it’s just easier this way. This convention certainly has advantages. It’s clearly more convenient to write on Paul when six or seven or nine of his letters have been cleanly amputated from the data set. But what if the so-called disputed letters aren’t fake, and instead our habit of reasoning on these matters is dubious? Furthermore, even if deemed inauthentic in good faith to critical standards, shouldn’t excluded letters merit some consideration, or even some account for why the Pauline legacy has been taken in a particular direction and why or how the differences matter. Take E.P. Sanders’ magisterial Paul and Palestinian Judaism, arguably the most important book on Paul in the 20th century (it’s surely on the shortlist). No passages from Ephesians and Colossians are ever cited in the main text. Not one. (Although Ephesians does appear in one footnote and Colossians in two.) Texts from the Pastoral Epistles are never referred to at all. (This isn’t a trick, like the famous listing for “Truth, ultimate” in the subject index, which directs the reader to three blank pages.) These “Pauline” letters are denied any role in defining or contributing to the critical analysis of Paul’s thought. It’s no wonder then that people so frequently maintain that the disputed or deuteropauline letters don’t “seem” Pauline to them. Of course they don’t. How could they when they are nearly absent from most major treatments of Paul? Once you stop reading them it’s to be expected that they will seem strange to you. Their marginalization is self-reinforcing.

Alright, enough griping. I come to praise Douglas Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, which provides an injection of intellectual energy into the stale conventions described above. After this book the old habits may still persist, but they cannot do so as easily, and all positions will be made sharper by engaging this work. Campbell’s arguments are historically vigorous, bracingly original, and certain to cause offense to dogmatists on any point of any ideological spectrum. Many hackneyed arguments for or against the integrity or authenticity of various letters are finally slain. And the resulting chronology, which is based on critical data not yet considered by previous proposals and conducted on strict internal grounds, is certain to provoke numerous exegetical, biographical, and theological debates. The result is ten authentic letters addressed to seven churches—ten letters which fortuitously correspond to our earliest known edition of the Pauline corpus (that of Marcion) and seven churches reminiscent of those addressed in Revelation 2-3. Perhaps even more interesting is the claim that Paul’s Laodiceans (“Ephesians”), Colossians, and Philemon belong near the beginning of Paul’s letter-writing career, in mid to late 50 CE, and thus reflect the thought of an incarcerated yet optimistic Apostle in Asia Minor not yet embattled in the Judaizing conflicts represented in Galatians, Philippians, and Romans (composed in that sequence in 51-52 CE). This is just a sample of the original theses in the book.

It is, in short, simply thrilling to read (which may say more about me than the book, but still, it’s thrilling!). This will be true whether you find yourself persuaded or not. It’s good for our minds and our critical instincts to reevaluate foundational questions. Books like Framing Paul are all too rare, but when they appear they make the lives of Pauline scholars more interesting. This particular book makes Paul a whole lot more interesting as well.

Priesting your collective Daseins

I like to serve the ecclesial community on this blog. Today, for free, I'm offering some potential strap-lines created for your college or church webpages, aimed to encourage people into ordination. I think they will work. Honouring the whole priestly "ontological change" caboodle:
  • "Feeling a bit droopy in the ontologicals? Go to college / seminary: they offer a three or five year ontic-lift. Give your state of being a priestly kick up the ass (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "Come to ordination college and get the crap priested out of you, because it's basically the ToysRus for all for your ontological insufficiency needs (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "You're embarrassed because you've just discovered that you have 'ontic pagans'. At college / seminary, they offer the very best in discrete help. If you've already got a theology degree, come to priesting college for a two year gastrointestinal purge of your complete ontological status (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"
  • "You're the ontological drag factor in your church? Go to college and get yo ass ontologically changed at priest factory (© Chris Tilling, 2014)"