Sunday, March 30, 2008

I’m still ill

This virus is tacking quite a while to shake and my temperature has been crazily high. I haven't even been able to read much either (oh the horror) because of the headaches.

And no blogging, as perhaps you have noticed. Which is probably just as well as I so wanted to write a post about the Peter Enns situation, and given my high temperature some necessary tact may have been forgotten in my righteous passion.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Prayers Plainly Spoken - 5

This ends my short series on Hauerwas' Prayers Plainly Spoken. Some of the prayers are irreverent and raw, as indeed are some biblical Psalms. What do you make of the following sort of prayer?

In the aftermath of hurricane Fran:

'... What are we to say to you: Are you in the hurricane? We fear acknowledging that you may be. We want to protect you. Do we dare to believe that Christ could still the winds? We want our world regular, predictable, not subject to disorder or chaos. So if you are in the hurricane, please just butt out. We confess we have lost the skill to see you in your creation. We pray to you to care for those injured, those in shock, those without housing, those in despair, but how can you do so if you are not in the hurricane? We confess we do not know how to put this together' (105-106)


Prayers Plainly Spoken - 4

Hauerwas introduces his prayer, No Rose Garden, but How About Some Daises?, with these words: 'I wrote this prayer in response to a particularly egregious act by a member of the divinity school community that brought shame on the school'.

'WIERD LORD, you never promised us a rose garden, but right now we could use a few daises or zinnias. We feel confused, unsure of where we are, angry because a wrong has been done, and we are unsure who to blame. It ought to be somebody's fault, but even the one who is to blame is so pathetic it hardly seems worth the effort [!!!!!]... Work on us to make us a community of truthfulness' (84).

Well, I thought that was really funny!


Prayers Plainly Spoken - 3

Theology as a Way to Control You

REVEALING AND TERRIFYING GOD, whose very revelation is mystery, forgive our frightened attempts to possess you. You have created us for yourself, but we find that hard to believe, much less live. So we strut across your creation as if we really understood you. Theology becomes our way to try to be in control, dear God, even of you. So was ask for the humility that comes from the unavoidable recognition that you insist on our being your people. What an extraordinary thing. AMEN

(From pg. 54)

From the prayer Virtues of Fear and Hate:

'Give us the virtue of love that we might rightly hate that which is hateful' (59)

From the prayer: A Prayer to the Jester King

'FUNNY LORD, Jester King, you are surely a strange God. You must have an extraordinary sense of humor to trust your kingdom to a people like us' (62)


Prayers Plainly Spoken - 2

The following prayer is a good example of the disarming honesty Hauerwas seeks:

Living Confessions of Love

LORD OF ALL LIFE, we come before you not knowing who we are. We strut our stuff, trying to impress others with our self-confidence. In the process we hope to be what we pretend. Save us from such pretense, that we might learn who we are through trust in you to make us more than we can imagine. Help us, Augustine-like, to reread our lives as confessions of sin made possible by your love. Bind up our wounds and our joys so that our lives finally make sense only as a prayer to you.


(From pg. 29)


Prayers Plainly Spoken - 1

Thanks to the kind folk at Wipf and Stock for a copy of Stanley Hauerwas' Prayers Plainly Spoken. 1999. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.

Now that my health has started to return, I will write a series of posts today on Hauerwas' little book. This is a curious selection of prayers, vibrantly and almost heretically honest (like many of the biblical Psalms), and often amusing. So Hauerwas writes that 'these prayers are not "holy"' (12)! He continues: 'If anything, these prayers are plain. They are so because I discovered I could not pray differently than I speak. In other words, I thought it would be a mistake to try to assume a different identity when I prayed. I figured (Texans 'figure') that God could take it, because God did not need to be protected. I think I learned this over the years by praying the Psalms in church. God does not want us to come to the altar different from how we live the rest of our lives. Therefore I do not try to be pious or use pious language in these prayers. I try to speak plainly, yet I hope with some eloquence, since nothing is more eloquent than simplicity' (13).

These prayers were originally prayed in Hauerwas' Duke divinity school classroom on a variety of occasions, and to quote some book blurb, they show how 'Christians can pray with all the passion, turbulence and life of the ancient psalmists'.

However, by 'plain' he certainly does not mean they are not thought through. '[I]t is my hope that these prayers reflect what I have learned about what it means to be a Christian'. He continues: 'Prayer is our most determinative speech. Any theology, therefore, that is finally not about helping us to pray cannot be Christian. In an odd way, then, this book represents the most important testing of my theological work' (15).

In the following few posts, today, I'll be offering some of Hauerwas' prayers, for discussion, enlightenment, encouragement, and most of all – to pray.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thought for the day

When I try to think about the new heavens and earth, the future God has graciously promised, my hope cannot survive if it thinks in terms of usual possibilities or potentials. But in the resurrection of Jesus Christ I believe the dawn of the future new creation is glimpsed, a creation as depended on God as it was for its origin and continual existence. There, and only there, my hope finds its anchor, animation, energy and purpose.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


  • Matthew D. Montonini has posted an interview with guest poster, Prof. Klyne Snodgrass, author of Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. Great job, chaps!
  • Dan writes a terrific open letter to Jürgen Moltmann
  • Loren Rossen writes part II on 'What did Paul Mean by Fulfilling the Law?'
  • Jim West shows some very worrying and depraved signs in this post. I quote:

    'James Crossley ... he's a very handsome man'; 'Mark Goodacre ... he's a handsome man as well'.

    I hear 'YMCA' being sung in the background. This rather creepy man-love was already starting to slime to the surface here. 'Given over', I tell you. Pray for his soul.
  • However, salt and sugar, as it were, often come from the same pen. Jim also managed to write this gem. Prepare to be worried if 'you have numerous broken links, don't engage with others vie a blogroll, post irregularly, have no comments function, and lack any sense of humor'.
  • Chris Heard tells of an article from an upcoming issue from The Annals of Applied Statistics by Randall Ingermanson. Rather amazingly, footnote one refers to this blog, and a guest post by Richard Bauckham! As Chris said: 'Score one for biblicablogdom!'
  • Ben Witherington III posts a section from his 'forthcoming two volume work on NT Theology and Ethics, entitled The Indelible Image'. There is good discussion in the comments, too.
  • For chess players, the Chessbase team reveals a new calculation training option in Fritz 11. Part one and part two.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Guest post by Klyne Snodgrass

The following is a guest post by Prof. Klyne Snodgrass, the author of the important new volume, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. He responds to my review of the book, and, er, my little poke: Scandal of the day: Snodgrass critiques Wright. In the following, he confronts my Wrightian idolatry head on!

First, thank you for the attention given to my work. That others give serious attention to what I have done is about all I can ask. My goal was not to have people agree with me, but to provide—primarily for myself—a comprehensive treatment of each parable (well, at least most of them) and to provide as much as possible the resources and insights needed to interpret the parable, even if a person chooses not to agree with me.

I agree fully that footnotes would be better than endnotes. Some of the notes were so long (like one on allegory in the introduction) that they could not be placed at the bottom of the page. Incidentally, while scholars prefer footnotes, pastors have expressed gratitude that the publisher used endnotes.

You need to be aware that the title is a protest. This was my title, not the publishers. (On the other hand, the artwork on the dustcover is entirely from the publisher.) From the early days of the church to today people have done what they will with the parables to make them serve every purpose imaginable, but Jesus, like prophets before him, told parables with a prophetic intent to confront, challenge, and enlighten God's people. I have given a pretty full report of what others have done, but I have tried to see the parables within the larger context of Jesus' ministry to Israel. If we do not hear Jesus' intent, as hard as that may be at times, why are we even reading the parables?

You are correct that I am quite in line with Bauckham's work in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. On the scandal of the day, I did not know critiquing Wright was a scandal! Flee idolatry! I am quite sure Wright is wrong on the coming of the Son of Man, but Tom makes the work of the rest of us much easier. I love the guy, and I am more in agreement with Tom than not. Especially with regard to his approach to parables, Wright is very good. He is one of the few who sees that parables are prophetic instruments, and I push that point partly in dependence on him. However, his reading of individual parables is less convincing. While he is correct that some of the parables are Israel's story, with others I think this is overreading Jesus' stories and forcing all of them into a mold. No where is this more the case than with the Prodigal Son and Elder Brother, and in my mind if the elder brother does not represent the Samaritans, then it is difficult to see the prodigal pointing to the nation. Luke 15:1-2 certainly does not set up the parable that way. A word of caution is needed though. These parables are not allegories, but analogies, and there is a difference. Compare my treatment, e.g., of the Lost Coin. For a more direct treatment of Wright's approach see my "Reading and Overreading the Parables in Jesus and the Victory of God," Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. Edited by Carey Newman. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999, 61-76.

One topic that I have not seen anyone comment on so far is my attempt to map out the eschatological givens of Jesus' message and work. I did this in the chapter on parables of future eschatology. I argue the parables in the Eschatological Discourse in Matt 24-25 are first hand evidence of Jesus' eschatology. Something akin to a hermeneutical circle is involved in talking about Jesus' eschatology and his eschatological parables. I am sure some will not like what I do with these parables, but I could do no other.

Peace and a meaningful Easter to all of you,



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Happy 80th Birthday Hans Küng!

Today, the 19th of March 2008, marks the 80th birthday of the great Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Küng. I extend my warmest online blessings to him.

As a small birthday gesture, I put a copy of my recent article in his post-box: Chris Tilling, "Engaging Science in the Mode of Trust: Hans Küng's 'The Beginning of All Things'." Zygon 43, no. 1 (March 2008): 195–210.

He closed his On Being a Christian, with the following words:

'By following Jesus Christ,
people in the world of today
can live, act, suffer and die
in a truly human way;
in happiness and unhappiness, life and death,
sustained by God and helpful to fellow men and women'

Here is a hearty Danke to 80 years of being sustained by God.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Two new books on Galatians

A couple of interesting new monographs on Galatians have recently been published by Mohr Siebeck:

First is Justin K. Hardin's Galatians and the imperial cult: a critical analysis of the First-Century social context of Paul's letter. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

I'm no Galatians expert but my favourite Galatians commentary is probably Jimmy Dunn's brilliant effort in the Black's NT Commentaries series. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of J. Louis Martyn's Anchor Bible commentary, so I was glad to see Hardin propose an exegetical approach to Gal. 4:1-11 that rejects the notion that Paul was rebuffing any idea of 'salvation history'. In my view he rightly argues:

'[T]here is no inherent dichotomy between Paul's apocalyptic thought and his concern for the reversal of Israel's plight under the (curse of the ) Law and the inclusion of the Gentiles as Gods people. Far from salvation history beginning from the time of God's eschatological invasion in human history through Christ, as Martyn asserts, the incarnation rather was the pinnacle (dare I say climax?) of God's saving activity in the world' (154).

As is clear from the book title, of course, a major focus of Hardin's little monograph concerns the whole 'imperial cult' debate. He argues that this cultic background needs to be taken seriously in reading Galatians, and offers 'a plausible way forward for understanding the crisis in Galatia' (155).

Second is Todd A. Wilson's The curse of the law and the crisis in Galatia: reassessing the purpose of Galatians. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.

In a quick flyover, in Part 1 he argues that the rhetoric of cursing is of greater importance in Galatians than is usually assumed, and even played a key part in the Agitators appeal for circumcision. In Part 2, he examines the four references to the Law in 5:13 to 6:10 and argues that Paul's appeal to the law was intended to maintain that it is fulfilled, and the curse thereby avoided, by serving and loving one another. The curse of the law is thus only avoided by fulfilling the law.

'While Christ has redeemed us from the Law's curse (3.13), he has done so neither by eradicating any possible threat of a curse nor by circumventing the Law altogether. Instead, his death has allowed, as Paul says, the sending of the Spirit ..., who in turn enables believers to fulfil the Law and thereby avoid the Law's curse' (116).

Without looking into the book in any depth, which in point of argument reminds me somehow of Hafemann's work in 2 Corinthians, my initial feeling is that his approach may leave much unexplained in Galatians – but this is only a very uninformed initial thought. Is not the very concept of 'law' transformed by Paul when he speaks of it positively, such that the continued extension of Israel's Law and its curse today for all outside Christ's ethical empowering is questionable? The curse of 1 Cor. 16:22 is not on those who do not obey the law, but on those who have no love for Christ. Anyway, I won't carry on until I've actually read Wilson's contribution! Some thought-provoking stuff here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And now for something completely different

Before I started my doctorate, I naively wanted to write a chess book. Bit mad really as I'm not a great player. And these days I simply don't have the time to play for a club, or train my opening knowledge, endgame play etc. But I still love the game, follow the big pro tournaments (incidentally, one of my all time favourites just finished), and deeply enjoy solving tactical puzzles. I especially delight in stretching my mind by trying to solve tactical problems without sight of a board. It is something about the required mental energy that fascinates me. Perhaps I will return to that far-fetched book project one day.

Here is an easier challenge to tackle: Without sight of the board, play these moves in your mind:

1. e4, e5 2. Nf3, Nc6 3.Bc4, Nf6 4. d4, exd4 5. c3, dxc3 6. e5, Ne4?

Now, close your eyes. What was White's winning 7th move?

What has this to do with a NT related blog? Well, errr, one webpage tells me that those who have played chess include Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury), Charles Borromeo (Bishop of Milan), Pope Gregory VI, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, Pope Leo X, Pope Leo XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, and Billy Graham! Given this list of Popes, and even the great Billy, I have added a 'chess problem of the day' feature at the bottom of my sidebar.

Oh yes, click here to play chess online against fun levels of Shredder 11.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Much has been said about John Hagee's Zionism today. In light of that I will make mention of the following:

I read a decent, if rather too short, article today, namely Bruce Longenecker's, "On Israel's God and God's Israel: Assessing Supersessionism in Paul", JTS 58, no. 1 (2007): 26–44.

From the abstract: 'Does the church replace ethnic Israel in Paul's thinking (as so many have imagined throughout the history of the Christian church)? Or is ethnic Israel on a separate salvific path by way of her covenant election (as many are now currently advocating)? Or are there other dimensions to be considered?'

Longenecker arguably rightly rejects, in critical dialogue with Stanley Stowers' A Rereading of Romans, the Sonderweg option, that Israel has a way of salvation independent of Christ. Of course, on certain moral grounds one can see why such a view obtained a foothold in NT scholarship, but I still do not understand how it ever became so popular in the name of the Apostle Paul. Longenecker concludes that Paul's theology 'included a type of supersessionism over against non-Christian forms of Judaism' (34). Right. However, Longenecker is very careful to formulate his position in contradistinction to the 'replacement virus' (38). Indeed! The replacement view is rightly identified as a virus, a position the Apostle Paul would of course never have accepted. He asks some thought provoking questions towards the end of the article. In particular, these stuck with me:

'I wonder whether we can afford to ignore the handful of Jewish interpreters who have seen Paul's supersessionism as something of a laudable development in one way or another within the context of first-century Judaism/Judaisms? Is there scope for seeing Paul's supersessionism as in some sense a positive development in some of its goals—regardless of the veracity of its truth claims?' (41)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: Ancient Christian Devotional

I am quite the total book review machine at the moment, so thanks to IVP for a review copy of Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings (IVP: Downers Grove, Ill., 2007), general ed. Thomas C. Oden, ed. Cindy Crosby

My own rediscovery of liturgy, and my more recent appetite for the church fathers, finds perfect combination in this new IVP book. In a nutshell, '[t]his guide to prayer and reflection combines excerpts from the writings of the church fathers as found in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture with a simple structure for daily or weekly reading and prayer' (backcover).

Each week has:

  • Focused readings and reflections upon a certain theme
  • an opening prayer taken from early church sources (indexed in the back)
  • scripture readings from the OT, Epistles and Gospels, in keeping with the church lectionary cycles (i.e. it is connected to cycle A of the Revised Common Lectionary)
  • a psalm of response
  • multiple reflections from the church fathers. This week's reflections (week 16), for example, are taken from Lactantius (that sounds like a disease, to me), Tertullian, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Cyril of Alexandria.
  • and a closing prayer, taken again from ancient sources

At the end of the book is a helpful biographical section, introducing the characters named throughout – a real necessity for church history numpties like me. So, on page 283 I learn that the Ambrosian is a Latin liturgical rite, not a type of rice pudding. Don't look at me like that! You know you thought the same!

For me, while it won't replace the Anglican Common Worship: Daily Prayer, I have found this devotional useful, and I turn to it now and then for more variety in my liturgical diet. All the more so as I am often starving for tradition! Plus, because its liturgical programme is not too demanding it is nonthreatening and adaptable.

You can watch a video presentation about the book, here, and read an interview with the author here.

(Note to self: On the 12th March, 2008, I wrote a review for a liturgical book focusing on the fathers. If only a seven-year younger version of me could see what I have become. 'Liturgy' and 'tradition' used to be words best spat, like cuss words: 'Get your liturgical tradition out of the way, you son of a liturgy'. How the tides change)


Scandal of the decade

'It can be concluded that Wright has not provided a convincing defence of the historicity of Mark 13' (James Crossley, The Date of Mark's Gospel, 27, italics mine)

And it started off so well: 'Wright has provided important and convincing arguments in favour of the historicity of many of the passages in the synoptic tradition' (Ibid, 20)


Paul, eschatological restoration and intertextuality

The more I read Paul and try to understand how he used scripture, the more convinced I am that his reliance on the Prophetic narrative of exile and restoration needs greater emphasis.

Take 2 Corinthians, for example. Paul's scriptural citations in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 (namely 2 Sam. 7:14; Ezek. 20:34; Isa. 43:6; 52:11) demonstrate that Paul 'sees the beginning fulfilment of the promised restoration of God's people already taking place in the establishment of the Corinthian church' (Scott J. Hafemann, "The Covenant Relationship," in Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity, eds Scott J. Hafemann, Paul R. House [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007], 60). This sounds convincing, unless these verses constitute a non-Pauline interpolation, of course! But also in 2 Corinthians 3 one finds mention of numerous themes associated with the promised return from exile: new covenant, the gift of the spirit, a new heart. In Christ God's promises are 'yes' (cf. 2 Cor 1:20)

So, when I read, for example, Paul's use of the 'husband' metaphor in 2 Cor. 11:2-3 I am more tempted these days to read a greater eschatological significance into Paul's allusions than previously. To explain:

The mention of the 'YHWH as husband of Israel' metaphor is found in Isaiah 54:5-6, the context of which is that of Israel's re-gathering and restoration after exile. The employment of the metaphor in Isaiah 62:5 concerns, once again, the vindication and salvation of God's people. In fulfilling his promise, God will rejoice over his people 'For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you' (62:5). In Jeremiah 3, the metaphor is used in terms of the reunification of the twelve tribes ('the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel', 3:18) and their return from exile to the Land (3:18-19). Exile happened because 'as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel' (3:20). Of course, Hosea is replete with the metaphor. While the nation's sin is like adultery against YHWH, after punishment (2:13) there will be a day when 'I [the Lord] will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD' (2:19-20).

This would mean that the eschatological event of God's restoration, and the accompanying marriage of God to his people, is expressed by Paul in terms of the relation between risen Lord and believers, of the marriage between Christ and believers. It is not merely that Paul uses the husband language in a stale and effectively synchronic employment of God language. Rather, the allusion is bent around an eschatological agenda, is shaped by a diachronic force.

Now the crunch: this conclusion assumes 1) Paul knew the context of the prophetic texts which he cites or alludes, and 2) that this context mattered to Paul. While the first is a safe bet, is the second? I think the only way of knowing is judging how any metalepsis illuminates our reading of Paul. But for such allusions as those in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 it is difficult to say. Can we really know how much of the context of an allusion or citation finds reflection in Paul?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Liturgy and theology

I've been rather busy this weekend, especially yesterday with my brother-in-law's confirmation into the Landeskirche. The Germans take conformation very seriously – an all day celebration. During the festivities I managed to start John E. Colwell's new book, The Rhythm of Doctrine. And I am really excited about this one, so far. Colwell speaks from my heart. He structures a systematic theology around the liturgical year, bringing theology back home to its doxological roots. If God is known in worship and prayer, why not speak theologically in light of the devotion of the church (he follows a version of the 'daily office': Celebrating Common Prayer)? I suspect many of my readers will love this book.

Creative Idea of the Day

Today's Creative Idea to Lighten Up a Church Service is a) biblical, b) full of evangelistic potential, c) simply yet another great idea from CTRVHM and d) bound to bring about the defeat of all kinds of territorial demonic strong holds.

You have no doubt heard of 'prayer ministry', 'deliverance ministry', 'book sale ministry', 'youth ministry' etc. The creative suggestion for the day is to start up your own 'Tonsil hockey' ministry. Based on verses such 1 Peter 5:14, Rom. 16:16, 1 Co. 16:20, 2 Co. 13:12, and 1 Thess. 5:26 (I want to point out, the Greek is unmistakably in the imperative), at your next Sunday service greet your unmarried sister (or brother) with an unforgettable 'kiss of lurrrrve'. Bring your lips up out of exile, and let those roaming kisses go free.

Also, you've heard of 'open air' street evangelism? Preaching on a street corner to passersby? Well, what about open air street kiss evangelism? This will probably get you punched as well, which is, of course, persecution – proving you are righteous.

The Evil Zwingli meme

I tend not to get involved with these 'meme' things, but after Doug tagged me, well, I really can't resist this one. He explains the rules:

"It seems that Jim West blogs to annoy other people. One of the things that particularly annoys him is memes. For a moment I was tempted to encourage you to send him every meme you've got. But I've had a better idea. This is a meme with two very simple rules.

1) Post something rude about Zwingli. (Outrageous slander especially welcome.)
2) Tag someone who is NOT Jim West"

I think the following will have the desired effect (annoy West), especially because we all know that I'm simply stating the truth:

Were the terminology around at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Zwingli would have been called 'emergent'. Were he alive today, I suspect he would be very suspicious of Bultmann, and would shake his head in frustration at the minimalists – and probably make rude jokes about them. Plus, from this picture it is clear that he wore lipstick, and probably eyeliner. In other words, we have a cross-dressing, emergent closet Fundamentalist.

I tag Nick Norelli

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Eleven Reasons why I like Bultmann

I was asked by a friend last week what I like about Bultmann:

  1. He's German. So is my wife (that should score me points with the ladies)
  2. He sounds like a character from an old Frankenstein movie, which is kinda cool
  3. He smoked a pipe and had big friendly cheeks
  4. His theological vision, together with its relationship with NT exegesis, was breathtaking in its scope. He sought to answer many problems all at once, and in many ways was arguably successful.
  5. He was a fine exegete. Cf. especially his commentary on 2 Corinthians.
  6. He recovered the centrality of the gospel, of God's word to us in Christ, from some of the more fanciful projections of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, and wedded it to a healthy Lutheran spirituality.
  7. His faith was fearless. He looked the loin of critical scholarship in the mouth and said 'do your worst!' – and he, in fact, led the way in developing new tools for understanding the text.
  8. His preaching was, at least at one level, highly practical, existential, demanding of a decision for Christ.
  9. He wrote succinctly and clearly.
  10. Theology for Bultmann was not mere speculation; to speak of God is about the faith and life of the believer.
  11. Theology for Bultmann was, at least in principle, grounded in exegesis, in his dealing with the biblical texts.

Oddly, in almost all of the above points I also see a dark shadow cast. Precisely in his strengths one finds the roots and/or evidence of his most detrimental weaknesses. But they are for another post.

What if?

One of those thoughts that happened to float around in my head this morning:

What if Gunkel, Deissmann and co had suffered from a bad stutter as they spoke?

"D-D-Die Re-re-religionsge-ge-ge-geschichtliche Schschchchchch-ule"

You could hardly finish a word, in German, never mind a sentence. NT scholarship would have taken a different route!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Scandal of the day: Snodgrass critiques Wright

In discussing the various analyses of the parables of future eschatology, Snodgrass argues that 'certain options are [to be] excluded'. The second of his excluded options is the proposal that 'the coming of the Son of Man in glory' is to be equated with 'the destruction of Jerusalem as N.T. Wright suggests' (479). His reasons:

'Jerusalem had been destroyed in 586 B.C. and would be again in 135 A.D. What makes the destruction in 70 A.D. so crucial that it would be describes as the coming of the Son of Man, and why was the destruction so unimportant to the early church that it is never mentioned?' He continues: 'The early church saw the vindication and victory in the resurrection, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and in the expected parousia' (479).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The extremely likeable Chris Brady, of Targuman, interviewed me for a 'biblicapodcast' this evening. Chris, as you will hear, is a dab hand at this sort of thing, whereas I struggled to get my microphone working properly. My mic ended up awkwardly draped around my neck, so my voice sounds a bit rough (actually, a bit like a couple of squirrels were trying to hump my microphone at the same time as me speaking), though you can still hear me clearly enough.

How do I introduce a post about an interview with me without sounding conceited? Let me speak about my interviewer, instead: Chris Brady has a nice smooth voice, plus he is the super hero grandmaster wizard expert of Aramaic Targuman! He's worth listening to!

You can download it here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Book Review: Stories with Intent

My thanks to the kind folk at Eerdmans for a review copy of Klyne R. Snodgrass' Magnus opus, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008).

Some books have no rivals because of the quality of their reasoning, subtleness of exegetical insight etc. Others have no rivals because they offer something no other book even attempts. One can say that Snodgrass' Stories with Intent, also has no rivals - for a mixture of both of these reasons. At over 850 pages, Graham Stanton rightly exclaims that this book 'will be the book on the parables for the next decade and beyond'. We have here, with Stories with Intent, a real publishing event.

Of course, such a long work, as Snodgrass explains in his preface, is not meant to be read in one go. It functions as a resource manual, as a mine of relevant information concerning all of the parables of Jesus, carefully sifted from all manner of historical sources.

His introduction to the parables of Jesus includes a discussion of his definition of 'parable' ('an expanded analogy used to convince and persuade', 9), the characteristics of Jesus' parables, an examination of how parables should be interpreted, and a look at NT criticisms in relation to the parables. Wisely, in my view, he questions a number of dubious assumptions behind much previous work on the parables, such as the notion that there was 'an original' form, that 'items with allegorical significance were probably added', that 'the handing on of traditional material follows certain "laws" so that the shorter is earlier, the more detailed is later, etc.', that 'the parables can be read as mirror images of what was happening in the Evangelists' communities', and so on (cf. 32). All of this is naturally expressive of his methodological approach throughout the work.

Particularly revealing of his methodology are also his statements at the end of the introduction. In terms of the question of historical reconstructions of the life of Jesus, he argues along with Dunn that '[w]e do not have the ipsissima verba of Jesus ... and attempted reconstructions are not going to supply them ... the only Jesus that exists is the historic, biblical Christ. Anything else is a figment of the imagination' (35). As he later explains, he recognises very well the 'the essential fidelity of the Gospel writers to the tradition they received and the freedom with which they adapted it' (280). Because of this, we are left, for better or worse, with the biblical Christ. I am reminded of similar claims in Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, in which the author formulated his argument in dialogue with M. Bloch, R.G. Collingwood, Paul Ricoeur etc. Of course, Snodgrass is careful to fend off potential misunderstandings of his statements. But it is such comments as these that show the massive changes presently underway in much historical Jesus scholarship. But I am left wondering, Is any other approach really only 'a figment of the imagination'? How can we know that? How do we know if the Gospel writers handled their traditions with fidelity and freedom? Is this wanting to have our cake and eat it? While I think some good answers are forthcoming in terms of the last two questions, the others hang in the air, not so easily waved away. Nevertheless, I for one am heartily in favour of this overturning of the many presuppositional 'holy cows' that have driven much historical Jesus scholarship into many a bizarre dead end. About 90% of me passionately stands behind Snodgrass on these issues!

After this, Snodgrass turns to examine parables in the ancient world, namely in the Old Testament, early Jewish and Greco-Roman writings, the early church and later Jewish writings. Jesus, of course, was not the first to use parables. Yet prior to him, it appears that they were not used so forcefully or frequently. What is more, parables mostly have a very dependent relationship with the context in which they are said (which is why I wanted more appreciation of Wright's insights. But more on that anon).

In the following, Snodgrass turns his attention the various parables, categorising them thematically under the following chapter headings:

  • Grace and Responsibility (Matt 18:23-35; Luke 7:41-43)
  • Parables of Lostness (Luke 15; Matt 18:22-14)
  • The Parable of the Sower and the Purpose of Parables (Matt 13:3-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:5-15)
  • Parables of the Present Kingdom (Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 13)
  • Parables Specifically about Israel (Matt 21:28-32, 33-46; 22:1-14; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 13:6-9; 14:15-24; 20:9-19; Gos. Thom. 64-66 – though it wouldn't worry me, for those panicking at the sight of 'Gos. Thom.', I say 'fear not', for Snodgrass argues that these texts are dependent on the canonical witnesses!).
  • Parables about Discipleship (Matt 7:24-27; 20:1-16; Luke 6:47-49; 10:25-37; 14:28-32)
  • Parables about Money (Luke 12:16-21; 16:1-13, 19-31)
  • Parables concerning God and Prayer (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-14)
  • and Parables of Future Eschatology (the Eschatological Discourse; Matt 13:47-50; Matt 25:1-46; Luke 19:11-27)

For each parable, Snodgrass seeks to provide an introduction, an examination of the parable type, a list of issues requiring attention, a look at helpful source material, categorised and cited according the divisions employed in his study of 'parables in the ancient world'. He offers a comparison of the various accounts of the parable, a study of textual features worthy of attention and relevant cultural information, and an explanation of the parable (with 'options for interpretation', 'decisions on the issue'). Finally, he offers a section on 'adapting the parable' (for today), a further reading list and often some final remarks. All of these issues are raised in turn, in relation to the parables, in a structured manner.

It is clear that this material has been prepared with specific goals in mind. As he writes in the preface, the material is 'what I want when preparing to teach or preach on the parables' (xi). In other words, the material Snodgrass provides is of interest for all, whether scholar, student or preacher. As Martin Hengel comments in his book blurb. Stories with Intent is a book 'written for pastors and scholars, for students of the Bible, and for laypeople interested in the teaching of Jesus'. And given the consistent divisions in the discussion concerning each parable, finding whatever information is of interest is not difficult.

I have just one major grumble with the format of the book, however. Eerdmans decided to use endnotes. Why oh why?! Endnotes come from the pit; they are the invention of the satanic hoards! Please, oh please: Footnotes!! It makes it SO much easier to read. Perhaps the editor was worried Snodgrass' potential readers were going to be 'frightened away' by so many footnotes. But I think that the size of the book would have done all of the frightening away before that sort of reader would have been put off by footnotes. Please! FOOTNOTES!

I also had a small grumble with Snodgrass' critique of Wright's (peace be upon him) approach to material in Luke 15. Anybody who has read Jesus and the Victory of God (which is my all time favourite book, if I haven't yet mentioned that this week) will know Wright's approach to the parable of what Snodgrass calls 'the compassionate Father and his two lost Sons' (Luke 15:11-32). Wright, if you remember, argues that the controlling story for understanding the parable is that of exile and return, and that this parable is to a large extent that story in miniature. Snodgrass dismisses Wright's suggestion with the argument that his attempt to explain the significance of the elder brother is dubious (Wright proposes that the elder brother represents the Samaritans). I agree with Snodgrass that Wright's thesis at this point is questionable, but that is not enough to wipe the rest of Wright's proposal away! Luke's Gospel sets itself up to be read, in my view, in terms of the controlling story Wright posits (cf. the material relating to the presentation of Jesus in the temple as a baby, Luke's citation of the prophetic literature used by John the Baptist, and by Jesus in his sermon in Nazareth etc.). Just because Wright's Samaritan proposal does not persuade does not mean another option to explain the significance of the elder brother in terms of exile and return is not forthcoming. I believe one is, but I leave you guessing until a later date on that one. I thought it a real pity Snodgrass didn't pursue matters with a more positive assessment of Wright's (valid) insight on this matter. Is Snodgrass' project marred for its lack of appreciation of the controlling story of exile and restoration? I will let the reader decide.

Stories with Intent is a tremendous resource, one I will dip into for the rest of my life in relation to both scholarly pursuits and for sermon preparation. Even though I have sometimes found myself in disagreement with Snodgrass' judgments, I know that every time I read it I will potentially be inspired, corrected and educated by the pen of this 'parable grandmaster'. In many ways he represents evangelical scholarship at its best: mature, thoughtful, wise, balanced, not uncritical but not crazy woolly trash, deeply academic, yet pastoral and spiritual. I can think of no higher honour for a book than to say such things. Stanton calls it a 'stunning achievement', Hengel a 'wonderful' and 'inspiring' book. Bock simply says 'Bravo!' I'm not really sure what 'Tilling' can add to that list of names, but I do. Nobody preaching on the parables or working on them as a student or as an academic should be without a copy of Stories with Intent.