The Bible is a formative text for the people of God. I have argued that it is formative primarily in a narrative or diachronic sense—that is, it speaks to the church today by narrating a critical period, a determinative trajectory, in the historical development of the people. It begins with the calling of Abraham from a classic place of empire to be the beginning of an alternative humanity, a new creation; and it culminates eschatologically in the conversion of empire to the worship of the God of Israel. The New Testament certainly looks beyond that event to a final establishment of justice and life and a final renewal of all things, but the target of the formative narrative is the victory of Christ over Rome through the faithful, self-sacrificing witness of his disciples. This is the moment at which—within the narrative constraints of the biblical outlook—the nations bow the knee and confess that YHWH, the God who has redeemed and established his people, has publicly and politically demonstrated his righteousness and has shown himself to be sovereign amongst all the gods of the pagan world (cf. Is. 45:14-25).
This is a fascinating exegetical insight. Douglas Campbell notes the relevance of a passage in Josephus’ Antiquities for understanding Paul’s otherwise rather odd complaint regarding a Jew who claims to be a teacher of the Law but who steals, commits adultery, and robs temples (The Deliverance of God, 561). Why highlight the obscure and, on the face of it, rather unlikely offence of robbing temples? The interpretation advocated by Campbell serves to underline what to my mind is a critical perspective on this passage—that Paul is focused on concrete circumstances and real outcomes.
One of the questions that came out of the recent discussion of the Beatitudes has to do with the place of the land in the eschatological restoration of the people of God. I suggested that Jesus’ promise to the “meek” was that they would inherit not the “earth” but the “land”—gē can mean “earth”, but the context makes “land” much more likely. The Beatitudes presupposes a narrative of judgment on Israel, which leads precisely to the question of who should inherit the land that has been judged—if it has been taken away from the unrighteous, whom will it be given to?
This is a fundamental dilemma facing biblical hermeneutics: how do we get from scripture as ancient religious text, which is at one level at least unquestionably what it is, to scripture as Word of God for the church today, which at one level at least is unquestionably what it needs to be? Arguably it is the most serious dilemma currently facing biblical interpretation.
Daniel Levy has written a very good, thorough, and largely sympathetic (quizzical in places rather than critical) review of The Coming of the Son of Man. He took the trouble to raise some questions with me in advance regarding the “rapture”, to which I responded in “Resurrection, rapture and relevance”.
Some prominent scholars (so far Thomas Schreiner and Craig Blomberg) have been posting their views regarding the much debated translation of pistis Christou in Galatians 2:16 on the new BibleGateway translation forum. I think the debate is important, but not as important as the underlying theological structures that the exegetical decision may—or may not—engage. Not being a prominent scholar, but not wanting to be left out, I will have to set out my stall here on the periphery. Besides, my interest is primarily in Romans, and I will focus on the translational decision as it arises in the context of Romans 3:21-26: should the phrase dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou in verse 22 be translated “through faith in Jesus Christ” (an objective genitive) or “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (a subjective genitive)?
Jim Hoag has a couple of pertinent questions about my “Postconservative evangelicalism and beyond” post—pertinent, in fact, to the point that he makes me wonder whether the piece had much in the way of substance to it at all. The first question has to do with what we understand by the “New Perspective”, the second with my nifty but perhaps vacuous metaphor of a narrative-historical hermeneutics cutting across the “dominant paradigms of modern theology at ninety degrees”.
A few pages from the end of The Deliverance of God Douglas Campbell appends a rather limp section—less than a page—on the “wrath of God” (929-30). The discussion, admittedly, concludes a chapter examining only Philippians and a smattering of “ancillary’ texts in the light of his re-reading of Paul’s argument about justification, but it seems to reflect the general tenor of the handling of the theme of wrath in the book.
I wrote a couple of weeks back about the close and defining connection in Paul’s thought between sonship and the specific theme of suffering and vindication. Paul appears to make a crucial distinction in Romans 8:16-17 between being ‘heirs of God’ (klēronomoi… theou) and being ‘fellow heirs of Christ’ (sunklēronomoi… Christou). A person is an heir of God or a child of God by virtue of having received the Spirit and being no longer subject to the condemnation of the Jewish Law. A person is an heir of Christ, however, by virtue of suffering with him in order to be glorified—in effect, raised and vindicated—with him.
I thought I had found a nice new label for myself: a ‘postconservative evangelical’. Roger Olson defines the term in Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology and makes reference to it in a post on NT Wright and the New Perspective. Wright admits to being a postconservative evangelical in his book Justification.
But on further reflection, though not having read Olson’s book, I’m not sure about any ‘reformed and always reforming’ part of the definition. Wright may profess to remain loyal to the Reformation, and if that is simply a matter of not ‘smuggling “merit” back into the doctrine of salvation’, as Olson’s post rather suggests, then I have no great quarrel with it. But it seems to me that the New Perspective has the potential to subvert Reformation theologies in much more fundamental ways than this definition implies—that the narrative-historical approach cuts across the dominant paradigms of modern theology at ninety degrees, leaving the whole intellectual framework seriously weakened.