Sunday, 26 December 2010

Is N.T. Wright's Curriculum Vitae the most significant and impressive? Think again...

I few days ago I searched online for good Christian CV's to help me with a simple and effective format. I was struck by the following bit in N.T. Wright's Web Version CV:

iv) Other early employment
1969 Site labourer, local building site (constructing chemical factory)
1968, May-July Dry chain labourer, Northwood Lumber Camp, Upper Fraser, British Columbia
1968, March-April Freight loading, Canadian Pacific Railway, King St Depot, Toronto

N.T. Wright was a 'Site labourer'; 'Dry chain labourer' and 'Freight' loader?

I have learnt allot from Wright in Durham while I studied there. I agree with him on several issues (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus, Gnosticism, New Creation etc), but I also disagree with him on some aspects of justification. Whatever these theological issues may be, Wright's Web Version CV taught me (and I hope other aspiring Christian Scholars) that what really count, is whether we can be humble enough to include the 'ordinary' things in our CV's. They won't impress the big shots in the academic establishment, but they will possibly show that we are just as comfortable being a 'site labourer' for the Lord, as writing a groundbreaking monograph....

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Why We've All Misread the Gospels: Kingdom and Politics Then and Now - Prof. N.T. Wright at the Sarum Theological Lectures in 2011

Mmmmm. I wonder who else have already picked this up? Prof. N.T. Wright is to deliver the 2011 Sarum Theological Lectures on 9-12 May 2011 in Salisbury, England. See details below:

Sarum Theological Lectures are designed to make accessible to a wide audience the work of specialists in a variety of fields in the study of theology. They are subsequently published by Darton, Longman & Todd.

Professor N.T. (Tom) Wright will deliver the 2011 lecture series on 9, 10, 11 and 12 May in Salisbury Cathedral. The series is entitled:

Why We've All Misread the Gospels: Kingdom and Politics Then and Now

Arguing that the gospels have traditionally been read either as the story of how the divine saviour died for our sins or as the story of how Jesus went about doing good, Wright says:

"In the first case, it's a puzzle as to why the gospels include all that other material; in the second, the puzzle is why his promising career as a social reformer was cut short so soon.

"This division has been symptomatic of a major split in modern western Christianity, showing up in scholarship as well as in popular church life. Part of the result has been an unwillingness to engage with the way 'kingdom-of-God' language relates directly to political challenges, as the gospels (especially but not only John) seem to indicate that it must."

During the course of these four lectures, Professor Wright will explore the problem, outline a basic solution, and suggest some practical ways forward.

The annual Sarum Theological Lectures are designed to make accessible to a wide audience the work of specialists in a variety of fields in the study of theology. They are subsequently published by Darton, Longman & Todd.

All lectures will begin at 7pm in Salisbury Cathedral. Tickets cost £7 each (£24 for the series) and are available in advance from Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury 2EE.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Why think about the future? After all, 'what will happen will happen' ? Graham Beynon at Tyndale House, Cambridge

"Why think about the future? After all, 'what will happen will happen', it only leads to controversy and argument, and it's irrelevant to life now." This is the first sentence on the back of my Cambridge friend Graham Beynon's book Last Things First, which has just been published by Inter-Varsity Press.

Beynon is a Baptist minister busy with his PhD here in Cambridge. We've had several heartwarming discussions about all sorts of interesting stuff. He gave me a copy of his new book for Christmas. Thank you Graham - now I've got a great book to read over Christmas! To order the book, click on this link:

I place the short summery found on the IVP website below, followed by a few nice photo's I took here at Tyndale recently.  

Why think about the future? After all, 'what will happen will happen', it only leads to controversy and argument, and it's irrelevant to life now.

However, Graham Beynon shows that the real danger is that we don't think about the future. God in his Word puts last things first - the whole gospel is shaped around what is to come. God has a plan for where he is taking this world, and his people are called to live in the light of that future.
Christians are to be those who look back - to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. All that happened then shapes our life now. However, they are also to look forward - at what God will do in finishing his plans for his creation through Jesus.
The Bible teaches Christians to store up treasure in heaven; to wait faithfully for the return of their Master; to think of this world as temporary and passing; and to think of the world to come as their inheritance.
Graham Beynon takes a fresh look at this teaching and shows how what is to come should shape practical Christian living now, with regard to godliness, handling of money, service of others, speaking about Jesus, faithfulness to him, response to hardship, and more.

Graham Beynon at his Tyndale Desk today.
Thomas Robinson, David Brewer and Graham Beynon in the Tyndale House lounge yesterday.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Heresy in the Early Christian Church dethroned? Thomas A Robinson in Cambridge

Have you ever been in a situation where for weeks you've spoken to a person who, on the surface at least, doesn't stand out in any unusual way, only to find out in parting you've actually being rubbing shoulders with a significant scholar in your field of research? What's more, you have read some of his famous work and quoted him in your own work? That happened to me today! So, who is the scholar I'm referring to? None other than Thomas A. Robinson, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Why is he significant? Well, for several reasons, let me name a few:

i) His doctoral supervisors were EP Saunders and Ben Meyer

ii) The publication of his revised PhD dissertation in 1988 called The Bauer Thesis Examined. Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church, probably dethroned the famous theses developed by Walter Bauer (in his book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity). Bauer's reconstruction of primitive Christianity would want us to hold that the so-called heretical movements in the early Church were early, widespread, and strong. I think Robinson debunked this assertion by citing the lack of data extensive enough to warrant such conclusions.

iii) His new book: Ignatius of Antioch and the Parting of the Ways: Early Jewish-Christian Relations (2009), challenges long held theories about the 'Parting of the Ways'. Endorsements for the book came from Judith Lieu and Larry Hurtado. I found the following quote very informative:

"The distinction drawn between Jews and Christians by authors such as Ignatius is a real one, not an imagined one. The tendency in modern scholarship to narrow the gap between Jews and early Christians sometimes causes us to overlook the simple fact that were we to put a Clement and an Ignatius together, each would have preferred the company of the other to that of the local synagogue and each would have sensed that he shared a common identity with the other that neither shared with the local Jewish community. This is the world in which Ignatius operates" (p241).

Thank you for a wonderful talk professor Robinson - especially the advice on 1 Clement!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

'How to Study Early Christian and Jewish Texts Appropriately': Symposium on the occasion of the 100th birthday of W.C. van Unnik

I just got news of the recently held symposium in honour of Professor Willem Cornelis van Unnik at Utrecht University. Without prior knowledge of this, I decided yesterday to start a section on my blog dedicated to excellent Dutch Scholars, of which the first discussion was on Van Unnik! (Check it out in the right-hand corner if you like) I also put his extra-ordinary bibliography there! I put the program for the symposium below and will try to keep my eyes and ears open to find out how it went.

Symposium & Congres

     Prof. Willem Cornelis van Unnik (1910-1978) was an outstanding and remarkable theologian at Utrecht University. His proficiencies covered many fields, including New Testament, Greek, Syriac and Early Jewish literature. His publications still influence scholarly research of Early Christianity in its Hellenistic and Jewish environment. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, the Department of Religious Studies and Theology organises a symposium on 10 December 2010.

This symposium is dedicated to biographical aspects of W.C. van Unnik and to topical issues dealt with in his work. In particular, it questions the way how Christian and Jewish sources are studied appropriately in a historical approach.

10.00 Registration, Coffee
10.30 Opening by the dean of the Department of Religious Studies and Theology, Prof. M. Sarot
10.35 Prof. P.W. van der Horst
Willem van Unnik: Biographical Remarks on a Remarkable Scholar
11.05 Dr A. Noordegraaf
Van Unnik en de Kerk
11.35 Coffee and Tea Break
12.00 Prof. J.W. van Henten
Reading "I have knowledge of everything" in Context: the Case of Manaemus (Josephus, A.J. 15.375)
12.30 Dr E. Ottenheijm
Good Works in Tannaitic Traditions: the case of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai
13.00 Lunch
14.00 Dr M. Lang
Bericht zum Stand des Neuen Wettsteinprojekts
(on the occasion of the transfer of the Corpus Hellenisticum to the University of Halle)
14.20 Prof. A. Merz
Understanding John: Old Questions and New Developments through the Lens of W.C. van Unnik
14.50-15.00 Closing by the chairman of the W.C. van Unnik Stichting, Dr E. Ottenheijm

W.C. van Unnik

Willem Cornelis van Unnik was appointed professor in the Exegese of the New Testament and Ancient Christian Literature at Utrecht University in 1946. A biography, bibliography and full text publications of this remarkable theologian are included in Utrecht University's Gallery of Honour.

Friday, 10 December 2010

dr Bruce Winter visits Tyndale House, Cambridge UK

Today I had the wonderful privilege of meeting dr Bruce Winter, former warden of Tyndale House here in Cambridge (1987-2006). He is one of my favourite New Testament scholars. One of his most influential books is After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001).

We spoke about the topic for my PhD for about half an hour. I am really excited about the comments he made. I got the impression that at least some of the ideas I hope to develop in my theses makes exegetical sense. 

I quote one key insight which Winter develops in the above book, within the context of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20:

"The Corinthian Christians who argued that everything was permitted for them rationalised the exercising of their privileges on the grounds of first-century Platonic anthropology, philosophical hedonism, and social conventions. An outline of the former argument is preserved where the body is said to have been ordained for pleasure and that the immortal soul was unaffected by any such conduct." (88).
What is Paul's answer to all this?
"...Paul responded by introducing a central Christian theme - that the body was meant 'for the Lord', and 'the Lord was meant for  the body'. He concluded with the command that the Christian men of Corinth were not justified in asserting their self-centred aphorism, for 'they were not their own [possession]'; they must 'glorify the Lord in their bodies' (6:19-20)." (92).

Monday, 6 December 2010

Momentous occasion: Michael Wolter at the NIJMEGEN PRESTIGE LECTURES 2010

On Thursday 2 December  2010, we had the annual NIJMEGEN PRESTIGE LECTURE IN BIBLICAL STUDIES here in Nijmegen. It was truly a momentous occasion given the significant papers professor Michael Wolter from the university of Bonn delivered. Turnout at the afternoon public lecture was good, and for the special evening dinner, we had guests coming from Amsterdam, Utrecht, Germany, Hungary and Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Which Jesus is the Real Jesus?
The paper professor Wolter delivered at the evening dinner, Which Jesus is the Real Jesus? was highly significant (and maybe controversial?) and promises to create a stir in academic circlesThis paper will form the basis of an exciting new Brill publication. Not giving away anything, I can at least say that he engages critically with the likes of Dale Allison (particularly his new book, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009]), Luke Timothy Johnson, James Dunn, and John Dominic Crossan, not to mention earlier giants in Jesus-research.

Paul, the Radical Apostle - his life and thoughts that changed the World

In what follows I offer a brief summary of some of the main points that stood out for me in professor Wolter's afternoon public lecture. These are my own, provisional interpretations. The title of the paper, as indicated above was: Paul, the Radical Apostle - his life and thoughts that changed the World.

  • The pre-Christian Pharisaic Paul saw himself as part of a community through which an exclusive ethos that is standardised by the Torah, determined the identity of Israel. At this stage, Paul's commitment to the fulfilment of the Torah was therefore primarily a commitment to Israel and the preservation of her holiness as God's people (Phil. 3; Gal. 1; Acts 22).
  • Paul did not persecute 'Christians', but Jews who differed essentially from other Jews only in that they revered Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Paul places himself in the tradition of zeal which demonstrates that his activity as a persecutor was motivated by the fear for a possible loss of Israel’s holiness. For Paul, the Torah cannot be fulfilled apart from the holiness of God.
  • Paul's persecution was triggered by two things: 1) The claim that a crucified criminal, and thus one accursed by God, is the Messiah; 2) The Jesus-Jews had put the importance of temple and the Law into question. For such an interpretation, which places Christology at the centre, Paul’s radical re-orientation must have been quite obviously caused by a Christological insight.
  • Paul had a 'visionary experience' in which he saw Jesus of Nazareth in a 'heavenly appearance'. This was an authentic experience in which he recognised Jesus as the Son of God (Gal. 1.16).
  • How did Paul interpret this event? The real theological substance of Paul's conversion was: a new reality had opened up for Paul the Pharisee, which was no longer centrally organised around Israel's election or the opposition of Israel and the nations, but around Jesus Christ, raised by God from the dead and appointed son and Kyrios, who was thus given a universal claim to lordship.
  •  The Damascus 'vision' had thus lead Paul to the conclusion that the way to participation in God’s holiness had been opened up to the nations through Jesus Christ. They no longer had to become Jewish. (It might be interesting to compare this insight with the likes of Dunn and Wright).
  • Professor Wolter then went on to describe two important phases in Paul's life journey: Paul the missionary, en Paul the letter writer (these two phases in Paul's journey seem obvious in hindsight  but frankly, I've never really thought it through systematically..)
Matin Luther

Probably the most significant part of the paper for me, was professor Wolter's reflection on Martin Luther in the last quarter of the paper:

"Between him [Luther] and Paul, there are two main differences:

First, in Luther, the question of the Law is no longer embedded in the Israel question. By ‘Law’ Luther no longer meant only the Torah, through which Israel expresses its election from the nations, but for him the ‘law’ is anything that confronts people as an ethical demand: “The law preaches what is to be done and what is to be left alone” (WA II, 466:3-5), and “good works are to be done and practised in obedience to the law” (WA LII, 349, 19-20). We do not have to look long to find the reason for this change: Unlike Paul, Luther no longer had to handle the process of Christian-Jewish separation. This in Luther’s days had already been completed more than 1000 years ago.

 The second aspect is connected to the fact that Christianity at the time of Luther was no longer a religion of conversion, but had changed into a religion of tradition. ‘The believers’ were not in the minority any more. The culture of Luther’s environment had become entirely 'Christian'.

On the other hand, there was, of course, still the dividing line between salvation and condemnation. Due to the changing cultural conditions, however, it no longer ran, as it did for Paul, between the minority of believers and the majority of unbelievers. Rather, the line coursed through the middle of each individual. It was this border experience, which the Augustinian monk Luther suffered in his own moral dilemma and was from it through the discovery of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Thus also Luther went through a conversion, but it differs fundamentally from Paul’s. Their consequences are also different: Luther's reformulation of the doctrine of justification was not based on ecclesiology, as it had been with Paul, but contained, in extension to his own experience, an orientation towards the individual Christian. Anthropology could then no longer be the solution. It became, rather, the problem. In this way, Luther gave the semantic field of the doctrine of justification a different topography. What was for Paul a more peripheral issue, now came to the fore: that it is the sinner whom God justifies sola fide and sola gratia. Conversely, the ecclesiological issues were pushed aside.
It would be unfair to accuse Luther of theologically distorting the Pauline doctrine of justification. His interpretation, however, had the consequence that the central ecclesiological impetus of Paul’s doctrine of justification has up to this present day become largely invisible and has been widely ignored by the Christian churches to their own detriment. It has become evident that the original Pauline concept bears an ecumenical openness, which extends beyond its original context of discovery. This sense of openness is, quite simply, that faith in Christ, which manifests the Christian identity of all churches, not only suspends the difference between Jews and Gentiles, but also makes the historically developed cultural characteristics and differences by which the churches differentiate from each other and without which Christianity has never existed, entirely irrelevant."

Some pictures taken during the evening dinner:

Friday, 3 December 2010

Lost Gospels - Brand new Cambridge Scholars DVD

This new DVD is certainly a must buy for any Christian who wants to dialogue with sceptics about the Gospel of Thomas/ Judas and other non-canonical gospels. The scholars in this DVD are world-class experts in their fields AND authentic Christians as well!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Controversial new hypothesis about Christ's Resurrection in the Early Church - prof Markus Vinzent

Today I attended the Patristics Seminar in Cambridge, UK. Markus Vinzent, professor and chair of History of Theology from Kings College London, gave a paper entitled: "The Resurrection of Christ in Second Century, Early Christianity".

It's certainly an understatement to say that the paper was controversial. Reflecting back, I cannot even imagine that professor Vinzent will have tea with professor NT Wright soon. Well, who knows? They just might...

Vinzent's paper was to a large extent a condensed summery of a commissioned new monograph which he has already submitted for publication (due sometime next year). The full title is: "Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity, and the making of the New Testament." He claims that it is the first monograph on the resurrection of Jesus by a Patristics scholar.

Vincent started off by saying that he, as a church historian, is not interested in the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event. Neither in the kind of resurrection body Jesus allegedly had. Rather, his focus is on WHEN, for WHO, WHERE, and WHY Jesus was regarded as the risen Christ. And also HOW this belief impacted on Christianity. In order to address all these questions, Vinzent analysed "all" of the available evidence of the first two centuries.

I list some of the interesting and challenging statements he made. (See it as a little taster of what will be developed more fully in the monograph to come):
• Although Christ's resurrection was important to Paul, it was not important after his death. It took some 100 years for Irenaeus and Tertullian to take it up again. Our view of the second century (as it relates to the resurrection) is distorted by the apologetic literature. They i) knew each other; ii) each wanted to be the best; iii) they borrowed from each other; iv) they developed their positions building on each other.

• Had Marcion not taken up Paul's letters and one gospel, the resurrection of Christ would never have been taken up by the Christian Church.

• "Even if the Lord himself wrote the gospels, Marcion was the first to use them."

• Mark, Matthew and John (MMJ) might have been composed in the same city and in reaction to Marcion's Lukan gospel. The resurrection narratives in MMJ in particular might have been an orthodox reaction (thus creation) against Marcion's rejection of bodily resurrection.

• The first commentary on John is by a Valentinian. It is only later that Origen was commissioned to write a more orthodox commentary. Thus, it is likely that the gospel of John has a Valentinian origin.

• Maybe Marcion received a pre-version of Luke and others changed it

• Prior to Marcion there is not a single reference to the gospels. Before Irenaeus, no one (including Ignatius) claimed that Marcion changed the gospel.

• With Marcion comes the first discussion about the resurrection. Luke 24:36-42 in particular is significant. Here the idea of a phantom is not altogether impossible. Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Justin try to take on Marcion on this point.

• The women as first witnesses of Jesus' empty tomb is not significant and unique, as the testimony of women was taken seriously in other contexts. The prophetess traditions within Judaism and the other roles they sometimes played in the New Testament confirms this.

• The earliest baptismal creeds/formulae referred to the incarnation and death of Jesus but not his resurrection

• The apostolic creed's reference to the resurrection is late

• In the Didache, the reference to worship on a Sunday (the first day of week) is linked to Jesus' death, and not his resurrection. It was only Justin who later used it in First Apology

• Easter is first used by Melito to argue against Marcion's interpretation of the resurrection

• Up until 177 (Irenaeus) only Paul is used in defence of the resurrection. The gospels are not used in defence of the resurrection. This "embarrassed" even Kurt Aland, Vinzent claims.

• The Bar Kogba revolt in 136 CE is highly significant. "Only slowly does the resurrection make its way into the Christian narrative."

• The first theologian of the resurrection is Apollinarius of Laodicea in Constantine's time.

In short, if I understood Vinzent correctly, he wants to argue that belief in the resurrection of Jesus was of no significance after Paul died, until the likes of Irenaeus and Tertullian challenged Marcion's interpretation of the resurrection. Marcion is key to understanding the early church. The so-called orthodox faith in the resurrection of Jesus was a later heretical reaction against Marcion - particularly the empty tomb narratives in Matthew, Mark and John. Apparently, the incarnation and death of Jesus was significant in the early phases of the Church, but not the resurrection of Jesus.

There was unfortunately not enough time afterwards to discuss all these claims. We will have to wait until the monograph is published to analyse the way in which Vinzent's arguments are build up and developed. Some issues were raised however during Q & A. I mention some:

  • Virtually all critical scholars acknowledge that 1 Cor. 15.3-5b represent a tradition going back to the first few years after the resurrection (including Gerd Luedemann). Reference is made to Jesus being 'buried'..
  • The resurrection of Christ is significant in 1 Clement 24-34, most probably relying on 1 Cor. 15, and probably also the parable of the sower in the Sinoptic gospels
  • There is reference to the resurrection in Ignatius (+-110 CE).
  • Polycarp and other martyrs died for their faith in the risen Jesus.
  • Had the gospel writers wanted to create the perfect resurrection narrative, they would certainly not have picked the women as the first witnesses.

Vinzent did critique the above, though most who attended were probably not convinced by all his explanations. But let's wait for the monograph so that we can follow his arguments carefully.
* I should state that what I reported here, is a few reflections and interpretations of the lecture and does not necessarily represent a thorough enough and systematic analysis of the paper. Keep this in mind please!

* I just saw a new book on Michael Bird's blog that might offer an alternative to Vinzent's main hypothesis:

* Given the discussion above, it might also be worthwhile for those interested and challenged, to have a look at NT Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003); Larry Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ, Devotion to Jesusin Earliest Christianity (2003); and more recently Michael Licona's The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach (2010).

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The resurrection of Jesus - 31 January, 2011 - Theological Day, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch, South Africa

There's no argument about it: the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University has the most beautiful building of all theology departments in South Africa. It is also the oldest department, going back to the 1860's. A friend brought it to my attention that their Theological Day in January 2011 will deal with the resurrection of Jesus. One of the papers, 'Die opstanding van Christus: 'n teologiese orientering' (The resurrection of Jesus: a theological orientation), will be delivered by professor Dirkie Smit, for whom I have great admiration. He did his DD under the well-known and late professor Willie Jonker, and later became his son-in-law!
Here is the program:



Die program vir die Teologiese Dag op 31 Januarie 2011 is soos volg:

09:00 Opening – prof Nico Koopman

09:10 Skrifmeditasie oor Lukas 24 – prof Elna Mouton

09:30 Die opstanding van Christus: ’n teologiese oriëntering – prof Dirkie Smit

10:15 Bespreking

10:45 Tee

11:15 Die opstanding, kuns en liturgie – ds Danie du Toit, NG Gemeente Waterkloof

11:45 Die opstanding en die publieke lewe – dr Clint le Bruyns

12:15 Bespreking

12:45 Afsluiting

Kontak dr Robert Vosloo by 021 808 3256 vir enige navrae. Almal is baie welkom!

Monday, 22 November 2010


Well, the ETS debate on Justification was so significant that its worth discussing. There are however not much known about how the debate went at this stage. Will be great to get some feedback! I did however manage to find some thoughts about what happened on thegospelcoalition blog:

A Justification Debate Long Overdue

"A record crowd of more than 2,500 turned out in Atlanta this week for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, focused on “Justification By Faith.” The conference’s main event—three papers and debate over justification between New Testament scholars Frank Thielman, Tom Schreiner, and N. T. Wright—might be about three years too late to slow the spread of controversy over justification that has gripped evangelicals. Unfortunately, a planned face-to-face discussion between John Piper and Wright fell through when Piper took an extended sabbatical. But the novelty of pairing Wright on a panel with Schreiner, another key critic, still riveted an audience that enjoyed more than two hours of sustained debate over New Testament texts, Greek terminology, and ancient Near Eastern and Roman society.

Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the long-anticipated exchange by delivering a paper on Wednesday night called “Justification: The Saving Righteousness of God in Christ.” He engaged in a direct and sustained critique of Wright, even as he labored to show common ground with the man he described as a groundbreaking thinker. He acknowledged that Wright is fundamentally correct that first-century Jews incurred the judgment of exile in the form of Roman oppression due to their sin. When Wright responded to Schreiner on Friday morning, he expressed surprise over their agreement on this point.
Schreiner also agreed with Wright that evangelicals who hold to sola scriptura recognize no other authority, including tradition, as final. But Schreiner identified three false polarities that he said Wright perpetuates:

1.Wright argues that justification is primarily about ecclesiology instead of soteriology.
2.Wright says Israel’s fundamental problem was failing to bless the world. But Paul focuses on Israel’s inherent sinfulness.
3.Wright contends that justification is a declaration of God’s righteousness but does not include the imputation of God’s righteousness.

Supporting his first charge, Schreiner said justification is not identical to salvation, redemption, or sanctification. But the word appears in such contexts focusing on how we are saved, such as Romans 3:24 and Romans 4:6-8. Regarding his second point, Schreiner appealed to Romans 2 to show that the Jews’ sin was not primarily excluding Gentiles but rather failing to obey God and his law. Finally, Schreiner said it is strange that Wright maligns imputation when he admits God requires perfect obedience. Indeed, Paul would appear to teach imputation in such verses as 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. It is true, Schreiner agreed with Wright, that no human judge can give a guilty defendant his righteousness. But the law-court metaphor in Scripture should not be considered exhaustive. Indeed, its limitations at precisely this point should lead us to wonder in the gospel of God, who gave up his only Son for guilty sinners.

The second plenary address—delivered by Frank Thielman, Presbyterian professor of divinity at Beeson Divnity School—focused on Romans 1:16-17. Thielman offered a mediating position that suggested several intended meanings from Paul for the contested and consequential phrase “righteousness of God.” Original hearers, Thielman said, would have understand this phrase to refer to the saving activity and gift of acquittal from God on the basis of faith. They also would have understood that God is fair, even-handed, and equitable in the way he distributes salvation.

One Important Phrase, Several Intended Meanings

Thielman cited the first commentary on Romans, written by Origen, who spoke and wrote the same Greek language as Paul. Origen understood the apostle to teach that the “righteousness of God” means all, whether Jew or Gentile, may find salvation in the gospel. Thielman illustrated his point by citing several coins used in the Roman Empire. Nero, emperor during the end of Paul’s ministry, appeared on one coin with the word dikaiosune, which we translate in Scripture as “righteousness.” It would seem, Thielman said, that Nero seeks to portray himself not so much as just but equitable in how he distributes grain harvested in Egypt.

Is it really likely, though, that Paul would use one phrase and intend several meanings? Thielman said this practice was common in ancient writing. So Paul did in fact reveal in this famous passage that God counts believers acquitted, as Martin Luther realized. But the inspired apostle also taught that God is fair, and he powerfully rescues his people.

The Main Event

Probably the main attraction, though, was the Friday morning address by N. T. Wright, research professor of New Testament at St. Andrews University and the former bishop of Durham. For years now Wright has faced sustained criticism in the form of books, journal articles, and lectures from a number of the most prominent scholars in ETS. He jumped into the lion’s den in Atlanta with his paper, “Justification Yesterday, Today, and Forever.” From the beginning, Wright displayed his characteristic blend of humor, charm, and wide-ranging intellect with an unrelentingly rapid speaking pace. He has indeed read his critics, but he hardly backed down at ETS. In fact, he seemed more than a little perturbed by the wide range of arguments leveled against his writing on justification. He called for a new ethic of Christian blogging and faulted believers for pulling his statements out of context and reaching false conclusions about his work.

In his preliminary remarks, Wright dealt directly with several of the most controversial charges leveled against him and by his defenders. He reasserted his Protestant credentials and said we need to allow Scripture to say things our human traditions have not said. And he denied that any single person holding to the New Perspective on Paul has joined the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, he said critics who charge him with biblicism have no sense of irony and history; they are the real neo-Catholics. Wright made the case that the Reformers and his modern-day critics ask contemporary questions of Pauline texts, not the ones Paul actually addressed for the benefit of Jews and Gentiles gathered together in one church. Thus, Wright’s critics are the real modern-day demythologizers who abstract bits and pieces of Paul’s thought by tearing them from the original context.

One Big Story

True to form, Wright kept the big story in view as he analyzed specific passages. God’s plan to bless the world through humans was thwarted by the fall. Then he planned to rescue humankind through Abraham and his descendants. But they, too, failed. So God sent his Son, the Messiah of Israel, to announce that God’s kingdom had come with his life, death, and resurrection. Adam’s sin is the problem, Wright said, and God’s covenant with Abraham is the solution.

Known for weaving compelling biblical narratives, Wright rejected any claims that he distorts the meaning of passages by reshaping them to fit his big story. He willingly treated many of the most important verse from Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, and elsewhere. He complained that he continues to vainly search for serious treatments from his critics of Romans 4 as Paul’s exposition of the Abrahamic covenant. “Only by close attention to Scriptural context can Scriptural doctrine be Scripturally understood,” Wright said. Each element must be treated in light of the whole. But we derive our view of the whole by carefully interpreting each element.

Wright made numerous references to his critics and their works. But he referred to few by name. He disputed Simon Gathercole on Romans 4:4-8, which he said borrows the idea of reward from God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:1. He faulted the two-volume set Justification and Variegated Nomism—edited by D. A. Carson, Mark Seifrid, and Peter O’Brien—for not considering a crucial passage from the intertestamental Qumran literature that he says sheds light on Paul’s teaching.

During his paper, Wright did not, however, mention John Piper, originally scheduled to engage with him at ETS. But Wright clearly had him in mind. Piper has criticized Wright for undermining Christian assurance with his view on justification. In particular, Piper cites Wright teaching that final judgment will be on the basis of works. Indeed, Wright wrote in Paul: In Fresh Perspective:

The whole point about “justification by faith” is that it is something which happens in the present time (Romans 3:26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Romans 2:1-16).

But Wright contends he does not mean what Piper and others believe he does. If doubts linger, however, Wright said that he believes final judgment will be in accordance with works—something Piper and Schreiner acknowledge from Romans 2:6—and not on the basis of works. Justification involves spiritual struggle, Wright said, and Christians should beware of antinomianism that neglects this teaching.

Wright appeared especially troubled by the charge that he wouldn’t know what to say to someone dying who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Wright said, “The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and Lord of the world. That’s good news.” He would encourage someone dying to find eternal life by confessing the name of Jesus, the crucified and risen One, in whom we find healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, and hope.

Irreconcilable Differences

During more than two hours of discussion that followed these papers, a number of differences remained irreconcilable. Schreiner said justification has ecclesiological implications, but contrary to Wright, he believes it is chiefly about the forgiveness of sins. Wright remains uncomfortable with describing righteousness as a gift, as if it can get passed around. Schreiner cautions against pushing the law-court metaphor hard, but Wright says Paul does just that in Romans 3. And Wright continues to believe that Schreiner and others fail to understand the significance of Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11 that God’s plan to save the world through Israel has not failed.

It’s too early to tell whether this week’s ETS meeting will fundamentally change the debate over justification. Wright ceded little if any ground to his critics. But he offered clarification for at least one of their chief concerns. He continued to disparage the Reformers, particularly Luther, for asking the wrong questions and missing Paul’s point. But Schreiner agreed with Wright that Protestants should privilege no tradition above God’s Word. Schreiner expressed sincere appreciation for Wright’s work. And Wright gave evidence simply by showing up in Atlanta that he takes his critics seriously. For that he and ETS and should be commended. This face-to-face debate was long overdue."

I hope to place Simon Gathercole's response (review) of Wright's latest work on Justification next week.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

62nd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society

        "This year’s meeting provides us with the opportunity to give renewed consideration to the meaning and significance of the doctrine of Justification by Faith. Thirty years have now elapsed since “The New Perspective on Paul” emerged and challenged the Lutheran and Reformed understandings of justification and a host of related doctrines. Some have argued that the newer views have compromised the integrity of the gospel. Advocates of the New Perspective, however, claim that their views more accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible and, specifically, Paul’s teaching on justification. The rich variety of papers devoted to this year’s theme will no doubt help us all to better understand the issues and help us think through the richness of this important doctrine.

Our three plenary speakers—Thomas Schreiner, Frank Thielman, and N. T. Wright-have all written extensively on this theme in monographs, commentaries, and journal articles. To help bring the most important issues into sharper focus, a two-hour panel discussion featuring the three plenary speakers has been planned for the final plenary session on Friday. In addition to this, you can choose from over 100 different parallel session papers devoted to the theme. These include a broad assortment of papers on justification that include the antecedents for the doctrine in the Old Testament and Judaism as well as the interpretation of key New Testament texts. Of special help are a variety of papers related to the understanding and articulation of the doctrine in every era of the history of the church."

By the way, the "Justification" certificate was my own idea and not related to the ETS. 

McAfee Symposium on the Johannine Epistles
The 2010 Peter Rhea and Ellen Jones Lectures in New Testament
James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology - Mercer University

Wednesday Evening, November 17

6:30 Dinner
7:30 Lecture by D. Moody Smith - “Who is Jesus? Jesus is God”

Thursday, November 18

Morning Program- The Relationship between the Gospel and the Epistles
9:00 Lecture by Urban C. von Wahlde - “The Brown Hypothesis Twenty-Eight Years On: Some Agreements and Disagreements”
10:00 Coffee
10:30 Short papers: The Brown Hypothesis in 2010
Paul N. Anderson - “The Community that Raymond Brown Left Behind - Reflections on the Johannine Dialectical Situation”
Gary M. Burge - “Spirit-Inspired Theology and Ecclesial Correction: Charting One Shift in the Development of Johannine Ecclesiology and Pneumatology”
R. Alan Culpepper - “The Relationship between the Gospel and the Epistles of John”
11:45 Discussion: The Brown Hypothesis in 2010
Peter Rhea Jones, moderator
12:30 Lunch

Afternoon Program - The Church in the Johannine Epistles
1:30 Lecture by Judith Lieu - “The Audience of the Johannine Epistles”
2:30 Short papers:
Peter Rhea Jones - “The Ecclesial Role of presbuteros
Craig R. Koester - “The Antichrist Theme in the Johannine Epistles and Its Role in Christian Tradition”
Gail R. O’Day - “The Failure of Friendship? The Practice of Love in the Johannine Epistles”
3:45 Discussion
Paul Anderson, moderator
4:30 Break

Evening Program
6:30 Dinner
7:30 Lecture by Jan van der Watt - “A New Command, a New Ethic”

Friday, November 19

Morning Program - The Theology and Ethics of the Epistles
9:00 Lecture by D. Moody Smith - “Who is Jesus? Jesus was Man”
10:00 Coffee
10:30 Short papers:
Andreas J. Köstenberger, “The Cosmic Conflict Motif in the Johannine Epistles”
David Rensberger, “Completed Love: A Test Probe of I John 4:11-18 as an Index to Vision and Mission of the New Testament Church”
William R. G. Loader, “The Significance of 2:15-17 for Understanding the Ethics of I John”
11:45 Discussion
Alan Culpepper, moderator
12:30 Adjourn

For registration and information, please call: 888.471.9922 or 678-547-6470 or email Diane Frazier at

NS - the pictures to the right are from top to bottom: Judith Lieu, R. Alan Culpepper, Craig R. Koester, Jan van der Watt, Andreas J. Köstenberger.