Monday, 17 September 2012

Adam or Divine Christology in Paul? Chris Tilling takes on Dunn, Casey etc

I will never forget that rainy afternoon in Durham, England, when I, together with Nijay Gupta and two other students helped clear Prof James Dunn's loft. Prof Dunn needed a few students to help him remove the boxes stored in his loft, as he was preparing to sell his house and relocate to the south of England where his daughter lives. After we finished clearing the loft of all the dusty boxes, we had a nice cup of coffee in the kitchen, each having the chance to ask Prof Dunn a few questions. One of my questions went something like this: "Professor Dunn, which of the books you have written, do you regard as the most controversial?" Prof Dunn's answer? Christology in the Making. An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, first published in 1980. I agreed with him, in part, because I analysed parts of his book for  an essay on the pre-existence of Christ in Paul's letters for one of the modules for my MTh at the University of Pretoria. Agree or disagree, anyone working on the pre-existence of Christ in Paul, has to engage with Dunn's book. 
With this in mind, I was delighted to see Chris Tilling's 2012 WUNT monograph: Paul's Divine Christology arriving here at Tyndale House this morning. Tilling dialogues extensively with the big names when it comes to Pauline Christology. They include the likes of Bauckham, Dunn, Fee, Garland, Harris, Hurtado, Martin, Schnabel, Schrage, Thiselton, Thrall, Waaler and Wright.

Here are a few bits and pieces of Dunn's interpretation of Philippians 2:6-11 compared with Tilling, as well as a short excerpt of the latter's findings to wet your appetite:

Dunn: "It may ... be that the pre-existence-incarnation interpretation of Phil. 2.6-11 etc. owes more to the Gnostic redeemer myth than it does to Phil. 2.6-11 properly understood as an expression of first generation Adam christology - one way of outbidding and countering the appeal of the Gnostic systems. How much truth is contained in the last comment is hard to discern. What we can say with more confidence is that the reading of these passages with the presupposition of a pre-existent heavenly redeemer resulted in a critical shift in Adam christology - a shift from christology of death and resurrection to a christology of incarnation - and not only in christology, but also in the concept of redemption which goes with it ... it is certainly arguable that all these subsequent developments are the consequence in part at least of losing sight of the original meaning and intention of the Adam christology" (James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making. An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation [SCM Press: London, 1989 2nd ed.], p. 128).

Tilling: "... if the passage [Phil. 2.6-11] was used as a hymn in the corporate worship of the early church ... then the singing of this 'hymn' about Christ would have constituted a feature of the 'corporate devotional practise of early Christians'. Dunn's rejoinder that the 'hymn' is 'not addressed to Christ, but gives[s] praise to God for Christ' would be more realistic if the biblical Psalms were always addressed to God and did not sing about God, which is, of course, regularly not the case. Besides, it is far from obvious that Philippians 2:10-11 must be addressed only to God, not Christ, especially as it is at the name of Jesus that every knee bends" (p. 127).

Excerpt of Tilling's findings: "... Pauline Christ-relation is a divine-Christology expressed as relationship. In light of this way of constructing and contending for a Pauline divine-Christology, the claims of Dunn, Casey and others who deny a Pauline divine-Christology were critically examined, and it was maintained that none of the arguments hitherto employed can  carry weight. For example ... Dunn's notion that Paul's 'christological reserve' only slipped into high Christology occasionally, are seen to crumble under the weight of data concerning the Pauline Christ-relation, Paul's divine-Christology. This way of dealing with the data in terms of the divine-Christology debate arguably has certain strenghts. To name a few: not only does it build on undeveloped lines of thought in Fee's work, but it constructively engages with the Christ-devotion emphasis in Hurtado, and the relational notion of identity in Bauckham" (p. 256).

Monday, 10 September 2012

FF Bruce's skepticism about German doctorate programs

Over the past few years, I've had the privilege of giving a few papers at German universities and having interesting discussions with German biblical scholars. I was recently struck after reading some of FF Bruce's thoughts concerning doctorate programs in Germany.
Tim Grass, in his 2011 "definitive biography" of Bruce states that the latter expressed a degree of wariness, even skepticism concerning German research doctorates. Apparently, in 1944, Bruce argued that German critical radicalism was due, not to the national character in Germany, but because of the doctoral dissertation system:

"As, generation after generation, German students submit dissertations for the doctorate of their faculty, they have the choice of confirming old views or presenting new ones. Naturally, more 'kudos' attaches to the publication of a new theory than to the re-establishment of an old one, and the most brilliant and ambitious students seek to put forth 'some new thing.' In some faculties the results of this tendency are wholly beneficial, but in such subjects as classical literature or biblical theology this is not always so. The number of probable hypotheses in these realms is limited, and these have long ago been exhausted, the chances are that improbable hypotheses will multiply" (p. 106).

Very interesting ...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The "resurrection fact" discussion in John Drane's New Testament Introduction (3rd edition)

"The whole existence of the early church was based on the belief that Jesus was no longer dead, but was alive and active through the work of the Spirit in the lives of his followers", writes John Drane in the 3rd edition of his very popular New Testament Introduction, which arrived here at Tyndale House, Cambridge this week.

But what exactly caused this "resurrection faith"? Apart from the claim that Jesus' actual physical body rose from the tomb, Drane discusses and critiques three alternative explanations. Here are a few bits and pieces:

1) The "resurrection fact" was a subjective experience
Drane: "The disciples ... were prepared to stake their lives on the fact that Jesus was alive. Many of them were brutally murdered for their faith, including Peter and other members of Jesus' inner circle, who would be prime suspects for having removed the body. It is highly improbable, if not impossible, to imagine that they would willingly have suffered in this way if all the time they knew where they themselves had hidden his corpse".

2. The "resurrection fact" was a theological creation
Drane: "There is no evidence from any source at all to suggest that the Messiah was to die, let alone rise from the dead. On the contrary, the Messiah was popularly expected to kill other people, and if he suffered and died himself, then by definition he was not going to be the real Messiah".

3. The "resurrection fact" was a later belief
Drane: "... there are the statements made by Paul in 1 Corinthians, written at least ten years before AD 66. By that time, one gospel had certainly been written, and furthermore, the gospel accounts were undoubtedly based on stories that went right back into the earliest days of the church. It makes no sense at all to suppose that belief in the resurrection was a late development".

Drane concludes the discussion saying that many other fanciful suggestions have been made from time to time to account for the "resurrection fact". "But", says Drane, "the overwhelming weight of all the evidence suggests that, however it might be described in cognitive abstractions, the 'resurrection fact' was a real, historically-located event. No other hypothesis gives an adequate account of so much of the evidence".

Revd Dr David Wenham, Vice-Principal and Tutor in New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, has this to say on the back of the book: "This book has arguably been the  most  useful non-technical introduction to  the  New Testament available... A best buy for the student or lay person wanting a readable and reliable first handbook on the New Testament".

I was delighted to find a reference to Mark S. Goodacre's The Synoptic Problem at the resources section at the back of the book. Hopefully we can put the alleged plagiarism issue raised by Goodacre behind us. Peter Head, Sir Kirby Laing Senior lecturer in New Testament from Cambridge's response to the issue on Goodacre's blog might help in this regard....