Review: Inductive Bible Study by David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina

9781441214515Bauer, David R., and Robert A. Traina. Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.

Although the digital age and Bible translation have made Scripture more and more available, it seems that the Bible is also less and less understood today. Biblical illiteracy is on the rise in North America, and even within the Church many view the Bible as a sealed book. Perhaps more than ever, the Church is in need of a Bible study method that the average layperson can practice fruitfully on a daily basis.

In the face of this need, Bauer and Traina’s recent Inductive Bible Study is a welcome contribution that will prove useful for professors, pastors, and church leaders alike. Inductive Bible Study is an updated and expanded version of Robert Traina’s Methodical Bible Study (1952), the book that popularized the method that has become known as “inductive Bible study.” In its own day, Methodical Bible Study impacted many noted evangelicals, not least Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message. As Peterson writes in his foreword to Inductive Bible Study, his firsthand exposure to Traina’s method in seminary transformed him and shaped his entire ministry (xi). This sequel to Traina’s classic recasts this tried and true method for the twenty-first century.

Inductive Bible Study unfolds in five parts. Part 1, “Theoretical Foundations,” contains ten brief chapters that set forth the conceptual grounding for the method. Chapter 1 discusses the nature of inductive study: the method Bauer and Traina advocate is inductive in that it bases its conclusions on evidential and conditional premises. Deductive reasoning, by contrast, relies on presuppositional and absolute premises (22). In short, inductive study starts with observed elements in the text and builds toward conclusions rather than assuming that certain things are true a priori and then forcing the text to conform to these presuppositions. This inductive method is facilitated by an “inductive spirit” of “radical openness to any conclusion required by the biblical evidence” (18). The other chapters probe other foundational elements, but as the book’s name implies, this inductive element is the linchpin of the method.

In Part 2, “Observing and Asking,” the authors discuss the first stage of the inductive method: observation. Because inductive study moves from evidence to inferences, it is key that observation comes before interpretation or application. Across three chapters, Bauer and Traina discuss how to observe books-as-wholes, parts-as-wholes, and individual passages.

Part 3, “Answering or Interpreting,” discusses how to move from the data observed in the first stage of study to the proper inferences that can be drawn from that data. For Bauer and Traina, this basically involves formulating questions and premises from the passage and then answering them or drawing out their significance.

In Part 4, “Evaluating and Appropriating,” the authors discuss how to responsibly apply the knowledge gained from the foregoing study to the present. Although many Bible readers jump straight from text to application, Bauer and Traina emphasize that this stage must come logically after observing and interpreting: “One can assess the meaning of the biblical text only after one has grasped that meaning” (281).

Part 5, “Correlation,” rounds out the volume by addressing how to relate the message of a particular passage to the rest of its corpus and ultimately the rest of the canon. For many Christians, this oft-neglected element will prove very fruitful because it forces one to connect a particular passage to the overarching meta-narrative of Scripture.

The volume also includes a number of helpful appendices that give additional information on various elements of the inductive method.

In the remainder of this review, I would like to outline three strengths of this book that make it an essential for scholars, pastors, and serious laypeople everywhere and also note two weaknesses of the volume.

First, why should scholars, pastors, and serious laypeople buy this book?

  • Methodical. The inductive method that Bauer and Traina advocate encourages interpreters to move in a logical order from observation through interpretation and to application and correlation rather than jumping straight from hasty interpretations to disconnected applications. The inductive method also promotes an attitude of openness to Scripture that will guard against self-affirming interpretations. In short, this is a method that will grow you as an interpreter and will yield great fruit as you teach your students or congregation members to practice it.
  • Heart-language. Because this method emphasizes the biblical book as the major unit of study it is ideal for studying Scripture in one’s native tongue. Because the method moves from whole-book survey to section surveys and finally to individual passages, it encourages interpreters to think contextually and shows laypeople who do not know Hebrew and Greek how much they can learn from Scripture. To be sure, the original languages have their place in this method, but for the many laypeople who will never learn them, this will be a breath of fresh air.
  • Holistic. Because Bauer and Traina integrate application and correlation into the hermeneutical process, these crucial elements are not left to the side as they sometimes are. Thorough observation and interpretation plus discerning application and correlation equal transformed lives.

Second, in my view this volume leaves something to be desired in two areas. One is compositional; the other is hermeneutical.

  • Length. Because Inductive Bible Study attempts to be “a comprehensive guide” to practicing hermeneutics, it often has much more to say than the average layperson can bear. In my view, Parts 1 and 2 are gold; Parts 3–5 often include more detail than is necessary. Those who plan on teaching will benefit from the full discussions (possibly skimming some parts), but if you want something to give to members of your congregation or Sunday school class, there are briefer presentations of the method available (I know of at least one by two relatives of mine).
  • Radical openness? On one level Bauer and Traina’s emphasis on the inductive spirit of radical openness is a helpful corrective to interpreters who force the text into their notions of what it must mean. However, this comes at a hermeneutical cost. By placing the radically open interpreter as the ultimate hermeneutical authority, Bauer and Traina are in danger of eschewing important hermeneutical guides such as the creeds. (After all, many of the early heretics would have likely contended that they were simply being radically open to the text!) Although I am sure that this is not the authors’ intention, I would contend that an attitude of openness to the text and humility toward others—especially the others of the orthodox Christian tradition—is more balanced and will result in a more productive dialogue between exegesis and tradition.

In conclusion, Inductive Bible Study is an important volume that interpreters and teachers of Scripture everywhere should read and put into practice. The inductive method bore much fruit when Robert Traina popularized it over sixty years ago in Methodical Bible Study, and this updated and expanded exposition of the method likewise has much potential for the Church today.

My thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy.

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Review of Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8 edited by Beverly Roberts Gaventa

Gaventa Apoc PaulGaventa, Beverly Roberts, ed. Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8.Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013.

There is a resurgence of scholarly attention to Paul and apocalyptic and a shift in focus to the importance of chapters 5-8 for Paul’s argument in Romans. This collection of essays, delivered at a conference held at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012, brings these two lines of thought together by the collaborative effort of a diverse group of scholars.

In the first essay, “Paul’s Mythologizing Program in Romans 5-8,” Martinus C. de Boer analyzes Paul’s polarity of Law and grace through “mythologization;” the term indicates de Boer’s attempt to counter Bultmann’s demythologization. De Boer argues that Paul, from the vantage point of Christ’s coming, aims to persuade the believers in Rome that they are under grace and not the Law. De Boer produces a rich and insightful reading of Romans 5-8 by placing Paul in conversation with the Jewish apocalyptic traditions found in 2 Barurch and 4 Ezra. His reading shows that Paul’s use of the Adam tradition (esp. Rom 5:12) is influenced by these two apocalypses. De Boer also notes how Paul is distinct. According to de Boer, Paul “mythologizes” the cosmic problem of human sinning and dying and he puts forth Christ as the solution to the cosmic problem. De Boer helpfully works through various Pauline texts by drawing the reader’s attention to Paul widening and narrowing his scope within a “cosmic framework.”

In “Righteousness, Cosmic and Mircrocosmic” Stephen Westerholm focuses on Romans 5:1 and 19 within the framework of Paul’s pattern of teaching: the announcement of an apocalyptic event and the demand of individual response. First, Westerholm focuses on Romans 5:1 within the context of Paul’s exposition of Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4 and faith’s function as response. Westerholm argues that Paul appropriates the Hebrew emphasis that righteousness is ethical behavior and that righteousness language, not being confined to the covenant, is rooted in the way in which God has ordered the world. For Paul, there is no one who is righteous, which means that all have violated the order of the created world; and God’s righteousness is his readiness to restore order, which he accomplishes in Christ’s atoning work. Therefore, the paradox of the gospel is of central importance for Paul: God declares the unrighteous as righteous. Second, Westerholm focuses on Romans 5:15-19. According to Westerholm, Paul argues that Christ’s righteous act and obedience is God’s gift of righteousness and that this gift is both the basis on which the believer is declared righteous and the means by which God is reversing the cosmic effects of Adam’s disobedience. Westerholm’s essay illustrates how, from a “Lutheran” perspective, God’s justification of the individual by faith is a microcosm of God’s cosmic work of reordering the world.

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Review: World Upside Down by C. Kavin Rowe

9780199767618Rowe, C. Kavin. World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

In World Upside Down, Kavin Rowe explores the political and cultural vision of Acts. Against scholars who view Luke-Acts as a pro-Roman apologetic, Rowe argues that Acts is “a highly charged and theologically sophisticated political document that aims at nothing less than the construction of an alternative total way of life—a comprehensive pattern of being—one that runs counter to the life-patterns of the Graeco-Roman world…a culture forming narrative” (4). At the same time, although Rowe acknowledges that Acts challenges the very fabric of Graeco-Roman culture—including the Roman Empire and its emperor—he also asserts that “Acts clearly rejects any hint of the notion that Jesus is a rival for Caesar’s throne” (152). Rather, Acts paints Caesar as a rival to Jesus’ universal lordship because of his idolatrous claims (112). Although on one level World Upside Down is a work of New Testament (NT) scholarship that reads key passages in Acts against their Graeco-Roman historical backdrop, Rowe’s intent “is not simply to fill a gap in the scholarly discussion on Acts but admittedly is rather more ambitious: to reread an ancient text with historical knowledge and acumen precisely so that we might better understand how to think intelligently about the very real problems that face us today” (7). In this way, Rowe brings compositional criticism, intense historical work, and theology together in a unified whole. In the remainder of this review, I will summarize Rowe’s work and evaluate its argument.

World Upside Down unfolds in five chapters. In chapter 1, “Reading Acts,” Rowe introduces the project by outlining the problem: For almost three hundred years, NT scholarship has tended to read Acts as “a document that argues for the political possibility of harmonious existence between Rome and the early Christian movement” (3). Although some have challenged this dominant view, “to date there has not been a sophisticated, critically constructive reappraisal of Acts’ ecclesial vision” (4), and this is what Rowe sets out to present. After giving brief overviews of the coming chapters, Rowe sets forth some of the foundations for his work. In his words, World Upside Down is “an interdisciplinary project” (7) that brings together exegesis, Graeco-Roman antiquity, political theory, and theology. Two key assumptions of World Upside Down are (1) that Acts “is best read as a document intended for Christians” (10) and (2) that the text of Acts, rather than secondary literature, is the foreground for the argument (12). In addition, this work “does not depend on or advocate a particular method” (15). Instead, it employs a multi-faceted approach that seeks to do justice to Acts’ numerous themes at once.

In the following three chapters Rowe makes the bulk of his exegetical case. In chapter 2, “Collision: Explicating Divine Identity,” he argues that Acts presents Christianity as a theologically-driven total way of life that challenges pagan patterns of living. For instance, Paul and Barnabas’ protest against being deified by the crowds at Lystra “involves both a demolition of the pagan model in toto (worshipping Zeus is futile) and the call for a new construction of divine identity” (23). Similarly, in his speech at the Areopagus Paul uses pagan philosophical terms but simultaneously subverts them by placing them in the biblical meta-narrative. At every point, “The accounts of the Christian mission…display narratively the collision between two different ways of life” (50). “To encounter the Christian mission from the pagan side…is to experience a force for cultural destabilization” (51).

Chapter 3, “Dikaios: Rejecting Statecraft,” “uncovers the profound tension that lies at the heart of Luke’s literary program” (5). Although on the one hand Luke presents the Christian mission as a collision with pagan culture, at the same time he portrays it so as to deny the claim that Christianity directly competes with the Roman Empire. Chapter 2 raises the former issue; chapter 3 the latter. Rowe examines Paul’s interactions with Gallio, Claudius Lysias, Felix, Festus, and Herod Agrippa, and argues that these exchanges do not portray Christianity as sedition to Rome. Rather, “Basic…to Luke’s portrayal of the state vis-à-vis the Christian mission is a narratively complex negotiation between the reality of the state’s idolatry and blindness—its satanic power—and the necessity that the mission of light not be misunderstood as sedition. In short, the fact that Luke portrays Paul as δίκαιος with respect to Rome means that the threat Christianity poses is not one of political sedition: “New culture, yes—coup, no” (5).

In chapter 4, “World Upside Down: Practicing Theological Knowledge,” Rowe suggests the possibility that there is a “fundamental conviction” that gives rise to the two seemingly disparate sides of Luke’s portrayal of the Christian mission that the last two chapters have highlighted (91–92). To explicate what this fundamental conviction might be, Rowe expounds Acts 17:1–10a. He argues that by proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, Paul and his companions challenge the order of things upon which the Empire—and therefore Caesar’s reign as well—is founded. Thus, the Jewish opponents are wrong to “place Jesus in competitive relation to Caesar.” However, they are correct that “the Christian mission entails a call to another way of life, one that is…turning the world upside down” (101–02). The remainder of the chapter explores this tension through the lens of three Christian practices: confessing Jesus as Lord of all, universal mission, and Christian assembly.

In the final chapter, “The Apocalypse of Acts and the Life of Truth,” Rowe turns to the constructive theological task of bringing his account of Acts to bear on the present. He argues that Acts “narrates the formation of a new culture,” by presenting a vision of the world in which pagan practices no longer “make sense” (140, 145). Rowe also draws together his exposition of Jesus’ lordship and shows how the resurrection factors into the picture: Next to Jesus as “Lord of all,” “the self-exaltation necessary to sustain Caesar’s political project” is shown to be “inevitably idolatrous” (152). The resurrection is central to Jesus’ lordship because in it “God rejects the rejection of Jesus’ lordship, authenticates his life—and death—as part of what it means to be the Lord of all, and extends this life into a mission of salvation in his name” (153). Rowe concludes the volume by reflecting on the implications that Acts’ vision of Christian mission has for modern polytheism and the postmodern ideal of “tolerance.”

World Upside Down is a truly extraordinary volume in both its depth of scholarship and breadth of engagement. Rowe’s engaging writing style, rich exegetical insights, and encyclopedic knowledge of Graeco-Roman backgrounds make this an academic page-turner, and a volume that any NT scholar will want to have on their shelf. Rowe is also to be commended for engaging in a holistic reading of Acts. Instead of pitting certain trajectories in Acts against each other, Rowe always seeks to find the inner coherence of Luke’s thought. This both-and approach is a great strength of the volume. In addition, Rowe also leverages his reading of Acts to engage in a constructive theological project. In this way, Rowe provides a model for biblical-theological integration that the NT guild is in great need of today.

However, although World Upside Down has much to commend it, like any volume it has areas for improvement. I will mention three: First, World Upside Down lacks any significant discussion of method. Rowe makes no secret of this (15–16). However, for a work that utilizes Graeco-Roman backgrounds so heavily yet claims to make the text of Acts the foreground for the argument (12), some explanation that defines the relationship between text and context seems necessary. For instance, how does the background play into the exegesis? What are Rowe’s basic assumptions regarding Graeco-Roman backgrounds? To what extent does the text serve as a control for the context, and how does this work? The lack of any significant discussion of these key issues in an otherwise stellar scholarly work is both surprising and disappointing.

Second, in his rhetoric Rowe seems to set himself against the world. Although Rowe occasionally mentions scholarly allies (e.g., Cassidy and Horsley, 55), on his account one generally gets the impression that Rowe is the only scholar in the guild with a sufficiently nuanced view of Acts’ political horizon. In addition, he sometimes does not recognize the nuances of scholars with whom he takes issue. For instance, contra Horsley, Wright, Crossan, Reed, and others, Rowe asserts that “Jesus does not challenge Caesar’s status as Lord, as if Jesus were somehow originally subordinate to Caesar in the order of being” (112). However, of these scholars, Wright at least is significantly more nuanced in his view than Rowe allows. Indeed, it would be surprising if any of the above scholars were to affirm Jesus’ ontological subordination to Caesar or anything like it.

Third, for all of its brilliance World Upside Down is unnecessarily inaccessible on several levels. Since the work uses endnotes rather than footnotes, scholars who want to see Rowe’s interaction with the guild will be forced to constantly flip back and forth between the text and the approximately ninety pages of notes in the back. In addition, the copious Greek quotes and frequent German citations make the work inaccessible to virtually all pastors and serious laymen. This is all the more a pity because World Upside Down is a project with much potential fruit for the Church.

However, these issues should not discourage the scholar or the academically-inclined pastor from acquiring and reading World Upside Down. Overall, the work is a stunning piece of NT scholarship that also manages to undertake a constructive theological project, resulting in powerful insights regarding Christian mission in the past, and a compelling vision for Christian mission in the present.

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Analytic Theology: Reviews of The Metaphysics of the Incarnation and Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God

During the second half of the 20th century, authors such as Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff helped establish what is now known as analytic philosophy of religion in the philosophical academy. Prior to their work in metaphysics and epistemology, belief in God was largely disconnected from professional philosophical discussions. Now, nearly fifty years since the release of Plantinga’s God and Other Minds, students of Plantinga and Wolterstorff––and students of students of Plantinga and Wolterstorff––are no longer fighting for a seat at the philosophical table by trying to smuggle religious perspectives into classical philosophical loci. Instead, the conversation has progressed to analytic treatments of properly theological issues such as the Trinity, the incarnation, original sin, the atonement, and other such doctrines. This “family resemblance” group, as Sarah Coakley calls it, has been labeled “analytic theology” and has gained traction in both philosophical and theological circles over the past few years. In fact, it now has a (peer-reviewed, open source) journal (The Journal of Analytic Theology), an annual conference (the Logos Workshop), a book symposium (Crisp and Rea, Analytic Theology), sessions at both the Evangelical Theological Society and the American Academy of Religion annual conferences, and a series of monographs embodying the approach (Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology).

I would like briefly to review two recent books representing analytic theology––one from the OSAT series and another collection of essays from a conference gathering of analytic theologians: William Hasker’s Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God (Oxford: OUP, 2013) and Anna Marmadoro and Jonathan Hill’s The Metaphysics of the Incarnation (Oxford: OUP, 2011), respectively.

Metaphysics of the IncarnationI’ll begin with the Marmadoro/Hill volume. The essays in this volume are wide-ranging, to say the least; however, broadly speaking, they cover four distinct groups of topics. Brian Leftow, Oliver Crisp, Thomas Flint, and Michael Rea offer essays defending different ontological models of the incarnation. The former three (Leftow, Crisp, and Flint), over varying perspectives on the viability of so-called “compositionalist” Christology, while Michael Rea proposes a broadly Aristotelian account of the metaphysics of the incarnation relying on hylomorphism.

Stephen T. Davis and Thomas Senor’s essays broach an alternative so-called “kenotic” Christology in an attempt both to bulk up kenoticism’s metaphysical underpinnings (Davis) and to uphold the model as an ecumenical view of the incarnation (Senor).

Richard Swinburne’s essay examines the coherence of the Chalcedonian Definition, and while it does not clearly fit into any other of the groups of essays, it stands in continuity with the volume insofar as it seeks to test the coherence of a certain set of claims (a hallmark of analytic theology).

Finally, Joseph Jedweb, Richard Cross, Anna Marmadoro, and Robin Le Poidevin bring philosophical discussions of minds, consciousness, and personhood to bear on the questions relevant to the incarnation. Did Jesus have multiple streams of consciousness (Jedweb)? How might the concept of instrumentality (and discussion of so-called “vehicle externalism”) help give an account of the incarnation (Cross)? Does contemporary philosophy of mind (particularly, Extended Mind theory) help make sense of the incarnation? And, does our concept of “person” affect whether we might think it is possible for the Son of God to undergo multiple incarnations (Le Poidevin)?

These four groups of essays illustrate both the unity and diversity of analytic theology: diversity, insofar as the authors represent an eclectic group of positions across the philosophical and theological spectrum; and unity, insofar as the authors share a set of commitments about the value of ontological (and, in this case, metaphysical) categories for elucidating concepts within the Christian face. Further, and in my opinion, this volume represents the best medium for the communication of analytic theology, namely, the essay. The analytic theologians in this volume thrive on precise language, detailed breakdowns of constituent concepts, and a thorough account of the specific issue at hand. This can be seen, further, in the work of Oliver Crisp, whose books thus far are largely comprised of short essays (this may change with several of his forthcoming volumes). Such a medium works well for analytic theology, and only time will tell how well the method transfers to the medium of the monograph, as represented by the new series, Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology, to whose first volume I will now turn.

Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal GodIn one respect, William Hasker’s Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God is a set of short essays, thirty to be precise, divided into three distinct sections: Trinitarian Foundations (Part 1), Trinitarian Options (Part 2), and Trinitarian Construction (Part 3)––all in 258 pages. In these sections, Hasker discusses many diverse issues: the findings of recent research on Nicene Trinitarianism (Ayres, et al), the concepts of “person” and “nature” in Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa (who illustrate what he calls “pro-social” Trinitarianism), divine simplicity, “modes of being” in Barth and Rahner, perichoresis in Moltmann and Zizioulas, contemporary metaphysical models of the Trinity (Leftow, Rea, Brower, van Inwagen, Yandell, Craig, et al), Second Temple Jewish monotheism, divine processions, and many others.

The first two sections of Hasker’s work are valuable in several ways. First of all, Hasker shows firsthand that analytic theologians do in fact care about the history of doctrine. He goes to great length to show that one cannot merely look to Augustine and the Cappadocians and get to modern versions of Social Trinitarianism; yet, he also wants to say that there is something in the these authors relevantly like what has become known as Social Trinitarianism (thus, Hasker’s “pro-social” Trinitarianism). While historians of theology might quibble with Hasker’s point, the larger takeaway is that history matters to analytic theologians––or at least it ought to––and Hasker does well to illustrate this. Second, Hasker does well to survey the various options that are available in contemporary discussions of the Trinity while critiquing these models along the way. This points to another strength of analytic theology, namely, the ability carefully to describe, analyze, and critique a position. Hasker is at his best when he shows tensions and inconsistencies in the thoughts of other thinkers.

At the same time, these strengths of Hasker’s work also represent one of its weaknesses, namely, in trying to do too much it does not do quite enough. Hasker treats the divine processions in fifteen pages and rejects simplicity in seven pages (Augustinian simplicity, that is, since Hasker still wants to say that God is simple in that God is not composed of parts). In each of the brief chapters in which Hasker quickly treats a complex issue with many logical, scriptural, and historical issues, I wanted to see an entire essay giving the concept further treatment. It is never good book review practice to critique the things you wish an author would have talked about, but once she or he begins a discussion, a reader is entitled to a thorough treatment––a more thorough treatment than Hasker gives at several places in his work.

The third section of Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God is Hasker’s own attempt to construct a coherent metaphysical doctrine of the Trinity. He outlines a view (much more complex than my brief description will allow) in which each of the Trinitarian persons is truly a distinct person who is a property bearer, having all of the necessary and sufficient properties for being divine. These three persons are united in their sharing of one divine will. “Each Person,” he says, “is wholly God, but each Person is not the whole of God” (250). Hasker answers objections at each point in his constructive proposal and offers a unique model of the Trinity that aims to please both those who hold to Social Trinitarianism and those who hold to the more traditional view of the doctrine.

Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God and The Metaphysics of the Incarnation represent some of the best of what analytic theology has to offer, and they illustrate some of the weaknesses it has to overcome. Nonetheless, both volumes are essential reading for anyone interested in analytic theology and/or the metaphysics of the incarnation and Trinity.

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Review of Paul: Life, Setting, Work, Letters, edited by Oda Wischmeyer

Wischmeyer, Oda, ed. Paul: Life, Setting, Work, Letters. Translated by Helen S. Heron. London: T&T Clark, 2012. $35.73

81+CKOOGLPLFor many English speakers interested in Biblical Studies, it takes . . . longer . . . to read German scholarship, but it is crucial. So, English translations of good German New Testament scholarship, like this volume, are especially welcome.

This self-styled “textbook,” edited by Oda Wischmeyer, Professor Emeritus in the Institut für Neues Testament at the Friedrich-Alexander Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg, introduces students to Paul in three main sections: his setting (Part I), his letters and theology (Part II), and the reception of his legacy and letters (Part III). Each Part is introduced briefly by Wischmeyer, who situates the essays that follow in their critical contexts and summarizes the general presuppositions under which the essays approach Paul.

Part I contains six essays on the contexts of Paul’s life and missionary activity, the first two focusing on the broader cultural contexts within which Paul worked. Andreas Mehl’s contribution summarizes the status of the government and the makeup of the Roman Principate during Paul’s life—from Augustus to Nero. Mehl, a classicist, paints a nuanced picture of an expanding, changing social and political situation in the first century BCE, with the nascent Roman “Empire” just beginning to form the structures and institutions that would sustain it for at least four more centuries.

Bernhard Heininger’s essay focuses on the religious and philosophical contexts of the Gentile world Paul encountered. Heininger describes the popular public worship, various mystery cults, and oracular and magical practices present in the empire, then turning to examine in more detail the imperial cult and the various philosophical schools contemporary with Paul. Heininger helpfully casts the cult of the emperor as a functional “foil” (45) for Paul’s preaching, which rightly acknowledges the importance of this context but avoids overstatement of Paul’s intentions to oppose the imperial cult specifically. Both essays are learned and useful introductions to research on their topics, but Heininger’s contribution does a better job of interacting with key primary sources and pointing students to further discussion. Heininger also makes more explicit connections with Paul, while Mehl’s essay leaves it to readers to assess the relevance of his discussion to the interpretation of Paul. Neither essay, though very informative, provides enough of the synthetic summary statements that would contextualize the information for students interacting with it for the first time.

Jörg Frey approaches Paul as a diaspora Pharisee, standing well within the Judaism of his day. He offers an especially fair and useful summary of the debate over the “New Perspective(s) on Paul,” acknowledging the contribution of sociological readings of Pauline justification without jettisoning the theological dimension. Following her short essay outlining sources and chronology for Paul’s life, Eva Ebel examines the logistics of travel that would have faced Paul and his companions and briefly assesses Paul’s missionary achievements. She rightly understands his Spanish ambitions to indicate that a pragmatic restriction of his missionary activity to Greek-speaking areas with a Jewish presence was not at the core of Paul’s missionary strategy. Eve-Marie Becker rounds out Part I with her essay on the “Person of Paul,” which takes a fascinating look at our evidence for Paul’s physical and personality features as well as his self-understanding and his understanding of personal physicality, particularly the effect of the latter on his eschatology.

Part II features introductory essays on each of the seven commonly-accepted Pauline letters in their posited chronological order: 1 Thessalonians (Ebel), 1 Corinthians (Wischmeyer), 2 Corinthians (Becker), Galatians (Frey), Philippians (Lukas Bormann), Philemon (Bormann), and Romans (Wischmeyer). Each contribution covers standard introductory issues, summarized in a series of useful tables. The essays address a broad range of issues very economically, if densely, including, in addition to standard introduction, sections on “semantic fields” that give students an idea of the concepts emphasized in a given letter, various partition theories, and consideration of the rhetorical forms discernible in the letters.

Ebel emphasizes that despite the absence of “cross” and “righteous/ness” terminology in 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s mature thought on the broad lines of soteriology, particularly with reference to judgment, is already present. Wischmeyer highlights the two “poles” of the Christian life that Paul presents in 1 Corinthians: agapē and an awareness of living in the eschaton. Becker sees in (a composite) 2 Corinthians a unique window into Paul’s self-understanding and the early development of Christian theology from epistolary correspondence. The Galatian situation, for Frey, was essentially theological, though sociological concerns should not be discounted. Bormann emphasizes the core of Philippians in the imitatio Christi, both in the community and in Paul’s own (suffering) life, and he finds in Philemon a case study in the effect of the gospel on social relationships. Wischmeyer is skeptical of attempts to divide or even classify Romans according to classical rhetoric, and his extended summary of Paul’s argument falls along largely traditional “vertical” lines, and he considers the classic theological emphases on, e.g., justification, law, atonement, and eschatology to be properly placed.

The final chapter of Part II concerns “themes” of Pauline theology. Wischmeyer analyzes Paul’s theologizing in this chapter more than his theology, a decision the author explains as necessary because of the inappropriateness of taking a “theological position” in a textbook (284 n. 22). Accordingly, Wischmeyer includes a brief history of the discipline of “Pauline theology” and considers the key sources and presuppositions of Paul’s theologizing, but attempts no synthesis. Using classic systematic-theological loci, the author then identifies the theological topics addressed in each letter individually and finally four key tensions in Paul’s thought: eschatology, law-free Gentile inclusion, “in-Christ” ecclesiology, and pneumatic ethics.

Part III deals with the reception of Paul in the First Century (Heininger), in the Second (Andreas Lindemann), and beyond (Wolfgang Wischmeyer). Heininger’s chapter covers the “Deutero- and Trito-Pauline” letters and the presentation of Paul in Acts. Heininger approaches these documents with a view to how they interact with Paul’s legacy (Paul is cast as a prototypical believer and leader) and as a window into the early understanding of Paul within believing communities (applying his theology to changing situations). Lindemann treats the reception of Paul in the literature known as the “Apostolic Fathers” and other literature associated with Paul from the second century. He highlights the widespread influence of Paul’s legacy and the clues these letters give us regarding the early collection and circulation of Pauline letters. Finally, Wolfgang Wischmeyer completes Part III with a broad survey of the history of reception of Paul after the Second Century, emphasizing the massive influence Paul and his letter collection had on the self-definition of the Christian church, from Augustine to the Middle Ages and the Reformation to the Enlightenment and historical criticism.

The book’s interaction with major issues in Pauline studies, though it makes for quite dense prose at times, is impressive indeed. The volume is well-organized and consistent in the quality of the contributions, from both New Testament scholars and classicists, but the biggest benefit of this work is certainly its exposure of German scholarship to a wider English-speaking audience. Both the essays themselves and their documentation are a great resource for students seeking to venture into what might be a “strange new world” of German scholarship on Paul, where the New Perspective has had a less profound effect, for good or ill, and where they will often find a different set of emphases than are present in Pauline studies in the UK and US.

It is hard, though, to imagine this volume being used widely as it was intended, i.e., as a textbook. It is too detailed for most undergraduate courses, where its lack of synthesis and summary statements would demand too much of the reader, a bit too critical for the likelihood of wide adoption in Evangelical seminaries, and probably too broad for use as a main textbook in graduate courses on Paul. However, the book would be a useful supplementary reference resource in any of these settings.

While some readers may not share many of this collection’s consistently critical conclusions regarding Pauline chronology and authorship, its tone is consistently irenic, its authors’ reasoning is clearly presented, and I am glad to have the book on my shelf.

I am thankful for the opportunity to read and review this volume—many thanks to T&T Clark for the review copy.

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Review: The World of the New Testament, edited by Joel B. Green and Lee M. McDonald

World of NT

Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, eds. The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

The World of the New Testament (hereafter WNT) contains 44 essays covering a wide array of extremely relevant topics for studying the context of the NT. Those essays come in five sections:

  • Setting the Context: Exile and Jewish Heritage
  • Setting the Context: Roman Hellenism
  • The Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism
  • The Literary Context of Early Christianity
  • The Geographical Context of the New Testament [note: these essays aren’t really on “geography”; they are primarily about the history of various regions of the Mediterranean world]

The essays typically run 10–15 pages each, with a few exceptions (e.g., Charlesworth’s essay on “Jesus Research and Archaeology” is 28 pages long, while Yinger writes only 4 pages on “Jewish education”). I am not sufficiently well-read in all the relevant topics to say this authoritatively, but as far as I can tell the vast majority of the essays are written by recognizable experts in those particular areas (thus, e.g., Nicholas Perrin on “Exile,” David Instone-Brewer on “Temple and Priesthood,” and David Downs on “Economics, Taxes, and Tithes”).

I assigned portions of WNT for my New Testament Literature and Interpretation (undergraduate general education) courses this past year, so my comments below are geared specifically toward the pedagogical value of the book.

First, WNT isn’t designed to be read cover to cover; each chapter exists independent of the others, so it functions more like a dictionary than a textbook in that sense. So by all means use it as a textbook, but as a supplemental one, especially for undergraduates. Here’s a list of the essays I assigned for one section or another of my NT Lit course:

“Hasmoneans and the Hasmonean Era” (Larry Helyer)

“The Imperial Cult” (Nicholas Perrin)

“Economics, Taxes, and Tithes” (David Downs)

“The Dead Sea Scrolls” (C. D. Elledge)

“Jews in the Diaspora” (David deSilva)

“Josephus in the New Testament” (Michael Bird)

“Early Non-Canonical Christian Writings” (Nicholas Perrin)

In truth, I would like to have assigned a lot more, but my main textbook for the course was already solid on backgrounds (The New Testament in Antiquity, by Burge/Cohick/Green), and this was, after all, a survey course. I will probably make room (somehow!) next time for “Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World” (Lynn Cohick), “Jews and Samaritans” (Lidija Novakovic), “Apocalypticism” (Larry Helyer), and “Macedonia” (Gene Green). These are all fantastic essays and I hate to leave any of them out!

Second, as a newly-minted PhD and first-time professor of NT Survey courses, WNT enhanced my own understanding of the topics addressed in many of the essays. So it wasn’t just informative for students who didn’t know Hellenization from a hole in the ground—I learned a lot too! WNT is full of essays that are accessible to college freshman but still useful in their own right to young scholars. Some essays (especially deSilva’s “Jews in the Diaspora”) also shaped my classroom presentation of the material even if I didn’t have them read the essay itself. Perhaps most helpfully, every essay points the reader to both key primary texts and major secondary sources (each essay ends with an annotated list of key books and article on its respective topic).

Third, I used these readings in an undergraduate survey course, but I see no reason why it could not also work in upper-division undergraduate “NT Backgrounds” classes, as well as introductory courses at the graduate/seminary level as well. In graduate settings it could be the main textbook as long as the assigned portions were organized by the curriculum rather than the other way around—you wouldn’t want to just march through it chapter by chapter.

In terms of their accessibility to undergraduates, I provided a list of reading questions for each essay to guide my students’ interaction—I don’t know if my questions were the best, but I do think the material is sufficiently technical to merit assistance of that sort, at least in some cases. The essays also assume some basic knowledge that needed to be given either in class or through other readings—every essay assumes Alexander the Great’s legacy of Hellenistic influence throughout the Mediterranean world, for example, but no single essay explains that legacy as an issue in its own right.

I don’t have any major criticisms of the volume. It is a bit difficult to grasp the arrangement of the essays; some groups appear to fall into a coherent sequence, while others are more random. Section One, “Exile and the Jewish Heritage,” moves from “Exile” to “The Hasmoneans and the Hasmonean Era” to “The Herodian Dynasty” (so far so good!), but then to “Monotheism” and “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation.” The last of these seems particularly out of place, especially given that Philo and Josephus receive distinct essays within Section 4: “The Literary Context of Early Christianity,” and Section 3: “The Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism” includes an essay on “Noncanonical Jewish Writings.”

The coverage of major issues is very impressive. I would love to have seen some distinct attention paid to particular OT individuals who play formative roles not only in biblical interpretation but social identity as well in Second Temple Judaism (e.g., Moses, Elijah, Abraham). I also wonder why “Messianism” or “Messianic Expectations” or something of that ilk did not receive its own essay; there is a brief discussion of Messianism at Qumran in “The Dead Sea Scrolls” (pp. 239–40), and that’s about it.

In all—a great book and one that I plan to use personally and pedagogically for a long time. Thanks to Joel Green and Lee McDonald for putting it together, and thanks to Baker Academic for a complimentary copy!

*Michael Kibbe is a graduate of the PhD program at Wheaton College and now serves as an Assistant Professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institue in Spokane, WA.

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Review: Robert Matthew Calhoun. Paul’s Definitions of the Gospel in Romans 1

Robert Matthew Calhoun. Paul’s Definitions of the Gospel in Romans 1. WUNT II/316 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). € 69,00.


Robert Matthew Calhoun’s monograph, Paul’s Definitions of the Gospel in Romans 1, is a revision of his dissertation at the University of Chicago, which he wrote under the supervision of Margaret Mitchell. Calhoun uses rhetorical criticism to help our understanding of how Paul defines the gospel. His thesis is four-fold. First, Calhoun focuses on Romans 1:2-4 and 1:16-17 as the two coordinated definitions of the gospel: Paul states the gospel’s content in 2-4 and its function in 16-17. Second, Paul’s two-fold definition of the gospel also evidences the necessary brevity for definition by employing the rhetorical figures of ellipses, synecdoche, and commonalities. Third, Paul “deliberately invests vv 16-17 with exploitable ambiguities in both the terminology and syntax” (p. 4). Fourth, Paul unfolds his argument by “exegeting the terms” of his essential (2-4) and functional (16-17) definitions, recombining their elements and maximizing the lexical meanings of their component terms along with their cognates toward a demonstration of how the gospel is God’s power at work in the cosmos (p. 4).

In chapter 2, Calhoun examines the theories of definition and how orators used them in their speeches. He surveys the different functions of definition in philosophy and rhetoric and how it is used in the genres of rhetoric: forensic, deliberative, and epideictic. Calhoun argues that in the Phaedrus Plato founds the basic structure of definitions in that they are to state both what sort a thing is and its function (Phaedr. 237c-d). A definition aims at being brief, unfolding the term being defined [definiendum], and gaining the acceptance of one’s audience. His study concludes that definitions should be brief, which is achieved through a number of techniques. Hence, the author’s role is to “compress” and the reader’s is to “decompress” (p. 5). Finally, Calhoun asserts that Dio Chyrsostom’s method of “exegeting the terms” in Orations 14 and 76 proves vital for the way in which Paul is defining the gospel in Romans (p. 36).

In chapter 3, Calhoun surveys how brevity was perceived as a value and as a rhetorical figure within the ancient rhetorical tradition. He also examines some of the techniques for achieving brevity by focusing on ellipsis or omission, synecdoche, and commonality. According to Calhoun, this background proves most beneficial for analyzing Romans 1:2-4, 16-17 as definitions because it provides the necessary groundwork for analyzing the fundamental narrative of the gospel that Paul compresses within his definitions.

In chapter 4, Calhoun examines Romans 1:2-4 as Paul’s definition of the essence of the gospel. Paul’s basic definition of the gospel here is that which God proclaimed beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his Son. The remaining elements of the passage are Paul’s extension of the definition in which he enfolds the story of Christ. Over against the predominant view that Paul is using a traditional formula, Calhoun argues that Paul’s employment of synecdoche is better accounted for by what he coins as a “mythological extended formula.” This is one of Calhoun’s main contributions. The formula is expanded epithet which has the ability to describe more than a simple epithet because of its increased length that consists of a relative clause or an attributive participial phrase (p. 107). This phenomenon is able to capture the entire myth of a divinity. In order to support this claim, Calhoun surveys a number of Greek hymns and prayers, and the Septuagint (primarily the prophetic texts) in order to demonstrate that this form was mediated to Paul and other early Christians (109). Calhoun also examines a number places in Paul’s letters where Paul seems to be using “mythological expanded epithets.” His examination suggests that Paul can use these epithets to praise God or Christ and to provide proofs for his arguments. Finally, by employing these epithets, Paul is able to capture the whole of Jesus’ story and nature in his first definition of the gospel.

In chapter 5, Calhoun examines 1:16-17. In his thesis statement, Paul’s definition of the gospel states the gospel’s function: “it is the power of God for salvation.” Paul’s definition of the gospel as God’s power establishes a connection with 1:4 (“in power”). In 1:17, Paul provides an abbreviated proof that explains how the gospel can do what it does and an abbreviated quote from Scripture that supports his claim. Calhoun has an excellent discussion of the righteousness of God, which he defines as God’s justice. Furthermore, he argues that the difficult phrase “from faith to faith” is an instance of ellipsis, and, following the example of some patristic readers, he argues that the surrounding context of the phrase clarifies the phrase’s ambiguity. His analysis of Paul’s quote of Habakkuk 2:4 leads him to see a “neat symmetry” with the first definition since Paul begins that definition with the topic of Scripture.

In Chapter 6, Calhoun examines the ways in which Paul unfolds and builds on his definitions by analyzing Romans 3:1-8, 21-31; 9:1-10:21. Calhoun perceives Paul’s method as being similar to Dio Chrysostom who proceeds by “exegeting the terms.”

I greatly benefited from reading this monograph and found it to be compelling. Calhoun’s monograph is well written and evidences many benefits of using rhetorical criticism. This monograph is intended primarily for scholars. However, for the student of the New Testament, Calhoun’s analysis of the rhetorical tradition is not burdensome. He provides his own translations of a number of lengthy Greek and Latin quotes, which are clear and helpful. Moreover, his discussions of the righteousness of God and the faith of Jesus are helpful and show his ability as an exegete. His work not only demonstrates the coherency between 1:2-4 and 1:16-17, but also within the letter as a whole. Calhoun’s work further demonstrates the benefit that rhetorical criticism provides for analyzing dense and seemingly obscure passages in Paul’s letters, and would serve as a good source for anyone who wishes to use rhetorical criticism for interpreting scripture. Although his criticisms of the view that 1:3b-4 is a pre-Pauline formula are strong, time will tell if his “mythological expanded epithet” will win out.

I would also like to thank Mohr Siebeck for providing a free review copy.

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