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While I have always thought of Jude as rather late (post 70 at least, if not in the 90′s), there are good reasons to date the book earlier. In his WBC volume on Jude and 2 Peter, Richard Bauckham argues that the letter is very early, perhaps as early as A.D. 50.  This reading is based on the use of Jewish apocalyptic style found in the letter.  He finds three elements of the book which lean toward the earlier date:  There is a lively hope for the return of Jesus (14-15).  Secondly, the style of the letter is a Jewish midrash which draws together texts from the Hebrew Bible to argue that the false teachers will face judgment at the Coming of the Messiah.  Finally, there is no hint of church offices in the letter – elders, deacons or bishops, nor is there any appeal to human authority.  The institution of the church is limited when the letter was written.

jude01One serious challenge to this early date is the nature of the opponent.  They seem to be libertine, or even antinomian, which has always made me think that the letter must therefore be written later, after Paul’s death at the very least.  But if the letter is written at the time of Paul’s first missionary journey and the controversy of which led to the Jerusalem council, the issue is quite a bit different from Galatians or James.  In Galatians, Gentiles are discouraged from keeping Law (Paul says “gentiles, your are not converting to Judaism”) and in James Jews are encouraged to continue keeping the Law (James says, “Jews, you are not converting away from Judaism.”)

Jude might give witness to some people who took Paul’s gospel of freedom from law to an extreme and lived a life that was not bound by law at all.  These libertines are not really an issue in Acts 15, but they are in Philippians, perhaps in 1 Thess 4, and certainly a problem in Corinth and Romans 6.  That Paul has to answer the objection, “should we sin that grace may abound” implies that someone was in fact sinning so grace might abound!

What made me wonder is the fact that Jude seems clearly Jewish – it is a midrash constructed from various texts from the Hebrew Bible. If Jude is writing to Jewish Christians who have antinomians in their midst, it seems like these might very well be Jewish Libertines not Gentiles. If that is the case, then Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law for Gentiles might have had some traction among Hellenistic Jews which led to a rejection of the Law. Perhaps this is the source of James’ concern in Acts 21, that some think that Paul has rejected the Law.

Harding, Mark and Alanna Nobbs. All Things to All Cultures: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2013. 426 pp. Pb; $50.00. Link to Eerdmans

This collection of essays was sponsored by the Australian College of Theology and all the contributors have some connection to that institution or Macquarie University. The book is a companion to The Content and the Setting of the Gospel Tradition (Eerdmans, 2010). Like that earlier volume, All Things to All Cultures sets Pauline literature into a Greco-Roman context in order to illuminate the letters and theology of Paul. This is not intended to be comprehensive, nor do the authors agree on all aspects of Pauline studies. Each essay is a self-contained unit and includes a very helpful “recommended reading” list. There are two short appendices by Paul Barnett: “Paul and the Book of Acts” and “A Tabular Analysis of Paul’s Asian Epistles.”

The first four essays focus on introductory issues. Murray Smith provides an overview of recent developments in Pauline studies in “Paul in the Twenty-first Century.” Since there is an avalanche of scholarly interest in Paul in the last 30 years, Smith must work very hard to provide an overview of main contours of the current “debates” in a mere 33 pages (including 212 footnotes)!  The largest section of the essay is of course dedicated to the development of the New Perspective on Paul and the subsequent responses to Sanders, Dunn, Wright and others.

Harding and NobbsComparing the Letters of Paul and the book of Acts, David Eastman presents a basic chronology of Paul’s life (“Paul: An Outline of His Life”). This is always a controversial topic since there are a limited number of “fixed dates” from which to develop a chronology. Eastman dates the Damascus Road experience to 33/34 and the Jerusalem Council to 50/51. He takes Gal 2:1-10 as the same events of Acts 15. Eastman gives a wide range (62-68) for the death of Paul since the traditions concerning his death are unclear. He provides a chart comparing his chronology to other recent scholars (p. 52).

In some ways Cavan Concannon’s essay, “The Archaeology of the Pauline Mission” is unmanageably broad. The archaeology of Corinth or Ephesus would fill a much larger monograph. He therefore focuses his attention on brief surveys the four “Pauline” cities and then to specific topics for each city that specifically illuminate the letters of Paul. For Thessalonica, Concannon examines associations and sacred laws, for Philippi he focuses on Romanatis of the city. For Ephesus he limits his discussion to slavery and cultic practices. Finally, for Corinth he examines the place of women and the poor. This is an excellent strategy, although in each case there is little more than a sketch. Concannon does provide copious footnotes to relevant literature.

Finally in the first section of the book, Brent Nongbri examines the “Pauline Letter Manuscripts.” This is perhaps the least controversial element of Pauline studies, although Nongbri does comment on several competing theories for the development of collections of Pauline letters. The order and content of these collections vary and may have some bearing on current developments in “canonical” interpretation.

The next three essays unpack the Jewish, Greek, and Roman contexts of Paul’s mission. Since the work of Stendahl and Sanders in the late 1970s, the Jewish context of Paul’s theology has become one of the most intensely examined areas in Pauline Studies. Paul McKechnie’s “Paul among the Jews” offers a survey of the life of Paul that deals with the problem of Saul’s conversion. Did Paul “reject Judaism” and turn to Christianity? Relying primarily on Acts, McKechnie lays out the evidence that Paul remained more or less Jewish throughout his career. I found that this chapter lacked a strong conclusion, although the thesis seems clear (Paul remained a Jewish Pharisee). Some will find his presentation problematic since he relies so heavily on Acts, with very little reference to Paul’s letters.

While Christopher Forbes examines “Paul among the Greeks,” he is not concerned with the common question of influence (“was Paul a Stoic?” or “did Paul get baptism from the Greeks?”). Paul must have had some sort of “secondary education” that might be described as “Greek” and his “broad engagement with Greek culture is obvious in his letters” (p. 135). The chapter argues that Paul’s engagement of the Gentiles resonates with the view from the Hebrew Bible that Gentiles would become a part of Israel in the eschatological age.

James R. Harrison’s “Paul among the Romans” engages the issue of anti-imperialism in Paul’s thought. After a short introduction to the current debate Harrison focuses primarily on Romans. While Paul does recommend submission to the government, he does not give any sort of accolades to the Emperor typically found in Roman literature. In addition, local churches are “benefactor communities” that do not accept the benefaction of the Empire. He concludes that Paul was “anti-imperial” when he counters the Augustan claim on peace by pointing out that the peace comes only through the sword (p. 174).

The third set of essays in the book cover the Pauline Letters in canonical order. Each chapter offers some basic background material and an overview of the letter, usually with some sketch of the contribution of the specific letters to Pauline Theology. For example, Michael Bird’s concise summary in “The Letter to the Romans” is an excellent overview of the letter. If there is some classic introductory problem, the author of the chapter briefly summarizes it and offers an opinion. L. L. Welborn sorts out the various problems associated with the two letters to the Corinthians, identifying letters A-H (“The Corinthians Correspondence”).  Greg Forbes (“The Letter to the Galatians”), for example, argues for an early date for Galatians (A.D. 48, before the Jerusalem Council). Murray Smith leans toward 2 Thess being the earlier of the two letters (“The Thessalonian Correspondence”).

Ian Smith has the formidable task of covering the four Prison Epistles (“The Later Pauline Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon”). Authorship and provenance for these letters are notorious problems. After surveying the options, he concludes that all four are written by Paul during the Roman imprisonment. Mark Harding sees the Pastoral letters are pseudegraphical and are designed “to actualize living tradition and cause it to speak to a new situation not originally envisioned” (p. 349, “The Pastoral Epistles”).

In the final chapter of the book Timothy J. Harris writes a short Pauline Theology. As Harris confesses, to write anything on Paul’s theology is “ambitious” and even “perilous,” but to attempt it in a mere 38 pages will leave most readers looking for more. After a short orientation on method and sources, Harris describes Paul’s theology as a “conversion of a worldview” (p.360), but a conversion that is thoroughly Christocentric. It is through Jesus and the cross that God has chosen to deal with the problem of sin. Harris summarized the “Pauline Meta-narrative” as “creation, redemption, and the fullness of time” (p. 369). He briefly interacts with the New Perspective as well as Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God. His summary of Paul’s theology certainly resonates with the New Perspective (especially N. T. Wright), but every writer on Paul must deal with the challenges stemming from that perspective.

Conclusion. I find this to be a very helpful overview of the main issues current under discussion in the world of Pauline Studies. As with all books that attempt to survey a huge area of study, this book is occasionally too much of a sketch to satisfy. A similar sized text could be produced on Pauline Theology and a second volume on the literature. Nevertheless, I would recommend the book for use in a seminary class on Pauline literature and theology because it provides an overview of the landscape without getting distracted by the details.

One problem for this book is that it was published about the same time as N. T. Wright’s massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God. There are many themes in Wright’s book that find expressing in All Things to All Cultures for two reasons. First, the writers have interacted with Wright’s earlier views, but this is to be expected in any book dealing with Paul written in the twenty-first century. Wright’s emphasis on reading Paul’s worldview, for example, is well-known and appears several times in this book simply because that is an excellent way to read Paul. Second, the theological portions of this book often cite the same secondary literature that Wright has read;  they are all reading the same sorts of writers, so there is some similarity. In short, this book should not be overlooked as an introduction to the literature and theology of Paul in the rush to read and dissect Wright’s work.

One Additional Note:  This book appears as part of a collection of books in a sixteen-book Pauline Studies Collection on offer from Logos Bible Software. The collection is in “pre-order” status at the moment. Every book in this collection is worth reading; highlights include Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Reading of Justification in Paul, Richard Hayes, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, Brevard Childs, The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus, and Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme. The whole set is 5300+ pages and works out on pre-order to less than $17 a book. I have most of them on my shelf already!

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Nienhuis, David R. Robert W. Wall. Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John & Jude as Scripture: The Shaping and Shape of a Canonical Collection. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013. 314 pp. Pb; $30.00.  Link

Canonical approaches to the Bible have grown in popularity in the last two decades. While Brevard Childs is usually associated with the beginnings of this movement, there have been a number of recent books that attempt to study the “shaping of the canon” in its final form. Many of these studies are on sub-canons within the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah, Psalms), Canon studies have caught the attention of New Testament scholarship. For example, Francis Watson’s recent Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2013) uses the shape of the Canon as a way to get at Gospel origins. Robert Wall has written several important works on the formation of the Canon as well as commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles and James. Nienhuis contributed Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and Christian Canon (Baylor, 2008). That book focused primarily on the formation of a Catholic canon and used James as a model. Both writers are influenced by Brevard Childs (p. 273) and this book forms a companion to Childs’s The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus (Eerdmans, 2008). In this new book, Nienhuis and Wall continue the method developed by Childs by applying it to the seven of the letters that follow the Pauline books.

Nienhuis and WallNienhuis and Wall begin by lamenting the lack of clarity in New Testament studies on the nature of the so-called Catholic Epistles. While the Synoptic Gospels, Pauline and Johannine literature are almost universally recognized as canonical units, the “other books” are less-clearly defined. Should the collection include Hebrews and/or Revelation? If the collection is to be defined as “non-Pauline,” should the deutero-Pauline letters such as the Pastorals or Ephesians be included? If the collection is defined as later representing a later, catholic Christianity, should non-canonical books such as Didache be included? Even the name of the collection varies in New Testament introductions. This book attempts to “rehabilitate” the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude by suggesting that there is canonical coherence in these seven letters. They reflect a conscious attempt to create a “Pillars collection” that gives balance to the Pauline collection of letters in the overall Canon of Scripture.

In the first part of the book, Nienhuis and Wall devote three chapters to the formation of a Catholic Epistles canon. They trace the development of the canon in general in both the Western and Eastern churches by examining the comments on these letters in Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origin. The main motivation for mentioning the Catholic Epistles during this period is to link the mission of Paul and the “Pillars” from Jerusalem as an answer to Marcion’s claim that only Paul understood the Gospel. Paul’s letters represent a mission to the Gentiles while 1 Peter and 1 John represent the mission to the Jews. This “Acts-inspired missional logic” was used by Tertullian to “demote Paul’s authority” in response to Marcion (p. 21). It is not until Origin that there are references to James, and then primarily because the letter was a useful response to overly fideistic readings of Paul.

In fact, Nienhuis and Wall state that Augustine thought the Catholic Epistles were added to the canon “in order to keep readers from falling into a Paulinist fideism” (p. 35). Paul must be understood through the lens of the canonical frame of Acts on the one side, and the Catholic Epistles on the other.

The “shape” of the seven letter canon is based on at least two factors. First, Nienhuis and Wall argue that James functions as a “frontpiece” to the Pillars collection. As such, the Epistle of James is a presentation of the theology of the collection. This necessarily means that James was composed for the express purpose of drawing the Pillars collection together, taking cues from the book of Acts and the memory of James as leader of the Jerusalem church. Whether or not the “historical James” is the source for the sayings in the Epistle of James is of no interest to this study; the book might come from the real James or not (p.62).  The function of the Letter of James in the Pillars Collection is more important than matters of authorship and history.

Second, the authors argue that these letters were shaped into a collection alongside the book of Acts.  Since Acts indicates that Peter (and to a lesser extent John) was the initial spokesperson for the Jerusalem community and James became the leader of that community, their voices ought to be heard along with Paul. The book of Acts plays “a strategic hermeneutical role in the canonical process” as an “early catholic narrative: that has only a moderate conflict between Paul and the Pillars in Jerusalem (p. 61). Acts gives shape to the Pillars collection rather than Galatians 2,

In order to demonstrate their suggestion, the authors provide a number of “intertextual readings” which they argue show that this collection is the result of an “intentional, deliberate movement” at some point in the canonical process. These intertextual connections traced in the conclusion by reading James as the frontpiece, then showing how 1 Peter takes up themes from James. The chapter steps through the letters in canonical order, attempting to connect the letters (from James to 1 Peter, from 1 Peter to 2 Peter, and so on.

This frequent use of the term “intertextual” is a serious problem, however. The book as a whole uses phrases like “clearly maker by a series of intertextual linkages” (p. 254) often, but never does the book define what an “intertextual linkage” is nor is there any real method for determining if these links are real and intentional, or simply a coincidence due to similar subject matter.

For example, the authors state that there “clear verbal and thematic linkages” between 2 Peter and 1 John that center around the motif of witness. Both 2 Peter and 1 John claim to be written by an eyewitness (p. 255). A second example is language sued to describe false teachers: they are pseudoprophetes (2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 4:1); both letters describe the false teachers as denying Christ (using arneomai, 2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 2:27); both describe the false teachers are deceivers (using plane and planao, 2 Peter 2:15, 18; 3:17 and 1 John 2:26, 3:7, 4:6, 2 John 7). But is any of this language unique enough to imply a conscious intertextual allusion? Witness language also appears in Acts and John, so it is possible that the intertextual allusion points to those books.

There are similar themes and vocabulary to be sure, but what is to be made of this? Is this “intertext” evidence of a common source? Perhaps one writer made use of the other to expand on an idea? Was the source of this intertext the author of the letter or at the “canonical shaping” level? As with most intertextual studies, there is uncertainty as to which direction the intertext flows, but that is not really an issue for this book. The Pillars collection s arranged as it is in order to create two intertextual relationships that were not at all in view when the letters were first written.

The two books that frame the seven letters, Hebrews and Revelation, are not covered in this book. The reason for the omission of Hebrews is that there is no evidence that the book was ever considered a part of this canonical collection in antiquity (p. 36). Hebrews was more often included in the Pauline corpus of 14 books. In fact, Childs devotes a section to the influence of Hebrews on the Pauline collection in his Reading Paul. Nienhuis and Wall follow Childs by suggesting that Hebrews serves as a canonical balance to the Pauline letters, connecting the theology of Paul its Jewish roots. Like the Pillars collection, Hebrews balances Paul in the shape of the final canon. Likewise, Revelation was always something of a loner in the biblical canon because of genre. Rather than suggest Hebrews and Revelation form some sort of a frame for the Pillars collection, the books are simply left out of the study.

Conclusion. Nienhuis and Wall offer a way of reading the Pillars collection as a unit that teases out a consistent theology for a section of scripture that is often ignored as secondary to the Jesus and the Gospels or the Pauline literature. As an example of a Canonical Reading of the New Testament this book makes a case for an ongoing process of collecting, editing, and arranging the letters in order to create a balance to a heretical misreading of Pauline Theology.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Ross, Allen P. A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (42-89). Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 841pp. Hb; $44.99. Link.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to preach through sections of the Psalms. One of my ongoing frustrations is that there are very few useful commentaries on the Psalms. Either they are so brief that there is little exegetical insight, or they are overly interested in form-critical matters that do not provide much clarity for the interpretation or application of the Psalms. Some commentaries are only interested in the New Testament use of the Psalms, or in finding veiled references to Jesus in every line.

Ross, Psalms 2Allen Ross’s contribution to the Kregel Exegetical Library is a welcome exception to this pattern. The commentary is attentive to the Hebrew text and historical contexts without sacrificing expositional comments to help a pastor or teacher present the Psalms in a contemporary context. The first volume of Allen Ross’s commentary on the Psalms was published by Kregel in 2011.  That 887 page commentary covered Psalms 1-41 with an additional 179 page introduction to the Psalms. Since the first volume contained the introduction to the Psalms and bibliography, those items are omitted from volume 2.  It is obviously impossible to reprint the introduction in volume 2, but someone could potentially purchase just volume 2 and miss out on that material.

This volume continues the exegetical method developed in the Introduction (1:169-79). First, Ross begins by “paying attention to the text.” He provides his own translation of the psalm with copious notes on textual variations, emendations, and lexical issues. Ross weighs evidence from the versions (Greek, Syriac, etc.) and does not shy away from the syntactic difficulties one encounters reading Hebrew poetry. There are notes on textual variants in the Masoretic text and alternative translations based on Hebrew syntax.  Frequently the Greek translation appears in footnotes. For example, in Ps 69:32, the Hebrew text has a perfect verb which Ross takes as “when they see,” while the Greek has a subjunctive, “let them see.” Ross rejects emending the Masoretic text to reflect the subjunctive in this case.

Second, following the translation Ross comments on the composition and context of the Psalm. This section takes headers seriously if they are present and attempts in most cases to place the Psalm in the history of Israel. For Psalm 72, for example, Ross has no trouble with a Solomonic background (which he also recognizes as messianic), despite various suggestions that the psalm dates to the time of Hezekiah. These contextual decisions are usually conservative, favoring a pre-exilic date often. This section will also identify any New Testament use of the Psalm, although this later interpretation does not drive his reading of the text.

Third, after the context is set Ross provides an exegetical outline for the psalm, beginning with a short summary of the Psalm (usually a single sentence). This outline is based on the English text but takes into account exegetical decisions made in the translation. There is nothing unusual about these outlines, In fact, they are excellent resources for pastoral use since they could be adapted into an exegetical sermon very easily.

Fourth, Ross comments on his translation of the Hebrew text of the psalm. Throughout the book Hebrew appears in parenthesis without transliteration. The method is more or less verse-by-verse, although he occasionally groups verses under a single header. He interacts with a broad spectrum of scholarship, although there is preference for more conservative writers. But the commentary is not overly burdened with external references, making it easier to read. Most of the commentary focuses on the vocabulary of the Psalm, with special attention to the main point of the metaphors chosen. When a Psalm refers to some historical even in the life of Israel, the commentary attempts to use the allusion to understand the text of the Psalm.

Last, the chapter ends with a short “message and application” of the Psalm. It is here that Ross attempts to bridge the gap between ancient Hebrew poetry and contemporary Christian worship. These sections are not at all typological or generic. Since Ross began by “paying attention to the text” and done his exegetical work, the “message” of the Psalm is tied directly to the text. Usually there is a single line in italics that functions as a kind of one-sentence application for the psalm.

If there is any messianic element in the Psalm, it appears in this “message and application” section. For example, for Psalm 45 Ross develops the wedding song of a king into a reference to Jesus and his bridegroom, applying the psalm to the church today as the “bride of Christ.” He briefly mentions the use of the Psalm in Hebrews 1 (although this merits more than a line) and the potential allusion to the Psalm in Rev 19. Likewise Ps 72, where application is made to the Messiah’s rule over all the earth “fulfilled in Jesus Christ when he returns to the earth at his second coming” (2:546).

I think that this commentary might be improved with an occasional excursus on various topics. For example, at Psalm 73 there is a need to explain “a Psalm of Asaph” and the possibility that Psalms 73-83 are a sub-collection that develops a unique set of themes. The same is true beginning in Psalm 84, the “Sons of Korah” merit more explanation that the brief note in the commentary. These short articles would be helpful to the reader and are not well-covered in the introduction to the commentary.

Conclusion. I used Allen Ross’s Creation and Blessing in a seminary class on the Pentateuch and very much enjoyed the style of that book since it was intended as an exegetical guide for the pastor or teacher as they approached the text of the Bible.  Ross’s commentary on the Psalms follows a similar pattern. In some ways, this commentary is a model for how to read any section of scripture. Ross’s method is clear and yields fruit that will enhance any sermon or lecture on the Psalms.  This commentary would make an excellent addition to any pastor’s library.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Dunn, James. The Oral Gospel Tradition. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2013. 390 pp. pb; $45.00. Link.

This new collection of essays published by Dunn from 1977 to 2011 on topic related to oral tradition standing behind the New Testament. Some of these essays were articles in journals, but others were in difficult to find Festschrift or essay collections published in expensive European series. Unless you are blessed to have a major theological research center nearby, most readers are not able to easily find access to this rich material. That these essays focus Dunn’s view of oral tradition is an additional benefit of the collection. While his work over the last 30 years on the topic resulted in the massive Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003).

Dunn OralIn the introduction to this book, Dunn recalls that an early “shaping influence” in his thinking about how oral traditions develops was Kenneth Bailey’s anecdotal reports of how oral tradition still functions in communities in Egypt and Lebanon. This collection includes a spirited defense of Bailey in a 2009 issue of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus.

The first part of the collection includes 7 essays from 1977 through 2011 on how gospel writers adapted oral tradition in their gospels. The first three essays in this section lay out a kind of method that Dunn for studying the oral tradition that stands behind the written text of the Gospels. In Dunn’s mind, he is trying to “alter the default setting” of studying the gospels as literature to studying the gospels as reflections of an oral tradition that remember the words and deeds of Jesus. Even studies of Q approach the sayings source as if it were a written document, despite the fact that a model of oral tradition might better explain the formation and content of Q more satisfactorily.

Oral tradition is necessarily different than a literary document, but as Dunn points out in his essay on “Altering the Default Setting,” there were very few people who would have read a document in the first century. Most would have heard the book read to them. Even the letters of Paul were oral performances by a representative of the Apostle. This means that oral tradition is communal in character (p. 54). Rather than a solitary reader silently scanning a text, oral tradition was spoken for the whole community in a public performance. This means that we ought to pay more attention to studies on reception theory (Dunn cites J. M. Foley, for example). Since the community gathered and heard the tradition in a public performance, there were one or more people in the community who were responsible for maintaining the community’s tradition (p. 55). These persons would function as guardians of an apostolic tradition.

If this is an accurate picture of how oral tradition functioned, then Dunn points out that it subverts the idea of an “original” version. While this is not to say that there was no “event” that serves as the origin of an idea or teaching, it does mean that there is no single “pure” form of a saying that is the original. Variations on a saying may be the result of different memories and retellings of a saying rather than a single original that is edited by a theologically motivated Gospel writer. Dunn thinks that it is misleading to present the history of the Jesus tradition as a search for the “original version” of Jesus’ sayings. Any given saying may be remembered and re-performed in a variety of contexts, but there is a stable tradition in the midst of various performances. Oral tradition is therefore characterized by both stability and flexibility (p. 57). Oral tradition can help explain why there is “variation within the same” in the Synoptic Gospels (p. 58).

This section includes two essays on the Gospel of Matthew and two on the Gospel of John. These are something like practical examples of how a method that properly emphasizes oral tradition works out in practice. In “John and the Oral Gospel Tradition,” Dunn examines three stories that are found in the Synoptic Gospels and in John (the healing at Cana, John 4:46-54), the feeding of the 5000 (6:1-21), the anointing at Bethany and Triumphal Entry (12:1-8, 12-19). Of the three, the Healing at Cana displays the most diversity, enough that it is probably the case that John 4:46-54 is not the same event as Matt 8:5-13/Luke 7:1-10. Dunn argues that the stories share the same core even if the location is different. The Feeding of the 5000 and Walking on the water do share the same tradition (p. 149). The Anointing is usually “strongest evidence that John knew Mark” (p. 151), but there is enough diversity in that John to lead Dunn to deduce that both stories are drawn from the same oral tradition rather than John redacting written sources. This is what Dunn means by “altering the default.” Rather than a later writer redacting a written source, the later writers work with an oral form of the gospel and report it with variations of the same story.

The second part is a collection of response to criticisms of Jesus Remembered.  This section deal with some of the more technical aspects of Jesus Remembered, History, Memory and Eyewitness (a response to Bengt Holmberg and Samuel Bryskog) and a dialogue with Birger Gerhardsson and Richard Bauckham. Gerhardsson’s Memory and Manuscript (1961) is one of the earliest monographs written on the concept of oral tradition and pioneers the concepts Dunn developed more fully in Jesus Remembered, although there are significant differences between the two. Both Gerhardsson and Bauckham have critiqued Dunn and Dunn’s response is irenic, attempting to find many points of agreement and clarification. Dunn’s treatment of Theodore Weedon’s critique of Kenneth Baily is less friendly. Dunn is clearly enamored with Baily and finds Weedon’s criticisms of Bailey in a 2009 article to be wanting.

Part three of the collection considers the oral gospel as it relates to the “quest for the historical Jesus.” In “Remember Jesus: How the Quest for the Historical Jesus Lost Its Way” (chapter 12), Dunn first lodges a protest against the false dichotomy – “Jesus of History” vs. “Christ of Faith.”  The Quest for the Historical Jesus was motivated by the desire to find the “real Jesus” that stood behind the layers of dogma created by the church, as if they were rescuing Jesus from the church (p.270). Dunn finds this wrongheaded. The “quest” ought to begin with the assumption that Jesus evoked faith from the very beginning and that faith is “the surest indication of the historical reality and effect of his mission” (p. 271). Jesus did things that were believed and remembered from the moment it happened. Second, Dunn argues that the reliance on literary sources short-circuits the Quest, rather scholars ought to investigate the oral tradition used by the written sources. Third, Dunn protests against looking for a Jesus that is different than his environment. Here he has the criterion of “double dissimilarity” in mind, the idea that Jesus’ words are more likely to be authentic if they are different from both Judaism and later Christianity. This is part of a “dismaying trend” to separate Jesus from Judaism (p.283), something that the “New Perspective on Paul” has battled in Pauline Studies. Rather than a non-Jewish Jesus, the Quest ought to be looking at the Gospels for a Jewish Jesus, since that is exactly what he was! Here he cites E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and James Charlesworth as scholars who are in fact approaching Jesus with this understanding.

Conclusion. There is nothing new in this volume of essays from Dunn, but each article is a contribution worth reading. Eerdmans is to be thanked for drawing together these articles on Oral Tradition from diverse sources into a single convenient volume.  This book makes an excellent companion to Jesus Remembered.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Old Lady

In order to clarify who is a “widow in need,” Paul provides a description of a widow who is worthy of support (5:9-14). To a very large extent Paul’s description of a “proper widow” is consistent with wisdom literature (Prov 31, Ruth, perhaps also Judith).

She is not less than sixty years of age. Unlike the modern world, the age of sixty is quite old in the first century. No one really knows why Paul chose this number, Roman law used fifty as the definition of a widow who should be supported by public funds. It is possible Paul has in mind Lev. 27:7 which makes a distinction for vows after age 60.

She was a faithful wife, “the wife of one husband.” The phrase here cannot mean, “only married once” since Paul is telling younger widows to remarry. Potentially they could be widowed a second time and find protection in the church.

She has a “reputation for good works.” The woman is “well known” in the Christian community for living the sort of life that reflects her faith. Perhaps an example of this might be Tabitha / Dorcas in Acts 9:36, she was “always doing good and helping the poor.” Paul expands “good works” with four brief statements on what these good works might include.

She has brought up children. On a practical level, this distinguishes the “proper widow” from the young widow in the next paragraph. This women was faithfully married and has already raised a family.

She has shown hospitality. Proper hospitality is considered a virtue in the ancient world and was one of the criteria for an elder in 1 Tim 3:2. In fact, the letter of 3 John concerns proper hospitality towards traveling teachers in Ephesus.

She has washed the feet of the saints. Of the four phrases, this is the most difficult, although it may be related to showing proper hospitality. Rather that participating in the ritual of foot washing in the church, Paul is thinking of one element of showing proper hospitality in her home.

She has cared for the afflicted. To care for the poor is part of being a virtuous person in Judaism, and there is ample evidence that Greco-Roman women often participated in charity work. It is possible that Paul has in mind people who are facing persecution, but helping the poor is likely the main point.

She has devoted herself to every good work. This last line of the description returns to the idea of good works. To be “devoted” (ἐπακολουθέω) means something like “model oneself after.” 1 Peter 1:21 uses the word for following in Jesus; footsteps; here the widow has followed after good works, modeling her life after the sorts of things demonstrate her faith in a tangible way.

Does this list mean that Paul would not support an older widow who did not have this kind of a reputation? I doubt that Paul intended for the church to let lazy widows die of starvation! Jesus did not demand that people become perfect before he would talk with them or heal them. This description is the ideal, like the Proverbs 31 woman. In describing the ideal, Paul may be encouraging women in the congregation to aspire to this sort of a reputation. Paul sets up a definition of a “widow who is in need.” She does not have a family to care for her or other means of support (a managed dowry), she has already raised a family and is unlikely to remarry.

In Paul’s view, the church ought to care for people who cannot care for themselves or have no other means of support. The problem with a section of scripture like this is that it is very difficult to apply since the cultural situation has changed radically over church history.

In general:

The church must care for genuine needs of the poor and needy. Caring for the widow, orphan, refugee, etc. has always been an important ministry of the church. This care for the needy is found throughout the Hebrew Bible, the teaching of Jesus and the ministry of Paul and the other apostles. The early church excelled in caring for people that society would not. There are many sad examples of abuse of the system in history, both from the church and from the poor, but these tragedies ought not deter the church from their responsibility to care for those in need.

The church must be wary of people who want to avoid responsibility. The reason Paul works at defining a “proper widow” is that the church resources are limited. If there is no standard, then the limited resources will be stretched thin and genuine needs will be overlooked.

To neglect this responsibility is a shame on the church in the community. One of the greatest condemnations of the church by the world is that we spend too much money on our beautiful buildings and nothing on “real ministry.”

Having described the “quiet life” as a Christian virtue, Paul now discusses two potential disruptions of that quiet life.

First, men are command to pray without anger or quarreling (v. 8). It seems odd that people would pray in the church “in anger,” perhaps continuing arguments they were having in the act of prayer.  The noun Paul chooses here (διαλογισμός) does in fact focus on differences of opinion which can develop into an argument.  In Luke 9:46 it is used for the disciples arguing among themselves over who was the greatest, in Phil 2:14 Paul uses it in conjunction with grumbling.

It is possible that some people were using public prayers to condemn their opponents, continuing their dispute in prayer, when the opponent cannot respond immediately. (“Lord, open the eyes of my rather dull brother in Christ so that the Holy Spirit will teach him that clearly I am right and that he is wrong, may he repent soon of the sin of his stupidity in disagreeing with me over this minor point of theology….”)

Second, women are warned to dress modestly (v. 9-10). While this might seem to be a different topic, Paul is still talking about things which potentially cause disorder and chaos in during prayer. Paul makes a contrast between external adornments (jewelry, clothing hair styles) and godly, good works.

Amish Girls on Roller Skates

Amish Girls on Roller Skates

Paul does not forbid people from looking good in public, nor is Paul commanding woman not fix their hair, use makeup or wear jewelry. What he is concerned about is an over-emphasis on external beauty. The hair style Paul mentions is preferred by the fashionable, wealthy women, even though it is the exact opposite of the hairstyles found in public statues of Imperial women. He describes the jewelry as “costly,” one of the stronger terms he could have used in this case.  Paul is not saying that women should not wear any jewelry, but that it should not be overly expensive.

Bruce Winter points out that “jewelry epitomized sumptuousness” and was often associated with a shameful woman.  He quotes Juvenal: “There is nothing that a woman will not permit herself to do, nothing that she deems shameful, when she encircles her neck with green emeralds and fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears” (Satires, 6.458-59, cited by Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 208). These clothes are adorned with gold and pearl, two very valuable items in the ancient world.  (The great whore of Babylon is adorned with “gold and pearls” (Rev 17:4). Jesus used a “pearl of great price” as an analogy for the value of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 13:45).

If someone is wearing expensive clothing, real gold and pearls, they would be dressed like royalty!  In Paul’s churches there are supposed to be no difference between rich and poor.  A woman dressed like this is flaunting her wealth, or flaunting her family’s wealth.

Remarkably, this advice does not vary much from that found in Plutarch, in his “Advice to a Bride and Groom.”  Like Paul, Plutarch points out that external adornments are nothing compared to a virtuous woman:

For, as Crates used to say, ‘adornment is that which adorns,’ and that adorns or decorates a woman which makes her more decorous. It is not gold or precious stones or scarlet that makes her such, but whatever invests her with that something which betokens dignity (σεμνότης, 1 Tim 2:2), good behaviour (εὐταξία), and modesty (αἰδώς, 12 Tim 2:9). Plutarch, Praecepta Coniugialia 26 (Moralia II, 141e).

The real problem with this verse is defining “modest dress.”  It is possible that one person’s modesty will offend someone.  The same thing is true for wearing expensive clothing:  is this a question of Walmart vs. Kohls vs. Target vs. the trendy shops at the mall?  I imagine Amish women get accused of immodesty for wearing the wrong color snood.  Think about the difference between what a teenage girl wants to wear and what her father wants her to wear!  What I think is too fancy and expensive is going to differ dramatically from someone else.

It is also important to read this text as applying to both men and women.  If a man spends an inordinate amount of attention on his clothing, hair, and makeup, if he is focusing on his external appearance and not putting on godly, good works, then he is just as much of a distraction as a woman.  This is not the problem in Ephesus (men have other problems), but the application seems to be clear.

Paul does not give all people permission to point out what they think is an immodest display, or a person wearing expensive clothing.  He is urging people to think about the effect that their clothing might have on other people when they wear it in a worship service.  There is no permission given here for you to be peevish about what other people wear.

The controlling idea is living a quiet, dignified life, whether women or men are in view.   In both cases Paul wants his congregations to worship in peace, without distracting from the proper focus of worship, the One God who wants to draw all people to himself.

1 Timothy 2 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, primarily because of the potential abusive applications of the second half of the chapter.  It has been used to silence the voice of women in the church, despite the very clear Pauline teaching that in Christ there is neither male to female.  Perhaps the situation is clouded by American political debate over feminism and the role of women in the church. Before getting to the really controversial section, I want to set the context of the chapter.

The Quiet Life before it became a hipster clothing line

The Quiet Life before it became a hipster clothing line

Paul’s main point in 1 Timothy is that the church ought to conduct itself in a way that is honoring to God and attractive to outsiders.  In order to honor God, Paul insists that Timothy guard the truth of the Gospel and train others to keep that deposit of truth faithfully.  In this section of the letter, Paul tells Timothy that the local church must conduct meetings in such a ways as to gain the respect of outsiders.  On the one hand, this means praying for authorities, but more problematic is Paul’s concern that the behavior of some members of the congregation run the risk of repelling the outsider, the Greek or Roman who needs the Gospel.

The reason Paul gives is that the Christian community would be seen as dignified and worthy of respect (v. 3-4). Paul wants his churches to be models of a dignified “quiet life.”  What is a peaceful (ἤρεμος) and quiet (ἡσύχιος) life?  This sounds a bit Amish from our modern perspective, but these two words are Greco-Roman virtues.  Socrates was a model for the Greeks of calm in the face of peril, (Theon, Progymnasmata, 8; Rhet. Graec., II, 111, 27 f.) and rulers ought to be calm (Xenoph. Ag., 11, 2. 6. 20; Isoc. Or., 2, 23; TDNT 6:646).

In a Greek papyri dated to the sixth century A.D. (P Oxy I. 1298) a father repudiates a betrothal because he wishes that his daughter “should lead a peaceful and quiet life” (εἰρηνικὸν καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάξαι, MM, 281). While this is dated well after the writing of 1 Timothy, a similar use of the The word appears in PsSol 12:5:  “May the Lord protect the quiet person who hates injustice; may the Lord guide the person who lives peacefully at home.”  This is a Jewish text, probably reflecting the Pharisees, predating Paul by about 100 years.  The writer parallels one who is quiet (ἡσύχιος) and lives peacefully (although the more common εἰρήνη is used).

Paul also describes this idea life as “godly and dignified in every way.”  Both words would be idea virtues in the Greco-Roman world as well as the Christian or Jewish. The word “godly” is the common word εὐσέβεια, and was used by Diogenes Laertius (third century A.D.) for “the pious follow sacrificial custom and take care of temples” and was common used in the Aeneid to describe “pious” people (BDAG).

The word translated ‘dignified” (σεμνότης) The word is often translated with the Latin gravitas.  It is often associated with “denotes a man’s visible deportment.”  When Josephus retells the story of Saul and the witch of Endor, she recognizes the king because he carries himself like a king; in retelling the story of Pharaoh’s first encounter with Joseph, Philo comments that the king was impressed with Joseph’s dignity (Philo, Jos. 257, cf. 165).

This command is not unusual in the Pauline letters. “live a quiet life” is similar to Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonica 4:1-12.  In that context, there were individuals who were not working to provide for their own needs.  The ultimate motivation for living in a quiet, dignified manner is that the outsiders will see this and “come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Since the quiet, dignified life was a virtue in the Greco-Roman world, any chaos or discord in the church would drive people away from the Gospel. With this “quiet dignified life” in mind, Paul then turns to a problem in the Ephesian churches which is disrupting that kind of life and potentially bringing shame on the church.  This problem appears to center on some women in the Ephesian churches who are not living a “quiet dignified life.”

The letter of 1 Timothy begins with a description of the sort of teaching which Paul cannot tolerate in his churches. It is remarkable that Paul launches into a section on the opponents so soon in the letter, the only thing quite like this in Paul is Galatians. This indicates that the problems in Ephesus are intense.

They teach a “different doctrine.”  This is not a difference of emphasis, but rather a teaching that is contrary to what Paul taught in the Ephesian churches.  This Greek ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω is only used in Christian literature for a strange or divisive teaching.

Ignatius, To Polycarp 3:1  Do not let those who appear to be trustworthy yet who teach strange doctrines baffle you. Stand firm, like an anvil being struck with a hammer. It is the mark of a great athlete to be bruised, yet still conquer. But especially we must, for God’s sake, patiently put up with all things, that he may also put up with us.

The noun Paul uses is only found in the Pastoral letters, In classical Greek,  ἕτερος meant “another of a different kind” and ἄλλος meant “another of the same kind.” Paul chooses to call  a different kind of teaching, as he did in Gal 1:6–9.  There the church was turning to a “different gospel” which is really no gospel at all.

This helps us understand the urgency of the situation.  This is not a legitimate variation on a theological matter (Calvinism vs. Arminianism), but rather a form of teaching that is outside the definition of what it means to be Christian.  By following the opponents, members of the local Ephesian churches are in danger of not being Christians at all, since they do not hold tenaciously to the core of the gospel Paul has already taught them.

They devote themselves to “myths and endless genealogies.”  A “myth” almost always has a bad connotation in Greek. The false teaching is described as myth in 1 Tim 4:7, 2 Tim 4:4, Titus 1:14, and 2 Peter 1:16. The noun appears in Sirach 20:19 for the stories which are “on the lips of the ignorant.” Sib.Or. 3:226 includes myths along with the words of the seers, sorcerers, soothsayers, and “the deceits of foolish words of ventriloquists.”

“Genealogies” may refer to some rabbinical speculation.  This is the view of the earliest interpreters of this passage (Ambrosiaster and Jerome), as well as many modern commentaries.  The same word appears in Titus 3:9. But it is possible that this is another way of describing a myth, since some Greek mythologies were “myths cast in genealogical form” (BDAG).

The phrase appears twice in the pastoral letters,(1 Tim 1:4; Titus 3:9) and may refer to the sorts of books which were popular in the Second Temple Period, haggadic midrash (allegorical reinterpretations of the Old Testament) such as Philo of Alexandria or books like books like Jubilees and Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities which sought to “update” the biblical stories to the Greco-Roman world.

The genealogies are “endless.” The noun ἀπέραντος can refer to something that appears to be unlimited (the sea, 1 Clem 20:8, 3 Macc 2:9), but also to arguments that go on and on.  Polybius used the word for “tiresome detailed enumeration” (1, 57).  Maybe this is a word which could describe reading the tax code – it seems to go on forever in endless, meaningless detail.

dead-end-signThe “promote speculations.”  The verb ἐκζήτησις only appears in Christian writings.  The word appears to mean something like over-investigating things which do not really merit investigation. The verb appears a few times in Greek literature, meaning to investigate something in (perhaps) a legal context, to demand an accounting for the blood of an innocent murder victim (LXX 2 Kings 4:11)

They have “swerve” and “wandered” into vain discussions. The ESV’s “swerve” tries to get the idea of the verb ἀστοχέω, which means to miss something that was aimed at (στοχάζομαι means “to aim). This can be a mistake, but combined with “wander” it would be better to see this as an intentional departure from the truth.

To “wander” (ἐκτρέπω) is maybe a bit of a soft translation here.  The verb means to turn, perhaps with a bit of violent connotation.  Luke the English word “turn,” this word is used in medical texts for turning an ankle, to “be wrenched” or to “be dislocated.”

“Vain discussions” (ματαιολογία) are empty, fruitless talk (the noun will appear in Titus 1:10). In Poimandres 144 the word appears in parallel to πολυλογίας, “many words” (MM).  There are some people who can talk endlessly without ever saying anything (think of a politician’s answer, there are many words without ever really answering the question!)

They desire to be teachers without understanding what they are saying.  This is the best clue that the opponents are Jewish, the noun “teacher of the law”  (νομοδιδάσκαλος) is found in Acts 4:34 for Gamaliel and Luke 5:17 for the a category of teacher in parallel with the Pharisees.  Both are clearly Jewish teachers of the law. But these opponents only desire to be “teachers of the Law,” without really knowing what a teacher of the Law is! Perhaps these are Hellenistic Jews who have a bit of training in the interpretation of Scripture, but are not really doing it correctly.

A major theme of the Pastoral letters is correctly handling Scripture.  It is not that the individual Christian cannot read the Scripture with clarity, but that the person who tries to be a teacher is “more responsible” than the rest for what they teach.  This responsibility means that they the person who styles themselves as a “teacher” needs to fully understand the implications of what they are saying, since they could very well lead a congregation astray.  If the teacher is already wandering off, then it is likely his congregation will follow.

They make “confident assertions” without understanding.  Likewise, they are confident what they are saying is true (διαβεβαιόομαι), but they do not really understand what they are saying.  In Titus 3:8 Paul will use this verb when he quotes a “trustworthy saying.”

The speculations of the opponents prevent them from fulfilling their “stewardship of God in faith.”  The noun translated “stewardship” (οἰκονομία) is associated with household management. The elders or deacons who are engaged endless, pointless teachings are not fulfilling their calling to be the stewards of the local churches, they are “bad stewards” who are in danger of being replaced.

One of the problems for reading the Pastoral Epistles is the identity of the “opponents” in Paul’s churches. Paul seems to have a group of elders in mind who are in rebellion against his Gospel, What is more, the opponents in Ephesus are like the people predicted to come in the “later days.” Jesus also described false messiahs and prophets who would come claiming to be messengers from God. First and Second John both describe teachers with wrong views about Jesus as “antichrist.”

End of the WorldThe idea that the “last days” have arrived in common in the New Testament, the earliest church believed that Jesus could return at any moment. In this they were correct. In 2 Thess 2 Paul teaches that in the last days there will be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth. In the last days, this falling away will be so intense that people will choose to believe the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel.  Did Paul actually believe that he was living in the last days?  I think that he did, but every generation of the church have had at least some people who thought they were in the last days!

But this text cannot be directly applied to any particular modern false  teaching in order to declare that we are “in the end times.” Certainly Jesus can come back at any moment, and there are plenty of people teaching all sorts of things in the name of Jesus that are simply not in line with the truth. But that is the condition of all of church history!

Paul describes the opponents in Ephesus as sub-Christian. They have Christian like ideas, but when examined in the light of the truth they are in fact not Christian at all.  Paul is not dealing with a group of people who have a honest difference  of opinion on a theological issue.  His opponents in Ephesus have rejected key elements of the gospel which separate them from the truth.

They have abandoned their faith. The verb Paul uses here (ἀφίστημι) is the same as 2 Thess 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deut 7:4 it is used for turning away from God to worship other gods. These opponents have rejected the core truth of the Gospel (1 Tim 3:16) and can no longer be described as within the faith.

They follow “deceitful spirits” and hold to the “teachings of demons.” This seems like a strong polemic, the sort of thing that we would not say about an opponent today. But there are a number of Pauline texts that describe real spiritual warfare. In 1 Tim 3:6-7, for example, Paul warns that a leader in the church ought not be a recent convert, since it is possible for him to become prideful and fall into the devil’s snare.

They are hypocritical liars. Combining hypocritical and liar indicates that their teaching appears to be well-intended, but it is in fact false. This indicates that the opponents are not simply fooled into teaching something that is false, they are choosing to maintain a lie for some reason (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 291).

Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. There are two ways to read this line. First the phrase may refer to someone who has told a lie so many times that they believe it, that there conscience no longer functions as it ought. They are numb to the truth, etc. Second, it is possible that this refers to being branded. The verb (καυστηριάζω) can mean sear, but it can also refer to branding someone with a hot iron. “The imagery suggests crime published with a branding mark on the perpetrator” (BDAG). In either case, their conscience has been destroyed by the “doctrine of demons” that they no longer know if they are teaching the truth or not.

I am not sure it is possible to identify the opponents from these four items alone. What is certain is that there are people in Paul’s churches in Ephesus who have defected from the Gospel in such a way that the are not Christians at all.  Timothy is warned about these people and told to appoint elders who cling tenaciously to the gospel and are truly godly.

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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