On Allegory

One of the things you have to come to terms with when studying early Christianity is allegorical exegesis.  Most academics don’t care for it (or actively despise it), but most of the early Christians had no such inhibitions.  They saw Christ hiding behind every corner of the Old Testament.  Origen was known to embrace apparent contradictions on the surface level to find the eternal meaning of the text.  Of course, it wasn’t just Alexandrian flights of fancy where we find allegory.  Paul tells the Galatians, after doing some OT exposition on the Hagar and Sarah, that “these things may be understood allegorically.”  Likewise, he tells the Corinthians, “these things [the stories of the Israelites in the desert] happened as models for us, so that we wouldn’t desire evil, as they did.”  Hebrews is in many ways, one extended meditation on Psalm 110, Jesus being a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.  Jesus himself, of course, actively modeled his own work after those of the prophets, and employed parables (allegorical stories) in much of his teaching.

So how do we properly appropriate allegory?  There are all sorts of weird pitfalls.  I come from a movement where OT texts are regularly interpreted “prophetically” to say some strange things (ie, whatever the pastor wants the text to say at the moment).  Allegorical exegesis often is far more dependent on the ingenuity of the allegorist than the text as the author construed it.

On the other hand, we are invited, even commanded, to read the Old Testament in light of Jesus.  This doesn’t mean we can’t read them for historical content, or reconstruct what they would meant to their original audience (even if such a reconstruction is terribly fragile most of the time), but can we give these readings (valuable though they are) hermeneutical priority when “the reality, however, if found in Christ” ?  Epistemologically, do we not have to start with Christ and work back into the OT, especially as Gentile believers?

Honestly, I love reading the OT through the eyes of the early Church.  While I might be able to appreciate the history and language of early Christianity without a particularly strong faith, I don’t think I could ever appreciate the Old Testament without faith to spur me on.  The early Church has been my entry way into the Old Testament.  I never understood or enjoyed the Psalms until I started reading them in Greek, with John Chrysostom and Eusebius of Caesarea to guide me.  I know one day I’ll learn Hebrew and be able to appreciate the OT without necessarily reading it along with the early Church.  However, I’m quite content until then to read the OT in Greek, with some of the most brilliant saints of old to teach me.

So I suppose I’m a son in search of an answer.  How do we embrace allegory without going off the deep end?  How do affirm both the “original meaning” (insofar as it can be known), and what Christians down through the ages have seen it pointing to?  What is the relationship between the two, and which has primacy?

Thoughts are welcome!

Eusebius on the Son, the Spirit, and the Angels

If you’re tiring of Eusebius, please skip along :-). I generally have the opposite problem: no posting at all!


Ἐνθάδε μὲν οὖν πνεῦμα στόματος αὐτοῦ ἀναγέγραπται. Εὑρήσομεν δὲ ἀλλαχοῦ καὶ λόγον στόματος αὐτοῦ εἰρημένον, ἵνα νοηθῇ ὁ Σωτὴρ καὶ τὸ ἅγιον αὐτοῦ Πνεῦμα. Ἀμφότερα δὲ συνήργησεν ἐν τῇ κτίσει τῶν οὐρανῶν καὶ τῶν ἐν αὐτοῖς δυνάμεων· διὰ τοῦτο εἴρηται· Τῷ λόγῳ Κυρίου οἱ οὐρανοὶ ἐστερεώθησαν, καὶ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ πᾶσα ἡ δύναμις αὐτῶν. Οὐδὲν γὰρ ἁγιάζεται μὴ τῇ παρουσίᾳ τοῦ Πνεύματος. Ἀγγέλων γοῦν τὴν μὲν εἰς τὸ εἶναι πάροδον ὁ δημιουργὸς Λόγος, ὁ ποιητὴς τῶν ὅλων, παρείχετο· τὸν ἁγιασμὸν δὲ αὐτοῖς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον συνεπέφερεν· οὐ γὰρ νήπιοι κτισθέντες οἱ ἄγγελοι.

“Here we find ‘His Spirit’s mouth’ written, but elsewhere we find ‘His Word’s mouth’ said, in order that the Savior and his Holy Spirit might be known. For both were at work in the creation of the heavens and the angels. For this reason it says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were stretched out, and by the Spirit of his mouth every one of his angels.” For nothing is consecrated except by the presence of the Spirit. Therefore, although the creative Word, the maker of all, prepared the way for the angels to come into being, the Holy Spirit, together with him, bestowed on them their consecration. For the angels were not created as children.”

I’m not sure what he means by the final bit “for the angels were not created as children.” It’s almost like αγιασμον (holiness or consecration) is functioning as a parallel to “coming of age,” since νηπιος can mean minor.

Ignatius Progress

I worked quite a bit on my Ignatius paper today, and got quite a bit done. Today was devoted to his rhetoric, and I collected several pages worth of epithets, metaphors, antithesis, and other rhetorical features from his letter to the Romans. The man could certainly be rhetorical ;-).

I also learned that “Asianism” as a rhetorical school is a much more slippery term than I originally thought. I’ve read that Ignatius belongs to this school (and after today I’d agree), but what we know about this school seems to come mostly through critics. Cicero talks about it some, as he as accused of being an “Asianist.” Basically this school of rhetoric was particularly fond of emotional appeals. Their speeches were almost poetic, containing lots of antithesis, startling metaphors/epithets, and rhythm (the hardest word to spell ever!).

Ignatius definitely exhibits features of this school. He loves startling metaphors and antithesis. Just read Romans 5. If you highlight both of those features you’ve highlighted most of the letter. He can heap up epithets with the best of them (something John Chrysostom was fond of too). The salutation of Romans is almost entirely one big epithet (well, many epithets) describing the Roman Church. He also seems to use assonance, though I need to review my reconstructed koine pronunciation before I mention that ;-). I also particularly like his paronomasia, or word play.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Ignatius’ rhetoric is how he frequently directs his audience to Christ. Many of his metaphors evoke the liturgy. Wheat, Bread, and Drink come up quite often. He urges the Romans to become a chorus, singing by Jesus Christ to God the Father. These elements are brilliant rhetorical moves. After all, he’s drawing on a powerful set of shared experiences. However, I do think they’re theologically sound because they’re rooted in the Church’s practice, which is ultimately rooted in the Cross via the Bread and Wine.

That does, of course, bring me to the next task. Rhetoric its fine and dandy, but if what he’s arguing for isn’t sound, then the rhetoric is in vain! Fortunately, I think you can make a good theological case here from Paul’s letters. However, I need to finish the rhetoric first ;-).

Off to sleep!

~alex

Ignatius’ Musical Metaphors

I stumbled across something in Ignatius today which I’ve found fascinating! The way he adapts Paul is intriguing, and quite beautiful if I may say so. In this post, I want to highlight Ignatius’ musical metaphor. He makes use of musical language several places, but here I’ll look at Ephesians 4 (Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians of course!).

Here’s a rather rough translation (and thus my own!):
“Thus it is proper for you to run to the mind of the bishop, just as you are now doing. Your elders are worthy of bearing this name, the worthy name of God, for they have been joined to the bishop as strings to a harp. Because of this, Jesus Christ is sung in unified, harmonious love. All of you must join this chorus, so that you may be unified and harmonious, receiving your pitch from God. In unity, sing in one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father. Do this so that he may hear and know you, through the good you do as members (μέλη) of his son’s body.”

I find this metaphor stunning, especially since it was written by someone imprisoned and on his way to meet “wild beasts” in Rome. Ignatius imagines the bishop as a harp, and the priests/elders (Gk πρεσβυτέριον) as the strings of the harp. To this music the congregation sings Jesus Christ “in unified, harmonious love.” This chorus is joined together in harmony, receiving its pitch from God, singing to the Father through Jesus Christ. Clearly music is significant for Ignatius (and for the Early Church).

What I see here is a beautiful adaptation of 1 Corinthians 12. Scholars quibble over which of Paul’s letters Ignatius knew, but 1 Corinthians is one everyone agrees on. Here, Ignatius has taken over the theme of “diverse gifttings, unified Church” and expressed it with music. People have different roles, but they are all joined together in one “symphony” to God through Christ.

What especially strikes me is how Ignatius arrives this metaphor. I think there are two ways he comes to it. First, I’m sure it’s rooted in the liturgy of the earlier Church. Sacramental theology was already developing as early as Paul (1 Cor 10:14-17 as an example). Part of this liturgy contained “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” which Paul exhorts the Ephesians to in Eph 5. Perhaps the creeds and confessions of the Church were sung early on, just as the Eastern church does now. When Ignatius talks about “singing Jesus Christ,” I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a reference to the prayer sung at the Eucharist. Ignatius uses loads of liturgical language through his letters, and I’m positive that he had had profound experiences with Christ in the liturgy.

Second, Ignatius makes use of a play on words. In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds the Corinthians several times that they are “members of Christ’s body.” The Greek word for “member” here is  μέλη, and it generally means “part” or “member.” However, it also has a musical sense as well. I don’t know nearly enough about music to identify what exactly it refers to (LSJ lists “melody of an instrument” or “music to which a song is put”), but the double entendre here is intentional on Ignatius’ part. In addition to being members of Christ’s body, they are God’s “chorus” or “symphony.”

Thus, I’m convinced that Ignatius of Antioch was a rather amazing figure :-). People are put off by his martyrdom language, but he has a lot of good stuff to say. His theological reflection is beautiful, and he has a lot to teach us about Christ.

έν φωνῆ μιᾷ τῳ πατρἱ,
~alex

ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ in the Apostolic Fathers

So I’m thinking of doing some posts on πίστις Χριστοῦ in the apostolic fathers. I’m rather interested to see how the early Fathers understood the now controversial phrase, which can be understood as either “faith in Jesus Christ” or “faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” This is a huge debate in Pauline scholarship right now. I’m tentatively in the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” camp, though I haven’t really read enough of either side. I’ve run some searches through accordance to see what I could find. One particularly interesting bit came in chapter 1 of Ignatius’ letter to the Magnesians. I’ll post the Greek and English here (Michael Holmes’s translation).

“Γνοὺς ὑμῶν τὸ πολυεύτακτον τῆς κατὰ θεὸν ἀγάπης, ἀγαλλιώμενος, προειλάμην ἐν πίστει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ προσλαλῆσαι ὑμῖν.
καταξιωθεὶς γὰρ ὀνόματος θεοπρεπεστάτου, ἐν οἷς περιφέρω δεσμοῖς ᾄδω τὰς ἐκκλησίας, ἐν αἷς ἕνωσιν εὔχομαι σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, τοῦ διὰ παντὸς ἡμῶν ζῆν, πίστεώς τε καὶ ἀγάπης, ἧς οὐδὲν προκέκριται, τὸ δὲ κυριώτερον, Ἰησοῦ καὶ πατρός·
ἐν ᾧ ὑπομένοντες τὴν πᾶσαν ἐπήρειαν τοῦ ἄρχοντος τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου καὶ διαφυγόντες θεοῦ τευξόμεθα.”

1) “When I learned how well ordered your love toward God is, I rejoiced and resolved to address you in the faith of Jesus Christ.
2) For inasmuch as I have been judged worthy to bear a most godly name, in these chains that I bear I sing the praises of the churches, and I pray that in them there may be a union of flesh and spirit that comes from Jesus Christ, our never-failing life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is preferable, and—what is more important—of Jesus and the Father.
In him we will reach God, if we patiently endure all the abuse of the ruler of this age and escape.”

Whenever I try to resolve this question, I feel the weight of my Greek ignorance! I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough to make a reliable judgment on the basis of grammar and syntax, but hopefully I can appeal somewhat to theology and context (two things I can do a bit better than Greek thankfully ;-) ).

Holmes here translates the first bolded phrase as “address you in the faith of Jesus Christ.” To me, this reading sounds like it’s focused on doctrine. “I address you as one who believes the correct things about Jesus.” I don’t think that’s the best way to understand the phrase though. (One thing to do would be to look and see if Ignatius uses “faith” as a short way of saying “Christianity.” He may, though I can’t think of any off the top of my head). I think a better way to render the phrase is “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” with the rest of the chapter as supporting context.

My primary reasons here come from the beginning and end of verse 2. In the beginning of the verse, Ignatius writes, “in these chains I bear, I sing the praises of the churches.” I think the echo is a liturgical one; he’s drawing on the practice of singing together during the Eucharist. The next line follows the “song” with a prayer for the unity of the Church. The liturgy, as Ignatius understood it, was fundamentally participatory. In the Eucharist, the Church shared in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus (according to 1 Cor 10:14-17). This supports a “faithfulness of Jesus” reading because Ignatius is participating in the faithfulness of Christ. He is able to address this church only because of Christ’s faithfulness. In suffering for him, Ignatius shares in his sufferings, and thus shares in Jesus’ faithfulness.

This point is reinforced by the final part of the verse, where Ignatius writes, “In him we will reach God, if we patiently endure all the abuse of the ruler of this age and escape.” The exhortation here is to faithful sufferings, but the basis is participatory: “in him we will reach…” Because of the echoes to the liturgy and to faithful suffering, I think that a “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” reading is justified. Indeed, with Ignatius’ strong emphasis throughout his letters on “suffering with Christ,” many of uses as πἰστις probably have strong “faithfulness” connotations.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. More to come later!

~alex

Book Review: Paul in Fresh Perspective (Part Two)

This is the second part to a two part review. Part One can be found here.

In the first part of the review, I briefly summarized Part One of Wright’s Paul in Fresh Perspective. This part was entitled ‘Themes.’ This post deals with the second half of the book, which Wright calls ‘Structures.’ ‘Structures’ refers (I think) to the structures of Paul’s thought. This part of the book deals primarily with how the three key Jewish doctrines (monotheism, election, and eschatology) are redrawn by Paul around Jesus and the Spirit. Hence, the chapters entitled, “Rethinking God,” “Reworking God’s People,” and “Reimagining God’s Future.” The final chapter deals with the relationship between Paul and Jesus in the light of the rest of the work: “Jesus, Paul, and the Task of the Church.”

Wright begins, appropriately enough, by exploring Paul’s understanding of monotheism. His argument is Paul’s primary polemical target is not Judaism (or even Jewish Christianity), but Paganism. Wright notes the varieties of monotheism that existed in Paul’s period and defines Paul’s as “covenantal and creational monotheism.” The thrust here is that God is passionately involved with the events of the world, but different from the world (against both stoic pantheism and epicurean deism/atheism). This God of Paul’s has created the world and is working toward putting it to rights. This is a typically Jewish understanding of God, but then Wright shows how Paul’s understanding was different than historic Judaism: it had been redrawn around Jesus and the Spirit.

Beginning with Jesus, he cites several passages where Jesus has been put in places reserved for God in the OT. These include Romans 10:5-13 (where Jesus is the Lord in Paul’s OT exegesis), Philippians 2:5-11(where Jesus is the name at which every knee should bow, though this is Yahweh in Isaiah), and 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 (where Jesus is inserted into the schema, the classic monotheistic confession of Israel). In light of these, he thinks Romans 9:5 should be understood as Jesus being called “the one is God over all.” People often claim that Paul couldn’t possibly be calling Jesus God here, but this a priori dismissal doesn’t hold in light of these other passages. Next, Wright discusses the Spirit. He examines several passages, including Galatians 4:1-8, Romans 8, Romans 10:3, and 1 Corinthians 12:12-14. Wright notes that the Spirit and Son are working together to fulfill God’s promises. The Spirit is instrumental in bringing about the “new exodus.” Additionally, the Spirit marks us for the age to come as members of God’s family. 1 Corinthians 12, while referring to the unity and diversity of the church, serve as a way to understand the complex interactions for Paul of Father, Son, and Spirit. Wright then closes the chapter by examining how this played out in Paul’s churches.

The next chapter deals with the theme of election, “Reworking God’s People.” Election exists to deal with Sin and Death, it calls “a people from, and for, the whole world.” Wright sees Paul as both affirming Israel’s election (as in Romans 9), but redefining it as well (as in Galatians 2:11-21). Here Wright builds off his understanding of justification by faith. For Wright, Paul’s doctrine of justification is not a description of “how people get saved,” but rather “how you know who your family members are.” The question is not one of “getting in,” but rather, “how can I tell who is in?” He cites Gal 2:11-21, where justification deals with a conflict over table fellowship. He then proceeds to discuss Jesus and the Spirit in relation to Election.

Beginning again with Jesus, Wright argues that election is now by the “faithfulness of the Messiah” and not by Torah. Jesus is both the end and fulfillment of Torah. Faith functions as a marker by which we tell who our fellow brothers and sisters are. He discusses the constitution of God’s people in the Messiah, referring both to 1 Cor 10 and especially Eph 2:11-3:13. He cheekily notes when discussing Ephesians that even if Paul didn’t write Ephesians, he would have heartily endorsed it as a statement of his theology. God’s family is now Jew+Gentile and depends on the Messiah, not on Torah. When discussion turns to the Spirit, Wright notes passages like 2 Cor 3. Here, The Spirit stands over against Torah. It is not Torah which marks out God’s people, but the seal of the Holy Spirit. Not only does the Spirit mark God’s people, but he also empowers them to be God’s people, to be who they are.

This brings us to eschatology, “Reimagining God’s Future.” Wright starts here by tracing out the eschatological hopes common in Second Temple Judaism. He maintains that the “return from exile” played a big part here. He discusses several other themes, like Renewal, Resurrection, and Judgment. When discussing Jesus, Wright notes especially that through Jesus, “these are the last days. “ In the resurrection, God’s future has broken into the present (of course noting the now/not-yet dimension of eschatology). The final judgment is redrawn as a resurrection and judgment with Jesus in the middle of things. Likewise, with the Spirit, the Spirit’s coming denotes the “last days,” using Joel 2 has a basis for this. Wright is quick to note that the Spirit’s work links present justification with final justification. By the Spirit, we anticipate in the present our final vindication, the final verdict where God will declare us as ‘righteous.’ Likewise, the Spirit’s work in us and through us assures us that God will have firm grounds to make this declaration.

This brings us at last to the final chapter, “Jesus, Paul, and the Task of the Church.” Here Wright focuses on the relationship between Paul and Jesus. The problem is that Paul doesn’t seem to refer to Jesus’ teachings much. He doesn’t mention the Kingdom of God often, nor does he refer to his ethical rules like the Sermon on the Mount very much. Wright claims that we see a problem because we have reduced them both to “expounders of universal ethical truths.” In doing so, we hopelessly misunderstand them. He argues that when we recover them as “historical people,” we can understand their relationship much more easily. Wright likes the metaphor of “composer and conductor,” or “architect and builder.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3). Basically, Paul is not out to reproduce Jesus’ teaching verbatim, but to implement the much larger project that Jesus inaugurated. The Kingdom of God ‘discrepancy’ is simply a change in audience. “Kingdom of God” talk resonated deeply with a Jewish audience. It conjured up images of the Messianic Kingdom and the rule of God. This wouldn’t have made much sense to a pagan though, so Paul used different language. “Gospel” and “Lord” were perfectly comprehensible to pagans, so Paul’s announcement of the “real Gospel” of the “real Lord” would have been entirely understandable for pagans. In talking about ethics, Wright argues that Paul is teaching his churches to think Christianly, and not simply giving them a list of rules. This is why he spends much more time grounding his practical instruction in “first principles” rather than giving a laundry list of Jesus’ sayings.

That rounds out the book. This section got quite a bit longer than I anticipated, so my apologies for that. This is a terrific little book from Wright. There’s all sorts of fine details that he doesn’t address, but he does a terrific job of highlighting the “big picture” concerns for Paul. I’d recommend the book to anyone who’s interested in Paul. The book isn’t overly technical, nor is it terribly long, but the content is thought-provoking and worthy of attention!

~alex

Book Review: Paul in Fresh Perspective (Part One)

This is part one of a two part review. The second part may be found here.

In preparation for the Paul class I’m taking this fall, I’m looking back through N.T. Wright’s Paul in Fresh Perspective. The book is based of the Hulsean Lectures he did at Cambridge, and was published in 2005. The work contains a wonderful, short outline of Paul’s work. The first part deals with themes. Here, Wright addresses, “Creation and Covenant,” “Messiah and Apocalyptic,” and “Gospel and Empire” in successive chapters. The second part addresses structures, where the chapters are entitled, “Rethinking God,” “Reworking God’s People,” “Reimagining God’s Future,” and then “Jesus, Paul, and the Task of the Church.” I will address Part One in this post, and Part Two in a second.

Wright begins with an introduction that briefly locates Paul in the three worlds: Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic Culture, and Roman Imperial dominance. It is against this backdrop that Wright works throughout the book. He deals cursorily with some of the interpretative movements over the course of the past 100 years, locating all within historical situations (and noting how this affected the exegesis). For instance, he notes that suspicion over Pauline authorship in Colossians and Ephesians arose “when the all-dominant power of New Testament scholarship lay with a particular kind of German, existentialist Lutheranism for whom any ecclesiology other than a purely functional one, any view of Judaism other than a purely negative one, any view of Jesus Christ other than a fairly low Christology, and view of creation other than a Barthian ‘Nein’, was deeply suspect.” (18). Of course, he also notes the “situatedness” of the movements he sees as helpful, understanding it as a providential grace of God and not a postmodern “deconstructive nihilism.”

Following the introduction, Wright jumps into the themes of “Creation and Covenant.” He locates these first within their Old Testament context. Psalm 19 functions paradigmatically here, where God is extolled in the first half for his creation and in the second for the covenant, the giving of Torah. Wright draws on themes from Genesis, the prophets, and the Psalms. Basically, Covenant should be understood as the solution to the problems in Creation (namely Sin and Death). Abraham is naturally quite important here. God’s promises to Abraham are the basis for God redeeming the cosmos. Particularly, through Abraham, the seed will come through whom “all nations will be blessed.” According to Wright, this is encoded in the phrase δικαιοσυνή θεού (righteousness of God). Wright understands God’s righteousness as God’s faithful fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. This climaxes in Jesus, the Messiah, who is “the seed to whom the promise referred.” Wright looks at three passages here Colossians 1:15-20 (he notes the controversy of including Colossians), 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 1-11. He traces creation and covenant through these 3 passages from a “bird’s eye view.”

Proceeding, Wright moves on to “Messiah and Apocalyptic.” Here, he notes the notoriously slippery meaning of the word “apocalyptic.” He argues that term, as it has often been used, is misguided. He takes issue in particular with the idea that Second Temple Jews expected an impending end to the space time universe, which has often been the assumption of “apocalyptic.” Rather, he argues that “apocalyptic” in Paul should be understood in terms of revelation. God has revealed his plans for the world. These include a “new heaven and a new earth,” not simply a destruction of the present world and a “whisking away” to Heaven. This revelation has taken place supremely through Jesus the Messiah. Wright spends a good deal of space debunking the claim that “Christ” functioned merely like another name by Paul’s time. He argues instead that the title “Christ” has royal and messianic connotations, and needs to be understood as such. This locates Jesus more easily within the OT themes which Wright explored in the prior chapter.

This brings us to the final pair of themes, “Gospel and Empire.” Whereas the prior two chapters locate Paul largely within Second Temple Judaism, this chapter pits Paul against the Greco-Roman society, especially the imperial Roman Empire. He warns readers that is all too easy to impose “post-Enlightenment” divisions of “religion and politics” back onto first century texts. The political situations which Paul faced are significantly different than those encountered in modern, Western democracies. Wright then proceeds to show the implicit imperial critique in Paul’s writing. He notes that Paul draws on imperial language quite often to explain the Gospel. Some of these words include ευαγγελιον(gosepl, or good news), κυριος (lord), σωτερ (savior), and παρουσια (royal appearing). For Wright, it is implicit that whenever Paul says “Jesus is Lord” he also means “Caesar is not.” He treats Philippians 3:20-21 in some detail here, and also briefly addresses 1 Thessalonians 4-5. The crux of the chapter is that Jesus’ gospel stands over against the “good news” of Caesar.

That wraps up the first section of the book. I’ll work through the second part of the book in a second post.

~alex

DOG: Some Hermeneutical Clarifications

Other parts to this series can be found on my Deliverance of God page.

This post concerns Part Two of five in The Deliverance of God. Part Two is much shorter than Part One and Part Three. It’s entitled “Some Hermeneutical Clarifications.” As one would imagine, this part functions as groundwork for his exegetical discussions in Parts Three to Five. The first chapter in this part deals with the “nature of reading.” He moves from the exegetical level (individual verses or sets of verses) up through argumentative (passages), framing (sets of arguments), and theoretical (essentially systematic theology). He argues that readings need to satisfy on all of these levels.

In this chapter he lays out a methodology for examining Romans and Justification theory. Basically, he envisages a sequence of “overdeterminations” and “underdeterminations.” A textual overdetermination is something in the text which is not accounted for in the theory. A textual underdetermination is the opposite: something in the theory which is not accounted for properly in the text. These complement “theoretical under/overdeterminations,” so a textual overdetermination is a theoretical underdetermination, and vice versa. It’s a simple yet elegant methodology. Graphically, it works something like this:

Textual Overdetermination <——-> Theoretical Underdetermination
Textual Underdetermination <——-> Theoretical Overdetermination

What exactly these work out to will be seen in Part Three. The remainder of Part Two deals with two issues: the Church-historical setting of JT, and the “Modern European Pedigree” of JT. His goal here is to “clear the air” before the exegetical work commences. The “Church-Historical Pedigree” is the subject of the next chapter. Here he deals with Luther and Calvin in relation to JT. He places them both in positive and negative relation to JT, meaning that he notes both points in their writings where they promulgate JT, and where they promulgate something different. He then examines Augustine, claiming that he abandons key points of JT later in his life (namely because of the Pelagian controversy). Campbell concludes that Luther, Calvin, and Augustine can be deployed on both sides of the JT debate, though he does note their importance in furthering JT.

The final chapter of Part Two deals with the “Modern European Pedigree.” The chief base of this pedigree is that JT concords with certain principles of “philosophical individualism.” He then traces Justification through as a paradigm which is foundational both for conservatives and liberals. He notes Billy Graham and Bill Bright’s “Four Spiritual Laws” on one hand, and figures culminating in Bultmann on the other. He concludes by noting that JT corresponds suspiciously to the “modern, liberal individual” (liberal in the sense of post-Enlightnment). The purpose is to highlight certain interpretative tendencies that stem from these inherited traditions. Still, it does seem odd for a book primarily about Pauline theology. Campbell leaves no stone uncovered: he tracks JT down through the ages and shows its interaction with any number of things: governments, individuals, or philosophies. This result is that JT gets wound up being implicated in all sorts of bad things: Constantianism, the liberal-nation state, capitalism, etc. I’m yet to be convinced of all of this: I’m wondering if these are “overdeterminations” on Campbell’s part (to use his own parlance).

Regardless, Part Two is concluded. We may finally proceed to the exegesis in Part Three.

~alex

DOG: The Problems of Justification Theory

Other parts to this series can be found on my Deliverance of God page.

Campbell spends the first part of his book highlighting problems with the traditional Protestant understanding of Paul, which he dubs “Justification Theory.” (hereafter Justification, or JT) Often called the “Lutheran reading,” a summary of it can be found here. This description takes up the first chapter of the book.

Campbell then moves onto highlighting the difficulties of Justification. He proceeds on several levels. His first list is at the “intrinsic level.” These are difficulties which are present before examining passages that support other readings. One example is JT’s understanding of humankind (anthropology). Justification posits that mankind is both intrinsically depraved and sinful, but simultaneously capable of rationally deducing certain properties about God. These include certain moral rules, a day of judgement based on merit, etc. Humanity is intelligent enough to reason their way to most of the things in the “Premises” and the “Loop of Despair” in the JT outline. This of course clashes with a humanity that is “in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) Basically, you get a tension: two paradoxical descriptions of humanity. Likewise, Campbell questions JT on grounds of theodicy. The problem is this: God demands absolute, 100% obedience to the law to get into Heaven. Yet, as we have seen, humanity is incapable of this. How can God be just if his demands are impossible to fulfill? He notes several others, but we can move onto the next type of tension.

Campbell then moves onto systematic difficulties in JT. These are difficulties that JT experiences when put next to other Pauline passages, chiefly Romans 5-8. Campbell constructs an “alternate soteriology” from Romans 5-8 and compares it to Romans 1-4. He then highlights the tensions. Some of these are repeats from the intrinsic difficulties (his charge of a paradoxical anthropology is strengthened by his reading of Rom 5-8). He also gives tensions on other grounds, like ecclesiology (nature of the Church), the nature of faith (faith is surprisingly low key in Rom 5-8) and theology (what is God’s fundamental attribute?). His case it very persuasive here. If only a few tensions existed, they would probably be reconcilable. The nature of theology is such that one learns to live with tensions. However, he has placed the bar quite high for anyone wanting to reconcile the traditional reading of Romans 1-4 with other parts of Paul’s thought, especially Romans 5-8.

The final difficulty that Campbell notes is Judaism. Campbell claims that JT makes certain empirical claims about Judaism that are demonstrably false. JT states, for instance, the Judaism is a law of legalism which ultimately leads to the “loop of despair” in the outline. The classic reading of Paul has a highly polemicized picture of Judaism which has plagued Europe for hundreds of years (Luther was a raving anti-semite remember, probably his deepest character flaw). This found its terrible climax in the Holocaust and the Nazi atrocities. It’s important not to attribute these horrible things to Christian theology, however the Lutheran caricature of Judaism certainly didn’t help the matter. Against JT’s claim of Judaism as a religion of “works-righteousness” and “legalism,” Campbell largely follows the work of E.P. Sanders. However, he reorients some of his claims, and puts them on a sounder theoretical base (according to Campbell anyway). Essentially, Campbell argues that Sanders’ work has punched an empirical hole in JT.

The final chapter in Part One deals with interpretative dilemmas that JT has influenced. He starts with the dilemmas faced by Pauline interpreters. Krister Stendahl’s work on introspection is the first he explores. He then moves onto the Participatory emphases, especially noting Wrede’s construal of Paul’s gosepl. After a few more interpretative tensions, he proceeds to “Broader concerns in the Pre-Christian Vestibule.” These problems include Natural Theology, Post-Holocaust, Christian Relationships with Government, and a few other things. The final section of dilemmas deals with the “Consequent Construal of Christianity.” Many of these dilemmas have been raised by Orthodox and Catholics. They include the charge that JT is not sufficiently Trinitarian, or that it caricatures the role of the Holy Spirit and/or Christ. The sacraments also have a section here. Essentially, Campbell raises a whole host of interpretative quandaries that are at least partially influenced by JT. He argues that displacing JT as the primary reading of Paul will help or solve many of these dilemmas. With this charge, Part One closes.

~alex

Status Update

So I’ve dropped almost completely off the radar the past couple of weeks.  I’ve had tons going on at work and school (err, the typical excuse ;-) )  I’ve also been writing a rather large paper (it’ll end up being 25pgs probably)  for my Early Christianity class on Ignatius’ use of Paul, which has consumed lots of my writing energy.  On the plus side, I should be able to post more often now since things are slowing down *somewhat*.  I’ll likely blog portions of the essay I’ve been writing, which has been a blast so far.  I’m arguing that Ignatius’ understanding of martyrdom was shaped extensively by a “participatory” understanding of Paul.  Lot’s of good stuff :-)

more soon!

~alex