Archive for December, 2014

Richard Hays, commenting on an unusual confessional formula included by Paul in the letter’s opening found in Galatians 1:1-5:

hays“Paul characteristically replaces the standard greeting of Hellenistic letters (‘greetings,’ chairein) with a grace-and-peace with: ‘Grace (charis) and peace (eirene) from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’…It highlights a truth fundamental to Paul’s gospel: God has graciously taken the initiative to bring peace and reconciliation.  The grace-and-peace formula stands as a reminder of this truth, even at the beginning of a letter as severe as this one.

Only in Galatians, however, is the formula expanded by the addition of a confessional tradition that explicates the meaning of ‘grace and peace’ through a compact narrative summary of the gospel Paul proclaimed: The Lord Jesus Christ ‘gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age’ (v. 4; J. Louis Martyn vividly translates, ‘so that he might snatch us out of the grasp of the present evil age’).  Why does Paul add this elaboration of the grace-and-peace formula?  We may be sure that he was not wasting words.  In the very beginning of the letter, Paul wants to underscore two themes of fundamental importance: The gospel is about Jesus Christ’s self-giving (i.e., his death) for our sake (cf. 2:20), and that self-giving must be understood as an apocalyptic rescue operation.  Paul’s gospel declares God’s gracious invasion of the world, not merely a new human ‘religious’ possibility.  The expression ‘the present evil age’ signals the apocalyptic frame of reference in which Paul thinks.  In Jewish apocalyptic traditions, the history of the world is divided into two ages: the present age of corruption and the age to come, when God’s justice will finally be established.  As a result of Christ’s death, Paul proclaims, we have been liberated from the destructive power of the world as we have known it.  These convictions provide the foundation for Paul’s response to the problem in Galatia…

The death of Jesus marks the end of the power of the old age (6:14-15).  It would be wrong to regard this interpretation [of the cross] as a rejection of the Jewish-Christian atonement tradition; here, as in Rom. 3:21-26, Paul adopts and endorses the view of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice, but he insists at the same time on defining the meaning of this event so that it is shown to be the turning point of the ages.  Jesus’ death does not simply procure the forgiveness of sins; rather, it transposes us into an entirely new reality by liberating us from the power of ‘the present evil age’…Thus, by the end of v. 5, Paul has completed his salutation and laid the theological groundwork for his response to the Galatians.” (Richard Hays, “Galatians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 11, pp. 202-03)


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prayer“What, then, is the nature of petitionary prayer? lt is, in essence, rebellion—rebellion against the world in its fallenness, the absolute and undying refusal to accept as normal what is pervasively abnormal. It is, in this its negative aspect, the refusal of every agenda, every scheme, every interpretation that is at odds with the norm as originally established by God…

Or, to put it the other way around, to come to an acceptance of life “as it is,” to accept it on its own terms—which means acknowledging the inevitability of the way it works—is to surrender a Christian view of God. This resignation to what is abnormal has within it the hidden and unrecognized assumption that the power of God to change the world, to overcome Evil by Good, will not be actualized. Nothing destroys petitionary prayer (and with it, a Christian view of God) as quickly as resignation. “At all times,” Jesus declared, “we should pray” and not “lose heart,” thereby acquiescing to what is (Luke 18:1)…

Secularism [among those who believe in God] is that attitude that sees life as an end in itself. Life, it is thought, is severed from any relationship to God. Consequently the only norm or “given” in life, whether for meaning or for morals, is the world as it is. With this, it is argued, we must come to terms; to seek some other referrent around which to structure our lives is futile and “escapist.” It is not only that God, the object of petitionary prayer, has often become indistinct, but that his relationship to the world is seen in a new way. And it is a way that does not violate secular assumption. God may be “present” and “active” in the world, but it is not a presence and an activity that changes anything. Against all of this, it must be asserted that petitionary prayer only flourishes where there is a twofold belief: first, that God’s name is hallowed too irregularly, his kingdom has come too little, and his will is done too infrequently; second, that God himself can change this situation. Petitionary prayer, therefore, is the expression of the hope that life as we meet it, on the one hand, can be otherwise and, on the other hand, that it ought to be otherwise. It is therefore impossible to seek to live in God’s world on his terms, doing his work in a way that is consistent with who he is, without engaging in regular prayer.” (David Wells, “Prayer: Rebelling Against the Status Quo”)

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dunn“Most striking of all [in Galatians], the experience of the Spirit in some degree recapitulated the story of Christ: it came in response to faith exercise in the crucified Christ (3:1-2); and it reproduced the same spirit of sonship in the believer (4:5-7).  It is this last features which enables us to give a little more definition of the experience of the Spirit as understood by Paul and other very early Christians: not just as experience of surging emotions (cf. Rom. 5:5; 1 Thess. 1:6), or of charismatic empowering (as in Gal. 3:5), or of inspired utterance (as in 1 Cor. 14), or of ecstatic experience (cf. Acts 2:4; 1 Cor. 12:2; 14:12), but as experience patterned on Christ’s (cf. 4:19) and as conforming to Christ’s sonship (4:6-7). It is precisely as the Spirit of the Son (4:6) that Paul expected the Spirit to be known and acknowledged within the churches…

The understanding of the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is common to different strands of the NT (Acts 16:7; Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; Phil. 1:19; 1 Pet. 1:11), and reflects a common perception within first-century Christianity that Christ (the character of Christ as remembered in the Jesus tradition and proclaimed in the gospel of the cross) provided a means of discerning and defining the Spirit.” (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, pp. 61-62)

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best“For however many models for imitation he may give them from the author they are reading, it will still be found that fuller nourishment is provided by the living voice, as we call it, more especially when it proceeds from the teacher himself, who, if his pupils are rightly instructed, should be the object of their affection and respect.” (Quintillian, Ernest Best, Paul and His Converts, p. 62)

“The living voice and the intimacy of a common life will help you more than the written word…Cleanthes could not have been the express image of Zeno, if he had merely heard his lectures; he shared his life, saw into his hidden purposes, and watched him to see whether he had lived according to his own rules. Plato, Aristotle, and the whole throng of sages who were destined to go each his different way, derived more benefit from the character than from the words of Socrates.” (Seneca, Epistulae Morales VI 5-6, cited in Ernest Best, Paul and His Converts, pp. 61-62)

“When Paul went to a fresh city and proclaimed the gospel of the Savior’s loving descent from heaven and his redeeming death on the cross this was so far outside the normal experience of love that if that love was to be understood it required not only to be spoken of but also to be exemplified in a life lived out before the new converts. The distance between Paul’s story of the love of God in Christ and normal experience could be bridged only by an actual example of a loving life. A recital of incidents could not convey the meaning of his behavior with the same force as someone living at least partially like him.” (Ernest Best, Paul and His Converts, p. 70)

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Allen MissionaryMethods_NEW_PB.qxd“There is no attempt to keep the door open by partial statements, no concealment of the real issue and all that is involved, no timid fear of giving offense, no suggestion of possible compromise, no attempt to make things really difficult appear easy.” (Roland AllenMisssionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, p. 90)

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bonhoeffer“The form of Jesus Christ takes form in man. Man does not take on an independent form of his own, but what gives him form and what maintains him in the new form is always solely the form of Jesus Christ himself. It is therefore not a vain imitation or repetition of Christ’s form but Christ’s form itself which takes form in man. And again, man is not transformed into a form which is alien to him [by becoming like Jesus], the form of God, but into his own form, the form which is essentially proper to him. Man becomes man because God became man.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 63)

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watson“If humans are unlike other creatures in being in some sense like God, then it might be possible to identify this point of God-likeness by determining empirically what it is that differentiates humans from all other creatures and makes them distinctively human.  It would then be possible to solve the exegetical problem posed by the notion of ‘the image of God’ simply and directly, without recourse to complex exegetical, hermeneutical and theological procedures.  The truth about human being is surely something we can know directly, not something we must laboriously extract from sacred texts?  At any rate, that has been the assumption of a long tradition of exegesis…Exegesis of the biblical imago Dei passages is unnecessary where it is assumed that ‘the Christian doctrine of man’ is statable in broad and general terms such as these [as seen in the interpretations of Philo and Reinhold Niebuhr, respectively].  As it pursues its basically antiquarian interests, exegesis may by chance uncover previously-overlooked elements which can be pressed into the service of this doctrine; but these will be inessential ornaments, for the doctrine has been established directly and without textual mediation.

If there is to be a theological anthropology, it will have to take account of the existence of other anthropological possibilities, not all of which it will wish simply to reject.  At numerous points, there will surely be analogies and convergences between theological and non-theological reflection on the phenomena of the human.  Yet a theological anthropology sensitive to the textual meditation of the Christian faith will not assume too readily that the particularities of holy scripture can be effortlessly assimilated to supposedly ‘broader’ conceptions.  It will not assume that, whatever may be the case with its doctrine of God, its doctrine of the human will necessarily occupy much the same ground as other conceptions.  There is no reason to suppose that the Christian doctrine of the human is any less distinctive and idiosyncratic than the Christian doctrine of God.  Indeed, there is every reason to suppose that the distinctiveness of the one will be reflected in the other.  If the Christian view of God articulates not a general conception of deity but a highly distinctive conception of a triune God uniquely disclosed in Jesus, then this will leave its mark on theological anthropology too.  And if this definitive divine self-disclosure is textually mediated, the same will be true of the anthropology that corresponds to it.  If that is the case, there can be no easy route from biblical imago Dei language to a general philosophical conceptuality.  Far from being an antiquarian exercise, exegesis would then be integral to theological construction.” (Francis WatsonText and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology, pp. 277-79)


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