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"the new perspective on Paul"

Kent Yinger on the New Perspective on Paul (interview)

I had the great honor of asking Dr. Kent Yinger (Retired Professor of New Testament, Portland Seminary of Georgefox) a few questions regarding the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Dr. Yinger is the author of The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction, a very helpful book on the topic at hand. My questions are in bold.

Enjoy!

 

To those who hear the phrase thrown around but don’t quite understand what it’s getting at, how would you describe the NPP in a nutshell, or in layman’s terms?

 

Kent: The NPP is a return to Paul’s own self-understanding, and, thus, is not really anything “new.” It believes the Christian movement fairly quickly lost touch with the thoroughgoing Jewishness of the apostle and the Jesus movement; not surprising, since within a century or two it became a Gentile movement with little living connection to its Jewish roots. The NPP differs from tradition Pauline interpretation in a number of ways, including: 1) The Judaism of Jesus and Paul was not a religion of legalistic self-righteousness, but was rooted in grace and faith(fullness) (cf. E. P. Sanders). Thus, 2) Paul was not opposed to, or rejecting Judaism. Instead, 3) he was convinced the God of Israel had in Christ’s death and resurrection inaugurated the age to come and the new covenant with Israel and the nations. 4) Paul’s chief disagreement with other Jews was whether Jews and Gentiles are to be considered part of the end-time people of God via circumcised membership in Israel (“works of the law”) or by adherence to messiah Jesus (“faith in Christ”; see Gal 2).

Can you describe your journey in embracing the New Perspective and any “ah ha” moment or moments? What was the general response from fellow Christians, if any?

 

Kent: My PhD work at the Univ. of Sheffield (U.K.) examined the relationship between justification by faith and judgment according to deeds, both of which Paul upheld, but which most felt to be in tension or even contradiction. In the course of this study I read Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism and saw in his view of Judaism the way forward (though Sanders himself did not quite see things this way). Jews did not see these two convictions as in tension; maybe the same was true for Paul. (See my Paul, Judaism and Judgment according to Deeds, 1999). This was truly an “ah ha” moment, since it upended my previous view of Judaism as a religion of legalism. If Paul’s view of justification by faith was not rebutting a supposed Jewish view of salvation by works, then what was he trying to do?

 

Are there aspects of the New Perspective that you reject? Are there aspects of the Old Perspective that you value?

 

Kent: Since there are actually many “New Perspectives,” as you might suspect, there are aspects of these Perspectives I share, and others with which I disagree. For the core on which we all agree, see my The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction. As to areas of disagreement: 1) Some stress “ethnocentrism” as that which Paul opposed in Judaism (e.g., Dunn). If by that Dunn means simply that Jews believed the covenant gave them a privileged status, I think he’s right (see Rom 2). But if by that, he believes Judaism had become an essentially inward and xenophobic movement, I don’t see this as a major problem in Paul’s writings. 2) Most NPP folks think Paul at some point found something “wrong” with Judaism. I think Paul’s answer to the question, “What’s wrong with Judaism?” would be “Nothing, unless they refuse to listen to the God who has now spoken in Jesus.” 3) Some NPP folks can sound downright anti-reformational (e.g., D. Campbell). While I disagree with some reformational stances, I still value highly things like: 1) we are saved by God’s grace through faith not by earning our way into God’s favor (“sola fide,” even though I don’t think this is what Paul was talking about); 2) the Bible is open to all to interpret and is our final arbiter in faith and doctrine (“sola scriptura”).

Some Christian leaders are publicly and loudly denouncing the New Perspective as heretical. Why do you feel backlash against the NPP has been so strong?

 

Kent: On the more popular level this has usually been due to misunderstanding in my experience. For instance, when I say “works of the law [Gk erga nomou]” in Paul refers not to human works in general, but to Jewish badges of identity (circumcision, Sabbath, food laws, etc.), this is heard as re-introducing human effort/works into salvation by the back door, and as losing the heartbeat of the reformation gospel. In most of what I read from opponents of the NPP, it is this fear of re-introducing human works into salvation that drives the opposition.

 

What, if anything, is at stake in this debate? In other words, what difference does it make to the average layperson if the NPP can hold its weight? If the New Perspective is true or false, what weight does this bear on Christian praxis?

 

Kent: I tried to address this briefly in my The NPP: An Introduction. The main difference will be in how we interpret a whole host of key passages, such as Rom 2, Rom 7, Phil 3, 1 Cor 3, etc. A second difference will be in how we perceive Judaism (i.e., more positively), both ancient and modern. A third difference will be a heightened attention to holiness, i.e., to human good deeds.

 

Some worry that if the NPP is true it would require a complete overhaul of evangelicalism. Others fear that it could reverse the hard work of the Reformation. How would you respond to such concerns?

 

Kent: I addressed this more broadly above. I consider myself firmly, though critically, reformational-evangelical; this remains my own spiritual identity. A key problem here is that the Reformation was never intended to be a “finished product,” but semper reformanda (always reforming). One of the widely acknowledged bits of unfinished business was the relationship between human and divine agents. Who does what in human salvation, and how much? Is salvation all of God (monergism) or is there some human element (synergism)? In many ways, the NPP debate is reigniting this old bit of unfinished business. See my “Reformation Redivivus: Synergism and the New Perspective,” Journal of Theological Interpretation, 3 no 1 Spr 2009, p 89-106. Available online at the Digital Commons of George Fox Univ.: https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu
Thank you for the chance to interact.

Kent L. Yinger

 

Thank you, Dr. Yinger, for your time!

 

An authority on New Testament context, Dr. Yinger’s particular interests include Pauline theology (especially soteriology), Christology, New Testament Greek and lexicography, exegesis and hermeneutics, and missions. The author of Paul, Judaism, and Judgment According to Deeds, Yinger is Retired Professor at Portland Seminary of Georgefox University.

 

 

 

Adjunct Professor of New Testament Studies at Georgefox University.

 

Andrew Das on a “Newer Perspective” on Paul (an interview)

I had the great honor of conducting an interview with greatly-respected Pauline expert Dr. Anrew Das of Elmhurst College (see here for his new web-page). For anyone even remotely interested in the New Perspective debate, Dr. Das offers insightful answers to a few of my questions which are in bold (NPP=New Perspective on Paul.)

 

In academic circles you are well established as a critic of the New Perspective. Are there any aspects of the NPP that you embrace and/or appreciate?

 

Andrew: When we talk about the NPP, we really have to distinguish between E. P. Sanders’ “new perspective on Judaism,” and James D. G. Dunn’s (and others’) “new perspective on Paul.” Sanders demonstrated that Second Temple Judaism was not, on the whole, a religion of works righteousness. Most critics of the NPP are not willing to grant that. Recently, John M. G. Barclay’s Paul and the Gift sorted through the varieties of grace in Second Temple Judaism. Barclay’s work is an advancement over vol. 1 of D. A. Carson et al’s Justification and Variegated Nomism that demonstrated different Jewish “takes” on grace.

In some sectors of Second Temple Judaism one does indeed find the legalistic perspective that one must earn one’s way to heaven by a strict obedience of the Law. This was the point I made in the second chapter of my Paul, the Law, and the Covenant (Hendrickson, 2001). At a distance from Palestine or in the wake of the destruction of the Second Temple, some Jews might adopt a view that one must obey God’s Law perfectly for a place in the world to come. The first chapter of that book demonstrated that Jews held in tension rigorous, perfect obedience with God’s grace in the very Jewish documents that Sanders himself analyzed. One cannot then begin with Paul opposing Jewish legalism in his day, as had been the case in the “old” perspective. I don’t see a single Pauline text that requires that view of Second Temple Judaism. In that sense, I am in agreement with a nuanced version of the new perspective on Second Temple Judaism—and yet there is a robust tension between the strict requirement of the Law’s demand and the provision of grace and mercy in the face of failure.

It is a different matter for me when we look at James D. G. Dunn’s original proposal. Initially, he worded his point of view that by “works of the Law” Paul means the boundary-marking aspects that distinguish Jew from gentile, i.e., circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws. He later modified his formulation to account for his critics: the “works of the Law” refer to all that the Law requires, but primarily those aspects of the Law that distinguish one community from another. I do think that his view shifts the center of gravity in Paul’s teaching about the Law from a works-grace opposition, as traditionalists held, to a focus, instead, on the Law’s ethnic boundary markers for God’s people. My problem with this is that I can find no document that limits the “works of the Law” to boundary markers and that does not include other aspects of the Law, such as its moral strictures. I see this in the Qumran document 4QMMT, one of Dunn’s favorite texts, but also in Paul, e.g., Galatians 3:10 with its omitted premise that can be taken for granted. Nothing in this verse points to boundary markers. Of course, Paul assumes, no one perfectly obeys all that is in the Book of the Law. I advanced the interpretation of Galatians 3:10 in a volume published by the Society of Biblical Literature in 2012: “Galatians 3:10: A ‘Newer Perspective’ on an Omitted Premise” in Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul, edited by Christopher W. Skinner and Kelly R. Iverson (pages 203-23).

 

I also revisited Romans 4:4-5 as another passage that resists the “new perspective on Paul.” These verses really do contrast the works due their wages and the free gift of God’s grace. Such passages simply will not conform to the new perspective reading. See my “Paul and Works of Obedience in Second Temple Judaism: Romans 4:4-5 as a ‘New Perspective’ Case Study, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 71 (2009): 795-812. This article documents the contortions of new perspective advocates to try to fit Romans 4:4-5 into their interpretive schemes.

Concerning the ‘Newer Perspective’ that you advocate for, how does it differ from both the Old and New Perspective?

 

Andrew: Since I believe that Sanders is basically right about his overall view of Second Temple Judaism, that aspect of the “new perspective” needs to be taken seriously. At the same time, stubborn texts resist the “new perspective on Paul.” In Paul, the Law, and the Covenant I advocated a “newer perspective” on Paul and the Law, one that accounts for the strengths of both readings. The key is in an element that Dunn used to highlight regularly in his writings from the 80s and early 90s. Others followed him on this point: no Jew would have had an issue with perfect obedience of the Law because God chose the Jewish people as his own (election), he made a covenant with them (covenant), and he provided animal sacrifices at the Temple to atone for their failures (sacrifice). Chapters 3-5 in Paul, the Law, and the Covenant addressed each of these means of grace, if you will, in Second Temple Judaism. Paul has reconceptualized them in relation to Christ’s saving work. In other words, animal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Christ is the Paschal Lamb or the mercy seat on Atonement Day. Animal sacrifices are dispensed with. God’s election is enjoyed in Christ and not on the basis of Jewish identity apart from Christ. Then in my most recent book, Paul and the Stories of Israel (Fortress, 2016), I offer an extended further critique of Paul as not being a particularly covenantal thinker, at least in terms of the “old” covenant of Judaism. All that avails is a “new” covenant in Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the prophets. So, yes, there is indeed a problem with obeying Moses’s Law. There is simply no viable locus for God’s mercy and grace apart from Christ. That sunders the Law from its gracious framework with Judaism (drawing on Sanders’ way of conceptualizing it). Obeying God’s Law is indeed a problem and is impossible apart from Christ.

 

What is your sentiment when it comes to the strong/harsh reaction some Christian leaders espouse towards the New Perspective? Do you agree or disagree with those who maintain that it is a heretical position to hold?

 

Andrew: It is valuable to delve into Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism or John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift for an introduction to the literature of Paul’s Jewish peers and to dispense with the view that Judaism was a legalistic worldview with busy Jews trying to earn their way into heaven on the scales of God’s judgment. We need to read the Jewish sources on their own terms. It is also true, as Dunn, Wright, and others have pointed out, that there is an intensely ethnic dimension to Paul’s reasoning. At my conservative Lutheran seminary years ago, the course concluded with Romans 8 and completely ignored the place of Israel in Romans 9-11. The course also passed over “to the Jew first and the Greek” language in the early chapters of Romans. As Dunn likes to stress, Galatians does indeed posit a central situation where Peter was withdrawing from a table with gentiles. Dunn and others are right to say that one can’t overlook the importance of these passages. Paul is arguing for the inclusion of the gentiles into God’s saving plan in Christ. Nevertheless, we have to recognize where the older, traditional interpretations still have the better of it, as in Galatians 3:10 or Romans 4:4-5. The “new perspective,” contrary to Dunn’s intention, can deprioritize works-grace dynamics that many saw as central to Paul’s thinking prior to the “new perspective.”

 

 

My “newer perspective” recognizes that this is really a matter of “both-and,” and we have to keep the horse before the cart. It is because God saves through Jesus and not through Moses’s Law and its impossible demand that it is not necessary for gentiles to obey God’s Law to enjoy God’s favor. As a consequence, the boundary marking features are not necessary for them.

 

What, if anything, is at stake in this debate? What weight does this bear on Christian living?

 

Andrew: Dunn has rightly stressed (with others) that Paul uses nomos for the Mosaic Law through Galatians and Romans. When we recognize that, Paul offers a positive view of the Mosaic Law in Romans 8:2 and 13:8-10 and in Galatians 5:13-14 and 6:2. Again, see my Galatians commentary (Concordia, 2014) for discussion of the Galatians passages. As for the Romans texts, I sketched out a positive view of the Law in Paul and the Jews (Hendrickson, 2003). The upshot is that Christ has taken hold of the Law. It still functions as a norm for Christian behavior. Thus Paul can quote the Law when he is admonishing Christians in 1 Corinthians, but Paul has deprioritized it and subordinated it to our life in Christ and His Spirit. As I argued in the Galatians commentary, those in Christ do not set out any longer to do the Law. They nevertheless fulfill its requirements by their Christ-like, Spirit-led behavior.

 

While many react strongly against it, there are more and more churches that seem to embrace some aspects of the NPP. Why do you think aspects of the New Perspective are gaining so much traction in some circles?

 

Andrew: As churches and people embrace the NPP, some of this, I think, is because it has been around so long and many leading New Testament scholars have embraced some form of it. It has filtered down from the academy over the years. The danger is when people adopt a view just because it is different or “new.” They are better served to try to work through some of the arguments involved. I tried to provide a road map on “Paul and the Law” in an essay in Mark D. Given’s Paul Unbound (Hendrickson, 2009) This is a good introductory essay for those who want to try to understand where the key “pressure points” are in the debate and for some of the back and forth. Stephen Westerholm’s Perspectives Old and New on Paul (Eerdmans 2004) remains a nice survey of the different positions from a more traditional perspective. Magnus Zetterholm’s Approaches to Paul (Fortress, 2009) takes things beyond the old-new divide to more recent, potentially radical readings of Paul. It helps to get varying perspectives as one works through the argumentation.

Thank you for your time!

 

Professor and Assistant Dean of the Faculty for Assessment and Accreditation at Elmhurst College (Department of Religious Studies), Dr. Andrew Das has been listed among the twenty-five leading Pauline theorists in the last century in Perspectives Old and New on Paul. The author of Solving the Romans Debate (Fortress, 2007), Galatians (Concordia Academic, 2014), and co-editor of (and contributor to) The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology, Dr. Das is currently researching the key women and their leadership in Paul’s letters.

Dr. Das is also on the Translation Oversight Committee of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB; released in 2017), having received graduate degrees from Yale University and Union Theological Seminary (VA). Dr. Das also did doctoral work at Duke University, and teaches in biblical studies and Second Temple Judaism.

 

Must Haves of 2020 (New Testament/ Theology Resources)

Below is my final list of ‘Must Haves of 2020,’ this list comprised of New Testament-related and theology-related resources that I find important in either furthering discussion about the New Testament in its context or helping the reader approach the text well.

The New Testament Commentary Guide: A Brief Handbook for Students and Pastors

Here is a superb resource that is written in an accessible way and can potentially save you a lot of time, money, and headaches. Navigating the world of commentaries can be tough and one is lucky enough to have informed friends or mentors who can guide you in the right direction. If you’re someone who buys commentaries, get this–it’s a great investment!

Navigating Tough Texts: A Guide to Problem Passages in the New Testament

This one was a blast to read through. Fairly readable and tackling issues from the unforgivable sin to misunderstandings about Mary, I appreciate the author’s to-the-point nature here.

Joel F. Williams commentary on Mark

Joel F. Williams’ commentary on Mark’s Gospel, which is more on the technical side, is a great commentary for those who are already familiar with biblical Greek and want to deepen their understanding of Mark’s Gospel. The homiletical suggestions are extremely helpful and handy for anyone who prepares sermons.

African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation

Lisa Bowens has produced a spectacular resource which captures how Paul has been received by Black American Christians and understood by them. While Paul is sometimes appealed to to support injustices and evils, African-American Christians looked to Paul and found solace and unbelievable relevance in his words. They found in Paul an advocate for the weak and downtrodden, Paul’s letters reflecting the God of radical justice found in the Exodus and in the Old Testament narrative.

Paul and the Language of Faith

Paul and the Language of Faith is a challenge to the way we tend to talk and think about faith within modern evangelicalism and miss out on how pistis was used in the world of antiquity. A reminder to go back to the sources, this book is filled with wisdom from someone well-acquainted with Paul’s letters. Shortly after its release, I was honored to discuss the book with Dr. Gupta (see here for that interview).

Participating in Christ: Explorations in Paul’s Theology and Spirituality

Michael J. Gorman is crediting for coining the term cruciformity, known also for drawing out of Paul’s letters a “mystical” side to Paul that is not always acknowledged. Participating in Christ is a very important book in better understanding union with Christ as well as cruciformity (our co-crucifixion, co-resurrection and co-glorification with Jesus). Gorman’s is a very important voice today when it comes to New Testament studies, in particular the letters of Paul (see here for my recent interview with Gorman on the book).

Paul and the Power of Grace

Paul and the Power of Grace is a tremendous resource for better understanding Paul and the theme of grace in his letters. The word “grace” gets thrown around often with little-to-no thought. This is an important corrective to that, attempting to recover more thoughtfulness in how we use this word.

Michael Bird and Nijay Gupta’s Philippians commentary

I was very excited when hearing about this commentary by two of the best New Testament scholars and was definitely not disappointed. Bird and Gupta are both gifted interpreters of Paul, making their latest commentary a gift to the Church. They both come off as careful not to rush in their exegesis (and application).

Lynn Cohick’s Ephesians commentary

Lynn Cohick is one of the most intriguing voices in the conversation about women in leadership. She also happens to be a very gifted scholar and has come out with a hefty commentary on Ephesians. I cannot praise this commentary enough. Full of insights that will help the reader better enter the world of Ephesus and understand Paul, this is a phenomenal commentary in a great series!

Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Second Edition)

A massive book, Evangelical Theology is both in-depth and readable. This is a solid resource on not only what Christians believe but why they believe the things they do. Bird has an uncanny way of slipping humor in and it really (somehow!) works. Brimming over with accessible information about theology (the nature of God’s Word, of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, a great piece on Christ’s humanity and Christ’s mother Mary), Bird has a gift in bringing high and lofty ideas down to everyone’s level.

The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament

I especially loved both of the author’s treatments of Eden, the Kingdom of God in the Synoptics, and their insights into Revelation. There are also stunning visuals that complement this book, making it great for either leisure reading or more in-depth study.

The Devil’s Redemption (Volume 1) (2020 paperback edition)

I have not been able to delve into volume 2 yet, but volume 1 is a real page turner, documenting universalism throughout church history up until the present time. Modern names such as Barth, Moltmann, and others are brought up; Stott’s conditional immortality and Wright’s views of hell are also hit on. This is a wonderful treatment of universalism in the Church–past and present–showcasing how the Church has unapologetically raised concerns about the doctrine of universalism. For those interested in the topic at hand, I don’t know of another resource as in-depth as The Devil’s Redemption.

Honorable Mentions

Paul’s Works of the Law in the Second Century by Matthew Thomas (see here).

Christopher Hutson has a new commentary out on First and Second Timothy and Titus (see here).

Resurrecting Justice: Reading Romans for the Life of the World (by Douglas Harink) has some intriguing insights on Paul’s use of righteousness/justice (see here).

George Hunsinger’s Philippians commentary has some nice “aha” moments as he ties Paul’s letter to discipleship in the 21st century (see here). Overall this is a good commentary in a series that tends to be more approachable and readable.

Sin and its Remedy in Paul is a great treatment on the nature of sin within Paul’s letters, an intriguing topic in and of itself. This is a collection of essays edited by Nijay Gupta and John Goodrich (see here).

Paul Within Judaism: A Conversation with Mark Nanos

I had a great conversation with Dr. Mark Nanos on recovering the Jewish roots of Paul the apostle. We delve into what first got Dr. Nanos interested in studying Paul, questions on the New Perspective, and much more.

For more ways to listen, click here.

Interview Highlights

Dr. Nanos notes that in the Hebrew Bible, the prophets critiqued Israel often enough but never were labelled as being non-Jewish. Paul also critiques Israel and his Jewish kin but this does not make him anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, just as prophets like Isaiah are not read as being anti-Jewish. Why then have Christians throughout the centuries read Paul as being anti-Jewish?

While Christians and Western society often caricature Paul as opposing Judaism, what if Paul saw himself as a prophet (like those of the Old Testament) who is for Israel and her purity? This actually makes more sense of Paul’s often harsh tone against fellow Jews. What if Paul, like Isaiah and Daniel, rather than opposing Judaism, wished to reform and/or preserve it? What if Paul never broke ties with his Jewish past and heritage?

Summer Reading: Favorite Resources on Paul (2020)

Not all my summers look the same, but this summer I was privileged to read a lot of new books. I will be releasing a series of lists of some of the books that stood out, and will be starting with a list of Pauline resources. The list is in no particular order; click the photos for Amazon links.

Journeys of the Apostle Paul: This 2020 release is packed with insightful, accessible, and relevant articles, as well as with high quality visuals and maps. With each essay carefully written, this makes for a great resource for the beginner on Paul and his letters, though it can prove valuable to those more advanced as well. Rich in theological depth, insight, and relevance, many can benefit from this resource, as it is not too dense nor is it at all “watered down.”

Reading Philippians: What stands out in this resource is a rare mixture of accessibility and deep rooted-ness in the world of Paul. While Nijay Gupta is one of the leading scholars on Paul, he has provided the Church with a resource which anyone can pick up and understand. Full of references to pop culture, as well as relevance for the “real word,” this makes for a great resource for either private/personal study or more of a group oriented Bible study.

Jesus the Lord According to the Apostle Paul: When it comes to modern writers and thinkers on Paul, Gordon Fee has been most formative to the development of my theology, helping me gain a robust understanding of the role of the Spirit in the lives of believers and the life of the Church. In this 2018 release, Fee offers a condensed version of one of his earlier works, Pauline Christology. Jesus the Lord is refreshingly readable and clear, providing a window into the heart and mind of Paul by one of the finest modern thinkers in New Testament studies. I find this to be a great companion to Paul’s letters, and a helpful guide for understanding the apostle’s theology.

Paul and the Language of Faith

Have we misunderstood Luther? Are we mistranslating pistis (the Greek word often translated “faith”)? These questions and others are dealt with here in a balanced way. When it comes to Paul and questions of works and faith, Gupta is one of the most interesting and stimulating voices in scholarship. Here the author argues that when it comes to translating and understanding pistis, we can do better. An important book in New Testament studies, in the studies of Paul, and in the studies of faith or “pistis” in the Bible, I recommend this to the careful student of Paul. The gist of this book is: Let’s remain faithful to the various and beautiful nuances of pistis in the world of the Bible. Though it may mean more work, it’s worth it–no shortcuts!

Participating in Christ (2019)

Michael J. Gorman has in the last few years become one of my favorite authors on Paul. His Reading Paul left a mark on me years ago as I found myself agreeing with Gorman, who refuses to make Paul “left” or “right” and yet is clear: Paul does not steer clear of politics. In Participating in Christ, Gorman remains clear and persuasive, showcasing the need to recover the Pauline doctrine of union with Christ.

Philippians (Michael Bird/ Nijay Gupta): With careful attention paid to historical and cultural context, as well as to what others have been saying about Philippians, this is a resource I gladly welcome in my library. Theologically rich and written by two of the best Pauline thinkers and New Testament scholars, this is a superb and solid resource.

Honorable Mentions:

Offer Yourselves to God (2019)

Gordon Fee has published a short and simple resource on vocation in the letters of Paul. Though it is brief, Fee wastes no words and provides guidance where there is not always direction. This has proved helpful to me personally in navigating the turbulent waters of God’s will for one’s life.

F.F. Bruce on Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians: Now this is not a new resource technically, but the publisher recently released a paperback edition. I’ve been a fan of Bruce’s work for some time for his ability to bring the text home, his tone, wittiness, and commitment to go where the text leads. His Philippians commentary comes highly recommended by me. Bruce is one of the finest scholars and modern interpreters of Paul and has been a guide for me for years in my own study of the apostle.

Preaching Romans: Four Perspectives

I find this to be an intriguing resource with contributions by the (as of recent) late James Dunn, Scot McKnight (who is also co-editor), Stephen Westerholm, Michael F. Bird, Richard Hays, and others. The four perspectives are the Reformational perspective, the New Perspective, the Apocalyptic Perspective, and the Participationist Perspective. Here is an intriguing dialogue of sorts which showcases not only four major lenses through which Romans is read/interpreted, but also the multifaceted nature of this rich letter.

Michael F. Bird: Paul, the Gospel & Human Suffering (interview)

Michael F. Bird was kind enough to answer some of my questions on the essence of the gospel and modern perceptions of the good news about Jesus. (See here for the first interview in this series with Darrell Bock.) Michael F. Bird is a prolific author, theologian, and a highly respected New Testament scholar.

My questions are in bold.

 

 

If Paul were somehow transported to our modern Western churches, what do you think he would disapprove of? What might he resonate with?

 I think first of all, he’d be slightly disoriented at the world, with its technology, history, and change of worldviews. I think he’d be mortified at churches segregated by race or class. A crash course on church history would probably lead him to a mixture of laughing, weeping, and gasping. But I think he’d be encouraged by the fact that his letters form part of the Christian Scripture, his letters have inspired revolutions and demonstrations, and people are still preaching Jesus Christ as Lord.

 

In the same vein, what do you think Jesus would 1) disapprove of and 2) resonate with?

Well, if you judge things by the sermon on the mount, then the consumerism and syncretism of much of the modern church around the world. What he’d resonate with, those who love God and love neighbor.

 

Debates about the heart of the gospel seem never ending. In your view, what is the essence of the gospel?

I wouldn’t say the gospel has fixed “essence” because the gospel can be flexibly rehearsed across the New Testament. I prefer to say that the gospel has certain key ingredients that get added and baked in one’s explanation in different ways. That includes the story of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and exaltation; OT fulfillment; the kingdom of God; Jesus as Messiah and Lord; the offer of the forgiveness of sins; and calling for repentance and faith.

 

Do you have any qualms with how the gospel can be presented in Christian literature or in modern worship music?

 Yes, of course, sometimes the gospel lacks biblical traction, or depth. The danger is that we reduce the gospel to offering to meet the felt needs of whatever is going on today.

 

Some come away from this conversation feeling that this is merely a semantics game. How important is this conversation, and is it more than semantics?

 Semantics can be boring to argue over about. But trust me, if your cardiac surgeon can’t figure out if the needle goes on or into your heart, you’ll notice by the end of the operation. Some things need to be solid, grounded, and firm. The gospel is one of them, because Jesus and the apostles tell us so. If you preach a truncated gospel you’ll get a truncated church. If you preach a confused gospel you’ll get a confused church. If you preach a vague gospel you’ll get vague spirituality and so forth. The gospel requires crispness and clarity.

 

Why do you feel that believers are so fragmented when it comes to questions of what the gospel is?

I think it is sometimes because we’ve just relied on inherited assumptions, own sub-cultural constructs, or just plain narrow set of perspectives. If you’ve only ever had chicken McNuggets, you’ve never experienced the culinary delight of a good roast chicken in rosemary and gravy.

 

What has helped shape and reinforce your views on the gospel and its nature (courses taken, books read, leaders and/or mentors, etc.)? Can you describe any “aha” moments in the development of your own understanding of the gospel?

One of my seminary professors Jim Gibson was a wonderful mixture of evangelist and theologian, my book Evangelical Theology is dedicated to him, and he had a big impact on me. Then there’s reading some good gospel theologians like Kevin Vanhoozer, N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and so many others. I guess for me, learning that the Gospels really are “gospel” was the aha moment, it isn’t only justification by faith, the entire story of Jesus is the gospel. That’s true especially if you read the apostolic speeches like Acts 10!

 

Ours is a time when “bad news” (even “fake news”) finds itself everywhere. Human suffering and injustice, which are more rampant and intensified in certain parts of the world, taint God’s world. How is the proclamation about Jesus “good news” for the sufferer? How can Christians maintain that we in fact have good news in a time such as ours?

 The gospel proclaims Jesus as Lord, lord of all, and he will put the world right. Every knee will bow before him, there will be mercy for those that want it, but those who persist in evil and rebellion will receive their due before the divine tribunal of the Son of Man. It also means that Jesus is with us in our lowest moments, because nothing can separate us from his love, neither disease nor depression nor death. His love and grace is with us, to the end of the age, that’s his promise, and he keeps his promises.

 

Thank you!

Blessings.

 

About Michael F. Bird:

Describing himself as a “biblical theologian,” Michael F. Bird (PhD, University of Queensland, 2005) is an ardent researcher, having written and edited over thirty books in the fields of the Septuagint, the Historical Jesus, the Gospels, St. Paul, Biblical Theology, and Systematic Theology. Running a popular blog,  Bird has debated the likes of Bart Ehrman as well as interviewed N. T. Wright. He has also co-authored a highly-acclaimed New Testament Introduction with N.T. Wright titled The New Testament in its World  (Zondervan Academic, 2019). His 2013 Evangelical Theology is an attempt to develop a truly gospel-based theology that promotes the advance of the gospel in Christian life and thought. The co-editor of the New Covenant Commentary Series, he is an associate editor for Zondervan’s The Story of God Bible Commentary, and speaks often at conferences in the Australia, the UK, and USA.

 

 

 

Is Paul Against Women in Leadership? A Conversation with Lucy Peppiatt

I had the great honor of asking Dr. Lucy Peppiatt (PhD, University of Otago) a few questions about women in ministry and leadership roles. Principal of Westminster Theological Centre where she also lectures in Systematic Theology, Dr. Peppiatt is the author of Women and Worship at Corinth.

 

 

How do you respond to those who think of egalitarianism as being a “liberal” or “progressive” position (i.e. unbiblical), and a slippery slope?

Lucy: I’ve just finished a book called Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts (IVP Academic), which will be out in August. The whole idea of the book is to examine the texts that have traditionally been cited to support the idea that there is a God-ordained gendered hierarchy in scripture and to demonstrate that these hierarchical readings are neither ‘plain sense’ nor consistent with the rest of scripture. Obviously I can’t regurgitate the content of the book here, but it was a really interesting exercise for me to do a close study of each of the texts and to highlight the inherent and often intractable problems in using them to argue that God has ordained for men to lead and women to follow. So first I would say that I’m fully convinced that scripture invites a mutualist economy within the people of God where men and women are serving side by side in all capacities. Secondly, it’s clear if one studies the broader sweep of the history of the church that there have always been those who have understood scripture to be endorsing such a pattern. In addition to this, it’s quite clear that Paul himself (who is the person most associated with the idea of prohibiting women from certain forms of leadership) did not follow any practices of excluding women from leading and teaching roles. So I think one would be hard pressed to argue that this is a liberal or a progressive, modern phenomenon.

 

To a person who is not familiar with the passage regarding head coverings, can you explain the background of the passage, along with some issues that have arisen from this controversial passage throughout history?

Lucy: I’m not entirely sure what you mean here by the background of the passage, whether you mean the passage in its original context or how it’s been received and interpreted through the ages. First Corinthians 11:2-16 is one of (if not the) most complicated set of verses in the Bible and so first I would impress upon any reader of this text that they should do their own study. It’s difficult to give a ‘summary’ to such a complex text. The background of the verses in their own context is that they sit in a letter that is a reply to a letter that we no longer have, so we should assume were clear to their original hearers even though they remain pretty obscure for us. The text itself describes the enforcement of a practice in church for men (to remain uncovered when praying and prophesying) and women (to remain covered). There is some debate about whether this passage is about hairstyles or head coverings. I’m sure it’s about head coverings and this makes most sense of the passage. Some try to argue that Paul is simply instructing women to behave in a culturally appropriate fashion, but the text tells us something completely different from that and we should remember that until recently these verses have consistently been read to be saying that Paul endorses the submission of women to men based on their dependent (and inferior) status in creation. In recent years mutualists have attempted to rescue these verses from their obvious subordinationist message, but I don’t find those arguments persuasive.

So the background of how these verses have been received and interpreted through the ages is that they have traditionally been cited to affirm the idea that a woman should have some kind of ‘covering’ that would then function as an authorizing sign for her to speak (pray and or prophesy) in public worship and would prevent her from bringing shame upon herself, her husband/men in general, God, and the angels. That is effectively what the text tells us so I do believe that this is a valid reading of those verses. But this poses enormous problems for us both in terms of why Paul would take such a stance based on the secondary nature of women when we know men and women were created equal and are equal before God, and what we do now with regard to head coverings! One of the things I take issue with is the avoidance of the clear reasons that Paul gives for this kind of practice and how problematic these reasons are for any readers, not just modern readers.

Paul states clearly that the reason for a woman to be covered is because she is the image and glory of man whereas man is the image and glory of God (so should remain uncovered). Where man should let his glory be manifest by remaining uncovered, a woman should cover herself so as not to shame man. He further elucidates that this is because woman was made through man and not man through woman and woman was made for man and not man for woman (1 Cor 11:7-9). The idea that women have to compensate before God and in public with a physical sign for something they lack naturally is not consistent with the gospel message. The theological implications of this theology clash with both with the picture of the creation of male and female in Genesis, and with Paul’s ‘in Christ’ theology that permeates his letters. Moreover, he goes on to directly contradict this in vv.11-12. In my book Women and Worship at Corinth, I spell out the multiple problems with a hierarchical reading of this passage.

 

My own conclusion (with a number of other scholars), is that the theology and practice spelled out in this passage is so alien to Paul’s overall message in this letter, and in his other letters that this passage represents an example of where Paul is using a rhetorical strategy to refute his opponents in Corinth. In others words, the idea of women being forced to wear head coverings when they speak in worship in order not to shame their men is a Corinthian practice that Paul is refuting. The strange creation theology then can be attributed to the Corinthians and not to Paul.

Regarding women in leadership roles, what is your opinion on separating church roles or positions by gender? Are there any positives or negatives? Do you think any or some distinctions are important?

Lucy: I see no reason to delineate leadership roles along gender lines.

 

If you were talking to someone who steadfastly believed (based on their reading of the Bible and specifically 1 Corinthians 11) that women should not be in leadership in any way, what would be your response?

Lucy: I would ask if they would be willing to read Women and Worship at Corinth and to talk with me about it.

 

What is your opinion on churches or religious organizations that will allow a woman almost any or all free reign of whatever position except an official title?

Lucy: I haven’t actually heard of anything like that before and I don’t understand a view like that or the rationale behind it. Is that rooted in fear or hypocrisy? I’m not sure.

The view many hold is that specific gender roles are laid out in the creation narratives, rather than in the Fall, something Paul reaffirms (1 Cor. 11:7-12; 1 Tim. 2:11-14). How do you respond to the prevalent notion that specific gender roles are grounded in the created order?

Lucy: First of all I wouldn’t subscribe to the view that Paul affirms the idea of specific gender roles rooted in the creation narrative from the verses you have cited. I’ve explained that I think the 1 Corinthians verses are Corinthian views and not Paul’s and I think the 1 Timothy 2 passage is addressing a specific Ephesian heresy being taught by a woman or women teachers in the church. So let’s just stick with the creation narratives, which is of course, a question of translation and interpretation. To begin with I don’t think the language of the creation narratives leads us in a hierarchical direction. There has been some very good work done on this focusing on the question of what kind of ‘fitting helpmeet’ the woman is for the man and how we should translate and understand the phrase ezer kenegdo. In addition to this, studies of Gen 3:16 and the ‘curse’ that falls on the woman as the result of the fall highlight the tragedy of the inequality, hostility, and imbalance that arises out of the fall rather than pointing us in the direction of any original inequality.

There are many studies that bring out the mutuality of the first couple very clearly which is then fulfilled in Jesus’s treatment of women (which is so unstintingly honouring), and Paul’s teaching on the full participation of men and women together as the baptized new creations in the body. Life in the Kingdom is characterized by this kind of freedom. Because this is an exegetical issue, and we find that we have clear choices to make about translation, interpretation, and application, we are confronted with our own predilections and desires and which voices we choose to listen to. I’m satisfied that despite the patricentric and androcentric nature of the Christian faith (something I address in my new book), that God’s intention for men and women is full equality in the church, the world, and the world to come! However, in the end I simply recommend that people do their own research on the texts.

 

Thank you for your time!

The Principal of Westminster Theological Centre, Dr. Lucy Peppiatt’s research interests include discipleship, charismatic theology, 1 Corinthians, Christ and the Spirit, and women in the Bible. A part of Crossnet Church (led by her husband, Nick Crawley), Dr. Peppiat is the author of Unveiling Paul’s Women: Making Sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (2018, Foreword by Scot McKnight) and Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women (2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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