Archive for May, 2011

Matthean Zombies?

Nick Norelli brings up an interesting issue in a blog post on Matthew 27:52-53. Nick asks why some people seem to automatically exclude the possibility of the dead actually rising. I recently came across this issue in the fantastic book The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity by John T. Carroll and Joel B. Green. Two authors in different chapters address the text from a similar angle but with slight nuance. In chapter 4, Green and Carroll are addressing the Gospel of Matthew’s handling of Jesus’ death. They argue that Matthew is intensely concerned with portraying the death of Jesus as an apocalyptic event. To that end, Matthew “embellishes the Markan tradition with additional cosmic portents” including an earthquake, the splitting of the rocks,  the opening of the tombs with accompanied raising of the saints. For them, Matthew is offering a conflated echo of Ezekiel 37:12-13 and Zechariah 14:4-5. Of verse 53 in particular they say:

“Verse 53 is intriguing…The narrator (author) has intruded into the story to offer theological commentary. While the death of Jesus is the death-shattering, liberating event of truly apocalyptic import and so serves as the catalyst for this preliminary ‘resurrection of the righteous,’ nevertheless the priority of Jesus’ own resurrection is acknowledged through the notice ‘after his resurrection.’ The awkwardness of the narrative is a clue to its remarkable claim. Pictures race ahead of logic as the story embodies the conviction that Jesus’ crucifixion deals death itself the final blow and inaugurates the resurrection life. The death of Jesus is the pivotal event on which the whole of history turns.” (p. 49)

While Green/Carroll don’t state it explicitly, I think the statement that “pictures race ahead of logic” gets at the inherent theological difficulty in the dead rising at the moment of Christ’s death. This is a difficulty apparently realized by the author himself given that he gives two contradictory time frames one after the other. If the claim of verse 52 is taken without verse 53, then Jesus is not the first one raised from the dead and that opens a whole can of worms. This is no mere resuscitation, so claims like those made by Paul that Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” are now false. A slightly different perspective is offered by Joel Marcus in chapter 13. Marcus argues that Matthew may be making use of an established Jewish interpretation of Zechariah 14:4 and applying it to Jesus.

“One of the passages alluded to, Zechariah 14:4, is a prophecy that at the eschaton the Lord will stand on the Mount of Olives, the mountain will split in half, and the Lord will come with his holy ones. Later Jewish interpretation is fairly consistent in its interpretation that this split will open the earth so that the righteous dead (i.e. the holy ones) may rise, a belief that explains the presence of Jewish graveyards on the Mount of Olives from ancient times until our own day…this tradition of exegesis may undergird Matthew 27:51-53, where we hear of an earthquake and a resurrection of the dead at a location just outside Jerusalem.” (p. 225)

In Marcus’ view, allusions to the Old Testament and employment of Jewish interpretations and hermeneutical techniques in the Gospels are “intended to function as indirect apologetic” (p. 233). While Marcus does not directly address the issue, he does provide an excellent segue into the larger question surrounding this apologetic use of the Old Testament. Generally speaking, some scholars have argued that the frequency and depth of OT allusions in the Gospels, particularly in the passion narratives, provide proof that we are dealing with ahistorical constructions built around those OT allusions. A notable proponent of this view is John Dominic Crossan. In this scheme, Matthew’s need to make Jesus apologetically appealing governs his telling of the story which consequently calls into question its historicity. (NB: I am speaking generally here and not referencing an argument Crossan or someone similar has advanced about the specific text of Matthew 27:51-53).

Between the inherent theological difficulties of resurrection occurring before Jesus and the historical difficulty of OT allusions in the passion narratives, there is considerable ground upon which a non-innerantist interpreter might choose to treat this text with less seriousness than others. Personally, I think the view presented by Green/Carroll is a reasonable and  predicated on a close reading of the text.

Concerning the larger historical question, Mark Goodacre has written a fantastic article on the use of OT allusions in the passion narratives called “Prophecy Historicized or History Scripturized?  Reflections on the Origin of the Crucifixion Narrative.” Unfortunately, I believe it was a conference paper so I cannot provide a publication citation nor can I point to it online. (I have it because it was provided as suggested reading in a Cross in the New Testament class with Maryanne Meye Thompson.) However, if you can find a way to get a hold of it, I highly recommend it.

Update: I sent Dr. Goodacre an email to see if the article was available somehwere I had overlooked, and he pointed me to the similar article on his website “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” which is available freely here.


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Kostenberger (K) refers to Andreas Kostenberger “The Crux of the Matter: Paul’s Pastoral Pronouncements Regarding Women’s Roles in 1 Timothy 2:9-15” in Studies on John and Gender, 253-254.

Marshall (M) refers to Marshall, I. Howard. “Women inMinistry: A Further Look at 1 Timothy 2.” Pages 53-78 in Women, Ministry and the Gospel. Edited by M. Husbands and T. Larsen. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2008.

Winter refers to Winter, Bruce W. Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. Pages 97-122.

Interpretive debates are nothing new in the evangelical community, but few are assigned the importance of the debate on gender. Traditionalists insist that we are perched atop a slippery slope which can lead only to ruin, that we are in the midst of a grave capitulation to the desires of the world in the face of God’s express command. The veracity of such sentiments rests solely on the question of whether there is good reason to question the past exegesis of the relevant texts. The traditionalist points to the relative novelty of the egalitarian position and claims cultural bias, but this line of thinking fails to understand that the reason for asking a question need not be the reason for the resultant conclusion. In fact, in an ironic twist, the supposedly progressive egalitarians desire to reevaluate texts like 1 Timothy 2:8-15 on the basis of canonical continuity, a concern that should resonate with the largely inerrantist composition of the complementarians. The articles by Marshall and Kostenberger under consideration here bear the marks of this sometimes bitter conflict. As surveys, both articles leave much to be desired in terms of detailed exegesis, but the general tenor and quality of the arguments presented is, in my opinion, indicative of the debate as a whole.

Kostenberger’s approach is to survey the pertinent issues related to interpretation of the text and apply his conclusions to exegesis of the passage. A number of his opening points are questionable or factually inaccurate. For example, he insists that his understanding of the passage has been normative for the church for “nineteen centuries” (K 234). This is largely true, but it ignores notable historical exceptions like the emergence of joint monastery-abbeys which were sometimes ruled as a unit by an abbess rather than an abbot. He also asserts that what 1 Timothy 2 says about women must be normative for today regardless of contingent context (K 238). In some sense this is true; the authority of the text is not in question. However, our exegesis of the passage alters our understanding of what is being conveyed. In other words, application of this text might be normative either way, but the content of the norm is undeniably altered by our exegesis (e.g. women be silent vs. conduct yourselves in a culturally appropriate manner).

Another glaring weakness in Kostenberger’s approach is revealed in his discussion of women teaching. Kostenberger posits that if Paul wanted to communicate that false teaching was the problem there was a “perfectly good Greek word” he could have used to do so instead of simply διδάσκω (K 240). This argument has three failings: 1) It is impossible for us to critique the word choice of biblical authors on the basis of some other word falling within the semantic domain; this is a pointless exercise. 2) διδάσκω is used elsewhere in the Pastorals in reference to false teaching (Titus 1:11), contrary to Kostenberger’s later assertion (K 246). 3) It is possible, especially in light of Paul’s tone, to assume that there is a conceptual difference between false teaching and what Paul is correcting. Considering that 1 Timothy is intended as communication (either Pauline or later), the possibility must be considered that the command to learn silently and not wield authority (or dominate) reflects that exactly that is happening (M 58). Marshall notes that such is clearly the case in 1 Corinthians, which is parallel to the 1 Timothy text, and he also points out how lack of access to education may have shaped Paul’s injunction there. Kostenberger’s counter assertion that women were regularly educated is laughable. The evidence reveals that very wealthy women were sometimes educated as the Winter article shows, but this cannot be taken to be the norm.

Kostenberger’s approach to αὐθεντεῖν is equally lackluster. Kostenberger’s argument is formulated in two parts. First, he simply makes reference to a study conducted by Scott Baldwin which supposedly demonstrates the word is neutral and argues there is no good reason for interpreting this rare verb on the basis of its more common cognate (K 245). That such studies abound and often come to different conclusions is no secret. In fact, Marshall’s main approach to the question is to cite his own preferred study and consider the matter settled (M 68 n. 44). From my personal reading on the issue, I know more substantive discussions of this issue are available. As presented, the issue is undeniably ambiguous. Second, Kostenberger appeals to syntactical analysis to argue that when two verbs are connected with οὐδέ they must both have the same force either positive or negative (K 246). Even assuming that αὐθεντεῖν is neutral, this argument in no way advances Kostenberger’s case unless he can prove that διδάσκειν is intrinsically imbued with a positive meaning. As Marshall astutely notes, perhaps both words simply have a negative force (M 68)! Given that διδάσκω is used in Titus 1:11 to reference false teaching it cannot be inherently good. Kostenberger makes the irrelevant point that external descriptors are used to indicate it is false teaching in view. Regardless, it demonstrates that there is no inherent positive or negative force in the verb.

Kostenberger’s final argument against the false teaching view is to reiterate his view that Paul should have been explicit if that was what he was referring to, and any suggestions contrary to the explicit meaning are arguments from silence (K 249). Kostenberger astonishingly cannot envision a scenario in which later readers would not understand what would be explicit to the intended recipients of the letter. This reflects the fact that Kostenberger’s approach to scripture doesn’t take it seriously as an act of communication from apostle to congregation. The claim that egalitarians are making arguments from silence is patently absurd. The stated basis for much reexamination of this text is the way other New Testament texts handle the issue of women. As Marshall points out, the existence of figures like Junia, Phoebe, and Priscilla calls in to question the “plain” reading of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (M 62).

Marshall rather persuasively argues that the false teaching view is backed up by the appeal to the Genesis story. He notes the extreme emphasis on deception in the passage and the way it employs unusual language to make its point (M 59, 64-65). Given the references to myths and genealogies, it becomes plausible that some false teaching is being put forward by these women which appeals to these sources. In countering, it would make perfect sense for Paul to appeal to common ground. The reference to silence likewise lends weight to the false teaching theory. Marshall notes that all proponents of false teaching are silenced (M 70). Still, Kostenberger repeatedly asserts that his reading simply “interpret[s] the text to mean exactly what it says” (K 249, 250).

Of course, for all his vaunted declarations about the superiority of the plain reading of the text, Kostenberger promptly abandons this approach when dealing with the exceedingly cryptic statement that women are saved through childbirth. Ironically, as if aware of his contradiction, he calls the reading he does present the “natural reading” of the passage. By appeal to Pauline theology it is argued that σῴζω cannot be interpreted literally and must mean preserved or some such. One could easily point to the consistency with which this word is used in the Pastorals to refer to salvation from sin (including in 2:4, just before this difficult passage!), or to the reference to “faith, love, and holiness,” to indicate this form of salvation is in view. Using Kostenberger’s logic, Paul could have used a less ambiguous word than σῴζω; therefore, he must have in view salvation from sin. Frankly, none of the interpretive options presented by Kostenberger, Marshall, or Winter really stands out as the obvious answer.

The truly telling part of Kostenberger’s paper comes after all of his quasi-substantive argumentation has been spent. In a section that attempts to explore why people reject the “natural reading” (which is code for Kostenberger’s reading), Kostenberger posits that people only doubt on the basis of progressive social values, a misreading of Galatians 3:28, and the “alleged tie between women’s subordination and slavery” (K 253). He responds to the final accusation by saying that slavery is different because it is nowhere rooted in the creation account. Then again, if we do not accept his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:13-14, then neither is the subordination of women. Even granting this argument, it is notable that pro-slavery Christians regularly appealed to the primeval history to justify their evil. On Galatians, he insists that the text should be read about unity and not equality. Besides pointing out that this statement inherently is a matter of split hairs, the issue in this text of Galatians is the supposed superiority of Jew over Gentile. What good would Paul be doing in the face of Jewish assertions of supremacy to merely say that they are one but not necessarily equal? On the question of shifting social values, Kostenberger does something that no respectable academic would do: he plays the sin card. Yes, Kostenberger attributes differences in interpretation to the sinful desire of people to place their culture above God (K 253-254). Egalitarians are rebelling against the creator and his created order, and this is the real issue.

After essentially calling his opponents sinners, Kostenberger even tries to work the guilt-by-association angle with his discussion of Stendahl who function in this rhetorical play as “Evil Liberal Bible Scholar #1.”  However, the capstone of his argumentation comes when addressing the claims of Grenz and Kjesbo, who argue that women have always played a crucial role in revival. Kostenberger’s flippant response is to merely assert that the argument is purely pragmatic and not scriptural (K 256). The problem lies in that Kostenberger insists that the inferiority of women is rooted in God’s created order, but if the empirical evidence suggests otherwise then that makes the Bible wrong, unless of course gender essentialism is false. Kostenberger attempts to gloss over their research by pointing out that leadership need not mean only head pastor. Somehow, I doubt that most revivals grew out of children’s ministry and choir direction rather than preaching. Kostenberger polishes off his non-argument with a passing accusation that Grenz and Kjesbo are “embracing the radical feminist agenda” (K 258). Probably the most irritating part about Kostenberger’s article is that he fails to capture the good (though in my opinion ultimately unconvincing) points that complementarians actually make. Instead, his article is populated with barely disguised ad hominem and arguments that beg the question. Altogether, the article is unprofessional and I would be embarrassed to have my name associated with it.

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I saw a link to David Lamb’s blog on Zwinglius Redivivus. David is the author of the exciting new book from IVP God Behaving Badly. David is a professor at Biblical Seminary, but last summer he came to Fuller as a guest lecturer and taught a class on Genesis. I had the privilege of being a student in that class. If the book is half as engaging and exciting as Dr. Lamb’s lectures, then it should be fantastic. (It is already on the Bailey family wish list.) I’m adding his blog to the roll and you should add his blog to your RSS feed.

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After it is proven that his outlandish hermeneutic is nothing more than a ridiculous cocktail of 1 part ignorance and 2 parts dilettantish lunacy, will Harold Camping go to church on Sunday?

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I’m a big fan of the Nicene Creed (technically the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 for the sticklers), and I have found a great deal of value in reflecting on what it does and doesn’t say. I especially value the creed because it facilitates the intersection of two important parts of my life: my faith in the Triune God and my interest in the development of Christian theology through history. That said, there is something that has been bugging me about the creed lately. When reading it, we essentially get only a list of facts about the Father, Son, and Spirit. The creed tells us what each person of the Trinity has done, but it doesn’t really get at who God is. At the risk of sounding too much like one of my professors, I must firmly insist that all that we know about God is firmly entrenched in a narrative, but how well does the creed place God within that narrative?

It is somewhat telling that Paul finds the work of Jesus to be the culmination and fulfillment of the covenant of Yhwh (and proof of Yhwh’s faithfulness), but the only appeal to the narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures is one reference to God as creator and the claim that the scriptures foretold the coming of Jesus. I think there is something disturbing in this disconnect between the God-we-have-known-through-the-narrative-of-the-scriptures and these series of dogmatic statements about the nature of God. Of course, the development of the creed is itself bound up in history, and I do not mean to attack or belittle the great minds that came before. However, there is no disrespect in pointing out that the creed that we read in church (some of us as part of a regular liturgy), bears the flaws of a bygone age.

I want to see a creed nearly as succinct as the Nicene Creed, but that tells the whole story of God. I want to see the story of Israel related to the story of Jesus. I want to see the cross related to the apocalyptic story of the whole New Testament. I want a creed where the Triune God lives, not simply does. While the section on Jesus does have most of the plot points, I really want that meta-narrative. I want to see the creed where God is a relater as much as a doer.

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This quarter I am taking a class on the Pastoral Epistles with David Downs. He assigned as a point/counterpoint assignment two articles on the issue of women in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, one of them is by I. Howard Marshall and the other is by Andreas Kostenberger. I was shocked and dismayed to read in Kostenberger’s discussion of the egalitarian interpretation the following:

“And in their rebellion against the Creator, men and women suppress the truth in unrighteousness and pervert God-ordained patterns of relating between genders, leveling distinctions and preferring sameness over complementarity—was that not Paul’s verdict writing to the Roman church in the midst of the excesses of the Roman Empire? Indeed, more than biblical exegesis is at work here. The present issue entails an entire culture’s stance toward its Creator.” Andreas Kostenberger “The Crux of the Matter: Paul’s Pastoral Pronouncements Regarding Women’s Roles in 1 Timothy 2:9-15” in Studies on John and Gender, 253-254.

Kostenberger is discussing the motivations behind the egalitarian approach, and he essentially argues that love of this age, and consequently sin, are the root of any questioning of the complementarian interpretation. How on earth is that appropriate in an academic article? Labeling your opponents as sinners captivated by the evil age is an exercise in polemic, and Kostenberger should be ashamed. Am I overreacting? What do you think?

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