#QOTD: Martin Hengel on Acts

downloadThe title “Acts of the Apostles” has always led the reader of his work astray. It should really be called “From Jesus to Paul”, with the sub-title “From Jerusalem to Rome”, and describes very strictly the straight line followed by the gospel from unbelieving Israel to the Gentiles. The apostles—including Peter—essentially have the function only of preparing for the appearance and activity of Paul, of providing a bridge between Jesus and Paul. Once they have done their duty, the can disappear. To serve Paul’s greater glory they have to leave the stage one after the other: he alone remains behind. The reason for such a “one-dimensional” account does not lie simply in the theme of divine guidance—this could also have been worked out in a multiform way—but in the central and positive interest in the person and missionary work of Paul. He is the real goal of this work.
Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity: 2.

#QOTD: Joachim Jeremias

There can be no doubt that in his frequent use of the passive as a circumlocution for the divine activity, Jesus followed the style of apocalyptic. We may not, however, put the connection between the two in any stronger terms. For Jesus accords to the “the divine passive” and incomparably greater place than is given in apocalyptic. He uses it not only in apocalyptic sayings in the strict sense (e.g. about the last judgment and the eschatological division), but also—enlarging its scope—to describe God’s gracious action in the present: even now God forgives, even now he unveils the mystery of his reign, even now he fulfills his promise, even now he hears prayers, even now he gives the spirit, even now he sends messengers and protects them, whereas he delivers up the one who has been sent. All these “divine passives” announce the presence of the time of salvation, albeit in a veiled way, for the consummation of the world has dawned only in a veiled form. The extension of the “divine passive” beyond purely future apocalyptic sayings, which has been carried out so widely, is connected with the central part of Jesus’ preaching and is one of the clearest characteristics of his way of speaking.
New Testament Theology, Vol. 1: The Proclamation of Jesus, 14

#QOTD: Mike Bird (@mbird12) on Jesus and the Gospel

For Jesus, the deeds that he does —healings, exorcisms, preaching to the poor—are all signs that God is becoming king and that Israel’s hopes for restoration are really, visibly, and tangibly happening. In other words, victory is on the horizon. The constellation of hopes associated with Israel’s restoration, of which Isaiah contributed much much to, included items like the advent of a messianic king, a new exodus, the return of the dispersed tribes to Israel, the pilgrimage of the Gentiles to Jerusalem, the defeat of national enemies, the rebuilding of the temple, Yahweh’s visitation to Zion, and the return to covenant righteousness, and all of these can be coordinated with the program and preaching of Jesus of Nazareth. This was his gospel, his declaration.
The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus. 15

#QOTD: Paul and James in Pseudo-Clementine

“And when matters were at that point that they should come and be baptized, some one of our enemies, entering the temple with a few men, began to cry out, and to say, ‘What mean ye, O men of Israel? Why are you so easily hurried on? Why are ye led headlong by most miserable men, who are deceived by Simon, a magician?’ While he was thus speaking, and adding more to the same effect, and while James the bishop was refuting him, he began to excite the people and to raise a tumult, so that the people might not be able to hear what was said. Therefore he began to drive all into confusion with shouting, and to undo what had been arranged with much labour, and at the same time to reproach the priests, and to enrage them with revilings and abuse, and, like a madman, to excite every one to murder, saying, ‘What do ye? Why do ye hesitate? Oh, sluggish and inert, why do we not lay hands upon them, and pull all these fellows to pieces?’ When he had said this, he first, seizing a strong brand from the altar, set the example of smiting. Then others also, seeing him, were carried away with like madness. Then ensued a tumult on either side, of the beating and the beaten. Much blood is shed; there is a confused flight, in the midst of which that enemy attacked James, and threw him headlong from the top of the steps; and supposing him to be dead, he cared not to inflict further violence upon him.”

“But our friends lifted him up, for they were both more numerous and more powerful than the others; but, from their fear of God, they rather suffered themselves to be killed by an inferior force, than they would kill others. But when the evening came the priests shut up the temple, and we returned to the house of James, and spent the night there in prayer. Then before daylight we went down to Jericho, to the number of 5000 men. Then after three days one of the brethren came to us from Gamaliel, whom we mentioned before, bringing to us secret tidings that that enemy had received a commission from Caiaphas, the chief priest, that he should arrest all who believed in Jesus, and should go to Damascus with his letters, and that there also, employing the help of the unbelievers, he should make havoc among the faithful; and that he was hastening to Damascus chiefly on this account, because he believed that Peter had fled thither. And about thirty days thereafter he stopped on his way while passing through Jericho going to Damascus. At that time we were absent, having gone out to the sepulchres of two brethren which were whitened of themselves every year, by which miracle the fury of many against us was restrained, because they saw that our brethren were had in remembrance before God.”
Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1.70-71

Note the allusion to Acts 9 and Paul’s travels to Damascus. This is most likely not a historical account of what happened, but it is interesting nonetheless.

#QOTD: The Apostolic Constitution on Baptism

Be ye likewise contented with one baptism alone, that which is into the death of the Lord; not that which is conferred by wicked heretics, but that which is conferred by unblameable priests, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” and let not that which comes from the ungodly be received by you, nor let that which is done by the godly be disannulled by a second. For as there is one God, one Christ, and one Comforter, and one death of the Lord in the body, so let that baptism which is unto Him be but one. But those that receive polluted baptism from the ungodly will become partners in their opinions. For they are not priests. For God says to them: “Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee from the office of a priest to me.” Nor indeed are those that are baptized by them initiated, but are polluted, not receiving the remission of sins, but the bond of impiety. And, besides, they that attempt to baptize those already initiated crucify the Lord afresh, slay Him a second time, laugh at divine and ridicule holy things, affront the Spirit, dishonour the sacred blood of Christ as common blood, are impious against Him that sent, Him that suffered, and Him that witnessed. Nay, he that, out of contempt, will not be baptized, shall be condemned as an unbeliever, and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says: “Except a man be baptized of water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And again: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” But he that says, When I am dying I will be baptized, lest I should sin and defile my baptism, is ignorant of God, and forgetful of his own nature. For “do not thou delay to turn unto the Lord, for thou knowest not what the next day will bring forth.” Do you also baptize your infants, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God. For says He: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not” (6.3.15).

#QOTD: Graham Stanton on Bultmann

Many who have a nodding acquaintance with twentieth-century theology associate Bultmann with radical skepticism concerning the historicity of the gospels, with lack of interest in the historical Jesus, with ‘demythologizing’ and with use of existentialism in interpretation of the NT. On each of these questions Bultmann has frequently been misunderstood. But whether or not once accepts his conclusions, his writings are of the utmost importance for contemporary theology. The issues they raise will be on the theologian’s agenda for a long time to come.
“Rudolf Bultmann: Jesus and the Word.” Studies in Matthew and Early Christianity, 261.

#QOTD: Jens Schröter on History Writing

image_previewHistory writing—this is suggested by the thoughts presented here—is only grasped adequately as the interplay between event and narration, for this is the only way that living history can emerge from dead material. It is bound thereby to the traces of the past—to recollections, sources, and documents. These materials become constituent parts of conceptions of history through questioning, interpretation, and integration into overarching connections. History writing as reality interpretation, which is by no means completed with the gathering and examination of facts, is therefore related to myth and tradition as identity-creating entities of communities.
From Jesus to the New Testament, 47

Don’t forget to get Schröter’s book for 20% off! See my post for the details.

#QOTD from @Fortresspress Shepherds of the Empire

The initial steps to underscore inspiration were clumsy, defensive techniques that aimed simply to attack critical methods. There was no attempt to build something constructive from which confessional or biblicist theologians could reform Christianity for the modern world as Luther had for  his generation. Conservative theologians relied, for example, on the doctrine of verbal inspiration, which held that the Bible came word for word from God. They forced Strauss out of all theological faculties. They prophesied moral anarchy. But they were unable to find effective modern responses to modern issues raised by Strauss’s successors.
Shepherds of the Empire, 22.

A good reminder for us today.

Bultmann on Interpreting the New Testament

Since the New Testament is a document of history, specifically of the history of religion, the interpretation of it requires the labor of historical investigation. The method of this kind of inquiry has been worked out from the time of the Enlightenment onward and has been made fruitful for the investigation of primitive Christianity and the interpretation of the New Testament. Now such labor may be guided by either one of two interests, that of reconstruction or that of interpretation—that is, reconstruction of past history or interpretation of New Testament writings. Neither exists, of course, without the other, and they stand constantly in a reciprocal relation to each other. But the question is: which of the two stands in the service to the other? Either the writings of the New Testament can be interrogated as the “sources” which the historian interprets in order to reconstruct a picture of primitive Christianity as a phenomenon of the historical past, or the reconstruction stands in the service of the interpretation of the New Testament writings under the presupposition that they have something to sat to the present.
Theology of the New Testament, 2.251.

Bultmann concludes this paragraph by indicating that in his NT Theology, the historical task is at the service of interpretation.

QOTD: J. Gresham Machen

With regard to the sense of sin as the goad which forced Paul to accept the Saviour, there is no evidence that before his conversion Paul was under real conviction of sin. It is very doubtful whether Rom. vii. 7-25, with its account of the struggle between the flesh and the higher nature of man, refers to the unregenerate rather than to the regenerate life; and even if the former view is correct, it is doubtful whether the description is taken from the apostle’s own experience. At any rate, the struggle, even if it be a struggle in the unregenerate man, is described from the point of view of the regenerate; it is not implied, therefore, that before the entrance of the Spirit of God a man is fully conscious of his own helplessness and of the desperateness of the struggle. The passage therefore, does not afford any certain information about the pre-Christian life of Paul. Undoubtedly before the conversion the conscience of Paul was aroused; he was conscientious in his devotion to the Law. Probably he was conscious of his failings. But that such consciousness of failure amounted to anything like that genuine conviction of sin which leads a man to accept the Saviour remains very doubtful. Recognized failure to keep the Law perfectly led in the case of Paul merely to greater zeal for the Law, a zeal which was manifested especially in the persecution of a blasphemous sect whose teaching was subversive of the authority of Moses.
The Origin of Paul’s Religion, 65-66.

You would think that you may have been reading Krister Stendahl.

QOTD: J. Christiaan Beker on Paul

PSB1995161_0006r004tOne of the most remarkable things about the life of Paul is how little we really know about him and how little he tells us about his life. How is it possible for a man so little given to self-confession to emerge as such a distinct and clear person from his letters and to convey such an intense personal identity to us? This is a curious phenomenon, especially when we recall the passionate soliloquies of a Jeremiah—in many ways Paul’s prophetic models—or a Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, or even the Confessions of Augustine, for whom psychological autobiography is the point of departure for speculative thought. We tend to forget that Paul gives only hints about his external career and internal religious reflections. And so we ignore not only the occasional character of his letters but also the incidental nature of his self-preoccupation.
Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, 3. 

QOTD From N.T. Wright’s “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” @Fortresspress

If second-Temple Jews believed that the creator God, the lord of the covenant, was going to do all this, the question then presses: how could one tell, in the present, who were ‘the righteous’, the ones who would be found to be on God’s side on the great coming day, the ones who would inherit ‘the coming age’? This is how the question which much later theology has rendered so abstract and timeless – the question of ‘justification’ and, beyond that, of ‘salvation’ itself as conceived within western theology – comes into focus in actual first-century discourse.

Having said that, we are bound to find it frustrating that we have almost no texts from this period that do what we would like, namely, speak from a clearly Pharisaic point of view about what Paul the apostle calls ‘justification by works of the law’. The closest we get, as is well known, is the Essene document 4QMMT. Though this document arguably criticizes the Pharisees, it appears to share, so far as we can tell, a sense of the shape of how eschatology works in relation to election and thus to present justification, enabling us to make the substitution of Pharisaic elements for Essene ones in the hope that we will thereby come closer to the answer.

The point can be summarized thus. First, God will soon bring the whole world into judgment, at which point some people will be ‘reckoned in the right’, as Abraham and Phinehas were. Second, there are particular things, even in the present time, which will function as signs of that coming verdict. Third, those particular things are naturally enough the things that mark out loyal Israelites from disloyal ones; in other words (remember Mattathias!) strong, zealous adherence to Torah and covenant. Fourth, as a result, those who perform these things in the present time can thus be assured that the verdict to be issued in the future, when the age to come is finally launched, can already be known, can be anticipated, in the present. This, I believe, is what a first-century Pharisee would have meant by ‘justification by the works of the law’.
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 184.

QOTD: N.T. Wright

Paul did not take the message of Jesus the Messiah to the Gentiles out of mere frustration that his fellow Jews had refused it, as a kind of displacement activity, but rather out of the conviction that, if God’s purposes for Israel had indeed now been fulfilled, it was time for the Gentiles to come in. As becomes increasingly clear, his Gentile mission was an eschatological activity—that is, a task to be undertaken once God had acted climactically and decisively within history. It was a key feature of the new age that had now dawned, part of Paul’s sense that God’s future had arrived in the present, in the person and achievement of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Although Paul clearly believed that there was a further and final event still to come, which he describes variously at different points in his writings, the great promised “end” had already begun to happen (see particularly 1 Cor 15:20-28).
N. T. Wright, “Romans.” NIB: 401-02.

QOTD: Nicholas Perrin on “Exile” (@BakerAcademic)

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However, precisely because exile was put to such widespread and wide-ranging use in Second Temple Jewish texts, we have some reason to expect something similar in  the texts of the NT. Each NT book should be understood on its won terms and with its own unique theology of exile. At the same time, since the authors of the NT held certain core convictions in common, there is reasonable warrant for teasing out family resemblances between these exilic theologies. One such family resemblance, difficult to dispute, is the sense in some NT texts that return from exile has already occurred in Christ even as, paradoxically, a condition of exile still endures. Much like the kingdom of God (at least as it is now commonly though not universally understood), exile retains an already-but-not-yet aspect. This makes sense inasmuch as return from exile is a highly allusive and rich way of describing the coming of the kingdom; it provides not only an eschatological framework but also conceptual handles for coming to terms with the “present evil age” (Gal 1:4), the existence from which believers have been redeemed.
Nicholas Perrin, “Exile.” The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts: 35.

QOTD: Bultmann

51jSDEN52SL._SY346_In 1946, after theology student Helmut Koester had attended his first-year New Testament course, the lecturer Ernst Fuchs sent him to Bultmann. Fuchs gave Koester a list of more than a dozen books that he was t o read in preparation for the oral entrance exam to Bultmann’s seminar. Bultmann then opened with a question, “Now, Mr. Koester, have you read Wrede’s Messiasgeheimnis [Messianic Secret]?” After half an hour, Koester was accepted into the seminar. Two years later, he became Bultmann’s last doctoral student.

Konrad Hammann. Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography, 240.

Harnack and Barth on Revelation

While reading volume three of Baird’s excellent History of New Testament Research, I came across this dialogue between the eminent church historical Adolf von Harnack and Karl Barth:

[Harnack]: “A scientific theological presentation can also inspire and edify, thanks to its object, but the scientific theologian who is bent on inspiration and edification brings strange fire upon his altar, for as there is only one scientific method, so there is also only one scientific task—the pure knowledge of its object.” To this Barth responds, “The concept of revelation is not a scientific concept.”
Baird, 67.

Barth exposes Harnack’s flawed understanding of revelation as well as the impossibility of knowing all of who God is through purely objective and critical reason. Well done Karl!