William Baird on the Historical Critical Method


William Baird

Some reviewers have accused me of undue affection for the historical critical method. To that I merely reply, mea culpa. I am well aware, of course, that the use (or abuse) of the critical method has been destructive for some, resulting in depreciation of Scripture and loss of faith. For me the opposite have proved true. It has been the historical critical method that has sustained my faith and deepened my devotion to the New Testament, the book I have spent my life attempting to understand and teach.
History of New Testament Research, vol. 3: 3-4.

In some circles, the historical critical method is demonized and blamed for all sorts of interpretative evils. Sadly, I have witnessed this first hand on a number of occasions. The phrase is thrown around like a curse word, and the last thing you want to be caught doing is playing nice with this method.

I find Baird’s wonderful affirmation the historical critical method to be a breath of fresh air. While it may be true that some people have loss their faith due to this method, it is also true that people have loss their faith using the historical grammatical method and other methods as well. I do not blame the method for these tragic apostasies; rather, there is something else going on—something much deeper—in the heart of one who loses their faith in the Son of God.


QOTD: N.T. Wright on the Importance of Theology for the Church

The reason we study Paul’s theology, I suggest, is that it has had to grow up quickly, to learn its new, complex, leading part within the music. Theology is the lifeblood of the ekklēsia, which is itself the central worldview-symbol. Without it—as any church will discover, to this day, if theology in general and Pauline theology in particular is ignored or marginalized!—the chance of the central worldview-symbol standing upright and supporting the rest of the building will be severely decreased.
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 404.

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.

Morna Hooker on Paul and Covenantal Nomism

morna1The ‘covenantal nomism’ which Sanders traces in Judaism is only one form of a more fundamental pattern, in which divine election and promise lead to human acceptance and response. Certainly Paul’s pattern is more complicated, since what is begun in Abraham is completed only in Christ. The covenant on Sinai and the Mosaic Law, which form the heart of Judaism, are now seen as an interlude, sandwiched between the promises and their fulfillment. But the election of Abraham, and the promises made to him — which cannot fail — are part of God’s covenant with Israel, and come to their conclusion with the ‘new’ covenant in Christ’s death. The pattern begins with Abraham, who believed the promises of God, absurd though they appeared; it reaches fulfillment in Christ, the true son of Abraham, and in those who live ‘in Christ’. In contrast to Judaism, however, what marks out this community as God’s people is faith, not acceptance of the Law, and what governs their behaviour is life in the Spirit, not obedience to the Law’s commands. This pattern of covenant/promise–>fulfillment/faith embraces both Abraham and those who are now, in Christ, his children and heirs.
“Paul and Covenantal Nomism.” Paul and Paulinism: Essays in Honor of C.K. Barrett: 52.

Calvin on Justification and Works

Over at the Facebook group Nerdy Language Majors (if you are not a member, join!), Roy Ciampa makes mention of quote from Calvin that I thought was interesting.

I come to the second class, in which the chief difficulty lies. Paul finds nothing stronger to prove justification by faith than that which is written of Abraham, he “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6). Therefore, when it is said that the achievement of Phinehas “was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Ps. 106:30, 31), we may argue that what Paul contends for respecting faith applies also to works. Our opponents, accordingly, as if the point were proved, set it down that though we are not justified without faith, it is not by faith only; that our justification is completed by works. Here I beseech believers, as they know that the true standard of righteousness must be derived from Scripture alone, to consider with me seriously and religiously, how Scripture can be fairly reconciled with that view. Paul, knowing that justification by faith was the refuge of those who wanted righteousness of their own, confidently infers, that all who are justified by faith are excluded from the righteousness of works. But as it is clear that this justification is common to all believers, he with equal confidence infers that no man is justified by works; nay, more, that justification is without any help from works. But it is one thing to determine what power works have in themselves, and another to determine what place they are to hold after justification by faith has been established. If a price is to be put upon works according to their own worth, we hold that they are unfit to appear in the presence of God: that man, accordingly, has no works in which he can glory before God, and that hence, deprived of all aid from works, he is justified by faith alone. Justification, moreover, we thus define: The sinner being admitted into communion with Christ is, for his sake, reconciled to God; when purged by his blood he obtains the remission of sins, and clothed with righteousness, just as if it were his own, stands secure before the judgment-seat of heaven. Forgiveness of sins being previously given, the good works which follow have a value different from their merit, because whatever is imperfect in them is covered by the perfection of Christ, and all their blemishes and pollutions are wiped away by his purity, so as never to come under the cognizance of the divine tribunal. The guilt of all transgressions, by which men are prevented from offering God an acceptable service, being thus effaced, and the imperfection which is wont to sully even good works being buried, the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or; which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness.
Institutes of the Christian Religion: III, xvii, 8.

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.