A New Book and Blog on Karl Barth

I recently received an email from Simon Hattrell about his blog that explores some of the dominant themes associated with the unique theological friendship of French Pastor/Theologian Pierre Maury (1890-1956) and the great Swiss Theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968). The latest post is especially relevant as it contains a summary of the last sermon that Pierre Maury preached in January 1956 days before he died and also contains a post with some remarks by Barth who preached on the same passage (Psalm 31:15 – ‘My times are in your hands’) in Basel prison 5 years later. Most of the 69 posts that he has put up look at the Maury/Barth theological friendship developed in some depth in the second edition of his book “Election, Barth and the French Connection: How Pierre Maury gave a ‘Decisive Impetus’ to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election” and my own colleague in the area of systematic theology Michael O’Neil contributed a chapter to this revised second edition and wrote a blog post about the book. I realize that I need to learn more about the theological work of Karl Barth, though there are some interesting conferences that interact with Barth’s contributions to the study of the Gospels and Pauline Epistles online.

The Jerusalem Collection in 1 Corinthians 16

This is the last post in my series on 1 Corinthians and I will turn to the Jerusalem Collection in 1 Corinthians 16. Ever since Paul was instructed by the “Jerusalem Pillars” Peter, John, and James the Lord’s brother to “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10), Paul chose to raise a collection from his Christ assemblies throughout the nations as a gift for the poor saints in Jerusalem and we can read about the development of the collection in Paul’s letters (cf. 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15; Rom 15:25-28). This gift was not only intended to supply their material needs, but also to be a sign of unity between Jews and non-Jews in Christ. It is curious that Paul does not report on the reception of the collection in letters that postdate his arrival in Jerusalem (e.g., the “Prison Epistles” if written from their traditionally-conjectured location in Rome) and the book of Acts is completely silent about the collection altogether, unless Acts 24:17 is a subtle reference to it. This has lead some scholars to speculate that the collection may have been rejected due to some of the significant opposition that Paul faced in some quarters of the Jerusalem Church, which Acts 21:20-22 acknowledges. Moreover, it is interesting that some Jewish Christ followers continued to identify themselves as ’ebyônîm or “poor ones” and despise the Apostle Paul in subsequent centuries, though the beliefs and practices of certain Ebionites as documented in Patristic literature may not be representative of the pre-70 CE Jerusalem Church.

I also want to call attention to the documentary A Polite Bribe, which has a particular spin on the biblical data but does interview quite a number of biblical scholars from across the religious spectrum. When the documentary was released, there were some blog reviews and discussions of the film (or the book) by James McGrath, Larry Hurtado, Mark Goodacre, Max Lee, Ben Witherington III, Mark M. Mattison, Bradford McCall, J. Goodrich, Philip J. Long and Richard Fellows and Gerd Luedemann uses the term “polite bribe” in a Bible and Interpretation article on the Jerusalem Collection. If I missed your post, send me an email so that I can include the link.

Recent Research on the Resurrection

I have been going through the letter of 1 Corinthians over several posts on this blog and have now reached Paul’s discussion of the individual resurrection of Christ and the corporate resurrection of all believers in 1 Corinthians 15. Eventually, I would like to explore the resurrection narratives in early Christian literature on this blog. However, for this post, I want to highlight the research of my colleague at Vose Seminary Aaron Chidgzey who is an expert on this subject. Aaron has completed his PhD at Murdoch University and his dissertation is entitled “Reframing Resurrection: Toward a Renewed and Redeemed Creation.” He contributed an article entitled “Reconciling History and Faith: Approaching Jesus’s Resurrection with Pannenberg, Wright, and the ‘Third Millennials'” in the Journal of Academic Studies and a chapter entitled “Transcending Categories: The Impact of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth” in the edited volume The Impact of Jesus of Nazareth: Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives. Aaron also did an interview back in 2015 on the blog of Brian Harris, the principal of our seminary. If you are interested in the topic of the resurrection, you should add Aaron’s work to your reading list.

The Misuse of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are the two main passages that complementarians have misused to prohibit women from entering into ministry, but I will focus on the problems with using the former passage in this way in this series on 1 Corinthians. First, there is a minority view that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 might be a later scribal interpolation that disrupts the flow of the argument; check out Gordon D. Fee’s  The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 705-708 and Philip Payne’s “Vaticanus Distigme-Obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34-35New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 604-625 (HT Larry Hurtado’s blog post). Second, Paul already mentioned that women could speak out loud in the church when they prayed or prophesied in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Third, if the passage was original, Paul may have been addressing a specific situation that arose in the congregations in Corinth (e.g., did Paul see certain women asking disruptive question or contesting the prophesies uttered in the Corinthian Christ assemblies?) rather than issuing a timeless principle. Indeed, my reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is that the Pastor was also reacting against a local situation and trying to silence certain female Christ followers who were “deceived” by rival teachers with their ideas about mandatory celibacy, ideas that surface in the apocryphal Acts of Paul, but I will leave that discussion to a later post. Regardless of how one exegetes these two passages, I support the egalitarian position that affirms both men and women who have been called into ministry.

1 Corinthians 13 in Context

The digression on “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings. However, this discussion comes right in the middle of Paul’s argument in chapters 12-14 that each member of the Christ congregations has been given a gift from the Spirit in order to build up the larger “body of Christ,” against the Corinthians who exalted those who possessed certain charismatic abilities (e.g., ecstatic speech and prophesying). Thus, it is “love” that unites all of the Corinthian Christ followers with their diverse gifts together and should undergird every action that they took. See also Christopher W. Skinner’s article “1 Corinthians 13 and Weddings” for the website Bible Odyssey.

The Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

I suspect that Paul was familiar with more traditions about Jesus than are explicitly highlighted in his occasional letters dealing with specific issues arising in his Christ congregations. After all, he mentions the Lord’s words about divorce because the Corinthians asked him about marriage (1 Cor 7:1, 10) and the institution of the Lord’s Supper because the Corinthians were abusing the practice from Paul’s perspective (11:17-34). It is interesting to compare the tradition that Paul “received” and “delivered” in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 to the reports of Jesus’s last supper in the Synoptic Gospels:

  • Paul believes that he was referring to an event that occurred on the “night” that “he [Jesus] was handed over.” Some even translate the verb paradidomi in the sense of “betrayed,” implicitly alluding to the actions of Judas Iscariot, though Paul may just be referring to an agent (e.g., God or the Roman authorities) handing Jesus over to be executed.
  • Assuming that the longer text of Luke 22:19b-20 is original (see the text-critical debate here), there are some striking agreements between Paul and Luke over the addition of “new” before “covenant” and the language of eating this meal in remembrance of Jesus.
  • Although Paul interprets the Passover Lamb as a type pointing to the death of Christ (1 Cor 5:7; cf. John 1:36; 19:31, 33-36), he quotes the Lord’s words about the bread and the cup apart from the larger context of the Passover meal (cf. Mark 14:12-26). Instead, this memorial meal was to be regularly practiced by the Corinthians in order to proclaim the Lord’s death until the Lord’s eschatological return (1 Cor 11:26).

I have briefly argued for the independence of the Pauline and Markan traditions in my 2014 article “Does Mark Narrate the Pauline Kerygma of ‘Christ Crucified’? Challenging an Emerging Consensus on Mark as a Pauline Gospel.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 37 (2014): 139-60.

The Theological Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3

1 Corinthians 11:3 is a difficult verse. For Christian theologians, it is difficult to reconcile God’s headship (from the Greek kephalē translated as “head”) over Christ with the belief in the ontological equality of the Father and the Son within the Triune Godhead. Some theologians, however, would reject the view that Christ is eternally subordinate to the Father, arguing that he only became temporarily subordinate to the Father in becoming incarnate as a human (e.g. John 14:28; Phil 2:6-7) or until the completion of salvation history (e.g., 1 Cor 15:28; cf. R. B. Jamieson’s recent article). Additionally, for some complementarians, the verse has been problematically used to insist that women should be subordinate to men in the same way that the Son is allegedly eternally subordinate to the Father. On the other hand, others translate the Greek term as “source” and take the verse in support of either Nicene orthodoxy (i.e. the eternal procession of the Son from the Father) or Arianism (i.e. the Son as the first creation); Paul might also be thinking about the creation narrative in Genesis 2 where the woman is taken out of the man’s side, but then reaffirming the equality of men and women as women give birth to every human in 1 Corinthians 11:12. Of course, it is important to recognize the historical gap between the text and the interpreter: Paul may not have shared the later philosophical and dogmatic language/categories of the ecumenical creeds and may presuppose ancient cultural conventions about gender as seen in his larger discussion about head coverings. Yet it is also important for theological interpreters located in contemporary faith communities to ethically interpret Scripture in a way that does no harm and I would endorse egalitarian readings of the passage. Here is an article from Richard S. Cervin and some blog posts from Marg Mowczko on the Greek term and some books noted by Michael Bird that deal with a range of subordinationist verses from a Trinitarian framework.

Harold W. Attridge and David L. Bartlett on Idol Meat

Check out the youtube video “Corinthians 1, 8:1-11:1: Idol Meat: To eat or not to eat?” where Yale Divinity School Dean Harold W. Attridge and Professor Emeritus David L. Bartlett discuss the interpretation of Paul’s advice about eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1.

Paul, the Shema, and Christology

In the last post, I mentioned that Paul could accept the ontological existence of spiritual powers who were worshipped as divine beings, even as he affirmed the unrivaled sovereignty and power of Yahweh as the supreme deity. While I am fine with describing Paul as a Second Temple Jewish “monotheist,” Paula Fredriksen has issued some helpful reminders about not importing anachronistic modern understandings about “monotheism” back into a first-century context in her articles “Gods and the One GodBible Review (2003): 12, 49 and “Mandatory Retirement: Ideas in the Study of Christian Origins whose Time has Come to Go” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 35 (2006): 231-246. Thus, Paul means what he says about the so-called “gods” in heaven and on earth and those who are called gods or lords in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6.

However, in Paul’s worldview, none of those lesser divine beings are even close to being on par with the one God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Many scholars detect an allusion to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4, the famous prayer where the Israelites declare their exclusive covenantal obedience to Yahweh (with the term “Lord” substituted in place of the sacred divine name) alone, and the influence of Wisdom Christology (cf. Proverbs 2; 8; Sirach 24; Wisdom 6:12-25, 7:7-11:1; Baruch 3:9-4:4; 1 Enoch 42:1-2; Matthew 11:19, 28-30; 23:34; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3) in describing how creation came into existence through Jesus. This passage seems to offer strong support for Jesus’s literal pre-existence before creation, though some scholars opt to read the wisdom language applied to Jesus more metaphorically.

The majority view is that Paul has “split the Shema”, so the divine identity includes the one God (i.e. the Father) and the one Lord (i.e. Jesus) as the source of all creation. Crispin Fletcher Louis is one of the most recent proponents on this position and, in his book Jesus Monotheism: Volume 1, Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), offers an addition argument from the practice of gematria in support of this view on pages 37-49 (available on google preview) and in his blog posts here and here. The alternative position is advocated by James McGrath on pages 38-44 in his book The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in its Jewish Context (University of Illinois, 2009). McGrath argues that the reference to the Shema is restricted to the “one God” and that Jesus is not included within the divine identity but alongside the one God; the one God is contrasted with the gods in heaven and the one Lord with the lords on earth.

What do you think? Does 1 Corinthians 8:6 include Jesus within the divine identity and attribute the divine act of creation to him? Does it support a high or fully divine Christology?


1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 and Idol Meat

Paul turns to a new issue about eating food sacrificed to idols (εἰδωλόθυτος) in 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1. Feasts and social functions occurred at temples and the left-over meat could be sold at the market, so it would be pretty hard to avoid it altogether unless one became a vegetarian (see Romans 14:2; Hegessipus, in Ecclesiastical History 2.23.5; Epiphanius, Panarion 30.15.3-4). The dilemma for the Christ believers in Corinth was how they ought to live out their exclusive allegiance to the God of Israel, whom they regarded as the supreme deity and sovereign ruler over all of creation, in a social context where people venerated many divine beings and depicted them in their icons. Paul’s denigration of what he perceived to be “idolatry” was conventional in Second Temple Jewish literature, though he also seems to have allowed for the ontological existence of the spiritual powers that were represented in the material images, and he had an interesting solution to the Corinthians’ dilemma. On the one hand, he seems to reason that it would be harmless for the Christ believers to eat this meat since they did not acknowledge the authority of “idols”, but he warned them to not test God as the Israelites sometimes did in the Hebrew Bible and to not to misuse their “knowledge” and “liberty” by offending a fellow believer who refused to eat meat offered to idols as a matter of conscience. Thus, it was probably best to only eat meat that has not been explicitly identified as having been offered in a cultic sacrifice. This was evidently a major social and religious concern for the early Christ communities and here is a sample of texts that address this issue:

“Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20; cf. 15:29; 21:25)

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication… you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:14, 20)

“At this point, Trypho interrupted me by saying, ‘I know that there are many who profess their faith in Jesus and are considered to be Christians, yet they claim there is no harm in their eating meats sacrificed to idols.’ ‘The fact that there are such men [and women],’ I replied, ‘who pretend to be Christians and admit the crucified Jesus as their Lord and Christ, yet profess not His doctrines, but those of the spirits of error, only tends to make us adherents of the true and pure Christian doctrine more ardent in our faith and more firm in the hope He announced to us. As we look about us, we see events actually taking place which He predicted would happen in His name.’” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 35.1-2)

“Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the ‘most perfect’ among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure that ‘they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’ For instance, they make no scruple about eating meat offered in sacrifice to idols, imagining that they can in this way contact no defilement… Others, again, following upon Basilides and Carpocrates, have introduced promiscuous intercourse and a plurality of wives, and are indifferent about eating meats sacrificed to idols, maintaining that God does not greatly regard such matters. But why continue? For it is an impracticable attempt to mention all those who, in one way or another, have fallen away from the truth.” (Ireneaus, Against Heresies 1.6.3; 1.28.2)

“For that which is offered to idols is sacrificed to demons, and a man [or woman] of God must not join the table of demons.” (Origen, Contra Celsus 8.30)