January 23, 2008

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is a ground-breaking study by NT scholar Richard Bauckham that questions many of the assumptions current in much New Testament scholarship today, especially about the formation of the Gospels. In this seminal book, Bauckham makes a sustained case for the involvement and centrality of eyewitnesses in the formation of the Gospels as they appear in their current, written canonical form. I won't attempt to recreate his arguments here, for they are many and detailed, but he covers evidence from other ancient historiographies about method, he looks at the statistical prevalence of names in the Gospels verses their known prevalence in the ancient world, and he studies the literary cues from within the Gospels themselves. He also looks very carefully at the earliest testimonies from outside the Gospels about their origin, espeically Papias, Eusebius, Iranaeus, and Polycrates.

A second major thrust of all of this, and maybe the most essential part of the entire book, is his sustained case, summarized and carefully argued in chapter 11, "Transmitting the Jesus Traditions, but supported by work in other chapters as well, is an alternative account of the origin and transmission of the traditions about Jesus and how they came to be written down. It is essentially a sustained (and I believe devastating) critique of form criticism, with its assumption of a long history of traditions and anonymous transmission of various "forms." His critique of form criticism is many-fold, but a few of its highlights are the emphasis on the relatively short period of time between Jesus' life and the writing of the Gospels, and even more especially, as the title of the book betrays, on the involvement of guarantors of the various traditions, which remained in many or even most cases, connected with certain named and known individuals.

He then spends a significant bit of the later portion of the book focusing on issues of authorship in John's Gospel, helpfully illuminating the history of scholarship about authorship, and looking carefully at the claims made by John's author, and also by looking at the early evidence, especially in Polycrates and Papias, about who this certain John was, concluding that the author of John was John "the Elder," a different John than the son of Zebedee, and that this John is in fact the beloved disciple, who later lived in Ephesus, and whose testimony was know at second hand by Papias, and who wrote down his account in his Gospel.

I estimate Bauckham's work to be a monumental achievement of scholarship, and I am hopeful that it will make significant waves in Gospels scholarship in the coming years. It is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Now, I don't expect all of his proposals will meet immediate approval by the guild, but I do think the broad scope of his argument, espeically as to the weakness of many of the assumptions linked with form criticism and still mostly current in Gospels scholarship today, even if beneath the surface, will help bring to light the need to reevaluate the types of documents that the Gospels in fact are. While Bauckham certainly doesn't provide evidence to in some way guarantee the accuracy and validity of the Gospels, he does give a very compelling case for linking the documents with certain named eyewitnesses, including but certainly not limited to the Twelve, among others. It is a very interesting and readable offering in NT scholarship, and one that I highly recommend. I think, along with works like J. D. G. Dunn's Jesus Remembered, Bauckham's work will help continue turning the tide toward reevaluating the relationships between the Gospels themselves and the nature of their development.

January 21, 2008

Theological Persuasion quiz

Hmm. Interesting little exercise.

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox




Reformed Evangelical






Classical Liberal


Roman Catholic


Modern Liberal


January 18, 2008

Gordon Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians

Paul's Letter to the Philippians by Gordon Fee is in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series published by Eerdmans. In this important commentary on this gem of a letter, Fee delves deeply into Paul's thought and Paul's world. I deeply enjoyed reading Fee's exposition, and was continually challenged by Paul's deep faith and his unflagging focus on Jesus Christ.

Fee surveys the important issues in the interpretation of Philippians, in constant dialogue (mostly in the notes) with other important commentators, and especially with O'Brien (NIGTC on Philippians), Silva (BECNT on Philippians), R. P. Martin, and Karl Barth, to name a few. But his commentary never gets bogged down in scholarly minutia. While he engages the pertinent issues, he almost entirely leaves his thoughtful technical discussions for the notes, where interested parties can easily find them, but where they can be left to the side to keep the focus on Philippians itself.

Fee looks at the question of the setting of the letter, and leans toward the more traditional view of Paul's Roman imprisonment as the setting (as opposed to either Caesarea or Ephesus, the latter of which has gained a good bit of attention in recent years), though the decision doesn't have much significance for understanding the letter itself. Of the more substantive matters in the letter, the "Christ Hymn" in Phil 2:5-11 has gained a mountain of scholarly attention, and Fee's careful discussion of that passage is insightful and fresh. He argues, against the tide of most modern scholarship, that the "hymn" really isn't a hymn at all, but a Pauline composition integral to the letter, even if poetic in form. And above all, he stresses that regardless, it should be treated as fully endorsed by Paul and integral to the letter, wherever one stands on its origin: Paul included it here for a reason, and it wasn't merely to give us a window into earlier hymnody.

With regard to the interpretation of the letter as a whole, Fee argues that it is a letter of friendship, and that this designation illumines many of the discussions throughout the letter, and especially the more "formal" elements at the beginning and end. This friendship can also be seen throughout in what he describes as a three-way bond between the Philippian believers, Paul, and Christ, which informs many of Paul's discussions and admonitions. As to the content of the letter itself, Fee sees steadfastness (in face of persecution and trial), unity (in face of challenges both within and without), and the unswerving focus on the gospel (living in Christ through the Spirit) as the three recurring themes and ongoing emphases throughout the letter.

There is far too much to comment on in a short review, but this great book deserves reading from cover to cover. Philippians, though not often seen as integral to understanding Paul's theology, is a very important window into Paul's heart. This volume is a great study of this short letter. It also reminds me that I really enjoy the NICNT series. It has great in-depth study of the text and the important exegetical issues, while keeping the discussions of Greek words to the notes. And the authors usually include a relatively brief reflection on the continuing significance or application of a passage to today at the end of each section. This volume, by the current editor of the series, shows why this tends to be the first place I go for NT scholarship.