9780802869616Thanks to Eerdmans, I now am working my way through Stephen Westerholm’s book on justification entitled Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme.

Coming in at just under 100 pages, Westerholm packs quite a bit into this short book. I am only three chapters in, but in essence Westerholm argues for the “traditional” view of justification in response to the “new perspective.”

Westerholm gives a helpful summary of how the two camps understand Galatians 2:16 to assist readers comprehend the differences. Galatians 2:16 says:

A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.

New Perspective

A person = Gentile

is not justified = declared to be a member of God’s people, declared to be part of the covenant

by works of the law = being circumcised, keeping food laws and the like

Traditional View

A person = Jew or Gentile, but necessarily a sinner in either case

is not justified = declared right with God and thus delivered from the divine condemnation that awaits sinners

by works of the law = by complying with the law’s demands-since that is not what sinners do.

The Starting Point

Why is this summary so beneficial?

Not only because the conciseness of summary, but readers are alerted to one leading question, “Who is the ‘person’ Paul is referring to?”

Is he speaking of just Gentiles here? Or is the term more inclusive? How one answers that question is a (maybe not the) determining factor in how one explains what justification is.

The new perspective asserts the “person” is a Gentile, for in Galatians Paul is addressing the issue of whether Gentiles need to be circumcised. But Westerholm argues that although this is part of the issue, it does not do the text justice to assert the “person” Paul is addressing is only the Gentile. Moo agrees saying:

Paul is not arguing that Gentiles should be included, with Jews, in the people of God; he is arguing, rather, that Jews should be included, with Gentiles, with the radical implication that follows: their obedience to the covenant stipulations cannot put them right with God; only a total reliance on Christ, by faith, can do so. (Moo, p. 157)

The two books dealing the most with justification, Galatians and Romans, imply that Paul is addressing a human dilemma and not simply how Gentiles can become part of the covenant.

Gentiles ought not be circumcised because God’s favor cannot be enjoyed by sinners under a covenant whose condition for blessing is compliance with its laws.

Conveniently, the traditional view does not deny “Gentiles” are being addressed and therefore parts of the new perspective can be affirmed. However the new perspective has the tendency to foreground the background, and background the foreground.





Vienna based musician SOHN has been on my playlist all day. Here is the acoustic version of his song “Tempest.”


537875Over on Books at a Glance I reviewed Crossway’s Acting the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification (John Piper & David Mathis, eds.).

Acting the Miracle had its start in the Desiring God 2012 National Conference. John Piper and company present five different chapters on the reformed view of sanctification. Mathis asserts the book is about what theologians call progressive sanctification rather than definitive sanctification. He warns against slogans or simplistic understandings of sanctification saying that the Scriptures present a more complex view of this doctrine.

Read the rest of the review here.


The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them. Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity–and possibly nowhere else. If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.
Sheldon Vanauken

The Best Argument for Christianity

Jesus’ Wife Fragment

April 11, 2014 — 5 Comments

Bk34Oo7CcAA-a3z.jpg largeThe Jesus’ Wife fragments are attempting to make a comeback just in time for Easter.

In its latest issue, the Harvard Theological Review has published a revised version of an article entitled, “ ‘Jesus said to them, My wife…’: A New Coptic Papyrus Fragment”, by Dr Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, first published online in September 2012. The same issue contains multidisciplinary studies of the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment all of which are concerned with the question whether the fragment is ancient in origin or a modern forgery.

If one is looking for good resources then there have already been quite a few good articles from paprologists and NT scholars.

Larry Hurtado has two articles on the subject. In the first one he offers an initial response saying:

Certainly, as Prof. King has rather consistently emphasized all along, whatever the date and provenance of the item, it has absolutely no significance whatsoever for “historical Jesus” studies.  Contrary to some of the sensationalized news stories, that is, the fragment has no import for the question of whether Jesus was married.

Instead, she continues to propose that the fragment may reflect tensions and questions about marriage, celibacy, child-bearing, and gender that emerged in early Christianity in the early centuries (indeed, to judge from NT texts such as 1 Tim. 4:1-5; and even 1 Cor 7:1-7, questions of this nature emerged quite early). But, to repeat a point, the revised date for the papyrus (mid-8th century CE) introduces other factors to consider as well.

In the second post he says:

First, let me reiterate that all references to “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” are completely misleading tripe.  What we have is a purported small fragment with several incomplete lines on each side, in which one line contains the words “my wife” ascribed to Jesus there.  If the fragment is authentic (i.e., from some Christian hand ca. 7th-10th century CE, as per the Harvard radio-carbon test), only God knows what it was.  But it’s totally mischievous to claim that it comes from some “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”.  We have a “Jesus’ Wife fragment.” That’s it.

Finally, as Prof. King and others have consistently indicated, even if authentic, the fragment would have no bearing on (1) the marital status of Jesus of Nazareth, (2) the question of women’s role in churches, (3) the question of Catholic priestly celibacy, etc. None whatsoever. Nada.

Francis Watson also has a post on the fragment.

It has never been doubted that the Jesus’ Wife fragment may well have been written on a piece of genuinely ancient papyrus, using ink whose composition followed ancient practice. The analyses of the ink and the papyrus are of limited value here. These analyses do not demonstrate that the text is a fake, but nor do they “indicate” it “to be ancient” as the Divinity School’s press release claims. Even the headline to a press release ought to be capable of observing this distinction.

A press release that accurately represented the analyses published in the Harvard Theological Review might have been entitled: “Testing of Jesus’ Wife Fragment Yields Inconclusive Results”. That would not have attracted much attention, but it would at least be truthful.

Christian Askeland has some reflections over on Evangelical Textual Criticism.

Karen King has produced no new evidence to authenticate this fragment. On the contrary, her prior contentions that the GJW fragment was (1) part of a literary codex and (2) was fourth century are now indefensible. Her method of argumentation was not self-critical or objective, but will doubtlessly be sufficient for those who already want to believe.

CT has an interview with Nick Perrin on the fragment.

Do you think this fragment is a legitimate ancient document?

The consensus is that it is authentic, in the sense of being somewhere between the fifth and the ninth century. That’s important and interesting. It likely reflects that an earlier text was copied down.

Can someone, on the basis of this fragment, say, “A-ha! So now we know Jesus was married”?

No, that’s an illegitimate move. [This document is] so far removed from the first century that this rather reflects the speculations a later sect had about the earthly Jesus.

I was also surprised to see the NYTimes actually be quite fair in this article concerning the fragment.

The test results do not prove that Jesus had a wife or disciples who were women, only that the fragment is more likely a snippet from an ancient manuscript than a fake, the scholars agree.

In summary, even if the fragment is shown to be ancient it does not “prove” that Jesus was married, rather it may provide some evidence concerning how early Christians thought about celibacy and marriage.







Here is a song for the weekend from Future Islands: “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

I really like this guy for a number of reasons, just watch.

P.S. The song is really good if you can get past his crazy performance.

Excellent lecture here by Justin Barnard on C.S. Lewis’ epistemology. Barnard makes two “shocking” claims: (1) C.S. Lewis is probably not the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century, and yet he probably is the greatest Christian epistemologist of the 20th century.

Barnard argues that Lewis rightly restores knowledge as situated in the context of wisdom and the fear of God, doing this in uniquely Christian though appropriately limited way. Lewis’s epistemology is distinctively eschatological in orientation, focusing on hope as surrendering to the long that the summons of Divine Love is real.

HT: Justin Taylor

Listening to the Bible

April 4, 2014 — 9 Comments

bryan-listening-to-the-bibleYou should read this book.

Isn’t that what you really want to know?

Christopher Bryan has produced an excellent book, published by Oxford University Press, called Listening to the Bible: The Art of Faithful Biblical Interpretation.

I have scanned numerous books on reading the Bible, but this one distills so much of what I have learned into easily chewable chapters.

The Division

Bryan begins with “the division.” The division, or the problem with biblical interpretation is the divorce between the academy and the church. The academy has adopted the historical critical model and if biblical scholarship has effected the preaching of the Word at all, “it seems chiefly to have been that is has engendered a reluctance to engage the great central tenets of the Christian faith.”

Although Bryan notes that are exceptions, the divorce between the academy and the church is clear, yet the the true setting in life of the Bible has and should always be the community of faith.

How Did We Get Here?

Bryan then moves to answering the question of how we got to this divorce. He begins with Schleiermacher who said that the primary task of the interpreter was to avoid misunderstanding and to discover the author’s intent. Benjamin Jowett then in 1860 said that the first principle of interpretation is

that Scripture has but one meaning –the meaning which it had to the mind of the Prophet of Evangelist who first uttered or wrote, to the hearers or readers who first received it. We need to abandon the attempt to adapt truths of Scripture to the doctrines of creeds and the adaptation to the precepts and maxims of Scripture to the language of our own age.

Pay attention to this paragraph, for in essence, the entire book is an overturning it.

This in turn led to readers not being so much concerned with what the texts had to say to us, but rather a tool for dissecting them for some hypothetical source or situation or information that might lie behind them. Historical criticism had high hopes. Precise questions were to be asked, and then followed through with scientific precision so as to deliver clear answers.

Why Jowett’s Project Was Impossible

However Jowett’s project was impossible, because he thought he was carving a way to objectively look at a text, “but in a century and a half after Jowett the situation had not changed, for historical critical method was no more able to protect its practitioners from writing under the influence of their own prejudices and interests than were the methods that preceded it.” As Marilynne Robinson puts it, “that mysterious presence, the Observer, can never wholly stand apart from the object of inquiry.”

A second problem was that the hermeneutical process as Schleiermacher and others had conceived it was vastly oversimplified and underestimated what is actually involved in any act of communication between past and present.

The whole thing is too big, too complex, and too swiftly changing for any group of precise questions to be devised that could look for precise answers. This is not to despair of interpreting ancient texts: it is simply to concede that every language act has a temporal determinant, that that the range of possibilities that might actually be explored –semantic, cultural, historical, personal–in order to assure full comprehension of almost any statement by anyone at all approaches infinity. Biblical interpretation like all other interpretation, will be aided by research–by asking many precise questions as possible: but it must in the end be a matter of art and imagination, not science (19).

This hermeneutical viewpoint led to the hermeneutic of suspicion, where everything was looked at and deconstructed.

So What Do We Do?

Bryan begins answering the question of ‘what do we do’ in chapters five through nine.He suggests we start with the fact that the Bible is a thing written. It is literature.

What then are we supposed to do with literature? This is where Schleiermacher and Jowett were right. Any critique or discussion of a written text that is not concerned with listening to the text for what it is trying to say is beside the point. Therefore we need to listen to the authors individually.

But second we need to listen to the “Bible” and its voices considered together.

There is surely a third thing we need to do. If there is in this body of material a “matter,” a shared concern, what does that “matter” have to do with us? We need to ask what the individual voices, and the whole of Scripture relates to the continuing life and witness of the Church up to and including our own day.

In short, Jowett and Schleiermacher got off on the right foot, but did not go far enough.

Listening to the Individual Voices

Jowett’s first principle was that Scripture has but one meaning-the meaning which it has to the mind of the Prophet or Evangelist. There are elements of this assertion which prove valid, and elements which are mistaken. What is valid about this statement is that it acknowledges that ancients are not simply the same was we are, and that we will understand them better if we try to hear them in the context of their own times and assumptions.

But where Jowett is mistaken is that Jowett and the rest of us cannot possibly know that the “meanings” intended by the prophets and evangelists and the “meanings” understood by those who heard them were always the same. From the way in which Paul himself argues with his converts it is perfectly clear that sometimes they were not. Words in fact do not have a single meaning, and still less their meaning is not limited to authorial intent.

This does not mean texts can mean anything, for whatever meaning we attribute to the text we must be able to point to a rationale for it within the text itself. Authorial intent is not the only element in what a text means, but it certainly is an element.

Relating the Parts to the Whole

The second task of a biblical scholar is to consider the individual voices in relation to the whole of Scripture. The task of biblical scholarship according to Jowett was to interpret the biblical text without reference to creeds and controversies that were “of other times.”

However this is where Jowett is again mistaken. For the gospel, the narrative, and the creeds have always stood together. They evolved together. Historical questions are important, but the eye of faith is always more than just the “facts.”

The fundamentalist reader of the Bible is scandalized by this, and insists that faith’s reality must have been clear and identical with what could be seen and measured. The well-informed skeptic smiles in superiority of a fuller knowledge and since what could be seen and measured was evidently so much more ordinary than what is claimed by faith, dismisses faith’s claims as fantasy. Fundamentalist and skeptic alike are making the same mistake. The creature is not merely what it is made of. The creature is indeed dust, but beloved dust.

And history–what “really” happened–is always more than what scientific discipline would regard as “facts.” Of course Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That is a fact. But the meaning of the fact will only be apparent to prophetic and apostolic imagination and the eye of faith (75-76).

So What Now?

“How does the Bible relate to the life of the church up to and including today?” (88). Bryan asserts that looking back on Jowett’s project reveals that Jowett was right in what he affirmed and wrong in what he denied.

Jowett was right to suggest that we need to approach the Bible as any other book, and he was also right about the perils of looking for answers to our own questions that were written without any conception of such questions.

But Jowett was wrong because the meaning a text has for us is always effected by what we bring to it, by our personal inner “texts,” conscious or unconscious.

Since every person who comes to these texts is unique and has a particular history, there is always the possibility for new meaning. This is true of all great texts, and is therefore true of biblical texts. Some Christians seem to find this threatening, but it seems to me entirely appropriate that God’s revelation much always be capable of unfolding for us new meaning. For the fact that our knowledge of God is as yet incomplete does not mean that we have not knowledge, or that there is no God to be known, or that the effort to know more is not proper (89).

My “text” as an individual and our “texts” as a community do engage with the biblical writers’ “texts” at numerous points, both personally and theologically. As I have said, their “today” is by its very nature bound up with my own “today.” Our “texts” interweave (95).


Evangelicals may complain that the division between the academy and the church does not apply to us in the same force as it does to broader biblical scholarship. I would generally agree. We have been more apt to keep the wall from being built.

But maybe the division for us is something different, the division between principle and practice, the fragmentation of disciplines. Largely we teach the historical-critical method, but then stand up on Sunday morning and do something different. We explain this by saying something like “seminary teaches the ground work, then you need to just apply it to your people.

So we still, more or less, have co-opted Jowett’s thesis in our teaching, but not in our practice (while staying away from historical critical conclusions, and adding the cherry of application on top).

I still regularly hear people say, “all you need to do is read the text and wrestle with it yourself,” or “interpretation is all about figuring out what the author is saying to his hearers” or “to be a biblical scholar all you need to have is a lexicon in your right hand and the Bible in your left” or “I just teach the Bible.

But isn’t this just Jowett’s proposal? And do we find the early church arguing anything like this?

What I loved about Bryan’s book is that his proposal was eminently simple.

  1. Read the Bible, listening to the voice of individuals.
  2. Read the Bible, listening to the voices as a whole.
  3. Read the Bible, listening for a word for us today.

And although most would read those three points and agree with them, Bryan’s book provides a nuanced discussion of each point which shows that interpretation is more than Jowett imagined.



Table of Contents
I. The Division
II How Did We Get Here?
III. Why Jowett’s Project was Impossible
IV. The Hermeneutic of Suspicion
V. So What Do We Do?
VI. The First Task: Listening to the Individual Voices
VII. A Digression: “Great Literature?”
VI. The Second Task: Relating the Parts to the Whole
1. The Rule of Faith and the Question of History.
2. The Different Voices and Their Different Accounts of the History
VII. The Third Task: So What Now?
1. Why We Must Ask the Question
2. The Scriptures as Interpretative Narrative
3. The Exercise of Christian Imagination
VIII. The Drama of the Word
Appendix (by David Landon): Speaking the Word: A Guide to Liturgical Reading
Selected Bibliography


MV5BMjAzMzg0MDA3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMzOTYwMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_David Instone-Brewer reviews ‘Noah’ below.


For once it is no hype to say this film has a canvas of Biblical proportions.

Though in today’s language you might compare it more accurately with Lord of the Rings. Look out for images akin to Isengard, fighting as impressive as Aragorn’s and creatures suspiciously similar to the Ents.

If you are wondering where all this fits into Genesis, be prepared to let your imagination soar. Storylines from the Book of Enoch, other Jewish myths and the director’s imagination supplement the Bible text. Together they create a compelling story and a surprise ending.

Charlton Heston famously defined an epic as a film that he starred in. He was wonderful at portraying strength with a smouldering anger. Russell Crowe is starting to fill his shoes, and is very suitable as Noah, because he can show the same strength though with an underlying sadness. In this film he also adds a convincing hint of madness, but I mustn’t give too much away.

It is unfair to ask “Is it accurate?” If it were, there would be only ten minutes of story plus lots more special effects. Actually, “special effects” is an understatement. Throughout the film everything is so real that I was glad it wasn’t in 3D.

The really 3D aspect of this film is in the characterisation. Noah and his sons are totally believable and the tensions with Ham flesh out the Biblical narrative convincingly. But the female roles carry the dramatic turning points, conveyed with Oscar-quality acting. They also get the best lines and appear to speak the director’s message.

Although the film takes liberties with the story of Noah, the essential message of Genesis is conveyed clearly and accurately. The story of Eden, the snake, temptation, the murder of Abel and subsequent decline of humanity is referred to frequently. The bigger picture of God’s plan to undo this damage is hinted at, but it would not be true to Genesis to state this clearly.

“How do we know God’s will?” is the unspoken question addressed by various characters throughout the film. How can Noah know what to do, and does he really understand God’s plan accurately? His dream informs him but also misleads him. His wife (who, as in the Bible, is nameless), says the goodness in our character comes from God so we should listen to it. Tubal-Cain, the violent self-appointed king, says God has left us to do whatever we want.

This film shouldn’t be seen as an accurate portrayal of the Bible, but can be treated as a thought-provoking way to explore the message of Genesis.