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9780800699123.jpghIn the introduction to Paul in the Grip of the Philosophers: The Apostle and Contemporary Continental Philosophy (Fortress Press), Peter Frick notes there has been a great hermeneutical shift.

The shift is that from the beginning to about the end of the modern period, theological thinking was predicated on a specific hermeneutical assumption, namely, that philosophical thinking will clarify and make more coherent theology’s own self-understanding. As Frick says, “theology was the queen of the interpretive undertaking and philosophy the handmaid.”

But the shift is that now philosophers interested in Pauline thought do not begin with Paul and his texts. “They have their own ideological structures and therefore employ Paul in the service of those structures. They also do not substantially use theology to clarify their philosophy; the former is hardly every the handmaid of the latter.”

Frick and others write this book to clarify for people what to make of this reversal.

Their main critique of Continental philosophy’s appropriation of Paul is that they deconstruct Paul as the “other.” Continental philosophy uses the voice of Paul, but does not always give him his own voice. Paul has thereby suffered “the death of an author.”

The rest of the book goes through a variety of Continental philosophers, Nietzche, Heidegger, Agamben, Taubes, Derrida, Vattimo, Badiou, and Žižek, explaining how these philosophers use Paul, what we can learn from them, and how Paul contradicts them.

This looks like a helpful volume that philosophers and students of Paul should be aware of.


Table of Contents

  1. Neitzche: The Archetype of Pauline Deconstruction | Peter Frick
  2. Heidegger and the Apostle Paul | Benjamin Crowe
  3. Paul of the Gaps: Agamben, Benjamin and the Puppet Player | Roland Boer
  4. Jacob Taubes–Paulinist, Messianist | Larry Welborn
  5. Circumcising the Word: Derrida as a Reader of Paul | Hans Ruin
  6. Gianni Vattimo and Saint Paul: Ontological Weakening, Kenosis, and Secularity | Anthony Sciglitano Jr.
  7. Baidou’s Paul: Founder of Unversalism and Theoritician of the Militant | Frederiek Depoortere
  8. Agamben’s Paul: Thinker of the Messianic | Alan Gignac
  9. Mad with the Love of Undead Life: Understanding Paul and Žižek | Ward Blanton
  10. The Philosophers’ Paul and the Churches | Neil Elliott


Schopenhauer on Style

March 24, 2014 — 4 Comments

HD_ArthurSchopenhauerBrain Pickings writes the following:

One of the most timeless meditations on style comes from 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. In “On Style,” found in The Essays of Schopenhauer (free download; public library)

Schopenhauer writes:

Style is the physiognomy of the mind. It is a more reliable key to character than the physiognomy of the body. To imitate another person’s style is like wearing a mask. However fine the mask, it soon becomes insipid and intolerable because it is without life; so that even the ugliest living face is better.

He issues an especially eloquent admonition against intellectual posturing in writing:

There is nothing an author should guard against more than the apparent endeavor to show more intellect than he has; because this rouses the suspicion in the reader that he has very little, since a man always affects something, be its nature what it may, that he does not really possess. And this is why it is praise to an author to call him naïve, for it signifies that he may show himself as he is. In general, naïveté attracts, while anything that is unnatural everywhere repels. We also find that every true thinker endeavors to express his thoughts as purely, clearly, definitely, and concisely as ever possible. This is why simplicity has always been looked upon as a token, not only of truth, but also of genius. Style receives its beauty from the thought expressed, while with those writers who only pretend to think it is their thoughts that are said to be fine because of their style. Style is merely the silhouette of thought; and to write in a vague or bad style means a stupid or confused mind.

He adds:

If a man has something to say that is worth saying, he need not envelop it in affected expressions, involved phrases, and enigmatical innuendoes; but he may rest assured that by expressing himself in a simple, clear, and naïve manner he will not fail to produce the right effect. A man who makes use of such artifices as have been alluded to betrays his poverty of ideas, mind, and knowledge.


Obscurity and vagueness of expression are at all times and everywhere a very bad sign. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they arise from vagueness of thought, which, in its turn, is almost always fundamentally discordant, inconsistent, and therefore wrong. When a right thought springs up in the mind it strives after clearness of expression, and it soon attains it, for clear thought easily finds its appropriate expression. A man who is capable of thinking can express himself at all times in clear, comprehensible, and unambiguous words. Those writers who construct difficult, obscure, involved, and ambiguous phrases most certainly do not rightly know what it is they wish to say: they have only a dull consciousness of it, which is still struggling to put itself into thought; they also often wish to conceal from themselves and other people that in reality they have nothing to say.


I grew up reading this book. Who knows if Hollywood will mess it up and do it justice.

6a00e54fc7cbdb883401a51172620a970c-800wiOver on Books at a Glance, I reviewed Karen Jobes new commentary (ECNT) on 1, 2, 3 John. It is a new website which features weekly book summaries which helps you select the right books for you.

One thing I don’t mention in the review is what a natural writer she is. The commentary did not read like most commentaries and I can hardly remember a time when I thought about the writing, because she simply got out of the way.

Read the full review here.



9780830840410_p0_v2_s260x420Stanley Porter says there are many volumes that equate “biblical hermeneutics” with “biblical interpretation.”

They no doubt are related, but are they to be equated?

I think not.

Hermeneutics is much broader in scope. Hermeneutics involves not just elements of interpretation, but what it means to be an interpreter–what are the assumptions, preconditions, felicitous conditions, activities, prior commitments and human components, among other things, that enter into, and even govern, any act of human understanding, whether its object be language, culture, the physical world, even texts and much else.

Porter says “biblical interpretation” is more specific.

Interpretation includes the processes and techniques involved in interpretive acts, especially, but not exclusively, of texts.

But Hermeneutics itself need not involve interpretive method or practice.

Biblical interpretation no doubt is predicated upon–whether knowingly or unknowingly–a hermeneutic.

This may seem like a pedantic debate, but I think it has some importance.

Most seminary curriculum have a course included called “Hermeneutics.” But many of these classes actually teach biblical interpretation.

This is natural, for biblical interpretation falls under the category of hermeneutics, but if there is no hermeneutics actually taught, then it is like teaching someone how to frame a house without first establishing the foundation.

It is important to understand that these two are distinct, and students are impoverished if they are only getting biblical interpretation, and not biblical hermeneutics.


Stanley Porter and Matthew Malcolm, eds., The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013), 31–32.




9781451413694_p0_v1_s260x420Although published in 1998, Mark Allan Powell’s Fortress Introduction to the Gospels stands the test of time.

It is a slim book, 138 pages, but Powell includes an amazing amount of material in this short introduction. The lucid brevity of the book will cause it to continue to be a great textbook and introduction. Powell stays away from speculations and for the most part Gospel scholarship fads. He simplifies things by presenting the narrative and emphases of each Gospel. This only comes after years of teaching and synthesis.

Powell himself is a literary critic, and therefore the bulk of the material is on the distinctive themes of each gospel. Unlike most other introductions, I was happy to see descriptions of the Gospels come first, and then at the end of the chapter he goes over the when, why, and who of the Gospel. Each chapter on the four Gospels is divided into three sections:

  1. Characteristics
  2. Historical Context
  3. Major Themes

But Powell is also able to cover in the introduction the world of the Gospels, the genre, the stages of transmission, historical Jesus issues, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, the preservation of manuscripts, some translation theory material, and reception.

Maybe the best part of the book are some of the charts he provides. I imagine he created these for classroom lectures and they are valuable resources.

This is a great little introduction that I will be recommending to everyone. Below I have pasted some examples of the charts he uses.

Powell 1: Four Pictures of JesusPowell 2Powell 3


I have his expanded book published by Baker Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey but I have not been able to piece through it to compare the two.

A song for the weekend.

Horizons-in-Hermeneutics-A-Festschrift-in-Honor-of-Anthony-C.-Thiselton-Paperback-P9780802869272In the most recent additions to RBL Donald Hagner reviewed the book Horizons in Hermeneutics: A Festschrift in Honor of Anthony C. Thiselton

He has the following summary paragraph of Stanley Porter’s chapter which is a critique of TIS. I have not read the chapter, but I wonder if it relates to the post just previous to this one by Roger Scruton.

Stanley E. Porter contributes the third essay in this section, under the title “What Exactly Is Theological Interpretation of Scripture, and Is It Hermeneutically Robust Enough for the Task to Which It Has Been Appointed?” Porter makes his way through the subject by means of the comparison of four authors who have recently written on theological interpretation: Joel B. Green, Daniel J. Treier, Stephen E. Fowl, and J. Todd Billings. After a section in which he examines how these authors define theological interpretation, he provides a preliminary evaluation, then proceeds to the question of whether theological interpretation is a hermeneutic. This involves discussions of the relation to historical criticism, premodern interpretation and the rule of faith, the role of the interpretive community, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the relation between general and special hermeneutics. Porter’s answers to the questions in the title: there is no agreement about what theological interpretation is, other than “an undefined and varying set of tendencies or interests”; it is not hermeneutically robust enough to accomplish its task.

scientismRoger Scruton has an excellent (although long) article in The New Atlantis about how scientism has crept into the arts and humanities.

He describes these fields as scrambling to find a “methodology” which makes their practice legitimate.

I could not help but think the field of biblical studies, especially hermeneutics, has turned scientistic more than they would like to admit. Scruton says:

Over the last several decades, therefore, we have witnessed a steady invasion of the humanities by scientific methodology. This invasion provides us with a useful illustration of the distinction between scientific and scientistic ways of thinking. The scientific thinker has a clear question, a body of data, and a theoretical answer to the question that can be tested against that data. The scientistic thinker borrows the apparatus of science, not in order to explain the phenomenon before him, but in order to create the appearance of a scientific question, the appearance of data, and the appearance of a method that will arrive at an answer.

Scruton goes onto describe what the sure sign of scientism.

This is the sure sign of scientism — that the science precedes the question, and is used to redefine it as a question that the science can solve. But the difficulty of understanding art arises precisely because questions about the nature and meaning of art are not asking for an explanation of something, but for a description.

Why should there be such questions, and why is it that they lie beyond the reach of the empirical sciences? The simple answer is that they are questions that deal with the “spirit,” with Geist, and therefore with phenomena that lie outside the purview of experimental methods. But this is not an answer that would satisfy people today; putting it that way is likely to prompt a wry, skeptical smile.

Scruton then closes:

Like so many people wedded to a nineteenth-century view of science, which promised scientific explanations for social and cultural phenomena, Dawkins overlooks the nineteenth-century reaction that said: Wait a minute; science is not the only way to pursue knowledge. There is moral knowledge too, which is the province of practical reason; there is emotional knowledge, which is the province of art, literature, and music. And just possibly there is transcendental knowledge, which is the province of religion. Why privilege science, just because it sets out to explain the world? Why not give weight to the disciplines that interpret the world, and so help us to be at home in it?

Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?

It is my belief that culture in this sense, which stems from the “I” perspective that is the root of the human condition, points always towards the transcendental — the point on the edge of space and time, which is the subjectivity of the world. And when we lose our sense of that thing, and of its eternal, tranquil watchfulness, all human life is cast into shadow. We approach the point at which even the St. Matthew Passion and the Rondanini Pietà have nothing more to say to us than a shark in formaldehyde. That is the direction we have taken. But it is a direction of drift, a refusal to adopt the posture that is inherent in the human condition, in which we strive to see events from outside and as a whole, as they are in the eyes of God.

The world of biblical scholars would do well to consider Scruton’s piece and do some self examination. Or even better, we could even do a scientific experiment and pick up five dissertations and give them a grade on how much scientistic thinking occurred.