Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Original Thinking, Indebtedness to Teachers, and Current NT Discussions

Recently I posted an entry I titled “Harmony between Rom. 2:6-11 and Rom. 4:1-9.” At the time I posted it I had not read the following since I had digested it, marked it up, and highlighted portions in my copy of the book many years ago when I worked my way through the entire book, Paul, An Outline of His Theology by Herman Ridderbos. As I have discovered repeatedly and have commented upon on my blogs several times, once again it was revealed to me that I owe so very much to all who have taught me, whether in the classroom or by some other means, especially by way of their books. My thinking is not original in the sense that I am the first to think individual thoughts. After all, as someone once said, "Originality does not consist of thinking new things but of thinking for ourselves." Thus, my earlier blog entry, noted above, indicates that those who have taught me, have taught me well, for they have compelled me to think for myself. Lo and behold! In thinking for myself, I find myself thinking thoughts after those who have gone before.

How pertinent are the following words, then, for current issues and discussions in New Testament studies!
“When it is said therefore in Romans 4 that to the one who does not ‘work’ but who believes in him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness, this is not in any way to be brought to bear against the ‘working’ character of faith itself and likewise not against the judgment of the believer according to his works. For just as absolutely as faith is involved in justification by the grace of God and by nothing else, even so work emanates from this same faith; as faith it cannot remain empty and work-less, but becomes known as faith precisely in works. Indeed, in the pronouncements on the justification of the ungodly and the imputation of faith for righteousness and those concerning the just judgment of God according to every man’s work, we have to do with the two poles of the same matter. For the first expresses as pregnantly as possible that the ground or cause of divine justification does not lie in human work as merit, but only in the grace of God. And in the second all the emphasis is placed on the work of faith, in the sense of its indispensable fruit. Yet this does not mean that justification by faith may be said to be the initial judicial act of God, which takes place in the present, and which is then to be followed in the final judgment by a justification on the ground of works. For it is true of the latter as well that it is a justification of the ungodly, an imputation of faith for righteousness, so long as what is at issue is the ground for justification. . . . To be sure, works are indispensable as the demonstration of the true nature of faith and as the evidence of having died and been raised together with Christ. In that sense one could also speak of the reckoning of works for righteousness, although the apostle does not so express himself. For works, too, only find their acceptableness before God in the fact that they are from Christ, wrought in the believer on account of his death and resurrection. . .” (Ridderbos, Paul, 179-180).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Harmony between Rom. 2:6-11 and Rom. 4:1-9

Since I presented my essay, “Justification, Judgment & Behavior: Judgment Day’s Coming Verdict Now Announced in the Gospel,” during the recent ETS meetings in Atlanta, I have been working almost daily at recasting it with a view to publishing it. (It will bear a different title when published.) In preparation for writing today, I awoke early, around 4:45 am. Prior to rising a half-hour later, I resumed my thoughts from yesterday and composed the following paragraphs which constitute a footnote, a rather significant footnote, so important that I may find that I need to promote it out of the notes field and into the text field.

I welcome your comments, insights, and criticisms of my reasoning.


In Rom. 4, to argue his case that Abraham was justified not from works (ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη) but that his faith was reckoned to him for righteousness (ἐλογίσθη . . . ἡ πίστις εἰς δικαιοσύνην), Paul plays the imageries of bookkeeping (ὁ μισθός οὐ λογίζεται κατὰ χάριν κτλ.) and the courtroom (πιστεύοντι ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ λογίσεται κτλ.) off one another. Yet, is it not excessive to reason that Paul’s claim here, “to the one who works, the reward is not reckoned κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα,” renders theoretical his positive assertion, “God will recompense each one κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ” in 2:6? That “God will recompense each one in accordance with one’s works” does not mean that God’s reward will be “in accordance with debt” instead of “in accordance with grace.”

In Romans 2 and 4 Paul comes at the issues from very different angles. As Paul reasons in Rom. 4, there is a kind of “worker” (τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ) who regards God to be the debtor versus another who, by implication, is in debt to God and thus is the “non-worker” (τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ) who believes (πιστεύοντι) upon God as “the one who justifies the ungodly.” Accordingly, in Rom. 4 his argument concerns the sinner’s posture before God. The sinner “who works,” by implication to be set right with God, regards him as an employer who makes good on a debt (κατὰ ὀφείλημα) rather than one who is gracious (οὐ . . . κατὰ χάριν). To the sinner, like Abraham, “who does not work but believes upon the One who justifies the ungodly, this faith is reckoned for righteousness” (4:4-5).

Prior to his use of the participle in 4:4 (τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ), Paul uses it in Rom. 2:10 to depict a kind of “worker” whom God impartially will reward with eternal life, which is to say he will bequeath the reward κατὰ τὰ ἔργων αὐτοῦ but not κατὰ ὀφείλημα. In 2:6-11 his argument concerns God’s “righteous judgment,” which is to say, the impartiality and inviolability of the correlation between God’s recompense and human behavior truthfully assessed (κατὰ ἀλήθειαν). In 2:6-11, Paul’s insistence that God will recompense each human κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ hardly is to argue that humans obligate God by putting him in their debt, either actually or theoretically. On the contrary, the apostle’s argument is that precisely because God will recompense everyone “in accordance with one’s works” (κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ) is essential to establish his thesis that “in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed” (1:17). Since God’s judgment is integral to his gospel (2:16), Paul punctuates his argument in Rom. 2:1-11 with the following distinct assertions to make it clear that his concern is to advance his thesis concerning God’s righteousness (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ): (1) τὸ κρίμα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν κατὰ ἀλήθειαν (2:2), (2) δικαιοκρισίας τοῦ θεοῦ (2:5, (3) ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ (2:6), and (4) οὐ ἐστιν προσωποληψία παρὰ θεῷ (2:11).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For What It Is Worth

I believe that I ought to return to the comments N. T. Wright made during his lecture at the Evangelical Theological Society’s recent conference in Atlanta that have attracted so much attention among bloggers. I do so to point out something that I had forgotten when reading John Piper’s The Future of Justification. I do this so as to be entirely fair to both N. T. Wright and John Piper.

Piper observes,
Wright repeatedly refers to works—the entirety of our lives—as the “basis” of justification in the last day. However, Wright also uses the language of judgment and justification “according to works” in a way that inclines one to think that the terms “according to” and “on the basis of” may be interchangeable for him. For example, he refers to Romans 2:13 and says, “Here is the first statement about justification in Romans, and lo and behold it affirms justification according to works.” “Paul, in company with mainstream second Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works.”
But in these contexts where he is discussing justification on the basis of works or according to works, he does not discuss the finer distinction between “based on” and “according to.” I suspect his view of how works really function in relation to final justification would become a good bit clearer if Wright discussed this difference.
Find Piper’s comments on pages 117-118. These quotations suffice to show that Piper is aware that Wright uses the expressions—on the basis of and in accordance with—interchangeably, even though he finds fault with Wright for failing to explain his appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 and to address “the fact that Paul threatens baptized professing Christians not just with barely being saved, but with not being save at all at the last judgment (Gal. 5:21; 6:7-9; 1 Cor. 6:9). The whole question of how Paul can speak this way and how our works actually function at the last day. . .” (p. 118).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

N. T. Wright Quotes, “in accordance with works”

Since the annual meetings of the ETS in Atlanta have ended many words have been written concerning N. T. Wright’s comments made during the final day of the conference. I have contributed my own comments commending Tom Wright for making more clear what I believe he always meant even though his phraseology has tended to confuse readers.

It is fitting, therefore, for me to point out that Tom Wright’s expression of surprise over the confusion of what he meant has evident warrant. Consider his lecture at Rutherford House title “New Perspectives on Paul.” He makes the following statements.
The third point is remarkably controversial, seeing how well founded it is at several points in Paul. Indeed, listening to yesterday’s papers, it seems that there has been a massive conspiracy of silence on something which was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus). Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works. He says this clearly and unambiguously in Romans 14.10–12 and 2 Corinthians 5.10. He affirms it in that terrifying passage about church-builders in 1 Corinthians 3. But the main passage in question is of course Romans 2.1–16.
The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation.
And we now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit – that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense. And, near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the ‘call’ of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. This is the point about justification by faith – to revert to the familiar terminology: it is the anticipation in the present of the verdict which will be reaffirmed in the future.
I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance, that in the Thessalonian letters, and in Philippians, he looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work. ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ at his royal appearing? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f.; cp. Phil. 2.16f.) I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a swift rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’. The fact that Paul does not feel obliged at every point to say this shows, I think, that he is not as concerned as we are about the danger of speaking of the things he himself has done – though sometimes, to be sure, he adds a rider, which proves my point, that it is not his own energy but that which God gives and inspires within him (1 Cor. 15.10; Col. 1.29). But he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?
Given the clear fact that Tom Wright uses the expressions “in accordance with” and “on the basis of” interchangeably, as demonstrated above, does it not behoove us all to grant him the benefit of the doubt that he really does mean what he explained during his ETS presentation? My hope is that Tom Wright will employ the clearer expression and avoid the expression that introduces confusion. But I also hope that American evangelicals will be more generous readers and hearers as they continue to engage Tom Wright’s always thought-provoking presentations and essays.

*I have purposely not highlighted the crucial phrasing so as to constrain all to read the entirety of the citations to get the point.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tom Schreiner’s Response to N. T. Wright’s Presentation at ETS, Atlanta

Tom Schreiner’s responses to both Frank Thielman and N. T. Wright which he presented at the ETS conference in Atlanta last week are now available on the Internet, thanks to Patrick Schreiner.

Of special note in Tom Schreiner’s response to Wright is his happy acknowledgment of Tom Wright’s terminology clarification or adjustment from “on the basis of the whole life” to “in accordance with our works.” Tom Schreiner states,
I am delighted that Tom now speaks of the final judgment as one that will be in accordance with our works instead of on the basis of our works. I think this adjustment and clarification is exactly right and does not contradict the idea that our righteousness is in Christ.  I resonate with Tom when he says that we too quickly drown out what is said about the role of good works in the final judgment because of our tradition. And I am in full agreement with his formulation: we are judged according to our works, but not on the basis of our works.
Since I commented on the terminology clarification or adjustment that Tom Wright offered during his plenary presentation, “Justification Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” on the final day of the ETS conference in Atlanta, I believe that it is proper for me to underscore the point I made in my earlier entry on this matter. I have always granted Tom Wright the benefit of the doubt when he has repeatedly made the following statements in numerous essays and books.
“Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to [Rom.] 2:14-16 and 8:9-11) on the basis of the entire life.”[1]
The whole point about “justification by faith” is that it is something which happens in the present time (Romans 3.26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Romans 2.1-16). Until justification is set firmly within this eschatological, as well as covenantal and apocalyptic, framework, we shall never be able to understand what Paul is talking about.[2]
And we now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit—that is, it occurs on the basis of “works” in Paul’s redefined sense. And near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the “call” of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.[3]
Along with lawcourt and covenant goes eschatology. Paul has set up a further question which will take him until Romans 8 to address fully. The new note he strikes in Romans 3:21-31 (justified in the present on the basis of nothing but faith!) sounds initially all wrong in terms of the tune he was playing in Romans 2:1-16 (justified in the future on the basis of the entire life!). He has set himself the challenge of filling in the intervening harmony and showing how, in fact, it is exactly what was required.[4]
I have always accepted Tom Wright’s phrasing, “on the basis of,” as his attempt to mean what I think is the much more accurate way to translate κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ (Romans 2:6), namely, “according to their deeds” or “in accordance with their works.” In fact, it seems to me that Tom Wright’s third statement cited above requires that we readers grant him the benefit of the doubt that I have consistently granted him. For he explains what he means when he clarifies “that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense” (emphasis added). Nevertheless, precisely because other readers have consistently found it difficult to grant him the benefit of the doubt and because readers (I included) have pointed out the unnecessary confusion created by using the phrase “on the basis of ‘works’,” it seems quite reasonable that we might have expected Tom Wright to have taken more ownership of the confusion and frustration caused by his choice of words when he seemingly resolved the matter by his clarification last week at the ETS conference. Yet, his effort to clarify fell short of taking ownership and set the blame upon readers instead. Keep in mind that John Piper did not hide his concern over Tom Wright’s phrasing in some obscure footnote in The Future of Justification. Piper devotes a whole chapter, chapter 7, spanning pages 103 through 116 to the issue. Yet, Tom Wright’s published response, Justification, does not offer the clarification of terminology that he offered at the ETS conference when he responded to Tom Schreiner’s presentation in which he points out the same confusing terminology. As I state in my own paper which I presented at the ETS conference, in Justification, his response to Piper,
Wright remains unbowed as he claims that future justification is on the basis of the whole life while simultaneously insisting that even though he differs from Piper on the idea of imputation, he agrees that justification by faith is “on the basis of Jesus’ death and triumphant resurrection.”[5] Earlier in his response Wright acknowledges the tension his statements pose, but he believes these statements, that incite others to charge him with “synergism,” accurately reflect Paul’s “paradoxes.”[6] Wright rejects the charge of “synergism” and explains: “I am not saying for one moment that ‘God does part of it and we do part of it’ (one classic form of ‘synergism,’ but not Paul’s). Paul’s regular paradoxes . . . remain the best way of putting it: ‘I struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me’ (Colossians 1:29); ‘I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me’ (1 Corinthians 15:10).” [7] 
Clearly, Wright’s statements disallow generous readers to suppose that when he uses the expression “on the basis of” that he intends what many take the words to mean, that they require some kind of synergism. I have always happily and eagerly granted him the benefit of the doubt that he is no synergist, that he is no semi-Pelagian nor a Pelagian. I know what it is like to be so charged, for Tom Schreiner and I have been accused of such by individuals who fail to read The Race Set Before Us correctly. Both Tom and I have patiently responded by explaining how and why we are not synergists. I have posted extensive responses on my blog (TRSBU), and Tom has published a small book in which he responds to such criticisms (Run To Win The Prize). If being understood properly by others is what we surely all want for ourselves, should we not avoid terminology and phrasing that introduces confusion, especially when we are addressing such crucial issues as the gospel?

[1] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 129. Cf. Wright’s definition in the glossary of terms in his popular commentary series as, “God’s declaration, from his position as judge of all the world, that someone is in the right, despite universal sin. This declaration will be made on the last day on the basis of an entire life (Romans 2:1-6), but is brought forward into the present on the basis of Jesus’ achievement, because sin has been dealt with through his cross (Romans 3:21-4:25); the means of this present justification is simply faith. This means, particularly, that Jews and Gentiles alike are full members of the family promised by God to Abraham (Galatians 3; Romans 4)” (Paul for Everyone—Romans: Part One [London: SPCK; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], 169-170; emphasis original).
[2] N. T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 57-58.
[3] N. T. Wright, “New Perspective on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006): 260.
[4] N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 214.
[5] The full statement is, “Justification by faith on the basis of Jesus’ faithful death and triumphant resurrection, revealing the ‘righteousness’ of the Creator God, his faithfulness to the covenant-through-Israel-for-the-world—this justification means that God now declares circumcised and uncircumcised alike ‘in the right,’ ‘members of the covenant family,’ the former ‘on the basis of faith’ and the latter ‘through’ faith—a small but perhaps important distinction” (Wright, Justification, 216; emphasis added). Consideration of the latter portion of this statement follows shortly.
[6] N. T. Wright states, “As long as theologians, hearing this kind of proposal, shout ‘synergism’ and rush back to the spurious either-or which grows out of a doctrine that has attempted to construct the entire soteriological jigsaw puzzle on the basis of a medieval view of ‘justice’ and with some of the crucial bits (the Spirit, eschatology, not to mention Abraham and the covenant) still in the box, or on the floor, or in the fire, we shall never get anywhere” (Justification, 192).
[7] Wright, Justification, 192 (emphasis added).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wright Sets Right A Wrong

During N. T. Wright’s presentation, “Justification Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” at the Evangelical Theological Society’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, November 19, he made a crucial statement which I cannot quote exactly from memory but the portion I will include in quotation marks is almost exact. At a significant point in his lecture Wright made a statement concerning the apostle Paul's phrase in Romans 2:6 (κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ) that sounded quite different from what he has written many times in his books. Instead of saying that humans will be judged “on the basis of their deeds” or that they will be judged “on the basis of their whole life lived,” he stated that humans will be judged “in accordance with their deeds.” Then he paused and went off script, or at least gave the impression that he went off script, and stated that he has been wrongly charged with claiming that Paul states that God will judge humans “on the basis of deeds.” He also stated that if anyone could locate where he stated that judgment will be “on the basis of deeds,” he would like to be shown the place so that he could correct it.

During the panel discussion that followed Wright’s lecture, attended by an overflowing large ballroom, Tom Schreiner indicated that he had located Wright’s statement that God will judge “on the basis of the whole life lived.,” which is not difficult to find in many of his writings. However, Tom was unable to locate anywhere that Wright expressly states that God will judge “on the basis of deeds.” Because I have been reading Wright’s works extensively in preparation for one of my own presentations at the ETS conference, I had at least one quote in my paper, but I did not have my paper with me during the Wright lecture. Wright does use the expression “on the basis of works” in the following quotation.
And we now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit—that is, it occurs on the basis of “works” in Paul’s redefined sense. And near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the “call” of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.[1]

As indicated in this quotation, it is evident that N. T. Wright, himself, explains that his phrase “on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit” means “on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense.” Since this is what he means, I read his statement generously. Nevertheless, even though he uses the phrase and explains that it is in a “redefined sense,” it is understandable that readers have understood Wright to be saying that Paul claims that God will judge humans “on the basis of deeds.”

Nevertheless, my readers will remember that I have been generous toward N. T. Wright as I have offered a couple of plausible explanations for the origin of his statements: (1) hyperbole, as Wright often exaggerates his assertions to make a point (something plainly evident many times during his presentations at both the ETS and IBR meetings in Atlanta, from which I just returned), and (2) Wright’s somewhat “sloppy” translation of his exegesis at times or at least his less than careful and precise exegetical commentary on the biblical text at crucial junctures. For my comments on Wright’s statements see TRSBU.

On Friday, following Wright’s lecture and the panel discussion I heard many attending the conference offer happy commentary upon the correction of his previous insistence that judgment will be “on the basis of deeds/the whole life lived.” Yet, one disappointment that I heard many times was that attendees wished that Wright had presented the needed correction as a full and clear acknowledgment of his error of writing rather than present it as a needed correction of his readers’ failure to read his written words correctly or of his hearer’s failure to hear his spoken words correctly. Alas! How difficult it is to acknowledge wrong, to do so publicly and especially to do so when the wrong is so widely published in one’s own words. Is it unreasonable to think that N. T. Wright owes all his readers a brief published statement to acknowledge and to correct his error? Such a correction would surely have a salutary effect.

Young scholars, may I paraphrase James’ admonition, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19)? “Be quick to listen and to learn.” “Be slow to speak, to present, and to publish.” For, if you do these things, then obedience of the third imperative will come more readily, “Be slow to give way to anger,” especially to defend yourself when others point out your misstatements.
* * *
Denny Burk, Academic Dean of Boyce College, has posted N.T. Wright on Justification at ETS on his blog. Even N. T. Wright engages in adding a couple of comments. It seems that N. T. Wright’s comment on Denny Burke’s blog comes off as a kind of retraction of his correction. Instead of candidly acknowledging that his phrase (on the basis of ‘works’), even though he qualifies it, invites the understanding it has widely received, it  seems that Wright wants to stick with what he has written and blame readers for imputing a wrong meaning to his phrase “on the basis of ‘works’”.

Denny Burk has posted a follow-up piece, Wrong about Wright?

Also find Collin Hansen’s report on the Gospel Coalition blog at A Justification Debate Long Overdue.

[1] N. T. Wright, “New Perspective on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006): 260.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Journal Announcement

Check out the newly announced Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters.

Introducing the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters

The Apostle Paul stands as an incredibly important figure within the religious and intellectual history of Christianity and Judaism in the first century. The study of Paul (the historical person, author, tradition, and legend) and the Pauline letters (content, context, authenticity, theology, and reception) continue to capture the fascination of scholars, students, religious communities, and even the media. A number of journals geared toward New Testament studies in general often contain a disproportionate number of articles dedicated to the study of the Pauline corpus. There is a never-ending avalanche of Ph.D. theses written about Paul and about the countless approaches and methods used to analyze the Pauline materials. Indeed, the study of Paul and the Pauline letters appears to be an almost inexhaustible field of investigation. Therefore, we think it time that Pauline research should have its own dedicated journal as a specific conduit for Pauline research as it is broadly practiced. In light of these considerations, it is my pleasure to present to you the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters (JSPL).

The JSPL will present cutting-edge research for scholars, teachers, postgraduate students, and advanced undergraduates related specifically to study of the Apostle Paul and cognate areas. It is proposed that the many and diverse aspects of Pauline studies be represented and promoted by the journal (see below, "Contribute"). The purpose of the journal is to advance discussion on these areas of Pauline research. As such we invite submissions on the above mentioned topics that make a significant and original contribution to the field of Pauline studies.

The inaugural issue of JSPL includes a contribution by one of its editorial board members, Dr. Susan Eastman of Duke Divinity School (USA) on “Philippians 2:6–11: Incarnation as Mimetic Participation.” Delving into the Christ-Hymn, Eastman argues for a close link between imitation and participation in Paul’s explication of his gospel to the Philippian audience. The first regular issue of JSPL will include studies such as Paul Foster, “Eschatology in the Thessalonian Correspondence”; Michael Gorman, “Justification and Justice”; Richard Bell, “Paul’s Theology of Mind”; and a review of Douglas A. Campbell’s The Deliverance of God by Christopher Tilling and Michael Gorman, with a further response from Douglas Campbell.
For more details look here.

A Glorious Random Act of Culture

The Philadelphia Opera Company is known for its “random acts of culture.” On October 30 they gathered with crowds at the Macy’s store in Philadelphia. As the clock struck noon, the singers, accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ – the world’s largest pipe organ – burst out with Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. Watch! Listen! Enjoy! Worship!

As you listen, imagine what such a chorus would be if all singers were to know the Lord.

Friday, November 12, 2010

ETS Presentation on Πίστις Χριστοῦ

Update Note (11/15/10): I uploaded a slightly modified version of my presentation, in the event that you have downloaded and printed a copy.

If you plan to attend the Pistis Christou Discussion Panel listed on pages 20-21 of the Evangelical Theological Society 62nd Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia on November 17, 2010 in Room 305 at 2:50-6:00 PM, you may want to print out my presentation and bring it with you to the session. Here is a copy of what I will be presenting.

You may also want to check out Bible Gateway's blog on translating Galatians 2:16. Look here. For older entries on the same question, look here.

The presentation below is also available here, at Google Docs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

English Translations Sanitize the Bible And Muddle Biting Imagery

When I first began to translate the Greek New Testament as a student, I was puzzled why English translations always seemed to translate the Greek word ἡ ἀκροβυστία with “the uncircumcised” when the word actually means “the foreskin” and when there is a Greek word that actually does mean “the uncircumcised.” The Greek word is ἀπερίτμητος, an adjective which, when used with the article, ἡ ἀπερίτμητος, may function as a noun. Paul never uses the adjective ἀπερίτμητος. In fact, it occurs only one time in the whole New Testament. It occurs in Stephen’s speech when he, like the prophets earlier, indicts Israel for “uncircumcised hearts and ears” (Acts 7:51).

The word that Paul consistently uses when he juxtaposes Jews as “the circumcised” (ἡ περιτομή) with Gentiles who are not circumcised, is not ἡ ἀπερίτμητος, “the uncircumcised,” a term used repeatedly in the LXX to depict Israel. Rather, Paul’s word of choice seems to be the contemptuous, even scornful term by which Jews of his day commonly referred to Gentiles. Paul uses ἡ ἀκροβυστία, “the foreskin,” the term of contempt, not to express scorn or disdain, but rather to feature the grace of God in the gospel which saves not only Jews who are circumcised, but also Gentiles who are “the foreskin,” a sure manifestation that they stand outside the covenant.

That English translators mollify the unpleasantry is understandable. However, lost is something of the richness and sting that Paul’s imagery evokes for Gentles as intended by Jews, which is captured well in the accusation put to Peter when he returned from being with Cornelius, “You went to men who have the foreskin and you ate with them” (εἰση̂λθες πρὸς ἄνδρας ἀκροβυστίαν ἔχοντας καὶ συνέφαγες αὐτοι̂ς; Acts 11:2). Paul's objective is not to be vulgar as course jokers are. His point is not even to be offensive to Gentiles, as he undoubtedly was as a Pharisee. Rather, as a Jew who formerly held contempt for the Gentiles as "the foreskin," now as Christ's apostle to the Gentiles, he purposely tweaks the sensibilities of fellow Jews who are loath to accept Gentiles believers as Abraham's seed.

Other portions within Paul’s letters that English translations tend to soften are Galatians 5:11 and Philippians 3:8.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Havoc of Exegetical Misconstrual, Unintentional, of Course

On Wednesday I posted a paragraph from the essay I am preparing for the ETS conference in Atlanta. Here is another paragraph to pique your curiosity and interest.

Worthy of passing comment is the havoc done to Paul’s argument by stating that “the doers of the law” (οἱ ποιηταὶ νόμου; 2:13), which is a statement characterizing who will be justified, “are no more and no less than those who ‘do the works of the law’; and ‘works of the law,’ Paul claims cannot justify.”[1] This is flawed and tortuous reasoning. Paul designs his statements in 2:12-13 to sustain his argument that Jewish possession of the law does nothing to insulate them from the coming wrath of God’s righteous judgment. So, a Jew, who possesses the law and hears it but does not do what the law requires, and a Gentile, who sins while neither possessing the law nor hearing what the law requires, equally will be condemned when God passes judgment. Possession of the law does not advantage Jews. Hearers of the law will not be set right with God (2:13a). Only doers of the law will be justified (2:13b). To negate Paul’s affirmative statement that concerns who will be justified, “the doers of the law” (2:13), with his much later negative assertion that concerns how justification will not occur before God, “all humanity will not be justified from the works required by the law” (3:20), amounts to hermeneutical “illegal procedure,” for it adjusts the apostle’s argument to fit a theological system.

[1] The expression, “works of the law,” has become infamously slippery with a “tendency to slide between two definitions of ἔργα νόμου (‘works commanded by the law’ and ‘actions performed in obedience to the law’ [cf. NIV as in Rom. 3:20])” (A. B. Caneday, “The Curse of the Law and the Cross of Christ: Works of the Law and Faith in Galatians 3:1-14,” [PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1992], 151-152; on ἔργα νόμου, see pp. 150-155). See also, Stephen Westerholm, who agrees that Paul’s phrase means, “the deeds demanded by the Sinaitic law code” (Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 121). Cf. also Douglas J. Moo, “‘Law,’ ‘Works of the Law,’ and Legalism in Paul,” Westminster Theological Journal 40 (1987): 92.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Justification, Judgment & Behavior: Judgment Day’s Coming Verdict Now Announced in the Gospel

For those of you who plan to attend the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meetings in Atlanta (Nov. 17-19), here is a paragraph from my essay that is scheduled to be presented for the Hermeneutics Study Group on Wednesday morning, November 17 according to the schedule below. Download Program PDF.
ROOM 213
Other Perspectives on the New Perspectives on Paul and the Law
Section Moderator: W. Edward Glenny (Northwestern College)

8:30-9:10 am

A. B. Caneday (Northwestern College, Saint Paul, MN)
Justification, Judgment & Behavior: Judgment Day’s Coming Verdict Now Announced in the Gospel

9:20-10:00 am

James B. De Young (Western Seminary)
Do the Apostolic Fathers Support the Premises of the New Perspectives on Paul and the Law?

10:10-10:50 am

Respondent: Lyn Nixon (London School of Theology)
Respondent: Matthew S. Harmon (Grace College & Theological Seminary)
In Romans 2:6-11Paul’s argument is not concerned with how or on what basis God will recompense people with eternal life or with wrath. Paul’s argument concerns to whom God will recompense eternal life and to whom God will recompense wrath.[1] This is evident in that the verb, “God will recompense” (ὃς ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ) finds its dual indirect objects stated within the four inner clauses of the chiasm: (B) τοῖς . . . ζητοῦσιν (v. 7), (C) τοῖς ἐξ ἐριθείας καὶ ἀπειθοῦσι . . . πειθομένοις (v. 8), (C’) ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ἀνθρώπου κτλ. (v. 9), and (B’) παντὶ τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ κτλ. (v. 10).[2] Each of the substantive participles, though characterizing people by their behavior, accents character. The fact that each clause characterizes by behavior the respective recipients of God’s recompense does not mean that these antipodal characterizations indicate the cause or basis of God’s reward—eternal life or wrath. Rather, lest anyone, Jews in particular, presume that the wealth of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience exempts them from God’s wrath that will fall upon Gentile sinners (2:4), Paul emphasizes both the impartiality and the inviolability of God’s recompense. The outer matched chiastic pair, stated in 2:6 and 11, accents the impartiality of God’s righteous judgment, while the inner corresponding pairs feature the inviolability of God’s justice.[3] Paul expresses the inviolability of God’s righteous judgment in another place: “God is not mocked. For what one sows, this also one reaps. The one who sows unto the flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction, but the one who sows unto the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7). Here, the imagery of sowing and reaping accents the inviolability of God’s justice concerning behavior that characterizes and recompense, just as Romans 2:6-11 stresses the inviolable relationship God’s righteous judgment establishes between character and recompense.

[1] In The Race Set Before Us (Schreiner and Caneday) we make the case that in Rom. 2:6-11 “Paul does not answer the question ‘On what basis will one be justified?” The question is not how but “Who will be justified?” (165ff). Upon reading these pages again, we could have expressed our thoughts even more crisply, as I endeavor to do in this essay.
[2] See note below for the chiasm.
[3] For the sake of convenience, here is the chiasm presented earlier.
A. God will judge everyone equitably v. 6
     B. Those who do good will attain eternal life v. 7
          C. Those who do evil will suffer wrath v. 8
          C.’ Wrath for those who do evil v. 9
     B.’ Glory for those who do good v. 10
A.’ God judges impartially v. 11

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thoughts on Mark 9:14--The crowd was astonished when they saw him

I am sorry that my blog has disappointed so many for so long because of no fresh exegetical entries. Since July, I have been otherwise occupied with house projects.

A comment from a reader of one of my other blogs prompted me to re-post here an entry from more than four years ago. I trust that it will be fresh for most of you. I shall resume my blogging here as time permits and as I resume a more daily schedule in my study.


Recently, as I was teaching a classroom of college students on the transfiguration and the following narrative in Mark 9:14ff, the words of the text caught my attention and stirred my imagination. Immediately upon returning down from the Mount of Transfiguration, the narrative says, "And when they [Jesus, Peter, James & John] came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him" (Mark 9:15-15; ESV). I posed a question to the students. Why do you suppose the text says that when the crowd saw Jesus they were greatly amazed? It is noteworthy to point out that elsewhere in Mark's Gospel the same verb ekthambeō occurs three times, once in 14:33 and once in 16:5 and 16:6, respectively. In 14:33, ekthambeō is used of Jesus in tandem with adēmoneō. The sense is that Jesus "began to be distressed and troubled." In 16:5 and 16:6, ekthambeō is used first of the women who came to the tomb and found it empty and were amazed, and then of the young man who had been seated at the right side of the tomb who cautions, "Do not be amazed!" The verb speaks of deep movement of emotions, particularly of trembling astonishment. Thus, in Mark 9:14, the verb ekthambeō bursts upon the reader with unexpectedness. Given the fact that Mark's other uses of the verb ekthambeō denote intense emotion, we would be amiss to devalue the verb's intensity in 9:14.

The unexpectedness of this verb at this juncture of the story is underscored by the fact that throughout Mark's narrative, verbs that speak of astonishment, such as ekplēssō in 1:22 signal the crowd's reaction to some remarkable teaching or miracle done by Jesus. In Mark 9:14, the crowd had not just seen any miracle nor had they just heard any extraordinary teach from Jesus. Nevertheless, the narrative expressly states that the crowd's astonishment came when they saw Jesus. This surely indicates that there is something about Jesus' personage that incited the crowd's astonishment.

It seems much too weak to take Mark's verb that signals intense emotion as does James Edwards who says,
On the other hand, if Jesus' countenance still radiates the glory of the transfiguration, the command "not to tell anyone" (v. 9) seems rather pointless. Moreover, if Jesus' countenance is substantially affected, we might expect the crowd to retreat in fear (Exod 34:30) rather than advance in avid pursuit. . . . On balance, the astonishment of the crowd appears to owe to Jesus' unexpected appearance and the hopes it raised (Mark 276-277).
Likewise, the comment by R. T. France seems too weak to satisfy the narrative when he explains, "More likely Mark uses the verb rather extravagantly to denote the powerful impression which Jesus' personal presence by now created: 'this authority emanates from him even before he speaks or acts'" (Mark, NIGTC, 364).

It seems more likely that my imagination, activated by the text of Mark that day in class recently, was intuitively right to direct the students to consider a recapitulation of Moses' descent from the mountain as recorded in Exodus 34:29-35.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
Jesus has just come down the mountain after being transfigured in the cloud along with Elijah and with Moses. Echoes, in the transfiguration account, of Moses' experience of the theophany on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:17-23) are too strong to ignore. This is all the more so when we find Mark using ekthambeō to describe the crowd's response to Jesus. Thus, it seems right that Morna Hooker says,
[Mark] must mean that there was something about Jesus' appearance which gave them good reason to be astonished. The only possible explanation seems to be that Mark means us to understand that Jesus' appearance is still in some way affected by the transfiguration. If Moses, coming down the mountain after speaking with God, reflected the glory of God from his face without knowing it, and so caused all the people to be afraid (Exod. 34:29f.), it is not surprising if Jesus also, coming down the mountain from a similar experience, caused astonishment among the crowd (The Gospel according to Mark, 222-224).
Robert Gundry also seems to get it right when he adds, "And something so striking as the heavenly whiteness of Jesus' garments seems required to account for a word so strong as exethambēthēsan. The extremity of the circumstances leading to later use of this word support this judgment" (Mark, 488).

What about James Edwards' objections to this understanding of the passage? What about his objection that this interpretation makes Jesus' command to the three apostles on the mountain "not to tell anyone" (v. 9) seem "rather pointless"? What about Edwards' objection that this interpretation should cause one to expect that the crowd would "retreat in fear (Exod 34:30) rather than advance in avid pursuit"?

It seems to me that any proper understanding of the interplay between Jesus' revealing and concealing his identity throughout Mark's narrative (the Secrecy Motif) has to acknowledge that Jesus' prohibition announced to his disciples on the mountain can hardly be taken the way Edwards does. In each of Jesus' acts, in each of his parables, in each of his miracles he both reveals and conceals. This is the nature of revelation. Jesus forbade the three disciples to speak of what they had seen on the mountain, but this prohibition hardly prevented him from carrying an afterglow of his transfigured glory with him for his other disciples and for the crowd below to glimpse and to be astonished.

If the crowd got a glimpse of the glory with which Jesus had been clothed when the heavenly cloud descended upon him on the mountain, then why did the crowd not "retreat in fear" as the children of Israel did when Moses approached them after he came down from the mountain? Is it not reasonable for us to suppose that Mark tells us that the crowd was astonished but ran to him and greeted him because he wants us to realize that, even though the crowd likely acted better than they understood, their reception of Jesus who came down from the mountain with apparent glory yet shining from his clothing signals that Jesus truly is the one greater than Moses of whom Moses prophesied when he said,"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him" (Deut 18:15; NIV). The heavenly voice on the mountain quotes this passage with the command, "Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7), signifying that Jesus is the True Moses, the one greater than Moses, the one of whom Moses prophesied.

So, as I reflect upon the recent day when I was teaching on Mark 9, I marvel at how many times I have read the words of Mark 9:14-15 and have read numerous commentaries on the passage and yet the text struck me as though it were the first time. The words leaped off the page and struck my imagination, prompting me to raise questions for my students, questions that I also needed to search out. I never cease to marvel that, if my students learn nothing when I teach, that I always learn, no matter how many times I have taught the same portions of the text before. Even though we who teach the text of Scripture repeatedly, year in and year out, there is something about the richness and fullness of the landscape of biblical narrative that we never take it all in at once. Even for us who teach there is much for us yet to learn.

I like the imagery sometimes attributed to Chrysostom (and Gregory the Great), used to describe the Gospel of John, that it is like a river--shallow enough for children to wade in it but deep enough for elephants to swim in it. Such is the nature of biblical narrative.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Barrenness, Uncommon Conceptions, and the Virgin Conception

I'm sorry that I've been occupied with task that keep me from blogging. Here is an entry, however, that emerges from an essay I am writing on Paul's uses of Scripture in Galatians 4:21-31. I realize that it is only a brief and tantalizing paragraph. It is not at all core to my essay's thesis. I belive that it does, however, raise a matter that NT students could readily take up as an intriguing and engaging thesis for an essay or monograph.


True as it is that Paul’s citation of Scripture to warrant this conclusion is evident, appealing to the Abraham narrative of Genesis and to Isaiah 54:1 as he does, what warrants Paul to use these portions of Scripture as he does? As one begins to search for answers to these questions, given Paul’s use of Isaiah 54:1, it becomes apparent that Paul does not originate the allegory. Isaiah’s use, which goes beyond the bare storyline of Genesis, predates Paul’s, thus pushing questions concerning the apostle’s use of the Abraham narrative back at least to the prophet, if not to the text of Genesis itself. For both the apostle Paul and the prophet Isaiah, essential to the Abraham narrative of Genesis is the plotted obstacle expressed in Genesis 11:30, “Now Sarah was barren, and she had no child.” The entire story of Abraham in Genesis emerges from and proceeds upon the premise that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is incapable of bearing children. Thus, from the outset, the writer of Genesis signals that the story entailing Sarah, Abraham, and God’s promise of seed to them is larger than life, larger than any of the individual personages within the story, thus infusing significances into the story that reach beyond the characters and events themselves, even if the one who inscribes the story does not fully grasp these significances in anticipation of the promise’s fulfillment. The import of the story’s premise promptly becomes evident in Genesis 12. Given Sarah’s sterility as the already stated obstacle, how will God surmount this impediment in order to keep his promise to Abraham that “in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3) and “to your seed I will give this land” (12:7)? The obstacle to God’s promise that Sarah’s barrenness poses, with which the narrative begins, is the first of two further iterations within the Genesis narrative, both entailing covenant couples, direct descendents of Abraham and Sarah, in the cases of Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 25:21) and of Jacob and Rachel (Gen 30:1).[2]

[1] Cf. the LXX of Gen 11:30 (καὶ ἦν Σαρα σπεῖρα καὶ οὐκ ἐτεκνοποίει) and of Isa 54:1 (εὐφράνθητι σπεῖρα ἡ οὐ τίκτουσα).

[2] Find the barrenness theme elsewhere in the case of Manoah and his wife with the birth of Samson (Jdgs 13:1-24), concerning Hannah and the birth of Samuel (1 Sam 1:2, 6), and implied in the story of the Shunammite woman and the birth of her son (2 Kgs 4:14). Except in the case of the Shunammite’s son, barrenness plays the purposeful role of displaying the extraordinary power and glory of the Lord who, in displays of uncommon grace to bring about conception and birth against nature’s impediment, and the sons born became Israel’s deliverers. Is it unreasonable to infer that this barrenness theme with such displays of God’s power, from the beginning, foreshadows the greatest uncommon conception of the greatest deliverer of all, not just from a barren womb but from a virgin’s womb? After all, this greatest uncommon conception of all fulfilled the promise of the Seed made to Abraham whose wife, Sarah, was the barren one.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Μυστήριον, Not So Great a Mystery

It has been awhile since I have posted an entry because I have been quite preoccupied with many activities, including writing an essay on Galatians 4:21-31 to be published in a journal in the fall. My study has brought me to a crucial moment in which I am constrained to address the role of mystery as it relates to the passage, which is the only place where any New Testament writer uses the word ἀλληγορέω (cf. ἀλληγορία), the word from which we derive our English words allegorize and allegory. I may post an entry on that later. For now, I offer a brief entry on μυστήριον, the Greek word from which we derive our English, mystery.

Mystery, as biblically conceived, is akin to how a mystery novel is written to be read following the storyline’s development and progression, building toward its dramatic climax when the mystery is finally revealed. Embedded within characters, events, settings, and plotted conflict throughout the storyline of a mystery novel are hints, foreshadows, and harbingers written in such a manner as to incite expectation. Yet, at the same time, woven into this storyline are puzzling enigmas, riddles, and conundrums that tantalize and add to anticipation that builds and escalates toward the plotline’s climax so that when the mystery finally reaches its climactic point of revelation, with its multifaceted culmination, the reader smacks the forehead with the palm of the hand and says, “But, of course! There it was all along. It was right before my very eyes from the beginning. How could I have missed it? How could I not have seen it until it was made obvious to me?” Such is the way the Old Testament was written. Such is the way Scripture bears witness to Christ Jesus. Such is what dawned upon Paul during his encounter with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. Thus, Paul writes, “Now to him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery concealed for long ages, but is now disclosed through the prophetic scriptures, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known for the obedience of faith unto all the Gentiles–to the only wise God through Jesus Christ, to him be glory forever” (Rom 16:25-27). The same Scriptures which concealed the mystery for long ages are the media through which the mystery is now revealed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ephesians 5:18--Be filled with the Spirit?

Long ago, when I was a young MDiv student, I needed to resolve for myself a theological question concerning Ephesians 5:18. My theological question arose out of the popular appeal to Ephesians 5:18 by a major Christian campus evangelistic group as its key biblical passage concerning living the Christian life. Appeal to Ephesians 5:18 called for Christians to become "filled with the Holy Spirit," one of numerous versions of teachings concerning the need for a "second blessing" leading to sanctification.

Since I had received two years of instruction in biblical Greek in college I puzzled over whether Ephesians 5:18 actually provided support for the "second blessing" teaching because the Greek grammar simply did not seem to support the usual translation of the verse. So, during my middler MDiv year I decided to write an essay for the second semester Christian Theology course, Salvation and the Christian Life, on Ephesians 5:18 to see if I could resolve my questions.

Crucial to my study was whether Paul's command of Ephesians 5:18 and Luke's narrative descriptions of "filling with the Holy Spirit" and "fullness of the Holy Spirit" throughout Luke-Acts correlate and concern the same phenomenon. At the time that I researched for my essay I found no published work that had tabulated the lexical work that was necessary for me to do. Because I was not so well skilled in linguistic research I essentially did all the ground-work research for myself only to discover after the fact that various grammarians and linguists who long-predated me did have brief helpful and instructive notes that confirmed my own discoveries. What were those discoveries? The following table shows what I discovered. True to form, Greek words of filling and fullness take the genitive case to indicate the content or the thing with which something is filled or full.

Consistently Luke-Acts uses the genitive case (πνεύματος ἁγίου; Holy Spirit) following verbs of filling and adjectives of fullness. Ephesians 5:18, as shown, not only does not use the genitive case as one should expect, if Paul is speaking of the same phenomenon as does Luke-Acts (πνεύματος ἁγίου; Holy Spirit), but Paul uses the dative case with the preposition (en pneumati; ἐν πνεύματι). 


Verb or Adjective

Noun Case
Luke 1:15 πλησθήσεται (he will be filled)πνεύματος ἁγίου (with the Holy Spirit)
Luke 1:41 ἐπλήσθη (she was filled)πνεύματος ἁγίου (see above)
Luke 1:67 ἐπλήσθη (he was filled) πνεύματος ἁγίου (see above)
Luke 4:1 πλήρης (full)πνεύματος ἁγίου (of the Holy Spirit)
Acts 2:4 ἐπλήσθησαν (they were filled)πνεύματος ἁγίου (with the Holy Spirit)
Acts 4:8 πλησθείς (filled)πνεύματος ἁγίου (with the Holy Spirit)
Acts 4:31 ἐπλήσθησαν (they were filled)πνεύματος ἁγίου (with the Holy Spirit)
Acts 6:3 πλήρεις (full)πνεύματος (of the Spirit)
Acts 6:5 πλήρης (full)πνεύματος ἁγίου (of the Holy Spirit)
Acts 7:55 πλήρης (full)πνεύματος ἁγίου (of the Holy Spirit)
Acts 9:17 πλησθῇ (filled)πνεύματος ἁγίου (with the Holy Spirit)
Acts 11:24 πλήρης (full) πνεύματος ἁγίου (of the Holy Spirit)
Acts 13:9

πλησθείς (filled)
πνεύματος ἁγίου (with the Holy Spirit)
Acts 13:52 ἐπληροῦντο (they were being filled)πνεύματος ἁγίου (with the Holy Spirit)

Ephesians 5:18 πληροῦσθε (be filled)ἐν πνεύματι (in the Spirit)

Consequently, it became readily evident that what Luke-Acts has in view with its grammatical constructions, Paul has something different in view. Since I did my research I have discovered that many others have confirmed my findings on Ephesians 5:18. I refer to published studies, including commentaries. In fact, unbeknown to me I initiated a series of studies on the passage that built upon my essay, an essay that was supposed to be twelve pages but turned out to be sixty-five pages. A doctoral dissertation used my essay and from that dissertation several other studies were birthed at various theological schools. 

Paul's admonition should not be taken as it is routinely translated even to this day as "be filled with the Spirit" (NIV, NRSV, ESV). Clearly, Paul is not commanding the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit in the sense that Luke describes various individuals as "filled with the Holy Spirit" such as in Luke 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:31. Not everyone who challenges the mistranslation of Ephesians 5:18 agrees with me concerning how I translate the passage. Nevertheless, I offer the following as my translation of the verse tied inextricably with the following verses. Given Paul's uses of the various words for filling and for fullness throughout Ephesians, I translate the verb not as "be filled" but as "be brought to completion."

And do not become intoxicated with wine, in which is debauchery, but be brought to completion in the Spirit by speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, by singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord, by giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to God and the Father, by submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
I take the imperative verb of 5:18 (πληροῦσθε; plērousthe) as the main verb upon which the sequence of participles hangs. I translate the verb as "be brought to completion." Hence, I translate each of the five present participles in the series as instrumental participles, expressing the instrumental means by which the being brought to completion is to be accomplished, by speaking . . . (λαλοῦντες), by singing and making melody . . . (ᾅδοντες . . . ψάλλοντες), by giving thanks . . . (εὐχαριστοῦντες), and by submitting (ὑποστασσόμενοι). It is rather apparent that the thing commanded in 5:18 is accomplished neither privately nor independently but corporately, as members of the church, within the congregation of believers. This is no "Lone Ranger" activity. This is true no matter how one syntactically connects the series of five participles to the imperative verb of 5:18, even if one takes the participles as expressing results rather than instrumental means.

You will also notice that many modern translations disconnect verse 21 from verses 18-20 and make it the head verse of a new paragraph connected with verse 22. This has been a modern and recent adjustment to the text after the third United Bible Societies' third edition of the Greek New Testament. This adjustment coincides with the modern feminist movement and its impact upon all things Christian. Not only is there no textual warrant for this; there are textual reasons to read verse 21 as the final verse of the paragraph.

As to all the theological implications and ramifications of my study, I leave that for now. Likewise, I lay discussion aside concerning other exegetical, syntactical, and text-critical decisions reflected in my translation. One this should be evident: Ephesians 5:18 is not commanding us to be "filled with the Holy Spirit" in the sense that early believers were "filled with the Holy Spirit." Rather, Paul's admonition entails the normative Christian experience of life and fellowship within the body of Christ, the church. The "being brought to completion in the Spirit" is none other than being filled with the fullness of God (cf. Ephesians 3:14-19).

Additional Note: Andy Naselli's book, Let Go and Let God? is a superb critique of the theology that my long essay on Ephesians 5:18 critiqued. From my earlier reading of Andy's material I am fully confident that his book will be superb. Read Andy's blog entry on his book, Let Go and Let God? here. Read Tom Schreiner's foreword to the book here.

Purchase Andy's book here at pre-publication special price. I ordered my copy today (6/11/10).

You may access significant elements of Andy's book by listening to his series of lectures based upon his dissertation here.

Additional Note #2: I just stumbled on to Andy Naselli's article, "Being Filled By the Spirit." Andy takes the five participles following the imperative πληροῦσθε in Ephesians 5:18 as expressing the results of "being filled by the Spirit." The expression "by the Spirit," of course, does not indicate the content. In fact, as Andy states and as my own study shows, the content with which we are to be filled is not expressly stated in the passage. As I suggest, the content is "the fulness of God," as inferred from the remainder of the letter to the Ephesians. I notice that Andy agrees with this.

Postscript: As I have indicated in my entry above, I have no substantial quibble with those, like Andy, who take the participles as expressing results of being filled by the Spirit. I take the participles as expressing instrumentality by which the command (πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι) is carried out. The reason I take the participles as instrumental rather than as resultant is that I take the command (πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι) to mean "be brought to completion in the Spirit." I take it this way for a variety of reasons. I will offer only two, here. One is that I take ἐν πνεύματι (en pneumati) as a locative, meaning, in the Spirit. This is influenced by the frequent use of  multiple uses of ἐν πνεύματι (en pneumati) in Ephesians, including some slight variations. Second is that I take πληρόω (plēroō [I fill, fulfill, complete]) in 5:18 in the sense "be fulfilled, be made complete" in conjuction with its other uses in Ephesians (1:23; 3:19; 4:10) and with use of πλήρωμα (plērōma [fullness]) in Ephesians (1:10;, 23; 3:19; 4:13). Ephesians 3:19 is decisive for me with the combination of the two words in the purpose clause, ἵνα πληρωθῆτε εἰς πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ θεοῦ (in order that you might be made complete unto all the completeness of God or in order that you might be fulfilled unto all the fullness of God).