Purpose:

The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Mar 6, 2013

Christian identity, Markan soteriology, and a spiritual journey: Three fascinating scholarly articles from 2012

I originally intended to conduct an entire survey of journal articles from 2012 and bring the most interesting to your attention. However, since I'm in the middle of "crunch time" with my last dissertation chapter (hurrah!), I've toned down my ambitions somewhat and will simply point you to three really fascinating articles that I've come across (two of these are fairly non-technical, as well).

J├╝rgen Moltmann's spiritual journey
First off, we have a very moving personal reflection by German theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann (based off of his Faraday Lecture on 2/14/2012), entitled "From Physics to Theology--A Personal Story," in Science & Christian Belief vol. 24 (2012). Now, I will have one caveat about this article, where Dr. Moltmann does seem to go way off into left field, but this article is nonetheless well worth reading and should prove to be spiritually moving. The first half of this article is about Moltmann's own personal testimony of how he came to Christ as a prisoner of war in England. You see, Moltmann had actually been part of the German army during World War 2, conscripted into it when he was 16 years old. Seeing a companion destroyed by a bomb right next to him began his struggle with mortality and the existence of God.

Captured at the end of the war and shipped off to the United Kingdom, Moltmann was touched by the kindness of the Scots: "They met us, their former enemies, with a  hospitality that profoundly shamed us. We heard no reproaches, we were not blamed, we experienced a simple solidarity and a warm common humanity. For me this was quite overwhelming" (p. 101). After receiving a Bible from a British army chaplain, Moltmann struggled with the implications of Psalm 39 and Jesus' cry on the cross in Mark 15:34. He writes, "I began to understand the forsaken Christ, because I knew he understood me. He was the divine brother in need, . . . the fellow sufferer who carries you in your pain. . . . I read the story of the passion of Christ again and again and discovered my little life story in his great story" (p. 102). Shortly after, still technically a POW, at the first post-war SCM conference, he and his fellows were approached by a group of Dutch students: "They told us that Jesus Christ was the bridge on which they came to meet us and that without Christ they would not have been able to speak to Germans. . . . We too could step on this bridge which Christ had built from them to us,even if we did so only hesitantly at first, could confess the guilt of our people and ask for forgiveness." This defining moment then pointed Moltmann towards his lifelong passion: the study of theology (pp. 103-104). By the end of his term as a POW, Moltmann could say, "What at the beginning had looked like a grim fate became an undeserved blessing. It had begun in the darkness of war and then when I went to Norton Camp the sun had risen. We came with severely wounded souls, and when we went away 'my soul was healed'" p. 104).

The second half of the article provides Moltmann's perspective on science and God. There's some good stuff here, but at one point he goes off into left field--nay, actually goes up into the left field bleachers!--when he starts to talk about the earth as a living organism (p. 107--"At a certain point in its evolution the earth began to feel, to think, to become conscious of itself and to sense reverence. . ."; and I don't think that's just poetic license). Nevertheless, Moltmann still has some excellent observations, especially p. 106 where he states, "In the great dramatic picture of creation in Job 38-40, a human being is very small and insignificant before God's wild and immense creation. 'Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Can you bind the chains of the Pleides? Can you loosen Orion's belt?' And Job answers: 'I am unworthy--how can I reply?' This is the answer of human wisdom. True knowledge presupposes cosmic humility, as Richard Bauckham maintains, not the 'arrogance of power'. True science is bound to truth and is not for sale" (emphasis added).

Yes, occasionally academic articles can actually be spiritually beneficial and moving, and I believe this is one of those (caveat aside).

Brian Gamel's Markan Soteriology
While not quite as moving as Moltmann's article, Brian Gamel's article on Mark's soteriology was so well-written it actually made me want to preach a sermon on Mark 15:39. This is another of those rare articles that actually blesses the reader rather than simply enlightening him or her (or confusing, depending on the subject matter!)

Brian K. Gamel (who I think is a student at Baylor), in his article "Salvation in a Sentence: Mark 15:39 as Markan Soteriology," in the Journal of Theological Interpretation 6 (Spring 2012), basically argues that
". . . Mark 15:39 demonstrates what salvation means for Mark. Specifically, it shows that for Mark the cross offers eschatological sight, rapprochement between the hostile spheres of humanity and divinity, and the extension of Israel's blessings to the Gentiles" (p. 66).

Basically, Gamel's article is an exercise in biblical theology, demonstrating how Mark's soteriology peaks in the centurion's confession about Christ: "truly this man was the Son of God"  (Mark 15:39). Now Gamel's thesis is somewhat controversial; you could interpret the Centurion's statement as "the son of a god," i.e., simply a pagan's musings on the unique characteristics of the heroic death in front of him (and one of my friends just successfully defended his ph.d. dissertation where he takes a similar view on that verse). Gamel does deal with the "positive" vs. "negative" interpretations of the Centurion's statement, but some may not be convinced that the confession should be viewed positively.

Yet if Gamel's interpretation holds, then the rest of the article brilliantly unpacks that statement in light of what the author, Mark, was trying to accomplish by focusing on the Centurion. According to Gamel, in Mark 15:39, "Eschatological sight is offered to the ultimate outsider of Israel, and what is seen is that God and humanity are now united together" (p. 77). Furthermore, the key to Markan soteriology ". . . is understanding that the cross does not merely 'show' salvation in a series of connected, soteriologically loaded phrases. It effects salvation."

That'll preach, won't it!?

David Horrell on 1 Peter 2:9
I am very fortunate that Dr. Horrell's article came out when it did, because it is turning into a key source for the last chapter of my dissertation. In his article, "'Race', 'Nation', 'People': Ethnic Identity-Construction in 1 Peter 2:9," in New Testament Studies 58 (January 2012),  David G. Horrell (professor at the University of Exeter) examines the identity terminology of 1 Peter 2:9 (the terms "genos," ethnos," and "laos"), and focuses on this as "ethnic identity language, and a crucial early step in the construction of Christian identity in ethnoracial terms." (p. 125).

Dr. Horrell initially surveys use of these words in the LXX and elsewhere in the NT, as well as early Christian writings. He then focuses on 1 Peter 2:9 itself. While cautioning against "importing modern and debatable assumptions--about the biological essentialisms of race, or the nation-state as the obvious locus of sovereignty--into our studies of early Christianity and our translations of ancient texts" (p. 138), he nonetheless states, "The concepts of both ethnicity and race remain relevant to the study of early Christianity . . . ." A major point of Horrell's article seems to be how (more-or-less) flexible the concepts of "race" and "ethnicity" are in the NT social context and how, consequently, these concepts could be developed and attached to this community of believers in 1 Peter. Thus, "The letter's overall strategy, in which the identity-designations of 2.9 play an important role, is--put in terms of social identity theory--to develop a positive sense of in-group identity, of the status and honour that acrue to membership of the community, in the face of negative evaluation and stigmatization on the part of the outsiders." (p. 141-142).

Finally, "Just as 1 Peter represents the first attempt to claim what came to be the identity label par excellence--Christianos--as a positive badge of self-identity, so too it represents the first move to designate Christians explicitly as a genos, a move that was of considerable significance in the evolution of Christian identity discourse." (p. 143)

Chapter 6 of my dissertation will focus somewhat on how this "positive badge of self-identity" is a reaction to the status of "strangers" (displacement) in which the readers find themselves (in chapter 2 I partially defend John Elliott's view that they were literal "strangers/foreigners/resident aliens," not just "strangers" in a metaphorical-spiritual sense). (by the way, the term "pilgrim" is an absolutely horrible translation for any word in 1 Peter, but I digress . . .) Regardless of one's views, however, Horrell's article here is an excellent discussion on a key part of 1 Peter, Christian self-identity.

    

2 comments:

  1. Hey Paul, I'm continuing to enjoy your blog--even all the way across the ocean! I had a question for you about publication. I noticed that you have published an article in Filologia Neo. Could you let me know how you got in touch with this journal. I have have tried unsuccesfully to get in contact with them. Thanks,

    Andy

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  2. Hi, Andy, great to hear from you and always enjoy reading about your adventures (academic and otherwise) in Germany! I'm dropping you an e-mail (the address listed on your blog) with what information I have; FilNet is really, really hard to get ahold of!

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