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.

Feb 17, 2018

Did Markus Barth anticipate the NPP in his Ephesians commentary?

[Warning: much of what is posted here is a bit of an over-simplification, but space precludes a fair treatment of all of the issues involved in the NPP!]

In the New Testament Intro seminary class that I teach, we spend a significant amount of time discussing the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). My take is mostly negative, i.e., I disagree with most of what the NPP brings to the table (I was there for the 2010 ETS debate in Atlanta and, in my humble but opinionated opinion, the best response to N. T. Wright's take on the NPP and his view of justification is the address delivered by Thomas R. Schreiner, revised and published here)

However, having said that, there are a couple places where I believe the NPP is correct. For example, the NPP rightly showed us that Judaism in the Second Temple period was, at the least quite often, a "religion of grace" (dear reader, please take a look at the "Prayer of Manasseh" sometime--it's an absolutely beautiful plea for forgiveness hinging on nothing more than the pure grace of God!)   In other words, to say that Judaism, as an entity, was legalistic is to build a straw man (now, the NPP does swing the pendulum too far to the other side, because some of Second Temple literature [e.g., Tobit 12:9; Mishnah Avot 3:16] did give us the sort of "works-righteousness" that Paul [Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5] and the Reformers opposed).

To reiterate, then: the NPP is at its strongest when it is pointing out that we should not build a "strawman" that characterizes all of 2nd Temple Judaism as legalistic/works-righteousness-oriented.

So, imagine my surprise when, while reading Markus Barth's magisterial Anchor Bible commentary on Ephesians, vol. 1, page 248 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974), a book which predates Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism (generally considered to mark the beginning of the NPP) by three years, I found the following statement by M. Barth:

"Therefore, it is misleading (and probably nothing less than slanderous) to consider 'justification by works of law' a doctrine that is distinctly and typically Jewish and basically maintained by all Jews. Jews are not, as it were by definition, Pelagians. Augustine's and Luther's deep insights into Paul's doctrine of grace and the successful use they respectively made of Paul's anti-'Judaistic' utterances when condemning Pelagius and medieval concepts of meritorious works have led Paul's interpreters to a caricature of 'the Jews' which is not supported by historical and literary evidence. 'The Jews,' including the early Judaeo-Christian congregation, have been falsely accused of representing a doctrine of salvation in opposition to Paul's. If Paul really intended to strike at the Jews in the polemical excursus of Eph 2:8-9, it is inconceivable that he could speak as positively of the reconciliation of Israel and the Gentiles as he does in 1:11-14; 2:11-22; 3:6." (emphasis added)

Now, in so far as this paragraph goes, it is golden, and represents the strongest point of the NPP, even before the NPP truly began: "Jews are not, as it were by definition, Pelagians." Markus Barth's words should warn us not to broad-brush an entire group so carelessly, especially when the NT writers themselves were (almost all) Jewish. Interestingly, on page 248 Barth cites the Tübingen School (e.g., F. C. Baur) as representing the school of thought that sees "all Jews (except Jesus and Paul) guilty of the teaching repudiated by Paul." To the extent that the NPP is pushing back against that, I believe the NPP is correct (though as I noted above they swing the pendulum too far to the other side sometimes!) Also, for the record, I disagree with Barth's view that "works" in Eph 2:9 is"works of the Law" like in Galatians (p. 244). Surely a generic "works," without contextual qualifiers, is broader than "works of the Law"! But I digress.

On a closing note: I have a much higher opinion of Markus Barth than his father Karl Barth. Markus' message to us about a husband's duty in Ephesians 5 is something his father, apparently, did not always live up to (i.e., as we see in the recently translated correspondence). Also, Markus Barth's Acquittal by Resurrection remains one of my favorite books, as it absolutely demolishes the  idea that one can be truly Christian without the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Feb 6, 2018

Can Christians eat sushi? A serious question in light of the Noahic and Apostolic prohibition of blood.

Note: as of 11/20/23, the most helpful answer in regards to the core question here was posted in the comments section by that prolific author "anonymous" 😀 who, to paraphrase, states that the quality of the taste of sushi would be significantly lowered if the the fish were not bled out, so that it is standard practice to drain out the blood. Consequently, fish are always bled out. Ergo, it would seem that we can eat Sushi without fear of violating the Noahic Covenant and the Apostolic Councils' decree. 

In both my undergrad Hermeneutics and seminary NT Intro classes, I like to focus on the authoritative Apostolic Council of Acts 15--specifically, how it responds to the issue of the Gentiles and whether or not they have to keep the Torah. The Apostolic Council answers with a definitive "no", through James' official "krinō de",  to the question of whether or not Gentiles need to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1) and whether or not Gentiles need to follow the Torah to be in good standing with God (15:5). In other words, Gentiles do not need the Torah (defined as the body of laws given specifically to Israel as a nation) for either salvation or sanctification. Paul reinforces this theological principle in much of his writing, especially Galatians.

However, James makes clear there are certain transcendent principles wrapped up in the Torah that Gentiles need to be aware of and obey (v. 20): clearly, anything thats smacks of idolatry or immorality (porneia, all immoral sin, not just adultery--what a counter-cultural thought in the 1st century!) need to be avoided. He also, however, mentions "things strangled," and "blood." [It's worth noting that there are a variety of interpretations regarding the significance of these 4 prohibitions being lumped together; no time to get into that today! I will mention, however, that all are probably closely linked to pagan idolatry, though David Instone-Brewer has made an intriguing case that "pniktos" refers to infanticide via "smothering" rather than strangling; you can read his article here] In my opinion, the prohibition of blood is a transcendent principle, since it goes all the way back to the Noahic commands in Genesis 9:1-7, given before Abraham was ever born.

Now, fortunately, the red juice in a "medium rare" steak or burger is apparently not blood (see this article). However. blood sausage and other dishes that actually contain blood are out of the question for Gentile (and Jewish) Christians. Once again, this prohibition against eating blood (which I assume is what James means by "blood" in v. 20) has existed from the very beginnings of when the Lord allowed humanity to eat meat. I do not deny that "blood" in Acts 15 is linked to pagan idolatry (though that was not the context in Genesis 9), but this does not mitigate the broader principle any more than "fornication" (porneia) in the same context would be limited strictly to cultic prostitution or other idolatry-linked immorality.

However, one of my NT Intro seminary students, James, raised an interesting question: what about sushi? Technically, fish has blood, and technically, the blood is not drained in real sushi (from what I understand). Does this mean that raw fish, as generally prepared, is prohibited for all Christians, Gentile and Jewish?

I honestly don't know the answer to this. From the modern Jewish perspective, apparently raw fish is ok, as this Rabbi states (with thanks to another of my students, Alonso, for sharing this link). This is addressed in Jewish commentary here (from what I understand). However, whether or not this would represent a biblical (as opposed to traditional) reading, I don't know.

Once again, I see no way of getting around a full prohibition of intentionally eating blood at least in regards to land animals, so blood sausage, etc. is out. Nor does the prohibition apply strictly to when it's linked to pagan idolatry, in my opinion, in light of the fact that it originates with the Noahic Covenant. So, there is one huge issue that needs to be grappled with:
What constitutes a biblical definition of "blood"??
In other words, would Moses (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) and his original audience naturally think of "fish" when writing the words of Genesis 9:3-4?

There's a hint in the Torah itself that he may not have been thinking of fish. In Leviticus 7:26, the prohibition against blood is apparently clarified by the preposition l attached to two nouns: "ōph" ("bird") and buhēmah ("beast"). The word for "fish" (dagah) does not occur here (though that is actually a rare word), nor do we see any of the key terminology describing "fish" from, e.g., Leviticus  11:9. So although in a modern scientific sense fish have "blood," as far as Moses is concerned it's not close enough to count.

Unfortunately, being a New Testament specialist rather than an OT guy, I'm totally out of my depth here (pun not intended!). I can only conclude with four thoughts:
1. We Gentiles are not under the Torah (i.e., the body of Laws meant specifically for Israel), and thus we can enjoy our barbecue pork (so long as we do not cause our brother or sister to stumble).
2. However, the Torah is still applicable to us and is meant for our instruction (for one of the better discussions on this, see  William Combs' article in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal here).
3. There are, however, transcendent principles going back to the pre-Abraham era that still apply to us, especially when reiterated at the Apostolic Council of Acts 15. This includes the prohibition against eating blood (all meat that we eat should have been subjected to a reasonable effort to remove the blood).
4. Whether or not sushi would fall under that prohibition is, in my opinion, still an open question and needs to be addressed by an Old Testament scholar (to my knowledge none have done so yet; please point me in the right direction of I'm wrong!)

With thanks to my seminary students Alonso and James for their dialogue on this, as well as my friend Alex in North Carolina!