Sundays With St. Paul: Authentically “Pauline”…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright

Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright

Nearing the end of his first chapter of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N.T. Wright lays out the sources being discussed throughout the rest of the book. Right from the beginning, he says he doesn’t want to simply concede “the ruling hypothesis” regarding the authenticity of Paul’s letters. Part of that “ruling hypothesis” are the seven, hardly questioned “Pauline” letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. What I found really interesting about Wright’s view of the “Pauline” corpus is what he adds: Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.

My introduction to biblical studies carried along the “ruling hypothesis,” so I have had a hard time seeing the authenticity of the six other letters (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) as directly from Paul. Instead, I have thought of them as authored by Paul’s close disciples or, at the very least, someone within Paul’s school of thought. Bart Ehrman suggests in Forged, as the title suggests, that the latter six had a completely different agenda; to deceive their audiences into thinking they were from Paul (forgeries). I never finished that book partially because I didn’t find Ehrman’s argument convincing enough, but mostly because I didn’t find the topic interesting enough (but don’t worry, there’s still a bookmark for where I left off). Ehrman has since written a more scholarly version, but again, I’m having a hard time being compelled to read on.

Wright, as part of his goal with the entire book, offers a different picture than the one I’ve been led to believe. He says that Ephesians and Colossians aren’t included is because “Ephesians in particular, and Colossians to a considerable extent, seem to have a much stronger and higher view of the church – and, indeed, of Jesus himself – than many scholars have been prepared to allow.”[1] Since those other six letters have such a lack of “justification by faith” language, apart from Eph. 2:8, it seems unlikely that Paul was the author.

My own understanding about those other six, which might fall in line with Wright’s critique, is that they carry a very different tone and include language that reflects a much more developed theology, which seems quite different from Romans. For example, the qualifications for “bishops” and “deacons” in 1 Timothy 3 or the inclusion of what might have been Christian hymns in Ephesians and 1 Timothy again. Minor examples, sure, but they carry language and a flow that seems awkward compared to Romans or the Corinthian correspondence.

Yet I’m quite interested into how Wright might develop this further (please, if you’ve read ahead, no spoilers). One point he makes, referencing John A. T. Robinson, is that “a busy church leader may well write in very different styles for different occasions and audiences.”[2] As a writer, I know this is true.

What would you define as authentic “Pauline” epistles? Have you held to the “ruling hypothesis” like I have (admittedly, with not much research) or do you favor a view like Wright’s – something that seeks to give the benefit of the doubt to Paul? What are the letters you deem “Pauline”?


[1] N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press, 2013), 57

[2] Wright, PFG, 60

Noah and the Bible…

Tonight my Old Testament class will be venturing over to a movie theater to watch the movie Noah. Although this particular class’ focus is on the latter prophets, most of us were in the earlier leg of this course, which included reading through the book of Genesis. No matter what, I’m pretty excited about it.

What I have found somewhat fascinating in recent days and weeks with this new movie is the rather polarized social media responses; either people loved it or absolutely hated it. I’m sure there are plenty of voices in between, but they just aren’t loud enough – especially when compared to those who would condemn the movie to the eternal flames of hell. While it might be tempting to chime in on whether the movie is great or terrible, I’d rather take a look at the story that inspired it.

As a way of making this whole experience feel somewhat academic, we were assigned Genesis 6-9 to read prior to class. Honestly, though, I think I would have at least skimmed the story a bit to catch up on “what actually happened,” but it’s probably better that it was assigned reading so that I’d be sure to read it. Nevertheless, there are some interesting things going on with the flood story in the Bible.

It starts off with an odd story about these “sons of God” who had taken human wives and bore these Nephilim characters (who were apparently giants). These Nephilim folks seem important to the story as a whole because then God sees the wickedness of the created world and subsequently laments (6:6-7). Perhaps these giants were rabble-rousers who utilized their size advantage for their own purposes (i.e. taking wives wherever they will)?

And then in God’s instructions to Noah about what to bring onto the ark, there seem to be two different sets of numbers as far as the animals are concerned. In 6:19, “And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark.” Yet in 7:2 it says, “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals,” which, granted, specifies “clean animals,” which carries sacrifice connotations, but God doesn’t command Noah to sacrifice these animals at any point – Noah does anyway in 8:20, but not because of any command.

Another interesting thing going on is how long the flood actually lasted. 7:17 says, “The flood continued forty days on the earth,” while seven verses later it says, “And the water swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days,” (v. 24). If that’s not confusing, chapter 8 has an odd passage of its own:

“At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains appeared,” – vv. 3b-5

How could the ark come “to rest on the mountains of Ararat” if the mountain tops hadn’t appeared for another two and a half months? If the Ararat mountains were incredibly taller than most other mountains, then that’d make a little more sense. But wouldn’t the author say the mountain tops appeared before the ark came to rest on them?

Noah’s sending of the birds also seems a little strange: first bird is a raven that “went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth,” (8:7). His second bird was a dove that seems to have gone out three times to check for a dry place to land, but what strikes me as odd is if the raven dried things up, why need to send the dove?

My point with this post is not to nit-pick the Bible, but merely to highlight the difficulty of critiquing a movie in its accuracy of an odd story. I also think this further points to our typical way of approaching the creation stories altogether (with an inherent understanding of “this is how it factually happened”) and how problematic it is to come to an incredibly ancient text with all sorts of expectations or demands even – such things that the text might never have been meant to fulfill in the first place. Bear in mind, Noah’s Ark is a flood story written after other Ancient Near Eastern stories (i.e. Epic of Gilgamesh), which might suggest a different purpose to the biblical[1] account; less about “what actually happened” and perhaps more about ancient Israel establishing themselves as a people with a story with a powerful God at the helm.

So before I even watch the movie, I’m already setting aside any expectations to how accurate the story is to “how it actually happened” and simply allowing myself to enjoy the story of the movie. As I’ve mentioned before, movie writers make intentional changes for the purposes of their story; not to simply regurgitate another’s story verbatim. If we’re irritated by how their version doesn’t fit our mold, then we’re missing out on what their version is trying to say.

God bless.


For further reading:

“Will Noah Sink or Swim? The Buoyancy of the Latest Bible Film,” Paul N. Anderson, Professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies, George Fox University

“My spot on editorial on a movie I haven’t seen (or, OMG “NOAH” GETS THE BIBLE WRONG!!),” Peter Enns, Author of Evolution of Adam


[1] Texts of or related to the Bible; not “doctrinally sound view”

Sundays With St. Paul: “From Worldview to Theology”…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

With this past week being Spring Break, my Paul and the Law class didn’t have any discussion forum, which of course allowed me to watch a little more Doctor Who. It also allowed me to read a bit more from N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Although I’m still wading through the first chapter, I found his “From Worldview to Theology” section interesting (36). Here Wright summarizes several of the terms scholars have used to discuss what Paul’s main point of emphasis was and what other points, if any, were secondary. To help illustrate his point, he shared four different diagrams:

Diagram 1

Diagram 1 (pg. 39)

Diagram 2

Diagram 2 (pg. 39)

Diagram 3

Diagram 3 (pg. 39)

Diagram 4

Diagram 4 (pg. 41)


The first is a simple collection of the terms, while the second (“classic Lutheran”) and third (“Reformed”) display which seemed to be more important and which seemed to be less important. Wright’s own diagram (the fourth one) contains all those terms into the same bubble, which he describes as a gathering together of puzzle pieces that had been separated onto several different tables. “Only when they have been brought together again in a single, initially confusing, mass can they be sorted out properly and fitted together into a more compelling, if inevitably more complex, single picture,” (44).

Given all of what has been discussed in this series thus far, what do you think of each of these diagrams? What do you think was Paul’s main focus (i.e. being “in Christ” or “the law”)? If none of these diagrams suits you, how would you rearrange them? Would you add or take anything away? And if you’ve read Wright’s book, is there anything he says that might help clarify the above arrangements?

On Being a Seminarian: Work and School…

This is part of a weekend series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Be sure to check out other posts by other bloggers, especially if you’re interested in biblical studies.

Today is my last shift at The Duck Store (University of Oregon’s bookstore). It is a job I started in my first year out of college and hoped to continue on through seminary because even though it is only part-time, that little bit of income goes a long way. A job helps in answering the question of “Will I have enough?” Seminary is expensive and interest rates on loans are not dropping any time soon. Those 10-15 hours a week were really helpful. But there is another question I’ve been trying to ignore since starting at George Fox: Will I still be able to fully devote myself to my studies in order to flourish academically? Essentially, will I be able to do the work I came here to do and do it well?

Many seminarians are not in the same boat that I am. Many are dating or married, raising children, deeply involved with ministries unrelated to their seminary education, and/or working a full time job. Their purpose for attending seminary leans a little more toward the pastoral side. While that remains an option for me, it is not my current focus. I am not dating or married, raising children, deeply involved with any ministry (not even a part of a faith community, at the moment), and my purpose for attending seminary leans toward the academic side. Therefore, I find it essential to devote the overwhelming majority of my time and energy to my schoolwork. Yet, I know that financial resources are essential in order to even continue studying, so the job seems essential as well.

Another benefit to having a job is that is a regular, mandatory break from academic work. With my day-to-day so entrenched in classes, reading, writing, translating, etc., it has been refreshing to have a place to go where none of that matters. I can chat with my coworkers about sports or traveling to Europe or almost anything other than school. My job has almost been my Sabbath, in a way.

And yet it hasn’t been a Sabbath, a complete rest from obligations. It has only been a rest from academic obligations; any job has entire lists of obligations all their own. And while I’ve enjoyed the rest from academic work, I have felt exhausted by the obligations of a retail atmosphere (my job is also located in a mall). I’ve been reminded of the summer after my freshman year of college when I, for one month, worked four different jobs. I did so because I needed the money, but I would never do it again because it was so incredibly exhausting. Although the extremes aren’t the same here, it is still a similar feeling.

My best academic efforts have come when I wasn’t employed. I didn’t go out much and finances were always tight toward the end of each term (in between financial aid checks), but it produced a platform which gave me the best possibility at academic success. I may have lived off of Top Ramen and coffee, but I received the best grades possible.

Although working a part-time job while attending seminary is the wiser route, it may not work efficiently for everyone. I would recommend at least starting seminary while working a job and see if it’s something you are able to handle – again, though, it depends on your purpose for attending seminary in the first place. But what would you recommend? What has been your experience in balancing work and school? Was it best to treat each realm as a “Sabbath” of sorts to the other or, as was my case, did it make things worse? What’s your purpose for attending seminary (or school, if you’re not in seminary)?

Sundays With St. Paul: Crises of Identity…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

For our discussion this week, we were asked to look at Paul’s somewhat negative view of the law in Ephesians 2:15; “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace…”[1] We were asked to consider why Paul appears to have such a negative view of the law. Why would he say the law has been abolished when Christ explicitly declares in Matt. 5:17 that he came to fulfill it?

I had said that if we take into account the preceding verse, we find a clue. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” What was circumcision? It was an outward expression of Israel’s unique, “set apart” relationship with God. Yet, as has been discussed before, it seems to have been a sign of national identity, which of course meant that if you were a Gentile, you must take on all the procedures of Jewish identity to become a member of the people of Israel.

So what I think Paul is doing in Ephesians, which appears to be a mostly Gentile community, is preventing them from separating over any issues of national identity (i.e. circumcision/non-circumcision). This works in both directions: neither Roman national identity, nor Israelite national identity. Instead, because of Christ, “both groups [are] one” because the wall of division (commandment of circumcision) has been removed.

Ever since our discussion, though, I’ve been wondering what this would have looked like for the average Gentile? After believing for most – if not all – of one’s life in many gods and goddesses, what would it be like to suddenly focus on one? And what if one was aware of the requirements for becoming Jewish? Now imagine another Jew, Paul, coming around and saying this one requirement was no longer necessary in order to believe in and follow the one God of Israel. It now meant one was no longer either Jew or Gentile; it meant one was now absent of national identity.

Imagine yourself as a Gentile in 1st Century Rome (or within the Roman Empire); what would you think of the Jewish people? What would you think of your own national identity? Now imagine a Jew wandering around telling people to believe in the God of the Jews, but not to subscribe to many of the ordinary customs. “Instead,” he says, “believe and follow the Messiah.” How might you react? What are your thoughts as you listen to this Jew named Paul?

[1] New Revised Standard Version

On Being a Seminarian: How Far is Too Far?…

This is part of a weekend series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Be sure to check out other posts by other bloggers, especially if you’re interested in biblical studies.

Since I began seminary last fall, I’ve been thrust into a somewhat-constant critical mode where anytime anyone says anything about anything I feel the need to object or play the Devil’s advocate. Not only does this have the great potential of being annoying to the person(s) I’m critiquing, but it also probably isn’t necessary. After all, not everyone is in some form of grad school. Not everyone is taking the same classes I am taking. And, much to my demise, not everyone cares as much as I do.

Ever since I’ve begun thinking critically about my faith, Scripture, and Western culture, I have found that I cannot go back to the way I used think. Once I’ve been made aware of something, I can no longer ignore that something. Where I seem to get into trouble is when I try to bring someone else along to where I am, even though they might not be interested or they might not be ready to evaluate a particular something under critical light (i.e. divinity of Jesus).

I find this is a little related to the balance between faith and scholarship post a few weeks back, but with a slightly different emphasis: being a seminarian amidst non-seminarian crowds. This could be a weekly Bible study or prayer meeting or Sunday morning service or believing coworkers. It could even be, as in my case, online communities.

A verse that comes to mind is Romans 14:1, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”[1] Now I know the context is different (discussing, mostly, food laws), but I think there’s a similarity for when seminarians encounter others who may not be as practiced at critical thinking, may not find the need for critical thinking, or haven’t thought critically about a specific topic. In this case, bringing critical light to something they hold dear might have damaging consequences.

So how do we know when to turn off the ever-constant internal critic? At what point do we find ourselves saying, “Okay, this is too far; pull it back”? Or, if we feel the need to bring that critical light to that particular topic (sometimes needed), how do we go about doing so in a gentle way that doesn’t cause panic? What experiences have you had in bringing critical light to a topic?

[1] By no means am I suggesting that those who have not thought critically are weaker in faith; instead I’m saying that non-seminarians might not think about things as critically.

Sundays With St. Paul: “Covenant Blood” Similarities…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

During my reading for this week, I was struck by this passage from Frank Thielman:

“[Jesus’] reference to covenantal blood in Matthew and Mark takes the form ‘this is my covenant blood’ (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24) and in Luke, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (Lk 22:20). Paul’s version of the statement in [1 Cor.] 11:25 is so close to Luke’s that the slight differences cannot be detected in translation. The version in Luke and Paul make explicit what the one in Mark and Matthew imply: Jesus interpreted his death as the establishment of the new covenant predicted in Jeremiah 31:31 and understood the blood shed in his death as analogous to the blood that, according to Exodus 24:8, Moses sprinkled on the people at the establishment of the Sinaitic covenant.”[1]

For one thing, I had never thought of Jesus’ “covenant blood” as mimicking or relating to Moses’ sprinkling of blood as a mark of the covenant. I think I tend to focus too much on the vampire-like aspect of drinking blood for communion.

For another thing, I haven’t studied the similarities between Luke and Paul before and I found Thielman’s insight interesting. I have heard before that, according to tradition and a mention in one of Paul’s letters (I forget which one), Luke was a traveling companion to Paul (at least at one point). What I’m wondering, though, is why, as Thielman says, Mark and Matthew would imply this analogy of Jesus?

Ever since college, I’ve been fascinated by the subtle, yet significant differences between the Gospels. Or, rather, the Synoptic Problem (so similar, yet so different). Any time the first three gospels (and occasionally John) flow stride-for-stride and then one deviates slightly, I’m compelled to wonder what might be implied. Yet at the same time, I know that not every difference within the Synoptics is for a specific, significant reason – an underlying message, if you will.

So that’s why I’m posing the question to you all: Do you think something’s intended by Luke’s subtle deviation from Mark and Matthew or is it the other way around; are Mark and Matthew intentionally distinguishing their account of the Lord’s Supper from that of Luke? If either of those is the case, what might be the reason? And do you think Paul had a strong influence on Luke’s account?

[1] Frank Thielman, Paul & the Law: A Contextual Approach (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 105