This may not be news to anyone else, but today I discovered that Yale University Press are about to publish a new translation of the New Testament by David Bentley Hart, the noted essayist and theologian whose work usually stands pretty squarely in the love-it-or-hate-it category. Here is the publisher’s description:
David Bentley Hart undertook this new translation of the New Testament in the spirit of “etsi doctrina non daretur,” “as if doctrine is not given.” Reproducing the texts’ often fragmentary formulations without augmentation or correction, he has produced a pitilessly literal translation, one that captures the texts’ impenetrability and unfinished quality while awakening readers to an uncanniness that often lies hidden beneath doctrinal layers.
The early Christians’ sometimes raw, astonished, and halting prose challenges the idea that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are. Hart reminds us that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. “To live as the New Testament language requires,” he writes, “Christians would have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth, to have here no enduring city, to belong to a Kingdom truly not of this world. And we surely cannot do that, can we?”
The last sentence of that description is unpacked in detail by Bentley Hart in an essay here, which gives a small example of the translation (of James 5:1–6). It includes the following:
I do not mean merely that most of us find the moral requirements laid out in Christian scripture a little onerous, though of course we do. Therein lies the deep comfort provided by the magisterial Protestant fantasy that the apostle Paul inveighed against something called “works-righteousness” in favor of a purely extrinsic “justification” by grace—which, alas, he did not…Rather, I mean that most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.
Next Wednesday (June 7th) sees the annual showcase for research happening across the various Colleges and Centres of the University of Divinity. I am giving one of the plenary papers. Title and abstract are as follows:
“The Effects of the Historical Jesus: Table-Fellowship as Test Case”
In this paper I survey recent methodological developments in historical Jesus studies, assessing the historiographical, theological, and practical benefits of the ‘turn to memory’ in recent scholarship (the work of Schröter, Dunn, Allison, Keith, Le Donne, Rodriguez). These developments can be summarized as a shift away from the notion of access to the historical Jesus by means of a ‘quest’, towards an approach to the historical Jesus through consideration of the ‘effects’ of his life and teaching. These methodological observations will then be illustrated and tested through consideration of one aspect of the tradition: the importance of memories of Jesus ‘at table’. Rather than searching for relative levels of ‘authenticity’ in the gospel traditions relating to table-fellowship, attention will be given to the weight and shape of the early Christian movement’s memories. It will be suggested that presence of such memories in the Jesus tradition and emerging Jesus movement (the ‘effects’) can only be explained on the basis of characteristic and meaningful incidents (the ‘events’) to which we have no direct access, but about which we must responsibly speculate. I engage in such speculation by proposing three trajectories that emerge out of originating events in the ministry of Jesus at table: towards inclusion, ritualization, and transformation. I conclude by arguing that contemporary forms of Christian community and discipleship should continue to manifest these ‘effects of the historical Jesus’.
There are number of other good looking papers in the biblical studies area (or related) including:
Chris Monaghan, Synoptic Studies: Where to from here?
Grant Buchanan, Identity and Human Agency in Galatians 5 & 6
Michael Golding, Indiscriminate, unreciprocated giving in Seneca and some implications for Paul’s approach to giving
Carolyn Alsen, Veiled Resistance: The Cognitive Dissonance of Vision in Genesis 38
Scott Kirkland, The Aesthetics of Politics: Barth’s Romans
Gerald O’Collins, The Scriptures as Inspiring; The Case of the New Testament
Deborah Guess, The quest for the geographical Jesus: an eco-theological critique of the priority of history
Amir Malek, A 12th Century Coptic Commentary on Genesis
The full programme is available here.
I have been working with colleagues at the Australian Catholic University to plan and participate in a day conference on ‘Culture, Ethnicity, and Religion in Early Christianity and Early Judaism’, to be held at ACU on July 18th 2017.
David is giving a paper entitled “Ethnicity, Race, Religion: Categories of Analysis and Contexts of Interpretation in the Study of Judaism and Early Christianity” with a response from Professor Mark Brett of Whitley College.
I will be giving a paper entitled “Intra-Jewish Polemic in Paul and Qumran: A Comparative Investigation”, and Emmanuel Nathan from ACU will be responding.
There will also be four short papers in the afternoon from NT PhD students and scholars here in Melbourne. The poster is below with details of registration etc.
I heard today from his wife Eleanor that Alan Kreider passed away peacefully at 8.08 am on the 8th of May at home (the sign on the front of the Kreiders’ house reads ‘The Eighth Day’.
Alan was an outstanding historian of the early church with a PhD from Harvard in the English Reformation. He was a Mennonite, shaped by that tradition, deeply committed to the values of peacemaking and radical discipleship, and throughout his life was involved in serving the Mennonite church as a theological educator, leader, and missionary (bringing the gifts of his tradition to the wild, unevangelized territory of North London and the UK – a mission field if ever there was one). But to remember him as a Mennonite is to obscure the contribution that he and Ellie have made to the wider church. As a mentor, leader, speaker, teacher and writer, Alan engaged with and embraced the church in its full catholicity. He was as at home in convents and monasteries as he was in cell groups and conferences. His academic work, most specifically his final book on The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, is a gift that crosses confessional boundaries.
But above all I will remember Alan as a friend. He arrived to take up leadership at the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College in Oxford just after I left to take up my first pastorate in Reading. But I soon became involved in the Thursday night table-group that met in Oxford weekly, and of which Alan and Ellie were indispensable members. The memories of common purpose, mutual commitment, deep listening and much, much laughter that marked the experience of that group shaped all who participated in it. Together, Alan and Ellie preached at our wedding, in the customary Kreider fashion in which each took it in turn to speak a sentence seamlessly emerging out of what the other had just said said. And when we were discerning important moves, first to Manchester and Northern Baptist College, where Alan and Ellie had also taught, and then to Australia, Alan was on hand to listen and to pose the important questions about vocation, and commitment, and what it meant to serve Christ through serving the church.
In an essay that I co-authored with Brian Haymes, published in a collection that celebrated and honoured Alan and Ellie’s legacy, we closed our discussion of friendship by citing and commenting on Bonhoeffer’s famous prison poem “The Friend”. It is with great thanks for Alan’s witness that we can now, in death, commend him into the peace of God that he embodied in life.
Far or near
in success or failure
the one recognizes in the other the true helper
toward freedom and humanity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Friend”.
Not only does Bonhoeffer write this poem in such a way as to connect human and divine friendship, but the prison location of its composition reminds us that friendship is deeply entangled with the cost of discipleship. Indeed, friendship, we suggest, is the form that discipleship takes in community as we live together in response to divine welcome and in obedience to the one who calls us friends. Alan and Ellie Kreider have embodied the “true helper toward humanity and freedom” for each other, for the two of us, and for all those who count them as friends.
Winter, Sean F. and Brian Haymes. “Friendship: Find Fellow Travellers,” Pages 117–124 in Forming Christian Habits in Post-Christendom: The Legacy of Alan and Eleanor Kreider. Edited by James R. Krabill and Stuart Murray. Harrionsburg VA: Herald, 2011., 123–124.
Back last year I was approached to see if I wanted to offer a paper to the Barth Studies stream of this year’s ANZATS Conference in Adelaide. The chosen theme was ‘Reading Romans with Karl Barth’. Last week I head that the proposal has been accepted which means that I will need to be spending some time in a different section of the Dalton McCaughey Library than usual. Here is the proposed abstract:
God Revealed and Hidden: Barth’s Exegesis of Romans 11:33–36
Responding to the call for papers that explore the theme of ‘Reading Romans with Barth’, this paper considers the climax of Paul’s theological exposition in Romans: the doxology of Romans 11:33–36. In the 2nd edition of the Römerbrief Barth makes explicit the summative importance of this passage in relation to the central theme of Romans: ‘that in Christ Jesus the Deus absconditus is as such the Deus revelatus’. As such, the passage forms an inclusio with Rom 1:16–17 and proclaims God to be the God of victory and of mercy ‘in this hiddenness’. Taking Barth’s exposition in the commentary as a starting point, I explicitly connect his exegetical treatment to the more explicitly dogmatic considerations of CD I.2 and the doctrine of revelation. The paper then considers how Barth’s insight into the relation between revelation and mystery, forged in the context of post WW1 German theology, coheres backwards and forwards in time with other deeply contextual theological accounts. Looking back, I consider Paul’s situational rhetoric in the argument of Romans and the role of 11:33–36 to his account of salvation history directed at conflicts in the Roman house churches. Moving forwards, I note the close connection to Katherine Sonderegger’s recent treatment of divine omnipresence in Part II of her Systematic Theology, an explicitly dogmatic treatment that is both exegetical in shape and contextual in orientation.
I am just completing an essay on Galatians. As usual, I have turned to take a look at what German commentaries say about the texts I am exploring (Gal 2:19–21; 5:13–14; 6:2 if you must know), but there is a strange dearth of recent German language commentary writing on Galatians. For 2 Corinthians there is Windisch (KEK, older but essential), Wolff (THNT), Schmeller (EKK), Gräßer (OTKNT), Klaiber (BotNT), and Klauck (NeueEchter). But with Galatians there is no EKK volume, Mußner (Herder), Vouga (Handkommentar) and Schlier (KEK) are fine but none of these would be classed as major works. Interestingly, those by Mußner and Schlier are both by Roman-Catholics.
Am I missing something? Are there German language commentaries on Galatians that I should be consulting?
The comments below were written last week by me and my friend and colleague Robyn Whitaker from Trinity College Theological School. It is a response piece, taking up an article by The Age‘s former religion editor Barney Zwartz, now of the Centre for Public Christianity. You can read that article here. The Age didn’t publish our response, so I am posting it here. Much more could be said, of course, not least in light of the events of the past weekend.
Donald Trump: Respect or Resistance?
In Tuesday’s Age Barney Zwartz argued that his Christian faith instructed him to pray for President Trump and to trust God’s sovereign purposes. It is not that simple. We share his view that Trump is ‘manifestly unfit for office’ and we are also convinced that handwringing is not the appropriate response to his election and occupancy of White House. We too are committed to praying for the US President and for all those who lead and exercise authority. However, we disagree vehemently with the suggestion that prayer, honour, and respect are the most important things for Christians, or anyone for that matter, to focus on at this time.
Zwartz lands on a selection of texts from the Christian Bible that promote the values of honour and respect in relation to those in political authority. This is not the only, or even the primary, way in which such issues are understood in the biblical tradition. In these texts attitudes towards political authority run across a spectrum ranging from accommodation (pray for the king etc.) through prophetic critique (naming injustice and speaking truth to power), to the encouragement of various forms of active resistance to oppressive and unjust political regimes. Much of the Old Testament is taken up with the witness of Israel’s prophets that challenge kings, rulers and their unjust regimes; from Moses, through Elijah, to Amos and Micah. This critique continues in the teaching of Jesus, who envisages an alternative kingdom, marked by love of neighbour, compassion for the poor, and the creation of alternative forms of community that were profoundly different from those envisaged by the ruling orders of his day. Jesus was executed by a State known for its concern for centralised control, ideological manipulation, and rule through military power.
While some parts of the early Christian movement sought to protect vulnerable communities by offering advice equivalent to that offered by Zwartz, other Christians sought to confront imperial power through words and action, challenging its captivity to economic injustice, systemic violence, and neglect of the marginalised. Nowhere is that critique more pointed than in the Bible’s last book, Revelation, which unveils the ugly side of political power, bears witness to the suffering caused by unjust and oppressive rulers, and calls Christian disciples to resist it. Revelation may yet become a necessary text for contemporary Christian responses in the Trump era. This vision of the demands of Christian discipleship has shaped the theology, spirituality and action of key figures such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany and Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement.
Historically, the Book of Revelation and the prophetic traditions we have described were important texts for black churches in their resistance to apartheid. The texts quoted by Zwartz were, along with others, often used by the white majority churches and the apartheid regime to encourage conformity and subservience to a distorted and oppressive form of political power. To appeal to them now is to neglect the necessary response to Trump and his agenda. Our responsibility is to speak the truth, build community, and resist, even at cost.
Robyn Whitaker is Bromby Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Trinity College, Parkville
Sean Winter is Associate Professor of New Testament at Pilgrim Theological College, Parkville
Both teach within the University of Divinity in Melbourne.