Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Righteousness Of God

“The problem of the proper interpretation of dikaiosyne theou in Romans has been one of the hotly debated issues in New Testament studies over the past generation, but rare is the critic who even considers the possibility of interpreting Paul’s ‘righteousness of God’ language against the background of the LXX. Learned scholars have argued bitterly whether dikaiosyne theou was a technical term in Jewish apocalyptic thought, as attested especially in the Qumran texts, or whether it was a new creation of Paul’s theological genius, without ever observing that the very Old Testament texts quoted by Paul in Romans 3 already introduce the idea of God’s righteousness. This remarkable oversight illustrates the power of hermeneutical conventions in shaping a community’s reading of its canonical texts. The Reformation theme of justification by faith has so obsessed generations of readers (Protestant readers, at least) that they have set Law and gospel in simplistic antithesis, ignoring the internal signs of coherence in Rom. 3:1-26; consequently, they have failed to see that Paul’s argument is primarily an argument about theodicy, not about soteriology. The driving question in Romans is not ‘How can I find a gracious God?’ but ‘How can we trust in this allegedly gracious God if he abandons his promises to Israel?’ Christian caricatures of the Old Testament have made it difficult for belated generations of Gentile readers to grasp Paul’s passion for asserting the continuity of his gospel with the message of the Law and the Prophets. By following the echoes of Psalm 143, however, we can rediscover the scriptural idea of God’s saving justice at the foundation of Paul’s argument in Romans.

That is why Paul insists (Rom. 3:31) that his gospel does not annihilate the Law but establishes it. How so? First of all, Paul’s proclamation presents the righteousness of God not as some unheard-of soteriological novelty but as the manifestation of a truth attested by Scripture from the first. When he says that his message confirms the Law, he refers not to the specific commandments of the Pentateuch but to the witness of Scripture, read as a narrative about God’s gracious election of a people. That is why the Abraham story becomes for Paul the crucial test case. If he can show, as he sets out to do in Romans 4, that the story of Abraham supports his reading of God’s Gentile-embracing grace, then he will have demonstrated, to his own satisfaction at least, the unity of gospel and Law.”

-Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Book Review: Ancient Christian Texts- Ambrosiaster's Commentaries On Galations-Philemon

Length: 166 pages
9.9 x 6.7 x 0.8 inches
Binding: hardcover
IVP Academic (September 30, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0-8308-2920-0
IVP Order Code: 2920

There is a problem in contemporary biblical criticism. Some say it began with Baruch Spinoza, while others trace it back even further to William of Ockham. The problem manifests itself in the historical-critical method, which, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, is a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” It operates on the notion that if certain phenomena are unobservable in our time, then it didn’t exist in antiquity either. This can lead to major problems when it comes to examining the miracles of the New and Old Testaments. They are often explained away as mere pious exaggeration.

Another problem concerning contemporary views of Scripture is the wide chasm between exegesis and theology. This dichotomy is surely of modern invention. When we look back on the great minds of Christianity, we see that this wasn’t always the case. It used to be that the Sacred Page was the soul of theology and Vatican II sought to once again make it so, but like so many other aspects of the Second Vatican Council, it has yet to be fully realized. However, there are a noble few who are working towards implementing this call of Vatican II, both inside and outside of the Church.

One of these few is Thomas Oden and his collaborators in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) series published by InterVarsity Press. This series has served to remind us that the Church Fathers are the locus for the reuniting of exegesis and theology. In the Fathers, exegesis informs theology and theology informs exegesis. More importantly Scripture is read ex corde ecclesiae, from the heart of the Church. In the ACCS series we were introduced to a plethora of Church Fathers, from both East and West, and their line by line commentaries on all of the books of Sacred Scripture (some of which had never before appeared in English). The downside to this format is that you only get little snippets of the Fathers’ commentaries. For those who do not have the means or training to look up the full commentary in the original language, this can leave one burning with a desire for more, yet with no means of which to quench it.

Until now, that is. Oden and Gerald Bray have provided us with the fulfillment of our desire in the form of the Ancient Christian Texts (ACT) series. ACT presents for the first time in English full commentaries by the likes of Ambrosiaster, Origen, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cyril of Alexandria, and many others. The translations are fresh and modern (described as a “thought-for-thought translation”) in order for the reader to take away as much as possible. This philosophy of translation allows the commentaries to be accessible to all. Currently in the series are:

Ambrosiaster’s Commentaries on Galatians--Philemon (hardcover)
Ambrosiaster’s Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians (hardcover)
Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentary on the Gospel of John (hardcover)
Origen’s Homilies on Numbers (hardcover)

Many thanks to Heather Mascarello and the good folks at InterVarsity Press who have provided me with a review copy of Ambrosiaster’s Commentary on Galatians-Philemon. Ambrosiaster is an enigmatic Father of the Church, the writings of whom were once thought to be those of Ambrose of Milan. This alone gives witness to the importance of his corpus. His exegetical method is practical and pastoral. He also shows a good knowledge of the Jewish laws and Scripture, which is evidenced especially in his commentaries on Galatians and Philippians. Consequently, his knowledge of Judaism led some to falsely believe that he was the Jewish convert, Isaac of Rome. Regardless of his true identity, his Pauline commentaries are of great importance to the history of exegesis, on par with those of Chrysostom.

The Ancient Christian Texts series is to be highly recommended for anyone who is interested in Patristic exegesis. I look forward to reading the titles already published and wait in anticipation of future volumes.