The Petrine Epistles

September 9, 2015

This post is part of my classroom lectures

First Peter


  • “To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1)
  • Should the term “exiles” be taken to mean that the Christian audience is metaphorically depicted as strangers on earth whose true homeland is in heaven or as literally marginalized and socially displaced persons (cf. John Elliott)?

Author: the Apostle Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1)
  • Could a Galilean fisherman who was judged to be “without letters” (ἀγράμματος) (Acts 4:13) attain the literacy skills to write in polished Greek, demonstrate fine rhetorical skills, and extensively engage with the Septuagint? This leads to larger questions about the extent of Hellenization and the use of the Greek language in Galilee, the literacy rates in the ancient world and first-century Palestine specifically, and the question of whether Acts 4:13 implies that Peter was illiterate or merely an untrained religious layperson (ἰδιώτης).
  • Some scholars appeal to the use of a scribal assistant in composing the letter and 1 Peter 5:12 notes that διὰ Σιλουανοῦ . . . ἔγραφα (through Silvanus . . . I wrote). However, this may be an idiomatic expression to identify Silvanus as the mail-carrier who delivers the letter (cf. Ignatius’s Epistles to the Smyrnaeans 12:1, Philadelphians 11:1, Magnesians 15:1, and Romans 10:1).
  • The use of his Greek nickname “Peter” (Πέτρος) rather than the Aramaic Cephas, along with the lack of personal memories of his time with Jesus or discussion about the debates over Torah-observance (cf. Galatians 2:9-14), is striking.
  • The arguments for a later date count against Petrine authorship. However, this may be mitigated if one does not accept the tradition of Peter’s martyrdom in Rome around 64 CE as part of Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians as a scapegoat to blame for the fire in Rome (John 21:18-19 [?]; 2 Peter 1:14 [?]; 1 Clement 5:4 [?]; Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans 4.2-3; Dionysius of Corinth in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.26; Acts of Peter 36-39; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3).

Date: between 60-110 CE based on the decisions on the points below

  • 1 Peter is referenced in 2 Peter 3:1, Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (1:3; 2:1; 8:1), and the lost text of Papias of Hierapolis (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.2; 3.39.17).
  • The Christian movement has spread throughout Asia Minor (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) and the label “Christian” (Χριστιανός) is now applied to the group in distinction from the Jews (4:16; cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28).
  • The coded reference to “Babylon” (=Rome) may presuppose the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Alternatively, “Babylon” may be part of the metaphorical imagery of living in exile.
  • Past commentators correlated the “fiery trial” that the Christians were undergoing with the correspondence between the governor of Bithynia-Pontus Pliny the Younger and the Roman emperor Trajan on how to deal with the Christians. More recently, scholars have pointed out that the persecution in 2 Peter largely involves local harassment and social ostracism rather than official state suppression.
  • 1 Peter appears to have access to a variety of sources including creeds, sayings of Jesus, extended scriptural exegesis (cf. Isaiah 53), parenetic material (similarities with Paul and James), and possibly some Pauline Epistles (e.g., Romans [?]) (cf. David G. Horrell).


  • To encourage Christians in the midst of their persecution and loss of social ties for their abandonment of their traditional gods and cultic practices, since they are following in Christ’s example of suffering.
  • To reinforce a new collective identity as a “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9).
  • To implore Christians to be otherwise law-abiding citizens who honor the emperor and obey household codes.
  • To model a united front against opposition, the epistle itself harmonizes diverse streams of tradition.

Second Peter


  • Uncertain. This “second letter” seems to be familiar with the earlier epistle in Peter’s name, unless this is a reference to some other unknown Petrine writing (cf. 2 Pet 3:1), and may imply that the audience is the same as 1 Peter.

Author: Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). The use of the Semitic “Simeon” is paralleled in Acts 15:14 where it is places on the lips of Jesus’ brother and the Jerusalem leader James.
  • 2 Peter faces the same questions about whether the author’s facility in Greek and rhetorical skill matches the Galilean preacher Cephas. Further, the grandiose “Asiatic” Greek style and the allusions to Old Testament narratives rather than direct citations is quite different from the style of the author of 1 Peter. The Church Fathers recognized the different style of the two epistles, leading to debates over the apostolic authorship and canonicity of 2 Peter (cf. Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3).
  • 2 Peter 1:12-15 has elements that characterize other fictional “testaments” or farewell speeches including the protagonist’s predictions of his/her death and of what the future holds along with other ethical exhortations to the survivors (cf. Richard Bauckham). For example, check out The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Date: between 64-150 CE based on scholarly decisions on these points.

  • 2 Peter 1:14 presupposes Peter’s death unless it is a prediction of the author. There also seems to be a tense shift in which the implied author’s predictions of future false teachers becomes a present reality for the community.
  • The “fathers” have died (2 Peter 3:4); either the past Christian generation or the patriarchs in Genesis are the referent.
  • 2 Peter 2:1:22 extensively parallels Jude 3-19 in wording and order, though it adds a few examples (Noah, Lot) and drops others (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses). Although a few scholars have argued that Jude borrowed from 2 Peter or that both writings have a common source, the majority view is that the epistle of Jude has been almost totally incorporated into the later epistle of 2 Peter.
  • 2 Peter 3:1 shows that the letter must date after 1 Peter and depends on the dating of the latter.
  • Certain doubters criticize the expectation of Christ’s imminent “coming” (παρουσία) (2 Peter 3:4) and the author responds that a thousand years is like a day to the Lord (3:8), so the reader must not give up hope for the second coming even if it seems to have been delayed.
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16 appears to know a collection of Pauline Epistles that have been placed on par with the other “scriptures.”
  • 2 Peter may have access to the Gospel of Matthew (cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18; 2:20), while the references to the other canonical Gospels are more debatable [note: I have a chapter in a edited Mohr Siebeck volume on the relationship of 2 Peter to the Synoptic Gospels forthcoming].
  • The scholar Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-254) offers the earliest explicit reference to 2 Peter (Homilies on Joshua 7.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.8), though other commentators argue for allusions to 2 Peter in earlier church authorities. The literary relationship of 2 Peter with the Apocalypse of Peter and the Acts of Peter is also debated.


  • The text wishes to defend the apostolically “Petrine” witness that Jesus will return against certain antinomian “scoffers” who both deny that Christ will return in the final judgment and are accused by the author of using this as an excuse to lead immoral lives.
  • The text combines Jewish apocalyptic with a Hellenistic ethos from its list of virtues that enable the reader to take on the “divine nature” or immortality (2 Peter 1:3-11) to its possible contacts with Epicurean philosophy (cf. Jerome H. Neyrey).

The Criteria for the New Testament Canon

August 16, 2015

This is part of my classroom lectures handouts

Key Terms

  • Biblia (βιβλία): the plural Greek term for “books”
  • kanōn (κανών)/canon: a reed used as a measuring standard; the criterion used to make a judgment (“rule of faith”); a list of authoritative or canonical writings

Quotations of the New Testament as Scripture

  • References/Allusions to the Gospels or Epistles in the Apostolic Fathers, but it is difficult to tell whether they cited NT texts or oral traditions.
  • … but as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, pray thus: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, as in Heaven so also upon earth; give us to-day our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into trial, but deliver us from the Evil One, for thine is the power and the glory for ever.” (Didache 8:2)
  • …as it is said in these Scriptures, “Be ye angry and sin not,” and “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath [Ephesians 4:26].” (Polycarp, Philippians 12.1)
  • So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
  • …on the day called Sunday… the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read…. (Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67.3)

Competing Christian Movements

  • “Gnostics”: an ignorant or evil Demiurge (craftsman) created matter rather than the highest divine being in the divine realm (pleroma). Salvation is liberation from the material world through knowledge (gnōsis) of one’s divine origins. The Gnostics composed texts or decoded the New Testament ones to expound upon their pleromatic myth and interpret Jesus as a revealer of esoteric teachings. Some famous Gnostic teachers include Basilides and Valentinus.
  • Marcion of Sinope: a rich ship owner who believed that the loving Father of Jesus was a different god from the Old Testament god of justice (the Demiurge). He accepted only 10 letters of Paul and a single Gospel most akin to Luke’s Gospel as authoritative and composed a text entitled Antithesis. According to tradition, he was excommunicated from the Roman church in 144 CE.
  • Some Jewish Christians (the “Ebionites”, from ebionim or poor ones) believed in Jesus as the Messiah, though they denied Jesus’ divinity and some rejected reports of his Virgin birth, and remained Torah observant. They preferred the Gospel of Matthew (or a “Gospel according to the Hebrews”) and despised the apostle Paul as an apostate from the Law. Epiphanius and Jerome describe another group of Torah observant Jewish Christians (“Nazoraeans”) whose Christology was more aligned with the larger fourth century Church.

Apocryphal (“Hidden”) Gospels

  • The Gospel of the Hebrews/Ebionites/Nazoraeans, The Gospel of the Egyptians, Papyrus Egerton 2 Unknown Gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of the Saviour, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of James, the Epistle of the Apostles, the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, the Secret Gospel of Mark (cf. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament [Oxford University Press, 2003], v).
  • These Gospels may be harmonies of the NT Gospels, expansions on the events of Jesus’ birth/childhood/death, or revelatory discourses that depict Jesus as a gnostic revealer figure.
  • The Gospel of Thomas Movie
  • Cartoons of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

Irenaeus of Lyons on the Four Gospel Canon

“For the Ebionites, who use Matthew’s Gospel only, are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified. Those, moreover, who follow Valentinus, making copious use of that according to John, to illustrate their conjunctions, shall be proved to be totally in error by means of this very Gospel… It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.” (Against Heresies 3.11.7-8)

Criteria for Canonicity

  • Council of Carthage (397 AD)
  • Affirmed the current NT Canon of Scripture
  • Criteria for Canonicity
    • Apostolic Origin (written by one of Jesus’ chosen apostles or a close associate of an apostle)
    • Catholicity (i.e. widespread Christian usage of the text)
    • Antiquity (i.e., long history of use by ancient authorities)
    • The Rule of Faith (theological content)

Canon Lists

Muratorian (late 2nd cent) Eusebius (ca. 265-340) Athanasius (ca. 298-373)





1/2 Corinthians





1/2 Thessalonians




1 & 2 Timothy


1 & 2 John

Apocalypse of John

Apocalypse of Peter

Wisdom of Solomon

Shepherd of Hermas



Most of NT



Hebrews [?]



2 Peter

2 & 3 John

Revelation [?]

Hebrew Gospel






Acts of Paul

Apoc. Peter





Introducing the Book of Revelation and Apocalyptic Literature

August 9, 2015

This is part of my classroom lectures handouts

The impact of apocalyptic thought in popular culture: Left Behind Series

  • The origins of the pre-tribulation rapture in the dispensationalist system of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible. A scholarly form of progressive dispensationalism is best represented at Dallas Theological Seminary. The rapture doctrine is a corollary of the theological distinction between two covenant peoples, Israel and the church, and the belief that the church must be raptured so that all the biblical promises pertaining to Israel can be “literally” fulfilled in an earthly millennial kingdom.
  • Check out Matthew 24:40-41/Luke 17:34-35, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and Revelation 3:10 in their literary context.
  • Is dispensationalism an adequate hermeneutical lens for interpreting ancient apocalyptic literature? What might be the social and ideological/theological implications of a dispensationalist worldview?

What is an “apocalypse”?

  • apokalypsis (ἀποκάλυψις): uncovering, unveiling, revelation
  • The revelation of Jesus Christ [is Jesus doing the revealing or is he the content of the revelation?], which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1).
  • Distinct from Eschatology: from the Greek term eschatos (ἔσχατος, last, final) and having to do with the end of the present age.
  • “‘Apocalypse’ is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” (SBL’s ‘Apocalypse Group’ published by J. J. Collins, Semeia 14 [1979], 9).

Characteristics of the Apocalyptic Genre (see further Aune, “Understanding Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic”)

  • Form: a record of visionary experiences often mediated by a heavenly messenger.
  • Content: visionary tours of the heavens/hell or eschatological prophecies about the end of the age. It is also often characterized by cosmic dualism in which the current age is ruled by hostile spiritual forces and, instead of hoping for a resolution through ordinary historical processes, expects a dramatic divine intervention and transformation of the social order as the only solution to the author’s plight.
  • Function: to encourage a minority group under (or perceived to be under) oppression and implore the audience to modify their behaviour.
  • Authorship: often ascribed to ancient authorities pseudonymously (Enoch, Abraham, Daniel, Ezra, Peter, Paul), with the exception of Revelation and the Shepherd of Hermas. This genre of writings seems to have been popular between 200 BCE and 200 CE.
  • Example: The apocalyptic section of Daniel 6-12 seem to be composed around 167-164 BCE, though the visionary is set in the Babylonian and Persian periods. Antiochus IV “Epiphanies” (manifest) came to power in 175 BCE and enforced an aggressive program of Hellenization (i.e. spreading Greek culture), transforming Jerusalem into a Hellenistic city (“Antiochia”) with a gymnasium. He forbade Jews from practicing their native customs (cf. 2 Maccabees 7) and attempted to profane the temple by offering a pig on the altar, which was prevented by the priest Matthias. Matthias’s sons, led by Judas “Maccabeus” (hammerer), revolted. Daniel 7 envisions four beasts (=Babylon, Persia, Media, Greece), with the last beast having 10 horns (=rulers) and a particularly arrogant horn (=Antiochus IV), and the eschatological vindication of a human-like figure (=the saints of Israel or their angelic representative).

The Book of Revelation: Introduction

  • “John”, a seer who was exiled to the island of Patmos for his testimony about Jesus (Rev 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). There was debate in the early church about whether the author was the apostle John (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1-7; 7.25.1-16), but the book seems to refer to the twelve apostles as figures of the past (Rev 21:14).
  • There are some parallels with the Gospel of John (“Lamb”, “Word of God”), but the author’s facility in Greek is very different.
  • “Moreover also among us a man named John, one of the apostles of Christ, prophesied in a revelation made to him that those who have believed on our Christ will spend a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that hereafter the general and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all will likewise take place.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue 81.4)„
  • “For that [vision] was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.30.3). Other scholars date it earlier to the reign of Nero or propose that there might have been an earlier or later edition of the book.
  • Directed towards seven historic churches in Asia Minor (Rev 2-3)

Guidelines for interpretation:

  • The book had to effectively communicate to its earliest audience or else it would not have been preserved.
  • Apocalyptic texts use coded symbolism to speak about political powers in the author’s time. For instance, the condemnation of “Babylon” in Revelation 17-18 (cf. 1 Peter 5:13) seems to be a cipher for Rome as the city of seven hills (cf. Rev 17:9). The beast with a mortal wound in Revelation 13 may be an allusion to the Nero redivivus myth and the number of 666 may stand for Nerōn Kaisar (cf. Ian Boxall, “Gematria“)

Interpretive schemes:

  • Preterist: most/all of the events in the book took place in the first century CE.
  • Historicist: Revelation covers events throughout Christian history.
  • Futurist: Revelation foretells a yet future eschatological scenario.
  • Idealist: Revelation symbolically represents the battle of good versus evil in a way that is timelessly true.

Interpretations of the millennium (Revelation 20:1-6):

  • Pre-Millennialism: there will be a future 1000 year rule of Christ on earth before the final judgment. Whether the Church or Israel will be the primary participants in the millennial kingdom is the major difference between the historic and dispensationalist view.
  • Post-Millennialism: there will be a future time when Christians will experience unprecedented success in their missionary expansion and Christianization of the world.
  • Amillenialism: the prefix “a” stands for “no” and this view interprets the millennium as symbolic of the church age as the devil has been bound due to what Christ has already accomplished.

„„Further resources:

Classroom Lectures

August 5, 2015

As an update on my current status, I have the privilege of teaching three courses this Fall as an adjunct lecturer at The King’s University in Edmonton. Two of the courses are an introduction to the whole Bible, focusing on its main contents and different scholarly methods of analysis, and an advanced course on the problem of evil in various biblical texts. I have posted some of my introductory materials for a New Testament course under “student resources“, but I want to go back and revise some of my notes as well as add some new ones. Feel free to use them if they are of benefit to you as you explore the world of the New Testament and Christian origins.

The Apostle to the Gentiles

October 30, 2013

The Apostle to the Gentiles

For an overview of scholarship on Paul, see Magnus Zetterholm Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship (Fortress, 2009) and for the social make-up of Pauline congregations see Wayne Meeks The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (Yale University Press, 2003) or Justin Meggitt Paul, Poverty and Survival (T&T Clark, 1998).  For bibliographic resources or academic websites on Paul’s life or thought, see Mark Goodacre’s section on Paul at, Mark Mattison’s, or Jenee Woodard’s

Paul’s “Conversion” or “Prophetic Call”

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism [Ioudaismos]. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.  I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.  In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’  And they glorified God because of me. (Gal 1:13-24)

  • The story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, and the purification of the great temple, and the dedication of the altar, and further the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, and the appearances which came from heaven to those who strove zealously on behalf of Judaism [Ioudaismos], so that though few in number they seized the whole land and pursued the barbarian hordes, and recovered the temple famous throughout the world and freed the city and restored the laws that were about to be abolished… (2 Macc 2:19-22)
  • But Judas, who was also called Maccabeus, and his companions secretly entered the villages and summoned their kinsmen and enlisted those who had continued in the Jewish faith [Ioudaismos], and so they gathered about six thousand men (2 Macc 8:1)
  • For in former times, when there was no mingling with the Gentiles, he had been accused of Judaism [Ioudaismos], and for Judaism [Ioudaismos] he had with all zeal risked body and life.
  • … when, then, his [Antiochus’] decrees were despised by the people, he himself, through torture, tried to compel everyone in the nation to eat defiling foods and to renounce Judaism (4 Macc 4:26)

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ [faith of Christ], the righteousness from God based on faith[fulness]. (Phil 3:4-8)

‘I [Paul] am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.  I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. (Acts 22:1-9; cf. 9:1-19; 26:4-23)

Differing Views in the “Old Perspective”, “New Perspective” and “Radical New Perspective” on Paul

* Note that these labels broadly cover a diversity of perspectives within them.  That is, there may be differences in “Lutheran” or “Reformed” readings of Paul in the “Old Perspective” and there are individual nuances in prominent “New Perspective” scholars (e.g., E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, N.T. Wright).

The Old Perspective on Paul (OPP):

  1. Pauline theology is interpreted in light of Martin Luther’s protest against Catholicism and the Reformation battle cry “sola fide” (by faith alone).
  2. In Paul’s former life, he practiced Torah to merit divine favour and as a way to boast of his self-righteousness.
  3. After his “conversion,” Paul became convicted of the universal sinfulness of humanity, regardless of whether one is under the Law (Jews) or apart from it (Gentiles), and the solution is the atoning death of Christ which took on the “curse of the Law” on behalf of the rest of humankind.
  4. Humans are made righteous or justified by “faith in Christ” and given the “righteousness of God” in exchange for their sinful nature.  The indwelling Spirit enables one to become a “new creation” and is a guarantee of future salvation.
  5. Scholars who advocate the OPP have softened the depiction of “Second Temple Judaism” as a legalistic system of works-righteousness (e.g., variegated nomism where both grace and good deeds are important), but most continue to see the plight as divine wrath against sin and solution in the justifying faith in the saving death & resurrection of Christ.
  6. Some key scholars: Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Kaseman, Donald Carson, Mark A. Seifrid, Peter Stuhlmacher, Donald Hagner, Robert Gundry, Seyoon Kim, Douglas J. Moo, Thomas Schreiner, Stephen Westerholm, Simon Gathercole, Francis Watson

The New Perspective (NPP)

  1. Unlike Martin Luther’s worries over how to be accepted by a holy God, Paul may not have struggled with an introspective conscience and describes his former life under Torah as “blameless” (cf. Krister Stendahl).
  2. E.P. Sanders described the “pattern of religion” characteristic of Second Temple Judaism as “covenantal nomism.”  That is, Torah observance was the appropriate response to God’s prior gracious election of Israel; it was not a means of “getting in” but “staying in” as a member of the covenant people.  Those who flagrantly disobey Torah show themselves to have rejected the covenant, but repentance or cultic atonement was always an available means of restoration.  Some criticisms include the assumption of a monolithic “pattern of religion” or reading the Jewish sources through the lens of Protestant soteriology, leading to even more nuanced discussion about election, covenant and works of the Law among diverse Second Temple groups.
  3. Paul’s criticism of “works of the Law” was not against works-righteousness apart from grace.  “Works of the Law” represents a particular Jewish mode of life, but Paul aims his critique at those areas that exclude Gentiles from the covenant people and focuses on specific “boundary markers” that separated Jews from the nations (e.g., circumcision, food, Sabbath).  Paul attacks “ethnocentrism” in favour of a universalistic vision in which he believed the “righteousness of God” or God’s faithfulness to his divine or covenant plan was for blessing to go out from Israel to the world.
  4. In reasoning why the nations can be adopted into Abraham’s family along with Israel apart from practicing Torah as the sign of covenant membership, Paul argues that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin and in need of the saving effects of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.  All Christ followers are justified – either made righteous or declared to be in the right in the divine court (cf. NT Wright) – by “faith in Christ” or through the “faithfulness of Christ.”
  5. The universal family “in Christ” is no longer under Torah, though Paul has a similar pattern of election followed by faithful obedience of the Law of Christ or fruits of the Spirit that fulfills the commandments, yet Paul allows for diversity of social practice among Jewish and non-Jewish members of the community.
  6. Some key scholars: Krister Stendahl, E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, N.T. Wright, Heikki Räisänen, Richard Hays, Frank Thielman, Don Garlington, Daniel Boyarin

The Radical New Perspective on Paul

  1. The NPP view on covenantal nomism as a basic framework and Paul’s overriding concern with how the nations can become co-heirs of salvation with the covenant people (Israel) is the starting point.
  2. Unlike some advocates of the NPP, these scholars consider Paul to remain a faithful Torah-observant Jew and to never encourage his fellow Jews to abandon Torah.
  3. His letters are addressed almost exclusively to non-Jewish readers and his polemic against the “works of the Law” is solely against those who force non-Jews to become proselytes by adopting circumcision and Torah.  Paul believes that the new eschatological age has arrived and that the Scriptures speak of nations streaming into Zion in the last days without the requirement to become Jews (“to Judaize”).
  4. Some scholars label this approach as a “two-covenant” solution:  the atoning effects of Christ’s death and the necessity of “faith in Christ”/”the faithfulness of Christ” was only for the nations who were previously excluded from the means of atonement already available to Israel through the covenant, Torah and cultic apparatus.
  5. Some key scholars: John Gager, Lloyd Gaston, Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Pamela Eisenbaum, Caroline Hodge, Stanley Stowers, Neil Elliott, Magnus Zetterholm

The First History of the Church – the Acts of the Apostles

June 3, 2013

The Acts of the Apostles


  • A Sequel to the Gospel of Luke:  “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning” (Acts 1:1).  Scholars have questioned what genre to categorize the two-volume work:  historiography, biography (of the church as an institution?), epic (e.g., Homer, Virgil’s Aeneid) or historical novel?
  • The Traditional Position:  “But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself.  For he says that when Barnabas, and John who was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, we came to Troas; and when Paul had beheld in a dream a man of Macedonia, saying, Come into Macedonia, Paul, and help us, immediately, he says, we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, understanding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel unto them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we directed our ship’s course towards Samothracia. And then he carefully indicates all the rest of their journey as far as Philippi, and how they delivered their first address: for, sitting down, he says, we spoke unto the women who had assembled; and certain believed, even a great many. And again does he say, But we sailed from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to Troas, where we abode seven days. And all the remaining [details] of his course with Paul he recounts, indicating with all diligence both places, and cities, and number of days, until they went up to Jerusalem; and what befell Paul there, how he was sent to Rome in bonds; the name of the centurion who took him in charge; and the signs of the ships, and how they made shipwreck; and the island upon which they escaped, and how they received kindness there, Paul healing the chief man of that island; and how they sailed from thence to Puteoli, and from that arrived at Rome; and for what period they sojourned at Rome. As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: Demas has forsaken me, … and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me [2 Tim 4:10-11]. From this he shows that he was always attached to and inseparable from him. And again he says, in the Epistle to the Colossians: Luke, the beloved physician, greets you [Col 4:14]. But surely if Luke, who always preached in company with Paul, and is called by him the beloved, and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him (Paul), as has been pointed out from his words, how can these men, who were never attached to Paul, boast that they have learned hidden and unspeakable mysteries?” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haeresis 3.14.1)
  • The (in)famous “we” (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16):
  1. the author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events
  2. a dramatic narrative device (cf. Vernon Robbins, “By Land and By Sea:  the We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages“)
  3. a sign of an earlier source (e.g., a travel diary) (cf. Stanley Porter, The Paul of Acts, chapter 2 The ‘We’ Passages in Acts as a Source regarding Paul)
  4. a pseudonymous fiction (cf. Bart Ehrman, Forgery and Counter-Forgery)


  • Dates range from the early 60s to 150 CE.  The majority of scholars date it to the last quarter of the first century, though one can find good scholarship dating it to the 60s (cf. Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History) and between 110-130 CE (cf. Richard Pervo, Dating Acts; Joseph B. Tyson, Marcion and Luke Acts:  A Defining Struggle?)
  • Why does Acts end before narrating the deaths of Peter, Paul or James?  Is it because the book was written before their deaths or is it because the book is more concerned with getting the proclamation of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 28)?
  • Why does the book close before narrating the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE?  Or does Luke 19:43-4 and 21:20-4 exhibit knowledge of the destruction of the Temple?
  • Why does Acts never mention that Paul wrote letters?  Was it written before a major publication of a collection of Pauline Letters or has the text been influenced by the Letters (see below)?
  • Does Acts reflect knowledge of Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities (ca 93-94 CE)?  Compare Acts 5:36-37 with Ant. 20.97-102, Luke 2:1-3 with War. 2.117-18; Ant. 18.1-5 or Acts 12:20-23 with Ant. 19.343-50.
  • Does Acts envision a situation where the church is composed of a mixture of Jews and Gentiles (especially Gentile “Godfearers” who had a previous relationship with the synagogue rather than ex-Pagans)?  Or does Acts envision a self-consciously distinct “Christian” group (11:26; 26:28) with a developed leadership structure of “elders” (Acts 21:18-25)?


  • Hans Conzelmann (The Theology of St. Luke) argues that the book of Acts divides history into the epoch of Israel, the time of Jesus and the age of the church.  The fervent expectation for the return of Jesus has settled down so the church can witness the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:6-8).
  • The church is governed by the Twelve Apostles (see the replacement of Judas with Matthias to restore the number “twelve” in Acts 1:15-26).  Paul is excluded from the title “apostle” (exception: Acts 14:4)
  • The church is completely united by glossing over the occasional cracks that appear beneath the surface such as the division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists (Acts 6:1-15), the issues debated at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15; cf. Acts 21:17-25) or the separation of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41)
  • The church has solid roots in antiquity as Luke-Acts emphasizes the fulfillment of scripture (cf. Luke 1-2) and the Jewish piety of the Apostles.  Before Acts 7 the Jerusalem Church wins over thousands of their Jewish compatriots and Paul primarily missionary field is in the synagogue among Jews and Gentile God-fearers (compare the account of Paul’s target audience in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9 with Paul’s own account in 1 Thess 1:9-10).  However, the book of Acts hints that the majority of Jews increasingly rejected the new Christian movement (Acts 13:46-47; 18:6; 28:25-28), though it concludes open-ended (Acts 28:3o-31).

A Specific Example

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.` After Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders…  But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses’… After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us;and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’ The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name.This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.”  Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God,but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.’ (Acts 15:1-22; Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Judas deliver letter to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia)

Study Questions:

  1. What social problems might arise between law-observant Jewish and non-observant Gentile Christ followers (circumcision, Sabbath, food, etc.)?
  2. What solution was reached in Acts?  How does the Apostolic Decree compare to the laws enjoined on foreigners in Lev 17-18?
  3.  Is this the same conference in Galatians 2?  What are the similarities and differences?
  4. Would the historical Paul have agreed to the solution as presented in Acts 15 (see 1 Cor 8)?
  1. And they shall no longer offer their sacrifices to vain gods after which they go a whoring; it shall be a perpetual statute to you for your generations… Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the sons of the proselytes abiding among you, shall offer a whole-burnt-offering or a sacrifice, and shall not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of witness to sacrifice it to the Lord, that man shall be destroyed from among his people.  And whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers abiding among you, shall eat any blood, I will even set my face against that soul that eats blood, and will destroy it from its people.  For the life of flesh is its blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls… whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers abiding among you shall take any animal in hunting, beast, or bird, which is eaten, then shall he pour out the blood, and cover it in the dust.  For the blood of all flesh is its life; and I said to the children of Israel, Ye shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood: every one that eats it shall be destroyed.  And every soul which eats that which has died of itself, or is taken of beasts, either among the natives or among the strangers, shall wash his garments, and bathe himself in water, and shall be unclean until evening: then shall he be clean. (Leviticus 17:7-15 taken from the Septuagint) [Lev 18 has list of prohibitions against uncovering the nakedness of family members, neighbour’s wife, a woman in her period, etc]
  2. Then after 14 years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.  But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us…And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me.On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised… and when James and Cephas and John, acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor… But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.  And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ (Galatians 2:1-14)
  3. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one’… It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled… We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak.For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:4, 7-13)

Letters Written in the Name of Paul?

May 23, 2013

The Pauline Corpus and Pseudonymity (literally “false name)

Study Questions

  1. What possible reasons might an anonymous individual write in the name of an Old Testament prophet or a disciple of Jesus?  Here is an example of writings in Peter’s name:  1 Peter, 2 Peter, Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Kerygmata Petrou, the Letter of Peter to Philip (see also sermons attributed to or stories about Peter in the canonical and apocryphal Acts).
  2. Do you think it is an ethical/theological problem if some writings in the New Testament were written in the name of or “forged” in the name of someone else or were there different standards in the ancient world?  Scholars have found a variety of justifications for the practice (the Jewish understanding of attributing works to the fount of the tradition [e.g., Law of Moses, Psalms of David, Wisdom of Solomon], the convention of pseudonymity in Jewish apocalypses, the practice of attributing philosophical works to the founder of a philosophical school, feeling inspired by the same ‘spirit’ that inspired biblical figures, wishing to defend the legacy of a certain founding figure for a new generation) while other scholars have argued that “forgery” was seen as a deliberately deceptive practice in the ancient world (cf. Bart Ehrman).

 Undisputed Epistles: Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon

Disputed Epistles:  2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians.

Pastorals:  1 & 2 Timothy, Titus

The Disputed Epistles:

Scholars are divided whether Paul wrote these letters. They are similar in content, terminology, and theology with the Undisputed Epistles and the differences may be due to a development of Paul’s thought, the local situation he was responding to or the use of a scribe in composing the letter.  Colossians has many parallels with Philemon including Paul in prison, co-greetings from Timothy and similar co-workers (see Col 1:1; 4:10-14 with Philemon 1, 22-23).  However, they seem to have the following differences:

  1. Differences in language, vocabulary and style.  For instance, Colossians and Ephesians have long sentences written in the style of a liturgical hymn that is unusual for Paul.  For example:  “Blessed [is] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did bless us in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, according as He did choose us in him before the foundation of the world, for our being holy and unblemished before Him, in love, having foreordained us to the adoption of sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He did make us accepted in the beloved, in whom we have the redemption through his blood, the remission of the trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, in which He did abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the secret of His will, according to His good pleasure, that He purposed in Himself, in regard to the dispensation of the fulness of the times, to bring into one the whole in the Christ, both the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth — in him; in whom also we did obtain an inheritance, being foreordained according to the purpose of Him who the all things is working according to the counsel of His will, for our being to the praise of His glory, [even] those who did first hope in the Christ, in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth — the good news of your salvation — in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, to the redemption of the acquired possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:3-14, I chose a literal translation because it is one long sentence in the Greek!!!)
  2. Theological Differences
    1. Developed cosmic view of Christ (Col 1:15-20; 2:9-10, but see Philippians 2:6-11), Christ as head of the universal church body (Col 1:18; Eph 4:15-16), emphasis on realized eschatology (Col 2:11-12; 3:1, 3; Eph 2:5-10) and presently raised with Christ in baptism (Col 2:12; compare Rom 6:5, 8).  Ephesians seems dependent on Colossians and the address “in Ephesus” may not be original; it was perhaps originally circular letter “to the saints.”
    2. Different Eschatologies: 1 Thess suggests Christ’s return comes suddenly like a thief in the night (1 Thess 4:13-5:11), while 2 Thess 2 emphasizes an antichrist figure “the lawless one” must come first.  2 Thessalonians seems dependent on 1 Thessalonians.
    3. A signature of authorship or a clever forgery?  “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.” (2 Thess 3:17)
    4. Household Codes first introduced in Colossians and later letters:  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord; since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality” (Col 3:18-24); “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind… This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (Eph 5:25-33).  Would Paul, who did not personally recommend getting married as the present age was drawing to a close in 1 Corinthians, now conform to the surrounding culture on the proper maintenance of the household?

The Pastorals (*note: some recent scholarship has protested against grouping these letters together under one collection and have argued for the authenticity of individual letters such as 2 Timothy)

  1.  They are absent from an early collection of Pauline letters (Papyrus 46) and from the canon of the second century follower of Paul “Marcion” (included an edited collection of Paul’s letters and Luke)
  2. Vocabulary and stylistic differences (piety, epiphany, sound, king of the ages, Saviour, “the faith” used as a noun, etc.).  Use of fixed formulas (1 Tim 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim 2:14; Tit 3:8).
  3. Chronological discrepancies with Acts and Paul’s letters.
  4. Developed church with bishops/overseers (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:7), elders/presbyters (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:1f, 17, 19; Tit. 1:5; 2:2f), deacons (1 Tim. 3:8, 12; 4:6) and order of widows (1 Tim 5:3-16).
  5. View of Women: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve;and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” (2 Tim 2:11-15).  Compare this with Galatians 3:28; Romans 16 (especially Junia among the apostles), Philippians 4:2-3 or 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 (textually uncertain).