7 Nov 2020

A Wish for NT, at least Pauline, Scholars: A Few Statements/Questions

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Uncategorized
If video of Paul bringing his sacrifice to the priests ever surfaces on YouTube it would explode so many Protestant mental images of Paul the Pharisee

A post of no interest to anyone but me (perhaps) 🙂

First. I worship the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, not Paul. Paul is not the only apostle, though reading some scholars (both “liberal” and “conservative”) you would think he is. In most New Testament theologies Peter, James, and even Luke, have minimal influence. John seems to be represented but still not nearly enough. If Paul did not write it then it is practically irrelevant. Then even if Paul’s name is on it, it is still ignored because there is a preexisting picture of who Paul was and what he taught that is believed and that picture determines what can, and cannot, be really Paul. I actually like Paul but I also like James, Peter, Jude, John the Prophet (if he is different than the author of the Gospel), and Luke.

Second. The words “covenant” and “Torah/law” and “Old Testament/Hebrew Bible” are not synonyms. This is so important.

Third. Why is it that Pauline scholarship makes use of Hebrew Bible scholarship only sparingly and practically dismiss Acts out of hand?

Daniel Block, a well known HB/OT scholar, has written extensively on Deuteronomy for example. In his work, The Triumph of Grace: Literary and Theological Studies in Deuteronomy and Deuteronomic Themes, Block ends with a chapter called “Hearing Galatians with Moses.” This is a stimulating essay to say the least.

Block ventures, as an OT scholar, into the debate between “new” and “old” perspectives on Paul. He makes a statement that I have been noting for a long time.

As an outsider to the debates between representatives of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ perspectives, I am struck by several features of the discussions. First, Hebrew Bible scholars are completely absent. Magnus Zetterholm’s eight page bibliography (135 entries) at the end of his volume on present scholarship on Paul lacks the name of a single recognizable Hebrew Bible scholar.

It is not simply an absence of Hebrew Bible scholars writing on Paul. It is an absence of Pauline scholars using Hebrew Bible scholarship. For example, I read Brant Pitre/Michael Barber/John Kincaid’s Paul, A New Covenant Jew. They try to make the case that Paul is a Jew indeed but not as the “Paul within Judaism” school thinks for he is a “new covenant” Jew. The authors take us through their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 and Jeremiah 31. There is not a single Old Testament scholar mentioned or interaction with current understandings of Jeremiah 31.

I would love to see these Pauline scholars integrate Hans Walter Wolf’s (no fly by night scholar) essay that is a full 40 years old (“What is the New Covenant?”). Why is this not relevant?

Frederick Holmgren, another no fly by night scholar, devotes two entire chapters to Jeremiah 31 in his The Old Testament & the Significance of Jesus. What of Rolf Rendtorff, “What is New in the New Covenant?” or John Goldingay (who certainly needs no introduction), he has addressed the matter repeatedly.

But you can scan New Testament scholarship in general and not find any reference to these and numerous others. Hebrew Bible scholarship is not only relevant for Jeremiah 31 but for the entire discussion regarding “torah” and “covenant.”

I realize Paul’s use of Jeremiah 31 may be different than what is envisioned in that text. But Jeremiah 31 and its context is certainly relevant. Do Jeremiah or Ezekiel envision the repudiation of the law of God. When the text is actually quoted, in full, by the Hebrews Preacher the words covenant and law are still not synonyms, and neither envision the replacement of the partners in the covenant. Further neither text says that God found fault with either the covenant or the law but with the people themselves (Hebrews 8.8, “God finds fault with them“; Jeremiah 31.32, “a covenant they broke.”).

Lastly there is little if any recognition in NT scholarship that in both Jeremiah and Hebrews the term for new can easily mean REnew. In Hebrew hadas is used for the “new” moon, Yahweh’s love being “new” every morning, and doing repairs on the temple. There certainly is not a different moon, a different love and a different temple. In Greek kainos (which is how the LXX translates hadas in each instance above and is used in Hebrews in its quotation of Jeremiah 31) also does not mean completely new or different. It is easily translated as “renew.”

But if we approach this text through centuries of anti-Judaism believing already God did in fact replace the people then it is unbelievably natural to translate it as new (as in different), which is not what the text actually says. If you read Hebrews 8 as if you have never heard the word “Christian” or “Christianity” (or heard the phrase “Old Testament!”) then something else emerges altogether. See my article: Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Explorations on “New” and “Renewed” in the Bible.

Fourth. The book of Acts is practically ignored. There is a reason for this. The picture of Paul in the book of Acts is nothing like the Protestant Paul. “Protestant Paul,” in my humble opinion, remains a poltergeist even within leading lights of the “new perspective” on Paul.

Paul in Acts is a Pharisee.
Paul in Acts is devoted to the temple.
Paul in Acts keeps the Sabbath.
Paul in Acts takes vows.
Paul in Acts circumcises people.
Paul in Acts offers sacrifice.
Paul in Acts claims to have never broken the law or customs of our people.
Paul in Acts in Acts preaches “the Hope of Israel.”

A kosher Paul wreaks emotional havoc among Protestants (and apparently Roman Catholic scholars as well).

There is irony here because Pitre/Barber/Kincaid lob this charge.

It is worth noting that most advocates of the Paul within Judaism’ approach tend to reject Acts as chronologically late (after AD 70) and historically unreliable” (p. 31, note 76).

What an interesting statement because everyone regards Acts as after AD 70. But Acts is as ignored by these writers as by those whom he is charging as believing it to be unreliable.

However, Mark Nanos consistently asserts that his reading of Paul is very much inline with what is in Acts. But if Luke can simply make things up and get Paul so unbelievably twisted that his portrait is just false then surely he has goofed up his picture of Jesus as well. David J. Rudolph’s A Jew to the Jews: Jewish Contours of Pauline Flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 certainly takes Acts seriously.

At any rate, I think Hebrew Bible scholarship is extremely relevant to Paul. I think Acts is relevant to Paul. I think Jacob Jervell is relevant to Acts (not mentioned even once in the bibliography, surprisingly, of Wright and Bird, The New Testament in its World). Remarkably W/B can summarize Acts 21 in their chapter on Luke-Acts in The NT in Its World and not even mention Paul’s sacrifice (it is mentioned earlier in the chapter on Paul’s life as James suggestion. For some reason no one ever mentions Acts 24. 11, 17 when Paul explains his own intention in coming to Jerusalem. That intention, he declares, includes “to offer sacrifices.” This does not sound like James twisted his arm.).

If you begin with Genesis, then read through Malachi, then include most of the Apocrypha before you get to Paul, he sounds a lot different than if you begin in the Protestant Reformation and then read backwards to him.


Leave a Reply