25 February 2008

monitoring a blogologue . . .

Posted by at 3:32 PM Read our previous post
There has been an interesting volley between James McGrath and Michael Halcomb and Ken Brown and others concerning inclusivity, exclusivity, universalism, self-identification, and how these relate to each's respective concept of "salvation." This blogologue (McGrath calls it a blogversation, and while I think that word looks better on the page, blogologue is just so much more musical, more rhythmic—say it—blahg-ah-lahg :P ) highlights the contrast between two radically different worldviews.

Upfront, I admit that I side generally with McGrath on this inclusivity. The main difference between us, I think, is that I go a step further than him in my "inclusivity"; that is, I release Jesus from his role as pre-requisite mediator in some imagined process of salvation altogether, where McG sees value in the maintenance and upkeep of the inherited traditions. He feels that the house can be cleaned up from within. I pray (as hard as a heathen can) that he makes a good dent in this (it really needs it) and I wish him luck. In fact, I think he should write books for the layman, as I think he has a way of encapsulating his ideas with clarity and cogency, ideas which I think will resound out there in the general readership.
Like McG, I find the profound insights expressed in the writings of certain Sufi and Asian mystics to reflect the perennial philosophy which is the kernel at the heart of the Christian faith (and to my eyes, of every form of higher religion). I find more solace, in fact, in the poetic, spiritual, or even just æsthetic beauty of some of these texts than I do in the New Testament.
One like Halcomb might conclude that, because I do not "confess" J as kyrios, I am "disqualified" for a salvation scheme which requires not just that I conduct myself in a certain manner, but that I adhere to some theological or epistemological allegiance. With all due respect, he comes dangerously close to relegating Christian faith to a "confession"— some talismanic magical set of beliefs which one must recite in order to gain access to god.

Who knows, maybe he's right: maybe I'm doomed to be denied "salvation" (Would someone please be so kind as to define that word in relation to this discussion? :) but I highly doubt it and in fact see worrying about such things as so much ado about nothing. To my eyes, this sense of "salvation" is just some artificial abstraction in the initiate's mind. A rationalized yearning. Nothing more.

It's not about beliefs. It's about conduct. Your conduct will reflect your faith more than your profession ever will. (see Matt 6:6+ or 7:15+ . . . or the Scribe and the sinner, etc . . .—it's a recurring theme in the texts).

In one of the latest installments, Halcomb reveals what I think is an overt credulity regarding biblical matters. He says that Paul "probably" wrote the epistle we know as Hebrews. However, as McG points out, the Greek is altogether different, which by itself is enough to conclude that Paul was not the author. More than that, though, the smoking gun for me comes indirectly from Marcion. Marcion, we know, was the Paul-freak per excellence of his day, yet Marcion's list of known Pauline letters does not include Hebrews (nor Titus nor either Timothy). Coupled with the fact that other early commentators either don't list it in their makeshift canons (Muratorian) , or they dispute its authenticity (Iraneus, Origen) or even reject it altogether (Tertullian), it's fairly clear that Paul did not write Hebrews. Saying that "he probably did" could only be based on a theological committment and does not reflect awareness of the consensus view in current scholarship.

A final note:
  • I'm surprised to see most sides of this discussion stress a distinction between "gentile" Christians and a "Jewish" variety. I think it is fairly easy to demonstrate that Paul's audience was not Jewish. Very early on, as the texts reflect all over the place, the movement was all but completely gentile in makeup by the time Paul wrote. The complete severance was already there by the time the Gospels and the later epistles came along. Paul found the example of Abraham a perfect one to convey to the god-fearers who were his primary target audience that the covenant was based on a commitment to faith in and submission to god, irrespective of cultural lineage. Paul welcomed these "inclusivists" into the Abrahamic faith without demanding the pains of what McG calls "boundary markers" (circumcision, dietary restrictions, purity code, etc). Paul's letters were not meant for "Jews" at all, but for Hellenists. The constant exhortations to uphold the Law that Paul is bent on refuting as products of an obsolete paradigm would have been unnecessary to a pious Jew. These opponents of Paul are also evidence of the contemporaneous Jewish complaint against the co-option of their tradition. After the initial commemoration of Jesus in Jerusalem was transposed through Paul's glass darkly, Christianity was almost exclusively a gentile thing. He probably wasn't alone in inventing "christology", but his are the only texts that survived unfortunately.
  • I wonder what the gentlemen engaged in this ongoing discussion think of Hyam Maccoby's general denial of Paul's "Pharisaism."
  • Also, I always object to people taking for granted that the author of Acts was the same as the author of Luke, but I realize how entrenched a convention that is.
    It's a pet peeve of mine, though, and I do my best to point out the presumption whenever I encounter it.

Anyway, I'll continue to follow along and possibly add my own comments here as the blogathon proceeds.




  1. Thanks for joining the conversation! You add an interesting perspective which should keep us honest. :)

    I've added your post to the list.

  2. Ditto on what Ken said. I should state that in my view, Christianity is not just a "confession". I disagree wholeheartedly with you that it is, to some degree, about beliefs. As I've tried to repeatedly make clear, I think it is about beliefs, confession and actions wedded together. I would say you can't have one without the other. So, there is my exclusivity coming out again. Like you, I am not ashamed of my position and I do think it is merited. Just as well, I am quite aware of the Greek differences between the Pauline Epistles and Hebrews but for me, that doesn't settle the fact that Paul could have written it. I think genre has a lot of bearing on that subject. Pertaining to your salvation, I ultimately cannot say what will become of you. But I would say that given my understanding of salvation--being in right-standing with God through belief, confession and a lifestyle in Christ--is a must. To repeat myself yet again, while that sounds exclusive, there is always an open invitation.

  3. Oh, I forgot to mention that it is interesting that you conveniently cite Marcion's canon (wow!!!) as hard evidence but say nothing about Origen's belief that Paul wrote Hebrews as well as the fact that Tertullian, Eusebius, Augustine and Jerome all believed it to be by Paul. I think you are quite mistaken to rely on the "the Greek is different" argument. Again, genre is a big point here. Just as well, audience (Jewish believers, not Gentiles as in letters) plays a big role. Moreover, there are more than a handful of almost word for word phrases in Heb. that are found in Paul's other letters. The "Greek" argument is not enough, no matter what anyone says. It is popular to appeal to this and try to get away with it but there can be no way that this is "enough evidence" unless of course, you knew Paul personally and the extent of his vocabulary as well. Other factors must be paired with the "greek" argument if you wish it to hold any water.

    hope i don't sound arrogant, just arguing my point in a calm, spirit of peace (though boldly at points).

  4. Add to that list: Hilary, Ambrose, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, and Athanasius. Not to mention the councils: the synod of Antioch (A.D. 264), the council of Nicea (A.D. 315), the council of Laodicea (A.D. 360), the council of Hippo (A.D. 393), the third council of Carthage (A.D. 397), and the sixth council of Carthage (A.D. 419). All quite early, I must say.

  5. Thanks.

    Yes, I hear you say that you think all are necessary in combination. What I don't see is objective resoning as to why you think they are interrelated thus. It is not enough to assert that they ARE necessary components of "salvation." My question is a simple childish (non-facetious), "Why?"

    As I stressed in my post, the divergent style of the Greek is NOT the only evidence against Pauline authorship.

    Your second comment is strange.

    "hope i don't sound arrogant, just arguing my point in a calm, spirit of peace (though boldly at points)."

    Actually, it does sound somewhat arrogant to me (sorry, but it does), but only indirectly because of the boldness of the expression, what makes it arrogant is the fact that i think you are plainly wrong about some facts.

    It's one thing to be bold it is quite another to get one's facts mixed up.

    Namely (going down the list):

    Marcion: Does not list Hebrews in his canon. With this much you agree with me. Cool.

    Origen: You say he accepted Pauline authorship.
    I insist that he disputed Hebrews, James, 2Peter, and 2nd and 3rd John, and Jude.
    One of us is right, one of us is wrong.

    Tertullian: Rejected Pauline authorship for Hebrews. Again, One of us is right about this and one of us is wrong.

    Jerome: Jerome did think that Paul probably wrote Hebrews, but I'd like to point out that in his De Viris (its would take me a little free time to consult soime references to find the citations for the Origen and Tertullian positions, but I recently studied and wrote a bit about Jerome and have De Viris in the front burner, so to speak) . . . anyway . . . in DeViris, he does lean that way, but something that I find very interesting about the matter during Jerome's time (already too late by my standard of "early text") is that Jerome does make casual mention that there are those in the church who question the authenticity of some epistles. What I find striking here is that Jerome, who is a fierce rhetorician with no tolerance for heretical does not reprimand those who do not think the epistles are genuinely apostolic. In other words, while, yes!, Jerome gives us evidence that he believes Paul wrote even Timothy and that James wrote James, he also gives evidence that, as far back as 380 or so, it was OKAY to doubt the Pauline origin within the church.

    I'll stop the list there because i made no mention of either Augustine or Eusebius in my post.

    I'll devote a little free time to finding some citations for the above two points . . .
    I would apprectiate the help of anyone with an advanced degree in the subject.


    I need citations here.

    I'm not above correction, of course, but I do believe that I am right about Origen and Tertullian (and that you are thus wrong).

    If it turns out that I am correct, then would you admit that the case for Pauline authorship is seriously weakened by these data?




  6. I've added yet another contribution to the ongoing conversation.

    As for the Hebrews question, in my mind, it is not a question of what words Paul did or didn't know. It is a question of distinguishing between the work of two authors with very different styles, not to mention different theologies. I allude to that in my post, and in fact, it might be appropriate to take the conversation off on this tangent for a while, since I think much of Michael's theological outlook is shaped by Hebrews. :)


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