This week there were several bits and pieces in the material that contributed to a more vivid picture of the setting and circumstances of Paul and his work. So much of my mental picture built up over years of study has been built around what Paul exhorts his subjects to do in the actual text, especially in small passages linked together by a particular argument. The identification of an overall theme in a book has also been part of that picture. Both the study of the Corinthian letters and Fredriksen’s chapter 3 have added texture and nuance to my approach to this material.

For one, I had never considered if Paul was overall successful in Corinth. The story told of Christianity is largely of its rapid growth and acceptance, and subsequent influence on the world. Paul must have been successful wherever he went because Christianity was successful, right? The possibility that he was not had never really been on the table for me.

Furthermore, this is the Apostle Paul, hand picked by Christ to be his emissary to the “Nations.” Who could question his credentials or otherwise consider him to be less persuasive than these so-called “super-apostles?” I’ve been told by an evangelist before that the Word of God is all the power that is needed to persuade men, yet here is Paul struggling to hold on to an ecclesia with whom he spent at least 18 months. The hearts of men, as it turns out, were just as fickle and easily persuaded as they are today. What’s more, the Word is not a magical formula which by being spoken adjusts the priorities and perceptions of the hearers.

The first significant observation from reading Fredriksen this week was the realization that we know so much of Paul from Acts. This is, of course, highlighted because she is approaching her topic from the academic vector, wherein sources have different values baked into people and circumstances from which they were produced. If you erased what we know of Paul because of Acts, you might certainly arrive at a different picture.

And finally, yet again we’re weaving a context together of how Jews and pagans were interacting in the Greco-Roman world of the NT. Most interesting to me, Fredriksen suggests that we put to bed the idea that Jews viewed a crucified Messiah as a scandal because of a perception that crucifixion was a curse from God. Pair that with a Jewish community that had at least two categories for pagans in-mixing (proselyte and god-fearer) and the idea that Jews were distinctly separated from their contemporaries very quickly starts to fade away. It turns out it’s the pagan and Christian culture that is at such odds.

Having just come off a week of treading the immeasurably deep waters concerning the impassibility of God, we’ve traded in questions about the nature of our God for questions about the relationship within our God. The water has not gotten any more shallow, and as I read the material this week, I found myself encountering the same sort of human struggle to understand what is simply not human. We are yet again resigned to speak about God in analogy, as we always will be until Christ’s return.

The development of the doctrine of the Trinity was a crucial development for the Christianity we know today. It’s possible to surmise that, had the victors of the Arian Controversy been reversed, the path we have taken to arrive at the doctrine as we know it would have been far longer. Though the doctrinal victory came through political means, I do not think that any theology wherein Christ Jesus is less than God or the Holy Spirit suffers the same fate could withstand true biblical scrutiny.

That all being said, I do think that we can empathize with Arian’s position, because we are just as human as he was. A God who begets another would seem to naturally have dominion over it, or be of a higher substance, to use the terminology of antiquity. After all, our experience in this world tells us that our creations do not rise to be equal to us. The humanity and suffering of Christ were (and obviously still is) a problem, as the sovereignty of God is assailed by a simplistic interpretation of Christ on the cross. Lastly, we can imagine Arian’s fear that Christianity will fall into polytheism by declaring Christ as of the same substance of God as the rumblings of Trinitarian doctrine begin to circulate.

The Arian point of view, in my estimation, ultimately suffered from a need to define God by human terms. Primarily Arian seems to have thrust upon God humanity’s constraints of time and creation. Arian suggests that there existed a time before Christ existed, but this cannot be merely assumed without thrusting the constraints of time upon God. We struggle to conceive of God’s unbegotten nature, being left to merely repeat the fact as God has revealed it to us. We also cannot assume that God’s action of creation functions within the constraints of human creation, including the language of the “begotten Son.”

We are constrained by analogy at every turn with God because we simply cannot describe what we can’t understand. God is also self-constrained to analogy if He chooses for our nature to remain unchanged. This is the failings of human language, which we saw in much the same way last week with the subject of impassibility. God’s chosen means of revelation gives us what we need to have faith, which requires Him (again, if we are to remain constrained by these human bonds of reason) to leave some things visible through the mirror, dimly. (1 Cor 13:12)

The damage to Christianity caused by a Christ who is not God would be irreparable. Christ’s being God fully completes His work on the cross, as there can be no greater sacrifice given in our place. How can Christ the man be of high enough value that He can rectify the chasm between God and humanity created by our sin? There is only one who is righteous enough to bear that burden, and it Christ fully God.

As man pursues the ordering of the world and his very nature, there is a natural limit to what he can discover about his origins. Beyond him is his creator supreme, who has supplied to him vitality, intellect and ability, and the world in which he exists. But man is not capable of discovering or understanding the creator’s great mysteries alone, and so the Creator God saw it that it was good to reveal to man some of God’s nature through His inspired Word. We, therefore, undertake the task of discovering the divine nature by studying the Word that was revealed to us, and by the faculty of our reason and intellect, so that we may draw closer to Him.

In Jeremiah 32:17, the writer states that God has “made the heavens and the earth by[His] great power and by[His] outstretched arm!” The breadth and depth of the power of God are so far beyond our comprehension that the mere thought of His nature and being overwhelms our intellect. When we speak of God, then, we must speak about His nature and attributes using analogies, which are the same way in which he reveals Himself to us. He is called our “shield” (Ps 28:7) and our “rock” (Deut 32:4). Of course, he is not literally these things, but they are meant to evoke a sense of who He is. Similarly, we often speak about God with the language that we would describe humans. He is not human though, and so to speak of Him this way is to communicate about aspects of his nature or his attributes in such a way that we can gain some sense of his “person”, a term derived from the Latin persona, which has the sense of a “mask”1.

The Creator God identifies Himself in Scripture to Abram as “God Almighty.” (Gen 17:1) This declaration of omnipotence is essential to understanding and establishing His ability to complete the scope of work we attribute to God, but it must further be defined to escape the contradictions and errors man has tried to ascribe to it. Often these errors take the form of a logical contradiction, such as “Can God make a rock that he cannot pick up?” Thus, the concept of divine omnipotence requires further clarification to be useful. To this end, William Ockham describes the omnipotence of God using the framework of His two powers; The ordained power of God and the absolute power of God. God possesses an absolute power which gives Him the ability to do all things, yet as He makes choices, He becomes self-limited by them. Having made the heavens and the earth, He cannot then choose not to make them. Thus, God operates by His ordained power, which prevents Him from some things while His absolute power remains established.

If God is almighty and the sole author of all of creation, how can we explain the presence of sin in the world? If God created all things, do we count among his creations the very nature of evil? By bestowing free will upon man, God left to man the ability to decide his own path. While man might have a multitude of options at every turn in his life, the decision is ultimately between the choice of God or self. Sin is the result of man’s choice to turn away from God. So then if choosing sin is the opposite of choosing God, sin and the evil that it brings into the world are not of God, but of man’s choice. Augustine of Hippo characterizes sin as a defective choice or action, which comes from nothing, and so is certainly not a product of God2.

If we can ascribe omnipotence and goodness to God as evidenced in His Word, and further order them via the reason of man, how can we know that these attributes have not changed, nor change in the future? How do we know of God’s steadfastness? The inspired words written by the prophet Malachi, found in Malachi 3:6 state “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” By His own word, God proclaims Himself to be unchanging. Moreover, He declares his name to Moses as “I AM,” not as a riddle, but as a declaration of his steadfast and unchanging nature. Thus, God himself, through His Word, assures us of His immutable and impassible nature.

The implications of this attribute for humanity, especially in the contemporary context of a century of world wars and prolific human suffering, are incredibly relevant. If God is incapable of change, what does that imply about His ability to suffer along with or because of man? It holds to reason that a God who is almighty and steadfast cannot be susceptible to pain or suffering as we understand it. If God were vulnerable to the concept of suffering, then God could not be considered as immutable, as this vulnerability would suggest that he could become more perfect or less perfect3.

Theologians have wrestled with understanding how God can be love and yet not partake in the suffering of those he loves. It is a core misunderstanding of God’s love that is the culprit, which is born of a human sense of love being projected onto wholly-other God. God’s love instead manifests itself not as an emotion, but as life, being, and truth4 and is the force which “fill[s] all creatures, according to their capacities, with his bountiful superabundance and excessiveness” 5. Our imperfection denies us the complete understanding of God’s love and its intersection with his unmoving nature, yet He has seen to reveal to us in Scripture that these seemingly contradicting attributes are both parts of his nature.

It is not too much to say that the beliefs of Christianity rest on the truth of these attributes. If God is not all powerful, then we must question His ability to enact His promises to man. If God is not all good, then we must question His self-representation as such in and thus the validity of Scripture. If God is not steadfast and unchanging, and furthermore affected by suffering because or with us, we must question His motives for creation and redemption. Ultimately these attributes of God define the basis of Christian understanding, and while many have challenged, and continue to challenge, the exactitude of these attributes, they have ultimately stood the tests of time and rationality.

  1. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 178.
  2. Augustine of Hippo, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Augustine of Hippo on the Relationship Between God and Evil,” in The Christian Theology Reader, (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 172.
  3. Spinoza, Benedict, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Benedict Spinoza on the Impassibility of God,” in The Christian Theology Reader, (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 160.
  4. Hart, David Bentley. “NO SHADOW OF TURNING: On Divine Impassibility.” PRO ECCLESIA, n.d.: 195.
  5. Augustine, De Trinitate VI.x 11, CCL 50: 241-42.

We might say in layman’s terms that the aim and struggle of theology are to best order and understand God and His nature, attributes, and actions. If that simple definition is adequate in any sense, the question of impassibility can be said to in some way affect the entire scope of the field. Hart and Schaab’s dense essays make no easy work of the topic from either end, which speaks to how difficult, and failing we are at understanding a question so far beyond ourselves.

Hart defends the long-held orthodox position of impassibility, or apatheia as he prefers, by seeking to clarify the meaning and manifestation of God’s love for man. Hart believes that the stumbling block in contemporary times is the common definition of love as an emotion, and thus trying to interpret God’s love, capability of suffering, and reaction to suffering in a framework of emotive interaction with man. Instead, he suggests that God’s love manifests itself in life and being, of which creation and redemption both are part. Thus, God’s love cannot be described in the human emotive sense, and the quality and quantity of it are not influenced by his creation. With or without creation, God would be fully God as he eternally is (Hart, 199).

Of course, the problem with this perspective becomes understanding and ordering the incarnation of Christ and his death on the cross. Rectifying the suffering of Christ at Calvary with a God that does not suffer would seem to take some mental flexibility. Hart suggests that the incarnation of Christ was not a change in His nature, which would allow for the suffering of God, but instead that he “freely appropriated the weakness and poverty of our nature for the work of redemption” (Hart, 201). He otherwise describes the incarnation as a “gracious condescension” where Christ “disclos[ed] and express[ed] [himself] in one instance of the infinite” (Hart 202).

Unconvinced that the doctrine of impassibility has a place in a world full of suffering, Schaab builds a menagerie of alternative theories from various new schools of theology. These divergent and diverse theories about God’s propensity to suffer reflect the global need to speak to God’s relationship to modern suffering. Each of these diverse perspectives assails the concept of a passive God from their different angles, and Schaab points out their strengths and weaknesses. Schaab finds them all valuable for consideration, but ultimately inadequate. She instead advocates for an evolutionary approach which purports to support a suffering God while still being theologically viable.

The repeated problem of the “suffering God” approaches becomes balancing God’s omnipotence and vulnerability. To various degrees, these approaches ultimately erode “I AM’s” transcendence, power, and glory and reduce God to a more palatable human creation. This is not to say that these question about how God views our suffering and the effects upon Him are not valid, but I find the result is an amalgamation of weak human emotions and thoughts and a God so entirely other that they cannot occupy the same space.

Human suffering has always been and will always be a problem, and Christians have a responsibility and time-honor tradition of embracing its solutions. However, there is an immense amount of danger in redefining the nature of God as he saw to reveal it to address the problems of the world.

The answer for me is to understand that God can be both incapable of suffering and the complete manifestation of love. That God reveals His name to Moses as “I AM” is not a riddle, but is the manifestation of how impossible it is to comprehend God. Hart says

God has always gone infinitely farther in his own being as the God of self-outpouring charity than we can venture in our attempts to escape him, and our most abysmal sin is as nothing to the abyss of divine love.

God’s interaction with human suffering is to hate it, but accept it, first as part of the human condition that reveals to us our need of Him, and second as the method by which Christ would ultimately redeem the world for the new creation.

The question of unity in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians has reached a stalemate. The predominate camps support either a singular, unified Pauline work or a collection of 2-3 Pauline works later edited together to form a single document. I am convinced that the epistle is a single Pauline work.

The two most persuasive arguments for fragmentation were 1) the abrupt shift in tone in chapter 3 and 2) the seemingly out of order nature of some of its pieces. While the tonal issue in 3:2 has not been accounted for by any psychological or circumstantial insight into Paul (Garland, 147), I am persuaded it can be accounted for by interpretational issues. As for the epistles adherence to standard Greco-Roman conventions and formats, I feel this can be attributed to problems we create when a generalized perspective is applied to a specific circumstance. I’m unconvinced that the epistle breaks from expected Greco-Roman format in such a way as to become evidence against a single letter.

Instead, we find that the epistolary thanksgiving in Ph 1:3-11 is connected with themes found in the parts of the letter in question. To this end, Jewett says

When one adds to his analysis the aberration that the themes of suffering (1:7), joy (1:4), and mental attitude (1:7) which so dominate the last three chapters of the letter are all announced in the epistolary thanksgiving, the letter takes on an impressive unity. (Jewett, 53)

Furthermore, the vocabulary found in the epistle helps to unify the text. Garland notes that the uncommon greek phrases found in Ph 1:27 (translated “standing firm” and “side by side,” ESV) are found again in the same uncommon Greek in 4:1 and 4:3. (Garland, 160). These rare Pauline words act to bind the letter across the most common divisions.

Outside of the actual textual criticism, we should also consider that there exists no extant MS evidence that would support the theory of a compilation of multiple individual letters. (Carter and Levine, 199).

Finally, I thought that Garland made a compelling case for interpretational issues in Ph 3:1-11. He begins by establishing that the translation “Look out for” (Ph 3:2) is misleading, and agrees with Caird that Paul wants the Jews perceived as a cautionary tale instead of strictly avoided (Garland, 166). Garland then furthers the position that Paul uses the term “dogs” in 3:2 as an inverted slur against Jews, who themselves used the term to describe non-Jews. Paul follows with “evil workers” (KJV), which Garland posits is less about evil and more about works-righteousness, which again points to Jewish belief. Paul continues this derision of Jewish culture by claiming that “we are the circumcision” (Ph 3:3). This connects well with the rest of the chapter, as Paul the former persecutor and works-righteousness Pharisee recounts that Christ is his gain.

The cultural norms in the Greco-Roman world in regards to letter writing may not seem like an exciting topic to some, but its value is undeniable in reconstructing the messages found in the NT. I, for one, have enjoyed learning more about it and what it brings to the conversation.

As someone who grew up reading the NT letters, I certainly felt like I was learning the formal language for a pattern that I had already come to recognize. Of course, Western letter writing has, in a sense, most of the same elements, so NT epistles aren’t entirely foreign. Understanding the cultural influences that are present in the letters, however, increase our recognition of the context and aid in interpretation.

Specifically standing out this week was a point in the lecture concerning the letter to the Galatians. The lack of a proem was a great example of how understanding the historical norms of letter writing tells us more than we could immediately interpret in the text. Not only does this fact of this omission have value, but it also gives us an incredible insight into how the church at Galatia would have received Paul’s words.

Hartman’s “On Reading Others’ Letters” was a great read as well, especially concerning his conclusions on Paul’s letter writing. As we approach the Word in our young Christian walk, we Westerners see through Western eyes, and so we envision a solo Paul penning yet another letter to another of his children churches. More study results in ideas about how letters were copied and distributed, and uncertain authorship and inspiration. Hartman, for me then, provides a new suggestion in that Paul understood his writings were useful to a much wider audience that his primary recipient, and so purposefully wrote them to accommodate such a fact. That the Holy Spirit provided inspirational guidance to that effect had certainly crossed my mind, but not that Paul himself would have considered it.

Furthermore, the idea that Paul kept copies of his letters in a local collection is striking enough to cause us to relook at his work under such a suggestion. “Paul writing to the Galatians” and “Paul writing to the wide Christian world by means of the Galatians” would be similar volumes, but the amplitude and specificity of ideas and suggestions would likely be noticeably different.

Finally, Hartman makes a comparison that I found compelling and will undoubtedly find a way to use in the future. Hartman references reading Scripture through a contemporary lens while disregarding the original intended meaning, using as an example a Lutheran reading of Paul that equates the Law with God’s will. (Hartman, 143). He then likens this to how Christian interpretations of the Tanakh must appear to the Jew. This is an excellent reminder that the Hebrew Bible has both always pointed to Jesus and simultaneously had a primary meaning separate from Jesus.

For centuries those who are critical of the existence of God has heralded that science can stand on its own to describe and order the natural world that we live in. Theology, in contrast, must rely on the mystery of God to explain the processes of the world, which is seen by unbelievers as an abandonment of reason. In two very different ways, Thomas Aquinas and Pascal refute the skeptic’s stance but in a sort of harmony of head and heart.

Aquinas, in his Five Proofs, provides five “demonstrations” based on the nature of the known world that argues for the consistent proof of God’s existence. Aquinas seeks to use the rational methods and means science against those who cannot find proof for or commit to the idea of, the existence of God. The five ways are simple and easily digestible and provide a base layer that makes it possible to erect a structure of belief from them. The points, however, do not go so far as to prove the existence of the Christian God or even a monotheist perspective. This mostly does not seem to be the aim, other than ending each of the points with a final “This we call God.” Aquinas then is appealing to those who wield reason and rationality as weapons against the existence of God, by putting on display the right use of rational inquiry to prove God.

Pascal on his face could be seen as attacking a rational approach, but I see it as the cooperative argument to Aquinas. Aquinas succeeds in showing the ways reason supports God. Pascal picks up by stating that reason’s deficiency in constructing an entire worldview for or against the existence of God should humble it. He continues his perspective by stating that reason, which by he means intellectually honest reason, takes its last step when it concedes that there are “an infinite number of things which are beyond it” (Reader, 30). And, as Pascal finishes the thought, he pointedly asserts that if reason can’t get to the end of natural things, then how much less does it know about supernatural ones?

I resonated highly with the second Pascal excerpt on the hiddenness of God. This stance that God chose to be hidden influences my understanding of how God has acted and continues to operate. Pascal surmises that it not only right that God be partly concealed and partly revealed; it is also useful…” (Reader, 31). Our God, mysterious His ways, put the Law of Moses into effect so that by it men might know their sin. (Rom 6:7). The sacrificial blood of the covenant, to Israel, “righted” their relationship to Him. God, though, had hidden to them the typology they were taking part in, such that He knew He would save the world through a sacrifice of blood once and for all. This perspective should give us a lens to look through at the mysteries of the revelation, and consider that the mystery is purposeful, and for our benefit. God’s chosen revelation is equally as useful, not just in the primary sense of useful, but valuable in its form: It is everything we need to believe that He exists.

Man is often his own stumbling block as we interpret God’s Word, and one of the primary problems we face when interpreting Scripture is leaving our bias at the door. For the last two centuries, slavery has been a hotbed of conversation, and its social costs are still being paid today. However, in the course of utilizing Philemon in this conversation, I think we must consider how the institution of slavery and Christians’ perceptions of it gave Philemon a task it could not complete.

My reading of Philemon leaves me with the impression that Onesimus is in a very real fashion indebted to Philemon, but not specifically in the manner of slavery. I take the use of the word “slave” to be figurative in the context of the epistle and to confer a discrepancy of status or balance between the two men. So then I am subscribed to a real familial relationship between these two men.

The familial relationship takes it a foothold in verse 16, where Paul encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus as a “beloved brother… both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Two men cannot become brothers in the flesh if they did not originally possess that relationship, so, therefore, the brotherhood he wishes to Philemon to re-accept is likely one that has a familial aspect to it, as well as kinship in the Lord.

The interpretation that considers Onesimus a slave via the literal interpretation of verse 16 is often accompanied by the idea that he has run away from his slavery. I find verse 18 to be problematic in that interpretation, since Paul seems to be unsure if Philemon considers Onesimus to have wronged or owe anything to him. Had Onesimus run away, he would undoubtedly know so and Paul should therefore be aware that he indeed does owe Philemon something. I do not think Paul is being coy with his words, but is honest in his inquiry and willingness to have Onesimus’ debt on his account.

In this epistle, as well as with all others attributed to him, Paul is writing both to the named recipient(s) and a wider audience. While the recipient and his admonitions are set in the historical context of the letter, the wider audience is not necessarily privy to this context. Paul seems to be aware of this as he writes his epistles, and Philemon should be no exception, given its Pauline character. In the case of taking the text of Philemon and making what would have amounted to a counterculture argument about slavery, Paul seems to have failed if that were his specific goal.

We can take Paul’s words, however, and use them for what they are: an admonition to treat our fellow heirs with love and refresh each other’s hearts in Christ.

As we stand with our feet planted in the soil of this earth, we can look around and know that we are not our own creator, and sense within ourselves a certain divinity. The evidence of such possession is intangible, yet largely beyond controversy. 1 As we undertake this contemplation of our nature, and the necessary existence of a creator God who has made us and all of the reality that we inhabit, we must seek to order this knowledge of the grand mystery of existence. To do so, unlike so many other pursuits of knowledge however, we must recruit our heart into the equation. This is theology, the contemplation of God, coupled with a right state of the heart. 2

As we undertake the task of theology, we must first identify the truth we seek to understand. In that regard, the most realistic aspiration of our process is to attain the best explanation of the complex world we live in. If empirical proof of a creator God is beyond our grasp, then we must search for an understanding sufficiently comprehensive to afford the basis for ration commitment and ultimately, belief. 3 For theologians, then, we are seeking to collect and organize all of the information that we can attain in order to form a reasonable view of the relationship between ourselves and our creator. We must also recognize and establish that our goal is to arrive at a belief in what the creator God has done, and understanding the methods and means of how God accomplished His many great works is not a critical conclusion we seek.

What data, then, is available to theologians to contribute to our pursuit of reasonable belief? Our primary and most important source of knowledge about God comes from the transmission of His revelation through inspired Scripture. These collected writings self-proclaim God himself to be the author of them. (1 Tim 3:16-17) In order to be both “God-breathed” and the literal product of man, we must first understand the nature of revelation and inspiration. The object of God’s revelation to man is the communication of knowledge, both in the form of truth and understanding. In order to guard the transmission of revelation through the vehicle of man, inspiration from God, through His Spirit, serves to secure infallibility in teaching. 4 God thereby and in tandem with human writers has given theology its starting place, an authoritative text that governs and guides our pursuit of knowledge about and concerning to God.

The Word of God itself, revelation its substance and inspiration its guide, must be then interpreted by man, who is undoubtedly fallible. For this purpose, God instituted the church so that man’s corrupting influence might be mitigated through the establishment of tradition. As we seek to correctly interpret, this tradition acts to keep our interpretation closely tethered to beliefs held universally, in antiquity, and by consensus. 5 It is a certainty that men fail to agree upon these tenets. Nevertheless, theology accepts this fact and does not count it against God, but against man, and furthermore as a motivation to continue to pursue Him.

We must further recognize that Scripture was handed to man in order that we may know him, but not as a list of empirical facts or as an account of all truths. Instead, God provided us with a body of Scripture that bestows on us knowledge through narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, collections of letters, and apocalyptic revelation. Theology, then, must operate within this context, and proceed by finding truth in the forms in which we have received God’s Word. We discover God’s nature and character through narrative stories of His historical dealings with man, and yet still we find deeper understanding through the inclusion of poetry and wisdom literature which illuminates and enriches the narrative. We learn of His plan for humanity, its existence since the beginnings of time, and fulfillment in the life of Jesus, the Son. We recognize that our contemplation of God causes self-contemplation, and thus that theology can only truly be defined between what God is and what we are not.

  1. Calvin, John, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “John Calvin on the Natural Knowledge of God” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 91.
  2. Aquino, Fred, ed. Abraham, William J., Jason E. Vickers, and Natalie B. Van Kirk. Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008, 178.
  3. Polkinghorne, John, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “John Polkinghorne on Motivated Belief in Theology” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 63.
  4. Charles Hodge, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Charles Hodge on the Inspiration of Scripture” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 113.
  5. Vincent of Lerins, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Vincent of Lerins on the Role of Tradition” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 82.

I fully admit to approaching the topic of the Apocrypha with a skeptical eye to its value for contemporary Christians. My definition of value, in retrospect, was very narrow and preconceived, which I imagine is common in layperson circles. The readings this week expanded my definition of value to surpass what the text itself might say, outwards towards what role the text might have played for Jews and Christians who found their faith at a moment when nearly all aspects of the literary world were substantially different than ours. The collection of works contained in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha serve to give us insight into a world quite foreign to our own.

If we want to understand the New Testament, we must understand the human writers who contributed, and furthermore the world in which they are living. DeSilva encourages the study of these books to provide a “fuller, more reliable picture” of the Judaism that immediately predates Christianity, and which goes on to eventually become or influence contemporary Judaism (DeSilva, 20). They serve to help us understand certain shades of the friction Paul might have encountered as he enters the synagogues to proclaim Christ. The literature being read in those spaces, how regularly, and the degree of acceptance (if it defiles the hands) would positively shape comparisons and critical thoughts of those coming into contact with the Apostles and teachers during the times described in our New Testament. These primary texts, then, have value in helping us rebuild the world of Early Christianity.

Beyond understanding the worldview of Jewish converts to Christianity, it’s also potentially helpful for us to consider the implications of early church choices to hold onto these texts, while Jewish communities abandoned them (DeSilva, 27). The reasons that these works disappeared from Jewish tradition may have much more to do with the language of origin or the recognition that God had stopped inspiring words of the prophets than any opposition to Christianity, per se.

Simultaneously though, what value did early Christianity see in these books? Was the inclusion of these extra-canonical works the result of the early father’s perspective (or lack thereof) concerning canon, or rather deliberate inclusion of works that displayed practical value? Perhaps the statement McDonald makes about contemporary choices of texts applies in antiquity, that “[t]he texts that speak to our immediate needs and circumstances are the ones that we tend to favor…” (McDonald, 62).

While I ultimately land in opposition to both Jerome’s suggestion to divide the Old Testament into “canonical” and “ecclesiastical” books as well as Augustine’s outright advocacy for the Septuagint text, my appreciation of the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal literature has increased. I expect that I will find myself much more interested in the ongoing discussions about the influence these texts had on the formative years before and during the rise of Christianity and how they might have shaped the worldview of Christians and Jews alike.