Further Contours — Neither Jew Nor Greek

Dunn picks up where he left off in Beginning from Jerusalem – with the Jewish war – and ends with Irenaeus whom he regards as the first biblical theologian and therefore a fitting stopping–point (141). Continuing with many of his previous emphases on diversity detailed already in the second volume of his trilogy, the period under discussion in the present volume involves a Christianity also in tension, “contested on all the main factors which make for identity” (41).

The Jesus tradition continued to be transmitted orally, even alongside the emergence of the Gospels. It was the achievement of Mark to move the ‘gospel’ tradition to the newly invented “Gospel” biography (195), with Matthew and Luke following (192f). And though Paul may emphasize the gospel in terms of Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins, his burial, and his resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-4), Mark’s Gospel is not all that different in its emphasis. Dunn makes mention of Martin Kähler’s description of “the Gospels as passion narratives with extended introductions” (196). The Gospels, then, present Jesus as just as much the object of gospel content as Paul and subsequent tradents (cf. 188-99). Dunn specifically has in view Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:15; 8:35; and 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; evident from the cited passages is that the term is appearing within the context of Jesus’ own passion predictions and his charge to the disciples that they too will suffer, within his counter-temple discourse, and in the tradition of his anointing for burial). The movement from oral to written Jesus tradition, or gospel to Gospel “should not be seen as some sort of radical departure from the oral gospel tradition” (213).

Concerning the four leading voices of the New Testament: (1) Paul’s influence continues to shape Christianity throughout the second century, particularly as shaping  “a Jewish messianic sect into a religion open to non-Jews and attracting increasing numbers of Gentiles; Paul is seen as a figure with an abiding and strong influence on Christianity; (2) James’ impact was for the most part lost by the events of the Jewish war and subsequent displacement of the Jerusalem Jewish Christians, and by “those who defined Christianity over against Judaism…”  (3) Peter’s impact, which was “surprisingly hidden in the first generation” returns with “increasing force in subsequent generations,” and he is “increasingly claimed as first bishop of Rome”; (4) John’s impact was “hardly evident” at all in the first generation, but becomes “a major voice at the turn of the first and second century.” His heritage was critical in the heresiological confrontations with Gnostics since John’s incarnational Christology was fundamentally opposed to Gnosticism (42). That John and Peter are dated late and afforded less influence in the first generation would align Dunn’s analysis of the literature with F. C. Baur’s. At times the parallels are striking.

Concerning the Gospel of Thomas, Dunn writes with emphasis that: “The basic narrative of Thomas is too distinctive and too different from the other first-century indications of the impact made by Jesus for us to find a root for the Thomas perspective in Jesus’ mission or the early oral Jesus tradition” (400; cf. 375-84).

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Neither Jew Nor Greek — Examining James Dunn’s Dates and Sources

Dunn, James D. G. Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity. Volume 3 of Christianity in the Making. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015. xiv + 946 pp. $60.00.

Dating the Sources

Mark is dated largely based on the apocalyptic discourse material of ch. 13 to AD 65-75, something of a consensus among scholarship (53). Particularly, Dunn points out Mark 13:14’s “abomination of desolation,” an intentional echo of Dan 12:11, as indicative of Caligula’s attempt to erect his own statue in the Jerusalem temple (53). “Most find the link between Mark 13 and the destruction of the temple sufficiently close to date the Gospel to the period of 65-75” (54). Luke’s date is largely figured using the same rationale, so that “Luke 21:24 probably implies that the author was able to look back on the destruction of Jerusalem” (60). His Gospel was written before Acts, however, and given a date in the late 70s or early 80s (61). Since Matthew’s Gospel draws on Mark, it “must have been written some time after 70 (66). Ignatius’ use of Matthew provides a terminus ad quem of 100-118, further narrowing the window (67). The critical stance towards “the post-70 successors of the Pharisees” as found in Matt 23:7-8, would indicate an even earlier date still, while Judaism in the wake of Jerusalem’s devastation was still forging a new halakhic identity. Because of the difficulty in deciding whether or not the tensions in Matthew’s Gospel are directed or indicative of a breach with Judaism, Dunn opts for the consensus view of somewhere in the 80s, likely mid to late 80s (68-9). Concerning John, John 21:23 is taken to imply that the beloved disciple had died (79). “There is no clear evidence that the Apostolic Father knew John,” and the “earliest evidence of knowledge of John in Christian circles is Justin Martyr (1 Apology 1.61.4-5 – John 3:3-5),” providing the terminus ad quem of about 150 (79). P52, “generally dated to about 125,” further reduces the time of writing to “the first decade of the second century” (79). Since the John Rylands fragment was discovered in Egypt, then the Gospel of John must have already been in wide circulation, and therefore a date in the last decade of the first century is Dunn’s assessment (or at the turn of the century; 79).

Dunn next explores the pseudepigraphical writings of the New Testament, including Ephesians, the Pastorals (which includes Titus), and 2 Peter (81). Dunn’s point here is that these texts were received into Christian churches not because they were strictly written by Paul or Peter, but because they claimed an authoritative tradition closely wed to the apostles, the closeness of which must have been well known. In answering the dilemma of pseudepigraphical New Testament writings, Dunn points to the value of D. G. Meade who argues that the traditions which began with Peter and Paul, accrued additional tradition material (likely from within each of their own apostolic circles), but in a manner faithful to the work of their respective apostolic witnesses, so that their apostolic authority was maintained (84). In short, Dunn agrees with Meade’s explanation that the claim of apostolic authority for these pseudepigraphical texts should not be confused with literary origins (84). The writings were instead an attempt to “renewedly actualize the authoritative Pauline and Petrine traditions for the following generation” (84). Meade sought precedence for the developing authoritative tradition within Second Temple traditions such as Enoch with its expansions, as well as in Isaiah’s tripartite division declared by historical critics. But is it fair to cast epistolary literature, particularly Paul’s writing to his disciples Timothy and Titus, in the same vein as the textual developments in Enochic and Isaianic literature (granting for the sake of argument, of course, the historical-critical portrait)?

Since the ecclesiology of the Pastoral letters aligns, Dunn states, with that of Acts, and generally reflects a time between Ephesians and Ignatius, a date of 80-100 is posited (91). Hebrews, since it demonstrates that Torah was fulfilled not by the temple-cult in Jerusalem but by Christ, reflects a post-70 time of writing (96). Second Peter is “firmly dated after 100,” or “some time in the first half of the second century,” based on the delay of the Parousia indicated by 2 Peter 3:4, 8, and 9, and because Paul’s epistles are regarded as Scripture in 3:15-16 (102-3). Because of Jude’s association with the traditions in 2 Peter, the earliest date for the letter would be late in the first century with 2 Peter forming the terminus ad quem; and this dating is despite Dunn’s recognition of Mark 6:3 (Jude is a brother of Jesus, and James), the letter’s Jewish character, and Eusebius’ mention of Jude’s grandsons as church leaders in the 90s (Ecclesiastical History, 3.19.1-3.20.6; pp. 97-9). First-Third John, later than the Gospel of John (90s), reflects a post-70 transition from Jerusalem to Syria and Ephesus, which would have been a lengthy process (106). They were written near the end of the first century, or into the second (106). Finally, Revelation, following the scholarly consensus dates to the early 90s (106). Babylon (in Rev 18) is a reference to Rome, as well as the Beast described in Rev 13:1-8. The imperial cult and Domitian persecution are instructive for the dating (106).[1] The letters of James, 1 Peter, and Paul were treated by Dunn in Beginning from Jerusalem.

First Clement is dated to AD 95-6 (113), Ignatius “the late 100s or early 110s” (115), Polycarp’s “letter to the Philippians quite likely followed Ignatius’s letters only a few months later – that is, still in the 110s” (117), and the Didache is roughly AD 100-120 (120). Additional second-century sources evaluated and used by Dunn include the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Clement, Papias, and the Odes of Solomon. The list of authors and works treated by Dunn apart from the New Testament documents includes dozens more, stretching from pp. 111 to 182, with a helpful chart on p. 183.

[1]E. Earle Ellis states that the evidence presented for a Domitian persecution “do[es] not appear to be very strong.” The Making of the New Testament Documents (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 212-3.  And that dating later New Testament documents (and 1 Clement, p. 280-1 n.236) to the last decade of the first century AD on the grounds of a Domitian persecution amounts to unreliable, dubious history.

A Research Paper on James Dunn’s Christianity in the Making Vol. 3

I am posting a recent paper on volumes two and three of James Dunn’s Christianity in the Making. This paper stems from a class with Dr. John Taylor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (though he has shared that he will be joining Gateway Seminary in California). It has been my great privilege to be his student. Dr. Taylor has been very flexible in allowing me to take specific classes tailored as much for my interests as for my benefit.

Concerning this particular paper, readers should know that the material originates from my first seminar to cover early Christianity critically reconstructed, and as it emerged from Jerusalem and grew to encounter the larger Mediterranean world. Since the class was specifically devoted to James Dunn’s magisterial Christianity in the Making, the reading was significant, and since it covered so much material and an era that I had previously little familiarity with (the sub-apostolic era, second generation Christianity), I am sure more learned readers will find various faults within my paper (though hopefully minor ones).

I share the paper, however, because of the joy it brought me in both researching the topic and writing on it. James Dunn is an immensely talented research writer. His work has been formative on me not only for this reason but for others as well. His notable objectivity in handling the many challenging research questions is impressive. In some ways, reading his work feels almost like looking over his shoulder as he works through the research questions and discussions himself. Dunn seems to limit his own input to the conclusions of vast segments of research within his books, though like a skilled narrator he is carefully building his case all the while. In addition to objectivity, Dunn has a gift for viewing the whole and seeing discordant ideas and material within it. He has a remarkable talent for seeing where diverse ideas come into conflict with the larger picture. In short, he discerns unity within the diversity. Thank you Dr. Dunn for you contributions, and for inspiring me to learn and to dig deeper. And thank you Dr. Taylor for doing the same, and holding me to a high bar of excellence. All mistakes are my own and much of the reflections are raw thoughts checked only against tertiary resources. As always, dear readers, thank you for reading Jesus and Paul and the New Testament Blog!

(My initial paper in the class covered volume one, Jesus Remembered, which is more aligned with my specialized doctoral interests in the historical Jesus, and I am heavily re-working and improving this paper for publication. The following paper, then, deals only with the second and third volumes, though most attention is given to the third.)

Beginning from Jerusalem: Review

Dunn primarily uses Acts as a rubric for understanding early Christianity. But he also includes the Pauline corpus and identifiable Jesus traditions discernible in the letters of James and Peter. Dunn states the sources analyzed date from AD 30–70 (128). The book’s historical treatment formally ends with the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in AD 70. Peter and Paul both die in Rome in AD 64 under Nero’s persecution (1071). As a result, the epistles of Peter, since they are given a late date, must have been written by someone other than Peter (1072).

BEGINNING FROM ANTIOCH?

In the First Phase of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem, Dunn argues for a Hellenistic origin to the sacrificial theology evidenced by the Christian creed in 1 Cor 15:3f: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” The Hellenists were likely from Antioch and elsewhere in the diaspora, and the confessional formula was “composed by and for the Greek-speaking converts” (232). The testimony of Acts, according to Dunn, “tells decisively against the possibility that Jesus intended to establish a new cult in place of the Temple” (233; but whence Mark 13’s Olivet Discourse?). The summary here closed with a question: “Is it simpler to deduce that the understanding of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice had never been clearly expounded in the church in Jerusalem?” (235). For Dunn, the sacrificial death motif is found in Hebrews and, to a lesser extent, in the epistles of Paul. The theory of a Hellenistic provenance for a sacrificially atoning death by Jesus continues to inform ch. 24 (241-321). The theory can be summarized neatly as follows: (1) Saul’s persecution scattered the earliest believers in Jerusalem, resulting in Hellenists taking the Jesus traditions to Antioch. (2) Upon their return to Jerusalem, the Hellenists had new insight into Jesus’ death, understanding it both as a sacrifice for sins and as subversive of the Temple cult in Jerusalem. This is why no pre-formed Aramaic tradition of the creed can be discerned behind 1 Cor 15:3f, according to Dunn, since the tradition is said not to begin with the Hebraists. While the study is impressive, the reader of Dunn cannot help but ask: Is it really plausible that the earliest Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, after being scattered and catechized anew in Antioch, returned to Jerusalem with a fresh counter-Temple doctrine, and successfully instructed the Apostles themselves on the meaning of Jesus’ death? Or that they held to and taught their own novel tradition successfully and alongside the true apostolic witnesses?

THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL AND THE ANTIOCH INCIDENT

In many ways chapter 27, “Crisis and Confrontation,” is the most important in the book since it demonstrates with great skill how Dunn understands the distinctiveness of Peter’s gospel to the circumcised and Paul’s gospel to the uncircumcised (Gal 2:7), and how each apostle’s mission was answerable to James in Jerusalem, and answerable to one another. “Crisis” designates the Jerusalem Council’s decision on gentile circumcision (Acts 15:5); and “Confrontation” denotes Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Antioch over Peter’s return to Jewish dietary laws (Gal 2:11-14). Faith alone is unquestionably (and rightly) the chief principle involved in the theology of Paul, according to Dunn (see subheadings “b” and “c” under §27.5, 484f; here 487): “The events at Antioch showed Paul that the teaching had to be sharpened – faith in Christ and not works of the law.” And again: “In defining acceptability to God, and therefore of believers to one another, nothing should be added to the gospel’s call for faith; faith in Christ alone is the sole basis for Christian unity.” The last quote given demonstrates that there is a common core holding Christianity together at this early stage, which is faith in Christ – though for James and Peter it is not faith alone. Nevertheless, it is this core that forms the basis of fellowship between Jew and Gentile. This basis of unity also does not eliminate the distinctive features remaining between the Jewish Christianity of Jerusalem, with James at the helm and Peter as its missionary, and the Gentile Christianity of Paul’s diaspora missions, which taught a more homogenous gospel with former divisions such as Jew and Greek evidently absorbed entirely into Christology.

It seems the Apostolic Decree delivered by James which declared that circumcision was not required by Gentiles (God accepts Gentiles precisely as Gentiles; cf. 442-5, 461-9), still retained a Torah-abiding Jewish Christian gospel that was in fundamental disagreement with Paul’s Torah-less gospel. Again, Torah-keeping Jewish Christianity is upheld by James (461-9; esp.467; cf. also James’ “law of liberty” in Jas 1:25; 2:12, pp. 1141-2), and Gentile converts are expected to respect their customs, even where these customs cause them to be set apart from Gentiles. Dunn tantalizingly notes Ernst Haenchen who explains that the Decree is actually consistent with Torah legislation concerning foreigners in the land of Israel (466 n.222; 468 n.231; citing Lev 17:8-9,10-14; 18:20,26; Acts 15:23-29). This indicates a Torah-respecting expectation among Jew and Gentile relations within earliest Jerusalem Christianity (467). The decision of the Jerusalem Council was only enforceable where the Jerusalem mother church held influence; the daughter churches being Antioch and Cilicia (468). Dunn further points out that fundamental for the decision reached by the council was the recognition that the Gentiles had been given the Holy Spirit just as the Jews in the beginning – though Paul leaves this part out.

The Confrontation, i.e., the incident at Antioch, follows next (470-89). Galatians 2:14, Dunn says, should not be taken “to indicate that Peter and the Jewish believers had totally abandoned the law governing relations between Jews and Gentiles” (473). Faith alone was Paul’s answer for the Antioch incident (487), but Peter does not seem to have acquiesced. This confrontation concerning the place of Torah becomes a clash of apostolic titans (491), resulting in an effective fracture between Peter and Paul and their respective churches (491), with Antioch and Cilicia following Peter, and Paul continuing, as his corpus shows, to vie for his gospel against the Judaizers within his Asian and Aegean churches.

Dunn notes Acts 16:4, which states that Paul and Timothy delivered the findings of the Apostolic Decree to Paul’s previously evangelized churches. Dunn writes that this “may also indicate a concern on Paul’s part to ensure that these churches did not follow the path chosen by Peter and the Antiochenes” (665). The context of Acts 16 verse 4 does lend credibility to Dunn’s schism thesis since it suggests that Paul may have only circumcised Timothy to avoid trouble with the Judaizers. Overall, however, the findings of the chapter, as argued by Dunn, do not clearly follow from his presentation. While he demonstrates a contrast, or disagreement, over Torah between Paul and the Jerusalem Pillars, Dunn concludes that it is actually a fracture (489-94), with Jerusalem prevailing and Paul’s influence in areas of Jerusalem influence significantly curtailed (494). This means a full break between Paul and Peter and James.

In sum, concerning the confrontation between Peter and Paul over Torah “it was Peter who prevailed,” though the reader of Paul’s account would not have known it (490). Again, though, has Dunn really demonstrated that the clash of the titans was a schism – a split of the churches according to their apostolic leaders? The intensity of the schism as described by Dunn speaks to F. C. Baur’s continued influence in the thinking of Dunn, and of early Christian studies.

JAMES AND PETER

In stark contrast to his treatment of Paul (over five-hundred pages; pp. 495-1057), Dunn briefly sketches James (1122-47) and Peter (378-415; 1058-76). Since the primary thesis of the book is to demonstrate the variegated nature of early Christianity, that is that James, Peter, and Paul makeup different types of Christian subgroups, it is somewhat disappointing that two of the Pillars (Gal 2:9) of nascent Christianity are given so little treatment.

In his examination of the Epistle of James, Dunn identifies several aphorisms of Jesus mostly drawn from the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (1135). The aphoristic teachings are considered by Dunn to be indicative of the impact of the earthly Jesus and of his oral teaching. In this regard James acts as a valuable window into the earliest Jewish Christian followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and Judea. Dunn further finds support for orality in James’ use of wisdom tradition stemming from the Second Temple period, such as the Wisdom of Ben Sira and the Wisdom of Solomon (1133). The noted wisdom citations are not fixed but fluid, indicating a lively, oral presence. It is a nice complement to Dunn’s orality thesis and continued focus.

James’ discussion of “works of law” is further seen as a deliberate affront to Paul, or at least those who have misunderstood Paul (1142, 1144). This is shown to be the case by recognizing the common themes on the discussion in their respective letters: (1) the issue is posed in terms of faith and works (Rom 3:27-28/Jas 2:18); (2) God is claimed as “one” (Rom 3:29-30/Jas 2:19); (3) Abraham’s example is integral to the understanding of faith/works righteousness (Rom 4:1-2/Jas 2:20-22); finally (4) both cite Gen 15:1 (Rom 4:3/Jas 2:20-22) and (5) Gen 15:6 (Rom 4:4-21/Jas 2:23). One might also add the “apart” motif, seen in Rom 3:27 “faith apart from works of the Law,” and seen also in Jas 2:18 and 20, “show me your faith apart from works,” and “faith apart from works is useless.” For Paul it is faith alone, as Dunn impressively points out (482-94); for James it is faith and works together.

James concern for Torah distinguishes him from Pauline Christianity, but not to the degree that F. C. Baur had envisaged, at least according to Dunn (1174). It is rather that they worked together despite their differences of opinion concerning the place of Torah. James’ more conservative Jewish Christianity based in Jerusalem was Torah-keeping, while Paul’s Torah-free gospel was proclaimed in the diaspora among Jews and Gentiles. Peter is seen as a mediating figure who equivocated on the principle, although in Dunn’s work Peter ultimately aligns with James and Torah-based Christianity (1060). But Peter did come to accept, as did James, that due to the movement of the Spirit of God, the Gentiles were accepted precisely as Gentiles (465 n.216), i.e. without circumcision (464).

Aphorisms are also found in 1 Peter (1154), and they too are largely from the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. Refreshingly, concerning the Pauline flavor of 1 Peter, Dunn points out that it is Paul himself who learned from Peter (Gal 1:18), so the direction of transmission may have started with Peter, a point often overlooked. Further, Peter himself should not be considered to have made no impact on his followers, with the result that his epistles cannot in any meaningful way be identified with him (1156). First Peter also reveals no meaningful tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians (1152, 1159), which would speak for an earlier date. On the contrary it presupposes a Jewish audience empty of a gentile presence (see p. 1159; cf. 1 Pet 2:12, 4:3). Dunn concludes that the epistle is very consistent with what we know of Peter’s commission to the circumcised: “the impression is more of one who has had to deal primarily with believers among the Jews of the diaspora, living in hostile Gentile territory” (1159-60).

CONCLUSION

It seems that the missions of Peter and Paul ran somewhat counter with one-another, or at least can be thought of as competing in some areas, in Dunn’s thought. Though they can be, to be sure, plotted along a spectrum of Christianity holistically understood, the tensions involved in their differing emphases do seem to generate factions within the whole. James and Peter espouse a continuing role for Torah in the life of the Christian communities founded, while Paul adamantly does not (Gal 3:1) – and his many churches are frequently troubled by Judaizers seeking to persuade believers in Messiah Jesus to obey Torah. In the aftermath of the 60s – complete with the loss of many leaders in the Jerusalem church, including Peter, as well as the Jewish War and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple – the ritualistic, Torah-keeping Christianity established in Jerusalem lost its prevailing voice. It will be sometime in the aftermath that Paul’s Torah-less gospel prevails. Or as Dunn tantalizingly closes the volume: “A particular issue will be whether the effective loss of the Jerusalem end of the spectrum was a foreshortening of the spectrum which changed the character of the whole” (1174).

Tantalizing indeed. What is the student to make of such a masterpiece? Greek-speaking Jewish Christianity is not only responsible for originating counter-Temple doctrine and the teaching of the death of Jesus sacrificially understood, but the Hellenists were also formative of, following the Temple’s demise, the eventual theological shape of early Christianity. The increasing Hellenization of early Christianity solidified it as a predominantly Gentile religion in later generations. As a fresh student in early Christianity, the hagiographical impression of the early church Pillars I once held has now been challenged – and challenged deeply. The new lens given by Dunn is carefully crafted, and when the student examines the New Testament with such a lens, many of his theories do seem to make great sense of the data. So where does this leave one so perplexed? A few answers follow.

It has not been convincingly established that a Temple/Torah free gospel is without some precedence in the Jesus tradition (cf. Mark 7:19; 8:31; 9:31; 10:45; 13:1ff.). Peter’s own influence seems closely associated with Torah-free traditions (seen particularly in Mark 7:19b; Acts 10:14; Gal 2:11-14). Nor is Dunn’s hypothesis about an Antiochene/Hellenistic provenance for counter-Temple doctrine – where the first rumblings of a sacrificial death of Christ are said to be located – convincing. Are we to ignore the triple tradition of the Olivet Discourse? Further, the theology of Peter and Paul, in terms of Jesus death understood as sacrificially atoning, stand united in many regards that it seems far-fetched to envision the sort of schism that Dunn does. Faith in Jesus Christ holds the core together, but even here it cannot be agreed that it is faith alone. In sum, too much is made of diversity at the expense of unity.

A Brief Literary Biography of James D. G. Dunn

JAMES D. G. DUNN: A LITERARY BIOGRAPHY

The Holy Spirit

Presently, James D. G. Dunn is Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University. He served until recently as the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity (1990–2003) when his incredible mantle passed to John M. G. Barclay ­(though Dunn initially began teaching at Durham in 1982). Dunn received his PhD in New Testament studies from Cambridge University in 1968 under C. F. D. Moule. His revised dissertation was published in 1970 as Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-Examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today, a work that evaluated “certain contemporary views concerning the Spirit and the Christian life in light of the New Testament,” (The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, xix).[1] Dunn’s interest in the Holy Spirit continued for several titles before his publications branched out into all areas of New Testament studies. Additionally, Dunn would write Jesus and the Spirit: A Study of the Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians As Reflected in the New Testament in 1975, and his later two volumes titled Christ and the Spirit, both published in 1998; the two volumes covered Pneumatology and Christology respectively.

This firm footing in the Holy Spirit certainly animates his work. As Richard Hays has pointed out in the Preface to Jesus and Paul: Global Perspectives in Honor of James D.G. Dunn for His 70th Birthday, Dunn’s work is characterized not as the thoughts of a disinterested historian, but as a spirited theologian. Hays summarizes the point this way: “Therein lies the secret of the wide appeal and influence of James Dunn’s scholarship: while pursuing the most rigorous and technical historical research, he has never lost sight of the theological significance of his inquiry.” (xiii). While Hays’ reading of Dunn is unquestionably more experienced than my own since picking up Jesus Remembered only four years ago (2012), his appreciation for Dunn’s lively and spirited labors as a careful historian were not unlike my own when I first began reading about Dunn’s Jesus and the impact that he made on his disciples, and the disciples’ subsequent performance of a living tradition. Where Dunn’s interests intersected with the Last Supper, a specific area of interest for me, I found his work all the more exciting! The portrait he illustrated was one I could enter as a reader, bringing an entire new (third) dimension to the text (130-2; 205-54, esp. 229-31). In summary, Dunn’s care for the Holy Spirit is demonstrated by noting that there are over twenty-five publications of Dunn (as of 2004) that have “Spirit” in their title (The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, xxi n.16).

Variability and Stability

Interestingly, it was Dunn’s care for the Holy Spirit that arguably led to the most important work of his career – Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (1977). The Editor’s Preface to The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honor of James D.G. Dunn states: “The fourth section of Jesus and the Spirit deals with diverse varieties of Christian religious experience as reflected in the New Testament. This part laid the foundations for his third monograph, published just two years later in 1977 but crafted earlier in a Master’s course of the same name Unity and Diversity…” (xix). In his review of Dunn’s groundbreaking book, Larry Hurtado writes that: “The book is based on a series of lectures Dunn developed as part of a course in NT theology for undergraduate theological students at Nottingham, where he teaches, and the material was written up primarily with advanced undergraduates or students beginning Masters degree programs in mind” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 98.1, p. 135). Dunn further seems vindicated from Hurtado’s concern where the latter writes in an earlier review that “The publisher’s blurb on the dust-jacket heralds this new book, somewhat immodestly (since it has by no means been time-tested), as a ‘modern classic,’ and so perhaps one is geared to expect too much!” (136). Given that the work is now in its third edition and is a standard text for seminary level New Testament studies, the publisher’s blurb may be closer to the truth than an initial analysis could have understandably afforded. More importantly, as will be discovered in a later essay, is Hurtado’s revealing statement that Dunn’s book “shows familiarity with the work of… F. C. Baur” (135).

The importance of Unity and Diversity in the thinking of Dunn is demonstrated by his frequent return to its findings in his later studies, particularly in his mammoth and (positively) incredible volumes of Christianity in the Making. Picking up on Kenneth Bailey’s model of “informal-controlled” oral tradition history, Dunn finds in this model an analysis of tradition transmission that fits the entire pattern of the New Testament data. The tradition, Dunn writes, is both variable and stable. However, reviewers, such as Markus Bockmuehl who writes that the model is “anecdotal” and that it is “supplemented only by one M. Phil. student’s ‘hopes to carry out more scientifically controlled fieldwork’,” were critical of the model (The Journal of Theological Studies 56.1, p. 145). (The student’s work, however, was published in a prestigious German publication: Terence C. Mournet, Oral Tradition and Literary Dependence: Variability and Stability in the Synoptic Tradition and Q, WUNT 2.195.) Other critics of Dunn’s reliance on Bailey include Paul Barnett, who states it is his “deepest concern” (The Reformed Theological Review 63.3, p. 158) and Samuel Byrskog (“A New Perspective on the Jesus Tradition: Reflections on James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered”), though each has varying degrees of criticism of Dunn, with Byrskog being more welcoming. Proponents who appreciate the model’s explanatory power include Dennis Ingolfsland (“Jesus Remembered: James Dunn and the Synoptic Problem”). (Scholars David Wenham and Michael Bird do not evaluate the model in their published reviews.) I count myself somewhere between Ingolfsland and Byrskog.

Paul

Dunn’s reputation as a Pauline scholar is immense and would only need an introduction for one who has managed to burrow under a large stone – and stay there for thirty years. He has published a two-volume commentary on Romans in the Word Biblical Commentary series, a Colossians and Philemon NIGTC commentary, a very large Pauline theology volume, and a recent collection of new perspective essays. Following E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Dunn was the earliest to voice a carefully nuanced and sociologically sensitive redefinition of the much discussed ἔργα νόμου. Early on Dunn may have overstated his case (at least according to Dunn himself in The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays, 18) in maintaining that the phrase (almost) exclusively identifies Jewish boundary-markers, specifically with regards to circumcision, or dietary laws as in the Antioch incident involving Peter (Gal 2 = Acts 15; Beginning from Jerusalem, ch. 27). While The Theology of Paul the Apostle explored these ideas in great detail, critics such as Schreiner could still write (with surprising relevance for the continued discussion today) that: “Paul’s fundamental complaint with the Jews is not that they exclude Gentiles, but that they do not keep the law themselves (Rom 2:1-29; 3:9-20; Gal 3:10),” (Trinity Journal 20.1, p. 98). On my reading of Dunn’s careful and at times humble introductory essay in The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays, the arguments he presents still do not convince me beyond the value they offer for better appreciating the horizontal implications of the gospel and Christology. So perhaps it is best to point readers to Preston Sprinkle’s review (European Journal of Theology 15 no. 2, p. 172) who more fairly writes: “he gives a very strong affirmation that his famous (or infamous?) interpretation – that these refer to boundary markers (such as but not exclusively circumcision, Sabbath, dietary laws) – is simply an expression of the more fundamental theological reasoning that ‘no individual or people can achieve acceptance by God by his/her/its own efforts.’” Lastly, within the  πίστις Χριστοῦ debate and based on my last reading (which is admittedly not fully up to date), Dunn espoused an objective genitive contra Wright, Hays, and Campbell, who all prefer a subjective genitive, particularly with regards to Gal 3:22-26. To be candid, I have not fully understood the logic driving Dunn and others in their new and fresh exegeses of Paul. And it seems that what began as bold and exclusive definitions for certain technical terms in Paul, has softened over the years. The definitions now seem less polemical than before. And the new perspective architects, such as Dunn, seem to desire only that Pauline students appreciate the newer contours that their fresh readings offer. And based on my reading of the literature, it seems critics have in fact conceded appreciation for many of the fine sociological implications and nuances of Dunn (I am thinking of Moo, Schreiner, and others).

In closing, what I like about Dunn, and I speak as both a Christian and a careful student of the New Testament, is that whether I agree with his conclusions or not, the amiable character of Dunn’s writing always rewards. He discusses the research with extraordinary care that is unparalleled in New Testament scholarship. One always finds a friend within his pages.

[1]All parenthetical page references are to the immediately preceding text cited – in order to save space. For bibliographical details see the attached bibliography.

Bibliography

Selected work by James D. G. Dunn Organized by Year

1970 – Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-Examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today. Naperville, IL: A.R. Allenson, 1970.

1975 – Jesus and the Spirit: A Study of the Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians As Reflected in the New Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

1977 – Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977; 3rd edition, London: SCM, 2006.

1980 – Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980.

1988 – Romans 1–8, 9–16. Two volumes. Word Biblical Commentary series 38A, 38B. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988.

1989 – Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 2:66. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1989; reprint Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

1990 – Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.

1993 – The Theology of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

1996 – The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

1998 – The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

1998 – The Christ and the Spirit: Christology. Volume 1 of Collected Essays of James D.G. Dunn. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

1998 – The Christ and the Spirit: Pneumatology. Volume 2 of Collected Essays of James D.G. Dunn. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

2003 – Editor. The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

2003 – Jesus Remembered. Volume 1 of Christianity in the Making. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

2005 – The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 2:185. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005.

2005 – Edited with Scot McKnight. The Historical Jesus in Recent Research. Sources for Biblical and Theological Study volume 10. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005.

2005 – A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

2009 – Beginning from Jerusalem. Volume 2 of Christianity in the Making. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

2009 – New Testament Theology: An Introduction. Library of Biblical Theology 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009.

2013 – The Oral Gospel Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.

2015 – Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity. Volume 3 of Christianity in the Making. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.

Works Cited

Barnett, Paul. “Jesus Remembered: Review.” The Reformed Theological Review 63.3 (2004): 157-9.

Bockmuehl, Markus. “Jesus Remembered: Review.” The Journal of Theological Studies 56 no.1 (2005):140-149.

Byrskog, Samuel. “A New Perspective on the Jesus Tradition: Reflections on James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26.4 (2004): 459-71.

Hurtado, Larry. “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: Review.” Journal of Biblical Literature 98 no.1 (1979):135-7.

Ingolfsland, Dennis. “Jesus Remembered: James Dunn and the Synoptic Problem.” Trinity Journal 27.2 (2006): 187-97.

Oropeza, B. J., C. K. Robertson, and Douglas C. Mohrmann. Jesus and Paul: Global Perspectives in Honor of James D.G. Dunn for His 70th Birthday. London: T & T Clark, 2009.

Schreiner, Thomas R. “The Theology of Paul the Apostle: Review.” Trinity Journal, 20 no.1 (1999): 95-100.

Sprinkle, Preston. “The New Perspective on Paul.” European Journal of Theology 15 no. 2 (2006) 171-3.

Stanton, Graham, Bruce W. Longenecker, and Stephen C. Barton. The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honor of James D.G. Dunn. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004