Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 3


On my last post, I made a note about method in approaching Paul’s relation to Judaism. I suggested that we are mistaken if we assume that the diverse literature of the Second Temple period is monolithic on any single topic, and election and predestination are no exceptions. Moreover, even if we were to identify absolute unity of expression in the relevant Jewish materials, it would not follow that Paul is incapable of arriving at a fresh evaluation of the topic in question, as he does on the role of the law in salvation-history. I then tried to show how Josephus’ classification of the major Jewish groups of his day according to their diverse opinions about the relationship between divine providence and human freedom makes statements to the effect that no Jewish sources affirmed divine predestination to covenant membership and ultimate salvation, like Thornhill’s, very dubious.

Building on these observations, I want to begin in this post to review some of the relevant Jewish materials for plotting Paul’s theology of election. I will make clear that we cannot affirm the equation “election = predestination to salvation” that some in my own theological tradition tend to make. Election is a complex topic and election language is used to express several ideas, making predestination one among many, which are not mutually exclusive.


Because of space limitations and because other scholars (including Thornhill) had already done a good job of cataloging the evidence, I did not review the following Jewish data in my actual thesis (it was among the painful cuts I had to make). However, in order to set the stage for our discussion of predestination in Judaism and Paul, I think it is important to review some important material that I could not cover in my thesis. Two important studies on which I am dependent should be mentioned here. The first is a revision of D. A. Carson’s Cambridge doctoral thesis, entitled Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension (Wipf and Stock, 2002). The other is a doctoral dissertation by Sigurd Grindheim, that Carson supervised at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, entitled The Crux of Election: Paul’s Critique of the Jewish Confidence in the Election of Israel (WUNT II/202; Mohr Siebeck, 2005). I highly recommend both works for anyone interested in the topic at hand. Both studies begin by treating the very complex topic of election in Jewish context, both in the Hebrew Bible and the Second Temple literature. Carson’s study goes on to focus on the relevance of this material to the Johannine literature, while Grindheim’s study turns to focus on Paul. I think it’s important to list some of the important categories these two scholars identify in the OT and Second Temple materials, along with some references, in order to illustrate how complex a topic election really is. The references I provide are by no means exhaustive and the scholars I have just mentioned provide many more. In order to keep this post short, I have chosen examples that are especially illustrative of the categories under which they fall.

Gift of Wisdom and Torah

In wisdom literature, like Sirach, election language can refer to the possession of the divinely dispensed Wisdom. Thus, Jacob (Israel) is elect because God commanded Wisdom to take up residence there uniquely (24.8–12). This notion has its roots in the first chapter of Sirach, where we are told that at creation God created Wisdom and determined to dispense her in general to all, but in special abundance to “those who love him” (1.4–10). There is a connection made in between the reception of Wisdom and the reception of the Torah in 2.16, where we are told that those who love the Lord are “filled with his law” (cf., 15.1; 17.11; 19.20; 21.11; et al.). Thus, this special measure of Wisdom that Israel receives in 1.9 should probably be equated with the special revelation that the covenant nation received when Yahweh gave her the Torah. Therefore, we see an intimate relationship here between election and the establishment of the Law-covenant. However, as we will see in a later post, this idea is complemented in Sirach by the presence of some key material advocating divine predestination (e.g., 33.7–15).

Election and Choice Quality

In 1 Enoch we find some examples of the use of election language to describe the quality of the elect one as choice. In 93.2 we see “the elect of the world” in synonymous parallel to “the children of righteousness.” It is “the elect ones of righteousness” whom God will choose (93.10). In 1 Enoch 38.1–4 “elect ones” is used to mean those who are righteous and holy, in contrast to the wicked and sinners. As Grindheim summarizes: “That which is ‘elect’ is now a quality… The connotations of the term are that which is ethically and religiously good, and that which is worthy of being elected…” (The Crux of Election, 42).

Call to Vocation

We also find that election carries with it the obligation of a special duty of manifesting God’s glory to the nations. Therefore, in some sources, being chosen is about being given a special task by God. Israel, for example, is to keep the Law as the terms of the covenant in order to display their God’s uniquely righteous character to the surrounding peoples:

Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I have set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:6–8, ESV; cf. 28:9–10)

In Isaiah 14:1, when God restores Israel it will result in others being joined to the covenant. Moreover, Israel is Yahweh’s chosen servant who will receive his spirit and “bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).

This way of discussing election extends into the Second Temple literature as well. In Sirach 45.4–5 we read that God chose Moses in order to “teach Jacob the covenant, and Israel his decrees.” In Psalms of Solomon 17.4 David’s chosenness speaks of his appointment to the office of king. Peter repeats this idea when he applies this language of Israel’s election to the church, saying that they have been chosen “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The concept of vocation has featured significantly in N. T. Wright’s biblical-theological work, regarding both election and Christology.

Reversal of Values

Another interesting aspect of election that shows up in the OT and especially in Paul (which is the focus of Grindheim’s study) is the way God’s choice of Israel, or his new covenant people, serves to illustrate a divine reversal of human systems of value. “That which has no outstanding inherent value becomes precious by divine election and that which is not choice in itself becomes the object of God’s choice” (Grindheim, The Crux of Election, 9). This is apparent in Israel’s patriarchal narratives, wherein Isaac is chosen over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, showing God’s disregard for primogeniture. Then, quite explicitly, in Deuteronomy 7:6–7, regarding Israel’s choice, we read:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples… (ESV)

Paul picks up this idea in 1 Corinthians 1:26 when he invites his audience to recognize that they were called by God, even though, according to worldly standards, they should not have been valued. This concept is illustrated most vividly in Ezekiel 16, where God describes his unconditional electing love for Israel as his having compassion on a new-born child who was not even loved or properly cared for by her parents, and later, in spite of her “whoring” and adultery (i.e., idolatry), he will again restore her—thus, again choosing her—through an everlasting covenant. There is no reason Israel should have been chosen, and every reason for God to have rejected her. According to Paul, the church is in the same boat. Nevertheless, God has set his covenantal affection upon his people, thus, reversing normal measures of value.

Corporate Election

Thornhill and others have focused much on the importance of corporate election in the OT and Second Temple literature as relevant background to Paul’s (and the rest of the NT’s) thought. When the corporate element of election is in focus, the texts speak of one receiving elect status and benefits by joining the elect community. Individuals are not the focus of election, but God has chosen the group, so that individuals become elect only by joining the community. The clearest examples in this category are found in the sectarian literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially the Community Rule (1QS). Those who repent and undergo the lengthy and demanding process of joining the Yahad (“community”) become members of God’s new covenant people. This community believed that the temple cult was defective, so that forgiveness was available only for their members. If one left the community, his fate was destruction along with all outsiders, since salvation was only for their community, the true Israel.  As we will see in later posts, this corporate element of election that we observe here did not preclude predestination (as Thornhill and others seem to assume). In fact, divine predestination was used in this very document (in the form we have it) as the crucial theological undergirding that explains why only a relatively small number of Israelites joined the community and remained there, but the vast majority did not.


The Remnant

When discussing election in the OT, it is important to make note of the “remnant” motif. Especially prominent in the prophetic books, and a theme that features heavily in Second Temple literature, and in the Gospels and Romans 9–11, is the idea of an elect people within the elect nation—a true Israel within Israel. That is, not all of Israel is truly elect in the fullest and most ultimate sense, despite being in the covenant. According to Jeremiah 31:31–34, this problem will not exist in the “new covenant.” There is great diversity in just how this concept works out in the variegated literature in question. This notion comes into special focus when the nation is divided by those who follow Solomon. Amos gives testimony that Judah thought of themselves as a faithful remnant when the northern tribes had apostatized.

The remnant motif comes into special focus following the division of the kingdom after Solomon, when sharp distinctions began to be pronounced between those descendants of Abraham were seeking to be faithful to the covenant with Yahweh (primarily in Judah) and those who were engaging in open and gross idolatry (primarily Israel). Amos gives testimony that Judah thought of themselves as a faithful remnant when the northern tribes had apostatized. The prophet seeks to dispel the notion that God will not also bring severe judgment against Judah if she continues to transgress the covenant, leaving only an even smaller remnant within Judah. Isaiah 1 provides some important evidence of the remnant concept. Judah comprises “children” who have rebelled against their father, Yahweh (v. 2). This evokes God’s judgment against “the daughter of Zion” (v. 8). However, Yahweh has spared “a few survivors” lest Judah be completely eradicated like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 9). In Isaiah 10:20–22, inclusion in the remnant is shown to be on an individual basis according to Yahweh’s powerful eschatological act of deliverance:

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. (ESV)

A kind of remnant ideology contributed to the events that transpired during the Maccabean revolt (see especially the apocalyptic vision of Daniel 11 and 1 Maccabees, though those faithful to the covenant do not participate in violence in the former reference). In response to what was viewed as apostasy, violent actions were considered justified by the more zealous among conservative Jews. This seems only justifiable if those Jews who had compromised and engaged in what they view as idolatry were thought to be outside of the sphere of election in a very real sense. The community of the Dead Sea Scrolls held similar views, but instead of using violence to eradicate the problem and restore the nation, they withdrew into an exclusive community as the faithful remnant of the true Israel. In some ways similar (though with important differences as well), Jesus and the early Christian movement saw themselves as the faithful remnant of Israel, comprised literally of a small number of Jews who had heeded the eschatological call to repent and believe the Gospel along those Gentiles who were added to the covenant through union with the Messiah Jesus, the true Israel (e.g., Romans 9:6–29; 11:1–32; 1 Peter 2:4–10), and excluding those Israelites who did not believe (Romans 9:30–10:21). Thus, election, in some contexts, meant more than being part of Israel in general—it meant being within that part of Israel who would experience eschatological deliverance, which was not universally promised.


This all illustrates that election was a complex and pervasive concept in Second Temple Judaism (as E. P. Sanders showed so conclusively four decades ago). However, recognizing that election is ubiquitous does not answer many of the theological questions that naturally follow. The theological questions that are cause for debate and division in Christian circles are not new. There were Jews in the Second Temple period who speculated about why God had chosen Israel at all. If it was not because of some special quality in those chosen, then God seems to be capricious—which most Jews could not accept. There has always been the question of whether Israel’s election precludes her finally being rejected (or having been finally rejected) for persistently violating the covenant (e.g., Rom 9–11). Or, why were some Israelites faithful, thus comprising a remnant, while others were not? Does election effect the elect one’s faithfulness, or does God chose those whom he foresees will be faithful to the terms of the covenant? This all naturally leads to questions about human volition, divine sovereignty, and predestination? Some Jews (strangely, in my view) believed that God chose Israel because he foresaw that they alone would keep the covenant. Others said that he chose the Patriarchs for that reason (again, strangely), thus assuring Israel’s elect status. And some, even if a minority, believed that God chose Israel as his free prerogative from creation, based on nothing but his desire to display his power in the world by so doing. This act of election, prior to creation, assures the certain result of God’s purpose of choosing his people, the creation of a faithful covenant community who will reflect his glory to the nations. Over the next couple of posts, we will see some sources that saw election in terms of God’s predestination at creation, before moving into Paul’s view on the matter.


Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 2


In this post, I want to continue my series about my ThM thesis, which was written largely in response to A. Chadwick Thornhill’s 2015 book, The Chosen People. In Part 2 I will begin reviewing what I regard as the most important Jewish materials for establishing the spectrum of belief regarding election and predestination in Paul’s context.

First, I should note a key difference in the approach I took in my thesis over against the approach of Thornhill. One of the weaknesses of his study (as I judge it) is that it lacks sustained treatment of the relevant Jewish materials in their literary contexts, due to the scope of materials he included. This had the effect, in my estimation, of minimizing the rhetorical thrust of some of the more overtly predestinarian passages, which I believe skewed evidence that should have proven problematic to his thesis. Proving one’s thesis problematic is not a bad thing for an objective historian (as far as this is possible). Good historical investigation should be scientific. It requires us to begin with a working hypothesis to test against the evidence. When the evidence suggests that the thesis lacks explanatory value, the historian then must nuance or modify the hypothesis in order to accommodate. Failing to do so will necessitate strained readings of this recalcitrant evidence, leading to a greatly weakened case for the critical reader. I believe Thornhill’s study failed in this matter, partly because the volume of materials precluded detailed exegetical treatments of some of the most relevant sources, which I judge very problematic for his thesis.

In the early process of my study, I had similar aspirations of providing a wholesale treatment of the topic of election in Second Temple Judaism. I presented this idea when I submitted the syllabus for my project, which is something of an annotated outline. In response, one of my thesis supervisors, Darrell Bock, said, “This seems pretty ambitious.” As I began research for the project, I realized that he was correct and that there was no way I could stay within the page limits with such a broad-brush approach if I was going to do proper justice to each passage I used. To narrow the scope of my study I had to focus more specifically on predestination, instead of more generally on election. This allowed me to limit myself to the three key passages I will discuss over the next few blog entries. The benefit to this is that my case is grounded in sustained and detailed studies of a small number of texts which are best read as predestinarian, rather than the citation of verses as proof-texts from all over the literature with little appreciation of their literary and rhetorical contexts. This removed the temptation to read disparate material as though it all says essentially the same thing about election and predestination. I came to realize that I could best make my case by showing that some of the texts that Thornhill treated, when carefully considered within their unique literary contexts, show his reading of key evidence to be problematic.


As I began reading the secondary literature, much of which is cited by Thornhill himself, I was floored by the realization that he makes no mention (to my recollection and according to another glance at his index in the process of writing this post) to Josephus’ classification of the Jewish sects of his day. The reason why this is so surprising is that of all topics this important ancient Jewish historian might have chosen to categorize differences in theological perspective among his contemporaries, in Antiquities 13.171-173 he chose the subject of predestination and human freedom. The passage reads:

At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essenes. Now for the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essenes affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly.

Scholars have noted that Josephus uses characteristically Greek language appropriate for his audience to describe differences of opinion among Jewish groups regarding the nature of God’s providence and how human volition relates. He tells us that the Sadducees regarded human freedom as paramount, leaving little room for direct divine intervention in human affairs. The Pharisees took a moderate and paradoxical view, allowing what they regarded as parallel truths to exist without prioritizing one to the detriment of the other. The Essenes, Josephus tells us, say “fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination.” According to the Essenes, Josephus seems to mean that all that happens in human experience owes ultimately to the divine governance of the creator. This seems to be precisely the view that Thornhill says is completely absent in the Jewish sources available to us.

The reason this passage merits discussion in a book that claims that no Jewish sources present election in predestinarian terms should be obvious. If we assume that Josephus had a handle on the religious environment in which he lived (which seems to be a safe assumption), then we should expect the sources available to us to bear out this diversity of opinion. Specifically, we should expect to find libertarian expressions of election, sources which provide seemingly inconsistent statements about the subject, and others that couch election in terms of divine determinism. I believe this evidence in Josephus alone is enough to make any study on election which declares that no Jewish texts “negate human freedom” (The Chosen People, 256) problematic. Such claims by an author make me suspicious of whether the investigation undertaken is genuinely one of historiography or dogmatics. Of course, there is certainly a place for the latter. However, it should not be primary in a study that promises to place a particular author (Paul) in his historical context.

Genuine historical investigation, it seems to me, rarely yields such absolute results, and Josephus should incline us from the get go not to expect the question of Jewish views of predestination to be an exception (as the sources will bear out). Judaism of the Second Temple period was not monolithic on any other topic. Therefore, we ought to expect diverse expressions when we investigate the theology of election preserved in these variegated sources. If we approach the evidence looking for “a common denominator,” we will inevitably find ourselves guilty of reductionism through strained readings in the primary sources. In order to avoid these pitfalls, I think it is better to identify diversity in the relevant Jewish materials in order to create a spectrum of beliefs. Only then can we compare Paul’s language to see where he ought to be plotted. As I will try to argue in the posts that follow, when we do so we will find that Paul most closely aligns with the strongly predestinarian Essene materials we will survey.

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).

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.

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).


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?


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.


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).


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


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.


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.


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

The Significance of the Resurrection

It has been a while since my last post. This past semester I took a class on 1 Corinthians in Greek. When we began to study chapter fifteen we were encouraged to reflect upon the implications of the resurrection in order to draw attention further to its significance. Below is the essay I wrote.


From the very beginning of chapter 15 Paul intimates the problem in Corinth when he curiously writes that, “unless if to no purpose you have believed” (ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ εἰκῇ ἐπιστεύσατε). It is not entirely certain at present why Paul says this, but context reveals that it is very likely an implication of denying the resurrection of the dead, the topic which will be Paul’s primary concern throughout the entirety of the chapter. The adverbial lexeme εἰκῇ has as its probable meaning “to no purpose.”[1] The statement stands without explanation in an otherwise praiseworthy doxological treatment of the work of Christ and the Gospel. But, again, in due course the exegete discovers that the problem in Corinth is due to some who claim that there is no resurrection of the dead (v. 12; ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν). Knowing this in advance of Paul’s subsequent writing is helpful, not only in illustrating the text’s central purpose and meaning, but also in illuminating details which would otherwise escape notice.

Beginning in verse 3 and following, Paul introduces, in all likelihood, pre-Pauline Christian creedal material recounting perhaps the earliest strata of Jesus/early Christian creedal tradition. The creedal statement assertively declares that the matter which is “of most importance” (ἐν πρώτοις) is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (ὅτι Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς); but it is also according to the Scriptures that Christ was raised on the third day (καὶ ὅτι ἐγήγερται τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς). The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is tied to the matter of first importance through the recurring prepositional phrase “according to the Scriptures.”

Following Paul’s shocking announcement that despite the Gospel’s careful apostolic custody and teaching transmission (vv. 3-7) there remain some in Corinth who say that there is no resurrection (v. 12). To this Paul embarks on a quasi-logical, diatribe exercise, deducing that if there is no resurrection then Christ is not resurrected, and if Christ is not resurrected then Christian faith, and the faith of the Corinthians, is “without any basis.”[2] Indeed the Corinthians’ faith is as good as “useless” (v. 17).[3] If there is truly no resurrection of the dead, then a disastrous domino effect results, which is illustrated throughout verses 12-19: (a) Apostolic preaching is without basis (v. 14b; κενὸν ἄρα [καὶ] τὸ κήρυγμα ἡμῶν), and (b) the Corinthians’ faith is as well (v. 14c; κενὴ καὶ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν). (c) The apostles are actually false witnesses of God (v. 15a; ψευδομάρτυρες τοῦ θεοῦ); (d) the Corinthians’ faith is worthless (v. 17b; ματαία ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν); (e) the Corinthians, indeed all Christians, are still in their sins (v. 17c; ἔτι ἐστὲ ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν); (f) those whom Paul understood as only temporally dead, i.e., “sleeping,” are in fact unilaterally perished, never to live again (v. 18a; οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο); (g) and the apostles themselves are subject to horrible embarrassment, and are among all men to be pitied the most (v. 19b; ἐλεεινότεροι πάντων ἀνθρώπων ἐσμέν).

By further implication, i.e., by reading verses 20-28 in light of the previous section (vv. 12-19) and the subsequent section (vv. 29-34),[4] if Christ is dead then: (a) Christ cannot be ruling (v. 24; εἶτα τὸ τέλος, ὅταν παραδιδῷ τὴν βασιλείαν τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί, ὅταν καταργήσῃ πᾶσαν ἀρχὴν καὶ πᾶσαν ἐξουσίαν καὶ δύναμιν; “then the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings to an end all rule and all authority and all power” ); (b) without Christ’s reign there can be no kingdom of God (v. 24); (c) there is also no abolishment of the apocalyptic powers that threaten God’s kingdom (v. 24, and v. 25: δεῖ γὰρ αὐτὸν βασιλεύειν ἄχρι οὗ θῇ πάντας τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ; “for it is necessary he reigns until he puts all the enemies under his feet”); (d) no overcoming of death (v. 26; ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος; “the last enemy to be abolished is death”); and, (e) in the end, God is not all in all (ἵνα ᾖ ὁ θεὸς [τὰ] πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν; “so that God may be all in all”). Again, it is appropriate to understand verses 20-28 as further indicative of the consequences if there is no resurrection of the dead since the section is bracketed on either side by sections explaining just this (vv. 12-19 and 29-34).

Beginning in verse 29 Paul begins discussing anew further damaging results if the Corinthian claim by some is indeed true: (a) why baptize the dead, since it is of no use to ones who will not be raised? (v. 29);[5] (b) why is Paul constantly living in danger for the sake of the Gospel? (v. 30; Τί καὶ ἡμεῖς κινδυνεύομεν πᾶσαν ὥραν; “why are we in danger every hour?”); (c) Paul’s battle with wild beasts at Ephesus, whether taken metaphorically or in accordance with known Roman persecution, what was it for? (v. 32). The point is clearly made: Paul has constantly put his life in danger due to faith in the Gospel. Why not (d) eat and drink since all that is certain is death (v. 32)? Lastly, (e) denying the resurrection is indicative of a revealing ignorance of God (v. 34).

As if these implications were not enough to drive the point of resurrection home, Paul continues in verses 35 and following to detail the nature of the resurrection body. In verses 42-44 Paul writes that while the mortal body is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; (b) while it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; (c) it is sown in weakness, but raised in power; (d) it is sown a natural body but raised a spiritual body. Unless we think that the spiritual body is not actually a genuine physical body, context remains determinant of the meaning. Though the spiritual body (σῶμα πνευματικόν) is contrasted with the natural body (σῶμα ψυχικόν), it remains a body (σῶμα) nevertheless, and Paul’s emphasis is on its resurrected nature, i.e., it is a body that is raised, as each phrase in the antithesis explains.[6] The point is not to juxtapose a supposed material body with an immaterial body, but rather to define the orientation of the resurrected body or its animating power, whether the Adamic nature, or by God’s Spirit.[7] Throughout all of this Paul has not lost sight of the importance of bodily resurrection and its meaningfulness for Corinthian detractors, for all in Corinth, for all Christians.

Circling back to apocalyptic elements in verse 50, Paul explains that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται). The kingdom of God cannot have in its realm perishable, corruptible flesh, only what is imperishable and immortal. This is achieved by resurrection when the dead in Christ are transformed (v. 52). Within this apocalyptic discourse Paul heralds the magnificent Christian hope: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (v. 55). God is to be thanked for the victory over death he has given us by raising Jesus Christ, the Lord, from the dead (v. 57).

Paul closes with somewhat of an inclusio, reminding the Corinthians as he did in the opening (see comments above), that their labor in the Lord is not without purpose (v. 58).[8] God does indeed raise the dead. The Corinthians’ labor in the Gospel is not without basis (εἰδότες ὅτι ὁ κόπος ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔστιν κενὸς ἐν κυρίῳ; “knowing that your labor is not without basis in the Lord”).

[1]BDAG, s.v. εἰκῇ, though positing its meaning in 1 Cor 15:2 as “without due consideration, in a haphazard manner,” also states that the third meaning is probable, “to no purpose.”

[2]BDAG, s.v. κενός; 2a: “without content, without any basis, without truth, without power.”

[3]BDAG s.v. μάταιος: “pert. to being of no use, idle, empty, fruitless, useless, powerless, lacking truth.”

[4]Note Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians, New American Commentary series 28 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2014), 378-79.

[5]While “baptism for the dead” (οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν) creates its own difficulties the implications are the same: Without the reality of resurrection it is useless, like so many other points Paul raises.

[6]In unbroken sequence Paul writes that the resurrected body is raised incorruptible (ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ); it is raised in glory (ἐγείρεται ἐν δόξῃ); it is raised in power (ἐγείρεται ἐν δυνάμει); and it is raised a spiritual body (ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν). The same body is the subject of Paul’s discussion. It is the two different states of this same body that are contrasted, however – not two different bodies. It is through the resurrection that the body achieves its glorious new state of being. All lexicons predicate “raise,” in this context, of a dead body. BDAG, s.v. ἐγείρω: “to enter into or to be in a state of life as a result of being raised, be raised, rise.” TDNT, s.v. ἐγείρω, “to rise from the dead.” NIDNTT, s.v. ἐγείρω, states: “The epistles of the NT never use egeirō, except in Phil. 1:17, in any sense but that of resurrection from the dead.” LSJ, s.v. ἐγείρω, “raise from the dead.”

[7]With some help from Taylor, 1 Corinthians, 406-7.

[8]BDAG, s.v. κενὸς. See n.2 above.