SBL - first day

Yesterday was my first day at SBL. I took the train from LA down to San Diego. That was fun because I was able to relax, do some work on my computer, and read for a bit. The ride was 2 hours and 50 minutes. 

SBL is being held at the San Diego Convention Center which is right on the San Diego harbor. It’s a bit colder than I anticipated and overcast in the mornings. I made the mistake of picking a hotel that is a good walk from the convention center. I should have stayed at the Marriott which is right next to it. My hotel, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, is next to the Marriott. So I have to walk past the Marriott before you come to the Convention Center. Then, when you get to the Convention Center it is so huge you have another looong walk to find the main registration area and the exhibit hall where the books are. Fortunately, many of the smaller meetings are in rooms in the Marriott which isn’t too far of a walk for me. My poster is displayed in the second floor of the Convention Center. Unfortunately, not many people wander up there.

When I arrived on Saturday morning, I got a brief chance to talk to Karen Jobes, who co-authored with Moises Silva the excellent book Invitation to the Septuagint, as well as a good commentary on 1 Peter in BECNT. I wanted to ask her about the role of the LXX in influencing the meanings of certain Greek terms used in the NT since this is something I will probably be needing to use for my dissertation (specifically the so-called Hebraic/relational interpretation of Paul’s “righteousness” terminology, e.g., the Dunn/Wright view that “the righteousness of God” = “God’s covenant faithfulness”). Our conversation was very brief as she had another appointment to run off to. But she was really nice though and gave me her card. She told me to email my question and she’d get back to me.

In the afternoon I went to hear Richard Bauckham defend his awesome book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, against the onslaught of three pretty hard-nosed liberals — John Kloppenborg (Toronto, Q expert), Adela Yarbro Collins (Yale), and James Crossley (Sheffield).

Kloppenborg admitted that Bauckham demonstrated that there would have been an expectation in the first century that biographies relied on eyewitness testimony. However, he was skeptical that the gospels contained much because Mark doesn’t explicitly claim it, and to the extent that the Luke and John sort of imply that they relied on eyewitness testimony, they were merely using a literary device to give the impression of historical reliability.

Collins and Crossley both made a big deal out of the fact that if we accept the gospels as containing eyewitness testimony, then we are forced to accept the miracles as literally true events which cannot be explained by scientific reasoning, and that’s  unacceptable. Collins wanted to argue that we can accept the  miracles as theologically true but factually false, while Crossley wanted to say they were haggada (fanciful embellishments and stories) created by the early church.

Bauckham did a great job fending off the vultures. He had some great one-liners like, “Luke probably knew more about Q than any of us, or even John Kloppenborg for that matter.” Basically, the debate was over form criticism. What’s fascinating is that the three respondents seemed to admit that Bauckham had made a strong case, and that form criticism had lots of problems. But they still wanted to believe it:  (a) because it has to be true since there’s no other explanation for the formation of all these fanciful stories about Jesus, and (b) because if we accept the reliability of the gospels then we have to believe in miracles, and we modern people can’t do that. It was the old debate over the historical critical method which rules out supernatural divine intervention in history on a priori grounds. That’s just the way history is done, and if you want to play that “game” you have to play by the rules. Bauckham clearly had these people a little scared because he wasn’t playing by their rules and yet he was making some pretty good points that they couldn’t answer.

Later on, at a Pauline Epistles section I ran into a friend who’s doing his Ph.D. at Fuller under Seyoon Kim on Galatians 3:10 (arguing for the traditional implied premise that everyone is under a curse because no one can do all things written in the Law). I hit it off with him earlier this year when we took ”Paul and the Law” together with Dr. Hagner. He’s definitely critical of the NPP and not afraid of the ghost of Luther. We sat together and listened to several lectures with our Greek New Testaments open, and whispering objections to each other.  N. T. Wright, Paul Achtemeier, John M. G. Barclay, Beverly Gaventa, and Don Garlington were in the audience. Dude, I felt so sorry for the speakers!

One lecture was a team thing by Mark Reasoner (Bethel) and Akio Ito (from Japan). They argued that Rom 1:15 is the thesis of Romans, not 1:16-17, because of the “for … for … for …” structure which makes these verses subordinate to the main idea, which is “So my purpose is to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.” They wanted to argue that since the time of the Reformation, scholars have wanted to see 1:16-17 as the thesis because we want to read the doctrine of justification into the text and see Romans as a timeless theological treatise rather than a specific letter written to a address specific situation (the need for Jews and Gentiles to all get along in one happy family). I didn’t ask any questions during the Q&A time, by my reaction is:  Okay, you’ve proved grammatically that vv 16-17 are subordinate to v 15, but that just makes vv 15-17 the thesis! Big whoop, nothing has changed in my view. Maybe that’s why one questioner in the audience suggested that we look at vv 1-7 (the sender identification) as the thesis and get away from 1:15-17 altogether.

The second lecture by Preston Sprinkle was interesting and well delivered. He explained that there is a third option in the pistis Christou debate. Traditionally, the two main views are (a) objective genitive — human faith in Christ, and (b) subjective genitive – Christ’s own faith/faithfulness toward God. He explained his dissatisfaction with both views and argued for a third option that he discovered in a footnote – (c) “faith” as the gospel itself, as in “the faith” (e.g., Gal 1:23), which makes possible the human response of faith. The main passage that supports this view is Gal 3:22ff which speaks of the coming of “faith” in redemptive historical terms such that it is clearly not referring to an anthropological or psychological possibility within people but to something objective and historical. Sprinkle didn’t claim that he was absolutely convinced of this third view, but he wanted to put it on the table. He also spent a good deal of time dealing with the history of this view, mostly among German scholars. I don’t want to rule this option out without investigating further, but my initial problem is that, while it makes good sense in Gal 3:22ff, I would like to understand better how it fits with other passages (e.g., Paul’s use of Hab 2:4, and passages where Paul contrasts “faith” and “works”). I still lean toward the objective genitive (see Moises Silva’s helpful critique of the subjective genitive in Justification and Variegated Nomism, vol. 2).

Anyway, that’s a brief summary of my first day at SBL. Today I have to stand by my poster for two and a half hours and answer any questions people have about the hypothetical interpretation of Romans 2:13. I know my view is considered old-fashioned and out-of-touch, but, hey, that’s the great thing about SBL. You come and present your view, no matter how wacky, and you interact with people from other points of view and worldviews, and you have at it. There are plenty of people running around here who are sympathetic to more traditional minded thinking. Judging by the laughter and the clapping, there was clearly a contingent of evangelicals or evangelical-sympathizers at the Bauckham discussion.

So, it doesn’t bother me to be here at SBL. One minute you can see Mark Goodacre, the next minute you see the octagenarian Joseph Fitzmyer shuffling along all by himself. (Fitzmyer may be a Roman Catholic, but he defends the forensic meaning of Paul’s justification language.) And then the next minute you see some young Chinese-American fundamentalist-looking guy with a badge saying he’s from Dallas Theological Seminary. Then you might see some bibliobloggers like Michael Bird and Chris Tilling walking together. (I saw all of the above.) So it’s all good! 

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