Carter, Craig. 2018. Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
In the first book of a projected two-volume set, Carter lays the groundwork for a retrieving premodern exegesis (as opposed to Enlightenment historical-critical methods) in the church today. Reading the Bible means reading it as a unique book inspired by a transcendent, personal God. But the earliest Christian interpreters were “Christian Platonists,” meaning they held to a core set of beliefs in (Ur-)Platonism broadly, in addition to their Christian beliefs about God and the world. They were able to read the Bible as a single whole that centers on Christ, guided by the apostles’ models of interpretation and the “rule of faith.” These interpreters also believed that the biblical texts may contain multiple meanings, but did not think just any interpretation was viable; the range of meanings in a text is grounded in the “literal” sense of the text. This allow for early reading techniques like “prosopological exegesis” that allow one to see Christ in the Old Testament. As things currently stand, the narrative about the triumph of historical-critical interpretation must change, and it would be quite in line with the way that biblical interpretation is actually done in church already.
Slusser, Michael. 1988. “The Exegetical Roots of Trinitarian Theology.” Theological Studies 49: 461-476.
Trinitarian theology has as one of its roots a particular method of reading Scripture called “prosopological exegesis.” This comes from the Greek term prosopon, and early Christian readers sought to discern different speakers (prosopa) in Scripture. The classic description of this reading method is found in Justin Martyr (1 Apology 36), but other patristic sources comment on it as well (cf. Irenaeus, Apostolic Preaching, 49-50; Terullian, Against Praxeas 11). Even Athanasius used this reading method in his discourses against the Arians (cf. 1.54). This way of reading also became important in later Christological debates as well.
Steinmetz, David C. 1980. “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis.” Theology Today 37 (1): 27-38.
Benjamin Jowett is one example of a scholar who believes that what the human authors of the Bible had in mind when they wrote governs the meaning of the text, and that the historical-critical method is the key to unlock this meaning. But according to Steinmetz, this is “demonstrably false.” Medieval interpreters used 2 Cor 3:6 to guide them, and sometimes took this to mean that the text of Scripture has multiple meanings. But they also held that the “literal sense” of Scripture limits the range of possible allegorical meanings.
The classic understanding of medieval exegesis is the fourfold sense of Scripture: literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical. This understanding is what allowed the Church to make praying Psalm 137 sensible and (as he discusses later) to find several valid meanings in texts like Matthew 20:1-16. That Scripture has only one meaning was “certainly not advocated by the biblical writers themselves,” and even in Steinmetz own field (Reformation studies), nobody focuses solely on (for example) Martin Luther’s “explicit and conscious intention” to understand what he wrote. Steinmetz’ concluding claims are bold, and worth quoting at length:
The medieval theory of levels of meaning in the biblical text, with all its undoubted defects, flourished because it is true, while the modern theory of a single meaning, with all its demonstrable virtues, is false. Until the historical-critical method becomes critical of its own theoretical foundations and develops a hermeneutical theory adequate to the nature of the text which it is interpreting, it will remain restricted—as it deserves to be—to the guild and the academy, where the question of truth can endlessly be deferred
Pitre, Brant. 2011. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. New York: Doubleday.
This book is an accessible presentation of the how Jesus, as a Jew, could get way with saying, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves” (John 6:53) and what he thought he was doing at the Last Supper. Pitre explores the relevant Jewish literature to draw connections between the expected new exodus (chapter 2), the new Passover (chapter 3), the the manna in the wilderness (including some surprising Jewish beliefs about the manna many have probably never heard) (chapter 4), and the bread of the presence in the tabernacle (chapter 5). Though he admits chapter 6 is more “speculative” than the others, he also considers why Jesus didn’t finish the Last Supper until the drinking of the wine on the Cross—though he gives some reputable support for this view. Chapter 7 draws together the threads of the previous chapters. The book ends with the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, where Pitre (as both a scholar and a faithful Catholic) thinks the event signals the fact that Jesus can really appear wherever he wishes, even in the Eucharist.
Burgos, Michael. Forthcoming. Against Oneness Pentecostalism: An Exegetical-Theological Critique. 3rd edition.
Early in my own journey out of Oneness Pentecostalism, I came upon the first edition of Burgos’s Against Oneness Pentecostalism. I subsequently got in contact with him and he sent me a copy of the second edition of the work. He has now revised and expanded the book, and I have read it again prior to publication.
In this book, Burgos as a pastor-scholar takes up the task of substantively responding to Oneness Pentecostalism within the confines of grammatical-historical exegesis and key Protestant hermeneutical principles. He defines these, and other important concepts, in the introduction to the book. He then proceeds to answer whether the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), and by extension 1 Corinthians 8:6, have anything to do with how many divine Persons there are. Burgos answers that these texts deal specifically with monotheism, though (as I put it in my own words, not his) not with whether unitarian or Trinitarian views are the case.
He then precedes to give an exegesis of key passages that are relevant to the Son’s active role in creation. These are Colossians 1:15-20, the prologue of Hebrews (especially 1:1-4, 8-12), and John 1:1-3. After this, Burgos argues that the Old Testament is actually “proto-Trinitarian” in light of an examination of the “angel of the Lord.” He also does some work to show that this same view carries over into the New Testament (e.g., John 4, Galatians 4:14, 1 Corinthians 10:9, Jude 5). He also responds to Oneness Pentecostal claims about the angel of the Lord. The final chapter addresses a number of favorite Oneness Pentecostal proof-texts on various topics.
The third edition also contains three new appendices. In the first, Burgos answers whether Oneness Pentecostalism is a “cult.” In the second, he provides brief answers to direct questions that David Bernard asks of Trinitarian doctrine in The Oneness of God. Finally, Burgos gives a brief overview of the origins of Oneness, his reflections upon them, and closes the appendix with responses to erroneous claims about the Oneness view of God in the Church Fathers.
Pawl, Timothy. 2020. “Conciliar Trinitarianism, Divine Identity Claims, and Subordination.” TheoLogica 4 (2).
In this article Pawl defines “Conciliar Trinitarianism” (hereafter, CT) as what the “first seven ecumenical councils” teach about the Trinity. He then proceeds in three main sections. Pawl seeks answers to these five questions in section two: “What are there three of? What is there one of? What are the relations between the three? What are the relations between the three and the one? What are the attributes of the one? What are the attributes of the three?” He finds answers in CT for all but the fourth. In section three, he argues that there are two views (strict identity and instantiation) that are inconsistent with CT, yet that answer the fourth (or the “Person-Nature”) question. The answer to the fourth question cannot require “(i) transitivity and symmetry or (ii) [obedience to] Leibniz’s Law.” Pawl then answers objections from Craig and Mullins that there is subordination in the Trinity; his response is modeled on his work in Christology.
Edwards, Mark. 2020. “Is Subordinationism a Heresy?” TheoLogica 4 (2).
Edwards begins (after using the abstract of the paper as an introductory paragraph) by defining four senses of “subordination.” These are ontological (substance, nature, essence), aetiological (order of causation), axiological (rank or status), and economic (functional, perhaps from the Incarnation forward). The first section is a brief survey of biblical passages where Christ might be called “God,” but Edwards concludes that these passages don’t clear show Christ’s ontological parity with the Father. Nevertheless, Scripture at best addresses economic subordination, and of the other three “nothing is said and little can be deduced” (p. 4).
The remainder of the paper is, more or less, a wide-ranging historical exploration of what thinkers, and when, held to which of the four kinds of subordination. He discusses Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocians (briefly), Anomoeans, Homoians, Augustine, Calvin, and Milton, and two Anglicans.
Mullins, Ryan. 2020. “Trinity, Subordination, and Heresy: A Reply to Mark Edwards.” TheoLogica 4 (2).
In this paper, Mullins uses Edwards’ fourfold distinction of “subordination” and how these senses (perhaps objectionably) apply to the Trinity. In the first section, Mullins provides four helpful criteria for any doctrine of the Trinity; he then says, follows Edwards, that for Conciliar Trinitarianism, the following is also required: “T5) Subordination: The Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father.” He then discusses what it is for the divine Persons to be “of the same substance” (homoousios), and then clearly states the fourfold distinction of “subordination.” With regard to (T5), Mullins says that this means aetiological subordination. In the final section, Mullins offers two arguments to the effect that (an aetiological) (T5) is incommensurate with other Trinitarian criteria, both on the grounds that it leads to contradiction (The Inconsistency Problem) and ontological subordination.
Nemes, Steven. 2020. “Divine Simplicity Does Not Entail Modal Collapse.” In Roses & Reasons: Philsophical Essays, 101-119. Edited by Carlos Frederico Calvet da Silveira and Alin Tat. Bucuresti: Eikon.
Ryan Mullins has offered objections to the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS) to the effect that it entails a “modal collapse,” or that there cannot be any contingency whatsoever. Nemes explains the modal collapse objection and Tomaszewski’s response to one of Mullins’ arguments. However, as he points out, another modal collapse argument that Mullins offers cannot be countered by Tomaszewski’s argument. This is the argument that if God could have created a different world than the one that actually exists, then God has an unactualized potential, and therefore cannot be Pure Act and absolutely simple. Nemes argues that this argument commits a fatal equivocation once we distinguish a causal from an effectual sense of God’s actions. This response requires the proponent of DDS to deny that plausible causal principle is universal, namely that, “A difference in effect presupposes a difference in the cause” (109). He then draws out some consequences of this approach, such as the fact that why this world exists rather than another is indeterminate, and that “the primary object of God’s causation is the possible world as a whole and not individual beings” (119).
Kaiser, Walter C. Jr., Darrell L. Bock, and Peter Enns. 2008. Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
This volume is an excellent introduction to various perspectives one might take on the NT use of the OT that centers around five orienting questions laid out in the introduction. Kaiser defends a “single meaning, unified referents” view, such that the NT authors take the OT context seriously; he is adamant that any other view would fall into subjectivism. Bock takes a “single meaning, multiple contexts and referents” view, such that the meaning (sense) of the OT remains, but in the context of salvation history “opens up” to allow for new referents of the original sense. Enns defends a “fuller meaning, single goal” view, such that the NT authors may at times have another meaning than what an OT author had in mind, but in the wider canonical understanding we see that there is a single “Christotelic” goal. I cannot adequately summarize all that is discussed in this volume, so in fair use I will provide the summary chapter written by one of the editors.
Ferguson, Everett. 2015. The Rule of Faith: A Guide. Eugene: Cascade Books.
This is a short volume (under 100 pages) in which Ferguson discusses the “rule of faith” or “rule of truth” to which patristic authors frequently refer. His perspective is that “the rule of faith was a summary of apostolic preaching and teaching, to be found most authoritatively in written form in the Scriptures” (xi). In the six short chapters, Ferguson does the following:
- gives the “raw data,” or actual statements of the rule of faith (chapter 1);
- discusses the terminology used in these statements (chapter 2);
- explores how the rule of faith was interpreted in early Christianity (chapter 3);
- provides summary of scholarship on what the rule of faith was (chapter 4);
- explains how the rule of faith was used (chapter 5);
- reflects on how the rule of faith is still relevant for use today (chapter 6).
Irons, Charles Lee, Danny Andre Dixon, and Dustin R. Smith. 2015. The Son of God: Three Views on the Identity of Jesus. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
This book continues in the strand of the Zondervan Counterpoints series, only it allows a Trinitarian (Irons), Arian (Dixon), and Socinian (Smith) to give their cases for their views and respond to one another. (Note, however, that Dixon and Smith allow for these descriptions for their views, even though they don’t accept all they might entail.) There are three parts of the book, each of which is dedicated to allowing one view to lay out its case, accept responses from the other two interlocutors, and then respond one more time to the criticisms received. In my view, this is an excellent volume that is worth reading and revisiting for anybody interested in different perspectives on Jesus Christ.
Borland, James A. 1999. Christ in the Old Testament. Second Edition. Chicago: Moody Press.
This brief book is a treatment of appearances of God in the Old Testament, which Borland argues are appearances of the Second Person of the Trinity. He narrows his scope of discussion to be appearances in human form, as opposed to, say, the Shekinah. Borland then argues that the appearances (he calls them “Christophanies”) really are appearances of God in that they (including “the angel of the Lord”) are called “God” and “Jehovah”; speak as God; have the attributes, prerogatives, and authority of God; and receive worship and sacrifice. In the same chapter, he also argues against alternative views that these Christophanies were appearances of God (chapter 2). In the following chapter, Borland argues that many of the Christophanies evince human characteristics and briefly treats “problem passages” for his view. Finally, chapter 4 provides further reason why the Christophanies should be treated further in theology, and how various disciplines can assist with such a project. The second edition contains three appendices: one on the history of interpreting the Christophanies, another on why Melchizedek isn’t a Christophany, and a practical reflection on those who saw God “face to face.”
Since this is a topic on which I’ve been thinking a lot lately, I will say something brief by way of review. I find it odd that Borland finds certain passages in the OT about seeing God and living as “problem passages” for his view. If one drops the supposition that “no one has ever seen God” to mean that “no one has ever seen the divine essence of one of the Trinity,” the solution is simple. All one has to say is that this means no one has directly perceived the Person of the Father in any of the appearances of God in the Old Testament. To my mind, this is a simple and plausible solution that makes those “problem passages” actually support Borland’s view and avoid making the issue more complicated than it needs to be.
Segal, Alan F. 2002. Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.
The preface of Segal’s work nicely lays out what he’s going to argue throughout. Namely, that “two powers in heaven” is a very early category of Jewish thought, which even pre-dates Jesus, and is clearly considered heretical by the rabbis in the second century and beyond. Scholars have addressed the “two powers” heresy before, but often pigeonholed a single group as the referent; Segal maintains that there isn’t a single referent of the “two powers” label, but does say that Christianity is one important group. He even claims that this is “one of the central issues over which [Judaism and Christianity] separated” (ix). Segal then surveys the rabbinic evidence by means of twelve passages. What is especially important to Segal’s exploration is the exegetical patterns the rabbis, and the “two powers” heretics, take. He then documents how the “two powers” traditions (though probably anachronistically called “heretical” when they pre-date the rabinnic evidence) are found in Philo, apocalyptic and mystical Jewish writings, the New Testament, the church fathers, Marcion, and other Gnostics. He concludes that “The early biblical theophanies which picture God as a man or confuse YHWH with an angel are the basis of the [“two powers”] tradition” (261). His study, then, is important not only for understanding rabbinic thought, but also the troubled and shared history between Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism.
Bird, Michael F. 2014. “Did Jesus Believe He Was God?” In How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Edited by Michael F. Bird, et. al. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Each essay of this volume seeks to respond to Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. To begin, Bird argues that’s Ehrman’s skepticism about the reliability of the New Testament doesn’t fit with his own supposed ability to reconstruct details about Jesus. He then argues that Jesus’ belief about himself is evidenced by the fact that he embodied the return of God to Zion. (What’s unclear to me at this point, however, is what Bird means by the fact that Jesus believed that YHWH was returning “in his [i.e., Jesus’ own] person.”) He then addresses whether Jesus could have referred to himself as the “Son of Man,” which Ehrman denies. No surprise, Bird answers that Jesus did use “Son of Man” self-referentially. He then wraps up with a brief section on how John’s exalted claims about Jesus, which Ehrman discounts, are compatible with the synoptic accounts and shouldn’t be ignored.
Orlov, Andrei A. 2019. The Glory of the Invisible God: Two Powers in Heaven Traditions and Early Christology. Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies, ed. James H. Charlesworth. London: T&T Clark.
In this dense and interesting study, Orlov uses Segal’s “two powers in heaven” terminology as a way to understand Jewish and Christian writings. He examines “two powers” materials in Jewish literature, and thinks that Segal’s note that originally there we complementary “two powers” traditions plays “a major role in the construction of Jesus’ divine identity” (8). Orlov’s focus is on “theophanic imagery” in the Jewish writings, and how they relate to Jesus’ transfiguration and baptism. Of particular importance to Orlov’s contribution is his observation that often the visible (“ocularcentric”) power is “transferred” divine attributes, while the first power recedes to invisibility and an audible (“aural”) manifestation.
The important focal point (hence the title) of the book is the divine Glory (Kavod). This Glory “becomes a symbol of the theophanic ideology that presupposes visual apprehension of the divine presence” (13). As he shows in great detail later, in the transfiguaration accounts “Jesus is endowed with the ocularcentric glorious attributes of the Kavod, while God is withdrawn in the aniconic void of his aural manifestation” (15). This means that Jesus just is the visible manifestation of God’s Glory, and a second power. This is especially clear, and I think, more strongly argued in the transfiguration accounts in the synoptic gospels. However, Orlov also explores seven points that seem to him to point to Jesus also being the manifestation of God’s Glory at Jesus’ baptism. Of the points he surveys on the baptism, I only found a couple plausible, especially the connection between Jesus’ baptism and the theophany of Ezekiel 1.
White, James R. 2019. The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Bethany House.
According to White, the definition of the Trinity in the following way: “Within the one Being that is God, there exists three coequla and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In a partly apologetic, partly apologetic exploration, he defends his understanding of the Trinity through the well-worn paths of the divinity of Christ and of the personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit. He goes through some standard material one might expect: the prologue of John, Christ as “God,” Jesus’ “I Am” statements, Christ as the Creator, the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God, etc. The remaining chapters cover more detail about what it means to believe in the Trinity, the Trinity in church history (which shockingly skips right from Melito to Nicaea) and why it matters.
Tuggy, Dale. 2020. “When and How in the History of Theology Did the Triune God Replace the Father as the Only True God?” TheoLogica 4 (2).
Tuggy argues that his narrative about God in the history of theology—what he calls the Nicene development narrative—is true and that two competing narratives (the “Western misunderstanding narrative” and the “catholic narrative”) are false. Basically, the thesis is that the year 381 shows there was a complete shift from the Father as the only true God to the Trinity (the “tripersonal” God) as the only true God.
Grindheim, Sigurd. 2011. God’s Equal: What Can We Know about Jesus’ Self-Understanding? London: T&T Clark International. Library of New Testament Studies 446.
The title of this book gives away Grindheim’s thesis: actions and claims that go back to the historical Jesus show that he considered himself to be “God’s equal,” or to be able to do and say what only God could do and say. In eleven chapters he argues why: Jesus brings the kingdom of God by the “finger of God” and is the divine warrior who directly confronts Satan (chapter 1), performs miracles by his own power (chapter 2), forgives sins (chapter 3), determines the eschatological fate of other people (chapter 4), speaks with an authority comparable to the authority of the Law (chapter 5), demands complete dedication to himself in his calling of the disciples (chapter 6), uses peculiar self-descriptions for himself (chapter 7), saw himself as God’s unique Son (chapter 9), and claimed he would build a new kind of temple (chapter 11). Grindheim also considers the use of “Son of Man,” and argues that there were times that Jesus used this description for himself (chapter 10). He considers two objections to his view based on Mark 13:32 and Mark 10:18.
In each of these cases, Grindheim surveys potential Second Temple figures to see if there is any precedent for what Jesus claimed and did. In each case the evidence comes up wanting. Jesus seems to have acted on his own inherent authority and power, and nowhere claims that this authority is derived. Nor does his role seem to be comparable to any Second Temple intermediary figure. The only role that Jesus seems to play in all of these things is God’s own role. He is God’s equal.