Posted by: mattcolvin | April 14, 2014

Update on Bible Teaching

Sorry for the slow month of blogging; Sora has been gone since mid-March in Dulag, Leyte. I have seen her photos as they come in on my iOS Photostream, but I have assured her that I will leave them for her to blog. She returns tomorrow, so maybe she’ll put up something exciting and midwifery-related then.

I’ve been keeping busy too: Faith Academy is entering the last month of the school year, and I am pressing to finish Dante’s Inferno with the juniors and seniors in my Epic literature class. The 10th grade New Testament class will finish Romans this week – conveniently, because I have been teaching it to my adults at UCRC’s Bible study as well. My work isn’t as photogenic as Sora’s. If you’ve seen one shot of me lecturing in front of a whiteboard, you’ve seen them all. Here’s my lectern in the Faith Academy NT class: tiny center-column reference edition NKJV, and slightly bigger Biblia Graeca (LXX + NA28 in one binding) perched together on one lectern.


The Biblia Graeca is a delight to use for teaching and study: the marginal apparatus of loci citati vel allegati is the best in the business, far more comprehensive and enlightening than most cross-references in most English translations, and with the added benefit of having the LXX from which the quotations and echoes are derived right there in the same binding. This was the Bible I received from the hand of Bishop Daniel Morse at my ordination last December.

It has been a great semester for rethinking Romans and Pauline theology: after 5 months, I’m nearing the end of N.T. Wright’s magnum opus Paul and the Faithfulness of God. My thinking was also helped by Andrew Perriman’s The Future of the People of God. I am very thankful for ebooks: Logos Library also picked me as a reviewer for their Anglican Silver package, so now I have access to a lot of books that would be difficult to find here in Davao City.

The Romans class at UCRC has been very well attended, with new folks joining from week to week, including two more since this photo was taken:


Comments from the participants have been very appreciative: they are finding that a covenantal, narratival, and historical perspective on Paul helps them make sense of other passages of Scripture and see the big picture better. In my view, this is one of the most needed things here in the Philippines, and people who love Jesus are hungry for it.

I’ve also received word that my application to teach at Koinonia Theological Seminary (a Methodist-affiliated evangelical seminary here in Davao City) has now been put before the board of that institution for consideration.

My Greek class and Latin class are on break for Holy Week, but will resume next week.

Posted by: mattcolvin | April 8, 2014

Who Coined the Name “New Perspective on Paul”?

James D. G. Dunn usually gets the credit for labeling this movement in NT studies. His 1983 paper “The New Perspective on Paul” (Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester Manchester 65 (2): 95–122) is cited by Wikipedia as the origin of the phrase, which is used to describe ways of looking at Paul that go back to Krister Stendahl’s 1963 “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” and E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

But thanks to Logos, I have been reading N. T. Wright’s 1978 essay “The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith, originally a Tyndale New Testament Lecture delivered at Tyndale House, Cambridge, on 4 July 1978 and then published in Tyndale Bulletin 29 (1978): 61–88. In it, Wright says:

I want now to [offer] a new way of looking at Paul which provides, I believe, not only an advance in the debate between Stendahl and Käsemann, but also a new perspective on other related Pauline problems.

What follows is, in nuce, the same basic position that Wright has now argued at greater length —and with greater depth, maturity, and exegetical richness — in 2013’s PFG.

It certainly appears as though Wright coined the phrase, or at least most of it (not, perhaps, the “…on Paul”) 3 or 4 years before Dunn.

Posted by: mattcolvin | April 7, 2014

Logos Anglican Packages

I’ve been fortunate to be chosen as a reviewer for one of Logos Bible Software’s recently released Anglican packages. The one I’m reviewing includes a nice mix of modern and ancient Anglican sources – the Venerable Bede, the Cloud of Unknowing (source of our beloved Collect for Purity!), the five-volume set of 96 sermons by Lancelot Andrewes, and David Bartlett’s “Fasting on the Word” (a 12 volume sermon series following the Revised Common Lectionary). Anglo-Catholic writers are well represented, with John Mason Neale’s commentary on the Psalms and John Henry Newman’s Parochial and Plain Sermons and The Idea of a University. Classical Caroline Anglicanism is here too, with the works of William Law and Richard Hooker.There is Bp. Blunt’s Annotated Book of Common Prayer and the (grisly sounding) Remains of Thomas Cranmer.

“Blessed Percy” Dearmer is there, with his Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book and Everyman’s History of the English Church. There is lots of J.C. Ryle, especially his Expository Thoughts series.

Of course, being an Anglican collection, there are editions of the Book of Common Prayer. Lots of them, in fact: the 1979 TEC version, the 1662 with Psalter; the 1928; and even – Lord love Logos! – the 1873 original Reformed Episcopal BCP. There is even, sticking out like a black sheep among all the BCPs, The Liturgy of John Knox, 1564.

I am especially excited to see the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, a work I have been told many times I ought to own and consult, but have never got around to obtaining.

I admit I don’t know where to begin. This is a rather huge library, dumped into my Logos account, and full of useful items.

Posted by: mattcolvin | April 2, 2014

Visit to Davao Crocodile Park

After more than a year living here, we finally made it to one of the most popular attractions in the city. This park used to be the home of Lolong, the largest saltwater crocodile on record, but she died last year. There is still a sizable specimen in Pangil (“Fang”), and we watched him consume a whole pig (OK, two half pigs).


For me, the main attraction was the big constrictors: the park is home to many giant pythons, of both the Burmese and reticulated varieties. Here I am fulfilling Mark 16:18:


Other guests at the park were less happy, perhaps because they encountered larger snakes:

There were, however, some less intimidating creatures, like these painted turtles:


And this very handsome Philippine eagle:


Isaiah gave a high five to this lion:


No Colvin kids or stuffed owls were harmed in this shot:


My daily swimming regimen has been paying off with added vascularity:


Naomi doesn’t seem too concerned.



Hosanna is very sweet.



Posted by: mattcolvin | April 2, 2014

Fraud on Law


I have been reading aloud Padraic Colum’s collection of Norse myths, The Children of Odin, to Isaiah. Today we read the story of Brock the Dwarf, who makes a wager with Loki that his brother Sindri could make objects of superior craftsmanship to the dwarves from whom Loki received Skidbladnir the pocket ship, and Gungnir the unerring spear. Like Gawain and the Green Knight, Loki and Brock wager their own heads. Sindri makes the golden boar Gullinbursti, the self-replicating golden ring Draupnir, and Mjollnir the hammer of Thor and wins the bet.

Then it is time for Loki to pay up. Brock exclaims,

“Loki has lost his head to me. Let him kneel down now till I cut it off.”
Loki came forward, smiling with closed lips. “I kneel before you, Dwarf,” he said. “Take off my head. But be careful. Do not touch my neck. I did not bargain that you should touch my neck. If you do, I shall call upon the Dwellers in Asgard to punish you.”

It is a classic dodge, holding the adversary to the letter of the law sophistically interpreted. It is formally identical to the judgment of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, scene 1:

My deeds upon my head. I crave the law,
The penalty, and forfeit of my bond.

PORTIA: A pound of that same merchant’s flesh is thine.
The court awards it, and the law doth give it.

SHYLOCK: Most rightful judge!

PORTIA: And you must cut this flesh from off his breast.
The law allows it, and the court awards it.

Most learnèd judge, a sentence! Come, prepare.

Tarry a little. There is something else.
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood.
The words expressly are “a pound of flesh.”
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh,
But in the cutting it if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are by the laws of Venice confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.

More examples could be adduced: the Israelites in Judges 21 allow their daughters to be carried off so that they may provide them as wives for the Benjamites without “giving” them and so breaking their oath. Likewise, when subjected to a search of his caravan’s luggage and tents by an irate Laban searching for his teraphim which Rachel had purloined, Jacob swears an oath of innocence carefully phrased to avert evil: “With whomsoever you find your gods, let him not live.” But of course, Laban does not find them with anyone; Rachel, then, is safe from any supernatural harm that might otherwise have resulted from this malediction. The Gibeonites and Joshua trade super-literal fine print in their agreement.

I have posted before about David Daube’s explanation of the plot of the book of Ruth as an instance of the same sort of “fraud on law”: Boaz tells “Mr. So-and-so” that “What day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you have bought the wife of the dead to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.” (4:5) Mr. So-and-so, thinking that “the dead” is Elimelech (very naturally, since it is Elimelech’s land that they are about to redeem), and seeing that Naomi will certainly bear no more children, declines: “Then I cannot redeem it, lest I destroy my own inheritance” — sc. by leaving myself with no children to inherit it from me. Just as Portia extracts from Shylock his formal waiver of payment, and formal confirmation of his choice of the “pound of flesh” penalty instead, even so Boaz waits until Mr. So-and-so has undergone the sandal ceremony formally relinquishing his right to redeem the land. It is only when this disavowal is complete and irrevocable that Boaz springs his trap:

‘Boaz calmly waits till the surrender of title is ratified by a solemnity that puts it above any attack, renders it absolute, “confirms” it. (Jacob’s extraction of an oath after Esau has already informally ceded his birthright is analogous.) It is only then that he triumphantly announces: “You are witnesses that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s and Qilyon’s and Mahlon’s. Moreover – the climax – Ruth the Moabitess, wife of Mahlon, have I bought to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.” so Ruth the desirable, thirty-year-old, fertile one is “the wife of the dead” whom the nearer kinsman renounced. Boaz, not at all a passive recipient of good luck, has skilfully carried out the operation the women entrusted to him…’ (Collected Works of David Daube vol. II, p. 489-496)

I am a bit late for April Fool’s Day, but consider this a timely seasonal post on tricksters. I will also be preaching this Sunday on 1 Corinthians 2:8: “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Trickster stories are satisfying because Jesus is the antitype of Boaz and Jacob. And the story of Brock and Loki is Norse praeparatio evangelica.

Posted by: mattcolvin | February 11, 2014

More Instances of Traditio

I have blogged before about David Daube’s observation that many of the Bible’s mountaintop scenes are instances of the legal device called “traditio”: when conveying a purchased object into the possession of its new owner, one usually just hands it over (Lat. trado). But for some possessions, this is physically impossible. Accordingly, inspection of a property may be used as the formal means of traditing it into the ownership of another. This is done in the case of Abram in Genesis 13:17: “Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” (Genesis 13:17 NKJV)

Similar to this is, Moses’ mountaintop viewing of the promised land in Deuteronomy 32:49: “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, across from Jericho; view the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel as a possession..” (Deuteronomy 32:49 NKJV)

Daube points out Satan’s attempted, but failed, use of the same convention in Matthew 4:8, where he tries to get Jesus to make a deal, offering the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship. Again, this is on “an exceedingly high mountain”.

I would now like to add another instance: the Great Commission too takes place on a mountain, and this setting seems significant, especially in light of Jesus’ prior declaration that all authority has been given to Him. This is a pointed contrast with Satan’s statement that “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.” (Luke 4:6 NKJV) Having won authority over the world, Jesus now bestows the kingdom on His disciples. As NT Wright puts it,

“Israel was to be the people who inherited YHWH’s sovereign rule over the world. The promised land was a sign of this, but already by the first century many Jews had glimpsed the possibility, already implicit within the Adam–Abraham nexus, that the land was simply an advance signpost to YHWH’s claim over the whole of creation.” — Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God

That’s why the Great Commission is on a mountain: it is the fulfillment of Genesis 13, Deuteronomy 32, and Matthew 4.

Posted by: mattcolvin | January 29, 2014

Collected Works of David Daube vol. 5

January 2014 marks the publication of the fifth volume of David Daube’s collected works. The title of vol. 5 is Roman Law, which holds much less interest for me as a student of Scripture. Unlike the volumes on Talmudic Law (1) and Ethics (4), this one does not appear to contain any articles that seem likely to include any exegesis of the Bible. Nonetheless, I will probably buy it, if only for the sake of completeness. I have always enjoyed Daube’s style and wit, and it is a pleasure to watch him solve puzzles even when there is no payoff for understanding the Bible. He is one of the great minds of the 20th century.

You can survey the table of contents here.

Posted by: mattcolvin | January 21, 2014

Last Supper in Egypt

My six-year-old daughter came to me this week as I was studying and asked me to read her a story. In her hand was a retelling of the Joseph story by Brian Wildesmith. One particular illustration forced me to visualize what I should have long since imagined in my minds eye. The scene was Genesis 43:31-34:

Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself, and said, “Serve the bread.” So they set him a place by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth; and the men looked in astonishment at one another. Then he took servings to them from before him, but Benjamin’s serving was five times as much as any of theirs. So they drank and were merry with him. (Genesis 43:31-34 NKJV)

Wildsmith’s illustration is a visual quotation or parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper:



Is it an exact correspondence? No, of course not. There are only 11 brothers, and Joseph is not depicted sitting with his brothers as the Lord does with the disciples. Nonetheless, there can be no question that the angle of perspective, the arrangement of the figures, and the geometry of the background all combine to stand in the tradition of depictions of Christ’s Last Supper as it has been shown in Western art.

So it is connected?

Of course, the Twelve have been selected by Jesus to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, so the correspondence to the eponymous patriarchs of those tribes is not surprising. But there is more. One commentator titles his section on this pericope “The Dinner Designed to Make Joseph Known”. It is that. It is also designed to test Joseph’s brothers: by piling Benjamin’s plate with five times as much food, Joseph is singling the other son of Rachel out for preferential treatment of the same sort that Jacob had bestowed on Joseph himself. He does this in order to observe his brothers’ reaction: Will they persecute Benjamin as they had him? Like Hamlet’s play within the play, Joseph’s banquet for his brothers is a test.

These are two purposes served also by the Last Supper: Christ clearly discloses His identity as the Messiah in His words over the bread, and clearly indicates His coming death in the words over the cup: this is “making Him known” in the same way that He would later be known in the breaking of bread on the way to Emmaus. He also tests His disciples, giving the ψωμιον to Judas; Joseph in Egypt, no less than Jesus, could have truly said, “The hand of him who betrays me is with mine on the table.” (Luke 22:21)

Posted by: mattcolvin | January 16, 2014

Notes on Matthew 14:15-21

Here are some notes on the typology and the Greek of the Feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14.

14:15 – The disciples are full of reasons to dismiss the crowds, and very reasonable reasons they sound, too: “The place is deserted/wilderness” (ἐρημός ὁ τόπος) and “the hour is late” (literally, “has already passed on”, ἤδη παρῆλθεν). But we have also seen that the disciples have pretensions to be gatekeepers to Jesus, so that He sometimes has to overrule them: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not.” Likewise, note that the Greeks in John 12:21 come to Philip to gain access to Jesus. I do not want to impute motives unjustly, but there does seem a likelihood that the disciples are urging Jesus to “dismiss the crowd” so that they may have Him to themselves for a while.

This makes Jesus’ reply quite pointed: “They do not need to go away” – quite the contrary! What they need is to be with Jesus. And the disciples need to be the means by which that happens.

Like the book of Jonah, the entire episode of the feeding of the 5,000 is orchestrated to change the attitude of the disciples. They are to learn their job: “You give them something to eat.” This is the logical extension (as the Master, so the disciples) of Jesus’ own utterance: “my flesh is food indeed.” The disciples need to learn that their lives are to be “blessed, broken, and given” for the life of the world, as was Jesus’.

The Greek is very emphatic: δότε αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς φαγεῖν. The pronoun is displaced from any of the normal positions: “Give them, you, [something] to eat.” Yet the real emphasis comes from the miracle itself. The way Jesus teaches this lesson is as personal and unforgettable as His teaching them about servanthood by washing of their feet. He gives each doubting disciple a basket full of bread fragments. We ought to consider the OT antecedents for this miracle. I have heard many sermons that link it to the Manna – an easy connection, since Jesus makes it Himself (John 6:36). But the closest precedent is instead the miracle done by Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44:

Then a man came from Baal Shalisha, and brought the man of God (sc. Elisha) bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley bread, and newly ripened grain in his knapsack. And he said, “Give it to the people, that they may eat.”

But his servant said, “What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?”

He said again, “Give it to the people, that they may eat; for thus says the Lord: ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them; and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.

Note the parallels: Elisha’s disciples constitute a movement contrary to the established kingdom of the Omride dynasty, just as Jesus’ kingdom movement is an affront to the house of Herod. In both stories, it is the nutritionally inferior barley bread, foodstuff of the poor, that is multiplied. In both stories, the master commands his disciples to distribute to the people. In both stories, the disciples object on the grounds of the scantiness of the provisions: “What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?” “A lad here has 5 barley loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?” And in both stories there are leftovers.

There is a political dimension to this as well, as we should recall from Acts 12:20-23, where the inhabitants of Phoenicia are willing to call Herod Antipas’ voice “of a god and not of a man” because “their region was supplied with food from the king’s country”. Consider the famous American electoral promise of “a chicken in every pot” (the RNC for Hoover in 1928), or the Rabshakeh’s promises to Jerusalem in the name of Sennacherib in 2 Kings 18:

… for so has the king of Assyria said, “Make peace with me, and come out to me, and each man will eat of his vine and each man of his fig tree, and each man will drink the water of his cistern. Until I come and take you to a land like your land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil yielding olives and honey, and you may live and not die, and do not heed Hezekiah for he will mislead you, saying, ‘The Lord will save us.’

Promises of prosperity and food are part of what Walter Brueggemann calls “the economics of satiety” by which “the royal consciousness” is perpetuated in the minds of the people: panis et circenses. Bread and political power are linked again in 2 Kings 7:1-2, where Elisha predicts that “Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria” – and is immediately contradicted by a servant of the king. And we should remember that the manna, that type of the bread in Matthew 14, was sent as a response to the Israelites’ complaints against Moses and Aaron: “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3)

Bread and power go together. Feeding 5,000 people and echoing Elisha is not an apolitical move by Jesus.

Posted by: mattcolvin | January 12, 2014

Rejecting the Purpose of God for Themselves

Gottlieb Jesus Before His Judges

(Maurycy Gottlieb, Jesus Before His Judges, ca. 1877)

One of the best things about N.T. Wright’s work on the New Testament is the convincing picture he paints of the Pharisees. On the one hand, he tears down the Old Perspective’s view of the Pharisees as proto-Pelagian merit legalists. This makes some people nervous because they know of no other way to interpret Paul’s words against the “works of the Law”. I have been in a church where the pastor made the ridiculous claim that all sin is, au fond, merit legalism. (Such a sweeping generalization is a sure way to miss many sins that do not fit that pattern.)

Instead, NT Wright makes clear that Jesus’ critique of Pharisaism is an Israeological critique. We could use the word “ecclesiological”, but I think that would be to short-circuit the Bible’s way of approaching the matter. Jesus is concerned with the nature and purpose of the nation of Israel: Why did God choose Israel? Unto what end? It is only through questions about Israel that the NT arrives at answers to questions about the Church. The problem with the Pharisees is that they “have rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (Lk. 7:30). They are condemned because the covenantal telos of Israel — the purpose for which God called Israel out from among the nations — is at odds with their way of being Israel:

“The antitheses [of the Sermon on the Mount] do not, then, focus on the contrast between ‘outward’ and ‘inward’ keepings of the law. They are not retrojections into the first century of a nineteenth-century Romantic ideal of religion in which outward things are bad and inward things good. They emphasize, rather, the way in which the renewal which Jesus sought to engender would produce a radically different way of being Israel in real-life Palestinian situations. There, the ruling interpretation of Torah would lead to being Israel in the wrong way, the way that would lead to destruction; the way of life he was urging would suggest a totally different approach and result.” (Jesus and the Victory of God, ch. 7.4.3.c)

Wright suggests that this divide between Jesus’ Israelology and that of the Pharisees’ contributed to His death:

“ Jesus’ contemporaries, however, could not but regard someone doing and saying these things as a deceiver. His agenda clashed at every point with theirs. In symbol, as in praxis and story, his way of being Israel, his way of loyalty to Israel’s god, was radically different from theirs.” (Jesus and the Victory of God, ch. 9.5, “Leading the People Astray”)

Once we realize this, the implications are tremendous. Pharisaism as an error of Israelology is basically a missiological error. The Pharisees were in one sense avid missionaries: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Mt. 23:15) They are very devoted to winning converts to their own way of thinking. But in a deeper sense, Pharisaism is not a missionary faith at all: for the goal of a missionary is to help others know the God of Israel, and the Pharisees do not do that: “you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (Mt. 23:13) This is why Paul says to the Thessalonians:

“You also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as [the Jerusalem Christians] did from the Jews (Judeans), who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men (πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐναντίων), forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16)

This is one of the harshest condemnations of Judaism, a passage that has been labeled anti-Semitic by many. But what Paul means is this: by denying that Gentiles can belong to the covenant people without becoming Jewish, unbelieving Judaism (and modern ethnic/rabbinic Judaism) is “contrary to all men”. That is, it stands against them, it opposes them. How? By preventing them from knowing YHWH. It does this rather than fulfilling the priestly calling of Israel to make Him known among the Gentiles. Pharisaism is Israel curved in on itself rather than Israel for the sake of the world.

This is also why churches cannot survive as places where we “keep Christians separate from the world and teach them to be good”.  Such churches are Pharisaical in the Biblical sense of the word. They always end by having their lampstands extinguished.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 593 other followers