Thornhill: Election, Paul, and Second Temple Judaism (Part 1)

I will be blogging through Chadwick Thornhill’s new book, The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism (InterVarsity, 2015). As the title indicates, Thornhill discusses “election” in Second Temple Judaism in order to understand Paul’s views on the matter more accurately. The ultimate goal of the book is to provide a clear explanation of election in Rom 9-11, which is the task of chapter 7.

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The book is apparently a revised version of Thornhill’s dissertation and it’s comprised of eight chapters. In this post I will summarize and briefly interact with the first two chapters. Throughout the book, a variety of Second Temple Jewish texts are employed, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocryphal, and pseudepigraphical writings.

There appear to be three main questions being addressed regarding election in Second Temple Judaism and, subsequently, in Paul. First, what is the extent of divine election? Is it the entire nation of Israel or only a remnant? Second, and closely related, is the focus of election on the corporate or the individual? Third, is election typically understood as being conditional or unconditional? A fourth question, though not stated explicitly, might be added: is election typically discussed in the context of soteriology (salvation) or in other contexts?

Concerning “Jewish views of election” among scholars, Thornhill outlines three basic views: 1) national and unconditional; 2) national and cooperative; and 3) remnant-oriented and conditional (17-20). He summarizes his own view most clearly in a footnote: “It seems best to view the covenant as unconditional in terms of God’s commitment to it, but conditional in terms of how Israel relates to God through it” (20, n. 21).

Chapter 2 examines election as it relates to specific individuals in Second Temple Jewish texts. When an individual is mentioned as being “elect,” what is being emphasized? Thornhill argues that typically such passages recognize the individual’s excellence, piety, vocation, or role, but never in such instances is the soteriological status of the individual emphasized. Examples from Sirach, the Qumran Psalms Scroll, 1 Enoch, and the Psalms of Solomon are discussed. Another way in which “elect” individuals function is in the concept of corporate representation: “the individual represents the larger collective in that the collective in some sense must reflect the character and actions of the individual” (39). For example, in Jubilees 15-22 Jacob is the heir of promises and stands for faithful Israel, while Ishmael and Esau represent those outside the covenant.

Thornhill then contends that these categories can also be found in Paul’s references to election. Galatians 1:15-16 reflects election unto office and service, while corporate representation can be found in 1 Cor 15:20-24 and 2 Cor 5:14-21.

While I am generally in agreement with Thornhill’s exegetical work, I have some qualms about the organization of the first two chapters. There needs to be more clarity in areas, including the organization and goals of each chapter. It’s as if the target is unclear in chapter 2. I felt like it started with a stated goal of answering one or two questions, but ended up trying to answer six questions. I wonder if this lack of clarity has developed due to the book being a revision of a dissertation. Fortunately, subsequent chapters appear to stay on task much more sharply, so don’t take this criticism of the opening chapters as applicable to the remainder of the book. In my next post, we’ll move to more substantive issues. I will examine Thornhill’s claim that Second Temple Jews would have typically understood election in corporate (rather than individual) terms and the question of whether they would have viewed such election as conditional or unconditional.

Stanley Porter: Did Paul Meet the “Earthly” Jesus?

Most scholars operate with the assumption that the “pre-Christian” Paul never met the “earthly” Jesus. That is to say, apart from Paul’s Damascus Road experience, he had never previously encountered Jesus of Nazareth. In his newest book, When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History (Cambridge University Press), Stanley Porter is challenging this assumption, arguing instead that Paul had encountered Jesus on prior occasion.

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Here is an excerpt:

I have come to believe that, while the case is not an unproblematic certainty, there is … evidence from the Gospels, Acts, and especially Paul’s letters that indicate that Paul may well have met Jesus during their common time together in Palestine, so that, when Paul encountered the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus, he recognized the person and voice and knew who was calling him… I have also come to believe that the encounter or encounters with Jesus that Paul had before the Damascus road experience had a positive formative influence upon Paul and his thinking… I believe and will argue that the influence was significant enough so that when Paul embarked upon his own Christian missionary and teaching ventures, there was a much stronger line of continuity between the teaching of Jesus and that of Paul than many, especially highly critical, scholars wish to admit. (1)

John Barclay Interviewed by Ben Witherington

By now most people have heard about John Barclay’s new tome, Paul and the Gift, which has all the makings of being a truly groundbreaking work.

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Ben Witherington has interviewed Barclay about the book, and the interview is almost as lengthy as Barclay’s book. I highly recommend it for an introduction to the topic, and to see Barclay’s clarification of some of his points. My only complaint is that the interview is divided into 22 parts! And there is no single place on Witherington’s blog to find them together. My suggestion is to go to part 1 and then simply scroll forward through posts and you will find subsequent parts of the interview. There aren’t too many intervening posts on other topics.

John Meier’s Forthcoming 5th Volume of “A Marginal Jew”

For some reason I was completely unaware that John Meier was writing a 5th volume for his “Marginal Jew” series. It’s hard to believe that the first volume appeared almost 25 years ago. In Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, Meier will argue that only four of the parables in the canonical gospels are authentic – those of the Mustard Seed, the Evil Tenants, the Talents, and the Great Supper. Yale University Press indicates an expected publication date in November.

James Dunn’s 3rd Volume of “Christianity in the Making”

The third and final volume of James Dunn’s magisterial study of early Christianity will be published by Eerdmans later this year. It’s titled Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity and the publisher’s description is provided below the cover image:

The culmination of Dunn’s three-volume magnum opus, fifteen years in the making

This book brings James Dunn’s magisterial Christianity in the Making trilogy to a close. Neither Jew nor Greek covers the period following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. and running through the second century, when the still-new Jesus movement firmed up its distinctive identity markers and the structures on which it would establish its growing appeal in the following decades and centuries.

Dunn examines in depth the major factors that shaped first-generation Christianity and beyond, exploring the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism, the Hellenization of Christianity, and responses to Gnosticism. He mines all the first- and second-century sources, including the New Testament Gospels and such apostolic fathers as Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus. Comprehensively covering an important, complex era in early Christianity that is often overlooked, Neither Jew nor Greek is a landmark contribution to the field.