Monday, October 18, 2010

Background Commentary? Yeah Right.

Sitting before me is the hefty IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by the respected Bible scholar Craig Keener. I took it out from the library yesterday, and was fairly excited about reading some of it. If it's anything like the Old Testament volume by Walton & co. then I'm in! So where do I flip to? Romans chapter nine. Is it possible to give some solid background info on this controversial passage? Can we get a glimpse into Paul's theological worldview without immediately jumping into the calvinist/arminian debate of the last few centuries? The mic is yours Craig:

"Most Jewish people believed that their people as a whole had been chosen for salvation; they viewed predestination in corporate, ethnic terms." False. The first volume of the Justification and Variegated Nomism series has sent that sweeping generalisation into the depths of Sheol. Nevertheless, Keener wrote this volume before JVN's (elementary) investigations into Second Temple Judaism and its various ideological threads. Besides, this still kind of qualifies as background knowledge, even if it's bad background knowledge. Moving on...

"God can sovereignly choose to elect whom he wills, and that need not be on the basis of descent from Abraham. God's sovereignty means that he is free to choose on another basis than his covenant with ethnic Israel (3:1-8); he can choose on the basis of (foreknown) faith in Christ (4:11-13; 8:29-30)." p.433.

Tricky move there Keener. Very shrewd. But the text doesn't say that. The text says," It does not, therefore, depend on mans desire or effort, but on God's mercy." That is the statement which holds together the rest of the passage. Or is faith in Christ something entirely different than the desire or effort to come to God? Keener answers this a page over: "...trusting God, who transforms the heart. Although the term "faith" is rare in translations of the Old Testament...Paul believes that the idea permeates the Old Testament, where God's people must respond to his grace from their hearts." p.434. Oopsies. That sounds alot like desire.

I find it interesting that Keener uses the name of "Background Commentary", not only to not exegete Romans 9, nor to give us any sound background knowledge of why God does not consider desire or effort, good or bad in his electing purposes, but also to give us an aside into his own arminian soteriology. Comb through the text of Romans 9 yourself and tell me where it says that God elects people based on an advanced knowledge of whether or not they will put their faith in Christ. Find anything? Didn't think so.

I get a kick out of reading all these modern sophists who blabber on and on about "fresh perspectives on Paul" that avoid the pitfalls of "anachronistic" readings of his Romans such as those performed through the lens of a calvinist/armian polemic.....before proceeding to give us a very basic arminian or calvinistic exposition.

Look, I'm not asking you scholars to go all calvinist on me in your reading of Romans 9. But if you are going to claim "background" insight into this text, will you please make the effort to say something that hasn't already been said by arminian exegetes for the last 300 years? And can you please try to make it remotely ST Judaistic? Please?

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