• Christian Theology and the Bible is a section of the Society of Biblical Literature. Our task is to explore the intersection between the disciplines of Christian Theology and Biblical Studies. Does or can such an intersection exist? What then could be or would be theological exegesis? What is its relation to religious communities, the history of interpretation, historical theology, history of confession and doctrine, so-called Higher Criticism, etc.?
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SBL 2010 – Saturday Session

11/20/2010
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: Patristic Interpretation of Genesis 1-3

George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary, Presiding

Peter Martens, Saint Louis University
Origen’s Doctrine of Pre-Existence in its Exegetical and Heresiological Contexts (25 min)

People often talk about Origen’s doctrine of the pre-existence of souls or minds as “speculative,” implying that this is a whimsical and largely conjectural theme. This teaching is also invariably framed as yet another sad episode in the Hellenistic take-over of Christian doctrine, and thus, that it was deservedly anathematized. I will re-examine this doctrine. I will begin with an overview of the cardinal elements in Origen’s understanding of the pre-existent state, including his account of the fall of minds (drawing primarily from On First Principles). Without denying his sources in Hellenistic philosophy, I will pursue two lines of thought. (1) How did Origen seek to integrate Scripture, and in particular, the opening chapters of Genesis, into his curious account of beginnings? Origen was undeniably an exegete, and so too sensed (as many of his readers have also often sensed) that there was some disconnect between his account of beginnings and the account we find in Genesis. (2) To what extent did Origen’s doctrine of pre-existence serve as a calculated rebuttal of “Gnostic” theology? I will argue that there is a lot less idle speculation and a lot more pointed agenda in the contentious doctrine of preexistence than most scholars recognize. The key texts for my argument will be Origen’s first Homily on Genesis, books 1-2 of his Commentary on John and his Commentary on Genesis.

George Kalantzis, Wheaton College (Illinois)
“‘Did God Plant a Garden in the Manner of a Farmer?’ Divine / Human Relationship in Origen.” (25 min)

This paper examines Origen’s view of scriptural hermeneutics through his lens of the hexameron, as he presents it in De Principiis IV.

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, St John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven, CT
Augustine and the Role of Scripture in Christian Formation: Genesis 1-3 (25 min)

Augustine apparently never held a single-volume Bible in his hands. His Bible was a collection of many different books, or collections of books and letters. After all, Augustine’s conversion experience at hearing the children’s sing-song “Take and Read; Take and Read” led him to open his collection of Paul’s letters to the scale-tipping Romans 13:13. And Augustine’s now-famous request, upon his ordination to the priesthood, that Bishop Valerius allow him some time to read and study Scripture, is just as striking. Certainly it was Ambrose’s preaching that opened up particularly the Old Testament to Augustine. What does this tell us about the role of Scripture not only in Augustine’s conversion, but also in his understanding of the ongoing nurture of the soul before God? Why does Augustine focus on certain parts of Scripture more than others, returning as he does throughout his life in particular to Genesis 1-3? What is it about these first three chapters of the Bible which fascinate and vex him so, apart from trying to correct and win over his theological adversaries?

Thomas Holsinger-Friesen, Spring Arbor University
“Never Did Adam Escape the Hands of God”: Irenaeus’ Vision of Genesis 2:7 (25 min)

In Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus is renowned for formulating points of doctrine (e.g., “recapitulation” and the regula veritatis) that would be of great import in the development of early Christian thought. Yet his contribution to theological hermeneutics is no less significant. Given that Irenaeus and his “Gnostic” opponents shared a strong interest in origins, the Genesis creation texts served as a crucial battleground. In particular, Irenaeus found the Genesis 2:7 “breath of life” text to be conducive for exceptionally wide typological readings. In order to contradict a Valentinian anthropology appealing to 1 Corinthians 15:50, Irenaeus mines theological riches from Genesis 2.7. The images of God’s formation of the human body from dust and that of his inbreathing the breath of life enable Irenaeus (or so he claims) to interpret a broader range of texts: prophetic, apostolic, and gospel. In so doing, Irenaeus models an innovative hermeneutic of Scripture that is painstakingly christocentric, while showing remarkable flexibility and interpretative freedom. By means of focal texts like Genesis 2:7, he casts an expansive, unique vision of God and prepares the way for an anti-Platonist Christian anthropology. For Irenaeus, the purposeful work of the Father, through his two hands (Son and Spirit), will present the human creation as fully alive – in body no less than soul.

R. W. B. Moberly, Durham University, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (25 min)

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Explorations in Theology and Apocalyptic at SBL 2010

From the Theology and Apocalyptic blog:

In addition to the two additional meetings at the AAR this year, the “Explorations in Theology and Apocalyptic” group will be hosting its first Society of Biblical Literature session at this year’s annual meeting of the SBL.  The session will be a critical book review panel of Joseph Mangina’s forthcoming commentary on Revelation (from the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible).  Panelists will include Kathryn Greene-McCreight (St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven, CT), Richard B. Hays (Duke University), and Nathan Kerr (Trevecca Nazarene University).  Ryan Hansen (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) will chair the session and Joseph Mangina (Wycliffe College) will be present to respond to the panelists.

Following the panel, there will be a brief business meeting to discuss proposing a new SBL program unit under the theme, “Explorations in Theology and Apocalyptic,” in which biblical scholars and theologians might explore how apocalyptic has shaped Christian theology in the NT and throughout history, and how it might shape contemporary Christian theology.

Details about the time and location of the session will be made public when available.

SBL 2010: Teaser

More details forthcoming. For now there are three sessions planned for the Christian Theology and the Bible group:

1. Patristic readings of Genesis 1-3

2. A book review panel on Kavin Rowe’s World Upside Down

3. Theological/exegetical readings of Acts

SBL Survey

The SBL has received an NEH planning grant to develop a website, “The World of the Bible: exploring people, places, and passages.” The site is intended for general audiences and will share scholarly views and encourage critical engagement with the Bible, including its ancient contexts and interpretive legacy.

We encourage you to share this survey with people who are not bible scholars—your students, perhaps, or friends and family. The goal is to gain a diverse representation of our intended audience and to assess their current level of familiarity with and interest in the Bible.

Survey Link:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NH3V5ZZSBL Survey

2009 SBL Program for Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture

Session One: Romans as Christian Theology
A. Katharine Grieb, Virginia Theological Seminary, Presiding

  • Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary: “Reading for the Subject: Conflict and Lordship in Romans 14”
  • Richard B. Hays, Duke University: “Spirit, Church, Eschatology: The Third Article of the Creed as Hermeneutical Lens for Reading Romans”
  • Michael J. Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University: “Romans: The First Christian Treatise on Theosis”

Session Two: The “Rule of Faith”: Relic, Refuge, or Resource?
Joy J. Moore, Duke University, Presiding

  • Tomas Bokedal, Aberdeen University: “The Rule of Faith: Tracing its Origins”
  • Kathryn Greene-McCreight, St John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven, CT: “A Chord of Three Strands Is Not Easily Broken: Three Functions of the Rule of Faith”
  • Nathan MacDonald, University of St. Andrews: “Irenaeus’ Rule of Truth and Scripture”
  • Ephraim Radner, Wycliffe College: “Applying the Rule of Faith: Herbert Thorndike and the Scriptural Church”

2009 SBL Program Schedule (updated)


Universalisms And Theological Exegesis

9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
11/21/2009
Room TBD

Cherith Nordling, Grand Rapids, MI, Presiding (10 min)
Benjamin Sommer, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Panelist (25 min)
Joel Kaminsky, Smith College, Panelist (25 min)
Markus Bockmuehl, University of Oxford, Panelist (25 min)
J. Ross Wagner, Princeton Theological Seminary, Panelist (25 min)
Discussion (40 min)


What is “Historical Criticism?”

1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
11/21/2009
Room TBD

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Presiding (10 min)
Alan Cooper, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Panelist (25 min)
Peter Machinist, Harvard University, Panelist (25 min)
Francis Watson, Durham University, Panelist (25 min)
Michael Legaspi, Creighton University, Panelist (25 min)
Discussion (40 min)


Hagar and Sarah in the Bible: Session 1

9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
11/22/2009
Room TBD

Mike Michielin, Toronto School of Theology, Presiding (10 min)
Paul Borgman, Gordon College, Panelist (20 min)
Nathan MacDonald, University of St. Andrews-Scotland, Panelist (20 min)
James Andrews, Aberdeen University, Panelist (20 min)
Cherith Nordling, Panelist (20 min)
Discussion (45 min)

See abstracts here.


Hagar and Sarah in the Bible: Session 2

9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
11/24/2009
Room TBD

AKM Adam, Duke University, Presiding
Benjamin Laugelli, University of Virginia, Panelist (20 min)
Hubert Keener, Baylor University, Panelist (20 min)
Gregory Lee, Duke University, Panelist (20 min)
Gesila Uzukwu, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Panelist (20 min)
Discussion (45 min)

See abstracts here.

Abstracts for Hagar and Sarah in the Bible: Session 1

Christian Theology and the Bible
Society of Biblical Literature
Annual Meeting 2009
New Orleans, LA

Paul Borgman, Gordon College
“Sarah & Hagar: Rhetorical Function and the Making of Christian Theology”

The respective literary contexts of the Sarah-Hagar references in Genesis (16:1-15; 21:8-21) and Galatians (4:21-31) offer two insights: (I) Rhetoric precedes biblical theology; (II) Rhetoric can shift the biblical ground. I. Rhetoric precedes biblical theology (a) The Genesis Sarah-Hagar episodes highlight a motif within a larger narrative context, the paralleled seven visits between Abraham and God: the story’s God is challenging Abraham toward a greater morality and trust. The paralleled Sarah-Hagar accounts demonstrate just this: unlike God, in #1, Abraham lacks care regarding Hagar. But like God, in #2—and listening to God—Abraham actions parallel God’s attention to, and provision for, Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham is improving: God can finally say, in the last of the paralleled seven visits, Now I know I can trust you, 22:12); for her part, Hagar is rewarded with promised blessing come true, a line of descendants with which the story of Abraham and Sarah properly concludes (25:12-18). (b) In Galatians, Paul turns the earlier narrative perspective on its head (4:21-31): the epistolary context is a central section of rabbinic midrash (3:6-5:1) in which Paul uses Sarah and Hagar as allegorical stick figures, a free woman/son versus an enslaved woman/son: Spirit versus Flesh; freedom in Christ versus Law enslavement; peace, joy, and mutual support versus dissension, divisiveness, and competition. II. Rhetoric can shift the biblical ground Paul’s conceptualizing midrash functions within a pragmatic frame (1:1-3:5; 5:7-6:18) so that by the end of his letter the Galatians hear a resolve to the Genesis conflict between mistress (Sarah) and slave (Hagar). And his rhetorically useful polarity dissolves, ironically: it is, ultimately a pragmatic reality. We live as one in Christ. Comparing the Genesis and Galatians accounts, we discern the rhetorical transformation in Galatians of the Genesis Sarah-Hagar roles for the purpose of making Christian theology.


Nathan MacDonald, University of St. Andrews-Scotland
“Hagar as Elected and Rejected”

Hagar occupies a particularly ambivalent position within the course of the divine election in Genesis 12-50. She both despises (qll) Sarah, and yet her son participates in the promise of fruitfulness and is granted a divine blessing (brk). Hagar and her son appear to find themselves on both sides of the promise to Abraham in Gen 12.1-3. The ambiguous status of Hagar is underlined in her exclusion from the covenant and in the ways the treatment of her and her son in Gen 16 and 21 prefigure Israel’s wilderness experience and the (near-)sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22). This paper will consider the complicating of the portrayal of divine election at this very early point in the canonical text. Into the dialogue will be brought Kaminsky’s recent proposals on election as well as Barth’s reflections upon Christ as the elected and rejected one.


James Andrews, Aberdeen University
“Divine Agency and Human Freedom: God’s Gracious Response to Hagar”

The proposed paper will begin from the perspective that theological interpretation involves asking a question to the biblical text in order to hear an answer. The text is after all an instrument in the divine economy, used, as Augustine says, to move us closer to God and closer to our neighbor. Starting from such a self-consciously theological position will allow the paper to utilize the story of Sarah and Hagar to discuss divine and human freedom and God’s gracious response to his creatures. In City of God, Augustine stresses that God is at work in the natural course of procreation, but the birth of Isaac requires a regeneration of nature, thus illuminating God’s grace. For Augustine, then, as with Paul, Sarah becomes a figure of grace, while Hagar becomes a figure of nature. Taking such an interpretation as a starting point, the paper will argue that the story can say more about the relationship between divine and human freedom by exploring the figure of Hagar. Though Abraham’s offspring are named through Isaac and not Ishmael, God promises that Ishmael will also become a nation. The paper will assert that this aspect of the story, neglected in Augustine’s (and Paul’s) interpretation, suggests that God’s action in response to human freedom continues to be one of grace: even those not included in the promise are protected and provided for by God. This calls to mind Jesus’ statement that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good. The paper will then suggest that Sarai’s natural inclination to give Hagar to Abram in no way impedes God’s gracious act in giving a son to these two aged people, and God still responds graciously by providing for Hagar and Ishmael when they are expelled in another act of human freedom.


Cherith Nordling
“Sarah & Hagar: The Upside-Down, Inside-Out Character of New Creation”

In the context of the theological themes of creation/barrenness/death, and new creation/birth/resurrection, we will attend to Paul’s language that speaks of Abraham “as good as dead,” of Sarah’s womb as “dead,” and of Hagar’s “slave” children “cursed” to die, in contrast to Jesus’ resurrection identity given to those born as new creation. This new humanity/identity was promised to the offspring of Sarah AND Hagar (all nations) in the original covenant. It is paradoxically fulfilled by God’s final “offspring” and “new Adam” – conceived by the Spirit, born of woman, born under law and redeemer from that law. His Spirit-initiated and empowered life has initiated permanent human life, through death to resurrection. This death/birth into the life of the Son, and “adoption” by the Spirit as co-heirs, however, belongs only to those born of a woman. New creation involves the “redemption of our bodies” as eternally human “children of the resurrection.” Already we are called to live our future humanity in our embodied present as male and female children of the New Jerusalem (Sarah), image-bearers of Yahweh’s true Son and co-heirs who manifest his power and authority by the Spirit. How then might we specifically extend new covenant life to those Hagars – women at risk – under his merciful Lordship, and thus under our care?