Monday, January 18, 2010

Guy Prentiss Waters' starting point on St. Paul is already wrong

Ligon Duncan, President of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, said that Waters' Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul is, perhaps, the best single book-length introduction and critique of the New Perspective on Paul.

I doubt Duncan's remark. In the section 'Old Testament versus Second Temple Literature' (p.156-157), Waters wrote that N. T. Wright does not differentiate the Old Testament from the apocrypha and other noncanonical literature while constructing Paul's worldview. Therefore Wright "does not do justice to those distinctions that Paul himself employed to speak of this literature. Paul accorded authority (and that of Scripture) only to the books of the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3.16). There is no indication that he regarded noncanonical books as having any comparable or intrinsic authority." (p.157)

A couple of problems here. First and most fundamental problem is that 2 Tim. 3.16 does not tell us which the range of literature that Paul considered authoritative. To identify the Protestant list of Old Testament books as Paul's canon list is anachronistic. A damnable heresy in historical studies.

Second, how does one determine which literatures did Paul seen as authoritative? Waters did not explain this. Does the fact that Paul cited or alluded from certain sources would simply means that Paul considered them authoritative? If that is the case, then Paul must have thought Menander's play Thais ("Bad company corrupts good morals" in 1 Cor 15.33) and Cleanthes of Assos ("For we are indeed his offspring" in Acts 17.28) authoritative and as his scripture.

Both Menander and Cleanthes of Assos dated back 4th and 3rd century BC respectively. Besides these two works, Craig Evans has helpfully provided a list of quoted, alluded, and parallel sources found in the New Testament which many of these are not from the Old Testament. (Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies [US: Hendrickson, 2005], p.342-409).

Of course the fact that Paul quoted from these sources does not by itself means that Paul considered them authoritative. But this certainly blurs the scope of Paul's canon list. Unless Waters provides us the criteria on how to separate which sources Paul considered authoritative, he does not do justice on Wright, not to mention on Paul himself. Here we have two reasons to question Waters' starting point which is not only problematic but wrong.

Previously we have Fesko with his claims that his work engages Wright's view, which we currently know it is not. Now we have Waters whose work is considered by the President of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals as one of the best critique on the New Perspective of Paul, which we presently know has a problematic and wrong starting point. And both books are published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing. If these two books are considered the best works by them and their cohort that engage Pauline studies, then I doubt I would want to get another one on this subject from them.

I have developed the impression that the main disagreement that the so-called Reformed and Evangelical groups have with contemporary Pauline studies is not so much on interpreting Paul's letters but at a more fundamental level which governs the interpretation: the approaches (which and what criteria?) to find out the past.


reasonable said...

So those few Presbyterian/Reformed scholars were a disappointment. Time to try a Methodist on N T Wright & Paul instead, haha... (Ben Witherington)

Have u read the Climax of the Covenant by Wright?

eppursimuov3 said...

Hello Sze Zeng!

I stumbled upon your blog by accident - and then realized how much we had in common. :) I'm also from Penang, though I prefer to call it the land of 'Char Koay Teow', as I'm not much of a fan of assam laksa! I realized we have the same friends in Sivin Kit, Hedonese etc, so I thought it'd be interesting to read your blog.

I've read 'What Saint Paul Really Said' and 'Paul: In Fresh Perspective' by N T Wright, and I have to say they totally changed my view of Paul and his theology. You might wanna check out Wright's latest book for your studies - 'Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision'. I haven't read it myself though.

Anyway, you seem to be interested in the relationship between science and theology as well (based on the links you have on this blog, and some of the posts), which is something close to my heart. Unlike you, I'm a student of the sciences rather than theology, so I'm looking forward to future conversations and learning from your blog!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

Witherington's work only "amen amen" with Wright, so no point reading. I haven't read Climax yet.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Eppur si muove,

Thank you for dropping by. Is there a name I can address you?

I love both Char Koay Teow and Laksa!

I see that you are currently pursuing a PhD in Australia. It's rare for Penangites to do that. That's interesting. Yes, I have keen interest in the Religion & Sciences issue. In fact, I'm involved in a small group which consist of Christian scientist and engineers over here to explore this issue.

Nice meeting you.

Israel Lee said...

yes, that is what Wright is pointing out to his critics. instead of following the principles of the reformers in going back to the scripture, they are treating the reformers' 'tradition' or 'approach' as canonical and beyond reproach or scrutiny.

eppursimuov3 said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

you can call me Kevin. :)

Yea, not many people would pursue my area of study, mainly due to job opportunities in the industry and things like that. But I enjoy being in academia...

sounds like an interesting group you have there for your discussion.

Ron Choong was giving some talks back in Malaysia last week, and I'm trying to get some friends back home to send a copy of the recordings here for me. heheh...

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Kevin,

Same here. Not much opportunity in academic theology in Penang.