Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pistis Christou at SBL

The SBL/AAR meeting was in San Diego this year, which should have been great news seeing that I live in L.A. Unfortunately, I was not able to go to all of it. I had a lesson to prepare for church, a two-hour lecture on a subject that I did not know much about to prepare for class at Fuller, and my family is coming into town from Texas for Thanksgiving. So that meant that I could only go down on Friday, which is technically the day before SBL/AAR starts. However, there was a session that I was particularly interested in which could be informative for my hoped-for dissertation topic. That session was on pistis christou, a Pauline phrase which means "faith in/of Christ." It appears in several important places in Romans and Galatians but it also appears in Philippians 3.9, a verse that will play a prominent role in my future research.

The session started after lunch on Friday and I was looking forward to it because there were three of the key players in the pistis christou debate presenting -- Douglas Campbell, Barry Matlock, and Francis Watson. Some other very interesting papers were presented too, including one by Stanley Porter and another by Benjamin Meyers (a fellow blogger).

I won't be specific because that would be unfair and gossipy, but the attitudes of two of the presenters were particularly disheartening. One was so cocksure in his theory that he was constantly belittling the other presenters and the other was so put out by the first that he sulked like a little kid.

There are two reasons why the attitudes of these presenters rubbed me the wrong way:

1) They are both adults and they are both experienced professionals. To put it the way my mom might have: They should have known better. SBL isn't fifth grade debate and it certainly isn't the correct arena to be arrogant. Instead it should be a place where mutual learning is undertaken and mutual respect is given.

2) This particular debate should elicit in it participants humility. Why? Because both of the primary positions (the objective genitive - "faith in Christ" and the subjective genitive - "faith of Christ") are viable grammatically, lexically, syntactically, and even theologically (you can be firmly a New Perspective person and hold to either position and you can be a traditional interpreter of Paul and hold to either also). Therefore, a certain level of uncertainty should be admitted by all the participants in this debate, but that was certainly not the case on Friday.

I learned many important things that will be usefully to me in the coming months and years during the session on Friday. Some of these things had to do with pistis christou, but many more of them have to do with how not to act in public!


Anonymous said...

I'm certainly no expert on the pistis christou issue and I know that I'm not even worthy to untie the laces of the sneakers of those scholars whom you mentioned... but here is my little contribution to the whole thing.

BTW, I commend you for picking such an ambitious dissertation topic.

Unknown said...

I was there and didn't see anyone "belittling" or "sulking." There was a fair bit of banter and some questioning. But I don't recall a single personal or nasty remark. (Have you BEEN to an SBL session where the participants really get nasty and personal?: this was not it!) Lighten up.

J. Matthew Barnes said...

That's fine if you didn't see it. I did and I found it rather disgusting. I guess arrogance and moping are in the eye of the beholder!

It could also be that I went into the session with preconceived notions and ideas about the presenters...that could certainly have influenced the way that I saw and heard their actions and words.