Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hagner on Nanos on Hagner

My friend Pat McCullough indicated in the comments of a previous post that he wished that I would get beyond the polemic in Mark Nanos' critique of Hagner's Chapter in Jewish Believers in Jesus. This is something that I want to do, but I will have to leave it aside for another time.

The reason for this is that Pat has brought it to my attention, via a very helpful post on his blog, that Nanos' critique and Hagner's response at SBL were recorded and made available online for free at (right-click and save "Part 2"). Thus, I find it quite appropriate to allow Hagner to speak for himself (as Pat has done on his own blog) before delving into this any deeper.

Before I do that, however, I feel compelled to highlight some things that Nanos did not vocalize at SBL that he did in his written critique. Two which caused me the greatest alarm were left out by Nanos completely: his attack of Hagner's usage of definitive language (e.g., "clearly") and his demeaning comparison of Hagner to his own students. My primary problem, however, with Nanos' critique in my previous post was that he did not seem to read or fully understand Hagner's third footnote, in which Hagner explicitly explains his usage of the terms "Judaism" and "Christianity."

Putting these observations to one side, let us now read a transcript of Hagner's response to Nanos' critique (helpfully provided by Pat):

I thank the chair for the privilege of having a few minutes to respond even though I'm not on the program. My good friend, Mark–my former good friend, Mark [laughter], is as usual always interesting, always stimulating, but, at least for me, not always persuasive. He accuses me of prejudging the issues and I have to say that I think Mark has at least as much of an a priori as I have. And I think he has more of an a priori than I have, if that's okay. Mark tends to dismiss my view as the "traditional view." I'd like to say that because an interpretation is "traditional" does not mean it is necessarily true, but it also does not mean it is necessarily false. I think it's interesting to ponder the fact that so many have understood Paul in the traditional way. It doesn't mean it's right; it’s just an interesting observation.

Next, I'd like to say that the challenge for both of us is to make some coherent sense not just of a few texts, but of all of the texts… together. And I think that leads us to the necessity of affirming tensions, nuances, subtleties, things that you tend to refer to as "contradictions," I'm afraid. It's also not a matter of either/or; it's a matter of both/and. It’s not whether Paul is a Jew or a Christian. He is both: a Jew and a Christian. But these subtleties, I think, sometimes seem to escape Mark. Somehow Mark has missed my affirmation that Paul is a Jew… that Paul is a Jewish believer in Jesus, that Paul has not changed his religion, that Paul upholds the righteousness of the law, but with a new dynamic, in a new way. I emphatically deny something that he has in his written statement, namely (this is a quote from him), he says that I think Paul "is engaged in a new religion that stands against his former religion" [pg 15]. No, no, no! I do not think that. Not at all. It's the absolute opposite of what I think, in fact. Paul is affirming the true Judaism in his own mind.

Mark wants to push me into a simple "discontinuity" between Paul and Judaism in contrast to his simple "continuity." But again, the issue is not that easy. We have to deal with both/and, both continuity and discontinuity in this matter. Mark's view is just a little too simplistic for me. Galatians 1:13, Paul speaks of his Ἰουδαϊσμός as something of the past and I don't think I can read it in the way Mark does, just moving from one form of Judaism to another. The Ἰουδαϊσμός is behind him, I think. And his Philippians 3:4 and following, Paul counts his Jewish pedigree, including his blamelessness as a Pharisee as worthless. What matters is Χριστὸς.

And it's ludicrous, by the way, I think, Mark, to say that he would have to include his apostleship in that list [see pg 8]. That's not giving him a fair chance to say what he means to say, what he wants to say. Because Paul doesn't use the word "Christian" does not mean that he can't be described or shouldn't be described as a Christian. I fail to see how Mark can deny my two non-negotiables. Are these two statements really questionable on a reading of the authentic Pauline letters? First, that Christians are no longer under the law. Second, that righteousness remains for Paul an indispensable priority. Can we really challenge either of those statements on the basis of the Pauline letters? I don't think so. Mark's Paul, for me, is not the Paul of the letters. I would ask him to make better sense of the texts than I have. And I think so far, he hasn't. Thank you.

Hagner highlights some important things in his response. He emphasizes his position that Paul was both a Jew and a Christian (as defined in f.n. 3!). Hagner points out very clearly that Nanos is guilty of pushing Paul into (full) continuity with first-century Judaism when the texts (Gal 1.13; Phil 3.4) point a different direction. Lastly, Hagner reaffirms that in his opinion Paul does not believe that believers in Jesus are "under the Law," which nevertheless does not eradicate the pursuit of righteousness by these same believers.

In my next post on this topic I hope to deal in more depth with three issues: 1) Hagner's language about his past and present that Nanos claims is contradictory; 2) Nanos' highly idiosyncratic reading of Phil 3.4-7; and 3) The value of using "Christian" to describe the religious experience of Paul or his ideas. While attempting to understand these three issues will not put this debate to rest, I do believe that doing so will bring the discontinuity between Hagner and Nanos into even sharper focus (as if that were necessary!).

Paul as a Jewish Believer
Nanos on Hagner

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