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What Matters Most

Apr 5, 2023

My guest on this episode of  What Matters Most is the Canadian biblical scholar Dr. Matthew Thiessen, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at McMaster University and formerly an Assistant Professor  at St. Louis University. It was a fascinating conversation for me as Matt works in the same field, biblical studies and studies of Paul in particular, as do I. I was trained by a different generaton of Pauline scholars, though, including E. P. Sanders, who is mentioned in the episode and became associated with the New Perspective on Paul, and Stephen Westerholm, whose work reflects a more traditional view of Paul. Matt's work develops earlier research on Paul and focuses on Paul as a faithful Jew, who is not opposed to Jews following the Torah, but to his Gentile converts doing so, including men being circumcised. In some ways Dr. Thiessen might be included in the "Paul within Judaism" school, but he eschews labels for himself as you will hear and as he discusses in his forthcoming book  A Jewish Paul: The Messiah's Herald to the Gentiles. I think he's also not sure if such labels reagrding the study of Paul are helpful in general.

We spent much of our time talking about his fourth book, A Jewish Paul: The Messiah's Herald to the Gentiles (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2023), forthcoming in August, and I encourage you to buy it and enter into your own conversation with the book. In the podcast, we will discuss why he does not want to translate certain terms, such as pneuma, apostolos, and ekklêsia, and why  Christian and Christ might not be the best terms to use with respect to members of Paul's assemblies or as a translation of Christos.

Matt also came to the Centre for Christian Engagement at St. Mark's in September 2022. You can hear and see Matt’s lecture and a panel discussion with Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan on the St. Mark’s YouTube channel. Check it out because there Matt offers a lecture based on his book Jesus and the Forces of Death and with Rabbi Laura speaks about combatting antisemitism in Christian biblical interpretation.

Also, check out some of his previous books, including the aforementioned Jesus and the Forces of Death: The Gospels’ Portrayal of Ritual Impurity within First-Century Judaism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020), Paul and the Gentile Problem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), and Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision, and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). All of these books have been instrumental in championing a change in how we read early Christianity with respect to Judaism. Contesting Conversion also won  the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise in 2014.

In terms of our conversation, I wondered aloud whether 3 Corinthians appears in the Ethiopic Bible. It does not. Indeed, as Matt says 3 Corinthians had some status in the Syriac and  Armenian churches, but does not appear as a canonical text in any Christian New Testament. 

Matt also mentioned the work of Ben Blackwell (Christosis: Engaging Paul's Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters) and of Kathyryn Tanner (Christ the Key). Please follow the links to check out these books. 

I also referenced an article on a recent study regarding ongoing anti-Judaism among Catholics. Please follow the links to read Catholic Biblical Literalists More Likely to be Anti-Jewish. With respect to the Vatican II document that Matt mentioned, Nostra Aetate, if you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. It remains important for Catholics and for all Christians. Other Vatican documents that speak out against anti-Judaism include The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible and The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable.  These are also worth reading. 

Please enjoy this episode, rate, review, and let your friends know about the podcast!

John W. Martens