Tuesday, September 04, 2007
The New Testament: a "bad tempered book"
A new quarter of Sunday School started last Lord's Day at JPBC. I am taking the study of Galatians taught by Brian Davis. Brian gave a sound overview of the book before we get into the exposition of the text starting next Sunday. In discussing the polemical tone of Galatians, Brian shared this quote from Timothy George's New American Commentary on Galatians (Broadman & Holman, 1994):
The New Testament has been called a "bad-tempered book" given the amount of space it devotes to explicit attacks and polemical arguments against various opponents who were subverters of the gospel [footnote 44: This expression is attributed to Professor Christopher Evans by J.M.G. Barclay, "Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case," JSNT 31 (1987): 73]. To sense the force of this statement one only has to think of Peter's likening of certain apostates to dogs who turned back to their own vomit (2 Pet 2:22) or of Jude's designation of false pastors as clouds without rain, trees without fruit, and "wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame" (Jude 12-13). Nor are such remarks confined to the latter books of the New Testament when the Christian church was engaged in a fight for its very life. No, they are equally present in the Gospels themselves. Witness John the Baptist's blast against the "brood of vipers" or even Jesus' pronouncements of woe against the Pharisees in Matt 23. Still perhaps no one in the New Testament was more belligerent in his denunciation of opponents than the apostle Paul. And nowhere was he more "bad tempered" than in Galatians. We will have to take up this theme again in the commentary proper, but it is well to note from the outset that from the standpoint of Pauline theology, polemics cannot be divorced from dogmatics. What was at stake was not merely the outbursts of an ill-tempered preacher but rather the truth of the gospel itself.
Indeed, in the NT we see the battle for orthodoxy, which includes, of necessity, contending for the truth of the gospel.