The Table Podcast

The World of the New Testament

In this episode, Drs. Darrell Bock and Michael Bird discuss the New Perspective on Paul focusing specifically on its features for understanding salvation history.

Timecodes
0:30
Dr.Bock introduces Dr.Bird
3:18
Bird discusses his involvement in the “New Perspective on Paul”
6:48
What are the features of the New Perspective?
12:09
What are some positive aspects of the New Perspective?
16:27
Did first century Jews believe in God’s grace?
19:53
How does the ministry of Jesus fit into this discussion?
24:02
What are some problems with the New Perspective?
32:40
What are some more positive features of the New Perspective?
37:37
How should justification change the way we relate to each other?
Transcript
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to the table. Where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for culture engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And my guess is a good friend who I run into occasionally usually on the other side of the world – ’cause he’s from Australia – Michael Bird – who is academic Dean at Ridley College. Michael, welcome to Dallas.
Dr. Michael Bird
Well hello, Darrell, and thank you for having me.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well it’s kind of strange. Usually when I’m around you, I’m the odd accent out.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And now it’s all reversed.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. That’s exactly right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And I heard you – you’ve done the proper Texas tour. You went to Waco.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes. I was a little bit concerned way my wife wanted to go to Waco. I just assumed that she was a big fan of the Bailer Bears or something. Turns out, there’s these silos with magnolia where we then walked around and spent copious amounts of money on things I would not be naturally inclined to purchase if left to my own devices.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Well I understand. And what can I say? I’m sure everybody understands exactly all that you’re alluding to. But we’re glad you could make it to Dallas. Michael’s moving his way through the United States having co-authored a book – what, the New Testament in its world? Is that the right title?
Dr. Michael Bird
That’s correct.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And with Tom Wright. And we have our annual professional meetings that come up annually. And so, he’s here for that. And so, we’re just glad to have you here in the states.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. It’s great to be here at DTS. You know, I’ve met graduates from all over the world. Some of my colleagues are DTS graduates. So it’s great to be here.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So let me begin at the normal start. How did a nice, Australian guy like you get into a gig like New Testament? I mean, how does that happen?
Dr. Michael Bird
well the short answer is, I failed systematics. That’s what happened. No. actually it’s a bit more complicated than that. No. I grew up in a non-Christian home. I was not a part of a church-growing family. Everything I knew about Christianity growing up, I learned from Ned Flanders. That’s pretty much my entrée into Christianity. When I was 17, I joined the army of all things, and I got invited to go to church for the first time ever. And I was expecting just a bunch of moralizing geriatrics. That’s not what I got. There was some very nice people. Some wonderfully friendly people who loved Jesus, who loved me.

And I heard the good news of the Gospel. And as I grew in my faith, I wanted to know more about the Bible, more about God. So I began studying, and I loved it. And I thought, “Well I’ve got to go to seminary.” And I was thinking initially about becoming a army chaplain. But it became clear that my gifts were far more on the academic side. And then, I, you know, did some studies at Malyon College and then University of Queensland; specialized in New Testament because I was, you know, being rather keen on Jesus. And that’s one of the best places to do it, and that’s kind of how I ended up in that discipline.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Oh, wow. So okay. So I was going to ask you where your training was. So you walked us through that. So that’s nice. So you’ve ended up writing literally all over the New Testament.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
But one of the things that you’re most known for, I think, is – and probably where your initial contribution was – was in interacting with what has been called the new perspective. Which we normally on the table are not dealing with topics that are so directly theological and New Testament-oriented. But in this case, we’re doing so, because obviously – I would say – that the discussion on the new perspective is probably one of the most [laughs] – how to say this neutrally – discussed areas of Pauline theology today.
Dr. Michael Bird
Contentious.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Contentious. Contentious. Yes, as well. And there’s a back-and-forth that goes on that’s much like the Australian open.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, let’s talk about kind of why you decided to enter into that conversation, and what do you see involved in that conversation?
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. Well it was a little bit odd for me to do it. Because like you, Darrell, I’m manly a Gospel scholar. You know? Paul rocks, but Jesus ranks.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Dr. Michael Bird
That’s always been my motto. So I love spending my time in the Gospels – particularly the synoptic Gospels, that type of thing. But because I also have a reformed pedigree, I feel like I get dragged into all these Pauline debates. And I find Pauline studies is a bit like the mafia. Every time you think you’re out, they just drag you back in.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Paul kind of looks over Jesus’s shoulder, doesn’t he? In the kind of canonical perspective.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes. Exactly. Exactly. So those are all the debate going on, particularly I think in the ’90s and the early ’90s. And it was about this new perspective on Paul, what it was and whether it was spawned from the armpit of Satan himself or something along that line. Now the problem with the new perspective is, I think there was some great insights to be made – particularly on the Jewish character of Paul, the sociological dimension to Paul’s doctrine of justification, how you can bring in the church and ecclesiology. But there probably was some overstatements made as well; particularly the idea that works of the law simply refers to the boundary markers of Judaism. Maybe emphasizing the sociological or, you might call it, the horizontal dimensional a little bit too much and kind of discounting or minimizing the vertical, the relational aspect with God. And I think Howard Marshall put it well. He said, “The new perspective is generally correct in what it affirms but often wrong in what it denies.”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Michael Bird
And you also have to add that scholars like EP Sanders, James Dunn and NT Wright – they did somewhat evolve over the course of their career. And they did nuance things. And you see that particularly, I think, in Dunn and certainly in Wright as well; that they do kind of mature in their thinking, and they end up moving away from some of the slightly unguarded statements. One thing I know with Tom. Tom paints on it with a – on a big canvas with a thick brush. And he often doesn’t add in some of the details that are very crucial and also like a shibboleth to certain political tribes and theological tribes. And because he doesn’t do that, he cops a lot of flack. But when he actually breaks it down in detail, I tend to think it’s a lot more commendable and formidable and defensible as a position.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So let me go through some of the features of this and just get your reaction. And here, I’m thinking less of the new perspective, per se, as trying to explain why the new perspective discussion emerged. And historically what happened, of course, is – and this goes way back – is that Judaism is characterized as a religion of legalism and a religion of works. And one of the things the new perspective did was to raise questions about whether it’s quite that simple. And the way I’d like to get at that question is to actually step back historically and look at the Maccabean War and what it represented. So the Maccabean War – for those of you who don’t know – was a battle that really led to the survival of Judaism. Because Jews were successful in beating off, if I can say it that way, the influx of Hellenism in Israel when Antiochus’s Epiphanies really tried to wipe out the religion.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And you ask yourself, “If I’m a faithful Jew trying to be Jewish in a largely Hellenistic world and someone comes in and tries to wipe out everything that is distinctive about my faith, what’s my reaction going to be to show my faithfulness?” And that’s the question that I like students to ponder.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And that reaction is going to be that I’m going to rally around the distinctives of my faith.
Dr. Michael Bird
Exactly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And in the context of Judaism in the middle of the second century BC, we are – it’s 167 to 164, to be more specific, although the after-effects went a couple of decades longer. Torah is going to be a rallying point.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, if I were to ask you…pretend you were a Jew in the Maccabean period and you had this influx of Hellenism and you were reacting against it…you don’t want anyone who reads the first chapter of I Maccabees sees it immediately in terms of what’s going on. What are you going to do to show your Jewish-ness?
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. You’re going to double down on those areas that they’re trying to eradicate. So if the governing officials say you can’t circumcise your children, you’re going to make sure they’re circumcised. You know, if they’re going to ban Torah you’re going to be people off Torah. So yeah. And Judaism. I think, really does crystallize it. It kind of finds its second temple identity at that point where it’s defined almost essentially in opposition to Hellenism.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Michael Bird
And that’s certainly what Paul has inherited. At least when he’s, you know, the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Dr. Michael Bird
I mean, he’s trying to protect Israel’s purity, Israel’s capacity to worship God by attacking, by trying to not just excommunicate but almost exterminate – or liquidate in some sense – anyone who is contaminating Israel and its distinctive God-centered way of life.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So this has two impacts by the time we get to the New Testament. On the one hand, it explains this tight adherence to the law. Because what you’re actually showing – I think if you asked someone who was Jewish at the time what they were doing, their response wouldn’t be, “Well I’m a legalist, and I love the law.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Their response would be, “I’m being faithful to covenant. I’m being faithful to the Mosaic covenant which marks us out as a people. And this is a way I show my allegiance to God.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. Exactly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the second effect is that the idea that there could be a peoples formed of Gentiles and Jews operating in the same space would be another challenge to that past.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. Exactly. Or if you had Gentiles, they could only be there as guests.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Michael Bird
Not as equals.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Michael Bird
So you could have God-fearers who you might say could be of a Jewish community, but not fully in it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So they can only come in if they decide and are willing to become very much like us.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep. Yeah. Proselytes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right. And so, that forms the background of the New Testament. And what’s interesting is, when I go through this historical timeline if you will and develop this for students, it isn’t like they don’t get it. You know, they understand. Because they’ve watched our own Christian culture in the face of the world make the effort to mark itself out as distinctive by maintaining those things that are more distinctive. Maybe the Benedictine option is one example of that kind of a sociological move. And they understand, “Yeah. We’re trying to show that we really are what we claim we are. We really believe what we say we believe. And that expresses itself in concrete actions around the things that we value.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, that’s what we see in the early 1st century. So the new perspective walked into that space and really…I guess I should ask it as a question. Didn’t the new perspective at least attempt to try to get people to understand Judaism kind of from within? If I can say it that way.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes. I think for too long Judaism was portrayed as the prototype of Medieval Catholicism. So Luther’s argument with the Medieval papacy was then projected somewhat allegorically back into Judaism. And eventually, scholars of Judaism – including Jewish scholars themselves and others – began to protest, “This is not what Judaism is.” And when you read the Dead Seas scrolls, when you read some rabbinic literature, when you read some other writings, you find there’s a far more complex view of God’s grace and benevolence rather than just, work for reward ideal of salvation. So it’s too simplistic or, in some cases, just flat-out wrong to say Judaism was essentially legalistic and Christianity was the antidote to that with its Gospel of grace.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So if I can – I’ll take a chance at translating this a little bit. So the hard law Gospel contrast of the reformation is overlaid onto the 1st-century discussion to some degree, and in the process we lose insight into what was really going on within Judaism at the time and what the real battles were in the New Testament.
Dr. Michael Bird
I think that’s right. I mean, a lot of people read the New Testament or they read Galatians and Romans as if the question is, “What must I do to be saved?” Whereas I think a better question to have at the back of your mind when you read Galatians or Romans is, “Who are God’s people, and how do you tell?” Now read it with those lens. Because if you read it with the first question, “What must I do to be saved,” that makes sense for Romans 1 to 8, but then 9 to 16 seems kind of like an unnecessary digression. I mean, we’ve already gone through justification, reconciliation, ethics, a little bit of eschatology. You know, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God. What more do we need?”
And okay. You may be a little – thought about the future of Israel and the end times and chapter 12, Versus 1 to 2 a bit of ethics. But after 12
2, I mean, it should be the fat lady singing the final aria. I mean, there’s nothing to see here, folks. Whereas I would argue – and, like, you get to Romans 15 where Paul says, “Welcome one another as the Messiah welcomed you,” is exactly the climax of the letter where he wants Jews and Gentiles – both Christian Jews and Gentiles to worship together, to relate to each other and to accept one another as a symbol of them being the new people of God created in the Messiah and with the Spirit.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes. And so, as we think about the 1st-century situation, one of the things the new perspective said – which I do think is a reflection of the theological reality of the time – is, Israel entered into relationship with God on the basis of grace.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That covenant that was made with Abraham in Genesis 12 is not something Abraham said, “Hey. I want to sign up for this.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
God initiated that action. He chose the people of Israel to make them an exemplary people. He chose Abraham to make – and nothing was done to earn that.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And then, there was this relationship that was opened up on the other end. Now to say that is not to say – and this is the other half of the conversation – is not to say that in making that move you did not risk…you avoided the temptation to move into legalism.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And that’s the other half of the equation. So I can talk about Judaism as being a religion of grace at its start, at its base without necessarily answering the legalism question; which is a subsequent kind of question in terms of sequence. How do you see that?
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. I think you could argue that there was this concept of grace in Judaism where God certainly initiates and sustains the covenant relationship. But there was concerted debate about what was the basis or the nature of that grace. And for me what this really struck home to me when I was reading a bit of Philo, who was a Jewish philosopher in Alexandria – roughly co-terminus with Paul and Jesus. And he was referring to a debate within Jewish circles about Deuteronomy 9 – which is precisely where God makes a covenant. Not because you are more righteous or any better.

And the debate amongst the Alexandrian Jews is whether God’s blessings – whether they are given freely or whether they’re somehow deserved. Which goes to show there was a debate amongst Jews themselves about the nature of the grace. Is it given unconditionally? Is it given with some degree of worthiness? And that then transfers into debates about Abraham. For example. There are some Second Temple Jewish writings. Off the top of my head, I think Jubilees might be one of them, which talk about Abraham’s pagan life when he was already a God-fearer, already opposing paganism when he was living in modern-day Iran which somehow makes him worthy to receive the call of God.

So you can find different tiers of Judaism or different wings emphasizing different aspects. It’s certainly the case that the Judaism of Jesus and Paul was not some sort of, you know, proto-medieval Catholicism. They had this idea of grace, God’s beneficence and God’s blessings. But I would say that I think Judaism can become – it can put more emphasis on the doing or on the Torah aspect, the nomistic observance under certain circumstances. Everyone agrees that God has given us the Lord. That’s one thing we do as a response to His grace. But then you get down to sectarian debates about, “Well which view of the law do you have to obey? Do you follow the Pharisees, do you follow the Essenes, the Qumranites?” So whose view of the law counts? Whose calendar counts?” ‘Cause you get the calendar wrong, you’re literally observing every day on the wrong day.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes.
Dr. Michael Bird
Every festival. So it’s sectarian debates. Then if you add eschatology, “Okay. If there’s going to be an age to come, who is going to enter that age to come? Is it going to be all of Israel, or will it only be the righteous?” Because, you know, during the Maccabean period some Judaeans threw their lot in with the Hellenizer’s.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Dr. Michael Bird
Are they going to be in the age to come?
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Dr. Michael Bird
I’m guessing not. So if you add a bit of eschatology, there can be an emphasis on the doing of the law. And then finally when you’re talking about rights of entry for outsiders – and I think this is certainly applicable to Paul, “What must people do to enter into this covenant if they are Gentiles?” So those three areas – Sectarian debates, eschatology and rights of entry for outsiders – when you get into those context, even with the emphasis on grace, you can still see a drifting towards some mystic emphasis on doing of the law. Even though that’s not ultimately completely against the idea of grace, it’s then how the grace works out and relates to each individual person.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So as if that wasn’t complicated enough, add another layer; which is that we’re in a transition in the program of God from a Christian point-of-view – which is that whereas we were relating before Christ came to God primarily by means and through the law, because that was the way the people of God were kind of being managed…if I can say it that way. It’s a stewardship. Now we come along with Jesus who in the midst of doing what he is doing is saying, “Now if you respond to me, God is going to give you the Spirit of God.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, everything that was previously external is now going to be internalized. This is an evocation. Obviously a promise is tied to the new covenant, which is eschatological from the Jewish point-of-view, et cetera. So that layer goes on top of that. So when you’re no longer relating just to the law but now you’re relating to God through an internal experience with the Spirit of God, all of a sudden [laughs] the card game that you’re playing has changed.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. That’s exactly right. There is a shift, there is a transition that takes place. You see this initially with Jesus. He says, “Look. You know, what marks you out in being part of God’s covenant people? It’s no longer adherence to the Torah. It’s your allegiance to me.” Which is an amazing claim to make. It’s an astounding claim. But Jesus says that. It’s how you respond to me. I mean, the best story of that is where Jesus encounters the rich, young ruler where he says, “You know, what must I do to get eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Well you know the commandments.” And the rich one says, “Oh, that’s fantastic.” And then Jesus pulls a Columbo on him. Do you remember Columbo, Darrell?
Dr. Darrell Bock
I do remember Columbo.
Dr. Michael Bird
The detective?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Michael Bird
And he goes, “Oh. Just one thing. Just one thing. And sell all you have, give to the poor and come follow me.” So keeping the Torah of God is not enough. You need to have – you need to follow Jesus as well. And that completely changes the card game, ’cause there is a new center in God’s covenant plan and God’s saving design.
Dr. Darrell Bock
This is an irony and it’s an aside, but I can’t avoid noting it as…since you mentioned the rich, young ruler. I really love that passage. I love to talk about that exchange and say to my students, “Now if I asked you on exam, ‘What does it take to be saved,’ and you gave the initial answer that Jesus gave would you flunk that? Would I flunk you on that exam?”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Because what actually happens is – as a result of the totality of the answer – is, it isn’t that the goal has changed, which is to love God and love your neighbor. That’s still the goal of where Scripture’s designed to take us ultimately. But the way we get there has shifted in terms of, “Well it isn’t just the commandment by itself. Now by being allied to Jesus and by receiving what He’s able to give us, we are now made capable of doing what is being asked of us.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And in the midst of that, then able to live out a distinctive Christian life. Now that was an aside. That didn’t have…
Dr. Michael Bird
No. That’s perfectly right. I think that’s perfectly right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
The whole thing’s flipped.
Dr. Michael Bird
That the Torah is not set aside and, you know, like put in the dumpster. The Torah is fulfilled when we follow the example of Christ, the teaching of Christ and have a life led by the Spirit. If you do that, you fulfill the law. So it’s not the law’s nullification. It’s the law’s fulfillment that we should be interested in.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the landing place then becomes the love of God and the love of others in such a way that it is distinctive that shows the character of God by the way we live and the way we engage.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s a whole ethical – that’s a whole other podcast.
Dr. Michael Bird
Oh yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
But that’s actually an important point. Because sometimes, what we do in conservative circles is we sever the salvation experience from the point of why it is that God saves us. In other words, God doesn’t just save us simply to get us to heaven and give us, you know, this protective soteriological bubble that we live in until we get to heaven. No. He’s actually in the process of making us into a certain kind of person who responds to God in a certain kind of way. Okay.

So let’s pick up the – one of the things that has struck me about the new perspective discussion…this is my take when I get critical of some of what is said – is this; I think they’re very right to get us to the point of thinking through, “What was Judaism like in the 1st century?” And that it’s not exclusively a discussion about legalism. It becomes a discussion about legalism, but it’s not exclusively a discussion about legalism. That’s the first point. But the second point is that in the midst of emphasizing the corporate – which certainly in the West, we tend to under-develop. Everything’s about me and my God, and we don’t think corporately near enough. And the New Testament’s thinking corporately all over the place.

Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There’s no doubt about that. In the midst of doing that, somehow the significance of the Spirit of God in the midst of this conversation informing this broad people of God – I’ll say it this way – gets understated. My own take on particularly the debate that has existed – the contentious debate that’s existed – between Tom Wright on the one hand and John Piper on the other has been that the role of the Spirit of God as kind of the [laughs] bridge in that conversation has been minimized.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. Well I can’t really speak up for either of them.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Dr. Michael Bird
They’re both scholars who can defend themselves. But, I mean, there’s a number of different things if you added, I think, both sides could do a bit better. So on the new perspective side, I think that you can say, “Yes. There was grace in Judaism.” But there was enough diversities in it to say that some aspects could be nomistic. And then on, say, the most conservative, reformed side I think that they do need to recognize as well that you got the Spirit creating this new people who’s going to be there – given by Christ, the dispenser of the Spirit. And that does change the game. And then the categories that are operating may not necessarily be the ones that led to developed Protestant dogmatics. But certainly, I think – yeah – both sides could imbibe a bit more notion of the spirit there and its prominence.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So this top layer that we’re talking about that changes the game – so we’re not just talking about a relationship of God and law, which is where the debate tends to be focused understandably since Judaism’s the given – it moves into a new stewardship. Now I’m going to use the term, in a completely neutral and less theological system way…but what everyone – reformed or otherwise – called a dispensation in the proper sense of the term of stewardship – there’s a shift of stewardship. Because a new element has been injected into the conversation made possible by Christ that did not exist up to that point. Because this is the eschatological layer.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep. That’s exactly right. And I know Tom Wright’s definitely very big on that for him and certainly in Paul’s theology. It’s the coming of Christ and the beginning – that’s not what I…giving of the spirit is very much what is re-shaping the idea of Judaism as it’s coming forth that, you know, when we worship God we’re going to think about Jesus in the center of that. And that’s why you get, you know, like the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 and all that. But also very prominent is the Spirit, and particularly in places like Romans 8. And it’s the spirit being poured out that is this moment of eschatological fulfillment. And it’s also the proof that even these Gentiles belong to God.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And if we were to connect that to Pentecost Acts 2, what we see are the disciples waiting for an enablement and a capability which they previously did not possess. And that’s an important idea, because sometimes in some theological systems that are emphasized in continuity the idea that Pentecost is this injection of a new – how do I say this – reality for the people of God is…I’ll say it gently, is understated.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes. Well no. I think you’re right. There has to be something new in the new covenant.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Michael Bird
Although there is some people – I think particularly in the new perspective – prefer to talk of a renewed covenant.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. I understand where they’re coming from. That’s partly correct. But there is something new, stuff that wasn’t there before. And this is what, you know, the Prophets are pointing to as well; whether that’s Jeremiah or Ezekiel and they talk about God giving you a heart of flesh so you can finally fully and truly obey.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In contrast to a heart of stone.
Dr. Michael Bird
Exactly. So there is something genuinely new in the new covenant. And that can never be underplayed.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And the reason that conversation’s important in my mind – again, going back to the Synoptics and particularly to Luke is…I have a line where I go, “Luke 3:16. This is important for soteriology as John 3:16.”
Dr. Michael Bird
I quote that everywhere, Darrell. I quote that line a lot. [Laughs] In my own systematic theology of Evangelical theology, I quote that line. When I teach my course on Luke, I quote that line.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Because what you are getting is John the Baptiste telling you, “The way – I am not the Christ.” The crowd is speculating that he is Christ. Only Luke tells us this. And so, you know, the reply is in all the Synoptics. But the context of the reply is only in Luke. And that is, the crowd was speculating, “Maybe John is the messiah.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now in John, “Nope. Not me. I’m only baptizing with water. The one coming after me, far stronger than I am, far greater than I am. I’m not even worthy to untie the strap of the sandal.” You know, like a slave would. “I’m not worthy to do that in relationship to him. He’s the one who will be the Messiah. And the way you’ll know it is, he’s going to baptize you with the spirit and fire.” And so, the baptism of the Spirit is the sign – not just of the new age, but who the Messiah is. Which is exactly what Pentecost is preaching. You can know that God has raised Jesus, because now the eschatological promise of the Spirit of God has been poured out on the people of God. It’s the sign that the new Era has come.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
All that’s telling you how important all that is.
Dr. Michael Bird
Exactly. And the big thing there, too, is that the giver of the spirit is Jesus. And the one who receives the spirit – it’s not the Herodians. It’s not the Sadducees. It’s not the priests. It’s the followers of Jesus. They’re the ones who receive the Spirit and this blessing of the new age the Prophets promised.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And another thing I do like to say as we talk about this is, there’s a dispute ongoing in Jerusalem when Pentecost happens. And the dispute is, “Is Jesus who he claims to be?” And there are only two options on the table. He’s either a blasphemer, or he’s the one who’s been exalted to the side of God. Those are your – you walk into the voting booth, those are your two boxes.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. There’s no third-party option.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There’s not third-party – there’s no, “Oh, he’s a great religious teacher, and he’s the bridge between the two of us.” Well not seen in this light. And the resurrection is God’s vote in that dispute. God walks into that voting booth, and he checks the box that says, “I’m going to exalt this one and bring him to my side, showing you who he is. And then I’m going to distribute the Spirit so you can know that’s who he is.” And that’s the speech in Act 2.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. Exactly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, the line in Acts 2:36 therefore let all Israel know that God has made this Jesus you crucified both Lord and Christ, didn’t do it in the order in which the Greek lays out – which says, “Both Lord and Christ, he has made this Jesus whom you crucified.” But that’s the point. You can know it, because the sign of the eschatological arrival or promise of God has been distributed through this Messiah whom God has exalted and Easter becomes the…not just the proof that there’s life after death – which is the way we often preach it – but the vindication of the Son of God.
Dr. Michael Bird
Exactly. Exactly. That’s exactly the point. Jesus had been exalted to the Father’s right hand. There’s a human being now at the helm of the universe. Jesus takes his ascended humanity with him, and it’s him who gives the Spirit. Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, all of this is designed to show that even though in the context of Judaism there was a grace starting point and a grace hope – the hope of the spirit – that the way in which all that gets [laughs] triggered – if I can say it that way – is through the mediating work of the Messiah, who is Jesus.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep. I think that’s exactly right. I mean, the only thing I think we need to add to this conversation is…you know, often I’m confronted with some rather zealous young seminary students who have been taught that the new perspective is completely awful. And I’m usually able to disarm them by asking three simple questions. And the first question I ask them – I say, “You know, Paul says in Romans that we believe a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law or – ‘What comes next? What’s the opposite of justification by faith apart from works of the law?'” And they kind of think, “We’re justified by works, or we’re saved by our righteous deeds.” Paul’s answer is – so the answer students give me is usually personal, individual soteriology how I get saved. Paul’s answer is, “Do we believe a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law, or is God the God of the Jews only?

So the answer there is – at least partly – dealing with the issue that God’s grace is limited to one particular people. So the issue is not just legalism. The issue is this national status of Israel and that God’s graces listen to them, is restricted to them. The second test I love taking students through is, you know…you know, ask them do they believe – “Was Christ cursed on the cross for us?” And I say, “Why was Christ cursed on the cross? What was the purpose of Christ being cursed on the cross?” And they say, “So we could be saved, so we could go to heaven.” I say, “That’s all great and true. But what does Paul say? Paul says the purpose of Christ being cursed on the Christ so that we would be redeemed, and the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles.”

Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Michael Bird
Whereas people want to focus on, again, that person, individual element. Paul’s answer is redemptive historical. And it’s about bringing Gentiles into this Jewish family of faith. So for me, that’s another dimension I think we do need to bring in and affirm in the new perspective that it is having – bringing the discussion of ethnicity, the corporate element, the redemptive, historical element that is usually missing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So it’s multi-ethnic in its scope. And you’ve alluded to what I think is one of the more important verses in Paul which – I think this is what you were alluding to – was Galatians 3:14.
Dr. Michael Bird
Exactly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And in the midst of that conversation, the idea that the Gospel was always designed – even from the point of Genesis 12 – that Abraham and his seed would be blessed for the sake of the redemption of the world. I mean, when we actually ask, “Why is Genesis 12 where it is,” it’s come after 11 chapters of devolution as a result of sin that shows that mankind has a immense need that only God can fix.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And Abraham is the solution, and the blessing of the world through the seed of Abraham is the solution that Genesis 12 deposits and posits as the solution coming down the road.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep. And that’s what’s being fulfilled in Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. I mean, for Paul this is the doctrine whereby – or the teaching – that God creates a new people with a new status and a new covenant as a foretaste of the new age; that that’s what justification is when viewed as a comprehensive category. And it is Paul’s license or Paul’s rationale as to why we should have Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and barbarians, working together. This is the reason nobody gets asked to sit at the back of the church bus. Because we’re all one in Christ, Jesus, ’cause we’re all in Christ. We all share the Spirit. And this transcends ethic categories. This transcends the various cultural, religious and ethnic divides that have usually been what’s defined who’s in and who’s out.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Now I’m going to transition to one kind of final conversation before our time goes away. But I want to summarize where we’ve been. We’ve talked about the cultural context of the 1st century and the nature of Judaism. And the Judaism always had – if I can say this – the seed of grace that has been central to what Judaism is.
Dr. Michael Bird
I call it a framework of grace.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. That’s nice. And then we’ve talked about the role of the Spirit and being central in this new layer that comes with what Jesus does that changes the game. ‘Cause it bring s a new element into the equation. And we’ve talked about the multi-ethnic nature of this outreach and how that’s an important part of what God has done in Christ, emphasizing the corporate dimensions of what’s going on. Those things are what we’ve covered. I’ve got one more left, and it’s going to actually tie this up into a nice knot; and that is the ethics that comes out of this.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So the way I want to do this is, I want to go to Ephesians 2.
Dr. Michael Bird
Ah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay? And I like to start off with, in Ephesians 2:8-9 I call it the Protestant Creed. Okay? You know?
Dr. Michael Bird
Is Verse 10 the Catholic Creed?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. [Laughs] We’ll walk you through – I just want your reaction to this. So we’ve got – so we’ve got 8 and 9, of course; which is, “Salvation is by faith, through grace, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” You know, there isn’t a Protestant worth their salt that doesn’t know those two verses. And then my remark is, “Well let’s keep reading.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay? So there’s Verse 10, which is actually the explanation for what he’s just said.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
“For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So if I ask the next question – which is, “What is my salvation for? Why is it that God saves me? Why is it that salvation is by grace” – Verse 10 is the answer. “I have been shaped by God for good works which God has actually designed for me to walk in before He saves me and equips me to do so by saving me.”
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So far, so good?
Dr. Michael Bird
Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. And now, here is the kicker. This is where the ethics comes in. So what’s the first good work?
Dr. Michael Bird
The first good work is to bring down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles and create this new people where Gentiles come in as equal citizens of the commonwealth of Israel.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Which tells you that the goal – at least a goal – of salvation, a major goal of salvation, is to change the way people relate to each other.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes. Yep.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Not just how they relate to God, but how they relate to each other. And in that move, all the debates about the difference between the Gospel and the pursuit of justice between people is subsumed.
Dr. Michael Bird
I think that’s right. I mean, Tom Wright makes a great point. He says, If Ephesians became as programmatic for the reformation as Galatians did, the history of Protestant Christianity would be way different. You know? And particularly, you could think, “And what would it have been like through the Colonial era?” Where, you know, Western countries are colonizing, first people’s around – both in North America and also in my own Australia where some horrible things happened…what would race relations be like if we made, you know, Ephesians rather than certain parts of Galatians – the most central, distinctive elements of Protestantism? I mean, you seriously have to wonder what it would be like. Because we’ve always had the resources there to do this.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes. And the point is that one of the ways the church shows that is has really been impacted by the Spirit of God is by the way in which peoples relate to one another within the church. That’s one of the ways they can model that grace has really struck the Earth.
Dr. Michael Bird
And this is where the church can do it very well. And, I mean, I find it ironic where – I don’t mean America, but in Australia – the church is frequently criticized for many of its failings and travails. And some of these are often very well-deserved and sadly earned. But sometimes, I think the criticisms of the church is unfair. And I do find it frustrating when I see these white, inner-city progressives all attacking Christians. And yet, we’re the ones who are far more ethnically diverse than some of our critics.

And we are the ones who are out there doing the real multi-culturalism. It’s certainly in most of the places where I hang out. Actually my daughter attends a church that is 80-percent Asian. And one of the things that’s affecting the church in Australia at the moment is…I think the future of the church in Australia is going to rely largely with the Asian diaspora with both the immigrants and their children are going to probably be the future of the Australian church in the coming generations. But certainly, I think multi-cultural is going to be…multi-ethnic might be a better term. Multi-ethnic, I think, is going to become the new normal in churches like – places like Australia. And I’m guessing probably even in the United States as well.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And of course, it pictures what Revelation 4 and 5 is all about. Which all the tribes and all the nations lifting up the name of Jesus in the end.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. If you do not like multi-ethnic, the afterlife is going to be so disappointing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughs] We’re not such a great track here. You travel the world as I do. You know? I mean, here you are an Australian in America. I’m an American who’s often in Australia. But I’ve been to South Africa. This last summer by itself, I was in South Africa and Sri Lanka, one right after the other. I’m on the plane flying from South Africa to Sri Lanka saying, “Am I going to change worlds here?” Am I moving from one story and one set of realities to a completely different set of realities?”

And I’m thinking about the juxtaposition, ’cause I’d never been to Sri Lanka before. And I had just gone through a series of lectures talking about the importance of reconciliation in theology, and I land in Sri Lanka not having known very much of its history and came to discover that they had just been through a 30-year civil war between two ethnic groups that were in the church. And I did a lecture on the theology of Luke-Acts that centered on the importance of reconciliation as a part of what that story was about, and all the Sri Lankans came up to me and said, “You have no idea how valuable this is for our context and culture.”

Dr. Michael Bird
Exactly. Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, this is a global problem. If there’s hardly anywhere you go in the world where there are not ethnic strains that are pulling our world apart…and the Gospel speaks right into it.
Dr. Michael Bird
That is exactly right. Wherever you go, wherever there’s different ethnic groups you will find some kind of ethnic tension. And you will find an “us” and “them” or people who are being “othered.” And you’ll see all sorts of prejudices and biases which are sadly sometimes justified using religious capital of some form. But Christians who are soaked in scripture who hold to the world view of the New Testament, the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles will always resist that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Dr. Michael Bird
Will always resist that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And then I joke that…Jesus may say it, Paul – Jesus may say it, John the Evangelist may say it, Peter may say it, John the Baptiste may say it, the Evangelist Luke may say it. But it doesn’t count unless Paul says it. Paul says it in Ephesians. [Laughs]
Dr. Michael Bird
Yes. Exactly. Exactly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, this is such an emphasis – it’s actually one of the strongest strands of emphasis running through the entirety of the New Testament.
Dr. Michael Bird
I know. I know. And which goes to show, again, the question of, “What must I do to be saved?” Well it’s real. It’s there. It’s important.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It’s the start.
Dr. Michael Bird
It’s the start. And it doesn’t end up being the controlling question. It’s, “Who are God’s people, and how do you know? And how do – and how do we learn with difference?” I mean, that’s what the last quarter of Romans is about; how do you learn to live with difference? How do we worship people with different convictions about, you know, food or wine or which day to observe, we observe? And the symbol that the new age has arrived, that we’re – the new creation is here in seed form is the fact that you got these Jews, these barbarians, these Greeks, these Romans, these Scythians, these Lidians all sitting together around the same fellowship table praising the one Lord.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And it’s keeping what is most central, most central and then figuring out how that works on the things that are more on the periphery.
Dr. Michael Bird
That’s exactly – and doing a theological triage, knowing what is central and what is peripheral and where you can leave things for matter of conviction.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, Michael, I want to thank you for coming in and talking about this with us. I think it’s been kind of a fascinating journey from theology over to application and thinking about what the new perspective is about. The value of the comprehensiveness of grace – or the framework of grace as you said it – the value of the ethnic layer of what’s involved, the centrality of how the coming of the Spirit is the mark of the eschatological layer and the new reality that has gone on top of what’s going on; and then finally, the multi-ethnic dimension of where this is designed to take us as the people of God, which opens up the church to have a possibility of a powerful testimony by being a place where different peoples can gather and have a sense of oneness in the midst of doing so because the God of the universe has invaded their lives and changed them; not only how they see themselves, but how they see others.
Dr. Michael Bird
Yeah. That’s exactly right. Thank you, Darrell.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yep. And we thank you for being a part of the table, and we hope you’ll join us again soon. If you have a topic you’d like to consider for a future episode, please E-mail us at thetable@dts.edu. We do take these seriously, and we’ll match them up with people who we think can speak to the topic. And one day at this table, you may see the topic that you proposed. And we look forward to your suggestions. And again. Thank you for joining us, and we hope you’ll be a part of the table again soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Michael Bird
Michael grew up in Brisbane before joining the Army and serving as a paratrooper, intelligence operator, and then chaplains assistant. He graduated with a BMin from Malyon College (2001) and Honours and PhD from the University of Queensland (2002, 2005). He then taught New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Scotland (2005-9) before joining Brisbane School of Theology as lecturer in Theology (2010-12). He joined the faculty at Ridley as lecturer in Theology in 2013. As an industrious researcher, He has written and edited over thirty books in the fields of Septuagint, Historical Jesus, the Gospels, St. Paul, Biblical Theology, and Systematic Theology. Michael is married to Naomi and they have four children.
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