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Captivated by Scripture: A personal reflection on D. W. B. Robinson’s legacy for biblical studies

Lionel Windsor
Lionel Windsor lectures in New Testament at Moore College, Sydney.

Paper given at the legacy day and launch of Donald Robinson Selected Works Volume 3: Biblical and Liturgical Studies & Volume 4: Historical Studies and Series Index.
Moore Theological College, Sydney, 16 March 2019.

1. Reading Robinson Reading Scripture

Only once have I had the privilege of meeting Bishop Donald William Bradley Robinson. It was in Katoomba, in the overflow tent at the CMS Summer School, where Robinson was signing volumes 1 and 2 and the Appreciation volume in this series.[1] At the time, I was serving as an Anglican minister at St Michael’s Wollongong, and being encouraged to consider further theological studies. As Robinson signed my copies, we got to talking a little about my research. I mentioned that my focus at the time was on Paul’s priestly ministry as apostle to the nations, and I was considering doing a PhD related to the area. He looked up at me and said, “Ah yes, that’s an idea I had once. I’m glad somebody is chasing it up.”

The more I’ve engaged with biblical scholarship, and the more I’ve written on these topics myself,[2] the more I have come to appreciate the accuracy of Robinson’s assessment of my research. Much of my own scholarly work indeed involves following up Donald Robinson’s own insightful and penetrating ideas about the nature and shape of God’s word. And the more I read and hear about this great exegete, the more I realise how much I have been influenced by him. I have never sat in one of his classes, but I have been shaped by countless sermons and lectures by his former students. And now I count it a privilege to stand in Robinson’s tradition as a New Testament lecturer at Moore College.

What made Robinson such an inspiring and influential teacher for generations of students? I’m sure there were multiple factors: many of those here today will have their own insights into this question. But one factor that I want to focus on this morning—a factor that comes through particularly clearly in his writings—is Robinson’s commitment to being captivated by Scripture. The impression that keeps coming through in these volumes is that Robinson was so confident in the divine inspiration of Scripture, and so assured that God’s purposes are revealed to us in Scripture, that he was prepared to follow Scripture wherever it led him. And when Scripture led Robinson on strange paths, paths that others had barely trod, on journeys where even he could not discern the destination, he enthusiastically trod those paths, knowing that wherever Scripture was leading him, it must be important. In this way, Robinson’s approach to Scripture is faithful in a deep sense: full of faith in God’s purposes revealed to us in his inscripturated word.

Robinson was meticulous in his following of Scripture. He seems to have had a reflex reaction to Scripture: he would constantly ask “What does this text actually say?” And he persistently asked that question, especially when the text didn’t actually say what everyone thought it jolly well ought to say. That reflex of persistently interrogating the details of the Greek text, combined with his sharp intellect and extensive scholarly background, makes his work vital, startling, and compelling. The experience of reading Robinson reading Scripture is like following an expert guide into familiar territory, with the guide constantly pointing out things which you hadn’t noticed because you’d been too lazy or too self-assured to look carefully. Perhaps you’d been relying on the English instead of the Greek, or perhaps you’d been sweepingly imposing your personal theological commitments on the text. Robinson won’t let you do that: he wants you to read the text itself. And yet, in the end, the experience of reading Robinson does not overturn your theology; rather it enriches and deepens your theology, so that you end up appreciating the multidimensional nature of God’s purposes even more than you had before. To be a student in one of Robinson’s New Testament classes must have been exhilarating.

My modest aim this morning is to explore the significance of one essay which appears in volume 3. This particular essay is close to my heart: it’s the essay that Robinson must have had in mind that day in Katoomba when he told to me about the idea he’d had once and which he was glad I was following up. This essay was written in the year I was born (1974), in a Festschrift for Leon Morris. It is titled: “Priesthood of Paul in the Gospel of Hope”.[3] It’s an intriguing title, and the essay itself contains a startling reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is the kind of biblical study that Robinson excels in: he takes the standard scholarly questions about Romans, throws them out the window, and then takes you on a journey through the text, pointing out all sorts of things in the scenery that you would otherwise gloss over as unimportant. In the process, he expands your horizons, remoulds your thinking, and opens up fascinating new vistas.

2. “Priesthood of Paul in the Gospel of Hope”

2.1. A summary of the essay

Let’s begin by surveying the essay itself.

Robinson begins his journey through Romans at the end.[4] The “only explicit statement of Paul’s purpose” in Romans, he writes, is in chapter 15, verses 15–16.[5] There, Paul says to his readers:

But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Rom 15:15–16

Paul here depicts his gospel-preaching mission in Jewish priestly terms. His apostolic ministry is a Jewish-Gentile dynamic, and behind it lies all the weight of Old Testament expectations for Israel’s distinctive role in God’s global purposes. Robinson claims: “This statement of Paul’s purpose should be taken with full seriousness as explaining the intention of Romans.”[6] Thus:

We may say that the aim of Romans is to show the Gentiles how their hope rests on Israel’s Messiah: how that through the prior fulfilment of the promises to Israel a stepping stone is made for the Gentiles.[7]

This is Robinson’s point: Israel had a special role in the world, and this special role is fulfilled in the preaching of the gospel. The hope for Gentiles, therefore, relies on Israel:

[I]t is the hope of Israel in the first instance, and if the Gentiles are to respond adequately to the gospel—if they are to glorify God acceptably and make their offering in true holiness— they must comprehend what their relation is to the Jew, to Israel, and in particular to the Israelite Paul, by whom in God’s design the benefits of salvation have been ministered to them.[8]

Thus, Robinson’s emphasis is on the positive and dynamic relationship between two distinct groups: Jewish and Gentile. Robinson does not see Paul abolishing or destroying Jewish distinctiveness. He is not interested in exploring Paul as a champion of sameness, or levelling the playing field by destroying Jewish national privilege or pride, as some later interpreters have it. Rather, Robinson’s concerns are somewhere else entirely. He sees Paul affirming the positive value of Jewish distinctiveness, and sees Israel as having a distinctive role leading to mutual blessing for both Jewish and Gentile people. And he believes that this Jewish-Gentile ministry dynamic is fundamental to Romans. Thus:

Romans is both an exposition of the gospel of hope and at the same time Paul’s apologia for his ‘priesthood’ in that gospel.[9]

To put it more simply: Romans is both about the gospel and about the ministry and mission of the gospel, a gospel that can be described in priestly terms, and proceeds from Paul the Israelite to the nations.

Robinson’s next step is to look back over Romans at some of the Israel-centred features of the letter.[10] He sees Paul as an “eschatological figure”: he is announcing God’s end-times judgment, and in the heart of this judgment, he is announcing a “justification” which leads to the “glory” of a new creation. [11] Robinson points out that in the Old Testament, this new creation is the inheritance of those who belong to the Messiah. So Paul is setting the hope of all the world firmly in the frame of Israel’s particular hope, as described in the Old Testament. This is why Romans 9–11 is so important. In these chapters, Paul reflects on how Israel’s hardening is intertwined with Gentile salvation (Rom 9–11). Yet Paul’s reflection on Israel is not isolated to chapters 9–11. Robinson sees a strong connection between these chapters and what has come before. So, for example, Romans 8 is primarily about Israel’s hope, before it is about the hope for the Gentiles. In fact,

The justification and glorification which Paul has been expounding in [Romans] chapters 3–8 are the justification and glorification primarily of the Israel that will be saved[12]

Thus:

throughout Romans 1–8, Paul is conscious of the distinction between Jew and Gentile in the economy of salvation, and is describing justification and its results as he, an Israelite, had experienced it, this being his qualification to be the teacher of the Gentiles, bringing them to trust and hope in the Saviour of Israel.[13]

Robinson then points out that Romans actually begins this way: with Paul describing and defending his apostolic gospel-preaching ministry as a Jewish ministry to the nations (1:1–15). And he argues that this personal and apologetic element is foundational to reading the rest of the letter. In Romans, then,

Paul expounds his gospel throughout from the point of view of one who was both a Jew—born under the law but justified freely through faith in the promise—and also Messiah’s designated servant for the extension of God’s salvation to the Gentiles.[14]

Robinson focuses on the phrase “the Jew first, and also the Greek”. Paul uses this phrase to talk about Jewish priority in salvation (1:16, 2:10) and condemnation (2:9). This idea of Jewish priority is important for Romans because:

the Jew, notwithstanding his falling short of the glory of God like the rest of mankind, still stands at the centre of God’s work of salvation for the world.[15]

In a bold move, Robinson reads the pronouns “we”, “us”, and “our” in Romans as references, not primarily to all Christians, but primarily to Paul as an Israelite. [16] In other words, the many places where Paul talks about “we”, and “us”, and “our” make best sense from a Jewish point of view. Many of them only make sense from a Jewish point of view. Whenever Paul wishes to include Gentiles, he does so explicitly, using the words “you” or sometimes “all” (e.g. Rom 4:16, on the basis of Gen 17:5).

How does this affect how Robinson reads Romans? Here are some examples:

1. The description of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins which brings justification in Romans 3:21–26 applies to all believers, because Paul there explicitly refers to “all”, and never refers to “we” or “us”.[17] So Paul is emphatic that the righteousness of God is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:22–24).

2. However, “the viewpoint narrows” in Romans 3:27–31 where the pronoun “our” reappears: “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28). So the “boast” in 3:27 is not a general human boast in salvation, but the particular “vaunted Jewish confidence”.[18] Thus “the distinction between Jews and Gentiles is kept in view throughout this section”.[19]

3. In Romans 4:22–25, Paul speaks about Abraham’s faith being counted as righteousness and uses “our”.  This is “consistent with a limited Jewish point of view”, although it also applies to Gentiles in a secondary way.[20]

4. In Romans 5, Robinson suggests that “Paul is defending his experience as a Jew who believes”.[21] In verses 12–21, he sees the role of the law in relation to sin and death as especially important, because the law is the Law of Moses, which must allude to “[t]he distinctive position of the Jew”.[22] Of course, sin and death are universal human experiences, so this passage is relevant to Gentiles. Yet the law is a particular experience of Jewish people, so this passage is firstly about them. Robinson states:

Within the total area affected by Adam’s sin, the law merely caused an “abounding” of sin in the experience of a limited group. This, however, had its counterpart in the work of Christ, in the “abounding” of grace. Again, then, there is an implied distinction between the Jew and the Gentile, though only one of degree.[23]

So for Robinson, Paul in Romans 5 takes the general problem of human sin and death, and focuses it on the specific, more heightened experience of those who have the law, i.e. Jewish people. But this is all relevant for Gentiles, and Paul is using his particular experience as Jewish man himself to teach the gospel to Gentiles.

5. Returning to Romans 5:1–11, Robinson argues that the “we” is highly significant: “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Robinson finds it plausible (though does not insist) that “in 5:1-11 Paul is summarizing the benefits of justification from his own experience as a believing Jew”.[24] The peace and rejoicing described in 5:1–11 is probably “autobiographical”, in the sense that Paul is speaking from his real experience as a believing Jewish man and an apostle.[25] It is of course not exclusive; it is also “the model for his Gentile friends.”[26] But it also matters that it is a Jewish viewpoint in the first instance, before it is applied to Gentiles.

6. Robinson also argues that the discussion of the law in Romans 7 makes most sense from the particular perspective of a justified Jewish believer.[27] Following Stendahl, Robinson points out that the focus of Romans 7 is not in the first instance on the nature of Christian or pre-Christian experience, but on the nature and role of the law. Thus, Robinson understands the passage primarily in terms of the Jewish person under the law: “Paul is not speaking of the relation of the law to him specifically but to him characteristically as a Jew under the law.”[28]

Robinson’s overall point is this: Paul sees it as vital for his readers to understand his own Jewish situation, before they consider their own situation as Gentiles. This is not directly their experience as Gentiles, but it is highly relevant to them, because it is a defence of Paul’s apostolic ministry to the Gentiles. Romans is thus portraying a Jewish-Gentile dynamic in which a particular Jewish experience speaks more broadly to the universal human condition. This is a nuanced position: Romans is not simply about all Christians, but it is not exclusively about Jewish people either. It is, as Paul himself writes, “for the Jew first, and also for the Greek” (Rom 1:16). So, for example, when Paul says in Romans 8:12 that “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh”:

This conclusion, relating as it does to the profounder realities of flesh and Spirit, is in a form readily transferable to the Gentiles who are Paul’s special concern, but the conclusion has been reached along the path of a Jewish experience.[29]

Thus: “[T]he theme of chapter 8 is… the liberty of the Jew who has entered his inheritance in Christ, and his hope of glory according to promise and election.”[30] This explains the reference to sufferings in the second half of Romans 8, which reads again more as Paul’s defence of his own apostolic sufferings as a Jewish apostle to the nations.

What is Robinson’s conclusion?

Thus, both the positive Christian experience related in this chapter, and the expectation of final glory, are set forth deliberately as the experience of the justified Jew, indeed of Israel itself in the person of the servant and apostle of the Lord. The exposition of salvation in these terms, based on God’s covenant with Israel, is part of the exercise of Paul’s priesthood—which is his apostleship—in regard to the Gentiles, providing the way by which they, too, embrace the free gift of forgiveness, exchange the flesh for the Spirit, and find their hope in the root of Jesse.[31]

2.2. Reflection and evaluation

What should we make of this essay, with its startlingly original “take” on Romans? Here are a few brief points of reflection and evaluation.

Firstly, it is important to realise that Robinson is not simply out on a limb. He is clearly interacting with scholarly currents and insights from his time. A key figure lying behind Robinson’s reading of Romans is Johannes Munck, whom Robinson cites explicitly and appears to use positively at various points.[32] Munck was a highly significant scholar of the mid-twentieth century, although his work is now almost completely ignored.[33] Yet Robinson interacted closely with him, along with several other key scholars of the time.[34]

Nevertheless, Robinson is not slavishly reliant on the scholarship he is reading. His insights are fresh, and he departs from Munck and others at various points. He is not simply parroting the scholarly tradition; he is using it to guide and inspire his own close reading of the text of Scripture itself, accepting some insights while rejecting others.

Indeed, I’m sure Robinson would want us to use his own scholarship in the same way. I find many of his insights about the text compelling. However, I would question some of the details of the moves he makes, such as his claim that the pronouns “I”, “we”, “us”, and “our” are often indicators of a Jewish point of view, while “you” and “all” normally indicates the perspective of his Gentile readers. In some places, this idea is exegetically fruitful and produces interesting new insights (e.g. Rom 3:27–31). However, in other places, the idea doesn’t quite work (e.g. Rom 6:1–9 and 11ff.).[35] So here, I believe he has taken a very significant insight and pushed it a little too far. This is an occupational hazard for scholars on the cutting edge of new ideas. For those who are interested, my colleague Will Timmins has more systematically explored some of these questions regarding person and identity in his own work on Romans 7.[36]

It is also worth noting something about Robinson’s treatment of justification in Romans. In short, his discussion of justification is sparse and cursory, and doesn’t allude to any of the debates that often characterise reformed theological reflection on Paul. The explanation for this is not too hard to find: in 1974, justification was not yet a major debate among Protestant biblical scholars, and a general Protestant view could be assumed without further comment. In this area, Robinson forms a strong contrast with the later New Perspective, which took the renewed emphasis on Jewish and Gentile issues in Paul as the basis for seriously questioning and reconfiguring the reformed understanding of justification. Yet Robinson, even with his strong biblical theological viewpoint which treated Jewish and Gentile issues in the New Testament with utmost seriousness, saw no need to question the standard reformed understanding of justification.

This is probably because Robinson’s view of the nature of Jewish-Gentile issues is so different (and indeed far more dynamic and interesting) from that of the later New Perspective on Paul. For the New Perspective, issues of Jewish-Gentile relationships in the New Testament were primarily focused on sociological concepts such as exclusivity and inclusion. New Perspective proponents thus reconfigured justification as a doctrine of inclusion: the big problem for them was that Jewish people were ethnocentric and exclusive; the gospel proclaims the inclusion of Gentiles and the reconfiguring of boundary markers so that God’s people and God’s covenant are open to all who believe, without distinction. For Robinson, the Jewish-Gentile distinction in the New Testament operates on an entirely different level. Jewish distinctiveness is not a problem to be overcome; rather, it is a positive phenomenon that gives Christ-believing Jewish people a vital ministry to Gentiles, on the basis of God’s promise to Abraham that “in you all family of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). For Robinson, Paul’s Jewish-Gentile discussion is not about reconfiguring boundary markers, but rather it is about ministry, mission, and gospel preaching. Thus, unlike the New Perspective, there is no need to reconfigure justification. And this focus on Jewish ministry to Gentiles is, I think, the key to understanding what’s happening in his reading of Romans. I believe he’s seeing something vitally important in Paul.

3. Robinson’s Legacy

I’d like to conclude with two brief reflections on Robinson’s lasting legacy for us.

Firstly, it is highly significant that Robinson’s reading of the New Testament, grounded as it is in his reading of the Scriptures as a whole, has provided us with a rich biblical theological framework that is organically connected to the missional imperative. Graeme Goldsworthy’s debt to Robinson is well known.[37] What is less talked about is the way that Robinson’s biblical theology has enabled us to deal with the advent of alternative biblical theologies in the last few decades. The New Perspective on Paul is a prime example. While the New Perspective has pretty much run out of steam as a scholarly movement, it has had a profound effect on evangelical ministries throughout the world. Yet its effect in Sydney has been quite muted. Why? I have a hunch about one of the reasons: when the New Perspective came along, we already had Robinson. And so collectively, we frankly found the New Perspective boring. Why be captivated by talk of inclusion and exclusion and boundary markers when you already have a rich legacy of profound and multifaceted reflection on Jewish and Gentile relationships in the New Testament, one that sees no need to reconfigure justification, but which energises God’s people for ministry and preaching the gospel to the world?[38] This is only my hunch, of course, but if anyone ever felt they’d like to explore it further, I’d love to see the outcome.

Secondly, although Robinson probably wouldn’t have said it in these terms, he has given us an immensely relevant, scripturally grounded, and theologically faithful view of human identity, one that sees a positive value in differences and distinctions under God. In Robinson’s reading of the New Testament, Jewish distinctiveness was not a problem to be overcome in the name of “unity”; rather, it was a vital part of God’s plan leading to mutual blessing in Christ for both Jewish and Gentile people. “The Jew first, and also the Greek” (Rom 1:16) is, for Robinson, a nuanced a statement of Jewish priority without superiority—a textual detail which is too often glossed over but which we surely need to pay attention to. And it has further implications for us today. With so many movements in the Western world seeking to erase all kinds of difference and distinctiveness in the name of a totalising form of “equality”, Robinson’s biblical theological impulse gives us tools and concepts for an alternative, positive vision of who we are and who we can be together in Christ. In Robinson’s reading of the Scriptures, difference is not simply a problem to be erased; rather, in Christ, and through the gospel, it is an opportunity for ministry, service, and mutual blessing.

I commend these volumes to you, with much thankfulness to our Lord and Saviour for his gift of his faithful servant, Donald William Bradley Robinson.


[1] Donald W. B. Robinson, Donald Robinson Selected Works Volume 1: Assembling God’s People, ed. Mark D. Thompson and Peter G. Bolt (Camperdown/Newtown: Australian Church Record/Moore College, 2008); Donald W. B. Robinson, Donald Robinson Selected Works Volume 2: Preaching God’s Word, ed. Mark D. Thompson and Peter G. Bolt (Camperdown/Newtown: Australian Church Record/Moore College, 2008); Mark D. Thompson and Peter G. Bolt, eds., Donald Robinson Selected Works: Appreciation (Camperdown/Newtown: Australian Church Record/Moore College, 2008).

[2] See in particular Lionel J. Windsor, Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs His Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans, Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Für Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 205 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014); Lionel J. Windsor, Reading Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism: Christ’s Mission through Israel to the Nations, New Testament After Supersessionism (Eugene: Cascade, 2017).

[3] Donald W. B. Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul in the Gospel of Hope,” in Donald Robinson Selected Works Volume 3: Biblical and Liturgical Studies, ed. Edward Loane (Camperdown/Newtown: Australian Church Record/Moore College, 2018), 174–93. Originally published as Donald W. B. Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul in the Gospel of Hope,” in Reconciliation and Hope: New Testament Essays on Atonement and Eschatology, Presented to L. L. Morris on His 60th Birthday, ed. Robert Banks (Exeter: Paternoster, 1974), 231–45.

[4] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 174–76.

[5] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 175.

[6] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 175.

[7] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 175.

[8] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 175.

[9] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 176.

[10] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 176–80.

[11] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 176.

[12] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 179, emphasis original.

[13] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 179–80.

[14] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 180.

[15] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 181.

[16] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 180.

[17] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 182.

[18] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 183.

[19] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 183.

[20] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 183.

[21] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 184.

[22] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 184.

[23] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 184.

[24] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 185.

[25] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 185.

[26] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 186.

[27] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 187.

[28] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 189.

[29] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 190.

[30] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 190.

[31] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 191.

[32] See especially Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, trans. Frank Clarke (London: SCM, 1959); cf. Johannes Munck, Christ and Israel: An Interpretation of Romans 9-11 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967); Johannes Munck, “Israel and the Gentiles in the New Testament,” Journal of Theological Studies 2.1 (1951): 3–16.

[33] Larry Hurtado, “Scholarly Amnesia on Paul,” 21 September 2011, http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/scholarly-amnesia-on-paul/.

[34] E.g. Keith F. Nickle, The Collection: A Study in Paul’s Strategy, Studies in Biblical Theology 48 (London: SCM, 1966); Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles: And Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976).

[35] Robinson, “Priesthood of Paul,” 186–87. In Rom 6:11, Paul says “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin”. Robinson regards this as a turning point, where Paul shifts from his autobiographical Jewish viewpoint signalled by “we” (Rom 6:1–9), and begins on this basis to exhort his gentile readers signalled by “so you also” (6:11ff.) (“So you also…”, 6:11ff.). But there is a much simpler explanation closer to hand. Just before verse 11, Paul has just been speaking about Christ’s death and life (“the death he died,… the life he lives…”). So when Paul says, “so you also” (6:11), he is saying that Christ (v. 10) is the model for Paul’s believing gentile readers, not that believing Jews (vv. 1–9) are the model.

[36] Will N. Timmins, Romans 7 and Christian Identity: A Study of the “I” in Its Literary Context, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 170 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

[37] See e.g. Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centred Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles (Nottingham: Apollos, 2012), 164.

[38] Indeed, much of Robinson’s reflection on Jewish and Gentile relationships in the New Testament has modern parallels in the so-called “Radical New Perspective on Paul” (or “Paul within Judaism”), a movement that is gaining ground even as the “New Perspective” is fading into the background. For more on the similarities (and significant differences) between Robinson and the “Paul within Judaism” movement, see Windsor, Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism, 17–25.

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    I'll be speaking at the "Christ, the Cross and Creation Care Conference", Sydney. 8.30am to 3.30pm, Saturday 22 June 2019. A conference run by A Rocha Australia
  • Palatine Hill from Roman Forum with contrails – Black and WhiteWhat’s the point of theology? (Ephesians 1:17–18)
    The full name of the college I teach at is “Moore Theological College”. That word “Theological” says something important about who we are. It reminds us about what we're on about. Yes, the Bible is at the centre of everything we do. Yes, we seek to train people for ministry. Yes, we're driven by the worldwide mission of Jesus Christ. Yes, we're committed to learning together, and having our characters formed in loving Christian community. But our careful study of the Bible, and our pastorally-motivated ministry and mission training, and our encouragement of one another in our community, all matter because of something more basic: theology. Unfortunately, the word "theology" can be misunderstood. It sometimes gets used to mean something like “technical details about spiritual things that experts argue about and isn’t much practical use to regular people”. But that's just a caricature. It's not what theology is. Theology is something far more profound, far more life-changing, and far more fundamental—not just for people at a college, but for everyone. In Ephesians 1:17–18, Paul prays for his readers—people who have come to believe in and live for Jesus Christ. It's a prayer for more theology.
  • Youth praying, Finchale PrioryPrayer: What are we actually doing? (Ephesians 1:15–16)
    “A Muslim, a Jew and an Anglican Minister walk into a classroom”. This was the advertising blurb for a local Community College seminar I participated in a few years ago. I joined a Muslim educator and a Jewish academic (who is also a friend of mine) to give a series of presentations on different aspects of our three religions to interested people from the community. When we came to the topic of ‘prayer’, I was fascinated to hear what my co-presenters had to say. Even though we were all using the same word, ‘prayer’, the word meant very different things in the different religions. As a believer in Jesus Christ, what did I have to say about what prayer is? What would you have said? Christians, too, can often be a bit confused or unclear about what prayer actually is. That’s where the Apostle Paul really helps us. In these verses in Ephesians, Paul starts telling his readers about his own prayers for them.
  • Photo by Danielle Macinnes on UnsplashThe Holy Spirit: Our security (Ephesians 1:14)
    The Stanford Marshmallow Experiments are a favourite illustration of motivational speakers. The lesson is this: If you can learn how to delay gratification early in life, you’ll do better in later life. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, like many popular conclusions drawn from famous psychological experiments, it doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. The more up-to-date study demonstrates something far more mundane: if you grow up in a secure home where you know there will always be food on the table, you’re more likely to be able to put off eating a marshmallow. This isn’t a particularly useful lesson for motivational speakers. But it’s a great illustration of what it means to be a child of God.
  • Mission. Photo by Ben White on UnsplashThe message is the mission (Ephesians 1:13)
    What is God’s mission? What means is God using to bring about his purposes in Christ? What does that mean for our own mission as Christians and churches?
  • Bible and the horizon. Photo by Aaron Burden on UnsplashRejoicing in the blessing of others (Ephesians 1:11–12)
    Although the Bible is always relevant to us, not every sentence is directly about us. When we realise this, we can rejoice in God’s blessings even more.

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