Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Inaugural Session of the Asian American Biblical Interpretation research group at IBR 2020 Boston

, East Coast Project Director for ISAAC, and I are delighted to announce the inaugural session of the newly constituted Asian American Biblical Interpretation research group at the annual meeting of the
Institute for Biblical Research
(#IBRAABI) and the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston, November 2020.
Our first session features plenary papers and a panel discussion with
Russell Jeung
(San Francisco State University),
Amos Yong
(Fuller Seminary), and
Janette Hur Ok
(formerly Asuza Pacific University, now Fuller Seminary). This first session focuses mostly on East AsianAm contexts but will expand in succeeding meetings to include Southeast Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islanders.
We invite all IBR members and friends to attend. The research group mission statement and the session programming is below. Many thanks to
Carmen Imes
, IBR Research Groups Coordinator, and
Lynn H Cohick
, IBR President, for their enthusiastic support.
Inaugural Plenary Session for IBR/SBL 2020 (#IBRAABI2020) in Boston
Theme: Setting the Table: Asian American Studies, Evangelicals and Biblical Interpretation

Milton Eng, William Paterson University, Presiding
Max J. Lee, North Park Theological Seminary, Presiding
Welcome and Announcements (10 min)

Russell Jeung, San Francisco State University
Asian American Studies and the Development of Asian American Theology (30 min)
Amos Yong, Fuller Seminary
To the Seven Churches in Asia: An Asian (American) Apocalyptic Hermeneutic after Pentecost (30 min)
Janette Ok, Fuller Seminary
Asian American Biblical Interpretation: Evangelical Engagement and Critique (30 min)
Discussion (20 min)

These papers will be available on the IBR website after October 25th under the Research Groups tab at (IBR Member login required). Attendees are encouraged to read the papers in advance though drop-ins are welcome. During the session, presenters will summarize their papers in ten minutes allowing for twenty minutes of discussion. Non-IBR members are welcome to attend. For further information, please contact Milton Eng ( or Max Lee (
Research Group Description: This new research group (#IBRAABI) provides a space for Asian American evangelical scholars to engage with, critique, integrate and indeed pave new ground in current approaches in Asian American Biblical Interpretation. The fact that the majority of Asian American Protestants remain evangelical makes their voices even more imperative. “Asian American” is understood in its broadest sense to include East, Southeast, South Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.
Asian American biblical interpretation by its very nature is interdisciplinary. Thus, sessions will include invited guest theologians, historians, sociologists &scholars from other disciplines to inform our research.
Asian American Biblical Interpretation more broadly has come of age in recent years. Publications continue apace with works as recent as the encyclopedic T&T Clark Handbook of Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics (2019). In addition, Asian American biblical scholars have now attained the highest &most visible positions in the academy including presidents &deans of seminaries, the presidency of the Association of Theological Schools &even most recently the highest office in our premier guild, President of the SBL.
Yet, most of such scholarship &representation has come from non-evangelical or mainline theological schools. Evangelicals are less represented (see Chloe Sun, 2019). #IBRAABI hopes to fill in the gap on representation in this burgeoning field, explore how it connects with shared issues of concern with African American, Latinx American, and other ethnic American biblical intepreters, and explain why this work is relevant to the mission of the church at large. #AAPIHeritageMonth

Friday, May 1, 2020

A More Technical Description of My 2020-21 Carl F.H. Henry Residential Fellowship Project

An interview/profile of my project can be found at the Henry Center website (here)

Great news! I'm elated to share that I am a recipient of the 2020-21 Carl F.H. Henry Residential Fellowship for science and theology. As part of the grant funded by the John Templeton Foundation for the center's Creation Project, the plan is that I will spend the next academic year on the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School campus with three other fellows (Josh Jipp, Kevin Kinghorn, and Alexander Stewart) in a collaborate environment as each of us work on our individual projects. 
     My project is titled: Natural Desire as a Moral Index of What Is Good: What Paul and the Epicureans Have to Say about the Orders of Pleasure. Click the title of the project for a nice article and interview by Matthew Wiley and why I think a theory and theology of pleasure matters for the church today. 
     Here, I'm happy to give more technical details about my work for the coming year. The goal is to write a book under the more user-friendly and general audience title: Pleasure: Enjoying God and His Good Gifts in an Epicurean World (currently looking for a university press publisher). The book examines the issues of food consumption (1 Cor. 8:1–13; 10:23–30), sexual pleasure (6:12–20), and entertainment (15:12–58) in the ancient dialogue and debate between the Apostle Paul and the group which New Testament scholarship has called “the Corinthian strong” or “the Corinthian wise.” I make the case that the Corinthian slogans: “I am free to do anything” (6:12; 10:23), “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” (6:13), “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:32), and other maxims find their origin in Epicurean hedonism. 
      Contrary to modern popular caricatures, the Epicureans were not gross hedonists. They practiced a type of moral naturalism where satisfying natural desires for food, sex, wine, and other bodily pleasures were seen as goods as long as they did not cause pain. Their brand of hedonism was self-controlled, pragmatic, and culturally influential. The Epicureans and Paul each provided moral instruction on how best to consume pleasurable goods in a way that led to eudaimonia, or human flourishing. In my analysis of Epicurean moral naturalism and Paul’s interaction with its major tenets, I examine not just key Pauline texts but also the treatises of Epicurus, Philodemus of Gadara, Lucretius of Rome, Diogenes of Oinoanda and other ancient ethical theorists. 
      Both Paul and the Epicureans affirm that the body matters, but Paul uniquely understood that bodily experience can be transformed by a believer’s participation in God (15:20–50). The believer’s union with Christ changes the temporal and futile condition of embodied existence, infuses it with meaning, and allows for eating, drinking, human intimacy, and other created goods to be expressions of faith and divine-human correspondence. Sharing in the triune life of God is an important theoretical and theological category for Paul because of its transformative effect on the participant. While Paul does believe that natural desire and aversion can function as an epistemological index for assessing what is good and can act as a means of moral valuation, he is also aware of how dangerously overpowering and idolatrous desire can become.
      This project is interdisciplinary. It brings a biblical theology and theory of pleasure in conversation with neurobiology, philosophy (ancient and modern), cognitive science, and experiential psychology to explore both the potential and limits of natural desires to gauge what is beneficial or harmful. Medical studies on trauma, for example, demonstrate that while the mind of victims might not recall the violence done to them, the body does remember. There is an epistemology of experience measured by the human body’s interactions with its environment which Christian theology cannot ignore and must take into account.
       However, embodied human experience can neither be the sole arbitrator of what is true and moral. Sin taints human existence and places limits on the extent of an experiential epistemology. I'm hoping to define those limits more precisely in my work.
       My work would be incomplete if it does not offer new biblical, theological, and spiritual insights which inform the practices of the Christian church. We live in a culture of consumption, and so did the churches of Paul. My suspicion is that most Christians consume pleasures much more like modern Epicureans than as believers who participate in the triune life of God. If the virtue of pleasure is no more than its moderate consumption and enjoyment, Christians today may not be wanton hedonists but our practices are no different from ancient Epicureans or contemporary ones. Pleasure by itself is incomplete. It sends the person on a search for something transcendent and eternal. That search ends when we discover our ultimate delight in the person and presence of Christ. I plan to offer some examples of healthy Christian practices that make pleasure a gift which leads us into the grace of God and helps us avoid harmful, idolatrous patterns of living. MJL. 

** Postscript: My home institutions North Park Theological Seminary and North Park University featured the news of the fellowship on the university website here. I'm indeed very grateful for their support and making it possible for me to take the next academic year as a sabbatical research leave. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Mohr Siebeck posted a 97pp reading sample of #MTiGRPoM

Click here to download the Abbreviations Table with the 97pp reading sample

Mohr Siebeck posted an online reading sample PDF of Moral Transformation of Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind (#MTiGRPoM).  At first I thought: "Wow! That's a generous giveaway of part of the book..." until I looked at it and saw that most of the 97 pp. are front material, preface, abbreviations table, and indices. Only 10 pp. are from the introduction chapter, that is, from the main body of the text. 
    Nevertheless, readers might find the 18 pp. Abbreviations Table helpful because it lists out the full citations for the best text editions of the primary sources used in the book. Some are Loeb Classical Library volumes but many others might be hard to track down for the non-specialist so the table is a good resource for the reader to find these sources in one place. In any case, click on the link above for the 97 pp sample and enjoy! MJL

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Now available at Mohr Siebeck: Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind

I have to say that I'm super excited to see that my book Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind was just made available for purchase on the Mohr Siebeck website (here). Now I'll just have to wait until the author copies arrive on my doorstep through international mail. Looking forward to hold a print copy in person! PTL! 

Monday, April 6, 2020

A Taxonomy of 6 Interactions Types as a Means of Detecting Greco-Roman Allusions in the New Testament (Part 2)

Screen capture of p. 494 which summarizes the
6 types of interactions between rival sects in
Greco-Roman antiquity as a template for how
Paul might interact with the moral traditions of his day

This is blog post #2 following up on the first one which announced the forthcoming publication of Moral Transformation of Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind: Mapping the Moral Milieu of Apostle Paul and His Diasporal Jewish Contemporaries (some time this month of April 2020). 
     I'm tackling the contributions in reverse order, from its secondary purpose to its main ones, because it is probably the 2ndary purpose of mapping the types of interactions between rival philosophical and religious sects in Greco-Roman antiquity which has the most direct relevance to New Testament interpretation. The encyclopedic knowledge of Roman Stoicism and Middle Platonism and their respective developments from the old Stoa and Plato stand alone as a valuable contribution to classical and NT studies, but their relevance is not as overt. I'll expand on this for another post.
    Here I want to focus on what Troel Engberg-Pedersen has called the "Transitional Period" of the 1st century B.C. to 2nd century A.D. as a time when there is shift of intellectual and cultural influence from Stoicism to Platonism. During this period, there was considerable interaction between the two philosophical schools where the adherents of each school engaged, rejected, redefined, and appropriated select concepts from their rivals without necessarily compromising their own sectarian identity or school allegiance
    In the last chapter of my book (see the screen capture above), I do something different than simply summarize the findings of my study. I re-examine select philosophical texts as examples of certain interaction types between Stoicism, Platonism, and sometimes Epicureanism. My goal is to map out a taxonomy of interaction types between rival sects/schools, and I posit that these six basic types of interactions can provide the basis for detecting Paul's own interactions with concepts and tenets of "rival" philosophical and religious traditions. While Paul (or more literate, more educated New Testament authors as the author of Hebrews or Acts) may not have employed all six types, the taxonomy provides a checklist of possibilities for how Paul or another New Testament author may have interacted with moral discourse of a specific sect/group, or more widely with a common ancient ethical tradition shared between several groups.
      Rather than rehearse the definitions of the six interactions types listed in the screen capture above (i.e., eclecticism, refutation, competitive appropriation, irenic appropriation, concession, and common ethical usage; click on the pic above for a basic definition of each), I am going to propose quickly possible places in the Pauline letter corpus where I believe some of the above interactions occurs: 

  1. Refutation - Where there are indications of diatribe being used by Paul (e.g., Romans 3:1-9), Paul takes the proposition/argument of his interlocutor and point-by-point presents a counter-argument to the position which the interlocutor represents.
  2. Competitive appropriation - Though this is still a controversial topic of debate in New Testament scholarship where some have strongly resisted reading Paul's gospel as a critique against empire (e.g., Seyoon Kim, John Barclay; cf. my review article ), nevertheless it remains an argued thesis by many (e.g., N.T. Wright, Richard Horsley, Warren Carter, John Dominic Crossan, Richard Cassidy, Scot McKnight, and others; here is a nice article summarizing the issues) that Paul's anti-imperial gospel appropriates key terms of the Empire - such as κύριος or εὐαγγέλιον -- and redefines them in distinctly Christian terms. 
  3. Irenic appropriation - Though this is a thesis to be argued in a journal article that I would like to write up in the near future, and is partially discussed in my dissertation, one example of irenic appropriation I suggest in Paul's letters is his use of Stoic arguments in 1 Cor 6:12b ("But I will not be overpowered by anything") to counter an Epicurean ethic of pleasure ("Food for the belly, and the belly for food"). Paul is not a Stoic but he nevertheless agrees with Stoicism that what we eat and don't eat is not adiaphora but can become erroneous behavior if the activity is enslaving or addictive. It is a Stoic (counter-)argument that the elitist Corinthian wisdom group would have understood even if they themselves favored Epicurean practices.
  4. Common ethical usage - I discuss this category more thoroughly in my monograph (ch. 12) and in a separate essay "Ancient Mentors and Moral Progress in Galen and Paul" for FS Klyne Snodgrass, but to summarize quickly here, Paul's imitation language is part of a more broadly shared tradition which Abraham Malherbe calls psychagogy and cuts across the sectarian divide. Paul, as I argue in my essay, offers his distinctly Christian understanding of spiritual mentorship and exemplum but nevertheless his language of imitation is part of a set of practices and traditions in moral instruction characteristic of his Greco-Roman cultural environment. 

These are just four of the six basic interactions which I believe Paul employs in his letters. There are likely more examples of the four, and there may be more types than the six, and Paul may not utilize all the types which I catalogue in my monograph (e.g., I doubt that Paul exercises any form of concession to Greco-Roman moral traditions). But having a basic taxonomy gives the biblical interpreter a starting point for critically identifying Greco-Roman allusions in the New Testament. These are meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and foundational but not exhaustive. MJL

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It is finished! Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind (Part 1)

Pre-Print Graphic. The WUNT2 monograph
is forthcoming in June 2020

After 15+ years of off-and-on research time, trying to find gaps in a hectic teaching schedule, two sabbaticals, and every summer and winter break spent writing, and many nights of solitude typing away and increasing my caffeine tolerance, finally I can announce: "It is finished!" (John 19:30). By God's grace, I submitted the manuscript Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind to Mohr Siebeck back in September 2019. With some back and forth with an excellent editorial and production team (thanks Tobias Stäbler and Jana Trispel!), my work with the corrections/editions plus indices is done. The book is in production and will likely be in print this coming April 2020. Many thanks to Megan Herrold, my research assistant, who help me edit the entire manuscript + indices. Words cannot express how much I owe to my doctoral supervisor Dr. Judy Gundry and second Doktorvater Dr. Seyoon Kim for their support and encouragement in seeing this book through to the end.
     The book's primary audience is for other scholars and doctoral students doing research on the moral traditions of early Christianity's Greco-Roman environment. It attempts to map the moral universe of the ancient Mediterranean world during the late Republic to early imperial period of Rome from which both Diaspora Judaism and early Christianity emerge. Troels Engberg-Pedersen (2017) calls this era "the Transitional Period" during which Stoicism and Platonism dominated the moral and intellectual environment of the Roman Empire. The intellectual culture during this era shifted from the traceable influence of Stoicism (i.e., the Middle Stoa and Neostoicism) in the 1st century B.C.E. towards the documented dominance of Middle or Imperial Platonism by the end of the 2nd century C.E. 
      This monograph contributes to the synoptic picture of Greco-Roman antiquity by defining the moral transformation systems of the Platonists and Stoics so that the historian can have a starting point for what constitutes Platonist doctrines and what constitutes Stoic ones, including the latter’s Neostoic innovations. In my study of Middle Platonism, I analyzed mainly the works of Plato, Plutarch, Alcinous, and Galen and for Stoicism, Zeno, Chrysippus, Musonius Rufus, Seneca, and Epictetus.
     Here I develop systemic models for a given philosophical school's teaching on emotional control, ethical action and habit, character formation, and the role of communities and the divine. These models demonstrate that the internal logic and interconnectedness between seemingly disparate moral topoi (or topics of ethical concern) which were shared between the major philosophical schools of this era find their coherence as distinct systems of moral transformation. This is the primary thesis that the monograph defends.
    Secondly, the book also functions as a type of handbook which gives a "big picture" of Platonism and Stoicism as systems of philosophy. The teachings of every philosopher are read in their contingent, historical particularity and for how they cohere with the overall tenets of a given philosophical school. This project thus develops independent models of contingency and coherence for each Greco-Roman philosophy of mind. The method has been applied by J. Christiaan Becker to Pauline theology (1980), and I have modified it for ancient philosophy of mind. Though, as Abraham Malherbe has argued, every philosopher should be examined independently in their own right (i.e., lex Maherbe), because every philosopher of a particular school (i.e., Stoicism and Platonism) is united in one's fidelity to the teachings of the founder (i.e., Zeno/Cleanthes/Chrysippus and Plato, respectively), we can also talk about 'systems' of a school based on the interpretation of the founder's texts and a coherence between different members of a given sect based on their fidelity to the founder.
    The relevance of the book for New Testament studies lies in its foundational role for a further research on how the Apostle Paul engaged, appropriated, and modified the moral traditions of his day to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ to Gentile audiences in terms which the latter could understand. If the moral traditions of the Greco-Roman world were dominated by Stoicism and Platonism, or rather, by the interactions between these two intellectual movements (i.e., the thesis of Troels Engberg-Pedersen and other contributors to From Stoicism to Platonism), then a systemic study of Stoicism and Platonism is needed in order to situate the moral exhortations of Paul to his Gentile churches within their Greco-Roman cultural environment. At heart, Paul was a missionary. He would know how to engage and modify the moral traditions of his day to explain better to his Gentile recipients the major tenets and distinctions of the gospel he preached. 
    In sum, a short epitome of the book's major contributions to both classical studies and New Testament research are listed as follows: 
  1. The book argues and defends the thesis that moral transformation is one important and effective way to find internal coherence and interconnectedness between disparate moral topoi, a project that Johan Thom (2003) has called "mapping the moral universe" of Greco-Roman antiquity. 
  2. It constructs models for the moral transformation systems of Stoicism and Platonism and therefore enables scholars to contextualize any study of specific moral topos from the broader perspective of an entire school of thought
  3. The models differentiate for the reader areas of continuity and innovation between orthodox or early Stoicism and their latter Greco-Roman Neostoic heirs; the same has been done for distinguishing Plato's teachings and Middle Platonism
  4. The types of interactions between Stoicism and Platonism have been mapped and organized in a way to help the interpreter detect Greco-Roman allusions in the New Testament and sets up possibilities for how the NT author engages, appropriates, and modifies the moral traditions of the ancient Mediterranean world. The concluding chapters argue for 6 interaction types between rival sects: eclecticism, refutation, competitive appropriation, irenic appropriation, concession, and common ethical usage. Paul and his Diaspora Jewish contemporaries may not have employed all of these interactions types in their engagement with Greco-Roman moral traditions but this taxonomy of interactions lays out the possible ways they have may have engaged and modified a common encyclopedia of knowledge intrinsic to their cultural environment. 

Below are screen shots of the Table of Contents. I plan on giving separate expanded blog posts for each of the major contributions described above. Stay tuned for further posts. MJL






      ** Postscript: Originally I had hoped to publish the book way back in 2015/16. In fact, some book sellers like Amazon or Book Depository surprisingly list the monograph as having been published already. This is incorrect. The book's publication date is officially 2020. Nothing was released in 2015/16.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy New Year! 2020 is the Year of Fresh Visions and Coming Announcements

Happy New Year! 2020 is the year of the rat, a year of creativity, clever thinking, energy, and optimism. I could use all of these coming months but not in a superstitious way ;)
    I have not done much with the blog because of an overwhelming amount of work: overload in teaching, heavy admin duties as chair of the biblical field at North Park, and some major research projects in the queue. I do plan on revising/relaunching the blog in the near future, along with relocating it, probably on I also have some big announcements on writing projects that I hope to make soon within the month.
    Stay tuned! Until then, may the Lord give you a fresh vision and fresh fire for Him and His work this new year! MJL