Logos Live: Michael Bird

Logos Live with Mark Ward and Michael Bird

What you’ll see in this Logos Live episode

Mark Ward interviews theologian and prolific author Michael Bird about how he chooses writing projects, his unique humor, his book Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, and much more.

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Books & courses by Michael Bird

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Religious Freedom in a Secular Age: A Christian Case for Liberty, Equality, and Secular Government

Religious Freedom in a Secular Age: A Christian Case for Liberty, Equality, and Secular Government

Regular price: $14.99

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Romans (Story of God Bible Commentary | SGBC)

Romans (Story of God Bible Commentary | SGBC)

Regular price: $29.99

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The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians

The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians

Regular price: $47.99

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Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints)

Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints)

Regular price: $17.99

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Mobile Ed: NT255 The Identity of Jesus (2 hour course)

Mobile Ed: NT255 The Identity of Jesus (2 hour course)

Regular price: $69.99

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Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (Library of New Testament Studies)

Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (Library of New Testament Studies)

Regular price: $27.99

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Trinity without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology

Trinity without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology

Regular price: $25.99

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Mobile Ed: CH351 History of Heresies (7 hour course - audio)

Mobile Ed: CH351 History of Heresies (7 hour course – audio)

Regular price: $69.99

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Selected Works of Michael F. Bird (5 vols.)

Selected Works of Michael F. Bird (5 vols.)

Regular price: $94.99

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Paul and the Second Century (Library of New Testament Studies | LNTS)

Paul and the Second Century (Library of New Testament Studies | LNTS)

Regular price: $39.99

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Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew about the Bible (audio)

Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew about the Bible (audio)

Regular price: $20.99

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Evangelical Theology

Evangelical Theology

Regular price: $47.99

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The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus

The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus

Regular price: $23.99

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Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period

Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period

Regular price: $25.99

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Colossians and Philemon (New Covenant Commentary Series | NCCS)

Colossians and Philemon (New Covenant Commentary Series | NCCS)

Regular price: $14.99

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Interview with Michael Bird transcript

Mark Ward:
Of all the redheaded Aussie theologians, or Aussie I learned, who have written multiple books and commentaries in Logos Bible Software, Michael Bird is the funniest. But as middle age sets in, one wonders how long he will actually be one of the redheaded club like me. I’m Mark Ward of Logos Bible Software, editor of Bible Study Magazine, and I get to talk to Dr. Bird today about some of the many books that he’s written that are available in Logos, and a few that aren’t yet. I really just want to highlight some of the resources that he’s produced that may assist you in your Bible study and teaching and theology. I’m going to ask Dr. Bird a couple softball questions, a couple hardball questions, and a couple cricket questions for good measure.

I’ve been to Australia, actually, to preach so if he uses any words people don’t understand, I will try to translate them for you. He is across the international dateline, which I did call one time and unfortunately, no one was available from the countries I was interested in. Let’s start with a few of those softball questions. Dr. Bird, welcome. How do you serve the body of Christ?

Michael Bird:
Well, I think I serve it through a number of ways. I’m an Anglican priest so I participate in the ministry of our churches that way, preaching and teaching ministry, our sacramental life in training men and women for ministry, and also through my scholarship. And I like to think of myself as a mediator between the church and the academy.

Mark Ward:
That’s excellent. Yeah. And I’ve appreciated that work over time and kept you on my radar for a reason or two that might come up in our conversation. As part of these softball questions, I was just going through everything that we have from you in Logos, and there’s quite a bit. You’ve done a bunch of Logos Mobile Ed courses, you’ve done books and commentaries, and some of the practical questions that people always want to be posed, I, myself am personally interested in. Maybe can I do two? How do you choose projects? And how do you find time for them all?

Michael Bird:
Yeah, those are two good questions, and I find they change over the course of your life. When I started out, I pretty much just said yes to everything. Would you like to write a chapter on Paul and empire? Would you like to write something on the Pistis Christou debate? Would you like to write something about Christianity and political engagement? So I started saying pretty much yes to everything. Then you need to, as time becomes a little bit more precious, you’ve got to be a little bit more focused. And particularly in some parts of the world, like if you’re on a tenure track program, or if you’re in a system which requires you to write more erudite volumes, like for a university press, they want you to pump out these up books for Oxford or Cambridge or Yale University Press, so you’ve got to be a little bit more deliberate in where you publish depending on where your career is.
And here’s the thing. I actually like writing books, not just to impress scholars, but that people will actually read and find useful. So that’s why I wrote books like Evangelical Theology or What Christians Ought To Believe since I want to help young seminarians discern Christian doctrine, or I want to write a commentary on Romans that’s not just for scholars, but also for pastors. And then when you get towards the end of your career, you’ve got to think like, “I’ve got like maybe five books left in me. What am I going to do them on?” So Lord willing, I’m not at that stage yet. But I’m at the point where I’ve got a bit of freedom to pick up topics that interest me, but I’ve got to balance both stuff that is good for my institution and our own obligations to excellence in higher research and education, and stuff that I think will actually benefit people who read it.

Mark Ward:
I remember reading several times that C. S. Lewis got in trouble with his colleagues because of his success popularizing. They expected him to be writing only in the academic realm. But as I was reading, for example, about your comments on Pistis Christou and your Romans commentary, which I want to ask you a question about in a little bit, I found myself just appreciating, yes, I’ve read about this before, but you just very quickly and elegantly surveyed the debate. Again, I want to talk about that in a little bit. First, an even more important softball question, do the theological and biblical studies worlds need more humor from redheaded writers or even more? I wonder if you must have thought about humor and the role that it plays in your writing and frankly, your ministry to the church? Surely you have some wisdom for us on how and when and why to use humor?

Michael Bird:
Yeah. I am naturally a fairly witty kind of guy. Some people find that juvenile and inappropriate. Others find it refreshing and charming. And I don’t know why some people just really like it, some people really don’t. And I tend to write the way I speak, which is filled with, shall we say, various observations about life pointing out certain incongruities of things or the comical ironies in things. And what I tell people is that my persona or person and my persona as a writer are the same. So I say, “I’m Michael Bird the author and Michael Bird the writer, they are not homoiousios; they are homoousios.”

Mark Ward:
Excellent.

Michael Bird:
They are one and the same. So I tend to write the way I speak, which is usually with some sort of comical deviation, sometimes reigned in by my editors, that type of thing. So that’s why I like it. And I think you should at least be interesting. You can read very austere, dour, serious theology, but I think it’s good every now and again, to read something that makes you smile or that shocking thing of incongruence, like it’s true, but you’re not supposed to say it like that. So that’s what I do.

Mark Ward:
I listened to a lecture or some kind of talk by the brilliant Stephen Fry, the British… I don’t know what to quite call him, actor, comic, thinker. He’s actually done some stuff on language that I’ve found interesting too. And he pointed out the difference between American humor and British humor via a scene in a movie that I have not seen, Animal House, I think it was, where he said the British guy wants to be the one who’s getting dunked on. He’s the, in maybe more Australian terms, he’s the tall poppy being cut down. Whereas in America, he gave the example, I think at the end of The Office, which I also actually haven’t… I don’t know this scene, but Steve Carell apparently is embraced by everybody, whereas Ricky Gervais in the British version is still off the reservation. So what about Australian humor? I wonder, could you characterize it? Do you think that plays a role in the humor that you bring to the table? Or is it just uniquely you and you could have been born in any country?

Michael Bird:
I think it’s a bit of both. Australians have a very laconic sense of humor and they like to poke fun at people you’re not supposed to make fun of. So, that kind of thing. So it’s more like that. You’re not supposed to make fun of the fact that your boss has got a big nose or something, and yet someone keeps, “Hey, I got you some flowers and you’ll have no trouble smelling them with a nose like that,” or something like that, but more sophisticated. And then there’s just me. I just make observations or things come to mind. Usually the editing system comes in so I know which jokes are… Normally I know which jokes are appropriate and which jokes are inappropriate. Yes, but that takes a certain type of pro. But comedy is just about making connections between things. And my mind is constantly trying to make connections between things. And if you can deliver it in a certain way, it comes out fairly well.

Mark Ward:
Yeah. My favorite poet is Billy Collins, which isn’t all that sophisticated, but I love how he makes connections between things. And he said that when the last thing has been compared to the other last thing in the universe, then all poetry, and I think therefore all comedy will be done. Okay. Now, a little more serious into our softball questions, but I picked up your Evangelical Theology. You mentioned it earlier. The subtitle is A Biblical And Systematic Introduction. I’m going to quote you at the beginning and ask you to reflect on something that you wrote. You wrote, “There are a lot of good theology textbooks written by evangelicals, but I do not believe that there is yet a genuinely evangelical theology textbook, a theology textbook that has its content, structure, and substance singularly determined by the Evangel, that is, of course, the gospel. This volume is an attempt at such an exercise.”
Now, a number of years on, it’s been almost 10 years, really it probably has been 10 and more since you started writing it, do you think the volume advanced or even changed theological conversation in the way you hoped?

Michael Bird:
A little bit. I haven’t seen everyone running around calling themselves Birdonian in their theology, which by the way, is not my goal. I’m not trying to create my own personality cult or my own [foreign language 00:10:01], my own school of thought as it were. But I am concerned about the place of the gospel in theology because the problem is if the gospel is simply assumed, it can then easily get forgotten. And if it’s forgotten, it can be neglected. And then you’re only one generation from having the gospel mocked. And you won’t have to look far around in certain religious or postreligious institutions to see where that’s happened. So I believe the gospel must be guarded, prized, and esteemed. And if you believe that the gospel is the summary of the good news of Jesus, and it is the fullness of apostolic proclamation, then I think the gospel is the center boundary and integrating point for our theology.

And I read a lot of good theology books by evangelicals. I think of people like Millard Erickson, Alistair McGraw, and we could name several others, which are very good books, very good books on Christian theology, but they never really come out and say, “This is what the gospel is. This is how it matters. And this is how it works itself out in the different areas of Christian doctrine. This is how the gospel holds everything together.” No one was doing that. And I went looking for a volume too because I’m evangelical in the global and best sense of the word, I’m evangelical so that’s what I wanted in a theology, but no one was doing that. And then I came up with a crazy idea.

Maybe I should do it. And it’s done fairly well. And for me, out of all the stuff I’ve done, that is singly the book I was most proud of because I think that’s been my best contribution to make sure that the most important thing remains the most important thing. And we need to preach and teach the gospel. We need to live a life worthy of the gospel. The church needs to be the community of the gospelized and the gospelizing. We spread the gospel, we gossip the gospel, but we need to make sure that the realities of the gospel, the promise of the forgiveness of sins, of new life, the mission we’re called to that’s infused constantly into our lives individually and corporately.

Mark Ward:
Yeah. I certainly picked up that theme as I was going through your other writings. And that absolutely resonates with me, and I’m sure with a lot of our audience. We do have some questions coming in. I cannot ask them all, but I’m going to try to get at one or two or three maybe of the questions that come in as we go through this live event. Let me ask you another one that I prepped. Actually, when I think of Mike Bird, I often also think of Carl Truman if only because these are two of the individuals from across various ponds that I really keep on my radar, not specifically because I agree with them all the time, but because I feel like I really do need perspective that’s coming from outside the United States. It’s just so easy to be parochial, to actually forget that there are other parishes, there are other nations where Christ is preached and where he rules the church. But I’ve actually wondered, and I haven’t posed this to Dr. Truman, never interviewed him before, but when you look at the American church, what do you think it has to teach the Australian evangelicalism that you would be more familiar with than most of the audience?

Michael Bird:
There’s a number of good things about America. I love America. I do love America. You saved our butts in the second World War from the Japanese and you invented Chick-fil-A. So I’m a big America fan. I’m a big America fan. I think Americans bring a number of things. One, they bring leadership and they take their Christianity very serious. And wherever you go around the world, you will find either Christian American missionaries, American aid organizations, or people just wanting to do that. So I believe there is power, power, wonder-working power in the goodness of American Christian people. So in that sense, I’m pro American. Because I think that’s what we claim. And I do think American Christians are very generous and they certainly have the means to be generous in how they do, and the seriousness with which they take religion.

Whereas in Australia, most people would rather, in public or private conversation, most people would sooner talk about their bowel movements than their feelings about religion. Unless they’re really really anti, most Australians feel very uncomfortable talking about religion. So that’s one thing. Whereas I find in America, religion is more a topic of acceptable conversation, and people actually do want to know about that. And the fact of the matter is, I sell about 20 times more books in America than I do in Australia. In America I get treated a royalty, like, “Dr. Bird, it is an honor to meet you. Would you autograph my baby, would you autograph my baby?” or something like that. Whereas in Australia, it’s like, “Oh, bird man, you write books, do you? Bet you think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” So it’s more like that.

But that’s the differences between Australia and America. But yeah, I think there’s a lot of good things about America. If we had five or six hours, I could explain to you all the things wrong with America. But I’m pretty sure we’re not here for that. We can make that maybe the sequel.

Mark Ward:
But it wouldn’t be fair for me not to follow up with, okay, let’s summarize those five or six hours. I don’t know for sure what you’re going to say, but what are the leading things that make you constantly say, “If only America could learn from Australia or global evangelicalism?” You use evangelical in the global sense of that term. If only America could get this one or two things, what are the top things that come to your mind?

Michael Bird:
Well, I did an interview with Canadian theologian John Stackhouse, and you can find that on my YouTube channel. And he’s recently done a good little book on what is evangelicalism? And he makes a really good observation what differentiates American from global evangelicals? And he says, “American evangelicals think they are supposed to be in charge. That is, they should be running the country and the fact that they’re not is some sort of travesty or injustice, that type of thing.” I guarantee you Christians in India, evangelicals in India don’t think, “This country belongs to us and all of these Hindus have taken it away from us and we need to make India Christian again.” Christians in India don’t think like that. Now, I know America’s got a specific heritage, a specific Christian culture to it. But the idea that we are divinely entitled to hegemony in this country is not something that’s shared in any other part of the world.

Christians in other places, evangelical are not, are just grateful to be part of the ongoing conversation, make contributions. And if someone who’s more favorable to your tribe or way of doing political business gets in, all the better, but there is no sense of, “We’re entitled to be in charge.” The other side is, America does have a big Christian heritage, but it can also be very cultural and very nominal. And there is the sense which people can often blend their cultural affirmations, progressive or conservative, people can blend their cultural and political affirmations with their religion. In which case, religion just becomes a means of propping up the politics, or it becomes a cog in the wheel of a political machine. And I think that is the single biggest problem with American Christianity, it just becomes a cog in a bigger political wheel. And the idea is, there’s no ability to differentiate the political commitments from the religious commitments. And I think the last four or five years have accented that and made that very clear.

Mark Ward:
Yeah. I’m relieved here because I didn’t know what you were going to say. And you always wonder if I’m asking someone else to critique me and my tribe? Are they going to hit me where it feels really bad? And I would say, “No, I really fully agree with that.” And I’ve had to, especially with that first point, I think maybe I personally am less tempted to sit on that second point, but I have to remind myself that I seek a better country, that the meek will inherit the earth someday, that America is not a New Israel. And it was so helpful to be connected with Australian missionaries actually. And actually, one of my good friends up in Cairns. I want to say Cairns still.

Michael Bird:
Cains, Queensland.

Mark Ward:
I support him a little bit. I actually run a website for a church up there and got to know this native Australian who’s been in different kinds of pastoral and other evangelistic ministry over decades, now raised a faithful family in that culture, wonderful kids. And his perspective was equivalent to yours, reminded me of that. And he’s had to face the kinds of questions that I’m insulated from in America, though I tend to wonder if it’s coming. Now, this is bad interviewer practice, but one of your most recent books, if not your most recent one, I cannot remember the title, on religious liberty and secularism. Can you remind me?

Michael Bird:
Yeah. Religious Freedom in a Secular Age.

Mark Ward:
Yes. Those themes that you’ve brought up in that answer come up in that book. And I found it to be thought provoking exactly for the reason I gave earlier, that you’re not coming from an American perspective. We always say that we all can use help from others, from their cultural situatedness. It doesn’t mean that the Bible is beholden to that cultural lens, but that should be helpful for someone from a different circumstance who applies the Bible differently because they have a different circumstance. I really appreciated that. Now I’m going to move on to some of the cricket questions. So the hardball questions are done and not going to put you on the spot anymore, unless the people who send in questions do. But after I ask this one, I’m going to go ahead and look at those comments again.

I found another comment of yours that I thought just might be helpful for you to unpack. You wrote in your five views book on justification, you gave one of the contributions to that. You said, “I think that Reformed theologians in general have read Scripture while wearing a theological straight jacket and have read Paul through the lens of an ordo salutis, that is an order of salvation, to the neglect of a historia salutis, the history of salvation.” Maybe just a softball again. Can you explain this comment from that contribution to the five views book?

Michael Bird:
Yeah. Now, ordo salutis means the order of salvation, like what are the order of events in which salvation is applied to the individual? So a lot of Reformed theologians when they’re reading Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, Gospel of Matthew, they’re focusing on the question as if every book is about what must I do to be saved? So they’re reading everything in the New Testament with that question at the front of their mind. Now, in some sense, that’s a good question because it’s a question Paul gets asked by the Philippian jailer, and the rich young ruler asks a similar question. So it’s relevant. But what if Romans is not just about what must I do to be saved? What if the book of Romans is also about who were God’s people? How do you tell? And how should they live in a pagan city like Rome?

Because if you focus on just the, “What must I do to be saved?” The first eight chapters make great sense, maybe chapter 9’s about election, then some end-time stuff to do with Israel, then a little bit of ethics in chapter 12, the first two verses. But after that, you could probably much check out and it wouldn’t really matter at all. But I would argue, and I think other people do too, that some of the best stuff is in the second half or the second quarter or third or fourth quarter of Romans is where you get some of the best stuff, and some of the real things that Paul is aiming for in his application. Similarly in the book of Hebrews, I think it is about who are God’s people? How do we avoid the failings of scriptural types, like the Israelites in the wilderness, in the author’s own day, unbelieving Jews, and how are we called to be God’s people? How are we to make this pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem?

And I think that’s the problem, that we’ve read everything through the lens of, what must I do to be saved? Whereas a lot of the time, even when Paul’s talking about justification, he’s talking about the identity, about the belongingness of Gentiles to the church. In Galatians and Romans, Paul is really dealing with the issue, do Gentiles have to become Jews in order to become Christians? That’s the presenting issue he’s dealing with. Now, from that you can extrapolate a thing called an ordo salutis, but don’t assume that’s the main thing Paul is dealing with, or that should be at the front of everyone’s mind.

Mark Ward:
My wife is actually ethnically Jewish on her mother’s side from Lithuania and ethnically Greek on her father’s side. Her maiden name was Rotsis, and that’s always put a very personal cast on the questions of Jew Gentile nations.

Michael Bird:
Neither Jew and Greek.

Mark Ward:
Right. And she’s a Christian now and praise God for it. Yeah, that’s helpful. Now, I think one of the questions I’m most interested in that I see in the chat right here, pairs pretty well with one of the ones I was already planning to ask, so let’s just toss out some Scripture passages for you to make comment on. I wanted to ask about Pistis Christou, the faith of Christ, that phrase in Romans that you talk about in your Story of God Biblical Commentary, that we’ve definitely got in Logos Bible Software. I really felt you had—I chose the word in my notes—a very adroit, elegant, quick, explanation of that debate. And I wondered if you could share that with our viewers. And then can I toss on a second one from one of our commenters, Tyler Archibald? He asks, “Can you explain the phrase, the law of Christ?” Presuming he’s referencing that use in Galatians and in Romans. Two questions for you, go for it.

Michael Bird:
Okay. Let me go through those. I’ll do the, it’s called the Pistis Christou. Now, Pistis is the Greek word for faith and Christou means of Christ. So literally it means the faith of Christ. If you look at passages like Romans 3:22, parts of Galatians, Galatians 2, parts of Philippians, and one or two other places around the New Testament, you’ve got this construction, which is Pistis Christou, and the debate is, does it mean faith in Christ, or does it mean the faithfulness of Christ himself? Now, grammatically, both are possible. You can read them either way as an objective generative, faith in Christ, or as a subjective generative, the faithfulness of Christ himself. And there’s whole sorts of debates about this, the nature of the Greek and certain things redundant, and does Paul talk about obedience elsewhere?

What’s the theological implications of all this? And the reception history and all those. So there’s a whole complicated array of debates on this. And if I can give you the strength of the subjective generative, Paul talks about the righteousness of God being revealed through Pistis Christou. So you’ve got the issue, if it’s talking about my faith, how does my faith reveal the righteousness of God if the righteousness of God is God’s plan to put the world to right, his saving power mentioned in the prophets? Think of Isaiah 51, or the book of Psalm, “Save me from blood guilt, Oh Lord, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.” How does my faith reveal the apocalyptic righteousness of God? Surely it makes better sense to say that God’s saving power comes through the faithfulness of Jesus himself, who was obedient to his messianic vocation, who was the obedient son.
And Paul can talk about the obedience of Christ in Romans 5. It’s implied in Philippians 2. So how can you not see it as the faithfulness of Christ himself? Makes great sense, doesn’t it. But grammatically when Paul uses something like some of the Greek prepositions, normally he means it in an instrumental sense of faith directed towards someone. That’s the normal way he uses it. And you can go through other usages in Greek. And the history of interpretation is overwhelmingly treating it as Christ as the object of faith. So this is the dilemma that we have. There’s some very good reasons for believing in the subjective view, that it’s referring to Christ’s own faithfulness. There’s also some pretty good reasons for believing that Christ is the object of faith. Now, there’s one way you can split the difference and say, “Look, it’s faith in the whole event of Christ, which implies his faithfulness and obedience.”

So when you have faith in Christ, you are having faith in God’s action in Christ and it includes the whole package of the work of Christ, including his ministry, his faithfulness to his messianic task, his obedience as a son, particularly his obedience unto death in Philippians and includes all of that. So that’s how I split the horns of the dilemma. The only place where I would probably prefer the subjective generative would be in Philippians 3. I’ve done a commentary on Philippians with Nijay Gupta. And I think when you get in there, it does make sense to slightly prefer the subjective generative of the faithfulness of Christ. Otherwise, I’m more inclined towards a faith in Christ. But if you compare a few different Bible translations like the NET Bible or the Common English Bible, or Tom Wright’s New Testament for Everyone, you’ll see some of those do prefer the subjective generative in places, but it’s one of those tricky questions that grammarians and theologians debate the nature of Greek grammar.

Mark Ward:
Before we get onto the law of Christ, another quick follow-up question about that and a little recommendation to folks. If that all went by so fast, and it was explained so well, Dr. Bird, I appreciate it, but that you need to recover it, of course you can watch this video again, or you can pick up Dr. Bird’s Romans commentary. And he goes through that in even a little bit more detail. You can just go back through and remind yourself of the contours. I find it particularly helpful when scholars are able to do something like a dialectic, bringing two opposing views together, seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each. But I also was refreshed that Dr. Bird landed, at least in Romans 3, the section I was reading on what he felt was the better understanding, which was the objective generative that the faith is in Christ.

And of course the following phrase is for all who believe. So in that context, that makes a lot of sense. The follow-up question I have for you, Dr. Bird, actually relates to something I wrote recently, and I like to do what I call a referendum or plebiscite among commentators sometimes, just blitz through in Logos. I might have 60 commentators, including some journals and some theologies or something that weigh in on the interpretation of a specific passage. And I was looking at a particular set of verses in the Psalms and found that, sure enough, about 55 of the 60 picked the interpretation that I preferred and about five at least entertained, or maybe even adopted the one I did not prefer. You did something similar. You just mentioned the history of interpretation of that phrase, Pistis Christou, but I was challenged on this. Why should that be relevant? I feel like that’s a softball question, but I’m going to toss it out to you.

Michael Bird:
Well, the history of interpretation is relevant because a lot of people who are way smarter and more godly than you and me have wrestled with this question earlier. We should also always be wary when someone says they’ve got something radically new that’s unprecedented. Maybe they dig up some some piece of pottery or some inscription that sheds new light. And I believe God does have new light to shed on his Word; we can increase our knowledge of things. There is an advancement of academic knowledge. But we learn so much from the past. And whether that’s from the church fathers, from the medieval period, or from people in different parts of the world, I always tend to think you should consult things synchronically, talk to the people around you, but then diachronically, plum down into the depths of our history, the history of exegesis.
And this is where tradition is a good thing. Tradition is what the church learned from reading Scripture. That’s what tradition is. Tradition is what the church learned from reading Scripture. So go back and see if some other really smart people, godly people have any light to shed on this particular topic. Now, it’s not always the same. You won’t find John Christofsen saying too much about being for or against IVF, the ethics of [inaudible 00:32:07]. You won’t find necessarily stuff like that or nuclear disarmament or anything like that. You can’t have anachronistic expectations. But normally on topics like this, you can find some people wrestling with similar sort of questions.

Mark Ward:
Right. Excellent. I find that helpful. So let’s move from that question, the law of Christ. Tyler Archibald asks, “How do you explain that phrase? What is the law of Christ?”

Michael Bird:
Yeah, that’s a passage that occurs in Galatians 6:2, and I believe it also occurs in 1 Corinthians 9. I think Paul says things like, “I’m not under the Torah, but I’m under the law of Christ,” or he talks about fulfilling the law of Christ. So what is the law of Christ? Well again, there’s about four or five different options. Is it the Jewish law, the Torah understood in light of Christ? Some people have argued that way. And I would generally argue that the law of Christ refers, I think, principally to the teaching of Christ, the example of Christ, possibly life in the spirit. But that then raises the question about the law because on the one hand, like in Romans 6, Paul says, “Run to grace, not law,” which sounds great. But then you get to Romans 13 and he says, “We’re meant to love our neighbor and to love your neighbor, you should do the second half of the Decalogue or the second half of the 10 Commandments.”

But hang on, you said run to grace not law, but now you’re telling us the law actually can be good for how we love our neighbor, that kind of a thing. And this is where I’ll defer to my Ridley colleague. As you see, my Ridley colleague, Brian Rosner, who’s written a great book on Paul and the law. Maybe that’s available in Lagos, I don’t know that? But that’s a very good book. He argues that Paul treats the law as a type of wisdom for Christian living. It’s not the dictate or the constitution that we’re under, but it’s a type of wisdom for Christian living, like Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor.” And if you want to know how to love your neighbor, there’s some good wisdom in the law about how to do that, like the second half of the Decalogue.

And he also says, the other function of the law is a prophetic role in pointing ahead to Christ. So that’s what I think the law of Christ is. I think it’s the teaching of Christ and the example of Christ. But when you do those things, you will actually fulfill the law, allow the things you find in the 10 Commandments and in particular, Leviticus 19:18. That seems to be the real substance of Jesus, Paul, James, and others about how Christians live. Love the neighbor as yourself. When you do that, you fulfill the law. And that I think is the law of Christ.

Mark Ward:
Yeah. When I think of Galatians 6, the other interpretation that I’ve heard, I wonder if this maybe figures into your teaching of Christ, is that it’s the specific teaching of Christ to love your neighbor as yourself, because that passage says that if your brother is… And sorry, King James language is what comes to my mind, it’s what I grew up with. “If your brother is overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restores such an one in the spirit of meekness.” Yeah, that’s helpful. And it’s great just to have folks around who can answer off the top of their heads and survey the scene of interpretation like you just did.

Got another one for you from Scott Sanjay Hayes. What is the usefulness of the Apocrypha for revealing the context and worldview of the first-century writers of the new Testament? And can I toss in a small anecdote? I have done some work on the King James-only debate. And recently a defender of the King James told me that the reason he rejects the Vaticanus manuscript is that it was discovered with the Apocrypha included. And I thought, “Don’t you realize that the 1611 King James had the Apocrypha? Anyway, onto you? How do you answer that question?

Michael Bird:
Actually, every King James Bible had an Apocrypha in it until about the 1880s, when I think some Protestants in New York took it out because they didn’t like the Catholics. They didn’t like all the Irish Catholics. So they took out the Apocrypha from their King James Bible. But that’s another story. The Apocrypha is something you should read; you should read it because it gives you a bit of history between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. And particularly the Maccabean literature, 1 or 2 Maccabees, mandatory reading. You’ll learn about what happened after Alexander The Great took over the joint? How his kingdom was divided up into fours, and you have what’s called the Seleucid Kingdom and the Ptolomies in Egypt. Seleucids in Syria, battling over and effectively Israel was the cage that they were fighting in for the most part.

And you find out how they tried to basically ban Judaism and stick a pagan statue in the temple. You’ve got some great works like Ben Sirach, which is some poetic Psalmic wisdom literature. You’ve got the Wisdom of Solomon, which is also the same. You’ve got 1 Ezra. I wrote a commentary on carry on 1 Ezra based on Codacs Vaticanus, and that’s probably not available on Logos. And if you never read it, you’re not missing much. But even 1 Ezra tells the story of Ezra, Nehemiah in a specific way. So there’s a lot of good stuff in there. You should read it because it fills in so much gap in our knowledge, provides a lot of background. And there’s so many things that will remind you of the Old Testament and remind you of the New Testament.

And Christians, certainly in the early centuries were reading and using this material and they did find it useful for instruction. They did find it important and it’s very much a part of the world of Jesus and the apostles. So I definitely recommend getting into a bit of reading, some Apocrypha a couple of times over the course of your life.

Mark Ward:
Do you think it was in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews when Hebrews 11, the hall of faith chapter was penned?

Michael Bird:
Well, I was just reading Hebrews 11 last night. That’s where I’m up to in my Bible reading at the moment. And I’m thinking about doing a sermon on Hebrews 11. Yeah, I think he’s referring to certain figures in there, which I think from memory would probably require some knowledge of the Apocrypha. And by the way, the Apocrypha is what we call it. People back then didn’t call it the Apocrypha. It was just part of the body of other Jewish writings that had varying degrees of status in Jewish communities, in the ancient world. So yeah, I think it’s very important. When Paul writes his critique of Gentiles in Romans 1, I think he’s very definitely influenced by a text called the Wisdom of Solomon. When John the evangelist writes his prologue, there is a lot of similarities between the Logos becoming flesh and the Wisdom of God entering the temple and then becoming the Torah.

So if you want to understand John 1, you should read Sirach 24. You want to understand Romans 1, read the central sections of the Wisdom of Solomon. So there is some very helpful stuff in there that will open up new vistas, and your mind will make various connections that you find between the Old, the New, and these middling texts that we call the Apocrypha.

Mark Ward:
Yeah, I can echo all of that. And really enjoyed myself personally, 1 Maccabees the story of the faithfulness of those individuals in light of the persecution, the very violent persecution that was coming their way. I found it to always be an edifying story. And it also just rings true, it just feels like anybody who’s read any kind of history, it feels like somebody really took a careful look at the history and tried to write out much like Luke did and the way he describes it at the beginning of Luke.

Michael Bird:
If you want to know what some ancient Jews believed about resurrection, read the story of the martyrdom of the Maccabean martyrs. One guy is being disemboweled, and he gets his own innards and throws them at his torturer and he says, “You see these, God’s going to give them back to me.” That’s hope in resurrection. That’s not like immortality of the soul. You can do what you like to my body, but God’s going to undo what you evil so-and-so’s are doing by giving me a resurrection body. Stuff like that, this really helps set the scene for when the early church is talking about—the resurrection of Christ—and it’s really reversing what the evil empires of the world are doing to God’s oppressed people.

Mark Ward:
So what Dr. Bird has just done is taken someone’s intestines and use them to tie the testaments together because that’s what people charge, that the Old Testament faith didn’t actually look forward to resurrection, but here are these folks providing a, third-party objective view, because they’re not part of the canon of the 66 books that’s typically accepted, but they’re showing that faith in pre-Christian times. I also have to draw attention, before I come to a last question, and thank you again for your time Dr. Bird. I have to draw attention to how Dr. Bird dropped so casually his evangelical membership card when he said, “Oh, yes, I was reading in my regular Bible reading last night in Hebrews.” So just everybody take note of that.

Okay. Final question, and there’s no really special significance to this, but Bart Ehrman is a name that comes up regularly in new Testament textual criticism, a field that I have some amateurish interest in. And also, his name comes up in Jesus studies. And I know you wrote a book or along with others… Maybe were you an editor responding to his work? That also has been some years ago, How God Became Jesus, I believe. What do you think is the state of that debate with Bart Ehrman? And maybe we can round out our time with this last question.

Michael Bird:
It was a fun thing. Bart Ehrman brought out a book called How Jesus Became God. And I was walking around the society of biblical literature bookstore, and I saw the advertisements for this book coming out. And I looked at it and my heart sank because I knew I was going to get stack of emails from people all around the world going, “What’s this about Ehrman. Has he finally unveiled this conspiracy theory that Jesus was never God and he was made God by the early church or something like that?” So I thought, “Oh, I’m going to have to deal with that.” I thought, “Well, it actually would be good to get ahead of this and to write a response just after.”

Mark Ward:
I remember that, yes.

Michael Bird:
And I spoke to some great people at Zondervan. I said, “How about we write a response?” And Zondervan and HarperOne are owned by the same parent company. So they’re two different sides of the one shop you might say. And they spoke to each other and they thought, “Hey, all press is good press.” Publishers Weekly did a funny entry saying, “Harper Collins hedges bets on the divinity of Jesus.”

Mark Ward:
That’s great.

Michael Bird:
They’re hedging. Okay, Bart Ehrman, no. Mike Bird and his posse, yes. So we actually wrote a book within 100 days from the idea to publication. Now, if you know anything about the publishing industry, this is making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs or something like that. So this was pretty epic. And we wrote a response to Ehrman, and his book is How Jesus Became God, our book is How God Became Jesus. And we offer some polite pushback. And that’s the debate that’s going on. The problem is, sometimes Bart Ehrman is correct. Sometimes he’s half correct. And sometimes he be totes cray cray. But it’s not always clear. So he’ll say things that are true or partly true, or sometimes just plainly absurd. A good example of his absurd stuff was when Paul says to the Galatians, “When I was there, you welcomed me as if I was an angel like Christ himself.” And Ehrman says, “See, Paul probably thought Christ was an angel.” He says, “You welcome me like an angel and a welcome like Christ himself because if you mention stuff consecutively, obviously it means the same thing.”

It’s not particularly convincing if you ask me. It’s not the best way of putting it. So we had a response to that. And I’m also glad to say, if I can do a promo for my next book, which is my very, very next book is Called Jesus Among the Gods, Early Christology in the Greco Roman World, which is coming out with Bailey University Press. I’m assuming it will come out with Logos at some point, I’m hoping.

Mark Ward:
Likely.

Michael Bird:
But that’s the book where I try to offer very expansive and scholarly understanding of in what sense is Jesus divine? And to his credit, I think that’s the question that Ehrman was correct to ask. In what sense is Jesus divine? Because you can be like capital G God or little G God. And there’s a spectrum of God in the ancient world. So I think he was right about that. But that’s the book where I’m trying to explore, what does it mean? Or what did the early church mean when they called Jesus divine? And then I want to do a comparison of Jesus with all these other intermediary figures. How is Jesus similar or different from the angel of the Lord? How is Jesus similar or different to a deified emperor who gets declared a God by the Roman Senate? How is Jesus similar and different to the son of man in the document called 1 Enoch? You know?

So I want to go through all those sorts of things and say, “Okay, some similarities, but not quite.” But the main conclusion I get, you say, “Look, you can find some similarities between Jesus and the deified Augustus.” And they’re real, there are some things that are in common. But for the most part, when the early church said Jesus was divine, they weren’t comparing him to Augustus or the Enochic son of man, they usually were seeing him as an analog of the God of Israel. So he was maybe a bit like an Augustus deified. Maybe he was a bit like an angelic creature. There is angelic imagery applied to Jesus in the book of revelation. But the main way they thought that he was divine was applying to him the language used to describe the God of Israel. And that’s why in Philippians 2, he’s described in the language of Isaiah 45. That’s why in 1 Corinthians 8 he’s described in the language of the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4.

That seems to be in the sense which he was divine. There were different ways of thinking about deity, but they seemed to identify Jesus as an eternal unbegotten God. And that was the highest sense of divinity. But you can find more on that in the future. So I continue the debate with Ehrman at that point in a far more expansive, exhaustive volume.

Mark Ward:
Yeah. So America is both the dwelling place of the largest number of buyers of Mike Bird books. And it’s full of Christians who are true Christians who are skeptical of the value of biblical scholarship. I’ve certainly run into those brothers and sisters as well. And what I’d like to draw attention to as we close, before we thank Dr. Bird for his time and sign off, is just to point out just how much work goes into the really apologetics that you’re doing there. The scholarly work that you’re doing, you knew it was coming at you as soon as you saw the advertisement. I’ve actually had that feeling too. Sometimes there’s a question out there and you realize, I know I’m the one to handle this, or I certainly can be. It’s probably going to be a lot of work that is a real service for other people, when you could be watching the telly instead. I don’t even know if they call it that in Australia, but maybe they do. Dr. Bird, thank you so much for your time. That was insightful and fun. Really appreciate your being with us.

Michael Bird:
Well, thank you, Mark. A pleasure talking to you. Thank you for the great people at the Faithlife corporation and Logos. I love what you people do. And thank you for everyone who’s been listening and watching. I hope you’ve enjoyed our time together.

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Written by
Jason Brueckner

Jason Brueckner is the Sr. Community Manager at Faithlife. He has a master’s in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and over a decade of experience with digital marketing, church communications, and ministry.

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Written by Jason Brueckner