Mark Gignilliat is Associate Professor of Divinity (Old Testament) at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University. He received his Ph.D. from St. Andrews, Scotland, and is the author of Karl Barth and the Fifth Gospel: Barth’s Theological Exegesis of Isaiah.


Who knew that a book on OT criticism could be enjoyable?

Mark Gignilliat’s A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism is a superb introduction to modern historical-criticism of the Bible. The format, the style, the scholarship is all excellent. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular figure: Benedict Spinoza, W. M. L. de Wette, Julius Wellhausen, Herman Gunkel, Gerhard von Rad, William F. Albright, and Brevard Childs — a list that he recognizes could be expanded to include other prominent persons (Eichrodt, Noth, Barr, et al.). By choosing to focus on major figures, situating each in his biographical context, there is a liveliness to the book. As Gignilliat writes in the introduction:

People and their ideas are more interesting (at least to me) than abstract discussions of critical theories. For example, I do not have a chapter on form criticism. But I do have a chapter on Hermann Gunkel, with form criticism discussed therein. Also, I find these figures fascinating as people located in the broader cross-stream of ideas, cultural norms, and ecclesiastical battles. [p. 12]

And indeed, the little biographical tidbits enhance the discussion immensely. The audience for this book is fairly broad. Gignilliat has a very engaging style and presupposes little, if any, insider knowledge of the field. And since Gignilliat’s prose is always clear and brisk, many laypersons could find it accessible and enjoyable. For the academic, you will appreciate that Gignilliat is studious and unbiased in his explanations of these diverse figures, though he freely acknowledges his preference for Brevard Childs. The concluding chapter features a who’s who of my favorite theologians: Thomas Torrance, John Webster, Karl Barth, and Herman Bavinck. This is where Gignilliat offers some constructive theological commentary, but the previous chapters on De Wette, Wellhausen, Gunkel, etc., are not distorted in any way by his own commitments. These chapters could have been written by any competent scholar in the field.

To give you one, fairly random, example of Gignilliat’s style, here is part of his discussion of Spinoza’s account of the prophets:

The language of being filled with the Spirit is an internal claim about the prophet’s uniquely cultivated piety and virtue. Revelation in such an account becomes religious self-awareness. Spinoza does claim that within the prophet’s imaginative gifts genuine divine communication can take place. Therefore, Spinoza does not dismiss the veracity of prophetic knowledge. As natural knowledge has its source in the mind, prophetic knowledge has its source in the imagination. But both sorts of knowledge are an act of self-discovery. [p. 30. Referencing Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, Cambridge 2007, pp. 24-25.]

This is a somewhat technical passage, but in the context it is perfectly clear what Gignilliat is explaining about Spinoza.

The book is 176 pages, plus a name index and subject index. The publisher mercifully chose to use footnotes instead of endnotes! I honestly do not understand why endnotes are still in existence.


This is a follow-up quote for my previous post, “The Case for Wine.” I’ve seen this quote, from bloggers and elsewhere, multiple times, and it is worth sharing again. This relates to my responses to Objections #2 and #3 in the previous post, namely that wine is not interchangeable with grape juice without changing the signification (what is represented and indicated by the sign). Here is Frederick Buechner:

Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses. Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk-making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one. [Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, p. 96]

Last month, Robin Parry posted an excerpt from George Hunsinger’s Eucharist and Ecumenism, which complements the Buechner quote rather nicely:

What I like least, I’m afraid, is the usual form of celebration in American Protestant churches like my own. What does it symbolize when little trays of pre-cut white bread are passed through the pews, to be followed by larger, more cumbersome trays with grape-juice-filled little cups (these days, more often than not, even disposable plastic cups). I feel embarrassed when these services are visited by ecumenical friends. How can they help musing that what is being symbolized here is the essence of Protestant individualism and privatized religion, the alone communing with the Alone (as Plotinus said), a deracinated form of community, giving new meaning to Rahner’s phrase “anonymous Christians”? [p. 332]

When it comes to bland, antiseptic, Gnostic-like Protestantism in America, there is no better symbol than grape juice. And our bread is no better:






For some of you, the argument over wine versus grape juice in the Lord’s Supper is entirely foreign. You grew-up Roman Catholic or Lutheran or Greek Orthodox or Anglican or similarly “high church.” You can read this post as an observer on the outside, curiously looking in. But here in NASCAR country, we do our drinking at the track or pretty much anywhere and anytime, unless it’s Sunday morning at church and it’s time for Communion. So, this is a lively debate still. Here is a brief run-down of how I understand the issue.


For those who know little or nothing of this discussion, here is a quick history. The transition from wine to grape juice is a recent event in the two thousand year history of the church, and its provenance was almost entirely in America. Not every church or denomination transitioned to grape juice. Those that did were under the influence of two powerful sociological forces in the 19th century: (1) the plight of alcoholism and (2) the rise of revivalism. These are very different, but I think they sufficiently account for a lot.

The temperance movement swept our nation in the 19th century, in response to the serious rise in alcoholism, especially among the working class. The reasons for this are somewhat complex, but I think a broadly Marxian critique is probably right. The sociological behavior was driven by economic forces, namely the inhumanity of 19th century industrialism. Alcoholism was a consequence, in large part, of industrialism. I know that can be disputed, and I would not extend this critique further than it needs to go. For the record, this is probably the only time I have ever appealed to Marx to substantiate an argument, and I wouldn’t recommend doing so when talking to Southern Baptists!

Another factor worth considering is the increased availability of distilled spirits (hard liquor), thanks to the invention of the column still in the 19th century. Distillation goes back to the early middle ages, but it was not mass produced in the way we are accustomed today and for the past 100 or so years. As those of us who drink are well aware, it takes a lot of beer or wine to get truly drunk. But with liquor, it’s easy and relatively inexpensive, if you go for the bottom shelf booze. I don’t know how much of this contributed to alcoholism in the 19th and early 20th century, but it seems like a good guess.

The entrepreneur to capitalize on the plight of alcoholism was the devout Methodist, Thomas Bramwell Welch. But his motivations were not avaricious, as “to capitalize on” may suggest. He was genuinely concerned about alcoholism and for religious/ethical reasons — the same reasons that motivated his involvement in the Underground Railroad. He invented the pasteurization process that yields grape juice as we know it today, and he advocated for its use as a substitute for wine. He and his heirs were enormously successful in doing so.

Alongside the rise of alcoholism, the 19th century was also the century of revivalism in the churches. There was a “Great Revival” in the 18th century, but this revivalism acquired whole new dimensions with Charles Finney and other prominent revivalists in the following century. For many, it became a comprehensive template for how the church should conduct itself. As a result, the sacraments diminished and “enthusiasm” increased. The sacraments were sidelined, although not entirely abandoned, of course. It was in this context that substituting wine for grape juice was, quite simply, not a big deal. In those churches where a higher view of the sacraments was retained, this was unconscionable. The “low church” bodies were generally the most adaptable to grape juice, such as Baptists and Holiness groups, but many mainline leaders advocated the same, as a part of the social gospel awareness. As a result, many of the mainline Protestant denominations were caught in-between, such as the Methodists and the Presbyterians. The Methodists had a stronger revivalist streak, and thus many of them adopted grape juice rather easily. For Presbyterians, it was mixed, and it remains mixed to this day. Some use wine. Some use grape juice.

So, that is the history. More needs to be said, but let’s look at the common objections to wine in the Eucharist.

Objection #1: Alcoholism

The obvious objection, given the history above, is that of alcoholism. The objection is basically this: “Every church has members or guests who struggle with alcohol abuse. Serving wine is a temptation for them to ‘fall off the wagon,’ and so it is unloving and irresponsible for us to do so.” This objection has to be taken seriously, as I think everyone agrees. Because of this, I am willing for churches to adopt a compromise position, serving wine primarily but with grape juice as an option. But it also needs to be observed that Catholics, to give one notable example, do not seem to be debilitated by this concern. Neither do Lutherans or Orthodox or Anglicans. In those communions and cultures where wine in the Eucharist is “a given,” it is not a problem, and these also tend to be cultures that (as I see it) have a healthier view of wine and alcohol consumption in general. Alcoholism, as in the ancient world, is seen as one manifestation of a disordered life, and it is the disorder that has to be targeted. This is why “alcoholism,” as a distinct disorder, did not exist in the ancient world. This is a much larger and debated discussion, for which I am not truly qualified.

So, I question the merit of this objection. One of my seminary classmates has a long history of alcoholism and is now helping other alcoholics. I asked her about wine in the communion service, and she said (without hesitation) that it has no effect on her or anyone she knows. It is too little alcohol. And with intinction, it is entirely a non-issue. This is just an anecdote, and other alcoholics can disagree. But it is people like her that we have to hear, as we weigh this delicate issue.

Objection #2: “Wine” in the Bible is not really wine.

This objection can take a number of creative forms. The general approach is to emphasize how wine in the ancient world was diluted by water. This is true, to an extent. Wine is clean. It is pure and healthy (as we know now more than ever), protecting itself against parasites, which is the biggest reason why it was used so often as a common drink in Jesus’ day. In its everyday use, it was “cut” by water in order to make it last longer…but not in festivities. When Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana for the wedding celebration, it was the finest wine of the entire event, which means that is was definitely not cut by water.

It is hard to take this objection seriously. Even diluted wine is still wine, not grape juice. And the festal wine was not diluted. This objection only serves to further highlight the extent to which wine was part of the life and well-being of ancient societies. It was an everyday drink, safer than water, and yet it was also a celebratory drink for special occasions. These are not unconnected, it seems to me. Wine was a blessing. Amos 9:13. Joel 2:24. The prophets used it as an image of blessing in the restoration of Israel. Even today, when we don’t have to worry about unhealthy drinking water (at least not in the West), wine still has its celebratory association, which seems rather important in its signification within the Eucharist (which, after all, means “thanksgiving” for a reason).

Objection #3: Both wine and grape juice are “fruit of the vine” and that’s all that matters.

The expression, “fruit of the vine,” indicates wine. As Jesus said, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29 NIV). Nonetheless, some have used “fruit of the vine” to indicate grape juice as well. As such, it is used as the essential feature of the wine. All that matters is that it is “fruit of the vine.” Thus, the fermentation does not really change anything substantially. The alcoholic content is accidental, in other words. But, are we really squabbling over alcohol content? That’s how it may seem.

But, I think the fermentation process is essential, not accidental. It’s more than about “alcohol content.” It’s about what the element (bread or wine) signifies, and grape juice does not have the same signification as wine. It lacks the festal and celebratory features noted under objection #2 above. Jesus chose wine for a reason. And I think one of the casualties, of switching to grape juice, has been the cheapening of the entire character of the eucharistic meal and celebration.


This is a quick discussion of the objections, with only the briefest of responses. I am convinced of the responses, which is why I wrote them! But even if you are not convinced, you have to ask yourself one question. Is it not significant that Jesus, the apostles, and over 1800 years of church history unanimously agreed on this? At the very least, that should be a haunting question.

For your listening pleasure, I will direct you to a sermon by Arden Hodgens, pastor of Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in La Mirada, California: “Wine vs. Grape Juice.” Hodgens, with the other elders of Trinity Reformed, changed the church’s practice from grape juice to wine! He doesn’t care about your opinion or preferences in regard to consuming alcohol. The only question is whether it is biblical to substitute grape juice for wine in the Lord’s Supper. It is not.


Image: Gundlach Bundschu, located in Sonoma Valley, is California’s oldest continuously family-owned winery. With my brother and our parents, I took a tour of their winery this past summer. It was fascinating. They are German Protestant, which meant that they had to close during prohibition, whereas the Catholic wineries were given an exemption for sacramental reasons! Of all the wineries we visited, Gun-Bun was by far the best.


Henry Sloane Coffin is one of the most delightful writers that I have ever read, similar to George Buttrick. There is something about that generation. In the excerpt below, Coffin offers an illustration for our knowledge of God, using “great authors” as an analogy for God’s self-disclosure. In Coffin’s day, personalism was a favorite means to articulate the Christian faith. Emil Brunner was perhaps its greatest exponent in systematic theology.


To know God — what a presumptuous statement! In what sense is it possible? Knowledge of anything depends upon some fitness in us to the object to be known. The same vibrations of ether are to the skin heat, and to the eye light. The same vibrations of the air are to the body an imperceptible tremor and to the ear sound. We have to develop the organ which equips us to interpret anything and to understand it. And this is emphatically so of our knowledge of persons. An English critic some years ago said: “To understand some writers we must change our planet and wait patiently till we are acclimatized.” Great authors as a rule have to educate a public to appreciate them, and often they wait years, perhaps until they themselves are dead, to be prized and understood. We can all think of books that meant nothing to us once. We wondered why anyone praised them. But we have since grown up to them, and have come back to them with eagerness. Life’s experiences have developed in us the capacities to interpret what was once lost upon us. It is often said that no hero is a hero to his valet. That is not because the hero is no hero, but because the valet is a valet.

[Joy in Believing, ed. Walter Russell Bowie, pp. 58-59.]

As with any analogy, it can be criticized. God is not just a very eloquent novelist, waiting for our maturation. There is a necessary dialectical otherness that is missing, but that is the risk of all analogies.

As some of you may remember, I blogged an excerpt from Coffin previously: “Faith Without Apologetics.”


Image: Reformation Bible College



In Douglas Farrow’s account, the developed doctrine of Mary (mariology) is an expression of the church’s displacement of Christ with its own self. That which belonged to Christ was gradually co-opted by the church, with Mary as the more truly human mediator. In medieval and baroque Catholic piety (and still today), Mary often acquires the mediatorial role as the human means to God/Christ. For Farrow, this is a consequence of a defective theology of the ascended humanity of Jesus Christ, which safeguards the church from deifying itself in response to the absence of Christ.

Farrow spends considerable energy tracing how Irenaeus’ theology, wherein Jesus’ time is not collapsed into creaturely time, was betrayed by mystical, Platonist, Gnostic influences, especially beginning with Origen. With Schleiermacher, he discerns a similar faulty understanding of Christ and especially the events of resurrection, ascension, and parousia. This results in a faulty ecclesiology, where the church is the continuation of the incarnation of the Son. Here is part of Farrow’s account:

On Schleiermacher’s view doctrines such as the resurrection, ascension, and parousia do not speak of things that happened to Jesus, but of things that happen in us; that is, they articulate in various ways our recognition of his ‘peculiar dignity’ and our longing to be united with him in his perfect God-consciousness. Internalizing these doctrines was not a new thing, of course, but for the first time we encounter from within systematic theology the really quite astonishing contention that the Easter events and the parousia ‘cannot be laid down as properly constituent parts of the doctrine of his person.’ That is, they have no organic connection with belief in the redeemer qua redeemer. So far from being ‘one of the chief points of our faith,’ then, as Calvin thought, the ascension ‘is not directly a doctrine of faith’ at all! From one perspective it is merely ‘an accidental form’ for effecting Christ’s heavenly session. [footnote: See CF § 99, cf. 29.3, 158.1]

The immediate impact on the Where? question was to collapse the spatial distance on which Calvin had insisted into something radically Lutheran, that is, to render it in strictly existential terms. [footnote: By describing our relationship with Jesus as a ‘mystical’ one, Schleiermacher (§ 100) moves the whole issue of distance and nearness back into Lutheran territory, so to speak. In effect, it becomes an hamartiological question, related to the waxing and waning of the God-consciousness.] But at the same time it opened up the temporal dimension to Christ’s absence which the reformers had largely ignored. Jesus’ contemporaneity could no longer be taken for granted. For the new christology to work, a bridge between past and present was required, rather than a bridge between heaven and earth. Schleiermacher set out to build it, spanning Lessing’s ‘great ugly ditch’ with an attractive Romanesque structure: In the society of his followers Jesus’ unique God-consciousness (which is also his true self-consciousness) has survived and indeed widened with the advance of history; his personality and spiritual activity have been prolonged in the common life of the church. Here was Protestantism’s own mariological turn, modestly performed yet even more decisively. The church itself was now the τόπος [“place”] of Jesus, the only possible answer to the Where? question.

[footnote: Schleiermacher’s construct allows us to speak of an ongoing incarnation that passes from Jesus to the church: ‘And so, since the Divine Essence was bound up with the human person of Christ, but is now (his directly personal influence having ceased) no longer personally involved in any individual, but henceforward manifests itself actively in the fellowship of believers as their common spirit, this is just the way in which the work of redemption is continued and extended in the Church’ (§ 124.2; cf. 122.3).]

[Ascension and Ecclesia, Eerdmans 1999, pp. 181-182]

When Farrow gets to Kierkegaard and Barth, he is obviously happy that they broke with a speculative logos asarkos, and related matters. In his treatment of Irenaeus and Origen, earlier in the book, Farrow had identified Origen’s logos asarkos as a big part of the problem, in contrast to Irenaeus’ consistent identification of the Word with Jesus. Yet, Farrow is not happy with Barth’s identification of eternity with time, reconciliation with revelation, act with being, Christ with creation, just to name a few! This is an enormously complicated part of the book, spanning twenty-five very dense pages (pp. 229-254) in an already very dense book. I won’t even attempt to summarize. He ends with T. F. Torrance, who emerges as (finally!) the one who comes closest to getting back to Irenaeus (and the Bible). Farrow interprets Torrance as, for the most part, correcting Barth’s speculative pitfalls while maintaining all that is good and proper in Barth, which Farrow recognizes is enormous.

He concludes:

The answer we have been advocating is a disturbing one. It is not disturbing because, in maintaining that Jesus has gone in the flesh to the Father, it refuses to admit that ‘we do not know what has happened to him.’ On the contrary, it is disturbing because it states quite categorically that we do not know; that we cannot place him, spatially or temporally or materially or spiritually, with respect to ourselves; that he is not above us or ahead of us or alongside us or within us, even if each of these metaphors has something helpful to say about his actual relation to us. It is disturbing because it challenges the assumption that to talk about a human being who cannot be so placed is meaningless, and because it implies that every attempt to define him as something other than a human being is really an act of violence designed to force him to yield his meaning on our terms. It is disturbing because it challenges our entire frame of reference, physical and metaphysical, by allowing one particular man to stand over against us as a question mark against our very existence.

[pp. 267-268]

Ascension and Ecclesia was published in 1999. More recently, he published a follow-up volume, Ascension Theology, in 2011. From the reviews that I’ve read, it is partly a concise presentation of the larger, prior book, but it is also a reframing in terms of his newfound Catholicism. He converted to Roman Catholicism halfway between writing the two volumes. I am curious how he understands mariology now.


Image: Friedrich Schleiermacher (source)