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Gospel Transformation Bible Releases Today

Dane Ortlund has the details on the most important thing you’ll see online today: the release of the Gospel Transformation Bible.

I’m eager to consult these notes and grateful for Crossway.

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Coloring Pages for The Bible’s Big Story

The more senses we involve in an activity, the more we learn. I am delighted that Christian Focus has posted three “coloring pages” from The Bible’s Big Story. Here’s hoping these will bring tactile delight and result in deeper awareness of the world’s true story, a story of sin, promise, and triumphant redemption.

We print coloring pages from the web all the time in our house. Now you can print the following three pages, and your little ones can work some crayola magic on them:

Adam and Eve

Abraham and Sarah

David and Goliath

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John Meade Reviews T. Michael Law

John Meade is doing a multi-part review of T. Michael Law’s book, When God Spoke Greek. At one level neither Law’s claims nor Meade’s response is new. At another level, these questions are constantly being re-examined, and the re-hashing of the debate can bring things into sharper focus. Like Martin Hengel and Lee Martin McDonald, T. Michael Law claims there was no OT canon prior to the second century AD. Like Robert Hanhart and Roger Beckwith, Meade responds that the evidence can be read another way. Here are some excerpts from Meade, with whom I agree:

“As stated in the first post, Michael Law set out to write a narrative history of the Septuagint, a worthwhile endeavor to say the least. So much goes into writing a history but the first obstacle one must face is that the facts are not self-interpreting. To be sure Law no where claims that they are, but it should be stated in a critique which is going to offer an alternative way of analyzing the data.”

—-

“Law portrays the forming and perhaps closing of the Hebrew Bible as occurring in the 2nd CE. This is not a new view and can be found in many manuals on the Old Testament. As one attempting to read Law’s book carefully, the question is does Law deny even a canonical consciousness or a developing canon in the period before the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE? In the book he does not admit of a canonical consciousness in the the preceding period, but I am open to correction on this point. In his recent blog post on the question he does treat some of the relevant evidence but he still does not speak of a canonical consciousness or developing canon. Here is the problem with Law’s view: during the time of Jesus and long before Jesus the Jews refer to a collection or corpus of books, which means they had at the very least some consciousness of their collection and what that final collection might be; an idea of which books would eventually be in and which books would eventually be out. The assumption is that the authors and readers shared a mutual understanding of what these titles denoted. The alternative assumption is that the author wrote nonsense when using these titles and therefore the titles do not refer to a set collection or corpus of books and therefore they do not communicate to the readers. The following are only the so-called tripartite titles (there are many single and bipartite titles which refer to the same reality as well)”

Meade here discusses evidence from Ben Sira, 4QMMT, the NT Gospels, and Philo, mentioning also Josephus, drawing two conclusions:

“(1) What does this evidence mean? On page 71 Law comments on Sirach, “‘The other ancestral books,’ according to this assumption [complete Hebrew Bible by 132 BCE], would be the Writings (Ketuvim). Most scholars, however, do not accept this hypothesis since the ‘other ancestral books’ could refer to anything, including the books that never became canonical. At best it seems that the Torah and Prophets might have been a known collection by this time, but we should not read this statement in the Prologue as a confirmation of the later canon of the Hebrew Bible” (WGSG, 71). At the opening of chapter 3 (cited at the top of this post), Law claimed that prior to the second century CE there was no way of knowing which books would be included in the collection. Here his skepticism recedes, however slightly, and he now holds out the possibility that Torah and Prophets (and on page 42, the Psalms) were already a collection and perhaps canonical by the end of the first century. If Hanhart’s reading of the Prologue is correct, as I am inclined to think, then there was already a categorization of books into canonical and non-canonical, Sirach already being one of the excluded books–a work of edification and reflection on the Law, Prophets, and other books. This would mean that by 132 BCE there is at least a developing canon or a canonical consciousness, not simply in retrospect but in prospect. Prospectively, then, the Jews had a view as to which books they considered canonical.

(2) Two ways to view the evidence? As in all matters historical, there are different ways to view the evidence. The titles for the Old Testament corpus of books indicate to me that there was at the very least a canonical consciousness, a recognized corpus of books by 132 BCE and more probably a closed canon by that time complete with a categorization of the canonical and non-canonical. There are more reasons such as the numbering of the books and the ordering of the books which corroborate this point. Part of the historian’s difficulty is that there are not allot of sources to examine from this period. There is no list of books from this early period. This fact does not mean there was no canon. In the period of the temple there would have been no need for a list of books since those books were all laid up in the temple following ancient precedent (cf. Deuteronomy 31:26; cp. 2 Maccabees 2:13-14). If a Jew during this early period wanted to know her holy books, she would need to go and inquire at the temple. Therefore there is a good reason why no such list was composed at this time–it was not needed. It is interesting that the first lists appear after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE (Bab. Talmud Baba Bathra 14b).”

The whole.

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Mr. Leithart Comes to Louisville

Peter Leithart is one of the most stimulating and well-rounded scholars of the present generation. He and his wife have 10 children, and he pastors Trinity Reformed Church and teaches at New Saint Andrews College.

He has written more books than I’ve had time to read, but I’ve enjoyed his introduction to the Old Testament, his commentary on 1–2 Samuel, his book on hermeneutics, and his biography of Dostoevsky.

The wide-ranging oeuvre broadens apace: he has defended Constantine, written on Athanasius, Jane Austen, Dante, Shakespeare, and more.

How many details he must have forgotten!

I am really excited that he’s coming to Louisville. He’ll be at Community Presbyterian Church doing a conference with Jeff Meyers November 1, 2, and 3 of 2013.

Leithart will be doing an introduction to postmodernism, and Meyers will teach on Ecclesiastes. The conference is entitled, Solomon Among the Postmoderns, drawn from yet another Leithart book title.

You can register here.

I hope to see you there!

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How To Use “The Bible’s Big Story”: Dads, Step Up and Play the Man

Do you know what I’m trying to accomplish with The Bible’s Big Story?

I want you to win the hearts of your children.
I want you to win them through the time you spend with them.
I want you to start when they’re so small they can’t yet climb off your lap and crawl around.
I want you to read to them, and I want you to read to them about the highest and most important things: the Lord, the gospel, the true story of the world in the Bible.

So more than just winning their hearts, I want you to win your kids to the Lord. My prayer is that the big story of the Bible will capture their imagination, that the high King would lay claim to their allegiance, that they would trust him from deepest recess of soul.

I’m trying to help parents–and I really have dads in my crosshairs–obey Deuteronomy 6:7. The ESV translates that verse as follows: “You shall teach them [these words that I command you today, v. 6] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

That phrase “you shall teach them diligently” could also be rendered “you shall repeat them constantly.”

This verse calls fathers to do two things: 1) repeat the Bible constantly to their children, and 2) discuss it with them.

That’s your basic recipe for family discipleship, and I’m trying to help you do it by starting when your children are sitting there on your lap looking at picture books with you.

[Here's a longer discussion of family discipleship interpreting Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs: “That the Coming Generation Might Praise the Lord,”].

Make no mistake about it: Satan is prowling around like a lion wanting to devour your child. You can’t outsource their discipleship. They need you. Particularly you, Dad.

The other day my wife was telling me how it’s harder for my kids to get to sleep when something has me out of the house and I’m not part of the bedtime routine of family devotions. Without me there, she finds the kids to be more fussy and fearful. She said to me: “Don’t underestimate daddypower.”

Dad’s, I’m calling you to step up.
I’m calling you, fathers, to read to your kids.
I’m calling you to be a man, to take the responsibility God has placed at your feet in the Scriptures.

This is bigger than any free throw you ever shot, bigger than any at-bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run in scoring position. This is more important than twitter and blogs and books and news. We’re talking about your kids.

We’re talking about whether you will lay the foundation when they’re small that will put you in position to be heard and heeded when you start warning them against the snares of the devil–snares of porn and predators and pushers. How do you lay that foundation? By establishing yourself as their father in the formative years. Before they start walking, you’re holding them, teaching them what the world is–what it’s for, what life is about.

Step up, dads. For the sake of your children, for the respect of your wife, for your own Christlikeness, for the glory of God, for the church in the generations to come. By all that you love, by all that is holy, in the name of the Lord Jesus, let us take up the solemn charge to train our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Disciple your children.

Play the man. Repeat the Bible constantly to your kids and discuss it everywhere you go, when they get out of bed in the morning, when they go to bed at night, when at home, when out and about (cf. Deut 6:7).

Their souls depend upon it, and if you’re in ministry, your qualification depends upon it.

So how can you use The Bible’s Big Story in your efforts to fulfill the role God has given to you and play the man? (cf. 1 Cor 16:13–14)

Here are some suggestions, following the basic outline of Deuteronomy 6:7, to 1) Repeat and 2) Discuss, and I’m adding the third step of 3) Do It Yourself to get at the idea that is clearly the goal of the repetition and discussion Moses prescribed in Deuteronomy 6:7–living out the Bible. Moses wasn’t calling for Hebrew households to become seminar rooms or discussion forums. He wanted fathers to repeat the Bible to their children and discuss its meaning with them so that they would live out faith and obedience for God’s glory.

Here’s how you can use The Bible’s Big Story to lay the foundation of you being the most influential person in your child’s life. Here are some steps you can take on the path of winning their hearts:

Repeat

1. Read the poem straight through. On each page there is a rhyming couplet and a Bible verse, and this first recommendation is to skip the Bible verses and just read the rhyming couplets of this book. These rhymes comprise one unified poem. By reading the whole poem over and over straight through, the idea is for both you and your little one to find that you have the thing memorized. The poem is intended to be a high-level overview of the whole story (thus its title, The Bible’s Big Story), and my hope is that it will serve as a roadmap for Bible reading.

So read the poem straight through. This is how you read most children’s books, and in this recommendation I’m encouraging you to read the poetry by itself and save the Bible verses on each page for other kinds of trips through the book.

2. Repeat. Maybe your experience is like mine, and you find yourself saying to your toddler: “we just read that book.” On those second and third readings, go more slowly through the pages, and these are the times to read the verses.

Discuss

3. Got a toddler and other kids under the age of 10? We do, and often the older ones gather round as we read to the younger. When this starts happening, don’t just read, discuss. Ask the older kids to tell you more about the pictures and the stories they depict.

4. Talk about what happens between the lines. This little book is only 24 pages. Most of the Bible’s events and teachings are not depicted. Ask your child if they know what happened before or after what’s on a particular page. Let the things depicted in this book be your landmarks, and more and more sketch in the details between the landmarks.

Do It Yourself

These suggestions can be adapted to the age and aptitude of your child.

5. Assuming that you have access to a photocopier (three in one printers are everywhere these days), photocopy a page in black and white and let your child use it as a coloring page.

6. Have your child reproduce the pictures in the book using tracing paper.

7. The next step after tracing paper is of course for your kids to draw their own versions of the pictures in the book, whether reproducing the book’s pictures or doing the scene a different way, or the previous event . . . you get the idea.

8. At our family gatherings, the cousins sometimes do drama presentations. Why not use The Bible’s Big Story for the family (or church) Christmas drama your kids produce. Have them memorize the lines and say them as they act out the story. Get costumes. Make it a yearly tradition at Christmas or easter. Go whole-hog (even if you’re an LSU fan).

9. Are there families of small children whose parents you’re shepherding or discipling? At $4.99, this is a pretty affordable discipleship tool, birthday gift, or party favor. Let me assure you: my goal is not selling more copies or making a name for myself. I want to love God and neighbor. I want God to be glorified as you win the hearts of your kids, as your friends win the hearts of their kids, as fathers establish themselves in the lives of their kids by obeying Deuteronomy 6:7, as families grow in their understanding of the Scriptures together, as disciples are made of all nations.

10. Are there unbelieving family members, friends, or others who sometimes read to your kids? Put this book on the top of the pile. Unbelievers who read this book will be exposed to the big story of the Bible and an exhortation to trust the Lord Christ. I hope and pray The Bible’s Big Story can be a natural evangelistic experience for your unbelieving neighbors, friends, or family members.

These are of course, merely suggestions, and they’re not exhaustive. Have some other ideas? Please do share them in the comments (or post them somewhere–I’d love to know to your thoughts. . .). The main thing is for us to know God by knowing the Bible, and helping you and your kids do that is what I’m after in The Bible’s Big Story.

Look around.
Darkness clouds the horizon.
The culture grows more and more hostile to Christians and Christianity.
Take action.
Redeem the time.
Disciple your kids.

Dads, your wife and children are yours to protect and lead. Play the man.

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A Bible Study for Women on 1 Thessalonians (Free Download)

My sweet wife led the ladies of Kenwood Baptist Church through a study of 1 Thessalonians this summer, and she prepared study questions that prompt a close, meditative examination of Paul’s letter and one’s own heart. This study is geared for women, but I think anyone would profit from reflecting on these questions over an open Bible.

Is there a women’s ministry at your church? Are you part of a Ladies’ Study Group? A group of women in a campus ministry? There are all kinds of settings in which this could be used. Maybe there are some co-workers with whom you could meet for a 5-week study of 1 Thessalonians?

I am so blessed by the gift of my wife. Words can’t communicate what she is to me. I’m glad that other people might benefit from her prayerful preparation of this Bible study, which you can download for free here:

A Bible Study for Women on 1 Thessalonians.

PS: besides being the best theologian I know–there’s no one with whom I’ve had more enjoyable conversations about the Bible, theology, and life–my sweet wife has an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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Why I’m Not a Dispensationalist and Why Darrell Bock Is

Lindsay Kennedy interviewed three folks on questions related to dispensationalism and the millennium. The Dispensationalist is Paul Henebury (part 1 and part 2). Darrell Bock represents Progressive Dispensationalism, and I answered questions from the perspective of Historic Pre-Millennialism.

We all answered similar questions. Here are the ones I answered:

  1. When and how did you first become interested in eschatology?
  2. You studied at Dallas, which has a strong history of dispensationalism. How influential was Dallas on your theology? Did you ever hold to dispensationalism?
  3. In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?
  4. What would you see as some distinctive aspect(s) of your view (Historic Premillennialism)?
  5. What do you believe about the rapture and its timing in relation to the second coming of Christ?
  6. What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?
  7. What is the purpose of the future Millennium?
  8. Other than the Bible, were there any influential authors/books in developing your current eschatological views?
  9. Do you have any publications that best represent your position more fully than this interview allows?
  10. How important should eschatology be to the Christian?
  11. What encouragement would you give to someone who sees eschatology as unimportant?

Replies here.

I found it interesting that just as Lindsay asked me why I’m not a dispensationalist, he asked Bock to differentiate his view from the others and to explain why he stuck with dispensationalism. Here’s the exchange:

What are the differences between your view, Progressive dispensationalism (PD), and traditional dispensationalism? Why do these differences matter?

These are catalogued in the book Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism. The key one is the continuity PD (Progressive Dispensationalism) sees in the Covenants and that all three are inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming. For example, Jesus’ seating and activity at God’s right hand is seen as the execution of messianic activity that is tied to the New Covenant (as his seating is a part of the Davidic covenant).

This also has meant the Gospels and prophets become more important for contemporary ethics than they were in some older forms of dispensationalism (I say older forms because there is not just one brand of traditional dispensationalism but several). So that is why the difference matters.

If you see problems with traditional dispensationalism, why seek to adapt it rather than simply adopting Historic Premillennialism as others have done?

Because there is a distinction between Israel and the church in God’s program that Historic Premillennialism equivocates about. PD is also clearer on a future for national Israel.

I don’t think of myself as equivocating in the way I understand the relationship between the church and Israel, but I think I can see how it might look like it from Bock’s perspective. Anyway, here are a couple related questions Lindsay asked me:

In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?

Because as I read G. E. Ladd’s New Testament Theology, it made sense to me when he said that Jesus chose twelve Apostles to reconstitute a new Israel around himself. That undermined the hard and fast distinction between Israel and the Church that dispensationalism maintains. Further overturning this distinction is the pervasive way in which the New Testament authors present what Jesus has done and is doing in the church as the typological fulfillment of the Old Testament, which means that the church is a typological fulfillment of Israel (this does not nullify a future for ethnic Israel). I think Dispensationalism puts blinders on people and keeps them from seeing the typological interpretations of earlier Scripture pursued by the biblical authors in the Old and New Testaments.

Then I studied Revelation as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied Daniel as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied through and preached Revelation again as I wrote Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, and I became convinced that dispensationalists are not interpreting Daniel’s seventieth week the way that John does in Revelation. The emphasis on literal fulfillment fails to account for the typological and symbolic ways later biblical authors interpret earlier Scripture.

People (not just dispensationalists) make rules about how to interpret the Bible, but the biblical authors don’t follow those rules. So I don’t hold to or teach those rules. I want to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. That’s what I’m seeking as I pursue the task of biblical theology. I’m not claiming that I’ve exhaustively mapped this new world, but what a privilege to explore it and try to help others find their way in it!

What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?

I think Romans 11:25–27 indicates that on the day that Christ returns there will be a mass conversion of ethnic Jews.

That reference to mapping and exploring a new world comes out of my view of biblical theology as a bridge, or a rocket, into another kind of world, the world as conceived by the biblical authors. On which, see further What Is Biblical Theology?

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Biblical Theology in a Children’s Book? Introducing the Bible’s Big Story

I remember the first time someone presented to me, all at one shot, an overview of the Bible’s big story. It was in the famous Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics class taught by Howard Hendricks and Mark Bailey at Dallas Seminary. That overview was so exciting to me I thought all Christians should go to seminary, because all Christians should be able to see the Bible’s inter-connectedness. What was so compelling about that presentation was the way it attempted to set out the big picture, the whole Bible, with its turning points and movements in thought (and, in that telling, changes in dispensations). To that point in my life, I had never been presented with an explanation of the whole story.

I’m convinced that the Bible does tell a unified story, that the later biblical authors were aware of earlier Scripture, and that they were consciously contributing to the developing revelation of himself God was giving. There is a big story in the Bible, and you shouldn’t have to go to seminary to hear about it! What if you could read it to your kids–in less than 5 minutes for less than $5–right there in your rocking chair?

Children’s books can be great fun to read and re-read to the kids–if they’re well written (I love the language in Little Cricket’s Song) and/or tell a great story (we never tire of Fool Moon Rising). Some of these books my wife and I are able to recite from memory. Children’s books can have a profound impact on parents: Tom Schreiner once said in a sermon at Clifton Baptist Church that Goodnight Moon was his favorite. That book has great rhythm.

A few years ago I felt led to select what I thought were the signposts at the major turning points, in the Bible’s big story, try to set them in rhyming couplets, and see if the result might become a children’s book. The goal was to produce something that would help parents and kids remember the high points of the whole story. There is value in being able to see the whole thing all at once, to behold about the unity of the Bible, and to cut a path through the neurons and synapses that will be walked and re-walked, run and re-run. We want to cut the Bible grooves deep in our brains, and we can do this with the wee ones as we read and re-read to them.

My oldest son was the original artist on the project, which we worked on together when he was four and five years old. I would ask him to draw a picture, not give him instructions beyond telling him about the event from the Bible that I wanted him to depict. He would bring the picture back, and I would scan it in and format it with the rhymes I had come up with. A few years ago (after we had been turned down by a couple publishers) I posted the result of our joint efforts.

Upon seeing that post, some friends encouraged me to continue to seek publication. There was a guy in Australia I’ve never met, my friend John Thacker offered to help in any way he could, my friend Adam Richardson cheered the project on, and Andy Naselli told me that his daughter loved to have the book read to her. So I mentioned it to a friend at Christian Focus, who gave me the name of the contact person there, and off we sent it again. Praise God, they decided to publish it, with new drawings by Tessa Janes, and recently hard copies arrived on our doorstep.

I’m not sure how all this works, but apparently the UK release date is about a month earlier than the USA release date, so I’m guessing that I’ve received advanced UK release copies. I’m assuming that means that it will be available in the US near the end of August or beginning of September (Amazon has the date of September 10).

My hope is that if you have little children, you will read many many books to them. I also hope you’ll read this one to them over and over, to the point that both you and your child have the rhymes memorized, which will enable you to take a mental stroll through the Scriptures, which I hope will enable you to meditate on them day and night, so you can be one of those trees whose leaf won’t wither.

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The Song of Wisdom’s Call

I’ve been enjoying this musical adaptation of Proverbs 1 from Ordinary Time:

 

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Review of Brown, Spirit in the Writings of John

Spirit in the Writings of John: Johannine Pneumatology in Social-scientific Perspective. By Tricia Gates Brown. JSNTSupp 253. New York: T & T Clark, 2003. Pp. 307. ISBN 0-5670-8442-6. $55.00, paper.

Published in Bulletin for Biblical Research 16.1 (2006) 168–69. 

Tricia Gates Brown is an independent scholar living in Newberg, OR. The book reviewed here appears to be her doctoral dissertation written at the University of St. Andrews under Ron Piper. She has also written Free People: A Christian Response to Global Economics (2004), and she is something of an anti-war activist (see the online essays that come up from a Yahoo search on her name).

Spirit in the Writings of John consists of an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction presents the method of social-scientific criticism prosecuted in the study, and it also reveals some of Brown’s assumptions. Chapter 1 continues the introduction by outlining patron-client relations in the ancient world. It is difficult to discern any logical connection between chapters 1 and 2, as chapter 2 summarizes “Four Approaches to Johannine Pneumatology”: C. H. Dodd, George Johnston, Felix Porsch, and Gary Burge. Chapter 3 exegetes the Spirit texts in the Fourth Gospel. Chapter 4 treats the Paraclete in John, and Chapter 5 deals with Spirit in 1 John. The conclusion summarizes the results of the study, and the author ends by expressing “the hope that understanding the socio-cultural contexts of these writings will allow readers [of John and 1 John] to appreciate their value as texts without embracing their tone” (267). We might ask whether the evangelist (or his rabbi) would react favorably to readers who appreciate the Gospel but feel they can improve upon its tone. Such a response reflects a failure to appreciate the import of the text. Adolf Schlatter might go farther and call this “a radical and total polemic against” its message (cf. “The Theology of the New Testament and Dogmatics,” in R. Morgan, ed., The Nature of New Testament Theology, 122).

The author begins her study with the assertion, “John’s spirit-passages hint at the experiences of the author and his community” (1). It soon becomes clear that Brown has no room for the possibility that what the Fourth Gospel reveals about the Spirit originated in the evangelist’s experience with Jesus. No argument is given for the conclusion that the author of John is more concerned with addressing his community than testifying to what Jesus said, but throughout the study is conducted as though what gave rise to what John says took place after rather than during the life of Jesus. Brown does not seem to be troubled by the fact that, in view of the author’s protests that his testimony about Jesus is true, this would imply that he disingenuously presents a fictitious account as history. In addition to the implication that the evangelist intends to deceive his readers, the failure to consider the influence of the world changing figure the evangelist credits with generating many of these statements about the Spirit, Jesus of Nazareth, is glaring.

“The main social-scientific model used in this study is the model of patron-client relations” (19), but there are several problems with this method. The Gospel of John provides its readers with many metaphors for understanding the relationships between God, Jesus, and the people of God, for example: “logos-creator and creatures,” “Father-children,” “Father-Son,” “Rabbi/teacher-disciples,” “well of living water,” “bridegroom-bride,” “healer,” “judge,” “bread of life,” “light of the world,” “good shepherd,” “Messianic King,” “servant,” “vine-branches,” “friends.” The imposition of a relationship the Gospel does not use, that of patron-client, fails to capture what is communicated by these images that the Gospel does employ, obscures the breadth and width of these realities, and introduces concepts foreign to the Gospel. For instance, Brown develops the idea that by the Spirit Jesus is the best “broker”—her term—between God and his “clients” (cf. 28–30, 56–61). In our language and culture, the financial connotations of the term “broker” are simply too strong for this to be helpful. Brown’s imposition of this alien concept hides the varicolored beauty of the Gospel of John under a particular shade of green, the color of cash. The reduction of the tender depth of the relationship between God and his people communicated in John to a crass, remuneratory exchange is at best reductionistic and borders on the offensive.

Scholars working on the Spirit in John might benefit from the bibliography (its value is limited since its most recent items were published in 1999, nothing published in this millennium appears). An index of Scripture, other ancient literature, and modern authors will also make particular discussions quickly accessible.

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Review of Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ

Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. xxii + 746pp. $55.00. Hardcover.

Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.3 (2004), 99-100

Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, is well known for his many fine contributions to scholarship, and this volume is no exception. Hurtado’s aim in this book is “to offer a full-scale analysis of the origin, development, and diversification of devotion to Christ in the crucial first two centuries of the Christian movement (ca. 30-170 C.E.)” (2). Hurtado’s intended audience is the guild, and he hopes to “(re)shape scholarly opinion” (xiv), so his interaction with other scholars is extensive.

Not only is the interaction with other scholars extensive, Hurtado covers all the primary data one could desire and more as he shows “how astonishingly early and quickly an impressive devotion to Jesus appeared” (215). What makes this astonishing is, among other things, Jewish Monotheism (cf. Deut 6:4). And yet, as Hurtado demonstrates, the early Christians remained monotheists even as they worshiped Jesus as God together with Yahweh.

The book consists of ten chapters. Hurtado begins by discussing the various “Forces and Factors” that must be considered as ancient times are described. From there he discusses evidence from Paul’s letters (ch. 2), from Acts (“Judean Jewish Christianity,” ch. 3), from “Q” (ch. 4.), from “Jesus Books” (the Synoptic Gospels, ch. 5), from John (ch. 6), from “Other Early Jesus Books” (New Testament Apocrypha, ch. 7), from the “second century” (ch. 8), “Radical Diversity”—found in heretical groups (ch. 9), and “Proto-orthodox Devotion” (ch. 10).

Hurtado sets out to explode many untenable conclusions held on the question of how early Christians thought about Jesus. He devastates the view that it took the Christians a long time to conceptualize Jesus as God, presenting an exhaustive case that “devotion to Jesus emerges phenomenally early in circles of his followers” (2). This is not a difficult thesis for those who believe the Bible to swallow.

This book, however, is intended to persuade people whose view of Scripture is not so high, and hopefully it will be effective in that regard. The weighty tome does a great service in carefully evaluating a huge amount of evidence as well as the mountains of claims about that evidence in the attempt to get at what may be truly concluded from the data. And, the author seeks to present the material in a manner that will be palatable to those whose minds he is trying to change. This raises questions that are worth pondering as we seek to be both truthful and persuasive.

While this book is an example of thorough, thoughtful scholarship, certain aspects of Professor Hurtado’s approach force the question of how Christians should seek to persuade audiences that are sometimes hostile. Hurtado seeks to establish that the early Christians were devoted to Jesus, but he insists “I do not intend thereby either to refute or to validate the religious and theological meaning of early devotion to Jesus” (9, emphasis his). The insistence on integrity with historical data can be appreciated, but can we separate these historical conclusions from the demand they place upon us? Hurtado apparently recognizes that the Academy does not appreciate Christians when he writes, “To come clean, I confess to being guilty of Christian faith” (9). Confessing that Christian faith makes him “guilty,” he apparently seeks to accommodate the unbelieving perspective of his desired audience. For instance, he finds arguments for the authenticity of 1 Peter, James, and Jude “impressive,” but treats them as “pseudonymous” anyway (80 and n. 3). Three times in less than fifteen pages he states that the historical reliability of Acts does not affect the point he is making (162 n. 19; 170 n. 29; 176). He then invests 40 pages in a discussion of the hypothetical document Q. Our only access to this source is through the Synopsis, whereby we discern that there are around 235 verses where Matthew and Luke agree with no Markan parallel. These agreements between Matthew and Luke are our only access to “Q.” There are no extant manuscripts of this hypothetical source. Yet, from scholarly hypothesizing upon the content of these verses, Hurtado can conclude that “Q is apparently a carefully designed text, not a grab bag of Jesus tradition” (257). These examples seem to reflect an overly cautious stance on the authenticity and reliability of canonical texts, accompanied by an embrace of certain aspects of critical orthodoxy that is not cautious enough.

This book is a massive resource, billed as the replacement of Wilhelm Bousset’s 1913 Kyrios Christos. Hopefully the volume, with its sound argument for early Christian devotion to Jesus, useful 47 page bibliography, and extensive indexes, will indeed exercise much influence. We must grapple, too, with the question of what aspects of our world-view are negotiable as we seek to be all things to all people in the effort to win some. As accommodating as Hurtado is in his approach, his conclusions will inevitably be perceived as folly by some (1 Cor 1:18), but no apologies are necessary, for the proclamation of this foolish message has a transforming power.

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Why Didn’t Calvin Preach Revelation?

The reason Calvin didn’t preach Revelation isn’t exactly what Gerald Bray addresses on pages 51–52 in God Is Love, but what he says there probably takes us into the vicinity of the answer to that question:

The book of Revelation is in a category all its own and has frequently been misunderstood. One of the real advances in twentieth-century biblical scholarship was its rediscovery of the genre of apocalyptic literature, which has made it easier to interpret the last book of the Bible and to justify its place in the canon. For many centuries, Revelation was either ignored or misunderstood because no one really knew what to do with its rich symbolism. Many made the mistake of treating it as a literal prophecy, which led to fantastic predictions of the imminent end of time, and so on. Invariably, readings of that kind would turn out to be wrong, and that discredited the book in the eyes of many serious scholars. Now, however, it is possible to appreciate the text of Revelation for what it is and to realize that it is one of the most profoundly theological books in the entire Bible. It may take some time for awareness of this to percolate down to the average churchgoer, who is still liable to be misled by sensational interpretations, but there is a new scholarly consensus on the subject that promises to enhance, not diminish, the book’s reputation and usefulness in the life of the church.

Revelation is in the Bible, inspired by God, for the benefit of his people. These realities keep me from feeling any consternation about having attempted a book on which Calvin didn’t comment. Still, historical perspective is always appreciated.

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Review of Mikra

Martin Jan Mulder and Harry Sysling, eds., Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2004. xxvi + 929pp. $49.95, paper.

[Originally published in 1988 by Van Gorcum and Fortress as part of the series Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum (2.1)].

Review Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.3 (2004), 100–101

Hendrickson Publishers is to be thanked for bringing an important volume from an important series back into print. Though it was published over a decade and a half ago, Mikra remains a weighty collection of essays by distinguished scholars. The title of the volume is explained in its Introduction: “Mikra primarily denotes the correct reading of the sacred words, as they have been handed down to us through the activities of numerous writers and copyists in the text of Tenakh [sic] . . . . Mikra (מקרא) further means the way in which the sacred text has always been and ought to be recited . . . and understood by those who have been closely connected with the texts” (XXIII).

The collection of essays intends to trace how the books now comprising the Old Testament became Mikra, or Holy Scripture (XXIII). This book is an entire education unto itself, consisting of the following twenty chapters: (1) Aaron Demsky and Meir Bar-Ilan, “Writing in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism” (2) Roger T. Beckwith, “Formation of the Hebrew Bible” (3) Martin Jan Mulder, “The Transmission of the Biblical Text” (4) Charles Perrot, “The Reading of the Bible in the Ancient Synagogue” (5) Emanuel Tov, “The Septuagint” (6) Abraham Tal, “The Samaritan Targum of the Pentateuch” (7) Philip S. Alexander, “Jewish Aramaic Translations of the Hebrew Scriptures” (8) Peter B. Dirksen, “The Old Testament Peshitta” (9) Benjamin Kedar, “The Latin Translations” (10) “Michael Fishbane, “Use, Authority and Interpretation of Mikra at Qumran” (11) Devorah Dimant, “Use and Interpretation of Mikra in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha” (12) Yehoshua Amir, “Authority and Interpretation of Scripture in the Writings of Philo” (13) Louis H. Feldman, “Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in the Writings of Josephus” (14) Pieter W. van der Horst, “The Interpretation of the Bible by the Minor Hellenistic Jewish Authors” (15) Rimon Kasher, “The Interpretation of Scripture in Rabbinic Literature” (16) Ruairidh Bóid (M. N. Saraf), “Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in the Samaritan Tradition” (17) Birger A. Pearson, “Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in Gnostic Literature” (18) E. Earle Ellis, “The Old Testament Canon in the Early Church” (19) E. Earle Ellis, “Biblical Interpretation in the New Testament Church” (20) William Horbury, “Old Testament Interpretation in the Writings of the Church Fathers.”

Much could be said about the value of these essays, but the chapter by Beckwith (ch. 2) and the two by Ellis (chs. 18 and 19) are worth the price of the volume by themselves. Beckwith’s essay is an abstract of his highly acclaimed volume, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, in which he marshals mounds of decisive evidence for the rejection of the “standard view” that the OT was canonized in three stages: “the Pentateuch in the fifth centure B.C.E. . . . the Prophets in the third century B.C.E., and the Hagiographa about 90 C.E.” (86). Beckwith shows that the whole OT canon was closed well before the Christian era, 164 B.C.E. at the latest and probably well before that (cf. 56–61). Ellis’s two essays are stimulating and stuffed with information. There is much here to ponder and pursue in further research. His contributions to the use of the OT in the New are especially helpful.

The republication of the volume presented an opportunity to remedy a minor deficiency and correct typographical errors. The minor deficiency is that the volume does not include a list of contributors providing brief biographical information on each of them—where they studied, where they teach, and perhaps their dates (in the case of any who have died, as has one of the editors, Martin J. Mulder). These essays are by specialists, some of whom are well known, others of whom are not so well know outside their area, and the need for some information on the authors is compounded by the fact that a new generation of younger scholars will now benefit from this volume. The republication of the volume would have been an ideal time to add a list of contributors, and it would have been an opportune time to correct a number of typos (such as the ones on pp. 3 [producings for producing], 146 [where for were], 161 [alle for all], 165 [“the Lagarde” for “de Lagarde”], 181 [hac for has], 182 [(‘) for (’)], 187 [Basckground for Background], 200 [teh for the], 205 [houdehold for household], 206 [the 9th line of the page has a word at the beginning and end of the line with a large blank space in between], 208 [masn for man; birh for birth; Joly for Holy], 214 [strenght for strength], 307 [is for it], 576 [decedes for decides]). These minor complaints are easily overwhelmed by the value of having this volume back in print.

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Review of Keener’s 2 vol. Commentary on John

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 2 vols., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003. xlviii + 1636pp. $79.95. Cloth.

Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.3 (2004), 102-103

Craig Keener teaches NT at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has also written commentaries on Matthew and Revelation, and this two volume commentary on John is massive. The introduction alone extends to 330 pages. Keener states in the preface that the greatest contribution his commentary makes to Johannine studies is in the area of the Gospel’s “social-historical context” (xxv). The whole commentary is awash with references to ancient literature, and the preface is no exception. Nor is there any shortage of interaction with modern scholarship, and the interaction with so much ancient and modern literature makes this both an important resource for scholars and a demanding book to read.

The introduction opens by considering the genre of the Fourth Gospel, and Keener classes John as an ancient biography. He then discusses the discourses of Jesus in John, where he concludes that “the Fourth Gospel preserves genuine historical reminiscences of Jesus and an accurate portrait of events and essential teaching” (79). Keener then takes up the question of authorship, writing, “I believe that traditional conservative scholars have made a better case for Johannine authorship of the Gospel (at least at some state in the process) than other scholars have made against it” (82). Keener also writes, “The writer and first readers of the Fourth Gospel undoubtedly assumed its inspiration [by the Paraclete], and thus ceded the document authority because they affirmed that Jesus stood behind and spoke in the document” (122). The introduction goes on to discuss the Social Contexts of the Gospel, the Jewish Context of the Gospel, Revelatory Motifs in the Gospel—Knowledge, Vision, Signs, and Christology and Other Theology.

Keener then moves into the commentary proper, and he divides the Gospel as follows: The Prologue (1:1–18); Witness in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee (1:19–6:71); Tabernacles and Hanukkah (7:1–10:42); Introducing the Passion (11:1–12:50) [vol. 2 begins here]; Farewell Discourse (13:1–17:26); The Passion and Resurrection (18:1–20:31); and an Epilogue (21:1–25). Nearly half of the second volume is given to the Bibliography (166pp.), indexes of modern authors and subjects (37pp.), an index of Scripture and OT Apocrypha (66pp.), and an index of other ancient sources (121pp.). These indexes will be indispensable resources for scholars.

The amount of extra-biblical ancient literature cited in this commentary is nothing less than prodigious. Keener has done all students of John an enormous service by bringing together a comprehensive compilation of ancient sources that could influence the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. This makes the commentary a potentially valuable reference tool. This great strength of the commentary is also its weakness, however, for multiplied allusions to ancient literature makes finding Keener’s conclusions on particular issues somewhat difficult. One might also wonder whether or not all of these sources are actually useful for interpreting John, and Keener at points says as much. For instance, he takes the reader through the various allusions to rebirth in the Eleusinian Mysteries before arguing against the conclusions of some scholars (e.g., Bultmann) and rejecting these as an informative background for understanding the rebirth imagery of John 3 (539–41). This makes for comprehensive treatment in the discussion, but it does not make for brevity or clarity in the commentary.

Keener’s mastery of so much ancient and modern literature is inspiring. This will not be the first commentary on John that most pastors reach for, but it is the commentary to consult for extra-biblical texts that relate to the interpretation of John’s Gospel.

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Review of N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. xxi + 817 pp. $49.00 hardcover; $39.00 paper.

Published in Trinity Journal 26 (2005) 140–43

N. T. Wright was recently consecrated as the Bishop of Durham, the fourth highest post in the Anglican church, and the office formerly held by both J. B. Lightfoot and B. F. Westcott. Volume 3 of the series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, is titled The Resurrection of the Son of God. This book is breathtaking in scope and evocative power. So many book reviews glibly comment that a particular volume should find its place on every pastor’s or scholar’s shelf, and yet so few of those volumes exercise the intellectual depth, worldwide influence, academic prowess, and sheer poetic elegance that one finds on the pages of The Resurrection of the Son of God. This book has been awarded the Theologos Award for 2003, as well as being named both Book of the Year and Best Academic Book by the Association of Theological Booksellers. What’s more, this acclaimed volume was named the Best Biblical Studies book for 2004 by Christianity Today.

From start to finish Wright is stimulating, interesting, informative—no easy task for a book that commands the attention of any serious NT scholar, defends the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, and is over seven hundred pages long! As an example of the kind of description that gives the book its swift, rhythmic feel, consider Wright’s description of reading 1 Corinthians. He writes, “A glance through 1 Corinthians is like a stroll down a busy street. All of human life is there: squabbles and lawsuits, sex and shopping, rich and poor, worship and work, wisdom and folly, politics and religion” (p. 278).

The book is organized into five parts. Part 1 opens by calling into question the view that from a historical perspective we have no access to what really happened because there are no analogies for such an event and all the evidence is biased. From there, Wright moves into a discussion of life after death as conceived by ancient paganism, the OT, and post-biblical Judaism. In parts 2 through 4, Wright surveys the evidence from early Christian literature. He proceeds chronologically, beginning with Paul in part 2, then treating other texts in part 3—everything from the rest of the NT to Origen, saving the resurrection narratives of the gospels for part 4. Part 5 then concludes with a nuanced discussion of what has and has not been proven, followed by frank, piercing reflections on the significance of the resurrection.

Observing that historical evidence is rarely sufficient to establish a conclusion absolutely and certainly on historical grounds, Wright helpfully describes a “scale from . . . ‘extremely unlikely,’ through ‘possible,’ ‘plausible,’ and ‘probable,’ to ‘highly probable’” (p. 687 n. 3). Every orthodox Christian will be heartened by his conclusion that “the historian, of whatever persuasion, has no option but to affirm both the empty tomb and the ‘meetings’ with Jesus as ‘ historical events’” (p. 709). The bishop in the troubled Anglican church then states with the boldness that strengthens faith, “I regard this conclusion as coming in the same sort of category, of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70” (p. 710). Coming from one of the most prolific and influential NT scholars of our day—at a time when scholarship cares not for faithfulness but for novelty—a forthright affirmation of the resurrection is like the blast of a shofar on the battlefield.

So much more could be said regarding the contents of this volume, but Wright has said it with such acumen and charm that all would do well to read him directly! Those who ignore this series do so to their own detriment. A project of this magnitude and coherence, from an evangelical perspective, does not appear in every generation. Scholars from disciplines other than biblical studies who wish to browse the terrain of the NT will be hard pressed to find a better guide than Wright. Since much of what is addressed in these volumes is occasioned by the current state of NT scholarship, the tour is not only of the NT but of the ivory tower. Pastors, charged with the role of holding the academy accountable to the church, will find Wright informative for their understanding of the NT, of the first century, and of the state of biblical studies. And any student thinking of Ph.D. studies would do well to begin to process this material.

For all the clarity of the shofar’s blast, there are certain features which remain, to use some of Wright’s favorite terms, puzzling, tantalizing, vexing. First, Wright repeatedly affirms that “the meaning of ‘resurrection,’ both in the Jewish and the non-Jewish world of late antiquity, was never that the person concerned had simply ‘gone to heaven’ or been ‘exalted’ in some way which did not involve a new bodily life” (p. 694). The problem is not with this conclusion, for the evidence here is compelling, and Wright weaves the theme all through the book’s tapestry: “Resurrection means bodily life after ‘life after death,’ or, if you prefer, bodily life after the state of ‘death’” (pp. 108-9, emphasis his). Substantiation of this conclusion and assertions of its truth recur throughout, as this is a central prong in the argument (cf., e.g., pp. 196, 200-201, 204-5, 209, etc.). This being the case, and the evidence being so strong, the reader is all the more startled upon coming to Wright’s discussion of resurrection in Revelation 20. Having unequivocally affirmed over and over again that “there is no evidence that the anastasis [resurrection] root meant anything other than bodily resurrection, either in the paganism that denied it or the Pharisaic Judaism that affirmed it” (p. 215), Wright eventually arrives at Revelation 20, where he reiterates the conclusion that “the meaning of ‘resurrection’ throughout the literature . . . pagan, Jewish and Christian” always refers to bodily life after life after death. Wright then concedes that to argue that the word refers to something other than this is “to strain usage well beyond breaking point” (p. 474). Nevertheless, because premillennialism is an unacceptable position for Wright, he concludes, “It seems likely that we are faced here with a radical innovation: a use of the word ‘resurrection’ to mean a coming-to-life in a sense other than, and prior to, that of the final bodily raising” (pp. 474-75). Wright knows that he is contradicting the otherwise universal evidence that he has presented, and writes, “Since this corresponds to nothing else in either Jewish or early Christian literature, except for writings dependent on the present passage, it is difficult to get any clearer about what is in mind” (p. 475). The lack of clarity does not seem to arise from the evidence, but from the interpreter’s obstinacy. Wright chooses to understand the use of the word “resurrection” here as a “radical innovation” to avoid being “projected into premillennial literalism” (p. 474). Whether or not the use of the term “literalism” is pejorative, since Wright defends such “fundamentals” of the faith as the resurrection, the deity of Christ (pp. 731-34), and the Trinity (pp. 735-36), it is “puzzling” that Wright does not conceptualize a pre-millennialism that avoids popular literalistic, perhaps even “fundamentalistic,” excesses. The evidence Wright presents only strengthens the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20, but his systematic rejection of that interpretive possibility clouds his vision.

The second issue that I find “vexing” is the groundless, and yet standard, confession that the authorship of the Fourth Gospel is a knot that cannot be untied. Wright says that he will refer to the author as John without prejudice regarding which John (p. 662), and claims that we are unable to “decode” the note on the author’s reliability in John 21:24 (p. 663). Given the fact that Wright is extremely well-read, and given the unrefuted argument mounted by Wright’s predecessor as the Bishop of Durham, B. F. Westcott, that John the son of Zebedee is the Fourth Gospel’s author, it is mystifying that Wright claims no “prejudice as to which of the possible ‘Johns,’ if any, he actually was; likewise, without reaching any conclusion either on the identity of the beloved disciple or on his relation to the actual author of the book” (p. 662). Westcott’s argument from the internal evidence that the son of Zebedee is the author of John can be briefly summarized: it is clear enough that the author was a Jew, that he was from Palestine, that he was an eyewitness of what he records, that he was one of the twelve, that he was closely associated with Peter and seems to have been one of the three apostles closest to Jesus, therefore, the author was most likely St. John. This argument has been re-articulated in recent literature by scholars such as F. F. Bruce, Leon Morris, D. A. Carson, and Craig Blomberg (see particularly the latter’s book, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel). Blomberg has called the external evidence “overwhelming” in favor of John, the son of Zebedee, as the author of this gospel. In view of these considerations, Wright’s avowal that he has no prejudice is curious. Andreas J. Köstenberger of Southeastern Seminary has written a compelling argument that the early doubts concerning Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel were not due to evidence but ideology (“Early Doubts of the Apostolic Authorship of the Fourth Gospel in the History of Modern Biblical Criticism,” in Köstenberger, Studies on John and Gender [Studies in Biblical Literature 38; New York: Peter Lang, 2001], 17-47). Wright himself routinely points out the flaws in the modernist and post-Enlightenment approach to biblical studies (e.g., pp. 7 10, 714). Nevertheless, the ghost of the Enlightenment seems to haunt his own work on the issue of the authorship of the Fourth Gospel.

I hasten to add at this point that Paul did not say that if there were no millennium the Corinthians’ faith would be vain, nor does the Fourth Gospel explicitly state that the son of Zebedee was its author. In comparison with the resurrection, these are but quibbles, and Christianity does not stand or fall on either of these points. Nevertheless, on these points the evidence is compelling, and since Wright customarily follows the evidence where it leads, his failure to do so on the millennium and the authorship of the Fourth Gospel is disappointing.

On the whole, however, the book is a success. One might wonder why seven hundred plus pages are necessary to say what Christians have been saying for nearly two thousand years—that the resurrection is the only adequate explanation for the rise of Christianity. But while it cannot be said of every book that no parts seem unnecessary or boring, the statement is true of this volume. Wright’s explanation of how Paul can say that the resurrection is “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:4) when the OT does not precisely describe a dying and rising Messiah, and his discussion of the development of the understanding in the OT that death would be reversed, are particularly luminous. We are brought nearer to understanding the NT, especially its use of the OT, through this book. And in the process, the boundaries of our historical knowledge and of what can even be considered “knowable” are pushed back. The Resurrection of the Son of God whets the appetite for the projected volumes of the series, the next of which takes up Justification by Faith.

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Review of Martin Hengel’s The Septuagint as Christian Scripture

Martin Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon, trans. Mark E. Biddle. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004 [previously published in 2002 by T & T Clark]. xvi + 153 pp. $24.99, paper.

Published in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 9.1 (2005) 102–104

The renowned Tübingen scholar Martin Hengel asks the question, “how did it come about that the collection of Jewish writings in the Greek language, significantly larger than the scope of the Hebrew Bible, become, under the designation ‘the Seventy’, the authoritative ‘Holy Scriptures’ of the Old Testament in the Christian church?” (22).

The assumption behind this question—that the early church accepted the LXX along with its apocryphal documents—is what Hengel sets out to prove in chapter 2, “The LXX as a Collection of Writings Claimed by Christians.” In this discussion Hengel investigates the way that the “translation legend” arising from the Letter of Aristeas was apparently embellished by Philo and then the early Christian apologists. While the Letter of Aristeas recounts the way that 72 elders from Israel translated the law of Moses in 72 days, Philo indicates that the translation was inspired and suggests that the translators, working as individuals, all arrived independently at the same translation (25–26). In Justin’s attempts to persuade his Jewish contemporaries, Hengel argues that he expanded the work of the seventy to the whole of the OT—not just the Pentateuch (27). Hengel then shows how Irenaeus used the notion that the seventy translators had individually arrived independently at the same translation to argue for the inspiration of the LXX (38–39). Having pointed to similar statements in Clement and Tertullian, Hengel suggests that Origen and Jerome are exceptions in making recourse to the Hebrew canon, a decision that excludes the apocrypha and looks to the Hebrew as the inspired text (41). Augustine attempted to regard both the Greek and the Hebrew OT as inspired, but eventually “Jerome’s new Latin translation found acceptance in the church” (53).

Chapter 3 is a consideration of “The Later Consolidation of the Christian ‘Septuagint Canon’.” Here Hengel discusses the books included in “the three great codices of the fourth and fifth centuries: Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus,” noting that “All exceeded the scope of the Hebrew Bible by including Judith, Tobit, Sirach and Wisdom, as well as the expanded books of Daniel, Esther and Psalm 151” (57). He then treats the earliest lists of canonical books. It is unclear to me why Hengel suggests that Melito of Sardis (c. AD170) is the first to use the term “Old Testament” when Paul used the same Greek phrase in 2 Cor 3:14. The “‘second class’ character of the writings not contained in the Hebrew canon” (66) is then discussed, as are the apocryphal documents that were rejected altogether (70–74).

Hengel comes to “The Origin of the Jewish LXX” in chapter 4. In this chapter he treats the initial translation of the Torah, followed by a discussion of what is known about how the rest of the OT came to be translated into Greek. Hengel’s handling of the historical evidence is fascinating, characterized by his usual erudition. The chapter includes a section on the writings included in the LXX which are not found in the Hebrew canon, followed by a section on what Hengel thinks the Prologue of Jesus ben Sirach, Philo, and Josephus tell us about the extent of the OT canon.

Hengel’s fifth and concluding chapter is on “The Origin of the ‘Christian Septuagint’ and Its Additional Writings” (105). Here the focus is first on the way that the NT refers to the OT, and then on how early Christians regarded books that were outside the Hebrew canon.

Having indicated throughout the book that he sees little evidence for the closure of the OT canon, Hengel concludes with a shocking question. He writes, “As a New Testament scholar and Christian theologian, I would like to pose a question in view of the problem emerging here. Does the church still need a clearly demarcated, strictly closed Old Testament canon, since the New Testament is, after all, the ‘conclusion’, the goal and the fulfillment of the Old?” (125–26). The slim volume then concludes on page 127, followed by some 20 pages of handy indexes.

Perhaps because of the brevity of the book, it is prefaced by a 17 page “Introduction” written by Robert Hanhart. The inclusion of this essay on the “Problems in the History of the LXX Text from Its Beginnings to Origen” is a testimony to Hengel’s intellectual generosity, for as Hanhart relates, Hengel first suggested that he write the piece because “you see many things differently” (1). Indeed. Before Hengel presents his argument, Hanhart argues in the introduction against a central prong of Hengel’s thesis, namely, the claim that the OT canon was not closed. Against this Hanhart writes, “We can see that Hellenistic Judaism had a relatively well defined canon of ‘Holy Scripture’ already in the second century BC” (2). Hanhart discusses much of the same evidence Hengel will treat later in the volume (and some Hengel does not treat) from the perspective that these are indications that the OT canon was recognizably closed, which lays bare the fact that Hengel’s conclusion that the OT canon was not closed—and might not need to be (!)—is not the only legitimate conclusion afforded by the evidence.

This is not a book for beginners. At points Latin and Greek texts are not translated, more significantly, a considerable familiarity with the broader scholarly discussion is assumed. Further, Hengel’s choice to build his argument into the order of the material—beginning with the church fathers rather than moving chronologically from the formation of the LXX to its appropriation by the church—adds somewhat to the demand on the reader. Scholars and Ph.D. students, however, will benefit from this thorough interaction with the OT in Greek, second temple Judaism, and the early church into the fathers. Hengel’s facility with this massive body of material is astounding. Those seeking an introduction to the LXX would do well to first consult a volume such as Jobes and Silva’s Invitation to the Septuagint.

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Review of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered

James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. xvii+ 1019 pp. $55.00, hardcover.

Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.2 (2004) 61–64

James D. G. Dunn, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham, England, has embarked upon a three volume project titled “Christianity in the Making.” This first volume is on Jesus.

The book is divided into five parts. Dunn opens with a discussion of “Faith and the Historical Jesus.” Here he re-tells the story of the rise of unbelieving critical research into Jesus and early Christianity. Part 2, “From the Gospels to Jesus,” seeks once again to reconstruct what we can really know about Jesus from the Gospels. Having sifted the material, Dunn then addresses the questions of Jesus’ Mission (part 3), Jesus’ self-understanding (part 4), and Jesus’ death, resurrection, and remembrance among his followers (part 5).

It is impossible to interact with a 1,000 page book point by point in a short review, so here I will focus on two statements Dunn makes that raise significant questions about his approach. These two statements are related, but I will consider them separately before exploring their combined implications.

First, Dunn writes that it is “the ‘lust for certainty’ which leads to fundamentalism’s absolutising of its own faith claims and dismissal of all others” (105). There are not a few problems with this statement. Dunn is advocating “Probability Not Certainty” (102), but to caricature those who pursue certainty as “lustful” and “fundamentalistic” is more offensive than it is persuasive. Is anything other than “relativism” now “fundamentalism”? Dunn argues that faith always has an element of doubt, and suggests that “The language of faith uses words like ‘confidence’ and ‘assurance’ rather than ‘certainty’” (104). He cites the fact that the NRSV only uses the word “certainty” once, but the wildly popular NIV translates Hebrews 11:1 as follows: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Dunn suggests that “the ‘definition of faith’ in Heb. 11.1 is much disputed as to its meaning and does not bring added clarity to the issue” (104 n. 15). But BDAG states of the word the NIV translates “certain” that “conviction” regarding unseen things is in view and that “faith means to be sure about unseen things” (BDAG, 315, emphasis added throughout). Probability will keep scholars wrangling for their views, but only certainty will send missionaries to the ends of the earth where they place themselves and their families in danger of martyrdom (cf. Heb 11:37).

The same problems apply to Dunn’s apparent dismissal of “fundamentalism’s absolutising of its own faith claims and dismissal of all others” (105). Jesus said, “He who is not for me is against me” (Matt 12:30), a rather absolute claim. Only certainty that Christianity is the only way of salvation will send young people to the Muslim world seeking the lost. Dunn seems to suggest that the view that the Christian religion presents absolute faith claims is not Christianity but “fundamentalism.” At one time the word “fundamentalism” had connotations of anti-intellectualism. If this holds today, Dunn has lumped all who recognize Christianity’s exclusive truth claims in with those who are not willing to grapple with cerebral complexities. This is unfair to thoughtful Christians who are convinced that the Bible presents an exclusive religion.

It would seem that, rather than this being a “fundamentalistic” interpretation of Christianity, Dunn has departed from orthodox Christianity on this point, which contends earnestly that the faith in Jesus once for all entrusted to the saints is the only way for humans to experience right standing before God. This is not an anti-intellectual position; rather, it is a biblically consistent position. Christians do not claim exhaustive knowledge, but we do claim that we can have true knowledge. We are not omniscient, but we can be certain.

Second, Dunn writes that “Few if any today assume that the written sources take the reader back directly to the Jesus who worked and taught in Galilee three or more decades earlier” (173). This may be true for scholars in some circles, but it is not true for those in the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, or the Tyndale Fellowship (and see esp. the IBR Jesus Group). Many prominent evangelicals, acknowledging that the Gospels were written from a faith perspective intending to persuade and win converts, nevertheless maintain that the evangelists faithfully and accurately present Jesus as he was (see the works, among others, of E. Earle Ellis, D. A. Carson, Andreas Köstenberger, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, and David Wenham). Aside from this sound historical work defending the reliability of the Gospels, historic Christianity has always held that God inspired the authors of Scripture and guarded their accounts from error. Historically and theologically, then, there are good reasons for believing that when we read the four canonical Gospels, we read true accounts of what Jesus said and did. Dunn not only concludes that the Gospels are not error free, he comes to the position that even Jesus got it wrong (see p. 479).

I suspect that the two points discussed above are related to the way that Dunn summarizes the history of research on the historical Jesus. Dunn omits any discussion of the responses to atheistic attempts at NT scholarship, so that the reader is left with the impression that once scholars finally figured out how to be rigorous about doing history, everyone who employed seriously critical methodology came to realize the unreliability of the gospels as sources for a life of Jesus. Dunn neglects any mention of those who wrote on the life of Jesus from a conservative stance—building their conclusions on the gospels rather than first rejecting the gospels then creating Jesus in their own image. Thus there is no mention of Bernhard Weiss’s 1882 life of Jesus. Weiss is neither discussed nor indexed, nor does he appear in Dunn’s bibliography. Even more glaring is the total absence of any reference to Adolf Schlatter. When scholars were agreed that the “Jesus of history” could not be equated with the “Christ of faith,” Schlatter took critical orthodoxy head on with his The History of the Christ. Using the most exacting and critical historical methods, but treating the gospels as reliable historical documents, Schlatter convincingly responded to atheistic NT scholars who sought to establish the fiction that Jesus as he really was in history was not the Christ in whom the early church believed. Like Weiss, Schlatter is not discussed, not indexed, and not given the honor of appearing on Dunn’s bibliography. The reader of Jesus Remembered is thus given a severely imbalanced treatment of the history of Jesus research.

This overlooking of the history of conservative scholarship continues when Dunn seeks to ascertain what we can know about Jesus from the gospels. Here there is no mention of two important books by Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel. Dunn, therefore, uses “John’s Gospel as a source, but mostly as a secondary source to supplement or corroborate the testimony of the Synoptic tradition” (167). This is standard critical practice, but to continue this practice without engaging the work of those like Blomberg and A. C. Headlam, whose The Fourth Gospel as History (1948) is also ignored, is revealing. To treat a primary source such as the Fourth Gospel as a secondary source results, at best, in a truncated picture of Jesus.

I do agree with Dunn’s conclusion that “the ‘default setting’ of the literary paradigm”—the view that the authors of the Synoptic gospels were literarily dependant upon each other (usually taking the form of Matthew and Luke depending on the literary exemplars Mark and Q)—“is far too limited to explain the complexities of the Jesus tradition” (336). Anyone who has underlined through the Synopsis can see that the kinds of differences between the Synoptic Gospels and the sheer number of these differences scarcely permits the conclusion that, for instance, Luke was copying Mark and only making changes to suit his emphases.

Dunn’s project, “Christianity in the Making,” seems to run roughly parallel to N. T. Wright’s “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” Wright’s general approach is more robustly critical of the critics, and thereby Wright’s work is healthier than Dunn’s. By Dunn’s own admission his project is very similar to Peter Barnett’s Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity (2 n. 11). Barnett focuses on the primary sources, discussing the actual text of the NT; while Dunn provides vast discussions of the last 200 years of left-leaning NT scholarship. A more balanced treatment of the history of research can be found in Gerald Bray’s Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present.  Those seeking a more succinct and conservative account of the historical Jesus and early Christianity would profit from Barnett. Historical studies of Jesus are also available in something of an abundance: Adolf Schlatter’s The History of the Christ has recently been translated and re-issued; Larry Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ looks at early Christian worship of Jesus; and the concise but still strong Jesus the Messiah by Robert Stein remains helpful. James D. G. Dunn is a major figure in current scholarship, so scholars and Ph.D. students are in a sense obligated to be aware of his work, but unless one is pursuing serious scholarly research on Jesus, any of these other volumes would better repay the time and money invested.

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