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Spoiled By Amazon

Between homeschooling and teaching and preaching, a lot of packages with books in them arrive at our doorstep. We are spoiled by Amazon, and we love the free shipping available via Amazon Prime.

I’m also very thankful for the Amazon Associates program, which makes it so that Amazon gives referral credit when you, dear reader, click links from this blog or from my tweets and make purchases. Thanks for supporting this blog in that way. If you’re blogging and you’re not on the Amazon Associates program, you should sign up. If you’re buying books regularly, or otherwise using Amazon, and you’re not on Amazon Prime, I’d encourage you to check out the Amazon Prime 30 Day Free Trial.

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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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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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Beckwith on the Relationship between the Testaments

In his magnificent book, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, Roger Beckwith writes (408):

The church was, of course, given its own authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament by Jesus and the apostles, but since Christianity was a thorough-going prophetic movement, claiming a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, withdrawn when prophecy ceased, the writings in which this interpretation was incorporated formed not just an appendix to the canon but a new body of Scriptures, which took its place alongside the old one, as its fulfillment, in the unfolding life of the church.

Beckwith’s book may be the most compelling volume I have ever read.

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Review of Nickelsburg and VanderKam’s Translation of 1 Enoch

1 Enoch. A New Translation by George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004. 170pp. Paper, $16.00.

Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.3 (2004), 101-102

George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam have produced a fresh translation of 1 Enoch, perhaps the most important of the extra-canonical Jewish Apocalypses. The translation is based on the Hermeneia commentary on 1 Enoch, the first volume of which was published by Nickelsburg in 2001 and the second is forthcoming. The translation of 1 Enoch most commonly used is undoubtedly the one by Ephraim Isaac contained in vol. 1 of Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (OTP). Isaac’s translation is based on one Ethiopic manuscript, though it does have a textual apparatus. This new Nickelsburg/VanderKam translation is “based on a critical reading of all the ancient textual sources” (vii). Isaac’s translation in OTP is accompanied by a number of cross-references, most of which are to Biblical texts but some of which refer to other pseudepigraphal literature. Unfortunately, the Nickelsburg/VanderKam translation is not accompanied by such cross-references, though it does come with a helpful introduction and outline of the text. One of the best features of this handy volume is the annotated bibliography of texts and studies of 1 Enoch (14–17). Those who will not need more than one translation of 1 Enoch should definitely acquire the two volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. For those who are doing more direct work on the text of 1 Enoch, requiring access to a critically constructed translation, this volume makes such a translation available without the necessity of purchasing the two volume Hermeneia commentary on 1 Enoch. All students of the Bible would do well to acquaint themselves with 1 Enoch, as it provides a fascinating look into the way that the OT was interpreted in the years prior to the birth of Jesus. Especially significant is what appears to be the book’s messianic interpretation of Daniel’s son of man.

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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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What about the Covenant?

Since the appearance of Kingdom through Covenant, some have raised questions about how I do or don’t deal with the covenant concept in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Here are some thoughts on the issue, as they come to me (this is, after all, a blog post):

1. I like the way Tom Schreiner answered the question when Tony Reinke raised it on the Authors on the Line podcast: Schreiner basically said that he chose to go book by book rather than organizing his biblical theology according to a thematic discussion of covenants or other themes. There isn’t just one way to skin a cat, and there isn’t just one way to do biblical theology. None of us should expect everyone else to do biblical theology just like we have done it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t lay out the benefits of or make the case for our way of doing it. How would others feel if we suggested that what they should have done is what we did? That’s just applying the golden rule to what we say in book reviews and what we say about other books as we comment on them in our own.

2. Going book by book helps you stay anchored in authorial intent–the intent of the human authors of the biblical books. If we choose to organize an approach to biblical theology according to a theme or a concept like covenant, it’s easy to start moving in the direction of the intention of the Divine Author and what he intends to communicate across the message of the whole Bible. The only way to avoid taking that step away from exegesis toward systematic theology is to stay anchored in the treatments of the concept or theme done by particular biblical authors. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to move toward what the Divine Author is doing, just that we should be aware that it’s happening.

3. In my view, biblical theology seeks to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. As I read others who do this, I’m more stimulated by treatments that move book by book, not least because I find them easier to read and ponder, then easier to remember and quote.

4. I chose to make a book by book argument that God’s glory was the center of the worldview of every single biblical author, that each of them considered the display of God’s glory to be the ultimate purpose of the universe. This point was made slightly more particular in the contention that the display of justice was intended to make mercy more poignant, and that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, justice making mercy meaningful, is the summit of the glory that God built the world and told its story to display.

5. I also like the way that Schreiner goes beyond the label “covenant” to the meaning of the term–he highlights the blessing of Abraham. As I listened to Schreiner saying these things, I realized that if we come at it that way, I can say the same: Anyone who has read my book will know that I argue for strong connections between Genesis 1, 3, and 12, and then I operate as though these set the trajectory for the rest of the big story of the Bible: God’s purposes at creation threatened by the fall and God’s curses, which are answered by the promises adumbrated in Genesis 3:15 and elaborated upon in the blessings of Abraham. Isn’t this what’s at the heart of any discussion of covenant?

6. By emphasizing these points of connection, and by moving book by book, I agree with one student’s assessment of the relationship between Kingdom through Covenant and my work, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: he said that if Kingdom through Covenant provides the “backbone” of the biblical narrative (a claim they make for themselves), God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment puts flesh on that skeleton. I think that’s true and hope others find it helpful.

7. My overarching aims were twofold: I wanted to argue for the glory of God as the center of biblical theology. Because I think it’s true. Don’t agree? I think you will when Jesus comes back. I may not have proved it, but I’m pretty sure the King on the white horse will. We will see The King in His Beauty. And I wanted to write a book that moved book by book through the whole canon in the hope that it would give people a guided tour of the Bible. My hope is that people will read God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment alongside their reading of the Bible the way that folks check out those recorded audio tours when the go to historical sites or museums.

Want more on the definition of biblical theology and what we’re after? Please see What Is Biblical Theology?

Want to teach it to the generation to come? Try The Bible’s Big Story.

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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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How to Read through Shakespeare in a Year

Have you ever read The Complete Works of Shakespeare? Seeing the film Lincoln inspired me to set an informal goal of reading all Shakespeare’s plays and poetry this year, and then I came across this quote in Another Sort of Learning:

Not too long ago, I heard a tape of the memorial service held at Stanford University Chapel at the death of Eric Voegelin. On the tape, Professor William Havard, I think, remarked that Voegelin read the Complete Works of Shakespeare once a year all his adult life.

Voegelin read the Complete Works of Shakespeare the way that many read the Bible: yearly. That prompted me to think about reading Shakespeare the same way that one would approach reading through the Bible in a year–with a systematic plan of action involving reading a little bit every day.

There are 1,675 pages in the edition of Shakespeare’s Works I have from college. But there are about 330 pages of introductory material, so the actual page count of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry comes to around 1,336. Divide that number by 365, and you read about 3 and a half pages per day to get through everything Shakespeare wrote in a year. If you want to read all the introductory material too, it’s about 4 and a half pages per day.

Another way to come at it would be to do it by plays and poetry per month. There are 37 plays, and then there are another 74 pages of sonnets and longer poems. The plays are about 30 pages each, so we can count the sonnets as two more plays. 39 plays in 12 months would be about 3 and a quarter plays per month. Which is to say that four months of the year you’ll read 4 plays, then the other 8 months you read 3 plays per month.

There are 224 days left in 2013, so if you start now, skip the introductory material, you’re looking at just under 6 pages of Shakespeare a day. At the end of May there will be 7 months left in the year, which means that if you start June 1 you’d need to read 5 and a half plays per month to finish at the end of the year.

The main thing is not to finish in a year, but to steep your mind in the words and the themes, to be elevated by Shakespeare’s vision, his ability to put life and morality on display in words, to let the Bard make you better.

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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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Review of Zimmerli, The Fiery Throne

Walther Zimmerli, The Fiery Throne: The Prophets and Old Testament Theology, Fortress Classics in Biblical Studies. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. 179pp. $16.00, paper.

Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.2 (2004): 82–83

Born in Switzerland in 1907, Walther Zimmerli was a pastor and prolific scholar who died in 1983. Through the course of his life, Zimmerli led the Göttingen project on the Septuagint, edited Vetus Testamentum, worked with epileptics, served as a “house father” at the Reformed Theological Student House in Zurich, and was a chaplain in the Swiss army. The present volume is a collection of significant essays (translated from German) published between 1963 and 1985.

The volume opens with a short biography of Zimmerli (xi–xiii), followed by the original publication data for the 8 essays in the book (xiv–xv). The first essay, “Prophetic Proclamation and Reinterpretation,” explores the use and transformation of Israel’s traditions in Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Deutero-Isaiah (sic), concluding with theological reflections.

This is followed by a piece titled “From Prophetic Word to Prophetic Book.” The question here is, “What can be said regarding the progression from the oral, situation-bound prophetic word to the written message, which was lifted out of its original context and has apparently become timeless?” (23–24). Zimmerli searches out indications of the transcription and redaction of the prophecies in Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

Chapter 3 treats “The ‘Land’ in the Prophets,” followed by “Visionary Experience in Jeremiah” in chapter 4. Next come three studies on Ezekiel: “The Message of the Prophet Ezekiel,” “The Word of God in the Book of Ezekiel,” and “Form and Tradition in the Book of Ezekiel” in chapters 5–7.

The last essay is titled simply “Biblical Theology,” where Zimmerli rightly recognizes, “The question demands attention because of the situation of Christian preaching. If texts from both parts of the Bible are read and expounded in the Christian pulpit, how can this be possible unless the preacher renders an account about a ‘speaking of God’ that is nurtured by both testaments, in other words about ‘biblical theology’?” (118).

Since these essays were already in print in English, it is quite a compliment to Zimmerli that Fortress would choose to include the collection in their series and make them newly available. The essays are rendered less useful by Zimmerli’s critical orientation; still, he is intimately acquainted with the texts and it is convenient to have these studies in one handy volume. This book will be read mainly by scholars and Ph.D. students.

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Review of Gorman’s Apostle of the Crucified Lord

Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004. 618pp. $39.00, paper.

Published in The Southwestern Journal of Theology 46.3 (2004), 97-99

Michael Gorman teaches New Testament at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, where he is also dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology. He has produced a textbook that is a cross between a Pauline theology and an introduction to Paul’s life and letters. The format of the book is attractive and user-friendly, and Gorman’s writing style is both engaging and fresh. The text is accompanied by relevant maps of Paul’s journeys and the cities in which he ministered, and each chapter is concluded with questions for reflection and an annotated bibliography pointing students to related reading for further study. Of special note also are some helpful photographs in the book, such as the one of an ancient letter written on papyrus, which is rolled and sealed for delivery (80).

The first six chapters introduce the reader to Paul’s context and ideas, followed by a chapter on each of Paul’s thirteen letters. The first chapter on the Greco-Roman context of Paul’s mission includes informative summaries of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries and the issues generated by the “new perspective.” Especially helpful is Gorman’s discussion of the light shed on Paul’s context by the Roman Imperial Cult. This first chapter is followed by chapters on Paul’s mission, his letters and what they were intended to do, his gospel, his spirituality, and his theology. The chapters on the thirteen letters situate the documents in Paul’s life, introduce major themes, and then briefly summarize the message of the letter’s major sections.

Gorman makes productive use of recent scholarship on Paul, providing helpful overviews of major topics. For this reason, this book will be useful to scholars who are not Pauline specialists but nevertheless have occasion to teach on Paul in introductory surveys of the New Testament.

Several aspects of the volume, however, make it unfit for use in evangelical classrooms. This includes an acceptance of pseudonymous authorship of Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus. Gorman’s discussion of these issues does not deal with the early church’s rejection of pseudonymous writings, glosses over the ethical problem of a Christian author deliberately deceiving his intended readers, and concludes that whoever wrote these documents was so good at imitating Paul that he fooled everyone for 1800 years, and yet he was such a bumblehead that modern scholars easily detect his hand.

Gorman also tends to invite disagreement with the Bible on the gender issue. Clear and compelling explanations of the disputed texts—1 Corinthians 11 and 14, 1 Timothy 2—are available in such volumes as Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth. When Gorman comes to 1 Corinthians 11, Paul’s words are labelled “confusing remarks” (265), and 1 Corinthians 14:33–35 is “another confusing text” (276). The interpretation of these texts is difficult, to be sure, but they can be coherently interpreted if we are willing to let Paul speak. The issue is exacerbated in the discussion of 1 Timothy, where it is tacitly assumed that the “patriarchy many find in the text” needs to be blunted, if it is really there at all (560, cf. 551). The fourth question for reflection at the end of this chapter then treats the rejection of the Bible’s teaching as a live option when students are invited to consider, “Which aspects of 1 Timothy’s ministerial charge to Timothy should be (a) appropriated, (b) modified, or (c) rejected today?” (570). Those for whom the Bible is authoritative do not reject its teaching, nor should we present the outright rejection of what the Bible says as a way to deal with its statements that do not conform to modern Western notions of right and wrong. We seek to be transformed by the renewing of our minds through the Bible, not to be liberated from it that we might be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2).

For evangelical classrooms, a better introduction to Paul’s letters may be found in John Polhill’s Paul and His Letters, and the best Pauline theology remains Thomas R. Schreiner’s Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ.

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Literary Horse Puckey

My friend Jason Duesing sent me a link to an insightful essay by Kathryn Schulz, “Why I despise The Great Gatsby,” where she points out Fitzgerald’s lack of humor in Gatsby, lack of empathy for his characters, and lack of real moral power. It’s a great essay, and it reminded me of a crisp scene in Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome. A little context, then the scene in question:

The main character of Enger’s novel, Monte Becket, is a writer whose first novel (Martin Bligh) has achieved unexpected success, and now Monte is helping an old and never-caught bandit make his way to the woman he left, to whom he wants to apologize.

They get separated when Monte gets apprehended by an off-duty detective, Royal Davies, who invites him to spend the night in his home so he can take him to the station for questioning next day. At the Davies home Monte meets the wife of the detective, and we get this fine passage:

As for Mrs. Davies, she kept me under the reptile eye while listening to her husband’s presentation of contemporary Chicago, of his sister’s health, and of the bothersome train ride home. He was a bright observer, and I soon saw he had to be, for Mrs. Davies asked him a chain of incisive questions which built one upon the other until she had in her mind a satisfactory portrait of her husband’s absence. You’d think it might abrade, to be probed that way by your spouse, but Royal Davies seemed to shine and grow younger under her spotlight, and he leaned toward her, his language and whole manner becoming honed and precise.

She then turned to me and said, ‘Very well, Mr. Author, it is your turn.’

‘I am at your service, Mrs. Davies.’

‘You are a man of letters,’ said she. ‘Tell me, what do you think of Boyd Singleton Ample?’ [whose name will later be abbreviated ‘B. S. Ample’!]

I said, ‘I think he is very good, yes, a very important writer.’

There are any number of reasons to tell this sort of lie. As a well-treated guest, I didn’t wish to seem critical of her taste. Worse, I didn’t wish to appear jealous–every one of Mr. Ample’s books sold much more briskly than Martin Bligh had.

‘Go on,’ she said, nodding.

‘Well, his insights on human miseries are salient,’ I ventured. It didn’t seem like a weak limb to climb out on–it was a common opinion among people who were serious about Literature and the phase it was in, whether of ascent or decline, and What It All Meant for Society. In his most recent novel he had sallied out with a number of momentous ideas, namely that war is difficult, and that poverty is difficult too; in fact, that much of human experience is marked by difficulty. I don’t remember who is at fault.

‘Horse puckey,’ said Mrs. Davies, an excellent glint in her gaze.

‘Pardon?’

‘He is boresome. Humorless as a mole. Tell me, are you familiar with The Pestilence of Man?’

‘Yes. Yes, I am.’ I was mortified, because in my politic reply I’d set myself to defend a novel I hadn’t even finished. I tried! But it’s a long book.

‘And did you laugh much, reading it?’ she asked.

‘I’m afraid not, Mrs. Davies.’

‘Call me Celia, please. Did you get much good from it?’ she persisted.

‘Why, I think so–Celia.’

‘And what particular good would that be?’ said my rigorous hostess.

‘Well, a broader understanding of human darkness, I suppose,’ I said, seizing a trite phrase from a review I’d seen somewhere. Oh, I was on thin and melting ice now!

Celia Davies said, ‘At this minute many people are reading books by that man; I will tell you how to identify them. They own a furtive brow, men and women alike; they bend their slight shoulders, they tug their lips and fret. Mr. Becket, do you find yourself improved for your new understanding of human darkness?’

I adjusted my own shoulders. I had a new admiration for Royal Davies, that he could be a match for her. ‘Few things have managed to improve me, Celia,’ I admitted, ‘although a day or two of your company might.’

Then she laughed, which was the youngest thing about her; Royal took her hand with an expression of delight, and I was released from that table.

I’m thankful for books like So Brave, Young, and Handsome, books that show the beauty of marriage and the courage to laugh at dour high-mindedness, books that are funny and that make for the improvement of those who read them.

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Remus Lupin, Werewolf

I love the Harry Potter stories. My first trip through them was an audio excursion guided by the talented Jim Dale. Enthusiasm for the books swept me right into reading them aloud to my children, and we’re almost finished with the series. I am thrilled that J. K. Rowling’s next book, The Casual Vacancy, is appearing any moment now. I can’t wait to read it. Sorry for my effusive delight over these books—what I’m trying to do is tell you about one of the characters in the Harry Potter stories, Remus Lupin.

There’s a play on his name, as lupus is the Latin word for “wolf,” and Lupin is a werewolf. Werewolves are not exactly pleasant, and the surprising thing is that Lupin is one of the good guys. This is one of the ways that Rowling has given us stories that are true to life.

In the Potter stories, if you get bitten by a werewolf, the bite infects you and can make you a werewolf. Remus Lupin’s father had offended an awful villain of a werewolf, and that werewolf sought revenge by biting Remus when he was a child.

Remus did not want to be a werewolf. Abused by an adult, he became a danger to himself and others. He was cut off from society. He suffered terribly, and he had no control over his affliction. At the full moon, whether he wanted to be transformed into a werewolf or not, he lost control of himself and became something dangerous.

Have you ever met anyone who has experienced something like this? Or has this been your own experience? Something tragic, awful, happened during childhood, and its painful repercussions seem all but inescapable?

J. K. Rowling tells a story in which there’s hope for people who have been abused as children, abused in ways that threaten to make them monsters as adults. Rowling’s story helps us to sympathize with people we might not otherwise understand, people we might otherwise fear. Lupin tells his personal history in book 3, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I saw Rowling interviewed, and she commented on how much Lupin means to her.

Remus relates how it seemed impossible that he would get to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, until a headmaster came to the school who believed in giving people second chances, believed in trusting people, believed in the power of love. Albus Dumbledore allowed Remus Lupin into Hogwarts, and he devised a way for Lupin to be protected—from himself and others—when his monthly transformation took place. Dumbledore thought carefully about the situation, about Lupin’s affliction and needs, and he took steps to make sure that Lupin would not destroy others or himself when he became a werewolf.

Lupin goes on to relate how as the years of his schooling passed, his “three great friends” did something for him that made his painful transformations “not only bearable, but the best times” of his life.

What could his friends have done for him?

First, when his friends learned his secret, they didn’t reject him. From there, his friends began to explore ways to care for him, ways to enter into his experience, ways to be in his life in his moment of need, to walk with him through the trial.

Lupin’s friends worked for three years to perfect the complex magic necessary to transform themselves into animals that would not be hurt by a werewolf. They did that so they could keep Lupin company, so they could protect him from himself, so they could keep him from hurting others, and they did it because they were his friends.

Lupin says, “Under their influence, I became less dangerous. My body was still wolfish, but my mind seemed to become less so while I was with them.”

Do you know children who have been sexually abused? Did that happen to you as a child? Do you know children who have been exposed to pornography? Were you?

Consider what Rowling teaches through this powerful story. There is hope for people who have experienced things they wish had not happened, and there are steps that can and should be taken in such cases.

Notice how Dumbledore let Lupin into school, but he acknowledged that because of what had happened to Lupin, he had to take measures to restrain Lupin when he became a werewolf, measures that would protect Lupin himself and other children.

What boundaries are necessary because of what has happened in your life, or in the life of someone you love?

If you find yourself experiencing a transformation at the full moon—that is to say, if there things that happen, or that you see or hear, that cause you to experience impulses that are beyond your rationality, beyond your control—are you acknowledging your need for help in those situations?

Do you find yourself risking everything that matters most in the world to pursue some desire that most of the time you don’t want to gratify at all? Dumbledore built a place where Lupin could go to be safe at the full moon. What kind of place do you need?

Notice also that Lupin had friends who loved him—friends who knew the awful reality of his condition, friends who knew the worst about him and loved him anyway, friends who thought carefully and persistently about how to help him, friends who went to extraordinary lengths to stand by their brother who was in need.

Oh to have such friends. Oh to be such a friend.

We all need second chances. We all need boundaries. And we need one another.

There’s something better than having Albus Dumbledore as your headmaster and great classmates like Lupin’s three great friends: belonging to Jesus and being part of his church. Rowling has given us a picture of the human condition in an unlikely place. She has shown us that sometimes even the good guys turn into werewolves. The good guys, however, know what their problems are, take steps to address those problems, and they know they can’t make it alone.

If you haven’t read the Harry Potter stories, trust me, Rowling’s narrative is much more powerful than this little reflection on it. Consider this my encouragement for you to read what I think will prove to be the publishing event of the century (get them here). These books are the third most read books in the world.

More importantly, if you’re not a member of a church where Jesus shepherds his people through the preaching of the word, it’s better than Hogwarts. If you don’t have friends who will listen to you and think about your plight and be creative about how to help you, the church is better than magicians who can turn themselves into animals. And the great redemption Christ has accomplished is the substance of which the Potter stories are but a shadow.

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This post originally appeared at Christianity.com

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My Take on Dumbledore’s Orientation

Christianity.com has posted my thoughts on “What Rowling Said about Dumbledore.” Here’s the postscript:

I haven’t read Jerram Barrs’ book yet, but I just saw on Justin Taylor’s blog that Barrs has an appendix in his forthcoming Echoes of Eden entitled “The Outing of Dumbledore.” I’ve been thinking about what Rowling said about Dumbledore since it was first brought to my attention, and seeing that Barrs has an appendix on it spurred me to finish this post. I don’t know what Barrs will say, but this is my take on Rowling’s declaration that in her conception of Dumbledore he felt same-sex attractions.

The whole thing is here.

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Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker: Welcoming a new edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

I’m glad that B&H has brought an updated and expanded edition of John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, not least because of the chapter entitled, “Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker.”

You can read an earlier version of this chapter here.

May the Lord make us people of the book. And may ministers and those training for ministry be inspired to give themselves to the biblical languages.

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Amen: Credo Interview with Schreiner on Biblical Theology

The first few questions and answers from the Credo Interview with Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner on his new book, The King in His Beauty:

There has been something of a “renaissance” in the publication of “whole bible” theologies in recent years. Where does your contribution stand in relation to these other works?

First of all I think we should celebrate the publication of whole bible theologies. What an encouraging sign that Christians in our age want to understand the whole counsel of God. Evangelicals, in particular, play a leading role here, for we believe that the scriptures cohere, that there is a unified story instead of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Second, I won’t mention all the other works that have been written, but I can say I have read and profited from them immensely. Generally speaking my work is less technical and hence more accessible than some of the works out there. I wanted to write a book that a busy pastor, college student, or interested layperson could grasp and understand. Whether I have succeeded or not is for others to say.
Third, I wanted my book to focus especially on scripture itself instead of what other scholars say. I wanted to show inductively by quoting or referring to scripture that the theology I presented was in accord with what the biblical writers were saying. This is not to say that I didn’t learn a great deal from many other scholars in my research and study. They were immensely helpful.

What are you trying to capture with the title “you will see the king in his beauty”?

The words come from Isaiah 33. I wanted to emphasize why it matters that the Lord is king. The story is about God conquering Satan, sin, and death. But why would we want to be on the winning side? It is because in the new creation (the new Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth) we will see the king in his beauty. We will be enraptured by our God and Jesus Christ forever.

Its been a fairly common theme in academic circles that a whole bible theology cannot be done or should not be done. Some suggest that labeling the Jewish Tanakh as the “Old Testament” is inherently racist and/or imperialistic. What’s your take on the “possibility” of a whole Bible theology?

Your question relates to what I said in answer to the first question. As evangelicals we believe in a unified story, in a canon that coheres, in a narrative that goes somewhere. Academic scholarship has typically maintained that there are different and even contradictory theologies in the scriptures. But as evangelicals we believe in diversity with an overall unity. Is our stance imperialistic toward the OT? It all depends upon your stance toward biblical revelation. We believe that the message of Jesus and the apostles, rightly interpreted, points toward an old covenant and a new covenant. We don’t believe we are imposing our own biases on scripture but receiving and transmitting the revelation given to us. We understand why those from other perspectives would disagree. The exclusivity of the Christian gospel has always been scandalous.

The question of “method” in particularly acute when attempting the bridge the Hebrew and Christian canon. What is your approach to “method” in terms of historical reconstruction of the literature, the reading of individual texts, and relating them across the canon?

I don’t engage in historical reconstruction in writing my biblical theology. Instead, I accept the canonical shape of the scriptures and the text as it has come down to us as the source for biblical theology. I read the texts from a certain perspective. I assume they are telling a unified story, but I also believe it is imperative to listen to the contribution of each writer and piece of literature.
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