Once of the main reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians is because he cancelled his plans to visit the church (1:15-2:4). Paul’s reasons for the change in plans was to spare the church. He was angry with them and knew the visit would be painful indeed. Instead of a visit, Paul wrote a “tearful letter” and sent Titus to deliver it to the church.

His change in plans contributed to a rift between Paul and the church. Although the letter and Titus’s visit seems to have settled the church, Paul’s absence gave and opportunity for opponents of Paul make serious accusations against him. These “super-apostles” claimed higher authority than Paul primarily because Paul was not a polished orator and was always suffering some sort of calamity. They may have accused Paul of trying to extort money from the church by means of a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Paul is forced into a foolish exercise of boasting in this weakness (11:1-12:13). Having concluded his boasting, and putting the claims of the “super-apostles” into perspective, Paul finishes the letter by telling the Corinthians he will visit them for a third time.

Money BiblePaul’s intention is to travel back to Corinth for a third time, but he does not intend to be a burden to the church.  Paul did not accept support from the Corinthian church, and this seems to have been a source of some conflict with the congregation. He did accept financial support from Philippi, but directly refused support from Corinth. Paul has already said he does not intend to be a burden (2 Cor 11:9). The verb Paul uses (καταναρκάω) refers to being a “dead weight” so Paul might mean, “I do not want to take money from you if I am not going to work for it,” as if the church wanted to offer him a retainer fee for his services as an apostle!

The background here is the patron/client relationship in the Roman world. If the church gave Paul gifts, then Paul has an obligation to the church. They are his patron, and he is their client. Paul wants to avoid the perception of patronage, so he refuses to take money from the Corinthians.

If the Corinthian church gives Paul support, then they are his benefactors. They could potentially boast in their support of Paul in the way a Roman would boast in the any public benefaction. Since the Christians are not yet building churches, there is no way for a Gentile Christian to offer a gift to the church in a way that makes sense in their culture. If they were worshiping a particular god, they could offer to pay for a sacrifice or a new statue of the god or to improve the temple in some way. Naturally they would get “their name on the plaque” and everyone would know they had benefited the community in this way.

There is nothing a Roman Christian can do to show his generosity to the church other than to contribute to the needs of the poor, and that is something which would not bring honor to a person in a Roman context. Really the only thing the church could do is to support Paul as his patron, a relationship Paul does not want to encourage at all!

If this context is correct, then Paul’s refusal of patronage would be seen as a kind of insult, and likely a painful insult at that. If Paul is “their apostle” then he ought to be thrilled to receive a gift! Paul says he does not want their possessions, but a genuine relationship with them.

The difficulty for a contemporary reading of Paul’s relationship with Corinth is that Paul does encourage paying those who minister. If a church as the need for one or more full-time staff members, it is important for the church to pay them appropriately. But can the pastor/congregation relationship devolve into a patron/client relationship? If a pastor puts a paycheck before the spiritual needs of his congregation, then there is a serious problem with the relationship with the church.

Paul’s real “thorn in the flesh” identified at last….

Paul's Real Thorn...

 

 

A thornThe “thorn in the flesh” is directly related to Paul’s “great revelations.” This is not something Christians need to fear, Paul is unique in salvation history as the apostle to the Gentiles, and his visionary experience is unique as well. The “thorn” is a metaphor emphasizing the ongoing, painful nature of the oppression.

The noun Paul uses (σκόλοψ) refers to any kind of splinter or thorn that works its way into the body, but the thorn is also called a “messenger of Satan” of “angel of Satan.” By describing the thorn this way, Paul may be referring to a person who was harassing him, continually causing him to suffer.

This messenger “harasses” Paul. This verb (κολαφίζω) is a violent physical beating, the same word is used for Jesus’ beatings in Matt 26:67 and Mark 14:65.  Since it is not clear what Paul means by this thorn, Christians have suggested the beatings are not physical. Suggestions include: hysteria, depression, headaches, severe eye trouble, malaria, leprosy, and even a speech impediment (See BDAG for scholars associated with each suggestion). If this is a physical illness, it could be a sign of God’s judgment; the opponent could use something like this to call into question everything Paul teaches!

God allowed Paul to endure this suffering in order to keep him humble. This is an ongoing torment of some kind, since Paul prayed three times to have the thorn taken from him. The purpose of the thorn is to keep Paul from being exalted because of his visionary experience. The verb (ὑπεραίρω) refers to developing an “an undue sense of one’s self-importance” (BDAG). The thorn therefore was given to keep Paul from getting a big head about how important he is!

The only response to this prayer given by the Lord is “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  This is one of the most memorable verses in the New Testament and has helped many people through extremely difficult times. Like Paul, people who suffer physical or emotional torment consider this verse a great comfort since God’s grace is all they need. But notice it God’s grace does not guarantee Paul will be rescued from his thorn in the flesh! In fact, the comfort of this verse is that despite intense suffering, God’s grace is all Paul wants or needs!

It is when Paul is weak the power of God is most clearly seen. If Paul were an elite orator or a well-trained sophist, or a prophet who has the most glorious of visions, then the success he had in Corinth would be all his; he would easily slip into the error the opponents are making and glorify himself.

It is not that we ought to forego any preparation for ministry and only appoint the most unprepared people to serve; but when that preparation becomes a platform for boasting then the Lord is no longer glorified. Paul therefore concludes this chapter the same way he started in 2 Cor 13, boasting in his suffering all the more!

What is Paul’s point by boasting in his suffering in 12:10? As he concluded after his catalog of suffering in chapter 11, Paul claims his suffering proves he is a true apostle (and the “super apostles are not). As Barrett concludes, “The real point is that the requirement of self-sacrifice … marks out the true apostle from the false” (284-5). The pastor who works two jobs to serve a small country church is nearer to Paul’s model, his imitation of Christ, than a pastor who asks for 65 million for a private jet.

Would a Mega-Church pastor give up his wealth to care for a small inner city congregations for little or no money at all? Jesus gave up everything, as did Paul;  but Paul’s opponents would not. What makes them spiritual leaders is their wealth and prestige, the exact opposite of Paul’s point here in 2 Corinithians.

McKeown, James. Ruth. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 152 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans  and an interview with McKeown at EerdWorld.

James McKeown wrote the Genesis commentary in the Two Horizons series. This new volume on Ruth attempts to follow a similar method for reading a biblical book canonically and theologically.

He begins with a short twelve-page introduction to the book of Ruth, although the bulk of the introduction is a summary of the plot of the book. Since the goal of the commentary is a theological reading of the book of Ruth, some of the more technical critical questions are unimportant. It is possible the book dates as early as the time of David and intended to explain his Moabite roots, or as late as the time of Ezra-Nehemiah as a more sympathetic view of foreign women. McKeown is inclined to see the purpose of the book as ambiguous, although this does not limit the theological significance of Ruth.

Ruth James McKeownThe commentary proper moves through the book by pericopae. Although McKeown occasionally comments on the Hebrew text, the primary focus of the commentary is on the story of Ruth in English (p. 1). He sometimes compares several English translations, especially for some of the difficult idiomatic phrases in the book, such as the blessing formula in 4:11.  In several sections it is necessary to explain customs of the Ancient Near East, such as the exchange of sandals on Ruth 4:7-8. McKeown interacts with secondary literature on Ruth, but most of this material is in the footnotes. This makes for a very readable commentary, useful for both scholar and layman.

The main feature of the Two Horizons series of the series is the theological interpretation of Scripture. In this commentary there are two chapters dedicated to biblical theology, about half the book. In “Theological Horizons” McKeown examines Ruth’s canonical connections. Although Ruth follows Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible, McKeown is not interested in the juxtaposition of Ruth and the “Woman of Valor” (Proverbs 31:10-31). I find this somewhat remarkable since the Hebrew canon is the original order. If canonical placement is important, I would prefer to see Ruth read as an example of Wisdom Literature, perhaps juxtaposing it with its canonical partners, the final chapter of Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.

Rather than use the Hebrew canon, McKeown points out that in the Septuagint, Ruth appears between Judges and Samuel. Ruth therefore functioned as a kind of bridge between these two books. Following the work of Yizhak Berger, McKeown explores the theme of offspring, land and blessing in Ruth and Genesis. Most commentators use Deuteronomy to illuminate the practice of gleaning or the Levirate marriage, but McKeown argues Ruth illustrates how Israel might show love to the foreigner (Deut 10:17-19). But Ruth also draws into question the exclusion of Moabites from the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3-6). Ruth is also canonically related to Judges and serves as a canonical link between Judges and Samuel. While the Judges are sometimes called “men of valor” (אִ֣ישׁ חָ֑יִל Judg 3:29; 20:44), Ruth is a “woman of valor” (אֵ֥שֶׁת חַ֖יִל, Ruth 3:11). Ruth is a righteous person in a dark age of violence.

But the book of Ruth also looks forward to the time of David, a Moabite descendant who enters a levirate marriage with Abigail. Several parallels between Ruth the story of David can be made, but it is not clear to me how this relationship works. This is a problem for all inner-canonical studies since it is almost impossible to prove which direction the influence goes. Did the author of Ruth tell the story with knowledge of David’s relationship with Abigail, or vice versa? On the one hand, this is unknowable, but on the other hand, it might not matter for this kind of theological reading of the book of Ruth. On a literary level, two texts are being compared in order to develop a theological reading. Historical critical questions of sources and dependence are of little consequence when using this hermeneutical method.

The final section of the book, “Theological Issues, Themes and Approaches,” creates a short biblical theology based on Ruth. McKeown demonstrates how Ruth views God as the sovereign creator who provides for his people. God’s providential hand is seen throughout the book, although he appears to be hidden from the characters in the story. It is Naomi’s experience which makes this theme clear and shows the hiddenness of God should not be mistaken for the absence of God (p. 116).

Since the theme of Land is important throughout the Hebrew Bible, it is no surprise to find Ruth highlighting the idea of God as the giver of land to his people. If God has given land to his people, they are responsible for using it ethically, as Boaz’s treatment of the poor widow Ruth demonstrates.

Perhaps the most important theme of Ruth is redemption, and McKeown adds to this the theme of universalism. God will redeem all people. Redemption looks back at the original Exodus, but also forward to the ultimate redemption planned by the sovereign God. While property or a person may be redeemed according to the Law, the broader context of the Canon uses legal redemption as a metaphor for salvation, especially in Job and Psalms. McKeown points out how the theme of redemption extends to the New Testament and salvation through Jesus Christ. Perhaps what is surprising from an Old Testament perspective is redemption will include foreigners, even Moabite women!

McKeown includes a section in this chapter surveying Feminist studies of Ruth. Since it is a book focused on the activities of two women, Ruth has attracted a great deal of attention from feminist biblical scholars. Taking Naomi’s advice to Ruth to return to “her mother’s house” (2:8) as a hint of authorship, Carol Meyers suggested the book may have been written by a woman (p.134). McKeown does not comment on the suggestion, but unlike other critical issues, this observation would have an important hermeneutical impact on a commentary on Ruth.

Conclusion. Like other contributions to the Two Horizons Commentary series, McKeown delivers a canonical and theological reading of the book of Ruth which will stimulate anyone studying the book of Ruth.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

keep-calm-carnival-is-coming-2The June 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival will be hosted by  William A. Ross, so if you have any suggested links for significant blog posts related to biblical or theological studies, feel free to send them his way (williamross27 at gmail dot com).

The July 2015  Carnival will be hosted by Lindsay Kennedy (@digitalseminary) at My Digital Seminary, and Bob MacDonald (@drmacdonald) is hosting in August.  The rest of the year is more or less open.  Please email me (plong42 at gmail.com) and pick your month!

Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.

Paul says he was caught up to the third heaven and receive revelations of “surpassing greatness.” Paul reports this vision in a way consistent with other visions of heaven in the literature of the Second Temple period.

Like other prophets, Paul is “caught up” into the third heaven. He uses the same verb as 1 Thess 4:17, ἁρπάζω. This word has the sense of being snatched away and appears in the LXX in Gen In both cases the verb is passive, as expected in a vision report. In 1 Enoch 39:3 a whirlwind catches the prophet up and takes him into the “ultimate ends of heaven” where he sees the dwelling places of the holy ones.

garden of EdenPaul says he was caught up to the “third heaven” (τρίτου οὐρανοῦ) or into paradise (παράδεισος). The noun paradise is used for Eden and originally described the pleasure garden of the great kings of the Persians. T.Levi 18:10 refers to heaven as the “gates of paradise.” In 2 Enoch the seer is taken up to a “garden of righteousness” in his heavenly visions. In 2 Enoch 8 and “inconceivably pleasant” Paradise is located in the “third heaven.”

2 Enoch 8.1-3 And those men took me from there, and they brought me up to the third heaven, and set me down there. Then I looked downward, and I saw Paradise. And that place is inconceivably pleasant. And I saw the trees in full flower. And their fruits were ripe and pleasant-smelling, with every food in yield and giving off profusely a pleasant fragrance. And in the midst (of them was) the tree of life, at that place where the LORD takes a rest when he goes into paradise. And that tree is indescribable for pleasantness and fine fragrance, and more beautiful than any (other) created thing that exists.

In Paul’s vision, he heard “inexpressible words” (ἄρρητα ῥήματα). This may mean they cannot be spoken in human language (something like Spock’s real name?). But this might mean Paul was not given permission to report what he heard while he was in heaven. This second option is a common feature of heavenly vision reports, some things are so great the seer holds them back from people who are not ready to hear them. In Daniel 12:4 the prophet is told to “seal up the prophecy” and Revelation 14:3 John hears seven thunders but is not permitted to report what they said.

Even though Paul has had a visionary experience on a par with his opponents in Corinth, he chose not to mention it since it has no value for the church at all! Why should he boast in some spiritual experience they can never have? What spiritual benefit could possibly come from Paul telling them the details of the vision?

Paul continues his boasting in 1 Cor 12, this time mentions a vision in which he was transported to the “third heaven.” We do not know when this vision occurred, and the way Paul describes it is hard to place in the book of Acts. He describes his experiences as a vision (ὀπτασία) and a revelation (ἀποκάλυψις). The first word is usually associated with a god allowing himself to be seen by a human, or allowing a human to see something usually hidden (BDAG). Although a little later than the New Testament, the Martyrdom of Polycarp used the word to describe a “trance.” Paul calls his experience on the road to Damascus a vision (Acts 26:19). The second word is Paul’s usual word to describe his revelations from God, usually in the context of salvation history or eschatology.

VisionWhen did Paul have this vision? He says it was “fourteen years ago,” which is about A.D. 40. Paul is therefore not referring to his Damascus Road experience, but an experience after his conversion but before the beginning of the first missionary trip (about A.D. 48). Paul founded the Corinthian church 50-51 on the second missionary journey.

Why does he Paul suddenly boast about a vision he had some 14 years earlier? This is part of Paul’s “humble boast” throughout this section—he has had visions (just like the opponents) but his are un-reportable and from the distant past. Unlike the opponents, he is not “making up visions” to impress his audience.

Does Paul refer to his experience in the Temple as reported in Acts 22:17-18? Luke uses a similar word to describe Paul’s vision, a “trance” (ESV, ἔκστασις). Chronologically it is possible since it is after his conversion and we do not know how many years between the conversion and that particular Temple visit. A major difference is the vision in Acts 22 includes a warning to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles. (Check out Richard Fellows’ comments on the chronology of 2 Corinthians 12. Fellows says “It seems to me that 2 Cor 12:2 lends a little support to the chronology of Acts.”) It is really impossible to know when or where Paul had this vision. Paul’s only point here is his vision came in the past and it is something he is not able to relate to the church.

Paul reports the vision in the third person and does not really give any details. He does not know if he was “in the body” or not, and really does not know what happened to him when he had the vision. Again, this is a completely different report than would come from the opponents who seem to boast in great detail about their own experiences. It is as if Paul is saying, “Sure, I had one of those visions too, but I do not really consider it worth recalling now…”

GoldingayGoldingay, John. Do We Need the New Testament? Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 184 pp. Pb; $22.00.   Link to IVP

NB: This is the second part of my review of Do We Need the New Testament?, the first part appears here. Although the book does not divide itself into two parts, chapters 5-9 cover topics which are in some ways controversial in scholarship.

In chapter 5 Goldingay deals with one of the more difficult books of the New Testament with respect to understanding the First Testament. This provocatively titled chapter (“How People Have Mis(?)read Hebrews) attempts to correct the common Christians misconception that the First Testament presents sacrifices as the “way Israelites got right with God” (91). There is little in the First Testament to link sacrifice and forgiveness of sin: sacrifices were a religious practice common in the ancient world. But Hebrews is often used to create a typology, or foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. Christian theology is used to look back on the sacrifices and interpret them through the lens of Jesus. This is problematic when applied to the stories of the First Testament, especially when preaching Hebrews 11. The individuals in the chapter, Goldingay argues, were not designed to be examples of faith for people to follow today (95). Although Hebrews says Enoch pleased God, Genesis does not. The First Testament never says, “Be holy like Abraham,” but God often commands his people “be holy like me” (Lev 19:1). Goldingay warns against using Hebrews as a hermeneutical guide: “the hermeneutical guidance that the New Testament offers us is that we should not be looking to it for hermeneutical guidance” (97).

In a frustratingly short chapter Goldingay describes the “Costly Loss of First Testament Spirituality” (chapter 6). His focus here is on the Psalms as a response to God. He argues here the Psalms could correct “the emaciated nature of what counts as worship” in our culture. The problem for Goldingay is culture has shifted the focus of worship to how we feel and away from the biblical focus on God. “We have devised a religion ti enable us to give expression to our individual sad selves and we hope it will make us feel better, but it does not really do so” (107). Using the sacrifices as an example, worship for an Israelite was costly; modern worship costs us nothing and we usually leave with just that! This chapter on biblical worship is significant enough to merit a book-length treatment, especially given Goldingay’s expertise in the Psalms.

Chapter 7 (“Memory and Israel’s Faith, Hope, and Life”) is an essay on a trendy topic in scholarship, memory studies. His interest in the chapter is to contrast “history” in the modern sense of the word from “memory,” especially collective memory as it relates to faith in the First Testament. Goldingay points out the frequency of the command to remember in Deuteronomy and shows the command to remember is different from “hard facts.” If you want the facts, go to the annals of the Kings, memories are both less and more than history because they interpret the facts. This interpretation involves forgetting some things as well as remembering competing facts. Israel was happy to affirm conflicting memories, Goldingay says, “because the all contained truth” (125). Some evangelicals will balk at this, especially when he says “much of the account of in Chronicles of David is imaginary,” but that does not make it untrue as an interpretation of the past, especially since the interpretation intends to remind people of how what happened shapes them now. He draws parallels to several recent American films and points out how these films are based on fact, but are intended to tell Americans something about themselves. So too the First Testament remembers truth and presents it in a way to shape both current and future communities of believers.

In chapter 8 Goldingay discusses how Jesus reads the Torah, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Occasionally Christians think Jesus taught love of neighbors in contrast to the First Testament. But this is not the case, Jesus often “is bringing out the meaning of the Torah and the Prophets” (141). It is not as though the First Testament says “hate your enemies” and Jesus reverses this to “love your enemies.” But Matt 5:43-44 implies someone was teaching “you’re your enemies” and there is a great deal of destruction of enemies in the First Testament. For Goldingay, Jesus invites his followers to use love of God and neighbor as a filter for all commands: how can a particular command be fulfilled by loving God or loving a neighbor? There are other problems, however, in reading the First Testament in the present age. Goldingay therefore briefly discusses divorce (it is not ideal) and slavery (it is reformed).

In his final chapter, Goldingay treats another trendy topic in recent biblical scholarship, Theological Interpretation. Goldingay is not against much of what passes for theological interpretation of Scripture, and he is perplexed anyone should have to argue for in the first place. But he is concerned at reading the First Testament only through the lens of theology of the New Testament. By “theological interpretation of Scripture” Goldingay means confessional or canonical readings of the Bible which focus on the larger narrative of the whole Bible (perhaps in response to the atomizing historical-critical method).

Like most of the titles in the book the chapter is provocative. First, he says “Don’t Be Christ-Centered.” As Goldingay observes, any book on theological interpretation begins with the principle of Christocentric theology (citing Francis Watson and Robert Wall as examples). This is not correct, says Goldingay, theology ought to be Theocentric. “Jesus did not reveal something new about God” (163) and Scripture comes to us “with Jesus” not “from Jesus.” Goldingay therefore rejects a “filtered First Testament” that sorts out all of the Christocentric theology and ignores the rest. It is not the case, for example, “that what was hidden in the Old was revealed in the New” (164).

Secondly in this chapter, Goldingay encourages theology, but warns the interpreter to “not be Trinitarian.” This focus on Trinitarian theology is common in theological interpretation handbooks and is really a result of a Christocentric hermeneutic. This is more than simply hearing “trinity” every time the Spirit of God is mentioned. God’s fatherhood in the First Testament are not to be taken as “first person of the Trinity.” What Goldingay is arguing for in this chapter is to let theology come out of the First Testament naturally, without imposing New Testament ideas on to a text where they are not present.

Goldingay’s third warning is to not be constrained by the “Rule of Faith.” This is another foundational element of theological interpretation and was developed from way some of the church fathers read Scripture. Citing Joel Green, Goldingay describes this Rule of Faith method as a dialogue between Scripture and theological discourse. There is a “mutual influence” as theologians read Scripture. But as Goldingay points out, the First Testament was not receive as Scripture because it was coherent with the theology of the New Testament. In fact, as this book demonstrates, there are many times the New Testament has to work very hard to make sense of the First Testament! While the Rule of Faith “provides a horizon from within which we may come to understand the Scriptures,” it should not determine what is “allowed to be there” (173). Goldingay points out the people who employ this method are often “systematic theologians who want to be more biblical” and resist the method are “biblical scholars who want to be theological” (174).

Conclusion. Since most of the book began as papers, it reads like a collection of essays. The topics are representative of the problem proposed by the title rather than a systematic treatment of the topic. Individual chapters stand alone and there is no overall argument being advanced other than to consistently show the importance of the First Testament for a proper reading of the New Testament and development Christian Theology.  I find most of this book a refreshing correction to popular Christian preaching and his critique of theological interpretation is on the mark in my view. But I consider myself a biblical scholar who champions the historical-critical method as opposed to a Christocentric Rule of Faith.

Although Goldingay does refer to Paul and his letters throughout the book, there is no chapter dedicated to Paul’s reading of the First Testament. This seems a critical omission since Paul extensively uses the First Testament in his letters. He also has the most to say about the application of the Torah in the present age. Certainly Goldingay recognizes Paul’s contribution to the “Grand Narrative,” but there is less in this volume than expected on Paul’s use (or abuse) of the Old Testament.

These criticisms do not detract from the overall usefulness of the book. Goldingay challenges Christians to read the First Testament and fully integrate into their theology and practice.

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

GoldingayGoldingay, John. Do We Need the New Testament? Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself. Downers Grove, Ill..: InterVarsity, 2015. 184 pp. Pb; $22.00.   Link to IVP

John Goldingay is one of the foremost Old Testament scholars His ICC commentaries on Isaiah 40-55, 56-66 in the International Critical Commentary series have established him as an excellent exegete and his “For Everyone” series (WJK) demonstrates his heart for communicating the Old Testament to lay-people reading the Bible. His massive three-volume Theology of the Old Testament (IVP) and The Theology of the Book of Isaiah (IVP) established Goldingay as a scholar interested in doing serious biblical theology. Yet Goldingay is not an ivory-tower scholar, he serves as an associate pastor at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Pasadena. What is more impressive to me, he lists on his vita that he took his wife Ann to see Bob Dylan in 2002.

Do We Need the New Testament? is a scholarly, yet personally challenging look at the difficult problem of how the New Testament Christian approaches the Old Testament from a man more than qualified to write a book subtitled “letting the Old Testament speak for itself.”  Since this is a lengthy review, I will break it up over two days.

In his introductory chapter, Goldingay explains his provocative title, “Do We Need the New Testament?” The title is of course intended to attract attention to the fact many Christians ignore the Old Testament, or the First Testament as Goldingay consistently calls it in the book. While few would actually question the need for the First Testament, Christians tend to be ignorant of the contents beyond the basic “Sunday School” stories. But as Goldingay rightly observes, “in a sense, God did nothing new in Jesus” (12).

In chapter 2 (Why is Jesus Important?), Goldingay wants to dispel any black/white contrast between the “Old Testament” and the teaching of Jesus. Popular Christian has created a loving and kind Jesus who stands in stark contrast to the wrathful God of the Old Testament. Part of the reason for this contrast is a lack clarity on what the Torah actually teaches as well as mis-characterizations of Judaism as a dour, works-oriented religion. While Jesus does have some distinctive teachings in the Gospels, he is usually consistent with the First Testament. His focus is on Israel and his ministry is consistent with Moses or Elijah and Elisha. Jesus fulfills the purpose of God in his death and resurrection, a purpose revealed in the First Testament.

Even though Jesus declared God’s kingdom has begun, Goldingay points out “in none of the Gospels does Jesus tell his disciples to extend the kingdom, work for the kingdom, build up the kingdom, or further the kingdom” (34). This is absolutely true, although popular preaching and worship media seems to think “bringing in the kingdom” was part of the Great Commission!

After connecting Jesus with the First Testament, Goldingay describes how the Holy Spirit was Present in the First Testament. As with the previous two chapters, this is a response to a commonly held belief that the Holy Spirit was inactive or rarely active in the First Testament. Part of the reason for this is the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul. Goldingay shows several texts in the First Testament which demonstrate the activity of a holy spirit (Ps 51, Isa 63:7-14, Joel 2). For Goldingay, God’s giving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a fulfillment of his promise to Abraham to bless all the nations. He concludes this chapter with a short discussion of the need for the First Testament after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. As he points out, while the New Covenant is initiated, the Holy Spirit has not yet fully written the Torah on the minds of believers.

In chapter 4 Goldingay from theology to a narrative reading of the whole Bible. He refers to the “Grand Narrative” of Scripture, but his interest in this chapter are the “Middle Narratives.” A middle narrative “articulates a memory of the past on a smaller scale” something like a “middle axiom” in philosophy. These are the supporting narratives for the Grand Narrative and are therefore important for the structure of the overall story of the Bible. But as Goldingay points out, Christians omit the contributions of the First Testament in their retelling of the Grand Narrative about Jesus. As he points out, “The Bible is not a live letter to us from God;” it does not describe a personal relationship between God and individual believers. It is the story of God’s faithfulness in redeeming humanity.

This emphasis is seen more clearly in several middle narrative in the First Testament. He outlines Genesis-Kings, Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel; and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel as there important “middle narratives” which have increasingly specific ways God will redeem the world from sin. In the New Testament, he considers the Gospels and Acts, Romans, and Ephesians as examples of middle Narratives. It is remarkable Ephesians is included since the book is often overlooked as deutero-Pauline, but Goldingay rightly points out Ephesians describes God’s will in the present age as a mystery: “What God has been doing in history as a whole is a secret now revealed” (85).

[Part Two of this review will appear here]

In 2 Cor 11 Paul catalogs his suffering in this paragraph. Since this book was written while Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19), we know he will face even greater suffering than this (two separate two-year house arrests and a shipwreck between!)

He says he has worked harder, been in prison more, been beaten countlessly and has been near death many times. Paul uses a series of adverbs (περισσοτέρως twice, ὑπερβαλλόντως once, and πολλάκις once) to overemphasize his difficult life as a servant of Christ. These were not one-time problems he endured for a short time. This is the constant state of his life since he began his ministry!

“Five time lashed 40 less one” is a reference to Jewish punishment. The Greek says, “I received the forty less one,” which is a clear reference to a lashing. Josephus uses the phrase twice in describing the Mosaic Law (Ant. 4:238. 248). This punishment came from the Jews—it was an attempt from synagogues to bring Paul back in line with his heritage. The maximum punishment in the law was 40 lashes (Deut 25:3).

whip_flagSince the Law says more than 40 lashes is degrading to the one giving the punishment, the tradition developed by the first century to stop short of 40 (m.Makkot 3:10 simply recommends a number near forty but less than forty; 3:11 gives some instruction for beating people who are physically unable to take a full flogging). If the punisher “added even a single stripe and the victim died, lo, this one goes into exile on his account” (m.Makkoth 3:14c). In the Mishnah there is a list of offences which could result in a flogging (m.Makkoth 3:1-9). While some of these are moral offences, there are quite a few violations of the Law which can result in a flogging (Including “He who makes a baldness on his head” and tattooing one’s body (m.Makkoth 3:5-6)!

What is significant is Paul received this penalty five times!  Early in his ministry Paul may have been expelled from the synagogue for teaching that Jesus was the Messiah, and certainly if he taught God-fearing Gentiles they could be fully save without keeping the Law. This indicates he still was trying to reach out to the Jews in the synagogues early in his career, as Acts indicates he never really stopped going to the synagogues to reach the “Jew first.”

“Three times beaten with rods” is a reference to Roman punishment. The Greek (ῥαβδίζω) refers only to beating someone with rods, the Latin term fustigatio was distinct from catigatio, lashing, and verberatio, flogging with chains (BDAG). Paul received this treatment in Acts 16:22 for creating a “public disturbance” even though he was a Roman citizen.

“Once stoned and left for dead” refers to Lystra (Acts 14:19). Stoning was a typical way for a Jewish group to execute someone. In Acts 7 Paul himself participates in the stoning of Stephen and he is about to be stoned in Acts 21:30 when he is falsely accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple courts.

His “frequent journeys” put him in danger typical of travel in the ancient world.  As Barrett says, “Paul does not exaggerate the perils of his day” (298). Despite Pax Romana and the Roman roads connecting major cities, it was extremely dangerous for anyone to travel in a small group.

“Danger from false brothers” refers to people claiming to be Christians who are looking to accuse Paul. This attack comes from inside the family, from people claiming to be Christians who attack Paul’s theology and missionary methods. Perhaps he has in mind here the troubles he has had with people in Galatia and personal attacks leading up to the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. It is also possible he has in mind the opponents in Corinth who are attacking him without cause.

Perhaps the most suffering Paul faced is from his own churches (v. 28). He has a great deal of anxiety for the churches he founded, trained, and then left to themselves. He describes this as “daily pressure” (ἐπίστασις) and “worry” (μέριμνα). This concern comes from Paul’s deeply felt personal responsibility for his congregations. He is in constant contact with them and is well aware of the pressure they face from the same sources persecuting Paul.

Paul chooses to boast is in his only weakness (v. 29-30). Paul now returns to the problem which began this long section of foolish boasting. The Corinthian Church seems to have require Paul to put his achievements up against his opponents so they might choose who would bring them the most honor if they were to give them patronage. As C. K. Barrett says “Paul has finally worked off his fit of folly and has returned to his normal sound mind” (302); he will not engage in the typical Roman pursuit of honor with his opponents!

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time. Author of Jesus the Bridegroom(Wipf & Stock 2014).

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