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!

[I had the opportunity to preach at Bethesda Church in Prior Lake, Minnesota this Sunday, this is a “highlight” from my sermon. I am teaching an extension course this week in Minnesota, back to Grand Rapids in a week.]

It seems strange for Paul to deny the need to boast then go ahead and boast about his superior qualifications. But other than his heritage as a Jewish leader, everything he boasts in is the sort of thing that would have been dishonoring to a Greco-Roman philosopher. If you were a philosopher who was poor or was regularly attacked by people for his message, then you were not a very good philosopher!

CrowingRoosterTo be thought a “fool” (ἄφρων) in this case refers to someone who lacks prudence or good judgment (BDAG).  In the LXX, the word translates a wide variety of Hebrew words for foolish, insolent, naïve, stupid or even “young.” TJob 26.6 uses the Greek word for a “senseless woman.” In a culture dominated by honor and shame, to be considered a fool is something to be avoided.

Paul says he is not a fool, but if the opponents want to boast in their achievements, he will boast in his folly! Think of this as a “fight fire with fire” strategy, but with a twist. Rather than boast in his achievements (as the opponents may be), Paul will boast in things considered by both Greco-Roman and Jewish culture as indications of failure. In verse 21, Paul recognizes all he will boast about is not honorable, but a shame. Paul could present a list of achievements which would put the opponents in their proper place, but is that really necessary, given his relationship with the church at Corinth?

  • Paul’s opponents in Corinth appear to be taking advantage of the Church, accepting privileges expected by their status as “apostles.” Paul says the church will “gladly bear with fools” like the opponents, because they think they are wise. The church is willing to put up with the opponents and their demands because they consider it a kind of honor these teachers are in their congregation.
  • The opponents “make slaves” of the church. This may refer to the opponents insisting on being served as any elite teacher might expect in either a Greco-Roman or Jewish context. Likewise, the word “devours” (κατεσθίω) can refer to literal eating, but probably has the sense of exploiting the church for personal gain. In Ps 13:4 the word is used for enemies eating up the bread of God’s people.
  • The opponents take advantage of the church by “putting on airs.” This single Greek word (ἐπαίρω) has the sense presumption and arrogance, doing things to exalt oneself over others (1 Clem 39:1, for example, couples this self-exaltation with “Senseless and stupid and foolish and ignorant men jeer and mock at us.”
  • How literal is “strikes you in the face”? In Acts 23:1-3 Paul himself is struck in the face when he spoke to the Sanhedrin. Physical punishment was something used by teachers to correct their students, so it is possible Paul means Corinthians believers are willing to put themselves in the position of a young student learning from a cranky tutor!

Paul’s model for ministry is not at all similar to a Greek philosopher or a Jewish Rabbi or Scribe. Paul’s model is only Jesus, and Jesus crucified! As he has said in the previous chapter and in Phil 2, Jesus himself is the ultimate model for Christian service since he did not insist on using his status of “equality with God,” but rather he set that status aside in order to serve others.

This is challenging since most Americans see achievement and advancement as an honor to be pursued tenaciously. We are celebrating graduates this time of year. Most of us would expect every teen to graduate from high school and go on to college, and it is not at all unusual to hear someone graduated with honors, high honors, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, etc. Pastors are supposed to move up from youth pastor to “real pastor,” or from small “starter churches” to larger churches with more prestige. College professors are supposed to pad out their resumes with publications and honors and move up the academic food chain.

But is this pursuit of honor “biblical”? We do not often hear of top-notch pastors of larger churches with national followings boasting in their suffering for Jesus. In fact, do they suffer much?

Paul rejects any sort of rating system for apostles. He is not interested in comparing his resume with the opponents in Corinth, nor is he going to offer the Corinthian church an update on his personal achievements to prove he is the “better apostle” and they ought to listen to him and not the opponents. Rather, he compares his suffering to that of his Lord, Jesus Christ.

Chalmers, ProphetsChalmers, Aaron. Interpreting the Prophets: Reading, Understanding and Preaching from the Worlds of the Prophets. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 173 pp. Pb; $20.00.   Link to IVP

Aaron Chalmers is head of the School of Ministry, Theology and Culture at Tabor Adelaide and wrote Exploring the Religion of Ancient Israel for Intervarsity’s Exploring Topics in Christianity Series (2012). In this new work on the prophets, he introduces students to the “world” of the prophets.

In chapter 1 Chalmers explains defines biblical “prophet” in contrast to modern definitions of prophecy. I too have found my students think biblical prophecy is more or less like Harry Potter meets Left Behind. They seem a bit surprised that my Old Testament Prophets course starts with a lengthy section of social ethics and covenant faithfulness! Chalmers also offers a sketch of how a prophetic book is formed, moving from oral presentation to a written document or collection of documents. He does not shy away from describing some of the prophetic books the results of an editorial process and briefly discusses the “locus of inspiration,” indicating that God;s hand is at work in the whole process, whatever that process might be. He concludes “at the end of the day there is still much we do not know about the composition of the prophetic books,” but this is not really a problem because Chalmers is interested in exegeting the final form of the text (31).

In chapter two Chalmers describes “The Historical World of the Prophets.” The first half of the chapter is a basic sketch of Old Testament history from the eighth century through the return from exile. He sets each prophet into the history, although he discusses the historical context of Jonah and Daniel in a sidebar, suggesting the “historical context” is not necessarily the same as the final form of the literary works bearing their names. He presents Second Isaiah in a separate historical context than Isaiah 1-39 and only deals with the division of the book briefly in a footnote. He dates Joel to the post-exilic period as well as Trito-Isaiah (“if its presence is accepted,” 60). This chapter includes a short primer on exegeting the Prophets, warning against substituting historical research for exegesis and overgeneralizing about ancient cultures (not all ancient people thought exactly alike!)

Chapter 3 is devoted to “The Theological World of the Prophets.” Here Chalmers primarily discusses two mountains, Sinai and Zion. Sinai represents the Lord’s covenant with his people Israel and Zion represents the Lord’s covenant with David. The first half of the chapter describes the Covenant as it was given on Sinai and shows how this covenant resonates through the prophetic literature. With respect to David and Zion, Chalmers argues the Lord rules through the Davidic kings as a regent, ruling from Zion. This Zion theology becomes the basis of messianic expectations after 586 B.C. Although Chalmers does recognize this development, it is perhaps beyond the scope of his book to tease out those developments in much detail.

In “The Rhetorical World of the Prophets” (Chapter 4) Chalmers discusses the unique rhetorical features of the prophets, beginning with the structure of prophetic speech. Included in this chapter is a survey of “prophetic forms” (judgment, salvation, disputation, lawsuit, vision report and action report). The chapter includes some introduction to parallelism as a feature of Hebrew Poetry, but more important for Chalmers is the function of prophetic imagery. Since these features are “easy to over-exegete” (113), Chalmers suggests we read imagery with the context of the prophetic book: what is the point the prophet was making with a metaphor or simile.

“From Prophecy to Apocalyptic” (chapter 5) focuses on this particular form of prophetic speech found in Daniel, Zechariah and other parts of the later Old Testament. Chalmers describes apocalyptic as a visionary mode of revelation often mediated through a third person (an angel, for example), set in a narrative framework. These texts tend to focus on the “end of history: in order to encourage the reader during a time of crisis. Using an impressionistic painting by Claude Monet as an example, Chalmers urges would-be interpreters of Apocalyptic to focus on the ‘big picture” not the details. With respect to the “big picture,” we can be fairly confident of the meaning of apocalyptic, but less certain when examining the details. This is not far from Brent Sandy’s Plowshares to Pruning Hooks, another IVP book Chalmers cites several times.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is the last, “Guidelines for Preaching from the Prophets.” Along with the conclusions to several chapters, this guide to preaching these difficult books will be welcomed by pastors struggling with presenting the prophets to their congregations. Despite observing the prophets receive “minimal air time” in the three-year ecumenical lectionary (147), Chalmers suggests it is not necessarily wise to preach through a prophetic book using the “verse-by-verse” method some expository preachers prefer. It is in fact difficult to develop appropriate analogies for application since the books themselves are focused on their own theological agenda. As a potential avenue of application, Chalmers suggests observing the witness of the New Testament and the fulfillment of the prophets in the person and work of Jesus, although he warns against leaning too heavily on the “promise fulfillment” method found in popular preaching (158).

With respect to “future fulfillment,” Chalmers devotes several pages debunking the widely influential (and very outdated) approach of Hal Lindsey. This over-literal interpretation of prophecy tends to read Ezekiel through the lens of current events in the Middle East and completely miss the rich meaning found in the actual text of the Bible. I wholeheartedly agree with the point of this section, however I do think there are parts of the prophetic books which really do concern a future eschatological restoration of God’s people and a messianic kingdom. This is not to say I would read Ezekiel as referring to the Gulf War, but some of the promises of restoration in Jeremiah or Ezekiel are not fully exhausted in the work of Jesus. Chalmers does not appear to deny this, but it is also not really the focus of his book.

The book includes frequent insets and sidebars, illustrations and charts. Some of these are labeled “going deeper” and provide a few lines of extra consideration on some particular aspect of the text. Sidebars labeled “have you considered?” intend to provoke thought or introduce a controversial issue, such as “prophetic plagiarism” (28-9). There are several “archaeological insides” in which texts such as the Cyrus Cylinder and other Mesopotamian parallels appear. Chalmers includes a number of tables offering chronological and historical information. Finally, there are a number of illustrations including maps and line drawings of archaeological items. Each chapter concludes with a “for further reading section.” There are no questions based on the text which could be utilized by a teacher in the classroom that these would not be difficult to add to the text.

Chalmers OpenWhile all of these various features are valuable, sometimes there are too many on a page. Pages 42-3, for example, contains two photographs with 9 lines caption, two sidebars filling more than half a page, and only 6 lines of actual text.  Page 75 is perhaps the worst example since the only actual text appearing on the page is a section heading wedged between a photograph and sidebar. One “sidebar” runs from page 137 to 139, and the rest of 139 contains a Gustav Dore engraving of Leviathan. The contents of this sidebar is good enough to be a part of the main text, setting it off in a gray box does not help the reader at all. In fact, the readability of the text would be greatly improved if the sidebars were more balanced, or the photographs were all gathered to the center of the book. I understand the motivation for placing an illustration near the text it pertains to, but this editorial decision distracts from the overall presentation. It is not a criticism of Chalmers as the author of an otherwise excellent text; an editor ought to have caught some of these issues.

Conclusion. Like Chalmers, I have struggled to find a good introductory textbook on the prophets. Since the prophetic books are such a large section of the Hebrew Bible, most introductions try to cover all the books in individual chapters and miss the overall themes of the collection. This book is rich in illustrations of prophetic language from other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, something often missing from basic introductions to the prophets. Chalmers’s approach is refreshing. By focusing on the historical, theological and rhetorical worlds of the prophets he provides the framework for reading the prophets intelligently.

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.

EstherLogos’s Free Book of the Month promotion is offering an excellent commentary once again for the month of June. Until the end of this month, Logos users can download Anthony Tomasino’s contribution on Esther in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC). If you are not familiar with the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary is a 44-volume commentary series published by Lexham Press, a division of FaithLife / Logos. The commentary incorporates the latest critical biblical scholarship” and “a distinctly evangelical perspective” and is in many ways similar to the Word Biblical Commentary or Baker Exegetical Commentary. The series was originally planned as a traditional print series but was dropped by the original publisher. Lexham picked it up a few years ago and has been publishing new volumes in the Logos system as they are released. (See this list of volumes, authors and publication dates.)

Anthony J. Tomasino (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is the Director of the Biblical Studies Program and associate professor of Bible, Old Testament and Hebrew studies at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana and is well-known for his Judaism before Jesus: The Events and Ideas that Shaped the New Testament World (IVP, 2003). He wrote the Esther commentary in the Zondervan Bible Background Commentary of the Old Testament.

CommentaryIn addition to the Free Book of the Month, Logos is also offering Gary Derickson’s 1, 2, & 3 John commentary in the EEC. Derickson has a Ph.D from Dallas Theological Seminary and is currently Professor of Biblical Studies and Greek and Chair of the Bible and Theology department at Corban University.

This is another great giveaway from Logos I can think of no better use of 99 cents than adding these two resources to your Logos library. In addition to the free and nearly free books, you can enter to win the entire Evangelical Exegetical Commentary Series (a $999.95 value). I think this is the most expensive giveaway Logos has had since the started the promotion.

Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

carnival1Dr. Claude Mariottini posted the May 2015 edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival. He has a nice collection of the best biblioblogs for this month.  Dr. Mariottini also made this observation: “I discovered that many people who write academic blogs have stopped writing or have posted very infrequently to their blogs. I have to confess that I could include myself in this last category of bloggers. Some bloggers who are prolific in posting to their blogs, post items that are only indirectly related to biblical studies. These bloggers may post items of interest to some people, but these posts do not provide an in-depth study of the biblical text.”

I agree: some of the best bloggers have either  stopped writing altogether or they are only occasionally posting. But there are always new blogs and new grad students who post frequently. If you look down the Top50 list, there are a few blogs still hanging around that are dormant, while the new writers have not generated the numbers it takes to break into the Top50 list. So if you are a new blogger, keep at it! Post quality material people want to read and that will generate interest for a long time. Probably hosting a Carnival will help too.

I did not see Jim West’s anti-carnival this month, but he did post this gem in anticipation of the SBL Poster session.   Brian Small posted a round-up of blog posts on the book of Hebrews at his Hebrews blog, Polumeros kai Polutropos. And by round-up, I mean the one quality post on Hebrews he found over the last two months.  I have been using FlipBoard to collect interesting blogs, so if you are using this great App on your mobile devices, check out my Biblical Studies Magazine. The link goes to the Web Version, it is cooler on my iPad.

This is the schedule for upcoming carnival for the rest of 2015 and beyond.

If are are willing to cover an upcoming Carnival, let me know and I will add you to the schedule. Carnivals are a great way for you to highlight some of the best and brightest who do work hard to provide quality posts on biblical and theological topics. Contact me via email (plong42@gmail.com) or leave a comment below and I will get you set up with a future carnival.

Teachers

Smith, Interpreting the ProphetsSmith, Gary V. Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2014. 224 pp. Pb; $22.99.   Link to Kregel

This new contribution to the Handbooks of Old Testament Exegesis covers a huge secion of the Old Testament canon. Gary Smith has already contributed a commentary on Isaiah in the New American Commentary series (B&H, 2007, 2009), The NIV Application Commentary on Hosea, Amos, Micah (Zondervan, 2001), the Mentor commentary on Amos (Mentor, 1998), as well as The Prophets as Preachers (B&H 1998).

Smith begins with a discussion of prophetic literature. This first chapter is divided into a discussion of the genre of written prophecy and a brief introduction to the literary aspects of prophecy. Smith describes prophecy as having three “temporal categories.” First, some prophecy refers to events in the life of the life of the prophet (the present), some prophecies refer to a “future era.” His third category is “symbolic apocalyptic prophecies.”

Like other books in this series, Interpreting the Prophetic Books suffers from the limitations of the series. Since the goal is a short primer, there is no way for/ Smith to adequately cover even the four major prophets. Since the book is designed to cover 17 books, Smith must dispatch the major themes of each prophet in twenty-four pages (chapter 2) and the historical context in a mere nine pages (chapter 3)! This third chapter also includes a short note on Ancient Near Eastern prophecy and a primer on textual criticism in the Prophets.

A valuable aspect of this book is the section on interpretive issues unique to the prophetic books (chapter 4). Smith first deal with the problem of “literal vs. metaphorical.” There are many examples of prophecy which was fulfilled literally (Amos’s prediction that Israel would go into exile “beyond Damascus” Amos 5:27), but there are other examples of prophecy given in poetic language which remain “nebulous” (116). Smith uses Isaiah 42:14-16 as an example of a prophecy that is not particularly specific and contains highly evocative metaphoric language such as describing God’s anguish over his people as like the pain of a woman giving birth. When this kind of metaphoric language is used in a future prophecy, the application is even less clear. Using the example of Isaiah 42:1, Smith points shows how four different commentators read the broad metaphors in quite different ways (120).

Second, Smith asks if the meaning of prophecy is limited by its context. For a prophet like Haggai, there is a particular time and place which creates the background context for the prophecy. But an eschatological or apocalyptic prophecy has no immediate connection to the context of the prophet (121) since it refers to something in the future of the prophet and perhaps still future for the modern reader. Sometimes later New Testament progressive revelation makes the prophecy more clear, but Smith urges humility when approaching these prophecies.

Third, the conditional / unconditional nature of prophecy causes a number of problems for the interpreter. While some prophecies are explicitly conditional, others do not seem to be conditional yet remain unfulfilled. Smith cites Micah 3:12 as a vivid prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem that remained unfulfilled after Hezekiah responded properly to the Lord. Smith cites Jer 18:7-10 as a hint many prophecies are conditioned on a proper response even if the original prophecy did not make the contingency obvious.

Fourth, Smith deals with the problem of both near and far fulfillments of prophecy. There are many “day of the Lord” prophecies which seem to have a fulfillment in the fall of Samaria or Jerusalem, yet are not fully realized in those historic events. For example, there are many prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel and Judah to the land which are not fulfilled in the end of the exile, such as God “pouring out his Spirit” on his people (Ezek 36:27, Joel 2:28-29).

Since most readers of this book will be Christians, Smith discusses the problem of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the New Testament. Sometimes a New Testament writer claims a messianic prophecy is fulfilled even though it is hard to see how that is the case from a modern perspective. For example, Matt 2:15 claims the sojourn in Egypt was the fulfillment of Hos 11:1, a text describing Israel as a child coming up out of Egypt. But in the context, this looks back at the Exodus or forward to a new Exodus at the end of the exile, but there is no clear reference to the Messiah being taken to Egypt as a child. Evangelicals have offered several ways to approach these exegetical problems (double fulfillment, a “fuller sense,” pesher and typological interpretations, for example).

Last in this section, Smith asks if prophecy is always fulfilled. This may seem like an odd question, but there are examples when a prophecy seems to clearly predict something which does not occur. Jonah is an obvious example, although implied contingency may be a solution (Nineveh did repent) or near/far fulfillment (Nineveh did fall eventually). In other cases, there is only a partial fulfillment because a prophecy was stretched to cover many more years than first anticipated (the exile for example). For some difficult prophecies such as Ezekiel’s prediction Babylon would destroy Tyre, Smith encourages the reader to humbly admit there is something anomalous in the prophecy and that we do not fully understand the situation (140).

Chapters 5-6 deal with proclaiming the prophetic texts and drawing applications from these sometimes obscure passages of Scripture for contemporary Christians. These two chapters provide a hermeneutical strategy for reading prophetic texts and several examples of proclaimed prophecy.  First, the exegete must define the setting of the prophecy. This requires a study of the political, socio-economic and religious setting of the prophet. Second, the exegete must fully appreciate the nuances of the literary context, including the genre of the prophecy as well as any elements of biblical poetry present in the text. From this research, the exegete can develop a “descriptive outline” of the text. From this outline, basic steps of exegesis will fill in the details (word studies, background studies, etc.)

Once the descriptive outline has been detailed for the passage, the exegete must find a way to present the material to an audience. This requires using the needs of the audience to develop a thematic outline and illustrating the main principles of the text which will be of importance to the audience. Smith encourages a sermon presentation that is both theological and practical and calls for some change in action or thinking. He illustrates this method with Isaiah 31:1-9 (a near-fulfillment) and Jeremiah 23:1-8 (a distant fulfillment).

Conclusion. While some portions of this book are extremely brief, the hermeneutical method presented by Smith is clear and useful. Certainly I would have liked to see far more detail in chapters 2-3, but detailed descriptions of the prophet books, especially with respect to the formation of the books goes well beyond the goals of this short handbook. A second mild criticism is the lack of attention to application of the prophets to contemporary social issues. Since many of the prophets accused their listeners of abuse of the poor and needy and a general lack of justice in their society, it seems to me this message is an easy application to contemporary American culture. Third, I wonder if Smith would consider some passages in the prophets to be “un-preachable” from the pulpit in most churches. For example, Daniel 11 has so many difficulties, it is almost impossible to preach an applicable sermon which also deals with the text in any detail. Perhaps some of the more vulgar passages would be difficult to properly treat in a church context (Ezekiel 16, Nahum 2).

This Handbook reaches its goal of providing students of Old Testament prophecy the tools for teaching and preaching these important and often neglected texts. This would make a good textbook for a college or seminary class on the Prophets, especially in more conservative circles.

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

Seifrid CorinthiansSeifrid, Mark A. The Second Letter to the Corinthians. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 569 pp. Hb; $50.   Link to Eerdmans

Seifrid’s new commentary on Second Corinthians arrived about the same time as the second edition of Ralph Martin’s classic WBC commentary from Zondervan. Seifrid is known for his work on Pauline theology and more specifically Justification in the Pauline literature. His Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (IVP 2001) built on the foundation of his Justification by Faith: The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme (Brill, 1992). As one of the editors of Justification and Variegated Nomism (Baker, 2004), Seifrid is also well-known as a defender of the traditional view of Paul over against the New Perspective. This theological background often comes through clearly in his commentary on 2 Corinthians.

In the brief twelve-page introduction to the commentary, Seifrid first discusses the situation both before and after the writing of the second letter to the Corinthian church. Here he traces the sometimes confusing period after the reception of 1 Corinthians, a brief time which included a “painful visit” and later “tearful letter” delivered by Titus.

Second, the introduction examines the various suggestions for the identity of Paul’s opponents in the letter, which naturally leads Seifrid to the purpose of the letter. He advocates a minimal “mirror-reading,” resulting in a Jewish-Christian opponent who appeared in Corinth between the two canonical letters. Since these new arrivals were considered apostles by the Corinthian church, they have made a bad situation worse. But for Seifrid, there is nothing in the letter which can be used to clearly describe a theology of the opponents. They preach another Jesus (2 Cor 11:4) and for Paul, this is the real threat to the church.

Since there are a number of complex theories regarding the composition of 2 Corinthians, the third section of the introduction deals with the integrity of the letter. After a short synopsis of the usual divisions suggested in scholarship, Seifrid concludes the alleged incoherence and inconsistency is “more apparent than real (xxxi). Paul’s defense of his mission “constitutes the thematic unity” for the letter.

Finally, Seifrid offers a few comments on the theology of the letter. Despite the fact 2 Corinthians is a deeply personal letter, Paul’s concern is to lay out clearly the marks of a true apostle. For the Corinthians, there is “jarring contrast between his powerful letters and his pitiful presence” (xxxii). Seifrid sees this as a hermenutical problem, and the whole of Scripture is at stake. For those who are outsiders, a veil covers their face and prevents them from seeing God and his saving work. The opponents have been blinded by the god of this world and are therefore “unbelievers” by definition. Only those who are “in Christ” are free in see the truth of the Gospel as revealed now by Paul, God’s representative.

In my view, Seifrid’s introduction is too brief. While I agree there is little or no merit to many of the partition theories for the letter, I would have liked more engagement with contemporary scholarship on the literary issues, whether in the introduction or the appropriate places in the commentary. While I thought his section on 6:14-7:1 was excellent, there is no hint this section is sometimes seen as a non-Pauline insertion. There is no interaction with Betz’s theory that chapters 8-9 are administrative letters, he simply states that chapters 8-9 are “integral to Paul’s larger purpose in the letter of binding the Corinthians to the other churches and to Christ” (317). Perhaps including a detailed discussion of these literary issues would have distracted from Seifrid’s overall goal of explaining the text of the letter as we have it, but given the strong objections to the unity of the letter in New Testament scholarship, I am surprised the issue is not addressed.

The commentary follows the same pattern the other Pillar commentaries. After a translation of the text, Seifrid briefly introduces the pericope, usually setting the section into the context of the letter as a whole. The commentary proper proceeds verse by verse, commenting primarily on the English text, although occasionally he comments on a transliterated Greek word. Greek and Hebrew untransliterated in the footnotes. There are less exegetical comments on the Greek text than other PNTC commentaries. In fact only rarely does he comment on the text. Comparing this to D. A. Carson’s Matthew or Colin Kruse’s Romans in the same series, there is very little exegetical material indeed.

Seifrid’s comments on 1 Cor 5:21 are an example of the more theological nature of the commentary. For Seifrid, “not reckoning the trespasses of the world” is a “forensic event” and reconciliation and justification refer to the same event, the cross and resurrection (260-261, and note 539). This verse offers Seifrid the opportunity to write more than eight pages on justification from a decidedly Lutheran perspective (citing Luther and Melanchton at length in the notes). His discussion is excellent and the theology presented in this section certainly reflects the “traditional view” of Paul and justification, but there is little discussion of the exegetical details in the text itself. For example, a discussion of the meaning of γενώμεθα in the ἵνα-clause is missing. Nor does Seifrid discuss the potentially rich allusion to Isaiah 53. But this is the style of the commentary and this criticism should not detract from the value of the commentary.

Interaction with other commentaries is minimal in the body of the commentary, but Seifrid is obviously well-informed by a broad spectrum of scholarship. It is not surprising that Luther is one of the most cited commentaries in the notes (according to the index), but only one reference to Ralph Martin’s WBC commentary is strange. (Ironically, Barack Obama is also cited one time as well!) Another difference between this commentary and others in the PNTC series is Seifrid use of German scholarship. Seifrid often cites the work of the Lutheran systematic theologian Oswald Bayer.

There are three excurses embedded in the commentary. For example, after Paul’s reference to himself as a “minister of the New Covenant” in 2 Cor 3:6, Seifrid offers 4 pages on “Paul’s Understanding of ‘Covenant.’” This brief overview of a monograph-worthy topic is a kind of biblical theology of Covenant,” beginning with Galatians and concluding with Hebrews. Seifrid concludes Paul’s contrast between the New and Old Covenants in 3:6 and 3:14 is consistent with both Galatians and Hebrews.

Conclusion. Seifrid’s commentary on 2 Corinthians is another excellent contribution to the study of this oft-neglected letter of Paul. While it is certainly more theological and exegetical, it will nevertheless be a valuable resource for Bible teachers and pastors for many years.

 

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

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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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