Gundry, Robert H. Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 139 pp. Pb; $20.   Link to Eerdmans   Video of a lecture Gundry gave at Westmont on the topic of this book.

This short study by Robert Gundry makes the somewhat surprising claim that Matthew considered Peter to be a “false disciple and apostate.” In the introduction to the book Gundry makes his motivations clear. This is not an anti-Catholic book and he is not interested in subverting any traditions about Peter. Nor is he interested in the “historical Peter,” assuming a history of Peter’s life could be written. Gundry’s project is strictly limited to the presentation of Peter in Matthew’s gospel only.

Gunrdy, PeterIn order to reach this conclusion, Gundry analyzes every appearance of Peter in the Gospel of Matthew. By way of method, Gundry employs redaction criticism in order to show Matthew edited Mark’s narrative to present Peter as an example of a disciple who was very close to Jesus but ultimately failed to follow through on his commitment to Jesus. In the end, Peter is left “outside in the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Gundry’s use of redaction criticism is well-known from his commentaries on Matthew and Mark, therefore many will pre-judge some of his comments based on his method alone.

After a short introductory chapter on method, Gundry’s second chapter surveys all of these texts prior to the climactic confession of Peter in Matthew 16. Peter is not presented in these texts as a model of faith, in fact, the famous story in Matt 14:22-33 does not demonstrate Peter’s faith, but his lack of faith. The story of Peter’s request to walk on the water is not found in the other Gospels. Matthew therefore chose to report the words of Peter, “If you are Jesus (14:28) in similar language to the devil in the Temptation (4:3, 6). The other disciples in the boat confess Jesus as God’s son and worship him, but Peter is not included in that group (12).

In Matthew 16:13-32 Jesus seems to call Peter to be the leader of his church. Gundry therefore examines this pericope in detail in chapter 4. By confession Jesus is the Messiah, Peter is “playing catch-up” since the other disciples have already done so in 14:33 (16). The real issue in Matt 16 is Jesus calling Peter “the rock.” Gundry argues the “rock” refer to the words of Jesus, recalling Matt 7:24, the wise man builds his house on the rock.”  The bedrock in Matt 7:24 is clearing the words of Jesus (μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους). Peter himself is cannot be the “foundation of the church” since the church will be built on the teaching of Jesus. He is the one teacher (Matt 23:8) and the disciples will be commissioned to disciples the nations by teaching them everything Jesus has taught (Matt 28:20). The “keys to the kingdom” and “binding and loosing” both refer to teaching Jesus’ words, not the words of Peter as the successor of Jesus. The disciples are to convey Jesus’ words, not interpret them (25).

After Peter’s confession, Jesus reveals he will die in Jerusalem (Matt 16:21). Peter rebukes Jesus for this prediction (16:22). The brazenness of this rebuke is often lost in translation, but disciples do not rebuke their masters in the ancient world. Peter not only rebukes, but Matthew uses a double-negation plus a future indicative, the strongest negation in Greek. Jesus calls Peter Satan and a snare. Again, this stinging counter-rebuke is often translated to put Peter in a good light, but Matthew uses σκάνδαλον, a temptation to sin. In Matthew, Jesus has already said anyone who causes others to sin (πάντα τὰ σκάνδαλα) will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:41-42). For Matthew, all “σκάνδαλα belong in hell” (30).

At Capernaum

At Capernaum

Chapter 4 traces several appearances of Peter in Matt 17-26, from transfiguration to the Garden of Gethsemane. Most of these are examples of “redactionally anti-Petrine moves by Matthew” (40). In Matt 19:27-30, when Peter responds to Jesus’ “camel through the eye of a needle saying, Matthew adds “what therefore will we have?” (τί ἄρα ἔσται ἡμῖν;). This future expectation of reward is not in the parallel in Mark or Luke. For Gundy, this is evidence Matthew is presenting Peter as “angling for present compensation” (39).

Gundry argues Peter’s denial of Christ is a parallel to Judas’s betrayal and suicide (chapter 5). He carefully examines the details of Peter’s denial, demonstrating Matthew’s modifications of Mark show Peter has apostatized. Matthew has redacted Mark in order to demonstrate the gravity of Peter’s denials. Peter swears with an oath (καὶ πάλιν ἠρνήσατο μετὰ ὅρκου, 26:72). In a passage unique to Matthew, Jesus states his disciples should not take oaths. For Gundry, this is flagrant disobedience to the Lord’s commands. By verse 74, Peter begins “to curse and swear,” another redaction by Matthew in order to highlight Peter’s apostasy; Matthew changes Mark’s ἀναθεματίζω to καταθεματίζω and drops “on himself” from Mark 14:71. In Mark, Peter is cursing himself, in Matthew he is cursing others (49-50).

Peter obviously denies his Lord, but most commentators are adamant Peter is restored after the resurrection. His bitter weeping is usually understood as a demonstration of his great remorse in contrast to Judas’s suicide. Gundry lists two dozen statements from various commentaries which try to rehabilitate Peter and offers a short response for each. For Gundry, the “bitter weeping” indicates Peter is an apostate who has in fact move into the darkness, “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In to this evidence, addition, there are a number of places in Matthew where Peter’s name is omitted. Chapter 6 examines these “non-appearances” of Peter and argues they represent Matthew dropping Peter because he is an example of a false disciple. For example, in Mark 16:8 the angels tell the women to go and tell the “disciples and Peter.”

Chapters 7-8 develop two threads Gundry has traced in this book as well in his commentary on Matthew. First, Gundry gathers more than twenty texts in Matthew describing false discipleship and concludes both Peter and Judas are quintessential false disciples (88). Just one example: In the Wedding Banquet parable (Matt 22:1-14) scholars are often perplexed by the unprepared man in the second part of the story. For Gundry, this man is a professing disciple who is marked as a false disciples because of his lack of wedding clothes (79). Like Peter, this man is one of the many who were called but not chosen and will remain outside, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The second theme Gundry traces is flight from persecution in Matthew. He examines (briefly) eight pericopae in which those who flee persecution are condemned.  A false disciple is exposed when there is persecution. Like Peter’s betrayal, the false disciple will show themselves and deny Jesus publically.

In his final chapter Gundry makes a few suggestions based on the texts surveyed in the book. He speculates a gospel presenting Peter as an apostate could not be written after his martyrdom, so his argument for Peter as a false disciple implies an early date for the writing of Matthew. A corollary he does not mention is dating Matthew to before A.D. 70 pushes the date for Mark/Q perhaps a decade earlier.

A second implication is more speculative. Like many scholars, Gundy associates Matthew with Syrian Antioch. Galatians 2:11-14 describes a face-to-face confrontation between Paul and Peter. Gundry gently suggests Matthew reflects a situation where Paul won his argument with Peter. He recognizes this echoes the old Tübingen school, but it “may call for further investigation” (103).

Conclusion. A book entitled Peter: False Disciple and Apostate will naturally generate a great deal of interest since Peter is beloved as the first leader of the Christian church. This is certainly true in the Catholic tradition, but evangelical pastors love to preach about thick-headed Peter, a simple man used by Jesus to found the Church. Doubtless many will point to John 21 as a “restoration of Peter,” but that is John’s story and not Matthew’s. Gundry has delimited his topic to only Matthew’s Gospel, so the “restoration” of Peter in the other gospels or tradition does not matter to him.

But it is true the Gospel of Mark also fails to mention a restoration of Peter. Although Luke describes Peter as a leader in the Jerusalem church, people are suspicious of his escape from prison in Acts 12. After this event, Peter is hardly mentioned in Acts and seems to have been supplanted by James, the Lord’s brother. It just might be the case Peter is not as important to the foundational level of the Church as tradition has made him out to be.

Peter: False Disciple and Apostate is a brief but extremely well-researched book that argues a single point in a short 100 pages. Gundry makes his case well, although it is a case many will find jarring. Although I imagine the book will cause much “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” the book will set the agenda for Matthean theology for years to come.


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


In most Wisdom literature, the one who has hope in the Lord will succeed even if the wicked seem to prosper now. Psalm 37 describes the wise as “waiting for the Lord.” This refers to placing hope in the Lord to keep his promises of loving care for his people as well as rendering righteous judgment. The verb (קוה) refers to hope directed at a target, and “expectation of fulfillment” (HALOT). Perhaps “have confidence” is a better translation since this is an expression of certainty.

The wicked, on the other had, will fade from memory, while the righteous will endure forever. The foolish have “spread themselves out like a tree,” appearing prosperous. The noun translated as “green laurel tree” combines “native” (אֶזְרָח ) and “leafy” (רַעֲנָן). They were like a tree which is native to an area so that it flourishes and has thick leaves. Tanner suggests the wicked are doing well and “showing off” (NICOT, 352 n. 28).

October Snow_2011-10_snowImagine if you planted a banana tree in your backyard in Michigan in August. It would be warm and humid enough for the tree to flourish for a while. You could even make your yard look like the banana plant belonged there, maybe landscape the yard to look like Hawaii. But what happens when fall comes and the temperature drops? Or when the snow starts? The banana plant will naturally curl up and die since it simply does not belong there!

In most of the wisdom literature, the fool appears to prosper for a time and eventually their foolishness catches up with them and they naturally are forgotten. Memory of their existence will simply fade away. It will be like they never were!

The righteous, on the other hand, will continue to dwell in the good land the Lord has given them. The Lord will continue to be their fortress of protection (v. 39) and he will continue to deliver them (v. 40). The Lord is like a mountain fortress (מָעוֹז) which is for the enemy impossible to capture.

Perhaps the hardest part of living out a life of wisdom as described by this Psalm is to not worry about the current state of the world. It is very easy to look at the way things are going in the world, this country, this state, the local politics of the our city or town, and think the whole world has gone wrong. This is not true, the world was always wrong! It is simply no worse now than it was when a sage wrote this wisdom psalm.

The Lord guarantees a future for the righteous, then ones who have committed to live in this good and safe pasture. The foolish have willingly wandered from that good place and do not enjoy the promises of the Lord. Ultimately, these foolish wicked will receive exactly what they have asked for and deserve.

So, do not fret! The wise person understands there is nothing in this word which has escaped the Lord’s attention and he will set things right. Our responsibility as the people of God in the present age is trust in the Lord’s sovereign lordship of this world and to rest in our certain knowledge he will judge fairly.


Do not worry about the wicked (v. 1-2). Fret and envy seem like two different ideas in English, although they are used parallel here in Psalm 37. To “fret” in Hebrew (hitpael of חרה) as the sense of burning with anger, a “passionate intensity, a consuming indignation” (Ross, 805, n. 28). Maybe a contemporary English equivalent would be “don’t get steamed about what the wicked are doing.” Beth Tanner (NICOT, 348) suggests, “Do not let your anger burn concerning the evil ones.”

Dry GrassThe main reason the wise person does not need to worry about the wicked is their fate will soon overtake them. The whole Psalm will repeat the coming judgment of the wicked, here they are described as like the green grass. Considering a Middle Eastern background for the Psalm, the wicked are like the beautiful green grass that quickly grows after the spring rains, but as soon as the rains stop and the heart of summer comes, they fade away. Recall again Psalm 1, the wicked are like bushes in the desert, far from springs of living water. It is a simple natural fact people who appear to prosper in their wickedness will fade away in the heat of the coming judgment.

Rather than fret, the wise will trust in the Lord (v. 3-6). To “trust in the Lord” in this context means to trust God to sort out the difficulties of life. He will judge these wicked people who appear to be prosperous at the proper time.” Beyond trusting the Lord to sort out the unfairness of life, the righteous will delight themselves in the Lord. The verb translated “delight” (ענג, hitpael imperative) can have the sense of “pamper” or “refresh,” probably “take pleasure” in this context.

There are some things we tend to relish, whether a nice cup of coffee with a piece of fresh apple pie (you fill in your own personal favorite, this one is mine). These are not things we get all the time, so when he get them we take a great deal of pleasure in eating them slowly, savoring every bite. Perhaps there is a sense of jealous pleasure here as well, since if we really like the dessert we do not want to share even a bite with anyone else.

I think this is not the way most people think of their opportunity for communion with the Lord. Most Christians are not jealous of their time at church, or protective of their time in the Bible. There are few people I know who jealously guard their time at church, most try to find ways to avoid worship in the interest of “family time.”

Yet Psalm 37 says the righteous delight in the Lord because they are ultimately committed to him.


Green, Bradley G. Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life. NSBT 33; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 208 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to IVP

In this new contribution to the NSBT series, Bradley G. Green (PhD, Theology, Baylor University) explores the role of works as a necessary part of salvation. In his introduction, Green acknowledges most evangelicals recognizes sola fide, salvation is by grace apart from works, but the role of works after salvation is less clear. Green argues in this book that works are necessary for salvation because “part of the newness of the new covenant is actual, grace-induced and grace elicited obedience by true members of the new covenant” (17). Real and meaningful obedience flows from the cross as part of the promised blessings of the new covenant and is “sovereignly and graciously elicited by the God of the Holy Scripture” (19).

Green, CovenantIn order to make this argument, Green first examines the New Testament texts which discuss the reality and necessity of works, obedience and faithfulness (chapter 1). He identifies fourteen key groups of texts and briefly summarizes the categories as a foundation for understanding the way the New Testament uses the Old with respect to works and faithfulness (chapter 2). Green argues there is continuity between the Old and New Covenants with respect to obedience, but the New Covenant includes “Spirit induced, God-caused obedience” (54). For Green the New Covenant foreseen by Jeremiah and Ezekiel is initiated by Jesus at the Cross.

In his third chapter, Green expands on the unity between the Old and New Covenant within the history of redemption. While some forms of Covenant theology assumes continuity and Dispensational theology often assumes discontinuity, Green argues reducing the discussion to either continuity or discontinuity misses the point of historical-redemptive nature of the canon. Following the work of Henri Blocher, Green argues there is real spiritual power in the Old Covenant that can provide an overarching unity between the Old and New Covenants. While all are saved by God’s grace as manifest in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, Green thinks Old Testament saints experience that grace proleptically (59).

This view of Old Testament faith naturally calls into question the classic Reformation dichotomy between Law and Gospel. Here Green follows John Frame by arguing that God saves people by his grace “across the canon of Scripture,” but once people are in a covenant relationship with him, God then gives his people commands and expects those people to obey him (65). But Green has to deal with texts like Galatians 3:10-12, which creates a strong contrast between Law and grace. He argues the problem in Gal 3:12 is not the Law itself, but the approach to the Law advocated by Paul’s opponents. For Paul, true righteousness is by faith and the law was never intended as a “way of justification” before God (71).

In chapter 4 Green describes the relationship between the cross the reality of works, obedience and faithfulness. He surveys a number of New Testament texts and concludes the cross leads to human transformation and sanctification. The leads to the thorny issue of imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, although Green does not really develop the issue nor does he engage the objections of N. T. Wright to the doctrine of imputation. He concludes the believer receives righteousness (imputation) and is justified by faith alone. Later in the book Green states “we should continue to affirm imputed righteousness vigorously, and that we need an imputed and perfect righteousness that is ours by faith apart from works (101). While I agree with Green’s conclusions here, he needs to interact with both sides of the debate on imputation. Citing a series of Reformed writers in support of imputation does not deal with Wright’s objections to imputation, nor do I find his summary statements compelling. Part of the problem is this is only a brief chapter rather than a monograph on imputation, but some awareness of the larger theological discussion would have been helpful.

For Green, the best way to understand the role of works and salvation is Paul’s emphasis on the believer’s union with Christ (chapter 5). Citing Todd Billings, Green argues union with Christ is “theological shorthand for the gospel itself” (99). There is far more to be said on identification with Christ in Paul, Green can only cover six passages in as many pages. Again, the brevity of this chapter hinders a fuller presentation of the data from Paul. There is reference to Constantine Campbell’s excellent monograph Paul and Union with Christ (Zondervan, 2012), although this may simply a matter of Green completing his book before Campbell’s appeared.

In chapter 6 Green deals with a sometimes problematic issue, justification and future judgment according to works. As he does throughout the book, he briefly surveys seven pertinent texts and then the history of interpretation of the texts. Green discusses John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Geerhardus Vos, Richard Gaffin, Simon Gathercole, and Greg Beale and N. T. Wright (curiously labeled an “excursus”), and then concludes the chapter by citing Augustine at length. Green concludes that evangelicals should affirm a future aspect to justification as well as a future judgment according to works (142), but also that our future judgment is based on your union with Christ and our identity as “persons who are ‘in Christ’” (144).

Finally, Green discusses three related topics which touch on the issue of works and salvation (chapter 7). First, he interacts again with Henri Blocher on the headship of Adam and the so-called covenant of works sometimes considered to be essential for the Gospel in Covenant theology. Green suggests by using a “covenant of works” schema, works become a merit system for salvation and something quite different than grace. A second issue in the chapter is the headship of Christ as the obedient one who kept the covenant. We obey because Christ obeyed, Green says (159). In the end, Green concludes inaugurated eschatology is key to understanding the “real but imperfect nature” of the believer’s good works (170).

Conclusion. While role of works for those coming to salvation and in the coming future judgment have often been the topics of discussion of New Testament theology, Green’s book fills a gap by focusing on the role of works in the ongoing life of the believer. His emphasis on the cross and grace-enabled good works in the life of the believer is a helpful correction to sweeping statements concerning the ongoing role of good works in the life of the believer. I find the brevity of the chapters frustrating, especially when exegesis of Scripture is too brief. Occasionally I thought historic and contemporary (usually reformed) theologians dominated the discussion, especially in chapter 6. This is certainly a case of “that’s not the book I would write” and should not distract from the value of Green’s book.


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.

Allen Ross points out the psalmist does not compare his righteous heart to the wicked person. Most people would expect the writer to say “but not so me!” after this picture of the person who lives in total ignorance of impending doom. (Something like Godwin’s Law—as long as there are Nazis, I will always be righteous.)

Rather than compare his righteousness with the wicked, the Psalmist describes the Lord as the Ultimate Righteous One. To reject the deep, steadfast love of the Lord, is foolish indeed!

Mountain of GodThe Love of the Lord is Steadfast (v. 5). Steadfast love (חֶסֶד) of the Lord refers to his covenant faithfulness and loyalty his faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה) is honesty or trustworthiness. There is a great deal of rich theology in the Hebrew Bible based on the idea of God as loyal, his hesed toward his people is foundational for understanding much of the story of the people of Israel. God will be faithful to his promises despite human sin and rebellion. Sometimes the Hebrew Bible uses a marriage metaphor for this loyalty (Ruth, Hosea).

God’s righteousness (צְדָקָה) and judgments (מִשְׁפָּט) complement each other as well. God is wholly righteous in his character so that all his decisions are perfectly just. If he has decided to reward or punish, we can be assured his decisions are correct.

The psalmist compares God’s love and justice to the heights and depths of creation. These lines imply God’s character is built into the very fabric of creation—there is no place anyone can escape God’s love and justice! (McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” NIB 4:823). His love and faithfulness reaches to the skies and clouds, as high as the eye can see.

God’s righteous judgments reach to the “mountains of God.” This metaphor indicates God’s righteousness is like mountains which will not erode and pass away, they are permanent fixtures in the heavens.

The “great deep” (תְּהוֹם) refers to the bottom of the seas, the “primeval oceans” or the opposite of heavenly mountains. If the highest place in all creation is the “mountains of God,” then the ultimate lowest place is the deepest sea. Like other texts which contrast the highest heaven and the lowest place in sheol. The point here is that all of reality is infused with God’s righteousness and justice.

For many scholars, both God and “depths” evoke Canaanite mythology (Jacobson, 342, for example). El is the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, and the Hebrew word for depths is similar to Tiamat, the god of chaos. The Lord’s love and justice are so great they permeate creation, but they are also far greater than any of the gods worshiped by the nations.


This is not the usual word used for “fear of the Lord.” This word (פַּחַד) has the connotation of terror or dread, the kind of fear that makes you tremble. It is used in passages where God’s wrath is poured out on an enemy (“the dread of the Lord fell upon them,” 1 Sam 11:7, 2 Chron 14:13).

The_ScreamThis is the certain knowledge you are about to be swept away in judgment and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Think about the feeling you have when you drive through an obvious speed trap going well over the speed limit. You know you are about to face a righteous judgment and no argument you can make will prevent getting a ticket.

These unbelievers lack the sense to know they are about to fall under God’s wrath and face a righteous judgment. They lack the sense to make provisions against the coming judgment, whether that is to hide, bargain, or repent.

The wicked are “unbelievers.” The noun is the same as Psalm 1:4 (רָשָׁע). These are people who simply do not recognize the God of Israel as having any authority over them. As a result, they live life outside of Wisdom.

  • They flatter themselves in their own eyes. The verb “flatter” (חלק) has the sense of “make smooth,” either by pounding something out with a hammer (Isa 41:7) or by using oil. In Wisdom literature, the metaphor is smooth, slippery words, usually to flatter someone. For example, Prov 2:16 and 7:5 refer to the smooth words of the adulteress. Psalm 55:21 describes the words of a false companion and betrayer as “smooth like butter, softer than
  • They think their iniquity cannot be found out and hated. Beyond self-deceptive flattery, the wicked think what they are doing is in secret and cannot be discovered. What makes this flattery self-destructive is the wicked platter themselves. They have adapted their thinking so they can imagine themselves as something other than people destined for destruction.
  • They speak “trouble and deceit,” or perhaps “disaster and disillusionment.” The second word (מִרְמָה) has the sense of fraud or trickery, such as fraudulent balances or weights (Hos 12:8, Amos 8:5). But these are not dishonest weights in the market, but rather the words coming from the person’s mouth. If one is going to flatter oneself, then the words they speak are more than likely going to be lies and deceptions.
  • They have ceased “to act wisely and do good.” To “act wisely” is a hifel infinitive construct of שׂכל, a word normally associated with success or have insight (cf. Gen 3:6). Some translations use “prudent” for this word. To act wisely or prudently is to make a good decision based on careful reflection which results in success. “Doing good” in the Hebrew Bible covers a wide range of moral and ethical choices, very often these are good deeds toward other people.
  • They plot trouble or disaster. The noun (אָוֶן) can have the sense of a looming disaster, but since the wicked person is plotting out the disaster, they intend to cause trouble for someone—they are “up to no good.”
  • They stand on the “not good” path and do not reject evil. This verse recalls Psalm 1 and much of the wisdom tradition. There are two “paths” one can follow, two ways to go through life. These wicked do not just flirt with disaster, they are actively seek it out!

In summary, when there is no fear of the Lord, there is nothing but trouble! The wicked as described here live in utter ignorance of the looming disaster them face.

I have been teaching through some of the Wisdom Psalms in my Summer Bible Study series at church. Psalm 36:1 presents several unusual challenges for a teacher since translations vary greatly:

NIV: I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked

ESV: Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart

LXX: The lawless one, to sin, says in himself that there is no fear of God before his eyes

The vast differences in the translation of verse 1 are due to the difficulty of the Hebrew text and the way the Greek translation interpreted the verse. Both the NIV and ESV provide a note with an alternate translation. Rolf Jacobson comments the first few words of the verse are “undoubtedly corrupt” (Psalms NICOT; 339 n. 3).

LXX Psalm 88:4-8

LXX Psalm 88:4-8

As in most cases, the reason for the difference is the difficulty of the Hebrew text and the way the Septuagint (LXX) coped with the difficulties. It is always possible the translator had a different Hebrew manuscript, but that is not likely the case here. It is also possible the translator did not understand the Hebrew and made an attempt to make sense of what the Hebrew text says. This could be from a lack of Hebrew skills, as most first year Hebrew students will attest, Hebrew poetry can be difficult to translate! But in this case, it seems to me the translator became an interpreter when approaching Psalm 36:1. (To complicate matters, this verse is Ps 36:2 in the Hebrew Bible and 35:1 in the LXX.)

The first word (נְאֻם) usually refers to an oracle of the Lord, so the first line could be a title analogous to the prophets: “An oracle of transgression concerning the wicked.” The LXX interpreted this as “the transgressor, in order to sin, says to himself” (Φησὶν ὁ παράνομος τοῦ ἁμαρτάνειν ἐν ἑαυτῷ). My overly-literal translation attempts to read the articular infinitive τοῦ ἁμαρτάνειν as the purpose or intent of the verb “he speaks.” This translates the Hebrew לָ֭רָשָׁע, a noun with a prefixed preposition (“to the sinner”).

Since the Hebrew text already has a word for sin (פֶּשַׁע), the LXX translator took the second sin word as an infinitive explaining why the sinner is speaking:  “in order to sin, a sinner has to speak within his own heart and convince himself there he has no dread of the Lord.” This is the gist of the Hebrew verse as well as the LXX, although one problem yet remains, the meaning of the first word of the Hebrew text, נְאֻם. Does this mean “speak” as the LXX has, or “an oracle”?

Allen Ross represents a more or less traditional response to this textual difficulty. He translates the first line, “An oracle concerning the transgression of the wicked is within my heart” (Ross, Commentary on the Psalms, 1:779). Kraus, on the other hand, suggests the word oracle (נְאֻם) ought to be read as “pleasing” (נָעִים), resulting in the translation “pleasing is the transgression to the wicked deep in his heart” (Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 396).

Jacobson reads נְאֻם as related to the Arabic naʾama to howl, growl or the Akkadian and translates “Transgression whispers to the wicked one deep in his heart” (Psalms, NICOT, 339). Transgression becomes an evil persona who speaks into the inner person of the wicked and prevents them from recognizing the “dread of the Lord.”

A final difficulty is the Hebrew first person “my heart” (לִבִּ֑י). If the first word is not “an oracle,” then the pronoun needs to be changed to the third person “his heart,” since again based on the reading of the LXX.

In any case, the verse refers to the inner machinations of a sinner who resists the fear of the Lord and lives outside of the Wisdom Lifestyle.

TParsonshe Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” is Mikeal C. Parsons Acts commentary in the Paideia series from Baker. Mikeal Parsons is a top Acts scholar and the Paideia series pays close attention to the cultural and educational context from which it emerges. Parsons see Acts as a charter document explaining and legitimating Christian identity for a general audience of early Christians living in the ancient Mediterranean world

In addition to the free book, Logos is offering Charles Talbert’s Ephesians and Colossians volume in the Paideia series for only $1.99. I have always enjoyed reading Talbert’s work (especially his Reading Acts, which I still maintain I did not know about when I named this blog…)  As always, Logos is running a giveaway for the month, this time for the whole twelve volumes of the Paideia series. Head over to Logos and enter the contest as many times as you possibly can, these commentaries are all worth owning.

WestermanLogos is also running a “back to school sale” (which is not unusual since it is back to school time and Logos runs sales about every three hours). Each week they will be offering a new book, and this week it is Claus Westermann’s Continental Commentary Series: Genesis 1-11 (Fortress, 1994). This free book is not exactly free, you have to share the sale on twitter or Facebook to download the book. Spamming your friends is a small price to pay for this classic commentary on Genesis.

Check the “back to school” sale next week for another offer.

Carnival Cat

The June Carnival has arrived at Lindsay Kennedy’s My Digital Seminary. Lindsay has done a remarkable job collecting the best of the BiblioBlogs this month. Click all the links, the deserve it. Lindsay includes a blurry photograph of himself and N. T. Wright, suitable for printing and framing, or meme-ing at the very least.

In other Biblioblog news, Jim West has dedicated his Avignonian Carnival to America, and West claims his carnival is now “virtually 74.23% snark free!” Remember Peter Kirby’s Christian Origins is aggregating biblioblogs and providing a nice digest of links for the week categorized into “Top 20 Biblical Commentary Posts,”  “Top 15 Biblical Criticism Posts” and “Radical Criticism Posts.”

Just a personal note, this is the 1500th post to Reading Acts since it began nearly 8 years ago. I realize 1500 is what Jim West calls “the weekend,” but it seemed like an important milestone to me.

Bob MacDonald (@drmacdonald) is up for the August Biblical Studies Carnival at his blog Dust. I am sure he would appreciate any nominations for those carnivals.

If you want to host a Carnival, please contact me. I have several spots open in the next few months and need volunteers! It does not matter if you are a relatively new BiblioBlogger or a grizzled veteran. 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. Contact me via email (, DM on twitter (@plong42) or a comment on this post and I can contact you. September through December 2015 are still available, usually November and December are good months for BiblioBlogs because of the national SBLAAR and ETS meetings.

Shepherd, Charles E. Theological Interpretation and Isaiah 53: A Critical Comparison of Bernhard Duhm, Brevard Childs, and Alec Motyer. The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 598. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. Hb $112.00.   Link to Bloomsbury

This monograph arises from Shepherd’s Ph.D. work at Durham University in 2012 under the direction of Walter Moberly. He proposes to study a theologically rich passage in the Hebrew Bible through the lens of three significant Isaianic scholars as way to explore the value of classical historical criticism in the light of recent developments in the field of theological interpretation of Scripture. Bernhard Duhm represents historical criticism of the nineteenth century and is well known for the religionsgeschichtliche Schule of Protestant liberalism. Brevard Childs is often associated with canonical criticism and is something of a godfather of recent theological interpretations of Scripture. Alec Motyer represents an evangelical voice who has a strong faith commitment to Scripture. Shepherd describes Motyer as an evangelical who “reads the Old Testament without recourse to critical questions” and is guided by “core theological and doctrinal convictions” (p. 6). In fact, Shepherd considers Motyer’s work on Isa 53 “a true tour de force in evangelical interpretation” that is theologically coherent and exegetically independent (p. 198).

ShepherdAside from their magisterial commentaries on Isaiah, an additional factor in selecting these three scholars is that their hermeneutical approach is a “rhetorical positioning away from a perceived threat” (p.200). Duhm moved away from teleological readings of the prophets which read Isaiah only through the lens of Christ (“Erscheinung Christi”). Childs moved away from Protestant Liberalism’s fascination with “Historie” by emphasizing the connection between the Old and New Testament. Motyer does what Duhm avoided, he reads the prophets as messianic prophecy fulfilled in Christ, although he seeks to set the prophecy in an original eighth century B.C. context as well as applying it to the modern church.

Another contrast between the three scholars studied in this monograph is each has an interlocutor representing a threat which proper exegesis will answer. For Duhm, “supernaturalists” such as Delitzsch and Hengstenberg, although Shepherd points out it is not always clear if Duhm has a specific scholar in mind (p. 233). Childs approach is in dialogue with “anthropocentrists” in contrast to his own “theocentric” hermeneutic. He has in mind the religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Since Motyer is concerned with the unity of the book of Isaiah, he distances himself from the “rationalists,” specifically Eichrodt and Von Rad. Shepherd says “Motyer’s rhetorical shaping suggests that those who are open to traditional source-critical work have no basis on which to wed text with doctrine” (p. 237).

Shepherd devotes two chapters to each scholar. He first sketches the theological hermeneutics represented by the scholar, then he examines the application of those hermeneutical strategies on Isaiah 53. This text was chosen because it is, as Shepherd puts it, an “easy target” (p. 5). More than this, Isa 53 has been located in various ways in history and has been an important text moving from antiquity to the Christian theology. The complexity of the passage is conducive to both historical critical studies and a theological reading. Shepherd is clear that the his study is not interested in the correct reading of Isaiah 53, but rather the moves made by the interpreters as well as the theological and philosophical commitments which inform those exegetical decisions.

Shepherd offers several observations by way of a concluding chapter. Duhm’s comments in Isa 53 demonstrate his work as an interpreter on the “raw materials” of the text, and he does not think the poem refers to the Christ event. Yet Shepherd points out Duhm “felt the need to reflect theologically,” although in a section separated from his exegesis. This “historical distancing” of theology and history is somewhat artificial, Shepherd suggests, but it was “already underway in his prior exegetical moves” (p.203).

Childs consciously approaches the text of Isa 53 as a Christian interpreter and stands with those interpreters who have gone before. Since Childs argues the poem has been “loosed from particular historical settings and relocated to a literary context,” the concrete, original historical context is important only in the sense of “types,” or foreshadowing of how the final writer intended the poem. The placement of the poem in Second Isaiah points to an eschatological theme: “God intervenes to end the exile and to usher in his eschatological reign” (p. 208). Reading the poem as a Christian, Childs stands with virtually all patristic and scholastic interprets by identifying Jesus as the servant. The original context is inaccessible and may even be at odds with a theological reading of the text.

Motyer approaches the text as a divinely inspired revelation from God and therefore emphasizes God’s sovereignty and involvement in history. Yet he is still interested in the facts of history, although these are the facts as they relate to God’s work of redemption. Shepherd considers this a “strange relationship” with modern knowledge. Motyer uses history to avoid “make believe,” but the Bible itself is immune from critical analysis (specifically, Motyer’s reading of Isaiah as the work of a single eighth prophet). Motyer reads Isa 53 as a referring to a servant in history, but the poem “reminds” the Christian reader of the “resurrection, ascension and heavenly exaltedness of the Lord Jesus” (p. 213). Shepherd concludes Motyer collapses the distance between history and Christian theology. Old Testament and New Testament share the same messianic context and theological foundations. As an example of this, Shepherd cites Motyer’s unapologetic reading of Isa 53 that supports penal substitutionary atonement (p. 228). While Childs would be cautious in imposing this kind of theological category, Duhm rejects this kind of theological reading.

In his epilogue Shepherd asks if Historical Criticism is a “Friend, Foe, or Foil.” Shepherd interacts with Francis Watson’s assertion that historical criticism does not really exist since every generation of Christian interpreters have used all of the scholarly tools available to them. In fact, to create a dichotomy between “historical criticism” versus “theological interpretation” assumes the two exist in complete isolation. This is simply not how exegesis works. “The task of the biblical ‘historian’ was likewise bound up with questions of personal commitment” (p. 260).

Conclusion. Shepherd’s study achieves what it proposes to do. He does in fact offer a “sympathetic yet critical” reading of these three diverse scholars. By contrasting Duhm with Moyter, Shepherd appears to be favoring Childs as a “golden mean” between the two extremes, the modernism of nineteenth-century Protestant liberalism and the twentieth-century evangelical (fundamentalism?) reaction to liberalism. But he does not set Duhm or Motyer up as straw men; their ideas and hermeneutical strategies demonstrate Shepherd’s thesis that personal commitment will always color interpretation.

NB: Thanks to Bloomsbury 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).

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

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