After his discussion of Jesus and Moses, the author of Hebrews offers a brief exhortation based upon the experience of Israel. He alluded to Psalm 95 and Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness in 3:7-11, concluding with the Lord’s judgment on that generation: “they will never enter my rest.” Israel had already experienced God’s great salvation in Egypt (the Exodus) and his continuing provision for them in the Wilderness. But they lost sight of the goal (the Promised Land) and some rebelled and wanted to return to Egypt.

EncouragementThe writer encourages his readers to avoid this “sinful, unbelieving heart.” Heart does not mean the emotions since the “heart” refers to a person’s will. Just as some wanted to give up and return to Egypt, it is possible there are some readers who are considering giving up on the Christian church and returning to the Synagogue. Their “sinful and unbelieving heart” deceives them into thinking worshiping Jesus in the Synagogue is a way to avoid persecution. The writer of Hebrews will later describe this return to Judaism as “falling away” in Hebrews 6.

A solution to the possibility of unbelief in the Christian community is for believers to “encourage each other daily.” This is an active effort on the part of the whole community of believers to help each other in their Christian walk.  There is a positive aspect to this word (encouragement), but also a negative aspect, a pushing toward spiritual excellence which may take the form a more pointed exhortation.

The modern church tends to consider the pastor as a professional exhorter. It is the Pastor’s job to encourage and exhort the congregation, as long as he doesn’t get too personal and finished before the football game starts.  Half an hour on Sunday is fine for most people; do not go longer than that and certainly do not mention “sin”!

Yet his text says the community ought to encourage the community.  Mutual encouragement, but also exhortation – a sort of positive peer-pressure that encourages growth and development of a deeper relationship with God and each other. The writer of Hebrews describes a whole church talking to each other and trying to keep each other from sin, a network of accountability that is virtually unknown in the modern church.

What are the believers to encourage?  To avoid the same sort of rebellion Israel experienced in the wilderness. They were deceived into thinking a return to Egypt was not only possible, but preferable to pressing on through the wilderness to the land God promised to them.

Sin is deceitful and seductive. Satan does not appear as a slobbering evil dragon demanding your soul, but rather as an angel of light. Satan is the really nice guy with a good plan to help humanity or your family. He takes the truth and twists it into a sin that looks pretty good!  Sin is a subtle deception, those are the best kind.

This is the experience many people have with their experience in the organized church. At first, they are very excited about participating in worship or the social aspects of Christianity. Yet when they experience some trials they realize a relationship with Jesus Christ is not as painless as the pastor made it sound. It is then quite easy to put their faith aside or find a new faith to replace it.

The writer is exhorting us to remember what it was like that first moment you experienced Jesus; the first time you read the Bible and really understood it; and found something that applied to clearly to you it was as if God were speaking right to you.

After proving that Jesus is superior to the angels in Hebrews 1-2, the writer moves to his second argument, that Jesus is superior to Moses.  Why move from angels to Moses? For most modern readers, angels are superior to humans, so if Jesus is superior to angels, he would obviously be superior to Moses. But it is important to read this argument in the context of first century Jewish Christianity.  For Jews living in the Second Temple period, Moses was the most significant person in salvation history. In Sirach (about 200 B.C.), Moses is described as equal to the “holy ones” or even God himself (as the Hebrew text of Sirach can be translated):

Sirach 45:1-2 …and was beloved by God and people, Moses, whose memory is blessed. He made him equal in glory to the holy ones, and made him great, to the terror of his enemies.

In addition, messianic hopes in the first century sometimes focused on the coming of a prophet like Moses. Hope for a “return of Moses” as messiah was so strong that at least one messianic pretender stopped the Jordan in a re-enactment of the crossing of the Red Sea. Matthew’s gospel is designed to highlight Jesus as a new Moses who goes up on the mountain and gives the people the Law (the Sermon on the Mount).

Charlton-Heston-as-MosesThe writer of Hebrews might be trying to counter an objection to the first two chapters of Hebrews: Jesus might be superior to the angels, but the ultimate servant of God was Moses, who gave the Law. In the context of the first century, then, our author will argue that Jesus is a superior to even Moses as a servant of God.  Ultimately, this will lead to the conclusion that the covenant which Jesus made (the New Covenant) is superior to that of the Old Covenant made by Moses.  In verse two Moses is compared to Jesus, then he is subordinated to Jesus (verse 3) and by verse 5 he is contrasted to Jesus, negatively.

The author of Hebrews makes a “lesser to greater” type of argument. If Moses was faithful in God’s household in the previous age, how is Jesus be superior to him in the present age? First, Jesus is superior because he is the builder of the house.  Here the writer is making the point that Jesus is God, and because God is the designer of the administration that Moses presided over, he is therefore superior to him.

Second, Moses is a servant of the house, but Jesus is the son of the Builder, and therefore heir to the administration himself.  He is of a different class that Moses, beyond servant.  This takes into consideration the first argument of the book, that the angels were servants, but Jesus is the son.  Moses is a servant, but the word here is unique in the New Testament to Moses.  It is not a slave, but an “attendant,” one who “renders devoted service” (BDAG). The LXX uses the word for Moses in Num 12:7 (as well as Exod 4:10 and 14:31). Moses was a servant of the first class, but he is still a servant of Jesus.

How does the author of Hebrews develop this Moses/Jesus typology? Does he intentionally denigrate Moses or the Law when he argues Jesus is superior?

 

 

One of the problems with reading Hebrews is identifying the date and recipient of the letter. I am convinced the recipients were in Rome, living just before the Neroian persecutions.  I think the standard arguments for this position are solid, although I realize there are other possibilities.   Karen Jobes (Letters to the Church) argues the book does not capitalize on the destruction of the Temple as a “proof” that the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New, implying a pre-A.D. 70 date. In addition, the church has “not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood” (12:4).  If the recipients are in Rome, then the letter must refer to a time prior to Nero’s persecution of Christians (A.D.64), but after Caligula expelled Jews (A.D. 49).

Given this context, the recipients struggle with the promises of Christian faith.  If Jesus is the true sacrifice and the fulfillment of the promises of the Hebrew Bible, why have they suffered so much?   As J. W. Thompson says in his Hebrews commentary, the book is written to “reorient a community that has been disoriented by the chasm between Christian confession of triumph and the reality of suffering it has experienced.”

Coptic Christians protest against the killings of people during clashes in Cairo between Christian protesters and military police, and what the demonstrators say is persecution of Christians, in Los Angeles, California October 16, 2011. Egyptians detained in connection with clashes between Christian protesters and military police that left 25 people dead should be tried in civilian not military courts, presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said on Sunday. The former U.N. diplomat's comments reflect public frustration at the army's handling of clashes on Oct. 9, when protesters said they were attacked by unidentified "thugs" and then said military police used excessive force against them. The authorities have detained 28 people on suspicion of attacking soldiers during the protest. Trials will be held before a military court. Rights groups have criticised the use of such courts by Egypt's ruling army council. The demonstrators are rallying for Barack Obama's administration to intervene. REUTERS/David McNew (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST RELIGION)

This is not apologetics in the modern sense, it does not argue against Judaism, nor does it state that Judaism was bad or wrong in any way.  Rather, the writer constructs a positive argument for Jesus’ superiority to various elements of Judaism; he is superior because he is the fulfillment of these things. (He is the substance to which the shadow pointed).

If I am right about the context of the book and the recipients have suffered for their faith already (and are about to suffer even more so under Nero), then the readers may very well have struggled with the shame of suffering in a culture which did not see suffering as a virtue. Within a Jewish context, suffering is sometimes seen as a result of sin, or at the very least, a lack of blessing from God.  We only need to look at the discussion in the book of Job to see that there was a lively discussion of why humans suffer.  If Christians are right and Jesus has triumphed, then why are his followers not blessed?  Why are they suffering?

Within a Greco-Roman context, Christians were not seen as successful because they suffered.  Roman thinking was very much based on honor and shame, of one suffered shame and humiliation in public, one cannot be described as successful!

The book therefore addresses a very real problem.  If Jesus is already seated at the right hand of the Father, why is it that Christians suffer shame and persecution?  Christians are not “of this world,” they are part of the real, unshakeable reality which is not of this world at all.

The theological dissonance which the book of Hebrews addresses is certainly applicable to Christians living in the persecuted world. They may ask, like the recipients of Hebrews, “what good is being faithful”? There are many examples of faithful Christians who suffer frequent shame and humiliation. I am not sure it has come to this in American, where we considered a Red Cup oppressive. But it is true Christianity is becoming a minority voice in American and evangelical Christianity may soon have little or no impact on culture.

How does Hebrews help the Christian who suffers in an anti-Christian world?

Another common element in descriptions of Jewish Christian is “anti-Paulinism.” To what extent does a given document disagree with Paul and Pauline theology? There is a wide range of opinion on what Paul’s theology really was, especially in the wake of the New Perspective on Paul. For some writers, James clearly disagrees with Paul, but for others there is no real disagreement between the two on the relationship of faith and works.

Is there evidence of “differences” in theology between the Jewish-Christian writers and Paul in the New Testament? Acts 21 seems to indicate that at least some in the Jerusalem church were suspicious of Paul’s theology and his understanding of the Law. Whether Acts 21:21 implies that James believed Paul to have “turned away from the customs of Moses” is an open question, but at the very least some in the Jerusalem community were not supporters of Paul! Paul’s conflict with Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2 may be another example of resistance to Paul’s view of the Law. I personally think that John Mark’s “defection” in Acts 13:13 is a reaction to Paul’s condemnation of Elymas and his contact with the Roman proconsul on Cyprus. It might even be possible to find some evidence of division in Ephesus in the background of 1 Timothy that is “anti-Paul.”

Because most readers of the New Testament do not hear these echoes of division, Hagner’s second point is hardest to test in the biblical material. Perhaps we want to think that the earliest days of the church were theological pure and wholly unified and this skews our reading. But there was some tension between the Jerusalem community and Paul, even if it is only hinted at in the New Testament.

For example, James 2:14-26 is at least potentially “anti-Pauline,” although most commentators on James work hard to show Paul and James are not contradictory. To what extent is James “anti-Paul”? If James was written very early, it is possible that James had never read Paul’s theology (a copy of Galatians or Romans, for example) since Paul has not written anything yet! If so, James may be reacting to Pauline Theology as it has been reported to him, not as it actually was being taught. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that more extreme applications of Paul’s theology did not appear early on. There may very well have been Jews who rejected Law in favor of Paul’s doctrine of Grace and therefore are attacked by James. (I am not against the idea that James is actually arguing against Paul, but that is for another posting.)

It is sometimes hard for people living after the Reformation that anyone rejected Paul’s theology or that there were groups in the early church that considered Paul the heretic. For many people today, Paul’s theology is Christian theology. Imagine writing a book on Salvation without referring to Paul’s letters! Yet there were at least some sub-Christian groups that did reject Paul’s letters as authoritative sources for developing doctrine.  It is still an open question that the seeds of this anti-Pauline theology existed in the Apostolic period.

Is there anything in the Jewish-Christian literature that might help with this question? James 2:14-26 and 2 Peter 3:15-16 are two places where Paul is in the background – are there others? By way of application, to what extent is the modern church pro- or anti- Pauline in their way of doing theology?

Donald Hagner’s article on Jewish Christianity in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament provides a summary of the theology of Jewish Christianity. The first issue Hagner discusses is the Law and Christian Life. The Jewish community in Acts appears to have continued to keep the Law. As Jews, there was no real disconnect between keeping the law and salvation. The Temple was the main location of evangelism. This evangelism did not attack the Temple or the priesthood, but seems to use temple worship as an opportunity to reach priests and Pharisees. From the beginning of his Gentile mission, Paul had to deal with Judaizers who argued that Gentiles ought to keep the law.

Cross and StarJames Dunn agrees with this summary in his recent Neither Jew nor Greek (Eerdmans, 2015). In this book Dunn tracks the shift from an entirely Jewish Church in early Acts to a more or less Gentile church by the fourth century A.D. He discusses each of the books int he Jewish Christian literature and concludes they all represent some form of Jewish Christianity. With the possible exception of the epistles of John, each of these books are indebted to the Jewish Law.

The Jewish Christian literature displays a range of belief on the issue of Law. Hebrews which is has the most to say about the Law and the role of the law in the present age. The Law itself is rarely addressed in Hebrews, and the Hebrew Bible as a whole is treated as foundational for understanding Jesus. The writer of Hebrews does not argue that Jesus “cancels the Law,” but rather that the law is most fully understood in the light of Jesus and his sacrifice. There is a certain amount of “supersession” in Hebrews – what Jesus did goes beyond the Law, therefore the only way to “do the Law” is to read it through the lens of Jesus.

James seems to have been a law-keeping Jew throughout his life. The book of Acts describes James as the leader of a robust church in Jerusalem with many priests and Pharisees, all of whom were “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20).  In James’ letter a short discussion on keeping the “royal law” (love your neighbor), and in the context James points out that breaking one Law makes one guilty of the whole law (James 2:8-10).

The most extreme example of Jewish Christians and the Law were the Ebionites. Some caution is needed here since we do not have anything that represents their own writings (possibly the Pseudo-Clementines, but this literature may reflect another early Christian group). We really only know of the Ebionites through the impression they left on the theological conversations of the second and third centuries. While it is likely that they are a sub-Christian sect (and usually included in lists of heretics), they claimed to be the real followers of Christ.  They required complete obedience to the laws, including circumcision, food laws and Sabbath (Eusebius HE 3.27, cf., Skarsaune, 437-8). They considered Paul’s view of the Law as inadequate and held James as the leader of the church.

Applying these observations to the New Testament, it is possible to call all the literature “Jewish” although the Pauline letters are clear that the Law is not to be imposed on Gentiles. There is no statement in the Jewish-Christian literature that Gentiles ought to keep the Law, but it is clear that Hebrews and James especially are interested in the interpretation and application of the Hebrew Bible in the present age.

But what about 1 Peter or the letters of John? Are they more or less interested in the continuing application of the Law to the Christian in the present age?  Since Paul does discuss the Law at in many of his letters (Romans and Galatians especially), this question might be better asked as “how does the Jewish-Christian literature use the Law differently than Paul?”

 

Bibliography: Donald Hagner, “Jewish Christianity,” pages in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1997).

Oskar Skarsaune, “The Ebionites,” pages 419-62 in Jewish Believers in Jesus (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007).

In Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright points to three issues that may give some indication of the “Jewishness” of a particular writer.  He begins his discussion of Paul’s redefinition of Jewish Monotheism in Jesus with a survey of the “Origin of Christology.” He points out that the “orthodoxy of the Enlightenment” was that so-called high Christology is late and non-Jewish development (645). Coupled with what Wright calls the Romanticist idea that the earliest form of Christian was more “pure,” this led to the stripping of anything that was looked like too “high” of a Christology from the original, pure kernel of Christianity (citing Bousset and Bultmann in particular).

Paul and the FaithfulnessSince the Second World War, this search for a non-Jewish pure form of early Christianity has come under serious revision, beginning with W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders. One of the benefits of the “New Perspective on Paul” is that scholars were going to the Jewish sources and reading them for the first time and reading Paul in the context of Second Temple Period Judaism. Following on the work of Martin Hengel, it has become  increasingly obvious that all Judaism in the first century was in some sense Hellenistic, so that looking for a non-Hellenistic, Jewish Christianity was “to search blindly in a dark room for a black cat that wasn’t there in the first place” (647).

What this means, for Wright, is that there is no “Pauline Christianity” over against an earlier “Jewish Christianity.” In fact, he points out that there is no evidence that there was a Jewish Christianity that rejected Jesus as the God of Israel, such as the Ebionites in the second century (648). Paul’s Christology is already as “high” from the time he began writing letters and he claims that this was a tradition passed down to him from the earlier Jewish apostles of Jesus.

I am in complete agreement with Wright that Christology ought to be dropped as a criterion for Jewish Christianity, and that the Enlightenment was simply wrong to assume some sort of slow development of the sort theology we find in Phil 2:5-11 or Ephesians and Colossians. But I am not quite ready to jettison the idea of a Jewish Christianity. What I am saying in this series is not that there was an early, Jewish Christianity that someone mutated into Pauline Christianity as theologically minded writers began to think more deeply about who Jesus was. I do not have in mind a linear development “from Judaism to Christianity,” but parallel developments in Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts.

There seems to have been a conscious effort on the part of Jewish Christians to target Jews in Jerusalem and in the synagogues of the Diaspora with the message that Jesus is the Messiah. Hebrews is an obvious example, but James seems to be a very “Jewish” book targeting people who are more or less Jewish in worldview. In my view, 1 Peter also is obviously directed to Jewish Christians in the Diaspora (but I will get to that later in the series!) As I suggested before, the first two items in Hagner’s article (importance of Law and anti-Pauline thinking) are more useful than Christology.

Wright’s warning is important: there was no slow development of Christology over the first hundred years of Christianity so that the church eventually came to the semi-creedal statements of Phil 2:5-11. This observation will be valuable as we read a book like Hebrews. From the very first verses of Hebrews, Jesus is described in divine terms!

Does this observation tell us anything about the state of Second Temple Judaism? Perhaps this is a case of “the time was right” for Jesus to appear and hint at being God since there were some Jewish thinkers already wondering about how God interacts with creation.

In the earliest days, Christianity was entirely Jewish, yet by the end of the first century the majority of the church was Gentile, and by the end of the second century only a minority of Christians were converts from Judaism. There is little doubt a book like Hebrews is Jewish Christian based on its focus on the Law and use of the Old Testament. On the other hand, the writings of the second century apologists are almost entirely Gentile because of their use of philosophical categories to argue for the truth of Christianity. In a previous post I survey Donald Hagner’s description of Jewish Christianity and Raymond Brown’s four categories of Jewish Christianity. Quite a long time ago I looked at Jacob Neusner’s suggestion Jewish Christianity was a myth. Neusner said “Judaisms and Christianities never meet anywhere. That is because at no point do Judaism, defined by Torah, and Christianity, defined by the Bible, intersect.” I think they do (go read that earlier post)and the Jewish Christian literature (Especially Hebrews and James) is evidence of that.

But most books are not as easy to categorize as Hebrews or James, so the following several posts will develop a set of criteria which may indicate a book is more or less representative of Jewish Christianity. I will start with the Christology of Jewish Christian literature.

JesusIt is often assumed “high Christology” means a book is “less Jewish” and ought to be dated as late as possible. High Christology refers to the belief that Jesus was in some sense divine. Low Christology is the belief that Jesus was only a human, or was human specially appointed by God. The general assumption is the belief Jesus is God and part of the Trinity developed over several hundred years, not finally taking shape until the fourth century. There is some truth to this since the claims the gospels make about Jesus could be read either way: Jesus is a human, but he also seems to claim some divine prerogatives which imply he was “more than just a human.”

This “low develops into the high” Christology can be seen in the New Testament. For example, Mark’s Gospel is the earliest of the four and does not contain any birth narrative. Jesus is the suffering servant who tries to keep messianic expectations to a minimum. Matthew and Luke include birth stories which expand Jesus’ origins to include a divine miracle (the virgin birth) and the fulfillment of prophecy. John’s Gospel was the last written and describes Jesus as the Word of God who was with God at creation, and is in fact God (John 1:1-3).

The main reason a low Christology is assumed to be “more Jewish” is the importance of monotheism in Second Temple period Judaism. If a Jewish teacher like Jesus announced he was The God of the Hebrew Bible in the flesh, he would have likely been immediately stoned for blasphemy. In Mark 2 Jesus claims to be able to forgive sin and he is accused (at least in thought) of blasphemy.

I had some reservations since Paul (a Jewish Christian) has a remarkably high Christology at a fairly early date (Phil 2:5-11). This particular example is important since it appears as though Paul is recalling a well-known tradition, implying this example of “high Christology” is earlier than the letter of Philippians. Martin Hengel, for example associates high Christology with the early church, commenting that a high Christology “grew entirely out of Jewish soil” and any “pagan influences have been suspected in the origins of Christianity were mediated without exception by Judaism” (“Early Christianity,” 2–3). Richard Bauckham also concluded “the earliest Christology was already the highest Christology” (God Crucified, viii, also see here).

There are some examples of Jewish Christian letters which do not have a robust Christology (James, for example, barely mentions Jesus!) Looking at a book like Hebrews for example, can we really say a low Christology indicates a book is representative of a Jewish Christianity? There are many examples of a rather high view of Christ in Hebrews, yet the book seems to assume a Jewish audience.

Starting this week I am teaching an undergrad class on the “Jewish Christian Literature.” Essentially, this is a class that covers Hebrews through Revelation. Sometimes this section of the New Testament is called the “catholic epistles” or the “general epistles” since they are perceived as being universal in appeal. Certainly James, 1 Peter and 1 John written as circular letters, but 2 and 3 John and Jude seem to be directed at specific congregations. While Hebrews is less a letter than a sermon, Revelation mentions seven churches with specific situations that are likely to be “real” issues faced by those local congregations.

But as I point out the first day of class, we could probably call these letters the “other letters” or the “Not Paul” collection. This is what is difficult about reading books like Hebrews and James. Christian Theology is almost always focused on Paul (and for good reasons). Yet this literature indicates there were other early church thinkers who attempted to explain Jesus to Jewish people rather than Gentiles. The results are compatible with Pauline theology, but also quite distinct. It is that distinctiveness I am interested.

I personally prefer to call these books the Jewish Christian Literature because most of the books are addressed to Jewish Christians in the Diaspora. I will say more about later, but with the exception of 2 Peter all the letters are “more Jewish” than the average Pauline letters. They appear to me to represent a stream of early Christianity which was ethnically Jewish and continued to practice some (all?) elements of their ancestral faith while believing Jesus was the Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy.

But what does Jewish Christian mean? Paul was Jewish and Christian, and it is not as though Paul writes “Gentile Christian” letters.  By giving these letters the title “Jewish Christian” I want to highlight the fact they are all addressed to “more Jewish than not “churches that looked to James, Peter, or John as authorities. In contrast, Paul’s churches are “more Gentile than not” and looked to Paul as the authority (for the most part, anyway).

Is this a fair way to read Hebrews through Revelation? Is it possible to set Pauline Theology to one side and read Hebrews (for example) without thinking in Pauline categories? Is that healthy?

Jesus Behaving BadlyToday is the day I pick a winner for a copy of Mark Strauss’s excellent book, Jesus Behaving Badly. There were 22 people signed up (I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-57, and the winner is…..

Laura Martin

Congrats to Laura, please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) or a DM on twitter (@Plong42) with your mailing address and I will pop these in the mail ASAP. Better luck next time for the rest of you. I have been cleaning and organizing my office and found a few duplicate books will giveaway in a couple of weeks.

Do not forget to enter to win a copy of Logos Cloud Premium from Logos and Reading Acts. Logos is running that giveaway until January 17, 2016.

Merrill, Eugene H. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 637 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel.

Commentaries on 1 & 2 Chronicles are often painful to read. Since the books begin with nine chapters of genealogy there is little for most pastors to preach or teach and a great deal of textual work to be done in a serious commentary which is frankly dry reading (For example, Gary Knoppers’s excellent commentary on 1 Chronicles 1-9 will not win any awards for spiritual formation!) Merrill’s new commentary on both 1 & 2 Chronicles in an exegetical commentary yet he attempts to keep his eye on important theological issues in which pastors and teachers are interested.

A fifty page introduction begins with the historical and cultural setting of Chronicles. Merrill traces the return from exile and the political re-establishment of the Jewish people in Yehud. Here is focuses on data from Ezra and Nehemiah as well as the post-exilic prophets describing social and religious reforms. This includes the rebuilding of the Temple as well as a refinement of Temple worship. This post-exilic community is the world in which the books of Chronicles were written. Merrill is content to simply call the author “The Chronicler” rather than try to argue for Ezra or one of the post-exilic prophets.

Merrill, ChroniclesChronicles offers a rare opportunity in Old Testament studies since the book has made use of earlier canonical material and in many instances written the history to give a more favorable impression of some events or persons than the earlier Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). For Merrill, the Old Testament writers thought of themselves as conveying divine revelation, so the Chronicler thought carefully about any departure from his sources (51). Yet the Jewish world in the post-exilic period was much different than that of the Deuteronomic Historian.

Merrill suggests the Chronicler was influenced by the eschatological hopes of Ezra-Nehemiah so that he attempted to answer the despair of the post-exilic community by re-writing history to point forward to an eschatological hope in a restored house of David (60). It is well known that Chronicles minimizes David’s sin, for Merrill the motivation for this positive spin is to set the stage for a succession of Davidic kings fulfilling God’s promise. David is the anticipated ruler of early canonical promises (62) and the focus of prophetic hopes for a future, eschatological kingdom (65). In fact, these hopes take the shape of a new temple as a symbol of God’s reconstituted people (68).

The introduction is supplemented by twelve excurses which conclude many of the major units of the commentary. These are brief additional comments on a historical or theological issue in the unit for example, at the end of the commentary on 1 Chron 15:1-21:30 (the exploits of David), Merrill offers a page on the Angel of YHWH, two pages on David and Royal Sonship, and a about five pages on the Theological Ethic of Holy War.

Each of the nine units of the commentary covers a section of the history. Merrill breaks the units into subsections, usually covering about a chapter each. The commentary provides the NIV translation for each subsection followed by brief textual critical notes. The text provided appears to be the 1984 text (compare 1 Chron 7:23 in the 1984 and 2011 versions).  There is nothing in the preface or introduction explaining this decision, although there are less differences in Chronicles than other portions of the Bible. A second observation is that not all textual notes are in the textual notes section, occasionally they appear in the footnotes.

After the translation and notes, Merrill offers “exegesis and exposition” of the section, usually covering several verses in each section. Given the constraints of the commentary, a phrase-bu-phrase commentary is impossible so he focuses on particular problems in the text which need explanation. He comments on differences between the Deuteronomic Historian (DH) and the Chronicler, especially where the Chronicler omits something from the DH. Where there are clear parallels he provides reference to the text in the DH. Hebrew is included in the main text, although most technical details are placed in the footnotes. Even though the Hebrew text is not transliterated most readers without Hebrew will have no problem following Merrill’s comments. The footnotes interact with major commentaries and secondary literature on Chronicles.

After the commentary proper, there is a brief theological reflection on the section of Chronicles. These conveniently indexed at the beginning of the volume. In the section on the “Exploits of David,” Merrill comments that the Chronicler describes David as an “almost impeccable super-hero who does little wrong and is triumphant in nearly every undertaking to which he puts his hands” (251). From this observation, he briefly points to various Second Temple texts which express similar messianic expectations about David, including the New Testament.

Conclusion. Merrill has contributed a solid evangelical commentary on the often ignored books of 1 & 2 Chronicles which will help pastors and teachers work through the books as they present them to God’s church. His emphasis on eschatological hopes is important since these continue to develop throughout the Second Temple period and are foundation for understanding the Gospels. This is my main criticism of the volume, the theology sections are less robust than I hoped given the introduction to the commentary. This intra-canonical reading has become popular in recent years and Chronicles is a worthy place to use the methods of canonical criticism. Nevertheless, this was not the goal of the commentary so it is unfair to consider this a shortcoming. Merrill’s commentary is a worthy contribution to the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series.

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

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About Me

Phillip Long

Phillip 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

ACI Profile for Phillip J. Long

Christian Theology

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