Why would someone interested in the New Testament study the history of the Greco-Roman world?  This history is important because the key to understanding the New Testament is context….If we do not try to put ourselves into the context of the original readers of the Scriptures, we can very easily read our own culture into a passage and reach wrong conclusions about what it meant to the author and therefore what it should mean to us. James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity, 1999), 293.

The years between the two Testaments are critically important for understanding the New Testament. Let me offer two easy examples. First, the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees are often based on-going discussions in the Second Temple Period over Jewish practice. The Pharisees have a rich history prior to their role in the Gospels. Most Christians think of the Pharisees as the evil, works-for-salvation religious leaders who hated Jesus and were constantly trying to trick him into saying something worthy of death. But this is far from the case! Anyone who thinks this mischaracterization of the Pharisees is accurate is reading their own culture back into the New Testament (As Jeffers says in the quote above).

A second example is Paul’s struggle against what he calls Judaizers in Galatians. This group of Jewish Christians insisted Gentile converts submit to circumcision in order to fully convert to Judaism. There are a number of factors here, but these Pauline opponents should be understood in the light of circumcision as a boundary marker during the Maccabean Revolt. What define a person as “Jewish” 200 years before Paul’s day was the ritual of circumcision and to reject that practice struck at the heart of what it meant to be Jewish at that particular time.

The main struggle of the Jews during this 400 year period was how to integrate into a world which was decidedly not Jewish. As Greek and Roman culture came to pervade the post-exilic world, how could a Jewish person live out their lives in faithfulness to God’s Law yet also live in a pagan world?

One option is it withdraw entirely, as the Essenes will in the mid-second century. I do not think the Essenes were a monastic community who lived completely separate from other people (this is a misreading of the evidence and imposes a later Christian view of asceticism on the Essenes). But they certainly separated themselves from the mainstream of Judaism as we know it in the first century. For the group at Qumran, it appears they sought to live in a state of ceremonial cleanliness required for priests in the Temple as the waited for the messiah (or messiahs) to come to their community and lead them into battle against the “sons of darkness,” the Jews who were in charge of the Temple!

A second option is to become wholly integrated into the culture, as many Jews did. Philo of Alexandria’s brother is a chief example of this, since he rejected Judaism entirely. Although Herod the Great kept some Jewish practices, for the most part he intentionally lived as a Roman and he certainly ran his kingdom as a Roman. Throughout the Second Temple period there were Jewish people who completely Hellenized and walked away from their ancient Jewish practices.

Pharisees, Sadducees, and Christians fall in-between these two extremes since they found ways to remain loyal to God’s Word, yet also found a way to interact with the pagan world. In the case of Christianity, the motivation was to reach the lost world with the Gospel of Jesus.

This is exactly the same struggle American Christians face today as our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian. It is the same struggle Christians face in countries where Christian was never the majority religion. It is impossible to completely withdraw from the world, although some Christian communities have tried to be as separate as possible. It is also the case many Christians have become so integrated into their culture they have ceased to be Christian by any objective definition of the word.

Can the struggle of the Jewish people in the Second Temple period be a model for contemporary Christians as they struggle with similar issues?

titus-arch

Over the next few months I will be posting on the history and literature of the Second Temple period. I had an opportunity to teach an eight-week series in my church on the “Time between the Testaments.” This began with the Persian period and ran through the Jewish War in A.D. 70, and I included on session on Herod the Great so I could show pictures of Masada and the Western Wall from a recent trip to Israel. The series was well received and I had the chance to develop the material in more detail for a semester long undergrad class.

In teaching the class two things were clear to me. First, Most Christians have little or no knowledge of the history or literature of this period. There is some general knowledge of the Maccabean revolt and the Apocrypha as literature produced during this time, but most people attending an Evangelical church have not spent any significant time learning about this period. However, in general I think most people are hungry for this kind of study because the recognize the importance of knowing what went on before the New Testament for the purpose of understanding the New Testament. Whether or not this is a good motivation is beside the point, there is a hunger for a study like this in Christian churches.

Second, as I worked through the material in order to present it to a generally conservative, Evangelical congregation, I was struck by how applicable the struggle of the Jewish people could be to western Christians today. For the most part the Jewish people find themselves a small minority within the larger Greek or Roman world. They struggle to define what elements of their ancestral faith is important and what can be adjusted to the culture in which they finds themselves. This struggle speaks to western Christians who find themselves marginalized in a post-Christian culture. To what practices and beliefs should Christians tenaciously cling, and what should they leave behind?

Two questions before I begin. First, what do we call this kind of study? Is this “New Testament backgrounds”? Or is this an afterward to the Old Testament? By calling this period intertestamental, am I prejudicing myself to a Christian worldview?

Everett Ferguson begins his introduction to New Testament Backgrounds with a brief discussion of the misleading nature of the title of his book, “Backgrounds.” In many cases the material covered in a course like this is critically important for understanding a text properly; calling it “background” seems to make this study somewhat secondary. A few other options have been suggested, such as environment, milieu, context, culture, but the term “background” has become as accepted description for what we do in this sort of a course, or Ferguson in the textbook, however misleading it may be.

One additional problem is what to call this period of history. Traditionally the “time between the Testaments” is called the Intertestamental Period, This is a cumbersome title and not always accurate since these sorts of studies focus on the Pharisees or Samaritans for the purpose of understanding the Gospels, or go a little beyond the New Testament era by including the Jewish War.

Others have called this period “middle Judaism” to distinguish it from ancient Judaism and later rabbinic Judaism. I am attracted to this as a designation for the period from exile to the destruction of the temple, but the title also implies a three-part history of Judaism (early, middle and late). There is far more complexity in the development after the events of A.D. 70 and 135, but calling this period “late-early Judaism” is really too much.

Often this history and literature will be called the “Second Temple Period,” indicating the time from the rebuilding of the temple until A.D. 70. There is some protest to this designation because Herod’s temple is sometimes considered a third temple. Of the several suggested titles for the period, I will use Second Temple (period, history, literature) while recognizing it is not perfect.

I hope you find this series as exciting as I do, I look forward to your comments as I work through this important section of history and literature.

ancient-apocryphal-gospelsThanks to WJKP for sending along a review copy of this new textbook by Markus Bockmuehl. This is the latest in the Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church series, which is itself a subset of the Interpretation commentary series.

The book begins with a 54 page chapter defining an ancient Christian Gospel. Since there are about eighty documents which fall under the category “gospel,” Bockmuehl must carefully define what he will include in this book. In his conclusion he comments “the canonical gospels appear to be unique and distinctive” (226). There are no narrative apocryphal gospels which attempt to tell the story of Jesus from baptism to resurrection, although they all seem to presuppose the general outline of the canonical gospels.

After this introduction, Bockmuehl offers a chapter infancy gospels (such as James and Thomas), ministry Gospels (Egerton and “secret Mark”), Passion Gospels (such as the Gospel of Peter), and post-resurrection gospels (such as the Gospels of Thomas and Philip).

Bockmuehl also concludes these apocryphal gospels were not suppressed from the canon and the evidence overwhelmingly indicate no one thought these gospels would supersede the canonical gospels. Many were in fact produced as private literature and intentionally hidden. As Bockmuehl says, these gospels did not “become apocryphal but remained so” (232). This is important since much of what is written on these gospels is sensationalism at its worst. These are the lost gospels, or the gospels the Church did not want people to read. In fact, only a small percentage of the literature surveyed in this book could be considered subversive by the orthodox church. For example, Bockmuehl considers the Gospel of Jesus as “antagonistic” (234), but most of this literature is not dark, heretical knowledge.

So why read this literature? The non-canonical gospels bear witness to a wide variety of early Christian thinking. The first few centuries of the church were far more diverse than many overly-optimistic church histories would lead you to believe. This diversity also indicates the difficulties of dealing with who Jesus was as presented by the four canonical gospels.

The book includes an extensive 47 page bibliography may be worth the price of the book by itself.

Look for a full review soon.

 

romans-debateIt is time to draw a name for The Romans Debate, Revised and Expanded Edition (1991, Baker Academic). This book is a brand new paperback (with a remainder mark) and is my own copy.

There were 24 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 1-28, and the winner is…..

Rubén de Rus

Congratulations to Rubén, better luck next time for the rest of you. Rubén should contact me privately with his shipping info, I will get the book out tomorrow.

I at least one more book to give away, so look for another post later today.

 

 

 

I had the opportunity to preach on January 1, 2017: click here to see the video or listen to the audio, scroll to the bottom of this page to choose.

I chose Romans 5:1-12 as my text, since New Year’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months and consider “what kind of a year it has been.” For 2016, most people are saying it was a terrible year, and it has been for world events, and for people in this church. We naturally look forward to a new year with hope it is going to get better. Chances are it will be just as bad, putting our hope for happiness in the lives of celebrities (old celebrities die and they will once again in 2017) or politicians to work out solutions for war and the economy (politicians lie and they will again in 2016).

Paul describes the real reason we can have hope in Romans 5:1-11. Since we have been made right with God, we have peace with God and we have a hope for the future in which we can rejoice.

We have been justified by faith, therefore we have access to God (5:1-5).  Since we have been justified by faith (like Abraham), we experience peace with God rather than wrath (5:1). The wrath of God has been satisfied in the death of Jesus so that those who are in Christ by faith experience peace, not wrath. Paul uses an aorist passive participle (Δικαιωθέντες) to indicate we did not justify ourselves, but also that this justification is an accomplished fact (Kruse, Romans, 225). Our experience of peace, however, is a present tense verb (ἔχομεν), having been justified in the past, we are now in a state of peace with God.

The peace Paul has in mind is not inner peace (although the Gospel can lead to real personal peace). But in the context of Romans, Paul has in mind peace which results from the cessation of the enmity humans have with God. In chapters 1-3, all humans were enemies of God now we have peace with God because he has done something in Christ to create a situation of peace. In Ephesians 2:11-22, for example, after he describes Gentile alienation from God, he declares it is the work of Jesus on the cross that “brings close” Jews and Gentiles.

Related imageSince we have peace with God, we have access to the Father (5:2a). In order to have access to a king, one must have appropriate status. The word translated access (προσαγωγή) is used by Xenophon, for example, to describe those who have access to the Persian king Cyrus (Cyr. 7, 5, 45). The same word appears in Ephesians 2:18 to describe Jews and Gentiles having access to God the Father through the same Spirit.

The one who is in Christ has the appropriate status to enter into the presence of God through the Holy Spirit, later Paul will expand this metaphor by describing us as adopted into the family of God, so that we can call God abba, father.

We have this access by means of the grace “in which we stand.” Both “have” and “stand” are perfect tense verbs, indicating a complete action in the past (accepting God’s grace through faith, being justified), but also an action with continuing relevance at the present time. We currently stand in the grace God has given, and we currently have access to the Father because of what he has already done.

This is in contrast to anyone who tries to obtain salvation through works. Since they are not justified by faith (and adopted into the family of God), they never really do have access to God. In Second Temple period Judaism, one did not directly approach God. Only the high priest could enter the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, others can only approach so far (court of men, women, gentiles, etc.)  In the worship of Greco-Roman gods, one did not approach them directly nor were humans granted access to a god. This access to the Father is a remarkable claim in the ancient world!

Gorman_ecoming the Gospel_wrk02.inddGorman, Michael J. Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 351 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

In this new monograph Michael Gorman asserts the apostle Paul wanted his communities to not only believe the gospel, to become the gospel by participating in the life and mission of God (2). Gorman describes local churches as “colonies of cruciformity” Gorman has already contributed two books with similar themes (Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Eerdmans 2001 and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, Eerdmans 2009). This book intends to develop this view of Paul’s theology of participation by reading Paul missionally. After two introductory chapters, Gorman examines becoming faith, hope and love in 1 Thessalonians, the story of Christ in Philippians, the gospel of peace in Ephesians, and the justice of God in 1-2 Corinthians and Romans.

In this book Gorman argues Paul “expected the salvation of God to spread throughout the world not only by means of his own Gospel ministry but also by means of the participation of his converts in various house churches” (61). In fact, the church was to be a “living exegesis” of the gospel of God (43).

Gorman uses Philippians 2:6-11 as a model of the gospel several times in the book. He calls this text a “missional Christology for a missional people” (109). The pattern of these verses is “although [x] status, not [y] selfishness, but [z] self-renunciation and self-giving.” In Philippians, Jesus as the status of “form of God” [x], but did not consider than status as something to be exploited [y], but rather he emptied himself so that he could give himself on the cross [z]. Chapter 4 contains a careful exegesis of these verses and Gorman describes them as Paul’s master text. Gorman shows how Paul’s example in 1 Thessalonians 2 or 1 Corinthians 9 follows this same pattern (87), but also Paul’s expectation for his churches are similarly modeled.

But Gorman is not advocating some bland lifestyle evangelism. Using the Thessalonian church as an example, it appears their faithfulness to the gospel was public and in some way brought them into conflict with their culture, perhaps even leading to the death of some members of the congregation because of their faithful witness (74; although he admits this is a minority view in footnote 24, I am inclined to agree). In addition to this, those who have expressed public faith in the gospel would have face questions from friends and family about their abandonment of cultic activity. This would include a rejection of family gods, but also civic and imperial worship. This would be interpreted as impious and unpatriotic behavior, potentially leading to persecution (95). Gorman says “one cannot speak of the ‘good news’ of Jesus as ‘Lord’ without focusing on the countercultural religious and political claims of this story” (134). The gospel itself challenges the false master story of the Roman world. If the church is actually living out the gospel in their lives then they will challenge culture in very real ways which will lead naturally to persecution.

Gorman spends two chapters on the church as the embodiment of peace. Chapter 5 is a biblical theology of peace which defines peace as shalom, the fullness of life promised by God (143). Although Western Christians tend to think of peace in the Pauline letters as “peace with God,” Gorman follows N. T. Wright in arguing peace is central to both Paul’s soteriology and ecclesiology. Certainly reconciliation with God is important for Paul, but peace within the community is constantly repeated throughout Paul’s letters. If a local church is an embodiment of the gospel, and peace with God is central to that gospel, then peace with one another must be an important component of how a church lives out the gospel in a community. Gorman sees the peacemaking mission of the church as an anticipatory participation in the coming eschatological kingdom of peace (162, almost an “already/not yet” argument).

To support this, Gorman offers a detailed reading of Ephesians. Ephesians refers to peace eight times, including the introduction (1:2) and conclusion (6:15) of the letter. Before looking at the way Ephesians describes peace, Gorman must deal with several obvious objections to using Ephesians as a model for Pauline ecclesiology. He deals with the authorship problem briefly by stating that Paul is the genius behind the letter regardless of who wrote it. A second problem with Ephesians is the alleged patriarchy of Ephesians 5:22-6-9. Although there are various ways to deal with this problem, Gorman points out the peace of the gospel ought to effect all relationships in which believers participate, so that if a male head of a household is acting peaceably, then he cannot mistreat his wife, children or slaves (186).

He then argues the book of Ephesians demonstrates that Christ’s death reconciles people to God, but also people to one another (192). To emphasize one or the other is to miss the point of “Christ as peacemaker.” But the church is not simply to “be peace,” but rather they are to keep the peace. If shalom means harmony, then the local church ought to be a place characterized by the same cruciform love that created the church (196). Peacemaking cannot reduced to a nebulous imitation of Christ or God, although it certainly includes “putting on” Christ.

Each chapter concludes with a brief example of a ministry which is “being the gospel” in a particular community. For example, after arguing Paul expects his churches to be peacemakers, Gorman illustrates describes Christian Peacemaker Teams, an ecumenical ministry which seeks nonviolent alternatives in Palestine, Iraq, Columbia or other war-torn regions. For the church as the justice of God, Gorman draws attention to Mary’s Cradle in Bluefield, West Virginia, a ministry associated with Trinity United Methodist Church. The ministry provides assistance for pregnant women and offers a range of services for women. These illustrations are helpful because they provide concrete examples of how local churches can think creatively to be the gospel in their communities.

Conclusion. I have always been associated with Christian organizations which were decidedly evangelistic although not always intentional in how they live out the gospel in a community. Missionaries went off someplace and did missions and the local church supported that mission with prayer and money. But this is not what Paul envisioned when he planted local churches in specific communities. Gorman shows Paul’s “missionary strategy” was to create local manifestations of the gospel, local churches, which then could reach into their communities as a living gospel. I agree with Gorman’s assessment that some churches are hearing a call to be the gospel through a “renewed imagination.” In Becoming the Gospel Gorman provides a solid exegetical, biblical foundation for local church involvement in local communities.

The Eerdmans podcast has a two-part interview with Gorman (episodes 14 and 15) and Gorman answered a few questions on Eerdworld about this book.

 

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

romans-debateThis week I am giving away a copy of The Romans Debate, Revised and Expanded Edition (1991, Baker Academic). This collection of essays on Romans was first published in 1977 and then reprinted and expanded in 1991 by Hendricksen. The current printing of the book is under from Baker Academic. This is one of the best resources for anyone doing serious work in Romans.  The book collects key essays in the book of Romans from as early as 1962. All of the essays were published elsewhere, but this 372 page volume makes them available with a full set of indices.

This book is a brand new paperback (with a remainder mark) and is my own copy.

Same rules as last week: Enter by leaving a comment telling me which essay you will read first. On Tuesday January 16 I will randomly select one comment and ship the book out to the lucky winner. If you leave more than one comment, I will only count one comment per person for the contest.

Good Luck!

 

Table of Contents:

  • St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans–and Others, T. W. Manson
  • The Letter to the Romans as Paul’s Last Will and Testament, Gunther Bornkamm
  • Paul’s Purpose in Writing the Epistle to the Romans, Gunter Klein
  • A Short Note on Romans 16, Karl Paul Donfried
  • The Letter to Jerusalem, Jacob Jervell
  • Romans 14:1-15:13 and the Occasion of Romans, Robert J. Karris
  • The Jewish Community in Ancient Rome and the Origins of Roman Christianity, Wolfgang Wiefel
  • False Presuppositions in the Study of Romans, Karl Paul Donfried
  • The Occasion of Romans: A Response to Prof. Donfried, Robert J. Karris
  • Paul’s Rhetoric of Argumentation in Romans: An Alternative to the Donfried-Karris Debate Over Romans, Wilhelm Wuellner
  • The Form and Function of the Greek Letter-Essay, Martin Luther Stirewalt, Jr.

Part II
Section A: Historical and Sociological Factors

  • The Romans Debate, F. F. Bruce
  • Purpose and Occasion of Romans Again, A. J. M. Wedderburn
  • The Two Roman Congregations: Romans 14:1-15:13, Francis Watson
  • The Roman Christians of Romans 16, Peter Lampe
  • The Purpose of Romans, Peter Stuhlmacher

Section B The Structure and Rhetoric of Romans

  • The Formal and Theological Coherence of Romans, James D. G. Dunn
  • Romans III as a Key to the Structure and Thought of Romans, William S. Campbell
  • Following the Argument of Romans, Robert Jewett
  • Romans as a Logos Protreptikos, David E. Aune

Section C The Theology of Romans: Issues in the Current Debate

  • The New Perspective on Paul: Paul and the Law, James D. G. Dunn
  • Israel’s Misstep in the Eyes of Paul, Lloyd Gaston
  • The Faithfulness of God and the Priority of Israel in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, J. C. Beker
  • The Theme of Romans, Peter Stuhlmacher

 

abernety-isaiahToday is the day I pick a winner for a copy of Andrew Abernethy’s Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom. There were 28 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 1-28, and the winner is…..

Abraham Ndungu

If Abraham can contact me privately (plong42@gmail.com) I will make arrangements to ship the book out as soon as possible. Thanks to everyone for signing up, I will have another book giveaway to announce this afternoon.

 

nigtc-seriesHere is an exciting announcement from Eerdmans: Mark Goodacre and Todd D. Still are taking over editorship of the New International Greek Text Commentary series. The NIGTC is one on the premier New Testament commentaries published today (here is my review of the recent Romans volume from Longenecker). The press release from Eerdmans indicates previous editor Donald Hagner is scaling back from of his responsibilities and I. Howard Marshall passed away in 2015. Marshall was one of the original editors of the series, along with W. Ward Gasque.

Marshall also contributed the first volume of the series in 1978. His NIGTC Luke commentary one of the first major commentaries I purchased when I was in Bible College and I used Charles A. Wanamaker’s Thessalonians commentary as a textbook for Exegesis of Pauline Epistles when I was in Seminary. I consider F. F. Bruce’s NIGTC Galatians commentary to be one of the best ever written on the letter, even though it was published in 1982. New International Greek Text Commentaries appear frequently on my list of top Bible commentaries. Hopefully the series can be completed (Acts, John, Ephesians) and perhaps a few volumes updated to reflect recent scholarship.

Mark Goodacre

Mark Goodacre

Mark Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University. He served as the series editor for Library of New Testament Studies (formerly Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement), 2004-2014. He has been one f the major voices questioning Q, for example, is The Case Against Q: Studies in Marcan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002). In addition, Goodacre is one of the original bibliobloggers, maintaining his NT Blog since 2003, the NT Gateway and he even has a podcast.

todd-still-cropped

Todd Still

Todd Still is the Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. He is the co-author of Thinking Through Paul (with Bruce W. Longenecker, Zondervan, 2014) as well the co-editor of the Lightfoot Legacy Series (with Ben Witherington, IVP), including John, Acts, and The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.

I am happy to say the New International Greek Text Commentary series is in good hands with Goodacre and Still at the helm.

abernety-isaiahIt is the beginning of a new year, and to celebrate I am offering a brand new copy of Andrew Abernathy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach (NSBT 40; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016).

I reviewed the book at the end of the year, follow the link and read what I said then, here is the teaser:

This new contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series focuses on the theme of Kingdom in the book of Isaiah. The topic of kingdom in the whole canon of Scripture is too large for a short monograph, but by limiting the discussion to Isaiah Abernethy is able to provide a reasonable foundation for understanding the book of Isaiah and its foundational role in a Christian understanding of Jesus. Abernethy’s previous book on Isaiah focused on the theme of food in Isaiah (Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message. Leiden: Brill 2014, reviewed here).

You can enter by leaving a comment telling me your favorite passage in Isaiah. Only one chance per person. If you leave more than one comment, I will only count one comment per person for the contest.

On Monday January 9 I will randomly select one comment and ship the book out to the lucky winner.  Check back then to see if you are the winner, and I will announce another giveaway on January 9. You can also follow me on twitter @plong42 to keep up with these announcements.

Good Luck!

 

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