Baylor University Press is having a Grad Student Sale

The sale itself runs from Friday, June 22th through Sunday, June 24th.  This year the discount codes (BP25, BP30, BP40) apply to all Baylor books, the more you spend the more you save (free shipping on all orders over $75).

Looks like it is time to stock up on the Baylor Handbook on the Greek Text series to survive your next Greek exegesis course. At SBL I was eyeing Christian Oxyrhynchus: Texts, Documents, and Sources edited by Lincoln H. Blumell and Thomas A. Wayment. Matthew L. Skinner’s recent A Companion to the New Testament: Paul and the Pauline Letters is very tempting as well.

It does not look like they are checking your seminary ID card at the door, but the sale is intended for Grad Students. Grab your fall syllabi and spend some quality time exploring the Baylor University Press website.

Remember, if you are in grad school you are supposed to spend all your money on books.


Hurtado, Larry W.  Honoring the Son. Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice. Ed. M. Bird; Snapshots Series; Bellingham, Wash: Lexham, 2018. 95 pp; Pb.  $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Lexham’s Snapshot Series attempts to engage “significant issues in contemporary biblical scholarship.” This new volume Larry Hurtado summarizes his major works over the last twenty years on what has come to be called “early high Christology.” His One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism was first published in 1988 (Fortress; second edition T&T Clark, 1998; third edition Bloomsbury, 2005). David Aune called Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2005) “one of the more important books on Jesus in this generation.” In addition to dozens of articles and reviews on an early high Christology since 1979, Hurtado published a shorter monograph, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans 2005). In fact, Hurtado’s own works take up more than two pages in the eleven page bibliography in Honoring the Son.

In this short book, Hurtado addresses the question of early Christian devotion to Jesus as God. The earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish monotheists but the later creeds worship Jesus as part of a Trinitarian Godhead. As Hurtado observes in his chapter on the “scholarly context,” the consensus view is Jesus never claimed to be God  and his first followers did not worship him as God. There was a slow development of Trinitarian theology over the first century of the church. This consensus is based on the work of Wilhelm Bousset’s Kyrios Christos, a major influence on Rudolf Bultmann. First published in German in 1931 (English translation, 1970), Bousset argued early Christian devotion to Jesus appeared in diaspora settings like Antioch and Damascus rather than among the Jewish followers of Jesus. This view continues to be popular in the popular work of Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God (Harper Collins, 2014).

In contrast to this view, Hurtado argues the earliest Christians believed God required them to worship Jesus. Their devotional response to God led them to worship the Son. In the conclusion to the book, Hurtado points to John 5:22-23, “all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” One might object John is the latest of the New Testament writings, but Hurtado does not think this devotion to Jesus is a late Johannine development. On the contrary, it is a “concise and somewhat polemic expression of the matter set here in the context of challenge from Jewish critics of Jesus’s validity” (67).

To make this argument, Hurtado must first properly worship in the ancient world (chapter 2) as well as the nature of ancient Jewish monotheism (chapter 3). Unlike modern, western religious experience, ancient religion was not assent to a creedal statement, but rather ritual practice. For a Jewish person, any ritual practice not focused on God was idolatry. Jewish people in the Second Temple period adapted to the Hellenistic world in many ways, but Hurtado argues there is no evidence at all Jewish people gave any sort of worship to angels, biblical heroes or even God’s attributes such as Wisdom (32). There were no altars, sacrifices or public ritual devoted to any of these things, contra Bart Ehrman. Hurtado cites several examples, such as the angel Raphael in Tobit. Although this archangel is powerful, all prayers in the book are directed to God and Raphael tells Tobias to praise only God (Tobit 12:6-7).

Hurtado refers to the early Christian devotion to Jesus as a “mutation” (chapter 4). By this he means early Christian worship is in some ways similar to ancient Judaism, but worshiping the risen and exalted Jesus as God is a sudden and unexpected development. There was no slow progression from Jewish monotheism to adoration of angelic beings and eventually to Jesus as God. For Hurtado, Paul’s early devotion to Jesus as a recipient of worship in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 and other texts indicates an early high Christology. Because Paul never claimed a unique view of Jesus nor does he consider his worship of Jesus to be a radical development, Hurtado thinks Paul’s Christology follows the views of earlier Jewish followers of Jesus. Certainly Paul claims to have “passed on” traditions from those who were in Christ before him (1 Cor 15:3-5, for example). This means the eruption of “cultic veneration of the risen Jesus presumed already as typical of Jewish and gentile circles of the Jesus movement” prior to Paul’s letters (50).

One of Hurtado’s major contributions to the discussion of an early high Christology is his study of Jesus in the earliest Christian devotional practices (chapter 5). These include prayers and invocations, the practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, hymns, psalms, and prophecy. Hurtado offers a short summary and example for each of these examples, but for the meat of the argument readers will need to consult his far more detailed arguments in Lord Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: As David Capes says in his introduction to this slender volume, “behind each paragraph is an article or monograph. . .” (ix). In fact, the body of this book is a mere sixty-eight pages plus another seven pages of appendix, eleven pages of bibliography and five pages of indices. But brevity should not be mistaken for sketchiness. Hurtado succeeds in summarizes and updated the arguments made in his earlier and more substantial works and provides enough bibliographical material to enable the reader to explore the details of the argument of the book. The book is written to appear to layperson, student and professional interested in the development of a high Christology in the early church.

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

Ashford, Bruce Riley. Letters to an American Christian. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018. 239 pp.; Pb. $16.99  Link to B&H Academic  

Bruce Ashford model his latest book after C. S. Lewis’s Letters to an American Lady, or perhaps Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer is a more apt comparison since the recipient of these letters is fictional. In this imaginary, one-way conversation, Ashford present a series of essays on contemporary issues in American culture. This imaginary dialogue partner is recent convert named Christian who is studying political science and journalism at Dupont University. (It is possible Ashford took the name from Tom Wolfe’s 2004 novel I am Charlotte Simmons, but it may be a coincidence). His goal in his book is to help Christians to “construct a political paradigm that recognizes God’s sovereignty over our nation, draws on our Christianity to work for the common good, and respects the dignity and rights of citizens who have differing visions of the common good” (53-4).

The first part of the book develops a Christian view of politics and public life. These first seven chapters argue the Christian faith ought to influence political views and public postures on key issues being discussed in contemporary culture. Although some Christians manage to separate their religious faith from their political views, Ashford argues in this first section that even though humanity is fallen and deeply wounded by sin, God’s redemption through Jesus began at the cross. Culture is corrupted by the fall but he redeemed can redirect it toward Christ’s intentions (29). He follows Abraham Kuyper closely in these first seven chapters. Politics and religion have distinct centers and circumferences. The church has its own “center” and therefore cannot rule politics, nor should politics rule religion (27). However, the circumference of the spheres may overlap and interact, and sometime overreach in an attempt to control the other’s center (44). In the end, Ashford concludes conservative better serves this agenda than liberalism. But as he examines a series of social and political issues, this conservatism is not

In part two of the book Ashford treats a series of “hot-button issues.” These sixteen chapters touch lightly on a wide range of topics. Some are the typical fare for “hot-button” books since the 1970s (abortion, just war, environmentalism, religious liberty and free speech), but others touch on issues which have pushed their way to the front page of every local newspaper. These include the Black Lives Matter movement, gun legislation, immigration reform, fake news and alternative facts). Several chapters revolve around surging nationalism and responses. Some of the chapter titles are humorous teases, such as “To Shave a Yak” (on environmentalism) or “Beware the Giant Octopus” (on big government).

For some of these controversial issues, Ashford attempts to chart a course between two extremes. For example, on the issue of immigration and DACA, he suggests policy that upholds both the biblical virtues of justice and mercy. Justice requires the government produce and follow a clear immigration policy which protect citizens, but mercy and compassion recognizes immigrants are humans in God’s image who ought to be protected and treated well. He therefor advocates in favor of the Dreamers. Within the fiction of the letters to Christian, a professor represents a more liberal view, while an Uncle John is a more conservative voice. Both are caricatures set up to make the middle path more palatable.

Given the format of the book and the intricacies of these issues, some readers will find Ashford’s treatment sketchy. Two examples are his chapters on same-sex marriage, gender dysphoria and the transgender movement. The issue is so complex it is impossible to adequately address them in nine pages. Although there are a few endnotes for each chapter, most of these issues demand a “for further reading” section to point readers to more detailed studies of the issues. No one should read these short chapters as an end to the discussion. Ashford introduces in summary fashion the broad strokes of a debate and points the way toward a biblical understanding of the issue, but there is much more to be said. Many books have been written covering each “hot button” issue.

One topic which is missing from the book is women’s rights. This book was published in 2018 so it is likely Ashford did not address the issue since the book was finished before the #MeToo movement began in October 2017. Given the recent developments with Paige Patterson and the 2018 Southern Baptist convention, a chapter on sexual harassment would have been timely. But other women’s issues have been “hot buttons” for many years. For example, the gender wage-gap is a longstanding issue, ordination of women perhaps the overt sexual American culture and its effect on boys and girls would have made important chapters in this book. Remarkably, there is no chapter on pornography in the book.

Finally, the final three chapters attempt to hold out some hope for American politics. The gist of these “Why can’t Republicans be nice people?” Chapter 25 laments the loss of the “art of Christian persuasion.” American political discourse has become insult caricature. The chapter would have been more powerful he mentioned Donald Trump’s hateful use of Twitter. If we do not respect people with whom we disagree, Ashford says “we’ll lose. Worse yet, we’ll be poor witnesses for Christ. We’ll be seen as calloused jerks who are nothing more than hypocritical and bigoted special interest arm of a major political party” (216)

Conclusion. Since Ashford is Professor of Theology and the Provost/Dean of the Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as the Provost/Dean of the Faculty for the seminary, the discussion is conservative, but it is not as conservative as some might have assumed. There are a few digs at the predominantly liberal university. For example, the political science department at DuPont University has forty-three democrats and only one Republican. In general I thought Ashford’s brief overviews of these issues fell into the category of thoughtful, classic Christian conservatism. By this I mean his views are not knee-jerk, emotional, or hateful. He attempts to present his views as peacefully as possible, but he makes no apology for presenting them as the biblical view. This is not spew from the alt-right, but it may not make Bernie Sanders comfortable either.

I do agree with Ashford (citing N. T. Wright) that Jesus himself was “inescapably political” (32) even if he never entered into anything we would recognize as politics from a modern perspective. Jesus’s challenge to the aristocratic leaders of his day, and the Paul’s Gospel to the Roman world was radical and extreme. Jesus challenged the powerful men who held political power and was crucified; Paul was accused of defying the decrees of Caesar and “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Ashford’s book will challenge for conservative readers to construct a biblical view of politics as well as their role in American culture, but I suspect Jesus would have pushed for a more radical engagement of the spirit of this age.

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

Myers, Ben. The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. xvi +147 pp.; Hb. $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Ben Myers is a research fellow of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University in Australia and director of the Millis Institute at Christian Heritage College. This short devotional reading of the Apostles’ Creed began as a sermon series Leichhardt United Church in Sydney. This brief book on the Apostles’ Creed is a very basic introduction to the deep and mysterious depths of the Gospel. As Myers confessions in to final chapter, just as “no one has yet breathed all the air” no mind has yet to grasp the creed in all of its fullness. This guide is a first step for a believer seeking to understand the historic faith of the church.

Myers does not focus attention on the origin in the creed in its present form, he is simply not interested historical details in this book. He begins with Hippolytus’s description of a baptism in On the Apostolic Tradition. Before the candidates receive baptism, they are asked if they believe the three sections of the creed. From this Myers suggest the creed was used as a catechism for new believers (p. 4). The creed was memorized and served as the basis for further instruction. But more than an ancient confession of faith, Myers thinks this rule of faith functions as a part of the baptismal declaration of faith, a “threefold immersion into the life of God” (p. 5). The creed was both teaching and a “pledge of allegiance” which provides a framework for Christian thinking and Christian commitment.

Myers moves through the Apostle’s Creed in a series of twenty-three short chapters. Some chapters reflect on only a single word (I, Believe and Amen); most discuss a phrase of the creed. Most only treat a few words, the longest combine a few phrases (“He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead” and “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”). Each chapter connects the theology of the creed to the canon of Scripture. Although he does not often set the creed into the context of the Hebrew Bible, the creedal statements do stand on the foundation of the New Testament. The exception to this is the chapter “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of the Virgin Mary.” Myers (rightly) sees the virgin birth in the light of the series of miraculous births in the Hebrew Bible.

My main criticism of the book is this lack of interest in the roots of the creed in the Hebrew Bible. For example, in the chapter on “Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord,” Myers focuses on the final two words, “our Lord.” This emphasis is important since the earliest Christian confession was “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9, 1 Cor 12:3, Phil 2:5-11). But this chapter overlooks the both Christ as well as the “God’s only son.” Both of these titles rooted in the Hebrew Bible, Christ is Messiah and “son of God” is a messianic phrase as well (Psalm 2, for example). The same criticism applies to the chapters on “God the Father” and “Almighty.” Despite the fact the term is drawn from the Hebrew Bible, there is no reference to the Hebrew Scripture in the chapter. Perhaps this is simply a result of Myers looking forward from the creed to the history of the church rather than back to the sources for each line. In fact, grounding each line of the creed to the Hebrew Bible would make an interesting companion volume to this book.

Myers also connects these creedal statements to church writers who comment on the theological importance of each line. He often cites Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (along with Karl Barth and Jorge Luis Borges once each). The historical reception of the creedal statements demonstrate how the words of the creed continued to resonate with each generation of the church.

This is a small “trim size” book (5×7 inches) and many of the 147 pages full-page illustrations. Since no chapter is more than a few pages long, the book is ideal for devotional reading or used in a small group Bible study. The brevity of the chapters allow for further discussion and contemplation of each phrase of the Apostles’ Creed. The book can be read in an afternoon but it is best read slowly, with an open Bible and prayerful, open heart.

This guide to the Apostles’ Creed is a theologically rich and historically aware meditation on heart of biblical Christianity.


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


The Sentences of Menander (or Syriac Menander) is a collection of proverbs claiming to come from Menander, the famous Greek poet of the fourth century B.C. Since the work is extant only in Syriac, it seems unlikely to be the work of Menander. More likely the proverbs come from a writer collecting various proverbs into a short collection and attributing them to the great poet. It is possible some proverbs came to the writer in other languages and were translated into Syriac or that the book was originally in Greek and translated into Syriac. (Baarda’s translation of the Sentences appears here.)

It is difficult to date the book, although a date in the fourth century A.D. is a reasonable guess (OTP 2:585). Jones suggests the third century A.D. following the more recent work of Baarda and de Vos. It is possible the suggestion in line 37 to teach your brutish son to become a gladiator and hope he dies young implies a pre-Constantine date (Baarda, 2:585) since “schools for gladiators” began to disappear in the late fourth century. But even this evidence is weak since the metaphor of a brutish gladiator would have continued to be effective for some time after the heyday of the gladiatorial games.

The earliest witness to the text is a seventh-century Syriac manuscript. Equally difficult is the location of the writing: there is simply no clues in the text to make any definitive statement of provenance. The text in Charlesworth is divided into a thirty-nine line Epitome and a 474 line collection beginning with the line “Menander the Sage said.”

Baarda suggested the author of this text may have been a “cultured pagan writer who, drawing up this collection of wisdom sayings, incorporated additional material in it from oriental wisdom traditions, including Jewish ones” (Baarda, “Syriac Menander,” 588-589). It is true lines 76-93 refer to Homer, but some of the sayings seem to rely on Jewish wisdom literature more than would be expected from a “cultured pagan.” For example, line 394 resonates with Proverbs 1:7, “The main source of all good things is the fear of God.” Line 470 calls Sheol a “place of rest,” which sounds more Jewish than not, but it is far from decisive. Even a line life “Fear God, and honor (your) father and mother” may be based on Jewish wisdom, but it is not so distinctive as to demand the conclusion. Although there are no obvious Christian intrusions into the text, the text was preserved by Christians (the seventh century manuscript Or.Add 14.658 comes from the Deir-al Suriani monastery in Egypt).

Like the book of Proverbs, the collected lines appear to have no logical flow. Perhaps they were added as they were discovered without any interest in themes. Some of the sayings sound like canonical wisdom:

“Intemperance provokes conflict” (line 416); One given to anger stirs up strife, and the hothead causes much transgression. (Prov 29:22, NRSV)

“Pleasant are life, goods, and buildings, but more pleasant than these is a good name” (lines 402-403); A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold (Prov 22:1, NRSV).

Others sayings are wise sayings without canonical parallel:

“Insipidity leads the mind astray” (line 419)

“Agitation makes one lose his senses” (line 420)

“Old age is the frontier of death” (line 434)

Lines 367-376 resonate with the book of Ecclesiastes:

“If you have goods, if you have possessions, live on your possessions as long as you are alive and your eye (can) see and your foot (can) walk. For remember and see: one (can)not use (his) goods in Sheol, and riches do not accompany one into the grave. Therefore, you shall not deny yourself the good things, for better is one day under the sun than a hundred years in Sheol.”

Some lines are quite brutal: “Every bad son should die and not live on” (line 44), but compare this to Deuteronomy 21:18-21. If you have a son who is “brutish, crude, and insolent, (one who is) thievish, deceitful, and provocative, then the writer suggests the parents “teach him the profession of gladiator and put into his hand a sword and a dagger.” Perhaps he will die young, saving the parents from growing old on his “frauds and expenses.”

As with the Sayings of Pseudo-Phocylides, most of the Sentences of Menander are very generic proverbial wisdom which could come from any number of sources, including the Hebrew Bible. Given this uncertainty, the use of this text for New Testament context is difficult at best. We are at the far end of the trajectory and might be able to detect how the early Church used wisdom literature (or whoever produced these sayings, since they are not clearly Christian).



Baarda, T. “The Sentences of the Syriac Menander (Third Century AD)”, OTP 2:583-606.

de Vos, J. Cornelis. “The Decalogue in Pseudo-Phocylides and Syriac Menander: ‘Unwritten Laws’ or Decalogue Reception.” Pages 41–56 in The Decalogue and Its Cultural Influence. Hebrew Bible Monographs 58. Edited by Dominik Markl. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2013.

Jones, Robert, “Syriac Menander,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Kirk, Alan. “The Composed Life of the Syriac Menander.” Studies in Religion Sciences Religieuses 26, no. 2 (1997): 169–83.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 Paul tells his readers to “work with your hands” (Be diligent!)  This command to work hard to provide for your needs is what Paul himself did; he worked as a tentmaker in order to support himself while doing ministry. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Paul urges his readers to avoid any brother who is idle by following Paul’s own example of working hard to day and night so as not to be a burden to anyone. He claims in verse 8 to “we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it.” In fact, Paul commanded the Thessalonians “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (3:10).

This “working with your hands” stands in contrast to the traveling “teachers” of the ancient world that lived off of a few rich patrons and produced nothing of value. In the Greco-Roman world those who needed to do manual labor to survive were at the bottom of society. A person of substance had a slaves who did hard labor and create wealth for their owners. Cicero gave a list of work which was “vulgar” and “unbecoming to a gentleman”:

Cicero, De Officiis 1.153. Now in regard to trades and other means of livelihood, which ones are to be considered becoming to a gentleman and which ones are vulgar, we have been taught, in general, as follows. First, those means of livelihood are rejected as undesirable which incur people’s ill-will, as those of tax-gatherers and usurers. Unbecoming to a gentleman, too, and vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labour, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery. Vulgar we must consider those also who buy from wholesale merchants to retail immediately; for they would get no profits without a great deal of downright lying; and verily, there is no action that is meaner than misrepresentation. And all mechanics are engaged in vulgar trades; for no workshop can have anything liberal about it. Least respectable of all are those trades which cater for sensual pleasures, “Fishmongers, butchers, cooks, and poulterers, and fishermen,” as Terence says. Add to these, if you please, the perfumers, dancers, and the whole corps de ballet (translator Walter Miller adds a note: the ludus talarius was a kind of low variety show, with loose songs and dances and bad music).

The earliest Jesus followers were drawn from this Roman “basket of deplorables”: tax collectors, hired workers, fishermen, prostitutes and other sinners. Paul himself engaged in hard labor which had no artistic value in exchange for a wage (for Paul as a lower class laborer, see Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society, 139; Ronald Hock, The Social Context of Paul’s Ministry, 20-27).

Unlike this Roman attitude toward manual labor, the Second Temple wisdom literature represented by Pseudo-Phocylides valued hard work. Paul reflects this Jewish wisdom worldview and it eventually it becomes the Judeo-Christian work ethic. For example, “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you” (Psalm 128:2, ESV).  “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep” (Eccl  5:12). This view is also reflected in later Jewish literature as well: “Do not hate hard labor or farm work, which was created by the Most High” (Sirach 7:15).  In the Talmud, “He who does not teach his son a craft teaches him brigandage” (Kiddushin 29a).

Like Paul, Pseudo-Phocylides admonishes his readers to “work hard so that you can live from your own means; for every idle man lives from what his hands can steal (153-154). The verb μοχθέω has the sense of being worn out from hard work and the related adjective could be used to refer to “of a person, lack of skill, incapacity” and occasionally as a metaphor for moral depravity (LSJ). Yet Pseudo-Phocylides says “labor (πόνος) gives great increase to virtue” (163). Again, the noun πόνος is the kind of labor which requires exertion and toil. Paul used the word in Colossians 4:13 to describe Epaphras’s hard labor in Colossae. Pseudo-Phocylides urges everyone to find some way to earn their living: “if someone has not learned a craft, he must dig with a hoe” (158).

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 Paul also said the Christian ought to “be dependent on no one.”  In the context of 1 Thessalonians, self-sufficiency guarded the young Christian church against the charge of “impure motives.” Pseudo-Phocylides has a similar view: “Eat not the leavings of another man’s meal, but eat without shame what you have earned yourself” (156-157). Sirach 40:28-29 also warns against “looking to the table of another”:

Sirach 40:28–29 (NRSV) My child, do not lead the life of a beggar; it is better to die than to beg. When one looks to the table of another, one’s way of life cannot be considered a life. One loses self-respect with another person’s food, but one who is intelligent and well instructed guards against that.

The view of work in Pseudo-Phocylides therefore reflects a Jewish wisdom literature tradition which values hard work and manual labor to meet one’s physical needs.

Phocylides was a sixth century B.C. poet who was well known in the ancient world as an author of maxims and proverbs applicable to daily life. In the first century B.C. a diaspora Jewish writer created 230 lines of poetry in the name of Phocylides in order to demonstrate to the gentiles that Judaism was a rational religion. The point was probably not to convert the pagans but to create “sympathizers” among the gentiles (OTP 2:566).

Their value to New Testament backgrounds is to show what sort of “wisdom” was current in the first century. Nearly every line has some sort of parallel in the Old Testament and other apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, so any New Testament parallels are only similar in that they share this same foundation. For example, line 42, “the love of money is the mother of all evil” is a common bit of wisdom found also in 1 Timothy 6:10 and in another form in Hebrews 13:5. According to the author, Gold is the “originator of evil, destroyer of life, crushing all things.” It is unlikely the New Testament writer knew the saying from the document we now call Pseudo-Phocylides. A saying like “the love of money is the mother of all evil” was simply a part of the wisdom tradition among the Jews as well as Greco-Roman ethical teaching.

The first two lines of the book introduce Phocylides as “the Wisest of men” who sets forth these counsels of God by his holy judgments, gifts of blessing.” This is followed by several commands which recall the Torah. For example, line 3, “Neither commit adultery nor rouse homosexual passion” combines Exodus 20:14 (Deut 5:18) with Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13. The editor of this section of OTP labels these verses as a summary of the Decalogue, but the lines are not strictly from the Ten Commandments.  “Do not become rich,” for example, may be based on the command not to covet, but the connection is not direct.

In Second Temple Jewish wisdom literature, a wise person does not simply exist in a state of wisdom. Their wisdom is demonstrated by doing acts of justice and mercy. In lines 9-21, the author commands his readers to “always dispense justice” and then describes several concrete examples of what dispensing justice looks like. For example, “Flee false witness; award what is just” (12) and “Give the laborer his pay, do not afflict the poor” (19).

In lines 22-24 the write admonishes the reader to be diligent in doing mercy. Once again, the wise person “does mercy” by treating the poor and needy with respect. Pseudo-Phocylides is consistent with the treatment of the poor in the Torah and other wisdom literature.

Pseudo-Phocylides 22-24 Give to the poor man at once, and do not tell him to come tomorrow. You must fill your hand. Give alms to the needy. Receive the homeless in (your) house, and lead the blind man.

Proverbs 3:27 (ESV) Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Sirach 4:3–6 (NRSV) Do not add to the troubles of the desperate, or delay giving to the needy. 4 Do not reject a suppliant in distress, or turn your face away from the poor. 5 Do not avert your eye from the needy, and give no one reason to curse you; 6 for if in bitterness of soul some should curse you, their Creator will hear their prayer.

Like Micah 6:8 or the book of James, the author of this collection expects the wise person to work out their faith in God through concrete actions towards the poor and need. There are several examples of this in the book of Acts. In Acts 9:36 Tabitha “was full of good works and acts of charity” because she made garments for the poor. In the next paragraph of Acts, the Roman centurion Cornelius was considered to be a righteous man because he “gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2).

Pseudo-Phocylides therefore is additional evidence that first century Jewish practice considered care for the poor and underclass to be a natural response to God.

It is possible the book of 4 Maccabees represents the “fourth philosophy” mentioned by Josephus as a subgroup of Judaism in competition with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. It has been thought that this “fourth philosophy” referred to the Zealots, but this has been challenged by Richard Horsley in his work on first century messianic movements.

Image result for fourth maccabees martyrsThe fourth philosophy had several major teachings. First, a Jew should pay no taxes to Rome at all. Based on their interpretation 2 Sam 24, paying taxes to a foreign power was seen as equivalent to slavery, (cf. Luke 20:20-26, the question concerning paying taxes to Caesar may reflect the teaching of the fourth philosophy).

Second, Israel should be a theocracy and not be ruled by any foreign power. To submit to foreign rule is equivalent to idolatry and is a breach of the first commandment. God will work through faithful people if they actively resist their oppressors.

Third, if Israel actively resists, God will establish his kingdom on Earth. The resistance that the fourth philosophy taught was not armed rebellion (as with the Zealots), but rather a commitment to obedience to the Torah and a willingness to be martyrs. The fourth philosophy was therefore a martyrdom movement.

This description is compatible with the teaching of 4 Maccabees, especially in 10:18-21 (cf., 9:24; 11:3; 11:22-23).

4 Maccabees 10:18–21 (NRSV) But he said, “Even if you remove my organ of speech, God hears also those who are mute. 19 See, here is my tongue; cut it off, for in spite of this you will not make our reason speechless. 20 Gladly, for the sake of God, we let our bodily members be mutilated. 21 God will visit you swiftly, for you are cutting out a tongue that has been melodious with divine hymns.”

That a book like 4 Maccabees would continue to be read by the Christian church is quite understandable since the early church faced the same sorts of persecutions described in the book. The challenge to commitment to the word of God in the face of deadly persecution was attractive to the Christians facing Roman pressure to conform.


Bibliography: Richard Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 190-237; W. J. Heard, “Revolutionary Movements” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by J. Green, S. McKnight and I. H. Marshall (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 688-698.

In 4 Maccabees the role of the law as nearly equivalent to reason. Although God created humans with emotions and passions, he also “enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them” (2:21). The mind was given the Law, in order to “rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.” Temperate (σώφρων) refers to prudent thinking and self-control and is one of the virtues required of elders in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 2:2).

4 Maccabees 7:21-23 What person who lives as a philosopher by the whole rule of philosophy, and trusts in God, and knows that it is blessed to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue, would not be able to overcome the emotions through godliness? For only the wise and courageous are masters of their emotions (NRSV)

The “temperate mind” restrains the impulses of the body, what Paul calls “self-control” in Galatians 5:23. That Paul and 4 Maccabees both have a high view of the Law and the virtue of self-control is not necessarily and indication Paul knew the book or vice versa. Likely as not both the author of 4 Maccabees and Paul are drawing on implications of the wisdom literature drawn through the intellectual grid of a first century worldview which includes elements of Stoicism and other Greek philosophical streams.

Image result for self control memeSelf-control was perhaps the most important of the Greek ethical terms. Remarkably, the Greek world valued controlling one’s passions and acting moderately in all things. Any activity could devolve into a vice if it is not practiced with moderation.  For example, eating a proper amount of food is good thing; too much is glutton and too little is starvation. Paul claims here that the one who is walking by the spirit will walk moderately in everything that they do. In fact, Paul points out that the person who belongs to Christ Jesus “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

This is an important point that should probably be argued at length, but this sort of paper cannot do so. There are a number of works on Paul and the Stoics which make this point, although the probability of direct borrowing is very low. I prefer to think in terms of an intellectual grid made up of the Old Testament and various Jewish writings as a primary database through which Greco-Roman philosophy is drawn, elements which are compatible with the database are retained, others are rejected.

Brannan, Rick.  The Apostolic Fathers in English. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 289 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Rick Brannan is the “Information Architect for Logos Bible Software” He edited the Apostolic Fathers Greek-English Interlinear (Lexham Press, 2011), a resource available in Logos Bible Software. Brannan described his method for producing the interlinear edition in the introduction to that resource:

“Using the Greek text of Kirsopp Lake’s edition, tools provided by Logos Bible Software, and a whole lot of coffee, I spent my early mornings with the Apostolic Fathers working through each verse at least three times. One pass to consider the appropriate article to assign from the Louw-Nida lexicon, one pass to determine a proper lexical form gloss—somewhat like the gloss you would see in a Greek-English lexicon or dictionary, and one pass to align a context-sensitive English translation with each Greek word in the text. From here, sequence numbers were added to facilitate reassembly of the translation into something resembling a stilted English translation. Further, there are points where the stilted English is not sufficient, so an idiomatic translation of the phrase was further annotated.”

In the introduction to this new translation, Brannan indicates this new translation of the Apostolic Fathers is not meant to replace either Michael Holmes (1999, Baker) or the Loeb edition translated by Bart Ehrman (Harvard 2003). His goal was to “to create a tighter and more transparent relationship with the underlying Greek text.” He hopes this will be useful in reading the texts as well as studying “how words and structures found in the New Testament are used in contemporary literature.” (There is a typo in both the online and print version, “studing” rather than “studying.”)

For many years the standard edition of the Apostolic Fathers J. B. Lightfoot (originally published in 1891). Ehrman’s translation replaced Krisopp Lake in the Loeb library (originally published in 1912). Brannan edited the Krisopp Lake edition which now appears in the Logos library. Comparing one text from Didache 9:1-3 in five translations shows how Brannan’s translation is quite close to the others. Perhaps other examples would yield more differences.

B. Lightfoot (1891) But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give ye thanks thus. 2First, as regards the cup: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. 3Then as regards the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever.

Kirsopp Lake, 1912 AND concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus:  2 First concerning the Cup, “We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever.”  3 And concerning the broken Bread: “We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us though Jesus thy child. To thee be glory for ever.

Michael W. Holmes, 1999 Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks as follows. (2) First, concerning the cup: We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant; to you be the glory forever.  (3) And concerning the broken bread: We give you thanks, our Father for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant; to you be the glory forever.

Bart Ehrman, 2012 And with respect to the thanksgiving meal [Literally: eucharist], you shall give thanks as follows. 2. First, with respect to the cup: “We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.” 3. And with respect to the fragment of bread: “We give you thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.

Rick Brannan, 2012 Now, concerning the Eucharist, practice it as follows. 2 First, concerning the cup: We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your son, which you made known to us through Jesus your son, glory to you ⌊forever⌋.  3 Next, concerning the broken bread: We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through Jesus your son, glory to you ⌊forever⌋.

Brannan translates οὕτω εὐχαριστήσατε as “practice it as follows.” Like Holmes, Brannan capitalizes Eucharist, perhaps implying a more formal liturgy than Lightfoot’s “eucharistic thanksgiving” or Ehrman’s “thanksgiving meal.” Lake and Ehrman translates Δαυὶδ τοῦ παιδός σου “your child,” Brannan clarifies the phrase as “your son,” whereas Holmes has “your servant,” a possible translation of παῖς. I am not sure why Brannan places “forever” in brackets. In the Greek interlinear version he explains these [I   I] brackets indicate an idiomatic phrase, in this case εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ought to be translated idiomatically as “forever.” Since this is an extremely common idiom, I see no reason for the brackets.

One of the most valuable features of Brannan’s edition are his footnotes. Some of these provide alternate translations (often using the phrase “literally”). Others deal with textual variants and translation differences between Lightfoot, Lake and Ehrman. Others provide a brief commentary on a difficult passage. For example, Barnabas 10:6 contains the rather odd explanation for why the Law forbade rabbit: “You shall not become, he means, a child molester, or even seem like such as these, because the rabbit multiplies its anus each year, for as many years as it lives, so many holes it has.” In a footnote on this line, Brannan summarizes several suggestions from Kraft as well as his conclusion that “popular Hellenistic natural history…has been transformed into moral lessons in association with Mosaic food prohibitions.”

Brannan also include reference to citations of Scripture as well as potential allusions or cross-references to other texts. Although Ehrman occasionally identifies citations, Brannan provides far more potential allusions. For example, in Ignatius’s epistle to the Magnesians 7:1, Brannan suggests “Therefore, just as the Lord did nothing without the Father” alludes to John 8:28 and John 10:37. Both texts in John indicate the “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). In the Epistle to the Philadelphians 2:2, the phrase “trustworthy wolves” is tagged as an allusion to Acts 20:29 and John 10:12; the phrase “take God’s runners captive” is tagged with 2 Timothy 3:6 (taking people captive with false teaching) and Galatians 5:7 (the metaphor of running a race). What is unclear is the point of these notes: are they suggested allusions or simply a cross-reference to verses with similar material? In either case this data will be valuable for studying the use of texts by later writers.

The electronic version of this book has a 2012 copyright, the print version is 2017. I notice there was a preface in the 2012 edition which does not appear in the 2017 edition. The section on Shepherd of Hermas adds a paragraph on the two different numbering systems used for the book.

Conclusion. Do we need another translation of the Apostolic Fathers? Perhaps not, especially if the translations use the same general method and only have minor differences from existing translations. There is nothing like a dynamic equivalence translation of the Apostolic Fathers let alone an easy to read paraphrase in the tradition of TheMessage.

Nevertheless, Brannan’s Apostolic Fathers is a very good translation with extremely helpful notes published in an inexpensive format.

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

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